I can imagine him as a young teenager, scrambling up here, sitting and watching for hours. I can imagine him bringing girls up here, too. Making out with them under the blanket of stars. Doing much worse, no doubt. “I’m sure they were all incredibly beautiful. And incredibly grateful,” I say, allowing a hint of sarcasm to pepper my tone.

“So grateful,” he answers. “Can’t blame them, really. Being invited up here was like winning a golden ticket to the chocolate factory.” His face is deadpan, though I can tell he’s joking. “As far as them all being beautiful, you’re probably right there. But you, sugar…just so you know, you’d win the title for Most Beautiful Woman Louis James Aubertin Ever Snuck Up Onto The Roof hands down.”

I can feel two hot patches flaming on my cheeks—embarrassment. I hug my knees tighter to me, not sure if I want to look at him or not. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Flirt with me. Say stuff like that. Proposition me.”

Rebel laughs, unashamed and, unlike me, unembarrassed. “Because I told you, sugar. I like you. I’d definitely try and fuck you if we’d have met under any other circumstances.”

“You do that a lot? Try and fuck a lot of girls?”

“No. Never. Just the ones I think might make pliable bedmates.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You think I’d be pliable?”

“I think, despite how resilient you are when you need to be, you’d let the right person have control over you if the situation presented itself.”

“You mean that I’d let someone dominate me?”

“And you’d fucking love it.”

“And you assume that you’re the right person?”

“Oh, sugar. I’m the only person who could dominate you.”

I want to laugh. I want to laugh right in his face, but the arrogance that’s normally present when he says something sexual isn’t there right now. He’s being totally and utterly serious.

“I don’t understand you,” I whisper.

“Are you supposed to?” he whispers back.

“It’s how my brain works. I’m studying psychology so I can understand everyone I ever meet. I like knowing how people work. What makes them tick. But you…”

Rebel smiles. It’s a kick-you-in-the-guts kind of smile that I can imagine a boy from Alabama wearing. Slowly, he reaches over and pulls at the lace on my shoe. “Don’t bother trying to get inside my head, sugar. It’s a dark and fucking scary place. Even I don’t want to be here most of the time. You change your mind about the sex, though, and we can talk.”

REBEL

I climb my way back down through my bedroom window, and this time Soph trusts me. She lowers her legs down and I catch her around the waist, pulling her back in through the window. I can feel her heart slamming against my chest as I hold her a second too long against me. God, I’m a glutton for the worst kind of punishment. She’s not for me. She’s for some fuckhead back in Seattle called Matt, apparently.

I intend on keeping my word; I’ll drive her to the Greyhound stop in the morning, and she and I will go our separate ways. It’ll be for the best. The more I thought about it, the shittier I felt about forcing her to do something she didn’t want to do. I’ve never been that person. Losing Ryan has been seriously fucking shitty, but I can’t darken my soul even more by stooping to these new lows.

It’s gonna be dark enough after I’ve finished with Maria Rosa.

I let Soph sleep in the bed, and I fall asleep in the reading chair beside the window, listening to the cicadas’ song. When I wake up, the day is barely breaking, and my father is standing over me in his dressing gown.

“So,” he says.

“So?”

“You’re not even man enough to sleep in the same bed as the woman you’re fuckin’? All the girls paradin’ around this place in their underwear when you were a teenager, I thought you were at least about to get your dick hard, boy.”

And so it begins.

“Good to see you, too, Sir.”

“Don’t you fucking Sir me.” My father’s always loved his food, but he’s a skinny, slight man. I think it makes him self-conscious—that’s why he’s always eating and eating and eating, never sated. He’d be the fattest man in Alabama if he had his way. Instead, he looks like a half-starved chicken that’s had it neck wrung. His wattle wobbles from side to side as he looms over me, shaking. “You’ve got no respect,” he tells me, as though I may not have already known this fact. “You say Sir the same way other people say dysentery.”

That one makes me laugh. Comparing himself to shit? Nothing could be more appropriate. Louis doesn’t take kindly to my amusement. “Who is she then? Some fucking waitress you picked up? Don’t tell me you’ve got her fucking pregnant, you little shit. If you think bringing her here, showing off your new prize pony will mean I’m gonna give you any money, you are sadly mistaken.”

I rocket to my feet, blowing hard down my nose. “You told me to come here, Louis. And what makes you think I need your money? I have never asked you for money.”

“Well, I just assumed that since you’ve clearly been spending your meager wage on whores…” He gestures to Soph. I see that she’s awake now, propped up on one elbow in the bed, eyes wide. “You probably aren’t flush with cash.”