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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bad Romance

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.

        Mr. Beckett,
          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,
          Helen

       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
                               

   Copyright 2013 Victoria T. Rocus
   All Rights Reserved

     


           



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Desert Rose

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."
Beckett's boxers

      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.

       "Beckett."

       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
All Rights Reserved
   

     



 

       






         

       

       

     


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Monday, February 11, 2013

About the miniatures...

Thanks for your interest in some of the minis in this week's post.  I'm pleased to answer your questions...

                     
     The beautiful glass screen was a Christmas gift from my family...well, the cash was anyway.  I had been looking at that screen on Etsy for at least two months before Christmas, but damned if I could convince any of my loved ones to surprise me with it under the tree.  So, when I found some extra cash in my stocking, I knew exactly what I would get.  It was so pretty, I had to figure out a way to work it into the storyline, and what better way than to have Ted romance Maureen with it.  If you would like to have more information about the artist, feel free to email me.  She does have other pieces in glass, as well as some extraordinary dressed beds, and painted plates.   The plate on the kitchen wall is also her work, and was an extra gift with my order.

       I also want to mention Beckett's darling reindeer sweater.  It is hand knit by a talented lady, Susan Klein.  She also sells on Etsy, and creates knit wear, as well as some adorable furniture.  Give her a look next time you are on the web site.  She has some lovely things.

       
         I also had a few questions about the bathroom door.  I agonized over that silly door for 3 days!  All the beads I tried looked too clunky, or didn't lay right.  I almost gave up, and figured I'd just have to make a cloth curtain.   Then, I found an old necklace of mine with strands of these tiny metal beads.  The necklace was sacrificed for a good cause.  LOL   It was imperative that I get a door in there, as it plays an important role in next week's storyline...but that's all I'm saying about that.  Hope you like how it turned out.

       Finally, I was asked about the names of the other O'Kenney siblings, and their ages.  So here you go:

                              Patrick John  Jr.  45
                              James (Jamie) Thomas 42
                              Sean Michael  38
                              William Matthew  36
                              Daniel Stephen  34
                              Brendan Samuel  32
                              Kevin Seamus 30

                              Maureen Margaret  24

Thank you for your interest in my story.  It means so much to have you come back each week to read another chapter.  Please know I pour my heart and soul into these characters, and I am thrilled to know
that you enjoy them as well.  Your  comments make my day, and give me the push to keep writing.


Until next week,

Best Wishes,

Vicki aka Madame Mystery
                             


                             

         

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I'm In The Mood For Love...

In her new apartment
   
     There was no way to circumvent the doctor's orders, so she spent a dull weekend recovering from her concussion.  Beckett sent flowers, an arrangement so large that Kevin originally believed the delivery was for the church, and not his sister.  The huge bouquet of pink tulips, white roses, and sprays of lacy baby's breath was breathtaking, and Maureen was more than tickled to be on the receiving end of such male thoughtfulness.

      Although he did not come back to visit her in person, the Sheriff stayed in constant communication via text messages and phone calls, the highlight being an invitation to take in a movie together the following Tuesday.  It would be their  first "official" date, and to that end, Maureen had high hopes of a fairy tale ending, a memory to replace the disastrous "can" incident.

      On Monday, she returned to work in high spirits.  The Schillers showered her arrival with concern and sympathy, offering a few more days of recovery if needed, which she graciously refused.  Maureen loved her job, and was looking forward to puttering in her apartment after hours.  She had so much to do, and the two days in bed put her behind schedule.  It wasn't that she didn't enjoy her brother's company, or her stay in the rectory. He had been a wonderful and caring host.  But Kevin was like a mother hen, constantly checking on her well being, fussing over everything she did, and it had become decidedly annoying.

      Then, there was her budding relationship with Ted Beckett.  The rectory offered not a bit of privacy, and even if there had been any, it felt too weird to consider romance within it's confines.  Plus, she doubted her brother would approve of any such goings on between his baby sister and the Sheriff.  His reaction to Beckett's interest in her was confusing.  It was obvious that he considered the man a friend.  They shared many of the same interests, and appeared comfortable with each other.  It even seemed that Kevin respected Beckett's opinions on several matters. Yet, when Maureen was added to the mix, her brother acted stiff and proper, a side of him she had never seen before.  It made her sad to have this wall between them, but logically speaking, it would be best for everyone, if she kept her personal business, romantic, or otherwise, to herself.

