“Like I said, Lo,” Connor finishes, “I know how to use the door.”
Ryke nods to me. “You going to give me an out too?”
“No, if I’m going down, you’re burning with me.”
“Does that qualify as a brotherly obligation?”
“For me, yeah.”
Daisy fumbles with the remote and it drops loudly on the hardwood. “Sorry,” she mumbles and continues to stare at the black television.
I want to watch the news and figure out how much the media already knows. Finding the leak has become a second priority. Our first task is to clean up whatever blowback we’re about to receive. I suspect Greg Calloway and possibly my father are already working with a team of lawyers to subdue the crisis. One of the many reasons they’ll want to talk to us.
I don’t trust them. But I do trust the people in this room, and that’s enough to put me at ease for the current moment.
I realize Daisy is still in the dark—about a lot of things. It’s not fair to her, especially since we’ll be talking freely now. “Do you have any questions, Daisy?” I ask, slouching on the couch.
She places the remote carefully on the coffee table and sits cross-legged on the floor.
“I do have a beanbag,” Ryke says.
“I see it.” But she hugs her knees loosely, making no move. Her eyes flit to me. “I have hundreds of questions, but I can wait to ask Lily. I don’t want her to be upset if you reveal something that she wants to keep secret.”
“You’re going to hear it on the television or the tabloids anyway,” I tell her. “She would prefer if you knew the truth from me.”
She hesitates. “I can ask anything?”
Anything is a strong word, but I’m confident in my ability to deflect the too-personal questions. I agree with a nod.
“If this is going to be a Q&A, then I have a couple questions as well,” Ryke says.
I smile bitterly. “Of course you do.”
Daisy throws the nearest pillow at him. “This is my Q&A.”
He catches the pillow. “Now you’re throwing my things, but you won’t sit on the damn beanbag?”
“You’re pushy—did anyone ever tell you that?”
“I do all the time,” I say. “He never listens.”
Ryke raises his hands like what the fuck. “I’m sorry if I can tell that there’s an uncomfortable girl on my f**king floor, and I know how to fix the problem.”
“Don’t,” I warn him. We’re not opening those floodgates ever, ever again. I can withstand him being friendly to Daisy in tiny microscopic doses, but when he starts talking about girls on floors and fixing shit, it makes me nervous.
Daisy asks the first question, which doesn’t necessarily lessen any tension in the room. I’m not sure anything can after the leak. “Have you and Lily been in an open relationship?”
I like to refer to what we had as a “fake” relationship, but when we became a pretend couple, we were a couple. I had everything with her that a boyfriend would have. Except the sex. But when I think of open relationships, I picture swingers and people who have multiple partners. I’m sure the term is vague enough to encompass a variety of situations. Just not ours.
I don’t have a yes or no answer for Daisy, so I have to go into explaining what we did. How we lied to her and everyone around us. How our friendship turned into something more but still remained something less.
“Wow,” Daisy says when I finish. “All to hide your addictions? Couldn’t you have just, I don’t know, moved to Europe?”
“We contemplated it.”
Her face falls. “I was joking.”
I shrug, indifferent about it all. “Lily and I never ignored you because you’re younger. The phone calls we didn’t pick up, the lunches we canceled, all of that was because we’d rather drink and have sex than be around people. Especially ones that we’d have to lie to.”
“That’s messed up,” Daisy tells me.
“So I’ve been told.”
“Actually, I told you it was f**ked up,” Ryke clarifies.
Daisy ignores him. “Why is she a sex addict? Is there something that caused it?”
My throat goes dry and my eyes flicker to the bedroom door.
Lily and I haven’t discussed the cause of her addiction, but I know she’s been trying to sparse through the past with Allison.
Lily shuts down when it comes to her childhood, refusing to look at her relationship with her family for what it truly is. I can touch her painful memories without being terrorized by the hurt, and in turn she can focus on mine without bearing the guilt. It’s a symbiosis that I’ve come to recognize after hours and hours of therapy.
Whether we allow ourselves to open up to our own feelings—well that’s something we’re both working on.
My silence lingers in the air as I try to focus on a suitable answer.
Ryke grows restless by the quiet. “I’ve read that eighty percent of sex addicts are abused as a child. Did Lily—”
“No,” I cut him off, my tone defensive and edged. My eyes bear the same heat, and I wonder if this is why Ryke has never asked me that question before.
“I’m not the only one who will f**king ask that,” he snaps. “You’re going to have to start being less sensitive.”
