First Off, I Can't Keep a Promise
Sitting alone on the couch, a soda on the coffee table, bowl of popcorn in her lap, legs stretched out in front of her. Typical Friday night.
Riley sighed, running her fingers through the tangled brown mess on top of her head. "Welcome to my life," she mumbled.
Pathetic. That's how her weekends had been lately. Actually, if she was honest with herself, that's how her weekends had been for eight months.
She rolled her head to the side, watching whatever the character's name was in this romance movie profess his love for the female character. She rolled her eyes as the voice on the television mumbled that he would love the woman forever. "Don't count on it," she muttered to herself, setting the popcorn on the coffee table and flopping onto her back.
She sighed. God she wished her life was a movie. If it was she wouldn't be here, lying on the couch, alone, on a Friday night watching romance movies. If her life was a movie she would have spent the past eight months thinking of something other than him, she wouldn't have spent the past five years breaking up and getting back together. If you could even call it that.
She scoffed. Really neither of those terms applied to that particular relationship. They'd never really put a label on it. Not that they ever got the chance. One of them was always running, always unavailable. Wrong place, wrong time, they always said.
It had been eight months this time. How pathetic was that? No matter how long they went without speaking she still couldn't keep him out of her head for long. She hated that. She hated him. And she loved him. She wished he would show up at her door. And she wished she'd never see him again. Yeah. She was all over the damn place.
She let out a long sigh. Why did this time have to be like that? She'd been ready this time. She wanted to do it all right this time. She'd been ready to marry him this time. Everything had fallen into perfect place, until all of a sudden it wasn't perfect anymore. It was broken again, and she had no idea how they let it happen. But he was gone and she was miserable. He'd been a part of her for so long she almost didn't know how to be without him. She couldn't seem to let him go.
She took a long slow breath and turned back to the television. This girl had it made. She was going to get the guy and live happily ever after. When the fuck did that happen in real life?
The buzzing of her cell phone against the table caught her attention and she picked it up. It wouldn't be him. She'd stopped expecting him to call months ago.
"Yeah?" she answered, stretching her arms over her head.
"Is that any way to greet your favorite boy?" She bolted up into a seated position on the couch as a familiar laugh filled her ear.
"James?" She smiled widely and heard his laughter again.
"That's my name. You miss me?" he asked and she could almost see the sarcastic grin spread across his face. She winced, that grin reminded her too much of another, almost identical grin. It caused her as close to physical pain as a memory could. "Riley girl?" He asked after her bout of silence and she shook her head, smiling again.
"Sorry," she chuckled. "Of course I miss you, Jamie!"
He laughed again. "Good. Now how about you change out of your sweatpants, get cute, forget about my dumbass brother and come pick me up at the airport."
"Wait, what? You're in Wilmington!?" She practically bellowed into the phone.
"I am indeed. Now come and get me!"
Riley laughed, shaking her head, but already rushing to her bedroom. "Twenty minutes, Jame."
"Hurry that pretty little ass up!"
She laughed, hanging up and tossing her phone on the bed before getting ready at record speed.
Half an hour later she was rushing through the airport in search of one James Weston. She finally spotted him, he wore navy blue slacks and a navy blue jacket with gold buttons and a white belt, a hat on top of his practically hairless head.
She couldn't get over how adult he looked; his Marine uniform aged him well. "Jamie!" She hollered and he turned slowly, finally grinning wildly as he found her with his eyes.
He dropped the bags he was holding and held his arms out. She laughed, taking off at a run across the airport and launching herself into his arms. He caught her easily, spinning her around before setting her back on her feet. She laughed, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "God, look at you!" She said, pulling back to hold him at arm's length.
He smiled shyly, running a palm across the back of his neck. "Yeah," he shrugged. "I left straight from the base, so...you know." he chuckled, gesturing to his uniform.
"You look amazing, James."
He smiled. "You look better than I expected." She raised an eyebrow at him and he laughed. "I know you, Riley Belle. And I know that you've been thinking way too much about my jackass of a brother."
She tipped her head in agreement. "Maybe," she admitted. "Let's get outta here, Jamie."
He grinned. "You know you're the only one I let call me that." He picked up his bags, tossing his arm across her shoulders and pulling her close to him.
"And your mom," she added, looking up at him.
"Yeah, well," he shrugged. "She gave birth to me. She can do what she wants."
Riley laughed, leading him to the car and putting his bags in the back. "I want a burger." She tossed him the keys. "You know this place the best. Drive me." He laughed, getting in the car and starting the engine.
An hour later Riley was picking at what was left of her fries as James nursed his third free beer. She'd been surprised when that waitress had said it was on the house but James had merely shrugged. "It's the get up," he's said gesturing to his clothes. "Happens a lot."
She smiled now, fiddling with the label on her own beer bottle, tearing it slowly and peeling it off in pieces. James lifted the corner of his mouth in a half smile and pointed his bottle at her. "That always drove him nuts." She nodded slightly, pulling her hand back from the bottle. James sighed. "How are you, Riley?"
She shrugged. "I'm fine."
He raised an accusing eyebrow. "You know what I mean, Ry."
She sighed. "I'm fine, Jamie. It's been eight months and I'm fine."
James nodded slowly. He didn't believe a word she said. She wasn't fine. But he wouldn't call her on it. They sat in silence for a few moments as she watched him nervously, considering. She wanted to ask about him. She desperately wanted to ask about him.
