|The morning after|
Sadly, there was no sun streaming through the fairy glass the following morning. It had snowed the entire night, and the day dawned gray and cold. Maureen maneuvered herself from under Ted's arm with the smallest amount of movement possible, trying her best to avoid waking him. She needed a few moments of quiet reflection to take in all the implications, all the memories, of the night before. Asleep in her bed, he looked younger than his 34 years, and without the constant furrow between his brows, much more peaceful.
Because of height issues, his body was on a slight angle, feet sticking out from under the blanket. She wondered if he were cold, and thought about attempting to rearrange the comforter so they'd be covered. Throwing on her robe, she scooted to the end of the bed, and pulled her share of the blanket over him. In doing so, she realized she had never seen him without shoes and socks. That was most unfortunate, as she thought he had decidedly beautiful feet. They were callus free, with long, graceful toes, his nails neatly trimmed crescents. She wondered if he did them himself, or went to someone to have them done. Picturing him sitting in a salon chair, getting a pedicure, made her smile.
|Beckett's beautiful feet|
"Are you actually examining my feet?"
Startled, she turned around to find him awake, propped on an elbow, and watching. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. Or make you self conscious." She felt silly being caught in the act of staring at his feet, of all things. "I just..ah...realized I had never seen your bare feet before. They're very...um...attractive."
"Why, thank you, baby." He grinned, and flipped the entire blanket off himself. "Feel free to look at anything that catches your fancy...for as long as you'd like."
Embarrassed, she threw the blanket back over him. "Geez, Ted!"
Amused at her modesty, he put his hands behind his head, and leaned against the headboard. "What? We're suddenly shy now? After last night?"
Lobbing a throw pillow at his head, she giggled. "Don't tease me! I'm just not used to people walking around naked."
"Oh come on! You have like 12 brothers. You're going to tell me they never walked around in the buff?"
"First of all, I only have seven brothers, not twelve. And secondly, they never walked around the house without their clothes on. My mother would have been mortified. Dad and Mom ran a tight ship, and we were expected to tow the line."
"I'm pretty sure, my dear, you got away with murder, being the baby of the family, and the only girl besides. I see now how you have Kevin wrapped around your little finger. You lead him around like a poor, old sheep."
She crawled across the bed, and pouting, plopped herself next to him. "That's not at all how it is. Kevin and I are very close. It's that simple. He's been my best bud for as long as I can remember."
Tired of the chit chat, he tugged at the knot on her robe's belt, and when it wouldn't easily loosen, slipped the collar off her shoulders "Well, baby, right now I want to be your only buddy."
The intimacy of the moment was shattered by the sudden, furious barking of the dog at the hall window. "Basil! Quiet, boy! It's too early to be barking like that!" Ignoring her scolding, the dog continued to snap and snarl, forcing Maureen to sigh, and rise to check what was wrong.
From the frosty window, she could make out a tall figure trudging down the block toward her back door, his ginger hair a beacon in the snowy, white landscape. "Oh, shit! It's Kevin! He's coming here!" White faced and frantic, she started to gather up the clothes strewn around the apartment. "He can't find you here, Ted! It would be horrible! "
"Maureen, where the hell do you want me to go? It's a one room flat. I think you're overacting. Yes... it will be embarrassing. But, we're all adults here. He'll deal with it."
"No he won't! You don't understand! He won't say a single rude word, but he'll look at me with those disappointed Kevin eyes, and make me feel like I'm a terrible, sinful person. And Ash Wednesday was only two days ago! Please, Ted?" She grabbed him by the hand, and began pulling him out of the bed. "Do me this one big favor? I'll never ask you again. I promise. Hide so he won't see you, and let me tell him about the two of us in my own way."
"Baby, I'm crazy about you. Honest, I am. But I'm a grown man. I'm not hiding from your brother. Besides, he's bound to see the Mustang parked out front."
"No, he won't. It's totally buried in the snow. He'll never guess it's your car. Oh, Ted, please?"
