I open my mouth but end up looking like a fish trying to breathe air. Where we have sex shouldn’t matter, but there’s an allure to doing it somewhere deviant. Always has been. “Okay.” The one word does not properly answer his question or his rudeness.
He clenches his jaw, fingers tightening on the glass. “I’m stuck in this suit anyway. Unless you want to cut a hole for my—”
“No.” I hold up my hands. “You’re right.”
“And in case you’ve forgotten, Laura,” he emphasizes X-23’s real name. “It’s my f**king birthday.” He raises his glass. “Which means this trumps that.” He eyes my nether region.
“You’re so much like Julian it’s scary.” I use his superhero’s real name. Both can be moody, irritable jerks and then do a flip and be the sweetest guys ever. You just have to catch them at the right time, the right moment.
“Wrong. I have both my arms.” Hellion lost his arms fighting Sentinels in X-Men: Second Coming. Madison Jefferies created metal hands for Hellion, now a new signature part of his wardrobe, but Lo ditches those because it hinders his ability to hold a flask.
My eyes dart nervously around the kitchen, half expecting Thomas Jefferson to pop up and berate Lo.
“If you don’t want to stand here, go hang out with Connor.”
“You trust me?” I wonder.
“I sincerely think that Connor is asexual. Like a sponge. He probably wouldn’t even notice if you hit on him.”
I want to mention my theory about Connor crushing on Rose, but Lo will probably make a snide remark about her. I’d rather not start a fight by having to defend my sister while she’s not here.
“What about other people? Do you trust me with them?”
He gives me a sharp glare. “I don’t know. Now you’re making me think I should be f**king worried.” He’s in a foul mood. I’m not sure what put him there. Maybe the familiar atmosphere brings bad memories and he wishes we stayed home. Or maybe he’d rather be drinking with his father and smoking a cigar than be here, celebrating in a strange house with strange people that mean nothing to him.
“I’m irrationally freaking out,” I say. “The same way you’re kind of being an a**hole.”
Lo tips back his drink, downing the fiery alcohol in one gulp. He wipes his mouth with the back of his arm. He hides any and all expression and gestures to me with his fingers. I hesitate and then sidle to his side. Before I reach him, he sets a kiss right on my nose. And then my cheek. My neck.
I smile at the tender, quick pecks. His arms swiftly swoop around me, pulling me fully to his body, his movements lighter than air, rocking on our feet as though we have no real balance. His lips finally find mine, and the kiss lasts longer, sweeter. After a long, dizzy moment, he retracts and puts his thumb to my bottom lip. “How about this?” His husky, low voice takes my breath. “Just repeat this phrase whenever you feel the urge to jump some other guy’s bones.” His mouth brushes my ear. “Loren Hale f**ks better.”
“Good, huh?” He winks and steps away. I immediately want to grab back, hold his hand and tug him to my chest. Instead, he finds his glass.
I can’t believe I’m envious of dishware. I clear my throat, collecting my thoughts. “That’ll work, but I’m coming up with a different mantra.”
“And what’s that?” His lip quirks, but the bottles call out to him. And his eyes flicker away from me.
“I will not cheat on Loren Hale.”
Lo inspects the cabinet. “I like mine better,” he says, distant. He plucks a triangular shaped bottle off the shelf, and despite my lust for him and my worry for his mental state, I leave him to binge.
Gradually, I brace the crowded living room where the lights dim and the Halloween colors strobe. I spot Connor beside the crackling fireplace, surrounded by a large group of people chatting over each other, as though he’s the focus of the party. He interjects a couple of times, but more people talk to him than him needing to talk back. All plans whoosh out of my head, and even the idea of vying for someone’s attention sounds both exhausting and terrifying.
Before I can look away, Connor catches my eye and waves me over. My gaze traces the hippies who stagger, even with bare feet, and I shake my head. I belong in the shadows and the cobwebs. Connor clearly lives in the spotlight.
Frown lines crease his forehead, and he mutters something quickly to his friends before surprisingly detaching from the herd and heading to me. His cape billows behind him, but he pushed his mask to the top of his thick, wavy brown hair.
“You know,” Connor says, “they don’t bite. Dreadful company but relatively harmless.”
“I know,” I say. “I just don’t like large groups. Usually I just…dance when I go to parties.” What a big fat lie, but I’d rather not add and have sex to the statement.
“You never know, one of these pirates may be a future investor that you need in your back pocket.”
“Don’t let me stop you.” I motion to the talkative groups. “Go find a future millionaire.”
His feet stay cemented. “Where’s Lo? Did you lose him again?”
“He’s in the kitchen and probably going to get us kicked out. I thought I’d take a tour of the house before then.” Hopefully I sound as bitter as I feel.
“Why would he get us kicked out?”
I shake my head, clearing away the sudden judgment. “Nothing. It’s fine.”
