Connor enters and surprisingly, Ryke follows suit. He slams the door and locks it. “Drive!” he yells.
Gilligan speeds down the suburban street, and the Ninja Turtles race after our getaway limo, their figures visible in the brightness of the taillights. When we gain more and more distance, they slow to a stop and fade into the darkness.
I spin back, facing Connor and Ryke.
Connor says, “Let me guess. There was no fight inside the house.”
Ryke watches Lo wheeze in an unconscious sleep. “I made it up,” he admits, sounding detached. “Is he okay?”
“Wait.” I hold up my hands. “What’s going on? Why did you help us?” He was standing on the sidelines watching the drama play out. He could have easily stayed there, not made a move, not intervened. Instead, he created an elaborate lie to get the Ninja Turtles inside and us to safety. Random acts of kindness do not exist in my world. The only answer that makes sense—he wants to be friends with us, choosing a billion dollar net worth over twenty-five million like Connor said.
For the first time, Ryke unfastens his gaze from Lo. “You think I could stand around and watch Matt drunkenly grab a girl?”
“Lots of people would,” I mumble. His brows scrunch into something hard and dark, making me more reserved and cautious.
“Yeah? Then people suck.” He glances back at Lo who hugs his flask. All of a sudden Ryke leans forward and snatches the flask from Lo’s fingers. He unscrews the cap and rolls down the window.
“What are you doing?” I say, frantic. I jump to the other seat and try to pry the flask back. “That’s not yours!” I struggle to reach for the alcohol, so he won’t dump out the liquid onto the dirtied roads.
Ryke effortlessly holds the flask away from me, but I angle my body against the open window, blocking him from any sort of exit. He stares at me like I’ve suddenly mutated into a lizard. “What’s your problem?”
“That’s not yours to trash!”
“Yeah? I take it that’s your boyfriend?”
I glare, not saying a word otherwise.
Connor watches curiously but only observes.
Ryke swishes the liquid. “This,” he says, “caused all the f**king drama today. So I’m doing him a favor, you a favor, and everyone else in this f**king limo a favor by tossing it out.” He goes for the window again, and I spider the door, my arms stretched out to stop him. He places a hand above mine—his body so close that I feel the rise and fall of his ribs against my chest. Oh God…
He tries to pass me by extending an arm towards the window, but I knock it away. Amber liquid splashes over the both of us. And I fight against him for the flask, but end up dousing us in more alcohol. To end the struggle, he pins my arms to the cushion. “Stop,” he forces.
I glare at his hold. “How is this any different than Matt grabbing me?”
His jaw hardens to stone. “I’m trying to help your boyfriend.” With this, he eases off and rests his back against the seat.
My bare stomach is slick with alcohol, and heat rises to my face at the remembrance of my actions. I pick up Lo’s empty flask and slide onto my seat, my eyes still narrowing in distrust at Ryke. “Who are you?”
Connor’s eyebrows shoot up. “You don’t know him?”
I glare. “Should I?”
“This is Ryke Meadows, captain of the track team. Michael and Matt are on it as well.”
I inhale a strained breath. “So,” I turn my heated gaze on Ryke, “those are your track buddies?”
“Yeah,” Ryke says. He glances at Lo again and leaves his place to sit on the other side of my boyfriend.
“He’s fine,” I nearly shout. I know how to take care of Lo. I’ve been in this situation plenty of times to understand when he needs a hospital and when he needs water and a bed.
Ryke doesn’t take my word for it. He puts two fingers to Lo’s neck, checking his pulse.
Connor nods to me. “You knew he was drinking their expensive booze the whole time, didn’t you?”
Ryke’s brows cinch, and with the paint across his eyes, his expression looks even darker and angrier than before. “You didn’t stop him?” He shakes his head in disapproval.
A surge of guilt assaults me, and I hate it. I hate him for making me feel this. I’ve done everything I can to protect Lo from himself without being hypocritical. “I tried.” I warned Lo not to, but I couldn’t force him to stop. Not when I wanted sex as much as he craved alcohol.
“And does he always drink this much?”
What’s with the interrogation? I bite my lip, not able to form the words that boil. “It’s his twenty-first birthday.” Most people end their twenty-first passed out drunk, but Ryke looks as suspicious as before. He sees through me just like the gigolo had.
“That’s bullshit,” Connor says. “Lo hasn’t attempted to hide his problem from me. I’ve never seen him without booze.”
I turn my head from their judgment and tighten my hand on Lo’s ankle. “I just need to get him home.” Wake up, I want to scream at Lo. He left me here to clean his mess. Again.
Connor drops the subject and the limo silently bumps along the badly paved city streets. I feel Ryke’s sweltering emotions, his breathing heavy as he tries to come to terms with the situation. Every time I catch a glimpse of him, he looks like he could punch a wall. Or more accurately, go for a run.
