I want to go upstairs, make love, drown in him. But it’s nearly seven, and we have dinner at my dad’s. With a groan, Oliver pulls away, nodding to his car at the curb. He links his fingers with mine and walks me to the passenger side.
Laughing, he opens the door for me. “Let’s go.”
AS IMPOSSIBLE AS it seems, I’ve never really had an awkward moment with my dad. Even after he came home from the war and we sat across from each other at the breakfast table, both of us unable to think of anything but his nightmare-tortured bellowing in the middle of the night, haunted by the images scorched on his closed lids. Even when Mom left and he lost his mind in a bottle and pills and I would drag him to bed, give him water, listen to his sobs. Even when he came to my room while I was doing homework, and quietly admitted that he needed some help. We’ve had hard times—brutal even—but it’s never been weird.
This truth dissolves the moment we pull up at the curb and Dad is waiting on the porch, wearing an enormous grin.
It didn’t occur to me until just now that I’m twenty-three and have never brought a boyfriend home.
The second we walk in the door, I know Dad is going to make this as horrible as I expected: his smile reaches both ears, and when he slaps Oliver on the back, the sound cracks through the room.
Oliver smiles easily at him, eyes glinting with humor. “Hey, Greg.”
“Don’t make it weird for the rest of all time.”
He’s already shaking his head. “Make it weird? Why would I do that? Just saying hi to you and your new fella. Your boyfriend. Your—”
I growl at him, cutting him off.
Reaching for something behind the couch, he pulls out a Barry White CD and an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne. “To the happy new couple!”
Oliver laughs, a single short burst of delight—always so easy, never makes it awkward for anyone—and takes the bottle from Greg. “Allow me the pleasure.”
“I don’t think I had any say in the matter,” Dad jokes.
I squeeze my eyes closed. It’s both the best and worst thing that the two of them are such good friends.
The panel shows the girl, throwing a frying pan into the air and standing quietly beneath it.
I pat both their shoulders as I walk past them. “If anyone needs me for this self-congratulatory wankfest I’ll be in the backyard.”
Dad calls after me—“Don’t you want a glass of this New Relationship Champagne, Lola?”—but I’m already through the kitchen, pushing out into the crisp open air.
It’s gorgeous out. Passion fruit vines crawl heavily up the fence separating our yard from the Blunts’, weighing down the ancient wood so that it bows toward our lawn. During the summer days there are so many bees inside the web of leaves that I used to imagine they could work in concert to lift the leaves, the fence, the yard, our house from the earth and take us somewhere else, like pulling a sticker from paper. When the fruit grows ripe, it falls from the vine, making a tiny popping sound against the hard earth below. I close my eyes, remembering the feel of the vibration of the bees above as I would crawl into the vines and feel along the ground for ripe fruit to take inside.
I feel like I haven’t breathed in days, but now that I’m away from L.A. I can. I’m aware of the tightness high in my throat and how it eases, a fist unclenching. Tension still knots my stomach. I have so much to do.
The script isn’t even finalized; Austin and Langdon compromised by letting me edit the version we came up with, on the condition that I don’t revert any of the agreed-upon changes back to the original version. Erik has given me two weeks to finish Junebug, which is good because soon after that, I leave on another book tour, and return a week later to the first day of principal filming on set. I’ve never had to juggle this much before, and every time I have to switch my headspace from movie Razor Fish to book Razor Fish to Junebug, it feels like learning how to write all over again. I am a reservoir, slowly draining water.
From the house, I hear Oliver’s low voice and then Dad’s burst of laughter followed by the pop of a cork. Despite the twisting worry in me, I bite my lip as I smile at the sound of their indistinct words, spoken in happy, easy tones. They’re a bit over-the-top when together, but I knew this about Dad already and still brought Oliver to dinner. They’re so genuinely fond of each other, and that knowledge is both a relief and terrifying.
The voices inside disappear and then the screen door creaks behind me, slow footsteps make their way down the back stairs, and I feel a long, warm body settle beside me on the lawn.
I lean into his side, closing my eyes and wanting to roll on him, luxuriate in the feel of him.
Oliver slides an arm along my back, cupping his fingers into my waist. His mouth finds my neck and he speaks into it: “Putting the finishing touches on our Coming Out dinner.”
“You don’t like how he’s taking all of this?”
“I do. . . .” I hedge. “It’s just like having a new haircut. You want everyone to like it but you don’t really need everyone to notice it quite so intensely.”
He bends, kissing the corner of my mouth. “You hate this sort of attention, don’t you? You want this, us—Loliver,” he says with a smirk, “to be a fact. Settled. Old news.”