Lady in Red Ch. 03byHarddaysknight©
Gwen knew real fear as she looked at Mort's face and heard his intentions. She threw her door open and ran into the woods. She heard Mort curse and then the engine started. Headlights lit up the forest, forcing Gwen to flee farther into the night. She remained quiet until she was certain that she heard Mort drive away. She had the presence of mind to listen carefully so that she could determine the direction of the nearest highway. Gwen had her phone, but until she could establish her location, calling someone for help would only create unneeded worry for her family.
Not one to whine, Gwen began walking in the general direction of the highway. Half an hour later, Gwen found herself on a county road. Having grown up in the area, she only had to walk a half mile or so along the road before she was able to identify her location. With a sigh, she used the speed dial on her phone.
"Charlotte, I need you to pick me up. I'm stranded on Henderson Road, about halfway between the river and the farmer's market. I'll explain it to you when you get here. Just hurry, please," implored Gwen, as she drew her jacket tighter. "Go slow and I'll step onto the side of the road when you get close."
In a surprisingly short time, Gwen saw Charlotte's lights as she drove down the now abandoned highway. As Charlotte approached, Gwen stepped from the darkness and waved. The car pulled to a stop next to her and Gwen opened the passenger door.
"Thanks, Char... ," began Gwen until she recognized the driver. "Steve! What're you doing here?"
"Charlotte called and said you had a problem. She seemed to think that I could handle it better than she could. What happened, Gwen? Why are you walking on this deserted stretch of road? What happened to your blouse? It's ripped!" observed Steve with eyes blazing. "Gwen, tell me what's happened. Did someone do this to you?"
"Take me home, please. I don't have to answer your questions. If you can't respect that, I'll get back out and call someone else," retorted Gwen hotly. "I'm not going to answer any questions, but to be fair, I won't ask any either. That should make you happy!"
Gwen realized that she had to look a mess. Her walk through the woods in the dark had disheveled her and Mort's manhandling had torn her blouse. Somehow, Gwen knew that if she told Steve that Mort had harmed her in any way, Steve would do something drastic, and probably illegal. Steve must never learn the truth about her evening!
It was pushing eleven when Paula heard the door open. It was pretty late for a school night and Paula had expected Gwen home by nine. Paula heard Gwen speak to someone quietly and then she became louder.
"Steve, I am not inviting you in! Please go away! Leave me alone!"insisted Gwen loudly as Paula hurried into the living room to find Steve and Gwen in a heated exchange.
"I want some answers, Gwen! Somebody did this to you and I want to know who!" demanded Steve.
"Steve! Gwen! What's going on? What happened to you, Gwen? Are you okay?" asked a perplexed Paula as Kate came rushing into the room followed by her father.
Ted took the scene in, and started for Steve. "Young man, I warned you what would happen if you mistreated my daughter!"
With that, Ted pulled a fist back and punched Steve on the jaw. For his part, Steve never even flinched. He slowly brought his hand up to his jaw and rubbed it. Gwen was horrified. This was exactly what she had been hoping to avoid. What a horrible ending to a horrible night. Her father had just struck Steve. Now there was no doubt that she and Steve would never be together again, not that she wanted him back after his cheating and lying.
Gwen suddenly burst into tears as Paula wrapped her arms around her and yelled at Ted. "Damn it, Ted! Steve didn't do this to Gwen! Get your head straightened out and apologize to him! Men think every problem can be solved by fighting, and that's without even knowing what the problem is. Steve, sit down and tell us what happened to Gwen while I put her to bed. She's in no state to be questioned, or abused!"
"Sir, if I had done that to Gwen, you'd have been within your rights to beat me to a pulp. Charlotte called me and told me that Gwen needed help, so I went to help her," offered Steve as he considered his actions of the past few minutes. "She wouldn't tell me anything about how she wound up in that situation or what had happened to her. I thought the same thing you did, that some guy had tried to take advantage of her, and I was even angrier than you are, but she refuses to tell me what's going on."
"Son, I flew off the handle. I had no reason to strike you and I sincerely apologize. Imagine my feelings when I see you bring my daughter home in that condition. I heard you two arguing and I assumed that you had harmed her. It's a good thing you didn't strike back, Steve. My fist still hurts," grinned Ted ruefully. "It must have been that damned...".
