Jonathan mulls this over and then says to Lo, “Hopefully a woman can knock some f**king sense into you.” So he’s going to let Lo stay?! We watch as he takes measured steps to the liquor cart, ignoring our not-so innocent position on the couch. He pours himself a glass of bourbon. “I paid for the damages you incurred on the Smith’s house, but I’m taking a portion out of your allowance.”
Lo drills holes into the couch arm above my head, glaring at the object instead of his father. I think that’s a wise decision. “Thanks,” he says.
Jonathan swishes his glass. “I talked to that bitch principal of yours. She’s going to take your suspension off your records. You’ll stay at Dalton unless you f**k up again.” I can barely celebrate the news because he tops the statement off with, “Stop tarnishing my name.”
Lo grits his teeth, his nose flaring to bridle his emotions. I want to tell Lo that his father refuses to even acknowledge why Lo retaliated against Trent Smith. Maybe if he heard the reason, he would understand.
I wonder if Lo is going to try to end the conversation or if he’s going to provoke a volatile reaction from his father. “Okay,” Lo says through clenched teeth, choosing to drop it. “You can leave now.”
After a long pause, Jonathan asks, “You have protection?” Oh my God! I nearly scrunch into a ball, but Lo keeps a hand on the outside of my thigh that hugs his waist.
Lo closes his eyes and then opens them, his glare deepening. “Yeah,” he replies with the same hard-edged voice, as though each word is lethal.
“Good. I’d rather not explain to her father why my son couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.” If only he knew. He goes to the archway that’ll lead him away from us. “And Loren?”
Lo cranes his neck over his shoulder to meet his father’s hardened eyes. In all my life, I’ve never seen them soften.
“Don’t be such a sick fuck.” He watches the way Lo’s face contorts into anger and pain, and I look for the glimmer of remorse in his father’s eyes. But I see none. He drowns it with the liquor in his palm and disappears into the darkened hallway.
Lo sits up for a second and sets his hands on his head, breathing heavily as if his father chased him around the room with a gun.
“You’re okay,” I whisper. “Lo, you’re not sick.”
“I doused his door with pig’s blood.”
I cringe. “It was supposed to be poetic, and what he did wasn’t much better.” I flush at the raw memory where I opened a package sent to my house, addressed to me. Lo sat with me on my bed, thinking we ordered a comic book we’d forgotten about. And when I pulled the flaps of the box, I screamed at the contents inside.
A dead white rabbit.
Lo found a note spotted with blood, and I pushed the box away, the smell as ghastly as the image. “Here’s something you can hump,” he read. Trent signed his name at the bottom. What an idiot, I thought with thick tears. Apparently his girlfriend broke up with him because we had sex at a hockey game months ago. He was on the “away” team, driving in town a couple hours to beat Dalton Academy.
And Trent blamed me for the breakup. As though he had no part in it, as though I was a siren who seduced him.
The next day after I received the “hate” package, I spent the night at my house. Rose wanted me there since my mother’s book club usually ran late. She didn’t want to be alone with her, so I stayed. Lo got wasted, and then I heard, he was thrown in jail for vandalism and underage drinking.
All I could think: At least he took a cab. At least he had enough sense not to drive drunk.
“Maybe it was f**ked up,” Loren whispers.
“I liked your note,” I murmur.
His brow rises. “Drink up, pig?”
I smile. “Yeah.”
His eyes drift to my lips. “You’re strange.”
“So are you.”
“Good.” He leans closer. “We can be strange together.”
His heart thuds against my chest while his hands fall on either side of my shoulders, pressing to the cushion. His head dips low, and his mouth hovers an inch from mine. He stays still for a moment, and my nerves prick at the way we’re melded together, the way he seems to fit perfectly against me.
My chin tilts up, my eyes closing as I fantasize about where this could head. He could take me here. Now. And never let go. He could rock until my h*ps buck and my thighs clench around his waist. I could be so full of Loren Hale that I’ll ache when he decides enough is enough.
His large hand caresses my cheek, holding my face with security. “Open your eyes,” he whispers.
My lids flutter, and I see him staring so intently, absorbing my tiny, sharp movements. Full of lust and power and soul. And then I begin to wake up from my dream. He’ll see what a fiend I am. He’ll realize how needy and gross I can become, and he’ll toss me away as a friend and as a lover. If I cross the line—if he fills this need inside of me—what will become of us?
What will become of me?
The fear washes me cold. And my breathing deepens in alarm. “Your father’s gone,” I remind him. There’s no reason to pretend anymore. Not when we’re alone.
His forehead wrinkles in a deep frown. He licks his bottom lip and shakes his head. “He may come back.” He won’t, I should tell him.
But his other hand disappears between our pelvises, and his fingers touch outside my long johns, to a spot that causes me to tremble beneath him and I let out a sharp gasp.
“You’re wet,” he breathes.
“Lo…” I start, shutting my eyes as I begin to drift off again.
