When You Dance With the Devil
Leaning casually against the wall, Dr. Iverson’s analytical gaze swept over his patient. Rigid posture. Hands firmly gripped together. You’re pretty uncomfortable, Deven, but you don’t want anyone to know that. Do you? That’s why you’ve got that poker face firmly in place, isn’t it?
Shifting his attention to the chart in his hand, he reviewed the information entered by the nurse regarding Deven’s vitals and was pleased at how good they were. Dark circles under your eyes indicate that you’re not sleeping. And you’re squinting slightly. “How are the headaches?” he asked.
“Same,” she answered noncommittally.
Moving closer he examined her eyes with a light pen and found nothing out of the ordinary. “Are you sleeping all right?”
Deven glanced over his shoulder at Kate. If you lie, Masterson, she’ll speak up. “No.”
She nodded. And those fucking dreams! Can you fix that, doc? Can you give me back my memory so the damn things will stop? I’d love to just get one fucking night of peaceful sleep.
“The incisions look good,” he said more to Kate than to his patient. “How’s the hand doing?”
“We saw the surgeon an hour ago, and he said the bones are mending very well,” Kate replied as she drew closer. “She has another two to four weeks before the device can be removed, but if she continues to mend this well, he expects it will be more like three weeks.”
It had only been three days since she’d been released from the hospital and even though Deven was there merely for a follow up, it still made her edgy. The only good thing, in her mind, was that Rhian had been unable to attend.
Tuning Iverson out while he discussed her bodily functions with her captor, Deven pulled the dream fragments together as best as she could, playing them in her mind. It had almost become a preoccupation with her lately. Sitting there now, she reviewed the pieces again, running them backward and forward while he listened to her heart and lungs.
“I need you to lie down on your back, Deven.”
Of course you do, doc. I’ll just flip right over for you. With support from the doctor and Kate, she managed to ease down onto the examining table. He palpated her abdomen earning a groan of discomfort followed by a slight growl of displeasure. “I know you have pain but anything unusual. Sharp or searing.”
“Okay, let’s get these sutures and staples out.”
She drifted away from what he was doing to the torture of trying to remember. The images in her dreams were growing more vivid, but she still wasn’t able to put them together enough to figure out what exactly had happened to her and who had been behind it. There was Mace’s part in the whole mess, but she knew in her gut that his presence had been extraneous. He was a toady. Nothing more. Which could only mean that he was working for someone else. But who? We were never in the same circles.
Grunting as a staple was removed from her stomach, her eyes narrowed in annoyance at the doctor. A hand settled firmly on her shoulder, causing her to look up at Kate’s sympathetic gaze. Message received, Kate. I’ll behave.
Turning her thoughts inward once again, she moved through as much of the events as she could recall. She was now able to recollect the carnival and walking out into the field with Tiernan in her arms to where Rhian and Seana were being held. She got all that, but try as she might, she didn’t recognize any of the other people in the field. The voices were indistinct and the faces unknown, and if she were honest, she wasn’t even certain if her so called memories were real or just illusions created by her subconscious mind.
Certain elements within the dreams had begun to repeat themselves, and she was fairly certain that they were real and not just her imagination. When she dreamed, it always progressed in the same manner and ended abruptly with the sound of a gunshot. And every time that was where she awoke no matter how hard she tried to remain.
“Any changes in her behavior?” Iverson asked Kate.
Deven closed her eyes at the question. Kate wasn’t going to pull any punches, but even she was surprised at the woman’s response.
“She’s irritable, belligerent, and angry most of the time. Prone to temper tantrums but, from what I’ve gathered, that isn’t too far from her normal behavior.”
Deven’s eyes opened, and she glared at the woman. Kate ignored the look and addressed Dr. Iverson’s question. “Overall, she’s doing fine. We’ve got her walking a bit and she’s attempted the stairs a couple of times. Her breathing is the biggest problem there. Her lungs aren’t quite up to capacity yet. And she’s exhibiting some mood swings.”
The expression of displeasure on the martial artist’s face turned to one of outrage, but Kate didn’t skip a beat and pressed on. “She’s frustrated and that causes her to lash out, so I’m not too surprised there. Though her hostility is difficult to deal with at times. I guess what concerns me most at this point is the lack of sleep and the depression.”
