When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004
Chapter Five, Part 1
Rhian stepped around the curtain into chaos. Deven was sitting on the bed with her arms wrapped tightly around Tiernan who was starring wide-eyed at a hypodermic and screaming. The martial artist was in a definite state of agitation, and, Rhian observed, she was a physical mess. Her tee shirt was torn in several places and stained with dirt, grass and blood, quite a bit of blood Rhian noted, and she had abrasions on her cheek, elbows and knees. “Hi,” she said loudly enough to be heard over the distraught child’s cries.
Deven’s whole body seemed to slump from relief as her son stopped screaming and shifted his attention away from the threat of being stabbed to the landscaper. “Hi.”
“So, how’s it going?” Rhian dismissed the perturbed look she was receiving from the young doctor trying to use the needle.
“Great! Just freaken great!” Deven retorted while pinning the physician with a withering glower.
‘Ah. Scaring the hospital staff, honey?’ Due to the tension in the small space, Rhian purposefully kept her demeanor nonchalant. “I can see that. What seems to be the problem?”
“He needs some stitches, which of course, requires that they numb the areas first. So, instead of easing him into the idea, genius here just comes at him with a harpoon!” The doctor appeared appalled by Deven’s explanation but prudently chose not to contradict her.
“Oh.” Rhian lightly scratched her nose while considering the situation. Crossing the small space, she stepped up next to her lover and bent forward, planting a kiss on Tiernan’s forehead. “Hey, little man. Having a tough go of it?”
He nodded, and she reached out and gently wiped away his tears. “Well, I’ve had to get stitches before. In fact, I think I may have been your age the first time.” She lifted her hand and showed him a small scar. “Right there. It isn’t too bad really. Just relax against Mommy, and I’ll hold your hand. If it hurts, just squeeze my hand. You can squeeze it as hard as you want, okay?” She glanced at the doctor who gave her a grateful look. “I’m sure this nice man here is going to be as gentle as he can. And when this is all done, Mommy will get you a soda.”
“She will? Really?” Tiernan asked.
Deven rested her cheek against the side of his head. “If that’s what you want, then I’ll get you one.”
“Okay. Let’s get this over with,” Rhian said as she took Tiernan’s small hand. “Remember, you can squeeze my hand as hard as you need to.”
Several minutes later the stitches were neatly in place and a subdued Tiernan lay on the bed, quietly watching the activity around him.
“Did you have any trouble getting in here?” Deven queried. She still sat on the on the foot of the bed, looking anything but comfortable in the sterile space.
“Not really,” Rhian replied. “Jay told them that he was your brother and that I was your adopted sister. They would only allow one of us in at a time, so he let me come first. I’m going to have to go in a bit and let him have a turn.”
“Not yet.” Deven reached out a hand and when Rhian’s slipped into hers, she pulled the woman closer and kissed her softly. Rhian attempted to get nearer, but the martial artist leaned away from her. “I’m a mess.”
Undeterred, the landscaper hugged the woman, easing her hold slightly when Deven groaned.
“So, how are things?” Lydia asked as she breezed into the area.
Startled, Rhian pulled back quickly and turned away to hide the faint pink tinting her cheeks. Resenting the sudden loss of contact, Deven scowled at her neighbor. “Why don’t you tell us?”
“Okay. All things considered, he’s in good shape. The x-rays aren’t all back yet, but the ones that have returned have indicated nothing is broken. Still waiting on news about his head, but other than that, he’s a very lucky boy.” She walked over to the child and examined the various bruises and abrasions before checking his pupils. Satisfied with his condition, she looked toward Deven. “Now let’s see about you.”
“Me? There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Uh huh,” Lydia said as she pulled the curtain completely closed. “Off with the shirt.”
“Excuse me?” Deven squared her shoulders and crossed her arms in defiance.
Lydia paid no heed to the woman’s bluster. “Come on, Deven. The EMT told me you’re bleeding like a stuck pig. Let me see.”
“Bleeding?” Rhian took a step towards her lover. “That’s yours? I thought the blood was Tiernan’s. When were you bleeding?”
“I didn’t even notice it. When I got here they put a compress on it. It’s stopped. No biggie.”
“Wrong,” Rhian said as she placed her hands on her hips. “Do what Lydia says.”
Both women remained where they were, waiting expectantly until Deven gave in and pulled off her shirt revealing her damaged bathing suit. The fabric was ripped in several places and stained dark with blood. Pulling the straps off her shoulders, Deven lowered the suit revealing a mottling of scraps and bruises, and Rhian flinched at the sight.
Lydia carefully removed the compress of gauze over the top of Deven’s left breast. She gently cleaned the area and examined it closely. “Well, you need stitches.”
“Nah. Just cover it up again. It’ll be fine.”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little needle, Deven,” Lydia teased.
“No,” she said a little more defensively then she’d intended. “I just don’t think it’s that bad.” Truth was she hated needles. Always had and her stays in the hospital hadn’t done a thing to endear them to her. She supposed that was the main reason she’d given into Sarah Martin’s threat of intravenous feedings all those years ago. She just couldn’t abide the needle. Well, that and knowing that in her weakened condition she wouldn’t have been able to stop them from strapping her down. Confinement was another thing she couldn’t deal with.
“Well, Dr. Masterson, you’re wrong.” Lydia handed Deven a wad of clean gauze. “Here. Hold that there while I get the suture kit. Do you want something to cover yourself up with?”
“Why? They’ve seen me before.” Rhian’s flush turned into a full-fledged blush, and she lowered her head in an attempt to hide it. Averting her face however, did nothing to hide her scarlet hued ears, which stood out in stark contrast to her blonde hair.
Lydia smiled at the sight. “Does she always turn that red?” she asked Deven.
“Oh, yeah. One of these days I expect her head to explode.”
“Very funny,” Rhian mumbled.
“All right. Enough fooling around. I need to get you sutured up.”
“Oh come on, Lydia. Is that really necessary?”
“Yes, it is. Now sit still.”
He smiled at his mother. “If you’re good, you can have a soda, too.”
Deven shook her head and her eyes narrowed at the needle Lydia held in her hand. A low growl rose up from her chest.
