I swallow hard and tensely hop on the gray wooden bar stool. With shaky fingers, I run them through my tangled, wet hair. To stop replaying the moment, I pretend it never happened and go back to our earlier conversation. “It’s a little difficult to constantly stuff my face when we never have food here.” We eat out way too often.
“I don’t think you have a problem stuffing your face,” he says, “just not with food.”
I bite my gums and flip him off. His words would hurt more from anyone else. But Lo has his own issue that rests in the palm of his hand. Everyone can see it, and as I glance between him and the drink, his crooked smile hardens. He presses the rim of the glass to his lips and turns his back on me.
I don’t talk to Lo about feelings. About how it makes him feel to watch me bring home a different guy every night. And he doesn’t ask me how it feels to watch him drown into oblivion. He stifles his judgment and I withhold mine, but our silence draws tension between us, inescapable. It pulls so taught that sometimes I just want to scream. But I keep it inside. I hold back. Every comment that undercuts our addictions fractures the system in place. The one where we both live being free to do as we please. Me, bedding any guy. Him, drinking all of the time.
The buzzer rings beside the door. Pizza?! I beam and head over to the speaker box in the foyer, pressing the button. “Hello?”
“Miss Calloway, you have a guest downstairs. Should I send her up?” says the female security attendant.
“Your sister, Rose.”
I internally groan. No pizza. Time to pretend with Lo again—even though he’s fond of keeping up the charade when no one’s around, just to taunt me. “Send her up.”
Lo goes into roadrunner mode and zips around the kitchen, shutting liquor bottles into locked cabinets, pouring his drink into a tinted blue cup. I click the remote and the flat-screen TV blinks to an action flick. Lo plops on the gray-stitched sofa and kicks his feet onto the glass coffee table, acting like we’ve been immersed in the movie for the past half hour.
He pats his lap. “Come here.” His amber eyes swim with mischievousness.
“I’m not dressed,” I retort. And the spot between my legs already pulses too heavily to be in touching distance of him. The thought electrifies my nerves.
“You’re wearing a robe,” Lo rebuts. “I’ve seen you nak*d plenty of times.”
“When we were kids,” I retort.
“And I’m sure your br**sts haven’t grown since then.”
My mouth falls. “Oh, you are…” I find a pillow on the nearby chair and start assaulting him with it. I get two good hits in before he swoops his arms around my waist and pulls me on his lap.
“Lo,” I warn. He’s been teasing me all day, making it harder than normal to withstand him.
He stares at me deeply, and his hand moves past my kneecap, edging up the robe, and settling on the inside of my thigh. He stops there, not making the next move. Fuck. I quake beneath him, needing his actions to go further. Not thinking, I place my hand on his and shift his fingers towards the throbbing spot. I push them inside of me. He stiffens.
Holy… My toes curl, and I rest my forehead on his broad shoulder. I hold his hand in a strong vice, not allowing him to do anything without my permission. Just before I go to move his fingers in and out, a knock sounds on the door.
I jolt awake. What am I doing?! I can’t look at Lo, I let him reclaim his hand, and I scuttle off him.
Lo hesitates. “Lil?”
“Don’t talk about it,” I say, mortified.
Rose knocks louder.
I stand to answer, walking with more tension everywhere than before.
I hear Lo’s footsteps behind me, and then the creak of the faucet as he turns the handle. I glance back and see him rinsing his fingers with soap.
I’m an idiot. As I turn the knob, I inhale, trying to wipe my mind clean of the bad combo: sex and Loren Hale. Having him as my roommate is like dangling coke in front of a druggie. It’d be easier if I let myself at him, but I’d rather not turn our relationship into friends with benefits. He means more to me than the other guys I bed.
The door swings open, revealing Rose: two years older, two inches taller, and two times prettier. She waltzes into the apartment, her Chanel handbag swinging on her arm like a weapon. Rose frightens children, pets, and even grown males with her icy eyes and chilling glares. And if anyone can unmask our false pretense, it will be my fiercest sister.
Right now, I pale at even meeting Lo’s gaze, let alone pretending to be in a relationship with him. I don’t ask Rose why she’s arrived uninvited and unannounced. This is her routine. It’s as though she feels entitled to all places. Especially mine.
“Why haven’t you answered my calls?” Her voice layers with frost. She lifts her large, round sunglasses to the top of her head.
“Umm…” In the foyer, I dig through a basket of keys that sits on a round table. It usually houses my runaway phone that has found every opportunity to jump ship from my person, and it doesn’t help that I don’t carry a purse—an issue Rose likes to reignite. But I have no use for an item that I’ll lose in a boy’s apartment or dorm. Then he may find a way to return it, and I’ll have to interact with him a second time.
Rose huffs. “You lost it? Again?”
I resign the search, only finding a few dollar bills, bobby pins, and car keys. “I guess. Sorry.”
