© by J. 'Harley' Elmore, 2000 - 2002

See Chapter One for disclaimers


Chapter Seven, Part 1

Sitting directly opposite Deven in the staff meeting, Jay observed her with a critical eye. This was the first time he'd seen her in almost four weeks. She appeared to be all right; in fact, she seemed better than she'd been in some time. Her visage didn't reflect the wariness that had characterized her for so long, and the lassitude that had enveloped her following the attack directed at him, was nowhere to be found. The change was so startling that it made him somewhat uneasy.

His thoughts drifted back to that night and the subsequent morning. He'd awakened to find that Deven had left on her Harley some time in the night. On the kitchen table she'd placed a brief note to him saying she needed to get away. She asked him to take care of things while she was gone, and advised that she would check in periodically.

In the time she'd been gone, she'd called him almost every day to get a status report on the schools and provide instruction, but had never told him where she was. In fact, she'd refused to discuss herself at all except to say that she was all right and he need not worry. Until she rode up in front of the school just prior to the staff meeting, he hadn't been aware that she was returning today.

Striding into the school with an easy gait, she'd afforded him an open and friendly smile. When he asked where she'd been, she'd held up her hand to stop his inquiry. She'd looked him straight in the eyes, and said, "I won't discuss that. Suffice it to say, it's been good for me."

Deven's thoughts drifted to the man sitting across from her. Facing Jay again had been more difficult than she'd anticipated. The last time she'd seen him had been a nightmare, and the guilt she felt over her actions that night wasn't easily dismissed. The rage that had flooded her veins had truly scared her, and she regretted that that he'd born the brunt of it.

She knew her friend was watching her, but chose to ignore his attentions. Despite her efforts to concentrate on the meeting, her mind began to wander aimlessly. She was aware of the mental drifting, but didn't feel compelled to stop it. As the meeting faded out of her consciousness, memories of that day returned and she allowed herself to revisit what had proved to be a yet another significant crossroads in her life.

Deven had awakened filled with a compulsion to flee. There was no doubt in her mind that she had to put some distance between herself and everything in her life in order to try to regain the control that was eluding her. Her behavior left her confused and apprehensive, and what she'd done to Jay weighed heavy in her thoughts. The more she tried to understand her behavior lately and the concurrent loss of control, the more the answer seemed to lurk just outside of her grasp.

As she lay in bed in the predawn darkness, Jay's voice reverberated clearly in her mind, "When are you going to stop running?" The demons of the past dominated her thoughts and dreams, fueling her need to escape. "Not today, Jay," she spoke to the empty bedroom. Rising from her bed, she stepped into the shower long enough to wash away the last vestiges of sleep before dressing for a long ride. She put on jeans and chaps, long-sleeved shirt and her favorite leather jacket. She packed light and stowed her few things in the saddlebags on her motorcycle.

After jotting a quick note to her friend, Deven pushed the bike out of the garage into the crisp predawn air. She coasted the machine down the long drive to the street before starting it. She didn't want to face Jay yet, and was concerned that the sound of the Harley would awaken him. She was certain that he would have a black eye and numerous other bruises, and could not face the aftermath of her behavior the prior night.

With each mile that she put between herself and home, she felt calmer. She rode into Washington State Park, and then cruised along Skyline Drive for a bit before turning once more to the west. When she'd left her home before dawn, her final destination had been unknown. Once in the mountains, she realized she was being drawn to her favorite campground in West Virginia.

The campground provided accommodations in the lodge, private cabins surrounding a natural lake, as well as areas to pitch tents and set up campers. The cabins, nestled in the natural woodlands, offered privacy in comfortable, though rustic, accommodations that thankfully included modern plumbing. She'd made this sojourn many times in the past, and wondered why she'd stayed away so long this time. This retreat was for her a place of respite, and she'd never shared it with anyone.

Deven mulled over again the prospect of buying land and a cabin of her own up in the picturesque country. She'd considered the idea for years, but had always discounted it. She'd grown to realize that the solace her own woodland escape would provide would come with a price. Too much quiet afforded too much time to think, and with the thinking came the pain.

