When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004
Little by little the bedroom door opened, and Seana cautiously peeked around the edge. Tiptoeing so as not to disturb the two sleeping forms in the bed, she made her way closer until she could lean against the mattress. Wake up now, she silently pleaded. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, she inadvertently jiggled the mattress. Eyes widening in alarm, her little body froze. No! It was an accident. I didn’t do it on purpose.
Nothing changed and so the child relaxed. But I want them to get up now. Maybe if a just bump the bed a tiny bit more. That won’t wake up Mama. But Deven will wake up. Before Seana could put her plan into action, Deven’s eyes opened and they regarded each other.
“Hi munchkin,” the martial artist said, her voice deep and rough from sleep.
“I didn’t wake you,” Seana quickly pointed out.
“You were very quiet. Thank you,” the woman replied. Her still fuzzy brain registered that the child had in fact been quiet. Gonna have to watch that. Can’t have her sneaking around too much.
Seana smiled happily at the praise and Deven stretched out as much as she could with Rhian draped over her body.
“Why am I not surprised?”
Still asleep, the landscaper mumbled something that sounded like me too and then rolled over onto her other side, pulling the covers up to her chin. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, Deven slowly stretched again, easing out the kinks in her neck and shoulders. Lord, am I tired.
“You don’t have jammies?” Seana asked.
“Huh?” Deven glanced down at her nude body. Oh, crap. “Well, I was really hot last night.” True. Of course, you don’t need to know that it was your mother that made me that way. “And then when it cooled off some, I was too tired to put on my pajamas.” Also true. I was too tired because your mother wore my ass out.
Accepting the explanation without question, Seana waited while Deven slipped on sweatpants and a tee shirt. “Come on, princess. Let’s go find some coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“I know, but I do. And if you want breakfast, I need coffee.”
“Deven, you’re silly,” the little girl said with a giggle.
“I am, huh?”
“Yes,” came Seana’s answer accompanied by an emphatic nod of her head.
On the edge of wakefulness, Rhian reached out for her lover. When her hand landed on the cool sheet, her eyes opened and she looked around the room in mild alarm. Pushing that undesirable feeling aside, she reached out and wrapping her arms around Deven’s pillow, inhaled deeply. Good heavens, I’m tired. And if I’m this tired, Deven must be exhausted.
Giving up the less then acceptable substitute for her bedmate, Rhian released the pillow and stretched. Did last night really happen? Lifting the covers, she gazed down her naked body. The small purplish marks on her chest and stomach that Deven had made during their passionate reconciliation served as physical proof of their coupling. But they couldn’t provide confirmation to the emotional aspects.
Last night was so…hard. But we connected. Really connected for the first time since this whole damn thing started. Rhian felt that niggling of doubt poke at her insecurities, and she resolutely challenged the uncertainty. It did happen! Now the question is where is Deven today? Not just where is she in the house. Where is she in her mind? Where is she in her heart?
The need to check on the woman was enough to stir the landscaper out of bed. After freshening up and donning the robe she’d worn the previous night, she followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen. “Morning. How are my too favorite girls?”
“Morning, Mama. Deven made me pancakes.”
“Yeah? Maybe she’ll make me some, too?” Rhian asked hopefully and waited to see how her companion would reply.
“I might consider it. What’s in it for me?” Deven teased.
“Anything you desire,” she replied with relief. She’s here.
“Anything?” Deven questioned seductively.
“Anything,” Rhian confirmed and then wrapped her arms around the martial artist’s waist. “I think you could use a hearty breakfast or two.”
“I lost some weight, huh?”
“I’d say that’s an understatement.” Releasing her lover, Rhian picked up Deven’s coffee mug and took a sip. ”It really freaked me out when Dr. Hadari told me how much weight you’d probably lose.”
“Unfortunately, most of it was muscle,” the martial artist said as she took a step back and leaned against the counter. “It’s going to be a pain working everything back up.”
“You’ll do it, honey.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“I don’t understand,” Rhian replied as she set the mug down.
“What if I’m just too tired of it? I’ve been doing this my whole life. Training. Competing. Teaching. What if I just don’t want to anymore?”