Seeing her near tears, and determining her unwillingness to relent, he grunted, and dragged himself out of the warm bed. "This has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever done, Maureen. I hope you know that."
"Thank you, sweetie. I owe you big time." She pushed him into the tiny bathroom, and rearranged the beads covering the door, so it would difficult to see inside. Picking up his boxers from the foot of the bed, she handed them to him, whispering, "You might want to put these back on. It's cold in there."
She could hear Ted swearing in the bathroom, her brother knocking on the door, and just knew it was going to be one of those days. As she moved toward the stairs, she spied Beckett's assortment of weaponry noticeably left out in the open; some hanging on the headboard, and the rest piled on her vanity. Gathering up the shoulder holster with the Glock, the ankle holster with the 9mm, and a scary looking switchblade, she flung them under the sink, and slammed the cabinet door. Giving the room a quick once over, she scrambled down the stairs, her robe still slightly hanging off one shoulder, and her hair a tangled mess.
"Kevin. What are you doing here? It's barely 7 AM."
"Actually, it's 7:10. It's Friday and you weren't at Mass. You always go to Mass on Friday, and when you didn't show up I got worried. Especially since last night was your first night alone in the apartment."
"Oh...um...well... after spending the day unpacking and fixing, I was pretty exhausted, so I kinda over slept." She gave him her most innocent looking smile. "I'm so sorry I worried you.
"That's okay. I'm just glad nothing's wrong. Anyway, since I'm here, and you don't start work for another hour, how about a cup of coffee? I'm curious to see where you put everything in that small space."
Maureen knew inviting Kevin upstairs for as long as it would take to make and drink a cup of coffee, was a worse case scenario. Ted would be stuck in that frigid bathroom, dressed only in his boxers, freezing his ass off, and surely rethinking his decision to spend the night. And what would she do if her brother needed to use the toilet? That would be disastrous. But for the life of her, she could not think of a single excuse not to let him come upstairs. Later in the day, she would think of a litany of plausible lies. But standing in that hallway, her brother covered in snow, she could not conjure a single one, and thus led the way up to her flat, the dog standing and growling at the top of the stairs.
In her apartment, she offered him a chair at the table, glad she had hurriedly cleared away the china from last night's dinner, and shoved the dishes in the oven. She fixed a pot of coffee, prayed Ted wouldn't have to sneeze, and tried to make general conversation. "So, Kev. What's new at the rectory?"
|A surprise visit from Kevin|
He looked at her oddly, "Not much since you moved out yesterday afternoon, Mo. How's the dog doing here?" He watched the animal from the corner of his eye, and the dog stared him down. Uncomfortable under Basil's watchful glare, he focused his attention elsewhere. "Your apartment looks very nice. I can't believe the change. Did you ever find out for sure who had the place fixed up?"
At the sink, Maureen tried to avoid looking directly at her brother. "Um...I'm not a hundred percent certain, but I...ah...think it might have been Sheriff Beckett."
Kevin made a noise of dismissal. "That guy sure throws his money around. Gotta watch out for those flashy types, Maureen. They're only out for one thing."
She grabbed the handle of her cup a little tighter, knowing full well that Ted could hear every word. She felt obliged to say something in his defense, lest he think she wasn't head over heels crazy about him. Because she was. Totally. "Oh, Kevin, I'm sure Sheriff Beckett is not like that at all. He's always been a perfect gentleman. And he did have our back with that whole Marzano thing. You have to admit that."
"I know. But talk around town is that the guy is a player. A love 'em and leave 'em type."
Maureen could feel the blush crawl up her face. The conversation was going in a direction she wanted to avoid. For lots of reasons. "I'm surprised at you, Kevin. Listening to gossip. Ted Beckett is a friend of ours, and I'm uncomfortable with you saying nasty things about him." She laid the cup on the table, got up, and pushed the chair in with a thump. "It's getting late. I really need to shower, and then get ready for work. Can we have this conversation some other time?"
