I never ran so fast in my life. I swear the couple of cops I ran past looked like they were ready to follow me out or arrest me for some backwoods law I just broke. Practically jumping down the front steps, I walk the poorly lit sidewalk to the small parking lot. Crickets and the distant sound of coyotes can be heard in the chilled night air.
But I can also feel the agony screaming in the stagnant air. I can feel Ryann crying, I can feel her heartbreaking all over again, and I can feel her anger. A feeling she needs to welcome and embrace if she’s to move on.
Slowing my steps, I find Travis standing at the backdoor of the car with his back towards the parking lot. I can hear the soft murmur of his voice as he talks openly with his hands. At times, propping one on the side of the car.
“Ryann, it’s not your fault. We’ve all been played a fool a time or two in our lives. We learn from it, and I’m sorry you’ve had to learn from what you’ve gone through. But look where you started. In this town with people who didn’t believe in you.” I manage to catch Ryann looking up from her hands. “Now, look where you are. The people who love you and support you. You’ve changed so many lives. Not to mention you showed Thomas it’s possible to come out of the darkness. You gave him the courage to love again.”
“Do you think I should have stayed and listened to more?”
Travis shakes his head, “Ryann, if you want my honest opinion. I don’t think you needed to hear anything Maxwell has to say for the closure you seek. It’s clear from what we did see and hear that he’s not in a healthy state of mind, and he may never have been. You’re not the only one who was fooled by him.”
“But I brought him into everyone’s lives here. My sister……God, I thought I was protecting her, and I handed her to someone worse than Jamie. At least with Jamie, I knew what to expect. But Max….Max he….. FUCK! I’m so damn stupid. That whole damn time, he only befriended me because Jamie hired him too. And I told him things. Things about me that one else knew at the time.”
“Things about Thomas?” Travis asks, and I know it’s to figure out the full extent of what Max may or may not know.
“No. The only thing Max knew was that Thomas had a drinking problem and the parties he threw. That’s it. And the only reason he knew was because of what my sister watched. I never told him anything else.” Ryann is starting to become defensive with each word spoken. I can’t say I blame her, but she also has to know why Travis is asking these questions.
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
I catch her eyeing him as the conversation continues. Both of them are seemingly unaware that I’m nearby. “I….I don’t know. Travis, I originally came into this job just to get out of Indiana. That was it. I really believed I would be fired within the first two weeks because the first time Thomas and I met, I handed him over to a bunch of screaming fans.”
Travis chuckles with the rise and fall of his back, “Ya, I remember. At the time, he wasn’t very concerned with security and didn’t want me traveling with him. So, he hired outside security that was clearly crap.”
“Ya, well, things changed. Quickly. It was like I was seeing a different side. One no one else saw. I saw things forced upon him he didn’t want to do. I saw the underlining abuse of power that no one spoke up against. But I saw a man struggling to stay afloat in an industry that doesn’t really care what happens.” Pausing, she starts picking at her nails before spinning her rings. “I don’t know how to explain it, Travis, it was like this overwhelming need to protect him and fight for him. Does that make any sense?”
“It does.” He should know all about protecting someone. He’s been doing it since the moment Ryann arrived.
Taking a deep breath, Ryann’s eyes suddenly land on me, causing Travis to turn my way. Taking large steps, it takes me no time to close the distance between us, and I’m ambushed as Ryann jumps out of the backseat and into my arms.
Inhaling deeply, I’m immediately catapulted into a field of wildflowers and vanilla, and I can no longer feel the madness.
Burying my head into the crook of her neck, “I love you so fucking much, you know that, right?” I don’t know what all she heard from Max, but I don’t want her, for a fucking second, to believe anything he said. I need her to only remember what Travis said, what I’m saying, and what everyone around her will be screaming. She is loved, and no one, NO ONE, will betray her the way Max did.
“I love you,” she practically cries, holding onto me tightly. “I’m sorry. I had to leave. I couldn’t hear anymore.”
“Shhh, babydoll.” Rocking her in my arms, my grip tightens. “It’s done. It’s over. Are you ready to go to the hotel?”
Nodding her head, we head back to the car. Travis is ready to get the fuck out of here, and so am I. But we don’t get far as I hear the running stomping of shoes against the pavement, and I really have to keep myself from groaning out in fucking frustration.
“Ryann, wait.” Benjamin’s plea causes Ryann to stop as I attempt to keep her moving. “Ry, please wait.”
Turning against my hold, “Benji, thank you for everything you’ve done. I’m sorry I asked you to do that for us. I know you could get into a lot of trouble for this.”
“I highly doubt anything will come of me for this little stunt. You may not really see it, but the town has changed.”
Eyeing him, “Ya, from what I’ve seen, it’s changed a lot.”
If he calls this town changed, then I’m the Dalai Lama.
“You can’t let three people speak as a whole.”
I don’t know. They seem to be doing one hell of a job plopping Colfax on the map for the most judgmental town full of assholes. “I don’t know. They seem to be doing an A-one job.” If the sarcasm isn’t evident by my tone, it is by the thumbs up I’m giving.
“Are you normally this big of an asshole?”
Shrugging, “Some days, I’m bigger.”
