She was falling.
Disoriented, Liana fought to stay upright, but nothing her hands grabbed slowed her progress and pain in her hip, followed by pain in her cheek, sent her eyes flying wide. She’d been dragged out of bed onto the guest room floor, the pain in her hip from the fall. The pain in her face, however, came from the punch dealt to her jaw—and a second one landing to her cheek—eliciting a startled cry from her lips.
“How the hell you think you gonna be allowed to make Daddy cry? Ain’t you s’posed to be the good one? The responsible one? Fuckin’ bitch!” Backhand. “Knew you experimented back in your twenties, but you a grown ass woman now.” Backhand. Liana couldn’t breathe, nor could she see what weight sat on her lungs. “You gonna listen now, or you gonna be judged momentarily.”
That voice. She knew that voice. That voice and those hands. That voice was what spurred her to move when Leigh and John had made the move from Fort Worth to Decatur. That voice had haunted her darkest nightmares and those hands, balled into fists, had left bruises so dark they’d attracted much unwanted attention. Needless to say, Liana had been forced to figure out different living arrangements to keep her from harm’s way. Off and on over the last ten years, her brother had slipped from one girlfriend and addiction to another girlfriend and sobriety, to another woman he actually married and a different addiction.
It was the addiction she hated in Darren, though at the moment, it wasn’t the addiction beating her, but the theology to which he subscribed. She curled into a ball between the day bed and the trundle, covering her head and allowing her back to take the brunt of his blows. She took herself out of the frightening situation as her brother shouted and screamed, attempting to garner a different reaction from her. Liana remembered he liked her fear, remembering whenever she’d allowed it to surface, Darren’s creative side would surface with it.
“Is that—who did that to you, LiLi?” Sherri, her general manager at the restaurant, barked, not realizing the sound would cause Liana to jump. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Come into my office, please, Liana.”
Her use of Liana’s actual name meant she was all business. Liana wouldn’t be able to misdirect or not answer questions. Dammit, Darren… dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
“Yes, ma’am.” Liana stubbed out her cigarette and left the breakroom to follow the older woman. As the door shut behind her and Sherri turned to face Liana, leaning against the front of her desk, Liana carefully hugged her arms, asking, “What can I do for you?”
“I should ask you that question, LiLi. Who put that bruise on your arm?” Sherri’s dark eyes hardened in anger.
Liana shook her head, not meeting her manager’s eyes. “I’m in the process of moving. It won’t happen again.”
Sherri reached out, drawing Liana’s attention without actually touching her. “Who?”
Liana’s hands slipped too high up her arms and she grimaced. “No, I’m taking care of this. I swear. If I need help, I will ask you. I’m not in trouble—”
“That wound says differently—”
Liana turned away, her voice trembling, not out of fear, but out of embarrassment and anger. “Am I going to be penalized if I leave this conversation here?”
“No, hon… I just—”
“And I appreciate it, but I can’t… I can’t do this right now.” Liana exited the office, out of breath, and made for the back stall of the girls’ restroom.
“Get off her, you fuckin’ psycho! Cat, get her! Get her outta here!”
Blake, her youngest brother, yanked Darren out of the room, and his wife darted into the room, slamming the door before locking it behind her. Catrina helped Liana to her feet—“Let’s get some clothes on you, hon!”—and helped her to dress.
Liana jumped as the front door burst open, and she heard her father’s voice add to the din coming from the kitchen. A light knock came at her door and Leigh called out to her, “Honey, let me in.”
Catrina hurried over to unlock it to let Liana’s mother in, keeping her eye on Liana’s weeble wobble towards the edge of the bed. Leigh gasped at Liana’s swollen and bruised face, but both ladies jumped when Liana wailed at the sight of her broken phone and laptop. Her knees went out from under her as her shaking hands touched the Toshiba which had, prior to its demise, needed replaced. Her phone… had been smashed with a boot heel.
“Baby, baby… we’ll get it replaced.” Leigh gently pushed a blonde curl over Liana’s ear. “We’ll get you fixed up and we’ll get your laptop and phone fixed up, too.”
“Can’t call her.” Liana closed her eyes and sagged against her mother. “Can’t get her calls.”
