Her mouth falls. “You think pushing your family away is the better option? This affects us. No matter what you choose, Lily. You know why? Because we all love you. Dad asks about you every day because he knows you won’t answer his calls. Mom has a stack of self-help books on her dresser. Want to know what they’re about?”
I shake my head. Not really. This is going to hurt.
“How to reconnect with your daughter. How to build relationships with your children. You affect them. Your addiction affects them. Missing parts of our lives isn’t a solution, it’s a problem.”
I understand what she’s telling me. I hear the words, and they make a great deal of sense. But what’s my alternative to satiating this addiction? Getting help? Kicking it? How do you eliminate something that’s a part of life? I can understand being sober, but being celibate? It’s unnatural.
Rose must see me processing because she adds, “You start with counseling and someone who has been through this before.”
“I want to wait to talk to Lo,” I tell her. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my crutch, even though I know it’ll make everyone else happy. I hate myself for it, but stopping sounds beyond my reach. “I’m going to go to bed.” Mechanically, I rise from the chair.
She follows suit. “I’m spending the night. I’ll be on the couch to give you some space.”
“You don’t have to stay. Really, I’m…” She gives me a sharp glare and I rephrase my automatic response. “…I’ll be okay.”
She nods and tucks my flyaway hair behind my ear. “I know you will. I’ll see you in the morning, Lily.” Before I pull away, she wraps her arms around me, squeezing harder, holding tight. “I love you.”
I almost start crying again, but I bottle the feelings. I love you too. “I’ll be okay,” I murmur. With this, I disentangle from her and glide to my room. My head has finally separated from my body.
It takes me hours to shut off my brain and fall asleep, to stop the endless tracks where I bounce between justifying my actions and condemning them. Sometimes I think Rose is right, that maybe therapy would be good for me. But some medical physicians barely even consider sex addiction a real thing. What if I end up at the mercy of a shrink who scorns me and makes me feel even more worthless?
Plenty of other reasons bomb my mind, keeping me firmly on a destructive loop. And when I finally wake, I watch the red glowing numbers change on my digital clock. Weighed down by a strong force, it feels too strenuous to lift my numb body from the mattress.
I hear Rose crack the door and peek into my room every so often, but I feign sleep and she slips out just as quickly. So much has changed in the past twenty-four-hours that I’m struggling to grasp onto something familiar. Lo, my one constant, will no doubt hear about the events last night. I wish they would come from my lips, but it’s already mid-afternoon and I still can’t pry myself from the sheets.
Curtains encase my room in total blackness, refusing to let in a shred of light. The only source belongs to my glowing phone as I search Tumblr for naughty photos, but it only makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t stop. Not until the door opens. I quickly click off the screen and close my eyes, pretending to be asleep.
Concentrating on the footsteps, I wait for Rose to leave again. The door closes, and I let out a breath before returning to the pictures.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
I jump at the deep, hollow voice and quickly yank the dangling cord on the lamp. The room illuminates and Lo squints in the dark. Eyes pink and swollen, and hair matted like he’s been pulling at it in distress. They must have told him what happened. As I assumed.
He stays firmly against the wall beside my dresser, putting a great deal of distance between us. I try not to overanalyze what it means, but it hurts regardless.
“I’ve managed to fool everyone this long,” I say under my breath. “What gave me away?”
He licks his bottom lip before saying, “I asked Rose if you had your TV on. She said it was pitch black in here. So I knew you must have woken up and turned off your porn.” Almost every night I fall asleep to videos playing in the background. Most of the time on mute.
“That doesn’t make me a bad liar,” I refute softly. “That just means you know me too well.” I slide up on the bed, resting against the oak headboard and pulling my knees to my chest. “I had to tell Rose everything.”
“I know.” His expression stays inscrutable, not letting on if it bothers him. So I make the leap myself.
“I think it will work out. She doesn’t seem like she’ll tell anyone else. And she said that she’d give me as much time as I needed.” That’s what she was getting at, right? “And with Rose, that could be forever. So we’ll just move on from last night and everything will go back to normal.” I give a self-satisfied nod to seal the proclamation.
But Lo doesn’t reciprocate my confidence. He clenches his jaw and tears well up, turning his eyes to a puffier pink. “Do you really think I can just move on?” He chokes. “Let it go like any other f**king day?”
Oh… “We have to try,” I say in a small voice.
He laughs sadly and it cracks and dies short. He wipes his mouth and lets out a breath. “Ask me.”
His eyes flicker up to me and they turn into cold steel. “Ask me why I drink.”
A lump lodges in my throat. We don’t talk about our addictions. Not outright. We bury them with booze and sex and on the occasion where we feel lost we return to the nostalgia of comic books.