She took a deep breath and met his eyes. He was watching her cautiously. "How is he?"
James shrugged. "I don't know."
Riley rolled her eyes. "Please don't try to protect me, Jamie. I asked you. I want to know."
He sighed. "He's Jackson, Riles." She flinched at the nickname and he sent her an apologetic tip of his head. Jax called her that. Riley watched Jamie's movements, jerky and awkward. He was rolling his shoulders. Her heart dropped into her stomach. She knew him as well as he knew her, and he was hiding something. There was only one thing he'd hide from her.
"Jamie..." He gave her a pleading look, begging her to just leave it alone. "He's seeing someone isn't he?"
James sighed. "Riley..."
She could feel the panic building in her heart. That feeling like your heart is going to completely beat out of your chest with pain. "James, please. Just tell me."
He leaned back, studying her carefully before shrugging. "I guess." She could feel the tears welling in the back of her eyes and she took a deep breath to keep them back. James leaned forward again and took her hand in his. "Mom says she's an absolute terror," he said, using finger quotes, trying to get a laugh.
Riley didn't laugh. She only caught one part of that. "He brought her home?" She was absolutely shocked. She felt like her heart had been thrown on the ground and stepped on. Again. Jax didn't bring girlfriends home. He brought her home. Though she'd never actually been his girlfriend so it didn't quite count the same.
James winced. "Oh...I guess."
Riley sighed angrily and folded her arms over her chest. "Are you kidding me!?" He shook his head slowly and she raked her fingers through her hair. "How long?"
"Riley, I don't think..."
"How long, James?"
He sighed. "Six months."
Her mouth fell open. "Wha...six...I, wow." James moved around and sat next to her, putting an arm over the back of her chair. "I'm really sorry, Ry."
She couldn't even speak. She just sat there, tears welling up in her eyes. Six months? He'd never had a relationship as serious as the one he'd had with her. He'd never even discussed a future with anyone else. Six months ago she'd barely been able to get out of bed in the morning. And he was dating? After what happened, how could he jump into something new so fast? She still wasn't ready for that. Her heart may not ever be ready for that again. She sat, staring anywhere but Jamie's face.
"Rylie." His voice was soft and she turned toward him slowly, tears now falling. James's heart broke for her. She, for a reason unbeknownst to him, was absolutely, positively, in love with his little brother. He reached out and pulled her face towards him, resting his forehead against hers. "Let's get out of here," he mumbled and she nodded.
James pulled her up from her chair and walked her to the door. They slid into the car silently and James started the engine. They rode in silence for a while before Riley finally turned toward James. "Jamie?" He glanced over at her.
She took a deep breath and bit her bottom lip lightly in consideration. "Does he love her?"
James sighed. "I don't know, Riley. I haven't seen him with her."
Riley sighed. "Does he tell her he loves her?"
He ran a palm across the back of his neck and sighed again. "I think so." He shook his head, as if telling her this almost pained him. "Look, Ry," he paused, his brown furrowed in thought. "I don't know how he could possibly love anyone but you."
She smiled lightly. "Thanks, Jame. But you don't have to try and make it better. I'm a big girl."
"I'm not," he defended, turning towards her and fixing her with his 'serious stare'. "Riley, you are amazing. You're fun, and funny, and gorgeous and fucking brilliant." He paused to let out a breath. "You know him, Ry. And you put up with his stupid fixation with eighties movies and all his bad habits." He cocked an eyebrow. "You don't complain that he keeps that stupid fucking bike he'll never fix."
She laughed at that. Jax had been 'fixing up' an old motorcycle for as long as she'd known him. At this point it was a running family joke that he'd never finish. Riley couldn't honestly care less whether he finished it or not. She loved watching him work on that stupid bike.
"You deal with all his artsy fucking mood swings," James added and Riley smiled at that too. Jax always got moody when he was working up a new song or learning a chord progression. He got moody with everyone else. He'd never gotten that way with her.
That was something else she loved, listening to him play. He was quite the musical genius. And god could the boy sing. Sometimes they'd spend whole days like that. She'd lay in bed and he'd pull a chair up to the edge of the bed and play for her. He'd sing almost anything she wanted. Billy Joel was her favorite, though. He never played for her without playing Lullaby. That was their song, and he only ever played it for her.
"Riley?" She shook her head and turned to James. "We're here."
"Oh, sorry. I, uh, sorta spaced."
"It's cool." He winked. "You good to go in?"
"Yeah," she mumbled. "I could seriously use a drink." He laughed, getting out of the car and taking his bags from the back. She unlocked the door, pushing it open and following James inside. "You're stuck on the couch or with me," she said, turning toward him and he grinned.
"Are you propositioning me, Riley Belle?"
She laughed. "Couch it is then."
James chuckled. "Let's get that drink." He winked at her and she laughed. "Then we'll see where we end up."
Riley moved to pour them both a drink, sitting on the couch and handing James his glass. "We are not going there, Jamie," she warned and he smiled.
"We could totally stick it to Jackson," he wiggled his eyebrows and she shook her head, taking a drink. "I'm just screwing with you, Rylie. No pun intended."
She nodded, serious once again, putting her glass down. "James..."
He sighed, putting his own glass down and nodding back at her. "What do you want know?"