Depression? I’m not depressed. I’m pissed off. You put yourself in my shoes, lady, and see if you don’t get pretty darn pissed off!
“Well, we knew it was a possibility that she’d have trouble in those areas,” Iverson replied. “I can prescribe a couple things that might help, but I want you to monitor them closely. I don’t want to have anything mask some symptoms we need to follow up on.”
Go ahead and prescribe all you want. And I won’t take them! Deven thought smugly. She was at a distinct disadvantage both because she couldn’t really talk and because she was lying on her back. But Deven continued to glare at the older woman who just held her ground and glared right back.
“And don’t even think for one moment that you won’t take them,” Kate challenged.
Oh yeah? Deven smirked. I’d like to see you try to force them in. My jaw’s wired shut!
Undaunted, Kate chuckled at the martial artist’s childlike defiance. “Come on and sit up, Deven.”
With the necessary help from Kate and the doctor, Deven managed to regain a sitting position and remained still while Kate pulled her sweatshirt back into place.
Dr. Iverson finished his notes and then handed Kate two slips of paper. “You’re doing well, Deven. Try to get some rest. It really is the best thing for you right now. I’ll see you in two weeks, but if anything changes, let me know right away.”
Kate tucked the prescriptions into her coat pocket and once Dr. Iverson had left the room, she faced the seated woman. “I know you’re angry with me,” she spoke soothingly. “But so be it. That man’s job is to see that you heal completely. He can’t do that if he doesn’t know the details and the truth. And because you are unable or unwilling to provide those, it becomes my job.”
Deven eyes lifted and they locked on Kate’s. They’re so much like Rhian’s. How can I make you understand? I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be this way. I want my life back! I want my body back! I want to be the person your daughter fell in love with not the freak I now am. You can’t possibly understand what that’s like!
How expressive Deven could be with just a look when she wasn’t trying so hard to cover everything up was gripping to Kate. “Come here,” she said as she pulled the younger woman into a hug. She wasn’t surprised when Deven didn’t move, her body unyielding from the unexpected contact. But Kate held on anyway. “It’s going to be all right, problem child.”
I’m so tired. How much she wanted that comfort was embarrassing for Deven, but for a brief moment in time, she dropped all her pretenses and rested her forehead against the woman’s shoulder, accepting the reassurance even though she didn’t truly believe it.
A lifetime of training her body and mind had created a formidable and powerful person who wasn't easily daunted and had been overly proud of her abilities. A hard woman, and often mean spirited, Deven thrilled at her finely honed talents to dominate those around her. She knew who and what she was.
No one ever got in her way once she decided she wanted something or someone, and no one ever told her that there was something she couldn't do. And if anyone dared to try, she definitively showed him or her that they possessed flawed judgment. It had never occurred to her that she could live her life any other way until a certain young landscaper crossed her path. And even then, while some attitudes had changed, there remained an underlying current of her ingrained behaviors.
Now she was powerless and more disturbing, for the first time in her life she felt completely useless. At no other time were those feelings more obvious than whenever Rhian was around, and it was at those times that she was compelled to prove she was still formidable. The more compassion the landscaper showed, the more inept Deven felt and the greater was her need to assert herself.
But by the time she returned to the hospital to have the sutures removed, exhaustion had begun to weaken her overall abrasiveness. The intolerance ebbed and she became for the most part subdued - sinking into a lonesome despair unlike any she'd ever known.
All the personal challenges of the past had been met head on. She fought her way through every obstacle, whether physical or verbal, never receding and never losing. But this was so different that her skills were meaningless. She couldn't fight on any level.
For some time she couldn't take care of the basic daily functions without assistance. It was as if her body wasn't hers anymore, and she felt betrayed by it. Someone else had to clean her, and change the bandages and her clothes, and apply some medication or another. She resented the intrusion and knowing that she had no choice was of no consolation.
Deven had vowed a long time ago that no one would ever have dominance over her again, but now every aspect of her life had been diminished to the mercy of others. She absolutely hated every second of it. It was eating away at her bit by bit, and without the ability to fight back, she was sinking deeper inside.
