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(CH2) Chapter 17: The Void

Even if it was only one person, the house felt empty to Nanette. She had called her husband home as Julian slowly began to do nothing but sit in his room and make calls which were never answered.

Colin sat in the dining room with the phone to his ear as he waited for Simon to answer. His wife chewed on her nails due to nerves, and she hoped they could bring back Riane.

She had never seen her son so upset, and he wasn’t the only one. Zachary used to spy on her while she played her music, but soon would just sit happily in the room and listen to her. He never wanted any lessons and instead just enjoyed watching.

Nanette had overheard them speaking, and Zachary had told her when she was a famous pianist, he would come to all of her concerts. He promised to always provide money for her events and charities.

Riane had chuckled at the comment, but Nanette knew even though Zachary was young, he was trying to be genuine.

Now, Zachary was heartbroken. He missed Riane, but all he could think to say was there would be no concerts if Riane’s father had his way. She knew he meant to say things were unfair and this was cruel, but Zachary was like Julian in many ways, unable to say what he really meant.

Bryce had been sitting on the couch playing video games all week. It was unusual for him since he only did it with Zachary, and he couldn’t seem able to study. Nanette had asked him to talk to Julian, but Bryce informed her he was unable to console someone who was in just as much pain as he was.

She didn’t understand what he meant though she got the word “no” from it. She also understood how much all her sons missed Riane. She had become part of their family, and it broke her heart to know why Riane left. Riane didn’t feel like she was part of their family so she feared losing what was left of her own.

Of course, Nanette told herself it was a selfish way to view Riane’s reasons, but it made it a little easier for her to be able to blame Riane, just for a little while.

“She won’t change majors again, I promise.” Colin said and Nanette realized her husband had been talking on the phone while she was lost in thought.

She could hear Simon’s words loud enough.

He snorted, “She wasn’t meant to change them to begin with. I warned you about this, and you refused to keep your own house in order.”

“I didn’t mention it to my wife, because I thought it would be a non-issue. I don’t understand why an apology and a promise can’t fix this issue. It was nothing life altering and it can be set right.” Simon looked at his wife who was exhausted. He could tell she had been crying all night because her eyes were puffy.

“It is obvious Riane is too free in your home. She needs boundaries and it would seem you are either incapable or unable… or perhaps you downright refuse to provide her with any.” He raised his voice, “Your younger sons are a menace, I don’t know how I could possibly have thought attaching my daughter to one of them would bring them down to earth, when instead all it did is make a wild thing out of her too.”

“I hardly think a major in music makes ones child a “wild thing,” Simon. Aren’t you being a little dramatic right now?” Colin tried not to laugh as he was speaking as he couldn’t believe how ridiculous this man was being.

“Is it dramatic when you give guidelines to a contract and the other person doesn’t follow them? Riane will not be returning to your home ever. She will have another marriage arranged by the end of next week.”

“Simon, I...”

“Enough, my mind has been made. Goodnight, Colin.”

Colin turned his phone off and set it on the table with the screen facing down. He looked up at his wife, who was close to nearing tears again. “This could have been avoided if I had just told you. It slipped my mind, I am so sorry. You were excited about her playing music, I know, but I never thought you would change her major. I am so sorry, Nanette.”

Bryce entered into the dining room, where his two parents sat at the table. “I am assuming Mister Nairne refused to give us another chance?”

Nanette nodded her head, “I don’t know what else to do.”

Bryce smiled gently at his mother, “I don’t think you two need to do anything.” He explained and both of his parents perked up a bit. “I mean we are talking about Julian here. He is as stubborn as they come.” He chuckled slightly, as he walked over to the table and sat down beside his mother. “I know he spent all week calling her, but giving her space at school too. I highly doubt something like that will stand for long. He is being respectful for now, but there is only so long before Julian goes and well… Julian’s everything up.”

“Riane left on her own though. She did it for her family.” Nanette sniffled and tried to hold back her tears. “She didn’t want to lose her family, even though we were her family.”

Bryce put his hand on his mother’s shoulder, “I know, and I think she knows it too. She just needs some time and a little bit of a shove from Julian, and I know she’ll be back here all on her own.”

“You think so?” Nanette touched his hand on her shoulder.

“Mom, trust me, those two are mad crazy over each other. I mean, it’s kind of gross considering it is Julian, but it is sweet too. No way Riane is gone forever. We just got to get Julian out of this funk and into a fighting mode.”

Nanette nodded, “Yes, of course, they were… are in love, right? She said she loved him before she left, didn’t she?”

Bryce nodded.

“Oh, you are right. I must be worrying over nothing.” She halfheartedly giggled before standing up. “Maybe something for us to eat will get my mind off things. You get your brother into fight mode, alright?”

“Alright.” Bryce watched his mom leave the room for the kitchen and looked towards his father.

“Thanks, I doubt I would have been able to accomplish it.” Colin looked at his son with gratitude.

“No problem, I was getting really hungry anyway.”

Colin laughed and leaned over the table to playfully hit his son in the shoulder, and as he sat down he smiled. “I was afraid we were going to have to order out too.” He exhaled audibly, “Did you mean what you just said though?”

“I am counting on it.” Bryce stood up, “I’m going to try to rally Julian for dinner at least.”

Walking out of the room, Bryce smiled to himself. He realized in those moments it wasn’t Riane he was in love with, but the idea of a relationship. He decided he would start looking for one at school soon enough. Right now, Julian was his priority.
Seth and Emma had all the hope in the world when their relationship was able to go forward. They had laid awake on the phone with one another making plans, and had held hands and kissed openly. Things were sweet in the first days of their relationship, and the excitement seemed as if it would be never ending.

Now, Emma missed her friend and Seth had watched his own look heartbroken all week. He also had to watch his girlfriend rely entirely on him for friendship, and he knew she wanted her female friend returned to her. As much as they wanted to take their minds off of it, they were always reminded at school.

The void where Riane was meant to be seemed to feed on any happiness they might find, even if only for the smallest of seconds.

Sitting in the small pizza joint, they sat at a booth with green table top and green fabric to line the benches. They shared a medium pizza between them with half plain cheese pizza and the other half pepperoni.

