Here is a teaser from The Temptation of Lila and Ethan, available on ebook Oct. 22!
I’m having a where-the-hell-am-I moment. My arms are flailing, my
pulse fitfully racing as I struggle to get my bearings. I open my eyes, but I
can’t place a single thing about the room I’m in other than I’m naked in a bed,
sweaty, and super gross. My head feels like it’s stuck in a fishbowl as I try
to recollect where I left my pills, but I can’t even remember where I am. There
are photos on the walls, none of anyone I recognize, though. The closet is open
and it looks like there’s some kind of football uniform in there. Did I sleep with
a football player? No, that doesn’. My gaze slides to the
opened condom wrapper on the nightstand and I feel relief wash through me. I’m
on birth control and everything, but that only protects from pregnancy. God, I really
need to stop doing this.
I’ve become accustomed to these kinds of situations, waking up in unfamiliar places with a headache, panic, and consistent, recognizable shame inside me that I know belongs there, just as much as the air in my lungs and the blood in my heart. I don’t deserve to feel anything better after the decisions and choices that I’ve made. I know what I am on the inside now and I don’t fight it anymore. It’s both liberating and heartbreaking because this is how I have to be—who I am—and it’s sad. But I can smile on the outside, show the world how happy I am, since that’s what’s important, even if I’m dying on the inside.
The routine is very simple and I know it like I know the back of my hand. I open my eyes, take in my surroundings, try to remember something, and then when all else fails, get the hell out of there. I slowly sit up, trying not to wake the guy lying in the bed next to me. He’s got dark brown hair and a pretty sturdy body, but his back is turned to me and my memories are hazy, so I can’t place what he looks like from the front. Maybe that’s for the best, though. Whatever I was looking for with him—love, happiness, a blissful moment of connection—obviously never happened. And I’m at a point in my life where I doubt if it ever will.
Holding my breath, I climb out of bed and slip my dress on, covering myself up, along with the scar winding around my waist, reminding me of why I’m here. I attempt to get the back row of buttons done up, but my fingers are numb, like I was doing something weird with them last night, which could be a possibility. I do have tendency to get a little extreme when I’m that drunk. The fingernails sometimes come out, and back in boarding school I got deemed the slutty biter/screamer. Although, sometimes I wonder if I do it out of pleasure or from the fear that seems to surface when I have sex. And that confusion is his fault. I’ll always hate him for that, even if I thought I loved him and would have done anything for him at the time. But how could I really, when I was way too young to feel love? Even now, I still haven’t felt it and I’m twenty years old.
Leaving my dress unbuttoned, I collect my shoes and tiptoe toward the door. I notice a wad of cash on the nightstand beside the bed and a ring that looks like a football championship ring or something. There’s also a stale sandwich on the dresser and several empty beer glasses.
“Ew, I must have really been drunk,” I mutter, cringing at the food and then double cringing when I catch my untidy appearance in the mirror on the wall.
Making a repulsed face, I slip out of the room, thinking I’ll be out in the hallway of one of the dorm buildings on campus. But I’m in a large, open living room with columns around the walls and picture windows everywhere, letting light easily flow in. The floor is marble and there’s a large white rug spread out. It has to be a condo or something, with how fancy it is, not a dorm.
There are a couple of guys and a girl sitting on a leather couch in the middle of the room, watching a flat-screen television mounted on the wall just beside where I stepped out. I can’t remember anything other than shots, a chic club, a sleek black Mercedes, someone’s hands and lips on me, wishing I could black out, and then I must have gotten what I wanted because after that I remember nothing.
The guys simultaneously look up at me and I notice they’re older, like maybe twenty-four or twenty-five, which makes me feel too young to be here, yet older guys seem to be my thing, at least when I’m drunk.
“Hey.” One of them nodes his scruffy chin at me. “You look a little lost.”
“Yep, I’m totally lost.” I force a smile, even though I’m frowning on the inside, and I hold my head high as I do the walk of shame. They start laughing at me and I find myself wishing I were someone sassier, like Ella, my best friend and old roommate. But I’m not. Sure, I can be sassy when the time calls for it, but right now I feel icky, gross, and disgusted with myself because I just woke up, my makeup’s worn off, my hair’s a mess, and my clothes smell like alcohol. Plus I’m crashing. Badly. And I don’t have anything on me to help balance my mood.
I rush across the room and throw open the door. As I step out of the condo, I hear one of them laugh and say something about me being easy and slutty, but I close the door and shut out their voices. I walk down the hall and trot down the stairs to the bottom, where I push the door open and step outside into the sunlight and the lukewarm November air. Being outside makes me feel a little better, except I still can’t recognize where I am. It’s a condo complex—that much I get.