Not far from her destination, Deven stopped to pick up some supplies and then continued her journey. She felt alive and free, and the tension that had turned her shoulders into knots slowly eased its tenacious grip. Once at the campsite, she rented accommodations beside the pristine lake as far from the lodge and other cabins as possible. She put her supplies in the cabin's small kitchenette, emptied the saddlebags and removed her chaps.

Stepping out onto the front porch, she noticed how much more composed she felt. This retreat had always had that effect on her. She scanned the area and quickly immersed herself in the natural world around her. The day was warming nicely with the continued ascent of the sun, and the sunlight shone brightly on the gently rippling lake.

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply of the clean mountain air mingled with the aromas of various plants and the pungent scent of the earth. Her sense of hearing surged to the forefront and she spent several moments listening.

Conceivably it was the small amount of Native American blood she carried that unlocked this world for her. Opening her eyes, her vision settled on the lake as her thoughts wandered to her grandmother and the times she'd shared with the woman. Her grandmother had been Lakota, and it was she who had opened Deven's sight and senses to the world. The troubled young woman regretted not having listened more to her grandmother. There were so many lessons the elder woman could have taught her if she had only been willing to sit still long enough to learn.

Growing up, the woman had been a great source of happiness for Deven, and she held her memories close to her heart. Her grandmother had been a wise woman, and few days passed that Deven didn't miss her presence. She'd never understood how her own mother, Patricia, could have been born to and raised by the Native American. Patricia had turned her back on anything that reminded her of her parents and the legacy of her people.

Deven pulled her thoughts away from her mother and returned them to the vista around her. "I miss you, Grandmother." Turning from the scenic view and her musings, she returned to the cabin and fixed herself a sandwich from the supplies she'd purchased. She ate her lunch on the porch watching and listening to the life that teemed around her. Her vision settled on a hawk that circled lazily over her several times before moving further towards the depths of the forest.

Smiling, she set off in the direction Brother Hawk had flown. Deven hoped that her grandmother would send her a message, and knew if her grandmother chose to do so, it would be in the nature around her or in her dreams. She took the presence of the hawk as a positive sign, but also knew in her heart that in all likelihood her grandmother would not acknowledge her. Deven had been a great disappointment to her family, and her grandmother knew of her shame.

Her hike was aimless and relaxed. She had nowhere to go and no one to be concerned about and she refused to allow her mind to settle on anything other than the life around her. As the day began to wane into evening, she paused on an outcropping to watch the sunset. Standing quietly, she observed the suns descent and only when it had faded completely behind the mountains, did she begin the return trek to the cabin.

With the setting of the sun, the evening air chilled quickly. Deven started a fire in the fireplace before heating up some soup and making a sandwich for her evening meal. She ate in the peaceful cabin listening to the small crackles of the fire and watching the flames dance.

Once her dinner was finished, she put on her jacket and stepped back outside. Looking up at the night sky she smiled at the number of visible stars. It was amazing how many there were. Near the cities few stars can be seen, but out here the stars were in abundance. She was reminded of the concept that the Star Nation was comprised of those who had passed on - each star the spirit of an ancestor. She felt the weight of the night sky bearing down upon her, and it touched her seldom-used humility.

Sitting on the porch, she listened to the night sounds and watched the moonrise while willing her mind to still. Tomorrow would be soon enough to think about things, but for tonight she was flirting with peace. Returning to the cabin, she stoked the fire and stripped out of her clothes before climbing under the goose down comforter on the bed. She lay quietly watching the flames, and it wasn't long before she fell into the first peaceful sleep she'd had in a very long time.

Deven awoke the next morning knowing what she had to do. The first thing she needed to do was swallow her pride. Then she needed to contact the one person in this world that could help her - the only person who knew her secrets.

She ate breakfast, showered and stepped out onto the porch to a brilliant morning. Strolling leisurely down to the edge of the lake, she spent several moments embracing the serenity around her. Lifting her face to the sky, she sent a silent prayer of gratitude to her grandmother before turning her attention to what had to be done. Turning on her cell phone, Deven dialed a number from the past, a number she thought she would never use again.

