When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004
Chapter Seventeen, Part 1
Rushing into wakefulness, Deven just barely stopped her body from jerking upright. The erratic pounding of her heart reverberated painfully in her head, and lifting her hands, she gingerly massaged her sweat-dampened temples. Doggedly, her mind strove to latch onto the dream fragments that tried to scurry away into the darkness of her subconscious. That can’t be!
As it had each night, this particular dream began with partial images of the carnival, Mace, the field and the fight. The sound of the gunshot reverberated through the air and the smell of gunpowder tickled her nose. As she had that night, Deven’s dream self crouched and turned towards the projectile’s point of origin, but unlike prior nights, the dream didn’t end there. Tonight she found herself facing the impossible. Because standing tall within the nightmare and holding the pistol against Rhian’s head had been Tito. That just can’t be! He was killed five years ago!
With a charming smile, he’d looked right at her, his eyes full of life. “Lottare per tu vita. Lottare per tu amore, Deven. Dovete combattere per l’amore.”
“What the fuck?” she whispered. The first two phrases had drifted in and out of her mind for weeks and she couldn’t place where she’d heard them. But she felt absolutely certain that they were going to drive her insane with their inconsistent and yet persistent echoes.
The last one is new. Combattere is to fight. I know that one. Per l’amore is for love. You must fight for love? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Rolling onto her side, Deven shifted to the edge of the bed and slowly rose to her feet. Okay, before you get yourself into a panic, think. Tito probably said those words to you once in one of his philosophical moods. It sounds like something he’d say. But why am I remembering them now? And why would he end up in that dream? It just doesn’t make sense.
Pacing the room, she set aside those questions for the time being and allowed her thoughts to drift to another dream that had visited earlier in the night. For the first time in years, she’d dreamed about the rape when she was sixteen. That incident was something she rarely ever thought about and the last time had been when she’d told Rhian about it several months ago. Now in the moments just before dawn, it still remained with her, weighing heavily on her shoulders.
Finding herself at Rhian’s bedroom door, Deven’s impulse was to seek out the comfort that only her lover had been able to provide. Instead, she turned away from that compulsion and moved over to the sofa where she sat staring off into space, her eyes open but unfocused on anything in the present.
Deven had always endeavored to view the incidences of that night with her mind, leaving the emotions securely fettered somewhere deep inside. Eventually, she’d managed to reduce it to nothing more than a hard learned lesson. If she hadn’t been so arrogant, naïve, and trusting none of it would have happened. But at that point in her life, she had been all of those things.
Regardless of the circumstances, she’d taken full responsibility for having opened the door that had allowed Bill Cole the opportunity to gain the upper hand. She’d fought back as hard as her she could under the circumstances, but in the end, he’d defeated her physically. Even now it was difficult to understand what hurt the most about that night. Being raped, losing the fight, or having it all negated by the one person she’d trusted more than anyone else in the world.
Never having allowed herself to explore that night from an emotional point of view, she’d been unable to determine what she truly felt about the assault. Anger most certainly. Degradation? Every time she’d seen the bastard she’d felt it until she’d been able to exact some revenge. To see that look of humiliation on his face, to know that he’d felt powerless and had been used helped to alleviate her own obloquy to some extent, but she was now finding that it hadn’t eradicated it after all.
But was that the worst of it? Or was it that her father had blamed her for what had happened and subsequently dismissed the whole incident as if it had never occurred? As if she could just forget everything. He never even tried to see my side. Damn him!
For several minutes, Deven sat in misery, fighting the torrent of remembered emotional and physical pain. That had been a night of enlightenment. A night in which she’d seen her world forever tainted and vowed to never lose again. It had spurred within her a need to physically dominate. To hone her fighting skills so that no one would ever be able to overpower her again. It had been the night that she’d learned to hate.
Never had she doubted her abilities, but the assault had shown her the need to train harder and more efficiently. That need, combined with her father’s rejection, taught Deven to never completely trust anyone other than herself again. As the years progressed, she’d grown confident in her capability to protect herself and had never feared the possibility that any altercation could result in her death.
