Chapter Description: Ryan has to prepare for the party and as he does so he receives an unwelcome call. Anna is glad to go home for the weekend but with what is coming would she rather stay at the nursery?
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Ryan walked around the supermarket with a shopping cart in front of him. The party was tomorrow and he was buying the things he would need. He was dreading it and couldn’t wait for it to be finished so they could go back to “normal.” He would have almost no time to prepare Anna to the ordeal she might face.
Thinking about Anna made Ryan’s heart ache. He had no idea what was going on and wouldn’t be picking her up for another twenty-four hours. Even then it was only for the weekend before she went back. He hadn’t thought this separation would be as painful as it was turning out for him.
“Beer, food, cigarettes…” Ryan was looking down into the cart. He didn’t want to forget anything.
These parties were not just normal events. Ryan had been to a few before he had been exiled and to say they could get wild was an understatement. Some of the things he had seen, if he had told Anna about them in full he knew she would be dreading the party even more than she already was. He only wished there was some way to protect her, in all honesty he would have very little control over the situation.
How Ryan wished he could cancel the party. He had racked his brain trying to think of a reason to postpone without there being any consequences but had come up empty. He knew this party was more than just the regular end of week celebration, this was a test. Paul and the other men weren’t going to let him back into the fold without proving he belonged there.
Ryan pushed the cart along as he looked at the shelves. His mind was wandering elsewhere until he came upon the condom section. His jaw hardened and he swallowed hard. He didn’t think Anna understood just how wild these events could get. He KNEW Anna didn’t understand how crazy things could go. At some of the past events he had witnessed the other men’s wives being taken to the bedroom and the guys would take turns. It almost seemed like a rite of passage for the men, something Ryan had managed to avoid.
The thought of Anna being put into such a position made Ryan’s skin crawl. She would never forgive him for allowing that to happen and he couldn’t blame her. The problem was that if the other guys decided that was what they wanted it put him into a position he desperately didn’t want to be in. This was his second chance at having a career, there wouldn’t be a third.
Ryan turned away from the shelves and made his way over to get some more snacks. As he rifled through the various choices of chips he reflected on how strange the last couple of days had been. Ostensibly he had been welcomed back into the “alpha” group of men but there was still something separating him from the others. They were wary of him. He felt like a wolf who had stumbled on to a pack, the others were allowing him to stay but he hadn’t been welcomed yet, not until he earned his keep.
Every time Ryan was with the other men he saw their glances his way. He heard the way conversation shifted slightly when he was in the room. He was desperate to be one of them again. It truly was all or nothing. As one of them he would soon be climbing the ladder and becoming the powerful businessman he had always dreamt about. A position where he could afford anything he wanted and keep Anna safe. If he didn’t become one of their friends he could kiss it all goodbye.
Ryan wheeled the cart to the checkout and started putting everything on the conveyor belt. As the food was being scanned he looked at the man working at the cash register. He looked miserable, it was a reminder of where Ryan could end up if things went badly at the party.
Once he had paid Ryan pushed the cart back to where he had collected it and pulled the bags out. He had barely taken a couple of steps when his phone rang. With a sigh he put the bags down and reached into his pocket, his phone let him know that it was his father calling him. A rare occurrence and one that worried Ryan considerably.
“Hello?” Ryan said as he answered. He hated how nervous he sounded.
“Ryan! My boy!” Harold’s voice boomed through the phone so loudly that Ryan had to hold it away from his head, “How are you doing? Keeping those grades up?”
“I’m fine. Classes are-…” Ryan started.
“Great, great, I’m glad to hear it.” Harold interrupted, “And Anna?”
“She’s… fine.” Ryan replied with hesitation. He wasn’t sure he wanted his father to know exactly what had been happening.
“Don’t you worry about her.” Harold said, “A spell in that nursery will do her some good. Help her learn her place. Old Trent, on the board, he had his wife sent to that very same nursery back when he was in college and it straightened her right up.”
“That’s… Wait, how do you know about Anna?” Ryan asked.
“You don’t think I wouldn’t be keeping an eye on you, did you?” Harold let out a loud laugh that made Ryan wince, “I have to admit I was getting worried about you. You know I want to retire soon and I need to know the family business is in safe hands.”
“I know.” Ryan replied.
“I’d heard you were being a pussy.” Harold laughed again. This time Ryan heard an edge to it, a note of warning, “I’m very happy that I heard wrong.”
Ryan didn’t know what to say to that so he didn’t say anything. He heard his father breathe a couple of times. It seemed like he was waiting, almost daring his son to say something back to him. The silence seemed to stretch on but Ryan wasn’t going to say a word. It felt like a game of chicken where the first person to speak would lose.
“Alright, well, I’ve got to go.” Harold finally said, “You’re making me proud son.”
Ryan felt bile rise up in his throat but he forced it back down. He said his goodbyes and hung up as quickly as he could. It was only as he put his phone back in his pocket that he realised his hand was trembling and he was dripping sweat despite it not being warm. Ryan picked up his shopping and hurried home, he couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder several times wondering if someone was watching.
Anna’s hand moved across the paper but she was barely paying any attention to what she was doing. It was the afternoon and she knew she would soon be picked up but Ryan. With what awaited her that evening she didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. She couldn’t stop thinking about poor Jane either. Thinking about what her friend was going through right then made her want to break down and cry. She was in mourning for a friend who hadn’t died.
“Aww, that’s a pretty picture.” Mr. Kenny’s voice made Anna jump, “Is that you and your Daddy?”
