Eye of the Beholder Ch. 01byRaLaWrites©
Renee Thomas drove into the parking lot of the E-Z Sleep Motel. Even through the heavy rain that pummeled against her windshield, she could tell the place was a complete dump. But the dump had a bed and hopefully a sanitary bathroom. And if worst came to worst, it was shelter from the violent storm brewing outside.
She turned the ignition off and leaned back against the seat. She had no idea where she was going, nor did she care. She'd go as far as her full tank of gas and two hundred dollars would allow and then she'd think of something. Exhaustion was setting in after nearly two days of broken, sporadic sleep. She could barely think straight and after evading a near-accident on the highway, Renee knew it was time to call it quits for the day.
Renee lowered the vanity mirror to adjust the sunglasses covering her face. Her dark, tightly curled tendrils pulled messily into a ponytail and casual outfit consisting of a white tee shirt and tattered jogging pants didn't bother her much, but she couldn't leave the car without making sure her sunglasses were on just right.
Grabbing a small bag of belongings from the backseat, Renee exited the car and power walked through the rain until she entered the office.
A middle-aged Asian man stood behind the counter and gave her the once-over. His greeting was more like an annoyed acknowledgment of her presence.
"Rates are fifty-five dollars a night plus a three dollar key-card fee," he droned without saying hello. "Each room has a king-sized bed, color television and mini-fridge."
Renee silently nodded, sifted through her purse for the money and slid it under the glass. A few moments later, the man shoved a key-card and remote back to her.
"Thanks," Renee muttered and walked out. He didn't respond.
The rain hadn't let up but luckily her room was two doors down from the office. With a quick swipe of the key card, Renee walked into the room and instantly gagged at the offensive odor permeating the air and her senses. A heavy smoker had obviously rented the room before her. She yanked the dusty curtains back and opened the window, sighing contentedly at the sweet, cool breeze of relief.
Just as she expected, the room was a filthy mess. The bedspread and sheets were stained and bunched in a messy pile in the middle of the bed. The television had a film of dust over the screen and had to have been at least twenty years old -- maybe more. She opened the bathroom door and groaned. The paint was peeling, the sink was covered in unidentifiable hairs, the toilet was clogged and the shower had a layer of rust on the faucet.
Her shoulders slumped. So much for taking a shower.
Renee retrieved a pack of baby wipes and deodorant from her bag. As sad as it was, it would have to do.
She stood in front of the dirt-streaked bathroom mirror and removed her sunglasses. Her bruised right eye remained a discolored purple-blue but the swelling had gone down. It contrasted starkly against her golden brown skin. She had been wearing sunglasses day and night, not wanting to draw any attention to the injury.
She gently scrubbed her face clean and winced when her fingertips brushed against the inflamed flesh, releasing a quiet hiss of pain. She exhaled and frowned at the unattractive reflection the mirror presented. The black eye added to the menagerie of long, deep cuts across her forehead and mouth that had since healed but left scars that, without the help of a dermatologist, would likely adorn her face forever. She'd done her best to cover them with c0ncealer, foundation and powder but the raised scar tissue remained visible. Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach when she realized for the hundredth time that the Renee she knew was gone, a shell of her former self, switched with this marked, scarred and broken replacement.
The bathroom light flickered and died, brought her out of her miserable outlook. She walked back into the room and undressed, folded her clothes and slipped them into her bag. She cleaned her sensitive areas as best she could with the wipes and threw them in the trash. She changed into an oversized tee shirt that went past her knees and sat on the very edge of the bed. Her eyes threatened to shut at any moment.
She was tired... so tired...
She could hear his voice. So soothing, so angelic. After being away for an entire year, Terrell was finally home. Now they could plan their dream wedding side by side instead of video chats or sending e-mails and even if they didn't, she was just happy to have the love of her life back.
She was standing in their eloquent bedroom with lavender walls and white furniture that popped against the background. Most men would hate such a feminine bedroom, but not Terrell. He loved it because she loved it. And she loved him for that.
Renee looked at the wall mirror and beamed. Her smooth, taut skin was bare and glowing. Her black tresses were shoulder length and sleek. Even with her self-conscious demeanor, she looked and more importantly, felt beautiful.