       The day passed without incidence, and as she locked up for the night, she ran through a mental list of all the things she needed to finish upstairs.  The walls needed a second coat of paint, and there were serious issues with the temporary walls she had erected around the bathroom.  She flipped on the lights, ready to tackle the huge job, and stood in shock, mouth hanging open, and eyes blinking.

       This was not the same apartment she left last Thursday night.  The walls and ceiling were neatly covered in a coat of fresh paint, and the white tile she had selected just last week, had been carefully
applied and grouted.  Best of all, the tiny bathroom boasted two sturdy walls, set on an angle, that left her with plenty of space for a bedroom area in the left corner of the room.

       The hows and whys of the situation left her stumped.  She doubted that Kevin was her secret "remodel' fairy.  Home improvement had never been his forte, and she was pretty sure he didn't know a wrench from a screwdriver.  It was also unlikely that he had hired someone to finish the work, since between them, they didn't have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of.  She wondered if the Schillers had decided to fix the place up, and then increase her rent.  She certainly hoped this wasn't the case, as her budget was figured to the penny.  Not knowing made her crazy, and even though it was most likely their dinner hour, she decided to give them a call, hoping for some answers.

       Mr. Schiller was pleasant, but anxious to get back to his supper.  He related that a team of carpenters and painters had come in early Saturday morning with a printed work order. The workmen had spent the entire day upstairs, and had left sometime around 4PM.  The job had been paid for in advance, and Schiller had assumed either Maureen or Fr. Kevin had scheduled it.  He didn't appear concerned about the lack of solid information, and teased Maureen about having a "secret admirer".

        Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part, but she had an idea of who her benefactor might be.  And the fact that he seemed as anxious as she to have the apartment finished, made her stomach do pleasant flip-flops.

                     ________________________________________________

            It had been a lovely evening.  There was do denying that.  So why, here at the end of their first date, did she feel so totally let down?   Like a china doll, pretty and painted, but left abandoned on the shelf.

             She had agonized over what to wear.   Something attractive and fetching, without appearing as if she were trying too hard.  After several "try-ons", she settled on a pair of black leggings, short booties, and a long, silk, sweater tunic in a soft shade of green that people said matched her eyes. She gathered her hair up in loose curls, and went light on the make-up, letting her her natural fair coloring show through.  A last look in the mirror convinced her she was "on her A game" for this date.

             And it wasn't as if Sheriff Beckett didn't appreciate her efforts.  He repeatedly sent a string of compliments her way, and the way he looked at her throughout the evening, made her toes curl in her boots.  He was a perfect gentleman, charming, polite and thoughtful.  He left the movie selection to her, opened doors when necessary, and helped her on and off with her coat and scarf.  He held her hand  the entire evening, and seemingly made her the center of his undivided attention.

             So when, after a quick nightcap at the local pub, he dropped her back at the rectory, and abruptly ended the evening with a lame kiss on the cheek, she was mortified, her heart dropping in a sickening lurch.  Somehow, she had screwed up.  It was that, or else he had taken a chance, and found her lacking.  Either way, she felt awful.   Even a promise from him to call her again, did little to help soothe her bruised confidence.

              She was glad that Kevin had already gone to bed.  He would undoubtedly ask a million questions, figure out things went badly, and offer his shoulder to cry on, something she absolutely didn't need at this moment.  She was an adult.  A grown woman, and not some simpering virgin.  If her last contentious relationship had taught her anything, it had made her smarter, and tougher, about the affairs of the heart.   She wasn't going to roll over and play dead.  Not this time.  She'd pull herself from the wreckage, and take one more shot at Ted Beckett.

                 _________________________________________________

        Maureen spent the morning hovering between anxiety and determination.  She finally took her break at 10 AM, and snuck off to the apartment upstairs, where she'd be alone.  She had called him on his cell before, but this time, the phone felt awkward and foreign in her hands.   What if he thought she was being too pushy?  An unwanted clingy vine?  She straightened her back, and dialed.  If that was the case, then he'd refuse her invitation.  Make some polite excuse.   Then she'd know once and for all exactly where she stood.

