“Thomas, stop fussing. You look fine.” Xayla confirms as the car pulls up to the carpet event.
I seriously hate wearing these damn suits. They aren’t comfortable, and I feel so freakin’ stuffy in them that it’s nearly suffocating. I guess the positive side, I get to wear pants and not a dress or skirt. I’m not sure how women do it with the heels and the damn expensive tight and or large gowns. Though, Xayla makes it look effortless.
God, I wish it were Ryann sitting next to me in the car. We’d walk down this red carpet hand in hand. Making our relationship official along with our engagement. Of course, the press would have a field day with the news, followed by my sudden retirement from films.
“Why can’t we wear pajamas or some shit?” I whine.
Xayla laughs, “Oh, Tommy, I don’t feel bad for you men. Wear a tight-ass dress you can’t breathe in with heels that could kill you, and get back to me once you’re able to experience that.”
Tommy? Crap. How many did she take?
“Xayla, how many did you take?”
She looks at me sweetly. “Nothing I can’t handle.” I eye her. “Fine, four.”
Shit, Xayla. What the hell are you trying to do tonight? God, I swear, I’m going to end up with a brain aneurysm before I hit thirty-one.
The car door is swung open, and the noise from the crowd and the press is defining with cheers and screaming of questions. Xayla goes to b-line it out of the car, wanting to get out of my line of sight. Taking hold of her arm, “Stay close to me. Do not let go of my arm.”
Seriously? “Because you’re higher than a damn kite, Xayla. I can’t have you doing something stupid.”
She pouts her bright red lips, “I would never.”
Oh, but she would. I’m sobered, and she’s high. I have no damn clue what will leave Xayla’s mouth.
Stepping out of the car, I hold my hand out for Xayla to take. Helping her out of the car, she takes my hand. Her other hand clenching her silk clutch in her hand. Xayla wasn’t lying when she said she went with a simple gown this year. It’s an off-the-shoulder plunging neckline sleek black dress that hugs every inch of her curves. She’s paired the dress with her signature red lips, nails, and heels. Her long black hair is styled straight and somehow styled to stay behind her shoulders. The look took a couple of hours to put together, from makeup to getting dress.
Mine took a long fifteen minutes.
As we walk down the red carpet, our names are being shouted from every fucking angle imaginable. Thomas, over here. Xayla over here. Can we get a picture? Are you two officially an item. Thomas, do you have a comment on Ryann’s condition? Xayla, why were you spotted in New York? I knew this would happen—the questions coming from every damn direction.
Stopping at the first mark, Xayla does her typical pose as I stand next to her, unamused as cameras flash around us. I always follow Xayla’s lead at these things. Which way she wants me to stand to when she wants us to move. She’s all about getting that good angle for photographs that will be broadcasted for the world to see. And I could care less because if I could do it my way, I would just stand with a permanent scowl and move on to the next mark until I’m inside.
“Smile Tommy,” Xayla whispers into my ear. “Look like you’re enjoying this.”
Glaring, I lean into her side, “I don’t enjoy these things. And you get what you get. And don’t call me Tommy in public.” I warn. Not a warning she needs reminding of, but I also know she won’t adhere to my word of warning. She never does.
Xayla wraps an arm around my front, really giving the press what they want to see. “Well, some things will never change with you, will it, Tommy?” Rolling my eyes, Xayla is hopeless when she’s high.
We slowly move our way down the red carpet that is crammed pack with people trying to keep us moving and from lollygagging around for too long. Move, stop, and take pictures and repeat. Occasionally, Xayla would stop and talk to whoever was lucky enough to catch her attention. I, on the other hand, stood back and waited for her to finish up. Refusing to give any of these vultures the time of day.
Listening to Xayla bullshit her way around the question as to why she’s in New York, I spot someone waving off in the distance. Allison Drake. Making my way through the random rows of mics shoved under my nose, I finally find myself standing in front of Allison, with a mic and a woman operating a camera behind her.
“Well, Thomas. I wasn’t expecting to gain your attention. How are you doing?” Allison asks.
Smiling with a slight laugh because I’m not sure what she thought she was doing by waving. She wanted my attention, and she got it. “I’m doing well, Allison. Listen, I never got to personally thank you for the statement you gave when Ryann was attacked. Your statement, you didn’t have to do that. Thank you.”
