Episode Four - Love, Chicago

Episode Four - Love, Chicago

Sasha & Jack

“Cooking is the only thing that’s going to keep my mind occupied.” Jack tossed the bag of potatoes into the sink.

At first, they didn’t say much, still reeling from the shock of what had happened to Trent. Sasha had turned on the satellite radio component by the television and started preparing the rump roast.

Jack was the first to start talking, which led to Sasha slowly pulling out of her funk. The first bottle of wine was consumed almost immediately and contributed to her ability to relax a little.

“If you don’t mind me asking, you said you have family here in Chicago?” Sasha pushed the roasting pan into the oven.

“I do, but I don’t speak to my dad or my brother. I talk to my mom on occasion, and I have five older sisters, but they’re all busy with their own families.” He shrugged as he pulled open the bag of potatoes, spilling the contents into a colander.

“Five older sisters? Well, that explains everything,” she teased. Maybe it was the wine, but her mood was lifting slightly as they busied themselves with the meal she doubted she’d have the stomach to eat.

“What does that mean?”  He raised an eyebrow at her.

“You obviously had to stake your place in the world as a man thanks to them. All the tattoos and muscles and the running around beating the hell out of people.”  Sasha sat down at the dining table, picking up her wine glass.

Jack glanced back at her and flexed his arm, the corner of his lips curling.

Sasha shook her head and started to chuckle but caught herself. It didn’t feel right to laugh. She quickly frowned and let out a loud sigh.

“He’s going to be fine.”

Sasha sipped her wine, not answering.

Jack ran water over the potatoes and walked over to the table. “Your brother is a fighter, Brown Eyes.”  He knocked back the contents of his own glass.

“I know, but then what?” Sasha twirled the stem of the glass between her fingers.

Jack sat down in the chair next to her, leaning forward with his elbow on his knees. “Then you take it day by day.”

Sasha took a deep breath.

“And I’ll be there to help him as much as I can.”  Jack nodded, looking at his hands.

Sasha glanced over. “You’re a good friend, Jack.”

Jack reached out, taking her hand. his fingers wrapped around hers. “I’d do anything for him. I told you, he’s like a brother to me.”

Sasha couldn’t deny she felt a warm jolt of electricity run through her arm as he held her hand.

Jack let go and walked back to the sink. “I’ll reach out to the bosses first thing tomorrow and let them know what’s up.”

“I totally didn’t even think about his…job.” Sasha’s shoulders dropped.

Jack glanced back at her and shook his head.

“Sorry.” Sasha grimaced, realizing her tone came across as demeaning.

“You know, maybe you should come to the match on Monday and see what it’s all about before you write it off.” Jack poured the potatoes into the pot of boiling water on the stove and returned to the table.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I should probably stay close to Trent’s side.” Sasha refilled his glass.

“Darlin’, he’s probably still going to be out of it by then. And it might be a nice gesture if you’re there.” Jack picked up his glass and walked over to the photos on the wall.

Sasha dismissed his suggestion and focused on her glass.

“Just think about it. I’ll make sure you get the VIP treatment.” Jack studied the photo of two kids playing on a beach.  “Is this you and Trent?” He tipped his chin toward the photo.

“When we were kids. I think it was at the air and water show on North Avenue beach.”

“I used to be close to my brother. We’re about two years apart.” Jack moved on to the next picture. The candid photograph was taken at Sasha’s graduation.

“But not anymore?” Sasha asked.

Jack wandered over to the other wall, studying the photos one at a time. He took a deep breath. “He’s been having a lot of money trouble for a while and he kept hitting me up for cash. When I stopped giving it to him, my dad got involved and it got ugly.” Jack took a long drink from his glass.

Sasha could see the pain in his face as he walked back to the table.

“Maybe we should change the subject, my mood is already foul.” Jack set his glass down and walked over to the stove.

Sasha cupped her hand on the back of her neck, rubbing the knots that were forming.

“How much time do we have until dinner is ready?” Jack checked his watch.

“Maybe half an hour.” Sasha looked at the timer on the oven.

“I should probably call around for a place to stay.” Jack pulled his phone from his pocket.

“You could stay here.” The words were out of her mouth before she knew it.

Jack stared at her.

“I mean, if you want to. I have the guest room ready.”

“Trent was going to talk you into letting me sleep on the couch, but I didn’t want to assume with him not being here…” Jack shut his mouth quickly, seeing tears forming in Sasha’s eyes.

Sasha turned away and took her wine glass to the sink. You’ve had enough, pull it together.

She felt Jack’s hand on her back. She blinked to clear her eyes and rinsed out her glass. She turned to face him.

“I don’t want to get in the way.” Jack smiled weakly.

“No, I’d really like it if you did. I have no idea what I’m doing and I wouldn’t mind a second set of ears around when they figure out all that’s wrong with Trent.”

“Then it’s settled. I’m not going anywhere.” Jack reached up and ran his thumb across her cheek, wiping the streak from the tear that escaped.

