Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 15
"Even if it could work out with you and Larson," Riley finishes for me.
I shrug, not even wanting to entertain that thought.
"That's over," I tell her. "I can't get my hopes up about that any more. I mean, yeah, it was fun while it lasted, but we're two totally different people. And he's so closed off about whatever happened with his past and yada yada yada. He's obviously no more ready for a relationship than I am."
"Brynn, he came all the way to New York to see you," she says. "It's not like that's really his scene. He couldn't even ride his motorcycle there."
We laugh. But she does make a good point.
"He was obviously ready to take a big chance on you," she says. "But…"
"But I blew it," I tell her. "I know. I'm really mad that Clay had to choose that one weekend to come into town and ruin everything. It's almost as if he knew."
"You know…" Riley says, and she blushes a little bit in that way she has that tells me there's something she doesn't want to tell me.
"What?" I ask her. "What do you know that I don't?"
"Well nothing for sure," she says. "But I've been thinking about how strange the whole timing of all of this was. And I've had this sneaking suspicion for a while now that this might be all my fault."
"How could it be your fault?" I ask her.
"Well, I was at a pro bono charity event with some people from my old firm who had been at Clay’s Halloween party. They had seen you and Larson dancing at the party, dressed in matching costumes, and were asking about you guys."
"Oh great," I groan.
Now I'm the talk of the town. The girl who slutted it up on her trip back to Albuquerque.
"No," she insists, shaking her head. "Like, in a good way. They said you were really cute together and were wondering whether you were an item, because Clay had been asking about you. I told them you guys had just met but had hit it off so well that Larson was coming to visit you in New York that upcoming weekend."
Suddenly a fuller picture falls into place. I can see it now: the lawyers at this other firm telling Clay that I'm with Larson now and that it's so serious he's visiting me in— hell, they probably even said he's moving to— New York.
This business is cutthroat like that, with anyone doing whatever necessary to get clients. They were undoubtedly using Clay's crush on me and the fact that I was in a relationship with someone else as an opportunity to steal Clay away from my firm and to their firm. But Clay took it as a challenge.
"So that's why Clay came to New York that weekend," I say. And maybe it's also why he orchestrated this whole local office idea.
"Yeah, that's what I've been thinking," Riley agrees. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you until now. I just didn't know how to say it or what you would think of me. Even though I didn't mean to say the wrong thing. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I tell her. "I can certainly understand what that's like. There's a lot of miscommunication going on these days."
"Yeah, you never got to tell Larson what happened that weekend, huh?" She asks, nodding sympathetically.
"I didn't," I tell her. "And it's too late now. Time to accept that and move on and focus on this new opportunity."
I can't help but crinkle up my nose when I say "opportunity." Because it's more like a forced opportunity than a chosen or desired one, and I think that Riley knows that.
"I wouldn't say that," Riley says.
"Why?" I ask her. "You said he wasn't coming today. Right?"
My body tenses in excitement, wondering if there's some chance that something has changed.
"He said that, but then I tried to talk some sense into him the other day, and left the door open for him to change his mind," Riley says.
My shoulders slump back down even though her statement sparks a little hope in me.
"And now I'm trying to talk some sense into you ," she continues.
"Into me?" I tell her. "I don't need sense talked into me. I have all the sense in the world already."
"Usually I'd say that was true," Riley agrees. "But in this situation, I have no idea what you're doing.”
“What do you mean?”
I’m a little hurt.
“You’re only here because Clay needing you for that merger project right?” she asks.
I shrug sheepishly.
“Well, yeah. I mean, he’s the client.”
“But if he had needed you in New York— or if Paul or Jane or another partner had needed you— then you would have spent Thanksgiving there.”
“Where do you even want to spend Thanksgiving?”
“Here,” I tell her. “With you guys.”
“But you wouldn’t have gotten the time off if Clay hadn’t arranged this deal. You can never come for Thanksgiving.”
“I have to work , Riley.”
“I know that. But it just gets to the point where you have no say so in the matter and you kind of become a victim of your own helplessness. You’re flying back and forth at Clay's whim and thinking about what everyone else wants instead of what you truly want. And not even doing everything you can to explain to Larson what happened and why."
"I've called him so many times and he clearly doesn't want to talk to me," I interject, upset that she's acting like I haven't tried hard enough.
But as she raises her eyebrows at me I realize she's right: I haven't.
"Anyway," I tell her, changing my argument and defense. I’m beginning to feel like she’s trying to be my big sister or mom instead of my best friend. I get her point and now I just have to think about what to do about it. "It's not like I'm the only one who hasn't told him what's going on. He won't even tell me what's up with his entire life situation."
"Have you asked him?" she asks.
"No," I admit. "He told me some pretty vague stuff and left it at that and said he didn’t want to say more right then so I didn’t push it. But it was supposed to be just for shits and giggles, remember? You told me not to ask unless I truly want to know."
"It sounds like you truly want to know."
Riley says it so emphatically yet gently that there's no more room for argument left. She's right. I have to do everything I can to see if there's still any chance for Larson and me.
