Chapter Six, Part 1
Returning to her office, Deven hoped the rest of the day would be relatively quiet. She had a lot she wanted to accomplish, but she soon found that her ability to concentrate was severely hampered by recurring thoughts of the earlier altercation with the young blonde. Why, Masterson? Why did you lose it like that? The woman didn't do anything to you.
She stood up and walked into the classroom where she turned and faced a wall of mirrors. Forcing all thoughts out of her mind, she focused on her body. Beginning with her neck and working her way down her long form, she flexed and stretched, loosening her muscles and joints before stilling all motion.
Meeting her eyes in the mirror, Deven felt the adrenaline flow into her veins and with a resounding yell, she began the intricate moves of a martial arts form. She performed each move with full power and precise technique while directing the form's pattern with intense focus.
Executing the movements was a little more difficult than usual due to the constriction of her jeans, but that challenge only served to make the martial artist push harder. As one form ended, she began another and another and another.
Deven didn't stop until she felt in control again. Rising to her full height, she squared her shoulders and paused to enjoy the energy that flowed through her system making her muscles hum. She cocked her head slightly and regarded herself in the mirror. Not too bad, Masterson.
Satisfied that she'd regained her focus, she returned to her office and attacked the work waiting there with unwavering concentration. She completed each task in turn unaware of the passage of time. When she finally paused and glanced at her watch, she saw that three hours had passed since she'd sat back down to work, and it was now a little after seven.
Picking up the phone, Deven called her schools to see if her presence was required or if there were any pressing problems. Each of her head instructors reported that everything was going smoothly. She didn't actually believe that, but she knew if anything important needed her attention, no one would dare fail to inform her.
The obligatory calls completed, she logged into her email. She deleted the majority and then concentrated on two emails from her equipment and uniform vendors. Both emails contained confirmations that her orders had been filled and were on the way to the new school. Excellent. I hate juggling inventory from school to school. The reconciliation is a pain in the ass!
Turning her attention to the desk once more, she sorted and stacked the papers there into neat piles based on what action they required. She made a note to remind herself to stop at the office supply store on her way in tomorrow to pick up some file folders. She wanted to get the filing system set up and organized first thing.
Satisfied with what she had accomplished and that the rest of the tasks could wait Deven shut down the computer. Taking a quick walkthrough of the school, she ensured that the building was secure before turning off the lights. At the front door she set the alarm then closed and locked the door.
The temperature had dropped when the sun had set, and Deven slipped on her leather jacket as she walked to the Pathfinder. She suddenly felt tired, which surprised her. She wasn't working or training any harder than usual. Nonetheless, she was overcome at that moment with fatigue beyond any she could remember having felt in the past eight years.
She was expending so much energy lately on maintaining focus and self-control that it was beginning to take its toll on her physically. She ran a weary hand through her hair. This has got to stop. And it will, if I can just figure out why it is happening in the first place!
Traffic was surprisingly heavy for this hour, and Deven had to wait for an opening. She sighed and idly scanned the street up one direction than the other. "Oh shit." Now she realized why the Mackenzie name sounded familiar. Not more than a block up the road on the opposite side of the street stood the Mackenzie Garden Center. My life has entered the freaking Twilight Zone.
At the first opportunity, Deven pulled her vehicle out into the flow of traffic eager to put distance between herself and the Mackenzie property. Cranking up the radio, she concentrated on the music. She didn't want to think anymore about this day or anything that had transpired in it. She didn't want to think about Kelly or Rhian or the business. She just wanted to find a moment of peace. Is that so much to ask for?
Reaching home, Deven found Jay sitting on her front stoop. His motorcycle was parked to the side of the drive, and she entertained the thought of tipping it with her truck. God, Deven, get a grip! You have got to relax.
She drove past it and pulled into the garage. By the time she exited her vehicle, Jay had entered the garage and stood waiting to see what she would do. She regarded him and raised one eyebrow. "Shouldn't you be running one of my schools right now?"
