Escaping too You ~book 3

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Chapter twenty-one

I’ve been sitting next to Ryann in this meeting for the last forty minutes. And honestly, it’s not what I expected it to be.

Which, I’m not really sure what I was expecting.

Today’s meeting is taking place in what looks like an old church that’s been wedged between two modern-day apartment buildings. Looking up from the metal chair I’m sitting in. The stained-glass biblical dome is really the only evidence left of what this building once was. That and the random crosses embedded into the wooden beams. Even with the darkness of the wooden beams, the vast cathedral-style room is bright, warm, and welcoming.

When we walked into the meeting, I was honestly nervous. I wasn’t sure what me being here would entail or if I would draw more unwanted attention Ryann did not want. I was even waiting to see if she’d pull her hand from mine to create distance between us, but if anything, her grip became tighter. But no one paid us any mind. At least, they didn’t come bombarding me for photos or autographs. I felt normal. Ryann and I felt normal.

Ryann was one of the first ones to share, and I sat on the edge of my seat, listening to her speak and exposing emotions for all to see. Occasionally, Amy, the woman who is leading this meeting, would ask Ryann questions. Forcing Ryann to dig deeper and to find the real meaning for what she’s feeling. I could see the stress that was once on her should lift like a damn butterfly and fly far, far away. Ryann looked so at ease and back in control of her life again after she shared. It was as if the missing puzzle piece was finally placed back where it belongs.

Watching Ryann get up in front of a room of twenty people or so, I kinda understand why she openly attends these meetings. The support is overwhelming, and no matter what anyone’s story is, different or not, there is no judgment here.

I feel Ryann lean into my shoulder, “It’s almost over. Amy will say a prayer, and everyone who wants will mingle, or we can leave.”

“Okay,” Is all I can manage to get out. If Ryann wants to stay and mingle, she can. I’m not sure how involved she gets into these meetings. People seem to gravitate towards her, so it won’t surprise me if we stay after the group prayer.

“Now, if everyone could please bow their head, we will end this meeting with a prayer,” Amy instructs. Her voice is soft and welcoming. One that makes you feel like you could spill all your secrets. Not that I would want to with her. The only person I want to know my deepest, darkest secrets will only ever be Ryann.

But I wonder if this is a common trait with sobriety coaches or mentors, this empathy and ability to connect with essentially everyone they talk to. I mean, it’s like they can automatically relate before you even share. At times it’s a little unnerving.

“Amen,” everyone says in unison.

Crap, if my mom knew I missed a prayer, she would have slapped me upside my head right now.

I watch everyone around us get up and head towards a sidewall with a large table with coffee, water, and random little snacks to eat. The room erupts into a soft hum of whispers as people chat with one another. Some of the faces are serious, as others are laughing. But the vibe of the room is still peaceful and very much welcoming.

In a sense, it feels like you’re stepping out of one chaotic and demented world and stepping into a world that welcomes you with open arms.

“Are you ready?” Ryann asks as she leans into me again.

Placing a quick kiss to the side of her head, “Ready when you are.”

Getting to my feet, I hold my hand out and help her to her feet. Ryann’s balance falters slightly, and I easily steady her as she winces. Telling me, she’s feeling some sort of discomfort. I wonder if she took her pain meds this morning or if she decided to skip again. “Don’t give me that look.” She warns.

Laughing, I wasn’t aware I was giving a look, “I’m not giving you a look.”

“Yes, you are,” she says with a slight shake of her head. “I took my meds this morning. Promise.” I can’t help but laugh out when she throws her fingers up in a Scout’s Honor salute. Though, the salute looks more like a tribute from the Hunger Games. “I’m hungry, that’s all.”

Pointing towards the table behind us, “Well, looks like there is an appetizing course just waiting for us.”

Ryann looks over her shoulder before a very unamused look greets me. “You go and eat that and get back with me. Can we get lunch?”

