Riley wanted to throw up.
She'd wanted to since she saw Daniel for the first time since she'd met him at Lucas's. Her stomach had tied into a knot, and she'd wanted to run away, get as far away from the guy as she could.
But she couldn't.
Maya needed her. And now Lucas did, too.
The dinner passed awkwardly; Riley barely even picked at her food, nibbling at her fries and taking a few bites of her chicken sandwich. Maya, on the other hand, wolfed down her food like she was starving. Lucas ate normally, but Riley could sense the unease- it practically radiated from him, like light from a lightbulb.
Well... this is going better than I thought, she tried to reassure herself. Nobody's gotten hurt, so that's a plus.
"So, Maya," Daniel cleared his throat, shattering the silence. He turned to his daughter, whose face was pale as he said her name. Riley's stomach lurched- she looked as if she were going to throw up. "I hear that you like to draw?"
She nodded, biting her lip and scratching at the back of her neck. "Yeah," she told him, gulping. "I, uh, dabble a bit."
Dabble? Riley wasn't quite sure that was the right word, but she didn't voice her thoughts. Maya was gifted at drawing, but Daniel didn't need to know that. She wasn't even sure that Maya knew it. Either way, she could tell from the gleam in her best friend's bright blue eyes that she had a plan. If Riley opened her mouth now, she risked ruining that.
Daniel studied her for a few seconds as if sizing her up, his eyes cold and calculating. Then he finally spoke, his gruff voice giving Riley the creeps. "Katy- your mother- bragged to me about your art, Maya. She said an art collector had offered to buy some of it."
"You never told me about that!" Riley had barely had a chance to think before the words came tumbling out of her mouth. Maya had cried to her about never having enough money to get through- selling her art, well, that would help, at least a little bit. But most likely a lot.
Cheeks flushing a bright red color, Maya flashed her a warning look. The message was clear; shut up and let me do the talking.
Riley gulped. Got it.
"Yeah, this art collector guy saw my painting at an art fair this one made me enter," it was Riley's turn to blush, now, as Maya pointed to her. "He offered money for it, but I said no..." her voice trailed off, and she swallowed hard. "My... my art isn't for sale."
Daniel's features hardened into an icy glare, and he clenched his fists as if he were about to hit her. Riley's breath caught in her throat, and even after Daniel relaxed, she couldn't let her guard down. Lucas's hand found hers, and they met each other's eyes.
How was it that, even in the most dire situations, he could make her hands sweat and her heart race and her mind spin with just a second of eye contact? Riley would most likely never know- it was one of the greatest mysteries of the world. And right now wasn't really the time to think about it. But the look in his eyes conveyed a clear message.
He wouldn't let Daniel hurt either of them.
Somehow, that wasn't much of a reassurance.
Riley recognized the fire in Lucas's eyes, the way his jaw clenched. It was anger, and not like defending Farkle from Billy or Zay from the bully- no, it was much more intense than that. She had a feeling that if Daniel so much as looked at her and Maya the wrong way, something was going down.
"Why would you refuse something like that?" Daniel's voice was little more than a low growl, one that chilled Riley to the bone. She leaned closer to him, shivering in fear. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, she thought. I want to go home, NOW.
The color drained from Maya's face. "L-like I said, Dad," she stammered, the words sounding strange coming from her mouth. "I said no because my art is not for sale. I don't draw for other people to buy."
"Hm," was all Daniel said, a thoughtful look in his eyes which scared Riley even more.
The rest of the dinner passed quickly, and before she knew it, they were walking down the street towards the subway station. The sun hadn't set yet, but the city was getting dark. Riley hoped they got home before it got too late. She didn't like New York City at night. It gave her the creeps, and she knew her parents would want her home soon. As far as they knew, she was just hanging out at Maya's.
They were in a quiet part of the village, if you could even call New York quiet. The only sound was the sound of their footsteps, crunching through the thin layer of snow underfoot.
"Ugh," Maya's breath came out in a puff of fog, and she pulled her thin winter coat closer to her petite frame. "It's cold," she shivered. "I don't like it."
Riley half expected Daniel to tell her to get over it, but he didn't, instead pulling her into a hug, which was almost worse than the cold.
"We're almost there," Daniel grunted in what was supposed to be a reassuring way."I just have to make a stop real quick."
A stop? Riley shivered, pressing closer to Lucas, who wrapped an arm around her shoulders, sharing his warmth. What kind of stop is more important than getting us home? She wanted to break away from them and go home by herself.
But the thought of walking home alone at night scared her more than Daniel. She could get lost, or jumped, or robbed, or rap- Shut up! she told herself. You're not leaving, you're not going anywhere alone, so stop thinking about it!
Without any sort of warning, Daniel stopped in his tracks, and Riley, lost in her thoughts and unaware of the sudden stop, collided with him. He whirled around with a murderous look in his icy blue eyes, and with a squeak of fear, she reeled away from him, her feet sliding on the ice. She tumbled toward the ground, stopped only by Maya, who quickly picked her up by her armpits and lifted her back to her feet.
