My nose flares. “Get out.”
His eyes continue to narrow. “Does it hurt—hearing the truth? Has anyone told it to you before?”
I rarely ever become this worked up, but my chest rises with something foreign and furious. “You can’t look at things and understand us!”
“Yeah? I seem to have struck a chord. And I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m right.”
“What’s your problem?” I spit. “We didn’t ask for your help. If I knew you were going to be such a…” I growl, not able to form complete words at this point.
“A gorilla?” he banters. “A monkey? An ape?” He takes a step closer to me. I could punch him. I have never felt such hostility towards someone before.
“Leave me alone!” I shout, almost whining. I also hate the tone of my voice.
“No,” he says adamantly.
I clench my teeth, suppressing the urge to stomp my foot like a weirdo. “Why?”
“Because if you thought Lo was in serious trouble, I don’t think you’d do a thing about it. And that pisses me off.” He looks me over. “So deal with me.” He moves backwards to the door. There’s a huge part of me that agrees with Ryke. I don’t know how to help Lo without hurting myself. And I’m too selfish to find a solution to his problems.
“I don’t ever want to see you again,” I say, honest and truthful.
“Well, that sucks for you,” Ryke tells me, turning the knob. “I’m f**king hard to get rid of.” With this, he leaves. And I want to scream. He’s that concerned about Lo’s well-being that he’s willing to see us a second time?
The door closes, and I try not to think about him. Maybe he said empty threats to force guilt on me. No one would inject themselves into another person’s business like this.
Then again, he stopped a fight that was not his to end. Clearly, he’s the type of guy to stick his nose where it does not belong.
As Ryke continues to plague my mind, I waste the rest of the night on p*rn and toys and drown in sweat and natural highs. We should have stayed home for Lo’s birthday like he wanted. I wish we had, and I won’t make the same mistake next year.
Every time I cuddle in my sheets, willing slumber, tears bridge and they flow uncontrollably. Being in a real relationship was supposed to fix the kinks in our lives. It should’ve made our problems easier. We no longer have to pretend. We can be ourselves. We’re free from one lie. Isn’t this the part where our love overcomes our addictions? Where our problems magically solve from a kiss and a promise?
Instead everything has trickled into the gutter. Lo drinks. I screw. And our schedules overlap and bypass too often, becoming more destructive than healthy.
No one told me you can love someone and still be miserable. How is that possible? And yet, the thought of walking away from Loren Hale collapses my lungs. We’ve been friends, allies, for so long that I don’t know who I am without him. Our lives intersect at every possible junction, and separating sounds like a fatal, irreparable cut.
But something is so wrong.
My wrist aches by the late morning, but I still pop in another DVD. The buzzer rings as I plop on my mattress. No. I am in no mood to entertain Connor. Also, I may jump his bones. My body stays riled, and I desperately need Lo. But his actions last night deserve little reward. Even if withholding hurts me more than him, he isn’t getting any anytime soon.
The buzzer lets out another aggravated wail. Great. Lo is still passed out.
I crawl from my sheets, throw on a T-shirt and sweat pants before I slam my thumb on the speaker button. “Hello?”
“Miss Calloway, I have a Mr. Cobalt here.”
“Send him up.”
I make coffee, hoping caffeine will make Connor look like an ugly hobbit that’s too ghastly to pounce on. Though, Frodo is kind of cute.
“Was that the buzzer?”
I nearly drop the cream.
Lo rubs his eyes, walking wearily to the cabinets, scavenging for saltines and bloody mary mix. His hair looks wet from a shower, and he only wears a pair of running pants that hang very low on his hips.
My body tightens, and I turn away just as his eyes meet mine.
“Hey.” He puts a hand on the bareness of my neck, brushing back my hair.
“Stop,” I choke. I lengthen the distance between us.
I watch familiar remorse cloud his features. He looks me up and down, from my sweaty legs to my clothes that stick to my body, and my hair that’s tangled and damp.
It must look like I’ve been hav**g s*x.
He places a hand on the counter to keep his body upright, like the wind knocks out of him. “Lily—”
A fist bangs on the door. “Loren Hale!” Connor calls. “You better wake up. You promised me gym. I want gym.”
Lo reluctantly leaves my side and lets him in. “You’re on time,” he says flatly, going back to the kitchen.
“Always am.” He watches Lo grab a bottle of vodka from the freezer. “You know, it’s barely noon. Brain cells generally don’t respond well to alcohol this early. Gatorade is the better option.”
“He’s making a bloody mary for his hangover.” My defense spurted out before I could stop it.
“What she said,” Lo adds, not making me feel any better about covering his problem. Don’t think about it. He pops open a V8 and starts fixing the drink. Connor says something about electrolytes.
I stare off and imagine hands pressing to the countertops on either side of me, caging me in. The faceless, nameless guy touches his warm lips to my neck, sucking. Fingers slip underneath my tee, and then they head to the hem of my sweats, edging closer, tingling—
“Lily, sound like a plan?” Lo asks, worry creasing his forehead.
