I don’t see where he’s headed with this. “Rose is not that kind of girl. She’s talented and driven and determined—”
“I said I would probably marry the type, not that I wanted to.”
Oh. I realize that Connor Cobalt will ace any test I give him—the downside to quizzing an honor student.
Ryke and Lo return, and surprisingly, one of Lo’s black T-shirts fits Ryke perfectly. And he wears a pair of Lo’s jeans, the thighs a little tight but other than that, they fit as well. Neither guy says a word, the tension eking from their tight postures. Lo settles back beside me while Connor offers up his chair to Ryke.
Ryke nods in thanks and takes a seat. Connor drags the red recliner closer to our little group, and the rumble of the dryer fills the short-lived void.
Connor turns his attention on Ryke and says, “So you’re writing an article about children of tycoons. I assume you forgot to ask me.”
Ryke teeters back on two legs of his chair. “Must have slipped my mind.” He flashes a dry smile, avoiding my gaze.
“Then I accept.”
Ryke’s eyebrows shoot up. “You accept?”
Lo interjects, “That sounds perfect. You should just write about Connor. He’s a willing participant, and your story will have a happy ending. Everyone wins.” He squeezes my shoulder, and I stiffen, not sure how Ryke’s going to cover this one.
“No, I don’t like it.” That’s his lie? I roll my eyes. I shouldn’t have expected something better.
Lo rubs his lips. “Then you’re not going to follow Connor too?”
Ryke briefly looks at Connor who sits with his ankle on his knee, so preppy that you could snap a picture and put him in a J Crew advertisement. “No offense, Connor, but I’d rather not hang around ass-kissers all day. If you’re with Lo and Lily, I’ll write about you. That’s all I have.”
“I already accepted,” Connor tells him.
Lo hasn’t. He laces his fingers in mine. “Are you going to ask me questions?”
“Do you have something against them?” Ryke wonders. “Question-phobic?”
Lo glares. “I just don’t have a warm spot in my heart for people who pry.”
“Yeah? Well that kind of goes against my profession.” He points to his chest. “Journalism major. Asking uncomfortable questions is my forte.” I can believe that.
Lo glowers at the ceiling. “Then I have full discretion to ask you anything personal. How’s that for a stipulation?”
Lo doesn’t need to tell me that he hates the situation. His icy posture says it all. I understand his hesitation. There’s an underlying judgment that comes with surrounding ourselves with other people. We’ve been cut off from snide glances and hateful words like “slut, drunkard, loser” for so long that he fears going back to that place. The one where his father smacks the back of his head, wondering why his kid just f**ked up by staying out all night drinking. The one where a prep school girl slanders me as diseased, dumb and dimwitted.
I can’t gauge my strength. I just hope I’m resilient enough to stand against ridicule in order to help Lo.
“It’ll only be for a couple of months,” I tell Lo. “The semester is almost over.”
“It’s fine.” He finishes off his glass of whiskey and stands to go make another.
Ryke gives me a hard look that I can’t respond to since Connor sits one chair over. At least Connor busily texts on his phone. Suddenly, he stands, slipping his cell in his coat pocket. “I’ll see you guys later.”
“Where are you going?” Lo asks from the kitchen.
“I have to figure out what I’m going to wear tonight.”
“Are you serious?” Lo snaps. “You’re going on a date with the devil. All you need is some pepper spray and a fire extinguisher.”
Ryke nods to me. “Who’s he talking about?”
“My sister, Rose.”
“Huh.” He watches Connor go to the foyer.
“She’s a fashion designer,” Connor tells us. “She’s going to judge me on what I wear.” With this, he waves us goodbye and heads out the door.
I hear the clink of bottles, not sure the steps to take. Ryke whispers to me, “So you’ve been distracting him with sex?”
I blush. “Is that bad?”
“No,” he admits, “but it’s not entirely working considering he’s making”—he leans farther back on the chair legs to peek at the kitchen—“whiskey straight.” I kind of hope Ryke falls.
And just like that, the wooden legs slip beneath Ryke and his back slams on the rug.
I laugh so hard my chest hurts.
“It’s not funny,” he tells me, picking himself up and stretching out his arms.
“Yes it is.”
Lo comes back with a full glass of whiskey. “What is?” He sits on the other side of the couch, an entire cushion separating us.
“He fell off the chair,” I say.
Ryke switches to the recliner, a much safer choice. And then he nods to Lo. “What’s with the whiskey?”
I can tell Lo wants to glare at me for putting him in this position, but he resists. “I don’t see how that question relates to your article.” He sips the dark amber liquid.
“Background,” Ryke says evasively. “You didn’t answer me.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.” He takes another huge swig, not even grimacing as the sharp alcohol slides down his throat.
