“Lo,” I whisper, clutching his bicep. I look at him with shallow breath and bedroom eyes. Please, come with me. Please…
“Can you wait until we go home?”
Ryke catches those words just as Connor dials Rose’s number and wanders off. “What’s wrong?” he asks me.
“Nothing.” I shoot Lo a warning look. “I’ll be right back.” I go to leave for the bathrooms, and Lo catches my wrist.
“You need to try,” he tells me.
“Like you’re trying?”
Lo puts his lips to my ear and whispers, “I am trying. I’ve only had beer today. You know this.”
I can’t imagine not fulfilling this need right now. It hurts too much. It’s all I can think about. And if Lo won’t help me, then I’ll help myself. Without cheating. I disentangle from him. “I don’t want to sit through the show like this. We have time.”
“What is it that you need to do?” Ryke asks me. I hate the hard tone of his voice, as though I’m one step away from killing Lo by causing him stress, by handing him a glass of alcohol, by watching him drink without reproach.
I glare. “It’s none of your business.”
“Hey,” Ryke says. “I was just going to ask if I could help.”
My cheeks heat. “You can’t.”
“Jesus, someone woke up on the wrong side of the f**king bed.”
“Don’t you talk about me in a bed,” I retort, being nonsensical and irrational.
Lo grabs my wrist. “Lily, stop.”
“You’re defending him?” I gape. “Really, Lo!”
Lo whispers heatedly in my ear. “Do you hear yourself right now? You’re not thinking right.”
I shove Lo off my chest. “You both are a**holes,” I say, looking between them as they stand side by side. Dapper, handsome, ice and stone. I hate them. I hate me. “I don’t even know why I agreed to any of this.” To being with Lo. To letting Ryke follow us around. If I stop and think for two seconds, maybe I’ll understand that I’m projecting all of my anxiety from the fashion show onto them. And it’s unfair, immature and cruel. But I don’t want to think. I just want to do.
I inhale sharp, sporadic breaths. I need to go. Now. I race to the bathroom, a lot faster than Lo, and head into the men’s room rather than the women’s. A guy in his thirties sees me through the mirror as he relieves himself. He curses and zips up his fly. Confidence inflates my body—the need to do this surpassing everything else.
I pick a stall without saying a word to him.
Lo walks in, not even glancing at the guy. He sets his sights on me, only me, and looks as though he wants to devour me whole or maybe choke me. Yes.
He slams the stall shut behind us and roughly grabs my wrists. He spins my body so my backside rubs against his pelvis and places my palms on the tiled wall. My back curves in an angle, my feet just outside of the toilet.
“You want this?” Lo growls, his hand slipping underneath my dress, his fingers finding the wettest spot.
I gasp, my eyes rolling back. Please.
He wraps a hand over my mouth, muffling my moans as he pushes his fingers in and out. My palms slip on the tile, and I almost knock my head into the hard wall, but Lo has a tight hold on me, keeping me on two feet.
He thrusts inside, and I lose myself to the pleasure, to the bliss, to the hardness of him. My breathing sharpens in my throat, and he never slows. He slams against me, as though telling me I’ve been bad. And I take it with batted breath and headiness.
When we’re done, he pulls his jeans up to his waist and buttons them while I try to find my panties around my ankles.
“You okay?” Lo asks, brushing my sweaty hair off my face.
“I think so.” Why did I have sex here? Everything I just did surges into my head and my heart, and I inhale weighted breaths. Why did I do this? What is wrong with me?!
When we exit, he washes his hands, and then leads me out. Luckily, the show hasn’t started, but the room fills to the brim.
I slip into a front row seat beside Connor, avoiding Ryke.
“I should go see Rose,” I say.
“There’s no time.” Connor glances at his Rolex. “The show will start in fifteen minutes.”
I try to blink away the guilt that knots my stomach. My hands shake, and Lo reaches over and clasps them. I spot the worry in his eyes, but I try not to hold onto it. I’m okay. Everything is going to be fine.
I look up and see Poppy walking down the aisle with a wide grin and Sam on her arm. My stomach does a full summersault. They scoot in and she comes over to greet me, kissing me on the cheek. “There are so many people here!” she exclaims. “Rose should be so proud.”
“Where’s Mom?” I ask, my heart pounding to the fast-paced rhythm of the music.
“She’s coming. Dad was on the phone, so they stopped outside for a second.” She glances at Connor and Ryke. “Who are your friends? Oh, is this Charlie?” She focuses on Ryke who wears a confused expression.
“No, Charlie moved,” I lie. “This is Ryke. He’s a friend from Penn, and that’s Connor Cobalt.”
Poppy momentarily forgets Ryke as Connor rises to shake her hand and then Sam’s. “It’s nice to meet you both.” His good looks and words have officially hypnotized Poppy. She nods while he talks about Fizzle to Sam, trying to bring up familiar conversation. I can’t tell if this is Connor’s normal bout of schmoozing or if he’s adding on the extra charm to embed himself further in Rose’s good graces.
