11 - Ryan

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Ryan didn't know what to say to Felix as she cried her eyes out. She was definitely justified in her hysteria, and he'd had his share of strangers breaking down on his shoulder, but he and Felix had a history, however abstract it may be. He'd actually learned more about her over the last sixteen hours than he did in sixteen years. She was sarcastic and witty, and he didn't want to see her in pain. What else could he do but suggest a distraction?

"Where is this hot tub?" Felix asked. She had blown her nose and was pacing the living room, looking like a cockroach desperate to find a place to hide.

"It's at my parent's house. They're big advocates of the healing properties of hot tubs, but we don't have to go if you'd rather not."

"I love hot tubs, I just... I didn't pack a bathing suit."

"That's not a problem. Mom always keeps spare suits on hand. You're about the size of my sister-in-law." Ryan gave her body a onceover as he imagined her in a bikini. How far did her tattoos reach?

"Are you sure it will be safe for us to go to your parent's place? I don't want to get them involved in my fucked-up life."

Ryan stepped into Felix's path, stopping her mid-stride. "As long as you're with me, you don't have to worry about your safety." He did his best to hold her gaze, which was glassy-eyed and full of fear. After a few moments of breathing red sauce into each other's faces, Felix smiled. It was clearly forced, but it was a start.

"Thanks, Ryan. For the first time in a long time, I do feel safe."

When they arrived at his parents' house, Felix appeared fully recovered as she pressed her face against the window of his Impala.

"Oh, my God. I haven't been on this street since we moved away," she said. "That was almost seven years ago. I wonder if the same family lives in our old house."

"Yep. The Chapmans. They've got four kids. Mom babysits when their sitter bails on them. She's a sucker for toddlers." Ryan parked the car and jumped out, trying to get to Felix's door, but she had already stepped onto the sidewalk, oblivious of his intentions.

"Your house looks just like I remember it. The white picket fence, the rose bushes, the perfectly edged lawn."

"Dad has always been a freak about his yard. I'm glad I don't have to mow it anymore, except on Father's Day. It's a tradition with us."

"That's nice." Felix mouthed the words as she stared across the yard at her old house, probably reliving a hundred memories. When Ryan walked up beside her, he could tell she was trying to keep her lips from trembling. How long had it been since she'd seen her family? Maybe the hot tub idea wasn't such a good one. What was wrong with him?

"I'm sorry, Felix. This was a stupid idea. Do you want to go?"

Five seconds passed before she shook her head, a determined expression replacing the uncertain one. "No, I'm good. In fact, this was an excellent idea. It convinces me that leaving my boyfriend and the dysfunctional life we had together was the right decision. I know there's a nasty road ahead of me, but I feel like I can deal with it as long as you're there to back me up. You will be there to back me up, won't you?"

Ryan let himself indulge in her eyes. He found he could read her there, and she was telling him not to fuck this up. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me."

It didn't take long for his mom to realize they were standing in the front yard, and she opened the door, dragging Felix into her arms for a hug. "Oh, good heavens, Felicity. You have grown into a lovely, young woman."

"Thanks, Mrs. Clark. You look just as pretty as I remember."

His mom blushed, eating up her compliment as she took in the tattoos decorating Felix's arms. Ryan received a squeeze around his waist, accompanied by the signature eyebrow raise given by matchmaking mothers.

"I hope you like barbeque ribs," she said as she tugged Felix into the house. "I've got Gary picking up a couple racks on his way home from work."

Felix's eyes bugged out, and she gave Ryan a look he read perfectly. "We just had lunch, Mom."

"Oh, we won't serve supper until six or so. That should give you two plenty of time to relax in the hot tub and get reacquainted."

Ryan recognized the smile on his mom's face, the one she wore any time she caught a female at his apartment and mistook her for a girlfriend. Felix was probably the first girl he had brought to the house since graduating high school, but he never saw the point if the girl was likely to be gone after the weekend. That point, he argued, was due to his high standards and testosterone level. He had a feeling his mom would be making up for lost time.

PLAYLIST SONG: The Sting by Editors

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