“Someone was selling this?” I ask, and notice that even Finn—a guy who looks like Superman but probably couldn’t differentiate Catwoman from Batgirl—has moved in for a closer look. Even Ansel is interested.
Joe shrugs as if it was no big deal, and takes a bite of banana. “Yeah.”
“They made this for the book?” Ansel asks, peeking over Lola’s shoulder to get a better look.
Nodding, Lola says, “It’s part of the promo for the paperback release in a few months. I don’t even have one of these. I’ve been waiting to hold one for weeks now.”
I love that she feels this way, and love even more that I’m here for this moment because work has been shit for her lately, and she needed this little victory. I reach over and take it from her, before dropping it into a fabric shopping bag with the store’s logo on it. “It’s yours now.”
Joe shakes his head. “The guy brought in a bunch of stuff. I get the sense he swiped it from a random assortment of promotional goodies sent to his work, and had no idea that it hasn’t been released yet. I didn’t pay much for it.”
“I could kiss you guys,” she says, looking down into the bag, and then quickly realizes what she’s said. Her bottom lip is pulled between her teeth and she stares at the floor.
Despite the mess she’s made of things, something primal comes to life in me, and I have to look away.
“I would totally let you do that,” Joe says, “but I have a date. Oliver can have my share, though.”
It’s like an elephant has been dropped in the center of the room, and everyone suddenly finds something to study, intensely.
Joe groans. “Please,” he says. “I don’t know why you two are fighting this. You’re never going to be just friends.”
And with that, he reaches for his Greenpeace key chain from behind the register and walks out the door.
Nobody says anything for what has to be the most awkward ten seconds in history.
Finally, Ansel clears his throat. “So . . . lunch. Lola, would you like to join us?” he says, smiling sweetly at her.
Her eyes go wide and she looks at me as if for guidance. I smile, hoping it looks better than it feels because inside I am a giant ball of uncertainty. I want her near me, but I want her to figure her shit out first.
Lola’s phone chimes in her hand and she glances down, reading. We all watch as her shoulders slump and she exhales a quiet “Fuck.”
“What?” I ask, the whiplash instinctive protectiveness roaring to life.
“It’s Greg,” she says, turning off the screen with a sigh. “Ellen broke up with him.” Looking at Ansel, she says, “Thanks for the invite, but I’ve got a couple of calls to make then I need to go over to my dad’s.”
“I hope everything is okay,” I say, and Finn and Oliver quietly echo the sentiment.
She throws me a tiny, shy smile, holding up the bag. “Thanks again, Oliver. This means so much to me.”
The bell over the door rings again as she leaves and the three of us watch her make her way down the footpath.
I’m a tangle inside, hating to see her walk away, wanting to be close to her even when I’m angry, but still feeling the need to build a cage around my heart.
Turning back to my friends, I say, “Remind me to fire Joe the next time I see him,” I say, scratching the side of my neck.
The store is empty, the afternoon is dead. I reach for my keys and turn the sign to read CLOSED, and motion for them to lead the way.
WE WALK THE few blocks to Bub’s near Petco Park and are led to a table near the patio.
“How are things with Lola?” Finn asks, looking at me over the top of his drink. “You guys seemed . . .”
“Tentative,” Ansel finishes for him. “Which, I’ll tell you, is really strange to watch.”
“It’s about the same.” I stab at my ice water with the straw. I haven’t really felt like talking about it much since the conversation went down, but I’ve told them both enough to know things with Lola aren’t great. “We’re still ‘on pause.’ ” I hesitate. “I think she wanted to unpause, though. She asked me to come over, last night at Fred’s.”
The waitress stops at the table and we each order a burger and rings. When she steps away, they’re both looking at me expectantly.
“I mean, of course I said no,” I tell them.
“Because obviously she needs to figure her shit out,” I say.
“She can’t do that with your penis in her mouth?” Ansel asks, and Finn punches his shoulder. “What? That was a serious question.”
Finn lifts his chin, asking, “Has the thought occurred to Lola that she might be even busier in four months? They aren’t even filming yet. I mean, I go a week at a time without seeing Harlow, and it sucks, but I know it won’t always be this way.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I can’t pretend to know what’s going on in her brain right now.”
“I always felt like you two had a secret language,” Ansel says.
“Me, too,” I admit. Our server sets the giant basket of onion rings down in the center of the table. “And because I’m a total asshole, I made things worse by going out with Allison Wednesday night.”