Eye of the Beholder Ch. 04

byRaLaWrites©

"That's great, Sarah," Renee said with a cautious smile.

"Yeah," she smiled back. "Anyway, I know he's moved on... listen, whatever you do, don't take him for granted like I did. He really is one in a million."

"Trust me, I know."

Sarah nodded. "Pass it on when gets back?"

"Absolutely."

"Thanks."

"RENEE! You'd better come get this old bat, she's cheatin'!"

"You're just angry 'cause you can't win worth a lick!"

"Wesley and Thelma?"

"I'd better get back to them."

"Well, see ya."

Renee watched her walk away and despite the past, had the utmost respect for Sarah for starting her life over and trying to move on. True enough, her downfall had been at her own discretion, but she made changes to better herself and become independent. Renee could never judge another woman for that.

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Who's turn is it?"

***

Barrett's pick-up truck idled outside of the mobile home. His hands, clammy and wet, clutched the steering wheel.

Fuck, he didn't want to go in. To see these people who were technically his family — a sister and brother, Brandi said, who favored the two of them a lot. It was childish of him to feel this way, but as far as he was concerned, Brandi had been his only sibling. Not to mention this woman who'd he left Ma for. He wondered if she'd received the same violent treatment, or if there was something 'special' about her that made her exempt from feeling his fists or his shoe against her head.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, re-thinking the whole damned thing. Maybe if he backed out slow, tried not to make too much noise...

"Uncle Barrett!"

Eden rushed from behind the house, ran over to his car with an energetic pace.

His heart caved and he grinned, put the truck in park, turned off the ignition and climbed out, feeling the hesitation melt away for a while.

"Hey, baby girl," he said, sweeping his niece up in his arms with a kiss on the forehead. "I missed ya."

"I missed you too. Hey, you should meet Cece and Evan. They're really nice, but it's weird to call them aunt and uncle 'cause they're only, like, two years older than me."

Barrett sighed, put on a brave face. "I'll say hi soon. Where's your mama?"

"In the house with Granddad. Kelly went to the store but she'll be back soon."

"Who's Kelly?"

"His wife," Eden smiled. "She's nice. Well, what are you waitin' for?" Eden snatched his hand and tried to pull, bless her heart, all of Barrett's 220 pound frame to the house. He followed, albeit slowly and dreading this moment, squeezing her hand.

The mobile home was very close to being in disrepair. It didn't look a square foot bigger than 800, and that was being generous. The white, vinyl siding had turned a dirty, ashy gray. He always imagined him living in a big, fancy home with his children and new wife. If this is where they'd been the whole time, they were no better off than he, Brandi and Ma.

The shades were drawn inside the home and a feeling of oppression and despair swept over Barrett. He couldn't tell if it was the old man's impending demise, or just his own apprehension to be there. He could barely make out the ratty furniture and other knick-knacks in the home, barely made out the outline of his sister sitting in a chair next to what he assumed was the bedroom.

"Brandi?"

"Barrett." She stood up and hugged her baby brother. "You came."

"Yeah," he acknowledged and patted her back, still not thrilled by the idea. "I'm gonna be leavin' soon, so... where is he?"

"In the bedroom. Go on in, I think he's conscious right now."

He leaned down and kissed her forehead, knocked once on the door and entered.

The bedroom was no better than the living room. The shades were drawn, and with the exception of a small lamp in the corner, it was dark.

Barrett took his time walking in. When he saw the old man, turned on his side with his back facing Barrett, all of those emotions came rushing back. Part of him had wished this moment came years earlier, when he was healthy and able-bodied. He fantasized about doing to him what he'd done to Ma all those years ago, repaying every single hit, punch or kick he doled out.

"B-Barrett."

His voice was weak, but still distinguishable.

"Yeah." Barrett sat in a chair across from the bed. "It's me."

He took his time turning over on the other side, coughed and wheezed throughout the ordeal. Barrett never made a move to help him; instead, he sat with his arms folded, and though he would have enjoyed the first expression his father saw from him in years to be a scowl, he looked more ambivalent than anything.

One of the old man's eyes was milky and glazed over from a cataract, but the other one seemed unaffected.

What could Barrett say? He looked exactly the same way he did all those years ago, just old. Whatever illness he had didn't take away any of his ample girth.

For a while, he laid there, stared at Barrett without uttering so much as "hi". Finally, the old man's cracked lips lifted in a shaky smile, revealing a tooth here or there but mostly pink gums.

"You look so much... like her," he wheezed.

Barrett felt like someone had stabbed him in the chest. He cocked his head to the side, folded his arms and flashed a sarcastic smile.

"Thank God for that, huh?"

"Heh," his father nodded. "I ain't never been much of a looker."

He shrugged.

"I heard you talkin' to Brandi out there, Barrett. I know you didn't wanna be here to see me. Means a lot that you did."

Barrett's smile faded.

"Look... I ain't got long," he confirmed. "I can't make up for what you saw growin' up or take back what I did. I 'spose Lana never told you, but she and I talked a few times 'fore she passed. Said she forgave me. See, you might look like a Hawthorne with a tan," he grinned, bearing his off-white teeth, "but that stubbornness came from a long line of Tsosie men 'fore you."

"I'm nothing like you," Barrett grumbled.