Emma looked down at the slice of cheese pizza on her plate and slowly added Parmesan cheese from the shaker on the table. It was followed by some red pepper flakes before it was finally edible in her eyes.

Seth just ate his pepperoni as it was offered to him, and found all the prepping Emma did to be somewhat annoying. Although, he was glad she didn’t use a napkin to soak up the grease from the slice.

After he took his first bite, he looked up at Emma who didn’t seem too thrilled with her food. He knew it wasn’t the pizza, but she hadn’t been in a good mood throughout the week.

“We should have ordered veggies of some sort. This feels like a decadent meal without them.” He tried to joke and Emma gave him a partial smile followed by a slight nod.

Without saying anything, Emma stood from the table and walked over to the woman standing behind the register. She talked to her for a moment then took out her bank card and purchased something.

When she returned she had a small container of ranch dressing, which she proceeded to dip her pizza in.

“That is disgusting.” Seth hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but it got Emma’s attention.

She smiled and chuckled, “I don’t like the pizza sauce here. It’s too sweet.” She told him and dipped the pizza slice again.

“Then why did you agree to come here? We could have gone somewhere else?” Seth shook his head in amusement.

She shrugged, “You like it here, so I don’t mind.”

He watched her dip the slice once more, “Are you actually enjoying that? My mouth is watering watching you do it, and not in a good way.”

She nodded, “Growing up, we always bought those cheap pizzas you have to cook at home.”

“You mean frozen ones?”

“No, the ones you get raw and have to cook.” She stuck out her tongue slightly, “They were also heavy on the bread and light on the sauce. My mom would buy jarred pizza sauce to dip her pizza in, but the jarred stuff wasn’t great either. So, my siblings and I would use ranch dressing.”

“The fact ranch dressing was at your disposal is gross enough as it is.” He teased right before he bit into his pizza.

Emma playfully flipped him off, “I love ranch dressing. On my salads. To dip baby carrots in. I prefer it for my dipping sauce for buffalo wings instead of blue cheese dressing, because that is disgusting.”

He agreed with a nod, “Any cream based dressing is.”

She ignored his comments, “I even love the packets of the dried stuff you put into sour cream and dip potato chips in.”

“Ok, well that is pretty good.” He was happy to see her talking about something she enjoyed, even if it was just salad dressing. The whole group had been depressed this week, and he wanted something to help take her mind away from Riane for a little while. Even if it was something he loathed.

“What kind of dressing do you like for your salad?” She asked after she sipped her soda through a straw.

“I really like champagne dressing, but you don’t find it at restaurants often. So, I either go with Italian or Caesar.”

“Eww, Caesar has anchovies in it. It’s fish salad dressing.” Emma shook her head in disgust, “It’s so gross.”

He snorted, “It doesn’t taste fishy.”

“Yes it does.”

Seth rolled his eyes, “You are just food stubborn, huh?” He watched her nod her head with her eyes wide and laughed. “Fine, fine, dip your sweet pizza into your nasty dressing.”

“I had no intention of stopping.” As if to prove her point, she dipped the edge of the pizza into the small plastic container and took a huge bite.

Seth pressed his lips together and looked disgusted by the dripping sauce. “Even if I gagged?”

“Especially if you gagged.” She laughed, “This is my favorite. You better get used it or our relationship won’t be long for this world.”

“You’d break up with me over salad dressing?” Seth asked with partial offense and the other part humor.

“Dude, this isn’t just salad dressing. It’s ranch dressing. I use it for everything. I’d brush my teeth with it, if I could.” Emma continued to laugh as she watched the disgusted face he made. “So, good. So, yummy.”


“This place makes you pay fifty cents for this tiny ass container, and I loved it so much I paid it.” She dipped her pizza slice in once again and took another big bite from her pizza.

Seth wasn’t as disgusted by the ranch dressing as he pretended, but he could tell this brought some joy to his girlfriend. He wanted her to have a moment before they had to return to reality.
Ivy smiled as Dalen walked into the coffee shop. She had promised to purchase him a coffee for getting her a new job, and she was determined to make good on that promise.

She couldn’t believe a man she had shown so many horrible sides of herself to would be willing to help like this. After everything that had happened, she was certain all bridges had been burned.

They both ordered and then found a little table near the windows. Dalen had gotten a latte and added a little bit of sugar to it, when they sat down. She had asked for an extra chocolate mocha. In truth, she just wanted a hot chocolate, but she didn’t want to seem like a child.

“How is work?” Dalen broke the ice when he could see her looking for something to say, but not willing to settle on any topic.

“It’s great! Thank you so much for helping me to get it. I had applied before but they never called me back, even when I called to check on my application.” She smiled widely, “I am actually enjoying going to work, and I think in a few months I’ll be able to save enough to get a real apartment. One with an actual bedroom and no crackheads lining the stairways.”

Dalen felt proud of himself. He had been a little hesitant to help her as she had been an issue many times in the past. Sometimes going above and beyond to make Julian jealous by trying to sleep with him or Seth.

Seth swore he never slept with her, but there had been moments when Dalen was certain he had. Such as witnessing them leaving the men’s bathroom together. Of course, Dalen didn’t say anything, because he had been part of the nights activities and didn’t know if it had been his mind playing tricks on him.

He supposed Seth saying it wasn’t true had to be enough, even though he wondered if Seth would have even remembered it as wasted as they had been.

“Good, I am glad it is working out for you.” He cleared his throat, “Listen, I haven’t told Julian about this.”

“Oh? He doesn’t need to know.” She felt a little hurt that she had to be a dirty little secret, even though all he did was get her a job. She could understand though why this might look strange to Julian.

“Nah, he does. I just can’t tell him right now, because he is going through… well, he and Riane broke up.” He decided to be straightforward. If Ivy was truly better, she wouldn’t use this opportunity to go after an old flame.

“What? How?” She asked flabbergasted, “I mean why?”

“It wasn’t their own doing. Her father broke them apart, and Julian is focused solely on that right now. I don’t want to distract him. Mostly, because I think he wouldn’t care right now, and then after this is all said and done forget I told him at all.” He frowned, “Either way I am sure he is going to be annoyed, and say I kept it from him. So, if I am going to be yelled at about keeping it from him, I am actually going to keep it from him until he can emotionally handle it. Does that make sense?”

