“Stars in the Sky”
Imagine a jigsaw puzzle. Not just any puzzle, but one of those multi-thousand piece monsters littered with detail and colors. Getting started is no chore; all you have to do is start with the border and corner pieces, set the structure for the big picture. Sort out the colored tiles and find a few of the more obvious pieces. Problems quickly become obvious for the uninitiated… crossover colors, similar images in three or more spots, any other challenges the creator dreamed up for the truly devoted jigsaw enthusiasts. To paraphrase a Gumpism, life is a lot like that box of puzzle pieces – you might have an idea of the structure, the people in your life, and how those relationships connect, but working out the details can take a lifetime.
Greg Bartels stood in the doorway of the Reeds’ home with a woman Jahn had never met before, and he couldn’t begin to imagine what the hell the man wanted with him over half a year since they’d seen each other last. They weren’t friends. They weren’t co-workers. They had almost nothing in common. At worst, the pair had been nemeses unable to stand the sight of each other, at best united only by their inability to successfully resolve a relationship with a woman they'd both wanted. Truth told, for all Jahn cared, Greg could have dropped off the face of the earth.
From the expression on Fiona’s face, it was clear she’d already made the connection whenever the scrappy tool had been introduced to her; and the brunette looked ready to forestall an argument between the two men. There was something else at play here too, and he didn’t like not knowing what it was.
Unable to mask the hostility in his voice, or even keep from raising it a notch, he asked, “What do you want now, Greg? Hell, how did you even know where to find me?”
A reaction was immediate, but it didn’t come from his former competition, it came from the woman at his side. For the first time, he took notice of the woman. She looked to be a few years older than Jahn, bearing an oddly tired look, as if the years had taken a toll. Her hair fell in long curls of a light brown that complimented round, dimpled cheeks. She was curvy in a classic way, though not overweight, and he thought she could be beautiful under the right circumstances, if it weren’t for her eyes. Lord, those eyes. Colored a light green that looked like they could sparkle with laughter… but there was no laughter in them. Only stark fear, and of Jahn, of all people. All his fights had been grade school scraps, and he’d never raised a hand to another adult. A deep, cold sensation twisted his gut.
Jahn had never worked at a center for victims of domestic violence, didn’t know for sure that anyone he knew was a victim of it, or how to read the signs. But a nasty certainty dawned on him; he was sure this woman had been abused, and badly. He hoped that Greg wasn’t the piece of shit who’d done it, because it would change a lot of things he thought he knew about the man’s relationship with Andrea.
Greg’s mouth turned downward, as if he were working up an angry response to Jahn’s outburst, but strangely he held his tongue, though his eyes broadcasted sheer outrage. Instead, he raised a calming hand to the woman’s shoulder. The fear in her eyes subsided, and she seemed to relax. Jahn backtracked, with an apology that was as sincere as he could make it. “Sorry miss, Greg and I have some history. She nodded faintly, and he turned his attention back to the man. “Why are you here?”
Fiona said gently, “Relax, Jahn. He’s here to see me and Jen.”
Disbelief washed over his brain. What the hell was this, now?
Late to the show, Jen’s voice piped up behind him. “What’s up?” Peering over his shoulder at Greg and the woman beside him, she commented to his companion, “Say, you look familiar. You work at V&P?” Greg's companion said nothing, but shook her head.
Fiona, ever diplomatic, took charge of the situation and said, “Greg has some things he needs to say. Let’s have a seat, something cool to drink and talk about it, alright?” After getting everyone a chair in the kitchen, she poured lemonade, and got introductions out of the way. Greg’s companion was Amelia Collins.
Visibly more relaxed, Greg kept a constant and reassuring hand on Amelia’s arm as he began to talk, his story coming out haltingly.
“I wouldn’t have dragged Amy along if I didn’t think she needed to be here. I don’t know either of these ladies…” he nodded towards Fiona and Jen, in turn, “… and I wanted to make sure they understood I’m not just talking a lot of shit. Amy will verify everything I tell you.”
