And when I turn slightly, I find Ryke, leaning on the wall just as I pictured. His arms are crossed and he scrutinizes me with hard, piercing eyes. His brown hair is styled nicely, giving these models a run for their money. He’s also slightly unshaven, which makes him appear older and tougher. He gives me a long once-over, as if trying to spot the stain of debauchery.
I ignore him and head towards the living room, knowing he’ll follow. I’m not surprised when I feel his presence like an annoying, unwanted shadow. When I reach the kitchen, he puts his hand on my shoulder, spinning me around to meet his accusatory eyes, as though I’ve already f**ked up.
Maybe I have. I don’t know anything anymore. I wish someone could give me a guide on what exactly I’m supposed to do, but no one seems to know. My addiction isn’t f**king normal. That’s the problem.
“You look like shit,” he starts off.
“Thank you,” I say dryly. “If that’s what you scurried all across the city for, then mission accomplished. You can leave me alone now.”
“Why do you do that?” he snaps.
“Do what?” I do a lot of things. As does he.
“Act like I’m a f**king rat, scurrying.”
I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe because you lied to me for months.” He could have told me he was Lo’s brother. I feel just as duped as my boyfriend, but the difference is I don’t let things go as easily. Not when Ryke is a rash I can’t medicate.
He rolls his eyes and says, “Get over it.”
I hate him. “Okay.” I flash an irritated half-smile. “I’m over it.” I try to pass him to go find my sister.
He sighs exasperatedly and grabs my arm to stop me. “Wait. I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t know your relationship with Lo. I couldn’t trust you with that information. Would you have told him?”
I pause, hesitating. I’m not sure. Maybe. I look up at him with furrowed brows, understanding his reservations. “I still don’t like you,” I always remind him.
“You’re not growing on me either.” His eyes flit around the room. “I couldn’t find Daisy. I looked for like ten f**king minutes.” He runs a hand through his hair, antsy.
I inhale a sharp breath. “Do you even remember what she looks like?”
“I’ve seen enough pictures,” he tells me. “Tall. Really f**king tall. Your green eyes. The Calloway brown hair. Too skinny and no boobs. About right?”
I glare even though it’s almost all accurate. Per her modeling agency’s request, she dyed her hair a light brown-blonde last week. “She’s fifteen,” I say roughly.
He shrugs. “Maybe she’ll get boobs then.”
I stare at him blankly, trying to find words that represent my emotions right now. I blink.
Nope, there are none.
So I land on my usual phrase. “You’re such an a**hole.”
He never denies it. “Let’s just find your sister and go. We can watch the ball drop at your house.” He doesn’t rub it in my face that I ruined his plans for tonight. Who knows what type of woman he planned to meet up with and screw afterwards. I have avoided seeing Ryke in his natural habitat. It’s a part of him that I plan to keep very, very far away. Because that would mean we’re friends. And we are not friends. We’re just two people who happen to coexist on occasion and see each other around. That’s it.
I scan the area, pushing through the kitchen and towards the crowded dance floor. I don’t see her anywhere. Not even by the punch bowl that’s littered with picturesque male models. I trace their biceps with my gaze, their muscles spindling underneath their tight shirts. Jesus. This party is not for me. I feel my forehead heat with a layer of sweat in anxiety. Get me out of here.
“I don’t see her,” I mutter.
“How could you when you’ve been eye-f**king half the guys in here?”
I gape. I’ve had enough of his evil comments. I turn on him with clenched fists and fiery eyes. “What did I do to you?”
His jaw hardens to stone, and the muscles twitch in his face, holding back, restraining. Let it on out, buddy. My mental command must work because he says, “Do you look at other guys when Lo is in the room?”
That’s what this is about? My stomach drops and aches. A punch to the gut would probably be more pleasant. Of course Lo would care that I’m staring. I would care. And I haven’t truly fantasized about any other guy but him since he’s been away. But that doesn’t matter. Not when I know I’m one small step away from picturing a nameless, faceless body with all the right moves and all the right words.
But I don’t know how to stop once I’ve started. And I’m trying to put the brakes on. I’m desperate and needy right now, and everything I really, really don’t want to be.
I need a therapist, I think. I need to find someone who knows how to help me. I’ll try harder.
“It’s not cheating to look,” I say in a small voice. “And he’s not here, Ryke. Give me some slack.”
He lets out a long breath and rubs the back of his neck. “I hate that he’s dating an addict. You have no idea…” He pinches his eyes. “It makes this twice as hard, you know that?”
“Yeah,” I whisper. “I know.”
He exhales again, tension finally leaving his muscles. “Look, I know you love each other. I know you’ll try to be together even if it kills you. I may seem like a huge dick, and I’m riding you hard…”
Uhhh… I cringe and flush, a horrid combination.