“That’s your decision, Deven.”
“But what about us?”
“What about us?” the landscaper asked. “Deven, I don’t love you because of your talent.”
“I admit that I do love to watch you. You’re amazing. And I love to watch you teach. But, honey, that isn’t why I love you. If you’re done with the martial arts, that’s fine. I’ll stand by any decision you make.” Taking a step forward, Rhian initiated the contact by leaning against her lover’s body. Without hesitation, Deven wrapped her in a warm embrace and Rhian smiled at the pure pleasure of this simple contact. “Have you thought about what you might want to do?”
“Not really. I could sell the schools easily enough and make arrangements with the new owner to ensure that none of my students lose out on their contracts.”
“You can do whatever you want, but you have to do something. I can’t imagine you doing nothing all day long. It’s just not in you. You’d go nuts and take me with you,” Rhian responded.
“So, I can do whatever I want,” Deven considered. “Okay, I think I’ll become a sex therapist.”
Rhian’s eyes grew round and then she laughed. “You can only do that under two conditions. One, you can counsel but you can’t participate. Two, you have to video tape the sessions and bring them home so I know what you’ve been up to.”
It was the martial artist’s turn to laugh. “You’re a voyeur!”
“Don’t need to be when I’ve got you. Just looking at you turns me on. I love you, Deven. Whatever you decide to do, it won’t change how I feel about you.”
With cautious faith, the woman took in Rhian’s declaration and tucked it safely inside. “I called Dr. Martin this morning,” she said under her breath.
“It’s the day after Thanksgiving. She’s working?”
“No. I, uh,” Deven hesitated in slight embarrassment. “She gave me her cell phone number in case I needed it for some reason. I’ve arranged to see her Monday afternoon.”
This step was significant for Deven, and so the landscaper proceeded with prudence. “I think that’s a really good thing, honey.”
“I was wondering if you. Well, if you would consider going with me.”
“Of course, Deven, if that’s what you want.”
After a quick glance to ensure that Seana was engrossed with breakfast, Deven looked back at her lover and tried to find the words to fully explain. “I know that over the past few months, I’ve given you every indication that my brain wasn’t engaged at all. But in reality, I’ve done a lot of thinking. About the past. The rape. My father. My mother. Kiki. You. The kids. Jay. Kelly.” So many doors had opened last night that it was frustrating for the woman that she couldn’t just let her guard down. Speaking of some things still felt like an incredible weakness and she was loath to feel that way.
“Honey, relax and breathe,” Rhian answered with compassion. “I know it can be difficult for you to talk about certain things. I’m not going to judge, Deven. I may not like everything, and I don’t have to. Just like you don’t have to like everything I do or say. I trust, however, that even though you may not like it, you’ll still love me.”
“It’s just hard for me, baby,” Deven replied unhappily.
“I know,” the landscaper answered while reaching up and caressing the woman’s face. Trust me, honey. Please just trust me.
Leaning into the touch, the martial artist closed her eyes. “All the time I worked with the doc, I never really talked about what caused all the anger. I mean intellectually, yes, but emotionally I always managed to skirt around it. Talking about how I felt just enough to get by.”
Seeing the struggle clearly on Deven’s face, Rhian traced the woman’s features with her fingertips, smoothing out the worry lines.
“Dr. Martian and I. We talked about how I could control it.” Her eyes opened and the turbulence of her emotions shone clearly. “I think I need to clear some things up. I’ve been pissed off for so long, I don’t know what it’s like not to carry that around all the time. But I’d like to find out. I don’t want to feel this way anymore, Rhian. I want to really put all that stuff behind me. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, it does, Deven. Do you think you can? Put it all behind you?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll never be rid of it. But I’d like to live my life without it being a constant in how I act or react to things.”
“I’ll do everything I can,” Rhian assured. “I’ll be there when you want me to be. And I’ll be here even when you don’t want me to be.”
“You don’t need to thank me for this, Deven. I want to be here for you whenever and however I can. That’s part of friendship, my love.”
