At precisely six thirty that evening, the time for their scheduled appointment, Eliot pulled up in front of Thurman’s house. Across the street a light came on in Leanne’s living room. He thought of the homey atmosphere inside, the comfortable furniture, Greta curled in his lap, Leanne in a comfortable robe that tied at her slim waist and hugged the curves of her body, and all of him yearned to be over there. If only he could pretend he was a normal man, relax in her normal world, take her into his arms and do what normal people did when a fire burned the way it did between them.
With a curse he shoved open the car door, got out and strode up the walk to Thurman’s porch.
When Thurman opened the door in response to his knock, the older man took an involuntary step backward, and Eliot realized his turmoil must show on his face. He tried to smile. “I’m me,” he assured him, and Dixie pranced up, tail wagging, to affirm his identity.
“I’m sorry,” Eliot apologized as he entered, gave Dixie’s ears a scratch, and strode to the middle of the room. “If I look desperate, it’s because I am. I can’t take any more of this civil war going on in my own brain with half of me plotting the destruction of all of me.”
Thurman nodded. “Have a seat, try to relax, and we’ll get started.”
Eliot chose an arm chair rather than the sofa where he had held Leanne so recently. He’d never be able to relax there.
“Tell me what’s been happening.” Thurman leaned back in his battered recliner.
He told Thurman about the day’s events...the phone call to the police, his visit with them and his lawyer’s revelation about his new will and power of attorney.
Eliot watched Thurman’s reactions closely as he talked. Even Thurman couldn’t hide a brief expression of shock at the implications of the will.
“You have no recollection whatsoever of being there? Not even after you went today and saw the document?”
“Nothing. Not a flicker.”
“When were you there? Surely you didn’t go to the lawyer’s office in the middle of the night when you’re normally asleep. Did you finally have a time lapse?”
“I don’t know. I would have been getting ready for work or driving to work. I’m always thinking about other things, my plans for the day, what the stock market did yesterday. I get dressed, eat breakfast, drive to work automatically.” Eliot thrust up from the chair, threw his arms into the air and began to pace back and forth across the room. “I don’t know! Do you have any idea what it feels like to have things going on in your own mind that you don’t know anything about, do things you don’t remember? Isn’t there something you can do? They have so many drugs now.”
Thurman shook his head. “I don’t know of any drugs to cure MPD. I can give you an anti-depressant, but that’s as far as I think we should go at this point.”
Eliot shook his head. “Something experimental, then. I don’t care if it could be dangerous! Nothing could be worse than this. Electroshock therapy. What about that? Anything. Just tell me, and I’ll do it.” He slammed his fist against the wall.
“I’d like to try some more hypnosis,” Thurman said calmly, ignoring the outburst.
Eliot flopped back into his chair. “Fine. But only if you’ll plant a post-hypnotic suggestion that Edward will die.”
Thurman studied him for a moment. At least he didn’t immediately dismiss the suggestion. “I’m not sure what kind of a result we’d get with that tactic. What you need to do is accept the situation that generated Edward, get him out in the open, and then we can deal with him.”
“I’ve accepted my parents’ death. We went through that under hypnosis. What more can I do? Edward’s still running around on his own, causing problems, plotting to get me in prison or dead, and I’m not sure which one would be worse. How am I supposed to accept somebody like that as a part of me?”
Thurman stroked Dixie’s head as she sat on the floor beside his chair. The gesture was slow and soothing...as Eliot knew the man doubtless meant it to be. That made him wonder if Thurman was getting ready to say something disturbing, something that required a little soothing first.
“I want to take you further back than the car wreck. That may not be the first time Edward appeared.”
Eliot stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. “You mean everything we’ve done so far may be wasted? We may have the wrong event?”
Thurman shook his head. “Certainly it’s not wasted. This sort of treatment doesn’t work overnight. It takes time.”
Eliot leapt from his chair. “But I don’t have time!” He paced the length of the room then back again. “The police are after me for a crime I may have committed. This Mr. Hyde I’ve somehow created is spending my money, changing my legal documents, plotting to get rid of me, and stalking Leanne. Time is running out. It may have already run out.”
“Then we’d better get started right away.” Thurman’s calm voice reached through Eliot’s panic, and he sank back down.
“All right,” he agreed wearily.
But for the first time he couldn’t find the hypnotic trance necessary.
“I’m sorry,” he said when it was obvious the effort was a failure. “I just can’t relax right now.”