I vow to write him an email as soon as I get the chance, explaining everything and asking him to meet with me.
"Dinner's ready!" Jensen announces, from the kitchen.
"Looks like we'll have to pick this conversation back up later," Riley says, as we begin walking out of the bathroom.
I don't see the use, when Larson's still not here. But I remember to be grateful, on Thanksgiving.
"I think you've gotten your point across," I tell her. "And I appreciate it. Really."
"Time to eat!" Caleb says, rushing up to me and taking my hand. "Gobble gobble!"
I look down at my little guy, who's so excited to start the holiday season that it's contagious.
"Yes it is!" I tell him. "We're going to gobble till we wobble."
"Gobble gobble, wobble wobble," he says, wobbling like he's going to fall over as we make our way to the dining room table.
"Happy Thanksgiving everyone," Jensen says, as we gather around the table. "We Bradford Brothers wanted to cook a nice meal to thank our ladies for everything you do for us."
"Awww," I coo, along with Riley, Whitney and Monica.
"And you too, Brynn, Blaze and Cassidy," Riley chimes in. "You're always welcome here of course. You're all like part of our family and welcome any time."
"Thank you. This looks delicious," I say to Jensen. "Everything looks perfect."
I look at the stuffed turkey, expensive wine and Caleb's beaming smile and I am truly grateful.
There's only one thing that could make it more perfect, I think, but that's not going to happen.
And then I hear the sound of an engine pulling up and cutting off.
"Mo-to-cycle!" Caleb announces. "Larson! L
I want to tell him not to get his hopes up. I want to tell myself that same thing. But before I get the chance, Larson's at the front door.
He's holding flowers, and he looks better than I even remember.
Suddenly this really is the best Thanksgiving ever. And all I want to do is eat this meal with Larson and then serve myself to him as dessert.
Chapter 40 – Larson
I'd imagined that Brynn would be happy to see me. I'd gathered that from her billion fucking phone calls. But the way her entire face lights up, the way her body arches at me as I walk through the door— that's fucking icing on the cake.
"Hello everyone," I say, as Caleb runs up to me and hugs my legs. "Hello little man."
I pick him up and swing him around.
"Sorry I'm a little late. Had to stop and get something. A couple somethings, actually."
I hand Caleb the motorcycle toy I’d found for him at a specialty shop online. You could order any kind of rider or riders that you wanted, and for him I’d ordered a man and a little boy to represent him and me.
“Thank you Larson!” he cries, squealing in delight in my arms. “Vroom vroom! Vroom vroom!”
Then I carry him over to his mom and hand her the flowers I’d brought as well.
"These are for you."
"Thank you," Brynn says, getting up from the table and hugging me. "Thank you so much."
"This is a nice reunion and all, but can we start eating yet?" Harlow asks, with a grin on his face.
"I propose a toast," his wife Whitney says. "To a great Thanksgiving for everyone. And a sickening sweet reunion for Brynn and Larson."
"And me!" Caleb pipes in.
"And Caleb," Whitney adds, winking at him.
"To Brynn and Larson and Caleb," Jensen says, holding up his wine glass and nodding in my direction. "And to all of us. Happy Thanksgiving."
"Happy Thanksgiving!" everyone says, including me. We all clink our wine glasses together, except for the kids, who have plastic cups full of apple juice. Caleb holds his up, pretending to be one of us.
Jensen is still smiling. I can tell he's proud of me for deciding to come. It certainly wasn't an easy decision, but it was definitely time to stop moping around and make a fucking move already.
Sure, Brynn had fucking done me wrong in New York, there's no way around that fact. But she'd been working hard to try to make it up to me, and I decided I should at least hear her out.
"So how's it going working at the Albuquerque firm?" Whitney asks Riley, as we all dig in to our turkey and stuffing entrée and sides.
"It's okay," she says, looking at me and then back down at her plate.
I can tell she just wants to jump my bones. And the feeling is definitely fucking mutual.
"Just new and challenging."
"I can imagine," Whitney says. "That's great that they wanted you to head up the new branch. And it makes sense, since this is where you're from and all."
"Yeah, I'm truly glad to be back."
Brynn hesitates, as if not knowing how much to say next.
"But it's all a bit chaotic, going back and forth to New York. It'll take some getting used to. I feel like I'm hopping all around like a rabbit with my ears cut off, to butcher a popular phrase."
"Little bunny foo foo," Caleb announces, and then he looks in my direction. "Hopping through the forest…"
He makes his hand into a hopping bunny, doing motions along with his little song, just like at story time.
"Good job, Buddy," I tell him. "You're great at that song. Miss Bonnie would be impressed."
I can't believe how much he's grown up in only the few weeks since I've seen him. His words are clearer and he's singing full sentences.
I guess everyone always says that kids grow up fast.
I wouldn't know.
A knot forms in my stomach and I feel a mixture of emotions twisting me up inside.
Everyone, including Brynn, is staring at me with blank looks on their faces, not really understanding what I'm talking about.
"Oh, they sang that song at story time when I took him," I explain. "There was a whole rabbit theme going on."
