For disclaimers see Part 1
It took Shana only a short time to take a shower and find some clothes to wear. Thankfully, Kevin and Mike had gotten her bags from the crashed Jeep the night before.
Nonetheless, Kevin was getting twitchy by the time Shana returned to the kitchen. He wanted to get to Anne's house as soon as possible since he had a very good idea what his friend was doing at that moment and he wanted to prevent her from hurting herself any more than she already was.
The tall man pulled his jacket from the closet in the lobby and impatiently motioned for Shana to get going. Just as they were about to leave, Shana remembered that Mishka was still in the library by himself.
Before Kevin could stop her, she was on her way to the library. He growled in frustration, but didn't follow her.
When Shana entered the room, she had to bite back a smile at the sight that greeted her. Mishka was sitting on the sofa in front of the fireplace, a huge, garishly colored mug in one hand, a plate of cookies in the other, and a very motherly looking Irene hovering over him.
Mishka looked like a frightened eight-year-old in the presence of the fairy godmother. He probably doesn't understand just what's happening to him, Shana thought. Irene really could be an experience, especially since she probably hadn't been too nice to him at first and was now showering him with almost motherly affection.
Another stray for her collection. Shana cleared her throat loud enough for Irene and Mishka to look up at her.
"What are you still doing here?" Irene asked dryly. "You should be over at Anne's by now."
"I just wanted to let Mishka know what's going on here and I want to --"
"I'll do that. Now go!" The older woman stood and walked over to where Shana leaned against the door frame. "Please, little one. Just go and explain everything to her. Make her feel better."
"I don't know how to tell her ..." the younger woman whispered. "She'll probably hate me when I tell her."
"Shea," Irene looked at her with concern, "you have to realize that she probably won't be too happy about that baby at first, but sooner or later she will come to accept it. And knowing her, she will love it like her own once it's born."
She hesitated for a moment and then spoke in a low voice close to Shana's ear. "I just don't understand how you could ... I mean, he's not much more than a boy ... I mean ..." She stopped and looked over to Mishka.
A clue hit Shana squarely between the eyes and she winced. I so don't need this right now. "No, Irene, no." She shook her head. "Mishka is not the father. No, I'd feel like I had been robbing the cradle if I had slept with him. He's only 21."
Irene nodded, but didn't ask any more questions. Shana assumed that the older woman realized that the father of the child was probably one of the bigger problems facing her two girls now and that Shana would tell her if she wanted her to know.
"Go. Talk to Anne," Irene said and turned to walk over to Mishka again. She was stopped by a hand on her arm.
"Could you please ask him how he knew I was here?" Shana pleaded. "Because I didn't tell him and I'd really like to know ..." She had her suspicions, but she wanted to hear what Mishka had to say. There were only so many people who knew where she was going.
The older woman nodded and then practically shoved Shana out the door. The door closed behind the blonde woman with a click.
Kevin breathed a sigh of relief when Shana returned to the lobby. She hadn't been gone long, but he knew that time was quite important right now. He opened the door with a flourish and the two walked out just in time to see the sheriff's car crawling up the driveway.
"Let's go, Kev. I really don't want to spend my time talking to the sheriff about a wrecked car right now."
Kevin hesitated only for a second.
When he and Mike had gotten Shana's bags from the car they had clearly
seen the scratch marks along the side of the SUV, highlighted eerily in
the beam of their flashlights. He knew that Shana really had to talk to
the sheriff, but when he pondered the importance of the talks that his
blonde friend should be having now, he quickly came to a decision that
led them around the house and out of the sight of the driveway as fast
Anne was fuming.
The whole way from her bedroom on the top floor down to the kitchen she had talked to herself, convincing herself that there was some explanation for her friend's behavior. She was determined to listen to that explanation and to be gracious about it. They would talk, they would listen, and then they would go back to what they were doing before they had been interrupted.
In the end she even contemplated apologizing for running out on Shana.
And now ...
Now she was furious. Red-hot rage was burning a path from her head to her heart and back and made itself known in the clenching and unclenching of her hands.
She hadn't heard much of what was talked about in the kitchen, but she had arrived in time to realize that Shana was probably hiding even more secrets. She growled.
She didn't want any more secrets. She wanted peace and quiet and the love of her life by her side. No fiancés, no past, no nothing. Just them, hidden somewhere, far away from the eyes and ears of the world.
She had bolted from the kitchen, following her urge to run. She had jumped into her boots, but hadn't taken the time to properly tie the shoelaces. It had taken her no time at all to arrive at her own house, which was situated only a couple of hundred yards from the main house. Now she was pacing her small entrance hall, three steps to one side, then three steps to the other, fighting the need to hit something, her hands curled into tense fists.
