I’m about to laugh again. I really don’t know why, but Connor covers my mouth with his hand to suppress my noises. How is he keeping me standing with just one arm?
He’s strong, Rose, don’t be stupid. Oh my God. Does weed make you stupid?
“And if I’m Peter Pan, who would you be? Wendy?”
“No,” Lily says. “Wendy chooses mortality over the boy she loves. I would be…” There’s a long pause, and I run my tongue against Connor’s palm.
He presses his lips together, trying so hard not to laugh.
“Tinkerbell,” Lily concludes. “She never leaves Pan. She loves him more than anything.”
“So you’re like my little fairy?” Lo asks, but I sense the adoration behind his words.
And yet, as cute as it is, Connor and I can’t keep our laughter in. It bursts forth and crushes our secrecy.
Their heads spin over their shoulders, catching us beside the staircase with crinkled brows.
“What the hell are you two doing?” Lo asks with the tilt of his head, scrutinizing our positions and faces and—what else is there to look at?
“My feet,” I say.
Connor has to bury his mouth into my neck to smother his next bout of laughter. Mine comes out full-force, no stopping that.
“What?” Lily squints at us in confusion.
Connor hunches over to rest his chin on my shoulder before he says, “We’re eating.”
Lily gasps. “Are you stoned?” She’s up off the couch before I can throw out an excuse. She’s not even ten feet near us and she stumbles back and pinches her nose. “Ugh.” She gags. “I hate that smell.”
Loren wears a supreme grin. “You two…” He shakes his head as he sidles next to his girlfriend. “Who would have thought the most responsible people in this house are the ones who get baked? Congratulations, you officially fit in our group.”
“Our friendship circle,” Connor clarifies.
I erupt into another fit of laughter. Connor picks me up in his arms again, carrying me towards the kitchen and setting me right on the counter.
“Can we stay and watch?” Lily asks excitedly.
“We’ll be seeing this on the next episode,” Loren reminds her.
“I want the unedited version though.”
Connor touches my leg. “You okay?” he asks, concerned even when he’s stoned.
“I’m not paranoid. Maybe it’s good weed.” But as long as I have Connor, I know I could ride out a bad trip.
What a weird version of love.
And it’s all mine.
[ 42 ]
The living room has been cleared out. Soft padded mats line the floor. Daisy is already jumping up and down, preparing for the self-defense lessons that Ryke, Loren, and I have promised the girls. I offered to hire a real instructor, but Ryke told me he was practically licensed.
I reminded him that being able to beat someone up doesn’t make him a good teacher. And then he said, “Stop f**king annoying me and go light a joint.”
I’ve been insulted far better.
Scott Van Wright aired the small segment of Rose and I giggling stupidly and devouring the leftover tacos. Since there wasn’t actual footage of us smoking, the backlash from the episode was minimal. There’ve been too many reality stars lying in their own vomit to be shocked by two young adults in unintelligible fits of laughter.
The only downside, I looked stupid for the first time in my life.
And I don’t care. It took twenty-four years to obtain this type of apathy. In college, if someone saw me as less than smart, at the bottom of the class, it felt life-ending. If they thought I was a prick, fine. If they thought I was a social climber, fine. Weird, whatever.
Stupid was the word that sliced me cold. Failure was the act that would leave me dead.
In one day, I had failed Wharton. Failed my “supposed” dream. And then I did something that made me into a stupider version of myself.
And today, I can say “I don’t care” and mean it.
I’m twenty-four-years-old. I always thought I was done growing up. But being with Rose has made me grow into the version of myself that I love the most.
My fears are no longer so selfish and so pretentiously vain.
Rose tells me, “If I’m being attacked, I’m taking out my pepper spray and Taser. I won’t use my fists first. That’s a last resort.”
“What if you don’t have time for all of that?” I ask her. I can’t help but smile every time I eye her clothes. No tennis shoes. No yoga pants or T-shirt. She chose wedges, leather shorts and a white cotton top, tucked in like she’s about to attend a lunch meeting. Loren told her to go change, and she looked like she wanted to rip off his face.
I know better.
“Not all paparazzi are despicable,” she says. “I’m sure someone would have a moral bone and help me against angry hecklers.”
“What if the paparazzi aren’t around?”
She holds up her finger. “One time,” she tells me. “Only one time in the past four months have I been alone in public. And that was when Lily drove down five wrong streets in a row.”
“Hey!” Lily speaks up. She’s on the ground in proper workout clothes like Daisy. Only she wears her furry white cap that’s more suited for the snow than warm, mid-May weather. It has tusks and apparently it’s something called a Wampa from Star Wars. The only reason I can see her wearing it is Loren. Every time he glances her way, his breathing deepens and his amber eyes glaze in desire, looking ready to mount her.
Lily stands to her feet, abandoning whatever move Loren was trying to show her. “I only drove down the wrong streets because the GPS was in French.”
Rose gives her a look. “You were the one who put it in French.”
“Only because I’m trying to learn the language,” Lily explains, “so that I can know what the hell you two talk about behind our backs.”
Last episode was the first time they aired us speaking French to each other. Production included subtitles.
Our conversation revolved around Lily and went something like this on TV.
ROSE: She’s losing weight. I can see her ribs.
ME: That’s a shadow.
ROSE: It’s not a shadow. It’s her skeleton.
ME: I have a physics book upstairs. I’m sure it talks about light and shadows. Do you want it?
ROSE: Why would you have a physics book? You’re a business student.
