Harlow swears, Mia squeals, Joe grins widely at her, but Lola covers her face with a tiny shriek of panic.

“Holy shit!” London yells. “This guy is hot!” She turns her phone out for us to see.

Okay, maybe I don’t like London as much as I thought I did.

Ignoring her, I remind Lola, “This is good,” as I gently coax her arms down. Unable to help it, I add, “He wants to talk to you about it now? Do you have to go to L.A. again tomorrow?”

She shakes her head. “I think by phone at some point? I mean, I can barely imagine cowriting one script, let alone three,” she says, and then presses her fingertips to her lips.

“Collaboration is what this one is all about,” I remind her. “Isn’t that what Austin told you earlier today?” Seeing her grow more worried helps me keep my own trepidation at bay. “Maybe in the second and third films you can drive even more of the process, but this is great, right?”

She nods urgently, soaking up my confidence, but then her shoulders slump and she gives a small, self-deprecating laugh. “I don’t know how to do this.”

I feel her hand come over mine, shaking and clammy.

“This requires more alcohol!” Harlow says, triumphantly unfazed, and in my peripheral vision I see her getting up for more shots.

Joe reaches over, rubbing the back of Lola’s neck. “Lola, you’re a star in the middle of a pile of gravel. You’re going to reign.”

I nod, agreeing with him. “You’ve got this. No one knows this story better than you. You’re there to guide it. They are the experts on the film side.”

She exhales, forming her soft lips into a sweet O and holding on to my gaze like it’s keeping her from melting down. Does she know how I want to be her courage?

EVENTUALLY WE MANAGE to polish off five shots each and have moved on from the insanity of Lola’s day to a raucous debate over how the world is going to end. As usual, we have Joe to thank for it, but Lola is rosy and dissolving into her adorable snickery giggles with every impassioned suggestion—zombies, electromagnetic pulse, alien invasions—and at least seems completely, happily distracted.

“I’m telling you, it’s going to be the fucking livestock,” Joe tells us, barely missing Harlow’s wineglass when he sweeps his hand in a total-destruction gesture. “Some sort of cow or swine flu. Maybe some bird thing.”

“No, not rabies,” he says, shaking his head. “Something we don’t even know yet.”

“You’re a ray of sunshine.” London pokes him in the shoulder and he turns to look at her.

“It’s a matter of fact,” he says. “Fucking chickens are going to be our ruination.”

Lola finger-shoots herself in the head and pretends to collapse onto me, convulsing in fake death. Her hair sweeps across my arm, my skin bare beyond the short sleeve of my T-shirt, and for the first time I don’t fight the urge to touch it. I cup my hand over her scalp and slide it down, dragging my fingers through her hair.

She tilts her head and looks up at me. “Oliver must be drunk,” she announces in a slur, though it seems I’m the only one who hears her.

“Why’s that?” I ask. My smile down at her is a subconscious thing; instinct in response to her proximity.

“Because you’re touching me,” she says a little more quietly.

I lean back a little to see her face better. “I touch you plenty.”

She shakes her head and it’s slow and lolling against my arm, finally thumping back against the booth. “Like a buddy. That was like a lover.”

My blood turns to mercury. If only she knew. “Was it?”

“Sorry then, Lola Love,” I say, brushing her bangs to the side of her forehead.

She shakes her head dramatically, one side completely to the other. “Don’t be. You’re my hero.”

I laugh, but she sits up in a surprising burst of movement and says, “I’m serious. What would I do without you right now?” She points to Harlow. “She’s married.” She points to Mia. “She’s married, too.”

Apparently having tuned in, London leans forward. “I’m not married.”

“No,” Lola says, giving her an enormous, drunken grin. “But you’re always surfing. Or bartending. Or busy rejecting men.”

“So, Oliver is my hero,” she says, turning back to me. “My rock. My sounding rod.” Her eyebrows come together. “Lightning rod?”

“Right.” She snaps. “That.” Lola lowers her voice and leans in close. So close my heart is a stuttering, wild thing in my throat. “Don’t you ever leave me.”

“I won’t,” I tell her. Fuck. I couldn’t. I want to wrap her up and carry her around, protecting her from all of the insincere, greedy people she’s destined to meet.

“Don’t,” she says, holding a weaving, threatening, drunken finger in my face.

I lean in, biting the tip, and her eyes go wide. “I won’t,” I say around it, and fuck if I don’t want to lean in farther and nip her lips, too.