Actions

Work Header

QuikGrove University

Chapter Text

Beth knows this is a terrible idea.

She knows it because it was Annie’s idea, and all of Annie’s ideas are terrible.

She knows it, because Ruby confirmed it with the roll of her eyes earlier when Beth looked to her.

And yet, here they are, at the third bar from Annie’s self made “get Beth banged bar hopping” list, and after just as many drinks.

Annie insists that they have at least one drink at each bar, and Beth thinks the only banging that’s going to happen is her head off this bar top if she has to keep up with this all night.

---

Earlier in the day, Beth had barely slammed the door to her apartment shut, when she was greeted by her little sister. She had picked the absolute worst timing to pay a surprise visit.

As was habit.

Beth had just flung her engagement ring in the face of her fiancé (EX fiancé),Dean, after finding him with a dorm RA.

Gross.

She was beyond pissed off, more annoyed than anything that he couldn’t even have the decency to at least look outside the dorms to cheat(lazy…and predictable), and all she wanted to do was go into her bedroom and scream into her pillow.

Now she had a sister to deal with. Annie never showed up unless something was wrong- which was always.

Beth had plastered on a smile, ignoring Annie’s question of what was wrong, and turning it back on her.

“Why does something always have to be wrong?” Annie shoots back with a roll of her eyes, but she also quickly looks away and turns her back on Beth, moving down the hall toward Beths bedroom.

Maybe Beth would be able to scream into that pillow after all, she thought as she followed her sister.

A strangled noise had erupted out of Beths throat as soon as she entered her room though and taken stock of the mess Annie had apparently made in the short amount of time she had been there, unattended.

“Jesus christ Annie, what the hell?” Beth asked, moving furiously around the room, picking things up as she went.

“Nooo, leave it! I’ll pick it up later, I promise! Sit and tell me what has you slamming doors.” Annie said, plopping herself down at Beths desk.

Beth knew this was just a distraction from Beths own earlier inquiry, but she decided to go along with it. For now.

“I..broke up with Dean” she said, pushing aside a pile of clothes on her bed so she could sit down. Her fingers itched to start cleaning again, a way of distraction.

“Oh ho ho, no shit? Well it looks like my timing couldn’t have been better! Now we have to go out and celebrate!” Annie exclaimed giddily, practically clapping her hands in delight.

“First of all, language. Second of all, this isn’t something to really celebrate. I just ended a two year engagement and an even longer relationship.” Beth glared at her sister.

“Exactly,” Annie said, “You’ve been chained down to Deansie for like, a decade, it’s time to celebrate your freedom!”

“Six years is not a decade Annie” Beth pointed out dryly, then continued, “And I wasn’t ‘chained down’. Dean and I were good together.” She adds the last part a little hesitantly, because now that she’s thinking about it, she’s not so sure. Had they been good together? Had she been chained down? She can’t help but think, now that she’s had some time to calm down, that her emotions are…not as expected. She’s not sad, not really, at least not yet. And now that she’s thinking about it, she’s not really angry either. Annoyed yes, but was there anything else there? Relief maybe?

Beth shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts and refocus on her sister.

“You were awful together,” Annie says, “He was awful and he sucked all the fun out of your high school years, and now you get to do your college years without him. I’d say that’s a win.”

“Annie,” Beth started, warning in her voice, ”I know you’ve never liked Dean, but he wasn’t awful. At least not back then anyway. Now, on the other hand…well I guess you could categorize cheating as awful.”

What?!”, Annie screeched, sitting up straight with indignation, “He cheated on you?! That mother fu-“

“Annie!” Beth stood up and smacked her hand over Annie’s mouth, effectively cutting her off. Annie glared at her and pushed her hand away. She opened her mouth again, to say god knows what, when they were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.

“Hello?” Ruby’s voice drifted out from the front of the apartment.

“Back here.” Beth replied turning back to Annie. “Not another word.” She warned.

Ruby had barely stepped into view in the hallway and before she could even greet Annie—

“Dean cheated on Beth!” Annie sing songed, turning her nose up at her sister when she whipped around to fix her with a death stare, “and she dumped his ass.”

What?!” Ruby exclaimed, eyes wide, frozen in her tracks.

“My words exactly.” Annie said, looking smugly at Beth.

“I was going to tell you later, when we were alone.” Beth gritted out, focusing on Ruby rather than wanting to smack her little sister.

“Sooo,” Annie continued, ignoring Beth,”I think we should go bar hopping to soothe her 'heart break’.” putting an extra flair of drama in her air quotes on 'heart break'.

Ruby just stared back and forth at the girls, mouth slightly open, obviously still trying to figure out what was going on. Finally she broke, making her way into Beth’s room, “That’s.. a lot of information to process.”

“Yeah, I haven’t had a lot of time to process it myself. It literally just happened, and when I got back to our apartment, Annie was here.” Beth finished with a tight smile and raised eyebrows at Ruby. Ruby was used to Annie’s random and frequent drop ins by now. They had all grown up together and now Ruby and Beth lived together, in their own apartment on campus.

“I see.” Ruby said, giving her friend a sympathetic hand squeeze as they all settled back down, Annie slouched back at Beth’s desk and Beth and Ruby on Beth’s bed. She knew better than to try to get into everything in front of Annie, Beth knew they’d be continuing this conversation later.

“So anyway, I figure we can get dressed up stupid hot and hit the town!” Annie said, again, smiling widely at them both.

Beth let out a deep sigh, knowing it was futile to argue with her sister at this point. Annie hated Dean, had hated him from the beginning, but she also loved any excuse to go out and have a few shots, so this was shaping up to be Annie's best night ever.

“Annie, we’re not even legal drinking age, you especially.” Beth pointed out, shooting her last shot at getting out of this.

“Puh-lease, when has that ever stopped us before? Hellooo, fake IDs?” Annie countered, looking pretty pleased with herself.

And she was right. Beth and Ruby were only a year from the legal drinking age, but Annie was only 18. They all had fake IDs though, if only because Annie had insisted on them as soon as the older girls had started college. Annie herself was taking a year off before she started, but she still insisted on “getting a head start on the social aspect” of college life. Regardless, living in a college town came with some pretty lax security at the local bars anyway.

And honestly, Beth was kinda warming to the idea of spending the night out with her favorite girls, drinking and forgetting about how her love life was falling apart. Even so, she looked to Ruby, her eyes imploring her best friend. Ruby looked back, her own eyes conveying just how bad of an idea she thought this was.

But then, Ruby gave a slight shake of her head, huffed out a little laugh, and turned to Annie.

“Ok, party animal, what’s the plan?”

Annie’s squeal of delight could probably be heard throughout the building.

---

And so Annie had spent the better part of two hours arguing with Ruby about what Beth would wear and how to do her makeup and hair, both shooting Beth down when she tried to interrupt with her own ideas.

They compromised on keeping her long fiery hair down in its natural soft waves(with a bit of product)and a neutral smokey eye and red lip. The makeup was out of her comfort zone, way more than she’d normally wear, but Annie had done an amazing job putting it on, so she didn’t argue.

The outfit on the other hand…

“Annie, this is not an appropriate bar outfit.” Beth protested, looking at her reflection in her full length mirror.

“What are you talking about? It’s the perfect bar outfit. You need to get out more.” Annie scoffed, dismissing her concerns with a wave of her hand. “You look hot. Like, I’d totally bang you if you weren’t my sister.”

“That’s…really disturbing.” Beth said, wrinkling her nose. Ruby laughed.

“You do look really good Beth,” Ruby said, reassuring her friend. She could tell Beth was getting nervous.

Annie had wanted to put Beth in an obscene outfit, lots of leg, lots of boob, but Ruby had talked her down. They had settled on a little black dress that was form fitting and hit at the knees, with a square neckline that gave just a hint of Beth’s very generous assets. They paired it with red pumps that matched her lipstick.

“I feel like this is a little…much.” Beth tried again, looking at herself from all angles.

“That’s the point.” Annie said, exasperation apparent in her voice,”This is a bar hopping extravaganza, which will hopefully end in an all night bang-a-thon for you. You have to look banging.”

“It’s disturbing how much you care about my sex life.” Beth replied dryly.

Ruby was just sitting back and watching the show. When you had these sisters in a room together, on opposing sides, it was pretty much all you could do.

“Look, you’ve been with boring ass Deansie all your life, you are too good and too pure to have to settle for bad dick.”

“Annie!”

“All I’m saying is, tonight is the start of a new life. Let’s start it off right.”

---

And so they were at their third bar, on their way to their third drink, and Beth was over it. Ruby and Annie had went to secure a table while Beth ordered their drinks.

This bar was the busiest they’d been in, and Beth had a look around while she waited for the bartender. She caught the eye of a guy a few seats down from her and smiled shyly before looking away, sensing the bartender approaching.

“Hi, can I get 3-“ her voice trailed off, her throat suddenly dry as she finally locked eyes on the guy in front of her.

He was probably the hottest guy she had laid eyes on all night- all tall, dark, and sharp angles. He smirked at her as she let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding, her eyes traveling from his face down to the bird tattoo adorning his neck, and then further over the rest of his body. He was wearing a simple black t-shirt and dark jeans and he wore them well.

Beth blushed at the sudden barrage of inappropriate thoughts she was having, her body reacting to him in a way she wished it wouldn’t.

What the hell was wrong with her?

She cleared her throat and tried not to fidget as he simply stared back at her, obviously enjoying her discomfort, waiting her out.

“I’m sorry, can I have 3-“She tried again, but this time she was suddenly interrupted by Annie knocking into her shoulder.

“What is taking so long…” Annie started, before noticing the guy behind the bar, trailing off just as Beth had, openly appraising him. Beth rolled her eyes.

“Can I have 3 margaritas” She finally got out. The guys eyes shifted back to Beth, and she tried not to squirm at their intensity.

“Are you sure you’re old enough to be drinking?” he asked, leaning down against the counter, clearly amused by the two of them.

“We got in here didn’t we? Obviously we are old enough.” Annie shot back, then unable(or unwilling) to hide her curiosity, added ”How old are you?”

The guy behind the counter let out a chuckle at Annie’s sudden inquiry, his eyes never leaving Beth.

“I know for sure she’s not legal,” he finally said, gesturing to Annie, ”but you…you I wonder about…” his dark eyes bore into Beth’s as he cocked his head to the side, his voice low and gravely.

“Oh, she is definitely legal enough for all the things.” Annie interjected, her voice full of inappropriate innuendo.

Annie!” Beth hissed, as the guy full out laughed, and became 100 times more attractive. Of course.

“What?! Look- what’s your name?” Annie asked, squinting at him.

“Rio.”

“Look, Rio, my sister here just freed herself of some dead weight, and we’re looking to celebrate. In. Every. Aspect. You feel me?”

Beth wanted the floor to swallow her up right then and there. Annie had always had a big mouth(much too crude for her age)but when it came to Beth especially, she literally had no filter.

Before Rio could respond, Beth cleared her throat(again, jesus she needed a drink). “Just the 3 margaritas if you could, please” she managed to finally get out.

Rio smiled and nodded, turning to get their drinks ready.

Beth whipped around to Annie as soon as his back was turned(trying not to bite her lip as she noticed the black bars tattooed across the back of his arms)and smacked her sister’s shoulder.

What. Is. Wrong. With. You.?” She hissed.

Bang-A-Thon. Remember?” Annie hissed back.

“You are so rude and embarrassing.”

“Yes, true. Also true: you are hot and newly single. Get this guys number!”

“I’m not picking up some random bartender tonight.” Beth shot back, exasperated.

“Why not?” Rio asked, having picked that exact moment to make his way back around to them.

“Yeah, Beth, why not?” Annie repeated, eyebrows raised, grin on her face.

“Thank you for the drinks,” Beth said instead of answering, feeling her face heat up, that heat moving down to her chest quickly. She tried not to make eye contact as she slid money over to him and shoved two of the drinks Annie’s way. “Keep the change!”

Beth grabbed her drink and practically ran back to the table Ruby was waiting at, feeling Rio’s eyes on her the whole way.

Oh my god” Beth groaned, collapsing onto a stool, ”Annie is the worst.”

“Yeah, what was happening over there? That guy definitely seemed interested.”Ruby asked, eyes still over at the bar. Beth resisted the urge to look as Annie finally caught back up to the table.

“Beth, come on, what was that? I know you’ve never flirted like, a day in your life, but that was embarrassing.” Annie said, settling into her seat and taking a huge drink out of her glass as she passed Ruby hers.

Beth just stared at Annie, her mouth hanging open, unable to even form words.

“Annie, what did you do to your sister?” Ruby asked, her voice filled with laughter.

“I tried to get her to hook up with that hot ass bartender and she blew us both off.” Annie said with an eye roll, like Beth was the one who was being ridiculous.

Beth was still speechless.

“I can not even believe-“ she started, but stopped when she noticed Annie’s and Ruby’s eyes widening as they looked past her, towards the bar.

She knew what was happening before she even felt his presence, squeezed her eyes shut and let out a silent groan when she heard him behind her.

“So, you wanna tell me more about this bang-a-thon your sister keeps going on about?” his raspy voice sending shivers down her spine.

Chapter Text

Beth took a deep breath and tried to think back to a time where Annie wasn’t constantly stomping through her life, causing confusion and destruction along the way, like Godzilla through a metropolitan city.

There wasn’t one.

Beth reluctantly shifts in her seat to face Rio, who was now standing by her side.

“I really really don’t.” She replied, never wanting to hear the word ‘bang’ again in her life.

Rio chuckled, looking her over in a way that made her flush and squirm a little in her seat. His eyes seemed to have X-ray vision, taking in every curve of her body before returning to her face, stopping briefly at her lips.

“The guy over at the bar,“ He gestured back towards the bar area, “paid for your drinks. I tried to tell you but you seemed like you were in a hurry to get back to your table.” He smirked as he slid her money back across the table to her.

Beth peeked over his shoulder toward the bar, and sure enough, the guy she had smiled at earlier raised his drink to her in acknowledgement. She waved quickly in response, before turning her attention back to Rio, embarrassed.

“Oh, well, sorry about that-“ she opened her clutch, tossing the money inside, and suddenly Rios hand was there, snatching the clutch out of hers, smoothly reaching in and pulling her campus ID and her fake ID out and then handing it back.

Well, shit.

“What are you doing?” she snapped, trying to grab the IDs, and failing, as Rio held them just out of her reach.

“So, Ms.,” He paused as he squinted at her campus ID, “Elizabeth Marks, this info looks a lil different than your other ID.”

Beth rolled her eyes and snatched her cards back, and he let her, that smirk on his face again and she suddenly felt like kicking him.

“So you are super smart and correctly deduced that I am in fact using a fake ID. Do you want a medal or something? Don’t you have work to do?”

Rio laughed, obviously amused by her annoyance, which just annoyed her even more.

“Nah, perks of being the boss, I can come and go as I please.”

“The Boss?” Annie interjected, and they both turned to her, as if just remembering they were surrounded by other people.

“Yeah, family business. I help out at the bar sometimes, but mostly I run shit behind the scenes.”

“So, you like, know people here then? Like, the guys that come and go? For instance that guy that bought us drinks, is he a regular?” Annie asked, a curious look on her face.

“Yeah, he comes in and buys drinks all the time. Lot of cash to burn trying to impress the ladies.” Rio scoffs, like the way this guy picks up women personally offends him.

“Huh, so you’re like, a College Bro professional. You could totally help us narrow down this ones one night stand.” Annie says, gesturing to Beth, and Beth seriously considers smacking her again. “I mean, unless you want that honor.”

“ANNIE I SWEAR TO GOD-“

Rio and Ruby both laugh, and Beth glares at her friend for her betrayal. Ruby mouths sorry, quickly trying to hide her smile.

Annie ignores her, because of course, and points to another guy at the bar.

This goes on for longer than Beth thinks is necessary, Annie silently pointing out random guys, Rio rapidly listing off all their terrible qualities.

Beth has given up on stopping their little game, sipping on her drink instead and feeling it slowly loosening her up. Looks like third drink is the charm.

“Stan says he’s almost here.” Ruby tells Beth, after checking her phone.

“Yes! The more people to distract Annie, the better.” Beth laughs, only half serious. She loves her sister, knows Annie loves her too, but being in her presence can be EXHAUSTING sometimes. Annie is a ball of chaotic energy, and Beth finds herself falling back into responsible adult mode when she’s around. SOMEONE has to be.

“So,” Rubys voice is low as she leans into Beth, “This guy is pretty intense. The way he looks at you…” Ruby lets out a low whistle.

Beth glances at Rio out of the corner of her eye and sees him openly staring at her again, as Annie chatters on about god knows what, and she shifts in her seat.

“Yeah, I don’t know why he keeps doing that, I don’t think I’m really his type…”

“Girl, you are everyone’s type. You’ve just been out of the game for too long to notice.” Ruby grins at Beth, and Beth grins back.

“Hey party people!” Stans voice cuts through the chatter, Beth and Ruby both looking up and watching him approach the table.

He greets the girls, giving Ruby a quick kiss and an arm rub, before turning to Rio.

They both size each other up before Stan sticks his hand out and, after a beat, Rio takes it and they do a quick shake before letting go.

“What’s up man, I’m Stan, Rubys fiancé.” Stan introduces himself, gesturing to Ruby when he says her name.

“This is Rio,” Annie says before Rio can even open his mouth, “He’s helping us weed out all the douche canoes for Beth…which there seem to be many of at this bar.” Annies eyebrows furrow as she looks at Rio with suspicion and Rio stares back, a picture of pure innocence. Beth laughs. Stan looks confused.

“For Beth…?” He looks to Ruby and Ruby shakes her head, a silent communication that they will discuss the topic later. Stan raises his eyebrows, but lets it go, announcing his plan to grab a drink.

“We’ll go with you,” Annie says, tugging on Rubys arm, moving to follow Stan to the bar.

Ruby shoots a look to Beth, who just rolls her eyes and gives her a nod.

“Ok, you two, have fuuun.” Annie sings, grinning as she ushers the other two away.

Beth looks to Rio, who slides onto the stool Ruby just vacated, the one that is very VERY close to her own.

“So,” he starts, leaning in close, “Elizabeth…”

The way he says her name—it sounds obscene, like pure sex. A shiver travels down her spine, and he notices. There’s that smirk again.

Beth glares at him, resisting the urge to lean back, hates how he keeps setting her body off while he sits there calm and collected.

“Look I appreciate you humoring my sister, but you don’t have to stay here...with us, I mean if you have somewhere to be…” Beth trails off, knows she’s starting to trip over her words, wishes he would just let her know what he wants. He’s setting her nerves on fire.

Rio shrugs his shoulders and licks his lips, looking at her through hooded eyes, “I’m good. Your sister’s a trip for sure. Whats her deal with getting you laid?” he laughs a little as he asks, noting her blush again. It feels like its permanent now, feels like it hasn’t left her face since she set eyes on him.

“I-“ she pauses, thinks about lying, thinks about changing the subject, but he looks curious, really interested even, not like he’s humoring her like she accused him of doing with Annie, even though he obviously finds them amusing.

“I broke up with my fiancé,” she blurts out, faster than she intended, so she tries to slow her words down at the next part, “I caught him with one of the dorm RA’s.”

Beth had averted her eyes as she made her confession, but braved a quick look at him now. He looks equally pissed off and surprised.

“He cheated? On you? What a dumbass.” He scoffs at how ridiculous he seems to find the whole thing.

Beth smiles, grateful at his words, a warm feeling spreading through her chest.

“Thanks. We were together for..a long time…so I guess Annie thinks the best approach to this is to throw me into the deep end of the pool and see what catches. Plus she hates him.” Beth laughs a little, thinking about Annie cussing about Dean earlier.

Rio nods like he completely agrees with Annie.

The rest of the group makes its reappearance then, Stan and Ruby sitting while Annie stands, bouncing around as she drinks and talks.
The conversation flows surprisingly smoothly, Beth notices Rio likes to watch and listen mostly(and stare at her), but he contributes here and there.
Especially when they start talking about everyones Majors.

Beth is working towards a teaching degree and Ruby towards nursing.

“What about you man,” Stan asks Rio, eyes skipping over his throat tattoo, “What you going to school for?”

Rio rolls his shoulders and then leans forward, fiddling with his drink.
“Business and finance.” He finally answers, “What about you?”

“Studying criminal law, hoping to be a cop, maybe detective one day.” Stan answers easily, eyes steady on Rio.

Beth furrows her eyebrows and squints at Stan, sensing a weird energy. Or maybe she’s just had too much to drink.

“Oh yeah?” Rios hand twitches a little and the side of his mouth quirks up a bit, “My close friend Gretchen is studying criminal law too. She’s going for lawyer though.”

“Gretchen Zorada?,” Stan asks, blinks slowly as Rio nods a confirmation, then continues, ”She’s in a few of my classes. Everyone is scared of her cause rumor has it she has familial mob ties.”

Rios face is a blank mask as he just says “Oh yeah? Huh.”

Beth straightens and looks between the two of them, trying to figure out this low key tension that has suddenly popped up. Ruby seems to sense it too because she quickly changes the subject, averting Stans attention to her with a funny story about their next door neighbors.

“What was that?” Beth asked Rio, keeping her voice low as the others talked.

“What was what sweetheart?”

Beth rolled her eyes at the pet name, but ignored it, “What was that hostility between you guys? Does your friend really have family in the mob?” Beth was intrigued.

“Rumors, gossip, hearsay. But we all got skeletons darlin’.” Rio leaned back and looked her over again, arm coming down to rest on the back of her seat.

Beth concentrated on willing her body not to react to that.

“Oh yeah, YOU have skeletons?” She teases, leaning back in her seat too, pretending not to notice how she pressed back against his arm. Rios lips twitched in amusement, and he cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Oh darlin’, you have NO idea.”

Chapter Text

Beth is…drunk.
She doesn’t drink a lot, if ever, only really goes out when Annie pops in and drags her out.
She has an occasional drink at home, but nothing like the ones she’s been downing tonight.

Damn Annie and her one drink per bar rule.

She’s on her second drink at Rios bar(is it his bar? He’d been kinda vague about his employment status earlier), and she’s feeling pretty good.

Stan and Ruby are dancing to the music(there’s no real dance floor, they’ve just made their own space, along with a few other people). And Annie's flirting with some guy named Greg who she apparently went to high school with.

Beth and Rio are still at the table, closer than they probably should be, but somehow he manages to keep Houdini-ing his way into her space, and she’s given up on their push and pull and decided to just let him pull. He’s looking at her and talking to her and touching her like there is no one else in the room, and it feels good. It feels right.

Dean keeps texting her, and she’s trying not to let it put a damper on her evening, but she feels like throwing her phone outside just to make it stop. Seeing his long apologetic texts is starting to make her feel guilty.
Because she’s having FUN. It’s fun to just sit here and relax, making fun of Annie with Rio, watching him shake his head and laugh at her antics.
His face is just stupidly handsome and she loves looking at it.

“So, when you’re not running a bar or going to school or keeping secrets, what do you do?” Beth asks, trying to picture Rio outside the bar, wandering around campus or grabbing a bite to eat.

“I help friends out with their side businesses mostly…I have a way with numbers,” he says this likes its an inside joke, “and I like to box.”

“Oooh, boxing. Yeah I could see that.”

“Oh yeah? You painting a sexy picture up in that pretty little head of yours?”

Beth laughs and pushes at his arm that’s still hanging on the back of her seat. Rio laughs too, settling it back down, taking a strand of her hair in between his fingers, and tugging on the end of it.

“You picturing me all hot and sweaty…” He practically purrs in her ear, making her flush, heat settling low in her belly.

And probably it’s the fact that she’s drunk(damnit Annie), but she actually turns into him and breathes out a simple-“Yes.” their faces now inches apart.

Beth barely registers a vibrating sound before Rio's suddenly pulling back, cursing under his breath. He pulls his arm away from her and reaches into his pocket for his phone.

Beth clears her throat, sitting up straight and trying to pull herself together. Seriously, what was WRONG with her.

She sneaks a glance at Rio, who looks more than a little pissed off, furiously typing out a message on his phone.

“I gotta go,” he says, more than a little bit of regret in his voice, pocketing his phone as he stands up.

“Oh, well….maybe I’ll see you around?” Beth looks up at him, unsure of herself. It’s been so long since she’s done this, she’s not sure what the rules are, what she’s supposed to do or say now that their night is ending.

“Oh you will definitely see me around, Elizabeth.” And with that he walks off, nodding to the others as he leaves.

Beth sits back in her seat with a deep sigh, feeling like she’s been hit by a bus.

The rest of the evening is fairly uneventful. Once Rio walked out, the guy who had bought them drinks took it as his cue to shoot his shot with Beth.
Stan quickly relieved him of any such notions however, and Beth decided shortly thereafter that she was ready to call it a night.
Ruby went home with Stan, and Beth dragged Annie back to her apartment, Annie complaining the whole way, accusing Beth of cockblocking her and Greg.

“I swear Annie, I don’t know where you get your mouth from.” Beth grumbled, finally getting Annie situated on the couch.

“Probably some long lost bougie aunt we have yet to meet.” Annie shot back, barely able to keep her eyes open, but STILL able to run her mouth. Beth shook her head and laughed.

“Go To Sleep.” She commanded, running her hands over Annies hair one last time before turning and walking back to her bedroom.

Beth stopped in her doorway and immediately groaned, taking in the mess that Annie had promised she was going to clean up earlier.

“Screw it.” Beth kicked off her heels, wrestled herself out of the dress she was wearing, pushed everything off her bed and climbed under the covers. She settled herself deep into her bed, feeling hot and achy and restless. All she could think about was Rio. Rio at the bar, licking his lips and cocking his eyebrow. Rio and his stupid smirk. Rio all sweaty after boxing…

“Screw it.” Beth repeats, making a noise of pure frustration as she reached into her bedside table and pulled out her vibrator.

Chapter Text

It has been three days since the night at Rios bar. Three days of classes and work at the cafe, and three days of Annie, who was apparently planning on staying indefinitely. Beth had tried talking to her about what was going on, to no avail.

“I just want to spend time with my sister. Why are you so suspicious about everything?” Annie had said, brushing her off each time.

(“Yeah, there’s no way she’s just here for sisterly bonding time” Ruby had said when Annie was out of earshot)

Beth had decided to give her some space. Annie was bound to implode at some point, she always did. And Beth would be there to pick up the pieces, like always.

So, now she had all the time in the world to think about Rio. She hated it. Her mind kept drifting back to him, to his laugh, to his voice. She’d thought a million times about going back to the bar, and she’d talked herself out of it each time, shaking her head at how needy that would make her look.

Of course she was obsessed with the first guy who had shown her attention since Dean. She needed to get a grip. She was still processing the break up with Dean, she really shouldn’t be trying to move on to a new relationship anyway. Not that that’s even what Rio would be. He didn’t exactly seem like the relationship type. And maybe that was good. Maybe Annie was right. Maybe she needed a fresh start. She’d been in a serious relationship for as long as she could remember, she had no idea what it was like to be on her own, to be unattached.

Honestly, the thought terrified her.

Which was why when Dean texted her again this morning, she had texted him back.

She was definitely NOT thinking about getting back together with him. But…his texts had been so pitiful, and she HAD stormed off without saying anything to him, so things had been left unresolved between them. He kept insisting on wanting to meet with her, coming over to her apartment to talk, but Beth kept making excuses. No way was she letting him and Annie be in the same room.

“What would you even say to him? I mean, what do you think there is to say?” Ruby asked her as they sipped on their coffees, Ruby leaning against the kitchen counter Beth was sitting on.

Beth quickly glanced toward the hallway, listening for the shower, making sure Annie was still in the bathroom getting ready, before she answered.

“I honestly don’t know. I mean, if it was just a mistake, maybe I should hear him out? Let him explain? We haven’t even really talked about officially ending it.”

“Yeah, I think throwing a ring in his face pretty much says it all, B.”

“Yeah,” Beth agreed, wrinkling her nose, “I was pretty mad, I threw it really hard. I think I might’ve nicked his eye.”

They looked at eachother and burst into laughter.

“You really taking that eye for an eye thing seriously huh.” Ruby teased, making them laugh even more.

“What are you guys so happy about this early in the morning?” Annie came in grumbling and rubbing at her face. Her hair was still wet and she was still wearing her towel.

“Its 11 am Annie. Practically afternoon.” Annie glared at Beth in response as she took Beths coffee mug out of her hand and started drinking it.

“Whatever. I’m hanging out with Greg today and he mentioned this party tonight-“

“Annie, NO.” Beth cut her off, “We just went out a few nights ago.”

“Oh COME ON, that was a bar, this is a party,” Annie says, like they are two completely different things, “besides you’re in college, you should be partying every night, otherwise whats the point?”

“Expanding your mind through new experiences. Furthering your education. The better job opportunities that come with furthering your education.” Ruby ticks off each point on her fingers, Beth nodding in agreement, and Annie rolls her eyes, waving her hands in the air in surrender.

“FINE. But you don’t also have to be totally lame while doing all those things. I know you don’t have a social life outside of this apartment, so if you want to talk about ‘experiences’, a social life should be one of them.” Annie points out, handing Beth back her, now empty, coffee cup.

“You do not care about my social life. You care about having sex with Greg.” Beth points out.

“Yes, yes, that too.”

 

 

“Are you SURE this is the right place?” Beth asks again as their Uber pulls up outside of what looks like an abandoned warehouse later that night.

“Yeah, look there’s people over there,” Annie points over towards the front of the building, where it looks like an entrance is.

“I feel like this is where people go to get murdered.”

Annie makes an annoyed noise as she pushes Beth out of the car and follows behind her. The Uber takes off and Beth feels like maybe she should’ve went with it.

Ruby and Stan had plans for tonight, so it’s just her and Annie. And this Greg guy, wherever he is.

“Just a sec, I’m gonna call Greg and see if he’s here yet.” Annie puts her phone up to her ear and walks a bit away from Beth.

Beth looks around a bit, taking in the surroundings. They’re pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, but she starts to feel a little better as she notices more and more people, wandering around outside, standing in groups or off in pairs. There's people going in and out of the side door, which she assumes leads into where the actual party is.

Who has a party in an abandoned warehouse?

Her thoughts are interrupted when her eye catches on an obnoxiously bright yellow sports vehicle parked closer to the side of the building, a bunch of loud obnoxious frat guys surround it.

And then she sees him.

Dean.

Laughing and drinking a beer, showing off his car to all his friends. And a girl. A girl who is hanging all over him. A girl who stands up on her tippy toes to practically shove her tongue in his ear. A girl who is definitely NOT the RA she had caught him with before.

All of Beths senses go white hot with rage. What. The. Fuck.

Before she even realizes what she’s doing, she’s halfway across the graveled lot, Annies voice barely registering as she calls out behind her.

Dean straightens up as he sees her, almost knocking the girl on her ass in the process.

“Bethie, what are you doing here?” He stutters, voice a little unsure, a little panicked.

It’s probably the look on her face, she thinks, probably the murderous rage she is emitting, all aimed at him. She sees a small cut just below his eye and holds back a smile. So she did get him after all.

“Why are you texting me, begging me to get back together if you’re out here with whoever the hell this is?” Beth demands, gesturing wildly to the girl who is now looking very confused.

Bethie listen, you’re jumping to conclusions. You know you tend to get emotional…” Dean steps forward, like he means to soothe her and Beth thinks she’s going to snap.

“What is going on?” The other girl interjects, looking up at Dean as she steps forward too, “You told me you were single. Oh my god have you been lying to me? Have you been cheating on me?”

Cheating on you?!” Beth can’t help how she snaps at the girl, her rage flowing out.

“We’ve been dating for months.” The girl squeaks out, shrinking back from Beth.

Dean closes his eyes and lowers his head dejectedly, caught.

Months” Beth practically growls, and Deans head snaps up at the tone of her voice.

He’s never seen her like this, she realizes. He’s used to sweet innocent Beth. She’s become complaisant with him over the years. Submissive.

Well FUCK that.

Beths eyes slide behind Dean, to that stupid ugly car he’d driven here in. Honestly who drives something like that to a warehouse party, She thinks, her mind grasping at a vindictive idea and taking hold.

“Beth-“ Annie has some come up behind her, placing her hand on Beths arm.

Beth smiles.

“Its okay, Annie.” She says reassuringly, her eyes traveling over the area, looking for something…anything….

There it is, She thinks, her eyes finally landing on a crow bar that’s propped up against the side of the building.

She quickly grabs at it, bringing it back over towards the car, all of the frat boys backing up, scattering, as she twists it in her hands.

“Bethie…what…” The look of confusion on Deans face is enough to make her snort, shake her head as she plants her feet firmly on the ground, swinging the crow bar up and over her shoulder like a baseball bat, then back down and in quickly, smashing one of the headlights out, the crunching sound giving her an immense level of satisfaction, sending a shiver down her spine that's almost orgasmic.

Chapter Text

Beth registers two people screaming her name, but with very different inflections.

Dean sounds terrified.

Annie sounds ecstatic.

She ignores them both, focusing on the crow bar in her hands and the car in front of her, new and shiny and waiting to be destroyed.

Unbelievable,” she hisses, kicking around the glass that’s on the ground, trying to decide what she wants to hit next.

“Bethie PLEASE,” Dean is practically begging, taking a step toward her.

“DON’T-,” she points the crow bar at him and he quickly backs up, “Don't come near me.” She turns back to the car and falls back into her previous stance, this time aiming for the headlight on the passenger side.

“Don’t ever call me Bethie again,” she smashes the headlight when she says “Bethie” through clenched teeth, that same shiver from before traveling down her spine, “It’s a stupid fucking nickname Dean.”

Annie starts laughing hysterically and Beth can’t help but shoot a quick smile her way before turning back to Dean.

“You are such a dick.” She steps back towards the passenger side door as she talks, ”You don’t deserve me. You don’t deserve anyone.”

Her eyes settle on the windshield, and she’s fully aware they have gathered a crowd, fully aware people have their phones out and are recording her, fully aware that what she’s doing will probably end with her being arrested, but she can’t find it in herself to care about anything other than how good it’s going to feel to crack this windshield open like a fucking egg.

“Beth DON’T.” Dean yells, a desperate plea, a last ditch effort to stop her.

“You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore Dean. That perfect little fiancé of yours who lived to stroke your ego is gone. You have no idea who I am anymore.”
Beth knew she was running out of time, knew at some point someone was going to put a stop to this(probably the cops), so she lifted the crow bar up as high as she could get it and brought it down with as much force as she could muster, two quick hits in succession, the windshield splintering on contact, tiny chunks of glass flying out. She feels the reverberations from the crow bar throughout her entire body.

“Elizabeth.”

She senses him a split second before she actually hears him, that energy only he has surrounding her and sinking into her skin, causing the small hairs at the back of her neck to stand up.

She looks up and he’s there, standing closer than anyone else, a look in his eyes she can’t quite decipher.

“Hey. It’s okay.” His voice is low, soothing, as he slowly steps towards her, hand coming out to gently take the crow bar from her, “Lets get you inside and clean you up. You’re bleeding.”

She feels the sting at her cheekbone as soon as he says it, the adrenaline wearing off a bit. A piece of glass must have nicked her. She’s breathing heavily, her face and her hands suddenly aching, her whole body tense.

She nods, unable to say anything, and Rio tosses the crow bar aside as he takes her hand and carefully maneuvers her around the broken glass and away from the car.

She notices a handful of guys have broken up the crowd(a lot of them sporting tattoos and scowls that are pretty intimidating), everyone has pretty much dispersed, except for Annie(Greg now by her side) and Dean(his girlfriend must have ditched him).

“I’m thinking its time for you to call it a night.” Rio says to Dean as they walk past him.

“WHAT? She destroyed my car-“

“I said I think its time for you to call it a night.” Rio doesn’t stop, doesn’t slow down, just keeps walking, dismissing Dean with a look of annoyance. “You can still see out your drivers side window, so I suggest you take yourself and that cheesy ass car outta here, before I let her finish the job.”

Annie laughs as her and Greg follow them inside, bouncing on her feet as she flips Dean off before disappearing behind the door.

 

—-

 

Beth barely has time to take in everything that is happening inside the warehouse before Rio is dragging her up a metal staircase(a metal chain stretches across the front of the stairs, a way of keeping people out, Rio unhooks it and then rehooks it behind them) and down a hall towards a bathroom. The door is closed and he breathes hard out of nose, annoyed still, as he pounds on the door before pushing it open slightly.

“Hey,” Beth tries to stop him, because what if someone is going to the bathroom? Rude.

But then her eyes widen as the door swings open all the way and she sees two people scrambling to put their clothes back together. A nervous laugh escapes her lips and she turns away, embarrassed.

The couple finally get themselves situated and hurry down the stairs, away from Rios glare.

He pulls Beth into the bathroom and she looks around, being careful not to touch anything. He opens up cabinets, searching for a first aid kit.

“I can not believe people were having sex in here.” She says, nose wrinkled in disgust. It’s not super dirty, but definitely not up to her standards of clean.

Rio lets out an amused huff as he finally locates the first aid kit and turns her towards the sink. She boosts herself up onto the edge of the counter(once she’s checked that its clean enough) and he sets the kit down next to her.

“People will have sex anywhere, sweetheart.” He seems highly amused by her disgust, rifling through the kit, taking out some of the gauze and a small bottle of topical solution. He settles himself between her legs(closer than she thinks is really necessary but she doesn’t say anything) as he works. He puts some of the solution onto a piece of gauze and then very gently dabs at her cheekbone. She tries not to flinch, but it stings, just a little.

“That seems…unsanitary.” She says, trying to make a point, not quite understanding how he doesn’t find it just as gross as she does.

“Yeah, people aren’t really thinking about sanitary when it comes to that.”

“I mean, it can’t wait until you can get to a bed?!”

Rio huffs out a little laugh again, licking his lips as he looks away from her briefly.

When his eyes come back to hers, there’s that look in them again, that one she hasn’t quite figured out yet.

“Listen…When you…need someone so much, sometimes the thought of waiting to actually have them is painful. The need to touch that person, to get your hands, your mouth, on every part of them…not even a dirty bathroom can stop that.”

By the time he’s done talking, they’re so close she can feel his breath fan across her face with his last words. Her eyelids flutter close, like they have a mind of their own, her lips part and a small sigh escapes, because she feels like he is everywhere. She is overwhelmed by his closeness, the feel of him between her legs, the smell of him invading all of her senses.

There's the faintest feeling of his lips brushing against hers and she thinks, This is it, I’m about to have sex in a disgusting bathroom, when someone from outside the(still open) bathroom door clears their throat loudly.

Beth jerks back, broken from her trance, the moment slipping away, as Rio takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, his hands in tight fists at his sides when he finally turns around.

Beth looks past Rio and recognizes the guy standing there as one of the guys who’d broken up the crowd around Deans car.
He’s carefully averting his eyes now, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

“We’ve got…a situation.” He gestures towards the stairs and Rio nods.

“Aight, gimme a minute.”

The guy gives a quick nod and leaves.

Rio turns back to the counter and grabs a tiny butterfly bandage and a small tube of antiseptic cream from the kit. He reaches up and trails his fingers down her face, gently pushing her hair back behind her ear. She tries not to shiver, but she can tell by his smirk that he knows the effect it has on her.
He dots a small amount of the cream on her cut and then gently presses the band aid over it.

“Good as new.” He says, his voice low, as he looks her over, and she can feel his eyes as if they were his hands, branding everywhere they touch.

“I have to go take care of this thing, but there’s an office up here you can wait in. We can…pick up where we left off when I get back.” He gives her a little smile and she smiles back, nodding.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a key ring, taking one off and handing it to her.

And then he’s gone. Again. Beth shakes her head and slides off the counter, turning around to check out her reflection.

The cut doesn’t seem too bad, but against her pale complexion, the redness really stands out.

She looks hard at herself in the mirror, her eyes tracking over her facial features, everything just looking…different. Wild. Smashing an exes car will do that to a girl, she guesses.

Is she really going to stay up here?
Is she really going to wait in this office until Rio gets back?
Is she really ready to ‘finish what they started’ in some random warehouse with a party going on downstairs?

Beth takes one last hard look in the mirror- her eyes bright and glassy, her hair slightly messy, her cheeks shiny and rosy from the last of the adrenaline still pumping through her veins.

Yes, she decides turning on her heel and making her way down the hall to the office, Yes she is.

Chapter Text

There’s only one actual room at the other end of the hallway, and Beth turns the key in the lock and pushs the door open slowly. She takes a few steps inside and looks around, before turning back and shutting the door quietly.

Its a pretty basic office, large desk and chair in the center, two other chairs and a small couch, a few tall filing cabinets.

Why the hell does Rio have a key to this place? The thought invades her mind, bringing other questions with it.
Did he work(?) here? Who works in an abandoned warehouse, that also apparently doubles as a nightclub?
What did his friend mean when he pulled Rio away to ‘take care’ of a situation?
How many responsibilities could one guy have while also attending college?

These questions raced through her head and she wandered around the office, touching things as she passed, making her way over to the desk.

There were drawers on each side, and she reached over to the top one closest to her and tugged on the handle. It didn’t budge. She tried the rest with no luck. All locked.

She took the key out of her pocket to see if it would fit, but no dice.

“Ugh.” She moved across the room to the filing cabinets, feeling annoyed.

How was she supposed to be nosy and steal herself some answers to her never-ending questions if all the damn drawers were locked?

She tentatively pulled on one the filing cabinet handles.

Locked.

Beth yanked harder, hoping maybe it would pop, giving it a hard smack for good measure.

Nothing.

Beth glanced around the room again, looking for something, anything that would give her clue as to what the hell this all was.

Finally she made her way back over to the desk, flopping down on the plush chair behind it, giving up.

She pulled out her cell phone, ignoring all the texts that popped up(from Annie, Ruby, ugh DEAN) and searched all her social media apps for “Rio”, like she hadn’t already done it after the first night they met. Just like last time, a few random and questionable search results, but nothing for him.

Beth tossed her phone down on the desk, watching it slide a little across the top.
She fiddled with her clothes, suddenly very aware of the fact that she was considerably less put together than the first time her and Rio had met.

She’d thrown on a pair of skinny jeans and a plain black V-neck before her and Annie had headed out, much to Annies dismay. The only saving grace, according to Annie, was that the shirt showed off a considerable amount of cleavage.

Rio hadn’t seemed to mind her more than casual look earlier though.

He hadn’t seemed to mind her smashing up Deans car either though, she frowned a little at the thought.

Seemed pretty…turned on by it actually…

Beths thoughts are interrupted by the door opening and Rio stepping through.

Speak of the Devil...

He closes the door and then leans back against it, staring at her through hooded eyes.

Beth wills herself not to fidget and leans back in the seat.

Rios eyes move over her, tracking the way her breasts shift with her movements.

“So, what is it exactly that you…do?” she asked, curious but also a little nervous.

Rio cocks his head to the side and seems to be considering her, looks like he’s trying to decide the best way to proceed.

“My family has its hands in a lot of different… businesses. I…help out sometimes.” He says this slowly, like he’s trying to be very careful with his words.

Oh-kay, so this warehouse is part of your family’s business? Like the bar?”

“Yeah, something like that. Parties like this one can bring in a lot of money.”

“Like, from cover charges?”

“Sure…Among other things.”

“Huh,” Beth thinks it over, eyeing him from across the room. He seems content to just stand back against the door, hasn’t made a move to come closer. Which is odd considering usually by this point in their meetings she’d have blinked and he would be close enough to count every single beautiful eyelash on his stupid hot face.

“So the guy that came and got you earlier…” she trails off, waiting for him to fill in the blanks.

“He’s a cousin. There was a…complication with a…business transaction at the party.” Again, he’s back to choosing his words carefully.

“That’s very vague…”

He shrugs.

She rolls her eyes and opens her mouth to say something else, but he cuts her off, apparently done with her line of questioning.

“You look good behind that desk.”

“Oh yeah?,” Beth tries to slow her breathing, knows he’s trying to throw her off balance. Her thighs clench together. She’s pretty sure he notices. Damn X-ray vision.

“Yeah, like a real boss bitch.”

“I don’t think that title really suits me,” She laughs a little, looking away.

“Nah, don’t do that. I just watched you smash the shit out of Carmans ego outside, don’t try to downplay your power. You could bring a grown man to his knees, Ma.”

Beths throat feels dry, heat quickly pooling down low, her face flushing, spreading down and out over her chest. Rio follows it with his eyes.

“So, show me.” Her voice is low, breathy, unrecognizable to her own ears.

Rio pushes himself off of the door and steps towards her.

Chapter Text

Rio slowly makes his way over to her, his eyes never leaving hers, and Beth suddenly feels like she’s made a huge mistake. SHOW ME?! Who even says stuff like that?!

She swallows hard as Rio comes to a stop beside the chair.

His hand reaches out and grabs onto the arm of the chair, gently moving it until she’s facing him.

He leans down, a hand on each side of the chair, caging her in, and she stays very still, afraid to even move, certain if she does she’ll mess this up.

He nudges his nose against the top of her head, takes a deep breath in, then slowly moves his head down, nipping gently at her ear and then nudging his nose against her again, this time into her hair and along her neck.

“You smell good.” He murmurs, his breath tickling against her neck, making her squirm.

She lets out a shaky breath, not sure what to say, not sure if she can even form words, every nerve in her body feels like its on fire and he hasn’t even touched her yet.

And then he pulls back.

She stares up at him, and the way he’s looking at her…She doesn’t think anyone has ever looked at her this way. Like he wants to…consume her.

And then his hands are at her thighs and she sucks in a breath as she looks down, watches as they gently push them apart.

And then he’s sinking to his knees between them and Beth thinks this may be the most erotic thing she’s ever experienced.

His hands are at her knees, pushing her legs open even further, until each one is pressed against the arms of the chair. Then they smooth over her thighs, up and down slowly, and she feels like he’s deliberately trying to drive her insane.

She is itching to feel his hands on her bare skin.

He must be too because then he’s moving his fingers over the button of her jeans, looking up at her, silently asking for permission. She nods her head quickly, her lips parted but no words coming out.

His fingers are quick to pop the button on her jeans, and then he’s slowly pulling the zipper down. Beth squirms, anxious and hot.

She sees the twitch of Rios lips at her impatience, knows he’s enjoying it.

Feeling annoyed, Beth brings one hand up to the V of her shirt, lightly grazing her fingers over her cleavage, eyes locked on him.

He freezes, watching, as she slowly trails her fingers down between her breasts, down over her stomach, down even further, to her panties, peeking out from her now open jeans.

She runs her fingers along the lacy waistband, her fingers barely dipping underneath…

And Rios hands are suddenly at her hips, grabbing on to her jeans and yanking, and Beth laughs breathlessly as she pulls her hand out of her panties to lift herself up a little so he can pull them the rest of the way down and off, her flats coming off with them.

She smiles at him triumphantly, but it doesn’t last long, when she sees him pull his bottom lip into his mouth, biting down a little as he looks her over, sitting pretty in just a t-shirt and black lace panties. He looks at her like he’s starving and she’s dessert.

She’d wanted nothing more than to feel his hands on her, his large strong hands sliding over her, those long fingers sliding into her, but she’s suddenly feeling very self conscious.

When was the last time she shaved? Hell, when was the last time she waxed?

She opens her mouth to say something, what exactly she’s not sure, when someone starts pounding on the door.

For fucks sake…” Rios voice is laced with annoyance, his whole face suddenly contorted with it, and Beth can’t help the laughter that bubbles up out of her chest. Rio does NOT look amused.

“Beth? Beth are you in there?” Annie’s voice comes from the other side of the door. Beth looks over at the door, sees the doorknob jiggle, but it doesn’t open.

“You locked the door? That was very presumptuous.” Beth teases, eyebrows raised at Rio, who is still kneeling in front of her, although now he’s leaning back a little.

“You have me on my knees here, Ma.” Rio shoots back, and Beth laughs again.

He stands up, handing her jeans over and Beth stands too, wriggling them back on, ignoring Rios pained expression at her being fully dressed again.

She slips her flats back on and moves to cross the room to the door, but Rio grabs her wrist and pulls her back into him, making her gasp in surprise.

“I will get you out of those panties Elizabeth.” He whispers hotly into her ear and Beth thinks her heart is going to leap right out of her chest.

“Don’t say panties.” She weakly replies and he chuckles, lets her go and she feels more than a little unsteady as she goes to open the door.

 

—-

 

Beth is exhausted.

She’s been working all day at the cafe and because the universe hates her for whatever reason, they had been massively busy. All. Day.

She’d barely had time to take a lunch(Ruby had stopped by and forced her to eat leftovers she brought from Stan. Beth sent out a silent thank you prayer to whoever had sent Ruby into her life) let alone any of her breaks.

If she never hears the word frappuccino again, she’ll die happy.

Although she suspects the rush of customers had little to do with their drinks and more to do with the video of her smashing Deans car circulating campus.

It’s finally closing time, and the two other girls she’s working with are finishing up cleaning behind the counter as she wipes down the last of the tables.

Literally all she’ll have left to do after this is set the alarm and then go home, collapse in her bed, and hopefully never move again.

The unmistakable slide of the cafe door being pushed open reaches her ears and she curses under her breath, trying not to glare at the girls for apparently forgetting to lock the front door earlier.

She counts to 10 and lets out a sigh.

“I’m sorry we’re closed.” She says, turning, fake smile plastered on her face.

“Aww, I was really hoping to get one of those little frappuccinos you guys are famous for.”

Beth tries not to cringe at the word frappuccino, her smile turning real as her eyes take him in, and its really really unfair how good he looks, like, all the time.

“It’s funny, I never pegged you as the frappuccino kinda guy.” She teases, stepping toward him.

Rios eyes travel over her, like they always do, like he’s trying to memorize every curve. She's wearing a skirt today, and she notices his eyes linger on her legs.

“Oh, are we talking about pegging now?” He questions, his eyes back on hers, tease in his voice as he raises an eyebrow.

The girls behind the counter burst into laughter and Beth turns to them and glares, realizing they’ve been listening in. And obviously getting a joke that she doesn’t.

“I…don’t know what that means.” She turns away from him and heads over to the counter.

“You can leave now, thank you!” Beth waves the girls away, both rolling their eyes before checking Rio out one last time and then heading out through the back.

“So, how did you know I work here?” She asks, passing him on her way to the door, locking it before anyone else could come wandering in. She turns and catches Rio eyeing her ass under her skirt. She wills herself not to blush.

He grins at the change in subject, and shrugs, “I heard there was a stacked red head who runs this place. Little crazy, people said. Figured it must be you.”

Beth gives him a playful little shove as she walks past him, back toward the counter.

“I refuse to make another cup of coffee tonight, how does tea sound?” She asks.

He nods, and she starts pulling things out from behind the counter, as he settles into one of the loveseats along the wall.

“So, what happened last night? I hope no one got into trouble because of me.” She glances at him as she grabs a glass mug, the French Press carafe, and some green tea leaves, setting some water to boil.

Annie had dragged her away after finding her in the office last night, letting her and Rio know she had overheard a few people talking about Dean and how he was posting all over social media about calling the cops and she wanted Beth out of there. Greg had ended up taking them back to Ruby and Beths apartment.

“Nah, Carman talks a lot shit, but doesn’t follow through. There were a lot worse things going on at that party than you, and no one wants to be a narc.”

She nods as she adds the water to the french press and lets the tea leaves steep for a bit before pouring the liquid into the mug.

She walks over to where he’s seated, handing off the mug, and settling herself down next to him.

He’s wearing dark colors again, t-shirt, jeans, and hoodie and Beth wants to ask him if he’s like those characters from the Saturday morning cartoons- the ones who open up their closet, and there’s a dozen sets of the same exact outfit hanging up.

Instead she asks “Why me?”

It’s a half a question really, but she can’t quite bring herself to ask the whole thing, and he seems to understand anyway, by the look he gives her.

“I don’t know…there’s just something about you. I think we could be something good.”

She feels her face heat up at his words, her eyes dropping to her hands, fidgeting in her lap. She sees him move to set his cup down on the table in front of them and then he’s reaching over, his fingers under her chin, tilting her face up to look at him.

“Or maybe I just like the way you flush at everything I say…Maybe I want to see how far down it goes…” He’s leaning into her slowly, his hand still cupping her chin, soft enough that she could pull away if she wanted to.

She doesn’t want to.

He stops just before reaching her lips, like he wants her to be the one to close this thing between them, and so she does. She tilts her head and presses her lips softly against his and sighs, relief washing over her body at finally feeling his mouth against hers.

It’s soft at first, they’re just feeling each other out, mapping out every curve, getting comfortable.

And then Beth’s hands are coming up and she’s placing them softly on his shoulders, squeezing just a little.

Rio takes this as a green light to touch her, and his hands find her hips, gripping them tight and pulling her closer.

Beths fingertips graze over the tattoo on his neck as she slides her hands up to grip the back of his neck.

Rio immediately responds by deepening their kiss. He’s using his lips, his tongue, his teeth, and Beth feels this kiss everywhere.

She can feel it in her chest where her heart is pounding, in the pit of her stomach where it feels like a million little butterflies have taken flight, she can feel it in between her legs, where she’d really really like him to be right now.

Beth pushes herself up against him, shoving him back against the couch and moving to straddle him, her skirt riding up as she does.

She pulls back from their kiss and rocks a little against him, desperate for friction and they both groan, Rio squeezing her hips tighter, and she can feel the bruises forming already.

She looks down at him, his eyes impossibly dark, his tongue darting out to lick at his bottom lip, like he’s chasing after the taste of her. And he’s staring up at her with so much... need, she forgets how to breathe for a second.

She leans down and catches his lips with hers again, biting down hard on his bottom lip before sucking it into her mouth, and he hisses against her, reaching up and fisting his hand into the back of her hair, tugging her head back roughly, breaking the kiss to surge up and latch onto her neck.

Beth moans and grinds down harder onto his lap, can feel how hard he’s getting beneath her.

Rio’s sucking and biting his way down her neck, leaving a trail of bruises as he goes. Beth’s hands are at his chest, and she pushes him firmly back down, grinning at his little pout.

He drops it though, when she stands up and slowly pushes her panties down her legs and kicks them off.

His breathing is a little labored as she settles herself back down on his lap, his hands immediately going to her thighs.

“What happened to your “only in bed” rule?” His voice is low, husky, wrecked. He’s looking up at her through his thick lashes and Beth doesn’t think she’s ever laid eyes on a more beautiful person.

“That was before I met you.” She pulls him into another kiss as her hands find the button on his jeans, popping it open and then moving to the zipper, sliding it slowly down.

Chapter Text

Beth slowly opened her eyes, blinking a little as she starts to wake up.

She stretched and then groaned at the sudden ache all over her body. The ache from the stress of classes, from working at the cafe-

Beth suddenly sat up straight as she remembered -

From Rio.

“Sooo, how was the seeex?”

Beth screamed and whipped around, clutching her blanket to her chest, remembering that she was also very much naked.

Annie grinned at her from Beth’s desk, perched on top with a bowl of cereal in her lap.

“SERIOUSLY ANNIE?”

“I know it had to have been good cause bar friend looked mighty pleased with himself when I ran into him on his way out.”

Annie,” Beth flopped down and grabbed her pillow, putting it over her head to hide her embarrassment. And to try to block out Annie’s voice.

“Come on Beth, I’m your sister, I deserve details. Graphic details.”

“That’s exactly why you’re not getting details.” Beth snapped, trying to hold back a smile as she pulled the pillow off her face and flung it at Annie.

“Hey!” Annie yelped, trying to block the pillow with one hand and hold the bowl of cereal out of the line of fire with the other.

“Annie why are you even eating in my room right now? Get. Out.”

“Alright, Alright,” Annie laughed as she hopped off of Beth’s desk and stepped over to the door, “But I expect a full report by the end of the day.”

“GET OUT.”

Annie rolled her eyes, but did as she was told, closing the door as she left.

Beth flopped back down onto her bed and finally let out the huge smile she’d been holding back.

She wasn’t about to give Annie any details, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t lay here for a little bit and replay the details over in her head for herself.

-

After the cafe(Beth shivers a little at the memory of her and Rio on the small couch, his hands and mouth had felt like they were everywhere, all of her senses on overdrive as she moved on top of him) they had come back to the apartment. Annie had been out, and Ruby left shortly after they arrived, sensing the still lingering sexual tension between the two of them.

They’d immediately made their way back to Beth’s room(“A bed, finally” Rio had teased). And then he hadn’t even let her get to the bed, Beth thought, a blush spreading as her eyes land on the desk, where Annie had just been sitting a minute ago.

He’d propped her up on the desk, immediately dropping to his knees in front of her(“This feels familiar”she’d said, a little breathlessly). He’d kissed and nipped up her thighs slowly, pushing her skirt up as he went. It was his only barrier, he’d pocketed her panties back at the cafe.

She’d stiffened a little as he got closer to his destination, and he had paused, looked up at her curiously.
“Sorry, I just…I’ve never…Dean never did that, so…” She’d tripped over her words, immediately regretting bringing up her ex to the guy currently between her thighs.

The look of disbelief on Rio’s face had actually made her feel a little better, made her feel like laughing.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up,” she’d said, trying to hide her embarrassment.

“That ex of yours is a real trip.” Rio had said with a shake of his head.

He’d turned his attention back to her thighs, starting over from the beginning, this time a little more firm with his kisses, a little harder with his nips, Beth was practically panting by the time he reached her center, any thoughts of embarrassment or Dean long forgotten.

“Don’t worry, Ma- I got you.” He’d said, before disappearing under her skirt.

Beth had had to push him away after awhile, he probably would’ve stayed there all night if she had let him, but she was overstimulated and feeling completely boneless, barely able to hold herself up.

He’d quickly rid her of her clothes, whispering filthy things into her ear, all the things he wanted to do to her- to her mouth, her breasts, her cunt. Beth had felt like her face was on fire, listening to him, and he had laughed(“So that blush does go all the way down”he’d purred into her ear, his hands following it down her body).

Feeling a little emboldened by his words, and wanting to turn things around on him for once, she’d quickly stripped him of his own clothes and pushed him down onto her bed. She’d copied his actions from earlier, kissing and nipping her way down his body and she felt empowered by the little hitches in his breath as she got closer to her destination.

But then, she’d been a little nervous, thinking about how good he’d been between her legs, and how inexperienced she was in turn.

Of course he’d noticed her hesitation, reassuring her she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to.

So, she’d explained her hesitation, not being experienced enough, having only done it a handful of times with her ex(she’d avoided saying his name that time at least), he’d made it feel like an obligation, she’d never really enjoyed it.

She’d had her eyes cast down, not wanting to look at him while she was talking, and he’d reached down and tilted her chin up again. “It’s okay Ma, I’m gonna teach you.”

And so he had. He’d been patient and gentle with her, guiding her on what to do, letting her know what he liked, encouraging her with his words(“You’re doing so good Elizabeth, so good,” he’d groaned at one point, his eyes the darkest she had ever seen them).

And when she’d hit her stride, become more confident in her ministrations, he had let her take charge and she had felt powerful, in control. She thinks she enjoyed it just as much as he did.

And then they had just laid together for a little while, not saying much, just enjoying the feel of each others bodies. They both silently agreed it was probably best for him not to stay over, so he’d left, kissing her gently on the forehead before going.

-

Beth stretches again, feeling the ache all over her body again as she does so, this time relishing in it and the reason behind it.

