Lo’s hands shake and he balls them into fists. “You know that I drink, and you don’t give a shit.”
“That’s what this is about?” Jonathan’s face contorts. “Lo, you’re a f**king twenty-one-year-old man. Of course you drink.”
“I pass out,” Lo says. Why is it so hard for Jonathan to understand that Lo has a problem? And then it dawns on me. Maybe because Jonathan hasn’t come to terms with his own.
“So have many before you. It’s natural for kids your age to abuse alcohol.”
“I can’t go a day without a drink.”
Jonathan’s lip curls. “Stop trying to find an excuse for your mistakes, and own up to them like a goddamn man.” There’s a difference between abusing alcohol and being dependent on it, and if he understood that, he’d realize Lo fits the latter.
I step forward and reach for Lo’s hand, but he jerks away from me.
Jonathan has found another glass of whiskey from a server. He sips and nods to me. “Have you put these thoughts into my son’s head?”
I shrink back from his scathing glower.
“I’ve known this since I was a kid,” Lo tells him. “She didn’t have to say anything to me.”
“I highly doubt that.”
An arm wraps around my waist. I jump and meet Rose’s concerned gaze. I fall into her hug and try not to cry into her shoulder.
Ryke, breathless as though he ran here, slinks up to Lo’s side and puts a hand on his arm. He doesn’t even look at Jonathan. “Come on, Lo.”
Rose tries to tug me away, but I shake my head and stay firmly here. Something’s wrong. I see it in Jonathan’s face. He pales beyond his natural Irish hue and almost drops his whiskey. “What are you doing here?” he says to Ryke.
Lo frowns. “You know each other?”
Jonathan lets out a small huff. “You didn’t tell him?” he says to Ryke. His eyes flicker back to the ballroom where people begin to stare. He shakes his head in annoyance and finishes off his whiskey.
Lo shifts his weight. “Tell me what?”
“Nothing,” Jonathan says with a bitter smile. He sets down the glass and meets Loren’s gaze once more. “So is this what you wanted to say to me? You wanted to blame me for your problems and stomp around like a child?”
Ryke keeps his hand resolutely on Lo’s shoulder, supporting him in a way that I can’t.
“No,” Lo says softly. “Maybe if this was a story about my teenage years, I’d have done something like that. I just wanted to say that I’m going to get sober.” His eyes cloud, and a single tear slides down his cheek. “I’m going to rehab. And when I come back, I may not see you all that much.”
He’s going to rehab. He knows this can’t work—us, together, while he tries to avoid alcohol for good. I can barely breathe. He’s leaving. For how long?
Jonathan inhales sharply and glares at Ryke. “Did you put him up to this?”
“No,” he says. “It’s news to me.”
Jonathan looks back at Lo. “You don’t need to go to rehab.” He mutters, “This is f**king ridiculous.” He shakes his head. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“No, you won’t,” Lo tells him, more tears threatening to fall. “I won’t answer, and I’ll be gone by then.”
“You’re fine!” he shouts, silencing half the ballroom. He glances over his shoulder, as though just realizing his sudden outburst. He inches forward and speaks lowly. “You’re fine, Loren. Stop this.”
“He’s not okay,” Ryke interjects. “He’s telling you that he’s not okay.” My whole chest is on fire, and my head keeps spinning. The only reason I’m still standing is because Rose has her hand intertwined with mine, and if I fall, I don’t want her to drop with me.
Jonathan ignores Ryke. “Why are you crying?” he says to Lo, half in repulsion and half in something more human.
“I don’t know,” Lo says, his nose flaring as he tries to repress the silent tears.
He grabs the back of Lo’s neck and brings his face right into his. “Think about this,” Jonathan pleads with a sneer, shaking Lo.
People definitely start looking now. Lo tries to break the hold, putting his arm on his father’s but his grip is too tight, his fingers pressing into the tender part of Lo’s skin.
“Stop,” I say, trying to rush forward, but Rose pulls me back.
Ryke grabs Jonathan’s arm and pries it off of Lo, who stumbles in a daze. “What is wrong with you?” Ryke shouts at Jonathan. “No, you know what? I know what’s wrong with you. You never f**king change. Go back to believing you’re a great f**king man, but I won’t let you ruin Lo’s life.”
Why does he sound like he knows him?
“Is this Sara’s doing?” Jonathan asks. “Where is she?” His eyes dart around the ballroom, looking for Lo’s absent mother.
Lo parts from both Jonathan and Ryke, staring between them to try and understand their relationship. Clearly, it goes beyond anything we imagined.
“She’s not here. She doesn’t even know I’ve been talking to Lo,” Ryke exclaims.
Jonathan’s face twists in pain. “So you took it upon yourself to tear my family apart? After all that I’ve tried to do for you?” His eyes flash hot. “I could have shunned you, but I let you have a father.” Wait, wait, wait...
“I didn’t want one,” Ryke says.
Jonathan clenches his teeth. “You will not turn my son against me, do you hear me?”
