Rio honestly didn’t think it would last long. He was sure she would come rushing back after a week tops or the more likely, which he hated to admit, was that he would go running back to her. Beth had been out of the life for almost six months and he still hadn’t heard a peep out of her since that night in the bathroom. He had gone to get the money from the storage unit and then he left. He didn’t bother to contact her and she didn’t try either.
It took him a little under two weeks before he caved and sent his boys to watch her. He discovered that she was working at the dealership with her husband and other than being a busy woman, she was apparently completely fine. Rio hated how angry that made him. He was beginning to wonder if maybe something had happened to her but no, she was just living her life.
He had meant it when he gave her the keys to the kingdom but things change and he took his money back. He didn’t regret that. He half expected to get an angry phone call from her or a text demanding that they meet up but he never did. She had said she wanted out but he never believed her. There were plenty of times she could have gotten out and she never did, always coming back for more. It didn’t even cross his mind that this time would actually be different.
His boys kept their eye on her, driving by the dealership just to see, sometimes popping in. If she recognised them, she never made it obvious. A few times Rio drove by himself. He even went in once or twice but he always seemed to miss her. That was all during the first couple of months. He had long since given up on trying to catch her. She really had gone for good, fine, if that’s what she wanted then so be it. Rio wasn’t the least bit bothered, at least until he saw her again.
Rio had just met with a couple of his boys. They had taken to meeting up for food on Fridays to discuss how business was going. He wasn’t involved in every single aspect anymore and it allowed for him to stay in the know regardless. He was just heading back to his car when he spotted her stepping out of that mama van of hers, all four of her kids piling out of the side door. He watches as she tries to keep them all together. She ushers them towards the pizza place just down the road from where she had parked. It didn’t take Rio long to figure out that she wasn’t full time at the dealership and it doesn’t look like that’s changed.
She looks a little flustered as she holds the door open and waits for the kids to rush inside. Rio follows them but stays on the opposite side of the road. It’s a small place and fairly busy already but she manages to find a booth by the window and Rio finally gets a good look at her. She looks just the same. Her hair is a little longer and he’s sure it frames her face a little differently, although it’s hard to tell.
After the initial excitement of getting pizza dies down and their food is ordered, the kids are relatively calm. Rio watches as they all talk amongst themselves and, after the pizzas come, the whole family seems to brighten up. He hates the way his chest tightens at the sight of Beth laughing. At one point she even has to clamp her hand over her mouth as she doubles over. She looks so happy and, although he figured as much already, it really dawns on him then that she isn’t going to come back. Giving her one last look, Rio turns around and heads back towards his car, trying to ignore the pit in his stomach.
Rio can’t handle it. He’s decided as much already as he drives over to Beth’s house. He’s beginning to figure out why not seeing her bothers him so much. Why it sits at his very core and drives him mad wondering when he’ll see or even speak to her again. It’s his fault. He knows that deep down. If he hadn’t taken the money back, if he hadn’t been so stubborn and just contacted her first, then there wouldn’t be any radio silence. But it doesn’t really matter now, he just wants it to be over and she’s clearly moved on. He’s not entirely sure why he has to confront her, why he has to talk to her one last time, but he does. He’s pretty sure it’s the only way he’ll be able to really cut ties forever.
He parks just down the road and takes a slow walk towards her house. It’s just after eight. Her kids should be occupied or in bed and, after seeing her get pizza earlier, he figures that Dean is probably working late tonight at the dealership. It’s the perfect time to talk to her. As he reaches the house he notices that Dean’s car is in fact missing from the driveway but he still heads around the back.
On his way towards the backdoor, he stops dead. The lights in the kitchen are off but there’s a soft glow spreading in from the dining room. Through the kitchen window, he can see Beth sitting at the island counter, glass in hand. Her shoulders are slumped and if she were to look up, she would see him standing there, but she doesn’t. She simply stares down at her glass, swirling the contents. He debates going in to talk to her but then the sound of a car pulling up fills the air and Rio side steps so he’s further into the shadows.
Beth looks up then. She wipes at her eyes and her cheeks and it’s a like punch to the gut when Rio realises that she’s been crying. As Dean comes into the room behind her, she plasters on a smile before twirling around on her seat to face him. Rio can feel the anger pool inside of him as Dean approaches her and the two of them hug.
For the first time since he took the money, Rio does something he never thought he would. He’s waiting patiently in the diner that Ruby used to work at, sitting at one of the booths furthest from the door. There are three cups on the table, his already filled with a second round of coffee. He motions for the waitress to fill the other two as Annie and Ruby finally show up.
They slide into the seats across from him and once they are settled, he can see how nervous they are. He can’t really blame them. It’s been even longer since he saw or spoke to them.
“Is there something wrong?” Ruby asks and he catches the hesitation in her voice.
He focuses his attention on Annie. “What’s going on with your sister?”
“What do you mean?” Rio doesn’t answer and she sighs. “Nothing is going on with Beth.”
“Funny,” he says, pausing to take a drink of his coffee. “I went to see her tonight.”
Both of them share a surprised look but it’s Ruby who speaks. “So why are you asking us about her?”
“I didn’t talk to her.” He fixes both of them with a look, hoping to convey how serious he is. “She was sitting alone in the dark, crying. The thing is though,” he leans on the table, “as soon as that husband of hers walked in, she plastered on a smile.”