Rose turns her vulture eyes on Lo, who wipes his hands on a dish rag and tosses it aside. “What about you? Did you lose your phone too?”
“No. I just don’t like talking to you.”
Ouch, I cringe. Rose sucks in her cheeks as red heat flushes them. Her heels clap against the hardwood floors, nearing him in the kitchen.
His fingers whiten against the plastic blue cup that hides his liquor.
“I’m a guest in your apartment,” Rose snaps. “Treat me with some respect, Loren.”
“Respect is earned. Next time maybe you should call before you stop by, or maybe you should start with hey Lo, hey Lily, how was your day, not demanding things like a royal bitch.”
Rose whips her head to me. “Are you going to let him talk to me like this?”
I open my mouth but words are lost to uncertainty. Rose and Lo constantly bicker to the point of annoyance, and I never know which one to support: my sister, who can be so mean at times that she’ll spew hate until it hurts, even at me—or Lo, my best friend and my supposed boyfriend, my one constant.
“That’s mature,” Lo says with distaste, “make Lily choose sides like she’s a dog that has to pick a favorite parent.”
Rose’s nose flares in protest, but her yellow-green, cat-like eyes attempt to soften. “I’m sorry,” she tells me, surprisingly sounding apologetic. “I just get worried about you. We all do.” The Calloways do not understand the word “alone” or how someone could want privacy from their family. Instead of being the rich, neglectful parents, mine happen to be all-consuming. We had a nanny when we were younger, but my mother immersed herself in every aspect of our lives—too involved at times but also incredibly devoted and nurturing. I would love my family and their clinginess if I wasn’t so embarrassed about my daily (and nightly) activities.
Some things need to be kept secret.
“Well, you see me. I’m fine,” I say, refusing to glance back at Lo. Two minutes ago, I was about ready to do anything and everything to him. That want to be pleased has not diminished, just my stupidity to do it with him has.
Her eyes narrow to slits and she gives me a long onceover. I tighten my robe, wondering if she can tell how my body feels by looking. Lo sure as hell can.
After a short moment, she retracts her claws. “I didn’t come here for a fight.” Right… “As you know, tomorrow is Sunday, and Daisy will be here for the luncheon. You’ve claimed to miss the past few because of exams, but it would mean a lot to our sister if you could spare a couple of hours to welcome her home.”
My empty stomach clenches with guilt. “Yeah, sure, but I think Lo may have plans already, so he might not make it.” Good, at least I can bail him out of the obligation.
Rose’s lips purse as she directs her irritation at Lo. “What is more important than accompanying your girlfriend to a family event?”
Everything, I imagine him saying. His jaw twitches as he withholds a smartass retort. Probably dying to mention how this is a function that happens every Sunday, regardless if Daisy attends or not.
“I have racquetball scheduled with a friend,” he lies with ease. “I can cancel if it means that much to Greg and Samantha.” Lo knows that if Rose is fussing over the luncheon, then my parents will surely blow steam if I show up without him on my arm. They’ll draw unreasonable conclusions—like he’s cheating on me, or heading down his old childhood past of partying too hard. He still does (maybe even more) but its best they not know that.
“It means the world to them,” Rose says, as if she has the power to speak for other people. “I’ll see you two tomorrow.” She stops by the door and eyes Lo’s jeans and plain black T-shirt. “And Loren, try to dress appropriately.”
She exits, her heels tapping in the distance.
I let out a long breath and reorient my mind. An impulse to finish what I started with Lo eats at me, and I know better than to return.
“I’ll be in my room. Don’t come in,” I order. I downloaded a new video yesterday called Master of You. I planned to watch it much later, but I’m going to shift my schedule.
“What about when the pizza arrives?” he asks, blocking my path into the hallway.
“I won’t be long.” I try to slide by, but he extends a hand to the wall.
His bicep flexes at the movement, and I take a huge step backwards. No, no, no.
“You’re aroused,” he says, his eyes still on mine.
“And if you hadn’t teased me, I wouldn’t be in this position,” I say, frantic. “If I still can’t satiate this, I’m going to have to spend my afternoon traipsing around Philly for a guy wanting an afternoon quickie. Thanks a lot.”
Lo grimaces and drops his hands to his side. “Well now I’m stuck going to your family’s lunch, so I guess we’re even.” He turns his body, letting me through.
“Don’t come in,” I warn him again, my eyes bugging. I’m more afraid of what I’ll do to him if he does.
“I never do,” he reminds me. With this, he heads to the kitchen and waves tersely, downing the rest of his whiskey.
* * *
After my second shower and self-medication in the form of p*rn stars and an expensive vibrator, I tug on actual clothes: a pair of jeans and a maroon V-neck.
Lo sits in the living room, eating pizza and flipping through channels. A new glass of whiskey balances on his leg.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize quickly.
His eyes briefly flicker to me before returning to the television. “For what?’