“I’ll even buy it for you,” Rhian added quickly. She gave her lover a sympathetic smile and crossed to stand beside her. Taking Deven’s hand in her own, she gentle stroked the back with her thumbs. “It’ll be over before you know it. And your secret will be safe with me,” she soothed.
Stepping up to the seated woman, Lydia began to slowly numb the area. “So, how long have you two been together?”
The question caught both women off guard. “Together?” Deven croaked. She looked over at Rhian as the implication of the question sunk in. ‘Now why in the hell does that word bother me? Together. We are together, aren’t we? I mean, we haven’t been seeing anyone else. I haven’t wanted to see anyone else. And I sure as hell don’t want her seeing anyone else. She’s mine. We just haven’t talked about it. And why is that, Masterson? Because you’re such a coward when it comes to her. Now, stop the mental rambling and answer the freaken question, you imbecile! “I don’t know. I mean, we’ve known each other, for what?” She mentally ticked off the time. “About five months?”
Lydia looked from one woman to the other. “You’re kidding?”
“No. Why?” Rhian asked a touch defensively.
“It’s just the way you interact. I would have guessed that you’d been together a few years, not months.”
Rhian’s eyes met her lover’s. “It’s been a lifetime in a lot of ways. A lot has happened to us.”
Lydia tied off the last stitch and covered the area with a clean bandage. “Okay. I’ll go see what I can find out about Tiernan, and I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, sure,” Deven said softly, her mind still mulling over her lover and their relationship. Absently, she started to pull her bathing suit back into place.
“Wait. I brought you some clothes.” Rhian picked a paper bag up off the floor and set it on the bed. Reaching inside she extracted a tee shirt, jeans and underwear. “I also brought some clean clothes for T.” While Deven put on the fresh clothing, Rhian carefully helped Tiernan put on his shirt. Not wanting to move him around too much, she saved the shorts she’d brought for later. If they admitted him, he’d need the pajamas she picked out instead. Pausing she reached into the bottom of the bag and pulled out his stuffed bear. “Here, little man.”
He eagerly grabbed the toy and hugged it tight. “Thank you,” he said in a small, sleepy voice.
“Where is everybody?” Deven asked.
“Well, Mom and Dad took Seana home with them. I’m supposed to call as soon as we know anything. Laura should be here shortly. I think she may have contacted her husband to pick up her kids. Nic, Jay, Carl and Kelly are in the waiting room. Maybe I should go get Jay. I know he’s worried.”
“Yeah, I suppose. This sucks, you know? Why can’t you both be here?”
Just then the drapes were tentatively parted, and Jay poked his head through the opening. “Hey.” Seeing that he had the right examining area, he moved past the curtain and stepped over next to the bed. “Hey, buddy. How are you feeling?”
“Hi, Uncle Jay. I’m okay. Mommy’s gonna get me a soda. She gets one too because she was good.”
Deven looked at Jay’s perplexed expression and laughed. “All true. I promised him, or rather Rhian promised him, that if he were good while they put his stitches in I’d get him a soda. She promised me that if I behaved while they put mine in, I could have one, too.”
He looked at her closely. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just must have scraped across something in the ground.”
He nodded and then indicated Tiernan with his chin. “So, what’s the prognosis on my boy here?”
“Waiting on the final word, but so far everything is okay. Listen, why don’t you stay here with him while Rhian and I go get those sodas and let everyone know the status?”
“Sure,” he said as he smiled at the little boy.
“You want anything?” Rhian asked.
“Nah, I’m good.”
“All right,” Deven said as she carefully tucked her shirt into her jeans. “Be back in a few.”
Deven closed her eyes, and when she reopened them she was annoyed to see her mother was still standing there. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see my grandson. I would have thought that was obvious, even to you.”
Deven looked at Laura, the disappointment settling in the pit of her stomach. “You couldn’t wait to call, could you? Had to jump on the phone and call Mother.” She shook her head sadly. “I bet the main reason you actually showed up today was so you could report back to her.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Laura protested.
“Right. Why didn’t I figure that out in the first place? You’ve never had a backbone when it comes to her. There is no way you’d have shown up today without her blessing.”
Deven’s accusations were clearly upsetting to her younger sister, but her mother appeared to find it amusing. “I had to call Roger and tell him that I needed to come to the hospital. She was there.”
“Whatever,” Deven waved her off and turned her attention to her mother. “Well, you can go home now. He’s going to be fine.”
“I’d like to see that for myself.”
“He’s resting. I’m going back in there as soon as I get him a soda. I’ll tell him you stopped by.”
“Soda? Is that your idea of TLC, Deven?” The martial artist felt the sting but kept quiet. “Where were you, anyway? Seducing someone? Drinking? Fighting? What?”
Rhian could feel the rage but wasn’t certain if it was Deven’s or her own. She reached up and placed her hand on her lover’s lower back. “Mrs. Masterson, your assumptions are unfounded as I’m sure Laura can attest. This was an unfortunate accident, but it isn’t any one persons fault.”
Patricia stared at Rhian with obvious disgust. “She is irresponsible and selfish. She has no business near that boy.”
“She is his mother,” the landscaper countered.
“Giving birth doesn’t make her his mother. She doesn’t even know what that means.”
“You’re wrong, Mrs. Masterson,” Rhian said. “She does know and has done what she thought was best for him.”
Patricia faced Rhian and glared. “How dare you talk to me about my daughter and grandson? Who do you think you are?”
Rhian lifted her chin and met the older woman’s gaze in with a silent challenge. “I am the one who loves your daughter and her son.”
“I see,” Patricia replied smugly. “Just friends? You’ve become her latest whore.”
“Shut up!” Deven’s voice boomed, gaining the attention of everyone in the waiting room. Kelly and Carl moved closer followed by Nicole. “Don’t you ever talk about her or to her like that again. Ever!”
“Getting touchy or are you finally getting a conscience, Deven?” her mother asked.
“Fuck you, you miserable old bitch!”
Patricia smiled triumphantly. “Now there’s the Deven I know. “
“Get out of here! Tiernan is my responsibility. Not yours.”
“We’ll see about that,” Patricia threatened.
Deven took a step forward but Carl grabbed her arm at the same time Rhian gripped the waistband of her jeans.
“Come on Laura.” Patricia turned and strode out of the hospital without a backward glance.