“Crap,” I mutter, pressing my fingers to the brim of my nose. I have a splitting headache and my hair smells like beer and my pores feel sticky. I hike across the lawn toward the corner of the street so I can read the street sign, knowing it could be worse. I could be in one of the lower-class areas of Las Vegas, but this looks like it’s a nice area, located near some cul-de-sacs and upper-class homes. When I reach the corner of the street, I shield my eyes with my hand and squint up at the street sign. Damn it, I’m way too far away from my apartment to walk. I can either take the bus, which I haven’t been a fan of since I was fourteen, or I can call someone. The only person I really know around here anymore—the only one who I trust seeing me like this—is Ethan Gregory. He’s the one and only bad boy I’ve ever had in my life and the one and only guy who’s never wanted to sleep with me, which makes him seem less bad to me, but to all the other girls he sleeps with, not so much.
I first met him two summers ago when I went with my best friend Ella back to her hometown. He was the best friend to the guy Ella was in love with, Micha—although she wouldn’t admit it at the time. While those two were working out their problems, I spent a lot of time with Ethan and we hit it off. There was this strange connection between us, like we understood each other, even though we were from totally separate words: rich and poor. Even when I went back to school in the fall, we still talked on the phone. And then he moved here and we’ve been hanging out pretty much ever since.
Cursing under my breath, I find my phone that luckily is still in the side pocket of my dress, and then I punch in Ethan’s number.
He answers after three rings and his voice is laced with amusement. “Well, hello, lovely Lila. What’d you do this time?”
I ignore the ripple through my body that his voice always causes. After knowing him for a year, I’ve pretty much become an expert at discounting the emotions he always brings out inside me, which is a good thing for many different reasons. For one thing we live in two separate worlds: I like nice things and Ethan is very unmaterialistic. He calls me spoiled a lot and I call him a weirdo because I don’t get half the things that he does, like refusing to buy nicer clothes when he has the money for them. He’s so sexy and if he’d wear jeans without holes in them and new shoes and shirts he’d look so much better.
Plus, even though I hate to admit it, my mother’s words always echo in my head: If you can’’ll end up living in a crack house, just like your sister. Find a wealthy man, Lila, and hang on to him no matter what sacrifices you make. Despite the absurdity of it, I can’t seem to get the mental picture out of my head of me curled up in a ball on a ratty old couch, dressed in rags, smoking crack from a pipe, and it scares me.
“I didn’t do anything…I don’t think anyway. I just need a ride,” I say in a whiny voice because I’m tired and filthy and disgusting.
“Again,” he replies, pretending to be annoyed but I’ve gotten to know him well enough to know he really isn’t. He just likes people to think he is because he likes to seem tough and a badass. But I know he’s not. He’s actually really sweet and talks and listens to me and gives me candy canes. I still have a drawer full of the ones he gave me, unable to eat them or throw them away because then it feels like I’m loosing a nice moment in my life with a guy and those kind of moments are very rare, if nonexistent.
“Are you there?” he says, interrupting my thoughts.
“Yes, I need a ride again.” I sink down on the curb, attempting not to think of candy canes and red lacy bras. That was a one-time thing. We both agreed that there would be no hooking up. Although, I agreed to it only because he seemed so eager to make it clear it would never happen again. “So will you or won’t you come pick me up?”
“God, you’re snippy today,” he remarks with humor in his tone. “And I don’t think I want to deal with it today. I’m too fucking tired from the woman I screwed last night. She really wore me out. Plus, I have to be to work later today.”
“Don’t be an ass.” I scowl, even though he can’t see me. “Please quit messing around and just come get me. Pretty please.”
He pauses and then sighs, defeated. “I’ll come get you though, but only if you say it.”
“I’m not going to say it, Ethan. Not today.” I prop my elbow on my knee and rest my chin against my hand. He wants me to tell him that I’ll be his sex slave, something he made me promise to say the last time he picked me up. He doesn’t really want me to be one, though. He just thinks he’s funny.
“That was the deal,” he reminds me. “If I ever had to come pick you up again.”
“But I made the deal when I wasn’t this cranky,” I say and grimace. “When it seemed like a good idea.”
“Fine.” He surrenders way too easily and it makes me smile just a little. “But next time I’m making you…In fact, I might even actually be your sex slave the next time you call me,” he says and I sigh heavily. “I’ll head out in a few.”
“Thank you,” I tell him, stretching my legs out onto the road. “And I’m sorry for being so pissy. I’m just hung-over.”