“All we have to do is get a replacement phone. I doubt that he thought to break the SIM card.” Leigh turned to look at Catrina. “Can you go do that for her? Go down to the Sprint store and get her upgrade. We’ll meet you there in a little bit. I’m going to take her to the doctor and maybe to look at computers.”
Liana shifted. “Momma… I can’t go out looking like this—”
Leigh kissed her daughter’s forehead. “We’ve done this before, remember? What did we do then?”
Liana laid in the hospital bed, watching the screen of her new phone. So far, she’d spoken to Hadley and Leigh had called Liana’s manager back in Vegas. Hadley was currently on a plane to Dallas and Leigh had informed Liana she liked her supervisor. Mare hadn’t called yet, and since the phone didn’t have enough space to back up, her number hadn’t been one of the ones able to be pulled from the damaged SIM card. Leigh had tried to get phone records from the phone company, but had been unsuccessful in her endeavor. All that remained to do was wait.
A text vibrated her device and she lifted her head as she unlocked her screen. Hadley.
Just touched down. Car should be waiting. Tell your mom to expect me shortly. Talk to M yet?
Liana sighed and sent her reply quickly as she called out, “Momma! Hadley’s on the ground. Should be here soon!”
“Good. Mare call yet?” Leigh asked, smiling up at Catrina when she and Blake brought in food. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
“O’course, Momma.” Blake kissed the top of her head. “Here, sis,” he murmured, setting a bag of Taco Bell food down on the pillow next to her. “Made sure you were allowed to eat it before we brought it. It’s all soft stuff so it doesn’t hurt your jaw.”
“She call you yet?” Catrina echoed. “Blake and I’ve been hoping she does!”
“Nothing yet.” Leigh shot a worried glance Liana’s way. “Still waiting.”
“Took forever, but I got it!” Everyone jumped at the strong voice of John Valentine. “Got it, dearheart.” He crossed the room in three steps, pressed a kiss to her temple and held up a box which had previously only held the remains of the computer she’d named Castiel on the Microsoft website. “My buddy was able to fix your computer—including that part on the back. I have him waiting outside, but I can bring him in if you’re okay with that.”
“That’s fine, Daddy. Blake, can you…?” Liana reached out to wrap her arms around her moose of a brother’s neck as Leigh brought her bed up into a sitting position. Catrina brought the bed table over to place the fast food on the left side as John removed the laptop from the box. The screen casing was now blue, the Toshiba logo still very much intact, and Liana giggled at the stickers still on the top right-hand corner: Twizzlers, TomboyX, Society6, and NaNoWriMo.
“Liana, this is my buddy from work, Dorian,” John introduced, shock still evident in his face even as he smiled. “Dorian, my eldest, Liana.”
“Nice to meet ya, Liana.” The man took off his Stetson and held it to his chest as he smiled at Liana, then up at Leigh. “Mrs. Valentine, nice to see you again.”
“You as well, Dorian,” Leigh murmured. “Thank you for this favor.”
“How did you get my stickers back on?” Liana asked, gratitude heavy in her eyes as she pressed the power button.”
“I used heat to remove them from the broken lid and reattached them in the same places on the new one. I also gave them a bit more adhesive to keep them smooth. I had to replace a few parts in the laptop itself, but all of the things that you need are there. You’re very good about saving and backing up to Dropbox, so you should be good with your manuscripts.” Dorian watched as she logged onto her computer, smiling at the wallpaper on the brand new screen. “I wondered if that was for one of your stories. At first I thought you were a graphic person, but your dad said you write books.”
“Yeah. I got one coming out next month, actually.” Liana opened Word and opened her current story. She took a deep breath as she saw it was still intact. “Oh, thank the gods!”
“That must be the important one, huh?” Dorian grinned. “I’m gonna give ya my card. I warranty everything I do, so… any problems, you call me, okay?”
Liana impulsively hugged the cowboy. “Thankee, thankee!”
He chuckled, hugging her carefully. “You just take care o’ yourself.”
Her phone buzzed as they broke apart, and she picked it up to see Hadley’s name on the screen. Smiling at Dorian, Liana answered it as she put it on Speaker. “Hey, Had, you’re on Speaker so Momma and Daddy can hear you.”
“Oh, all right. Hiya, Li’s mom and dad! Any news on the M front?”
“Nothing yet, Had,” Catrina replied, winking at Liana as she quipped, “By the way, Cat and Blake are here, too.”
