“Well, that’s odd,” a woman says. “What do you suppose it is?”
I look up and see that she’s staring at a piece of art on the wall. It looks like a photograph blown up on canvas. I tilt my head to inspect it. The woman turns her nose up and says, “I don’t know why anyone would bother turning that photograph into wall art. It’s awful. It’s so blurry, you can’t even tell what it is.” She walks away in a huff, and I’m relieved. I mean . . . it’s a bit weird, but who am I to judge Allysa’s taste?
“What do you think?”
His voice is low, deep, and right behind me. I close my eyes briefly and inhale a steadying breath before quietly exhaling, hoping he doesn’t notice his voice has any effect on me whatsoever. “I like it. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s interesting. Your sister has good taste.”
He steps around me so that he’s at my side, facing me. He takes a step closer until he’s so close, he brushes my arm. “You brought a date?”
He’s asking it like it’s a casual question, but I know it isn’t. When I fail to respond, he leans in until he’s whispering in my ear. He repeats himself, but this time it isn’t a question. “You brought a date.”
I find the courage to look over at him and instantly wish I hadn’t. He’s in a black suit that makes the scrubs look like child’s play. First I swallow the unexpected lump in my throat and then I say, “Is it a problem that I brought a date?” I look away from him and back at the photograph hanging on the wall. “I was trying to make things easier on you. You know. Just trying to make it stop.”
He smirks and then downs the rest of his wine. “How thoughtful of you, Lily.” He tosses his empty wineglass toward a trash can in the corner of the room. He makes the shot, but the glass shatters when it hits the bottom of the empty container. I glance around me, but no one saw what just happened. When I look back at Ryle, he’s halfway down a hallway. He disappears into a room and I stand here, looking at the picture again.
That’s when I see it.
The picture is blurred, so it was hard to make out at first. But I can recognize that hair from anywhere. That’s my hair. It’s hard to miss, along with the marine-grade polymer lounge chair I’m lying on. This is the picture he took on the rooftop the first night we met. He must have had it blown up and distorted so no one would notice what it was. I bring my hand to my neck, because my blood feels like it’s bubbling. It’s really warm in here.
Allysa appears at my side. “It’s weird, huh?” she says, looking at the picture.
I scratch at my chest. “It’s really hot in here,” I say. “Don’t you think?”
She glances around the room. “Is it? I hadn’t noticed, but I’m a little drunk. I’ll tell Marshall to turn on the air.”
She disappears again, and the more I stare at the picture, the angrier I get. The man has a picture of me hanging in the apartment. He bought me flowers. He’s giving me attitude because I brought a date to his sister’s party. He’s acting like there’s actually something between us, and we’ve never even kissed!
It all hits me at once. The anger . . . the irritation . . . the half glass of champagne I had in the kitchen. I’m so mad, I can’t even think straight. If the guy wants to have sex with me so bad . . . he shouldn’t have fallen asleep! If he doesn’t want me to swoon, he shouldn’t buy me flowers! He shouldn’t hang cryptic pictures of me where he lives!
All I want is fresh air. I need fresh air. Luckily, I know just where to find it.
Moments later, I burst through the door to the rooftop. There are stragglers from the party up here. Three of them, seated on the patio furniture. I ignore them and walk to the ledge with the good view and lean over it. I suck in several deep breaths and try to calm myself down. I want to go downstairs and tell him to make up his damn mind, but I know I need to have a clear head before I do that.
The air is cold, and for some reason, I blame that on Ryle. Everything is his fault tonight. All of it. Wars, famine, gun violence—it all somehow links back to Ryle.
“Can we have a few minutes alone?”
I spin around, and Ryle is standing near the other guests. Immediately, all three of them nod and begin to stand up to give us privacy. I hold up my hands and say, “Wait,” but none of them look at me. “It’s not necessary. Really, you don’t have to leave.”
Ryle stands stoically with his hands in his pockets while one of the guests mutters, “It’s fine, we don’t mind.” They begin to file back down the stairwell. I roll my eyes and spin back toward the ledge once I’m alone with him.
“Does everyone always do what you say?” I ask, irritated.
He doesn’t respond. His footsteps are slow and deliberate as he closes in on me. My heart begins to beat like it’s on a speed-date, and I start scratching at my chest again.
“Lily,” he says from behind me.
I turn around and grip the ledge behind me with both hands. His eyes journey down to my cleavage. As soon as they do, I yank at the top of my dress so he can’t see it, and then I grip the ledge again. He laughs and takes another step closer. We’re almost touching now, and my brain is mush. It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic.
“I feel like you have a lot to say,” he says. “So I’d like to give you the opportunity to speak your naked truth.”