The call went well, better than she had expected, and plans were made for a meeting the following afternoon. She would leave the cabin tomorrow morning and ride straight to the meeting. But for today, she would stay where she was and today would be a repeat of yesterday. She sighed heavily and wondered why life couldn't always be like this?

Deven steered her focus back to the staff meeting. Everyone was looking at her as if expecting something. "Sorry. My mind was off on another problem. What were you saying?"

Jay shifted in his seat. "We're looking for an update on the status of the new school."

She nodded her head. "Right. Well, as you know, the pipes burst two days before we were to open. Basically, the landlord has agreed to do all repairs, pay for the clean up and not charge me for the time I can't do business. I stopped by there this morning and so far he has made good on those terms.

Everything should be completed by this Friday. Since we're testing students for promotion this week and have graduation this weekend, I'm planning to open on Monday. Mr. Thomas and I will alternate days for the time being. The rest of you will also be rotating in and out as support staff until the school is ready for a staff of its own. I'll have a schedule for you on Wednesday."

Looking at her notes, Deven checked off each subject that she'd wanted covered in this meeting. She turned her attention to the last item on her list. "One more thing. We have a big tournament coming up in a few weeks. We need to start working with those students who wish to compete. I want the instructors to announce the tournament in each class so our students can begin to prepare."

She checked that item off her list. "If no one else has anything, I guess we're finished for today." She rose from her chair. "Mr. Thomas, do you have a moment?"

"Yes, Ms. Masterson." He followed her to the office.

Seating herself behind the desk, she asked him to shut the office door. "Jay, I want to thank you for taking care of things for me. Knowing that you were here covering my back made it possible for me to get away. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know, okay?"

He sat down in stunned silence for a moment. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with Deven?"

His question was met with hearty laughter. "Am I really that different?"

Tilting his head slightly, he studied her. "Well, you're not the Deven who left here, that's for sure."

"I can't say that's totally true, Bro. That Deven is most certainly still inside here, and always will be, but some things have changed...are changing. I think my life is going to improve. At least, I hope it will. It isn't going to be easy though." She sighed. "Control is an illusion, Jay, and change is a bitch."

He merely nodded at her. He wasn't sure what she was talking about, and the changes in her were disconcerting because they seemed so drastic to have occurred in such a short period of time.

She rose from the chair. "Well, I better get home and see how much damage you did to my house." She considered her friend. He seemed unsure of the situation, and she truly couldn't blame him for that.

"Everything is okay, Jay. Everything is going to be okay." She placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. "I'll be back later." She strolled out of the school, pulled on her helmet, and started the bike.

Jay stood at the window and watched her retreating back. What have you been up to, Deven, and why is it such a big secret?'

Part 2

The past four weeks had been a blur of activity for Rhian. The landscaping business had kept her working almost nonstop from early morning until late into the night. When she wasn't working on designs, she was meeting with clients or supervising installations. She had no less than two crews working everyday, and her schedule was booked for several weeks to come.

This year was starting out to be the most profitable since she'd assumed responsibility for the landscaping department. Her work spoke for itself, and she was picking up more and more jobs from neighbors where her designs had been implemented or were in progress. Her reputation was growing, and she had to admit she found pleasure in knowing that her work was respected.

The pace was beginning to wear her down, however. She'd taken little time to relax, which concerned her father. While he was proud of her, he didn't want her working herself into exhaustion or illness.

Entering the office, he found Nicole and his daughter engaged in a heated discussion. "What's up, you two?"

Nicole turned to Mac. "I'm trying to get her to walk across the street and have lunch with me, but she's being stupidly stubborn."

Rhian glared at her friend. "I told you I have too much to do right now. Why can't you just bring me something and I'll eat it while I review these designs?"

Mac took a step towards his daughter. "That's enough, Rhian. I'm telling you to go to lunch. If work is so hectic that you can't or won't take time for yourself, then I will hire someone to take over who can handle all of this."

She stared at her father in disbelief. "You can't be serious."