“Rhian, I want so badly to change things.” Reaching up she rubbed the back of her neck, buying time to push down the most tenuous emotions. “I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through. I couldn’t find my way out of it, but I wanted to.”
“I know that now, honey. I didn’t understand what was going on because you wouldn’t let me.”
“I want to do right by you and I will. I swear it, Rhian. I’ll give us everything I have to give. Please forgive me.”
The landscaper reached up and covered her mouth to stop the cry that wanted to be freed. Emotions were still running high and were precariously close to the surface. Were it not for Seana’s presence, Rhian would have let them run their course. Instead, she swallowed and took a deep breath. “Deven Storm Masterson, I’ll forgive you on two conditions.”
“That you forgive me,” Rhian answered.
“There isn’t anything to forgive.”
“Yes there is, and you know it. So, my first condition is that you forgive me for having failed you when you needed me most.”
“I’m serious, Deven. I wanted to be there, but I got so frustrated and resented you so much. I guess it was easy for me because I had my mother there to take up the slack.”
“You couldn’t do anything because I wouldn’t let you,” Deven argued.
“Perhaps. But I’ll never know because a part of me wasn’t strong enough to deal with it. So, again I say that you have to forgive me and mean it.”
“As much as I like hearing that, I won’t accept it until you’ve truly thought it through. We’ll discuss that one again,” she said with an affectionate smile. Then settling her hands on Deven’s waist, she said, “And the second one is that you forgive yourself.”
“I don’t know how,” Deven answered sadly. “But I’ll work on it. I give you my word.”
“That’s all I ask.”
“I love you, Rhian.”
“I love you, too.” Pulled into an almost desperate embrace, Rhian relaxed, letting Deven take what she needed. When the hold eased, she leaned back and asked, her breath lightly caressing the martial artist’s face. “What do you want?”
“You,” was the quiet but certain declaration.
“Can it be that simple?”
“No,” Deven answered with a rueful smile. “But I promise you that from this moment forward, I’ll do everything I can to make us work. Rhian, I’m going to mess this up over and over again. You have to know that, but I swear to you that you’re what I want. This is what I want.”
“You’re going to make me cry, Masterson.”
“Then I’ll kiss away every tear.”
Rhian laughed even as the tears trickled down her cheeks, and Deven made good by lightly kissing each damp trail. “You are wonderful, Deven.” Placing her head back on the martial artist’s shoulder, Rhian let all the tension fade out of her body.
“Mama?” Seana asked uncertainly.
Turning her head but keeping her arms around her lover’s body, Rhian looked at her daughter. “I’m very okay. So is Deven.”
Satisfied, the child smiled. “Good.”
“So, Ms. Masterson, what do you want to do today?”
“Go get Tiernan.”
Rhian leaned back and regarded her companion. “Have you talked to Kelly?”
“No,” Deven replied. “He’s my son. I never gave up my parental rights. I simply made Laura a guardian. If they want to take me to court and take him away then that’s what they’ll have to do. In the meantime, I want him home. With us.”
“All right, Champ,” the landscaper answered while lightly patting the woman’s side. “I’m with you.”
“Me too!” Seana piped in and got a wink from the martial artist.
“As for Kelly, you need to talk to her,” Rhian said.
“She isn’t going to want to talk to me.”
“I think you’re wrong, honey. She’s been your friend, a true friend for a long time. That doesn’t just get wiped away. She cares a great deal for you.”
“I think you have the tense wrong. She cared for me.”
“No. She still does.”
“How do you know?” Deven asked skeptically.
“We’ve been in touch,” Rhian answered simply. “Everything that happened was hard on her, too. And it hurt her to see you acting the way you did that day.”
“I don’t know what to say to her.”
“You’ll think of something. Just be honest with her.”
“Can we just table this for now? I’ve got enough on my mind at the moment without throwing that into the mix.”
“Of course. Do you want help with breakfast?”
“Nah. Get out of my way, wench.”
Rhian grinned. “Yes, ma’am.” She fixed herself a mug of coffee and then she sat down next to her daughter. After taking a sip, she watched Deven over the brim of the cup. “Deven?”