“Here it is: Amy’s been in a couple of real bad relationships. You know the type, macho fuc-“he cut himself off, moderating his language, “-macho tools who like to use their fists, who think its okay to treat a woman like a punching bag.” There was anger in his voice, but his blue eyes were an expressive apology as he looked sideways at Amy, obviously not keen on sharing her personal affairs.
Thank you Greg, Jahn reflected silently.
“I’m telling you this for a reason, not to get sympathy. Her latest boyfriend-“
Jen cut in suddenly, “Jake Edwards, right? I thought I’d seen you before.” Unsure just who she was talking about, Jahn looked at her curiously, but Fiona beat him to the question. “That’s the skinny guy with the long dark hair, isn’t it? Works with you in Records?”
The blonde nodded, her mouth twisting in distaste. “He used to hassle me for dates all the time, hinted to people that I was his girlfriend. Stopped bugging me a few years back. Guess he got a gir-, right, okay,” she stumbled over the response as a flush of embarrassment crossed Amelia’s face. Greg’s hand tightened comfortingly on hers.
“Yeah, that’s him,” he agreed. “I ran into Amy in Vander & Porter’s cafeteria the day I broke up with Andrea. Recognized Amy – we both went to the same high school, though she was an upperclassman and we didn’t really know each other. We talked for a bit, reminisced about the old days, all that good stuff, you know? She was the life of all the parties...,” he trailed off in embarrassment, then took up again.
“Macho shows up, makes a big deal about his girl chatting with guys he doesn’t know.” Venomous contempt began to creep into Greg’s voice, though he kept his tone even. “Seen that shit before, would have just backed off and went my merry way, rather than making trouble for Amy. But no, something she said set him off and he slapped her. In the middle of a _public_ cafeteria, for fu- goodness sake. You could have heard a pin drop in there.”
He locked eyes with Jahn. “I’ve never hit a woman in my life, but when I saw him do that, I knew he’d done it before. Whole lot. Seen people do that before, know ladies who’ve let it happen to them. Pissed me off.”
“I’ve never backed down from a fight in my life, even picked a few. Called him out, said a few things, he took a swing. Flattened that little shit, right there.” No pride in his voice, just a flat statement of fact. “Nobody said a word. He had it coming.”
“Took the rest of the afternoon off, told Amy that unless she wanted to live the rest of her life like that, she needed to let me help her. She agreed, thank God, but Edwards made that part pretty easy. She didn’t have anything to lose by leaving everything behind.
“We got a restraining order against Edwards, and I’m giving her a place to stay while she gets her life sorted out.”
Jahn interjected. “That’s like… six months ago. How do Jen and Fiona fit in?”
Greg grimaced. “I went over to their place while Edwards was at work to collect her clothes. I guess he expected that. Some of his friends were waiting and beat the shit out of me. Lost a couple teeth, and they told me I’d lose more if I ever came ‘round there again.” Amelia’s face contorted with unhappiness, tears forming at the corner of her eyes, and she ducked her head.
Jen rose and went over to her. “We don’t need to stay for this, Amy. Greg can explain things to Jahn and Fiona. Let me get you some Kleenex, and help you with that mascara.” The blonde got up, and the others waited in uncomfortable silence as the pair climbed the stairs.
When they’d gone, Greg picked up where he’d left off. “… so I left. Told her it was fine, we could get her some new stuff real easy. She wanted to know what happened, made me tell her. So I told her he’d had some friends watching the place and let her work out the rest.”
“Ever seen one of those movies, where someone delivers a creepy line and you know bad shit is probably gonna happen? It was exactly like that.”
“He watches the girls too, she told me.”
The bottom dropped out of Jahn’s stomach, and he heard a low noise like rumbling that it took him a moment to recognize as bile rising in his throat.
Fiona must have seen his expression change, and turned to him with a look of concern on her face, “Jahn?”
“And the ‘girls’ were Jenny and Fiona,” he croaked. “Right? Who were his friends? Skinheads?”
