Chapter Twelve, Part 1
Deven started the Pathfinder and backed it slowly out of the garage. After setting the air conditioner to cool the interior, she stepped out of the vehicle and walked off a short distance before calling Laura. It wasnt an issue that the conversation was private and she didnt want Rhian to hear what was said. It was more that she knew it might not be pleasant and that was what she didnt want the landscaper to hear - especially if her temper got the better of her.
Rhian transferred Seanas car seat from her truck to the Pathfinder and once the child was securely in place, she climbed into the front passenger seat and waited. She watched Deven pace back and forth across the driveway while talking on the cell phone. The tension from the woman was obvious by the stiffness of her movements. What is it about her family that stresses her out so much?
"Mama?" Seana asked, interrupting the womans thoughts.
"Yes, baby?" Rhian turned in her seat so she could look at her daughter.
"We go now?"
"In a minute. Deven has to finish her phone call first and then well go." Turning back around, her gaze settled on the tall woman. What am I doing? I have no business going anywhere with her. What if I say or do something really stupid? What if she catches on to how I feel? Oh God, shell laugh at me again! She was working herself up to almost a state of panic. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths to quell her anxiety. Feeling calmer, she reopened her eyes and relaxed back against the leather seat.
Deven felt a headache pulsing to life at her temples, and the effort it was taking to maintain her composure was tensing the muscles in her neck and shoulders. Shed advised her sister that she was bringing a friend with her and that they would be taking Tiernan out to lunch. Immediately Laura had launched into a lecture on how insensitive Deven was to the boys desire to spend time with his mother and not strangers.
That the conversation was strained was an understatement, but not because of the usual reasons. The pressure from keeping her temper on a short leash was the primary cause. She didnt want Rhian to see that part of her personality. She wasnt ready for the other woman to know just how ugly she really was inside. If Rhian cut out today after meeting Tiernan, then she never would have to share that part of herself with the woman.
Ending the call, Deven took a moment to reclaim her poise before walking over to the truck and settling into the drivers seat. Her eyes met Rhians briefly, but it was enough to see the concern on the younger womans face.
"Are you sure this is okay?" the blonde asked.
Is it? Deven gave her a small smile. "Yes."
For much of the drive, the martial artist listened to the almost incessant conversation between Rhian and Seana. In some ways, she envied how easily Rhian talked with her daughter. Conversing with Tiernan always seemed to be such an enormous struggle for her.
While listening to the conversation, Deven observed Seana in the rearview mirror. She found the child to be intelligent and forthright. Shes a cutie, too. That one will be a heart stealer when she grows up, especially if she grows up to be like her mother. And with that attitude, that child should have been mine.
Rhian furtively glanced at the martial artists profile from time to time. There were so many questions floating around in her mind about Deven and Tiernan. Like why he lives with his aunt and not at home. Was he taken away from Deven or did she give him up? Was she abusive to him? Deven is many things, but abusive to children is not one of them. Is it? "How old is Tiernan?"
"Hes four and a half."
Rhian had seen Deven interact with the children at the martial arts school and could not believe the woman was capable of hurting any child. "You dont have to answer this, but why did you give him up?" The martial artists expression took on a guarded quality, and the younger woman rushed to apologize. "Im sorry. I shouldnt have asked that."
Turning her head, Deven regarded the contrite woman. She glimpsed gentleness and compassion in Rhians eyes, and that stirred her growing feelings for the woman. "Its all right. Its just something thats hard for me to explain."
She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Okay here goes - the beginning of the end. A blanket of sadness wrapped itself around her and instead of casting it aside, she pulled it tighter. "I didnt intend to have a child. I never even considered the possibility. It was one of those things." Glancing in the rear view mirror, she noticed that Seana had dozed off and she forged forward.
"I was attending all kinds of different bike rallies and parties. At that particular point in my life, I was drinking a lot, and I was pretty reckless. Tomorrow had no meaning for me. All that mattered was the moment and getting the most gratification I could from it. One night a buddy and I hit several bars. Wed had way too much to drink, and well, we let things get out of control."
