I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO idea how to behave around Lola. And clearly, neither does Joe.
I hadn’t seen her in the store in over a week, and when she finally walks in the morning after our awkward talk at Fred’s, immediately making her way back to the Marvel section with only a wave in my direction, Joe doesn’t even call out to her or propose in front of the entire store. I can feel him watching me, gauging my reaction.
“Lola’s here,” he says finally, lifting his chin to where she’s disappeared down the aisle.
My heart has swerved to the edge of my chest. “So she is.” She’d asked me to come home with her last night—and fuck it was tempting to imagine putting it all aside and falling into bed, relishing the sex—but not in a hundred years could I have said yes. I could practically feel her guilt, her regret last night, but Lola has no idea what she wants right now; she’s an emotional land mine, and not one I’m prepared to walk over willingly.
Joe comes around the counter to stand beside me. “You’re not going to go over there?”
“Not that it’s your business, Joe, but no. Maybe in a little bit, but it looks like she’s here to look at books.”
“I don’t get you two at all,” he says under his breath.
“I’m not going to fret over the opinion of a man who spent much of an evening out watching cows being milked before moving on to videos of men pulling trucks using ropes tied to their dicks.” It’s easier to joke, because what more can I say? Right now I reckon I don’t understand, either.
There’s a part of me—the adoring part that has long felt like Lola can do no wrong—that wants to take responsibility for all of this, sensing that I should have anticipated her panic over work versus us, that I should cut her some slack for what she said, that having dinner with Allison looked bad. But the conversation in her bedroom—where she wanted me to simply hang around while she focused on getting her work done—showed me how young she really is. Naïve, even. I knew it, truly I did, but I never really thought how it might slap me in the face.
I want Lola to have all the success in the world, but am still bewildered over why she thought I would somehow get in the way of any of it.
And maybe more than a little wounded. I’d been Lola’s biggest fanboy and loudest cheerleader—hell, I even wear my Razor Fish T-shirt whenever it’s clean. I was the most devoted lover, too . . . even though it was only for a week. It stung to be so easily set aside.
Still, with her near, I’m aware that I’ve never needed or wanted anyone like this. It’s a pull, nearly a physical draw to be close to her. Just knowing she’s in the store, a swarm of bees has taken over my chest until it feels like I’m shimmering inside. Her hair is down, lips full and bare. I remember the drowsy tilt of her head, watching me kiss my way down her body, the feel of her thighs over my shoulders, the honey of her cunt on my tongue.
Lola looks up from behind her comic, catching me staring, and waves limply. I wave back, then turn and find Joe right behind me, his eyes skipping from me to Lola before he shakes his head.
“Well this fucking sucks,” he says.
“It’s fine.” I crack open a tube of pennies and dump it into the register drawer.
“Fine?” he asks. “A week ago, she walked in and climbed you like a tree, and today she acts like you’re the resident librarian.”
“Things are . . . complicated,” I sigh. I love her, but I don’t want to be with her just now. I want her to do better.
“She’s still into you, you know.”
Shutting the register, I give him an exasperated this-isn’t-your-business look. “I know, Joe.”
“And I’m beginning to wonder if she was right to worry that we’d screw everything up,” I tell him. “Maybe we were better at being friends.”
I greet a customer who walks up to the counter and Joe steps aside while I ring him up. With his purchase paid for and in a bag, I smile and hand it over to him. Joe is still watching me, expression disapproving.
“Maybe you’re forgetting the part where you’re in love with her,” he says.
I lean against the counter and scrub my hands over my face. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“Then what the fuck are you doing over here when she’s back there?”
I shake my head and stare with tired eyes to where she’s flipping through a comic, listening to someone on the phone. “Joe, it isn’t your business, and it isn’t that simple.”
“Are you going to go out with Allison again?” he asks.
My stomach recoils. “It was just dinner.”
He nods in understanding. “It’s like how you grow up eating Hershey’s chocolate, and think, ‘This is delicious chocolate.’ And then you have Sprüngli and are like, “Dude, Hershey’s is shit.’ ”
“Swiss chocolate place,” he says with a vague wave of his hand. “My folks have a place in the Swiss Alps.”
Now I turn and fully stare at him. “Who the fuck are you?”
Laughing he says, “I’m definitely not a guy named Joe.”
“Don’t tell me,” I say, holding up a hand. “It’ll ruin the mystery.”