Ryke rubs his lips. “What’s your father like?”
“Are we really starting this now?” Lo snaps.
“No time like the present.”
He downs the rest of his drink way too quickly and stands. “Do you want a beer or something?”
“I’ll take a beer,” I say as Lo disappears into the kitchen.
Ryke shakes his head at me like that’s a bad move.
“Cancel my order,” I call to Lo.
“Ryke?” Lo asks. “Last chance.”
I whisper very softly to Ryke, “You’re annoying him so much that he’s drinking more.”
“I see that. Let me handle it.”
I try to trust him, but he’s doing a poor job at breaking through Lo’s tough exterior. When Lo returns to the living room, we both glance at the newly filled glass in his hand, the liquid nearly black.
Lo takes his seat. Far away from me. I dislike it immensely.
He watches Ryke as he sips the liquor. He licks his lips and says, “You seem awfully interested in my whiskey. Are you sure you don’t want a glass?”
“No, I don’t drink.”
The muscles in Lo’s jaw twitch. “You don’t drink? Not even beer?”
“No. I had a rough patch in high school. I drank and drove, which ended in a totaled car, a broken mailbox, and angry neighbors. I haven’t tasted alcohol since.”
“Driving was your first mistake,” Lo tells him.
“I disagree.” Ryke nods to the liquor in Lo’s hand. “That was.”
“Well I’m not you, am I?” Lo says with bite. “If you’re expecting some sort of story where I turn into you, then you’re going to be disappointed. What you believe about me is probably right. I’m a rich a**hole who has everything. And I like it.” I hear his father in his voice, and it scares me. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
Ryke’s face hardens to stone. And his eyes narrow in empathy, which I’m sure Lo does not appreciate. “Let’s start with an easier question then. How’d you two meet?”
“Childhood friends,” Lo tells him. “You want to know if I took her virginity too? I didn’t. Some prick beat me to it.”
“Lo!” I grab a pillow, about to hide behind it.
Ryke keeps his challenging gaze on Lo. “That’s interesting.” He finds the loss of my virginity interesting—that’s just great. “Did you lose your virginity to her?”
Lo drinks at this.
Ryke rolls his eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes. Is she the only girl you’ve ever been with?”
I interject, “I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”
“No,” Lo ignores me. “I’ve slept with other girls.”
“I wasn’t talking about sex.”
Lo holds Ryke’s stare. “Long term, yeah. Same for her.”
I wonder if Ryke is adding up all the years that I’ve enabled Lo, helping facilitate his addiction. When his eyes flicker to me with a sliver of contempt, I know he probably is. I can change things now. It may hurt our relationship, but I’ve found a way.
I crawl over to Lo and press my shoulder against his. He finishes his drink, and before he stands, I wrap an arm around his waist, keeping him here.
His cold eyes cut me, and he whispers lowly, “I’m not in the mood.” He disentangles my hands from him and steps over my feet to go to the kitchen. I sit back like he socked me in the gut.
“You okay?” Ryke whispers.
Tears build. “I don’t know what to do,” I mutter.
“If I come over there, will he strangle me?”
My eyes burn. “I’m not even sure anymore.”
Ryke tests the waters and plants his butt on the cushion next to me. “You’re doing a decent job, Lily. I just don’t understand why you haven’t tried sooner.” Because we have a system that cannot be disrupted.
“He’s not hurting anyone,” I try to defend in a small whisper. “He’s never hurt anyone, Ryke.”
“Seems to me he’s hurting you.”
I shake my head. “Me? No, I’m fine.”
“Then why are you crying, Lily?”
I wipe the traitorous tears, and Lo enters without a drink but carries Ryke’s bundle of dry clothes. He throws them on his lap.
“It’s time for you to leave.” Lo won’t even look at me.
Ryke stands tensely, holding the clothes. He edges towards Lo and whispers to him, “Your girlfriend is upset, Lo. Can’t you see that?” He’s trying to guilt him into sobriety. I doubt that’ll work.
“Don’t act like you know her.”
“I know her enough.”
“You don’t know shit. You’d be f**king spinning if you did.” He motions to the shirt that Ryke wears. “Keep my clothes. I don’t need them.”
“Fine. I’ll see you soon.” With this, he makes his exit, the door slamming shut.
Lo wipes his mouth and says, “I’ll be in my room.”
My chest caves. We should talk, but what do I say? Lo, I wish you would stop drinking. And he’d say, Lily, I wish you’d stop having so much sex. And then we’d look at each other and wait for the other to say okay, I’ll change for you. But there’d be silence so deep and cutting that I’d feel ripped open and bare. There’s no coming back from that.
I respond in the only way that makes sense to me. “I’m sorry for putting you in that situation. I’m really, really sorry, Lo.”