         Before she could change her mind, he answered on the first ring.  "Beckett."

         "Ummm...Ted?"

         "Maureen?  Hey, what's up?  I was just thinking about you."

          The statement gave her courage, even if etiquette required him to say such things.  "I just wanted to thank you again for last night.  I had a great time."  Up until you pulled a dump and run, Ted.  Just left me standing on that porch like a fish out of water.

           "Me too.  Let's make plans to do it again."

           "Well, actually...I...ah..was calling for that very reason.  I would like to return the favor, and invite you to dinner."

            "At the rectory?"

            "Um...no.  I was thinking of hosting at my new apartment.  The one over the deli." Well, that was pretty stupid, Maureen.  He obviously knows where your new apartment is.  I'm going to screw this up.  I just know it."

            "Really?  You're ready for company?"

            "Oh, yes.  The place looks great.  I'm absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.  Like I told you last night, I still don't know for sure who helped me get things in shape, but I'm terribly grateful."  Stop stammering, you idiot!  Get to the point before he hangs up on you!

            "I'm sure you'll figure that out eventually.   So...you mentioned dinner?"

            Well that's a good sign, Maureen.  Just go ahead and ask him!  "I was hoping you could come to dinner on Thursday night."  There was silence on the other end, and she started to sweat.

            "This Thursday?  The 14th?"

             Here it comes, you silly twit.  The polite let down.  Whatever made you think someone like Beckett wouldn't already have plans for a holiday like Valentine's Day?  "I...I ah..guess you probably already have plans.  That's okay, Ted.  We can make it some other time."  Damn, Maureen.  Don't let him hear the disappointment in your voice.  Have some frickn' pride.

             "No, as a matter of fact, I'm embarrassingly free that evening.  With everything that's gone on in the past few months, I thought I'd make this Valentine's Day...well... low key.  But how could I resist such a charming invitation from a beautiful woman.  I'd be delighted, Maureen.  What time?

             "How does 7:30 sound?  Too early for you?"  She tried hard not to sound earnest, but it was hard to keep the smile out of the words.

              "7:30 is perfect.  Thanks for the invite, sweetheart.  Lookn' forward to it."

              "Me too.  See you on Thursday, Ted."   She hit the end button, afraid if she kept on talking, she'd only babble.  Alone in the space, she did a little dance of joy, already planning the evening's menu.  It took only minutes to realize that she had stretched the truth about the apartment being ready for company.  The dining area still had no table or chairs, a serious impediment to any type of romantic dinner.  In addition, although the bathroom now had walls, it was still without a proper door, and the bed stood empty without sheets, blankets or pillows.  Thinking about that last item made her blush.

        With only 36 hours to finish making her apartment Beckett ready, she desperately hoped the Dollyville thrift store made home deliveries.

                        ______________________________________________
Ready for a special Valentine's dinner
                                           
       It was nearly 4 PM on Thursday when Maureen hung the last picture on the wall.  She had been working nonstop since her call to Beckett the day before, and her apartment was finally guest presentable.  She felt bad that she needed to ask the Schillers for more time off, and the loss of a day's pay was certainly not going to help her precarious financial situation.  But it couldn't be helped.  There was no way she would have had enough time to finish all that needed to be done, and still work a full shift.

        She had spent the previous evening at the local thrift store, exploring the aisles in search of furniture that would suit the tiny space.  A vintage brass bed had come with the apartment, and using some good ole' elbow grease, it had cleaned up nicely.  One leg seemed shorter than the rest, and the bed wobbled a bit, but an old dictionary under the offending leg solved the problem completely.  A new mattress was a necessity, as the old one dipped low in the center.  In addition, the thought of sleeping on a something that had a mysterious history freaked her out, so even though it had cost a chunk of her precious savings, she splurged on decent mattress and box springs

      To her mind, the thrift store was a awash with treasures.  She found a solid dining room table, with two matching chairs, a small dresser with deep drawers, and a vintage step stool that would look great with her red appliances.  She was thrilled to discover vintage linens, in several shades of pink, to dress her bed.  After a quick cleaning in the rectory washing machine, the finished bed looked quite lovely against the freshly painted walls.  Best of all, the store's owner, upon learning that she was Fr. O'Kenney's sister, waived the delivery fee, and promised to bring her purchases to the deli first thing Thursday morning.

