I watch Connor and Scott’s tense conversation as they share the same couch. They both sit tall, silently establishing their dominance, but a good amount of space separates them.
On a plush chair, Ryke observes our producer with a dark scowl but is smart to stay quiet.
However, Lo constantly interjects, sitting on the loveseat. And while the other guys keep their voices low, I can hear his heated retorts from the kitchen. He gesticulates with his hands, pointing at Scott more than once.
“I think they’re all a**holes,” I say matter-of-factly. “Some just have more redeeming qualities than others.” Kind of like us. I’m not the most likable girl in the world.
Savannah, the redheaded camerawoman, stands beside the oven. She’s around our age and wears a skull and crossbones bandana over her braids. She focuses the camera on Lily, which is not good. My twenty-one-year-old sister is the only person who has trouble not looking into the lens.
“I don’t like Scott,” Lily says, her eyes flickering to the camera with each word. She nears Daisy and cups her hand around her mouth to whisper. “He stared at your boobs for like a whole minute.”
Daisy shrugs and climbs on the counter, swinging her long legs. Her dyed blonde hair drapes to her waist. She’d cut it if her new modeling agency would let her. “There are photographs of me in my underwear,” she says (too casually). She pops a piece of broccoli in her mouth from a vegetable tray. “When guys read the magazines, they could be doing more than staring at my boobs.”
Lily flushes red in embarrassment.
Daisy frowns in confusion and then she laughs lightly. “You used to jack off to mags? That’s f**king awesome, Lil.”
I suck in a sharp breath, worried by my little sister’s lack of filter in front of the cameras. But I don’t scold Daisy for her bluntness. I don’t want to make it seem like female masturb**ion is a bad thing. I wholeheartedly approve, but Lily is a recovering sex addict who has been known to compulsively delve into self-love and porn, abusing both. Those days are over for her. They have been for months.
“I don’t think girls can jack off,” Lily tells her, collecting her bearings. She tries to act more confident, straightening up.
Daisy swings her legs, hitting the cabinets below with her high laced boots. I would care more about scratching the wood if this was my house. But it’s practically Scott’s. So scuff away, Daisy. “You’re totally right.” She nods. “I guess it would be like rubbing one out?”
“Girls can jill off,” Lily says.
“What?” Daisy and I say in unison.
“You know…” Lily turns bright red again, only her flush looks like an allergic reaction. Red splotches her arms and neck. Her eyes flit to the camera and then back to us. “Jack and Jill went up the hill. Guys can jack off. Girls can jill off.”
Daisy cracks up laughing, hitting her leg with each full-bellied sound. “Holy shit…That’s awesome.”
I smile too. I love my sisters for so many different reasons.
I slide a piece of pizza out of the box with a napkin. “You’re sixteen,” I say to Daisy. “Men shouldn’t be thinking about screwing you while they look at your photos. They should know better.”
“I’ll be seventeen in a month,” she says. “And it probably happened to Brooke Shields, so…” She shrugs like that makes it okay. It doesn’t. No one likes that they’re calling Daisy a sex symbol in the media just because Lily is a sex addict. Daisy was only a high fashion model before all the publicity, in background shots, a few small campaigns. Nothing big. Now she’s a supermodel, posing more suggestively, wearing less and less clothes.
I don’t even want to think about what will happen when she turns eighteen.
When she can legally pose nude.
I wish she would care more, but she entered the modeling industry at such a young age that I’m not sure she’ll ever see her body as something other than an object to the male gaze.
“Girls!” Scott calls. “We only have the psychic for another half hour. You need to come back.”
We shuffle out of the kitchen and into the living room, pizza and drinks in hand. I pass Connor the plate he requested and sit beside him, which happens to also be next to Scott. I’d kick Scott somewhere else but I don’t want to put him next to Lily (a sex addict with a stable boyfriend) or Daisy (a sixteen-year-old high fashion model with impulse issues). Seriously, my little sister dove off a forty-foot cliff in Mexico.
I wish I was exaggerating.
Lily slumps beside Loren on the loveseat, and he pulls her a lot closer so her legs are over his lap, splayed across him. She leans into his chest as she picks the pepperoni off her pizza.
“Do me next,” Daisy says with a roguish grin, plopping on the floor. She leans against the legs of Ryke’s chair and holds out her hand to Madame Charmaine. The psychic’s peppered hair is so thick and frizzy, like she brushed her curls. Sun spots even mar her skin.
Ryke has kicked up his feet on my cedar coffee table that was transported from the Princeton house. At least there’s that ugly purple tablecloth on top.
But I can’t restrain myself from saying something. “Ryke, I can see the mud on your boots.”
His brows rise and he runs a hand through his brown hair. His features are harder and more brooding than Loren’s, but he has the same lean and muscular build. Not bulky but incredibly fit. He nods to his brother. “Please tell me this isn’t a regular f**king thing with her.”
“Oh yeah.” Loren steals the pepperoni off Lily’s plate and pops one in his mouth. “Don’t leave the toilet seat up unless you want a ten minute lecture.”
“It’s called respect,” I retort.
Lily raises her hand. “I agree with Rose.”
Ha! Take that, Loren.
But he ignores me and playfully bites Lily’s neck. Her face lights up in a giddy smile.
My achievement is popped in an instant. I just feel…strange at being thwarted by Lily and Lo’s constant blinding love. Instead of being agitated by their in-the-face groping, I’m a little more aware of what I have. I turn to Connor, and for some reason, I can tell he’s been watching me, studying me, understanding everything. I trace his features: the smoothness of his unblemished skin, the waviness of his brown hair, and the curve of his muscles in his arms and chest, beneath a sophisticated button-down and behind those all-knowing blue eyes.
