Eye of the Beholder Ch. 03byRaLaWrites©
The sun emitted such stifling humidity that Renee could barely breathe. The temperature rose steadily over the past week and culminated in near hundred degree weather. Monday through Friday Renee dodged the scorching heat by staying under the office's central air all day; by the time her shift was over, the sun had almost set and the temperature cooled to a comfortable warm. It was Saturday morning and Thelma asked her to help weed, tend and plant new flowers in the terrace garden.
She couldn't turn her down, of course -- she'd been so understanding of Renee's situation that she waived the room fee indefinitely until she landed on her feet in Houston. But as she kneeled down in the grass, mahogany skin unprotected from the sun's unforgiving rays and lacking a large sunhat like the one Thelma wore, all she wanted to do was crawl back inside and collapse on her bed with the A/C on full blast. Yet she didn't complain or make a fuss. Thelma, a widow with no children, had grown close to Renee and vice versa. Even if it wasn't the activity of choice for such a hot day, Renee would gladly tough it out for her.
Besides, the discomfort she felt now paled heavily in comparison to the tension-filled week as a whole.
Cloaking her emotions was an old hat that Renee had once proudly worn. But since she'd moved on to Quentin, it was something she desperately wanted to leave behind. The invaluable feeling of being herself, the real Renee -- friendly, somewhat outspoken, bubbly with a pinch of sass -- had all but disappeared after what she'd learned exactly one week ago.
The secret gnawed at her stomach like a rabid badger and had forced her back in her protective shell. It was straight to work and back home; any invitations to hang out with the guys were turned down, not even with Wesley. In-office conversations were brief, concise. They transitioned from lighthearted joking to strictly business. The only person who gave her a hard time about it was Wesley but an ambiguous excuse like "I'm not feeling well" or "I have a lot of work to do" eased his worries.
Any interaction she had with Barrett began with bated breath and paranoia. Questions were met with one-word responses and she could barely look him in the eyes. Looking back, the ability to hide her true feelings had disintegrated so terribly that he had to know something wasn't right. To her surprise, he said nothing, never asked her what was wrong. It was almost like he avoided her. If that was the case and she wasn't imagining things, she knew the reason why.
Every night for a week she had replayed the moment they shared at his birthday party an infinite number of times, and each time she found herself smiling coyly at the thought: Barrett, large palms nestled tight on her round hips, grinning at her with the faint glimmer of...desire? But as the days went by, she'd questioned that thought. Maybe the glimmer was of admiration and delight that she had transitioned from being guarded and reserved to open and free, both inside and out. It didn't have to have romantic undertones and judging by how Barrett beamed when he introduced her to Sarah, they probably weren't.
Her stomach did backflips and somersaults at the mention of her name and person. Her mind was clouded with puzzled thoughts about Sarah's motives. Renee felt odd admitting it, even in her thoughts but it was the truth. Barrett was one of the most amazing men she'd ever met. Nothing, nothing could justify being unfaithful to him. He definitely deserved better. She just hoped he found out sooner rather than later. One thing was for sure, though -- she wasn't going to tell him. Renee knew all too well how it felt to have your world turned upside down and she wasn't going to be the one to make Barrett feel that pain.
"... That's why I use this fertilizer. A bit expensive for this old lady's pockets but darn if it doesn't work every time." Thelma had been talking the whole time but Renee only caught the tip end. Of course it didn't get by her. "What's wrong, dear?"
Renee faked a smile and shook her head. "Nothing. Just a bit distracted." She dug at the soil and made a large enough hole to transplant the morning glories. Thelma's eyes were steady on her and she swallowed nervously.
She was doing that 'thing' again where she stared as if she had x-ray vision to look past all the fake smiles and bullshit and find out the truth. She had cracked her the first time around with the same tactic and Renee ended up telling her all about Terrell and her past life. But there was more at stake this time around; she couldn't tell Thelma the truth.
Renee quickly glanced at Thelma through the corner of her eye and saw her smiling warmly.
"We've been at it for a while, hun. Let's go in and have some iced tea, hmm?" Thelma stood to her feet and walked towards the bed and breakfast.
Renee trailed behind her apprehensively but exhaled when she walked into lobby and plopped down in a massive wicker chair. The cold air was a welcome relief in contrast to the brutal heat outside. Thelma disappeared to the kitchen, returned with a huge pitcher of iced tea and two glasses and filled them both to the brim.
