Me on his lap.

His mouth on my throat.

“I don’t reckon I know what else we need to say,” he says, shrugging sweetly. “But I know if we were at my place, we would have sex. And I just want to be with you for a little while first.”

When I look back up at him, the way he watches me is more intimate than any kiss could be, any sex, anything. I have this wild vision of climbing him, clawing at him, trying to get inside him somehow. I just need to connect.

“Are you still mad at me?” I ask him, chest aching. “A little, I mean?”

He shakes his head, and I see it past a shiver of tears through my eyelashes. I don’t know where they’re coming from. Relief, maybe. Probably exhaustion. More than a little triumph.

He reaches across the space, brushing away the first to fall. “I’m not mad.”

“I’m not going to leave you,” he says. “You know that, right?”

A river of tears follows: the dam bursting. “It’s not that.”

But it is. My fear the past two weeks is at least partly that—that I changed his love, broke it somehow in the same way Mom broke mine—and now three feet between us isn’t nearly enough to dilute my need to touch him.

“Lola,” he says, stronger now. “I don’t want to be without you. I’m not leaving you. Even if you’re busy. Even if you’re scared. Even if you’re unreasonable or crazy, I won’t leave.”

“But I need to know that you’re not going to leave, either. I can’t feel like I come second. You will always come first to me,” he says. “I will never take you away from your art, but I don’t ever want to feel like a distraction to you.” He watches where his fingers brush more tears off my cheeks. “I’ve realized . . . I’ve never needed to matter to someone as much as I need to matter to you.”

He steps closer, his coat pressing against my chest, and I lean into him, wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my face into the hollow of his throat. He smells so good. Familiar, clean. He smells like books and fabric softener and the ocean. His arms come up around my shoulders, one hand on my back, the other in my hair.

“You matter,” I tell him urgently. “You matter so much, Oliver. In fact, you became everything and it scared me. I think the idea of messing up with the books felt a little like losing someone in my family.”

“I went to a crazy place when I let it all get so bad. I guess I need to figure out how to manage that.” I shrug in his arms. “I think I can. Okay? Asking for space only made it worse. So much worse.”

He kisses the top of my head, nodding.

“You said you knew it would be intense like that,” I remind him. “But you were right: I didn’t. I haven’t felt that before.”

“I’m glad, though,” he says. “I want to be the love of your life.” Tilting his head, he reconsiders, adding, “At least, I want to be the human one. I can share you with Razor.”

I try to laugh but my throat is tight with emotion, making my voice come out a little strangled when I ask: “Have you seen Allison again?”

“No,” he says in a burst, pulling back to look at me. “Lola. I love you. I told you already, I don’t want to be with anyone else.”

An enormous knot loosens in me. “Okay. Okay.” I don’t know why I had to ask this, but I did. Allison likes him. She’s an option for him.

He exhales, his chest slumping against me, and I can practically feel his guilt. “I know it feels like a betrayal that I did that. It feels that way to me, too.”

I nod, swallowing back another sob. “Such a small one in comparison. Oliver, I’m an idiot.”

He laughs. “It feels good to finally talk about this stuff, though,” he says. “Feelings and things about us. And not just when we’re having sex. I mean out here, on the beach.”

“Okay,” I say laughing, “I guess I agree it’s good we didn’t go inside.”

“We would be making a lot of noise, but nothing intelligible,” he says, bending to press his forehead to mine. Desperate need for him explodes in my blood and I feel the ache spread like a vine inside my chest.

But he pulls back, eyes heavy with desire, determined to keep talking. “I’ve wanted you for so long,” he says. “Sometimes it grew so enormous it left me feeling faintly nauseous. I went on a date shortly after we met and I moved to San Diego, and was miserable. I came home and listened over and over to a voicemail you’d left me. It was this rambling monologue about how much you hate Pringles but it was really a love letter to Pringles.”

I laugh; I know exactly what message he’s talking about.

“I got myself off to the sound of your voice that night,” he admits, then looks at me darkly.

My heart hiccups; heat spreads from my chest down down down between my legs.

“I’ve done very, very crude things to you in my head.”

“Licking, biting, fucking,” he says quietly. “Coming inside you. On you. Just after you or, sometimes before you, making you play with me until I was hard again.”