The offer ticks between us heavily, meaning something different the longer we’re silent. He rubs his eyes before bending to pick up his glasses and slide them on. Things have never been so awkward with me and Oliver until recently. It hurts. I mean, it twists something inside my ribs to have it be this stilted.
“London saw me at Fred’s,” he explains, bending to pull the blanket off the floor. “She asked if I wanted to hang out—just hanging out, drinks and whatnot—she was sort of insistent, actually—”
“It’s okay,” I cut in, fighting a smile. The sensation is like warm water in my veins: relief from hearing him needing to explain why he went home with another woman, even if it was with my roommate. “I caught her on her way to the beach. She told me that she ran into you.”
He nods slowly. “You didn’t come home last night.”
Oh. Did he forget . . . ?
The relief in his voice is everything to me. “He and Ellen split.”
Looking up at me, he asks, “Is he okay?”
I nod. “He seems fine, actually. I think she was just a very available pair of fake boobs.”
He laughs and scratches the back of his head, asking with more care, “Are you okay?”
God, that is a huge question. “Yes and no.”
The silence stretches between us and I wonder if he’s done holding my hand, if this is his way of forcing me to talk. “I told Austin yesterday that there were some things he couldn’t change, and the romance angle was one of them.”
Oliver leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “And how did he take that?”
“Not very well. He said we’d talk about it more, but I have no intention of changing my mind. If they want my input, that’s where I stand.”
He nods. “That’s good, I’m proud of you. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re right.”
“I’ve also been thinking a lot. About us.”
The quiet that follows is a terrifying abyss, but I just wait, needing him to show me that we can talk about this again.
“Okay,” he says, finally. “What have you been thinking?”
“That I’m so, so sorry about the other night,” I say. “I got scared.”
He narrows his eyes and tilts his head as he studies me. He’s tired and unshaven, and it doesn’t look like the last few days have been very easy on him, either. “You don’t have to apologize for being scared, Lola.”
Oliver stands, reaches for his jacket on the arm of the chair, and slips it on. He puts on his shoes and picks up his phone. “You’ve worked your entire life for this; it’s understandable that you’d be protective of it. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to let it crumble.”
He takes a few steps toward me, close enough that I have to tilt my chin to look up at him. “What hurt,” he continues quietly, “was how you thought it would be easier to drop me. How easy it seemed for you to make that decision right there, on the spot.”
Tears prick at the surface of my eyes. “It’s not easier. It’s awful.”
He nods. “And I messed up, too,” he says, eyes holding mine. “I hate that I went out with someone else, even if I had no intention of touching her.”
My heart rips. “I want to go back to the way it was,” I whisper, trying not to break out in a full-on sob.
“I don’t think we can do that,” he says, looking down at where his fingers absently reach for a strand of my hair, letting them slide down to the ends. I feel more tears burning in my throat, behind my eyes, and my chest goes tight. “I don’t know that we should.”
“Oliver, don’t.” I reach to wipe my face, but he grabs my hand, slipping his fingers between mine.
“No,” he says with sweet urgency. “I mean I think we need to come from a more open place next time.” He rubs his fingers over my palm, massaging. “I think we need to come from a place where you talk to me instead of letting me be the one to pull everything out of you.”
I swallow, and then swallow again, trying to process what I think he’s telling me. “You’re saying we can try again?” He looks up, stark blue eyes flicking back and forth between mine. “You want to be with me still?”
A tiny smile pulls at his mouth. “I never stopped wanting to be with you. I just needed you to figure your shit out.”
I let out a snorting laugh through my tears, relief making me feel a little shaky and hysterical. I nod quickly, wiping my face, trying to get my shit together now, in front of him.
“Stop,” he says quietly. “This isn’t what I mean. I don’t mean you should hide when you’re emotional. I mean you should recognize that I’m the guy who wants to see how you’re feeling. To hear about it.”
He chews on his lip, watching where his thumb rubs my cheek. “Look, Lola, I meant it when I told you I don’t need easy or perfect. But I do need to know . . .” He trails off, his brows pulling down as he frowns a little. “I just need to hear that you’re not going to do that again. It really wrecked me.”
“I won’t.” Even the thought makes something grow tight and brittle inside me. I reach forward to put my free hand on his chest, for grounding. I can feel the firm, steady duh-dum-duh-dum-duh-dum of his heart under my palm. “I couldn’t.”