"Now," she sighed. "What's on your mind?"
Renee tapped her exposed and slightly sunburned thighs nervously. "Nothing."
"Mmhm." Thelma took a long drink from her glass and exhaled contentedly. "It's Barrett, isn't it?"
How the hell did she do that?
Renee fidgeted with her hands and sighed in exasperation. "It's a lot of things, Thelma. I don't want to talk about it, though."
"Ha! Come now, hun. You've been in Quentin long enough to know I don't accept answers like that."
"Kind of," Renee admitted.
"Hmm." Thelma paused, as if trying to analyze her answer. "You like him. And why not, dear? He is a handsome young man. Reminds me so much of my Herbert."
"What? No! I mean..." Renee stuttered. "I mean, I do. Just not in that way, Thelma."
"Uh-huh." Thelma was not convinced.
"I mean it, honestly. I just... I know something that I think would upset him."
"Oooh. You mean Sarah fooling around with Pete across the way," she said nonchalantly.
Renee's heart sank. "You... you know?"
Thelma nodded and cradled her cheek. "I saw it the other day," she explained, stared into the distance. "Pete and I have a business agreement. I buy items almost exclusively from him every month at a discount and in exchange I direct most of the people who stay here to him. It was a solid venture until he hired that little girl," she said scornfully. "I went in earlier this week to re-order items as usual and wouldn't you know she told me I had to pay full price? Hmph. I set her straight and told her I'd be back when Pete was in, he'd know what I was talking about. It was most unfortunate, the time that I chose to go back. I found them in the back of the store, both naked as the day they were born and in-mid..." Her beige skin flushed in embarrassment. "You get where I'm going, don't you?"
A massive weight was removed from Renee. Someone else knew. It wasn't just her.
And yet, that sense of betraying Barrett by not telling him increased two-fold. Two parties knew; two parties could vouch they had seen the same thing. Why hide it from him?
"So why didn't you tell Barrett?" Renee voiced her thoughts.
"The same reason you haven't told him and more. I've known Barrett since he was eight years old. Lana and I were best friends up until the day she died. That boy has gone through things you wouldn't believe in his short life. You may think I'm even more obligated to tell him because of those things but..." she exhaled. "Whatever remains hidden will eventually be revealed by the one who seeks truth. In other words, Barrett will find out on his own if enough suspicion is aroused. Judging by how utterly careless Sarah is, I'd say it's due to happen any day now."
Thelma reached over and rubbed Renee's shoulder to comfort her.
"My dear, you have already gone though your own trials and tribulations. Surround yourself with peace; don't inherit anyone else's problems to make them your own." Thelma stood up and stretched. "Oh, these old bones need to rest for a while. I'm going to take a nap. Don't be too down on yourself, okay?"
Easier said than done but it was driving her crazy. If only for one day, she'd try.
Six hours and a short nap later, Renee woke to the sound of light tapping at her door. She stumbled out of bed, yawned and opened the door, assuming it was Thelma. But when her blurred view focused she turned into a statue.
"Barrett," she whispered groggily.
His grin was pleasant but there was a certain something that threw her off. He seemed... sad.
"Hey. Didn't mean to wake you. I just wanted to see how you were," he shrugged.
"Great," she lied. "I'm doing great. How about you?"
He raked his hand through his thick hair and heaved a sigh. "I've had better days, darlin'. Should be restin', seein' as it's my day off and all. Unfortunately I'm stuck with chaperone duties. Takin' Eden and Adrian to the movies."
"That's cute," Renee smiled. She ran into Eden once or twice in the past week and both times, all she did was gush about Adrian, who turned out to be Wesley's little brother. "I hope you guys have a good time."
"Yeah." he rubbed the back of his head. "Thing is, it was supposed to be a double date but Sarah can't make it. She's workin' late."
That nauseous feeling came back. "Oh really? That's too bad."
"I was wonderin' if you'd wanna come instead," he asked hesitantly. "Christ, now I feel like a teenager askin' out a girl for the first time."
Renee stood in the door frame silently for a few seconds. Again she found herself between a rock and a hard place. She knew there was no chance of telling him about Sarah flat-out but did she really want to spend the entire night with him and the secret bouncing around in her mind and heart?
She remembered Thelma's advice earlier that afternoon.
"Give me fifteen to change?" she asked.
