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Dark Wild Night: Chapter 7

Lola

WE DRIVE OLIVER’S car back to the hotel and leave it there, walking a couple of blocks to what the concierge has assured us is a perfectly humble venue. And he’s right: it’s dark and nondescript, with an oval bar in the middle of the room, some high tables on one side, and space for a band and handful of fans. Except tonight there is no band, no fans. Hardly anyone else here.

I only had one drink at the party, but I feel silly, clumsy, distracted by the thump-thump-thump behind my breastbone, and know it’s the way it feels like being here with Oliver is a mini-vacation. There’s something about getting away from home and routine, and suddenly anything is possible.

We could stay here for a week.

We could pretend we don’t have responsibilities here or back home.

We could change everything between us.

The panel shows the girl, falling backward: arms out, eyes closed.

He picks two seats at the bar and helps me with my coat and purse before sitting down. The way he touches me trips my pulse into overdrive; his hands are firm and sure, fingers not shy about reaching for the collar of my coat, gently dragging it down my back. He cups my bare shoulder, asking, “Is here good?”

I want to ask him good for what but when he nods to the seat I realize he means geography. Not whether here is good for this flimsy barrier of still-platonic to melt away.

“Perfect.”

He catches the bartender’s eye, waves him over, and we sit in silence while the man wipes a glass dry, puts it away, and makes his way over to us.

It feels like a date.

“You want a Manhattan?” Oliver asks.

“Yes, please.”

He orders for both of us, gives his thanks, turns back to me. My heart wants to escape, to flap out of my body and into his. And, God. Is this what it means to become infatuated with someone? A heart becomes a hybrid, half yours, half theirs. Mine beats like this because it wants out. My chest aches to let his heart in.

“How do you feel about all of this?” Oliver asks.

The pounding in my chest intensifies and the swoon of it, the reflexive joy brings another, less pleasant sensation with it: fear.

When I smell fresh bread, my mouth waters.

When I see a pen, I reach for it.

When I want someone, I worry.

What happens if the brains decide to walk away from it all? Does the hybrid heart wither, leaving us with only half of what we need?

He must sense the shift in my posture because he touches my jaw with one finger so I’ll turn my face up to his, adding, “I meant the movie, Lola Love. The book. Tonight.”

“Oh.” I am an idiot. The panic dissolves and I smile, letting it grow from a grin to something that makes Oliver laugh. “I think it’s all pretty awesome.”

“I only got the tiniest glimpse of you before it all started,” he says. “Razor was released not long after Vegas, and it was a whirlwind from the get-go. You didn’t seem to really believe it was going to happen at first. I’d love to get a peek at Lola from before even that. Before it sold.”

“She was a college kid,” I remind him. “Stressing about finals and rent money.”

He nods, and moves his attention to my mouth. Without embarrassment; he does it intentionally. “I sometimes forget you’re so young.”

I’m not sure why, but I love that he’s said this. It feels kinky, in a quiet way, like he’s corrupting me a little. “I don’t feel very young.”

He exhales slowly through his nose. “You had to grow up early.”

“You did, too, didn’t you?” I know so little about his life before college. He never speaks of siblings, of parents. He’s mentioned grandparents once or twice, but it’s not in our nature to push. At least that’s how it’s been until now. I want to crush that pattern with a brick.

Oliver looks back up to my eyes but we both turn to the bartender when he slides our drinks in front of us.

“Want me to open a tab?” he asks us.

“Yeah, sure,” Oliver says, pulling out his wallet and handing him a card.

The bartender turns and realization smacks me. “What? Wait.” I reach behind me for my purse. “Wait. I should be paying for this! You’re doing me a favor coming up here.”

“Lola,” he says, stilling me and shaking his head to the bartender to indicate he is still paying. “Stop. It doesn’t matter who pays.”

“It does, but thank you.”

Oliver grins. “You’re very welcome.”

I hang my purse back on my chair, smiling guiltily. “Is it weird to forget that I can afford to pay for drinks now?”