And then she stopped and a wicked smile flicked over her face. Why shouldn't she just follow this urge to hit, to inflict damage?
With a new purpose, a new aim
for her pent-up rage, she quickly made her way to the back of the house.
Kevin opened the door with his key and let Shana precede him into the hall. The volume of the music that greeted them was overwhelming. A fast rhythm pulsed through the house, with bass beats reverberating from the hardwood floors and rattling the pictures on the walls. Shana didn't recognize the music and could only tell that it was fast, hard and loud. She assumed she would find it loud even if played at a normal volume.
Kevin's groan next to her was barely audible over the music. "Shit, this is worse than I thought," he shouted. Seeing Shana's questioning look he pointed vaguely in the direction he thought the music came from. "She's listening to her heavy metal stuff. She only does that when she's in a bad mood. And I mean very very bad. And then she usually ... Oh shit ... she won't do that ... not today ... not with ..."
And then he ran off into the depths of the house, leaving a puzzled Shana who tried to figure out what had him so spooked. When it came to her she groaned as well. You hard-headed, big, dumb, irritating ... "Mike's going to kill you!" she grumbled as she followed close on Kevin's heels. And probably me too, for making you so mad.
Seconds later they rounded the corner to Anne's workout room and stopped dead in their tracks.
The room was a later addition to the house and was made up of glass from floor to ceiling on three sides. The ceiling and floor were made of the same wood that covered the floors in the rest of the house, but had taken on a considerably darker hue due to the sunlight it was exposed to most of the time.
The room was large, about 20 feet wide and 30 feet long. Right now, the morning sunlight streamed through the room, highlighting the equipment that would put a professional gym to shame. Machines of all sizes and for all muscle groups were scattered along the walls, leaving a large space in the middle of the room free. In one corner, there was a state-of-the-art hi-fi system and loudspeakers were strategically placed around the room, currently producing a surround sound that threatened to deafen anyone who came too close.
What made Shana and Kevin stop at the door, however, was the figure standing in the middle of the room next to an enormous red punching bag.
"Oh, Anne," was all Kevin said when his worst fear was confirmed.
Shana didn't say anything at all.
Anne looked wilder than Shana had ever seen her. She still wore her untied boots and the blonde woman could see that boots and socks were soggy from the snow outside. Her leather jacket had been carelessly flung over one of the machines, which left Anne in her jeans and a worn sweatshirt that was completely soaked through. Her hair flew wetly behind her, scattering drops with every movement and bearing testament to the exertion the tall woman was putting herself through.
She was hitting the punching bag with her bare hands in time with the fast beat of the music. Left, right, left, right, over and over again, sometimes so fast the movement was barely visible to the naked eye. The bandage around her injured wrist had started to work itself loose from the constant pounding motion and hung halfway down the tanned forearm.
Anne didn't notice or chose to ignore it.
From the look of her scraped and slightly swollen knuckles, Anne had been at it for a while, and Shana felt guilty for talking to Irene before coming right over. She swallowed hard and was suddenly very unsure of what to do.
At that moment the dark-haired woman raised her head and Shana could see her friend's face. It scared her.
Tears streamed down the beautiful features and the blue eyes had a very haunted look to them. Shana didn't know whether the tears were from emotional pain or from the pain of Anne's abused hand, but the intensity of the emotion she could sense coming from the woman in front of her shocked her for a moment. Do I really want that?
And then Anne gave Shana a long look that was almost unreadable to the blonde woman. She watched mesmerized as the eyes changed color in the milliseconds that followed, going from icy silver to a brighter shade of blue. To Shana, the look was tantamount to Anne falling on her knees, pleading with her to do something, and the smaller woman nodded, more to herself than anything else.
Kevin walked over to the stereo system and turned off the music. The sudden silence in the room was even more deafening than the music had been.
Anne stopped punching the bag and wiped the tears from her face with an almost defiant gesture.
And for that the punching bag paid her back with a swing that threw her off her feet with its power and unexpectedness. She tried to stop the fall with her outstretched arms and cried out in pain when her injured hand was unable to support her body weight and she landed on her butt.
Shana's heart spoke so loudly that she feared it could be heard throughout the county. Oh yes, I want that.
In an instant she was kneeling by Anne's side. She tried to gather the fallen woman in her arms, but Anne avoided her touch by pushing herself up with her right hand. When she was standing she looked down at the still kneeling Shana.
"What do you want?" she asked, her eyes showing none of the emotion they had done before.
Shana was too busy wondering if she had imagined the pleading look of moments before to answer the question.
Kevin jumped in, for a moment forgetting why he was there. His coach personality pushed to the forefront. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Anne?" He pointed at her hands. "Are you trying to ruin your hands on purpose?"
