“Honestly, I don’t know what to f**king think.”
Connor speaks before Lo can blow up. “We can squash this really easily. We haven’t seen you sick these past couple weeks. All you have to do is show us your pills so we know that you’re taking them.”
“It’s not your f**king body, Connor,” Loren sneers. “This doesn’t affect anyone in the room but me and maybe Lil. I don’t have to tell you shit.” He stands like he’s ready to leave, and Lily’s face falls in confusion.
I am boiling. I am on fire. I want to punch him for being so clueless! I tear through Connor’s hold on me, and I sidestep to block Loren’s body from the door, outstretching my hands to either frame. “Your addiction affects everyone in this room. If you can’t see that—”
“I see just fine,” he interrupts, his voice carrying an edge that sharpens with each word. His cheekbones are so severe, his features beautiful and terrifying all at once.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
Lo lets out a short, bitter laugh. “That’s so f**king easy for you, isn’t it?” he says with malice. “Being smart. Miss Perfect. What do you have to worry about? Does my hair look good today? Do my shoes match my dress?”
“Lo,” Connor warns.
But this doesn’t stop him.
Loren watches my breathing deepen in pure rage. All I see is my sister. He said he was going to protect her, and he’s enabling her again. Why the f**k would he do that? Why is the most significant person in her life her savior and her demon?
I want to hurt him so badly. He makes it way too easy to do so. That’s the problem.
Lo saunters over to my neatly arranged bookshelf. “Let’s see, Rose…” He grabs a hardback and carelessly flips through it before shaking the book by the spine. My chest caves. “How does this feel?”
And then he opens my manila design folders and rattles them until all the papers flutter to the floor. “Stop it!” I shout, trying to collect them, every misplaced item like a knife in my side. My anxiety pitches.
“This doesn’t bother you, right?” he says. “Nothing’s f**king wrong with Rose Calloway? I’m the idiot. I’m the f**king moron in your world who’s so stupid and selfish that he would drink again and again.”
“No…” I say, but my head spins so much as I rearrange the papers. My hands tremble as I reach for my sketches in charcoal, some in color.
More than a couple I drew when I was only a teenager.
He spilt part of my childhood on the floor and scrambled the years.
[ 35 ]
Rose is close to manic.
Her eyes dance wildly over the papers in distress. The last time I’ve seen her like this, she was pacing her room, crying, shouting things that made no goddamn sense. It was after her best friend betrayed her—helping Lily cheat in Princeton behind her back and blaming it on me.
But this is so f**king different.
Because it’s Loren Hale. No matter if he curses us both to hell, I can practically taste his pain that throttles his body. He says cruel things in hopes that we’ll say them back and hit him.
It’s that simple.
And neither Ryke nor Rose has to consult with me to learn this. We all understand him by now.
So no matter how much I want to throw Lo against the f**king wall for putting Rose in a state of distress, I can’t touch him. I can’t curse him to hell. I can’t punch him in the f**king face. It’s like abusing a kid that’s been shit on his whole life. I’m not going to add to those bruises.
I just need to concentrate on my girlfriend who breathes sporadically, tiny sharp gasps leaving her lips. I bend down behind her and whisper a line of French in her ear to gauge her response. She hardly pays attention, shuffling hurriedly through papers, accidentally smudging the charcoal on one. And her blackened fingerprints stain another.
She pauses in a horrific daze, and for a split second, my whole world tilts.
I make an impulse decision. I grab her around the waist from behind and lift her from the papers, most fluttering from her hands.
“No!” she screams, kicking out to try to reach them.
“Stop,” I force in her ear.
She screams again, a high-pitched wail that rips out my heart.
I only want to calm her. I grip her wrists in front of her body, about to whisper to her again, but Lo interjects.
“It took you twenty-three goddamn years to finally lose your virginity.” He pulls at another loose thread, this time, hitting me full force. “And you lost it to a guy that’s just f**king you for your last name.”
“LOREN!” I shout. My face pumps with an unbridled, irritated, hell-bent rage. I don’t think Lo has ever seen me this upset. I want to kick him as badly as he wants to be kicked. I would never go after Lily the way he’s going after Rose. She may be strong, but she has her moments of f**king fragility. And he’s purposefully breaking her.
His face immediately falls, blanketing with an intense guilt. His mouth opens, and I worry that an apology won’t be on the other end. I can’t have him tearing at my girlfriend anymore today. She can’t handle it.
I cut in, “Don’t.” The word is controlled and powerful enough to quiet the room. “Give me a minute.” I pick up Rose around the waist while she breathes heavily, no longer fighting me.
I glance back at Lo. He stares at the ceiling, his legs a little loose like they’re going to give out on him. Ryke tries to talk to his brother, but Lo just shakes his head and stares out the window. I look for Lily, but she stays seated on the edge of the bed, rooted there with a faraway gaze.
I set Rose by a vanity in our room, placing her on the bench.
“Darling,” I say, wiping her hot, stray tears. I hold her face between my hands while I bend in front of her, eye level.
She raises a shaking hand to my face, as though to say, give me a minute.
I take her hand and tenderly kiss each one of her fingers. Her eyes finally focus on me, and they soften considerably before she grips the sleeve of my shirt. I slide on the bench next to her, and she tries to hide behind my body so no one sees her splotchy face.
“It’s already past,” I tell her in a breathless whisper, my thumb skimming the black mascara beneath her eyes.
She once told me that as a child, she would lock herself in her closet after she fought with her mother. The arguments revolved around many things. Like her schedule for the day, being forced on a date with a boy she found repulsive, being made into a person she didn’t want to be.