“As in a date?” I muse. I watch the corners of Ryann’s mouth twerk into a smile as she nervously starts to sway. She’s adorable when she’s working on getting her way with me.

“I mean.... Manhattan is the city we had our first official date in.”

Reaching for her hand, “That it is. I mean, I do know a pizza place around the corner....”

Ryann gasps out as she places her hand over her heart, “Why Mr. Copeland, you know the way to my heart.”

I can’t help but laugh at the sound of Ryann’s giggles. A sound that is always putting a smile on my face or making me feel warm and alive. Leading Ryann out of the row we were sitting in, I find Travis nearby and eyeing everyone in the room like they’re hiding a bomb. Samuel is standing guard outside, monitoring everyone who comes and goes and radioing anything suspicious back to Travis.

There were times during the meeting that I would turn in my chair, and it looked as if Travis were talking into his sleeve and to himself. I’m curious to know how many people in attendance today are now paranoid after witnessing our bodyguard whispering into his sleeve.

Ryann leads the way towards the doors. Her hand fitted perfectly into mine. And I can’t help but feel a strange and enjoyable feeling of possessiveness wafting from Ryann as I catch side and flirtatious eyes from some of the women in this room. Most of them, I’m sure, are trying to figure out if it is really Thomas Copeland in the same room as them.

But unlike the fans on the street, the ones who have balls to actually scream out my name or come up for a selfie or autograph. These women stay back, but Ryann isn’t oblivious to the looks that are being cast my way.

“Ryann!” A woman calls from behind us. Prompting her to stop and prompting Travis to move from his spot against the wall.

Keeping her hand tangled in mine, Ryann turns to face the woman calling out her name. “Amy.” Ryann greets before embracing her into a hug.

Amy is young, and she can’t be much older than me by the look of it. That or she has one killer skin routine. Either way, she looks young and like life has been a dick to her. But that doesn’t stop her from making life colorful. That much is evident by the obnoxious neon tie-dye dress she’s wearing. I mean, the positive side of the dress, she can easily be plucked from a crowd.

“How are you doing? I’m sorry to just disappear and just reappear.” Ryann continues.

Amy waves her hands, dismissing Ryann’s apologies. “Nonsense. Don’t apologize. I’m glad you came today.” I catch Amy scanning me up and down. Almost like she’s unsure what to make of me. “Hi, I’m Amy.” I watched her thrust her hand in front of me.

Taking her hand, “Thomas.”

“And you two....” Amy trails off slightly.

“Dating.” Why do I feel like I’m talking to someone unable to finish a complete sentence in front of me? I hate this whole jumping around and hope that I land on a random square with the correct word. But I’m not denying our relationship any further. The last time I wanted to keep us hidden, the unthinkable happened.

“Erm.....not what I meant,” Amy clarifies. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t.....” I watch her shake her pixie blonde head from side to side. “We don’t get many actors at this location. So, please excuse me. I’m a little star-struck.”

Clearly.

“Amy, breathe,” Ryann instructs sweetly. “Like Val, he was curious and wanted to tag along.”

Amy’s face brightens, “Oh, how is Val?”

“She’s doing well. I’ll tell her that you said hi.”

Now I’m curious how well Ryann knows Amy. Is this where she came for meetings during her stay in New York? Maybe Carl or Teresa recommended her.

“Oh, yes, do that. Val is such a hoot.” A hoot is one way of describing her. “Maybe we can catch up and get lunch or something.”

Ryann smiles, “Sounds perfect. But we need to get going. Thank you again for everything you do.”

“It was nice to meet you, Thomas. And Ryann, call me if you need anything.”

Ryann waves goodbye to Amy as we watch her walk off and join another group near the refreshment table. The room is soft with the hum of chatter as I look around the room once more before I feel the gentle pull against my hand.

“Ready?”

