Unspoken Vows, Book 1 of the Heartbeat Series

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Chapter 17. Confusion

Brandon and I had left Megan to sleep while we welcomed Sean and Ryan, who were late due to the exodus from NYC for the three day weekend. We had just finished dinner when Meg came wandering into the dining room, appearing half-asleep and inebriated. Before she fell on the floor like a drunk, I led her to a chair, and she landed in my lap. Once comfortable, Meg slid her hand into mine, and she seemed as if she was zoning again.

“It’s been this way all afternoon,” Brandon explained to my guests. “Should we call Ruby?”

I nodded as she rested her head on my shoulder. Brandon called her from the kitchen and Ryan joined him while Sean moved closer to my end of the table. Gentle Sean, whose hair had left him long before airplay ever did, didn’t like the looks of our Associate Director. The whole episode had concerned us but one thing was certain, we’d see her through this. Tanned from his month in the French Riviera, Sean was much darker than Meg and me, who had traded the sun’s rays for hours in the office.

He brushed a tendril of hair from her eyes and she opened them to see who touched her. When she saw that it was only Sean, she relaxed again in my arms, letting out a deep sigh.

“He’s not here and can’t hurt you,” I reminded her. She nodded and said nothing else. “Meg, you have to snap out of this. Davenport’s is paralyzing you with fear. You’re letting him win.”

“I know,” she whispered, as Brandon stood there between the two rooms and listened to what Ruby said. Meg stared at Brandon, who she wasn’t used to seeing in anything other than chinos and dress shirts, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room in a pair of walking shorts and an open button down shirt over a black T-shirt. She sat up and shook her head as if she was trying to clear it of some insane fuzziness that had taken over. Brandon kept his eyes on us and his ear on Ruby, disapproving of the state Megan was in. Knowing the look on his face, it wasn’t just her mental state he disapproved of either. The girl was a wreck and hadn’t bothered to run a brush through her hair before she came downstairs, which wasn’t at all like Megan.

He returned to the kitchen. “She just answered Alex,” he said in a low voice but still audible to us.

“Meg, we’re winning. He’s in jail, and you’re safe. We’re no longer on the defensive, we’re in charge now,” I said, combing through the straggly bits that surrounded her face, trying to get them back into place.

“I’m so scared he’ll get me.”

“Meg, sit up and look at me.” She remained where she wanted to be: in my lap, her head on my shoulder, her breath on my neck. I repeated her name with a bit of fire in it, “Megan.”

She sat up and turned to me. Her eyes told me she wasn’t all there, so I touched her face to get her full attention.

“If he does get out of jail, he might try.”

“I know, he’ll be so mad,” she said, sounding more like a fearful child than an adult, she was ready to put her head down on my shoulder and hide her face in my neck, but I braced her shoulders with my hands, certain I’d make her listen rather than avoid me.

“Exactly, until this is over, the closet is off limits.”

“If Randy does get to you, and you hide in your closet, you’ll give him an opportunity to harm you,” said Sean, moving around to the back of my chair so that she could see his face from the direction she was sitting.

“Sean is right, Meg, you have to remain focused for your own safety.”

Ryan came in and sat in the chair on my right. He and Sean exchanged glances. After the seventeen years the two had been together, I swore they could read each other’s minds at times. They met the same year that Janice and I did, and I had often wondered when I’m with them what Janice and I would have been like by now if we had stayed together. Would we have been able to read each other so well? Would she have looked at me the way Mrs. Barns did at Dr. Barns earlier that afternoon with the look of pride and understanding, as if she knew his every word and thought as if they were her own?

One thing about Ryan, he was always the Adonis. A toe-headed blonde who wore his hair a bit on the long side, not typical for a middle-aged man, Ryan’s hands combed through his straight locks when he was uncertain of something. I’ll never forget Andy Blake, the bassist of Heartbeat, being jealous of Ryan, the photographer. Nick and I found the whole incident hilarious in a dressing room before a concert, and I remember telling Andy not to worry; Ryan wasn’t going to take any girls away from him.

