His Surprise

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The next morning, Riley decided that she apparently overdid herself with the melodrama the night before. Did she really need to banish the triplets from her life, too, when it was Paige she was angry with? She found herself wishing she could rewind everything she'd said the night before and erase that part of her not having any nephews. They hadn't done anything to her. They were simply innocent victims of their mother's affair.

Riley sighed and wiped the fresh tears streaming down her temples, tickling her ear. There was nothing she could do right then but worry even more, maybe cry even more when she really needed to stop before her eyes would swell shut. Besides, other things were going on in her life—better things, happy things. Ashe was coming home, and she wanted to start fresh, even if she had to pretend that she was happy.

To do that, she needed to get out of the apartment instead of moping even more. So Riley got dressed in her best vintage Blondie T-shirt and jeans, piled on the makeup over the dark circles under her eyes, and went to work. Work would keep her busy, and being a Saturday, she was sure the Library Cafe would be busy, despite the fake review.

At the Library Cafe, she found herself wondering if people really bothered to read those online business reviews. It didn't seem like it, from the line of customers that grew with each hour, every table occupied by regulars and new faces, books pulled from their shelves and haphazardly returned to the wrong ones. Riley figured if they did, they mustn't put much stock into them. Still, she thought that maybe she better start getting a hang of social media after all and learn how to counter such reviews. Taking a few business courses at NYU wouldn't hurt either.

She could even go to college full-time. She'd always wanted to, and if it weren't for having to help Gareth make it, she'd have had a degree by now. She could have even majored in English—and she still could.

By the time the afternoon rush was over, Riley had had enough of blending espressos, lattes, and mochas. She was tired of smiling at everyone when she really wanted to cry, especially when every blonde woman who walked in reminded her of Paige. She couldn't even muster a smile at Mr. Kyle when he asked her if everything was okay. So she forced herself to get her act together. After all, Ashe was coming home.

Then she began to wonder how long she could hold herself together if ever-perceptive Ashe happened to ask her, "Is everything all right?" Would she bawl her eyes out and ruin everything? She felt like an overflowing dam, and one little tweak of the switch was all that was needed to let everything spill out.

"Is everything okay?" Tessa asked, and Riley felt her throat constrict. "You've been staring at the Ethiopian Djimma coffee for the last five minutes like it's going to sprout or something."

"Sure, everything's fine," Riley said, forcing a smile and hoping that Tessa wouldn't start her Anahata mumbo-jumbo again. Though it had worked well that first time, this time, she really didn't want to be told what was out of whack with her chakras. For this time, it had nothing to do with her chakras. But as she turned her attention to counting how much of certain tea blends the cafe had in the storeroom, she could feel Tessa's eyes still watching her.

"What is it now?" Riley asked brusquely, as she walked past Tessa to go to the office and get her purse. She should have been out the door ten minutes ago.

"Nothing. I just wanted to tell you that if you ever need someone to talk to, I'm always around," Tessa shrugged. "Well, I'd better get back to work."

"That's probably a good idea," Riley said, her voice softening as she watched Tessa return to the counter where someone was waiting. Riley slung her purse over her shoulder, waved goodbye to everyone, and hurried out the door before tears threatened to spill down her face.

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