“Hey, guys. I’m in traffic, but I should be there soon. Li probably will tell me—sorry, but you will and I know it after ten years, I think—she’s all right, but she’s been admitted so what’s the deal?”
Liana rolled her eyes, reopening all the programs she’d had open prior to the attack, as she listened to her mother’s answer, “The doctor’s mainly keeping her under a twenty-four hour observation because of the blows she took to her head. The rest of the contusions, though they’re pretty bad, they don’t concern him as much as the ones on her head. She’s got a few cracked ribs but no broken bones.”
“So she’s most likely just—”
“A little banged up, just like I told you,” Liana groused. “Nothing to worry about so you shouldn’t have wasted—”
Hadley laughed. “But it’s my money and if I wanna waste it, I will. You’re family and I don’t have much of that. Now I’m here, silly woman, and you’re going to have to just like it.”
“Wow, Li, she told you!” Blake teased. “You should take the 114 West towards Grapevine and Roanoke. Cross the 35 and take it until it hits the 287. Get on there and holler when you’re gettin’ close to Decatur.”
“I will do! You, Li, you just wait!”
The line disconnected and Liana leaned back gingerly against the pillows. Her vision blurred a little bit, but it wasn’t due to a malfunction with the new glasses Leigh had ordered on Walmart.com within an hour of admitting Liana to the hospital. Liana sniffled, and in seconds, John had dispersed everyone in the room, giving Blake and Catrina a couple of busywork tasks. Liana watched as he shut the door after them, and put her face in her hands to cover the tears.
The bed sank as John sat down on the side, taking her hands in his much larger ones. “Dearheart, I know you’re troubled and I know you’re scared, but this isn’t anything that He can’t handle. You just have to let Him—”
“I know.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Your mother told me… and it was one of the main things that your brother kept screaming at me.”
Liana lifted her eyes to catch her father’s green gaze, once brighter than emeralds, but age had weathered it to almost a jade color. Pain blossomed in those orbs, sending tears down her cheeks as she asked, “Are you… disappointed?”
John Valentine sighed heavily, never loosing her hands nor her gaze, and shook his head. “Not disappointed. Worried? A little.” His eyes shone with tears of his own. “A lot. A lot worried. The Word says nothing may take us from His hand, but Jesus, as I have been told by your mother, also says nothing in regards to—”
“Homosexuality?” Liana supplied, her voice small.
John sighed again, this one edged with exasperation. “There are so many references elsewhere in The Word, dearheart. It seems very like I’m being asked to pick and choose what I believe and I don’t like that.”
“I’m not asking you to do that, Daddy. I’m just asking—” Liana squeezed his hands. “I’m just asking you not to… not to—”
John shook his head, tears slipping down his weathered face. “Oh, dearheart… no, no, I never dreamed of it. Not once. I don’t know how or why you might think we’d—”
“Because of what it says!” Liana wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in his neck. “Because of Sodom and Gomorrah… and because it says in Leviticus and Romans—”
“I know. Leviticus is part of the Old Testament. The passages there pertain to the people of a different time and a different place. It’s also, as I’ve come to realize, quite a controversial subject. Some scholars—Christian scholars—debate whether or not it was the homosexuality that those two cities burned for or whether it was the treatment of foreign visitors and the threat of violence to them. And Romans… Romans is Paul’s words, his interpretation of His Word.” John kissed her hair. “You know, dearheart—”
Liana pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I would do nothing to jeopardize my relationship with you, Daddy. I waffled back and forth over the decision to tell you and then I didn’t even get to tell you, I was outed—”
“It’s over now. Whatever I might think of your lifestyle has no bearing on you being my daughter and Love certainly doesn’t require a martial punishment.” John held her tighter and Liana laid her ear to his chest, listening to the strong heart beating within.
“What’s going to happen to him, Daddy?” Her voice trembled, and she closed her eyes on the tears needing to fall now that she felt safer than she’d ever felt in her entire life. “What’s going to happen to Darren?”
“That all depends on you, Liana Jayne.” John’s tenderness—signified by his usage of the nickname he’d given her in childhood—blew her mind, and it made her almost sick to her stomach she’d ever entertained the idea her father would let her go because of his dedication to his faith. “Right now, Decatur police have him in their custody, but formal charges have not been filed. That can only be done by you.”
On to Part Four