It was there that she found a familiar place where the shadows and echoes of her life welcomed her. If she'd possessed the ability to talk about what was happening, Rhian would have known that much of the underlying current of rage lie in what she perceived as her inability to protect her family and to rectify the things that she'd done. Having very little recall of what had happened that night was exasperating and fed her overall sense of failure. From that, there was no consolation for her.
Blaming her lack of self-control on her injuries would have been far too easy, and so Deven refused to allow herself that weakness. It was far more habitual for her to blame herself. If she'd had the ability at that time to take a step back and truly observe everything from a more detached vantage point, she would have seen the spiral of emotion she was trapped in and perhaps found a way to disentangle herself from its grasp. She might have even found a way to express what she felt. But in keeping true to her learned behaviors, she turned it all inward and ultimately back out in bursts of anger aimed at the one person who deserved it the least.
No matter how much she reproached herself for that conduct, she couldn't seem to stop it, and there was no one she demeaned and demanded more from than herself. And every time she hurt Rhian, she turned that pain back inward.
As the days slowly ticked by, boredom also began to set in. Actually to say that Deven was a little bored was like saying she'd been a little beaten up. A lack of sound sleep combined with the amount of energy needed to heal her battered body was draining her. Still, as tired as she was, there was an abundance of nervous energy building up with no place to go.
The injuries were healing and still hurting quite a bit, but she managed to rise above the pain most of the time. The headaches, however, were beginning to wear her already frazzled nerves raw.
Each day she walked her laps around the small space. Over and over, she paced the room until she thought she might lose what was left of her mind. Every morning and evening she attempted to climb the stairs. Her lungs still weren't to full capacity and made it difficult though she pushed as far as she dared. Beyond that, life was boring and gave her little to do to escape the gloominess.
Having done her laps and stairs for the morning, she sat on the sofa, scanning the channels on the television yet again. How can people watch this crap? She looked away from the television over to Seana who was sitting at her feet, studiously practicing her letters in a small book. Shifting forward on the couch, she touched the little girl to get her attention. Picking up the white board, Deven wrote SEANA.
The child looked at the word and grinned. "That's me!"
Deven nodded and then wrote DEVEN.
Seana shook her head, and the martial artist pointed at her own chest. She looked from the woman to the word again and asked, "Deven?"
The martial artist inclined her head. And that was how it began. From that day forward, Deven spent a fair amount of her time teaching Seana how to read and write. For the woman, it was just something to do. But for the child, it opened up a whole new world and she latched onto their time together.
Deven found that though Seana tended to be a bit unfocused, she was intelligent. She imagined that the same thing had probably been said about her when she was the girl's age. When she got the youngster to concentrate, Seana grasped concepts quickly and eagerly and within a week, had mastered the alphabet and progressed to simply words.
Then it became more of a challenge. Seana wanted to read from the books in her room and up to a point they were fine. But it was hard for Deven to help when she was unable to clearly articulate all the words. Still they managed, and through stubborn perseverance on both their parts, the little girl began to read.
Using Rhian's computer, Deven was able to access her email and watch her business from the periphery. She really didn't have any interest in what was going on at the schools. She did it more to give her mind something to do. Mostly she surfed the Internet, reading up on her injuries and generally just jumping from site to site. Sometimes Seana would sit on her lap and watch, asking question after question. Some Deven was able to respond to, others she ignored.
One afternoon while looking for something to read, Deven stumbled across a web site for teachers. She'd never realized how many teaching aids there were out that there and became engrossed with the options. With her credit card and a few clicks of the mouse, she was able to order everything she needed to teach Seana the fundamentals of reading and math. I just wish I could share this with Tiernan as well.
Thoughts of her son always added to her ever-present melancholy. She hadn't spoken with him or heard his voice since the carnival. She had no way of knowing how he was or if he even knew she was all right. Rhian had said she'd tried to speak with him but hadn't been able to get past Patricia or Laura to talk to the boy directly.
Are you okay, T? I didn't mean for this to happen. I swear I didn't. And I'd do anything to make it so that you'd never seen any of it. I'm so sorry. The need to hear his was voice was so strong that she stood and headed for the stairs. Looking up the staircase, it seemed like a mountain to her. Move your ass, Masterson. Go call you son.