“Yes?” the woman drawled.
“You sure are sexy.”
Deven stopped and her mouth opened to reply, but before a retort could escape her lips, she was drawn into the sincerity of her lover’s expression. Shaking her head, she returned her gaze to the griddle as a half smile teased her lips and a warm, happy sensation spread up from her belly.
While Rhian parked the Pathfinder, Deven mentally prepared herself for the battle ahead. “I’ll be right back,” she said as her fingers closed around the door handle.
“Do you want me to come with you?” the landscaper offered.
“Nah. I hope to be in and out before anyone can really say much.”
“All right. But so help me, if you mother says or does one thing to hurt you or Tiernan. I’m going to.” The woman tried to think of something forceful to say but when that failed, she fell back on the first thing that had popped into her head. “I’m going to slap her naked and steel her clothes.”
Deven stared at her lover for a second or two and then burst out laughing. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head.
“Well, I could dig a hole and plant her up to her neck, but it’s illegal to bury toxic waste in these here parts.”
“You’re a nut, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know,” Rhian answered back. “But seriously, don’t let her get to you. She just isn’t worth it, honey.”
Leaning across the seat, Deven kissed her friend on the cheek. “Thank you.” She eased out of the truck and walked towards the house, guardedly watching for any sign of Patricia or Laura. Several feet from the stoop, she hesitated as the front door opened slightly. “Tiernan?”
The little boy peeked out warily and opening the door further, he took one step out onto the stoop.
Deven started forward again, but stopped abruptly when her son moved as if in retreat into the safety of the house. “Hey, buddy,” she said cautiously. “You okay?”
“Mommy?” he whispered uncertainly.
His apparent fear caused Deven’s chest to tighten. “Yes, T. It’s me,” she responded. He remained where he was, neither moving forward nor retreating, but she could see that he had started to tremble. “What’s wrong, son?”
Tiernan’s lower lip quivered as he asked, “Is it you?”
Unable to understand his behavior, she started to get frustrated. “Of course, it’s me. Look, I’m sorry I was away so long. I tried to call you.”
Suddenly he was moving and picking up speed as he ran towards her. “Mommy!”
Kneeling down, she opened her arms to the boy. He rushed at her, knocking her backwards as he made contact. She went with his momentum to ease the impact and landed on her back. Sitting up, she held the weeping child tightly.
The collision caused Rhian to gasp. Fearful that Deven may have been hurt, she quickly exited the vehicle and broke into a jog towards where her lover now sat.
“I thought,” he sobbed against her neck.
Deven had not known what to anticipate, but this reaction was certainly not how she’d imagined it would play out. Her own tears fell silently as she wept for her son’s obvious pain while acknowledging just how much it had hurt to think he’d been lost to her. Rhian’s hand came to rest upon her shoulder, and she soaked up the comfort even as she tried to pass some along to the troubled child. “What did you think?” she asked.
“I thought you were dead,” he cried in anguish.
“No, son. I was hurt badly, but I’m better now. Why would you think I was dead?”
“Grandmother said that.” He hiccupped and then released another near howl.
“What did she say, T?”
He couldn’t seem to stop crying and clung to her in desperation. Lifting her eyes, Deven met Rhian’s tear filled gaze.
The landscaper recognized the hardening of Deven’s features and understood the rage that was brewing beneath the surface. Gently, she wiped at her lover’s tears and then dropping her hand to the martial artist’s shoulder, she gave it a squeeze as if to say I’m with you.
When Tiernan calmed some, Deven asked, “Did she tell you that I’d died?” He didn’t answer and she carefully pushed him back enough that she could look at his face. “Tiernan?”
He took a shuddering breath and then hiccupped again. “She said the devil caught up with you,” he answered in anguish. “She said that you were never coming back!”
“Well, as you can see I’m still here,” she replied with a smile though inside she felt the lure of going to find the woman and releasing a lifetime of pent up wrath. Why not, Masterson? Go beat the woman to a bloody pulp. Her heart rate increased at the thought. You could pay her back for everything she ever did to you and to Tiernan. Wouldn’t it feel great? Her abdominal muscles went taut, and her arms twitched as she imagined punching her mother in the face. Yeah, it would.
