Connor nods. “I even invited her tonight.”
Lo groans. “You did not invite the ice queen here.”
“Hey,” I shoot back. “That’s my sister. She has a good heart.” I pause. “You just have to be liked by her first.”
“Or be related to her,” Lo points out. True.
“So she’s coming?” I wonder, kind of nervous. I’d rather not explain Lo’s intoxication to her, especially since he’s supposed to be reformed from his boozing, careless days. It’s his birthday, and she’ll add that to his list of negative attributes and reasons why he’s not good for me.
Connor says, “She’s not coming.” Is that disappointment in his voice? “She said she’d rather skin my cat.” He smiles. Like actually smiles at that. Oh my God, were they flirting with each other over the phone?
Lo relaxes and mutters, “Thank God.”
Connor nods to me. “By the way, what are you supposed to be?”
Am I going to get asked that all night? I guess I should prepare. I flash my plastic claws. “X-23.”
He squints, confused.
“The girl version of Wolverine, technically his female clone.”
“Oh. Okay, cool. You kind of look like a hooker with knives though.” What?! That is not helping my confidence. “Lo, you need to prepare yourself for this party. So many guys are going to hit on her.”
Just when I thought I snuffed out my insecurities.
Lo gives me an encouraging squeeze on the shoulder. The thought of guys everywhere used to be exciting—a playground for my compulsions—but now, I couldn’t be more scared. Maybe a party is a bad idea.
To Connor, Lo says, “Good, it’ll give her practice saying no.” Oh, that was mean. I push him off, untangling his arms from mine. He focuses on tipping bourbon into the tiny opening of his flask, not caring anyway. He would have before he talked to his dad. He might have teased me back and whispered something dirty in my ear. Now, his mind has switched tracks.
“I can say no,” I defend with an unconvincing mutter. I haven’t tested this theory since we’ve started dating.
Lo caps his flask and looks to Connor. “If you see her flirting with someone, just yank her off him.”
“Lo,” I warn with wild eyes. What the hell is Connor going to think? That I really am a whore with claws?! My entire body heats and I struggle not to bury my face into my hands.
“You two are so weird,” Connor says, very casually.
Being called weird by Connor is like a unicorn calling a horse magical. It makes no damn sense, which is why Lo and I break into smiles, even if Lo’s mood has somewhat shifted since the phone call.
Abruptly, the car jerks to a stop. Gilligan mumbles out a “we’re here” and unlocks the doors. I press my nose to the window, ritzy suburbs right in view. A glowing mansion sits at the top of a steep hill, lighting up the dark sky. Out of all the parties, Connor said he picked the one that would have the best food. In the same sentence, he mentioned that I looked like I needed a good meal.
More cars roll up to the circular drive, and we climb out to confront the hoopla. A fountain crests the center, red, bloody water spurting from the stone. Zombies are staked in the green lawn, so life-like that I thought the gory limbs and droopy mouths were facilitated by paid models. Upon closer inspection, they’re nothing but silicon, prosthetics and paint.
We follow Connor up the stone stoops, and he bangs a bronze knocker. While we wait for an answer, more people gather behind us.
The door whips open quickly, loud music booming from inside. George Washington or possibly Mozart stands in the archway, holding a champagne glass. A white pill fizzles at the bottom of the gold liquid.
“Connor Cobalt!” He grins and sways on his feet, the white wig slightly off-kilter.
“Hey.” They go in for the bro-hug. “Who the hell are you supposed to be?”
“Thomas f**king Jefferson.”
“Of course,” Connor says with a sarcastic smile. Thomas Jefferson doesn’t pick it up, and before hanging around Connor, I wonder if I would have noticed it. Connor motions to Lo and me, and I grip onto Lo’s hips, hiding my exposed midriff behind half his body. “These are my friends. Lily and Lo.”
Thomas Jefferson narrows his eyes at Lo and I duck further behind his back. “What are you?” he wonders. “Mr. Spandex?”
“Clever,” Lo says with a glare.
“They’re X-Men,” Connor clarifies.
With this, Lo grabs my wrist and pulls me into view. He plants a hand firmly on my waist, as if this guy will know the new mutant couple.
Thomas Jefferson stares at my long claws. “Right!” He claps his hands in recognition. “Wolverine Girl.”
“There’s no such thing,” I correct him. He gives me a funny look, and Connor sighs, slight impatience cracking his leveled exterior.
“Can we only be invited inside if you understand our costumes?” Connor asks. He cranes his neck to look past the host’s shoulder. “Because I think I spot a Sweeny Todd in there, and I know for a fact you’ve never heard of him.”
“Huh. Connor Cobalt. Always got to be right.” He swings the door and mockingly motions us inside. His staff must have evacuated for this college party, not wanting to be swept up in a hurricane of puke and candy corn.
Unfazed by the insult, Connor steps into the massive grand foyer where crystal chandeliers twinkle from the ceiling. Partygoers go up and down the marble staircase and further into glowing rooms, cobwebs strewn across doorframes. People stumble around and sway to hypnotic music.
