Voices came from the television set on the other side of the room, but Leanne’s attention was focused across the street. If she leaned around far enough, she could just see Thurman’s porch.
It was after eight, and Eliot should be coming out soon. And in spite of her common sense screaming in protest, she was anxious to see him…the intense light in his golden eyes, the dimple that appeared on those rare occasions when he smiled, his strong hands, the tall, hard-muscled body that she’d explored every inch of last night.
She’d broken the rules—her rules, everybody’s rules. She would have to pay the price. What she and Eliot had shared couldn’t be undone.
The unfolding events of his life, his illness, seemed to be whirling around them like a tornado, going faster and faster, coming constantly closer, threatening ultimate destruction. Every second she could steal from that certain destruction was becoming more and more precious.
When Eliot emerged from Thurman’s house, he stood looking across the street toward her house for a long time before he walked over in a robotic, zombie-like gait. She and Greta met him at the door.
His eyes were bottomless pits of haunted agony. “Are you ready to leave for dinner?” he asked.
“Just let me get my keys.” She turned back into the room and picked up her purse. By the time she got to the door again, he was already walking away from her, toward his car.
Across the street she saw Thurman standing on his porch. The older man lifted a hand in a wave, but he didn’t smile.
Dear God, what had happened now?
Heart pounding, she locked her door behind her and prepared to follow Eliot, to find out what new horror had put such agony in his eyes.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Eliot immediately ordered a Scotch on the rocks. Leanne asked for a glass of white wine. From the sound of things, she might need some reinforcement, too.
“Eliot, what is it? You’re scaring me.”
He waved a hand around indicating the crowded dining room. “You don’t need to be afraid. You’re safe. Edward won’t try anything here.”
“It’s not Edward that scares me right now. You know how I feel about you, and I have a terrible feeling that whatever you have to say, it’s going to hurt both of us.”
He clutched his head in his hand for a moment, massaging his forehead. “I know,” he said quietly. When he lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes held a bleak, defeated expression, as though he’d abandoned all hope. “The police have a witness who saw a man leaving Kay Palmer’s apartment. I’m to go in on Monday for a lineup. If the witness identifies me, they’ll probably indict me for murder.”
She gasped. Though she’d known from the beginning that was a possibility, she had never accepted it. The gentle man who’d made love to her last night couldn’t be a murderer.
“You wouldn’t be legally responsible, you know.” Even as she said it, she wished she could take back the words. Eliot had already indicated he would consider such a plea to be a cop-out.
He winced as if she’d hurt him. “You know that isn’t even an option,” he said, his voice low and angry.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Their drinks arrived, and Eliot wrapped a large, capable hand around his glass...a hand that had possibly strangled a woman.
Without looking at the menu, he ordered a salad, steak and baked potato. Leanne asked for the same. It seemed the quickest way to get rid of the waiter, and she really didn’t care what she ate or even if she ate.
“I didn’t mean to snap,” Eliot said when the waiter was gone. He reached across the table and squeezed her hand briefly, his touch cold from the icy glass.
He tossed down his drink in one gulp. “That’s only half my news. We figured out today that Edward was my brother.”
“Your brother?” she exclaimed.
“My identical twin brother. You remember how I saw him in the car wreck that killed my parents? He was really there. He wasn’t a second personality then. He was sitting next to me in the car, dying.”
If that was true, no wonder he was so upset. He’d watched not only his parents but his twin brother die—which went a long way toward explaining his problem. Explaining, not curing.
The waiter returned and set plates of green salad in front of each of them. Leanne waited impatiently for the man to get out of earshot.
“Are you sure?” she asked Eliot. “How do you know?”
“I’m sure. When Thurman regressed me to my third birthday party, the one I dreamed about, I saw Edward as a real person. Thurman asked me, under hypnosis, and I told him that Edward was my brother.”
“Do you actually remember him?”
“It’s starting to come back. I remember that he was like a part of me. We were inseparable, went everywhere together, did everything together.”
“That happens a lot with identical twins,” she said, taking refuge behind her professional persona. “They come from a single fertilized egg, and sometimes it’s almost like they never completely separated.”
Eliot nodded, picked up a fork and pushed his salad around, though he made no move to eat it. “That’s what Thurman said. The way I remember, it was like Edward and I could read each other’s minds. I didn’t talk until late because there was no need. Edward and I communicated without words. Thurman said that was possible.”
“Definitely. For years now twin studies have been mystifying traditional scientists. Shared thoughts, pains, illnesses, languages. You must have been very close to your brother.”
He nodded again. His haunted eyes seemed to focus far away, in another time and place. “We didn’t need anybody else, just each other. Edward was even a little jealous if I included somebody else in our games.”
“Losing your brother in that automobile wreck was so unbearable, you kept him alive in your mind. Eliot, I know you’re hurting, and you’ve got to mourn his loss. But it’s wonderful that you’ve found out what happened. Accepting Edward’s death is a big step in the healing process.”