“I missed you, Mommy.”
“I missed you, too.” The imagery vanished as she looked at his face. She isn’t worth it. I didn’t go through hell just so I could get thrown into jail. I went through hell so that I could have my family. Using the sleeve of her sweatshirt, she dabbed at the dampness on his cheeks.
Kneeling down beside them, Rhian studied her companion’s features. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” Deven replied before leaning forward and kissing her son’s forehead.
“Hi, Rhian,” Tiernan said with a shy smile.
“Hi, little man,” she responded as she lightly stroked his hair.
“Go on and give Rhian a hug. I know you want to.” He stood, and Deven watched as Rhian embraced him. This is right. Her gaze shifted to the front door as her sister stepped out of the house, and then slowly standing up, Deven brushed herself off. “Wait here, okay? I’m just going to get his things.” Nearing the house, she passed Laura without acknowledging her presence and strode determinedly to Tiernan’s room.
“You look good, Deven,” Laura commented as she hurried to catch up to her sister. Not receiving a response, she asked, “What are you doing?”
“Where’s his suitcase?”
“Because I need to put some things in it,” Deven said in exasperation. “Where is it?”
“You aren’t taking him.”
“Yes, I am,” she answered simply.
“Deven, you know she isn’t going to just let him go. She’ll take you to court. You don’t want that do you?” Laura tried to reason. “Your past and your lifestyle will be brought out into the open.”
“If that’s what you all choose to do, then do it. But I damn well guarantee that I won’t be the only one dragged through the mud and left out in public to dry. Now where’s the suitcase?” When Laura didn’t reply, Deven threw open the closet door hard enough to cause it to bang into the wall. A quick survey determined it wasn’t there and as she turned, she saw Laura glance at the bed. Ah ha.
Walking over, she knelt and pulling the suitcase from beneath the bed, she placed it on top of the mattress. From each dresser drawer, she took what Tiernan needed in the near term. She didn’t touch the spring and summer clothing because he would certainly outgrow them over the winter. From the closet, she removed a couple of jackets, some long sleeve shirts, and a few pairs of shoes.
“You can’t just take those.”
“Why not? I paid for them!” Pivoting, Deven’s eyes narrowed and her voice dropped to a menacing tone. “You’re too much, Laura,” she said as she walked closer to the younger woman. “For years, you’ve bitched that I needed to be more involved with my son; that I needed to be an active participant in his life. So, now that I am, you don’t want me near him.”
“It isn’t that, Deven. It’s a question of what’s best for him.”
“And you don’t think I am. Well, maybe you’re right but there are a lot of people who think I can do this. That I can do right by him. Besides, I’m not doing this alone. Rhian and I are going to raise our children. Together.”
“You can’t be serious?” Laura asked. “What kind of a home life is that for a child?”
“A loving one.” Returning to the bed, the martial artist snapped the suitcase closed, picked it up, and then scanned the room one more time.
“Deven, think about this.”
“I have,” she said over her shoulder as she strolled down the stairs and then out the front door.
“Deven! You can’t just take him!” Laura called after her.
“Watch me.” She put the suitcase in the back of the Pathfinder. “Let’s go gang.”
Rhian helped Tiernan into the truck before moving to stand next to her partner.
“Stop it, Laura! You took him away from Rhian. You took him away from me. You didn’t let him come see me. You wouldn’t even put him on the phone! You let him believe I was dead! How could you?”
“I didn’t. Mother.”
“Save it! You’re an adult, Laura! I left him with you because I believed you’d care for him. Protect him. You didn’t. You think you’re better for him than I am! I’ve never hit him. I’ve never lied to him. I want him happy. I want him healthy. And I sure as hell want him to know how much we love him. So back off!”
Placing her hand in Deven’s, Rhian felt the trembling and knew that the martial artist was struggling to not let her temper take over. Tightening her fingers, she felt the contact returned and the shaking eased.