“You didn’t go out with that douche from the club, did you?” he asks and I can hear him moving around. “Because I told you the guy seemed sketchy. Although all the guys you’ve hooked up with seem a little bit sketchy, if you ask me—rich, preppy douche bags.”
“They’re not douche bags. They’re just different from what you’re used to.” I yawn, extending my arms above my head. “And no, I didn’t go home with the guy from the club…I don’t think anyway. I can’t even remember who I went home with.” I cringe as I try to put the pieces together, but I can’t even seem to find one full piece.
“Lila…” he starts, but then decides against it, probably because he sleeps around just as much as I do. “Where are you exactly?”
I breathe sigh a of relief, grateful he’s not giving me anymore crap for my sexual mishap. I’m hung-over and having withdraws and I can feel myself verging on a meltdown, something that can never happen, let alone in the open. “I’m on the corner of Vegas Drive and Rainbow.”
“Where exactly? In like a store or a house or something?”
“No, I’m sitting on the curb.”
He’s quiet for a moment. This isn’t the first time he’s had to pick me up under these kinds of circumstances and it probably won’t be the last. It’s kind of our thing; we share our stories and never judge each other, despite how bad and ugly the stories are. He knows things about me that no one does, like how my father treats me, and I know things about him, too, like how his dad used to beat his mother and how he despises him for it. “I’ll be there in, like, fifteen to twenty minutes. Don’t go wandering off anywhere.”
“Where would I go?” I pull my knees up and lower my forehead onto them. “It’s too damn hot outside to even breathe.”
“And try not to get into any trouble,” he adds, disregarding my comment.
“Fine.” I roll my eyes and then squeeze them shut, inhaling the sweltering air. “And, Ethan…”
He pauses. “Yeah.”
“Thank you again,” I say softly because I really do feel bad for making him do these things for me. He’s always so nice about it, too.
Another pause and then he gives an overexaggerated sigh. “Whatever. You’re welcome.”
We hang up and I feel the slightest bit better. He’s always there for me, even when he doesn’t want to be. He’s the only person I really talk to anymore and I worry what will happen if he decides to leave me.
I lie down on the sidewalk and twist my platinum ring around on my finger as I stare up at the melting blue sky and the blinding sunlight. For a moment I don’t care about how filthy the ground is or the fact that my dress is undone and my eyes are starting to sting. In fact, for a split second I know I belong there and nowhere better. But as I press my cheek against the scalding concrete, I remember that I was taught not to lie on a filthy ground. I sit up straight and trace the ugly circular scars on each ankle, the mark of my biggest imperfection both inside and out.
The sun bears down on me as I attempt to remember some details of the previous night. But as usual, I’m drawing a blank. If I keep it up, then I wonder if one day my head will just be as empty as my heart. But on the bright side—my mother’s bright side—at least I’ll still have my beauty and that’s all that really matters.
You know that point where you’re about to wake up, but you can’t quite seem to get your fucking eyelids to open so you get kind of stuck between being awake and asleep? Well, that’s pretty much where I’ve been for the last five years. I feel stuck. Trapped in the same place, unable to move. In a life I’m not sure I want, yet I can’t seem to figure out how to change it. I’ve felt differently only once and the person who brought the sunnier side out of me is no longer in my life. Although, sometimes Lila gets me close to breaking out of the daze, but in a different way, one based more on anger and sexual frustration than an actual deep emotions.
I even tried to escape the trapped feeling of my life once. I packed my shit and hit the road with no real destination other than to escape the trapped feelings that had been festering inside me for years. It wasn’t bad being alone on the road with no worries about where I was going, but what I learned quickly was that you can’t escape life, no matter how much you want to.
I wake up to “Hey Ho” by the Lumineers. It’s the ringtone Lila picked out for herself, even though I told it her it wasn’t my kind of music. She insisted that it was the perfect song choice for her, and I meant to change it but I forgot and now I just don’t care. In fact, it’s kind of growing on me, like her.
I run my hand over my face, rubbing the drowsiness away, and then reach for my phone on the nightstand beside my bed. I answer it and give Lila a hard time because it seems like it’s becoming a tradition. She calls me when she needs help, usually with a guy-related issue and either I listen to her complain about it or go bail her out from whatever situation she’s in.
It’s the third time she’s called me this month and it’s only halfway into November. She told me once, over way too many shots of Tequila—which always makes her dark alter ego come out—that she’d been like this since she was fourteen, never giving me an exact reason. Honestly, she seems to be going on a rapid downhill decline since Ella left, even taking a semester off of school, but I think that might have to do with money more than anything. But I’m worried she’s lonely or something. A lot of people can’t handle being alone, and I think Lila might be one of those people.
