Val immediately dodges from under my arm when she finds Xayla sitting shoulder to shoulder with Ryann on the bed, smiling, with her cellphone in front of her. I watch Val practically jump up onto the bed and lean over to see what the two are gushing over.
“Didn’t you wear that dress to some awards show last year?” Val asks with a snicker.
Ahh, so Xayla is showing them the dress she’ll be wearing for the carpet event next week. Looking at Travis, he seems highly annoyed with the bubbly conversation. I’m not sure if it’s because Xayla can be a little too exuberant at times for him or because he still looks like he hasn’t gotten any sleep. But his attention is immediately snapped when he sees Jonathan walking in behind me. His brows go straight, and I swear, his jaw is ticking with a warning.
Clearly, my theory about Jonathan not supposed to be here is spot on. But then again, I’m not sure who Travis was expecting to take Val around New York. We sent Heather home.
“And what are you doing here?” Travis commands.
The girls all stop talking, and I catch Val looking over her shoulder with her bottom lip between her teeth. I can tell by the reluctance in her eyes, she’s trying to decide if she should speak up and deal with a tired and cranky Travis. Val loves to push Travis’s buttons, but she knows when to not approach. This is a do not approach moment. Even I don’t like to deal with a grouchy Travis. But lucky for me, I sign his paychecks.
“I texted him and asked him to come escort Val and Xayla out of the hospital,” I lie. But it’s a lie that seems to ease Travis into continuing his sulking in the hospital armchair. “Did you get any sleep last night?” I ask him.
Travis gruffs out a puff of air, “Enough. I’m fine.”
“Travis,” Ryann’s voice is soft and welcoming and immediately puts out the potential fire brewing as I watch Travis’s grumpy face soften. “If I ask you, will you go back to the hotel and take the day off to rest?”
“Please....” She interjects sweetly. “Travis, you were in the car too, and I know you have not left this hospital unless you absolutely had to. You need to rest and take care of yourself too. Not just us. Plus, I can see Samuel standing guard outside the door.” Ryann calls, “Hi, Samuel.”
“Miss. Anderson,” I hear Samuel greet in his deep, gravelly monotone voice that comes with being on the job. “How are you feeling today?”
Xayla snickers, “Oh, so formal. He reminds me of Travis when you first started. Always so serious. How many times did you have to tell him to call you Ryann?”
I catch an eye roll from Ryann as she ignores Xayla, “Better with each day. But I’m more curious as to why you are here. How is your daughter? I heard she was sick.”
“She’s doing much better and back to her rambunctious self,” Samuel says with a slight fondness.
I watch a hidden sadness wash into Ryann’s eyes, but as quickly as I saw it, it’s gone. “And if I sent Travis back to the hotel, you’ll be okay to stand guard?” Samuel stays silent, knowing that it’s best not to answer that question. He’s already in hot water for coming when he had orders to stay in Cali. I’m not sure validating Ryann will launch him into Travis’s good graces. But Ryann takes his silence as an answer. One that she wants. “See, he’ll be fine. Now, go back to the hotel and sleep. And I mean sleep.” She orders.
Travis slowly rises from the armchair, his breath catching as I watch him breathe through the stiffness of his sore joints due to the crash. His hand is still bruised to hell from where he punched through the window, and I’m honestly not sure how in the hell he did not shatter the bones in his hand.
A small smile graces across his face, one that I have not seen on Travis since before his daughter passed away. “Sir,” Travis suddenly says to me, “If I’m not needed, I think I’ll do as Ryann has instructed and go back to my hotel room for the day.”
The confusion on everyone’s face, even mine, is not missed. But the smile radiating on Ryann’s face is one of accomplishment because I don’t think she was entirely convinced that Travis would listen to her order.
Shaking my head, “No, Ryann is right, take the day off. And I mean, take the day off.” I clarify. I don’t want him to work on anything that has to deal with Pearl, Max, or trying to track down who received the other half of the twenty thousand dollars. Travis nods his understanding before leaving the room.
“Well, he does take orders from someone other than Thomas. Think I can get him to get me a latte?” Xayla chimes in. I frown at her as I take a seat in the now vacant and uncomfortable armchair, “What?” She whines. “Too soon?”
Rolling my eyes, “So, what trash bag do I have the pleasure of walking you down the carpet in this year?” The smirk on my face is undeniable, and the comment wins me a smile from Ryann. Hell, if anything I say puts a smile onto Ryann’s face, I will not apologize for it.
Xayla sticks her tongue at me as she pulls her phone back up, “But I thought something a little simpler this year.” Ohh, so no puffy ballgown this year? At least I won’t have to worry about getting lost in tulle. But is there a train on this gown? Because my track record on stepping and tearing the garment is a nine out of ten.
“It’s beautiful, Xayla,” Ryann beams with enthusiasm.
“Ya,” Val adds in. “A simple black dress is the way to go! Now for the million-dollar question, how high are the damn shoes, you’re wearing?”
“Nothing too extreme. And don’t worry, Thomas. I’ll still be shorter than you in the heels.” Xayla says with a snicker.