“Oh, you saw it?” Allison says, slightly surprised. “And I did. I knew what that sleazeball was saying wasn’t true, and she didn’t deserve to have her past blasted like that. No one does.....well, except when warranted. And Jamie had it coming.” He deserves so much more. Like a lobotomy. “I’ve been working with law enforcement in Indiana and helping the additional women who’ve come forward to pin a case against him and to hopefully get it to stick.” She says as she turns her mic down towards the ground and away from the conversation. “Thomas,” She whispers leaning in closer, keeping what she’s about to say only between the two of us. “I’ve been talking with a guy named Benjamin Arnold. Do you know him?”
Frowning, “I know he’s the sheriff from the town Ryann is from.”
Allison nods her head, “I talked with him the other day. He’s trying to reach out to Ryann. He wants to talk with her.” I’m sorry, what? “He said that he has some questions to ask her.”
“Well, that’s news to me.”
“So, he hasn’t reached out?”
If he has, I don’t know about it. “No, but can you send me his contact information. I’ll reach out to him. And talk with Ryann. Thank you.”
Allison smiles, “How is Ryann doing?”
“Better with each day.”
I feel someone bump into me and manage to catch Xayla from tumbling into the reporters. She lets out a nervous giggle as she steadies herself against my arm.
“Allison, how are you doing? Getting the inside scoop?”
I have to keep my face impassive. If Xayla wants an ally in Allison, this is not the way to do it.
“What inside scoop?” Allison asks, placing the mic back up. Reminding me of the times, she worked for Up Entertainment. But from my understanding, Allison doesn’t have an official news show. I think it’s primarily podcast with the occasional camera interview uploaded to her media pages.
“The inside scoop.....oh, I don’t have anything. Tommy, your turn!” Xayla’s bubbly personality is about to hit the overboard mark. I need to get her inside, like yesterday.
Rolling my eyes, I look over my shoulder and catch Andrew getting ready to head into the building. He catches my eye and silent plea and manages to make his way back towards Xayla and me. “Xayla, go inside with Andrew. I’ll be in there in a minute.”
Xayla pouts but immediately brightens up when Andrew reaches us. I watch as Andrew takes Xayla’s hand with his and escorts her inside the building. Leaving Allison and me alone.
“So, what inside scoop is Xayla talking about?”
My hand brushes against my wrist and grazes against my bracelet. My eyes dart down, and I see Sloane’s name and the emerald catching in the lights surrounding us. “I’m retiring from acting,” I tell her with ease. My mind swimming with the thoughts of Ryann, of my new projects, and most importantly, the life and family I want.
Allison’s eyes go wide, “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that. Is there a reason why?”
Smiling, “There are projects I’m currently working on that are taking up a lot of my time. And I’m ready to settle down.”
If Allison’s mouth could hit the ground, it would. “I’m sorry. Is Mr. Copeland in love? Have you found someone who compliments you? Who is the lucky lady?”
“Well,” I guess if there is one reporter to divulge in a secret relationship, Allison Drake would be it. “The rumors are true. I’m dating and in love with my assistant, Ryann Anderson.” Once again, Allison’s eyes go wide. “I’ve decided to retire from acting. I have some projects in the works, and I want to create a life with Ryann that is out of this limelight.”
“Oh, Thomas, I’m....you’re serious.” She nearly shouts. “And you’re telling me this before anyone else finds out? There have been speculations about you and Ryann for some time now. So why are you now coming forward?”
Because I feel like coming forward and outing us is one of the last steps I need to take before leaving Hollywood. That and I want our relationship to be known by one of us. It is our story to tell, not anyone else.
“Because it has been brought to my attention that someone is trying to sell our story. One that is not theirs to sell. This will be the only time I’ll allow an interview regarding my relationship with Ryann. And I’m giving you this story because of everything you’ve done for us, for Ryann. We want to thank you.”
“I’m...well, you guys are welcome. I’m really happy for you, Thomas. Ryann is truly someone unique, and I’m not going to lie. I suspected at our last interview that there was something going on, if I’m being honest. And I wish you guys nothing but the best.”
