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Raven sat on her plush white couch, knees drawn up to her chin, clad in periwinkle pajamas and fuzzy pink socks. She had turned the couch from the center of the living room so that it faced the large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Puget Sound. When she reached for the box of tissues, she discovered it was empty, and her frown deepened. Looking over at the linen squares Donovan insisted should be there, Raven rolled her eyes. She remembered him saying only Philistines would lower themselves to use paper tissues. Rolling her eyes again, she stood up. Who even talks like that, she thought wearily. Deciding maybe wine and chocolate were needed more, she dabbed her watery nose on her sleeve and proceeded farther into the condo.
The kitchen was unblemished, with its frigid white-walled tile and marble countertops. Reaching for the cupboard where she hid her stash of chocolate, Raven's eyes danced across the photo of her goddaughter Abby, taped on the door of her stainless-steel refrigerator. She sniffed and smiled. Abby was caught in mid belly-laugh the summer before when she popped up from the slip 'n slide in her backyard. Donovan would never have allowed the photo to be placed there, let alone taped to such an unforgiving surface. Raven didn't even remember putting it there after he left. She looked into the cupboard and discovered there was no more chocolate either.
"Fuck!" she stated emphatically. Staring into the near empty cupboard, she tried to will her dark-chocolate, salted-caramels into existence but to no avail. Screw it, she thought irritated, all I really need is the wine.
Using one of Donovan's fancy bottle openers, she tried to attach it to an unopened bottle. After two full minutes of trial and error, Raven poured the contents, more than socially acceptable, into a large crystal glass before retreating toward the couch. Gulping greedily, she pulled the glass away and looked at it appreciatively.
"Oh, God damn, that's good."
A tiny stream of sunlight beamed off the faceted surface perfectly, and a small dance of color and fire on the steel gray of the living room wall. First staring at the display in confusion, Raven quickly turned from it and looked around blankly at what had been her home with Donovan.
The sterile environment held no hint of her own personality. There were no colorful family photos on the walls, just black and white stills of her performances and glossy articles of him and his celebrity triumphs. In fact, the only actual photo in the living room was a twenty by twenty-eight close-up of their wedding day. She staggered a little and weaved over to it, not noticing the red wine sluicing over the rim of the glass and onto the floor. A candid one taken in a stolen moment when white rose petals fluttered all around them. He was turned toward the crowd, handsome and confident, laughing and waving but she had looked at the camera, caught in an expression of — what? Revelation? Fear? Uncertainty? She looked at it, blearily trying to identify the emotion. Did some part of her already know it was destined to damnation? She was quite sure he'd chosen the photo because of how he looked in it, which was terrific, and probably hadn't even noticed her expression. How come she, herself, was only really seeing it for the first time now?
Upon their first meeting, Raven, hired to give one of her first performances, played her original music at an art show. The floors and fixtures, glossy and expensive under the lights, featured beautiful glass creations, from a local but world-renowned glass-smith. The beauty in his talent reflected in her music. Donovan, nearly twenty years her senior, stopped to listen appearing mesmerized.
"You play well," he remarked. "How long have you been performing?"
"Um, not very long. I guess, maybe, about a year," she admitted, embarrassed to say it was her first major gig.
Fortner seemed to read the story in her starry-eyed look immediately, and the corners of his mouth turned up. He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a small, slim titanium container, and pulled out a business card, extending it to her with an elegant, manicured hand.
"My name is Donovan Fortner. I am the owner of Fortner Talent and Publicity, downtown." He nodded at her to accept the card. "I want you to call there tomorrow and set up a meeting with my assistant Monica, to discuss some possible options for you."
"Oh," Raven replied, a little breathless. "Um, sure ... thank you."
He merely nodded and returned his attention to the stunning young brunette he'd brought as his date. Raven stared after him. He was tall, trim, and resplendent in a charcoal suit, with a blood-red tie, in a perfect Windsor knot. His hair had streaks of silver at the temples, and his dark gray eyes were cool, appraising, and intelligent.
She made an appointment, and he'd signed her to his agency that very day. Tremendously talented in his chosen profession, and highly respected in the industry, Donovan never let her forget who would be in charge, beginning from their initial meeting.
She would stare into the mirror as her golden tresses were saturated the raven color of her name, freckles covered in heavy makeup, and her lush body packaged for show business. He mocked and questioned her tastes and choices. As the performances grew and her name became known, she transformed into the superstar he alone envisioned. Stage presence, costumes and set designs, backup singers, dancers, and of course, the music, all became decisions made exclusively by the older man.
"Raven, I need to talk to you about your sets. The touchy-feely, unplugged music isn't your niche. It's not your brand."
"Yes," he said, sighing at her ignorance. "A brand. What people associate with you. Your genre of music must captivate the younger audience. That means your look, music, act, attitude, press — everything gears toward selling to that market. Honestly, Raven, we've gone over this several times."