Ivy chuckled, “Yeah. I think so.”

“Anyway, I plan on telling him in the near future, so could you do me the courtesy of not telling anyone what I did until then?”

She nodded, “Of course. So, is Riane alright?”

He shook his head, “She doesn’t appear to be. Her and Emma aren’t talking since she is dating Seth now.” His face brightened for a moment, “Maybe you should get into contact with her. I mean this isn’t like an order or anything, but it would be nice to have a link to her, and I am sure she could use a friend.”

Ivy thought for a moment, “If I do this though, I won’t be a spy, you understand? I am not reporting everything back to you, but if I think it is something that could help, then I will think about letting you know.”

He smiled, “Deal, if you actually do it.”

She watched him sip his coffee, “You don’t look like your usual self, how are you and your girlfriend?”

“I don’t know if girlfriend is the proper term anymore. She and I decided to get back together in Hawaii, and then she immediately rescinds it and says she wants an open relationship. Apparently one I am not part of.”

Ivy looked confused for a moment, “One you aren’t part of?”

“She hasn’t called me or anything since we returned. My understanding is she has been spending all her time with some guy from her college.” He took another sip, “While I am sitting around like an idiot waiting for her to call me over.”

“It doesn’t sound like she is interested in you. It seems like calling it an open relationship was just a way for her to end it peacefully, check out some other guy, and if it doesn’t work out, she can come running back to you.” Ivy hadn’t drank any of her mocha yet and just continued to stir it with her spoon. It was always too hot for her to drink for at least a half hour.

Dalen didn’t seem taken aback by her words, but it was because he had been thinking them himself. He had just been too afraid to admit it to himself, and hearing them out loud made them real.

He grinned sadly, “Yeah, you are probably right. I just wish she had ended it properly, instead of leaving me in a state of hope.”

“Not everyone will leave you cleanly, and some will use you to their own ends. It’s important to learn to extinguish hope when it no longer serves you, but harms you instead.” Ivy got a spoonful of her mocha and blew on it before tasting it. The chocolate they used here was very powerful tasting, and the extra chocolate made it taste nothing like a hot chocolate. However, Ivy did her best to pretend it didn’t bother her.

“No one has ever told me to kill hope before.” Dalen smirked, “Everyone always tells you to hold onto hope; that you’ll never have your dreams if you let hope die.”

“Sentiment, really. Adults tell that to children, but the truth of the matter is there is times when hope needs to die. Like holding onto an old girlfriend, who is very obviously telling you she wants nothing to do with you.”

He nodded, “I see your point.”

“Anyway, I am going to get this in a to go container. I have work in a couple hours and I want to run a couple errands. Sorry, I couldn’t stay longer.”

“No, it’s no problem. Thank you for the coffee. Let’s get together again soon, alright?” He asked as she stood from the table.

The request threw her off for a moment, and she didn’t know if he was just saying it to be nice. “Um, ok, alright. I’ll see you soon then.”
Bryce opened the door to his brother’s bedroom and looked inside. It was dark as per usual, but he wasn’t watching a movie on the projector screen. Instead, Julian laid on his stomach on his bed with his head cocked to the side. His back was towards the door, so Julian didn’t notice him even if light shined in from the hallway… or perhaps he did and intentionally didn’t respond.

Stepping inside, Bryce shut the door behind him and walked over to his brother’s bed. “You awake?”

Julian laid very still, but Bryce could tell simply by his brother’s breathing he was not actually asleep.

He pushed his brother’s shoulder gently and Julian groaned, but did not turn over to face him.

“Come on, Julian. Let’s talk about this. Let’s form a plan. Let me help you figure this out.”

Julian continued to lay still and showed no signs of wanting to act like an adult in those moments.

Bryce stared down at his immobile brother, “Talk to me.” He shoved his shoulder again, and once more only received a moan.

With a sigh, he looked around the dark room and thought to harass his brother with something, but decided it was not the time. “Don’t be a child. Let’s figure something out.”

Julian moved this time but to put the pillow over his head in attempt to drown out his brother’s voice.

Realizing this would get him no where and Bryce decided he needed to talk to the adult in the relationship first. Stepping outside, he shut the door behind him and headed down the hall to his bedroom.

His room was rather plain, despite his mother’s attempts. All he really needed was a bed, a computer desk with his gaming computer, and an area to study. He had placed a sofa to sit in while he read, because he hated reading in bed and the computer chair wasn’t pleasant either.

Sitting down on the olive colored couch, he pulled his phone from his pants and found the number he wanted to dial. He highly doubted she would answer his call, but he wanted to give it a shot. Maybe she could tell him something which would allow him to help her, and in doing so his brother.

“Hello.” The gentle voice answered after a couple rings. She obviously knew it was him from the caller ID.

Bryce could barely believe she had answered, and for a moment stuttered. “Riane, how are you?”

“I am fine.” She paused for a moment. “How are you?” It almost sounded like she was a robot reading from a script, and he assumed she was a little worried about what he could be calling about.

“I’m fine.” He mimicked back to her. “Um, Riane, we all miss you.” He hadn’t prepared himself for exactly what he was going to say, so he decided the truth would be the best place to start.

“I know, I miss everyone too.” The robotic tone left her voice and real emotion replaced it.

“Julian is a mess. He lays in bed when he isn’t at school, and he isn’t doing his school work now. Bastard never went to class and yet somehow manages to do better than me.” He tried to joke, but he could tell she wasn’t in the mood. “Now, his grades are dropping.”

“It’s only been a week. I am sure he will recover soon enough.” She told him coldly.

“That’s harsh, Riane.” Bryce snapped, “My mom is crying her eyes out. She wants to know why we weren’t your family. Why didn’t you consider us before you left? Why didn’t you at least say goodbye?”

“I couldn’t say goodbye, my father wouldn’t let me. You were there, you know that.” She cleared her throat, “As for why I didn’t consider you as family, I did, but you guys don’t need me. Russell does, and I don’t want to lose my brother and leave him here with my father to be raised with love from only one source.”

He knew she meant Deidra, and as much as he wanted to be angry with her choice, he did understand her reasoning. “Does it have to be this extreme? Do you have to cut us completely out like this?”