"Nah. You have the help so whipped into shape; the schools practically run without us," he replied.
"Right." Deven turned and headed into the house with Jay not far behind her. She ignored his presence as she made her way through the kitchen to her office. Believing it best to wait her out, Jay took a beer from the refrigerator and sat at the kitchen table. Returning to the kitchen a short time later, Deven removed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and went upstairs to change without so much as glancing at her friend.
After a quick shower, Deven dressed in sweat pants and a tee shirt, and then sat on the foot of her bed contemplating the afternoon. A headache was beginning to take shape behind her eyes, and she placed the cool bottle of water against her forehead. Twice now she had behaved out of character. She'd lost control of her actions, and the situation, and the one common denominator both times was Rhian McKenna. The worst part was that Rhian had done nothing. She didn't need to. I did it all by myself. They question is why.
Lying back on her bed, Deven stared at the ceiling. She replayed today's ugly scene over in her mind, and found that no matter how hard she tried; she couldn't seem to erase the image of Rhian's angry eyes. Since when do I care what people think of me? Since when does how other people feel bother me? I don't need this. Those eyes flashed in her mind once again. Why do I care if she thinks I'm an idiot? "I am an idiot for even having this conversation with myself," she admonished while rising from the bed.
Deven walked out of her room toward the stairs. She knew that Jay wasn't going to leave of his own accord. He would sit in the kitchen and drink all her beer ... waiting. If she never came back down tonight, she knew he would make himself at home. Might as well go order something for dinner.
Jay looked up from the Black Belt magazine he was reading as Deven re-entered the kitchen. Without a word she crossed to the phone and called in a delivery order. She removed two plates and silverware from the dishwasher, and placed them on the table.
He stood, set the table, and then resumed his seat. He tried to wait her out, but after what Kelly had told him, the silence grated on his nerves. He was itching to hear her side of the story. "Deven, are you going to talk to me at all, or are you just going to ignore me all night?"
She didn't respond.
Dinner in the Mackenzie household was rarely a quiet affair, and this evening was no different. Rhian and Nicole had taken Seana outside to play while Kate finished up dinner. In actuality, Kate had insisted they get out of her way. The meal itself was a loud and rambunctious affair as it usually was when the whole family ate together. Conversation had been playful and light, and after her hard day, Rhian enjoyed the comfortable banter.
After dinner, Rhian bathed Seana while Nicole and Michael cleaned up the kitchen. She was always amazed at the amount of dirt her daughter could collect on her person in the span of twenty-four hours. Much to her relief, Seana loved the water, so bath time had always been a pleasurable, though often messy experience.
Once the child was dressed for bed, Nicole volunteered to be the evening's storyteller. One story had turned into two and then before Rhian knew it, a third story had been read. She interceded before her daughter could get a fourth book off the shelf, much to the child's displeasure. Tucking Seana into bed, Rhian kissed her goodnight and joined Nicole in her living room to watch a little television.
As Rhian sat down on the sofa, she sensed a change in her friend's mood. "Hey Nic, are you okay?"
Nicole didn't respond and continued to look at the television. "Come on, Nicole. This is me. What's on your mind?"
Nicole shifted slightly on the sofa so she was facing her friend. She suddenly felt rather foolish. "Rhian, this is stupid. But ever since we went out last week, I've felt that you're hiding something. Well, maybe hiding isn't the right word. Just that you're really vague about things. Like what happened with Kelly Preston."
Rhian quietly studied her friend. "Nic, I didn't mean for you to feel that way. Really. I'm not keeping secrets so much as I don't know how to explain some things."
Nicole looked down at her hands. "You don't have to tell me anything. I worry about you is all."