In fact, they hadn't, but she didn't want another argument she wouldn't win.
"Well, why can't I just write something to fit that brand?"
"Because I don't think your talent extends that far." Donovan hadn't attempted to hide his condescension. "I think we have far more talented and highly motivated writers. You will be playing their offerings."
"Do not argue with me," he snapped, exasperated. "Christ, I've been doing this a very long time. You have not and need to trust my expertise. Do you understand me?"
Raven had simply nodded. He was probably right. What she liked to listen to and create wasn't necessarily what others wanted to hear. Trusting him to understand far better what was right for her success in the industry, she always acquiesced. He began taking her on lunch dates, quiet dinners, lavish theater productions, and finally, bed. They were married two years later when she turned twenty-one.
Now, thirteen years later, she was amazed that two fat tears could still leak from her eyes, and once more started for the couch. The light hit the facets of her glass again, and the color exploded even more forcefully from the crystal. She stared in fascination that the sun could create that kind of light, color, and power. She didn't have power, color, or light anymore, if she ever had it in the first place. Thinking for a moment and looking at the glass, she decided there was color in her music. From nowhere she turned and violently hurled the glass onto the wedding photo, shattering the crystal and splattering the clean surfaces with claret. She screamed out her frustration and anger until she lay down on the couch and the afternoon turned to night.
* * *
"Oh my Lord," Que sang as she opened Raven's door with her key, then threw it onto the small entry table. Hesitantly, she walked into the living room, glass crunching underneath her feet. Scanning for the source, she noticed the ruined photo and furniture. Drawing back, she nodded, as if to say, yeah okay, I'm fine with that. Que walked back to her friend's bedroom, to find Raven lying on the floor.
"Oh hell no." She walked over to Raven and brushed her greasy black hair from her face. "What in the hell you doin', girl?" Raven groaned but didn't open her eyes, pissing her friend off even more. "Raven!"
"What?" she croaked.
"What is this? Come on now." Que helped her stand up, saying, "Get your skinny white ass up off this floor." Becoming vertical turned Raven puce. Que jerked back quickly, stating with emphatic attitude, "I know you ain't gonna hurl on me." Then peered at her patient dubiously.
"Ugh ..." The room spun wildly, and Raven's mouth turned down in anticipation of throwing up.
Que half-dragged the troubled woman onto her bed, then moved quickly to the bathroom for a cold cloth, water, and some pain reliever. She knelt in front of her and began to wash her face. Raven took in her best friend's natural corkscrew afro, in a stylish puff around her beautiful cocoa-colored face. Big red pouty lips and the kindest, deepest mahogany eyes she'd ever seen, tried to smile back at her.
"I know you're hurtin', honey." Que took a deep breath and clucked, as she wiped away some of the tears streaking Raven's face. "Papers are signed, all official, what're you gonna do now, it's all scary ..." She considered Raven's incredibly large, troubled, baby-blue eyes, framed by long, dark, wet lashes. "But there's a reason this happened, baby. There's a reason this man wasn't for you. God has a plan, and we aren't smart enough to know it."
"But what am I supposed to do now, Que?" Raven looked miserably at her friend. "He manages me. He runs it all. He's in charge of everything. I don't know how to do the stuff." She looked out the window. "I know, I should. The whole thing was just so stupid. I should've paid attention. It was just so easy to let him do it. I'm just so ... stupid."
"You aren't stupid. A little naïve maybe, but baby you're supposed to be able to trust your husband. Here." Que shook two tablets into her hand and gave Raven the glass of water. "I want you to take these and drink this."
Raven pushed back her hair absently, swallowed the medication, then closed her eyes, waiting for relief.
"You know Rave, you guys have been goin' through this process for a while now. Why're you still doin' this to yourself?" When she didn't answer, Que stood up and walked toward the kitchen. "I'm gonna make you something to eat."
"I'm not hungry."
"Tough shit, you'll eat it. Now go take a shower, cause girl, you stink. And get dressed."
Raven followed her best friend with her gaze, groaned, then walked into the bathroom. Closing the door, she stripped down and tried to focus on her image reflected in the mirror. Mascara from the day before streaked down her tired face, and she had lost weight in the last eight months. Closing her eyes, she mentally berated herself. She didn't love the man anymore, so why was this so hard? Why did she let him have such control over her? Moaning, she stepped into the shower and let the scalding hot water rain down over her. The cold, wet tile of the shower beckoned, and she pressed her forehead to it, remembering what started her on this course.
That night, Amanda, one of Raven's previous backup singers, also managed by Donovan, held a reception to launch her own independent career. Raven, in search of a restroom, mistakenly opened the wrong door, to a darkened room. There she witnessed her husband kissing Amanda, one hand on the woman's face and another under her shirt and on her breast. Both looked up when the sliver of light from the doorway widened. Donovan's brows rose, more impatient than chastened.