I remember the first time we had a real talk, back in Star Grove, where we first met. Our best friends had a thing for each other and we kind of met through them. During the first real time we spent together, we drank a bottle of Bacardi while my dad repainted her car that someone had spray-painted, talking about life, our weird views on casual, meaningless sex, and how at one point in our lives our parents treated us like shit, although Lila’s still do.
I’d been flirting with her the entire night, because that’s what I do and then Lila tried to get me to screw her. I’d declined since we were both trashed out of our minds and I have rules about having sex and being wasted. I have to be sober enough that I can remember the sex—and the girl. Plus, I don’t think of Lila like that. Well, I try not to anyway. I have had a few slip-ups, where I crossed the no-touching rule I made, but I always make sure to play it off as casually as I can, reminding myself that I have rules about relationships for a reason, to keep me out of relationships because I don’t want to end up like my mother and father. My father is always yelling at my mother and I’m always worried I’ll turn out like them—or him really. Getting emotionally involved with someone leads to an unhealthy, disastrous relationship, where someone will get broken. Take my mother and father. She got pregnant while they were dating, they got married, and twenty-five years later they’re still married and hate each other, although they’ll never admit it. Instead, my father yells and tells her how stupid and shitty she is all the time and my mother pretends that everything’s okay. That it’s normal for people to talk to each other like that.
The only exception I ever made was with London, and after what happened with her I promised I’d never make an exception again because I never wanted to feel that much loss and guilt over losing someone again. But I really struggle with following the rules when it comes to Lila. I even had to add a no-touching rule that exclusively applied to her after I gave her candy canes last Christmas, about a year ago, when I tried to put my hands on and tongue in places they didn’t belong.
Sometimes it is hard to keep my hands off her, though, and I slip up. The girl is fucking gorgeous, in a model, Hollywood, way-too-perfect actress kind of way. She’s got flawless skin, perfect curves, her body proportioned just right. But she’s kind of high maintenance. The first time I took her to a pub, she refused to eat the food because she thought eating pub food was too gross and kind of beneath her high food standards, but she’s slowly progressing and I’ve even got her to eat ribs with her hands once, which was hilarious to watch.
After I get off the phone with Lila, I put away the bracelet London gave me and my journal, filled with pages of haunting memories and thoughts. I took both of them out of my dresser during a bout of depression last night, trying to find something that doesn’t really exist anymore, because I chose to walk away from it. Or maybe it never really did exist, yet I continue to hold on to it and allow it to haunt me, never talking to anyone about it because the idea of talking about London aloud seems impossible and almost like I’d finally be letting go of her and I’m not ready for that.
I get up and get dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, then grab a five from my stash of money hidden in a box underneath my dresser. I work part time in construction and since my apartment is dirt cheap and I don’t really need anything else besides food, gas for my truck, and occasionally new clothes, I pretty much save everything I make. Tucking the five in my back pocket, I head out the door. I make a quick stop at the nearest Starbucks and use the five to splurge on getting Lila an iced latte because I know she loves them and it might help her with her hang-over. It’s early in the afternoon, but still warm. That’s Vegas for you, though. Even the fall seems like summer in most areas.
When I finally reach the corner of Vegas Drive and Rainbow, I park the truck where Lila’s lying down on the sidewalk with her legs stretched out into the road.
I hop out of the truck and shut the door. “What the fuck are you doing?” I ask, rounding the front of the truck with the iced latte in my hand. “Trying to get run over or something? Jesus, Lila.”
She angles her head back and peers up at me. Her blue eyes are bloodshot, her mascara is smeared, and her blonde hair is all tangled. Usually she’s so put together, even when I pick her up the morning after, and it’s a little bit shocking to see her like this. Still, she’s beautiful as hell, but I’ll never admit that to anyone out loud.
“Is that for me?” Lila eyes the coffee, licking her lips.
I hand it to her and she guzzles it down, then pulls a face. “Did you have them put nonfat milk in this?”
I shake my head. Sometimes she can be so high maintenance. “No, I forgot your specific instructions, your highness, but you’re welcome for getting it for you.”
She glares at me. “Thank you,” she says with an attitude and then starts sipping on the drink again and I struggle not to ask questions about the condition she’s in, because I want to know what the hell happened to her and how she ended up here, looking like she does. “Don’t say anything,” she mutters, then gradually straightens her legs. She gets to her feet and brushes the sand off the backs of her legs. “I’ve had a rough morning as it is.”
“You mean a rough afternoon,” I correct her and then step back from the curb with my hands up in front of me when she targets me with a death glare. “Fine. Jesus, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“Good.” She walks toward the truck door, drinking from the straw and swaying her hips. I notice the back of her dress is unbuttoned all the way, so her smooth skin is exposed to the sunlight. God, if I didn’t have my rules I’d seriously bend her over and have her take it from behind.
