Home > Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(6)

Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(6)
Author: Piper Lawson

Emma is sprawled on the bed, her face buried in the pillow.

“Hey. Did I miss some ritual sacrifice?”

She rolls onto her back and takes in what I’m holding with tear-stained triumph.

“I quit cheerleading and Mom freaked out.” Emma props up on her elbows, swiping at her face. “She scared off Trey, so I had to retaliate.”

“By stopping something you love too?”

She rolls her eyes. “She escalated.”

“It’s family. Not war.”

“Easy for you to say.”

Except it’s not. Sometimes it feels like negotiating a peace accord. A series of progressive sacrifices in the hope of the kind of acceptance and openness and love other families seem to have naturally.

I shake my head. “Mom said you have a date for the fundraiser.”

“Yeah, one she approved of. I called him and told him my herpes was acting up.”

I bite my cheek. My sister doesn’t lack in the drama department. Act first, think second.

Not unlike Sawyer.

I push that thought from my mind. I’m not letting the man who haunts my thoughts at school follow me home to New York.

“Remember we used to go to this event every year? We’d kick each other and play silent games during the speeches.”

She scoots off the bed, heading for the walk-in closet.

Half a dozen cocktail dresses hang in one section of the closet.

She grabs a green one and a pale yellow one and carries them out to drop them on the bed. “Why don’t you go in my place?”

I stare at the dresses in surprise. Emma didn’t get them out for her, but for me. “My boobs are bigger than yours.”

“Way to rub it in.” She holds up the green one, tugging at the bodice. “This might work.”

I take the dress out of her hands, the satin fabric soft on my skin. “It’s obviously yours. You’d look amazing in it.”

“Trey thought so too. But now, he won’t call me back. I know he’s just a guy and it shouldn’t matter and I have my whole life ahead of me, but it does.”

“I’m sorry, Ems. I know what that feels like.” I try not to think of the missing text chain on my phone. A month ago it didn’t exist, and now, I’m not sure how I lived before it.

“Emma! You had better be dressed.” My mother’s voice comes from beyond the door.

My sister’s eyes flash, but before she opens her mouth, I cross to the door, opening it a crack.

“Mom, give us a second.”

This peace keeping has a familiar chafing, like a pair of shoes that don’t quite fit but are too expensive to throw away.

But for the first time in a while, it feels as if my family has a chance for a nice evening together. Emma doesn’t think she wants a night out, but she’ll stay home and lose herself in feelings if she doesn’t.

“I’ll go if you take me as your date. It could be fun.”

Emma cocks her head. “You want to go?”

“Yeah,” I say, honestly. “I do.”

It’ll feel like a slice of normal after so much craziness.

“And you’re going to wear this dress,” I declare, pointing to the green one.

“Fine.” Her eyes glint before she turns back to her closet. “But I get to pick one out for you.”

 

 

“She’s a Rockefeller who briefly ran off to join the circus as a trapeze artist,” I murmur to Emma as we make our way toward the ballroom.

The woman ahead of us wears a long fur with impeccably styled hair. When she turns her head there’s the glint of expensive jewelry as her red lips press in a firm line.

“Really?” my sister whispers back. “I thought Anderson Cooper was the last surviving Rockefeller.”

“No idea. But the fur is vintage, and there’s that ‘early capitalist’ vibe even though her eyes keep darting toward the exit like she’s waiting for her ride.”

She laughs and my dad glances over with an absent smile.

“Your mother always put on a brave face about being dragged to these”—she’s now trading air-kisses with the woman Emma and I were making up a backstory for—“but I’m glad you girls are enjoying yourselves.”

He’s in a better mood than the last night we spent together as a family, taking in the basketball game at Russell. But the bitterness barely imprinted on my memory because Sawyer followed me home, made me sandwiches without crusts, and put me back together with his rough hands and patient lips and hooded eyes.

We pass through the entrance to the ballroom, the sign gracing an easel proclaiming that the charity has already raised a million dollars thanks to ticket sales and sponsors.

Several dozen tables with crisp white tablecloths fill the ballroom like a hundred stars. Some are starting to fill in, and we find our way to a table two rows off the stage.

Dad greets business colleagues, shaking hands and trading stories.

“Dibs,” Emma mutters, grabbing two seats facing the stage—it’s harder to fall asleep with the bright lights. And this way we can see if there’s anyone interesting in the front row.

“I’m glad,” I tell my dad, leaning over the empty chair he leaves between me and him for Mom.

“About what?”

I lower my voice. “That things are going better. I mean…” I go on at his blank look, “The company must be doing well enough to sponsor a table.”

“We could check out the silent auction,” Emma interrupts. “You and Mom could use a few days in Italy.”

His smile tightens. “I’m sure we don’t. Now, you both look lovely. Let me introduce you to my colleagues.”

We make small talk with some business partners of my father’s, and moments later, a whisper comes next to my ear.

“Found another. Retired spy, eventually forced to quit because his face was memorable—he looked too similar to the Monopoly man.” She points to a short grey-haired man in a tux by an auction table, and I laugh.

“Let’s go look. I think I see a turtle sculpture…”

We link arms and head to the side of the room to inspect the long table.

“Oh, it’s a real turtle.” Emma insists, pointing to the poor creature, preserved by some taxidermist.

“Is that even legal?”

“You can’t bring it back to life now. But you could buy it for your apartment.”

I cock my head, feeling a pang of sympathy. “Kat and Jules might object.”

She takes a sip of her drink. “Why do you think people want animals in their houses?”

I think of Kismet, her eager brown eyes full of love and curiosity. Or Lancaster’s jeweled fish, each one with its own drive and habits that together create an entirely unique ecosystem.

“Animals remind us we’re no different,” I decide. “We can put on designer dresses and drink champagne, but at the end of the day, we’re all just fighting to find a place we belong in this world. I can’t imagine why someone would want an animal dead.”

“Probably the same reason.” My attention drags back to the turtle. “If it’s a trophy, a symbol that man has conquered all, we can pretend we have control over our lives. Then we’re not the animals.”

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