I look at Lola and marvel over how similar we are—lonely childhoods turning us into introverted yet ambitious adults—and how central comics have been to both our lives.

But while she’s still floating on the cloud of her new venture, reeling about the surreal offices, laughing about the stiff beginning to the meeting and the explosion of Austin into the room, I need the edge rubbed off a bit, and pick up my beer, taking a sip. I need to file down my senses enough to let some of this process. Truly, Lola’s life is about to change. What has up to this point been mostly a passion for her is quickly becoming a business—which will bring tensions and problems that I can relate to perhaps more than she realizes. Besides, Lola is wildly talented, but she’s still sheltered: Hollywood can make dreams happen, but it can also be harsh and ruthless. I want to push back the uneasy reflex that wants to fuss a bit over her, that worries, that thinks this is going to break her or, at the very least, dull a brilliantly creative piece of her—the part that created all of this in the first place—and I’m not sure it’s worth sacrificing for a slice of the life-dream real estate.

It makes me want to protect her, to tell her to listen to those voices inside her head, because to Lola those voices are more real to her than the majority of those in her life, and have been for much of her life since childhood. It was the same way with me. I grew up with no siblings, and absentee parents. My grandparents took custody of me when I was a kid, but I was eight and more interested in Superman and Batman than I was in what Gran had watched on tele that day or the people who came through my granddad’s shop.

Just as she’s getting to the end—to where the logistical details started to feel as though they were raining down, and it all became more blurry and jargon-filled—her phone lights up on the table and she glances down and then shoves back in the booth, eyes bolting to mine. “It’s Austin.”

That she looks to me right now—not Harlow, London, or Mia—makes my heart light up; a sparking flare thrown into the cavern of my chest.

She fumbles, nearly knocking it off the table, before answering at the last minute with a rushed “Hello?”

I don’t have the benefit of hearing the other side of the conversation so I’m not sure what makes her blush and smile before saying, “Hi, Austin. Sorry, no. I just almost didn’t get to the phone on time.”

She listens intently, and we all stare intently, getting only one side of the exchange: “I’m still a little shell-shocked,” she tells him, “but I am okay . . .” She lifts her eyes to scan the table, saying, “Yes, out with some friends . . . just a neighborhood bar . . . in San Diego!” She laughs. “That’s a crazy long drive, Austin!”

I look up at Harlow, who turns to me at the same time, seems to be thinking the same thing. He’s not driving down here, is he? I glance at my watch; it’s nearly ten, and would take two hours.

“I’m excited, too,” she’s saying, and reaches up to play with her earring. “Well, I’ve never written a script before so my goal here is just to be useful. . . .” She giggles at his reply.

My eyes snap to Harlow’s again.

Lola giggles with us. She does not giggle with people she met only hours ago. Unless that person is me, in Vegas—and I fucking prefer to think that situation is unique.

“I can’t wait to hear them . . . no I won’t, opinions are good . . . I know, sorry. It’s loud here. . . . Okay, I will.” She nods. “I will! I promise!” Another fucking giggle. “Okay . . . Okay. Bye.”

She hits end on the call and exhales, before sliding her eyes up to me. “That was Austin.”

I laugh, saying, “So I heard.” Even with an awkward, foreign object suddenly lodged in my chest I can appreciate how exciting this must be, to be so immediately comfortable with the person at the helm of the most important creative work in her life so far.

“He’s not driving down from L.A., is he?” London asks with—if I’m not mistaken—a hint of suspicion in her voice.

I have always liked London.

“No, no,” Lola says, grinning down at the table. “He just joked about it.”

For a few moments we all just sit there, staring at her.

Harlow is the first to break. “Well, why the fuck did he call?”

Lola looks up, surprised. “Oh. Um, he just wanted to know that I was okay after the meeting . . . and that he was putting together some thoughts on translating the first bit into a film.”

She shakes her head in a staccato, overwhelmed gesture and a strand of her long, straight hair catches against her lipstick. I can’t help it; I reach forward to pull it away. But she does, too, and her fingers get there before mine.

I quickly drop my hand and feel the way Harlow turns to me, but I can’t look away from Lola, who is staring up at me, eyes full of silent frenzy.

Beside us, London picks up her phone. “I’m going to google this Austin Adams character.”

I’ve always really liked her.

“ ‘The first bit’?” I repeat to Lola, more gently.

“He was saying the studio sees three films,” she practically squeaks. “And he has some ideas he wants to talk to me about.”