If only Ryke would not show up today.
Lo sips his whiskey.
On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing he is.
I glance back at Connor and Rose and realize they’ve been pretty much silent. They just stare at each other for a really, really long time, as though talking through their eyes.
“Is this what smart people do?” I whisper to Lo.
“They must have some superhuman telepathic power that we don’t have.” He adjusts so my head rests against the hardness of his chest, the warmth enveloping me further. I kinda, sorta, really want them to leave so Lo can take me in surprise.
“Is this still about last year?” Connor asks with a growing smile. “Just because you didn’t know Williams wrote Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy and Problems of the Self doesn’t make you a stupid person. Lots of people don’t know him.”
Her chest puffs out, looking more ruffled than when Lo pushes her buttons. “I know Freud, Connor. I knew Williams influenced him. Had someone on my team not sneezed, I wouldn’t have been so distracted.”
“A sneeze? You’re going to blame your loss on an allergy problem?”
Rose holds up a hand to his face, as if pausing the argument, and sets her icy gaze on us. “You both really can’t be friends with this a**hole. Actually”—she points at Lo—“I believe you can, but you, Lily, really?”
Lo smirks. “Keep it coming, Rose. You’re just making me love the guy more.” Oh jeez. And to make matters more complicated, Connor looks amused by the continuation of this madness. He sticks his hands in his pockets, at ease.
“What happened to Charlie and Stacey?” she questions. They never existed.
“They moved,” Lo lies easily. “Transferred to Brown a month ago. I’d let them know you said goodbye, but they wouldn’t care. They didn’t really like you.” And there goes our scapegoat with one new fib.
Rose glares. “That’s real cute, Loren, considering they didn’t even know me.”
“Wait, Charlie who?” Connor asks.
“You wouldn’t know them,” I say.
He looks offended. For real? “I know everyone.”
I open my mouth, at a loss of how to reply to that.
Rose snorts. “You’re always the same, Connor, raising yourself on some prodigious level. I bet your biggest dream is to kiss the ass of Bill Gates.”
Just when I think Rose’s comment has penetrated Connor’s cool, calm, know-it-all exterior, his thousand-dollar smile widens. He takes a step forward, threatening to breach Rose’s safe space.
Lo whispers under his breath, “Protect your balls, Connor.”
I’d agree, but Connor has proven to hold his own so far. He cocks his head at her. “Says the girl who’s clothing line just got dropped by Sax.” He inspects her tailored dress. “Is that piece extinct yet? Or can your two customers go buy it at Plato’s Closet?”
Lo bursts into laughter, and I sink deeper into his arms. This is not good. At all. Rose has longer and sharper claws than me, able to defend herself quite effortlessly.
“Shut up, Loren,” she says first. Then she places a hand on her hip. “So you read the newspaper, Connor. Congratulations, a well-informed citizen of Pennsylvania. Let’s throw confetti and have a parade.”
“Or you could go out with me tonight.”
What?! Lo chokes on his alcohol. I gape, my jaw permanently unhinged. Rose. He just asked out Rose, my sister. I saw this coming, did I not? “Ha!” I say to Lo, poking him in the arm.
He bites my shoulder and murmurs, “She hasn’t said yes yet.”
Oh. I’d like Rose to give Connor a chance. If anyone can verbally keep up with her, he can. But she pushes men away as much as I used to lead them in.
Her body language stays closed off—her face as icy as before. “That’s really funny. Nice joke.” Oh no, Rose, he’s not joking. I want to tell her that this isn’t some cruel trick to make fun of her. She has guards up so she won’t get hurt. It’s easier to be cold than to feel the sting of disappointment.
“It isn’t one,” he tells her, taking another step. Her feet stay cemented to the floor, a good sign. “I have tickets to The Tempest.”
I chime in, “Rose, you love Shakespeare.”
She shoots me a look to stay out of it. I press my lips together, but I see her mind reeling at his proposition. Rose scrutinizes Connor. “So you have two tickets for tonight? This is obviously a pity invite.”
“How could you think that?” he rebuts. “I don’t pity you in the least. I’m inviting you because I happen to have two tickets that will go unused if you don’t accompany me. I bought them for my mother, but work came up, and she can’t go.”
“Why take me?” she asks. “You know everyone. I’m sure you can manage to find some rich man to schmooze.”
“True, but that’s not the company I feel like sharing tonight. I’d rather take you, a beautiful, intelligent girl from Princeton.”
Rose peruses Connor with beady eyes. “And this isn’t a pity invite?”
“I already said it wasn’t. Maybe you should get your hearing looked at. I wouldn’t want to beat you unfairly in the next Bowl tournament.”
She rolls her eyes. “Please, you wouldn’t be able to beat Princeton even with a cheat sheet.”
“Says the girl who got distracted by someone’s nasal sensitivities.”
