Today, Lo asks to drive my BMW to Lucky’s for Thanksgiving. Every year, I spend the day with my parents and Lo goes to his father’s place, but beforehand, we eat a pre-turkey dinner at the small diner. It’s not as fancy, but the comfort food tastes better than the small portions and strange foams our parents’ chefs prepare.
He holds my hand in the middle console and steers the car down the busy Philly street, one palm on the wheel. His fingers tremble and he shakes them out and clenches them once before placing them back.
“Is it like riding a bike?” I ask about driving.
“Easier,” he tells me. “There’s no gear shift in your car. All I really need to know is how to flick on a blinker.” He teasingly taps the blinker and it makes a clicking noise. He takes his hand from mine and slides it on my thigh.
He’s devoted his time to me, using my addiction as an outlet I suppose to forget about his. It’s worked, for the most part, but sometimes I see the longing in his eyes, the itch to return to his usual routine since I wade in mine.
Lo parallel parks, and I feed the meter. The bell chimes as we enter Lucky’s, Lo holding the door open from behind me, his long arm extending above my head. Everything looks how I remember from last year. Orange and yellow streamers drape from the ceiling, a lazy fan whirling in the center of the small establishment. Booths with red crackling vinyl backs line the left side by the windows. Someone drew a feathered turkey with washable paint on the glass and added bright multicolored words Happy Thanksgiving for all to see. The familiar cranberry and garlic mashed potato scent permeates in the air and old couples in tables drink coffee and smile.
I stare at a pair for a long moment, their gray hair short and nearly identical. They bicker about a spill on the man’s shirt, and the woman leans over to help him wipe it up. I want that to be us. I want to grow old and yell at Lo for dribbling coffee. I want him to be my forever. For the first time, he may be on the right path towards reaching that. I can only hope I’ll join him too.
There’s one noticeable difference to our yearly tradition—they wave us over to a booth by the window.
We slide in on the right side while Connor, Rose, and Ryke fill the left. My sister looks like a million dollars in her high-waisted skirt and cream chiffon blouse, a diamond necklace shaped like a water droplet tight on her collar.
“Is that new?” I ask.
She touches the jewel, her cheeks reddening as much as mine would. I can’t help but smile.
“I bought it for her,” Connor exclaims, his arm draped on the top of the booth behind her.
I squint. “Why?”
“No reason,” Connor says. “I saw it and I thought she’d like it.”
Rose tries really hard not to smile, but she can’t quite hide it.
Lo groans. “You’re making me look bad.” His hand rises on my thigh and dips towards the inside. Lo gives me things that I like much better than diamonds or flowers.
Ryke wads his straw paper. “You’ve never given Lily a present like that?”
“No, she’d rather I give her something else than a necklace.”
“Like what, Loren?” Rose looks like she could rip out his throat.
Lo is about to take the challenge, Rose automatically hitting his annoyance button. “Like my tongue on her—”
“Oh my God!” I shriek, scooting away from Lo and into the wall of the booth. I grab a menu and shield my face from everyone.
Ryke laughs under his breath, but I think my sister is about to launch herself at all the guys and scratch them out with her nails.
Connor whispers in her ear, “He’s just picking on you.”
“She’s a sex addict,” she whispers back just as fiercely. “He shouldn’t be joking around about this.”
“I can hear you,” Lo says flatly.
I peek at Ryke since he’s the one person I haven’t confronted since my addiction has spread from Rose to Connor and from Lo to Ryke. Yes, he told Ryke. I have no idea how it came out. Maybe in his confessional about needing to get sober. Our addictions intertwined so much that it was too hard for Lo to talk about his without bringing up my dependence on sex.
Ryke doesn’t even look at me. He’s mouthing something to Lo. I read his lips. I’ll tell them.
I glance at Lo and he nods to Ryke in approval.
I frown. “Tell them what?” I ask Lo.
“Nothing,” he lies, motioning for me to return to him. I set down the menu and slide back into his arms, and the waitress comes by to break up my sister’s whisper battle with Connor.
We order the turkey dinners and waters, and I’m left to wonder what secret Lo and Ryke share about me. It could be anything. As the waitress traipses back to the kitchen, Rose turns to Ryke and fishes out a crisp white envelope. “I couldn’t find your address anywhere, so I was unable to send this to your house.” She passes him a Christmas Charity Gala invitation. “Is Ryke a nickname? It wasn’t showing up in any directory.”
“Middle name,” he says, distant. He pulls out the cream card with gold cursive lettering. “I can’t go.” He barely even gives it a chance.
