Unease fills my chest. “We don’t have to spend every night together. I would never expect you to slow down the pace. I’m only here because it was weird for me, after how we left things Saturday morning, to not hear from you. I was worried.”
Lola sits down at the edge of her bed. “I know. I’m sorry.”
I find a place beside her, take her hand. “There’s nothing to apologize for. I’m just sorry about how stressed you are.”
She nods, and nods. It’s slow, continuous, almost defeated. And then she turns her eyes up to me. The rims of her lids are red, her eyes bloodshot. “Should we hit pause?”
My brain stumbles over the words. “What?”
She swallows, trying again: “Should we take a break?”
I, too, have to swallow past a lump in my throat before I can speak, and it takes several tries. “I’m not sure what that means.”
“It means I want to be with you, but I don’t think I can right now.”
My brow furrows as I try to catch up. “So . . . you need to work for a week in quiet? I can do that.”
Lola stares down at her hands. “I don’t know. I think maybe we should just try to go back to where we were a couple of weeks ago, and then see how things are this summer.”
I gape at her, feeling like my heart is dissolving in acid. “Lola, it’s March.”
“I know.” She’s doing the nodding thing again, swallowing back tears. “I know. I just really suck at both. I really suck at it, and I don’t want to mess this up, or that”—she points at her computer—“and I think I have to do the book without anything else. Without you so . . . available.”
“I understand that L.A. was terrible, and you are stressed about work, but this isn’t the way to deal with that. You have feelings for me,” I tell her, my voice thick with frustration and urgency. I know she does. “Strong feelings. I’m not imagining how it is between us, Lola.”
“I do have feelings,” she admits, looking at me with watery eyes. “I’m crazy about you. But this is more important right now. I wasn’t ready. I shouldn’t have gone to your house, played poker. I should have waited until I was done with all of this.”
I stand, rubbing my face. “Lola, this is a terrible idea. People don’t just take breaks in relationships to catch up on work.”
Her eyes close. “There isn’t a good option here.” She turns her face up to me. “Would you wait? Just . . .” She shakes her head. “Wait for me to figure it out?”
“Or less. I don’t . . .” She looks away. “I don’t even know what I need.”
I turn and stare at her chaotic desk, feeling anger and hurt and confusion reach a churning boil in my chest.
“Please don’t be mad,” she whispers. “I wasn’t going to say anything but then you’re here, and I’m not disappearing, I’m not, I’m just saying that I have to get this done.”
My voice is low and hurt when I tell her, “You could have simply said to me that you need to really buckle down this week. That would have made sense.”
She scrubs her face and then looks up at me, pleadingly. “I need to have nothing else going on. I need this to be the only thing on my mind.”
I walk to the door and turn to face her, leaning against it. “You’re sure this is what you want? To push pause? To take a break?”
A panel shows him, breaking the glass, his chest on fucking fire.
She nods. “I just need to know that I don’t have anything else I can be doing. That being with you isn’t an option when I have to work.”
“So we’re not together anymore,” I say flatly, “because it’s too good, and too distracting to you.”
“Do you even hear yourself? That’s not how it works, Lola.”
“Hit pause,” I interrupt. “Got it.” My laugh is a short, dry breath. “Lola, I love you. You know that. And you want me to just . . . wait for you, for months, to be ready again?”
She looks at me helplessly. “I have to put this first.”
“As my best friend, I sort of feel like you shouldn’t want that for me,” I tell her. “I think it’s bullshit, actually. I think you’re stressed about work, but I think you’re also just full of shit right now.”
She looks sorry, but she also looks relieved, as if I’ve agreed to this flaming piece of shit she’s put between us.
“So this is done,” I say.
“Maybe we can talk in a couple of days?” she asks when I open the door. Her voice breaks on the last word and I just can’t be fucking bothered. I’ve never felt I’m worthy. I’ve never been the most important person to anyone. But before Lola, I’ve never needed to be. Fuck. This.
I shut the door before I hear the end of her sentence.
“A M I GOING to have to drag you out to breakfast to talk about this?”
I startle awake where I’ve passed out on my desk and find Harlow standing in my bedroom doorway, arms crossed over her chest. There’s fire in her eyes, ammunition in the way she stands. When Harlow is in a mood, she spits bullets.