Kevin took a last slug from his cup, and rose from the table. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to keep you from your job." He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. "Maybe we can have dinner together over the weekend?"
Feeling guilty, she gave him a hug. "Sure, Kevin. I'd love that."
He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair, and headed for the stairs. "You have a nice day, Maureen." Then he stopped, turned toward the doorway of the bathroom, and added, "You too, Sheriff."
Beckett was glad the day was unusually busy. It kept his mind off of the very desirable Maureen O'Kenney, and his serious misgivings about the whole relationship. Now, as he was straightening up his desk before leaving, his mind wandered, and he came right back to the problem at hand. If he had a half a brain, or any honor at all, he'd beg off their plans for tonight, and send an expensive gift, along with a note explaining how it could never work out for the two of them. That done, he should probably take an assignment out of the country. One that would keep them apart for several weeks, and give her a chance to come to terms with the fact that he was selfish, no good jerk.
She was too young, too innocent, too wrong for someone like himself. She saw the world as a wonderful place, full of hope and promise. He, on the other hand, knew that it wasn't, and that discovery would at some point come between them. Not to mention his issues with long term fidelity, and a certain playroom in his basement. But from the moment he met her in the kitchen of the rectory, he had been drawn to her. She made him feel the same way he felt when he was painting. The same way he felt when he spent quiet time at the cabin. Open, centered, and complete.
Even while he was still with Cassie, Maureen had floated in the back of his mind. Like some kind of anchor in a sea of mental discontent At the time, it had made him feel guilty. Now, knowing what he did about that lying bitch, he figured it wasn't guilt. More like warning bells he chose to ignore while she blatantly catered to his darker side. He shuddered to think of what might had happened if Cassie had decided not to leave on her own. It would've been ugly.
Where this all would go with Maureen he had no idea. But he'd simply be lying to himself if he thought he could walk away now. He had known when he accepted her dinner invitation...planned her seduction... that he was in too deep to hurt her with feigned indifference. Stacking the file folders in a neat pile on his desk, he checked the time on his Blackberry. He had promised her he'd be there by 7, and he wanted to stop at the florist, and then pick up a few things from home. Gathering up his jacket, he was just about out the door, when his secretary stopped him.
"Sheriff...a Fr. O'Kenney is here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment. Can you see him, or shall I tell him you're unavailable?"
He had been half expecting this encounter all day, and when the priest hadn't shown up earlier, he thought he had escaped an awkward moment. Now that he was here, already waiting, there was no logical reason to postpone the inevitable. "Can you show him to my office, and tell him to make himself comfortable. I have a quick errand to run, but I'll be back in a few minutes. Tell him to wait."
She nodded her understanding, and went off to settle the Sheriff's visitor.
Fr. Kevin felt self-conscious standing in the squad room of the Sheriff's office. He had gone back and forth over his decision to do this all afternoon. Maureen was a grown adult, and maybe he had no business sticking his nose into her personal business. On the other hand, he felt the enormous responsibility of looking out for her since she joined him in Dollyville. It was his fault that she had even been introduced to Beckett in the first place. He should have been a whole lot more forceful about her returning to Boston, and because he hadn't, the whole blame rested on his shoulders.
The worse part was that he really liked Ted Beckett. Considered him a friend. But there was no doubt he was wrong for his sister. Too old, and too worldly, for a young woman from one of Boston's blue collar neighborhoods. In addition, as far as Kevin was concerned, the man was ridiculously secretative about his personal information, for what one had to assume, were very serious reasons. He worried that what the Sheriff wasn't telling him, was far more important than what he had openly revealed.
The secretary came back and explained that the Sheriff had business to take care of, but would return shortly. She led him to Beckett's office, and invited him to wait there, even bringing him a cup of surprisingly good coffee. Once he was comfortably seated, she shut the door and left him alone to wait the man's return.
