The Barrier: Case One- Chapter Ten

Emily didn’t last long, not that Riley was surprised. Emily had gotten even less sleep than herself, and if it weren’t for her anxiety over what to do, Riley would likely also be in bed.

It was fairly late when Riley heard the two men stumble in. They were a bit noisy and had clearly not heeded her advice not to have too much fun. She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help the affectionate smile. Jack did not get out much and needed to have more joy in his life.

She allowed the two men to settle before joining them in Jack’s office and leaning on his desk next to his drink. She sniffed it and gave him a slight glare before taking a deep drink herself.

“Did you have fun?” Riley asked.

“Are you being nosy, my girl?” Jack countered.

“Genuine question.”

“We did, although this town is short on options for entertainment.”

“Pubs are pubs no matter where you go,” Ethan interjected. He studied Riley carefully, curious to see how this conversation would play out and where Riley was as far as joining his team.

Riley sighed and looked between the two of them before focusing back on Ethan. “We have already argued twice.”

“We have,” Ethan agreed. “But we managed to settle it both times.”

“No, we’ve apologized, but the underlying issues cannot possibly be settled already.”

Ethan looked down at his glass, slowly turning the liquid while gathering his thoughts. “Fair enough. Riley, I will be blunt with you, I am not an easy man to work for at times. I am stubborn, demanding, and have a bit of an ego when it comes to certain aspects of my life. I do try, however. I respect all of my employees, and outside of work, I care for them a great deal more than what is likely considered professional. It is cliche and usually bullshit, but in our case, we are a family. I am willing to work hard to make sure they are all happy and cared for. I also take great pride in my work and my team. It is important to me, they are important to me. I know that this type of work would be important to you as well, which is why I think you would be an asset to the team.” He paused, and Riley nodded for him to continue. “The underlying issues are there, but I believe that we can work through them because I believe it is worth it. I want you to work for me, I want you to leave with us. I am willing to try, and I will try hard.”

Riley turned away and quickly tried to swallow down her feelings. She gave Jack a sad look and turned back to Ethan. “If you wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course,” he said, leaving the office.

“You should go,” Jack said solemnly when the two were alone.

“Eager to get rid of me?” Riley attempted a joke.

“Never.” Jack was completely serious when he answered. “But I have held you here for too long, and he might be able to help you.”

“Here isn’t so bad. I mean, I know I am a little old to still be living at home or whatever, but it’s not bad.”

“It’s not about that, Riley. But Riley, you were always meant to be one of the people that left. You are bright, talented, and much too big for this place. You deserve more than not bad.”

“I have you, though.”

“Yes, and you are holding yourself back at least partially for me. I know you took longer to adjust because of your history and then my health, but at this point, it’s an excuse, my dear. I will miss you every damn day, but you cannot stay here anymore.”

“What if I want to?”

“If you truly did, I would be happy to live out my life then give you the bookstore. But you don’t, and we both know it.”

Riley paused and wiped a tear away. “No, I don’t.”

“I know you are afraid, you have had a lot to deal with, and it is safe here. I don’t blame you for wanting to hold on to that, but it’s time.”

“This is the second time I’ve said this, but given my age, it’s probably been time for a while now.”

Jack shrugged. “Everyone reaches this point at their own pace. It doesn’t matter if it’s time now or has been for a while. Stop worrying about that part and focus on tomorrow.”

Riley nodded. “Emily told me the same thing.”

“Wise beyond her years,” Jack joked.

“I’ll miss you too. You won’t lie to me if you need me to come home and take care of you again, will you?”

“And risk having anybody else but you? Never,” Jack said with a fond smile.

Riley replied with a watery laugh and gave him a deep hug. She could feel jolts of pain, but she held on through it as long as she could. “I love you, dad,” she whispered.

“Oh,” Jack said, choking back his own tears. “I love you more than you will ever know. Agreeing to take you in was the greatest joy of my life.” Jack coughed a bit at that and took a drink from his glass. “Now, let Ethan and I finish our night.”

Riley smiled and left. When she got to the hallway, both Emily and Ethan were waiting for her.

“Well?” Emily asked nervously.

Riley nodded, giving them a smile and ignoring her few tears.

Emily did a little dance before racing off to Riley’s room.

“Welcome to PIRI,” Ethan said, and Riley gave him a grin.

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