Annie and Ruby share another look and he notices the concern right away. “You haven’t exactly been around,” the former says. “Why do you care? I mean, do you care?”
He shrugs a little. “Let’s just say I do.”
“She had to make a choice,” Annie tells him after receiving a confirming nod from Ruby. “Between the business and her family.” He quirks a brow at that. He had never asked her to choose. “After you took the money back she could have tracked you down. We think Dean realised that too because he gave her an ultimatum.”
Rio’s hands tighten a little around his cup but he just nods his head a little. “Go on.”
“I know my sister would pick her kids over you any day.”
“I would pick my kid over her too.”
Annie takes a deep breath and leans on the table, clasping her hands together. She’s nervous and Rio realises that she’s wanted to talk about this for a long time now. That whatever is going on with Beth really doesn’t sit well with her.
“Dean gave her no choice really,” Ruby explains when Annie seems to struggle to find the words. “She felt like he would go to the FBI to get you out of her life.”
“He’s stupid enough not to realise it’ll only get her into trouble too,” Annie adds, rolling her eyes a little. “She would pick those kids over you any day but that doesn’t mean she wanted to.”
That hit him. It didn’t matter how confident he had originally been that she would come back. Did they really believe that she wouldn’t have walked away from him by choice? Although it did explain why he never heard a peep from her. He adjusted a little in his seat, trying to ignore the way his stomach twisted.
“We can see she’s miserable,” Ruby continues. “Sometimes she’s great. I think spending so much time with the kids again has helped.”
“But she misses you- the business.” Annie’s eyes dart away, realising she’s said too much but Rio’s heart is already beating faster.
“I get it, she picked her family,” he says. “But she’s back with him?”
“I’m sure she thinks it’s easier,” Annie says and it’s the confirmation he needs. “I can see her slipping back into the housewife she was before. Back to being ‘Bethie’.”
Rio notices the sarcasm around the nickname and he gets this sickening feeling in the back of his throat that he’s sure Annie is experiencing as well.
“She’s just diving in head first,” Ruby elaborates.
“I think she’ll be able to cope better with- Ow!” Rio looks between them and realises that Ruby must have hit Annie under the table. He narrows his eyes at them and Ruby rolls her eyes and reluctantly motions for Annie to continue. “Let’s just say, she made her decision to stop shit from hitting the fan but it was also to protect you.”
Rio blinks a few times and sits back. “What?”
Ruby chews on her bottom lip for a moment. “She was going to leave him. After the ultimatum. File for divorce, finally kick his ass out for good this time..”
“You have to promise not to retaliate,” Annie says, sitting up a little straighter and doing her best to fix him with what he’s sure is meant to be a determined, maybe even threatening, look. “Because I will call the cops on your ass myself.”
Rio holds his hand up in defence. “I promise.” He meant it, he just had to know. All of this time he thought that he and Beth were both just too stubborn but it turns out there might be more to the story.
“Dean tried to have you killed.”
That takes him by surprise. It’s the kind of thing he would normally hear about although he never thought someone like Dean would be that much of a threat to him. If it wasn’t for the serious looks on their faces he would have laughed it off.
“He was willing to hire anyone and pay anything to make you disappear for good,” Ruby says and she looks scared. It takes Rio a minute to realise its fear of him, of how he might react. “He wanted you out of her life. After you took the money, he thought that would be it. During that first week, when it seemed like she might cave and track you down, it all came out and so she chose.”
“We don’t know the details,” Annie clarified. “She just told us that part of the decision making led to Dean giving up on his vendetta. Being with Dean again, trying to make it work… I think she feels like she deserves it.”
Rio chews on his lip. “Could he do it? Get someone to kill me, I mean.”
“He’s surprisingly resourceful.” He notices the way Annie switches to anger a little too quickly and he gives her a look to continue on. “He managed to keep years of cheating with multiple women under wraps.”
“It’s not just that,” Ruby interjects. “He got them into serious debt, twice. And not to mention the cancer.”
Rio frowns. “Cancer?”
“That big party that she threw for Kenny’s birthday?” Rio nods a little as he remembers standing by the house, watching over the guests as they crowded around the birthday boy and his cake. “Well, they weren’t living together at that point and I’m not entirely sure what happened but he told her she had cancer.” Rio can already feel his stomach drop. “She found out later it was all lies.”
“And she’s still with him?”
“You shot him,” Ruby says but there’s no venom in her voice, she’s just stating facts. He focuses his gaze on her. “She felt so guilty. She never really confronted him about the cancer. I think she thinks they’re even because she got him shot. Either way, he’s capable of more than people give him credit for.”
“What are you going to do?” Annie asks him.
He shakes his head. “Nothing.”
“Really?” She’s fixing him with a disbelieving look and he begins to wonder when he became so predictable.
Rio stands up from the table. “I’m gonna go and see her.” He taps the table lightly with his fingers. “Just to talk.” With that, he walks away. He does everything he can to keep down the anger that’s pooling inside of him. He always figured he wouldn’t care what was going on in her life. Things clearly weren’t fantastic otherwise she wouldn’t have invited him to have sex with her in that bathroom while on a date with her husband but he always shrugged it off. Now that he knows what has been going on, Rio finds he does care, perhaps even a little too much.