Laura looked at her sister and then at Rhian. “I’m…I’m sorry.” Deven looked directly at her and the anger Laura saw was enough to make her shiver. Turning away she followed her mother out of the building.
“Well, that could have gone better,” Kelly muttered.
Deven ran a hand across her face and then to the back of her neck. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let her get to me.”
“It’s okay,” Rhian said as she gently rubbed Deven’s belly. “I know you’re stressed. Let’s get that soda and go see how Tiernan is doing.”
“Yeah.” The martial artist turned and patted Carl on the shoulder. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” he said. “Let us know what they say.”
Deven reached out and Rhian took her hand. “Let’s go.”
The waiting was taking a toll on all of them but more so it seemed on Deven. Since they’d returned to the examining area, the woman had paced back and forth across the small space, and Rhian was growing more concerned. She’d learned over the past months that Deven tended to think a great deal. The woman just wasn’t one to talk about her thoughts especially if they were painful in any way. And because of that, there were times, when she wasn’t feeling emotionally secure in particular, that Deven could ridicule herself horribly, ultimately bringing on some level of depression.
The altercation with her mother hadn’t helped. Patricia’s threat may or may not have had any substance to it, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time. “You don’t think she was serious, do you?”
“I don’t know,” Deven replied. “Part of me thinks she’s just goading me. But part of me also knows she’s vindictive enough to do it just to be spiteful.”
“Well, we’ll just have to fight her. I’m sure Kelly will help.”
“Rhian, if it ever came to a court fight, I don’t think I could win. I mean look at me. Look at my history.” She paused for several seconds. “I’m really sorry about what she said to you.”
Before the younger woman could respond, Lydia reappeared. “Okay. He has a mild concussion. Believe me it would have been much worse if you hadn’t gotten to him, Deven. Everything considered, I think he’d rest better at home so I’ve discharged him.”
“You can do that,” Rhian asked.
Lydia smiled slightly. “Well, I fudged a little. I put myself down as his primary physician. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not a problem,” Deven said.
“You just need to take care of some paperwork, and then he’s all yours. I’ll give you some instructions, and I’ll stop by later tonight to check on him. Of course, if anything happens, call me.”
“Okay. Thanks, Lydia.” Deven’s relief was obvious. ‘He’s all right, and we’re getting out of this hell hole.’
“Yes, thank you,” Rhian added, eager to get them home.
Rhian settled into the bed, grateful for the quiet. Since they’d left the hospital, Tiernan had become irritable. Not that anyone blamed him. The boy was miserable from the various aches, and all he’d wanted to do for the past few hours was go to sleep. Until Lydia gave the okay a short while ago, they’d had to keep him awake as much as possible and it had been increasingly more difficult to do. Rolling onto her side, she watched Tiernan sleep. He lay on his side facing her, his small arms wrapped tightly around his bear. ‘He’s exhausted. Just like his mother. Oh, Deven, please don’t shut me out.’
The martial artist had grown progressively more sullen but had somehow managed to not project that onto the boy. Solicitous, almost to the extreme, best described Deven’s behavior pertaining to her son. She hadn’t let the child out of her sight if at all possible. And while she’d remained caring to the boy, the newly discovered maternal feelings combined with all the other emotions of the day had pulled the woman deeper into herself. Rhian was certain that Deven was unsure what to do with everything she was feeling. It was typical of Deven to retreat away from the emotions, to force them into someplace deep inside where she didn’t have to deal with them or where she could leave them to consider another time.
Rhian remembered how uncertain the woman had been when she’d reached the top of the stairs, Tiernan securely held in her arms. She’d understood that Deven was afraid to let him out of her sight, but at the same time, her lover wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. So, she’d stepped in and suggested he sleep with them if for no other reason so that she wouldn’t have to get up to check on him. ‘Do you think she actually bought that, Rhian? No, but I think she appreciated it.’
The mattress dipped slightly and Rhian found herself wrapped up in a cocoon of Deven’s warmth as the martial artist spooned against her back. It felt good to be lying down in the comfort she always found when Deven held her. They lay in silence for several minutes until Rhian noticed that the woman’s body remained full of tension. She took Deven’s hand and holding it in her own, brought it up to rest between her breasts. “You okay?”
Deven’s eyes blinked open and her lips tightened. “Are you kidding? My son could have died today because I fucked up.”
‘Here we go.’ Rhian was tired, but she dug down deep to find the strength to face this battle. “Wait a minute. What do you mean you fucked up? You saved him. If you hadn’t cushioned his fall, he could have been killed.”
Deven’s eyes bore into the wall across from them, not really seeing it in the darkened room. “I should have known he was climbing up there. How could I not have known?”
Rhian shifted and rolled over to face the troubled woman. “Oh, baby, this isn’t your fault. It was an accident.”
“He manages to climb nearly thirty feet up into a tree, and I didn’t know it. What the hell is wrong with me? You know, this is why I have no business being responsible for him.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Rhian admonished.
Deven stared at her, anger and despondency struggling for supremacy. Her mother’s voice echoed in her mind and the anger seeped away leaving her fighting the dejection.
Rhian reached up and lightly brushed her thumb below an abrasion on the woman’s cheek. “You were not the only adult there today,” she said softly. “Last time I looked we were surrounded by grown ups. It was an accident, Deven. You were not the only person there accountable, okay? I don’t know how WE missed it. But WE did. So did my parents. So did Lydia and Alex. And Laura. All of us parents.”
“But he’s supposed to be my responsibility.”
“Do not pull that on me. He was our responsibility, damn it.” ‘Maybe not. Maybe that’s what she’s trying to tell me.’ She took a deep breath. “Unless there is something you’re not saying. Something you want me to know.”
Deven looked at her blankly. “I don’t understand.”
“Like,” Rhian’s voice caught but she swallowed past it and went on. “Like you don’t want anything more. Like you just want to leave things as they are. You know where I come to your house a few times a week, we have sex, and then I go home.” She paused to give Deven a chance to reply, but the silence stretched on. “Is that what you want?”
Rhian’s eyes lowered, and she stared blindly at Deven’s neck. “I just figured after what you said earlier. You know that it wasn’t my problem. And then that Tiernan isn’t our responsibility. That you want me to back off.”