“I don’t think so.” He runs his finger over the rim of the glass. “God, I remember how long it took me to get out of the starving-student mentality. My father died five years ago, left me this sum of money.” Long fingers curl around his tumbler, and he lifts it to his mouth, sips his drink. I want to taste the scotch from his lips. “It was this huge shock. I hadn’t seen him since I was seven. I lived with my grandparents. I figured Dad was off doing heroin most of my childhood.”

I blink, jerked out of my Oliver Lust Haze. “What?”

He nods. “So when his lawyer contacted me, telling me my father was dead—but good news! He’d left me money—I was furious. He’d got his life together enough to earn money, to save money, but he hadn’t bothered to come back for me.”

I feel the pressure of tears in my head, the heating, tightening of it in my throat when I look up at his pained expression. “I didn’t know that.”

“Well, anyway.” He hands me my drink, gently clinks my glass with his. “To finding your people,” he says.

I nod, drinking when he does, but even the sharp burn of whiskey doesn’t really register. His dad left him, too. Even his mom. I feel like we’re two wires, wound around and around and around together, propagating current.

“Lola?” he says.

I look up at him, try to smile. “Yeah?”

“Dance with me?”

I nearly choke on my pulse. “What?”

Oliver laughs. “Dance with me. Come on, live a little.”

He holds out his hand and after what he’s just told me, what else can I say, but “Okay”?

We put our drinks down and slide from our stools, walking over to the empty floor. There are three other people here, not including the bartender, and they don’t give a single shit what we’re doing or why we’re standing in the middle of the empty floor staring at each other.

“There’s not really any music,” I tell him.

He shrugs. “S’alright.”

But then music comes on, too loudly at first and we both flinch. The bartender has put on the sound system, and after he adjusts the volume, Aerosmith drifts down over the dance floor.

“Oh boy,” I say, laughing.

Oliver grins in playful apology. “This will have to do.”

“It’s almost so bad it’s good again,” I tell him and hold my breath when I feel the slide of his hand around my waist, feel every single one of his fingers against my spine. His other hand comes just beneath it, to the spot low on my back that suddenly becomes the convergence point for all of my nerve endings. Oliver pulls me in, flush against him. I can feel the waistband of his pants against my stomach, can feel how my breasts press against his solar plexus.

My hands are curled around his biceps and I’m staring up at his face. The dark of his brows, the light of his eyes, the shadow of a beard at his jaw . . . somehow it comes together to make my favorite face in the world. Oliver’s lips come apart just the smallest bit when he looks down at me and I see his jaw flex, feel his fingers press more firmly into my back. This is tension. This, right now, is lust, and I’ve never wanted anything more than I want his kiss. It’s nearly painful, the wanting. Something inside me is rebelling, stabbing itself with need, telling me it won’t let up until it gets what it wants. I’m being held hostage by my own heart.

We move, shifting feet, very, very slowly turning.

“This is nice,” he says. “I haven’t danced in ages.”

I keep waiting for the oddness to descend, the realization that what we’re doing is a little weird, but it doesn’t happen. It feels like I’m holding my breath, waiting for a sneeze to come.

“Breathe, Lola Love,” he whispers, and something inside me trips.

I haven’t been breathing. I’ve been standing here, holding my breath, waiting for him to kiss me and for my body to relax and for time to stop and for me to suddenly know what it is to be in love with someone.

“I’m terrified,” I tell him. We’ve shifted so close now I can’t really make out all of his features, but I can feel his breath, can nearly taste the scotch he’s had.

His eyes move back and forth between mine; his voice is a gentle reassurance: “I know, pet.”

“I’ve never been good at romantic relationships. I want to be,” I add quickly, “but it scares me.”

“I know,” he says again, bending to press a kiss to my temple. One of his hands slides up my back and into the hair at the back of my head. “But I just want you. I don’t need easy or perfect. I don’t need to rush anything.”

And there, laid out so bare and easily between us, it is. His honesty breaks a dam in me and I feel my own truths tumble forward, messy and raw.

“My first time was with a total stoner,” I tell him in a burst, closing my eyes and nearly crying out when he turns his face, pressing his stubbly cheek to mine. His ear is right next to my mouth; I can whisper right into the confessional. “He worked at the 7-Eleven on the corner, and just wanted to get high and have sex. We didn’t even really talk.”

