And now I know who you are
It wasn't that hard, just to figure you out
(Now I did, you wonder why)
South Beach - Stanfield Residence - 10:00 PM
He heard them before he hit the sidewalk. Every word she said, Ryan heard it, his heart pounding with intense, almost overwhelming emotion. She made a mistake? Hell yes she’d made a mistake. He’d waited a long time to hear her admit it; too long. He should have moved on, but now that long dry wait was over and it had been worth it.
The security cameras he’d installed pointed at him now, direction wrong but wind and rain and Stanfield’s disinterest in anything but himself had something to do with that. He put them up; he knew how they worked and how to shut them down. Nothing about this evening would be recorded. Another detail but one he would take care of before the night ended.
“Beth!” Ryan shouted. She closed her hands around the rail and stared down at him and he could see the flash in her eyes from two damn stories up. That’s what he had been waiting for, and nothing was going to stop him now. “I’m taking you out of here,” he called up to her, “Let’s go.”
Cooper moved, and Ryan had to admit he moved fast, grabbing her arm and shoving her back behind him. “You get the fuck out of here!” he yelled down.
Ryan watched her. From behind Cooper, she was still looking at him. He smiled. “Not this time,” he shouted up at him. “You let her come down or I’m coming up there to get her.”
Cooper wheeled around, pushing her aside. She tried to intervene, her gesture urgent; Ryan couldn’t hear what she said but Cooper’s loud and enraged retort echoed off the white stone walls: “Hell no! No way! You don’t move! Stay here!”
Ryan turned and headed for the front door, wondering if he was going to have to go through the man to get her, a complication he’d enjoy if he got the chance, when a red VW Beetle whipped around the corner and pulled right up on the sidewalk in front of him. If he’d been two feet closer to the curb, it would have hit him.
Wyatt leaped out, already yelling, and right behind him, almost hurtling over the back of the little car, Rainie, and in full cry herself.
Rainie continued to curse vehemently at Wyatt who looked as though he intended to do something, although Ryan wasn't sure what, when the front door slammed open.
“Rayne!” He stepped toward her ignoring Wyatt and the damned car. “Hey cut it out! You need to get in the house! I don't want you to get hurt!”
Wyatt shoved himself in the middle shouting, "Fuck you, McDermott! Get the fuck away from my sister!”
Ryan took a couple of seconds to stare down Rayne, who stopped screaming, then ripped his gaze back to the front door. Cooper. Not Beth. She was nowhere in sight. Had he threatened her to keep her inside the house, and with what?
Ryan reached out, gesturing for Cooper to come closer. "Give me a reason Cooper, come on...bring it."
"Asshole!" Wyatt sidestepped in front of his sister in a futile attempt to keep her out of the fray.
"It's not Ryan's fault!" Rayne shrieked.
Standing there, taunting, daring him to come closer, Ryan watched as Cooper glanced between him and his children. Exhaling sharply, Cooper changed direction and anger and frustration laced his words as he urged them into the house. "Both of you get inside and stay there. Now!"
Distracted, Cooper let his attention stray from the front door until he heard rapid footsteps behind him. He whipped back in time to see Beth leaving the house, walking quickly, a half run that took her out to the edge of the front steps heading directly for Ryan.
Harboring few illusions about his ability to stop her if she intended to leave with the son of a bitch, still caught somewhere been rage and stunned incomprehension, Cooper hesitated, watching the two of them.
She was already right up there in Ryan’s face demanding, “What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Ryan glanced over her shoulder and met Cooper’s eyes. He reached down past her waist and deliberately put his hand on her ass. Cooper half choked on his own livid anger, and took another furious stride toward the couple when Beth, her back still to him, struck Ryan’s hand aside. She repeated the question and punctuated it. “Don’t touch me! What are you doing here?!”
“This is over,” Ryan told her in a flat, hard voice. “We’re leaving. Come on, get in the car.”
She drew a quick slash through the dark air with one hand. Cooper recognized that little angry gesture, clenched his jaw and forced himself to stand where he was and wait. This wasn’t going down the way Ryan thought it was. “I’m not going anywhere with you! You think I’m just going to waltz off into the sunset and leave my children? Are you crazy?”
Cooper caught the reference to their children instead of him. So did Ryan, who shot him another faintly amused glare. “We can deal with the kids later. There’s no way I’m leaving you here now, not after this.”
Beth stared up at Ryan, eyes wide. For the first time since she left the house, she looked at Cooper, one quick enigmatic glance then past him at the ocean, a landscape that went all the way back for her and Cooper knew it. Further back than he’d thought about for a long time. She returned her attention to Ryan and countered coldly, “You don’t get to make that choice, Ryan. That’s my choice.”
