My lips grow into a smile, wondering who could be on the other line. The excitement actually takes me by surprise. If I was drunk when we met, I probably won’t remember him. Anonymous. Technically, it’ll be like a first encounter.
I make my choice.
Where do you want to meet?
* * *
The next morning, I wake to a splitting headache and the spins. Turns out, I vaguely remembered the guy from my text, not enough to warrant a good mental picture. He likes booze and peer pressured me into doing tequila shots. But I still remember the thrum in my chest, the beat pulsing as I reached his door, as I knocked and waited for him to answer, to let me in and do it as many ways as his body would allow. Anonymous sex—not knowing what the guy will look like on the other side—hooked me so, so very much.
As I lie still, coming down from a serious high and left with a hellish hangover, I wonder about Lo. I haven’t seen him since my p*rn blared across the lecture hall. I spent my lunch break cramming for a quiz and couldn’t meet him on campus, and Saturday was filled with dresses, shoes and sisters. I don’t even know what he did or where he was, not uncommon. We’re not together all the time, anyway. We do separate on occasion. I think.
I drag my body from the bed, throw on a baggy T-shirt and jeans shorts. I want to ask him about that girl he brought home. Maybe he’ll tell me what he did to her. Would that be weird?
As I exit into the hallway, I stop at the sound of faint laughter, emanating from the kitchen. Girl laughter.
My frown deepens. Is this the same girl? No, it can’t be. My stomach knots. Is it? Hesitantly, I move closer and then go still at the doorway.
“You’re a good cook,” the girl says, her voice familiar.
I don’t know why I assumed he would have a one-night stand like me. Why would I assume that? So she stayed the night. Friday and Saturday.
Lo mills around the kitchen, fixing two bloody marys and scrambling eggs on the stove. I scrutinize the girl who sits cross-legged on the bar stool, wearing his muscle Clash T-shirt. Her big br**sts peek out on either side, and I can see her red panties beneath the charcoal-gray fabric.
She’s a natural blonde, her hair wet like she just showered. And even without makeup, she resembles a girl next door, someone you’d bang and then take home to your parents.
I feel even more nauseous.
Lo scrapes the eggs onto two plates. When he looks up, he finally notices me lingering like a creep. “Hey, Lily.” He points to the blonde. “This is Cassie.”
Cassie gives me a small wave. “Hi.”
I smile back, but I shrink inside like a wilted flower. She’s nice, too.
“Do you want breakfast?” Lo asks. He acts as though this is a normal routine. Him, bringing home a girl. On a first name basis with her. Since when do we know the names of our guests? Never. Okay, well that’s more my rule, but I thought it would extend to Lo too. It has since we’ve been in college.
“No,” I mutter. I gesture to the hall behind me. “I’m going to…”—go shrivel in self-pity— “take a shower.” I dart into the depths of the hallway, retreating to the safety of my room. Okay, that was weird. I was weird. The whole situation was extremely weird. Is that how Lo feels about me when I bring men home? I shake the thought off. Of course not. I don’t display the guys and test them out to see if they’re boyfriend material. I ditch them almost immediately.
Only one thing can take my mind off Lo. I change quickly into a black day dress and comb my hair that thankfully doesn’t look too greasy. After spraying perfume and slipping into a pair of wedges, I grab my phone and let three texts, all anonymous numbers, guide my fate.
Unfortunately, I must enter the kitchen to reach the foyer and then the front door. I try to put invisible blinders up as I walk through, my target on the exit. Go, go, go!
“Where are you going?” Lo asks, his frown apparent in his voice.
“Out.” I grab a set of keys in the basket and then drop them back in. I don’t need to drive him anywhere since he has Malibu Barbie on his hip. So I’m getting drunk today. Maybe I’ll call a cab as well.
“Did I do something?” Cassie’s loud-whisper echoes from the kitchen before I leave.
I’m waiting by the elevator when Lo appears around the bending hallway. I still can’t meet his eyes. I’m unjustifiably angry, which makes everything so much worse.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I push the glowing button three more times.
“Lily, look at me.” Lo grabs my arm and thrusts my body towards him. I finally take in his warm, amber eyes, full of confusion and scorn. “What the hell is going on? You’re acting weird.”
“Are you dating her?”
His brows furrow with hardness. Does he think I’m jealous? Am I? Oh jeez. “That’s what this is about? I’ve known her for two f**king days,” he says. “You’re the one who told me I needed to get laid, remember?” Yeah, can I rip out that girl’s vocal cords?
“I remember, but I thought you’d have a one-night stand and be done with her.” Wow, that sounds bad.
“I’m not you.”
My chest constricts. Everything hurts more than it should. He’s said far truer and meaner things to me. I avoid his gaze once more, my eyes planted on my feet.
His hand goes to my shoulder. “Hey, I’m sorry. Can you just talk to me, please?”
