After an hour of waiting and still getting no answer about Jenna's condition, Felicia looked ready to explode. She'd given up on trying to beg, bribe and threaten any information out of the nurse on duty, and now simply paced up and down the scuffed floor length of the Emergency Room's waiting area, hovering tantalizingly close to the Examining Suite swinging doors, needing all of her self-control to keep from just bursting in and shrieking her frustrations. Felicia's knuckles were white, but her cheeks blazed red. She kept running her hands through her hair, compressing her shoulders, shaking her head from side to side. Anything to make the horrific scenarios scrolling through her vivid writer's imagination slow down, or at least entertain the notion that all was not as bleak as it seemed.
Hoping to distract Felicia, but also genuinely needing to know, Rachel intercepted her friend's umpteenth haunt of the doors and urged Felicia to sit down next to Rachel. Carl kept his distance on the other side of the room, silent, but watching their every move.
Rachel suggested, "As long as we're waiting, tell me what happened to you? How did you end up at the convent?"
"I don't know," Felicia confessed anxiously, deigning to speak to Rachel out of politeness, but still keeping an eye on the doors as well as the nurse's station. "We were just snatched in broad daylight."
"When you went to see the Mother Superior?"
"No... How did you know about that?"
"Cass and Lila figured it out. They went to see her too, and they saw the galley of your latest book on her desk."
Felicia nodded confirmation. "I brought it. As an... inducement, I suppose."
"Were you looking for information on Jenna's biological mother?"
Felicia stared at Rachel in shock. "My God, you have been thorough."
"Not really. Cass and Lila did most of the legwork. They went to Dean and Jenna's place in New York. They're the ones who found Gloria's death certificate."
Felicia explained, "When Jenna had such a hard time getting pregnant - none of the tests they put her through showed anything wrong she started doing her own research and thought maybe it could be a rare genetic condition. Gloria had been sick most of her life, after all. Jenna ordered Gloria's death certificate and health records, and that's when she got the shock. She and Dean called me a few days before Easter. They wanted to see if I knew anything."
"No!" Felicia shook
her head. "No. Absolutely not. As far as I knew,
Gloria was Jenna's biological mother. I saw all of her paperwork
when we were going through the adoption process."
"And nothing struck you as being out of place, then?"
"Except for there being no father listed on her birth certificate, everything looked legitimate."
Rachel nodded, doing her best not to glance over at Carl. Knowing full well that he was hearing every word of their conversation, too. "I have to presume the Mother Superior was less than forthcoming when you came to see her?"
"She was very polite. Very friendly. Completely unhelpful." Felicia recalled, "We left the convent. We went out to lunch. Can you believe it? Our lives were about to be turned upside down, and an hour earlier, we're sitting down to salads and soft drinks. We were at the Bay City Airport, preparing to fly back to New York, when we got referred to a private room for a security check. Next thing I know, the lights are out, we're being chloroformed, and waking up hours, maybe days, later, God knows where!" Felicia closed her eyes, as if trying to block the memory. And when she opened them again, she lamented, "Jenna had suspected she was pregnant by then, but she didn't know for sure, and she didn't want to get her hopes up. Not after all the disappointments in the past. But if they drugged her... The damage to the baby... We tried to tell them. We begged for her to get some kind of medical attention."
"Not exactly Christian behavior," Rachel noted dryly.
For a moment, Felicia didn't understand what Rachel was getting at. But then she waved her hand in the air, erasing the misconception. "Oh, no. That wasn't with the nuns, not at first. When we first woke up we were... Well, I don't even know how to describe where we were. It was like a luxury hotel almost. Expensive furniture, thousand-thread-count linens, fresh flowers, gourmet food. The art on the walls was better than you find at some of the smaller museums. Honestly, it would have been a five-star establishment, if not for the utter lack of windows and the locks on the doors."
Now Rachel couldn't keep from meeting Carl's gaze. She saw what he was thinking, and knew that her own thoughts were identical. Rachel shot Carl a quick, questioning look. He offered an almost imperceptible shrug and shake of the head that insisted he knew nothing.
"How did you end up at the convent, then?" Rachel asked.
