It’s ridiculous. And even if I do want to talk to Rose about my plan to earn some cash—I would never volunteer to be alone with the girl. She hates me. And Lily may not see it like that, but Rose and I have an understanding that we’re never going to be best friends. We withstand each other for Lily, and that has to be enough. Growing up, Lily would choose me—a boy—over Rose, her sister, and that type of jealousy accumulates over the years into something deep and raw. No apology will matter.
And I get it. I would be resentful too. I’ve never wanted Rose to cut me slack, which must be why I poke the coals, stirring the flames and provoking her temper. I deserve every cold look, every biting comment. I deserve that f**king pain.
I get it.
“You look loads of fun today, Rose,” I say as she clenches the steering wheel, spine straight and eyes focused on the street. I should be a good person and ask what’s bothering her, but I can’t form the words. Caring—that’s Ryke’s thing.
“Look in the mirror,” she says icily.
I do. Just to humor her. And what stares back at me is a scowl that could shatter the reflection. Sharpened jaw and dark circles beneath my amber eyes, showing everyone how f**king tired I actually am.
There’s no sleep for the wicked.
“I grow more beautiful with age,” I deadpan. “Must be the alcohol.”
“That’s not even a little amusing.”
“Maybe because you lost your funny bone in your Gucci handbag.”
She glares and then drives up to our gate.
My phone buzzes, and I check the text with a palm over the screen so Rose doesn’t catch a glimpse.
Your girlfriend is a whore. – Unknown
I clench my teeth, my insides broiling. I want to find this bastard more than anything, but I’m running out of options. I can’t knock on the door of every enemy that I remember. There are too many. And I’ve already poked one burning coal that may have been simmering down. Since I threatened him, Aaron Wells could be reinvigorated to come after me even more—or he could be ready to bury his head in a hole. That’s the chance I took by visiting his house and assuming he was the texter. (He still could be for all I know.)
But I’m not sure it’s wise to do the same thing to guys who haven’t spoken to me in years.
Tracking the texts—that’s the best shot I have, but I hate that it’s out of my hands. I wonder how long it’ll be before I become completely unhinged.
I’m about to slip the phone back in my pocket, but another text chimes.
How many guys have f**ked your girlfriend? Do you think the news will tell us the number? – Unknown
“Everything okay?” Rose asks as the car slows down by the gate.
“Yeah,” I lie, typing quickly.
What do you want? I text back.
If it’s money, I’ll find a way to pay him off. I can ask my father for a loan. I’ll double the amount that the tabloids are offering him. I just don’t want Lily’s secret to reach her family’s ears. Once her parents learn that she’s a sex addict—I’m not sure Lily will be able to handle that shame. I don’t think she’s ready for it.
Satisfaction – Unknown.
What the f**k does that mean? Of what? I text.
My leg jostles as I wait for the reply. I realize that Rose has put her Escalade in park, waiting by the gate’s keypad. She rolls down the window but watches me closely before she types in the code.
“Don’t,” I snap at her. I really don’t want to hear her ideas or thoughts on the matter. She probably has tons of opinions about how I should be responding to this guy, and I’m positive that she would handle this differently.
“You shouldn’t provoke him.”
“I wouldn’t.” Yeah, I kind of would. That’s what I do, even unintentionally.
Her lips purse. “Please. I know you.”
My phone vibrates on my leg.
I want the satisfaction of hurting you the way you’ve hurt me. – Unknown
The bottom of my stomach drops. This isn’t about money. This is payback for whatever I did. I’m not a saint, and I wouldn’t begin to defend myself. I just never wanted to believe that Lily would be the one destroyed because of me. So I text, Don’t go after her. You can do whatever the hell you want to me. Just leave her out of this. And I hesitate before I press send.
I’m sniveling. I’m giving this guy exactly what he needs. Ammunition to use against me. My father would never show him weakness like this. And what is the guy going to say in reply? Oh, I’m so sorry, Lo. I didn’t know she meant so much to you. No, he’s going to tell me to eat shit and watch my girlfriend burn.
This is not the way to win a fight.
So I delete that text and rewrite: I’ll find you, you motherfucker. Don’t ever doubt that. Send.
I pocket my phone and meet Rose’s moody gaze.
“What?” I say.
“You did exactly what I told you not to do, didn’t you?”
She mutters under her breath, shaking her head. And as she leans out of the window to type in the key code, her eyes fall to something down below. I’m glad for the distraction. The phone feels less heavy in my jeans. I begin to shelve the texts in the back of my mind. On a normal day, I’d just go grab a bottle of Macallan and call it a night.
“Drop a bracelet?” I ask.
Her lips tighten.
“Worse than a bracelet? Damn, we’re at a DEFCON 1 then. Better prepare for nuclear war.”
