I want him to tell me he loves me. I need the way his voice coils around the words, but it’s my prize at the end. I know it is.

When the movie is done, I put my empty beer bottle in the recycling bin and head back to my room, finishing the scene in an hour.

I’VE ONLY PRINTED out two full copies of Junebug, but I can’t stop touching them. I splurged on the glossy cover with black matte title font, the thick pages bursting with color in between. Color explodes from the front, too; I’m not sure whether Erik will want to keep this cover or not, but I’ll fight for it: iridescent blues, greens, reds, yellows swirling around my winged June and her beloved Trip. Chaos fades behind them, promising that, no matter what story opens these pages, there is triumph inside.

I’m proud of it, and giddy to show it to Oliver.

I pull up to the curb and listen to my old car tick in the silence. Oliver’s house is a small blue rambler on a tiny, square lot. His lawn is making a desperate attempt to grow, but Oliver refuses to water as much as it needs, because of the drought. The paint is faded, the walkway cracked in places. It is at once unremarkable and perfect. I can see myself here. I can see us here.

My heart seems to inch its way up my throat at the thought of being with him in casual, daily ways. I miss the everyday chatter. I miss, even more, the time alone with him, loving, being loved, making it.

Reaching for the books, I pick them up, holding them in the sun. One copy is for me. The other is for Oliver. I don’t need him to tell me it’s good; I know it is. But I want him to be the first to read it in full, because it’s our story, too. He’s seen it in pieces, but I wonder if it will sink in once he reads it from cover to cover. I recognize that’s how I create, at least for now: I unload my life on pages, transporting myself to a different world and seeing how I might react, survive, thrive.

I lift the R2-D2 knocker and let it drop against the heavy wooden door. There’s something reassuring about how Oliver looks when he answers: dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, hair mussed, half-eaten apple in hand. Despite everything that’s happened between us in the past few weeks, he’s still the only man I’ve ever loved.

He smiles happily when he sees me, pulling the door open wider and I wonder in a pulsing heartbeat if I could ever have been with anyone but him, Oliver Lore: now transparent to me, always up front and on the level.

“Hey,” he says. “This is a nice surprise.”

“Hi.” I nearly choke on the single word.

“I didn’t think I’d get you until Friday.”

His gaze drifts to what I’m holding, and I hand him his copy of the book. “My ticket inside, I believe?”

His laugh is cut off halfway past his lips when he gets a good look at the cover art. My heart soars as his eyes go wide, his mouth releasing a slow “Holy shit.”

The panel shows the girl, drops of rain spilling from her hands.

“I love you,” I say in a quiet, desperate burst. His attention breaks from the cover, and he looks up at me, eyes round with surprise.

Oliver steps out onto the small porch, absently dropping the apple at his feet and tucking the book under his arm. His hands come up to my face, cupping my jaw, eyes searching mine.

I nod, saying it again. “I love you.”

His eyes are blue, but spotted with little swirls of green: an ocean contained in an iris. With a little smile, his lips come over mine, a sweet sweep from one side to the other as he hums, and my entire world shifts back into focus. “She loves me.”

“She does.” I can’t take in a deep enough breath. I want more; I need him closer. I’ve spent the last week and a half working for this exact moment, motivated by the prospect of forgiveness delivered in a kiss.

But he only gives me one more, this one a little longer, lips parted, just the hint of his tongue.

“Take me inside,” I beg, stretching to taste his neck, his jaw.

“I’ll take you all night,” he promises before planting one last kiss on my mouth. “But first, we talk.”

Ducking inside, he grabs his coat and then takes my hand, shutting the front door behind him. In the past few days, we’ve talked about such surface things—the store, my book, Not-Joe, Harlow and Finn, the parade of new releases I don’t have time to keep up with—but nothing heavier yet. We’ve wrapped up our hearts like presents, placed carefully beneath the tree.

It’s three blocks to the beach, and at this odd hour there aren’t any surfers dotting the water’s surface. Only the occasional solitary figure walking down the beach, a dog forging the path ahead of them.

We find a quiet section of the beach, broken by only a few sets of footprints, and stand a few yards away from the ocean’s edge. It’s windy, and still a little cold, but I’m warm in a long-sleeved shirt and with Oliver standing only a few feet away from me. We watch the waves crash for a few cycles and then I hear him clear his throat, as if he wants to say something.

He comes at me slowly, with a smile, and it’s like watching a form moving through water. Behind him the sky is a pristine cornflower; it’s still getting dark so early, down the coast, toward downtown, it looks like liquid blue sky with city lights bleeding everywhere.

“This is where we talk?” I ask with a smile, and I force some bravado in my eyes; I honestly have no idea why we’re at the beach and not on the couch in his living room, facing each other.