“I am afraid so. My father made his instructions very clear.” Riane was trying to keep her voice calm, so Bryce couldn’t hear her heartbreak.

“You realize this makes us feel like nothing to you. Like all the time we were together...” He wanted to be cruel to her, but as the words flowed out, all they did was hurt himself.

“I am sorry. I never wanted it to end this way. Maybe someday in the future, when Russell is older, we can all get together again, but for now, I have to do as my father tells me to do.” She cleared her throat of the lump which was forming. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you, but I knew you would be reasonable and listen to me. Please help Julian to understand. He followed me from classroom to classroom all last week, and I really need him to stop.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“Thank you, Bryce. Goodbye.”

“Wait!” He cried out and waited for her to reply so he knew she didn’t hang up on him.


Bryce was quiet for a moment, “Help me to understand how I can help you? Give me some information, anything, so I can get you back here.”

Riane chuckled bitterly, “There is nothing you can do. My father has absolutely lost all sense of reason. I am hoping in a couple months, he might calm down a bit, but right now he is out of his mind.”

“Why? I don’t understand. Why is a music degree such a big deal?”

“My mom was a musician, but that’s all I can figure out. I don’t know why he hates her so much, but the moment he shoved her out, he threw everything away that belonged to her. I got to play music in high school, but he always told me to never think of making it my career.” She sighed audibly, “I just think he really hates my mom, so I am not allowed to do anything she has done.”

“So, he is punishing you because of your mom?” Bryce didn’t need an answer, but heard her gently confirm. “Don’t stay there. Come back here. We can figure something out with Russell.”

Riane smiled and was genuinely touched at Bryce’s attempts, “I can’t do that. I am going to hang up now.”

Before he could tell her not to hang up, she had already done it. Bryce stared at his phone for a moment, before tossing it on the couch beside him. He hadn’t gotten her to agree to come back, but he did figure out the problem with her father. It was something Julian would need to hear.
Bryce walked into his brother’s bedroom once more, but this time he was armed with information. He hoped any hint of how he could help Riane would be enough to jerk his brother out of this mood.

“You awake, yet?” He asked as he walked over to the bed and sat down near Julian’s feet.

Julian didn’t respond.

Inhaling deeply, Bryce stared at his brother’s body laying in the bed, before grabbing his legs and shoving them repeatedly into the bed. “Wake up!” He shouted and chuckled.

Julian finally turned over with a look of pure rage in his eyes as he flung his pillow towards his brother’s face. “Stop!”

The older brother continued to smirk as he held the caught pillow in his hands. “I just talked to Riane.”

His younger brother’s eyes opened widely briefly, before he remembered he was in pout mode and he quickly looked away before crossing his arms over his chest. “So?” Those his tone held jealousy, probably because she would talk to Bryce and not him.

“I found out a little something as to why her father doesn’t like the music degree, but I guess if you aren’t interested.” Bryce tossed the pillow back at his brother and it hit him in the face as Julian’s arms were crossed and he wasn’t expecting the attack. After a brief moment of giggles from seeing his brother being hit, Bryce moved towards the door and opened it.

Julian refused to ask for the information, but Bryce wasn’t going to give it to him so easily. If he wanted it then he would need to at least earn it in the most basic of ways. After all, Julian respected nothing that came free.

“It might help, but whatever.” Bryce told him before stepping out into the hall. He closed the door as slowly as possible, but still Julian didn’t ask.

Once the door was fully closed, Bryce mumbled about his brother’s stubbornness before heading back into his own bedroom.

Sitting down on his bed, he sighed. Riane hadn’t lived here long, but it had been long enough to change their day to day lives. Returning to the way things were before just wasn’t fulfilling. It felt like they had taken steps back.

Even Zachary who tried his best not to like her, enjoyed watching her play music in the music room. Sometimes, he would do it openly and other times he would hide somewhere in the room. It was as if Riane’s playing was a siren’s song for him, but he refused to have any interaction with her other than that.

It had been heartbreaking watching Zachary try to convince her to stay. He never begged anyone for anything.

His bedroom door opened and Julian stepped inside. He glared down his older brother for a moment, before walking over to the bed and sitting down. He still did not speak and continued to only look at him.

“What?” Bryce asked when he could no longer be distracted by the phone, because of the intensity Julian brought.

Julian frowned and crossed his arms over his chest.

“If you want to know, you have to use your words like a human being and ask for it.” Bryce told him as he got off the bed and walked over to sit at his computer desk. He started to look through some of his textbooks.

Standing up from the bed, Julian walked over to his brother and immediate shoved his hand into his brother’s head. “Fucking tell me!” He shouted.

Bryce stood from his chair to hover over his shorter brother, “Do it again, I dare you!”

Julian shoved him in the chest, “What the fuck is it?”

Bryce retaliated that time and shoved his brother back, which caused Julian to stumble backwards a few steps before catching himself on the couch. “If you want to fight then let’s fight, but if you want to talk then let’s talk. I am not doing both with your right now.”

Standing up from his fallen position, Julian seemed to think over the choices his brother gave him. He remained quiet while Bryce held firm in his stance, just in case Julian decided to charge him.

He knew this was an attempt to alleviate his anger and stress. Julian wanted to fight him because he wanted to be in physical pain, because it hurt less then the pain he felt on the inside.

“What did she say?” Julian finally asked.

“She told me her mother was a musician, and her dad loathes her.” He explained and watched Julian look at him in annoyance, as if this wasn’t anything which could held him. “So, in essence he is punishing Riane for her mother, even though Riane says she doesn’t know what wrong her mother did.”

“So?” He shrugged.

“So?” Bryce snorted, “So, you now have Simon’s motive and having information about the enemy is half the battle.”

Julian seemed to be shutting down again, but Bryce wasn’t going to have it. He charged towards his brother and grabbed him by the collar.

“Are you seriously going to do this? Just give up and lay around? Everyone else is fighting more to bring her back then you are!” He shook his brother harshly.

Julian grabbed his brother’s wrists as he tried to pry them away from his clothing. “She told me not to do anything.”

