Jack In The Box

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Epilogue

Riley

I probably hadn’t been to a party in ages; at least not since that Halloween party last year and here I was today, dressed up in a rose-gold sleeveless sequin dress that had a long slit starting from mid-thigh until the ankles. I had a lovely pair of glitter heels to go with it and my hair was just done in simple beach curls. If I should admit, I looked downright fucking hot, excuse me for my crude language.

It was my birthday today; I’d just turned twenty-six and Ken was acting like he had forgotten all about it. He’d called me from work and when I thought he was going to wish me, he’d said he was calling to ask if I was making his favorite dinner tonight. I’d hung up on his face.

Had he forgotten about all the three story cakes I made for him? Had he forgotten how far I always went to call up his friends and set up his birthday party? How about the special edition volumes of the stupid comic books I gifted him all the time? And when it came down to wishing his sister on her birthday, he’d forgotten. I tried to tell myself that it was all a little act so he could surprise me later on that night but as the hours dragged on, I started to wonder if the party was going to only happen in my head.

I sat alone at the bar, wearing my best dress and looking like a woman who’d been stood up by her boyfriend. How pathetic was my life at this point? Ezra had called me that afternoon, and I thought he knew about my birthday and that he wanted to wish me but instead he’d said he wanted to meet me tonight and talk about something.

So instead of coming dressed up in casuals, I’d ended up wearing my birthday dress. Maybe I was fishing for compliments, maybe I wanted him to say ‘Oh, that’s a lovely dress, what’s the special occasion?’ and then I would say, ‘hey, it’s my birthday today.’ And then he’d respond. ‘Oh, happy birthday, Riley. Since you’re all dolled up, let’s celebrate.’

Ugh. Yeah I know. Pathetic even wasn’t the word suitable for me right now, more like desperate. I was even ready to celebrate my birthday with my ex-boyfriend’s brother. I call him ex-boyfriend because I hadn’t heard from Jack for around six months now. He hadn’t tried to get in touch with me, never wrote a letter and never passed any other letters to Ezra which told me that he’d ended things. Jack was smart. He’d opted out of confrontation. That coward. Granted that he’d asked me to wait, but can a person wait for six months not knowing where she stood?

It had been tough. Those cold nights, lying there alone in bed thinking of what life could been if Jack was still around and then crying into the jacket that belonged to him and still smelled of him. Even Ken was giving me pitiful looks now and then.

And there were these thoughts that kept running through my mind. What if Jack had changed his mind about me? Maybe he’d thought I wasn’t good enough, maybe he met someone (that particular thought always brought tears to my eyes), the mere idea of another woman having her hands on him made me want to actually stab somebody.

Jack had been way out of my league, so I should just admit that I’d had an adventure with the most dangerous, smoking hot bad boy and it just somehow didn’t work out. Deep down I knew I wouldn’t find someone like him because I’d always compare every man with Jack.

The buzzing of my phone stopped my train of thoughts. And I was surprised to see who the message was from.

Paul the Bully: Hey Nurse Riley, Happy Birthday!

How is it that I wasn’t getting any happy birthday’s from my brother or my new best friend, (I’m looking at you Ezra), but I get a goddamn text from Paul Bennet?!

Maybe the sun rose in the west too. Did I mention that since the time Jack left, Paul’s been acting really nice which was kind of strange. He wouldn’t just pass by, he took extra time to bring coffee to me if we shared the same shift.

Shocker, right? And I’d started to wonder if it was another one of his devious ploys of bullying me.

Me: Thanks!

Paul: See you soon.

“Sorry, I’m late.” I heard Ezra’s voice from behind me. He pulled me into a warm hug and propped himself beside me on the bar stools. “I’m so glad you could come.”

Ezra had cropped his hair short from the ends and it was growing on the top. He wore a simple white t-shirt over ripped denim jeans. He looked so much like Jack, yet the two brothers were different. My heart sank whenever I looked at Ezra because it kept reminding me of him.

“Of course, I would.” I said. “Did you notice my new dress?”

“Yeah, you’re looking so beautiful.” He said barely even looking at my outfit or me, “I’m kinda blinded by all that glitter.”

Ask me, what’s the special occasion? C’mom Ezra!

“Can I order you a drink?” he asked instead.

“No, I’m good.”

Ezra ordered Jack Daniels on the rocks. The bartender smiled shyly at him, she was cute with a short boy-cut hair. She looked like a short pixie. Ezra smiled back at her and winked, holding a little note between his fingers. He read it and slid it inside his denim pocket.

Well at least someone was getting some action in bed tonight.

