Chapter Seventeen

Denise hurried around the car, came out into full view as her sister glanced up from her struggles with Richard, the man determined to help no matter how Denise had pushed him away, lied to him. Stephanie was looking for help. She smiled when her eyes fell on her twin, all fight ceasing. Smiled? Had she been expecting Denise to appear at some rest area in the middle of the Rocky Mountains? Was she expecting her to pick up the tool and join her sister’s one-woman battle against men who matched the appearance of one in particular? “Hey, sis.”

“Stephanie,” Denise whispered. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because you aren’t doing it,” It was as simply put as the Hey, sis. Richard eased his grip, took one step back but remained close as Stephanie’s hand rotated the heavy metal rod she’d taken off his car. “Admit it. You hate them. I can feel it in you. You want them to suffer. Aren’t I giving you that?”

“Oh, Steph,” Denise shook her head and took a step toward her only sister. “I had no idea. I’m so sorry.” She must be feeling Denise’s emotions as strong as ever. Stephanie practically amplified them when she sensed Denise’s pain.

“What are you talking about? Oh, you still think you have this powerful influence over me.” She laughed bitterly. “You haven’t figured it out, have you?”

Denise’s expression had to show her confusion and, yet, a growing suspicion nagged at her.

“I made that up, back in high school. I got away with whatever I did. All I had to say was I had no control because your feelings were so strong inside me.”

Suspicion rang true. Her sister had used her. Shock and betrayal swirled against each other, draining through her system, draining her of hope. “It’s all been a lie,” Denise whispered.

“Well, it wouldn’t have worked if I didn’t know what you were feeling, but I control myself! I say how I behave. You still don’t get it, do you? All you can feel is yourself. How selfish! Well, I’m looking out for the both of us.”

Denise watched her sister in horror. Tears came unheeded. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re all bad, Denny. Or haven’t you noticed?”

“Who?”

“Oh, please, you can’t possibly mean I have to remind you. Your husband? Remember how he cheated on you for two years?”

Denise’s eyes whipped to Richard’s face, heart pacing rapidly in her chest, wanting to escape what he’d see now. He remained stone-faced, seemed intent on Stephanie and what she might do in haste if either one of them dropped their guard. How he must be feeling, Denise couldn’t read in his eyes, couldn’t read anything. She never really thought she had him in the first place but fear gripped her when she thought she’d just lost him.

“Of course you remember,” Stephanie continued. “Right now, it’s hurting worse than it had in days. Good, you should never forget. They are all animals! It wasn’t just yours. Hah, you can tell we’re twins when I got attracted to the same type. Mine turned out to be a beater. They’re no good, none of them. I wanted to take yours out first, but he disappeared, took his newest toy to another country or something. So mine was the first to go. But that’s not enough. It won’t be enough to protect us.”

“Oh, Steph,” Denise wide-eyed, tears all the more full because of it, begged, “They all can’t be bad.” Richard’s gaze was there to meet hers when it flickered across his face, taking in his mouth firmly pressed, his eyes … were not cold as she had expected. They were softening, but they shouldn’t, not for her.

Stephanie laughed. “Hah! I see alright. You’ve already been taken in by another … bruiser,” she rubbed her arm, her wrist, where Richard had grabbed her, but Denise couldn’t believe Richard had hurt her. She couldn’t believe her sister, anymore. “And it will end the same way as it always does. See now why I’m doing this?”

“You are wrong,” Denise whispered, looking once more into Richard’s eyes, unable to meet the mad fury in her sister’s.

“And you are a fool! You feel pity, for me. How dare you! You don’t deserve my protection. Don’t you make me feel guilty,” she ordered. “Get out of my head!”

Tears fell from Stephanie’s eyes. She pressed fingertips to her face, glanced at them, and growled when she found the wetness, lunged forward, raising the rod over her head, but Richard latched onto the arm with the intended weapon. Stephanie pulled on, fighting to get forward, yelling, “Stop it! We’re not guilty. They are! Denny, you’re hurting and who did it, huh? Who’s left you in pain?”

“You,” Denise answered simply. “Not what any man has done but what you’ve done. You’re hurting me, Steph.” She was nearly pleading as she took a step back from her sister who she barely even recognized under her raging.

“No!” She screamed. “It’s you!” She elbowed Richard, breaking loose and then swung around with the rod, cracking his leg, stealing his footing. He was left behind to fall as Stephanie raced toward Denise. Richard shot his other leg out, tripping her back foot. After she hit the ground, he bent over and snapped her into Denise’s handcuffs. Stephanie continued screaming, “I hate you. You selfish brat! Fight back for once. Get a life!”

Her sister had one too many, Denise thought, and taken far more than that.

Richard forced Steph, her twin sister, the woman Denise thought she understood so well, into the backseat of their borrowed car.