Pure determination pushed her to the top, and finally reaching the pinnacle, she felt a sense of triumph. Stepping into the kitchen for the first time since she'd been brought here to heal, she felt the first real accomplishment in her recovery. This was tangible. It was something she could measure and while it was nowhere near where she'd hoped to be, it was a big step forward.
Seeing Deven enter the room, Kate smiled broadly. "Well, hi there. Come over here and sit down." Crossing the room, the martial artist gratefully eased into a chair at the table. "Would you like something to drink? Juice perhaps?"
"Yes." While waiting for the drink, Deven tapped Seana on the shoulder and indicated through hand gestures that she wanted something to write on. The little girl slid off her chair and left the room, returning a few moments later with a pen and some paper.
Deven wrote for several seconds and then handed the paper to Rhian's mother. Reading the note, Kate smiled again. "You got it," she said. Picking up the phone, Kate dialed the number the martial artist had written and waited. When it was finally answered, she said, "Good morning. This is Kate Mackenzie."
Listening to the older woman's side of the conversation, Deven felt an uneasy anticipation in her belly.
"He's not available? Well, when would be a good time to call? Deven would like to try to speak with him." Kate's expression continued to darken. "I understand that, however, I don't think it's in his best interests. Neither does his mother. You can't seriously believe that denying him access to his mother will ever be in his best interests. Especially under the circumstances."
Deven's gaze left the woman's angry expression and settled instead outside the kitchen window. They've cut me off and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it. I can't go over there. I can't even get them to put him on the phone. I just want him to know that I love him. Is that too much to ask? Her vision began to blur. You know he's better off. So what if things were improving between the two of you? Look what you did. You got him into a situation that could have gotten him hurt. He deserves better than you'll ever be.
Kate ended the call and looked at the woman with compassion. Placing a hand on the martial artist's shoulder, she gave it a little squeeze. "Your sister said that he's all right." Deven's hand lifted and patted the one on her shoulder. "We'll figure this out, Deven. Don't give up."
Dejectedly, the martial artist rose from the chair and turned towards the stairs. Kate watched her go; unable to say anything that would ease the woman's sadness.
"Yes, baby girl?"
"I miss Tiernan."
"I know. We all do, and it makes Deven very sad that she can't see him."
"Can we go get him?"
"Unfortunately not, but we'll keep trying to get him on the phone, okay?"
"Okay," Seana replied in a subdued tone. Kate kissed her on the head and then moved towards the stairs. Even though she knew Deven would consider it an intrusion, she needed to go down and check up on the woman.
Standing at the sliding glass door that led out onto the deck, Kate watched the shadows elongate across the yard as the sun drifted below the tree line. The days were definitely growing shorter and the profusion of fall colors were waning as the leaves drifted and collected on the lawn. Normally they’d all be gearing up for Halloween, a rather joyous holiday in the Mackenzie household. But this year, it was palled by the events that had been visited upon Deven and Rhian a little over a month ago. Even Seana was less enthusiastic about the prospect of trick and treat, and Kate made a mental note to do something about that.
She caught Mac’s reflection in the glass as he entered the room behind her and turned to greet him. “Hi,” he said as he walked closer and then placed a kiss on her lips. “How are things here?”
“Hi yourself. Pretty much the same. How are things at the garden center?”
“Not bad. Busy. You know how it is this time of year. Pumpkins, dried squash and corn, hay bales, apple cider. Children running all over the place having a great time.”
“One of my favorite times of the year,” she said and then sighed. “I tried to get Tiernan on the phone again today, but Laura wouldn’t put him on.”
“That’s a shame. I feel for the boy.”
“What a mess,” she said sadly.
“Yeah,” he concurred and then wrapped his arms around her.
“Where’s Rhian?” Kate asked.
“She stayed to catch up on some paperwork.”
“Again? I’m inclined to think she’s avoiding the situation here more than needing to do anything at work.”
“You’re probably right.”
Taking a step back, she looked up at him. “Has she said anything to you?”
“No.” She gave him a slightly skeptical look. “I swear, Katie. Not a word. But it isn’t difficult to see that she’s unhappy.”
