Eye of the Beholder Ch. 02byRaLaWrites©
Barrett leaned against the kitchen counter, took a swig of his morning coffee and tapped his large boot against the linoleum floor.
Most of his night was spent staring at the ceiling while Sarah lay on his chest, snoring contently. Between the near-two hours of rough, unbridled sex -- there was no such thing as 'making love' when it came to Sarah -- he managed to tell her about hiring a new employee. Aside from a sleepy nod and a yawn, she didn't have much to say.
With all he carried on his shoulders: maintaining the farm, playing father to his niece Eden, sorting out the construction business; he didn't need to add anyone else's burdens to his steadily growing pile. Yet he didn't regret helping her. Wherever Renee had come from, whatever she went through, it was clear that she was still hurting but ready to move on. For that reason alone he would help her, regardless of the extra costs.
His Ma was like that when she decided enough was enough. The last cuts and bruises had barely healed when she left Arizona with her two children and moved to Texas. Everything from the elusive behavior to the sunglasses, Renee reminded Barrett so much of her. A rough road of uncertainty and hard living was a precursor to their arrival in Quentin. If it wasn't for people like Thelma, who gave them a place to stay until they landed on their feet, she would have never been able to buy the farm and settle down. He wanted to do for Renee what so many had done for his Ma.
He gripped the handle of his coffee mug and sneered. Thoughts of his mother meant deep-seeded, angry memories of his father followed soon after, playing in the recesses of his mind like a grainy silent movie. He and Brandi cowered in a corner, covering their ears. Ma would plead, beg him to stop. It only egged him on for more. Sometimes his fists were enough. Sometimes he used his belt.
An underlying sense of guilt plagued Barrett most of his life. He was only a kid but he could have done something. At least tell a teacher or a neighbor. The fear of retaliation from his father finding out paralyzed him. Brandi and he anticipated the day when their father's violent rage would spill over and make them targets but for whatever reason, it never happened.
Even on her death bed three years prior, Ma absolved him of feeling guilt or responsibility for what happened all those years ago. He could still see the glimmer of pride in her emerald eyes as she held his hand with a weak grip, hear her strained voice urging him to be thankful for all they'd received.
Life without her was hard, but he'd managed as best as he could. He'd always make sure Eden and Brandi were taken care of -- that was priority. The farm and business meant his hands were full most of the time but things were manageable. And though he'd been unlucky in love before, he'd found Sarah last year.
As for his father? He was still alive. Somewhere. After he'd inflicted as much damage as he could and forced them to leave, last Barrett knew he had married again and started another family.
Aside from the Tsosie name, the dark hair and natural tan, Barrett had no connection to his father. He had inherited most of his beautiful mother's traits, like her striking eyes and most of her European features. Brandi was older and had embraced their Navajo heritage but Barrett had little interesting in learning anything more about his father.
He turned around and glanced out of the kitchen window. The cows were roaming awfully close to the wooden cattle fence that needed repairing.
"God damn it." He put his drink down and went outside to corral the adventurous heifers. He'd have to fix that fence soon or they'd bust right through the thing and end up trotting down the road again.
He walked back in and cat-called when Sarah descended down the large staircase, wearing little more than a pair of skintight blue jean shorts and a shirt that barely covered her taut midriff. A classic case of a girl who flaunted her athletic body and beauty every chance she got.
"Well, good mornin'," he said with a grin.
His relationship with Sarah consisted of roughly eighty percent sex and twenty percent... other stuff. Not the most solid of foundations to build something long-lasting but what did that mean? He was thirty and had decided the concept of 'love' meant finding a good-looking woman who wasn't a complete airhead. Not only did Sarah possess those qualities, she was also a decent woman with a pretty kind heart. She had her faults like everyone else but their year together had been solid thus far.
She stood on the tips of her toes and wrapped her arms around his broad neck, brushed her pale lips against his cheek.
"Want to play a little before work?"
"Hmm." He kneaded the pale flesh of her backside and kissed the back of her butterfly-tattooed neck. "Temptin'. I can't today."
"Not even five minutes?" She nipped at his earlobe and giggled.
He glanced at the wall clock and considered it. Five minutes with Sarah meant thirty at the least.
