Charade of the Heart(2)

By: Cathy Williams

She bit back the temptation to lecture on the sheer insanity of becoming involved with a married man, not to mention becoming pregnant by him. Her sister had enough problems on her plate without that.

From the sound of it, though, Beth could think of a thousand better places to put her loyalty than with a creep who had knowingly involved himself with Laura when his responsibilities lay elsewhere. He didn't know about the pregnancy but she seriously doubted that that would have influenced his actions. He had left her sister high and dry after a three-month fling. A baby on the way was hardly likely to have changed that. Couldn't Laura have suspected the sort of man he was?

"It's the end of the world for me," Laura said, in between sobs. Beth handed her a box of tissues. "Jobs like mine don't grow on trees, you know. I love it there. It pays more than I could ever hope to get in a lifetime of doing secretarial work."

"Then you should have thought about all that before you got yourself into this situation."

"How was I to know that David…' there was another onslaught of weeping and she blew her nose noisily into a tissue '… that David was married? He didn't tell me until he decided to walk out. And by then it was too late. I was already pregnant. And I'm still in love with him," she finished miserably. "Surely not," Beth said, aghast. "I knew you wouldn't understand." There was an edge of accusation in Laura's voice now. "You've never been in love. Not even with Craig. It's easy for you to sit there and sound horrified just because I haven't had the common sense to have acted the way you would have done! You don't know what it's like! You've always been so sensible. When Dad died, you were the one who was strong enough to support Mum, and when she remarried you were the one who told me not to cry because that would only make her unhappy, and, when they both went to Australia to live last year, you were the one who waved them off at the airport and told me that life had to go on!"

Beth felt the prick of tears behind her eyes. Laura had managed to make her sound like a monster, but she was practical, that was all. Was that some sort of crime? As for Craig…she preferred not to dwell on that and pushed it to the back of her mind. Easy enough to do. Laura was right about that, at any rate. She hadn't been in love with him, had felt no fireworks. When he had broken off their relationship she had been upset, but not distraught, had picked up the pieces and carried on. It was the only way, wasn't it?

Now her sister had sprung this latest escapade on her, and had expected… what?

She had spent a lifetime reacting in the only way she had known how to her sister's recklessness. Now that control, that inability to become involved, had become as much part of her as the colour of her hair or the shape of her nose.

"You're being unfair!" she protested uncomfortably.

"No, I'm not. You don't want to understand. In a minute you'll start telling me to pull myself together."

"I just don't know what to do," Beth objected. "I'm not some sort of miracle-worker. I understand, honestly, and I'll help in whatever way I can, you know that. I'll baby-sit, I'll buy things for it, as much as I can afford, I'll even sell my flat and move up to London to be closer to you. What more do you want me to say?"

Silly question. Beth waited for the inevitable response.

"You know how you can help me, if you really want to," Laura insisted stubbornly. There were smudges on her face from where the tears had dried, giving her a fragile, pathetic appearance.

"It wouldn't work," Beth said helplessly, but there was less determination in her voice now, and Laura sensed it, moving in like a shark that had scented blood and was homing in for the kill.

"It could work," she said earnestly, moving forward closer, impatiently sweeping her hair away from her face. "Come with me, I'll show you."

She stood up and held out her hand. Beth reluctantly took it, allowing herself to be led into the bedroom. Like a lamb to the slaughter.

Laura guided her to the tall mirror that stood next to the dressing-table in the bedrpom.. Outside the wind was fierce and relentless, rattling the , window-panes ever so slightly. It was a perfectly dark night, the moon obscured by the dense layers of cloud that had hung over the country for the past few days.

Inside, the bedside lamps threw patterns of light and shadow across the room and the overhead light with its pretty apricot shade picked out the figures of the sisters, illuminating them.

Beth looked silently at their reflections, seeing them through Laura's eyes and reluctantly understanding what had inspired her sister's hare-brained plan.

Two women, both the same height, both the same shape, both with the same oval faces and luminous green eyes. Identical twins.