Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 23

Eliot pulled into the driveway of his parents’ house shortly before ten o’clock Saturday morning. He scanned the ranch style brick structure fondly, remembering the many times he’d visited there, the loving people who’d raised him. A dark cloud of sadness settled over him as he wondered if this would be the last time he’d see them outside of prison or a mental institution.

The door opened, and his mom, a tiny woman with short, steel gray hair and a wide smile, stepped onto the porch. Behind her his dad, tall and balding, leaned out, his long face split by a grin, one hand resting on his wife’s shoulder. Eliot slid out of the car and went to embrace them.

For a few hours he basked in the undemanding adoration of his parents. He could almost convince himself everything was the way it had been the last time he’d come down. Before his world had changed irrevocably. Before he’d started forgetting things. Before Kay Palmer’s murder. Before Edward had escaped from the confines of his mind.

Not until after dinner did he force himself to ask the questions he’d come to ask.

The three of them sat in the living room, his father in his well-worn recliner, the one piece of furniture that never got replaced, his mother in a leather arm chair, and Eliot on the matching sofa. In the background the television flickered, but the sound was muted. His dad had confided that his mother played the television constantly though she rarely watched it. The noise, she said, made up for no longer having a boisterous son in the house.

Eliot knew she’d been waiting impatiently for grandchildren. He’d never given it much thought, but suddenly his heart clenched painfully for the family he’d never have. He’d never sit in a favorite recliner across from Leanne or drape an arm about her shoulders in the comfortable, affectionate way of his mother and father. He’d never touch her rounded abdomen and feel his child moving. Instead, he’d spend his days in the dead, suffocating walls of a cold prison or a mental institution.

He pulled his thoughts away from that direction. It served no purpose.

He listened numbly while his mother detailed news of family and friends and his father told about his latest fishing trip. Eliot answered questions about his own job.

Then there came a lull in the conversation.

“You said on the phone you wanted to talk to us about something important,” his father prompted.

Eliot clasped his hands together and realized his fingers were cold. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve discovered something I need to ask you about.” He looked down at his hands, knowing things would never be the same after he spoke. But they’d never be the same after Monday, anyway. “I’ve found out the truth about Edward.”

His mother and father exchanged glances, and his father frowned, shifting uncomfortably. His mother nodded almost imperceptibly, and his father compressed his lips and sighed. “I’m sorry, Eliot,” he said. “We should have told you a long time ago.” He stopped, pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“When you first came to us, you were in so much pain,” his mother said. “Watching your family die must have been an awful experience, and you were so little, so helpless. We just wanted you to be happy and lead a normal life.”

A normal life. He couldn’t tell them how far off course their dream for him had gone. They’d find out only too soon.

“When I started talking to Edward as though he was still around, you—” Eliot hesitated. Whatever these people had done had been out of love. He didn’t want to call them liars, didn’t want to say anything that would upset them.

“We lied to you,” his father finished for him. “When you first came to live with us, you were still in shock. You didn’t talk, you didn’t cry, you didn’t do anything unless we told you to, and then you moved like a zombie. Finally you started to come out of it, but with no memories. The social worker had warned us that was a possibility, and we weren’t too worried when it happened. But when you started to talk to Edward, we didn’t know what to do.”

“So you told me he never existed.” Would it have made a difference, he wondered, if they’d been honest in the beginning? That was a question he’d never know the answer to.

“We always intended to tell you the truth someday,” his mother said. “The right time just never seemed to come along. You were a teenager before you finally gave up talking to him. We were so relieved, we didn’t want to say anything that would bring it all up again.”

She rose from her chair and went to stand behind him, smoothing his hair back the way she had when he was a child. “I’m glad this has finally come up. We should have told you years ago. Do you remember when we gave you the pictures of your birth parents a few years ago, and you said it was strange there weren’t any of you? Well, there were. Pictures of you and Edward. You were always together. There were no pictures of you alone. That’s why we didn’t show them to you, but we saved them for you. Would you like to see them?”

Pictures of the brother he’d loved and lost, whose memory he’d so defiled? “Yes,” he replied. “I want to see pictures of Edward.” He had to face it. He damned sure couldn’t hide from what he’d done. Soon everything would be out in the open.

His mother disappeared down the hallway, heading toward the master bedroom.

His father cleared his throat. “How did you find out?” he asked.

Eliot suddenly understood how easy it was to lie to somebody because you loved them. He couldn’t tell his parents what was going on. They’d know all too soon, but he could give them this one last visit without pain. “Dreams,” he said evasively. “I’ve been having dreams about Edward, and that brought back memories.”

“Dreams?” the older man repeated.

“You looked so much alike,” his mother said, returning to the room with two photo albums. “I can only tell you apart when it’s written on the picture which one is which.” She sat beside him and opened one album to a page of snapshots of smiling toddlers, the twins always together, always laughing or smiling.