***

Devyn & Todd

Devyn hoped she wouldn’t end up kicking herself for submitting to Todd.

He had promised her a night out - in public! And they’d talk about their relationship. She’d take the job and her future would change for the better. She’d no longer be considered paparazzi, she was the lead photographer for WCS and Model Citizen. Granted, it was a reality show, but if it did nearly as well as the original show that Sherri Cassidy came from, Dev expected she’d eventually work her way up to a more reputable role for a more professional outlet.

Dev tapped at the buttons on her phone, dialing her cousin in England.

“Hello, love!” It was always good to hear Jude Deveroux’s accent on the other end of the line.

“Is this a good time?” Dev asked, as she sorted through her closet for something to wear to dinner, realizing it was almost dinner in London.

“Absolutely. We just got off stage an hour ago and me and the boys were just grabbing a late dinner. Say hello, boys.” Voices shouted hello into the phone.

“How was it?” Dev pulled out a sleeveless black dress with a banded bottom that stopped a few inches above her knee. Paired with her teal suede pumps and some jewelry, she was sure to knock Todd off his feet.

“It was a good show, we’re really starting to pack the places we play. As soon as the album is out, I’ll send it your way. Mum and Dad are coming out there in a few weeks, I think.”

“I wish you could come with them. Then we could celebrate.” Dev dropped the dress on her bed and went to her jewelry box. “I have some news.” She explained the opportunity she’d been given and what it meant.

“Dev, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. Are you still seeing that Todd fellow?”

Dev could hear the concern in Jude’s voice. He was the only one she had told about her secret relationship with her boss and of course, Jude had warned her to be careful.

“Yes, I’m still seeing Todd. He’s taking me out tonight,” she jeered.

“Out in public?…Sorry, love. That sounded harsh.”

Dev couldn’t help but laugh.

“Just be careful, cousin. Listen, I hate to cut this short but the guys are ordering and I’m starved. Let’s catch up tomorrow. Love you.”

Dev promised to call him and hung up.

Now, time to transform. Dev eyed the dress on the bed and headed to the bathroom.

When Todd texted that he was downstairs an hour later, Dev was putting the finishing touches on her look. Dark liner smudged around her eyes and bracelets clinked on her wrist. She knew she looked hot.

Dev stepped out of the front entrance to find Todd on his cell, pacing the sidewalk in front of her apartment building. He was still in his work clothes, his dress shirt sleeves rolled to the elbow.

Dev stopped at the bottom stair and waited for him to notice her.

Todd shouted into the phone and it was clear he had no idea Dev was standing there.

“Well, what did the lawyers say? When were they going to tell us that?” Todd stopped pacing and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. Okay, fine!” He tapped the phone and sighed.

“Everything okay, baby?” Dev’s voice dripped with seduction. She didn’t really care what the problem was, she just wanted him to notice her.

“What?” Todd looked at her, confused at first. His expression changed slowly. “Oh wow, Dev. You’re a vision.” He walked over to her, his hands pulled at her waist and his lips met hers.

“You don’t think it’s too much for dinner out?” Dev ran her fingers across Todd’s forehead, pushing his hair back.

Todd grimaced. “Babe…well shit. I can’t take you to dinner tonight.”

“What?” Dev pulled back.

Todd dipped his head and nodded. “I’m sorry, babe. I just got a call I need to meet with the lawyers before they announce everything in the press release tomorrow. I have to go back to the office.”

Dev frowned and pulled away completely, turning back toward the entrance to her building.

“Devyn.” Todd chased her up the stairs, grabbing her by the arm.

Dev pulled her arm away and reached in her purse for her keys.

Todd wedged himself between Dev and the door.

“I don’t know why I waste my time.” Dev mumbled.

“Babe, please. I’m doing this for you. You know that.” Todd gripped her arms.

“No, you’re not.” Dev glared at him. “You never do anything unless it benefits you.” She turned and headed down the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Todd came up behind her and grabbed her elbow, spinning her to face him.

“I didn’t get dressed up to go no where, Todd.  I’ll just find somewhere else to go. I’m sure in this dress I could find someone who wants to spend time with me…in public!” Dev pulled her arm away.

“Dev, stop.” Todd rubbed his forehead as if he were lost in thought. “I am doing this for you. I want it to be perfect. Do you really think I want to walk away, looking the way you do?”

Dev pouted.

“If I could I’d…I’d take you to the fanciest restaurant in all of Chicago. But I have to do this, Dev. I’m doing it because…” Todd puffed air out of his mouth and nodded. “Because I love you.”

Dev stopped breathing for a second.

“Babe, I promise I will take you out.” Todd closed the space between them. “Maybe not tonight, but I will take you out and treat you like you deserve to be treated. Please understand.” Todd kissed her forehead.

“Will you meet me at my place later?” Todd started to leave. “I’ll text you when I’m done.” His keys jingled in his hands.

Dev stood on the sidewalk, still shocked from his admission. He was gone before she could even process a response.

***

Ashleigh & Ryder

It was springtime when Ashleigh toured with her first novel and it seemed like a lifetime ago.