"I know that Nic, and I appreciate it. I can try to explain things, but I don't know if anything I say will make sense." Rhian paused in an attempt to gather her thoughts. "I met someone at 'The Pit' that night." Rhian quickly raised a hand to stop Nicole from asking any questions. "No, that isn't really where this all starts. We were sitting at the table and Angela was making us all laugh. Do you remember that?" Nicole nodded her head. "Okay, well, I happened to look up and saw this woman standing at the bar talking to Jay. You might have seen her. She was dressed in leather pants and had on a white shirt."
"The one with the braid?" Nicole inquired.
"Yes. It was the weirdest thing. I looked up and she happened to look in our direction at the same time. She had the most remarkable eyes. I've never seen eyes that blue. I actually felt like I was being drawn into them. Like ... I don't know...like I could dive in. At the same time my stomach started to feel strange. That was when you asked me if I was okay."
Nicole nodded again. "I couldn't read your expression, and your face was flushed."
"Right. So I got up and went into the restroom. I thought about telling you, but I couldn't figure out a way to explain it. Then when I met her she turned out to be such an egotistical jerk."
"Wait a minute, Rhian. When did you meet her?"
"When I went up to get us a refill. She came up behind me and asked if we'd met before. She was standing so close to me that it made me uncomfortable. I could hear the band playing 'Hungry Like The Wolf', and I suddenly had this image of her being the big bad wolf." Rhian began to laugh. Her laughter was infectious, and before Nicole knew why, she was laughing too.
"Maybe she was coming on to you, Rhian." Nicole dissolved into laughter again.
"What are you talking about, Nicole! Why would she be coming on to me?" Rhian managed through her own fits of laughter. "Shhh. We have to calm down or we'll wake up Seana."
Both women fought to gain control. "Oh, Rhian, that felt good. Thanks. I needed a good laugh."
"So did I. Anyway, I got this image in my head of the big bad wolf, and I started to get a little angry.
Then I got this other image of knocking her on her ass. I just grabbed our beer and walked away."
Nicole started to laugh again. "When I got you home that night, you told your parents and I that you had 'knocked the wolf on her cocky butt,' and had laughed. We had no idea what you were talking about."
"I did not!" Rhian responded with mock indignation.
"Oh yes you did, my friend." Nicole wiped her eyes.
Rhian sat back and crossed her arms. I didn't really say that, did I? "Anyway, I had forgotten all about that episode until today."
Nicole studied the blonde's gentle face, and easily detected a touch of sadness etched in her fine features. "What happened?"
"I was working out at the new job site in McLean. I was reviewing the plan with the crew, and Kelly Preston walks up and introduces me to her friend. Turns out it was none other than the woman from the Pit. Before I know it, this woman's massive ego takes over and she starts accusing me of participating in some charade aimed at making fun of her. I didn't have a clue what she was talking about.
Kelly kept telling her that she was wrong, but she went right on talking about how Kelly and Carl and Jay pulled something over on her. She pretty much called me a liar. I was furious. I started yelling at her and left. You know I have a temper, but you also know it takes a lot to set me off. This woman has done it twice in less than a week. After I got over being angry, I was hurt because I thought that maybe Kelly had used me."
Rhian could tell that Nicole's protective streak was rising. She reached out and took her friend's hand. "No. I believe she was as surprised as I was. It was really strange, Nic. I was sort of watching Deven at the Pit, and she seems to exude this power or confidence or something. It was fascinating, but scary."
Nicole was confused. "Deven?"
"Sorry. Deven is the name of that deranged woman. Anyway, there you have the whole sordid story. I told you it didn't make much sense. I'd like to put this whole week behind me and forget about it." Picking up the remote she asked, "What shall we watch?"
Nicole turned back to face the television. "Oh, I don't know. How about 'Dances With Wolves'?" Both women burst out laughing once more.
The two friends ate their dinner in silence. Deven ignored Jay's attempt at conversation, and he turned his attention to silently consuming his meal. Neither one of them would be considered a conversationalist under normal circumstances. Over time their friendship had grown to a comfortable camaraderie though there had been times in their relationship where the lack of communication had produced some fights ... a few of which had resulted in fist fire.