One thing remained true about Andy, he never liked a woman who was more beautiful than he was until one day when we met for a photo shoot. Ryan was finishing another as we arrived, and this beautiful blond model made eyes at Andy. His eyes didn’t leave her until after Ryan made the introduction and she left, but not before she wrote her phone number on Andy’s palm with a pen.

This whole day was a blur and every time Megan was in my arms, I couldn’t help but think of life back then, when I was the pop star and not the one managing acts. What puzzled me the most was how silly bubble gum pop albums could mean so much to her, how she needed to hear the familiar sounds in order to feel safe. That safety, for her, was based on a place out of her physical reach, but not out of reach for her subconscious.

“I need Ruby,” said Meg, breaking the silence in the room.

“Brandon’s talking to her,” replied Ryan, who left the dining room to return to Brandon’s side in the kitchen. Meg watched Ryan and sat up to look at Brandon again, and rested back against my chest with a puzzled look on her face.

As Brandon entered the dining room without the phone attached to his ear, Meg sat up and cocked an eyebrow at Brandon then turned back to Sean.

“Ruby will be here soon, but she wants Megan to eat something and take another pill,” reported Brandon.

“I’m not taking another one of those pills. It’s fucked me up,” Megan said to Sean who nodded as she teetered on my lap. “I know I’m seeing things,” she said, in an almost inaudible whisper while rubbing her eyes. Brandon came around the back of the chair and she tucked her face into my shoulder, rubbing it.

“What are you seeing?” I finally asked.

“Brandon dressed like a preppie,” she said in a low voice into my neck. I laughed and tussled her hair.

“You aren’t seeing things.”

“For real?” she asked, picking her head up.

“What already?” asked Brandon.

“You look like you just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. I’m so used to you dressing like such ah . . . oh fuck it, Alex, help me.”

“Bohemian?” I asked.

“You don’t like this?”

“It’s fine, I just thought I was seeing things. Don’t fucking give me another one of those pills. That one was like some bad trip or something.”

“Ruby’s on her way.”

“Good, I want to chew her out next. If that is what came out of my medicine cabinet, then the whole bottle is going in the toilet.”

“Are you hungry?” I asked, wondering who this woman was on my lap and was about to get deposited on the floor. If this was the effect of that pill, then I had to agree.

“I’m so dizzy, that I think anything I do eat will just come right back up.”

“Let’s get you some fresh air,” I said. Helping her up and then putting my arm around her, I led her out onto the terrace. Meg leaned on the balcony as a summer gust from an oncoming storm blew the hair away from her face.

“All right, what has you so pissed off that every other word out of your mouth is fucking?” I asked.

“I shouldn’t have come down here. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Everything, okay? Everything that has to do with feeding me pills that fucks me up in the head. I have enough of my own demons without pills creating anymore.”

“Did you Dis-whatever you call it again?”

“No, okay?” she asked, turning away from me. Her eyes shut as another gust of wind blew past us.

“I shut the door and locked it,” she said, turning and walking to the French doors.

“Really?” I asked, unable to believe it myself.

“Yeah, I’m hungry.” She walked inside and left me on the terrace.

When Ruby arrived, Meg had eaten her dinner. Well, not all of it. Meg would never eat an entire portion of anything except salad and ice cream. Ruby, still in her tennis garb, had just finished a set and was getting ready to leave the club for the evening when Brandon called.

I stood up to greet her. “Where’s Meg?” she asked. Ruby hugged me and when we parted, I slipped my hands into my pockets.

“In the bathroom, she’ll be out in a minute.”

“How are you?”

“I feel like I’m holding it all up.”

“As I expected. How’s Meg?”

“Better. She said that she shut and locked the closet door.”

“Excellent! Did she eat?”

I nodded and pointed to the plate. Brandon and Ryan came in and finished clearing the table of the dinner dishes while we waited on Meg.