As her fighting skills reached a point where she knew she could stronghold anyone to do as she wished, she’d turned to refining her personal ingenuity. It was one thing to be able to force people to do things. It was another to finesse them into believing that what she wanted was what they wanted. Defeat on any level was never an option.
So what the fuck happened? Looking down at her immobilized hand she recognized the crushing defeat and that caused the very foundation of her confidence to crumble. Even if she couldn’t remember what had happened, the damage to her body showed she’d lost and lost big. If I can’t defend myself, how can I ever expect to protect them?
I once told Rhian that I’d fight all her battles for her. Because that was the one thing I was truly good at. But now that’s all gone. And Deven remained unsure what was left in its place. She was certain that the relationship was forever changed, and the damage, in her mind, could never be undone. You’ll never be the person you were in her eyes. And you know that Rhian knows that as well.
For the moment, the anger and frustration were buried beneath the rubble of her shattered self-assurance. “Pride goeth before a fall,” her mother’s voice echoed in her head. “I reckon you were right about that, Patricia.”
Needing a break, Rhian stepped away from the drafting board and stretched out her back before glancing over at where the martial artist was sitting solemnly on the sofa. Since Kelly’s visit, the strain between them had lessened. Not because anything had been resolved, but mostly because they’d been avoiding each other as much as possible.
Rhian didn’t believe that this was the end of their problems. More accurately, she felt it was the calm before the storm. Apathy had never had a place anywhere in their relationship. From the moment they’d met, theirs had been a passionate relationship.
Over the past few days though, any conversation that had taken place between them had been limited to questions regarding Deven’s condition that required nothing more than yes or no responses. While it was a reprieve from the hostility, it was nonetheless disheartening for the landscaper. “Deven?”
The martial artist didn’t move at all, as if she hadn’t heard her name called out. Crossing the room, Rhian stopped just in front of the woman. “Deven? Are you hungry?”
Deven blinked a few times and then slowly allowed her eyes to drift to Rhian’s face. “No.”
“Are you in pain?”
Pain? What is pain, Rhian? A physical reminder of our shortcomings? Of our inabilities to do the things we should have done or needed to do. Our failures. My failures. Am I in pain? Oh yeah, but does it even matter?
Not receiving an answer, Rhian gave up. “I’m going upstairs to see what’s going on. I’m sure Mom has something in mind for your dinner.” There was no reaction. No nod. No rebuttal. No anger. Nothing. “You can wait here or you’re more than welcome to join us.” It was if Deven wasn’t even listening, and so she turned away.
Rhian entered the kitchen a moment later. “Hi,” she said while snatching a carrot from the chopping block in front of her mother.
“How’s the design coming along?” Kate asked.
“Finished. I’m just about caught back up on everything.”
“Good. I know being behind schedule makes you antsy.”
“Yeah, well. Couldn’t have been helped,” Rhian answered sadly.
“Speaking of help,” Kate hesitated and then forged on. “What’s going on with Deven? She hasn’t even tried to speak in days.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her, Mom? She isn’t talking to me either. I don’t know what’s worse, her being mad at me all the time or her shutting me out.” Rhian hadn’t told anyone about what had happened with Kelly. She didn’t believe her family would understand especially since she didn’t understand what was really going on with Deven.
The front door opened and Nicole practically loped into the kitchen. “I’ve been sent on a mission,” she said excitedly. “Jay and I are headed over to the Pit for a little while, and I’ve been instructed to force you to come with us.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Rhian replied.
“Why not? We won’t keep you out too late, and besides, we didn’t get to do anything to celebrate your birthday this year. You need to get out a little, Rhian.”
Deven paused near the top of the stairs. Her birthday? Damn! I missed both hers and Tiernan’s birthdays. I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry, T.
“Go on,” Kate coaxed. “It’ll do you good.”
“But what about, Deven? I shouldn’t just leave her here.”
“Why not?” Nicole asked. “It isn’t like she’s talking to you anyway, Rhian.”