"Dad!" Kate almost yelled at her father. "Gwen didn't want to tell Steve what happened and it would be wrong for you to say anything. She probably has some very good reasons, Dad. Why don't you go check on Gwen while I tell Steve good night?"
Kate was surprised at how quickly her father acquiesced to her suggestion. Over the years, Ted had learned to listen to the women in his family. He loved them dearly and hated to see any of them hurt in any way.
"Steve, things are a little screwed up tonight," began Kate as she walked over and dropped into Steve's lap. "At some point, Gwen will thank you, as will Mom and Dad. It's pretty obvious to me that Gwen doesn't want you to get into any trouble over this. She's probably ashamed of herself and scared to death that you'll go off half cocked and get into a bad situation. Then she'd feel even worse. Please, be patient and forgiving. Gwen's worth it."
As she finished speaking, Kate kissed Steve quickly on the lips and jumped off his lap and laughed. "I really, really wanted to do that forever! You were so serious and quiet, so I took advantage of the situation. Now go home. This'll all shake out before too long, but it's best if everyone has the opportunity to calm down. Gwen really likes you and so do I. You're the best big brother a girl could have!"
After Steve left and Kate locked the door, she turned to find her mother standing in the doorway. "Young lady, I heard everything you told Steve just now, and I'm proud of you. That was wisdom beyond your years. If Steve knew that Gwen left here with Mort Governs, he'd probably be over there right now and it wouldn't end well for either of them. You called Steve your big brother, Kate. How did that start?"
"He pretty much told me that he'd never be able to be romantically interested in me. I blame that on Gwen, by the way. He has it bad for her. He added that he likes me like a sister and could love me like a sister. You know what, Mom? That's a pretty good way to be loved and I'm going to be very content to have his love that way. It's uncomplicated and it feels great," added Kate.
Gwen had taken that moment to descend the stairs and heard the end of Kate's comments. "You think Steve loves you, Kate? How could you be so foolish? He doesn't even know what love is. He's like all men; he loves pretty faces and big tits!"
"You owe your sister an apology, Gwen!" insisted Paula firmly. "She was telling me that Steve likes her like a sister and if things progressed with you, he could love her like a sister. Kate is NOT trying to steal your boyfriend. Now tell me why you have such a low opinion of men in general and Steve in particular. What actually happened tonight? Are you angry at Mort Governs and blaming the whole gender for his actions?"
"Oh, Kate, I'm so sorry," cried Gwen. "You're a great sister. I know that. I've had a really bad night. Mort was a total ass at dinner. His ideas for fund raising involved girls in swimsuits and girls being auctioned off for an evening of dance. The way he described it gave me the creeps. Then, when I wasn't paying attention on the drive home, he pulled off the road, parked, and started groping me. I'm ashamed to say that he got his hand down my bra and squeezed me till it hurt!"
"Wow, Sis! It's a good thing no one told Steve about that! He'd be over there right now breaking Mort into little pieces. He'd be in jail by morning. How did you wind up with Steve if he didn't know that you were with Mort Governs?" questioned Kate as she hugged her distressed sister.
"I jumped out of Mort's car, which he called his 'love machine' by the way, and ran into the woods. He drove off after a little while and I walked in the same direction he drove. I found I was on Henderson Road so I called Charlotte to come pick me up. For some reason, she called Steve and asked him to do it instead. I'll chew her out tomorrow for that!" promised Gwen. "What was she thinking?"
"If she knew that you were going out with Mort Governs, she may have been thinking you needed the aid of a strong young man that would do anything to keep you safe," offered Paula. "Is that a possibility? Two young women could still be accosted in the darkness by a deranged suitor. A woman with Steve Hammer next to her would have no such worries."
"That's the other problem. Mort took me to Dominick's for dinner. While we were waiting to order dinner an incredibly beautiful red headed woman around twenty five walked in. She was shown to a table back in the corner, and guess who her date was?" sniffled Gwen. "None other than Kate's big brother!"
"Oh, no!" gasped Paula. "Are you sure that Steve had a date with her? Did he see you with Mort? What happened then?"