Chapter Text

Beth walked out of her Philosophy class and headed straight through the double doors leading to the outside of campus. She hurried down the steps of the building and across the sidewalk, making a beeline for the closest coffee cart.

She needed to get her hands on some caffeine now.

She’d been up all night studying and had woken up late for her morning class and now her whole schedule felt off.

She took her place in line, and pulled out her phone, checking the time. She had 45 minutes before her next class.

There was a huge bulletin board off to the side of the cart(probably banking off the foot traffic), covered in paper advertisements of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Beth looked them over as she waited for the line to go down.

A bright orange one caught her eye, a flyer for a Halloween party at the fraternity Stan was a part of.

Beth snapped a picture of it and sent it off to Ruby with a question mark.

Ruby replied almost immediately- ‘oh shoot I forgot about that, you wanna be my plus one?’

‘Of course! You know I love Stan’s parties. and Halloween.’ She texted back.

“Yo.”

Beth jerked her head up, startled, and saw Rio standing at her side, his eyes skimming over the bulletin board.

“Hi.” She said, a little shyly. She hasn’t seen him since the night before last, when they had been at her apartment. She blushes at the memory.

She’d thought about sending him a text, but had been busy with studying and “You don’t text until at least 24 hours after” Annie had said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“You going to that?” He asked, gesturing toward the flyer she’d taken a picture of.

“Uhhh yeah. My friend Stan is throwing it,” and then adds, in case he doesn’t remember, “He was at the bar the night we met. Rubys fiancé.”

“Right, right.”

“Are you going?”

“Nah, not really my scene.”

Beth nods a little, trying to imagine him surrounded by a bunch of fraternity brothers. The image makes her laugh a little.

He turns and quirks an eyebrow at her, smile playing at his lips.

“Sorry, I was just imagining you doing a keg stand.” She teases and he fully smiles then, his eyes traveling over her face and then down her body. She wonders if that will ever NOT make her squirm. She does the same though, eyes traveling over his face, lingering on his lips, thinking about how they’d felt the other night against her -

“What are you doing?”

“What?” She asks, startled out of her thoughts, her eyes quickly shifting away from him, clearing her throat.

“I mean, right now, what are you doing?” He repeats, smirking like he knows exactly what she had been thinking about. He gestures out towards the campus.

“Oh, uhm, I was waiting to get some coffee before my next class.” She points towards the coffee cart and then checks her phone again and groans. The line is too long and not moving fast enough and she still needs time to actually get to class.

“But I guess I don’t have time after all, I’m really sorry, I have to go.” She gives him a small smile as she pockets her phone, and he gives a quick nod back.

“Can I see you later though? Or like, whenever you’re free…?” She looks down again, feeling awkward, GOD why is she always so awkward?!

Rio reaches out, lightly trails his fingers down the side of her face, gently pushing her hair back as he does.

“Yeah, I’d like that.” He looks down at her, his eyes conveying every single thing he’d like to do to her later and she knows it is so cliche, but she honestly feels weak at the knees from it.

Oh-Kay, Bye!” She manages to squeak out, turning on her heel and practically running away- before she finds the nearest bathroom and drags him into it.

 

 

Beth flops down onto the couch next to Annie, who is furiously typing on her phone, cussing up a storm as she does so.

“What’s going on?” Beth asks, stretching her legs out in front of her.

After leaving Rio, Beth had barely made it to her next class on time. Now she has a few hours before her final class of the day, so she’s back at the apartment. Ruby, the saint that she is, is in the kitchen making Beth a whole pot of coffee. She desperately needs it.

“This girl from work is giving me a hard time about covering my shifts while I’m gone, I don’t know why she’s being such a bitch about it, It’s not like she can’t use the extra money.”

“You didn’t get anyone to cover your shifts before you left?”

“Well…no. It’s not like, an official leave time or whatever, I’ve just been calling in sick.”

What?! Annie! Okay what is going ON with you right now?”

“Nothing, jesus, I’m just- I don’t want to talk about it. Look, I was thinking about inviting Greg over later-“

“No, that’s enough. Enough trying to change the topic and avoiding whatever it is that’s happening. We are talking about this. Right now.”

“What are we talking about?” Ruby asks, making her way over to the couch and setting Beth’s mug down in front of her on the coffee table. She settled herself into the recliner on the other side, looking back and forth between the two sisters.

“Annie was just going to explain to me what exactly it is that has her here, dragging us to parties every night and obsessing over my love life.”

“Ahhh.” Ruby settles back in her seat, knowing this is going to take awhile.

Annie rolls her eyes, and tosses her phone down, crossing her arms and glaring at Beth. Beth resists the urge to roll her own eyes at Annie’s actions.

“Look, I’ve been trying to be patient with you, but if this visit is going to last much longer, you have to let me know what’s going on.”

“Its nothing really…”Annie starts, but then Beth gives her a look and Ruby snorts and Annie huffs out a breath of irritation in response, “Fine…my boss has just been…giving me a really hard time lately. And I just really needed to get away from it all for a little bit.”

“What do you mean giving you a hard time? Annie you can’t just run away when things don’t go your way, that’s not how life works. You really need to start taking responsibility for your actions.” Beth says, softening her voice so her words don't come across too harshly, but even she can hear the exasperation in them.

“Gee thanks Dr.Phil, I didn’t know that.” Annie snaps, already on edge.

“Annie…” Ruby shakes her head a little at her.

“What? I’m sorry I have a little bit more trouble working through things, not everyone can have the perfect fiancé to handle everything for them,”(Annie points to Ruby),”Or tuck all their problems away into a tiny little box never to be touched again.”(this time she points to Beth)

“WHAT?!” Beth and Ruby say at the same time, staring at Annie likes she’s grown two heads.

“You walk around pretending everything is fine when everything is shit.” Annie is speaking harshly now, anger lacing her voice, “You did it when…Dad left. You did it with Mom. You definitely did it with Dean. No wonder you smashed his car up, it was like twenty years of repressed emotion exploding out.”

Beth swallows thickly, tears springing to her eyes at Annie’s words.

“Annie, that’s not fair.” Ruby whispers, her own voice thick with emotion.

“Okay, so I control my emotions instead of just letting them spill out into a temper tantrum like a child,” Beth blinks back her tears while she talks,”It’s called being an adult.”

“Oh please, you’re twenty not forty. And you’ve been doing it since we were kids. Acting like the superior child while I’m the mess. You’re like…grooming yourself to be this Stepford Robot-“

“Alright Annie, that’s enough.” Rubys voice was firm as she cut in.

“No, you don’t get to be a part of this, this is between family, and you aren't.” Annie snaps at her, wanting to cut deep, and she does. They all know blood doesn’t make family. They all know Ruby is family.

But, she’s said it, and Ruby’s eyes flash with anger.

“Okay you know what Annie, maybe all the things you are saying are true. But have you ever wondered why they are true? Why your sister handles things the way she does? Because I know why. She’s had to take care of you her whole life. She didn’t get to have a childhood, so you could have one. You were like her kid, not her kid sister. But you’re not a kid anymore, Annie. And it’s not her job to take care of you anymore.” Ruby let out a shaky breath as she finished.

“Okay Enough.” Beth said, her voice breaking a little. Annie was silently crying now and Beth took a few deep breathes to try to stop herself from doing the same.

“Annie,” She reached out to her sister, but Annie jerked away and stood up, grabbing her phone off the table.

“No, it’s FINE, she’s right, you shouldn’t have to take care of me anymore. I’m sorry I’ve been such a burden on your life.”

“Annie, that’s not what I meant.” Ruby took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

But Annie was already moving towards the door, only stopping to slip her shoes on, before turning the knob and pulling the door open with more force than necessary.

“Oh, and I wasn’t just running away because “life got a little hard”. I was running away because my boss has been threatening to fire me if I don’t let him get into my pants So…” And with that revelation, Annie stalks out, slamming the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Beth had tried to run after Annie, but for someone with such tiny legs, she moved really fast.

She’d immediately tried to call and then text, with no response.

Ruby had reassured her that when Annie had cooled off and was ready to talk again, she would come back.

So Beth had went to class, but being so distracted from the argument with Annie, she didn’t retain a single piece of information.

God, how had that escalated so fast?
Why hadn’t Annie told her what was going on with her boss from the very start?
Where the hell was she right now?

By the time Beth had gotten home, she had a massive headache.

Ruby had dinner made plus Advil and a glass of wine waiting for Beth.

Beth gave Ruby the tightest hug she could muster, so grateful that she had such an amazing friend in her life.

They’d just finished up dinner when Annie had come slinking in the door, head down and expression withdrawn.

Beth had immediately pulled her into her arms and held her.

They’d all settled back down in the living room to finish talking.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m being left behind. You two are out here, doing things with your life, and I haven’t even thought about starting mine.” Annie had said quietly, playing with the hem of her shirt.

“Annie, you’ve barely turned 18, you still have some time to think about it.” Beth had reassured her.

“Yeah, but I just…I don’t want you to feel like you have to take care of me and not, you know, take care of yourself,” Annie held up her hand as Beth started to protest, “Let me finish before I start crying again. I know how hard it was for you to leave me at home to come here. And I know how hard it was for you to stay there and…take care of everything. And I know I’ve been selfish, dragging you into my messes all the time. And this time I really didn’t want to do it! Which is why I tried so hard not to bring it up while I was here.”

“Annie, this is like, the one time it was really important for you to tell me. Your boss sexually harassing you is not something you should hide.”

“I know, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

So they’d agreed to come up with a plan on how to deal with the store manager, and then also agreed that they all needed a few glasses of wine.

Later, a very tipsy Beth climbed into bed and snuggled down into her covers, giving a brief thought to the fact that she was supposed to have texted Rio about meeting up- right before she passed out.

 

 

“I can’t BELIEVE you forgot to tell me about this Halloween party and now I have to put together a last minute costume.” Beth griped at Ruby.

They were in the bathroom, getting ready for said party.

“Sorry B, after your sister hurricaned herself into our apartment it slipped my mind. If it makes you feel any better, Stan and I aren’t really dressing up either.”

“It doesn’t. You guys never dress up.”

Ruby had on a white shirt with a black letter “S” on it. Stan would be wearing a black shirt with a white letter “P” on it. Salt and Pepper.

Beth had settled on Fuzzy black cat ears and was currently drawing whiskers on her cheeks and a solid little heart on her nose. She was wearing a loose black jersey swing dress and black ankle boots.

Annie was over at Greg’s getting ready, they were going to meet them at the party. Annie was going as a quarterback, borrowing one of Greg’s high school jerseys.

Beth wondered briefly if she should be worrying about how much time Annie had been spending with Greg while she was here. She made a mental note to bring it up with her later.

Greek Row, where the fraternity house was located, was within walking distance of their apartment. So they made their way over, taking in all the decorated fraternities and sororities. Most of them were hosting halloween parties, and they spilled out of the houses, onto the lawns and sidewalks, and Ruby and Beth were forced to dodge the groups of drunk frat guys, laughing at their antics as they passed.

They finally reached Stan’s house. Ruby immediately found Stan and Beth texted Annie to see where she was.

“You ladies want something to drink?” Stan asked, shouting over the music that was playing.

They both nodded and he made his way through the crowd, towards the kitchen.

Beth looked around, taking in all the different costumes, smiling happily. Halloween was one of her favorite holidays.

Stan came back with their drinks, just as Annie texted them to say her and Greg were out back.

Beth made her way through the house to the backyard, Ruby close behind her, trying not to get pulled away in the crowd.

Once outside, Beth scanned the yard, her eyes landing on Annie, who was waving her over to a table in the back that was set up for beer pong.

“Of course you found the beer pong table.” Beth said, rolling her eyes. Annie had declared herself ‘the beer pong queen’. Beth kept reminding her that that wasn’t really a title she should proclaim proudly.

“I have next dibs.” Annie was practically jumping up and down, rubbing her hands together excitedly.

Beth couldn’t help but laugh at Annie’s enthusiasm. If only she applied that to her actual life.

“Hey,” Ruby nudged Beth’s arm, ”Isn’t that the guy from the bar?”

Ruby tilted her head towards the other side of the yard and Beth followed with her eyes, stilling completely as her eyes landed on him.

It was Rio all right. Wearing a dark grey beanie, black bomber jacket over a black t-shirt, and dark jeans, looking like sin personified.

And he wasn’t alone.

There's a girl standing next to him, dressed as an Angel, and she’s gorgeous. Long dark shiny hair, impossibly tiny waist, long long legs.

Beth swallows hard, watching as Rio leans in close, whispering something in her ear that makes her laugh and reach out, touching his arm, and keeping it there.

And then he pulls her into a hug and Beth turns away, breathing rapidly as she tries to calm herself down.

“Hey, is that bar friend?” Annie asks, just now noticing what her and Ruby had been looking at.

“His name is Rio.” She hears herself say faintly, her voice sounding like its coming from so far away…

She notices Annie and Ruby exchange side glances at each other, seeming to communicate silently.

“I…need to go.” She looks around the yard, desperately searching for an exit.

“What, NO, stay! Look, just because he’s with someone else-“

“You think I care who he sleeps with? I so don’t.” Her voice sounds shrill, even to her own ears.

Okay.”

Annie and Ruby are both quiet for a moment and Beth takes a deep breath in, holding it for a minute before letting it out slowly.

“I’m going to need another drink.” She announces, before downing the one in her hand.

 

 

Beth is sitting on the canopied porch swing that’s situated along the back fence, her head back and her eyes closed as she gently rocks herself back and forth with her foot.

Annie is still playing beer pong(Undefeated so far!) and Ruby had wandered into the house earlier to use the restroom, but only after Beth had reassured her that she would be fine on her own.

She’d lost track of where Rio had went(probably off somewhere with his Angel) and she’s feeling pretty good, on her third drink.

“Hey.”

She feels the swing shift as he sits down next to her(too close, this swing is suddenly way too small) but she keeps her eyes stubbornly shut.

Ugh” She groans, hoping maybe he’ll go away(hoping, really, that he’ll stay).

“Okay, that’s fair I guess.”

She opens her eyes and rolls her head a little so she can look at him. She thinks if she tries to actually lift her head now, the world may spin out of control.

“I thought this wasn’t your scene.” She tries to keep her voice neutral, but she can’t help the sarcasm that leaks through.

“Yeah, but see, the thing is- there’s this girl here. Has a real attitude, but she’s pretty hot so…” He shrugs, “Risk vs Reward.”

“Yeah, I saw you with her earlier, the gorgeous Angel? Legs for days?”

Rio grins.

“Oh, baby, are you jealous?”

“No,” she snaps, “I hope you guys are really happy together, and you ride off into the sunset and have many long legged babies with ridiculously long eyelashes.”

“We aint together. You reading too much into this, mama.”

“No, no it’s fine,” Beth knows she should just shut up, but she can’t stop now, she’s on a roll, ”It makes sense. You’re both tall and fit, with your stupid beautiful faces. You two make sense.”

Elizabeth-“

We don't. We don’t make sense. Like, at all”

“Oh yeah? That night at your apartment didn’t make sense to you? That didn’t feel good for you?”

Beth feels her face heat up thinking about that night.

“That’s just sex.” She whispers, closing her eyes again.

“Sometimes sex aint just sex, Elizabeth.”

She opens her eyes and looks at him again and he meets her gaze straight on.

She takes a minute to look at him, really look at him and he…he just takes her breath away.

Every time she’s seen him since that very first time, the sight of him has just made her heart clench.

She NEVER felt this with Dean.

“Let me take you home.” His voice is low, full of promise.

She thinks about Annie, about Ruby, about The Angel. All the reasons she should say No.

Instead, she says Yes.

Chapter Text

Beth lets Rio help her up, her body pressing against his as she stands.

She looks up at him through her lashes, her heart fluttering a little at how perfectly they fit together.

“Hey, Beth?” Stan’s voice comes from behind Rio, and Beth feels Rio’s body stiffen a little against hers.

Rio steps to the side and turns, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Stan looks extremely uncomfortable, shuffling a little awkwardly where he stands.

“Have you seen Ruby?” He asks, and Beth just stares at him for a second, a little confused by the way he’s acting.

“No,” She answers slowly, “Last I saw she was looking for a bathroom inside.”

“Hmm,” Stan nods a little, his eyes shifting to Rio.

“Hey man, didn’t know you were here.” The way Stan phrases it and the tone of his voice throw Beth off, reminding her of the night at the bar.

“We were just heading out.” Rio rolls his shoulders a little as he answers, and Beth can tell his body is still tense, although his stance appears relaxed.

“Beth?” Stan looks to her and now Beth is really confused because he seems…concerned?

“It’s fine Stan,” for some reason she feels the need to reassure him, like he’s looking for it, ”When you find Ruby, can you let her know Rio is walking me home?”

Stan nods, a little reluctantly, his eyes flickering over to Rio(who gives him a tight nod in response) before he turns and walks away.

Rio relaxes, just a little, and then tilts his head toward the gate further down in the fence, silently motioning for her to follow him out.

Beth catches Annie’s eye on the way out, waving a goodbye so she knows she’s leaving.

“Okay, what is with you two?” Beth finally asks, as they slowly walk along the path that runs around the back of the house, leading out onto the sidewalk.

Rio laughs a little, but there’s no real humor behind it.

“Just a misunderstanding.” He shrugs, like it’s no big deal.

“About what?” She knows she's pressing the issue, but she doesn't care.

"Come from different backgrounds. There's a certain...moral grey area there." Again, he shrugs.

"What does that even mean?" She asks, exasperated. Did he always have to be so vague?

Rio huffs out another laugh, this time amused by her obvious annoyance, but says nothing, apparently having given her all the information he's willing to for now.

“Fine, I’ll just ask him.” she says, a little smugly. But when she catches the look on his face, she knows. “He isn’t going to tell me either, is he?”

“Probably not.”

“You are so annoying.”

Rio nods, like he agrees and Beth bumps him with her shoulder, smiling in spite of herself.

The sidewalks have cleared a little bit, so they don’t have to work their way through the crowds Ruby and Beth had when they’d started out.

Rio reaches over and lightly pulls on her cat ears.

“Cute.” he comments, eyes dancing with amusement.

You didn’t dress up. Lame.” She pouts, looking him over.

“What? I did, I’m a burglar.” He gestures to his all black clothing and beanie, a look of faux indignation on his face.

“Oh, yes, obviously.” she laughs, shaking her head.

“Like the way your nose scrunches up when you laugh, ma.” His hand reaches over, lightly tracing a finger down the slope of her nose.

“Hey! You’re going to ruin my cat makeup!” She stops walking as she swats his hand away.

“Oh trust me, that stuffs gettin messed up either way.” His voice is loaded, and his tongue darts out to swipe over his bottom lip as he looks her up and down.

“God, do you ever turn that off?” She asks, attempting to play it cool, even though every cell in her body is screaming for her to jump him.

“Turn what off?” Now he’s the picture of total innocence and Beth rolls her eyes and starts walking again, Rio easily falling back into step with her.

“That Mr. Suave ‘voice-so-smooth-it’ll-talk-your-pants-off’ thing you do.”

“You feelin the urge to take your pants off, darlin'?”

“I’m not wearing any pants.” She points out.

“Mmm,” He hums looking her over, and she blushes, immediately regretting her words.

She clears her throat and tugs at the hem of her dress, it suddenly feels VERY short.

She notices Rio’s eyes dropping to her hand, following her movements and she immediately lets go of the hem, hands back at her sides.

The side of Rio’s mouth twitches up and he shakes his head a little, like every move she makes is highly amusing to him.

They walk in comfortable silence for a little bit, until they reach Beth’s apartment building. The stairs leading up to her apartment are around the front, but Beth slows and comes to a stop along the backside of the building, Rio stopping with her.

“Well…this is me.” She says, the nervousness she’s suddenly feeling coming out in her voice.

“Yeah, I remember.”

She knows they left the party with the silent knowledge that he was likely coming up to the apartment with her, but now that they’re so close, her usual anxieties are creeping in.

She looks up at Rio, wondering how long he’s willing to put up with her uncertainty, her awkwardness. She’s sure he’s used to girls being attracted to him like a magnet- like the one at the party. Much more confident girls than her. All of this seems to come really easily to him.

But he’s just looking back at her, his expression open and patient, waiting on her, letting her work through her emotions before she comes to a decision.

And how does he keep doing that? Keep reading her so easily? Keep reacting in a way that just makes her feel…

Beth steps closer to him, her hands reaching up and settling tentatively against his chest. He doesn’t move, still waiting, his eyes never leaving hers.

She slides them up slowly, one hand settling on his shoulder, his jacket bunching up a little bit under her grip, the other coming up to the back of his neck and exerting the slightest bit of pressure there, angling his head down just that little bit.

It’s all he needs to close the distance between them, capturing her lips in a rough kiss and she gasps at the force of it, his hands going to her waist to keep her steady.

Her hands tighten on his shoulder, his neck, her body pressed tightly against his, the extra height from her boots making every one of her curves slot perfectly against every one of his sharp edges.

She feels breathless, restless, needy, as she moans into his mouth, her nails scratching lightly over the back of his neck, and Rio groans in response, his body pushing at hers, walking her backwards without breaking their kiss, until her back hits the hard brick wall of her apartment building.

He pushes up against her, one hand tangling in her hair(her cat ears pushed back haphazardly), the other traveling down her body, until it reaches the bottom of her dress, sliding up under it and gripping the back of her bare thigh, lifting her leg up so it hooks low around his waist.

She moves restlessly against him, canting her hips, pushing hard so she comes off the wall slightly and he pushes back down with equal force, so she’s flush against the wall again, a low growl leaving his throat as he breaks their kiss, his mouth immediately moving to her neck. She thinks about protesting, about telling him to stop(the bruises he left last time have only just faded), but the hand that was gripping her thigh is moving up to grab hard at her ass, and she’s losing all sense of thought.

A whistle cuts through the night air and Beth hears someone yell “Get a room!” followed by laughter and Beth expects Rio to stop, but he doesn't so she's forced to push him away instead. She tries to normalize her breathing as she looks off to the side, where a group of people are watching them from one of the balconies along the back of the adjoining apartment building.

The group waves at them and Rio raises his hand in response as Beth groans and buries her face against his chest in embarrassment. She can feel him laughing and she pulls away to glare up at him.

“This isn’t funny.” She says, smoothing out her dress and patting down her hair, readjusting her cat ears from where they are hanging half off her head.

“It’s a lil funny.”

She starts to protest, and then notices all the black smudges now marking his face. Her makeup must’ve smeared. He’s looking her over too, probably noticing the same thing on her face.

“Let’s go get cleaned up.” She grabs his hand and leads him around to the front of the building, waving her free hand out to the group on the balcony as they walk away.

Chapter Text

Beth slowly opens her eyes as she feels her bed shift. She rolls over, blinking a little at Rio as he slips back under the covers. She vaguely remembers him mumbling about leaving last night, how he just needed to close his eyes for a few minutes. Guess that few minutes turned into all night. She glances over at the digital clock on the bedside table. Still way too early to be up right now.

“Bathroom,” He says by way of explanation, “I think your friend saw me.”

“Ruby? She doesn’t care. Or at least, I don’t think she does.” Beth doesn’t say it out loud, but she wonders if Stan has talked to Ruby about Rio.

By the look on his face, she can see she doesn’t have to say anything, he’s already thinking the same thing.

He opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, but then his eyes track down to where the sheets had shifted when she rolled over, barely covering her breasts now. He licks his lips as he moves closer, a hand reaching out to tug the sheet down even lower…

Annie’s voice carries down the hallway, calling out Beth’s name. She does not sound happy.

Beth frowns and sits up, clutching the sheet to her chest and Rio groans as her breasts disappear from view.
Beth resists the urge to groan herself, as all her muscles protest against her sudden movements, every ache and pain caused by her and Rio’s activities last night making themselves known.
She’s going to have to start stretching before seeing Rio if they keep this up, she thinks with a little smile.

Beth moves to climb over Rio and out of the bed, but once she’s got an arm and leg planted on each side, she accidentally rubs against him and Rio groans, his hands automatically coming up to her hips and grinding her down against him again. He’s already half hard and Beth closes her eyes as she feels that familiar heat starting in her chest, moving down through her belly and lower, settling between her legs, momentarily forgetting what she’s supposed to be doing.

Annie calls out again and Beth’s eyes snap back open. She looks down at Rio, who is eyeing her breasts hungrily, his head coming up to bite at one(And to be fair, they are kinda in his face right now) and she laughs a little breathlessly as she tries to disentangle herself from him.

“I’ll be right back.” She leans down to give him a quick kiss, but he turns it around on her, deepening it almost immediately, and she almost considers staying…

But then Annie’s voice is coming closer and Beth pulls away reluctantly, shifting off the bed and Rio lets her.

“Coming.” She calls out, wondering what the problem is.

“Well, you would be, if you stayed in bed.”

“Did you really just pull that line on me?” Beth asks incredulously, finding her panties and pulling them on.

“I’m a desperate man, Elizabeth.” He juts his lower lip all the way out, in a childish pout.

She giggles at that, finding her nightshirt and pulling it on over head, not even bothering with a bra, which Rio seems to appreciate.

“I’ll be right back.” She reassures him, and herself, her body still hot from their kiss. She reaches out and swipes at his bottom lip, and he makes a grab for her, but she twists away and hurries out of the room.

She closes her door behind her, glancing over to Ruby’s open door, sees her friend getting ready for her early shift. Annie’s waiting for her at the end of the hall, looking half asleep and pissed off.

“There’s someone at the door for you.” Annie gestures towards the front door.

Beth’s eyebrows snap together, confusion on her face as she wonders who could be paying her a visit so early in the morning.

Almost everyone she talks to is already in this apartment.

Beth makes her way over to the front door, Annie on her heels, and opens it, coming face to face with Dean.

“Bethie…Uh Beth.” He corrects himself, a sheepish smile on his face.

“Dean, what are you doing here?” Beth tugs at the bottom of her nightshirt, it only hits mid thigh, and she’s suddenly feeling a little exposed.

The movement catches Deans eyes, which roam over her body, sticking on her chest where it’s obvious she’s not wearing a bra.

Dean…”

His eyes snap up to her face again and he must see the annoyance and impatience there, because he quickly straightens up, reaching into his pocket and pulling out her old engagement ring.

Fuck.

“Beth, I think we should get back together. Six years is a lot of history to just throw away over a few mistakes-“

“A few mistakes? Are you kidding me?”

She hears Annie snort in agreement behind her and she turns her head to give her a warning look.

“Beth, they were just mistakes. The last few months it was like you never wanted me around. I was feeling lonely and you never wanted to…you know-“

Beth snapped her head back around so fast she was surprised she didn’t give herself whiplash.

“Are you turning this around on me?”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Annie scoffs from behind her and Dean glares at her over Beth’s shoulder.

“Look Beth, if we’re engaged my dad will consider not charging you with destruction of property for wrecking one of his cars.”

Beth just stares at him in utter disbelief, unable to fully comprehend what she is hearing right now. Is he really trying to blackmail her into getting back together?

“Elizabeth?”

Beth turns and looks towards the hallway, where Rio is leaning against the edge of the wall. His jeans rest obscenely low on his hips, and they're the only article of clothing he's wearing.

“Uhhh…” Beth’s mind goes blank momentarily and Dean takes the opportunity to push the door open the rest of the way.

“Who is that?” He demands, like he has any right.

“Dean,” Beth’s fingers come up to pinch at the bridge of her nose as she turns back to him, “You need to leave.”

“No Bethie, who is that?” He demands again, taking a step into the apartment.

Beth’s hand shoots out to stop him at the same time Rio pushes himself up off the wall and takes a step forward.

Beth has a slight panic attack before she hears Ruby’s voice.

“Dean, she said you need to leave.” Ruby steps around Rio and walks straight up to Beth, one hand coming up to rest reassuringly on Beth’s arm, the other going to the door. She pushes it closed a little, forcing Dean to step back out into the hallway so he won’t get hit by it.

“We’re talking-“

“No, you're talking. We're done listening. Bye, Dean.” And with that, Ruby closes the door in his face.

Chapter Text

Beth feels like her life is slowly imploding.

Not only does she have to juggle work and school(and Annie), but now she also has to worry about Dean and his dad pressing charges against her. (“I know it must’ve felt good, and trust me I wish I had been there to see it, But not your smartest move, B,” Ruby had said once Dean had left and Beth calmed down enough to talk).

Rio had made a vague comment about “taking care of it” for her, but the way he said it made Beth a little uneasy. She reassured him she could take care of it on her own, and he had headed out soon after, claiming to have a meeting to get to, but Beth wonders if maybe the early morning drama had turned him off. (“Damn Beth, homeboy has a smokin’ hot bod!” Annie had gleefully pointed out, as soon as he walked out the door, letting out a low whistle).

“Maybe Stan can help, he’s studying all this criminal law stuff, maybe he'll know something?” Ruby had suggested and even though Beth hadn’t wanted to drag him into this, she was feeling a little desperate, so she reluctantly agreed.

Ruby’s shift ended late in the afternoon, so her and Beth met Stan on campus for lunch. They were sitting in the campus quad, the weather still warm enough they were comfortable in their hoodies and light jackets.

“I don’t know Beth, it sounds like they have a pretty open and shut case. You approached him, you started the argument, you did it all with a dozen different witnesses present AND there’s video of you.” He looked apologetic as he laid it all out for her.

Beth nodded, shoulders slumped in defeat.

“I figured as much I was just really hoping there was a way out of this.”

“Well, I mean there is one…” He trailed off, and Beth raised her eyebrows at him in question.

“You could make up with Dean.”

Stanley Hill, I know you are not suggesting-"

“Calm down babe,” He put a hand up to stop Ruby’s tirade,”I didn’t say get back together, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to…butter him up a little. The guy’s obviously crazy about you. I mean if someone smashed up my Vette, I would not be showing up to her apartment to propose again-“

Stan!” Ruby smacked the side of his arm.

“OK, oh-kay! That’s all I’m saying.” He held his hands up in defeat.

“She might as well just let the guy from the bar “handle it” if she’s gonna go that route.” Ruby said, rolling her eyes.

“Guy from the bar huh?” Stan looked at Beth, who shifted uncomfortably, “He got something to say about this too?”

“He made a comment about taking care of it. It was obviously meant as a joke though.” She’s trying to play it off like Rio hadn’t been serious(even though he’d definitely looked serious when he said it). Stan didn't need to know that.

“I bet.”

“Listen, I know you two have some weird like, rivalry going on or whatever, but I think we’ll be spending a lot more time together so…be nice. Please.”

Stan inhaled deeply then let it out slowly, “Look, I’m not saying dude’s the worst person in the world, but he’s got questionable morals and I think you should be careful.”

“Yeah, he mentioned a ‘grey area’ where that was concerned.”

Stan snorts, “That's one way of putting it.”

“Did I miss something?” Ruby asks, looking back and forth between the two of them.

“Just rival fraternity stuff.” Beth answers quickly, shooting Stan a look, silently begging him to let it go. She feels bad for not wanting to fill Ruby in, but her stomach twists up at the thought of Ruby having a reason to dislike Rio. As it is, she still seems very unsure of him, is still referring to him as the guy from the bar. And Stan had apparently refrained from filling Ruby in on anything thus far so…

Stan gives a tight smile and a nod, and Ruby looks like she might have some doubts, but she lets it go once Beth changes the subject back to Dean and forming a game plan.

 

—-

 

Beth is back at the apartment, stripping her bed, getting ready to do a load of laundry. She’s trying to keep herself busy while she waits for Dean to get back to her. Call, Text, something. She’s been trying his cell since she left the quad with no response.

She yanks the sheets down towards the end of the bed, her annoyance with Dean making her a little more aggressive than is probably necessary. She gathers them up in a big pile with her comforter, tossing them into her laundry basket.

Something falls out from the comforter as she does, and she reaches down to pick it up.

Rio’s beanie.

Beth smiles as she runs her fingers over it, thinking about how she’d pulled it off him as they tumbled back onto her bed. God, she misses him already. How is it she feels this giddy about someone she’s only known for like, two weeks?

She pulls her phone out and takes a picture of it, ready to send it off to him, but she pauses.

An idea forms in her head and she smiles as she pulls the beanie down onto her head, looking in the mirror as she rearranges it and her hair underneath until she’s satisfied that she looks cute enough.

She takes a quick selfie and then attaches it to a text- ‘You left something here.’

‘I know’ He replies almost immediately, then, ‘wait, got something of yours too.’

The next message is a picture and she feels her cheeks redden as she sees her panties, the ones he’d pocketed at the cafe, clutched in his hand.

She is feeling equal parts embarrassed and turned on, and the fact that she doesn’t have him here in front of her makes her feel a little brave…

So she texts-‘No fair, I sent you a picture of me WEARING your thing...’

‘You a real freak you know that Elizabeth.’

She grins and texts back ‘Bring those over, we’ll do a trade.’

‘Tonight. Make sure you’re still wearing that…and nothing else.’

Beth rolls her eyes at the ridiculous image that puts into her head.

 

—-

Beth had had a plan. A half assed plan, but a plan nonetheless. And Dean was screwing it up.

He was ghosting her, hard. And it was starting to really piss her off.

She was desperate to fix this situation between them and she couldn’t do that if he was going to ignore her. Had he already gone to the police after he’d left her apartment this morning?

Dean was part of one of the fraternities on campus, so Beth had decided to just suck it up and head over there. She’d filled Annie in as she was heading out.

“Annie, I’m walking over to Deans. He’s not answering his phone, so I guess I have to go to him.”

“Oooh, an ambush, count me in!”

“Annie, this is not a form of entertainment. This is literally my life on the line here. If you come, you are playing nice.”

“Fine.”

So, now here they are, standing just inside the front door, and Beth is immediately regretting her decision to come here.

The house is full of people. Apparently they are hosting some sort of social event. Did these guys do anything else besides throw parties?

“How am I going to find him in this?” She groaned.

“Cheer up buttercup, at least now you can get wasted before you find him, it’ll ease the sting of having to suck up.” Annie immediately makes a beeline for the drink table.

Beth continues to scan the crowd for Dean. He’s fairly tall so he should be easy to spot.

Annie comes back with a red plastic cup filled with god knows what.

“Your liver is going to rot out before you’re 21.” Beth points out, eyeing the drink.

“Oh, but this is for YOU.” Annie grins, shoving the drink into her hand. Beth can’t help but grin back. Annie did have a point, maybe being tipsy would take the sting out of having this conversation with Dean.

Beth tilts her head a little gesturing for Annie to follow her as she makes her way through the crowd, keeping an eye out for Dean. She notices some of the guys giving her looks as she passes by them. Some of them are friendly. Some of them are curious. A few them are downright hostile.

They all know her from being engaged to Dean. And now, from smashing his car. She wonders how much he’s told them.

Beth finally spots Dean in the kitchen, talking to a girl. Of course. His back is to her, so he hasn’t noticed her yet. Beth hands her drink over to Annie before approaching him from behind, lightly tapping on his arm to get his attention.

When he sees her, he looks surprised but happy, for a second. Then his face clouds over, his expression hardening as he glares down at her.

“You shouldn’t be here, Beth.” He turns away from her, back to the girl he’d been talking to.

“Dean, I know you’re mad, I get it, But we have to talk about this car situation-“

Suddenly Dean’s turning back around, the movement so fast Beth takes a step back in surprise.

“Oh, don’t worry I got the message loud and clear from your little friend.” He snaps.

“What?” Beth is confused. Why is he so mad at her right now? What friend is he talking about?

“Mr. Neck Tats. He already gave me the rundown of just how many bones would be broken if I went to the police.”

“I’m sorry, What?” Beth chokes out, as she hears Annie’s gleeful “Oooh yesss.”

“Oh, like you didn’t know. He was at your place, wasn’t he? Did you guys have a nice laugh together after I left?”

Beth is stunned. She had told Rio she would take care of Dean, and he’d nodded along, like he understood, like he agreed...

“You really didn’t know?” Dean softens as he looks her over, taking in the various emotions playing out across her face.

Before Beth can answer, a guy jostles her from behind, pressing against her unnecessarily as he passes by, the word "Bitch" leaving his mouth as he goes.

Hey!” Both Dean and Annie yell at him, and he turns, a smug little smile playing at his lips. Beth recognizes him, has seen him hang around Dean before, remembers seeing him outside the warehouse party by Dean’s car. He's one of the guys who regarded her with open hostility earlier.

“Hey, sorry bro. She was in my way. But I guess those tits probably get in everyone's way.” His voice is twisted, cruel, and he's looking to Dean, like he expects him to laugh at his stupid joke. Apparently now that they're broken up it's open season on Beth.

“C'mon man, don't be a dick.” The annoyance is clear in Deans voice.

The guy gives Dean a look like he can’t believe Dean's calling him out right now.

“You serious, bro? After what she pulled at that party? I’m just showing her the same level of respect she showed you. She shouldn't even be in this house right now. ”

“You should probably walk away before something happens that you'll regret.”

“That crazy bitch destroyed your car, and what, you're gonna fight for her honor now?” The guy scoffs, pointing his finger in Beth’s face. The way he’s acting, you’d think Beth had taken a crow bar to his car.

“What the hell man, back off.” Dean slaps the guys hand away from Beth’s face and shoves him back. He stumbles into the kitchen island. There’s a look of shock on his face, quickly replaced by anger as he straightens back up.

“Oh shit.” Annie whispers, eyes wide as the guy lunges forward, and she barely pulls Beth out of the way before he’s shoving Dean back.

Great, Beth thinks, realizing a crowd has gathered around them. Again.

“Can we all just Calm Down.” Beth says as she steps forward, reaching for Dean’s arm. Maybe she can drag him out of here before this escalates.

Dean’s hand is balling up into a fist though, and he’s bringing his arm up, his elbow jerking back as he gears up to punch this guy.

Beth registers what’s about to happen about 2.5 seconds too late, as Deans elbow connects solidly with her eye socket.

Chapter Text

Beth stumbles back as pain shoots through her eye, tiny little shock-waves of it traveling across her entire face. She blinks back tears as her hand automatically comes up to cover her eye.

There’s a lot of talking now, coming from all different directions, people crowding around her.

“Oh my god!”

“What happened?”

“Is she okay?”

“Way to go Deansie.”

That last one’s from Annie, now by Beth’s side, her arm wrapped around Beth’s shoulder.

“It was an accident.” Beth says, at the same time as Dean does.

“Bethie, are you okay?” Dean's hands are at her face, tilting her head up to try to look. Beth jerks away from his touch, the movement blurring her vision, causing little black spots to appear, and she briefly has to lean on Annie to recover.

She takes a few deep breathes and then straightens up, hand still covering her eye.

“It's fine.” She grits out, her jaw clenched as the pain ebbs and flows.

People are staring and Beth is just...over this whole situation.

The guy who started all of this has disappeared(of course) and Beth sees the head of the fraternity, Aaron making his way over to them. Someone must’ve grabbed him when this whole thing started. Just…great.

“Beth, are you okay?” He asks, sounding genuinely concerned. Beth has always liked him, he’s always been pretty nice to her.

“I’m good.” She manages a weak smile and Aaron nods, his attention turning to Dean. He does not look pleased.

“Well you guys look like you have a lot to discuss sooo…we’re just gonna…head out now.” Annie pulls Beth quickly through the crowd in the kitchen, making a hasty exit out of the house before anyone can say anything else or stop them.

 

——

 

Beth is settled on the couch, a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a kitchen towel over eye.

Her phone vibrates on the coffee table, for what feels like the hundredth time.

She wonders who it is this time, Dean or Rio.

They’ve both been texting her, Dean to apologize profusely, and Rio to check if they’re still on for tonight.

She’s ignoring them both.

“Well, I think that went pretty well.” Annie comments and Beth glares at her with her one eye.

“What? Look, bar friend took care of the Dean problem, and now you have the extra leverage of him clocking you in the face to hold over him for all of eternity.”

“Annie, you are not helping.”

Annie just shrugs, unbothered.

There’s a knock at the door and Annie gets up to answer it.

“You have the worst timing, dude.” Beth hears Annie say and she closes her eyes with a sigh because she knows who it is already.

“Elizabeth? What-“

“I really don’t feel like doing this right now.” She interrupts him, eyes still closed. She’s not sure if seeing his face will make her want to kiss him or hit him.

There’s a few seconds of silence, then “I tried calling.”

“Yeah.” She responds simply.

Elizabeth.”

She lets out a long sigh, but opens her eyes.

He stares down at her, eyebrows raised, waiting. And she just looks back at him. When he can tell she’s not going to say anything else, he turns to Annie.

“It was Deansie.” Annie immediately blurts out and Beth shoots her sister another glare. Annie throws her hands up and mouths ‘sorry’.

Rio turns back to Beth and before she can react he reaches out and swipes the bag of peas out of her hand.

“Hey!”

Carman did this to you?” Rage is etched on his face as he takes in her bruised and slightly swollen eye, the tiny cut at her eyebrow. His voice is low, dangerous. Beth thinks it would be better if he just yelled.

“Look, I really don’t feel like getting into this with you right now,” She takes the bag of peas from him and puts it back up to her eye, ”I’m not happy with you either.”

Me? What’d I do?”

“Alright this has been fun and all, but can you guys move this lovers quarrel somewhere else? You’re blocking my bed.” Annie interrupts, gesturing to the couch.

Beth rolls her eyes but stands, waving Rio’s hands away as he tries to help her up.

She makes her way back to her bedroom and he follows silently.

Beth props herself up against her headboard, setting the peas down next to her.
There’s a dull pain there still, but it feels a little better, as long as she doesn’t blink too much or touch it.

Rio closes the door behind him, eyes her bed, seems to think better of it, and grabs her desk chair instead. He sets it down beside her bed and sits, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees.

“Wanna tell me what happened?”

“It was an accident.”

“Oh yeah?” He sounds doubtful.

Yes. There was a fight. I was in the way.” She shrugs her shoulder.

“Hmm…”

“Listen, I talked to Dean and he told me you threatened him.”

“I didn’t threaten ‘im.”

Beth gives him a look.

“We had a lil chat. If he felt threatened, that’s on him.” A smile quirks at his lips as he says it.

“What are we even doing?”

Rio looks surprised and confused by her sudden question.

“We’ve known each other for what, maybe 2 weeks? We don’t know anything about each other! And you’re just like, out threatening my ex?”

Rio gives her a look like, Yeah, so?

“This is not normal! None of this is normal,” Beth shifts her body, becoming restless as she gets herself worked up, “The first time we met, my sister practically bribed you to have sex with me-“

“No bribes needed for that, darlin” He interjects, but she continues on like he hasn’t even spoken.

“-The second time we met, you saw me smashing up my ex’s car-“

“Yeh, that was pretty dope.”

“-The third time, we had sex for the first time in a cafe, the place where I work-“

You jumped Me.” He accuses. He’s smiling though, like this is a fond memory for him.

“-Then, you show up to a party that I’m at, with another girl-“

“Didn’t show up with her, she was already there.”

“-And now you’re threatening bodily harm to my ex, behind my back.”

He waits a beat, making sure that she’s finished, then, “Sounds pretty normal to me.” He’s purposely trying to rile her up now.

“First of all, it is not normal to solve every problem you have by…breaking someones kneecaps-”

Rio looks at her like he does not find this statement to be true. At All.

“-Secondly, It’s not normal to skip right over the…dating part of this whole thing and jump right into the sex.”

“You date everyone you have sex with?”

“Well…” Beth considers telling him Dean’s the only other person she’s been with besides him, the only other reference point she has for all of this, but decides against it, “…Yes.” She lifts her chin a little in the air, refusing to be embarrassed by this.

Rio nods, like that is the exact response he’d been expecting, and Beth feels herself flush anyway.

“We never even talked about being exclusive.” She says quietly, fiddling with the hem of her shirt, her eyes fixated on her comforter now.

When he’s quiet, she starts to get really antsy.

“Not that that is something we need to talk about right now. Or at all. Like, ever.” She tries to back track, feeling flustered and unsure.

“Elizabeth. Look at me.”

She hesitates for a moment, then lifts her eyes to focus on him.

“I got classes, the bar, side businesses, family obligations, and you. You think I got time for anyone else?”

She smiles a little and shrugs.

“Look, I aint gonna lie, all that also means I don’t got time for relationship stuff either.”

Beth’s face falls a little bit at his words. She thinks she probably already knew that, really, but it still stings nonetheless.

“I think I had all this stuff happen with Dean and I just went a little…crazy,” He huffs out a laugh at that and she smiles too, ”I just jumped right into this thing with you because it felt really good but everything has been moving really fast and it’s kind of confusing.”

He nods, looking off to the side, like he’s not sure what to say.

“So maybe we…slow down? Just…see each other around?” She swallows, hard, after she says it. Her chest feeling tight, her stomach a little queasy.

“Yeah.” He continues nodding, still looking off to the side.

After an excruciating minute of silence, he stands up, moves the chair back to the desk. His eyes land on his beanie, resting on top of her desk where she left it. She expects him to pick it up, take it with him.

He doesn’t.

He turns to look at her instead, hands fisted at his sides, like he wants to reach out and touch her, but he’s holding back.

She’s grateful for it, it would probably just make everything harder.

“Get that eye looked at, yeah?”

She nods, not trusting her voice to talk, and then he’s walking out her door, closing it gently behind him.

He’s gone.

How does this hurt so much more than ending her 6 years with Dean?

Chapter Text

Beth is sitting on the couch with Ruby. They’re working their way though half a gallon of ice cream, and whatever alcohol they could find in the apartment. Which is half a bottle of wine and a bottle of bourbon. Ruby claims the wine and Beth figures she needs something stronger anyway, so settles on the bourbon. Stan had left it here ages ago, when they’d first moved in.

“Why do I feel so awful?” Beth moans, setting down her spoon to take a sip out of her glass.

“Bourbon and ice cream will do that to you.” Ruby points out, wrinkling her nose at the combination.

Ruby…”

“Oh, you mean emotionally. Right.”

They both giggle in between bites of ice cream.

“I didn’t even mourn like this after Dean.”

“B, you didn’t mourn at all after Dean. You went straight from throwing your ring in his face, to going out to a bar and picking up the bartender.”

“First of all, I did not pick him up-“

The point is, you went from Zero to A Hundred. No stops in between. You and Dean never even had that talk about what happened and where you guys stood with each other cause you went all HulkSmash on his car.”

“This is true.”

“You never got any closure from that relationship before you moved on to the next. And the next wasn’t even a relationship. Your sexual tension game is on point, actual communication not so much.”

“Every time I get sucked into his orbit, I feel like my brain just…malfunctions.”

“I think, speaking as your best friend and one true soulmate, that you should take some time for yourself. You’ve been attached to Dean since you guys were like, babies. You deserve to…be your own person right now. “

“You have always been the best and wisest of us three.”

“I know. Speaking of ‘us three’, I love Annie to death, but girlfriend has got to go. She is driving me insane.”

Beth laughs hard, almost spitting her drink out.

“I mean, if we wait long enough, she’ll probably just end up moving in with Greg. She spends more time over there than she does here.” Beth points out, realizing she still hasn’t talked to Annie about her relationship with Greg.

“She is a hot mess. Literally. Does he not have any roommates? Cause they must hate having her over.”

“No, she said he lives alone. Apparently his parents are loaded and they just pay for everything.”

“Oh yesss, we need to work that angle.”

Beth’s cell phone vibrates on the coffee table and she leans over, setting her drink down and picking the phone up. Her smile slowly fades as she sees the name on the screen.

It’s Rio.

It’s been a week since she’s actually seen him, talked to him. She’s been avoiding the bar like the plague and keeping an eye out for him on campus. Not that it matters, he’s like a freaking ninja anyway, disappearing and reappearing whenever he wants.

“It’s him,” She holds up her phone to show Ruby, “What should I do?”

“Don’t answer it! You’ve had too much to drink, those legs will spread open faster than Moses parted the Red Sea.”

Beth is shocked for a solid second and then she just laughs. Ruby joins her and they are both laughing so hard, they have to wipe tears from their eyes.

“Did you really just say that? What does that even mean?” Beth is gasping for air, holding her sides. It feels good to be laughing, to be silly, to be with her best friend.

Before Beth realizes it, she’s let her phone ring for too long and it goes to voicemail.

“Oh, He’s going to be so pissed!” She says, between giggles.

Her phone starts vibrating again almost immediately, Rio’s name flashing across the screen for a second time.

“Oh shit.” She’s not laughing anymore.

“Don’t do it!”

“Well now I have to. He wouldn’t call, twice, unless it was something important."

Beth takes a deep breath in, then lets it out slowly before answering.

“Hello?”

Ruby rolls her eyes and throws her hands up in defeat and Beth can’t help the little huff of laughter that comes out.

There’s a pause and then, “Am I interruptin’ somethin?”

“Nope.” She answers, popping the P loudly and Rio sighs.

“How much you had to drink?”

“Well I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

There's another pause, and Beth can just picture him, head in hand, counting to ten before he can continue talking to her.

“Look, I got your sister here-“

“Annie?!” Beth sits up straight, suddenly on high alert. She looks at Ruby who mouths “What?”, concern in her eyes.

“What’s wrong with her?” Beth stands up, too fast, stumbles a little.

“She’s fine. She came in earlier all upset, and I handled it…but now she’s just…cryin' all over the place and she’s scaring off our customers.”

“Oh god.” Beth moans, looking over to Ruby who raises her eyebrows and Beth just rolls her eyes, shaking her head.

“I’ll be right there.” She tells Rio, ready to hang up so she can call an Uber.

“You’re not driving.”

“I wasn’t planning on it.” Her voice is laced with irritation. Did he think she was dumb enough to do that?

“Look, I can keep her here and drive her home after I lock up-“

“I said I’m on my way.” Beth pulls the phone away from her ear and jabs at the End call button, a little harder than necessary.

“Annie’s at the bar. Apparently having a mid life crisis, cause you know, those start young these days.”

Oh Annie.” Ruby sounds nothing short of exasperated.

“I’m gonna grab an Uber, head over and see if I can work this out.”

“Want me to come with?”

“No, I don’t think Rio could handle all three of us together right now.”

“K. Watch those legs girl.”

 

—-

 

Beth takes in a deep breath as she enters the bar, trying to brace herself for whatever awaits. Rio’s probably pretty pissed off that she hung up on him and who knows what’s going on with Annie this time.

Her eyes scan over the bar area, landing on Annie at the far end. She makes a point not to focus on who’s behind the bar and heads straight over to her sister.

She can feel his eyes on her the whole time anyway, and it takes every ounce of willpower she has not to fidget with herself. She’s wearing an old pair of jeans and a hoodie, no makeup, hair thrown up into a messy bun. She’s doesn’t even want to think about how big of a mess she must look right now.

Beth slides onto the stool next to Annie(Rio was right, the whole area around Annie is completely empty of people) and looks her sister over.

Annie’s slouched down in her seat, arms crossed, eyes and face red, looking like a petulant child.

There’s a glass in front of her with some kind of clear liquid in it and Beth wraps her hand around it and slides it away from Annie, until it’s sitting in front of Beth.

“I think you’ve had enough to drink.” She says pointedly.

“I haven’t had anything to drink,” Annie whines, “that’s the whole problem! Bar friend refuses to serve me- like, he literally has one job and he won’t do it. He just keeps making me talk about my feelings while he listens. It’s the worst.”

Beth can’t help but look surprised, her eyes finding Rio in spite of her earlier promise to herself to ignore him.

He’s down at the other end of the bar, leaning back against the bar top, facing them, legs and arms crossed in front of him.

She swallows hard as he meets her stare dead on, his eyes moving to scan over her lazily, and Beth can’t help the way her legs press a little closer together.
Has he really just been here, taking care of her sister? She feels her stomach flutter a little at the thought.

“Good.” She says quietly, tearing her eyes away to focus back on Annie.

“I told him not to call you. Didn’t want to stress you out with this along with everything else.”

“So, you came here and stressed Rio out instead?”

No, I came here to wallow in self pity and get wasted. But your boyfriend keeps making me do the wallowing part and not the wasted part,” Annie looks over to where Rio is standing and adds, “Dick,” loud enough for him to hear.

Beth chances a quick glance too, and he doesn’t seem fazed by Annie at all. Seems pretty amused actually.

The Marks Sisters must be his daily source of entertainment, Beth thinks with a small smile.

Rio catches her smile, and his lips twitch in response and Beth knows she should look away, knows she should grab Annie and get the hell out of here…

But she can't.

All she can think about is the fact that he was here, taking care of her baby sister for who knows how long before he’d decided it was time to call her, keeping her sober and listening to her talk.

The thought makes her want to crawl across this bar top and just...lick him from head to toe.

Her thoughts must be showing all over her face, because Rio’s eyes suddenly turn dark, his jaw clenching a little and Beth can’t help the way her tongue just comes out to lick at her lips. His eyes dart down to follow the movement and Rio’s body tenses, like it’s taking everything in him not to walk over and just fuck her against the bar right there.

Their eyes are locked on each other and Beth shifts a little in her seat, her thighs pressing tightly together, her body suddenly feeling hot all over.

“Ew, could you guys not use my emotional instability as foreplay?” Annie’s voice pulls Beth from her trance, and Beth is forced to refocus on her, guilt immediately taking over.

“You still haven’t told me what happened.” Beth points out, ignoring Annie’s comment.

“Greg and I had a fight.”

“Annie, are you serious? This is about a guy?”

“Oh shut up, like you haven’t been moping around over Rio for the last week.”

Beth looks quickly out of the corner of her eye to Rio, hoping he hasn’t heard that. He’s busy wiping down that side of the bar, seems to be letting them have their chat privately.

“Point taken,” She concedes, “What exactly happened?”

“I don’t know. I’ve know him since beginning of high school and we used to like, mess around even back then, so when I saw him here, it was easy to start doing that again. Except college seems to be just like high school, where he hangs out with the douchey jocks, and I’m just the side piece he tries to keep secret.”

“Annie, you are so much better than being anyone's side piece.” Beth reaches out and rubs Annie’s arm reassuringly.

“I Know! That’s why I dumped him, Told him I was sick of his shit and I was heading back home.”

“You’re what?!”

“Yeah, I think it’s time. I’ve talked to Darren and Kayla at work, and they said they would go with me to talk to HR about my boss- back me up. Besides, I think Ruby’s about ready to strangle me.”

They both laugh at that and Beth feels her heart clench a little at the thought of her sister leaving.

Plus, if I head home, Greg will realize how madly in love with me he is and he’ll come chasing after me to win me back…And I might just let him.”

Annie.”

“What? Like you don’t want bar friend to chase after you.”

Beth resists the urge to look back over at Rio.

“That’s not how real life works.” She says quietly.

Annie shrugs and reaches for her glass(“It’s just water.” she reassures Beth)and takes a long drink.

She sets it down and then stands, “I’m gonna go to the bathroom and then we can leave? I should probably get my stuff packed up.”

“When are you planning on leaving?”

“Tomorrow? Day after maybe?”

Beth nods and Annie gets up, heading back to the restrooms.

Beth takes her phone out, texts Ruby that they are heading back soon, that Annie’s planning on packing up and heading out in the next day or two.

Beth sees him approaching out of her peripheral vision, steels herself for their interaction.

“Yo.”

Beth looks up, feels like she’s just…being assaulted by how freaking gorgeous he is. It's not fair that she is a mess and he just looks this good all the time.
His dark eyes, those long lashes, his sharp cheekbones, that mouth, that god damn bottom lip

“Oh my god, your face! Can you just like, stop it.” She groans waving her hand out and closing her eyes.

She hears Rio laugh and opens her eyes to look at him again.

“That’s even worse.” She complains, mock glaring.

“How’s she doin?” He asks tilting his head back towards the restrooms.

“Annie? She’s fine. She’s just very…emotional. And she is incapable of holding anything back so it all just kind of spills out into a big jumbled mess sometimes.”

Rio nods, “Yeah, I wanted to call you sooner, figured she needed her sister, but she was pretty stubborn about gettin you involved.”

“Thank you. For that. For taking care of her. And for calling me. I really appreciate it.” Her voice is low, almost a whisper as she says it, her eyes focused on the bar top in front of her.

She sees Rio’s hand reach out, tilt her chin up. He bumps his finger gently against her chin dimple and then moves his hand away.

“Not a big deal.”

It’s a lie. They both know it is.

“Eye looks…better.” He comments after a moment of silence.

“Liar.” She knows it still looks awful.

He huffs out a laugh at that.

“You sober up any?” He asks, eyes focused on her like she’s the only person in the bar.

“Sober enough.” She shoots back, hands fidgeting in her lap.

“Liar.”

She laughs and the look he gives her is a cross between pure lust and affection. He looks like he wants to lean forward and kiss her, and she wishes he would.

“Do you need a ride home?” He asks, his body leaning forward a little bit.

Her breath catches, not sure if he’s offering her just a ride home, or something more.

“I was just going to call an Uber…” Her voice trails off, leaving it open ended.

“Nah, I got you.”

Her mind flashes back to that first night in her bedroom, when he’d said that same thing, right before his tongue and fingers had pressed against her, inside her.

She can tell he’s thinking about that night too and her face flushes.

She sees Annie walking back up from the bathrooms and she straightens in her seat, clearing her throat.

“I thought you had to close up?”

“Someone else can do it.”

“Okay.” She nods, nervous, not sure what to think or do as Annie comes to a stop beside her.

“Rio is driving us home.” She informs Annie, trying to keep her voice even.

“Cool, I call shot gun!”

Chapter Text

The ride back is mostly quiet, with Annie interjecting now and then to fill the silence.

Rio is nodding along at the appropriate times when she speaks, but his focus is on Beth in the back seat. His eyes keep catching hers in the rear view mirror.

When they arrive at Beth’s apartment complex and Rio parks, everyone is still for a minute.

oh-kay, well this has been sufficiently awkward.” Annie says as she pushes open her door and steps out.

Beth doesn’t move.

Neither does Rio.

Annie rolls her eyes as she looks down at the two of them.

“Alright then, Have fun boning you two!” she chirps, right before she closes her door and walks off.

Beth and Rio continue to sit in silence. He doesn’t even turn to look at her.

She can feel the energy, that underlying tension, that always seems to flow between them, and she wonders what it will take to make it snap this time.

Her lips part and she feels herself pushing the words out, before she has a chance to talk herself out of it.

“Take me somewhere.”

Rio’s grip is tight on the steering wheel, he’s still quiet, still hasn’t moved to look back at her. She thinks he’s going to say no, going to tell her to go home, call it a night.

Then he relaxes, she can hear him slowly exhale. His hand reaches over to put the car into gear and then he’s driving again.

 

—-

 

They pull up to a park. It’s quiet, empty due to the late hour. Their car is the only one in the parking lot. The street lamps bring dim light to the surrounding areas.

Beth and Rio get out of the car and silently walk along the path, so close their arms occasionally brush against one another.

It’s a nice night, a little chilly when the wind decides to whip up cold air around them, but Beth just breathes it in, expanding her lungs until it’s painful before letting it go. It feels nice out here. Quiet. Peaceful.

It’s not long before they come across a playground and Beth steps off the path, heading towards the swings, Rio following closely behind.

She sits down on one of the swings and Rio settles into the other one.

“Used to come here at night, when I was a…”wayward youth”.” He huffs out a little laugh and shakes his head, remembering it.

Beth smiles as she thinks about it too, imagines a little Rio running around the playground, looking for trouble.

