“I guess we’ll see how hard.” He leans back. “And Lily…I sincerely hope you surprise me.”
I do too.
* * *
Lo has been kind enough to gradually limit me. No hardcore sex in the past week. I threw out half my p*rn videos yesterday, but the desire still lingers. Instead of compulsively filling it, I pop a few sleeping pills so I’ll pass out before thinking about sex. Nighttime is the worst. My endorphins rise and all I want to do is straddle Lo in some nefarious way.
But I try. I have to.
I’m scared to be alone. I’m afraid I’ll start touching myself or I’ll call a gigolo out of impulse. I’ve been so paranoid that I’ve skipped most of my classes. I think I’m going to have to retake three out of five in my schedule. It’s better than cheating on Lo and cheating on myself.
Lo barely sleeps. He tosses and turns in the middle of the night, even waking me from my pill-induced slumber. I keep waiting for his withdrawals to lessen, to be easier, but they never are. Sometimes I wonder if he’s going to have to fight this forever. And then I realize, I may have to fight that long too.
I accompany Lo and Ryke to the track field. Mostly because I hate being alone, and Rose has final exams this week. I finished mine yesterday. Well, sort of. I didn’t even come in for my Biology and Managerial Economics class. I’m expecting an F, but at least I have the option of a “redo.” I just may be in college for an extra semester.
I sprawl out on the bleacher and play with a new camera that Rose bought me. I’ve never had a hobby other than sex, but taking mindless pictures has filled a small void. I snap a few as the guys stretch in the grass. Both wear long-sleeved shirts and track pants, and as they laugh and banter, I catch a photo of them smiling at the same time.
They look alike. Both have brown hair, even though Ryke’s is a little darker. Both have brown eyes, even if Lo’s are a bit more amber. Ryke’s tan has started to disappear in the winter, and his skin starts to resemble Lo’s Irish hue. They could be brothers, but Ryke has broader shoulders, a stronger jaw, and thinner lips.
When they start running, Ryke takes off in a quick sprint, and Lo chases after him, catching up within seconds. They race fast and hard, their legs pumping and their sneakers pounding into the black track. Ryke stays two paces ahead of Lo, more trained, but Lo holds his own.
They run as though nothing can stop them. I watch Lo, and I start to see a new future. It’s there, still blurry, but it looks brighter and better.
I just wonder if it still includes me.
Some days aren’t good. Hours before we have to arrive at the hotel for the Christmas Charity Gala, I suspect this will be a very bad one.
Lo slept maybe thirty minutes last night, and he paces around the room until he calls Ryke and talks to him for a couple hours. Nothing seems to calm him, and I think it may be from the conversation he wants to have with his father—the one where he admits that he’s trying to be sober. But I also worry it’s something else.
Before he goes to the kitchen, he snaps at me twice when I bring up college. I asked him what he got in Managerial Econ—which I promptly failed. And he told me to worry about having to retake it in the spring and stop being so nosy. He wouldn’t be so mean if something wasn’t wrong.
Rose applies my makeup at my vanity. I already wear my plum dress with lacy long sleeves. Rose actually bought the velvet sapphire dress, even though she tried on ten more after it. The Gala works in two parts. One, the dinner where we all sit around a round table and are served five courses. Then business-types will go to the podium and thank everyone for their generosity for the night. After which will be the reception where people will drink cocktails and walk around the grand ballroom to chat and socialize.
When I go with Lo, we usually stand by the bar and try to ask the server the most embarrassing questions to see what will happen. It’s obnoxious and probably rude, but it passes the time. This year, I plan on wandering aimlessly. Which doesn’t sound much better.
In prompt Connor Cobalt fashion, we arrive a full hour early. Ryke straightens his tie and nervously looks around the bare room, mostly filled with servers as they adjust red rose center pieces on the tables and finish stringing icicle lights.
“Have you been to an event like this?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he admits. “Not this social circle though.”
Lo fidgets more than usual. He runs a shaky hand through his hair. “I need a drink.” He rubs his eyes and groans.
“You’re okay,” Ryke assures him. “Hey, what’s bugging you?’
“Nothing,” Lo says in annoyance. “I really don’t want to talk right now. No offense, but that hasn’t helped all day. I just have a pounding migraine.”
I reach out for his hand, and his eyes meet mine. Something bad stirs in me. “You want to…?”
“No,” Ryke says to both of us. “No.”
I glare at him. “Not that it’s any of your business—I went a full day without watching porn.” I leave out the part where I spent the entire afternoon in bed with Lo. And we weren’t sleeping.
“Congratulations,” Ryke says dryly. He gives Lo a stone-cold look. “You’re avoiding.”
“I’m helping her.”
“You know you’re not.”
I’m helping him, I want to refute. But Lo has already made his choice. His hand slips down the small of my back and he guides me out of the room and towards the hotel lobby.
He pulls his wallet from his pocket. “One room,” he tells the receptionist. I rock on the balls of my feet. Yes.
