We still aren’t sure what the hell happened in the house between Betty and Raymond. By the time we made our way back up to the house, the sun was starting to hang low in the sky, and the mosquitos were out. Raymond wasn’t home to bid us farewell….such a shame. And Betty, well, I’m not really sure if she was upset or relieved with Raymond’s absence. It felt like there may have been several conflicting sets of emotions.
But neither Jen nor Ryann questioned their mother about their dad’s whereabouts. Ryann kept looking over her shoulder, almost like she was waiting for him to suddenly jump out from the hallway or around a dark corner of the living room. It’s not like she’d have anything to worry about because Travis essentially refused to be as far as three steps from Ryann once we walked into the house.
After returning back to the house, we stayed an hour before deciding to leave. The conversation was actually pleasant and not focused on the drama that unfolded but on our future move to Tennessee and the possibility of Betty, Jen, and Teresa coming down for the Holidays. I’m not gonna lie, the rest of the visit turned out better than expected.
But when the time came to leave, Betty held onto Ryann like it could be the last time she’d see her daughter again. I know with Ryann saying Raymond is out of her life, Betty is terrified she’ll somehow be lumped in. When that is the last thing imaginable Ryann would ever want to do.
And sitting inside this police station, waiting for Benjamin, is the last fucking thing I ever wanted to be doing. But here we are in the Sheriff’s office, staring at an empty desk loaded with files and papers. Travis is standing behind Ryann as she nervously spins her rings around her finger. It’s almost nine in the evening, and Benjamin has agreed to meet with us.
The only problem?
We’ve been waiting in his office for over an hour, twiddling our fucking thumbs. The silence growing between all of us, and the tension slowly building. The hope of even being here is for Ryann to talk with Max to get closure. But the longer we sit in this dingy office, the less likely I’m hopeful the meeting will occur.
Looking out the slightly cracked nineties-style wooden office door, I watch several police officers walk past leisurely. You can definitely tell this is a small-town police force because this scene is a complete one-eighty compared to the station I was held in in LA. I don’t think there was one officer leisurely strolling to get from point A to point B. Every single person in that police station looked like a jackrabbit hyped up on caffeine and ready to take off.
Leaning over the armrest of my chair towards Ryann, I take her hand with mine, forcing her to stop spinning her rings. “Babydoll, I’m not sure this is going to happen today.” Or ever, and I would frankly be okay with that, but I know it would eat Ryann alive. The not knowing.
“You don’t know that.”
Travis exhales a deep breath that sounds like he’s been holding in since we got here. That’s always a good sign. “Ryann, Thomas is right. Benjamin would have already returned if Maxwell was willing to see you. The truth of the matter, he is probably being advised by his lawyer not to talk to anyone.”
Ryann arches her neck as she starts to count. Her breathing calculated with each number said lightly between her lips. Ryann’s grip around my hand becomes tighter and tighter the higher to ten she gets before suddenly she relaxes. Bringing her head down, her eyes snap open, and I can see the answers she wanted not being answer and fading off in the distance.
“Let’s go. This was a stupid idea. I’m sorry.” Getting to her feet, I follow suit as she pulls against my hold.
Seeing the torment etched into her face, my heart breaks. I can’t let Ryann leave here without the answers she seeks. Maybe, for all we know, Benjamin is getting those answers. Maybe that’s why it’s taking him so damn long to get back.
And like Travis can read my damn twisted mind, “Just give me a minute, ok?”
Ryann nods her head slowly, but I can feel the awful sensation of defeat seeping from her as her shoulders slump forward. Her posture and demeanor screams of someone who’s lost a battle. Even though she’s won it.
Spinning Ryann into my chest, her fingers gripping tightly against my shirt. It’s like she’s trying to create her own little protective cocoon in my arms. Resting my cheek on the top of her head, we just stand in the middle of Benjamin’s office, waiting for Travis to return.
Without warning or an announcement of an arrival, the office door is suddenly slammed shut. Ryann jumps in my arms, but I only hold onto her tighter. Watching Benjamin make his way into his office. His eyes locked onto us and are impassive, and I can’t read him. But I can read Travis, who is standing against the back of the door with his arms crossed across his chest. And he’s not happy.
“Ry,” Benjamin says softly, “I think you guys may want to sit down.”
Pulling out of my hold, she suddenly stands tall, “He doesn’t want to speak with me, does he?”
A tight frown falls to his face, “I’m sorry. His lawyer is advising him not to. And…..”
“And what?” Ryann snaps.
I watch Benjamin reach out for Ryann, and I have to mentally refrain from stepping between them. But Ryann isn’t interested in being comforted. She steps away from his hand. Her hands poised on her hips as her eyes narrow. “Jamie said that if Max talks to you, he will flip on Max.”
Even out on parole, Jamie gets what the fuck he wants. And you know, manipulating a spineless coward like Max is by far the easiest thing he’s ever done.