The actual physical evidence brought back a flood of memories. Eliot picked up the album to study the pictures closer. “My brother,” he said around the lump of shame in his throat. “Edward was my brother.”

“Eliot, you said you knew the truth about Edward from your dreams and memories.” His father’s voice was cautious. “What truth is that? What, exactly, did you remember?”

Eliot looked up, surprised at the question. “That he existed. That I couldn’t accept his death in the car wreck and kept talking to him for years afterward as if he were still alive.”

Beside him, he heard his mother gasp, and even in the soft interior lighting, he could see his father’s face pale. Something was wrong. He looked from one to the other questioningly.

“Edward didn’t die in the car wreck,” his dad said quietly. “We would have been able to tell you that. He was badly injured and had to be institutionalized.”

“Edward didn’t die?” Eliot shot up from the sofa in a wild, unexpected surge of joy. “My brother’s alive?”

His mother’s hand touched his arm gently, tugging him back down. “Barely. He’s severely brain damaged, completely catatonic. They said he’d always require total, around the clock care. We wanted to adopt him, too, but the doctors said it was hopeless.”

Brain damaged. Catatonic. The words flew round and round in his head like vultures circling. It was several seconds before he let them land, allowed himself to fully comprehend their meaning. “Where is he?” he finally asked. “Can I see him?”

Again his parents exchanged glances. They looked, he thought, guilty.

“Since he didn’t have any relatives, the state put him in a hospital in Ft. Worth where they had the facilities to take care of him,” his father said. “We called a couple of times to check on him, but there was never any change. The doctors told us there never would be, that he probably wouldn’t live very long.”

“So he died in that hospital?”

His father refused to meet Eliot’s eyes. “Probably. I’m afraid we haven’t checked on him in a lot of years. I guess we began to believe our own story, that he never existed.”

“But he did, and right now my brother may still be alive in a hospital only thirty minutes away from where I live.” If he hurried down there Sunday morning, he might get to see him before he went to prison for committing a murder in that brother’s name.

If Edward was still alive.

He closed the photo album, unable to bear to look at any more pictures of the happy twins. Even if by some chance Edward was still alive, he was in a comatose state in an institution, all alone. And the brother he’d loved was defiling his memory.

He stood abruptly. He had to get away, be totally alone and absorb this new information, sort through it and figure out how to deal with it. Yesterday he hadn’t known he had a brother. In twenty-four hours he’d run the gamut—discovered Edward had existed, assumed he was dead, found out he might be alive—half alive, anyway—and in an institution.

“Mom, Dad, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to leave.”

His mother rose beside him. “But, sweetheart, I thought you were going to spend the weekend.”

“I was, but I can’t.”

“You’re not going to leave at this hour, are you?” his father protested. “It’s already dark.”

“I have to, Dad. I want to get home tonight then go over to Ft. Worth in the morning.” Suddenly he couldn’t wait to be on the highway with nothing but his headlights before him and the darkness behind him. Edward, prison, his split personality, his impossible attraction to Leanne—all those things were waiting at the end of the drive, but in between maybe he could find a brief respite of emptiness.

“I’ll make you a cup of coffee to take with you,” his mother said. “Will you be coming back to visit soon?”

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

Probably not. They’d have to visit him in prison.

***

Leanne picked out a book she’d been wanting to read and curled into a corner of the sofa with Greta snuggled up against her. The day had been gray with intermittent rain, and the evening was chilly and damp. She’d considered lighting a fire in the fireplace, but the cozy gesture seemed inappropriate. She didn’t feel cozy. She felt alone in spite of her furry companion.

She stroked Greta’s sleek black head. “You liked him, too, didn’t you? I guess we both have bad taste. No, not bad. Just unlucky.”

Greta snuggled closer as though she understood and wanted to offer comfort.

The phone rang, and Leanne reached unenthusiastically to pick it up. On Saturday night the only person likely to call would be a distressed patient.

“Leanne, it’s Eliot.”

“Eliot!” Her spirits lifted immeasurably at the sound of his voice. She knew she shouldn’t be so excited, but she was. “I didn’t expect to hear from you. Are you in Tyler?”

“No. I’m ten minutes from home. I came back early.”

“Is everything all right?” His voice had lost its tortured quality. Something had happened to effect a major change in his attitude. “Did you ask your parents about Edward?”

“Yes, I did. I found out something very interesting, and I’d really like to talk to you about it. I know it’s late, but could you meet me at my place?”

“Meet you? At your condo?” After his fierce determination only yesterday never to see her again? Was she talking to Eliot or Edward? Her heartbeat quickened, her gaze involuntarily and futilely darting from window to window, trying to determine if the locks were all in place.

