Baggage Claim

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By the following morning, entertainment networks were abuzz with news of Gareth's disappearance. Some wrote that it was probably another one of Gareth and Isobel's explosive arguments, for just as they were often caught being such lovebirds in public, they were also known for their very public arguments.

If eyewitness accounts were to be believed, Gareth and Isobel had been seen arguing just outside his trailer that evening, shortly after shooting had wrapped for the day. Someone said that it had involved another woman. Another report said it had more to do with creative differences, that Isobel wanted a scene to go one way and Gareth had other ideas. Another person claimed he'd overheard them arguing over some online review she'd left for a coffee shop his ex-girlfriend owned—something about a rat she'd seen on the premises even though she'd never been there.

"Didn't you tell me that the Library had a rat problem?" Ashe asked as he slipped a dark blue beanie over his head, a look that Riley loved.

"The cafe has no rat problem," Riley replied defensively, "though someone did post a fake review that they'd seen one."

"Well, thank goodness not everyone believes those damn business reports. Though I have to admit that if Isobel did leave such a review, it just shows her level of immaturity."

Riley chuckled drily. "I'm not the one who dated her for over a year."

Ashe ignored her as he slipped on his dark wool coat before checking for cat hair. Unless Miss Bailey had learned how to recline on coats hanging behind doors, Ashe was simply doing it out of habit. He was dressed in his outfit from the night before; a plain white shirt layered beneath a denim shirt and his favorite jeans.

Riley was always in awe of his ability to mix and match clothes so effortlessly and had concluded that it must be the result of the years he'd spent modeling, just like Paige's talent for mixing and matching anything on hand and making it work. As for Riley, she was lucky if she didn't look like she was doing the walk of shame every time she emerged from her own apartment, dressed in whatever she thought was comfortable. That was how one gossip site had captioned their picture of herself and Ashe leaving her building in search of coffee two blocks away.

As she watched him check his reflection in the hallway mirror, brushing his hair with his fingers, Riley remembered how their day had begun at five that morning, with his phone buzzing noisily. He'd been in the bathroom then, and when she'd taken a peek at his phone, she saw he'd received a number of text messages.

Have you heard from Gareth yet? We're ready to file a Missing Persons Report if we don't hear from him by noon.

Another text said, Contract signing at 11 a.m., a third, Are you available for shoot tomorrow? And yet another said, flt tx confirmed for 2 ppl 12/10.

As Riley buried herself under the covers then, she realized that this was something she had to get used to, remembering Paige's plea to find someone normal. She wondered how she'd fare in the long run having to deal with Ashe's crazy schedule, his constantly buzzing phone, and the glances people gave them when they were together. She wondered if she'd always be judged by the way she looked, what she wore or what she did. One gossip site even wrote that Ashe could do better than date a barista, of all things. Never mind that she owned half of the Library Cafe, although that was not common knowledge.

Riley pushed away those thoughts. The last thing she needed was new crap heaped on the old pile of crap, the one that included the disappointments of yesterday. Things could be worse.

"You're thinking so hard that fumes are coming out of your ears," Ashe teased, his voice bringing her back to the present.

"I'm just getting used to my new reality, where I'm finally on my own. It feels like it's the first day of my life," Riley said, walking toward him and leaning against the couch as he stood on the landing.

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