What would Harlow do? I wonder. She would ask. She would say, “Is everything okay?”
Is it really that simple?
“Is everything okay?” I ask, giving it a try. Oliver looks up at me, brows pulled together in question. “I mean, after last night . . .”
He smiles and puts his menu down. “Everything is brilliant.”
Harlow would elaborate. Harlow would explain why she asked. Hell, Harlow would probably be in his lap right now.
“Okay, good,” I say, turning my eyes down to study the long list of waffle choices.
I can feel his eyes on me a little longer, and then he picks up his menu again.
I put my menu down. “It’s already different,” I say.
“It’s not,” he says immediately, and when I look up at him, I see he’s smiling. He expected this version of my panic.
Shaking his head, he looks back at the menu and mumbles, “You’re a head case.”
The waitress comes by and fills our coffee cups. Oliver watches me with a smile while I forego the buffet and order pancakes. He orders pancakes and eggs.
She leaves and he plants his forearms on the table, leaning in. “What do you want, Lola?”
I want to feel a better sense of what shape my life is taking.
I want to draw every single story my brain is churning up right now.
I want to have Oliver, and not lose him.
“I don’t know.” I pour three creams into my mug.
I look up at the sound of him scratching his jaw, the stubble scritch-scritching against his short fingernails.
I want to make out until my lips are raw from the scrape of that stubble.
I want him to fuck me into next week.
I want the press of his cock to wake me up in the middle of the night.
“Well, Lola Love, you let me know when you figure it out,” he says. The tip of his tongue peeks out to wet his lips, and he sees me watching.
I realize he’s walked over to my side of the court and carefully placed the ball directly in the center.
“You’re a jerk,” I repeat quietly, fighting my grin. I adore him, so much. It’s this massive, blooming emotion making my cheeks heat and my stomach curl with pleasure. I don’t know how I’ll manage once I let go of the rope and float.
The panel shows the girl holding a glowing meteorite in her hands.
Oliver lifts his coffee to his mouth, smiling.
I FALL ASLEEP in the car somewhere near Long Beach and Oliver gently jostles me awake when he’s parked just outside the store.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say as he pulls my duffel bag from the trunk. He sets it down on the curb and digs one hand into his jeans, tugging them down at the waist.
“Thanks for coming with me,” I say, blinking to the side in a completely unsubtle attempt to stop trying to get an eyeful of happy trail. “I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun by myself.”
“Anytime,” he says, adding in a nerdy voice: “I think you’re wonderful, Lorelei.”
I smile up at him. “I think you’re wonderful, too, Oliver.”
He surprises me, cupping my face and bending to press his lips to my cheek. It’s far too close to my mouth to be innocent, but not actually touching my lips. It doesn’t quite count as a kiss. Does it? My pulse explodes in my neck and I have to hold my breath to keep from making a sound. He holds there for the length of a slow, quiet inhale before moving away.
“So,” I say, “maybe we can hang out later?”
On instinct, we both practically explode apart and turn to see Not-Joe squinting at us. His hair is a total wreck, more spiky cactus than mohawk, and his shirt is on backward.
“No,” I tell him. “We were just . . .”
Okay, maybe we were about to kiss. Fucking Not-Joe.
“Goddamnit,” he half-yells, half-groans. “If you’re not making out then move out of the way so I can get in. I need to lie down.”
It’s Monday—the only day of the week the store is closed—so Oliver unlocks the door and we watch Not-Joe stumble over to the reading nook.
“I need to start using a hurricane naming system for my hangovers,” he mumbles, stretching out on the couch. “I’m calling this one Abby. She’s a total whore.”
Oliver watches Not-Joe with a justifiable degree of wariness: I’d give eight-to-one odds Not-Joe is going to barf on the furniture.
“What are you even doing here?” I ask him. “Why aren’t you at home?”
“I think someone needed his wallet.” Oliver picks it up from behind the counter and tosses it onto Not-Joe’s chest. “There you go, Ace.”
“Too loud,” Not-Joe groans. “Too bright. I think this is what autism feels like.”
Oliver barks out a horrified laugh before saying, “Motherfuck, Joe, you can’t say shit like that!”
With a small, exasperated shake of his head, Oliver moves behind the counter to put on some music. Journey blasts through the store and Oliver pulls out his air guitar.