Poetry In Motion

by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2000 – 2003

See Chapter One for disclaimers

Harley2u@aol.com

Chapter Twenty Four, Part 1

Stepping out of the main building at the Garden Center, Nicole scanned the parking lot once again as her mood teetered between annoyance and concern. She‘d been checking for Rhian every fifteen minutes or so for the past three hours. Where are you? It is so not like you to be this late. She caught site of her friend and quickly moved to intercept the woman. "Where have you been?" she called out.

Glancing over, Rhian stopped and waited for Nicole to catch up. "I got a late start and then went to check out all the installs. You know what? The crews are working really well together. A couple of the projects are actually ahead of schedule."

"You’ve done a good job, Rhian. I know your father’s noticed."

"Yeah? That’s good to know. It’s been a rough couple of months." The landscaper looked up at the bright sky and smiled. She’d used the installs as an excuse to drive around and spend some quiet time with her thoughts. She supposed that last night was a small thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but for her it had been life changing.

"Is everything okay?" Nicole asked. She didn’t know what to make of Rhian’s behavior and made no effort to hide the concern that seeped into her voice.

Rhian glanced over at her friend. "Sure. Why?"

"Well, for starters its noon and you’re just now showing up for work. That isn’t like you. Even if you’re running late you always come here before checking out the sites."

"Uh, well, I had a busy morning." Rhian tried not to grin at the memories of the why she was late, and though she was able to suppress the smile, she couldn’t stop the slight blush. Just thinking about the martial artist was enough to cause her body to tingle. I don’t know what you’ve done to me, Deven, but wow.

"Okay but that doesn’t explain that goofy look on your face," Nicole continued.

"What? I don’t have a goofy look!" Do I?

"Yes, you do. That is the goofiest look I’ve ever seen on you." But even as she said that, Nicole recalled that she’d seen her friend act this strangely the first time they’d gone to the Pit. Well, yeah, but she’d been drinking. No way. Not her. Leaning forward slightly, she sniffed her friend’s breath.

"What are you doing?" Rhian gasped as she took a step back.

"Just checking. You haven’t been drinking or anything, have you?"

"Are you kidding me? I’m not drunk!" She cocked her head slightly and despite being appalled at her friend’s behavior, she smiled. "Well, maybe I am."

"What?" Nicole exclaimed as she put her hands on her hips and glared at the other woman. "What is wrong with you?

"I’m drunk on love," Rhian replied, purposefully slurring her words and then laughing with delight.

Nicole’s face scrunched up in disgust, and she made a gagging noise. "Oh, please. I think I’m going to throw up." Then looking closely at the woman, she could see that something was different, but it wasn’t anything that she could easily discern. That Rhian was happy was obvious. In fact, she seemed happier then Nicole could remember. "Where were you last night? I left you a message and you never called back."

"Sorry. I spent the night at Deven’s. And if anyone asks, I was with you."

"I hate being put in this position, Rhian. I don’t want to lie to your parents." She also didn’t like that Rhian refused to see that she was being used by the martial artist. Thank God it hasn’t gone too far yet.

"I know, Nic. I don’t like it either, and I’m sorry. Hopefully you won’t have to, okay?" Do I tell her? She probably isn’t going to like it. Rhian took her friend by the hand and led her further away from the main entrance so they could talk more privately. "Listen, something happened last night."

"What?"

Now that the moment had arrived, Rhian found herself at a loss as to how to say it. "Deven and I…well, we."

Nicole rolled her eyes. "What did that lunatic do now?"

"Please, don’t call her that."

"Well, she is."

"Damn it, Nicole! Just shut up for moment, will you?"

The expletive took the woman by surprise. Rhian wasn’t one to swear often but when she did, it was usually because she was very angry or very upset about something. So help me, if that bitch hurt you, I will find some way to make her pay!

The landscaper took a deep breath and released it slowly. "We made love," she blurted out. "Twice. Last night and this morning. That’s why I got a late start." She finished in a rush.

"You what?" Nicole nearly yelled at the woman. "Are you out of your mind?"

Rhian quickly looked around the parking lot. "Keep your voice down."

"You gave her exactly what she wanted! Don’t you understand that?"

"It’s what I wanted, Nic. And it was amazing."

Her friend’s dreamy expression was almost obnoxious. "Rhian, wake up! Jay told me how she operates. It’s all just a big game to her. She lures women in, sleeps with them, and then drops them like they’re nothing. She’s a user! And proud of it!"

Rhian felt a surge of anger but pushed it aside for the time being. "Did he also tell you that he participated in some competitions with her over women? That it was a game to him, too."

"Yes. But this isn’t about him. It’s about her!"

"What’s the difference?"

"The difference is that he has a heart! She doesn’t!" Nicole took a deep breath and sought to calm down. She felt conflicted. A part of her was really glad that it was finally over, but at the same time she hated to see her friend be hurt by anyone. "Why couldn’t you have just listened for once? You gave her exactly what she wanted, and you’ll never see her again. You realize that, don’t you?"

The landscaper glanced over her friend’s shoulder and spied the tall figure walking towards them. "I think you’re wrong," she answered, her voice calm.

Nicole shook her head in disbelief and glared at her friend. "I’m not wrong, Rhian!"

"Wrong about what?" Deven purred into Nicole’s ear.

"Ah!" the startled woman jumped and spun around to face the martial artist. "What is wrong with you? You scared the crap out of me!"

"I’m sorry," Deven apologized, trying to keep an expression of innocence.

"No, you aren’t!"

"True." The martial artist shifted her attention to Rhian. "Hi. I was on my way to lunch and thought I’d see if you wanted to join me."

A little giddy feeling fluttered in Rhian’s stomach. "I’d like that but I just got here. So, I don’t think I should run off."

"Ah, well, that’s too bad. Well, while I’m here you could show me around," she suggested and then smiled wickedly at Nicole. "If you’re too busy, maybe your friend here can do it." She draped an arm across Nicole’s shoulders and spoke seductively into the woman’s ear. "You know. Give me the grand tour. And I mean the grand tour." She purposefully lowered the timbre of her voice and moved closer. "We could find a secluded spot and while you explain the flowers, I’ll show you what the birds and bees are all about."

Deven’s breath brushed against her ear and neck, and Nicole shuddered as small bumps rose up on her skin. She was confused and then angry that her body was reacting to the woman, and unable to stop herself, she blushed.

The martial artist laughed. "Oh, look, Rhian. She does that, too."

"Stop it, Deven," Rhian reproached, but there wasn’t any force behind it. "You’re incorrigible."

"True," she agreed good-naturedly, and then kissed Nicole’s ear. "Have a nice day."

"Bite me!" Nicole growled.

"Okay." Before the woman could put some distance between them, Deven softly nibbled her earlobe.