Swallowing, I tell him, “I was only fourteen. He was twenty.” I can feel Oliver tensing against me. “No one knows about him, not even Harlow or Mia. They think I lost my virginity senior year. But Dad worked until dinnertime, and I’d go over there a lot of days after school, just looking for some kind of”—I shake my head—“distraction or, I don’t know. After Mom left, I wasn’t great with decisions.”

“How could you be?” he asks, kissing my jaw. His lips leave a streak of fire on my skin.

“But how horrible is it to admit that that relationship was the easiest one I’ve ever had? Everyone I’ve dated since then has ended up mad at me.” Pulling back to meet his eyes, I tell him, “It’s always when things get serious that I start to . . . I don’t know. Short-circuit. I don’t want it to be like that with us.”

He’s watching my mouth when he asks, “You don’t want it to be serious, or you don’t want to short-circuit?”

“I don’t want to mess this up,” I say. “Our friendship is too important to me. What if we . . . do this, and it changes that?”

Oliver nods, bending and pressing his cheek to mine again. “I don’t have a choice but to want to do this, Lola. I’m in love with you.”

The words incinerate my lungs and I stop breathing again. There isn’t a word for what I’m feeling. It is the direct, razor edge of ecstasy and terror.

“Shh,” he whispers. “Don’t panic, okay? I’m just being honest here. I love you. I want you.” He exhales, and it’s a massive, trembling gust against my neck. “Fuck, I want you. But I understand it isn’t simple, and I don’t expect simple. I just want you to try. I mean, if—”

I nod quickly—my heart is lodged in my throat, pounding, pounding, pounding with need for him—and he jerks me tighter into him, relief evident in his posture. I didn’t think it was possible to be any closer, but it was. It just required our bodies to collapse, air to evacuate lungs.

We go quiet and I realize I’ve been dancing without thought. I’m not a natural dancer, but I haven’t considered what my feet are doing, how my arms or hands or hips are moving. But now that I am, I can imagine how it would be to be with Oliver: how he would fit against me, over me. He’s taller, broader, but his hips would still feel sharp on my thighs. His hands don’t do tentative; I can imagine the pressure of them sliding up and over my curves. I want the hand in my hair to form a fist, pull my head back. Even though he wouldn’t do that here, the promise is there, in the flexing of his fingers, in the way they haven’t shifted away. He found a spot, buried deep.

“I saw Aerosmith when I was fourteen,” he says, and I wonder if he’s thinking about how young that is, thinking about me at fourteen, alone in an apartment with a burnout guy. Or, if he’s just talking to get me to remember that this is us. This is what we do, with or without I love yous. “It was after they had that ballad out from Armageddon—”

“ ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” he says, laughing. “We went by ourselves and felt so fucking mature. We took a bus to Sydney—it’s nearly two hundred kilometers away and my grandparents were like, ‘Yeah, sure, go for it.’ I’m not kidding when I say every crazy personality in the world is represented on buses.”

“Wow.”

“I know,” he agrees. “Such kids, right, but I reckon it was the best night of my life up to then. My mate got tickets from his cousin. I didn’t even know any Aerosmith songs—well, I did,” he says, “I just didn’t realize they were Aerosmith. But it was brilliant. Maybe that’s when I decided I wanted to travel. Maybe it was before that, I don’t know. I think I learned to be a little fearless on that bus. Figured if I could head up to Sydney for a weekend, I could go anywhere.”

“My first concert was Britney Spears.”

He laughs outright, pulling back and smiling down at me. “That’s awful.”

“It was awesome,” I tell him. “I swear. Me, Harlow, Mia, and Luke—Mia’s ex.” I shake my head, remembering us dancing our asses off and Luke smiling through his teeth, being a good sport. “Poor Luke.”

“Taking three chicks to a concert? He could do worse.”

“Only one of us was putting out. Well, back then,” I say, reconsidering. “I think Luke gets more action now than 1979 Steven Tyler.”

Oliver laughs at this, but the song ends and he stops, easing his arms from around me.