“I’m scared,” I say the first thing I can think of. I don’t really know what I am. Confused, angry, upset. But excuses start tumbling from my lips, excuses that I’ve engrained in my head like a machine reading code. “What happens when she wants to meet your father? What happens if she starts telling people she’s dating Loren Hale, and that person happens to be friends with Rose?” I don’t care about any of that. The charade can go to hell for what it’s worth. I just don’t like seeing him move on without me.
“I’m not dating her,” he emphasizes.
“Does she know that? Because she seems to be very comfortable for only knowing you two days.” She’s wearing his shirt and sitting half-naked on my bar stool. I want to kick her out. I want to get Rose to kick her out because she’ll do a hell of a lot better job than me.
I am being irrational. And rude and so, so hypocritical. I need to get out of here.
“She’s not moving in, Lily. She spent the night, that’s it.”
“Twice!” I shout. “And she’s eating breakfast with you. You made her breakfast.” He usually makes me breakfast. Not random girls.
“And not everyone acts like a scared little mouse after sex,” he says cruelly. My face twists in hurt, and he grimaces. “Wait, I didn’t mean…”
“Just stop,” I say, holding up my hand. The elevator dings and the doors slide open, but his fingers still wrap around my wrist, so I don’t leave just yet.
His voice lowers, the doors shutting. “You’re a permanent fixture in my life. You’re not going anywhere.” Why does he have to say it like that? Like I’m some chandelier hanging out while he slips a ring on another woman’s finger.
I shove him off now. “I know we’re not together, okay?”
“She’s going to ruin everything!” It hurts to see him with her, playing house. That’s our routine. I smack the button hard. Get me out of here.
“At least tell me where you’re going.”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
I scoot into the elevator, and he sticks a hand on the frame, the doors refusing to close me in.
“I mean, I don’t know. I’m not going to a club. I’m meeting up with someone spontaneously. Probably at a motel or his place.”
“What?” His chest collapses and lines crease his forehead. “Since when do you do that?”
His jaw clenches in reproach. “Are you taking the car?”
The elevator buzzes angrily since he has the doors propped open for so long. I push his arm off and he takes a step back. “No,” I tell him. “It’s all yours. I plan on drinking.”
“Lily,” he says. “Don’t do this.”
The elevator doors begin to close.
“Lily!” He tries to stick his hand in, but they shut before he can. “Dammit,” I hear him curse, leaving me with one last view of him inhaling a sharp breath. I should revel in the fact that I’m scaring him as much as he’s scaring me, but I can’t.
I took the car. Maybe Lo's pleads bled into my brain, subconsciously affecting me. Or maybe I just really didn't want to drink. Whatever the case, my BMW sits outside of a dingy apartment complex. Smoke wafts in a guy’s bedroom, filling my lungs whole. He kisses with rough, wet lips, his mouth sucking my neck. I want to be intoxicated by the moment. I wait for it to carry me away. He’s decent looking, in his late twenties, I suppose. Not fit, not toned. But he has cute eyes and dimpled cheeks.
The seventies shag carpet, dirt-orange walls and lava lamp distract me. As my knees dig into his hard mattress, I stare off, my mind drifting, his hands not doing their job and my head not staying in the game.
I think about Lo. I think about the past. I think about him with Cassie and why it hurts so much. And then a memory floats right into me.
Lo tossed me a blanket in his father’s den, and I wrapped myself in the fuzzy fabric while he loaded the third season of Battlestar Galactica into the DVD player.
“Do you think we can finish the series before Monday?” I asked.
“Yeah, you can crash here if it takes that long. We have to find out what happens to Starbuck.”
I was fourteen, and my parents still thought I cherished Lo like one would a cootie-ridden boy next door. I was far from that place, but I let them believe so anyway.
And then his father stopped by, standing in the crevice of the doorway with a crystal glass of whiskey in hand. The mood shifted. The air sucked dry, and I could practically hear our hearts beating in panicked unison.
“I need to talk to you.” Jonathan Hale kept it short, running his tongue over his teeth.
Lo, fourteen and gangly, stood with tight eyes. “What?”
His father glanced at me, his cutting gaze shriveling my body into the enormous leather couch. “Out here.” He clamped a hand on Lo’s shoulder, guiding him into the darkness.
Their tense voices reached my ears. “You’re failing ninth grade algebra.”
I don’t want to remember this. I try to concentrate on the guy in front of me. He lies on his back and brings me above him. Mechanically, I begin to unbutton his jeans.
“That’s not my report card.”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
I want to forget, but there’s something about Jonathan Hale that stirs my mind, something off. And so I relive it. I remember. In their moments of silence, I pictured a stare-off between them. One that only fathers and sons with tempestuous relationships can share. Full of hatred and unspoken truths.
“Fine, it’s mine,” Lo said, losing the advantage.