When I left for college, I couldn’t last more than a week without some kind of release, and I wasted hours to porn. Having a place away from my parents became my bane. Everything escalated; my rituals began at dawn and ended at dusk. An obsession that cut into my sleep, my dreams, my everything. It consumed me whole like some sort of rabid beast.
Lo and I may have enabled each other for years, but I know for certain I’d be on a street corner or worse if Lo hadn’t been there. Whenever I felt like I was spiraling, I turned to him. To talk. About anything really. His companionship was my saving grace.
My mouth dries as I finish spilling my life story. I feel cut up and drained and really can’t believe I let it all out like some sort of emotional flood. Dr. Banning stares at me with an expression I can’t gauge, but she must think that I’m f**ked up beyond help. Our co-dependent relationship began as children, and even though we’ve hurt each other, we’ve also been the only real support system for so many years. How do you fix that without damaging it as well?
“Have you changed your mind?” I ask her. “Are you thinking we shouldn’t be together after all?”
Dr. Banning taps her pen to the notebook. “No. I just think you both have a lot you need to work out. And hopefully we’ll reach that point. I want you to uncover the source of this addiction, Lily, and maybe I’ll be able to help you get there in time.”
She’s telling me there may be an answer, but I’m not going to have it anytime soon. I can wait. “I just…want to know what I should expect. Are you going to give me medicine? Am I going to need to go through the twelve-steps or something?”
Dr. Banning shakes her head. “No medication. Drugs aren’t going to solve your problem.”
“But…I can’t sleep…” Nights are horrible. All I want is to orgasm, to feel this release, this high and if I don’t take a sleeping pill, then how will I rest?
“Right now, there’s an imbalance in your oxytocin levels. With compulsive orgasms, you’ve offset chemicals in your body. That’s why you’re going through withdrawals. It’s important that the chemicals readjust to a normal balance. You’ll be able to cope better and fight sexual compulsions. Drugs will only mask the problem.”
I try to process her words, and my head begins to float away. “What about when I’m sad?” With Lo absent, I feel such a strong pressure on my chest. I’ve always heard about depression, but I never understood how debilitating it can be. Some days, I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.
“I can give you a prescription,” she tells me. “But I’d rather you didn’t take any anti-depressants. Like I said, the chemicals in your body need to readjust. They’ve been out of flux for probably a long time. Now, will you be going through the twelve-step program? No.”
I frown. “But Lo...”
“You’re not an alcoholic,” she tells me. “The goal of the twelve-step program is to completely eliminate the addiction from the addict’s life. For sex addicts, that is unfeasible. Sex is a part of nature. Alcohol is not. Your sister knew this, which was why she didn’t want you to go to an in-treatment facility that promoted the twelve-step program for sex addiction. Permanent celibacy is not going to be the answer. Intimacy with your partner is what we’re going to strive for.”
Intimacy with your partner. “So Lo…”
She nods as though she can read my thoughts. “When he returns from rehab, he’ll be an important part in your recovery. I’d love for him to accompany you to some of the meetings.”
I blush. “I’m not sure he’ll want to do that…”
“From what Rose has told me, it sounds like he’d be willing to do just about anything for you.” She glances at her clock. “That’s it for today. Did I scare you off?”
I shake my head. “No…actually, for the first time, I feel like I’m headed somewhere.”
And I know that place is somewhere good.
After more days filled with class, therapy and loneliness, winter break arrives. And every year with winter break comes Daisy’s birthday. Our mother asked her what kind of Sweet Sixteen party she wanted, and she chose to take the yacht around Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Samantha Calloway put her foot down almost immediately at the idea. Not because it’s too lavish but because she has a special brunch with her tennis ladies on Wednesday that she won’t miss. Daisy was asking for a week-long birthday, not just one night.
Our father has a business meeting, so he wouldn’t be able to make the trip either. But I stepped in and told my mother that I would chaperone. Since Lo’s call, I’ve been feeling better, and I kind of want to test myself—to see if I can hold myself back from doing something with a server. I know I can, and I’m ready to experience that personal victory. Dr. Banning even thought it’d be a good idea.
My mother was more than happy with these terms, but Rose wasn’t. She has an Academic Bowl competition all weekend. So does Connor. Her solution? The brunet, know-it-all track star.
He even went as far to personally ask Daisy if he could join her party because I would need some help. I was there when she told him that if he could handle a boat full of estrogen, she wouldn’t be one to stop him.
He choked on a dry laugh and said, “I think I’ll be okay.”
She flashed an equally tight smile. “Just warning you now.”
Daisy invited twenty of her closest girl friends from prep school who look like they’re used to getting what they want. He should be scared.