“You did it,” he says, looking down at me with a half smile. “You danced with an Aussie in an empty bar and the world didn’t end. Check it off your list.”

“And we . . .” I start.

We talked. We admitted. We took that terrifying single step forward.

He waits to see how I’m going to finish this, expression warm, but neutral. “Yeah, we did,” he says finally, tilting his head toward the bar. “Let’s finish our drinks.”

And like this, it’s easy again.


I WAKE UP alone in an enormous white bed, in a bright pool of sunshine.

In the past few months I have traveled so often that the dusty blue walls and wide, white chair in the corner don’t immediately trigger a context for where I am. I roll over, see my leather pants folded on the chair, my shirt and bra lying neatly on top.

Obviously, Oliver is down the hall, in his own room.

My stomach feels low and small in my body, missing him. Wanting him closer.

Over our second drink we easily shed the tension of the We Are Totally Into Each Other admission. We were interrupted by a perfectly timed call from Not-Joe telling us how his date passed out drunk on her couch, and only after he left did he realize his phone was dead and he left his wallet in the store so he had to give a taxi driver his watch in order to get a ride home.

At around one in the morning, we left the bar, hand in hand, and walked the two blocks back to our hotel. I had five missed calls from Austin, none with voicemails, so I let them be. I wanted nothing but Oliver on my brain. He pointed out his room when we passed it on the way to mine, but before I could stutter my way through an invitation inside, he bent and kissed my cheek.

“Let’s take it slow,” he said. “See you in the morning.”

The words immediately formed in my head, but I couldn’t exactly say them out loud: can’t we have sex but otherwise take this slow?

I roll over, unplug my phone from the cord on the bedside table, and check my email. Shoving up onto an elbow, I squeeze my eyes together, struggling to read the words in front of me.

“Holy fuck.” I sit all the way up, crossing my legs in bed and zooming in on my screen so I can be sure I’m not imagining what I’m seeing. It seems that while Oliver and I were flirting and clinking glasses and avoiding the discussion of dating, Columbia-Touchstone cast the leads in the Razor Fish film. I have over three hundred emails, and at least ten voicemails from media outlets wanting a statement.

I tried to get a hold of you last night after you left. There’s a script, Austin wrote in an email. Thank God I’ve flagged his name; otherwise who knows whether I would have even seen it? Just something Langdon drew up in the past week. But don’t stress, we did it so we could cast quickly, and you’re going to do all the polish.

He didn’t think to clarify this last night? He told me Langdon had started writing, not finished.

The check also deposited in my bank account, and seeing that much money there makes me want to vomit. It triggers some instinctual panic, like I should have it all made into gold bars and hide them in my mattress.

There’s a knock at my door and I stumble up, pulling on a robe. Outside in the hall, Oliver looks rumpled, a little nervous.

I immediately see it on his face—a soft, vulnerable happiness that flashes in the tilt of his mouth, in the narrowing of his eyes—for only a breath before he can carefully tuck it away.

Even though I was just with him last night, it feels like it’s been a week, and he looks different somehow. Less like this wonderful face of a friend, and more like this man in front of me who has a body under his clothes that I’m growing desperate to see again and even more desperate to touch.

Neither of us has spoken, and I’m afraid last night changed everything. I don’t want things to be awkward between us.

“How’s my favorite comic book store owner named Oliver Lore?”

He smiles, wide enough that it shifts his glasses and I can see his eyes crinkling fully at the corners. “I wish I could answer in emoji. I’d just say the fried egg icon out loud.”

Okay, so that was sort of perfect.

“Do you want to grab breakfast?” I ask. “Or . . . order room service?”

This option feels decidedly more intimate, and Oliver seems to agree.

“Nah,” he says. “Let’s hit the restaurant downstairs. They have a buffet. I think I’ll eat it all.”

“Come on in,” I tell him, running over to my overnight bag and grabbing my clothes. “Give me five. I’ve got to call Benny real quick.”

Oliver walks into my room, and I notice when he gives a lingering glance to my clothes from last night, so neatly placed on the chair. I wonder if he’s thinking what I’m thinking, that if he’d been in here with me, those leather pants might have been sacrificed to the sex gods.