“Because it’s not fair,” she argued. “Mom’s the one who has to deal with this crap everyday. She should be going out.”
“Maybe I’ll get your father to take me out tomorrow night to a movie or something,” Kate interjected. “Besides, sweetheart, it isn’t crap and you know it. You’re just frustrated right now and it would do you a world of good to get out for awhile.”
“Come on and grab your coat,” Nicole insisted. “Let’s go see what kind of mischief we can get into.”
“I don’t need anymore mischief, thank you,” Rhian responded.
“Then let’s go have some fun. Drink a few beers. Listen to some music. Dance a little.”
“I don’t know, Nic. Every time I go to that place I seem to get into trouble of some sort.”
“Good. You could use a little trouble.”
“Not,” they said in unison.
She should go out. I mean why would she want to stay cooped up with me? Deven pushed away from the wall and walked dejectedly back down the stairs. And what if she meets someone, Masterson? That’s where she met you. She’s good looking. Sensual as all get out when she let’s herself go and one hell of a good kisser. There will be plenty of men and women all over that place that will just be itching to get in her pants. Oh, shut up!
It was after midnight before Rhian returned home. Hearing the landscaper’s hesitant footfalls on the stairs, Deven stopped her pacing and waited. There was a slight unsteadiness to the woman’s carriage that indicated she’d had a few drinks, but there was also something else that Deven couldn’t quite place. Part of it was that Rhian wouldn’t look her directly in the eye. More than that though was an innate sense that told her something wasn’t as it should be. Her body nearly rigid, Deven stood in the middle of the room, effectively eliminating a direct route to the bedroom.
Rhian could feel the hostility undulating off the woman. “Hi. You okay?” she asked uncertainly. Receiving no reply, she attempted to walk around the woman. “Okay, well, I’m going to bed.”
Deven reached out and placing her good hand firmly on Rhian’s shoulder, she stopped the woman from moving forward. Then leaning closer, the martial artist inhaled deeply. There were the typical bar smells, cigarette smoke and beer, but there was also something else clinging to the fabric of Rhian’s blouse - the distinct scent of unfamiliar cologne that was similar to her own but decidedly not hers.
“What are you doing?” Rhian asked nervously. Damn it, Deven! Why couldn’t you just ignore me like usual? Why did you suddenly decide to pay attention? The hand resting on her shoulder tensed and the fingers began to press into her flesh. Mustering up as much nonchalance as she could, Rhian brushed the hand away and proceeded forward. “I’ll see you in the morning. If you need me, you know where I am.”
Once behind the closed door, she brought a trembling hand up to her lips and covered the sob that escaped. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Stripping out of her clothes, she hurried to the shower to wash away the lingering scent. It wasn’t until she crawled into bed a short while later that she allowed herself to think about the evening.
It had felt strange to be back at the Pit, especially strange without Deven, and she’d had a difficult time overcoming the melancholy. Her thoughts lingered on the woman, who even after all that had happened, still held her heart. She had been struggling for weeks to understand what was happening to Deven. Not just physically but emotionally. Some of the woman’s behavior seemed predictable but there was so much more that just eluded Rhian’s comprehension.
She’d skirted around the issue whenever her parents or one of her friends tried to get her to discuss the situation. For them to completely understand, it meant disclosing much about Deven that she felt bound to keep in confidence. And so she kept her own counsel, hoping to find an insight that would allow her to help Deven to heal. That would help them both to heal.
It took quite a lot of gentle coaxing from her friends and a few beers for her to finally begin to loosen up. She wasn’t certain when she’d started to unwind until she found herself on the dance floor with both Jay and Nicole. Putting thoughts of the past weeks aside, she focused on enjoying the temporary respite.
Eventually she lost track of time and welcomed the slight buzz produced by the alcohol. Walking back to the table after a trip to the restroom, she hadn’t noticed Risa until the woman had been standing right in front of her. There was a sex appeal to the stranger that immediately reached out to the landscaper. Her smile was kind and genuine, and her voice seductive as she’d requested a dance.