After a flight to the port, I wait by the dock while stewards collect our luggage to bring on the yacht. The sixteen-year-old girls pool out of two limos, adjusting their Chanel sunglasses and reapplying a sheen of lip gloss to combat the daylight. I feel a little underdressed in my jean shorts and halter top. These girls look like they took a pit stop in L.A. and went shopping: long billowing skirts and tight bandeau tops with designer bags on the hook of their arms.
They bring me back to my prep school days. I spent most of my time avoiding these girls, too scared about what I would be labeled if my secret was exposed. Lo was my only friend, and as a result I’m a bit socially inept when it comes to girls. This trip is going to be awesome. I just need to remind myself that I’m four years older. And even if they make me feel like a small shellfish…I am a shining sea star. Uh…I seriously need to come up with better confidence boosters.
Daisy sticks out among her friends at five foot eleven. When she spots me, she waves and her eyes flicker over to the handsome twenty-two-year-old beside me. Ryke wears black wayfarers and leans an arm on the dock’s post with such confident nonchalance that the rest of the girls begin to look over, eyeing the cut muscles of his bicep and the ridges seen through his green tank. It’s like a herd of lionesses stalking their prey.
I smack his stomach, my knuckles hitting the hardness of his abs.
His eyebrow quirks like I’ve gone mental. “What the fuck?”
I shake my hand off. “Stop doing that.”
“I’m just standing here.”
This is going to be a long trip. “Don’t stand like that.”
“Like what? Seriously, how the f**k am I supposed to stand?” He throws his hands up in the air.
“I don’t know,” I exclaim, glancing back at the girls. “Don’t lean on things. It looks sexual.”
“I’m not even going to ask how that’s possible. Besides, everything looks sexual to you,” he reminds me.
“They may look my age, but they’re all sixteen.”
He glances back at the girls who are still sizing him up from afar. “No shit. And let me guess, you think I’m going to hook up with one of them. I’m not you, Lily.”
Okay, that stings.
“Most guys would go for it,” I defend myself. “They’re cute girls and men usually think with their downstairs brain. I’m just telling your c*ck in case it has other plans.”
“Leave my c*ck alone,” he snaps. “And while you’re at it, leave your sexist attitude on the shore.”
Maybe I did generalize the entire male population as being horny, but I’m a little edged. The last time I was on a boat, I almost ruined my friendship with Lo and then I ended up forming a real relationship instead.
I think boats are my enemy. They make me kind of nuts.
I open my mouth about to tell him this, but Ryke cuts me off, “Get a grip, Calloway.”
He’s right. I take a deep breath and prepare for the worst. I can do this. It’s only a week.
I internally laugh. Yeah. Right.
* * *
While the girls are given a brief tour of the yacht by the chief steward, Ryke and I find the lounge area with a shady overhang. I take a seat on the couch while a server brings us fresh orange juice. As part of the itinerary, my mother told the servers not to carry any alcohol onboard. Last thing she’d want is for one of the girls to fall over the rails and drown in a drunken haze.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Lo?” I finally ask. “You’ve been in contact with him. He said you’ve actually seen him.” The hidden truth doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Ryke is stable. Lo needs him. I can understand that.
Ryke hikes his feet on the coffee table while I tuck mine under my legs on the outdoor couch, holding a pillow on my lap. “I didn’t want to tell you because you would have started badgering me with questions the same way Lo does about you. The whole point of being separated is so you can focus on yourselves. If you’re constantly worrying about each other, then that’s not going to happen.”
All this time, I thought Ryke was one-hundred percent right. But Dr. Banning said that the solution for me isn’t celibacy but rather a focus on intimacy. And being intimate with my partner actually requires my partner. By the prolonged distance, I can tell she fears I’ll revert to porn, masturb**ion, or worse, other men, to fill the empty space. I won’t. She said I have willpower, and I’m trying to exert it to the fullest degree while he’s gone. And if he doesn’t want to come back to me, well…I’m also trying not to think about that.
I stir a cherry in my juice. “You don’t trust me, do you? That’s why you’re here.”
Ryke stretches his arms on the back of the couch, his muscles sharpening more than before. He looks like he owns the damn yacht. How do I get that type of confidence? I wish it could rub off on me. On second thought…maybe not. That would mean I’d have to get physically closer to him.
“Honestly, I’m worried about you. I’m hoping that if you have some sort of panic attack that I’ll be here.”
“Because you promised Lo that you’d look after me while he’s gone,” I say with a nod. “I’m sorry if I’m keeping you from having a better winter break. What would you be doing anyway?”
“I got an invite to go snowboarding in Aspen with some friends, but I already turned it down before Rose called me.”