“I wasn’t staring,” the server refutes with a tense voice, unmasking his emotions. “If you want something, I’ll gladly get it for you. If not, I’m going.”
“Great,” Lo says. “I’ll take a Fizz.”
“You mean a bourbon and Fizz?” he retorts in challenge. Oh shit.
“No, I mean a regular Fizz.”
The server says, “But you’ve been drinking bourbon all day, Mr. Hale. Are you sure you don’t want another one?”
“You’ve been drinking hard liquor all day?” Rose says, her voice suddenly flat.
“No,” I refute before Lo can. I peek from underneath my towel and glare at the server, finding some internal confidence for Lo’s benefit. “You must be mistaken. I’ve tasted his drink.”
The server eyes me for a long time, trying to read my expression, and I try to soften my gaze, as though telling him it will be worth his while. Or something. Anything. I mean, I moaned while watching him spout off menu items. And he saw it. That’s all I have to go on.
“Right,” the server says. He glances back at Lo with a knowing, satisfied look, thinking he’ll bed me later and really show up this rich prick. I don’t want him to, and I fear that he actually will. And I’ll let him. “I’ll get your drink—”
“Don’t,” Lo says, clipping my bandeau back. “I’d rather not drink spit with my Fizz, and we all f**king know that’s where this is headed. So leave.”
Poppy says. “You can cancel my order. I think it’s for the best if you stay inside.”
The server nods and disappears at her wish.
I stand immediately. “I’m going to the bathroom and maybe to the pool.” The words sound static and hurried, but no one questions them, except Lo. He collects his things and follows me indoors and to our cabin.
I don’t look at him. I head to the tiny, tiny bathroom and turn the one-person shower to freezing cold.
I hear clinking, and I glance back just as he gulps straight whiskey from the bottle. He licks his lips and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, pissed. When his eyes meet mine, he finally says, “Did you orgasm?”
My entire body flushes. “Not really,” I mumble.
He nods to himself, staring dazedly at the ground. “Did you get aroused from me or him?”
I frown. “Does it matter?” I already feel awful about the whole event. “You shouldn’t have been teasing me like that, Lo. I’m already tense as it is.”
“I was trying to help,” he snaps.
“By making me want to have sex on the sun deck?!” I shout. “That’s not helping. You made the situation worse.”
His face twists in anger and hurt. He plops on the edge of the double bed and puts the bottle to his lips again. Then he says, “If you have sex with that f**king a**hole, we’re done.”
I hesitate by the bathroom. “What?” My voice goes small. For some reason, I think he’s talking about our friendship. His glazed, reddened eyes tell me so.
He lets his words hang in the air while I internally freak out, imagining a world without him. So very alone.
“What do you mean, Lo?” My heart hammers.
“We’re done,” he says. “You really think your family will accept the fact that you cheated on me with the staff? No, we’ll have to break up.”
Our fake relationship, that’s what he’s talking about. I exhale. “I’ll be careful.”
His eyes narrow, heated. “So you’re going to sleep with him?”
I shrug. “I don’t have much of a choice.”
He shakes his head. “Un-f**king-believable.” He stands up and takes his bottle with him, turning his back on me.
“You don’t understand,” I start, quickly trying to defend what my body craves. “I can’t stop thinking about it, Lo. My legs are shaking. My hands are shaking. I feel like I’m being set in a blender. I just need someone...”
“Stop.” His voice sounds pained again. “Just…stop.”
I’m so confused. “What do you want me to do? I can’t go without it. You’re drinking!” It’s so unfair. “Why can’t I have sex?”
“Because we’re supposed to be together!” he yells. “You’re supposed to be my girlfriend.” Before I can ask him to elaborate, he goes to the door, purposefully trying to avoid my questions. “I’ll be at the pool.”
* * *
I spend most of the day shivering in a shower, trying to force myself to forget Lo and the male server and body parts. Self-love does nothing but frustrate me, and I sink to the cold tiles, crying the pain away.
Lo confuses me. Does he want to be with me? Or is he just afraid I’m going to ruin our lie? I can’t find the meaning to his words, no matter how hard I repeat them.
I skip dinner, but Rose barges in my room and knocks on the door. “What are you doing in there?”
I shut off the faucet and wrap a towel around my wet, wrinkly skin. When I step out of the bathroom, she appraises my state. I mutter, “We had a fight.”
“You and Lo?” Her eyes harden. “What’d he do?”
I shake my head. “I’m not even sure.” Tears build again.
“That a**hole,” she says before going to my suitcase. “I knew something was wrong at dinner.” Did he look trashed? My heart sinks at the thought of Lo drinking himself into oblivion because of me.
“How so?” I ask.
