“Babydoll, wake up,” I shake Ryann’s shoulders, trying to get her to wake. Her body thrashing as she fights against an unknown demon from her dreams. Nightmares that have been occurring more frequently when she falls asleep alone. When we fall asleep together, she seems to rest easy and curls up into my arms. Alone, I find her like this. Thrashing around, and screaming out for me or Max as tears cascade down her face. And this is how I found Ryann when I got back home from looking for her and meeting with Andrew. “Ryann.”
I shake her again, this time harder, and she bolts upright. Causing me to jump back to avoid the collision of our heads.
Ryann looks around her surroundings frantically - tears falling down her face as she holds onto my arms. Her nails, digging into my forearms leaving behind half-moon crescents. Reaching for her face, I cup my hands to both sides of her cheek.
Ryann’s breathing is erratic as she agitatedly looks around the living room. It’s not clicking in her head that she’s somewhere safe. She’s still trapped in whatever hell she was dreaming.
“Max,” she nearly screams. “Stop! What are you doing? Make it stop! Why are you doing this? I don’t want to do this. I’ve never wanted to do this.”
“Ryann,” She doesn’t respond. Instead, she sobs harder. “Babydoll, it’s me. It’s Thomas. You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you. Not Max or Jamie.”
Wiping away the moisture from her skin, I wait for her to fully come around. I watch as the rise and fall of her chest becomes normal before finally, she closes her eyes. My thumb rubs across the softness of her cheek, and she leans into my touch. Looking for a familiar comfort.
Finally, I move from the ottoman and sit next to her and pull her into my side. My arm wraps around her as I hold on tight and let her sob quietly into my chest. Placing a kiss to the top of her head, I run my fingers through her hair. A relaxation for her and a coping mechanism for me. Especially when I have no idea what to do. Like now. Like each time I wake her from one of her dreams or nightmares. I never know what to do. What to say. I just hold her in my arms and wait for Ryann to speak first.
Looking up at the television, I see some ghost adventure show that she must have fallen asleep to. A show I’m fairly certain Val was watching before she left the house. Val opted to stay back in case Ryann showed up while Travis and I were out looking for her.
Rocking my head back against the cushion of the sofa, I look up to the ceiling. My mind is analyzing everything that’s happened today. From Pearl to Ryann running once again. Ryann and I may have our bumps. Some of them massive sinkhole size bumps, but we will get through them. We have to.
Even if it means upturning my life completely for her, I will. And no matter how many times she runs, I will always find her.
“I’m sorry, Thomas,” Ryann’s voice is small with her apology. One she doesn’t owe me. Hell, I still owe her for all the shit and fucked up things I’ve done.
“Babydoll, it’s fine. You don’t owe me an apology. But I wished you’d talked to me. What happened? Why did you run?” I know how she snuck out of the house. One of my bedroom windows was left opened, and I had Travis pull up the security footage, and we watched her run down the drive as she looked back over her shoulder at the house.
I feel her body rise and fall with a shutter of a breath before she sits up. Her hands pushed back the loose strands of hair away from her face. Her dark hazel eyes are nervous. The whites are slightly pink from her tears. Her skin slightly blotchy, but she still looks breathlessly beautiful.
“I’m sorry, Thomas. I panicked. Pearl....she...” She cranes her head up to the ceiling as she exhales a shaky breath. “You were right,” She sobs as she covers her mouth with a hand. She quickly recomposes herself as she wipes away her fallen tears. “There is so much you don’t know, Thomas.”
I cock my head to the side and reach out for one of her hands, but she pulls it away. Holding it up in the air to stop me from attempting to reach out for her again. Almost as if she’s afraid my touch will burn. “Babydoll, what are you talking about? What was I right on?”
She sighs an unsteady breath, “I told you I was seeing a therapist for my dreams and nightmares.” I nod my head slowly, “Thomas, I think they’re more like repressed memories.”
Frowning, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She shrugs a shaky shoulder as an answer. Let’s try another question, “Ryann, when did these memories start to resurface?”
Ryann takes her lower lip between her teeth; she’s trying to not avoid the question. I can tell by the look in her eyes, she is fighting the urge to revert to the old habit of running.
“When you asked me a question,” she says softly. I cock my head off to the side, slightly confused. “You asked me, didn’t Max.”
My eyes go wide with realization. A conversation that had me livid with her answer. She was so quick to defend Max when I asked. For her to go on the attack. I could tell she was questioning herself even then, but she didn’t back down. Not until she ran away to her bedroom and locked me out. But I had no idea that simple question was the cause of her nightmares increasing.
“I – I still don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. But these nightmares I’m having, they seem more real. Like I’m back in that time, and I can’t escape. I’m reliving things that happened, and I’m stuck. And what’s killing me is that Max is there now. I don’t remember him being there, but he’s there with Jamie.” My jaw tenses. The pain evident behind her eyes as she attempts to mask what she’s feeling by running her hands over her face. But fails.