She sighed. "Who is she?"
He shrugged. "I don't know." Riley raised an eyebrow. "I don't, Ry. I haven't met her." He picked his glass back up and took a drink. "Mom tells me she's a royal bitch."
She smiled lightly at that. "Does she have a name?"
He raised one shoulder in a half shrug, a grin on his lips. "Probably."
"Jamie," she warned.
He laughed. "If you're asking whether or not I know what it is, no."
"No one told you her name?"
He shrugged. "I think he was like Julie or Jenny or..." He shook his head. "I don't know."
"What about Jax? He hasn't talked about her?"
James studied her for a moment before slowly raising his shoulders up and down. "Not to me."
She nodded and they sat in silence for a while. He watched her cautiously, as if she might suddenly break down. Riley glanced up at him, a slight smile on her face. "What are you doing here, Jame?"
He smiled at the change of subject. "I can't come and see my favorite girl?"
She laughed. "You absolutely can. You know that. But why did you?"
He shrugged. "I'm actually going home for a little while."
She raised a surprised eyebrow. "To Savannah?"
He nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'm done with my four years, I've got some down time. I'm heading back for summer week."
She smiled. Summer week was like a vacation for the Westons. They all took the time off, if they could get it, and spent the week at the family beach house outside of Savannah. It was an amazing experience, spending summer week with the Westons. Jackson and James's grandparents, parents, their mother's sister and her daughter Abby, and the boys. And sometimes Riley.
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
She gave him a light smile. "You flew out here just to check up on me?" He nodded. "You bought an extra ticket to fly into Wilmington?" He nodded again. "And you have to fly again to go to Savannah?" He smiled, nodding again. "You hate to fly."
"Loathe it," he nodded once again.
She moved across the couch, curling herself into his side and he wrapped his arms around her. "I love you, Jamie," she mumbled into his chest. He smiled into her hair, pressing his lips lightly against her head.
"Well obviously I love you too, Riley Belle."
"Thanks for caring about me." She paused, sighing into him. "Even if Jax forgets to."
James nodded. "Look, Riley, I was wondering if you could do something for me," he mumbled and she pulled herself back slightly, glancing up at him.
"I don't like the sound of that," she started and he shrugged slightly.
"I'm going home. I haven't been there in two years. Not for Christmases, summers, shore leave, nothing. I know how much this is to ask..."
"No." She shook her head.
"Riley, I know..."
"Then you know that I can't do that. I cannot see him now, Jamie."
James sighed. "Riley Belle," he ran a palm over the back of his neck. "I can't go there alone. If you come with me they'll be so happy you're there they'll forget to be mad at me."
"Jamie, I can't see Jax. You know how I feel about him."
He took a breath. "I know, Ry. You love him and it hurts and I know and I'm sorry. But I need you for this. You know how I am when it comes to my parents." She looked up at him and raised both eyebrows.
"Aren't you supposed to be a Marine? You're fucking spineless."
He nodded. "Totally spineless."
"I know, I know this isn't fair." He pulled back from her and took both of her hands in his own. "But come on, you love summer week. Everyone in my family adores you. Please, please come with me." He gave her the Weston smile. The smile Jax used to give her when he desperately wanted her to do something for him. She hated that smile. And Jamie knew if he gave it to her she couldn't say no.
"That stupid smile is not fair, James," she scolded and he grinned again.
"Don't I know it, babe. But you love it." He winked. "Come on, Riley Belle. Do this for me."
She sighed, tipping her head in thought. "Jamie..."
"I'll hold your hand the whole time." He leaned forward and kissed her on the head. "I promise," he grinned.
Riley sighed, biting her bottom lip. "When do we leave?"
"First thing in the morning." He smiled, kissing her softly on the cheek. "Thank you."
She nodded, rolling her eyes. "I swear to god, Jamie."
He smiled. "It's gonna' be okay, Riley. I'll be there. If nothing else, we'll make Jackson jealous as all fuck." He winked and she laughed lightly.
"I guess I better get packed..." She stood, moving to her bedroom, James at her heels. "You're helping?"
"I assumed I would be forced if I didn't come willingly," he said, taking a seat on her bed and throwing a charming smile at her. She sighed, nodding her agreement.
After an hour or so of packing, Riley had her suitcases by the door and she was nervously pacing the floor of her bedroom.
"Riley Belle," James mumbled from his place on her bed. He'd changed into a pair of gym shorts and was lying with his eyes closed.
She sighed, raking her fingers through her hair. "How did you get me to agree to this?" She asked, voice nervous and strained.
"You agreed to this because you love me and you want to drive my little brother crazy," he said without opening his eyes. "Now would you get that pretty little ass over here and get some sleep. We leave in eight hours." He held an arm out for her and she sighed. He opened one eye and raised an eyebrow at her. "Come on." He patted the bed next to him. "Sleep, Riley."
She sighed, moving to the bed and lying down beside him, curling herself into his side as he wrapped his arm securely around her. "I'm really nervous Jamie," she whispered and he nodded, leaning over to press a kiss to her temple.
"I know. It's gonna be okay." He yawned, pulling her tighter against him. "Now sleep, Riley Belle."
She sighed softly. "Night, Jamie."
In what felt like no time at all she was standing in the airport, Jamie by her side. He had an arm draped over her shoulders. "You ready?" Riley nodded slightly.