“Lola!” Benny answer-yells through the speakerphone, and I cringe, staring at the screen as if it burned me. It’s not even nine in the morning; how is he so chipper?

“Hey, Benny.”

“I bet I know why you’re calling,” he sings. “People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive is playing Razor and you want to come up to Hollywood to celebrate tonight.”

Oliver turns to look at me, eyes wide. I hold up a finger, indicating I’ll update him in a second.

“I’m already up in Hollywood,” I say. “But I’m headed home. Austin didn’t mention the script last night when I saw him.”

“Probably because he knew you’d ask to read it on the spot, and then would request edits before it went out, but it was already out.”

I chew my lip, suppressing a grin. “What happens now?”

“I release a statement on your behalf,” he says. “How’s this? ‘Management has confirmed Lorelei Castle is absolutely delighted with the casting news.’ ”

I wait for the rest of it and realize that’s all there is. Across the room, Oliver seems to go through the same process before tilting his head like, Eh, not so bad. It accurately shows my level of engagement on the media side.

“That’s perfect, actually,” I say. “I am delighted with the news. I also don’t really think I need to be interviewed. But Benny, can you really push for them to send me the script today? If they want my polish on it—and I hope that’s code for letting me at it with a scalpel—then I should see it sooner rather than later. I have other things due and will need to get my time organized.”

“I’m already on it. Go do your thing. You’ll be mobbed at your signings from here on out, and all I ask is that you kick ass when you’re expected to.”

I thank him, blow a kiss through the phone, and set it down on the bed. My hand is shaking. “I wasn’t sure I loved Benny,” I tell him. “But I do. I don’t know what I would do without him right now.”

“They cast it?” Oliver asks. “And Austin didn’t mention anything last night?”

When Oliver and I left the party, we mostly left the subject of the movie behind. “Austin mentioned they were talking to people. Langdon said he’s tinkering with a draft. I guess when these conversations happen, things move quickly. Or,” I add, thinking on it some more, “they never really gave me the full story to begin with.” I lift my hands in front of my face and watch them, still shaking like leaves. It feels like my brain needs a moment to catch up.

“Come on,” he says with a calming smile. “Get dressed and let’s talk about this downstairs. I’m starving.”

I grab my clothes from my overnight bag and slip into the bathroom, pulling my hair up in a bun, dressing simply in jeans and a white T-shirt.

When I come out, Oliver is standing at the window, looking out. He’s wearing a dark blue shirt that’s worn over time, making it thin and soft on his back. I can see the muscles defining his shoulders, can see the sturdy lines of his torso. My heart does this dipping-squeezing thing that nearly makes me cough.

He turns at the choking sound and smiles, walking toward me.

“Ready?”

I look up at him but I can’t hold my eyes there for very long. He shaved this morning, but even so, I can already see the stubble shadowing his jaw. He’s at least six inches taller than me and so I get a good view of his neck, his throat, the curve of his bottom lip.

“Ready.”

We walk down the carpeted hallway in silence, and Oliver reaches forward to press the elevator call button before stepping back, putting his hand on my lower back. His instincts are so tender.

“Do you have a finance person?” I ask him. “I need help.”

“Yeah, but he’s sort of more business? I guess that would work for you,” he says, gesturing that I lead us in when the elevator opens for us.

“The studio money came in.”

He nods, watching the floors tick down. “I remember that feeling when my dad died. It’s a good thing but terrifying. I felt like I had to go from being a slacker living with his grandparents and eating tinned baked beans to being a bona fide adult. I didn’t really have the mental tools to know how to budget or plan or save.”

“Yeah,” I agree, slumping into him a little. Oliver makes me feel so . . . safe.

“So, I put it aside until I was ready. Until I knew what I wanted to do with it.”

“The store?”

He nods. “You’ll figure it out. Just leave it alone until you do.”

The elevator stops at the third floor and we get out, following a sign to the restaurant. “I should probably get a new car,” I tell him.

He laughs.

“And I do know I want to get my own place.”

Oliver goes quiet for a few steps and then asks, “A house?”