“Dammit. Not like that, Lily.” He shakes his head, his face contorting in slight disgust, and he points at me. “You think more perverted things than any f**king guy I know.”
“And I don’t know how to do this the nice way. I’m not like that, never have been. So sometimes that means being a pain in the ass.” He jabs his finger harder. “Don’t take that sexually.” Too late. He drops his hand and says, “I’ll choose him over you, every time, but you’re a huge part of his life, so that means you’re going to be a part of mine—whether you like it or not.”
“Okay,” I mutter. What else is there to say?
The party starts to liven as a famous pop star takes the stage on television. Everyone begins to sloppily mimic the dance moves, stumbling and knocking into each other. I don’t spot Daisy in the dance mob.
“Should we split up to look for her? Cover more ground?” I ask, biting my fingernails.
“No.” He grabs my hand, forcing my nails from my mouth. His eyes land on a group of guys snorting lines of coke, passing a glass dish between them by the window. “Should a fifteen-year-old be at this kind of party?”
Probably not. “They’re models.”
His brows furrow like do I f**king care? “So?”
I guess that’s not an excuse, but it’s so hard to talk to him. I feel like I’m constantly fighting with a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em robot. And I suck at board games.
I walk towards the punch bowl where I last saw Daisy and feel him trailing me again. He slips into the paths that I weave.
Six people surround a bong and pass it to one another, smoke pluming around their glazed eyes. Daisy’s thankfully not in the circle, and I peek around a few arms before seeing someone hugging an armrest to a couch. Next to her sits Jack, the black-haired “talker” who edges closer while she sips her drink and flashes a weak smile. I must have missed her with all the people dancing in the center.
When she sees me, she says something to him and stands quickly. She wobbles a little and then sets a hand on my wrist. “Oh good. I thought I was going to have to talk to him all night.”
Ryke inspects her with his usual fierce look, eyes flitting from her face to her Solo cup. “Aren’t you underage?” Technically, I am too, but I don’t mention that, especially since I haven’t been drinking, so the point is mute.
Daisy’s eyes narrow at him. “Are you my father?” she asks with the quirk of her head, her casual tone subtly biting. “I don’t think you are.”
“Why ask me a question that you’re going to f**king answer?” he snaps at her, not backing down even though she’s my sister and a teenager. Why does he have to be so confrontational? Lo would have ignored her. I think.
“It was rhetorical. Do you know what that means?” she asks. “It’s a question that’s said in order to make a point. A figure of speech.”
My eyes bug. Wow, she’s hostile. Must have something to do with our conversation about being treated older and then younger. Why else would she go off on him?
“I didn’t know,” he says with the tilt of his head. “Do you know what that is? Sarcasm.” He edges in her face a little. Taller than her by about four or five inches.
She raises her chin, holding her own. “You’re hilarious,” she deadpans.
His eyebrow arches. “I guess you do know what sarcasm is then.” He pries the cup out of her hand, his muscles relaxing in his broad shoulders. “What is this shit anyway?” He sniffs it and cringes. “That’s f**king foul.”
“Hunch punch,” she tells him. “It’s kind of strong. I’ve only had a glass and a half.” Her eyes droop a little though, but she seems coherent. Not yet drunk. Maybe buzzed. I decided not to drink because alcohol loosens inhibitions, and mine need to be padlocked.
Suddenly, two guys start yelling in the middle of the dance floor. Their girlfriends try to pull them back, grabbing onto their thick muscles, but they can’t restrain them as they begin to barrel forward.
“Really?” Daisy shakes her head at the scene. And before I digest the abrupt fight, her boots clap against the hardwood and she slides between bodies to reach the two furious guys.
She’s crazy. My sister is flat-out nuts. Dear God.
Tattooed Guy pushes Tan Guy.
“What the f**k is your sister doing?” Ryke asks, and when we see Daisy physically inject herself between the two guys, Ryke curses under his breath and dashes in her path between the bodies. I follow close behind, grabbing onto his shirt so I don’t lose him.
Daisy throws her hands out between both guys.
“Get out of my f**king way!” Tattooed Guy shouts at her.
“Bryan. Come on, what are you going to do? Punch him?” She’s not even a little scared of being hit in the crossfire. And then I wonder: what if she wants to be? This is so messed up.
“Stay out of it, Daisy!” he shouts. “That f**ker, he slept with Heidi.” A redhead tries to touch his shoulder, but he swats her away. A circle opens around them while people on the outskirts stare—like the two guys are Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen, about to perform an epic dance.
Only this one will include fists and kicks and probably blood.
“She’s a f**king liar!” Tan Guy yells, veins pulsing in his large neck.
I stay a safe distance away, too afraid of Tan Guy who looks ready to beat the living shit out of Bryan for even suggesting he f**ked some other girl.