Eye of the Beholder Ch. 04byRaLaWrites©
As she gazed out of the suite's balcony door and peered into the starless night sky, Renee felt like a tortured prisoner within her own mind. An amalgamation of feelings, events and thoughts swirled around like a destructive tornado in her head, destroying any semblance of peace or calmness within her.
It was almost midnight when she slipped out of bed, never having slept a single moment after trying for hours. The heaviness in her chest was far too oppressive to even consider resting. She inhaled, closed her heavy eyelids, released a fragile breath and tried to reason with herself. Something had to give.
She couldn't keep this up if she was going to face her past tomorrow. Barrett hadn't come all this way with her just for her to have a panic attack and flake.
Among the contents of her luggage were several self-help books that she had gone over a million times. Before Barrett, it was the only thing that kept her level headed and able to rebound from moments like these.
Quietly she maneuvered her way around the room, pitch-black save for the faint beam of moonlight that ran across the carpet, and found her bag.
Her fingertips clasped the latches but before she opened it, she glanced over her shoulder. Barrett was still sleeping peacefully with his loud, opened-mouth snore that she found endearing.
She sorted through the half-dozen books and other items before retrieving a thick, hard-cover book with the words 1 Day at a Time on the front in bold black letters.
She left the bedroom and closed the door behind her. The living room area had a small sofa and loveseat, television and desk/chair. She turned the end table light on, curled up on the edge of the sofa and cracked the book open to a pre-marked chapter. It was Renee's go-to for so long that the once-smooth pages were now crumpled and folded; thank God she was still able to read it.
Word for word she read, followed the suggestions and took her time thinking about it until she condensed her emotions down to four:
Apprehension, fear, confusion and anger.
The next step was to think about why exactly she felt that way.
Both apprehension and fear had consumed her for more than a year, only dissipating once she became comfortable in Quentin. But the moment she and Barrett landed at Detroit International Airport, the terrible twosome came back with a vengeance.
The truth was she had no idea what she was stepping back into -- and because of that, she was second-guessing herself about going through with it. The whole reason she left six months ago after a year of trying to salvage a hopeless situation stemmed from her fear of Terrell's unpredictability. Lord knows how bad things had gotten since she left.
Recounting the events that made up the 26 years of her life had left her either confused or furious. It's often said that you're never given more than you can handle but apparently that didn't apply to Renee.
The loss of her parents at ten had been a crushing blow to the young girl's perception of the world as she knew it. It took her years to pacify herself into believing that she could still carry on without them -- hell, most days, the only reason she got dressed and out of bed was the belief that somehow, someway, her parents could see their baby girl.
Even if they weren't here in the flesh to guide her through her younger years and beyond, she still wanted to make them proud. She thought she'd done that by finishing high school and being accepted into a prominent college.
She thought she'd done that by learning to let go of past ills. She thought she'd done that when she met Terrell, fell head over heels in love and almost became his wife. All she ever did was try to be a good person, follow a morally straight and narrow path.
It angered her to know that not only had she lost her parents but she'd fallen victim to a man she thought could do no harm to her. Was it just the way things were supposed to go? That didn't settle well within her heart. She couldn't understand purposely being exposed to an unbearable amount of heartache and pain for seemingly no reason.
If she had one, she'd at least try to learn to get over it like everything else. Why? Why had she suffered so much; lost her family, only man she ever loved and life as she knew it? What was the purpose?
Though the book helped her sort her thoughts, it did little to make her feel better. Renee pulled her legs to her chest, rested her head against her knees and sobbed quietly, her wet tears streaking down her dry brown skin.
She rocked back and forth, tried to find some kind of solace and comfort. Nothing worked. The sound of her muffled tears stopped when she heard the bedroom door open quietly and looked up.
Barrett, disheveled and sleepy, yawned and stretched his arms above his head. He smiled at her for a moment but when his eyes focused, it turned into a worried frown. He walked over to the couch, took a seat next to her and stroked her clothed back lovingly to soothe her.
