I smile up at him, a million beating wings let loose in my heart. “Or maybe I want him to smile and be quietly knowing, but let me be the one who’s giddy over Loliver.”
“That’s rather selfish,” he says, teasing. “And for the record, I’ve never known your dad to be quietly knowing about anything.”
I bite my lip, looking up at him. His mouth is skewed by a tiny smile and I can tell he’s teasing, but he’s also not. “I know.”
He turns to me, rubbing the pad of his index finger along my bottom lip. “Greg’s happy for you.” Pausing, he studies me while I manage several short, shallow breaths under the gentle scrutiny. When he says more, his voice is quiet. “I get the sense you haven’t brought many boyfriends home.”
“Or any,” I say and his gaze becomes heavy, dropping to my mouth. “You’re the first.”
Reaching up, I touch my fingertip to his chin. “I wouldn’t call you and me long-term yet.”
He laughs. “I guess that depends on your definition; we’ve certainly been building up to this for a long time. I mean someone you’ve been with long enough to want to bring home.”
“Are you asking me how many people I’ve been with?”
I laugh, telling him, “You’re my fifth.” He makes a little grumpy face I’ve never seen before, and I ask, “Do you want me to ask you?”
“You can,” he challenges, meeting my eyes and maybe knowing I won’t actually ask. I wait, and finally he laughs through a wince, “Though I don’t actually know. There were lots of random nights in uni. I’m going to guess around thirty.”
I nod, looking back over to the fence and holding my breath until the sting evaporates from my lungs.
“You don’t like that answer,” he says.
Laughing, he agrees: “Not really. In my ideal world I took your virginity the other night.”
I roll my eyes. “Guys are so ridiculous about that.”
“Well, clearly not just guys,” he argues. “You also don’t like that I’ve been with other women.”
“I don’t like the idea that you’ve loved other women.”
He can’t help the cocky flicker of a smile that flashes on his lips. Oliver leans close, mouth sliding up my neck to my ear. “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone quite like this. In this sort of giddy, obliterating game-changing way. Where I can see myself with her for the rest of my life.”
This feels so new, so bare, so exposed. I wonder if Oliver realizes how scary it is for me to bring him here, to admit—even if I can’t say the three tiny words myself—that I care that he loves me. As soon as we open our hearts up to love, we show the universe the easiest way to break them in half.
Thirty women. It’s not that it’s a surprise or particularly jarring, not after the initial sting, anyway. It’s that it’s new after months of never discussing these things. I can’t decide if I love or hate how everything I learn about him makes me feel like I don’t really know him at all. I know what art would make his eyes go wide, which movies he hates and which he loves. I know what to order him if he’s late to meet us at the Regal Beagle, I know that he’s an only child and that he doesn’t like ketchup. But I don’t know his emotional heart at all: who he’s ever imagined he might love, how he’s been hurt, and what kind of boyfriend he’s been to some of those women. What might send him away.
His hand comes up to my back, rubbing in small, slow circles.
“Why did you not call me more?”
I shrug, leaning into his shoulder. “I didn’t know what to say. The meetings were hard. I missed a really important deadline. I went to a weird place.”
“What deadline?” he asks, pulling back to look at me.
“Junebug,” I say, and feel the now-familiar roll of nausea over it. “It was due two weeks ago.”
I nod. “I know. I had the date right in my calendar, but in my head I thought it was next week. Even if it was next week, it would be late.”
It’s weird—but wonderful—to hear him ask this. Weird because it comes out so easily, so readily, and for the first time I really do see what Harlow meant about me being clueless: this sort of question has been second nature to Oliver for as long as I’ve known him.
“I don’t know. I’m going to dive into it all tomorrow morning.” I squeeze my eyes closed, wanting to put that aside, just for another couple of hours. “Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t call. I didn’t like being away. But then I didn’t like not liking being away.”
“I took sleeping pills a couple of the nights.”
I feel him turn to look at me. “Yeah? Do you need that usually?”
“No. But work was really stressful and I sort of turned into mute Lola.”
“Still a version of the Lola I love,” he says, kissing my hair. “I know her well.”
Away from him I felt crazy. Next to him, it’s easy to just spill it all and it doesn’t seem so strange. How did I manage to be away for three days?