“Welcome back!” Val exclaims as she topples Ryann over. “I’ve missed you guys. I’m sorry I didn’t come back, my mom needed help, and.......”
“Valerie, it’s fine. Promise.” I watch Ryann pat Val’s back and mentally beg me to get Val off her, so she’s able to get off the dirty airport floor.
“You say that, but I still feel terrible.”
Urging Val to her feet, “Val, it’s okay. It actually worked out anyway.” Because with Val gone, it really did allow us to heal as a couple the last three months alone.
I’ve even started going to AA meetings more. And I plan on attending my first one in Cali with Andrew sometime this week. And Ryann is meeting up with Carl later this week, too, and her therapist here in California. Travis will, of course, will be accompanying her to those appointments. Because as soon as my feet hit the California ground, my schedule takes off with final interviews and preparations for the premiere. Which Ryann is attending with me. Xayla is taking Val as her plus one because she doesn’t even want to attempt to find a date, plus she claims she’s working on the whole, not needing a guy. It’s some kind of rehab therapy goal she’s made. I don’t know, but I’ll support her if it helps keep Xayla clean.
And for now, Samuel and Heather have been removed as additional security detail as the threat has been contained. But they are on call if needed for the next two months before they move onto their following assignments.
As for Jonathan, as much as Travis wanted to take him off Val’s detail and leave Heather on, I was able to persuade him otherwise. All I can say, Val better get whatever she needs to, figured out with Jonathan before he leaves. Because that time is coming. Sooner than expected. Both Heather and Jonathan are expected to start a new job in about two months. A job they could have easily started in a month, but Heather needed a break and has flown back to North Carolina to visit family. And Jonathan, well, he didn’t want to leave Val, which has nothing to do with his job.
And that is another problem I’ll need to discuss with Val. Not the whole Jonathan leaving or whatever is going on between the two, but Alex called last week to inform us everything is coming together faster than initially projected. He’s been out on the property for about two months living in the original farmhouse with his family. The first project was remodeling my grandparent’s house to how they wanted. But for me and Ryann’s home, it should be completed in a month or two. We’re actually set to fly out in a couple of weeks to meet up with Alex to go over the finishing touches.
I’m a little nervous about meeting his family. Mostly because I’m not sure how Ryann or I will act when meeting Alex and Rose’s little one. I’d like to think we’ll be fine, but I’m not entirely convinced. Especially since Ryann broke down crying on the plane at the sound of a baby crying, but she swears up and down, she’ll be fine.
I don’t know. I’m half tempted to tell Alex what has happened and maybe see if Rose and the baby can stay at home or something.
But the problem isn’t how quickly the house is being built, but rather, I don’t know if Val will want to come with. If she doesn’t, I’ll understand. Her mom is out here, but the business side of me doesn’t want to lose Val as an employee because she and Ryann together are a killer team.
“So,” Val sings. “Thomas, have you heard from a studio for a recording deal?”
Mocking her, Travis urges us out of the airport and into the waiting SUV being driven by Jonathan. Leaving the bags at the back of the car, I follow Ryann into the backseat as she sits in the middle. “I’m retiring, remember?”
“Ehh, technically, it’s a new career. Ryann can be lead vocals.”
I watch Ryann bunch her brow, “I’m good.”
Apparently, during our little concert out on the condo’s rooftop, Ryann’s angelic voiced carried in the New York air and was heard at a neighboring building, which prompted whoever to start recording. They had no clue who was playing the piano and who was singing. They were just impressed by the voice, claiming Ryann’s voice to be unique and unlike anything they’ve heard before. It wasn’t long until someone zoomed in and realized it was me playing the piano and Ryann singing. After the find, Ryann was essentially blasted all over social media platforms for her performance. Even gaining fans and studio execs reaching out to her.
Ryann has ignored all phone calls and emails coming her way, with the occasional polite e-mail turning down their offer.
And of course, her mom and sister saw the video, and since Ryann was still not answering their calls, I got to play peacekeeper with that call. She has only recently started answering Betty and Jen’s calls and returning their phone calls. So, playing peacekeeper was easy because neither one of them knew Ryann had picked up singing again. Betty was crying with happiness on the phone, and Jen was more than proud.
Speaking of Jen, I guess she ended up needing surgery on her hand after the nose-shattering punch she delivered to Maxwell. Ryann said Jen’s hand wasn’t healing right, and they had to go in and reset it. So I guess she’s still in a brace or cast or some shit.
“But,” Val says as she bumps into Ryann’s shoulder, “You sounded amazing. From the rooftop over.”
“Thanks, the last public performance ever.” The tone in Ryann’s voice is final. I know she has no desire to perform for the public again, not after being forced to while dating Jamie. He took her talent and used it for his benefit and made her hate not only herself but her ability to sing.
“But not for family or friends, right?”
I catch a smile on Ryann’s face, “Valerie, there are very few people I will still sing for. And you have nothing to worry about.” Val beams as Ryann leans into her shoulder, “So, what’s going.....” I catch Ryann whispering as she wiggles a finger between Val and the driver’s seat.