"Yes, Raven, may I help you?" When she just stood there with her mouth open, he offered casually, "Oh, of course. Raven, I think you remember Amanda." She looked at the woman.
"Hey Raven," Amanda said, having the decency to look sheepish.
"Ah." Raven let out the breath, she'd been holding. "Good evening, Amanda," she said stupidly, then looked blankly at her husband.
"Yes, well," Donovan said, taking his conquest's hand and approaching his wife. "This is significantly awkward, and we'll discuss it later tonight."
He walked back out into the party without letting go of Amanda's hand, making Raven's humiliation complete. And that had been it. Donovan came home, smelling of the young starlet's perfume, saying he'd given the matter some thought and felt his marriage had run its course. When Raven asked him if he had ever loved her, he laughed.
"Raven, I told you, it's ridiculous. A bored housewife's illusion created by greeting cards and bleeding hearts." He rolled his eyes and chuckled, then noticed her stricken face. "Yes, okay, if you need to hear that to cope with this challenge. Yes, darling, I loved you. I believe we have benefitted each other tremendously and I will, of course, continue to manage you, if you wish. In fact, you'll need my help, at least to transition."
Then he exited the condo and didn't return, leaving her to wonder when he had turned so cruel. Why hadn't she seen that condescension before, that absolute control and equally absolute indifference? It was as if she were no more than a pesky fly he had finally swatted.
After her shower, Raven brushed her teeth and hair, then stood in front of her closet, trying to decide what one wears when they start their life over. She dragged on her most frayed, hole-ridden pair of blue jeans and a threadbare navy-blue hoody, just because she knew he'd hate it. After lacing up a pair of beaten up tennis shoes, she walked back to her kitchen. Que had cleaned up the wine and lain fruit and some cheese on a plate at the kitchen island. The bag she brought it in was neatly folded on the counter.
"Here, start with this. I'm gonna make some lunch, and then we're all gonna have a talk."
"Yeah," Que said, "you, me, and him."
She nodded toward the dining room table, where Raven's twin brother, Wyatt, sat pretending to read the paper. Raven was elated. He stood up and opened his arms to envelop her. Laying her head on his chest, she listened to his steady heartbeat, as he kissed the top of her head.
"What the fuck're you doin'?" he murmured.
"I'm trying to learn how to be a divorced woman whose husband cheated on her in front of the whole damn world."
"How 'bout you become a divorced woman that doesn't give a shit." He tried to look her in the face, but she hugged him harder. "Preferably one that learns how to stand on her own two feet?"
"Because one involves wallowing and one involves hard, painful work."
"You've done that before. I think you're up to it." Wyatt tilted her head up to his and kissed her forehead. "Don't ya think?"
"Lunch is served," Que sang, setting a plate with an enormous sandwich on the counter. She reached for two smaller ones and gestured for the twins to sit. "So," Que said, sitting down herself, "where to go, what to do from here?"
"What d'ya wanna do, Rave?" Wyatt asked, taking a large bite of his lunch.
"I don't know, go on vacation?" she teased. Both her guests looked at one another and grinned in epiphany. She eyed them both. "What?"
"A vacation?" Wyatt asked.
"Oh yes," Que said.
"Vacation? No, I was kidding. Didn't you hear what I said before, Que? I have to figure all this out. He's overseen everything, and the one thing I do know is that I don't want him to be my manager anymore, which means I don't have one. Which means I'm going to have to find one that isn't nasty, greedy, or incompetent. I don't know what gigs he's been promised. He was supposed to ..."
"What better way to figure it all out?" Wyatt placated. "Go someplace warm and lay on a beach."
"Or better yet, just get laid," Que suggested, as Wyatt winced.
"Laid!" Raven laughed. "I just got divorced."
"Yeah, but it's been happening over eight months, and I'm bettin' it was a significant amount of time before that since you've been getting' any. Something tells me Cap'n Sugar Britches wasn't that good at it anyway. It'll relax you."
Raven laughed at Que's nickname for Donovan. Where her ex-husband had tolerated Wyatt, he vehemently hated her best friend. The feeling was extremely mutual.
"Um, can we stop talking about this?" Wyatt suggested, looking between the two. "Seriously, I don't want to hear about it." Both women continued to giggle but agreed to let it go.
"I do know it's been damn near a decade since you've had a decent vacation," Que stated.
"That's not true. I've been everywhere."
"To perform, maybe, but not to just hang out," Wyatt interjected.
"Where's the one place you've never been?" her friend asked, trying to keep her on track. "Someplace you've always wanted to go to?" Enjoying herself, Raven turned pink.
"You'll think it's stupid."
"No, I won't," both said in unison.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sea Archer"
Copyright © 2018 Jeny Heckman.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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