“And for some reason, that doesn’t surprise me. Makes me really wonder how you were able to get out of your DUI. Clearly, money.”
Feeling my eyes grow and my jaw tense, I take not even half a step before Ryann is between Travis and us is pulling me back.
“Thomas, behave,” Ryann warns.
Me behave? What about him? He’s the one throwing a fucking DUI in my face I wasn’t even charged for. Though Ryann’s punishment was ten times worse than any fucking community service I would have been sentenced to. I was literally left vehicle less for two months. I couldn’t find the keys she hid to save my fucking life. Travis was the definition of my driver and somehow found the nerve to tell me no, more. Though, the hidden liquor bottles were never objectified. Not until Ryann threw the one out of the damn car window.
“Is everything alright here?”
Rolling my eyes at the sound of another male voice, my patience was thinned before. But now, now, I’m just done. Standing just on the other side of the lovely Sheriff is a man dressed in a black officer’s uniform. I’m not really sure if he’s met the height requirement needed to join the force. Or maybe leprechauns are now welcomed.
Okay….in reality, this guy is barely shorter than Benjamin. I’m being an ass.
“Ry? Ryann? Anderson?” My eyes immediately narrow towards the man as Ryann tenses. “Holy shit!”
Wonder how much trouble I’ll be in if I punched a cop? Because we’re about to find out.
“Neil, go into the station. I have this handled.” Benjamin instructs. But it’s clear Neil isn’t listening.
“Never thought we’d see you in town again. And with Thomas Copeland no less.”
Eyeing Benjamin, he better get a handle on this and fast because if he doesn’t, there will be more than one reason the media will be back in Colfax.
“Oh, man, I’m sure the town is flippin’.”
Craning my neck, he’s about to get a whole new meaning to the word flippin’.
“Officer, Daryl. Is there something you needed?”
Standing at attention, it’s like the reunion Neil was hoping for has finally been crushed. It’s not like Ryann is going to great old classmates with open fucking arms. And it’s evident from the even keel glare she’s keeping between the three of us……fuck, and why am I the one who is in trouble?
The next time Ryann feels the need to come back home, we’re meeting her family in fucking Indianapolis or at the state line of Indiana and Kentucky. Fuck this place and fuck the people who suddenly want to act like her friend. People can change, but I’m starting to think Ryann is right. The apologies she’ll get aren’t the ones she’ll want. And this Neil guy trying to play buddy, buddy with her has her all tense and me ready to jump at her word.
“No, sir. Wanted to make sure you didn’t need backup.” His excuse is pathetic with the sad attempt at sounding authoritative.
“We’re fine. I believe you’re late for your shift.” Benjamin dismisses him with a demanding ease. Neil leaves without another word, heading for his patrol car in the small parking lot. Ryann’s eyes following him closely as he gives her a small, tight, almost shameful smile.
Attempting to get Ryann’s attention back to me, “What was that about?”
Ignoring Benjamin, “Ryann, hey.” I have to mentally tell myself to rein it in and not snap. But I don’t like the look in Ryann’s eyes. Almost like she’s reliving some kind of horrible dream. And I feel it. My stomach sinking into the depths of hell and burning with a new fiery rage. “Was he…..” I have to force the words out as I watch Neil peel out of the fucking parking lot in his patrol car. Pointing wildly, “Did he….”
“He what?” Benjamin nearly yells.
Ryann shakes her head, “No, he didn’t…….”
“Then what?” I demand, forcing her to look at me as I take her by the shoulders. “Ryann, you need to talk to me because you look like you stepped back in time and have yet to come out.”
“Umm…..” biting her lower lip, she cranes her head up towards the night sky before locking her wide hazel eyes with mine. “He was……” Taking a deep breath in, she holds it long enough I’m afraid she’ll pass out before she finally exhales. “He was at one of the parties.”
Benjamin and I both look at each other. He’s more concerned while I’m trying to fight the urge to steal the car and find the fucker before hearing the rest of the damn story.
“Umm….I think we were in a cornfield.”
“Ry, there were several parties in a cornfield.”
She shakes her head, “The one with……arghh!” She groans out in frustration as she starts pulling at her roots. Taking hold of her hands, I slowly peel them from her scalp and notice she physically pulled hair out. “I can’t…..I can’t remember.”
“Hey,” I urge, “it’s okay. You’ll remember.”
“No!” Ryann’s voice echoes with her scream. “It’s not alright. I can’t remember what party we were at. All I can remember is fucking fragments of broken harvest stalks and someone helping me walk. I couldn’t walk….” She trails off as she cranes her neck to the side, trying to force herself to remember.
“Ry, do you want me to call Neil back?”
She’s unsure, but I can tell by her silence, she’s trying to force a memory out. One she can barely remember. And I’m afraid if Ryann continues to strain herself, the memory will either not come or become distorted.
Wrapping Ryann into a protective embrace, I attempt to soothe her, rocking softly from side to side. “Do it.” I finally say to Benjamin. “Call him and have him meet us outside of the city. I don’t want Ryann to run into anyone else from this damn town.”
Then we’re done. Ryann will not be catching up with anyone else. Because as soon as we’re done talking with Neil, we’re out of this fucking town.