Before she could think too much about it, Rhian had followed the woman to the dance floor. They’d chatted, an easy bantering back and forth, and Rhian had laughed for the first time in months. It had felt good.
After that, time had flown by but still the unhappiness reached out to her every so often. She couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting to Deven. So many memories of her lover were created right here and she missed those times. Some she could actually laugh about now. Others filled her with such yearning to have her lover back, to have her companion back, to feel that cherished connection again.
Risa had continued to appear periodically, guiding her confidently but solicitously back to the dance floor. She found the woman charming and without realizing it, Rhian was absorbing the attention. It temporarily eased her longing, making her believe if only for a brief time, that she was appreciated.
The veiled flirtation seemed innocuous, but then things had changed. The music had slowed, and she’d hesitated as Risa had gently but firmly pulled her forward. The woman guided her and as they’d swayed as one to the music, Rhian had closed her eyes. She felt the arms around her and she settled into the rhythm. Their bodies came together and Rhian’s head rested against the firm shoulder and she sighed. Why can’t this be Deven?
Hands moved up her back, and a firm thigh settled between her legs. The contact was barely more than a brush here and there, but it was stirring in her an ache she’d been denying for some time. How many times had she danced with Deven like this? How many times had their body’s come together in this same way? She missed Deven. Missed her badly. Not only in her heart but her body as well.
Fingers lightly brushed down her cheek to her chin, lifted her head upward and then lips were on hers. Tenderly at first and then growing more insistent, the kiss deepened as Risa pressed more firmly against her. Her body was on fire with want and her mind was almost convinced for a brief second that this was not a stranger but the one person she craved.
A soft moist tongue parted her lips and pressed forward, bringing reality back. This wasn’t Deven and Rhian pulled back, severing the contact. Apologizing profusely, she turned and nearly run towards the table. After that, no amount of cajoling from her friends could get her back out on the dance floor.
Now alone in her bed, she allowed herself to reflect about what she’d done. It wasn’t that she’d been particularly interested in Risa, though she was an attractive woman. What Rhian wanted was the contact. She craved it. Not just sexually, but the intimacy that she’s shared with Deven. She longed for the simple caresses or holding each other in the night. The camaraderie.
She tried to pretend she was okay with everything; that the rift between them wasn’t eating her up inside. She’d tried to convince herself it didn’t matter, but the truth was that she missed her friend so much.
Rolling onto her side, she hugged the spare pillow. There was no doubt in her mind that Deven knew something had happened. Rhian wanted to get up and go tell Deven how much she missed her. How much she loved her. To clear the air, but that seemed impossible when they couldn’t even have a decent conversation about nothing in particular.
Burying her face in the pillow, she cried. She wept for Deven and for herself; for the lost intimacy and friendship, and for the love that seemed to be dying right before her eyes.
As she did each morning, Kate went downstairs to assist her patient in starting the day. Normally, she would find Deven awake and full of nervous energy, but on this particular morning, the unusually still figure on the sofa caused her concern. “Deven,” she called out. “Are you okay?”
Not receiving a reaction of any kind, Kate became worried. She cupped Deven’s face with her hands and lifted. “Look at me.” When the woman complied, Kate prodded gently. “What’s wrong?”
Deven slowly eased Kate’s hands off her face. “Nothing,” she answered.
“Did you sleep last night?”
Because your daughter cheated on me last night. How about that? She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Not that I blame her. “Not important,” she replied.
“Of course, it’s important.”
The bedroom door opened and Rhian walked out of her room, looking quite disheveled. “Hi,” she greeted them sleepily.
“Morning. How are you doing?” Kate asked.
“All right, I guess. Didn’t sleep too well.”
“Apparently either did Deven. In fact, as best I can gather, she didn’t sleep at all.”
“Why?” As she neared the sofa, Rhian naturally reached out to touch Deven’s shoulder but stopped when the martial artist glared at her. “I need coffee before I can deal with this,” she said in exasperation.
It’s going to be a long day Kate thought with a small shake of her head. “I’m going to get you something, Deven. I’ll be back in a few.” Not expecting an answer, she didn’t wait for one and followed her daughter upstairs.