"I'm up here!" she called to her fiancé.
A framed picture caught her eye and she smiled. It was from the day Terrell left. She stood clinging to him, her golden complexion complementing his dark brown skin. He was smart, thoughtful and had a great sense of humor. She was lucky to have him.
She could hear him thudding up the steps and stood near the door in anticipation. Would he pick her up and spin her around like he always did, or would he flash a mischievous grin and carry her to the bed for a long anticipated session of lovemaking?
As he walked into view, Renee's smile faded quickly.
There was something wrong. Seriously wrong.
Terrell's normally radiant dark brown skin had turned an ashen gray. Dark circles hung underneath his brown eyes. His pupils were dilated and his gray tee shirt had blood splattered on the front.
Renee panicked. "Terrell, what's wrong?! Are you hurt?"
He lifted his arm and pointed to her chest.
Renee, confused and frightened, looked down at the yellow dress she was wearing. It, too, was covered in blood. Suddenly, she could taste it in her mouth and when she reached for her round cheek, she could feel it running hot down her face. She looked at him again, horrified.
He'd done this. He'd hurt her.
She was frozen in place as he lunged forward and took hold of her throat with one of his large palms and forced her on the bed, making it impossible for her to breathe. She wriggled and fought, scratched and clawed to flee his hold. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head as she lost consciousness.
"I'm sorry, Renee..."
Renee woke with a start, hyperventilating. She grasped at her neck and let out a sigh of relief at the touch of her bare skin. Another bad dream in a series of disturbing nightmares about him, each one more unsettling than the last.
When her breathing normalized, Renee's blurry vision cleared. The rays of sunlight that peaked through the yellowing blinds let her know it was morning and time to leave. She changed into a strapless blue dress and swapped her gym shoes with sandals, put on makeup, brushed her hair back and put on her sunglasses. She looped the bag over her shoulder and left the room, heading to the office.
The same man from the night before was still standing behind the counter, drinking a cup of coffee. The hunger pangs lolling around in her stomach got worse from the strong aroma of his drink. She hadn't eaten in almost a day and would have killed for a big plate of eggs, sausage and toast with a cup of coffee, extra cream and sugar.
"Good morning." She returned the items and offered a weak smile. "Are there any diners or restaurants nearby?"
The man nodded and handed her a piece of paper. It was a menu for a diner called Lana's located a half mile away from the E-Z Sleep.
The warm sunshine felt good when she stepped outside. There was little evidence of the storm from the previous night, aside from the fresh morning dew smell that Renee loved.
She took off for the open road again and found Lana's fifteen minutes later. It was a tried and true Mom and Pop diner with a full parking lot and hungry patrons satisfying their appetites inside. Not far from the diner was a sign that read Welcome to Quentin, Texas. It hadn't dawned on Renee how far from Michigan she'd gone until she saw the sign but now that she was here, she could either stay or go forward. There was no going back.
Right away, the heavenly smell of syrupy pancakes danced around her nose and made her mouth water. She had to have them.
A young girl with curly blonde hair walked up to her, wearing a waitress's uniform. She smiled pleasantly at Renee.
"Hello Ma'am," the girl bubbled. "First time at Lana's?"
"As a matter of fact it is," Renee nodded and returned the smile. "Any suggestions for a first timer?"
She handed Renee a menu and found a booth for her near the front of the entrance, prattling off different menu choices. Renee chose the pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast.
"It'll be coming up soon," the girl promised. "My name's Eden, by the way. Let me know if you need anything in the meantime."
"Coffee would be good."
Eden walked off to place her order. Renee sat in the booth, staring idly into space. She still hadn't processed the drastic change that occurred -- and was still occurring -- in her life. In some ways, she didn't want to think about it. Who in their right mind would be excited about starting all over again? Granted, she was only 26, but she'd left a respectable career and what little friends she did have behind. She could have felt bad about the materialistic things she'd given up: her condo, most of her furniture -- but all of those things and more could be purchased again. They weren't worth going back for and risking her safety. Not with him still sulking around the house. Starting over wasn't something she looked forward to, but it was necessary. She needed to know what independence felt like, what being alone felt like. Being able to walk around her house without walking on eggshells or being in fear.
Eden returned with her coffee and brought her to the present.