Kevin had only been in the Sheriff's office once before, when he had come looking for information on the Marco Rivera murder. At that time, he had been too agitated about the crime to pay much attention to the office itself. But sitting here, without anything to do, he took better stock of the room around him. The office was painted in a neutral shade of taupe, the furniture standard issue, except for a very expensive looking leather executive chair behind the desk. There were several gray metal filing cabinets against the walls, and a large bookcase that held reference books pertaining to criminal law and forensics. The desk itself was void of any personal effects. No photos, coffee mugs with cute saying, or interesting paperweights. Nothing that gave the slightest indication about the personality of it's occupant
The walls, however, were a different story. Kevin rose from his seat to take a better look. To the left of the desk hung three painted landscapes, peaceful wooded images that looked somewhat familiar. He squinted to make out the author's signature, a dark smudge in the lower right handed corner, and was shocked to see the initials "THB". He couldn't begin to imagine Beckett as an artist, but the paintings were likely his, a side of himself he did not openly share.
The wall on the opposite side of the room was decorated with a handful of framed documents and a large photo. There was an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Michigan, and to Kevin's amazement, a law degree from Harvard, both in Beckett's name. There was a commendation for bravery from the state of Massachusetts, dated September of 2011, and plaque declaring the local little league's appreciation for the Sheriff's generous contribution to the building of their new field house. The final item in the arrangement was a photograph of a group of men dressed in military fatigues. After a bit of searching, he located Beckett to the far right, unshaven, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses He couldn't quite make out the insignia on the uniform, but thought it might belong to some type of special forces unit.
|The photo in Beckett's office|
Behind him, he heard a door open and close, and he turned to find the Sheriff had returned. He was surprised to see that he was no longer in uniform, and assumed the man must be off duty.
"Thanks for waiting, Father. I had a few things I needed to take care of. So, what is it I can do for you?" He seated himself behind the desk in the leather chair, and leaned back, obviously relaxed.
"I'm sure you have an idea of why I'm here, Sheriff."
"That I do, Father. And considering what it is you're here to discuss, I'd rather we dispensed with titles. I'd prefer if you just called me Ted." He reached in the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of Jameson's, and two crystal tumblers, and raised them toward Kevin in offering.
Kevin nodded his consent, and Beckett poured a finger of the amber colored whiskey into each glass. Acknowledging each other, they each took a mouthful from their respective glasses.
Beckett spoke first. "I assume you are concerned about my relationship with your sister, although I'm not sure how that might be any of your business."
Solemnly, he replied, "I feel responsible for her welfare while she's with me. It's how things are in my family. We all look out for Maureen."
"And does Maureen know that you're here talking to me...about her?"
"Of course not."
"She's going to be pretty pissed when she finds out."
"Undoubtedly. But I'm trusting you not to mention it. I had hoped this conversation would remain between us."
"So what exactly are your reservations...Kevin? Maureen is a grown woman...quite capable of deciding who she'd like to spend time with...and how she'd like to spend it."
Kevin flushed, not expecting Beckett to be as blunt as he was speaking. "Look, it's not like I have anything against you personally, Ted. It's just that...well...things are complicated where my sister is concerned. She got herself... involved in a rather nasty situation back in Boston. It broke her heart, and cost her everything, including her self respect. I just don't want to see that happen again."
Beckett made a face, and took another sip from his glass. "You're talking about that whole thing with her boss?"
"You know about that?"
"Of course. She told me all about it last October. But, I'm still confused as to how that has anything to do with me?"
"I don't want to see her hurt...again."
"I see. And you believe I'm capable of doing such a thing?"
Kevin could tell that the Sheriff had gone from relaxed to ticked off, but damned if he was going to let the man intimidate him. "I'm not sure what I believe. There are so many things I don't know about you...a lot of unanswered questions."
"And so you believe that I need to 'prove' myself to you before you decide I'm worthy to spend time with your sister. A rather archaic way of thinking in the 21st Century, don't you agree?"