“You’ve been this tense before. Tonight I think maybe you’re rejecting the therapy. You’re either convinced it won’t work or afraid it will. Right now I don’t think you really want to meet Edward.”
Eliot smiled without humor. “No, I don’t want to meet him. And no matter how hard I try, no matter how much proof I see, I just can’t accept that he’s a part of me. I want to kill the bastard. Just like he wants to kill me.”
“Let’s talk about that,” Thurman suggested. “When did you first notice that your friendship with Edward was turning to hatred? Try to go back beyond the obvious, before this latest episode. How about when you stopped playing with him as an imaginary friend? How did that make you feel?”
Eliot shifted uncomfortably. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I felt guilty. I actually felt like I was rejecting an old friend. It was like he’d talk to me, and I’d refuse to answer. I dreamed about him, and at first he was sad in those dreams, then he got angry because I was deserting him. Finally he was gone. No more imaginary playmate, no more dreams of him.”
Thurman stroked his mustache. “So you deserted him for a woman, and now he hates—hated—not only that woman but any woman you’re interested in. Including Leanne.”
Eliot drummed his fingers on the chair arm. “Yes, that’s apparent.” And old news, he thought impatiently.
“So instead of wanting to dispose of Edward, you need to accept him back into your life, let him know he’s still a part of you no matter what. Once you’ve done that, you remove the motivation for his anger, for the things he’s doing, for wanting to get rid of you.”
They talked for a while, but Eliot’s heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t want to psychoanalyze and placate his alter ego. He only wanted to get rid of it.
When he left Thurman’s house, his gaze was inexorably drawn to Leanne’s. But as desperately as he wanted to see her, he wasn’t going to further endanger her.
Determinedly he inserted his key into the car door lock.
From across the street he heard a sound and looked up to see her standing on her porch. He looked back to where Thurman and Dixie still stood in the open door of their house, watching him. He could go over and say hello to Leanne. Surely it would be all right to stand on her porch in public view and tell her what was happening. She’d want to know. She deserved to know.
She waited as he walked across the street toward her, a slim silhouette in front of her lighted living room door. In the darkness he couldn’t see any details, except that her hair shone even in that minimal light. She wore a pair of slacks and a light sweater, and in his memory he felt those soft curves, the curves he wanted to touch, to stroke.
As he stepped up on the porch, he could see her expectant, radiant smile. She was glad to see him. Oh, God, if only he hadn’t seen that expression. How could he possibly walk away now?
“I just wondered how the session went,” she said.
He shrugged. “Not so good.”
“Come on in,” she invited. “I’ll make some tea.”
From somewhere he found the strength to shake his head. “That’s not a good idea. Let’s stay out here where Thurman and Dixie can see us.”
She nodded and sat down on the porch glider. He joined her rather than choosing a separate chair. Refusing to go inside with her had taken all his will power. He had none left to make him sit apart from her.
As succinctly as possible, he told her about the police, his lawyer’s news, and the lack of progress with his therapy.
“Thurman’s right, you know,” she said quietly.
“Probably. But just for now, I don’t want to worry about it or even think about it.” He brushed the silken shadows of her hair away from her face.
Though a glance told him Thurman and Dixie had stepped back from their open doorway, Eliot knew it would take only one cry for help and the well-trained dog would be there. In the meantime, he could sit in the darkness with Leanne, drinking in her nearness without fear of harming her.
“It’s a beautiful night,” she said, her voice husky. Pale light from the half-moon filtered through the trees and danced provocatively on her lips as she spoke.
“Yes,” he agreed. “It’s getting more beautiful every second.”
For an instant he had a flash of sitting on a porch similar to this, surrounded by trees, with his family...his real parents...before the wreck. The feeling was one of peace and happiness, and the details shimmered tantalizingly close.
But he didn’t pursue the apparently pointless memory. Instead he let it dance away on the autumn breeze. Maybe later he’d come back to it. Right now he didn’t want to disrupt what was happening in the present.
The air was cool, just turning crisp, and felt clean in his lungs. Almost he could believe this was his only reality, sitting in the darkness of an autumn night with a desirable woman beside him.
He leaned toward her, tenderly touching her lips with his, the clean crispness in the air merging with the warmth of her mouth. She seemed to surround him, to slip inside him. She was part of the evening and part of him, and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
She tangled a hand in his hair and pressed closer to him. The kiss became more intense. He hadn’t meant for that to happen. Though the darkness and the shrubbery cloaked them, they were still sitting in the open, exposed to the world, just as they’d been at White Rock Lake. It was the only time he dared to kiss her, in public.