"Food's coming right up, Ma'am."
Renee took a sip of the rich beverage, relaxed as much as she could and gave her mind a vacation from the restless feelings that would not go away anytime soon.
The overhead bell rang and someone entered. Eden's shrill voice drew most of the patrons' attention.
"Get outta here with that helmet on!" she screeched. "You're embarrassin' me."
The man in question was wearing a leather jacket and worn blue jeans. His muffled laugh irritated Eden, who bristled and stamped her feet with impatience.
'"What a terrible way to greet your poor old uncle, Edie. I'm tellin' your mama next time I see her," he warned. Black hair peaked out from the black motorcycle helmet, past his shoulders.
"You live to humiliate me," she sighed, shaking her head. "There aren't any seats available so you're just gonna have to stand until I bring you your breakfast."
Renee turned to the window. Quentin seemed to be a small town with a diverse population of young and old, black, white and other. There was something about it that made her feel at peace. Maybe she'd stay; maybe she was just smitten with Lana's and her hunger was getting the best of her. It was too early to tell.
"This seat taken?"
Eden's uncle stood on the other side of the booth, the tinted helmet concealing his face.
Renee peered at him curiously and then shrugged. "Nope. Go ahead."
He slid into the booth and said nothing. Renee gave him the side eye and after a moment of awkward silence, she felt compelled to ask him something.
"You always go around wearing that on your head?"
"Sometimes." His deep voice was muffled by the helmet. "I think it makes me look cool."
Renee couldn't repress a grin. "You look like Darth Vader," she remarked, taking a sip of her coffee.
"Well, I think Darth Vader was pretty damn cool," he nodded.
"Hey!" Eden speed-walked to the booth carrying two plates and a cup of coffee on a serving tray without missing a beat. Impressive. "I told you to take that off! And please don't bother the customers," she pleaded. "This is her first time here and I don't want you ruining her experience."
"Oh I'm fine," Renee clarified. "No bother at all."
"Anything else you'd like to say, Eden?" he chuckled.
The waitress hemmed and hawed and said as she walked off in a huff: "Still need to take off that stupid helmet."
"Now that, I will do," he compromised. "Can't eat through this thing."
Renee dove into her food. She didn't taste it so much as she shoveled it down. It was one of those days.
"Big appetite this morning, huh?" he noticed.
"Yeah, I've been..." Renee stopped mid-sentence when she looked up.
The man had taken his helmet off and he was stunning. His eyes were blue or green. Blue-green? They were captivating. His features achieved the impossible by being the perfect mix of soft and masculine. His smile was out of this world and his olive skin glowed. He wasn't her type but anyone with two functioning eyes could see that he was irrefutably attractive. It really shouldn't -- and didn't -- matter to Renee what the man looked like; but she was human and it is human nature to ooh-and-ah over the genetically gifted.
"Been...?" he asked, taking a bite of his omelet and tucked a tuft of hair behind his ear.
Once the shock wore off, she continued. "Nothing, just on the road," she said, looking down at her food.
"Stayin' in Quentin for a while?"
"A few nights."
"Comin' to visit or just ridin' through?"
She felt uncomfortable answering so many questions and changed the subject. "That reminds me, I actually need to get going. I have to find someplace to stay."
"There's a bed and breakfast not far from here," he said. "Quaint little place. Better than most motels."
"I'm sure I'll find something," she nodded. "Thanks for letting me know." With most of her food gone, Renee stood up and accidentally knocked over her coffee cup.
"Shit." She leaned forward to pick it up and to her horror, her sunglasses slipped off and clattered to the floor. For a moment, she felt as if the world stopped. Most of the patrons were paying no mind to her; maybe he didn't notice either. She fumbled to put the sunglasses back on and hastily picked up the cup, grabbed her bag and hoisted it over her shoulder. She left the money for her meal on the table and walked away.
Renee almost sprinted out of the diner and into her car. She didn't want it again. NOT again. The pity-filled looks, the speech that it wasn't her fault, the list of resources for women 'like her'. She'd done the right thing; she got away. Left a bad situation and didn't need anyone trying to help her. For once, she needed to be independent, even if it meant being lonely or having it rough for a while.
