I don’t think either of them won.
Poppy slides over to her and squeezes her shoulder. “She probably invited Sebastian to be your date.” Before there was a “Connor and Rose,” my sister took Sebastian as her arm candy to appease our mother.
Rose shakes her head and begins smoothing her hair back into place. “No, Sebastian went on a trip to the Cayman Islands with this boyfriend this week. She knew that.”
I can’t even imagine who she set Rose up with, probably someone she’d hope Rose would marry down the line. That’s how Samantha Calloway operates.
Jitters run through my body on high speed. Rose, my rock, has eyes as wide as a Kit-Cat clock. It’s like my mother has zapped her cold. When she wakes from her stupor, she reaches into the ice bucket and pulls out the expensive champagne. She chugs straight from the bottle. I jerk back in surprise. Considering Rose usually wipes the rim of her soda cans, I think it’s safe to say she’s upset.
Daisy remains oblivious outside, her long hair whipping behind her. I guess we all handle our mother in different ways. Rose yells. Daisy finds fresh air. I sink into a corner. Poppy remains calm.
Rose offers the drink to Poppy. She declines. “I’m safe from her. I have a husband.” Yeah, our mother has lost interest in Poppy’s relationships.
“She should know who I am by now,” Rose mutters. “I tell her all the time, you know? I’m never getting married, Mother. And it goes in one ear and out the other. I thought dating Connor would make things better. My first actual boyfriend. She’d be off my case. Instead, she’s whispering in my ear about what to say to him, how I should be, worrying over whether he’ll end things before I do.” Rose curses under her breath and stares up at the ceiling of the car. “How can you love your parents so much, but then absolutely hate them the next?” She inhales a deep breath. “I need to go back to therapy.”
I break into a smile, trying to lighten her downtrodden mood. “You know Connor goes to therapy compulsively too? I asked him where he was going last week, and he said to his daily therapist for just a regular session to let off some steam. Funny that you two have that in common, huh?”
Rose glares. “His therapist is also his ‘best friend.’ So no, we do not have that in common. I actually have people close to me that I love. Like you and Poppy and Daisy…” Her eyes trail up to the torso that stands in the center of the car. “Does she realize we’re on a highway?”
“I think she prefers it that way.” My eyes widen in mock horror. “The danger!” I mimic Daisy’s voice.
Rose and Poppy laugh, although Rose’s dies out rather quickly. She rubs her eyes and groans.
Normally, I’d be excited right now, wondering what face will greet me once we arrive at the event. But I’ve been trying to forget what it feels like to cli**x, the tingling of my body—the sensation of masculine, hard hands sliding along my skin. And I’m afraid once I see a guy, willing and wanting, I’ll take the opportunity and jump. Without thinking. Without breathing. I’ll just do it and ruin the one good thing in my life.
Rose lets out another long groan.
I have to ask. “What happened with Connor?”
“I thought everything was fine,” Poppy says.
Rose wedges the bottle between her bony knees. “When I’m with him, I roll my eyes so much I feel like they’re going to fall out of my face.” She talks with her hands—so unlike Rose, that I scoot forward on my seat to be closer to her. Rose gestures to her body, trying to express herself, but she looks like she’s swatting the air instead.
I reach out and hold her hand. Rose calms a little. “I can’t believe she’s doing this after I asked her not to.”
“It’ll be okay,” I say, but the words coming from me only worsen the look on her face.
“Did Connor want to break up?” Poppy wonders.
“I don’t know. When we fight, we both talk about it all the time…”
I interject. “Yeah, but you two break up in strange ways. Last month, I heard Connor say something like, ‘Sadie never disagrees with me.’ And you said, ‘If you want a doormat for a girlfriend, then your cat is perfect. Have a happy life together.’ Then you slammed the door to your bedroom, and he stormed out of the house, smiling.”
It was all really weird, and Rose ended up walking back into his arms the next day, not admitting defeat exactly, but I think Connor would count it as a success.
“Is this time different?” Poppy wonders.
Rose blinks in confusion, wracking her brain. “I don’t know. I guess not. He told me that I was being inane about something. I can’t even remember what, but we both split at the restaurant. We rode in separate cabs home, and we haven’t talked since.” Realization hits her, and she collapses back against the seat. “God, what am I doing? I feel like I’m in prep school when I’m with him sometimes. It drives me crazy.”
I open my mouth, so tempted to sing the Britney Spears song again.
Rose shoots me a look. “Don’t. You. Dare.”
I laugh instead, and it takes a long moment for Rose to join in. She puts the bottle to her lips, swigging one last time just as the limo rolls to a stop.
Here we go.
Assigned seating. I curse you.
Fifty tables fill the grand ballroom, and my mother wedged us near the front under the brightest lamp. Not only do we have to endure our dates, but we have to do so under the scalding heat of a spotlight. While we wait for the guys to find us, I play with the glittery napkin ring on my plate and try not to anxiously scratch my arms.