When the limo slows outside of the Drake, I crawl beside Lo and hook my arms underneath his, lifting his heavy body against mine.
“Lo,” I whisper. Wake up! I can barely carry him into a shower. How the hell am I supposed to drag him to the elevator? Asking for help happens to be a foreign phrase for me, so I spend the next couple of minutes struggling to upright his body and scoot him towards the door.
Connor and Ryke climb from the limo and then my door whips open. Connor sticks his head in from outside. “Lily, move. We’ll carry him.”
“No, Lo wouldn’t want that.”
Ryke lowers his head into view. “And most guys wouldn’t want to be carried in by their girlfriend either.” I take that as a personal insult, even though he may not mean it as one.
“He’s not even coherent to care,” Connor says, as if that settles the matter. I can see I’m not going to win this one.
I slide from the seat, bracing the cold Philly air. And Connor dips into the limo. “You take his feet.”
Ryke positions himself outside the door, and they exchange directions to each other until Ryke is able to scoop Lo into his arms, carrying him rather easily. I wish Connor was the one to hold him. Something about Ryke puts me on edge.
Nevertheless, he cradles Lo. The picture should be comical since Lo wears red and black spandex, looking like a wounded X-Men. But I imagine Lo waking up and seeing Green Arrow assuredly holding him in his arms. He would freak out. And not in a fan-boy kind of way.
“Watch his head,” I instruct as we walk through the revolving doors.
“I have him.” Ryke marches into the lobby without breaking a sweat.
Even in the elevator, I watch Lo closely, upset at the course of events. I’ve never allowed someone else to carry or help him. That job has been mine for as long as I can remember. And maybe I have been horrible at it, but at least he’s still alive, breathing. Here. With me.
At the door, I find my keys and lead them into our place. My nerves jump again when I realize this may be the most testosterone to ever cross the threshold of my apartment. Maybe not. I did have that moment where I brought two guys home.
“You can put him on the bed.” I lead Ryke into Lo’s room and motion to the champagne comforter. He sets him down. While I untie Lo’s boots, he scans the decorations, the Comic-Con posters, the photographs and the tinted cabinets. The way he looks off—it’s strange, as though he’s never seen a guy’s room before.
“You two live together?” Ryke picks up a picture frame from the desk.
“She’s a Calloway.” Connor leans a hip on the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest.
Ryke says, “That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“My dad created Fizzle,” I explain.
“I know, that explains why Connor’s hanging around the two of you, but that has nothing to do with you two being together.” He puts the frame down.
Connor raises his hand. “Just to clarify, I actually kind of like these two. Never a dull moment.”
Ryke shrugs off his leather jacket that’s soaked in alcohol. “So you’re in a serious relationship with Lo?”
“What does it matter to you?”
His face twists in irritation. “Are you always this defensive with people who save your ass?”
Yes. Instead of admitting my faults, I answer his previous question. “He’s a childhood friend. We just started dating, but we’ve lived together since the start of college. Satisfied?”
“That’ll do,” he says, picking up another frame.
Connor asks, “What time do you think Lo is going to be awake? He promised me that we’d go to the gym tomorrow.”
I sigh. “Promises from Lo are like bars at 2 a.m.—empty.” I open the desk drawer and find three bottles of Advil. I toss the bare container in the trash and dump four pills from the second bottle into my palm. Hurriedly, I fill a glass of water from the bathroom and place it beside the bed with the capsules.
“You do this a lot,” Ryke states.
I shut off the lights, not meeting his eyes and usher them into the living room. I wrap my body in a cream cotton blanket, hiding my hands that have begun to shake. While they choose the couch, I curl up in the red suede recliner.
Ryke soaks in the atmosphere from the cushions, inspecting the light fixtures, the unused fireplace and the Warhol-inspired polar bear prints. It’s like he’s constructing a person out of our things. I don’t like it.
“You both should leave. I’m kind of tired,” I say softly.
Connor stands. “Okay, but I’ll be here in the afternoon to pick up Lo for the gym. He may not keep his promises, but I collect on all offered to me.”
Ryke stands just as Connor leaves through the door. He continues to glance around, his eyes flitting over the kitchen, the bar stools, the bookshelves…
“Are you planning on stealing something?” I ask. “We really don’t have that many valuables here. You should try my parents’ house.”
Ryke’s face contorts. “You’re something, you know that?” His eyes narrow. “Just because I’m staring at your lamp, doesn’t mean I’m going to hijack it.”
“If you’re not taking mental pictures to come back later, then what the hell are you doing?”
He cocks his head to the side and stares at me like I’m truly a moron. “I’m trying to get a sense for who you are.” He points to the fireplace mantel where a crystal vase sits, a house warming present from Poppy. “Rich.” He nods to the liquor bottles that litter the kitchen counters. “Alcoholic.” How can he form that conclusion from a few bottles?