Sitting in my office with the door closed, I’m on a conference call with Andrew as we finalize our final plans for our benefit to launch our cause. One I’ve yet to tell Ryann about because I want to surprise her. I know Ryann hates surprises, but I don’t want her to know what we’re up to until I get up to the podium and give my speech. A speech that will be centered around her and how she’s helped me. How she’s helped others like her without realizing it. Ryann is such a selfless person; she deserves this recognition.
“Okay, so is Valerie working on obtaining the venue?”
And I may have roped Val into this little project too. And as much as she hates keeping secrets from Ryann, she’s doing a pretty good job at dodging Ryann’s nosey questions.
“It’s all set. The RSVPs are rolling in, and we are set to go on the catering and music.”
I watch Andrew write away in an unseen notebook, “Perfect. Okay, what about Xayla? Have you talked to her about speaking?”
Shaking my head, “Not yet. I know she will. She is already speaking of her experience in rehab. But you know Xayla, she can’t keep a secret to save her life.”
Andrew chuckles, “Well, she did keep Ryann’s secret.”
And I’m still annoyed about that. “Ya, do you really think she can keep anything from Ryann? I swear any juicy news, Ryann is the first person she goes to.”
“Aww, are you getting a little jealous your best friend now goes to your fiancé?”
Now it’s my turn to laugh, “Not with the uber girly shit they talk about, no. Not at all. At least I don’t have to listen to the latest Soap Opera drama.”
Shaking his head in amusement, “Speaking of drama. Did you hear Shelia got arrested late last night?”
As far as I knew, she and Ralph have pretty much been wiped from the scene. No one wants them at parties anymore, and Shelia is having one hell of a time finding work now. And Ralph, well, he’s always had a hard time finding work. But now that he has sexual assault convictions and more charges coming his way, no studio wants to work with him. He’s a liability waiting to happen.
“For what now?”
“I guess dealing. She was at a party she wasn’t invited to and sold someone what was supposed to be ecstasy but instead was some opioid. The person ended up ODing.”
“Shit, did they make it?”
“No clue. But it’s not looking good for Shelia now.”
About fucking time. We couldn’t get the damn trespassing charges to stick, but I was able to file a restraining order. Like a fucking piece of paper ever does anything. At least this way, ohh....who am I kidding? I’m sure she’ll just get a slap on the wrist, probation, and will be back out on the streets selling again in no time.
“I’m sure she’ll be out dealing again in no time. She’ll probably get probation or some shit.” With a knock at the door, I look up, “Come in.” And watch Val come into the office, closing the door behind her.
I don’t have to worry about Ryann walking in. Travis took her to her therapy appointment while I stayed at home for fucking conference calls. Trust me, I’d much rather be waiting in a damn waiting room than doing half of these calls. Andrews was the only one I was looking forward to doing because it’s actually about a project I’m passionate about.
“Is this a bad time?” Val asks, realizing I’m on a call.
“Hey, Valerie,” Andrew calls out.
“Hi, Andrew. How are you?” She asks, walking around my desk and coming into view of the camera. “Long time no see.”
Andrew chuckles, “Really has. I hear you are Xayla’s plus one at the premiere next week.”
“Yupp! Us girls are supposed to go shopping Saturday for gowns at some boutique Xayla always uses. Kinda nervous what our options may be with the dresses Xayla is always wearing to these things. I don’t want to come out looking like icing that belongs on top of a cupcake.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Andrew is trying to sound convincing, but I’m not even buying his bullshit. Xayla may have worn something conservative and straightforward for her, but that was just to an event. Not a premiere. Typically, she goes all out. Either it’s going to be super poofy that it will look like you could bounce her like a basketball or ultra-sexy. There is never an in-between with her. “Good luck.”
“Don’t lie, Andrew. You’re a little jealous that you aren’t coming with us girls.” Val coos as she walks around to the other side of the desk and flops into the oversize armchair.
I’m sure the last thing Andrew is jealous about is missing out on a shopping spree. Hell, I’m pretty sure his wife, Sasha, tagged along with Xayla once and vowed to never go shopping with her again. I think there may have been a shoe involved and too much drama.
I’ve meet Sasha a few times before. She’s sweet and laid back and loves to be more behind the scenes and unseen. So, I guess I’m kinda surprised she’s even attending this premiere with Andrew. He usually ends up going stag to these events.
“Listen, man, I gotta go. Lunch with the in-laws.” That sounds like a blast. Not really, but I don’t think Andrew has really been in the sticky, hot, swampy water I’ve been in with my future in-laws. Though I guess with Betty still calling me, I don’t think I’m still in that swamp. “But let me know once we get the venue, and then we can sit down with the coordinator to get the layout finalized. Thanks again, Val, for your help.”
Val smiles, “You’re welcome, but if Ry finds out that I nosed around to find out which rehab center she went to, you do know she’ll kill us all.”
Andrew frowns slightly, “Erm, didn’t think that one through. It’s not like it’s a secret she went.”
“No, but she doesn’t like surprises.” Probably something I should have told him first. But what’s done is done, and sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
“Oh, well, that just great. Thanks for the heads up.” He says before signing off. Closing my laptop, I find a curious Val sitting across from me. One leg is crossed across the other as she sits back. Her hands are clasped in front of her as her long blond hair is pulled back into a sleek ponytail, the strands curled.
“What’s up?” She asks. “Are you telling me Jonathan is being called off and moving on?” The sadness on her face tells me more than she wants to share.
Shaking my head, “No, I told you, you have at least two months before he leaves. Have you told him?”
She arches a brow, “Tell him what?”
“You wait much longer. You’ll miss your chance. Him and Heather are needed on another job.”