       The hardest part of the project was convincing her brother that she couldn't wait until the weekend to move in.  She delayed asking him until after Ash Wednesday Mass, thinking he would be too preoccupied to argue.  It didn't help.  Kevin insisted that if she waited until Saturday to move all her things from the rectory, he would be able to round-up a group of volunteers, and thus, have less trips back and forth.  Though his suggestion made perfect sense, there was no way she was going to admit to her brother any of her plans for Thursday night.  Without doubt, he would sit her down, and in his best priestly, preaching voice, homilize on the reasons it was a bad idea, and suggest she pray for guidance.

       She loved Kevin to pieces.  Thought he was one of the kindest, most spiritual persons she had ever known, and it was the honest truth that she would rather die than hurt his feelings.  But when it came to her personal relationships, she had no interest in unwanted advice from her big brother the Pastor, and the less he knew about her feelings toward the Sheriff, the better.  With a combination of whining and begging, she finally convinced him to help her move the most essential of her belongings into the flat, and if he had any idea of her motives, he kept them to himself.
               
           When Beckett rang her bell at exactly 7:30, Maureen was ready.  The roast was in the oven,    the plump oysters artistically arranged on a bed of rock salt, and the flour less chocolate cake frosted and displayed on the elegant, new cake stand.  Well, new to her, anyway.  It was amazing what people gave away to the charity shop, thinking it had no use.

         With a quick check in the hallway mirror, she went down the stairs to let him in, the dog excitedly trailing behind her.  Dressed in faded jeans and a wool sweater under his trade mark leather jacket, he looked strangely boyish, and more relaxed than she had seen him in months.  He bent down, kissed her on the cheek, and stuck out a brown paper bag for her to take.  Then, leaning over, he gave the dog a scratch on his head, offering Basil a pet treat from his pocket .
Beckett comes to dinner in the new apartment

       "Can you grab the champagne, love?  I need to get something off the porch."  He turned away to wrestle with a very tall package wrapped in red paper, and tied off with a large, looped bow.

       Her curiosity piqued, she locked the door behind him, and followed him up the stairs, watching as he propped the package against the wall, shrugged off his jacket, and hung it on the hook near the stairwell.

        "Your place looks terrific.  Hard to believe it's the same flat."

        She looked at him, and smiled.  "So it was you!  You sent those people to fix my apartment."

        Grinning, he pointed a finger at her.  "I admit to no such thing, but I am grateful to your special benefactor for making this evening happen."

         "Thanks, Ted.  It was a very thoughtful thing to do.   But you know I feel.  I don't want you buying me expensive things.  It makes me feel...well...kind of trashy."

          Ignoring her comment, and changing the subject, he moved to the center of the room.  "Why don't you just give me the grand tour."

          "A very short tour, at that."   She took him by the arm, and led him toward the kitchen area.  "This is my kitchen, small, but mighty.  I find it very efficient."

          "Obviously, because something smells great.  What's for dinner?"

           "Prime rib.  I hope you like it?"

           "Sounds delicious."  He moved across the room, and ran a hand over the new walls in the corner.  "They did a  nice job with the drywall.  But this has to be the smallest bathroom I have ever seen.  A person can barely turn around in it."


            "You sound like Kevin.  He says it makes him claustrophobic.  But, it suits me just fine.  Has everything I need."


            "Speaking of Kevin...does your brother know I'm here tonight?"

           Maureen looked sheepish, and shook her head.  "It's not like I need my brother's permission to have company in my own apartment."  It was her turn to change the subject.  "Should we open the champagne?"

            "If you'd like."

             She reached into the cabinet and pulled out two crystal goblets, wine glasses instead of  champagne flutes, but it couldn't be helped.  Beckett peeled off the foil and wire around the top, and worked the cork off with a loud pop.  He filled both glasses, and handed one to Maureen.

           "Does this call for a toast?"

           He smiled, and thought a moment.  Then he raised his glass, and she followed suit.  "To tiny red heads... with eyes so green, a man could lose his soul in them.  Cheers."

