I knock once and let myself in.
Unlike my bedroom, Lo’s walls and shelves are covered with personality. Penn paraphernalia fits in nooks and crannies, like a red and blue clock and a Quakers bobble head. Photographs of us hang almost everywhere. Mostly for appearance sake. On the dresser sits a framed portrait of Lo kissing my cheek. It looks forced to me, and little things like this make my belly flop, reminding me of our biggest lie.
My sisters believe I store my clothes in the guest bedroom closet for more space. In truth, I like staying in that minimalistic room. No photographs. Just brightly colored Leonid Afremov paintings of Paris. Though, sometimes they make me dizzy.
Lo lies fully clothed on his champagne-colored duvet. He’s curled up on his side, and his light brown hair sticks in different directions. In his right hand, he cuddles an empty bottle of Macallan, a ten thousand-dollar whiskey.
Five more liquor bottles scatter the ground. Some half-full, others dry. But those have to be from other nights entirely. He has a high tolerance, but not that high. All of these bottles would knock out a whole football team and probably kill him. I try not to think about that.
I go to the bathroom and wet a hand cloth with warm water. Back in his room, I sidle to his low bed, the mattress coming up to my legs. I bend over and press the towel to his forehead.
“Lo, time to get up,” I say softly. He doesn’t stir. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to wake Lo up for something important.
I abandon him passed out on the bed and race around his room, sweeping empty bottles and locking away full ones. When all the alcohol disappears, I turn my attention back on him. “Loren Hale!” I yell.
I try shaking his arms, his legs, his waist—anything that will make him rise to join the living.
He stays gone to the world and inside I’m cursing him for choosing this day to be so wasted. Time slips by, and my pulse heightens with every second. I can’t leave him. Lo wouldn’t do that to me, and if we go down, we go down together.
I unzip my dress and step out. In nothing but a pair of boy-short panties and a plain bra. At least I know what to do in these situations from his past experiences. Hopefully it will work.
With the little upper body strength I possess, I grab him under his armpits and tug him off his bed. We both clamber to the floor, and he lets out a soft groan.
He sinks back into unconsciousness, and I quickly spring to my feet and drag his heavy body towards the bathroom. “You. So. Owe. Me,” I say with each jerk. The words aren’t true. We’ve both banked enough favors that we no longer even count.
I kick open the glass door to the shower and pull him in with one last heave. His head lies in my lap, and even though I wear beige undies, I’m not too embarrassed. How can I be when he lies vulnerable in my arms? He may not even remember this in an hour. Better my underwear soaking than my dress.
I stay on my knees, panting as I reach up for the faucet nozzle. I turn the water to the coldest cold.
It sprays down on the both of us, and within ten seconds, Lo sputters awake, spitting out water from his mouth like I’m drowning him. I turn the water to a warmer temperature, and he tries to right himself, lifting his torso off my lap. He slips when he attempts to simply lean on the tiled wall.
His eyes close and open sluggishly. He still hasn’t spoken a word.
“You have to bathe,” I tell him from my corner of the shower. “You stink like booze.”
He makes an incoherent mumbling noise, tightening his eyes shut. We don’t have time for this. I stand, grab the shampoo and soap, and return to his side while the water rains down on us.
“Come on,” I breathe softly, remembering how he hates when I speak in my “normal” voice on bad mornings. Apparently it sounds like knives slaughtering baby pandas. His words, not mine.
He lets me pull his T-shirt over his head and barely helps me maneuver his arms through the holes. Water beads on the ridges of his abs, a runner’s build that usually stays hidden beneath clothes. No one would expect how fit he is. Or that he does occasionally hit the gym. That’s the best kind—the surprise of something more underneath something already handsome. I envy all the girls who get to experience that feeling for the first time with him. I shake my head. Focus. I train my gaze off the curves of his biceps and concentrate on his jeans. Without another thought, I unbutton them and yank down.
When the heavy, sopping denim sticks at his thighs, his eyelids flutter open. I blush uncontrollably even though this isn’t the first time I’ve undressed him.
He peers down at me. “Lil…” he mumbles, sounding lethargic.
Okay, we do not have time for this. I yank. Hard. And they finally surpass his damn muscular thighs and to his ankles where the denim is much easier to manage. Now soaked in nothing but his black boxer-briefs, I have to use all of my strength on the task at hand.
I take the soap and lather them into a loofa and wash across his lean torso, down his abs…umm…skipping that area…and to his thighs and legs. I don’t have much time to wash his back, but I don’t think it will be a problem.
The worst part is the smell. A bourbon scent emits from his pores, and after trying different soaps and colognes, we found some that work to mask the repugnant odor.
His addiction scares me sometimes. Alcoholism can destroy livers and kidneys, and one day, he may not wake up from a night of bingeing. But how can I tell him to stop? How can I judge him when I am nowhere near ready to let go of my crutch? So for right now, this is the best I can do.
