“Ever heard of a ponytail?” Ryke says to her. His antagonizing is not helping. After New Year’s I realized her “signature trait” brings up insecurities.
“Yeah,” Daisy snaps back, “want me to put your hair in one?”
Cleo shakes her head. “He doesn’t have enough hair for that.” She bites into a strawberry.
“You could always make really tiny ones all over his head,” Harper chimes in.
Ryke keeps his gaze trained on Daisy. “You shouldn’t bitch about something that you can change.”
Daisy’s lips form a tight pout. She pulls the hair band off her wrist and gathers her long locks into three sections, braiding them easily. “Happy?” she snaps back.
“Only if you are,” he says. “It’s not my hair.” He returns to his basketball game where he rightfully should stay. He’s making me paranoid. I do not want my sister to grow attached to him or think that he’s giving her attention for the wrong reasons.
Cleo crosses her ankles, sitting on an ottoman that faces us. Her baby blue bikini washes out her fair skin. “Aren’t you going swimming?” she asks me. “Where’s your bathing suit?”
“I’m going to put it on later.” Though I am not looking forward to swimming with Daisy’s friends. Cleo’s stares have given me a third degree burn. She does not like me. Her hatred could stem from anywhere—like the fact that I’m the only one who brought a guy on the trip, or that I’m four years older—so I try not to waste my time questioning it.
“What about you?” Katy asks, scooting closer to Ryke on the couch. “You swimming with us?” Her long lashes flit over the curvature of his body, the angles of his muscles that cut so supremely. Of course he rock climbs. His muscles scream, “I scale mountains!” Not just “I run a shit ton!” I should have known. Silly me.
“I’m going to finish watching this game first.” His voice tightens, and he sits more rigid than before.
I want to laugh, but I can’t because out of the corner of my eye on another ottoman, I see Harper pulling out a travel-sized vodka bottle, dumping the contents into her virgin daiquiri.
“What are you doing?” My brows pinch. Is she serious? I’m sitting right here. Am I not that threatening? My mother specifically said no alcohol. They all heard her warning before she sent them off in the limo.
“Your boyfriend may be an alcoholic, but I’m not,” Harper tells me with a dry smile.
“Harper, that’s so f**king rude,” Cleo says in this pretentious tone that makes it seem like…well, not that f**king rude.
I can’t take anymore. “I’m going to go put on my bathing suit.” I shoot up from my seat, and Ryke, surprisingly, follows suit.
Daisy mouths an apology as we go inside. I shrug my shoulders to try to tell her that it’s okay, but my nerves still vibrate in not only frustration but severe anxiety. Ryke shuts the sliding glass door behind us.
“Afraid of being alone with them?” I ask.
“I’m more afraid of you being alone by yourself,” he tells me.
Oh. He has zero faith in me. “I’ll be okay. We should get our bathing suits on.”
We head to our bedrooms, and I manage to keep a safe distance from all the male servers. If Lo is hounded about being in rehab for alcoholism, how would people react to rehab for sex addiction? I can’t even imagine. Maybe it’s a good thing that in-treatment facilities turned out to be a bust for me anyway. I wouldn’t want to shame my family with the news—that their daughter or sister is some freak.
I close the door to my bedroom, one of the larger ones with a fancy gold bedspread, a fur throw, and a granite-topped dresser. A Victorian cream chaise rests against the right wall, gold-stitched pillows decorated on the buttoned cushions.
I slip on my simple black bikini and comb my fingers through my short hair before taking a quick peek in the mirror. If I inhale a deep breath, my ribs stick out. I feel low, and to combat this sinking emotion, I’d normally jump on my bed and find p*rn to watch. Masturbate until everything washes into bliss.
Things need to change, I remind myself. So I back away from the bed and stop fiddling with my fingers.
A knock sounds on my door. “You nak*d?” Ryke asks.
He walks in. “You okay?”
I swallow the lump in my throat. I wish Lo was here. He’d make me feel better. Maybe not even with sex. He’d just smile, kiss me, tell me I’m beautiful and say, “Fuck them.” Because at the end of the day, we were the only thing that mattered to each other. All I needed was him.
“I hate people,” I blurt out. Lo and I used to shun the entire world because we were scared of the ridicule. Of how people would perceive us. We created this bubble around ourselves, filling it with lies and misery, until it eventually popped.
“So now you’re generalizing the entire world for three catty girls?” He picks up a sailboat decoration on the dresser, overturning it as he talks. “Four girls, if you want to include your provoking sister.”
“I exaggerate a lot,” I tell him. “And if anyone’s provoking it’s you.”
Ryke lets out a long, dry laugh. “That’s funny considering your boyfriend is ten times worse with his words. If anyone can poke at someone’s soul, it’s him…and probably my father, but that’s another story, isn’t it?” His lips form a pained smile.
