It’s been a couple of months since we left Indiana, and we’re actually in the final weeks of living in California before we pack everything up and move out to Tennessee. My grandparents are already living their best-retired farm life out in their old home. And let me tell you, my grandma is in complete awe with the renovations Alex pulled off. He managed to make their home look how it did the day they sold it…..just with minor upgrades here and there.
I mean, my grandma was so impressed she sent Alex and Rose a care package along with a little gift for their son. I can’t wait to have Alex and his family up for my grandparents to officially meet them. And who’d a thought I’d ever be in a place where I’d host friends over without it involving a fucking party.
And Ryann and I are beyond ready to get the fuck out of Hollywood.
Ever since we returned, we’ve been hounded by the media and vultures waiting for us at every damn turn. Wanting to know everything about the car accident, which only became more prevalent thanks to the drunk driver who slammed into us. She’s now trying to pin the accident on us, on me.
Nice try, sweetie. Tucker is the best fucking lawyer in the United States for a damn reason, and he’s handling and squashing every fucking claim this woman is putting out.
She claims I was driving……false. There is evidence of a funeral for our driver that I paid for. Not to mention the account I’ve set outside for the driver’s family and child. Tucker released a very diplomatic news release regarding that little matter. Instead of my giant fuck you, I wanted to release.
But another blessing, and I can’t thank Ryann enough for speaking out and taking control of that fucking interview like the damn boss she is, Alison Drake. Alison has been posting vlogs and news updates regarding the matter too.
Reporting the truth.
This woman poked the bear and opened herself up to all of the fucking dirt Alison could dig up and plaster everywhere for everyone to see. I’m not really sure why Alison feels so protective over Ryann, but I’ll take it. Especially since this isn’t the woman’s first DUI.
Which leads me to the other reason the media is hounding Ryann.
Maxwell flipped. He actually fucking flipped on Jamie and is singing a whole new tune that is bringing new evidence and charges. Of course, Ryann’s name has been leaked along with the Anderson name, which means they, too, are getting unwanted attention. Jamie and his lawyers are attempting to play clean-up. Especially when it comes to their first victim, Ryann. Spreading fucking cruel and disgusting rumors. Once again, what’s mine is Ryann’s, and Tucker is on the fucking case with cease-and-desist orders along with defamation suites heading Jamie’s way along with a slew of other lawsuits.
Not to mention, I’ve brought Alison in on Ryann’s case and the pending cases against Jamie and Max. But that will be another little surprise tonight if Ryann doesn’t kill me first.
Overall, we don’t typically watch or read anything that involves entertainment. Hell, we barely read top news stories because we don’t want to see any potential side articles that may relate to the world of Hollywood. So, when Ryann got a call from Jen screaming media trucks were on their parent’s front lawn, Ryann became worried for their safety. We arranged for a car to pick up her mom and sister because her dad refused to leave, and took them out to Teresa’s. And that is where they’ve stayed. At least Betty.
Apparently, Jen has been getting pretty cozy with the Sheriff of Colfax. I guess what better way to stay safe. Though the media has been outside his house and the police department trying to gain answers. I’ll have to admit, Benjamin is really becoming a pro at saying “No comment.”
Ryann talked about flying back to the fucking Hoosier state, and both Travis and I put our foot down on that idea. It’s not safe, and I’m sure as hell not allowing any more of those fucking memories to bombard her like the last time. She was pissed, naturally. Travis told her no, and I practically forbid it with the threat of added security. She eventually came around.
Eventually. Took a lot of enticing on my part.
Val and Xayla may have also provided some help in persuading Ryann too and kept her distracted with the preparation for this Gala. Ryann knows it’s a charity event, but she believes it’s to raise money for alcohol awareness. I mean….makes sense, right? Considering.
But sitting in the town car, I can tell she’s starting to get slightly suspicious that something is up. Also doesn’t help Xayla nearly spilled the beans twice. It took Val severely elbowing Xayla to get her to shut up.
God, I know I said I’d never been more nervous than I had at the last premiere, but fucking hell, I think I’m sweating through my suit jacket.
Ryann looks flawless as always and is wearing a simple black dress with a Swarovski crystal embroidered belt that accentuates her waist and torso. Her hair is down and done in this beautiful wavy fashion. Ryann seriously looks like she just stepped out of a 20’s movie and outshines in any room she’s in.
“Hey,” Ryann whispers leaning into my side, “are you okay?”
Taking her hand with my sweaty hand, “Yuup.” That’s not believable.
