His hand still lingers on my p**sy, cupping it. I don’t look at his eyes but I can feel him staring at me with amusement.
“You have rules,” he reminds me. “I can’t make you come, remember?” Right. I initiated that rule after Lo and I went a little too far one day. We didn’t have sex, but I cli**xed and it was too much. Even if we were in a fake relationship. But we still fool around. He still touches me. I still touch him. And right now, I’m so eager that I just want to feel him inside of me. Somehow.
“Make up your mind, Lil,” he says softly.
I know he’ll do it if I ask. He’d do anything for me, but I don’t know if it’s fair to him.
“I’ll just…get something else.” Like a toy.
I give him a weak nod and he finally pulls away from me. Even in the warm water, I feel kind of cold by the absence of a body.
By the absence of him.
I slide into the limo where Poppy, Rose and Daisy sit on the leather seats, my two older sisters filling glasses of champagne. We each wear a cocktail dress, and the different styles reflect our personalities a little too well. Poppy wears a bohemian-maroon silk dress with draping sleeves and a plunging V-neck, a brown belt tight around her waist. Rose sports a tailored, dark-blue beauty, the neckline straight at her collarbone and a simple diamond necklace against her breast. She looks ready for a political commencement speech, not the grand reveal of Fizzle’s brand new soda.
And then my youngest sister wears a green gown, the back nothing but strings crisscrossed in a wild array of patterns. I, on the other hand, rushed out of my parents’ house in a strapless, black plain number. Nothing special about it. Not too flashy. Not exceptionally cute. But it’s comfortable and makes my boobs look a little bigger.
“Hi,” I say, running my fingers through my brown hair that reaches my shoulders. Poppy tries to pass me a glass, and I shake my head, lightly pushing her hand away. “I’m not drinking.” I tried to get out of this event at least twenty times in the past week, but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. I’d rather not find a reason to ditch my sisters and dance with an eager guy.
“I’ll take it,” Daisy says with a coy smile. She wags her eyebrows.
“No,” the three of us tell her in unison. Even though I withheld the knowledge about the New Year’s debacle from our parents, I had to spill to Rose and Poppy. I expected Daisy to rampage and hate me afterwards for sharing the details of the night, but she acted mature about it. In retrospect, I think keeping the birth control secret has nullified blabbing about being slipped GHB.
“You shouldn’t want to drink ever again after what happened,” Rose tells her.
“Why? Are you going to drug me, Rose?” She gasps, mocking. “My very own sister. The betrayal. The scandal!”
Rose gives her a sharp glare. “I wish you’d be serious about what happened.”
Daisy sighs and slouches, crossing her arms. “I’m never going to drink hunch punch at a party again. Lesson learned.”
“Thank you.” Rose puts the rim of her glass to her red lips.
“You’re so much like Mom, it’s scary.”
Shit. Rose’s solidifies to stone. I see hurt coursing through her, even if no one else can. I don’t think Daisy realizes how much Rose is trying to avoid being like our mother. She fears that path more than any of us.
“So…” I say to break the tension. “…this is fun.” Way to spark a conversation, Lily.
The car bumps along the road towards the Ritz where the event will take place. Fizzle hasn’t created a new soda in five years, so the unveiling is a big deal. My father has even kept the new flavor pretty hush-hush from the media and us. It could be Dragon Fruit Fizz for all I know—which sounds incredibly disgusting.
I make a face.
“What?” Poppy says with a short laugh. My oldest sister looks like a California native with a golden tan year-round. A fish-tail braid lies against her shoulder. “You look like Maria when I try to dress her in pants.” Her three-year-old daughter is a mini-fashionista. It’s kind of frightening.
I share her smile—about to tell her my thought.
“No, no, no!” Rose shouts, typing furiously in her phone. “I cannot believe this.”
My stomach knots, hoping, praying that her outburst has nothing to do with me.
Daisy pops a piece of gum in her mouth and offers it to the rest of us, as though Rose did not just have a sudden outburst. I suppose she’s overly dramatic a lot. We kinda all are. I take a piece, but Poppy shakes her head.
“What is it?” Poppy asks.
Rose puts her hand to her forehead and then glares at the window. “Our mother has taken it upon herself to wrangle us dates for the evening.”
I choke on my gum and start coughing.
Daisy groans. “Not really.”
Poppy pats my back, but I seriously think I inhaled the gum straight into my lungs.
“She does this every time we go out. It shouldn’t be that surprising,” Poppy exclaims, putting the rim of her champagne glass beneath my lips, “mothering” me. Gratefully, I take a small sip, the bubbles tingling my throat.
“I specifically told her that Lily doesn’t want to be seen with another man while Lo is in rehab.”
I slump in my seat and put my hand to my forehead, shielding my eyes. This is not good. This is not good at all. “Who did she call?” I ask Rose. This has happened before. Only, I wasn’t in a relationship with Lo. I would actually f**k whoever my mother picked for me at the end of the night. What if she called someone I’ve already slept with? The bottom of my stomach drops.
