“Hello” Charity answered her phone careful to keep her voice low in case Hannah was asleep. “Hello” she repeated her voice raising upon hearing what sounded like crying.
“I’m …. sorry” a feminine voice gulped between sobs.
“Who is this?” Charity demanded forgetting her best friend could be asleep across the room.
“He….he…said” a heavy silence hung in the air as the caller sought to compose themselves. “I wasn’t to….oh god…it was…he was….awful.”
Charity glanced over at Hannah’s side of the room. Her bed was still made as if she hadn’t come back. Vaguely she wondered where she was. The sobbing increased in her ear. The caller hadn’t introduced themselves. Charity was beginning to wonder if this was some kind of terrible joke.
“That boy” the caller mumbled “can’t be trusted.”
“What?” Charity asked the voice that was starting to sound familiar.
“Your so-called protector. Friend. Whatever” the woman sobbed “he can’t be trusted.”
“Ryan?” Charity squeaked.
“Yeah him. If that’s his name” the woman affirmed “he…” she gulped audibly “never mind. You won’t believe me.”
“Believe you?” Charity repeated becoming more confused as the call continued “what are you talking about?” She had a suspicion she wasn’t going to like the answer. Ryan never wanted her to meet with her mother. Her parents never told her that her mother had tried to contact her in the past. The phone shook in her hand. She was tired of everyone telling her what and how to think.
“He tried to….to….” the woman gulped “give me money.”
“He what?” Charity gasped “Ryan wouldn’t do that.”
“He thought” another anguished sob “mmmmoney would kkkkeep me away fffrom you.”
“Was that why didn’t meet me last night at the restaurant?” Charity asked gripping the phone. She hoped the answer was no. Anything else would be too much to contemplate.
“Yyyyes” came the contrite answer in a small tearful voice “I couldn’t face you. Nnnnot after he….he threatened me.”
Charity squeezed her eyes shut. Why would Ryan do that? He had always been her friend. Her self-appointed protector. The one person she could always rely on. Her entire world felt as if it was about to implode.
Breaking into her troubled thoughts, her mother said “meet me for breakfast. I’m worried about you.”
“O…kay” Charity agreed feeling shell-shocked. Her brows furrowed. Why the sudden concern? She had survived the night without incident. Ryan’s room was a few doors away. He’d never hurt her. She was positive of that.
Moving around the room she wondered where Hannah was. It was unusual for her to be up this early. Charity could count the times Hannah had beat her up in the mornings. There had been times Charity would have to get up early to help her dad’s with the resort. Hannah never had to, even when she came to visit Isla Paridiso in the summer.
She carried her clothes to the communal bathroom. At least being up this early meant she would have the showers to herself. Which meant plenty of hot water. A luxury she had learned to live without. Wrapping a towel around herself she stepped out of the shower. There was a light, mist on the mirrors from the super heated shower she had. Staring at her image she observed the bags under her eyes from crying herself to sleep the night before. There was something off about her mother’s sob story. She could hear the sobs over the phone. It sounder fake to her ears the more she thought about it. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. If felt like a trap. Her stomach twisted in worry as her anxiety rose.
Hastily she threw her clothes on. Sighing in relief that she chose clothes she was comfortable in. She pulled her panda hat down further to one side smiling in satisfaction at her reflection. Why had she tried so hard to impress someone she didn’t even know? Why had she been so willing to believe their word over the people she had known all her life?
Opening the door she almost bumped into Ryan. She noticed the haggard look in his eyes. The tense way his jaw was set. He looked like he hadn’t slept at all. “Ryan” she called his name.
He looked up eyes vacant “Charity” he croaked.
“Are you alright?” she reached a hand out to steady him as he slumped against the wall.
“Fine. I’m fine” he muttered shaking her hand from his shoulder.
She looked away regretting all the times she had rebuffed his concern. “Isn’t there…I mean” she stopped unsure what she wanted to say “I’m sorry.” Impulsively she grabbed his wrist keeping him from walking away. “Please isn’t there some way we can go back?”
Slowly he turned to face her. His eyes glistened with tears “I’d like that” he mumbled.
Relief flushed through her like water through a dam. Throwing her arms around him she squeezed him tight. “I’ve missed you” she cried kissing his stubbly cheek. She felt his arms wrap around her waist. Holding her tight.
He drew in a deep breath “I don’t want to be just friends.” He took his free hand to tilt her chin up to him. “I love you. I’ve loved you sense we were little kids.”
“I don’t….” she snapped her mouth shut. She could see the pain in his eyes as she said the words. “Why can’t we just be friends?” She didn’t expect an answer. She stiffened as he pulled her close. “What are you…..” her words were muffled as he covered her mouth with his. As his soft firm lips brushed across hers she let herself relax in her arms.
This was everything she had imagined and more. The knot in her stomach dissolved as she melted under his touch. She brought her hand up to his chest. She could feel his heart beating in rhythm with her own.
“I know you feel the same way about me” he whispered releasing her “don’t bother trying to deny it.”
“I” she brought her fingers to her lips. She could still imagine his kissing her. The way it took her breath away. She wanted to experience that again and again and again. “I love you too” she gasped. She watched as the most beautiful smile crept across his face transforming the tense tired lines into a carefree smile. He pulled her close. His body warm against hers as he began to shake. It took her a moment to realize he was laughing.