“No. That isn’t what I want.” Deven wanted to reach out and touch Rhian, to establish the quiet connection they shared but for some reason she that didn’t understand, she was afraid to move.
Unable to back off now that the door had finally been opened, Rhian pressed on. “What do you want?”
“I’m not sure.”
Rhian wanted to stop the words, but they seemed forced out from deep inside. “Great. Okay, well, maybe it’s time to reevaluate some things.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Well, here’s a thought, Deven. How about the truth?”
“Fine. You want to know what I want. I want you here. I hate the nights you’re not here. But I don’t know how that works. I don’t know if it’s the best thing for you. I don’t know if it’s what you want. I want you with me all the time, but I have no right to ask that of you.”
“Don’t you dare say it. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, Deven. You are the most amazing woman I have ever met. Don’t you dare demean yourself again.” The martial artist’s eyes shone brightly, a reflection of the tears that brimmed there. “What do you want?”
Deven took a few seconds to regain her composure. “I was thinking that maybe you might want to. I mean that you might consider moving in here. You know. We could see how things go.”
“Are you asking me to live in sin?”
“I mean, what would my parent’s think, Deven?”
Rhian’s soft laughter reached across the void between them. “Relax.” She reached out and hugged her lover. There was way too much to consider before making that kind of decision. While she fully believed that Deven understood the ramifications intellectually, she wasn’t certain if she understood them emotionally. Rhian also wasn’t certain how much of the invitation was the result the day’s turmoil. “You do realize my living here includes Seana.”
“I know.” ‘Yeah, right. How are you going to handle that, Masterson?’
“What about Tiernan?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really considered that yet. I was kind of thinking that each of the kids could have a room. There are all those spare rooms down the hall that have nothing in them.”
“I’ll tell you what. We can talk about all this again in the morning, but right now we need to get some rest. You’re so tired, baby.”
“I am,” Deven agreed. There was some relief in having finally broached the subject of a future but there still remained much to discuss and resolve. Deven leaned forward and pressed her lips to Rhian’s. One kiss led to another deeper one that teased the thinly veiled hold on their passion. It was enough for tonight to flirt with the desire and give in to the love. “I do love you, Rhian.”
“I know. And I love you, too.”
Then Deven did something that took the younger woman completely by surprise. She lowered her head onto Rhian’s shoulder. Her forehead pressed against the woman’s cheek and a deep sigh brushed the side of Rhian’s neck.
She understood the implications of this simple act. Never, in all the time that they’d been together had Deven voluntarily allowed herself to ask solace. Never had she permitted herself that weakness but right now, she lay quietly asking for just that. And so, Rhian wrapped her arms around her lover and gently caressed her back until the tension finally ebbed out of them both. Only when Deven’s breathing evened out, signaling she’d fallen asleep did she allow her own exhaustion to take purchase. With a small smile of contentment, Rhian crossed the threshold into sleep, her mind at peace and her heart full.
Jay strode into the office and plopped down in the chair across from his friend. Deven’s behavior lately had been peculiar, and he wasn’t certain what to think about her nearly constant brooding. Most of her time at the school was spent in the office instead of the classroom because she just didn’t appear to care what the students were doing. She’d cancelled the weekly staff meeting and he hadn’t seen a lesson plan from her in over a week, both of which were at odds with her controlling nature.
At the moment she sat with her head propped up in her hand, twirling a pencil on the desktop with her fingertips. She didn’t even bother to look up when he walked in. “Hey, you want to go out Friday night?” he asked.
She lifted her eyes and looked at him incredulously. “Are you kidding me?”
“I never have any time to myself anymore, Jay. I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself most of the time. Seana trails after me like a freaken puppy. She follows on my heels, and I keep tripping over her. One of these days I’m going to turn around too fast and knock her clear across the room.”
“Is that what has you so preoccupied lately?”
Her brow creased. “I thought if we lived together, we’d have more time for each other but we actually have less now. And I’ll tell you, bro, if you ever want to get laid on a regular basis, do not live with a child.”
He smiled at her. “Come on, Deven. It can’t be that bad.”
“No? I have yet to come home from work and not find Seana asleep in my bed. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with her. Do I put her in her own bed? Do I leave her there? I mean she’s there because Rhian wants her there, right? So what does that say about me? I mean is Rhian trying to tell me something? I’m beginning to think she does it on purpose so she doesn’t have to be with me.”
“You can’t be serious. Rhian is so into you, it’s scary.”
She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know.”
Leaning forward in the chair, he rested his forearms on the desktop. “Seana doesn’t sleep with you every night, does she?”
“Not every night. Rhian says she’s having a difficult time getting the girl to settle down and that’s why she lets her go to sleep in our bed. On the nights that Rhian has me put Seana in her own room, it’s only a matter of time before I’m awakened by her climbing back into bed with us.”
“What does Rhian say about that?”
“She says it’s just a phase Seana’s going through. That she’s probably feeling a little insecure in the new surroundings and just needs time to adapt.”
He shrugged slightly. “Sounds reasonable.”
“I suppose.” Deven brooded for several more seconds before speaking again. “Every morning, I get stuck with making her breakfast and getting her dressed so that I can take her over to Kate’s on my way in here. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to do it. Rhian just decided that’s what I’d do. And damn, can that little girl talk. I swear she wakes up talking. All morning long, she just rambles.” She groaned. “And all the damn questions.”
Jay laughed and she scowled at him. “It isn’t funny. I can’t even sit down and eat anything because that child is there like a…a little bird. She stands next to me, waiting for me to give her some morsel off my plate. I haven’t had a snack or meal to myself in almost three weeks unless I eat it here. And now, I have Freddie and Star hanging around all the time, too. There is nothing more irritating then two little girls squealing. “
“Who would name their kid Star?” Jay asked.
“Her name is Estrella which means Star, you dork.”
“Hey, don’t take it out on me,” he grumbled. “It isn’t my fault you lost control of the situation.”
She sighed piteously. “From the minute she walked in there, Rhian just took over. And, oh God, shopping for furniture. Now that was a fucking nightmare. We spent the whole day searching for just the right bedroom set for Seana. What the hell difference does it make to a four-year-old? If Seana liked it, Rhian didn’t. If Rhian liked it, Seana didn’t. If either one of them liked it, Nicole didn’t. If I liked it, no one else did. If I hated it, they all thought I was nuts. Finally all three of them were able to agree on a set. Then I,” she said as she pointed to her chest, “had to sit around the house all day the next day waiting for it to be delivered.”