They’re rocking a little on the swings, gently swaying back and forth.

“I’ve never been to a park at night.” Beth admits.

“No?”

Beth shakes her head, “I…had a lot of responsibilities at home and I was always babysitting or doing other odd jobs at night. No time for playgrounds.”

“Yeah, me too. Workin, Hustlin’. Even at the park.”

They both laugh a little at that.

“I don’t understand how you are not just- exhausted all the time.” Beth kicks a little at the ground, toeing at the dirt and mulch underneath the swing.

“Gotta do what you gotta do, Mami. Don’t have the luxury of being exhausted.”

“Because you have a criminal empire to run?” She teases, thinking back to the tension between him and Stan, his comment about having skeletons in his closet, his secrecy.

“Somethin’ like that.” He’s looking right at her as he answers, and the look in his eyes is one she hasn’t seen before. Almost…dangerous?

She swallows hard and looks away. She tracks the leaves skittering across the ground from the wind, as she thinks over his comment.

If she asks now, outright asks, is he going to tell her the truth? Does she even want to know? Will it change the way she feels about him? He’s basically all but admitted it with that sentence, and she doesn’t feel any different about him right in this very moment.

She looks back over at him and his eyes are still on her. He’s just sitting, waiting. Waiting for her to figure out her next move. Like always.

“You said you and Stan had different morals, different backgrounds,” She is trying to speak very carefully, “Is that because he…believes in enforcing the law and you believe in… breaking it?”

A smile plays at Rio’s lips, like he’s amused by her obvious discomfort and choice of words.

He plants his feet on the ground, stilling his swing completely. He shifts his upper body a little, so he’s facing her a little more.

“You really wanna know?”

His face is serious and she thinks…

She thinks if she said “yes” here and now, just the two of them on this swingset under the cover of darkness, he would tell her the truth.

Maybe a half truth, but the truth nonetheless. She’s just not sure if she’s ready to know.

So, with just the two of them on this swingset, under the cover darkness, she thinks she can offer a few truths of her own.

“Dean and I met when we were ridiculously young. I mean, we’re young now, but I’m talking—14? Maybe 15? Barely in Junior High.” She starts, ignoring the tightening in her chest, the part of her brain that is screaming for her to stop talking. Her hands grip the chains of the swing harder.

Rio looks momentarily surprised and a little bit confused by the sudden change in subject. He recovers quickly though, tilts his head to let her know he’s listening, to continue.

“Dean was just always there, chasing after me—until I gave in and just let him…catch me,” Her mind goes back to her and Annie’s earlier conversation at the bar.
“He would always talk about how he was going to run his dad’s dealership once he was done with college, how he was going to take care of Annie and me, and how we were going to live happily ever after in a huge mansion. We were so… dumb,“ She shakes her head, laughs a little even though it’s painful.

“It sounded so good, the promises he made. Safe. He came from this…wholesome stable home and I…didn’t.” She doesn’t elaborate and he doesn’t push.
“He represented this--security and stability and safety. And I desperately needed that…for Annie.” She pauses, thinks about how none of the things she’s mentioned were about love. She thinks Rio probably picks up on that too.

“Dean’s dad has these old fashioned views on family—The white picket fence with the perfect wife and loving children. And he wanted that for Dean before he started at the dealership. So right after high school graduation we got engaged because he needed a Stepford wife, and I was it.” She swallows thickly, thinking back to her and Annie’s argument. Annie accusing her of being a robot, disassociating herself from her problems.

Her brain is still protesting, her chest still aching, but it’s a little more tolerable.

“I think I get so caught up in…being and feeling for everyone else, I lose myself. Which is probably why when Dean cheated on me I went a little crazy. Decided to just do whatever made me feel good. Like smashing up his car,“ She looks away, down at the ground, “Like you.”

“But that person isn’t me, not really. I don’t…do those things. And I don’t want you saying-- things to me, thinking I’m someone I’m not.”

Rio’s shaking his head at her, because he disagrees with her or he finds her ridiculous, or both. It’s hard to tell at this point.

“I know who you are, Elizabeth.”

She starts to protest but he cuts her off to continue.

“If we hadn’t crossed paths again after that night at the bar, I probably wouldn’t of thought much of you. But you showed up at the warehouse, busting shit up, talkin smack about bathroom sex and then gettin me between those legs in that office. You wanna put on a front like that ain’t you—baby, that is you.”

Beth feels like her face is on fire, the way he lays out all her sins like they absolve her instead of damning her.

“You got a fire in you despite that dumbass ex of yours trying to smother it. I’m just tryin to get you to embrace it.”

She’s quiet for a minute, trying to work her way through all the emotions twisting their way through her right now. She’s excited by this version of her that he sees, that no one else does.

She’s just as scared by it too.

“I…don’t think I really want to know,” She says, when she finally feels like she can talk, giving an answer to his earlier question, “At least, not right now.”

Rio doesn’t say anything, just nods.

She shivers a little as the wind picks up and he notices.

“We should head back.” He says, standing up before she can say anything.

“Okay.” She responds quietly, because really, she’s not sure what else to say. She’s never had anyone look at her or talk to her the way he does and, like she’d told Ruby earlier, it makes her brain malfunction.

They’re quiet again on the walk back to the car.

When they reach it, she seriously considers getting into the backseat again. She doesn’t know if she can handle sitting next to him right now.

Rio gives her a look though, like he knows exactly what she’s thinking, and comes around to open the passenger side door for her with a smile.

Beth resists the urge to roll her eyes and slides into the seat without argument and he closes it for her.

She nervously runs her hands up and down over the front of her jeans, before shoving them into her hoodie pocket.

Rio looks her over after he gets in, that look on his face like she’s doing something to amuse him. Is he ever not looking at her like that?

The car ride home seems to take an excruciatingly long time. Rio is relaxed and cool beside her and Beth feels nothing but tense, her thoughts racing with everything that was said(and wasn't said) at the park.

When he’s finally parked outside of her apartment building, she doesn’t move right away to get out.

Is she supposed to offer him a friendly goodbye? Kiss him goodnight? Invite him up?

Relax, Elizabeth.” He murmurs, his voice snapping her out of her thoughts.
He’s pointedly looking at her hands, and she sees they are gripping her knees. She hadn’t even realized she’d taken them out of her pocket.
Before she can move them though, Rio’s reaching over and pulling at the one closest to him, bringing it up to his mouth and lightly biting at her knuckles.

Beth shivers and her breath catches, heat immediately pooling low, between her legs and her other hand grips even tighter at her knee.

Rio grins against her knuckles, and Beth kinda feels like punching him. And then maybe kissing him.

Instead, she gently pulls her hand away and clears her throat, unbuckling herself so she can get the hell out of this car before she adds it to the growing list of public places she’s had sex in.

“See you around, yeah?” His voice is teasing, and she knows he’s throwing her own words back at her.
(“So maybe we…slow down? Just…see each other around?”)

Feeling slightly annoyed that he’s always throwing her off balance with his touch and his words(and she’s always letting him), she decides to turn it around on him.

“Or you could come up with me.” She says it with a shrug, like it’s no big deal either way and then gets out of the car, shooting him a grin before she closes the door and walks off.

It takes longer than she thought it would, but she hears his car door close and his alarm set a minute later.

She doesn’t slow down, doesn’t look back, just keeps walking, her stomach feeling almost queasy with anticipation.

She makes it to the stairwell before his hand is wrapping around her wrist and spinning her around. He pushes her up against the wall, his arms caging her in. He presses himself against her and she can’t help the way her hips automatically push back. Her body seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to him.

He stares down at her, like he wants to devour her, the intensity there making her shiver.

“There’s a bed just waiting for us upstairs…” She whispers, looking up at him through her lashes.

“Got a real weird obsession with beds, Mami. We should break you of that.”

He brings one hand off the wall to tug at the bottom of her hoodie, before slipping it underneath.

“Why you wearing so many clothes?” He asks, as his hand bunches up the fabric of the t-shirt she’s wearing underneath.

She doesn’t answer, doesn’t think she can breathe as his hand finally slides against her skin, grasping at her hip.

His knuckles move to graze across the top of her jeans, and then his fingers are at the button, popping it open and sliding the zipper down and Beth flushes.

“Rio…”

“Hmm…”

“Someone might see…”

He hums in agreement and Beth laughs a little breathlessly, “I’m serious!”

“Relax, Elizabeth,” His fingers dip into the waistband of her panties and goosebumps erupt over her skin, “No one will ever know. It’ll be our little secret, yeah? You jus gotta keep quiet, think you can do that?”

Beth feels like her whole world is off kilter, she can’t think about anything else but Rio’s fingers and how good she knows they will feel.

She nods quickly and Rio smirks.

“Good girl.” He whispers in her ear before pushing his hand the rest of the way into her panties. His fingers slide over her and Beth gasps.

He shushes her, smiling against her hair as he places a kiss there, his fingers teasing her, drawing tiny little gasps out of her as she tries to keep quiet.

He slides his other hand into her hair and tugs gently, giving himself better access to her neck.

Beth whimpers, her hips moving restlessly against him, desperately needing more.

Rio’s mouth is kissing along her jawline, nipping at her ear, sucking and biting at her neck and then he’s whispering things into her ear — how they’re out in the open, someone could hear her, someone could see, would they call them out if they did, would they stay and watch?

Beth is so wrapped up in his words, his mouth, she's taken by surprise when he finally crooks one finger up inside of her. Beth grabs at his wrist and bites down hard on her lip to stop any noise from escaping.

“Jesus Elizabeth…” He groans, his forehead coming to rest against hers.

Beth slides the hand not clutching at his wrist up behind his neck to pull him down into a kiss.

As their lips connect, he slides another finger in and Beth moans into his mouth.

Her fingernails are digging into the skin at the back of his neck as he works her with his fingers, bringing her closer and closer to the edge.

She’s panting against his mouth, the hand that's on his wrist moving to grip his shoulder instead as she rocks against him, as the pressure builds, his thumb coming up to circle her clit, and she’s coming so hard, not even his mouth is able to stifle it as she cries out.

Chapter Text

Beth is moving frantically around her and Ruby’s small apartment kitchen, unpacking and putting away various baking ingredients from her shopping trip, opening and closing cupboards, taking stock of what she has and what she still needs to get for Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s not until next week but Beth likes to be prepared, especially this year.

Before Ruby came into their lives, Beth and Annie hadn’t celebrated the holidays much, although Beth did her best to do as much as their circumstances allowed— for Annie.

Then one day, Ruby was there, showing up like a long lost sister when they needed her the most, and her family embraced Beth and Annie, taking them in during the holidays.

Then after her and Dean became engaged, it was expected of her to attend the holidays at his parent’s house, Annie in tow(even though Annie hated every second of it and they always had to leave early before Dean’s mom tried to strangle her).

Now, Ruby and Stan were celebrating with each others families, and this year she was obviously not going to be at Dean’s.

So, Beth was back to making the most out of their circumstances, ready to start her and Annie’s own holiday traditions.

It’s where Rio finds her, when he shows up half an hour later, just walking right in the door like he owns the place.

“You know, normally people knock.” She says pointedly, folding up the tote bags she uses for her grocery shopping and setting them in a neat pile on top of each other.

“You know, normally people lock their doors.” he shoots back, eyebrow raised, smile playing at his lips.

She huffs and turns away, opening a drawer to shove the bags inside and he laughs at her obvious annoyance at him having a point.

“What you doin’?”

“Trying to figure out Thanksgiving dinner.”

“You doin’ Thanksgiving dinner? Here?” He gestures toward her small kitchen, his tone surprised and a little teasing.

“Well, yes. Usually we go to Ruby’s or…Dean’s,” She watches the expression shift on Rio’s face from amusement to annoyance, “But this year it’s going to just be the two of us.” She shrugs a little, hoping he doesn’t ask about her family.

She thinks he must pick up on how uncomfortable she is, because he doesn’t ask, just nods as he looks her over.

It’s been a few weeks since the park and they’ve fallen into this weird little groove.

It’s usually him finding her. She turns around and he’s just there and before she knows it, she’s on her back in her apartment or bent over the desk in the back office at the cafe, or against the stacks at the campus library.

They were supposed to be slowing down and instead it seems like they’ve done a complete 180.

After she had invited him up to her apartment, she’d set some ground rules.

She still had some things to work through and she was taking Ruby’s advice to heart. She needed to figure out who she was without Dean…or Annie(Annie had called after her meeting with HR, her manager had been investigated and fired so she was much happier at work now, and Greg had ended up chasing after her, so(for now), Annie had no problems for Beth to fix).

So that meant she was…okay with being casual, because she needed to focus on herself anyway.

So, rule #1 - None of the typical “dating” obligations- No getting involved with each others families(the exception being Annie, since they met before all this), no buying each other things, no checking in with each other every day, no sleeping over, no…emotional attachments(this last one had Beth’s heart skipping a beat, thinking about how she felt about him already).

Rule #2- No interfering in other aspects of each others personal lives. That meant no going behind her back to threaten her ex(Rio had tried, and failed, to hold back a smile as she’d thrown that example out there).

Rule #3 - Even though they were casual, they would only be sleeping with each other, no one else.(“You the only one I’m tryin’ to get with, Ma.” Rio had said as he’d pulled her pants and underwear off, settling himself between her legs). If they decided they wanted to sleep with other people, they would just end this thing between them.

So far it’s been working for them, although sometimes she’ll catch herself or Rio slipping. He’s made more than one snide remark about Dean, and Beth has had to stop herself more than once from texting him throughout the day.

Now, Rio takes a step toward her and she can tell by the look on his face that he’s already working out how he’s going to get himself between her legs, and where.

His eyes settle briefly on the kitchen counter, and then flick back over to her, and Beth lets out a shaky breath that she hadn’t even realized she was holding.

“Ruby is going to be home soon. She only has one class today and it’s only an hour long.” She protests, weakly.

“Hmm.” He takes another step and she moves back. He quirks an eyebrow up at that, takes another step forward, and she counters with another step back.

He smiles wide at that, and she realizes he’s going to turn this into a game and her pulse picks up.

He moves slow, languidly, like a predator stalking its prey.

Beth’s heart is rapidly beating in her chest, her whole body vibrating with anticipation, as they continue their little dance, until he has her semi cornered in the kitchen. There’s an open space to the side of him, and she realizes he’s left it there purposely, like he wants her to try to escape through it.

If she’s fast enough…

She inches a little toward that space and Rio’s hand twitches at his side.

She darts for it, twisting as he reaches for her, but he’s too fast and she shrieks as he catches her easily, his arm wrapping around her waist as he swings her around, pushing her up against the counter before she even realizes what’s happening.

He’s flush against her back and Beth’s breath stutters out as he grabs her arms and he places her hands on top of the counter, pressing them down flat.

“Don’t move.” He lets go of her hands and she obeys, keeps them pressed down as a shiver passes through her entire body.

He smirks, can tell she’s completely gone for him already.

He slides one hand under her t-shirt, his fingers skimming up her side, from her hip up over her ribs, until he reaches the band of her bra. His fingers play with it a little, before his hand continues up to slide her bra strap down off her shoulder and then pull the cup of her bra down, her breast spilling out into his hand. He groans as he teases at her flesh, his fingers swiping over her nipple, teasing it into a hard little peak.

Beth’s letting out breathless little moans, her ass grinding back against him, her hands itching to reach back and touch him.

Rio moves his free hand to the waistband of her leggings, sliding it in, finding her panties and sliding into those too, his fingers finding her wet and ready for him already.

He bites and sucks at her neck and Beth’s hand comes up, grabbing at the back of his head.

Rio pulls his mouth off her abruptly and his hand away from her breast, using it to snatch at her hand and set it roughly back on the counter.

Behave, mama. We don’t have a lot of time, remember?”

Beth feels a flash of irritation, thinks about taking her hands off the counter just to shove him away, but then Rio’s yanking her leggings and panties down roughly, and she can hear him undoing his jeans, pushing them down just enough as his hands find her hips. She braces herself as he pushes into her in one swift motion and she forgets all about being irritated.

Beth scrambles at the countertop, her fingers desperate to grasp at something, anything, as he thrusts into her, hard and fast.

He presses his body tightly along the length of hers, pushing her upper body down with his until her breasts are pressed against the countertop, and he pauses, completely stopping his movements for a moment, as he breathes heavily against her hair. His hands are gripping tightly at her hips so she can't move them and Beth knows she’s going to have those bruises for weeks.

“Rio…” She pants out his name, desperate for him to start moving inside her again.

His grip on her hips loosens a little, he straightens back up slightly, and Beth lets out a tiny sigh of relief at the control that gives her, arching her back a little as she rocks her hips, fucking herself back onto his cock.

God…” She moans, head falling forward as her eyes close. Rio slides one hand from her hip around to her clit, his fingers easily and expertly coaxing her closer to her orgasm. She feels the pressure building, rocks her hips harder, faster as she chases after it. And then it’s hitting her all at once. She cries out, short gasping breathes as she clenches around him. Rio groans, straightening up the rest of the way, pulling her up by her shoulder with him. Her hands slide off the counter and fall limply at her sides, and she feels like a rag doll, as she rides out the tale end of her orgasm.

Rio wraps one arm around her waist, pulls her so her back is flush with his front, and then he’s sliding his other hand up to her neck, lightly gripping it, holding her in place as he continues to fuck up into her. He bites down hard on her shoulder and she can feel it, when he comes deep inside of her.

The countertop is digging uncomfortably into Beth’s hips, Rio now leaning heavily against her again and Beth wiggles a bit, trying to push him back, but all it does is make him groan and tighten his hold slightly on her neck. Beth shivers at the pressure of it combined with the feel of him still inside her.

“Can you—“ She starts, but before she can ask him to ease up, she hears the familiar sound of the front doorknob turning and the click of the door being pushed open. Beth feels like everything happens in slow motion as Ruby steps through and her eyes lock on them. Her eyes go wide in shock and she freezes in place.

“Oh my god!” Beth and Ruby shriek at the same time, Beth instinctively pushing at Rio, trying to get him off of her.

Then Stan's voice comes from the hallway(he must be right behind Ruby), sounding concerned and the door is being pushed open all the way so he can step in and around Ruby to see what’s going on.

As soon as he sees the two of them, he turns right back around, grabbing Ruby’s arm on his way back out the door, hastily closing it behind them.

“Oh my god.” Beth moans again, and Rio laughs a little as he pulls out of her, placing a quick kiss on her shoulder where he’d bitten her. He steps back, pulling his boxer briefs and jeans back into place.

“This is not funny.” she scolds, yanking her underwear and leggings back up, fixing her bra as she turns to glare at him.

“It’s a lil funny.”

“You don’t have to see them every day, I do.” She pouts.

Amusement dances in his eyes as he looks down at her, “That’s why you should lock your door, sweetheart.”

“She has a key.” Beth snaps back, smacking his arm.

 

——

“All I’m saying B, is you could give a girl a heads up next time. Phone call, text, email, a NOTE on the door-“

“Carrier pigeon.” Stan interjects, and Ruby points to him and nods, like his suggestion is valid.

Beth clears her throat, feels herself flush, despite her best efforts to stay calm.

Beth had been able to get herself cleaned up and situated by the time Ruby and Stan had come back to the apartment. Rio had left almost immediately, leaving her to handle this by herself. ‘Asshole’, she thinks to herself.

“I’m sorry, really, trust me. I didn’t know he was coming by…”

“Beth, what is going on with you two?” Ruby asks.

They’re all sitting at the dining room table, and Beth shifts a little uncomfortably at Ruby’s question. Her eyes dart over to Stan, who is staring intently at his phone now, looking like he wants to be anywhere else but here.

“We’re…friends.”

“With benefits?”

“Ruby!”

“That’s what it’s called when you’re sleeping with someone that you’re not in a relationship with, Beth”

“Okay…”

“I just want to make sure you know what you’re doing. He seems like he’s…very experienced and you’ve only ever been in one relationship. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I get that, and I appreciate you trying to look out for me, but I know what I’m doing. We’ve talked about it and there are…rules.”

Rules? Oh honey, no.”

“Ruby, I’m serious! I’m not…naive, I know Rio is on a completely different level than me when it comes to like, everything, but that’s what I like about him. He’s part of me figuring out who I am.”

“Well, the Beth I know wouldn’t be caught dead getting down and dirty in our kitchen.”

“Maybe I’m a different Beth now.” She shrugs her shoulder, trying to keep her voice steady as she says it.

She doesn’t think that’s true, not completely, but she finds herself doing things with Rio that she never would’ve imagined doing before. And she’s enjoying it. A lot. Even the kitchen mishap. She was completely embarrassed to have two people she loved seeing her in such a compromising position, but she wasn't embarrassed at herself for doing it.

Ruby reaches across the table and grabs her hand, squeezing it.

“I will love every single version of you, I just want to make sure this new version of yourself is who you want to be, not who someone else wants you to be.”

Beth nods, returning Ruby's hand squeeze as she blinks back sudden tears.

“It is for me. It feels good to be with him—but I’m not changing for him, I promise.”

 

——

 

Beth’s at the cafe, in the back office looking over the schedule when one of the girls working the counter appears in the doorway.

“There’s someone asking for you out front.”

Beth closes her eyes briefly and takes in a deep breath, letting it out while she counts to 10. She really doesn’t have it in her to deal with an unhappy customer right now.

They’d had a rush of people earlier in the day, as students and their families came in, grabbing their caffeinated beverages before hitting the road for Thanksgiving break. Luckily, that means things will be pretty quiet over the next week, as the chaotic-ness of campus slows down briefly while most students and staff are gone.

Beth puts on her best fake smile as she follows the other girl back to the counter, but it falters once she sees who’s there.

Dean is standing off to the far side, tapping his fingers nervously against the counter.

Beth’s eyes scan the rest of the cafe, hoping literally anyone else is the one asking for her. Things have slowed down now that it’s later in the day and, unfortunately, he’s the only one at the counter.

She thinks about turning back around but Dean has already spotted her, a sheepish smile on his face as he waves.

“Hi.” She greets him, walking over slowly and coming to a stop on the other side of the counter.

“Hey. Do you uhhh, have a minute to talk?”

Beth glances back around at the cafe, almost wishing it was busier so she could tell him no.

“Sure, I can do a quick break. Why don’t you go sit down, I’ll grab some coffees.”

Dean nods his head and she turns away, quickly pouring some plain black coffee into two to-go cups.

She steps around the counter and makes her way over to the table he’s settled at, tucked away in a corner.

“Thank you.” He says, taking the coffee she holds out to him and she nods, sitting down across from him, placing her cup down on the table and fiddling with the top.

“So, It’s been really weird, being…without you. Especially now, around the holidays when we’re usually getting ready to head out to my parents together.”

Beth crosses her legs, resisting the urge to get up and walk away from this conversation already.

“Yeah, it’s definitely been—different. I’ve been working on throwing something together for me and Annie.”

“Beth, I don’t want you to be alone on Thanksgiving. I’m leaving tonight and you are more then welcome to come with me to my parents house, we’d love to have you still.”

“I won’t be alone, I’ll be with Annie. And I doubt your parents would “love” to see me after what’s happened between us.”

Dean looks off to the side, his fingers drumming on the table again as his leg bounces up and down. He looks…nervous.

“Dean…” She starts, squinting at him, and then it hits her, why he’s being so jittery and her eyes go wide, “Oh my god, you didn't tell them?!”

“Bethie please, You know how they would react. Can you just come with me, just pretend-“

Oh My God.” She can not believe this is happening right now. He seriously hadn’t told his parents? She thinks back to when he’d shown up to her apartment, how he’d said his dad would let the car go if they stayed engaged. Guess that was a lie.

Beth repeats her actions from the office, closing her eyes, taking a deep breath, and counting to ten.

“Dean, you can not come in here and ask me to pretend to be your happy little fiancé after everything that has happened between us. You get how crappy that is, right?”

Dean has the decency to at least look ashamed.

“I just thought—I mean I know you said it was over— but I guess I thought maybe you just needed some time…I didn’t want to tell them if we were going to end up back together anyway.”

“Dean, we are not going to end up back together. I’m sorry, but we’re done. I can never go back to what we were, to who I was, before. I’m moving forward and I think you should too.”

“And what, the “new you” moving forward is someone who fucks guys with tattoos?” He’s harsh when he says it, annoyed by her rejection.

Beth sits back in her seat, and just...looks him over.

She thinks back to their six years together, tries to remember what it was she ever saw in him. Besides a secure household, was there anything else he had ever had to offer her? What had made her stay with him for so many years, was there a time that she had actually loved him?

He squirms a little nervously under her scrutiny and Beth smiles. Her mind briefly flits to Rio, how he makes her squirm(in a completely different way) with his gaze.

Beth picks up her coffee and takes a drink, drawing out the silence between them after his crude comment, enjoying making him feel as uncomfortable as he had tried to make her be.

She sets her coffee back down and then leans forward, arms resting on the table.

“Dean, I don’t think I ever loved you,” She holds up her hand when he opens his mouth to protest, and he quickly snaps it shut, “I think maybe in the beginning I tried to convince myself I could be in love with you, because I was looking for something I thought only you could provide, but I was wrong. I think the last few months we were together, when you felt me pulling away…I think I was finally realizing what a miserable life I was headed into. Our time together before wasn’t exactly terrible, but it wasn’t great either, and we both deserve better than that. Me more so than you.”

Dean is just staring at her, dumbfounded.

“Okay, well I have work to do still, I hope you have a great time with your parents, you should definitely just rip off the band-aid and tell them about us.” Beth gets up, taking her coffee with her, making her way back to the office, not once looking back.

Chapter Text

Beth has finished most of the desserts and sides for Thanksgiving dinner, the only thing she has left to worry about now is the actual turkey.

Annie had arrived two days ago, and since Ruby was gone for the week, she was sleeping in her room(on the condition that she washed the sheets before she left and she left the room in the same clean condition she’d found it in).

Beth’s been up since early this morning, cooking and baking.
It’s early afternoon before Annie finally comes padding down the hall, sleepily making her way into the kitchen.

“Whoa.” Annie rubs at her eyes as she takes in all the food dishes covering the countertops and the dining room table.

“It really looks like more than it is, there’s just not much space to put everything-“

“It really looks like more than it is because it is way more than two people can possibly eat by themselves.”

“I mean, it’s okay to have leftovers.”

“For months?”

Annie…Anyway, I still have the turkey to make.”

“Oh my god, there’s more?”

“Well, yes, the turkey is the most important part!”

Annie shakes her head, a mixture of affection and exasperation on her face as she looks at Beth, “Okay, look, don't put the turkey in-“

“Annie!”

“You keep talking about how you want to start holiday traditions for the two of us right? Well, I just thought of the perfect way to do that, that’s equal parts neurotic you and laid back me.”

And so Annie had made her promise not to cook the turkey, telling Beth to “trust her” and “all would be revealed at dinner.”

Beth was extremely nervous, to say the least. Especially when dinner time rolled around and Annie announced they were heading out, handing Beth her purse and coat.

Twenty minutes later they were parked in front of a Chinese restaurant and Beth was staring at her sister in disbelief.

“Okay, I know the lambs must be screaming right about now— but just breathe, in through your nose, out through your mouth.” Annie instructed, teasing and Beth glared.

“Annie, you can not be serious.”

“What? It’s perfect. Chinese food places are always open on Thanksgiving and I love Chinese! So we can come here and eat and then we can go home and have the million and one desserts you’ve baked.”

Beth opens her mouth to protest, but Annie stops her.

“Beth, please. You don’t need to be running around, stressing out about making Thanksgiving perfect for me anymore. I could care less about the food, I just want to spend time with my sister. Also, I really hate turkey.”

“I know,” Beth wrinkles her nose as she laughs and then sighs, looking past Annie to the restaurant, “Alright, let’s do this.”

Annie squeals with delight, clapping her hands together, then leans over and pulls Beth into a hug.

 

———

 

Annie and Beth are settled on the couch, relaxing after dinner and dessert. Reality TV is playing on the screen in front of them while they sip on their drinks. Annie with a glass of wine, Beth with a glass of bourbon.

“So how are things between you and your boyfriend?”

Beth resists the urge to groan. She’d been hoping Annie would be distracted enough by the TV to not ask about Rio.

“He’s not my boyfriend, and things are fine.” Beth answers, hoping Annie will drop it.

“Come on, you can do better than that. You know you never answered when I asked you how the sex was.”

“I’m aware.”

“You are insanely uptight for someone who’s gettin' the D on the regular.”

“Annie, I swear! I am not talking to you about this.”

“I mean, you can’t blame me for being curious, bar friend gives off some serious BDE.”

“I…don’t even know what to say to that.”

“You don’t know what BDE means do you? Jesus Beth, how old are you? Better yet, how are we even related?”

“I ask myself that every day.” Beth responds dryly.

“Okay, well then we’ll talk about me. My sex life is fantastic-“

“Annie!” Beth grabs a throw pillow and smacks Annie’s arm with it, almost making her spill her drink.

“Hey! It’s completely healthy and normal to talk about your sex life.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t ask.” Beth laughs, taking another drink of her bourbon. She’s really developing a taste for it.

“So, anyway, the sex is fantastic, but Greg has this friend, this girl friend, Nancy, and I’m not sure if I should be worried or not. They have a bunch of classes together so she’s always around and she lives like, right down the block from him.”

“You think he’s cheating on you?”

“Well, no. But she’s like, super pretty. Real neurotic though, like even more so than you.”

“Well, I don’t think I’m the best person to ask for advice on stuff like that. Apparently Dean cheated on me with multiple people for months and I never noticed.”

“Remind me again why we’re not, like, out egging his car right now?”

“Because we’re being the bigger persons and rising above. Also, I already destroyed one car, I don’t need to add another to my list.”

“Yeah you did! Oh man, I still can’t believe you did that. Destroyed his car and then started sleeping with hot bar friend. Man, when did you get so cool?”

“I’ve always been this cool.”

Annie scoffs at that and Beth laughs, settling back on the couch as she takes another sip of her drink and just…feels content.

This definitely was not what she’d had in mind when she was planning Thanksgiving for her and Annie, but this—this makes sense.

It feels right, a perfect new tradition for them.

 

——

 

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and Annie had actually gotten up early for once, to try and catch some Black Friday deals. Beth usually would have accompanied her, she loved a good deal. This year, however, she was just not in the mood for fighting the crowds.

She was at the park that Rio had taken her to, wandering the path aimlessly.

It was fairly empty, just a few families and joggers around. It was a beautiful sunny morning though and the fresh air was helping to clear her head.

The routine of classes and work have kept her focused, grounded, over the last month and a half. They’re the part of her life that is reliable, where she has a sense of control.

The rest of her life, not so much.

It felt like forever ago that she’d found Dean with the RA. She’d been on a completely different path then, and now she feels kind of…lost.

She’d been working toward this fantasy life with Dean the last six years, and now all of that was just…gone. She wasn’t really sure what to do with herself now. It honestly scared her a little.

Losing Dean had been less painful than she imagined, but losing that fantasy life…

Beth walks further up the path, spotting a bench, deciding to sit for a bit and do some people watching, trying to distract herself.

She feels her phone vibrate in her pocket and pulls it out. Annie’s sending her a picture of every single thing she’s bought so far. Beth grins as she scrolls through them. Some of the items are absolutely ridiculous and there’s literally no reason for Annie to have bought them, other than they were on sale. She sees a text from Ruby, checking in to see if Annie’s destroyed her room yet. She’ll be back on campus in a few days.

Now that her phone is in her hands, her fingers itch to text Rio. Or call. She misses his voice. They haven’t really seen each other over the break, she assumes because he’s probably been busy with the fifty different things he normally juggles plus the holiday.

She wonders if he has a big extended family or if it’s just him and his immediate family. Does he have brothers or sisters? Are both his parents still around? He said he helps out with the family business, does that mean his whole family is involved in…questionable activities or does he do it behind their backs?

Do criminals commit crimes on holidays or do they take time off like you would with a regular job?

She’s not even supposed to be thinking about these things, she reminds herself. Rule #1(and probably #2 as well).

Her and her stupid need for rules.

They were supposed to make things easier, less confusing, make her feel more in control, but she can’t get her brain (or her body) to listen.

She’s, obviously, never been in a casual relationship and navigating it has been tricky.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

She thinks it must just be Rio. He’s like crack. She just can’t stay away from him.

He has this energy about him, and being around it is addicting.

She knows she’s not the only one who feels it. She’s seen the way a lot of girls, and quite a few guys, are drawn to his presence when she’s been with him.

And she knows from the looks on their faces, they wonder what the hell a guy like him is doing with a girl like her. She wonders it too. He’s never really explained it to her, and since she’s already asked once, she’s too scared to bring it up again.

She can’t deny there’s definitely a strong sexual attraction there. There’s never really been a time that they’ve been together where they haven't had sex. As soon as they’re within touching distance his hands are on her, even in very public places.

She blushes a little, thinking about the time he’d found her at the library, coming up behind her seat, his hands settling on her shoulders, his mouth finding her neck, and then her ear, to whisper dirty things before dragging her off into the stacks. She’s positive every single person within 50 feet of them knew exactly what they were about to do.

He’d led her to a secluded spot(she tried not to think too much about how he knew exactly where to find it) and immediately got his hands up her skirt.
He’d tried to go down on her, and she’d practically begged him to only use his hands, they could be more discreet that way, she didn’t think she could handle it if someone stumbled upon them and he had his whole damn head up her skirt.

Discretion was not one of Rio’s strong suits. Neither was restraint. Despite her(admittedly weak)protests, he'd ended up with his head under her skirt anyway.

Beth pushes her phone back into her pocket, trying to also push Rio from her mind.

Maybe when Ruby got back they could plan a day trip or night away, just the two of them. She feels like some distance might help her reset, be able to think and replan her future.

Beth sits for a few more minutes, soaking in the sun and fresh air, the noises from all over the park blending together, almost soothing.

She stands and stretches, before heading back to her car. She’s not as anxious as when she first got there, but she still feels like there is stress cleaning in her future. Or baking. Or both.

 

——

 

Beth’s on the phone with Ruby, sorting out details for a girls trip(Stan’s family has a cabin up north they could use), when she gets back to their apartment.

She takes off her coat and scarf, tossing them on the dining room table.

It’s quiet so Annie must not be back yet.

“So do you want to like, do a whole weekend thing then?” She asks as she makes her way down the hall to her room.

“Yeah, it's been a minute since we took a trip together. It’ll be fun. I could use some rest and relaxation.”

“God, me too—“ Beth pushes open the door to her room and gasps loudly, hand flying to her chest, startled at finding Rio there, looking way too comfy on her bed, typing something out on his phone.

He barely spares her a glance before turning back to his phone and Beth rolls her eyes, tries to calm her racing heart.

“What? What happened?” Ruby’s asking, and Beth sighs.

“I’ll have to call you back. There’s a burglar lounging around in my bed.”

Rio smirks at that, still not looking up.

“Uhhh, what?!” Ruby sounds very confused.

“It’s fine, I’ll see you when you get back.” Beth hangs up her phone and tosses it on her desk.

“You know, this is how I know you’re not some eternal vampire being—you have no problem entering a home uninvited.”

“Oh yeah? You sure bout that theory? I do like suckin’ on your neck.” He smirks, finally setting his phone down and focusing on her.

Because of course the thought of sucking on her neck is what finally gets his attention.

“How did you get in here?”

“You live for a thousand years, you learn some tricks.”

“Funny.”

“I’m a funny guy. Come ‘ere.”

Beth has to force herself to keep breathing.

“You know, I have a ton of cleaning and possibly baking to do-”

“Apartments spotless and you got no room in your fridge for more baking. Come ‘ere.”

“Annie-“

“Already came and went. She’s the one who let me in. Elizabeth. Come. Here.”

Rio’s sitting on her bed, his back against her headboard, his legs stretched out in front of him.

Beth slowly walks over, stopping when she reaches the end of the bed.

Rio tilts his head to the side, looking her over in that way only he can. Like he’s undressing her with his eyes.

She kicks off her shoes, then climbs up on the bed, crawling up over his legs, until she’s settled herself on his lap, straddling him.

He shifts, his hands coming up to grip her hips, pull her in to him, trying to fit them as tightly together as possible.

She slides her hands up his arms, squeezing a little as she does, stopping when she reaches his shoulders.

Her brow furrows slightly as she takes in his facial features. Now that she’s this close, she sees he looks…tired.

“You okay?” She brings her fingers up to smooth over his brow, trailing them down his face in that familiar way that he does to her so often. He closes his eyes, leaning into her touch.

“Yah, just work and family. It’s been a rough week.”

She nods, hesitates a second before, “Wanna talk about it?”

He shrugs a little, head tilted back against her headboard, eyes still closed.

“Holidays at the bar get real fucked up. Lots of lonely miserable people. Sister and her husband are havin’ issues, so Thanksgiving dinner was real awkward. Moms always trying to get in the middle. Fix things that aint hers to be fixing.”

His neck is exposed with his head back, and Beth resists the urge to lean down and bite at one of the wings of his tattoo.

She looks away, doesn’t give herself time to think about what a horrible idea it is before she’s closing her own eyes, taking a deep breath and- “Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. It always felt like it was supposed to be this big family ordeal, where you cooked this huge meal together and ate together and then told stories together after and everyone was just really warm and happy,” She clears her throat, swallows around the lump forming there, “That wasn’t us. It was just Annie and I—we were it. And I was the only one who kind of knew how to cook and it was never a lot and we didn’t have anyone to share stories with. We were happy to be together, but it never felt quite right.”

After a moment of silence, Beth finally opens her eyes and finds Rio staring up at her, a look on his face she can’t quite decipher. It makes her flush.

“So Thanksgiving is definitely the suckiest holiday. Halloween’s my favorite. Christmas isn’t bad.” She forces her tone to be light, trying to switch gears, hoping desperately that he won’t ask questions she doesn’t have the stomach to answer right now.

“Halloweens my favorite now too.” He grins up at her, clearly thinking back to the Halloween party(and after), and Beth relaxes a little bit.

“Do you want me to get you something to drink? Or eat? You know I’ve got a fridge full of desserts.” She jokes, continuing to steer the conversation away from families.

“Only dessert I want is you.”

“You have got to stop with those cheesy lines.”

She smiles down at him and he smiles back, looking much more relaxed.

“For real, Just want you,” His voice is low, a gruff whisper as he pulls her even closer, his head resting against her chest, “Been thinking bout you all week.”

Her breath catches in her throat at his words, and it doesn’t escape her that he’s this close to her breasts and he’s not even trying to get his mouth or hands on them.

She runs her fingers over his short hair, stroking his head for a few minutes, and he just—melts against her.

When she notices his breathing evening out, like he’s on the verge of sleep, she shifts to move off him, tugging him further down onto the bed with her. He goes willingly, curling up against her like a cat.

She ignores the voice in the back of her head, the one screaming at her that she’s already breaking her own rules and nothing about this is casual, and continues to stroke his hair until he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Beth’s sitting in philosophy class, typing up the last of her notes on her lap top. Class is coming to an end and her mind is already outside, at the coffee cart on the corner. She’s desperate for a cappuccino.

She should really start cutting back on her caffeine intake. She’s feeling a little cracked out at this point.

A guy two seats down from her is trying to get the attention of a girl two rows down. He’s leaning far over his desk, a big dopey grin on his face.

“Yo, Gretchen!”

Her attention is drawn away from her laptop when she hears the name.

Gretchen. She vaguely remembers it from the first night at Rio’s bar. Stan and Rio had been talking about her. The girl with the mob family. Was this the same girl?

Beth’s eyes drift down and lock on the girl, who seems to be purposely ignoring this guy.

She’s very pretty, from what Beth can see, and she has ridiculously good posture. She holds herself with an air of confidence Beth doesn’t think she’ll ever have.

The guy(Ben? or Brad maybe?) is pretty persistent and Gretchen finally turns, fixing him with a look that is enough to make him shrink back a little in his seat, the smile dropping instantly from his face.

She hisses something at him but Beth isn’t paying attention, too busy looking her over—her long brown hair and golden brown eyes, framed by retro looking thick black glasses that would make anyone else look ridiculous, but she somehow pulls off. She has freckles all along her tiny nose and cheeks and she looks impossibly young. A stark contrast to the way she holds herself, the hard glint in her eyes. Beth thinks she’s the definition of what people mean when they say someone "has an old soul.”

Suddenly, those eyes flick over to Beth and Beth freezes.

Shit. She knows she’s been staring and now she’s caught.

Beth quickly turns her attention back to her laptop, typing up absolute nonsense to make herself look busy, still feeling Gretchen’s gaze on her.

Their teacher dismisses class and Beth doesn’t think she’s ever moved so fast to get out of a classroom in her life.

Apparently she is not fast enough though, because she’s barely out the door and down the hall when she hears her name being called.

“Elizabeth?”

She freezes at the use of her full name, the name only one other person uses with her.

She slowly turns around and then steps to the side, so she’s not standing in the flow of foot traffic as Gretchen approaches.

“I’m so sorry if I was staring-“

Gretchen waves that off, cutting in to ask, “You’re Elizabeth, right?” like she doesn’t already know.

“Uhm, just Beth actually,” Gretchen cocks an eyebrow quizzically, so Beth clarifies, “Rio is really the only one who calls me Elizabeth.”

“Oh. Yes. Rio.” She smirks when she says his name, like its an inside joke and Beth feels very confused.

“He talks about you, you know. And he never talks about anybody,” Gretchen continues, and Beth flushes. What the hell is she supposed to say to that?, “I've been wanting to meet you myself, put a face to a name.”

Beth nods, as if this all makes sense.

“I’m Gretchen by the way, but you probably picked that up from Ben back in class. I don’t normally make mistakes like him, but everyone’s human.”

Beth’s starting to have her doubts.

“We should have lunch sometime. Talk philosophy and—other things.” Gretchen smiles, her eyes never leaving Beth’s during this weird mostly one sided exchange, and Beth feels like she is staring into her soul.

“Sure, that sounds…nice.” Beth answers weakly, thinks if she says ‘No’ she might end up in Lake Michigan with weights around her ankles.

“Great, I’ll text and we can see how our schedules work out!” She turns and walks off before Beth can point out they never exchanged numbers.

What the hell was that?

 

——

 

Beth leans back in her chair and tries not to scream in frustration. Her history book, notebook, and lap top are spread out on her desk in front of her, along with various writing utensils and highlighters.

She feels like setting her whole desk on fire right now.

Her bedroom door is open, so she can just barely hear when the front door opens and closes. Ruby’s already in her room, doing some studying of her own, so she knows it’s not her.

Beth resists the urge to turn around when she hears him enter her room, closing the door quietly behind him.

“I had that open for a reason.” She says, flipping through the pages in her book.

“I closed it for a reason.” His voice comes from right behind her and Beth freezes.

His hands slide onto her shoulders, fingers gently kneading at the tense muscles there and Beth’s eyes drift closed as her body slowly relaxes. She can’t help the tiny moan that escapes her lips when he applies more pressure.

“You’re so tense, baby. Maybe you should take a break.”

Beth huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, that sounds good--maybe I’ll take a nap.”

“Nah, I had somethin’ else in mind. Somethin’ way more relaxing. You probably need a nap after though.”

Beth laughs and slides her hands up over his, giving them a quick squeeze.

“I can not fail this class. But it’s like, frying my brain.”

“History huh? You know, I’ve always been real good with history.”

Of course you have.”

“I’m just sayin. I could help you. You gotta help me first though.”

Beth tilts her head back to glare up at him, biting back her smile. She can’t believe how fast he can make her go from wanting to jump him to wanting to smack him and back again. It’s like sexual whiplash.

“You’re ridiculous. You can’t bargain tutoring for sexual favors.”

“Says who?”

Beth smacks his hands away and he steps around to sit down on her desk, right on top of her notebook.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re like a cat?” She swats at his leg, and he just grins at her, unfazed.

“So, I met your friend today. Gretchen?” She mentions nonchalantly, hoping to catch him off guard.

It does, she can see him stiffen for a second, his smile fading, before he deliberately relaxes his body again.

“Oh yeah?”

She hums an affirmation but doesn’t offer up any additional information, bringing her pen up to her mouth, biting down on the end lightly.

Rio’s eyes immediately land on her mouth. She switches from biting to lightly sucking and watches as his eyes narrow, his body shifting toward her.

She pulls the pen out of her mouth slowly. “So, I think we’re going to have lunch together soon.”

Rio’s eyes flit up to hers and it takes everything Beth has not to just fall into their dark abyss and take him straight to bed.

“Ain’t that against one of your rules?” He mocks, reaching over and plucking the pen out of her hand and sticking it in his hoodie pocket.

“Hey!”

“Where you see Gretchen at?”

“We’re in the same philosophy class. She called me Elizabeth. I guess I didn’t realize you were telling people about us.”

He shrugs, like it’s no big deal. But she can see his jaw clench, his body stiffening slightly again--knows he’s agitated by her words. She realizes, too late, that last sentence may have had a hint of accusation behind it.

“Your girls know about us, don’t they?”

“Well yeah, but they were there the night we met.”

He looks over at her like he’s done with this particular topic, so she decides to backtrack a little.

“I mean, I don’t have to go to lunch with her, but she doesn’t seem like the type of person who will take “No” for an answer.”

“Nah, probably not. She never lets shit go.” His face is serious, but his affection for her is obvious in his voice.

She’s dying to ask what he’s said about her, if he’s mad Gretchen told her, if he cares if she does go to lunch, how they even know each other.

Rio is staring down at her, can read her like a book, knows every question she wants to ask. He’s waiting to see if she’ll work up the nerve to actually ask them.

“She said you talk about me and--and you don’t normally talk about anyone…” Beth fidgets with the hem of her shirt, twisting it around her fingers nervously.

“Elizabeth, If you got somethin' you wanna ask, just ask.”

Beth forces herself to look up at him and the corner of his mouth is curved up, a tiny smile playing at his lips, her nervousness an endless source of amusement for him.

She feels like she’s back at the park—he’s giving her an opening, he’s willing to offer his truth, all she has to do is ask. But, just like then, she finds herself terrified of the answer.

Because she knows, just like asking about his illegal tendencies, it’s not a simple question with a simple answer. She knows if she opens herself up to knowing, there’s no going back. There’s no un-knowing.

And what if she doesn’t like what he has to say?

(Are you a criminal?
Do you steal from people? Do you hurt people? Does your family know? Have you ever gotten hurt? Have you been arrested?
)

(Do you have serious feelings for me?
Do you want to be in a committed relationship? Do you want to introduce each other to family and friends? Have you ever felt this way about anyone else? Why did you pick me? Are you going to break my heart too?
)

“I really can not fail this class,” is what comes out of her mouth instead and she quickly turns back to her book, “Good thing I have my own personal history buff around to help me.”

He’s quiet and Beth feels hot, embarrassed. Why does she keep putting herself in these situations?

“Can I have my pen back?” She asks, even though she has two other ones on her desk. She holds her hand out, still not looking at him. She’s staring at the pages of the open book in front of her, none of the information on them actually registering.

She feels Rio’s fingers skim over her hand, and her head jerks up, eyes locking on where his large hand is sliding up to wrap around her tiny wrist.

His thumb strokes over her pulse point, random little patterns that send shivers down her spine and make her stomach clench.

He tugs a little, so gently she almost doesn’t even feel it, still transfixed on his hand.

When her eyes finally meet his, he tilts his head the slightest little bit, and she hesitates for a split second…

He tugs her wrist again, and this time she lets him pull her up to stand in front of him.

His hands are on her hips, pulling her so she’s standing between his legs where he’s still leaning back against her desk.

He moves one hand up to brush her hair out of her face. “Do you trust me?”

I do that’s the whole problem, she wants to scream. She finds herself nodding quietly instead.

“That’s good.” He leans down, presses his lips against her temple in a soft kiss that makes her heart skip a beat.

Beth closes her eyes as she leans into him, giving in and letting herself fall into the dark abyss that is his touch, his smell, his voice.

Shit.

She’s in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

Beth’s sitting at a high top table towards the back of Rio’s bar.

Beth had stopped by right after her last class of the day. They were supposed to be getting something to eat and then heading back to her place. Work was holding Rio up though, paperwork he needed to take care of, so he’d asked her to wait for him.

She had class work and her iPod with her to keep her occupied while she waited. It had the added bonus of deterring any guys from coming up and trying to hit on her.

She’s scribbling in her notebook, her focus completely on the work in front of her, when a shadow falls across her table. She closes her eyes briefly, schooling her features so her irritation doesn’t show through before turning her head to politely tell whoever it is to go away.

She stops, mouth open, when she sees it’s Aaron, the chapter president of Dean’s fraternity. She hasn’t seen him since the incident at the house with Dean.

He’s waving sheepishly at her now, like he’s embarrassed at himself for interrupting her while she’s obviously working.

“Hi!” Beth greets him, turning her iPod off and pulling her headphones out of her ears.

“Hi! I am so sorry for interrupting you, It’s just when I saw you—I just wanted to make sure you were okay after—everything that happened.”

“Oh, that’s really sweet, Aaron. Thank you. Everything is definitely okay.”

“Good, good! No need for an eye patch I see.” He jokes, gesturing to the eye that Dean had elbowed.

“No, no eye patch, thank god. I don’t think I would’ve been able to pull that off.” She wrinkles her nose, thinking about how ridiculous she would have looked.

“Oh I don’t know, I think you could make just about anything look good.”

Beth’s taken aback by the comment, feels her cheeks instantly flush. Was he complimenting her? Her eyes dart down to the table, unsure of how to respond.

“I’m sorry, that was..inappropriate. I came over here to make sure you were okay and now I’m making you feel uncomfortable.”

“No, no It’s fine, uhm—Thank you?” She looks back up at him and smiles a little uncertainly and Aaron shakes his head, shifting his weight nervously.

The movement catches her eye. Why is he suddenly nervous?

“Okay, can I start over? Try this again?” He asks, an apologetic smile on his face and Beth can’t help but smile back.

“Oh, please, Do.” She laughs a little, waving her hand out with a flick of her wrist, hoping to put him at ease, and his smile widens.

“Good evening Beth! I noticed you when I came in and I remember last time we saw each other the circumstances were not ideal. I wanted to stop by and make sure you were doing okay and you didn’t require any further assistance.” He is very earnest and formal with his words and Beth can’t help but laugh again by the end of it.

“How did I do? Better?”

Much.”

“May I? I’ve always been really good with—,” He glances over at the book in front of her, ”History.” Aaron gestures towards the chair beside her and Beth hesitates. His words echo Rio’s from the other night and her eyes dart over across the bar, where she knows Rio is in the back office.

Aaron turns to follow her sight line, “You waiting for somebody?”

“Yes, actually.” She admits, feeling a little awkward.

“Oh, Okay! That’s cool! I mean I don’t mind keeping you company while you wait for your uhhh…boyfriend?” He stumbles over his words a little, running his hand through his hair.

And--Oh. That's what this is. He'd been flirting with her before. Now that her and Dean aren't together, she's apparently fair game? Which is...weird, all things considered.

And now, he's fishing with the boyfriend comment and Beth isn't sure how to proceed. She's not sure if she should clarify that Rio is in fact not her boyfriend or if she should just let him draw his own conclusions.

“That’s sweet of you-really, but this class is actually pretty easy,” A lie, but he doesn’t need to know that, “and I should probably get back to it, so…” She smiles as her sentence trails off, declining his offer of help and ignoring the boyfriend remark completely. He nods, shoving his hands into his pockets awkwardly.

“Sure. Well, it was really nice seeing you, Beth!” He seems to take the hint and turns to walk away but then thinks better of it and turns back, “Oh and I really am sorry about what happened at the house. That kind of behavior reflects poorly on our chapter and I want you to know Dean and Kent were punished accordingly. We don’t take those things lightly. If either of them are ever a problem again, I hope you know you can come directly to me.”

Half of Beth’s attention is on Aaron and the other half is behind him, where Rio has suddenly appeared, making his way over to them. By the time Aaron’s done with his spiel, Rio has reached them, side stepping Aaron completely to slide easily into the chair Aaron had been trying to occupy earlier.

Beth resists the urge to roll her eyes.

Aaron freezes, a look of confusion on his face as he tries to work out where Rio has come from and why he’s suddenly sitting next to Beth.

“What’s up man?” Rio’s casual as he greets Aaron, his arm stretching out to slide over the back of Beth’s chair, his fingers easily winding their way through her hair.

Now Beth does actually roll her eyes.

To his credit, Aaron recovers from his shock pretty quickly, nodding a quick “Hey” back.

“Aaron, this is Rio,” Beth decides to make introductions since all they seem to be interested in doing is staring each other down, “Rio, this is Aaron. He’s president of the fraternity chapter that Dean’s in.”

“Oh yeah?” Rio’s looking him over, thoroughly unimpressed.

“I just stopped by to say ‘Hi’. Thought I should check in with Beth after everything that happened with Dean, make sure she was holding up alright.”

Rio huffs out a laugh, “Is that right? That a service you provide all your friends ex’s? Or is Elizabeth just a special case?”

Aaron looks taken aback by the use of her full name, the underlying tone of Rio’s words compared to his relaxed posture.

Well, Aaron I really appreciate you stopping by to check in, that was very thoughtful. I’ll see you around, okay?” Beth gives Aaron her brightest smile and he smiles back, confused, before giving a tiny wave and then finally wandering off.

Beth swats Rios hand away, disentangling it from her hair before turning to fix him with a glare. “Seriously?”

“What?” He’s all puppy dog eyes and faux innocence and Beth can’t help the smile that slips through.

“You are so rude. He was thoughtful enough to check up on me and he offered to help me with history, no strings attached,” She looks pointedly at him, “And you scared him off.”

“Oh baby, there was definitely strings attached.” Rio shakes his head at her naivety.

“Are you done with your paperwork or did you just come out here to torture poor Aaron?”

“Both.” He shoots her a wicked grin and Beth reaches out to smack his arm, but he catches her wrist and pulls her in close.

“I’m the only one who’s gonna be helpin you study.” He whispers in her ear, before nipping at it.

“Your help comes with a price.” She pouts, not really caring.

“Yah? You didn’t seem to mind payin it the other night.”

And—right. She didn’t mind, at all, when he was between her legs…

“We’re supposed to be getting something to eat.” She tries to change the subject, can’t think properly when he’s this close to her, her brain keeps going to thoughts of him naked.

“Oh, I know exactly what I wanna eat right now.” He leans back to look her in the eyes, his teeth pulling at his bottom lip and Beth really has to stop giving him openings like that.

“Y’know, I been makin sure the bathrooms are kept extra clean since we met. Why don’t I show you…”

And he’s so obvious about it, so completely unabashed, that Beth can’t even find it in herself to protest, does nothing but laugh as she lets him pull her off the bar stool.

“My stuff—“

“Will be fine.” His long legs make short work of the distance to the restrooms, his hold on her wrist firm, and Beth has to practically run to keep up with him.

He pushes the bathroom door open and Beth steps in, still laughing breathlessly. He follows, closing and locking the door behind him before turning to face her.

Beth steps backwards until she feels the sink press into her back. She glances around, mock inspecting their surroundings. It is actually pretty clean for a bar bathroom.

“I still haven’t changed my mind about bathroom sex.” She warns, turning her nose up and Rio grins, absolutely predatory as he advances until he’s right up against her, his hands pressed against the sink on either side of her hips, and she has to lean back to look up at him.

“Oh c’mon ma, It’ll be too good.”

“I don’t doubt it.” She whispers, her hands sliding up to link around his neck, pulling him down into a kiss. She is definitely(maybe) not having sex in this bathroom, but heavy petting would be okay, she thinks.

His hands immediately move from the sink to her hips, sliding up under her sweater. Her hold on his neck tightens and Rio’s hands quickly change direction, moving down to grip her upper thigh and ass and boosting her up onto the bathroom sink so suddenly that Beth gasps. She gives him a stern look and he just grins back at her.

Rio bites at her bottom lip before licking at it, and then pulling her into a kiss. Beth wraps her legs around his waist and pulls him impossibly closer, rocking against him. He groans against her lips and so she does it again, loves hearing the noises he makes because of her.

Rio’s mouth leaves hers, trailing messy little kisses along her jaw, her neck, biting at her clavicle as he moves lower still. His fingers hook into the v-neck of her sweater, tugging at it, kissing and sucking at every inch of exposed skin he can reach.

Beth’s legs tighten around his waist. She slides a hand up under his shirt, needing to touch his skin. She feels her resolve weakening(he just feels so good) as her other hand drops down to palm him through his jeans, can feel how hard he is already. Rio pulls back from her, quirks an eyebrow, “Change your mind after all?” He teases.

Beth's hand moves to the button of his jeans, popping it open and sliding his zipper down. “I’m always changing my mind when it comes to you. None of my rules matter. Not with you.” She hears his sharp intake of breath as her hand slides down into his boxers and wraps around him. It’s absolutely intoxicating the way he reacts to her touch. It’s why she never wants to stop.

Rio’s hand comes up to grip the back of her neck, the other at her hip as he pulls her up roughly into another kiss. Beth’s hold tightens as she strokes down the length of him and back up again, repeating the motion, her thumb swiping over the head of his cock on her next downward stroke. Her free hand presses flat against his toned abdomen, then slides around to his back, her nails pressing into the flesh there in response to his kiss.

His mouth is sliding urgently over hers, his tongue slipping past her lips to press roughly against her own, his hands still gripping her so tightly she feels like he’s trying to sink into her skin.

He breaks the kiss, panting against her mouth, his forehead resting lightly against hers. His hand releases her neck and he uses it to pull her hand away from him. Before she can protest, his hands are undoing her pants, yanking at them and her underwear. She grips the edge of the sink and lifts her ass up for him so he can shimmy them both all the way down and off. His fingers slide over her cunt, find how wet she is for him already. His arm wraps around the small of her back, pulls her to the very edge of the sink as his other hand leaves her cunt to push his underwear and pants down. He lines his cock up and pushes into her in one swift motion and one of Beth’s hands flies up to grab at his shoulder, the other one still holding tight to the edge of the sink.

He pauses briefly, giving her time to adjust as he presses soft little kisses along her jaw, her neck. Beth is ready though, impatient, as she rocks her hips against him, and it prompts him to start moving again.

He pulls out, thrusts back in and Beth gasps as her head tilts back, her fingers digging into his shoulder. He sets a brutal pace, angling his hips as he hikes her legs up higher onto his waist. Beth tries desperately to keep quiet, knows they’re in a public place, but can’t help the gasping little moans that escape from her lips. Rio’s breathing heavily against her neck, leaning into her and she clings to him as she feels the tension building. He reaches down between them, finding her clit, circling it roughly, applying just the right amount of pressure to push her over the edge. He brings his head up to capture her lips in a kiss. She moans her release into his mouth as she pulsates around him. He groans, stilling completely as he gathers her up close, his body pressing as tightly as possible against hers. When he starts again, his movements are sharp, erratic, desperate to find his own release. It’s not long before he’s burying his face back into her neck, her name leaving his lips as he comes.
He sucks hard at her neck, then places a soft little kiss over the bruise he’s left, before pulling back to look at her.

“Alright you win, I get why bathroom sex is a thing now.” She says once her breathing has normalized and Rio laughs, leaning in to place a quick kiss against her lips as he pulls out slowly and she bites back a moan at the loss of him.

He grabs some paper towels, wiping himself down quickly and pulling his clothing back into place, before gently cleaning her up too. He kneels down in front of her, her underwear in his hands as he helps her step into them. He pulls them up her legs slowly, stopping to place a soft kiss against her cunt before pulling them the rest of the way up.

