“What the fuck, man?” Not-Joe rolls over, face-first into the cushion.
Oliver walks around to the reading nook and yells, “Time to rock out!” right next to his head. Not-Joe convulses into a tiny ball and I burst out laughing.
He nods, tongue poking out as he tears through a guitar solo.
“Have you ever thought about that, though?” I ask, and Oliver walks back around the counter to turn it down a little.
When I look at him—wide grin, fingers flying in a ridiculous air guitar, lip curled like a rocker—I realize his glasses break up his looks, cool them down, add ice to the glass. Without them, he’s all bone structure and color: brilliant blue eyes, warm lips, coffee-brown stubble.
“Steve Perry versus Arnel Pineda.” At his confused expression, I explain, “The guy on YouTube who gained a following for covering Journey songs . . . then eventually became the new lead singer for the band?”
Oliver’s head bobs in an enthusiastic nod along with the music. “Right. I think I heard about that.”
“I mean, would you rather see the real thing or the best tribute band?”
“Wait, I thought you meant Arnel Pineda is the real Journey.”
He shrugs. “I guess it depends on who we’re talking about.”
From the couch, Not-Joe moans a little mmmh? and opens one eye. He looks at us momentarily, blinking slowly, resulting in the most awkward three-person silent stare in modern history. Eventually he rolls his head to hide his face and returns to his hangover.
“Aw, come on,” Oliver says, shaking his head and returning to our debate. “Bob Dylan is a legend. Besides, everyone is a Dylan tribute band.”
“Okay, then,” I say. “What about Heart? You could get these young chicks belting out ‘Barracuda’ or you could get the Wilson sisters in their sixties—”
Laughing, I tell him, “This isn’t about feminism. I’m just saying. Imagine a reality show where they make the band compete with the tribute band. How much would you hate to have this amazing forty-year career and then compete with your tribute band?”
He walks over to me, musses my hair. “This is why I could never leave you.”
I freeze, my breath catching in my throat as the cautious part of my brain snaps to attention again.
My reaction must be written all over my face because Oliver knows immediately what he’s done.
“Fuck, Lola.” He wraps his arms around my shoulders, pulling my face to his neck. “I just meant you were being rather sweet. Of course I would never leave you.” And it’s true, I tell myself. He means it.
“Will you two just bone and get it over with?” Not-Joe groans from the couch. “Jesus Christ, someone needs to christen the storage room.”
We pull apart, but it’s different. Our hands slide apart more slowly: palms then fingers then fingertips.
“I need to go make some calls,” I tell him. “What are you doing later?”
He shrugs, looks at my mouth. “Dunno yet.”
I walk backward toward the door, watching his slow-growing smile. Something clicks over in me. I bend and pick up the proverbial ball from the middle of the court. “Okay, I’ll check in with you in a bit.”
I’VE LEARNED THAT Lola rarely does anything on impulse. Our Vegas wedding aside, she takes her time—be it seconds or days—to weigh every angle of a situation. I’ve never known anyone so deliberate.
The first time I noticed this, we were at the beach on a perfect August night. Her book had just been released that day, and already it was topping the charts in her genre. Drunk, I’d sprinted to the water and kicked off my shoes before diving fully clothed into the surf.
Lola had been drunker than I, but she’d staggered toward the foamy edge of the water and hesitated, teetering on her toes, before plunking down onto her bum on the sand.
“I don’t have clothes to change into,” she’d slurred. She’d fallen back, arms outstretched against the sand. “I’ll be wet, and sandy.”
“You’re sandy now,” I pointed out, pushing the dripping bulk of hair off my forehead.
“But I’m not wet. And I don’t have clothes at your house.”
I’d wanted to celebrate with beer and declarations and some rowdy fucking. I’d wanted to say, Fuck it, Lola, you can wear my clothes. Or you can wear nothing at all.
But I hadn’t, and I hadn’t because I knew already not to push. She didn’t want to swim, didn’t want to trip home in soggy clothes that seemed to weigh eighty pounds.
It’s this trait that makes it easier for me to let her walk out of the store after she’s asked me what I’m doing tonight with such intent, I have to step behind the counter to let my body calm. And it helps me understand why every interaction with her the past week feels like two steps forward, one step back. But when she texts me only fifteen minutes later asking if she can come over later . . . I feel in the pounding of my heart that Lola has reached a decision. I just have to hope it’s the one that I want.