"I gave Mort some lame story about being allergic to garlic and we left and had dinner at the Road House. She hugged him and kissed his cheek, Mom! Unless he has a whole bunch of girls that want to be his sister, I'd have to say it was a real date. He's a liar. I guess all men are liars, except for Dad. They just want to play with "the girls", get their rocks off, and move on to the next conquest. Steve's no different."
"That's not true and you know it, Gwen! Steve is a good guy. He's way better than that asshole you were with tonight! Sorry, Mom," apologized Kate when she saw her mother's face when she swore. "Has Steve ever groped you or forced himself on you in any way? Let me rephrase that. Has he ever groped you in a way that you didn't want to be groped? He's a gentleman."
"He's never laid a finger on me that way, if you must know, Kate. The fact remains that he's dating a beautiful, older woman without giving me as much as a hint about it. We aren't going steady or anything, but that's still a pretty low thing to do!"
"That's what I was trying to tell you earlier this evening when you were getting ready to go out with butt-head," pointed out Kate. "You weren't going to tell Steve about Mort if you could help it. I guess all women are liars and cheats and really want men to play with their "girls". That's probably exactly what Mort believes."
"Besides," added Gwen, ignoring Kate's observation, "Dad punched Steve tonight when he saw my torn blouse and Steve standing there all angry. That's enough to keep Steve away forever."
"Ha! I'll give you odds that Steve will be back as soon as you invite him. He'll even apologize to Dad for making him so upset that he felt he had to hit Steve. Did you see how Steve just rubbed his chin and looked at Dad? I don't think Dad will be popping him in the chops again anytime soon," chuckled Kate. "But it was great that Dad was willing to mix it up with Steve for his daughter's honor."
Steve had no idea what to expect when he entered the homeroom the next morning. He had left Gwen on a pretty bad note. She was very upset with him, and her father had been so angry he actually punched Steve. That was a pretty brave thing for a man that worked as a CPA to do. Steve had to acknowledge an increased respect for Ted Anderson.
Charlotte was sitting at her desk when Steve entered. Gwen had not yet arrived, so Charlotte asked him about the previous evening.
"I found her right where you said she'd be, Charlotte. She was very nicely dressed, but her blouse was torn and her hair was a mess. She refused to tell me what happened. By the time we got to her house, I was all pissed off and was demanding that she tell me who did that to her," recounted Steve. "My behavior was unacceptable in another man's home and Ted Anderson heard me. He took one look at Gwen's condition and smacked me right on the chin. He's a really good father. I deserved it and he administered it. That calmed me down, but I never did find out what happened. Do you know what's going on?"
"Steve, I won't betray Gwen's confidence. You wouldn't like me if I did. She needs to be the one to explain everything to you. I know that she really likes you a lot. She's new to this dating thing and you need to be understanding and patient with her. It'll all work out," assured Charlotte as Gwen entered the room and took her seat.
"Ah, Gwen! I have some news for you," revealed Ms. Walker. "I've been contacted by two different organizations. One would like you and Steve to demonstrate your wonderful 'Lady in Red' dance for them. That one is the Rotary Club. Their president, Ralph Smith, called me this morning and asked me to approve it. He said that you had approached him the other day at the bank about your fund raising efforts, and he drew a blank. When he mentioned it to his wife, she immediately suggested that you two go to a Rotary meeting and dazzle the members with your skill and beauty, and then give a pitch for the class project."
"Mr. Smith set us up with the Rotary?" repeated Gwen. "That would be a great place to network! When is the next meeting, Ms. Walker?"
"Wednesday afternoon. I'd have to get permission for you both to leave school so you can attend the luncheon at the Holiday Inn, but that'll be no problem. So, are you two willing to put your best foot forward, pun intended, to move this project further along?" quizzed Ms. Walker.
Gwen suddenly knew doubt. She had fought with Steve the previous evening. He might decide she wasn't worth the trouble, or want to get even for her treatment of him after he made the effort to rescue her. Not one to shirk her duties, Gwen slowly turned to face Steve.
For his part, Steve was not going to make it easy for Gwen. He sat without expression as he waited for Gwen to speak.
"Uh, Steve, do you think you want to go to the Rotary luncheon and perform that dance with me, if you aren't too busy?" asked Gwen timidly. "It could be a great boost to our fund raising efforts. All the business people in the area are in the Rotary Club."