"They moved us. I got the feeling it was very sudden, since these storm troopers just burst in on us. It was the first time we'd been allowed to see another living human being, even if they were masked from head to toe. They grabbed us, drugged us again... Oh, God, poor Jenna..." Felicia tried to focus on facts to keep from being carried away by emotion. "I sensed the second time around wasn't as well planned as the first. It just didn't go as smoothly. And once we were at the convent, it was like the nuns didn't really know what to do with us. I kept getting the feeling that there'd been a plan, but that it had to be changed at the last minute. That's how Dean was able to get out and go for help. At the convent, we had a window. It was barred, but the main deterrent was that it was three stories up in the air, with nothing but a smooth, stone wall straight down. They probably didn't think anyone would be insane enough to try to scale it. There wasn't a single foothold, nothing to hold on to. Dean wanted to try and escape the first night we were there. He managed to pry two bars loose, big enough for him to squeeze through. But Jenna begged him not to. She was so scared he would break his neck. She kept saying, Let's just wait. They've got to be keeping us for a reason. Sooner or later they've got to tell us what they want. Dean acquiesced to her wishes. He certainly didn't want to do anything to upset her. But then Jenna started getting these horrible, blinding headaches. She was so dizzy she couldn't stand up, couldn't see. And yesterday, she just keeled over with agonizing stomach pains. She started to convulse... We knew we couldn't wait any longer. That's when Dean went out the window and down the wall. My God, I'm amazed he has any flesh left on his arms and legs. He needs to be checked out too. He could have broken bones, a concussion..."
"Felicia Gallant, don't you ever do that to me again!" Cass' voice echoed cacophonously off the waiting area's sterile walls. He charged into the room and swept Felicia into his arms in one seemingly fluid motion. The pair clung to each other, only separating long enough for Cass to tell Felicia, "You look like Hell."
Felicia beheld her best friend at arm's length, taking in the stubble along Cass' chin, the blood-shot eyes, the rumpled hair and observed, "So do you."
Both burst out laughing and embraced again.
"Where in blazes have you been?" Cass demanded.
While Felicia filled Cass in, Rachel stepped aside and sidled up to Carl. Under her breath, she hissed, "Felicia, Jenna and Dean were initially being held at the Canada compound."
"It does appear that way."
"But then they were moved. Why? You told me the compound was the most secure place in the world for this sort of thing. Why move them from such a fortress into someplace a lot less secure?"
"That is a mystery," Carl concurred. "They either actually wanted them to escape or..."
"Something very strange is going on here."
"Agreed." Carl tapped a single, upraised finger against his lips. "What I would like to know is why that alleged Lucas person would claim that Felicia was not being held on the premises, when it seems rather obvious now that she was?"
"He could have made an honest mistake."
Carl sniffed. "I believe no such animal exists."
Rachel glanced over at Cass and Felicia's joyous reunion and, pitching her voice even lower, asked, "When should we tell her about Lucas?"
"When we are certain that
he isn't a fraud."
Rachel admitted, "I was hoping the decision would be taken out of my hands. I'm being a coward, I know. But Felicia called Lorna a little while ago to fill her in. I was rather hoping Lorna would do it."
"Am I to presume that she did not?"
"Felicia just said Lorna was on her way to Bay City. Maybe she plans to tell her in person. Maybe she's bringing Lucas with her. I keep thinking, should we prepare her? It's going to be such a shock, and coming on top of everything else.... Then again, she's so upset about Jenna. I can't inflict anything else so potentially distressing on Felicia right now."
"If he is who he claims he is, he has been presumed deceased for seventeen years. Another few days should hardly make a difference one way or the other. If Lorna declines the honor, you and I can certainly wait to break the news until Jenna has made a full recovery."
Rachel hesitated. "What if she doesn't? Don't you think Lucas would want to be here if his daughter is... " She didn't dare finish voicing her thought. But then again, she didn't have to.
"There you are, Mom!" Amanda was the next visitor to step through the doors, followed by a man who Rachel felt certain was a total stranger. In spite of the fact that, in the first instant, she'd also felt certain she recognized him. Amanda explained, "Jamie called and said he thought you might need some moral support, but they gave us the wrong directions at the entrance. We've been all up and down the hospital, looking for you. Oh, sorry, Mom, Carl, this is my... friend, Kevin Fowler. Kevin, my mom, Rachel, and her husband, Carl."
Kevin nodded politely and shook hands with them both. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Fowler?" Rachel asked, "Any relation to "
"Not that I know of," he dismissed lightly. Then he demurred, "This is a private family matter. I'm just the designated driver. Amanda, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchins, I wish you all the very best, but I think I'll get going now. Hopefully we'll get a chance to become better acquainted under more pleasant circumstances." He asked Amanda, "I'll call you?"
She nodded, suddenly self-conscious. Kevin winked, offered a second, respectful nod to Rachel and Carl, and took off.
"Charming," Rachel observed.
"You don't know the half of it," Amanda sighed.
"Can I presume this is the same gentleman who inspired the bloom in your cheeks, not to mention the half dozen changes of outfit, a few nights back?"
"Funny, you don't sound over the moon."
"He... I... It's confusing."
"It's supposed to be," Rachel reminded.
Determined to change the subject, Amanda asked, "How's Felicia?"
"Worried to death about Jenna. Turns out she was pregnant and having some serious complications, from the sound of it. Jamie's examining her. Dean's there, too. He almost broke his neck summoning help for them. And that was before Carl and I nearly ran him over with our car."