The two women moved about the kitchen in silence for several minutes, before Kate asked, “So, did you have a good time last night?”
“It was all right,” Rhian answered.
Kate studied her daughter’s slumped shoulders and bowed head. “Something you’d like to talk about?”
At first, Rhian almost declined but then the words were tumbling out. “I miss her. I miss what we had. And I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get back to where we were. I’ve tried so hard, Mom. I’ve tried to be patient. To let her find her way through whatever it is that’s going on inside of her. I’ve tried to ignore the rebukes and hostility because I don’t believe she really feels that way about me. But it’s just getting to be too hard.”
The landscaper paused and took a sip of her coffee. “I realized last night how much I do miss her.”
“Why don’t you talk to her about it, Rhian? Maybe she’s ready.”
“You saw her this morning. Did she give any indication that she was ready to communicate with me?”
“I guess not.” Kate began blending a protein rich shake for the martial artist. “What do you want to do? We can send her somewhere else to finish her convalescence.”
“I don’t want that. I just.” Rhian paused to consider what it was she exactly that she did need. “I just want to be able to talk to her. Really talk. Like we used to. I need to know what she’s feeling. What she’s thinking. But I can’t get passed the hostility to even start a dialogue. You and Seana seem to be the only ones she’ll let that close.”
Shutting off the blender, Kate faced her daughter. “I care for Deven. She’s actually grown on me. But you’re my daughter, and I don’t like seeing you this way.” She placed her hands on Rhian’s shoulders. “I’m here for you. Anytime.”
“I know,” Rhian answered. “I wish I knew what to do, but until then, I guess we’ll just keep muddling through each day. Who knows? Maybe when her head completely heals, she’ll wake up one morning her old self.”
“I doubt it, honey. But stranger things have happened.” Kate turned to pour the shake into a glass. “Now I best go feed the beast.”
“Have fun,” Rhian said as she watched her mother head for the stairs.
“Drink up, problem child,” Kate demanded. “I won’t have the doctors thinking I don’t take care of you.”
Mechanically, Deven did as she was told. She was too tired to even think anymore. The nightmares. The abduction. The beating that had left her like this. Her son. Rhian’s infidelity. It was all too much, and her mind just didn’t want to focus on any one thing. Last night she’d thought a lot, finally accepting that it was inevitable that Rhian would seek companionship elsewhere. You saw yourself, Masterson. You’re nothing now and who would want to be stuck with that?
When Rhian came back downstairs a few minutes later, Kate watched as neither woman acknowledged the other. “Stubborn,” Kate muttered under her breath as her daughter went directly into her room and closed the door. “I must have slept wrong last night. My back is giving me fits today,” she said and sat down on the sofa. Looking at the martial artist, she patted her lap and said, “Come here.”
Deven appeared confused.
“I want you to lie down. So, come here and put your head in my lap.”
The martial artist’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head.
“Deven, please don’t give me a hard time. I need to check all your incisions and the restraints. My back hurts so I don’t want to bend down to do it. So, if you’d be so kind as to lay your head down here, I can do what I have to do without straining anything.’
“All right,” Deven mumbled. She felt exceptionally vulnerable in that position. You’d think you’d be over that by now, Masterson. I mean think about it. How much more vulnerable can you get after everything that happened?
Kate checked each of the injuries in turn, beginning with the abdomen and finishing with the jaw. All the wounds had closed, and she applied cream to the tender new flesh to reduce some of the scarring. With the utmost care, she then covered the hooks in Deven’s mouth with wax to protect her lips. As she examined the incision in the hairline, Kate slowly ran her fingers through the dark hair.
Unaware of the sedative that had been slipped into her shake, Deven allowed her eyes to drift closed. With the sensation of Kate’s fingers lightly massaging her scalp, she floated into a relaxed state. Damn. She drugged me, was her last thought before succumbing to the exhaustion.
Kate watched the woman’s breathing even out and smiled in satisfaction. There’s more than one what to skin a cat, Deven.