"Oh, I am, Daughter. You've been running nonstop for weeks. You aren't taking care of yourself, and I know you aren't getting enough sleep. I'm putting my foot down. You will bring on another crew of installers and you will hire at least two more to help with the design work. But before you do any of that, you will go with Nicole and have lunch. Do you understand?"

Rhian looked down at the blueprints on the desk and then up into her friend's smug expression. "Yes, I understand."

"Good. Now get going."

Rhian stepped around the desk and, without waiting for her friend, walked out the door. She knew that when push came to shove, her father would make good on his threat.

Nicole had to jog to catch up to her displeased friend. "What will it be? Chinese or the deli?"

Rhian didn't answer right away. "You know, Nicole, paybacks are a bitch." And then she added, "The deli."

By the time the two women had crossed the busy road and walked the short distance to the small shopping center, Rhian's spirits had improved. She knew her father was right. Knowing that part of managing was delegation didn't make it any easier to do. She felt responsible for the landscaping business and she took that responsibility seriously. She was learning that one of the outcomes of success was letting some things go another simple lesson, but a difficult one to put into action.

Rhian and Nicole entered the small deli and ordered lunch at the counter. Once their orders were filled, they took their sandwiches, chips and sodas and sat at one of the small tables. Both women were so intent on their meal they didn't notice Jay until he asked to join them.

Rhian looked up and smiled. "Hi, Jay. Sure. Have a seat."

"Thanks." He placed his lunch on the table before pulling up a chair.

"What brings you around here?" Nicole asked between bites of her lunch.

His sandwich paused halfway to his mouth. "Work. We're opening a new school in this shopping center. It should have been done weeks ago, but problems with the plumbing pushed the opening back."

Rhian looked out the window. "Where is it?"

With a motion of his head, Jay indicated the direction of the school. "Down to the left a few doors. After we eat, I'll take you over and show you around. It's going to be really nice. I'll be working here three times a week so perhaps we'll see each other."

Their appetites appeased, they walked down the small mall to the new school. Having never been inside a martial arts school, neither of the two women had any idea what awaited them. The last thing Rhian was expecting to see was the image of Deven, but the walls held several pictures of the woman performing various martial arts techniques. So, Deven Masterson is a martial artist. That certainly explains why she's in such good shape.

Jay unlocked the door and ushered the women in. Rhian studied the pictures intently. She scanned the other pictures on the walls and noticed there were photographs of Jay and some people she didn't know. There were also a few pictures of Deven with various famous actors. Her attention was drawn back to two particular photographs of the tall martial artist.

One photo showed Deven kicking straight up in the air, and in the other she was performing some sort of flying kick. Rhian didn't have names for the martial arts techniques she was viewing, but she understood that they were done with proficiency. Interspersed between the pictures were several plaques proclaiming Deven as a champion at what appeared to be different competitions. "Jay? What are these?"

He looked at what she was referring to. "Those are tournament plaques. Deven won them here and there. Over in the corner are some of her trophies as well. There are a few of mine in there somewhere. She keeps the medals locked up. Let me give you the grand tour. This is, of course, the lobby. Through that door is the office. Through this doorway is the main classroom." He walked to the doorway, removed his shoes and bowed before crossing the threshold. "Come on in, but first, please remove your shoes. No shoes are allowed in the classroom."

Nicole and Rhian looked at each other and shrugged. Leaving their work boots in the lobby, they stepped into the classroom. It was larger than it appeared when viewed from the lobby. The floor was completely covered with carpeting, the majority a blend of red and gray. There were two large squares in a solid red color centered in the room about five feet from each other. "What is with the squares?" Nicole asked.

Jay looked at the floor where she was pointing. "Those are sparring rings. You know like boxing rings only without the ropes."

Off to the left was a smaller room with glass windows. Jay led them towards it while explaining, "We use this room for private lessons and introductory lessons. We can introduce students to the idea of martial arts training without inflicting the bedlam of a class on them. Or we can provide private instruction when students need or request it."

He then led them towards the back of the main classroom. He pointed to two doors at the back of the room. "These are the locker rooms. We have lockers and a shower as well as a bathroom in each. And that over there is the storage room where we keep the uniforms, belts, and sparring gear." He was proud of the school and it showed.