Looking at the landscaper, Deven felt her body relax. Turning her focus back on her sister, she acknowledged that a part of her felt sorry for the woman. “Laura, if you hadn’t taken him in and cared for him, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’d have put him up for adoption and neither one of us would have known him. You’re responsible for a lot of the goodness in him. I know that. But I also know that Patricia is not good for him, and you can’t seem to protect him from her. I hope that one of these days you’re going to stop letting her bully you and realize you’re a wonderful person.
“If Rhian hadn’t come into my life and showed me that I am more than the sick flawed person I always believed I was, I wouldn’t be here now. I would have died in that warehouse and been happy about it. But she gave me a reason to live. She’s shown me that I can love and be loved. I just want him to know that.”
Laura nodded even as her shoulders slumped in defeat. “You know that Mother isn’t going to let this go easily.”
“I know. And if she chooses to go to court, there isn’t anything I can do about it but fight back. But this all really goes back to long before I ever got into any trouble. Long before Tiernan was born. I can’t even remember a time when she didn’t look at me like I was some demon spawn.”
“I’ve never understood it either. I wish things weren’t this way,” Laura said with a small shake of her head. “May I at least talk to him?”
“Of course,” Rhian said sympathetically. “Laura, we don’t want to exclude you from his life. He loves you and we know that you love him. But he needs to be with his mother, and she needs him with her.”
Laura walked over to where Tiernan was sitting and gave him a small smile. “You be good. And you can call whenever you want. Okay?” He nodded. “I love you,” she said as she hugged him gently.
“I love you, too,” he replied sadly.
Stepping back, Laura was uncertain what to say or do. When Deven moved forward and hugged her, she tensed for an instant before memories of her childhood protector won out over her anxiety of the moment. “Take care of him,” she whispered.
“You know I will, Laura. And you can see him and talk to him. Okay?”
“Okay,” she answered with a catch in her voice.
Releasing her sister, Deven closed the back car door, separating Tiernan from the woman who had raised him. “All right, let’s get out of here before the witch flies in on her broom,” she said.
Laura turned abruptly and nearly ran back to the house. Watching her go, Deven felt a pang of guilt but quickly pushed it aside. He’s mine.
“Deven?” Rhian asked as she started the truck. “You okay?”
“Mostly. I wish it didn’t have to be like this.”
“I know. Me, too.”
“It’s the right thing, isn’t it?” Deven whispered. “For him?”
“Yes, love. It is most certainly the right thing. Let’s go home.”
Deven nodded slightly. “Home,” she said wistfully.
Another gust of brisk fall air swirled around Kelly, playfully tugging at the hem of her skirt. One hand clutched the handle of her briefcase while the other fought to keep the lapels of her jacket closed against the invisible blast. Her head was bowed as much from the dejection of the day as the blustery weather. It had been one of those days that caused her to question yet again why she didn’t change careers.
Shake it off, Kelly. You promised Carl you wouldn’t bring it all home with you anymore. Lifting her head in defiance of her mood, Kelly almost stumbled as her eyes settled on the last person she expected to see. Though she had remained in contact with Rhian, there hadn’t been any communication with Deven since that day at the Mackenzie home. Now the woman stood no more than ten feet away, and cursing under her breath, Kelly bowed her head again and continued to walk towards the parking lot.
In just a few long strides, Deven moved to intercept. “Kelly.”
With an aggrieved sigh, the lawyer stopped. “What!”
“I just want to talk to you,” Deven answered defensively. She hadn’t known what kind of reception she might get from this woman, but that Kelly would still be so angry hadn’t been on her list of possibilities.
“Does Rhian know that you’re here?”
“Why not?” Kelly demanded.
“Because she would have wanted to come along,” the martial artist answered guardedly.
“So? Why wouldn’t you want her along?”
“I,” Deven began to reply but then hesitated. Shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans, she was achingly aware of how awkward she felt at that moment. “I guess I was concerned that if she was here we wouldn’t really have a chance to talk.”
“Do you have any idea how absolutely lame that sounds?” the lawyer shot back reproachfully.
