What the hell is she doing here?
And why does she keep showing up unannounced at my door?
Granted last time, I was lying in a hospital bed. And this is where I work. So not exactly my private space or anything. But still. This can’t mean anything good.
I glance at Macy, still holding open the door Riley had just busted through and who seems just as confused as I am.
Understandably confused. One, because we’re closed, just locking up. And two, because Riley is an Abbott and they aren’t exactly on the guest list.
“Uh. Hi, Riley.”
“Jax.” She’s unsteady on her feet but lifts her little chin as if lecturing in one of her classrooms. “I would like to speak with Lucas.”
I stare at her dumbly, just blinking as I try to figure out what is happening.
When I don’t respond Macy informs her Luke isn’t here. She spins at the sound of his voice and falls into him. Macy is chuckling as he reaches out to steady her and I shoot him a look. He clears his throat, trying to disguise his amusement.
Riley is demanding we go hunt down Lucas so she can talk to him.
That is so not happening.
I hear Mace mutter something about Riley being feisty and I am quick to deny it. “Not usually.” Something is obviously wrong and not just the fact that she’s clearly drunk off her ass.
I cross the room to her side and lead her to the couch. “Mace, can you grab some water for her?” I toss over my shoulder.
Riley is glancing around the room, taking in all the artwork. She’s never been here before. Never visited our tattoo shop Vanished. Lucas isn’t exactly a fan of his family. Although I think Riley is starting to chip away some of his walls. I’d like to see him give them a chance. At least give her a chance. But I’d never tell him that. Not my place. My place is behind him, supporting him, having his back.
That’s the way it’s always been.
I crouch down in front of her. Despite her drunken determination when she stormed in, now she looks uncertain and avoids my eyes.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” I offer, giving her a half smile. It’s been about three months actually. I haven’t seen her since I got out of the hospital. She visited pretty regularly when I was there, carefully avoiding Luke after one marginally brutal interaction. But she would come by and keep me company and smuggle me my favorite foods.
She finally looks directly at me, her eyes red and blurry. Shit. She’s been crying.
“You look good,” she whispers. “Better.”
“Good as new.”
Macy reappears with a bottle of water that he hands over and then leaves us alone again. My leg is starting to cramp so I move to sit next to her on the couch. Making sure to keep a respectable distance. Luke may not like his family but she’s still my best friend’s cousin.
Even if she is cute.
I don’t normally do cute. Or sweet. And Riley, with her retro style dresses and giant gray eyes and genuine smile and enormous purse with KitKats, is both. She’s a teacher. At a Chicago public school. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about her character I don’t know what will.
And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about those gray eyes over the last few months.
But she’s also an Abbott. So I keep my distance. Literally and figuratively.
Or at least I had been. But I’m not an asshole. I’m not going to turn her out on the street when she’s drunk and obviously upset.
“So,” I say, settling back into the leather couch. “What’s new with you?”
Sniffling, she stares at her shoes.
“I finished work early tonight. One of my after school meetings was canceled so I thought I would bring Daniel some dinner. Surprise him. But when I got there… he was… he-”
I glance at the rock on her finger.
“Wasn’t alone?” I finish gently.
She shakes her head, silently starting to cry again.
Now what am I supposed to do?
“Want me to have Mace go over and scare the shit out of him?” Macy is the largest of all of us, built like a warrior. Luckily he usually has a smile on his face or he’d be one scary dude. Now, he’s just scary when he wants to be which isn’t very often. But I imagine would terrify her skinny tax attorney fiance. Or ex-fiance. Cheating fiance.
Thankfully, this causes her to laugh, sniffling through her tears. She takes a sip of the water. Suddenly she jumps to her feet, swiping at her cheeks and the tears under her eyes. “Let’s go dancing!”
My eyes widen in surprise. “You want to go dancing?”
“Yes! Let’s go? Where should we go?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Teach.”
She crosses her arms and glares at me. “And why not?”
I open my mouth to explain, or at least try to explain without pointing out she’s drunk, but before I can her face falls. “Oh. Because of Lucas.”
Surprisingly, I hadn’t been thinking of him. Luke is suspicious of Riley, thinks she’s often acting as an emissary for his cousin Ethan and his uncle but she’s growing on him. And he would definitely want her taken care of in this situation.
“That’s not why,” I tell her. “But if you go out to a club with me and Macy there’s a good chance some paparazzi is going to find us and take your picture. I can’t imagine the school board would be excited about that.”
She looks so disappointed I can’t help but feel like I let her down somehow. I should just make sure she gets home okay. But I also suspect that’s one of the last places she wants to go right now. And showing up at her uncle’s house will lead to questions, I’m sure.
I shove a hand through my hair in frustration. I know what I’m about to do and I know it’s a bad idea.
I keep my distance from Riley. That’s what I do. What I should do.
Instead I find myself saying, “You want to go somewhere for a drink? I’ve got an idea.”
The kick in my chest at her smile is further evidence I’m making a mistake.
Too late now.
See this interaction from Macy’s perspective here.