Denise felt surprisingly calm, her eyes dried. Stephanie had done enough crying for both of them. Denise finally felt done with it, with carrying all the guilt. It wasn’t her choice; her sister had done this, knowingly. Stephanie knew about the influence, used it, hurt everyone in the process. Denise had to let her go. And as Richard set the child locks, sealing her sister in, she stood aside, was forced–no, chose–to play spectator to her sister’s displays of insanity. “Steph,” she whispered, feeling for her sister but never knowing how her sister felt. It wasn’t fair.

Her sister reacted inside the car, “Stop it!” she screamed.

Richard walked up and interrupted Denise’s view. “You need to come with me.”

She looked around him, not wanting to cut-out her sister, not ready to. Wasn’t there something …

“No, Denise. She’s not someone you can help.”

Nodding; it seemed all she could do, she met his grey-hardened gaze, seeking his granite resolve as her own.

“Come with me.” He offered her a hand, but she turned without it, turned from Steph and the car, walked toward the only structure in the parking lot, whatever form of shelter attainable. Her sister wasn’t going anywhere, but Denise needed to, Richard wanted her to move. It was something her feet could do without much awareness from her.

He supported her; no matter how hard she tried to be alone, a warm hand cupped her elbow as they rounded the rest stop building, and stayed with her as she came to a stop in front of a wall. She pressed her back against the gritty, beige surface, looked to Richard seeking what he had wanted in her coming here. He stepped back, dropping his touch from her but never removing his gaze.

Without giving her words to process, her thoughts drifted back to the car as did her compulsion to see it again, see Steph. She leaned, sliding along the wall to gain visual.

Richard set an arm out to stop her. Resting his hand on the wall behind her, she was barricaded from seeing even a glimpse of Steph.

Exhausted, understanding the sense in not allowing any lingering connections–although, she’d always be connected–defeated, she scraped along the wall, dropping until the the gravel bed became her seat. “’Can’t believe it. I have been selfish … not fair for her.” She shook her head. Bringing her legs up, her head fell into the cradle she formed with her arms.

“Denise,” his warm voice wove between the cold in her skin, brushed her ears. “Denise, look at me.”

She obeyed, having no control anymore. Unblinking, she asked, “What am I going to do?”

“We,” he replied, “are going to contact the police.”

He paused, waiting, probably for her to give him some sort of sign of agreement, but she couldn’t. That was her sister, and the police….

“But if they see you,” he continued. “Things will get complicated. And I don’t think you are ready to play witness against your sister. I’ll tell them I was fishing in the area, spotted her messing with the car and when I asked if she needed help, she lashed out at me. I’ll call my friend, Charlie. He’ll pick us up. He’s the one that got us home after your … brush with the law. I’m taking you home; I want to keep an eye on you.”

Denise looked up, searched the determined expression on his face for any clues as to why. Why did he continue to care? She hadn’t given him anything but half-truths. And yet he saw something in her. What did he see? What was left after all the running and the fiction she sold out as her story? He knew her and never by what she’d told him. So how could he have any interest anymore?

“You’ll have the chance to hide for as long as you want,” he continued.

She sighed, ready to shake her head. He was making her up, re-building her into what he wanted to see. And she had to get away from him, for both their sakes.

“Isn’t it time to stop running? Can’t you see it’s finding you anyway? Maybe, it’s time to–”

Her eyes dropped back to the ground. “Okay,” she whispered. “I’ll stay.” And she would let him call the cops on her sister. Nothing was right about this. What could she do? Feeling like the betrayer but being betrayed at the same time. Why couldn’t Steph have–but she didn’t. Instead the woman had killed people. I can’t let her run free. She closed her eyes and one last tear fell from the corner of her eye.

Richard reached out and brushed it aside with his thumb, “Are you ready?”

Denise nodded. “We have to.”

She braced one hand against the wall as he guided her up, his large, comforting hand under her elbow. She took the last support she ever would from him. Settling her on a nearby bench, he pulled out his cell phone. First, he called his friend. When he dialed the police, he lowered his voice. That was fine with her; she didn’t want to hear him report her sister.

He knelt in front of her before she realized he had finished his conversation and tucked the phone somewhere. She’d been lost, like she’d been since she stepped out of the townhouse in Denver.

“How are you?” he asked gently.

She nodded without looking up, “okay … alive …”

“You’ve no clue how glad I am about the last part, do you?”

She met his gaze. He reached out and caressed her cheek.

“I’m so sorry you got caught up in this,” she said.

“I’m not.”

She turned away and tears returned.

He took up a seat next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She leaned over, rested her head on his chest. Maybe another moment of support wouldn’t hurt. They weren’t going anywhere until Charlie arrived. Richard held her close, rubbing her arm and soothing out the coldness of the shadows from the building, renewing the warmth of the mountains beyond, until the sirens reached her ears.

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