"Ready as I'll ever be," she sighed.
James chuckled and pressed his lips to the top of her head before picking up their carry ons and pulling her towards the gate. They found their seats quickly and Riley turned toward him, raising both her eyebrows. "First class?"
He smiled charmingly over at her and shrugged. "You're doing me a huge favor," he said, lowering himself into the seat next to her. "Plus I fucking hate to fly. Might as well make it a little more bearable."
She laughed, shaking her head. "So what's the plan here?"
He tipped his head. "Well," he smiled, "I'm going for the element of surprise..." He trailed off, his smile turning guilty.
"Oh no." Riley shook her head. "No, no no! James Anthony Weston!" She reached over punching him in the arm. "You didn't tell them I was coming! You didn't tell them I was coming?"
He winced lightly, leaning away from her. "Riley Belle, I didn't tell them that I was coming."
Her jaw dropped. "You. Did. What?" She reached over, punching him again.
"Hey, hey, hey," he mumbled, grabbing her fist to stop the blows. "Ry, they love you. They'll be thrilled, I swear!"
"And Jax? He'll be thrilled? He has no warning! He won't be prepared for this. I'm not prepared for this!"
James smiled lightly. "So we throw my brother off his game," he shrugged. "He deserves it. It'll be fine, Riley. I swear." She took a deep breath, sitting back in her seat and putting her hands over her face. "Ry..." She shook her head. "Riley Annabelle Hampton!" She let her hands fall from her face and rolled her head towards him. "It's going to be okay, babe. I swear." She sighed. "I am right here, Riley Belle. I swear to you this will be fine. I am here." He reached out, lacing her fingers through his own. "I will hold your hand the whole week if you want me to."
She took a deep breath and nodded. "You know you'll be dealing with my mental breakdowns all week right?"
He laughed. "I'm cool with that." He looked over, locking eyes with her. "Listen, Ry, I need you to tell me what happened. With Jackson."
She sighed, shrugging her shoulders desperately. "I don't know, Jamie."
He shook his head at her. "Look, Riley you need to talk about this."
Riley nodded. "No, Jamie. I mean I don't know what happened. One day it was perfect and then all of a sudden he was gone." She shrugged. "We'd talked about maybe taking things a little more seriously. It was Jax's idea. And then..." she sighed, hopelessly. "I really don't know."
"Jackson!" She laughed, wiggling under him. "If you don't stop...I swear...to God!" She sputtered, laughing, his fingers against her ribs, tickling her mercilessly.
He grinned up at her from under his eyelashes, blue eyes, flecked with green, moving his arms to rest on either side of her body and pulling himself up to hover over her. "What are you gonna' do, Riles?" He mumbled, leaning down and placing feather light kisses against her neck.
She pulled his head back and melded her lips against his. "This," she whispered, smiling against his lips. She felt him grin back into the kiss and he slowly pulled away and rolled off of her and onto his back on the bed. He reached his arm out and pulled her close against him. She laughed, pressing a kiss into his bare skin.
"I have something to tell you," he mumbled against her hair and she nodded. Jax kissed her head, sitting up and pulling himself back to lean against her headboard.
She watched him curiously as he studied her, his fingers going up to run through his hair, a nervous habit he could never break. "Jackie," she whispered and he met her eyes. "What?"
He sighed, smiling nervously at her. "Come here." He held his hand out for her and she moved to straddle his lap.
"You're kind of scaring me, boy."
He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against hers. "I'm scaring myself a little bit, girl," he admitted. He took a deep breath, leaning back again. "Riles, you know me." She nodded slowly, a frown gracing her features. "And you know how afraid I am of letting someone in, of really..." he paused to sigh. "Of giving it my all and..and losing everything. It scares the hell out of me." She nodded again and he reached a hand up and pushed her hair back from her face. "We've been all over the fucking place, you and me." He sighed again. "And somehow, through all of that, you got all the way in." He shook his head, smiling. He reached out, taking her hand and placing it over his heart. "This belongs to you." He chuckled. "It's probably always belonged to you." He brought their joined hands up to her cheek. "I love you, Riles. I'm sorry it took me so long to say it."
She smiled down at him, tears falling across her cheeks. She couldn't breathe. He loved her? He actually loved her. She'd been waiting years to hear him say that. She took a long, shaky breath and leaned her forehead against his again. "I love you too," she mumbled and he laughed, leaning up to fuse his mouth against hers in a sweet, slow, kiss. The first one that she could honestly say was completely filled with love.
"A month later he was gone." She shrugged. "I came home and everything he had at my place was gone, clothes, books, movies, everything." She sighed, shaking her head. "He left a note. That was it."
James cleared his throat. "What did it say?"
She closed her eyes. She could already feel the tears forming, seeing in her head the sleek, neat handwriting that was uniquely Jax's. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. It's not because I don't love you."
He sighed, pulling her against him and kissing the top of her head. "Oh, Riley," he shook his head. "I'm so sorry." She nodded against him, tears falling freely from her eyes. "My brother does not deserve you."
She pulled back from him and wiped the tears from her eyes. "I want him anyway," she breathed. "I love him anyway."
James nodded. "I know." He smiled weakly at her and sighed. "It's gonna' be okay, Riley Belle. I promise. Maybe seeing him will help. Maybe you can talk."