I check her out for a little bit longer and then back up toward the driver’s side. “Why’s your dress undone?”
She shrugs, swinging her shoes in her hand. “I couldn’t get my fingers to work this morning.”
My lips threaten to turn upward into a full on smirk. “Why? Were they preoccupied too much last night or something?” I joke, and suddenly way too many images of her flood my head, her fingers sliding up her inner thigh and then slowly entering herself.
She jerks the door open, narrowing her eyes at me, and I add, “What? You’re the one who brought it up. If you don’t want me to tease you, then don’t set up the punch line.”
Shaking her head, she presses her lips together and hops into the truck. She’ll be pissed off at me for, like, the next ten minutes, but then she’ll get over it. She always does.
After I get in the truck, I pull out onto the road and turn up the stereo. We barely speak the entire drive and when I pull into the parking lot of her apartment, I figure she’ll bail and then call me in a few days when she needs me to rescue her again.
But when she opens the door, she says, “So are you coming in or what?”
“I guess, if you really want me to.” It’s not like I have anywhere else to be. Micha, my best friend and old roommate, is gone and I don’t work on the weekends anymore. “But I’m not sleeping with you no matter how much you beg.”
“I never beg,” she says and then her face contorts with confusion as she frowns down at the ground. “At least from what I can remember I don’t.”
I climb out of the truck and meet her around the front, aiming the keys over my shoulder to lock up the truck. We make our way across the parking lot beneath the heat of the sun and I pull my sunglasses down off my head to cover my eyes. I remain slightly behind her, checking out her ass and her lower back peeking out of her still-opened dress. Finally, I have to rip my gaze away and step up beside her, otherwise I’ll end up unable to keep my hands to myself.
“You need to stop blacking out when you get drunk,” I say, nudging her playfully with my shoulder. “Drunk is okay, but getting so shit-faced you have no idea what you’re doing is really fucking bad, Lila. Even I’m not that bad.”
“You’re not bad at all.” She attempts to smooth her hair down with her hand, but it only makes it stick up more. “You just pretend like you are. But deep down, you’re a really nice guy who likes to write in a journal.”
“Hey, I told you that in confidence.” I scowl at her as we make our way up the steps to her second-story apartment. “You were never supposed to utter that aloud.”
She pats her pockets for the keys. “Well, then you never should have told me because I kind of have a big mouth.” Her arms fall to her sides and her eyes scan around her feet and then down the steps behind her. “Crap, I think I lost my keys.”
“Okay…so go ask your landlord to unlock it for you. It’s not that complicated,” I say, shaking my head at her.
“I can’t ask him.”
“Why not?” I lean on the railing, squinting against the sunlight as I assess her.
She lowers her chin, allowing her hair to fall in her face, like she doesn’t want me to see her expression. “Because…if I do…then he’ll ask me for rent.”
“Why?” I ask. “Are you behind on it or something?”
She peers up at me through her eyelashes. “I may or may have not paid the last couple of months,” she discloses, her forehead furrowing.
“Why? You’re not broke.” I hate to say it, but it’s kind of obvious by the fancy clothes she’s always wearing. Hell, she’s got a platinum ring on her finger, for God’s sake.
“But I am,” she insists, crossing her arms over her chest. “My dad canceled all my credit cards a while ago and I have only, like, eight hundred bucks left.”
“Then pay your rent with it.” I gape at her. “Or pawn that ring on your finger.”
Shaking her head, she covers the ring on her hand, looking almost panicked. “No way. This was a gift from someone I used to know.”
“So you’d rather live on the streets than get rid of your gift?” I cock my eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” she says simply, her arms falling to her sides.
I tighten my jaw, growing frustrated. “God damn it. You do this all the time, you know that. You need to start being more responsible…” My eyes widen. Holy fucking Jesus, I sound just like my father. Shit. He’s always lecturing my mom about her flaws. This is the reason why I don’t let myself get into relationships and I’m not in one with Lila, so why am I acting like this?
She laughs scathingly and jabs her finger against my chest. “Oh, and like you are. You get drunk and sleep around and work in construction.”
“Hey, I never claim to be responsible.” I lean in, lowering my voice, trying to shake off the feeling that I’m acting just like my dad. No, this is different. You’re trying to help her, not control her. “But I do work and pay my rent.”
She huffs, stomping her foot and crossing her arms. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed her temper tantrums when I don’t give in to her, but it still gets on my nerves as bad as the first time I saw her do it. “Ethan, will you please just help me out?”
