“I’m sorry,” I choke. I rub my tears before they fall. “You don’t have to…” be with me. I am a monster.
“I love you,” he says. “We’re going to work on this together.” Translation: I’m not going anywhere.
“I want to do it again,” I admit in a small voice.
“I know.” He rubs his lips in thought.
“So…then can we do it together again…tonight?” He’s just mad I did it without him, surely.
“We’re done for today,” he says, each word like a mountain he has to climb.
“But I only came twice.” Fear pushes into my chest, making it difficult to breathe.
“And I was only going to let you come once,” he says. “I tried to exhaust you with foreplay, but it’s hard. I should have made you wait longer, and you should have listened to me afterwards. We’re going to get better at it though, but it’ll take time and practice.”
So that’s it for me. I’m not allowed to have any kind of self-love, and Lo is done for the night. I don’t want to do something moronic when he leaves. Don’t think about it, Lily. I let out a deep breath, but it barely calms me.
“Talk to me,” Lo says urgently. He rests his forearms on his bent knees. “What are you thinking, Lil?”
“I’m scared,” I mutter. “…I’m so terrified of what I may do.” I feel hot, searing tears scald tracks down my cheeks.
“I know it’s difficult. I can’t imagine someone giving me one beer and forcing me to stop there. I get it, Lil. I so f**king get it,” he says. “But you have to find the strength to wait. I know it’s there. You just have to dig.”
I let his words sink in for a full minute. A pain weighs on my chest, and it explodes with my next proclamation. “I wish you were here.” My chin quivers, and my voice gives out. I press my forehead to my knees, hiding my shattered expression.
“I am there, love,” he murmurs. “I’m right there with you.” I hear the hurt in his voice. He tries to relax as much as possible, but it’s as though I’m gripping his heart as much as he’s clenching mine. “You’re in my arms,” he tells me, “and I’m kissing your lips, your cheek, your nose…” I shut my eyes and drift to his voice that begins to settle my torment. “Your head leans against my chest, and you listen to the beat of my heart as it slows. I hold your wrists, allowing you to gently come down from your high on my terms. You collapse against me.”
I look up to meet his gaze. It’s filled with hope, with longing and something more. Something that I think can only be shared between two broken people.
“And you stop struggling,” he whispers. “I watch your body relax against me, and then I kiss you on the top of your head. I tell you how proud I am of you, and how making you come once lasts a lifetime.”
My last tear falls. I can’t move to wipe it. I am transfixed by Loren Hale, my everything.
“I love you,” he says again, “and no other man will ever say those words and mean them the way I do.”
My chest hurts so badly. His words are beautiful and painful at the same time. Like us, I suppose. I have to be strong. For him. For me. For us. My throat has swollen, but I find the resolve to reply. “I’m going to spend the rest of the night with Rose.” I nod, solidifying the plan in my head.
“That’s a good idea,” he agrees. “How about you clean yourself up. Get dressed. Tell me goodbye, and then I’ll call Rose and make sure you’re with her.”
I nod again. I’d like that. So much. Having him on my side makes the unbearable feel tolerable. I just hope in the future our struggle will become easier.
Hope. Such a silly thing.
Sometimes it doesn’t come true.
A few days later Rose has finally finished decorating our house and decides that we need a proper housewarming party to commemorate the event. She also wants to coincide this with a “Lily Vow Day” or LVD for short. She coined the term and also proposed the idea.
Writing down my vows on a piece of paper and reading them aloud is supposed to reinforce my long-term goals. I was all on board until she invited Connor and Ryke. I reminded her that she’s a feminist and supposed to be on my side. I’m the girl.
She responded with “you shouldn’t be ashamed of your addiction” and “it’ll give you more incentive not to break the vows.” Because apparently I’ll feel way more guilty breaking vows that three people hear rather than just Rose…okay, she has a point.
“I don’t understand why we had to do this outside,” I complain, wrapping my arms in one of Rose’s fur coats that are way warmer than anything in my closet. Topped with my Star Wars Wampa cap that has large ear flaps, I literally look like some sort of furry monster.
“I didn’t want to start a fire in the house,” she says. A light layer of snow coats the ground, but grass still manages to stick out of the powder. A fire roars in a metal trashcan a couple feet in front of us. The flames lick the nippy air, and I question how Rose even started it to begin with.
Though it can’t be rocket science. Hobos do it.
The glass backdoor slides open and Rose says, “Finally, what took you so long?” After the Fizzle event in January, Rose and Connor have shockingly stayed together. But I’m waiting for their next twenty-four-hour break up.