A shirtless firefighter saunters past us, sweat glistening on his bare chest like he’s saved someone from a burning building. I will not cheat on Loren Hale. Nope, not even with a sexy firefighter.
“Hey Connor,” Batman walks over carrying a rare beer in this place. “I didn’t think you would show here. Darren Greenberg’s party is supposed to have free helicopter rides.”
“Flying in puke doesn’t sound that appealing, and I thought there would be food here.”
“Yeah, Michael went cheap this year. I thought he was going to recreate a scene from Evil Dead in the front yard. Instead, he went for D-list zombies.” Batman glances at me. “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
I really look at him this time but come up blank. Usually the only people that recognize me and I can’t place, are the ones I’ve slept with.
“No, I don’t think we’ve met,” I tell him.
“This is Lily,” Connor introduces. “She’s a friend.”
Batman slaps Connor’s shoulder. “Good job, man.” What does that even mean? He glances at my bare stomach with a hungry gaze. Oh. I cross my arms. He then notices my costume. “Hey, Wolverine!”
I don’t even try to correct him.
“We should go find all the superheroes here and try to fight some f**king evil together.”
“Her boyfriend is around here somewhere. He’s part of X-Men too.”
Batman looks a bit crestfallen. “Boyfriend, huh?” His eyes narrow to slits. “I think…I think I do know you. Do you ever go to The Cloud? It’s a club downtown.”
Before I say a word, I see him formulating the answer. Amusement flashes across his features. Immediately, my gut reaction kicks in and I bolt away from both of them, hoping Connor will follow. One guy spotting me and claiming we had sex is a weird coincidence. Two guys—Connor will think something’s wrong with me.
I stop in the foyer, blocked by a pack of people watching Fred Flintstone slide down the curving bannister.
Connor touches my shoulder, and I spin to face him, glad to not see Batman by his side. “I would adopt your methods at avoiding douchebags, but I’m guessing running away doesn’t make many friends.”
I relax. He thinks I flee to avoid jerks like frat Kevin and Batman. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if these guys are the a**holes in the situation. I slept with them, acting exactly how they perceive me to be. Trashy.
“I’m not in the market for many friends,” I tell him.
“I figured. Should we find your boyfriend? Make sure he doesn’t puke on anyone.”
“He rarely pukes.”
“That’s good. Does he ditch you a lot at parties?”
“He didn’t ditch me. I left him in the kitchen.”
He holds up his hands, coming in peace. Then I lead the way, and when we reach the glass cabinet, a guy in nothing but a white button-down and socks realigns the bottles with an irritated scowl.
“What happened?” Connor asks, though I’m sure he’s deduced the obvious.
Tom Cruise from Risky Business takes out a skeleton key. “I found some a**hole drinking my uncle’s liquor. Shit costs more than a car.” Uncle. He must be Thomas Jefferson’s cousin.
“Did you kick him out?” Connor keeps calm while my pulse spikes. What if they pulled Lo outside to beat him up or humiliate him…or worse?
“Nah, my brothers wanted to get his name first. They’re all out back.” Tom Cruise holds up a bottle with residual amber liquid. “He’s surprisingly coherent. I would be knocked out if I drank as much as this kid.”
I don’t wait for anything else. I dart for the back door, praying that Lo keeps his lips sealed. He has a way of saying the exact wrong things to instigate a fight. Most of the time, he does it on purpose.
I shouldn’t have insisted on attending a party. When I noticed the shift in his mood, I should have offered to go back home. He didn’t want to be here.
My boots sink into wet grass, and I pass the pool that glows a deep orange. Half-naked girls bob in and out of the water. Lo isn’t among the crowds that group off into small clusters with drinks nestled firmly in their hands.
Connor touches my shoulder and nods towards the side of the house. “Over here.” Has he already seen him? Or does he know where they interrogate unruly guests? I push back spider webs and black streamers, walking closer to the east side of the mansion.
People are sparse here, and the night sky whistles while yelling overlaps the soft hum of music.
“For the hundredth f**king time, the cabinet was open! Maybe you should check your locks before you throw a party.” Lo. We found him, but his inciting words only bring fear to my heart.
“We don’t give a shit about your excuses!”
Another guy adds, “Who the hell are you and what bastard invited you here?”
“That bastard would be me,” Connor says as we come into view.
A rock lodges in my throat. Lo stands cornered against the stone siding of the house. Four guys dressed in dark-green, long sleeve Under Armour shirts and light green surfer tanks, carry indignant scowls—as well as hard shells on their backs, dressed as Ninja Turtles.
Even in orange-lit light, I make out the red plume burgeoning on Lo’s cheek.
Someone hit him.
I run towards Lo, all sensibility flying out of my brain.
One of Thomas Jefferson’s Ninja Turtle cousins grabs me around the waist before I reach my boyfriend.
“Hey!” Lo and Connor yell in unison.