"What in the world has been going on?" Amanda wondered.
"I'll tell you what's been going on," Cass overheard her question and stepped forward, one finger jabbing menacingly in Carl's face. "Your dear stepfather here, is back to his old tricks."
"Dad!" The call managed to be both a shout and a whisper at the same time. "Dad!"
Matt sleepily pried one eye open. Though, logically, why should he bother? There was only one person who could be addressing him in such a manner.
"What's up, Jazz?" he mumbled, all but pulling the blanket over his head. Donna-Love-induced-righteous-indignation and after-hours beer made Matt Cory a sleepy and cranky boy. "It's the middle of the night."
"No, she not. You must have dreamt it."
"She's outside." Jasmine, all decked out in her favorite Elvis pajamas, bounced up and down on Matt's bed to make her point. "She called me on my cell. She needs to come in, but she didn't want to wake up the whole house. You've got to go let her in. I don't know the security code."
"Your mom is outside?" This deserved two open eyes and even a slightly raised head. "What's she doing here?"
"I dunno." Jasmine shrugged.
Taking his daughter by the hand, Matt stumbled down the steps to the front door. He peeked through the key-hole. Sure enough, there was Lila, dressed like she was headed for a Junior League luncheon and balancing a hip-high valise against her leg. Matt disarmed the security system and opened the door.
"Hi," he said uncertainly.
"Thank you, sugar-plum," Lila told Jasmine as she entered, acting as if unexpected arrivals at three AM at her ex-husband's house were par for the course. "You've been a big help to Mama. Now run along back up to bed."
"What are you doing here, Mom?" Jasmine asked.
Lila considered just how far to go with her answer, then settled for a basic, "You and I, we're not going to be living in Cass' house anymore."
Jasmine nodded understandingly. "Charlie's mom."
Matt rubbed his eyes. "Say what?"
Lila explained, "Frankie is back in town."
"Frankie is dead," he reminded.
"So's Grant," Lila chirped.
"Ah..." Matt told his daughter. "Run along back up to bed."
"Oh, it's alright," Lila sighed. "Jasmine was the one who broke this case wide-open. She might as well know it all." Lila told her daughter, "Cass still loves Charlie's mama. And your mama was not going to stick around, being second best. You hear me, sugar-plum, don't you ever let any man make you feel like you aren't the very tip-top center of his world. You deserve to be treated like a Queen. Don't you settle for anything less."
"Mom?" Jasmine observed, "I'm only going to be eleven in October. Dad says I can't date until I'm forty-two."
"Your Daddy is a very smart man."
"Besides," Matt reminded. "She's already got somebody who treats her like a Queen." He swung one arm around his daughter's shoulder and beamed down at her.
Lila agreed, telling Jasmine, "You are a very lucky little girl. I've told you everything and now it's time for bed. We'll talk more in the morning. Now come give your mama a hug and go on, skedaddle."
Jasmine did as she was told, squeezing Lila extra hard to reassure her that everything was going to be alright. Lila squeezed back, playing along like she agreed.
Matt waited until he'd heard Jasmine's bedroom door close upstairs, before asking Lila, "Have you really told her everything?"
"Everything a ten year old girl needs to know."
"So there is more," Matt prodded sympathetically.
"Only that my heart is breaking into a million pieces right now, but I'll be damned if I give Cass and his Mary Frances the satisfaction of knowing it."
"Cass really loved you."
"I know. This has nothing to do with that. In a way, it even has nothing to do with him, really. This is about me. I spent the first half of my life chasing after men who didn't want me. Sound familiar?"
"I wanted you," Matt defended.
"Just not very much," she finished for him.
Matt shrugged sheepishly.
"I am plumb tired, Matthew, of needing someone else to make me like myself. I am not that pretty little Southern belle I once was. I am looking at the wrong side of forty, and I haven't a cotton-picking clue who I am or what I'm about when there's no man involved. Wouldn't you say it's about time I found out? Wouldn't you say it's about time I learned to stand on my own two feet?"
"Sure." Matt nodded fervently. "If that's what you want."
"Excellent. I thank you for your support. In that vein, may I bunk down here for a bit? Just until I figure out what it is that I want to do with my life? After all, standing on your own two feet without a man to help you is so much more comfortable when you're doing it in opulent surroundings, don't you think?"
Cass' outstretched finger drew a bead on Carl, as if the two were facing off in a duel. Rachel, Amanda and Felicia clustered about the men, neither sure what Cass was accusing him of.
Carl, however, understood full well. He reminded Cass, "You don't have an iota of evidence suggesting that I had anything to do with Felicia's recent misadventures."