“Where do we go from here?”

“I’m going to talk to her and then give her another sedative. She needs solid sleep, and you look as if you need it more.”

“Wait, you gave her a sedative before?”

“Yes, why?”

“She came down here all glassy eyed, and I’m thinking, ‘oh God, here we go again,’ but she responded to me when I talked to her unlike when she was out before—you should have told me, Ruby. Meg’s in a real state over this, saying she won’t take another pill now.”

“Leave Megan to me, all right? I ought to give you a sedative, Atlas. You seem as if you haven’t had a night’s sleep since you were hospitalized.”

“No thanks, really.”

“Then, one of the guys needs to be on Megan duty tonight while you sleep.”

“What I really need is for that bastard to be put away so she can live again.”

“She’s not like she was before all of this,” replied Sean, walking up to Ruby and hugging her. “Glad to see you here,” he said as he parted from her.

“Hey Sean, it’s good to see you and Ryan too. Tell me, just how was Megan before all of this?”

“Cocky and feisty,” Ryan replied, pouring each of us a cup of tea.

“Don’t forget sexy. When I came home from California, she literally bribed me with a bikini to make me take my medication and stick to my diet.”

“A perfect match, you two.”

“Really?” asked Ryan, wishfully thinking as he had since he met Megan over a year ago.

“Not in the sense you’re thinking, Ryan. Alex and Megan are a perfect match for igniting a disaster. We need to get the two of you straightened out. I want to see you next week.”

“Will you please just leave it to me?”

“No, because that’s bullshit, and you know it, Alex Corwynn, or should I say, Atlas? You don’t have to carry all of the world’s burdens, even though you think you do.”

Meg slowly entered the room, her hair brushed and in a fresh braid, she looked a lot better than when she came downstairs earlier. Hearing confrontation, she looked as if she was about to bolt in the other direction when I saw her and motioned her to enter.

“The three of us need to have a private conversation,” stated Ruby. I led the way to the den and shut the double doors behind us. Meg remained near the doors.

“Come sit, Meg,” gently ordered Ruby. Meg walked over and sat in the soft leather chair tucking her bare feet under her while Ruby and I sat on the couch.

“How are you?”

“I’m here,” said Megan, twisting about her finger the bit of hair that fell in her face.

“I know you’re here, Megan. I asked, how are you?”

Meg sighed. “Better.”

“Good, where’s the closet?”

“Shut and locked,” replied Megan, still twisting that bit of hair and playing with it before releasing it and letting what was falling out of the tail out and into her lap.

“That’s great, but where’s the closet?”

“In Vermont,” she said, raking her fingers through her hair and quickly plaiting yet another braid and attaching the ponytail holder.

“It’s not here, is it?”

“No.”

“Excellent. Let’s keep it that way, shall we? Meg, you must quit disassociating yourself and zoning out on people. While it’s all right for you in your world, it’s not all right for Alex or his guests. You need to channel your fears in some other fashion. This extreme disassociating has to end, or I’ll put you in the hospital.”

“I didn’t disassociate,” said Megan very angrily, dropping the braid down the front of her like a slack snake. “Not this time. You gave me that fucking pill. Do not think I’m taking another. I’ll take the Prozac, but I’m tossing those other pills down the toilet.”

“What happened with the pill?”

“I had this nightmare that was so vivid, when I woke I thought I was still in it. I just had to find Alex, I had to know he was okay, or I would have just stayed in my room. I couldn’t walk half, I was dizzy and I don’t want another one of those pills.”

“Did something happen to Alex in the dream?” asked Ruby. Megan nodded and looked away; she couldn’t make eye contact with me. “Can you tell me about the dream?”

“I’d rather not.”

“Was Randy in it?” I asked. She nodded and picked up the braid and began to tuck bits into the plaits.

“Did he hurt you?” asked Ruby. Megan nodded. “And he hurt Alex?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, almost crying. I wanted to go to her, but Ruby put out her hand to block me.

