“I don’t want their help. I want yours.”
Before I make sense of that, my phone buzzes on the table. Ryke glances at the name in the text box. “Lo,” he says. “Maybe you can ask him if it’s okay.”
“He will say no,” I shoot back.
“You don’t know that.”
“You don’t know Lo,” I retort and click into the text.
Can I watch p*rn with you tonight? You clock more time with your remote than me. Jealous. – Lo
I clutch my phone to my chest, hoping Ryke didn’t catch a peek. My elbows blush anyway.
“You’re turning red.”
“It’s hot in here,” I mumble and clear my throat. “I don’t know what more to tell you.”
“Say ‘yes, Ryke, I’ll help you this one time since I stopped Matt from beating the shit out of my boyfriend.’”
My eyes narrow. “How long are you going to hold that over my head?”
I sigh heavily, realizing this is not going to end like I want it to. “Lo may yell at you. He may call you rude names until you leave.”
Ryke lets out another short laugh. “Yeah, I think I can handle him.” He tilts his head. “Do you think he can handle me?”
“You do realize that sounds sexual,” I blurt, my eyes widening in regret. Why did I just say that?!
“And maybe you have a perverted mind.”
I can’t argue with that, but I have officially roasted into a new shade of red. To ignore my embarrassment, I go back to the issue at hand. “You’re not allowed to mention alcohol. If you do, you’re gone.”
He nods. “Fair enough.”
Maybe Lo will find a way to deter Ryke. If anyone can skillfully kick someone out of our apartment, it’s him.
I scroll through the calendar in my phone. “What day were you thinking?”
He stands and stuffs my biology book into his backpack. “Right now.”
I gape. “I’m studying, Ryke.”
“Really. That’s what you were doing?” He rubs his jaw. “I could have sworn you were people-watching and eating the end of your pencil.”
I glare. “You’ve been spying on me?”
He slings his backpack over his shoulder. “I was observing you. Don’t get so pissy about it. I just needed to make sure you were in a good enough mood to hear my request.” He nods to the exit. “Shall we?”
I stand up in a huff, gathering my notebooks and shoving them into my backpack. “I don’t understand why we have to do this right now.”
He scoots his chair into the table. “Because, Lily Calloway, you seem like the type of girl who will never return my calls.” He motions for me to follow with his fingers, as though I’m a pet dog. “Let’s go.”
I inhale a strained breath, silently throwing darts into Ryke Meadows’ face. His self-confident swagger rubs me wrong. In fact, I’d rather not be rubbed by him at all. At least Lo will know what to do with him. That, I hold onto.
* * *
We agree to meet in the lobby of the Drake since we drove in two separate cars. When I walk in, I’m not surprised to see him waiting by the golden elevators. My bio book rests under his arm, and for the first time I allow myself a good look at Ryke. Without his Green Arrow costume, he appears slightly older, especially with a stubbly jaw and tanned skin. Underneath his white track shirt, I’m sure lies very toned and very lean muscles. He has a face that could force girls to their knees, but so does Lo.
I can’t imagine the two of them squaring off. Ice v. Stone. Sharpness v. Hardness. Cold v. Hot. They’re different, yet somehow, they’re still alike.
Ryke presses the button when he sees me approach. “You look like you’re going to vomit.”
“I’m not,” I mumble a stupid reply, thankful that the elevator doors burst open and slice the awkwardness. I slide in and hit the top floor. When they close, Ryke spins around and faces me, positioning himself in front of the doors, as though hoping I won’t bolt the second they break apart.
“I lied,” he starts.
My jaw unhinges. “Wha…” This was a bad idea.
“I’m not actually going to Comic-Con—”
“I knew it!” I should have listened to my gut. “Get out.”
He tilts his head with a frown at my asinine order. “We’re on a f**king elevator. In fact…” He presses the emergency stop, and it rumbles to a halt. Oh my God. He’s going to murder me! I spring to the buttons to restart the elevator, but he shields my passage by extending his arms and then lightly pushing me back.
“Let me out!”
“I need you to listen to me,” Ryke starts. “I am a journalism major. I do write for The Philadelphia Chronicle. But I have no intention of going to Comic-Con.”
“Because I want to help your boyfriend, and I needed you to get me at least this far so I could explain the rest.”
My defensive barriers start rising tenfold. “We don’t need your help! I can take care of him.” I point to my chest. “I’ve taken care of him my whole life.”
“Yeah?” Ryke’s eyes narrow heatedly. “How many times have you watched him pass out? Tossing a few aspirins isn’t helping him, Lily. He has a f**king problem.”
My cheeks burn, and I take in his words very carefully. It hurts to see Lo drink so excessively. It hurts to watch him depend on one drink after the next, and I constantly fear the day where it becomes too much. But I always bury those worries with carnal pleasures and a natural high. My voice softens. “Why do you want to fix him so badly?”