He laughed bitterly, “She told you? So, what? That’s it then. Riane tells you to go away and you act like a kicked puppy?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Anything! Anything at all!” Bryce shouted, which caused his mother to come up the stairs and find her way to his bedroom door.

“What is going on?” Nanette asked.

“I can’t do anything!” Julian yelled back, “She doesn’t want our help. She wants us to leave her alone!”

“Do something anyway!”

Julian stared at his brother and shoved his arms away, before speaking sarcastically. “Fine, fine, you want me to do something? I’ll fucking just go get her. Who fucking cares what Simon could do to our family?”

“Good, go. Bring her back!” Bryce ordered without a hint of sarcasm.

“Fine, I am going!” Julian pushed passed his mother and headed for the front door. They heard it slam behind him, and Bryce smirked.

“What are you doing?” Nanette asked.

Her eldest son looked towards her with a smile, “Making him act, because when he is acting and being rash that is the best, most stubborn version of him. Don’t you think?”

Joe sat waiting in her car for Riane to come down. She had been tasked by Simon to take her over to Blake’s for a study session.

He had ordered her in front of Riane, who looked just as surprised by her sudden visit to Blake’s apartment. It was quite obvious Simon was trying to get her out of the house as he never allowed her to go over to Blake’s before, as he often bad mouthed him as being weak or often inquired about his sexual orientation since his best friend was a girl.

Since moving back here, Joe had been nervous that Simon would soon tell Riane she was the whistle blower.

Everyday she came over from her mother’s apartment and waited out front to take her to school. Things were almost exactly as they were, except Joe hadn’t yet gotten her friend back.

Riane was withdrawn and quiet, and though she acted like she was fine with everything, she always looked moments away from tears.

Joe was uncertain how she felt about all of this. After all, they were finally back where they belonged just like she had wanted. She hated living at the Swithin household, even if Nanette was nice, the boys either ignored her completely or caused her problems.

It felt like she was a dog living in the backyard while the family was all happy and cozy indoors. They would let her in from time to time to eat with them, but it was right back out to the doghouse by the end.

Riane stepped out of the house and walked to the car, where she practically tossed herself onto the seat and with a grunt fastened her seat belt.

“I wonder why he is sending you to Blake’s place.” Joe said out loud, she had already started the car so it could heat up a bit.

She shrugged, unwilling and unable to have any sort of conversation right now. She was too raw. Pretending to not be hurt when you are shredded was a near impossible task.

Joe pulled out of the parking lot and began to journey towards Blake’s home. She had so many things come to mind she wanted to say, but she felt like they would all fall flat.

“I am going to go over to Neil’s after this, and your dad said Blake would drive you home, but if you want me to come and get you, just call me, alright?” Joe tried to speak with a pleasant voice.

“Blake will be fine to drive me.” She mumbled and leaned against her head which was propped up by her elbow on the door. Her eyes were focused out the window as she remained lost in thought.

Joe cleared her throat as she decided to ask the question that had long been in her mind. If Riane already knew then at least they could fight and have it out. “Do you know who told Simon?”

Riane sighed audibly and quickly looked over at her, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care.”

That silenced Joe as Riane went back to looking out the window. She felt Riane suspected her, as she had been nothing but cold towards her since their arrival home. She wanted to talk to her about it, and explain everything and why she had done it.

However, she was afraid to admit the truth. If Riane truly didn’t know or suspect her, she would only harm their friendship further.

Joe kept looking at her friend out of the corner of her eye as they drove slowly down those snowy roads.

She both wanted to not get there quickly, and also get there as fast as possible. She both wanted to be with Riane in those moments and also finally be rid of her. Her guilt allowed her love to be overridden. Where there should have been empathy, she began to feel apathy.

The apathy was becoming the most painful part of seeing Riane. Knowing she should feel something for her friend’s pain, but not having any feelings what so ever. She was happy to finally be home, and that almost seemed like enough for Joe, even knowing that made her a terrible person.

“How long do you think you two will be?” Joe asked as she tried to restart the conversation once more.

Riane shrugged, and rolled her eyes thought Joe didn’t see the latter. “I didn’t set this up, so I have no fucking idea.”

“There is that cussing. I hope you don’t let Simon hear it.” Joe partially warned and partially scolded.

“What is he going to do? He already did the worst thing he could possibly do to, so whatever else comes it won’t matter.” Riane looked down at her phone which vibrated and saw it was a text from Blake.

He apologized and said he wasn’t at his apartment when her father called, so he might be a little late getting there.

“I am surprised Simon let you keep your phone. I would have thought he would change it out and your number, so you can’t have any contact with the Swithins or anyone else.”

Riane looked up from her phone, “What would be the point? I see them at school everyday. I could just exchange numbers then.”

She nodded.

“This is about controlling me. Making me do everything he wants, and that includes testing to see if I will follow his commands.” Riane replied to Blake’s text and told him they were about ten minutes away.

Joe fell quiet in those moments, and tried to think of anything else to say, but the silence was all that was left.

Riane got a couple more texts from Blake, but she was content to watch the world pass by outside her window.

Joe, on the other hand, disliked where this was now going, but there was nothing she could do to change it. She would simply have to ride this out.
Emma sat on the couch at Dalen’s house, while the guys sat across the room playing a console racing game. They were laughing and enjoying their Saturday, while she couldn’t focus at all.

She stared down at her phone and at the message she had written and delete dozens of times now. Every message she wanted to send, she would find a flaw in. It sounded too snarky, or too demanding, or too needy.

She had sent easier messages to boys she had liked over the years, then trying to figure out something to say to Riane.

Sitting at the table all week with just the guys, and occasionally a visit from Adonia, had not been her ideal meal. Though, in truth, it was much better than before she met Riane, and she would hide away to eat her lunch. Mostly, because she didn’t want to wear it.

“How is your day?” was the next text she typed out and after staring at it for several moments, she deleted it. She couldn’t just start with a simplistic message as if Riane hadn’t told her not to talk to her.

“Can we talk, please?” She typed the words out and again stared at them. This was too pathetic so she deleted this one as well.

Attempt after attempt was deleted, and to the two guys in the room, it looked like Emma was talking to someone via text, so they left her alone.

Finally, she looked up at them with a frown on her lips as she watched them play and look happy. “Is this it?”