Infuriated, Nicole shoved Deven away and stormed off, swearing under her breath as she went.

"Was that necessary?" Rhian asked.

"No." Deven smiled charmingly. "It was fun though."

"You think? Well, now because of your fun, I have to smooth things over. Again."

"Sorry." At this, the woman did have the grace to appear contrite. "She needs to lighten up some." They stood a foot or so apart just looking at each other for several seconds, and then they both smiled at the same time. "How are you?" Deven asked.

"I’m great," Rhian answered. "You?"

"Fantastic." The martial artist wanted to grab the woman and kiss her senseless, and she resented that it wasn’t possible to even brush her lips in greeting. "So, what’s her problem today?"

The landscaper’s smile faded and she sighed. "She’s absolutely convinced that you got what you wanted and that you’ll drop me now."

Deven looked off into the distance and the muscles in her face twitched slightly. "Do you believe that?"

Reaching out, Rhian lightly brushed the woman’s forearm. "No, I don’t. I know that you love me. But I also know that despite everything you’ve experienced in your life, this is all pretty new to you. It sure is to me." She paused for a second to collect her thoughts. "I think I’m afraid you’ll bolt."

Deven remained pensive as she stared off across the parking lot, and the landscaper watched her, knowing that she’d managed to hurt the woman on some level. Rhian was still surprised at how sensitive the martial artist could be about some things. "It’s just that we haven’t talked about what we want. We haven’t discussed the future at all much less what we want out of the present." Still the tall woman remained tight lipped and Rhian squeezed her arm slightly. "Please don’t shut me out."

Turning her head, Deven’s gaze settled on the younger woman. "Rhian, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and they’re constantly jumping up and biting me in the ass. Which is okay, because it keeps me accountable. I never used to care what people thought of me. For the most part, I still don’t. I don’t give a damn about what Nicole thinks except how it affects you. But I do care what you think."

"I know," Rhian responded as she tugged gently on Deven’s arm. "Come on. Let’s take a walk." They strolled casually through the garden center, and for several minutes, Rhian kept the conversation centered on the plants that were being installed in Deven's landscape. The martial artist didn’t reply much, and Rhian found that she was growing to dislike how easily the woman could tumble into melancholy.

Rhian understood that when it came to herself, Deven’s self image was still decidedly negative. It didn’t take much more than a word or comment from her to send the normally proud woman into a period of self-loathing, and she hoped that over time the martial artist would come to see how wonderful she truly was. Seeking to bring her up out of the funk, Rhian playfully bumped Deven’s hip. "Ow. Your hips are hard."

The martial artist smiled. "Solid. And I don’t recall you complaining when you were wrapped around them."

Rhian covered her face with her hands, and groaned.

"In fact, as I recall you couldn’t keep you hands off. I think you left a mark or two with your nails."

The landscaper lowered her hands a fraction, and the mortification showed clearly on her face. "No! Really? I didn’t! Did I?"

"I’m not sure." Deven reached up and started to unfasten her belt. "Here, you can check."

"Stop!" Rhian said as she quickly covered the martial artist’s hands. There was no doubt in the younger woman’s mind that Deven would drop her pants right there. Glancing up into eyes filled with mirth, she smiled innocently. "I’ll check later."

"I’m going to hold you to that, Ms. McKenna."

They walked a bit more as Rhian led them to a secluded area. Stopping and facing the woman, she lifted a hand and caressed Deven’s face. "What do you want?"

"Right this minute. Or are you talking in bigger terms?"

The landscaper laughed easily. "I have a good guess what you want this minute. Same thing you always want." Her expression became thoughtful. "Maybe I’m not as secure about all this as I thought."

Deven took the younger woman’s hands in her own. "I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, Rhian. This whole love thing was never an option. It wasn’t something I was ever going to experience. You were right. There wasn’t anything in my life that prepared me for this. It just wasn’t supposed to ever happen to me."

Rhian slowly nodded her head in understanding. "Me either." They stood quietly for several seconds as each tried to sort through their thoughts. Taking a deep breath, Rhian asked a question she dreaded, but she needed to know the answer no matter how painful it might be. "Do you want us to see other people or do you want to try to make this an exclusive sort of thing?"

"Do you?"

"I asked you first."

"So, I’m bigger."

The standoff remained as each woman attempted to stare down the other. Finally, Deven sighed. What is your problem, Masterson? Answer the freaken question. "The thought of you with someone else is enough to absolutely drive me over the edge. As for me, I have no desire to be with anyone else, which is really kind of weird when you think about it. But I warn you, Rhian. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never even had a girlfriend."

"Am I?" Rhian asked hopefully.

"Are you what?"

"Your girlfriend?"

Deven gave her a lopsided grin that made her countenance appear almost like a shy adolescent. "I suppose. I guess I just figured after last night and this morning, that was where we were headed."

"Does that make you mine?" the landscaper prodded.

The martial artist carefully considered the question. No more parties. No more conquests. No more sleeping around. And for some reason none of that bothers me. "I suppose it does."

Rhian playfully backhanded the woman’s stomach. "Not too committal there, are you, Champ? Well, I love you, and I have absolutely no desire to be with anyone except you."

Relief flowed through Deven releasing pent up tension, and she was amazed that the idea of attempting a relationship didn’t completely freak her out. It wasn’t exactly comfortable when she was forced to actually think about it, but it wasn’t so uncomfortable that she felt like turning and heading for the hills. If anything she found the idea of being with this woman and this woman only somewhat grounding. She hugged the landscaper and slowly brushed Rhian’s lips lightly with her own. "I do love you."

Rhian ran a hand through Deven’s hair before settling it behind the dark head and pulling to bring their lips back together. She kissed the martial artist slowly and thoroughly.

Turning the corner, Mac came to an abrupt halt. What the hell is this? His mind tried desperately to accept what he was seeing, to put it into a perspective that he could understand. But whatever perception he could come up at that second with was decidedly his own. Why that bitch!

He took a step towards the two women with the intention of confronting the martial artist, but just then they broke the kiss and he froze. He expected Rhian to struggle or protest or call out for help. He did not expect her to smile. But she is. She’s smiling at that…that… Anger and adrenaline flowed through him seeking an outlet, but at that moment he didn’t know where to direct it.

Retreating back a step, he tried to calm his temper. His mind whirled with thoughts, and he discarded them quickly until he could finally grasp onto one that made sense to him. Obviously, that Masterson bitch is taking advantage of the situation. She saved Rhian and is now using the fact that my daughter is in some sort hero worship phase to manipulate her. That has got to be it. Remaining still, he watched as they walked off in the direction of the parking lot.

There was no room in Mac’s mind for any other explanation, and believing that he had grasped the nature of the situation between Deven and his daughter, he walked back towards his office while working to dispel the anger. Now that he knew about the situation, he could do something about it. He just had to figure out what that something was.