One of the only rules that Xayla seems to be able to follow. No shoes that would make her taller than me.
I don’t care if she wears shoes that will make her taller than me. Hell, she’s barely shorter than I am. But the last time she wore tall ass eight-inch stilettos, Xayla was very much taller than I, and her dress flowed ridiculously long behind her. That year, I was not the reason for the tear in her train. That was all on Xayla and her sharp heels as she tripped going up a couple of stairs. Also may not have helped that we did a little pre-partying before the event.
Sitting back in the uncomfortable armchair, I watch the three girls go back and forth over accessories to pair with the black dress. A dress that I’ve yet to see, and strangely, I don’t care because it won’t be Ryann wearing it.
I wanted to surprise Ryann and take her as my plus one, my date. I wanted to talk to her about the idea when we got to our hotel. But when she brought up the idea of us going public, I was a little hesitant to even present the idea to her because I suddenly had an overwhelming need to protect her. From every fucking thing. Especially after the little fucking stunt Martha had pulled.
But the thought was planted like a seed, and the idea kept growing and growing the more I thought about the possibility of the world knowing about our relationship. Ryann would have always had an out if she decided she didn’t want to go public or to the event. I would never force her to do anything she doesn’t want.
“No, I can go in. I’m Jennifer Anderson, Ryann’s sister.” Jen’s timid and shaky voice snaps me from my thought. Clearly, the sight of Samuel’s tall and bulky presence right outside the door is making her uneasy.
I watch Ryann’s, and Val’s face washed over with an oh shit look at the sound of Jen’s voice. The goal was to get Xayla out of here before Jen or anyone from her family arrived. Clearly, we failed.
“Samuel, she’s cleared to come in,” Jonathan confirms from the corner he’s standing and patiently waiting.
Listening to the soft thuds of Jen’s feet, as she enters the room, “Since when did.....” I watch her freeze to the spot she’s standing as Jonathan intercepts the tray of drinks in her hand from spilling all over the floor as Jen makes Xayla. “You’re......you’re.....Holy Jesus Crist!”
Xayla arches a brow, “Uhh no, I’m Xayla. Is this your sister?” She asks Ryann as she looks Jen up and down with an uninterested look.
“Uhh, ya. Jennifer.” Ryann calls to her sister and forcing her out of her fangirling moment. “This is Xayla. Xayla, this is my sister Jennifer.”
“Nice to meet you,” Xayla calls, not moving from the spot on the bed. “Did you bring me a latte?” She asks as her face goes into full-on resting bitch face mode. A look, Xayla claims, strikes fear into anyone and gets her whatever she demands. But I can tell that she’s fucking with Jen, and I have to keep my face even and from giving away my amusement because this is entertaining.
Panic rises in Jen’s face, “Ohh, shit. No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d be here. Actually, I’m never sure who will be here. Where is Travis?” She asks in a rush.
“Ryann gave him the day off. Why? Is there something you needed?” I ask curiously. This is the first time she’s ever asked to speak with Travis. Most of the time, when Travis is present, Jen takes one look at him and looks like she’s about to piss her pants. Again, it’s very amusing.
She shakes her head, “No. I umm...well, if he’s not here, I do have an extra black coffee. I’m sorry, it’s not a latte. If you want a latte, I can run to the café. It’s not that far from the hospital or....”
“My poor girl, slow down. I was only kiddin’.” Xayla muses. “Black coffee is fine. Has to be better than what’s offered here. So, where is the rest of the Anderson clan?”
Hopefully not with her. Or at least, Jen’s husband. He can fly back and stay in that small town, living under a rock for all I care. Maybe the rock could crush him along the way too.
“Uhh.....in their hotel rooms.”
Wait, rooms as in plural? So are her and Max not sharing a room? And by the perplexed look on Ryann’s face, she caught the possible hidden meaning too.
“I snuck out before Max or Mom woke.” Jen attempts to clarify.
Val lets out a little laugh, “Well, you are a glutton for punishment. But I love you for bringing us coffee, thank you!” Val slides off the bed and heads over towards Jonathan to collect the tray of drinks. Slowly, she starts to hand one out to everyone present, even Samuel.
“Oh,” Jen calls as she scrambles for a cup with a black X on it. “This is for you, Ry. I’m not sure if you’d want it. I figured you’re still not allowed to have coffee yet, but it’s some sort of flavored water. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to drink it. But the owner said it’s the equivalent to an electrolyte drink.”
Ryann smiles as she reaches for the cup, “Thank you.” I watch Ryann take a drink, and I’m waiting for a reaction. Anything to tell me that she hates it or loves it. “This tastes like umm......oh, what was the drink Grandma used to make us all the time as kids. It was very tropical.”
“Was the drink orange?” Xayla muses.
Jen sits on the edge of Ryann’s bed, “It was homemade, right?”
“Ya, I think it was some kind of lemonade. I bet Mom would know.”