She shook her head. "It was really stupid and definitely irresponsible. And before you ask, I dont normally sleep with guys, but that night we both just needed to relieve the pressure. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing." She chuckled softly. "We didnt even make it out of the parking lot of the bar."
Remembering that it was Rhian she was talking to, Deven suddenly felt uncomfortable about the subject. Where in the hell is this coming from? Since when do I give a shit what anyone thinks? When? Since she walked into your life, you idiot! She took several breaths before continuing with the story.
"Next thing I know, Im pregnant. I cleaned myself up and did all the right prenatal things. I focused on training as hard as I could to keep up my conditioning. It was difficult trying to get the schools running and hide my pregnancy. Fortunately, I didnt gain much weight, and by the time I really started to show, Jay was around full time to help out."
Okay, time to put it out there. "Id planned to have an abortion. I thought about terminating the pregnancy every day. I told myself that tomorrow Id make the appointment to get it done, but something always seemed to come up. Obviously, I didnt do it, and then it was too late."
She glanced at Rhian and saw the woman was looking at her intently. What she didnt see was disgust or anger. That impacted her more than if Rhian had shown her nothing but pure hatred. It confused her, and she wasnt used to being confused. And yet, this woman seemed to do it to her all the time.
"When Tiernan was born, I dont know what I was thinking. I should have given him up right away. You know, found a nice family to take him. I should have found him parents that would love him and nurture him." Someone like you. "But for some damn reason that I cant even begin to understand, I didnt. I took him home with me. Days went by, then weeks and then months, and it just wasnt working. So, I talked to my sister, and she agreed to take him. I support him financially, but she gives him all the things I cant. It really is better for him, you know? He has a family environment to grow up in. Hes much better off with Laura then he would be with me."
Sitting quietly, Rhian thought about what the martial artist had just told her. Throughout the narrative, shed observed the woman closely. Despite Devens efforts to conceal it, there was an underlying pain associated with Tiernan. Her matter of fact explanation didnt hide the fact that she felt for the boy.
She believed that the decision to give up the child had been taken seriously, but to Rhian the reasoning behind that decision was flawed. Or there was more to the story than Deven had shared. From what she knew of this woman, Deven was capable of giving quite a lot of herself. Since Rhian had been attacked at the Pit, the martial artist had shown her nothing but consideration and gentleness. The young woman knew that Deven was capable of love. But something holds her back. No, she holds herself back. Why?
Rhian stored all these thoughts away to be considered again later, because Deven was a puzzle she couldnt stop herself from trying to piece together. The subject was dropped as they drove up a long gravel driveway to a charming farmhouse. Deven put the vehicle in park but left the engine running while she scanned the house as if searching for something. Rhian watched in curious silence. What is she doing?
Finally, Devens eyes met hers and the guarded look in the womans eyes was startling. She told Rhian she would be right back, and exited the truck. Before Deven reached the front of the house, she stopped abruptly as the door swung open. Tiernan stepped shyly across the threshold and into the sunlight.
Rhian was amazed at how much the boy resembled his mother. The most evident characteristics they shared were the same dark hair and azure eyes. He was still too young to determine how his features would develop, but they were similar to his mothers in a muted fashion. Deven and her son regarded each other through some sort of invisible barrier, and Rhian found the scene painful to watch. She had to fight the urge to get out of the truck and push the two to cover the emotional distance between them.
"Hi, Tiernan. I brought someone with me who wanted to meet you. Shes a little younger than you are, and her name is Seana."
The boy nodded his head while closing the door, and the two walked silently to the Pathfinder. Deven opened the back door so he could climb in and then slid into the drivers seat. Seana was awake by then and eyeing Tiernan. He shyly looked at her before turning his gaze to the floor.
"Tiernan, this is Mrs. McKenna and her daughter, Seana. This is my son, Tiernan."
Rhian extended her hand over the seat to the small boy. "You can call me Rhian. Its very nice to meet you, Tiernan."