Fear steals my ability to form words. I think I know the answer, but I’m so terrified of changing the structure that we have in place. My constant. My Lo. I selfishly don’t want that to end.
“Goddammit, Lily,” he says through clenched teeth. “Just f**king ask me!”
“Why?” The word knifes me.
A tear escapes and he says, “Because I can. Because when I was eleven-years-old and tasted my first drop of whiskey, I thought it’d bring me closer to my father. Because I felt empowered.” He touches his chest. “Because I never hit anyone. I never drove. I never lost a f**king job or lost any friends that mattered. Because whenever I drank, I didn’t think I was hurting anyone but me.”
He takes a shallow breath and rubs a shaky hand through his hair. “That is, until last night. Or maybe for the past two months. Or forever. I don’t know anymore.”
I strangle my sheets in my fists and try to remember to inhale. “I’m okay.” I cringe. “I’ll be okay, Lo. You didn’t hurt me. It was just a mistake. A bad night.”
He pushes off the wall, gaining confidence somewhere and sinks down on the edge of the bed. Still far from me. His eyes pierce mine as he says, “You’re forgetting that I know all the tricks, Lil. How many times have you repeated those words to yourself, hoping they’d come true? I do the same thing to justify every shitty night.” He scoots forward and I’ve petrified, going still as a piece of wood. His fingers graze my bare kneecap and his face cracks like it’s painful to touch me. “But I don’t want any more bad nights with you.”
“Did Rose put you up to this?”
“No.” He shakes his head. He gently rests his hand on my leg without looking so tortured, and I let out another strained breath. “I should have been there. I should have stopped the guy. I should have held you in my arms and told you that everything is going to be okay even if it wasn’t. That was my job, no one else’s.”
“Where does this leave us?” I ask. Please don’t leave me, I selfishly think. It may be one of my more abhorrent thoughts yet. I bury my head in my arms as the tears avalanche. I can feel him leaving me, drifting away like a breeze.
“Hey, look at me.” He touches my arms and tries to untangle my cave. I tilt my chin up after he succeeds. He crosses my arms and keeps his hands tight on my elbows, his chest so close to mine.
His eyes start watering again, and I’m suddenly terrified of what he’s about to say.
“I’m an alcoholic.”
He’s never said that out loud, never admitted it in that way.
“My father is an alcoholic,” he continues, tears spilling down his cheeks and onto my arms. “I can’t just will it away like some fairytale. It’s a part of me.” He rubs my tears with his thumb. “I love you, but I want to love you enough that I never choose alcohol over you. Not even for a moment. I want to be someone you deserve. Who helps you rather than enables you, and I can’t begin to do that until I get help for myself.”
I hear only one thing. Rehab. He’s going to rehab. Far away from me. I am proud. Somewhere, deep down, I know I’m proud. But it’s hiding behind fear. He’s going to leave me. Two things have held me together thus far. Sex and Lo. They never used to mix, but losing both at the same time feels like someone ripping off a vital organ and refusing to hook me to a machine.
“Lily!” Lo shakes me a few times, his voice frantic. I can’t make sense of anything until his lips touch mine. He kisses me and tells me to “breathe” over and over.
I inhale a large gasp of air, and my head spins like I’ve been drowning underwater.
“Breathe,” he coos. He rests his hand on my diaphragm, and I’ve somehow made it on his lap.
I clutch his shirt, silently wondering if I can guilt him to stay. No, that’s wrong. I know that’s wrong. I swallow hard.
“Talk to me, Lil. Where’s your head at?”
“When are you leaving?”
He shakes his head. “I’m not.”
Tears burst. “What? I-I…” That doesn’t make sense. He just said…
“I’m going to detox here.”
I find myself shaking my head anyway. “No, Lo. Don’t stay here for me…please.” I push his chest.
He gathers my hands. “Stop,” he forces. “I’ve already argued with your sister about this. I’m staying here. I’m giving this a shot, and if it doesn’t work, then I’ll go. But if I can be here for you and for me, then I have to try.”
“Isn’t it dangerous to detox here?”
He rests his chin on my head. “Connor hired a nurse. I’ll be fine.” I hear the fear in his voice. He’s about to eliminate alcohol completely from his life. He hit his rock bottom.
Have I hit mine?
I can’t think about helping Lo detox and doing the same myself. So I’m going to focus on him, and then when he gets better, I’ll worry about me.
That seems right.
Lo has been sober for a full week. The first couple of days were the worst. The nurse hooked him up to an IV so the fluids could rehydrate his body. He has to be on vitamins to replace the nutrients lost by alcohol and eat a particular diet to get rid of the toxins. I’ve also hidden the coffee pot so he doesn’t get addicted to caffeine in the process. Regardless, he went through bouts of vomiting and sweated and shook and complained in angry screams until Ryke threatened to duct tape his mouth. That made him laugh.