Both guys were trying to mess with eachother’s controller as they continued to play and answer her question.

“You mean the day?” Dalen asked. “If you are bored, we can find something else to do.”

“No, I mean our friendship with Riane.” She watched Seth hit pause on the game and look towards Dalen then back at her. He didn’t seem to have anything to say. “We are just going to let it be this way, then? We just have to accept it? Riane says we aren’t friends anymore, and we just take her word as law?”

“It’s not Riane we are abiding by, but her father.” Seth explained. “He is a pretty nasty guy. He controls people socially by having parts in their businesses.”

Dalen nodded in agreement with his friend. “I spoke to my father, and he asked me to stay out of it.”

“Mine too.” Seth explained. “Mister Nairne is not to be messed with, Emma. There is nothing we can do. Riane has to act on her own.”

“Are you serious?” Emma asked in shock, as she couldn’t believe this was really the reason these two would abandon their friend.

Seth nodded at his girlfriend. “Why do you think the Swithins haven’t just gone over there and taken her back? I mean if you think about it, on the outside it looks like Mister Swithin would have more powerful friends, right?”

Dalen tagged in here, as if they had been practicing this speech for her. “But the truth of the matter is Mister Nairne is a terrifying person, who has enough money to destroy any one he wants. Investor friends who can harm their business and their livelihood.”

“So, money is all that matters, then? Riane is being destroyed, but hey at least we still have jobs, right?” She felt her heart tighten and started to feel a little sick towards her boyfriend.

Dalen could see this would go no where good for Seth, so he decided to be the voice of reason here. “What do you want us to do, Emma? You want us to cause massive problems for our parents? You want us to destroy their lives? I’m sorry, but they are people we love too, and we can’t put them in such situations.”

Seth nodded in agreement as he picked up a can of soda from the coffee table and took a big swig.

“Fine, then I will do something!” Emma stood up as if she was about to head out and cause damage.

“Mister Nairne can easily have your scholarship pulled since he is a large donor to the school.” Seth warned as he set the can down.

Emma stared at him for several long moments, before she slowly sat down. “My parents have worked too hard for me to get myself kicked out of school.” She told them in a mumble.

“That’s exactly what we are saying about our parents.” Dalen sighed, “I wish there was something we could do. Trust me, Julian is a fucking bear right now, but we just have to wait.”

“Yeah, only Riane can do anything. She has to be the one to end it.” Seth watched her return to her phone and after a couple moments, they began to play their racing game again.

“Don’t give up, Riane. Things will get better.” She sent the text and continued to stare at the screen. She didn’t really expect Riane to reply to her, but she had hope things weren’t completely gone.

A reply did come with a light little sound of a bubble popping from her phone. “Thank you.”

Emma smiled to herself and a single tear rolled down her cheek as she practically hugged her phone as if Riane were standing before her.

Standing up from the couch, she looked at the guys again. “Can we do something other than this?”

Seth paused the game, “Just let us finish this race and we can do something else. What do you want to do?”

She shrugged, “Anything other than sitting around here worrying about Riane. I am giving myself a headache.”

“Ok.” Seth unpaused the game and they began to play as she watched them for a moment.

Deciding she didn’t need to see this, she walked into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water, when another text came with another bubble popping sound. It was Riane’s sound.

She pulled her phone from her back jean’s pocket and looked at it with both hesitation and worry.

“I miss you,” Riane wrote, “and I am sorry.”

Emma inhaled deeply. She wanted to tell Riane to get out of there, to run away, and give her all the demands she could to get her friend back, but she knew it would accomplish nothing. So, she replied simply. “I know, it’s not your fault.”
Blake arrived at his apartment a few minutes after Riane did. She didn’t wait in the car even though it was cold, and sent Joe on her way. Joe didn’t even put up much of a fight, it seemed like she was happy to hurry away. Of course, Riane hadn’t been that great of company anyway.

As he approached his door, Riane stood up in the hallway in her bundled up coat and offered him a halfhearted smile. He returned it and began to unlock his front door, as a flood of questions came to mind.

Simon had been the one to call him and ask him to watch over Riane for a couple hours, then he insisted they call it a study date. He then wanted Blake to drive her home at a certain time then come into their house.

He wondered if Riane knew what was going on, but she seemed as off put by all this as he was. He could tell that about his friend just from the way she looked and carried herself. This was not comfortable for her.

Letting her into the apartment first, she took off her backpack and tossed it onto the couch, before she began to take off her jacket and hang it up on the coat rack. When Blake finished locking the door, he did the same.

“Do you want something to drink?” He offered, “How about some coffee? I am freezing.”

“Coffee sounds good.” Riane replied as she took off her hat and ran her fingers through her hair to give it some bounce back.

“I think this is the longest I have ever seen your hair.” Blake told her as he walked into the small kitchen, and grabbed the coffee pot to take to the faucet.

Riane grinned briefly, and touched her hair that was now getting closer to her chin then ever before. “Yeah, Nanette tried to convince me to try new things. Actually, it was kind of fun learning my own style, and not living with the one my mom gave me. Nanette really helped me out a lot there.”

Filling the pot with water, he frowned with his back turned towards her. “You know, if your dad is going to let you come over here without someone other than me to watch you, why don’t you use this place to meet with Julian?” He walked across the small room and began to pour the water into the coffee machine. “I promise to keep it a secret.”

She slow shook her head, “I am not going to do anything behind my father’s back. I am hoping things will cool down, and he will see reason. Maybe he will let me return to the Swithin household after a short bit.”

“You really think he would? I don’t know your father all that well, but he never seemed like the type of guy who would retract his words.” He began to dig around in the cabinets looking for the illusive coffee can.

Riane sighed, “He doesn’t want me there. That much I can tell, so his best bet is to let me go back.”

“Why does he have to act this way? I’ve known you since middle school and he has to be the worst father I have ever seen.”

She shrugged in response.

Blake found the can and then searched for a spoon in the dishwasher. “Sorry, the cleaning lady had to rush out since her daughter was giving birth, and she left all the dishes in here.” He had no idea why he explained it to her, it wasn’t like Riane was going to judge him for not putting away his dishes.

“It’s fine.” She watched him finish up making the coffee, and then they both went into the living room to sit down. She hugged her backpack which she had placed on her lap.

