When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004
To anyone who’d spent time around the two women, it should have come as no surprise that when the pressure finally grew to be too much, it would be against each other that it was released. For weeks, each bore the weight of their dismal thoughts and emotions, and it was only a question of when that burden would grow too heavy.
Physically, Deven was recuperating quite well but emotionally she remained mired in a bog of self-depreciation and anger that created an overall sense of worthlessness. Where a few days earlier she’d been emotionally withdrawn, the belief that Rhian had been with someone else had moved her back to being obstinate, combative, and uncooperative.
Today, she was just in a foul mood. The orthopedic surgeon had freed her injured hand the previous day and while that should have been a reason to celebrate, the inflexibility of the limb worried her. It was painful to manipulate the fingers and wrist, and even though the surgeon had assured her that with therapy she’d regain full use of the appendage, it was still just one more thing in a long list of disappointments.
And she was tired. She was tired of all the aches and pains. She was tired of having to rely on others. She was tired of not being able to do as she pleased, when she pleased, and how she pleased. She was tired of the nightmares and nights of restless sleep. But most of all, she was tired of feeling pitied.
“Damn it, why do you have to be so difficult about every little thing?” Rhian fumed. “You’re absolutely worse than either of the children. Now, you need to drink this!”
The curl of her upper lip and a low growl was Deven’s response. She wanted to scream. To tell Rhian to fuck off, but she held back, swallowing the words. It was only a matter of time, she was certain, before she choked on them.
Okay, take it down a notch. Rhian inhaled slowly while attempting to put a lid on her rising temper. “Deven,” she began.
“No!” The martial artist cut her off.
The last of Rhian’s patience vanished. “Fine!” she barked and slammed the glass down on the table with enough force to make a good portion of its contents slosh out. Then without another word, she stormed into the bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.
“Why are you so difficult?” Jay asked. “Would it hurt you so much to stop being so confrontational and just drink the damn juice?”
“Yeah,” she answered.
“What is wrong with you? You should be grateful that someone cares so much about you that she’s willing to put up with this crap. You’ve suddenly reverted back to being a bitch, and quite frankly, it sucks.”
“Grateful?” she asked in disbelief.
“Kelly told me about your outburst. How could you accuse them of that? Do you really think for one moment that Rhian would cheat on you? With Kelly?”
“You can’t be serious,” he replied. “Kelly is your friend, Deven. And a married woman. She’d never do something like that. And Rhian loves you.”
Conversing with this woman had grown to be a real struggle for the man. There had been so many feelings when they thought she’d die or be maimed for life that all he wanted to do was hug her. To tell her how much she meant to him, but the belligerent arrogance she now directed at Rhian and most everyone else made it nearly impossible to be in the same room with her. “You don’t know what your being hurt did to her. To all of us.”
You think? Well, how about what it did to me? She reached up and rubbed her throbbing temples.
“Look, I know you went through hell. I can’t even imagine what it was like, Deven. Seeing you in that hospital was.” The break in his voice caused him to stop.
The shield of indifference she wore was getting more difficult to maintain, especially when she suffered with a headache. And each time it slipped, it was getting harder to keep everything in. She dug deeper to keep it intact.
“Deven, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I wish I did. But you’ve got to stop this. You’re destroying the best relationship of your life. You’re hurting her for something that isn’t her fault. Please, talk to her.”
About what? About how I failed? About how she’s already moving on? What the hell should we talk about? Pressing on her temples, she sought to ease the pressure. If she didn’t end this conversation soon, she was going to lose it, and so, she responded to his plea by lifting her hand and giving him an obscene gesture.
“Jay, will you excuse us, please?”
Kate’s voice caused Deven to flinch. She hadn’t realized that Rhian’s mother had entered the room and had no idea how much of the confrontation she’d been privy to. Jay nodded and walked up the stairs without looking back.
“Sit down, Deven.”
It wasn’t a request but it wasn’t a command either. It was somewhere in-between and unable to repudiate it; Deven moved to the sofa and sat down. She waited while Kate settled on the coffee table directly in front of her.
“Look at me.”
That was more of a command, and Deven did as requested.
There was such a curious blend of emotions in those eyes that Kate wasn’t entirely certain what she was seeing. There was anger most certainly and while that was to be expected, she didn’t understand why there was so much of it. There was also a great deal of pain, and she might have blamed it all on the abduction was it not that she’d glimpsed it months before. And at the moment, there was a heavy dose of defiance glaring back at her.
Much of the time, Deven reminded her of a belligerent child who needed nothing more than a swift kick in the backside. But she was also aware that some of that belligerence was likely the result of having received far too many such kicks while growing up. Still, dealing with this woman’s nearly constant abrasiveness was becoming more of a trial with each passing day.