ME: For moments like these.
It was one of our more calm exchanges in French, but Lily wasn’t amused by the fact that we were discussing her weight—right in front of her.
Apparently they all thought that we just argue about “smart people” things (Lily’s words) and that we have a rule to not talk about them in French.
I do have a rule.
If you want to understand me, learn my language.
Ryke and Daisy don’t seem to care that we could have talked about them, but Lily and Loren are aggravated.
“And just so you know,” Lily says, “I can say five whole words in French already. So at this rate, I will be fluent in no time.”
Daisy walks over after jumping up and down. “Didn’t you fail Spanish and Latin in prep school?” she asks with a smile.
“That’s a mute point,” Lily defends. “Those aren’t even the same languages.”
Rose gives me another look, but I can’t stop myself. “Moot point,” I correct her.
Lily stares at me, dumbfounded. “What?” Loren wraps his arms around her waist as she explains, “It’s mute. Like it doesn’t make a sound, so it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s moot,” I repeat. “I assure you.”
Rose elbows me, and Lily’s eyebrows bunch in even more confusion.
“No one likes the f**king grammar police,” Ryke tells me.
“That’s scary coming from a guy who used to write for the city’s newspaper in college,” I say. “Did your editor hate you?”
He flips me off.
“Wait.” Lily holds up her hands. “What’s a moot then? That’s not a word.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Rose says quickly and waves me off.
“It does,” I refute. “I want to educate your sister.”
Rose punches me in the arm and then points. “That’s for your indirect insult. She’s not stupid.” I open my mouth to speak and she punches my arm again. “And apparently you need self-defense lessons. You don’t seem to be doing a lot of defending.”
She goes to punch me again and I grab her fist in my hand.
Her lips purse. “Fine.”
I just notice Ben, Brett, and Savannah circling us when they start to flock Ryke. I look around for Scott, but I realize he must be locked in his room. Working. He’s shifted his tactics once again. No longer annoying the Calloway girls as much as he used to. He’s been almost absent for the past two weeks. I don’t know if this house is making me more paranoid, but I keep thinking he’s up to something. I just haven’t determined what he could possibly do to me without physically taking Rose. He’s already failed at that. So what’s left in his arsenal?
Rose and I look over as Ryke tosses his shirt to his side. He has better lean and defined muscles than both Lo and me. We’ll both admit that because we’re not the ones ascending mountains with our bare hands every other day.
“I didn’t know this was nak*d self-defense class,” I quip.
Lo laughs. “Damn, you beat me to that one.”
Ryke glares. “No one f**king hit my right shoulder. It’s off-limits.” That’s all he says in reply. But we know what he’s talking about. He’s spent over a month getting an intricate tattoo. One of the most popular episodes was when Daisy went with him for company. It was one of her few free days, and Rose and I both noticed she chose to spend it with Ryke of all people.
Princesses of Philly aired about fifteen minutes of “did Daisy get a tattoo with Ryke or didn’t she?” until they revealed the answer at the end.
Her mother would have killed her if she marked her body, which is pivotal in furthering her modeling career. And Samantha would have also found a way to destroy Ryke, probably by throwing him in jail for some ridiculous charge. I have no doubt about this, which is why I’ve been cautioning Ryke to stay away from Daisy until she’s older.
But he’s a masochist; I swear he does things he knows will hurt him in the end.
We all stare at his finished tattoo. A phoenix with wings in shades of red, orange and yellow engulfs his right shoulder and chest, the feet near his abs. A gray and black chain is wrapped around the ankles of the bird, and it descends down his side, an anchor inked at his hip.
Lo shakes his head. “At least you didn’t get a tribal tattoo.”
“Fuck off,” Ryke says. He stretches an arm behind his head and ignores our stares and the three cameras.
I tilt my head. “You did make sure the needle was wrapped and sterile?”
“I’m not a f**king idiot.”
“Well, when you say it like that, I believe you more,” I deadpan.
“I think it’s hot,” Daisy chimes in. She grins impishly while everyone (except me) groans. “What?” she laughs.
“That’s my brother, and you’re like my little sister,” Lo says with a disgusted look. “Just, no.”
Ryke’s jaw hardens, not saying a word. He just grabs his shirt off the floor and puts it back on.
“Thanks for that strip tease, bro,” Lo says.
Ryke shoots him the middle finger.
But I watch his eyes meet Daisy. Her bright grin has already completely vanished. I didn’t catch the moment when the humor left her, but maybe Lo’s comment did the trick.
Ryke and Daisy stare at each other for a long moment that’s filled with words I can’t hear and things I can’t read. I almost look away, irritated by this lack of knowledge.
Then Daisy mouths, Sorry, to Ryke.
“Just don’t hit my arm, okay?” he tells her. “It still f**king hurts.”
Her lips slowly rise.
“I know how to defend myself,” Lily suddenly makes a giant proclamation. She’s been in Lo’s arms, but she steps out and raises her hand at him, giving him the Vulcan salute from Star Trek. When we went to a comic book convention, Rose didn’t know what it was named, and Lo chastised her when she called it the “Spock thing.”
While Lily continues to part her fingers in a V shape, Lo looks at Lily like he wants to kiss her and block the rest of us out.
No one says a thing, we have our brows raised, standing still like what the hell?
“See,” Lily says. “Everyone’s too confused to attack.”
And then Lo playfully grabs her wrist. He leans down and sticks his tongue through the gap between her fingers, making a crude gesture. With her hand and his mouth.