Rhian was impressed. "This is really something. Any new students yet?"

Jay chuckled. "No, not yet. You want to be the first?"

She laughed out loud while shaking her head. "I don't think so. I'm not all that coordinated."

He looked at her seriously. "Well, the martial arts could help you with that."

"Right, Jay. It wouldn't look good to your potential students to see me falling on my butt." They turned and walked back toward the lobby. "You said you were only going to be here three times a week. Will the school be closed the rest of the week?"

He shook his head. "No. Deven will be here the other three days and we're closed on Sunday. There will be a limited schedule until the student count gets high enough to warrant more classes." Jay stopped and regarded the two women. "Look, if you don't want to consider taking regular classes, why don't you think about our cardio workouts. They're classes designed to give you an aerobic workout using mostly martial art moves. A lot of people like them. You'd be doing me a favor, because it gets boring here with not much to do."

The women regarded each other. Nicole was first to speak. "It might not be a bad idea, and it could be fun. What do you think?"

Rhian liked the idea, but didn't see how she would have time. "I don't know, Nic. My schedule is so tight as it is."

"Yes, and your father told you to do something about that. Come on, Rhian. You can't work over designs all day long and not suffer."

Her friend was right. She was spending so much time designing; her back was beginning to bother her. "How much will that cost?"

Jay smiled. "Since you two are the first, and we haven't had our grand opening yet, I'll give you a great deal. How about nothing?"

"Oh, I don't know. We can't just come in here and work out for nothing." Rhian didn't want Jay to get into trouble for his offer. "What would your boss say?"

Jay held up his hands to stop her protests. "Let me worry about the boss, okay? Besides, Deven will be fine with it."

Rhian shook her head. "Is Deven your boss?"

"Yeah. Is that a problem?"

"Let's just say we haven't hit it off very well."

"So, I heard. I'm sorry, Rhian. She can be rather intense at times."

Nicole listened to the exchange, and realization dawned on her as to who Deven was. "No way." She pointed to one of the larger pictures on the wall. "That is the lunatic?"

Rhian nodded her head. She was ready to decline the offer, but Jay pressed on. "Come over on the days when I'm here. You won't even have to see her. It will give me something to do, and might even attract some other people to join in. I'm using you as free advertising. In fact, since Deven has been out of town for the past four weeks, she'll be spending all her time this week at the main school catching up on things. So, why don't we go into the office and figure out a schedule that works for you two?"

"Come on, Rhian." Nicole prodded her friend. "It'll be fun."

The young blonde contemplated the offer. There really wasn't a reason not to accept and so she acquiesced. "Okay, but two things. One, we arrange to be here when Deven isn't. I do not want another run in with her. Two, don't either one of you laugh when I fall on my butt."

Part 3

Rhian stood up and stepped away from the drafting board she'd been leaning over for the past hour. Stretching cramped muscles, she winced at the aches from last night's cardio class. She and Nicole had been attending the cardio classes for two weeks now, and while both women were relatively strong from the work they did, they quickly learned that their endurance was lacking and there were some muscles they didn't use on a regular basis.

Still those small aches and pains that followed each workout weren't enough to deter them from returning for more. The exercise had helped lower Rhian's stress levels significantly, and she found she was sleeping better as well.

Stretching again, she glanced down at the designs she'd been working on. Her ability to concentrate had deserted her for the time being. What is up with me? I'm hungry that's what. No, I can't be hungry. I had lunch an hour ago. You're bored is what you are and you don't need to compensate with food. Yada...yada....yada. She scanned the design and sighed. I know what I want! A hot fudge sundae! Oh, yeah. That is exactly what I need!

Setting her pencil down, she decided to indulge herself. With the decision made, she crossed the road to the small mall, and headed straight for the ice cream parlor. Once she'd procured her treat, she began a leisurely walk back to work while savoring each bite of frozen chocolate delight.

