Addicted for Now / Page 10

Page 10


Being insulted by my tutor isn’t a new thing for me, but I’m not taking his jabs easily. Maybe because he seems more interested in pictures of rich kids showing off their Ferraris and guzzling liquor.

“You know, Rose claimed that you’re some kind of hot-shot tutor on campus—that you even have a waiting list,” I snap.

“I am. And I do.”

“People actually pay you to ignore them?” I shut my book. I’ve known Sebastian since I was ten, but I spent more time at the Hale residence than my own, so know is really up for debate. He has always been into appearances, especially clothes (which as a fashion designer, Rose values in a friend), and his ostentatiousness is nothing new.

But I didn’t know he was such a raging dick.

He’s actually looking at me this time. “They pay me for other things.”

Like sexual things? I frown. No, that can’t be right.

Can it?

He sees my brows scrunch in confusion.

“I do have a waiting list,” he says, “but not for tutoring.”

That clarifies nothing. A nak*d Sebastian pops in my head, getting propositioned for sex like a gigolo. I withhold the urge to ask if he’s a hooker. Although it’s there, threatening to be blurted out.

“Then…what?” I mumble. Wow, that took a lot of self-control.

His leg drops from his knee and he leans forward to grab his leather briefcase. What if he sells sex toys? Okay, doubtful, but he would jump up ten points in likability for me.

He pulls something heavy out and sets it on my textbook before zipping his briefcase closed.

These aren’t dildos or vibrators or Ben Wa balls.

It’s paper. Stacks of stapled paper with red markings along the margin.

They’re old exams.

This is one of those moments where someone hands you a joint and you have to make a choice to either pass it on or take a puff.

“Isn’t this cheating?” I ask, not touching the papers on my lap. Fingering one may just corrupt me.

Sebastian slides a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and slaps the carton on his palm. “Don’t scribble the answers on your hand,” he says. “Memorize them. That can’t be too difficult for you, can it?”

He twirls a cigarette between two fingers.

“Rose won’t like it if you smoke in here.”

Sebastian arches that one brow again and gives me a look like I know Rose better than you. He lights the cigarette.

Fine. Rose will do a better job reprimanding him anyway. I flip through the old exams, most of them marked up with A’s. “What if the questions are different?”

“You have Dr. Harris,” Sebastian says. “He always recycles questions from tests. Just be sure to memorize all of them.”

I thumb through the stack. “There must be fifty exams in here.” How can I memorize all of them?

“They date back ten years. So yeah, there’s a lot.”

I hesitate to use them as a study tool, even though it’s not outright cheating. “And you can’t actually tutor me?”

He blows a line of smoke towards the ceiling. “You didn’t just sort-of fail your first two exams, Lily. You bombed. Most students would be crying in a corner, and if they had me as a resource, they’d be riding my—”

“Okay,” I cut him off. And then realize that sounds like I actually want to ride his… “I mean, never mind.” I shake my head, roasting from the forehead down.

He wears a crooked smile as he puts the cig to his lips. “To pass the class, you have to make A’s on the last two tests and the final. I’m not a miracle worker.”

“Connor Cobalt is,” I mutter under my breath.

He must hear because he says, “Connor thinks he pisses rainbows, but he’s not that good. And he’s definitely not better than me.” He leans forward and taps ash in my plastic cup—full with Fizz Life, Fizzle’s new soda, zero calories and no aspartame. I stare at the soiled drink for a long while, trying to process what he just did.

But when I turn, I see him tapping more ash into the porcelain vase on the end table that a friend of Rose’s gifted her from Prague. “Rose is going to skin you alive.”

He smiles that smarmy smile again. “She’s all growl.”

I’m not so sure about that. When we were kids at a beach resort, she saw a freckle-faced boy picking on a girl near a water slide. He called the young girl fat and pointed at her one-piece. Rose intervened and used some choice language that would make eight-year-olds blush. When the pudgy boy didn’t respond how she hoped, she grabbed his swim-trunks and yanked them to his ankles.

After that, I was glad to have my sister on my side. I never wanted to cross her. And even as I think about that story, I realize she would kill me if she knew I was even sort of cheating.

But what’s worse, hearing her wrath after I use the tests or seeing her disappointment by failing out of Princeton? Disappointment can cripple me. So the former is definitely more appealing.

“Look, Lily,” Sebastian says. “College is all about beating the system, and the smartest people are the ones who figure that out. You want to be smart, don’t you?”

For the first time in a while, I have a fighting chance to do well. “Okay.”

“So you keep those and you memorize hard. I have copies of them, of course.” He rises and buttons his navy blazer. He wanders around the living room, bored. “And don’t mention this to Rose. I love her, but she’s moral to a fault. It’s kind of annoying actually.”