Eyeing me, “You sure? Because you’re looking a little green.”
The quiet conversation dies between Xayla and Val, who aren’t concerned perse, but more amused by my sudden nerves.
“Ohhh, is the one and only Thomas Copeland who doesn’t get nervous, nervous.” Xayla coos.
Rolling my eyes, “Just nervous about the speech, that’s all.” I hiss in an attempt to warn Xayla to watch what she says. She shrugs her dainty shoulder, and I’m not sure if she gets the underlying meaning or just doesn’t care.
That’s a stretch because Xayla knows how much this Gala means to Andrew and me, and she knows how much I really want to surprise Ryann with this accomplishment. One that was entirely inspired by her.
“You’ll kill it, Thomas,” Val says in an attempt to defuse the tension and be uplifting all at the same time.
“Baby, you’ll be wonderful. If you get too nervous, just find me in the crowd.” Ryann smiles as she places a soft kiss to my lips. If only she knew how easy it will be to find her in the crowd.
Feeling the car slow to a stop, the door is wiped open, and the buzzing sound of chatter and camera shutter fills the car. Taking a deep breath in, Xayla and Val are the first to file out of the vehicle. Both of them scrunching the excess material of their gowns into a hand to make sure they don’t step on the fabric.
Xayla, of course, went with her signature color, a red satin gown that hugs every curve of her body, but at the same time, it’s pretty modest for her with a neckline that barely shows any cleavage. And Val opted for a lilac purple fit and flare gown with lacey material around the dress’s bodice. Both dresses are simple and elegant. The only dress with any type of flare is Ryann’s, and I have a sneaky suspicion it was done on purpose.
Taking a deep, not so calming breath in again, I take the first steps out of the back of the car with Ryann at my side and walk the carpet.
Wrapping an arm around Ryann’s hip, we walk as one. Stopping to smile for photos here and there, and the peaceful part of it all……not a single fucking person yelling out obscene questions in an attempt to rile Ryann or me up.
Stopping in front of the media carrel, I hold Ryann close as I lean into her slightly. My lips gracing the top of her ear, “You look absolutely stunning.”
Turning her head up towards me, the smile across her face is brighter than the flashes from the cameras. “And you look mighty dashing, Mr. Copeland. What are you up to?”
Placing a lasting kiss to her lips, shutters erupt as we give up a piece of our private life for all to see. The only part of our relationship we’ll allow the world to see. “Absolutely, nothing.” I smile against her lips before pulling away. She gives me a sly side-eye as we make our way the rest of the way down the red carpet and into the building.
The large cathedral-style room is decorated very simply yet elegantly. Each large round table sits up to eight people, and the table clothes alternate between a deep red and a medium to dark teal. If I didn’t know the hidden meaning behind these colors, I’d think I’ve walked into a room decked out in Christmas decorations. But I think the pink and lavender lilies pull away from that feel. I’m honestly not sure what arrangement the centerpieces are made of. Xayla and Val took over that tiny detail with the florist. My only request was to incorporate purple into the arrangement, and they did.
With my hand at the small of Ryann’s back, I urge her to continue walking as I catch her taking in her surroundings. The stage at the front of the room is set up for speeches with a podium positioned perfectly in the center, and our table is front and centered. I know this is supposed to be a surprise for Ryann, but I’m starting to feel slightly overwhelmed by the view of the room.
This easily exceeds my expectations.
Catching Andrew and Sasha’s attention, they wave for us to join their group. “Thomas, the colors….” Ryann trails off, looking at me with her expressive hazel eyes. I know she is fully aware what the colors could mean, but I’m not sure if she’s put the entirety of this event together.
“Babydoll, Christmas is right around the corner. I’m sure they’ve paired the red to make the event a little more festive.” She frowns slightly. Almost like she wants to accept the idea than look into the deeper meaning.
“Ryann!” Sasha greets. “Come on, I have to show you this amazing painting.” Sasha links her arm with Ryann and slowly pulls her away from the group. And Ryann gives me a wary look as she’s escorted away from the group.
“She’s suspicious, isn’t she?” Andrew asks.
Turning my attention back to the group, “Only slightly. The colors almost gave us away.”
“Why would the colors give you guys away?” James asks.
James was once someone I partied with in my earlier days. His vice, heroin. Then he was sent off to rehab or spend a lovely one thousand four hundred and sixty days behind some metal bars for a slew of charges that started with a needle. He stayed clean for forty-five days, relapsed, and still found himself behind bars. James was essentially blacklisted from working on any well-paying movie due to his stunts.