To Blake it looked like a defense mechanism like a wall or a shield she was holding up against him. He had never known Riane to be uncomfortable around him, and he felt slightly brokenhearted she would think he would do anything to her.

“It’s weird, right?” She asked.

He raised an eyebrow in response, as he didn’t want to say anything and have her mean another topic entirely.

“My dad, after years of disliking you as my friend, suddenly sends me over here to visit you. I mean at any time he could have ended our friendship, but he never did even though he didn’t like you.”

Blake nodded, “I often thought he didn’t like me, but since I hadn’t done anything wrong, he couldn’t come up with a good reason to get rid of me.”

“That’s probably it.” She lowered her backpack to the ground by her feet. “Did he say anything to you about why he was sending me over here?”

Blake shook his head as he thought about their conversation. “He was really insistent in certain words. Every time I called it anything other than a study date, he would correct me. He was also the one who demanded I drive you home and then come in for a visit.” Saying it out loud, Blake began to put the pieces together.

“What?” Riane asked in shock as she stared wide eyed with him and her mouth slightly ajar.

“No, I am sure I am overthinking it. He probably just wants to talk to me about the rules like he did with you since I am hanging out with you all the time now.” Blake swallowed.

“Is this like my father’s version of setting me up on a date?” Riane asked with now what was fear forming in her eyes and voice.

Blake shook his head several times over as he pressed his lips together. “No, he just wanted you out of the house for some reason. I mean you did tell me he doesn't like it when you are there.”

She seemed to calm down a little bit, “You are right. I am just overthinking everything because he has me on edge. Like I said, I am hoping to go back to the Swithins soon enough. I just hope they won’t be too angry with me, and they will understand my position.”

“I am sure they will.” Blake told her with a grin which was an attempt to comfort her, but his own mind was stuck on Simon’s designs.

As the two talked, he thought of a million reasons not to go home with her that evening. He didn’t want to hear what Simon had to say, no matter what the topic was about. Even if it wasn’t what he feared, it could easily be something that could violate his friendship with Riane.

This was ridiculous. He was being ridiculous. He told himself over and over again, as Riane talked about her plans for the future. He tried to listen, but all he could think of was what that snake was doing right now.

Why had Simon gone out of his way like this? That selfish bastard never did anything for Riane’s benefit, and now he feared he was a new pawn.
Joe had gone over to Neil’s apartment for the evening. They could no longer meet in private at her dog house on the Swithin property, so they had no choice but to do so at his home.

He seemed reluctant at first, as if it was unusual for him to allow others over, or perhaps he didn’t like to bring in women he was sleeping with. It didn’t matter anyway, Joe wasn’t going over there in order to sleep with him that evening.

His apartment was a one bedroom with the living room, dining room, and kitchen practically being the same room. Only a couple of counters separated the kitchen from the living room.

He had a blue jean cloth couch and a small television in this living room as there wasn’t room for much else. His dining room had white plastic table and chairs usually reserved for outdoor use, and his kitchen only offered the one appliance and that was the coffee machine, which was only a two cup pot.

His bedroom doorway was in the dining room, and in order to go to the bathroom one had to go into the bedroom and turn immediately right. His bed had no comforter, just old blankets and even older sheets, while his bathroom was bare. He had a clear liner hanging by the shower, some shampoo, then his toothpaste and toothbrush were also in the tub.

Joe hadn’t realized how poor he actually was until those moments, and she couldn’t help compare this place to Seth’s home, because she had never been to Dalen’s family home.

Of course, Joe lived in a two bedroom apartment with her own mother now. However, her mother had years to decorate the place and made it a priority. This place was obviously a transition home while Neil went to college. He didn’t care to make it comfortable, because he wasn’t staying long.

“I tried to find her under the Nairne name, but I couldn’t come up with anything.” Neil told her as they sat in those flimsy chairs with both of their laptops on the table. Joe feared the table would collapse under their weight.

“It is like she just disappeared. When I was younger, the other kids used to say Riane’s father killed her mother, and sometimes I wonder if it was true. I know Riane’s mother does video chat with her or she used to at least, now she just calls. What if he got like a voice double for her or something?” Joe knew she was reaching, but it seemed easier to come up with a wild excuse for why this couldn’t work, then actually doing any of the exhausting search.

Neil shook his head with an amused grin, “I highly doubt he killed his ex-wife, and then covered up with it by paying a voice double to call her.”

She shrugged her shoulders, “I just don’t even know if any of this will help Riane anyway. I mean, she should already know how to contact her right? Like have her phone number, so if Riane wanted her around, she would call her.”

“That’s not the point. We are trying to figure out what is going on, and then we might be able to fix your huge fucking betrayal.” Neil tried to sound patient, but he was tired of Joe throwing up as many roadblocks as she could.

He didn’t know why this was so important to him, but he always saw Joe as Riane’s protector. To see her be the bully this time around, made him dislike her quite a bit, but he wasn’t ready to toss in the towel to their relationship. There was a good person in there and he knew it.

“Fine.” Joe sighed as she realized he hadn’t offered her anything to drink, but looking at his kitchen she didn’t know if there was anything but water.

“You are right though. Riane might have her mother’s number somewhere, or Simon would have it if he controls their contact. You’ll have to figure out a way to get the information, or at least find out if it exists.” Neil stared at his computer as he continued to search the name.

“I am not stealing information from Mister Nairne. I don’t have a death wish nor am I a super spy.” Joe protested.

Neil looked away from his screen, “Then figure something out. Ask Riane’s step mom to look for it. Tell her you are planning a surprise.”

Joe sighed audibly in her annoyance, but decided she wasn’t going to argue this further.

“Maybe she got remarried.” Neil said nonchalantly.

“Well, if she did, it would be near impossible to find a person with a different last name.” Joe continued to sigh as if it was her attempt to get Neil to give this up. “Besides, she was never big on technology. When I was younger, I remember she would rather have a book or a pen a letter. I doubt looking on this social websites we will get much.”

He nodded, “Yeah, maybe we are looking in the wrong place. There has to be some sort of record. I think the best we can do right now is try to get a phone number from Riane or her father.”