Nearing the building, he ran into Nicole. "Hey, Nicki, come here for a second." The younger woman walked over, and he put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her slightly. "You know Deven, right?"

Still feeling the embarrassment of her earlier reaction to Deven’s behavior, and the sting from Rhian not stopping it, Nicole nodded. "I guess. I don’t think anyone really knows her."

He caught the bitterness in her tone and tried not to smile. "I take it you don’t care for her much."

Here was an opportunity to vent a little, and Nicole grabbed hold of it. "She’s a controlling bitch if you ask me. From what I’ve heard she’s a major user and player who doesn’t care who she hurts."

Mac endeavored to keep his tone even and nonchalant. "Rhian seems to like her. Quite a bit I think."

"I suppose. They get along all right. Rhian can’t seem to see the truth about her. No matter how many times I tell her that Deven is trouble, she refuses to even consider it."

"Right," he said. "That’s what I thought."

They both looked over as Rhian approached. "Hi guys. What’s up?" Mac regarded her with a calculating eye that didn’t go unnoticed by either woman, and she felt decidedly uncomfortable. "What’s wrong?"

His vision filled with the sight of the women kissing, and his anger began a slow burn. "Where were you?"

"I was just showing Deven Masterson around. Why?"

He didn’t respond but his eyes bore into hers. He knows. Somehow he knows. But how could he, Rhian? You’re just being paranoid. Don’t freak out and start confessing things you don’t need to. "I’ve got some work to do."

She turned to leave, and he grabbed her upper arm firmly. "I expect you home this evening. Understand?"

His behavior stoked her defiant streak. She looked down at where his hand had enclosed her upper arm and back up to meet his eyes. "I was planning on it anyway."

He released his grip and watched her walk away. Turning his gaze to Nicole, he said, "I expect you there, too."

"Yes, sir."

Instead of going into the office, he walked to his truck and got in. Nicole stood unmoving until he’d pulled out of the parking lot. "Aw shit! What the hell was that about?"

Mac pulled out into traffic and just drove for awhile trying to make sense of the situation. He was not homophobic. At least he didn’t consider himself to be. But Rhian is not gay! She was married for crying out loud. I know. I paid for the damn wedding. She has a daughter so she obviously slept with the man. None of this makes sense. Okay, Mac, just take a step back. If all of that is true, then logic would dictate that she isn’t responsible for her actions. That there is something going on here that is beyond her ability to deal with.

His mind filled with memories of his child from the moment she’d entered the world until she’d smiled at Deven a short while ago. She’s always been a beautiful girl. And so responsible and dependable, too. I never had to worry about her. While other kids were out drinking, taking drugs, sleeping around, I never had to be concerned about her. She’s a good girl.

He and Kate had consciously stayed out of Rhian’s adult life. He knew she hadn’t been happy though she’d never indicated that she was particularly unhappy either. Mac had found out about Sean’s infidelity, but both he and his wife had agreed to wait for Rhian to come to them for help. "And she never did," he muttered sadly.

Well, not this time! I won’t stand by and let her be used by anyone. With that decision made, he headed for home. He and Kate would provide a united front and together they would help Rhian escape the clutches of that woman. And he would find some way to make Deven pay. At the very least, it wouldn’t be too hard to destroy her reputation and thereby destroy her business.

Part 2

Walking into the house, Rhian found it uncharacteristically still considering the time of day. At this hour the place was usually filled with noise. She expected to hear the sounds of her daughter, the television or stereo, and her mother cooking dinner. Instead, it was eerily quiet.

She paused in the kitchen doorway and listened when she found the room unexpectedly empty. Moving further into the house, she walked to the living room to find both of her parents sitting in silence. She wasn’t certain, but it looked like her mother had been crying and a twinge of fear tickled the lining of her stomach. "Hi."

Her father didn’t look at her. Her mother, on the other hand, stared at her as if trying to look right through her and Rhian found the scrutiny disconcerting. She had an idea what the problem was but didn’t want to jump to conclusions. If this was in fact about Deven, she wasn’t certain what to say or how to act. She hadn’t really had time to consider it. Hoping that none of her nervousness was evident, she asked, "What’s wrong?"

"We’re hoping you’ll tell us that," her mother said.

"I don’t understand."

The front door opened and closed, and Nicole joined them a moment later. She looked at each person in the room and then sat down without a word as far away from Rhian’s father as she could. Mac hadn’t returned to work this afternoon, and she hadn’t had an opportunity to speak with Rhian. Nicole knew she shouldn’t have vented so much to him about Deven and now regretted the impact her indiscretion might have on her best friend.

But Deven just pissed her off. The martial artist always seemed to piss her off, and she needed to figure out why if for no other reason than to coexist with the woman until Deven left Rhian to pursue a new plaything. A part of her now conceded that she’d wanted to tell Mac in the hopes that he would somehow get the woman out of the picture.

Rhian noticed Nicole’s unease, and her trepidation of the scene that was about to play out grew. "Where’s Seana?"

"She’s with you brother. He took her to the park," Kate replied.

His nerves calmed for the time being, Mac stood. "Have a seat, Rhian."

"That’s okay. I’d rather stand," she rejoined as she lifted her head and jutted out her chin slightly.

"All right." He took a couple of steps and then turned to face her. "We’d like to talk about you’re relationship with Deven Masterson."

Her stomach tightened into a knot. What do I say? That I’m in love with her. Do I deny everything? She took a deep breath and faced her father. "She’s a client. We’re doing a large installation for her. She’s also teaching me self-defense. And she’s saved my life twice. Anything else?"

Rhian’s defiant tone wasn’t missed by Mac, and he took a step towards her. She could feel his anger, and it baffled her. Why is he so mad?

"Don’t be smart, and don’t play us for fools," he hissed at her.

She lowered her gaze. She didn’t want it to be like this. That he was angry with her and hadn’t even heard her side of the situation hurt. He’d always been more open about things. Willing to listen to what she had to say even when he didn’t agree with her. In that regard, they’d always been closer than she’d been to her mother. "I’m not sure I understand what you’re referring to."

"Mac, please," Kate said. She waited until her husband backed away from Rhian and then looked at their daughter. "I don’t know how to put this exactly." She looked down at her clasped hands. "You’re father saw that woman kissing you today."

"Why didn’t you call for help? I could have helped, Rhian."

She blinked at her father. What is he talking about? Help with what?

He moved back to stand in front of her. "I want you to know, I’m going to make her pay for this. I’m going to destroy her if I have to. She’ll regret the day she laid a finger on you."

Rhian looked at the man in total confusion. "What are you talking about? Destroy her for what?"