"How about your name on Jenna's admission records? Gloria Norris made sure to specify that you would not be allowed anywhere near her daughter."
"What in the world?" Felicia clutched Cass' elbow, bidding him to turn around. "Why would Carl's name be anywhere on Jenna's school records?"
"Excellent question," Cass said. "Why don't you ask him yourself?"
Carl directed his response to Felicia, realizing that Cass was beyond appeasement. "Your lap-dog here trumped up a document alleging that Miss Norris wished to protect Jenna from my influence. A remarkable proposition, seeing as how I hadn't had a moment's contact with the woman since she left Donna's employee over three decades ago."
Cass asked Felicia, "Did you know that Gloria used to work for Carl?"
"She worked for Donna, not myself."
Felicia nodded. "I did. Gloria told me herself. When I came to Bay City to collaborate with Gloria as my editor, I mentioned Carl. Gloria's reaction was... extreme, to say the least. To be honest, that was the first of many clues to come that perhaps my being involved with Carl wasn't... wise."
Cass noted, "You moved to Bay City in 1983. Carl followed a few months later. 1983 was the year that Gloria enrolled Jenna at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Hell of a coincidence, wouldn't you say so, Carl?"
"1983 was also the year of multiple bombings in Beirut, the Soviets shooting down a Korean civilian aircraft, Hurricane Alicia, the Maze prison escape, the debut of Microsoft Word and the debacle known as AfterMASH. Am I to be held, in your book, responsible for all those disasters as well?"
"Stop being so Goddamn erudite and just tell us what your connection is to Jenna! Are you the one responsible for her life hanging in the balance?"
"Enough!" Carl roared. "I have had enough of you and your blasted finger-pointing, both metaphoric and literal. This stops now. No more speculation, accusation or condemnation. I am putting an end to this, once and for all."
With that, Carl turned on his heel and stomped out of the Emergency Room, leaving Cass, Rachel, Felicia and Amanda all chilled to the bone despite the summer heat, as each mentally fashioned their own account of what Carl Hutchins might do in the event that someone made him really, truly, very angry.
"It's been a long time, Victoria."
Grant gazed up and down the marble headstone that Donna had made sure would be one of the largest at Greenlawn Cemetery. "You're looking well," he carefully placed a bouquet of red roses beneath the chiseled letters spelling out her name. "Death suits you."
God, Grant could you be any more macabre?
He laughed as her voice played inside his head. "You, better than anyone, should be able to appreciate the humor in my situation. And, believe me, I need to find the humor. I wasted years of my life - time I could've spent with Kirkland - looking for you."
Cry me a river. No one asked you to try playing the hero. You being stupid enough to go on a wild goose chase is not my fault. I'm dead! Remember?
"Yes, Victoria. I know," he sighed emptily. "I know that now."
When news had reached him in the tropics that Vicky had died in a plane crash, Grant had been surprised to feel more sorrow than happiness at her passing. He found himself reflecting on their life together, the good times before it all went to Hell, and what could have been had things worked out differently between them.
She'd be alive. She'd still be a mother to Kirkland and perhaps more children, maybe a little girl, maybe two, as their love deepened, growing as they became bigger than Bay City, bigger than Illinois and moved on to their nation's capitol where who knows how far they could've gone?
But that had never come to pass. She'd gone back to Ryan and then moved on to Jake, creating a life with him. A family.
Apparently, the initial news of Vicky's death had been premature. It turned out that she'd survived the crash long enough to deliver a pair of twin girls, only to die... again... shortly after their birth.
Grant knew the maxim: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Having already been mislead once into nearly revealing himself as Kirkland's only living parent, Grant was determined not to be fooled again. So he began digging into the details surrounding Vicky's latest demise. From afar, of course, so as to not attract the attention of Jake, Marley, or any of those other tedious residents of Bay City whom he'd fooled so successfully regarding his own death.
And Grant's skepticism had paid off when he'd found proof that all was not as it seemed.
Details of the plane crash not adding up. Large sums of money appearing in the bank holdings of locals near Oakdale from an offshore account linked to someone in Bay City. Inconclusive DNA results from the tissue samples of the body buried in Vicky's grave.
It stank of a cover-up, of something amiss, and Grant became determined to unravel it before he exposed himself, before he went back to Bay City to finally be reunited with his son.
So he had set off, following the clues around the world, tracking the location of the bank account from country to country, being told that the account belonged to a woman who fit the description of Vicky and becoming emboldened, heartened that he was on to something, that he hadn't been foolish not to believe her dead, after all.
He gave no thought as to why she would leave her daughters and Jake behind, would not try to reach out to Marley or Donna or to see her sons. Perhaps the trauma caused her to have a breakdown and forget her old life? Perhaps she decided she'd had enough of Jake? Who knew Vicky's reasoning half the time? That was part of her mystique.
