“I-I,” I stammer. “I didn’t feel well. I had stomach cramps and was really dizzy. I don’t think I ate enough. We thought there might be food in the car.”
My father turns to Sam, completely ignoring me. “I have a Fizzle report you should see.” He ushers Poppy’s husband away and gives Lo a long glare as he passes by.
I evade my mother, who is probably searing me with a look that could freeze over Florida. That leaves Poppy.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel well. I would never miss Rose’s fashion show.” The lie burns my throat.
Poppy’s eyes rise to my hair and I subconsciously flatten the wild strands. Lo touches the small of my back and I jerk away again.
“Your dress is wrinkled,” my mother tells me coldly before setting her eyes onto Lo. “Maybe try to control your hormones during family events.” What? No.
“No, you’re right,” Lo interjects and I stare at him dumbly. “I’m sorry. It was the wrong time. It won’t happen again, Samantha.”
My mother processes his words for a small moment before she nods slightly. With pursed lips she passes us for the car. Poppy remains, disappointment coating her eyes. “Rose is inside, but I don’t think she wants to talk to you right now. Give her some time to cool down.”
Poppy leaves before I can say anything else. Not that I have anything other than another pathetic apology.
I can’t wait until tomorrow. It hurts too much to not at least confront her. I start towards the building but Lo grabs my wrist.
“What are you doing?”
“I have to talk to her.”
“Did you not just hear Poppy?” Lo says with wide eyes. “Let Rose calm the f**k down. Unless you want your heart ripped out.” Maybe I do. Maybe I deserve it.
Connor pushes open the glass doors with his shoulder, his hands preoccupied with texting. I bolt for him, and when he looks up, his face darkens.
“How is she?” I ask, glancing past him for a peek.
He steps in front of me, blocking me from any visual or entrance. “Not happy,” he says, his voice tight.
“Where’s Ryke?” Lo wonders with a frown.
“He left. He was sick.”
“I think it was something we ate,” I say.
Connor’s eyebrows furrow in disbelief. “Was that before or after you left to screw in the car?”
I stumble back from the blow to the gut. My shoulders hit Lo’s chest and this time I let him wrap an arm around my waist.
“Hey, back off, Connor,” Lo warns.
Connor barely blinks. “I’ve been around you both long enough to know that the bathroom breaks aren’t for synchronized bladder attacks. Which is fine. Your sex life is frankly none of my business.” He glances back at the building and then looks to me. “You should go,” he suggests.
“I want to apologize first.”
“Why?” Connor’s tone stays flat and edged. I’ve insulted him or disgusted him in some way. The one person I thought was unable to be repulsed by me.
“She needs to know I’m sorry.”
“She’s happy,” Connor tells me. “She sold her line to Macy’s and has an offer from H&M. Don’t ruin that by trying to make yourself feel better. Just leave, Lily.”
I don’t know what else to do. So I take the advice and disappear.
* * *
The next day I try calling Rose’s cell almost every hour with no luck. After my tenth attempt at reconciliation, I toss the phone onto the floor and scream into my pillow. This is why I don’t do family functions. This is why I don’t have friends. I disappoint everyone.
My door opens and I turn my back on Lo who shuffles inside. “She’ll forgive you, Lil. Maybe not me…but definitely you.”
I cringe. My mother thought his spiked hormones ruined the night, but it was all me. I hate that he’s taking the blame this time.
Lo sits on the foot of the bed and tentatively places a hand on my ankle. Instantly, I pull away and rise to the headboard. “I don’t…” I mutter.
His eyebrows bunch together in concern. “Do you want to quit?” And what? Be celibate? I don’t even know what quitting sex means. How do you quit something that’s engrained in human nature?
“Maybe. No. I don’t know.” Should I get rid of my porn? But what will happen a week from now when I realize this won’t work. I’ll just have to rebuy my entire stash. Not worth it.
“I’ll support you in whatever you decide,” Lo tells me.
Guilt stops me from hav**g s*x. Literally driving all of my hormones into a state of perpetual chastity. I bury my head into my knees. I need to make a decision, but I’ve been ping-ponging between choices. It was one mistake, spurned from being around my family. I just have to separate myself again. Distance. Once I apologize to Rose, I’ll back off and everything will return to normal. Clean and compartmentalized.
“I’m going to talk to Rose,” I decide. “Then we’ll have sex.”
He kisses my temple. “I’ll be here, love.” He nibbles my ear.
I grab a pillow and playfully whack him in the chest. He smiles but respects my wishes and stops from sexily wrestling it from me. In part he looks a bit relieved. I know I haven’t been the best company, all mopey and self-involved.
I slide from the bed. I’m going to confront her now when I have the chance. Tomorrow she’ll be back at Princeton and I’ll be too busy trying not to fail my classes to drive and see her. “Do you think she’ll let me in?”