Jay loved this dark woman, and knew that in her own way she loved him as well. They were a family and he often worried about her emotional isolation. She'd worked hard to turn her life around, and he admired how far she had come. She no longer seemed destined to destroy herself through an abusive and violent lifestyle, but she wasn't living life either.
Deven invested nothing of her heart into anything she touched. Her time and energies were focused solely on her business. He wished she would refocus some of that energy into someone ... preferably the right someone. Hell, he wished the same thing for himself, but at least he recognized this fact.
Deven kept everyone at a distance, and if anyone got too close she cut him or her off quickly. She hadn't always been like this. He remembered when they were teenagers, and how she'd embraced life. She'd been the star of the martial arts tournament circuit, and though she had possessed a healthy ego, her attitude had been one of open friendliness to everyone she met. She'd been driven even back then, but her energies had been focused on improving her martial arts abilities and enjoying life.
Then everything had changed, and he'd been powerless to stop it. He'd watched as she'd withdrawn emotionally from everyone around her, and he'd lost touch of her when she'd gone to college on the West Coast. During those years and the years that followed, he'd heard many things she'd supposedly done, and he hoped that most of them weren't true.
"Got an interesting call today." Deven keep her head down, but Jay could see she was clenching her jaw. Interesting reaction. I haven't even said anything yet. "Let's see. Word has it you attacked an unsuspecting young woman for no legitimate reason. That's not like you, Deven - not your style."
She looked up from her meal, raised one eyebrow and leaned towards him. "And the point of your idle chit chat would be what?"
He smiled at his friend. "She's cute, don't you think? Really nice, too. I like her."
"Why are you telling me this?"
The large man shrugged. "Just making an observation is all." He regarded Deven for several seconds before leaning back in his chair. "What is going on with you? You aren't using anything, are you?"
The question caused her to laugh. "You got some balls, Jay. No I'm not using anything other than endorphins released during workouts and the occasional beer."
"Okay. So what is it then? You haven't been acting like yourself for days now...ever since that night at the Pit. From what I hear, you were a bully today. Is it Rhian or something else?"
"Let it go."
"Well, something is going on with you. Is this all because someone finally didn't drop on her knees to the great Deven Masterson?"
She cocked her head. "Don't be stupid, Jay. It really isn't very becoming on you."
What is going on with you, Deven? It seems that whenever Rhian is around you get distracted. You lose your composure and act like a bully. What makes you lose your cool? Rhian obviously, but what about her? The poor woman hasn't done anything and you react like an adolescent with too many raging hormones. You didn't even act that way when you were a teenager. A small smile played on the man's lips. "You have feelings for her."
Deven snorted. "I must have really kicked you too hard over the years. You have more brain damage than I thought."
"You're behaving like a lovesick teenager who doesn't know how to sort out all the new feelings, or how to react to those new feelings. Every time you're around Rhian, you overreact because deep down you feel something for her. Deep down behind all those walls you built up, you feel. And that scares you."
Without another word the martial artist rose from the table, walked out the side door and stepped into the garage.
Jay sat at the table trying to sort things through in his mind. There was definitely something to Rhian's effect on his friend. Problem was Deven would never allow herself to even consider the possibility of getting emotionally involved with anyone. She'd shut those feelings down years ago and guarded her heart against any possible invasions.
He stood up and cleared the table before joining his friend in the garage. He found her polishing the chrome on her motorcycle. "Deven, when are you going to quit running? When are you going to allow yourself to be human? When are you going to put the past in the past and start living your life?"
Deven continued to focus on her Harley. "Leave it, Jay."
"Not this time. You've been running for so long I'm not sure you know how to stop. You run from anyone you could possible feel anything for ... your mom, Laura, Tiernan, and now Rhian."
Rising to her full height, she turned her attention on him. Her eyes were beginning to take on a dangerous glint. "Last warning," she hissed at him.