"If that's how you feel, I'm not gonna change your mind," he said with a shallow breath. "But I know better. Learned a long time ago that being stubborn is good for some things, but it can fuck up a hell of a whole lot more than it helps. That includes hatin' me for the rest of your life 'cause of what I did. Not askin' to uh... to be ab-abs.."

"Absolved," Barrett helped him. Were it not for him making a sliver of sense, he would have taken the opportunity to make some kind of wisecrack about his intelligence.

"Yeah, that. I did what I did and ultimately, I'm gonna pay for it. Hell, I think I done already paid for a lot of it."

He went into a coughing fit and again, Barrett waited for it to pass.

"But son, what I'm talkin' 'bout is the ultimate judgement. You still believe in God?"

"Yes," Barrett said.

"If for no other reason than that, I don't want you to spend the rest of your life hatin' me. God don't want you to do it and you know wherever your Ma is, she don't want you to, either."

The strong words began to penetrate the strong fortress protecting Barrett's emotions, which took years to build. The visual of his mother, ethereal and angelic, smiling at her son from beyond and nodding in assurance made it crumble in a matter of seconds. For the second time in two days, after not doing it at all since his mother's passing, he cried, head down and silent except for the occasional sniffle.

"You were a good kid, Barrett. I... I ain't been around you, but I can already see you're a better man than I was."

Barrett wiped his tears with his sleeve, let a deep breath go.

"Take care of Brandi and that little lady, Eden. Sad I didn't get to spend much time with her." He reached his hand out for Barrett, and this time he didn't hesitate. He stood up and took hold of the old man's fragile palm, who squeezed with as much strength as he had left.

"Goodbye, son. I'm sure it don't mean much now, but I love you. Cough!"

Barrett let his hand go when he started coughing, which resulted in a mix of blood and mucus this time. Brandi heard the commotion and ran in.

"I got him, Barrett. Daddy! Daddy... come on, sit up..."

***

Renee jolted upright in bed, panting, sweating profusely.

She knew what it was. Somehow, closure hadn't made the nightmares come to an end. They were less frequent now, thank god, but they still happened — usually when she slept alone. Three nights in a row Barrett had been gone, but he was due to come back within a few hours. She hated to call him in the middle of the night while he was driving, but she was still unsettled from the nightmare and hearing his voice was the perfect trick to calm her nerves.

Her shaky hands raided the bedside drawer until she found her cellphone and hit the speed dial button. He answered on the first ring.

"Hey darlin'."

"Hey, hon. How's the drive?"

"Almost over. Can't sleep?"

"No," she admitted.

"That's okay. You can tell me what you've been up to these past few days."

"Other than missing you and working? Not much. I've had Thelma and Wes over for the past few nights to keep me company."

"Oh man," Barrett chuckled. "That sounds --"

"Just about how you'd expect it to be. Lots of being at each others throats. They get pretty damn competitive with scrabble. And chess. Heck, pretty much everything. Oh, by the way... Sarah stopped by, looking for you."

Barrett went quiet on the other end for a few seconds, then sighed.

"What for?"

"Nothing bad," she said in a surprised tone. "She's... changed a lot. Wouldn't be able to tell it was the same person if you put the old her and the new her next to each other. She just wanted me to tell you thanks for helping her get her priorities straight after... what went down."

"That's good. I uh... I hope things work out for her. Listen, I'll be home in a few minutes. See you then?"

"Of course."

"Great. Bye, love."

"Bye."

It was sad, but as expected, that five minute conversation with Barrett soothed her so much that she snuggled against the pillows and went back to bed, excited to feel his arm curl around her waist and that playful little kiss he loved giving. She knew it was only a temporary fix for her nightmares; she would have to learn to get over them, whether or not Barrett was around.

Consulting a therapist was sounding more and more like a good idea.

***

Home.

If this could be what he came home to for the rest of his life — Renee, passed out in his bed, arms wrapped around her pillow as his replacement — he'd die a happy man.

He kicked off his boots and stripped down to his boxers, gently peeling the pillow away from her and replacing it with his chest. He leaned down and kissed her, grinned to himself when she exhaled softly and smiled in her sleep.

Between Renee's trip back home and his travels to see his father, they were both two very emotionally-drained people. Barrett couldn't remember a time where his mind hadn't been on something important — his company and employees, the folks in Quentin that depended on him. Brandi and Eden.

And Poor Renee. He knew she'd relaxed considerably after what she went through with Terrell, but working for him left her stressed, as well.

The holidays were coming up, and Wes had done a good job with keeping the company in tact during his absence.

Fuck it.

On a whim, he decided they — he and Renee — needed a getaway.

He didn't know where they were going, but he knew it needed to be far away. She could pick the country, climate, and length of the stay, he was open-minded. But they needed some 'us' time, away from family and friends.

It would also give him a chance to do what he'd had his heart set on for months now.

He still had some reservations, but none of them outweighed every beautiful thing he'd be gaining. Renee had her problems just like he had his — though he fought hard to hide them. The meeting with his father was a definite breakthrough, but the long road to forgiveness he faced was no different than Renee's journey. He was just a couple paces behind.

First thing tomorrow morning, he'd tell her about his idea and get the details ironed out. Then, hopefully, they would spend quality time together, and if things went really well, they would come back to Texas as soon-to-be husband and wife.

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by Anonymous

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by Anonymous03/11/18

Surprised

Came across this story and really liked it. I was a bit surprised and confused though after Renee confronted her past...you jumped to some point in the future. We didn't get to see any of the moments after,more...

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