His voice boomed out in the room. "For taking advantage of you! She saves your life and then makes you feel obligated to …I can’t even consider it!"

"Wait a minute. You think that she’s forcing me to do something?" She thought about how she’d initiated last night’s seduction and started to laugh. If you only knew.

"What is so funny?" her mother asked.

"She isn’t forcing me to do anything." Her laughter abated, and she wiped her eyes. "Quite the contrary actually. Look, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you this. I love her."

Kate quickly rose from her chair. "Love her? You can’t love her."

"Well, you can tell that to my heart but it just isn’t going to listen. Because I’m in love with her."

Mac’s mind reeled from what his daughter had just said and the implications of it. It was not at all what he’d expected. He’d viewed the situation over and over all afternoon, and the only logical explanation he’d been able to come up with was that Masterson was using Rhian. But her confession of love for the woman had just pulled all logic out from under him.

"Okay, look, I can understand that you’d hold some hero worship for the woman. She did save your life. But love? Come on, Rhian! Obviously, you can’t put things into perspective. You aren’t seeing things clearly. So, I forbid you to have anything to do with her. I’ll handle the rest of the installation and anything else that has to do with that woman."

"You forbid me? How dare you! I’m not a child! What are you going to do, Dad? Ground me? Send me to bed without dinner? I’m a grown woman who has finally come to understand a great deal about my life!"

"But Sean," her mother interjected.

"I don’t want to talk about Sean!" Rhian was struggling to hold her temper and to keep from crying. It infuriated her that somehow whenever she got truly angry, she cried. And the more she cried the angrier she got. "With the exception of Seana, everything about him was a mistake. I can say that if he were still alive I would either be divorced or so fucking miserable, I’d be suicidal!"

Her mother glared at her. "Watch your mouth! There is no need to result to vulgarities, Rhian Quinn."

"It’s simple. I’m in love with Deven. I don’t know if that means I’m truly gay or just happen to be in love with a woman."

"You are not gay!" her father shouted.

"Whatever! I’ve thought about it a lot and looking back I think I’ve always been this way, Dad."

Mac knew he was getting precariously close to striking his daughter. He saw in her eyes that she realized it too, and so he turned away from her.

"Dad, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth." She reached out and tentatively touched his back, but pulled back when she felt him flinch. In a sense, that was more painful than if he had struck her. "I’m sorry that you can’t understand. I’m sorry that you can’t accept this. Accept me. I didn’t decide one day to wake up this way. This is not what I would have chosen for my life. I would have certainly chosen the easier path, the respectable path. I don’t think anyone truly wants to be considered a social outcast because of who they love.

"The truth is, I am now and have always been attracted to women. I just didn’t understand it. I married Sean because you all expected me to. He expected it. I didn’t marry him because I was in love with him. I married him because I believed it was the right thing to do."

Tears flowed freely down her cheeks, and she brushed at them angrily. "All my life I’ve done what you wanted. The choices I made were based on your expectations. Well, this is one of those things none of us expected and none of us can change. You’ve always told me in words and in actions, that love is important. Yet when I finally find it, you won’t even consider it as viable because you can’t accept that I may be gay? I love Deven. I love her so much. Why is that such a bad thing?"

Just the thought of the martial artist gave her a newfound strength, and she squared her shoulders. "I don’t understand why you are being this way. Yesterday you thought she was the greatest thing because she saved my life. You said you could never repay her for that."

He turned and glared at her. "Payment did not include screwing my daughter!"

Rhian was stunned. "Is this about my being gay or about Deven?"

He couldn’t respond because he didn’t know the answer. He loved Rhian. He’d always said he’d support his children no matter what they did or chose to do. He realized that hadn’t been entirely true, but what he couldn’t grasp at that moment was why. He stared at his daughter through a rage he couldn’t seem to dispel.

"I will not give her up, Dad. Not for you. Not for society. Not for a false sense of respectability."

Kate watched the exchange between her husband and daughter in a state of shock. She could see what he couldn’t. His anger at Rhian really had little to do with her. "And Deven? From what I hear she’s a player and a user," she interjected.

Her mother’s words stung because they could have only come from one source. Rhian looked at Nicole and noticed her friend wouldn’t meet her eyes, and a part of her heart broke. "I can’t believe that you’re that petty!"

Nicole flinched at the words. "Rhian, I."

"Shut up! I don’t want to hear it." She turned and started for the doorway. "I’ll start looking first thing in the morning for someplace else to live. You won’t have to deal with the situation anymore."

Mac and Kate exchanged looks of disbelief. "Rhian, honey, wait," Kate called out, but the young woman had already left the room.

Nicole sat quietly for several seconds lost in her own misery. She’d never seen Rhian’s parents like this. They’d always been supportive and caring even of her. But worse, she knew that she’d crossed a line that might very well end a lifetime of friendship. Rising slowly, she left the room quietly and made her way downstairs.

She’d refused to examine her feelings about Deven, because she’d believed the woman wouldn’t be a part of her life for long. She’d been so certain that she knew the martial artist for the devil she was and it was only a matter of time before Rhian saw it too.

She paused as she neared Rhian’s bedroom. Never in all the years that they’d known each other had they ever faced a crisis like this. They’d had arguments certainly, and a few fights, but not once had they faced something so extensive that it could pull them apart. Stepping into the room, she found her friend stretched out on her stomach across the bed, crying. "Rhian?"

"Go away!"

Nicole slowly moved towards the bed. "I can’t do that. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. He asked me what I thought of her. I didn’t know why he was asking. I was angry at her for what she’d done to me today." She wiped at her own tears. "I’m sorry, Rhian."

"I’ve always counted on you, Nic. You’ve been my sister and despite the way you’ve acted, I trusted you. I never thought you’d stab me in the back. And it’s funny because you’re always saying that Deven is going to hurt me, but you were the one who did it."

It was the truth, and Nicole quietly accepted the rebuke. Not knowing what else to say, she sat down on the bed next to her friend. "I know. And I have no excuse. But I’m so terribly sorry. Please, you have to believe me."

Rhian didn’t respond for some time. "I didn’t know how they would react, but I never thought he would be so angry."

Nicole reached out and started to slowly rub her friend’s back. "I don’t understand it either. I’ve never seen him like that."

"Why, Nic? Why do you hate her so much?"

"I don’t hate her. I just. I don’t know what it is." She knew she couldn’t skirt around this any longer and so she took a good hard look at her feelings regarding the martial artist. "Maybe in part it’s because I feel like I’m losing you. Like she’s going to replace me in your life. If you were dating a guy, it would be totally different. But she’s not."

"Does it bother you so much that I’m attracted to a woman?"