All Grant knew was that he had to find her, discover what she was up to, see if perhaps he could save her, be the good guy for once and bring Vicky home to her grateful family. Bring her home to their son, Kirkland.
And then I'd turn to you, my White Knight, and realize how wrong I was. That I loved you, I'd always loved you, and you, me, and Kirkland would live happily ever after, right?
"Something like that," he muttered aloud, glaring down at his well-shined shoes. The ones that had so entertained Kirkland back at the swimming pool.
The pitiful fantasy of a pitiful man, Grant. Which is why you never saw it coming that you were being played.
"Like a rat being led by crumbs, yes I know, Victoria. But I had to be sure. I had to know for certain that you were dead before I could come back to Kirkland. I couldn't let the boy believe you gone when you weren't. I know what that kind of loss, losing his mother, can do to a boy."
I'm sorry, how many times did you try to kill me? You were aware that killing me would also take Kirkland's mother away from him, right?
"As many times as you tried to kill me," Grant sighed. "Perhaps not with guns or knives or poison, but by taking away my heart, my soul. By trying to keep Kirkland away from me. I call that trying to kill a man. I call that trying to destroy him completely."
His answer was only the soft wind, her voice lost to him at the moment.
"But that's neither here
nor there, now. I'm here. And you, my dear Victoria, are
not. I'm truly sorry about that. I turned almost every continent
on Earth upside down, looking for you on my fool's errand. But
finally, I had to lay you to rest and turn to the more important matter
at hand. Our son needs me. He needs his real father. I will
be that to him. I won't let anything stand in my way."
I know. That's what scares me more than anything.
Grant decided their conversation was over. That was the good part about chatting with dead people. You always got to be the one to walk away.
It was almost dawn by the time Jamie finally poked his head through the Emergency Room doors to tell Felicia she could come in to see Jenna now, and that they would explain the situation to her. In Rachel's experience, a situation that needed to be explained was, very rarely, a good thing. Especially in a hospital setting.
Felicia must have concurred, because in spite of how much she'd been chomping at the bit for the last few hours to be given access to her daughter, Jamie's words temporarily rooted her in place. She wanted to know and yet, at the same time, just a few more moments of blissful ignorance seemed like the less heartbreaking option.
To her credit, Felicia immediately pulled herself together, squaring her shoulders and steadying her chin in preparation for the battle ahead.
She told Cass and Rachel, "Thank you for both for coming. I can't tell you how much it meant to me. But it's very late. Who knows how long I'll be? You must be exhausted. Go home. Cass, Lila must be wondering if you've been abducted as well."
"Not exactly," Cass hedged. He looked at his watch. "But I do have a... situation... waiting for me back home. Are you sure you'll be okay? Because I can stay if you need me."
"I'll be fine," Felicia reassured. "Compared to where I've been, this is Heaven. I'll call you when I know more about Jenna. And, tell you what, when everything is okay again - because it will be okay again, I know this, I can feel it we'll have lunch and you can catch me up on everything that's happened in your life since I've been gone."
"That lunch better have an infinite number of courses," Cass sighed.
"Hmm. Sounds interesting..."
Cass could only shake his head ruefully, kiss Felicia on the cheek, and take his leave.
"You should go too," Felicia urged Rachel. "Carl..."
"I'll handle Carl," Rachel promised. "You don't need to worry about him."
"Well, then, can I worry about you?"
"No," Rachel insisted. "Your priority right now should be Jenna. The rest of us can fend for ourselves. Go see your daughter. Everything else can wait."
Felicia nodded. Jamie was still holding the door open for her. She took a deep breath, squeezed Rachel's hand once for support, and stepped inside.
The house was still when Cass returned home and silently let himself in. Charlie's pink Crocs stood by the door, suggesting that she was back and presumably in bed where she belonged.
Frankie lay curled up and asleep on the couch.
Just thinking the words made Cass' heart skip a beat.
Frankie. Asleep. Couch.
He lowered himself gingerly into an easy chair across from her and, for a few minutes, just sat there, chin propped up on his hand, doing nothing beyond watching.
Eventually, she sensed his presence and blinked awake. Though startled, once she realized it was Cass, Frankie simply snuggled deeper into the couch and wondered, "How long do you plan to keep staring at me, Winthrop?"
"Until I can believe that you're real, Mary Frances."
She smiled sleepily. "Mind if I join you?"
"Be my guest."
So, for a long beat, they did exactly that, each studying the other, each lost in a cornucopia of memories, thoughts, feelings and uncertainty.
Cass closed his eyes. He counted to ten. He opened them again.
"You're still here," he observed.
"Let me try." Frankie did the same. "Yup, you, too."
