“Val, this isn’t up for debate. You will have security 24/7, and you will be staying here for at least two nights. Until I can make sure your apartment is up to code with security measures.” Val crosses her arms in protest, and I can tell that she’s about to argue some more. “Your other option is staying with Xayla.”
Val throws her hands up in aggravation, “I’m not a fucking toddler. I can handle myself.”
“Then why did you call me when you couldn’t get out of your apartment?” A dick move on my part, but I don’t care. I need her to understand that I’m only thinking of her safety.
“Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean I’m still not an ass. So, what will it be?”
“Fine,” she huffs out. “But only for a couple of nights. The same goes for the security.”
Laughing, “Oh, no, no. Val, the security is indefinite until I say otherwise.” Her mouth flops open. “You and Ryann were attacked in public....”
“So was Xayla!” She interjects with annoyance.
“And Xayla will now have her team with her at all times too. The press are hounding her just as much, if not worst. You and Ryann will be with a team at all times. You will also have a driver....”
Val once again throws her arms up in the air with aggravation, “Oh, hell no. Thomas, I draw the line there. This is getting ridiculous. I can drive myself, and I can.....”
“And why couldn’t you drive yourself today?”
Val frowns as she flips me off, “Fuck you. Are you going to be an ass all fucking day?”
Shrugging a shoulder, “Depends. Are you going to continue to fight me on this?” Again, she flips me off. “As I was saying, your team is Jonathan and Heather Meyers....”
“What!?” She shrieks. “You gave me a married team? What the hell, Thomas? Do you have any idea what this will do to my dating life? Oh, hi, don’t mind the sexually frustrated couple hovering nearby. They’ve been guarding me 24/7 because my dick of a boss is being overprotective, and they haven’t been able to do the deed since they were assigned as my detail.” I watch her slouch into the armchair of the office chair and cross her arms in defeat like an ill-tempered child.
“Are you done?” Val mimics me like a damn toddler and then waves for me to continue. “They aren’t married; they are a brother and sister team.....”
“Oh, that’s even better. So, now I’m going to be dealing with two bickering siblings who can’t agree if they need to turn left or right to get to Mulholland Drive. Hell, they’d probably argued who ate the last protein bar or some shit.”
Oh, I’m slowly starting to lose my patience with her. “Jonathan will act mostly as your driver, and Heather will essentially follow you wherever you go. They are a highly sought-after team and are extremely professional.” I want to assume that since Travis highly recommends them, the sibling bickering is essentially non-existent.
“Fine, whatever. Are we done here?” She says, exasperated and finally giving up and caving to the newly added measures.
“Yes. We’re done.”
Val jumps to her feet, ready to get the hell of my office and away from me. That is until a question comes popping into my head.
“No, wait.” Val turns to face me, her blues icy and chilling with an enrage annoyance. I’m not really sure how to ask this, and for all I know, I could be opening up a can of worms. Because what if Ryann has never told Val about this Benjamin guy? If that is the case, asking Val this question, and if she doesn’t have the answer, could cause her to prop deeper for the answer. “Do you know a Benjamin?”
“Uhh, personally? No. Why? Is there someone claiming.....”
Shaking my head, Val closes the office door before walking back towards my desk. “Has Ryann ever mentioned a Benjamin?”
“Umm....No, I don’t think....ohh, wait, there was a Benji. That’s short of Benjamin, I think. Why?”
Running my hands over my face, I decide to let Val in on what Travis has found. “Travis came across a police report from Colfax.”
Val’s brow scrunches with slight confusion, “Ya, he would. Ry said she reported Jamie only to drop the charges later. I thought you already knew that.”
Shaking my head, “This one is different. Ryann didn’t file this. A Benjamin Arnold filed it.” Val looks at me with confusion. “He named Jamie Maddox and Maxwell Johnson as the suspects of the complaint.”
Val’s mouth flops open as her eyes look as if they’re about to come out of their sockets, “What? How-how is that even possible? Ryann has never.....”
“I don’t think she knows about it or remembers the event that caused someone to go to the police on her behalf. The details are sickening, and I couldn’t read the full statement. But two weeks after the report had been filed, it was dismissed.”
Swallowing the hard lump in my throat, “My guess, she never came forward as a witness, or it never got back to her. I don’t know. Travis is still digging....”
Val starts waving her hands frantically, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You’re having Travis look into Max? Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what the hell Ryann will do if she finds out?”
Pointing a finger at Val, “And she’s not going to. Not until I tell her.”
“Are you trying to keel me over before I hit thirty-five? I mean, what’s next. Are you going to tell me that you stole her sister’s phone number from my phone?” Her baby blues form a piercing glare that could shoot ice spears straight through you.
Fucking Xayla and her big ass mouth. She kept Ryann’s secret; she couldn’t have kept my minor theft from Val?
“Yea, Xayla told me. What are you thinking? Have you lost your ever livin’ mind?”
In a way, I guess I have. I’m madly in love, and I will do anything to protect the woman I love. Even if that means crossing lines that need and should have been crossed long ago. Ryann can be pissed off at me all she fucking wants. But I’m going to be damned that she’s constantly subjected to blatant lies when I know the answers are within reach.
“Ryann is going to freak the fuck out. Did you actually call Jen?” Nodding my head, Val’s hands shoot into her hair and creates a mess of a nest in pure murderous frustration. “Oh, my GOD! Thomas! You’ve fuckin’ lost it. You’re on your own with this one. Don’t drag me in this......fuck; I’m already in this. Shit, I fucking hate you right now. You couldn’t have just lied to me and tell me no?”