Beth has to stop herself from ripping her underwear off again and pushing him down so she can ride his face right there on the dirty floor. She quickly pulls her pants back on before she can change her mind. She can tell by the smirk on his face he knows exactly what she’s thinking.

(“Patience baby, we’ll get to that when we get back to your place.” He whispers into her ear, a promise, and Beth flushes.)

He leads her back out to her table, and she’s thankful there aren’t more people around, her embarrassment settling in at how obvious it is what they’ve just done. Rio, of course, doesn’t care in the least. He happily helps her gather up her things and they head out, his hands and mouth in constant contact with her skin the entire time.

His hands are sliding through her hair, stroking the side of her face, rubbing against her arms, sliding over her hips, her ass. His mouth is pressing against her temple, her cheek, her lips. His teeth are nipping at her ear, her throat, her shoulder. Anywhere he can touch, he does.

She feels like he’s trying to memorize every inch of her, map out her entire body. She feels like if he could, he would sink beneath her skin and consume her from the inside out.

And she would let him.

Chapter Text

Beth had been hoping beyond hope that Gretchen wouldn’t actually follow through on her plans for lunch. And really, she hadn’t. She’d changed them to drinks instead. Beth’s trying to decide if that’s better or worse. Gretchen had sent her a text (and how had she even gotten her number? Rio?) with an address and time.

Beth had thought seriously about asking to reschedule. Ruby and her would be leaving for their girls weekend the next day though and the following weekend they celebrated early Christmas together.Then it would be Christmas break. So, Beth was stuck.

She’s more nervous than when she’d gone on her first date with Dean.

She’s gone through 5 different outfit changes, had a glass of bourbon, practiced what she might say--like she’s preparing for a freaking interview.

And maybe she is. Maybe she is so nervous because she is actually going to sit down with someone who is a part of Rio's life. Who knows him, is close with him.

She’s kind of met a few of his guys friends, the ones she’d seen briefly at the warehouse. They seem to be the ones he hangs around with most--at the bar, or sometimes around campus. They’re never around long enough for her to actually have a conversation with. She doesn’t even know their names (although she swears she hears Rio call one of them ‘Demon’ one day, and she has really got to ask him about that).

Of course, friends and family are supposed to be against the rules...

She’d briefly thought about letting Rio know she was meeting up with Gretchen, but in the end decided against it.

She didn’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it was. Besides, Gretchen had probably already filled him in.

By the time Beth has reached the address Gretchen sent, she wants to just turn around and go back home.

It’s a little hole in the wall bar off campus, and its packed.

Beth heads straight to the bar to order a bourbon. She scans the crowd for Gretchen, and finds her at a booth in the back. She catches her eye and waves and Gretchen waves back.

Beth pays for her drink and makes her way through the crowd toward the booth.

“Hi!” Gretchen greets her warmly and it eases some of Beth’s nerves as she slides into the seat across from her.

“Hi! I hope you haven’t been waiting long, I’ve never been here before, so I got a little turned around.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. You’ve never been here before?”

“No, I don’t normally go out. I think the last time I went out to a bar to drink-” Beth pauses, looks off to the side, anywhere but at Gretchen, “was the night I met Rio.”

Beth brings her glass up to her mouth and takes a long drink. She winces a little at the burn. She'd promised herself she wouldn't be the one to bring up Rio first, so of course that's exactly what had happened.

Thankfully Gretchen seems to catch on to her discomfort. “So, I hear you’re majoring in education.”

“Yes!” Beth nods, thankful for the subject change, “It’s always been a dream of mine. I love creating and I love teaching. Do what you love, right?”

Gretchen nods, agreeing, “People tend to have fairly strong opinions against lawyers, so they’re always surprised when I talk about becoming one. Like they just can’t imagine anyone would love doing that. Criminal justice has always been a passion of mine though.”

“Is that like, a family thing or something you went into on your own?” Beth hopes she’s not too obvious in the roundabout way she’s asking about Gretchen's family.

“You mean, Am I becoming a lawyer because of my mob family or am I becoming one because it’s always been a personal dream of mine?” Gretchen’s voice is teasing, a smile playing at her lips.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be digging like that-” Beth backtracks, feeling embarrassed despite Gretchen’s playfulness.

“It’s fine, I know what people think and say. I don’t really care; it doesn’t faze me at all. To answer your question, being a lawyer is something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s also a family thing. Like a legacy. My aunt and uncle are lawyers, my grandmother was one. It feels good to be a continuation of that,” she pauses, looks Beth over before she adds, “Plus, growing up, I was always running around after Rio, trying to keep him out of trouble. It made sense as an adult that I’d become a lawyer to keep his ass out of jail too.” She smiles as she says it, the same affection in her voice that Rio had when he’d talked about her.

Beth smiles too, picturing a tiny Rio getting into trouble and a tiny Gretchen bailing him out.

It doesn’t escape Beth’s notice that Gretchen hadn’t outright denied the rumors surrounding her family either.

“I didn’t realize you two knew each other that long.” Beth is hesitant, still unsure of how much she wants to talk about Rio, but she’s also very curious.

“Oh yeah, for the better part of a decade. Used to be attached at the hip. Our families have always been—connected.” Gretchen pauses at the last part, probably wondering how much Beth knows about Rio’s background.

“We haven't really shared much... personal stuff. We're more of a casual thing--nothing serious.”

“Hmm...” Gretchen's eyes are scanning over Beth, studying her. It reminds her of the way Rio looks at her sometimes, like she’s a puzzle to be figured out.

“So, how did you two meet anyway?” Gretchen asks suddenly and Beth leans back in her seat.

“He didn’t tell you?”

“I’ve perfected my Rio interrogation skills over the years, I can usually make him crack in under 10 minutes-tops. Sometimes he likes to annoy me by being super vague though.”

“That sounds about right,” Beth laughs, “There’s not like, an elaborate story or anything. I just happened to be at the bar one night when he was working.”

Beth thinks back to that night, how he looked, how she felt when she saw him for the first time. How he humored Annie, the looks he gave Beth the whole night.

“We didn’t even exchange numbers or anything that first night, he got a text and had to leave. I didn’t think we were going to cross paths again,” she thinks back to the warehouse, “until we did.”

“So-- fate?”

“I guess, if you believe in that sort of thing.”

“You don’t?”

Beth laughs and shakes her head. “I don’t think so.”

Gretchen looks like she wants to say something, but Beth notices her attention shifting to something behind Beth.

Beth turns and sees the guy from philosophy class (Bret? Brad? God, she’s so bad with names), walking toward their booth, another guy she can’t really see following behind.

Beth turns back to Gretchen, eyebrow raised.

Gretchen grins at her. “Hey, only human remember?”

Beth laughs and brings her glass back up to her lips, finishing off her drink.

The guys reach their booth and Beth looks up and finally sees the other guys face. It’s Aaron. Of course.

They both look surprised to see each other and then Aaron smiles and Beth can’t help it--he really does have a nice smile, it makes it so easy to smile back.

“Hey Gretch, didn’t know you would be here tonight.” The guy from class has that same dopey grin on his face as the last time she’d seen him.

“That’s because I didn’t tell you. And don’t call me Gretch.” Gretchen’s tone is bored, but there’s a tiny smile playing at her lips. Philosophy guy sees it too. It’s all it takes for him to slide into the booth next to her, nudging her with his body as he does. Gretchen rolls her eyes but moves easily aside.

Aaron looks to Beth and Beth scoots aside to make room for him.

“Thanks. Sorry about Ben crashing your night, he has no manners.” Aaron looks over to Ben (thank god someone said his name, Beth thinks) and Ben just shrugs.

“It’s fine. We were actually just discussing fate. Tell me Ben, do you think it was fate that brought you here on the same night as me, or stalking my IG?”

Beth can’t help the tiny laugh that escapes, tries to cover it up with a cough and a hand over her mouth, but then Aaron’s laughing too and it makes Beth laugh more.

Ben is completely unaffected by Gretchen’s dig and Beth is just amazed at how enamored he is with her.

“We just happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped by for a drink.” He replies easily.

“We were nowhere near this neighborhood.” Aaron interjects and Beth laughs again.

“Well, now that you’re here, interrupting our girls night, why don’t you get us some drinks?” Gretchen smiles up at Ben and Beth thinks he would give her his liver if she asked for it.

He gets up, Aaron following, to get them refills on their drinks.

“You don’t mind if they join do you? I can tell him to leave, but I always feel like I’m kicking a puppy when I send him away.” Gretchen asks Beth as soon as they’re out of earshot.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t think I could stand to see the look on his face if you told him to leave.” Beth jokes and Gretchen grins.

“I think he enjoys it when I’m mean to him. He just keeps coming back for more.” Gretchen’s eyes flick over to Ben and then back to Beth, “Do you and Aaron know each other?”

“Yeah, he uhm-” Beth tries to think of a way to explain her association with Aaron without bringing up Dean, but there isn’t one, “he’s in the same fraternity as my ex.”

“Huh. And you guys are...friends?” Gretchen is looking at Beth in that way that she does, the one that’s so similar to Rio’s. Its unnerving.

“I mean, not friends exactly, but he’s...helped me a few times since the thing with Dean--my ex.” Beth shrugs, shifting a little in her seat. She’s not entirely comfortable talking about this.

Thankfully the guys come back with their drinks, and Ben makes quick work of distracting Gretchen.

Beth stays longer than she’d planned, drinks more than she should. She thinks about calling it a night a few times, but she just can’t bring herself to leave. It’s fun watching Ben and Gretchen-- Like a lamb falling in love with a lion. And Aaron is fun too, easy to talk to, joke with. She gets why he’s president of his chapter.

It’s late by the time they all decide to call it a night.

They step outside and Ben immediately throws his arm around Gretchen’s shoulders, offering to give her a ride home.

“My knight in shining armor.” Gretchen remarks dryly, before turning her attention to Beth, “Are you okay to get home? Do you need a ride too?”

Beth shakes her head, not wanting to intrude. “My car is here, but I probably shouldn’t drive; I was just going to call an Uber.”

“I’ll split it with you,” Aaron offers and both girls turn to look at him, “I think my ride is ditching me right now anyway.”

Ben grins, but Gretchen’s eyes are narrowed in on Aaron.

“Sounds good! You can make sure I don’t get kidnapped and murdered by my Uber driver.” Beth jokes, trying to diffuse some of the tension coming from Gretchen.

“That’s actually what I was hoping you'd do for me.” Aaron shoots back, straight faced and Beth laughs.

He’s pulling up the Uber app when she turns back to Gretchen. “I think we’ll be okay! Thank you for inviting me out Gretchen, I had a really good time.”

“Okay, can we just--,” Gretchen gestures off to the side,"--For a minute?" She's pulling on Beth’s arm before Beth can even answer, putting a few feet between them and the guys, before stopping.

Before Beth can even ask her what’s up, Gretchen takes a deep breath and then starts talking, her words coming out fast, rushed, like she has to get them out before she changes her mind.

“I’m sorry I just-- Rio is a really...private person. He has school and he has the bar and he has his family. He doesn’t just let people in, like ever, unless he sees something in them he thinks he can trust. I know you said you guys were ‘casual’ earlier, but I hope you realize nothing with him is just ‘casual’. You’re either in or you’re out.” Her eyes drift over to Aaron and Beth finally registers what this is all about. She tries not to be offended by the fact that Gretchen thinks Beth would go home with Aaron after they’d just spent part of the evening talking about Rio.

“Gretchen, we’re just sharing an Uber.” Beth reassures her. The thought of doing anything else with Aaron hadn’t even crossed her mind.

Gretchen hesitates for a second, but Ben’s calling her name, gesturing for them to go.

“Okay. Just—get home safe.” She finally says and then Ben is whisking her away in the direction of his car.

Beth takes a deep breath and turns back to Aaron.

“So, should I still order the Uber or...?” He glances over to where Ben and Gretchen are walking off.

“Oh,” Beth isn’t sure what to say. She slowly walks back over to him, shoving her hands in her coat pockets. He must’ve figured out what her and Gretchen had been talking about.

Thanks for making it awkward Gretchen, Beth thinks.

“You know what, there’s actually a diner that’s walking distance from here, you wanna go grab some coffee? It’ll help sober you up so you can drive yourself home. Not have to worry about murderous Uber drivers or having an awkward conversation with some college frat guy.” Aaron grins down at her and Beth relaxes instantly.

“Thank you so much, I am really so sorry about—that.” She waves her hand in the direction of where her and Gretchen had been talking.

“No need to apologize, I totally get it.”

“You are like, unreasonably sweet.” Beth jokes and Aaron chuckles as he nods in agreement. He tilts his head to the left, presumably in the direction of the diner, gesturing for her to follow. They walk in comfortable silence, moving quickly through the cold night air.

Beth hasn’t checked her phone since the guys had joined her and Gretchen at their table. She doesn’t think to check it as her and Aaron talk at the diner over coffee. Or even later, when she finally makes it back to her car.

She tosses it on her desk when she finally makes it home, throwing herself onto her bed and falling asleep almost immediately.

It’s not until the next morning, after she’s showered and her and Ruby are headed out to Stan’s family’s cabin for the weekend that she sees the texts and missed call from Rio.

Chapter Text

Beth and Ruby had decided to do a road trip up North to the cabin.

It was 30 minutes from a picturesque little town with a ton of tiny little shops so they decided to turn the weekend into a Christmas shopping trip too. When Beth and Dean had gotten engaged and Beth started spending the holidays with Deans family, Beth and Ruby had started a tradition of celebrating Christmas early together. Stan and Annie joined too. They’d be celebrating Early Christmas the following weekend. Winter break would officially start the week after and go until early January. Ruby and Stan would be out of town for Christmas, but planned to be back to spend New Year's with Beth.

The drive up to the cabin was close to four hours with traffic and Beth practically jumps out of the car when they finally reach it. It’s close to the water, a cold breeze coming off it, whipping through and chilling Beth to the bone.

Her and Ruby quickly grab their bags and rush inside.

They get unpacked and then settle in on the living room couch.

Beth has been looking forward to this trip more than she’d like to admit.

She’s looking forward to having some quiet time to relax with her best friend. It feels like forever since her and Ruby have spent time together, just the two of them.

She misses talking to her best friend.

So, that’s what she does, once they get comfortable on the couch.

She unloads everything. The possible criminal activity Rio is involved in, the stuff she has shared about her past with him, how scared she is to ask him about anything, and finally all the stuff with Gretchen and Aaron.

“So, girlfriend just dropped this bomb that bar friend-”

Rio.”

“-That Rio is totally in love with you and then just bounced?”

“She did not say he was in love with me. But basically--yeah. I think she likes to say things to throw me off balance and then just run away. She seems pretty sadistic.”

“You do realize she’s right, right?”

“About Rio? No. I mean... We are not—We are just--” Beth stammers, trying to form a coherent sentence in her mind and push it out of her mouth, but it is not working.

“Look, the only people ya’ll are foolin' are yourselves. And each other apparently. You guys started dating and just slapped a ‘not-dating’ sticker on it and called it a day. You pretty much set yourself up for failure by making those damn rules because you’ve broken every single one.”

“Not true! Rule number 3. I haven’t slept with anyone else.” Beth knows it’s a weak argument.

“Girl, please, you haven’t even looked at anyone else since Rio walked into your life. And anyone with eyes can tell what’s going on between you two.”

Beth opens her mouth to argue, but nothing comes out. She’s got nothing. Because it’s all true.

She thought she could throw some half assed boundaries up and call it a day, but that was obviously not working.

“Have you talked to him? About what Gretchen said?” Ruby asks.

Beth shakes her head. “I missed a bunch of messages from him last night. I texted him back this morning, but not about that. I didn’t want to start anything. I don’t know what his and Gretchen’s relationship is like. I don’t know if he’ll be mad about what she said, or just...not care. I never know what he’s thinking.”

“B-- honestly, do you know anything about him?” Ruby is gentle as she asks, but Beth feels herself getting emotional anyway.

“No. I don’t. Because honestly? I’m too scared to find out. If we take the next step, there’s no going back. And I don’t think I could handle---I feel so much more for him than I did for Dean. And I don’t think I could handle it if we got in as deep as Dean and I were, and...and he found someone new. I mean, honestly we just—we could never work out, right? He’s so---And I’m just---” Beth gestures wildly with her hands and Ruby smiles a little sadly and shakes her head. She understands exactly what Beth is trying to say.

“He is not everything, and you are not nothing. You sell yourself short so much--too much, B. You keep trying to base your value off some useless male, like you’re less than because some dummy can’t keep his penis in his pants. And I will never forgive Dean for making you feel and think that way. You are not less than because of any man. You will always be so much more in spite of them. You do not need a penis in your life to make yourself complete.”

“Why are you always making me cry?” Beth swipes at her eyes quickly, huffing out a short laugh and Ruby does too.

“I’m sorry, it just drives me nuts, the way you always put everyone before yourself. You are such a good person to other people; you need to put that same effort towards yourself.”

“I’m trying! I know it doesn’t seem that way, but I am. Things are different with Rio. The way he makes me feel is so different then how I've ever felt. It feels like- I can be someone around him that I can’t really be with anyone else. And I've been trying to keep the lines between us very defined, so I don’t get...lost in him. But every time I look up, they’ve shifted...blurred. It’s so hard to describe. It’s like...a hurricane. I think I’m on stable ground and then he comes out of nowhere and sucks me up into his atmosphere and by the time he’s gone, I’m looking around and everything is just a mess.”

They’re both quiet for a moment and then Ruby reaches over and grabs Beth’s hand.

“I’m not sure I’m completely on board with you getting involved with someone who leads such a sketchy lifestyle. It’s bound to make things even messier. But I will try to support you in whatever you do. So, the way I see it you have two options. You obviously can’t keep doing what you’re doing, this back and forth will drive you crazy. So, you can either move forward with him, or move forward without him. But you need to make a decision, no more of this halfway stuff. Be brave, ask your questions, get your answers, then decide. And maybe it wouldn't hurt to broaden you’re dating pool while you’re at it.”

“You literally just said I didn’t need penis.” Beth points out and they both dissolve into a fit of giggles.

“I know! I do think it’s okay to window shop, give yourself some options for when you are ready. Someone besides Rio. Although I’m not too sure about this frat boy either. What’s his name? Dean 2.0?”

“Ouch Ruby, that’s harsh. Aaron is definitely not like Dean. He’s actually really nice. Like, almost too nice.”

“Okay, so I take it back. Ask him out for coffee again. I don’t see how it can hurt. You seem like you like him and you had fun with him. Even if it’s just as friends.”

Beth sits quietly, considering what Ruby’s said. Should she be keeping her options open? She hasn’t really thought about dating other guys since she’s met Rio. There hasn’t been anyone who she’s felt drawn to like she has with Rio. He’s like a magnet, she keeps finding herself drawn back to him no matter how much resistance there is.

The thought of sitting down and having an actual conversation with Rio about what they are and what they could be is terrifying. She knows how she feels, how she’s tried to stop herself from feeling. If they lay it all out for each other, will it all come together or fall apart?

“Would you be okay if I invited Rio over for our early Christmas thing?” Beth asks carefully, not sure how Ruby will react. “I’m assuming he’ll be doing family stuff for Christmas break, and maybe I should talk to him before, just...get it over with.”

“I don’t know, B. Do you think that’s a good idea? That would be breaking some serious rules.” Ruby gives her a small smile and Beth grins back, leaning forward to hug her friend.

“Hate you.” She says as she gives her a quick squeeze before letting go.

“Hate your face.”

 

--------

 

The next day they decide to do their shopping. It’s way too cold, even with 4 layers of clothing, but Beth adores these little shops. They always have such cute little trinkets and unique gifts.

Beth and Ruby go their separate ways when it's time to purchase each other's presents, agreeing to meet back up at the little coffee shop on the corner when they’re done.

Beth’s sorting through a bin of scarves when she feels her phone vibrate. She pulls it out and sees a new text from Annie. She wants to bring Greg over for their early Christmas. Beth doesn’t think she can really object, since she plans on inviting Rio. She still hasn't worked up the nerve to do it yet.

After missing his texts and call the other night, he’s been pretty distant. She’s not sure if he’s purposely blowing her off or actually really busy. She opens up their text thread, trying to work out how she should word her invitation. If he’s mad, should she even try? Should she even be asking him to come by and celebrate such a big holiday with her? It’s a pretty intimate setting. Definitely something people who are dating do. So, in that vein, if he accepts would that mean he wants them to be dating?

Jesus, Beth, get it together and just text him, she chides herself.

She takes a deep breath, types out ‘do you have plans next weekend? We're doing a little Christmas thing at our place, if you wanted to stop by.’ She presses send quickly before she can change her mind.

She stares at her phone, unsure if she wants him to respond immediately or not. When he doesn’t, she shoves her phone back into her pocket, face feeling hot.

Well guess that answers that.

Beth finishes up her shopping and heads to the coffee shop, texting Ruby on the way.

Once there, she orders for her and Ruby and then finds them a table.

She scrolls through her social media apps to keep herself occupied while she waits. But her mind keeps going back to Rio. What if he doesn’t text her back at all? Or worse, what if he does and he says no?

This was such a terrible idea.

Ruby arrives, a flurry of energy despite the cold.

“I may have gotten carried away.” She grins, holding up her many bags.

“Just a little,” Beth teases, “I ordered your drink.” The words have barely left Beth’s mouth when they call her name from the counter.

“I’ll get ‘em.” Ruby sets her bags down and goes to grab their drinks.

Beth’s phone vibrates and her breath catches in her throat as she looks down and sees it’s a text from Rio.

‘sounds good.’

Beth feels the air leave her lungs all at once.

Ruby comes back, setting Beth’s drink down in front of her and sitting down across from her.

“What’s up?” Ruby asks, but Beth doesn’t look up from her phone.

“He said yes. I asked him if he would come for our Christmas, and he said yes.”

“That’s good, right? That’s what you wanted?”

“Yup.”

“Then why do you look like you’re going to throw up right now?”

Beth finally tears her gaze away from her phone and focuses on Ruby. “I guess I didn't expect him to say yes. Now I have to actually work out what I’m going to say.”

“Yeahhh you should definitely get on that.”

 

------

 

Beth feels a lot better towards the end of their trip. Decompressing with Ruby usually does that for her.

She does feel a slight tightening in her chest as they pack up to head back home, thinking about classes and work and Rio and the upcoming holiday break.

Why are holidays so much more stressful than any other time of the year?

She tries to focus on the good things- Annie will be up soon to visit, spending time with her and Ruby and Stan. She thinks about decorating the apartment for Christmas and exchanging presents. About cooking and baking and laughing with the people she loves the most.

She calls Annie on the way back home, confirming details of her visit. She’s just visiting for the weekend and she’ll be staying at Greg’s while she’s in town. Apparently Greg has been talking about introducing her to his family. Beth is apprehensive about how fast of a move that is, and it takes everything in her not to intervene. She knows she can’t keep making Annie’s life her life.

Beth has a full schedule when she gets back, between work and classes she barely has time to focus on anything else.

So mid-week, when she comes home exhausted and ready to just quit life, Ruby hauls out all their Christmas decorations. It’s just what Beth needs to brighten her mood. As soon as they start unpacking it all, Beth feels calm again.

They have one of those fake pencil Christmas trees, the only one they could fit comfortably in their living room. They have small silver, blue, gold, and red ornaments, plus ribbon and tinsel that they decorate it with. They're just settling a Santa hat on top as a Christmas tree topper when there's a knock at the door.

“I’ll get it.” Beth says as Ruby adds more tinsel to the tree.

She’s picking some stray tinsel off her sweater (and seriously this stuff is just as bad as glitter) when she opens the door and Rio is standing there. He’s wearing his black bomber jacket over a grey hoodie and black tee and dark jeans. Beth resists the urge to reach and touch him. They haven’t really spoken since she’d asked him to come by for their Christmas.

She leans against the door jamb, twisting the tinsel around her fingers.

“I didn't realize you knew how to knock.” She teases.

“Thought I’d try somethin’ different.” He steps closer, reaching out to take a strand of tinsel from her hands. “Decoratin’?”

“Just finishing up the tree.”

“You got a minute?”

Beth nods, stepping back and holding the door open wider, “Come in.”

Rio steps through, brushing up against her as he does and Beth shivers. It feels like forever since he’s touched her.

Ruby turns to them as they get further into the room, gives Rio a polite smile and “Hello.”

Rio nods in return, looking over the tree.

“We’re gonna--” Beth gestures down the hall toward her room, and Ruby nods.

Beth stops at one of the boxes on the way to her room, grabbing something at the top and palming it before continuing on to her room.

Rio follows her down the hall and she steps aside to let him walk in first, then closes the door behind her. She leans back against it and he turns to face her.

They stare at each other in silence for what feels like forever to Beth, but is probably less than a minute. She can tell how tense he is and she hates it. Wants nothing more than to defuse it.

Slowly, she opens her hand, the decoration she’d grabbed from the living room becoming visible. She twists the ribbon it’s hanging on between her fingers and holds it up in front of her.

Rio’s eyes flicker over it, his mouth twitching up in amusement.

“What’s that?” He asks, and she knows he knows, but of course he’s going to make her say it.

“It’s mistletoe. We had a very interesting History lesson on it today. Did you know there are a few different origin stories behind the Christmas tradition for it? One is a Nordic myth,” Beth straightens from the door, steps closer to Rio, “The plant was sacred to Frigga, the goddess of love, but Loki, the god of mischief, shot Frigga's son with an arrow carved from mistletoe. Frigga brought her son back to life under the mistletoe tree and decreed that anyone who stood under the mistletoe tree deserved not only protection from death, but also a kiss.” Beth takes another step closer. “Another one comes from England. As part of early custom, men were allowed to steal a kiss from any woman caught standing under the mistletoe. They were to pluck a single berry from the mistletoe with each kiss, until they were all gone.” Beth takes another step closer, bringing her toe to toe with Rio. She looks up at him through her eyelashes as she raises the mistletoe above her head playfully.

Rio’s fingers come up under her chin, tipping her head back slightly and then he’s placing the softest gentlest kiss against her mouth that he’s ever given her and Beth feels like her heart drops into her stomach.

Rio pulls back slowly, reaches up to bring Beth’s hand back down, taking the mistletoe and tossing it over onto her desk.

“We should talk.” He says, hand coming up to brush her hair back, fingers trailing down the side of her face.

“Yeah.” Beth swallows hard, nodding her head. They should. They really should. But Beth has this terrible feeling that if they talk now, nothing good will come of their conversation. She's not ready yet. And all she can think about is that kiss, and how she just wants him to kiss her again. Her eyes drop down to his mouth and she bites down on her bottom lip, to stop herself from biting down on his. Her eyes dart back up, and she sees it there, the way his expression shifts. Darkens. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever get used to him looking at her like that. Like he’s desperate to have her.

“Don’t know how you keep doin’ this to me.” His voice is a hoarse whisper and Beth is confused for a minute before he’s leaning down to kiss her again, and she sighs happily against his mouth. She brings her hands up to his hips, gripping at his jacket.

He’s just kissing her softly over and over again and Beth thinks she can do this forever. It isn’t long though before his kiss becomes firmer, more urgent and instead of leaning into him, Beth finds herself clinging to him.

He’s got her halfway undressed before she even realizes it, and she quickly gets to work undressing him too.

Once all their clothes are gone, they fall back into her bed.

And she knows almost instantly that this was a bad idea, that they should’ve talked first, because Rio is touching her in a way that she thinks might mean more than either of them are prepared to deal with, and she’s responding to it in kind, melting into his touch, giving herself over to him in a way she’s never done with anybody else.

The way he’s kissing her as he moves inside of her. The way she’s wrapping her arms and legs around him, trying to keep him as close as possible. The way it feels when she comes and every inch of herself is pressed against every inch of him and it still isn't enough.

He doesn’t pull out right away, stays inside her for as long as possible. And she thinks maybe something will be said when he does eventually move to lay down beside her, but he just pulls her into his arms and she falls asleep.

When she wakes up early the next morning, he’s gone.

Chapter Text

Beth is feeling extremely nervous.

Her and Ruby had finished decorating the apartment for Christmas last night. They’d also gotten a head start on dinner, baking the desserts and cooking the sides early so they’d have less to do today. It’s late afternoon and everyone should be arriving soon.

Stan and Ruby, she could handle. It’s Greg and Annie and Rio that have her on edge.

She still doesn’t know much about Greg, hasn’t really had a chance to hang out with him and talk. She’s still not sure how she feels about him and Annie. Like she has room to judge, with the mess that is Her and Rio’s “relationship”. Beth rolls her eyes and goes back to digging through her jewelry box, trying to find her silver bar necklace. She probably shouldn’t be wearing it anymore, since it was a Christmas present from Dean a few years back. But she’s gotten used to it, the feel of it resting against her chest, playing with it absentmindedly while she’s studying or talking. She likes how delicate it looks around her neck.

She opens up a few of her drawers when she can’t find it in her jewelry box, thinking maybe it fell into one or got snagged on her clothing.

No luck.

She lets out a deep sigh and brings her hand up to her neck, feeling a little bit naked without it.

She hears a knock at the front door and her head jerks up and over to her open doorway. She can hear Ruby move to answer it and she grabs her phone from her bed, checking to see if Rio has messaged her.

After he had left the other night without saying goodbye, Beth was left wondering what was going on between them. Really, since the night she’d went out with Gretchen and Aaron had shown up, she’d felt like something was off.

Of course, Gretchen had clarified some of that when she’d texted her this morning. The day after they’d went out, Rio had stopped by Gretchen’s with hangover provisions. He’d mentioned Beth and how he’d tried getting ahold of her the previous night. Gretchen told him they’d been out together, mentioning Ben and Aaron too, not realizing Rio had already met Aaron at the bar and strongly disliked him.

Which explains why he’s been so distant with her since.

But nothing had happened and Beth had to keep reminding herself that she had nothing to feel guilty over. They had both agreed to this casual thing, hadn’t they? He hasn’t given her any reason why she should think they’re anything more.

(“Elizabeth, If you got somethin' you wanna ask, just ask.”

Beth pushes the memory away)

Now, she’s not even sure he’s still coming. She’d thought about texting him this morning, to ask him and maybe explain the whole Aaron thing, but had talked herself out of it. If he wasn’t coming, he’d have to just text her and let her know.

She’s already decided if he does show up, they will talk. No touching, no sex, just talking.

She’s been practicing a few questions in her head and hopefully when the time comes she’ll be able to actually get them out.

(Why are you jealous of Aaron?

Are you thinking about seeing anyone else?

Do you think this thing between us is worth it?

What was that the other night when you came over? And why did you leave?)

There are no new messages from Rio, but there is one from Annie. She’s running late. Of course. She promises to bring lots of booze to make up for it. Beth smiles as she sends a heart emoji back as a reply.

She notices a new message on her IG and opens it up. It’s from Aaron. He wants to know if she’s free tonight. For dinner.

Beth feels like banging her head against the wall.

She hears Stan’s voice in the living room and quickly closes out the message, ignoring it for now in favor of going out to greet him.

He’s settling himself into one of the recliners, the game from last week replaying on the TV.

Beth catches Ruby’s eye and they both smile knowingly. He probably won’t move from that spot again until it’s time for dinner. Ruby’s already set out plenty of snacks on the coffee table.

“Hi Stan!” Beth waves, as she moves toward the kitchen. Stan gives a quick wave back, then zones in on the food in front of him.

“He is unbelievable,” Ruby says with a shake of her head, “One track mind. Most men it’s sex. This guy, it’s football and food.”

“Could be worse.” Beth says, clearing some space on the counter for more food. They’ll be putting the ham in soon and making the rest of the sides that they couldn’t get to last night.

Beth loves baking and Ruby loves cooking, so between the two of them there will be enough food to feed a small army. Which means Stan will probably eat half of it himself by the time the night is over.

There’s another knock at the door.

“That’s probably Annie. Hopefully with lots of alcohol.” Beth jokes as Ruby makes her way over to answer it.

Beth’s counting out dishes and silverware, making sure there’s enough, when she hears Ruby’s voice say, “Not Annie.” and she freezes.

She looks over as Ruby steps aside and Rio comes into view.

Ruby closes the door, giving her a pointed look behind Rio’s back, before heading over to the living room.

“Hi.” Beth says softly, turning her body toward him, hip leaning against the counter.

“Hey.” His gaze lingers on the counter where she stands and Beth flushes as she remembers when he’d pushed her up against it, her hands pressed down hard as he fucked her from behind. She knows he’s thinking about it too.

Beth clears her throat and Rio’s eyes are back on her, taking her in, moving slowly down her body and then back up. She’s wearing a burgundy and white polka dot dress, and it’s probably the shortest dress she owns, hitting her about mid-thigh. She always dresses up for the holiday. It’s really the only time she dresses up, so she makes sure to do it right. She even has makeup on and her hair in a soft braided updo, her long bangs framing her face.

“You look good.” He says, taking a step closer and Beth can hear her heart pounding in her ears.

“Thank you. So do you.” Because, of course he does, he always does.

He’s got on his signature dark pants and jacket, but he’s wearing a light grey cashmere sweater that she’s never seen him in before. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him in any lighter colors before, and it’s definitely doing things to her...

He takes another step toward her and—god she feels wet for him already. It’s obscene, how quickly her body reacts to him. He wears a different color sweater and she’s already halfway to an orgasm.

The look on his face lets her know that all her thoughts are playing out across her own and Beth tries to think of something to say, anything besides ‘Please take me to my room and fuck my brains out. Oh, and keep the sweater on, thanks’.

Luckily (for Beth), they are interrupted by the front door flying open. Annie is a mess of chaotic energy as she comes bounding in, alcohol in hand as Greg follows closely behind with the presents.

Beth quickly steps around Rio to help Annie. She directs Greg to the Christmas tree to put the presents under, alongside the ones from her, Ruby, and Stan.

Now that Annie’s here, the energy level picks up and never goes back down. She’s bouncing around making everyone drinks, using her whole body to share retail horror stories from her job, turning on Christmas music to dance around to. Her childish delight and excitement for the holiday is contagious.

Ruby eventually puts the ham in the oven and Beth brings out all the card and board games they own, Annie and Stan arguing over which one to play first.

Beth looks over at Rio, standing beside the couch, arms crossed, a smile playing at his lips as he watches Annie sort through the games on the floor, pushing the ones she doesn’t want to play out of Stan’s reach. He looks up and catches her eye and she almost looks away—but doesn’t. She holds his gaze and when he tilts his head the slightest little bit, she straightens up from where she’s been leaning against the recliner and turns, making her way back toward her bedroom.

She has something for him. It’s stupid, she knows, to give him something for Christmas. Couples exchange gifts, and they are not a couple. She’s not even sure how he’s going to react when she gives it to him. She pushes down the wave of anxiety that thought brings on.

This is probably as good of a time as any to talk too. She is going to ask her questions and he’s going to give her his answers. She is going to resist the urge to run away, to change the subject, to ignore the glaring communication problems they have. This will be happening.

She leaves the door slightly ajar, moving over to her dresser and opening the top drawer.

She pulls out the tissue wrapped present that’s in there and sets it on top of her dresser. She hears the door being pushed open and then quietly closed. She hears him as he moves closer but she doesn’t turn around. His hands slide over her hips and around to her stomach as he presses up against her from behind.

She leans back against him briefly, her hands moving to his to give them a quick squeeze before letting go and turning around. Rio takes a step back as she does and Beth grabs the present, holding it out to him before she can change her mind.

His eyebrows raise slightly as he gently takes it from her.

“I know we said no presents but...this isn’t really a present. It’s more of a replacement.” She nods, encouraging him to open it, and he pulls the tissue away and grins when he sees the beanie she’s made for him.

“So, you made me a whole new one instead of giving my old one back?” He teases, still grinning at her.

“Are you ever going to give me my panties back?” She asks pointedly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Fair enough.”

She takes the tissue from him and sets it down on her dresser, then steps close, taking the beanie and pulling it down over his head and ears.

“Perfect.” He murmurs, his face so close Beth has trouble thinking for a second.

“I got somethin’ for you too.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small velvet pouch.

“Rio!” Beth shakes her head, taking a step back. Rio follows, reaching out and grabbing her hand, pressing the small bag into her palm.

Beth’s fingers instinctively close around it and she just stares at him. He’d bought her something. Jewelry at that, by the looks of it.

“Elizabeth. It aint gonna bite. Just open it.” He seems highly amused by her hesitance.

Beth looks down at the bag. She brings her other hand up, running her fingers along the smooth velvet, before loosening the strings at the top. She reaches her fingers in and they hook around something round and smooth. She pulls up gently, revealing a gorgeous string of pearls.

Rio takes the velvet bag from her and places it on her dresser. He slips his fingers around the pearls, unclasping them and moving behind her to place them against her neck, before closing the clasp. The necklace slips a little when he lets go, settling against her chest. He turns her slightly so she can look at herself in the mirror above her dresser, still standing behind her.

Beth’s fingers come up to lightly touch the smooth surface of the pearls.

“They reminded me of you soon as I saw ‘em. Of that night after the bar bathroom. You remember?” He’s leaning down, his mouth close to her ear, his voice low. He nuzzles against her neck, “I bet you do.”

And she does. Of course she does. She remembers every night with him in vivid detail. He continues though, like he doesn’t really expect or need an answer.

“We came back here and you was ridin’ my face hard and when you came, it tasted so sweet,” He bites at her neck and Beth gasps, that familiar flush spreading across her face and chest. That familiar heat too, spreading lower, “And then you wrapped that beautiful lil mouth of yours around my cock,” His hand comes up, his thumb brushing slowly across her lower lip, “And you let me come right here,” He brings his fingers down to trace over her clavicle, sliding them inwards, under the pearls, and down over her chest and across the swell of her breasts.

Rio’s voice and touch are doing unspeakable things to her body, and Beth is just trying to remember how to breathe.

Her mind goes back to earlier, when she’d been looking for the necklace Dean gave her. How she’d felt naked without it. And now here Rio was, inadvertently replacing a piece of her past with Dean with something of him. Of them.

Beth closes her eyes and takes in a deep shaky breath, letting it out slowly. Rio’s hands and mouth are still on her and Beth suddenly feels overwhelmed.

This is not how this was supposed to go. Especially after the other night, when he’d come over, all tense(because of Aaron she now knows), and then they’d---

And he’d just left.

She gently pulls away from him, putting some distance between them and Rio looks at her in confusion.

“I can’t...” Her voice trails off. She doesn’t even know where to start. She’d gone over this repeatedly in her head and now she can’t think of a single thing she had planned to say.

And then the words are leaving her mouth so fast, she doesn’t even have time to process them before they’re out. “I don’t understand what’s going on here. Is this---is this thing between us just casual or...? Because there are rules. And you keep breaking them. You can’t come over here like you did the other night, acting all jealous because I’m talking to another guy and—” Beth pauses, unsure of her next words, “and then have sex with me with a bunch of feelings involved and then just leave. It’s confusing! You keep skipping steps, expecting me to just follow when I’m not there yet. When I’m not ready!”

Beth wishes she could take the words back as soon as they leave her mouth. She wishes she could reach out and grab them before they ever reach his ears, swallow them back down, never to be heard.

She knows every single word that has left her mouth is exactly the wrong thing to say. She sees it when Rio instantly stiffens, his hands balling up into fists before he shoves them into his jacket pockets. His face is—god his face. She’d rather see anger there than the emotionless mask he’s slipped on.

“I’m sorry, that came out all wrong...”

Rio’s nodding his head though, like—she doesn’t even know what. Like he agrees with what she’d said or he’s confirming to himself that she’s insane. Maybe both.

He brings a hand out of his pocket, scrubs at his face.

“No, you right. You aint ready. Guess I’ll see you around then, yeah?” He’s flippant, sarcastic, the words too familiar now from their past conversations.

Beth says nothing. She’s not sure how to salvage this. The words may have come out all wrong, but she had meant them.

She waits, trying to regroup and start again, but Rio’s not having it. He leaves and she doesn’t try to stop him.

How does this keep happening to them? Beth gives herself a few minutes to calm down before she steps out of her room and heads back into the living room.

Everyone is spread out around the living room, playing monopoly. They’ve moved the snacks around to make room for the board game on the coffee table. Ruby and Stan are sitting next to each other on the couch. Annie’s still in her position on the floor with Greg next to her. The game is muted on the TV and Christmas carols are still playing.

Beth plops down next to Ruby, resting her head on Ruby’s shoulder. Annie and Stan are yelling at each other about the rules and cheating and it looks like Ruby’s trying to play referee. Beth sits quietly, watching.

“What’s going on sweetie?” Ruby turns her head slightly, trying to get a look at Beth’s face. She’s quiet, so the others can’t hear and Beth is, once again, eternally grateful for how in tune her best friend is with her.

“Turns out I’m not so brave after all.” She replies, sadly. Ruby reaches out, taking Beth's hand in hers, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

 

------------

 

It’s much much later, when they finally talk about it. After everyone has eaten and presents have been exchanged and they’ve cleaned up. After Stan and Greg head out, and it’s just the three of them.

They grab a couple bottles of wine, move the coffee table out of their way, and spread a bunch of comforters and pillows out on the living room floor.

The necklace has been a huge focal point, Annie having immediately noticed it earlier and drawing everyone's attention to it, and then Ruby drawing everyone’s attention away. After she’s told them about her and Rio’s fight, Ruby suggests returning it. Annie tells her to pawn it.

“I can’t do either of those things!” She takes another sip of wine as she runs her fingers over the necklace. “Returning it would require a conversation, which we seem incapable of having. And pawning it is just rude. You know, I was finally ready to ask all these questions and try to figure this thing out and he had to come in with his stupid beautiful present and his stupid sexy dirty talk-”

“Okay, ew.” Annie interrupts and Ruby laughs, nodding her head in agreement.

“And he just threw me off my game! Like he always does. And then he just walks away?”

“Apparently.” Annie replies dryly.

“He’s so frustrating.” Beth whines.

“I think you’re both frustrating.” Ruby says, nudging Beth with her foot. Beth swats her away, straightening up.

“I’m going to the bar.”

“What?!” Annie and Ruby sit up too, concern and surprise on their faces.

“Yes. I’m going to be brave and I’m going to go ask my questions and get my answers.”

“That’s the liquid courage talking. You have no actual courage.” Annie protests.

“Which is why you are coming with me.” Beth says as she tips her glass up to her mouth, downing the rest of her wine.

“Wait, what?” Annie looks properly confused.

“You’ve barely had anything to drink. I need you to drive. And keep me on task. Don’t let me back out.” Beth explains, like it’s that simple.

“Beth sweetie, it’s late. I’m pretty sure the bar is closed. He’s probably not even there.” Ruby says.

“Oh, he’s there. He’s always there. The guy never sleeps. He just runs around with his shady ass business and his confusing ass mixed signals and his annoyingly endless energy.” Beth stands, a bit wobbly, and gestures for Annie to follow.

“Those are some very specific complaints.” Annie comments, reluctantly getting up.

“I’m going to change and then we’re gonna go drop in on him for once.” Beth decides, already unbuttoning her dress as she heads back to her room.

“Sounds fun.” Annie calls after her, voice full of sarcasm.

Beth discards her dress on the floor and rummages through her drawers, grabbing a pair of dark jeans and a thick black sweater. She pulls the clothing on quickly. Her hand comes up to touch the pearls and she briefly considers taking them off, but decides against it. Her hair is still in its updo from earlier, but she leaves it, not having the energy to mess with it right now.

Beth grabs her phone, ID, and credit card and shoves them in her back pocket.

“You look like a cat burglar.” Ruby comments when she joins them back out in the living room.

Beth is pleased. She slips her boots on and barely gives Annie enough time to get herself together, before she’s pulling her out the door. Ruby yells at them to ‘be careful’ on their way out.

“This is such a terrible idea.” Annie says when they get to the bar and Beth instructs her to drive around back.

“Oh trust me, this isn’t even my worst one.” Beth shoots back. She thinks Annie is right about the liquid courage. She feels good. Little nervous, but still good. She needs to capitalize on this feeling before it fades away.

“Hmm. Looks like someone is home. And they have company.” Annie parks in the farthest spot away from the bar. Rio’s car is parked up close to the building, alongside two other cars.

Beth hesitates. She hadn’t expected other people to be here. Honestly, she hadn’t even really expected Rio to be here.

“So, you gonna call him and let him know you’re here or...?”

“Or. You stay here, in case I need a getaway car.” Beth pops open her door before she can change her mind and steps out. The cold air hits her hard and she almost gasps. She really should have grabbed a coat.

Beth runs over to the back entrance, taking note of the ‘closed’ sign. She hesitantly tries the door. It’s locked. Of course. Why would the universe make this easy on her?

Beth takes a deep breath, thinks about turning around and just leaving, and then--

She knocks.

She waits a minute, knocks again, harder this time.

She wraps her arms around herself, bouncing on her heels as she tries to stay warm. After a few more minutes she turns to leave and that’s when the door finally swings open.

She turns back quickly, almost tripping over her own feet as she does, and comes face to face with Rio.

He does not look happy.

“Elizabeth what the hell you doin' here?”

Beth breathes in deep again, steeling her nerves. The cold air has sobered her some and she knows if she waits much longer, she won’t be able to go through with this.

“We need to talk.” She announces, silently congratulating herself on how firm her voice sounds.

“This aint a good time-” He starts, glancing back over his shoulder. Beth takes advantage of his distraction, pushing past him to step inside. They’re in a long hallway that looks like it leads out to the main bar area. There’s a few doors on each side.

Rio lets out an irritated sigh behind her but pulls the door shut.

Beth turns back to him. When she sees him open his mouth, like he’s going to try to make her leave, she holds her hand up to cut him off.

“I have had just enough to drink to be able to come over here and make several points loudly while you listen. But hopefully not so much that I start crying at the end. It’s a very fine line.”

Rio has a very pained expression on his face, like he’s torn between wanting to kiss her and wanting to strangle her.

Which really isn’t that different from how he usually feels about her.

“As fun as that sounds, I got a-vendor here right now who aint happy with his contract. So all this-” He waves his hand at her, “can’t happen.”

Beth instantly feels guilty. Of course he’s working late dealing with bar business and here she is, showing up drunk, making him look unprofessional. She should leave.

If she leaves now though, before they have a chance to talk...

“I can wait.” She stubbornly insists, strengthening her resolve.

Rio looks like he’s ready to argue. Beth plants her feet firmly and crosses her arms over her chest and he lets out a long tortured sigh. He scrubs his hand over his face in exactly the same way he had back in her bedroom.

“Fine. In the office.” He gestures to one of the doors. Beth follows him, waiting as he pulls out a set of keys and unlocks it.

She steps inside but he hangs back, in the doorway.

“Need to go finish this. You, stay.” And with that, he turns and leaves, closing the door behind him.

“Rude.” Beth mutters under her breath. She glances around the office quickly, taking stock. It looks pretty much like the one from the warehouse. Standard desk and chairs, couch, lots of filing cabinets. Probably all locked.

She hears loud voices coming from the bar and moves closer to the door, listening. It sounds like they’re arguing.

Who has business meetings at this time of night anyway? And what kind of vendor gets into such heated arguments with an employer?

Beth worries at her lip as she debates leaving. She could go back out to Annie’s car and just pretend this never happened.

She opens the door, peeking out and looking both ways before stepping out into the hallway.

But instead of heading toward the exit, her feet turn in the other direction, taking her further into the building.

She knows this is not a good idea, knows she should turn around. Go back to the office and wait or leave entirely.

She keeps walking though, her curiosity getting the better of her. She has questions. Maybe she can see the answers for herself.

She peeks around the corner at the end of the hallway and sees Rio and two guys behind the bar, talking to two other guys that are seated across from them.

Rio looks bored, but the guy across from him looks angry. He’s saying something in Spanish, his body language super aggressive.

Rio replies back, also in Spanish, and whatever he says pisses the guy off enough that he pulls a knife out of nowhere and stabs it into the bar top. Beth’s eyes widen as she takes half a step back.

“C’mon man, that’s walnut. Shit’s expensive.” Rio shakes his head slowly, really only looking mildly annoyed at the knife in front of him.

Beth’s phone vibrates in her pocket, startling her enough to let out a tiny gasp. She doesn’t think it’s that loud but when she looks back over at the bar, all five sets of eyes are on her.

Rio says her name at the same time as the other guy pulls his knife out of the bar top and points it in her direction, talking rapidly in Spanish again.

Rio holds his hand up to the guy, his eyes never leaving Beth, who is frozen where she stands. She’s not sure if turning around and trying to leave now will do more harm than good.

“She’s with me.” He tells the guy, his eyes finally leaving her to turn back to him. They go back and forth for a minute, Beth just standing there awkwardly. Should she turn around and leave? Should she walk over to Rio?

Rio solves her dilemma for her when he turns to one of his guys, speaking low. Then he exchanges a few more words with knife guy, before turning and crossing the room in a handful of strides. He doesn’t even pause as he grabs her arm and pulls her down the hallway and back into the office. He shuts the door with a little more force than necessary.

“What was that?” She immediately asks, before she can think better of it. She's probably not in the best position to be demanding answers from him right now.

Rio just stares at her, his jaw clenching, body tense.

“He pulled a knife on you.” She tries again.

“Yah, sometimes there’s guns too.” He responds with a humorless laugh.

“What? Why?”

“Elizabeth.” His patience is wearing thin.

“I have questions. And when we were talking earlier...the things I said-they came out wrong. If we’re-” She falters, swallows hard before pushing ahead, “if we’re going to be something, I want to know what’s going on.”

“Oh, now you wanna know what’s goin’ on?” Rio scoffs, “You already know. You jus’ so desperate to hang onto that white picket fence bullshit of yours, you don’t want to taint it with what this is. You run away from it every chance you get.”

“That’s not true.”

“Nah? Aint that why you keep entertainin’ that frat fuck? So you got somethin’ safe to fall back on?”

You told me you didn’t have time for relationships! You wanted to keep it causal.” Beth feels like her heart is in her throat. Why did they keep going from zero to a hundred in these conversations?

“Yeah, cause you was already halfway to that point before I even got there. Everything is one step forward an five steps back wit you.”

“Because you keep messing with my head! Everything moves so fast with you even when we’re going slow. This is so much more complicated for me than it is for you. I guess you’re used to relationships being like this but I’m not. Everything with you is just...all consuming. I can feel myself getting lost in you and that scares me. If I let you, you would turn me into this completely different person that I’m not ready to be!”

“Yeah cause that stepford act suited you so much better, huh? I aint here for that. You wanna be that, you go ahead and call up that frat boy of yours. I aint got time to hold your hand through this while you work out your bullshit.”

“You are such a dick. How are you going to act like this after pushing me and pushing me with all that “Just ask” crap? After you came over the other night and had sex with me like—like there was more between us...”

“Oh Baby, whatchu think this is? You think you special? Nah, It aint like that.”

Beth jerks back like she’s been slapped. Tears immediately spring to her eyes. She tries to blink them back rapidly, but one rolls down her cheek and she swipes furiously at it.

Her chest is heaving as she struggles to control her breathing. She feels nauseous. She needs to get out of this room.

“Can you move please?” She manages to get out. She doesn’t look directly at him, eyes pointedly on the door behind him.

“Elizabeth-”

“I trusted you.” Her eyes are angry as she finally focuses back on him and she can see it, the regret written across his face.

But he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even apologize.

“Annie’s waiting outside.” She pointedly looks to the door again.

“Course she is.” He moves though, stepping to the side and Beth practically runs out of the room.

She quickly makes her way down the hall and out the door, only pausing once she’s outside to take several deep breaths, filling her lungs with the cold night air until it hurts.

She stumbles her way over to Annie’s car, yanking the door open and getting inside.

“What happened?” Annie’s voice is full of concern. Beth can’t even look at her, worries if she does she’ll start crying again. She stares straight ahead instead.

She hears Annie draw in a breath, readying herself to say something else, but she stops.

They both watch as the back door to the bar swings open and Rio steps out, eyes immediately landing on Annie’s car. He stands there and stares at her for a second, and then he’s taking a step forward, and Beth shakes her head, a harsh “No.” leaving her mouth even though she knows he can’t hear her.

He stops in his tracks and Beth finally turns to Annie.

“Drive.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me.” Beth pouts as she watches Ruby pack for Christmas break.

She’s sprawled out across Ruby’s bed. Ruby’s moving quickly around the room, tossing random clothing and toiletries inside the suitcase next to Beth.

“I know, I know. I would stay longer but my parents would kill me. I’m already a day later than I said I was going to be.” She’s riffling through her drawers, looking for god knows what. She pauses, looks over her shoulder at Beth. “You know you can come with me.”

“I know. I just...I don’t think I’ll be very good company for anyone else right now.”

Ruby abandons her search through her dresser, pushing her suitcase aside so she can lie down next to Beth on her bed.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay by yourself?” Ruby asks.

“Yes. Really, I’m sure. Besides, Annie will be here some of the time.”

“That is not reassuring.”

Beth laughs. “It’ll be fine. I’ll be bored out of my mind, but it’ll be fine. Maybe I'll take up a yoga class. Re-center my chi or whatever.”

“I’m not entirely sure you’re using that in the right context.”

Beth laughs again and Ruby gets up, resuming her packing.

Beth pulls her phone out of her back pocket and snaps a picture of her packing, posting it to her IG, before briefly scrolling through her feed.

Everyone’s posting about Christmas break and spending time with family and Beth feels a slight pang in her chest. Will there ever be a time when the holidays are less melancholy? Will there ever be a time where she doesn’t wonder if their dad thinks about them, even briefly, or if her mom even notices what day it is?

Even though Annie and Beth are adults now, she still feels the need to overcompensate for all the traditions they’d lost during their childhood. Will that need ever go away?

Things do feel slightly different this year. Slightly better. Since Thanksgiving, when Beth had given up some of her control and let Annie add her own personal touch to their new traditions, it doesn’t feel as stressful as previous years. Since she let go of Dean, and let go (even it was just a little bit) of the need to try and fix everything and everyone.

Since she met Rio.

Her stomach clenches at the thought of him.

At the thought of their last conversation. It still hurts to think about. She’s replayed it a million times over in her head. She remembers how quickly they had fallen apart and thinks up all the different scenarios in which they could’ve come together instead.

She’s not sure where they stand now. She never knows what to do where he’s concerned, always unsure of what the next step is supposed to be. Are they just giving each other breathing room to regroup before trying again? Are they...over completely?

It feels like they are—over. He had really hurt her with his words. Especially that last comment—he'd dug down deep into her insecurities and ripped them out, shoving them all in her face.

And then there’s Aaron.

After everything that had happened with Rio, Beth had almost forgotten to even respond to Aaron’s DM. She’d finally replied (two days later), making an excuse about not feeling well. She hadn’t directly said yes or no to his dinner invite.

The things Rio had said about him, and her, during their argument had stuck.

Was she keeping him on the sidelines as a safety net? Was she still subconsciously looking for someone to fulfill that fantasy life Dean had promised her when they were kids? Rio had made it clear that she wouldn’t get that from him, and he wasn’t looking for that from her.

She’d spent so long with this singular goal in mind, this one specific future, she hadn’t thought about any other possibilities.

Beth looks over at Ruby, who’s zipping up her suitcase, finally done packing.

“Aaron asked me to dinner.” She says quietly and Ruby stops what she’d doing to look at her.

“Okay.” Ruby sits down next to Beth, waiting for her to continue.

“He’s funny and good looking and incredibly nice and there’s really no reason for me to say no.”

“Okay.” Ruby repeats, continues waiting, knows Beth has more she needs to get out.

“And I think he would genuinely be fine with being just friends, if I didn’t actually want to date.”

“Uh huh.” Ruby nods her head, gesturing for Beth to continue.

“I have every reason to say yes and all I want to say is no.”

They both sit quietly for a minute.

“B- you just had some messy complicated relationship stuff go down and you don’t need any more messy complicated relationship stuff added to your plate. You’re allowed to say no for now, to take care of you. And then maybe later on you’ll end up wanting to say yes.”

“What would I do without you?”

“Luckily for you, You’ll never have to know!”

Beth sits up, looks at the message from Aaron again.

“Maybe I can just invite him to hang out with me and Annie. As friends.”

“Maybe. Maybe he’ll fall madly in love with Annie instead.” They both giggle at the thought.

“Have I told you about her paranoia with this Nancy girl and Greg? Like Greg doesn’t spend all his free time following her around like a lost little puppy dog.” Beth says, thinking about Christmas and how Greg had been glued to Annie’s side.

“Yeah, you Marks sisters are a real mess when it comes to the opposite sex.”

“I know, what is that? I guess we can’t all be lucky enough to have found a perfect guy like Stan.”

“Girl please, do not let him hear you say that ever, his head’s already big enough.”

Ruby slides her suitcase off her bed and Beth pushes herself up to stand. She follows Ruby out to the living room, where she pulls on her boots, coat, and hat.

“Call me or text me every night and let me know you’re okay.” Ruby says as she gives Beth a hug goodbye.

“I mean, that seems like overkill, but okay.” Beth smiles, squeezing Ruby a little tighter before letting go.

“I’ll text you when I get there! Byeee!”

Beth waves as Ruby leaves and then she turns, looking around the quiet apartment.

She pulls out her phone and messages Annie--and Aaron.

 

--------------------

 

Beth always feels a little stir crazy during holiday breaks. Especially now, when she could really use some distraction. It’s the middle of the week, which would normally mean classes and work to keep her mind occupied but Christmas Break means no classes. The coffee shop is still open, but only until the weekend, and then they’ll be closed with the rest of campus until after New Years as well.

When Beth had messaged Annie and Aaron yesterday, trying to plan ahead for the weekend, she’d asked about lunch on Saturday. Neither could make it, so she’d agreed to drinks Saturday night instead.

Today is the only day she’s working and then she’ll be left to her own devices for eleven whole days. The thought is almost physically painful for her.

Maybe she should have agreed to visit with Ruby’s family.

But Annie will be here this weekend, and again for Christmas and everyone will be back together for New Year's Eve.

The days in between are what worry her. She has a feeling she’ll be doing a lot of stress cleaning and baking.

Right now, she’s talking with the girls (Ely and Steph) working the front counter. It was busy this morning but it’s slowed down quite a bit, like it normally does around the holidays. Staff, students and family members come in to get their caffeine and snacks before hitting the road.

They’ve been doing themed days this week for Christmas, and today is ugly sweater day.

Beth loves the themed days because she gets to embrace her crafty side. Especially ugly sweater day. She usually creates her own and hers is usually the most outrageous.

She’s showing the girls how she attached the little string of lights along the front when the café door swings open and Beth looks over to greet whoever it is that’s come through.

She stops when she sees its Dean. He actually looks pretty surprised to see her, which, given the fact that she works here, is just ridiculous.

Beth hangs back as Steph steps up to take his order and he pays.

“Nice sweater.” He says after some awkward silence while he waits for his drink.

“Thanks. Made it myself.” She replies and Dean laughs.

“Yeah, I remember the one from last year. This one might actually be worse.”

Beth smiles and shrugs, thinking back to last year. This one was definitely worse.

“How have you been? You have plans for Christmas?” Dean asks, and Beth wishes he hadn’t. Is he going to make a habit of this? Showing up around the holidays and ambushing her?

