“Now, back up,” he says. “What happened with work?”
“I missed a deadline. Not to mention three interviews I slept through.”
“I’ve never missed a deadline in my life and now I’m so distracted I’m turning books in late and unable to focus. . . .” I drag the bread through the melted butter, flipping to coat both sides.
“But—and don’t get upset with me here,” he says, holding up his hands, “I’m just trying to understand—what does that have to do with Oliver?”
My stomach twists with the discomfort of talking this out with my dad, but I’m already sort of all-in here. “Lately I sit down to work and find myself drifting off, wondering what he’s doing, or thinking about something he’s said. I’ve been so preoccupied I thought I had another week to finish Junebug.”
“It’s three weeks late now. I think I blamed it on what was happening with Oliver, instead of . . . I don’t know . . .”
He takes a few moments to let me finish before he says gently, “Instead of you just being completely, and understandably overwhelmed?” in a way that suggests the root to my freak-out is really obvious to him. “Lola, baby, your life had been turned upside down—even before all of this stuff with Oliver.”
I crack two eggs into the pan, adjusting the flame so they don’t pop and sizzle. His easy understanding makes my eyes grow shimmery again with tears. “I know.”
“You’ve been on more planes in the past few months than that United pilot who lives down the street.”
“Do you remember when you first started drawing?” he asks.
I think about it for a beat, wiping my eyes, and then say, “No.”
“See, that’s because you always have. Little doodles here and there, those coloring contests we’d get at the grocery store. But when your mom left, it changed. Instead of being something you did for fun, it was all you did. A compulsion. I wasn’t sleeping much and I’d walk by your room in the middle of the night to find you hunched over your desk, working. It was your safe place. I wasn’t always the most communicative person back then, and you put all those thoughts and things you felt or wanted to say down on the paper.”
I don’t say anything, watching the eggs cook as I wait for him to continue. The yolks are this brilliant, sunshine yellow. The whites so starkly bright and slowly settling into the bread. I can practically see the heat in the pan, the way the air weaves and warps over the surface.
“You needed Razor Fish. You needed that world you controlled, where you didn’t have to say anything or risk messing it up because the characters were yours. They said the things you couldn’t. They didn’t care if you got something wrong. Razor wouldn’t ever leave. He’s your family.” He pauses. “I’m sure it’s scary to want someone the way you want Oliver.”
He returns my stare, but his is softer, more knowing. Wiser. “I’m sure it’s scary how overwhelming it all is. I’m sure it’s scary to feel like you have to split your attention between two things you love. You don’t want to lose either of them. You don’t want to leave either of them. And you’ve known Razor longer.”
I look back to the pan, flipping the bread and egg over neatly.
“You did something dumb, and instead of Oliver being the strong, steady rock you’re used to, he did what you suggested and gave you a break. He went out on a date to prove a point.”
I can feel him lean closer, elbows on the counter. “Do I have the situation figured out?”
I poke at the food with the tip of the spatula, ignoring what I’m sure will be a smug smile on his face and hating the way this conversation brushes over the raw little edges left from my fight with Oliver at the bar. “Yeah.”
He stands, walking to the cabinet to grab a plate. “But at least he did it when you told him to, so you weren’t surprised.”
I cough out an incredulous laugh. “Are you implying that I intentionally sabotaged this thing with Oliver?”
Dad shakes his head. “I’m just saying you’re complicated. You’ve got relationship baggage and no matter how much you think you’ve got it all together, you don’t. I always worried you’d have abandonment issues—and you do.” I look up at him, mouth agape while I mentally compile a tirade for the centuries, but he continues: “Thing is, it occurs to me you’re not afraid of being abandoned, Lola, you’re afraid you’re going to abandon the things you love.”
“So you’re preemptively abandoning them. Or, if I know you as well as I think I do, you don’t let things get too deep in the first place.”
I work to swallow past the heavy swell in my throat, easing the spatula under his breakfast and sliding the food on the plate he’s holding in front of me.
A quick glance up, and my eyes snag with his.
“No,” he says, holding the plate with one hand so he can reach forward, cup my cheek. He forces me to meet his eyes again. “Listen to me. You aren’t your mother.”