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Dark Wild Night: Chapter 3

Lola

I’M A ZOMBIE before coffee, especially after a night of shots and celebration and who knows what else. I don’t even remember walking home from the bar, so I don’t fully believe my eyes when I find Oliver asleep on my couch at 7 a.m.

He’s sprawled awkwardly, so long and angled. One of his feet is flat on the floor; the other hangs over the end of the couch. His shirt rides up to his ribs, exposing a flat stomach cut down the middle with a dark line of hair. Limp-legged, arms askew, and with his neck at an angle that will be sore when he wakes . . .

He’s really here, and he looks amazing.

It isn’t the first time he’s crashed at my place; the loft is only a few blocks from the store so we gave Oliver a key in case he ever needed to let one of us in, fix a leaky faucet, or make a quick sandwich on a break. In the eight months I’ve known him, he’s slept here twice: One night he worked so late before the store’s grand opening he could barely walk to our place, let alone drive home. He was gone before I was awake. Another night we’d gone out after the store closed, and had too many drinks for any of us to operate a moving vehicle. But that time, it had been the whole tangle of us, with random bodies crashing on any available soft surface.

London is already up and gone—surfing, most likely—and I’ve never had the joy of waking up and finding him here, alone. Admittedly, I’m being supercreepy, staring at him while he’s still asleep—and I’ll make every effort to feel bad about it later—but right now I just love seeing him first thing in the morning. Absolutely relish it.

I know it’s only a matter of time before Oliver’s stress about opening the store lessens and he can focus on other areas of his life . . . like dating. Like Hard Rock Allison. Heaven knows he has enough girls hanging out at the store hoping the hot owner will notice them. I don’t like the idea, but I know eventually it’s going to happen. The obliterating distraction of career has been true for me, too, and all of the travel recently has allowed me to keep my head in the sand about how much I genuinely like him. It’s allowed me to be happy taking whatever I can get.

But in the past few weeks, even with things feeling more insane than ever, I’ve emerged from the fog. I’ve had to admit to myself that I want him. And last night we were more flirtatious than we’ve ever been. The memory trips a fluttery, anxious beat in my chest.

When we met in Vegas, he was good-looking and interesting and had the sexiest accent I’d ever heard, but I didn’t know him. He didn’t want me? No big deal. But spending time with him—nearly all of my free time, if I’m being honest—and having him be such a fixture in my life has made the minor gnaw of desire grow into this painful kind of ache. Now, I know him, but I don’t know his heart. Not that way. And lately . . . I want to. I want to tell him, Just give me a week. A week of you, and your lips and your laugh in my bed. Just one week and then I think I’ll be okay.

It’s a lie, of course. Even having never kissed him—beyond the quick, soft kiss at our sham-of-a-wedding—I know I would be worse off if I had him for a week and then lost him. My heart would be warped afterward, like a wool sweater loaned to a body too big and growing misshapen until it doesn’t fit quite right anymore. Who knows, maybe I came to Oliver misshapen to begin with. But unlike every boyfriend I’ve had—a couple of weeks here, a month there—Oliver never seems to poke at the tender spots, needing to know every detail. Instead he’s collected my details as they’ve been offered.

Maybe it’s why he’s still so close to me; I haven’t yet had the chance to ruin it by clamming up exactly when intimacy is needed.

Our first night, while our best friends were breaking headboards in Vegas hotel rooms with their libidos, Oliver and I walked up and down the Strip talking about work. About writing and illustrating, about the portrayal of women in comics, about the books we were currently reading. We talked about Razor Fish, and about his store—vaguely; I didn’t even know early on that he would be moving to San Diego.

It was so easy being with him, like a tiny taste of something delicious I want to keep eating until I explode. Somewhere at the tail end of the chaos on the Strip, I’d grown brave enough to stop him mid-step, and, with a tentative hand on his arm, turn him to face me.

“Our rooms are probably being used,” I started, staring at his chin, before forcing my eyes to his.

He smiled, and it was the first time I realized how perfect his teeth are—white and even, with uniquely sharp canines that made him nearly wolfish—how smooth his lips are, how blue his eyes are behind his glasses. “Probably.”

“But we could . . .” I trailed off, blinking to the side.

