But it also doesn’t, right?

And fuck, I know I missed most of his lecture, but I can’t help but fight, just a little longer. “I just think—”

Langdon sighs heavily, looking to Austin in exasperation. “We don’t have time for this.”

“No, no,” Austin says, waving easily to Langdon, and giving me a winning smile. “Let her speak.”

The words swim in my head and for several, long, painful seconds I forget what scene we’re talking about. “Um . . .”

Nodding quickly, I say, “I prefer it to happen the way it is in the book.”

I whip my head to him. “Excuse me?” I ask, my heart beating so hard I’m shaking. “Isn’t this an adaptation of the book? I edited that scene for weeks to get it right.”

A sarcastic smile curls Langdon’s mouth. “You’re how old?” he asks, leaning forward with his elbows planted on the table.

The panel shows a girl with a barrel of propane, holding a match.

“Twenty-three, and you wrote a book, and some people liked it, and now you understand Hollywood.” He flicks his fingers in front of him, leaning back in his chair. “I’m not sure why I’m even here, then.”

My blood turns to steam. He just said what?

“I guess I’m not, either,” I finally manage, voice shaking. “You’re forty-five with only one screenplay adapted for a major film studio and it grossed less than eleven million. Our budget is ten times that.”

Langdon draws a deep breath, and it makes him look like a dragon preparing to exhale fire. “My focus has been indie films, giving me a niche perspective that allows me to—”

Austin tries to laugh, but it comes out as a shrill burst. “Langdon, stop it. Don’t be a diva. Lola is just telling us how she feels. This is all new to her.” He turns to me, placating. “Some of this—and I know it will be hard—will just have to be you, trusting us. Trusting me. Trusting Langdon. Trusting the process. Do you think you can do that?” He’s already nodding, already smiling as if I’ve agreed.

“Great,” he proclaims. “We’ll tweak the opening just a tiny tiny bit, and then boom! Your world will unfold on the screen!”

THE REST OF the meeting is equally abysmal. Langdon eventually gets over his tantrum, but my story is hacked apart, reorganized. Dialogue I love is lost, scenes I would never have thought to include in the book somehow make it into the script. It’s not that I’m particularly precious about my work, but so many of their changes simply don’t make sense. And we have to do it all again tomorrow. And the day after that.

I order room service and get into my pajamas before eight o’clock. Erik called during our brief lunch break and has set up a call for us on Friday afternoon, during my drive home to San Diego. At the very least he didn’t sound like he wanted to murder me, but I know when I get home I’m going to have to dive into the writing cave.

My phone rests in the middle of the fluffy bed, black and lifeless. I want to call Oliver, to beg him to ramble and pull me out of this frozen frenzy, but every breath I take only makes it halfway down my windpipe before it seems to push back out.

I want him here. I have a to-do list five miles long but I feel restless in the room alone. It seems crazy, like needing him this way is too much too soon. I spent most of the day wishing I were back in San Diego, rather than at the table working through the script.

But I don’t want to talk to Oliver on the phone because I feel inarticulate in my panic about him and me, about the book, about the movie, about everything . . . and I don’t want to text him, either, because it’s trite to put this enormity in a tiny digital box. I miss him in this weird, frantic way. I want to drive home tonight to be with him. I need him in the hotel room with me and I know, without having to weigh the pros and cons for him, that he would drive up here in a heartbeat if I asked. He would calm me down, make me laugh, tease my insanity into something else. A fluffy toy to prop at the end of a pen. A bright pink plastic slinky. Something disposable and silly.

But if he came up here, he would be on the road alone, late. People are drunk. People are reckless. People text and drive and San Diego is over a hundred and thirty miles away.

My phone vibrates with a text and I look down to see his name on the screen. How did it all go?

Picking up my phone, I start to type about ten different replies but find myself deleting each one. Finally dropping it back on the bed, I turn on the television, get into the shower. I pull out a notepad and spend the next few hours sketching some of the worst things I’ve ever done and then drop the pad on the bed. Was Razor Fish a fluke? I started it when I was fifteen, and it took me three years to finish, two more to edit, and another two to get published. How did I ever expect to write the follow-up in a matter of months while touring, working on the film, falling in love?

I’m exhausted but my brain won’t stop. I dig into my bag, find a sleeping pill. It stares at me, tiny and white and challenging.

I don’t even feel it slide down my throat.

The world narrows from a wide white space to the tiny spot of focus in front of me: my hand holding a pen. The line elongates, dragging off the margin, and my eyelids are heavy trees falling over in the woods.