“Titanfall,” she explains, nodding me in and turning back to the couch. “Wanna play? Lola’s holed up in there.”

I shake my head, managing a wobbly smile. “Just wanted to stop in and say hi to her. She’s down in her room?”

London nods absently. “Hasn’t emerged for anything but coffee and cereal in about a day.” I turn down the hall, hoping my footsteps on the wood floor warn her to my arrival. I knock quietly at Lola’s door before turning the knob and stepping in.

I’ve seen her room a few times, and it looks much like I remember; it’s an organized mess. The floor is pristine, her bed neatly made. But every other surface is covered, nearly chaotic. There’s a huge desk in one corner; her computer and digital sketch tablet are crowded at one end. Every other exposed surface is coated with pencils and pots of paint, stacks of drawings and various sketchpads. Scraps of paper and napkins and even gum wrappers litter the top, random ideas she’s jotted down while away. The wall just above and adjoining it is practically wallpapered with sketches and panels, some of them nothing more than charcoal while others are filled in with colors so vivid I’m not sure how they’re real. A strand of lights runs the length of the ceiling and I imagine how soothing and calm it must be at night. How much of an escape this must be for her. A dresser beneath the window and both the tables opposite the bed are filled with framed photographs.

I take another moment to look around, and realize I’m basically standing inside Lola’s brain. Spots of organization surrounded by an unending, overwhelming stream of ideas.

“It’s a little cluttered,” she mumbles in lieu of a greeting, and I close the door behind me.

“It’s fine,” I tell her. I love you, is what I want to say, but how many times should I say it without her saying it back? Instead, I bend to meet her mouth in a kiss I’ve been dying to have since the last one she gave me.

But Lola pulls away after only the barest touch, taking off her glasses and looking up at me. She’s disheveled, obviously stressed, and now I notice the four empty coffee cups on the floor near her chair, the wild, buzzy look in her eyes.

“I hadn’t heard from you,” I tell her. “I was getting a little worried.”

She nods, rubbing her eyes. “I’ve been trying to catch up. I sort of get into this panic mode . . . well,” she says, looking back at me, “I assume that’s what this is since I’ve never been so late on a project before.”

I rub her arm. “It’ll be fine, pet. Just give yourself space to think on it.”

She winces, turning back to her desk. “Well it isn’t fine right now. I don’t really have the luxury of letting ideas bubble to the surface. This is me, on a crash deadline.”

“If you want a break from your room, you can work on it at my place,” I tell her, looking around us and wondering if a more organized workspace wouldn’t help with her current state. “I can make you dinner and you can just sit at the table and work.”

Lola shakes her head. “I can’t move all my stuff over there. I just need to power through.”

I nod, and turn to sit on her bed. “Tell me how I can help.”

Lola falls silent, staring at the half-completed drawing on her computer screen. She seems to barely blink.

“Lola, tell me how I can help?”

She closes her eyes and takes a quick inhale, as if she’s just remembered that I’m here. “It used to be easier,” she says quietly. “I could shut things off and never worry that I was missing out on anything.”

I lean forward, elbows on my knees. “Missing out? What do you mean?”

She gestures limply to the computer screen. “I’ve been working on this for hours, and it’s not even half-done. I have twenty-six more pages to do, and so far everything I have is crap.” She turns, looks over her shoulder at me. “Before, I could just lose myself in it. Now I know you’re at the store, or at home, or in bed. It’s all I can think about.”

I smile and stand, walking closer to kiss the back of her neck. She stiffens and then relaxes, and I kiss a soft trail to her ear. “I’m here now. We’ll learn to balance it. It’s hard for me to want to work, too.”

“I just wish I could push pause,” she says, as if she didn’t hear me.

Nodding, she pushes back from the desk, standing and forcing me to take a step back as well. “Just . . . to get this done. I know that we’re going to be together. I want it, I do. I just . . .”

In a sickening rush, I feel cold all over. “Lola, it won’t always feel this consuming between us.”

She shakes her head. “I think . . . to me, it will. But I can’t mess this up, Oliver. This is huge to me. I know enough to know it doesn’t happen every day, and I will be sick if I mess it up.”

“I know, love, I—” I stop and my heart trips in embarrassment when I catch up: She’s not talking about us. She’s pointing to her screen again.

“I’ve been working on this dream since I was fifteen,” she whispers. “I almost don’t know what life looks like without it, and yesterday morning I wanted it to just go away so I could sleep because we’d been up all night. I hate working with Austin and Langdon. I hate that I’m late on this deadline. But this is what I wanted to do. I have it now and I’m letting it fall apart.”