He must realize what she’s thinking by the look on her face because he quickly backtracks, holding his hands up on front of him, “I mean, I’m genuinely curious, no ulterior motives here.”

“Things are fine. No big plans for Christmas.” She keeps her answers short and neutral.

Dean nods, rocks on his feet a little nervously and Beth can tell he’s about to say something that’s probably going to ruin her day.

“No plans with the new guy? Are you guys still a thing? Cause I heard this crazy rumor about you and Aaron the other day--”

Beth thinks there are far too many things within reaching distance of her that could be used as a weapon, for Dean to be acting this brave.

Luckily Steph swoops in with Deans finished drink and an over enthusiastic ‘Bye now’ that has him looking a little confused. Steph just stands there, between Beth and Dean, staring him down until he finally gives up and leaves.

“Thank you.” Beth says with a small smile of gratitude.

Beth sends a quick prayer out into the universe that she doesn’t have to deal with anyone else today.

But twenty minutes to closing time, someone else pops up that she’s not prepared to see.

One of the guys that had been with Rio the night that they’d had their fight. She’s seen him before at the warehouse too.

He has way more tattoos than Rio. Full sleeves on both arms, a few on his hands, and she’s guessing more under his clothing.

They make eye contact and Beth wonders if he knows or remembers who she is.

His eyes drop down to her chest, and she’s ready to call him out for it, but then he’s grinning, and she remembers her ugly sweater. She wonders if he'll mention this to Rio.

Steph takes his order and he pays, stepping off to the side to wait for it.

Because Beth is apparently a sadist, she steps closer to the side of the counter he’s at and he turns his head to look at her. He’s got this smirk on his face that reminds her all too much of Rio. Is it like a requirement to have all these micro expressions in order to be friends with him?

“What’s up?” He asks, when she doesn’t say anything, just stares.

“What’s your name anyway?” And that—surprises them both. But now that it’s out there, she realizes she really wants to know. Just one little detail. She’s tired of not knowing anything.

He recovers quickly and smoothly answers, “Cisco.”

“Seriously?” Beth looks him over, trying to equate the name with the person.

“Seriously.” He confirms, grinning at her reaction.

“Okay,” She says slowly, nodding, “I guess I can see that.”

His drink is done, Ely hands it to him and he winks at her before giving a slight nod to Beth and then leaving.

“Okay, but where are you meeting all these hot guys?” Ely asks and Beth can’t help but laugh.

“Oh you know, the usual places – bars, abandoned warehouses, frat parties.”

 

-------

 

By the time Saturday rolls around, Beth thinks she might actually be going crazy.

She’s cleaned every inch of their apartment, including reorganizing books and movies.

She cannot wait for Annie to get here and keep her company.

She’s sorting through her and Ruby’s mail when she comes to an invitation envelope addressed to both of them. From the Inter-fraternity Council. The council is made up of various members of each campus fraternity.

Beth carefully opens it and pulls out the black and gold cardstock invitation that’s inside.

It’s for New Year’s Eve. Apparently, a few of the fraternities (including Stan’s and Dean’s) have decided to co-host a party. They’re hosting it at the historic Rhodes Hall. Beth remembers taking a tour of it when she’d first started college. It’s a beautiful mansion that really could be mistaken for a mini castle with its stone exterior design. The interior is just as gorgeous, all hardwood, antiques, and chandeliers. Perfect for the theme they’ve picked this year- The Great Gatsby.

Beth runs her fingers lightly along the edges of the invitation, debating about whether or not she’ll attend.

There are always a hundred parties on and off campus every year. Last year she’d went with Dean to his fraternity one.

She remembered how drunk he’d gotten, becoming more and more annoyed with him as the night wore on.

He’d ended up wandering off and she’d left before midnight, hadn’t even bothered to find him to let him know she was leaving.

Beth takes a picture of the invitation and sends it off to Ruby and Annie.

Annie texts her back with a thumbs up and to let her know she’ll be at the bar soon.

Beth gets up and makes her way back to her room, sorting through the clothes in her drawer, trying to decide what to wear tonight.

Beth refuses to go to Rio’s bar, but she remembers liking the bar her and Gretchen had gone to. Aaron and Annie will be meeting her there.

Beth pulls on her favorite pair of dark skinny jeans and an oversized off the shoulder sweater. She messes with her hair a bit before deciding to leave it down.

She pulls up the Uber app on her phone. She could drive but she has a feeling she’ll be drinking a lot tonight.

By the time she’s dropped off in front of the bar, it’s fairly packed.

Annie’s already inside waiting at a booth and Aaron’s texted her to let her know he’s caught up with something but will be on his way soon.

Beth makes her way towards the back of the bar, eyes scanning the crowd for Annie. She finally spots her, her sister waving her arms in the air to get her attention.

Beth smiles and slides in across from her when she reaches the table.

Annie has a drink in front of her, but there’s another drink, half empty, next to her.

Beth raises her eyebrows at it, looking to her sister questioningly.

“I invited Nancy. She went to the restroom.” Annie explains, shrugging her shoulders.

“Nancy? The one who’s friends with Greg? I thought you didn’t like her.”

“Eh, she’s growing on me.” Annie shrugs her shoulders again, but Beth notices she’s avoiding eye contact.

“What--” Beth starts, ready to grill her sister about what's going on, but stops short when a petite little blonde slides into the booth next to Annie.

“Is it required that all bar bathrooms be absolutely disgusting?” She asks, nose wrinkled up.

“Yes.” Annie answers before gesturing to Beth and making the shortest introduction possible, “Nancy, Beth. Beth, Nancy.”

“Hello.” Beth greets her, giving her a polite smile.

Nancy returns the greeting and smile.

“So, when’s Mr. President supposed to get here?” Annie asks, sipping her drink.

Aaron. Annie, his name is Aaron. And he said he’d be here soon.”

“So, what’s the deal with you two anyway? Are you officially done banging bar friend?”

“I swear Annie, is it impossible for you to use peoples actual names?”

“Wait, who are the president and bar friend?” Nancy asks, looking confused.

“Aaron is the president of his fraternity, he’s meeting us here tonight. We’re friends,” Beth explains, pointedly looking at Annie at the last part.

“And bar friend is the hot guy Beth’s been banging. She met him at a bar.” Annie finishes explaining, before Beth can.

“His name is Rio.” Beth adds.

“Bar friend has such a nice ring to it though.”

“Alright, I’m going to need a drink for this.” Beth slides out of the booth and makes her way over to the bar before she strangles her sister. She can hear Annie’s laughter behind her.

She’s just gotten the bartenders attention, opens her mouth to place her order, when she feels a hand on the small of her back. She turns her head, just as Rio sidles up next to her at the bar.

“Bourbon, on the rocks.” He says to the bartender, ordering and paying for her drink.

“Uhm, thanks.” She says, clearing her throat as she moves her body just enough for his hand to slip away.

“Welcome.” He’s staring down at her, his gaze way too intense. And he’s standing way too close. Of course the bar area is super crowded, so neither of them can move very far away from each other in either direction.

He must’ve just come in; he’s still wearing his coat and beanie. The beanie she’d made for him.

“I didn’t know you hung out here.” She says, but now that she thinks about it, she should have. Him and Gretchen are close, so it makes sense he’d know about this place from her.

“Yah. You tryin’ to avoid me?” He says it with a smirk and Beth really wishes she could make herself walk away right now.

“Yes, actually. I wouldn’t have come if I’d known you’d be here.” She answers truthfully. She wants to turn away, but she forces herself to look him right in the eye as she says it.

“Damn, that’s cold.” He laughs, and Beth does look away then. She can’t handle that smile. His continued amusement by her.

The bartender comes back with her drink and she reaches for it, ready to take it back to their booth and quite possibly leave early, when she feels Rio lean in close and she freezes.

His hand comes up to brush her hair back. His fingers skim over her exposed shoulder, her clavicle, the part of her necklace that isn’t covered by her sweater. The necklace he’d given her.

She can feel his breath against her skin and she shivers, can’t stop herself from leaning into his touch.

She hears him huff out a triumphant little laugh.

“You look good Mami. Good enough to eat.” And the way he says ‘eat’ in the most obscene way possible has her grip tightening around her glass.

She knows she should just walk away now. Nothing has changed between them. All their old issues are still there, unresolved, from the last time they'd spoken. And what's worse, they had actually created more.

But she feels herself falling into him again—his voice, his smell, his touch. She thinks if he asked, she’d follow him anywhere right now. The bathroom, his car, she doesn’t care. His proximity is driving her insane.

And he's about to say something else, maybe really will ask her to leave with him...

But someone slightly jostles her on her other side and it breaks his hold over her. She finds herself suddenly straightening up, away from him.

“I’m so sorry-” The person who bumped into her is saying, and Beth turns her head, recognizing the voice immediately.

“Oh Hey! I was just going to grab a drink and text you. This place is kinda crazy right now.” Aaron is beaming down at her, and Beth feels like the universe must really hate her, to keep putting her in these situations.

She feels Rio shift behind her and sees Aaron’s eyes when he finally notices him.

“Hey man! I didn't see you there. How’s it going?” Aaron asks, his tone friendly.

Beth risks a glance at Rio, and his attention isn’t on Aaron at all, it's entirely on her. He’s looking down at her, the expression in his eyes... a mixture of pissed off and disappointed.

“I didn’t know you were going to be here.” She says weakly, repeating her words from earlier.

“Right, right.” He nods, dangerous smile playing at his lips. Then he’s leaning in again and Beth stops breathing for a second.

“Rule number three, yeah? You keep chasin’ after that Stepford life, and what you and me had is done. Over.” His voice is low, the words whispered into her ear, meant only for her.

And then he walks away and Beth is left staring down at the drink still clutched in her hand.

She faintly hears Aaron beside her, asking if she’s okay and Beth just nods her head.

She brings the glass up to her mouth and drains its contents, ignoring the burn and the way her stomach protests.

She sets it back down and turns to Aaron.

“Order me another?” She asks, giving him her best fake smile.

It’s not until they’re settled into the booth across from Annie and Nancy, and she’s halfway through her second drink, that she feels some of the tension finally ease from her body. Only some, because she knows he’s still here, had seen him with his friends at a table on the other side of the bar.

“So, I see Rio and his merry band of criminal buddies are here.” Annie’s upper body is leaning over the table toward Beth, her voice low. Aaron and Nancy are distracted, talking to each other.

“Yup.” Beth answers, taking another long drink.

“Did you talk to him?”

“Yup.”

Beth.”

“I don’t want to talk about it--about him right now. I came out tonight specifically so I wouldn’t have to think about him at all.”

“Yeah, fate is a cruel and unusual mistress.”

Beth laughs at that and Annie shoots her a sympathetic smile.

“Are you staying just tonight or the weekend?” Beth asks, trying to change the subject.

“Just tonight. I’m supposed to be meeting Greg’s parents tomorrow.”

“And you’re out drinking tonight?”

“I mean, god willing, I’ll still be drunk when it’s time to meet them and it will make everything a whole lot more enjoyable.”

Annie.”

“Relax, I’ve set a one drink limit for myself. You however, my dear sweet sister, are having a lot more.”

And Beth does. She has another bourbon and then her and Nancy and Aaron are taking shots and it helps slowly ease the rest of the tension out of her body. That is until they’re all on their way out and Beth glances over and sees the group of girls that have joined Rio and his boys at their table.

One of them is leaning over, whispering something into Rio’s ear and Beth can’t seem to force herself to look away.

Then, as if he can sense her gaze on him, Rio’s eyes suddenly lock in on hers--just as Aaron comes up behind her. He puts his hand at the small of her back, helping guide her through the crowd and toward the door.

Beth looks away, eyes on Aaron for the briefest moment, before returning to Rio. He’s not looking at her anymore though, his focus is now entirely on the girl next to him.

Beth ignores the pain that sets in her chest and looks straight ahead, eyes locked on Annie and Nancy pushing through the crowd in front of her. They pile in to the same Uber, dropping Aaron off first, Nancy and Annie coming back to the apartment with Beth.

Beth blinks back tears, thinking about Rio’s words from the bar. He’s making her choose, between what she had wanted in her old life and what she could have in her new one. Between what Aaron represents and what Rio does. Does he think she’s chosen Aaron since they all left together? Does that mean he’s going to go home with that girl from the bar tonight? Will he take her back to his place? A place she’s never even been before.

Beth rubs at her eyes, trying to rub away the image of Rio with anyone else.

He can have sex with whoever he wants, they’re not together. They’d never even really been dating, right?

The thought does nothing to soothe her.

 

-------

 

Christmas week passes by excruciatingly slow. Beth talks to Ruby almost every day and Annie pops in as much as possible when she’s not at work or with Greg. They go shopping for the NYE party. She’s still leaning towards not going, but Ruby had made her promise to get a dress anyway. (“Just in case. If you end up going you might not be able to find anything to wear last minute.” Ruby had said. Beth know it’s a manipulation. It’ll be easier to talk Beth into going if she’s already spent money on a dress for the occasion.)

Beth cooks and bakes for Christmas, she studies and finishes work for classes, she visits the library off campus and she crafts, trying to keep herself busy.

Ruby and Stan come back the Sunday before New Year’s Eve. Stan stops by the apartment, but only briefly, since he’s in charge of getting everything organized for the NYE party on Wednesday.

“So, you’re really one hundred percent going to that?” Beth asks, back on Ruby’s bed, watching her unpack this time.

“I kind of have to. Why? Do you really one hundred percent not want to?” Ruby asks, throwing dirty clothes in her hamper and putting clean ones back in her drawers.

“I don’t know. Dean’s fraternity will be there. I don’t know if I can handle that mess right now.”

“Don’t let Dean ruin your New Year’s again. Besides there will be so many people there, you probably won’t even see him.”

“No, the universe hates me, I’m telling you, I will see him. My luck, he’ll try to kiss me at midnight.”

“B, no one is about to let that happen. Come on, you know you wanna dress up for this thing.”

“The dress I picked out is pretty gorgeous.” Beth concedes, playing with one of Ruby’s shirts.

“Exactly. Don’t let it go to waste. And you don’t even have to kiss anyone at midnight if you don’t want to.”

“Everyone’s supposed to kiss someone at midnight.”

“Okay, you can kiss me.”

“And how will Stan feel about that?”

“Stan will be getting kissed too, he is not going to care.”

“Is that your dress?” Beth gestures to the garment bag hanging up on the door.

“Yeah. It took me forever to find something. There are not many dresses built to support these puppies.” Ruby gestures to her chest and Beth laughs.

“I know! I thought I was going to have to get mine altered. It's pretty snug.” Beth gets up and moves over to the garment bag, unzipping it and spreading it open.

“Oh Ruby, this is gorgeous.” It’s a shimmery black off the shoulder dress, that’s long and flowy.

“I know, right? I still have to find shoes. You want to go shopping with me?”

“Sure, I still have to find a clutch for mine.”

“Does Annie have everything she needs?”

“Yeah, she found all her stuff at this cute little boutique thrift shop. You have to see what she’s wearing, it’s so Annie.” Beth pulls her phone out of her pocket, scrolling through her pictures until she gets to the one of Annie trying on her outfit. She holds it up to show Ruby.

“Oh look at her, she is too cute!”

“I know, only she could pull that off.” Annie had decided to forgo a dress entirely and had instead settled on a white blazer and shorts set with scalloped details.

“I know you’re getting excited thinking about all of us dressing up right now.” Ruby goads her and Beth laughs.

“Okay, yes, I’m a little excited at the idea of getting dressed up.”

“It’ll be nice to see the guys all cleaned up too.”

Beth’s mind immediately goes to Rio. God, she would love to see that.

Can already picture it in her head, his throat tattoo perfectly framed by a dark suit.

She wonders what he’s doing for New Year’s Eve. Does he go out with his guy friends? Does he stay and work at the bar?

“Beth.”

Beth looks over to Ruby, pulled from her thoughts.

“You could try talking to him again.” Ruby suggests gently.

Beth looks away, feels her face heat up. She really has to work on schooling her features, everyone always seems to know exactly what she’s thinking.

“I can’t talk to him. It never works when we try to talk.” Beth says.

“Okay. So then maybe that’s the universe telling you that you should step back and take a breather instead. Maybe it’s torturing you so much because you don’t listen. This is exactly why you need to go to that party.”

Beth laughs and flops back down onto Ruby’s bed.

“Yes, the universe definitely wants me to go to this New Year’s Eve party and kiss someone new at midnight. That will for sure solve all of my problems.”

“I mean, it’s a good start.” Ruby shrugs her shoulder, zipping her bag back up now that’s she’s done unpacking.

Beth thinks about it, about dressing up with Ruby and Annie and Stan, about going out and dancing and bringing in the New Year together.

“Okay fine, but the universe better make damn sure that the rest of my New Year is awesome.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“This place looks like a disaster zone. I feel like I should be in full quarantine gear.”

Beth laughs and turns to look over at Stan, who is standing in their open front doorway.

“This is what happens when you have three females getting ready for a formal event in a tiny apartment.” Beth replies, turning back to the dining room table, where various makeup products are scattered all over the place.

“Move, move, move.” Annie’s voice comes from out in the hallway and Stan scrambles to get out of her way, stepping into the apartment and off to the side. Annie’s arms overflowing with various clothing items and shoes and Beth shakes her head in astonishment.

“Annie, you really didn't need to bring your whole wardrobe.”

“Oh sweet, sweet Beth, you think this is my whole wardrobe? There’s more in the car.”

“But, why?” Stan asks, incredulously. The look on his face is enough to have Beth laughing again.

“I need to have options.” Annie dumps everything she’s carrying onto the living room couch and coffee table and then turns and marches right back out the door, presumably to grab even more stuff from her car.

Ruby makes her way out to the front of the apartment from the back rooms. She goes straight over to greet Stan, giving him a quick kiss.

“Ya’ll know this event isn’t until 8 pm right?” Stan asks, still surveying the mess of clothing, shoes, bags, makeup and hair products scattered about.

Ruby pats Stan’s cheek affectionately. “Oh honey, it must be so nice to just throw on a suit and tie and be ready to head out the door. You do not get to comment on this right now.”

Stan shakes his head, but refrains from making any more comments. Beth grabs a lipstick off the table and swatches it onto the inside of her wrist.

“Is everything set up for the party?” Ruby asks Stan, stepping over to the coffee table and rummaging through the items Annie has dropped there.

“Almost. The guys are over at the Hall now finishing up some stuff, I just wanted to stop by and see how things were going with you ladies. I probably won’t see you again until the party.” Stan has wandered over to stand next to Ruby and, curiosity getting the better of him, hooks his finger around an article of clothing sticking out of the top of the pile. He pulls it up and then stares in horror for a second before whispering, “What the hell is this? It looks like a torture device.”

Beth looks over at the same time as Ruby does and they both start laughing.

“That’s because it is a torture device.” Beth answers, Ruby adding, “It’s a corset. Sucks everything in real nice and tight.”

Stan drops the corset immediately and steps back from the table. “Aight, well that’s my cue to head out, I’ll see you ladies at the party,” He turns to Ruby, gives her a quick peck on the cheek, “Text me when you’re on your way.”

He passes Annie on his way out, shaking his head at her as he goes, probably still thinking about the corset.

Annie drops the remaining items she has onto the floor by the couch and Beth resists the urge to tell her to pack everything back up and get it out of her living room.

“Annie, you already have your outfit picked out, why do you need all this stuff?” Beth asks, swatching another lipstick, and then an eyeshadow on her other wrist.

“In case I change my mind. Also, I need accessories. Plus, we can do one of those cool movie montages where we try on all the clothes and dance around. Like ‘Pretty Woman’. Or ‘The Sweetest Thing’.” Annie bounces around excitedly.

“Annie, do we look like we’d fit into any of your clothing?” Ruby looks at her, eyebrow raised.

“Okay, so you guys can watch me do the montage.” Annie shrugs, unperturbed.

Beth chuckles as she gestures to all the makeup on the table. “Come over here and help me with this makeup. You have a better eye for this stuff than I do.”

Annie bounds over, snatching the lipstick Beth’s holding out of her hand and tossing it back onto the table.

“Okay, first of all, not that one.” Annie scoffs, looking disgusted at her sister’s pick.

Beth folds her arms across her chest and glares at Annie. “I said help, not criticize.”

“Help, criticize, it’s all the same with me.”

Annie picks through the makeup, pulling out a few different lipsticks, an eyeshadow pallet, a tube of mascara.

“Show me your dress again.”

Beth pulls up a picture of the dress on her phone, showing it to Annie.

It’s black chiffon with beading across the sheer bodice and sleeves.

“You’re wearing your hair down?” Annie squints at the dress a little and then at the makeup she’s put aside. She switches out the lipstick, but keeps everything else.

“Yeah, I honestly just don’t want to mess with it.” Beth's not used to dressing up, thinks maybe the last time she needed to do the whole nine yards for an occasion was prom. Even then, she’d done the bare minimum. She remembers feeling uncomfortable for a good chunk of the night, the dress she’d picked out stretching too tight across her chest, drawing way too much attention to it.

“Well your skin is disgustingly flawless, so you don’t need much there.” Annie comments, pulling a few more makeup items out of the pile and setting them aside with the rest.

“How is it you manage to make a compliment also sound like an insult?”

“It’s my secret super power. We can try these,” Annie gestures to the makeup she’s picked, “I think it’s safe to assume you don’t have any false eyelashes?”

“I have real eyelashes.” Beth replies dryly and Annie rolls her eyes.

“Annie, what in the world?”

They both turn to Ruby, who is holding up a pair of heels with a very high stiletto and tiny little spikes adorning the upper back.

“What?” Annie looks genuinely confused at Ruby’s comment.

“These have like, a seven inch heel.”

“So? I’m short.”

“They also have spikes on them.”

“I know, cute right? And they double as a weapon.”

“Very practical.” Beth agrees, her hand coming up to cover her smile. Ruby still looks appalled.

“I don’t think they had shoes with spikes on them in the 20’s.” Ruby points out, setting the heels back down.

“Well they should’ve, it might’ve brought the patriarchy down a lot quicker.”

Beth scoops up the makeup Annie has set aside and then turns and scans the rest of the living room for a curling wand. She knows there’s at least one around here somewhere.

She spots one on the coffee table, sticking out from underneath a pile of Annie’s handbags.

“Annie, you could’ve left half this stuff at home.” Beth sighs, making her way over to the coffee table and pulling the wand out.

“Could’ve.” Annie agrees, joining them in the living room, picking through one of the piles.

Beth and Ruby share an exasperated look and then Beth turns, heading toward the bathroom. “I’m going to do my hair, help me with my makeup after?” She calls back to Annie and Annie makes a noise of agreement in response.

By the time all three of them have their hair and makeup done, Beth can feel her anxiety start to creep in.

Both Aaron and Dean had sent her messages earlier, asking if she was going to be at the party.

She replied to Aaron confirming she would be and maybe she’d see him there?

She didn’t think she owed Dean any sort of response. If she was lucky, she could avoid him entirely. The Hall was fairly large and the party would be held inside and out, outdoor fire pits and heated lamps being utilized along the front and back porches and lawns.

She was nervous and excited for what the night might bring.

This is the first New Years that she’s been single in—well ever. She’d been with Dean since she was old enough to actually attend parties. She’s never danced with anyone else, never counted down to midnight with anyone else, never kissed anyone else when the clock struck twelve.

Would she be kissing someone new tonight?

The thought is more than a little scary. She can’t imagine kissing some stranger...

Her thoughts immediately go to Rio, and her chest aches at the thought of him kissing someone else at midnight.

She hasn’t seen or heard from him since the bar. He hasn’t made any attempt to reach out to her, so she hasn’t tried to contact him either. She doesn’t think she can handle another rejection from him. He seems to know exactly how to twist his words like a knife to her heart.

Beth looks down at her dress, carefully laid out across her bed. Her shoes set neatly on the floor next it.

She needs a drink.

Beth heads to the kitchen, passing Annie, who is pacing back and forth, phone to her ear.

She pulls a glass down and rummages through the cupboards, looking for any leftover alcohol. She spots a bottle of wine and pulls it out, quickly pouring herself a drink.

Beth watches as Annie continues pacing, whisper-yelling at whoever is on the other end.

She finally hangs up and tosses her phone onto the couch, her hand coming up to rub at her neck, clearly still frustrated.

She turns and notices Beth, eyes narrowing in on her glass of wine.

Beth holds it out in a silent offering and Annie sighs, shuffling over and taking the glass from Beth’s outstretched hand.

She finishes it off in one long continuous swallow.

“What’s going on?” Beth asks, taking the glass and refilling it.

“Greg doesn’t know if he’s going to make it. Some country club party with his parents? Like he hasn’t known about this for like two weeks.” Annie’s voice is full of frustration, her eyes brimming with tears. Beth reaches out and gives her upper arm a light squeeze.

“Well, Ruby and Stan and I would be honored to be your dates.” Beth offers affectionately.

“Thanks. I actually invited Nancy earlier, so I guess that'll make four of you. Hey, would I be considered a Madam in the 1920’s?” Annie jokes, seemingly enthusiastic about the possibility.

“Don’t make it awkward.” Beth warns and Annie laughs, wiping lightly at the corners of her eyes.

“Okay, I need to fix my makeup. How much time do we have?” Annie asks, already walking back to the bathroom.

Beth grabs her phone and checks the time. “Maybe an hour? And even that’s getting us there late, so don’t push it.”

Beth brings her glass up to her lips and takes a long drink. She considers having a chat with Annie about her situation with Greg. They had seemed like they were in a good place before, but lately Beth’s felt like something has been off with Annie.

Maybe after tonight. Maybe a nice sisterly chat to start off the New Year. Beth tries to remember the last time they sat down and had an actual conversation. It’s been awhile.

Beth finishes her drink quickly, a nice warm fuzzy feeling wrapping around her already.

It’s definitely a nice alternative to the anxiety she’d been feeling before.

She heads down the hallway to her room to change, stopping briefly at Ruby’s closed door to knock and remind her of the time and peek in the open bathroom door at Annie, still fixing her makeup.

About an hour later, all three of them are in the living room taking pictures.

“I feel like this is prom all over again.” Beth laughs.

Annie takes another selfie. “I look a thousand times hotter than I did at prom.”

“Alright, are we driving? Taking an Uber?” Ruby asks, sending a text off to Stan that they are on their way.

“I plan on drinking heavily tonight, so I will not be driving.” Annie warns.

Beth agrees. “Yeah, I think Uber is our best bet.”

Ruby loads the Uber app onto her screen. “These guys must make bank off us lushes.”

Beth makes everyone triple check that they have their phones, IDs, and keys before they leave the apartment.

They make a pit stop to pick up Nancy, and then they’re on their way.

 

--------------

 

 

When they arrive at Rhodes Hall, Beth has to stop and just take a minute to appreciate the beautiful structure in front of her. Shrubbery lines the pathway leading up to the stone front porch, tiny twinkling lights intertwined throughout.

There’s more greenery along the front porch and surrounding the building.

Soft light is thrown off from the fire pit bowls and giant triangle heating lamps dotting the lawn. There are a ton of people outside, on the lawn and further up, on the very spacious semi-open porch, where there are more heating lamps and twinkling lights.

The porch is lined in giant open archways and the rest of the building is massive, Romanesque with its large stone towers and decorative arcading.

Beth is almost breathless at how gorgeous everything and everyone looks.

The guys are in collared shirts, vests, and ties or bow ties and three-piece suits, some with pocket squares and walking sticks and fedoras.

The girls are in flapper dresses or long beaded gowns, some with strings of pearls, and silk gloves, and sequined headpieces.

Annie, Ruby, and Nancy are already heading further up the path, Annie tugging on Beth’s hand to get her moving.

There’s music coming from the porch and from inside and Beth can feel the excitement taking over the closer they get. She’s glad Ruby talked her into coming.

“Stan said he’ll be in the den. Apparently it’s right off the front entrance.” Ruby looks over her shoulder at Beth.

Beth nods. “Yeah, I took a tour here before, I can show you where it is.”

There are outdoor games scattered about and a lot of people playing them- giant Jenga and connect four, twister, beer pong, and cornhole.

They hurry up the front steps, working their way through the crowded front porch to get inside.

The front hall is also filled with people. There are gold and black balloons everywhere. There’s a table with photo props next to a gold beaded backdrop. There are giant white feathers sticking out of oversized vases scattered around the room. The massive staircase is wrapped in more miniature lights.

Beth leads the girls to the left and around the corner to the den. There’s a large poker table set up in the center of the room. There are mostly guys in here, Stan being one of them. He’s standing off to the side, watching over the game.

“I’m gonna go say hi. You guys check out the rest of the place, I’ll catch up.” Ruby moves further into the room, towards Stan.

Annie leads them back out into the main hall area, slowly pushing their way through the crowd to get to the rooms on the right side. That’s where they find the dining room and parlor room, which are connected. The dining room has all the drinks and food. They have a bartending catering service set up. The parlor has more tables and games.

“Okay, mad props to Stan for setting this up. This place looks fucking amazing.” Annie exclaims, already heading over to the bartender to get a drink.

Beth can definitely agree with that. This place does look fucking amazing. And everyone looks like they’re having an amazing time.

Annie has ordered them a round of shots and Beth tries not to wince as the vodka slides down her throat.

She orders another, this time tequila, and Beth thinks maybe she should’ve stayed with Ruby back in the poker room.

“Okay, let’s pace ourselves, we still have awhile until midnight. I don’t want to be passed out by the time the clock strikes twelve, Annie.” Beth points out, before knocking back her shot of tequila.

“Okay, let’s go explore. The bartender says there are two other drink stations in this place, we have to do a shot at each one.” Annie grabs Nancy’s hand and pulls her back out into the hall and Beth rolls her eyes but follows. The second drink station is in a small room off of the back hall and the third is outside on the porch.

They take shots at each one and Beth had already felt pretty good from the wine before, but now she has an even better buzz going on.

There’s music playing out on the porch and a dance area, and all three of them are dancing around, enjoying the music.

Beth is doing a little half twirl, enjoying the swish of her chiffon dress against her legs, when she sees him.

Rio.

He’s here.

And he’s not alone.

He’s with the girl from the Halloween party. The Angel.

And she looks absolutely gorgeous.

She looks like she just walked off the set of the Gatsby movie. Twinkling sequins cascade down the length of her nude dress, ending in a delicate scalloped hem. The neckline is plunging, something Beth could never wear unless she wanted her boobs to spill out everywhere. It’s not a problem for this girl, her smaller perkier boobs are made for it. Her hair is styled in finger waves and she’s wearing a beaded feather headpiece.

Beth spots Gretchen and Ben next to them and she thinks about stepping off to the side and out of their sight line a second too late, because Gretchen makes eye contact with her and waves and Beth feels like she’d rather fling herself off the roof then talk to them right now.

But Gretchen’s making her way over, everyone else following, and the roof is too god damn far away, so Beth is stuck.

She smiles brightly and steps away from the dance area, turning to make eye contact with Annie as she does. Once she catches Annie’s eye, she tilts her head slightly and Annie follows the direction, eyes widening as they land on the group coming up.

“Beth! Oh my gosh, you look gorgeous! Doesn’t she look gorgeous?” Gretchen turns to the rest of the group, looking directly at Rio when she asks her question.

A strangled little noise escapes Beth’s throat before she can stop it and Rio’s mouth quirks up. Gretchen turns back to Beth. “Are you okay?” She asks, all faux concern.

“Fine just...need a drink I think.” Beth clears her throat a little.

“Oh hey, I’ll get you one,” Rio volunteers, stepping forward, “Bourbon, right?” There’s a dangerous gleam in his eye and Beth glares at him.

He pretends not to notice as he steps over to the bar and orders her drink.

She notices Annie and Nancy stepping up beside her out of the corner of her eye.

So, Beth, who are your friends?” Gretchen asks, and Beth transfers her glare to Gretchen because she knows exactly where this is headed.

“This is my sister, Annie and her friend, Nancy.”

“Hi! I’m Gretchen. This is Ben,“ Gretchen flicks a wrist at him dismissively, “And this is Dylan.” Gretchen pulls Dylan closer, depositing her right in front of Beth and Dylan looks momentarily confused.

“Hi!” Dylan finally greets them after a moment of awkward silence. She smiles and gives a little wave and Beth wants to hate her but she knows, in literally any other scenario, she’d probably love her.

Rio comes back with her drink then, their fingers brushing against each other when he hands it to her.

His eyes roam over her lazily, and Beth tries not to fidget under his gaze.

She takes the opportunity to look him over too though, and she really hates that he looks like a freaking GQ model.

He’s wearing a lighter blue collared button up with a burgundy bow tie and black trousers with brown suspenders. He’s got his sleeves rolled up and Beth thinks if she had just one more drink in her, she’d walk right up to him and sink her teeth into his forearm before sucking the skin there into her mouth.

Jesus, she needs some serious help.

“Gretch, C’mon, we gotta get inside.” Ben nudges Gretchen a little and Beth feels an immense sense of relief at the thought of them leaving. She just won’t be able to go inside for the rest of the night.

“Come find us later. Before midnight.” Gretchen shoots Beth a pointed look and Beth nods, a promise she has no problem breaking.

The group heads off and Beth is left feeling like she’s been hit by a train.

“Hey, are you okay?” Beth can feel Annie’s hand grab her own, their fingers linking together, as Annie gives a little squeeze.

“Yup.” Beth suddenly remembers the bourbon she now has in her other hand, and gulps half of it down.

She pulls out her phone and sends a quick S.O.S. text to Ruby.

“You guys go ahead; I just need a little break.” Beth waves her sister off and Nancy pulls her back out into the dancing crowd.

Beth walks off to the side a bit, where there are less people, and waits for Ruby’s response. When it finally comes, she swears. Ruby wants her to find her inside.

Beth sucks in a deep breath, lets it out slowly and downs the rest of her drink.

She tosses the cup in a nearby trash bin and smooths down the front of her dress, fidgeting with her clutch a little bit before finally heading through the front entrance.

Ruby sends another text. She’s in the very back, in the kitchen. She’d gotten roped into helping Stan with some hosting duties.

Beth is feeling a little loopy as she makes her way through the crowd. She's starting to regret drinking that last bit of bourbon so fast. She dodges drunk stumbling couples and handsy frat guys, feeling like shes playing an adult game of frogger. She keeps an eye out for Rio and his date too, wanting to avoid that mess at all costs.

Toward the back hall the crowd thins out considerably and she’s squinting down the hallway, trying to remember how the hell she’s supposed to get to the kitchen, when she feels a hand grab her elbow. She instinctively jerks back, her elbow connecting with someone’s midsection. She hears a loud ‘oof’ and whirls around, willing the room not to spin as she does so.

Dean is slightly hunched over in front of her and Beth’s hand flies up to cover her mouth, a laugh threatening to escape.

“Oh Dean, I am so sorry.” She manages to choke out, not actually sounding the least bit sorry.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. Payback for the eye, right?” He jokes, straightening up, his hand still pressed against his stomach.

Beth does laugh then, hard. She can’t help it. She’s had way too much to drink.

Dean grins down at her and steps closer. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to be here. I texted you.”

“Yeah, I've been busy.” Beth takes a step back, as her laughter fades. “And I was just on my way to find Ruby.”

“Ruby? She your date?” He asks, shifting a little nervously, eyes darting off to the side. Fishing for information.

“Dean I really don’t feel like doing this right now.” Beth takes another step back, ready to turn around and walk away.

“Wait, Bethie just—listen. I know you and Aaron have been getting close--”

“That is none of your business.”

“Just listen! I know he seems like a nice guy, he puts on a good show, but he has a reputation--”

“Are you serious right now? You are not my boyfriend anymore, Dean. And you’re certainly not a friend. You have no rights to my personal life.” Beth can feel herself getting angry, hands balling up, color high in her cheeks. She closes her eyes, forcing herself to take a deep breath, willing herself to relax.

“You know what, enjoy your evening Dean. Don’t talk to me again.” With that she turns on her heel and strides down the hallway, wanting to get as far away from him as possible.

She pushes right through the back door and glances around the back porch quickly, sees the door leading off to the kitchen on her right.

She takes a few deep breathes of the fresh night air, willing her head to clear.

She can’t believe what a gigantic cosmic joke her life has become. She feels like she’s in a super shitty rom com.

Beth pulls at the kitchen door and steps in. There are a few people milling about, most look like they’re from the catering company. Ruby and Stan are there. And so is Aaron. Beth avoids eye contact with him.

They’re all sampling various desserts from a plate and Beth can’t help but smile as she steps up to the large butcher block table they’re standing around.

“So, hosting duties huh?” She teases, bumping her shoulder into Ruby’s.

“We have to make sure the dessert tastes good.” Ruby grins, forking up some cheesecake and holding it out to Beth. Beth takes a small bite, and she has to admit, it is delicious.

“Where’s Annie and Nancy?” Ruby asks, taking another bite of cake.

“I left them on the porch. They probably haven't even noticed that I'm gone.” Beth laughs, leaning her hip against the table.

She glances over Ruby’s shoulder, to Stan and Aaron. They’re talking about something, probably working out last minute details for the party.

“So what was the S.O.S?” Ruby sets her fork down and takes a drink of water. She offers it to Beth, who gladly takes it. She needs something else besides booze in her stomach.

Beth lowers her voice so the guys can’t hear her. "Rio's here."

Oh,” Ruby draws it out on a long sympathetic sigh. She turns to face Beth, leaning her own hip against the counter.

“And he’s not alone. He has a date. The girl from Halloween.”

“Oh,” There’s more anger in that one, “You know I asked Stan about her, apparently she’s from their sister sorority.”

“She looks amazing.”

“B, you look amazing.”

Beth shakes her head, eyes downcast and she hears Ruby sigh.

“Look, this is not happening. Not tonight. We are here to have fun and we are going to have fun! We are not going to worry about bar friend or his angel--”

“Her name’s Dylan.”

“Whatever. We’re not going to let anything ruin our night tonight. Come on, I’m done here, I want to go dance with my friend.” Ruby grabs Beth’s hand and tugs and Beth smiles gratefully.

“Babe, we’re gonna go join the party.” Ruby calls out to Stan, already tugging Beth toward the door.

Stan and Aaron both look over at them, Aaron raising his hand in a small wave to Beth. She gives a quick wave back before turning away.

“I’ll just be another minute. Save me a dance.” Stan replies.

Ruby seems to be very determined to keep her word, as she marches through the crowd, letting no one slow her down as she makes her way back out to the porch and over to where Beth had left Annie and Nancy.

They join them on the dance floor and Beth can feel her tension slowly melting away, finally enjoying herself again. They take breaks here and there, taking shots at Annie’s insistence every time they do, and soon Stan and Aaron are joining in on the dancing.

Aaron stays close to Beth and Beth tries to relax and not panic when his hands find her hips on more than one occasion. Her mind keeps drifting back to her conversation with Dean.

After the last song ends, she grabs Ruby’s hand, using a bathroom break as an excuse to break away from the group and head inside.

She does actually need to use the restroom, but she also needs to put some distance between her and Aaron. Once she’s actually inside the bathroom, Beth’s cursing her dress choice as she struggles with all the layers of chiffon. It takes twice as long as it should.

When she’s done, she grabs a drink and waits for Ruby, leaning against the wall as she observes the crowd. She spots Dean a few feet away with some of his frat buddies and she slides around the corner into the dining room, wanting to avoid him. She wanders over to where the dining room and parlor connect, and resumes her people watching. After a few minutes, she glances back over her shoulder, trying to see if Ruby’s come out yet, but she sees Gretchen instead. Ben is beside her, getting them some drinks.

Beth turns back around and steps further into the parlor room and out the other doorway, letting herself be pulled into the crush of people in the reception hall. She kind of feels like she’s in a spy movie now, slipping in and out of the crowd to escape the bad guys.

She has definitely had more than enough to drink.

She remembers the den to the left and makes her way to it. It's much less crowded in here and she leans against the wall again, pulling her phone out to text Ruby her location.

There’s a crowd of people surrounding the poker table and Beth steps closer, curiosity piqued, to get a better look.

Her breath catches in her throat when she sees Rio is one of the people at the table.

They’re playing strip poker. Beth has no idea how poker works, but it looks like Rio might be about to win, since he seems to be the only fully clothed person at the table. His bow tie is gone, his collar unbuttoned a bit, but that’s it.

What a shame, Beth can’t help but think.

And it must be the constant magnetic energy that flows between them that makes him aware of her close proximity, because his eyes shift from his cards and straight up to her.

He smirks as he lays his cards down, face up, and everyone at the table groans. “Straight flush.”

Rio stands up, reaching across the table to grab his bow tie and pockets it. Someone else gathers up all the cards to re shuffle and deal them back out, starting a new game.

He saunters over to her, coming to a stop way too close, mischievous smile playing at his lips.

“You wanna play?” He tilts his head back toward the poker table and Beth balks at the idea.

She shakes her head as she steps back and Rio huffs out a laugh as he steps into her space again.

“Game of Truth or Dare in the other room.” Another suggestion.

Beth shakes her head again, shuffling backwards, trying to put some distance between them so she can think. She’s had way too much to drink to be this close to him right now.

“No, you right, too dangerous.” He grins, countering her steps back with his own steps forward. “How bout 20 questions? I’ll start.”

Beth’s back hits the wall and she sucks in a breath. He has her cornered in the back of the room, away from the crowd and Beth swallows hard as she looks up at him.

“You happy to see me tonight?” He asks, head tilted to the side, as if he’s genuinely curious about her answer.

She briefly considers lying. “Yes.” She answers quietly, then clears her throat, raising her voice a little to ask her own question. “Did you know I was going to be here?”

“Yah.” He shrugs his shoulder as he answers, like it’s no big deal. “You here with anyone?”

She knows he’s referring to Aaron. “No. Are you...seeing anyone new?”

Rio grins again, hand coming up to move her hair away from her face. “Nope. Why, you been thinkin’ bout us? Missin’ me...” His hand skims over the front of her dress, fingers trailing down her stomach, and lower, turning his hand when he gets between her legs, so his knuckles graze against her. “...right here?”

Beth flushes as she bites back a moan, closing her eyes briefly. “Yes,” She breathes out, “Do you miss me?”

Rio nods, his tongue swiping out over his bottom lip. "Did you wanna come home with me that night at the bar?”

"I did. Did you—did you go home with anyone else?” She looks down at her hands, fidgeting with her clutch.

Rio’s hand comes up, his fingers tilting her chin up so she’s forced to look at him. “I didn't. Do you wanna come home with me tonight?”

Beth’s heart skips a beat and her hands tighten around her clutch. Her body is screaming yes, but her mind isn’t there yet.

“Why were you so mad when you came over before Christmas?” She can't bring herself to answer his question. He looks like he’s going to push it for a second, but decides to let it slide. For now.

“Gretchen tol' me somethin’ that pissed me off.” He rolls his shoulders a little at the memory, jaw clenching. “You said you wasn’t ready-- before. You ready now?”

“Are you jealous of Aaron?” She's ignoring another question and Rio does not look happy.

“Elizabeth. What’re you so afraid of?” His tone is dark, warning. He’s definitely not going to let her skip around this one.

You. How I feel about you.” Her voice is quiet once again. “Aren’t you scared?”

“Of you? Fuck yeah.”

Beth laughs then, looking back up at him, catches the amused grin on his face.

“Aint gonna stop me though.”

“Maybe it should.” Beth’s smile fades as she says it. “We’re too messy. We can never work.”

“Beth?” Beth straightens up when she hears her name, Ruby’s voice carrying across the room from the other side.

Rio takes half a step back, but doesn’t make any other move to separate from her.

Beth peeks around his shoulder, holding a finger up to Ruby to wait.

Rio watches her quietly, waiting for her to decide which way she wants this to go. Sometimes she wishes he wouldn’t.

“Dylan seems like a really nice person.” She says quietly, stepping to the side, away from him.

Rio huffs out an irritated sigh. He nods his head silently, jaw still clenching and Beth turns and walks away, silently screaming at herself as she does.

Chapter Text

Beth is sitting in one of the chair’s that have been situated around the firepits. She’s sipping on a drink, quietly watching Annie, Ruby, Stan, and Nancy play giant Jenga a few feet away. She wishes it wasn’t so dark, she really wants to capture this moment.

They’re all laughing and having fun and Beth just feels so...content. She is so happy these people chose her, that she’s had them in her life, that she’s going to bring in the New Year with them by her side.

Stan slowly, carefully, pulls on a giant wooden piece and the whole tower starts to sway. The girls step back, yelling, and he gives up on being careful and just yanks on it and the tower completely collapses. Stan throws his hands up in the air, yelling about the game being rigged, which makes no sense, and the girls laugh.

Beth smiles, watching it all, wishing she could keep these little moments in a box, bring them out later to replay.

She sees someone approaching out of the corner of her eye and turns her head. It's Aaron, smiling and giving a little finger wave.

“Hey.” Beth looks at him a little uncertainly, not sure what to do or say. She feels bad for avoiding him, but the things Dean had said earlier had burrowed their way into her head and wouldn’t leave.

“May I?” He gestures to the seat next to her. She nods, not wanting to be rude.

“So, I've got this crazy feeling that you’re mad at me for some reason, and I can’t quite figure out why.”

Beth shakes her head the slightest bit. “I’m not mad. I just...I feel like maybe you think this thing between us is going to turn into something more? I’m not ready for anything more than a friendship, and I’m not sure that’s all you want from me.”

Aaron nods, his gaze fixed on the fire in front of them. “I’m okay with whatever you want to be, Beth. I mean, I won’t lie, I do like you. And if you wanted something more, I definitely would not run away screaming-” His gaze shifts to her, grinning, and Beth smiles back, “But it is what it is.” He shrugs his shoulder and Beth feels relief that he’s not going to push it, that this won’t be awkward. Leave it to Dean to weasel his way into her head and plant doubts. And she had just let him.

“You want to play a game?” He asks, gesturing toward the group, and Beth instantly thinks of Rio, and their earlier game of 20 questions.

Beth shakes her head, more to clear it than to answer his question, she thinks. “No, I actually really need to rest my legs after all the dancing Ruby and Annie made me do. I am in much worse shape than I thought I was.”

Aaron laughs at that, hauling himself up out of his chair. “Alright, well I feel Stan’s pretty unfairly outnumbered over there, so I’m gonna go help him out.”

Beth nods as Aaron jogs over to the group, who have apparently decided to move on to a game of cornhole.

Beth leans her head back against the chair, looking up at the stars and dark clouds in the night sky. She breathes in deep and exhales, before closing her eyes.

She feels like she made the worst decision possible when she walked away from Rio tonight.

She can’t quite pinpoint exactly why she’d done it. Why she’d chosen to walk away with Ruby, instead of staying with him.

Well, that’s not true. There were a million little reasons, just not one big solid one.

There was their last conversation at his bar. How hard it was to try to talk to him, to get him to try to talk to her. How they kept skirting around what they are to each other, what they mean to each other.

It’s only been a few months, and she feels more committed to him than she ever did with Dean. Which really says more about what a failure that relationship was than anything else.

Maybe she’s just not built to do casual. She should’ve stayed away from him after the first time, when everything had happened with Dean at the fraternity and they had decided to call it quits.

They’d both agreed to take a step back, take a breather. But it turned out neither one of them could stay away. They’d just fallen right back into it and now she’s left wanting so much more and being terrified of that. She hadn’t wanted to fall for him so fast.

When he’d shown up here with Dylan...it brought all her old insecurities back out. Dylan is gorgeous and confident and just--the exact opposite of Beth. Her and Rio look good together. They look right...like they make sense. Again, the exact opposite of him and Beth. He said he wasn’t dating anyone new, but he’d come here with her. He’d been with her at the Halloween party. Clearly something was going on between them. Or, at least, had gone on between them. She was, for all intents and purposes, here as his date.

So, Beth had walked away.

Ruby had pulled her back out onto the dance floor, hadn’t given her a chance to think or wallow on what had happened.

They’d ended up out here, working their way through the games, but she’d begged off on playing any of them, wanting to just sit and clear her head for a minute.

She wonders where Rio is right now, what he’s doing. Is he back playing poker? Is he dancing with Dylan?

Beth shivers a little as a slight breeze hits her. She opens her eyes and brings her head up a little, straightening in her seat. She looks around, sees Ruby leaning back against Stan as they watch Annie and Aaron play cornhole.

Her eyes shift to scan the rest of the lawn, and that’s when she sees Gretchen and Ben approaching.

Beth tries not to groan. She briefly wonders how rude it would be to just get up and walk away, before plastering a smile on her face as they get closer.

“Hey! What are you doing out here by yourself?” Gretchen asks, settling herself into the chair next to her and promptly holding her hands out towards the heat, rubbing them together. Ben comes to a stop next to Gretchen’s chair, but doesn’t sit.

“I’m not alone.” She gestures to where Ruby and her sister are. Ben spots Aaron, making a beeline for him without saying a word.

Gretchen follows him with her eyes, her growing affectionate for him apparent. “He gets distracted so easily. Like a puppy.”

Beth laughs at that, bringing her cup to her lips. She’s just been sipping on it here and there, trying to pace herself.

“So, why are you over here instead of over there?” Gretchen asks, eyes now on Beth.

“I needed a break from all the fun. I’m used to monitoring, not participating.”

“Me too,” Gretchen admits, “I was playing grown up way before I actually was one. Always had to be watching out for somebody.”

Beth wonders if she’s talking about Rio, or just in general. It makes sense- Beth had been able to tell from the start that she was wise beyond her years, hardened by things she shouldn’t have been. Like Beth. In a different capacity, but still. They could relate to one another.

They sit silently for a few minutes, watching the rest of the group play cornhole, being rowdy and loud and generally carefree.

“So, I know this is none of my business--”

Beth does groan then, closing her eyes tight, shifting away from Gretchen and she hears Gretchen laugh.

Beth opens her eyes again, but fixes them on the fire in front of her. “If you have to start a sentence like that, you should just not start it at all.”

“God, you know, you and him are a lot more alike than you probably think.”

Beth smiles at that, because-- “The same could be said about the two of you.”

Gretchen laughs, nodding her head in agreement.

“He is my best friend and I love him to death, but he can be really dumb. Especially when it comes to things that make him feel like he’s losing control.”

Beth glances over at Gretchen then. Sees the look in her eyes. Beth shakes her head, starting to protest. “Gretchen--”

“I’m just saying, that I hope when midnight hits, you’re both with who you want to be with and not who you should be with. Might be a good New Year’s resolution for you two to quit being such stubborn assholes too.”

“Hey!” Beth tries to sound outraged, but her laughter ruins it and Gretchen is laughing then too.

Annie comes bounding up, dumping herself right onto Beth’s lap, and Beth exhales sharply at the sudden weight.

“Christ Annie, you’re pretty heavy for someone who’s so tiny.”

Annie leans forward a little, warming herself up with the heat from the fire. “It’s all muscle.”

“It’s all Cheez-It's.”

“Tomayto, tomahto.”

“That’s...not how you use that phrase.”

“Whatever, look we’re heading back inside soon. It’s getting closer to midnight and I don’t want to miss out on any of the fun!”

The rest of the group is wandering back over to join them.

Annie stands back up and reaches down to pull Beth up with her. She hooks her arm around Beth’s and Ruby comes up on the other side and does the same. Beth smiles at the both of them, a tightness pulling in her chest. God, she loves these two more than anything in the world.

They make their way inside and the group breaks up a little bit, Ben and Gretchen heading off into the poker room, Aaron and Stan going to check that everything is set for the countdown, and the girls getting refills, moving their way through the crowd in the front hall, until they reach the grand staircase. They settle in across the bottom steps, Ruby and Beth across one step and Annie and Nancy up a few, sitting across another.

They watch the crowd--the dancing and the talking and the drunken antics.

Beth glances up at Annie, who seems to be in her own little world with Nancy, their heads close together as they whisper about something.

Her brow furrows a little, a fuzzy realization in the back of her brain trying to make itself known but she can’t quite grasp at it.

Ruby nudges her and Beth turns her head, follows Ruby’s gaze to Aaron, who’s walking up to them.

“Hey! We’re handing these out to everyone for midnight. Stan’s outside with a few of the guys, working their way back in. I volunteered to personally deliver these to you guys though.” He grins as he hands out confetti poppers to each of them. “There’s hats and sparklers over at the table by the front door too.”

“OH! I need all the things.” Annie announces, quickly standing. Beth and Ruby move aside as she pulls Nancy down the stairs and toward the front door.

“I should probably help Stan with those party favors. Will you be alright?” Ruby asks Beth.

Beth nods, “Yup, I’ll stay right here. Just don’t forget about me. I was promised a kiss at midnight.”

Ruby laughs and stands, shooting Aaron a little look before leaving too.

Aaron sits down next to Beth, fiddling with the popper he has in his hand.

“I don’t know that I would’ve trusted a bunch of drunk college kids with these. I bet half of them will be popped before midnight.” Beth jokes. “The temptation is too much. I wanted to pop mine as soon as you handed it to me.”

“They’re probably so drunk they won’t even know how to use them.”

“This is true.”

“So, you’ve already been promised a kiss at midnight, huh?”

“I have. Supposedly, traditionally, a New Year’s kiss is to be shared between two people who have an affectionate bond. No one I share that more with than Ruby, so it makes sense.”

“Total sense. That’s good thinking, carrying on tradition like that. Most people get sloppy drunk and just make out with whoever is closest.” Aaron teases and Beth laughs, looking out at the crowd, thinking that’s exactly what half of them will be doing.

“Well, if you change your mind and want to ignore tradition, I’ll be around.” Aaron shrugs his shoulder a little sheepishly as he says it and Beth turns her attention from the crowd back to him.

She keeps trying to keep this thing between them one way, and he keeps trying to shift it in a different direction. She wonders if it’s the thrill of the chase. She keeps telling him no, so he keeps wanting to make her say yes. Or does he really just like her that much that he can’t keep his feelings in check. She thinks about her and Rio, how she can’t control herself when it comes to him.

“Maybe if we had met three months ago...” She tries to think back to the time before Rio. If she had broken up with Dean and Aaron had been there. And, god no, she thinks. Just imagining it makes her cringe. She’d probably still be in Stepford mode, moving on from one hollow fantasy to another. Still unhappy, still disassociating. Because as much as Aaron is different from Dean, he’s also the same. Why the hell is she here with him when she could be with Rio?

She realizes she’s been staring at Aaron, lost in thought, and he must have taken this as some sort of cue, because now he’s leaning in to kiss her.

Oh no that’s not what that meant, Beth thinks, panic setting in and causing her to freeze up.

She turns her head at the last minute, so Aaron’s kiss lands on her cheek.

As she does, her eyes are drawn back in to the crowd. They land on Rio, standing across the other side of the room.

Time seems to move in slow motion as she watches him. He's with Dylan. They look beautiful together, under the soft glow of the chandeliers.

Rio’s smiling down at Dylan and he says something that makes her tilt her head back and laugh. And then she’s moving closer, pressing her body up against his. Beth feels her heart constrict, her breath catching in her throat as she jerks away from Aaron.

She stands quickly, grabbing her clutch and popper and Aaron catches her wrist as she turns to leave.

“Hey, what the hell?” He looks annoyed and his grip is too tight on her wrist.

Beth can’t think past the fact that she needs to get out of this hall right now, her heart pounding in her chest. She yanks on her wrist and Aaron let’s go, more pissed off than annoyed now, but Beth doesn’t care. She spins around, pushing her way through the mass of people, in the opposite direction of where Rio and Dylan are.

Her eyes search the crowd, frantically trying to find Annie or Ruby.

When she doesn’t see either she starts making her way to the back hallway, where she knows there are less people.

She’s still keeping an eye out for Annie or Ruby, when she spots Greg instead. Guess he made it after all, she thinks. She catches his eye and they meet in the less congested back hall.

“Where’s Annie?” She asks and Greg shakes his head.

“I don’t know. I just got here. I've been looking for her.”

Beth sighs, her eyes turning to scan the people around them. She steps around Greg and takes a quick peek into the open doorway of the smaller room where one of the catering bars is located.

She freezes as her eyes settle on Annie. And Nancy. They’re in the back corner of the room and they’re intimately embracing, their lips locked in a kiss.

Shit.

Beth grabs Greg’s arm, gently moving him away from that room and back toward the dining room.

“Why don’t you look over there and I’ll check over this way?” She suggests brightly. Greg nods, and wanders off and Beth lets out a huge sigh of relief.

God, she desperately needs some air.

She turns and heads back the way she came, careful not to look in that open doorway as she passes it. She pushes through the back door and out onto the back porch.

It’s quiet, there’s no one else around, and she’s grateful for that. She sets her clutch and the popper down on one of the little tables scattered around the porch and turns to settle herself on the stone railing.

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in. She counts to ten then lets it out slowly.

Her mind is too full right now. Too full of Rio, of Aaron, of Annie and Nancy and Greg. This was not how she was supposed to start her New Year.

She hears the door being pushed open and she knows who it is, even with her eyes closed.

He’s found her, because of course he has. They’re like magnets after all. Sometimes she wishes they’d flip and their force would send them careening away from each other instead of into each other.

She opens her eyes and looks over at him. He’s just standing there by the door, hands in his pockets. His bow tie is still off, his shirt still unbuttoned and Beth pushes away all the dirty thoughts that flood her brain.

“You know, I was a little surprised you actually dressed up.” She says, her eyes moving over him again.

“Wasn’t given much of a choice.” He shrugs his shoulders, a smile playing at his lips as he says it. She knows he’s referring to his date.

“Well it suits you- this theme. You look really good.”

“So do you. Pearls look good on you. Don’t think I got a chance to tell you before.”

“Thank you. I wasn’t sure...”

“Keep ‘em. I like seein’ you wear ‘em.”

They’re both quiet for a minute, the only noise is the chaos that’s going on inside, drifting out through the closed door.

Rio steps away from the door, slowly moves further out onto the porch.

Beth tries to keep her breathing steady, normal. But the closer he gets, the harder it is, until he’s standing right in front of her and she thinks she might just start hyperventilating.

“Five questions left. You start.” He says, eyes steady on hers and Beth curses the fact that her brain malfunctions every time he’s around.

She takes a minute, calming herself a little before-- “I am such a mess. Why would you want to be with me?”

“Maybe I like your mess,” He reaches out and tugs at her hair and Beth breathes out a little laugh, “You keep thinkin’ you gotta be this cookie cutter version of yourself to be somethin’. You gotta let that shit go.”

Beth sighs and nods her head. She knows she does. It’s hard though, to let go. She’s been this way for most of her life, shaping herself around what other people needed her to be. She doesn’t exactly know how to start over, to break apart from that.

“You ready now?” Rio’s question pulls her attention back to him.

(“You said you wasn’t ready-- before. You ready now?”)

The noise from inside is getting louder and Beth realizes they’re starting the countdown to midnight.

“You should probably get back to your date.” She whispers, her stomach in knots.

“So should you.” And of course he’s referring to Aaron. She doesn’t bother to correct him and neither one of them make a move to leave. Rio actually steps closer, moving further into her space. She’s still perched on top of the railing and her legs part too easily for him to step in-between. His hands reach down to gather up the bottom of her dress, pushing it up past her knees, letting it settle across her thighs. He presses closer still.

“What if we crash and burn?” She asks breathlessly, shivering a little as the cool night air hits her bare legs.

His hands are still at her knees, and he’s slowly sliding them up and under her dress, grasping at her flesh. “Then we crash and burn. It’ll feel real good on the way down.”

