I pace outside the building, running late for the meeting with Austin and Langdon already but I can’t let this wait, either. Benny doesn’t answer when I call, and I leave him a rambling message, hysterically trying to explain what happened, that I put it in my calendar and then somehow immediately made a mental note that it was due in March, not February, and could he call Erik and explain and please tell him that I need an extension and I won’t ever ask for this again, this is completely my fault.

My phone lights up with a text from Oliver—Good luck today!—and my panic magnifies. I have no idea how I am supposed to focus on anything today knowing how monumentally I have screwed up.

“Morning, Loles!” Austin calls from somewhere behind me, and when I turn, I see him sauntering out of a parking deck adjacent to the building. He smiles widely and I drop my phone into my purse, still shaken.

When he approaches and sees my face—no doubt I’m pale and look like I’m completely panicking—he draws his brows low, giving me a playfully grumpy face. “You don’t look like a badass ready to kick some ass today!”

Austin doesn’t care. He’s already walking past me and tilting his head for me to follow.

I pinch my shirt over my breastbone, fanning it over my skin as I walk into the building behind him. And goddamnit: my blue silk shirt already has wide sweat marks under the arms. It can only go downhill from here. My first instinct is to call Oliver, to tell him everything and unwind as he calmly explains how this is all normal, and lays out how I’ll get it all done.

“Langdon is on his way,” Austin tells me. “What were you saying? You missed a what?”

“Oh,” I say, tripping to keep up with his fast strides as he enters the elevator. “I had to send something to my editor.” My head spins and I pull my phone out of my purse again to see if Benny has returned my call.

“Oop, none of that!” he says, tapping the top of my phone with his index finger. “We’ve got a lot to do today.” Leaning in, he adds, “Nothing’s more important than this, is it?”

AUSTIN LEADS ME to a conference room and hands me a printed copy of the script—my first glimpse—telling me I have a half hour to look it over while we wait for Langdon to arrive.

“He’s stuck in traffic,” Austin says, frowning down at his phone.

“Don’t worry,” he says, gently interrupting me. He comes around the table to sit next to me, and his sincere wince tells me he knows how overwhelming this must be for me. I just can never tell whether or not he’s on my side. “We have all day to pore through this. I swear, Lola, you’ll have so much time with this script you’ll want to burn it soon.”

By the time Langdon arrives and the three of us sit down, my notes on the first few scenes are shakily written and disorganized. The document in front of me is one of the most exciting things to ever happen in my life, but I can’t manage to engage fully. My thoughts vacillate between Junebug and Oliver—from anxiety to relief and back again. But Langdon and Austin are already very familiar with the script, and even without the deadline panic and the Oliver obsession hijacking my brain, I feel like I’m chasing a car down the street to keep up with the conversation. I need to focus. I can’t look to see if Benny or Erik has called me back. I just need to get through the day.

Just get through the day.

“So, Lola,” Austin cuts into my efforts, using the tip of his pen to scratch his scalp. The loud scritch-scritch-scritch seems to echo through the room. I run my hands up over my bare arms, wondering why the air-conditioning is cranked so high. “We were thinking in the opening scene,” he continues, “Quinn could be coming back from the library rather than waking up in bed.”

I scan through the section in question, noting that I hadn’t written any comments there. I actually liked the opening scene. “Well, it’s sort of less scary to first run into Razor outside the library than it is to wake up to him standing in her bedroom,” I argue.

“I’m just not sure the audience will be sympathetic to Razor if he’s in the bedroom of an eighteen-year-old girl,” Langdon says.

I stare at both of them. “Especially since Quinn is fifteen.”

Austin glances up at Langdon and I catch his subtle head shake. “Let’s focus first on the library-versus-bedroom issue.”

“The audience isn’t supposed to be sympathetic to Razor at the beginning.” Do I really need to explain this? I feel the other stress melting away as this one begins dumping fuel on the fire in my chest. “He’s a deformed man with scales and teeth as sharp as knives. He doesn’t look like a hero because at the beginning, he’s not.”

Austin launches into an explanation about audience confidence and first impression and there’s so much jargon that after a few minutes of it my brain starts to slowly ebb away, thinking instead of Oliver, in his office.

How he told me to be quiet.

How it felt like he knew I was starting to panic at the idea of leaving for three measly days.

How much he seems to love me already, how much he trusts me to get it right.

How much I need him here right now, eyes centering mine, helping me get through this one minute at a time.

“. . . so the issue really is grabbing them up front, curling our fist around their collar, and yelling in their faces that they’ll love Razor,” Austin continues, “no matter what he does. Right up front, in the first scene. It lets us forgive him when he acts out, later.”