She sighed. "I'm just glad you'll be with me for this."
He grinned slightly. "I sort of forced you into this."
Riley laughed, hitting him in the arm again. "Yeah, tell me about it."
The rest of the flight, for Riley at least, was filled mostly with restless sleep. She was nervous. She could already feel the butterflies zipping around in her stomach and they weren't even there yet. God, she couldn't imagine what would happen to her internal organs when she saw Jax again. Eight months without seeing his face was going to make seeing it all the more difficult.
"Hey, you okay?" James's voice broke Riley out of her Jax related mindset.
She blinked over at him and smiled lightly. "Yeah. I'm...good."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Mmhhm."
She turned to face him and sighed. "Jamie."
He laughed, raising his hands in mock defense. "Fine, okay, you're good." He shook his head, turning his attention back to the road and singing along to whatever song was on the radio and flipping his phone nervously back and forth.
"Jame," she started and he glanced over at her quickly before turning his attention back to the road once again. "Just call her."
He sighed, nodding reluctantly. "You're right," he mumbled. "Just call her."
Riley laughed. "Jamie, it's not a monster, it's your mother! You're a Marine for God's sake!"
He chuckled, sending her a playful glare. "Yeah well," he sighed, nodding to himself. "Okay. I'm calling her." He dialed the number, pressing the phone to his ear, fidgeting nervously.
Riley shook her head at him, laughing softly under her breath. The boys' mother was hardly someone to be afraid of. Maggie Weston, while an incredible mother, was hardly a feared individual.
"Mom, hey." From the smile spreading across James's face she gathered that his mother was more than happy that he'd called. "Yeah, I'm uh, I'm driving actually." He smiled. "Nope, not alone." He winked over at Riley who laughed, apparently loud enough for his mother to hear. "Uh, yeah. I am with a girl." He chuckled again at his mother's response and shook his head. "Mom." He sighed. "I'm not dating. Anyone." He looked to Riley and smirked. "I'm definitely not dating her!" Riley laughed, hearing his mother's scolding tone. "Mom, no, you don-" he groaned, leaning his head against the back of his seat. "I didn't mean-" he sighed again. "Mom, it's Riley!" He gave an exasperated laugh. "Yes, your Riley." He smiled over at her. "No, not exactly." He chuckled again, pausing to let his mother speak. "No, not in Wilmington either." He grinned. "We're actually about ten miles from the Summer House." He smiled wider, causing Riley to smile as well, even though her insides were screaming with nerves. "All week. Riley too." He nodded to himself. "We'll see you in a few. Love you too, Ma."
"Now tell me how unhorrible that was," she smiled, leaning over to jab him lightly in the ribs.
He raised an eyebrow over at her and shook his head. "She took that well."
Riley laughed. "So what was all that, with a girl, no it's Riley, your mother scolding you?"
He chuckled. "Ah, she assumed since I was with a girl, I was on a date, and then when I told her otherwise and that I wouldn't date you she assumed I was being offensive, and then when she discovered that it was you she was over the moon. More excited to see you than me, I'm pretty sure. She started blabbering about making up your room."
Riley frowned. A room. She hadn't thought about that, though considering the circumstances she probably should have. She would be staying in her own room. She'd never spent summer week sleeping in a room other than Jax's. Jax's bedroom was her favorite room in the entire house. It was ocean blue with a deeper blue carpet, the ceiling was littered with childish glow in the dark stars, it was comforting, like sleeping in the middle of the ocean. But she wouldn't be in that room, wouldn't be rolling around in those sheets with him, trying to keep their laughter quiet and failing miserably, sneaking back from the beach in the dark hours of the morning. No, this summer week would be much different than the others.
Riley took a deep breath and smiled over at James, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "She's excited to see you and you know it, Jamie."
He smiled back at her and tipped his head to the side. "Yeah, I know."
By the time they'd finished discussing James's conversation with his mother they were pulling into the long gravel driveway that led up to the amazing summer house.
Jamie parked the car, turning to watch Riley fidget nervously in her seat. He smiled and softly nudged her. "Riley?" She glanced over at him, raising her eyebrows in question. "You ready, doll?"
She took a deep, slow breath and nodded her head. "Not at all. But if we don't get out of this car now I probably never will."
He laughed lightly and tipped his head in agreement. "Yeah, well, my mother will probably pull you out in the next couple seconds anyhow." He gestured toward the woman moving swiftly towards them across the long yard.
Maggie Weston was nothing short of an aging beauty. Her hair, a color that was a perfect mixture of James's darker brown and Jax's incredible sandy color that was never quite blonde or brown but the perfect mixture. Maggie's hair was a mixture of both of those colors and her eyes, a lovely pale blue.
They climbed out of the car seconds before Maggie reached her eldest son, throwing her arms around him. He laughed, picking his mother up off of her feet and spinning her around. "Jamie boy!" She exclaimed. He set her down, pressing a kiss into her cheek. "You don't come home enough," she scolded, holding her son at arm's length.
He chuckled, shaking his head. "I missed you too, Mom."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, you know we missed you, James." She turned, smiling widely at Riley. "Riley Belle you get over here and give me a hug."
Riley moved towards the older woman, wrapping herself into her arms. "Hi, Maggie." She smiled. "How have you been?"
