I can feel the way they exchange worried glances but they all seem to be unsure how to respond.
“You do have a lot on your plate,” London says. “I mean, I get that.”
“But it’s Oliver,” Mia says. “It’s not like . . .” She lets the words trail off, and
It’s Oliver. It’s not like he’s pushy. It’s not like he gets in the way.
It’s that I was getting in my own way.
“Even when you’re busy, you still check in with us every couple of days. Why does it have to be different with him?” Mia asks.
I can’t answer that. I can’t, because I don’t feel like I should have to explain to someone who is madly in love with her new husband that it’s different when you’re in love, versus checking in with girlfriends. I want to be near Oliver every second. I’m not sure I can do the dance of balance yet; I want every particle of him touching every particle of me.
“How did you deal with it when Ansel was working crazy hours back in Paris?”
She shrugs, poking at the ice in her water with a straw. “I left him alone at night to work.”
But—Jesus—how how how? I want to ask. The mystery of it makes me want to rip at my skin. If Oliver was in the room with me, or even down the street at the store but still mine, I would never get anything done. I would let Razor and Junebug and everyone else I love just fall into the cracks. I’ve proven that.
“I just feel like you’re being so hard on yourself,” London says quietly. “I feel like maybe you’re punishing yourself?”
And yes, she’s right. I am. I know we can’t stop what we’re feeling. I know that. I can see my three friends studying me like I’m a fascinating bug in a glass dish, because—at least for Harlow and Mia—they would never worry about how to balance these things. Mia’s done it before, and Harlow will just bend the world to fit the palm of her hand.
I’m not so naïve that I think this is a common thing to ask.
I want to scream out loud that I realize I’ve asked something huge of Oliver, something unreasonable even, but I’m not sure if I can apologize, either, and I know that—eventually—he’ll understand. I don’t want to lose my career. I don’t like the way I so easily let things slide the minute Oliver became my lover. I feel like I have to scrabble up this little hill and then I’ll be more grounded, more established. I’ll be better for him, and better for me.
I pull a pen from my bag and a crumpled receipt and start drawing.
The panel shows the girl, hunched over her desk. Scraps of paper litter the floor. The desk is covered in pencil shavings.
“So you think he’s moving on?” I say, head ducked, heart slowly shredding.
Everyone pauses, and with my pen poised on paper I feel the protective egg trembling under my ribs, threatening to roll off the table and shatter. I want Oliver to be my friend. I need him to be my friend, because I love him. Am I an enormous idiot? I don’t feel like what I was asking was extreme, just some quiet, just a little bit of rewind. I don’t know how I’ll deal with it if I hear that things are really done.
“I mean last night he was pretty mad,” Mia says with a little shrug. “He didn’t really want to talk about it much. We spent most of the night walking around the house while Ansel and Oliver planned what renovations they could do themselves.”
Normally, he would have called me afterward to share all of this. No, normally, I would have gone with him. I’ve been Oliver’s default plus-one for months, and he’s been mine. Now, not only do I not get sex with him, I don’t even get phone calls.
“Do people not do that?” I say, cupping my coffee mug. “Do people not ask to put relationships on hold even if things are good?”
“Lola, that is called breaking up,” Harlow says slowly.
“So it’s a stupid question?” I bite out, defensive at her tone.
She tilts her eyes quickly to the ceiling, exasperated with me. “I mean, why not just tell him you’re going to have an insane week and you’ll call him when you have a free night?”
“Because it’s like my creativity shuts off when it’s an option,” I say. “I don’t want to work when I’m with him. I’ve never not wanted to work. And, sorry, but this has to come first. I built this first. I can’t just drop it because I started seeing someone and juggling the workload got hard.”
And this, right here, is when I know Harlow wants to smack me again, but she doesn’t. She just nods, and reaches across the table for my hand.
I TEXT OLIVER a simple, Hey are you okay? after breakfast, but he doesn’t reply. By the next morning I just turn off my phone so I’ll stop looking. So I’ll stop wishing.
I stay holed up in the work cave until Wednesday evening before giving in and walking down to Downtown Graffick. The path between my apartment and the storefront has seen thousands of my footprints, and standing just outside it feels oddly nostalgic. Less than a week ago I was climbing out of a town car and hurling myself into Oliver’s arms. Now I feel queasy imagining walking in and acting like everything is normal.
Over the last two days, I’ve started to feel like maybe I am the biggest idiot on the planet.
Maybe it doesn’t help to remove temptation. Maybe it’s worse to slowly realize a pause means he’s not mine anymore.