AUSTIN MEETS ME outside the building again the next morning, handing me a huge cup of coffee. “Figured you might need it, eh?” he asks, sipping his little espresso.
I smile, thanking him as I take it. My thoughts reel: Is he saying today is going to be longer and harder than yesterday? Or is he saying he thinks I need to be more focused and got me a coffee to help?
I follow him to the elevators, listening to him have a short, bursty conversation on his cell. He hangs up just as we get into the car and press into a cluster of people.
“I want you to know that Langdon really does get the spirit of your story,” Austin says, too loud in such a crowded space.
“I’m sure.” I want to talk to Austin about this, of course—as well as make sure we’ll be able to wrap this up in time for me to get home and back to work—but I really don’t want to do it in the middle of a crowded elevator.
“And I get that the age thing is a sticking point to you—”
“But Langdon has the film sensibility to know what will work and what won’t. We aren’t going to draw in the male audience we need with a fifteen-year-old female protagonist.”
I can tell everyone around us is listening in, waiting to see how I reply.
“Well, that’s a shame,” I say, and someone behind me snorts. I can’t tell from the sound whether it’s supportive or derisive. “Though Natalie Portman was only twelve in The Professional, and a lot of Razor and Quinn’s relationship dynamics are based on that.”
The doors open on our floor.
“Well, there was certainly discussion about the sexual dynamics there, too,” he points out.
I open my mouth to give him my opinion—that it’s about damaged people finding connection, and it’s never implied to be a sexual relationship between Mathilde and Léon—when the doors open and Austin steps out of the lift.
“Sex sells,” he says over his shoulder. “It’s not an idiom for nothing.”
“Wolverine, too,” I call out, loud enough that I know he hears me even if he’s charging ahead of me and thumbing through emails on his phone. “He mentors younger girls but never lets it get creepy.”
Austin ignores this, and we walk down toward the same conference room we were in yesterday. I see through the glass door that Langdon is already there, sitting and laughing easily with another man—slightly older than Langdon, but fit, with graying hair at his temples and thick tortoise-shell frames.
“Oh, good, they’re both here,” Austin says, pushing the door open with a flattened palm. “Lola, this is Gregory Saint Jude.”
The man stands and turns, looking at me with guarded eyes.
I reach out to shake the man’s hand. He’s shorter than I am but greets me with a firm handshake, a friendly nod, and then sits back down beside Langdon.
“My dad’s name is Greg, too,” I say with what I hope is an affable smile.
His answering one is tight around his eyes. “I prefer Gregory, actually.”
“Sure. Of course.” Gah. I’m already unsteady from the misfire with Austin, and suddenly feel like Razor himself, arriving from a completely different version of this same world. I’m clearly cracking because I have to bite back a laugh at the thought.
Sliding my phone on the table, I’m hit with the need to call Oliver and tell him that. To hear his voice, to get a taste of normalcy.
And just like that, it’s as if I’ve broken the seal and let in the flood of thoughts.
I never texted him back last night, so this morning I sent him a series of heart emojis and a S.O.S. L.A. IS WEIRD text, but his reply—Slept like a rock. Think I’ve been sleep deprived? Call when you’re done today—wasn’t nearly enough. I briefly reconsider the idea of him driving up and spending the next two nights with me, but would I be able to focus at all knowing he was within a few miles? And even if I could, when would I work?
“Lola?” Austin says, and I blink over to him, registering that I’ve been staring at the screen of my phone, and this is probably not the first time he’s said my name.
“Sorry. Was just . . .” I turn off the phone completely and smile over at him. “There. Sorry. Where are we starting?”
OLIVER IS STANDING outside my building on Friday afternoon when the black car pulls up to the curb. The driver opens my door and then unloads my small bag from the trunk, refusing a tip.
“Already covered,” he says with a smile.
I wilt. This time I was prepared. I shove the twenty in my pocket and look up.
Mute at night, frantic to contribute meaningfully during the day, I spoke to Oliver only twice in the past two days—for a total of maybe ten minutes—and my reaction to seeing him right now is exactly what I expected. He’s wearing dark jeans, a deep red T-shirt, his navy blue Converse. His hair is combed but hangs over his forehead. His lenses don’t begin to filter the brilliant blue eyes behind them. When he smiles at me, tucking the corner of his bottom lip between his straight, white teeth, it’s like taking ten deep gulps of fresh air.
He takes one step toward me and I move quickly into his arms, pressing into him for more when he squeezes tight, pushing all the air out of me. His mouth is on my temple, my cheek, covering my lips in small bursts of kisses, lips opening, tongue sliding inside to claim me. Out on the sidewalk his hands impatiently move over my waist, my hips, my ass, words sliding across my lips as he tells me he missed me, missed me, missed me.