AtoZ Challenge · Jax and Riley · Vanished

Riley #AtoZChallenge

Oh god. What did I do?

My head is pounding and I cringe squeezing my eyes tight against the light.

Reluctantly, I blink open and realize I am not where I am supposed to be. I don’t recognize the bed I’m in or the industrial style loft it’s located in. I sit up in a rush but have to grab my head when the sudden movement clashes through it painfully.

And it all comes back in a rush.

Daniel. Alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Vanished. Jax.

Oh god.

This is so embarrassing.

I am not a drinker. I hardly ever drink. And I haven’t gotten drunk in years. Not since college.

And now, last night.

And Lucas’s best friend witnessed the whole thing.

I bury my face in my hands and shake my head in denial.

I’m still in my dress from yesterday. My mouth is dry and stale. I can only imagine the state of my hair. But somehow I have to gather what’s left of my dignity and get out of here.

And I should probably thank Jax for taking care of me last night. I’m sure it was not on his To Do list.

Gingerly, I move to the edge of the bed, testing the sturdiness of my stomach. I notice a glass of water and some aspirin on the nightstand and I swallow them down gratefully. Then chug the entire glass of water. I am so dehydrated.

Well done, Riley. Way to handle your life like a champ.

Now that I’ve managed to get to my feet I take in a bit more of my surroundings.

The loft is huge, largely unfinished. The concrete floor is polished, exposed brick make up three of the four walls broken up by huge nearly floor to ceiling windows. He’s divided the ‘bedroom’ from the rest of the space with a large screen. Peaking around I see a cluster of couches in the center with a TV and gaming console. The far side is separated by another large screen hiding whatever is behind it.

One of the couches has a pile of blankets, indicating that is where Jax spent the night, but he’s nowhere to be found. I can’t decide if I’m relieved or disappointed he’s not here.

I can never really decide what it is with Jax. Uncertainty shrouds every interaction I have with him.
Except, apparently, when I’m totally intoxicated.

I didn’t even notice the sound of the shower until it turned off. The sudden silence is startling. A moment later Jax emerges from the only door in the loft wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. His hair is still wet, finger-combed back from his face.

I swallow. He’s wearing jeans and nothing else.

To keep myself from staring at all the muscles and tattoos on display I force myself to step forward.

“Morning.” My voice is hoarse. I feel my cheeks heat.

He tosses me a look over his shoulder. “Hey! Teach! You’re up. Want some coffee?” To the left is the kitchen, appliances lined along the wall with a large island and stools defining the ‘room’.

“Coffee sounds good.” I awkwardly slide on to a stool, trying not to stare at his back as he starts the coffee brewing. “Sorry about last night. I don’t usually-”

He chuckles. “You think I don’t know that isn’t your usual MO?”

Silently, I drop my eyes to the island in front of me.

Jax turns so he’s facing me, crossing his arms and leaning his hip against the counter. “You don’t need to apologize, Riley. It’s not everyday you walk in on your fiancé cheating. You’re allowed to act a little crazy.”

“Still, I disrupted your whole night.”

He grins at me, causing my stomach to flip. I push a hand against my abdomen pretending this is also a reaction to my drinking. “I didn’t have any plans. We had fun, right?”

I nod reluctantly. What I remember, we did have fun. We played pool and danced to the juke box and chatted with friendly strangers.

“Macy must think-”

“Macy doesn’t think anything. Other than you needed a night out. He’s not like that. He’s not going to judge you for something we’ve all done.”

I smile ruefully. “I liked his family’s bar.”

Jax nods and turns back to pour the coffee. “Yeah, it’s a good spot. It’s great for when we’re looking for a place to just chill, you know?”

He sets a mug in front of me.

Gratefully, I take a fortifying sip.

I hear him take a deep breath and then he asks, “So what are you going to do? About the cheating asshole?”

Tears sting my eyes and I blink rapidly to fight them off.

What am I going to do?

Instead of answering I look around suddenly. “Do you know what I did with my phone?”

He walks over to the couches and grabs my purse off the center table. “I shut it off last night. It kept beeping,” he explains, handing it over.

