Trying to sort through Sister Dana's account, with all its inferences and accusations, had been difficult. The facts were that Melanie had relapsed and that it was highly likely Julian was involved. How, was the question. Sister Zoe did not believe Sister Dana's attack-and-run scenario, although she did suspect that a clash of sorts had occurred.

Why had he not come to her? If Julian had been present when Melanie slipped back into stupor, why had he not come forth with the information? Unless he was responsible. Or unless he was afraid that he would be blamed. Which, of course, he had been. And he must have known he would be, having made no attempt to cover up his guilt.

Round and round went the explanations. Only Melanie and Julian knew the truth.

Speak of the devil.

Sister Zoe curtailed her ruminations to watch Julian cross the common. It was early. Perhaps her gamble to wait, give him a chance to come on his own, was about to pay off. She moved from the window to the door in anticipation of his knock. She was rewarded. She let him in, noting immediately how altered he appeared.

His face showed stress. His cheeks looked gaunter. She sensed that his glasses hid a troubled gaze. He seated himself in front of her without uttering a word.

"Would you care for some tea?"

He shook his head.

"Or some coffee? I could have a pot sent over."

"I didn't come for stimulants, Ms. Zoe."

"No, I thought not."

"How is she?"

"As you left her. Would you like to tell me how it happened?"

"I touched a nerve, she threw a fit, I tried to calm her down, she fainted… or got spaced-out or whatever you call it—catatonic."

"What do you think triggered it?"

So she was asking for his opinion, finally. Quickly he shifted from the defense to the attack.

15. Bxg7........

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14. h4!
15.
Bxg7
16.
17.
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0Qxh4
0
0
0

"You're the shrink. You figure it out."

"Are we playing our little chess game again?"

15.............Rg8

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14. h4!
15. Bxg7
16.
17.
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0Qxh4
0
Rg8
0
0

"Very good, Ms. Zoe. You've figured it out. But it is I who hold the key to Melanie's cure."

16. Rfe1+........

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14. h4!
15. Bxg7
16.
Rfe1+
17.
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0Qxh4
0Rg8
0
0

"And thus you challenge my authority. Would you prefer that I step aside? All right. In the spirit of the game, then, state your case."

16.............Kd8

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14. h4!
15. Bxg7
16. Rfe1+
17. 
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0Qxh4
0Rg8
0
Kd8
0

Her move was a surprise. Julian had expected condemnation for his meddling. He had almost hoped for it as a relief from his self-reproach. This open invitation to espouse his private theory was a welcome, yet intimidating, offer—to be accepted with caution.

"I've had another nightmare… That's not accurate. I've had my recurrent nightmare. Same one. Only this time I remember it completely. I know exactly what you're thinking—'not this again; how could Julian's dream life have anything to do with anyone but himself.' And I'd be the first to admit it couldn't. Except, Ms. Zoe, this nightmare is not mine. It's Melanie's.

"Now, before you have me fitted for a straightjacket, let me explain. I've tested it out. Melanie is in the state she's in because a detail I supplied to her jogged her memory. But she couldn't face it. She tried; I could feel her trying. It's just too strong for her to handle. If you'd seen what I have, in the dream, you'd understand. Real animals, these guys were—the ones who put her in that hospital before she was sent here. Yes; I've read her file. I sneaked a peek at it one morning when you weren't here. All's fair in love and chess. I confess to the deed now so you can appreciate the fact that nowhere in that medical report is there any mention of a van with a fisheye window—the detail that sent our patient back to The Land of Nod.

"Of course at the time I was more concerned about proving my theory than about Melanie's welfare, so I blew it. I fed her too much too soon. But next time, when…"

"Excuse me, Julian. Do you really think it's fair that Melanie should have to suffer through your teaching yourself to be a therapist? As you say, you've already made a mistake. Who is at risk if you should make another? Now I'm quite prepared to listen if you'd care to describe your nightmare, but I cannot condone, nor will I permit, your tampering with my patient."

"How possessive of you, Ms. Zoe."

"No; how professionally responsible."

They had reached an impasse.

"May I see her?"

Sister Zoe was pensive; she still had doubts about Julian's motives. The relevance of these nightmares—irrespective of their accuracy—was that they represented a curious sort of link, one patient to the other, both of whom were impressionable and imaginative. Thus their affecting one another indeed was plausible. What remained a mystery to the nun was how. And where, in the end, would it lead? Did she dare risk another setback? In the girl's present state, could Julian's going to see her do further harm?

"Yes, you may."

He got up to go. She stopped him.

"Provided you are willing to give me assurances that there will be no more playing doctor on your part. Agreed?"

He nodded.

"No more games, Julian. They do a great disservice to you both."

For once he did not care about The Game.

She let him leave.

 

Julian had run...

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