Greg eyed him. “Wouldn’t have known by looking, but yeah basically. I pressed her for details, asked her who these pricks were, who the punk was watching. Amy said they were part of some Purity group that Edwards was in and doing somebody a favor
Jahn closed his eyes, a wave of nausea roiling in his gut.
“I told her we needed to let these girls know about it, so they could get a restraining order or something. Don’t know why he was watching them, what he wanted. Maybe he’s just a pervert, but you can’t take chances with a guy who pounds on people he claims to love.”
“That’s why I’m here. I’d have passed it along to you instead, if I’d known Fiona was your girlfriend.” Jahn didn’t care to explain the relationship, and let it go at that. ***
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Puzzle pieces suddenly begin to fall into place, a picture begins to form. .”got friends on the outside keeping a close eye on my little girl for me.”
“long list, kids who got shown the door.”
“used to run off any kids that gave Jen a hard time”
“asked me for dates all the time”
“watches the girls”
Donovan had friends, good friends who knew he wasn’t ever getting out of prison. He asked them for a favor, and what greater favor could somebody do for a friend than make sure his little girl had someone looking after her? Sure, the half-breed was a fly in the ointment, but if his kid adored her half-sister, allowances could be made. There was something about that that didn’t quite fit, but the picture was there.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Two attractive girls lived alone, not just any girls, but sisters. Both charismatic and intelligent women, both well into their twenties. Virgins, too. One as lusty as any guy, the other somewhat reserved, but not so shy as to be a wilting lily. Falling for and falling into bed with a guy just out of a failed relationship, after only a few weeks of dating. The guy looked a little like an old movie star, but really? What were the odds? “had boyfriends before… they just never seem to stick around long”
“was supposed to be my first”
“hinted that he was my boyfriend”
How many people did Jen and Fiona have looking out for them? A neighbor across the street. A co-worker. Perhaps fellow students or a teacher? Somehow, Jahn had slipped under their radar, but had passed whatever test Donovan had concocted in his head and was left be.
Someone to look out for you, that was a good thing, right? Friends who cared, kept an eye on family to make sure things were alright, but Jake Edwards was another matter altogether. What kind of crap could he get up to, if Donovan’s friends decided he’d make a good boyfriend for Jen? Fiona… how would someone like Edwards look at a woman like her? Another punching bag to add to the list? Gotta keep the girlfriend in line somehow, right? Even Donovan only showed her the barest respect.
Greg talked for awhile longer, speculating on what Edwards was up to, but Jahn was pretty sure he already had all the answers that mattered. Amy and Jen finally returned, and while there was still some pensiveness on the older woman’s face, she looked far more positive and Greg’s expression softened at the sight of her. As he got up, ready to leave, Jen hustled over to his side to whisper something in his ear. The look he gave her was odd, but when he turned his attention back to Amelia, color was high in her cheeks, a smile on her face.
After they’d gone, Jahn turned to Jen. “What was that all about?”
Breezily, she responded, “Oh, Amy just wanted him to make a move and was a little timid about asking him to do it.”
“Whatever. She could probably do better than Bartels.”
In an unexpectedly sharp tone of voice, Fiona interjected, “Don’t be a dick, Jahn.” That language was surprising from her, and hurt too.
Before he could say anything, Jen piped up indignantly. “He’s been a perfect gentleman to Amy. He’s given her a place to stay, made sure she has whatever she needs, got her a job. She has no friends left, and he’s been everything the two assholes she went out with before weren’t. Both of them were awful to her, treated her like trash. Greg’s the only one that showed her any kindness _at all_. Amy knows he’s sweet on her, but he’s left her alone because he’s afraid to hurt her. She feels the same way about him.”
“Okay, fair enough,” he said slowly. Greg was beside the point. There was a bigger issue at hand. Emotion boiling over inside him, he continued, “We need to discuss your father.”
Jen’s naturally pale skin went a shade whiter with outrage, as the blood drained from her face. “Don’t you talk about my daddy-“
Looking on in silence, it seemed that Fiona had made some of the same connections as Jahn and she finally spoke up. “Jenny - chkt.” Jahn wasn’t sure what that meant because it didn’t even sound like a word, but it stopped her sister cold.