I step through the doorway, and then Thomas Jefferson blocks off the entrance before anyone else can cross.
“I don’t know you,” he says to the people behind us. “Or you.” The door slams. He traipses back in and passes Connor. “Freeloaders,” I hear him say, as though Connor will nod in agreement. He doesn’t do anything but pluck a steaming pumpkin mug off a goblin’s tray. Now those hairy things are models, waddling about with warty faces.
Unlike the highlighter party, Solo cups are replaced with champagne glasses and pumpkin mugs. Little baggies of pills and powder are clandestinely passed from palm to palm. I grew up with these blowouts—rich teenagers needing drugs to satiate the endless expanse of time. As if they reanimated straight from the pages of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero.
Drugs have never been my problem, and maybe I should feel a sense of gratitude that my compulsion is less dangerous than shooting liquid fire into my veins. Sex is a part of everyone’s life, addicted or not. Drugs aren’t. Alcohol isn’t. You can spend years without both, but most people never become lifelong celibates. Every time I catch a girl tucking a baggy into her bra, eyes glazed and gone, I feel a pang of jealousy. Why can’t I have an addiction that people understand? It’s a vile thought—to wish for an addiction many die with. I’d rather have none at all, but for some reason, I never allow myself that option.
Before I made sense of my compulsions, I would spend hours lying in bed, emotionally drained from my ping-ponging thoughts. One minute, I vehemently defended my actions inside my mind. It was my body. Sex made me feel better and stopping would cause more problems than continuing down the destructive path. The next minute, I cried for hours and convinced myself to quit. I told myself I didn’t have a problem. I was just a whore looking for a way to justify my constant sexual thoughts. Sometimes I tried to stop. I trashed my p*rn and refused my body the luxury of cli**xing.
But I couldn’t stomach the withdrawals, and those fruitless goals quickly ended. I always found a reason to start again. Maybe that’s my biggest fear—that I’ll find one excuse to move on from Lo. And I’ll be compelled to take it.
Lo dashes off in front of me, and I run to keep up and hide behind his back. A gaggle of hippies in flowery mini-dresses bombards Connor. He nods and smiles perfunctorily, and it sets off a wave of giggles.
He’ll have to fend for himself. I trail Lo into the kitchen where bodies compact near the silver stove. They flick on the gas and light cigarettes from the flames. The sliding glass door sits ajar, smoke wafting out into the chilly night. A couple girls in bikinis shriek and laugh loudly as they race into the house, goose-pimpled and wet.
Lo jiggles the knobs to a glass cabinet. Crystal bottles line about seven shelves, filled with amber liquid. Every lavish party starts the same. Lo beelines for the most expensive alcohol in the house and impulsively craves the taste of the different brands.
“It’s locked,” I tell him. “Can you stick to your own bourbon tonight?” His flask stays in the waist of his belt that matches his red and black suit.
“Hold on.” He departs for a second, vanishing around the corner and I pretend to be interested in a still life painting on the wall. Better to look fascinated by apples and pears than like a lonely loser.
Lo returns moments later with a safety pin.
“Lo,” I warn as he starts to wiggle it into the keyhole. “We just got here. I don’t want to get kicked out.”
“You’re distracting me,” he says.
Visions of high school parties swim to me. Lo creeping down the cellar of a kid’s house—a kid who invited everyone in his grade. Those parties happened far too often. Lo would drink the vintage wines and imported scotches, the angered host dragging him out by the shirt. Lo stumbling to stay upright. Me, exiting the bathroom with flushed cheeks, only to hurry after my only friend.
I don’t like repeating mistakes, but sometimes, I think we’re both forever stuck on a turntable.
Even with the smokers’ chatter by the stove, I hear the click of the lock. The glass doors swing open, and Lo’s eyes light up. Watching him delicately touch the bottles with hungry anticipation reminds me of my desires.
Which is why I blurt out, “You want to do it in the bathroom?” My voice remains small and timid, not yet a confident, sexy girl that I’m sure fills Lo’s dreams. It’s hard to be her when Lo isn’t a conquest I sleep with and then ditch.
“Huh?” Distracted, he gathers the best liquors in his arms and sets them on the granite counter beside me.
“After you drink, do you want to go to the bathroom to…” I trail off, fearing the fatal blow of rejection.
He pops the crystal plunger on a bottle and tips the liquid in a glass. “I thought I rocked your world,” he says. “Unless I imagined you saying it. You were making all kinds of noises, so it was hard to tell.”
My elbows blush as I remember the scandalous acts before we left. “You heard incorrectly. I don’t think it was possible to form actual words.”
He smiles and then takes a languid sip from his liquor.
“But,” I continue, “we’ve only done it at the apartment or on the yacht.”
He looks back to the depths of his drink. “Is that something you have to have?” he asks. “I didn’t think location was a big f**king deal.” He grimaces at his biting tone and then throws the rest of the liquor back in his throat. He refills the glass quickly.