“I know.” Kate followed him into the kitchen and watched as he removed a beer from the refrigerator. They both sat down at the table and her thoughts drifted to the situation. As Deven retreated more into herself, she fluctuated between being unresponsive and being confrontational. One never knew which behavior would be dominant in any given moment. And with each day that passed, the strained relationship between her daughter and her friend worsened. Deven’s naturally powerful persona constantly endeavored to exert itself whenever Rhian was present. It was in everything about her. In everything she did. As if every interaction between them had to be a battle.
“Have you broached the subject with Rhian?” Mac asked.
“As difficult as it is to watch the breach between them grow, I’m not certain that either one of them would listen to me. So, no, I haven’t. Physically, given the extensiveness of her injuries and the surgery, Deven’s doing great. Dr. Hadari was so pleased with her progress yesterday that she loosened the restraints a little. She says that Deven needs to be able to move her jaw to keep it mobile. And if she continues this well, I expect them to be loosened a bit more next week. But the injuries to her psyche are continuing to fester and I have no idea how to help those heal. I had hoped that Rhian would be the key there.”
“Deven is a very proud person, Kate. If I were in the same situation, I’d probably be acting much the same.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” she answered with a laugh.
“No, seriously. Deven’s a fighter, and from what I understand, a good one. And for the first time in her life, she’s in a situation that she can’t do anything about. She’s completely helpless. That can’t set well. And on top of that, I’m guessing that she thinks she looks like an invalid in front of Rhian. I know if it were me, I’d be out of mind with worry about how you saw me.”
“Mac, you know that I love you.”
“And she knows that Rhian loves her. But that’s not the issue, Kate. I don’t know that I can explain this. But I know that for her, the person that she believes herself to be has been replaced by something she could never have conceived she might one day become. And that has got to be eating her up inside.”
Kate had grown quite fond of the martial artist, but she was Rhian’s mother and that made it difficult at times to treat Deven without bias. When she could emotionally detach herself from the situation, she found Deven to be a fascinating individual and felt that she did understand the woman on a fundamental level.
Not everything that the martial artist did was intentional. Some of her behavior was clearly the result of the brain trauma. But, there were other attitudes and actions that were there long before the beating and were now heightened by the injury. And Kate didn’t understand why the worst were directed at Rhian.
“Perhaps, you’re right,” she said. “But how do we fix this? Our daughter is suffering just as much as Deven is, but I don’t believe that it’s Deven’s intention to actually hurt Rhian. I just think she isn’t dealing with any of this well.”
“I don’t believe it is either, but I also don’t know that this is something that can be fixed.”
“I hope you’re wrong, Mac. For both their sakes.”
Save for the light coming from the television, the room was growing darker as twilight took hold, and Deven briefly considered turning on a lamp. But the darkness better suited her overall mood, and so she let it be.
It was taking a lot of effort, but she was turning the disappointment of losing her son into a justification of why they needed to have no further contact. She’d nearly convinced herself that changing their relationship would prove to be a mistake. And it had. If I hadn’t allowed things to go the way they had, he never would have been at that carnival and witnessed what happened. The responsibility for any ramifications of that night lay solely on your shoulders, Masterson.
Deven closed her eyes and rested her head back against the sofa. It had been a rough day, and she’d been less than cooperative for much of it leading to a sedate but firm dressing down from Rhian’s mother. No matter how much she tried to lash out, Kate simply refused to allow her to behave uncivilly, and for some reason that she couldn’t fathom, Deven allowed the woman to take charge. And worse, despite all her efforts to the contrary, she found herself placated by the maternal manner. It was foreign to be certain, but the small child in her that had for her lifetime been denied the simple compassion of a mother, craved it. To her chagrin, the martial artist found to some extent that she looked forward to the times that Kate was nearby.
Opening her eyes, Deven looked down at the little girl sitting on the sofa by her side. Seana just ignored the irritability. The child only saw what was truthful to her. There was no past. There were no expectations. Deven was just Deven, and her love for the woman was apparent every day.
At first, the martial artist had found the near insistent chatter and contact unbearable and had sought escape in sleep whenever the child was around. More often though, she’d awaken to find the little girl curled up next to her watching television, reading, or napping as well. As the weeks melded together, Deven found she looked forward to the distraction and the two spent much of the day together including all nap times.