So intent on her goal, she hadn't even glanced at the martial arts school on her way to the ice cream parlor, but now she paused and gazed through the front window. Inside the classroom, Deven was practicing various martial arts moves and techniques. The sun's glare on the window made it difficult to see very well, so Rhian stepped into the lobby, and watched from what she hoped was an inconspicuous location.

Other than in the movies, she'd never seen someone perform any martial arts. She found the display captivating. Deven moved with a fluid grace and astounding power. She integrated the two seemingly contradictory forces into a complement of motion.

Rhian studied the martial artist's face and was amazed at the intensity of Deven's focus. Everything about the woman spoke of power, and for the first time, Rhian considered that this woman could in fact be lethal if she chose to be.

Deven sensed she had an audience, but kept her focus on what she was doing. Okay, Masterson, you have a prospective student watching, so put on a good show. She continued to practice for a couple more minutes before turning to face her audience. The last person she expected to see was Rhian McKenna. She hadn't spoken to the woman since that disastrous day at Kelly's.

Their eyes met briefly before Rhian turned to leave. Jogging to the doorway to the lobby, Deven called out to the retreating woman. "Hey."

Rhian cursed herself for being caught. She had only intended to watch for a minute and then leave before Deven saw her. She definitely had not intended to actually speak to the woman. Their past two meetings had been difficult for her, and she really didn't need another altercation. However, she felt it would be rude to not reply. Turning around, she faced the other woman. "Hello."

Deven quickly took in the stiffness of the woman's posture. The eyes that stared back at her were solemn and she suddenly felt awkward something she couldn't ever remember experiencing before. What is it about this woman? "How are you?"

Rhian cocked her head slightly. "I'm okay. How about yourself?"

"I'm doing okay," she replied with a slight shrug of her broad shoulders. Pointing to the ice cream, she added, "I don't normally allow eating inside the do jang, but you look responsible enough."

The younger woman considered the comment before responding. "Thanks, I think. Um...do jang?"

The martial artist indicated the school with a sweep of her hand. "It's the Korean name for a martial arts school. Why don't we go into the office?" She bowed to the classroom, and then led the way across the lobby. Rhian hesitated before following the tall form into the office and taking a seat across the desk from her.

Deven sat easily in the desk chair and regarded the blonde. "So, what brings you over here?" The younger woman held up her ice cream, which produced a lopsided grin from the martial artist. "Right. Stupid question."

Rhian was intrigued. A small voice in her head told her to get up and leave to before another argument with this woman could take place. Then again, the woman before her was nothing like the Deven at the Pit or at Kelly's. "Ice cream is a weakness of mine. I had a few moments and snuck over here to indulge."

Leaning forward, Deven placed her forearms on the desk and looked around. "It's a weakness of mine too, but don't tell anyone," she whispered. Rhian smiled at the confession eliciting a full smile from the other woman. "Figures I would open a school just doors away from an ice cream parlor. So, how are you enjoying the cardio classes?"

Rhian regarded the martial artist for a few seconds. She didn't want to say the wrong thing and get Jay in trouble since she didn't know if he'd even mentioned their free lessons to Deven. Obviously the woman knew something about them.

"Jay says you and Nicole have been doing well, and that you two make the classes a lot of fun for him."

"They are fun. I do have to confess to being a bit sore. Some of those moves use muscles I didn't even know I had. At least, I've managed to stay on my feet."

Deven chuckled at the comment. Jay had given her a rather descriptive dissertation on Rhian's questionable coordination. According to him, Rhian did quite well once her body learned how to perform a technique, but during the learning process she had a little trouble.

She really has a nice smile. Shame it's attached to a nut. Be nice, Rhian she admonished herself. "What were you doing in there?"

"Just practicing. Besides the fact that I enjoy it, I find it helps me focus." She picked up a pen from the desktop and twirled it with her fingers. She would have had to be a complete idiot to not realize that Rhian was uncomfortable, and she knew she was responsible for that. She still didn't understand why this young woman impacted her so. They were strangers, barely cordial ones at that. After the way she had treated Rhian, the woman should hold nothing but contempt for her.