Dressed for work, Rhian walked out of the bedroom and stopped abruptly at the sight. “How did you do that?”
“Does it matter?” Kate answered with a smug smile.
The martial artist stirred and the older woman lightly caressed her head. “Hush, Deven. You’re safe.”
“Hey guys,” Nicole called out as she bounded down the stairs.
“Quiet. Mom has managed somehow to get Deven to sleep.”
“Thank goodness. She was getting crankier by the day.” Nicole put an arm across Rhian’s shoulders and turned her towards the bedroom. “I need to talk to you.”
“Not right now.”
“Now is a perfect time. Let’s go,” Nicole said. Once the door was closed, she didn’t waste any time. “Okay, what happened? And don’t give me that I don’t know what you’re talking about look.”
Rhian sat down on the bed and clasped her hands between her knees. “I did something. Well, more like I allowed something to happen.”
“Huh? Could you be a little more vague?”
“I kissed her. Or rather I let her kiss me.”
“I wish. No. Risa.”
Nicole slumped against the door. “Risa from the bar?”
“You just met her, Rhian. When do you become such a slut?”
“Oh, shut up. It wasn’t like that.”
“You go to a bar with your lover at home and make out with the first woman who crosses your path? What would you call it?”
“Since when have you been on Deven’s side?”
“Since you became a slut.”
“Stop saying that!”
“Okay. Relax.” Nicole crossed the room and sat down next to her friend. “So what happened?”
“I just. I miss Deven so much. She’s here but she’s not. I just miss her companionship and friendship. Risa, for a few hours, she made me feel good. Made me feel some of what I’ve missed. Does that make any sense?”
Without waiting for a response from her friend, Rhian spoke in a rush. “We were dancing and the music got real slow. She put her arms around me and just held me and I got to thinking about Deven. It felt good to just be held by someone. I kept thinking how much I wished it was Deven and about the times we’ve shared. And then she was kissing me and I just responded. But then I realized what I was doing and that’s when I came back to the table.”
“Wow. You’re not just a slut, you’re a tease,” Nicole said to ease the tension.
It worked and Rhian smiled. “Shut up.” Growing somber once again, she said, “I think Deven knows.”
“How could she know? I didn’t even know and I was there.”
“It was weird. But when I got home, she stopped me and smelled my blouse. I know she could smell Risa’s perfume.”
“Well, that stinks.” Nicole shook her head. “You know what I mean. Did she say anything?”
“No, but I could tell she wasn’t happy.”
“She’s never happy anymore, Rhian. Which brings up something else. I think you need to really consider what you want to do. It’s obvious that you aren’t happy either. It’s obvious that Deven is shutting you out of her life. You can’t go on like this forever, my friend. If nothing else, last night should have told you that you need more out of a relationship than Deven seems willing to give you.”
“It isn’t that simple, Nic.”
“I know,” Nicole answered compassionately. “I’m just saying that you need to think seriously about the prospects here. If you think this can still work out, then stick with it. But if you don’t, you need to take care of yourself and Seana. I don’t want to see you make the same mistake you did with Sean.”
“What are you talking about?” Rhian snapped.
“Don’t get defensive, okay? It’s just that, Sean used to.”
“What? Sean used to what?”
“He was abusive, Rhian. He could be so mean to you and sometimes it’s almost like she’s treating you the same way.”
“Yes, she is. And the worst thing about the situation with Sean was that you took it. You let him get away with it.”
“I.” Rhian’s protest died before it ever really got started. She’d never equated the two situations before and wasn’t willing to consider it now. Yes there were similarities, but she didn’t want to believe that Deven had broken her word. “You’re right to some extent. I know that, but I’m just not ready to walk away from this. From her.”
“Okay, well, whatever you decide to do, I’m here if you need me,” Nicole offered.
“Thanks. Now I’m starving,” Rhian said to change the painful subject. “I have a feeling that my mother isn’t going to be fixing us breakfast this morning. What do you say we wrestle up some vittles for the clan?”
“Uh, you know better than to eat my cooking.”
Rhian smiled. “I know. But it is the least we can do for Mom.”
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