When I look back at him, he’s just staring blankly at me.
“Or,” I start again, “I mean is that what you’re doing now?”
“Is Allison what I am doing?” he asks with a sharp bend to his words. “Are you serious, Lola?”
“I didn’t know if it was a date, and I realize I have no right to ask—”
“I know,” I say quickly, “but it kills me to think of you two fooling around.”
He doesn’t say a word, but his jaw tightens and everything comes to a standstill in my brain.
At my shocked silence, he growls, “Isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing? Trying to pass the time until you’re ready to hit play?”
He still hasn’t answered my question. I realize he’s hurt—that I’ve hurt him, and that is where this is coming from—but I’ve never seen this sharp, sarcastic side of Oliver before. I hate myself so much right now, and I hate him a little, too, because it feels like he cheated . . . even though I’m the one who asked for this.
My chest grows tighter and tighter until I have to take a deep gasping breath, and with it comes the burn of tears in my throat. I nod, trying to smile, but my face breaks and I turn away before he can see.
I hurry down the hall toward the ladies’ room, swallowing a sob, but I hear a couple of his quick footsteps and then Oliver’s hand comes around my shoulder. “Fuck. No. Lola, don’t go. I’m an arse.”
I don’t turn to face him as I’m madly wiping my cheeks. It’s mortifying. I hate to cry alone, hate it even more when someone witnesses it, and right now it’s like someone is aiming a hose down my face; I go from dry to sobbing in a blink.
“You’re not an ass. I am,” I say, and from my voice it’s obvious I’m crying. “I am just so afraid of messing things up with the books, and now I’ve messed things up with us.”
He turns me gently and I look up at him, imagine him in my room, peeling away my clothes and my insanity and just making it us again.
“I didn’t kiss her,” he admits. “We had dinner, but in the end I didn’t let anything happen.”
“But are you expecting me to not try to move on?” he asks quietly. “You told me I should just wait idly by while you get your life together without me. That’s a horrible thing to ask, Lola.”
I rest a palm on his chest, my words spilling out in a mess. “I don’t think we’re thinking it was the same thing,” I stumble. “I don’t think I meant what you think I meant? Or what I said? I’m so sorry.”
He pulls away from me a little. “I don’t believe this whole break was just . . . a misunderstanding. I was pretty clear on what you were saying.”
“I want to talk about it,” I tell him. I’m trying to organize my thoughts into some sort of order, but the music is loud and I can feel our friends watching us. “Not here, like this. But soon?”
He nods, looking at my mouth. But then he starts to shake his head instead, saying, “I don’t know, Lola. I don’t know. This is just a fucking mess.”
Panic starts to climb into my throat. “I don’t want this to be over, and—”
Oliver cuts me off with a gentle “Shh,” reaching a hand up to tuck my hair behind my ear. He stares at his hand as if it moved there on instinct before he drops it limply to his side.
My heart is a drum, deep in the jungle of my chest, and it bangs and bangs and bangs for him. I know it won’t ever diminish. There isn’t any clock we can rewind, no way we can stop time.
He smiles toward the floor, blue eyes soft behind his glasses. “I miss you, too, Lola Love.”
The mix of heartbreak and relief spills from me. When he calls me “Lola Love,” I wonder if there’s at least a chance at friendship after all of this, and whether that would be wonderful, or torture. “I thought you were going to tell me you kissed Hard Rock Allison.”
Oliver looks up at me with a wince that is both sweet and sad. “Reckon I wouldn’t do that. I don’t feel that way for her.” He runs a hand over his jaw, blinking away. “I was angry and I wanted to be distracted, but I wouldn’t betray my own feelings like that.” He laughs without humor. “Your love is branded on my brain; yours is still the only kiss I want.”
The weight of my feelings flips something over inside me, and before I’ve even realized it I say: “Do you want to come over tonight?”
Oliver closes his eyes for a beat, trying to smile, but it barely curves his mouth. “I don’t think—”
Oh God. My insides have liquefied in horror. “Shit, never mind. Sorry. Of course you don’t.”
Oliver takes a step back, looking helplessly around before rubbing his face and turning back to me. “Don’t play games with me.” He looks at me, eyes searching. “Please. I can see in your eyes you’re still sort of a mess. I can see you don’t really like what you’ve done, either. It just . . . days later, it feels too late to come to me in this blur of feelings and panic, and I can’t help but feel like it’s related to you hearing about Allison.”
He continues over me, shaking his head emphatically. “I’m not sure if you were really afraid this relationship would interfere with your career or were hoping to stall it before you loved me. And either way, I’m not sure what to do about it. Both options suck.” He bends, kissing me just beneath my ear, and continuing quietly, lips barely an inch from my skin: “I’m in love with you, Lola, but I’m also terrified you’ll ruin me.”