“I can’t predict the future.”
“Do I want to go to college then?”
“That…is a very good question…that I do not have the answer to. Do you?”
She shakes her head. “No. Not yet anyway. I’m ready to be eighteen and do shoots without Mom there. I’ll be able to go to France alone and see the city without Mom scheduling my whole itinerary. You know, this year she wouldn’t even let me see the Louvre.”
Daisy nods. “Yeah, it blows.” Then her boot sets on the cement ledge. My heart lurches into my throat.
“Okay, game over!” I throw up my hands. “Let’s go back inside.”
Daisy grins from ear to ear and stands, perched on the f**king ledge with a twenty-story drop off. She straightens up and outstretches her arms. “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!”
Oh jeez. Quoting Almost Famous does not alleviate my panic.
Instead, she screams at the top of her lungs, which turns into a full-bellied laugh.
This bonding time has gone a little too far. “All right, game over. You win. Seriously, I’m going to break out in chicken pox.” Or at least a rash that looks like it. I start pacing, too afraid to move closer and pull her down myself. What if I tug and she falls backwards like on television? That’s how people die.
Daisy begins walking across like it’s a tightrope. “It’s not that scary. Honestly, it’s like…” She laughs into a smile. “It’s like the world is at your fingertips, you know?”
I shake my head repeatedly, so much my neck hurts. “No, no. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Did someone drop you on your head?” That seems kind of likely right now.
And then she hops off.
Onto the gravel.
I breathe. She picks her Solo cup on her way to me and wraps an arm around my shoulders. “It’s possible that one of the nannies did. Maybe that explains why I’m not as smart as Rose.”
“No one is as smart as Rose.” Except maybe Connor Cobalt.
“True,” she says with a laugh and turns to the door. “Now let’s see if we can find you a hot guy.”
Yeah, this isn’t going to be good.
* * *
Daisy tries to leave me with a scarily attractive blond model. Can a face like his really exist without Photoshop? Perfect bone structure, the prettiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Dear God, I’m in trouble.
“I’m going to go get some punch. You two stay here and chat,” Daisy says. I try to grab her elbow before she disappears from me.
“Daisy…” I’m going to kill her.
She spins around and mouths, mingle and tops it with another smile.
I look back. He towers over me and sips from a Solo cup. He bends to my ear, his hand sinking to my waist. And lowering. I swallow.
“You’re like a little hidden gem,” he tells me with a small laugh. I avoid those intense blue eyes that begin to rake my body, heating up places that should not, in no way, be hot by anyone except Loren Hale.
I brush off his hands so frantically that I end up looking like I’m swatting flies. And then I mutter something unintelligent that sounds like I have to pee or maybe there’s a bee. Either way, I disentangle myself from him and the mobs of models in the dance area. I find a safe spot on the couch by the floor-length window, the glittery city lit up and awake with cabs and pedestrians.
Daisy is in a discussion with a guy who seems to be around her age. It’s hard to tell in this group. He has black hair and European features, skinny like he could front an indie rock band. She’s unaware that I’ve ditched her handsy friend.
Next to me sits a half-conscious, drug-induced boy, staring up at the ceiling. I follow his gaze, not finding what looks so damn interesting besides white plaster.
I take an impulsive glance at the oak table by the wall—decorated with a spread of cheap liquor. People serve themselves, and I subconsciously look for Lo behind a curly brunette. After she plops a couple ice cubes in her drink and passes to the kitchen, I see him.
Leaning against the beige wall, cupping a Reidel glass with amber liquid.
His cheeks cut sharply, and his expression flickers between slightly annoyed and amused. He takes a small sip and meets my gaze, knowing I’m watching—as though we share a secret beyond every person here. The corner of his lip rises as he takes another swig, and I pin to my seat.
He brings the glass down and puts his head to the wall, his chin raised a little. He stares. I stare back. And my whole chest inflates with helium.
I want him.
I need him.
To hold me. To wrap my arms around his body. For him to whisper in my ear that everything will be okay. That we’ll be better for each other. Will we? Will we still love each other if he’s sober and I’m wading through the things that torment me? Will he fit into my life if I’m struggling with my addiction while he’s healthy and absolved from his?
I want to fit into his life. I just hope when he returns, he’ll want me too.
And I blink. He’s gone. Somewhere. No one will tell me what rehab he checked into, and so I’m left with these distressing fantasies, wishing for him to return. At least I managed to claw a few answers from Ryke. He said that for the first month of rehab, Lo isn’t supposed to have any sort of outside communication. I’m not sure if that pertains to only me, but I have a feeling Ryke has been in touch with Lo since he dropped him off.
So maybe I’m the only one who’s being shunned and kicked out of Lo’s life like dirty garbage.