"No, Rhian. That doesn’t bother me. It did at first. A lot. Not because of the lesbian part, but because I’ve never known you to even think about it. You never so much as gave me a hint that you might feel that way. And then suddenly Deven comes into your life and you’re gay. It didn’t make sense to me. I figured you were going through some sort of experimental phase. And that was fine, but why with Deven? All I could see was that she was going to use you just like she’s used everyone else. Then she would dump you, and I didn’t want to see you hurt. And it really hurt that you wouldn’t even listen me. I’ve been your friend for almost nineteen years but my opinion means less than someone you’ve known for a few weeks."

Rhian wrapped her arms around her pillow pretending that it was Deven. "And it’s angered me that you refuse to even try to see what I see. She’s never hurt me. If she thinks for one second that she may have hurt me, she spends hours beating herself up over it. She can be so damn hard on herself. And she loves me, Nic."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because it’s in everything she does. It’s in how she looks at me. How she speaks to me. How she touches me. And if you’d just open your eyes and get past this blind spot you have, you’d see that!"

Nicole continued to gently rub the woman’s back. She found the contact comforting and hoped her friend did too. "I want to believe that. As hard as it is to accept, it’s obvious that she makes you happy, but I have a difficult time trusting her. I can’t imagine she is capable of changing so much."

A small smile tugged at Rhian’s lips. "That’s because she isn’t changing. She’s finally letting the real Deven out." As quickly as it had appeared the smile faded. "She told me all about her past, Nic. She’s survived some really horrible things. Things that I don’t think I could have made it through. She’s done some horrific things that I can’t even begin to comprehend. And she’s been so hurt."

Nicole sighed. "I’ve never seen any of that. I’ve only seen the arrogance and the bully."

"That’s because she doesn’t trust you either, and she will never let you in until she does."

"Did you call her?"

It was Rhian’s turn to sigh. "No. Not because I don’t want to. But I don’t want her to think I can’t handle the situation. Plus I’m afraid she’ll come charging over here to rescue me. I can’t even imagine my father and Deven together in the same room right now."

"Not a good idea," Nicole agreed. "What are you going to do?"

Rhian’s eyes filled with sorrow as she replied, "I don’t know. I guess I’ll start looking for an apartment tomorrow."

"That won’t be necessary," Kate said from the doorway. She crossed to the bed and sat on the other side of her daughter opposite from Nicole. "Rhian, you’re father came home today and told me what he’d seen. He said you didn’t fight her. In fact, you smiled at her. But even then it was easier to believe that she was taking advantage of you, brainwashing you or something, than to think that you might have been an active participant."

She looked into her daughter’s red rimmed eyes. "We didn’t mean to hurt you, Rhian. We always felt that we failed you when it came to Sean. That we should have gotten involved. I don’t know. We thought we were doing the right thing then and today."

"I didn’t understand, Mom. I just knew that things with Sean were never good, and that was always my fault. He told me it was and I believed him. Deven has shown me that it wasn’t. I’m not blameless, but I wasn’t solely responsible." She started to cry softly again. "I don’t want you to hate me."

"Oh, baby. We could never hate you." She stroked her daughter’s head while shedding a few tears of her own. Kate waited while slowly running her fingers through Rhian’s hair.

"I love her, Mom. Why shouldn’t matter. And I know she loves me. I can’t change that. I don’t want to. There is so much more to her than that damn reputation."

Kate looked at Nicole and saw the shame in the woman’s eyes. "I’m sorry, Mama K. I never should have told Mac the things I did. I guess a big part of me is jealous of Deven. Not of her relationship with Rhian, but that Rhian would rather be with her than me. I guess I believed that with Deven in the picture, I wouldn’t be needed or wanted anymore."

She looked down at her best friend. "I’ve never seen Deven do anything to her that was hurtful. When I’ve seen them together, Deven is either playful or disgustingly tender." She smirked slightly and looked back at Kate. "I’ve seen them have some disagreements, but Rhian always wins."

The landscaper chuckled. "True. I think I confound her so much she just gives in."

Kate smiled. That her daughter was in love was obvious. Whenever she spoke of Deven, her eyes danced and a smile always seemed to be lurking upon her lips. "Rhian, I don’t understand any of this. I’m not going to pretend that I do. If Deven wasn’t in your life, would you still?" Everything was still so raw that she wasn’t comfortable discussing her daughter’s questionable sexuality.

Rhian could see the uneasiness reflected in her mother’s expression. "Still be attracted to women?" Kate nodded. "Yes," Rhian said. "When Deven came into my life, I looked back and saw times when I should have gotten a clue."

Kate wanted to understand but wasn’t sure where to even begin. This wasn’t a phase her child was going through. This was a life altering revelation and one that would impact them all to some extent. "Honey, we love you, and your father and I will find a way through this. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. But we will try. Okay?"

"Thank you." Rhian sat up and hugged her mother. Resting her head on the older woman’s shoulder, she asked, "Why is Daddy so mad?"

"I don’t know for certain, but I have an idea. I need to talk to him." She kissed her daughter’s head. "Now, no more talk from you about moving."

Rhian pulled back and looked steadily at her mother. "You have to understand that I’m going to continue to see her, and I need you to respect that. She’s become a very important part of my life, Mom. That isn’t going to change. If anything, I hope it becomes permanent. And if seeing her and living here are going to be so conflicted, I can’t stay here."

Kate didn’t trust herself to speak at that moment, so she merely nodded her head.

***

The rest of the evening was uncomfortable for everyone, and Rhian hated it. She hadn’t been nave enough to believe that her parents would just pat her on the back and say everything was great. But she had expected more communication and less anger.

Dinner had been a solemn affair - so much so that even Seana had picked up on the underlying tension and had been uncharacteristically subdued. Rhian tried to focus on her daughter to the exclusion of all else but still felt the painful absence of her father’s presence from the dinner table.

When Seana was done with her meal, Rhian scooped her up and escaped to her own rooms. No sooner had she put the child to bed then she herself had fallen asleep from the sheer emotional exhaustion. At one point later that night, she was awakened when Deven had called though she didn’t remember much of the conversation. She did know that her new lover was concerned but hadn’t pressed for an explanation, and Rhian was certain that Deven didn’t actually accept the ‘I’m just tired’ excuse.

Lying there with the calming sound of the martial artist’s voice in her ear, she’d wanted to blurt it all out. But in the end she hadn’t because she didn’t want to burden Deven with the situation. It wasn’t her problem she’d reasoned.

Breakfast hadn’t been any better. No sooner had she stepped into the kitchen then her father had risen from his seat at the table and left the room. Her attempts to refuse breakfast were quickly overruled by her mother, and she’d given up debating the issue. Once again, she’d focused all her attention on Seana.

As she pulled out of the driveway, she felt saddened by the fact that she was glad to be leaving the house. She never would have believed that there would come a day that she looked forward to leaving her family home.