“I do now,” Deven grumbled.
Kelly shook her head in aggravation. “What you said that day was really shitty, Deven.” The martial artist’s discomfort was obvious, and for some inexplicable reason, that fueled Kelly’s anger. “What I especially don’t like is the knowledge that you’re capable of hurting her both emotionally and physically.”
“I can’t explain that.”
“There is no explanation for it! Ever! I’ve always known you were sometimes mean spirited and a bully, but for some reason I never expected you’d be abusive like that. Especially to Rhian!” They stared at each other in silence, neither certain what to say next. “What do you want?”
“I just came to apologize.”
“Fine.” Kelly moved away towards her car once more and then stopped. “Do you need a ride somewhere?” she asked without looking back.
“No. Jay’s going to pick me up.”
“Good.” Starting forward, Kelly had taken no more than two steps before she whirled around to face the other woman. “Do you have any idea how much she loves you?”
“Yes. I mean, I believe I do,” Deven answered.
“What happened to you was horrifying. I see photographs of atrocities all the time, but nothing ever prepared me for seeing you like that. I know that our pain and suffering at what they’d done to you was nothing compared to what you were going through. But it still hurt!”
The martial artist moved closer, cautious of closing the distance between them too quickly. “I know.”
“Do you? Do you have any damn idea what it was like to see you like that? To look at your abused body and not know what or if you’d recover?” Kelly’s eyes brimmed with tears and she brushed at them angrily.
“Of course not. Why would you even consider what anyone else might have been experiencing? So typical!”
“That’s not what I meant, Kelly. I understand but I don’t know what you were feeling. I can only imagine how I’d have felt if it had happened to one of you.” She took another step closer and reaching out slowly, wiped a tear from the lawyer’s cheek. “I’m sorry, Kel. I’m sorry that I put you through that. That I put you all through it.”
Kelly wanted to hold onto her righteous indignation, but Deven’s obvious sincerity made it impossible. “Why do you have to be so damn charming?”
“There’s just no pleasing you, is there?” Deven replied. Shaking her head, the lawyer looked away, keeping her face averted. Surmising in her head that this was how things might turn out hadn’t been sufficient in preparing the martial artist for the heartbreaking loss of this woman from her life. “I understand that you probably don’t want anything to do with me. I never gave you a reason to. But I wanted you to know that I am sorry.”
“I would imagine that you have an awful lot to be sorry for,” Kelly said. “But the question I have is what are you going to do to actually deal with it? When are you going to stop taking everything out on those around you?”
Deven watched as Jay pulled up and parked at the curb. “You’d think this would get easier to talk about but it doesn’t,” she answered. “Believe it or not, I’m trying, Kel. I’ve started going to my shrink again. And I’ve had Rhian go with me a couple of times.”
“You’re going to your what? And what do you mean again?”
“Long story, but if you’re really interested, I’ll tell it to you. Just not right now. This isn’t the time or the place to talk about that.”
At a loss over how to respond to that revelation, Kelly prudently remained quiet. Jay exited his car and started to walk towards them, but Deven put her palm outward to him, telling him to come no closer. Having admitted to Dr. Martin’s presence after all these years left Deven feeling extremely exposed in front of this woman. It had been a guarded secret for longer than she’d know Kelly, and she felt as if she were being stripped of her dignity.
“So you’re seeing a psychiatrist and it’s someone you’ve seen in the past?”
“Yes,” was all Deven was willing to give up.
“And Rhian knows and is attending sessions with you?”
“Just when I think you can’t possible say or do anything surprising anymore, you hit me with something totally unexpected.”
“Well, I don’t want to disappoint you,” Deven said with a touch of sarcasm.
“Too late for that,” Kelly shot back.
“Touché.” Perching on the tip of the martial artist’s tongue was another apology, but she refused to give it voice and mustered up the remnants of her pride. “All that aside, you have to believe that I don’t want to ever hurt her.”
“I want to believe that, Deven, as much she already does. But let me ask you something. Have you ever struck a woman? And I don’t mean during a competition or training or a barroom brawl.”
