“Okay…so we figure it out. It’s not the worst thing that could happen right now. You told me, and the world didn’t come to an end.”
I winced. Jared feeling that way had never occurred to me. “That’s not true,” I said, shaking my head. I rested my hand on his. “Everything before that night was make-believe. This is what’s real.”
Jared pul ed into the drive of my parent’s home, and then waited for the garage door to open. “You don’t work for the police department, Nina.
The same one that Claire meticulously picked off a year ago.”
“He just wants to know why he saw her in the desert, Jared. It has nothing to do with Graham.”
Jared closed his eyes, exasperated. “Maybe not to Ryan, but for someone that can’t pass his psych eval and is stil in physical therapy, he was accepted into the the Providence P.D. without a hitch. It wouldn’t be hard for someone to connect Ryan to you, and anyone who could pose a problem knows you are a direct connection to me, and Claire…and Graham. This is not an innocent oops, Nina. This is a potential threat.”
“Everything is a potential threat to you people,” I grumbled.
“You people? Since when are we not on the same side?” Jared said, taken aback. He shook his head, and then headed to the house without waiting.
I fol owed in silence, cursing myself. An hour before, we had set the date of our wedding. Now I was getting the cold shoulder.
Bex sat the top of the stairs, cleaning his fingernails with a large knife, nodding to us as we passed. He was less of the boy I knew, and more like his older sister. Even Lil ian’s unparal eled goodness couldn’t prevent Bex from losing his innocence.
Jared rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll er…I’ll see you in the morning. I’ve got some things to do.”
“You’re going to find Claire?”
“We need to talk.”
“Okay,” I nodded, wrapping my arms around him. He shifted, uncomfortable in my arms. “I didn’t mean it. I suppose I’m just surprised at your reaction. He’s not in love with me, anymore. I thought you’d be relieved.”
I gripped his t-shirt in my fists, bracing for him to pul away. Instead, he paused in thought, considering my words. “That means Ryan being Claire’s Taleh means something else, and we don’t know what that is.”
I sighed, irritated at his negativity. “Maybe it just means that they are supposed to be together. Like us.”
Several emotions scrol ed across Jared’s face, final y settling on a mixture of relief and delight. He tightened his arms around my back. “You think so?”
“What other explanation is there?”
A wide grin spread across Jared’s face. “It doesn’t matter. I like that one.”
“A cop?” Beth said, her voice raised an octave.
“One of Providence’s finest,” I replied.
She took a sip of coffee, and then shook her head. “I don’t believe it. Chad hasn’t said a word.”
“Ryan hasn’t told anyone.”
“He told you.”
My eyebrows shot up. An explanation consisting of Claire, explosions, and the ice blue eyes in Ryan’s memory would take the conversation to an unfavorable end, so I kept it simple.“Touché.”
The bel above the coffee ship door chimed, and we both looked up, waiting for Kim.
“Where is she?” Beth asked, disappointed.
“Late.” I knew she was with Jared, but I couldn’t exactly share that with Beth. She was the last bit of normal I had left, and I wasn’t going to share her with the crazy part of my life—even if that meant lying.
“Was Jared just pissed beyond belief?”
“Um…kind of. I guess. But not about that.”
“What about, then?”
“That he pul ed us over for no reason, I suppose.” I lied again. For a moment I silently counted how many non-truths I had told her in the span of just a few minutes, and wondered how many more I would have to tel . Beth was my best friend, but it was for her own good. If there was a lesson to be learned in the chaos of my life, ignorance was bliss.
Beth and I chatted about upcoming papers to write, meetings at work, the upcoming Christmas party that Sasha had been obsessing over, and of course, Ryan.
“We’d better get going,” Beth said, glancing at her watch.
“The wind is terrible today,” I said, pul ing on my coat, hat and scarf. The snow was fal ing in large chunks, and the street had already turned into a gray, slushy mess.
“I know, it sucks,” Beth said. “Fal is non-existent here.”
“Oh. Right. You don’t get much snow in Oklahoma, do you?”
Beth laughed once in disbelief. “Yes we get snow. Sometimes a foot or so. It’s just on top of an inch of ice.”
“But…it’s a southern state.”
“So?” Beth said, waiting for more crazy to come out of my mouth.
We walked to the Beemer together, trying to navigate the patches of snow that hadn’t been cleared.
“Hi,” a deep voice said, greeting us.
“Ryan!” Beth said, throwing her arms around our friend.
He was in plain clothes, leaning against my car nonchalantly. He didn’t seem nervous or out of place at al , until Beth smacked him, hard, on the back of the head.
“Hey!” Ryan said, defending his head with his hands from another blow.
“What is wrong with you? Taking off on al of us like that, going off to war, and not letting us know you’re okay, or that you’re back in town? We’ve all been worried sick! Chad is gonna be pissed!
“Okay, okay!” Ryan said, bracing for another assault. “I’m sorry.”
Beth relaxed. “If you haven’t call ed him by the time I get home tonight, I’m tel ing him. And you are so going to get it.”
“I’ll call him. I’ll call everyone, I’ve just been kinda…I don’t know what to say.”
“Say, ‘I’m home.’” Beth crossed her arms, unimpressed with his wounded expression.
“Take it easy, Beth,” I said. “He just needed to come back on his own terms.”