Ansel’s eyes widen. “Hard Rock Allison?” I nod and he lets out a burst of air and reaches for his beer. “Why the hell did you do that?”

Shrugging, I admit, “It was just an impulsive thing. She came by and asked if I wanted to grab dinner. I was pissed at Lola and said yes.”

“Did she think it was a date?” Finn asks.

“No,” I say quickly, “I clarified where I stood as soon as we sat down. But I still feel like I cheated because I knew it would make Lola jealous if she knew. I wanted to rip my skin off by the time I got home.”

“And if Lola had done the same thing?” Finn asks.

My skin flushes hot again at the idea of Lola with anyone else. “I’d want to rip his skin off.”

“Yeah, she came here looking for me. Fucking Joe the brain surgeon told her.”

“You would have told her, though,” Ansel says, and then furrows his brows. “Right?”

“Of course,” I tell him, giving him an exasperated look. “I nearly called her in the middle of it because I felt so guilty. But then I didn’t, because I thought, What if she’s working and actually gets pissed off at me for calling her to confess that I’m having a platonic dinner with another woman?” I run my hand over my mouth. “It’s a mess. Clearly I am more concerned about all of this than she is. I don’t know how to interact with Lola anymore, and that just feels . . . wrong.”

“You’re both idiots,” Finn says. “Lola is a mess, too, for what it’s worth.”

“But that’s what falling in love does to you, okay?” Ansel says, grinning. “I’m a happy idiot because of Mia.”

“I . . .” I start to say, and feel laughter bubble up inside me. Despite everything, being around Ansel is infectiously uplifting. “Lola is hands down one of the smartest people I know and I fear she is, to borrow a phrase from Harlow, extremely relationship-dumb.”

“Mia mentioned that Lola tends to always put her comic stuff first,” Ansel says, folding his arms in front of him. “That she’s been that way even when they were teens.”

Protectiveness tightens my chest, and I defend her: “She had a rough time. It wasn’t easy for her, that’s all.”

“Well, shit, Oliver, maybe that’s the point,” Finn says. “Maybe she needs to know that this . . . thing between you isn’t all-or-nothing. That you’re not cutting her off completely just because she’s still figuring it all out.”

I grab an onion ring and give him an amused smile. “It’s nice to hear you sounding so wise on the topic, Finn.”

He lifts his chin to me, grinning back. “It’s nice to see you guys fucking up, too, Oliver.”

THE SKY IS getting dark by the time I manage to wrap up at the store and get to the loft. I’m relieved to spot Lola’s car almost immediately—she hasn’t left for her dad’s yet—and I pull into the first guest spot I see before I get out and make my way to the main door.

Their lobby is usually busy by now, the elevators full of people getting off work or headed out for the evening, but it’s strangely quiet tonight. I’m alone in the lift as the floors tick up on the illuminated dial overhead, alone with my thoughts as I try to figure out exactly how to have this conversation.

I’m still not really sure what I’m going to say. I just want to see her. Maybe simply apologize again about Allison; that was shitty, especially since I was pretty sure Lola would hear about it somehow. Maybe just tell her, now that I’m calmer, how—even though it wasn’t what she intended—it was brutal to be so immediately shuffled aside, a distraction, an obstacle.

I don’t think we’re ready to jump back in to where we were before everything melted down. I just need her to talk to me. As terrible as it sounds, it was good to see her so upset at Fred’s because at least I could tell it was hard for her, too. I used to feel completely safe with Lola; even without talking about our feelings, I knew where I stood with her by how she sought my company, my opinion, or even just eye contact. She was the first American woman I’d never had difficulty reading. Lola’s always been deliberate in her decision making, and it was no different when it came to us. So I was blindsided when she ended it sort of hysterically right after I felt things click for us.

I know I hadn’t been the only one deeply in love that last night at my house.

I know I didn’t imagine how profound it was in bed, all night, in the shower.

My steps are light as I move along the concrete hallway and I stop when I hear Lola’s voice through the sliding steel door. I pull out my phone to check the time. I didn’t see London’s car outside and it’s definitely late enough that she’d be at work. Harlow is supposed to be in Del Mar all day, and I might be wrong but I think Mia teaches around this time. So who could she be talking to? Her dad? Benny?

I stop just outside the door and am trying to decide if I should knock and run the risk of possibly interrupting her with someone, or whether I should come back all together, when she gets louder.

“I know,” she says, with a definite edge to her voice. “And we talked about this last week. Like I told you then, I’ve got deadlines of my own to meet. I’m sorry you feel like this is going to cut into your schedule. But if you and Langdon would have actually engaged in this conversation every time I attempted it in the meeting I took an entire week off to attend, you’d have heard me telling you the same thing I’m telling you now.”