“That’s my new favorite,” she says when her laughter dies down.
I love when she says favorite. The way her mouth forms the f. She kisses the air. It makes me think about moving over her, capturing those lips in a kiss when she gasps out a pleading “Fuck.”
Her eyes meet mine and they’re smiling, unaware of how far my thoughts have taken me. “How could anyone ever say no to that?”
“What’s this like for you?” she asks me and then looks around the room.
I shrug, following the path her eyes have taken. “Weird, I guess. But not. It’s not altogether different from what I expected. Sort of a departure from the shop, I reckon.”
She smiles at me. “You’re the biggest geek I’ve ever known.” When she says it, I hear pride in her voice. To Lola, this is the ultimate praise.
The bartender sets another whiskey in front of me and I thank him with a nod. “This is true,” I tell her with a bit more mocking in my voice. “And yet, here you are, enjoying this evening with me anyway.”
“It must be the alcohol,” she says, sipping from her little straw.
I nod to her drink. “That’s your first one.”
“One of my many attributes. Along with hardworking, good at maths, and punctual.”
She shakes her head, swallowing a sip quickly so she can contradict me: “Hey, at the top of that list should be the accent.”
“You’re saying my accent is more important than my ability to do multiplication tables in my head?”
Lola laughs, and if I’m correct, leans just a bit closer. “Why don’t you date more?”
I hesitate with my glass perched on my lips, and then take a drink before setting it down again. Lola absolutely sounds like she’s teasing me, but there’s an edge there, like she’s inching closer to something she finds a little scary.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” I tilt my head, thinking. “Austin seems interested.”
Lola grimaces, folding her arms on the bar and looking at me. “You’re not answering my question.”
“And why is that?” she asks, watching.
“Probably for the same reason you don’t.”
Lola stirs the straw in her drink, using the tip of it to pierce the lime slices one by one, and just beside me, someone opens a door to a patio, letting in a blast of cold air.
“Do you want to leave?” she asks, looking up at me. “Go someplace more our speed?”
I open my mouth and the cool air hits my tongue like a spark of electricity. “Sure.” I wonder how it’s possible that the hammering of my pulse feels louder than the music around us.
Holding out her hand, Lola gives me her secret little smile. “Well, then . . . let’s get out of here.”
WE DRIVE OLIVER’S car back to the hotel and leave it there, walking a couple of blocks to what the concierge has assured us is a perfectly humble venue. And he’s right: it’s dark and nondescript, with an oval bar in the middle of the room, some high tables on one side, and space for a band and handful of fans. Except tonight there is no band, no fans. Hardly anyone else here.
I only had one drink at the party, but I feel silly, clumsy, distracted by the thump-thump-thump behind my breastbone, and know it’s the way it feels like being here with Oliver is a mini-vacation. There’s something about getting away from home and routine, and suddenly anything is possible.
We could stay here for a week.
We could pretend we don’t have responsibilities here or back home.
We could change everything between us.
The panel shows the girl, falling backward: arms out, eyes closed.
He picks two seats at the bar and helps me with my coat and purse before sitting down. The way he touches me trips my pulse into overdrive; his hands are firm and sure, fingers not shy about reaching for the collar of my coat, gently dragging it down my back. He cups my bare shoulder, asking, “Is here good?”
I want to ask him good for what but when he nods to the seat I realize he means geography. Not whether here is good for this flimsy barrier of still-platonic to melt away.
He catches the bartender’s eye, waves him over, and we sit in silence while the man wipes a glass dry, puts it away, and makes his way over to us.
He orders for both of us, gives his thanks, turns back to me. My heart wants to escape, to flap out of my body and into his. And, God. Is this what it means to become infatuated with someone? A heart becomes a hybrid, half yours, half theirs. Mine beats like this because it wants out. My chest aches to let his heart in.
“How do you feel about all of this?” Oliver asks.
The pounding in my chest intensifies and the swoon of it, the reflexive joy brings another, less pleasant sensation with it: fear.
When I see a pen, I reach for it.
When I want someone, I worry.
What happens if the brains decide to walk away from it all? Does the hybrid heart wither, leaving us with only half of what we need?
He must sense the shift in my posture because he touches my jaw with one finger so I’ll turn my face up to his, adding, “I meant the movie, Lola Love. The book. Tonight.”