“That is absolutely gorgeous.”
Alex smiled as she let Riley hold her arm, the younger girl examining the leather bracelet around her wrist. “I know. I haven’t taken it off since she gave it to me.”
“Seriously, Alex, I am super-jealous.” Riley rubber her thumb over the red-and-grey stone that had been carved into a donut shape, polished smooth, and then tied to the bracelet with leather cord. “What kind of rock is this? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“African Bloodstone.” Alex took her arm back. “I guess it’s supposed to replace negative vibes with positive ones.”
“Well, I’m positive that I’m jealous of your birthday present.” Riley took another sip of her beer. “I might need to get one of those.”
“And I might need to go work for SubTerra and swing my own pickaxe.” Alex looked up and down Riley’s arms. The short sleeves she was wearing showed off muscles that were far leaner and more toned than they had been last time Alex had seen them. “You look like you’ve been hitting the gym.”
“I feel like I did yesterday.” Riley rotated a shoulder. “Still a little sore.”
“But it’s getting easier?”
“Some. I can keep up with the rest of the crew, or at least avoid falling too far behind.” She sighed. “Please tell me you’re ready to hire me again.”
Alex shook her head, pulling at the nose of her mask to adjust it on her face. “Not yet. We’re doing better, but not to the point that we’re making enough to justify another waitress.”
“How about a bouncer?” Riley curled an arm, pretending to flex. “I bet I could kick some ass now.”
“If we needed one, I’d probably go find Duckie first.”
“Oh. Yea, I heard he knows how to throw down.” Riley paused. “How’s your head, by the way?”
“It’s fine.” Alex waved a hand. “No lasting damage.”
“Pike said the DA is offering a plea deal. Giving him a chance to avoid a really bad sentence.” Alex shrugged. “Apparently using the word ‘chink’ when you assault an Asian is enough to have you charged with a hate crime. Who knew?”
“Everyone with common sense,” Riley answered dryly. “He’s still going to jail though, right?”
“Pike said so. But if he accepts the plea, it’ll be months instead of years.”
Riley nodded. “I’d say that he’d be an idiot not to take it, but from what I’ve heard, he’s an idiot regardless.”
The door to the bar opened. They turned to see Steph walk in, the brunette smiling as soon as she saw Riley. “Fucking finally!”
“I know!” Riley let herself get swept up, as she returned the hug. “The first fucking day off I’ve had where I didn’t want to sleep it away.”
“No shit. Jessie’s here way more than you at this point.”
Riley rolled her eyes as she sat back down. “Of course she is. The suits have it easy. I actually have to work for a living.”
Alex tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “Did you just call her a suit?”
“Everyone who works in the trailers all day is a suit.”
“You’re sounding a lot like a roughneck there, Lethe.”
“Well, you know what they say about laying down with dogs and all.” Riley shrugged. “I’m still looking forward to drinking with everyone tonight. Even if I do have to be back at the mine by eight tomorrow morning.”
“Eh, there’s nothing wrong with doing physical labor while you’re a little hungover.” Steph took a stool, leaving one between her and Riley. “The booze sweats out easy enough. Can I get a burger and duck fries, babe?”
“Yes you may.” Alex stepped over to the register. “You want one too, Riley?”
“And a fresh beer?”
Riley glanced down at her mostly empty glass. “Why not? It’s my day off.”
Alex busied herself fixing the drink, setting it down on the bar just as the door opened again. She looked up to see Jessie walk inside.
The aura hit her like a sack of bricks. Purple flashed from Jessie as the door closed behind her, and she looked around the bar quickly. Alex could see the nervousness and worry on the blonde’s face.
“Jessie?” Alex stood upright. “Are you okay?”
“… yea,” she said quietly. “Is, uh… is Ryan here?”
“No. He hasn’t come in yet.”
“Have you seen him?”
“Not today. What’s wrong?”
“I really, really need to see him.” Jessie looked at her with uncertain eyes. “Do you know where he is?”
Steph frowned as she turned her bar stool around. “Shouldn’t you know? Wasn’t he there when you woke up this morning?”
“I’ve been in Denver for the past three days.”
“You were? Why?”
“Getting trained on new engineering software. I just drove back. My bag is still in the car.” She swallowed, clutching at her elbows as she blew a shaky breath from her nose. “Has Ryan talked to you guys? About anything?”