He accepted the hand and shook it briefly. "Nice to meet you, too."
Silence descended inside the vehicle, and Rhian found it unpleasant. "Where to, gang?"
Seana immediately jumped in, "McDonalds!"
Rhian looked at Tiernan. "Is that okay with you?" He slowly nodded his head. She turned to Deven and noticed the tautness in the womans features. "McDonalds it is then." She reached a tentative hand out, placed it on Devens shoulder, and gently brushed the soft skin with her thumb. "Hey. Ill get you a Happy Meal."
Deven burst out laughing at the unexpected remark. "Promise?"
Rhian laughed as well, and soon both children joined in, though they had no idea what was so funny. "I promise."
"Youve got a deal." She backed the truck out of the drive, and her spirits lifted. Rhian hadnt given up on her - yet.
Deven purchased lunch, and the women guided the children to a small table outside near the restaurants play area. Throughout the meal, she quietly watched Rhian and the children interact. Tiernan and Seana were as much a contrast as she and Rhian were - light and dark, somber and cheerful. She believed that much of her sons quiet reserve was a result of her own failings as a mother rather then something innate to his personality.
The boy suddenly laughed at something Rhian said, and his entire countenance changed. Her young friend had managed to draw him out, and Deven smiled while listening as the blonde teased him into another bout of laughter. The children spoke animatedly with each other and with Rhian, and Deven found herself slowly drawn into the comfortable circle of their companionship.
Lunch continued to progress pleasantly until a bee decided to pay a visit and landed on the landscapers arm. The young woman panicked. Without thinking, Rhian propelled herself out of her seat at an angle, colliding with Deven and forcing them both backwards.
The martial artist recovered her balance quickly, grabbed the younger woman, and brought them both to their feet in one fluid motion. "What are you doing?" Deven wasnt sure whether to be annoyed or amused. The children didnt have a problem deciding the event was humorous, and both laughed with abandon at Rhians antics.
"Im sorry. Its just a bee landed on my arm, and."
"Why didnt you just swat it away?"
Rhian blushed with embarrassment. "Im allergic," she admitted sheepishly. "Its just a gut reaction. I really am sorry."
Nodding, Deven sat back down at the table. "Well, its gone now. Probably scared it half to death." She eyed the children, who were once again happily eating their lunches, and then turned her attention back to Rhian. A faint blush colored the blondes cheeks, and Deven found it alluring. "How is it that you can work outdoors and be allergic to bees?"
Rhian took a sip of her drink while willing her heartbeat to slow. She had almost died the last time shed been stung. "We didnt know I was allergic until a few years ago. I dont spend as much time on-site anymore, and I try to be careful. I also carry an Epi-pen in the truck in case I do get stung. Im sorry I overreacted."
"Obviously, I have to stay on my toes around you. Youre either hitting me in the mouth or trying to knock me off my seat. What next?" Rhian gave her a wounded look, and Deven smiled to take the sting out of her words. "Im teasing you." She could see the rapidly beating pulse in Rhians neck, and realized that the younger woman had been truly scared. "Relax. Its okay. We wont let anything happen to you, will we, kids?"
"Ill squish it, Mama," Seana spoke while nodding her head.
Tiernan straightened his shoulders and puffed out his small chest. "Yeah, Rhian. Ill knock it down and stomp on it."
Deven covered Rhians hand with her own, and gave the smaller hand a gentle squeeze. "See. Nothing to worry about."
Rhian felt the warmth of the womans hand and smiled. "Thanks, gang."
Swallowing the last bite of his lunch, Tiernan looked at his mother expectantly. "Mommy, can we go play now?"
"Sure. You remember the rules though, right?"
He smiled at her. "No running. No pushing. No jumping. No going off anywhere. Dont talk to strangers. If a stranger tries to touch me, yell for you." The boy turned to Seana. "You want to play with me?"