"Not this time, baby. Want some coffee?"
"No thanks," she yawned, stretched her arms over her head. "I'm headed to Town & County Foods to help Pete with inventory."
Barrett raised a brow in surprise. "That's the fourth time this week."
"Well, I need something to keep me busy since Eden took my waitressing job, remember?"
"I remember you quittin'," he clarified. "That's when I said you could work with me."
"Barrett, I might live in Quentin but I'm not a farm girl at heart. Dealing with animals, cleaning cages... ugh!" She stuck her tongue out and frowned like a three year old who'd been told to eat broccoli. "Hard labor is so not my thing."
"How exactly is carryin' and unloadin' heavy crates full of supplies not hard labor?" he inquired, head tilted to the side in confusion.
One of Sarah's faults, bless her, was not making a lick of sense most of the time. He chalked it up to the six year age gap between them. He was probably just as clueless when he was twenty-four.
"Uh..." she faltered. "It's just different, okay? I don't have to worry about any animals or getting sweaty. Besides, we wouldn't have any alone time for ourselves if I worked with you."
Well, that made sense. Having Sarah around was nice; granted, some days he just wanted to come in and watch TV or catch up on paperwork with no interruption. And Sarah being around all day long meant half the time he'd either be rolling around in the sheets with her or listening to her ramble on about some trivial worry she had.
"Alright, I get the point. Break my heart, why don'tcha."
"Mmhm." She beamed, pecked him on the mouth. "We both come in after a long day of work. Missed each other all day long."
When she pressed her palm against his jean-covered member, he exhaled. Damn, it was hard to say no. He reached for her hand and gently brushed it away.
"If you mess around with me this mornin', you won't have the energy for a long day of work." He raised his arm and glanced down at his wrist watch. "I'd be leavin' myself, but I'm waitin' for Renee."
"Who?" Sarah shot from the adjacent bathroom and back into the kitchen. Her hazel eyes bore holes through him.
Jealously was a fault possessed by most of the women he'd been with. Even Barrett, as level-headed as he considered himself to be, fell victim to the rare twinge of jealousy whenever some guy ogled her but Sarah took it to the extreme. It was kind of cute in the beginning but lately, it was like being accosted by a spoiled, crazed chihuahua. The mere mention of another woman's name sent her into a paranoid frenzy.
"The woman I hired, Sarah. I told you yesterday night."
"Okay, yesterday night I could barely remember my own name, Barrett."
"Don't take that as an opportunity to gloat," she snapped. "I'm positive you didn't mention that you hired a woman."
"Well," he raised his hands, shrugged. "I hired a woman. You happy?"
"No. Who is this woman? I'm like the social butterfly of Quentin and I've never heard of her before."
"She's new in town, just got here yesterday." He eyed his wristwatch. "Aren't you supposed to be leavin' soon?"
Sarah frowned. "I could wait a few minutes."
"You think Pete would appreciate that?"
For a second, Sarah smiled and stared off into the distance. Barrett gave her the once over. Just another one of her deer-in-headlights moments, he figured.
"Fine, fine. Let me know if this Renee girl comes before I leave. I just want to say hello."
"We'll see," he sighed, rubbed his hands together. "I'm goin' out to fix the fence. Let me know when you leave so I can lock up."
"Sure." The pair kissed one last time before they parted and went their separate ways.
Barrett returned to the farm and kneeled in front of the splintered wood. He retrieved his tools and went to work on the fence. Not a good ten minutes in and his cellphone rang.
"Hey, Barrett. We got a bit of a problem here, man."
Fuck, what was it now? When he hired Wesley, he had faith in his young friend to be able to handle any and everything. But not a day went by that Wesley didn't phone him about a botched job or a client who'd been misquoted for a project.
"Well, you know the Harlan's and all, right?" he drawled. Wesley was a Texan by way of deep-south Kentucky. Even Barrett had a hard time understanding the red-headed bastard. "Well, they're sayin' we gave 'em the wrong price and they're pretty hot, man."
"Jesus." Barrett pinched the brow of his nose and grunted. "Alright, I'll be there soon."
"Uh... you might wanna go on back to the office and just try callin'. They told us not to come back 'til we 'straighten our shit out.' That's their words, not mine," he clarified.