"Watch... where.. you're... GOING!" came Daniel's thunderous roar. His blue eyes gleamed in the dying light of the sun. Riley's heart leaped into her throat as he balled his fist, looking ready to take a swing at her.
"Don't you dare even think about hurting her!"
It was Maya, not Lucas, who yelled, stepping forward with narrowed blue eyes. Riley gulped. What the heck are you doing?! she wanted to cry, but her voice didn't want to work, and she was forced to watch in horror as the horrendous situation unfolded before her. He'll hurt you!
"You don't tell me what to do, girl!" Daniel spoke in a low, dangerous voice, and he raised his arm to take a swing at her. "I'll teach you what happens when you do!"
Everything happened so fast. Daniel's hand swung down, but he didn't hurt Maya, who he'd originally intended to hit. Riley shoved her out of the way, and his fist collided with her stomach. Springing back and sliding on the ice, she fell to the ground, yelping in fear and pain as she landed wrong, hearing a snap and a burst of agony running through her arm. "Don't... hurt.. her!" she gasped.
The man loomed over her, and she mentally cursed herself. What was I thinking!?
"I'll handle my kids the way I want to, and you can't do a thing about it!" he taunted her, giving her a hard kick in the ribs. She cried out in pain, scrambling to get up. As soon as she tried putting her weight on her right hand, her dominant one, she felt a second burst of agony, and she fell flat on her face. I... eh... it's broken... she couldn't keep the tears from streaming down her cheeks.
"Riley!" Maya cried out, leaning down to tend to her. "Leave her alone!"she tried again, this time using her left hand to push herself up. But she could barely do a push-up with both hands, let alone only one.
"Oh, what are you going to do about it?" Daniel snarled at Maya, snatching Riley up by the collar of her shirt. She let out a squeal of fear.
"Lucas! Help me!"
Lucas stood there with narrowed green eyes, giving his father a glare that was downright murderous- he would have dropped dead in an instant, if he'd had the power. His voice was low and dangerous.
Something was about to go down.
"Dad," he growled, stepping closer to him. "Let them go, now, before I make you. Whatever problems you have with them, take them up with me."
"What's that, son?" Daniel seemed genuinely surprised at Lucas's words, but still no less terrifying, even as he set Riley down.
"L-Lucas," Riley stammered softly, her eyes wide.
"Ranger Rick, what are you doing!?" Maya hissed.
He didn't reply to either of them, instead staring at his father with a fierce, terrifying anger in his eyes. "I said that whatever problem you have with them, you can take it up with me. Don't you dare lay a finger on them."
A cold breeze blew through, and Riley whimpered. She didn't like where this was going.
Daniel rounded on his son, pinning him against the wall of a building and repeatedly punching him in the face. Lucas struggled to fight back, but if he was a strong as a horse, Daniel was a lion or tiger. He was losing miserably.
Lucas broke away long to look at the two girls cowering nearby, about to tell them something before Daniel stopped him, knocking him to the ground. There was a trickle of blood running from the boy's mouth, making Riley sick as soon as she laid eyes on it. Maya shielded her eyes for her, and didn't let her see until Daniel finally fell away from him.
The man turned to the girls with an icy glare. "That's what happens when you mess with me," he growled softly. "You'd best remember that, before you end up like him."
"You-you can't h-hurt your kids like that! It's-it's illegal! You'll go to jail!" Riley blurted out, not even having a chance to think before the words tumbled out of her mouth. "Y-you won't g-get away with it!"
"Oh, I've already gotten away with it," Daniel grabbed a hold of her broken arm, lifting her a few inches from the ground. She yelped in pain, her eyes wide."I can do whatever I want with my children, and there's nothing a little pipsqueak like you can do about it!"
Riley whimpered in response, and Daniel dropped her near Lucas, turning away and disappearing into the night, his footsteps fading into silence.
"Riles!" Maya was at their side in an instant. "Lucas! Are you alright?"
"...eh..." Lucas groaned in response. He was barely conscious, his eyes closed and his breathing ragged. This is bad, Riley thought. This is really, really bad!"
Crouching down near him, the petite blonde sighed. "Lucas," she repeated softly, her voice barely a whisper.
"Maya, he's hurt! He's hurt real bad!" Riley told her, "We have to get help!"
Maya nodded, pulling out her phone- the one Cory had gotten her so long ago. Her fingers trembled as she dialed the three numbers- 911.
The pain in Riley's arm was suddenly more noticeable as she shivered, pressing herself close to Lucas's body. She whimpered, listening to his heartbeat, strong and steady, pounding against his chest in rhythmic, comforting beats. Maybe this won't be so bad after all, she tried to tell herself, but she couldn't even make herself believe it.
Maya's words on the phone even further put her off, and the true horror of the situation unfolded before her. She sounded so vulnerable, so... so not-Maya-like, but she knew each and every word of it was true.
"I-I'm one of three teenagers left alone in the middle of New York City at night, it's cold and I'm scared. One of them is almost unconscious, and the other has a broken arm. We... we need help..."
To Be Continued...