Rylan will stop at nothing to chase down his ex... even though he is supposed to be moving on. Jia is angry with her mother... again. If you like what you read here, please check out my other chapters and buy the full story available as an ebook on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.
“I don’t know about this.” Rylan adjusted the black tie around his neck for the tenth time since the valet drove off in his Porsche. Blaise and Maverick froze where they stood, and with a sigh and a grunt they turned their backs on the ballroom entrance and inched closer to their reluctant friend.
“What’s not to know? Step one: find a girl. Step two: get over Rui. Easy. You’re Rylan freaking Marlowe, you can have anyone you want. You’ll do fine,” said Maverick, pacing restlessly.
Rylan gulped, and as his gaze dropped to the ground, his hand once again found his tie. “But... maybe it’s too soon. I’m not ready. You guys go on without me.” He backed further away from ballroom and the party inside.
Maverick ran to his side and wrapped his arm around Rylan. He squeezed so hard Rylan was left helpless in his grip as he forcefully led him closer to the party. A few steps forward and Rylan squirmed to break free, raising his voice. “Get off.” With some effort he shoved him away. Rylan stood straight and fixed his tie again.
“Seriously, Rylan, what’s the problem? It’s just a party,” Blaise said, the sincerity of his concern apparent in his tone.
Rylan let out a breath he was unaware he had been holding and hung his head. When he spoke, his voice was a low mumble that his friends had to strain their ears to hear. “I don’t know… I just have a bad feeling about tonight. Like it’s going to be the end of an era- the end of life as we know it.”
Maverick let out one loud laugh and he clapped Rylan’s shoulder. “I hope it is the end of an era- the era of mopey Rylan. Seriously, dude, you need to get out of this funk.”
“Rylan, no matter what happens tonight, we’re your friends- we’ll be there for you,” Blaise lifted the corners of his mouth in a smile, “And you are going to make a real effort to get over Rui, right? So it’s a win-win.”
Rylan lifted his head and nodded. “Right.”
“Alright,” Maverick brought his hands together with a booming clap, “no more chick-flick moments. Let’s go before a certain someone changes his mind.”
Maverick led the way to the front doors, his pace quicker than that of the other two. He jiggled the knob, but instead of opening the door, he caused a buzzing sound. Whipping his head to the side, he found that a black box mounted at eye-level was the source of the buzzing noise. A single red light flashed as he twisted the doorknob. When he let it go, the buzzing stopped and the red light changed to a blinking yellow. Maverick grabbed the knob again, and this time he shoved his shoulder into the door as he turned it, putting his whole bodyweight into opening the door. The black box buzzed once again and the yellow light changed back to red.
“What is it?” Maverick asked as he let go of the doorknob so the buzzing would stop and the light went back to blinking yellow.
The boys stood staring at it for a moment, each of them at a loss for what to do with it.
“Do you think it takes cash or cards?” Rylan asked, his hand hovering over his pocket for quick access to his wallet.
Blaise squinted as he stared at the black box. “I think it’s the bouncer. Rylan, show it the invitation.”
Rylan held the paper up in front of the device. The blinking yellow light changed to solid green and the door clicked. “I think it worked.” Rylan pushed the door and it swung open with little effort. He held the door for his friends and once they were inside with him, he let it go, clicking and locking behind him.
“Man, that’s awesome. You’ve got to get one of those installed in your house,” said Maverick.
The boys stopped just inside the ballroom, taking a moment to get acclimated to the party. The room was entirely black, the only pop of color in the silver tulle wrapped balloons that hung overhead, and was large enough to accommodate the five hundred guests comfortably. Music blasted from speakers mounted sporadically on the walls, and the floor vibrated with each beat. Across a sea of dancing guests was a raised platform with five empty silver chairs. The boys’ black ties and white dress shirts matched the other guests, but their blond hair and blue eyes was a stark contrast to the room full of black hair and brown eyes. A few nearby people shot them curious looks, but most were preoccupied with dancing and alcohol and took no notice.
A waitress in a revealing black and silver dress crossed a group of dancing party guests. Without a word she held out a silver tray to the boys. Blaise grabbed a crystal champagne flute and nodded a thank you to the waitress. Maverick took two, holding one out for Rylan. “Alright, buddy, this is it- the start of-”
His words cut off and he looked around. “Rylan?”
Blaise swallowed half his champagne in one gulp and turned his head, looking around him in either direction.
“Where’d he go?” Maverick asked. He stepped into the crowd and scanned the people in front of him. When he found no trace of his friend, he took a few steps in a different direction and scanned the people over there.
“He ditched us. After all that fuss he made before we came in, he ditched us,” the anger in Maverick’s voice rose to a volume audible over the booming music.
