I rub the smoothness of her silky leg. “Ne t’inquites pas. Bientot ca sera un fait.” Don’t worry. I’ll make it a fact soon.
“Hey,” Ryke cuts in. “No f**king French.”
“Yeah,” Lo says, “Lily wants to hear you guys talk dirty in English.” He adds a smile to his girlfriend.
She turns beet-red at his admission. “You weren’t supposed to tell them that,” she whispers, still loud enough for us to hear. But she doesn’t seem to know that. “It was a secret.”
“Aw, love, it was too good to keep.” He kisses her on the lips, and he eyes the camera for a second while his hand slips up her muscle shirt, no bra underneath. Not that she’s particularly top-heavy. Rose has the biggest br**sts of her sisters and a fuller ass, wider hips. I could stare at her all day and have no problem getting hard.
I rewind to the beginning of the promo spot and press play. Everyone goes quiet as the commercial begins with all of us standing in front of a white backdrop. We shot the footage at a studio in Philly not long ago.
We were told to just act like ourselves while the cameras were rolling, and after thirty minutes of being ignored by makeup artists and gaffers, we all naturally fell into our roles. No acting required. It was real—even from me.
The commercial starts by panning down the row of seven, Scott on the end. The footage cuts to close-ups, starting from the furthest person on the right.
On screen, Daisy does a handstand, her white T-shirt falling down to reveal her bare stomach and green lacy bra. She sticks out her tongue with a playful smile. A caption appears right over her br**sts.
And then Ryke pushes her legs from behind, and she falls over with a laugh. On his chest, the caption scrolls the word: Jackass.
So they’re labeling us.
The thought is silenced as the promo moves quickly. Next in line are Lo and Lily. He has her tangled in his arms, and his mouth meshes against hers as they kiss hungrily, passionately, a desire so intense that it’s almost hard to watch. It seems too intimate and too personal.
At the same time, the words Sex Addict and Alcoholic float across their bodies.
And then here comes me, Rose, and Scott. Rose looks mildly pissed off, her eyes ablaze—which is normal. But she’s turned towards me, our bodies pulled together by something magnetically strong, and as I lean in to whisper in her ear, her face ignites.
I can’t even remember what I said. I could have easily disagreed with one of her favorite feminists or I could have told her that her hair was pretty.
In the video, she shoves my arm. Twice. Waiting for me to get angry like her. Wanting to provoke me.
I just grin.
The word Smartass quickly hits my body onscreen.
On the couch, right here, I hold in a laugh that no one will appreciate. But I find this so f**king amusing. And what are they going to call Scott—a womanizer? No, that’s far too kind. Maybe something like—Scumbag Motherf**king Producer (see also: Liar).
Beside her, in the commercial, Scott’s eyes fall to her br**sts.
I didn’t notice that before, and any sort of amusement I felt suddenly flits away. How could I have missed that? I also didn’t notice Rose…
She glances at Scott, ever so briefly. The attention is enough for him to tilt his head and sigh.
Please, this is a load of—
And then his caption appears. Heartthrob.
I choke on a laugh. That’s five levels of ridiculous. So he’s the white knight knocking on her tower. The hero. And I’m what the one who locked her there. It’s wrong. But it’s not necessarily backwards—I’m not the hero.
I’m the king to Rose’s queen.
And then the camera begins to slowly zoom in on Rose while both Scott and I stare down at her, painting the love triangle he so desperately wanted.
Her caption pops up in big bold letters on her body.
I frown. Why would this upset her? Since we were fourteen, she’s never been ashamed of being a virgin. She’s never wanted other women to feel as though they have to lose it in their twenties—that holding onto your virginity post-college makes you unwanted. She’s been proud of the fact that she’s waited. Being ashamed of this now makes no sense to me. Unless she’s more pissed by being labeled something at all.
That seems right.
The promo ends with the title logo for Princesses of Philly, and below, a tagline scrolls:
Get inside the Calloway sisters this February.
It was short. Only thirty-seconds. And it’s enough to resurface hostile emotions. So I stand calmly before anyone starts screaming.
Lily shifts on Loren’s lap and says, “I wasn’t the only one who thought the tagline was dirty, right?”
She’s completely serious. And it almost lightens the mood.
Lo nods to Rose. “Good thing you don’t give two shits about being a twenty-three-year-old virgin.”
“That’s not the problem,” she says. I know her well. She meets my gaze while I stand in front of the television that’s mounted above the fireplace. “He stereotyped all of us with one word, as though we’re caricatures.” She’s afraid of being made to look like a fool. But people have been stereotyping the Calloway girls on gossip blogs for months. This isn’t any different.
“So?” I say to her.
Her mouth falls. She thought I’d be on her side. When she’s wrong, I’m not afraid to disagree.
“People label you the moment they meet you,” I tell her. “You’re an ice cold bitch. You’re a man-hating prude, a rich stuck-up brat. They only tell a fraction of the truth, and if you let them hurt you, you let them win.”
Everyone settles down. No one wants to feed their stereotype either, and I think they’re beginning to understand that if they throw tantrums, they’re each going to look as two-dimensional as Scott wants them to be. They’d each fill the “rich kid snobbery” part well. That image would hurt many of them.
Rose’s lips tighten at the “man-hating” line. That one did sting her. I almost regret adding it in my explanation. “You’re a conceited a**hole,” she tells me.
“You love me.”
She shakes her head but her lips lift. “Stop.”
“Being right.” She groans and leans back against the couch in a huff. “I hate that we’re all so worked up over it and you say a few words, and now everything makes sense again.”
Lo rises with Lily in his arms. “He has a gift.”
“Given by me,” I say. I forget the cameras are even in the room until I hear the zoom of Savannah’s Canon as she focuses on me while Brett’s camera is on Scott. The blond-haired producer remains by the wall, glaring.