Striding confidently toward them now, adrenaline pumping furiously, Cooper threatened, "I said get the fuck off my property and stay the hell away from my wife! How many times do I need to say it? You need me to draw a damned picture?”
“Your wife? Your damned toy! You treat your goddamned guitar better than you treat her! You lost her a long time ago – you just figuring that out?” Ryan waited hands on hips and poised to strike if it came to that, relishing the idea that it might.
His eyes blazing, Cooper took another step closer, folded his arms and laughed at him. “Who do you think you’re dealing with? I don’t lose what I want to keep. You took your shot at her. You think I’m fucking worried? She didn’t come back for more, did she? Real damned impressive man, or am I missing something here?”
Ryan lowered his arms, glanced from Beth and then back to Cooper, and smiled right back. "You missed a hell of a lot Cooper. You think it was just about the sex? Get real! I was the one who was there for your kids, the one she talked to, counted on, relied on for support. Take another look at those pictures and tell me that was just sex."
Momentarily stunned into silence, Cooper drew a sharp breath. He had seen it and that was what cut the deepest, that and the knowledge that he allowed it to happen without a single attempt to diffuse it. Cooper glanced at his wife whose face was stricken with deep emotion.
She turned her shoulder to him and looked at Ryan – and that look was long and direct and achingly intense -- drew one hand across her eyes and then slowly moved toward Cooper.
Beth moved up behind him, slipped one arm around his waist and then, with her gaze firmly locked on Ryan, slowly and deliberately slid her hand down inside the front of Cooper’s jeans. Surprised and relieved – he knew what she was doing; she was going for blood – Cooper shifted his weight slightly, smiled down at her, and then back at Ryan, waiting for it. “You’re wrong, Ryan,” Beth vowed in a silky and provocative voice. “You were nothing but a one-time fuck. I prefer what I have right here. I don’t need you. I don’t want you.”
Ryan almost staggered, caught himself, searching her face. It was closed and hard, her eyes dark and lifeless, reflecting nothing. She couldn’t possibly mean that. Under his scrutiny, she finally shifted her gaze out to the flat black eastern horizon. “Beth,” he tried, “you don’t have to put up with this shit. He can’t stop you.”
She whipped her eyes back at him, still and stiff as a doll in Cooper’s grasp. “Neither can you,” she spat at him. “I’m where I want to be. I said I don’t want you. Go away.”
South Metro Area - Adams Square - 11 PM
He drove mindlessly, attempting to shove the pain aside, focusing, a right turn here, left turn at the light until he ended up downtown in the South Metro area. Ryan parked the Suburban and walked, trying to clear his head, and wandered past restaurants, galleries, and shops until he ended up at Adams Square and the 123 Club. He strode toward the bar; it didn't look too crowded, a few regulars shooting pool and the lounge upstairs would be dark.
Easing onto the seats along the corner of the place Ryan waited for the cocktail waitress. He turned his focus toward the floor, black tiles offset by the blood red haze from the club. Trying to make sense of what had happened tonight only further frustrated him. He needed to feel numb; he needed a fucking drink. From the corner of his eye Ryan caught a few women eying him from the dance floor. Shit, he didn't want this, not tonight.
Abandoning his seat Ryan slipped onto a vacant bar stool. "Double Scotch, neat and keep the glass full," he rumbled, pounding one down and gesturing for another. Beth made a choice, an inconceivably wrong decision to stay and she had done it while driving a stake through his heart deliberately and precisely.
The sickly sweet aroma of rosewater assaulted him as a woman sat at the bar and gestured toward him. "I couldn't help noticing you came in here alone. Maybe you'd like to change that if you're looking for a good time? I'm Rhonda."
"Fuck off Rhonda." Ryan tapped his glass, a gesture the bartender recognized as she filled his glass to the rim. Nothing had gone according to plan, nothing about tonight made any sense at all. He knew what was in her heart; he saw it in her eyes, didn't he?
Ryan drew a shaky breath. Focus, damn it, pull yourself together. But all Ryan saw was Beth, her hands in Stanfield's pants, looking at him with cold, unfeeling eyes. That wasn't her; she had to be afraid of something; that had to be it. He must have threatened her. If he had, Ryan would rip him apart, slowly and painfully.
He had to move, keep moving, get up, and get out of here. Sliding off the stool Ryan grabbed his Scotch and headed for the balcony.
Ryan stared morosely at the towers across town as he nursed the drink in his right hand. Sirens wailed past him, people filed out of the theatre below, the aroma of Chinese food wafted up from the street.
Briefly raising his glass in a mock toast, a cynical gesture at best, Ryan swallowed the remaining Scotch. It wasn't enough, not nearly enough to drown the pain.
Hurling the glass Ryan abruptly turned. "Keep moving," he muttered as he headed down the stairs.
