I blink, trying to figure out which one to tackle first. My brain trips on the idea of Quinn as an eighteen-year-old at the start of the story, and I feel my breaths grow shallow and tight. It doesn’t work; she’s young for her age even at fifteen; she’s immature and innocent. Making her older would completely change her journey.
I blink harder, sliding my thoughts toward Oliver, but instead of being able to relish the idea of touching him, feeling him, being his, my brain snags on the instinctive fear of losing what we have now, the inevitable changes to us, the possibility of a life without him.
“Lola.” Oliver says it so quietly, so free of emotion that I’m not sure if he’s checking in on me after what Austin just dropped, or trying to return to what we were discussing when he first got here.
The panel shows a girl, hunched over, scribbling on a page so furiously the pencil snaps.
“Can we take one thing at a time?” I ask, finally looking up at him. “I’m sort of frazzled all of a sudden, and this is a big conversation.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to be able to talk about last night after . . . that.” He nods to my phone, smiling a little.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the conversation. I just . . .” I sigh. “I’m inarticulate at the moment.”
Oliver nods. His face is calm, eyes warm and engaged. He really does seem to understand. Even so—and maybe it resides only in me—but there’s a residue, some film left between us, like I took this perfect glossy moment of potential and smeared a greasy hand over it.
“I get it.” He digs his hands into his pocket and his jeans dip, exposing the top of his boxers. I look over his shoulder, out the window, and he adds, “One thing at a time.”
I walk over to the couch, collapse on the seat, and throw an arm over my face. Sometimes the fantasy of getting everything you ever wanted is so much easier than the reality pressing up against the glass.
“Do you want to talk through it?” he asks. “Quinn as an eighteen-year-old, that is,” he adds quickly. “The idea really fucks with me. I feel like they might be setting up Razor and Quinn as love interests.”
The cool stab of panic returns. “I know. I know. Fuck.” I rub my hands over my face, feeling too overwhelmed to think about it right now. Tilting my head I ask, “And maybe we can talk about it on the drive to L.A. tomorrow?”
His brow furrows. “You want me to come?”
I hesitate for just a moment. The rational part of my brain is holding up warning signs while the emotional part insists I need him by my side. “Of course I want you there,” I tell him. “Who else will help me remember all the names and elbow me when I start doodling on a napkin? Unless you don’t want to co—”
“I do. Just wondered if you’d rather go with one of the girls.”
I feel my gaze narrow slightly. “No . . . I want to go with you.”
He swallows, nodding as he looks to the side. “Well, then . . . sure.”
“I’ll meet you at the store at six?”
“Sounds good,” he says. He’s blushing. I’ve never seen Oliver blush before. “Anything specific I need to wear?”
My heart is beating way too fast and I’m reminded of the time Harlow convinced me to go bungee jumping, and those terrifying, thrilling seconds before we took the leap. I push my palm against my chest and struggle to sound casual when I say, “Just look pretty for me.”
I RARELY TAKE A day off—in fact, I haven’t taken an entire day away since the store opened four months ago—but I need it today.
I sleep in, have coffee on the back porch, and watch a mourning dove build a nest in my eaves.
I run a few miles along the water, to Cove Beach and back.
I get the car serviced and washed.
And I give myself the entire day to think about what’s happening with me and Lola.
I want it to be conscious—intentional—between us. I don’t want to slide into something with her without thought, not only because our friendship is one of the best and most important of my life, but because even though we don’t talk about it much, I know her relationship history isn’t particularly positive.
Harlow has hinted that Lola’s few relationships have ended after only the briefest life spans, that Lola tends to keep men at an emotional arm’s length, and that she spooks easily. Even if I hadn’t seen the spooking with my own eyes two days in a row—at my house, at the store yesterday—I could have figured it out after a single conversation with her father where I learned the most telling detail of Lola’s life: her mother left when she was twelve, without even saying goodbye. It’s like a bruise that sits just under her skin, one that darkens whenever she lets herself get too close.
The store is pretty dead when I stop by just before I’m supposed to meet Lola. Joe is a great employee, but instinct tells me to not let a full workday go with him alone here.
“You missed a dude with a huge box of Tortured Souls figures about an hour ago.” Joe watches me drop my keys onto the counter, adding, “I feel unclean. I’ve seen some crazy shit in my day, but that stuff scares me.”
“Says the man who pierced his own cock.”
He laughs, stepping aside as I log in to the computer system. “I know,” he says. “But have you seen those figures? They’re babies in bottles of liquid and tortured people gestating their own murderer.”