Her palms slammed down on the desk. “But was that the worst? Hell no! We wasted yet another day just moving pieces of furniture from one place in the room to another and back again. It got to the point that if I had to move one more piece of that crap, I was going to throw it out the window.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“Jay, I just don’t know. I invited her to move in. She kept asking me if I understood what would happen, and I kept saying I did. I just didn’t think things would change so much. I guess I thought it would be more like the weekends we’d spent together with the kids. I didn’t expect to drop to the bottom of her list of priorities.”
He sat back in the chair and regarded her. “According to Nicole, Rhian says that everything is good.”
“For her maybe. She’s got a built in babysitter.” Deven picked up the pencil and then tossed it back down on the desk’s surface. “Did you know that we haven’t gone out together once since she moved in unless it’s with the kids? Everything we do centers around Seana or Tiernan or both. We don’t do anything for us anymore. It’s beginning to feel like there is no us.”
“Maybe you should talk to
“And say what? Gee, Rhian, I want you all to myself. So if you don’t mind, could we dump the kids somewhere far, far away for a week or two? That would go over really well, doncha think?”
“Look, you brought it up. I’m just trying to help.” He folded his arms across his chest. “All I’m saying is how is she supposed to know that’s how you feel if you don’t tell her?”
She started to respond, but just then the phone rang. Reaching over, she pressed the speaker button. “Masterson Martial Arts,” she said.
“Hey. What’s up?” Despite her disquiet over their current living conditions, a smile still tugged at the corners of Deven’s lips at the sound of Rhian’s voice. “Say hi to Jay.”
“Hi, Jay. How are you?”
“Not too bad,” he replied. “How are things with you?”
“Good. Listen, Deven? I just talked to Lydia. Both she and Alex have early shifts the rest of the week, and she was wondering if we could take the kids in the morning.”
The smile vanished and Deven wrapped her fingers around her throat, pretending to choke herself. “And you told her?”
Jay sat watching the spectacle, trying to suppress the urge to laugh.
“I told her I would check with you but that I didn’t think it was a problem. I already talked to Mom and she said they could play over there with Seana. So, you can drop all three of them off on your way in. It’s just a few days, babe. I’m sure they’d do the same for us.”
Rhian detected a slight hollowness in Deven’s voice. “Look, if this is a problem, just say so.”
“No. No problem. I live to serve,” she responded.
“Okay. I’ll let her know.”
“Great.” Deven pointed her finger at her head like an imaginary gun and pulled the trigger. Jay was losing his battle and chuckled helplessly, almost causing Deven join in.
“Are you okay?”
“Me?” She smiled at her friend who was now struggling with a bout of coughing from suppressing the laughter. “I’m fine. I think Jay might be having a seizure though. Anything else I can do for you?”
“No. Is he okay?”
“Oh, sure. He’s fine,” Deven said. “He just swallowed something the wrong way.”
“Okay. Well, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later. Love you.”
“I love you, too. Bye,” Deven said as she disconnected the call.
Jay pointed at her and practically guffawed. “I never thought I’d see this day. You are so whipped!”
Deven groaned again as her head settled on the desktop with a solid thud. “What was I thinking?”
Rhian leaned against the kitchen counter, sipping her coffee and listening to Deven stomp about upstairs. She’d felt for several days that something was wrong with the woman and had been waiting for Deven to say something. ‘I should have known she’d do this. Couldn’t just talk about it, could you, Deven? Nope. Not you. Well, I guess I should say you couldn’t talk to me about it.’ She looked up as the angry woman stormed into the kitchen.
“Where are my contracts?”
“I don’t know, Deven. Where did you leave them?” Rhian was trying hard to maintain her composure but Deven wasn’t making it easy. The martial artist had been raging around the house all morning. She’d come home in a bad mood last night and had apparently awoken with it as well, and Rhian had done her best to just stay out of her way.
“On the breakfast bar. Right here,” Deven said as she slammed her palm down on the counter where the papers had been. “I finished them up last night and left them here so I could pick them up on my way out the door.”
“Okay. Well, they have to be around here somewhere.”
“God damn it! I can’t find anything around here anymore.”
Rhian’s eyes narrowed as she watched Deven move away, and before she could ponder the comment further, the woman’s voice boomed from the office.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Seana wailed, and Rhian rushed to the entrance to the room. The little girl stood beside the desk, staring fearfully at the martial artist. In her small hand she held a marker, and Rhian immediately figured out the problem. “What did you do to her?” she asked Deven.
The child’s paralysis broke and she bawled as Deven held up several sheets of paper on which bright red scribbles were visible. “I didn’t do anything, but I found the fucking contracts. Which are worthless now. Damn it!”
“She didn’t do it on purpose, Deven.”
“No? She purposefully took them. She purposefully got a fucking pen. And she purposefully drew all over them. What part of that was not on purpose?”
“She’s just a baby. How is she supposed to know what they are?”
“She shouldn’t be fucking around with things that don’t belong to her. Maybe if you didn’t let her do whatever she wanted, she wouldn’t touch things that aren’t hers.”
Rhian had been trying hard to keep her calm. She could deal with Deven’s temper when it was directed at her but not when it was focused on one of the children, and right now Deven was managing to tread all over her maternal side. “Oh that’s rich! You’re telling me how to be a parent? Come on, Seana.” She held her hand out to her daughter. The little girl looked at Deven and cried harder before taking her mother’s hand and allowing herself to be led away.
Tiernan stood wide-eyed in the doorway, tears streaming down his cheeks as he looked from his mother to Rhian. ‘I can’t leave him here like this.’ “You too, Tiernan. Let’s go.”
“Oh, come on! Rhian, I.”
The blonde spun around to face Deven, her eyes flashing with rage. “No! Don’t even try to explain this! I know you get a cruel pleasure from scaring and intimidating people, but I thought you reserved the bullying for adults. You like browbeating children? Does it make you feel better somehow? Look at her. Do you honestly think that she woke up this morning with a plan to ruin your day?”