Deven glanced at the clock on the VCR. Rhian’s late again. Not that I blame her. Who’d want to come home to this? Well, I didn’t ask to be brought here. She should have just taken me home!
The martial artist was unwilling to accept how much her withdrawal and abrasiveness was hurting the landscaper. When it came to the younger woman, her former stoicism grew stronger daily, forcing her weaknesses to be barricaded behind a wall of self-depreciation. Unconsciously at first and then with a concerted effort, she gradually reined in most of her emotions knowing that it was only a matter of time before Rhian realized that the woman she’d fallen in love with had been an illusion and now that the illusion was gone, there was nothing to stick around for.
“Hey, Rhian? Don’t you have a family to go home to?”
The landscaper looked up from the computer. “Hey, Nic,” she answered distractedly.
“You want to talk about it?” Nicole asked as she walked over and perched on the corner of the desk.
“Nothing new to talk about.”
Nicole felt her friend’s unhappiness and wished that there were something she could do to alleviate it. Like everyone around the couple, she too had watched the rift between her best friend and Deven grow. They’d all born the brunt of the martial artist’s foul mood, though Jay and Rhian much more so than she. For the most part, Deven just ignored her. Which was fine given some of the nastiness she’d witnessed. And though she and Jay had talked about it at great length, neither one of them knew how to get past the walls Deven had erected.
The landscaper leaned back in the chair and stared out the window at the darkness beyond. In her own way, Rhian was just as stubborn as Deven. She bore the outbursts and indifference in silence. Unlike Deven, her way was subtle and born of her keen ability to understand and adapt to others. But the martial artist’s abusive behavior went beyond her ability to comprehend. She knew that they’d always had clashes, and in all likelihood they always would. There were certain things that they just couldn’t agree upon, but as their relationship had developed, she’d felt that their love for each other was strong enough to weather any disagreement. Until now.
To the young landscaper, Deven’s behavior was painfully reminiscent of the woman she’d first met at the Pit. It was as if the woman that had become such an integral part of her life had turned her back on their relationship and everything they’d managed to build between them. Deven’s distance and sometimes outright cold demeanor indicated to Rhian that she considered the bond that they’d shared irrelevant, and that idea was rapidly becoming more than Rhian could endure. Her patience with the other woman was fading, and it was becoming more difficult to keep the irritation from turning to anger and from the hurt rising up to consume her completely.
Unable to face the anguish, Rhian sought to escape it as best she could. She buried herself in her work, spending as much time as she possibly could at the garden center or on sites. When she was home, she concentrated on Seana or her designs, effectively shutting Deven out.
“Come on,” Nicole coaxed. “I’ll follow you home. Your mom promised homemade lasagna for dinner. Besides, we have to do something to get Seana ready for Halloween.”
Shutting down the computer, Rhian sighed. “Yeah. She really wants to be a princess or something like that. And I haven’t done much to get her ready.”
“You’ve had a lot on your mind.”
“No excuse. None of this is her fault and she shouldn’t have to suffer because of it.”
“I certainly wouldn’t say she’s suffering, Rhian. She seems to adore Deven and quite frankly, I’m amazed at how good Deven is with her.”
The landscaper didn’t reply. It was painful to admit that she had grown jealous of that relationship. “Might as well go face the music.”
“Rhian, if there’s anything Jay or I can do, you’ll let us know, right?”
“I just don’t think there’s anything that anyone can do. And I don’t know where this is all going.” Tears started to well up in her eyes and brushed them away. “Let’s go.”
“So, how are things going?” Kelly asked as she followed the landscaper downstairs. The tension around the younger woman’s eyes was quite evident as was the dejected slump of her shoulders.
“Same stuff. Nothing new. Physically she’s making good progress. It was hard because of the weakness in her muscles and some breathing problems, but overall, the doctors say she’s doing really well,” Rhian answered noncommittally.
“Look, Rhian. I’m sure I’m the last person on earth you want to talk to about your relationship with Deven.”
The landscaper didn’t stop walking until she’d crossed the room to the drafting board. What relationship? The one where she doesn’t like me? The one that she threw away?
The lawyer hesitated and then moved closer. “I don’t mean to intrude.”