Nodding my head, I let Ryann lead the way out of the building and onto the busy sidewalk, where Samuel hands me my black baseball cap. I was tempted to wear it inside, but I was taught to never wear a ball cap inside a church. And even though this building does not act as a church any longer, it’s an old respectable habit that won’t die.

Running a hand through my hair, I place the ballcap onto my head as I look up at the crystal blue sky. It’s hot but not too hot that you’re miserable. But as I bring my head back down, I catch Ryann wrapped in a warm glow of sunlight. Her hair catching the rays of the sun, showcasing the red in her dark auburn hair as the wind gently blows her long black cotton tee dress around her gorgeous legs.

I can’t help but smile at her beauty.

“What?” Ryann asks with a giggle. “Do I have something on me?” She asks, looking down the front of her dress.

Holding my hand out, she cocks her head off to the side before taking it. Pulling her into me, I rest my other hand against her hip. Tilting my head down, I slowly hoover my lips above hers. Forcing her to laugh as the bill of the hat hits her forehead. Ryann swipes it from my head as my lips meet hers.

Our first official PDA that extends past secret hand holding under her blanket or sweatshirt and on display for everyone to see.

Pulling away, “And you’re so damn beautiful.”

Ryann shies away slightly from the compliment. Her cheeks flush a soft pink against her pale skin. “I think your eyesight is broken.” She muses as she places the cap sideways on my head.

Laughing, I straighten the cap as I stand up straight, “Nope, it was fixed the moment you collided with me in that alleyway.”

She points a finger my way, “I believe it was you who collided into me.”

“You’re right,” I say with a cocky smile as I lead her down the sidewalk, with Samuel leading the way in front of Travis and us following behind.

“I knew it!” Ryann exclaims. “Why did you?”

Shrugging a shoulder, “I was coming out of that restaurant, and you caught my eye immediately. I couldn’t help but watch you....”

“Creeper,” Ryann sings.

The first day I saw Ryann, I knew she was someone troubled, someone so young who had seen so much in life that she shouldn’t have. She was Hollywood unhealthy skinny; her hair was a dingy blonde with inch roots growing out. She was wearing jeans with tears and a tight-fitted teal t-shirt that exposed a small portion of her midriff. Someone I thought was so plain and so....not who I thought would ever be my type caught my eye.

Ryann was walking down the alley, her eyes focused on the ground in front of her. She was dodging and weaving around the potholes filled with grimy water. Almost like she had a little game going on in her head. I talked loudly to the guys who the studio hired to act as security because Travis was off. Thinking that I would gain her attention, but she didn’t pay me any mind, and it drove me nuts. So much so that I rammed into her shoulder as I walked past her.

Now her falling to her ass wasn’t intentional, and I actually felt guilty the moment I saw the water slush around her.

“Because I wanted to get your attention.”

“A simple hello would have worked too.”

Humming, “Would it, though? You seemed to be in your own little world. And you hated me.”

I watch Ryann twist her lips off to the side, “Erm, probably not. I would have just ignored you and kept walking.”

Chuckling, “Gee, thanks.”

“Anytime, Copeland. Gotta keep that ego down. What better way than to ignore Hollywood’s playboy.”

Wait....so did she see me long before I crashed into her?

“Wait, did you see me in the alley?”

“Erm....no.” I watch Ryann bite her lip with a side of side-eye, and I can’t help but return it. Finally, she caves. “Okay, fine. I saw you. You were talking with twiddle dee and twiddle dumb in that stupid baseball cap.”

“Hey,” I joke, “That cap kept me hidden. Until your little stunt.”

“Speaking of my little stunt, you got away.”

“Ha, barely. The restaurant had to do a lockdown, and I had to sneak out the front entrance in a waiter’s uniform.” I watch Ryann bite her lip again as she attempts to stifle a laugh. “I’m still waiting for them to mail me back my clothes.”

“Ha, ya, you know that waiter kept and sold them. Probably made a nice chunk of change from the ladies outside the restaurant.” She says before pausing. I watch her turn her head slightly, trying to figure out where we are and where we’re eating. “So, where are we eating?”