I blink. “Huh?” I rub the back of my neck, trying to cool off but my thoughts set me ablaze.
Lo clenches a blue Gatorade. What happened to his bloody mary? Did Connor really convince him to switch? He sets it down and comes to me, noticing my shaky hands. “You okay?” He reaches out to touch my face, but I turn my head and separate. His whole body tenses at the rejection.
“Fine,” I say. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“Are you coming to the gym with us?” He sounds worried.
“I wasn’t planning on it.” Each step away from Lo makes my body throb. My willpower starts dying out. I need him. I want him. I am seconds from crumbling and taking him for myself.
Swiftly, he catches my sides in two hands. He leans down to my ear. “Please come.” His husky voice sends me to bad places. I hold in a noise. “I’ll make it up to you there.” He whispers exactly what he wants to do to me at the gym. I can’t say no to this. I can barely say no to anything. He’s buying his forgiveness through my weakness. It’s like me screwing up and sending him a gift basket full of expensive whiskey.
I nod and mumble something about a shower first. My feet carry me to my bathroom, and I wash my hair and the sweat.
Lo knocks on the door. “Do you need me?”
Yes. But I think I can hold out until the gym. I hope I can. “No.”
I sense him lingering by the door. He won’t apologize for last night, even though he must know he f**ked up. I wait for him to ask if I slept with some other guy, but he never does. And then I hear his footsteps pad away. After showering, I change into a pair of nylon pants and a baggy shirt.
When we arrive at the gym, Connor chooses to spend his time at the lower body machines next to a series of flat-screen televisions. He pushes weight down with his feet, using his thigh muscles for strength.
Across the open room, I sink on the floor beside the Pec Deck machine. Lo grips two handles attached to weights and brings them to his chest and back out.
I am through trying to avoid Lo’s touch. In the car, I spent the entire time hugging the door to make a point, and the divots in the road practically vibrated the seats, killing me. “Can we do it now?” I ask, rolling my high socks that awkwardly rise above my ankles.
“Isn’t the anticipation a part of the fun?”
“Sometimes.” I pull my knees to my chest and catch Connor pausing his workout to argue with another guy over the television remote. “We should ditch him.” It’s the easiest solution to our problems. He’s the interloper, the guy forcing us to confront our problems, to truly stare and see them for what they are. I don’t want to think about any of it. I also blame Ryke for planting guilt-ridden seeds in my head.
“He’s okay,” Lo says, bringing the handles to his chest again. He lets out a long breath and releases. “He’s probably the biggest prick I’ve ever met, but he’s not perfect, even if he thinks he is.”
“And he’s asexual.”
I pick up a couple of dumbbells, avoiding the stink-eye from two girls on stair masters. I guess accompanying your boyfriend to the gym and watching him work out is considered lame. I crunch them in my arms, which happen to be the weakest of my four limbs. Minutes pass and I let them drop in my hands.
I take another seat. “Are we ever going to talk about last night?”
He grimaces as he brings the weight to his chest one more time. Then he takes his fingers off the handles and wipes his forehead with a towel. I see the wheels spinning in his head. “What is there to say?”
“You drank that guy’s liquor.”
Lo rolls his eyes dramatically and rises from the bench to add more weight. “I’ve done that before. What makes now so different, Lil?”
“You’re not in high school anymore,” I say. “And…and you’re with me.”
The weight clinks together and he sits back down. “Do you want me to stop drinking?” he asks seriously. I do. Why would I want him to continue his descent towards something horrible? He can die from this. He can pass out and never wake up. Before I muster the courage to say the words, he adds, “Do you want to stop hav**g s*x?”
No. Why does that have to be a stipulation? I guess because it’s not fair that I pour my thoughts and energy and time into sex while he has to withdraw from alcohol.
“Look,” he says, realizing I can’t answer. “I drank a lot. You masturbated all night. I mean, I assume you didn’t cheat on me.” He waits for me to refute and I shake my head, telling him I didn’t. He nods and looks a little relieved. “It was a bad night. We’ve had plenty of those. Okay?” He returns to the handles.
I stare dazedly at the ground. “Sometimes I think we’re a better fake couple.”
He stiffens. “Why do you believe that? Is the sex bad?”
“No…I just think it’s easier.” We should go back to the way things were. We didn’t fight as much. We allowed our schedules to be different and to cross occasionally. For the most part, we separated our addictions, and now they intertwine too much to juggle.
“No one said being in a relationship is easy.” He doesn’t go back to the handles.
My body aches. I wish I had the fire in my heart to stand up, to walk over to him. To put my hands on his chest and wrap a leg around his waist, straddling him on the bench seat. His breath falls short and he asks, “Lily?” But he doesn’t stop me. He lets me lean in, my h*ps sinking into his. I kiss the base of his neck while his restraint lessens, and he groans. He becomes excited underneath me and throatily tells me to meet him in the locker room.