She finds my charcoal bathing suit and hands it to me. “He was really quiet,” she says, actually not making a snide remark. “He excused himself early, and I saw him sit on the deck and watch the sunset.”
“Oh,” I say softly. I finger the bathing suit. “What’s this for?”
“Poppy, Daisy and I are going to the hot tub. I thought you should join.”
“I don’t feel well—”
“I know, but maybe being surrounded by other people who love you will help.”
I’m not talking about my broken heart. My hands tremble even as I hold the cloth, and I don’t know how much more I can take without hav**g s*x. I need to find the server, but Lo’s expression stops me from making a move. I don’t want to betray him, and if there’s something there—just a chance that it exists—I don’t want to ruin it. Not for anything. But I worry that I may.
I don’t have the strength to argue with Rose. So I begin to dress in the bathing suit, dropping my towel.
“Is the fight serious?” she asks, sitting on the bed with crossed legs.
I shoot her a look. “Don’t act so happy about it.”
“What? I’m not enjoying your sadness, but I’m not going to pretend to be upset if you two break up.”
“Why do you hate him so much?” I tie straps around my neck.
“I don’t hate him,” she refutes. “He annoys me, but I don’t hate him. Maybe dislike.” She runs her fingers over the nautical bedspread. “I don’t think he’s good for you. Is it so bad that I think you can do better?”
“No,” I whisper, fully dressed now. “But Lo and I…” I try to find the words. “We may not be good for each other, but sometimes I feel like he’s the only guy who could ever love me.” And that’s the truth. Because who would love this? A girl who sleeps around. A whore. A slut. Trash to be disposed. That’s what everyone sees.
“You think too lowly of yourself,” Rose says, standing. “If you don’t love yourself, Lily, how can anyone love you back?” She wraps an arm around my shoulder. “And you don’t need a guy to fulfill you. I wish you would remember that.”
And I wish that were true.
* * *
The stars twinkle overhead as all of my sisters soak in the warm, bubbling hot tub at the bow of the yacht. For this quiet hour, it seems like we’re the only ones who exist.
Thirty minutes in and I already know this is a bad idea. The jet behind my backside does nothing but lead my fantasies to dark, sensual places. And my mind has drifted so frequently that I’m surprised I haven’t fallen asleep and been afflicted with a hot sex dream.
All that keeps me present are my sisters’ numerous games like “Never Have I Ever”—in which I learned that Rose and Daisy are still virgins. Good for them. Thankfully Rose steers the conversation away from Lo and relationships. Mostly, I listen to Daisy talk about her week in Paris and the cute models, which also does not help my cause.
Then, I hear the clap of shoes across the wooden boards. I glance over my shoulder, and I try not to audibly sigh or moan or do anything at the sight of the attractive server. He sets down four towels for us and makes eye contact with me, clearly a signal, before he departs.
So this is it. I want to say no, but I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t have sex. And Lo hasn’t offered. So…
Here I go. I fake yawn. “I’m going to head to bed, girls,” I tell them, climbing out.
Rose watches me. “You’ll be okay?”
I nod. “Yeah. I need to talk to Lo anyway.”
“If you need backup, I’m happy to lend my nails,” she says with a smile.
I share it easily. “I’ll be sure to call you if I need them.”
That’s all it takes. I slip inside the yacht where the server lingers by the bar, talking softly to the older bartender. He gives me a onceover and then I head downstairs, looking back to make sure he follows me.
Each step down towards the cabin rooms, I sense my looming fate. Am I going to ruin our fake relationship? Lo’s paranoia ekes into my brain. What if I ruin our friendship over this? Or any possibility of a future, of something more together? I shake it off. This is like any other day. Lo will be happy that I feel better, and he’ll be glad that I did it unseen. Nothing will change. Nothing will change, I repeat.
And then I freeze at the bottom. Lo sits outside our room, empty-handed. His head hangs low, and when he sees me, he jumps to his feet. I fossilize and feel the server’s body-heat right behind me.
Lo doesn’t even look at him. He keeps his hard gaze right on me. “I need to talk to you.”
Talk. I don’t need talking. I need something else. “I’m busy.” Just say it! Tell Lo you want him and end this.
I’m a coward.
His nose flares. “Please.”
I glance back at the server, who seems to be piecing together our relationship, trying to figure out what kind it is. Very, very unconventional, that’s what.
I am awful at saying no. So even though my body protests with all its might, I nod and slip into my cabin, Lo shutting out the server behind us.
I feel like I have to justify my actions again. “Lo, I really need this. I’m sorry. I am.” I inhale a strained breath. “I just don’t know what else to do.” I keep talking, afraid of what he has to say, so my words tumble out. “I can’t stop thinking about it, and I know it won’t stop until it happens.”