“How the fuck am I supposed to help you out?” I ask. “Pay your rent so you can get let in? Because I’m not doing that.” But a voice inside my head laughs at me, telling me I’m full of shit. That I would pay it for her if she asks, that I’d do anything for her if she flat out asked me to.
She sticks out her bottom lip and makes me soften just a little. “You can pick the lock,” she suggests, and when I start to frown, she grips the bottom of my shirt and clutches on to it. “Please, please, please. I’ll owe you big time.”
“You already owe me big time, for being a pain in the ass and calling me all the time to come pick you up from random guys’ houses,” I tell her, dragging my hand across my face. “And I don’t want you to owe me. I just want you to get a job or something so you won’t get kicked out of your apartment.”
“Okay, I’ll work on getting some cash.” She bats her damn eyelashes at me intentionally—I can tell because there’s a smirk forming at her lips.
Sighing, I stick out my hand. “Give me one of those pins in your hair.”
She releases my shirt, plucks a pin out of her hair, and hands it to me. Grunting and pretending I’m more annoyed than I really am, I bend down in front of the door and quickly pick the lock. When I shove the door open, she jumps up and down, clapping her hands.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” She throws her arms around my neck and embraces me tightly.
“Don’t thank me,” I tell her, uneasy and kind of turned on, something I always feel whenever she hugs me. Lila is off limits. She’s a friend. Just a friend. It’ll never work out. Relationships never work out. Look at the one that you had. “Just pay your damn rent and quit losing your keys.”
“Yes, boss.” She rushes into the house eagerly, leaving the door open behind her, and hurries toward the hallway. “I’m going to take a quick shower.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do?” I ask, standing in the entryway of her two-bedroom apartment, which is much nicer than mine: painted walls, a crack-free floor, and the carpet isn’t loose. “Sit around here and wait for you? Is that what you want me to do?”
“Don’t pretend like you’re totally not enjoying the idea.” She pauses at the corner of the hall and grins. “Besides, you could just come join me.”
I roll my eyes, suppressing a smile. “I’ve already told you a thousand times that you can’t handle me, baby.” I bite down on my tongue on the baby slipup. I don’t use endearing terms with women. Ever. My dad used to use them on my mom when he was trying to kiss up to her after he beat her and she’d always let him butter her up. It made me hate affectionate terms and affection in general.
She turns around and puts her hands on her hips, arching her eyebrows. “And vice versa.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it,” I say, because I picture Lila as being extremely bossy and orderly in bed and I like women who get caught up in the moment, who love to do things without thinking about them first and who can completely and utterly let go of everything going on in the world. Who don’t care if they have money or material things. I like women who are like London. The problem is, she seems to be the only one of her kind and she no longer exists.
Lila laughs and I roll my eyes again, feigning annoyance. Then I chuckle when she sticks out her tongue and I have to bite on my own because the movement draws all my attention to her mouth. Despite the no-touching rule I made, I still can’t help but picture the many things I’d like her to do with her mouth that would require a lot of touching.
Once she vanishes down the hall, I get comfortable on the sofa and start channel surfing, but I can find only three channels and I wonder if she hasn’t paid her satellite bill either.
“Damn it, Lila,” I mutter and then take my phone out of my pocket. I think about just calling Micha and asking him to ask Ella, Lila’s best friend, to call Lila because she’s obviously gotten in over her head, but then it just seems weird and makes me seem like I’m scared of Ella, so I call her myself.
She answers after two rings and I can tell from her tone of voice that she’s trying to figure out why I’m calling her. “Ethan?” she asks warily. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” I say. “Or maybe…I don’t know…it all kind of depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“On whether you’ve talked to Lila lately or not.”
“I haven’t heard from her in, like, a week,” she says. “I texted her the other day, asking her how she was, and she said she was fine.”
“Well, I think she was lying to you.” I slump back in the sofa and something pokes me in the back. “Maybe you should call her.” I reach around behind my back and pull out an empty prescription bottle. The label’s ripped off so I can’t tell what it was for. I wouldn’t think anything of it, but I used to keep my drugs in something similar and it gets me wondering. No, there’s no way Lila would be doing drugs. She’s way too fucking preppy. I twist off the cap, glance inside, and then take a sniff. It doesn’t smell like anything I’m familiar with. Shaking my head, I put the lid on and toss it onto the table in front of me.
“I’ve actually really needed to call her,” Ella replies. “Because I’ve been meaning to tell her…something…”
“You’re being weird,” I point out, kicking my feet up on the table.
“Yeah, I know,” she admits. “But I’m being like that for a reason.”
