“Yeah?” his father sneered. Their shoes scuffled, and something slammed into the wall. “Don’t be so f**king ungrateful, Loren! You have everything.”
The image hurts, and I shut my eyes, pausing for a minute. I actually stop pulling down the guy’s pants.
Jonathan growled, “Say something, now’s your chance.”
“What does it matter? Nothing’s good enough for you.”
“You know what I want? To be able to talk to my associates about you, to gloat and tell them how my son is better than their little shit. But I have to shut my f**king mouth when they bring up achievements and academics. Get your act together or I’ll find a place that’ll make you the man you should be.”
The guy sits up. “Hey, you okay? You want to switch positions?”
I shake my head. “No, no. I’m fine.” I straddle his waist and run my fingers along his chest, sliding down his boxers.
Jonathan Hale’s shoes clapped off in the distance, and Lo didn’t return to the den for what seemed like ten more minutes. When he finally came back in, his eyes looked red and swollen and puffy, and I stood up and walked towards him, letting my emotions guide me.
In the present, I sit up. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, sinking into myself. I grab my clothes, put them on as quickly as possible and high-tail it out of his place. He’s not the right guy. I need another. Something more.
He calls after me, but I don’t listen. His door shuts on my way out, and the cold air rushes into my body, waking me up but sending me back at the same time. My car sits in the rear of the parking lot of his apartment complex. I walk quickly, but my pace doesn’t carry off the memories. They stay.
“Let’s watch the movie.” Lo didn’t look at me.
I only knew one way to make a person feel good, something I believed was better. Impulsively, I reached for his hand. I held it, and he frowned, staring at me like I’d grown horns. But at the same time, his reddening eyes looked eager to take hold of something other than the pain that plagued him.
The parking lot. I yank open the door to my BMW and fumble with my phone, finding some numbers I haven’t exhausted yet. I set up a few random meeting places. Yes. Yes. Yes. No.
I kissed Lo’s lips. Softly, gently. And then I led him to the couch where our hands roamed more hungrily, our bodies moved more passionately, needing to feed our temptations and close out everything else.
We had sex for the first time. The only time.
Afterwards, Lo drank himself to oblivion. And I sprawled out on the couch, making a promise with myself to never sleep with Loren Hale ever again. To never cross that line. Once was enough. It could have ruined our friendship, but we acted as though nothing transpired, as though the moment came with heightened spirits and unleveled heads.
I won’t make a mistake that can cost us what we have. So I pocket my phone, put my car in reverse, and make new plans. Ones that involve blank faces and unpainted canvases. Ones that don’t involve him.
The next few days blur. I manage to avoid Lo each time I arrive and depart from the apartment. On the occasions that I sleep at the Drake, I wear earbuds to deafen Lo and Cassie’s love-making noises. Mostly, I spend the night somewhere else, any place that involves anonymous sex and the surprise of a mystery man.
My new discovery invades my waking hours. If I’m not scrolling through tons of unknown numbers, I research Craigslist for anyone willing to hookup. I have yet to use the online resource for a lay, but the allure brings me back. With only a screen name to go off of, I find myself imagining the person on the other end. What they look like. What I could do to them in bed.
The more Lo pulls away, the more I turn to sex, the only thing I can reach for. It feels like he’s wedging a large space between us. He hasn’t asked me for a ride in a whole week, and we’ve stopped discussing our nightly plans together. I used to be able to draw up his schedule as fluidly as my own. Now, I couldn’t tell you if he made it to bed last night without passing out.
I lie on my purple sheets, contemplating my very small existence and staring at the sun. It crests the sky, shining bright rays through the slits in my blinds. An arm drapes across my bare back. I don’t want to wake him. Hopefully his eyes will flutter open while I feign sleepiness. I’ve been up since five in the morning, thinking and gazing at the same spot. The sun. The window. My life.
Bang! The noise from my door jolts me. “Lily!” Lo knocks again, his fist slamming into the white wood.
My heart lodges in my throat. I put a pillow over my head, spinning and crashing in a post-drunk tidal wave. The door clicks, and I curse the fact that Lo has a key.
My groggy male guest props himself up. “Who are you?” he asks with a yawn.
“Don’t talk so loud,” another voice groans. What?! I did not…Did I? There are two guys in my bed! I didn’t…I couldn’t have had sex with both of them. I search my memories, but I blank when I reach my anonymous “date” at a bar. Booze forgives all transgressions, but it doesn’t help with the morning after.
My limbs have petrified.
“Both of you, get the f**k out,” Lo sneers. “Now!”
Quickly, the two guys shuffle for their clothes, pulling on articles while I disintegrate into my sheets and cower underneath another comforter. When they finally disappear, silence blankets the room.
Usually whenever Lo kicks a guy out in the morning, he’s so blasé about it. Sometimes he even offers the poor guy a cup of coffee before he leaves. This is not normal.
While I avoid his gaze, Lo paces, and I hear the crinkle of plastic. I peek from my sheet-cave.