“Okay, what’s wrong?” Alex pressed. “You look like you’re about to faint. What’s happening?”
“I…” She paused, sniffling. “I really need to talk to Ryan. And I’ve been trying to call him, but he wasn’t answering his phone this morning, and I had shit for reception driving back, and now he’s not answering again, and…”
Her breathing quickened. Steph and Riley both stood up as she took fast steps toward the bar, grabbing the counter to keep herself steady.
“… I fucking… fuck, I really need to talk to him, I have to know what he’s…” she choked, grabbing the collar of her shirt.
“Okay, hey, HEY,” Riley said as she grabbed Jessie’s other arm, guiding her into a bar stool. “Just calm down, Jessie, take a deep breath and tell us what’s wrong. What happened? Why are you freaking out?”
Alex stepped back, pulling her phone from her pocket, opening her contacts list, and finding Ryan’s number. She hit the button and put the phone to her ear quickly, waiting for the call to connect.
“Ryan, where are you?”
“I’m, uh, at the bank. Why?”
“You need to get down here.” Alex looked over her shoulder, watching Steph and Riley speak soothing words as Jessie gripped the bar with white knuckles. “You need to get down here right now.”
“What’s going on?”
“Jessie’s here looking for you, I think she’s in the middle of a panic attack, and you’re apparently not answering your damn phone.”
“Oh.” She heard him take a breath. “Oh, shit, I didn’t think she’d be back yet, and there’s no reception in… okay, look, I just got done. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Great. You want to tell me why the fuck she’s-”
Too late. The call disconnected halfway through her sentence.
“Fucker,” she muttered as she put the phone away, then turned and walked back to the others. “Can someone explain what the hell’s going-”
The silence that followed Jessie’s statement was deafening, as the other three girls stared at her in shock.
“… you’re fucking WHAT??” Riley finally asked.
“Oh, shit.” Jessie covered her face with her hands. “Oh, God, I cannot believe this is happening.”
“Are you sure??” Steph looked at her with wide eyes. “Like, a hundred percent?”
“I’m more than a month late. I didn’t realize it until I was out of town.” She snorted deeply, wiping her eyes. “I got a bunch of tests from a pharmacy, from different brands, and all of them were positive.”
Alex leaned closer. “Does Ryan know?”
“I told him last night.” Jessie swallowed again. “I think he was freaking out worse than I was.”
“What did he say?”
“That he didn’t know what to say. And needed to go for a walk.” She started hyperventilating again. “I didn’t want to bother him last night, but I tried calling him this morning, and it went right to voicemail. I thought he blocked me.”
“He didn’t block me. I just called him, and he said he’s on his way,” Alex assured her.
Jessie looked at her desperately. “Did he say anything?”
“Nothing I could understand.”
“Oh, shit.” Her gaze lost focus, as she stared at the far wall. “I don’t… what am I even supposed to…”
“Hey.” Riley grabbed the blonde’s shoulder. “Just take a breath, Jessie. Ryan’s not going to-”
“I can’t. I can’t, I just…” Jessie looked up at Alex with desperate eyes. “I need a drink. I need a drink really, really badly.”
Alex blinked at her. “Um… no.”
“What do you… oh, fuck.” Jessie dropped her head back into her hands. “I’m not ready to be a mom. I don’t even know how to be a mom.”
“Jessie, it’s gonna be-”
“Oh, God, my mother.” Jessie jerked her head back up. “She’s going to kill me.”
Steph snorted. “She’s not going to kill you.”
“She’s going to… oh, man, she’s going to kill Ryan, too. Her and my dad will fly down here just to kill the both of us.”
“No, they’re not. Reel it back in.”
“Fuck. I cannot believe after all of my hard work, I’m going to die at the hands of my mother.” Jessie looked at the others with a wild expression. “There were twenty-one people in my high school class, you know. Nine of them were girls. Two of them were already pregnant.”
Riley raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Two of them were pregnant. Three others already had plans to marry their high school sweethearts and become good little housewives while their husbands worked the oil fields.” She let out another long breath. “Only three of us actually went to college. One dropped out after her first semester to go back to mooching off her parents while she hunted for a boyfriend. The other got a worthless bachelor’s degree that she doesn’t use. I’m the only girl in my class that did well, and now I’m about to be an unwed mother.”