Ryke stares at me with more empathy than I thought he was capable of. “My father is an alcoholic, and I don’t want Lo to turn out like him. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
I ask a question that has been plaguing me for some time. “How can you know Lo’s an alcoholic? You don’t know him. You’ve seen him once on his twenty-first birthday, and he was passed out more than he was awake.”
Ryke shrugs. “I can just tell, especially with the way you became possessive over his flask. He’d be truly pissed if someone wasted his expensive alcohol, wouldn’t he?”
He would. I bite my nails. “I don’t know what you want me to do.”
Ryke edges forward. “Let me try to help him.”
I shake my head. “Lo won’t let you.”
“I figured as much, and that’s why I can start by hanging around you guys, getting to know him.”
The pieces start adding together. “Comic-Con. You want to keep up the lie to grow closer to Lo so you can try to influence him. You want me to lie?” I’m not sure this will work. We’ve already allowed Connor into our lives; another person may unsettle an already off-kilter balance.
“Yeah,” Ryke says. “I want you to lie to your boyfriend so that he has a chance to get better. You think you can do that, Lily? Or are you going to be selfish and let him continue this destructive path? One day, he may never wake up. One day, his body may shut down. And you’re going to think back to this moment and wonder why you didn’t agree to this proposition—why you didn’t try something else to help your boyfriend.”
I stumble back, punched in the gut. “I don’t want him to die,” I murmur.
“Then do something about it.”
I nod out of impulse, but I haven’t processed what this means in the long run. That I’ll have to lie to Lo. Can I do it? My brows scrunch in thought. I think I can. Lo has more to lose if I don’t try. Surviving another debacle like Halloween sounds less and less likely, and I struggle to help Lo because of our relationship and my vice. No second party has ever offered aid before. And if Lo was given the same deal to help me, would he take it?
I know he would.
I look back up at Ryke. “I still don’t like you.”
“I’m not very fond of you either,” he admits and hands me my bio book.
“What did I do to you?” I frown. Why doesn’t he like me?
He presses a button and the elevator groans to a start. We rise. “You’re too skinny. You whine too much. And you enable an alcoholic.”
I purse my lips. “I’m already regretting this.” But I’ll suffer through Ryke’s mean comments if it gives Lo a chance to get better.
“I warned you that I’m not easy to get rid of.”
I thought he was exaggerating. The elevator doors slide open, and I lead him to my apartment even though he knows the way. The thought is as unsettling as the looming situation. The last time he was here, Lo had been unconscious to the world. Moments ago, I hoped Lo would find a way to kick him out, now I have to defend Ryke, who has proved to be an annoying force in my life.
I unlock the door and toss my jangling keys in the basket.
Lo calls to me from the bedroom. “Lil, we’re going to watch Blow Hard, and I’m going to f**k you better than…” He trails off to read the label on the back of the DVD while my eyes bug, not willing a peek at Ryke by my side. “...a group of pierced thugs. Huh…”
“Lo!” I yell.
“I don’t like that one either,” he says. I hear the sound of DVD cases clattering together.
Ryke clears his throat beside me, and I glimpse at him for a millisecond, catching sight of his raised brows at me. Can this get more awkward?
“Or would you rather I sucked every part of you, love?”
Oh my God.
If Ryke’s uncomfortable, he doesn’t let on. Between the two of us, I’m the one shrinking back. After only a second, Lo emerges from the bedroom. He wears nothing but a pair of jeans, the band of his boxer-briefs peeking from the hem. On a normal day, I’d take in the ridges of his abs, the curve of his muscles that seem to lead towards something much lower and much more sinful. He would flash those bedroom eyes and tease me for thirty minutes. Then he’d lift me in his arms and carry me to his mattress. He’d draw out every movement, every look, everything to excite my body and electrify my nerves.
Instead, he freezes in the space between the hallway and the kitchen. His face sharpens, and his muscles cut into rigid lines.
I open my mouth to introduce Ryke, but Lo ignores me and sets an ice-cold glare on him. “Who the f**k are you?”
Ryke takes the words with ease. “Green Arrow.”
Lo’s face contorts in confusion.
He doesn’t remember what happened. I step forward and come to his side. “He’s from the Halloween party,” I say. “He helped stop the fight.” And he carried you home.
Lo nods. “Thanks then.” He shifts to me, keeping his back to Ryke. His voice lowers so Ryke can’t hear. “We’re on a schedule, Lil. You shouldn’t have brought him to the apartment.”
I frown. “You’re not going to ask me why he’s here?”
His eyes flicker hesitantly to Ryke. “Right now,” he whispers, “I’m more concerned with satisfying you.”