“Tough call. Depends if she finally got laid,” Lo says.
I give him a hard glare and he holds up his hands in peace. I’m proud that my sister hasn’t given up her V card to just anyone.
Quickly, I brush my hair, grab my coat and leave Lo in the kitchen where he starts fixing himself a mild afternoon drink. On the way to Villanova I try to formulate a speech, but by the time I get to the house, everything flutters away.
I dodge the staff that mills around the mansion and climb the grand staircase toward Rose’s old room where she stays when she visits. I knock a couple of times before the door swings open. As soon as her green-yellow eyes hit me, her lips purse and her entire body goes rigid like she’s practicing to be a guard for the Queen of England.
“We need to talk,” I say, glad that the door hasn’t hit me in the face yet. That’s something.
She continues to block the entrance into her room. I’m obviously unwelcome in her sanctuary. I’ve really screwed up this time. “What is there to talk about? You had sex with Loren during my fashion show. I’m done being surprised or hurt or shocked, Lily,” she says, removed from the drama.
“I’m sorry.” I touch my chest. “You don’t know how sorry I am. I promise I’ll be a better sister.”
Rose shakes her head, brows furrowing. “Stop, Lily. I’m tired of your promises. You’ll always choose Lo. And the two of you will never give a shit about anyone else. You’re selfish, and unless I want to go through life constantly disappointed, I’ve learned to accept that character flaw. You should do the same.”
Her cellphone rings in the background and she glances back, still not offering to let me inside. “I have to go. It’s Macy’s.” She shuts the door before I can even utter the word congratulations. Maybe I should have started with that.
I contemplate her words on the ride home, and wonder if she’s right. If accepting the fact that I’m selfish and unable to change will help heal the guilt.
If not—maybe sex will.
I make an effort to call Rose more often. For the most part she answers and gives me updates on Calloway Couture. Sometimes she’s short with me, but it’s better than slammed doors. While I try to heal my relationship with Rose and ignore the rest of my family, Lo spends time with Connor at the gym.
Ryke continues to follow us around, and since the fashion show where—for one strange moment—Lo and Ryke seemed to band together, they’ve been much more cordial. Ryke has pretended to scribble notes for his fake article, but he usually tries to understand Lo. Last night, they started talking about their experience with nannies. One of Lo’s used to drink strawberry margaritas and was sloshed by noon. Apparently Ryke had a similar situation, only his nanny let him sip her mimosas and bloody marys. He was only eleven.
I pull a brush through my wet hair while Lo rubs a towel through his. Shower sex. Classy.
I almost can’t remember why I was so worried about my lifestyle. I’m more than capable of making everything work.
Today the professor posted the econ grades online. As usual, Lo refuses to divulge his grade, but I earned a C+, which is practically an A+ in Connor’s mind. He insisted on celebrating. Only for Connor Cobalt can achievements wipe slates clean. Lo somehow squirmed back into his good graces too. After the fashion show stunt, I thought we’d be blacklisted from any events with Connor. But I think it all comes down to Rose. His one human weakness happens to be my sister. And if she’s forgiven me, then she’s probably ordered him to do the same.
I’m still trying to untangle my hair when Connor arrives with Ryke. Lo leaves to answer the door and I snap one of the comb’s teeth. Really? How is that even possible? I’ve finally acquired a superpower—indestructible hair. Super lame.
My door stands open as I search for another comb. Or better yet, an actual brush to tackle these knots. I hear the guys in the living room, but they must not realize it because their conversation turns from the best pizza joints in Philly to me.
“Whose idea was it to ditch the fashion show?” Ryke asks.
“Is this for your article?” Lo wonders.
“No, just curious.”
“I wanted to f**k her. So I did. And didn’t you ditch the show too? What’s your excuse?”
“I have a hot girlfriend that I wanted to fuck,” he banters. “No, really, I had food poisoning from that taco stand around the corner.”
“We eat there all the time,” Lo says. “I’ve never been sick.” Does he think Ryke’s lying? He has no reason to. Actually, he probably wishes he could have stayed to witness my demise.
“Then maybe it was bad milk in my cereal. I don’t know,” he says exasperatedly.
Connor cuts in. “It was really your idea, Lo?”
I close my eyes, hoping Lo rejects some of the blame.
“She wasn’t exactly saying no.” Okay, I thought that would feel better.
“It takes two to make love and only one person to make a mistake.” Connor must turn to Ryke as he says, “Write that down.”
“It’s all up here.” I imagine him pointing to his head.
“Do you have any friends?” Lo wonders in an easy tone. “We have to be seriously grating on you by now.”
“Lily, definitely. Connor, maybe. You’re okay.”
“Well you’re not my type of company either, Meadows,” Connor says casually, not offended.