She barely registers the ‘5...4...3...2...1’ coming from inside.

“Are you going to kiss me?” The words have barely left her lips, when his mouth comes crashing down on hers. The kiss is harsh, urgent, all teeth and tongue. And Beth feels hot, dizzy, by the time they pull apart to breathe.

Rio’s eyes are dangerously dark, the heat there making it hard for Beth to remember even how to breathe.

“Come home with me tonight...” His voice is low, raspy and Beth’s not sure if it’s a question or a demand, but either way she’s nodding her head yes. He pulls her into another kiss, then he’s stepping back, helping her slide off the railing. He grabs her hand and strides toward the door, barely letting her stop to gather up her clutch and the confetti popper, before pulling her through it. He makes quick work of moving them through the crowd and toward the front entrance. Beth’s heart feels like it’s in her throat at how urgent his movements seem; how much he wants to get her out of here and alone with him.

She doesn’t even think about Ruby and Annie until they’re outside and halfway to his car. She waits until they get to it, until she’s settled in the passenger seat, to take her phone out and text them both.

She doesn’t give herself time enough to think about how pissed they’re going to be before shoving her phone back in her clutch and setting it aside.

Rio starts the car and then looks over at her, his eyes asking one more time...

Beth nods her head, leaning over to kiss him. She means to make it quick, but Rio pulls her in deeper and she thinks he’d fuck her right here in the parking lot if she let him.

She pulls back, but Rio chases after her lips, leaning into her space this time. Beth laughs against his mouth, giving in for a second before pushing him away.

He pouts at her before letting out an exaggerated sigh and settling himself back into his seat. He starts the car and they’re pulling out of the parking lot when Beth turns to him.

“We’re going back to your place?” She tentatively asks. He made it seem like that was the plan, but she’s not one hundred percent sure.

His hands tighten a little on the wheel, but he nods. Beth wonders if maybe she should suggest they go back to hers instead.

She’s dying to see his place though, so she settles herself back into her seat again. It’s not long before they’re pulling up outside a tall brick building. He parks the car and they sit in silence for a minute and then she does suggest going back to her place instead.

Rio turns and stares at her, his expression difficult to read, like usual. The only time his guard seems to slip and his emotion shows through is when they’re physically intimate. In those moments, he can’t seem to, or chooses not to, control himself.

He seems to come to a decision because he turns the car off and climbs out, going around to her side and opening her door. She’s a little surprised by the gesture and she lets him help her out of the car.

As soon as her door is closed, he has her pressed up against it. And that, at least, she’s less surprised by.

“We go up there-- aint no turnin’ back. No more fuckin around. No more casual bullshit.” His eyes are searching hers, looking for any hesitance on her part, any traces of doubt.

Beth swallows thickly as she nods her head. She’s still scared of this thing between them, unsure how to navigate it. It’s all uncharted territory for her. It’s so big and strong and consuming. But she needs it like she needs air right now. She wants it.

Rio takes her hand again, their fingers intertwined. He leads the way into the building and up a few flights of stairs until they’re outside his door. He unlocks it and pulls her in and she barely has time to look around before he’s closing the door and pushing her up against it.

His hands are on her hips and his mouth is on hers before she even has time to react. He bites hard at her bottom lip, his tongue flicking out to soothe it after. She gasps, her lips parting and he takes the opportunity to lick into her mouth then, his tongue caressing hers.

Beth drops her clutch and the popper, not caring about anything but getting her hands on Rio. She moans against his mouth as her hands come up to grab at his shoulders. She pushes up against him, desperate to feel him everywhere. He breaks their kiss, his hands at her hips spinning her around and she sucks in a breath as he kisses and bites at the exposed skin at her neck and back.

“How the hell you get this thing off?” He growls, his hands snaking around to her front, sliding up over her breasts.

Beth laughs breathlessly, “There are buttons on the back.” She presses her hands against the door so she can push back against him, her ass rubbing against his crotch. Rio groans, his grip on her breasts tightening. Beth’s head falls back against him and his mouth latches onto her neck. She shudders as she moves restlessly against him again, the ache between her legs becoming unbearable.

“Rio...” She’s practically begging and Rio shifts back enough to take in the back of her dress, his hands skimming over it to find the tiny black buttons holding the dress together.

He hooks two fingers into the back and tugs gently. “How much you like this dress?”

Don't rip it.”

He lets out a disappointed sigh, but gets to work on the buttons, and Beth tries not to laugh at how frustrated he is by them.

He finally gets them all undone and he turns her back around. He grabs her wrist and starts walking backward, bringing her with him. If Beth could focus on anything else besides his dark eyes, she might have the sense to look around, but she can’t. Not now. She does realize it’s an open loft, as he leads them around the living room area and over to where his bed is set up.

He stops at the foot of it and lets go of her wrist. He brings his hands up to her shoulders, pulling just the slightest bit at her dress and it slides off them, down her arms. It gets caught at her waist and she shimmies it off the rest of the way, letting it pool at her feet. She steps out of it and is left in just her lacy black bra, panties, and peep toe heels.

God damn Elizabeth.” His voice is strained as his eyes trail down her body.

Beth resists the urge to cover herself, but feels that signature blush at her cheeks, spreading out across her chest. He smirks when he sees it, his tongue darting out to lick at his lips as his eyes travel back up to her face.

It’s painfully obvious to her how undressed she is and how dressed he is, so she steps closer, hands coming up to slowly push the suspenders off his shoulders. She pulls at his shirt until it’s free of his pants and then her hands come up to the buttons on the front. He stands perfectly still, letting her take charge. She focuses on his shirt, slowly working her way through the buttons, until the last one is undone. She presses her hands against the hard lines of his stomach, sliding them up to his chest, then over his shoulders. She pushes his shirt off, watching as it falls to the floor. Beth leans forward, lips brushing lightly against his chest before she bites it and then sucks the skin there into her mouth. Rio inhales sharply, his hand coming up to tangle in her hair, pulling on it to bring her up into a kiss.

He twists them around and pushes her down onto the bed with his body. He moves them up toward the head of the bed and then pulls away. Beth tries to press her knees together, feeling too exposed, but Rio stops her. He settles on his knees between her legs, his hands spreading them open wider. Beth feels ridiculous, she’s still in her heels for Christ sake, but Rio can’t tear his eyes away from her and it leaves her feeling completely breathless.

He slides his hands down her legs, to her feet, pulling each heel off and tossing it on the floor.

“Much as I wanna fuck you in those, don’t trust you not to stab me with ‘em.”

Beth laughs as she pushes herself up into a sitting position, pulling Rio into a kiss and he pushes her back down onto her back, his body coming to rest on top of hers.

He breaks their kiss, only to make quick work of removing her bra and underwear. Then his mouth is back on her, moving to her neck and chest. Beth’s hands slide over his shoulders, his arms, his back. She can’t get enough of his hard lean muscles, the ripple of them underneath her fingers as he moves against her. Once he reaches her breasts, he takes turns licking at each nipple, teasing them into hard little peaks before sucking each one into his mouth. Beth’s hands clutch at the back of his head, lost in the overwhelming sensations he’s causing throughout her body. She thinks she could probably come just from his magical god damn mouth on her breasts. But he’s got a destination and he reluctantly moves on from her breasts to move lower still.

He’s obsessed with going down on her. She thinks ever since she told him Dean had never done it, he’s taken it as a personal challenge to see how many times he can make her come from it.

Not that she’s complaining. He’s insanely good with his mouth.

He’s kissing along her ribs, nosing at her belly button before licking into it, biting at her hip bones.

Beth’s whole body is quivering by the time he settles himself between her legs. He kisses and bites along her inner thighs and Beth’s hips move against him of their own accord. He wraps his arms around them, holding them down and her open.

He places a soft kiss against her before licking into her and Beth gasps, her hands twisting up in his sheets.

They quickly move to the back of his head and shoulder though, as he continues to delve into her soft folds. He alternates between lapping at her clit and sucking at it. Little moans and breathless yes’s tumble from her lips. Beth can feel the pressure building up, the tension almost unbearable. He brings one hand down from her hip, easily sliding two fingers inside her. He curls them up, finding the rough patch against her inner walls and stroking over it.

He can tell she’s close, can read her body better than she can. He’s relentless with his fingers, his tongue, pushing her closer and closer and Beth’s body feels taut as he pushes her to the edge and then over it. Her back arches off the bed, her hips trying to break free of his grasp, but he has her locked down tight. Her fingers dig into his shoulder as she cries out, tiny little shockwaves rippling throughout her entire body.

He continues to work her through her orgasm, only stopping when she physically pushes him away, the sensations becoming too overwhelming. Beth’s eyes are still closed, her breathing still labored as she comes down slowly. She can hear Rio unzipping his pants, the rustling of clothing as he finishes undressing. Then he’s kissing his way back up her body. She shivers at his touch, her hands blindly finding his shoulders again.

She feels his mouth on hers, can taste herself on his tongue. He pulls away slightly and she finally opens her eyes to look up at him.

He’s staring down at her, his hands gently stroking over her face and hair. Beth can feel him hard against her and she rolls her hips, rubbing herself against him. “Rio...Please.”

He reaches down between them, lining himself up and slowly sinking into her. She tenses as he fills and stretches her, clenching around him and Rio drops his forehead to hers, exhaling a low ‘fuck’ as he pauses to let her adjust. He places soft kisses along her jaw and down her neck, nipping at her clavicle, her shoulder. Beth starts to feel that heat pooling low again, and she rolls her hips against him. Rio sucks in a breath, pulling out slowly and then snapping his hips back into place and Beth whimpers.

She wraps her legs around his waist as her hands splay out across his lower back. He sets a languid pace, slowly stoking that flame in her belly, drawing out her pleasure until she’s grinding her hips against him frantically, meeting each one of his thrusts with her own.

God, Rio...” Desperate little moans escape from her lips and Rio reaches down between them, his fingers finding her clit and Beth’s head falls back as her nails dig into his back.

“C’mon baby, I got you.” He whispers in her ear and she can tell he’s close too, his voice is just wrecked, his movements becoming jerky, erratic. Beth can feel the tension coiling tight. A few swipes of his thumb against her clit and it releases, Beth moaning his name over and over as she clenches tightly around him. He groans, burying his face in her neck, panting heavily against her there as he thrusts into her once, twice, before he’s tipping over the edge too, his body tensing as he comes inside of her. He makes no move to pull out right away and she runs her fingers lightly up and down his back, enjoying the weight of him against her. He circles his hips gently, rocking in and out of her a little bit and Beth shivers, clenching around him again. Rio moans, bites at her neck in retaliation and Beth laughs, raking her nails down his back. He lifts his head up, pulling her hands away from him and pinning them up above her head.

“Play nice, darlin.” He teases, biting at her chin before letting her go. He slowly eases out of her and Beth winces a little as he does. He rolls over and she moves to sit up, already looking for her underwear and bra, but he yanks on her arm, toppling her over and pulling her up against his side.

Beth laughs again, trying to squirm her way out of his grip. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

He reluctantly lets her go, pointing to where the bathroom is. She slides out of the bed, quickly finding her underwear and bra, putting them both back on. She really wishes she had something else to cover herself with. She hurries to the bathroom, closing the door and leaning her back against it for a moment, trying to catch her breath and compose her thoughts.

This is really happening right now, she thinks a little giddily. She bites at her lip, anxiety trying to creep it’s way in but she pushes it back, shaking her head as she steps further into the bathroom. She quickly uses the toilet and cleans herself up before going to the sink and washing her hands. She stares at herself in the mirror, barely recognizing her own reflection. Her cheeks are flushed a rosy pink, her eyes bright and glassy, her mouth swollen and red. Her hair is a mess and she has bruises scattered all over her body from Rio’s hands and mouth.

Her mind replays every single moment that has happened between the time they walked into his apartment and now. She feels breathless, turned on, by the time she’s done going over every detail and she shudders a little as her fingers trace over the bruises at her neck, her breasts.

Beth leaves the bathroom, making her way back to the bed and Rio. He’s laying back, arms behind his head and Beth stops at the foot of the bed and just...looks at him. Her eyes slowly travel over his entire body. He hasn’t bothered to cover himself up at all. He cocks an eyebrow at her, clearly amused by her scrutiny.

She takes a deep breath, working herself up to push the words out that she wants to say. She swallows hard. “I want you...in my mouth.”

The amusement immediately disappears from Rio’s face, replaced by something much darker. Her breath catches when he all but growls, “C’mere.”

She hesitates for a split second before climbing up onto the bed, and he’s immediately on her, pulling her tight against him and into a deep, needy kiss.

He tries to go down on her first, always wants to go down on her, but she pushes him onto his back. He tries to flip her back onto hers, but she quickly puts an end to that when she starts licking and biting her way down his abdomen, his hands winding through her hair as she sucks him into her mouth.

Chapter Text

Beth’s waking up slowly, her eyes blinking open, confused for a moment by her unfamiliar surroundings. Then she’s fully awake, the weight of Rio wrapped tightly around her body bringing back all her memories from last night.

She tries not to move, doesn't want to wake him. Her inner alarm clock always has her up ridiculously early and they were both up so late last night, making up for lost time.

She shivers a little at the memory and Rio shifts behind her. Her breath hitches as she feels him, hard, pressed against her. And god, is he ever not ready for sex? Even in his sleep?

Beth presses her thighs tightly together, trying to ignore the heat gathering between them- she still aches from last night.

Beth’s body is not in agreement with her brain however, is quick to betray her as it squirms back against him. She feels his body shift again, his breathing change as his hands automatically move to slide over her body.

One hand kneads at her breast, rolling a nipple between his fingers and Beth gasps as she rocks her hips, pushing her ass back harder against him, wanting him inside her already. Rio bites at her shoulder as he shoves his other hand between her legs.

“Fuck Elizabeth, you’re so wet.” He groans, his fingers pushing into her and Beth inhales sharply, her hand moving back to scratch lightly at the back of his neck.

He pulls his fingers out, shifting to kneel on the bed. He flips her over onto her stomach, yanking up on her hips until she's on her knees with her back arched, her ass sticking up in the air. Beth moves to prop herself up on her hands, but Rio brings his hand down to slide between her shoulder blades, pushing her back into the mattress.

“Stay.” He husks and a shiver runs through her entire body at the intensity of that one word.

He settles himself behind her, his knees pushing at hers, widening them. Beth’s head is turned against the mattress, her hands grabbing at the sheets, her breathing ragged as she waits.

Rio's fingertips ghost over her spine, the curve her ass, the backs of her thighs.

Beth’s hips rock back restlessly, wanting him inside her so much she thinks she might scream. She brings one of her hands up between her legs to circle at her clit, desperately needing something, and Rio pushes it away. Beth whines and she hears Rio's huff of laughter before he grabs his cock, sliding the head up and down over her slit, coating it with her wetness. Beth gasps as she yanks at the sheets.

He finally rocks into her slowly, inch by inch, until his hips are flush against her ass. He pauses, his own breathing ragged as his hands grasp at her hips, fingers digging into the soft flesh there. He’s trying to regain a semblance of control before he starts, but Beth won’t let him. She wiggles her hips and he slips for just a second, his grip loosening and she immediately takes advantage. She shifts slightly onto her forearms for better purchase as she rocks her hips back. Rio groans, but doesn't stop her, let's her take control. She moves slowly at first, still adjusting to his size, and then faster, her hand coming back up to rub at her clit again. She turns her head to look back at Rio and the look on his face is intoxicating. He’s completely gone, lost in her. His brow is furrowed, mouth slightly open as he looks down at where they are joined, watching his cock slide in and out of her as she fucks herself back onto him. Beth presses her face back into the mattress, biting back a moan as she works herself harder, feeling so so close...

Suddenly, Rio’s pushing her fingers away from her clit and replacing them with his own. He leans over, gathering her hair up in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck, twisting his hand around it and tugging, forcing her head up and back. And then he’s taking back control, fucking into her hard and fast and Beth’s orgasm hits her like a jolt of lightning, traveling throughout her entire body as her inner walls pulsate around Rio’s cock, pulling him head first into his own. She feels him twitch inside of her as he comes.

Beth goes limp, her body feeling like it can no longer function. His hand is still gripping her hair, but she doesn’t even feel it, can’t even really feel her own face right now.

Rio’s hand leaves her hair to smooth over her back in soft circular patterns and Beth finds the motion soothing until his other hand suddenly smacks her ass, sharp and quick, before grabbing a handful of it. Beth gasps, her hips trying to jerk away from him and Rio huffs out a laugh as he holds her in place. Beth would hit him if she thought she could get her arms to function properly.

He leans down to place a soft kiss between her shoulder blades before slowly pulling out of her. She bites back a moan at the loss of him as he collapses down onto the bed next to her. She curls up on her side to face him, trying not to flinch at how everything aches when she moves.

“Is this how sex is for everyone, or just with you? Cause I feel like not everyone is having this kind of sex.”

Rio rolls his head to look at her and grins, looking way too satisfied with himself, and Beth immediately regrets asking.

“You know what, forget I said anything.”

“Nuh, don’t think I will.”

She does reach out then to pinch his arm. He snatches her wrist up before she can pull it away and brings it up to his mouth, nipping at her pulse point before his mouth latches onto it, sucking sharply.

Nooo...” Beth squeals, jerking her hand away, his mouth popping off wetly, “Haven’t you left enough marks on me?” She wipes her wrist off on his stomach and then brings it up closer to her face, making a noise of annoyance when she sees the red mark he’s left.

“You suck. Like, literally.” She rolls away from him, but doesn’t get very far, his arm snaking around her waist to yank her back against him. She squirms, trying to pull away, but freezes when she feels his cock twitch against her ass. His hand comes up to grab at her breast as he nuzzles against her neck.

“Seriously? I feel like I need at least a day to recover, how are you ready to go again?”

“It’s real cute you think I’m lettin’ you out this bed at all today.”

“I cannot stay here all day. Ruby and Annie have probably already sent out a search and rescue party to find me.” Beth lets out a groan at the thought, squeezing her eyes shut. “I haven’t even checked my phone since I texted them last night.”

Rio hums against her neck as he continues kissing her, not really listening at all. Beth rolls her eyes and manages to twist away from him. She grabs the sheet, wrapping it quickly around herself and sliding out of bed. It’s Rio’s turn to make a noise of irritation as he pouts and Beth shoots him a wry little smile. Now that she’s out of the bed she takes a second to stretch her body out, groaning at how tight and sore she feels all over. The wood floors of his loft are cold against her bare feet so she quickly makes her way across the apartment to the front door. She scoops up her bag and the confetti popper, turning right back around to scurry back to the bed.

She clambers back up onto it, pushing herself up onto her feet so she can stand over him. “Are the cold floors part of your devious plan to keep me here?” She glares down at him accusingly.

He grins up at her and shrugs. He’s pulled his boxer briefs back on and he’s reclining back against his headboard. “Sure. Is it workin’?”

“Nope.” She lifts her chin defiantly. She drops her clutch on the bed and holds up the popper. “We forgot to ring in the New Year properly last night.”

“Yeah, that things goin’ straight in the trash.”

“What?!”

“You aint settin’ that off in here.”

Beth laughs, but Rio’s face is deadly serious as he glares at the confetti popper in her hand, like it’s very presence in his apartment is deeply offensive to him.

“Are you serious right now?” She quirks an eyebrow at him, delightfully amused by this.

“That shit’s messy as fuck. Almost as bad as glitter. I’ll be findin’ it for days.”

Beth glances around his apartment, taking note of how clean and organized everything is.

“Huh.” She turns back to him, mischievous grin on her face as she fiddles playfully with the stick end. Rio’s eyes narrow at her as he leans forward.

“Elizabeth. Do. Not.

“Do not, what?” She bats her eyes innocently. He lurches forward, grabbing at her ankle and she shoves up on the bottom of the stick, shrieking as she lands on the bed with a soft thud. A flurry of gold, black, and silver confetti rains down around them. Rio fixes her with a murderous glare, and she might find it intimidating in any other situation. But right now, with him covered in confetti, she doesn’t. Pieces of it dot his hair, shoulders, and face. All she can do is laugh and then try to kick away from him when he grabs her ankle again and yanks her down the bed toward him, clambering over her on all fours until he has her caged in with his arms and legs. He shakes himself like a wet dog, all the confetti falling off onto her and Beth squeezes her eyes shut, covering her face as she giggles uncontrollably, her sides starting to ache.

His movements stop and she peeks out from behind her hands.

“Guess we have to get out of bed now.” She points out forlornly, widening her eyes.

“You a real shit, you know that?”

Beth laughs and shoves at him and he moves easily, rocking back onto his knees. Beth sits up and swipes at the confetti that’s covering her body. “They’re pretty big pieces, I’m sure a vacuum would take care of this in like, five minutes.”

“Yeah? Vacuums over in that closet.” He makes a gesture across the room and Beth scoffs, but shifts to get off the bed.

“Nuh uh. You aint dragging that shit all over my apartment. Sheet off.” He reaches over and tugs at the sheet where it stretches across her chest.

Beth swats his hand away. “I need to cover up with something; I can’t just be walking around your apartment naked.”

Rio cocks his head to the side, eyebrows furrowed. “Why not?”

Beth crosses her arms over her chest and juts out her chin. “You want me to stay, I need clothing.”

He considers her for a moment. “You still got confetti all up in your hair. Shower first, then we’ll talk clothes.”

“This is not a negotiation.”

“Nah?”

An hour later and Beth is fresh out of the shower, wrapped up in a towel. Rio’s next to her, in his own towel, searching through his drawers for something for her to wear.

She’d agreed to showering together (“We’d be conservin’ energy. Think of the planet, ma.” Rio had insisted, somehow keeping a straight face as he said it) naively thinking showering would be all they’d be doing. Somehow (Rio), the topic of shower sex had come up and once Beth admitted she’d never done that, well- he'd had her bent over fairly quickly.

He pulls out some sweatpants and hands them to her. She hooks her fingers into the waistband and pulls, seeing how far they stretch. He shoots her a look and she shrugs. “Your hips and my hips are very different.”

Rio turns back to find a shirt and she adds, “Your chest and my chest are also very different.”

Rio hums in agreement, looking her over lewdly.

“Aight, so I got this sweater, my abuela makes one every year and they always too big.” He yanks out a knitted grey sweater and holds it out to her.

“Oh my god, your grandma knits you sweaters! That is so adorable.” Beth takes the sweater and shakes it out, holding it up to look at it.

“She makes us wear ‘em at Christmas.” Rio rolls his eyes, like he’s put out, but there’s fondness there when his fingers reach out to touch the sleeve.

“I love your grandma.”

Rio grins at her, reaching out to pinch her chin. Beth gives him a quick kiss before taking the clothes back to the bathroom. After she finishes dressing, Beth looks at herself in the mirror and laughs. Rio was right, the sweater is way too big. She tries to picture him wearing it, scowl on his face.

The sleeves slip down over her hands, and she brings them up to her nose, inhaling deeply. The sweater smells like fresh laundry detergent and Rio.

Beth steps out of the bathroom, stopping when she sees Rio vacuuming up the last bit of confetti. A pair of sweatpants hang low on his hips.

Beth bites at her bottom lip as she watches him.

How is she so turned on by him vacuuming shirtless?

She spots her clutch on his nightstand and she remembers that she still hasn’t checked her phone yet.

She sighs, knowing she’s probably going to have too many texts and missed calls. She knows if she checks it now though, all this ends. She’ll be pulled away from it, and she just wants to stay here for a little while longer. It feels good to be here with him. He feels good- more open, more playful.

Beth wanders through the living room area. She looks around carefully, taking everything in. The loft is incredibly spacious and open, the only enclosed area seems to be the bathroom. The décor and furniture and art all tie together beautifully. If he were any other college guy, she would be surprised. But it’s Rio, so it makes sense.

“You want somethin’ to drink? Tea? Coffee?” Rio offers, stepping away from the bed and striding over to the kitchen.

Beth follows, running her fingers over the kitchen island before hopping up onto one of the stools lining it. “I’ll have some coffee, please.”

Beth’s eyes track Rio as he moves easily around the kitchen, preparing the coffee for her and tea for him.

“So,” She begins cautiously, “I don’t suppose just a bar salary pays for this place.”

Rio pauses what he’s doing, tensing for the briefest moment, before turning and bringing both cups over to the kitchen island, setting hers down in front of her.

He leans down against the counter, chin in palm as he looks at her. “There’s some supplemental income involved.”

Beth fiddles with the handle of her coffee mug, avoiding eye contact. “And... where does that come from?”

“Elizabeth.”

“What? I want to know. I’m ready.”

“You so ready, you can’t even look at me?”

Beth shifts her gaze from the coffee cup back up to Rio, chin lifted defiantly.

Rio’s lips twitch at that, his eyes shining with amusement.

“If you don’t want to tell me, I completely understand. But I’ve had questions since the night at the bar when—when that guy pulled that knife on you.”

“Aight.” He straightens up and looks over at her expectantly.

“Your...other income. Is it from doing things that are...illegal?”

“Some of it. Most of what I handle is legit.”

“How does that work?”

“I handle the bar, investments in other businesses, the warehouse.” Rio pauses, regarding her carefully, scanning her face for—what she doesn’t know. ”Sometimes the legit side and the other shit overlap.”

“Why? I mean, if you're invested in legitimate businesses, why do the illegal stuff at all?”

Rio rocks a little on his heels, his jaw clenching. Beth shifts in her seat in response, fidgeting nervously with the coffee cup. Maybe she’s pushed too far.

After a minute he takes a deep breath, rolling his shoulders back before deciding to answer her question.

“My tíos run most of that. Sometimes things gotta run through the legit side.”

She remembers him telling her his family was involved in a lot of different businesses, different transactions. “So, you aren’t really personally involved in that unless you have to be?”

“Does it matter? If I wanna be or if I hafta be?”

She thinks that over for a bit. Does it matter to her if he does it because he likes it?

“I guess not.” She answers, a little hesitantly. “Isn’t it super dangerous though? That night at the bar, you said guns are involved too.”

“Yah. Shit can go south real quick. It is what it is. Look, I got a head for this stuff, I’m good at what I do. So, I do it. And there’s-- a certain line of succession involved.” His jaw rocks a little at that and Beth starts to piece some things together.

She remembers him saying he didn’t have the luxury of being exhausted, remembers both him and Gretchen talking about family obligations, legacies. He hasn’t mentioned his dad at all, just his uncles. So is his dad...gone? In jail? Dead? Does he let his uncles handle things while he just acts as the figurehead of this criminal empire?

And he somehow finds the time to also attend college. Beth shakes her head at how ridiculous it all seems. Like one of those cartel shows you’d watch on Netflix.

“You don’t like, run a prostitution ring or kill people, right?” She’s half joking, can’t imagine Rio being involved in either one of those things.

“Prostitution can be a real respectable business.”

“Rio.”

“Nah, not my style.”

He doesn’t address the killing people part and Beth is too scared to push that particular topic any further, so she lets it go.

“So what is your style? What kind of stuff runs through the businesses?”

“Mostly fake cash. Sometimes drugs.”

Beth considers this. Fake cash doesn’t seem horrible. Drugs on the other hand...

“Does the rest of your family know about this stuff?” She knows his mom is still around and he has at least one sister. Do they know? How do they feel about it? Are they part of it?

“Nah. They never been involved. My tíos keep the shady shit away from them.”

Beth sips on her coffee as she tries to process all of this new information.

Rio watches her silently, giving her time.

“Okay.” She finally says, setting her coffee cup down.

He cocks his head, eyebrow raised. “Okay?”

Beth nods, sliding off her stool and padding over to him. He turns his body to face her, hands seeking out her hips automatically.

“I’ll need some time to fully process everything and I’ll definitely want to come back to this conversation, but right now--I’m starving. You spent all morning working me out and now you are required to feed me.”

Rio’s eyes search over her face, like he’s trying to get inside her head and read her thoughts. And sometimes, she thinks he can.

His face smooths out after a second, apparently finding whatever he was looking for, and he gives her hips a quick little squeeze.

“Whatchu want?”

They look through the ingredients he has in his kitchen and settle on pancakes. Beth insists on making them and after they’re done eating, she handles the cleanup.

Rio watches her from his seat at the island as she finishes up. “Elizabeth, I keep tellin’ you, you don’t gotta front with me like that.”

Beth laughs as she turns to face him, leaning back against the sink and crossing her arms. “You think I'm doing this for you? I enjoy cooking. I really love baking. And cleaning helps me clear my head. So, don’t flatter yourself so much.”

Rio laughs at that, opening his mouth to say something, (probably something snarky, she thinks), when they both hear his phone vibrating. He’d set it down on the kitchen island while they were cooking earlier and he reaches for it now.

It reminds Beth that she should probably check hers before Ruby and Annie actually do call the police.

God, Annie. All the stuff from the New Year’s Eve party comes rushing back to her, including the fact that her sister had been kissing someone who definitely was not her boyfriend, while her boyfriend searched for her elsewhere.

Beth hurries across the room to the side table where her clutch lays, now fully regretting the decision to ignore it earlier.

She pulls her phone out and it almost immediately starts vibrating.

Ruby.

Beth swipes it open, answering it with a cautious, “Hello?”

Bitch, where have you been?!”

Beth closes her eyes, her hand coming up to push through her hair. “Is everything okay?”

“You mean besides the panic attack I've been having since last night because no one's been able to get ahold of you? I thought Aaron had you locked in his basement making you put the lotion on the skin.”

Beth presses her lips together, trying to hold back her laughter. “I am so sorry about that. I... lost track of time.”

All night?! And morning?!”

“Look, I’ll be home soon. I promise I’m okay.”

“Yeah, and you best believe we’re gonna have a lil chat when you get here. Lil refresher course on phone etiquette.”

Beth laughs out a goodbye, hanging up before Ruby can yell even more.

She glances over her shoulder at Rio, who is still typing furiously on his own phone, eyebrows knitted. She can never tell if he’s pissed off or just concentrating really hard.

Beth settles herself crossed legged on the bed, flipping through her missed call log and texts. At least she knows if she ever actually does go missing, her sister and Ruby will be on top of it.

She types out a text to Annie, letting her know she is safe and will be home soon.

Rio comes ambling over as she’s finishing up responding to the last of her missed texts. He comes to a stop in front of her and she sets her phone down on the bed, tilting her head up to look at him.

“You leavin’?”

“Unfortunately.”

He reaches out to brush her hair out of her face, fingers trailing down and along her jawline. His thumb comes up to stroke along her bottom lip slowly and she lets her mouth fall open a little bit. His eyes are dark, fixed on her mouth, as he pushes his thumb inside and her lips close around it. Beth sucks on it lightly. Rio's lips part slightly as he sucks in a breath, his other fingers tracing along the side of her neck.

“I like havin’ you in my bed, mami.” He slides his thumb out, stroking it over her bottom lip again.

“I like having you in my mouth.”

As soon as the words leave her mouth, she knows it’s the worst thing she could’ve said in this moment. She’s supposed to be leaving, she has things to do, and she still aches so much from last night and this morning. But none of that matters now because Rio is already pouncing on her, pushing her back onto the bed, his mouth hard on hers before she can even catch her breath.

Beth thinks about pushing him off. Telling him she can't, she has things to do, maybe they can continue this later. He’s already pulled his sweater off of her though and he’s making quick work of yanking the sweatpants off. He’s pulling her to the edge of the bed, and he’s kneeling down, placing her legs over his shoulders before burying his face in her cunt. Now, Beth isn’t thinking about anything else at all.

 

----------

 

Even though she insists she can take an Uber, Rio ends up dropping Beth off at her apartment building, way later than she had planned. She’s back in her outfit from last night and she practically runs into her building. She has no coat and her dress is doing nothing to keep the cold air from chilling her to the bone.

She pauses briefly once she’s outside her apartment door, silently prepping herself for the interrogation that’s to come.

Beth unlocks the door and steps inside, quietly closing it behind her. She glances around but doesn’t see or hear anybody. She tries not to get her hopes up that maybe she’s avoided a confrontation right now and tentatively steps further into the apartment. “Annie? Ruby?”

It’s quiet still and Beth breathes a sigh of relief. She doesn't know where they are, but at least now she’ll have a minute to get herself situated before she has to deal with anything from last night.

Beth grabs a change of clothing and takes another shower, the hot water soothing her aching body.

She’s just finished getting dressed and is pulling her hair up into a ponytail, when Annie and Ruby come walking through the front door. They’re chattering on about something, but stop when she steps out into the living room.

“Christ Beth, what the hell happened to you?” Annie asks and Beth is confused for a minute before she sees where Annie is looking. Her neck. And chest for that matter. She’d almost forgotten about the marks Rio had left.

Beth flushes, bringing her hand up to try and cover the marks. She literally doesn’t even know what to say.

Ruby takes pity on her, distracting her with a different question. “Where have you been?”

“I was with Rio. At his place.”

Annie scoffs. “Guess that answers my question too.”

Beth glares at Annie, moving further into the living room so she can settle into one of the recliners. She pulls her feet up underneath her and looks over at the two of them expectantly. This is probably going to take awhile so they might as well get comfortable.

Ruby sits on the couch, choosing the side closest to her, and Annie sinks down into the other recliner, settling into a position similar to Beth’s.

“So--”

Beth barely gets the word out before Annie is cutting her off. “What the hell, Beth?”

Beth fixes her with another glare. “Do you have a problem?”

“Uh yeah, I do. Last night you ditched us to apparently chase after dick, which is like, breaking the very first rule of girl code. Dick that was there with another girl, bee-tee-dubs, so that’s two girl codes broken in one night. You were really on a roll.”

Beth averts her eyes, focusing on the hem of her t-shirt, rubbing it between her fingers. “They aren’t dating. And I texted you guys last night that I was leaving. I’m sorry, I didn’t think to check my phone again until today. I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal.”

That’s a lie. The very reason she’d avoided her phone that whole time was because she knew exactly what a big deal it was going to be.

“I can’t believe I'm the one lecturing you about making good choices and being responsible right now.”

A smile ghosts at Beth’s lips as she glances up at Annie. “Yeah, and I’m sure you’ve been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this.”

Annie grins, straightening her back, sitting tall. “It does feel pretty good to be the lecturer instead of the lecturee.”

“All right, my turn.” Ruby leans forward, looking Beth straight in the eye and Beth squirms a little in her seat. This was the part she wasn’t looking forward to. “What happened last night? I thought you were stepping back from this whole Rio situation.”

“I was. I did. But...this thing between us keeps pulling me back in. And I think it’s going to be different this time. This morning...” Beth pauses, trying to figure out what, and how much, she wants to say. “We finally talked. I mean we still have a lot more to talk about, but things feel good right now.”

Ruby slowly nods her head, processing what Beth’s saying. “Didn’t you both agree it was a bad idea to get in too deep with one another?”

“Yes, and that’s the part that keeps making me want to pull away. Things with him always move scarily fast. He makes me feel good. Like REALLY good. And that makes it hard not to think about the future and all the ways this could go horribly wrong. The deeper we get, the more it’s going to hurt when--” Beth swallows thickly, corrects herself “if it ends.”

“Yeah, I remember that night you broke into his bar. The look on your face after you came back out. I never want to see that look on your face again.” Annie’s expression is pained at the memory and Beth gives her a small reassuring smile.

Ruby clears her throat and Beth’s eyes shift back to her. “You know I love you and you are one of the most important people in my life, so I know you’ll understand when I ask—Are you sure he’s the best thing for you right now? I don’t get you two and I don’t know that I see this thing working out in the long run and I don’t want this to be another Dean situation. I will be here to help you pick up the pieces afterward, I just really want you to be sure it’s worth it.”

“Rio is nothing like Dean. I really like him. And I really want to try. Even if it is the most painful thing I ever do. It’s worth it.”

Ruby leans over further, reaching her hand out and Beth meets her halfway. She squeezes tightly before letting go. “I never want to see you hurt and I hope that’s not where this road leads you. I am here for you, for whatever. Just--be careful. And answer your phone next time.”

Beth laughs, the tension she’s been feeling slowly leaving her body.

“So, dude obviously has a neck kink, does he have any other kinks we should know about?”

Beth grabs the throw pillow behind her and launches it at Annie.

So, how’d the rest of the night go for you two?” Beth quickly changes the subject before Annie can recover and continue her line of questioning about Rio. She keeps a close eye on Annie, searching her face for any sort of reaction to her question. Will she tell them what’s going on between her and Nancy?

Ruby sits back, relaxing into the couch. “It was fun, but I was pretty much done after midnight. People definitely got pretty sloppy drunk towards the end there. I went and helped Stan and the crew clean up this morning.”

Beth nods along, sneaking glances at Annie.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure there was an all-out orgy happening on the lawn at one point. I don’t know how people can get turned on in 30-degree weather.” Annie snorts.

Beth’s impatient and it looks like she’s going to have to steer the conversation herself. “I saw Greg right before I left. He was looking for you. Did you guys find each other?” Not her most subtle, but whatever.

Annie freezes for a second, before visibly forcing herself to relax. She ends up making herself look even more tense. “Yeah, he mentioned seeing you, said you were twitchier than usual.”

“Yeah, you know I was trying to help him find you and we were looking everywhere, including that little room that’s down that back hall? God, what was the name of that room. You know, it had one of the bars set up in it?” Beth squints her eyes, furrowing her eyebrows in concentration, like she’s really thinking on it, and Annie’s eyes go cartoonishly wide before she schools her face.

“I’m not sure, I don’t recall going in there last night.”

“No, no, I'm pretty sure I saw you and someone else in there at some point. Nancy maybe?”

Annie grits her teeth, her jaw clenching a little, as she leans forward in her chair. “Beth.” Her voice is full of warning.

Ruby’s eyes are darting between the two of them. “Am I missing something here?”

Beth immediately drops any pretenses. “Have you told Greg yet?”

Annie lets out a whoosh of air as she collapses back into the chair. She stares up at the ceiling. “No. And I'm not going to.”

Beth sits up straight, planting her feet on the floor in front of her. She can’t believe what she’s hearing. “What?!”

Ruby also shifts to move forward, sensing the tension. “Okay, seriously, what am I missing right now?”

Annie’s still staring up at the ceiling, her fingers digging into the arms of the chair. “I don’t even know what any of it means yet. Why does he need to know, when I don’t even know?”

Beth feels for her, she really does, so she tries to be gentle, but firm. “Annie, you cheated on him. You have to tell him.”

“You cheated on Greg?!”

Annie finally moves her gaze from the ceiling to Ruby. “I kissed Nancy last night at the party, keep up.” She turns her attention to Beth. “It was one kiss.”

But Beth knows it's more. She didn’t see it before, but she gets it now. “You’re emotionally involved. Which might actually be worse.”

Ruby’s still processing, her eyes wide on Annie. “I’m sorry, you what?!”

Annie’s focused on Beth though, her face stormy. “Why do you even care?”

Beth shakes her head in disbelief, her eyebrows shooting up at her sisters deliberate ignorance. “Dean cheated on me, Annie. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that. It aint fun. How could you think this wouldn’t be a problem for me?”

Annie makes a dismissive noise as she rolls her eyes. “Okay Ms. Moral High Ground, weren’t you the one stringing Aaron along in case things went south with you and bar friend?”

“That’s not fair. At all. And nowhere near the same thing regardless.”

Ruby stands up, holding her hands out like she’s refereeing. “Okay, let’s just take a step back right now.” She turns to Annie. “The right thing to do would be to talk with Greg about what happened. Especially if there are feelings involved with Nancy. That’s gonna get real messy, real quick. Nobody wants to be involved in a love triangle.”

Annie flops back in her chair dejectedly. “You guys are like, annoying little Jiminy Crickets.”

“Well, we can’t have you skewing that moral compass of yours.” Ruby points out.

Annie lets out a long exasperated sigh. “I just have a lot of confusing stuff going on in my head right now.”

Beth stands up and moves around the coffee table so she can perch herself on the arm of Annie’s chair. “Annie, you know you can talk to us, right? If you want to talk this out, we’re here for you.”

Annie shifts to lean her head against Beth’s leg. “I know. Maybe later?” She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Sorry for my bitchy comment earlier. I’m hungover and cranky today.”

Beth strokes her fingers through Annie’s hair, nostalgia hitting her as she thinks back to when they were younger and Annie would get sick. They would settle into a similar position, Annie’s head in Beth’s lap, while she stroked her hair and they watched old movies on TV.

“Wanna put Breakfast at Tiffany’s on?” Beth has barely finished her sentence before Annie’s nodding her head vigorously. Annie lifts her head up and Beth slides off the arm of the chair, in search of their well worn DVD. Ruby automatically heads to the kitchen to get the snacks and drinks.

“So you’re really not going to give us any details about bar friend huh?”

Beth snorts as she flips through their extensive DVD collection. “I don’t kiss and tell.”

“Yeah, I could understand that when it was Deansie, but why would you not want to brag about Rio? That dudes mouth looks like it can do things.”

Beth laughs at that, turning to her sister and deciding to throw her a bone. “Oh trust me, it does a lot of things and it does them really well.”

Annie’s squeal of delight can probably be heard throughout their entire floor.

Beth knows she is never going to hear the end of this.

Chapter Text

“Are you almost ready? I wanna go.”

Beth closes her eyes and silently counts to ten before twisting her upper body slightly to look back at her sister from her desk chair. Annie’s standing in her bedroom doorway, bouncing up and down on her feet, like—well like she has to pee.

They have plans to go out to Rio’s bar tonight but Beth is running late. Well, not late exactly since they weren’t technically supposed to be there at a specific time, but Annie’s been anxious ever since Beth walked through the door.

It’s a “sister’s night” for them, a chance to finally sit down and talk. Beth would prefer to stay at home and do it, but Annie insists on going out, claiming to need “booze and eye candy”. And if Beth is going out anywhere, it’s going to be Rio’s bar. She thinks it might be the only place she can handle going to with Annie right now, refuses to even entertain her idea of going to a club.

“Annie can you just like—take it down about ten notches. I have this email I have to send out before I forget. If you quit bugging me it will go a lot faster.”

Annie turns on her heel with a huff and stomps back out into the living room. Beth briefly entertains the idea of typing up the rest of this email as slow as possible, but she’s kind of anxious to leave too.

Rio’s going to be at the bar tonight and Beth is excited to see him. She wonders if this feeling she gets at just the thought of him will ever fade. It’s still so overwhelming for her that someone like him is so into someone like her. He’s so...infatuated with her. Like she’s this little Rubik's cube that he finds equal parts frustrating and entertaining. He’s really enjoying trying to figure her out and he’s way too stubborn to quit.

And really, she could say the same about him. As much as he shares with her, he keeps even more to himself. She’s not sure if he’s protecting her or himself.

It’s been almost two weeks since New Year’s. This is the last weekend before school and work start back up again and she’s dreading going back to “normal” life. She’s been wrapped up in this blissful little bubble with Rio and she doesn’t want to let it go.

Although there have been some rough patches already. She is still getting used to how “hands on” Rio is. If she’s in the same vicinity as him, some part of him is touching some part of her. She’s not used to this kind of affection. Dean usually reserved his touches for when he wanted sex or he was showing her off.

They argue too, and not minor disagreements either. If they’re arguing, it gets heated very quickly and usually ends in one of them dragging the other one off somewhere to do some rigorous making up. To no one’s surprise, none of their problems actually get solved this way.

Everything still feels so intense with him, and she’s still trying to navigate her way around those feelings. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever get used to the way he looks at her, the way he touches her, the way he listens to her, the way his voice sounds when he talks to her.

She’s still struggling with opening up to him, there’s still that pain in her chest when she does, and sometimes she tries and it just won’t come out. Sleeping over is a little harder too. New Year’s Eve she had been exhausted, had fallen asleep despite herself. But since then, she’s been easing herself into it. There’s just something too intimate about falling asleep with someone and waking up with them again in the morning. Something too domestic. Her automatic response to any advancement in their relationship seems to be to pull away.

She hasn’t told him they’ll be coming by the bar tonight, doesn’t necessarily want to make it about them when it’s supposed to be for her and Annie.

Beth quickly types up the last of her email and clicks send before closing her lap top. She swipes on some mascara and tinted lip balm and meets Annie out in the living room.

Finally.” Annie mutters. She’s already pulled her shoes on and is half way out the door before Beth can even grab her own shoes.

Beth bites her tongue, figures Annie will open up about whatever the hell has her so anxious once they get to the bar and she’s had a few drinks.

It’s packed when they get there, everyone coming back from the holiday break, recovering from time spent with family and enjoying their last weekend before classes start up again.

Beth and Annie squeeze into two vacated stools at the bar, Annie keeping an eye out for any tables that may open up in the back. It doesn’t look like Rio is working up front tonight and Beth wonders if he’s left already or if he’s working in the back.

She orders for her and Annie and then turns to her sister. “So, do you wanna talk about it?”

Annie sighs, long and deep, and twists the rings on her fingers nervously. “I’ve been ghosting Greg and Nancy. Like, hard. I don't know how much more I can take. I think I’m having like, a midlife crisis or something.”

“Annie. Do you know what midlife means?”

“Okay, shut up. I’m seriously stressin’ out right now!”

“I can see that.” Beth’s quiet for a moment, not sure which question she wants to ask first. “What happened between you and Greg?”

“I’m not sure. Things were going well for awhile. He wasn’t like, hiding me from his friends anymore-- but then I noticed he was still hiding me from his family. So, I stupidly insisted on meeting them, even though I really didn’t even want to and that went to complete shit really quickly. And Nancy...” Annie trails off, shooting Beth a little look before focusing back on her rings.

Beth nods in understanding. “Nancy was there for emotional support.”

“Yes! It all happened so fast, like-- she is so annoying but then she just like, grows on you, you know? And then I was spending more time with her than I was with Greg. And she would go on these like tangents about the dumbest stuff and I would just be sitting there, thinking about like, how much I wanted to kiss her just to shut her up, or grab her hand and just hold it so she’d quit flailing them around. It was driving me insane, ya know?”

Beth does know. She feels that same way about Rio sometimes. And she’s almost positive he feels it toward her.

Annie pauses as the bartender sets their drinks down, immediately picking hers up to take a long drink, before launching back into it. “So, when Greg called and said he couldn’t make it to the New Year’s Eve party, I felt like something just—snapped. I was fully planning on telling him I was done the next day...but then the next thing I knew, I was kissing Nancy and then we were running into Greg right after and my brain just...short circuited.”

They sit quietly for a moment, sipping on their drinks, both thinking over the situation Annie has gotten herself into.

Beth traces her finger around the rim of her glass, eyes fixed on the amber colored liquid inside it. “Well, do you even still want to be with Greg? You were planning on breaking it off right?”

“Yeah...” Annie’s voice is small and uncertain as she trails off and Beth feels a pang in her chest for her sister.

"Do you want to be with Nancy?" Beth asks quietly.

"I...I don't know. I mean, it was just one kiss. And I don't even know how she feels about, if she even wants to be with me. We didn't really get to talk about it after and then I freaked out and now neither one of us is talking about it." Annie looks miserable.

Again, they’re quiet as they both think things over. Annie finally clears her throat and leans forward, elbows on the bar top. “I’m going to need at least one more drink before we continue this depressing conversation.” And with that, she downs the drink she does have and orders another.

It’s not too much later that Annie spots a high-top table open up and she pounces on it, dragging Beth with her.

Once they settle in, Beth takes a quick look around. She’s not exactly looking for Rio...but she wouldn't mind if he happened to suddenly appear any time soon. She’s feeling a nice warm glow from her drink and half her mind is on his mouth and how much she wants it on her...

“Hello, earth to Beth!” Annie’s snapping her fingers at Beth and she jerks out of her little day dream to focus back on her sister.

Annie tilts her head off to her left, “Look who’s here.”

Beth’s eyes scan the area to the side of Annie, hoping to see Rio, but finding Aaron instead. He’s with a group of friends, seated a few tables away and any hope she has that he hasn’t noticed them goes out the window as one of his friends nudges him to gesture toward their table and he locks eyes with Beth.

Beth quickly looks away, groaning. She prays to any higher power that may be listening that he won’t come over.

“Have you guys talked since the party?” Annie asks.

“No. I haven’t really even thought about him.” Beth admits, more than a little ashamed. She suddenly feels terrible about how she’d blown him off, hadn’t even bothered with a text the next day. Not that he seemed like he would have wanted to hear from her anyway. He was pretty upset when she’d left him sitting on the stairs.

Annie shrugs, sipping on her drink. “Yeah, he is pretty forgettable.”

Beth laughs, elbowing Annie, “Be nice.” She admonishes.

Beth’s laughter fades though, when she sees one of Aaron’s friends sauntering over to their table, Aaron trailing behind sheepishly. So much for that higher power.

“Hey ladies, how we doin’ tonight?” The guy asks, loud and more than a little clumsy as he sidles up to their table, leaning a little too much into Annie’s space. Annie leans back, not bothering to hide her look of disdain.

Aaron lifts a hand in a half wave as a greeting to Beth and Beth offers a weak smile back.

“We were just on our way to get some refills. Can we buy you two some drinks?” The guy tries again, after his last question goes unanswered.

“Nope. We’re good.” Annie picks her drink up, waving it around a little at him, her face barely containing her annoyance.

“Aw c’mon. You know its rude to refuse a free drink.” This guy seems to be particularly dense, leering down at Annie, and Annie’s had enough.

“Oh, I highly doubt any drink from you is free. Also, you know what’s really rude? Interrupting a conversation that you clearly weren’t invited to.”

Aaron’s friend’s face twists in anger and he looks like he’s one second away from saying something particularly insulting. Aaron puts his hand on his friends shoulder like he’s ready to pull him away, the look on his face letting them know he’s used to this kind of behavior. At the same time, Beth opens her mouth to also intervene in some way. But all of that is interrupted when both guys attention is drawn to something behind Beth. The atmosphere immediately changes and Beth turns slightly to see what they’re looking at. And it turns out to be a who, not a what.

Beth recognizes one of the guys from the coffee shop, when he’d come in around Christmas time. The same one from the night her and Rio had their argument, here at the bar. Cisco, he said his name was. The other one she doesn’t remember ever seeing. He must be another friend of Rio’s though-- he’s rocking the signature tattoos and dark clothing, like the rest of them. Beth wonders, not for the first time, if both those things are a requirement, like some weird ass dress code.

The air has chilled significantly and Beth can feel the tension as Rio’s friends stare down Aaron and his friend.

Beth clears her throat as she turns in her seat to fix Cisco with her brightest smile. “Hey-- Cisco, right?”

He reluctantly shifts his eyes to Beth, lifting his chin in affirmation. Okay, so not a big talker. Another Rio requirement?

She hears Annie suck in a breath on a laugh and almost choke on her drink. Beth shoots her a quick glare.

“There a problem here?” Cisco asks, but he’s not asking her, his focus is back on Aaron and his tone and posture is pretty aggressive. Beth starts inching toward panic mode.

“Nah man, we’re good. Just passing through, decided to stop and say hi to a friend.” Aaron shoots back, his own tone friendly, but Beth can tell he’s tense. His friend sneers, opening his mouth again, probably to say something incredibly stupid, but Aaron twists his arm slightly, shoving him away from the table and moving to follow. “Nice to see you, Beth. Have a nice night.” And then they’re gone.

Beth lets out a sigh of relief and looks to Annie. Annie’s full focus is on Cisco and his friend, eyeing them curiously.

“So, what’s your name?” Annie asks the other one, tilting her drink toward him and Beth’s eyes narrow.

“Eddie.”

“Well, Eddie. Cisco. Our unsuspecting knights in shining armor. We appreciate you protecting us from the evil douchebags of the night. Let us buy you a drink.” Annie smiles sweetly at Eddie and Beth lets out a resigned sigh. So, this is happening then.

“Annie, I’m not sure--”

“I wouldn’t say no to a beer.” Eddie smiles down at her and Annie is totally enthralled.

Beth doesn’t necessarily blame her. The guy is pretty cute. He’s got a mop of messy brown curls on his head and insanely bright blue eyes that could pierce through your soul if you stared into them long enough.

And before Beth can even blink, they’re both gone-- off the bar to order his drink and god knows what else.

Beth turns to Cisco, an embarrassed smile on her face. “Sorry, she just...swoops in and demands attention. And she usually gets it.”

Cisco shrugs, leaning against their table. “Yeah well, he knows better too.”

Beth clears her throat, fidgeting with her beverage napkin. “Not that we totally couldn’t have handled it ourselves but...thanks for stepping in before. Drunk frat guys and Annie don’t really mix well.”

He laughs at that, glancing in the direction Annie and Eddie had wandered off. “Frat guys don’t mix well with anybody.”

“So, would you like a beer too?” Beth asks, wanting to be polite, but also wanting him to stick around for a bit. Besides Gretchen, she hasn’t really had a chance to get to know anyone from Rio’s inner circle. And she has a feeling Gretchen is vastly different from these guys.

“Nah, I’m good. Don’t really drink.”

Beth laughs at that because-- “Why are you at a bar on a Friday night?”

Cisco studiously avoids her gaze at that and realization slowly dawns on Beth. “Rio sent you over here, didn’t he?”

Cisco’s mouth twitches a little, like he’s holding back a smile. “Woulda been out here himself but he’s a lil caught up right now.”

Beth bites back a snarky remark at that, instead letting out a small annoyed sigh before lifting her glass to her mouth, taking a long drink.

She is beyond embarrassed right now. “I really don’t need a babysitter. I’m sorry he sent you out here to act like one.”

“It aint like that. I saw ‘em harrassin’ you, I decided to put an end to it.” He shrugs a little, his smile finally slipping through and Beth smiles back, relaxing a bit.

Annie and Eddie come back with their drinks then and they fall into an easy conversation, Eddie flirting shamelessly with Annie, who doesn’t discourage him in the slightest. Cisco recounts stories to Beth about growing up with Rio, silly little anecdotes that have her sides hurting from laughing so much.

It’s a little while later that Beth glances over to the bar and notices him.
Rio’s talking with one of the bartenders and Beth’s eyes scan over him. He’s leaning back against the bar, arms crossed and smile on his face as he talks rapidly with the other guy. She thinks it’s the most relaxed she’s seen him since they met.

His eye catches hers and his smile widens, tilting his head a fraction of an inch, and she gives a lop-sided grin in return, the alcohol she’s consumed making everything feel a little fuzzy around the edges. She thinks he can probably tell she’s a little drunk, amusement dancing in his eyes as he looks her over. He turns back to the bartender and Beth looks down at the table, grin still on her face. Just seeing him across the room has caused little butterflies in her stomach, her heart to skip a beat. God, how does he make her feel like this with just a look. Has her acting like some lovesick---.

Beth sits up a little straighter at the 'L' word flashing through her thoughts, her smile fading a little as her eyebrows knit together briefly, before smoothing out again as she quickly shoves that word into the back recesses of her mind. That was...not the right word to use.

She finishes off her drink, shoulders a little tense as her leg bounces anxiously.

“You okay?” Cisco asks, eyeing her cautiously.

Beth forces a smile, putting her hand on her knee to stop her leg and visibly forcing herself to relax.

“Yup, just maybe shouldn’t have had that last drink.”

“You need some water?”

And Beth smiles genuinely at that-- he really is such a sweet guy despite his rough exterior.

“Actually, I think it’s time for us to leave.” Beth raises her voice enough for Annie to hear her, glancing in her direction.

“Really? But I just started having fun!” Annie whines, mouth forming into a little pout.

“I know, I know, I'm a fun ruiner. We should really go, though. I have work tomorrow.” It’s a lame excuse, she knows. She doesn't have to go in until later in the day, but the urge to leave right now is overwhelming.

Annie grumbles for a few more minutes before finally giving in and letting Beth drag her off, carefully avoiding looking anywhere but directly in front of her as she pushes her way through the crowd and out the door.

She takes several deep breathes once they clear the front door and walk a little way down the sidewalk, Annie ordering them an Uber as they go.

Annie bounces a little on her feet, shaking her arms out. “Why are we out here freezing our asses off while we wait for this thing?”

Beth wraps her arms around herself, pacing back and forth. “I needed some air.”

Annie’s face is a mixture of concern and confusion. “You didn’t have that much to drink...did you?”

“No, I just...I don’t know. Just felt weird for a second.”

“Look, only one of us can be a messy bitch tonight, and that privilege goes to me. I'm the one with the hot mess love life. You and bar friend are like, disgustingly perfect.”

“We are not perfect.”

Annie laughs, face scrunching up. “Oh please, you guys are like, totally in love.” She teases, voice singing out the last part and Beth jerks around, glaring at her.

We are not.”

Annie’s eyes widen at Beth seriousness, laughter still bubbling out. “I was joking jeez, chill out.” Annie looks her over, clocking her stiff posture, the expression on her face. The laughter is fading as realization dawns and her mouth forms a cartoonish ‘O’.

Beth steels herself, already knowing where this headed, instantly regretting her overreaction. This is why she doesn’t drink. She’s terrible at hiding her emotions after a few.

“Oh my god, you love him.” Annie shrieks and Beth steps closer, shushing her sister harshly, eyes darting back toward the bar, like Rio can hear them.

“I do not. Be quiet Annie.” Beth grits out, wishing Ruby was here to do what she does best, expertly distract Annie from the topic at hand.

“Oh, you totally do. Oh, you poor thing. Okay, I officially pass the messy bitch title over to you.” Annie is gleeful, practically dancing in her obvious excitement over her own conclusion.

“Gee, thanks.” Beth replies dryly, giving up on arguing. It’s pointless when Annie’s having this much fun with it.

“You know, I don’t blame you. Bar friend is sexy as fuck. Also scary as fuck, but still. I’m sure you’re not the first or the last--” Annie cuts herself off as Beth’s face falters a little at that, sobering a bit as she shoots her an apologetic smile, “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Like I said, I'm—we're not there yet.”

Annie opens her mouth to say something else, but quickly shuts it at Beth’s warning look.

They wait quietly until their Uber arrives. Once they’re settled in the car, Annie leans her head on Beth’s shoulder, looping their arms together, and Beth forgives her all her transgressions for the night.

Beth looks out the window, watching the scenery go by, lost in thought. Why is she freaking out over one little word? One she only had in a passing thought. One she hasn’t even said out loud, to herself, let alone to him.

Maybe because it came to mind so easily, with the way she feels about him. Too easily, for that word to segue itself in. But she doesn’t...love him.

She doesn’t.

She repeats this mantra to herself the rest of the ride home. She repeats it on the walk up to the apartment and as she’s getting ready for bed. She falls asleep with the words running through her mind.

---------

 

Beth’s bed shifting startles her awake and she freezes for a second. Two arms wrap around her from behind and she slowly relaxes as she feels Rio press up against her from behind, every part of his body touching hers.

It’s still dark, still late (or early really) as far as she can tell.

“Hey.” She whispers, turning her head slightly.

He kisses her neck, her ear, her shoulder, his arms squeezing her tight. “Hey.” He greets her, in-between kisses.

“How do you keep sneaking in here?”

“Pretty easy when no one in this apartment knows how to lock a door.”

Beth laughs at that, “Well, that was Annie’s responsibility tonight.”

“Yeah, she’s passed out on the couch. Din’t even move when I came in.”

“She’s had a lot on her mind.” Beth says, feeling the need to defend her sister.

“Yah, you was talking a lot at the bar tonight. Was hopin’ to see you...”

Beth is quiet for a minute, not sure what to say. Was she super obvious in avoiding him tonight?