“Sure,” he said. “You’re only five minutes away. Of course, I can always come by and pick you up.”

“Well, no, that’s not necessary. It’s just that...”

“It’s all right. You don’t need to be scared of me anymore. What I have to tell you about Edward will explain everything. Leanne, I’m not crazy. I’m not a murderer. The story’s pretty wild, but it’s all true.”

She wanted to believe it was true, that somehow Eliot had an explanation that would allow her to go to him in safety, that would negate his illness. But she couldn’t imagine what that explanation would be. She knew what the facts were. How would he explain them? How would he explain Kay Palmer? How would he explain the dreams about her, Leanne?

She made herself pull back.

“That’s wonderful, Eliot. But I don’t want to wait until I get over there to hear. Tell me your news now.”

“This is too important to talk about over the phone. I need you to be with me where I can see you and touch you, put my arms around you. Trust me, you’ll be perfectly safe at my place. We have a security guard on duty downstairs. He’ll see you go up, so I wouldn’t dare harm one hair on your pretty head.”

“I’m awfully tired tonight. Why don’t we plan to meet at Thurman’s for breakfast tomorrow morning?” If it was Edward, he wouldn’t go for that plan.

“All right,” he agreed, and Leanne felt the tension leaving her while a smile curved her lips. “Check it out with Thurman and call me.”

He’d agreed! That meant she was talking to Eliot, and he really did have news about Edward that would explain everything, would make it possible for her to be with him, to touch him, to hold him...to love him. That was what she wanted, to release the emotions she’d held in check for so long and love him with all her being.

“Thurman and Shirley went to the movies, but I’ll call him first thing in the morning. Eliot, don’t make me wait! Tell me what your news is now.”

“I want to see the look on your face when I tell you. See you in a few minutes.”

She hung up the receiver and leaned back on the sofa, stroking Greta almost absent-mindedly. She wanted to relax and indulge the happiness that Eliot’s words had sent bouncing around the periphery of her heart. She was entitled, wasn’t she? She’d been dejected and fearful long enough.

But there’d be time for that when she heard what Eliot had to say. She wanted so desperately to believe it was possible, to trust him completely, to think about being with him, holding him, making love with him, spending the night in his arms.

She jumped when the phone rang again.

“I can’t wait until morning to see you,” Eliot said. “I know you’re still afraid of Edward, so I’ll come over there and stand on your porch, talk to you through the door. After you hear me out, then you can decide if you want to let me in.”

She wavered, her resolve to be cautious slipping away. “It’s wet and cold out there.”

“I’ll survive. This is important.”

How could she doubt his sincerity when he was willing to go through all that for her? “That’s not necessary,” she said impulsively. “I’ll meet you at your place.”

“Bring your toothbrush. I don’t intend to turn you loose until morning.”

She hung up the phone, suddenly giddy as a teenager. Amazing, she thought, how fast she had gone from despair to ecstasy.

Too fast. She ought to rein in her emotions. After all, she still didn’t know what Eliot was going to tell her.

A dart of apprehension zigzagged down her spine, and she shivered then chided herself. Was she being overly cautious? If he wasn’t mentally ill, if there was a logical explanation for everything, then she had no reason to fear him. Was she once again seeking reasons to avoid becoming involved? If she were her own patient, that’s probably what she’d tell herself.

She had to go. No matter what happened afterward, she had to know his explanation. If she had even the slimmest change to be with Eliot, she had to take it.

She looked down at the faded blue jeans and sweatshirt she’d worn all day. A shower and change of clothes were definitely in order. Something silky and sexy, she thought, already imagining Eliot’s hands caressing her body.

She dashed upstairs and into the bathroom. Pausing in front of the mirror, she studied her reflection. Her eyes shone brightly, and her cheeks were flushed, but a little makeup wouldn’t hurt. She wanted to look her best.

She showered, applied some makeup and chose a blue silk blouse with matching pants. The fabric slid sensuously over her bare skin.

As she crossed her bedroom, her gaze fell on her nightstand. She walked over slowly and pulled open the drawer, exposing Eliot’s gun. If she stuck it in her purse, she’d feel safe no matter what.

The metal gleamed dully, mocking her, flaunting its power to take away life and happiness.

She couldn’t touch it.

She shoved the drawer closed, hiding the painful contents. She’d be careful. She’d go just inside and stay close to the door until she heard what he had to stay. If for any reason she wasn’t satisfied with Eliot’s explanation, she’d leave.

When she finally made it back downstairs, she realized with a guilty start that half an hour had passed since Eliot’s call. He’d said he was ten minutes away. By now he’d be wondering what had happened to her.

Leaning over, she gave Greta a goodbye hug. “Sorry to desert you, little one, but I’ll be back in the morning. I’ll bring Eliot over for breakfast. And next time, we’ll stay here. I promise.”

