|Maureen suffers through Beckett's lessons in self defense|
For the next several weeks, Beckett and Maureen lived in the land of new relationship paradise. The flat above the deli acted as a cozy cocoon, isolated from the rigors of the real world, and a place where the focus could remain on their exploration of each other. She cooked fabulous meals, wore flimsy lingerie, and hung on every word he said. He covered her apartment in fresh flowers, gave long massages with scented oil, and said pretty things in several different languages. Their time together was like something out of a dreamy romance novel. The stuff fantasies are made of.
Unfortunately, life has a way of reminding each and everyone of us, that fairy tales are simply make believe. Dollyville was a very ordinary town in southeastern Massachusetts, and Ted and Maureen were very real human beings. It wasn't long before reality creeped into their perfect world like a stray dog scratching at the door. Little things that originally seemed so charming, now caused slight tickles of annoyance.
What had first drawn Maureen to Beckett, besides the fact that he was devastatingly handsome, was the masculine, "take charge" aura that he presented to the world. When he walked into a room, people noticed, and if he gave an order, it was followed. This seemed undeniably sexy from afar, but living with it up close and personal was a different story. She had grown up in the shadow of seven brothers, so she was used to being unheard and outvoted, but Ted's bossiness took this issue to a new level.
It began the evening she came home to find a very large flat screen TV mounted on the wall facing her bed. The very same wall she had hoped to hang some pretty botanical prints, and an antique mirror, when she happened to discover them in her thrifting adventures. He had expected her to be excited about his gift of the latest in digital technology, and was obviously disappointed when she didn't gush. He had offered to remove it, but seeing the annoyed look on his face, she waved the white flag, and the big, ugly thing stayed right where it was.
On another occasion, he spent an entire Saturday morning re-arranging her kitchen cabinets to what he claimed was "higher efficiency". Being that she was the one who did all the cooking, she felt it was rather presumptuous of him to decide what worked better for her, and when he wasn't around, she moved everything back to the way it was. He noticed the change a few days later, letting his displeasure be known for several hours, and when she couldn't find a certain saute pan she needed to finish dinner, he sat at the table and gloated.
But the worst of all, was his decision that she was in need of some basic instruction in self defense. She had grown up on the streets of inner city Boston, and had never once needed to defend herself. She sincerely doubted that moving to the small, sleepy town of Dollyville increased her risk of personal attack, especially since she spent most of her time in the company of the community's Sheriff. But he would not be swayed to her way of thinking, and she found herself helping him move all of furniture aside so he could begin her training.
Initially, she thought the whole experience might be rather fun. The thought of wrestling around, and having him pin her to the floor, sounded uber sexy, and he looked crazy hot wearing only a pair of nylon athletic pants. But it was clear in the first five minutes that he had absolutely no ideas of romance in mind. He was all business, pushing and prodding her until she was out of breath, and covered in nasty, purple bruises. She might've swallowed all of this without a word, if he hadn't begun "tisking" in disgust when she got it wrong, or patting her on the head, saying "good girl", when she pleased him with her success. It made her feel as if she were the family pet, and not his significant other.
So, when the opportunity arose to use one of his techniques to take a free, open kick, she swung around and caught him squarely in the groin. That was the end of the lessons for the rest of the evening, and pretty much everything else. Though she publicly offered him showers of remorse, she secretly congratulated herself for terminating any future instructions. But to her complete shock, he was right back at it the following night, working her doubly hard, showing absolutely no mercy, and then making her go on a three mile run with him afterwards. Needless to say, she thought twice about taking any additional cheap shots at his male anatomy.
Still, it would be unfair to place the blame entirely on Ted alone. He was wild about her. Have no doubt of that. He found her beautiful, smart and funny, and couldn't deny that there was a very real connection between the two of them. So, maybe it was because he was ten years older than she, that he often felt as if they were on different planes of the universe. It might have also been his military training, or the kinky side that refused to stay buried. Whatever the reasoning, there were certain things about the lovely Maureen that set his teeth on edge.
