His muscles tense and he runs a hand through his hair. “I want to be alone right now. We can have sex in the morning, okay?” He leaves me. And I sink into the couch and listen to the ticking of an old, expensive clock on the bookshelf.
I curl up in a blanket, so hollow inside.
Minutes pass before I actually start crying, the messy tears that scrunch up your face and cause snot to run.
At least no one can see me, but I know I’m not alone in my misery.
* * *
Morning sex is hard and rough and so emotional that my head starts whirling. I’m so dizzy by the end of it that I rush to the bathroom and vomit in the toilet.
“Lily,” Lo calls, pulling up his boxer-briefs as he hurriedly enters the bathroom. He kneels behind me and rubs my back. “You’re okay. You’re okay.” He says it like he’s trying to convince himself.
I dry heave for a full minute before I calm down, my trembling hands gripping the toilet bowl.
I keep my back to him. “I was dizzy.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I don’t know,” I murmur, my voice raw and scratchy. I stand to brush my teeth. I shakily find my toothbrush and some paste.
“Lily, talk to me,” he says from behind me. He sets a gentle hand on my hip while I spit into the sink.
When I finish, I turn around and lean my backside against the counter. “Do you want to break up?” I say bluntly.
His breathing shallows. “No. I love you, Lil.” He holds my hand. “Look, I’ll try harder. We both will.” I’m not surprised by the sudden proclamation. We fight one minute and then try to make up the next. It’s why we’ve lasted so long. And I suppose, the fear of losing each other is always stronger than the pain we cause.
“Try harder to do what?” I want clarification of where we stand.
“I’ll drink more beer. Ryke was pissing me off yesterday, so I chose hard liquor.” He pauses and eyes me hesitantly, about to turn the tables. “Lily…I love hav**g s*x with you, but the past two weeks, you’ve been crazy. I can barely even think.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” But I’ve been like that to stop him from drinking. I guess we need to work on fulfilling our compromises, which means I need to stop trying to force him to be sober by diverting his attention elsewhere.
Ryke will be disappointed, but this is the best I have without shoving Lo away. I need him more than he needs me. His vice is a bottle of whiskey. Mine is his body. So when we fight, I’m the one who loses out in the end.
“Do you want to break up?” he offers me the same out.
It’d be easier to let him go, to return to our regular rituals, but now that I’ve had him, I can’t imagine not being swept in his arms and being fulfilled to the highest degree. He’s my drug that I gladly consume, and I think that’s what he fears most. He enables my addiction. Always has. And the longer we’re together, he always will.
“No,” I whisper. “No, I want to be with you.”
He draws me close and kisses me on the forehead. “We’ll do better.” His lips brush my ear. “Next time you feel sick, please tell me.”
He tilts my chin up and kisses me on the lips, urging my mouth open. His tongue slips in for a second and then he breathes, “Let’s do it right this time.” He scoops me up in his arms, and I hold him around the neck, gladly about to erase all the bad moments and replace them with good.
“Can you zip me?”
Lo fixes his tie and then rests a hand on my hip. I try not to focus on the way his fingers press into my side. We just had sex and took showers. I do not want to show up to Rose’s fashion show with ratted hair and flushed cheeks.
He zips my dress to the collar, and the touch ripples my skin. “You okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I smooth my hair that reaches my shoulders, trying to satiate the nervous jitters in my stomach. I struggle to think of an instance before middle school where I willfully introduced any friends to my family. In part, it was probably because Lo has been my only companion for some time.
A buried, vile part of me almost wishes Rose and Connor never met. Or that I wasn’t his friend first. Anything so that my two worlds don’t have to collide—my family and my college life. Connor knows things. More than even Rose, and I fear we made a mistake in not scripting lies for our new friend. But how was I supposed to know that Rose of all people would find Connor Cobalt’s personality attractive? My luck is like a perfect storm.
At least I wasn’t selfish enough to destroy their relationship before it started. That would have been mean.
With Ryke following us to events, it doubles the stress. At any moment Connor or Ryke could let something slip to my family, and everything could be ruined. More than that, I feel overwhelmed by letting my family see another part of my life. I compartmentalize for a reason, and now everything seems utterly messy and complicated. If Lo feels the same, he doesn’t let on. I watch him casually check the cards in his wallet before sliding it into his pocket.
Someone knocks on the door.
“Are you decent?” Connor’s voice muffles from the other side.
Lo opens the door, and Connor stands there, wearing his own thousand-dollar suit and an equally expensive smile. “We need to leave. I don’t want to be late.”
“We’ll be an hour early,” Lo complains. “We can wait around a few minutes.”
I follow them into the kitchen where Ryke sits at the bar, typing on his cellphone
“I want to see Rose before the show starts,” Connor confesses. “She sounded nervous this morning.”
