I survived the fucking anniversary of the car crash by burying myself deep inside Ryann. I know she could sense something wasn’t right with me. But I just blew it off and told her I was tired, or I gave her some other lame bullshit excuse. I didn’t feel like talking, and I still don’t. Not really. I should tell Ryann; she knows about the car crash and whatever little information I’ve shared. I just don’t know if she knows the full extent. I’m not sure what my grandparents have told her or Val. It’s not a topic I openly talk about. I actually can’t remember the last time I’ve discussed the car accident with anyone or the full extent of what I actually remember.
I barely survived that anniversary day sober. I don’t think I can make it through tomorrow sober. I’ve never dealt with my emotions, only numbed them with alcohol. I sure picked a shit time of the year to find my sobriety.
After dealing with the debacle that are the contracts I got myself into, I found myself driving around LA. Feeling lost, and every fucking inch of me was screaming to pull the car over and call Ryann. And where do I go instead? A bar to drown my fucking sorrows. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I’m currently sitting at a bar with a damn drink in my hand. Just staring at the amber liquid in the glass. Tilting the glass side to side as I stare at the liquid in a trance. My mind, wanting me to drink it – just one sip that is all it will take to make me numb. To make me forget.
Then I have my heart screaming for me to stop. Not to take a sip. Not to throw myself back at the beginning of the road to recovery. It’s been a week of a never-ending cycle of fighting off the urges and hours of talking with Andrew. But I don’t want to talk to anyone. I never want to chat with anyone during this time of year.
Picking the glass back up, I hold it under my nose. Inhaling the pungent and bitter smell of whiskey. A familiar acquaintance and a toxic friend I want to seek refuge in. Bringing the glass to my lips. The cold tumbler is a known and sadly, a welcoming touch to my lips. I immediately set it back onto the coaster. Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I see a slew of missed calls and texts from Andrew, from Val, and my heart plummets from the number of missed calls and text messages from Ryann.
I should call Ryann. Have her meet me at my favorite spot I go to when I need to think or just need a moment. A moment, I want with her. I need to feel her in my arms. To hold on tight and know she’s not a mirage. Every day I wake up next to her, it hits me that she’s real. That my life is finally being guided to a path – I want. And me sitting in this bar, isn’t it.
“Something wrong with your drink, Copeland?” The bartender asks as I watch him dry out a clean glass with a white towel. Al might be his name. You’d think with all the times I’ve been here, I’d know. But the truth, I never paid attention to the males, only the females. Flirt to get a free drink, and I’d flirt for a quickie in the bathroom or outback. But I’m not interested in that, and the blonde bartender across the way doesn’t seem to be picking up on those signals. She keeps flashing me a flirtatious smile. One that screams that she seems to know what I want.
And no, I don’t want it.
“No, it’s fine,” I tell him, swirling the glass on the dark wooden bar top. “Trying to quit.”
“Ah, that explains why I haven’t seen you in a while. How’s that going?” It’s like he’s trying to kick me when I’m down.
Keeping my tone dry and sarcastic, “As you can see, it’s going great.” Raising the glass to him, I want to put it to my lips and take a sig. But instead, I place the damn thing back to the bar top. It’s like I’m trying to punish myself. I deserve this punishment. For surviving the car crash and for everything in my life that has gone horribly wrong. Including how I’ve treated the ones I love.
My phone starts vibrating, and I look down at the screen to see Ryann’s name again. Picking the device up, I stare at her name until my voicemail picks up again. She’s left numerous voicemails and is now blowing up my phone with texts and calls. I haven’t listened to any of the messages. If I hear her voice....I can’t. I know she’s worried. I mean, why wouldn’t Ryann be worried? It’s not like her alcoholic of a boyfriend just went off the grid. Nothing to worry about here.
But I also know, even though she’s pissed as hell, there won’t be an ounce of judgment in her voice. There never is, and I don’t know how she does it. She’s never been one to judge when she should. It’s like she’s been there and done it. All of it. The stupid shit Xayla and I did all the time. The stupid shit I still do, and the dumb shit Xayla does. Even with Xayla’s near overdose, Ryann never once judged Xayla for her using.