I use a part of the sheet to cover my chest and straighten up. “What are you doing?” My voice comes out small and choked. He doesn’t answer. Instead, he stays focused on tossing the empty beer bottles into a black trash bag along with many articles of clothing. Boy clothing.
For the first time in days, I actually look at my room. Layered in different underwear, spilled with bottles of booze and tainted with white powder on my vanity—it’s disgusting. My floor hides beneath mounds of debauchery and sin. Half the sheets pile on the ground, and used condoms scatter my rug. It feels like I woke up in someone else’s bed.
“Stop,” I tell him, shame sending tears. “You don’t have to do that.”
He tosses an empty box of condoms into the bag before looking up at me. His expression remains inscrutable, scaring me even more. “Go take a shower. Get dressed, and then we’ll go.”
“Out.” He turns his back and continues trashing my things. I’ve cleaned his room countless times, but he was always unconscious to the world when I did it.
I wrap my purple sheet around my body and waddle towards the bathroom. After I shampoo my hair and lather soap on every inch of skin, I step out and pull on a terry cloth robe with slippers. I pad back. A full garbage bag sits by the open door, and outside the archway, I hear the faucet running in the kitchen.
I change in the closet, throwing on a comfortable black cotton dress, not knowing the proper attire for wherever we’re headed. I can’t make a guess on the destination either. My head sits as numb and cold as my body.
When I enter my room again, Lo stands by the door, the trash bag gone. He gives me a quick onceover while I tie my hair into a small pony, my fingers trembling. “Ready?” he asks.
I nod and follow him out, grabbing the keys. As I walk, I notice all my aches and pains. Blackish, yellow spots bruise my elbows and thighs, probably knocking into things last night and not remembering. My back hurts too, like I hit a doorknob or something. Tears prick my eyes, which stay nice and pink while I refuse to let the waterworks escape.
“Where are we going?” I ask again, sliding into the driver’s seat since Lo can’t.
“The health clinic. You need to get tested.”
My stomach caves. Right. Tested. “You don’t have to come.”
I watch him try to find an appropriate answer, but he ends up muttering, “Just drive.”
I put the car in gear and head down the familiar roads.
“When’s the last time you’ve been to class, Lil?” he asks softly, staring out the window, watching the buildings blink by.
“Last Wednesday.” I think.
“Yesterday?” The spot between his eyebrows wrinkles.
“It’s Thursday?” I say, startled. Why did I think it was Saturday? My hands begin to tremble again, and I tighten them on the leather steering wheel. Hot tears scald on their way down, betraying me. “I just got a little mixed up.” How did I even come to this place?
I inhale a strained breath and turn the car down a couple more streets before parallel parking. I lean over to open the door, but Lo puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Can we talk for a second?”
I tense back into the seat. My eyes glue to the unlit dashboard. Is this my ultimate low? I thought the pregnancy scare was the most terrifying moment of my life, but waking up in bed with two guys I don’t remember—that will haunt me. How can I be missing days? As if sex and liquor stole them from me…maybe drugs participated in the thievery too. I can’t even remember.
I wish I was Lo. I don’t think that often, but right now, I envy his ability to be a “functioning” alcoholic, one that doesn’t get aggressive or physical or lose memories. He drinks all day and all night, only suffering the repercussions when he surpasses his tolerance and blacks out.
He keeps his narrowed gaze on me and lets out a heavy breath. “You remember when we first arrived at Penn and we both went to that freshman pajama party?” Ah, yes, the Pajama Jam. The blistering memory brings a heavy frown to both of us. “You found me blacked out on the floor in the morning.”
He censors the image. Where his cheek was covered with vomit. Where I lifted him in my arms and thought, for the most horrifying moment, that my best friend had finally succumbed to his greatest flaw.
Lo’s voice deepens. “All I can recall is waking up in the hospital, feeling like a f**king twenty-ton truck ran me over.”
“You just had your stomach pumped,” I remind him.
Lo nods. “I could hear you arguing with the nurse about calling my father. You insisted that she keep the matter private since I was eighteen.”
I had to pretend to be his sister just to enter his hospital room. So stupid. Everything. That whole night. Right now. But to rectify what’s been done, what we’ve solidified, is beyond my power. Part of me will always believe that we’re past change. Maybe we’ve already accepted that this is how we’ll live and this is how we’ll come to die.
My eyes burn at the thought of the two guys in my bed. But I don’t want this to happen again. That, I do know.
“We made a deal after that, remember?” he continues, carefully choosing his words. “We said that if this is going to work—you and me, Lo and Lily doing whatever we want, being who we are—then I’d have to know my limits and never exceed them. I honestly never thought…I never thought it would be a problem for you too.” He runs a shaky hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know that sex addicts could have limits, Lily, but somewhere…somewhere you crossed a line. And you’re scaring the shit out of me. I haven’t been able to get ahold of you in days. When I pass out, you’re not home. When I wake up, you’re usually gone. This was the first time I’ve seen you, and…” He rubs his mouth and looks away.