Stopping outside of a little pizza shop, “Here. Unless you are craving something other than pizza now.” Which may be an issue if she decides she wants to eat elsewhere.

Ryann smiles, “I’m always craving pizza.”

Perfect.

Samuel walks ahead of us, opening the door for us. As soon as we walk into the restaurant, the aroma immediately bombards our senses. And I don’t know about Ryann, but my taste buds are watering, and my stomach is growling.

“Thomas, this place is packed,” Ryann whispers, and she seems slightly unsure of the crowd now.

“Ah, Mr. Copeland,” the general manager greets as he makes his way around the checkout counter. “We have the back room ready for you.”

The little pizzeria is jam-packed with customers. Half of them looking our way and whispering. Instinctively, I pull Ryann closer. Keeping her as close as physically possible to my side.

When I decided to surprise Ryann with a date, Travis and Samuel were not on board. To them, which they’re right, too many variables. They wanted to pull Heather from Val’s team and have her assigned to us today. But considering Val is traveling to the Bronx to visit her aunt and Uncle, I didn’t want her to be left with only one guard. Though, I’m confident Jonathan will protect her with his life.

But I was able to secure a small private room, and all was remedied. Well, sort of.

Samuel and Travis are still not thrilled about this plan. They weren’t exactly thrilled about Ryann and me going off to a meeting together. Travis wanted it only to be Ryann, and he would accompany her as he did back in Cali. Travis being Travis, was worried about the unwanted attention we might receive with me being out in public with Ryann.

But Ryann wanted me to come with her, and I’m not ready to leave Ryann’s side. Not when I don’t have to.

We pass through a beaded doorway, and my grandparents immediately bombard us.

“Ryann!” Grandma exclaims as she engulfs her into a hug. “You look good, sweetie. How are you feeling?”

Ryann looks at Grandma, surprised. “Wha....what, when did you guys get here?”

Grandpa cuts between her and Grandma before hugging Ryann, “A couple of days ago. We’ve been exploring the town. Mauve, here, has been wanting to see New York for years.”

“I, ahh. I mean, it’s great to see you guys. But you didn’t need to come out.”

“Nonsense,” Grandma says as she brushes a lock of hair over Ryann’s shoulder. “You are family, dear. We would have been out sooner if Thomas and Bobby hadn’t kept stalling me.” Grandma warns. I knew I wasn’t out of the woods for delaying Grandma and Grandpa. Though, Grandpa was in agreement to wait until Ryann was out of the hospital.

Grandma embraces me, “I’m never going to hear the end of this, aren’t I?”

“Not in the slightest, Tommy. But I’m so glad you two are doing well. You both look really good.” Grandma says, framing my face and pushing the loose strands of hair off my forehead. “Really good.”

“Thanks, Grandma. Now, are you guys hungry? Because we have one other thing to do today.” I say as I gesture towards the chairs.

Ryann looks at me slightly leery, “What?”

Smiling, I lean down and place a quick kiss to her lips before pulling her chair out for her, “It’s a surprise, babydoll.”

And the glare that I get from her sends a burst of laughter through my body. The one thing Ryann hates most, surprises. But man, she’s gonna love this one.

Sitting down at the table next to Ryann, I watch my grandparents sit across from us as Grandpa takes out his phone. I watch Grandma lean over the table and admire Ryann’s necklace, slowly twirling the small charms between her fingers. I can feel Ryann’s tears, and as I look over to her, Grandma is rushing around the table and engulfing her into another hug. Whispering something only Ryann can hear into her ear.

Feeling my phone buzz in my pocket, I pull it out to see a text message from my grandpa.

It’s in my pocket. I’ll slip it to you on our way out.

Smiling to myself, I place my phone back into my pocket. If today is not the day, I’ll carry this around until the time feels right.

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