"That works," he blew a sigh of relief. "I'm waitin' for the new hire --"
"Aw, don't tell me I gotta 'nother idiot to look after," Wesley complained. "It's hard enough makin' the Three Stooges follow directions."
"It's a woman, Wesley. She --"
"A woman?" He could hear Wesley leering on the other end. When he wasn't screwing up, the twenty-five year old spent his free time chasing skirts. "Is she cute?"
"For God's sakes, she's there to work, Wesley, not to sate your sexual appetite."
"What my sexual appetite?"
He should have been reading books in his spare time.
"She's not there to look pretty for you."
"Oh. Well, let me know when she comes. The guys and I are headed out to breakfast. Well, actually, I think they're gonna leave me behind 'cause they heard me call 'em 'The Three Stooges' and they're kinda sore 'bout it but --"
"I gotta go, Wesley."
The small town of Quentin may have lacked in population but there was no shortage of breathtaking scenery and well-landscaped homes. Even the Turquoise had a quaint garden filled with colorful flowers like azaleas, morning glories and orchids.
Renee passed the beauties on her way to Barrett's farm and fell in love. She was a sucker for all things floral and vibrant, which Quentin seemed to have an abundance of. It was also fairly slow on the road; she had only passed one other car that was traveling fifteen miles per hour at the highest. Houston might have been her overall destination but something told her she'd enjoy her stay in Quentin.
Well-rested and a little more conscientious of her appearance than the last few days, she wondered what was in store for her with this new job. It hadn't escaped her that she'd accepted and been given a position by a man she'd never met before but for some reason she trusted Barrett. Even before he saw the painful reminder of the hell she escaped he was so warm, inviting and had a subtle sense of humor that she could appreciate. And when he saw her eye he made it clear that he wasn't going to judge. Not everyone understood that she didn't want to relive and discuss what she had walked away from. She just wanted to start over.
She'd thought about Barrett longer than she wanted to admit last night. His youthful, handsome appearance was that of a young, virile man but she could tell he'd had the proverbial marks and scars from living that a more mature person possessed. The mention of a family farm made her imagine Barrett having a gaggle of young children whom pranced around rambunctiously while his wife, a Suzy Q. Homemaker just as gorgeous as he was, baked incessantly and took care of her family without breaking a sweat.
While marriage had been in her future -- she was skeptical about it now and rightly so -- the notion of children had never really crossed her thoughts. An only child whose parents had passed at an early age, Renee never had younger siblings, nieces or nephews to take care of. She liked children well enough but with how out of sorts her life was now, they were the last thing on her mind.
Her car descended down a slight dip in the road and a bold Victorian-style farmhouse appeared in the horizon. The massive abode looked to have at least three stories and was an architectural gem. The actual farm area, what little there was of it, was partitioned off with a wooden barrier. Cows and horses seemed to be the only animals inhabiting the space.
She spotted Barrett crouched in front of the splintered wood, sawing away at it with vigor. He looked determined and focused. He was clearly a man who enjoyed working with his hands and used it to escape the world around him.
The driveway spanned from the front of the house and stopped just shy of the farm's gate. The loud noise of her tires crushing against the gravel road drew Barrett's attention. Renee rolled her window down and smiled as he approached.
"Mornin', Renee," he grinned. His row of pearly whites were perfect. Compared to the rest of him, she'd expect nothing less.
His light eyes swept over her and all of a sudden, she felt conscious about her appearance. Her curls were tamed in a large french braid with a few loose strands on either side of her face. The white capris she wore were a size too small and created an unflattering muffin top that she tried unsuccessfully to hide by wearing an oversized dark blouse. Like yesterday, her sunglasses were settled against the brow of her nose and light makeup covered the many imperfections on her face.
"Good Morning." The urge to bury her head under the sand and not come out until he went away came back.
"I'd invite you in but I'm gettin' ready to head out. Thought we'd drive over to the office and get you started. Did you wanna follow me or ride together?"
Renee looked down at her near-empty gas tank. "How far is it?"
"Ten minutes, give or take."
She climbed out of her car and followed him to an old pick-up truck. He opened the passenger's side door and waited for her to get in.
