Ryke swallows. “In the settlement, my mom has to keep quiet about the name of your mother and she has to retain Hale as her surname or else she loses everything she won in the divorce.” Ryke must have kept Sara’s maiden name: Meadows.
“So your father won’t go to jail. Your mom was almost seventeen. She was just a minor, and my mother could have turned him in, but she pitied you for a single moment. And so she signed these papers that kept everything quiet. If she changed her mind, then all the money would go to charity and she’d lose out.”
Lo face twists. “Did he rape her?”
“No,” Ryke says quickly. “No. Sara said a lot of bad things about Jonathan, but she never said that. I don’t think he loved your mom, or else he would have found a way for her to be in your life. I think it was…a one-time thing.” He runs his hand through his hair. “I think she walked…” He struggles to finish the truth. “I think she walked away from you. I don’t know why she chose to have you, but she did. And I know she didn’t want to keep you after.”
Jonathan raised Lo, when no one else wanted him.
As the words sink in, Lo’s hands tremble and his chest barely rises to accept breath. “It was just easier for everyone if I didn’t know, right?”
“I wasn’t sure if Jonathan ever told you the whole truth,” Ryke professes. “But when you met me, I knew he hadn’t. You had no recognition of who I was.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me upfront?” Lo asks. He points to his chest. “I deserved to know.”
“You did. You’re right,” Ryke says. “But you’re not well, Lo. I wanted to help you. So I made up a couple lies to be close to you. I even had to ditch Rose’s fashion show because Lily’s father showed up. I’ve met him. He knows me, and I didn’t think you were ready to find out the truth.”
My father knows? He had the answers the whole time. I can barely process this.
Ryke edges closer. “I was afraid if you found out, I’d push you to a dark place. Can you understand that?” His eyes flicker to me. “I think you can.”
Lo rubs his eyes again. He can’t stop crying. I see the hurt coursing through him like jagged tidal waves, crashing and crashing until he loses breath and focus and drowns beneath the rapids. He screams into his hand—angry, pained, pissed.
He slowly drops to his knees and puts a palm on the carpet.
“Lo,” Ryke says, bending to him. He tries to help, but Lo swats him away with wild, watery eyes.
“Where’s Lily?” he asks, frantic. “Lily!” He whips his head. “Lily!” he cries, searching for me.
Rose finally lets me go, and I run into Lo’s arms. He holds me tightly and cries into my shoulder, his body heaving. “I’m here,” I breathe. “It’s okay.” When I look up, I see Ryke and Rose exchanging hesitation.
I understand now. They’re afraid of our closeness. We’re not good together.
Not yet anyway.
He clutches onto my dress, and he cries until there are no more tears. I try and pray to hold mine back—to be strong for him. He whispers to me, in a dry voice, “I feel like I’m dying.”
“You’re not.” I kiss him on the cheek. “I love you.”
After a few more minutes, we rise and silently walk outside to the valet with Rose and Ryke close behind. I convince them to leave us alone in one of the cars, but they’re going to meet us at the Drake.
Lo slides into the Escalade first. And then me.
“The Drake,” I say, not even looking at the front seats. The car starts moving, and I turn to Lo who has a hand covering his eyes.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You’re going to rehab,” I say assuredly, even though a pain weighs on my chest. I know this is the right thing. For both of us.
“I can’t leave you.” He drops his hand. “It could be months, Lily. I don’t want you with another guy…”
“I’m going to be strong,” I tell him, taking his hands in mine. I squeeze. “I’m going to go to therapy.”
“Lily…” His pained voice sends daggers to my heart.
“I’m going to move in with Rose.”
He shuts his eyes and more tears spill.
I keep from crying. I swallow. “I’m going to transfer to Princeton, and I’ll be waiting for you when you return.”
Lo nods a lot, letting the news sink in. “If that’s what you want…”
“It’s what I want.”
Lo licks his lips and leans a shoulder against mine. “I’m sorry, about today. I shouldn’t have done that in the hotel room. I…I was upset, and it had nothing to do with you. I…”
“What is it?” I frown. What could be so bad that he threw back mini-bottles of alcohol, breaking his short sobriety that meant a great deal to him, to me, and our friends…his brother.
“Penn sent me a letter this morning.” He pauses. “They’ve kicked me out.”
“What? They can’t kick you out. You haven’t done anything wrong. We’ll go to the Dean—”
“Lily, I haven’t gone to half my classes. I’ve failed almost every one. I have a one-point-something GPA. They can kick out people that don’t meet their academic standards. They warned me last year, and I didn’t give a shit.”
“What?” I squeak. All this time, I thought he’d been pulling great grades, better than most, much better than me at least. “So…so you’ll go to Princeton with me. You can transfer. They’ll let you in with your last name.”
