“Ryke carried you home,” I let out the truth. “At the Halloween party, you passed out and he had to carry you up to our apartment.”
His face twists in hundreds of emotions, and he settles on something blank and foreign.
“Do you really want him to carry you home again?’
“I’m not drunk,” Lo refutes, finally looking at me. His eyes ice over. “Not by a long shot. I’m even too sober for this conversation.”
I feel rooted to this bar stool. Like if I slink away it will implode. “You’re scaring me,” I murmur.
His gaze softens a fraction. “I’m fine, Lily. Honestly.” He keeps his hands to his liquor and fries, not touching me in comfort. “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to leave, and it’ll be before I pass out.”
My chest clenches. “I’m going to go dance with Connor.”
Lo nods and doesn’t try to stop me as I leave the stool.
I find Connor and Ryke lingering by a high-table near the dance floor. “And?” Ryke asks instantly.
“He says he’s not drunk.”
Ryke gives me a disgusted look. “Yeah? No shit, Lily. He’s got a problem! He’s going to f**king tell you he’s sober.”
“What makes you an expert?” I shout back. “So you quit drinking, that doesn’t mean you know how to fix Lo!”
“You’re right,” Ryke says. “This is beyond me. He needs professional help.”
Tears gather. “Stop.” I want Lo to be helped. I do, but I can’t imagine a world where he’s torn from my life. What will become of me?
“Anyone with a heart would care, Lily,” Ryke says. “So the better question is why don’t you?”
The punch to my stomach knocks me back. It hurts too much to breathe, and the hardest part is trying to defend myself to me. I do care. I’ve kept Lo from sitting behind a wheel. I’ve made sure he returns home in one piece. I’ve protected him. From everyone but himself.
I glance at Connor as I try to wrack my brain for the right words, but for the first time he’s become silent. Avoiding my gaze by peeling back the label to his beer bottle. He agrees with Ryke?
I let out a short laugh that borders on a choke. “I guess I’m just a terrible girlfriend.” And I believe it. In more ways than one.
I push through the sea of bodies, not having the heart or stomach to watch Ryke and Connor’s reactions. My hand shakes like a junkie needing a fix and my head spins from all the lights. I stumble over plastic cups and brush against someone on my way to the bathroom.
The stalls line up in a single row, doors ajar and empty. I lean over a sink, writing scrawled in permanent marker all over the basin. Wash up. Tina was here! Use Soap, you dirty wench! Blow me.
The door creaks and I glance over. A nameless guy with a face like a wolf, scruffy chin and dark eyes, saunters in. Is he the one I accidentally brushed up against? I don’t break his gaze, and he takes the invitation.
His hands linger on my h*ps questioningly, and I brace the porcelain basin in response. Rough kisses press into my neck and for a moment it feels better. It feels like it could be okay again. When my jeans lower and the cold air prickles my skin—I jolt awake.
“No.” I will not cheat on Loren Hale. No matter if anyone tells me how bad of person I am.
He doesn’t hear me or doesn’t take the hint. Hands grab my ass, only a thin layer of fabric between him and me and scoring. Fuck.
“No,” I say louder, employing the one word I’ve always avoided.
His hands slip beneath my panties and I try to turn around and pull away. But he pushes against me hard, and my stomach slams into the sink, nearly taking my breath. “Stop!” I struggle and try to kick out, but I’m all skin and bone and he’s all brawn and hunger.
Tears fall down my cheeks as I try and scream, but the thumping music bleeds into the bathroom, drowning out my pleas.
What do I do? What the f**k do I do?!
Maybe I should just take it. Get it over with. Act like I want it. Convince my body that it’s another pursuit. Make it okay. Make myself believe it’s some fantasy.
My tears dry up and I try to fight one last time only to be slammed against the basin. I cough hoarsely.
Time to pretend, Lily. Make believe. It’s what you’re good at.
Just as I close my eyes, the door crashes open.
“Get the f**k off her!” Screaming. Terrible screaming. And the pressure behind me leaves. I’m numb, but I subconsciously pull up my jeans, covering myself like this is any other night.
I look to my left, and Ryke grips the guy by the arms, fighting against his drunken, hostile movements. The guy swings. Ryke ducks, and then slams him into a stall. The guy falls hard into a toilet bowl, his forehead hitting the porcelain lip, and his legs splay out the door.
Ryke clenches him by the shirt, lifting him up. “What the f**k is wrong with you?!” he screams. But I feel like that question should be directed at me.
Connor steps in front of my transfixed gaze, but I stare past his eyes.
“Where’s Lo?” My voice is small and not my own.
“He’s still at the bar,” Connor says softly. “Lily.” He waves a hand in my face. “Lily, look at me.”
I do, but I don’t. I’ve never changed my mind after I invited someone to have sex with me. I’ve never been hurt by my addiction. Not like this.
Ryke kicks the guy in the groin and then bangs the stall door on him.
This is all wrong. Lo should be here, not Connor and Ryke.