Which, if you think about it, weren’t all that different from mine. Minus our choice of addiction.
But James rebounded and remade a name for himself. He’s back to acting and doing voice-overs for documentaries. He’s been clean for about eight years now and was pleasantly surprised when I reached out to his people.
“Beeecause….” Xayla sings from behind and joining the small group. “Sooo, each color represents ribbons. Red is alcohol and drugs, teal is sexual assault, and the hidden purple in the bouquet of flowers is for opioids. And if Ryann picked up on the colors, which we all know she has……… speaking of which, where is she?”
“Sasha took her,” Andrew states as he nods his head in the direction they disappeared off to. “Val’s waiting for them, and they’ll keep her busy until the time comes to take her to the table.” And at the table is a little card for Ryann with the true name of the foundation. The little signages that are up currently will be placed once introductions begin.
“Ohhh, speaking of which, you’re wanted backstage.” Arching a brow towards Xayla, my mind immediately goes that something has gone horribly wrong with one of the speakers or a drug deal is going down.
But before I can answer, Xayla is practically dragging me across the room and towards the stage. I try and make the walk look as normal as fucking possible, but as I force a few waves here and there, I feel even more awkward. Especially without Ryann by my side. The polite waves and smiles were and will always be her thing.
“Xayla,” I attempt to whisper between my teeth, “What in the hell is going on?” Xayla drags me past the black curtains, concealing ourselves from the large crowd on the main floor.
Turning on her heels, she puts her hands up. A warning I may not like what she’s about to say, but at the same time, she wants me to understand. But every time Xayla tries and pulls a fucking surprise off, it ends horridly. All I have to say, she’s lucky Val is even talking to her right now. Ryann really had to play peacekeeper between those two. “I have a surprise.”
And that’s what I figured would come out of her mouth.
“Xayla,” I groan out, “Your last surprise didn’t go so well, in case you forgot.”
Scowling, “Okay…okay, not my finest moment. But I fixed it. Val and I are cool.”
“Ryann fixed it. Now whatever surprise you think you have, you don’t.” I’m not even in any frame of mind to entertain Xayla’s idea or hear her out. Turning on my heels, I’m stopped mid-stride……and I’m really trying to find my inner peace to not snap at Xayla right now.
“Wait, no. I seriously…….Thomas, look. Tell him.”
Intrigued, I slowly turn around, and I swear to fucking hell if it’s fucking Jonathan, a fight will have to be broken up. What a way to start and end an event.
But it’s not.
Instead, a woman stands just behind Xayla with a broad and bright, proud smile across her face. The last time I saw her, she looked like she just came from a funeral. This evening, she looks as if she’s about to attend a very elegant funeral with her off-the-shoulder long-sleeve, knee-length black dress. Her two-toned grey hair curled and pulled half back into a sleek bun.
“Hello, Thomas, you cleaned up well. Didn’t think to mention this little event you were throwing the last time we chatted?”
I’d like to think Teresa is starting to slowly fall in love with me. But then again, that’s wishful thinking. “Teresa, it’s good to see you.” Taking me by surprise, she embraces me into a hug. Well, this is a first.
“So, Ryann doesn’t know what’s going on?” Shaking my head, I’m still slightly astonished, Xayla actually pulled off a surprise that won’t piss anyone off. “I was a little taken aback when I had a call from Xalya Masterson’s people asking me to return their call. But I was told I just had to come down to this event.”
“And?” Because I, for some reason, have a need to impress Teresa. I want her approval when I know the only approval I will ever need is Ryann’s.
Nodding her head, “I’m impressed. You’ve come a long way, Thomas, and I think as long as you and Ryann have each other, you two will go even further.” I watch her peek her head out from the curtain, stealing a look-see at the crowded room. “Sooooo, is Travis here?”
Arching a brow, Xayla has a sly smirk dancing across her face as she attempts to conceal a giggle. “He is. Snuck in through the back. Ryann didn’t know he’d be here, but I’m guessing by now, he’s already found her.” I’m immediately met with a whack to my torso, and I glare at Xayla.
“It’s okay for you to pull the same stunt, but when I do it….”
“I also don’t have shitty timing.”
Scowling, “Your timing is just as shitty as mine. At least I don’t…..”
“Are you two done bickering?” Teresa warns. Xayla sticks her tongue out, and I roll my eyes. But the warning look behind Teresa’s grey eyes is enough to shut both of us up. “I don’t know about you two, but I’d say it’s time to honor those who’ve come so far.”
Smiling, I couldn’t agree more.