The bright Monday morning light blasts into my room. “I was going to call,” I tell her lamely, squinting. Looking around, I try to get my bearings. Other than the horrible ten minutes with Oliver yesterday, I’ve been working straight since Saturday night. My monitor has gone dark in power-saving mode. I slept with my stylus against my face, and have a stack of Post-it notes stuck to my arm. “So you heard?”
“Yeah,” she says sharply. “I heard.” She walks over to my closet and begins pulling out clothes. “Let’s go.”
I lean into my hand. “Harlow, I’ve got so much to do.”
“You can spare an hour. And the body needs to eat. Come on, Lola.”
Under normal circumstances I would climb into bed and ignore her. Today I know better. I finished a few panels and the rest of the story yesterday, but my head feels like it’s filled with glue, and my heart is just doing the perfunctory contractions. Sending Oliver away like I did turned me from a distracted lovesick airhead into a deadened, productive robot. I honestly don’t know which I prefer. Guilt over the hurt on his face plagues me, and I close my eyes for a few deep breaths, struggling with the instinct to call him and apologize.
Harlow drives in silence, jaw tight. We all know what Harlow’s silence means. I just don’t know if it means she’s pissed at me or . . . someone else?
Do you even hear yourself?
I feel like you shouldn’t want that for me.
I think you’re full of shit right now.
When I remember Oliver saying this, my heart fractures, dropping tiny pieces in the cavern of my stomach.
Yeah, she’s most likely pissed at me.
“Are you okay?” she asks as we drive down Washington.
The answer is an easy no Junebug isn’t there yet, and I don’t know how I’m going to find the heart of the story when I’m frantic like this. Besides, I feel like I made the right call and fucked everything up with Oliver at the same time. When are scientists going to invent a wisdom pill? Or implant a chip in our heads to let us know when we’ve made the right decision in a critical romance-career-balance situation?
Plus, I can’t be on this particular street without getting a sick lurch in my stomach, remembering the sight of Mia, broken and bloody, under the truck for over an hour.
Harlow throws me a quick glance as she drives and I can feel her questions building like air pressure rising in the car. She pulls into the parking lot at Great Harvest and turns off the engine, looking at me. “Would you rather talk about it out here, or in there, with all of us?”
My laugh is a short, flat cough. “Let’s just head in. I really only have an hour.”
With a decisive nod, Harlow opens the door and leads us across the parking lot.
Mia and London are already in the booth when we walk in, and they smile perkily at me. I can see from Mia’s face that she’s trying not to react to my appearance. I got a quick glimpse in the bathroom mirror before leaving, and it’s fair to say I look like I just walked on set as a zombie extra in a horror film.
“So, hey,” I say, sitting down and putting a napkin in my lap. “What’s new?”
London snorts at this, genuinely amused, but her expression straightens obediently when Harlow flashes her a We Aren’t Letting Her Joke Right Now frown.
“Oliver came over for dinner last night,” Mia says, skipping all preamble and leaning in to keep her voice down. “He said you broke up with him.”
“I didn’t break up with him.” I smile at the waitress when she pours me some coffee but I’m sure to her it looks like I’m just baring my teeth. I blink, licking my lips and then biting them to keep from asking Mia what he said, how he looked.
“I’m telling you,” Mia says, “that’s what he thinks. That you broke up for good.”
I take a sip of my coffee, feeling the odd sensation of marble hardening in my chest. He didn’t understand what I was saying. To be fair, I’m not even sure I understood what I was saying; I hadn’t exactly planned for it to come out that way. But it felt right to ask him for some time to make sure my head was turned in the right direction. He’s understood everything I’ve needed up until now, why not this? When Mom left, Dad crumbled and we barely scraped by. Friends would bring groceries and act like it was no big deal, but to us, it was huge. I never want to have to worry about how I can make ends meet. I never want to worry that I can’t take care of myself. I never want to feel like I’m simply abandoning something important to me, and if Oliver can’t wait for me to feel more grounded then we have bigger problems.
“So you didn’t break up with him?” Harlow asks. I can tell she’s trying to figure out where to fall on this. Is she protecting me and what I need right now, or is she preparing to smack some sense into me?
“I just told him I needed to hit pause.”
“Seriously?” Harlow asks, and I know she would actually be reaching over and pinching me if she didn’t think it would draw attention.
“Look, I don’t know why this is such a big deal.” I take a deep breath, staring at the pattern on the surface of the wood table. “I’m really late on a deadline because I just spaced it—no other reason. I have all these script edits I need to have done in a week and a half and spent most of the time in L.A. ineffectively arguing with the douche bag screenwriter. I’m also supposed to be coming up with ideas for the book that comes out right after Junebug, and they wanted the first few pages of that turned in a week after Junebug is due . . . which was two weeks ago. Meaning: the first few pages of the new-new book are already a week late. I leave for book tour in two weeks. I just . . .” I pick at a tiny hangnail on my thumb. “Everything was already busy with travel and writing, and as soon as I let the idea of being with Oliver into my head, I really fell hard, and fast. I was really disorganized up in L.A., I flubbed deadlines. I saw how quickly I could lose it all.” Finally, I look up at them. “I want to try to get a few things handled and then let myself enjoy . . . it.”