Kate felt that she’d stood by long enough, watching and waiting for her daughter and Deven to find their way. The situation wasn’t improving, and she’d reached the limit with the situation. “Now, you listen to me. Put your attitude aside. I know this is difficult for you. It would be for anyone in the same situation. No one wants to be dependent on someone else for everything. You, my problem child, have the added burden of being one of the most obstinate, self-sufficient and proud people I’ve ever met. And I mean that in a good way, Deven. But the bottom line is that things are what they are and you have no choice right now. This won’t last forever, sweetheart.”
Deven’s eyes began to burn as tears threatened. She couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t understand the impact this woman could have on her, but at moments like this, she felt an overpowering urge for a hug. And that infuriated her.
“Besides the physical healing, you have to understand that there are some other things that have to be dealt with too, and for you, I think that is going to be the greater battle. What happened to you was atrocious, and you have every right to be angry about it. But much of this anger that you’re struggling with you’ve harbored for some time. I don’t know what caused all of it. And I don’t know why you’re so angry with Rhian. Yes, she can be overbearing. Yes, she is driving you crazy. Yes, she has some things about the whole incident that she needs to deal with as well. But making her the focus of all your rage isn’t fair.”
Kate stopped Deven from turning away by gently but firmly gripping the woman’s chin. “You have got to be one of the most stubborn people I have ever met, and while that can be an asset at times, right now it is beginning to piss me off. You have never struck me as one to play games, so stop being such a pain in the ass and talk to me!” Kate released her grip and glared, challenging the martial artist to respond.
From everything Deven knew about this woman, swearing was not something she did or tolerated. Great, Masterson. Now you’ve managed to really make her mad. Might as well finish things. Just one more in a long list of people to hate you. Taking a deep breath, she gathered up the remnants of her courage and began. “Not her. Me!”
“You’re angry at yourself. But why, Deven?”
The tension in her face was making the strain to talk around the restraints that much harder so she resulted to writing on the white board. MY FAULT!
“What happened was your fault?”
“Yes,” Deven forced out. With each visit to Dr. Hadari, the restraints were being loosened slightly to give her greater mobility, but it was still painful and difficult to carry on conversations for any length of time. And so she alternated in her conversations between writing and speaking.
“How do you know that?” Kate asked. “You’ve said you don’t remember.”
“Just know.” COULD HAV BN BAD! Kate looked at her with such compassion it caused Deven’s reserve to slip even further.
“Honey, from where I sit, what happened to you was bad.”
“Bad for them.”
“Rhian and the children?” Deven nodded, and Kate asked, “You don’t think your being hurt was bad for them?”
The frustration from not being able to just say what she wanted was beginning to take purchase on top of the nearly constant turmoil of other emotions. Reaching out, Kate gently clasped Deven’s hand and lightly brushed her thumb over the scars. “Calm down. I’m trying to understand.”
The martial artist looked closely at the older woman, looking for any indication that the woman was just trying to placate her. Contempt she could deal with. Anger she could understand. But that someone could show her true concern was difficult to comprehend.
Kate met Deven’s gaze unwaveringly. She gave the martial artist a few seconds to relax before speaking again. “Okay. What do you want to tell me?”
Kate knew she was pushing Deven and watched the woman closely. With each day that passed the martial artist’s eyes brimmed with unshed tears more frequently, but then somehow she’d pull the pain back inside refusing to let it go. There had been no release from the jumble of feelings, and they were going to have to come out eventually. Kate hoped she could guide Deven through a much less volatile and traumatic release.
“It’s believed that you knew the man behind this. And I don’t mean that animal Mace.” Deven lowered her head, which was an answer unto itself. “Why haven’t you shared this with the police?”
DON’T KNOW WHO
“But you are starting to remember. I can tell. So, why not talk to Alex?”
“Deven, what if they come back?”
“I don’t understand. How do you know that?”
“I know,” she said with conviction.
“But how can you be so sure? Someone who would do that to you is a monster and should be locked up for life.”
Here it is, Masterson. The door just flew open. ASK R
“Ask Rhian what?”
“I’m.” She took a deep shuddering breath. “I’m the monster.”
Before Kate could respond, tears began to trickle down the martial artist’s cheeks though it was obvious that she was still struggling to keep it all inside. “Don’t fight it so hard. Let it go.”
“No,” Deven ground out. It took several seconds and a concerted effort, but she managed to stop the flow of tears. Carefully, she wiped her face on her sleeve. “I am.”