Still, he pressed on with a casual air he didn't really feel. "Why don't you run from me?"
Allowing a feral smile to play upon her lips, she responded. "Obviously, I don't feel anything for you."
"You can't deny that you feel something for Rhian. She's somehow stirred an emotional response in you, and you're such a chicken shit, you'll run away before you even get to know her. I've been with you when you've fought yourself out of some tight spots, and I've never seen you afraid. But this woman has you running with your tail between your legs." He stood waiting for the outburst he was sure would follow his little tirade, but none came. Deven stood silently staring at her motorcycle.
Tossing the rag she'd been using to polish the chrome on a workbench, she turned to mount the bike. "I'm going for a ride."
"Deven, don't dismiss this. It's too important. You have to stop running away sometime. Why not now?"
Why indeed? You know why Deven, because you're no good for anyone. You're damaged goods and you infect everyone with your poison. "You're way off base on this one, Jay. I don't need the entanglement of a relationship like you do. You know that and you know I prefer it that way. Uncomplicated. No problems."
Jay's frustration was rising. "Damn it, Deven! You can not go through the rest of your life this way. This isn't living at all. This is existing and nothing more. You weren't always like this, and I won't believe that the person I grew up with isn't in there somewhere."
"Well, you best believe it."
"What is it you're really afraid of? You've been running away from the past and yourself for years. You won't break, Deven. People feel things all the time and survive."
"You don't know what you are talking about so just shut up!"
He closed the distance between them and shouted, "Then tell me! What are you so afraid of?"
Deven's decibel level met his. "I'll hurt her! You don't know, Jay. You weren't there, and for that I'm grateful. But you have no idea what I am capable of doing."
The pain in Deven's eyes was deep. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her, but he knew she wouldn't accept it. "You're right. I wasn't there. I wish I had been so that maybe I could have made a difference, but whatever happened, it's in the past. You were different then. Things were different, and the situation got out of hand."
He'd never heard all the details of that dark time in his friend's life. Her father had bailed her out of something big, and she'd carried the guilt of that time like a shroud on her soul. "Deven, you have to face your demons once and for all and let them go."
"Shut up, Jay! I'm doing just fine thank you!" Her voice reverberated in the closed garage.
"Bull shit! You're as stubborn as your father." Deven's fist came so fast Jay barely had time to deflect the blow at all. Instead of hitting him square in the face, it impacted with his cheekbone. The blow was painful, but not as damaging as it would have been otherwise. Still, he pressed on.
"You need to forgive yourself and put the past where it belongs." She threw a roundhouse kick to his midsection. Bringing his arm down and turning into the kick, he was able to absorb the impact on his upper arm. That's gonna bruise.
"You've spent years dealing with the guilt by suppressing it. Beating it into submission, but it just keeps coming back, doesn't it? Over and over it returns. You can not spend the rest of your life this way, Deven. You can't."
She attacked him with two rapid round kicks. The first was aimed at his ribs. Most inexperienced fighters would lower their guards to block that kick thus leaving their heads exposed for the second more powerful kick. Through years of practice, he instinctively blocked the first kick with his arm while raising his back hand up to shield his head from the second kick.
Still, the impact of the kick was so hard, it merely pushed his blocking hand back where it impacted with the side of his head. The blow was sufficient to cause his vision to fill with little white stars.
Jay shifted his weight up onto the balls of his feet. He couldn't allow Deven to catch him flat-footed. He knew he had to keep moving. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he quickly searched the garage for anything he could use as a shield. The only thing that looked reasonable was an old bag of mulch.
Circling the room while deflecting blows, Jay worked his way towards the bag. He knew he had to hurry. Deven's kicks were coming faster and harder as her muscles warmed. Once the bag was within reach, he lifted it and held it against his body. Keep his weight up on the balls of his feet he moved to keep the shield between himself and Deven.
