“No,” he says. “You’re not allowed to f**king talk to her for the rest of the show.”
Ahead of them, Daisy glances over her shoulder, and her lips lift in appreciation. Scott must be annoying her as much as he is the rest of us.
“I can do what I want,” Scott says, lowering his voice so others can’t hear. “I own you and her. And these three behind me. Don’t ever forget that.”
I don’t restrain Ryke. Neither does Lo. But surprisingly, he restrains himself, pocketing his fists in his jeans. He passes Scott, shoving him hard, shoulder-to-shoulder, before reaching Daisy’s side and leading her out.
Scott stumbles back, but I’m more concentrated on what happens as soon as the tinted restaurant doors open. The blinding flashes of cameras are as bad as a flickering black-light in a club. And the shouts of the paparazzi, screaming questions for us to answer, blare into Valentino’s candle-lit, serene atmosphere.
Lily shrinks into Lo’s chest. “I wish my invisibility superpower would kick in,” she mutters to him.
“Don’t ever wish that,” he says and kisses her cheek. “Then I wouldn’t be able to see you.”
“Yeah, I’m still f**king praying for that one.” He squeezes her shoulder.
Rose and I watch them closely, waiting for them to safely exit the restaurant and grow the strength to move forward. Scott has already followed Ryke and Daisy outside.
I study Rose for a second. Her neck is rigid, her shoulders locked back, and she looks ready to enter a fiery ring of hell. But she’s not breathing.
“Tout va bien se passer,” I whisper. Everything will be fine.
“Comment sais-tu ?” How do you know?
“Because I’m here,” I say with all of my confidence, willing it in my voice, my posture, my being.
Her lips rise, but she doesn’t mention how arrogant I am today. Her hand drops to mine, and she holds it tightly. And we watch as Lo finally encourages Lily to take her first steps outside.
[ 23 ]
One hour. That’s how long I slept. My mother called me in to file paperwork at midnight. It wasn’t a job a CEO would ever have to do, but she likes to test my tenacity—how badly I want the position.
Well, I want it badly enough that I need a second prescription of Adderall. How’s that?
I took a nap on the couch, but I had to get up to finish a research project, so here I am. Sipping my sixth cup of coffee and submitting a paper via email. My phone buzzes on the kitchen counter as I refill the coffee pot for Rose.
I glance at the screen and read the caller’s name: FREDERICK. I collect the phone, making my way onto the back patio before I answer it. “I’m heading to your office in fifteen minutes,” I tell him, resting an elbow on the edge of the large hot tub. My breath smokes the chilly air.
I hear the click click of a camera, and I spot paparazzi on the street, their arms and lenses sticking out of car windows. I don’t spin around, not caring whether they have a photo of me or not.
“That’s why I’m calling,” Frederick says. “You’re not seeing me anymore.”
I know this is about the Adderall. I texted him last night to sign-off on a refill of my prescription. He never replied back.
I take a long sip of my coffee, ignoring his comment and the firmness in his voice.
“Did you hear me?”
“I heard you try to predict the future. You failed by the way.”
“That prescription was supposed to last you six months, Connor. You weren’t supposed to take those pills every day. And I don’t want you coming to sessions anymore, not when you can use that time to sleep.”
“I sleep just fine.”
“Then you’ll be fine if I don’t sign-off on your refill.” He’s not bluffing, and my silence prods him to continue. “Get some sleep. I don’t want to talk or see you until you’re in a healthy routine.”
“You would desert your patient just like that?” I say calmly. I have to sit down on the steps of the hot tub, the rejection like a slap to the face, even if I don’t show it in my voice, even if Frederick’s actions come from a place of sympathy. It hurts that he’d be so quick to dismiss me when he’s been my counsel for twelve years.
“If I believe it’s in your best interest, yes, I would.”
“What’s in my best interest,” I say, “is to talk to my therapist, not to sleep my day away.”
“We can talk in three weeks when you’re back on your feet.”
“I’m always on my feet.” I glance at my position right now. I am literally and figuratively sitting down. Wonderful.
“Connor,” he says, drawing out my name so I listen closely, “you’re not inhuman. You don’t need me to remind you of what you’re feeling. It’s there inside your head.”
I rub my dry, scratchy eyes as I process his words. After a couple seconds, I say, “You’re not expendable to me, Frederick. You’re necessary to my life.”
“I know. This is only temporary.”
“Okay,” I give in. I lose this fight. Only with Frederick do I concede so easily. I trust his advice more than I do my own at times. That’s the highest praise you can get from me, by the way. “I’ll sleep and see you in three weeks.” No more Adderall. I already know that Wharton is going to be the first to suffer from this choice. And yet, I don’t care as much as I would have months ago. My priorities keep shifting. “I have a lot to talk about,” I add.
“Rose. Sex.” I only say this as bait. I have no real desire to share the details of my sex life with anyone but Rose, but maybe it’ll entice him, to change his mind about today.
“Not yet. But she’s comfortable enough to do it. We just haven’t found the time.” I can almost feel Frederick smiling over the phone. My sex life is the most intriguing topic we discuss, especially since my beliefs would be considered sideways from society’s norms.
For me sexuality is about attraction.
Whether it’s men, women—it doesn’t really matter. The human race is filled with passion and lust. And to coin terms like heterosexuality, homosexuality or even bisexuality makes no sense to me. You are human. You love who you love. You f**k who you fuck. That should be enough—no labels. No stigmas. Nothing. Just be to be. But life isn’t that kind. People will always find things to hate.
