Jonathan sets down his glass of whiskey. The irony is not lost upon me. “How are you doing in it?” he cuts to the point, eyes right on his son. Both Jonathan and my father look dapper in Armani suits, their hair not yet grayed and their strong jaws cleanly shaven. The difference lies in their features. Jonathan stares like he could rip out your heart. My father looks open enough to run in for a hug.
“I have an A,” Lo says. My brows shoot up in surprise. An A? I’m barely passing, but Lo’s naturally smart, almost never needing to study.
Jonathan glances at me, and I immediately start sinking in my chair—as though his pupils are too powerful to make contact with. “You look shocked. Is he lying?”
“What? No, I-I,” I sputter. “We don’t talk about grades…”
“You don’t believe me, Dad?” He touches his chest. “I’m wounded.”
Jonathan settles back in his chair. “Hmm.” Hmm? What does that even mean?!
My father tries to lighten the suffocating atmosphere. “I’m sure Lily is keeping you focused on the important things.”
Lo grins. “Oh, she definitely is.”
“Gross,” Rose deadpans. If only she knew he was talking about booze and not sex. My mother gives a circle of disapproving looks, full of the same ice that Rose inherited.
“Any graduation plans yet?” my father asks.
I think about Lo’s future again, wearing a tight suit, working for his father, his lips pulled into a perpetual frown.
“We still have a year to decide,” Lo answers.
“You both need to start formulating a plan,” my father says, sounding critical.
A plan. I’ve been so focused on Lo that I haven’t even begun to imagine my life past college. Where will I be? What will I be? White empty space fills the void, unsure of what picture to paint.
“We just want to give school our full attention. Grades are really important to us.” Yeah right.
My father folds his napkin on the table, about to switch topics. “Jonathan and I were discussing the upcoming Christmas Charity Gala sponsored by Fizzle and Hale Co. The press has been buzzing about the event for weeks, and it’s important that everyone is present to show support.”
“We’ll be there,” Lo says, raising his glass.
“Any news on a ring?” Poppy asks with a teasing smile.
“I’m still twenty,” I remind her, shrinking. My mother missed the opportunity to call me Violet.
“You don’t have any news?” Rose questions, her face sharpening.
I frown in confusion and shake my head. What is she getting on about?
Her lips tighten in a thin line and she whispers to Poppy, who quickly whispers back.
“Ladies,” my mother chides. “Don’t be rude.”
Rose straightens and sets her frosty gaze on me. “I think it’s odd that you’ve been drinking orange juice and water.”
“I’m driving,” I tell her. What is with everyone and my choice to be sober? When did it become abnormal to refuse alcohol at a meal?
My mother huffs. “That’s what Nola is for, Lily.”
“Anderson as well,” Jonathan adds.
Anderson the Nark. Never.
“Well, I have a reason to believe your choice of drink has nothing to do with driving,” Rose says. What?!
“What are you insinuating?” My heart beats wildly. Please don’t let it be what I think. Please, please, please. Lo squeezes my hip to reassure me, but whatever is coming, is bad.
“Yes, Rose, what are you insinuating?” My mother comes to my defense.
“I have a friend who goes to Penn. She saw Lily walking out of the pregnancy center last month.”
Last month…oh, jeez. I cover my eyes with a hand, and slouch so low in my seat, I’m practically eye-level with the table.
My father chokes on his drink, and Jonathan has gone very, very pale, a feat I didn’t think possible for his Irish skin.
“Is this true?” my mother asks.
I open my mouth. I can’t say the real answer. Yeah, I went there. I visit the health clinic to check for STDs every couple days, okay? And I take pregnancy tests. I am safe and I know it. Most people can’t say that.
Or the whole truth, one afternoon the pink plus sign actually haunted me. They sent me to the pregnancy center for an ultrasound. False alarm, thankfully.
“Lily, explain,” my mother nearly shrieks.
Lo stares at me for a long moment before he realizes I’m in no capacity to form words, let alone lies.
“It was just a scare,” he says and turns his attention to Rose. “It’s funny how you choose now to bring this up when you’ve known for a whole month.”
“I was waiting for Lily to tell me herself. I thought we were closer than this.”
My lungs collapse.
“Why wouldn’t you tell me?” my mother asks.
I swallow hard.
“Or me,” Poppy says.
Daisy raises her hand and points to herself. “Me too!”
I press my fingers to my eyes before waterworks kick in. “It-it was nothing.”
My mother’s nose flares. “Nothing? An unplanned pregnancy is not nothing.”
Dad cuts in, “You have your entire future ahead of you, and children will change the way your life works forever. You can’t undo that.” Yeah, I’m pretty positive a kid would hinder our lifestyles, a reason why I’ve been so careful thus far. I don’t have the heart or strength to tell them everything. That if the pink plus sign stuck around, the kid wouldn’t even belong to Lo.