“Deven, you are difficult at times, but you are most certainly not a monster.”
While swallowing several times to suppress the pain, she wrote U DON”T KNOW
“Tell me,” Kate said softly.
As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t bring herself to speak of the things that weighed so heavily on her conscious. How could she explain to this woman that whether or not the beating had been tied to the past, it was still a justified punishment? That she deserved what had happened and so much more.
Kate looked up and saw her daughter peeking out of the bedroom, the dim light in the room reflecting off the dampness on the landscaper’s cheeks. “She says she’s a monster and to ask you.”
In the same fashion she’d left the room, Rhian stormed back in and glared down at Deven. “I’ll tell Mom about the past only if I tell her everything. Not just what you want me to but everything that happened to you.”
The martial artist stood up and glowered back. Everything about her, her posture, the set of her eyes, screamed aggression as she slowly shook her head.
“Wrong answer, Deven!”
Rhian had reached her breaking point. Speaking to her mother, she never took her eyes off Deven. “She wants me to tell you all the things she considers her sins. What she doesn’t want me to tell you is the fact that most of what she considers her transgressions aren’t her responsibility and never were. And that there were a lot of extenuating circumstances behind how she ended up where she was and doing what she did. What she wants is for me to tell you what she perceives as the truth so that you’ll see her as some sort of evil person. And when you see her that way, you’ll throw her out and convince me she’s not worth it. If you do that, it’ll somehow justify for her how unworthy she thinks she is. Right, Champ?”
This was the second time that Deven felt precariously close to striking this woman, and so she turned away and took several steps to put some distance between them.
“You want to hit me, Deven,” Rhian taunted. “I know that. Well, if it will make you feel better, go ahead. It would be a lot better than this self-pitying crap you’re wallowing in!”
Kate’s eyes grew round at the obvious challenge. “Rhian,” she cautioned while standing.
Deven whirled around to face the landscaper. “Stop! Pitying! Me!”
“What are you talking about?”
The effort to shout was straining her jaw against the restraints, and it began to throb. That only added fuel to her temper and her now raging headache. Picking up the white board, she smeared off the last message with the heel of her hand before writing again. U FEEL SORRY 4 ME!
“Feel sorry for you? I don’t feel sorry for you. I’ve never felt sorry for you! Why would I feel pity for you? You idiot, I hurt for you. You have got to be one of the densest people I’ve ever met. All I’ve ever done, Deven, is to love you.”
Again the martial artist rubbed the heel of her hand across the white board, smearing the prior message as a tear she hadn’t even realized was there dripped onto its surface. WHAT DO U WANT?
Rhian rapidly closed the distance between them and shouted in the woman’s face. “You’re a fighter! I want you to fight! I want you to fight for me! For us!”
The martial artist’s nostrils flared and her lips curled. The emotions had been pent up for so long and without any physical activity to burn off the energy, they had nowhere to go. Her body began to tremble.
“When are you going to get it through your head that you’re not responsible for everything and everybody? You’re not responsible for what those other people chose to do. You’re not responsible for everything that happened to you. You’re not responsible for my being with you or for me. Stop being such a martyr, Deven!”
The white board sailed across the room, slamming into the wall with a loud bang. Deven’s uninjured hand curled into a tight fist, causing her knuckles to turn white, and the shaking in her body increased as she glowered at Rhian. Muscles that hadn’t been used in weeks began to constrict sending waves of agony throughout her body. But instead of turning away from it, she welcomed it. It was something she could focus on.
“You always think that everything is about you! Well, it isn’t! What happened to you impacted all of us! Watching them take you away was terrifying, Deven! Not knowing if you were alive. Not knowing if we’d ever see you again. Seeing you in that hospital with tubes everywhere. Knowing that you were fighting for you life and not knowing if you’d win. Not knowing if you even wanted to. And yet, not one person is blaming you for any of it. But you? You spend all your time beating yourself up and then get angry with us for it. All any of us has done is to stand by you, love you, you selfish egotistical pain in my ass!”
The rage would no longer be denied and with a primal growl Deven brought her fist down on the hospital bed. Over and over she pounded her hand into the mattress, and Rhian stared at her lover’s back waiting for the outburst to end and wishing she could ease the woman’s torment.
Kate took a step closer to the two women though she had no idea what she could do to stop this. She watched in fascination and trepidation as the whole scene unfolded, uncertain what should concern her the most - Rhian’s obvious taunting, Deven’s violent outburst, or the potential damage that was being done to the martial artist’s mending body.
Lightheaded and in physical agony, Deven paused and studied her right hand. In what seemed like slow motion, she forced it closed into a fist and raised it up over her head.