She found the Turquoise Bed and Breakfast located discreetly behind two large weeping willows. She'd catch up on sleep and plan her next move. After what happened, Quentin definitely wasn't the place to settle down.
Barrett brushed at the moisture on his lightly creased brow with his forearm. His entire body was covered in sweat, he was starving and the barn was only half complete. Damn cows. They were always doing something destructive or roaming too far off the property.
He faced the house and grinned, putting a hand over his forehead to shield the setting sun from blocking the divine view in front of him. Sarah, his girlfriend, was calling him in for dinner -- or in her case, takeout.
"Aw, c'mon!" he yelled, walked to her. "Just five more minutes to play outside and I'll be in to wash up, I promise!"
"Come in here you silly man," she laughed. "I bought Chinese food."
Barrett placed a quick kiss on Sarah's temple as he walked in past her, standing in the kitchen. "Food is the last thing on my mind, baby. I got to get outta these clothes and hit the shower."
"Oh, no you don't. We're out of drinks, so I need you to stop by the store and pick some up."
"After I take a shower," he reminded.
"We're out of soap, too."
"Fuck," he huffed, reaching for his jacket. "Guess if anyone asks why I smell so bad, I can tell 'em we ran outta soap."
He walked out without his helmet and didn't feel like going back inside to get it. A bad boy, he wasn't, but a quick drive on the Harley without a helmet wouldn't kill him.
He took off and reveled in the welcoming breeze of nightfall. He pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store and stood up when a small plastic card flew out of his pocket and onto the pavement, refreshing his memory. It was a library card that the woman, apparently named Renee, had dropped when she ran out of Lana's. He'd thought about giving it to Eden in case she came back but part of him knew she wouldn't. They never did.
He examined the card again. Detroit Public Library. She'd sure come a long way from Detroit, but women like her didn't have a destination. The bruised eye and skittish behavior was all he needed to tell that she was one of those women. His mother had been one of those women, too.
Barrett stood frozen in the parking lot, fighting against his better judgment. You have too much on your plate already. Don't go buttin' your nose in where it doesn't belong.
Before he knew it, he was back on the motorcycle, headed for the Turquoise. In all of his 30 years, when had he thought with his head in situations like these, or ever?
As usual, the lobby was completely quiet. Thelma, an elderly Native American woman and the owner, stood behind the counter and smiled when she saw Barrett.
"Hello Barrett. What brings you here? Finally come to learn more about the other half your heritage?"
Oh, hell. He ran a hand through his thick, dark mane and smiled, embarrassed. He wasn't exactly in touch with his Native ancestry and Thelma never let him forget it.
"Not this time," he said. "I'm lookin' for someone who may or may not be here, a woman."
Thelma eyed him suspiciously. "Does Sarah know you're looking for a woman?"
For God's sake. "Yes, Thelma," he sighed. "Her name's Renee."
"Mmm," Thelma nodded. "She checked in late this morning. She's in Room 4."
All Barrett wanted to do was leave the card. But his heart had again outsmarted his mind and before he knew it, he was knocking on the door to Room 4.
Renee leaned against the bed's wooden backboard. The room was absolutely gorgeous and antiquated. Everything that was wrong about the E-Z sleep, the Turquoise had gotten right.
With her hair wrapped in a white towel and her body covered with a robe, Renee reached for the cellphone she'd cut off three days prior. She didn't want any distractions or to let anyone talk her out of leaving.
The phone chimed and powered on. A messaged flashed across the screen:
(25) Unread Text Messages
(5) Pending Voicemail
She didn't need to go through. Most, if not all, were from Terrell. Out of curiosity, she read the first few text messages:
[Who are you with, Nee?]
[You trifling bitch. Are you out with some dude?]
[Baby, I'm sorry. I was just upset. Call me back.]
She couldn't stomach anymore and turned the phone off, placing it on the nightstand. Tears formed and she let them flow for the millionth time. It was all she could do, now that she'd actually gotten away -- cry, feel pain, and mourn.
Why? He'd gone to London on business for an entire year and before he left, he was the perfect mate. Sweet, kind, loving. When he arrived in England, they sent e-mails and video chatted whenever possible. Around the six-month mark, he barely contacted her anymore. The last four months, she never got as much as a phone call.