“How does Jamie have that type of control?” How does anyone manage to hold control over a person? I know the answer, but I’m a little flabbergasted Jamie can still wear an ankle monitor and control someone who is behind bars.
“Because it’s Jamie,” Ryann answers evenly. “Let’s go. I’m sorry to waste your time Benji. Thank you for trying.”
“Ryann, wait.” Grabbing hold of her arm, he stops her from moving. “But he will talk with him.” He points my way, which causes everyone in the room to arch a surprised brow, and I straight up laugh out.
“Uhh, ya, I think you got that wrong. The last time Max and I had a little chat, I beat him to an inch of his life.”
Benjamin looks unfazed and not surprised by my reaction, “I know. I was the one who picked him up at the airport still bloodied and bruised up.” Good. “It’s your only option if you want answers.”
Looking between Travis and me, Ryann can’t decide if this is a good idea or a terrible mistake. I can tell what she’s going to say. That I don’t have to do this, and she’s right. I know I don’t have to do this. But in a way, I do. For her to fully understand and have closer, I need to do this for her.
“I’ll do it.”
“Wha-what? Thomas. No, you don’t. Let’s go home.”
Tenderly, I take hold of Ryann’s arms, forcing her to look at me. “Babydoll, you want answers. This is the only way you’ll be able to get them. And this may be the only time you’ll be able to get them. You know Max won’t come out of this with a slap on the wrist. Jamie will ultimately turn and sell Max down the river if it means a lesser time serve for him.” She studies me for a beat, and I reach for her trembling hands. “Please, allow me to do this for you.”
With her lip pulled between her teeth, Ryann slowly agrees to the terms laid out before us.
Turning my attention back to Benjamin, “She’ll be on the other side of the window, right? And Max won’t be able to see her?”
“Yes. But Max will be chained to the table. I need you to promise me that you won’t lay a hand on him.”
Arching a brow, “That I can’t promise.”
“Thomas, I can’t have you throwing punches as soon as he says something that will piss you off. It’s my ass and job on the line. The only reason I’m doing this is for Ry.”
Taking a deep breath in, “Fine, I’ll stand in the corner like a good boy.”
Not appreciating my sarcasm, “Thank you. Now, if you’ll follow me.”
Taking Ryann’s hand, we follow Benjamin out of his office and down a narrow hallway with one good light. Clearly, lightbulbs aren’t in the station’s budget. Stopping outside of door number one, Benjamin holds it open, ready to escort Ryann and Travis inside, “I love you.” Placing a kiss to Ryann’s lips, she wraps her hands around the nape of my neck and holds on for dear life.
“I love you. If you get……just know you can leave when you want. You don’t have to do this.”
Brushing a finger across her skin, “I know, babydoll.”
Travis urgers Ryann to let go, and I watch them disappear into the room, the door closing behind them. And now it’s my turn to follow Benjamin into what will be my room. Ryann will be able to hear and see everything, and I pray I ask the right questions. Stepping into the small gray cinderblock room with bright fluorescent lighting, Maxwell is already sitting in a small metal chair, his hands chained and locked to the table. Managing to steal a peek under the table, I notice his ankles are shackled to a sturdy metal ring anchored into the floor.
Orange is a good color on him.
“Well, Mr. Hollywood. I see you’ve agreed to meet with me.”
And his cockiness has grown since being locked up. Or maybe this is his true traits coming out to play. Either way, I already want to punch him in his smug fucking face.
Propping myself into the corner of the room, I take note of the bruise under his eye. He may be smug now, but life locked behind bars hasn’t been kind to him.
“Sooo…..” the chains cling against the table as he holds his hands out, “Benji here says you’d like to speak with me.”
Arching a brow, “I have a few questions.”
“Ask away,” he waves on.
“Why did you befriend Ryann?”
Max’s smile is repulsive and vile, “Hmm…where to start.”
“Damn’t, Maxwell, stop fucking around.” Benjamin barks. “Answer his questions.”
Slouching in the small metal chair, “Straight to the point. Fine……I was tasked with bringing Ryann closer to Jamie. He got a taste of her and knew what he had. Everything fell into place when her grandpa passed away. She was upset, and he just swooped right in. Drugs and all.”
“You were never really Ryann’s friend then.” A statement that hurts to say when Ryann is in the next room watching and listening to all of this.
And for the first time, I see some hint of softness and regret behind Max’s eyes. “No, she was. Maybe not at first, but I really did care for her. I needed money for my parents, and Jamie was able to provide it to me. All I had to do was what he asked. Towards the end, Ryann started fighting more, and I started to have second thoughts.”
Grinding my teeth, “How fucking noble of you. Watching her being assaulted and drugged wasn’t enough?”