Realizing Deven’s intention, Rhian moved quickly. As the martial artist began her downward strike, Rhian lifted her arms, crossing them at the wrists to form an x block as Deven had taught her, effectively stopping the woman’s progress. “Oh, no you don’t!”
The sudden halt to her swing jarred her body, sending waves of pain through her hand, up her arm and across her chest. With her knees starting to buckle, Deven offered no resistance as Rhian guided her to sit down on the bed.
With the utmost care, the landscaper lifted the damaged hand and examined it carefully. “Mom?”
“Let me see,” Kate said as she neared the bed. She examined Deven’s hand, having the martial artist constrict it into a fist and open it again. Everything appeared to be all right, and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Deven?”
Blinking her eyes open, Deven looked down at the back of her hand and then up into Kate’s worried eyes. “Sorry,” she said remorsefully.
“I’m going to give you an injection for the pain. I know you don’t like it, but under the circumstances, I’m not giving you a choice.”
As Kate moved away, Rhian sent out a whispered plea. “Deven, please look at me.”
The martial artist resisted, but eventually sorrowful eyes lifted.
“I love you. Do you understand? I love you.” Rhian moved closer until she was standing right next to the bed, her hip lightly brushing Deven’s knee. “You seem to think that I don’t understand; that I’m not capable of understanding what you’re going through. And to some extent you’re right. But that’s because you won’t talk to me. I should be highly insulted in your complete lack of confidence in me.”
“No to your lack of confidence in me or no to your talking to me?”
It took a few seconds for the question to finally sink in, but Deven couldn’t muster an answer. Her throat had grown so tight that just swallowing was difficult.
“We once vowed that we could get through anything if we faced it together. Well, I still believe that. I’m not going to give up and I don’t believe that you really want me to.”
Deven blinked, releasing a single tear from each eye and reaching up, Rhian gently wiped them away. Thus far Deven had resisted any contact other than what was absolutely necessary. She’d avoided anything that might be remotely considered intimate. But as Rhian leaned forward, she made no move to retreat and closed her eyes as soft lips brushed against her cheek. “I’m not giving up on you.”
“Here. Lean that way,” Kate said and then smiled when Deven hesitated. “Don’t make me go get suppositories.”
Rhian laughed at the threat and Deven’s eyes narrowed at the older woman.
“Don’t give me that look, young lady. You may act all tough, but I can still take you down a peg or two. Don’t push your luck, problem child. Besides you’re just too cute when you do that scowl thing. There’s no way I can possibly take you seriously.”
It took too much energy to keep up the façade and so Deven acquiesced without any further resistance. Lying down on her side, she remained still while Kate injected the pain reliever into her hip. Then rolling onto her back, Deven lay staring up at the ceiling, waiting for the drug to take effect.
“I know this doesn’t fix everything, but please, let it be a start,” Rhian pleaded. Holding onto the martial artist’s hand, she leaned closer and kissed her lover on the forehead. “Please,” she whispered.
I don’t know if I can, Deven thought as her eyelids grew heavy.
The rest of the evening was blessedly uneventful because Deven had entered a deep sleep. She hadn’t stirred for hours, and both Kate and Rhian felt it was best to just let her sleep even though that meant she missed dinner.
Seana hadn’t been permitted downstairs until it was time for bed so that she wouldn’t disturb the slumbering woman, and the little girl had done remarkably well at keeping quiet. She hadn’t even put up a fuss at bedtime though she’d been quite disappointed that Deven hadn’t been awake to tell her goodnight.
Mac had adjourned to his home office to catch up on some financial statements and Michael was out for the evening. That left Kate and Rhian in the kitchen. Filling two glasses with tea, Kate set one on the table in front of her daughter and then sat down with the other, releasing a weary sigh in the process. .
Rhian took a sip of the tea and regarded her mother over the rim of the glass. “I’d say I was sorry about what happened today, but I’m not. I wish that it had happened in a calmer manner, but I think that just getting her to let go was worth it. At least, I hope it was.”
“She could have done some real damage to herself, Rhian.”
“But she didn’t and maybe she won’t be pissed off at me all of the time now. You don’t know what its been like. I mean you’ve seen it, but she isn’t mad at you all of the time.”
“The doctors were quite specific about the possible consequences of the head trauma. In that context, Deven’s behavior isn’t totally unexpected,” Kate reminded her daughter. “But after what I witnessed today, I think there is a lot more going on with that woman than just the injury.”