Smiling my thanks, I grab my phone out of my bag and turn it back on. I cringe when I realize it’s nearly 11am. But I have a vague memory of us not retuning to the loft until nearly four last night. This morning. Whatever.

Sure enough, I have dozens of missed calls and unopened texts from Daniel.

I can explain.
Please talk to me.
I’m sorry you saw that.
Riles, I’m getting worried.
Don’t do anything stupid.
Where are you?

And then Please talk to me again.

I shoot him a text, letting him know I’m alive but not ready to talk and turn my phone back off. I force the images of him in bed with someone else from my mind. I wish I could erase them entirely but I know that won’t ever happen.

And if I’m being completely honest with myself, beneath the pain and betrayal and confusion I’m also the tiniest bit… relieved.

I don’t want to marry Daniel. And now, it seems pretty obvious he doesn’t really want to marry me.

So I have no idea what I’m going to do. But I know what I’m not going to do.

I’m not going to get married.

Want to know more about the night before? Catch up here and here.

AtoZ Challenge · Jax and Riley · Vanished

Jax #AtoZChallenge

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.

“On it.”

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.

Dammit.

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.”

“Oh.”

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.

And if you’re curious about Jax and Riley’s first meeting you can find that here and here.

Abbotts · Jax and Riley · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Jax

I think it’s the pain in my head that wakes me. Or maybe my chest. My leg still isn’t feeling great either.

I subconsciously remember enough not to stretch or move much, instead I just take a slow steady breath and blink my eyes open.

I fucking hate hospitals. Especially when I’m the patient.

A flash of red hair and a mint green dress catches my eye and I turn my gaze toward the door to my hospital room with a grin, ready to flirt with the new nurse on duty.

What the hell is she doing here?

By the way her smile trembles I suspect I’m not hiding my surprise very well.

Distantly, I recognize I should be angry or annoyed or hostile, but frankly I don’t have enough energy to be any of those things. Or maybe it’s the drugs I’m pumped full of right now. I just feel mellow. And maybe a little curious.

“You’re… Riley. Right?”

If I’m remembering correctly, a fairly big if at the moment, she’s a teacher. And an outsider in her own right, an orphan like us, although she was taken in and raised by Luke’s family. She had a good, cushy home.

Not the hell Luke and I were raised in.

She nods. I got her name right.

She’s clearly nervous and that combined with my natural inclination to flirt my way through awkward situations eliminates any remaining desire I have to give her a hard time.

Well, really I flirt my way through all situations. Now that I can. It works. And I’m too exhausted to fight Luke’s battles right now. Besides, she’s cute in a wholesome 50s housewife kind of way. Not my type. But she seems harmless enough.

“I’m Jax. Nice to meet you,” I offer when she remains silently shifting from foot to foot just inside the door.

She let’s out a burst of laughter she seems surprised by. “You too.”

I smirk, still mostly curious why she’s here. And a little suspicious I know why.

“You want to sit?”

Finally she moves farther into the room accepting my offer. “I – ah – I brought you some contraband.” I smirk again as she glances over her shoulder nervously. A real rule-breaker this one.

“Oh yeah? Bribe or peace offering?”

She has a gigantic purse and it takes her a second to find what she’s looking for. Triumphantly she hands me a white paper bag. I recognize the logo immediately. I may start drooling like a trained dog.

“You brought me Duk’s?” How the hell did she know about my favorite hot dog stand?

I go to grab the bag, forgetting for a minute about the whole not moving thing and immediately feel pain radiate through my chest. I fall back to my pillows with a grimace, sucking air in through my teeth. “Shit.”

“Are you okay? Should I call anyone?” She rushes over a look of concern on her face.

“No. I’m fine. Just need a minute.”

I feel her studying me, probably trying to decide whether or not to call in a nurse. She must come to the conclusion I’ll survive because she turns away and unwraps my gift. Her bribe. We both know that’s what it is. I’m just not sure what she wants for it.

I’ll still eat it. I fucking love a good Chicago dog.

“Thanks.”

She takes one of the seats next to the bed with a small smile.

She has kind eyes.

That’s the drugs. I stomp that thought and turn my attention to my meal. I take a bite and groan with pleasure. This is the stuff.

She’s giggling at my expense and I don’t even care.