To the left of where they were just standing, Maverick and Blaise watched the top of Rylan’s head cross the room. His blonde hair bobbed through groups of dancers until it disappeared from sight. Blaise turned to Maverick and leaned closer so his friend could hear him over the music. “Let him go. He’s not going to meet someone new with you hovering around, anyway.”
Maverick shook his head, “He better not be trying to find Rui.” He downed both champagne flutes and put them back on the waitress’ tray, which hadn’t travelled very far in the time it took the boys to lose Rylan. Maverick grabbed another drink and headed to find his own fun at the open bar, and Blaise followed close behind.
Rylan walked along the outer edge of the room, his finger tracing the wall as he went. Of all the dark-haired girls he had passed, none had Rui’s face. He considered the possibility that she wasn’t there, since she had told him she could no longer hang out with him so she could focus on school. After inspecting a few other groups of girls and still not finding Rui, he had himself convinced that she was tucked behind a book somewhere in her house. With a defeated sigh, he headed for the exit, not bothering to find his friends to tell them he was leaving.
“Have you seen what Rui is wearing tonight?”
The mention of her name froze Rylan’s feet and caused his heart to fall into his stomach. He stumbled over himself as he approached the girls’ bathroom and leaned against the wall, running a nervous hand through his hair. Staring blankly at the party in front of him, he turned an ear to two girls hovering in front of the bathroom door.
“No, why, what is she wearing?” the other girl asked.
The first girl snorted. “You can only imagine.”
“That bad, huh?”
“It’s pretty slutty, even for her.”
Butterflies released in Rylan’s stomach at the thought of the little outfit they were gossiping about that he was sure looked amazing on Rui. There was a pause in their conversation, and Rylan turned his head to face them, antsy for more information. One girl was just lowering a drink from her lips and the other was mid-sip.
“Ok, you’ve got my curiosity, I need to see how she’s dressed now. Do you know where she is?”
The first girl pointed her hand holding the drink to her left. “Down that way, I think.”
Rylan did not wait for any other clues. He marched with a newly found determination in the direction the girl pointed. Straight in front of him appeared to be nothing but the black wall, and he thought for a moment she had given false directions. As he got closer, he noticed what he originally thought was a solid black wall was actually a dark hallway. With each passing step, his heartbeat and pace quickened.
Nearly out of the ballroom, Rylan collided with a boy on the dance floor. The native boy stumbled backwards from the blow before gathering his composure. He stood six inches shorter than Rylan and rubbed his arm where they ran into each other.
“Hey, watch it,” he said with venom in his tone.
Without looking at him except through peripheral vision, Rylan clapped the boy on the shoulder. “It’s cool, man,” he said in the boy’s general direction.
Rylan stood just steps away from the hallway Rui was last spotted. He broke into a slow jog, anticipation getting the best of him.
The native boy stood with his hand still gripping his arm and he watched Rylan disappear down the hallway. His eyes narrowed, lingering on the last place he saw Rylan before he ran out of view. With a low growl that went unheard over the music, he let his arm go and stormed across the room.
Standing next to the DJ was a man wearing the same white shirt and black tie as everyone else, and if not for the subtle wrinkles around his eyes or single streak of grey hair, he could be mistaken for one of the college-age guests. The drink in his hand sloshed as he moved to the beat of the music.
The native boy stormed to a halt in front of the man. “Mr. Choi,” he said.
The man became aware of the boy in front of him. “Oh, Tai, how are you, my boy?” His words came out in a slur as he teetered between tipsy and drunk.
“Mr. Choi, I need to talk to you,” said Tai, his mouth a stern, flat line.
“Are you having fun?” Mr. Choi continued to move his head to the beat and motioned for Tai to do the same. Tai waved off the suggestion.
“I saw Vacationers at your party.”
“No, its Jia’s birthday party,” Mr. Choi corrected him with drunken intelligence.
“No, Mr. Choi, I saw Rylan Marlowe. Rylan Marlowe is here at the party,” Tai said loud and slow in an attempt to be heard through the music and alcohol.
Mr. Choi draped his arm around Tai’s shoulder, and the drink in his hand splashed, staining Tai’s white shirt. When Mr. Choi leaned on him, he was heavier than Tai expected, and his knees threatened to buckle under the extra weight. “I don’t see you smiling. Have fun, Tai, it’s a party.”
“But, Mr. Choi-”
“Here, have a drink.” Mr. Choi removed his arm from around Tai and pushed the drink he was holding to his chest. Tai grimaced and took it, his fingers sticking to the outside of the glass, the drink nearly empty.