For one, she had to be the most disorganized person he had ever had the occasion to spend a serious amount of time with. She was constantly opening drawers and cabinets around the flat, and then would forget to close them. He couldn't count the times he had banged his shin on the opened lower drawer of the bathroom vanity, or caught the top of his head on a cabinet door that wasn't completely shut. And every morning, he was forced to watch her forage through the tiny closet for something to wear to work, dragging out several pieces, trying them all on, and then discarding most of them in a pile at the end of the bed, rather than hanging them back up. When he had suggested that she might decide the night before what she wanted to wear, she looked at him as if he were crazy, explaining that she wasn't sure what type of mood she might be in when she awoke. This, to him, made no sense at all.
|Maureen's morning routine drives Beckett crazy|
Then, there was her reluctance to take the self defense training he was providing with any level of seriousness. When it came to personal safety, he found her ridiculously naive. She would repeatedly leave her doors unlocked, went for walks alone at night with headphones stuck in her ears, and gave out way too much information on Facebook for his liking. With the knowledge that both Cassie and Marzano were still floating around, and knowing that he might at any given time be sent out of the country for extended periods of time, he was adamant about her at least being aware of the less than savory elements surrounding her world. It was his plan to eventually teach her how to handle a weapon, but until then, he wanted her to have, at the very least, the ability to escape a bad situation, or some extra minutes to seek help.
Lastly, although it made him sound rather self-centered and rude, he was sick to death of her tiny, one room apartment. Tired of a shower that didn't allow him to completely rinse off. Disgusted by the cloudy water from the kitchen faucet. Uncomfortable sleeping on an angle in the too short bed. He simply missed his own home. Missed his studio. Missed his dog. Missed his bed.
The weeks together in her flat had been sexy as hell. Isolated from the day to day grind, it had seemed like a lover's secret hideaway. But if the relationship was heading toward anything more remotely permanent, she needed to share more of his personal life, including spending time in his home. He knew broaching the subject would difficult. Maureen viewed his abode as the evil place where he and Cassie had spent time together as a couple, even though she had been gone for nearly three months, and he'd wiped virtually every trace of her from the building. He wanted to change that picture in her mind. Make memories there that would be special to her alone, with the hope that she would eventually agree to move in with him, and give up life in the flat above the deli.
There were things about him of which she had no clue, and he'd have to tread carefully to avoid her fleeing in a panic. With time, he believed she'd be able to accept him as he was, but if he'd known in advance how things would turn out during that first visit, he might have gone a different route, and waited a bit longer before pushing the issue. As it was, it took several intense conversations, and a whole lot of promises, to get her to agree to spend the following Saturday and Sunday with him at his place.
Beckett thought he had covered all the bases. He gave the housekeeper the weekend off, kenneled the dog, emptied space in the closets and drawers for her things, and ordered all new, luxurious bedding. He had no reason to check the fridge, as he never did the shopping, and that was, unfortunately, where the problems began.
On Saturday morning, Ted could sense that she was apprehensive, and not entirely sold on the whole idea. Her only other visit to the house on Maple Avenue had been that hellish engagement party Cassie had insisted on hosting, and that had not been a pleasant memory maker. He decided to ease into the whole day, and began by taking her to breakfast at her favorite diner, followed by several hours of antiquing along the Cape. When they finally arrived back at his house, it was nearly 4:00 PM, and she was in a jovial mood, having found a few vintage treasures, that to him, looked like old junk.
He took her coat and bag, and then proceeded to give her a tour of the place, carefully avoiding anything below the main floor. She nodded her way through the parlor, his home office and the weight room, and turned several shades of pink over his bedroom, and the enormous platform bed the size of a small football field. Lastly, he walked her to his studio, a loft type area on the third floor that boasted an immense skylight, and several floor to ceiling windows offering a gorgeous view of the wooded area south of town. Beckett had never mentioned to her before this moment that he painted, so to say that she was surprised, was putting it mildly.