“And you, cut it out. She’s not a little girl. She’s a woman. Yes, Megan has been through a lot, but you rushing to her side, and treating her like the little girl she’d rather be than the woman she is, is not helping her. You have a daughter, Alex. Megan is not Angela. Megan, Alex cannot be the father figure that you crave so desperately.” Meg had changed positions, raised her knees to her face, hid it between her knees and was sobbing. I sat back and sighed deeply.

“If I teach the two of you anything, it’s going to be boundaries. Number one, you are her employer. You are also her friend, and you may have feelings for Megan, but Alex, you need to make up your mind what you are in regards to her. This muddying the water is only making matters worse. Megan craves comfort right now, and I’m not saying that she shouldn’t get it, but, and I do mean but, do not confuse comfort with sexual attraction or love. She’s vulnerable, and you’re just as vulnerable from losing Bianca. I do not want to mend a disaster here. If you hug her, fine, hug her, but no more of these close intimate occasions where the two of you are alone. Have I made myself clear?”

As I always replied whenever Ruby gave me a direct order, I replied, “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Good. Megan,” began Ruby, then she stopped herself, taking a deep breath before continuing, “you’re manipulating the situation here, girl. Before you screw up your life, your career and put yourself in harm’s way again, let me encourage you to stop this now. Alex is exhausted. He has been drained, both physically and emotionally since his heart attack. You harp on him about his health, but if you keep overloading him, he will have another heart attack or a stroke.” Meg’s face remained down. She was listening, but she didn’t want to look at either of us.

“Now, we know that your disassociating is a plea for help, because you can’t ask for it. That’s not in your caretaker nature to ask for help. You’re overly responsible, the one in control who must always have her way. Megan, it’s time to stop. The first thing you can do to change this is to ask for help.”

“But I did that,” Megan argued, picking up her face. It was red and wet from tears. “I went to you and to Al-anon.”

“You went to us because you were forced to. You don’t want to change you, Megan. You’re doing all of this with me because Alex said so. You go to Al-anon because I said so. The truth is, Megan, you don’t want help. You want to stay where you’re at because you like the power you have. Do you want to stay this way until another boyfriend almost kills you? Tell Alex how many times you’ve been through this type of scenario with a crazed boyfriend.”

Meg sat silent.

“How many?” I asked her, trying to keep my tone calm but finding it increasingly difficult to do so.

“Too many,” she replied, not wanting to answer.

“How many of them hit you?”

“All of them.”

I looked to Ruby. She nodded.

“Only you can change that, Megan. If you want to, put forth the effort, but putting forth the effort means a couple of things. One, you can’t return to the closet. Let it burn to the ground with the rest of your house.”

Meg put her head back down and sobbed.

“Secondly, I would prefer that you didn’t date anyone for at least a year.”

“I’ve got that covered,” I replied.

“That’s another thing, quit bribing her. She’s not going to get it together because you’ve bribed her. Moreover, the same goes for you, Miss Caretaker. Quit bribing him with your body. You both are muddying waters that will explode with piranha if the two of you don’t stop this. Lastly, whether you like the group members or not, you must attend the domestic violence support group on Tuesdays.”

“I thought she was going.”

“She may tell you she is, but she’s only been to two meetings. Don’t be too mad at her, Alex, the girls were pretty rough on Megan, and they wouldn’t let her play them the way she plays the rest of the world. Those girls are brutally honest, aren’t they?”

Meg nodded.

“We’re going to hold you accountable, Megan. Starting here and now. If you don’t want to end up dead, either at the hands of Randy Davenport or some other lunatic you choose to play head games with then get to work. We’ve had just about enough.”

Before Ruby left, she handed Megan a sedative and sent her up to bed before I walked her to the door.

“You’re angry,” Ruby stated, putting her hand on the door as if I wasn’t to open it.

“Damn straight. How many times?”

