We wait for Ryke to check the rat traps that we set.
“You look like shit,” Loren so eloquently tells me.
He’s right. Dark circles shadow my eyes, and if it wasn’t for the wall supporting my body weight, I’d be on the ground. I’m fueled by two hours of sleep. Being Saturday, I planned to catch up this morning, but I received an impromptu text from my mother. I had to take Cobalt Inc.’s senior advertising team to breakfast and talk about product placement.
I suppose I could take a nap now, but I sip my coffee instead. I’d rather not miss this.
Watching Ryke inch around a cobwebbed space in search of a dead rat. I smile. Fuck sleep. It’s the little things in life that matter most.
“I’m a grad student trying to take over a multi-billion dollar company,” I say to Lo. “If I didn’t look like shit I’d be on drugs.”
I hear Ryke bang his head against a pipe. “Fuck me,” he curses.
“Fornicating with the rats already?” I ask, cupping the warm mug.
“Fuck you, Cobalt,” he says with a grunt as he moves slowly. “The shortest one of us should have crawled through here.”
Lo immediately takes offense. “If I knew you were going to bitch, I would have done it myself, and I’m only one inch shorter than you, bro.”
Ryke hits his head again and lets out a frustrated growl. “I’m still six f**king three.”
Lo rests his forearms on his thighs as he squats and watches his brother through the door. “Besides being a giant, what’s taking you so long? You set the trap. You should know where it is.”
“It must have carried the trap with it.”
“Just use your nose,” I suggest. “Dogs have the best sense of smell.”
Lo laughs while I casually take another sip from my coffee.
“Fuck off,” Ryke curses, which sounds really less threatening through the wall.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. I take it out and read the text quickly.
Have you given *the* talk to Loren yet? – Rose
I’m not surprised Rose has reverted back to fixating on Lily and Loren’s problems. She likes caring for her sisters, but I think focusing on Lily and Lo distracts her from dealing with her own issues.
I text back: I’ll do it right now.
One less problem that she obsesses over, one less stress in her life. I pocket my phone, and as I turn to Lo, I frame Rose’s question as my own. “Is Lily having more sex than usual?”
Rose doesn’t know this, but Lo is surprisingly forthcoming about sex with Lily. He’s motivated by the fear of enabling her again, and it helps that he trusts my sage advice.
“She’s not having it, but she wants it.” He stands up, the trash bag still in hand. “This whole f**king reality show puts her on edge. And she medicates her anxiety with sex, which means I’m not getting laid for the next week, and she only gets my fingers.” He looks at the camera attached to the corner of the ceiling and wall, and he waves his fingers at the lens. Then he winks.
And that is why this show is going to be popular. The unfiltered narrative is exactly what makes good television.
“So you’re not hav**g s*x?” I say, not adding any disbelief to my tone, even though it rings in my head. They’re almost always f**king at night and in the morning. It’s easy enough to hear through the walls.
Loren rubs the back of his neck, probably trying to decide if he’s going to lie or not. When he drops his hand, he says, “No, I mean…” He takes a breath, and I wait it out patiently. “We f**ked the other day. She was a little compulsive afterwards, so I want her to abstain for three or four days and see how she does with that.”
“And you used condoms?” I ask.
He goes quiet for a second and then bangs on the wall with his fist. “Ryke, hurry the f**k up.”
“Lo,” I say.
He turns on me with heated eyes. “This conversation is over.”
“I’m trying to imagine what Lily will look like pregnant,” I say casually. “Would her entire body swell or just her belly?”
“At least I’m getting laid,” Lo refutes, pure malice edged in his voice. “How long have you been f**king your hand?”
He clenches his jaw after he says the words, holding back a grimace. Lo has a way of cutting people up with words, and he’s improved from the first time I met him. He was a drunk a**hole. Plain and simple. Now he’s a sober a**hole who regrets when his filter doesn’t work properly.
Lucky for him, I’m difficult to piss off.
“My hand and I go way back,” I say nonchalantly and even produce a smile.
He seems to relax when he knows he hasn’t pushed me away.
“I’m not your brother.” I motion towards the crawl space where Ryke has effectively disappeared. “I’m not going to curse you out for doing something stupid. But I am dating your girlfriend’s older sister, so my own balls are on the line here.”
He nods like he understands. “The repercussions of getting into bed with a she-devil.”
“And I f**king like her,” I refute, “so make my life easier and use a condom.”
I don’t tell him that he’s not ready to be a father, that the idea (for anyone) of Lily becoming pregnant is frightening. I don’t tell him that alcoholism is hereditary or that he’s too busy to raise a kid right now. He knows all of this. He’s heard it a thousand times from Rose and his own brother.
What Rose and Ryke don’t understand is that if you say something over and over again, you can become desensitized to it. Andy Warhol used the theory in his painting of the electric chair. He repeated the image until you could no longer see it as something heinous.
It lost its meaning.
I don’t repeat what’s already been said. I want my words to mean something.
So I gave him my selfish reason.
I’m the asshat who only cares about himself.
I am what he needs me to be.
He stares at the ground for a long moment, processing. “I’ll be better about it,” he mutters under his breath.
Noise from the crawl space ends our conversation. Ryke must knock into three pipes at once. He coughs and says, “There’s so much f**king mold down here. No one should be f**king living on this floor until we hire someone to clean it.”
Lo bends down to the door again. “If this is your way of getting Daisy to room with you, you can forget it. I’m just barely tolerating your friendship.”