“Why not?” Lo questions, obviously hurt by the notion. If anyone has been a rock since he decided to become sober, it’s been Ryke. He’s practically his unofficial sponsor. I know he really wants Ryke there, especially since his father will be attending. “Is it the article? You’re supposed to be finished with that thing soon, aren’t you?”
“No, I submitted the article weeks ago.” He finally escapes the lie. “My professor gave me an A.”
“Send me a copy,” Connor says. “I’d love to read it.”
“Sure.” He’ll probably “forget” to email him the article for the next few weeks until Connor stops asking.
“Do you have plans or something?” Lo asks. “It’s the day before Christmas Eve. You can still spend time with your mom if you go.” I’ve never seen him like this—pleading for someone else in such a transparent manner.
Ryke nods. “Okay. Yeah, I’ll make it work. Thanks, Rose.” He folds the envelope in fours and stuffs it in his back pocket.
Lo relaxes, and he glances at the bathrooms. Does he want to go have sex? He turns to me, as though reading my mind, and whispers softly, “I have to use the bathroom for real. Don’t let Ryke eat my food if it comes.” With this, he kisses my cheek and disappears towards the blue doors.
I sink into the seat, hot from the three pair of eyes bearing down on me.
“Lily,” Rose starts, sitting forward. She clasps her hands. “Lily, I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and I really want you to come live with me when the semester ends. There’s more than enough room in my apartment, and—”
“What about Lo?” I frown and shake my head. “I can’t leave him like this. And I go to Penn.”
“You can always transfer,” she reminds me.
Ryke turns to her. “Lo has it under control.”
Her yellow-green eyes puncture him. “He’s sick, Ryke. He needs to concentrate on himself, and he’s not going to be able to do that if he’s concerned about Lily’s well-being. I want him to get better, but I want her to get better more. So pardon me if I’m looking out for my sister’s best interest.”
“And I’m looking out for Lo’s. He wants to try it this way first. Look. It’s worked for the past week—”
“Yes, he’s sober, but is Lily any different? Has she started going to therapy or waned off sex?”
“You guys, please stop,” I say, my voice lost to their heated ones. They do not need to be discussing my sex life at Lucky’s. I may never muster the courage to come back here.
“He has a plan,” Ryke retorts. “You need to trust that he loves Lily.”
He has a plan? Is this what they were talking about?
“What sort of plan?” Rose wonders. Yeah, what sort of plan. And why did no one tell me?!
“He’s going to start limiting her and gradually decrease her use of porn.”
I gape while my sister nods in approval.
“What?!” I shout. I’m more disturbed by the fact that Lo talked about our sex life with Ryke of all people. “Tell me you didn’t discuss this with Lo.” I already see the answer. The moment Ryke projected himself into my life at the library, telling me he would help Lo, I took the opportunity. I told him about Lo’s addiction. And if he gave the same offer to Lo, I know he would take it.
Ryke unabashedly meets my gaze. “He told me most of your dirty secrets.”
“Oh my God,” I mumble, looking frantically over at Rose like what do I do?
She glares at Ryke for me. “That’s personal.”
“Yeah? Well guys talk just like girls do. Maybe you should remember that before you go down on someone.”
Connor cuts in. “All right, everyone needs to cool down right now. I think people are beginning to stare. Come on, Rose.” He lifts her up by the arm. “Let’s go outside for a minute.”
She tensely rises from her seat but points at Ryke. “I’m glad you’re here for Lo, but I swear, if you hurt my sister—”
“Rose.” Connor ushers her from the booth.
Ryke says, “I wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone.”
Connor gives him a look. “Just stop talking.”
Rose starts rambling, and Connor finds the right reply each time, keeping her sane as they take a breather. At least she found a date to the Charity Gala this year who isn’t gay.
Around the same moment, the food arrives, and only Ryke and I are left at the table to eat it. Neither of us touches our plates.
“I don’t want to be limited,” I tell him. “This isn’t about me right now.”
“It’s always been about you,” Ryke says. “If you would have told me from the start what kind of deal you two struck and what kind of lives you lived, I wouldn’t have been so upset with you when you stopped helping Lo. I apologize for that.”
“He needs to concentrate on himself,” I remind Ryke.
“Lily…” He puts his elbows on the table and leans in. “You two have done everything together. You’ve been through every step of your lives with the other by your side. In order for this to work, you can’t be regressing while he’s moving forward.”
My frown deepens. The way he phrased that—it makes it seem like he’ll change into a different person. That he may become someone new, someone that does not fit into my life anymore. Maybe he’ll outgrow my rituals and find a person that shapes his new routines. I don’t like that future, but I want one where he’s better.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” he asks.
“Okay,” I nod. “Okay, I’ll try.”
He stays tense.
My brows bunch. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“No, but the admission is nice to hear.”
I glare. “I can fight.”