Chapter Sixteen

As Denise returned to the dark folds of the forest, embracing and hiding her at the same time, she wondered at Richard taking her shirt. What did he intend to do? She’d asked him to help her get her sister back before the cops could. Was that what he was doing? He hadn’t said to let the police handle it, hadn’t told her to be sensible but simply said we will help her, and she had obliged his directions. She’d listened to him and that amazed her. Had she let herself get so dependent on him? Or maybe more like she was still stunned seeing what she’d been blind of before, forced to realize what her sister was capable of.

When she heard a car pull up alongside her hiding spot, she looked out to find Richard in the driver’s seat of the coupe. She looked above its roof and found a young man pacing in circles about the rest area parking lot, raking one hand through his hair as he held a cell phone to his ear with the other. He darted nervous glances toward his sacrificed vehicle.

“We have to hurry,” Richard said as he dumped her long-sleeve in the back seat. “Get in.”

Once she was seated, gravel took flight as the car came about, scrabbling for ground and enough friction to take off for the interstate. Richard raced through gears and the car’s speed soon passed eighty.

“What do we do when we catch up to her?” she asked. Why are you doing all of this? she wanted to ask more.

He shook his head. “I’m working on that. For now, we follow her.”

Still overwhelmed with shock–her sister was a saboteur after men that looked like Denise’s ex-husband. Why? She tried scouring her mind for the right words to find out what Richard had staked in this. She couldn’t ask him. Maybe he didn’t even know, and she needed him not to change his mind. Finally, she chose two words, “Thank you.”

If he was looking at her, it wouldn’t do him any good. She was lost in so many thoughts that they grated like the asphalt her eyes roamed over, tar and gravel that rolled before the car as they drew closer to her twin. Could her sister feel them like Richard had guessed when they’d found the Pontiac abandoned? Why had she started doing this in the first place? It was Denise’s memories to be extinguished. Her sister was making it horribly literal. Denise had to try to save her; how much blame rested on her own shoulders for what she made her sister feel? Denise should be the one committed, isolated from the world, from feeling. Maybe if she had let that officer lock her up–

“Hey,” Richard interrupted. “That’s enough of that. You’re going to strain something. You should try to rest.”

“So you’ve come up with a plan then?”

“Sure. It starts with avoiding a high-speed chase, and we can’t expect her to pull over at the sight of you….”

Denise looked to his face. It had set like cement as he watched the road, searching for the blue wagon. He glanced at her.

She nodded, forced to agree her sister couldn’t be counted on to be reasonable. “What did you have in mind?”

“Look,” he said.

She recognized his car and her heart suddenly lurched. She couldn’t be cool about this, reasonable, not a chance. Her breath churned in her stomach, lungs forgetting their jobs. She was letting this man take the wheel of her sister’s future. Was it any better than the cops, any better than her husband?

“Listen,” he began.

She jerked her head but eyes remained intent on the wagon. What’s the deal, sis?

“Denise,” he tried again, softer. Her gaze flicked his way as he asked, “Will you do what I tell you? I need you to trust me.”

She searched the warming lead in his eyes. He had no idea what he was asking, no idea. When she left the city, she’d left any ideas of trusting at the same time. She would be in control, make everyone else believe whatever she wanted, never let anyone get near her again, but her sister was near, and inside, her. Richard was trying to get in too. My choice was taken, she thought. She raised her weary eyes to him.

His jaw clenched, eyes were on the road. “Get down.”

Inexplicably, she was unbuckling her belt and sliding off the seat, curling up until her head was level with the dash. She tucked her legs, wedged between the dash and the ribbed floor mat. Why was he helping, doing all this? He deserved a little, a little, obedience for her to find out.

He changed lanes, accelerated as his hands tightened on the wheel, knuckles thinning his skin. Did he not approve that she had listened? He was honking his horn. Keeping his gaze on the road, avoiding singling out Denise’s sister, he was playing a part–another potential victim to her violence lust.

He made himself bait, willingly. Would she be lured in?

Her face and thus her eyes were angled to get a full view of his face. She saw something she’d refused a thousand times before; Richard’s nothing like her husband. She didn’t remember Charles’ jaw gripped with conviction, ever, and his eyebrows were dull and straight. They never tilted in warm expression or any expression. Why did she never see it before? His complete lack of sincerity. She shook her head, anger simmering again at her own blindness. Charles, the bastard. His eyes were as flat as his brow. But Richard’s eyes…. They darted over her quickly before returning to the road, and Denise’s stomach felt a little airy, her heart a little lighter. Those eyes held a storm that rolled around her in protective fury. She was walled in but not blinded. He was there with her … for her?

He looked back up, corrected the wheel slightly. “Denise, I …”

Not yet, she thought suddenly panicking, too soon! He couldn’t; he didn’t know the real her. When hadn’t she lied through her teeth even to him? She was protecting herself, not by damaging cars but damaging the way people saw her, had to keep them away from her.

He must have seen her curling back as best she could, sheltering herself from what he might reveal. He couldn’t feel for her; she wouldn’t allow it. She wasn’t exactly a fully functioning human being, far from a strong woman.

He sighed. “I think she’s falling for it. She’s on our tail.”

Denise nodded.

“Okay, there it is.”

“What?” she asked.

“Our net,” he said. She felt the coupe decelerate and saw him crank the wheel to the right.

They bumped their way off the main road. He soon came to a stop.

“She’s parking across the lot. Wait here.”

“But–”

“You sure she’s ready to see you? We can’t cause her to run away again.”

Denise crinkled her brow when she realized she was not stepping out of the stolen car. “Please don’t hurt her.”

“You know I won’t.” He closed the door.

You know, he’d said, like he’d already had her trust. No one could have something which she didn’t have left to give. She held her knees close. Don’t hurt her. How could he stop her, save her? Why was he trying! Why was she letting him?

A rustle sounded at the rear of the car, clothes scraping across ground. Then she heard the rear suspension creak.

Was that her? Where was he! A moment passed with the work continuing on their borrowed car. If he didn’t hurry up, she would run away again. Her sister, not his. Fine, she would do this herself, her responsibility.

She pulled herself out from under the dash in time to see Richard exiting the restroom. Fabric scraped against ground. She must have finished. Did she see Richard? Did she know she had trapped herself? Or was Denise the trapped one?

The lack of outside sound suffocated her. She cracked open her door but remained in her ducked position behind the seat back, her eyes peeking over the shoulder, following her sister who walked purposely toward the blue wagon. She was fast–taking out cars and walking away like she hadn’t done a thing. She would have to be to have gone on so long without getting caught.

“Excuse me,” Richard called out.

She quickened her walk.

“I think you have something of mine.” When she showed no sign of slowing down with tool in one hand and a car part in the other, his long strides ate up the distance. “Hey, Lady, you don’t want me to crash, do you?”

She turned, armed with a glare white hot.

Denise gasped. Stephanie, her mind whispered. The sight knocked her back. There was no denying it anymore. Denise dropped in the seat, her gaze remaining on the events outside the car.

Stephanie raised the large wrench, ready to strike a blow; she hadn’t known she’d already struck Denise.

Richard grabbed her arm. “Think twice.”

“Think fast.” She twisted in his arms, ready to slip out of his grip, dropping the tool he was aiming for and trying to land blows with her feet to his shins. His stance widened. Stephanie’s struggles grew frantic, mad. Until Denise opened her door and stepped out.

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