Kate watched her daughter drive away followed by Nicole and Michael. She heard Mac walk into the room and turned to face him. "You can’t keep doing this. You’re punishing her for something she can’t control. And I don’t believe this really is about her."

He didn’t meet her eyes but sat down quietly at the table, and she crossed the room to stand behind him. "This is about Will, isn’t it?"

Is it? He was tired and tense and unable to respond. But as always, his wife knew him too well and waited him out. She slowly rubbed his neck and shoulders, and he let his head fall forward. "Yeah. I guess it is," he finally said.

"I think it would help both of you if you told her about it." She kissed his temple. "You need to separate the past from the present, Mac. I won’t allow what happened to Will to happen to our daughter. I don’t believe for a moment that you want anything but happiness for her, and if Deven is the one to make her happy, then we have to find a way around this."

He took her hand and gently kissed the palm. "You’re right, but it’s really hard, Katie."

"I know that, love. I know."

Part 3

So far, Rhian had managed to avoid her father, which wasn’t a difficult task since he was apparently trying to stay away from her as well. Today was one of those days when being employed in the family owned business was anything but positive. Working within the same environment as her father made it impossible to leave the problem at home, and the stress kept her stomach in knots. As a result, she’d skipped lunch despite Nicole’s prodding, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to keep anything down for long.

As the day progressed, her thoughts returned over and over to Deven. There was nothing she wanted more than to find solace in her lover’s arms. To turn back the clock so that she could wake up safely tucked against the woman’s body. They’d talked on the phone earlier in the day, but the conversation had been strained, and the landscaper’s emotional upset was further heightened by Deven’s obvious detachment.

It didn’t take much for the young woman to figure out that the martial artist wasn’t pleased with her, but Rhian was unable to understand why. In the end, she’d reasoned that her problems were just another burden the woman didn’t want or need. And as her doubts rose up and took a firm hold, she wondered if she was a burden Deven didn’t want or need.

The morning dragged by intolerably into early afternoon. All day long she’d been unable to concentrate for long on anything other than her troubled thoughts and her need to see Deven. Finally giving into the undeniable pull, she jogged across the street to the school and then crossing the quiet lobby, she cautiously entered the office.

Looking up, Deven remained expressionless as she regarded the younger woman, and Rhian stopped in her tracks, unsure of what to say or do. She was tired, emotionally raw, and felt the impact as she walked straight into the marital artist’s invisible defenses. The walls Deven built around herself could be as solid as any barricade Rhian had ever seen, and it saddened her to find them firmly in place now. "Hi." The word came out more a question than a greeting.

"Hello." Deven looked at the landscaper closely. "You look…tired."

"I am. Look, I’m sorry about last night. I know I wasn’t much of a conversationalist," she said in a rush. "It was a bad evening."

The martial artist sat quietly just observing the woman. When she’d called the landscaper the night before, Deven had been disheartened to find Rhian remote and evasive. She’d spent much of the night deep in thought about their interactions over the previous day or so and could only come up with two reasons for the woman’s sudden retreat.

It was possible that Rhian was in fact having regrets about them being together even though nothing in her behavior had indicated she was sorry about the direction their relationship had gone. Still, she could have changed her mind Deven reasoned. Or perhaps she’d taken her teasing of Nicole too far, and Rhian was mad about that. In either case, she resented that the woman wasn’t forthcoming about whatever the problem was. She felt like Rhian was pushing her away and found the experience to be quite painful.

Uncomfortable with the martial artist’s scrutiny, Rhian shifted her weight from foot to foot. "Deven, are you okay?"

Leaning back in her chair, Deven debated how to answer that. Honestly or with the same elusiveness that Rhian was using? In the end, her straightforward nature won out. "I’m not happy with this evasiveness you’ve suddenly developed. Nor am I happy that you’re shutting me out."

"Shutting you out?" Rhian lowered her head and stared at the floor. "I’m not shutting you out. I just." She lifted her head and gazed sadly at the other woman. "I was going to tell you everything this morning, but you seemed so distant. I felt like you didn’t want to be bothered."

The eyes that regarded her were difficult to read. They appeared completely emotionless but Rhian could tell based on their hue, that there was most definitely an underlying current of turmoil in the woman. "Deven, I love you. You’ve become one of the most important things in my life. I don’t want anything to jeopardize that."

The woman didn’t respond but continued to silently scrutinize her. The past twenty-four hours had been an emotional hell for Rhian, and while she wanted to be patient and understanding, she just didn’t have the resilience at that moment. "Say something! Anything! Tell me to fuck off! Tell me you never want to see me again! Tell me you love me! Just say something!"

The quickness and vehemence of the outburst took the martial artist by surprise. "I love you," she said as she rose from her chair and walked around the desk to stand in front of the younger woman. "I just don’t understand you."

Rhian’s head fell forward and her forehead came to rest on the woman’s shoulder. "I know. I don’t understand myself sometimes."

Deven’s arms wrapped around the smaller woman and pulled her close. They held onto one another, each taking strength and comfort from the other. There was still a lot of uncertainty between them and so many questions remained unanswered but some of the anxiety had lifted. Neither woman seemed to want to sever the contact but mostly out of necessity, Rhian pulled away. "I want to explain to you what’s been happening, and I will. Unfortunately, right now I need to get back. I just…I needed to see you."

"All right. But I’m telling you, this crap has got to stop," Deven told her.

For the first time since she’d walked into the school the woman’s internal barriers had lowered somewhat and Rhian saw the depth of Deven’s pain in her pale eyes. "I know. I’m not enjoying it much either."

With Deven trailing slightly behind, they walked out of the school in an awkward silence. No sooner had they crossed the threshold then a full size pickup truck pulled up, coming to an abrupt halt directly in front of them. Intuitively, the martial artist moved forward to shield the landscaper.

With the whirl of the electronic motor, the window rolled down, revealing the driver. Mac glanced at Deven and then looked at his daughter. "Rhian."

The expression on Rhian’s face was a mixture of pain and wariness, and Deven shifted her position slightly so that she could observe her lover while still keeping Mac within her sights. She had no idea what was going on, but the conflict between these two was so strong she was feeling it in the pit of her stomach. The young woman took a step closer to the truck, but the martial artist stopped her forward progress by placing a hand firmly on her shoulder.

Rhian felt the woman’s solid touch and immediately took comfort from it. "What, Dad?"

Mac also noted Deven’s posturing but chose to ignore it. "Rhian, please get in. I’d like to talk to you."

"And if I say no?"

"Please," he implored her.

The landscaper carefully considered his request. There was a part of her that was very angry and hurt by his behavior, and though she didn’t fear him, she did have serious reservations about the conversation he wanted to have with her. Despite how miffed she was with him though, she turned back towards the martial artist and said, "I need to go." As if the barriers had solid form, she watched Deven’s expression close again, the internal walls rising with aching clarity. "It’s okay. I’ll call you later."

