After a few months apart, Ronnie had rekindled her friendship with Kayla. She still didn't go to clubs or party, but she and Kayla got together once a week at Starbucks to drink coffee and catch up on each other's lives.
Kayla had also gotten to know Will, and found herself liking him, despite their lack of mutual interests, because of his southern boy charm and his deep love for Ronnie. In turn, Will had taken on an older brother role in her life, giving her a shoulder to cry on when she needed a male perspective, and even scaring off one of her particularly bad love interests.
It was at one of their weekly Starbucks meetings, a few months after they had started the tradition, that Kayla insisted that Ronnie and Will meet her new boyfriend. "He's from the South, but not at all like Will," she said. "His name is Teddy, and he said he came to New York for a change of pace. He's really sweet and always takes good care of me."
"Sure," Ronnie said, "Of course." She was only half-listening to Kayla, though. Will had called her yesterday, full of concern over some bad news he had heard. Apparently Marcus had somehow gotten out of jail a few weeks ago and fled the state, so Will had wanted to warn her to be careful in case he came looking for her. She was glad that Will had warned her, but since she heard the news, she couldn't think about anything else. Every time she turned a corner, she was afraid she would walk right into Marcus, the way she had once before. And without Will there to protect her, she didn't think she could handle it. After seeing what Marcus had done to Galadriel, and hearing about him starting the fire at the church, she knew he was capable of anything, and that scared her more than she was willing to admit.
"…tomorrow night at 10?" Kayla was saying.
"What?" Ronnie said, confused. "Sorry, I got distracted."
"Thinking about me?" she heard a southern voice drawl behind her. Turning around, Ronnie saw Will walking over to their table. He gave Ronnie a quick kiss and hugged Kayla before sitting down. "I got out of class early, so I figured I'd join you two for your coffee date. What's going on?"
"Kayla wants us to meet her new boyfriend," Ronnie replied.
"He's amazing," Kayla said. "He's sweet, and funny, and he's always thinking of me or doing something special for me. His name is Teddy, and he's originally from somewhere down South, but he moved up here a few weeks ago for a change of pace. I was just asking Ronnie if you guys were free to meet us at that café we went to a few weeks ago on 96th street tomorrow night at 10."
Ronnie looked at Will, who nodded, before replying. "Sounds great," she said. "We can't wait to meet Teddy."
The next night, Ronnie and Will were sitting at the café, waiting for Kayla and Teddy to arrive. "I'm so glad you're here," Ronnie said, leaning against Will, enjoying the warm feel of his body next to hers. "Meeting Kayla's boyfriends seems so much less scary when you're here."
"Meeting Kayla's boyfriends is scary?" Will questioned.
"Sometimes, " Ronnie replied, laughing. "Some of her boyfriends have been terrifying. One of them even tried to throw a beer bottle at me. Thankfully, he was drunk enough that it missed me."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to let anyone throw beer bottles at you," Will said, pulling her in even closer. "Soda bottles, maybe, but not beer bottles."
"Not funny," Ronnie replied, swatting him with her hand. Suddenly, she felt his entire body go tense. She looked up and saw Kayla walking in with her new boyfriend. She recognized him instantly – it was the face that had haunted her dreams for the past few nights.
As if sensing her fear, Will pulled her in even closer and whispered in her ear. "I won't let him hurt you," he said, rubbing his hand up and down her arm. "And I won't let him hurt Kayla either."
As Kayla and her boyfriend approached the table, Ronnie saw a spark of recognition in his eyes. Ronnie was surprised as he continued to approach the table, and introduced himself as if they wouldn't know who he really was. "Hey, you must be Kayla's friends," he said. "I'm Teddy."
"We know exactly who you are, Marcus," Will replied, his anger showing through his tone. "And if I were you, I would leave, now, before I call the cops and have you thrown back in jail."
"Thrown in jail for what?" Marcus/Teddy replied, sneering. "I don't think upsetting Richie Rich the brake prince will get you thrown in jail in New York. This isn't Wrightsville Beach."
"I'm pretty sure that escaping from jail and fleeing the state will land you back in jail," Will replied. "Now get out of here before I throw you out."
"Hold on," Kayla said, looking from Ronnie and Will to Teddy/Marcus. "What's going on here? How do you guys know Teddy? And why do you keep calling him 'Marcus'?"
"He's from Wrightsville Beach," Will replied. "His real name is Marcus. He must have changed it to Teddy when he got to New York. He should be in jail right now, rotting away for all the horrible things he's done."
"Jail?" Kayla said, confused. "Teddy, is this true?"
"Why don't you ask your friend Ronnie?" Teddy/Marcus replied, sneering. "I'm sure she'll tell you if she thinks I belong in jail."
Marcus gave Ronnie a long, threatening look that made her think twice about telling Kayla what was going on. As she was trying to figure out what to say, Will squeezed her hand and gave her a reassuring look. "Yes, he definitely belongs in jail," Ronnie said. "In addition to scaring the crap out of me several times, and crashing and ruining Will's sister's wedding, he also left my friend Galadriel to die when she was in flames because of her. And he started the fire that burnt down the church my father attended and injured Pastor Harris, and then blamed it on Will's friend Scott. He's not a good guy, Kayla." Getting up, she turned to Kayla and said, "Come on, let's go. We don't want to be anywhere near this guy."
"Good idea," Will replied, getting up. "Let's good to Starbucks – you guys can get anything you want, my treat."
After a few seconds, Kayla got up and went to follow Ronnie and Will out the door. As they were leaving, Ronnie turned to Marcus and said, "Don't go near me or any of my friends ever again." With that, she left the café and didn't even turn back.
As they were walking down the street to the nearest Starbucks, she felt Will wrap his arm around her and pull her close. "I'm really proud of you," he said, leaning in to kiss her. "Standing up to Marcus like that must have been hard, but you did an amazing job."
"Thanks," she said, kissing him again. "I just hope that's the last we see of him."
"Me too," Will replied. "I'm going to call Wrightsville Beach PD tonight and tell them that he's in New York, so hopefully NYPD will catch him and ship him back to North Carolina. And even if they don't, I'm sure you scared him off."
Ronnie smiled, wrapped her arm around Will's arm, and leaned her head against Will. She linked her other arm with Kayla's arm, and walked down the street with the best boyfriend and best friend a girl could ever ask for.