“You aren’t intruding, Kelly,” Rhian replied with an exasperated sigh. “I just don’t understand her. I mean I understand the anger and frustration. But I can’t get a fix on what she’s really feeling. Every time I get close to her, physically or emotionally, she becomes mean or belligerent and I can’t figure out what’s going on inside of her. I’ve never had a problem with that in the past. But now, I can’t get past her barriers enough to even glimpse what’s going on in her heart and mind.”
Rhian curled her fingers around the edge of the drafting board. “I feel her watching me sometimes, but if I look at her, she turns away or she glares at me. She talks to my mom and Seana, and generally is quite civil about it. There’s a fifty-fifty chance she’ll at least try to communicate with you or Jay or even Nicole. And she might even be decent in doing it. But she avoids me completely or gets so angry with me. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m jealous of the relationship that’s developed between Deven and my family. How awful is that?”
“Depends on why you’re jealous,” Kelly answered empathetically.
“Because their bond to Deven is growing stronger and mine is unraveling. They spend so much time together and Deven talks to them, especially Seana. She plays with her, and she’s taught her how to read and write. I can’t even get a simple hello without it turning into a fight.” That she had wanted them to bond, wanted Deven to love Seana, and vice versa became irrelevant in the ugliness of the emotion. And unable to stop the growing tide, she turned that resentment back on Deven. It was this that Deven misread as disgust.
“Do you think she doesn’t love you?” Kelly asked as she reached out and gently brushed a lock of Rhian’s hair back behind her ear.
“I don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve tried to hang onto the belief that she does and all of this will pass.” Pausing as the tears began, she struggled not to allow them. Every time the emotions had risen up, she’d pushed them away but it was getting harder to maintain that detachment. “It’s so hard. I know she’s hurting. I know this is so hard for her, but it’s so difficult to not feel the rebuke day after day.” Despite her best efforts, she began to cry.
“I know it is,” Kelly said as she embraced the younger woman.
“I…I love her. Why…why can’t she?” Her grip on Kelly increased as she cried harder. “See it.”
“I don’t know, Rhian.”
The back door opened, and they both looked up as Deven walked into the room. She eyed them critically, cocking her head slightly. What in the hell is this?
Rhian turned away to wipe her eyes, and Deven immediately construed the action as guilt. Her features froze as her gaze bore into the landscaper’s back.
“Hello, Deven,” Kelly said. “I stopped by to see how your check up went.”
Deven smirked and picked up the white board as she passed by the sofa towards the women. She wrote as she continued to move closer, CHECK UP ON ME OR R?
Kelly read the question. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Cozy?” Though the restraints had been loosened, the martial artist’s jaw remained stiff and ached the more she talked.
“What are you talking about?”
The tone in Kelly’s voice caused Rhian to turn back towards Deven just as the martial artist pointed a finger at Kelly and then jabbed it against the landscaper’s breastbone.
“Ow. What was that for?” Rhian asked in dismay as she rubbed the spot.
Moving forward, Kelly put herself between the other two women. “What is your problem?”
“Want to fuck her, Kel?
The lawyer’s eyes narrowed, and the firm set of her features indicated how angry she’d become. “You know, if you weren’t still healing, I’d knock the crap out you! Maybe I should do it anyway.”
The martial artist taunted her by taking a step back and waving her forward. “Any time you’re ready.”
“This bully routine has gotten real old, Deven. You’re turning into a pathetic, bitter witch!”
Deven responded with a slight smile and an exaggerated shrug of her shoulders.
“How dare you insinuate such a thing!” Kelly took a step closer to the martial artist as she tried to maintain a grasp on her anger. “You better be real careful, Deven. You keep this up and you’ll turn into your mother.”
The rage brewing behind the martial artist’s eyes was unmistakable. Deven lifted her chin, getting ready to retort, but Kelly cut her off. “Oh, don’t even bother, Deven! I’m done! You want to be a bitch. Go be a bitch. But leave the rest of us alone!”
Turning her back to the martial artist in dismissal, Kelly addressed the landscaper. “I’m sorry but under the circumstances, I think it’s best if I leave now.” The sadness that seemed to consume the younger woman made Kelly want to reach out to her. Addressing Deven over her shoulder, she allowed the anger to seep into her voice. “Don’t you ever, and I mean ever, touch her like that again.” Then placing an arm across Rhian’s shoulders, she asked in a remarkably calm voice, “Care to walk me out?”