The conversation between them was taking a downward spiral, and Kevin decided it was time to end it. "I can see this is going nowhere, Sheriff. I'm sorry I wasted your time." He stood, and grabbing his jacket, moved toward the door.
"Look, Kevin. Let's just agree that we both care about Maureen. Sit back down, and I'll try to put your mind to rest. What is it you want to know?"
Taking a deep breath, the priest returned to his chair, and fired his first question. "I'm not sure how to put this, but let me try. You seem to be... quite comfortable...income wise. I just need to know that it's legally gained."
To Kevin's genuine surprise, Beckett started to laugh. "You think I'm taking bribes or something?" He shook his head, and explained. "My full name is Theodore Henton Beckett. Ring any bells?"
"No. Should it?"
"Are you familiar with a chain of big box stores called 'Henny's Pennies'?"
"Of course. There are hundreds of them scattered across the East Coast." Suddenly, it was as if a light bulb flipped on in his head. "Wait...are you telling me that you are part of 'that' family?"
The Sheriff reached into his pocket for his wallet, pulled out a business card, and handed it to the very shocked priest. "I sit on the Board of Directors. And of course I have a large amount of stock in the company. But I'm not at all involved in the day to day dealings. I have absolutely no interest in the retail business. Had my fill of that of that as a teenager."
"Does Maureen know? About your...family ties?"
"She does. I told her months ago. Unlike most people, it didn't matter to her at all. In fact, she's always scolding me about wasting money. Insisting I can't buy her expensive things."
"Did Cassie know?"
"No. Something kept me from telling her. Good thing too, the way it worked out. I'm not really sure where she thought I got the extra income. I presume she, like you, assumed I was just a dirty cop on the take." He finished the whiskey in the glass, and stood up. "Now, if there aren't any more hoops I have to jump through, I have plans for the evening. With Maureen."
It was obvious the Sheriff had deemed the conversation over, and even though Kevin had several more questions he was dying to ask, it was probably best if he made his point, and went on home. Matching Beckett, he drained the rest of the alcohol, and stood to take his leave. "I appreciate your honesty, Ted. I hope you understand that my main concern is my sister's happiness and well being."
"As is mine. I assure you I care very much for Maureen."
He walked Kevin out, and the two shook hands stiffly. Standing with a hand on the door frame, Fr. Kevin turned to face the Sheriff. "Just one more thing, Beckett...if you hurt my sister in anyway, I'm coming back. Not as a priest, but as her older brother. Count on it."
The uncomfortable meeting with Kevin had taken twice as long as he had figured, and now he was late. Maureen had texted him at least three times to verify that he was on his way, and the flowers he had picked up earlier were near frozen on his front seat. He supposed she'd appreciate the thought, even if the flowers themselves looked worse for wear.
Beckett was looking forward to spending another evening with her more than he cared to admit, and when his cell phone rang, a number he didn't recognize, he almost let it go to voice mail. Thinking better of it, he hit the call button.
For a second there was silence, and then she spoke. "Miss me, baby?"
On his end, Beckett felt his jaw tighten at the sound of her voice. "Not one fucking bit, Cas."
"Aw, Teddy. I'm deeply hurt. Is that anyway to talk to the girl you wanted to marry?" Her low laugh seemed to snake through the phone and run down his arm like an electric current.
"Honey, I consider the day you took off as one of the luckiest of my life. Worth the cost of that Escalade, two times over."
"Tisk, tisk, my liege. You sound bitter. As far as I'm concerned, I earned every penny I got from that SUV. By your own admition, I was the best sub you ever had. You got your money's worth."
"Spoken like a true whore, Donaghue."
"And you, Teddy, would know, having as much experience with whores as you've had."
"I don't think you called just to insult me, Cassandra What is it you want? Aren't you worried I'm tracing this call? I could always let Marzano know where you are. I owe you that favor for setting up O'Kenney."