Alex turned and retrieved a bottle of water, unscrewing the cap and planting it in front of Jessie. “Drink this. All of it.”
She obeyed, lifting the bottle and chugging. Alex watched her drink the whole thing in thirty seconds. The purple aura the surrounded her didn’t dissipate.
“Everything is going to be fine,” she assured Jessie as the blonde lowered the empty bottle. “Ryan is on his way. Please stop panicking and thinking up the worst-case scenarios.”
“He hasn’t answered my calls.” Jessie looked at Alex desperately. “He’s going to leave me, isn’t he?”
“No he is not. Ryan is a lot of things, but a deadbeat isn’t one of them,” Steph stressed as she rubbed Jessie’s shoulder. “Besides, you know he loves you. He’s definitely not going to leave just because he knocked you up.”
“Then why hasn’t he been answering my calls?”
“I promise that I will beat the reason out of him when he gets here. But I’m sure it’s a good one.”
“Okay, everyone, let’s take a few breaths,” Alex interrupted as she planted her hands on the bar. “Ryan said he was on his way. Let’s calm down, maybe get some food in everyone, and then we can-”
The door was shoved open, as Ryan ran inside. He immediately locked eyes with Jessie as everyone turned to face him. “There you are,” he exclaimed breathlessly. “Babe, I need to-”
Steph was already on her feet. Ryan was still mid-sentence when she lashed out with a punch, hitting him square in the chest.
“What the FUCK is wrong with you?!” the brunette demanded.
“What the hell did I-”
Steph punched him again, landing the blow on his shoulder. “You fucking hung up on your girlfriend after she tells you she’s pregnant?!” she yelled as she threw another punch, hitting the arm Ryan brought up to defend himself. “And then you start ducking her calls?! Are you fucking INSANE?!”
Ryan covered his head with both arms as Steph landed a multitude of blows, the brunette swinging wildly. “Ow! Ow! Fucking- ow! Stop hitting me!”
“The only reason I’m not going to KILL you is so you can pay child support, you responsibility-dodging asshole!”
He finally reached back and grabbed a chair, swinging it up in front of him and using it to keep Steph at arm’s length. “I’m not dodging anything! And I haven’t been ducking her calls!”
“Then why the hell aren’t you answering your phone?!”
“It didn’t sit right on the charger last night! The battery was dead when I woke up! And I had to run out, so I only got a chance to charge it in my truck!” He fished his phone from a pocket, turning it so Steph could see the screen. “It’s still only on five percent!”
“She’s been trying to call you all morning!”
“I’ve been trying to call HER all morning! None of my calls went through!”
They both looked at Jessie, who was watching with wide eyes. The blonde blinked after a few seconds. “I started driving back after I woke up,” she confirmed. “I’ve been on the road ever since.”
Ryan sighed. “… and there’s barely any reception on that highway, outside of a few towns. Guess that explains that. But I thought you weren’t coming back until this afternoon?”
“I… I know you said you needed time to think,” Jessie said quietly. “But I tried to call you, and when you didn’t answer, I got worried. I thought you were mad or something.”
He dropped the chair on the ground, stepping over to the bar and cradling her head and face in both hands. “I am not mad,” he stated. “Or upset.”
“You’re not freaking out anymore?”
“Oh, no, I still am. I’ve been freaking out all morning,” he allowed. “I mean, holy shit, you’re pregnant. Of all the thought I gave to our future, kids were much further down the line than this. But I promise, I am not going anywhere.”
Jessie exhaled, closing her eyes as she gripped Ryan’s arms like a life preserver. “You have no idea how badly I wanted to hear you say that,” she whispered.
“Talking about shit timing to play a game of telephone tag,” Riley added.
“Yea, no kidding,” Ryan agreed before he looked back at Jessie. “I didn’t mean to dodge your calls. I love you, and I promise, I am not leaving.”
The others watched Jessie slowly calm her breathing, sniffling occasionally as Ryan wrapped her up in a hug. Alex frowned after a few seconds. “What about when she called after she got back into town?”
Ryan glanced at her. “Like I said, I was at the bank. There’s no reception in their vault.”
“Why were you in their vault?”
“Because that’s where they keep their safety deposit boxes.”
“What did you need out of your safety deposit box?”
Ryan hesitated, glancing around. Both Riley and Steph were looking at him expectantly. Jessie, after a few seconds of him not answering, looked up as well.