“Sure,” the landscaper replied as her eyes flicked to Deven who glared back at her.
Once at the front door, they stood awkwardly at the threshold. “I really am sorry, Rhian.” The landscaper was so dejected; the lawyer hugged her once more. “Don’t let her get to you, okay? This isn’t your fault. None of it. And for what it’s worth, your feelings of jealousy are understandable.”
Rhian nodded sadly. “Thanks, Kelly.”
“Listen, you can call me anytime. Day or night. I probably won’t have many answers for you, but I’m a good listener.”
“Okay. Uh, what you said. Are you really done with her?”
“I want to be, Rhian. I’m tired of the attitude. I’m tired of always catering to her ill tempers. I’m tired of watching her bully people. I’ve been doing it for years because I always believed that deep down inside, she was really a good person. Then you came into her life, and she started to allow that person out. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her, and I can’t stand the way she’s treating you. So for now, yes I’m done.” She rested her hands on Rhian’s shoulders. “But that doesn’t apply to you. And I’m sure that after I’ve had a chance to calm down, things will return to status quo.”
Rhian didn’t respond and Kelly pulled her into another hug. “If you never hear anything I say, listen to this. If she ever hurts you, don’t take it. You don’t have to.”
“I know,” Rhian answered softly. “Thanks.” After letting Kelly out, she slowly made her way back downstairs, lightly rubbing her breastbone as she went. Something had changed. Seeing and feeling Deven’s reaction had replaced her guilt with anger. For the first time in a long time, she accepted that she was angry and it was okay.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, her eyes met Deven’s. “You’re pretty proud of yourself, aren’t you? You should be. In a world in which you didn’t have that many friends to begin with, you’ve managed to pretty much alienate everyone. Congratulations.”
“I saw you.”
“You saw me what?” Rhian shot back.
“You saw what you wanted to see, Deven. The reality was that Kelly was trying to comfort me, something that you aren’t capable or willing to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. But you can justify being a complete ass by putting the onus on everyone else. She’s right. You are pathetic.”
Reaching out, Deven grabbed Rhian’s upper arm and jerked the woman closer.
“What, Deven? What are you going to do? Poke me again? Hit me? What else can you do? At least if Kelly really wanted to, she could fuck me. You? All you can do is dream about your glory days.” Yanking her arm free of the martial artist’s grasp, she walked into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Deven stared at the closed door, and then took a step towards it. What are you going to do? Kick it down. And then what? She felt trapped. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to escape. No way to run away from her actions or herself. Walking over to the back door, she stared out at the back yard.
The love and passion she’d shared with Rhian seemed in many ways a dream, a dream from which she awakened much too soon and couldn’t now recapture. Closing her eyes as she rested her forehead against the glass, the despair settled over her, weighing her down further.
Deven couldn’t remember a time in her life where she’d been so isolated from everyone. She’d often chosen isolation for periods of time, but she’d been able to stop the seclusion whenever it suited her. The one exception had been during her incarceration at the Center. But even there, she’d had Dr. Martin to talk to everyday if she’d desired to. This. This is very different.
The creak of a door pulled her thoughts away from the desolation and she looked over to see Seana peeking out from her bedroom. No doubt the argument had awakened the child from her nap, and it bothered Deven that the little girl might have actually heard some of what was said. If the voices hadn’t awakened her, the door slamming certainly had.
Opening the door further, Seana walked over to where Deven was standing and leaned her small body against the woman’s leg. “Deven?”
“I had a bad dream.”
Me, too. Only I can’t seem to wake up! Placing her hand gently behind the child’s head, she guided her towards the sofa. After sitting down, she assisted Seana to climb up on her lap, and holding the child, she asked, “What?”
“Don’t member. It made me sad.”
Deven just hugged her a little tighter and kissed her gently on the side of the head.
“Don’t you like Mama?”
Seana pulled back and stared up at Deven’s face. “Then why do you fight?”
“Gives me a tummy ache.”
“Me, too.”The little girl leaned forward once again and resting her head against Deven, she sighed.
To Be Continued in Chapter Seventeen
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