"Sure. Movie doesn't start for another forty-five minutes."
"Thanks." Renee closed the door and quickly slipped on a pair of form-fitting blue-jean capris, a yellow tank top and wedge heels. She brushed her wavy hair back in a ponytail and spent most of the time putting on more makeup. No matter how much she became comfortable around others, her makeup regimen wouldn't change. It was the only thing keeping her from looking completely hideous. She opened the door and found Barrett sitting in one of the wicker chairs she'd sat in earlier with Thelma, looking bored out of his mind.
"...Do you know what that saying means?" Thelma asked.
"Can't say I do, Thelma."
"I'm going to give you my book on Navajo proverbs," Thelma declared. "Wait right here."
Barrett followed her with his eyes until she was out of sight and bolted out of the chair.
"Quick, let's get out of here before she comes back," he said, grabbed Renee's hand tight and led her outside.
Renee laughed. "That was rude, Barrett."
"She's been doing that to me since I was a kid. Jesus, you think she'd get the point one of these times. No such luck. Alright, Eden and Adrian's in the back... HEY!" Barrett rushed to the flatbed of his truck and looked like he was going to pop a gasket when he saw the two hormone-crazed teens kissing and grabbed them both by their clothing, pulled them up at the waist. "What the FUCK do you two think you're doing?"
"Uh..." Adrian gave a goofy chuckle. "Gettin' to know each other better?"
"Not with me. Both of you, out. Renee, you mind drivin' us? Eden can sit up front with you and uh," Barrett patted Adrian on the back with such force that the scrawny teen almost fell over. "Me and Adrian here can sit in the back. Sound good?"
"Sounds good," Renee repeated.
The drive to the small theater was over faster than anticipated. Eden talked about Adrian and Adrian spent the entire ride being the recipient of poorly veiled threats made by Barrett. She found an empty parking space and they all exited the car and joined the crowd of moviegoers.
"So what are we watchin'?" Adrian asked.
"A Kiss For You," Eden bubbled. "It's the only romantic movie they're playin'!"
Adrian and Barrett released simultaneous annoyed grunts and Eden and Renee laughed.
"Let's get this over with," Barrett grumbled.
The group purchased their tickets and concessions before heading to the theater room. Adrian and Eden sat directly in front of Barrett and Renee so he could "keep an eye on them." The crowd hushed when the lights dimmed and the movie began.
Renee had seen better but it was good date-movie fare. The plot revolved around long-lost love, two people who had passed up the chance to be together for their careers. The scenes were romantic-tension filled which culminated in a steamy love scene. It was the only part of movie that Renee found herself entranced with. It had been over a year since Renee made love. She didn't think she was ready for it just yet but it was impossible for the thought not to cross her mind every now and then. She missed the intimacy and adoration that came from two people wanting to express that love in the most beautiful way.
Eden and Adrian were giggling amongst themselves. When she looked over to Barrett, she was surprised to find him staring back.
She quickly turned away and shut her eyes, felt a shiver go down her spine. She hoped it was just by chance and not intentional that their eyes met.
The movie ended soon after and the entire theater piled out and headed to the parking lot. Renee dropped Adrian off at his house and took Barrett and Eden back to the Turquoise to pick up his truck.
"Thanks for takin' us Renee!" Eden said and threw her arms around her.
"No problem, hun," Renee said and returned the hug. "See you later." She looked over to Barrett and smiled. "I had fun tonight. Thanks for inviting me. See you Monday."
"Hold on a sec," Barrett said. "Eden, I'll be in the car in minute."
"Okay Uncle Barrett."
He looked down at his watch. "It's only eight-thirty. You hungry? Noticed you didn't get anything at the movies."
Come to think of it, Renee had mistaken of the nausea she was feeling as guilt when some of it was hunger. "I am, actually."
"I'm gonna take Eden home and I'll be back in twenty. Want to come over and help me with dinner? I'm not much of a cook."
"Sure." She blurted out and immediately regretted doing so.
"Be back soon."
Twenty minutes came and went and Barrett pulled up on his Harley right on time. Renee arched a brow.
"I know you don't expect me to get on that thing!" she yelled over the revving engine.
"Live a little!" he yelled back. He lowered the kickstand, stood up and walked towards Renee with the helmet, gingerly putting it over her head. "What's that you called me when you saw me in Lana's?"