When Poppy detaches herself from Connor Cobalt’s magnetic hold, she whispers to me. “This is the boy Rose is seeing?”
Poppy smiles. “She did well.”
“Yeah, but she probably thinks she can do better.”
Poppy laughs and then touches my arm. “We’re sitting a few seats from yours. I’ll see you after the show.” She hesitates. “And Lily, I’m glad to finally meet your friends.”
I smile, but it hurts. Because deep down, these friends may as well be bought and paid for.
Poppy and Sam go find their seats, and I settle in mine with a weight heavy on my chest. The only thing that takes my mind off of it is sex. And once I start focusing on photographers, especially the scruffy one in the corner, my body starts to switch again.
I’ve trained myself to self-medicate with sex for so long that stopping seems so unfeasible, like trying to break a high-speed train before it crashes into a cement wall. So I’ll crash. I’ll splinter and break. But it’ll feel damn good going two hundred miles an hour beforehand.
That’s all I concentrate on. The thrill, the high and endorphins from rocking against another body. Any body. Hopefully Lo. No other thoughts enter my mind and my knees practically bounce in earnest hunger.
People dip into their chairs as the time ticks by, and I can faintly hear Ryke asking Lo about Daisy’s modeling career. I don’t hear the answer, too fixated on the way the photographer holds his camera. His muscles flex and I imagine him holding me instead. Stop.
I inwardly groan and rub my sweaty palms on my jeans. I’m a junkie who needs another hit, and I hate that the quickie in the bathroom didn’t satiate me. I’ve already f**ked up. How angry will Rose be at me for not going backstage? Stop.
I don’t want to think about that.
The lights dim. “Lo,” I breathe. “Lo, I need to…” I can’t say it, but the tone of my voice speaks for me.
“The show is about to start, Lil,” he whispers. “You have to hold out.”
I don’t know if I can. I squirm in my seat, battling the cravings for my favorite natural high.
And then my parents start to enter. Ryke rises and stretches his arms. “Hey, I’m going to go to the bathroom before the show starts.” He’s going to the bathrooms where I want to go. Lo’s brows bunch, staring at him until he disappears.
I cross my legs, sweat gathering on my skin. I can’t do this. I need someone…I need to relieve this…I stand.
“Lily,” Lo protests, jumping up with me. “Lily, your sister. Think about Rose.”
“I can’t,” I whisper, bolting towards the exit, leaving Connor between three empty seats. His usual content expression has fractured. He looks pissed.
Lo says, “Think about afterwards, Lily. Please.” I’ll feel horrible. Yes. But I can’t stop my feet from moving, or my breath from hitching. There’s a place so deep down, a compulsion that must be sustained. I need this. I need it more than breath, more than air, more than life itself.
It’s a stupid thought. One that makes no right-around sense. But it’s what drives me.
I pass my parents as they look on with confusion. Lo stays back to spout off some excuse, and I head outside. In the freedom of the city. In the parking lot where the cars line up like black dots.
I unlock Nola’s Escalade that my parents I’m sure used to get here. Thankfully she’s not inside. I slide in the backseat and hike up my dress. Before I do anything, the door opens, and Lo crawls in. He coarsely grabs my ankle and yanks me towards him. I’m lost to these feelings.
I’m lost to him.
* * *
When I come down from the high and after the stimulating hormones leave, everything rushes back and tears begin to burn. “What’s wrong with me?” I choke. I start to dress quickly, finding my bra littered on the Escalade floor. Lo moves at a much more sluggish pace, and he looks sick to his stomach.
“Lil,” he says softly and reaches out to touch my hand. I pull back instantly, too frantic and shamed for such comfort.
“No, we have to go before it ends. Maybe she won’t notice…” As I open the car door, people already begin to pool out into the darkened parking lot, swinging gift bags in their hands. What? It’s over? I missed the entire thing?!
“Lily…” His suit jacket is draped on his arm, and he hesitates a moment before placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Did you know the time?” I question. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
“I tried,” Lo breathes. He swallows hard, pained. “Lil, I tried about five times.”
“What?” I shake my head. “I don’t remember that. I don’t…”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay…” He brings me to his chest, wrapping his arms around me in a cocoon. “Shhh, Lil, it’s okay.”
No it’s not.
I should have stopped the first time. Why did I convince myself that this would be worth a high? I push him off, the guilt almost suffocating me. “No, no, I’ve got to apologize.” I slide my feet into my heels, trying to focus. It’ll be okay. I’ll make up some lie about food poisoning and then say a few sorrys and smooth everything over.
It’ll be fine.
My heart beats as loud as the crowd pouring through the glass double doors. I don’t have to walk far to find my parents. They’re already heading to the car with Poppy and Sam in tow.
They laugh and Poppy shows a picture to my mother on her Blackberry. When Poppy notices me approaching, her face falters and the expression passes between the four of them. My presence has sucked all joy from their features.