Addicted for Now / Page 51

Page 51


“I’m in the goddamn air,” I remind him curtly, keeping my voice low so Ryke doesn’t hear. “Unless you’d like reception to magically be invented over the ocean.”

“Hey, I’m just as f**king livid as you are.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” I say, my voice slightly breaking. I don’t want to be talking to him while Lily looks one second from opening the hatch and jumping from the plane without a parachute. And every time I picture her crying like that—goddamn, I can’t start. I rub my eyes to push back the emotions. I want to kick the wall so f**king hard, and I swallow a scream that needs to escape.

“Whoever this motherfucker is,” my father says, “I will personally rip him a new a**hole, Loren. You hear me? He’s not getting away with this shit.”

I have to ask. “Did you do it? Did you leak it?” One week after I told him, the news exploded across the globe. Is it really all a coincidence?

There’s a long pause. And then this: “You have got to be f**king kidding me. Did you not hear what I just said? I have busted my ass trying to find this f**ker.” He growls a little. Yeah, it’s not him.

“Then who?” I ask. “Who would do this? What do they possibly have to gain?”

“Money,” my father says flatly. “We’re still working on some leads.”

I bring the phone away from mouth and struggle between not shouting and screaming my head off. No sound escapes, but I catch myself in the mirror, and I look like I’m fighting an invisible battle against a shadowed enemy. I look crazy and tortured.

“I have to go,” my father says quickly. “Greg is on the other line. I’ll talk to you soon. Keep your head up.” Words of encouragement from my father. Those don’t come often. So I take them.

We hang up at the same time. I lean over the sink and splash some water on my face. Trying to get my shit together.

I should call Brian, the therapist that Ryke and Lily believe I’m talking to about my deep inner thoughts. But I can’t discuss alcohol. Even the thought makes my stomach turn. Because Lily shouldn’t be worried if I’m going to relapse. The world is crashing down on her shoulders, and I don’t want to add to that weight.

I let out a long breath, bearing her pain that feels so much a part of me. We’ve become entangled, years and years of lies and childhood memories and stories all wrapped into one. I know her better than her sisters. I know her sometimes better than she does herself. I know just how much this is killing her inside.

And then one thought punctures me.

I’m here.

I could be at a bar. Passed out cold.

I could be in rehab. Away from her.

I have the chance to be by her side through all of this.

So go, you stupid bastard.

That’s what it takes. I’m out the door.

PART THREE

“One day, you're going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world.”

– Jonathan Kent, Man of Steel

{ 33 }

LOREN HALE

No one speaks in the car, from the tarmac to our house in Princeton, New Jersey. Melissa calls a taxi to bring her back to Penn, so at least we don’t have to deal with that.

Connor’s black limo gives us all plenty of room. Lily rests her head in my lap, trying to play cat’s cradle with my shoelace. She stopped crying sometime between our fifth game of Go Fish and when the plane landed.

I want her to call Allison, but she keeps saying she doesn’t want to talk to anyone. And I guess I have no right to force her to speak to her therapist when I’ve been avoiding mine. Regardless, I plan on calling Allison tonight whether Lily does or not. I have to ask about medication for Lil.

No one understands lows like an addict. And I fear the one she’s about to hit when she confronts her parents.

She holds up the intertwined shoelace in her fingers. “Your turn,” she tells me. “Go under my hands and grab it.”

“I’m going to mess it up.”

“No you won’t,” she says. “Just make sure to grab the right ones.”

Problem is, I don’t know which are the right ones.

Rose sits stiffly beside Connor, her cell clutched in her steel-grip. Lily told me that Rose has been in “damage control mode”—she even yelled at a reputable news producer for an hour before Connor pried the phone from her fingers. She’s been texting and emailing gossip magazines and lawyers since we landed.

Rose isn’t taking the leak very well. She keeps fixing her hair and smoothing her dress. Connor has to grab her hands to stop her. And as I look between the three Calloway girls—Rose in a frazzled state, Daisy drifting far away, and Lil with a sad, soft voice—I get it. I get what Ryke sees and what he feels. I have this insane wish to just make things right again, to plug all the cracks in our lives—just for the small, sliver of hope that these girls will be able to stand up on their own for one more day.

I think the six of us—we’re all strong. We’re each just a different kind of strong. But we all have a different kind of weak too. And I’m figuring out how to bottle my weakness to help them all.

I’m not going to be the villain of my own story. That shit is done.

Rose’s phone buzzes. She stares at the screen, Connor reading the text too. “We have a little hiccup,” she says.

Lily’s hands fall to her lap, tangling the shoelace herself. “What?” Her worry cracks her voice. I rub her arm, and she holds onto my bicep for support.