South Metro Area - Market Street - 12:00 AM
Although it was situated only a few blocks from Adams Square, the Red Light attracted a less savory clientele which was fine as far as Ryan was concerned. His comfort level was never in question in the seedier parts of downtown. Few people were on the streets at this hour; most were either in the alley around the back, perusing the extensive collection of porn at the video store or hooking up for a few bucks with a trick in the hotel down the street.
Leaning against the door Ryan hesitated as the raucous music filtered down from the club upstairs. "Fuck it." Riley was with Landry's mother and the house would be quiet, no crying baby, no diapers, no reason not to get stinking drunk. Seizing the opportunity Ryan turned and headed for the liquor store.
He stared at the shelves of Glenlivet. A hazy memory poked at him; Beth hated the smell of Scotch and had declared gin as the far superior liquor. He in turn had disputed her choice calling it a "girly drink" knowing she would rise to the challenge, ending up with each of them attempting to out-drink the other. Waking up the next morning with sunlight stabbing him in the eyes, sprawled out on the upstairs couch, a cotton blanket tossed over his bare shoulders, he’d found her curled up next to him, sound asleep and warm and still smiling. They both ended up with horrendous hangovers despite the fact that neither admitted it.
She should have been in his bed tonight, and the next and the next. Flooded with pain and shock Ryan abruptly left and returned to the Red Light.
As he eased onto the stool the bartender acknowledged him with a nod and slid a glass filled with the amber colored single-malt that Ryan liked. He lifted the glass to his mouth and drank deeply, averting his eyes from the bottle of Bombay Sapphire – the gin she kept in the freezer at the beach house - and focusing on the reflection of the stripper in the mirror. The dancers here knew him and liked him and left him alone unless he wanted their attention. It was uncomplicated. It was also infrequent much to the girls' chagrin.
He'd been at it for the better part of two hours pounding down the Scotch and the bartender kept them coming. The music, the lights and the heat hammered at him as he went back over everything that happened. No way would she turn on him like that. He heard them fighting, heard Beth tell Cooper she made a mistake. It had to be the kids; Stanfield used them as a weapon against her. Hadn't Beth told him she couldn't leave her kids? She’d even said it that night, when they’d argued – that had been a stupid move, to argue with her after all those hours together. But that had been part of it.
Arrogant asshole didn't give a damn about them either. It was Ryan's presence in Rainie's life that molded her into who she was, a strong, focused, determined and capable girl, but she was running wild now that he wasn’t there to keep her in line. Beth had to remember that, all those days at the beach, the nights spent talking and laughing and challenging each other. He’d seen the way she looked at him; he knew how she felt. They fit, damn it. How the hell could she turn on him? It didn’t add up. The wrenching pain struck through him again. "Fuck!" he muttered.
"Ryan, are you all right? You've been going at it pretty hard tonight. You want some company?"
Momentarily distracted he replied somewhat incoherently, "Yeah...no, no...I'm...fine...working something out that's all." He absently slipped a twenty in the waist of her panties as he thought about those damned tabloid shots. It wasn't just sex that night, he knew it, Beth knew it and Cooper knew it. Any sane person would have known that. "What's insane is that she's not leaving that asshole." Had he said that out loud or just thought it? Everything was beginning to blur.
The girl slid onto the barstool next to him, silent but continuing to watch him.
But Beth hadn't left Stanfield; she chose to stay. “I’m where I want to be. I said I don’t want you. Go away.” Deeply wounded, overwhelming anguish surging through him, Ryan's grip on the glass tightened until it shattered, the shards and the Scotch raining down on his jeans. He was oblivious to it as the grief he tried desperately to stave off slammed him in one heartrending wave after another.
Ryan gave into it, folded his arms and lowered his head onto the wet bar counter and drew one deep ragged audible breath. The world closed down on him. He’d failed. He’d left the woman he loved in an untenable situation, locked in a relationship that would destroy her, he’d miscalculated, he’d underestimated the enemy, he’d waited too long, he’d seen it and recognized it and didn’t follow up, he’d screwed up from the beginning. And he was left with nothing now but a dark and bleeding hole in his heart.
South Beach - McDermott Residence - 2 AM
Was this real? Ryan staggered up, lurched onto the unmade bed and with one powerful but unsteady motion lifted her up onto his lap. She felt real. His vision was blurred, seeing two women, four, duplicated and flashing in the mirror on the wall behind her.
"I knew you'd come."
"I'm here for you," she whispered softly.
“I love you Beth,” he swore, the words slurred. “Stay with me. Don’t leave.”
The room darkened and spun. He closed his eyes, grabbing a fistful of her long hair, leaning back onto the bed, pulling her down on top of him. Ryan felt her breath against his mouth. “I won’t…and I love you too…”
NEXT CHAPTER: Sessions Chapter 12