So totally not jealous.

If only.

Con Calma by Daddy Yankee was blasting from the speakers, and most people had left to join the dance floor.

He turned his attention towards me. “So, the reason why I called you here.” Ezra said with a serious face.

“What happened?” I felt my stomach turning. Ezra wouldn’t call me if it wasn’t important.

Ezra leaned in closer, “There’s another murder. This one is quite similar to the ones that were orchestrated by Dr. Aaron Shaw.”

I stared at him in shock. This couldn’t be happening again!

“You mean a copycat killer?” I had a sinking feeling.

“Exactly.”

“Why do you think anyone would want to copy those murders that were linked to you and Jack?” I asked.

Ezra shook his head. “I don’t know. It happened here in one of the private lounges.”

“What?!”

“Yes, but keep your voice down. We don’t want people to know about it. Do you want to see? Maybe help me if you can notice any clues.”

“Am I allowed to?” I asked.

“If I’m with you, Riley, you’ve nothing to worry about.”

I gave him a nod and he led me through the throngs of people. I was feeling quite uneasy, why was this happening again? We walked past the crowded dance floor towards the door with golden handles.

Ezra opened the door and a blast of confetti momentarily blinded me.

“Happy Birthday, Riley!” There was a loud unison of familiar voices. Apart from Ezra, Ken and James were here too. And also Paul Bennet who had a foolish grin plastered on his face. His red hair was longish, his freckles looking lighter. I didn’t miss the way his eyes moved from bottom to top, literally like a scanning machine.

Well, at least Paul knew I looked amazing in the dress. Even he couldn’t stop appreciating what he was seeing in front of him.

“Aw, thank you so much guys.” I said as I hugged each one for the surprise that I hadn’t seen coming. I should have known.

Ezra was laughing and I hit him playfully. “You guys should have seen the look on her face when I told her the murders were happening again.” The others laughed with him, making a total fool out of me.

“Riley’s expressions were totally like ’Not this again please.’” Ezra was tearing up with all that laughter.

“I hope you had fun making jokes at my expense.” I said faking a pout but also loving the attention from all these men.

The lounge was cozy and I could tell it was one of the best ones in the club. Ezra had made sure of it. It was decorated with gold and pink balloons. My name was a balloon of individual letters. A small snacks bar was set in the corner stacked with fries and slider burners. And then I saw the little empty plates of food on the floor. The traitors had started eating and boozing way before I even got here.

And the cake...

Well, the cake was a Barbie look alike of me, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, sitting on top of the cake, holding a bloody knife. I laughed and looked at them, “Seriously, guys? Whose idea was this?”

They pointed at each other. “It was Ken’s idea.” Ezra confessed.

“I’m so touched, all of you.”

“I haven’t touched you, yet.” Ezra commented.

I ignore his smartass comment. “Let’s cut the cake.”

They sang the Happy Birthday song as I cut the cake and even though it reminded me of kindergarten, it still put a real smile on my face and made me happy. Who wouldn’t be glad to be the center of attention of four handsome men?

There was only one thing missing and that’s Maddy. I missed my best friend and wished she would be here. I wiped a lone tear off my cheek as they took turns to feed me the cake.

The waitresses started bringing in food which smelled heavily. They began serving the tacos, slices of pizza, spicy fried chicken and sausage rolls. And the men attacked the food like they’d just escaped from an isolated island.

I started to wonder if my birthday party had been a good excuse for them to hangout together and have a boys time.

I tried to close my dress slit when I saw Paul’s eyes lingering there longer than necessary.

And then they played music, the boys took turns to dance with me. The best was Ezra doing salsa, he taught me some amazing moves. The worst had to be my brother. He couldn’t dance to save his life. I was laughing and having the best time of my life, I almost forgot how much I missed Jack.

“Okay, Riley will open her gifts now.” Ezra announced.

I would be kidding if I said I wasn’t excited to open the gifts like I was four again. First, I found a huge square box that was from Ezra. I looked at it suspiciously.

“What’s in it?” I asked.

“You’ll have to find out.” He said.

The box said ‘Open me.’

I removed the ribbons and the glitter paper, and opened the box to find another box inside gift wrapped. “You’ve got to be serious!”

“I am.” He admitted.

I opened the second box to find a third. Then I opened the third to find another smaller one inside. I threw the torn gift wrappers on his laughing face, and they all cracked up.

Finally, I’d reached the sixth box which was the smallest. Inside was Louis Vuitton scarf that was perfectly folded to look like a flower.

“It must be really expensive.” I said.

Ezra waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. Got it from the China Market. The lady gave me fifty percent off.”