Mr. Choi bobbed his head out of time to the beat and he let out an excited ‘woo’ over the music. Tai stood next to him, his face growing red and his hand shaking, and he said under his breath, “If you were sober, I would not be blown off.”
“Naomi, a word please.” Mrs. Choi called to her maid as she passed by in a group of ladies. Naomi’s ear perked up at the sound of her name and she separated from the others to follow Mrs. Choi around the corner to a more secluded hallway.
“How are we doing on time?” Mrs. Choi asked once they were alone.
“Everything is right on schedule, Mrs. Choi,” Naomi said, her voice radiant with satisfaction.
“Excellent.” Mrs. Choi’s eyes darted side to side from behind her glasses. She lowered her voice when she asked, “Is Jun ready?”
“Yes, Mrs. Choi. He’s in his dressing room now.”
“And did you give him the list?”
“Yes, I delivered it myself. He knows all of Miss Jia’s favorite things.”
“And the other boys?” Mrs. Choi’s lips curled up in a smile.
“They were given their instructions, too. They also send thanks for giving them an opportunity to practice their craft. One boy left a fruit basket for you. I put it in the break room.”
Mrs. Choi’s expression turned sour, but she brushed it off when she clapped her hands together. “Perfect. If they are as good at acting as they claim to be, tonight should go as planned.”
Naomi forced a smile. “Yes, Mrs. Choi.”
Mrs. Choi dropped her hands to her sides. “What’s that, Naomi?”
“What’s what, Mrs. Choi?”
She rolled her eyes. “Why aren’t you excited?”
Naomi started tentatively, “Well, if I may say so…”
“Out with it already.”
Naomi swallowed. “I just wonder if it is the right thing to do, manipulating Jia’s feelings like this.”
“Naomi. Dear.” Mrs. Choi placed a hand on her maid’s shoulder. “We aren’t manipulating Jia’s feelings. We are simply showing her what will take her too long to see if she was left to figure it out on her own.”
“Yes, Mrs. Choi,” said Naomi, and she sealed it with a more sincere grin.
The ladies stepped out of their corner and into a more populated hallway. “Come now, Naomi, we can’t be wasting time. There is too much left to do.”
Naomi nodded and followed her down the hall.
Mrs. Choi stopped abruptly, causing Naomi to trip over herself as she avoided colliding with her boss. “Oh, and Naomi,” said Mrs. Choi, “Do ensure the fruit basket finds the garbage before the night is out.”
A stylist had been running a straightener through Jia’s naturally straight hair for twenty minutes before her mother and Naomi came to her side. At the sight of them, Jia’s muscles tightened and she locked her jaw.
“There’s my pretty girl,” said Mrs. Choi as she approached her.
Jia closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. Her voice was empty when she asked, “What do you want, mother?”
Mrs. Choi exaggerated shock and faked a smile. “Can’t a mother compliment her beautiful daughter without wanting anything in return?”
“Maybe,” Jia focused her eyes on anything other than her mother, and she added under her breath, “but not you.”
Mrs. Choi let the comment slide with nothing other than a look of disgust. “Well this time I don’t want anything. I’ve done something for you.”
Jia’s heart fell to her stomach, and her wide eyes flew to her mother. “What did you do?”
Mrs. Choi laughed. “Don’t look so scared. I’ve arranged a game for you.”
“What kind of game?” Jia raised an eyebrow.
Mrs. Choi’s words came out quickly in excitement. “It’s a dating game. I have found three wonderful boys who are interested in you. You could have a boyfriend by the end of the night.”
“Are you kidding me?” Jia’s face twisted in disgust. “That is insane, I don’t want to do that.”
Mrs. Choi snorted, thoroughly insulted. “Why not?”
“Because,” Jia opened and closed her mouth several times, incoherent noises coming out as her brain searched for the words to say. “You went and planned this whole thing on your own, and you never even asked me if that’s what I wanted. It’s such a big production, and you know I hate that kind of thing. I figured you would insist I make an entrance, and even that is too big of a fuss. This- this is way too much.”
“Well what did you want to do tonight?” Mrs. Choi crossed her arms over her chest.
Jia shrugged. “I thought I could just, you know, mingle with people. Make friends. Dance. Blend in.”
Mrs. Choi’s face was red and trembling when she pointed her finger at Jia. “You should want to stand out at your own birthday party. How dare you want to blend in with the rest of those sardines. And how dare you be so unappreciative of what I’ve planned for you. You ungrateful little girl- you should be thanking me. I wouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble of putting this together if you could just find a boyfriend on your own, but you can’t.”
Jia’s eyes were fixed on her mother, and they started to fill with water.
Mrs. Choi forced air out of her mouth. “Don’t do that, you are going to ruin your makeup.”