“Have you talked to Max?” I want the answer to be no. I, for a very selfish reason, want the answer to be no. And by her reaction, I know she’s called him recently.
“A long time ago. I brought it up, but he told me it was my mind playing games. He swears up and down that he wasn’t there when....But I talked to him today, and all he did was try and play it off or changed the subject.” Ryann pauses as she starts to flip her ring around, “Thomas, I went to all of those parties with Jamie. I knew what he wanted to do at those parties, and I knew what I was going to have to do.” She pauses, looking down at her hands in shame.
And where is this going? I don’t like hearing about Ryann’s past. Not because of what happened to her, but because it happened when it shouldn’t have. She was drugged and raped. Terms I think she’s openly ready to say instead of sugar-coating what happened.
“But things got worse. Quick. And I didn’t know how to back out.” She’s holding something back. Dancing around another truth, “I tried to stop, I really did. And when I refused to do Jamie’s bidding, I was forced spiked drinks. If I didn’t drink them, Jamie made sure I drank them. There were times I’d found myself in the bathroom forcing myself to throw-up.”
Okay, that explains a lot. Her not drinking, not wanting to be around the party scene. But I don’t think it explains everything.
“When the drugs and the alcohol started working, Jamie had what he wanted. And there are times I can remember being thrown into a room and.....”
With each broken word she’s speaking, my blood is boiling to a new degree of fiery rage. I want to murder Jamie. I want to kick Max’s ass. But most of all, I want to take away the painful and torturous memories of her past. Because her past does not defy her.
And every day we’re together, I hope I can only show her who I see. The strong and fierce woman sitting in front of me and sharing more details of her painful past. I need Ryann to see she is not that troubled teenager anymore. I need her to see the strong, independent, and brave woman I see.
And I can’t listen to anymore. Ryann’s words are painting a vivid scene that no one should ever have to see and a scene no one should ever have to relive. But here we are, she’s sitting in front of me. Spilling her tormented heart and soul bare for me. The truth of those nights and parties out, but yet, it’s not. “Ryann, stop.” I watch her tears fall as a horrid acceptance washes over her face. Panicking, I reach for her hand. Not letting her pull it away as I forced our fingers together. “Are you afraid sharing this with me will make me want to leave you?”
I watch her crane her head back as she takes in a deep, ragged breath, “Pearl’s threat isn’t empty.” She tells me. Her voice, quivering, “I didn’t answer Jamie’s call, and I never returned it.”
“Ok....” I dragged out the word with slight confusion.
“When Jamie doesn’t get what he wants, he finds ways to get what he wants.”
And that fucker is sadly mistaken if he thinks he’s going to find his way back to Ryann. I won’t allow it. Even if she decides to leave me. I will not let her go back to that self-absorbed wanna-be Zach Morris. It’s not happening.
“It’s why I don’t believe Pearl’s threat is empty,” she whispers. I’m not sure what to say. I feel like my eyes are about to bug out of my head from full-on rage, but I’m trying to seem impassive and listen to what she has to say. At the sound of her self-doubt and the fact she’s terrified, I’m ready to leave the house and fire Pearl before my lawyers give me the fucking say. “I stole a USB drive when I left Jamie.”
My stomach churns as bile rises up into my throat, “What was on the flash drive, Ryann?” A question I already know the answer to. Racking a hand through my hair, I wait for her answer.
Chewing on her lip, she pulls her hand from mine. Or attempts. But I clamped down, refusing to let go. I’m afraid if I allow her hand from mine, she’ll run again. And this time, she won’t come back.
“I’m really sorry, Thomas,” she sobs. “I’m so, so, sorry. If this gets out.....your career....your..your...”
My worst fears for her are confirmed with her apology and broken words. I don’t need her to tell me anymore. Once again, I pull her into me. My arms, wrapping around her to protect her. I need to convey to her she’s safe. I need her to know that nothing will ever come between us and that I will protect her at every turn. She’s done nothing but protect me. Now it’s my turn. “It won’t get out,” I whisper into the top of her head. My arms, drawing her tighter to me. “I promise.”
I feel her head shake against my chest, “You, you can’t promise that. Jamie will.....”
“And Jamie doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. Ryann, I promise the contents on that drive will not get out. And I will destroy anyone in my path.” I growl. And that includes her lovely best friend too. If Max has anything to do with what happened to Ryann, he will wish he fled the fucking planet.
“You can’t get involved. The scandal will....”
“Will what?” I cut her off, not wanting to hear another excuse as to why I shouldn’t get involved. Or why I shouldn’t be able to protect or help her when she needs it. “I don’t care about a damn scandal or my name being dragged through the press. The only thing I care about, the only person I care about, is you. Ryann, I will be damned to allow Jamie, Pearl, or anyone else to control any more of your life. It will not happen. I will make sure of that.”
Until my dying breath, I will always protect Ryann. She’ll never know a time of being alone. Even in her darkest days, I will always be by her side.