* * *
Now that my high has vanished, my whole body feels sore. He took me from behind, much harder than usual, and I liked it. When it happened. I regret the position, his intensity, and giving him the idea to be here in the first place.
“What time is it?” Lo asks, grabbing the clock on the nightstand. “Fuck.” He hurries off the bed, the comforter on the floor, the sheets twisted in odd ways. “Get up, Lil.”
I lie with my head on the pillow, unmovable. Maybe I can disintegrate into the sheets.
Lo leans over the bed and tilts his head so he stares directly at me. “Get. Up.” He tosses my dress at my face.
I hold the fabric and straighten to a sitting position. I try to tug the material over my head, but my sore arms barely allow me the strength.
Lo hops into his pants and then finds his white button-down.
I wish we could stay here, but that would have been old Lily and Lo. We’re improved now. I struggle with the fabric and finally poke my head through the hole of my dress. And then, I see the open mini-fridge. Maybe not that improved.
“Lo…” My voice sounds small.
He pockets a mini-bottle of tequila. Why is he doing this? Everything was fine. Wasn’t it? Except for this morning and this afternoon and now…
“Lo, have you been drinking?”
He doesn’t meet my gaze. “It’s fine. I’m not going to drink at all tomorrow. I just need something—”
“Lo!” I shout, springing from the bed, sans underwear. I struggle to steal the liquor from his pocket, and he clenches my wrists tight.
We wrestle standing up until we fall on the bed. He pins my arms on either side of my body.
“Lo!” I shriek. “You can’t just give up like this!” It’s my fault. Deep in my heart, I know I led him here. It was all me. I burst into tears, adding to the dramatics of the night. And he gently eases off of me.
“Please stop,” he chokes. “Lily…” He lightly kisses my lips, my cheek, my nose, my eye and chin. “Please, it’s okay. I’m okay.”
“I did this,” I cry.
His lips return to mine, and he tries to make me focus on the kiss rather than my pained thoughts. If I was right in my own mind, maybe I would throw him off. Maybe I would tell him to stop. Maybe I’d do something that would benefit both of us instead of continuing our destructive cycle.
His fingers slip into me, and I clutch the sheet and wrap an arm around my eyes that alternate between something good and something bad.
He pushes in, and I let out a sharp gasp at the sudden fullness. His lips find mine again, and he kisses me as he rocks slowly, as though telling me everything is right, everything is okay. He’s here. I’m here.
That’s all we need.
It’s our greatest lie.
* * *
I stand numbly in the elevator as it drops towards the first level and the grand ballroom. We’ve missed the dinner portion of the Gala, and I almost want to ditch the reception and go to the Drake to curl in my bed and wallow. But I’d rather find Rose. I need her.
Lo loops his tie around his neck, staring at the numbers as we descend. Wide space separates us, and so does the emotional sex and his drinking. I couldn’t stop him from downing that little bottle of tequila or pocketing another one. If the alcohol made him at ease, it doesn’t show. His muscles tense, and his neck barely moves, locked straight ahead.
“Where are you going when we get down there?” I ask.
“I need to talk to my father.” His eyes narrow at the glowing numbers.
“Maybe you should find Ryke first.”
“That’s not necessary.”
I swallow hard, and the elevator dings, the doors sliding open. Lo walks briskly towards the ballroom, and I struggle to keep up with his long legs. I skid to a stop by the door, struck by the bright, twinkling chandeliers and busy room with people milling about everywhere. A Christmas tree towers in the center, draped in gold tinsel with apple ornaments. Two screens on either side of the stage remind everyone the benefactors of the event. Hale Co. and Fizzle. I pass a server who carries a tray of pink champagne.
Lo plucks one off, downs it in one gulp, and sets it back. I can’t leave him. Not like this. I weave in between bodies and mutter “excuse me” hundreds of times, trying to tail Lo. He strides towards a certain spot with purpose and determination, ice crystalizing his amber eyes.
“Lo,” I say, grabbing out, but his hand drifts away from me.
I’m afraid to look for Rose or Ryke in the crowds because I may lose sight of Lo. Just by glancing over my shoulder, he gained considerable distance ahead of me. By the time I catch up, he stands in front of his father who wears a tux and a stern expression.
I stay an arm's length away, close enough to hear every word.
“Have you been avoiding me?” Jonathan asks. “You usually stop by on Mondays.”
“I’ve been going through some things.”
Jonathan scrutinizes his son. “You look fine.”
“I’m not fine,” Lo admits. He shakes his head repeatedly, and his eyes grow glassy. “I’m not fine, Dad.”
Jonathan’s eyes flicker to his surroundings, and he says, “This isn’t the place, Loren. We’ll talk later.”
“Something’s wrong with me,” Lo tells him. “Do you hear me? I’m telling you that I’m not okay.”
Jonathan downs the rest of his whiskey and places it on a nearby high-table. After he rubs his lips, he edges closer to his son. My breath hitches, and I stay frozen in place. “Are you trying to embarrass me?”