“Well, if you have a reason then I guess we’re okay,” I joke sarcastically with a heavy sigh. Ella and I have always had this issue with each other, due to the fact that it always felt like she was interfering in Micha’s and my friendship. We’re not as bad as we used to be, but our clashing personalities will always sort of hinder us from being good friends. “Look, can you just call her and talk to her?”
“Is she there now?”
“Yeah, but she’s in the shower.”
“And where are you?” There’s insinuation in her tone.
“Sitting on the couch.” I click the television off with the remote. “Where else would I be?”
“I don’t know.” She pauses and I know whatever she’s about to say is going to irritate me. “In the shower with her or watching her take one.”
“Well, I’m not,” I say dryly, more offended than I probably should be. “Look, just call her, okay? I’m going to go.”
“Fine,” she mutters. “God, you’re in a bad mood.”
I’m not sure who hangs up first, but we probably do it at the same time. I’m about to put my phone away when I get a text. I’m guessing it’s Micha, because I figure Ella went and told him that I was being a jerk, but I’m surprised to find that it’s from London’s mom, Rae. I haven’t talked to her in more than seven or eight months, around the time I decided to give a go at living my lonely wanderer dream, living my life to the fullest, mainly because Rae had called me and reminded me of everything that happened, the stuff I’ve tried to forget—the life I tried to forget, yet I always feel imprisoned by it. But when I hit the road, there was the whole Micha and Ella drama. Micha was boozing it up, going completely fucking crazy because he thought Ella cheated on him. I remember when I got the call from Lila telling me what was up.
“You need to go to New York, now,” she’d said.
“Um, no thanks,” I’d replied. “I’m trying to escape people, not go to a city packed with way too many of them.”
“I don’t care what you want,” she said, sound like a spoiled brat, which she did a lot. Then she proceeded to tell me how Ella had told her, after multiple shots, that she’d only told Micha she’d cheated on him because she thought it was the only way he’d let her go. That he was too good for her and her insanity and deserved someone better.
As much as I agreed that Ella was insane, I didn’t think the two of them should split up. They have the kind of love that most people, including myself, will never understand or experience. I don’t think I even had it with London.
So I’d agreed to go to a city I hated, to help fix the problem and try to make things right between the two of them even though it wasn’t my responsibility. Why do I always try to fix things? I have no fucking clue other than it drives me crazy when other people are acting crazy when clearly they have it really good.
I slide my finger over my cell phone screen and read the text over.
Rae: I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I wanted to check up on you and see how you were doing.
That’s not the real reason why she’s texting and I know it. She wants the same thing she wanted from me seven or eight months ago.
Me: I’m fine.
Rae: Have you thought anymore about taking a trip to Virginia?
Me: Not sure I can.
Rae: Why not? You know it’d be good for both of you.
Me: No, it wouldn’t.
Rae: Please, I really need your help…London’s getting worse.
And there it is. The real reason she’s texting me. She wants hope. She needs to know that she’s doing everything right. And she wants me to give her the resolution. But I can’t because giving her false hope—going there and seeing London—means finally letting go. And I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, whether I can allow myself to let go and fully accept reality. That what’s done is done and I have to let go and move on.
Me: You know it’s not going to do any good. It didn’t the last time I tried and from what you told me seven months ago, everything’s still the same with her as it was after the accident.
Rae: But I want to change that. If you’d just come visit her, you might be able to change it. You were so close to her when it happened.
No, I can’t. No one can. You know this—everyone does—and I don’t want to see what I lost. My finger hovers of the button as I deliberate what to type back to her.
“Oh my God, I feel so much better,” Lila says, tousling her wet hair with her fingers as she walks out of the hallway wearing only a towel. My jaw nearly hits the floor. It’s a really, really fucking short towel, one that gives me a view of her thighs and if she turned around, I could probably see the bottom of her ass.
“Is that a hand towel?” I ask, half joking, half serious.
“No,” she replies simply. She seems more relax and laid-back than when I picked her up. “Just a normal towel.”
I try not to stare as she sinks down on the sofa beside me. She doesn’t even bother trying to keep the towel closed and I get a glimpse of her thighs, which I’ve touched once so I know how soft her skin is. Just seeing them, I have to ball my hands into fists so that I’ll keep them to myself.
“I really needed to get last night off of me,” she says, shaking her hair out. It falls against her bare shoulders, sending beads of water trickling down her skin. “I felt so gross.”
“Is that why you were being so bitchy?” I stuff my phone into the pocket of my jeans. I need some time to think and process what she’s asking me to do and if I can finally do it, not to give her hope but to say my good-bye.
She shrugs, examining her fingernails. “I guess so,” she says nonchalantly, putting her hand on her lap. “Hey, do you want to go out tonight or something?” Lila smiles cheerfully at me as she relaxes back into the sofa, with her hair swept to the side. “Drinks are on me for being a pain in the butt.”
