We fly up multiple levels, the numbers blinking above. I glance at Connor. “You have…” I motion to my ear. Bright orange paint crusts the top part of his.
He doesn’t go to rub it off, only smiles. “I’m covered in paint. Don’t worry about my ear.”
“Have you been to a highlighter party before?” What else could explain his clear composure throughout the crazy ordeal? He barely batted an eyelash when girls started grabbing his ass. He has two sets of pink handprints on his butt to prove it.
“Nope. I’ve heard about them though. It was interesting.”
The bell dings, and I try to figure out what would stir Connor’s stoic exterior. Maybe not being accepted to Wharton. Yeah, I can imagine that not going over too well.
I fumble with my keys and unlock the door. “Lo!” I yell into the living room. Connor closes the door behind me, and I storm through the apartment, hoping to find Lo in the kitchen fixing a drink.
I try his bedroom, not even bothering for a courtesy knock. I swing the door open, and my stomach drops. “Thank God.”
Lo lies face down on the bed, fully dressed and accompanied by three brown liquor bottles. I don’t know or care when he returned home. The fact that he’s present and not dead on the streets relieves me.
I approach him and say his name a couple of times to test his level of consciousness. With my pent up frustration, I shake his shoulder. He still doesn’t stir. Carefully, I roll him onto his side and press the back of my hand to his clammy forehead. He’s warm but not enough to run a fever. Alcohol poisoning. My other fear.
“Is he okay?”
I jump at the voice, momentarily forgetting Connor. He leans a hip on the doorframe, looking impassive as he watches me take care of Lo.
“He’ll survive,” I say. “Thanks for your help.”
He shrugs casually. “It’s good for me. I’ve been holed up in the library for the past four years that I’ve forgotten what real problems look like.”
Riiight. I brush off his hundredth offensive comment of the night. “I’ll see you tomorrow then? If you still want to tutor me.”
“For the fifteenth time, yes,” he says. “You need to work on your listening skills. I’ll see you at six.”
I frown. “Isn’t that a little late?”
He flashes one of those prep boy smiles. “Six in the morning.”
Oh. I glance at the digital clock on the desk. “That’s in five hours.”
“Then you better get to bed.” He looks inscrutable, glimpsing at Lo one last time, and then slips out the doorway, leaving the apartment.
Lo is dead to the world, and I decide to sleep in the guest bedroom. I curl in my purple sheets and realize that I’ve been so concerned for Lo’s safety that I haven’t thought about sex at all tonight.
Connor arrives promptly at six with steaming coffee and a box of croissants. Unlike me, no dark circles shadow his eyes, and he saunters in, all too chipper. He must run on five hours of sleep.
“Are you on drugs?” I ask. “Adderall?” Lots of college students abuse stimulants to study, basically performance enhancers for the intellectual elite.
“Absolutely not. You can’t taint natural genius.” He pauses. “Have you tried it? It may work for you.”
“You do realize you just insulted me?” I finally “out” his rudeness.
He rips a croissant in half and smiles. “I apologize,” he says, unapologetically. “I was just trying to be helpful. Some people can concentrate better on Adderall. It’s not for me, but maybe for you?” Strangely, rephrasing the question helps mild the insult. That may be one of Connor Cobalt’s intricacies. Or just a gift.
“No drugs,” I tell him, never liking stimulants, downers, or any narcotics. I have an addiction already—I don’t need another. “I want to do this the right way, even if I’m not a natural born genius.”
“Then let’s get to the books.”
We study a few more hours, and I retain the information this time, working on problems while Connor busies himself by making me flashcards. His handwriting is neater than mine, and I’m sure he’s already inflated himself with that knowledge.
When he finishes his last stack, he peeks at the clock on the oven. Studying eats time like a beast, so I’m not surprised it’s already noon. “He’s still asleep?” Connor asks, sounding surprised.
It takes me a moment to realize he means Lo. We dodged the subject since Connor stepped through the doorway with sweet smelling coffee and baked goods. He asked if Lo was okay and that was that.
“He’s passed out,” I correct him. “He’ll probably wake up within the hour.”
“Does he do that a lot?”
I give him a noncommittal shrug, not wanting to discuss Lo right now. Thankfully, he catches the hint and flips open my notebook to review my problem sets.
Twenty minutes later, we order Chinese for lunch. As soon as I hang up the phone, the toilet flushes in the other room. I focus on the sound of heavy, sluggish footsteps. I have zero interest in speaking with Lo, only to get slurred responses with irritable jabs.
I turn to the books, pretending that Lo hasn’t risen from bed, and ask Connor to explain chapter four to me again. Lo must hear another guy’s voice because only seconds pass before he braces the sunlight that streams through the kitchen windows.
