Silence fills the space between us, and I know there’s so much more to say, but I sense we aren’t doing this now. Still, I know we’re going to be okay because the weight of the quiet isn’t suffocating. It’s just Oliver + Lola again, quietly putting words together in their heads.
“How are things going with Junebug?” he asks, reaching with the hand that isn’t holding mine to tuck my hair behind my ear.
I sniff, looking over his shoulder. “I’m about three-quarters done.”
Wincing a little, I admit, “Not yet. But I will.”
“That’s a start.” Oliver squeezes my hand and then lets it go. “You can text me whenever you want, or call if you need to talk something out.”
I blink, not wanting him to leave yet. “Where will you be? You can hang out here if y—”
“I’ll be home or at the store,” he says gently.
I don’t know what I mean.
Or I do, but I don’t know how he can possibly answer that.
But as much work as I have to get done, I need him, too. I realize at the same time he seems to that the admission is in the question, and he leans forward with a smile.
“You’ll call me every day. You’ll answer my texts.” He brushes his lips across mine, only once and I chase him a little when he pulls away. “If you need lunch, I’ll bring it to you. If you need anything else,” he says, eyes searching, “well. Call me.”
“If you need anything, too . . .” I say, feeling like I’m tripping over every emotion rioting in my chest.
Oliver smiles. “Okay. To the writing cave you go.” He gently sweeps both thumbs under my eyes, cleaning me up. “This isn’t a pause for us, it’s just you needing to buckle down and finish. Managing this will be a part of our life. Sometimes I get you every night,” he says, eyes moving over my face. “Sometimes I have to share you for a week or two.”
He has to clean me up again because more tears fall when he says this.
Laughing, he kisses my nose, telling me, “So go work, Lola Love. I want my nights back.”
The folder on my desktop labeled “Crap” has four times as many illustration files as the one labeled “Keep,” but I get it. The lesson—coming at me from all angles these days—permeates my brain with the subtlety of a pickax: sometimes you need to do it all wrong before you know how to do it right.
I don’t see Oliver for a day, then two, then a week goes by, and I miss him with this pitted ache. But we’re talking every night, and he sees every line, every word I put down—sees the good and the bad, and the truly hideous—because I send it all to him, needing another set of eyes.
His eyes are the salve to the burn of my panic. Behind them is a man who is measured and fair, who can step outside his instinct to soothe and realize that what I really need right now is honest criticism.
The panel shows the girl, hands cupped, waiting for rain. He blocks her from the fever of the sun.
“WHAT ARE YOU doing?” he asks.
It’s a bland Tuesday night, my newly negotiated deadline is two days from now, and Oliver’s called to check in after having dinner with Harlow and Finn. His voice sounds gravelly, like he’s lying down in bed. I picture him home alone, with his hand resting over his chest, staring up at the smooth white ceiling.
Or is he wearing nothing but his boxers?
How often does he imagine kissing me, touching me, moving into me?
“Sitting at my desk,” I tell him. “Staring at a mess.”
He goes quiet, and some instinct trips inside me, telling me he’s running through the same list of questions.
“Did you finish the last fight scene?” he asks, at length.
I shake my head, swallowing a sip of tea before saying aloud, “Not yet. But it’s getting there. Other than that one scene, I’m done.” I rub my face. “Just finishing up the panels.”
“I liked the ones you sent with the green backdrop.” His voice is slow, lazy, feels like warm syrup poured across my skin. “Made Junebug seem more triumphant somehow, like she was surrounded by trees.”
I smile. “I think so, too. I’ll go back to those. My brain just feels like it needs a rest.”
“Right,” he says, and I hear the small grunt he makes when he sits up. “Let’s see what’s on.”
In the background, his feet pad down the hall and I hear the rustling of the phone against his shoulder before he returns. “Your choices are Die Hard . . . um, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, or The Matrix.”
I dunk my tea bag back into the hot water a few times. “Is that a serious question?”
He goes quiet for a beat, before his voice returns with uncertainty. “Yes?”
I can hear his smile when he says, “It’s on FX. Now: go get a beer, turn off the computer, and take two hours to watch a movie.”
I hear what he’s telling me: creativity needs to breathe.
“Why don’t you come over and watch it with me?” I whine quietly. I haven’t seen him in an eternity.
“Because I’d fuck you as soon as I set foot in the door, and you’re in the cave.”
My heart erupts and I imagine a sunbeam blasting from my chest. “Oh.”