"Oh, Ted! This room is awesome! I didn't know you painted. You never said a word!" She wandered over to a stack of canvases that were tucked into a corner, and began flipping through them. "These are beautiful. Are they of the woods around your cabin?"
"Mostly. Some are of Tuper Woods outside of town."
"I love this one of your dog. It's like you captured her whole personality... just sitting there on your front porch, watching the world go by. You're really talented! Have you done any portraits of people?'
Beckett hesitated a moment. "I've done a few. But I don't...have them here." He grabbed a sketch book off a low table, flipped through it, and then handed it to her.
Seeing the images, Maureen blushed. "These are of me! How? I've never caught you sketching me when we've been together."
"I did most of them from memory. But the one with your dog I took from a Facebook photo, and the smiling one I based off a picture on my Blackberry. I took it the first time we went out together."
"These are wonderful. I look...so pretty...so happy." She handed the sketchbook back to him, embarrassed.
He pulled her into his arms. "Just pretty? No. I'd say more like beautiful...a gorgeous woman in love." He kissed her, and then added. "I'm hoping someday you'll let me paint you."
Suddenly shy at the thought of being his model, she could only whisper. "We'll see."
As they made their way down from the studio, his cell phone rang. Checking the number, he made a face, and put up a finger for her to hold up. From the answers on his side, she could tell that it was someone at the Sheriff's office, and knowing that he was his off duty, predicted it was something important enough for them to bother him at home. Part of her hoped it would mean cutting the overnight visit short. Despite his efforts to put her at ease, spending the night with him in that giant bed, and knowing full well Cassie had spent time there as well, made her feel ill. She couldn't logically explain why she seemed unable to get beyond this. It wasn't fair for her to hold something against him that was set in motion long before she ever knew him. And in all honesty, she herself knew he was involved with someone when she first acknowledged her attraction to him. The mix of guilt, insecurity, and foreboding, made for a nauseous mental cocktail, and she was hoping for any type of reprieve.
His call completed, he led her back to the front parlor. "I'm really sorry, Maureen. There was a small fire at the station, and we have two prisoners in holding. I have to go over there, and see to their transfer. Shouldn't take more than an hour or two. Will you be okay here alone for a bit? Maybe watch TV, or something? I want you to make yourself at home. Then, when I get back, we'll see about going out somewhere for dinner. Sound alright?"
She really, really wanted to say no. Wanted to suggest a postponement for a date further in the future. Way further. But he looked so hopeful and cute, she didn't have the heart to disappoint him. "Sure, Ted. I'll be fine. You go take care of business."
He grabbed his jacket, kissed her again, and promised to be back as quickly as possible. She watched him drive away, uneasy in the empty, rambling house. The TV offered nothing to hold her attention, and his stack of magazines on criminal law, investments, and politics, held no allure. Bored, she decided she'd explore the kitchen, and possibly surprise him with some dinner here at home. He had a full time housekeeper, so it was likely there were groceries that could be combined for a meal, and the kitchen itself was a cooks dream.
She wandered over to the stainless steel fridge, large enough to hold provisions for a family of twenty. It was highly polished, so much so, she could see herself in the mirror finish, and as she patted a loose curl into place, she noticed the note stuck to the front with a small magnet. It wasn't as if she had planned to snoop. The damn thing was just hanging out there for the whole world to see, and Ted had told her to make herself at home. Pulling the paper off, she read the neat handwriting.
The plumber was here yesterday. He believes the leak is located
in a pipe behind the west wall of the Red Room, and
will have to cut a large hole in the drywall to be able to
get at it. He would like to know if you want him
to take the wooden beams and chains off the wall,
or would you rather do it yourself. If he does it,
it will add to the cost of the job, and he will not be
responsible for any damage to your equipment.
Please let him know your decision ASAP.
He wants to start the job on Tuesday.