He waited, watching me, eyes never betraying that he knew exactly what I was going to say.

I looked back up at his face, finding my bravery: “We could get a room for the night, if you wanted. Together.”

His expression remained exactly the same—Oliver’s amazing poker face held that gentle smile, that nonjudgmental, soft gaze—and he very politely declined.

I was mortified, but eventually got over it, and we’ve never spoken about it since.

Later, when I discovered he’d moved here and we had these people in common, and this passion for comics in common, too, we saw each other all the time and the awkwardness of that rejection dissolved. In its place came sort of a perfect friendship. Oliver doesn’t judge, he doesn’t mock, he doesn’t push. He doesn’t mind my quiet moods, where all I want to do is bend over a scrap of paper and draw. He doesn’t mind when I get worked up over something and babble for an entire hour. He’s honest in this completely easy way when I show him new story ideas. He plays weird music for me and makes me sit and listen because, even if I hate it, he wants me to understand why he likes it. He can talk about everything from Veronica Mars to Gen13 to NPR to car repair, or he can just as easily not talk at all, which I sort of love, too. He listens, he’s funny, he’s kind. He’s entirely his own self, and that easy confidence is only part of what makes him nearly irresistible. The fact that he’s tall, gorgeous, and has the most perfect smile doesn’t hurt, either.

Two months after our marriage and annulment, I brought him over to meet my dad, Greg. That night, sometime over barbecued chicken and a bag of chips with salsa—and while I was off in the backyard trying to capture the sunset with oils—Oliver heard the rest of my story.

Dad came home from his third tour in Afghanistan when I was twelve, and he was a complete mess: he went from being a celebrated triage nurse to being an honorably discharged veteran, unable to sleep and hiding OxyContin in the kitchen. Mom couldn’t even take a month of it before she left in the middle of the night without anything as formal as a goodbye. To either of us.

I tried to pick up Dad’s pieces, Dad tried to pick up my pieces, and we muddled through for a few years until we realized we each had to carry our own pieces. It wasn’t good, but it got better, and my relationship with my father is one of the most cherished things I’ll ever have. I tell him nearly every thought I have, no matter how small. It’s what allows me to keep them mostly inside the rest of the time. I’d rather lose the sun than him.

I never knew exactly what Dad said to Oliver, but after that night, instead of ever asking about it, Oliver just folded it into the Lola Canon and let it be. Little details would come out in conversation—the shorthand that so far I’ve only ever had with Harlow and Mia—showing me that he knew more than I’d ever told him.

Mia and Harlow had been in my life when it all happened, so I’d never had to download it all in one sitting. But if there was ever anyone else I wanted to know me that well, it was Oliver. After a few beers almost a month ago, I’d finally asked him, “So how much of my origin story did my dad tell you?”

He’d stilled mid-sip with his beer bottle touching his lips, and then slowly set it down. “He told me his version. From when you were small, until now.”

“Do you want to hear mine?”

Oliver turned to me, and he nodded. “ ’Course I do. Someday. Whenever and however it comes out.”

I’d almost kissed him that night, nearly been brave enough. Because when I told him that I wanted to hear his story, too, he’d looked so grateful, so full of what on my face would mean love, that it was the first and only time I’d thought maybe he was in just as deep as I was. And I had to ruin it by looking back down at the table.

When I looked up again, the poker face was firmly in place and he’d changed the subject.

I’m thinking about all of this now, watching him sleep. I’m also wishing he would wake up so I can grind some coffee beans. But my phone does the job as it starts barking at top volume on the counter: Benny’s trademark ring.

“Hello?” I answer as fast as I can, nearly dropping my phone.

Oliver bolts upright at the sound, looking around wildly. I wave my hand from the kitchen until he sees me and then relaxes. He wipes his face and looks at me in this bare, tender way.

It’s the same way he looked at me that night a month ago in the bar. His lips part a little, eyes narrowed so he can see me without the benefit of his glasses. His smile is the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Hey,” he says, voice raspy and broken a little from sleep.

“Lola, it’s Benny.” Benny’s voice rips through the phone. “I’ve got Angela on the line.”

“Oh?” I murmur, stuck on Oliver’s face. As I watch, it transitions from relieved and happy to a little confused as he looks around the room.