Deven stared at Mac. "What’s going on?" she asked the woman.

"I’ll tell you everything later. I promise," Rhian answered softly.

"Fine. Go on," the martial artist responded testily.

The feeling that she was losing something was so strong it scared Rhian. Her stomach knotted painfully and for a brief second she thought she was going to double over from it. Lifting a hand, she grasped Deven’s forearm. Whether it was the touch or an awareness of the younger woman’s distress, some of the tension left the taller woman’s body and she gently squeezed Rhian’s shoulder.

"Deven, please don’t be angry with me." She took a deep shuddering breath and the beginning of tears stung her eyes. "There just isn’t time to go into everything right now. I’ve handled this badly, and I’m so sorry."

Covering the small hand on her arm with her own, Deven sighed. "If you need me, call me."

"Hey." Rhian waited until Deven’s eyes finally lifted and met hers. Rising up on her toes, she placed a small kiss on the martial artist’s cheek. "I always need you."

Deven stood still, Rhian’s words washing over and through her, and touching a spot deep down inside. As the landscaper climbed into the cab, Mac glanced past his daughter and their eyes locked. Deven boldly held his gaze, refusing to back down but uncertain why they were having this battle of wills in the first place. With an attitude of indifference, the man turned his attention out the windshield and drove out of the parking lot, and she slowly walked back into the school. Once past the threshold, she closed her eyes and whispered, "I need you, too. And that is such a bad thing."

Part 4

Neither Rhian nor Mac said a word the entire drive towards home. Rhian was confused when he drove past their turn but smiled inwardly when she realized where they were headed. A few minutes later he pulled into the Lake Accotink parking lot, and the young landscaper’s mind filled with happy memories.

This had always been their place. Whenever they needed to discuss something, and the weather permitted, they came to this park. She’d had a lot of heart to heart talks with her father here though it had been some years now since the last time they’d come, just the two of them, to the lake to talk.

They both exited the truck and then walked silently side by side for some time along the wooded path encircling the small lake. Finally, Mac paused next to a toppled tree. Sitting down, he waited until his daughter sat down beside him before starting to speak. "You probably don’t remember your Uncle Will."

She hadn’t thought about her uncle in years and had no idea why her father was now bringing him up. "Sort of. I mean I’ve seen his picture, and I have some memories. I think I remember playing with him in the back yard."

Mac smiled. "He loved you very much. He was you’re favorite playmate and had an amazing way of calming you down when you got upset about something."

Rhian laughed softly. "He used to sing to me, didn’t he?"

"Yes, he did. You remind me of him sometimes. You have certain mannerisms and expressions that are just like his were." He glanced at her for a second before returning his gaze to the lake. "I need to talk to you about something. About your uncle and me." He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. He hadn’t talked about Will in years, but even so, his brother remained a constant in his life.

"He was ten years younger than me. The baby of the family, and I loved him very much. Everybody did, but he and I had a special bond. Even though he was a lot younger, I took him almost everywhere with me. He was always so damn cute and happy most of the time. He was one of those people that it’s just a pleasure to be around." He smiled slightly. "Another characteristic you seem to have as well."

He paused, and his eyes took on a far away look. "Besides being good looking and easy going, he grew up to be an excellent athlete. All the girls fawned all over him, and I honestly was jealous to some extent. He had everything it seemed. While I had to go to work early on to help the family, he was free to play and do pretty much whatever he wanted. I never resented him for that. I resented that I had to be the responsible one all the time." He looked at his daughter. "I did that to you, too. Made you responsible long before you should have been."

She stared at the ripples of sunlight on the lake. "It’s okay. I understand, but it’s nice to hear you say it."

He nodded. "Anyway, everything was not as it seemed. My Da, your grandfather, was a rather rigid man. Old World I guess you could say. Most things in life were black and white to him. For him, life possessed little gray when it came to issues that concerned him personally. I believe that he loved us in his way, but he could be a hard man.

"My baby brother became a black and white issue to him. We found out when Will was seventeen that he was involved with a much older man. Da went nuts. He was adamant that he was not going to have a faggot son. To him it was all a question of choice, and he could forgive Will this poor judgement only because he was convinced he’d been preyed upon and corrupted.

"So, he decided he would fix him. Fixing Will meant beating the corruption out of him. I should have known that was what Da was going to do and gotten the boy out of the house. I suppose a part of me did know, but another part of me believed he was right, that my brother just needed to be straightened out."

Rhian was shocked that he would actually believe such a thing. "Is that what you think? You could beat this out of me?"

He looked at her with such a deep sadness it almost made her cry. "No. But back then things were different. I was different. I never thought to question my father or the idea. And that was the first time I failed my brother. I didn’t do anything to stop Da. All my father managed to do was scare my brother and take away his trust in his family."

He rubbed the palms of his hands together and fell silent. Rhian tried to conjure up images of her uncle. It had been so long ago, and she felt sadness that she no longer had the recall of the man. But even though the memories had faded, she still felt affection for him.

"After that, Will appeared to be okay. He did all the right things. Said all the right things. Dated all the pretty girls. He even fathered a child, but the truth was he was absolutely miserable. On the surface he was as normal as could be, but on the inside he was dying and we refused to see it. That was the second time I failed him."

He shook his head slowly. "Will had taken to living a dual life. He was the all-American heterosexual male in the light of day, and at night he cruised the gay bars. Somehow Da got word of it, and it turned really ugly. My father tore into him. Things were said, awful things. He disowned Will and threw him out of the house. They were never the same after that. The family was never the same, and instead of opening my heart to my brother, I blamed him. Because again, he made the choice and the choice he made tore the family apart. That was the third time I failed him.

"I didn’t see him again until he was admitted to the hospital almost a year later. He’d been beaten up in what is now referred to as a gay bashing. They beat him up pretty bad, and of course, the police never found out who hurt him. I don’t think they really tried all that hard to find out who did it. And we, I mean I didn’t push it. You know, better to sweep such things under the rug instead of risking the world finding out."

She could hear the anger in his voice. He suddenly stood up and walked to the edge of the lake. "If I hadn’t turned my back on him, if I hadn’t refused to accept him, he wouldn’t have ended up there. I didn’t protect him. The young man that I saw in the hospital was just a shell of the man he’d been."

He closed his eyes for several seconds against the memory of what his brother had looked like in the hospital. "Your mother insisted that he come live with us. She adored him and mothered him mercilessly. He was great with you and Michael. Looking back I guess he felt he could be himself with you because you never judged him. You just loved him.

"Rhian, I knew him better than anyone, but I found out that I didn’t know him at all. He killed himself within a year after he came to live with us. He wrote me a letter and that was how I found out everything that he’d been going through."

