ROYAL(14)By: Winter Renshaw
Tiny tremors consume my body. Little beads of buried emotions all rupturing to the surface at once. I couldn’t stop them if I tried.
All these years, I’ve been mourning him, missing him, loving him, hating him. Giving anything to know what happened to him.
And he’s been fucking following me.
Royal’s been a silent part of my life, and I hadn’t the slightest idea.
“I hate you.” I say the words under my breath. They come from a deeper, darker part of me. But judging by the way his expression falls, he hears my conviction loud and clear. My lips tingle. My face is numb. It’s thirty degrees outside, and I’m standing in the doorway in little more than a paper-thin robe.
There’s a violent stir in my belly.
Something’s building. Rising. Desperately searching for a release. A molten burn enters my esophagus, and by the time I realize what’s going on, I lose the contents of my stomach with a single . . . liquid . . . retch.
On his shoes.
Watery orange juice and vodka glaze his gray sneakers.
“Royal . . .” Her mouth hangs open, her fingers grazing her sticky lips. All color drains from her pretty face as she backs up.
Considering every shitty thing I’ve been through in my twenty-six years, vomit on my shoes doesn’t rank near the top of the list.
Not even close.
“It’s . . . fine.” I lift one shoe, and a hunk of orange goop slides off the toe.
Demi widens the door and motions for me to come in, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her sheer, peach robe.
“Let me grab a towel.” She stumbles down a hallway and returns with a fluffy white towel that smells like a fabric softener teddy bear and looks expensively soft. Falling to her knees, she dabs my shoes, ruining the pure white with splotches of carrot-colored puke.
Demi’s hand flies to her mouth once more and she retches, her shoulders hunching tight.
“Demi.” I reach for her arm to try to get her to stand. She rises, hand covering her mouth and crystalline blue eyes round as saucers. I’m two seconds from asking where the bathroom is so I can escort her there, when she loses it again.
Third time’s a charm.
The scent of ripe vomit floods the small space of her foyer before landing on the tile with a sickening splash.
“How much did you drink tonight?” I step out of it and breathe through my mouth. With strategic moves, I maneuver myself out of my ruined sneakers and hook my hand into her elbow. “Where’s your bathroom?”
Demi covers her mouth and points down the hall, where a white door is ajar. I lead her there, and we make it just in time.
“Jesus.” I hold her dark hair back, gathering it into a ponytail in my hand as she hugs the pristine, white bowl. A jar of fresh potpourri sits on the back of the toilet, and the mirror above the sink lacks a single streak. This house is as perfect on the inside as it looks on the outside.
She rises, moving to the sink and hunching over to rinse her mouth with cool water.
“You don’t have to take care of me.” Her tongue smacks as she speaks, and her expression sours.
“Of course I do.”
Demi scoffs, pushing past me and stumbling into the hallway. I follow, placing my hand on the small of her back as she tries to climb the stairs. These slick, wooden, polished steps are an accident waiting to happen.
Her body reacts to my touch with a jolt, and her neck careens around. A mess of dark hair sticks to her face. She smells like death, which I’m learning is a lot like bile and sour oranges, and she’s giving me a look that would make the Devil tremble in his hooves.
All this, and all I can think about is how fucking beautiful she is.
And how surreal it is to be this close to her again.
How wrong this is.
How I shouldn’t be here on so many levels, and how I can’t stay away.
I pretend not to know which room is hers. When she pushes the double doors to the master suite, she makes a beeline for the dresser. Pulling drawers and rifling through clothes, she yanks out an armful of t-shirts and dumps them on the floor like only a drunk person would.
Pulling in a slow, frustrated breath, she stares at the mound of fabric and releases a defeated sigh.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “I can’t decide what t-shirt to change into.”
Ah, drunk people problems.
I lean down and swipe a blue one from the top of the pile. “Here.”
Demi takes it, spreads it across her lap, and shakes her head. “This one is Brooks’s. I can’t.”
I swipe a gray one from the bottom of the pile. “This one.”
She lays it on top of the blue one. The faded Rixton Falls High School logo is clear as day, even in the dim light of her bedroom. The words “varsity football” are screen-printed across the back.