She actually looks impressed. “You know what DEFCON means?”
“Yeah. I also know how to spell ‘duh’ and ‘hurry the f**k up.’” I don’t add that X-Men uses a version of the term for an imminent mutant crisis. How I learned the facts shouldn’t matter anyway.
She shoots me the signature Rose Calloway glare—the one that looks like she’s two seconds from eating your soul. I glower back, but internally, I want to run the f**k away. I don’t know how Connor smiles when she looks at him like that. She’s not bluffing. I bet she eats the hearts of every womanizer for the hell of it.
She flings her door open. “Wait here.”
Yeah, where else am I going to go?
She rummages out of sight for a minute, and curiosity gets the better of me. I unbuckle and stretch over the driver’s seat, peering down through the window.
Rose squats on the ground next to purple hydrangeas, ivy spindling up the iron gate beside the robust flowers. White petals flutter by her side, but her back blocks whatever’s in front of her.
“What are you doing?” I ask like she’s gone insane. I think there may be a screw loose in all of the Calloway girls. Well, maybe except Daisy. She seems pretty normal.
“He can’t just send me things and expect to be forgiven,” she says in a huff. “It doesn’t work like that.” She grunts a little, and more petals burst.
And then she stands and turns. She clutches the stems to what was a bouquet of white roses, but they look pathetic in her tight fist. Every petal has been ripped apart and fallen to the grass below.
“You just mauled a plant,” I say flatly. There’s something disturbing about this, and yet, I can’t help but laugh.
She glares harder. “Hold this.” She shoves a glass vase through the window.
“You’re not going to shatter it?” I ask. “All in the name of love? For your broken heart?”
“My heart isn’t broken.”
“I forgot, you’re made of steel. The bionic, unfeeling woman. Connor must love cuddling with your nuts and bolts.” I slip back to my seat.
She slams the car door, not even wasting another glare on me. She has yet to go for the worst look—the “I’m going to castrate you” one. I think she must be saving it for Connor. I am so glad I’m not him.
“What’d he do?” I ask. “Misspell your favorite word? Beat you in a game of Scrabble?”
She doesn’t say anything. She just retypes the code and puts the car in gear as the gate groans open. When the car rolls along the driveway towards the colonial house, it hits me.
“You can’t be serious,” I say. “You’re still angry at him because he gave me some beer months ago, when I wasn’t even planning on being sober?” I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s relationship. It’s why Lily and I closed off to people—so no one else had to get hurt because of our mistakes.
She pulls into the garage and turns off the ignition. “You wouldn’t understand.” She’s about to climb out of the car, but I lean over her and flick the lock, trapping her in the confines of the Escalade.
Connor told me not to defend him. Right after they had that fight in our living room, he took me aside and said to stay out of it. But I can’t let him be attacked for this. He was just being a friend in a time when I wouldn’t let anyone in my life.
“Give the guy a break,” I say. “He bends over backwards for you.”
Rose stares at me for a long moment, biting her gums, it seems. And then she tries to unlock the car again, but I beat her to the button, flicking it faster than she does.
“Loren,” she warns.
“Just say it,” I retort. “Say what you mean.” She doesn’t think I can handle it, but I can.
“You don’t understand,” she snaps. “Connor knew you were addicted, and he handed you beer. And you think that’s okay. You’re sitting there, telling me that it’s okay when it’s not. Do you see how wrong that is?”
“Rose, he didn’t do anything wrong.” I grimace as soon as I hear myself. And I understand immediately why Connor told me not to say a word in his defense. Because I am making a great case why he shouldn’t have given me an ounce of liquor. I’m the alcoholic—the one who believed I could live a life drinking every minute of every f**king day. Vouching for Connor makes him look guilty. And maybe he is to some extent.
“What he did was awful,” she says, “and I don’t care if it was just a means to be your friend.”
I run a shaky hand through my hair, and when I glance back at her, she pales a little. “No, I’m fine,” I say. “Honestly, I’m not going to go race to a liquor store after this conversation, okay?”
She nods, stiff and unmoving.
“Rose,” I say. “I’m not trying to defend the guy, but…” This is hard for me to say. I even clear my throat, the words lodging for a second. “…I don’t know if I would be right here if he didn’t find a way to enter my life and Lily’s. He was the first nonjudgmental person that I could withstand to be around. He never looked at me like I was f**ked up, even if he was probably thinking it. I liked having him as a friend. I still do.”
I hand her the vase, and she no longer looks willing to chuck it at the wall.
“He’s human,” I remind her. “He’s not perfect. No one is.”
Her lips twitch. “Wise words from Loren Hale. You must have plagiarized from a fortune cookie.”