Sliding forward in my chair, I rest my arms across my desk and try to find some calm because Val and I getting into a yelling match isn’t a wise decision. “Val, did you ever ask yourself how Jamie was able to locate Ryann down to the block?” Her face falls with realization, “Or how he knew where you and Ryann would be? I’m betting he was following the two of you, and you guys had no idea. I’m betting someone told him where Ryann was.”
“Bu-but she hasn’t talked to anyone back home since Christmas....well, Max, at least. I think she talked to her mom a couple of weeks back. You don’t think....” Val covers her mouth as she gasps out.
“No, I don’t think Betty would turn on her daughter like that. My concern is Max. I think he’s still playing a role other than the best friend.”
“This is all too much. How in the hell has Ryann been dealing with this?”
She hasn’t. Not really. Her memories have been suppressed and have only recently started to surface. Until she started working for me, she hid from her past and acted as if it never happened. Everything seems to be colliding all at once. But the one thing that shouldn’t have happened is Jamie.
“I don’t think she is. Not really. She’s terrified.”
Val looks over her shoulder, “Where is she anyway?”
Sighing, “Still in bed asleep. It was late when we finally got to bed, and she spent most of the time crying.” Rubbing the nape of my neck, I try to ease the tension building from the lack of sleep and the awkward sleeping arrangement. Ryann fell asleep on my chest with me holding her, and that is where she stayed. “I’m scared, Val. I have no clue what the hell I’m doing or what to do. I’ve canceled the trip to Georgia for the end of the week, and I’ve emailed Leisa to tell her that I’ll only be going to the studio when I’m needed. I don’t think I can leave her side.”
Val gives me a thinned tight smile, “You really do love her, don’t you?”
“Love isn’t a strong enough word for how I feel towards Ryann.”
“Have you told her yet?”
Once the words left my lips, I haven’t stopped telling her how much I love her. I don’t want her to forget that she’s loved. I need her to remember and know that she’ll never be alone.
Val all of a sudden starts to clap her hands together, “Ohhh! You have. Oh, oh....wait, was it not a good thing? You’re looking like you ate a sour grape or something.”
Laughing because it feels good, and I know I shouldn’t be laughing with everything going on, but is it so wrong to feel like life is falling into place even amongst the chaos? Because that is how all of this feels. Just another large hiccup in our relationship. We’ve dealt with drama and the tabloids before. We’ve gotten through it. We will...we have to get through this.
“No, it was good. A part of me was still afraid that I would wake, and she would be gone.” Pausing, I sit back in my chair and find the photo of Ryann and me smiling and laughing on my phone. It’s a photo I wished we could jump right back into and stay permanently. “What scares me is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know if Jamie will stay in jail here and make bail or if he’ll be extradited to Indiana. And I’m afraid what I will do if I ever come face to face with him because it won’t be pretty.”
I watch Val twist her lips off to the side before sucking them between her teeth. She’s fidgeting with her hands as she avoids my eye contact.
“Ermm....he made bail early this morning.” She says, looking up at me with tears in her eyes. “I don’t know if he’s still in Cali or if he’s back in Indiana. I saw the reports about other women coming forward, but I don’t know....I just don’t know Thomas. I thought with the evidence that the police had, he’d be in there longer. I mean, he assaulted Ryann. There’s evidence of that. I don’t understand.”
“Because the legal system is a joke. It’s like that police report being dismissed instead of being investigated. I’m sure if the police really looked into Jamie and Max, we wouldn’t be dealing with any of this. The evidence was there. They didn’t need Ryann to end her misery.” The words are spoken harshly and through my teeth because each time I remind myself of that fucking report, I’m ready to send my fist flying through another wall.
Val gets up from the armchair and walks around to me, and hugs me. I’m not really one for affection or hugs, but I return this one. “You got this, Thomas. Ryann needs you, and you’re doing what any boyfriend would do. And you guys also have your friends and family. We all love you,” she says, pulling away. “but I think if we had to choose, Ryann is our fav.”
Chuckling, “Gee, thanks. But it’s hard not to fall in love with her.”
“Just telling you how it is, but I need to call my mom and let her know that I’m fine. She was blowing my phone up all day yesterday, and with Ryann and releasing the PR, by the end of the day, I was exhausted. Ohh, and have you heard about Allison?”
“No. Why would I?” Now I’m more confused and slightly even worried.
Val gives me a small smile, “Her segment last night was passionate and raw. She really defended Ryann right out of the gate, and she’s continuing to do it through her social networks.” What does Val mean Allision is continuing to do it through her social accounts? “But she just up and quit Up Entertainment. I don’t think it was planned because the show cut out after she walked off the stage.”
“What? She quit? Did she say why?” I’m in complete shock. While Allison and I don’t always see eye to eye on nearly anything. We have a mutual respect for one another. At least with Allison, when she broke entertainment breaking news, she had all her facts correct.
I watch as Val pulls her hair over one shoulder, her fingers running through the ends. “I don’t know. But she said something about wanting to continue fighting for justice and helping women of sexual assault. I know she’s been funding the case against Ralph Martin and providing lawyers and resources when needed. I think she’s decided to make it her full-time mission now. I think what she dug up on Jamie was the final stray for Allision because she was pissed during her opening monologue. Her speech was very passionate, and she called out to Ryann, telling her that she stands with her and to not let anyone bring her down. To essentially lean on those who love and support her.” Val pauses as she looks back out of the partially opened office door. “I don’t know what Ryann said or did to get on Allision’s good side, but Ryann found an ally.”
That she really did. I’m going to have to send Allison a gift basket or something as a thank you. “Thank you, Val.”
She beams at me before disappearing into the hall. Sitting back in my chair, I crane my head up towards the ceiling and pulling a trick out of Ryann’s book.
I count to ten.