“I think it’s terribly hard for Deven to depend on anyone and right now, she has absolutely no choice. I think it’s easier to accept from me, because our relationship is founded on very different things than yours. I’m a mother to her and even that’s hard for her given what she was exposed to. But she knows she needs my help. She knows that I will give it to her. No expectations beyond the moment. But what she feels she has to prove to me is nothing like what she feels she’s already failed to show you. Your relationship has always been based on Deven being whole and strong. But now, she’s weak and vulnerable and absolutely hates every second of it.”
Rhian blinked at her mother and set the glass down. “Where the heck did that come from?”
“Your father,” Kate answered with a smug smile.
The landscaper nodded her head in appreciation of her father’s insight. “I suppose there is some truth to that.”
“When you look at her, what do you see?” the older woman asked.
“I see Deven.”
“That’s who you see not what you see.”
Rhian pursed her lips as she considered the woman who in such a short span of time had completely turned her world inside out. “I see a woman who was nearly beaten to death. I see her face in the hospital, swollen and unrecognizable. I see the bruises and the blood. I see her pain.”
“And do you think she doesn’t see that reflected back at her?”
“No! I would never.”
“Rhian, have you ever tried to show her your love with just a look?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Then what makes you think that you don’t express all these other emotions the same way? Honey, don’t you see? You’re treating her differently.”
“No, I’m not,” Rhian replied defensively.
“Yes,” Kate said softly. “How could you not? But how do you think she sees herself now? And to see herself though your eyes, she most feel a lesser person.”
“If that’s true, I don’t mean to. It’s just that she was so hurt.”
“I know. But she is healing, at least physically.” Reaching out, Kate grasped her daughter’s hand. “I can’t help but wonder if she needs help with the rest of it. Neither one of us is qualified to guide her through that healing.”
Rhian chewed on her lower lip. She’d considered calling Dr. Martin several times, but hesitated to step into that part of Deven’s life for fear it was too intrusive.
Releasing her daughter’s hand, Kate forged ahead into the issue that lay there between them. “Why does she think she’s a monster?”
The landscaper closed her eyes and lowered her head. She’d hoped that her mother wouldn’t pursue that line of questioning. “Because she did some bad things. Hurt some people. But it’s…it isn’t that simple.” Lifting her head, Rhian looked at her mother. “If you really want to understand Deven, I’ll tell you. But, Mom, if you don’t, I’d rather keep it to myself.”
“I think we’ve gone too far for that, Rhian. From the way the two of you are dancing around the subject, I’m not sure I do want to hear the details. But I think under the circumstances I need to know what’s going on with her. I have a vested interest in you and Seana, and if Deven is going to be a constant in your life, I’d like to understand her better.”
“All right,” Rhian said before taking a deep breath and then releasing it very slowly. “When Deven told me all of this, it was hard to hear and harder to watch her as she retold it. She went from being a nervous wreck to somewhat euphoric to becoming violently ill. And then she did the most amazing thing.”
The landscaper’s face softened as she remembered that day. “She cried. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for Deven it was huge. I think that scared her nearly to death. She unconsciously dropped all the barriers and let me in to a place no one has been allowed to go. So, you need to know that despite everything, she hurts. A lot. She carries all of it on her shoulders and accepts full responsibility for her actions. Unfortunately, she also seems to accept responsibility for others actions as well.”
“I can see that, Rhian. And I can see the pain and the rage. What I can’t see is why.”
Standing, the younger woman paced the room as she began to sketch Deven’s story with words. For the next hour she relayed to her mother the history of a woman who had survived and even managed to thrive under terrible circumstances, but had become completely lost in the process.
And Kate had listened intently, her feelings mixed about the person Deven was. Much of what she’d witnessed over the past few months now became startling clear.
When she was finally done, Rhian sat back down and contemplated the story she’d just relayed. It had taken quite awhile to speak of the whole thing, and it had been more emotional than she’d anticipated. Of course, she was aware that she’d brought her own feelings and interpretation to the ordeal that was Deven’s life, but she didn’t see any reason not to.
There were two things that were of particular interest to her. The first was how her mother would see things. The second was that in retelling the events that had shaped Deven’s life, Rhian’s own perspective of the current situation was shifted.
She’d known all the gruesome details of Deven’s past, but somehow she’d not brought the ramifications of them together. As each part of the history had been told to her, she’d accepted it, categorized it somewhere in her mind, and then moved on.
She knew that her lover was prone to melancholy, depression and bouts of rage over the past. These she had just accepted as part of the woman’s demons and dealt with them as the appeared. Then they were forgotten in the midst of the depth of love and tenderness Deven so easily shared with her.
But something about expressing everything to another individual brought a clarity that Rhian had been missing. And it was upon this that she now pondered. Not the past itself but how it might now be manifesting itself in the present.