The little girl slid off her seat and followed her new friend. Rhian rose quickly stopping her daughter. "Wait a minute." Seana turned to her mother. "First of all, you didnt ask if you could go. Second, you cant just run off, Seana. You know better than that."
The child looked up at her mother with an expression of exasperation, causing the martial artist to chuckle. That child definitely should have been mine. My mother would have considered that payback for everything I ever did as a child.
"Mama, can I go with Tiernan?"
"Yes, you may, but you have to follow the same rules." Rhian barely finished before her daughter broke the first rule by running off to catch up to her new friend. Well, so much for following the rules. The blonde looked at the martial artist and narrowed her eyes. "And your laughing doesnt help."
Deven tried to remove the smile that teased her lips, but it continued to tug at the corners. "Sorry. I was just thinking that with that attitude Seana is a lot like me. If shed been my child, I think my mother would have considered that some sort of justice."
Rhian sat back down, and the two women watched the children in comfortable silence for several minutes. "Oh, I forgot." She reached into her pocket. "You wouldnt let me buy you a Happy Meal, so I got you the toy instead."
"No. Here." She handed the small prize to the martial artist.
Deven sat staring at the toy in her hand. No one has ever done anything like this before. Dont get stupid! Its just a piece of plastic. Masterson, you truly are a moron. It isnt the toy. Its that she thought to do this. For me. Why would she? Cause shes a nice person, and does nice things for people all the time. Unlike you, Masterson, who only worries about your own wants and needs. "Thank you," she managed to say.
She turned the toy over in her hand once more before looking off to where the children were playing. "Um, theres a tournament next weekend in Arlington. Its one of the bigger ones on the circuit. Jay and I are both competing, and I was wondering if you might want to go." Shut up, Deven! What are you thinking?
"These tournaments can be rather boring, actually, and very long, so if you dont want to, thats okay. I just thought maybe if you arent working, you might want to come check it out." Damn! You sound like youre twelve years old, and never talked to a girl before. And what are you inviting her for anyway? Youre supposed to be moving away from her, not creating more problems.
Rhian had been watching the martial artist practice for weeks in preparation for this tournament. She imagined that watching her compete would be amazing. "Id like to go. I have to work on Saturday, but I could come by after noon, if that isnt too late."
The martial artist smiled with relief despite her conflicted feelings. "The black belts dont start competing until the under belts are done. So, we usually dont start until after noon anyway." She felt like a kid whod just received an awesome gift, and she found that a part of her liked the feeling a great deal.
"Okay then. Ill give you the details when you come in for your lesson this week." Standing, Deven went in search of their kids. She couldnt seem to wipe the goofy grin from her face, and needed to put a little distance between Rhian and herself to get her reticence back. Okay, the deed is done. Cant take it back. Can I? She glanced over to where Rhian was sitting and sighed. Dont really want to. I want her to come. But its just a tournament, and shes just a spectator. Nothing to it, so just chill.
She found the children crawling through one of the plastic tunnels and sneaking up on them, she grabbed each child by an ankle releasing squeals of delight from both. Seana squealed and then giggled before pointing a small finger at the martial artist and demanding her freedom. "Deben, let go!" The woman released her captive and watched the little girl scramble down the tunnel.
Tiernans pale eyes met his mothers, and he grinned. She gave him a small smile, and released his ankle. "You better catch up with her." He clambered away looking back at his mother once before disappearing from her sight. Stepping back a few feet, she watched the children appear on one of the platforms at the end of the tunnel.
Rhian sat and observed Deven as she interacted with their children. The martial artist was relaxed and in a teasing mood, and she realized that she really loved this part of the woman. Who are you, Deven Masterson? Glancing at her watch, she sighed before rising and walking over to where Deven stood. "I hate to break up all the fun, but we need to keep an eye on the time. I have an appointment this afternoon at four oclock. So, we need to get back to your place no later then 3:30."
Deven turned to the younger woman, and Rhian watched the internal walls behind the womans eyes rise up, locking her emotions away. She wanted desperately to stop Deven from retreating, but had no idea how to accomplish that.