“I think so.” And then my brain trips on the thought, because Oliver has his own house, and if anything happened with us, and it became more, would we live together? Would we want to own two houses?

“I can help you look,” he says, popping the rapidly expanding balloon of my thoughts.

We walk into the restaurant, and are seated at a table facing Santa Monica Boulevard. Oliver and I have had meals together dozens of times but it’s different right now, and I’m terrible at this kind of situation so I have no idea if it’s all in my head. Maybe because I’m letting in this floodgate of feelings, everything feels loaded and special.

What would Harlow do? I wonder. She would ask. She would say, “Is everything okay?”

Is it really that simple?

“Is everything okay?” I ask, giving it a try. Oliver looks up at me, brows pulled together in question. “I mean, after last night . . .”

He smiles and puts his menu down. “Everything is brilliant.”

Harlow would elaborate. Harlow would explain why she asked. Hell, Harlow would probably be in his lap right now.

“Okay, good,” I say, turning my eyes down to study the long list of waffle choices.

I can feel his eyes on me a little longer, and then he picks up his menu again.

I put my menu down. “It’s already different,” I say.

“It’s not,” he says immediately, and when I look up at him, I see he’s smiling. He expected this version of my panic.

I laugh. “It is.”

Shaking his head, he looks back at the menu and mumbles, “You’re a head case.”

“You’re a jerk,” I shoot back.

The waitress comes by and fills our coffee cups. Oliver watches me with a smile while I forego the buffet and order pancakes. He orders pancakes and eggs.

She leaves and he plants his forearms on the table, leaning in. “What do you want, Lola?”

Way to start small, Aussie.

“What do I want?” I mumble, pulling my coffee closer.

I want to feel a better sense of what shape my life is taking.

I want to draw every single story my brain is churning up right now.

I want to have Oliver, and not lose him.

“I don’t know.” I pour three creams into my mug.

He exhales, a tiny skeptical sound, and nods. “You don’t know.”

I look up at the sound of him scratching his jaw, the stubble scritch-scritching against his short fingernails.

And fine.

I want to make out until my lips are raw from the scrape of that stubble.

I want him to fuck me into next week.

I want the press of his cock to wake me up in the middle of the night.

“Well, Lola Love, you let me know when you figure it out,” he says. The tip of his tongue peeks out to wet his lips, and he sees me watching.

He knows.

It’s that easy? “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

I realize he’s walked over to my side of the court and carefully placed the ball directly in the center.

“You’re a jerk,” I repeat quietly, fighting my grin. I adore him, so much. It’s this massive, blooming emotion making my cheeks heat and my stomach curl with pleasure. I don’t know how I’ll manage once I let go of the rope and float.

The panel shows the girl holding a glowing meteorite in her hands.

Oliver lifts his coffee to his mouth, smiling.


I FALL ASLEEP in the car somewhere near Long Beach and Oliver gently jostles me awake when he’s parked just outside the store.

“Thanks for the ride,” I say as he pulls my duffel bag from the trunk. He sets it down on the curb and digs one hand into his jeans, tugging them down at the waist.

His boxers are red today. Stomach flat. Hips defined.

“Thanks for coming with me,” I say, blinking to the side in a completely unsubtle attempt to stop trying to get an eyeful of happy trail. “I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun by myself.”

“Anytime,” he says, adding in a nerdy voice: “I think you’re wonderful, Lorelei.”

I smile up at him. “I think you’re wonderful, too, Oliver.”

He surprises me, cupping my face and bending to press his lips to my cheek. It’s far too close to my mouth to be innocent, but not actually touching my lips. It doesn’t quite count as a kiss. Does it? My pulse explodes in my neck and I have to hold my breath to keep from making a sound. He holds there for the length of a slow, quiet inhale before moving away.

“So,” I say, “maybe we can hang out later?”

“Did you guys just kiss?”

On instinct, we both practically explode apart and turn to see Not-Joe squinting at us. His hair is a total wreck, more spiky cactus than mohawk, and his shirt is on backward.

“No,” I tell him. “We were just . . .”

Okay, maybe we were about to kiss. Fucking Not-Joe.

“Goddamnit,” he half-yells, half-groans. “If you’re not making out then move out of the way so I can get in. I need to lie down.”