Kate had known there was something dark about Deven though it had never felt sinister in nature. It still didn’t. Deven was an emotionally confused individual who despite her confidence in certain areas of her life was a floundering child in others. Kate imagined that Rhian was a catalyst of sorts in bringing about so much change in the woman.
Now knowing all these things certainly illuminated some areas that had been confusing up until now. Having seen Deven’s mother first hand, Kate couldn’t imagine what the child must have endured all those years. Then to have been raped and subsequently betrayed by her father, it was a wonder to Kate that Deven functioned at all.
But is she so handicapped as to be considered a lost cause? Is the amount of work needed to reach her, especially now, worth it? Kate didn’t know. She could only go with her instincts and what she’d seen first hand. The woman that shared her bed with Seana was gentle and loving despite her occasionally gruff nature. The woman that Rhian had confronted that evening showed a great deal of restraint despite the violence of her outburst. Her gut told her that Deven was capable of great depth given the time and guidance to find it. “She’s been through quite a lot,” Kate said, breaking the lingering silence.
“Yes, she has,” the landscaper concurred. “I’m not downplaying anything that she’s done. But.”
“You’re a very forgiving person, Rhian.”
“So are you,” she challenged her mother.
Kate inclined her head in agreement. “It certainly does clarify some things.”
“Yeah, it does. I was thinking that I knew all this, but it never occurred to me how the past might be impacting her now. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Rhian, do you think she’s worth all the trouble?” Kate held her hands up to ward off an attack. “I’m just wondering if there isn’t more damage there than you can heal?”
“No, I can’t heal her. But I can stand beside her while she tries to find her way. It’s up to Deven with the help of Dr. Martin to find the road to whatever will heal her. But it is my place to be there for her. To comfort her. To love her. To share in as much of her journey as I can.”
“Do you think you or Seana are in any kind of danger? That she could lose it someday and hurt either of you?”
“No,” Rhian replied adamantly. “You saw her tonight. I know in my heart that Deven would rather hurt herself than me. Any time she thought she might be close to losing it, she’s always distanced herself and turned away. As for the children, they vex the hell out of her sometimes, but the idea of punishing them terrifies her.”
“Well, that’s not unusual. Abused children often grow up to be overly afraid of causing their own children harm. Now, I’m going to bed and I suggest you do the same. If tomorrow is anything like today, we both need our rest, or Deven isn’t likely to survive the day. One of us will certainly kill her.”
“You aren’t kidding,” Rhian answered with a small smile.
“Why are you being so difficult, my child? Why do you perpetuate the suffering?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Deven,” she said the name reproachfully. “You didn’t listen well, but I know that you listened.”
It began to grow lighter and the martial artist looked around her. She was standing on a plain, tall grass nearly up to her knee, swayed in the breeze. It was familiar but not, and her eyes looked off across the prairie. The warmth washed over her and she closed her eyes while lifting her face up to the sun. There wasn’t any pain and she almost began to cry from relief.
Her eyes opened and she turned her head towards the voice. “Yes, Grandmother.” Soulful brown eyes gazed back at her with love and compassion. “Am I dead?” she asked.
Lily chuckled softly. “No. Though you did try to cross over in the hospital.”
“Pity I didn’t.”
“Pity for whom?”
The old woman clucked her tongue reproachfully.
“Me, I guess,” the martial artist replied.
“You never were one to take the easy road. Why now?”
“Why not?” Deven answered. “Why are you talking to me?”
“Why not?” her grandmother replied, with the hint of a smile playing upon her full lips.
Deven studied the familiar face. “I miss you.”
“I know. I hear you.”
“Why am I here?”
“You chose to be here,” Lily answered as if it were obvious.
“I don’t know the answer to that, my child. But I do know that it is not yet time for you to walk this particular road. Your journey does not end here, Granddaughter.”
“I’m tired, Grandmother. I always seem to be tired.”
“I know you are. But we both know that it isn’t your body that drains you so.”
“No? Then what is?”
“You tell me,” the aged woman said.
“I know what you want me to say, Grandmother.” They both gazed off into the distance, and Deven finally responded. “My spirit,” she said and then laughed depreciatively. “My spirit. My soul. Whatever you want to call it. Of course, if you ask my mother, she’ll tell you that I was either born without one or I sold it to the Devil a long time ago.”
“Perhaps, that is why I never asked your mother. Deven, you most certainly possess a spirit. The problem is that yours is very strong and you’ve never learned to honor it.”
Not having an answer to that, the martial artist remained silent. The plain went on for as far as she could see, and she quietly took in the blue sky and white clouds on the horizon. “It’s beautiful here. Rhian,” she stopped.