Rolling her eyes, “Is this really what you called me in here to talk about?”
“No, it’s not.” Pulling out a blue folder from my desk drawer, I slide it across the desk for Val to take. Sliding forward in the large armchair, she reaches for the folder and opens it. Her eyes scanning over the documents I’ve drafted up for her. “I want to know if you’re willing to move out to Tennessee with us.”
Val’s mouth flops open, “Wha...what? Thomas, I can’t move out to Tennessee. Everything I know is here, in California.”
“And new adventures await you in Tennessee. I know this is a big decision, and you can take all the time you need. But the work you and Ryann do together, there is no team that can do what you two do.”
Val flips a page over and gasps out, “Holy shit, Thomas. Is this in American dollars? This is.....no one pays their employees this amount of money.”
“And no one has Thomas Copeland as an employer. You’ll also see that housing is included wherever you’d like to live. Within reason. And, if you still want to adventure into painting.......”
“Double holy shit,” Val gasps out as the file falls from her hands. “Thom – Thomas, I can’t accept all of that. I mean, you’re giving me an ungodly raise with the prospects of my own studio. I mean,...this is a lot.” Her blues are wide and starting to gloss over. “And I....I can’t leave my mom behind. We’re all we have.”
Giving her a sad smile, “I understand.” Getting to my feet, I walk around my desk and sit down in the armchair next to her, “Val, think about it. Come back to me with terms if you must, but I would very much still like to keep you on. Even if you’re still in Cali.”
She quickly wipes away a fallen tear, “Okay, I’ll talk with Mom and see what she thinks. Does Ry know? About this idea?”
I’m leery of telling her because I don’t want it to sway her decision or guilt her into making a rash decision. “She knows. But she also understands if you decide to stay here. She is the one who warned me that you might not want to leave California.”
“It’s all I know.” Looking down at her hands, she begins to pick at the cuticle of her nail. “Thomas, working with you has been trying and full of experiences I never thought I have. And Ryann, she’s an amazing friend, and I love her dearly. I’m very fortunate to have her in my life because she’s like a sister to me. But I’m terrified of leaving my mom behind. She doesn’t have any other family here. They’re all in New York.” I don’t think her mom is the only reason she may be hesitant to leave California.
“Talk with her. You won’t ever know what your mom thinks unless you talk with her. Though, I’m sure she’d say find a new job.”
Laughing, Val dries her face with the back of her hand, “No, she likes you. But if you ask her, she’ll never admit it.”
Chuckling, I’m not sure if that is remotely true. I’d say Mrs. Knox hated me the moment we met when I went over to their house back in Middle School. Val and I were teamed up to do a project together. We were supposed to make a paper mâché volcano. Well.....someone may or may not have read how to make it a supervolcano, and there may or may not have been a baking soda and vinegar explosion of sorts.
I mean, Val thought it was hilarious. The explosion seriously looked like the mentos and diet coke experiment. Unfortunately, Mrs. Knox didn’t find the amusement in the giant ass mess. She ended up calling my mom, and I ended up staying late to help clean up the mess.
“No, I think she still holds a grudge for the whole volcano fiasco. But think about the offer, Val. There is seriously no pressure.”
“Says the boss who’s offered the world on a damn platter,” she says with a soft laugh.
Getting to my feet, I walk behind Val, patting her shoulders, “Nope, not a platter. Just offered what you deserved. If you don’t take the offer in Tennessee, the offer will still stand here in Cali. Think about it.”
At the sound of my phone ringing on the desk, I leave Val scrambling to pick up the file and papers off the floor. I know my offer sounds too good to be true and that you’d think there was some sort of hidden catch. But there isn’t. The offer is as good as it sounds with no fucking strings attached. Val never once asked for anything in return for covering my ass. And with all the shit she’s had to deal with, she’s just dealt with it. And I want this offer to be my thank you—no matter what option she decides.
“This is Thomas,” I greet into the phone.
“Thomas Copeland?” The questioning on the other line causes me to pull my phone away from my ear to see it’s an Indiana number calling me. “This is Benjamin....Benji. You called....”
Cutting him off, “Yes, I remember who you are. Why are you calling me?”
“Because I need to know if you talked to Ryann.”
He has to be kidding me. He has what he needs for charges against Maxwell. Hell, he’s already arrested Max on those charges. So why in the hell does he still need Ryann?
“Why? You have what you need.” Now I have Val’s attention as she sets the file back onto my desk and is sitting at attention.
“Because I need her testimony from that night. Jen told me she remembers....”
I’m going to fucking kill Jen for blabbing her goddamn mouth, “And I told you she’s not going to want to fucking testify.”
“Who are you talking to?” Val mouths as she slides a piece of paper towards me with a pen.
Taking the pen, I scribble for her to get Jen on the phone. Because I thought this was done and over with. I’m not subjecting Ryann any further. “This is done,” I warn into the phone. “I gave you all of the evidence you needed. If that is not good enough, you are not doing your damn job.”
“It’s not me who wants the testimony from Ry. It’s the DA.”
“Tell them no.”
“That is not how that works. Not in Indiana.”
Slamming my fist to the top of my desk, of course it’s not how it works in Indiana because that would make things way too fucking easy.
God, fuck this and fuck the justice system. I gave them all of the fucking evidence they needed. Everything Travis, Samuel, Jonathan, and Heather had dug up. Benji has it. All of it, I don’t understand why the fuck the DA needs Ryann’s testimony.
Running a hand through my hair, I’m going to have to break down and officially tell Ryann I’ve spoken with Benji. This is not only going to piss her off, but she’s going to be even more determined to go back home. Because I was once confident Ryann would never testify, now I don’t know that to be the case.