I lather the shampoo into his hair while he keeps his eyes open, using his own strength to remain somewhat conscious. He’s coming to, but I’m not sure he realizes where we are yet. “Have fun?” I ask while my fingers basically give him a scalp massage.
He nods slowly, and his gaze lowers to my bra—beige and now pretty much see-through. Uh…
I pinch his arm, and he lifts his head back to me. His eyes change, the amber color swimming and intensifying in the steam. He stares deeply, too intense. I hate when he looks at me like that. And he knows it. His hand rises and caresses the back of my neck. Whaaat…I shake out of my confusion and jerk away with a scowl. I don’t have time to deal with his hungover, delirious moves.
He gives me a smirk. “Just practicing.”
“Do you know what time it is?” I grab a plastic cup, fill it with water, and dup it over his head, not caring as the shampoo burns his eyes. He squints and mumbles a curse, but he’s too tired to actually rub it off.
When the soap suds fizzle out, I drape his arm over my shoulder and lug his body to his bedroom. This time, he cooperates and helps me.
He collapses on the duvet, and I spend the next few minutes drying him off with a towel like he’s my pet dog. He stares at the ceiling, transfixed. I try to talk to him, needing him responsive for the luncheon.
“We stayed out really late last night for Charlie’s saxophone gig at Eight Ball,” I remind him as I search in the drawers for a suitable outfit.
He laughs lightly.
“What’s so funny?”
“Charlie,” he muses with bitterness. “My best friend.”
I swallow hard and take a deep breath, trying to keep it together. I can do this. I find another pair of boxer-briefs, slacks and a powder blue button-down. I turn back to him, debating on whether or not I’ll have to see his junk.
His sopping underwear soaks his comforter, too wet to leave on with a pair of pants.
“Can you change yourself?” I ask. “I just want to limit the number of times I see your penis.”
He tries to prop his weight up and succeeds, holding himself upright on the bed. I’m impressed. And also, sort of, starting to regret talking about his penis. Especially with the way he’s looking at me. He blinks a few times before saying, “Leave them on the bed.” I set the stack of clothes beside him and grab my dress that’s slung over his desk chair.
Worry still beats in my chest. I enter my room and replace my soaked underwear before slipping into my dress. Is he going to be coherent enough to have a conversation?
In prep school, his father used to ground Lo as he stumbled home from a late night of drinking or when he found his raided and drained liquor cabinet. When Lo’s grades started tanking, Mr. Hale threatened to ship his son to a military academy for young boys, thinking the structure would be beneficial for a rowdy teenager. I’m not even sure he connected the events and understood that Lo’s real problem was alcohol.
In reflection, he needed AA or rehab, not a blue blood manufacturing camp. Instead, I gave him me: a scapegoat for his constant bingeing. That summer, we made the deal. And as soon as he told Jonathan that he started dating Greg Calloway’s daughter, his slate wiped blank. Mr. Hale slapped him on the back, told Lo that I’d be good for him, and if I wasn’t, he’d find a way to change his behavior. So we masked our lifestyles in order to continue them.
Even though Lo hardly became a model citizen in his early teenage years, my parents were overjoyed at the news of our relationship. The sound of a Calloway-Hale union surpassed the quality of the man on my arm. As if it’s 1794 and our marriage will garner military power and land rights. Hello, we are not royalty.
With our new alliance, we lied for each other and hid our infidelities, playing the role of doting boyfriend and girlfriend. The deeper we sink, the harder it is to crawl out. I fear the moment where neither of us can breathe again—when someone discovers our secrets. At any moment, everything can crumble beneath us. The dangerous game both excites and terrifies me.
I return to Lo’s room and relax when I see him fully dressed, leaning his side wearily against the bedframe. His shirt is unbuttoned and untucked.
At least he has pants on.
“Can you help me?” he asks casually. Without slurring!
I nod and take small steps towards him. I skim the hem of his button-down, and his hot, liquor breath prickles my skin. To avoid any bubbling feelings, I make a mental note to grab a pack of mints before we leave.
“I’ll be fine by the time we get there,” he assures me.
“I know.” I avoid eye contact as my fingers fumble with the button by his taut abs.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly and then laughs. “At least I gave you something to fill your spank bank.”
I sigh heavily. I don’t purposefully fantasize about Loren Hale to get aroused. That would be way too awkward each time I meet his eyes. It’s already bad enough it happens on accident. “You’re not in my spank bank, Lo.” I think he might complain or laugh, but he looks confused and kind of hurt. I don’t have time to dig through the meaning.
“Sorry then,” he snaps, agitated. He feels bad, and I suddenly wish I just played along. He loses his footing in his drunk stupor and falls back into the mattress. To catch myself from tumbling to the floor, I hold onto his arms tightly, but that sends me right into him. And when time starts to slow, I realize that my hand is planted firmly on his chest; my legs are pressed against his, and the only thing that really separates us is his pants and my dress.