“I was going to say that I think Rhian would appreciate the beauty here.”
“She’s a good woman, Deven.”
“Yes, she is.”
Reaching out a wizened hand, Lily gripped Deven’s chin and guided her face away from the distance. Looking her directly in the eye, she asked, “Why is it so hard for you to just love her?”
“It isn’t. That’s part of the problem,” the younger woman answered in exasperation. “It’s incredibly easy to love her. It’s impossible for me to be worthy of her love.”
“You always have to make things difficult. You love her and yet you deny that love. You need her and yet you push her away. She can help you to find your way to healing in ways that no one else can, Deven.”
“But I can’t!”
“You’re wrong, Granddaughter. It isn’t that you can’t. It’s that you won’t.”
“I can’t change anything! I especially can’t change the fact that I love her! And I do, you know? Love her. I love her so much. God, the thought of not having her with me hurts worse than anything they did to me.” Some of the anguish drained away and she turned her face once more to the vista.
“Why would you want to, Granddaughter? It saddens me a great deal to know that I had so little impact on you.”
“That’s not true, Grandmother.”
“No? Why must everything be so black and white to you? I did not teach you to think that way.”
“I know that!” Deven answered, turning her attention back to the woman.
“Why do you hurt her so?”
“I don’t know! I really don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m so tired of my head hurting. There are times when the headaches are so bad I can’t think straight, and then I just get so angry. And this not being able to remember what happened is making me nuts.’”
“None of that is her fault, Deven.”
“I know,” she replied miserably. “And I know I shouldn’t be taking it out on her. I just. I feel so damn guilty. I never should have allowed things to happen.”
“What, my child? Never allowed yourself to love her? Never allowed her to love you?”
“You told me once as you spoke to the moon, that you were happy. Would you have traded that time with her?
“Yes, if it meant sparing her pain.”
“And what of your pain?”
“I deserve my pain!”
“I would have to disagree with you on that, child.”
“Grandmother, I couldn’t protect her.”
“From anything it seems. Especially from me and my mistakes.”
“There aren’t any mistakes, Deven. You know that. Only experiences to teach. You unfortunately have chosen a path that is full of such lessons. Besides, you don’t know for certain that what happened had to do with anything you’ve ever done.”
“I feel it in my gut. And I couldn’t protect her or the children from it.”
“But you did, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t!
“Yes, my dear child, you did.” Warm, calloused hands cupped her cheeks. “You went with them so that Rhian and your children would be safe. And you did it knowing that the cost was to be your life.”
“Deven, you’ve spent an awful lot of time worrying about not being good enough for her. Worrying about all the things that you might do wrong. And more recently worrying about how she will see you now.”
“Well, she must see the truth now.” She looked at her grandmother, aching to be held by the woman just once more. “I miss her. I miss us. But I don’t know if we can go back to the way things were. I don’t know if she can ever see me again as the person she fell in love with. I don’t know if I can ever see myself that way.” The sky began to darken and the light to fade. “Grandmother. I don’t want to go back.”
Lily looked at her grandchild compassionately. “My child, you must. Your destiny lies there, not here. Just remember that love is one of the greatest powers on earth. But as powerful as it is, it is also very fragile. Many pass through life never having known the love of another or not allowing it to be visited upon them. Don’t be one of them, Deven. You’ve always denied that which you’ve secretly sought because it always seemed a weakness to you. But conscious or not, you’ve found it in that woman. Deven, no greater strength is there than the willingness to be humble in the face of love. And no greater warrior is there than the one who fights to keep love whole.”
“Please,” the martial artist implored.
“Deven, this part of your journey does not end here. You chose life for a reason.”
It was nearly twilight, and Deven began to feel anxious. “What? I didn’t choose anything. I don’t understand.”
“You did and you will.”
The remaining light faded rapidly as she rose up from the dreamtime. “No! Grandmother!”
Her eyes opened and blinked as they adjusted to the darkened room. “Grandmother,” she whispered dejectedly. Rolling over, she shifted out of the bed, and once steady on her feet, she paced the room several times while trying to shake off the sadness. Unaware of how it had happened, she found herself standing just inside Rhian’s bedroom.
The landscaper was on her back, snoring softly, a pillow wrapped securely in one arm. Walking closer, Deven sat on the bed and watched Rhian sleep, wishing she could turn back time to the night before everything had happened. Reaching out, she gently brushed a few strands of hair off the sleeping woman’s eyelids.
I need to get up. The misery reached out and grabbed her hard. Closing her eyes she lay down and concentrated on her breathing. As soon as the ache was gone she intended to get up and go back out into the other room. But that wasn’t to be the case as sleep reached up and quickly pulled her back down into its depths.