I stand up quickly, my head pumping with helium. It floats but I still manage words. “I need some air.”
“We’re outside,” Rose says.
Lo rises from his seat. “Air that you don’t breathe.” He places his palm on the small of my back.
“Loren,” Jonathan growls.
“What?” he growls back, his gaze falling to his father’s whiskey, envy and bitterness clouding his amber irises.
“It’s been a long afternoon,” my father says. “Lily looks pale. Take her inside, Loren.”
Before anyone changes their mind, Lo ushers me through the French glass doors and into the nearest bathroom. I collapse on the toilet seat.
“Why would she do that?” My chest constricts with each breath. I tug at the tight fabric of my dress that suctions to my ribs. What if her friend saw me walk out of the sexual health clinic instead? How do I explain checking for STDs?
Lo kneels in front of me and presses a warm wash cloth to my forehead. A flashback hits me—of doing the same to him. In less than a few hours, we’ve switched places.
“Rose can be cruel,” Lo reminds me.
I shake my head. “She was hurt.” And this is how Rose Calloway retaliates against someone who’s affected her. “She wanted me to tell her first.” I rub my eyes, trembling. How will Rose take the knowledge that I sleep around? Will she hate me afterwards? I have no clue. Predicting her reaction has caused restless nights, and so I decided it’s safe to just keep my nighttime activities to myself. I thought it would be easier on everyone.
“Breathe, Lil,” he whispers. When I inhale and exhale in synchronization, he deserts the washcloth for his flask. After a couple swigs, he wipes his mouth with his hand and rests against the sink cabinets.
“This is getting harder.” I stare at my hands, as though they hold my intangible lies.
“I know,” he breathes. I wait for him to say the words, I’m done pretending.
Instead, we eat the silence. The swish of his alcohol and my sniffles are the only music to our misery.
Someone knocks on the door, and Lo stuffs the flask back into my purse.
“Lily? Can I talk to you?” Poppy asks.
Lo glances at me for what to do. I nod. And he goes to the sink, putting his mouth underneath the faucet. He spits water back into the bowl and then opens the door.
Poppy gives him a warm, maternal smile. “Your father wants to talk with you. He’s waiting in the parlor.”
Lo practically slams the door on his way out.
Poppy fiddles with her fingers while I stare at the black marble floor. “I didn’t know Rose was going to say anything. She told me this morning, and I thought we’d have a chance to talk to you before announcing anything to Mom and Dad.”
I unclip my heels and set my toes on the cool marble, not strong enough for words.
Poppy fills the void. “Rose is going through a tough time. She sees Daisy with her modeling career, you have Loren, and I’m busy with my daughter.” She pauses. “You know Calloway Couture was just dropped by Sax?”
I frown deeply, not realizing.
Rose built Calloway Couture with our mother as a little side business when she turned fifteen. Years later, it’s grown into a profitable fashion line that Rose can call her own. I never ask about her months or her life. Yet, she always finds the time to ask about mine.
“I’ve tried to call you,” Poppy continues. “For two months, and you haven’t answered. Lo hasn’t answered. If Rose doesn’t stop by and assure me you’re alive, sometimes I wonder…” Her voice turns grave. “I can’t help but think you’ve eliminated us from your life.”
I don’t dare look at her. Tears prick my eyes, burning, but I hold them back. It’s easier this way, I remind myself. It’s easier if they know nothing. It’s easier to disappear.
“I was in college too, and I know your social life and studies can take precedent over family, but you don’t have to cut us out completely.” She pauses again. “Maria is three. I’d love for you to be a part of her life. You’re good with her—whenever you’re around.” She takes an unsure step forward and reaches out for me. “I’m here for you. I need you to know that.”
I rise on two shaky legs and let her wrap her arms around my shoulders, squeezing me tightly. “I’m sorry,” I murmur. She sniffs, her tears falling on my back. After pulling away, I inhale. “Thanks, Poppy.”
Her words defeated me, tearing down any ounce of resilience. I have nothing left to give, no comfort to spare. I feel like a shell, waiting for the hermit to return home.
Days move by in a sluggish haze filled with random bodies and carnal highs. I try to keep to my word and answer my sisters’ calls (I still screen my parents), but at times, my runaway phone acts like an angst-ridden teen and goes missing. Usually, I’m too self-absorbed in bodily pursuits to care.
I also have one valid excuse to keep my phone off.
Business and economics courses at Penn hijack my time. Maybe I should’ve picked an easier major, but my talents start and stop at being able to woo a boy into bed. And most girls can easily succeed where I do.
Life would make more sense if I happened to be a prodigy in art or music. I’d have a direction, a purpose. Then maybe my future wouldn’t look so blank.
Since my artistic gifts peak at stick figures and whistling, I’m stuck with statistics. At noon, I sit beside Lo in the very back auditorium row. Managerial Economics and Game Theory—it really does exist. And I understand about 1.111% of the professor’s dry lecture.