“She’ll tell you when she’s ready. Megan doesn’t do this consciously, Alex.”

“But she hasn’t done anything to change it either.”

“Fear of the unknown, dear Atlas. She has no idea what it’s like to be loved. Your assistant has been neglected since day one. When you’ve spent all of your life being neglected and abused, you don’t understand what a real relationship is like or that a relationship built on love and mutual giving is instead of loathing and constant caretaking. Don’t rush to judge her. I gave her enough to think about. She meant you no harm when it came to Randy. Megan was doing what she knew. We have to do a lot of work to change that. I know you love her. If you didn’t, you would have gotten rid of her by now. You had a chance to get out of the relationship with Bianca, and you took it. You’ve had chances before, Alex, so why now?”

“Bianca was only a decent fuck. Anymore, she just wasn’t worth the aggravation she caused here with Megan.”

“Good answer, but let’s try what I was driving at. You took the chance now, because of Megan. You needed to focus on Megan. She makes you feel needed. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we don’t take certain steps, neither one of you are going to be around to either be loved or needed.”

“Understood.”

“Good, good night, Alex. Put Atlas to bed.”

Around midnight, I checked on Megan again and found her in her bed asleep with her headphones in her ears. I knew what was in the CD player. I didn’t have to look at the jewel case on the nightstand.

As I stood in her room just watching her sleep, I couldn’t help but feel creepy about this. That’s my voice singing those songs, songs I helped write and record and the only thing she sought solace in to feel safe. I should have felt flattered, but I felt anything but flattery when I realized what she hid from to survive her childhood.

In the middle of the night, I smelled bread baking, and I could have sworn I was dreaming. When I sat up awake and still smelled it, I knew I wasn’t. The clock read five-thirty a.m., so I went downstairs to investigate, knowing it was too early for Anna to be here.

I found Megan kneading dough in her running clothes. While sweat lined the spine of her t-shirt, the rest of her was covered in flour. On the stove sat two loaves of bread proofing, in the oven were two loaves baking. Certain that I was dreaming, I didn’t know what to think of this. Half asleep, I stood there watching her as she stopped kneading the dough. It must have been eighty-five degrees in the kitchen; I was sweating just standing there. Meg turned and I startled her, as she was shocked to see me.

“I . . . I didn’t know you were there,” she said, recovering and spraying a baking pan.

“You’re baking.”

She didn’t answer me.

“Why?”

Again, no answer.

“I’m not angry at you.”

“You’ve spent too much money trying to fix what I screwed up.”

“It’s only money.”

“To you,” she said. She cut the dough in half and floured a rolling pin.

Meg rolled out the dough as the timer went off. She traded her rolling pin for a potholder and took out the loaves, trading them with the proofed ones on the stove.

As Meg shut the door and returned to her rolling pin, I moved closer to see just what it was she was making. She had some kind of streusel mix in a bowl. She wiped melted butter on the dough then sprinkled the mixture on it.

“What are you making?”

“Cinnamon rolls.”

“Really? I knew you could cook, I mean, your chili is the best I ever tasted, but you also bake?”

“I sew too, if you’re wondering,” she sarcastically replied.

“I don’t give a damn about your domestic abilities. Why are you baking in the middle of the night?”

“I couldn’t sleep, and you didn’t have a heavy bag in your gym.”

“Do you want me to get one?”

“No.”

“I will.”

“I said no.”

“So instead of hitting a heavy bag, you’re baking loaves of bread and cinnamon rolls?”

“When I’m mad, I like to knead dough.”

“Who are you angry at?”

“Me.”

“No one else?”

“No.”

“How long have you been up?”

“Since about two.”

“You’ve been baking since two?”

“No, four. I ran fifteen miles on your treadmill.”