"Ha," Jensen laughs, nearly spitting out the bite of green beans he had just taken. "You at story time. Now that's rich."
"That explains why everything time he says Larson, he says 'hop hop,'" Brynn says, nodding her head. "I was wondering. I thought maybe you guys played hopscotch in the park or something."
Everyone laughs. But suddenly Caleb points to the window and says, “Mommy! Clown! Scary!”
What the hell?
“Caleb, honey, what do you see?” Brynn asks.
I run to the window and look out, but I don’t see any fucking clown. Which is good for the clown’s sake.
“There’s nothing out here… anymore,” I say.
“Maybe he imagined it?” asks Whitney.
“We can only hope,” Jensen says.
Brynn’s face is crinkled with worry and she’s slightly shaking her head.
“Did you mention to Caleb anything about…” Riley begins asking Brynn, but it’s obvious she doesn’t want to mention the word ‘clown.’ “…about what happened that night?” she finishes.
“No, nothing at all,” Brynn says, shaking her head more adamantly now. “He’s very perceptive, but he was asleep the whole time, right?”
Whitney nods her head. “Yeah, he didn’t even make a peep.”
“And it’s not like him to make stuff up,” Brynn says. “Like all kids, he can sometimes have an over active imagination but he’s more real about it than most kids his age. He understands play versus reality.”
Caleb is still peering at the window, looking confused, so I decide to ask him.
“What did you see, Buddy?”
“A clown,” he says. “At window.”
“What did it look like?” I prod.
He purses his lips, thinking about it.
“White face with black eyes. Purple hair. With pink! Blue. Yellow!”
I look at Brynn nervously. The clowns that had been terrorizing the city in October had a more gothic look than most Halloween clowns. More black and white, less colorful faces. But their wigs featured a vibrant, beautiful array of colors.
“That does seem incredibly coincidental, that Caleb would make up seeing a clown that happens to look just like… the ones from that night,” I say, not wanting to say anything too scary.
But I’m pissed that some here didn’t give the boy enough credit. He’s a smart kid, like Brynn said, and he knows what he sees and doesn’t see at the fucking window.
I head outside and jump on my bike. Once my engine is sufficiently revved I ride around several blocks, looking for any sign of the peeping clown. There isn’t a clown in sight, but I don’t doubt that Caleb saw one.
I stop by Louie’s on my way back. Since it’s Thanksgiving, it’s full of the normal cast of misfits, who are watching football on TV or crying into their beers if they’ve had one too many. There are some fellow club members playing pool and we nod hello to each other as I walk up to the bar.
Chad, the owner, hands me a whiskey and coke, since he knows it’s my favorite.
“Happy Turkey Day,” he says.
One might expect him to ask me what brings me to this particular dive bar—or any— on Thanksgiving day. But I’m regularly here, even on holidays. This place is more like my home— and its people more my family— than anyone else except for the Desert Dogs, who have made it our home base. If it weren’t for Brynn and Caleb, this is where I would have spent both Halloween and Thanksgiving.
“Thanks, Chad. You see any clowns around here lately?”
I take a sip of the drink even though I didn’t come to drink. I know that Chad and these guys know everything about this town. We ride around protecting it and the people who live here. We see who goes and comes and what they’re up to.
Yet we silently live among them. They’re largely unaware of us or see
“Nah,” Chad shakes his head. “They haven’t done much major damage since they were terrorizing people on Halloween. Including you guys. But I think once you roughed them up, that taught them to behave. Or maybe it was just a Halloween prank.”
I down the rest of my drink. So much for fucking intel.
“You know there were some minor incidents after that, but I think it was just high schoolers playing pranks,” Chad continues. “But what I did think was strange was that all the local stores had stopped selling clown makeup or costumes before Halloween. So whoever kept up the act must have been the same people from before who had already gotten those creepy costumes and makeup, or they went on the Internet and bought it just to be copycats, which I guess is a plausible theory.”
I put my empty glass back on the counter and think about how Caleb said the clown he saw had a white face and black eyes. The clowns are definitely still making themselves up in that gothic fashion.
“Whatever it was, it’s over now, so fuck those punks,” Chad says angrily.
“Maybe. Thanks for the drink. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving bud.”
Whatever Caleb saw was a resurgence of whatever happened on Halloween night. Now I just have to figure out what they want, and why they seem to be targeting me, Brynn, or someone within our circle of friends.
Chapter 41 – Brynn
“Where’s Larson?” Caleb asks, for the fifth time since Larson left.
“I’m not sure,” I tell him.
I know that he went to find the clown, but I’m getting nervous about why he’s been gone so long. We’ve eaten all the Thanksgiving food and we’re watching the dog show from earlier that Riley and Jensen had recorded on their TV.
“I know we’re supposed to wait for Larson for dessert but I really need a bite of this pumpkin pie,” Harlow says, as he sneaks not so subtly into the kitchen and swipes a piece.
“Do you want some pie, Caleb?” I ask him, mostly to distract him from worrying about Larson.