“Liar.” I said smiling up at him, “Thank you, Ezra.”

Next I opened James’s gift which was a lovely bracelet. He told me his wife helped him pick it up for me. Then I opened the gift from Paul, he’d given me a bouquet of roses and a box of assorted expensive chocolates. I thanked him.

Lastly, I opened my brother Ken’s gift. It was a flat heavy box. I tried to guess what was inside and failed miserably. When I tore off the gift wrapper, I was surprised to find a brand new iPhone.

“Ken, how much money did you blow for this?” I asked.

Ken shrugged. “Remember how you saved up money to buy something for yourself but always spent it on something that I wanted to buy. You made too many sacrifices for me, Riles. You deserve this.”

“I didn’t even realize when my baby brother grew up so fast.” I said, and opened my arms. “Give me a hug.”

He came to me dutifully and gave me a hug. “I love you so much, Riles, I wish you all the happiness in this world.”

“Stop it! You’re going to make me cry and ruin my makeup. I spent two hours on it.”

Ezra cleared his throat. “Guys, i just wanted to say that it’s been great knowing you all. Throughout this entire case, I’ve managed to make some friends and I’m grateful for—”

“Why are you talking like you’re going somewhere?” I interrupted Ezra’s little speech.

Ezra looked at me in what seemed like sympathy, and I hated that look. What I hated even more was what he said next, “I have an early morning flight tomorrow to Virginia.” He said and the room filled with silence, “I have to go to the FBI academy in Quantico. The bureau chief needs to discuss a new case with me, and I’ll probably be stationed in some other city for the job.”

“So you’re really leaving?” I asked.

Don’t cry, Riley. Don’t! I kept telling myself.

“I came to WoodVille to help solve Jack’s case. My job is done. Since I won’t be taking the DSAC position in Washington, I’ll be taking this new assignment elsewhere.” He explained. “I’m sorry, Riley.”

“I see. I understand.” I said with a meek smile, and then turned to the others. “Guys, thank you so much for coming here today and making my day so special. It was the best birthday I ever had.”

I had already stood up; I excused myself and started walking out of the lounge.

I knew Ezra was following me. I couldn’t let him see me crying. Maybe he would think of me as a selfish friend.

I had just walked to the bar when I felt a tug on my hand. “I was going to tell you, I didn’t want to spoil your birthday.”

I shook my head. “It’s just that...” I could feel his thumb caressing my cheek. “I don’t have any friends now. I liked talking to you, and hanging out...I just felt so....”

“You felt close to him when I was with you.” Ezra said in understanding.

“Does that make sense?” I asked.

“It does.” He smiled. “Honestly, if I were you, and if he made me wait for six fucking months, I’d move on too.”

“He never asked me to wait, Ezra. I’m the fool here.” I admitted, and then I started feeling emotional again but I wouldn’t cry. “It’s my birthday and I just wish that he’d call, or text or something… anything…I don’t think he even remembers it.” I caught his hand, “Do you think I’m wrong to hold onto him?”

“I can’t tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, all I can say is you deserve happiness after everything you’ve been through. And I hope you find it very soon.” There was a glint of smile and hope in his eyes. “If you want to talk to me about something, I’m only a call away.”

“Thank you and I wish you all the best for this new assignment.” I told him genuinely.

“Back at ya. So, are you coming with?”

“I’d like to sit here alone for a little while.”

“Okay, happy birthday once again. I’ll call you before I leave tomorrow.” Ezra said and parted with a kiss on my cheek, the way he usually did.

I settled down in the bar stool, thinking what had gone wrong with my life. The song Animal by Maroon 5 began playing, and there was a collective hoot from the dancers. I ordered for a Sangria and just watched people, trying to keep my thoughts happy despite feeling a little lonely. I saw a couple literally dry humping close to the stage and I groaned.

A shadow crossed me and took over a seat beside mine; I didn’t look up or sideways. Just stared on the other side, if this person whoever it was wanted to flirt, he could talk to my beachy curls.

“Pardon me if I’m mistaken, but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

That voice. Deep and husky.

It couldn’t be…

I turned around in my seat. He was seated right beside me, his dark hair thicker than before; he looked healthier and much much better, clad in black denims, a black leather jacket over a black t-shirt that stretched over his broad chest to show me he’d spent the last couple of months working out a lot. He was wearing boots beneath. My breath caught in my throat, his caramel brown eyes danced with amusement and mischief.

He was here!

“My name’s Jackson Wolfe, but you can call me Jack. What’s your name, beautiful?”


Next will be the Bonus chapter :)

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