Moving once again towards the door, Rhian reached Tiernan and paused. With her free hand she caressed his cheek in an effort to ease his obvious apprehension. “Look, I told you this was a package deal,” she said over her shoulder.
“I know that, Rhian.”
“I don’t think so. I think you resent our being here.”
“That’s not true,” Deven said.
Rhian looked the woman directly in the eye. “No? Did you or did you not complain to Jay a couple of days ago about this living arrangement?”
“What?” Deven felt like she’d been punched in the stomach, and she exhaled in a quick gust. “He told you that?”
“No. He talked to Nicole, and she told me.”
“That God damn mother fuc.”
“Shut up!” Rhian shouted as she turned once again to completely face the woman. “Do not talk like that in front of the kids ever again!” She took several deep breaths. “You need to figure out what you want, because I can’t help but wonder if this was a huge mistake.” Leading the children, Rhian walked through the doorway and out of the house leaving a stunned Deven staring at the now empty portal.
Rhian fumed as she paced the living room floor. “Mom, she is so…so stubborn and…and so infuriating!”
Kate sat on the sofa, listening to her daughter rant. So far she’d figured out that there had been a rather explosive argument between Deven and Rhian, and that the children had witnessed it. Seana had done the most dramatic performance of her young life as she’d related how Deven had yelled at her. For the most part, the child seemed well on her way to getting over it. Kate was much more concerned about Tiernan who had thus far remained silent and withdrawn.
She wasn’t at all pleased with Deven’s behavior. Had the woman been present, Kate would have given her an earful. But despite her displeasure with the martial artist’s conduct, she understood that it wasn’t fair to judge Deven based solely on Rhian’s biased recounting of the events or Seana’s theatrics. “Uh huh,” she replied noncommittally.
“She is so frustrating!”
“Rhian, come sit down.” She waited as her daughter slowly made her way to the sofa and flopped down gracelessly. ‘So much has changed. It wasn’t that long ago that she was first telling us of her feelings for Deven.’ Kate shook her head at the memory of that day. Rhian’s admission had been difficult to accept. ‘It just seemed impossible.’ And so she and Mac had chalked it up to some sort of experimental phase their daughter was going through. ‘But we were wrong.’ They’d come to understand that this was just another facet of the person their daughter was.
It was painfully obvious to them now that Rhian had been miserable with Sean. ‘For one thing, she never told us anything about what was going on between them. None of the pain or unhappiness. Not like this. She hasn’t stopped talking about Deven since she walked through the door a short while ago. She was never this passionate about him.’
Kate was not certain how she felt about the woman her daughter had fallen in love with. Deven was such an enigma. ‘Who are you Deven Masterson? There is something about you that is so decent, and yet, you’re so volatile and angry.’ She took a step back mentally and examined her daughter’s friend from as detached a perspective as she could muster. On some level she was truly fond of the martial artist. There was a childlike vulnerability to Deven that made Kate want to mother her. ‘That is when I don’t want to take her over my knee.’ She shifted her attention back to her daughter. “Honey, relax.”
“You don’t understand, Mom,” Rhian said as she sat back in an exasperated huff.
“Are you sure about that? I’ve been married longer than you’ve been alive. I think I have a wee bit of an idea concerning the dynamics of a relationship.”
“Yeah, but you have Dad.” Rhian gestured wildly. “I have the most aggravating, egotistical, obnoxious, pain in my.”
Kate cut her off. “Stop! Be careful what you say in anger, Rhian.”
The younger woman heeded her mother’s advice as she mulled over the simple truth of those words. The indignation finally melted away, leaving a dull ache in its place. “She should have talked to me.”
“You’re right,” Kate said. “Why do you suppose she didn’t?”
Rhian’s head fell back against the sofa, and she stared up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I do know that she is so hard on herself. Harder than I could ever be. She gets so tightlipped and thinks things to death instead of talking about what’s bothering her. She turns everything inside and it festers. Honestly, that woman can hold on to things like that for years. And the more it eats away at her, the angrier she gets and then she beats herself up.”
“Rhian, Deven is a puzzle to me.”
“She was to me, too. I think that was one of the reasons I needed to get to know her. And then when I did, I was afraid. Not of her but for her. So much happened to her, Mom. So many bad things. To me it’s a miracle that the good in her managed to survive. It’s a little beat up but intact.”
Her vision blurred as her eyes filled with tears. “I love her, Mom. She is such a remarkable person, but there are times when she is such a pain. I don’t know if this is going to work. Seana shouldn’t have done what she did, but Deven blew it way out of proportion. She scared Seana, and I can’t have that. I can’t have my child living in an environment where she’s afraid.”
Kate could feel her daughter was hurting and was trying to get to the root of it. “Listen to me. Don’t be giving up just yet. Relationships take time and work. Both you and Deven are headstrong people, and I think that there are a lot of issues the two of you need to work through. Every relationship has peaks and valleys, and it’s how you deal with the valleys that will determine your relationship’s longevity. I know you aren’t a quitter and she doesn’t strike me as one either.”
Reaching out, Kate took Rhian’s hand. “I know you’re angry, but what has you hurting so much?”
Rhian closed her eyes. “She didn’t talk to me. I was waiting for her to open up, and then I found out that Jay and Nicole both knew what was going on before I did.”
“Ah. So, she failed to live up to your expectations?”
Rhian’s eyes opened, and she gazed at her mother. “What? No.”
“Why did you move in with her, Rhian?”
“Because I love her, and I wanted to be with her. I thought we could make a life together with the kids.”
“Okay. What did Deven want?”
“What, Rhian? When Deven asked you to move in, what was it exactly that she wanted?” Kate prodded.
“I don’t know. I guess I assumed she wanted the same thing I did. To be a family.”
“And maybe she does, but you didn’t allow her the opportunity to ease into it. I think you need to understand where she’s coming from before you can find a middle ground. It’s all about compromise, my darling. Compromise.”
“I doubt she knows the word.”
“Shame on you, Rhian Quinn. It’s you that seems to be having a problem with it.”
The younger woman sat up. “You’re not serious.”
“I’m very serious. When you moved in there, what did you do to adapt to Deven?” Kate asked.
Rhian considered the question but couldn’t seem to come up with an answer.