Renee buckled her seatbelt and he turned on the ignition, which rattled and clanked like a rusted contraption turned on for the first time in years. They puttered down the road, mostly in silence. He asked her how she slept, if she was used to the oppressive Texas weather. Her responses were brief but friendly. The perfect balance of being social without being too intrusive.
He parked in front of a small storefront with no visible sign out front. Instead, a printed sheet with the words 'Tsosie Construction' was taped to the inside of the front window. He wasn't kidding when he mentioned he'd just started this new venture.
"I'm gonna kill Wesley for doin' that," Barrett sighed. "Better to not have anything up at all than puttin' that tacky thing on the window. Shall we?"
"Sure," Renee said.
The inside of the office looked much better than its exterior. The lobby, which she assumed would be her work area, led to the outer area of two adjacent offices. One turned out to be the "lounge"; in its current state, it was little more than an empty room with a mini-fridge, empty cans and food wrappers scattered on the counter. The other room vaguely resembled an office; there was a desk and chair, filing cabinet, desktop computer and a telephone line. The cream-colored walls were bare and nothing else filled the spacious area. The lone restroom made Renee cringe. It was sanitary and all, but the thought of sharing a lavatory with five men took her back to her college dorm days. Not something she was looking to relive.
Barrett explained every nuance of her position; what she would be doing on a daily basis, who to call in case of what scenario and so on.
"That's everything," he said with a shrug. "Any questions?"
"More like a statement. You didn't mention how much I'd be paid?"
"Oh, right. How much were you thinkin'?"
"Just enough to get to Houston without worrying about running out of gas or not having enough to pay for a motel room for a while."
Barrett looked relieved. What was that all about?
"Gotcha. Wesley and the guys should be wrappin' up a project right now," he explained. "I'm gonna head over to the Public Services buildin' and grab some permits . If you need anything while I'm out..." he ran into the office and scribbled a phone number down, handed it to Renee. "Call my cell."
"Sure," she nodded. "See you later."
The first day of Renee's new job wasn't much of a job at all. For eight hours, she spent her time milling around the office, organizing and reorganizing paperwork and reading eBooks on the computer. She'd left the office only once to buy lunch from the deli next door. Barrett returned to drop off the building permits but hadn't been back since, and none of the other guys had shown up.
Who was she kidding? Most of the time was spent not only thinking but actually worrying about Terrell and the past year.
Nothing could justify the violence and disrespect she endured at the hands of her... ex? It was foreign to her, referring to someone she'd been with since her junior year of college as that. Love, in its purest form, was something that could turn the coldest heart warm. In Terrell's case, hate had somehow festered in his otherwise warm heart and turned him into a reclusive, angry monster.
The disintegration of their relationship did not happen overnight. It was a slow, tedious breakdown that Renee could not understand and, like a fool, waited much too long to realize that it was all but unsalvageable. Theories of what had changed him from the time he left for London to the time he came back rattled around in her head like dice, hoping to find the right reason and help him through it.
First came the reclusiveness. He'd sit in the bedroom or the living room, staring at the television like a brain-dead zombie. Every blue moon, he'd come out of his funk and it would be like old times. They'd laugh and joke together. But the second Renee would ask about London, he'd shut down like a turtle retreating into its shell. They made love every so often, but the passion was nonexistent.
Then came the physical altercations. First a gentle push, then a hard shove. For a while, it was an open-palmed strike. Everything went downhill from there and culminated in the scars she had to cover every day just to look normal. Like most, he'd switch between unbridled anger and temporary bouts of sympathy and compassion, only to repeat the cycle.
He was controlling and questioned her every move. He'd come see her at work during her lunch break, waiting for her to come out. Accused her of flirting with co-workers or cheating on him with other men for no reason. It all became too much for her. There were no blood relatives for her to run to. She considered going to one of the few friends that Terrell still allowed her to talk to, but he knew where they lived and didn't want to put them in danger.
She hated herself for ever loving someone who had been so destructive and inflicted long-term damage to her self-esteem. She could barely look in the mirror anymore and rarely appreciated what was looking back at her. He'd taken away her confidence but totally ruined her trust when it came to relationships. It would take an amazing man to make Renee open her heart to love again.