His expression turned back to the present, and she cringed from the pain she saw in his eyes. “That’s what Thurman said. But what’s wrong with me that I could take Edward’s memory, the memory of someone who loved me, and pervert it the way I’ve done? Turn his childish possessiveness into insane jealousy, make him into a monster, maybe even murder in his name? How can I ever heal from that?”
Leanne wanted to run out of the restaurant, away from Eliot’s pain, from her fear of that pain. She didn’t know how to respond to his agonized question. With years of therapy would have been the traditional answer. But she knew that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
Nor was she sure, especially if murder was involved, that Eliot, with his inflexible sense of right and wrong, ever could forgive himself. That wouldn’t help his chances of healing, of becoming a completely integrated person. If a tiny, hidden part of her had secretly hoped he might someday lead a normal life, that they might have a normal relationship, that last flicker of hope died.
“When are you going to see Thurman again?” she finally asked, trying to keep her tone neutral, to pull both of them from the quagmire of emotions onto the safer, impersonal ground of working toward a solution to his personality disorder.
“I don’t know,” he said wearily. “I promised to call him after I find out what the police are going to do with me on Monday. I may never see him again.”
The waiter arrived, took away their uneaten salads and set steaming steaks and potatoes in front of them.
“What about Saturday and Sunday? Why can’t you see him then?” In spite of the bleak outlook, she wasn’t going to let him give up.
“I’m going to see my parents...my adoptive parents...tomorrow morning. They moved to Tyler a few years ago after Dad retired. I want to talk to them about Edward. They must have known I had a brother. That explains why they got so upset with me when I kept talking to him as though he were still alive. Besides, if I’m indicted for murder, I may not get another chance to visit them.”
Leanne laid down the piece of meat she’d cut. She couldn’t possibly eat it, couldn’t even try to make the evening seem normal.
A short time later, by mutual consent, they left the restaurant. While they’d been inside, the air had turned chilly, the winds picking up and blowing the threat of approaching winter against them. The weather echoed the cold wind that blew over her heart.
Eliot walked to her car with her. In spite of the pain she knew he was enduring, the near hopelessness of his situation, he walked erect with strong, determined steps.
“Come home with me,” she invited impulsively. It wasn’t a very smart thing to suggest. But as she felt the impending crash of Eliot’s world, as the time she could be with him became shorter and shorter, she found herself unable to resist the desire to be with him for whatever time he had left.
He looked across the parking lot away from her and shook his head then, as if with extreme difficulty, he returned his gaze to hers. She’d thought his agony was great before, but what she saw in his eyes then brought tears to her own.
“Leanne, you’ve been a really good friend.” He took a deep breath, jamming his hands deep into the pockets of his slacks. “No, that’s not what I want to say. You’re more than just a friend. I care about you. A lot. I think you know how much. So much, I can’t keep putting you in danger.”
Leanne shivered as a gust of wind blew dead leaves and other debris across the concrete between their feet. Her heart clenched into a hard, hurting knot. Eliot was telling her goodbye. He was doing the sensible thing, the caring thing. She knew that. She knew their relationship was hopeless. She’d known it all along. Still she was devastated.
“I understand,” she said.
With a groan he pulled her into his arms. “If I come to your house again, don’t let me in,” he ordered. “It won’t be me.”
She nodded against his chest, holding him tightly, feeling the solid reality of his body against hers, building a memory she could take out and touch in the cold, lonely nights of the rest of her life.
“Goodbye, Leanne.” He pushed her from him.
She wanted to resist, to hold on tight, at the very least, to ask him to call her, to let her know what happened with his parents, with the police...with him. But that would be too painful for them both. Reluctantly she released him and stepped back. “Goodbye, Eliot.”
Without another word, he spun on his heels and walked away.
She got into her car, closed the door and laid her head on the steering wheel. She knew it wasn’t possible for her heart to literally break, but it certainly felt as though it might have.
She bit her lower lip, trying to trade the physical pain for the emotional one.
She wasn’t going to cry. Damn it, she wasn’t going to cry! She’d known from the beginning that she didn’t dare become involved with Eliot. The one thing she’d always dreaded most had happened. She’d given her heart to another mentally ill person, and now she had to pay the price. Mental illness had stolen another person from her life, taken another chunk out of her heart. For all her training, all her degrees, all her experience, she hadn’t been able to save Eliot.
She gulped back the tears and determinedly lifted her head.
A large drop of rain splatted against the windshield, then another and another.
Looking across the lot, she could see that Eliot’s car was gone, and so was a part of her. In spite of her resolutions, she’d fallen in love with him. No matter that she’d known all along they had no future. Some part of her must have believed a miracle would happen judging from how badly his leaving had shaken her.
She turned the key, starting her car.
If she had a patient who’d let herself become involved in an impossible relationship, she’d tell that patient to let go and get on with her life. That’s what she had to do.
Right now, she had no idea how.