“Don’t judge.” Oh, I’m going to judge. I’m going to fucking judge as much as I want. “Getting out from under Jamie’s hold, it’s impossible. She’s barely out of it.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
Sliding forward in his chair, “I tried several times to cut the cord. Thought I had succeeded when Ry went to rehab. She was gone for almost a year, and Jamie moved on. The relationship between Jen and me grew. Enough so, I proposed. But as soon as Ryann returned, I was once again employed. He made sure I was happy, and in return, I made sure he was.” Avoiding my question, but this response has my blood boiling. “But Jamie realized the information I was providing was false. Especially when Ry moved out to California. He wanted a link to her to get to you.”
Just let him talk Thomas, then force him to answer your question later.
“Thought he could win it big if he supplied Hollywood’s rich and famous. But it’s a little hard to provide info when you’re essentially cut off. Plus, I didn’t want to do it anymore. I loved and still am in love with Jennifer. Saw a future together with her.”
I catch Benjamin move out of the corner of my eye, his hands clenching in front of him like he’s about to add in his opinion but doesn’t.
“What did you mean she’s barely out of Jamie’s hold?”
Smiling, “I told him about her nightmares, her seeing a therapist. Told Jamie she was starting to remember the assaults and drugging. Thought if I shared, he’d back off. Maybe even be a little afraid Ry would go to the authorities to report him. But he saw the threat and decided to act on it. He wanted to know where Ry was living. Her schedule. What she did in her spare time when she wasn’t working…….” His mouth twitches into a smile, showing his teeth. “Well, I guess knowing what I know now, her spare time must have been occupied fucking you.”
My jaw ticks as I take a step out of my corner, Benjamin instantly at my side and keeping me from getting any closer.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Hollywood? Did I strike a nerve? I mean, did she really make you feel special?” He’s trying to provoke me, and it’s working. “Like the only one who could ever make her feel so loved. Don’t you think she felt the same way with Jamie?” Eyeing him, I can see the smoke he’s trying to blow, but I can also feel Ryann’s panic from the other room.
“Ya, I think you have Raymond and Ryann mixed up.”
Sitting back, he waves out his hands again. His feet stomping on the floor as the chains rattle. “Ohhh, Raymond. So obsessed with the Anderson name. Wanted Ryann to marry the football star athlete and wanted me to take over the farm with Jen. And you know what…..you had to go and screw all that up for me, didn’t you?”
“Other victims are coming forward. This wasn’t something you only did to Ryann, so why stay in her life and continue to be the best friend?”
Max frowns as he cocks his head onto a shoulder, very creepily. Like a predator. “I was her friend. I looked out for her. Imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t been there. I stopped Jamie from doing much, much worst. Just ask his other victims.” He’s fucking delusional.
“You sold her. How much did he fucking pay you?”
Shrugging a shoulder, “Depends how much Ry brought in. But that’s the point. I disagreed with the whole tying her down shit. And then mister knight and shining armor over there had to storm the fucking room like he knew what the hell was going on. Reported me and nearly cost me everything.”
“She was screaming for help.” At least Benjamin dared to break from the fucking High School mold.
Max looks off into his reflection of the two-way mirror. Almost like he can see Ry, “She would have stopped. The drugs hadn’t hit. She kept spitting the drink out.”
“She nearly died.” Benjamin bellows before forcing himself to recompose.
“She nearly died several times.” Max’s eyes turn dark, his personality switching. “It happens.” Sliding forward in his chair, “Do you really think she’s the only druggie to die from taking or drinking too much? No one would have cared. She’s only a number.”
Feeling Benjamin’s restraint lax, I manage to pull out of his hold and storm up to the table, slamming my hands down to the tabletop. And this whole fucking good boy, bad boy, don’t give fuck act Max is putting falls out of place. “You’re fucking coward.”
“Didn’t fly under your radar, did I? You hated me the moment Ry spoke of me.” I hated him the moment I saw a picture of him in her apartment. I didn’t trust his face. “You encourage her too much.”
We’re done here, “I’m going to ask this one last time. What did you mean Ryann is barely out of Jamie’s hold.”
Laughing, Max seriously looks insane. “As long as he remains free, he’ll always try a way to get to her. No one can be trusted. Pearl gave him everything needed back in Cali. It’s only a matter of time before someone else betrays her.”
Looking up at the two-way mirror, I can’t sense Ryann anymore. Feeling a sense of ease, I know she didn’t run, but Travis got her out of here. “No one else will betray her. And you two will never come anywhere near Ryann ever again, or I’ll personally kill you.”
“Is that a threat?”
“It’s a warning. Do what’s right. Man, the fuck up. If you seriously care for Ryann the way you say you do. Then make this fucking right. Ryann has been through enough at the hands of not only Jamie but you. Make this right not only for her but for Jen and Betty too. Fix this.”
If Max has any dignity left, he will fix this mess.