Maggie smiled. "Wonderful," she patted the side of Riley's face gently, tucking the younger girl's hair behind her ear. "How have you been, honey?"
Riley forced a light smile. "Good," she shrugged.
Maggie shook her head, a smile still on her face. "You're a terrible liar, baby." She pressed a light kiss to Riley's forehead and looped her arm around the younger girl's. "Let's go inside, let Jamie get your bags. Dolly will be thrilled you're here."
Riley threw a glance at James over her shoulder. "Go ahead. I've got 'em," he winked and moved to do as he was told. Riley smiled at him and let his mother lead her into the house.
The summer house should have been more appropriately labeled the summer castle for it's size. It was huge, rooms everywhere, a beautiful porch that wrapped all around the house on the ground floor and balconies protruding from each bedroom on the second.
Maggie led her through the entryway and into the large kitchen at the back of the house. An older mirror of Maggie stood at the island counter, peeling apples, an apron tied around her waist. "Mom," Maggie said, gaining the attention of her mother.
Dorothy Hamilton looked up, smiling widely as she noticed Riley standing beside her daughter. "Riley Belle," she breathed, wiping her hands on her apron and holding her arms out to the young girl. "Get that pretty little ass over here and give an old woman a hug."
Riley smiled, moving to give the older woman a hug. "It's so good to see you, Dolly," she mumbled.
Dorothy kissed her cheek. "It's good to see you too, sweetie." She winked. "I hope this means my grandson finally pulled his head out of his ass and figured it out?"
Riley sighed, giving a weak smile. "Uh," she shrugged, attempting to find the words but James's entrance cut her off before she could finish.
"Nah, she opted for the older, wiser, more attractive grandson," he teased, throwing an arm around Riley's shoulders and kissing the top of her head.
Dolly put her hands on her hips, turning to face her grandson and raising an eyebrow. "James Anthony Weston you come kiss your gran!"
James smiled, moving away from Riley and pulling his grandmother into a tight hug. "I missed you, gran." He sighed, and she reached up to rest a hand on the side of his face affectionately.
"We missed you too, little boy."
James rolled his eyes. "I'm hardly a little boy anymore, grandma," he pointed out and she shrugged her shoulders, waving her arms.
"You're always my little boy," she kissed his cheek and the moved herself back towards the counter. "Now, I love you babies, but neither of you are any help to me in the kitchen. Now get out of here and settle in. I'll call you for dinner."
James smiled, kissing his grandmother's cheek and moving to place a hand on the small of Riley's back, leading her out of the room and towards the stairs. At the top of the steps they reached a landing, one bathroom on each side and another straight ahead. Past the bathrooms on each side of them, they moved towards two hallways, the one on the left held Dolly's room, Maggie and Jacob's room, the boys' aunt Jill's room, and a guest room. The hallway on the right that they walked down held Jamie's room, Jax's room, Abby's room, and another guest room.
Riley followed James into his room, plopping herself down on her bed and falling back into the pillows letting out a loud groan. "Jamie," she whined.
James smiled over his shoulder at her. "Yes, dear?"
She sighed. "How did I let you talk me into this?"
He shook his head. "I'm your favorite?" he grinned and she laughed, shaking her head in exasperation. "Riley Belle..." He sat down beside her and smiled softly. "It's gonna' be okay. I've got your back."
She smiled. "Thanks, Jame." She stood, sighing and leaning over to press a friendly kiss to his head. "I should unpack." She turned to leave but stopped at the door frame, turning back to glance at him. "When do you think Jill and Abby will get here?"
James shrugged. "Before dinner I would assume. I'm sure you'll hear them before you see them." He chuckled. "You know, Abs."
Riley nodded, laughing to herself. "I'm gonna' go unpack."
James nodded, unpacking his own things and putting them into the dresser against the wall. He winked over at Riley. "Jax should be here soon too, just so you know."
She sighed, giving a hesitant smile and nodded, moving off the door frame and making her way into the room she'd be staying in, next to Abby's and across the hall from Jax's. She sighed, leaning against the door frame of her room and looking longingly into Jax's. This was really going to be an interesting week.
After a good chunk of unpacking she sat heavily down on her bed and looked around the room. She heard a loud girlish squeal and smiled to herself. Abby. "She is not!" She heard from down the stairs and laughed lightly to herself, moving to the steps. She took them almost two at a time, yelling over her shoulder for James to follow her. "She is!" She proclaimed, flying down the stairs and hurling herself at the petite blonde who was doing the same.
"Riley!" Abby cried, jumping up and down, their arms wrapped around each other. "I'm so glad you're here! I needed another girl here this year!"
Riley smiled, pulling back and laughing. "I've really missed you, Abigail!"
Abby smiled back, pulling her into another hug and quickly looking over her shoulder at James coming down the stairs, chuckling at the pair of girls embracing. "Long lost lovers?" he teased, leaning himself against the banister and holding one arm out to Abby. She rolled her eyes, moving from Riley to meld herself against James's side.
"Miss me, Abs?" He asked, smirking down at her.
"Desperately, James," she grinned up at him and he laughed, releasing her.
"You and Riley Belle catch up on your girl talk," he winked. "I'm gonna' go say hi to Jill."
Abby wiggled her eyebrows at James and grabbed Riley's hand, pulling her into the living room and sitting them both down on the couch to face each other. "You're here."