He pulled away for a moment, but not very far away. Even in the dimness her eyes shone with a clear, honest wanting that tugged him from the confused turmoil in his soul, and he was unable to resist. With a groan he pulled her to him again, seeking her mouth, burying his fears and misgivings in her trusting desire. Her lips were soft and warm, demanding and giving, and drew him further and further out of his world, into hers, into wanting her.
His hands on her back pushed her light sweater upward to touch and savor bare flesh.
“Eliot,” she whispered, her mouth moving against his in an excruciatingly painful yet wonderful way. “Do you want to go inside?”
“Inside,” he mumbled, the word taking on a double meaning. Inside her house, inside her body. Yes, that was what he wanted, to merge with her, to be a part of her.
She’s mine! Get away from her. It’s my turn.
As the words flashed through his brain, a dog barked. He pulled away from Leanne as if some physical force had intruded between.
“It’s only Greta,” Leanne whispered. “She wants to come out.”
Eliot sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers, focusing on the pain, on shutting out the alien voice. “I thought it was Dixie.”
Leanne stood and took a step toward the door. He grabbed her arm, halting her. “I’ve heard that dogs can tell when somebody’s about to have an epileptic seizure before it happens. Is that true?”
She looked down at him. “I’ve heard that. Seizures, diabetic comas, any drastic change in a person’s body chemistry. One of the theories is that they can smell it.”
“So maybe Greta can smell Edward before he gets here. Maybe that’s why she barked.”
“She barked because she didn’t like being left in the house alone with us so close.” But Leanne didn’t sound certain of her own words.
“I’ve got to go.” He had to get as far away as he could in case he couldn’t hold Edward off. He bolted from the swing and ran off the porch, into the street, into his car. His tires screeched as he sped away.
Still trying to orient herself after the dizzying whirl of emotions she’d just been through, Leanne watched Eliot drive away...run away. It was becoming a familiar scene.
Thank goodness for Greta. Otherwise, she’d have taken him into her house, into her body behind closed doors, and what might have happened then was pure speculation.
What on earth had she been thinking about? Split personalities frequently came out at moments of emotional overload, and she felt sure their lovemaking would have fallen into that category.
She hadn’t been thinking. She’d let her hormones override her good sense.
Across the street Thurman leaned out and waved, then closed his front door. Bless his heart. He’d waited to be sure she was safe. Now he and Dixie could relax. She was lucky to have such a good friend.
Greta barked again, demanding her attention. She opened the screen door, and the little dog ran onto the porch, bouncing around her feet, begging for attention. If Greta had sensed something ominous in Eliot, it was gone now. Of course, so was Eliot. She might have had a narrow escape.
So why didn’t she feel elated instead of sad, deserted...empty?
She leaned over and picked Greta up then went back into the house. “Looks like it’s you and me, kid. I’ll get you some dog biscuits, and I’ll have some chocolate chip cookies.”
For the first time she felt alone. Coming home to her little house and Greta had always seemed a refuge, a haven of peace and quiet, a place where no one could hurt her. Tonight Eliot had somehow changed that. He’d only been there a short time, but that time had made up in intensity what it lacked in length. When he’d gone he’d taken her sense of well-being and left an empty hole in its place.
In the kitchen she watched Greta munching contentedly on a dog biscuit. The little dog’s world was enviably uncomplicated. She adored Eliot and hated Edward, both with no restraints. She didn’t have to temper her emotions with fear of the outcome. She didn’t worry that Eliot was mentally ill and dangerous to himself as well as to her.
Leanne could no more hate him because of his illness than she could hate her father. Yet neither could she cease to fear what the illness might cause him to do.
As a doctor, she had to believe he could get well. As a woman, she didn’t dare to hope. She’d loved her father through his illness, had done what she could to help him, but it hadn’t been enough. Sometimes enough simply didn’t exist.
A knock sounded on the front door.
Had Eliot changed his mind and come back?
Even while her rational mind protested, she ran to the front door and threw it open to see him standing there in the dark. She lifted her arms to him, and he embraced her at the same moment as she heard Greta at her heels growling. His lips descended to hers, harsh and demanding, the stale taste of cigarettes stinging her senses, his arms holding her painfully.
And she knew her mistake.