“You did see me. When you were behind the bar, remember?” She answers lamely.

Rio huffs out a laugh and Beth squirms as it tickles her neck. “Okay. Was hopin’ to touch you then.” He squeezes his arms a little tighter around her and Beth closes her eyes at how good he feels wrapped around her.

“Hm, maybe you should’ve come over earlier in the night instead of sending me my own personal bodyguard.”

She can feel Rio’s body shaking as he tries to (unsuccessfully) hold back his laughter.

“Yeah, he told me you wasn’t too happy about that. Wanted to make sure you was okay.”

“I was fine. I know how to handle myself, Rio.” The words come out sharper than she intended and they’re both quiet for a moment.

Finally, Rio lets out a sigh and shifts behind her, bringing himself up onto an elbow and pulling her down onto her back so he can look down at her. “I know you do.”

She can't fully see him in the dark, but can tell by his voice he’s serious. It’s an apology.

She brings her hand up to stroke the side of his face, accepting his apology and giving one of her own.

Rio leans down, bringing his face close to hers, rubbing his nose against hers and Beth smiles.

She slides her hand around to the back of his neck and pulls him the rest of the way to her lips.

The kiss is soft, slow, gentle. He pulls away and scoots down, resting his head against her chest and she runs her fingers over his soft hair. Her heart aches at how content he seems to be just being with her, how things seem to fall perfectly into place for the both of them in these moments.

(She doesn't, she doesn't, she doesn't, she repeats her mantra from earlier to herself)

They just lay there for a few minutes, slowly tracing their hands and fingers over each other's bodies until Beth pushes at Rio, moving him onto his back as she comes up to straddle him.

His hands slide up under her nightshirt, gripping her hips, his fingers flexing into her soft skin. Beth gently rocks against him, her panties already soaked through as she presses herself against his rough jeans. She’s been wet for him since he wrapped his arms around her, always aches for him when he’s close.

Rio pulls on her hips, grinding her down harder, rougher and Beth gasps at the pressure. Her hands come down to his belt, frantically pulling at it, unbuckling it and his jeans. She lifts up on her knees as Rio pushes his jeans and boxers down just enough to free himself. Beth shimmies down a bit, wrapping her hand around his cock and stroking him a few times before swirling her tongue around the head, then licking down the length of him, before taking as much of him into her mouth as she can. She works her hands and mouth over him and Rio’s hips twitch up, chasing after her mouth every time she pulls up, his breath stuttering out, short and uneven as his hands tangle in her hair. He tugs on it, pulling her off him and hauling her up to straddle him again. He yanks her panties aside and she lifts her hips up as he grabs his cock, lining himself up and she reaches down to spread herself open, to sink down onto him slowly, her hands coming down to brace herself against his chest. His hands settle on her thighs, sliding up and down them and Beth pauses for a minute, adjusting to the fullness of him inside of her.

Then, she starts moving slowly, experimenting with her movements—lifting herself up and dropping back down, rocking back and forth, circling her hips, grinding down onto him in just the right way, putting just the right amount of pressure on her clit. She works herself slowly and purposefully on his cock, building up that delicious tension and heat inside of her, her head falling back, breathy moans and Rio's name falling from her lips, nails digging into his chest.

His hands are sliding all over her body—over her legs, her ass, her stomach, her breasts. Her nightshirt is blocking him from actually being able to see her though, so she’s not surprised when he grabs at it and yanks up, pulling it up and off of her and throwing it on the floor. He groans as his hands immediately find her breasts again and then he’s pulling her down, so he can use his mouth on them too and then his mouth is on hers as he pulls her body tight against his, taking over, thrusting up into her as she grinds down onto him, swallowing her cries as she comes, hard. He rolls them over and Beth shoves at his pants, pushing them even further down so she can grab at his ass. They’re panting against each other's mouths as he continues fucking into her, his fingers finding her clit and Beth whimpers as he coaxes her closer to another orgasm, her whole body shaking with how fast this one’s coming on, so soon after the first one. This time when she comes, he comes with her. His hands grasp at hers, bringing them up over her head, fingers interlocking as he squeezes them tight. He buries his face into the crook of her neck, his mouth latching onto her there. Beth’s legs tighten around him, keeping him pressed tight against and inside of her.

Rio groans into her neck before lifting his head up to capture her mouth in another kiss. Beth pulls her hands free from his, moving them to caress over his shoulders. He keeps kissing her, like he can’t get enough, like he never wants to stop.

Eventually he does pull back, propping himself up on his arms to look down at her. “How you always feel so good, ma? Can never get enough of you.” He’s half hard and inside of her still, and almost to prove his point, his hips grind against her, little thrusting motions that have Beth gasping and clenching around him again.

Fuck, Elizabeth.” He groans, pulling all the way out and then pushing back in slowly and Beth inhales sharply, squirming underneath him.

“Don’t,” She shivers as she clutches at his hips, trying to still his movements, “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

He grins down at her. “Who says I can’t finish.”

Chapter Text

Beth shifts slightly in her seat, letting a small sigh escape as her eyes track the falling snow outside the passenger side car window.

“You okay?”

Beth rolls her head against the head rest, gnawing at her lip a little, trying to figure out how she should respond.

It’s not a complicated question, and really, a simple yes would suffice.

But her mind has admittedly been preoccupied as of late, and she knows it hasn’t slipped Rio’s attention.

He’s always been good at reading her. Even in the beginning, when they were still figuring each other out, it was more her trying to find her footing with him, than the other way around.

Things have settled with them over the last few weeks. They’ve managed to figure out a semi-normal routine. Between work and school, for both of them, they’ve snuck in some quality time with each other. But it never seems like enough.

Rio’s been extra busy with the bar (and whatever behind the scenes stuff that’s been going on there, he hasn’t been too forthcoming with information about that part) and Beth’s been pretty busy with the café. It always picks back up pretty steadily after the holidays and she’s been trying to find extra help to ease the load, but it’s been slow going. They’ve had plenty of applicants, just not many she feels like she can trust to split her duties with. Annie insists she’s being too picky and Beth can begrudgingly agree with that. When it comes to work, she is pretty—precise in her order of things, and she’s just really hoping to find someone that’s on the same wavelength as her.

On top of that, classes had picked back up with a vengeance. They had tried to spend their study time together (two birds with one stone and all that), but they eventually had to cut down on that because—well, they ended up not studying more often than not.

So, her and Rio’s time together has been limited, to say the least.

Which is why she had let him talk her into taking a weekend trip with him. Neither of them really had the time, especially with finals fast approaching, but he’d insisted and who was she to say no-- especially when he stuck that lower lip out in that pout of his?

He’d picked her up not too long ago and now it was snowing and she could just imagine the mess the roads are going to be in no time. They might not even make it out of town, and it just feels like the universe has been working against them lately. They’d even had to leave later than originally planned, outside forces making it impossible to sneak away during the day, so now they'd be on the road late at night.

Beth glances over at Rio. His eyes are focused on the road but she can tell he’s still waiting for her answer.

Before she can give him one, his phone vibrates in his pocket and he lets out an irritated sigh, like he already knows it’s something that’s going to annoy him. He reaches in his pocket, pulling it out, eyes flicking over the screen quickly.

Beth bites her tongue on telling him not to text and drive, to pay attention to the road. She’s been there, done that, and her words clearly just fall on deaf ears.

Rio let’s out a string of curse words on a breath as he tosses his phone into the cup holder and brings his hand up to rub at his eyes.

“Are you okay?” Beth asks, turning his question on him, and she already knows this is going to impact their trip.

He side eyes her a little, jaw clenching and yeah, there's definitely going to be a detour. “I gotta handle—this thing.”

“Okay...” Beth stares at his profile, waiting for details she knows aren’t going to be forthcoming.

Rio glances at her, looking at her for longer than she’s comfortable with, before turning his eyes back to the road. He’s thinking things over, playing different scenarios out in his head, and now she’s really wondering what’s going on.

She opens her mouth to ask him just that, but then he’s nodding to himself, like he’s finally come to a decision.

“I can stop on the way, take care of it before we head out.” He’s really talking more to himself than to her, but Beth just nods her head along like she’s not completely confused on what exactly they’re about to do.

She’s back to looking out her window as he changes direction, driving out to what seems like the middle of nowhere. It’s quite a bit later that they pull up in front of a row of warehouses (and really, does his family own stock in them or what?) and she notes a white unmarked moving truck parked a ways down, a few guys milling around the outside of it.

And she’s perceptive enough to notice that he’s parked further away than is probably necessary, especially considering the bad weather, and he’s angled the car in a way that the guys won’t easily be able to look in and see Beth. Which seems like an unnecessary added precaution with how tinted his windows are anyway. She can’t say these things don’t make her a bit...nervous.

“I’ll be right back. Keep these doors locked, yeah?”

And then he’s gone before she can answer and she reaches over and locks the doors without a second thought. She turns in her seat a little, watches him pull on his beanie then shove his hands in his coat pockets, walking briskly to the truck.

He chats with one of the guys for a minute, before the guy opens up the back of the truck and they both climb in.

Beth’s heart skips a beat as he disappears from view and she thinks of all the gang movies she’s watched where people get murdered and chopped up in the back of those things. She feels like she can’t breathe again until he comes back into view a minute later. They exchange something (money maybe?) and then Rio’s on his way back to the car and Beth settles back in her seat quickly, unsure if she was supposed to be watching that or not.

She unlocks the doors once he gets close and he slides into the driver's seat, pulling his beanie off and tossing it into the back seat. He’s still got snowflakes clinging to his long eyelashes and she reaches over and swipes at them before she can think better of it. He grabs her hand and bites at her knuckles before letting it go with a grin.

Rio puts the car into drive and gets them out of there fairly quickly, without another word.

Beth fidgets a little with her sleeve, wondering if she should say something...

It’s not until they’re back on the main road and headed to their original destination that Beth clears her throat, trying to work up the courage--

“Just ask, Elizabeth.” Rio’s voice is laced with exasperation and amusement and Beth rolls her eyes.

“Okay, fine. What was that back there?”

“Nothin’. Jus’ some bar business.”

'Do all your bar transactions take place at night in some shady ass parking lot with cash?' is what she wants to say.

She doesn’t.

He’d told her to ask and then given her his most basic response. Why had he risked taking her there if he didn’t want to talk about it? He had to know she’d have questions. And he obviously didn’t actually mind her catching a glimpse of his ‘side business’ or he never would've taken her there in the first place. And that’s what that was, right? Something pressing that had to be handled before they went out of town and not during normal business hours.

Is this what he does when he’s not with her? He meets random guys at random warehouses to exchange money for mysterious truck contents?

“Do you have a gun?”

The question is out of her mouth as soon as it forms in her head. She hadn’t meant to ask, but...there it was. Out there, in the air between them, filling the car with a whole new type of tension.

Beth can see his body stiffen, his jaw rock, his hands tighten on the wheel. She turns and looks out her window again, wishing she could turn back time and redo all of this. This was not how they were supposed to start this trip.

“Truth?”

Beth whips her head around, staring at him in silence for a second. Then she shifts her body toward him, taking a few deep calming breaths. “Truth.” She confirms, voice firm.

“Yeah. I got one. Gotta have one to do what I do. I been careful bout—keepin’ it from you.”

Beth’s eyes shift down to the center console at that last part. ‘Keepin’ it from you.’ Cause that’s what he does. He keeps stuff from her.

Except that’s not entirely his fault. She’s still hesitant when it comes to those aspects of his life. Partly because it still scares her and partly because...it doesn't.

The violent aspect of it? Yes, scary. The actual logistics of it? More intriguing than anything.

They’ve been cautiously navigating acclimating her to his world.

She’s been there for parts of it-- at the bar. She’ll be in the office, curled up on the couch reading a book, while Rio works behind the desk, scratching out numbers on a pad, arguing into his phone, sending his boys out to handle this or that.

He seems so much older in those moments, his body rigid, his voice taking on an authoritative tone, his face a careful controlled mask. Like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. And it is. At least, his world is. It gives her chills every time she sees it.

And then there’s the moments she doesn’t see, the parts she isn’t a part of. When she doesn’t see or hear from him all day (or days) and then he drops by late at night. Sometimes she’s awake when he arrives, sometimes not. When she’s awake, he’s immediately on her-- he can’t seem to get inside of her fast enough. There’s this relentless energy about him and she’s usually sore for the next few days after. When she’s sleeping, he seems content to wrap himself around her, letting her wake up on her own before taking his time with her, drawing everything out excruciatingly slowly, until she’s breathless and begging.

He never offers an explanation for his actions, and she never asks.

He keeps as much from her as he lets her see.

“You...you don’t have to keep it from me.” Her voice is a little uncertain, small, when she says it and she can tell he wants to say something, maybe argue, but he looks at her and he must see something in her face, because he just gives one sharp nod before turning his attention back to the road.

Beth shifts back into her seat, getting comfortable again. They’re not heading too far out of town, but the snow will probably significantly slow them down. And now they have this tension still hanging in the air.

Beth focuses on the giant flakes of falling snow outside. She’s always loved snow, loved playing outside in it with Annie, building snowmen and making snow angels. She used to be able to distract Annie for hours in the snow, prolonging the time until they’d have to go home, staying out until their fingers and toes were almost frozen. And when they were forced to head back, she’d make them hot chocolate and they’d build a fort, pretending they were anywhere else.

Beth’s eyes drift closed, the vibrating thrum of the car and the dark night sky lulling her to sleep.

Beth jerks awake some time later, Rio’s hand gently shaking her arm. When she turns to him, he tilts his head toward the windshield and she looks out to see they’ve arrived at their destination.

Rio had told her they would be staying at his family’s lake cottage and for Beth the image that came to mind with that was something quaint, cute, rustic.

The sprawling home (mini-mansion really) in front of her wasn’t any of those things. It was absolutely breathtaking, even more so covered in an unblemished layer of snow.

“C’mon.” Rio opens his door and gets out and Beth follows. They grab their bags and trudge the short distance through the soft wet snow, to the front door.

“Oh my god Rio, this place is gorgeous!” Beth can’t help but exclaim once they step inside. She sets her bag down and pulls off her boots and coat, setting them aside on the entryway bench. “This is not what I pictured when you said family cottage.”

Rio grins, gives a halfhearted shrug. “I got a big family.”

“How many bedrooms does this place have?” Beth asks, wandering further into the house. She shivers a little, wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing them. It’s chilly. She guesses when the house isn’t in use, they keep the temperature down.

Rio’s fiddling with the thermostat though and she can hear it when the heat kicks on. “Five bedrooms, lots o’ beds.”

The inside of the house is all exposed posts and beams, reclaimed hardwood floors, and open space. There’s a gorgeous candle chandelier, massive stone fireplace and high arch windows overlooking the lake in the main living area. The furniture and décor are all warm, welcoming, lived in. It makes her want to curl up on the overstuffed leather couch with a blanket, a cup of hot cocoa, and a good book.

Beth feels like she’s in a dream. “How do you ever leave this place? We just got here and I want to stay forever.”

Rio huffs out a laugh, grabbing both of their bags and walking past her, gesturing for her to follow. She does, taking in everything they pass on the way, to what looks like the master bedroom. He sets both of their bags down and Beth eyes them.

And—okay, so they’re both staying in this one room then? There are plenty of other rooms in the house-- is it weird to think they’d be staying in separate ones? They’ll be here for the whole weekend-- what if they want some private time apart?

No, the whole point of this weekend is to spend time closer together.

It’s kind of a big step though, right? Sure, they’ve stayed overnight at each other’s places occasionally, but nothing like a whole weekend. By themselves. Together. In a massive house. Like a married couple.

Beth tries to get a grip on herself, pushing her anxieties down as she looks around. “This is your room?”

Rio shrugs, kicking at his bag a little. “I stay here more than anyone else. They aint been back much since my pá...” Rio trails off as he stares out the french doors that lead out to a snow covered balcony.

Beth can’t tear her eyes away from him. He looks so...god, he looks so painfully young. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him this way before. Beth swallows around the lump of emotion that’s suddenly in her throat, her chest swelling painfully. She wants to reach out and touch him, to kiss him and hold him and make him feel better—make him feel good, like he’s done so many times with her before.

Rio turns his head back to her, his eyes locking on hers, and Beth’s about to step forward when he reaches down and pulls his bag up onto the bed, opening it and reaching inside to pull something out.

Beth stops breathing for a minute when he gently lays his gun down on the comforter.

She’s frozen, eyes stuck on it, her stomach turning a bit as she takes in its cold hard lines.

“You didn’t have it on you earlier? When you met with those guys?” She hears herself asking, and it’s strange, how far away and faint her voice sounds compared to the solid, logical question she has asked.

“Nah. Some of my guys were already there. ‘Sides, wasn’t that kinda meetin’.”

Beth tears her eyes away from the gun to look up at him and he’s scanning her face, trying to get a read on her.

It’s on the tip of her tongue-- to ask him if he’s ever used it, and she can tell he knows it, had anticipated it, is waiting on her to decide where they go from here.

But she doesn’t...she can't...

He senses the shift in her, the slight panic, and there’s a flash of disappointment in his eyes before he smooths his features over into that carefully neutral mask he tends to adopt in situations that spiral beyond his control.

Rio slowly picks up the gun, carefully returning it to his bag. “C’mon, I’ll show you the rest of the house.”

He turns and leaves the room, not waiting for her to follow and Beth tries to pull herself together, reign her emotions back in before she hurries to catch up.

 

----------------

 

The rest of the house is just as gorgeous as the front room. Beth falls a little more in love with every room they pass through. There’s a library upstairs with a wooden spiral staircase that leads up to a crow’s nest that has a breathtaking view of the lake. Downstairs has another large family room and more bedrooms-- but Beth’s favorite part of the house has to be the kitchen. It literally takes her breath away when she first sees it. There’s a large kitchen island, granite countertops, a farmhouse sink, a dedicated cappuccino bar-- basically the kitchen of Beth’s dreams. But the best part is the kitchen range. It’s stainless and brass, a deep rich burgundy color, and it is by far the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. Beth runs her fingers over it, imagining making breakfast in the morning on it and she can’t help but smile.

“Thought you might like that.”

Beth turns her head, looks back at where Rio’s leaning against the far wall, watching her.

“It’s beautiful. I can’t believe no one actually just lives here full time. This place is a dream.”

“Yeah? We could stay, if you want.” He shrugs his shoulders like its no big deal, the corner of his mouth quirking up.

“Really? Just like that, huh? No more classes, no more jobs? Just me and you, snowed in out here in the middle of nowhere?” Beth pretends to mull it over a bit in her head.

“Sounds good to me. Jus’ me an you. No one around for miles. No neighbors to worry bout. Know how you like to be loud, Mami.”

Beth feels herself flush and her breath hitches as Rio pushes himself off the wall and slowly walks toward her.

She presses herself back into the counter, can feel it digging uncomfortably into her lower back.

He comes to a stop in front of her, barely leaving any space between them. His hand comes up to brush her hair aside and Beth leans into his touch.

“You tired?” He asks, eyes taking in every inch of her face.

And she is, it was a long day and a long car ride, and she knows if she says yes, he’ll take her to bed and let her fall asleep in his arms.

But she doesn’t want that.

There is something that’s been gnawing at the back of her brain since they arrived though.

“Have you...have you brought anyone else here?” Her voice is low when she asks, almost a whisper and she can feel her flush deepen, even as she works to keep her breathing slow and steady.

“No. Just you, ma.”

Beth’s heart skips a beat and the sudden ache in her chest is almost unbearable. She reaches out and slides her hand into his, pulling him back toward the master bedroom.

They undress each other slowly, Rio’s kisses and touches feather soft against her lips and skin. He lays her down on the bed, slipping between her legs. He sits back though, looking down at her and Beth squirms a little under his scrutiny.

“You are so god damn beautiful, Elizabeth.”

Beth’s body feels like it’s on fire, the intensity of his gaze and words branding her skin.

Beth has fought an inner battle her entire life over her body, her looks. People had told her enough times how pretty she was, that she believed it-- and she owned a mirror, she could see how her pale skin, bright blue eyes, and strawberry blonde hair could attract some. She’d never really played to her looks though, mostly because she didn’t have the time to focus on putting herself together when she had to make sure Annie (and eventually Dean) were taken care of.

Her body—well now that was a whole ‘nother story. She’d been trying to downplay that for as long as she can remember. Her breasts especially drew much of her ire, although the rest of her body was just as curvy. Men, and women, constantly stared-- common decency going out the window as soon as her chest caught their attention. Women thinking they were fake, men not caring either way, just hoping they’d get a chance to see them. She’d gotten used to dodging lewd looks and groping hands, gotten accustomed to getting creative in covering herself up, clothing for women her age only serving to accentuate her curves.

The way Rio looked at her though...

It wasn’t about a conquest with him. He looked at her like he needed her. And that look hadn’t changed, hadn’t faded, since the day they met.
He worshipped her body with every touch, every kiss. And he made sure she got there every single time-- because it wasn’t about him in these moments, not really. Not in the traditional sense. Getting her turned on, working her until she was panting and breathless and falling apart-- that was the good part for him, that was the goal. Just watching her come had him rock hard and ready to go.

Beth pulls Rio down into a kiss. She wants to feel his tongue against hers and his weight between her legs. She wants to feel the muscles in his arms and back flex as he moves on top of her, and she desperately wants him inside of her.

She reaches down between them, wrapping her hand around his cock and he inhales sharply as she strokes him a few times before he pulls her hand away.
He starts to move down her body and no, she wants him inside of her right now.
Beth stops him, pulls him closer, rolling her hips up against him and Rio grins down at her, at her impatience, before reaching between them, lining himself up and slowly sinking down into her.

Beth doesn’t even give herself time to adjust, she’s so ready to feel him, she just continues to rock her hips, grinding herself down onto him and Rio groans, his head dropping down onto her shoulder, nuzzling into her neck, kissing and biting and sucking there as he pulls almost all the way out of her and then thrusts back in, burying himself to the hilt.
Beth gasps, her hands clutching at his back, lifting her head up to bite at his shoulder. Rio shifts, brings himself up onto his hands, grinding his hips against her for a minute, before shifting back even more, onto his knees. His hands find her thighs and hold onto them as he fucks into her.
Beth reaches back to the bars of the headboard, grabbing and hanging on, her head tilting back and her eyes drifting closed as he angles himself up into her, hitting that spot along her inner walls that has her mouth falling open and releasing an endless litany of moans and a few curse words. She feels his fingers find her clit and a shiver racks through her whole body at the overwhelming sensations she’s feeling now.
God, she’s so close and all she wants to feel is his mouth on hers and his skin underneath her fingers, so she forces her eyes open, lets go of the bars to reach out to him, pulling him down on top of her again, capturing his lips in a deep kiss, her fingers raking down his back, causing his body to jerk, his hands to grab hers. He brings them up on either side of her head, lacing their fingers together as he continues to move inside of her, pressing his pelvis into hers, sliding against her clit and Beth’s orgasm hits her out of nowhere, coming on hard and fast, her whole body trembling as she clenches around him. She’s still riding it out when he comes inside of her a few thrusts later, both of them left breathless and clinging to each other.

They stay like that, wrapped up in each other, for awhile and Beth feels her eyelids growing heavy, the exhaustion of the whole day creeping into her body. Rio shifts on top of her, coming up on his forearms to look down at her and she’s so close to sleep she has to rapidly blink up at him just to keep her eyes open.

Rio hums a little as he looks her over, a smile playing at his lips at how clearly exhausted she is.

“I like this look on you, darlin’.”

“And what look is that?” She asks sleepily, a tiny yawn escaping.

“Thoroughly fucked. Issa good look.”

Beth giggles a little at that, her hand coming up to halfheartedly slap his shoulder. He rolls off of her, but brings her with him so she’s pulled up close to his side.

“Hope you don’t have too much planned for tomorrow. So tired.” She mumbles, eyes finally drifting closed.

“Only plans I got for this weekend is bein’ inside you.”

Beth huffs out a little laugh at that, can’t quite bring herself to come up with a retort, vaguely thinks about the fact that she is still very much naked and should probably put something on before she passes out, and then she’s out like a light.

 

----------------

 

Beth wakes up before Rio the next morning and she carefully and quietly slides out of bed so as to not disturb him. She knows as much as she’s had a rough couple of weeks, he’s had it worse. She’s not exactly sure what’s going on with the business and his family, but it doesn’t seem good.

Part of the reason she’d agreed to go on this mini vacation, even though finals were right around the corner and she still had a ton of work to do, was because of how stressed he had seemed. It didn’t feel like that long ago that he was the most relaxed she’d ever seen him and now...

Beth grabs her bag and takes it into the bathroom with her, quickly taking a shower and getting dressed. She slips out of the bathroom and peeks over at the bed, where Rio has moved but is still asleep.

Good, she thinks, it’ll give her time to make breakfast and maybe explore the house a little bit more.

Beth shuffles around the kitchen, opening up cabinets and drawers, sifting through their contents and pulling things out. It’s pretty well stocked for a home that isn’t occupied full time. She’d noticed it in the bedrooms too last night, all stocked with various clothing and toiletries.

She hums a random melody as she dances around the kitchen a little bit, feeling completely in her element. She loves early morning time on the weekends. She gets why most people hate it, most people like sleeping in. Beth adores waking up early, her inner alarm clock usually never letting her sleep past 7 a.m. She loves the stillness, the quietness, of the early morning. She loves being able to get into her own headspace, cooking or baking or reading, while the rest of the world rests.

Beth makes quick work of whipping up some waffles, thanks to the very fancy waffle maker she found in one of the cabinets, and moves on to chopping up some fruit next.

She’s popping a few slices of strawberry in her mouth as she turns around and startles, coughing a little, as she notices Rio leaning up against the far wall, watching her. It looks like he’s freshly showered, but hasn’t bothered to get dressed, only in a pair of sweats and nothing else.

“Good morning.” She says softly, leaning her hip against the kitchen island. Rio pushes off the wall and strides toward her, and she shifts back a little at the determined look on his face. She’s caught off guard when he immediately embraces her, pulling her into a deep kiss. It takes her a moment, before she’s responding in kind, her hands coming up to grasp at his shoulders.

“Mornin’.” He murmurs after he pulls away, placing a soft kiss on her cheek. “Love seein’ you in this kitchen, sweetheart.”

“That’s a very misogynistic thing to say.” She can’t help but tease, pinching at his arm.

Rio hums in agreement. “Be even better if you was in a apron and nothin’ else.”

“That’s even worse.” Beth laughs, shoving at him and he grins, moving away easily to swipe at some of the fruit.

He pops some blueberries in his mouth as he wanders over to the cappuccino bar, sifting through the containers on the counter. She watches as he pulls a glass coffee mug down and sets about making her a cup of coffee. She can’t help but think on the fact that this might be what it would look like, this little picture perfect domestic snapshot, if they ever got serious and settled down. And, god, why is she letting her mind go there? First the ‘L’ word and now this? She’s getting way ahead of herself here. She doesn’t even know if things can ever get to that point between them. There’s so much, too much, emotional baggage between the two of them to sort through.

Beth finishes cutting up the strawberries, trying to push any and all thoughts of their future together away. She needs to just focus on getting through this weekend.

Beth moves the platter of fruit over to the dining room table and sets it down next to the stack of waffles and the syrup that she’d set out. She grabs two plates and sets them out too and then grabs two water bottles from the fridge. Rio joins her on her final trip back to the table, setting her coffee down in front of her before settling in across from her with his tea.

“So, were you serious about--” Beth pauses, blushing a little as she remembers Rio’s words from last night, “--Uh, keeping me in bed all day, or did you have something else planned?” She watches as he forks some waffles and fruit onto his plate, doesn’t miss his little grin at her rephrasing his actual words.

“I mean, I can fuck you anywhere in the house darlin’, we don’t have to stick to the bed.” His voice is teasing, but his eyes are hot as he looks her over and she already knows, he definitely has other plans for her.

Beth clears her throat and shifts a little in her seat, pressing her thighs together. He clocks the movement, smirking a little and she glares at him. “Rio, I’m serious.”

“Oh, me too!”

Beth can’t help but laugh, kicking him under the table as she finally moves to put food on her own plate. She’s not particularly hungry, this was mostly just for Rio, but she figures she probably needs to eat something to keep her energy up. For him.

“We can go into town if you want, but snow’s still melting so might wanna wait a bit.”

Beth nods at that. She had fallen asleep in the car, so didn’t get to see the town before they arrived here. The house is off by itself, not much around for a bit. She guesses that’s a huge plus for his family. They seem to be the type to value privacy.

Beth glances at Rio before quickly looking back down at her plate, pushing a blueberry around with her fork. “How long has it been since your family’s been out here?”

She doesn’t want to outright ask about his dad, but this might give her a better timeline at least, to what happened.

She doesn’t look back up at him, stays focused on her plate and the blueberry rolling around on it. It’s quiet for a minute and she thinks about apologizing, changing the subject...

“Goin’ on two years now, I think. Tios come up here for business sometimes, tho.”

“And you just...come up here by yourself?” She forces herself to look at him now.

“Sometimes the guys come with, but yeh, when I needa get away from all the bullshit, I come here.”

Beth smiles a little at the image of Rio and his boys up here. During the summer, running down to the lake and taking the boat out or gathered around this table, eating dinner together and telling stupid jokes. Then her smile falters a bit as she remembers...

Two years. Since whatever happened with his dad. Not that long ago. At all. She’d started at the college two years ago. Had he been there then? Or had he started after his dad...

Beth looks at him, and she can see it in his eyes. Every other time she’s looked to him since their beginning, he’s been there, patiently waiting for her decide her next move, for her to take control, for her to ask.

Not this time. This time he’s getting up, he’s turning away from her, taking his plate and mug over to the sink and Beth feels tears prick her eyes and she rapidly blinks them back. God, she wishes she could—she doesn’t even know. Something. Anything.

But she knows how he’s feeling. There are things about her and her past that she still doesn’t want to talk to him about. And nothing but time would help with that.

Beth gathers up her own dishes, nudging him with her hip as she reaches the sink and sets them inside. His hands are gripping the sink and she wraps her arms around him, pressing up against his back, her hands smoothing over his stomach. She lifts up on her tiptoes and kisses his neck. He lets out a shaky breath and she smiles as she kisses along his shoulder blades and back, one hand sliding down further, fingers teasing at the waistband of his sweatpants. She slides them in and discovers he’s not wearing any underwear. Of course. She smiles against his skin, resuming placing soft kisses against it as she uses her other hand to push his sweatpants down just enough to free his cock.

Beth takes him in hand, stroking up and down his whole length. She can’t see his face, but she can hear his breathing become labored, feel his whole body reacting to her. She bites her lip against a moan, feeling him becoming hard in her hand, and becoming wet in response. But she doesn’t want this to be about her.

Suddenly, Rio grabs her hand, turning around and pulling her into a rough kiss. She can tell he’s going to try to take control, but she doesn’t want that. She wraps her hand around him again, stroking over him as he kisses her and he moans into her mouth. He moves his hands to her pants, but she pushes them away, pulling away from his kiss to sink to her knees in front of him.

She continues stroking him with her hands, leaning forward to place a gentle kiss along the head of his cock before licking it, swirling her tongue around it, and Rio’s hips jerk a little, a hand coming down to card through her hair, and Beth looks up at him through her lashes as she takes him into her mouth. Rio’s eyes are fixed on her, his lips parted as he watches her and a quiet “fuck” comes out as she starts working him with her mouth and hands, licking and stroking and sucking until his breath is stuttering out and he’s practically fucking her mouth. “Elizabeth--” He groans, hands tugging at her hair and Beth can tell he’s close. She doubles down on her efforts, watching him as he falls apart above her, loving the powerful feeling it gives her when she feels his cock twitch and his cum fills her mouth. She swallows around him, sucking lightly as she pulls off, tongue darting out to lick up any leftover cum still on his cock.

Rio hauls her up unceremoniously and Beth giggles as he deposits her onto the kitchen island. Her legs automatically wrap around his waist as he pulls at her shirt, his mouth working its way down her neck.

“No, I can't. I’m still sore from yesterday.” Beth protests. It’s only half true. She is sore, but she also knows if they fall back into bed (or the kitchen counter, whatever) they’ll never leave this house and Beth really wants to check out the little town Rio had been talking about. Really, it’s her fault for starting it, but she just felt so...needy to have him in her mouth, to taste him, to make him feel better after the heavy topic of his father.

“I can kiss it all better.” He murmurs in her ear, nibbling at her earlobe and Beth shivers, her hands gripping his forearms.

Okay, so maybe getting a little sidetracked wouldn’t hurt...

 

An hour later, she’s trying to disentangle herself from Rio, who is very reluctant to let her go. They’d started in the kitchen and somehow ended up back in his bedroom, and Beth is kicking herself for not having better self control when it comes to him.

“Rio,” She whines, pushing at his arm and trying to wiggle out of bed, “If we keep doing this, we’ll never make it into town.”

“And?” He’s seemingly unperturbed by this bit of information and Beth laughs a little as she turns to mock glare at him.

“I’d like to see more than just this bedroom while we are here.”

“There are four otha bedrooms--.”

Beth laughs again and shoves at him, harder this time and he actually moves, flopping onto his back beside her. “That’s not what I meant.” She scrambles up off the bed, looking around for her clothes. She knows half of them are out in the kitchen. She finds her underwear and slips them on, ignoring the noise of irritation Rio makes at that. She moves around the bed, finding her bra hanging from the doorknob, and she rolls her eyes at the image of Rio hooking it on there. She quickly puts it on and steps out of the bedroom and into the hall, the rest of her clothing like a trail of breadcrumbs leading into the kitchen.

She leans against the countertop as she pulls on her jeans and then her socks. She really can’t believe this kitchen. This whole house really. It’s almost too easy picturing younger Rio here, surrounded by parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Staying over the summer or for spring break. Celebrating weddings or babies or graduations. She feels a slight pang in her chest to think of it compared to her own upbringing. Even when their dad was still around, when their mom was still...their mom, it had just been the four of them. No big family gatherings. No weddings or babies to celebrate. Certainly no celebrations for her or Annie’s graduation. Ruby had taken them out to dinner both times instead.

Beth is absentmindedly pulling on her shirt when Rio comes wandering in, dressed (finally) in a black t-shirt, his black hoodie, and jeans. He eyes her breasts as they disappear from view when she pulls her shirt down, smoothing it out.

“Sure you don’t wanna stay here?” He asks, taking a step toward her and Beth just knows if he gets his hands on her again, she’s a goner.

So, she walks all the way around the other side of the kitchen, as far away from him as possible, as she shakes her head. “We are leaving. Right now.” She tries to make her voice as firm and serious as possible.

Rio huffs out a laugh, trailing behind her as she leaves the kitchen and heads straight for the door. If she can just get them both outside...

Beth hurriedly grabs her boots, slipping them on and grabbing her coat, glancing back at Rio, who is very much aware of what she is doing and clearly amused by it.

She breathes a sigh of relief as he pulls his boots on and grabs his coat too.

They head out outside, Beth breathing in the cold fresh air. It’s bright and sunny outside. Most of the snow has melted, leaving behind a wet slushy mess. It feels nice though, not too cold at all. Perfect for walking around the shops they’re headed to.

Beth smiles and glances over at Rio, who grins back, seemingly pleased with how happy and excited she is.

They climb into the car and his hand comes to rest on her leg as he drives into town. She tries not to focus too much on it as she looks out at the passing scenery. It really is beautiful out here, quiet and serene.

Once they’re parked and out of the car, Rio throws his arm around her shoulder and acts as her own private tour guide. He shows her around, taking her into his family’s favorite shops, stopping to get some ice cream, and then a quick bite to eat. She marvels at how easy it is to be with him out here, how the tension slowly leaves his body the more time they spend out, how he seems to fit in so easily with the locals. He’s so much less intense out here than he is back at home.

She wonders if its just the reprieve from work and school or if it’s this quiet little town and all the comfortable history that comes with it, that is having this calming effect on him.

It’s late when they finally leave, and it’s not until they’re driving back and his phone goes off that the tension returns.

“What’s wrong?” Beth asks as a few colorful choice phrases leave his lips.

“My tÍo’s at the house.” He answers in a clipped tone and Beth feels like the air has left her lungs.

“At the house we’re on our way to?” Her voice is a little high, even to her own ears and Rio glances at her from the corner of his eye before giving a sharp nod.

Beth wills herself not to panic. This is fine. This okay. She can handle this.

She cannot handle this.

“It’s aight, Elizabeth. He jus’ needs to talk business for a minute and then he’s gone.”

Beth nods her head vigorously, her hands smoothing nervously over her clothing and hair. So, this is really going to happen.
She’s going to meet a member of Rio’s family. His uncle at that. Someone he’s close to, one of the father figures in his life.
She glances over at Rio, whose focus is completely on the road, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly.

And of course he’s upset, he obviously isn’t ready for her to meet his family yet and now here they are.

At least it’s not his mom.

They ride the rest of the way in tense silence, pulling up in front of the detached garage next to a car similar to Rio’s.

“Should I wait here?” She asks quietly, shifting in her seat and twisting her fingers anxiously.

Rio stares straight ahead for a minute, before turning to her. His eyes immediately drop to her hands, and his hand comes out to cover hers, stopping her movements.

“Relax.” His voice is quiet, soothing and Beth immediately does so without thinking.

“C’mon.” He tilts his head, giving her hands a squeeze before letting go.

Beth takes several deep breaths before getting out of the car and following Rio inside.

 

-------------

 

Beth watches Rio and his uncle out on the deck as she sips hot cocoa from her mug.

Rio had made short introductions once they had gotten inside--

(“Tío Marc, this is Elizabeth.”

“Just Beth, please.” she’d smiled, so wide her cheeks hurt and his uncle had taken her hand in his and shook it gently, his smile warm and open and Beth had felt some of the tension leave her shoulders with that.

“Christopher speaks of you often; you are even lovelier than I imagined.” His uncles voice was silky soft, the kind of voice that could lull you to sleep with a good bedtime story.

Beth had been confused by the name and completely thrown through a loop at the fact that Rio talked about her to his family. Her eyes had slid over to Rio, who had just quirked an eyebrow at her. She’d quickly smoothed her features out as she focused back on his uncle, thanking him for the comment.)

--And then he’d quickly pulled his uncle aside. They’ve been outside for awhile, long enough for her to offer to make them a drink (tea for both of them) and bring it out to them and then collect them when they were done.

Beth wonders what they are talking about. Business, Rio had said. Did he ever get a break from it? He’d just taken care of business before they left and they’d barely been here a day now and here was some more. Or is this talk and the warehouse thing related?

Beth is so lost in thought, so focused on the two men outside, that she barely registers the front door opening and then closing, her mind and body reacting too slowly as she hears a throat clearing behind her.

Beth’s whole body tenses up all over again as she slowly turns around. A girl, maybe only a few years younger than Beth, stood by the door. She’s wearing a gorgeous lacy cocktail dress and ridiculously high heels, which she promptly kicks off. Without the heels she is almost as short as Annie. And she was without a doubt Rio’s sister, their features eerily similar. Same dark hair and eyes, same sharp cheekbones, same pouty mouth.

She practically skips over to Beth, closing the distance quickly as her eyes scan the surrounding rooms, no doubt looking for her brother and uncle. “You must be Elizabeth.”

Her eyes lock on to Beth’s as she practically bounces in place and she reminds Beth so much of Annie in that moment that Beth can’t help but smile, relaxing a bit as she nods her head, “Yes, I’m Beth.” She wonders how many more times she’ll have to make that correction.

“Oh, Beth. I’m Olivia! I’m Chris’s baby sister.” She trills, like this particular title is an honor, and Beth can already tell this girl absolutely adores her brother.

So, two sisters then. And apparently he has a whole other name she never knew about. That just his family seems to use? She’s barely able to process this information before the sliding door opens and Rio and his uncle step back in, Rio’s eyes fixed on his sister, and Beth guesses he must’ve spotted her while he was out on the deck.

Rio regards his sister with equal parts exasperation and suspicion. “O, what’re you doin’ here?”

“Are you kidding? Uncle Marc told me he was coming out here to see you and the famous Beth. I left Kaylen's birthday party so fast, she’s probably not going to talk to me for a week. I had Mila drop me off.”

Rio rolls his eyes at his sister but quickly strides across the room to gather her up into a bear hug, lifting her off the ground as she squeals and kicks her legs. He sets her back down and his uncle approaches, giving her a hug and kissing her cheek. Beth can see the adoration in both men's eyes as they listen to Olivia fill them in on said birthday party. She feels like she’s intruding on a private family moment, almost walks away to busy herself with putting her now empty mug into the kitchen sink, but then Olivia’s turning back to her, huge smile on her face.

“So, Chris never shuts up about you, but he’s been hiding you from us. Or hiding us from you more likely. We can be pretty embarrassing.” Olivia turns to her brother, nudging him with her elbow and Rio winces exaggeratedly like she’s really hurt him.

“I aint’ hidin’ nobody. You right about bout bein’ pretty embarrassin’ tho.” Rio teases, and Olivia reaches out and smacks his arm.

They tease each other mercilessly for the next few minutes, until Marc announces he has to leave. Rio begs him to take Olivia with him and Olivia pouts, blinking her wide eyes up at Rio, who finally concedes in letting her stay. Beth unsuccessfully hides her laughter at that and Rio shoots her a look that says she’ll pay for that later.

Rio seems to be taking her meeting not just one, but two, of his family members in stride and she wonders if maybe he’s just better at hiding his distress than she is. Because she is a nervous wreck.

She’s much calmer than she originally was in the car, but it’s still a lot-- first his uncle and now his sister, who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Olivia is wonderful though, super sweet and with what seems like endless energy at her disposal. Her phone is constantly going off, and Beth notices Rio’s jaw clench whenever it does, and she recognizes that body language, because she’s had similar when it comes to Annie. Protective and worried. She suspects Olivia is a very popular girl and probably has all the social media accounts, unlike big brother. He must hate that, Beth thinks with amusement.

Olivia wanders off on a phone call and Beth leans in to Rio. They’d settled in to the living room once Rio’s uncle had left, and Rio and Beth are next to each other on the couch.

“She’s really sweet.” Beth says softly and Rio’s mouth quirks up as he leans in to her too.

“She’s a good kid,” He agrees, tilting his head to look over at Olivia, who is now furiously typing away on her phone, “I’m bout two seconds away from kickin’ ‘er out.”

Beth laughs and pushes at Rio’s shoulder, his attention turning back to her, amusement dancing in his eyes. “You can’t kick her out. You are so rude.”

Rio leans in close, his face inches from hers. “Nah, what’s rude is not bein’ inside you right now, mami.”

Beth flushes, eyes darting to Olivia. She knows she can’t possibly have heard him, but still.

Stop. You can’t kick your sister out just so you can have sex.”

“Yeh, I can. Watch me.” Rio takes a deep breath in and turns his head toward his sister and Beth elbows him hard in the side. All the air leaves Rio’s lungs as he flinches and Beth feels bad for two seconds, before Olivia is bouncing back over to them, phone still in hand.

“So, don’t be mad...” She starts, batting her eyelashes again and Beth has to hand it to her, she really knows how to work that angle.

“O...” Rio’s eyes narrow at his sister as he rubs at his side.

“I invited some people over. It’s been so long since anyone has been out here, we should have like, a house warming party, right?”

Rio groans, his hand coming out to cover his eyes and Olivia shoots Beth a pleading look.

“Olivia, you aint been out here. I'm always out here.”

“That’s only ‘cause mom refuses to bring me out here. Please, Chris? I only invited some of the cousins and a few friends. And you don’t mind, do you, Beth?”

Beth shifts a little in her seat, not sure what to say.

On one hand, more of Rio’s family sounds both nerve wracking and exciting. On the other hand, she knows Rio had wanted to spend this weekend alone.

But it had been two years since any of Rio’s family had been out to this place, and now his sister was here, all because she had wanted to meet Beth. That felt like something significant. How could she deny this girl anything after that? Besides, she’s pretty sure Rio’s not about to deny her either, no matter how much he acts mad about it.

“I mean, I don’t mind, but it’s really up to your brother...” Beth settles on, as they both look at Rio.

He does not look pleased with her or her answer. But she knows that look of resignation, and apparently his sister does too, because she’s jumping up and down, clapping her hands together before he even says anything, as she grins down at Rio and Beth.

 

-----------

 

And Beth should have remembered when Rio said he had a big family, because “some of the cousins and a few friends” turned out to be a much, much larger gathering than Beth anticipated.

This didn’t seem to surprise Rio however, whose own friends had shown up at some point as well.

There were maybe thirty to forty people so far, and Beth was having trouble keeping track of them all.

There seem to be more friends than actual family, but Beth has a feeling everyone here is considered a part of the family, blood or not.

It seems everyone decided to bring alcohol and many people were drinking. Beth notes the difference between this party and a college party. No one is rowdy or obnoxious. Everyone is mellow, no one is out to get trashed, they are all just conversing with each other, catching up on old times.

Everyone has been exceptionally warm and welcoming to Beth, and it seems Rio was telling her the truth when he said she was the only person he’s ever brought here, because everyone seems genuinely excited to meet her, making sure to note that they’ve never met any of his “girlfriends” before. Beth had stopped correcting them on that term after awhile, since Rio hadn’t bothered stopping it at all from the start. Beth also notices more people calling him Rio than Christopher. He answers easily to both either way, and as the night wears on she finds herself growing accustomed to hearing him called both.

Beth has somehow gotten separated from Rio and is now in the lower level of the house, playing a game of ‘never have I ever’. Olivia is down here too, sitting on a couch with a guy and a girl and Beth is keeping an eye on her.

“Never have I ever...gotten arrested.” Someone says and Beth refocuses on the table in front of her. Well, she’s never been arrested, but it seems a few other people at the table have as they lift their cups to drink.

“Never have I ever stolen a car.”

Again, not something Beth has done, but something one of Rio’s friends has. It’s Eddie, the blue eyed guy who’d been flirting with Annie at the bar. She noticed both him and Cisco when they arrived earlier, along with a handful of other guys she’s seen Rio with.

Beth excuses herself to use the bathroom as the crime related scenarios continue. She won’t be drinking to any of them anyway, but she has a feeling a few of the others will.

She’s barely stepped through the bathroom door when she feels two arms wrap around her from behind.

“What are you doing?” Beth giggles and squirms a little bit, looking at Rio through the bathroom mirror.

He kicks the door shut and meets her gaze in the mirror. “Been lookin’ for you.”

“Well, here I am.”

Rio hums, giving her a light squeeze. “Guess bathrooms are our thing, huh?” Beth laughs at that-- it’s so ridiculous because it’s so true.

“Been needin’ to get my hands on you all night, mami.” Rio’s hands press into her and her breath hitches. She knows exactly where this is headed, knows she should put a stop to it before it starts.

But then Rio buries his face in her neck and breathes in deep. “Love the way you smell, baby,” He whispers, breath hot against her neck, making Beth shiver, “Love the way you taste,” He bites at her neck before sucking at the skin there, “Love the way you feel.” He moves one hand from her waist, sliding it down over her stomach and then down even further, over her jeans, in between her legs, cupping her there, “Love that this is mine.”

Beth’s lips part slightly as Rio’s fingers gently rub against her, barely applying any pressure or friction and she finds her hips rutting against his hand, seeking out more. Her head feels foggy, she knows she should stop him, his family and friends are all right outside, but all she can focus on is Rio’s hand between her legs, and his mouth on her neck, and his words replaying in her head (love...love...love...this is mine).

Beth gasps as Rio slips his hand into her jeans and past the waistband of her underwear, his fingers sliding over her and then pushing into her and Beth grabs at his wrist, her head lolling back against his shoulder.

“Love how you always so wet for me.” He pumps his fingers in and out of her, his thumb pressing against her clit and Beth’s hand tightens around his wrist. She really wishes he’d quit using the word love, it’s doing all sorts of things to her mind, her body-- making her heart clench, her breath hitch, her head spin--that word leaving his lips so easily as he talks about her.

She squirms against his hand and Rio’s arm tightens around her waist, trying to hold her still.

“Look at you, ‘lizbeth, look at how fuckin beautiful you are.” Rio whispers against her ear, his voice strained, slurred, like he’s intoxicated by her and Beth does look at herself in the mirror then. Her cheeks flushed, her eyes glossed over, her lips red from biting on them to keep from moaning too loudly.

“Rio...” She pants out his name and he groans into her neck, hips rolling against her, fingers moving faster and a moan slips out before she can stop it as she feels his hard cock through his jeans, as his magic fucking fingers hit her in just the right place and all that tension he’s been building up with them snaps, and she pulsates around them, biting down on her bottom lip so hard she thinks she might actually break the skin there.

Beth slumps against him, the only thing really holding her up is his arm around her waist and he places soft little kisses along her neck as he pulls his hand out of her pants, sucking his fingers into his mouth and licking them clean as she watches him through the mirror. And god, she’s ready for more just from watching him do that. But everyone is outside, she’s in the middle of a game, people will notice if she’s gone for too long, they can’t do this right now.

He seems to get it, realizes the same thing she does. Beth turns, eyes lowering to his crotch, and the obvious strain there and she feels bad, almost offers to take care of it for him, but he shakes his head, looking her in the eye as he says, “Later”, his voice full of promise.

She gives him a minute, returning to the table and picking up her drink, trying hard not to smile.

Eventually it’s Beth’s turn and there are a million and one things Beth has never done, so it’s hard to pick one. She’s squinting a little bit off into the distance, trying to think of something, when she spots Rio finally walking over to their table. She smiles as her eyes fall on his bird tattoo. “Never have I ever gotten a tattoo.”

Everyone at the table groans and Beth laughs as they all take a drink.

Rio pulls up a chair next to hers and leans in close. “You behavin’, sweetheart?”

She turns her head to him, lips grazing slightly against his. “Not even a little.”

“Yo, you finally gonna play this game?” Eddie asks him and Rio pulls away from her to lean back in his chair.

“Nope.” He says, bringing his cup up to his lips and taking a drink.

“You don’t play this game?” Beth asks curiously.

“Nah, he never plays, probably because he’d get too fucked up if he did.” Eddie snorts.

Beth’s eyes widen as she looks back at Rio and he shakes his head, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“You have to play.” Beth pleads, reaching over and placing a hand on his thigh, giving it a quick squeeze. Rio’s eyes darken at her touch and Beth’s breathing quickens as he leans forward, instantly ready to barter.

“I play, what do I get?” He asks, voice low as he leans in closer.

“Me.” She answers instantly.

Rio huffs out a laugh at that. “Oh mami, I always had you. What do I get?”

Beth rolls her eyes before wetting her lips and looking up at him through her lashes. “Anything you want.”

Rio grins, a dangerous glint in his eyes, and Beth almost regrets offering herself up like that. She’s sure there’s a whole catalog of deprived things Rio can think up, but she shivers a little as she thinks about how he makes everything they do together for her pleasure, even more so than his.

“Aight, I’m playin’.” Rio announces, and the table erupts in cheers.

And for the next half an hour, Beth is amazed by all the things he has done. He’s only taking small sips from his drink each time, because Eddie was right-- if he played normally, he’d be passed out drunk by now.

Eventually, as all games do after a few drinks, the game turns to sexual situations.

“Never have I ever had a threesome.” (Beth doesn’t drink, but Rio does)

“Never have I ever had sex in public.” (Rio drinks, and makes Beth too, happily reminding her of their first time in the café, the bar bathroom, counting their time in the stairwell and what they just did in this bathroom, and god, how is he always convincing her to have sex everywhere but in an actual bed?)

“Never have I ever been paid for sex.” (Rio drinks for this one too, only offering, “It was a misunderstandin’” with a shrug as an explanation)

“Never have I ever had anal sex.” (Beth doesn’t drink, but of course, Rio does. She looks him over, can’t help wondering what that would be like-- what it would feel like with him, and he quirks an eyebrow at her, mischievous glint in his eye as he leans forward to whisper in her ear, “Anytime, sweetheart, you jus’ say when.” and Beth flushes as she looks away.)

And so the game goes, everyone thinking up a more outrageous sexual act than the previous one until it eventually dies down and they move on to a card game instead.

Beth thinks about pulling Rio aside, playing their own game of ‘never have I ever’ because it seems like a good way to find out a few things about him, and he joined in late, after all the crime scenarios had already been played. She thinks back to his gun, to the business he had to handle before they left, to his uncle earlier, talking with him outside. She thinks about all she knows already, and how much more she doesn’t. “I wanna play our own game.” Beth whispers to him.
And maybe that wasn’t the right wording, because Rio’s grabbing her hand, his eyes dark as he licks his lips, sucking his bottom one in before leaning into her. “Me too. It’s time to pay up, sweetheart.” He purrs in her ear, before pulling her up and away from the table while everyone else is still distracted.

Beth’s stomach clenches as he leads her up the stairs and straight to his room. And okay, so maybe she can convince him to play a few rounds of her game before they get started with his. She steps in, hearing the door close behind her, and she quickly turns, backing up when he steps closer. She has to keep some distance between them, has to keep his hands and mouth off her, because she’s just drunk enough and he’s just drunk enough for her to play this game how she wants to. Rio tilts his head, confused, taking another step closer and Beth lets him. She lets him get close enough to pull her into a kiss, lets him get close enough to cop a feel, before pulling away again.

They both still have their drinks, so Beth raises hers up a little. “My game first.” She declares and Rio grins, conceding.

She’ll start it off simple enough...

“Never have I ever...stolen anything.”

Rio drinks easily, like she knew he would, and then he opens his mouth to take his turn but she stops him.

“Never have I ever been in a fight.” She continues, a little breathlessly, and Rio’s expression shifts as he realizes how this is going to be played. He pauses for a split second, then seems to decide to play along. He drinks. This time he doesn’t try to take a turn, he just waits for her.

“Never have I ever...done drugs.” He drinks.

“Never have I ever gotten arrested.” He brings his cup up slowly this time, eyes on her as he drinks and Beth swallows hard, the next question on the tip of her tongue before he even finishes.

“Never have I ever...held a gun before.”

“Elizabeth.” His tone is dark, warning.

She fires off the next set, one right after the other, eyes still locked on his, “Never have I ever pointed a gun at someone. Never have I ever...” She pauses, takes a deep breath, and Rio just stares back at her like--like he knows exactly what she’s thinking, “--shot someone.” She whispers, holding his gaze even though she desperately wants to look away. Rio’s whole body tenses, his jaw rocking a bit before he lifts his drink to his lips, finishing it off and then dropping it on the bed side table. His hands are fisted at his sides as he continues to stare her down. His gaze is powerful, unwavering, unapologetic and Beth feels like she can’t breathe for a second. The next question is there, hanging in the air between them, waiting to be spoken-- the next logical step in this violent little game.

Never have I ever killed someone.’

She can’t force the words out, can’t bear to feel the bitter taste of them on her tongue, doesn’t want to hear the ugly answer leave his beautiful lips. They’re standing there in silence for what feels like an agonizing amount of time—and then she’s dropping her cup onto the side table next to his, before wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down into a kiss. He responds immediately, hands hard and bruising on her hips, before he moves them to the front of her pants, undoing them and yanking them down, before moving on to her shirt, pulling that off with equal force. He pushes her back onto the bed and she scoots up it, reaching behind her to undo her bra and toss it aside, eyes fixed on him as he quickly undresses before climbing on top of her, mouth rough against hers and Beth can tell he’s angry. Angry with her for the things she’d asked (and the one thing she hadn’t), angry with himself for letting her, for answering. But he’s also insanely turned on by it and her response.

She gasps against his mouth as he literally tears her underwear off and her nails dig into his back when he pushes into her, burying himself to the hilt in one long thrust. He bites her shoulder, hard, before returning to her mouth. Beth moans into his mouth as he starts moving, setting a punishing pace that has her breathless, overwhelmed as that tension builds up again, so fast-- too fast...

Rio leans up, shifting back on his knees, pulling at her hips, spreading her legs wider, stretching her out, before pushing into her again, and god, she feels like her whole body is one exposed live wire. Her skin feels prickly-- hot, her mind is a foggy mess again, she can’t focus on anything outside of the feel of him inside of her, of his fingers finding her clit. She closes her eyes, her mouth falling open as he pushes her closer and closer...

Beth’s hands fist into the sheets, her body moving restlessly as she chases after her orgasm, desperate for a release.

“Elizabeth, look at me.” Rio’s raspy voice sends a shiver throughout her entire body and she immediately obeys, slowly blinking her eyes open, locking them on his.

He watches her closely as he continues working her with his cock and his fingers, his gaze so intense it takes everything in her not to look away.

“Come for me, baby.” His demand is breathless, and she feels his hips stutter in their movements, knows he’s close, but he wants to watch her fall apart first.

Beth fights against closing her eyes as she feels herself falling over the edge, yanking at the sheets twisted in her hands as she pulsates around him and she hears Rio let out a string of curse words as he pulls out of her. She moans at the loss of him, her body still riding out the tail end of her orgasm as she watches him finish on her stomach. His brow is furrowed, his lips parted, a look of utter possessiveness in his eyes as he stares down at his cum on her belly. His fingers come up to spread it around before gathering some onto two fingers, pushing them into her cunt and Beth’s hips jerk as she clenches around them, a small gasp leaving her lips.

He watches her intently again, as he pushes her toward her third orgasm of the night. Beth whimpers as she pushes at his hand afterward and Rio leans over her, bringing his fingers up to her mouth, his cum and hers now mixed together there, and she opens her mouth, closing her lips around them and sucking, her tongue licking them clean.

“Jesus--fuck, Elizabeth.” Rio can’t tear his eyes away from her. He pulls his hand away from her mouth and leans down to kiss her, his tongue immediately swiping into her mouth to taste the mix of them on her tongue.

He pulls away, rocking back on his knees again to take one last look at where his cum paints her belly, before going into the bathroom and wetting a washcloth, gently wiping her down with it before placing a soft kiss against her quivering belly.

Beth feels like she legitimately can’t move. Her whole body feels like jelly, just wobbly and useless.

Rio lays down on the bed, pulling her to him and the sheets over them both. She can still hear the party going on outside their door, but it sounds like it’s dying down, can hear people slowly leaving as the house quiets down.

It’s quiet in the room too, and Beth tenses a little as she thinks about their game.

So, he’s broken the law. He’s been to jail. He’s...shot (and very possibly killed) someone.

She can’t equate these things with the Rio she knows, with the Rio she’s been intimate with.

Except...except maybe she can.

Maybe she can see it, maybe it does make sense. Maybe it’s exactly why she keeps getting intimate with him. Every time they open up that much more with each other, it makes it that much harder to pull away. She’s sinking deeper down into this thing with him, falling for him in a way she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to recover from.

God, why are they always playing such stupid games?

“’Ey.” Rio nudges at her chin, tilting it up so she is forced to look at him. “You still trust me?”

Beth bites at her bottom lip as she thinks back to the first time he asked her that. Before she knew anything about his family, about his life of crime, before Aaron, before their break up, before all of it. She nods her head, gives a firm “Yes” -- because she does. Of course she still trusts him, she doesn’t think she’s ever stopped.

“That’s good.” He echoes their previous conversation, smile playing at his lips as he brings his hand up, pushes her hair aside, placing a kiss against her temple.

There’s a sudden knock at the bedroom door and an accompanying male voice calling for Rio.

Beth shifts back as he moves to slide out of the bed, pulling his boxer briefs back on before opening the door an inch.