"You really think I'd be that stupid, Beckett? I'm using a burner phone. Go ahead. Trace away.
And as far as that idiot priest is concerned, he really did have the stolen money. Out of pure spite, my silly bitch of a cousin dumped the cash in his confessional before she did a runner. I figured if Marzano was busy tracking his money to Dollyville, he'd be safely off my ass...at least for awhile. And it worked too. Gave me extra time to set up a whole new identity."
"Well, that certainly clears up a few things. Still not sure why you're calling me, though. I don't give a flying shit about anything that pertains to you."
"I need your help, Ted. You owe me."
"I owe you absolutely nothing, you crazy bitch. The Escalade was worth at least sixty thousand. Not counting the $1,200 you stole from my wallet. Plenty enough for services rendered."
"You're a fucking hypocrite, Beckett. Sitting there playing the part of the man wronged. You used me as much as I used you. Don't start acting is if love had anything to do with what we had together. There is no such thing, and we both know it. Now get your head out of your ass, and listen to me...I need information on the whereabouts of Lizzie's baby. I'm blood family, and that kid belongs with me, not some damn strangers."
"I'm hanging up now, Cas. Don't ever fucking call me again. Stay out of my town, and out my life. I'm warning you." And before she could get another word in, he clicked the end button, and turned off the power to his phone. It'd be a huge hassle, but he'd have to change his cell number. Not that it would help much. With her skills, Donaghue could easily hack into the system, and get the new one. He'd have to give this whole problem some serious thought. She was definately a hazard. A dangerous one at that.
The dashboard clock read 8:22 PM. He was now well over an hour late, and there hadn't been a text from Maureen for at least 40 minutes. He wanted to turn the phone back on so he could send a text, something to let her know he was on his way. Thinking it over, he decided to just make his way over there, and apologize in person. Personal communication went a whole lot further than a text message ever could.
There was no available parking in front of the deli, so he ended up in a spot a few doors away. He turned off the engine and sat for a moment, trying to put the crap of the past three hours behind him. His conversation with both O'Kenney and Cassie left him questioning his motives. Maybe they were being more realistic than he was. It was true that he wasn't a big believer in the concept of love.
Found the whole idea illogical, more wishful thinking than anything else. Over the years, he had been attracted to more women than he could count. Seriously attracted. But love...not so much. Were his feelings for Maureen different? He couldn't really say.
From his position down the block, he could see her lit apartment, the diffused lighting behind the curtain throwing her shadow from one window to another. He could picture her moving around the tiny, thrift store furnished flat... fixing...straightening...waiting. It made him feel better. A dash of warmth in a dreary scenario.
He recalled an assignment in Socotra, an island 220 miles off mainland Yemen. A harsher, more windswept spot of desolation didn't exist. He had been caught in gunfire between insurgents, pinned down with a bullet wound to his right thigh. Waiting for extraction for almost two weeks, his injury festering, and delirious with fever, he had desperately tried to hang on to consciousness. He'd found shelter in a small crevice between two rocks, from which he could view a plant the native people called "وردة الصحراء" or "Rose of the Desert". It was a hardy species that survived and bloomed when everything else around it withered under the extreme conditions. Its trumpet shaped blooms, deep red, gave him a point of focus, a sign of hope when there was little chance he would survive. He was in no way a religious man. But the appearance of those blooms, and the few drops of rain water he could sip from them, were to him, gifts from a God who apparently still had plans for him.
And now there was Maureen. A beautiful bloom in a desolate landscape. Something for him to hold on to, and moisture for a soul devoid of affection. In that moment, the thought came to him that despite being two hours late, she'd still welcome his arrival. In addition, there was also a sliver of hope, that no matter where he might be sent, she'd be waiting, happy to have him home again. Suddenly less weary, he turned off the ignition, grabbed the frozen flowers, and went to spend the night with his sweet Desert Rose.
|The light from Maureen's apartment|
Copyright 2013 Victoria T. Rocus
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