"What do you care?" came the almost uninterested reply. Anne's eyes never left the blonde woman on the floor. "What do you care?" she repeated in a whisper.
"I care," whispered Shana, while Kevin almost shouted the words at the same time. He was hurt by his friend's accusation, but the tall woman ignored his answer completely. She was concentrating solely on Shana. It was as if she had only heard the whisper and not the shout.
"You do, huh?" The sarcasm in Anne's whisper was unmistakable. "Nice way of showing that. Do you think you could give me lessons?"
She turned to leave the room. At the door she stopped and spoke without turning around. "I would really appreciate it if you left my house as soon as possible."
The formality of the request hurt Shana more than she thought was possible. She got up from the floor, her body rising just as quickly as her anger. She knew Anne had every reason to be hurt, but she was hurt just as much as her friend.
But she also realized that anger would get her nowhere right now. She took a deep breath to calm herself. Her mind was working furiously on something to say, but she felt tongue-tied and still a little overwhelmed by the intensity of the whole situation.
Anne was still standing in the doorway with her back to them, waiting for a reaction from Shana. When none came, her shoulders slumped slightly in disappointment. She didn't know what she had expected, but she had hoped that her friend would at least try to do something to explain. This, she decided, hurt more than her hand ever could.
And her hand was hurting pretty badly at the moment.
She waited another few heartbeats and the pushed herself off the door frame to walk away. After a step she turned around and faced Kevin for the first time.
"And, Kevin," she said as calmly as she could, "leave the keys when you go." She couldn't bring herself to ask Shana for her set of keys.
And then she walked down the hall towards the staircase, praying all the time that her legs would carry her shaking body all the way without hurting her pride even more by giving out in front of them. She was crying again and knew she couldn't do anything to stop it.
She just didn't want Shana to see the tears.
Anne's departure brought Kevin and Shana out of their shock.
"You can't let her go like this, Shea," Kevin said. He took her by the shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "If you let her go now, she will be gone forever. Don't do this to yourself and don't do this to her. Shit, don't do this to us!"
"I won't," Shana vowed. "I just don't know what to say to her. She seems to have lost all her trust in me ..." She hesitated. "I don't know how to make this right, Kev." I don't know if she can still love me.
"Tell her the truth, Shea, all of it," the tall man almost pleaded. "If you love her, tell her that and explain why you want to marry Mishka. If you don't love her, let her down gently, but let her go. Don't lead her on."
He paused, contemplating how much to say. "If you're really pregnant, as I believe you are, she needs to know." He raised his hand to stop her from interrupting. "Tell her who the father is only if it's important for your relationship." Please don't tell her if it has the potential to hurt her even more, was the silent plea behind his words.
Shana's head slumped forward, her forehead touching his wide chest. "I can't not tell her," Shana whispered. And I can't tell her. She raised her head and looked into his eyes again. "How did you know?"
"I'm a man, Shea, not stupid." He had to grin, despite feeling miserable. "Besides, Irene was leaving hints that an idiot could have followed. Although I wonder if Mike has got it yet," he added, trying to lighten their mood a bit.
Shana chuckled. "Thank you, Kevin. I'll go talk to her now. Are you going back to the main house?"
"Nah, I'm going to stay down here, just in case. I might hit the punching bag myself for a while." But only after I've locked the bedroom door from the outside. "I'll turn the music on," he said with a wink, "but not as loud." I don't really want to be able to listen to whatever happens when you find yourselves locked up together. I think I need to avoid Anne for a while after that ...
Shana nodded and turned to follow Anne. Kevin stopped her with a hand on her arm. He enfolded her in a hug and then kissed her gently on the forehead. "Good luck, little one. For both of you." He tightened his hold before he let her go. "I know you belong together. You will work it out, it might just take a while, but we'll all be here to help you." He really hoped he was right.
Shana swallowed and wiped away the tear that ran down her cheek. The support offered her by Anne's family and friends astounded her, especially since she was the one at fault. "Thank you," she repeated with a raw voice.
Kevin simply turned her around and pushed her lightly towards the door. "Go now."
And Shana went.
As soon as she had reached the top of the stairs Kevin followed her and watched Shana enter Anne's bedroom. He breathed a sigh of relief at Anne's failure to lock her door. He crept up the door and listened, but he couldn't hear anything. Not a single sound emanated from the room. Worried, he silently opened the door and peeked inside. Shana stood in front of the closed bathroom door, obviously still deciding whether to go in or not. Seeing that everything was okay, he looked down and spotted the key that was sticking out of its hole on the inside of the door. Anne and her love for actual keys always surprised him. He slipped the key out of the lock and closed the door, still without making a sound.
Then he turned the key - twice - and walked back downstairs.
He couldn't quite stop himself
from whistling in pretend innocence.
in Part 17