He sits up and props his elbows on his thighs, putting his head in his hands, groaning, “Fuck. My head.”

Harlow once said the way someone looks at you when you’re the first person they see in the morning is the best way to gauge how they feel. I blink down to the counter and drag my nail between two tiles to keep from trying to interpret Oliver’s early morning expressions.

“It’s early, sorry for that,” Angela says. “You okay?”

“I’m pre-coffee,” I admit. “I’m not much of anything yet.”

Oliver looks up and laughs from the couch and Angela laughs less genuinely across the line. I put it on speakerphone so he can hear.

“Well,” Angela continues, “yesterday was a big day, and the press release goes out today.”

“Do you need anything from me?” I ask.

“Nothing, except for you to be prepared,” she says. “I don’t need you to answer any questions today. That’s our job. We can send over some social media copy to use for later. We’ll set up some interviews. What I need from you now is to be aware of what this means.”

Oliver watches me from the living room, eyes theatrically wide.

“Okay . . . ?” I say, smiling only because I’m so grateful he’s here and getting this all firsthand. Angela sounds pretty fucking serious right now. I feel like I need a witness.

“It means you’ll be recognized.”

Oliver looks playfully scandalized and I stifle a giggle. The book has already been in the top three for graphic novels on the New York Times list for the past ten weeks and my life hasn’t changed much at all, save more travel for signings and a few conventions. Clearly we both seriously doubt our neighborhood is going to become paparazzi ground zero.

“Maybe photographed and followed,” Angela continues. “It means you’ll be asked the same question a hundred times and will need to seem to answer it for the first time every single time it’s asked. It means you can’t control what’s written about you. Is this all clear?”

I nod, still holding on to Oliver’s amused gaze, but they can’t see it so I manage a “Yes.”

“You’ll be great,” Benny says in his reassuring voice. “This is fantastic, Lola.”

“It is,” I agree in a squeak. I know Harlow would never understand this inclination of mine, but I really just want to hide in my writing cave until it’s all done and I can go see the film in a wig and sunglasses.

It’s fine. I’m fine.

“Good,” Angela says. “It should be up on Variety within the hour. Enjoy the moment, Lola. This one is all yours.”

I can tell the call is about to end but there is the loud familiar clang of the dreaded glass door in in the background and a muffled male voice saying, “Fuck.”

Angela clears her throat. “Ah, it appears Austin would like a word.”

“Okay,” I say. Oliver has gotten up from the couch and steps into the kitchen.

“Lola!” Austin booms, and I’m glad I have it on speaker because against my ear it would have been deafening.

“Good morning,” I say, and reach up to playfully tap Oliver’s nose to draw his attention away from where he’s sternly staring at the phone.

“Look, I have a meeting in five,” Austin says, “so I just wanted to pop in, but I was thinking last night: what if Razor wasn’t from a parallel time loop, but actually from another planet?”

I blink, and my brain seems to stall out.

Oliver’s eyes widen, and he mouths, “What the hell?”

“Sorry,” I say, and shake my head to clear it. I thought Austin really connected to the book. “An alien? Like from Mars?”

“Well, the specifics could be decided down the road,” Austin says casually. “I’m just thinking that for the American public, an alien would be easier to understand than the idea of various parallel time loops.”

“But Doctor Who is a thing” is all I can think to say.

“That’s BBC.”

“So the Brits are smarter?”

He laughs, thinking I’m being rhetorical. “Right? Well, just think on it. I think it could be a really easy change for us to make that wouldn’t influence the story much at all—just make it more accessible.”

I nod, and then realize again they can’t see me. “Okay, I’ll think about it.”

“Great!” he crows. “Talk to you later, Loles.”

My phone gives out three beeps, indicating the call has ended, and I carefully slide it onto the counter.

Oliver crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the sink. “ ‘Loles’?”

My eyebrows inch up to the roof. “We’re starting with that?”

He laughs, shaking his head slowly. “I’m not sure either of us wants to start with Mars.”

I walk over to the fridge and pull out the bag of coffee beans. “I . . .” I turn, pouring the beans into the grinder, and look up at him helplessly as it loudly pulverizes my coffee. My brain is mush, my heart sags, my lungs seem to have given up and simply shut down.