Rhian was pulled awake by a sound her subconscious couldn’t readily identify. Holding her breath and stilling her body, she listened and became aware of two things almost simultaneously. The first was that the sound that had awakened her was something between a moan and a whimper. The second thing was that it was coming from right next to her. Startled, she opened her eyes and turned her head. “Deven?”
The landscaper didn’t have time to ponder why Deven was in bed with her, because it was obvious that the woman was trapped in yet another nightmare. Almost every time Deven managed to fall into a deep sleep, she would whimper or cry; releasing the pain she refused to face in wakefulness.
Slowly, Rhian rolled over onto her side and wrapped her hand around the martial artist’s arm. Brushing her thumb across the skin, she murmured soft reassurances until the sleeping woman’s agitation abated and her breathing evened out.
What am I going to do with you? Lying there with her fingertips still stroking the soft flesh, it took a lot of willpower to not move closer and cuddle up against the warm body. What am I going to do about us? Keeping her hand where it was, her eyes closed and she escaped from the conundrum her life had become by embracing the illusory oblivion sleep promised.
When Deven awoke hours later, she lay perfectly still, aware that she wasn’t alone and that a warm hand was curled around her bicep. How did Seana manage to climb up on the bed by herself? The hand shifted slightly and stroked the flesh on the inside of her arm triggering the memory of where she was. Maybe she’s still asleep. But turning her head, she saw that Rhian was watching her.
The expression on the martial artist’s face showed clearly that she was ready to run, and so Rhian spoke quickly. “Easy, Champ. Relax. I’m not going to jump you,” she teased with a reassuring smile. “Hard time getting to sleep?”
Deven nodded her head. “Weird dream.”
“You’ve been dreaming a lot. It’s any wonder you get to sleep at all. I can’t imagine that any of it is very restful.”
“It’s not.” There had been moments, in the past few days in particular, that Deven had ached to be closer to this woman. But whenever those urges grew precariously close to leading her to follow through on them, visions of Rhian with someone else would fill her head. That was a wound that wasn’t healing but rather seemed to be a fetid infection that was slowly eating away at her heart and mind. She had imagined so many scenarios of how that evening had played out and every one of them gave her a throbbing headache and an aching heart.
Staring intently into Deven’s eyes, Rhian felt that there was something lurking in their depths. It was obvious to her that something was truly bothering the woman, but until Deven chose to speak of it, there was nothing she could do to help.
Before the abduction, they had both been making concerted efforts to communicate better and even though Deven had not been overly talkative about her emotions, she had been more forthcoming when things were troubling her. But she wasn’t forthcoming about everything. She knew something was going on and she kept it to herself. Except what she shared with Jay, of course.
Moving away from those thoughts before they led to a confrontation, Rhian asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Of course not. Well, you’re eating anyway.” She gave the arm beneath her hand a gentle squeeze.
“Mama! Mama!” Seana rushed into the room, tears streaming down her face.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Rhian asked as she sat up, concerned as to what had caused her daughter such distress.
“Deven!” The child stopped dead in her tracks and gaped at the woman. “You’re here,” she whispered with a sense of awe. The little girl slowly approached the bed and reaching out, she touched Deven’s face before once again dissolving into tears. Alarmed, the martial artist eased herself up to a sitting position. “What’s wrong?”
“I..I couldn’t…find,” she sobbed.
“Oh, baby, you thought Deven was gone?”
The child nodded her head and her lower lip trembling. Getting up and moving around the bed to sit next to Deven, Rhian opened her arms to her daughter. Without hesitation, Seana climbed up on her mother’s lap while keeping her eyes on the other woman the whole time.
Deven took the little girl’s hand in her own and held it gently. She wondered how much of Seana’s anxiety was actually the result of the abduction and not so much having awakened to find her not in the hospital bed. Whatever the exact cause, it was heartbreaking to know that she was the cause of it, and she felt at a complete loss as to what to do. Maybe I do need to end this. For her sake.
“She loves you,” Rhian said softly. “Don’t take that away from her.”
Gazing at the small child’s tear streaked face, Deven said, “Don’t want to hurt her.”
“Walking away from her as if she didn’t exist would devastate her.” Their eyes met and held for a long moment, the anguish brought about by so much heartache passing silently between them.
Dropping her eyes, Deven looked at the child and then cautiously pulled her forward. Seana left the comfort of her mother’s arms and eagerly moved to be embraced by the martial artist. “It’s okay,” she murmured to the child, feeling a twinge of guilt as the lie passed her lips.