Anna frowned and looked down at the paper. Her mind had been elsewhere all day so she was rather surprised to see she had finger-painted two people holding hands surrounded by big red hearts. One was clearly her and the other, she realised now, definitely was Ryan. The painting was rough since she was using her fingers and not paying attention, she had never been much of an artist. Hearing someone refer to Ryan as her “Daddy” made her feel unwell.
“This looks perfect for going up on the wall.” Mr. Kenny continued as he picked the drawing up, “I bet your Daddy will love it when he sees it.”
“Don’t call him that…” Anna muttered. She shivered as she heard the words.
“Come on, Anna. There’s no need to be cranky when we’re making so much progress already.” Mr. Kenny reached down and ruffled Anna’s hair.
Progress? Anna had been sat at the table with the other women after nap time and when told to paint she had painted. With a start Anna realised she had just sort of switched her brain off. With everything going on it was so much easier to try to just not think about anything. She turned to look at Macy and Rebecca and shuddered. She had to be better than this. She couldn’t lose herself like that, it was a very slippery slope. She had paint everywhere from her hands to her face to the apron that protected the nursery’s clothes.
Anna felt the old combative spirit igniting in her a little. The men here wanted her to regress to little more than a useless baby, they wanted her to fail but she would be damned before she gave in to what they wanted.
Fortunately Anna was saved from much more embarrassment when Ryan walked in. After the last few days he was a sight for sore eyes and Anna quickly jumped to her feet, pulled the apron off and hurried over. By the time she reached Ryan’s side he was already in conversation with Mr. Kenny.
“You must have her back here Monday morning.” Mr. Kenny was explaining, “And then you’ll be able to pick her up again next Friday… that is unless you want to leave her here for weekends as well.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Ryan replied stonily.
Anna tried not to show the horror she felt at the idea of being left at the nursery practically permanently. These weekends were the only thing keeping her sane. She swallowed as she looked up at Ryan. He seemed to be avoiding her gaze which surprised her after these days they had spent apart.
“Oh, and I thought you’d like to see this.” Mr. Kenny picked up the picture he had taken off Anna earlier and handed it to Ryan, “Adorable, isn’t it? Your baby has quite the artistic streak.”
Anna was blushing violently as Ryan looked down at the picture with a frown and then turned to look at her. He didn’t say anything but his eyes conveyed both surprise and worry. Anna supposed he was scared she was losing her grip, it was a fair concern to have and she felt the same way.
“I was going to put it up on the wall here but if you’d rather take it home…” Mr. Kenny trailed off.
“I’ll take it, thanks.” Ryan replied, “Is there anything else?”
“That’s it.” Mr. Kenny smiled as he rubbed his hands together, “I’ll see you on Monday, Anna. Stay out of trouble.”
Anna was saved from having to reply by Ryan taking her hand and turned her away from the desk. The thick diaper between her legs had only recently been put on her, it was still dry but its sheer size made walking difficult. Anna wasn’t helped by the pace Ryan was keeping up as he walked down the hallway, through the lobby and outside the building. It very much seemed like he was trying to get away from the nursery as quickly as possible.
“I’m so glad to see you.” Anna said as soon as she was sure they were out of earshot of anyone else.
“Are you alright?” Ryan asked anxiously.
“Mostly.” Anna replied with a shrug.
“That painting.” Ryan started, “I was worried they were doing something to your mind…”
“Don’t worry.” Anna cut him off, “I was just distracted. Thinking about you and Jane and…”
“Wait until we get home.” Ryan cut her off.
Anna was left surprised by her what her husband had said but fell silent anyway. It was a short trip back to the apartment and when Anna stepped inside she was ready to go for a long bath. When she saw snacks laid out and the furniture moved she was reminded of the party that would be happening that evening.
“How long have I got?” Anna asked dejectedly.
“About two hours.” Ryan replied, “But I need to-…”
This time it was Anna cutting Ryan off. She stepped forwards and wrapped her arms around him. She could feel he was tense but after a few seconds he slackened and his arms went around her. She sighed.
“They took Jane.” Anna said quietly.
“I know.” Ryan replied, “I heard it from Paul. He was crowing about how they had found her after the escape attempt.”
“I should’ve been there.” Anna said.
“I’m very grateful you weren’t.” Ryan responded quickly. He pushed himself out of the hug before Anna was ready to let go, “But we need to talk about tonight.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s going to suck.” Anna’s shoulders slumped.
“No, I don’t think you know how much it will suck.” Ryan replied. The look on his face was deadly serious.
Anna knew the party wasn’t going to be a good time but when Ryan sat her down and told her what he had seen happen at other parties she was horrified. All of a sudden the nursery didn’t seem quite as bad. She swallowed nervously as she heard about the sexual harassment, the derogatory comments and, in some cases, the women being taken to the bedroom.
“You… You wouldn’t let that happen, right?” Anna asked anxiously.
“Of course not.” Ryan replied, “But there will be a dozen people here. I’m going to do my best to keep an eye on you but it’s going to be difficult. I’ve laid out what you’re expected to wear on the bed.”
“C-Can’t you cancel?” Anna asked nervously, “After the week I’ve had…”
“I… can’t.” Ryan put his hand on Anna’s knee, “Believe me I would love to but this is really make or break for my future. For our future.”
“You care about your career more than me?” Anna asked.
“No. Of course not.” Ryan replied, “But this doesn’t have to be a choice. I can have both.”
Anna looked at Ryan for a few moments and suddenly felt more anxious than ever. She had never been sure what he would choose if it came down to her versus his hypothetical career. If what Ryan was saying was meant to be reassuring it wasn’t working.
“You should get ready.” Ryan said, “It’ll be OK.”
“Alright…” Anna stood up and swallowed, “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Ryan smiled.