Collapsing my head into my hands, I groan out in pure aggravation as my fingers twine into my hair. I don’t know why my mind is deciding to overanalyze everything. The fucking car crash, my addiction, Ryann. I mean, how can she be so accepting over this life. Of the struggles. Is that her deep dark secret I know she’s keeping from me? It would make sense, but I feel like she would have told me, right? Haven’t I gain her trust enough for her to tell me? Because if I’m being completely honest, Jamie pimping her out is worst in my books. If she had or has an addiction, that’s water compared to what she was subjected to.
“Here, man. Drink this instead.” Lifting my head, I see Al taking away the whiskey and sliding a tall glass towards me with cleared liquid filled to the brim with ice. My expression is blank as I stare at the drinking glass. “Don’t worry, man. It’s water. How long?”
Again, my expression remains blank as I stare at the water glass. It’s like I’m waiting for it to sprout legs and run off this bar top. Maybe lead me to where I’m supposed to be. To Ryann. “Uhh, huh?” I answer instead.
Al shakes his head slightly. “Sober, Thomas. How long?”
Disconnecting my sights from the motionless water glass, I find an inquisitive and slightly concerned bartender talking to a troubled patron. “Why? Are you going to go and sell the piece of news to the local gabbers?” I snark. I’d say I’d didn’t mean for it to come out the way it sounded, but I did. If there is one thing I learned about this industry, you can’t trust anyone outside of your small circle. And even then, sometimes you can’t trust those people.
Al doesn’t take offense as he lets out a dry cough, laugh of sorts. “Ehh, they seem more intrigued with Ralph Martin and his current affairs.” Better him than me. He’s always wanted to be an A-lister. Now he can deal with being in the fucking worthless shits of mags and gossiper shows and sites. And from the trouble he’s in, they will have an endless supply to run with. “But no. It’s not newsworthy. It’s your life, and I’ve seen you here for about ten years every year at this time. But this is the first time you’re not drinking. So, how long?”
Taking the water glass in my hand, I bring it to my lips and sip on the water. And yes, it’s truly water and not the clever switch-a-roo. “Two and half months. Almost three.”
Al nods his head. Almost like he’s impressed. “That’s great.” He pauses as his eyes lock onto something behind me.
Turning to look over my shoulder, I find Ryann staring at me. She’s frantic. Her phone to her ear as she tells, I’m assuming Val, that she’s located me. She’s still dressed in a form-hugging light pink dress. The skirt has a small slit. Giving just enough sex appeal to make me want to rip that damn thing from her body and keeping her appearance professional all at the same damn time. The sleeves have a lace trim, and there is a small faux diamond belt around her waist. Her hair is straight and down. But I can tell she’s been nervously playing with her hair as she looked for me.
“She with you?” Al asks.
Turning back around, I give him a tight smile. “Yea, she’s with me.”
Al pats the bar top with his hand. “Let me know if you guys need anything.”
“What do I owe you?” I ask before he can manage to disappear behind the bar.
Shaking his head, “It’s on the house. Stay safe, Thomas, and I don’t want to see you back here. Unless it’s to eat. And then you’ll need to be out in the main dining.” I watch him disappear. His warning is a welcoming comfort.
“Hey,” Ryann greets as she takes the empty barstool next to me. “How long have you been here?” She asks, eyeing my water glass.
Sliding the chilled beverage to her, “About four hours. And it’s water.” She looks down at the glass, almost afraid to taste what’s inside. “It’s not alcohol Ryann, you can taste it if you want.”
She slides the glass back towards me, surprising me. “I believe you.” She tells me. “Thomas, why did you run? Why didn’t you come back home?”
Rolling my neck from side to side, I don’t really want to have this conversation. I want to be open with Ryann, but at the same time, I want to be left alone. It’s like an internal argument going on in my head, and both voices are shouting at one another. “Doesn’t feel good, does it?”
Ryann’s jaw sets as she squares her shoulders from my bold and daring statement. A low fucking blow at best.
“Seriously, Thomas?” She grates through her teeth, trying to keep her voice low. “You wanna deliver that line?” I shrug a shoulder as I take another drink from my water glass. “You’re unbelievable.”