"Shhh," he said. "It's alright. It's gonna be alright." He kissed her damp cheek tenderly and wiped the moisture away.
When she calmed down enough to stop crying, her gaze lifted and she looked at him with remorse. "Did I wake you?" she croaked. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head dismissively and pressed his lips against her forehead.
"Leaned over and noticed you weren't there. I could feel you tossin' and turnin' but I didn't know you got up. And listen, darlin'. I don't care if it's 3 a.m. and I haven't gotten a second of sleep. If you need me, let me know. Renee."
She looked away from him but he took hold of her chin and penetrated her with those beautiful blue-green irises.
"If you need me, I'm here for you. Remember that."
She nodded and sighed, gave a sad smile. "I will."
He glanced at the alarm clock on the desk then looked her over. "You haven't slept at all, have you?"
Renee shook her head.
"You need to get outta these clothes, take a hot bubble bath and drink some tea," he insisted. "You haven't relaxed since last night. I'll go run it for you and see if I can't find some tea around here to make."
He kissed her forehead and disappeared into the adjacent bathroom.
That sudden rush of heat and comfort passed through her as she watched him leave. Even with the uncertainty she felt from their blossoming bouquet of romance, she believed him when he said that no matter what, he would be there for her. And while she didn't know to what extent Barrett cared for her, the fact that he did at all meant more than he would ever know.
Barrett leaned against the doorframe and smiled, pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "Ready for you."
Renee looked him over from head to toe. His black tresses were tousled from a serious case of bed head. He would have been in the nude were it not for the pair of boxers he wore, but his tanned skin was still exposed for her to enjoy. He ran his tongue across his full, pink lips absent-mindedly and sent her hormones into a pleasure-induced tizzy. She felt like a nutcase. Who goes from crying one second to drooling over a man the next?
He must have noticed her change of mood. His bashful smirk almost made her melt and he walked a few steps in front of her, held out his hand.
He helped her stand to her feet and they walked hand in hand to the bathroom. Barrett had prepared a beautiful bubble bath and used the light dimmer to create a tranquil atmosphere. When he turned to leave, she grabbed his arm.
"One more thing?"
He looked into her eyes with concern. "What do you need?"
It was probably ill-timed, and she doubted he would feel the same after he'd walked in on her practically having a breakdown. But lately timing hadn't been one of Renee's strong suits. It was more like going with the flow of her feelings. Right now, she felt very close and attracted to him. She wanted his affection in every way.
"I..." she looked down at her feet and blushed. "I want you to undress me."
Barrett swallowed at her suggestion and the trepidation in his expression was clear. Neither one of them had time to process their feelings on what took place the other night during their date; after she announced she was coming back to Detroit, Barrett was too distracted with arrangements and Renee was too anxious thinking about all the what-ifs that might take place.
With the exception of a kiss on the cheek here or there, they hadn't been affectionate with each other since.
Barrett's lingering silence was starting to make her regret asking at all. She let go of him and apologized.
He held her shoulder and pressed his finger against the softness of her lips. He studied her, eyes sweeping over her covered body.
Slowly, almost methodically, he began taking off one article of clothing after another. His digits bunched the hem of her plain black t-shirt and carefully lifted it over her head. When he saw that she was braless, he groaned quietly under his breath. For a moment, his hands hovered over her heavy breasts, tempted to touch. He looked into her eye and swallowed, smiled with a hint of embarrassment before continuing.
Renee parted her legs when he knelt in front of her and gently pulled her shorts over her prominent, round hips, down her caramel thighs and toned legs. When they rested at her ankles, she put a hand on his shoulder and stepped out of them.
Where he exhibited self-control before, he could no longer when he reached up and rested his palms on her calves, sliding up to her hamstrings and thighs. His hands palmed and cupped her voluptuous backside, squeezing lightly. He slipped his fingers in the waistband of her white cotton panties and his breath caught in his throat when they were around her ankles.
Their breathing was sporadic and jagged; that current of sexual electricity had awakened in them all over again.
"Call from: Brandi."