I glower at that word…sensitive. It makes me sound weak and fragile. It’s one of those words in my father’s arsenal. I wasn’t living up to my potential when I failed a sixth grade math test, when I had to do a group project alone after no one picked me, when I lost a Little League game. He told me I was worthless, and as a kid I didn’t know how to stop those tears. Don’t be so sensitive, Loren. You’re being too sensitive, Loren. Why are you so goddamn sensitive, Loren? So I stopped crying. Now I just get mad.
My eyes are on Ryke and my mouth moves before I can stop it. “I’m not sensitive,” I deadpan. “You’re the one who flinched every time I called your mother a cunt.” Granted, that was before I knew Sara Hale was his mom. I just thought she was mine, the one who abandoned me.
On cue, Ryke cringes at literally the only cuss word he can’t stand.
I watch the way his face flips through emotions, and in a quick second he settles on one: Guilt.
I expected rage, a battle of words, something to perpetuate the turmoil spinning in my stomach. Not his eyes to cloud with remorse, as if he was the one who spitefully slandered his mother.
He knows me. He knows what I was thinking, why I say the things I do. Between the aggressive attitude and foul language, I often forget Ryke has a brain, probably one that works better than mine.
“Not sensitive,” he says softly, almost hesitant. “I think guarded and defensive are better words.”
His eyes fill with apologies, not wanting to hurt me like my father does. Ryke doesn’t have the same fear as me, the one where I turn into Jonathan Hale. But for a moment, Ryke must have tasted what it was like to be him. I personally know it isn’t pleasant.
After a deep breath, I say, “I can’t help it. I’m always going to be defensive when it comes to Lily.”
“We’re her sisters,” Rose pipes in. “Everyone in this room loves Lily and you. We are the last people you should be guarded around.”
Something burns inside of me, words that ache to be released. I’ve never talked to any of Lily’s sisters about their childhood. I only know what I’ve seen and what Lily has told me. If anyone can fill in the blanks and help me answer Daisy’s question, it’s Rose.
“Why was Lily allowed to spend nights at my house?” I ask.
“You were her friend.”
“Rose. What friends at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old spend the majority of nights at someone else’s house?”
She narrows her eyes. “It was usually on the weekend.”
Holy shit. Someone has taken a sledgehammer to my stomach.
By the look on her face, she has no idea how many nights Lily slept at my house when we were children. But how many activities did Rose’s mother bombard her with? Ballet, horseback riding, piano, French.
Off my shock, Rose starts shaking her head fiercely. “I would have known. I would have seen her walk through the front door in the mornings…” Her face falls, and Connor reaches for her hand while she stares off dazedly.
“You never saw her in the mornings,” I say what Rose is thinking. “My father’s driver always took us to school from my house.”
“I had club meetings in the morning. I left early all the time, so I just thought she was asleep.” It wasn’t Rose’s duty to take care of Lily. She’s only two years older. “How many nights did Lily sleep at your house?”
“In middle school, about four days a week, and then she just kept coming over more and more until high school…” I shake my head and cringe. It’s my fault. A huge part of what happened, I know, I caused. “…in high school, she slept over almost every night.”
“I didn’t know that either,” Daisy admits. I’m not surprised. Daisy is a lot younger, and when she turned about eleven, her mother started pursuing acting and modeling agencies for her. And for the majority of Daisy’s tweens, I remember how she always looked exhausted, eyes heavy-lidded and yawning more than talking.
“Our parents couldn’t have known about your sleepovers,” Rose says. “They would have never allowed it.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
This is where my chest constricts, where vile resentment starts to pound in my head. I didn’t have these feelings towards Samantha and Greg Calloway until I went to rehab. Before that, I thought they were the coolest parents for letting their daughter, my best friend, spend an exorbitant amount of time with me. Sitting in therapy for three months and becoming sober has cleared the dust.
I’m beginning to understand what happened.
Connor’s mouth slowly parts in realization, letting me know he’s put the pieces together. Why Lily is the way she is.
Rose is clouded by her own relationship with her parents. She sees a mother who inserts herself into her daughters’ lives to the point where compassion transforms into suffocation. She sees a father who loves his children, buying them fancy things and sending them to exotic places to show his affection.
“Loren,” Rose says, “finish what you have to say.”
“Every day, Lily asked her mother if she could spend the night at my house. The answer was always the same. And then when Lily was fourteen or fifteen, Samantha finally told us to just stop asking, that she’d approve no matter what.”
I remember Lily crying onto my pillow that same night. She never told me straight out, but I knew the only reason she even asked her mother in the first place was because she wanted to hear the word no. A single sign that her mother cared about her the same way that she did Poppy, Rose, and Daisy. That she wasn’t undeserving of her mother’s time and attention. Her mother doted on her other sisters. She put all her excess energy into them, skipping right over Lily as though she was worthless of that affection.