“It sounds to me that so far, Deven has done all the compromising. Think about it for a minute. Here is a woman who has lived on her own for a good part of her life, and from what you’ve indicated, has faced some real adversity. She’s taken care of herself and taken charge of everything around her. And suddenly, you are dictating her life to her. You tell her when she needs to be somewhere and what she needs to do. You and Seana have taken over her home and her life, and what I don’t see is where you’ve changed anything other then residences.”
Kate could see that her daughter was thinking hard about the situation. “If it’s any consolation, your father had a difficult time learning to talk.”
“But you and Dad.”
“Have worked extremely hard at it. You weren’t around for the first part of our lives together and far too young to remember those early years. We loved each other just as you and Deven do. We wanted to make a life together and were both willing to work towards that. But it wasn’t easy. We made it through the worst times and celebrated the best times. There were times when your father aggravated me so much that I couldn’t stand to be in the same house with him. Even when he’s at his worst though, I love him. I don’t like him very much, but I love him just the same.”
Her daughter smiled and Kate continued. “Whenever my mind fills with all of the things that I can’t stand about the man, I force myself to create a list of the things I love about him. And you know what?”
Rhian slowly shook her head.
“That list of love has always been much longer. So, my daughter, what do you love about her?”
Rhian looked down at their joined hands. “I love her eyes and how when I look into them, I can see her soul. I love her smile which she doesn’t share nearly enough. When she holds me I feel safe and at peace, and I love lying with my head on her shoulder listening to the beat of her heart. I love that she shows me that vulnerable part of herself that no one else is allowed near. When she… when we…” She felt the heat rising up her neck to her face and took a deep breath while gathering the courage to continue. “When we’re together, it’s so intimate and intense. I love that she loves me and how she loves me.”
She paused again willing the blush to recede. “I love her strength. Not so much the physical as the inner strength she has. She can be so honorable. I love when she lets her playful side out. I love to watch her practice and teach. I told her once it was poetry and it is.” Rhian brought her eyes up to meet her mothers. “You should see her some time, Mom. It is so beautiful. She’s so beautiful.”
“Yes she is,” the older woman agreed.
“What is going on around here?” Both women looked up as Nicole rushed into the room.
Rhian sat back and regarded her friend. “Uh oh. You don’t sound happy.”
“That raving lunatic called up Jay and screamed at him. I could her hear all the way across the room. Someone needs to wash her mouth out with some serious disinfectant.”
“What did she say?” Rhian asked.
“Well, most of it I wouldn’t repeat even if I could have understood it. She just went off. She never even gave Jay a chance to say anything. The only thing that either of us could get out of her tirade was something about a back stabbing S.O.B.”
Rhian sighed. “Anything else?”
“No. She just ranted at him and then slammed the phone down. He’s really upset.”
“Let’s go for a walk, Nic. I think I’ve made a real mess of things.”
“You? Oh, don’t tell me you’re going to take the blame for her being an evil witch!”
“Nicole,” Kate said. “Calm down.”
“Mama Kate, you didn’t hear it.”
“True, and the next time I see Deven, we’re going to have a long talk about her language. But as for this current situation, you best hear what Rhian has to say before you dump all the blame on Deven.”
“I can’t believe your siding with that witch!”
Kate rose and faced the younger woman. “Nicole! There are at least two sides to every story. Your dislike for Deven is obviously interfering with your ability to see the truth. And I thought you’d moved beyond this pettiness.”
The woman felt the rebuke and her shoulders sagged. “I’m sorry. I just hate it when she does stuff to Jay. He lets her walk all over him. And now, Rhian is doing the same thing.”
“She most certainly is not! If anything, she’s the one who pushed Deven into a corner.”
“Hey, she is sitting right here,” Rhian said. “Nic, Mom is right and I’ll explain it to you if you’ll just shut up long enough. If not, fine. What I need right now is a way to figure out how to fix it.” She stood and looked from her friend to her mother. “What if she doesn’t want me to come back?”
Kate stepped to her daughter and pulled her into a hug. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
Rhian relaxed in her mother’s arms, allowing the child within her to indulge in the sensation. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Any time, baby girl. You need to bring Deven over for dinner some night soon. In fact, I expect to see you here on Labor Day.”
“Oh gees, that’s next weekend. This year is just flying by.”
“Well, you know we do the big barbecue thing.”
“Yeah I know. It’s just Deven still gets nervous about coming over here. A sense of family and all that it means is just so foreign to her.” Rhian stepped back and looked at her mother. “I am so stupid.”
Kate lightly patted her cheek. “I knew you’d figure it out.”
“I can’t believe I completely missed it. I just thought if she asked me to move in, she was ready for it. I think there is a part of her that likes being a part of a family. She wants to be a part of it, but she has a hard time understanding it. I am such an idiot.”
“From what you’ve told me about her relatives, I can’t say as I’m surprised about her confusion. I think it would help if she spent more time with us, Rhian.”
The young woman nodded. “Let me get through this crisis and I’ll start working on that. Okay?”
Deven coiled her leg and then struck the heavy weight bag again with a solid round kick. She’d been punching and kicking the bag for well over an hour, each strike coming harder and faster then the previous until every muscle in her body seemed to scream at her to stop. She ignored the pain in the same way she ignored the streaks of blood covering the vinyl surface. This was her way of exorcising the demons.
After Rhian’s departure, she’d remained standing in place, her rage keeping her immobile. There was no direction in which to point her anger other then herself, and there was little satisfaction in that at the moment. It didn’t take her long to find a mark, however. Crossing to her desk she pressed the speaker button on the phone and then the AutoDial. Jay had barely finished saying hello when she assaulted him. She had no recollection of what she’d said to him, and she didn’t particularly care. He’d betrayed her, and she unleashed a string of expletives on him, never allowing him an opportunity to respond.
She threw one last kick and then stood staring at the crimson smears. Her heart was pounding and trickles of sweat flowed down her back and chest. “What have I done?” Now that the anger was gone, she was filled with a myriad of other emotions far more difficult to face then the rage. Anger she could transform into physical action. The rest of her feelings tended to be illusive, and she didn’t know quite what to do with them.
She slowly made her way upstairs to the kitchen and glanced at the clock over the stove. It had been hours since Rhian had stormed out of the house. Crossing to the sink she ran warm water over her hands, scrubbing away the blood. Small splits in the skin on her knuckles continued to ooze slightly as she flexed her fists under the water.