All of Deven’s false pride flew away on the next breeze and she hung her head as she tried to keep some semblance of composure. That was a question she hadn’t anticipated and it just wasn’t in her nature to lie. When she looked up again, tears brimmed in her eyes despite her efforts to deny them.
The remorse and guilt on Deven’s face caused the lawyer to involuntarily take a step back. Even as she’d asked the question, Kelly had known the possibility existed but she didn’t truly believe the answer would be assenting. “Oh, my god.”
“Kelly, please. It was a long time ago. Things were different then. I was different. Everything just got out of hand.”
“Does Rhian know?”
“I told her everything before we ever got together.”
The woman took another step back and the martial artist felt her heart sink further. “I don’t even know who you are, Deven.”
“Yes, you do. You do, Kelly. I’ll tell you everything if you want. I’ll have Rhian there too so you’ll be sure I don’t leave anything out.”
“This is unbelievable.”
“I love you, Kelly,” Deven continued in a rush. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Not just for this but for all the hurt I’ve caused you. I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past few months. Most of it was pretty skewed but some of it made sense. I know that you’re the one person in my entire life besides Rhian, who has always tried to really see me. Not like I wanted people to see me but like I really am. Or maybe like I could be.”
Deven swallowed several times as she internally begged her friend to hear what she was saying. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes that have hurt so many people. Mistakes that have hurt the people I care most about. I wish I could change all that. I don’t have any real family in this world, but I’ve always considered you to be just that. You and Jay. And now Rhian and the kids.”
Lifting her hand, Kelly covered her eyes and her shoulders shook slightly. The indecisiveness left and Deven took that last step. Reaching out, she wrapped her arms around her friend and held tight despite the woman’s attempts to pull away. They struggled for a few seconds but then the tension in the lawyer’s body eased and she returned the embrace.
Kelly sniffled and then said, “I should knock you on your ass.”
“Okay. If it’ll make you feel better.”
“No. Then I’d have to explain to Rhian why you have a broken tail bone.” She gave Deven one last squeeze and stepped back.
“You two have become rather close buddies. Should I be jealous?” Deven teased.
“Laugh it up, Masterson. If I weren’t married, I’d have thrown you out and taken her from you.”
The bantering disserted the martial artist and she gazed off across the parking lot. “I really hate myself for that, you know? I love her so much, but I just couldn’t seem to get past everything else. I knew I didn’t deserve her, and I convinced myself she was with me for all the wrong reasons. I just couldn’t believe that she still loved me. I don’t know why she didn’t just kick me out.”
“Because she does love you, and she believes in you. You’re lucky to have found her, Deven.”
“I know,” the martial artist replied. “And you.”
For the first time, Kelly looked closely at her friend. Deven’s face showed little of the trauma that had been visited upon her, but the telltale signs were still visible though unobtrusive. The work the doctors had done was so amazing that the physical traces of that episode would eventually fade into shadows as inconspicuous scars.
Uncomfortable under her friend’s scrutiny, Deven shifted her weight restlessly and changed the subject. “Listen, Rhian wants to have a little holiday get together at the house, and we’d like for you and Carl to come.”
“I’m sure we could
work something out.”
“Good. I’ll call you with the details. Or, if you’d prefer, Rhian can.”
“Whatever you prefer,” Kelly answered, putting the decision back on Deven.
“I’d prefer to go back three months and never have any of this happen.”
“But it did.” Kelly glanced over to where Jay was waiting and when her gaze returned to her friend, she was more relaxed with their situation though she knew there were a lot of unresolved issues lying between them. “Give me a call. But I’m warning you right now, Deven. You’ve run out of freebies.”
Leaning closer, Deven kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.” The relief at knowing she still had a chance to make things right between them made her feel almost giddy. “Want me to walk you to your car?”
“That’s all right. I’m parked right there. Go home before Rhian sends out the posse.”
“I love you, Kelly.”
The lawyer turned and walked away. “For whatever reason, I love you too,” she said over her shoulder.
And watching her, Deven was able to just make out the hint of a smile.
To Be Continued in Chapter Twenty-Four
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