Chapter Twenty-One: You Have To Be Careful

"You shouldn't have told him," Riley said, dragging her hands up through her hair. She turned to Zack, folding her arms over her chest, hugging tightly. She looked away from him, who was mimicking her stance with his own arms folded over his chest, and to Cody, who sat at the dining table, pouring through a laptop. "I can handle this on my own." She thought for a moment, then corrected herself, "Or 'we' can."

Zack's face softened just slightly, though he still looked more exasperated than Riley had ever seen him. "Because Cody's my brother and if there's anyone who's going to know anything about restraining orders it's him." He rolled his eyes and smirked. "Why do you think he can't get within five feet of Yale?"

Riley lifted an eyebrow. "Because he still goes to high school in Boston?"

"No, it's because he bugged them so much about how badly he wanted to go there and how it was the 'right fit' that they put a restraining order on him." Zack shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea if you know the name, address, and previous investments of the dean of admissions."

At that, Cody slapped his hands on the table around his laptop and made a sound of exasperation so large it rivaled Zack's look. "Creating and cultivating relationships with others is a perfectly reasonable way to start your college career." Zack opened and closed his hand as Cody spoke, miming his words. "It's a known fact that everyone makes relationships and friendships with others because there's something they can get out of other people."

"Really?" A smirk came to Riley's face. She leaned around Zack and asked Cody, "So what are you getting out of dating my sister? Or when you dated my cousin?"

Zack grinned, watching his brother's face turn red before he started to stammer out an answer. "I think that's the quietest he's going to be for a long time. Thanks, I should've thought of that a long time ago." Zack reached out his hand, gently taking Riley's in it. Her eyes shifted to his hand, glancing over the bruising and the ripped skin from the punch he threw. "I know I should've talked to you about telling Cody first—"

"—And about telling your mum, dad, and grandparents that Ian hits me?"

Her voice turned cold, unable to keep the annoyance at bay. Unable to keep the chill from rolling up her spine that she was usually able to avoid with a good amount of detachment. But how detached could you be when it felt like your entire world was crumbling around you? All with things that she was usually able to hold back, to hide, to keep a secret as part of her past life?

A life she'd thought she'd left behind?

Zack parted his lips, then froze. He frowned, and let out a quiet breath. "I'm sorry about that, too."

"You should listen to him," Cody remarked. "It's the most I've heard him apologize in years."

Zack's eyebrows twitched together and he turned to glare at his brother. "At lest I'm not the one who's constantly apologizing like everything is my fault." He paused when Cody shot him a smug look. "Shut up, you're the one who apologizes for even existing. Which is an apology for all of us, actually. We're sorry you exist."

Cody shot him a glare in response.

Riley grabbed Zack's attention once more as she practically hissed under her breath, "I can't believe you told them."

"In Zack's defense," Cody said, getting to his feet. He rounded the table, pressing the lid to his laptop closed. "He didn't mean to tell them. He was just trying to defend you and himself, because he was being blamed for something that wasn't his fault." Cody folded his arms. "Honestly, I wasn't very far away from figuring it out myself. Because you act different when you're around Ian." He lowered his voice. "Sort of like how you did when Robert was around."

Riley sighed, lowering her gaze. She hadn't known that, or at least tried to act like there wasn't anything going wrong. Once she was able to get it off her chest and tell the girls kinda sorta what'd been going on, it was like everything was simultaneously becoming brighter and darker. Brighter that more people would be able to help, but darker knowing it was only a matter of time until everything blew up in her face.

And as she knew about Ian, it was going to be something she probably wouldn't be able to come back from. Or else, Zack wouldn't be able to come back from. There was a lot to be said about someone who said they could handle anything and being able to practice would they preach. So far Zack was everything he said he'd be, she remembered how honest he was the first time they'd gone out. Where they threw their insecurities out there, where they said they wondered why it took so long for them to get together despite how many times they tried. Where he said he was probably not the best boyfriend, that he could be very selfish, that he didn't think all the 'romantic' and 'cliché' things made much sense to him, that he worried how to be himself.

And Riley had simply smirk-smiled back at him—something he always said he liked about her—and admitted she didn't really get a lot of it either. That the only thing she really cared about was how she felt being around the other person and that they'd continue to make her feel wanted. He did that well. And it worked for them.

But it was something to be said when she knew it was only a matter of time until that point of being wanted slowly dwindled away when the shiny sheen of their relationship was dampened by the things she tried to keep back. And her guilt would certainly not hold up if anything happened to him…as many times as she teased him about giving him bodily harm.