“I want to go home,” I murmur.
Ryke puts a hand on my shoulder and steers me out of the bathroom and away from my attacker—or at least a guy who doesn’t understand the word no. A frown weighs down his face. “I need to go find Lo. Connor will you…”
“I’ve got her.”
Ryke’s hand leaves me only to be replaced by Connor. He guides me, and I float away from the bar, outside, and into the backseat of Connor’s limo. Connor finds a water bottle in the cooler and places it in my palm.
“Why did you come into the bathroom?” I ask. I should have sealed my own fate once I stormed off.
“You were acting strange all night, Lily. I was worried, so I told Ryke we should check on you.”
The car door opens, and Ryke enters with a wobbling Lo. He staggers but manages to duck underneath the frame before hitting his head. He collapses onto the seat across from me, and immediately shuts his heavy eyes, drowning in a sea of darkness, silent and void of turbulent thoughts.
Ryke climbs in beside him, shutting the door and giving Connor’s driver the order to go. I envy Lo so much right now for his peaceful, temperate sleep, the kind that shields the world’s dissonance, if only for one night.
Ryke checks his pulse and then nods to me. “Are you okay?” A welt grows on his cheekbone like the guy elbowed him.
I blink away tears. “I asked for it.”
Ryke’s face contorts, like I physically impaled him. “What? Why would you say that?”
Connor covers his eyes with his hand so I can’t see his reaction. If Ryke looks this wounded over something bad happening to me, I’m sure it’s not good.
“I let him touch me,” I say. “…but then…then I changed my mind. I think it was too late by then.” My hands shake. I wish Lo could hold them. My knees bounce. I wish he was awake. I wish I didn’t need him this much, but I love him. I sniff as tears spill. “It’s my fault. I gave him the wrong impression.”
Ryke gapes. “No means no. I don’t care when you say it, Lily. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Any halfway decent guy would have backed off.”
My heart clenches. If Lo finds out this happened while he was at the bar, it’ll crush him. I won’t inflict that type of pain on Lo. “Don’t tell him.”
“He needs to know,” Ryke says.
I want to scream back about how wrong he is, about how the information will tear Lo apart, not strengthen him, but something sensible pulsates in my head, telling me to listen. I never do.
“This will kill him,” I choke. “You’re not helping!”
“You can’t keep this from him, Lily. Think about how much pain he’d be in if he found out and everyone knew but him? And he will. Don’t kid yourself.”
Maybe he’s right. I disintegrate into the seat, surrendering to Ryke’s unapologetic glare. I wipe the rest of my tears with a quick swipe and stare out the window. The limo quiets for the rest of the ride. No one talks. Not even as Ryke carries an unconscious Lo up to the apartment. Not when I close his bedroom door, locking him in for the night.
When it’s just the three of us left, Connor is the first to break the silence. “I’m going to make some coffee. If you want to go to bed, I understand, but I’d like to talk to you.”
I don’t deserve friends, but I try to hold onto them because I fear the blackness and emptiness that waits if I let go.
“Can you make me hot chocolate?”
“Even better. You could use some calories.”
I sink into the recliner, snuggling into a warm blanket and watch Connor mill about the kitchen like he owns it. I imagine if I ever had a brother, Connor would fit the perfect mold. A little conceited but deep down, even below his people collecting habits, he has a warm heart.
Ryke slouches on the couch. “Should I call your sisters?”
“No. They’ll just worry.”
Connor returns with a tray of coffee and passes me my mug of hot chocolate. “It’s too late. I already texted Rose.”
“What?” I squeak.
“She’s on her way here.”
Rose is coming over.
The words still haven’t fully sunk in. They sit there, along with the rest of my drifting thoughts, but they translate into something numb and foreign. I cup a steaming mug of hot chocolate, taking small sips in the wake of the quiet.
Connor says nothing. Ryke says nothing. They’re two statues on the couch while I curl into the chair.
An abhorrent place inside of me wonders how to lie to Rose. How can I concoct a new deceit to hide Lo’s unconsciousness and my maybe-assault? With two witnesses who will vouch for the night, I have no thread to spin my tales. Cold, blistering reality sets in, and I feel no dread, no sense of loss that I expected would come after all these years of lying to Rose.
I’m just empty.
The speaker box buzzes, and Connor rises to ring Rose inside. The movement shifts my gaze up, and I see Ryke, his ankle perched on his other knee. He stares distantly at a lamp, fingers to his lips. The light catches his brown hair and flecks of his brown eyes that shimmer with gold. He’s enchanting, but right now, no man can hypnotize me.
And then he turns his head a fraction and sees me watching.
“What are you thinking?” I ask.
“What it would be like,” he pauses, “to be him.”
I look away, my eyes burning. “And?” My voice shakes. I wipe a fallen tear, forcing the others back with a strong inhale.
When he doesn’t reply, I glance at him again. He stares, haunted, at the ground, as though picturing the alternate reality. Does it really look that bad? The door closes, and we both flinch, waking from the reverie.