I freeze, my eyes widening as their necks turn. I’m a deer caught in their headlights. Please don’t say anything. Let me drift away and pretend we didn’t meet gazes.
No such luck.
Rose shuts her laptop so I can’t see her screen, and she rises from the couch, smoothing down her dress with her hands. “What are you doing up? I thought you took a sleeping pill.” And then her eyes wander to the DVDs in the trash bin.
“I haven’t taken one yet,” I say, avoiding Connor. His presence has increased the volume of my embarrassment. And yet, both of them act completely innocent, as if this isn’t out of the ordinary. Why am I always the one to roast a new shade of red?
“What’s that?” Rose wanders over to my frozen state by the archway, straddling the space between the granite kitchen and the living room. Connor stands and puts his hands in the pockets of his slacks, casual. Having your girlfriend’s sister carry an overflowing bin of p*rn is so normal.
“I was tossing it,” I tell her as she inspects the DVDs with a quick glance.
“What brought this on?” Rose asks, but something hopeful flickers in her eyes. She can see that I’m trying, and my chest floats, feeling a little better by her reaction.
“I just thought it was time to get rid of it all.”
“That’s the rest?” Connor asks, sidling to Rose. His presence drives knots in my stomach—the way he stands a good four inches taller than Rose, more than that for me. His strong, muscular build reminds me of what I’m missing.
Uncomfortable, I take a step backwards and shun their gazes. “I’m going to trash this and then head back upstairs.”
Rose must read me too well because she uses her arm to push Connor back. “You need to go.”
“Rose, she’s fine. She can’t be afraid of men forever. And anyway, she attended a party with male models. How am I any different than one of them?” I catch him flashing his impeccable smile.
“You did not just compare yourself to a high fashion model.”
Rose stares at the ceiling like oh my God. “You want to know how many times in a day I question why I’m with you?”
“If you told me you were going to exaggerate, I would have picked that, but I thought we were being realistic here, hun.”
I snort. “Smooth.”
Connor gestures to me. “See, she’s fine.”
Rose sets her hands on her h*ps and looks to me for a final verdict. If I said no, she’d toss out Connor. And Connor is kind of right, as much as I hate to admit that. I shouldn’t be scared of the opposite sex being so close. Even if I have been a bit jumpy after New Year’s.
“He can stay,” I tell her.
Her eyes narrow at me like I chose the wrong answer.
I mouth, what?
She makes a small motion with her head to Connor. Did she not want him over here anymore? But then I see Connor and he’s—no lie—grinning from ear to ear, as though he won the Academic Bowl Tournament against Princeton, Rose’s college (and now mine).
She lost that tiff, I see.
“I’ll help you with your porn,” Connor says. He goes into the kitchen to find a trash bag while I try to wipe that line clean from memory. I set the bin on the floor and wait for Rose to explode. Her face scrunches like she’s ready to give birth.
When Connor disappears into the pantry, Rose lets loose. “I can’t stand him,” she says. “Honestly, he drives me nuts, Lily.”
I try really hard not to laugh. Rose and Connor broke up five times in December. I’m suspecting that number to double in January. They both call it quits and then they’ll reunite in a couple days. It’s as cute as it is exhausting.
“I think you drive him crazy too,” I tell her. “And I mean this in the Britney Spearian sense.” I hum the nineties tune and sing the chorus. Her face darkens, not amused. I can’t help but laugh. That’s Rose for you.
Her shoulders relax as she takes in the DVDs again. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yeah,” I say quickly, not wanting to think too much about the giant leap. I’d rather race towards the finish line than slow crawl right now. Which is why I nervously tap my foot, waiting for Connor to hurry back with the bag that’ll seal my fate. Hopefully I’ll trample the urge to buy new films in the future or click into dirty sites on the internet. I think I can do it. I hope. That’s all I really have at the moment.
“So…” I say, nervously twiddling my fingers. “…you think I have OCD?” It would make sense, sort of. I do relate my sexual needs to compulsions. The need to obtain that natural high. Kind of like an obsessive compulsive’s need to follow their systematic routine. I just never related the two.
“Some psychologists believe that addictions correlate with OCD, but I can’t diagnose you,” Rose says truthfully. “You really need to visit the therapist—”
“I know,” I cut her off. “I know, I just…I haven’t decided which one I want to go to.” Who knew there were so many sex addiction therapists in the area? And I already searched for a Sex Addicts Anonymous group and came up completely blank. Since most groups consist of men trying to thwart their sexual cravings, they have a strict no-female policy. It makes sense, but it has also made it nearly impossible to find an SAA that accepts women. I’ve given up the hunt for now and plan to do one-on-one therapy.