‘I’ve never seen Rhian that angry. What if she doesn’t come back? Why should she come back? Why would she want to? God, what have I done?’ She turned off the water and dried her hands, pressing against the cuts to stem the flow. ‘You did what you always do. You screwed things up!’
The phone rang and she stared at it. She waited for the machine to answer and then listened to Jay’s slightly pleading tone asking her to pick up the phone. She wasn’t as angry with him but the fact that he’d let her down still burned inside. She grabbed the phone. “What!” He didn’t respond, but she could hear him breathing so she knew he was still on the line. “What do you want, Jay?”
He cleared his throat. “I wanted to let you know that I’m closing up the school now and everything is okay.”
“Wait!” he said, causing her to pause.
“Look, Deven, I know you’re really pissed about something but I don’t know what exactly. I mean, I couldn’t make much sense out of your call earlier.”
She laughed humorlessly. “Okay. Let me make it real simple. Why did you stab me in the back?”
“Me? What did I do?”
“You don’t know?”
“No, Deven. What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the little conversation you and I had about my situation with Rhian. I’m talking about you running over to tell Nicole. And I’m talking about Nicole telling Rhian! Damn you, Jay! You were supposed to have my back, bro!”
“What didn’t happen? She threw it in my face right before she stormed out of here.”
“She left? Is she coming back?
“I don’t know! Why would she? I screwed this up, too! But at least this time I know I had some help! So fuck you very much, Jay!” She slammed the phone down.
She wandered aimlessly, moving from room to room, very aware of how empty the house seemed. The phone rang a few more times, each time it was Jay beseeching her to answer and each time she tuned him out. Eventually she ascended the stairs and found herself at Seana’s bedroom, and leaning against the doorframe, she eyed the space. ‘What is wrong with me?’
The room was light and cheerful, and filled with the little girl’s possessions. Rhian had made it a happy space for the child, and Deven had to admit that the furniture looked nice. She stepped into the room and stood silently listening to the echoes in her mind of Seana’s explanation as to why the bed had to be exactly where it now stood.
Walking back into the hall, she looked into Tiernan’s room. There was less in it then Seana’s mainly because he still officially resided at Laura’s. But even so, Rhian had done a nice job of making him feel it was his. She tried to recall what Rhian had said she still wanted to do to decorate the room, but she hadn’t been really listening and so there wasn’t much to remember.
Tiernan’s wide-eyed expression flashed in her mind. ‘She took my son.’ She closed her eyes but the vision of his frightened face remained. “No, he went with her to get away from me. Damn, Deven.” She hadn’t meant to lose her temper in front of the children, nor had she meant to hurt Seana’s feelings. ‘So, why did you?’
And in an instance of clarity she gained an understanding that had eluded her. ‘You’re afraid to love them. I am not. I am. But why? Think about it, Deven. You weren’t supposed to have this! Any of it. Suddenly you’re life is filled with people who actually love you despite everything. That wasn’t supposed to happen! Supposed to or not, it did. Seana never questioned who I was or where I came from or anything I did. She just was happy to be with me. So why is that so scary?’
She walked down the hallway and into her bedroom. The bed was still unmade, and she absently went about straightening it up. Her gaze settled on a framed photograph on the nightstand. It was one of the pictures Kate had taken that day they’d all gone to the park and Rhian had insisted they get it framed. She walked over and picked it up, struggling with the irrational impulse to fling it against the wall.
She’d been giving Rhian an impromptu piggyback ride. It was almost as if she could feel the weight on her back, the woman’s arms wrapped tightly around her, and the feel of Rhian’s soft cheek pressed against her own. They had been laughing when Kate snapped the picture. Deven held it to her chest and sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘How do I fix this? Can I fix it?’
Reaching for the phone to call Kelly, she pulled her hand back as it started to ring and then she snapped up the receiver. “Damn it Jay, leave me alone!”
“Hi.” Rhian said softly.
“Oh. Sorry. I thought it was Jay.”
‘Please don’t be calling to tell me you aren’t coming back.’ “Where are you?” she tried to keep her voice light, but she could hear the strain.
Rhian heard it too. “I’m at my parents.”
“Oh.” ‘Great! Now they’ll hate me, too.’ Deven swallowed several times. “I’m sure my popularity has reached an all time low.”
Rhian couldn’t help but smile. “Actually, my mother thinks a great deal of you.”
Unable to comprehend what that meant, Deven prudently kept her mouth shut. There was so much she wanted say. So much she wanted to ask, but she couldn’t seem to formulate a single coherent thought. Everything swirled in her mind, and she didn’t like the sensation.
Several seconds passed in silence. “Deven?”
“Talk to me.”
Deven swallowed again. “Are you coming home?”
Rhian’s heart lurched at the emotion she could hear behind Deven’s inquiry at the same time a great weight was lifted off her own shoulders. There had never been any question in her mind that she wanted to come home. The uncertainty had been whether or not Deven still wanted her there. “Listen to me. We have a lot to talk about but don’t doubt for a minute that I love you. I’ll be leaving here right after we hang up.”
Deven held the picture tighter. “Okay. I’m sorry, Rhian. About everything.”
“I know, baby. Me, too.
“Are the kids okay?”
“Yes.” Rhian sighed. “You scared them. They love you and don’t understand when you get like that.”
“I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to them somehow. Listen, Seana can draw on anything she wants, okay? If you want, we can convert the office into a play area for them.”
Rhian laughed. “Honey, don’t go overboard. What she did was wrong, and she needs to be taught. You are a great teacher. If you relax with her, you’ll find her to be a good student.”
“That’s all I ask, Deven. I’ll see you in a bit. Mom is sending over a care package of home cooked stuff for dinner. I don’t think she believes I take very good care of you.”
“What? Why would she think that?”
Giving into the urge to get home, Rhian sought to end the conversation. “We’ll talk about it when I get there. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Deven stared at the receiver for several seconds before returning it to the cradle. ‘What did I ever do to deserve her?’ She set the picture back down on the nightstand before making her way to the bathroom to take a shower; the absolute relief making her somewhat unsteady on her feet.
To Be Continued in Chapter Six
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