I came in and did exactly what he didn’t want.
I calmed every single f**king person.
I flicked over his rook, his bishop, and protected my queen.
I mouth, Don’t f**k with me. These five people mean more to me than words can express. I’ve never once felt like I had a real family.
But with them—I know I do.
[ 17 ]
My parents have rented out the loft to a ritzy hotel in New York City, complete with thirty sprawling flat screens, hors d'oeuvres and two hundred of their closest friends. They call it a screening party for the first episode.
I call it a nightmare.
Let’s be clear. This is a reality show. We’re not going to look like proper, upstanding ladies of Philadelphia. I reiterated these sentiments to my mother and she waved me off. “I know what a reality show is, Rose,” she said. “But this way, we’ll be laughing with you and not at you.”
I’m not sure that’s much better.
4 months and 25 days until the wedding – Mom
I slip my phone into my clutch and snatch a champagne glass from the nearest server, who wears a signature-fitted Calloway Couture black pleated dress. Another reason why a hundred plus people are here to watch our antics: they have big checkbooks. Ones that may want to invest or buy some of the clothes that Lily, Daisy, and I wear on the show.
I scroll through my phone, checking for the millionth time that the CC website is still online. God forbid it crashes during the show. That would be my luck.
The largest flat screen at the front of the room has a countdown before the show begins. 10 minutes. 10 f**king minutes.
Where the hell is Connor?
My nerves have spiked to new degrees, and I restrain myself from pulling out my phone and checking the website again.
I scan the crowd quickly, and I spot Loren and Lily standing off to the side, nearest a large potted plant. This is their first Calloway hosted event since Lily’s sex addiction became public. Half the people in the room stare at them with curious, admonishing gazes. The other half gossip in whispers.
Lily and Loren look about as uncomfortable as they can be, shifting and avoiding eye-contact. Lo has his arm around Lily’s shoulder, touching her in comfort and rotating her body every time a camera edges too close.
There are twelve cameramen here. Just to ensure that every moment is captured for the show.
I’m about to walk over to Lily for moral support, but I barely take a step before Ryke approaches the couple. He hands Loren a can of Fizz Life and Lily his plate of Swedish meatballs. Whatever Ryke says, it has Lo smiling for the first time all night.
Two years ago, Lo and Lily would be standing miserable in a corner. Addicted and enabling. A few months ago, no one could persuade my sister to leave the house because of the gossip and ridicule.
Now they’re here.
I’m usually not so sentimental. But watching my sister go from lying to broken to halfway-okay has moved me in immeasurable ways.
It’s easier to be born strong than to find a strength that you never thought existed. For that, I believe she has more courage and prowess than I could ever possess.
My eyes linger on them before I start searching for Connor again. I find Daisy first, entertaining my mom with a few head nods. While Loren steals one of Lily’s meatballs off her plate, Ryke watches Daisy from across the room, his smile fading and his features hardening in concern.
None of the guys like when we surround ourselves with our mother for long. I really don’t want Daisy around her for more than an hour or two. Mom sucks our energy dry, but that’s just her abrasive, all-consuming personality. Even if you never get used to it, you just have to deal.
When I finally spot Connor, all the built-up fuzzy, warm (generally foreign) feelings I had are replaced by annoyance.
I watch as my boyfriend greets a younger guy by hugging him and slapping him on the back in a typical bro-hug. It is so out of Connor Cobalt’s nature—his true self that I know and love.
My heels clap loudly on the marble floor as I strut towards him. I tip the rest of my champagne in my mouth and set the empty glass on a tray before I land by his side.
“Richard,” I say with heated eyes. I don’t care if I look like a bitch. That’s the point. I am who I am. Why can’t he just let people see the real him? Who cares if people don’t like him?
“There you are, babe,” Connor says, hooking his arm around my waist. He nods to his friend. “Patrick, you know Rose, right?”
“We’ve never been formally introduced,” Patrick says. He holds out his hand. “Patrick Nubell.”
I don’t shake it. “As in Nubell Cookies?” It makes sense. Connor doesn’t schmooze anyone. He has to have a reason to give you his time. Money and prestige are two important factors. Nubell sits just below Kraft (Oreos) and Keebler on the marketplace. Though Nubell cookies are more natural and less appetizing.
Patrick laughs and drops his hand, realizing I’m not going to shake it. He doesn’t seem affronted. Maybe he’s heard of my reputation. In these social circles, I am frequently called an ice queen.
“Yeah, it’s my great-great-grandfather’s company,” he explains. “You probably know how that is. People always asking you which flavor of Fizz you like the best. Well, I get do you prefer nugget or cinnamon.”
I stay quiet, which leaves Connor the opportunity to say, “Definitely, man.” He nods like he is entranced with this nugget/cinnamon conversation.
Sure, I could probably relate to Patrick on some level, but now is not the time for bonding. I have—I check my watch—four minutes until the show airs. And I need a pep talk. Preferably from Connor Cobalt and not the twat he has impersonated.
“Could you give us a minute, Patrick?” I ask now.
“Yeah, of course.” He leaves, probably searching for someone as young as him in the middle-aged crowd.
When I turn to Connor his eyes drop to mine. “That hurt me just as much as you,” he says immediately. “Trust me, I had to use the word killer and dude in the same f**king sentence.”
“You didn’t have to do anything,” I retort. “And babe, really?” I smack his arm. “And you gave him a bro-hug, Connor. Who are you?” I don’t give him time to answer because I know it will be something profoundly aggravating. “And what were you doing with Nubell Cookies? Are you trying to partner with them? That sounds like a fantastic idea. Put magnets in the tins and make everyone sick.”