“Look at me,” he says.
Tension wraps us in a tight, uncomfortable cocoon, and I succumb to this one wish, opening my eyes for the second time.
His two hands hold my face again, cupping me with intensity and purpose and deep passion. My parted lips nearly meet his.
“You need me,” he whispers, his breath filling my lungs.
But the word stays buried beneath fear. I stare at him, drowning in his amber eyes.
He stares at me, swimming into my heady gaze.
It’s what we don’t say that hurts the most. Neither of us will speak to unwind the things that cause this friction to build and torment. So we watch and wait and listen to each other’s heavy breath.
Some choices define us. And in this moment, I make a decision that will change the course of our lives forever.
Or maybe, I just prolong the inevitable.
Either way, in my heart, I know this feels right.
ADDICTED FOR NOW
Of all the days in the month, I have to be stuck in traffic on the one that means the most to me. I try not to badger Nola, my family’s driver, on our ETA to the house I share with Rose. Instead, I anxiously shift on the leather seat and rapidly text my sister.
Is he already there? Please say no, please tell me I haven’t missed his homecoming. I’m supposed to wait on the white wrap-around porch of our secluded house: many acres of lush land, a crystal blue pool, black shutters. The only thing it’s missing is the picket fence. I’m supposed to give him a tour of the cozy living room and the granite kitchen, leading him upstairs to the bedrooms where Rose and I sleep. He won’t be in one of the two guest rooms. Nope, he’ll be making residence in mine for the first time ever.
And maybe awkwardness will linger at the idea of sharing a bed and a bathroom day and night, at the idea of cohabitating beyond a kitchen. Our relationship will be one-hundred percent real, and there’ll be no nightcaps of bourbon or whiskey. I’ll be able to say don’t do that. And he’ll be able to grip my wrists, keeping me from compulsively cli**xing until I pass out.
We’re supposed to help each other.
For the past three months, that’s what we’ve planned. And if I’m not there to greet him—then I’ve already messed up in some way. After three whole months of being physically apart, I thought I’d be able to get this right—the celebration of his return from rehab. On top of desperately wanting to touch him, for him to hold me in his arms, I feel a sudden wave of guilt. Please be late like me, is all I think.
The text pings, and I open the message with a knot tightening my stomach.
He’s unpacking – Rose
My face falls, and a lump rises to my throat. I can just picture his expression as he opened the car door, expecting me to fling my arms around him and start sobbing into his shoulder at his arrival. And I’m not there.
Was he upset? I text back. I bite my nails, my pinky starting to bleed a little. The habit has made my fingers look ghastly these past ninety days.
He seemed okay. How much longer will you be? – Rose
She must hate being alone with him. They’ve never been good friends since I chose to spend time with Lo more than I do with her. But she’s been kind enough to allow him to stay with us.
Maybe ten minutes. After I text her, I scroll through my contacts and land on Lo. I hesitate before I type another quick message. I’m so sorry. I’ll be there soon.
Five slow minutes pass with no response, and I’ve squirmed so much on the seat that Nola asks if she needs to stop somewhere so I can use the bathroom. I decline. I’m so nervous that my bladder probably won’t function properly anyway.
My phone buzzes in my hand, popping my heart from my ribcage. How was the doctor? – Lo
Rose must have clued him in on the reason for my absence. I scheduled my gynecologist appointment four months ago because she’s crazily booked, and I would have canceled if I thought I’d be able to nab an appointment sometime soon. But that’s doubtful. And it didn’t help that my gynecologist is near the University of Pennsylvania in Philly, not even close to Princeton where I now live. Having to drive back has eaten up all of my time.
I had to wait for about an hour. She was running behind, I text.
After a long moment, a new message flashes. Everything’s okay though? – Lo
Oh, that’s what he was asking. I’m so hung up on missing his homecoming that I didn’t think about him being worried. I type back. Yep, looks good. I cringe, wondering if that was a weird reply. I basically just said my vag**a looks good—which is kinda strange.
See you soon – Lo
He has always been a brief texter, and right now, I’m cursing him for it. My paranoia grows and the pressure on my chest does not subside. I grip to the door handle, about ready to stick my head out of the moving vehicle to puke. Dramatic, I realize, but with our situation—recovering alcoholic and a struggling sex addict—we’re anything but mundane.
Ninety whole days passed and I stayed faithful to Lo. I saw a therapist. But sex still has a way of making me feel better, masking other emotions and filling a deep hollowness. I’m trying to find the healthy kind and not the compulsive “I have to f**k everyday” type of sex. I’m still uncomfortable talking about it, but at least I made progress the same way Lo did in rehab.
My mind whirls right up until Nola pulls into my driveway. All thoughts vacuum out into another dimension, and I dazedly say thanks and drift from the car. Purple hydrangeas frame the three-story house, rocking chairs lined in a row on the porch, and an American flag clings against a metal pole near a weeping willow.