"I'd offer we try to pinch each other to make sure we're not dreaming, but that seems a little too.... "
"Right," Frankie sat up, suddenly businesslike and proper, whatever spell the nighttime silence had woven over them both now broken. She explained awkwardly, "No one was home when I brought Charlie back and I didn't want to leave her alone... I hope you don't mind my staying."
"I'm glad you did." Cass kept his tone calm, hoping to make her do the same, to put her back at ease after whatever he'd done to ruin the mood. "How was your outing with Charlie?"
"Amazing. Phenomenal. Everything I've always dreamed of. We had dinner in public, and we walked through the park. The perfect evening. She's a miraculous girl, Cass. So bright, so full of life. She's kind and she thinks about things. She has these terrific insights and she's sensitive to other people.... You've done an amazing job with her. You and Lila really should be proud."
Cass said, "She's a lot like you."
"It's the hair," Frankie tried to dismiss.
"It's a little more than that."
"I don't think I could have done a better job raising her," Frankie confessed, her eyes filling with tears. "Although, damn it, a chance to try would have been nice."
Cass reassured, "I made sure she never forgot you."
"I know. She told me. She told me about the tofu hot dogs and the crystals and the trips to the farm. She's a Frame. You made her one." Frankie sniffled and wiped a sleeve across her cheeks, hoping to destroy all evidence of her nearly having broken down. She asked, "Where's Lila? Is something wrong? With Jasmine?"
"Jasmine is fine. She's with Matt. Lila... Lila left me tonight."
Frankie didn't know how to react. "I suppose I could ask if it's because of me, but.... "
"That does seem rather obvious."
"I had no intention of driving Lila out of her own home! I swear to you. This isn't right. Cass! Go after her!"
"No," Cass said simply.
"Don't be stupid. You can't just let your wife walk out the door without fighting for her!"
"No," Cass agreed, looking Frankie directly in the eye so that his intent would prove unmistakable. "You're right. I can't."
"Felicia is right," Amanda told her mother. "You should go home, you look exhausted. I'll stay, and I'll call you if she needs anything."
"I was just thinking about when you were in the hospital," Rachel stroked Amanda's hair. "After your car accident with Evan, when you were paralyzed and we didn't know whether you'd even pull through."
"Well, I did. And so will Jenna."
"And then I think about when you were first born, so tiny in that incubator, full of needles and tubes..."
"Jenna's baby will be alright, too."
"Happy endings for one and all?"
"Something like that."
Despite everything, Rachel's eyes twinkled when she asked Amanda, "May I presume that we have Mr. Fowler to thank for your new, optimistic outlook on life?"
"I don't know," Amanda confessed.
"Well, I wish you all the best in finding out. Although, fair warning, my darling, when it comes to complicated men, the qualities that make them so alluring and intoxicating and exciting, they're the same ones that can make being with them... complicated."
"Was Daddy complicated?" Amanda asked.
"In a most wonderful way."
Rachel looked to the side, unable to answer.
"What was that all about, Mom? Cass accusing Carl of being involved in Jenna and Felicia's kidnapping? Why would Carl... "
"It's complicated," Rachel chuckled mirthlessly at her instinctive, ironic choice of words. "I'm afraid everything about Carl is complicated these days."
"Where did he go off to?"
"I have no idea."
"Shouldn't you go after him?"
"I wouldn't have the slightest notion where to start."
"Start at home," Amanda urged. "Go back to the house, get some sleep, you'll be able to think more clearly. Maybe Carl's already there. You can talk everything out."
"When exactly did you become my husband's biggest cheerleader?"
"I'm not. I'm your cheerleader. I want you to be happy. And God only knows why, Carl seems to make you happy."
"There's my girl! Total support... with a qualification or two." Rachel gave her daughter a quick hug, then admitted, "Cass' accusations, they did make me wonder if I've been living in a fool's paradise all these years."
"Either way, you need to find out the truth. And you can't do that here."
"No," Rachel conceded. "Though it was nice, for a little while, to get lost in someone else's problems."
"Which will all still be here even after you've settled things with Carl, believe me. In fact," Amanda added with false cheer, "Maybe we'll even have some new ones to distract you with!"
"Oh, lovely," Rachel cracked, and couldn't help hearing the echo of her mother's voice in the sardonic sentiment.
She still missed Ada desperately. Her mother, Rachel suspected, would yank a dish towel off her shoulder, smack Rachel with it and tell her to get cracking and fix things, they all had more important chores to do than sit around, listening to her whine.
"Stop it, Cass," Frankie warned him and edged back along the couch, trying to put as much distance between the two of them as possible. "Just stop it. I am not your wife. Lila is."
"Not according to her." As Frankie retreated, Cass advanced. "She claimed I never stopped loving you. She was right."
"I don't care. I am not breaking up a marriage."