Riley nodded. "I am," she agreed with a slight grin.
"So," Abby prodded. "Tell me what's going on."
Riley sighed, leaning back and explaining the story to Abigail with as much detail as she could come up with. If anyone would understand why she wanted to be here, in the presence of Jax again, even with all the pain and everything they'd been through, it would be Abby. Abby had been there for it all. Abby understood everything.
"And now I'm here, talking to you and awkwardly awaiting the arrival of my pseudo former not really boyfriend," Riley finished, leaning back into the couch pillows, closing her eyes and waiting for Abby to comment. After a few seconds of silence on Abby's end Riley opened her eyes. Abby was not looking at her, she was looking past her, a nervous expression on her face.
"Is that what I am?" Riley felt the panic build up in her chest and let out a heavy breath, biting her bottom lip. She turned to glance over her shoulder, her eyes locking on another pair of eyes, eyes she hadn't seen in eight long months. She held his gaze for a long few moments, almost drowning in the color of his eyes. She never realized how much she'd missed him until he was standing in front of her again.
He was beautiful, His body leaned against the wall comfortably. He was always leaning, hands shoved into his pockets, hair the typical controlled chaos it always was. She felt her breath catch and she couldn't seem to pull her gaze away.
"Jax," she mumbled. She couldn't move. She couldn't smile. She watched him in all his beautiful perfection. Her heart felt like it was being pulling out of her chest once again. He pushed off the wall, taking a few steps forward, hands still in his pockets.
"Hey Riles." He almost whispered it.
Riley winced at the familiar nickname and took a sharp breath, standing. She kept her eyes locked on his and took a few hesitant steps forward. He was here. He was standing in front of her again. After eight long months of not seeing him she had to force herself to stay still. If she got too close to him she wouldn't be responsible for her actions. It was hard enough making herself keep her feet. One more step and she'd be wrapping her arms around him.
He took a long breath, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't think," he gave a shrug. "I didn't know you'd be here."
She shrugged, moving a few more steps back from him, towards Abby, who kept uncharacteristically silent. "Yeah, I, uh..." she stumbled over her words, trying to figure out how to explain her presence to him.
"She's here with me." All three pairs of eyes went to James moving into the room and walking over to drape an arm across Riley's shoulders. "How ya doin' little brother?"
Jax cocked an eyebrow, looking from Riley to James's arm across her shoulders. "You're here with James?" He asked, ignoring his brother's greeting, suspicion evident in his tone.
Riley took a breath, leaning further into James's protective grasp and nodding slightly. "It's not," she paused to shrug. "It's not like that."
Jax, gave a slow, single nod. "Yeah," he mumbled. He looked down, sheepishly, as if contemplating what to say. "How are you?"
Riley sighed, pulling back from James slightly. She could lie. She could tell him she was great and everything was perfect. "Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to," she said, watching his reaction. "I hear you're doing well though," she chided raising an eyebrow of her own.
Jax sighed, shrugging lightly. "I get by," he muttered, pulling his hands out of his pockets and moving forward to hold one out to his brother. "James," he greeted.
James nodded, shaking his brother's hand and pulling him into a half hug. "It's good to see you, man."
Jax smiled, nodding. They all stood in an awkward silence, Abby's eyes on James, James's on Jax, and Jax watching Riley, who was looking anywhere but at him. The silence didn't last long, though. It was broken by an obnoxious high pitched voice calling from the other room. "Jaaaackson?"
Jax winced lightly, biting his bottom lip and finally catching Riley's eye. He brought her? She could feel the tears welling in her eyes and Jax's hands were back in his pockets as a high heeled, sun dress clad, blonde sashayed into the room, wrapping her arms around Jax's waist from behind. "There you are," she smiled.
"Here I am," he confirmed, turning to glance at her but not removing her arms from around him.
Riley averted her gaze and took long slow breaths to keep herself from becoming physically ill. She concentrated on her breathing and reached out for James. He took her hand, lacing his fingers with hers and pulling her back against him. "You're okay," he whispered into her ear and she nodded slowly. Jax's eyes traced every touch, every movement.
"Oh," the blonde muttered. "Hi. You must be James." She untangled herself from around Jax and moved to extend a hand to James. He nodded, taking her hand, keeping Riley close to his side. He was practically holding her up now. If James let go of her Riley was positive she would fall to the floor. "I'm Jessica," the girl introduced. "And who's this?" she asked, turning her perfectly painted face to Riley.
"Riley," she introduced, keeping her arm around James, her eyes darting momentarily to Jax. The blonde, Jessica, merely shrugged her shoulders as if she had no prior knowledge of who exactly Riley was.
"Girlfriend?" She asked, turning back to James as she looped herself into Jax again. Riley had to fight the urge to be sick again, or cry. She wasn't sure which would come first.
James smiled, his gaze moving to Jax. "Nah," he shrugged. "Riley's practically family around here."
"Oh," Jessica muttered. "Nice to meet you." She leaned up and pressed her lips against Jax's. Riley turned her head, wincing. "Want to go unpack?" she asked, her hand trailing across his chest suggestively.
Jax's eyes met Riley's for a moment and then turned his attention to his girlfriend. "You go ahead, I'll be right up." He smirked down at her. She nodded, winking at him and kissing him again before moving out of the room and towards the stairs.