Turning off the grinder, I say, “I don’t even know what to say. A Martian. An actual Martian. That’s not even a real suggestion, is it? I mean, Razor and all other Bichir evolved in Loop Four from the same earthly material we did, just . . . differently. In an alternate time, under alternate conditions.” I rest both hands on my head, trying not to panic. “The whole point of him, and who he is, is alternate evolution.” I look up into his deep blue eyes. “Here. On Earth. The only reason he cares about Quinn initially and what she’s doing is because Earth is his planet, too. It’s just a different version of it.”

I know Oliver already knows this, but talking it out will unknot something in me.

Either that or completely send me into a spiral.

“You can push back, Lola,” he says. “For what it’s worth, I don’t agree at all with Austin that it’s too complicated a story line.”

“I thought we might be discussing more nuanced changes,” I say, “like having Quinn fight only one attacker in her first fight, or having Razor come to her rescue a little sooner with the Andemys.”

Oliver shrugs, spinning a spoon on the tile countertop. “Yeah, me, too.”

“And a press release?” I shake my head, dumping the grinds into the coffeemaker. “I’m going to hide in the shop today, if that’s okay.”

“I think the shop may be the least hidey place you could find, Lola Love.”

I nod, loving the way he says my name. His o’s are always so wiggly, nothing makes my spirits lift like listening to his voice. “Are you hungry?”

He reaches beneath his shirt to scratch his stomach, and my heart dive-bombs into my feet. “Starving,” he says, shrugging.

I point to a pile of fruit on a platter and reach above the fridge for the cereal, grabbing the Rice Krispies because I know it’s what he wants. He’s already beside me at the fridge getting out the milk.

“I’m in a world where someone sends over social media copy,” I say. “I guess I should start some social media, huh?”

He laughs, peeling a banana. “Let Joe run your Twitter. He’d be good.”

I gape at him. “He’d post dick pics.”

Oliver shrugs as if to say, Like I said, and then pauses, staring back at me.

“What?” I say.

“Nothing.” He nods to the fruit in his hand. “I’m just honestly not sure where I’m supposed to look when I eat a banana. It was a little eye-contacty there for a second. I didn’t want to be suggestive.”

“Especially not after discussing Not-Joe’s dick pics.”

With a grimace, Oliver puts the banana down and pours his cereal. “Hand me a knife?”

I giggle as I grab one, and he rolls his eyes. Every time he says “knife” I can’t help it. It’s one of the only times he’s ever full-on Paul Hogan.

“Do you really think people will recognize me?” I ask, chewing my thumbnail. I can’t even face the idea of Razor as an alien from Mars right now; it’s oddly easier to focus on the publicity side of all this.

Oliver looks up at me, studies my face. I know what he’s thinking when his eyes land on my diamond Marilyn piercing: I’m not very incognito. “Don’t they already, sometimes?”

“Only geeks, and only twice.”

“Well, now more people will.” He says it with such easy calm. Sometimes I want to put him in a cage with a lion and measure his blood pressure.

“That makes me want to vomit, Oliver. Like, I should actually carry a bucket around with me.”

He shakes his head, laughing. “Come on, Lola. You’re being dramatic. You’re so graceful all the time, why do you think it will be hard for you?”

“That’s not true,” I whisper.

He looks up at me, and shakes his head the tiniest bit. “Sometimes I wish I could meet you all over again,” he says, slicing his banana on top of his cereal. “And pay better attention.”

My heart catapults into my throat. “What does that even mean?”

“It means exactly what I just said.” He stirs the bananas into the bowl. “You’re bloody amazing. I want to meet you for the first time again. And I want it to be different, and just us hanging out like this.”

“Over Rice Krispies and coffee rather than on the Vegas Strip?”

He meets my eyes, and I know—I just know—he’s remembering my stumbling proposition. I watch as he searches for the right words. “I’m just talking about a situation where no one feels pressured to—”

“I don’t blame you for what you did that night,” I say. I need to put this moment out of its misery. “It was the right call.”

He holds my eyes for a breath longer before he smiles a little, digging into his food.