"You don't have to. Did you hear what I said? Lila left me, not the other way around. I tried to convince her to stay. But she said she deserved better than to play second fiddle. She was right about that, too."
Frankie's back hit the far end of the couch. There was nowhere else for her to go, short of making an escape out the door, and she wasn't quite ready for that yet, either. Not wishing to spook her, but needing to make his point just as badly, Cass crept up as near as he dared, sitting with their knees touching, their faces mere inches apart. He spoke softly but purposefully, realizing that no closing argument he'd previously attempted had ever carried greater consequences.
He told Frankie, "You asked where I was tonight. I was in the hospital with Felicia."
"Oh my God," Frankie exclaimed. "You found her? Charlie told me they were missing. Is she alright? Where was she? What about Dean and Jenna?"
"They were being held hostage. We're not sure why yet. Dean has some scrapes and bruises, I hear, I didn't get to see him. Felicia is more or less alright, but she's worried to death about Jenna. Jenna is pregnant. She's been in horrible pain, having seizures. Felicia was just going in to see her when I left the hospital."
"I'll send good vibes their way. I'd go see Dean myself but... He doesn't need the shock. Not now."
"You do that. And while you're doing it, send a few good vibes towards us, too."
"No. No, don't Cass me. Listen. I've just spent the past several hours watching my best friend go through Hell because she's afraid of losing her daughter. The hospital is full of people in the process of losing someone. I've been one of those people. Several times. I don't want to do it again."
"You won't lose me, Cass," Frankie reassured. "We'll always be a part of each other's lives now. We have Charlie, and we have "
"Not good enough," Cass said simply. "Anything less than one hundred percent of you, Mary Frances, that's simply not good enough. Look, we can do this the time-honored way. We can do this like what happened when Kathleen returned. We can go back and forth, we can vacillate and waver and dither and break each other's hearts with each twist and turn. I can fluctuate endlessly over who my loyalties should lie with, who my loyalties do lie with, what do I owe to whom and how much? But you know what? In the end, that won't win anybody anything. It will only lose us precious moments that we could have had together. Life is too short. I saw that today. Wasting a minute of it on playing games or needless drama or perfunctory politeness... It's not worth it. Frankie, please, listen to me. We can spend hours, days, weeks, going over who should have done what when and who should have told whom about what. But I vote we waive our rights to excavate the past, and just focus on the future. August 20, 1996, they told me you were dead. Everything that happened after that and before today, I vote we forget about it. A bump in the road, that's it. Let's just pick up where we left off. Let's choose to be happy. Let's choose never to waste an instant."
She hadn't budged the whole time that Cass was talking. He figured that was a good sign. But then, as soon as Cass stopped, Frankie looked away, breaking their gaze. That, he figured, was less good.
She shook her head. "So much has happened..."
"No, it hasn't. If you and I weren't together, that means nothing happened at all."
"You're being silly."
"Try it sometimes. You'd be amazed by the results."
"Stop it, Cass. You're pushing too hard."
"If you'd like me to stop, just say yes."
"No." Frankie insisted.
"Yes." He inched even closer. They were face to face, all but breathing the same air.
"Yes." He kissed her. He expected her to resist. She didn't. Instead, she melted into him, every single part of them fitting together as perfectly as they ever had.
Her hands on his shoulders, her chest against his, her lips kissing him just as fervently in return, those all certainly appeared to be saying, "Yes." And yet, when Frankie finally and it sure seemed that way to Cass, regretfully, pulled away from him, she very firmly reiterated, "No."
"Why the hell not?" Cass exploded.
"Don't you dare hide behind her. I already told you, she left me of her own free will, you don't need to feel any guilt "
"She still left because of me."
"It was her choice to make."
"Well then how about extending me the same courtesy? You let Lila make her own choices, let me make mine."
"Fine," Cass said. "Go ahead. We've already lost thirteen years together. What's another decade or so for you to think about whether or not you want to get back the best thing that ever happened to either of us?"
"Stop being so infuriating."
"Just trying to remind you of what you're missing. I can also be smug, chauvinistic, pig-headed, sarcastic, pompous "
"Passionate, stalwart, romantic, tender..."
"Please," this time, instead of an order, Frankie's words came out as an entreaty. "Stop..."
"Not on your life," Cass promised. "Not on all nine of them."
"Wow!" An exclamation from the top of the stairs made both Cass and Frankie turn around. They'd gotten so caught up in their dispute, neither noticed the sun coming up, or Charlie getting out of bed to stand there in her oversized T-shirt, listening to them. "Mom's back maybe twenty-four hours, and you're already fighting. Guess those stories I heard about your dating days weren't exaggerated."
"Did we wake you up?" Cass asked. "I'm sorry."