Folding her arms angrily beneath her breasts, “Okay, say what you have to say.”
So he did.***
It took them nearly an hour to get Jen to calm down after _that_ fiasco. Denial, rage, tears, the gauntlet. Two more hours burned before he could convince her that he should call Donovan. Jen had suggested they confront Edwards, but he was pretty sure that would end about as well for him as it had for Greg and told her so. With some reluctance, she agreed.
Turns out that getting a prisoner on the phone without a drive-up appointment was a real pain in the ass; he made the mistake of not having Jenny make the call and got a ridiculous run around before contact was arranged. When Donovan finally picked up, Jahn was seething.
“Why the hell are you calling me?”
“You ever raise a hand to your wife? Make sure she knows her place, that kind of shit?” Fortunately, Jen wasn’t in the room, and he let his mouth run. “Black eye to remind her she’s been told once already?”
The other end of the line got quiet, and he could practically feel a chill radiating from it. “Kid, I don’t know what the fuck your problem is, but maybe you better just say what’s on your mind and be done with it.”
“It’s about these people you have “looking out for” Jenny.”
Warily, Donovan responded, “That’s not your business.”
“I got one in particular in mind. Name of Edwards, Jake or Jacob.”
“Randall’s boy? So what?”
“So he beats the shit out of his girlfriends.”
There was a moment of silence. “That’s personal, kid. I don’t hold with that kind of crap and it ain’t right, but that’s not your business either.”
“Stow it, Donovan. He’s told people in the past that Jenny’s his girlfriend. You like the idea of Jenny being this shithead’s punching bag? Or traumatizing the hell out of her when he decides to do it to her little half-breed sister instead? What do you think of that, Donovan? I think I’d like to kick his worthless ass, but I have it on good authority that he has ‘friends’ covering for him.”
The silence extended well after Jahn’s rant ended, but he could hear the man’s breathing. Still there. Chew on it.
Then finally: “Okay, I’ll see to it that he stays away from them.”
“Do better than that, man. Make him get a transfer out of V&P to another branch in another city, and make it clear that if he ever goes anywhere near the girls, it’s his head on a platter.”
“Kid, your mouth is gonna get you… no, you’re right. Edwards is gone, and they’ll keep an eye on him to make sure he keeps his hands where they belong. Mind this, boy, you aren’t off the hook. That’s my little girl, and I don’t trust you enough to watch her by yourself. Clear?”
“Clear. Sir.” ***
Confirmation came from an unexpected source a few days later. As he pulled into the driveway, Margrave appeared, though there seem to be no change in his typically sour disposition. Jahn waited as the big man crossed the street to approach him.
A bass rumbled that took a moment to register as a voice issued from the man. “Edwards got his transfer. Gainesville. We got people there, but he shows his face ‘round Jenny, you let me know.”
Grudgingly, Jahn nodded. “Thank you, and tell Donovan I said thanks as well.”
Margrave gave him an unreadable look, but nodded and left.
I don’t speak their language, but the message seems to have gotten through, Jahn thought, the burden of worry finally beginning to lift from his chest.***
A few weeks of reflection seemed to be the prescription for easing the tension that had arisen in the house, but it wasn’t that easy. Sniping and arguments had taken place at first, not between Jenny and Fiona, but between himself and them, and in retrospect, he’d been embarrassed to admit that he was at fault for most of it. His unwillingness to simply let the matter of Greg’s apparent decency as a human being drop, coupled with Jenny’s resentment of the situation with her father had created a toxic atmosphere.
Over time, though, Fiona had finally gotten fed up and told him point-blank that had Greg not intervened, something could have happened to her, Jenny, or both of them. That stopped Jahn cold, because there had been a low-level fear in his gut that he’d refused to acknowledge since the first time Donovan had threatened him with broken arms and legs, one that had sharpened into outright terror when Greg had told them about Edwards. Self-preservation could be overlooked, or ruthlessly shoved aside, but an inability to protect people he loved could not. A wire had tightened around his heart, and it relaxed when that problem had been corrected, but it took Fiona’s sharp insight to cut it loose. The understanding seemed to lift a dark cloud from his perception of his former nemesis.