"Okay. I reckon we best gather our children," Deven said. She felt her earlier happiness evaporate as reality returned. "Ill go this way and you take that way, and well meet on the other side." The martial artist squared her shoulders before walking away.
Rhian watched her go, saddened that their time together was coming to an end. Oh boy. Get a grip, Rhian! You knew this was just a friendly little lunch, and nothing more. True, but it still sucks!
Both children were upset about leaving, and Deven provided no assistance to the other woman in getting them loaded into the truck. Rhian resented being placed in the position of having to the bad guy, and struggled not to snap at the woman. With the children securely strapped in, Rhian sat in the passenger seat and glared at the martial artist. "Thanks for nothing. You could have been a little more supportive in getting the kids in the truck."
Deven shrugged and with a surprisingly childish tone, responded "I didnt want to go either."
Rhian turned her head away from the woman to hide the small smile caused by Devens juvenile behavior. Normally, shed be annoyed by such conduct, but she found that when the martial artist did it, it was rather endearing. Perhaps, it was because the attitude seemed so out of character for the normally reserved woman.
Deven started the truck and the two women rode back to Lauras in silence while the children continued to chatter away in the backseat. The martial artist cursed under her breath as she pulled up the drive, and spied her sister standing in the yard talking to her children. She tried to move quickly, but before she could get Tiernan out of the truck, Laura had introduced herself to Rhian and invited them in for coffee. To Devens absolute horror, Rhian accepted.
The landscaper helped her daughter out of the truck, and stood by while Tiernan introduced them to his cousins William and Ashley. Deven watched the exchange while her mind tried to find an excuse to get back in the truck and drive away.
She didnt want to go in the house. She knew in her gut that her mother lurked inside, waiting. This day had been the best in a long time, and shed managed to forget her trepidation of alienating Rhian. Now the uncertainty that had gripped her hours ago returned with a vengeance, and she felt her heart sink. For a brief time she had forgotten the past. Shed forgotten that Rhian was too good for her, and that there could never be anything between them. Her pain had been vanquished by a moment of happiness, but now it reached up from the recesses of her soul and gripped her once again.
Leaving the children to play in the yard, the landscaper followed Laura into the farmhouse. As she scanned the living room, she noted that the interior was decorated in a decidedly country motif. The atmosphere was quaint, if a little too precise, and Rhian wondered how Laura could maintain such order with three young children living there.
Further, the contrast between Laura and Devens tastes intrigued her. Lauras home was decorated in abundance and could easily serve as a photo spread for any decorating magazine. By contrast, Devens home was decorated simply and provided a light and open atmosphere. Despite the beauty of this living room, Rhian found herself more comfortable in Devens environment.
She regarded her hostess. Devens sister appeared to be about her age and build, though somewhat softer. Lauras dress was stylish and indicated that she was fashion savvy, and Rhian felt out of place in her work outfit. She subconsciously smoothed the material of her shorts as she followed the other woman down a long hallway to the kitchen.
The kitchen was large with a heavy wooden table taking up much of the floor space. Rhian looked around the space and found it comfortable and inviting, though somewhat cramped. Her gaze settled on the other occupant of the room. Laura stepped forward and formally introduced Rhian to the family matriarch - Patricia Masterson.
Patricia was nowhere near as tall as Deven, but she carried herself with an air of self-assuredness that made her stature seem much greater. Like Laura, she was fashionably dressed, and her carriage was assured though stilted. Her eyes were the same clear blue as Devens and her hair was dark, but there the resemblance between the two women ended.
The older woman acknowledged Rhian with a slight nod of her head, and a polite smile devoid of any humor. Laura invited Rhian to sit at the table, and the landscaper graciously accepted while trying to shake off the feeling of wariness. She couldnt discern why, but Patricia Masterson made her uncomfortable. The womans persona was a bizarre blend of sophistication and aggression, and Rhian sensed that Devens mother was a force to be reckoned with.