“I don’t think I can,” I say evasively. “Did you get a phone call from Ella by chance?”
Lila shakes her head and twirls a strand of her damp hair around her finger. “No, but I left my phone in my room, so maybe I missed a call.”
“You should call her.” I pat her bare leg, slipping up again on one of my rules that I set with her: no inappropriate touching.
I’m about to quickly pull away when she shudders under my touch and my muscles ravel as my palm presses against her warm, slightly damp skin. We both freeze and I swear to fucking God I can hear both of our hearts pounding insanely. This isn’t the first time that an awkward, intense moment has happened between us and I’m starting to think it won’t be the last. I know I should pull back, because it’s going to go somewhere beyond the friend zone if I don’t, but her breathing accelerates, her chest rapidly rising and falling, her breasts heaving up and down with her deep, ravenous breaths. My cock goes hard and the idea of touching her is so tempting. Suddenly, like my damn hand has a mind of its own, it’s slipping up her leg. Her skin is as soft as I remember. I knead my fingers into her thigh and she shudders again, her whole body quivering.
As my hand drifts higher up into the towel, my thoughts drift to how it would feel if my fingers were inside of her. Fucking good, I’m sure. Way too fucking good. I could find out. I know she’d probably let me, but the fact that she would so easily makes me feel guilty. She lets just about everyone touch her, but not because she’s a slut. I don’t believe for one second that she is. There’s something hidden inside her that she’s trying to cover up with sex. I can see it in her eyes sometimes, when she gets really quiet. Sadness. Self-doubt. Self-torture, even.
She’s not like that now, though, seeming more content and subdued than anything. My hand lingers on the top of her thigh, my fingers brushing toward the inner section, which is even softer. I can feel warmth radiating off her and wetness. God damn it, she’s getting wet and I can feel it, which only makes me want to feel more. As my fingers make a path inward, just about to brush across her wetness, she grips down on the armrest and moans. Actually arches her neck, tips her head back, and fucking moans. My pulse hammers as my fingertips press down into her skin. Fuck.
“Ethan…God…” Her hair falls back from her shoulders, her chest bowing upward, and I nearly attack her with my lips, lick a path up her leg, slip my tongue inside her, something I’ve wanted to do since the first day I laid eyes on her.
My fingers dig deeper into her skin, as confliction settles inside me. Pull back. Keep going. Pull back. Somehow I manage to snap my thoughts away from my cock and swiftly pull my hand away. I can’t believe I screwed up again. I’ve always had my rules about fucking around with girls who I had any sort of feelings for.
I’m practically sweating as I get to my feet, digging my keys out of my pocket, hoping she doesn’t notice my cock bulging in my shorts. “I got a few things to do, but I’ll check up on you a little bit later.” I wait for her to say something about what just happened, that I almost stuck my fingers inside her, but all she does is frown up at me.
“You don’t need to check up on me.” She adjusts the bottom of the towel over her thighs, crosses her legs, and covers herself up a little. “I’m perfectly okay by myself.” She smiles at me but it looks fake.
I move for the door. “I’ll check up on you later,” I repeat, then open the door and step out into the sunlight, angry with myself for messing up and extremely angry at the part of me that wanted to mess up and throw my rules right out the window. I set them for a reason. To stop myself and others from getting hurt.
As I head to my truck, my phone beeps from inside my pocket. I retrieve it and check the screen. Rae again. I think about texting her back and telling her that I won’t go to Virginia. But part of me wants to see London again, even if she’s not the same London I fell in love with. I want to say good-bye, yet I don’t. And part of me wants to run back to Lila because for some reason, being around her makes me feel better. I’m so confused at this point as thoughts of both London and Lila clash in my head. Who do I hold on to? London? The girl who I thought I once loved? The girl I lost and will never get back? The girl I walked away from, just left to shoot up? The girl who I wanted to know more than anything, but I missed my chance? Or should I just let her go? Release my guilt of walking away from her that day, just like that. Go around fucking girls, living life, doing whatever I want? Deep down I know I should have never walked away from her that day and that if I’d stayed instead of thinking solely of myself then things might have been different today. Perhaps I’d still be with her.
I can’’t let go of my guilt. I should just be alone. It’s for the best.
I end up skipping on sending back a text to Rae, knowing that by doing so I’m allowing myself to continue to hold on to the idea of London and continue to think of Lila sitting up in her apartment in the hand towel at the same time.
My fucked-up thoughts are giving me a headache. “Shit,” I mutter, kicking the tire.
I really fucking need a drink.