It’s Monday—the only day of the week the store is closed—so Oliver unlocks the door and we watch Not-Joe stumble over to the reading nook.

“I need to start using a hurricane naming system for my hangovers,” he mumbles, stretching out on the couch. “I’m calling this one Abby. She’s a total whore.”

Oliver watches Not-Joe with a justifiable degree of wariness: I’d give eight-to-one odds Not-Joe is going to barf on the furniture.

“What are you even doing here?” I ask him. “Why aren’t you at home?”

“I think someone needed his wallet.” Oliver picks it up from behind the counter and tosses it onto Not-Joe’s chest. “There you go, Ace.”

“Too loud,” Not-Joe groans. “Too bright. I think this is what autism feels like.”

Oliver barks out a horrified laugh before saying, “Motherfuck, Joe, you can’t say shit like that!”

“You can’t tell me I’m wrong.”

With a small, exasperated shake of his head, Oliver moves behind the counter to put on some music. Journey blasts through the store and Oliver pulls out his air guitar.

“Yes!” I air-drum on the counter.

“What the fuck, man?” Not-Joe rolls over, face-first into the cushion.

Oliver walks around to the reading nook and yells, “Time to rock out!” right next to his head. Not-Joe convulses into a tiny ball and I burst out laughing.

“Is this ‘Revelation’?” I ask Oliver.

He nods, tongue poking out as he tears through a guitar solo.

“Have you ever thought about that, though?” I ask, and Oliver walks back around the counter to turn it down a little.

“Thought about what?”

When I look at him—wide grin, fingers flying in a ridiculous air guitar, lip curled like a rocker—I realize his glasses break up his looks, cool them down, add ice to the glass. Without them, he’s all bone structure and color: brilliant blue eyes, warm lips, coffee-brown stubble.

“Steve Perry versus Arnel Pineda.” At his confused expression, I explain, “The guy on YouTube who gained a following for covering Journey songs . . . then eventually became the new lead singer for the band?”

Oliver’s head bobs in an enthusiastic nod along with the music. “Right. I think I heard about that.”

“I mean, would you rather see the real thing or the best tribute band?”

“Wait, I thought you meant Arnel Pineda is the real Journey.”

I make a play-exasperated face. “You know what I mean.”

He shrugs. “I guess it depends on who we’re talking about.”

“Dylan?”

From the couch, Not-Joe moans a little mmmh? and opens one eye. He looks at us momentarily, blinking slowly, resulting in the most awkward three-person silent stare in modern history. Eventually he rolls his head to hide his face and returns to his hangover.

“Aw, come on,” Oliver says, shaking his head and returning to our debate. “Bob Dylan is a legend. Besides, everyone is a Dylan tribute band.”

“Okay, then,” I say. “What about Heart? You could get these young chicks belting out ‘Barracuda’ or you could get the Wilson sisters in their sixties—”

Oliver looks horrified. “You are a terrible feminist.”

Laughing, I tell him, “This isn’t about feminism. I’m just saying. Imagine a reality show where they make the band compete with the tribute band. How much would you hate to have this amazing forty-year career and then compete with your tribute band?”

He walks over to me, musses my hair. “This is why I could never leave you.”

I freeze, my breath catching in my throat as the cautious part of my brain snaps to attention again.

My reaction must be written all over my face because Oliver knows immediately what he’s done.

“Fuck, Lola.” He wraps his arms around my shoulders, pulling my face to his neck. “I just meant you were being rather sweet. Of course I would never leave you.” And it’s true, I tell myself. He means it.

“Will you two just bone and get it over with?” Not-Joe groans from the couch. “Jesus Christ, someone needs to christen the storage room.”

We pull apart, but it’s different. Our hands slide apart more slowly: palms then fingers then fingertips.

“I need to go make some calls,” I tell him. “What are you doing later?”

He shrugs, looks at my mouth. “Dunno yet.”

I walk backward toward the door, watching his slow-growing smile. Something clicks over in me. I bend and pick up the proverbial ball from the middle of the court. “Okay, I’ll check in with you in a bit.”


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