"Nah, it was kinda nice. I never got to lay there before, hearing the two of you together. Well, not that I remember, anyway." She asked her father, "Where's Lila?"
Cass cleared his throat. "She... she's not here."
"I can see that. Where is she?"
"I don't know," Cass admitted.
"When is she coming back?"
"I don't think she is."
"Are you kidding me?" Charlie demanded. "What's the matter with you? How lame is that? Look, I know I never signed up to the We Love Lila Fan Page, but you don't just kick a woman to the curb - "
"I did not kick Lila to the curb," Cass insisted. "She "
"You and your father need to talk," Frankie leapt on the opportunity to make a graceful exit. "And I need to get going."
"Wait," Cass called.
"No," Frankie told him, this time much more firmly and unequivocally. "No, Cass. No."
Carl wasn't at the house when Rachel returned. She hadn't expected him to be. But there was a message on the answering machine in their bedroom.
It was Captain Toni Burrell of the Bay City Police Department asking if Mrs. Hutchins would please come down to the station right away.
Her husband had been arrested for assault.
Marley just couldn't help herself.
She cranked up the radio and let the music flow through her, dancing her way about her mother's house, flying without a care in the world.
Not just because of how great the night before had been. Not just because of the kiss that she'd planted on Jamie or the electrifying jolt she'd felt between them.
No, Marley was shimmying her way into the living room - still in her underwear, mind you - because when she'd laid head to pillow last night it was with a sense of giddy optimism and when she awoke this morning, it was still there. Happiness. Hope. No anxiety or trepidation about whether she'd made a mistake in kissing him
She'd leave the anxiety and trepidation to Jamie. She'd let him hem and haw about wanting to play it safe, wanting to play Mom and Dad, but not husband and wife.
Marley, however, was sick of wondering and second-guessing.
Their kiss last night told her all she needed to know. There was still something there, something between them, and it awakened in her a need to love and be loved by Jamie that was so strong and so right, she couldn't hold it back any longer.
Today, Marley wasn't taking no for an answer.
She looked at herself in the mirror, now dressed in a sleek little black dress.
"I'm ready, Jamie," she sighed. "Are you?"
Her answer was the doorbell ringing downstairs, causing her to do a double-take and wonder if she had perfected mind over matter and conjured Jamie up with her thoughts.
"Gary," Marley said in surprise as she welcomed Gary Sinclair, Bay City's best private detective, into the foyer. "What are you doing here? News on Grant already?"
Gary gave her a tight smile as he walked past. Marley following him into the living room with a frown.
"Actually, I'm here because of something that came up in a background check I ran on Jamie."
"Jamie? Why would you run a check on him? It's Grant I'm after."
"I know, but while I was running checks on Grant, we noticed that he had people running checks on Jamie. I thought you'd be interested in knowing what Grant knew."
"Oh. Yes, right. Thank you, Gary. That was great thinking."
Gary's expression suggested that Marley might want to hold her thanks for the time being. "Grant made some inquiries about Jamie's time in San Francisco. What do you know about it?"
"Did Grant find something?" Marley ignored Gary's question. It beat admitting that she knew very little about that period of time in the life of a man she'd recently decided to spend the rest of her own life with. Whether he agreed or not. "Something Grant thinks he can use against Jamie?"
"Actually, Grant's people didn't find anything. They're a little sloppy, if you ask me. Especially considering what Grant's paying them."
"But you did," Marley pressed, realizing now that Gary was holding an envelope.
Gary held it out to her. "I thought you should know."
Marley took the file, quickly ripping it open. She skimmed the contents, keeping her face neutral.
"This doesn't make sense," Marley shook her head. "It must be a mistake."
"It's legit," Gary said with such finality that Marley couldn't argue with him.
She looked back down at the page, her eyes filling with tears. Anger, frustration and betrayal all mixed together, causing the lump in her throat to expand.
Why hadn't he told her about this?
"You said Grant doesn't know?" Marley double-checked with Gary.
"Good. Keep it that way. Make sure Grant's people can't get this information the same way you did."
Gary nodded, realizing he was being dismissed, and headed towards the front door. "I'll make it happen. And, Marley?"
"Don't be. It's better I know this now." Her mind was already on the future. Not on the problems this could cause for Jamie if it got out, but on how they would fix it. Together.
Whether Jamie liked it or not.
Frankie was barely a few steps past Cass' front door when she heard the cell-phone going off insistently inside her purse. She didn't need to check Caller ID. She knew who it had to be.
"What?" Frankie demanded, keeping her voice low, but her tone unmistakably irritated.
"I've been watching you. I know you spent the night with him."
"Oh, please," Frankie snorted. "If you were really watching me, you'd know that Cass got to the house hours after I did. Nothing happened. And it never will. I'm keeping my part of the bargain. Now you'd damn better make sure you keep yours."
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