I lean against the counter and sip my nectar of the gods and watch him eat. In some ways, he’s built like a stick figure: so long, so lean, loping stride and arms, nothing but sharp angles. But also, he’s strong. Muscle ropes around his biceps, his shoulders. His chest is broad, tapering into a straight waist. I could draw him, I think. I could draw him and I might even surprise myself with what I see.

“What are you thinking about?” he asks through a mouthful of cereal. “You’re staring at me as if you’re surprised I have arms.”

“I was thinking about what it would look like if I drew you.”

I feel my eyes go wide. I definitely didn’t mean to say this out loud, and we both know it. Oliver has gone so still, as still as the blood in my veins. He’s looking at me as if he expects me to elaborate but I can’t. Something shuts off in my brain when I’m nervous, some trapdoor closes.

Minutes pass and all I can hear is my own heartbeat, and the sound of Oliver eating. We’re not strangers to silence, but this one feels pretty heavy.

“Well, do you want to?”

I blink up to his face. “Do I want to what?”

He takes a bite of Rice Krispies, chews, and swallows. “Draw me.”

My heart inflates

inflates

inflates

explodes.

“It’s no big deal, Lola. You’re an artist. And I realize I’m a bit of a demigod.” He winks and then ducks to take another milky bite of cereal.

Do I want to draw him? Hell yes, and real-talk time: I do it all the time. But usually from memory, or at the very least I do it when he doesn’t know what I’m drawing. The idea of having unfettered visual access to that face, those hands, the ropey arms and broad shoulders . . .

“Okay,” I squeak.

He stares at me, giving me a tiny lift of his brow that says, Well? and before I can overthink this, I’m off, running to my bedroom, and digging through my desk for my bigger sketchpad and charcoals. I can hear him in the kitchen, putting his bowl in the sink, running the water to wash it.

My mind is a blender, coherent thoughts are chopped and killed. I have no idea what I’m doing right now but if Oliver wants to be drawn . . . well fuck. I’m going to fill this goddamn book with sketches.

Sprinting back to the living room, I nearly wipe out on the wood floor in my socks and manage to grip the wall just in time to see Oliver with his back to me, looking out the enormous loft windows. He reaches behind his neck and pulls his shirt over his head and off.

Oh.

Oh.

“Oh,” I groan.

He whips around and looks at me, mortification spreading over his face. “Were we not doing this? Oh, God, we weren’t doing this. We were just doing face and stuff, weren’t we?” Holding his shirt to his body, he says, “Fuck.”

“It’s fine,” I manage, looking at a pencil in my hand as if inspecting the quality of the sharp peak. I’m staring so hard I could break it with the force of my eyes alone. Oliver is shirtless. In my living room. “This is totally fine, I mean it’s really good to draw you without a shirt because I can focus more on muscle details and hair and nip—” I clear my throat. “Things.”

He drops the shirt, eyes still searching mine to check that I’m sure. “Okay.”

I sit on the couch, looking up at where he stands near the window. He looks out over the skyline, completely at ease. By contrast, my heart is tunneling a path out of my body through my throat. I spend more time than I should on his chest, the geometry of it: perfectly round, small nipples. A map of muscles, built of squares, rectangles, darting lines, and sharp angles. The triangular tilt where hipbone meets muscle. I feel him watch me as I draw the dark hair low on his navel.

“Do you want my pants off?”

“Yes,” I answer before thinking and quickly shout, “No! No. God, oh my God, it’s okay.”

My heart could not possibly beat any harder.

His mouth is half unsure smile, half straight line. I want to spend a year drawing the exact shape of his lips in this moment. “I really don’t mind,” he says quietly.

The devil on my shoulder tells me, Do it. Do it. Your geometric style never works with drawing legs. This would help.

The angel just shrugs and looks away.

“If you’re sure,” I say, and then clear my throat, explaining: “You know I’m really bad at drawing legs and . . .”

He’s already unbuttoning his pants, hands working the soft denim, unbuttoning the fly one tiny pop at a time.

It would be good for our friendship if I could look away, but I can’t.

“Lola?”

With Herculean effort, I drag my eyes up to his face. “Yeah?”

He doesn’t say anything more, but holds my eyes as he pushes his jeans down his hips and kicks them to the side.