She’d grab an old fur coat and scream, muffling the noises in the clothes. She made sure to have her mental breakdowns in private. Even in her madness, there’s still a level of control.
She takes a deep, trained breath, blowing out of her lips like she’s meditating. And then she grazes my features and says, “Thank you.”
My heart beats rapidly and I fight the urge to pull her away from everyone, this situation and the worries. To lock ourselves alone and find solace in silence. She frightened me tonight. I realize how easily this could have escalated. How it could have gone another way. What if it had? What if she writhed in my arms until her screams punctured the sky? What if I lost her to emotions so deep they’d swallow her whole?
I want to protect her. From everything, even herself.
Her breathing steadies, and I place a hand on her cheek and my lips linger on hers. She responds by shifting her body towards me, and my tongue encourages her lips to part. I grip the back of her head, pulling her closer.
We kiss desperately, and I draw her so near that she sits halfway on my lap.
She breaks away abruptly, her breath heavy, but at least she’s breathing this time. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes for making a scene, for being a handful, for having a moment of pure panic. “I’m—”
“Human,” I finish for her. I tuck her hair behind her ear. “You’re human, Rose. We all are.”
I glance at the rest of the room. At Ryke, Lo and Lily who waver in uncomfortable silence. We have things we need to get to, but I’m not moving until she’s ready.
She holds my arm in a half-tight, half-frightened grip and nods to me.
“Let’s finish this then,” I say, rising with her, right by my side.
Where I always want her to be.
[ 36 ]
I may be calmer after Connor’s short talk and reassuring presence, but no one else looks as mild-mannered. Ryke has his arms crossed over his chest, staring between Lily and Loren who uncommonly start fighting.
She asked him if he drank booze. And the one question pummeled him backwards. Her words, her feelings towards him, mean more than whatever Ryke, Connor, and I can say or do.
“I just…I don’t understand why you wouldn’t get your pills to prove it,” she says in a small voice.
“So you’re going to take their side over mine?” he chokes.
“I’m not taking sides.” Her face contorts as she thinks about everything. “I just want the truth, Lo.”
“I didn’t drink.” He shakes his head repeatedly, but his eyes redden the longer he does so, telling us a different story. “But I can’t prove it. I stopped taking Antabuse months ago.”
“You did what?!” Ryke shouts.
Lo touches his chest in defense. “They were driving me nuts! I’m paranoid about everything I eat—if it’s accidentally cooked in alcohol. I picture myself puking from a shitty f**king meal. I can’t do that for the rest of my goddamn life!”
Before his brother can respond, Lo turns his attention back to Lily. “You have to believe me,” he says, desperation lacing his voice.
“I do,” she says, no hesitation.
Relief floods his face. He walks to the bed and reaches for a hug.
But then something strange happens. Lily pushes Loren in the chest and then she points her finger at him. “But it’s not okay. It’s not.” Her chin quivers and she tries to gather this shadowy strength that likes to flit away from her. “You can’t stop taking them just because it drives you nuts. And it’s not okay that you kept this from me…from us…”
They’re both crying now, and it feels intrusive watching them fight like this.
“My chest is on fire,” I tell Connor. I really want to leave. But we still have to talk to Lily about the videotape.
He rubs my back and kisses my temple.
It feels good. To have him. In these moments, I can’t imagine reverting back to being alone. I would feel outnumbered and unspun.
Loren holds my sister in his arms. Or maybe she’s holding him. It’s hard to tell.
“We’re in a fight, just so you know,” she whispers. “I’ll sleep in Daisy’s bedroom.”
His face twists in hurt now. “You haven’t had sex in three days. I was going to…” He drifts off as Lily shakes her head.
“I don’t care about sex. I care about you being healthy and not drinking.”
I’m grinning. I can’t stop it. It’s f**king happening. My chest lifts. Doused with water. Those words I don’t care about sex have never left that girl’s mouth.
Loren looks just as surprised, just as in awe as me.
“We have another issue,” Ryke interjects.
I glare hatefully. “We don’t have to bring that up now,” I say. My sister just denounced sex, the compulsive, harmful kind. We should throw her a party not question her about the alleged bathroom bl*w j*b.
Ryke looks at me like I lost brain cells and then grabs the camera. “Watch this,” he tells Lily and Loren.
They stand behind the camera as the footage replays, and Lily’s cheeks redden the further along. When we all hear her say “Can I give you a bl*w j*b?” her eyes bug, and her hand shoots to the air like she’s ready to answer a question in class.
“I was having a bad day,” she defends.
“Shhh,” Loren hisses, his eyes narrowed at the camera. The moaning and groaning begin and Lily suddenly shares his confusion. “What is this?” Lo asks. “Is this some kind of f**ked up joke?”
“You tell us,” Ryke refutes. “You’re f**king in a public bathroom in the middle of the afternoon.”
“Nooo,” Loren says the word slowly. “We didn’t f**k in the bathroom. We don’t f**k anywhere but our bedroom. Someone must have tampered with the video.”
“So you didn’t ask to give Loren a bl*w j*b?” I question my sister.
Her rash-like flush spreads to her neck and arms. “I did do that…” she mutters.
“And then I told her no,” Loren adds. I don’t know what to believe. I want to put faith in them, but the evidence is convincing. How does a person even edit a video on the actual camera? It’s not as if we’re watching the footage from a computer.
“What were you actually doing for thirty minutes in the bathroom?” Connor asks casually. His questions always seem less like an interrogation and more like a conversation.