There are also in-treatment facilities for sex addiction. Rehab, like Lo. But Rose squashed those as an option pretty quickly. She really wouldn’t give me a definite answer, and after beating around the bush, she blurted out that I have social anxiety. That I shouldn’t be in large groups trying to fix my problem.
Yesterday, I rebutted, “I don’t have social anxiety.” And in the same instance, I was nervously pacing my room.
She tilted her head with raised eyebrows. “When’s the last time you were in a group setting?”
“Lots of times,” I told her. “I go to clubs, Rose. People are everywhere.”
“But are you forced to talk to them? Do you talk to anyone other than Lo? Really, Lily, think about it. Do you even bring up a conversation with your one-night stands or do you just give them a look and screw them?”
She was right. Maybe I do have social anxiety. And according to Rose, I should concentrate on one thing at a time. I also think she’d rather look after me than send me away. She’d go crazy not knowing what exactly the rehab’s program would be or what they would do. So right now, therapy is the best solution.
“I’m working on that for you,” Rose tells me. “I have a meeting with two tomorrow.” Literally, she has been setting up appointments just to quiz the therapists. I love her more than she knows. “The last guy was a complete idiot. I asked him about cognitive behavioral therapy and he gave me a blank stare. I’m not lying.”
Connor approaches with the trash bag. “She’s not,” he adds. “I was there.”
My cheeks redden, but they hardly notice. Or maybe they just don’t care. Yeah, that has to be it.
Before I can put the DVDs in the bag myself, Connor picks the bin from the floor and dumps it into the garbage. The fact that he’s in close contact to my p*rn has seriously knotted my stomach and heated my entire chest.
Connor says to Rose, “That last man was a complete asshat.”
She hesitates to agree with him, though I can tell she does.
“What’d he do?”
Connor ties the bag and sets it by the wall. He casts a furtive glance in Rose’s direction, all secrets, something that I had with Lo. My heart sinks, but I push the thoughts away quickly.
“Well, we showed up to the therapist’s office, and Rose introduced herself and told him her sexual problems—”
“Wait…” I hold up my hands, my eyes bugging. I look between the two of them, and they stand as though nothing is out of the ordinary. As though this story is f**king normal! I blink at Rose. “You did not pretend to be me, did you?”
She shakes her head. “Of course not, Lily.”
I exhale. Good. That would be embarrassing.
“I told him that I was a sex addict, but I gave him my personal information. You’re fine.”
Oh my God. “Why would you want to do that?”
She shrugs. “It was the only way this man would see me. I had to be a patient first.”
I cringe, refusing to look at Connor. I’m more shamed for her than I should be. I realize this may be what I feel soon. Maybe even tenfold. “And what happened?”
Rose scrutinizes my reaction and immediately closes a short gap between our bodies. She puts her hand on my shoulder. “You don’t need to hear this. Not every therapist is like him, and I promise you, Lily, that I would never send you to one that I didn’t think was absolutely perfect.”
Right, but a glimmer of fear still strikes me cold. “Still, I want to know.”
Connor puts a couple fingers to his lips, inspecting me the same way my sister had, wondering if I can handle the truth.
“Please,” I add.
My pout must win them over—or at least Rose because she breaks first. “He asked me what my sexual preferences were, and I told him that I gravitate towards p*rn and one-night stands but nothing too kinky.” The weekend Lo left for rehab, I actually professed to Rose most of my secrets. I explained my habits of ditching family events (and even told her which ones) for a quickie in the bathroom or hookup at a club. Nothing earthshattering. Get in. Get high. Get out. That’s how I liked it with everyone but Loren Hale.
“And what happened?” I almost go to bite my fingernails, but I decide to cross my arms instead, keeping my palms buried beneath.
“He went through a list of things, asking me if they turned me on,” Rose says, unabashed.
Connor looks equally unaffected. God, they ooze confidence. He chimes in, “Fingering, dildos, vibrators, head, anal, doggy style—”
“She gets it,” Rose snaps.
He grins back, and I swear they have another “moment”—Rose looking like she wants to rip his face off, and Connor looking like he wants to kiss her for it. So weird.
I rub my hot neck. “Have you guys ever been embarrassed?” If this is a smart-person superpower, I totally want it.
Connor stares at the ceiling in thought. “Well, there was that one time…actually, no…” He shakes his head. “No, that wasn’t me.” His dark blue eyes meet mine. “I’m embarrassment free.”
“Me too,” Rose says.
I squint at her. “Really?” There has to have been a time…oh yeah. “What about when you were in sixth grade on a school field trip to D.C.?” I wasn’t with her, but her classmates rehashed the story with such theatrics that only a robot would go without feeling. My mom said she cried angry, embarrassed tears all the way home.
Rose’s eyes widen in alarm. “Do you want to know what the therapist said or not?”