Smiling, “Thank you, Allison.” Walking away, I feel an immense feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I was the one who leaked the news about our relationship. It was done under my control and not anyone else’s.
I make my way off the carpet and through the building doors. Once inside, the lighting is dim, and there are twenty large round tables scattered through the open space. Waiters and waitresses dressed in white button-down shirts and black trousers walk around the event hall with various trays of champagne and little finger foods. I watch the staff stop in front of groups of people, offering them what’s on their tray—an attempt to keep the guests happy until dinner is served. I don’t even remember what is on tonight’s menu.
Probably nothing good.
I feel my phone start to vibrate in the front pocket of my slacks. Fishing around for it, I pull it out to see Ryann’s name flash across the screen. “Babydoll, is everything alright?”
My fear is that she’s in pain or that Max has somehow found his way into the condo, and Ryann and Val are currently hiding in our bathroom, waiting for the security team to subdue him.
“I was watching the carpet event on TV with Val. Thomas, oh, my, god, I can’t believe you did that.”
Shit, she’s pissed. That’s the kind of thing I probably should have called Ryann to make sure she was still okay with the idea of going public. “I’m sorry. I should have asked you first before giving Allison....”
“No,” Ryann interjects sweetly. “I’m not mad. I’m....I’m shocked. I’m happy. I’m....I’m ecstatic. But are you sure you want to retire from acting?”
I’ve danced with this idea with Ryann in the past but never fully admitted my plans to her. I was waiting, and then everything kinda snowballed.
“Babydoll, I’m sure.” Standing against the wall, I catch Andrew and Xayla in the center of the room as they make their way towards me. Both have a flute in their hand with a clear liquid in it. And I know it’s sparkling water by the frown on Xayla’s face. Her least favorite water. If it’s bubbly, it has to have alcohol in it, according to her.
“I can’t wait until your home.”
“I’m ready to be home, babydoll. I love you.”
I can hear the soft voices from the television as I hear Val talking loudly in the background. My guess, she’s yelling at Jonathan for something he’s not allowing her to do. “I love you. Have fun tonight. And call me when you get home. Even if it’s one in the morning here.”
I can’t help but laugh, “You’ll be asleep.”
Ryann hums, “Maybe, but you can leave me a sweet message to wake up to.”
“It’s a date. I need to go.” I tell her as I watch every waiter and waitress disappear into the kitchen as a voice comes over the PA asking for everyone to take their seats. “They’re about to serve dinner.”
“Okay, I love you.”
“Love you,” I say softly before ending the call.
Xayla practically skips the rest of the way towards me and links her arm through mine, “So, you and Ryann are literally trending in every sense possible.” She jabs her pointy nail into my chest, “You guys are no longer a rumored secret.”
“And I don’t want us to be a secret any longer. It’s why I told Allison. She’s the only one who will ever have an interview about our relationship too.” I tell her and Andrew. “And are you drinking sparkling water?” Xayla immediately frowns as she looks at her flute.
I catch Andrew’s look. Like he’s pondering my actions before finally giving up, “And yes, she is. She needs to sober up.” Xayla mocks him like a toddler before stomping off towards our table and flopping down in her seat like she’s throwing a fit. “Oh, this is going to be a fun evening. How long do we have to stay?” Andrew asks.
Laughing, “I think it stipulated that we had to stay through dinner. But I’m up for sneaking out earlier. I could seriously go for a good cheeseburger.”
Andrew pats my back, “Sounds good to me. But if Xayla is joining us, we’re gonna have to sober her ass up first.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Taking our seat on either side of Xayla, the first course is laid out in front of us. Some soup with random black and green specks floating around in it. Xayla takes one look and whiff of the moldy-looking soup and starts to gag. Leaning into her side, “If you sober up, Andrew and I will let you sneak out with us. We’re going to get cheeseburgers.”
Xayla’s eyes light up, “Fuck yes. Pass me the fucking sparkling water.”
Andrew lets out a snort of a laugh as he reaches for the bottle of sparkling water and hands it to Xayla, and she immediately begins to chug it.
Now onto the next phase of our plan, how the fuck to get out of here without being missed.