For the love of God. His breath catches when he sees me standing there, and he just stares right at my face for what feels like a million, pounding heartbeats.
And, just like that, I feel like I’ve been slapped across the face. I don’t just miss him, I need him. I don’t want this distance. I don’t want it to be over. I don’t want to lose him. For fuck’s sake, how do I take care of everything?
Finally, he moves over to let me in, smiling a little down at the bench. “Come on in.”
He’s wearing a dark green Preacher T-shirt and the same dark jeans he wore the other night when I undressed him, went down on him for the first time.
I can still feel his skin on my lips, his trembling hands in my hair.
I can still remember the way he sounded in the shower. What we did.
The panel shows the girl standing in front of the mirror, the words I AM NOT READY FOR THIS. I AM NOT EVEN A LITTLE READY FOR THIS corkscrewing around her body.
“Hey.” He swallows, eyes on my mouth for only a breath before he puts his expression in order, poker-facing it as only Oliver can. This is the first time I’ve seen him since Sunday afternoon, and it feels like my heart was put back together inside out.
God, if this is hard for me, I can’t imagine how this must be for him. Terrible. And look at him, calm and poised, always composed. I don’t think I’ve ever admired anyone the way I admire him.
“Hey, Lola,” Ansel says, smiling so wide his dimples dip all the way to Mars.
“So, how’s the book coming?” Harlow asks a little too loudly.
I give her the Really? We’re going to talk about this right here? face, and simply say, “It’s fine.”
“Everything’s fine,” she mumbles, and I see Finn elbow her gently.
This is the most awkward moment in the history of time, and I sit there, stabbing at my decision with a fiery poker while tentative conversation starts up around me. I fall back on instinct, pulling a pen out of my purse and bending to doodle on a cocktail napkin. I can sense how Oliver’s head is turned toward me, how his eyes watch me draw. That’s his instinct, and it melts me how he’s always done this: leaned in, wanted to be a part of it.
It’s like there was a film between us, some restraint that was peeled away the second we kissed. Before, I had feelings, he had feelings, but we were able to carry on breathing, speaking, joking, drinking. Now, I’m just . . . a bare wire, sitting too close to a spark. I want to punch him for going out with Allison, I want to stroke him and beg him to forgive me. Between us the air warps and simmers. I can almost feel his hand, so warm, on his thigh next to mine. Out of the corner of my eye I can see his finger twitch.
Me, too, I tell him silently.
I thought I was making a hard—but good—decision and now I look back on that Lola from last Sunday and feel like she was the most naïve person alive. I have no idea what to do—whether I should just turn to him and tell him I’m sorry right now . . . and sitting here with him I can’t even remember anymore why I thought I could do this. Coming out of the fog of the stress for a night, being this close to him—the scent of his fabric softener, the proximity of his strong hands, legs, his smooth neck, his quiet laugh . . . he’s right—it just doesn’t work this way. I love him. I want to be with him. Asking to hit pause was bullshit.
Oh my God I am an idiot.
With a jerky motion, Oliver straightens, inhales, and apparently decides to move the table out of the silence of doom. “Joe. What are you watching?”
Not-Joe pushes his hair out of his face. “Videos of cows being milked.”
I look up. Everyone else is staring at Not-Joe, brows drawn, speechless, too.
Harlow holds up a hand, halting all discussion. “I don’t even want to know.” She waves to Fred at the bar. “Three important updates from me: One, I’m sick of airplanes. Two, I’m sick of boats.”
I thank the Universe for Harlow’s ability to knock down the wall of silence.
“And three,” she says, “a trashy she-beast tried to bang my husband today.”
We all gasp and look at Finn just as he mumbles, “False,” into his mug of beer.
Harlow turns to him, eyes wide in disbelief. “Did she or did she not put her hand on your arm and giggle like a whore?”
“And did she or did she not squeeze your juicy bicep?”
Leaning in close, she growls, “And did she or did she not then hand you her room key?”
“Which I immediately handed back,” he reminds her. “That’s not trying to bang. That’s failing to bang.”
Finn holds up his hand and high-fives Ansel’s offered palm.
“So gross.” Harlow takes a sip of wine. “She had the fakest huge boobs I’ve ever seen,” she tells the rest of us, clearly already over it. “Which reminds me.” She holds up a finger near his face and he playfully bites the tip. “This shirtless thing they’re having you do while filming? Not a fan.”
“You’re not a fan of me shirtless?” Finn asks with a knowing grin.
Harlow puts down her wine and some of it sloshes over the lip. “Not when people ogle you!”