“Fine, I’ll see what I can do, but like I said I am not outright stealing it.” Joe stood from her seat and went into the kitchen. “Do you have anything to drink?”

“Water.” He replied as he turned to watch her walk towards the kitchen. “There are glasses in the cupboard above the sink.”

Of course, it was only water. The man couldn’t even buy himself some juice or anything, or maybe he did have some but didn’t want to share.

She poured herself a glass of water and returned to the table. “Why are you doing this?”


“Why have you made finding Riane’s mom your concern? She hates you. She wants nothing to do with you, and we aren’t even sure she wants to see her mother. We could be causing an even bigger mess for her.” She drank down half of her glass of tap water.

“Because if you won’t admit what you did to her, the least you can do is help her reconnect with her mom, or find out information she can use to get out of there. Weren’t you her protector and best friend in high school? What happened to that person?” He continued to scroll through the name on his computer to compare to a picture of a woman Joe had given him.

“Julian happened to me. She ditched me for them, and now she still isn’t talking to me.” She grunted, “She used me until she didn’t need me anymore, and then tossed me aside. I became her driver and nothing more.”

“I highly doubt that. When you first get into a relationship, you get caught up in it, but you always come back down to earth. You should have waited for her.”

Joe rolled her eyes and realized a part of her was jealous because Neil was so focused on Riane. Once again, she had made someone her protector or perhaps in this caue Joe had done so.
Riding in the passenger seat of Blake’s little blue car, they listened to some pop music and tried not to act awkward towards one another.

It was strange for her father to want to meet with Blake, and Riane had an uneasy feeling in her heart. Her father never did unnecessary things just to be polite. His moves were always calculated. If he was meeting with Blake, there was a purpose.

As they pulled onto the street, Riane immediately noticed a familiar car parked on the side of road. There was a person sitting in the driver’s seat, whom she recognized from their outline.

Her heart began to beat so fast it became painful. Part of her wanted him to jump out of his car, grab her hand, and drag her back home. Just make the choice she actually wanted to make for her. She was too afraid to do it on her own, but if Julian gave her no choice then maybe she could find the courage.

Of course, she knew she would fight him on leaving, but it was a fantasy that gave her hope. As the gates to her father’s estate began to open, Julian turned on his car and simply drove away.

Her heart sank. He just left without a word. She wanted to text him and ask what he was doing there, but she wanted most was for him to come and get her.

Blake parked in front of the mansion and the two walked in together side by side. They went to Simon’s office were he was drinking a glass of bourbon with a pleasant grin on his lips.

Riane never liked it when her father seemed happy, because it always seemed to be bitterness for her.

“Sit.” Simon order and watched the two young people sit down in the chairs in front of his desk.

The room was dark and filled with dark woods. Riane never liked it in there as it reminded her of an old hunting lodge.

“How was your date?” He asked with a voice which told them both he was leading them somewhere.

“Fine.” Blake replied for the both of them.

He nodded, “Good, no problems then? Spending time together in an empty apartment wasn’t strange at all?”

Riane’s heart began to beat anew as the pit of her stomach churned. She could see what was happening here. It was just as she feared.

“No.” Blake replied for the both of them again, and he began to feel the ominous tension which was feeling the room.

“I have spoken to your parents, Blake.” Simon continued not seeming to care about his reply at all. “They do not believe in arranged marriages. Have you been made aware of that?”


He slowly nodded, “Well, I explained the benefits, and I also explained how close you and Riane are. Of course, they knew quite a bit about Riane, and even told me they were surprised the two of you haven’t started dating yet.”

Riane tried to contain her anger and she could feel her body literately begin to shake with frustration as her father continued to speak.

“I told them, you two needed a bit of a push. Both of you are so stuck in your belief of brother and sister, you don’t see the benefits of uniting together in marriage. They gave me their blessing, but told me you were the only one who could truly agree to this.”

Blake began to speak to tell the man he had over stepped his boundaries, and he would never accept Riane being forced upon him, but Simon began to talk before he could.

“If you do not accept, I am going to send Riane to a family across the country. She will no longer be able to attend CHU, and you will be forbidden from seeing her ever again. Not my doing of course, but the family doesn’t believe women should have male friends.” It was obvious he was telling Blake this, because he could see he was about to object.

Blake turned his eyes towards Riane, who was staring at her father. Her eyes were filled with tears, but none of them were falling. Instead, she looked ready to jump over the desk and strangle her father with his necktie.

He took a couple breaths before answering, but making sure not to agree to anything. “How would the engagement work?”

“Simple, you two will continue to date in this manner daily, until I arrange a larger apartment for you both. I expect to have one ready by Spring. Then you two will move in together, and finish off college. When you are done, the marriage will commence and as I understand it, you will return home to your family to begin working with your father.” Simon took a drink of his bourbon and continued to smile smugly.

“You want us to live together?”

He nodded, “I want to give you a couple months to check on Riane’s condition. She assures me Julian and she never slept together, but I want to ensure she isn’t pregnant before anything happens between the two of you. So, I will ask you refrain from…”

“Are you fucking serious?” Riane barked as she stood up from her chair. “Do you realize you are talking about me like I am some sort of cow? Do you view me as a whore you can pass around from man to man?”

Simon snorted, “I view you as a way to build business relationships, and considering from what Deidra has told me, you have been madly in love with Blake since middle school, I thought you would be pleased.”

Riane continued to stand while she glared at him. “I won’t do this. I won’t let you use my friend to get rid of me.”

“This is between Blake and myself. I only invited you to witness the events, so I wouldn’t have to be bothered to explain them later.” Simon took another drink of his bourbon. “Now, sit down, and do as you are told.”

The thought came to mind to run out the door and get herself to Julian’s house by any means, but her legs refused to move. Instead, she bent at the knee and sat herself back down.

“It is my understanding, you have feelings for Riane?” He asked Blake and watched him nod. “Good, then it is settled. As time goes by, you will both see this was for your benefit and you’ll understand even more when there are children of your own.”

Both Riane and Blake stood up silently and left the room without a word of goodbye to Simon.

Riane walked upstairs without speaking to Blake, and left him to find his own way out. It was too much to process and Blake was left wondering if his agreement had been the right thing to do.

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