Jay was grateful that her focus shifted to the bag and away from his head. She delivered kick after kick to the bag. Despite the cushion afforded by the mulch, each powerful kick lifted the big man off his center of balance moving him backwards. Then the kicks were coming faster and faster. No sooner would her foot return to the ground then it was rising again. Her leg became a blur of motion with each kick impacting the bag with unrelenting power. Deven was focused intently on her target putting her rage into each kick until the bag exploded - filling the air with forty pounds of dry mulch.
When the bag exploded, both fighters were overcome from the mulch dust that was released into the air. It took several minutes for the coughing to abate. Deven had inhaled more of the dust than Jay as most of the mulch had exploded upward and away from him. While she fought to regain her breath, Jay opened the garage door allowing fresh air in to help dissipate the cloud.
Raising her arms up over her head to give her lungs full freedom to expand, the gasping woman walked out into the night air. As her breathing resumed its normal pattern, she felt the full impact of her actions. She hadn't lost control like this in a long time. She'd spent the years since that last incident keeping her emotions on a very short leash, and now she felt that control slipping through her fingers. It terrified her.
Walking up beside the motionless woman, Jay offered her a bottle of water. "You okay?"
Accepting the bottle, she took a long draw of the cool liquid. She swished the water around the inside of her mouth for several seconds and then spit it out on the lawn. "I should be asking you that question," she rasped.
Jay took a long drink from the bottle of water in his hand before replying. "Yeah. I'm okay."
Deven coughed a few more times and then rinsed her mouth out again. She raised her head and looked up into the night sky. She wished she were out further from the lights of the suburbs so she could really see the stars. "Jay. I'm..." she swallowed the words and then tried again. "I'm sorry."
Studying her profile, he realized how tired she looked. Not physically tired, but a tired from deep inside. "Me too."
The old friends stood quietly, each lost in their own thoughts. Jay finished his water while Deven continued to stare at the stars. "Listen, Deven. Please just think about what I said earlier okay? I've heard they have this place in Vienna. From what I hear, they can refer women to counselors. They keep things confidential. No one need ever know." He waited but his friend never moved. Her gaze was somewhere in the cosmos and he wasn't even sure she heard him.
"Maybe they can help you find someone to talk to. Someone who can help you work through some things, you know? Maybe put the past in perspective." Still Deven didn't respond, and Jay was uncertain as to whether he should leave or stay. Well, if she wants me to go, she'll have to tell me to.
He walked over to his motorcycle and pushed it into the garage. Walking back over to his friend he cautiously placed a hand on her shoulder. "Come on. It's getting a bit cold out here. Let's go see what trouble we can get into inside, where it's warm." With that he gently pulled Deven towards the garage, and to his surprise she went with him.
Once inside the house they went their separate ways to shower off the remnants of the mulch. Over the years Jay had learned to keep some spare clothing at Deven's. He spent so much time at her house it had become a necessity, as nothing Deven owned fit him comfortably. After finishing his shower and changing, he went into the living room, turned on the big screen television, and sat on the couch waiting for her to join him.
With growing concern he checked the clock on the VCR noticing that nearly 30 minutes had passed. Muting the sound on the television, he listened. There was no sound of running water or footsteps from above. Rising from the couch, he slowly made his way up the stairs listening intently for any sounds from her room.
As he reached her bedroom door, he realized his heart was beating faster. He sent a silent prayer out to anyone who would listen. Please let her be okay. He knocked gently on her door and called her name. Not receiving a response he slowly opened the door.
Light from the hallway spilled through the doorway and across Deven's bed. She was lying on her side with her arms wrapped around a pillow, her damp hair glistening in the dim light. To Jay's great relief he could she the gentle rise and fall as she took each breath. A part of him felt ashamed for thinking she would do anything to herself. If she knew I even considered the possibility, she'd have my head. Yeah, like she tried to remove it tonight? Quietly leaving the room, Jay closed the door.
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