We move, shifting feet, very, very slowly turning.
“This is nice,” he says. “I haven’t danced in ages.”
I keep waiting for the oddness to descend, the realization that what we’re doing is a little weird, but it doesn’t happen. It feels like I’m holding my breath, waiting for a sneeze to come.
“Breathe, Lola Love,” he whispers, and something inside me trips.
I haven’t been breathing. I’ve been standing here, holding my breath, waiting for him to kiss me and for my body to relax and for time to stop and for me to suddenly know what it is to be in love with someone.
“I’m terrified,” I tell him. We’ve shifted so close now I can’t really make out all of his features, but I can feel his breath, can nearly taste the scotch he’s had.
His eyes move back and forth between mine; his voice is a gentle reassurance: “I know, pet.”
“I’ve never been good at romantic relationships. I want to be,” I add quickly, “but it scares me.”
“I know,” he says again, bending to press a kiss to my temple. One of his hands slides up my back and into the hair at the back of my head. “But I just want you. I don’t need easy or perfect. I don’t need to rush anything.”
And there, laid out so bare and easily between us, it is. His honesty breaks a dam in me and I feel my own truths tumble forward, messy and raw.
“My first time was with a total stoner,” I tell him in a burst, closing my eyes and nearly crying out when he turns his face, pressing his stubbly cheek to mine. His ear is right next to my mouth; I can whisper right into the confessional. “He worked at the 7-Eleven on the corner, and just wanted to get high and have sex. We didn’t even really talk.”
Swallowing, I tell him, “I was only fourteen. He was twenty.” I can feel Oliver tensing against me. “No one knows about him, not even Harlow or Mia. They think I lost my virginity senior year. But Dad worked until dinnertime, and I’d go over there a lot of days after school, just looking for some kind of”—I shake my head—“distraction or, I don’t know. After Mom left, I wasn’t great with decisions.”
“How could you be?” he asks, kissing my jaw. His lips leave a streak of fire on my skin.
“But how horrible is it to admit that that relationship was the easiest one I’ve ever had? Everyone I’ve dated since then has ended up mad at me.” Pulling back to meet his eyes, I tell him, “It’s always when things get serious that I start to . . . I don’t know. Short-circuit. I don’t want it to be like that with us.”
He’s watching my mouth when he asks, “You don’t want it to be serious, or you don’t want to short-circuit?”
“I don’t want to mess this up,” I say. “Our friendship is too important to me. What if we . . . do this, and it changes that?”
Oliver nods, bending and pressing his cheek to mine again. “I don’t have a choice but to want to do this, Lola. I’m in love with you.”
The words incinerate my lungs and I stop breathing again. There isn’t a word for what I’m feeling. It is the direct, razor edge of ecstasy and terror.
“Shh,” he whispers. “Don’t panic, okay? I’m just being honest here. I love you. I want you.” He exhales, and it’s a massive, trembling gust against my neck. “Fuck, I want you. But I understand it isn’t simple, and I don’t expect simple. I just want you to try. I mean, if—”
I nod quickly—my heart is lodged in my throat, pounding, pounding, pounding with need for him—and he jerks me tighter into him, relief evident in his posture. I didn’t think it was possible to be any closer, but it was. It just required our bodies to collapse, air to evacuate lungs.
We go quiet and I realize I’ve been dancing without thought. I’m not a natural dancer, but I haven’t considered what my feet are doing, how my arms or hands or hips are moving. But now that I am, I can imagine how it would be to be with Oliver: how he would fit against me, over me. He’s taller, broader, but his hips would still feel sharp on my thighs. His hands don’t do tentative; I can imagine the pressure of them sliding up and over my curves. I want the hand in my hair to form a fist, pull my head back. Even though he wouldn’t do that here, the promise is there, in the flexing of his fingers, in the way they haven’t shifted away. He found a spot, buried deep.
“I saw Aerosmith when I was fourteen,” he says, and I wonder if he’s thinking about how young that is, thinking about me at fourteen, alone in an apartment with a burnout guy. Or, if he’s just talking to get me to remember that this is us. This is what we do, with or without I love yous. “It was after they had that ballad out from Armageddon—”
“Yeah, that’s it,” he says, laughing. “We went by ourselves and felt so fucking mature. We took a bus to Sydney—it’s nearly two hundred kilometers away and my grandparents were like, ‘Yeah, sure, go for it.’ I’m not kidding when I say every crazy personality in the world is represented on buses.”
“I know,” he agrees. “Such kids, right, but I reckon it was the best night of my life up to then. My mate got tickets from his cousin. I didn’t even know any Aerosmith songs—well, I did,” he says, “I just didn’t realize they were Aerosmith. But it was brilliant. Maybe that’s when I decided I wanted to travel. Maybe it was before that, I don’t know. I think I learned to be a little fearless on that bus. Figured if I could head up to Sydney for a weekend, I could go anywhere.”