Still, I wait in anticipation for February. Email privileges will be restored. And then March, he’ll upgrade to the telephone. If I can just make it through January, I’ll be okay. Or at least, that’s what I keep reminding myself.
My phone buzzes, and I retrieve it from my pocket, wiping my eyes with my wrist while I read the text.
I left my wallet at your place. I need you to open the gates – Ryke
I freeze and reread the text four more times. Open the gates. As in the gated house I’m supposed to be at right now—the one Rose bought in a secluded little town. Can I pretend that I didn’t read it?
Lily, I know you’re there.
I won’t f**k you. Just let me in. I’m supposed to be in Time Square right now.
My fingers hover over the button. If I refuse to answer, I can act like I never received the texts. Simple. And then I can just lie tomorrow about losing my phone. It’d be better than dealing with Ryke now.
We both have iPhones. I can tell when you’ve read my texts, so stop ignoring me and open the f**king gates.
My phone rings, and I jump. RYKE MEADOWS fills the screen.
I’m in trouble. We haven’t established a talking-on-the-phone type of relationship yet. As of late, we’re strictly text-only. Even if he is Lo’s half-brother, he has just entered our lives. And while Lo may forgive all of Ryke’s past transgressions—like spending seven years with the knowledge of his little brother’s whereabouts and not doing anything about it (like saying ‘hi’ at least)—I have kept Ryke at a lengthy distance. It has nothing to do with his boy-parts and sex but more to do with his annoying qualities. Like inserting himself into other people’s business. Like being an alpha male when the situation does not call for one.
My finger continues to float above the big green button, and I make a rash decision and bolt for the patio to avoid music and loud chatter. Even outside, the wild streets make up for the lack of pumping bass as people gather down below for tonight’s festivities. My phone vibrates angrily in my hand. Quickly, I press the speaker to my ear and wait for Ryke to speak first. I’m so not about to initiate this conversation.
“Open the f**king gate,” he snaps.
“What do you mean, you can’t? Get your ass off your bed and come down here.” I hear him jiggle the iron entry, as though trying to physically open it by pure brute force.
“Are you trying to break in?”
“I’m considering it.” He sighs, agitated. “It’s been seven days since he left, not five f**king years. You’re acting pathetic.”
I purse my lips. This is why I dislike him. His blunt honesty is so rude sometimes. Ryke takes the meaning “tough love” to a whole new level. “I realize that. And I’ll have you know, I changed out of sweats on day four, and on day five, I washed my hair.” I am not pathetic. I’m trying to live without my best friend. It’s hard. My whole reason for waking up in the morning and putting on a smile was taken from me.
“Congratulations. Now open the gate.”
And then, my luck goes in the crapper. “HAPPY NEW YEAR MOTHERFUCKERS!” a guy screams five stories below. I am one-hundred percent positive that Ryke heard the drunken exclamation through the receiver.
“Before you say anything,” I speak rapidly, feeling the heated fury brew from Ryke through the phone. “Daisy begged me to come to this house party. She gave me these big green doe eyes. You have not been inflicted by Daisy’s doe eyes, so you can’t judge. And then I thought—hey it can’t be that big of a deal. She’s fifteen. It has to be some small girly slumber party in the city. Nothing to fret about.” I moronically point at my chest even though he’s nowhere near me. “It’s not my fault that my little sister has friends twice her age. I didn’t even know she drank outside of our family until tonight! So this is not my fault. You hear me, Ryke? Not. My. Fault.” I finish my rant with a heavy breath.
After a short pause, all he says is, “Where the f**k are you?”
“I’ll probably head home after the ball drops.” I dodge the answer in case he intends to find me.
“Do you trust yourself?”
I go quiet and glance at a well-built model who leans over the railing to grab the attention of a girl on the street.
And hot. But I guess that’s self-explanatory considering his job.
Do I trust myself? Not completely. But I can’t stay reclusive forever and wallow in my sheets like a dying hyena. I have to be brave. I have to try to be normal. Even if my mind screams no.
Ryke takes my silence as an answer. “If you can’t even say yes, then you shouldn’t be at any parties. Find Daisy and stay with her until I get there.”
What? No, no, no. “You don’t need to babysit me, Ryke.”
He exhales loudly. “Look, I promised Lo that I’d make sure you didn’t jump off a cliff when he left. If helping you helps him, then I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll see you.” He hangs up and I realize I never told him the address of the apartment. Maybe he’s bluffing and trying to instill fear so I’ll avoid doing something rash and stupid. Like hooking up with a male model. Like kissing a random guy. I’m frightened by the place in my mind that says go—the trigger that forgets about the love of my life for a brief, horrifying moment. And then when it’s over, I’ll be filled with shame and disgust so deep that I won’t know how to crawl back out.