“And here you are, getting better at them every day.” I help her up, standing after her and holding her face, kissing her once. “Just let me know when you’re done.”
I go for a long ride after Lola leaves, taking the road that leads down to the beach and biking the trail as long as I possibly can. Although we slept in tiny bursts broken by two more rounds of frenzied, wordless fucking, I’m full of an energy that feels nearly limitless. I go from Pacific Beach to Carlsbad, legs pumping, heart propelling blood in enormous, victorious spasms.
I hurt when my mum left. I was angry and sullen, and upset with the world for a long time. I hated my dad for leaving me. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever experience true contentment or joy, but now I have both. The store is situated. My home is mostly paid for. The love of my life slept in my arms last night—in my bed, where I hope she will stay forever. I want for nothing.
THE BELL RINGS over the door to the shop as I step inside, and a strange calm settles over me. It’s barely half-past eleven and the aisles are pretty packed for a nonrelease day, people spilling off the couch in the front reading nook and crowded around the pinball machine near the back. Joe is at the register, a line of customers behind him.
He nods in my direction but everything from last night is too fresh, and I’m not sure I’m ready to put my game face on, especially with Joe. For all his flaky mannerisms, I’m often surprised by how acutely he pays attention.
I return Joe’s nod and round the counter, stepping into the back office and hanging my jacket on the hook. Only now that I’m here does it occur to me that I’m not clear what the rules are. If I’m reading things correctly, Lola and I are together—I’m just not sure who else is supposed to know that. Lola isn’t guarded in a stereotypical way; she shares things, but she does so in inches rather than miles, and not always immediately. It’s entirely possible she’ll wait to tell Harlow about this until whenever she happens to see her next. Lola isn’t exactly a close-the-door-behind-him-and-call-the-girlfriend-to-dish kind of woman.
Which puts me in a weird spot: If I tell Finn, and he tells Harlow, and Harlow hears it from Finn before she hears it from Lola, Lola will be in trouble and I may be, too. If I tell Ansel, and he mentions it to Mia, which he definitely will, there is no way Mia won’t call Harlow immediately.
So there is absolutely no way I can let on to Joe what is going on: Joe hearing about this before anyone else would make Harlow’s head explode. Not to mention the Not-Joe is Always Right Tumblr he’d probably start and fill with illustrations of every time he told us to “just bang and get it over with already.”
Luckily I have experience hiding this . . . though who am I kidding? There’s not a single person—except perhaps Lola—who didn’t realize I’m wildly in love with her.
I head out to the front of the store and begin helping customers. One of my regulars is searching for the newest issue of Hawkeye, but when I check I see we’ve sold out. There’s a man in his forties looking to sell a box of miscellaneous junk he got at a garage sale, and after poking through it, I know there’s nothing I’m interested in buying. I help a couple looking to buy their first big comic together, and I sell them Captain America 61. Released in 1947, it depicts Cap and Bucky discovering that the Red Skull, believed to be gone, is indeed still alive. Classic.
And through it all, I can feel Joe watching me.
The crowd thins a bit and I walk to the counter, reaching under for a rag to wipe down the pinball machine.
“Place has been crazy lately,” Joe says, pulling a stack of twenties out of the register to face them.
“Yeah, was thinking of bringing someone else in.”
He pauses for a moment and looks up. “Someone else to work here?”
He follows me toward the back, and I look at him over my shoulder. “Sure.”
“So, I’d be in charge. Second in command, even. Wong to Doctor Strange.”
“Batman? Let’s not get too far ahead of yourself. Foggy Nelson to your Daredevil. The movie.”
I stop near the back and start straightening a shelf of Choose Your Own Adventure books. “Sure,” I say again with a shrug.
Joe knocks on the counter, loudly. “Okay what is up?”
“Ben Affleck’s Daredevil? You’re just going to let me throw that out at you?”
I move back to the front of the store. “What? It was an okay movie.”
The bell over the door rings, cutting him off, and I hear one of our regulars up front call out to Lola.
My body goes tight, heart taking off in a sprint.
It’s one thing to decide I’m not telling Joe, or Finn, or Ansel, or even letting on to anything, but am I expected to act like nothing happened? Is that even possible? I feel like one look at her and all of last night will be written all over my face.
Glancing over my shoulder, I see Lola’s hair is pulled into a dark ponytail that swings behind her as she walks. When she isn’t in a hurry, her stride is even and serene and her hair rests gently down the middle of her back. But when she’s moving like this—with purpose—it swings behind her, propelled by the sway of her energy.