Chapter Eighteen

*

At the peal of the sirens, Denise bolted, dropping Richard’s shielding arm. It couldn’t protect her from what she’d done. She’d abandoned her sister to the cops! How could she do that? The still functioning rational side of her mind, perhaps what Stephanie lacked, brought up an image, recalled to Denise the mad look in her sister’s eyes, blind lust for vengeful violence, even against her own twin. Steph wasn’t in control. But if Denise could remember her sister like she had before she’d known the truth, feel the love for her, protective and caring, as she had suffered under Denise’s emotions, she could calm Steph and–

Richard stepped in front of her. “No,” he offered gently. Then, almost like reading her mind through the blank stare she returned him, he added, “Think about who she is now.”

She tried, letting Reason tell her of the choices Steph had made, the men she had destroyed, lives taken. Denise was never a part of that. But how could she not be? Her emotions ran Steph. Or they had. Steph had said she’d used Denise, but whose anger fueled her, whose hurt? Denise let this happen. Beyond being blind to her husband’s cheating, Denise had been blind to her sister’s mental self-mutilation. She nodded to Richard as her gaze drifted away from him. She wasn’t trusting him but she had no power to take over. How could she possibly know what was right?

“Denise,” he started and grasped her chin, guiding her eyes back to him. “I need you to do something for me, please.”

She searched his entreating eyes. “Okay.”

“I want you to run.”

Run? She’d been doing that, starting with her flight from her life. Had it worked? Her eyebrows crowded her eyes, offering Richard all the lost inside of her.

“When I walk away,” he explained carefully, “While I talk to them, I need you to sprint off into the trees. Go the opposite direction of that car and your sister, as hard as you can. You got that?”

She looked past his shoulder as the sirens grew louder.

“Denise?”

“Anything you want,” she replied dejectedly. Blue and red lights blinked through the trees. Her body stiffened.

“It’s time,” he replied. “Go. Now.”

She found herself stuck, rooted, starting to shake her head. She couldn’t–her sister.

“Denise,” firmly, he gained her focus. “Run!” She flinched from the blow in his tone, took a step back, turned and fled.

Her eyes were closed when she tore off. She opened them as shadows intervened with the heat of the sun. Breaking into the tree line, she worked to remind herself to breathe. Her legs were working, so should her lungs and her heart. Oh, her heart was working too well. Steph…. She curved around trees, leapt over a fallen one. Her only form of control was to spin how her life looked. She’d been running away, stringing yarns about who she was to anyone who asked and in the process, she’d hitchhiked, climbed a mountain, camped in a tent, stopped a drunk driver…. None of those were lies but memories, new memories she owned. She could keep on, had more road to cover.

Heart pounding in her ears, lungs aching in the dry, light air, she slowed, came to a stop. Hands supporting her back , she paced a tight circle over the bed of pine needles, surrounded by a community of evergreens. Now what? she mentally asked of them. I’m just supposed to wait here? She looked up and searched out answers in the bark, walking to one and touching its protective layer. Her finger fell on sap. She lifted it up and tried to rub it off. It only collected dirt. She leaned against the tree, away from the bleeding wound as she attempted to clean it off. She tried rubbing it off against the bark’s coarse texture. Looking at it again, she could see only soap would clean it off. Sometimes there was only one solution. She went back to pacing.

What is happening right now? Probably questioning Richard and loading up my–Is she putting up a fight? How could I do this? No, I must go to her. She’s still my sister.

            Her legs began to work. She slowly built up speed. Her surroundings grew blurry as her eyes glazed over. She was clutched, and she fought forward, wrenching her body ahead, but her arms were caught. Two hands grasping, rubbing, stealing the cold of the forest. She blinked, looked around, finally up, and found Richard’s face.

“Thank you. For listening. Don’t let her hurt you anymore.”

She nodded, finally accepting she wasn’t the one capable of wiping clean the trouble in her sister’s heart. I’m sorry, Steph. 