James turned to Riley, moving down to whisper in her ear. "You okay?"
She shook her head slowly. "I think I might throw up," she mumbled back and James nodded, slowly releasing her.
"You want me to stay?" he asked, turning to face her. She shook her head, glancing over her shoulder at Abby.
"I'm okay," she smiled. "Thanks, Jamie."
He nodded, pressing a kiss to her forehead and moving out of the room. "Good to see you, Jackson," he said, patting his brother on the shoulder on his way out.
Abby stood awkwardly behind Riley as James left the room. Jax kept himself stationed to the spot he stood and so did Riley. They simply watched each other for a while before he cleared his throat. "Do you think you could give us a minute, Abs?"
Riley closed her eyes, mentally willing the tears to pull themselves back into her eyes. She didn't want to cry. Not here. Not in front of him. Not after all this time.
Abby glanced over to the other girl and put a hand on her arm. "I don't think so, Jackson."
Jax sighed, leaning his weight against the desk in the corner of the room and nodding.
"It's okay, Abby," Riley murmured and Abby moved to stand in front of the other girl, grasping her by the arms and watching her eyes. Riley shook her head. "I'm fine." She forced a weak smile and nodded towards the door.
Abby nodded slowly. "I'll be in the kitchen."
Riley smiled and nodded, watching Abby exit the room before she turned to Jax. "You're here with my brother!?" He bit out and she fought the urge to laugh.
"So what if I am?" she asked, her gaze flicking to the direction the staircase that led up to the bedrooms. "You're not exactly alone."
Jax shrugged. "Jessica's..." he paused for a moment before shaking his head and dismissing her comment with a wave of his hand. "My brother!?"
Riley tipped her head and shrugged. "He needed me," she pointed out. "I couldn't leave him alone when he needed me." She threw an accusatory glance at him.
Jax shook his head. "Riles," he started. She snapped her eyes shut, shaking her head.
"You left, Jax. You just," she let out a helpless breath and bit her bottom lip. "You just walked away. You didn't even explain. Didn't I deserve more than that? A phone call maybe? Text message? Smoke signal?" She folded her arms over her chest and he took a few steps towards her.
"You didn't get my note?" He asked, a frown falling into place.
She ran her fingers up through her hair. "Yeah. I got your fucking note, Jax. You're sorry, that's great. It isn't because you don't love me? Super. It obviously wasn't because you did. If you did you would have stayed. You never called. Not once in the past eight months. And now," she threw her hands up in front of her and groaned. "Now you're..." she gestured to the stairs.
She sat down heavily on the arm of the couch and he sighed, his own fingers raking through the beautiful chaos that was his hair. "Riles, I just.." he paused to shrug. "I'm sorry."
She nodded. She could feel the tears building up again and this time, she couldn't stop them from falling. They were falling. She was crying and he was just standing there watching her cry. He didn't hold her, didn't tell her it would be okay. He didn't even move. He just stood there and watched her break.
"You break my heart." She took a breath. "Then again," she shook her head, her face showing exactly the pain that he inflicted upon her. "You break everyone's heart." Jackson opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again abruptly. "I guess I always thought I was different, that I meant something." He didn't say anything, just watched her, standing in front of him, crying and miserable, so obviously missing him. "I guess I was wrong," she concluded with a desperate shrug and a light sob. "I'm no different than the rest of them."
They stood in silence after that. She wanted him to come over and hold her, to tell her that it was going to be okay, and that she was better, that he loved her. God, she just wanted to hear him say he loved her. Just one more time. She just wanted something, anything. She wanted him to hurt the way she hurt. But he didn't. He didn't speak, he didn't even move. She shook her head, disappointed once again. "Just go," she mumbled. "Go jump into someone else's arms. That's what you're good at."
He tipped his head to the side as if in agreement and turned to leave the room. He paused slightly at the door and turned his head to the side, giving her a profile of his face. "You do mean something." He turned, moving swiftly out of the room.
Riley fell to her knees in sobs, hearing Jax's footsteps on the stairs a few moments later. Abby's arms were around her in an instant, hushing her. Jamie followed closely behind, shutting the double doors to the living room behind him. He picked her up, sitting them both on the couch, her in his lap. Abby perched herself on the coffee table across from them, reaching out to rub Riley's back. James pressed his lips into her hair. "I'm sorry, Riley Belle."
"I just wanted him to love me," she sobbed. "Why doesn't he love me?"
James sighed into her hair. "He does, Riley. He does love you. He's just a fucking idiot."
Jax stumbled up the steps. He was hurting her, that much was obvious. But what was he supposed to do? He couldn't just walk over and wrap his arms around her. He couldn't tell her it would be okay because he didn't know that it would.
He sat down heavily on his bed, putting his head in his hands. Warm arms encircled him from behind. Jessica. "Hey baby," she whispered, her lips going to his ear, tugging the lobe into her mouth. He sighed, leaning back into her.
He couldn't think now. He couldn't watch himself hurt Riley over and over again. He needed something else, something to keep him away from her, to keep her from wanting him. He wasn't good for her anyway. He only ever broke her.
Jax turned, an arm snaking around Jessica's waist and pulling her to lay underneath him, his body pressed firmly into hers. Right now he just needed to forget, he needed to not think about Riley, about how much he was hurting her. So he would "jump into someone else's arms." After all, that's what he did best.