“This is exactly what I needed. How did you guess?” I ask taking another bite.

“I watch the show.”

Her answer causes me to shoot her a swift glance. I’d never really thought about any of the Abbott’s watching our show. It feels weird. Like they’re spying on us, even though tens of thousands of people tune in every week. But those people had never dealt such a brutal rejection to my best friend.

I focus on my hot dog, processing this information.

Eventually she breaks the silence by asking me how I’m feeling.

Like I’ve been shot. Like my head has been cut open. Like I’ve had multiple surgeries bringing me back from death in the last week.

But that’s not what I say. She knows that.

“Bored. But now you’re here so I suspect that’s going to change.” There’s a little bite to my words. I guess I can muster a little anger for her and her family after all.

“I – I was -”

“What are you doing here, Riley?” I interrupt. “Hoping to see Luke?” I’m not sure why that annoys me as much as it does. Of course she’s here because of Luke, not because of me.

“I wanted to see both of you,” she says softly, almost as if she heard my thoughts. “I heard about the shooting, obviously. I wanted to check on you, see if either of you needed anything.”

“Why?” Luke has rebuked every effort the Abbott’s have made the last couple years. Too little, too late. And he’s my best friend, the closest thing I have to family in this fucked up world so of course I’ve backed him up.

“Because that’s what you do for family.”

I study her. Trying to figure out what, if anything, is her angle. But she just raises her little chin and looks back at me with those wide gray eyes.

Suddenly uncomfortable under her calm scrutiny I change the subject.

“Who’s the lucky guy?” I nod at the engagement ring on her finger.

She looks down, finally breaking eye contact and starts to fidget with, what I’m sure, is an impressive rock.

“Oh, uh, his name is Daniel.”

She bites her lip and her eyes seems to shutter. I don’t have a lot of experience with engagements, weddings, happy marriages but I know women pretty well. And I have to think I wouldn’t want the woman I planned to marry to have that particular look on her face when talking about it.

And now I feel like an asshole for giving her a hard time.

“So. What do you want me to tell Luke?” I offer in an attempt to assuage my guilt.

She sighs returning her attention to me. But she seems a bit defeated now and I hate that something I said made her feel that way. Even if she is just trying to get to Luke through me.

“Nothing. Really. I just wanted to see how you were doing and hopefully cheer you up a little. I know it’s no fun to be stuck in a hospital bed.”

I try to remember the details of how she lost her parents. They died in a car accident. Was she with them at the time? The only survivor? That’s rough, especially for a kid.

“Thanks for the dog,” I offer, breaking the silence.

Her wide smile is so simple and so pure it almost knocks the breath out of me. Fuck.

I break our eye contact by closing my eyes and laying my head back against the pillows. “I like KitKats too. I don’t think that’s been on the show but next time, see if you can smuggle in some KitKats for me, will you, Teach?”

She laughs and unbelievably considering everything happening in my body right now I feel my dick twitch in response. Fuck. This is the last thing I need.

“I can do that.”

I hear the door opening once again but keep my eyes closed. I don’t think looking at her creamy skin and innocent gray eyes are going to help my current… situation.

“What the hell are you doing here? How did you get in here?”

Well. Lucas is pissed. Maybe she should have brought him a dog too.

She stands ready to bolt in the face of the six-feet-two tattooed and pissed-off male that is my best friend.

I interject to try to diffuse the situation. “I told the guard it was okay. She’s not some crazy fan,” I lie. The guard is there to protect my privacy not keep actual friends or family out.

But Luke hates his family sooooo…

“Did Ethan send you? I told him to stay the fuck away.”

“Luke-”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll go. I just wanted to see if either of you needed anything.” Riley grabs her giant purse and gives me a wobbly smile. If I see tears in her eyes I’m going to punch my friend in the gut. After I’ve recovered from my injuries.

She pauses at the door and tells him, “Ethan didn’t send me. Neither did Uncle Theo. I just -” she leaves before finishing her thought.

I yell after her, “KitKats!”

Lucas is looking at me with an expression of disbelief on his face.

You didn’t have to be such an asshole to her. She brought me Duk’s.

You can see this meeting from Riley’s perspective here.

Curious about why Lucas hates his family? A little of his story is here.