He exchanges words with whoever is on the other side before closing it a minute later.

Rio grabs at his clothes, starting to re-dress. “I gotta go back out there, check on shit.” He says, gesturing toward the door, toward the rest of the house, and Beth nods as she yawns. “I’ll be right back.” He assures her, before leaving. Beth curls back into the bed once he’s gone, her eyes feeling heavy. She wants to stay awake until he gets back, but she knows that’s just not going to happen, as she yawns once more before her eyes close.

 

--------------

 

Beth wakes up the next morning and rolls over, finding the other side of the bed empty. She sits up, looking around the room, glancing toward the bathroom, but it’s empty. And quiet. Did Rio ever come back to bed last night? She doesn’t remember, didn’t wake up at all during the night. Beth slides out of bed, rummaging through her suitcase to pull out something quick to throw on. She settles on a t-shirt and yoga pants, not bothering with underwear or a bra for now. She just wants to find Rio.

She slips out of the bedroom, hearing some noises coming from the kitchen. She shuffles over in that direction, peeking around the corner and seeing Rio, Olivia, and Cisco gathered around the kitchen island. It looks like it’s just the three of them, everyone else seems to have left. Rio and Cisco are seated, involved in some sort of heated debate, as Olivia cooks up some breakfast. There’s music playing and she’s humming along and dancing around, but it’s not some silly dance like Beth had been doing the other morning. Its actual dance, like ballet. She’s stretching her legs out and spinning around, and she’s so incredibly coordinated and graceful, two things Beth is most definitely not.

Beth turns quietly, walking back to the bedroom, deciding to shower and dress before joining them.

She knows they’re leaving today, and part of her is dreading it. Dreading leaving this place, dreading being separated from Rio. But the other part of her is welcoming it. Welcoming a break after such an intense weekend, welcoming the time she’s going to have with Ruby, unpacking everything, spilling her guts and waiting for her friend to help clean up the mess.

Beth steps out of the bathroom, twirling her hair up into a low bun, and startles a little at Rio, sitting on the edge of the bed. He’s typing out a message on his phone, looking up briefly to smile at her before returning to it, and Beth wonders where her own phone is. She vaguely remembers having it before the party started yesterday, but as she looks around the room, she doesn’t see it.

She moves over to the side table and then the dresser, checking in each drawer.

She’s rummaging through her suitcase when Rio finishes with his message, turning to her. “What you lookin’ for?”

“My phone. I can’t remember the last time I had it.”

“Baby, we’re gonna hafta chain that thing to you. You always losin’ it.”

And she glares at him, because not helping, but she doesn’t say anything to argue that because also, true.

“O made breakfast. She saved you a plate.”

“She’s really sweet...” Beth hesitates before her next words, unsure if she should... “I know these weren’t exactly the best circumstances for it, and it wasn’t what you wanted to happen, but I’m really glad I met her. And your uncle. They’re both really great.”

Rio looks over at her, his expression unreadable. Then he leans over, tugging on her arm and she moves easily to stand in front of him. He keeps tugging though, until she moves to straddle him on the bed. His hands slide down and over her ass, pulling her flush against him.

He looks up at her and she swears she sees relief there in his eyes before he schools his features. “I’m real glad you met ‘em too.”

Beth kisses him then, feeling her own sense of relief at his words. He leans back on the bed, pulling her with him, deepening her kiss while his hands continue to grasp at her ass.

Beth rolls her hips into his, feeling breathless already and Rio nibbles on her bottom lip, hands coming up, skimming over her back before sliding over to her breasts.

“You still owe me sweetheart, and I think you’ll be payin’ up with these.” He husks, squeezing them lightly and Beth grinds down on him, so wet for him already, she might agree to just about anything right now.

Neither one of them hear the door being pushed open, but they both definitely hear Olivia’s disgusted, “Oh my god, Chris.”

Beth immediately rolls off of Rio and sits up, pulling at her shirt, straightening it out.

“You forget how to knock or somethin’?” Rio asks, more to the ceiling than to Olivia, voice filled with frustration.

“Did you forget how locks work? Cisco is getting ready to drive me home. Come say goodbye.” And with that she’s closing the door and they’re alone again.

Beth lets out an embarrassed laugh, cheeks rosy red from being caught by Rio’s little sister. The only thing worse would be his mom.

“Ya know, I had plans.” He says forlornly and Beth could almost feel bad for him, if she didn’t already know all his “plans” just involved a bunch of sex.

“Alright. C’mon Casanova,” She teases as she stands up, “let’s say goodbye to your sister.” Beth pulls him up and leads him out to the living room.

They say their goodbyes, Beth promising Olivia that she will try to keep in touch, although she’s not exactly sure how Rio feels about that prospect. It’s one thing to meet his sister, it’s a whole other thing to actually keep in contact with her.

Beth continues her hunt for her phone after they leave, with the help of Rio.

They finally find it downstairs. The battery is dead, but at least she has it now.

They finish packing and cleaning up the house before heading out. Beth feels a pang in her chest as Rio’s car pulls away.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back,” Rio assures her with a grin, “We got unfinished business.” And Beth tries not to flush as she thinks about that.

She plugs her phone up, letting it charge for a bit while they drive. Rio tries to convince her to stay at his place for the night, but she (very reluctantly) declines. She desperately needs some time to decompress. So, he drops her off at her place, and she gives him a quick kiss goodbye, which seems to smooth things over a bit. She grabs her bag, taking long strides toward her apartment building, enjoying the sun being out again today. She’s walking down their hall when she pulls her phone out of her pocket, powering it back on. She pushes the door open as a whole slew of notifications pop up, missed calls and texts from Annie and Ruby. Beth’s eyebrows furrow as she steps into the apartment and then looks up to see both Ruby and Annie, sitting on the couch.

Her heart skips a beat when she realizes Annie is leaning in to Ruby and crying and she drops her bag to step further into the apartment, into the living room, as Ruby turns her head to look at her. Her eyes are wet and pleading and Beth is confused and a little scared as she shakes her head, “What’s--”

She doesn’t get to finish her sentence however, because her eyes catch on the coffee table and stick there. Beth feels like she’s been punched in the gut, the air leaving her lungs as a faint roaring noise fills her ears. She can hear Ruby’s voice mixed in there, can’t quite make her words out though, as she continues to stare at the objects on the coffee table.
And it’s weird, really, how these two objects, with their harmless baby pink and white colors, could so quickly tear through someone’s life like a tornado, leaving chaos and heartbreak in their wake. She isn’t close enough, can’t quite see...but she knows. She knows if she were to go pick up those two little sticks, those tests, there would be two pink lines on each of them.

Beth thinks about her job and all of her classes. Thinks about how much Annie works and how she is supposed to start college later this year...

She thinks about the fact that Annie still lives at home, that there’s no way their mother can...

That Beth lives here in this small apartment, on campus, there’s no way that she can...

She thinks about how in the world she’s going to support Annie and a baby...

She thinks about Rio...how they’ve finally landed in a solid place and now...

She barely has enough time to nurture their relationship as it is, let alone with Annie and a baby...

Beth thinks about all of these things as she finally tears her eyes away from the coffee table and settles them on Ruby. On Annie, who won’t even look at her.

Beth takes a deep breath in, her hands clenched at her sides.

Son of a bitch.”

 

Chapter Text

The library is starting to steadily fill up with students and Beth is glad she got here first thing this morning. She’d found and hunkered down in a quiet little nook tucked away in the back, (and she blushes as she remembers the reason she knows about it to begin with; Rio brought her back here one day, hand sliding into her pants as he pushed her up against the wall...) somewhere no one could see or bother her.

Finals are kicking everyone's ass, per usual, and she listens to the low buzz of people frantically studying, researching, and quizzing each other.

Beth, Ruby, and Stan had a study date set up but Beth had gotten here an hour earlier than planned so she could get some research started on her own.

She has all her usual books, notepads, writing utensils, and laptop; but scattered among her college specific items are pregnancy and infant care books.

She’d headed straight to the local bookstore after Annie had dropped her bomb and bought up all the books she could find. She has a ton of websites saved on her laptop as well, but there’s something comforting about being able pick up and flip through an actual paperback book, highlighting sections and earmarking pages along the way.

It’s been...god almost two months now—and how has it been that long already? And now it’s finals week too (hell week) and Beth feels like her body and mind are literally falling apart.

Beth drops her head to the table and groans. She is utterly exhausted and she can’t even let herself feel it because she has so much to do.

On top of studying and finishing assignments, she has to pick up more prenatal vitamins for Annie and block out time to go to her upcoming doctors appointment with her. This’ll be her second appointment and the one where they will be checking for the baby’s heartbeat. All three girls are a little nervous about it. They know miscarriages are most likely to happen within the first trimester of pregnancy.

Oh my god, I've been drinking so much alcohol.” Annie had cried at that very first doctors appointment. The doctor had assured her they would be monitoring the growth and development of her baby closely, but not to worry, as there was a high probability the baby would be just fine.

Beth closes her eyes briefly, her heart aching as she thinks about Annie.

Annie who has been plagued with morning sickness, Annie who can barely sleep or eat, Annie who cries all the time.

Not that Beth blames her-- she does have a lot going on.

Greg has been—well he’s been a little out of sorts since the news. When Annie had sat him down to tell him, he’d gone through about ten different emotions in the span of five minutes, before settling on cautious optimism about the whole situation.

And then, he’d told his parents.

Greg’s parents had been immediate in their disapproval. It was (not so) subtly implied that they thought Annie was trying to trap Greg for his (their) money and she should consider (definitely get) an abortion.

Annie had been furious—and rightfully so. Greg was reluctant to take sides on the issue, which infuriated Annie even more, to the point where she has refused to see or speak to him since.

So, Beth has been picking up the slack in that regard as well, while also fulfilling her usual supportive sisterly duties.

It. Is. Exhausting.

And they still have six more months to go! She can’t even fathom what it’s going to be like when the baby is actually here.

Annie has been bouncing back and forth between their mom’s house and Beth and Ruby’s apartment.

Beth wishes she could make the trip over to the house instead of making Annie travel, but she just has too much going on right now.

She’s hoping once finals are over and she can finally breathe (and eat and sleep) again, she’ll be able to swing it. Although, the very thought of going back home makes her feel...queasy.

She hasn’t been back since she left for college.

Annie gives her sporadic updates on their mom, but it’s usually more of the same.

Beth always wondered what she would do once both girls were out of the house. Would she notice? Would she even care?

And god, when would that even happen for Annie now? She was supposed to be saving up for college and now...

Now she’s saving up for a baby.

And really, they’re having to pay for the baby now, what with the medications and doctors appointments and items needed before the baby even gets here.

Annie doesn’t have insurance, never wanting or needing it, self medicating at home when she got sick or had a minor injury. Could never really afford it anyway.

Beth hears her phone vibrate on the table and she groans again, opening her eyes and lifting her head to reluctantly grab it.

It’s Ruby, letting her knows her and Stan will be by soon. Beth texts back letting Ruby know where she is and then tosses her phone down, probably a little harder than she should. Good thing she invested in that case, she thinks as it clatters against the table top loudly.

Beth leans back in her chair, eyes scanning over the books spread out in front of her. She imagines tearing out every single page in every single book and using it as tinder to start a bonfire. Watch all her problems go up in flames and disappear in a cloud of smoke.

She’s still sitting there, trying to find any good reason why she shouldn't burn the whole place to the ground, when she notices movement in her peripheral vision and she stiffens slightly.

Beth shifts her focus and immediately straightens up, leaning forward and rearranging the books on the table as inconspicuously as possible as she watches Rio approach. She covers the ones furthest from her with her textbooks and slides the ones closest off the table and over to her book bag.

The girls haven’t told anyone else about Annie’s pregnancy yet.

Annie had decided she didn’t want anyone else to know right now, which was a relief to Beth, who was terrified of sharing the news with Rio. He’d known her and Annie were a package deal from the start, and she knows even that bond sometimes tests his limits. She can’t imagine what a baby will do to their relationship.

Beth manages a weak smile as Rio gets closer, running her fingers through her hair nervously as her eyes dart down to the table, double checking that nothing has been left out.

“Yo.” Rio leans down and Beth tilts her head, closing her eyes briefly as his lips brush against her temple.

“Hey. What’re you doing here?” She asks, leaning forward to grab her pen, needing something to distract her hands and channel her nervous energy into.

Things have been...strained between the two of them, to say the least.

They’ve both been keeping secrets from each other, they both know that they are, and they’re both choosing to ignore the issue rather than deal with it just yet.

Beth has the Annie situation and Rio has his family and business situation, which seems to be getting worse instead of better, like he’d promised it would.

He’d told her they were working some kinks out, that things were shifting in a new direction and there was some tension being felt with it.

She knows there is so much more going on, but he...he lies when she asks, and so it makes it that much easier for her to lie in turn, when he confronts her about the changes in her the last two months.

She doesn’t know which situation is worse – her pulling away from him, causing them to slowly, but inevitably, fall apart-- or him finding out about the baby and leaving her. Or worse, taking pity on her and offering to help before leaving her.

“Thought I'd check in, make sure you was rememberin’ to eat and drink.” He sets his bag down and pulls a banana and a small water bottle out and sets them both down in front of her.

Beth feels tears prick the back of her eyes, and she blinks them back quickly.

And she should be used to it by now, he knows her so much better than anyone else, even herself. He knows she’s stressed about school (among other things), knows she’s been letting herself slip up.

“Thank you.” She says quietly, eyes fixed firmly on the pen she’s twirling between her fingers.

She hears his heavy sigh, knows he’s probably two steps away from frustrated.

She selfishly wishes she could turn back time to their weekend getaway, and stop it there—and never leave.

Right now everything just feels like too much and not enough all at once.

“We need to talk--” Rio starts and Beth grits her teeth, forcing down the panic that immediately arises at those words.

He doesn’t get any further however, as they both hear Ruby and Stan approaching.

Beth lets out a low sigh of relief, silently thanking Ruby for her ever perfect timing.

Beth smiles brightly as they come into view and she can see Rio bristle out of the corner of her eye.

She’ll definitely be hearing about this later.

There’s a look of surprise on Ruby’s face when she sees Rio, eyes flicking over to Beth and Beth’s smile widens almost painfully as she gives an imperceptible shake of her head.

Ruby’s pasting on her own fake smile now. “Hey! Are you joining our study group today?” She practically chirps at Rio.

Stan is looking at her like she’s grown an extra head, her nervous energy coming off her in waves.

“No,” Beth answers quickly, wincing a little at how harsh it comes out, “He has a thing with Gretchen.” She explains, hoping that softens things.

Rio’s eyes are fixed on Beth, and she notes the dark amusement in them. He doesn’t take his eyes off of her as he decides to add an answer of his own. “Nah. Know how Elizabeth feels about distraction while studyin’. I’ll see you later.” He stares at her until she acknowledges his words with a curt nod and then he walks off.

Stan’s eyes dart between the two girls, before finally settling on Beth, opening his mouth to say something, but she cuts him off with a, “Just...don't.”

His mouth snaps shut as he turns to Ruby, eyes questioning.

“Nope.” Ruby says, shaking her head as she slides into the seat next to Beth.

Stan sets his bookbag down on the table and moves to take a seat, and Ruby fixes him with a hard look.

He straightens back up almost immediately. “I’m just gonna go...find a book.” He turns around and wanders off and Beth almost laughs at how confused he is.

“What happened?” Ruby asks as soon as Stan’s out of earshot. Beth starts moving the rest of the pregnancy books off the table now that he’s out of eyesight too.

“Nothing happened. That’s the problem. Nothing’s been happening and I think...” Beth swallows hard, “I think he’s done. I don’t think he’s going to put up with much more and I don’t know how much more I can take either.”

“Look, I get it babe. Things have been rough between me and Stan too. We just have to wait a few more weeks--”

“I don’t think Rio and I can survive a few more weeks.” Beth says quietly, fiddling with her pen again.

Ruby’s hand comes out to cover Beth’s and a ghost of a smile passes over her lips.

“You can do this. We can do this. Me and you and Annie. We got this.”

Beth nods weakly.

Except, as it turns out, they don’t got it.

Because when they get home from studying, they find Annie in the living room crying.

“Greg’s parents say they’re going to fight for custody of the baby.”

Beth sucks in a breath and sits down hard on the couch.

“How--why--can they even do that?” Beth’s mind is racing, trying to process this new information.

“I don’t know, they’re rich old white people, they can do anything.”

“Hold up, weren’t they literally just telling you to go get an abortion? And now they want to steal your baby?” Ruby interjects, looking horrified.

Annie nods miserably, wiping at her nose with the sleeve of her shirt. “Again, they’re old rich white people. They’re insane.”

Ruby snorts at that, shaking her head in disbelief.

Beth grabs the tissue box from the coffee table and hands it to Annie as she scoots closer to her sister. “No judge is going to just hand a baby over to someone that isn’t their parents.”

“But Greg is a parent.”

Both Beth and Ruby make noises of outrage. “Greg is going along with this?”

“Well, not exactly. But he isn’t exactly stopping them from doing it either. He told me what their plan was. He said they don’t think either of us can be responsible parents, that we can’t even take care of ourselves let alone a baby, that they can provide it a better home environment than we ever could. And he seemed like he actually agreed with them. He told me he didn’t and he was going to try to talk them out of it, but I don’t have a lot of faith in him right now.”

“Annie, you have to convince him to make them stop. If they can’t use him as leverage to get custody, they won’t have anything.”

“How do we know that? People do shit like this all the time.”

Beth chews on her bottom lip, trying to keep herself calm and collected. Annie was freaking out enough for all three of them, Beth needed to keep a level head.

They couldn’t just snatch her baby away, regardless of how much money they had.

Right?

Beth puts her head in her hands, pulling at her hair a little as she thinks.

She takes a deep breath in and sits up straight, running her hands over her face as she exhales. “Okay, we still have six months before the baby is even born, lets try not to freak out just yet.”

How the hell had life gotten so messy, so fast?

“I can’t even afford a lawyer.” Annie moans and Beth sits up straight, her mind going over several different possibilities at once.

“We could talk to Gretchen. She’s studying to be a lawyer, she would know like, the basics of something like this right?” Beth looks to Ruby and then Annie. “I know we aren’t telling people, but maybe we could tell her, get some advice. Or give hypotheticals at least.”

“I don’t know Gretchen.” Annie points out nervously, chewing on her thumbnail.

“Okay, so we’ll ask about a friend of a friend. Annie, she’s a good person. She’s really intimidating sometimes but she is very nice. And we need all the help we can get.”

“I think it’s a really good idea.” Ruby assures Annie, shooting Beth a small smile.

“You’ll talk to her?” Annie asks, eyes pleading with Beth.

“Sure. I’ll talk to her.”

And Beth had followed through on her promise, texting Gretchen to meet up with her at the café, since she had to work, and giving her the bare minimum information.

A friend of a friend was pregnant and was wondering what the probability was that the father or the fathers parents could take the child.

Gretchen had given her a side eye, regarding her silently for awhile, making Beth squirm uncomfortably, before giving a bare minimum answer.

“There’s a very slim chance a judge would grant rights to a grandparent over a parent. There’s a slim chance a judge will grant rights to a father over a mother. Unless they can prove extreme and continued negligence.”

“Like what?”

“Like the mother is unfit to provide for the child. Physically, emotionally, financially. If she’s mentally unstable or she can’t provide the child with proper life sustaining food and shelter.”

Beth nodded her head, thinking about Annie’s situation. None of those things applied. She had somewhere to stay (at least for now), she had a job and could provide nourishment (although it would probably be a struggle, but Beth would help with that), and she was emotionally stable, albeit a bit immature at times.

Beth had thanked Gretchen and politely asked her not to discuss what Beth had come to her with, with anyone else. It was unspoken that she was referring to Rio. They’d both been extremely uncomfortable with it, but Gretchen had reluctantly agreed and left.

Beth felt much better after their conversation, heading into the back office of the cafe and starting in on work right after. She’d been trying to work as much as possible, saving as much as she could here and there for what was to come.

Although with finals here, she’d been working a lot less than she’d hoped. She was barely able to stay on her feet, going from work to studying to testing and back again.

Beth’s going through some paperwork when she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulls it out and opens up the text thread between her and Rio. He wants to know what she’s doing.

Avoiding you, she thinks with a groan. She hates being away from him so much, she hates lying to him, she hates where their relationship has been heading.

She texts back that she’s working and maybe they can meet up later and then turns off her phone. It’s a shitty move on her part, but she can’t handle being distracted by him right now.

Beth rubs her hands over her face and blinks back the exhaustion pulling at her eyelids.

She stands up and stretches before heading to the front of the café. It’s almost closing time and they’ll need to start cleaning up soon, and Beth is going to need some extra caffeine for that.

When she gets out front her eyes scan the room, over the tables of students loading up on espressos and studying.

She smiles at Ely and Patrick, who are working the front. She thinks about sending them out so they can get some studying in too before its too late, and just handling closing on her own.

Beth starts in on making her own cup of coffee and then heads around the counter with the coffee carafe, asking tables if they need any refills and letting them know the shop will be closing soon. They’ve been offering free refills of regular coffee for hell week, taking pity on all the zombie like students who’ve been stumbling their way in to study.

She makes it to the back tables, where Aaron and Dean and some other frat guys are spread across a few tables, books and coffee cups scattered about.

“Hey Bethie.” Dean greets her as she gets closer, offering her a smile. Beth smiles politely in turn.

“Hey Beth, how ya been?” Aaron asks, smile open and friendly.

“Fine, thanks.” She answers shortly, not wanting to give him any more attention than necessary, “Anyone need any last minute refills? We’re gonna be closing up shop soon.” Beth informs both tables.

A few of them nod their heads, checking their phones for the time and groaning. Beth tops them off and then turns to leave.

She’s halfway back to the counter when she feels a hand close around her wrist and she stops abruptly, head turning to look first at her wrist and then up at Dean.

He must realize his mistake, because he lets go immediately. “Sorry, it’s...force of habit.”

Beth presses her lips together, mentally counting to ten to tamper her annoyance. “You should really work on that.”

Dean winces and runs his hand through his hair. “Look, I was just going to ask if you were doing okay. You seem really stressed out. I know, it’s finals and I know how fanatic you get about studying,” He smiles a little, like he’s remembering, “But you seem even more...worked up than usual.”

Beth snorts at that, because really, that’s such an understatement to how she’s really feeling. “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me anymore, Dean.”

“I know that. I know things haven’t been great between us either. But I’m just saying, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

Beth’s taken aback for a second, by his offer and the apparent sincerity behind it. And she briefly remembers that there was a time when Dean wasn’t such a selfish jerk, where she had been able to share things with him, when he had occasionally been there for issues she had with Annie.

Beth offers him a small smile and a quiet “Thank you.” before turning and walking away.

Half an hour later, Beth is breathing a sigh of relief at closing time. She’s sent the other two home early and she’s pushing the last of the stragglers out. She notices Dean and Aaron in the back, the last two left, taking their sweet time getting their stuff together and leaving, and she rolls her eyes.

She starts on wiping down some tables as she waits for them to go. She hears the door swing open and then shut behind her and she lets out a breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding.

Beth finishes wiping down a few more tables before tossing down the rag that she’s been using and striding over to the door. She’s just about to flip the lock when she sees Aaron jogging up to the door. Beth pulls it open a bit as he gets closer.

“I am so sorry, I know you’re trying to get this place closed. I forgot one of my textbooks.” He explains.

“Oh, okay. I haven’t seen it, but I haven’t gotten to those tables yet.” Beth steps aside, letting him in, frowning a little as he passes by a little closer than necessary, flashing her a smile when his body brushes up against hers.

“So, how have you been?” He asks, and Beth bites her tongue on pointing out that he already asked her that earlier.

She decides to go for polite instead, hoping he finds his book fast and leaves. “I’ve been fine. How have you been?”

“Good, good. You know, hell week's just been kicking my ass. Dean says you have a pretty good study system down, maybe we could set up a study date.” Aaron is strolling back over to the table his group had been at while talking and Beth wishes he would move faster, as she trails behind him.

“You know, I kind of already have a study group set up, but since Dean seems to like to reminisce about our time together so much, I’m sure he remembers some pointers he can give you.” She was really trying hard not to snap, but—there it was.

Aaron stops briefly, his body stiffening, before he crosses the rest of the distance to the table. He leans over and picks his book up from the chair, holding it up and waving it a bit. “Here it is.”

Beth offers a tight smile, “Awesome. Well, good luck with all of your exams.” She gestures to the door, stepping aside so he can lead the way out and Aaron lets out a derisive snort of laughter.

“You know, I don’t get you. What’s your deal? I always thought Dean was just talking shit cause he got dumped when he said you were stuck up and cold, but I can kind of see it now.”

Beth is stunned by Aaron’s words and the way he’s spoken them, in such a casual manner, like this is something he’s been pondering for awhile and has really stumped him.

“Okay, well I don’t really need you to get me, but I do really need you to leave now so I can finish up here.” Beth finally manages to get out, gesturing toward the door again.

“Right. Have a nice night, Beth.” Aaron shakes his head a bit before turning and finally leaving.

Beth immediately locks up after him, left wondering what the hell that was.

Dean had told his fraternity brothers she was stuck up and cold? And what, Aaron had taken that as some sort of personal challenge?

Beth shakes her head, pushing thoughts of the both of them out of her mind to focus on cleaning up.

 

---------------------

 

“I need to get the hell out of this apartment.” Annie moans from her spot on the couch. She’s lying down, arms and legs sprawled out every which way, head half hanging off one of the cushions.

Beth exchanges a look with Ruby, who rolls her eyes.

It’s late on a Saturday night and Beth and Ruby had just called it a night on studying.

“Let’s go out.” She suggests, when no one else says anything.

“Go out where, Annie? It’s 10 o’ clock on a Saturday and you’re pregnant.” Beth points out.

Annie’s hands automatically find her stomach, caressing it a little and Beth feels tears prick at the back of her eyes at the movement. Annie isn’t really showing yet, the doctor says her belly may not even start to pop out for another few weeks, but she’s noticed her sister touching it more and more often as of late.

“I'm pregnant not dead, I can still have fun.” Annie pouts and this time it’s Beth who’s rolling her eyes.

“Isn’t there a certain social etiquette against pregnant women going to bars?” Ruby wonders aloud, head tilted to the side.

“No one even knows I'm pregnant. And I'm not going to be drinking.” Annie pulls herself up and swings her legs off the couch so she’s sitting. “I’m calling Nancy. She isn’t as judgy as you two.” Annie pulls her phone out of her pocket and flips through it.

Beth looks to Ruby, who shrugs, throwing her hands up in resignation.

Looks like they’re going out.

Beth gets up from her seat on one of the recliners and is about to head to her room and change when she hears a knock at the door. She looks to Ruby, who shrugs again. “Stan’s at the house, studying.” She says.

Beth makes her way to the door, pulling her phone out, checking for any messages. There are none.

She isn’t too surprised however, when she opens the door and Rio’s standing on the other side.

Beth leans against the door, taking him in. He’s wearing a dark blue henley with the sleeves pushed up and Beth has to resist the urge to jump him right there in the hallway. He looks tired and more than a little serious so she’s guessing this visit is more about talking than sex.

“Hey.” She says tentatively, tugging on the hem of her shirt. She’s wearing an old oversized tee and leggings because this was supposed to be strictly a study night, no bar visits or surprise drop ins from boyfriends.

“Hey. You got a minute?” His voice sends shivers down her spine and she realizes how much she’s really truly missed him these last few weeks just hearing it.

“Sure. We just finished studying.” Beth steps back to let him in.

She turns to lead the way back to her room. Ruby greets him as they pass the girls in the living room and Annie waves her hand out while she continues talking on the phone.

She lets Rio go in first, closing the door behind her and leaning back against it. He stops in front of her bed, but doesn’t sit, so she thinks maybe he isn’t planning on staying long.

They’re facing each other, so much distance between them, quiet tension filling it. Beth wonders, not for the first time, if this is when he finally ends it.

“Haven’t been able to get you alone in awhile.” He finally says, shifting on his feet a little and Beth tugs at the hem of her shirt again.

“Yeah. Things have been hectic around here.” He nods a little at her explanation, not meeting her gaze, looking around her room instead.

“I’ve missed you.” She adds, pushing off the door to take a step closer to him.

That seems to catch his attention, his eyes falling on her again, and he tilts his head as she continues stepping further into the room, coming to a stop in front of him.

“Oh yeah?” He brings a hand up to brush her hair out of her face and tuck it behind her ear and Beth closes her eyes and lets out a small sigh. God she really, really, has missed him. She can’t even remember the last time the two of them have been alone together. Well, not that this is exactly alone. Ruby and Annie are in the next room.

Beth feels his lips brush against hers and she blindly reaches out to grasp at his shoulders just as she feels his hands come to rest on her hips. He pulls back and she blinks her eyes open, looking up at him and his hooded eyes, the tiny smirk that now plays at his lips.

She starts to lean in to kiss him again, because now that they’ve started she doesn’t want to stop, but Annie’s voice travels through the door, yelling about leaving soon.

“Going somewhere?” Rio asks, eyebrow quirked up.

“I don’t have to...” She looks up at him through her lashes and he huffs out a laugh. “Wait here for a second.” Beth gives him a quick kiss before leaving the room, closing the door behind her again.

As soon as Annie sees her, she’s shaking her head. “No! No, no, no. We are going out. We are all going out. I don’t even care if you invite bar friend, but we’re going.”

“Don’t you think he’ll think it’s a little weird that you’re going out to a bar and not drinking?” Beth whispers, eyes darting back to her closed door.

“Oh please, like he’s going to be paying attention to anyone but you. I could be giving birth and he’d still be making horny eyes at you.”

Beth rolls her eyes at that, but turns on her heel and heads right back around to her room. Arguing with Annie right now is just not an option.

Rio isn’t where she left him when she enters her room, he’s standing over by her desk. He’s holding his beanie loosely in his hand by his side. The beanie he’d left here forever ago.

When he hears her behind him, his grip on the beanie tightens, and she can see his body tighten too, the tension rippling across his back and shoulders. He turns to her and the expression on his face takes her breath away. It’s only there for a second before that careful mask slides into place and Beth nervously shifts on her feet, unsure of what’s just happened.

“So, Annie isn’t letting me get out of this thing, but you could come with us?” Beth smiles as she wanders over to her dresser, pulling some random clothes out just to busy her hands.

“Nah, I gotta go.” His tone is short, clipped, and his jaw rocks a little when she turns to look at him. Beth is just about to ask him what’s wrong when he moves towards the door, his back to her as he says, “I’ll see you around.”

Beth can faintly hear the girls confused bye’s, can hear the front door open and close, and then he’s gone, and she’s left feeling confused and hurt.

She glances over to the desk and realizes he hadn’t put the beanie back; he’d taken it with him when he walked out and her breath catches.

She looks down at the clothes she has clutched in her hand and startles a bit when she hears a light knock on her partially open door. Ruby comes into sight when she pushes it open the rest of the way, stepping in and looking her over cautiously.

“You don’t have to go anywhere tonight. You know that right? I can take Annie out, you can sort things out with him if you want to.”

Beth gives her a wobbly little smile and takes a deep breath in. “No. I definitely need a drink—a few drinks--tonight.”

Beth changes quickly and they head out, picking the little hole in the wall bar downtown because Beth refuses to go to Rio’s bar tonight.

They settle in at the bar and Beth orders their drinks (with club soda for Annie) and groans when she sees that all the frat guys that were at the café (including Dean and Aaron) have also decided to drink their stress away tonight.

“So, what’s up with you and Rio? You two seem pretty tense lately.” Annie points out, chewing on her straw as she eyes Beth.

Beth doesn’t have it in her to tell her the truth. Annie’s secret isn’t entirely the issue anyway. Even if Annie had been okay with telling Rio right from the beginning, Beth knows she wouldn’t have, isn’t emotionally stable enough for the fallout.

“We’re having some...communication issues.” Beth says weakly, downing her drink.

Ruby pats her back sympathetically.

“Oh, you mean to tell me having amazing sex all the time instead of talking has become an issue for you two?” Annie snorts, sipping on her drink and then making a face. “I don’t know why I ordered this, I hate club soda.”

Beth lets out her own snort at that, leaning over the bar to get the bartenders attention for another drink. “Yeah, turns out just having a bunch of amazing sex doesn’t make a good relationship.” She shrugs as she leans back in her chair.

“Yeah, I get that.” Annie frowns as her hand skims over her belly briefly, before she settles it on her leg. Her phone lights up on the bartop and she leans over to look at the text. “Nancy’s here.” She twists in her chair, sitting up a little straighter to try and see through the crowd. She must spot her near the entrance because she sticks her hand up and waves it around, a huge smile on her face now.

Beth smiles as she looks at Annie, at the way her whole body language changes when she sees Nancy. She’s still not sure what’s going on there, but Nancy has been such a rock for Annie since all of this started and she loves that her sister has someone else to lean on for emotional support, someone who seems to really get her, which doesn’t happen with a lot of people. Annie is... a lot sometimes, but despite their vastly different quirks and their rocky start, Nancy and Annie seem to somehow—mesh well together.

Beth and Ruby both turn to greet Nancy as she approaches. She settles in next to Annie, who gives her her immediate attention.

Beth turns to Ruby and raises her eyebrows, shaking her head at Annie’s short attention span. Not that she’s complaining, she sends a silent thank you to Nancy for interrupting Annie’s line of questioning about Rio.

Two drinks later and Beth’s feeling a modicum better about her current situation, but in desperate need of the restroom. She mutters something to Ruby about saving her seat and then stumbles off to the bathroom, letting out a long sigh at the line.

She feels like her bladder may explode by the time it’s finally her turn. Once she’s done and walking back out of the bathroom, she spots Aaron standing directly in the path back to her seat, so she veers off to the side to avoid him.

She has to go the whole way around the room, but instead of circling back around to her seat, once she nears the door, she steps outside instead. She needs some fresh air.

She leans back against the side of the building and takes her phone out, checking it for any messages from Rio. There are none. Of course, she hasn’t messaged him either.

Beth leans her head back against the wall and closes her eyes, breathing the cold night air in deeply and then letting it back out slowly. When she hears the door open, she lifts her head and looks to the side, seeing Aaron stepping out and wandering in her direction. His head is down, looking at his phone, but then he looks up and sees her and she thinks they both roll their eyes at the same time.

“God, you are everywhere, all the time.” Normally Beth wouldn’t be so rude, but she’s had just enough of a bad night and just enough to drink to let herself slip.

Beth turns and walks further away from the bar and she hears Aaron give a derisive snort behind her. She hears his footsteps and looks back to see him trailing behind her.

“Trust me, I didn’t know you were out here.” He says, and Beth turns around fast, too fast, it turns out, since she has to immediately lean back against the wall to steady herself.

“And yet, here you are, following me.”

Aaron gives a humorless laugh as he continues his approach, “I didn’t realize all of the outdoors belonged to you. My car is over this way, do I have permission to proceed?” He stops in front of her, arms up in mock surrender, like he’s actually waiting for her permission.

Beth glares up at him. “Yes, please, leave.”

Aaron shakes his head as he looks off to the side, towards the bar entrance. “I’ve been nothing but nice,” He starts, turning back to look at her, “and you’ve been nothing but a total tease.”

Beth opens her mouth to retort, but Aaron steps even closer and her mouth snaps closed as she presses herself further into the wall. She can smell the alcohol oozing out of his pores. Apparently wasted Aaron is not nice Aaron.

He looks her over briefly, like he’s considering his next words and how he wants to say them and then he smiles. “It makes me wonder why Dean and that asshole from the bar keep trying to fuck with you.”

Beth blinks rapidly, trying to make sense of this new attitude he’s had towards her lately. This is not the Aaron she’d hung out with, laughed with, had drinks with.

She thinks back to New Years Eve and the way he grabbed her arm when she’d tried to leave him, the look on his face when she’d pulled away.

Or maybe it is.

Beth swallows hard, before straightening up, shoulders back as she glares at him. “So, you’re one of those guys that doesn’t take rejection well I guess.” She says dryly.

Aaron squints down at her, like he’s not even listening. “What’re you even doing with someone like him?” He asks, eyes continuing to search her face, and Beth is confused for a minute.

And then it dawns her. He’s talking about Rio. Is that what this is about? Some stupid macho pissing contest? Is he mad he “lost” to Rio?

“Look, I get that you might still be mad about New Year’s Eve,” She starts, trying to placate him so he’ll back the hell off, “But that was months ago and I think we can both agree we should go our separate ways with no hard feelings.”

Aaron steps even closer, almost touching her now, and Beth resists the urge to bring her hands up and shove him away, because he is much, much bigger than she is and she doesn’t think he’ll even budge.

“Bethie?”

They both turn to look at Dean, who is standing a few feet away. Beth hadn’t even heard him, so locked in on her heated argument with Aaron. It’s apparent Aaron hadn’t heard him either, as he takes a step back from Beth and turns away from her, to face Dean.

“You okay?” Dean asks her, eyes still on Aaron.

Beth clears her throat and inches away from Aaron, toward Dean. “Fine. Yes, thanks.”

Aaron huffs out a laugh and runs his hand through his hair. “She’s fine, man. We were just talking.”

“Yeah, I think she’s done talking now though.” Dean points out, a strained friendliness to his tone.

“Yeah, sure. No hard feelings.” He says the last part to Beth before heading off, presumably to his car.

“I don’t know if he’s okay to drive.” Beth hears herself saying. She’s not sure she should care, except even if he is a dick, she doesn’t want his car wrapped around a tree. Or another car.

“He doesn’t have his keys. We took them before he walked out.” Dean says, smiling at her and Beth smiles back.

“Thank you. You really have perfect timing. Normally it’s horrible, but tonight, it was perfect.” Beth laughs a little and Dean laughs too.

“I try.”

Beth lets herself sink down to the hard pavement to sit, unwilling to stand any longer.

Dean moves to sit next to her. “You sure you’re okay?”

Beth shrugs her shoulders. “He was a dick, but I've developed a pretty thick skin.”

“Yeah, I think I noticed that right about the time you were smashing up my car.” Beth lets out a shocked laugh and Dean grins at her. “Too soon?” He asks and Beth laughs even harder.

“Oh man. How expensive was that car anyway?” She asks, curiosity getting the better of her.

“That was like, a sixty thousand dollar car.” His voice is a little mournful as he says it and Beth grins, still feeling a little gleeful at his obvious distress over it.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, Beth with her head back against the wall, looking up at the sky. She can’t remember when the last time was that she actually felt comfortable like this around Dean. She must be really drunk.

“So, what kind of trouble has Annie gotten herself into now?”

It’s a guess, but he’s known her and Annie long enough to know it’s a lucky guess. Beth peeks at him out of the corner of her eye. He’s got his head tilted back to look up at the sky too. She lets out a sigh, eyes scanning over the clouds and the stars peeking out from behind them.

“It’s...it’s a pretty big mess.” She admits quietly. “We can handle it though.”

Dean snorts out a laugh and Beth closes her eyes, irritation washing over her already, because she knows what’s coming next. So much for that comfortable silence.

We? Beth, she’s how old now? She should be cleaning up her own messes by now.”

And really, It’s not his fault he doesn’t know what it is to be a family like her and Annie (and Ruby) are a family.

His family, while picture perfect and whole, has always been cold and distant, they don’t know what it is to be there for each other no matter what. They’d throw you off the deep end just to see you struggle.

Beth would drown to save Annie.

“Dean, you’ve been in her life for six years and you can’t even remember how old she is.” Beth points out, hoping that little jab will shut him up.

Dean lets out a long, tortured sounding sigh and Beth should’ve known better. “Look, Bethie, I know it’s not my place to say,” (Then don't, she thinks) , “But there comes a point in life where you have to start looking out for yourself and your own interests, and I think you are way past that point with Annie.”

Beth is saved from snapping back at that by her phone vibrating in her back pocket and she chooses to ignore him to pull it out. There are texts from both Annie and Ruby, wondering where the hell she is. Beth sends a reply text to both, saying she needed air and she’ll be in soon.

“Well this has been a really helpful little chat--” The sarcasm bleeds through her words, but she doesn’t care.

“Just--think about what I said.” Dean puts his hand on her knee and Beth’s eyebrow furrows as she looks at it, a little dumbfounded that he thought touching her was a good idea right about now.

“Dean--” Beth cuts off as her eye catches over his shoulder and she sees someone slowing to a stop several feet away from them, near the entrance of the bar.

Her breath catches as she realizes who it is.

Rio’s eyes travel over both their forms, landing, and sticking, on where Dean’s hand is still resting on Beth’s knee.

Beth jerks her knee away, and Dean turns to see what she’s staring at, but it’s too late. Rio’s turning and walking off without a word and Beth feels like she’s been punched in the stomach, like the air has completely left her lungs.

Dean turns back to her and Beth can’t even look at him, doesn’t want to see whatever smug or pitying look he’s got plastered on his face.

She pushes herself, a bit unsteadily, off the ground, ignoring Dean’s call after her. She walks back to the entrance, desperately needing the solace of Ruby. Of Annie.

It’s not long after that Beth begs off, reassuring the other girls that they can stay, that she’s fine with taking an Uber home, that she’s just going to go straight to bed. All she wants to do is pass out and forget about everything that has happened tonight.

-------------

 

Beth startles awake, disoriented as she shifts in her bed, trying to figure out what woke her up.

She almost screams when she sits up and blurrily makes out a dark form over by her desk.

Her heart is still racing when she realizes it’s Rio, swaying on his feet a little and she looks to her door, sees it’s cracked open, light from the hallway filtering in.

He’s looking down at something on her desk and she can’t imagine what it is since it’s too freaking dark in her room to see much and its—she looks at the clock next to her bed—three o’ clock in the freaking morning.

“What the hell, Rio.” She hisses and he must’ve known as soon as she woke up, because he doesn’t even flinch at her voice.

“You know, I don’t get you.” He mumbles, slurs really, and his words echo Aaron’s almost perfectly from the other day, sending a chill down her spine.

“Are you drunk?” She asks incredulously, shifting to sit up a little straighter in bed.

Rio huffs out a humorless laugh as he pulls at something (a book, maybe?) on her desk.

And then he’s stumbling toward the bed so quickly she’s surprised he doesn’t fall.

Beth can’t help the way she scrambles back a little against the headboard as he practically collapses onto her bed, the smell of alcohol coming off him in waves.

God, how had he even gotten here? And in one piece.

Beth opens her mouth to ask him just that(plus what the hell he’s even doing here) when her eyes land on his hands and she gasps, grabbing at them, her fingers grazing over the bruised and bloody knuckles and Rio flinches.

“What the hell happened?” She asks, eyes searching his face. She doesn’t see any cuts or bruises there, so it looks like he’d been the one doing all the hitting.

“S’nuthin’” He slurs, rolling his shoulders back a little.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.” She shoots back, eyes on his knuckles again, fingers tightening on his hands.

“Elizabeth.” Rio groans, the exasperation obvious there, as he pulls his hands away, and she lets him.

Beth shakes her head, her hands coming up to rub over her face and then slide through her hair. So now he’s just showing up at her apartment after a fight with no explanation? How the hell had they gotten here?

Rio suddenly turns to her and Beth shifts back a little. He pulls the book he’d picked up from her desk onto his lap. “What to expect when you expectin’, huh? This the kinda light readin’ you doin’ these days?” Beth stops breathing for a second and Rio continues. “Y’know, when I saw this earlier, I thought, there is jus’ no fuckin’ way Elizabeth would keep somethin’ like this from me.” He laughs again, shaking his head a little and Beth feels like her heart drops into her stomach as her mind flashes back to earlier in the day. When she’d left him in her room. When she’d come back and he’d been by her desk. When he’d left abruptly.

Shit.

“Rio--”

“An then when I left here, I went straight ta talk ta Gretchen. An she had the funniest fuckin story ta tell. You wanna hear it?”

And really, if she didn’t feel like throwing up before, she feels like it now.

“Rio--” She tries again, her voice desperate, but he’s not listening.

He pushes the book aside as he continues on. “An then I find you with that dickhead ex of yours. Why you shuttin’ me out? Not lettin’ me be there for you. I would never do anythin’ ta hurt you.” And he’s not laughing any more. He sounds so tired, so broken, and the look on his face...

Beth’s eyes fill with tears as she frantically shakes her head, the words she so desperately needs to get out stuck in her throat.

Rio lurches toward her, his arms wrapping around her midsection as his head comes to a rest on her stomach and Beth’s hands ball up into fists at her sides.

“Gettin' outta all tha illegal shit, if that’s what you worryin’ bout, ma.” He noses against her belly through her shirt and Beth finally brings her hands up, one coming to rest on his shoulder, the other on his head.

Beth swallows thickly, a sob trying to claw it's way out, and she has to take several deep breaths in and out before she quietly says, “It’s not me.” Her hands are stroking over his short hair as a tear slips out and tracks down her face.

Rio doesn’t respond and she thinks maybe he hasn’t heard her. She opens her mouth to repeat herself but he’s slowly lifting his head to look up at her and she lets her hand slip off and fall back at her side.

“The book--It’s not for me.” She says, looking him in the eye, even though it’s so, so painful.

Rio stares at her like he’s staring into her soul, and then his eyes become unfocused, like he’s gone off somewhere else in his mind and Beth reaches out to touch his face. She strokes her thumb over his cheekbone and he refocuses on her, leaning into her touch a little.

He shakes his head a little, still processing, confused. “Why you been pullin’ back from me?”

“I can’t--there are things I can’t tell you. Not right now.”

“Things you can tell fuckin’ Dean?”

No. Dean...he just...he’s known me for so long—there are habits and patterns there that are hard to break. As much as he doesn’t get me, he does still know me--”

“An I don’t?”

And she wants to tell him what he wants to hear, desperately wants to gloss over this, push past it as painlessly as possible.

“Not in the same way.” She whispers and the pain that flashes over his features is like a stab to her heart.

Another tear slides down her face and she lets it fall as freely as the last.

“I am so sorry. If I was--,” she can’t bring herself to say it, more tears falling down her face as she squeezes her eyes shut, “I would never keep that from you.”

She feels Rio shift against her and she blinks open her eyes, looking down at him.

He squeezes her tightly “Aint no turnin’ back, Elizabeth, member? You gotta quit hidin’ from me.”

Beth nods sharply, sniffing a little as her heart clenches in her chest.

Rio lays his head down heavily, like he can’t quite hold it up any more in his drunken state. He doesn’t say anything else, so neither does she.

She trails her fingers up and down his back, until his breathing evens out, until he’s snoring lightly, until his grip loosens on her slightly with sleep. She wonders if he’ll even remember any of this when he wakes up.

She finally wipes at her face and she feels her eyes becoming heavy again, sleep taking over even as she fights it.

When Beth wakes up again later in the morning, Rio is gone.

And she doesn’t have time to deal with or unpack any of the shit from when he was here, because Annie has finally talked to Greg about standing up to his parents, and the outcome is not good.

“He says they’ll hire people to do like, home checks or some shit--”

“Annie, we’ve been through this. They can’t do anything--”

“I need a lawyer. A good one. Gretchen--”

Is not a lawyer yet, Annie.”

“Well, fuck.”

Beth sits back, biting at her lip so hard she winces from the pain.

“I can’t afford my appointments and all the stuff the baby will need when it gets here and a lawyer.” Annie moans, head in her hands.

Beth looks up at the ceiling, trying to even out her breathing and still her racing thoughts. Even if her and Annie worked their asses off...

“I could just rob a bank. I’ve watched enough movies, I could totally pull it off.” Annie’s voice is muffled by her hands and her laughter at her own absurd suggestion.

Beth shifts, straightening up to stare at Annie. “Yes, because movies reflect real life so well.”

Annie’s head snaps up. “Some of those are based on real life stories!”

Beth throws her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Oh, you mean where everyone dies or ends up in jail at the end?”

“I bet if we combined all the scenarios from every bank heist, we’d have the perfect plan.”

Beth snorts and slumps back in her chair again, done with this conversation.

There’s a moment of silence and then Annie leans forward, a look on her face that has Beth watching her closely.

“Or...” Annie starts, eyebrows furrowed, face drawn in total concentration, like she’s plotting something out.

“Annie.” Beth’s voice is full of warning.

Annie snaps out of her thoughts, turning toward Beth. “No, just hear me out! What if we didn't rob a bank--”

“That sounds fantastic.”

“--But we did rob a grocery store?”

Beth laughs out loud and Annie rolls her eyes. “I’m serious.”

“Yeah, okay, let’s go hit up the local Wal Mart.” Beth snorts as she shakes her head.

“I was thinking more along the lines of Fine and Frugal.” Annie deadpans and Beth abruptly stops laughing.

Beth sits up, leaning forward a little as she regards Annie in disbelief. “You’re serious.”

“I’m serious.” Annie confirms, nodding her head firmly, eyebrows raised.

“Annie, we can’t rob a store. Especially a store you work at.”

“Oh ho ho, yes we can. Especially because I work there. I know the ins and outs of everything, I’m like...the inside man.”

“Jesus, Annie, get a grip.”

“Look, you tell me how else to get the money I need quickly and I'll gladly listen.”

And Beth just stares at her.

Because she doesn’t know how to get the money as fast as they need it.

Annie’s nodding her head, like she knows exactly what Beth is thinking. “There’s maybe, 30 grand, give or take, in the safe at all times. It’s not even really that much. At least, not to a big business like that. They’re insured, they won’t even miss it.”

Beth thinks over Annie’s suggestion. It’s insane, but...

Her mind goes to Rio. He does stuff like this all the time right? Or has done stuff like this she’s sure. And he’s presumably gotten away with it (she ignores the nagging memory of their ‘never have I ever’ game), so maybe they can do something like this.

“Hypothetically speaking, if we were to do this...you know the ins and outs of everything?” Beth asks, cautiously.

Annie leans forward now too, her body practically vibrating with excitement. “Hypothetically speaking, yes.”

So, they quickly hash out a hypothetical plan; If they were to rob the grocery store, how would they do it?

Ruby comes home halfway through mapping everything out. Beth and Annie fill her in and she, of course, has a mini meltdown.

Are you bitches crazy?” Is asked more than once.

She brings up several points against following through, each and every one incredibly valid.

But once the idea is cemented in Beth’s brain, she can’t push it out.

She finds herself a bit excited at the prospect of doing something that would put her on an (semi) even playing field with Rio.

Beth reassures Ruby that she does not expect her approval or complicity in any of this, that she has everything handled and under control.

That, of course, immediately sends Ruby off on a tangent about how she will not be letting her best friend and pregnant friend go off to rob a grocery store by themselves.

It takes them about a week to iron everything out, for them to decide on robbing a different location than the one Annie works at (“They never actually fired that asshole manager I had, they just relocated him to a new store where he’s pulling the same bullshit. I want to hit that one. They’re all basically the same anyway.” She assures them), to work up the nerve to act on this crazy, insane, absurd plan.

But then...

It works.

It actually works.

They put on their masks and they storm in with their fake toy guns and they make the scumbag manager open the safe and it works.

They’re back at Beth’s apartment, and she feels like she just might pass out.

She can hear Annie and Ruby’s muffled voices along with a slight ringing in her ears, everything a little white and blurry at the edges.

Ruby steps into her line of vision and then she’s shaking her and Beth snaps out of it, focusing on Ruby and her concerned face.

Beth! Are you okay?” Ruby asks, finally letting go now that she has Beth’s full attention.

“We just robbed a grocery store.” Beth says faintly, and then...

She starts laughing. A high pitched maniacal laugh that she doesn’t think she’s ever made in her entire life and it only gets worse when she sees the looks on Annie’s and Ruby’s faces.

She can’t stop laughing.

Annie marches right up to her and slaps her in the face and Beth immediately falls silent.

She brings her hand up to her cheek and rubs at it. “Thank you.”

Annie shoots her a grin. “You’re welcome.” She turns and marches back over to the table, where the bags of cash are.

Beth refocuses on Ruby, who is still standing in front of her. “I’m okay. I’m fine.”

“It’s okay to not be okay or fine. It’s okay to freak out a little bit. I'm freaking out a little bit.”

“No, really, I'm okay,” Beth steps around Ruby to look toward Annie, “How much is there?”

Annie looks up from the pile of cash she has in front of her. The look on her face sets off alarm bells and Beth steels herself for whatever Annie’s about to throw at her. “Well...there’s way more than I thought there was going to be...”

“How much more?” Beth asks, voice low and shaky.

Annie starts dumping cash out of bags, piles and piles of cash that almost cover the whole table. “A lot more.”

Beth’s mouth falls open and Ruby’s eyes go wide as she gasps, leaning forward, hands on knees.

“Annie, you said 30 grand!” Beth hisses, staggering toward the table full of cash.

“Well, I guess I was wrong.” Annie shrugs, like this is no big deal.

“Why does a grocery store even have this kind of money?” Beth asks, staring hard at the cash.

“Because its hella shady!” Ruby snaps, glaring at Annie.

Annie glares right back. “What? Since when is more money an issue?”

Ruby throws her hands up in the air. “Since we have no idea where this money even came from or who it belongs to. I told you guys this was a bad idea!”

Annie grabs a few stacks of cash and waves them around. “Look, we’re like, half a million dollars richer. Why are you guys complaining?”

“Look, wherever this money is from, it doesn’t matter, because it’s here now.” Beth holds her hand up as Ruby starts to say something. “But, we shouldn’t spend any of it right away, just in case. We should wait, to be extra safe.”

Ruby nods her head but Annie doesn’t look so enthused about the idea. She’s gripping the stacks of cash in her hands like she doesn’t want to let them go.

Annie.” Beth looks at her sister pointedly, voice full of warning.

“Alright, alright, fine.” Annie snaps, throwing the money down on the table.

Beth grabs an extra large gym duffle bag from their hallway closet and all three of them start loading it up with the cash.

Then they have to deliberate where to stash it, finally settling on a storage locker, which Beth promptly rents out and then stores it in, along with some other miscellaneous stuff that she throws on top of and around it.

And it’s not until a few days later that the shady reason behind all that cash finally catches up to them.

Beth comes home and almost screams when she sees Rio and two other guys she doesn’t know in her kitchen.

Two guys with guns. Beth’s eyes dart to Rio, whose face is a cold indifferent mask.

She hasn’t heard from him since the night he’d shown up drunk and now here he was. “What do you want?” She asks, trying to keep her voice from shaking as much as her hands are.

“Relax sweetheart, I just need you to call your sister and girlfriend over so we can all have...a little talk.”

And Beth hates the way the endearment slips from his lips, the mocking tone behind it. She clears her throat, forcing her next words out. “About what?”

Rio slowly stalks toward her and Beth forces herself to stand her ground, to not back up.

“Oh, about the money you stole from us.”

And---

What?” She looks past him, to the two guys still in her kitchen, who stare blankly back at her.

Rio steps closer, drawing Beth’s attention back to him. “Yeah, see, you didn’t think this all the way through. That store was one of ours.”

Beth shakes her head, her heart racing, as panic sets in.

Rio reaches out, hand grabbing at the back of her neck, hard and Beth’s chest is heaving as she struggles to stay still, to try and control her breathing, to sort through what the hell is happening right now.

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” He growls, eyes hard as he looks down at her, “Or if I did, I'd go easy on you cause you been lettin’ me hit that.”

And anger flares up at the crude comment, overtaking her panic. “No! I didn’t know!” She hisses, hands clenched so tightly at her sides, her nails are breaking the skin at her palms.

And he must see something in her face, because his grip on the back of her neck loosens just the tiniest bit and his controlled mask slips for the briefest moment. He stares at her for what feels like an eternity, his eyes feel like they’re burrowing under her skin, stripping back her layers to find her truth.

He’s still looking at her when he speaks next, but it’s directed at the two guys behind him. “Leave.”

It’s a command, and they follow it, filing out the front door and closing it behind them.

Rio lets go of her, his hand coming up to wipe over his face. “Fuck, Elizabeth, you lucky it’s me here and not someone else. What the hell was you thinkin’?”

And Beth’s anger is still fighting for control over her panic when she snaps back, “What, you’re the only criminal allowed on campus?”

Rio snorts out a laugh as his face twists cruelly. “Baby, you aint no criminal. You have no idea what you’re gettin' yourself into.”

And Beth’s mind is running a mile a minute as she gets her emotions under control. He wasn’t going to hurt her. He was pissed when he thought she had played him, but this wasn’t that. This had been an accident. But he obviously had his hands in more than one pot, and maybe...maybe they could come to an arrangement.
“So, teach us.” She says slowly, the idea solidifying in her mind as the words leave her mouth. This isn’t him giving her a handout, this is her working for what she needs. An act she is very familiar and comfortable with, “You do this stuff all the time, give us a job. We can do this. And we need the money. Annie's pregnant,” She pauses as his eyes flash in realization at that, “And she can’t go to college and raise a kid at the same time, she can’t afford it and I can’t either. I need to help her.”

Rio’s shaking his head as she talks, a look of total disbelief on his face. “Elizabeth, this aint a game or a hobby. You don’t pick this up on the weekends and go back to regular life durin’ the week--”

“I know that,” Beth interrupts, rolling her eyes, “I’ve seen what you do.”

Rio glares down at her, jaw clenched. “Oh yeah? You think you know so much cause you seen what I let you see? This aint half o’ what you think it is. You mess up at this, you go to jail or you die.”

Beth swallows hard, Rio’s words knocking her down a few notches, but she refuses to back off, not now that they’ve gotten this far. “You would never do anything that would hurt me, remember?”

And its kind of a low blow, to turn his words from that night back on him, but she knows if they do this, he won’t let anything happen to her.

Rio is silent as he regards her and Beth forces herself not to squirm under his intense gaze. He seems to actually be considering her offer and Beth’s heart skips a beat as she tries to tamp down on her growing excitement.

“The hell am I s’posed to do with a pregnant chick?” He finally asks, eyebrow raised.

Beth feels giddy at his words, because it means he’s actually entertaining the idea. “I know there are non violent aspects of your job, give us those. Or, Annie doesn’t even have to be involved, I can do this on my own.”

He nods his head a little, jaw rocking. “Where’s the money?” He asks, voice rough and Beth shifts uncomfortably as she remembers the fact that they robbed him.

She opens her mouth to tell him, even turns her body slightly to retrieve the key to the storage locker, but stops mid movement.

Is this a bargaining chip?

And Rio seems to come to the same realization at the same time, irritation marring his features as he steps closer.

Elizabeth--”

“Give us a job and I'll give it back.” The words rush out of her mouth before she can think twice or stop them.

Rio sighs heavily. “You know I can bring ‘em back in and have ‘em tear this place apart.”

Beth smirks, folding her arms over her chest. “Go ahead.”

And with that he comes to the realization that the money isn't being stashed in the apartment. She thinks something akin to pride flashes through his eyes at the knowledge of her storing it somewhere less obvious, presumably more secure, and Beth grins at him.

Rio lets out another sigh of pure exasperation and then grabs her by the back of her neck again, but this time he pulls her into a rough kiss and Beth melts against him, arms coming up to wind around his neck and pull him impossibly closer. God, there is still so much between them to work through, but right now this feels too good to stop.

“You drive me fuckin’ crazy, Elizabeth.” He murmurs against her lips and Beth lets out a breathless little laugh at that.

“There is somethin’ you and your girls can do for me.” Rio pulls back a little. “You ladies got passports?”