“Our parents are at our house,” Rose says. “They’re waiting for you.”

Lily bolts upright, shaking her head fiercely. “I can’t, Rose. I need another day.”

Gilligan, Connor’s driver, remains quiet behind the wheel, leading us down our street. Only a couple blocks away, news vans line the curb, most likely camped out by the gate.

Daisy presses her nose to the window. “Holy shit.”

Lily’s eyes widen at the scene.

She can’t handle this right now. That much is certain. I look to Ryke and he just nods once. “Gilligan,” I call to the front and tap the privacy screen. It lowers so I can see his bald head. “Change of plans. We’re going to Philly.”

***

Ryke’s off-campus flat has brick walls and hardwood floors, a Philadelphia 76ers poster hanging in the dim living room, fit with leather beanbags, a big screen television, and a decent-sized sound system. I’ve been here only a few times before, and it’s hard to remember that this isn’t just another random apartment. It’s my brother’s.

After a quick call to Allison, I get an approval to give Lily a sleeping pill. She falls asleep in the spare bedroom, quicker than I thought she would. Crying must have exhausted her already.

When I return to the living room, I take a swift glance outside. No news vans or camera crews. Not many people know that Ryke Meadows is related to me, and in this instance, it comes in handy.

Connor and Rose talk in hushed whispers on the couch, sometimes even switching to French. He told me that the private investigator is still working on finding the leak. Same thing my father said about his connections. A part of me feels hopeless by the news—like maybe we’ll just never know. Another part of me thinks maybe I shouldn’t know. Because I have a penchant for hurting people who hurt Lily or me. And I don’t want to be the guy who threatens someone else’s future anymore. I don’t want to become my father.

“I just got off the phone with a friend,” Connor says.

“You have other friends?” I ask with a frown. Why, out of everything, does this bother me? Maybe I’m too f**king emotional right now. I rub my eyes, trying to pull myself together.

“Acquaintance, contact,” Connor tells me, “whatever you want to call him.”

Ryke walks over and hands me a glass of something amber-colored. I stiffen and give him a look. “Are you crazy?”

“It’s tea.”

I barely relax but take the glass anyway.

Connor continues, “My contact told me there are cameras outside my apartment. I just wanted to let you know that they’re seeking all avenues to get information.” Even Lily’s sister’s boyfriend—a far f**king stretch.

Daisy sits on the hardwood floor, the remote control in her hands as she stares at the blank television. I can see her curiosity. She’s the one still halfway in the dark, and all the answers lie in that box. She offered to be brought back to her house, but Lily and Rose refused. Their parents are as bloodthirsty for information as the media, and we all know they’d sink their claws into Daisy if they had her.

So she stays with us for now.

I stare at the floor, trying to piece together a semblance of a plan. First things first. I turn to Connor who relaxes against the couch. His arm stays around Rose’s shoulders, and I realize that he’s subtly massaging her neck so she’ll be more at ease.

I didn’t want to drag him through all of this, and with his usual impassive expression, I can’t tell if it bothers him that paparazzi have invaded his apartment building.

“You’re not related to Lily or me. If you want out, you should probably leave now before things worsen.”

I expect Rose to spit at me for untethering her own boyfriend from this complicated matter. Because it’d mean that Connor would have to leave her too. But she’s busy texting on her cell, inhaling sharp breaths every so often that sound like knives slicing her lungs. I even saw her pop some kind of medication.

“Rose already showed me where the door is,” Connor says. “I’m fairly capable of knowing when and how to walk out of it.”

“The media may get worse,” I remind him, but I forget that Connor has probably weighed all the possibilities in his head, and maybe even created a mental spreadsheet of the pros and cons of the situation.

“Yes, and you’ll need someone who doesn’t curse every five words to handle the press.”

Ryke rolls his eyes, the dig clearly referring to him. “Journalism major,” Ryke says, pointing to his chest. “I know the press better than you, Cobalt.”

“And do you really plan on doing anything with that degree?”

Ryke says nothing.

“Exactly.”

“What about your mother’s company?” I ask Connor.

“Cobalt Inc. isn’t a household name. People don’t associate us with our products like they do Hale Co.—your name is on the label of every baby shampoo and diaper package. We deal with manufacturers and subsidiaries.” Like MagNetic, I remember. “My affiliation with you or Lily won’t hurt the company, and for that, my mother won’t care. And plus, if she’s outside of the scandal looking in, she enjoys the drama from time to time. It keeps her days interesting.”

I wonder if that’s how he sees us sometimes. Interesting. Entertainment. Something to make each day unpredictable.

I also can’t imagine the woman who spawned someone like Connor. She seems as fabricated as a character in one of my comics.


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