“You’re right,” he admitted, with sincerity this time, rather than grudging reluctance, though the heat of embarrassment over his behavior seemed to inflame his cheeks. “I should thank him for that, but I deleted his number after Andrea.”
Fiona’s mouth curved in a satisfied smile. “Jenny’s got Amy’s number. Guess you should go talk to her, hmmm?”
Oh. You clever little minx, he marveled inwardly.***
When he knocked on Jen’s bedroom door, he got a grouchy “Come in” for his trouble, but she seemed to brighten when he entered the room..
“Hey,” he said awkwardly. “I figured I owe Greg some thanks for what he did for us. Fiona said you have Amy’s number…?”
Apparently disappointed at the topic of conversation, she said, “Y-yeah. Hold on.”
Standing, she moved to the dresser to pick up her cellphone, hunching over the device as she pressed buttons. He saw her shaking, and thought it the movement of her hands for a moment before he realized she was crying.
“Hey, Jenny, it’s okay, I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere.” Moving forward, he embraced her tightly, holding her to him. Unable to contain whatever emotion she’d built up over the weeks, the reservoir broke. Jahn stood with her in his arms until she finally subsided.
What seemed like hours later, she spoke, stumbling over the words between sniffles, “I know I never g-get around to saying it, b-because it’s so much better to show you how I feel. Y-you turn me on, and I l-love being with you. I l-love that you care, that you try and show it as much as possible, even with Fiona in the picture. I might not say it, but I _love_ you Jahn. I really do.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “You already told me. I saw it on your face when you told your mother about me.”
“But I love my daddy too, and it tears me up that you hate each other.”
“I don’t hate him, Jen. Whatever world he’s made for himself, whatever hatred he wraps himself in, is his problem. But it scares that hell out of me that his world could get either of you hurt.”
“I kn-know. I’ve never had to face the dangerous side of his life, but I know it’s there. It’s why he’s in prison.”
His girlfriend stared up at him with vulnerability in her large watery blue eyes, and he leaned in to kiss her on the forehead. Wrapping her hand fiercely into his t-shirt, she pulled him further downward, to kiss her on the lips instead. Not one of their usual tongue-wrestling matches, or passionate lip-lock, but an exchange of intimacies.
“Make love to me,” she whispered. He understood what she was asking for. Like the kissing, not their usual bedroom antics and wild sexy play, but togetherness. Their clothes seemed to be swept away like dust on a breeze, and he touched her over and over, his hands gentle travelers, not exploring new territories, but natives walking through well-known and beloved homelands. From the hills of her lips, to the gentle slope of her throat, the steep mountains of her breasts and flatlands of her stomach, they made their meandering way to the wet valley between her legs. Jen responded in kind, her hands everywhere, not groping, but touching… _feeling_ every part of him. There was a tightening, his arousal as hardness overtook him, and yet more of that tightness, his entry between her legs. The blonde gave a low cry of pleasure, pulling her head back as he penetrated her, and he could see a smattering of tears on her face. Concerned, he began to withdraw, but she clutched him all the more tightly to her.
“Good, it’s so good…” she murmured. Embracing the fullness of himself within her, he set a rhythmic pace that was slow and gentle. There were sounds that might have been the occasional groan from himself or a breathless moan from her, but the coupling was comfortably quiet, he in her, taking incredible pleasure from the motion of his sex within hers. When they finally came together, there were no words, only an explosion of breath and release, his seed spilling into Jen, mingling with her own liquid passion.***
The difference had to have shown on their faces when they came downstairs, because Fiona looked up from the mail, contemplating the pair only briefly before gifting them with a smug, self-satisfied smile. The brunette casually displayed what appeared to be a pair of cardboard tickets.
“Mom sent us our birthday present a bit early so that we could plan ahead. What do you think about a trip to Florida?” … to be continued …
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/sweet-dreams-are-made-of-this-ch07.aspx">Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, Ch.07</a>