Ryann slides off the barstool and turns to walk away. I can feel the anger rolling off her in waves, and yes, it’s all towards me. Reaching for her hand, I stop her and urge her to turn back around. To not leave. And when I look up into her face, she’s angry, but I can tell by her hazel eyes, she’s more hurt by my words.
God, boyfriend of the year.
“I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.” I tell her as I lace our fingers together. A public display of affection we try to avoid. But I don’t care, and it doesn’t seem she cares either. “I needed a moment to myself.”
Ryann gives me an understanding, sympathetic look as she reclaims the barstool next to me, “Thomas, have you talked to Andrew?” I shake my head, “Do you think you need to?” Again, I shake my head. I know this is a situation where I should talk to Andrew, but for some reason, this feels too personal to share. Ryann gives me a tight, sad smile. “Thomas, I think you need to.”
Her words aren’t judgy but encouraging. It’s Ryann doing what she does best. Attempting to get you to see reason on your terms. But at the same time, on hers too.
Looking around the restaurant and bar area, I notice a few eyes mingling our way. Our hands are still connected, and I don’t plan on letting go. “Ryann, I.....” How hard is it to tell her I want to take her with me to the memorial tomorrow? Or to even explain why I’m acting the way I am.
But before I can tell Ryann anymore, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Someone has joined our little bubble. Turning my head, I see the blonde bartender who was giving me swooning eyes across the bar earlier. And with Ryann here, she’s trying to mark a territory she doesn’t have.
“Aww,” she coos, “Did Al cut you off?” I watch her as she starts to pour another tumbler of whiskey. And I’m not amused, and the blonde bartender doesn’t seem to be taking the hint. “Here, on the house.” The blonde says, followed by a flirty wink.
As the blonde bartender slides the glass towards me, it’s intercepted by Ryann. Her eyes are fiery hot and searing an invisible hole into the bartender’s head. “Can I help you?” Ryann demands, “Is there a reason you brought yourself over here?”
“To serve the patrons, and...”
Ryann cuts her off. “And there is a guy down the bar who’s been tryin’ to flag you down. You’re only concern coming down here is to make dreamy lost girl eyes at Thomas. New flash, hunny. It’s ain’t happening. So move on.”
And I think Ryann is getting jealous. I have to keep the amused smile suppressed because this is a Ryann I’ve never seen before. She’s so possessive, and it’s a fucking turn-on.
I watch the blonde’s face creep with a deep scarlet red of embarrassment, “I was just tryin’....”
Ryann waves a dismissive hand, “Take the drink, and take it down to the gentleman waving you down. Tell him that it’s on the house.”
The bartender takes the glass in her hands. And with a permanent scowl on her face, she makes her way down the bar. Once the blonde is out of sight, a smile breaks across my face. Ryann is still glaring at the woman until her gaze locks onto me. “What was that?” I can’t keep my amusement hidden any longer.
Ryann scowls, “Nothing.”
Shaking my head, “No, that was you jealous. Ryann Anderson got jealous.”
I watch her bite her lower lip. I know what she’s doing, and she knows what that does to me, “I don’t get jealous.”
“You do, and you just did,” I tell her.
“And Barbie wanted to fuck you,” the venom in her voice is not lost.
Taking my hand from hers, I rest it on the exposed skin of her thigh. Out of sight from prying eyes with her knees under the bar top. Leaning into her, I shield what I’m about to do more. I trail my fingers up the softness of her thigh and under the skirt of her dress. Her breath catches the higher my hand travels until I’m delivering soft strokes along the apex of her thigh. “Babydoll, you’ll only ever be the woman in my life.” I watch her bite her lower lip as she fights to keep her composure. “Watching the jealous side come out to play, well, it’s a fucking turn on,” I whisper into her ear.
Ryann lets out a throaty laugh as she pushes my hand from under her skirt and slides off the barstool. Her legs a little wobbly under her, “I don’t get jealous, Mr. Copeland.”
I mentally growl the way my name leaves her lips with such seduction; I’m already fucking hard for her. And I want to hear her scream my name.
Scrambling after her, I guide her out of the restaurant by her elbow. Leaning back down to her ear, “Give me the keys. I’m driving.” She looks at me, slightly confused but yet surprised. “I have plans for you and your seductive ways.” I purr.
Because I will hear her scream my name before we get home.