“I don’t know,” Rose says, pounding her fingers on her phone’s screen, texting our mother rapidly. “She won’t tell me.”
Daisy blows a bubble and it pops against her face. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” she says, using her tongue to bring the gum back in her mouth. “I mean, it sucks, yeah, but Lo isn’t here, and it’s just for appearances. Plus, you can always ditch him. Mom set me up with Adam Colefinger last year.” She grimaces. “He smelled like he showered in Axe. I was about to hurl the whole night, so I took Mom’s perfume and doused myself in it to give him a taste of his own medicine.” She nods proudly.
Rose kicks Daisy’s leg. “You’re forgetting the part where he threw up on your heels.”
“That’s the price you have to pay for retribution.”
Poppy holds up her hands before the tension rips all of us in half and explodes. Rose is seething enough to cause a category five tornado. I just want to disintegrate and flutter away.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Poppy tells all of us.
I exchange a hesitant glance with Rose. Nothing to worry about? There is a huge possibility that this guy is one I’ve met—that he’s back for round two. What if he’s expecting Lily 1.0: the girl who dragged guys into the bathroom and drowned them in pleasure? What then?
I put my head between my knees, trying to breathe normally.
Wait for me, Lo said.
I’m trying! God, I’m trying. I wish everyone could see that.
It’s not so easy when my whole family believes my only problem surrounds Lo’s absence. They only understand his addiction, and I know—deep in my heart—that they’ll never understand mine.
Rose dials a number and rests the phone to her ear “Mother—”
My mother’s high-pitched voice cuts through the receiver. “Don’t you dare argue with me, Rose!” I raise my head and see Rose holding the receiver away from her ear. “I have done so much for you in the past week. And I ask you to do one thing, one thing, and you put up a fight! Can’t you do something for me without disagreeing? Is that at all possible?!”
Her screaming rakes my insides like nails bloodying my back.
Rose inhales deeply through her nose, taking a calculated, measured breath. A perk to being completely off my mother’s radar—I never have to deal with her coarse personality. She can be in your corner one second and then completely victimize herself the next just to guilt you.
“Let us pick our own dates then,” Rose says. “I can call Ryke to come escort Lily. He’ll be happy to be there.” Happy? That is a very strong adjective.
Daisy crawls over the seat to pick up a remote. “Don’t torture the guy.”
I kinda agree. Even though I’d love for him to bail me out, he’s done enough for me, and I’m not sure I can ever repay him.
Rose shoots her a loathing glare and mouths, shut up.
Daisy cocks an eyebrow and presses a button on her remote. The sunroof starts sliding open. The mechanical noise that bleeds into the silence is like the awkward chorus to our tension.
Our mother snaps, “I’m not calling her date and cancelling on him. He’s doing me a favor.”
“Then I’ll call him. Give me his number.”
“He’s already here, Rose.”
Rose’s fingers tighten around her silver clutch. And Daisy stands up in between us, sticking out of the sunroof.
“Not helping,” I tell her.
I barely hear her voice that’s lost to the wind. “I don’t…like…trapped…”
I sigh heavily, feeling Rose’s panic and mine mix together in a toxic mess.
Rose nods to me like I’ll handle this. I nod back. I have faith in her, but there is one person not even Rose Calloway can destroy with her words. “Okay,” Rose says, “I’ll be with Lily’s date, and she can go stag since I don’t have a date either—”
What? I thought she invited Connor. Or…maybe I assumed she was going to bring him.
“I know,” my mother tells her, “I called Connor this morning and asked him if he was planning on riding with the four of you. I don’t know what was more embarrassing, being informed by your daughter’s boyfriend that you broke up with him or calling him and being made a complete and utter fool.”
Rose touches her forehead. “I highly doubt Connor made you look like a fool.”
“He didn’t have to. Just being on the outside of my own daughter’s life was embarrassing enough. I should have known what was going on. You should have told me.”
“Did he tell you that I broke up with him?” Rose asks now.
“Did you hear me?!” my mother shrieks, about to have a nervous breakdown. “I should have known.”
“I didn’t even tell Lily!” Rose screams, hair coming loose from its slicked back position in her pony. She holds the phone to her lips, putting it on speaker, not that we couldn’t hear it before… “Did he tell you that I broke up with him?!”
“Oh, let it go, Rose. The longer you control a man, the more likely they’ll leave you. Is that what you want? To be alone and miserable for the rest of your life?”
“I don’t know. You’re pretty miserable, Mother, and you’re married.”
My eyes widen so big that they may very well fall out of my face. Our mother inhales a sharp breath. After a very long pause, she says in a controlled, scarily calm tone, “I called a date for you, Rose. I’ll see you girls at the event.” She hangs up, and Rose collapses back against the seat, as though she just finished a UFC match.