I ignore his last slight. I can’t believe I have to lie to Rose, but this seems like the right path. I can’t fail more classes. I’ll be in college until I’m forty.

I set the old exams next to a tall stack of tabloid magazines on the coffee table. I went out this morning and bought every gossip mag in the gas station. I checked for my picture, any article, any brief mention of my addiction. Rose even searched through the newspaper and online posts, but we both came up blank. Either the blackmailer is stalling or he’s waiting for another opportune moment to strike.

We don’t even know what he wants yet. He just keeps threatening.

“So…” I trail off as I watch Sebastian pick up a porcelain ballerina on the fireplace mantel, checking the underside for the designer or the authenticity. “If Rose believes you’re actually tutoring me, what do I tell her when you’re not here on Thursday?”

“I’ll be here, pretending. I can even bring more old exams for your other classes.” He sets the figurine down. “You copy them, though, and I’ll make your life a living hell.” His blasé voice makes the warning worse, somehow.

My phone pings, and I pick it up to check the message. The sound interests Sebastian enough to saunter over and plop by my side again.

Is Rose home? – Connor

Not yet. I text back.

Sebastian catches the conversation over my shoulder. He puts his cigarette to his lips, waiting for the response, but there is none. I’m about to slip my phone in my pocket, but Sebastian says, “Give that here.” And he steals the cell from my hands.

I should protest and put up a fight, but his I’ll make your life a living hell line is ringing in my head. He’s kind of scary.

Sebastian types quickly and sends, Why do you want to know? He’s too curious, nosy and bored.

I left her something at the gate. I wanted to know if she’s seen it yet. – Connor

Sebastian snorts. “This is just sad.”

I frown. “Why? He bought her something.” Presents are sweet, not sad.

“He’s trying to win her back,” Sebastian says. “They had a fight, and he wants to see if his gift has cheered her up.”

“Whatever they’re fighting about, she’ll forgive him over time,” I say with a nod.

Sebastian tosses my phone back. “No she won’t.”

“You can’t know that,” I say, defensive of a couple that I find destined and beautiful. They belong together the way books fit in a library. When I needed help, they both dedicated hours to researching sex addiction. Connor even escorted Rose to therapists, and they pretended to be Lo and me to find a perfect one. Who would do that, other than people who love me and people who love each other?

He stands. “She’s listened to my advice since we were children. She’ll realize that I’m right about Connor, and she’ll toss him aside like she has every short-term fling.”

I glare. “That’s her boyfriend.” Connor isn’t some fling. This is Rose’s first real relationship. Sebastian should want her to be happy.

“And I don’t like him,” he says simply. Sebastian is egocentric, self-centered and self-absorbed. I suppose Connor has taken his place in Rose’s life. Sebastian no longer gets to attend all the lavish parties hosted by the Calloways and peers. She brings Connor instead.

“Their relationship isn’t about what you want,” I say.

Sebastian snubs his cigarette on a magazine. “Rose is my best friend. I’m just saving her from the heartbreak.” He lights another. But his words sound incredibly fake. I don’t believe him one bit.

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask, crossing my arms. I want to warn Connor about Sebastian’s determination to break them up. Hell, I’m going to tell Rose what a horrible friend she has. And she would believe me. I’m her sister.

“You can’t say a word,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I can.”

He shakes his head, taps some ash right on the carpet. “No you can’t.” He nods to the stack of papers on my textbook. “Rose will not condone your new studying tactics. And Connor Cobalt would be even more displeased.” He sucks on the cigarette.

Oh…shit.

He’s trapped me so quickly. I slump back, winded as though he spun me through a washing machine.

I can’t tell my sister that her friend is planning on ruining her life. I should do the right thing and come clean, not be an awful human being.

But I need those tests.

And Rose can take care of herself. She’s the strongest girl I know.

But as Sebastian tosses that ballerina figurine in his hand, I wonder how she’s been blinded by someone like him for all these years. It can happen again.

My only hope lies in Connor.

He’ll have to foil Sebastian’s plans. He’ll have to prove to Rose that he’s the best man for her. I can’t warn him, but if I had to put money on a match between these two, I’d always bet on Connor Cobalt.

{ 8 }

LOREN HALE

After spending lunch with my brother, I end up in Rose Calloway’s Escalade. She conveniently showed up at the café. They acted all surprised about it—like she just happened to spot us, driving past Rocco’s Deli on her way home.

But I figured out quickly that Ryke called her to cart me to our house while he went back to Philly for college. Like I have to be equipped with a twenty-four-seven babysitter, like I can’t be trusted in a cab or for a brief stroll down the sidewalk alone. I am the equivalent of a ninety-year-old lady needing a person as a crutch to cross the street.


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