“I look forward to it,” Frederick says, “in three weeks.”
“Right.” We both say our goodbyes before we hang up. I return to the house and place my empty coffee cup in the dishwasher, trying not to feel weird by Frederick’s dismissal. I’m going to take his advice and sleep. But I don’t want to wake Rose by crawling into bed, so I head downstairs to sleep on the lower level—the room that Daisy used to share with a few rats. It’s clean now, but we’ve been using it for storage.
As I climb down the stairs and walk along the short, narrow hallway, something bangs against the wall. I face the door and listen closely before I enter, focusing on the sounds. Maybe…groaning and grunting.
The noises grow louder, and I distinguish an unfamiliar male voice from the heavy panting.
“Ahhh…yeah…baby, right there. Good girl.”
I feel justified in opening the door because whoever’s hav**g s*x shouldn’t be hav**g s*x down here. So I turn the knob, but it clicks. Locked.
I hear some muffled cursing from the guy. “Someone’s trying to come in,” he says.
I don’t want to jump to irrational conclusions. Like it’s Rose on the other side. There’s no reason it would be her. Logic says it’s not. But I begin to stupidly imagine Rose on her knees with some other f**king guy.
I pound my fist against the wood. “Open up.” A lump lodges in my throat at this unnatural, senseless fear. She’s not in there, Connor.
The door swings open within seconds of my request, and I stare down at Daisy. I try to shelve whatever sudden concern I have and look at the situation a little more analytically.
She just barely cracks the door, and she blocks the inside of the room with her body, consequently hiding her boyfriend (I hope) from view.
I study her form. She’s fully dressed in sweat pants and a tank top. Not flushed. Not sweaty. Not glowing or happy. But she doesn’t look pissed either. Just disappointed. Unsatisfied. And maybe even a little glad that I interrupted.
“What do you need?” She gives me a congenial smile, and it’s rather convincing. If I wasn’t so brilliant at reading people, I’d think she was having the best day of her life.
“Who’s your friend?” I ask, choosing to be direct.
“Oh…you heard him…” She taps her fingers against the door frame and cranes her head over her shoulder. “I told you, you were being loud.”
“That happens when a girl gives good—”
“Breakfast,” Daisy says, her smile brightening. “I think I should make breakfast for everyone.”
“Do that,” I tell her, “and I’ll talk to your friend while you cook.”
She waves me off casually. “There’s no need for that. You’ll see him in the Alps.” She clears her throat. “Production is making him go on the trip.” She rocks on her heels nervously, her only giveaway right now.
So this is her new boyfriend. “And you don’t want him to come?”
She shrugs. “I’m happy that we’re going to get away from the paparazzi for a week, but I’m not too excited at the idea of Lo and Ryke giving him the third degree.”
“He should start with me then, ease him in,” I say, manipulating her a little. But it’s for a good cause. “I just want to have a civil conversation.”
“Sure. That sounds good.” But I see the worry behind the façade she’s created. Daisy has a talent at hiding her true feelings, something I’m an expert in.
Before she leaves, she turns around in the hall and talks while she walks backwards. “Could you…maybe do me a solid and not mention to Rose that Julian was making those noises?”
Rose knows Daisy is sexually active. She’s also a proponent for women exploring their sexuality, even if she’s been too timid to explore her own. Based on the lack of sweat and flush, I assume Daisy wasn’t hav**g s*x.
“Rose won’t care,” I end up saying. But Daisy knows this, so what’s the real problem?
Daisy clasps her hands together. “Right. Good.” She jabs her thumb towards the stairs. “Breakfast then.” She disappears, leaving a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Something’s not right about Julian.
I push open the bedroom door to find a tanned guy with tousled brown hair and an unshaven face. Most likely Italian.
My first reaction: He’s definitely a model. I can tell by his striking features alone, and I’m sure he’s someone she met at work. And then the minute he stands in front of the mirror and combs his fingers through his hair to style it, I see the real problem.
This guy isn’t a teenager. Not even close.
“Hey, man,” he nods at me. “You wouldn’t be her brother, would you?” He grimaces, already expecting harsh words. He doesn’t even know that she only has sisters.
“So you’re Daisy’s new boyfriend?” I ask, intentionally not answering his previous question.
He shifts uncomfortably on his heels. “Kiiind of…”
“Well the term boyfriend doesn’t have more than one implication.” I lean my shoulder against the door frame. “You’re either dating or you aren’t.”
He narrows his eyes like he’s confused.
“Well, we’re not f**king at all. She’s underage.” He grabs his coat off the chair. “What do you call that?”
“You can still be convicted of sodomy for a bl*w j*b,” I refute. “So I call it f**king.”
His face goes pale. “Look, I’m a model. I’ve known Daisy for almost a year. We’re just good friends.”
“You’re about…twenty-two?” I ask.
Fuck. Ryke is twenty-three. He’s going to kill him.
I shake my head.
Daisy is confused. I read it across her face almost every time I see her. She has a career and has been treated like an adult from the fashion industry, from agents, photographers and models like Julian, since she was fourteen. But there are people, like Lo and Lily, who see her as a little sister. Who treat her like she’s sixteen going on seventeen and not her maturity level.
Age is a number that doesn’t reflect circumstance, environment or psychology. Age matters very little to me when some thirty-year-olds act like children and some teenagers take on the responsibility of households.