Rhian sat down and turned, looking for Deven. The martial artist stood rigidly in the doorway to the kitchen, and the young blonde could feel the strain emanating like an invisible electric charge from the tall woman. She observed that Devens features were fairly expressionless with the hardness around her eyes being the only indication of emotion.
Shed sensed a change in Devens mood beginning with their departure from the playground. The lightheartedness shed shared had dissipated, as the woman had grown more reserved with each mile that brought them closer to Lauras. She now stood in the doorway with her hands clenched into fists at her sides and her body rigid.
Devens gaze met the young landscapers, and the tension in her body eased some. Her hands opened and her eyes softened, and a small hesitant smile teased the corners of her mouth. Cautiously entering the room, she took the seat next to the blonde.
Rhian had been so wrapped up in assessing the state of the other woman, she had completely missed the question directed at her. "Im sorry. Would you repeat the question?"
"Of course," Patricia replied.
The womans haughty tone irritated Rhian, but she managed to keep her expression open.
"I inquired as to how you and Deven met?"
The martial artist glanced at Rhian, but said nothing in response to her mothers question. Okay, Deven. What is going on here? Rhian met Patricias steady gaze, and smiled. "We were introduced through mutual friends, actually. Weve gotten to know each other better since your daughter rescued me."
Deven folded her hands on the table and quietly shook her head. Oh God, please dont let her say anything. Please dont bring up the past. Please strike the old bat mute!
"She rescued you? How?" Lauras disbelief added to Rhians growing irritation.
The martial artist shook her head again before looking at her sister. "Shes embellishing. I helped her get out of difficult situation is all."
Laura placed sugar and cream on the table before handing Rhian a mug of coffee. The landscaper smiled and thanked her hostess though inside she suddenly had the urge to throw the hot beverage in Patricias smug face. "Shes underplaying her role. A guy attacked me, and Deven knocked him out with one kick. It really was amazing."
Eyeing her eldest child with disdain, Patricia spoke, her voice was heavy with condescension. "Really? Seems all that training finally paid off in a positive way."
Rhians smile faded as she took in the anguish that shrouded Devens strong features. Why are these women so belittling of you?
The martial artist sighed as her gaze settled on her folded hands. "So it would seem." Devens eyes took on a faraway look, and Rhian found she didnt like it one bit. She didnt like the way Patricia was talking to Deven, and she didnt like the transformation that Deven was undergoing. She felt her anger rising and was on the verge of throwing proper etiquette out the window.
She wanted to reach out and touch the woman. Comfort her somehow. Come back, Deven. I want my Deven back. Rhian lowered her eyes and looked at the coffee mug in her hands. My Deven? Yes, my Deven. The Deven who is so gentle with me and who played with us today. The Deven who stands assured in the face of adversity, and Patricia Masterson certainly seems to be adverse! Why wont you fight back? Why are you letting her do this to you?
Laura took a seat at the table opposite Rhian. "Your daughter is a lovely little girl, Rhian."
"Thank you. Shes a handful." Rhian felt that the strain in the room was almost tangible enough to take physical form. No wonder Deven doesnt like to come over here. "You have a beautiful home, Laura."
"Thank you. Roger and I have spent quite a few years restoring it. Were pleased with how its turned out. Where do you live?"
Rhian could feel Patricias eyes on her, studying her like she was some sort of test subject. She was having a hard time reading Devens mother, and took a sip of coffee before answering. "Seana and I live with my folks in Annandale."
"Then you arent married?" Patricia questioned. The older woman looked at her daughter, and her lips twitched slightly. "I must say that I am surprised, Deven. I dont recall you ever inviting your subjugates into your private life. That is, outside of the bedroom, of course."
The martial artist felt the anger rise up. She wanted nothing more in then to lash out, but she bit back the fury for fear that her mother would retaliate by bringing up more of the past. She wasnt ready to have her life laid out in front Rhian. If the time ever came to tell Rhian the truth, she would do it herself.