Taking my phone out, I lose myself in emails. Acting as if I’m not listening, but I am. I mean, it’s kinda hard to tune them out when you’re in a compact car.
“Have....” Again Ryann trails off.
And I catch Val nodding her head before bursting into giggles causing Jonathan to look up into the rearview mirror with an arched brow. Is this really the place to have this conversation?
“We can talk when we get back to the house.” Val finally whispers.
Agreed. Because with how much persuasion it took me to convince Travis to keep Jonathan on, I can’t see Travis’s expression, but I’m sure he’s regretting listening to me. I can hear Travis’s sage words, never mix pleasure and work. And that is what Jonathan is doing with Miss. Knox. If you want her protection, we should keep Heather on and dismiss Jonathan. He’s not wrong, but I also know Jonathan wouldn’t allow anything to happen to Val. I don’t care if he is technically emotionally involved because sometimes that is the best protection.
“Ya, umm....of course. I have the schedule written out for the next month.” Ryann suddenly says, changing the subject.
“Oh,” Val cheers as she reaches into her bag for her phone, “Great. I also have the plane tickets booked, the hotel, and the rental car.”
“Rental car?” Travis and I bark in unison, causing Val to shrink with an oops look as I’m sure Ryann glares at her.
Travis shifts in the front seat slightly, “Why will there be a rental car? This wasn’t discussed.”
You don’t have to tell me. “Ryann?”
I watch her chest rise and fall with a deep breath, “I want to go back home.” I’m sorry, what? “And I’m going to drive up to Colfax.”
Ha, do you want to try that again? “Like hell you are.”
I’m met by fierce and challenging hazel eyes, “Don’t tell me what I will and will not be doing. I am going back to Indiana. And I will be driving.”
Trying to understand her reasoning....fuck it, I don’t. I can’t figure out what in the hell would possess her to go back home to a town that only gossips and to a family......I mean, Raymond hasn’t even tried to call his daughter to apologize. And Ryann has only recently started answering her mom’s and sister’s phone calls.
“Ryann, I’m trying to understand. I really am. But I don’t. You want to go back and do what exactly?” The demand in my tone, I should flinch from her glare, but I don’t. I can’t when this possessive need to protect her starts to take over.
I watch Ryann shift slightly in her seat, keeping her attention on both me and Travis.
“Ryann,” Travis speaks with that even tone of a father. A tone that disagrees with a decision you’re about to make. “Have you thought this through?”
“No. But if I think it through, I won’t do what I need to do.”
Mentally urging her to continue, I watch her look over her shoulder to Val, who is looking a little sheepish for letting the car rental mishap slip. “Ryann,” I bark and drawing her angry glare to me once more. “What in the hell do you need to do that requires you to go back to Indiana?”
“I need to confront my dad. I need to talk to my mom and sister, and I need to....” Oh, I know where the hell this is going, and it’s not happening. “I need to talk to Maxwell.”
Jonathan slams on the breaks as car horns erupt around us and sending a slight panic through my body. The last thing I want is another fucking car accident.
“Pay attention to the damn road,” Travis barks.
“Sorry, sir,” Jonathan answers back. “Won’t happen again.”
Catching Val, she slides down the seat, telling me Ryann has discussed this with her. And Travis and I, “Over my dead body.” In fucking unison.
“Listen,” she warns. “I’m going. You two have two options. Come with or stay out of my fucking way. I’ve been locked away for long enough. And if you want a life with me,” she suddenly turns her full attention to me, “I need to do this to move the fuck on. Do you understand me?” Nope, not in the fucking slightest. Finally, Ryann takes a deep breath in before releasing it, “You got your closer with Pearl, didn’t you?”
Yes, but I knew who Pearl was from the beginning. She wasn’t my best friend who betrayed me. “Ryann, that was....”
“No,” she nearly screams, “It’s not any different. You got to confront Pearl. You got to rid her from your life. Let me do this.” The pleading in her eyes is undeniable.
Rolling my neck from side to side, “Fine. But I’m coming with.”
“You can’t you have.....”
I don’t have anything that can’t be cleared. The premiere will be done and over with by then. Andrew can take care of any last-minute details if needed for our project. Plus, she said it herself, I had two options. So I’m taking the option that involves going with her.
Looking around Ryann to Val, “Clear whatever I have.”
“I....erm....uhhh....” She’s conflicted and trying not to let anything out slip, but I control the pay.
Snapping my fingers, “DO IT.”
“Thomas,” Ryann hisses, “Stop that. Fine, you can come, and Valerie, I’ll clear his schedule.”
“And I need a vacation,” Val sighs.
Running a hand through my hair, I slouch into the car door, my eyesight out the window. I’m not sure how much security we will need for this little excursion. Travis should be enough. He’s gonna have to be enough because I don’t think Ryann will want an entire team, and I don’t believe a whole team will be needed. But that still doesn’t stop me from wanting to go all out.
Suddenly, I feel Ryann lean into me, prompting me to wrap my arm around her and pull her into my side. This has been a norm after fighting. Her wanting to cuddle, to feel that human connection and I honestly prefer this to her running off or the silent treatment.
If we’ve learned anything in New York, it’s that life is too short.