Connor’s words taper off as Lo lumbers in. His matted hair sticks up in different directions, his complexion peaked and clammy, and the pungent smell of scotch permeates around him. If he was a cartoon, he’d be Pepe Le Pew with a smoky cloud circling his body. I should have helped him shower or at least tried to change him out of his clothes last night. He would have done the same for me.
Lo runs a hand through his hair and shuffles to the coffee pot. His eyes briefly flicker to the bar where we sit. “I know you,” Lo says, filling a mug.
“International Affairs. You sit in the very back. I’m in the very front.”
Lo turns his head a fraction to catch my gaze, his eyebrows rise like do you hear this guy? Yep, been there already. “Right.” Lo opens a cupboard and pulls out a bottle of Baileys Irish liqueur for his coffee. “You’re the guy who sets the curve.” He says it like it’s a bad thing, but he doesn’t see Connor beaming beside me.
“I’m tutoring Lily for her econ exam tomorrow.”
Lo shuts the cupboard, and I see his neck flush red. He hesitates before facing us fully, leaning against the sink.
“You know about the exam, right?” I ask Lo. I can easily see that he forgot.
“Yeah,” he says into his mug, taking an extended sip.
“Are you in the same class?” Connor looks all too eager. “I do group tutoring too.”
“I’m maxed out on studying. You help Lily.” Lo finishes off his coffee way too quickly. Then he opens the refrigerator and grabs a carton of eggs, preparing his hangover cure.
Connor nudges my shoulder. “Back to work. You’re at a sixty, minimum. I need you pulling out an eighty average on these problems.”
“But I thought we’re just trying to get me to pass.”
“I always deduct ten points for nerves.”
The blender cranks up, and Lo hunches over, using his arm to hold the lid and his other to support his weight on the counter. In effect, he looks about ready to melt into the floor or fall asleep again.
He barely acknowledges me. Maybe he thinks I cheated on him. I don’t even know how much he trusts me around other guys. We rarely leave the apartment to test those boundaries.
Or maybe it’s just guilt—at not being coherent to answer my phone calls. I suppose that makes more sense.
After Lo concocts his hangover cure, he disappears back into his bedroom. I try to concentrate on studying, and then the Chinese arrives. I sigh at the sound of a food break.
“How long have you been dating him?” Connor asks, using his chopsticks to grab a noodle from the container. He has perfect chopstick-form. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spoke seven different languages too.
I stab my orange chicken with a fork, stalling as I decide which answer to give him. The fake one: Three years. The real one: Three weeks.
I have yet to lie to Connor, and I’d rather not start. “We’ve been friends since we were kids, and we moved in together when we started college. But we just started dating a few weeks ago.”
“Wow, your parents must be pretty cool to let you live with a guy friend. Mine have strict serious-relationship-only requirements. Like marriage serious. They don’t want any girl mooching off of me until I put a ring on it. So Sadie’s my only female companion.”
“You’re single then?” I sip a Diet Fizz.
“Happily,” he says with a nod. I try to imagine what type of girl Connor would seek, but she seems unfathomable—like a hazy picture with only her brain showing. Regardless, he has plenty of options. Very attractive, extroverted girls fondled him at the highlighter party. I guess being good looking, approachable, well-dressed and friendly goes a long way. Even so, he recognized their flirtations but never participated in them.
“Are you gay?” I blurt without thinking. What’s wrong with me? I busy myself with a big bite of orange chicken, stuffing my mouth to fill the awkwardness.
He shakes his head, not insulted. Nothing ruffles him. “Girls. Definitely girls. But you’re not my type. I like someone who can intellectually spar with me.”
I need to start a drinking game. I’ll take a shot every time Connor finds another creative way to call me dumb. On second thought, I’d probably die from alcohol poisoning.
After we finish our Chinese, I clean up and Connor instructs me to type and retype my notes until it sinks in. Being on the computer is dangerous. While the silent minutes tick by, I sometimes forget Connor hovers beside me. The subconscious urge to log onto p*rn sites creeps into my fingers.
When I was much younger, my downward spiral began with small compulsions, like mustering the nerve to click into an X-rated site. Gradually, I started moving forward. Porn sites became dirty chat pages, five minutes became an hour, and I obsessed about my next opportunity to surf the internet—like a young boy’s fixation with Halo and Call of Duty. Porn is my time bandit, stealing days from me, causing me to be late to family functions and class. Even though I feared my sisters finding out—or god forbid, my mother—I returned without pause.
I lose sleep to my behavior, and still, I can’t stop.
“I don’t hear typing,” Connor scolds in a light tone.
I pound the keys loudly, hoping it’ll incite him. He blithely resumes “grading” my problem sets, which just means he’s scribbling a bunch of red marks all over the paper.
The last video I watched involved my favorite couple: Evan Evernight and Lana Love. They role played—Evan as the cop, Lana as the speeder. He climbed out of his car in his full, blue police uniform, fingers hooked on his belt. And then he set a meaty hand on her silver Lexus, bending down into her space, her window lowering.