“So you don’t hurt people with your words?” I question with raised brows.
“You want to know the difference between Lo and me?” Ryke asks, leaning his elbows on my dresser, nonchalant and assholish all in one swoop.
“You remember the Halloween party? Lo stole liquor from the house, and he barely admitted that he took it. Before you came out there, he spent about five minutes telling them all the ways in which they were complete f**king morons. It wasn’t even close to being funny, especially not when he told Matt that guys like him are worth nothing in life. That they’ll take shit and eat it until they f**king die. It was cold and cruel.”
My chest hurts because I believe every word Ryke is telling me. I’ve heard Lo tear down people in prep school until they cried, not because it made him feel better but because they hurt him first and it was his greatest weapon of defense.
“He walks away sometimes,” I say in a small voice. “He’s not always like that.” I defend him because he’s not here to speak for himself. And what I said is partly the truth too. Lo knows when to walk away. Like the first time we were at The Blue Room. If someone’s harassing him back, he won’t stand there and take it for long. He’s too used to verbal abuse, and I think he’d rather not be weakened and drained by it. He’d rather just get out of the f**king way.
“Okay,” Ryke says, “but in the context of the Halloween party, he didn’t.”
“And what would you have done, Ryke? Not stolen the liquor? Not started the fight? Congratulations.” Rehashing the past puts a bitter taste in my mouth. We can’t change that event. Talking about it rubs my skin raw.
“I would have punched him,” Ryke says easily. “I would have decked the little shit in the face. That’s the f**king difference.” He straightens up, and my jaw slowly unhinges, not expecting that.
“You don’t seem like a fighter.”
“I don’t?” Ryke says, his eyes pulsing with something fierce. “If someone is giving me shit, I’m not going to stand there and take it. Maybe Lo was defenseless all his life, but I wasn’t.”
“And then what? It would have been four to one at that party. You would have gotten your ass handed to you.”
“I never said it would be the right thing.” He shrugs. “It’s just a different kind of wrong.”
His wrong. And Lo’s wrong. Neither are better or worse, I realize. Their dissimilar upbringings make them react to situations in opposite ways. That’s what he’s telling me.
It also makes me incredibly sad. Because he basically admitted to being as damaged as his brother. I picture his fist flying into Matt’s face before awful words are spewed, impulsive and brash.
Only it’s a different kind of damaged.
Just as he said.
* * *
I float on a yellow inner tube in the crystal blue ocean. The girls, Daisy, and even Ryke rest on their own brightly-colored tubes, each round floating device tied together by a rope so we don’t drift from the boat or each other. I catch Harper swigging from another mini-bottle of liquor she smuggled on the boat.
Dear God, please don’t let one of my little sister’s friends drown to the bottom of the ocean because they’re so f**king intoxicated. Thanks.
The first five minutes were actually fun. I took a nap and listened to music playing from the boat’s speakers, and my feet skimmed the cool water.
However, five minutes later, and the girls become so damn restless that their shouts and high-pitched voices scar my eardrums and wake me up.
“Oh my God! Something touched me. Was that a shark?!” Katy screams in fright. She latches onto Ryke’s tube, and he nearly topples into the water. Her palm plants on his bare abs to catch herself, but clearly, her grabby hands are no accident. She has been eying his chiseled muscles since he strutted off the deck like he built it with his bare freakin’ hands. It’s mildly infuriating…and also scarily accurate.
“Relax,” Daisy tells her. “It was probably just a fish.”
Ryke tries to disengage from her, but she clutches to his bicep now, her panicked eyes darting from him to the water, two seconds away from shrieking, “Save me!”
He carefully pries her fingers off his arm. “I think you’ll survive.”
“Oh…yeah. Right.” She raises her chin and situates back on her pink tube.
Ryke unhooks his green inner tube from the pack and paddles with one hand to my lonely rope on the end. He clicks it in and rests his wayfarers back over his eyes.
“Smooth,” I whisper to him.
“That’s how it’s done,” he agrees.
I roll my eyes and sink back into my tube, my butt skimming the water underneath. Ready for nap number two. Naps are great. When I’m asleep, I barely have the urge to jump from the water, go to my room, and perform some self-love acts.
“Seriously, is that even possible?” I hear a girl ask curiously. Now I’m curious.
I listen closely.
“I swear on my life it was four fingers,” Katy says. “I was really sore afterwards.” Whaaat?
I glance quickly at Ryke, but with his sunglasses on, I can’t tell if he’s hearing what I am. Fingers. Sore. This is sexual. I know it’s not just my perverted mind.
“How could he do that though? I mean, how would they fit?”
“They wouldn’t,” another girl adds. “I definitely don’t believe you.”
Daisy stays quiet in the middle of the pack, kicking the calm ocean with her feet.