“Yeah?” I repeat. I am breathing too hard for this. It has to be noticeable.

This is totally different. Something is happening this morning that is not canon Oliver + Lola. I feel like we’re stepping through the doorway into Wonderland.

“Where do you want me?”

“Want you?”

“To stand?”

“Oh.” I clear my throat. “Right there is good.”

“I’m not backlit?”

He is, but I don’t trust myself to direct him right now.

“I don’t mind sitting—” he starts.

“Maybe just lie down or—” I stop abruptly as his words get processed. Shit. “Or sit. Sitting is fine. I mean, whichever.”

He gives me his tiny mysterious smile and goes to the rug in the middle of the room and lays down in a giant sunbeam.

The panel shows the girl, staring at the boy, her skin covered in licking, blue flames.

Oliver tucks his hands behind his head, crosses his legs at the ankle, and closes his eyes.

Cock.

COCK.

It’s all I can see.

It’s there beneath his boxers, half-hard, obviously uncut, following the line of his hip. My God, it’s thick. And if Oliver is a grow’er, he could knock a woman’s teeth out when he fucks her.

I tilt my head, my hand hovering over the paper. Why is he half-hard? Is this a guy thing that happens when they’re being drawn? Probably. Is that awesome or totally embarrassing?

Obviously for Oliver it’s awesome because look at it. I mean him. Look at him.

“Lola? You okay?”

That’s right. He can hear my lack of scribbling. I sit on the couch and begin furiously drawing every tiny detail of his body: the dark hair on his legs, the corded muscle of his thighs, deep grooves beside his hips, and yes, even the shape of him beneath his boxers.

I’m flipping through dozens of pages, determined to get every detail down and color it later. My hands are a mess of charcoal, my fingers cramping with the speed and intensity of my work.

“Roll to your stomach,” I say.

He does, and I catch his hips flexing, pressing down once hard into the rug: an unconscious thrust.

Every muscle in my body clenches in response: a pleading wish thrown out to the Universe.

I catch sight of a long scar running up his left side, bisecting a few of his ribs.

“What’s the scar?”

“Fall on the first bike trip,” he murmurs, referring to his Bike and Build involvement, where he met Ansel and Finn and they biked across the U.S., building low-income housing on the way.

The scar is big—half an inch wide, maybe four inches long—and I wonder how long Oliver was off the bike after that.

“I never knew you crashed on that trip. What did you do about the biking and building part?”

He shrugs, readjusting his head on his arms, and I marvel over how easy he is in his skin. “Got stitches. I took maybe two days to recoup. Wasn’t that big a deal, it just looks nasty.”

I hum, listening to him talk about biking as I work to master the muscular curve of his calf, the arch of his foot, the protruding bone at his ankle. “Canberra is flat,” he says. “We rode our bikes everywhere. It’s a perfect city for it. Nice tracks. Good roads. Even though I rode all the time, my mates and I were idiots a lot, so of course I fell a lot, too.” I love his voice, get lost in it as I count the vertebrae of his spine, the way his hair curls over his ear, the dark shadow of stubble cutting across his jaw. It’s one thing to see all of this, and another thing entirely to imagine touching it, knowing it as well with my hands as I now do with my eyes.

I have a lifetime’s worth of fantasies on these pages, and I am convinced Oliver has just helped me create the sexiest thing comics will ever see.

I wipe the back of my hand across my forehead, sighing. “I think this is good.”

Oliver rolls to his side, propping himself on one elbow. Seriously it’s absurd. On the white rug in his blue boxer briefs he looks like he’s posing for Playgirl.

“What time is it?” he asks.

I glance at the cock—CLOCK on the cable box. “Eight nineteen.” I need to get out of here.

He stretches: muscles shaking, fists clenched, head thrown back in the relief of it. After an enormous happy groan, he asks, “You gonna show me what you did?”

“Not a chance.”

“So it’s quite pornographic, then?”

I laugh. “You’re in your boxers.”

“That’s a yes? Now I really want to see what you drew.”

“You will,” I tell him. “Eventually. I want to go a little edgier with the next project.” I duck my head, tuck my hair behind an ear. “You helped with some ideas for that. Thanks.”