As if on cue, one by one tears began to trickle down her cheeks.
“Excuse me.” A lady in a tan vest approached them. “Mrs. Choi?”
“Yes that’s me.”
“Where would you like us to set up?”
Jia looked beyond her and saw a group of people in tan vests just like hers. One man carried a large camera with a channel three sticker on it, and others held various pieces of equipment.
Mrs. Choi perked up. “Oh yes. There is a stage in the main ballroom. Leave through those doors and it will be on your right. Set up wherever you like. If people are in your way, just move them. Thank you. We will be out shortly.”
The lady smiled and she led the rest of the crew through the doors Mrs. Choi suggested.
Jia turned to her mother. “This is going to be on TV, too?”
Mrs. Choi looked down her nose at her daughter. “Is that a problem?”
Jia sighed. Her face showed no emotion, and she said nothing.
A feeling of regret crept over Rylan and he cursed himself for leaving the ballroom. The music that was once so loud he could barely hear himself think was now a soft vibration from somewhere off in the distance. In his blind excitement, he had taken a few turns and he wondered if he could find his way back to the party. He was painstakingly aware of every step he took in the silent hall, and he hoped that someone in his general area would hear him and lead him back to civilization.
He continued onward, looking in all the rooms he passed. Empty. Every last one of them was empty. A sense of foolishness washed over him. He hated himself for doubting Rui and going on this wild goose chase. She was at home, focusing on her studies. She had to be, regardless of what those girls said. They probably had her confused with someone else- they had been drinking, after all.
Rylan fell back into the comfort of believing Rui was doing schoolwork and nowhere near the party, and he turned to leave. He hesitated, wondering if he should go back the way he came or continue forward. In his moment of hesitation, he heard a clunk so faint he thought he imagined hearing it. Just in case it was not his imagination, he followed it. As he crept closer to a wooden door, he heard voices talking, but they were too quiet for him to make out any words. He strained his ear. There were two voices, one male and one female. Another clunk made Rylan jump and his heartbeat raced. The sound of giggles followed.
Rylan’s hand hovered over the doorknob. He let out a long breath as silently as he could manage, not wanting to be found by the couple until an opportune moment. His hand clenched around the knob, and he opened the door just wide enough for him to slip through. The room was black. The couple giggled on, unaware he had joined them in the small space.
Rylan took in a breath. “Excuse me, have you seen-” he felt around the wall for a light switch. When the room was lit, his jaw dropped. “Rui?”
The couple gasped when they noticed Rylan. The girl sat frozen on top of a counter, her legs wrapped around a boy, her hands grasping tightly to his shirt. Her dark hair was messy from fooling around, and she had the face Rylan had been searching for all night. The boy was stiff where he stood, turned to face Rylan behind him. A brown sack had been pushed off his face, covering his hair, and he had lipstick stains around his mouth. His arm covered her mostly bare chest.
“What are you doing here?” Rui asked in an accusatory tone.
The boy turned to face her. “Do you know this guy, babe?”
Rylan was frozen where he stood, his hand still on the light switch. His eyes were fixed on the couple, and while he absorbed what he was seeing, he forgot to breathe.
“Yeah, I do.” She pushed the boy away and hopped off the counter. She fixed the straps of her dress and pulled the hem down over her butt. “Unfortunately.”
Rylan’s eyebrows met in the middle of his face and he opened his mouth to talk, but a few heavy breaths came out before any words could. “Rui, what’s going on?”
“What does it look like?” Her words came out quick and defensive and she crossed her arms over her chest.
Rylan blinked rapidly, but no tears surfaced. “But… I thought you were taking time to focus on school.”
Rui rolled her eyes. “You believed that? Wow, you really are stupid.”
Rylan felt the room close in on him as the edges of his sight went dark. He focused on breathing and not passing out, and no energy was left for finding the right response.
Anger boiled up in Rui’s face. Her hands started shaking and she grabbed the brown sack from the boy’s head. “You are so annoying.” She marched up to Rylan. His heart beat faster the closer she came. A small part of him hoped she meant that the other boy was annoying, but he knew that wasn’t true.
Rui pulled the door open and she covered Rylan’s head with the sack. “Leave me alone.” She pushed him, and despite being bigger than her, he stumbled backwards at her touch.
Rylan heard the door slam shut. His back hit the wall on the other side of the hall. He stared blankly at the floor and did nothing to fight the image of Rui and that random guy replaying in his mind.
“There you are.” Heels clicked toward him and a lady grabbed his arm, pulling him to walk with her. “You need to get dressed. You go on in five.”
Confused but lacking the energy to question what she meant, Rylan followed along at her side.