He is power and perfection in so many ways that I will never admit aloud. His head would be humongous by the fact. But when I was younger, I often thought about what it would be like to be with him, physically.
I was sixteen when I first pictured Connor inside of me, and the most contact I had with him was verbally fighting at Model UN Conferences. Literally, we’d stand in the hallways of a fancy hotel and argue about Epicurus and his philosophy on intangible things like love, happiness and God. Once Connor went off on a tangent in French, I tried to keep up. I vowed to be better than him. And so I studied harder. I opened more books. I made sure I was fluent enough to understand him and then more—to stump him. I never did, but I also never fell behind.
I am smart only because I spent hours reading. Connor is smart because he’s naturally gifted, but he does study harder than even the average person. I envy him—that he can carry all of these talents and never be weighed down by setbacks and hardships. He just keeps moving forward.
He makes me believe that anything is possible. I don’t think I’ll ever find someone quite like Connor Cobalt.
He places a hand on my neck and his thumb rubs a sensitive place that sends chills down my spine.
I’m glad to have him, even if I was fine with being alone and single beforehand. How we came to this place still feels like a cosmic alignment. Out of the blue, I learned he was Lily’s economics tutor at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a ruse to get closer to me. He had no idea she was my sister at first, and Lily chose him at random. At the time, Connor and I only saw each other once a year when Princeton and Penn competed in a Quiz Bowl Tournament, and this was a chance for him to meet me more often. For us to reunite.
And Connor’s never been one to squander an opportunity.
So when he saw me at Lily’s old apartment, he asked me on a date. I said yes because he was challenging me to step out of my comfort zone, as he’s done all these years. I wonder if hav**g s*x will be the day where everything ends, where our journey of losing and finding each other will finally come to a close.
I turn back to Ryke who has not moved his boots. I make sure that he meets my glare.
He holds up his hands in surrender. “Look, if we’re going to live together then we need to establish some f**king rules.”
Madame Charmaine cuts into our discussion. “You’re single now but you will find someone very soon,” she tells Daisy.
“Well that’s not right,” Daisy says, the cameras rotating to her. “I already have a boyfriend.”
Ryke’s boots finally fall to the floor. “Since when?”
“Since last week.”
Madame Charmaine holds up a finger. “Aha!” she exclaims. “Soon. Very soon.”
“So soon that the events have already happened,” Connor says. “Are we changing the definition of precognition today? Shall I call Merriam-Webster?”
Lo breaks into a grin. “You’re nasty today, Connor.”
“I have a limit on bullshit. Magic tips the scale.”
“It’s not magic,” Madame Charmaine rebuts with ease. “I have the sight.”
Connor pauses. “…like I was saying.”
“Why haven’t any of us met your boyfriend?” I ask Daisy, trying to steer this to a better direction, one that doesn’t make Connor look like a bigger prick than he really is. But I have a feeling Scott will edit him in the worst light no matter what.
Before she answers, Ryke whispers in her ear, and they both suddenly stand at the same time. We’re all on edge until Ryke sits on the floor, taking her spot, and she settles in his chair, her legs crossed underneath her.
Ryke has his nice moments. I’ll admit that.
“Daisy,” I say. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah…um.” She swats her hair out of her face. “He’s not really the meet-and-greet kind of boyfriend.”
“So basically you’re just f**king him,” Ryke blurts out.
Oh look, his nice moment just passed.
At least, I can forecast that he won’t make a move on Daisy because of her age. I think he’s more likely to run into traffic than hook up with her.
“Not in front of the cameras,” Connor advises.
Ryke shoots him the middle finger with an added glare.
I can feel Connor’s chest rising in irritation. “I don’t know why I care,” Connor says. “It’s not like anyone will understand you anyway. You curse every other word. They’re going to literally bleep you out of the show.”
“And that’d make you so f**king happy.”
“I’d be happier if I could tie you up to the front porch and leave you there. I’d even be kind enough to toss you a steak bone to gnaw on.”
Lo can’t stop laughing.
Ryke’s eyes darken at his brother. “Where’s the f**king loyalty?”
His laughter dies down and his lips fall. “Did you hear what you said to Daisy? Honestly, how about never bringing up her sex life. And then maybe I’ll consider siding with you.”
“You guys.” Daisy waves her hand to regain focus. “I’m not screwing my boyfriend. I just don’t want any of you to meet him. He’s kind of dumb.”
Ryke’s jaw hardens. “He’s dumb? Then why the f**k are you with him?”
Daisy shrugs and avoids his dark eyes. “He’s nice.”
Scott suddenly scoots closer to me, his hip pressing against mine. I want to edge towards Connor, but I don’t want to look frightened of Scott. So I stand my ground and feel his warm breath on my ear.
“You should go next. See what your future holds.”
I bristle at the thought of being told something like “someone you love will die soon” or “you’ll marry a stupid man.” Connor may not take stock in psychics, but a part of me will always be a little superstitious.
“Madame,” Scott calls before I can stop him. “Rose would like to go next.”
“And then you?” Connor asks. “We’d all love to know when you’ll die.”
The muscles in Scott’s jaw twitch.
Madame Charmaine sidles over to our couch and kneels in front of me. She snatches my hand and scans the lines on my palm wildly. “Mmm.”
I don’t like mms. They sound like unintelligible baby muttering, which is the equivalent of sticking a sharp needle in my ear.
“I think…that I will have a better reading with cards.” She pulls the shuffled deck from her pocket. “Split this in half. Do not flip them over.”