Swallowing the burgeoning rage, she replied in as controlled a tone as she could muster. "Mother, Rhians husband was killed in a car accident two years ago, and your insinuations are wrong. We arent involved other then in friendship, and even if we were, youre being rude. You owe Rhian an apology."
Patricia narrowed her eyes at her daughter before turning her attention back to Rhian. "My apologies, Rhian. I cant remember the last time Deven had a friend other then that Jay Thomas. She tends to limit her personal interactions to the mere physical."
Laura looked apologetically at their guest. "Im sorry to hear about your loss."
What in the hell is going on here? Are these people for real? She believed Laura was sincere, but all she felt from Patricia was a patronizing and antagonistic attitude. "Thank you."
The outside door burst open, and the kitchen filled with children, to both Rhians and Devens relief. Walking up to Rhian, Seana raised her arms. Rhian lifted the child on to her lap, where Seana immediately laid her head against her mothers shoulder and settled into the comfort of the arms holding her.
Laura gave her children glasses of juice. Tiernan declined the juice and watched as Seana closed her eyes and fell asleep. The young boy stepped up next to Deven, and spoke so softly that Rhian barely heard what he asked of his mother.
Deven heard his request, but she didnt want to encourage him. She didnt want him to think that the situation had changed. Looking up, her eyes met Rhians, and she could see the question there. Against her better judgement, she shifted in her chair to allow him access and then guided him as he climbed onto her lap. He immediately laid his head against her shoulder, and she carefully wrapped an arm around his back to keep him from falling off. As his small body settled against her, he closed his eyes and his pensive expression relaxed. Rhian looked at Deven and smiled, but the gesture was lost on the martial artist.
Deven could feel her mother and sister staring at her, and her heart rate rose. The silence in the room became deafening and closed in around her. I cant do this. I cant allow this to happen. Tiernan cannot be allowed to believe that things are different. She carefully placed him on his feet on the floor and rose. "We need to get going if youre going to make your appointment."
Rhian was baffled by Devens conduct. More startling, however, was the fear she glimpsed in the womans eyes. She hadnt believed that anything could frighten this woman. What are you so afraid of? "We have a little time."
"If traffic is bad, youll be late. Ill go start the truck." With that, the martial artist turned and left. Rhian listened to the retreating footsteps, certain that Deven would turn around and come back. The sound of the front door opening and closing, however, confirmed that she would not.
Looking at the young boy, Rhian saw the tears brimming in his eyes. How can she just walk away from him? How can she hurt him like this? She reached out a hand to the child. He slowly placed his hand in hers, and she pulled him to her. Wrapping her free arm around his trembling body, she gave him a gentle but solid hug.
"It's okay, Tiernan. She loves you." The boy cried against her. Holding him, Rhian murmured softly until his tears diminished. His pain touched her so deeply she fought back tears of her own. "She does love you, but she isn't very good at showing it. We'll just have to work on teaching her, okay?"
Looking up at her through watery eyes, he nodded his head. "Good boy. You take care of yourself. Well see you again." She gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead, then carefully stood with Seana in her arms.
Laura followed her outside. "I wish you wouldnt do that."
Rhian was taken aback. "Do what?"
"Tell him things that arent true."
Rhian looked directly at the woman. "Who says they arent true?" She paused never letting her gaze waiver. "Thank you for the coffee." Turning, she walked towards the truck and Deven.
Laura reentered her home with Rhians words still ringing in her ears. "Who says they arent true?" Deven was almost a stranger to her. Theyd never been close. In part, this was due to the five years in age that separated them. In part, it was due to the differences in their personalities. Unfortunately, a significant aspect to their relationship had been their mothers influence, and the womans undisguised dislike of her eldest child.
Deven had started learning martial arts the year Laura had been born. For as long as she could remember, Deven had been training or travelling from tournament to tournament with their father. Laura had stayed at home with their mother and been raised in the image her mother held for her.