           She suddenly felt too warm, like she was standing inside the blazing oven, rather than next to it. She tapped his glass with her own, and took a sip, fighting to avoid making a sour face.  She wasn't a drinker.  An occasional beer, or a glass of chablis was her speed.  The last time she had drunk champagne, it had made her fuzzy, and given her a headache.  But it seemed rude not to have any after he had gone to the trouble of bringing it, so she worked at only taking small sips.

         Beckett wandered over to the far left corner of the room, where her bed was located under one of the arched windows.  "Is this the same bed that came with the apartment?"  He ran a hand over the large brass knob, a movement that made something silky run down her spine.

        "Yes.  I really like the way it turned out.  I used an entire can of brass polish."

        "It's charming.  Very pink, but it suits you."  Before she could respond to that comment, he walked back to where he had left the large package, and dragged it over near her bed, waving her toward it.  "Gift time.  Happy Housewarming.  Happy Valentine's Day."

        "Geez, Ted.  You didn't have to bring a gift.  This dinner was supposed to be a kind of a 'thank you' for helping me and Kevin out with that Marzano guy.  And for my wonderful Christmas gift.  I love Betsy.  She has a place of honor on my bed."


       "Lucky doll."  He watched her blush, and laughed.  "Go ahead.  Open it."

       Maureen untied the bow first, saving it as she always did with wrappings.  Then starting from the top, she ripped off the red tissue in long strips, while Ted held the item steady with both hands.   It appeared to be some type of stained glass room screen, and when she had it completely uncovered, he spread it apart in front of her bed.

        She knew she should say something, but no words would form on her tongue.  It was the most beautiful piece of furniture she had ever seen.  The wood frame was highly polished cherry, set with three long panels of stained glass featuring wildflowers of every color.  It was absolutely exquisite.

        "I realize flowers are traditional for Valentine's Day, but I wanted something a little more permanent.  Do you like it?  I figured it would give your bedroom area some privacy."

         All she could do was stare.  Her brain and mouth seemed to have lost all function.  "Oh, Ted...I...I don't know what to say.  It's amazing.  Like a field of flowers, all in fairy glass."

        He appeared pleased at her reaction, and then played with the screen until it he was satisfied that he had the right angle.  "This is how I pictured it.   The sun rise from the kitchen window should shine right through the glass in the early morning, and the diffused light from the evening sun set will come from the window above the bed."

       The fact that he had given her gift that much thought... had actually contemplated her mornings and evenings...made the pulse race in her throat.  "It's just so beautiful.  I...can't...I don't know...how can I ever thank you enough for a gift like this."
   
      "No thanks necessary.  But I do have a favor to ask."  He looked into her eyes, and ran his hands over her bare arms, causing Maureen to shiver. "I would love it...hoped you might consider... letting me witness the morning sun spraying those colors across all that gorgeous, pale skin."

      She knew if she tried to even say a single word, it would come out in a high pitched squeak.  Her throat was tight, and her hands shaking.  Acting from the heart, she stood on her tip toes, and threw her arms around his neck.

      Because she was so much shorter than he, bending over was awkward.  Instead, he scooped her up in his arms, fitting her against his chest.  But before he moved a single step, he watched her face, and quietly asked her,  "Is this really what you want, Maureen O'Kenney?"

      Finally finding the ability to speak, she kissed him, and then answered,  "Yes,  Mr. Beckett.  It's most definitely what I want."

     He laid her across the very pink linens, on the bed she spent hours polishing.  Pulling both his sweater and shoulder holster over his head, he hooked them both on the end of the headboard.  Then, he lay next to her, and whispered,  "Le beau petit… vous avez placé mon coeur gratuit."   Not speaking a bit of French, she didn't have a clue to what he said, but noting the way he looked at her, figured it must be something good.  Very good.  And so she kissed him again.

      In the kitchen, the champagne went flat, the oysters lay untouched, and the prime rib dried out in the oven.  The candles burned to wick and wax, the dog chewed the end of the throw rug, and threw up in front of the sink.  Outside, the rain changed to snow, and the ipad on the dining room table played the same album over and over again.  But behind the fairy glass, lost in each other's arms, neither of them cared about any of that.
Beckett's gift to Maureen...and his request


                                                               Happy Valentine's Day!




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