Is it awkward right now? It doesn’t feel awkward but maybe I’m just terrible at reading these kinds of things. It felt really easy. It feels easy.

He stands, finds his jeans, and begins putting them back on. I bid farewell to the most perfect half-hard cock I’ve never seen. “Just helping a friend out,” he murmurs. “As one does.”

“Thanks,” I say again.

“Hope it distracted you a little, at least.”

I catch his eye as his head reappears from inside his shirt as he pulls it over his head. “Distracted me from what?”

Oliver laughs and comes close enough to reach out and muss my hair. “I’ll see you later, Lola Love.”

He’s out of the apartment and heading down to his store before I remember the Martian Razor and that the Variety article has been posted sometime in the past hour.


HARLOW TOSSES HER purse onto the bench and slides into the booth across from me. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No worries. I ordered you the salmon Caesar.” I look back to the entrance to the restaurant. “No Finn? I thought he was flying in late last night?”

“He had to stay up for the week. Something about the fuse box or control panel and—” Harlow pretends to fall asleep on the table.

“I can never keep track of where he is,” I mumble into my water glass.

“Here’s a trick. When I look like this?” She gestures to her perfectly styled hair and makeup. “He’s not here. If he was here this morning, I’d be too worn-out to—”

“Got it.” I love my girl but she is Empress of the Overshare.

“So what happened to you guys after you stumbled out of Hennessey’s last night? I couldn’t tell who was propping up who.”

I lean out of the way when the waitress drops off our food, and thank her. “I don’t remember how we got back to the loft, but Oliver slept over,” I say once our waitress is gone.

I’m not looking at Harlow when I say this so it startles me when she slams her palms down on the tabletop, already halfway out of her seat. “He what?”

A few customers are looking over at us, and I hiss, “He slept on the goddamn couch, will you put your ass in your chair?”

Her face falls and she sits back down. “God. Don’t do that to me.”

“Do what?” I ask. “It’s Oliver.”

She snorts. “Exactly.”

I try to read her expression but she’s gotten better at keeping her mouth shut since she’s been with Finn, and even though I know she’s thinking something, it isn’t written all over her face.

“Well, okay, about that . . .” I start, and Harlow leans forward with her hands clasped together, forearms resting on the table, and two perfectly sculpted auburn eyebrows raised in interest.

I debate how much to tell her here. I have no idea what Oliver’s dating life looks like and he may be perfectly busy without me, thank you very much. We hang out most days, but not most nights. By the number of stories Finn and Ansel have about Oliver back in the day—as well as Oliver’s enviable poker face—I suspect he’s getting a lot more action these days than I am, I just never hear about it. And, admittedly, with the book launch and travel and events, dating hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind in months. Harlow’s new marriage and Ansel’s imminent stateside move have been the most common topics of conversation when the girls are together.

So . . . I haven’t really mentioned my Oliver attraction to Harlow or Mia. Oliver has just been a nice, happy place for my thoughts to wander in times of stress—a relieving reminder to myself that I have someone I can talk to, that there is someone I can seek whose emotional beat mirrors my own when life gets crazy. Besides, Harlow, Mia, and I have known each other since elementary school, and I’ve learned over the years how quickly Harlow becomes invested. Oliver had a chance in Vegas, and didn’t take it. I can’t imagine he’d be interested in complicating our friendship now that it’s obviously working well for both of us, and I don’t want Harlow to feel resentful toward him for not reciprocating my feelings. Harlow’s strength can also be her weakness: she is the most fiercely loyal person I know.

God, things get complicated when a group of friends is involved.

But with the books published, and travel getting lighter, and in the calm before the movie storm, I have more free time . . . which means Oliver-as-a-sexy-person is more and more on my mind

and this morning I saw him almost naked

and he’s defined everywhere

and not circumcised

and uncut cocks are my kryptonite

and I’ve heard the stories about Oliver’s oral skills amid Finn and Ansel’s snickers

and holy shit I am losing my mind.

Across the table from me, Harlow clears her throat, setting her fork down with heavy intent. I look up from where I’ve been unconsciously doodling on a napkin.

“Testing my patience, friend,” she says.