Do it, Deven. "Rhian?" She waited for the younger woman to look at her. "I never apologized to you for my behavior. Both times we've met I've behaved badly." Deven paused and lowered her eyes to the pen in her hand. "I could say that I was going to apologize and circumstances came up, but that wouldn't be totally true. Truth is, I'm not very good at apologies. Still, I should have contacted you."

Rhian quietly studied the brunette. She definitely appeared uncomfortable, and for some reason that knowledge pleased her. "I'm waiting."

Deven looked up. She was perplexed by the comment. What is she waiting for? "I don't understand."

"I'm waiting for you to say it. You said you owe me an apology, so...."

Lifting an eyebrow, she bit her lip to suppress the smile that threatened. She's a spunky little thing. "You aren't going to make this easy I see."

Rhian shook her head. "Nope." She cocked her head to the side and gazed directly at Deven sending a silent challenge at the martial artist.

Deven took a deep breath and looked down at her hands. This is so hard. Bringing her eyes back up to Rhian's, she swallowed her pride and exhaled. "I'm sorry for my deplorable behavior."

The young woman scrutinized the strong face for several seconds. She appears to be sincere, but then how can you tell with this woman? Still, if she can apologize, I can be gracious enough to accept. "Thank you. I appreciate you saying that. I was pretty upset that day out in McLean."

"I know. Of course, you missed Kelly letting me have it after you left. I think you might have enjoyed being witness to my being berated."

That small bit of information did induce Rhian to smile. She glanced at her watch. "Oh, I have to go. I've got an appointment." Deven rose with her and followed her out of the school. When they reached the sidewalk Rhian turned back. "Well, see you around I suppose."

Deven nodded. "Yeah. The next time you're headed over for ice cream, stop by."

"Sure. Well, bye."

"Bye." Deven watched the younger woman walk away. Well, that wasn't so bad. At least I didn't make a complete ass of myself this time.

Rhian walked back to the garden center in quiet contemplation. She couldn't figure Deven out. She thought about the three times they had crossed paths, and found today's conversation in complete contrast to the others. Well, in actuality today was the first time we've had a conversation. The two previous times have been confrontations brought on by her massive ego.

It's as if Deven is two totally different people. Well, of the two I prefer this one. It certainly makes running into her at the school, or anywhere for that matter, a more pleasant experience.

Part 4

They finished up a little ahead of schedule at the garden center, and Nicole coaxed Rhian into going to the school early. Though nothing had been said, Rhian suspected that her friend was attracted to Jay. She also sensed the attraction was mutual.

As they neared the school, they could hear loud music emulating from the building. Walking into the lobby, they sat down to watch the spectacle. Deven and Jay were performing a martial arts routine to the music. At times, they moved in perfect synchronization. At other times, they alternated with one performing a series of moves followed immediately by the other. Both martial artists moved with power and speed, and Rhian found she was once again mesmerized watching the tall woman.

Jay performed a series of moves that ended with him in a deep stance. Instantly, Deven leapt up. Spinning 360 degrees while airborne, she delivered a kick over Jay's head. As soon as her feet touched ground she was rising again executing another kicking technique. At the same time, Jay shifted and dropped down into a center split on the floor. Deven's feet came down again, and she jumped into a back flip over Jay landing behind him at the same time the music ended. He rose and turned, and they both smiled.

"Well, Bro, not bad for a couple of old folks." Deven's attention was drawn to the two women sitting in the lobby. She indicated their presence to him with a slight nod of her head.

He jogged over to the doorway, and greeted them. "Hi ladies. How are you doing today?"

Both women smiled at him. "Hi, Jay. We're pretty good. Got done a little early today so thought we'd head on over," Nicole replied.

Rhian nodded towards the classroom. "What was that you were doing?"

He beamed. "We're considering entering the school in the team competition at the next tournament. Deven and I were just working on a routine that we could teach some of our students to compete with. It'll probably change a bit before the tournament, but that's the foundation. What do you think?"

Rhian shook her head. "I've never seen anything like it. It was incredible."

"Yeah, I think we have a chance." He looked at the clock on the wall. "Why don't you get changed up for our cardio class? You have a few minutes you can use to stretch out."