The loud announcement of an incoming call made them regain cognizance. Barrett lifted up and looked at Renee with a pained expression. She knew what it meant. He didn't want to leave and she didn't want him to either, but it had to happen.
He kissed her on the lips with such tenderness that her knees weakened. "Take your time and relax." He took the pile of her clothes from the floor, laid them over his shoulder and closed the door behind him.
Frustration subsided when Renee stepped into the tub. She submerged her aching, sleep-deprived body into the warm water and closed her eyes. She got so comfortable that she had slipped in and out of consciousness a few times.
The tub was too small and water too shallow for anything bad to happen but she didn't want to wake up in a tub full of cold water with prunes for skin, so she maneuvered her way out and put on a cotton bathrobe.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and cringed at the dark circles under her eyes. Just 24 hours ago, she was cheerful, revitalized and at least felt beautiful. Now she looked like she hadn't slept in weeks and felt even worse.
Barrett was slumped over in bed with his hand on his forehead. She couldn't tell if he was upset or tired.
"That was just Brandi callin'."
He started but shook his head. "Nothin' you need to worry yourself with. Feel better?"
She laced her fingers between his and snuggled close to him. He curled his arm around her protectively. Renee thought about giving this long-winded explanation for why he found her a blubbering mess but she was certain he already knew, nor did she want to poke at the little peace and solidarity she felt at the moment.
Whatever was going to happen tomorrow would happen, and knowing that Barrett would be right beside her eased her fears considerably. Why she hadn't remembered that during their trip, she didn't know. She wasn't used to having a support system; now that she did, she wanted to embrace it.
The soft beating of Barrett's heart, his warm breath caressing over her skin and chest rising and falling rhythmically allowed her to finally catch some sleep. The last thing she remembered was his voice, faint and sleepy, whispering in her ear:
741 Canyon Boulevard.
The gold and silver letters adorned next to the front door of her former home were familiar yet foreign to her. Nothing about the condominium had changed, on the outside at least. There wasn't much space for landscaping but the flowers she planted were still alive and well. The wind chimes she hung under the porch awning were ringing from the slight breeze in the air. Terrell's black SUV was parked in the open garage. It was just as she remembered it almost six months ago when she left.
Parked in the driveway, Renee sat in the passenger's seat of her and Barrett's rental car and shook nervously. From the moment she rose and got out of bed, she was nothing but a bundle of nerves. Of course, he had done everything he could to assure her that he would be with her every step of the way, but the nervous churning in her stomach had only gotten worse when they reached their destination.
Barrett massaged her hand and held a steady stare. "You sure you don't want me to go for you?"
"No," she said quickly, shook her head. "It's... something I have to do."
"You don't have to do it today, Renee. We've got one more day before we're leavin'."
She understood his point but what good was holding it off? It would just be another day of internal turmoil, commiserating about the impending drama that was sure to happen. If she was going to do this, it was going to be now or not at all.
A rumble of thunder and crack of lightening emerged from the smoky gray sky above. Raindrops pounded on the windshield and tapped against the windows. With all the strength she could muster, Renee flung the door open and power-walked to the front door, unprotected from the rain.
"Jesus! Renee, wait!"
She balled up her fist and pounded on the metal screen, heart beating violently in her chest. Barrett caught up to her just as the inner wooden door started to open. When she saw the person standing on the other side, she froze.
The woman squinted and her eyes opened wide.
"Oh my God. Renee."
She opened the screen door, stepped outside and wrapped her arms around the soaking wet woman on her doorstep, squeezing her tight. "I've been calling you for months now. Are you okay?"
Tia was Terrell's older sister. She had seen her sparingly after Terrell came back from London. Not only had he controlled who Renee communicated with, he had also cut off all ties from his family and prevented them from coming to visit. Out of his three siblings, Renee had always been closest to Tia. She tried calling her a few times in the dead of night when she thought Terrell was sleeping but he always caught her and, well... she suffered the consequences.
Still caught off guard, Renee reciprocated the kind gesture.
They separated and Tia's gaze went over her shoulder.
"This is... Barrett."