Have a good weekend,
Maureen stood holding the note in her hand, confused and slightly woozy. Red Room? Beams and chains? What the hell was that all about? He had given her a tour of the house, and not in any of the rooms did she see anything remotely resembling a room painted red. Of course, they hadn't ventured below the main floor. Now, she wondered what it was he left out of his little tour, and why he had done so. Leaving the note on the counter, she found the door off the kitchen, and made her way down to the lower level.
Relief flooded through her. It looked like a regular basement. There was a laundry room, an extra full bath complete with walk in shower, and several metal shelving units holding camping equipment, tools and storage bins. She walked to the far end of the hall toward a plain wooden door, and trying the knob, found it locked. Leary, she stood outside it, her conscience doing heavy battle. Maureen knew she should just walk away. Go upstairs, stick the note back on the fridge, and wait in the parlor for Ted to return home. But her curiosity was overwhelming, and she rattled the door hard enough to shake the frame. She could see there was a small space between the lock and the door jamb, and it gave her an awful idea.
She headed back upstairs, and found her purse and wallet, from which she drew out a plastic credit card. Stopping in the kitchen, she grabbed a butter knife from the flatware drawer, and went to work on the lock. It took several minutes of fiddling and poking, but eventually she heard the bolt pop, and the door swing open. What she saw was beyond strange. She felt along the wall for a light switch, and finding it, flipped it on. Having the room illuminated did little to alleviate her shock, and she had to force herself to breath normally.
|Maureen discovers the Red Room|
The space was like nothing she had ever seen...at least not in person. The only word she could seem to formulate was, "Shit." The walls were papered in red velvet, and trimmed in black lacquer. Above her head, the ceiling was all mirror, catching her startled reflection in the low light. The center of the room contained a black four poster bed covered in crimson satin, chains and cuffs dangling from the corners. No matter where her eyes landed, there was something creepy and weird. Paddles, straps, sticks, and things she had no name for, covered every square inch. Forcing her feet to move, she willed herself inside for a closer look, eventually noticing the several framed paintings hung on the walls around the room. She stood in front of the one closest to the door, and stared. It was of a woman, nude, head down, and restrained at the wrists and ankles with wide satin ribbon, a thick silver collar around her exposed neck. A few feet further, hung another painting of similar theme, this one of a blonde, also naked, her hands above her head in chains, her beautiful face in a state of rapture.
There were six in all, all of the same nature, each one bearing the initials "THB". Her heart couldn't deny what her brain and her eyes were insisting was the truth. Ted had created these. Her Ted. All of them. And it was obvious to anyone with a soul, anyone who had every been in lust or love, that the subjects were special to their artist. The connection was that apparent, breathing life from the painted canvas.
|Those awful paintings|
Maureen was sick, her stomach rolling in waves, bile gurgling in her throat. Hadn't he said to her, only an hour earlier, that he wanted to paint her? Had he meant like this? Wrapped and presented like the gift of the moment? Just another woman tied to Theodore Beckett, treasured, and then discarded, leaving behind only an image of pigment stretched in a wooden frame?
She needed to get out. Out of this room, and out of this house. In a rush, she turned off the lights, but didn't pull the door hard enough, leaving it slightly ajar. She ran up the stairs, heart pounding, palms sweaty, as she gathered up her purse and wallet, not caring about the overnight bag. Maureen made her escape through the front door, and once outside, wasn't clear as to where she should now go. Her apartment was definitely out. As soon as he discovered her missing, it would be the first place he'd look. She thought about hiding out at the rectory, but decided against it. Kevin would immediately figure out that something was wrong, and damned if she was going to talk to him about any of this.
Hesitating only a moment, she abruptly turned and headed down the block to the bus stop on the corner. She prayed her transportation would arrive soon, and nervously watched the street with for any sign of his familiar patrol car. The minutes ticked by like hours, her resolve strengthened only when the lumbering vehicle came to a halt in front of her. With a quick backward glance at the big house on Maple Avenue, she slipped through the accordion doors, and disappeared into the cold, still night.
|The basement Red Room|
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