Next time. Heaven help her, she was already planning a next time.

She was halfway out the door when the phone rang. Cringing guiltily, she continued on, closing the door behind her. It was probably Eliot, wondering what was taking her so long. Hopefully he’d think her efforts justified the extra time.

She drove directly to his condo building. He was right. The drive only took five minutes. She pulled into the guest parking area in front.

As she slid out of the car into the misty darkness, she paused to laugh at herself. Her heart was racing, she had butterflies in her stomach. She was acting like a teenager on her first date.

Well, she thought, locking the door, this is sort of like a first date. This would be the first time they’d been able to be together and relax, give totally of themselves, the first time she’d go to sleep in his arms.

If, she reminded herself sternly, his news justified her remaining there overnight. Otherwise, she’d leave and go straight home. She wouldn’t let her emotions control her the way they had the night she and Eliot had made love. That had been irresponsible. Wonderful and unforgettable, but irresponsible.

Through the glass doors ahead, she could see the security guard Eliot had mentioned. That proved she was safe, didn’t it? Edward would surely realize that if anything happened to her in Eliot’s home, the guard would remember her going up.

But Eliot would be blamed, not Edward.

The thought stopped her for a moment, but then she moved on, opening the glass doors and walking across the lobby. For the sake of professional curiosity, she had to hear Eliot’s story. For her heart, she had to know.

***

Tires screaming, Eliot took another corner on two wheels. He knew it was crazy, but he couldn’t dispel a driving need to get home as soon as possible. Halfway to Dallas, in the midst of the spiral of bizarre thoughts spinning through his mind, he’d been overwhelmed with a feeling that Leanne was in danger. From Edward. From himself.

Even though he knew that was impossible, he found his foot nudging the accelerator. The closer he got to Dallas, the stronger the sensation became.

He tried to think of other things, but his mind wouldn’t cooperate. His palms became damp and sweaty around the steering wheel. His stomach muscles clenched. His right foot pushed harder.

Was this unfounded dread part of his illness? A panic attack? That was the only thing that made any sense.

Finally, a few minutes before when he’d pulled off the highway and headed across town for home, he’d given in to his anxiety and stopped to call Leanne. Surely if he could speak to her, be assured that she was all right and that her house was secured, he could get rid of this insane feeling. When she didn’t pick up, when the call went to her voice mail, alarm bells screamed inside his head, and his fear doubled.

That fear was still with him as he pulled up to his condo building and started to go down into the garage. But the sight of Leanne’s car parked in the guest area in front stopped him.

It wasn’t Leanne’s car, he told himself. There were lots of white, mid-size cars around.

Nevertheless, he changed direction and pulled up beside the automobile. Directly ahead, walking across the lighted lobby inside, he saw Leanne. His heart leapt into his throat.

He tried to tell himself that this proved his fears had been unfounded. Leanne was fine. Maybe she was visiting a friend. A coincidence. His was certainly not the only condo in the building.

But he couldn’t stop the terror welling up inside him. He dashed out of the car and charged through the glass doors. Across the lobby the elevator doors opened, and Leanne started to get on.

“Leanne! Don’t!” he shouted, racing toward her.

She turned, a mildly surprised look on her face. She stepped out before the elevator doors could close, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The inexplicable terror abated.

She was beautiful, he thought. Her eyes shone brightly, her cheeks were flushed, and she wore a blue outfit of some soft material that floated tantalizingly over every curve of her body. And he experienced a moment of jealousy wondering who’d inspired the glow, who she was wearing the sexy outfit for.

“Eliot, what are you doing down here?” she asked, smiling at him.

“I live here,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

A tiny frown line appeared between her eyes though she gave a brief, uncertain laugh. “You invited me. Don’t you remember?”

He grabbed her arms. Too tightly, he realized when she flinched. He released her and dropped his hands to his side, clenching them into fists until the nails dug painfully into his palms. “When?” he demanded. “When did I invite you?”

She took a step back from him. The flush had disappeared from her face, leaving it pale. “You mean you don’t remember? It wasn’t you?”

“I just got back into town from visiting my parents. I tried to call you ten minutes ago, but you didn’t answer.”

She lifted a hand to her mouth and stared at him in horror.

He took her arm—more gently this time. “Let’s go to the coffee house up the street and talk.”

She nodded. “I know,” she whispered, her eyes wide, the pupils dilated, “we’ll take separate cars.”

“I think we should, considering the circumstances.”

As they walked together to the door, he realized that the glow on her face and the sexy outfit had been for him. And now he’d brought a frightened look to her eyes that had shone so brightly only a few minutes ago. What in heaven’s name was Edward up to now? Why would he lead her to a locked condominium some time before he was scheduled to arrive home? He’d only caught up to her because he’d driven like a demon.

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