“Did you take that sedative?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want it. Clearly, you didn’t hear me the first two times I said that, so now I’m going to repeat it for a third. I didn’t zone on you before. I was fucked up on the last pill she gave me. I wasn’t ready to go back to feeling fucked up or dreaming so vividly—”

“Is this it of the dough?” I interrupted her, tired of this argument and lack of compliance to doctor’s orders.

“Yeah.”

“After this mess is cleaned up and your rolls are baked, you’re going to bed.”

I sat at the center island and watched her slice the cinnamon buns and put them in the pan. A whole dozen. Her loaf of bread looked incredible and I couldn’t help but walk over to check it out. Its top was perfectly brown and the kitchen smelled heavenly.

The timer went off. Meg wiped her hands and used the potholder to take out the other two loaves.

“What’s in that one?” I asked as she put it on the stove top. It looked darker than the others.

“That one is cinnamon raisin.” I watched her place the rolls in the oven and set the timer.

“I thought I smelled breakfast,” said Sean coming into the kitchen. He saw Meg in her sweaty running clothes covered in flour and looked to me for an answer. I rolled my eyes and watched her scrape the excess flour from the counter into a trashcan.

“Would you like a cup of tea, Sean?” she asked, opening the cupboard and getting him a teacup with saucer and then she filled the teakettle with water and sat it on the stove.

“That would be lovely. To what do we owe this home bakery?”

Meg shrugged her shoulders and placed the cup before him then fetched the cream from the fridge.

“She’s angry.”

“Ryan does this too. He bakes when he’s angry.”

“Really? Well, what does Ryan bake?”

“Whatever he pleases. Sometimes its cake, sometimes loaves, pies, or biscuits. When he’s in the kitchen baking, I know to stay out until he’s through.”

Meg cleaned as if we weren’t there. I was surprised how quickly she had the kitchen back to normal. The cinnamon rolls ballooned as they baked and Meg mixed the glaze while they cooled on the stove.

As I ate one, I had to ask her, “In order to get cinnamon rolls again, do I have to get you angry at me?”

“If you want them to be any good.”

“What?”

“I’m a terrible baker when I’m in a good mood.”

Sean and I laughed at her joke. Meg smirked then ate one with us. When she was done, I walked her upstairs.

“Where’s the pill?”

Meg didn’t answer me.

“Well?”

“I put it in the toilet with the rest of the sleeping pills she gave me.”

“Get a shower and get into bed. I’ll bring you one of my sleeping pills.”

“I told you before, Alex, I don’t want another pill.”

“I’m not going to argue with you over this,” I replied, leaving her room. When I returned, she was in the shower. After I shut the bathroom door, I sat in the soft chair in her room waiting for her. She came out in a short blue gingham nighty and found me there. With her hair braided into two braids, she made me laugh at the sight of her.

“So where’s Toto?” I asked, looking for her ruby slippers.

“Not funny,” she replied, clearly not at all amused with me.

I handed her the pill and went to the bathroom to get her a Dixie cup of water.

“Take it. I promise, it’s not as potent as that thing Ruby gave you. If you get weird dreams again, just . . . shit, just come into my room, and I’ll chase the boogeyman away.”

Meg gave me a look that typically preceded her saying, ‘screw you, Alex,’ but she sighed and put it in her mouth, than drank the water down.

“Open your mouth,” I said. Her eyebrows met each other above her nose, and I smirked at her.

“It’s gone.”

“It better be. Come on, get into bed.”

Meg climbed beneath her covers and I tucked her in, kissing her forehead.

“Alex,” she said, as I was about to leave her room. I turned to her. “I’m sorry.”

“I know. Ruby’s right though, you know that,” I said, returning to her side.

“Yeah, I do.”

I didn’t say anything to her, but I put out her bed table light and sat with her on the side of the bed. In the moonlight, her eyes looked heavy, and I doubted if the pill was already taking effect. Meg was exhausted. While I held her hand, she drifted off to sleep. I lifted it to my mouth and kissed it, seeing bruised knuckles in the moonlight. She didn’t hit a heavy bag, but she had hit something.

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