“Come on; Charlie’s parked on the shoulder.”

She still loved her but … Good-bye, sis. It was all she could feel, a final parting meant to stick. She brushed her sap-covered finger against her jeans one last time.

Guiding her through the forest, straight for the highway and never making it back to the rest area, Richard walked her to a car’s rear door, eased her in.

Charlie dropped an arm on the passenger seat and looked back, “How are you doing, kiddo?”

She nodded.

“No drooling on my seat cover this time, eh?”

A laugh flowed out, guided by the need for air, feeling lightheaded after the oxygen-starved run.

“That’s good,” Richard said. He climbed in next to her. “Keep it up.”

Exhausted, still with a remnant of a smile on her face, she thought nothing of it as she changed positions and rested her head on his denim leg.

Richard brushed her hair back then rubbed her arm.

Charlie grabbed something off the passenger seat, handed it to Richard–a jacket.

Richard wrapped it around her and Charlie drove off, both of them ignoring the blue and red lights.

 

Denise shot up awake. Images rushed in upon her. Her sister stepping up for a tight hug. Her sister lunging at her, the anger and madness aflame in her eyes. Richard kneeling in front of her. Her husband clasping that flashy pearl chain around her neck.

She closed her eyes and held her forehead. Her anchoring hand touched a wool blanket. Opening her eyes, she surveyed her surroundings and wanted to groan. She was in Richard’s house again. She saw her pack near the door as well as her boots.

Decision made, she crept to her things and softly slid on her boots. She laced them up and pulled up her pack as she stood.

“You want some coffee first?”

She gasped and flipped around, letting go of her pack.

Richard leaned against the entrance to the hallway holding up a cup. Beyond him, a soft light illuminated his kitchen.

Her shoulders sagged. It looked like she wasn’t going to walk out quietly.

“C’mon,” he said and gestured to the lighted room.

She followed and fell into an oak chair.

He set down a cup painted with the image of a fish splashing out toward a fly and filled it with black fluid then leaned back against a nearby granite counter.

“Where you headed?” he asked.

“Away,” she replied.

“From it all? I thought you already tried that.”

She moaned and pushed aside the cup to drop her head against her arm on the table. “What does it matter to you?” she mumbled.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you can’t see it. You probably don’t know what it looks like anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When someone truly cares about you… probably more.”

She lifted her head and looked at him.

The grey in his eyes showed a warmth and softness seen in the down of a mourning dove.

“Don’t,” she replied. “It’s not a good idea.”

“I think you’re the best idea I’ve had in a long time.”

Yeah but for how long. She gulped her coffee and set it down, rose from the chair and slipped into indifferent lying like a well-fitted glove. “Well, thanks for the pick-me-up. I think I’ll be taking off now.”

He set his cup on the counter and sighed. “If you insist on going, I’m driving.”

“I don’t think so,” she walked out of the kitchen and reached for her pack.

He followed and added, “I don’t know if you’ve looked outside lately, but it is pitch black out there, not even a moon. Just let me drive you until sunrise and then you can start off on your escape plan all over again.”

“I’ll bet I don’t have a choice.”

He smiled.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“Are you? You know, ready to go back out there again?”

“It’s going to be a new road. I’m as ready as I can be.”

He considered her silently for a moment, his grey gaze taking on a sharp edge cutting through her bravado, but then it eased, accepting. “Okay then, let’s go.”

He opened the front door and she stepped out onto his wooden porch with her pack. The stars were many, the street lights were few, and he was right; the rest was just black.

He grabbed her pack and set it in the bed of his truck.

“I had my buddy take care of repairs while I was away,” he explained.

She nodded before climbing in.

 

*Author’s footnote: I appreciate my readership’s patience and do not want to lose your interest so I wanted to offer up what I could while my precious little man is sleeping in his sling against me. Just a couple more chapters to go to cover Denise and Richard’s adventure … until they stumble into another. 🙂

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