“She is,” I say. “She’s mostly worried about no one showing up.” I even called her. Mostly to talk about Connor, but she wouldn’t really give me any details on their theatre date other than he acted exactly how she thought he would. Whatever that means. They’re still going out, so I can only presume that it went well. Hopefully they didn’t talk too much about Lo and me. I need to find time to tell Connor that Rose is unaware of certain aspects of our lives. Like Lo’s constant drinking.
“I told her that I have it handled, but she chooses not to believe me,” Connor says. Small wrinkles crease his eyes in discontent, an emotion I’ve yet to see from the unflappable Connor Cobalt.
“Who’d you call?” Lo wonders before eyeing Ryke at the bar. Even with days where Ryke asks Lo questions, he keeps him at a distance, answering back with sarcasm or disdain. And now that I am no longer a driving force in actively diverting Lo’s attention from alcohol, Ryke wastes no opportunity to glare at me. I can do nothing right.
“The owner of Macey’s, Nordstrom, H&M and some lesser known department stores will be there. It’ll be a full house.” Connor glances at me. “Don’t tell her about who’s going to be at the show. There’s no point in making her more anxious.”
Ryke stands from the bar, slipping his phone into his suit pocket, his wardrobe just as expensive as Connor and Lo’s. For some reason, his tailored suit catches me off guard. I expected him to be on an athletic scholarship, but by the fit and fine fabric, the suit clearly is name brand. Possibly Armani or Gucci. Which means he has money. Lots of it.
I realize I haven’t asked Ryke much about his personal life. Lo meant to, but he gets so irritated that he usually walks off.
Before Ryke can shoot me a scathing look, I find a good question. “What do your parents do?”
Connor puts his hand on my shoulder. “Talk and walk. We’re running late.” We’re really not, but Connor Cobalt’s definition of late is much different than mine. We leave the apartment with Connor in the rear, practically pushing us out.
Ryke sidles next to me, but Lo remains closer on my other side. “My mom doesn’t work. I come from some family money.”
Connor neurotically checks his watch again, and I press the lobby button on the elevator. “From your dad?”
“Yep,” Ryke says. “I don’t live with him. It’s always just been me and my mom.”
My chest swells at the news, and I can’t tell if it affects Lo or not. He looks utterly blank by the revelation.
“Divorce?” I wonder. Lo swoops his hands around my waist and I lean back against his chest. My eyes shut as I feel the pump of his heart and the warmness of his weight. I wish he’d lean me over and…no, Lily.
“Oh yeah,” Ryke says. “It was pretty messy. They were supposed to have joint custody of me, but my mom won full in the settlement.”
“Have you ever met him?”
“I have,” Ryke admits, somewhat detached like he’s dealt with all of this before and come to terms with it. “He’d send me gifts all the time, and my mom would throw them out. But she let me meet him the first Monday of every month since I was seven. He seemed like an okay guy, but I have years of my mom telling me some…pretty horrible things about him. Stuff that she shouldn’t have been telling me so young. After a while I stopped seeing him, and I stopped loving him too.” Ryke glances at Lo. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Aren’t your parents divorced?”
“I live with my father,” Lo says flatly. “He’s the greatest dad in the f**king world. Sorry yours couldn’t have been better.”
Ryke’s face hardens. “You have a good relationship with him?”
I stare at the ground, my stomach rolling at his biting tone.
“Your girlfriend doesn’t seem to agree.”
“Stop psychoanalyzing her movements,” he shoots back. Yes, please stop. Especially because I have to cross my ankles to focus on something other than sex at the present moment.
The elevator dings. As soon as my mind rights itself on a proper course, a sudden wave of anxiety crashes into me. Bringing Connor and Ryke to the fashion show feels like doom. I’ll end up trading these overwhelming emotions for fantasies and carnal highs. That sounds better than this creeping anxiety.
We head to the limo, and by the time we reach the venue, I’ve concocted ten different scenarios with Lo in the backseat, and I’ve spaced out approximately five times. Lo notices my fantastical departures, but I’m sure no one else does.
The spot between my leg pulses, eager to be relieved, but I avoid facing any unease so I torture myself with these images. Of Lo on me. Of Lo in me. Of him whispering to take me. It’s so stupid.
I’m here for Rose.
And yet, I can’t stop.
I ball my hands, forcing myself to concentrate on the present moment.
An elevated runway sits in the middle of the room and white plastic chairs line both sides, no one here except photographers, publicists, models, and stylists. Most run off to the backroom where I’m sure Rose busily dresses the models. Daisy is probably being fitted right now in a silk day dress for the everyday kind of girl. I should go see them, but I want to do something else, something I know is wrong in this current time.