Connor’s loafers crunch against the snow as he walks towards us. “Driving generally requires time,” he tells her. “Simple physics really. Time equals distance divided by speed.”
“I know the formula for time, Connor.”
“I know, you know,” he replies with a smile. “I just like the way your forehead wrinkles when you think I’m insulting you.”
“When you are insulting me.”
“That’s your perspective,” he says and looks to me. “Hi, Lily. Big day.”
I shrug nonchalantly, and Rose gives me a hard stare. “It is a big day, Lily,” she reinforces. “This is when you commit to getting better.”
“Right,” I say with a nod. “I think I’m just nervous.”
Connor frowns. “Why? Isn’t this the easy part? You’ve been away from Lo for nearly three months and you haven’t cheated,” he pauses and adds, “according to Rose.”
“I haven’t cheated,” I affirm. “I’m just not a hundred-percent comfortable talking about this stuff yet.” I’ve kept my addiction a secret so long that sharing requires a lot more courage than someone like Connor or Rose could ever understand.
“It will feel better when you get everything off your chest,” Rose assures me. She turns to look at the house and then glances anxiously at her watch. Her lips purse before she says, “Ryke better be here soon. The housewarming party starts in fifteen minutes.”
Daisy, Poppy, my parents and basically the whole brood are invited, and they cannot witness this act of symbolic declaration. The rest of my family remains in the dark about my addiction until I decide I’m ready to tell them. I’m not sure if that day will come anytime soon.
“Shouldn’t you have waited for Lo to have the party?” Connor asks. “He’s going to be living here, right?”
Lo will move into our little secluded house. I talked with Dr. Banning and she agreed that we should live together if we want to continue to have a relationship. The only stipulation and change from our normal routine is that we actually have to live together. No more separate rooms and secret lives. At this juncture, we may be co-dependent but our addiction to each other may very well kick our other ones. Helping rather than enabling. If Dr. Banning thinks Lo is a huge key to my success (not an obstacle), then I believe it. She’s smarter than me after all.
Rose will still be living at the house too, making sure Lo and I mingle with the family instead of resorting to our reclusive ways. The plan actually seems feasible. But I know it may not be easy. Nothing ever is.
I asked her if she was going to invite Connor to stay with us. There’s an extra bedroom for him if she wanted to still have privacy. But I forgot that Connor attends Penn, too far away to permanently reside here. However, her answer didn’t involve distance. She told me that their relationship hasn’t progressed to that status yet, and she wouldn’t be comfortable asking him. I read between the lines.
They haven’t had sex.
Rose may be the most confident woman I know, but when it comes to talking about her sex life—she might as well turn as red as me. She can read textbooks and clinically diagram the reproductive system without blushing. Hell, she impersonated me, acting as though she had a sex addiction to dozens of therapists. But telling someone about herself is like pulling rotten teeth. She tries to keep her private life private, but I think it’s more than that. I think she’s scared to admit how she feels. She wants people to think she’s this ice queen, but in reality, she fears just like the rest of us.
Sometimes I think we’re more alike than different. Maybe that’s why we’re sisters.
Rose turns to answer Connor’s question. “Lo would hate this party. I’m doing him a favor.”
She has a point.
“Do you think he’s going to be pissed you’re living with us?” I ask Rose with a smile. She’s never been his favorite person. Honestly, I just hope I can survive in the same vicinity as them. They may kill each other or kill me in the crossfire.
“He’ll have to deal,” Rose snaps.
Connor looks to me. “You and Lo need to live alone together like a fat kid needs to live in Candyland,” he pauses, realizing this could be taken as either good or bad, depending on “perspective.” So he adds, “He’d die.”
I gape, an image of a chubby kid’s corpse popping in my head, his cheeks stuffed with candy corn. My open mouth contorts into an extreme downturned frown, grossed out at the disturbing metaphor. “Ewwww…” I cringe and wiggle my arms to shake off the image.
Rose rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling at his response. That’s why they’re together, I think.
The back door whooshes open again and Rose gives Ryke a cold scowl as he bounds over. “I said to be here at five o’clock.”
“There’s f**king traffic everywhere,” he snaps back and stuffs his fists in his black North Face jacket. When he sidles next to me, his eyes immediately rise to my cap. “What the hell is on your head?”
He stares at me blankly.
“You look ridiculous,” he says and then turns to Connor. “Did you know what that was?”
“I didn’t care, so I didn’t ask,” Connor tells him dryly.
Ryke glowers and I sense something bad coming. The two of them are still not warming to each other. I’m really not sure what it will take.
“You’re a tool,” Ryke says, blunt but not in a Connor Cobalt endearing way. He’s just kind of mean.