Renee paused. "Darth Vader?"
"Nice to meet you, Darth," he laughed, tapped on the helmet.
Renee rolled her eyes. "Funny."
Barrett straddled the motorcycle and lifted the kickstand. "Alright, just get on behind me and put your hands around me. Hold on tight."
Renee felt her heart leap as she followed his directions but hesitated to put her arms around his waist.
"Jesus," he chucked, looked back at her. His black hair blew in the night air and his grin was electric. He reached behind him and took her arms in his hands and forced them around his midsection. "There. Good?"
Renee's body pressed so tight against his back turned those occasional shivers into a light tingling sensation. His body was rock hard underneath his clothes. As he took off, she gripped him tighter and he looked back at her with a reassuring smile. She had never been on a motorcycle before and call her crazy, she actually liked it.
They pulled into the long driveway of his farm and parked. He led her inside the house for the first time and Renee couldn't believe how stunning it was. The house had rustic, antique decor with a few modern pieces sprinkled in between. The kitchen was huge, with an island counter and a kitchen table that sat at least twelve, fourteen people. There were two bathrooms on the main floor alone and the living room was unreal. It was by far the most beautiful house she had ever set foot in.
When he was done giving her the tour, he took her back to the kitchen and retrieved some ingredients from the fridge.
"You never did tell me what you're making," Renee realized.
"Chicken Amaretto," he said.
"Isn't that kind of complicated for someone who's not good at cooking?"
"Alright so I'm not that bad," he confessed. "I just thought you'd like a homemade meal. Gotta be better than whatever you've been buyin' or eatin' at Thelma's. Trust me, I've had the woman's cookin'. It's... yeah."
"Need any help?"
"Actually, I got it covered. You can sit tight and watch me if you'd like."
Renee scanned over his body with his back turned to her and felt another tingle. "Alright."
She watched him move fluidly through the kitchen and smiled. Who knew that he could be so multifaceted with his hands?
When the food was simmering he pulled up a chair across the table from her. "I noticed you were sorta distant this week."
Renee's smile disappeared. Uh oh.
"I was just not feeling well." She hoped feeding him the same lines she fed Wesley would work.
"I've seen you in worse spirits and still be talkative," he countered. He studied her and licked his lips absent-mindedly. More tingling. She wished it would go away.
"I've just had a lot on my mind," she tried again.
He nodded. "Well that's fair. But you know if you need someone to talk to other than Thelma, I'm here. Not the best when it comes to givin' advice but I'm a good listener," he offered.
"I'll keep that in mind."
"I was thinkin'... you weren't really sayin' much because of last week. When we danced and all."
Renee looked at him in shock. "What about it?"
"Come on, Renee. I was outta line."
"No you weren't. You were... it was fun. I had fun."
"Sure you aren't upset?" he asked.
"Positive," she smiled.
"I meant when I said you looked beautiful. Seein' you happy and dressed up like that, It needed to be said. Not that Wes didn't say it a million times," he laughed.
Renee blushed. "Thanks, Barrett."
He reached over and held her hand, squeezed it tight. "No problem." He stood up and walked back to the stove. Renee heard the door rattling behind her and before she could react, Sarah walked in and looked every bit surprised to see Renee as Renee was to see her.
"Barrett. What's this?" she said, irritation laced in her voice.
"Hey," Barrett said, walked over to greet her with a kiss. "You've met Renee. I invited her over for dinner tonight. Thought you were gonna be late."
"I was. I told you I get off at nine-thirty." She looked at Renee with contempt when Barrett turned his back but forced a smile whenever he looked in her direction. "I didn't know we were having a dinner party. Why not invite the whole gang; Wes, Brandi, Eden?"
"Wes is at home restin' up. He had a little accident on the job site yesterday. Brandi's still on shift and Eden's at home," Barrett explained. "And they've been over plenty of times. It's Renee's first visit."
Renee felt suffocated as she looked between the two. It was too much for her. She had to leave.
"Actually Barrett, I should get back to Thelma. She wanted me to um, sort some things out for her."
"You haven't even eaten yet, Renee," Barrett said.
"I'm fine. I can grab something on the way home." She stood up and walked past Sarah, who whispered:
Renee bolted out of the door and was on her way back home on foot when she felt Barrett grab her by the wrist.
"Hold on a minute," he said, agitated. "Why are you leavin'?"