He sighed after a moment, letting go of Jessie with one hand and reaching into his jacket pocket. “I was gonna do this when we were somewhere private,” he lamented. “But I guess we’re past that, so might as well do it now.”
“Do what?” Jessie asked, confused. “What are you-”
He produced a small box from his pocket, using a thumb to flip it open. Revealing a diamond ring with a gold band.
Jessie’s eyes got huge as she clapped both hands to her mouth. It felt like all the oxygen was sucked out of the room as Alex froze, unable to look away. Riley was equally shocked as she stared from her seat.
“Oh, fuck,” Steph breathed.
“Yea.” Ryan inhaled slowly. “Look, Jessie, I love you. Enough that I figured I’d do this at some point anyway, because I want you for the rest of my life. And you’re going to have our baby, so we’re about to be linked forever regardless.” He held up the box. “Will you marry me so we can make it official?”
Jessie didn’t move for several seconds. It felt like time slowed to a crawl as everyone watched the blonde, waiting for her response
She finally let out a shaky breath. “Holy shit, my parents really are going to kill the both of us,” she whispered.
Ryan smirked. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes.” She started nodding fiercely. “Oh my God, yes!”
He immediately grabbed her, wrapping her up in a tight hug as she started crying. Alex and Riley immediately clasped their hands to their chests, unable to speak.
Steph finally cleared her throat after a few moments. “Well, that was a fuckin’ roller coaster,” she lamented as she glanced at Alex. “Hope you’ve got champagne in the back, otherwise this is gonna be a really lame celebration.”
“I am so damn angry at all of you.”
Riley looked at Charlotte with a furrowed brow. “What did I do?”
“Our friend is a few doors down freaking out, and nobody thought to call me?!” Charlotte glared between her, Alex, and Steph as she crossed her arms. “The only one of us who’s actually been through a pregnancy before?!”
“Stuff was moving really fast,” Alex said defensively. “I don’t think the whole thing took more than ten minutes.”
“Still would have been nice to be here!”
“You’re here now.” Steph picked up the half-empty champagne bottle by the neck and started filling a new glass. “You want free booze or not?”
“… yea, I do.” Charlotte sighed as Steph passed her the drink. “How long have they been out there now?”
“About twenty minutes.” Alex looked at the back door. “Give them time. Explaining to your future in-laws that you knocked up their daughter and plan to marry her without warning isn’t going to be a short conversation.”
As if on cue, the door opened. Ryan followed Jessie back inside, the two of them looking a little more worn out that they had been before.
“Speak of the devil,” Steph remarked. “How’d that go?”
“Well, they’re not gonna kill me, since I’m carrying their next grandchild and all.” Jessie reached around Ryan, taking ahold of his waist. “My father did have some strong words for Ryan, though.”
“He’s apparently a big believer in asking permission before you propose to someone’s kid,” Ryan added. “So, yea. Oops.”
Steph snorted. “Did you tell him it’s a bad year for expectations to be high?”
“I’ve decided it’s best not to further aggravate my future in-laws. Hey, Charlotte.”
“Guys.” She tilted her cup. “Mazel Tov.”
“How are you feeling?” Riley asked Jessie. “You look calmer.”
“I feel calmer.” She exhaled. “Though that may be just because the last twenty-four hours haven’t fully hit me yet. Like, holy shit, I’m having a baby.”
Charlotte hummed. “How far along are you?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Just that I’m a month or so late. Why?”
“You should get an ultrasound and figure that out. And start prepping for morning sickness.”
“Aw, crap.” Jessie’s face fell. “I forgot that was a thing.”
Charlotte smirked. “Buckle up, honey, it gets worse when the hemorrhoids kick in.”
“… the what?”
“Okay.” Riley put a hand on Charlotte’s arm. “Maybe we don’t have to give her all the gross pregnancy details until after she’s had a few days.”
“Yea, let’s just enjoy the moment.” Alex picked up two glasses that she’d set aside on the bar, holding them out. “Here you guys go.”
They each took one, Ryan drinking as Jessie looked at hers with a disappointed expression. “… this is water.”
“Well, you can consider yourself cut off for the next eight months or so.”
“Yea, all right.” She drank it morosely. “Long time to go without booze.”
“Longer,” Charlotte added. “Can’t drink while breastfeeding either.”
The blonde’s face fell. “… fuck.”