“Are you f**king kidding me?” Ryke retorts. “There were rats in her room, she’s living near mold, and your first assumption is that I want to f**k her?”
Loren’s eyes narrow. “I didn’t say anything about f**king her.”
Daisy is a sore subject between them, clearly. Since Ryke and Loren have a new relationship—just meeting a year and a half ago—there’s tension involving the Calloway girls. Loren grew up with them. Ryke did not. Naturally, Lo would be protective of Daisy, but the problem I have is that he’s constantly consumed by Lily, always taking care of her, that he has no room to do so for another girl, not even one he sees as a little sister.
So while Lo believes he’s protecting Daisy from his half-brother, he’s really creating a barrier between Daisy and the only person here who’ll look out for her first rather than last.
And yet, I can’t say a word about it. I have to let these things play naturally. My interference won’t do any good. My words wouldn’t resonate with Lo the way I’d want them to. So I stay silent on the matter.
“I’ll f**king room with Scott,” Ryke says, speaking loudly so we can hear him from the hallway. “Daisy can take my room. Or I’ll stay down here and switch with her. I don’t give a shit. None of the girls should be around this.”
“And what if she hears Lily and me f**king through the walls? There’s a reason she’s on the lowest level.”
Ryke says nothing, but I can practically feel him fume from far away. Lo looks over his shoulder at me, asking with hard eyes whether he’s right or wrong.
“You can’t censor a girl who’s nearly seventeen, especially not a high fashion model,” I tell him, my words not harsh like his or rough like his brother’s. I’m one-hundred percent even-tempered, calm. At ease. It gets him off the defensive. “She’s heard and seen everything you have, if not more. I’ll call someone to look at the crawl space, but until it happens, Rose would want her sister somewhere clean.”
After a minute digesting my words, Lo sighs and lets go of the argument. “Ryke, you’ll room with Scott?”
“I said I would.”
“Fine. More eyes on that prick, the better, right?”
Ryke says something in affirmation, but I can’t quite hear. He thumps around too much. “Fucking A,” he curses, his voice much louder. He tries to pull his body out of the tiny space.
Lo grabs Ryke underneath his arm as he squeezes through the door.
When he’s on his feet, he holds up the trap with the dead rat, the tail mangled like it dragged the weight from its backend.
“Have we found you a new profession?” I ask, my lips rising.
“At least I can get my hands dirty, princess.” He waves the trap (and dangling rat) at my face.
I don’t even flinch.
Ryke rolls his eyes and goes to toss it into the garbage bag.
“Wait,” Lo calls. “Maybe we can do something with this thing.”
“No,” Ryke and I say together. I contain my grimace. Even though Ryke may be one of the smarter people living in the apartment, I don’t enjoy agreeing with him. It’s like siding with a guard dog instead of a human.
“You didn’t even let me finish,” Loren says angrily.
“You want to use it against Scott,” I reply.
“He’s the f**king producer,” Ryke reminds him. “You start a war with Scott and he could turn you into a psycho on the show. Just f**king relax.”
“He made Lily bawl!” Lo yells. “I’m not going to sit here for six months and ignore all the shit he says. This is different than social media and gossip blogs. We’re living with this bastard.”
Footsteps sound on the staircase, and all of us go suspiciously quiet. When the body rounds the corner, Brett emerges, breathing heavily with the steadicam attached to his chest, and he only sprinted down one flight of stairs.
“Scott wants…you all in the living room…for the lap dance,” he pants.
Scott Van Wright is dictating everything. When. How. Where.
I f**king hate him.
Lo looks to me, waiting for me to nod in approval of his methods to f**k with Scott.
I may hate Scott, but I’m not to that point yet. I won’t do something malicious or cruel that’ll have him checking into a psychiatric hospital, mentally torn to shreds.
I fight my battles much differently than Loren Hale. And while it may not be as quick or effective—I have to trust that I have the power to keep my friends from falling tragically apart.
[ 9 ]
When we climb up the stairs to the main level, I find Rose and Daisy talking in hushed tones near the fireplace mantel. Daisy shifts her body to block the camera, sidestepping every single time Ben tries to get a shot of Rose.
I rub my lips as I study my girlfriend. She holds in a breath, her neck stiff as she listens to her sister.
And she actually wears pants, dressed in a Calloway Couture black sweater and a different brand’s skinny jeans. She’s afraid of flashing the cameras, and she’s expressed, more than once, that the only dances she knows are from cotillion. The waltz and foxtrot.
Grinding is out of her repertoire.
Lily suddenly appears and slams her fist into Lo’s shoulder.
He mock cringes. “Ow, what the hell was that for?”
“For making this stupid bet,” Lily hisses, lowering her voice as Brett zooms in on her, a boom mic attached to his steadicam. But it doesn’t matter if he captures her words or not. We’re all wearing microphones that’ll pick up her voice. And the house is littered with sound equipment.
Scott sits on the leather couch. His eyes meet mine, and he plasters on a smug smile.
I hide everything in my features—especially the anger that threatens to surface.
“What is Daisy doing?” Ryke asks.
Lily holds onto Loren’s hand. “Giving Rose advice.”
Ryke’s brows furrow. “You’re the f**king sex addict. Shouldn’t you be giving the advice?”
“Hey,” Lo warns with a glare.
He extends his arms. “It’s an honest question.”
“It’s also rude.”
“I’ll ask nicely then.” He looks back at Lily. “You’re clearly more experienced than your little sister. So why the f**k aren’t you instructing Rose?”
Lo shakes his head. “Pathetic.”