"Gwen, I'd be delighted to escort you to the luncheon. Will we be in costume for this performance? What do you want me to wear?"
Angela Walker noticed the strain in Gwen's voice and actions, but chose to remain quiet and wait to see where it would lead. "I was also contacted by the local volunteer fire company, of all organizations. They're having a casino night fund raiser on the first Saturday evening in November and asked if about a dozen or so seniors would be willing to serve as waiters and waitresses for the event. They will be serving alcohol, so they want the seniors to be eighteen years of age, and you will NOT drink any alcohol. It's a very low budget effort, but they want the patrons to get the feel of Vegas or Atlantic City right here in our town. In lieu of a big stage production, they asked if you two would do a few dances on a small, raised platform. Again, it's a really good way to network with people, and the fire department is always the one of the most worthy non-profit organizations to help."
Again, Gwen turned to Steve. He smiled and nodded when her eyes met his. Gwen's relief was apparent to both Steve and Charlotte.
Steve never seemed to be able to be alone with Gwen in the days that followed. He knew she was avoiding him and it bothered him more than he cared to admit. Since the rotary luncheon was at noon, Gwen had decided to spend the morning preparing for the dance. She had decided to give the Rotary the very best she could. She told Steve that she would meet him at the Holiday Inn a few minutes before the luncheon.
"Gwen, you're just beautiful!" gasped Paula as she watched Gwen put the finishing touches on her makeup. "This'll be a great opportunity to reconnect with Steve. You've got to talk to him to get past the situation you had the other night. The worst thing for any relationship is lack of communication. Please talk to him."
"Mom, while we were dating, the following things took place. I went on a date with a man that practically tried to rape me. Steve went on at least one date with a gorgeous woman, and who knows what they did! My father punched Steve in the face. We argued. He demanded that I tell him who I was with, as if he had that right! I refused, which a good girlfriend really wouldn't do. I think we've pretty well screwed things up between us, don't you? Now we're just going through the motions for the class project."
"Okay, if you insist," relented Paula. "He's sure going to regret his actions when he sees how beautiful you are today."
"Yeah, if he isn't having some afternoon delight in one of the rooms at the same Holiday Inn with that supermodel he's dating. He probably won't be able to concentrate on dancing today, for thinking about getting laid later on!"
"I imagine that at least part of his mind will be on sex," admitted Paula. "But, I doubt that any redhead will be involved in his fantasy."
"That's my point, Mom. Sex is always on their minds," lamented Gwen. "What's wrong with them?"
"My dear, that doesn't have to be a bad thing," laughed Paula. "Why do men do things for women? Why is society the way it is? Because men want what we have! That gives us power. You just have to learn to wield that power wisely. I've kept your father in line and interested for well over twenty years, and it wasn't just my good cooking that did it."
"How do you know whether you have a good guy like Dad, or a letch like Mort?" asked Gwen.
"It doesn't usually take too long, if you watch the clues," assured Paula. "Mauling you in a parked car against your wishes is an obvious deal breaker. You shouldn't have to experience that to find out what sort of man you're dealing with. Watch how he treats his family, his friends, strangers, and people less fortunate than he is. You'll learn a lot about a person that way."
"I seem to have a problem telling the good guys from the bad ones. Mort was a huge mistake every way imaginable. It looks like Steve was, too. I guess I'm batting 1000% in bad choices."
"As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on Steve," replied Paula. "Both of your sisters think he's the cat's pajamas. To be honest, I have to agree with them. You can't be sure he was dating that woman you saw him with, at least not until you give him the opportunity to explain himself."
Steve was surprised when Ms. Walker told him that she would be attending the luncheon and that he could ride with her. "I hate to be nosey, Steve, but I am. What's up with you and Gwen? Am I going to have a problem with my star attractions? Did you two quarrel?"
"I'm not comfortable talking about it, Ms. Walker," admitted Steve. "Let's just say that I played the fool in front of Gwen and her family. I was hoping that I'd get a free pass, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. She avoids me as much as possible, so I can't say how this will all play out. You can be sure that I'll do my part. I'll do whatever I can to get back in good with Gwen."
"Okay, Steve. That's all I can ask from you. I'll talk to Gwen to see what she's thinking. I'm going with you today so I can lobby for the hospital fund. This could be a great chance to get this project off the ground."