“What’s going on?” Lo asks. “What the f**k is going on?”
From behind Jonathan, Connor appears and whispers in his ear. Jonathan nods and then says to Lo. “This is not the time. We’ll talk later.” With that short goodbye, Connor ushers Jonathan away to end an even bigger scene.
“Meet me in the hall,” Lo tells Ryke, not even looking his way.
I follow with Rose. Too many things swim in my head for me to focus. Tears keep falling—the source unbeknownst to me. Maybe from Jonathan’s sharp words. Maybe from Lo’s rehab proclamation. Or the strangeness between Ryke and Jonathan.
We stop in the hallway of the hotel, the carpet a tacky diamond pattern and the wallpaper a shiny gold color, both dizzying my flyaway mind.
“Who are you?!” Lo yells at Ryke. “Don’t f**king lie to me anymore!”
“Calm down,” Ryke says. “Give me the chance to explain, please. You deserve every answer.”
“How do you know my father?” Lo asks. “How does he know you?”
Ryke holds out a hand, palm down, as though trying to keep the peace. “Sara Hale is my mother.”
Oh my…Jonathan said something about being a father to Ryke. Is that why the divorce started? Sara cheated and became pregnant with Ryke?
That would make Lo and Ryke half-brothers.
Lo staggers back and raises a hand to pause the argument while he sorts out his thoughts. And then he looks up with furrowed brows and says, “You’re a bastard child?”
Ryke cringes in hurt, and he shakes his head once, so terse and pained that a tear flows from his eye.
Lo points to his own chest with a trembling hand. “I’m the bastard?”
Ryke nods once.
Lo lets out a strange choking sound, and I try to step forward, but Rose holds me back again. Lo wipes his eyes with his arm and inhales strongly. “Give me your license,” Lo immediately demands.
Ryke pulls his wallet from his back pocket and slides out the card. Before he hands it to Lo, he says, “You’re still my brother. It doesn’t make a difference who wasn’t supposed to be here.”
“Just give it to me.”
Ryke hands it over, and Lo scans the name. His jaw locks, sharpening his cheeks to ice. His hand quakes as he reads the card. “Jonathan Ryke Meadows.” Lo lets out a crazed laugh and he flings the license back at Ryke. He leaves it on the carpet. “What did you say your mother did?” Lo feigns confusion. “Oh yeah? She lives off your dad.” Lo bites his bottom lip and nods.
He sets his hands on his head. “Fuck you,” Lo sneers. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? You’re Jonathan's son. Sara Hales is your mother, but she’s not mine, is she?”
“My mom filed for divorce when Jonathan got another woman pregnant with you. I was just born.”
Everything that his father told him is a lie. No wonder Sara hates Lo and cursed him on the telephone. He’s the product of adultery and her failed marriage. I try to move towards him once more, but Rose keeps pulling me back.
Lo is crying heavily. “Sara took my bed to give to you, didn’t she?”
“I didn’t know it was yours.”
“My dresser, my f**king clothes, she took them from the settlement and gave them to you.” Lo presses fingers to his eyes. “Why keep this from me?”
“There are legal issues…” He steps closer to Lo. “I didn’t even know you existed until I turned fifteen. My mom let it slip in one of her rants. I visited Jonathan all the time at country clubs. And I didn’t lie when I said I stopped seeing my father. I felt weird about him, especially when I started getting sober. I felt like I could see right through him.” He sniffs, trying to hold back emotions, but it’s hard because Lo is a mess. And Ryke’s eyes grow red and puffy.
“You knew about me for seven years? And you didn’t think to meet me?” Lo frowns in deep hurt. “I’m your brother.”
“You were also the thing that tore apart my parents,” Ryke says, his voice shaking. “I spent years resenting the idea of you. My mother hated you, and I loved her, so what the f**k was I supposed to believe? And then I went to college, and I gained some distance from her. I started thinking things through, and I came to peace with you. I’d leave you alone. You’d be some sort of wealthy prick that Jonathan Hale would raise. And then I saw you.” Ryke nods to himself, his eyes welling. “I saw you at the Halloween party and I knew who you were. After I learned about your existence, Jonathan would show me pictures of you, always asking if I wanted to meet you. I never did.”
Lo looks pained. “Why did you?”
“I saw what would have become of me if I was raised by him. And I regretted everything. I blamed you when you were just a kid dealt a shitty hand of cards. I wanted to help you…for all the years that I sat by. I knew what he was like. I listened to my mother talk about the things he said to her—horrible, disgusting things that were sometimes just as bad as a punch to the face. And I knew you were being raised by that. And I didn’t do a goddamn thing.” Ryke’s voice breaks. He shakes his head.
“So you saw me,” Lo says. “Am I as pathetic as you imagined?”
“No. You’re kind of an a**hole, but so am I. We really must be brothers.”
Lo chokes on a short laugh. “Why’d everyone keep this from me?” He takes a step back and Ryke’s hand falls off his shoulder. “What are the legal matters?”