It’s too much, and I feel months of longing crash into everything else going on in my life right now. “It’s a big deal to me,” I say. And, inexplicably, tears fill my eyes.
Pushing past a surprised Harlow, I rush into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.
I hear her knock quietly on the door as I fill my cupped palms with cold water, splashing it on my cheeks before pressing my face into a soft towel.
It’s just a lot all at once, I tell myself. Breathe.
I don’t know why, but I have this dark sense of dread. My blood rushes cold in fear and hot in thrill, wildly alternating between these two poles. This is good. Everything is good. So why do I feel like I’m trying to contain a hurricane in the palm of my hand?
I take a few minutes to brush my hair and put it back up in a neat ponytail. I put on a little makeup. I stare at myself in the mirror, and try not to worry that the woman staring back at me is going to fuck all of this up, every last bit of it.
“Lola,” Harlow whispers through the door. “Lola. It’s okay for it to be intense. Oliver isn’t going anywhere.”
THE CAR PULLS up in front of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills and the driver lifts my sad little duffel bag from the trunk, smiling blandly when I give him a pathetic tip because I only have ten dollars in cash.
I’m startled when the bellhop reaches for my bag before I can pick it up and we apologize in unison. He gives me a sympathetic smile and nods to the opulent hotel entrance. I must look like I’ve just emerged from a cave: I’m going on a night with little sleep, and napped like a milk-drunk newborn the entire drive from San Diego. But even with the darkening sky all around me and the promise of a comfortable bed, unfortunately I know I will be up for hours now.
The room is already paid for, and with my key in hand I head upstairs. It’s a lavish suite, decorated in soft neutrals with bright flowers in a vase on the desk. A giant king-size bed takes up much of the bedroom floor, and just beyond is a set of French doors to a balcony overlooking the Los Angeles skyline.
It’s beautiful, and this week promises to be exciting, but my stomach feels a little low in my body. As desperate as it sounds, I don’t like the idea of being away from Oliver for the next few days. Things are so new between us still; it isn’t time yet for interruption.
I pick up my phone to call him, and see that in the past three hours, I’ve missed two calls from my editor, three from Benny, and one from Oliver.
I listen to Oliver’s message first as I walk into the bathroom and undress, needing a shower, some room service, a full night’s sleep.
“Hey, pet. Just missing you. Hope the drive went smoothly. Havin’ dinner with the group tonight. Will miss you there, and later.” His voice drops. “I don’t want to sleep alone in my bed tonight. I want you in it, on top of me. Lola, I’m obsessed. Call me when you’ve arrived so I can play with you. I love you.”
I listen to it again, and again, and again, until I turn on the water, lips curled in a smile as I remember every single one of his touches, and forget that I have other messages waiting, red and urgent on my phone.
A CAR PICKS me up outside the hotel at nine the next morning, and I look out the window as we weave our way through downtown L.A. traffic. I called Oliver last night after my shower, talking to him for three hours until both of our words were coming out thick with exhaustion. I suddenly want to see a picture of him, of us—something to stare at other than the monotony of cars merging into our lane, the endless view of sidewalk and taillights.
But when I pull out my phone to scroll through whatever pictures I have stored there, my screen is already lit up with another missed call from Benny.
“Fuck,” I breathe, feeling with my thumb that my phone has been on silent since I left San Diego yesterday. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” I’d forgotten that he called. I never listened to his messages.
Lola, sweets, I just talked to Erik. He’s needing an update on the delivery of the manuscript.
Hi, Lola, it’s Erik. Give me a quick call. I wanted to check in about the progress on Junebug and see if you needed some extra time.
“Extra time?” I say out loud. The driver glances at me in the rearview mirror. My hands are shaking when I open my calendar app.
There is no way I got this wrong.
No way I got this wrong.
I look, blinking. I know my book is due next week—I’ve been stressed about being behind on it while on the road—but it’s not on the calendar. I scroll forward one week, two weeks, three . . . nothing. I scroll back through this week, and last week . . . it’s not there, either.
The driver pulls up in front of the studio offices and I trip out of the backseat with a distractedly mumbled thanks. My fingers are damp on the screen, clammy. With dread settling in my stomach, I open my calendar for two weeks ago. Pinned to the Wednesday of that week are the words
It was due two weeks ago.
I have seventeen panels drawn for my next book, and it was due two weeks ago. Now I understand why Erik has emailed, casually “checking in” twice. Now I get why Benny gets nervous whenever he’s brought up Junebug. I have never in my life missed a deadline—not even for something as small as a math assignment.