Izzie had joined her on that first weekend trip to New York, anxious to see how the crowds of young girls would respond to her author. Ashleigh was already a hit online with Facebook and Twitter. She loved the personal contact with her fans. It didn’t hurt that the critics also revered her, touting her as the new hot author in the young adult genre. She was surprised how quickly word got around about her novel - a story of teenage love with the boy next door.

After a couple hours signing copies of her books to precocious teen girls, Izzie insisted they celebrate with a night out. They had dinner at the hotel then, based on the concierge’s suggestion and access to the VIP list, Ash and Iz walked past the red velvet rope and into the hottest club in New York called Castle.

By the second martini, Ash was feeling no pain. She sat in one of the high back, plush thrones and surveyed the crowd as Izzie went to dance with a good-looking blonde. Ashleigh’s eyes settled on a familiar face across the room and her heart stopped for a moment.

Standing at a high-boy table, in all black, surrounded by several long-legged women was her Ryder.

His hair was long. Longer than she’d even seen it before. She felt her legs moving before she even knew what she’d say to him. She pushed through the crowd, her eyes on him, watching him knock back a shot with the girls at the table.

As she neared the entrance to the sectioned-off area, two figures blocked Ashleigh’s path. Two men towered over her, their black suits forming a wall in front of her. One of them leaned down and shouted in her ear over the music thumping from the speakers. “VIP only, miss.”

“He’s a friend of mine.” Ashleigh nodded and pointed toward Ryder.

“Yeah? Well, you don’t have a wristband, sorry.”

Between their broad shoulders, she could see movement.

“You don’t understand, we’re friends, he grew up across the street from me. Can you just tell him Ashleigh Taylor is here?” She pleaded, staring on her toes to look over their shoulders.

Ash saw Ryder move away from the table - away from her. She stepped sideways and shouted out his name but the music was too loud. She moved quickly along the railing that ran the edge of the VIP area, almost losing him in the crowd. She rounded the corner, feeling the presence of the two security guards behind her as she stopped short at the sight of Ryder kissing one of the girls against the back wall.

Ashleigh wasn’t a fool, she didn’t think for one minute Ryder was pining for her, but the sight of him with his arms wrapped around another woman made her stomach turn. She swallowed hard and called out to him. She felt the hands of the security guards pulling on her shoulders as she strained to lean into the VIP area over the steel bar.

“Come on, miss.” One of them said into her ear.

Ashleigh relented and they released their hold on her as she started to walk away.  Seeing the entrance to the VIP unattended, Ashleigh slipped past a group of people descending the stairs and disappeared into the crowd. She hurried to the spot she saw Ryder only to find him gone. Her head whipped around and the two guards were heading up the stairs toward her.

A hand enclosed around her waist from behind and Ash was pulled off her feet.

“Hey!” She pushed on the arm holding her, spinning around the moment she was released.

Her captor was her height, with eyes outlined in thick, black charcoal. His right eyebrow was pierced as was his right nostril. He looked drunk, his eyes glazed over as he looked her up and down.

“Are you lost?” His accent was thick, not quite as lyrical as most brits.

The security duo reached Ashleigh but the stranger in front of her waved them off.

“Thanks, I was actually looking for Ryder, I’m a friend of his.” Ashleigh leaned in smelling the cigarette smoke and whiskey on him.

“I’m Declan, let me buy you a drink, love.” His hand went around her arm. “We’ll find Ryder soon enough.”

“I’d like to find the ladies room first.” She pulled away seeing the flash of mistrust in his eyes. She walked toward the back of the VIP area, looking in every direction for Ryder. She felt a hand on her arm again, and was pulled in Declan’s arms.

Despite his size, Declan was much stronger than her and Ashleigh’s attempt to struggle from his grasp proved useless.

“Let me go!” Ash yelled into his ear.

“Don’t be that way. I’ll take you to Ryder if that’s what you want.”

Ashleigh instantly stopped squirming in his arms.

“But first, I want to buy you a drink.” He pulled her toward the bar and slapped his hand on the steel counter top.

Ash continued to scan the crowd. Declan turned with two shot glasses, handing one to her. The martinis in her system were already giving her a massive buzz, but she swallowed it quickly anyway.

“Okay, where is he?” She asked before Declan even finished his shot.

“Behind you.” Declan pointed by tipping the glass.

Ashleigh turned quickly to see Ryder clinging to the same girl he was making out with earlier. He had the same glazed look in his eyes as Declan. She’s not sure what he’s on but it’s more than booze.

“Ryder? It’s me.” Ashleigh noticed there was no look of recognition in his eyes. It wasn’t like she had changed all that much over the years.

He narrowed his eyes at her and shook his head. He looked over Ashleigh’s shoulder at Declan. “Have fun with this one, Dec, she looks like she could use a good romp in the sack.”

Ryder walked away in a daze with a different girl hanging on his arm. He had looked at Ashleigh as if he didn’t know her.

As if she meant nothing to him.