A somewhat vague introduction considering he had orchestrated this whole trip but their status together would have to wait. "I came back to get some of my things and he's here to help."
Tia extended her hand. "Nice to meet you."
Barrett looked at Renee awkwardly, as if asking for permission. He mumbled a hello and shook Tia's hand firmly.
"It's sort of a mess in here; lots of boxes. I think I know where your stuff is, though. Why don't you guys come in?"
Renee looked around the living room. All of their -- well, his furniture, was gone. Nothing but plain brown boxes and packing supplies furnished the empty space. Was he moving? Never mind. She didn't want to know, nor did she care.
"No, I... I'm fine waiting outside."
"Renee." The ebony skinned beauty arched a brow. "It's raining outside. I'm not going to do you like that. It's going to take me a while to dig through this stuff anyway." She opened the door for Renee and stared at her sternly.
Knowing she wasn't going to win this one, Renee stepped through the door and Barrett followed, closing the door behind him.
The deeper she walked into the house, the more she noticed what used to be. Faint outlines remained from pictures that once adorned the lavender-colored walls. All of the electronics had assumingly been packed away. Living here had left her feeling hollow and empty long ago but the house now radiated a sullen hopelessness.
Tia started sorting through the unmarked boxes, but soon found herself distracted.
"Nee, girl... I'm so sorry for what happened," she sighed. "I didn't know until after you left and Terrell started coming around again. I kept calling your cell like crazy for months on end but at first you never answered and then it was disconnected."
Renee nodded. When she realized that the threatening texts and non-stop calls from Terrell wouldn't end, she changed her cell phone provider and got a Texas phone number. "It's okay. I've moved on," she partially lied.
Tia could see through the transparent façade. "If what Terrell told me he did to you is true, no you haven't. You're in a better place..." she made it a point to look at Barrett and smile, "and that's fine but it's going to take a lot longer than a year. Trust me, I know." Sure enough, Tia had told Renee about her abusive ex-husband and how the marriage, from day 1, was nothing but complete torture.
Tia sighed. "It's been a hard few months for the family. Rell came out of nowhere after being M.I.A. for a year and told us that you left him. He wouldn't say why but I got it out of him eventually. I was glad you left, though. He's never been a violent person but all it takes is the right person to get caught up in the wrong things."
Renee bristled. "Caught up how?"
"The life," she said matter-of-factly. "Remember Nate?"
Terrell's older brother who had seldom been around. "Yeah."
"I don't know what Rell told you but Nate wasn't somewhere livin' it up in a penthouse with fancy cars. He was doing a three year bid for drug trafficking. Got out about a year and a half ago just to turn around and start doin' the same shit all over again. Little did we know that he took Rell with him this time."
Renee felt like her foundation was being shaken to its core. "What are you saying?"
"Rell lied to us too about the study abroad program. We thought it was perfect timing that he was gonna be leaving when Nate was coming out. Rell always looked up to Nate for all the wrong reasons. Renee, you've met our family. Mama and Daddy, graduates of Spelman. Me and Gina graduated from Michigan State. Rell, Wayne State. Nate was always the odd one out. He never wanted to do anything productive... or legal," she said.
"But in him doing those illegal things, he was never broke. Fast, easy money for what looked like nothing. Rell thought that was the way to go. Long story short, he was gone with Nate for a year doing God knows what. From what Nate told us before he went back to jail, they're lucky they both came back in one piece."
Renee swallowed and tried to process the information. It was all starting to make sense. All of a sudden they were both working entry-level jobs, renting a modest apartment and driving used cars when Terrell claimed that he'd gotten a 'graduation gift' from his parents -- enough to buy two brand-new cars and mortgage a condo. Renee never questioned it. Why would she? His parents were well-off and lived in one of the best suburbs in Michigan.
She exhaled, completely stunned. "What exactly did Nate tell you?"
Tia shrugged. "You get caught up in that life, you face the consequences," she said with a headshake. "They got cornered a few times by dudes who were doing the same thing they were and apparently it turned into a them versus us situation. Rell and Nate made it out. The others..." she trailed off.