Her mothers passion for horses had been forced upon her, as had her endless lessons in etiquette and proper behavior. She hadnt minded really. Shed loved spending time with her mother, though shed learned rather early in life that she would never completely please the woman. Just like Deven, their mother sought perfection, and nothing either daughter ever did would successfully meet her criteria.
Laura had no idea when the strain had begun between her mother and sister. It had always seemed to be present. That Deven refused to acquiesce and never sought their mothers approval was certainly a contributing factor. Laura was also certain that the failed relationship between her parents had somehow been visited upon her sister, though she was at a complete loss as to why.
When their mother wasnt present, she and Deven got along fine unless Deven was in a foul mood about something. Her memories of her older sister were few, but she could vaguely remember crawling into bed with Deven as a child. Whenever shed had a nightmare it was her sister shed turned to for protection. Her mother never had patience for such things. And whenever, their parents fought, it was in Devens arms that shed found comfort.
Entering the kitchen, Laura quietly began clearing the table. She regarded her mother out of the corner of her eye as she tidied around the seated women. Rarely did a visit from Deven progress without animosity, and she knew that it wasnt entirely her sisters fault. Their mother made no effort to stop herself from pushing Deven to react, as if Devens efforts to defend herself justified their mothers righteously negative opinion of the woman.
Today had been more disconcerting then usual due to Rhians presence. Laura had almost grown accustomed to her mothers treatment of Deven, but never had she witnessed such behavior in front of a complete stranger.
"Yes, dear?" Patricia sat quietly looking out the kitchen window and sipping her coffee.
Laura hesitated, as she didnt want to risk making her mother angry. Shed never seemed to outgrow the need for her mothers approval. Even now, with a husband and children of her own, she sought her mothers proverbial pat on the back, and often detested herself for it. "Never mind."
Patricia turned her attention to her younger daughter. "No. You had a question. What is it?"
Laura turned her back to her mother and busied herself with rinsing out the coffee mugs. "I was just wondering." Pausing, Laura took a deep breath. "I was wondering why you were so angry with Deven. She didnt say a word today before you seemed angry with her. I mean, what with Rhian here, I was surprised you brought up family issues. That seems out of character for you."
Patricia regarded her daughters back. "Look at me."
Laura knew that with Patricia, there was never any interpretation to her commands. If she said to look at her, you did. Bracing herself, she turned and faced the older woman.
"First of all, Laura, youre rambling. Second, I owe you no explanations. How I choose to deal with Deven is not your concern. However, since you ask, your sister has done some disgusting things in her life. Things that have brought shame to this family and to me. She cant escape them, and she shouldnt be allowed to. I will never allow that. As for her little friend, if that is what she is, she deserves to be made aware of the company she keeps."
Laura cringed inwardly at her mothers clipped tone. She knew she was treading on dangerous ground, but wanted to understand. Her mother often alluded to Devens past, but would never speak of what had happened. In all these years, Laura had not been able to find out what it was that her sister had done. "She seems nice. Rhian, that is."
"Your sister wouldnt know nice if it stepped up and slapped her across the face." Patricia lifted her coffee cup and sipped of its warm contents while returning her attention to the kitchen window.
Laura understood that her mother had just ended the conversation. Patricias body language could speak volumes and in her subtle way, she had dismissed Laura as effectively as if she had verbally told her to leave the room.
After drying her hands on a dishtowel, Laura left the kitchen to check on the children. Her son and daughter were in the den watching television. "Wheres Tiernan?"
"His room," Ashley replied without looking at her mother.
Laura climbed the stairs to the upper level of the farmhouse and quietly walked to Tiernans room. The boy was asleep on the bed with his arms wrapped around his favorite stuffed bear. Deven had purchased the bear before Tiernan had been born, and to this day he could not fall asleep without its soft presence. She reached out and gently brushed aside a strand of hair that had fallen across his closed eyes. You need a haircut.
She ran the tip of her finger across his smooth forehead. Who says they arent true? Mother says so. She released a long sigh. I just dont know, Tiernan. I dont know your mother any better then you do. Turning away from the bed, she quietly left the room.
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