Cody watched her and continued. "You become quiet, you're really tense, you snap a lot—"

"—Actually, I'm used to that," Zack interrupted. He smiled when Cody glared at him for interrupting and Riley gave a soft smile in response. "I don't mind that."

"—You work to keep everyone away, you're much more secretive in general. You're just not you, Riles." Cody shrugged his shoulders. "I know there's more than this that you've never talked to us about before, and I hope you finally feel like you can, but this is starting to get dangerous." At that, Riley rolled her eyes. "Like that," Cody commented, pointing at her. "You downplay it, or blow it off, but I can tell that you're worried about it. Or, at least, I hope you're worried about my brother."

"Ian managed to trick him into getting a restraining order, mate, you think I'm not fucking worried about that?" Riley asked. She chuckled humorlessly, shaking her head. "You don't know what he can do. He's so good at coming across as if he's innocent…why do you think I don't tell people? His parents think he's a bloody angel."

"And that's why I needed to say something," Zack insisted. He sighed heavily and took Riley's hands again. She raised an eyebrow, looking at him skeptically. "I've seen what happened to you guys when Robert was still around. And my mom. He hurt my mom, Riles. I had to say something for her and for you. Why would I not be there for you now?"

Riley felt her cheeks redden with a combination of gratefulness and annoyance. "Because I don't want anything to happen to you, you idiot!"

Zack threw his hands in the air. "What else do you think is going to happen? I punched the ground and got a restraining order!" He laughed incredulously. "Even Maddie hasn't done that for me yet. Even Mr. Moseby hasn't done that to me and I practically stalk the guy!"

"You don't get it…"

"So let us get it," Cody insisted. "We're here to help you."

Riley felt her resolve breaking. She looked back and forth between Zack and Cody, feeling a sudden wave of appreciation for them. Zack had immediately gone over to meet her, taking Cody with him when his brother had said he believed him. As from what she understood through Zack's babbling once she got through to the point that he'd told someone else that had been going on. At first, she'd glared at Zack and glared hard and fierce all the while he stared back at her and Cody explained what he was doing there.

But now…now…she could feel everything she'd ever felt with Robert come back to her. The wave of relief that was so strong, when he was led away in handcuffs, that she immediately sank to the ground and hugged her brothers and sister as tightly as she could. Where she couldn't stop grinning like a loon because she knew, finally, it was time for things to move forward. To be happy.

And she had been happy, where she was had some of her best friends around, where she had a boyfriend who truly cared about her, in ways she didn't think was possible. Where she had people who trusted, and cared about her And yet she still continued to try to keep them away because…why? Because of her shame? And what did she have to feel shame over?

If things were going to end, they were going to end because of the people she had around her, working to keep her safe and having her best interest at heart. There were things she had to get through, things that she had told Zack that made it easier for him to at least partially understand her and he hadn't judged her for it.

He'd tried to protect her the only way he knew how.

Reaching out, Riley pressed her hand against Zack's cheek and placed a gentle kiss on his lips before turning to Cody and asked, "Is there a chance that the disorder can stick?"

"Only if Ian and his parents find a credible reason to believe that Zack is going to harm him," Cody said slowly. "Which…" he shrugged. "Considering what's already happened, they might." Zack snorted. "I'm being serious, Zack, they may take your past…" he paused, trying to figure out how to word things delicately. "Discretions may be used against you. Including your—"

"—You don't have to say it," Zack interrupted with a roll of his eyes. "I get it."

Cody nodded.

"He's going to use everything he can against me," Riley said slowly. She took in a deep breath and looked Zack in the eye. "The things I already told you, but I don't know if Rhu's told Codes…" she shifted her gaze to her boyfriend's twin. "You may want to talk to her."

"Does it have anything to do with your bruise?"

"Sort of."

Cody smiled wryly. "We've talked about it before, what's once more."

Riley smiled. Then it faded. "Do you think it's going to work?"

"Well, from what Zack told me of what you guys were going to do…I think it will. But the more of us know, who can help you, the better it'll be."

Riley nodded. Okay, she trusted them. They were her friends; she could handle that. She just hoped they could handle the upcoming fallout. Because it was coming whether they were ready for it or not.

A/N: Well, this one wouldn't leave me alone as of late. But don't worry, chapters are going to be getting longer. It has strayed a tiny bit from my original plans, but we'll be getting back into it in a way I think will definitely hold up to the end of the story I feel is very close to what gave me the idea in the first place.