“No.” He shakes his head. “No, I’m not going back to college. It’s not for me, Lil.”
I process this. “So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Lo says. “How about get healthy first?”
“That works,” I murmur. “What about your father? Lo, if he finds out, he’ll take away your trust fund.”
“He won’t find out. I’ve already called admissions and told them not to contact him.”
I exhale in relief.
The car rolls to the curb. “We’ve arrived, Mr. Hale.”
I stiffen. That voice—that voice did not belong to Nola.
The driver shifts slightly, and I see the gray whiskers, feather hair, and glasses perched on a beak nose.
“Anderson,” Lo says tensely. Anderson, Jonathan Hale’s driver, the guy who has been known to rat us out. “Please don’t tell my father…”
“Have a nice night,” Anderson says with a fake smile. He spins back to the front, waiting for us to leave.
We do, and in my heart, I know that everything is about to change.
After a short conversation, we agree to spend the night apart. I stay with Rose at the Drake, and Ryke takes Lo to his apartment on campus. I only learn that his father calls him in the morning because Rose tells me.
He gave him the ultimatum we avoided and feared our whole lives. Go back to college, set your life straight, or else your trust fund will disappear. Months ago, Lo’s choice may have been different. He may have opted for college, transferring to Princeton or Penn State, going back into a familiar routine in a new setting. But I think we both realize that some things are worth more than a fancy lifestyle and padded wallet.
At breakfast, while I pick at a bowl of oatmeal in the living room, I’m not surprised when Rose tells me Lo stepped away from the money. She says it’s the most heroic thing he’s done in his life. The irony is that he’s not saving some damsel in a castle, he’s not rescuing a baby from a burning building—he’s helping himself. Maybe a little bit to save our relationship, but mostly, for him. And that’s the best reason there is. Beneath my fear, I am so, so proud.
In a few days, I’ll need to find the same bravery.
My sister sets a hand on my shoulder. “He’s coming over to grab some of his things. They’re leaving at noon.”
Pressure sits heavy on my chest, but I nod anyway. We also agreed that he should go to rehab as soon as possible. We’re afraid we’ll change our minds, that we’ll convince each other it’s not the right step and that we can work it out together. We can’t. We’ve tried that, and it ended with Lo drinking tequila in a hotel room and me, pulling him against my body.
Rose scoots next to me, and I make room for her on the couch. “How are you doing?” she asks, gathering my short hair and braiding the strands.
I shake my head. I have no words. In one night, Lo lost his trust fund, learned his father lied to him, and that he has a brother. We’re so connected, that I feel the hurt from the deception as if it was my own.
How could Jonathan lie to Lo for so long? I want to despise him for holding the truth, and yet, I can’t. He loves Lo. More than anyone will admit. He loves him so much that he decided to raise Lo instead of abandon him. He fears the thought of Lo going off to rehab, of learning that he failed as a father and that his son may move on without him. I think there’s a part in Jonathan that believes Lo will return home for money, that he’ll come back to him when he realizes the hardship of the working class. Maybe Lo will. Or maybe he’ll finally say goodbye to his father and never turn back.
“It’ll be hard at first,” Rose tells me, tying off my braid. “When’s the longest you’ve been away from him?”
I shake my head again. “I don’t know…a week, maybe.” It seems completely absurd, but it’s true. It’s like we’ve been married our whole lives, and now we have to separate. I know it’s for the best, but the hurt still festers like a new wound.
Rose rubs my back, and I spin to face her fully. She looks at me with more concern than I thought possible. In the end, it was not a boy who helped me.
It was my sister.
I hold her hand and say, “Thank you.” Tears build. “I don’t know if I can do this without you.” Rose and I agreed to keep my addiction quiet from our parents and sisters. It’s not something that people can easily accept or understand, and I don’t want to spend my days justifying these compulsions. If Rose also thinks it’s for the best, then I must be making a sound decision.
“You’ll be able to. Not now, but you’ll get there.”
“I’m scared.” My throat hurts. I inhale a strained breath. “What if I cheat on him? What if I can’t wait?”
She squeezes my hand. “You will. You’re going to get through this, and I’m going to be there every step of the way.”
I wipe my cheeks and then wrap my arms around her, hugging for a long, long time. To say thanks, I’m sorry, and “I love you,” I whisper.
She strokes my hair. “I love you too.”
* * *
I stand on the sidewalk outside of the Drake. Snow-flurries kiss my cheeks as I wait for Lo. People dress in nice church clothes, heading to Christmas Eve mass or service. Tiny lights wrap around lamp poles, and wreaths with suede red ribbons hang on the outside of our apartment complex. The city stays in a celebratory mood while my heart clenches with each beat.