Mac paused while struggling against the emotions that threatened to choke him. There had been so much anger associated with Will’s suicide that he’d not begun to address the loss until many months afterwards. It was only through Kate’s methodical and careful guidance that he’d finally chipped away at the grief and guilt. But even now all these years later, he found the sorrow a heavy burden. He quietly reached up and wiped away a tear.

"There was so much pain in his words, in his life. He couldn’t reconcile who he was. He tried to explain in that letter what it meant for him to be gay. That it wasn’t a choice he’d made and for the first time I got it. For the first time I saw the turmoil his sexuality created for him and the pain we added to his life.

"He went on in the letter to tell me how he’d been living. He said that after Da threw him out, he’d run out of money and had been living on the street. He didn’t think he could come to me and so he accepted whatever help he could get from acquaintances and strangers. He’d bounced from place to place and seems that eventually some guys took him in. But you know the adage that nothing in life is free. He paid for his keep by letting them use him. I guess one guy in particular enjoyed the rough stuff, and Will let it happen. He found that depravation less painful than coming to me for help because he couldn’t stand the possibility that I would reject him again.

"I was so angry with him for that. It took me a long time and your mother’s help to understand that I was angry with myself. I loved him. I truly did, but I didn’t tell him that. I never told him how important he was to me. I didn’t know how to help him, and I wasn’t there for him."

Rhian sat stunned in the wake of the emotions rolling off her father. She’d always known him to be a man of honor and strength, honest and gentle. That was the man who had raised her to strive to be the best she could be at whatever she attempted but never judged her if she failed. That was the man who had always chased away her nightmares. The man who allowed her to trip but was always there to pick her back up and dust her off. The man who stood teary eyed as he gave her away to Sean.

She stared at his broad back wondering at the man who could have been so narrow sighted that he would abandon his brother because of something he had absolutely no control over. That man was a complete stranger to her.

"If I’d given up all those preconceived notions and kept the door open, I would have known what was happening to him. That he was in trouble. He would have known he could come to me for help, but I slammed that door shut in his face when he was still just a kid."

She hadn’t known until just now that her uncle had killed himself, but she now remembered the funeral and standing beside her mother, crying as they lowered his casket. Part of that grief seeped past the years and settled in her chest.

"When I saw you with Deven, I don’t know, I guess it all came back to me. I don’t want you to be gay because when I think of gay all I see is hurt, abuse, misery and death. I don’t want any of that for you. I want you happy. I want you to be in love. But, Rhian, I’m afraid. I’m afraid she’ll hurt you. I’m afraid that society will hurt you. I’m afraid some asshole on the street will decide that he can straighten you out. And I’m afraid that I will fail you." He silently reached up and wiped his eyes.

Pieces were beginning to fall into place, and she stood up and walked over to stand next to her father. She realized that finding out the human frailties of her parent was to some extent both heartbreaking and enlightening. She’d never considered him perfect but somehow seeing him flawed shifted the parent child relationship. She looked at him and knew that on some level they would never be the same because she would never be able to look at him through untainted eyes again. He had become too human to her.

On one level she mourned the loss of that innocence. On another level she realized they now stood closer to being equals. The love they held for each other was not in question, and she now felt secure that he did love her despite her orientation. "I’m sorry, Dad." She placed her hand in his.

Turning his head slightly, he regarded her. "Well, little girl, you now know your old man isn’t much of a man at all."

"Oh, Dad, that isn’t true. You’re a wonderful man." She squeezed his hand. "I think we all have things we’ve done that in hindsight we would have never done or would have done completely different. That had we possessed a better understanding of others or ourselves, we’d have chosen different paths. I’m sorry about what happened to Uncle Will. I wish I’d known him better, and I wish he’d found love. But you aren’t to blame for what happened to him.

"Deven is always talking about making choices. Choosing our own paths. Uncle Will chose his path, Dad. He didn’t choose to be gay. I don’t mean that. I mean that he chose to be with those guys and allow them to use him. Why he chose that I don’t know. Was it merely because he needed a place to stay? I doubt it. He could have gotten help. It sounds to me that what he really needed was not help in finding a place to stay but help in finding out who he was. Maybe he didn’t realize he needed the help. Maybe he couldn’t find it. Maybe he didn’t even look. Maybe he chose not to take that path because it was too hard. I don’t know. And I don’t know that you could have changed anything even if you’d known what was happening to him.

"You thought he destroyed the family, but Dad, if things fell apart because of Uncle Will’s sexuality, it wasn’t much of a family to begin with. And that you definitely can’t be responsible for."

He gave her a small smile. "How did you get so smart?"

"It’s in the genes I guess." She smiled. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you, too." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "People will try to hurt you, Rhian. People who don’t know you at all but assume the worst because you’re a lesbian."

"I know."

"Have you considered how this might impact Seana?" He heard her sigh before she responded.

"Yes. Have I come up with any answers on that yet? No. I don’t think that Deven’s presence in her life is a bad thing. Deven has a great capacity to love if she’ll just allow herself to."

He looked at her closely. "And you say you love her."

She met his gaze. "Yes. I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life. And I know she loves me. She’s never hurt me. Since we got together, she’s never been abusive to me in any way."

He took a deep breath and released it before asking the next question. "Are you sure about this lifestyle? I mean have you, you know? Have the two of you?"

Rhian cut him off and blushed deeply. "Dad!"

He held up his free hand to stop her protests. "Hold up. You may have feelings for this woman but when it comes time to be intimate, you may find you aren’t really that way."

"Gees, Dad." Releasing her grip on his hand, Rhian covered her reddened face. "I’m sure, okay?"

He couldn’t see her face, but he could see how red her ears had become and smiled. "Well then, I suppose we should make our way home. I’m sure your mother is dying to know if everything is okay."

"Is it?" she asked tentatively.

"I’m not going to sugarcoat this, Rhian. It’s going to take some getting used to, and I need to get to know Deven better. Looking back, I think I already knew."

"How?" Rhian lowered her hands.

"I think I felt it the first time I met her. There just seemed to be something between you two. And then at the hospital, she looked like someone had sucker punched her right in the chest. But really it was the way the two of you looked at each other in the ER. It was right in front of me."

"That was scary. It was a big turning point for both of us I think," she added softly. "Dad? I just want to be sure I understand what’s happening here. Are you telling me that you’re willing to accept me?"

He pulled her into a hug. "There isn’t anything to accept, baby girl. You’re my daughter. Pure and simple."

"And Deven?"

"I told you, Rhian, it’s going to take some getting used to. Give me a break, okay? I promise to try."

She smiled at him and his heart lifted. "Okay."

To Be Continued In Chapter Twenty Five

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