I clearly need to talk about it . . . and Harlow would understand my hesitation—wouldn’t she?—because she’s been around for every single one of my epic relationship failures.

“I mention that Oliver stayed over last night,” I start again, “because, as it turns out . . . I find him to be rather attractive.”

Harlow leans in even more, and I know her well enough to know that she’s schooling her expression. “A fucking armadillo would find Oliver Lore to be rather attractive, Lola.”

I shrug and she looks at me like she wishes she were a drill and could dig down into my thoughts. I get that look a lot, actually. In truth, she wouldn’t have to go far; they’re right there beneath the surface. It’s just that the surface is pretty solid, like granite.

“Do you think Oliver might also find you attractive?” she asks evenly, sitting up and spearing a piece of lettuce.

I shrug. “I don’t think so. I mean, he didn’t seem all that interested in Vegas.”

She mumbles something about trying real hard not to meddle and then shoves the bite in her mouth.

“There isn’t any meddling to do,” I tell her, but she stares up at the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. “Harlow, what the hell is wrong with you?” I reach across the table and poke her in the forehead. “I just need to talk this out a little,” I tell her. “Because with you married and Mia married, Oliver is kind of my go-to buddy, and you know I have a really, really terrible track record with guys once they become . . .”

Harlow drops her eyes back to me, swallowing a bite of salad before saying, “Once they become more?”

“Yes,” I say, and poke at a spear of asparagus. “Oliver and I see each other almost every day but we’ve never discussed dating or hookups. It’s this odd conversation vacancy in our friendship, this topic we both seem to actively avoid. Maybe that’s for a reason.”

“Should I call Finn?” she says to herself. “I should call Finn. He’ll remind me to keep my fucking mouth shut.”

“But I don’t want you to keep your mouth shut! My friendship with Oliver is probably the easiest of my life.” She looks up at me, eyes flashing, and I laugh. “Other than you and Mia. I just . . .” I put my fork down. “Do you remember how much Brody hated me for like a year after we broke up?”

She nods, laughing. “And you were together for maybe two months? God, what a head case.”

I shake my head. “I don’t know . . . he was a nice guy and we’d been friends for so long. I still don’t really get what happened, but it just . . . fizzled.”

I feel Harlow’s attention on me and then it diffuses when she looks down to her lunch.

“And Jack,” I add. “I blew that one, too.”

Harlow snorts.

“Harlow. Seriously?”

“Well, to be fair,” she says, “you did blow him, right?”

“I mean blow it,” I say and then groan when she giggles. “I blew the situation.” Harlow chokes on a bite of lettuce. “Jesus Christ. I’m just trying to say I fucked it up. I always fuck it up. Either I say the wrong thing or don’t say the right one, I’m too busy or too available—whatever, it’s always something.” She’s got her head resting on her arms on the table, shoulders shaking in laughter. Sighing, I stab a bite of chicken, muttering, “God, you’re a troll.”

She pushes herself up, and wipes beneath her eye with a long, manicured finger. “I’m just saying, you’re not the same person you were when you were eighteen or nineteen or twenty. You and Oliver are really good friends, and also really attractive people. That’s all. I am shutting up now.”

“I drew him this morning,” I say. “Whorelow, he took his shirt off.” Her eyes dart to mine, and I whisper, “He took his jeans off, too.”

“He took his clothes off,” she says, voice flat with disbelief. “Oliver did this. In your apartment.”

“Yes! I saw him nearly naked,” I tell her. There’s really no point in telling her that he obviously did it to distract me, because then she would want to know why, and quite honestly Harlow doesn’t really know a thing about my comics other than she likes Razor’s muscles under the scales. “I want to say it was a little weird except it wasn’t. He’s . . . yeah. He’s real fit, is all I’m saying.”

Harlow presses her fist to her mouth in a dramatic gesture of restraint.

Leaning in, I whisper, “Can I tell you a secret?”

My best friend looks at me, and her eyes soften. Harlow pretends she’s made of steel but she’s not. She’s all marshmallow. “You can tell me anything, Peach.”

I take a deep breath, steadying myself for the admission. “I think I might really like Oliver.”

She laughs, resting her forehead on her perched fingers. “Lola. Sometimes you’re so clueless it’s painful.”


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