Nicole and Rhian removed their shoes, grabbed their gear bags and headed for the locker room. They entered the room and began changing their cloths for class. "You know, Rhian, the woman may be a raving lunatic, but she sure looks impressive doing that karate stuff."

Rhian chuckled. "You aren't kidding, Nic. I have no idea what those moves are called, but that was amazing."

Both women looked up as the door to the bathroom opened, and Deven stepped into the locker room. The first thing she noticed was that Rhian was standing there in her underpants and a bra. The next thing she became aware of was how her own body was responding to the sight. She shifted her attention to Nicole for an instant in an attempt to maintain her composure. "Well ladies, this raving lunatic would be more than happy to tell you the names of those moves it you're so inclined."

Rhian could feel the blush rising. She wasn't sure if it was from the embarrassment of having been caught talking about the woman or because of her state of undress. "Deven, I'm...I'm sorry."

Deven's eyebrow inched upward, and her features froze. Her voice was steady but firm. "That's Ms. Masterson. In my schools, I am Ms. Masterson to my students. All my instructors are addressed by the title of either Mr. or Ms. depending on gender, of course."

She waited a few more seconds before she winked at Rhian. "And we both know I'm a raving lunatic." She glanced at Nicole and then back at the young blonde. "I think I'll join your workout today. Should be fun." With that she crossed the locker room and left.

Deven walked over to the water fountain and took a long drink. This is insane. She isn't even my type. Yeah? Than how come one look at her dressed like that, and I'm aroused? Why? That should be obvious. I haven't had the time to play with anyone that's why. Tonight I am not leaving the bar alone! Tonight I'm going to get laid!

Rhian and Nicole changed in silence before entering the classroom. They stretched in the back of the room waiting for Jay to start class. Rhian felt awful. Neither of them had considered that Deven might be within earshot. The martial artist seemed to have taken it all in stride, but still Rhian knew they had been rude.

As class started it was uncomfortable for Rhian, and she avoided looking in Deven's direction. She was embarrassed both by what had happened in the locker room and by her awkwardness. She kept waiting for Deven to laugh at her. As the class progressed though, she forgot her self-consciousness and lost herself in the movements. Before long, she was laughing along with Nicole and Jay.

Deven took everything in. As when she had first heard it, Rhian's laughter seemed to penetrate her. It was almost of she wasn't just hearing the sound, but feeling it in her chest. She watched the younger woman through the mirror and soon found herself laughing along with the rest of them. Rhian's coordination was somewhat lacking, but she gave every movement and each step her best effort. When the class finally ended, all four were in good spirits. Deven walked up to the women. "You know, the two of you aren't bad at this."

Jay joined them. "Told you. Listen, Deven and I are heading over to the Pit after we close up. You want to join us? Kelly and Carl will be there too."

NO! Don't do this to me, Jay. "I don't know, Jay. I mean, maybe they have other plans."

"No, Rhian and I are free."

Rhian looked at Nicole. She could tell her friend wanted to go. "I don't know, Nic. What about Seana?"

Deven listened to the exchange hoping Rhian would decline. Who's Seana? What do I care? "If there's a problem we could make it some other time. No pressure, you know."

Nicole urged her friend. She wanted to spend more time with Jay. "Your folks will be more than happy to look after her. You know that. You also know they want you to go out more."

Rhian still hesitated. The last time they had gone to the Pit had been fun except for the part that had included Deven. Do I really want to purposefully go somewhere with the woman? She saw the hope on her friend's face. Kelly and Carl will be there. So will Jay. "Well, Nic, if we're going to go, we need to get home and change. Come on." She grabbed Nicole's arm and pulled her towards the locker room. Why do I allow myself to get talked into things like this?

Deven watched the women walk away. Damn you, Jay! Okay, Masterson, just relax. She isn't your date or anything. Just a person joining you at the bar. You're still free to play all you want. Really? Then how come I suddenly feel like I have to be nice? This sucks. Sighing heavily, she turned and walked to the office.

To Be Continued In Chapter Eight

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