I sat, on wobbly legs, unable to hold up anything other than my sanity. Pressed my fingers into the lines of my forehead. Closed my eyes and wished for a dream.
The secret. I’d dreaded it. Avoided it while digging for clues.
It had arrived. I had met it. And I wanted nothing but to turn back the clock and recapture the pieces of my heart. They lay, like broken glass, back in that bar, being crushed underfoot by Brant and that woman’s feet.
“It won’t last long,” she added. “Normally he’s only in a personality for a few hours. He’ll switch back soon, depending on how long he’s been out.”
“I’ve got to go,” I mumbled into the phone.
I don’t know what I expected. Jillian to grow a shard of compassion and treat me as something other than a money-grubbing piranha. But she said only three words.
“Keep the secret.”
“Layana?” His voice was confused. I lifted my head from my arms and looked up at him.
My boyfriend stood before me, hands in his pockets, concern in his eyes. Layana. He had said my name, framed by the gray dust of the empty stairwell.
I stared at him, accessing. The wide smile was gone, as was the girl. Summer. I tested his name on my tongue. “Brant?”
“What are you doing in here?” He crouched down until he was at eye level, his hands running over my arms in a method that typically created warmth. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. Okay was about as far from my current state as possibilities allowed. I smiled, searching his face, finding everything there that I knew. Responsibility. Gravity. An unwavering aura of calm. I reached out, wrapping my arms around his neck, breathing in his scent, the hang of smoke still on his clothes. I tightened my grip as his hands slid around my body. Pressed my lips against his neck as I wondered if he had kissed her.
He lifted me off the stairs and carried me, like a child, to our room. I curled against his chest and, when he laid me on the bed, I pretended to be asleep. Didn’t want questions, had too many questions inside my own head that might burst to the surface. I laid on the soft pillowtop. Let him drag the blankets over me. Felt the sink of the bed when, a half hour later, his skin smelling of soap, he crawled in. Wrapped his arm around me and pulled my body against his. Heard the whisper of his voice as he spoke in the quiet room.
“I love you.”
I love you too. I kept my body still, my breath even. Waited for him to fall asleep and tried not to think about the ring in his suitcase.
The next morning, I stayed in bed. Groaned when Brant’s lips brushed the back of my neck.
“Come on baby.” His voice sweet against my skin. “Big plans for today.”
I curled my knees to my chest, thought of the ring box. Big Plans. Terrifying. I pulled the blanket tighter. Let out another groan that sounded more alarming.
“What’s wrong?” His hand, soft on my hair. Probably the same hand that had slid up that woman’s leg. Caressed her thigh like he wanted to f**k her.
“I don’t feel well.”
“Really?” Concern mixed with disappointment.
“Please call the front desk. See if they have a nurse on staff.” I didn’t lift my head, let the pillow muffle the words, certain their meaning would carry.
“A nurse? You’re that bad?” His hand moved higher. Gently touched my forehead, like it would be warm, like a fever was a symptom of heartbreak.
“Hurry,” I whispered the word and heard the rustle of sheets, the bed lighten as he moved to the desk. Spoke with hushed words that I strained to hear.
“Someone will be here in a few minutes. What can I get you? Water? Aspirin?” There was panic in the lining of his words now.
I did nothing but groan in response.
Five-star service got me two nurses and our butler. I made a pained face and asked Brant to give me privacy with the nurses. Five hundred bucks in cash, split between the two of them, got me serious faces and an announcement, upon Brant’s return to the room, that I needed to return home immediately. The butler stepped forward, offered his services to secure a chartered jet. Brant accepted, more tips changing hands, the duo of nurses getting double-compensated, then everyone jumped into action, the nurses starting the business of packing our items while Brant knelt at the side of my bed, his face at eye-level, his hand gripping mine. I winced for good measure, tightening the curl of my body. “I’m so sorry, love. I wish there was something I could do.” I closed my eyes, hoping he would stop. Step away. “I love you so much. If anything happens to you…” There was a break in his voice, a desperation. I peeked out of my lids, saw him patting his pockets, looking around wildly. No. I pulled on his hand, pulled his attention to me.
“I just want to sleep right now,” I mumbled. “The nurses gave me something for the pain…” I closed my eyes and let my hand slacken in his grip. I felt the shift of his hand as he stood. The press of his lips against my head. Then, both touches left and I heard him begin to bark orders to the room.
The return trip was made by private jet, a charter that probably set Brant back thirty grand. No lines for security. No baggage claim. The car pulled into the private airport and we were airborne fifteen minutes later. The flight attendant settled me in on the couch, Brant at the other end, his hands pulled off my shoes and set my feet in his lap, his hands gentle as they rubbed my soles.
I avoided him. Avoided looking his way, hearing his voice. Recoiled at the touch of his hands, terrified of doing anything to encourage him to pull out that ring box and ask the question I had spent six months wanting. I closed my eyes and avoided him and counted down the hours until landing.
…Dissociative personality disorder. Given the time and different stages of his life, he’s had as many as five different personalities… The man I had met downstairs. His hand on her thigh. Smudged lip-gloss. How many women had he f**ked during the last year?
He’s very good at hiding, his personalities are even better. Missed dates. The things I’d blamed on forgetfulness. So many times he’d left during the night…
We risk… losing the Brant that you love… forever.
I wanted to be home. I wanted my house and my solitude and to figure this mess out, and to examine whether there was any chance of pulling my heart back in one piece.
What would you have done? When, three months later, Lee stepped up in that gas station store and flashed his smile? I had loved one side of Brant. Was it really that strange that I fell in love with another side of him?