My mother’s party planner had too much fun with the black and gold decorations. A black sparkler centerpiece fits in the center of every gold clothed table. Photos of gold Fizz cans with black carbonation bubbles are framed along the walls. Diet Fizz is the reverse color scheme with black cans and gold bubbles.
At least Fizzle’s logo isn’t lime green and puke pink—two colors that would induce an instant migraine. Still, you think she could have branched out a little bit. Maybe added a splash of blue or red. But no, those are Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s colors. No Fizzle-loving person would dare touch them.
I’m going stir-crazy waiting for our dates, but at least Rose and Daisy sit next to me, not allowing any room for a guy to settle near me. I also choose not to glance around for them like Rose, who scans the floor trying to speculate who the hell our mother invited to be our arm candy. Anyway, too many people mill about the ballroom for me to play that guessing game. They congregate by the open bar or eat fancy hors d'oeuvres as servers pass.
I feel like I’m at a million-dollar wedding reception.
Daisy leans back on the legs of her chair and folds her cloth napkin into a flower, clearly bored. “How convenient that Maria suddenly came down with a stomach bug.” Poppy never even made it out of the limo. The nanny called her as soon as Maria threw up, and she turned around to take her to the doctor. “I need to have a baby so I can use it as a way to bail.”
Rose clenches a champagne glass firmly in her hand. Her eyes shoot to our youngest sister. “Let’s not talk about children.”
“Yeah,” I say with a small smile. “The word baby gives Rose hives.”
Rose sips her drink, not disagreeing.
And that’s when I feel a hand plant on my shoulder. And by the force and the size, I know it’s male.
“Lily Calloway,” he says with added pleasure. I know that voice. I just can’t place it. I rarely can.
I slowly crane my neck over my shoulder, and my eyes widen in horror. I recognize the All-American build, blue eyes, and swept back brown hair. Even outside of prep school, he looks like a star quarterback—even if his sport of choice was lacrosse.
I didn’t sleep with Aaron Wells. I didn’t touch a hair on his head, and I never would. Because this douchebag tried to stuff Lo into a locker in ninth grade. Lo spun out of his grasp and sprinted down the hall, away from Aaron and a pack of restless bullies. Aaron wasn’t fast enough to catch him.
Lo fights indirectly with people. So I knew he wouldn’t retaliate with a baseball bat, swinging at Aaron’s head in angry retribution. There are some things that hurt worse than a punch. I think his father taught him that. Lo paid a guy to break into the school and alter Aaron’s exam grades, and his GPA fell. For guys like Aaron, reputation is everything and being on the bottom of the graduating class can ruin status. He must have realized Lo was the cause, so one day after school Aaron tried to confront him with fists bared. He clocked him. Lo escaped. As he always did. Four years passed and their feud escalated.
I became a target.
Aaron would try to trap me in the bathrooms, and I vehemently dodged him. I stayed glued to Lo’s side during every hour of the day. In those couple months, I remember being really scared to go to school. I didn’t know what Aaron wanted to do to me, but since their rivalry already became physical, I didn’t necessarily want to find out. I remember skipping often and fearing moments in between class. I’d jump even when it was just Lo who approached, and when he could tell I was becoming psychologically f**ked from Aaron’s threats, he decided to do something more drastic to protect me.
He threatened Aaron’s future. Not just a little drop in his GPA. He would contact the colleges that planned to scout Aaron and pay them off so they’d reject him on the spot.
And it happened. Aaron’s dream university denied his application because Lo reached them first. And with the Hale name and a hefty donation, they couldn’t refuse Lo’s offer.
So Aaron shut up. He got accepted to his safety school, and he left us alone.
I don’t greet him. I turn back to give him the biggest coldshoulder. I don’t care if I’m rude. Because if my suspicions are correct, he’s only here to make my life hell.
“Not going to say hi?” Aaron wonders. I watch him circle the table and sit across from me. He actually takes the centerpiece and puts it on the floor so I have a direct view of his smarmy face.
I hear Rose beside me. “How old are you?”
I glance at her, and nearly laugh at her date. He’s a twig, and his suit is two sizes too big.
“Nineteen,” he tells her, fixing his bowtie, but he makes it even more lopsided.
Rose raises her glass with a bitter smile. “Wonderful.” My mother set her up with a guy three years younger than her.
He takes the open seat to her left. “My father is your father’s lawyer.” He scratches the back of his longish brown hair, his skin a golden tan, probably half-Italian. “I’m Matthew Collins.”
“Nice to meet you, Matthew,” Rose says, motioning for the server to bring her another glass of champagne.
Daisy’s date sits to her right. I don’t catch his name, but he’s too distracted by his phone to even acknowledge my sister. She doesn’t look like she cares either, refolding her napkin into a rose.
The food starts parading around the room, sea bass and winter squash making rounds on each circular table.