“You’re so weird,” she says. Her arm drops off her hip and her stance finally loosens. Yes! He takes one more step, officially inches from her, the closest I’ve seen her to a man—or child—in a long, long time.
Lo whispers to me, “Are we in an alternate universe?”
I nod. “Yep, we’ve definitely left Earth 616.” And I love it.
“So here I am,” Connor continues, “about to waste front row seats—”
“Wait, you can’t see anything in the first row. The stage blocks your view. Everyone knows that.”
“Did I say first row? I don’t think I did.” He tilts his head. “You really need to get those ears checked, Miss Calloway.” Oh, that was sexy. I will be the first to admit that. He takes out his wallet and hands her the tickets, which I presume are labeled for the third or fourth row, not the first.
Rose barely glances at them since Connor has infiltrated her safe space. She breathes all heavily and her cheeks start to flush. Aw, my sister is actually affected by the guy. It’s like two asexual people bonding together—a once in a lifetime happening.
She hands one ticket back to him. “Pick me up at seven. Don’t be late.”
“I never am.”
Rose rolls her eyes and then turns to me. “I have to make a stop at Poppy’s house, but I wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“Fine,” I tell her. “I haven’t gotten my econ test back, so I’m not sure how well I’m doing in class yet.”
She sips her coffee and sets it on the table. “With my help, you’ll do better on the next one.”
“I’m still her tutor,” Connor says.
“No you’re not,” Rose tells him. “I have familial rights to this one.” She points at Lo. “You can take that rodent.”
Lo flips her off.
“Very mature,” she says flatly and glances at her pearl-colored watch. “I need to go. I’ll tell Mom and Dad you miss them, but it’d be better if you attended next Sunday’s luncheon. They’re starting to ask questions that I can’t answer.” She kisses my cheek and surprisingly meets Lo’s gaze. “You too, be there.” With that, she struts out in a dignified, Rose manner.
Gotta love her.
“You’re crazy,” Lo tells Connor. “I thought you were just a little insane for wanting to hang out with Lily and me, but now, you’re certifiable.”
The buzzer rings.
The silence afterwards sits heavy and unbearable. If Rose left, only one other person could be waiting in the lobby.
“Did she forget something here?” Connor asks.
Doubtful. I go to the door and buzz in Ryke. I also unlock the door and send him a quick message to just walk in. When I plop back beside Lo, something separates us. Unidentifiable and intangible. Lo senses my openness towards the situation, towards accepting Ryke and the article. For the first time, we stand on two different pages.
I know letting Ryke into our lives will complicate things. It’ll be harder for me to disappear without questions. It’ll be harder for Lo to drink without being chastised like a child. But it’s too late to go back now, and I wouldn’t want to.
“Who is it?” Connor asks.
“Ryke.” I explain the article with the fewest details, and when the door clicks open, I shut up about it. Ryke enters, eyes pinging to each of us. He has sealed the comics in a Ziploc bag to avoid rain splatter, but he needed protection from the thunderstorm. He drips on the carpet like a wet dog, his white shirt glued to the ridges in his chest. His jeans stick to his thighs, and he runs a hand through his soaked hair, pushing back the brown strands.
“Can I use your dryer?” he asks, already pulling off his shirt.
Oh my God. I look away, and Lo closes the Cosmo magazine and tosses it at my face so I’ll stop gawking. He stands. “I’ll show you to the machine.”
As Lo passes to the laundry room, Ryke lifts his eyebrows at me like see, he was nice, making progress. Yeah, I’m not so optimistic. Ryke nods to Connor. “How’s it going?”
“It’s going,” he says.
At this, Ryke follows Lo out of view.
Connor scrolls on his iPhone, my mind drifting to what happened with my sister. “About Rose…”
“I like you, Connor. I do, but I also know you’re a social climber. I may look small and not put up much of a fight when it comes to words, but I’d find a way to hurt you if you hurt her. She should mean more to a guy than a paycheck and a last name.”
Connor pockets his cell. “Lily,” he says. “If I wanted to date for a last name, I’d have a girl on my arm every single day. I would never be single.” He leans forward. “I promise you, that my intentions are pure. And I think it’s sweet you’re looking out for Rose, but she’s more than capable of taking care of herself, which is one of the many reasons why I want to pursue her.”
“What’s another reason?” I test him.
He smiles. “I won’t have to taxingly explain to her menu items in a real French restaurant.” He knows she’s fluent? “I won’t have to explain financial statements or dividends. I’ll be able to discuss anything and everything in the world, and she’ll have an answer.”
“What about your philosophy on wealthy girls? Aren’t we all the same? We want to find some Ivy League guy and do nothing with our lives?”
Connor’s lip twitches, suppressing a smile. “I also said something about probably marrying that type.”