He swept her up into his arms “I’ve waited for so long to hear you say those words to me.” He set her down after swinging her around. Setting her down his eyes locked onto hers “I’d wait forever to hear you say it again.”
Giggling she pushed him away “stop.”
“What” he asked following her into her room.
“You’re just being sappy now” she protested shaking her head.
“Maybe I’m just that kind of guy” he winked at her. He leaned against her wall watching her “are you going somewhere?”
She stopped searching for her bag. Turning she nodded. “She called this morning.” she knew the way his eyes narrowed she didn’t have to say who ‘she’ was. “She had some sob story of how you were ….” she stopped noticing the way he tensed up like a tiger about to pounce. “She wants to meet me for breakfast.”
“You’re not going” he barked.
“I’m an adult” she snapped “I can do what I want.” She crossed her arms unsure why she was arguing with him. It’s not like she wanted to have breakfast with the woman. Not anymore at least.
“I’m sorry” he ran his fingers through his hair “you don’t understand what she is….”
Taking a step forward “tell me” she pleaded “you don’t have to protect me. I can handle it.”
“I” he gulped “she” he shoved his hands into his pockets.
“She what” she demanded. She could tell something was up. Ryan was seldom if ever tongue-tied. She glanced at the time. If she were going to make it on time she’d have to leave now. Shaking her head she decided her mother could wait. This time if they were going to meet it’d be on her terms. “Tell me” she repeated her voice softer, gentler.
“I” he looked up at her his eyes troubled. “I don’t know where to begin.”
Taking his hand she pulled him closer to her. “How about with the truth” she suggested.
Nodding he sank to the floor as if his legs wouldn’t hold his weight anymore. “I don’t want to hurt you. I know how much meeting your mom means to you.”
She laid a gentle hand over his as she settled on the floor beside him. “Just tell me. I can handle it.” She was struck by the differences between the two. Her mother’s contrived sobs hadn’t tried to spare her feelings for Ryan. Yet her mother expected her to drop everything and come to her no questions asked.
“Last night” he stared at the floor “she was waiting for me….”
“She was here” Charity asked “we were supposed to have supper together.”
“Charity please don’t meet up with her” he pleaded taking her hands in his “she wants…”
“Money” Charity finished for him. It was beginning to make sense. Why her parents hadn’t told her about her mom coming to see them. They hadn’t wanted her to know they had been asked for money. Hadn’t wanted her to think badly of the woman who had given her up for adoption.
“Maybe I should have agreed to her terms” Ryan continued as if she hadn’t spoken “I had enough in my account to cover her initial demands”
Taking his face between her hands “you are not going to give her a damn thing.”
He blinked at her in surprise “she said she’d leave you alone. I know how much this has upset you. I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy” she smiled at him stroking his cheeks “I have two wonderful dad’s who love me. Out of all the kids in the world they chose me.” She moved closer bringing her lips to his. It felt awkward at first before she switched her mind off and just let it happen. It wasn’t passionate just sweet and tender. “I have you too. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how I felt about you.”
“Maybe I should thank her” Ryan smirked at her.
“You will not” she cried glaring at him before attacking him like she had when the were little seeking out his most ticklish places. He squirmed around trying to get away from her fingers.
“Ok ok I won’t I promise I won’t” he gasped for breath.
“You better not” she said “I should at least meet her. I want her to know something.”
“You’re not going alone” his voice rose in concern.
“Of course not” she smiled innocently at him “you’re coming with me.”
Ryan held the restaurant door open. Charity smiled at him silently thanking him as she entered the small diner. Her eyes scanned the dimly lit interior. She found the object of her search sitting in a corner booth at the back of the restaurant.
She looked up when Ryan took her hand. “Relax” he whispered “I’m right beside you.”
She nodded in gratitude. How could she ever have doubted him? Why had she been so willing to accept that woman’s word over someone she had known most of her life? Despite everything he was here holding her hand. “I love you” she murmured smiling up at him.
“If it wouldn’t cause too much of a scene I’d kiss you right here right now” he smiled down at her.
“Go ahead kiss me” she dared her eyes never leaving his.
“His lips twitched as he gathered her in his arms drawing her close. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he leaned in close lips tenderly brushing across hers.
With his soft firm lips brushing across her, his scent and taste swirling around her the restaurant melted away. Nothing else mattered. It was just the two of them. A loud aggravated sigh broke them apart. Charity’s mothered stood in front of them giving them both a disapproving glare. “I thought we were eating breakfast alone” she gave Ryan an icy stare.
Pulling away from Ryan’s embrace Charity stared at the woman “I guess we’re even” she leaned into Ryan as he put an arm around her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the woman snapped.
“Don’t you know?” Charity asked astonished “you stood me up last night. We had supper plans. You didn’t even call.”
“I told you what happened” her mother’s eyes slid towards Ryan “I’d rather discuss this in private.”
“I bet you would” Charity nodded up at Ryan “I’ll save you the trouble. I’m not interested in your sob story or your lies.” She felt the gentle reassuring pressure of Ryan’s arm around her. “If you want to get to know me you can. At my father’s resort over the summer. I’m tired of being jerked around by you.”
Frowning the woman fumbled for words “I told you why that wouldn’t work. They’ll just look down on me with their disapproving looks.”
“It’s my or no way,” Charity said firmly “my dad’s raised me. They made me into the person I am today. Where were you for the past nineteen years?” She shook her head “I don’t owe you a damn thing.” Looking up at Ryan “come on babe let’s order. I’m starving.”