Xayla suddenly claps her hands together, startling nearly everyone in the room, “Alright, Val, are you ready for a fun-filled day of shopping? And to give me a tour of Alex’s condo? Ohh, I can’t wait. Now, is this hunk coming too?” Xayla coos as she walks closer to Jonathan trailing the tip of her finger across his torso and biting her bare lower lip. Jonathan doesn’t budge from his stance. Instead, he arches a brow at Xayla’s attempt to flirt with him.
“She’s coming along?” He asks me unamused by Xayla’s attempts, and I swear I catch a slight smile on Val’s face.
Smirking, I take a sip of coffee, “Appears to be. Good luck.”
“Hey!” Xayla shrieks, “I’m not that bad. I’ve already promised not to use your credit card.”
Pointing towards Val, “And I’m holding you to safeguard my credit card. I don’t need this one over here buying another three-legged dog statue shoe rack thing. What the hell were you even thinking? That thing was ugly.”
Xayla shrugs, “And I still have that piece. Sits in the entryway of my home. In my defense,” she adds for clarification, “I was high and had just got done binging FRIENDS. It was fate. All it needs is some wheels so I can move from it room to room.”
Coughing out a laugh, “Not a twenty-thousand-dollar fate.”
I hear Jen inhale her coffee before coughing uncontrollably, causing Xayla to start smacking her on the back until Jen waves her off. “I’m fine. Just wasn’t expecting that bombshell of a price.”
“Alright, as riveting as this conversation has been, we really need to get going, Xayla. I need to meet the manager of the condo in like forty minutes for him to go over everything with me.”
“Oh, okay. Ry, see you when we bust you out of this joint. Jennifer, it was a pleasure. And Thomas, call me if you need me.” Xayla sings.
Nodding, “See you guys later.”
“Oh and Xayla,” Ryann calls out as Val and Jonathan leave the room, “That one, he is Valerie’s.”
Xayla winks and smiles before disappearing out of the room. I watch Ryann take a long drink from her cup before sitting it on the rolling tray beside her bed and slumps back into her pillows. “So, rooms? Are you and Max not staying in the same room?”
I watch Jen move from the edge of the bed before crashing into the couch. Her eyes are starting to gloss over, but Ryann remains lounged back in her bed. Taking another sip of my coffee, I study Jen as she starts to look down at the floor in front of her. Her fingers are twisting the small white pearl on her necklace as she chews on the inside of her cheek.
“I made him get a second room after he punched Thomas.” She admits with an unsure shakiness in her voice.
I catch Ryann moving out of the corner of my eye, “Why?”
Jen shrugs her shoulder, “Because you didn’t hear the things he was saying. I tried to calm him down after the fight, but he was so enraged and just started to mumble off incoherent ramblings that I didn’t understand. I told him that if he couldn’t be civil towards Thomas that he could sleep in another room, and he got another room. I’ve tried to talk to him since, but he’s shut down. I’m not sure what’s going on in his head, and I don’t think I want to know.” Jen pauses for a moment as I watch her move on from her necklace to her wedding rings and starts to spin them. “I’m sorry, Ry. I told Max last night that he should just go back home with Dad if he can’t behave. I’m not sure what he plans on doing, but he may not even be in New York anymore.”
“You didn’t knock on his door?” I ask with slight confusion. If Ryann acted out this way, I would be knocking on her door, trying to force her to communicate with me. But it’s like Jen has given up on her marriage.
Jen shakes her head, “No. Anyway, enough about me and the drama that is my husband. How are you feeling? You’re out of the sling! That’s great!”
Ryann cocks her head off to the side, studying her sister, and I can tell that it’s starting to make Jen feel uneasy. “Better. I should be discharged sooner than they thought. Hopefully, Sunday or Monday.”
“Ohh, that’s wonderful. Umm....I have something to run by you, and you can totally say no. I mean, I would get it if you said no.”
Ryann looks at me with her brow furrow, and even I’m not sure where this is going. “Erm...okay?”
“Dad wants to know if he can call or FaceTime you when you’re out of the hospital. I told him that I would ask you first and....”
Ryann shakes her head in disbelief, “Wait, what?”
Scooting forward in the armchair, I draw Ryann’s attention towards me as my arms rest across my legs, sensing her rising panic. “Babydoll, your dad wanted to come out to New York with your mom but couldn’t.” I elaborate as I watch her eyebrows shoot into her hairline, “He wants to talk with you once you’re out of the hospital. But it’s your choice.”
“No, no, no,” Ryann states with the shake of her head, “I can’t.....Thomas, please.” She begs me with an unease I hate to see in her eyes.
Getting to my feet, I slide into the bed next to her and feel her melt into me. Placing a kiss to the side of her head, “I know you’re scared, angry, and feeling every emotion possible. But I will be there with you. Babydoll, every step that you take, I’m right here with you.” I pause, feeling her fingers grip my forearms tighter. I really wish Jen would have run this by me before bringing it up with Ryann. “And if you don’t want to talk with your dad, you don’t have to. But if you do, I’ll protect you every step of the way.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be making this promise when I couldn’t protect her from the car crash.
I feel her breathe in a ragged breath, “Promise?”