Rachel said, "I don't see how making Donna's life miserable will ultimately do anybody any earthly good."
"It will keep me entertained," Carl defined. "Whilst I labor upon the more significant goal of figuring out precisely who it was that framed me for Felicia, Jenna and Dean's kidnapping. And what their motive was."
"I wonder what your motive is."
"Curiosity. Challenge. Habit. And yes, I must admit, revenge." In response to her disapproving expression, Carl reminded, "I warned you, Rachel. I warned you when this all began, do not expect me to roll over and play dead. Somebody, somewhere, for some reason, went out of their way to make me seem like a heinous, heartless villain. Well, to make me seem like more of one than usual."
"I'm glad you're finding this so entertaining."
"I'm sorry you're not. For goodness' sake, Rachel," Carl urged. "Have you no sense of... fun?"
"I didn't realize that plotting to ruin another person's life qualified as fun."
Carl laughed. He couldn't help it. Just like he couldn't help teasing, "Oh, my dear, I believe you do. Or at least you did, once."
"That was a long time ago." Rachel crossed both arms across her chest, simultaneously recognizing and hating the truth of what Carl was saying.
"Come now, it's only the pair of us here, you can admit it: Back in the day when you were dueling with the fair and virtuous Alice Matthews for the heart of one Steve Frame, naturally you ascribed the bulk of your wicked, wicked schemes to your desire for possessing the man of your dreams. But, tell the truth, was there not a part of you that simply exhilarated in the sheer, unadulterated malice of it all? The chance to let your id roam free? That rare opportunity, granted only to those who dare, to shirk conventional society's view of what's wrong and what's right, and simply revel in one's unadulterated liberty?"
"Yes," Rachel almost bit the word in half. "But then I got over it."
"If you think that you can charm me into giving you free rein to wreak havoc on whomever and however you please, you're sorely mistaken."
"Very well, then," the playfulness faded from Carl's eyes, to be replaced by steely determination. "How about a bit of cold, hard practicality? The person attempting to frame me must not be allowed to get away with it for one, simple reason. If he believes that I am incapable or prohibited from striking back, what is there to stop him from going further? What is there to stop him from destroying me completely? Obliterating my entire family. You, the children..."
"You're speculating, Carl. You don't know that's what they're after."
"You don't know that it isn't. Let's play a little game, shall we? Shall we ponder the benefits that might have been reaped by all of humanity if Attila the Hun or Torquemada or Robespierre or Idi Amin had been checked before their evil decimated thousands?"
"You forgot Adolph Hitler," Rachel noted dryly. "Isn't he traditionally Example 101 in these sorts of hysterically melodramatic conjectures?"
"I abhor being predictable," Carl said. "Almost as much as I hate being manipulated. By anyone."
"Point taken," Rachel said, and stepped away from her husband. "Will you excuse me, I just remembered an errand I need to run. Who knows what horrors await us all if I'm forced to put it off for fifteen minutes?"
Carl's lips stretched into a thin smile. "Ah, Rachel, how I do love you."
Both noticed, but pretended not to, that she declined to return the sentiment.
Lucas said, "Once I'd put all the pieces together and realized that not only was Carl Jenna's father, but that Donna was her mother, I had to confront her about it. She denied like crazy at first but, well, I can be pretty persuasive when I put my mind to it. And when my daughter is at stake."
"Donna finally admitted it," Lorna picked up the tale. "She explained to Lucas about how she did it to protect Jenna from Carl."
"A sentiment I most certainly agreed with." Lucas said, "I left Donna's thinking we'd reached an understanding. I'd tell Felicia and we'd both decide on the best way to break the news to Jenna. After everything we went through with Lorna, I was pretty sure Fanny wouldn't want to keep a secret of that magnitude from Jenna. I swore to Donna that I'd protect Jenna and her from Carl. I thought she believed me. But I never got the chance to tell Felicia anything. Sally got to me first. And then Donna took care of the rest."
"How do you know?" Cass, who'd been listening like a lawyer no, not just a lawyer, Felicia's lawyer pointed out, "You claim you were kept completely isolated up there in the wilds of Canada. How do you know it was Donna and not Carl or someone else entirely who had you stashed away?"
"Because," Lucas sighed. "After I made my... deal... with my captors about letting me out, they told me that the person who'd initially ordered my detainment needed to sign off on it. Donna came to see me. She wanted to make sure that I wouldn't go back to Felicia, more importantly, that I wouldn't go to Jenna. She convinced me that it was too dangerous, that Carl would destroy us all if he found out."
"Carl," Cass said ruefully, not fully believing it himself, in spite of everything. "Has reformed."
"Sure he has," Lucas and Lorna said in near unison, the father-daughter resemblance between them never stronger.
"Rachel can buy what he's selling if she wants," Lucas said. "I never will."
"Carl is incapable of changing," Lorna agreed. "Jenna has to be protected."
"Had to be," Lucas said grimly, the three of them reminded with the impact of a cannonball to the chest just what had brought them all to this hospital parking lot, to the four door rental car that was so out of character for Lorna that it could only be the outward manifestation of her overwhelming grief. "It doesn't matter now. Isn't that a kick in the crotch? After everything... she's gone. My beautiful, beautiful girl..."
"I've got to get to Felicia," Cass said.
"Get in line, pal."
"Oh, no." This time, it was Cass and Lorna who spoke in tandem. "No way," Cass said. "You are not springing this on her now, you selfish son of a bitch."
"Hey, yourself! You aren't here for Felicia. You're here for Lucas. You feel guilty about everything you've put her through, and you need a little absolution. Hightail it on over to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, buddy. Felicia can't take on your egotistical remorse now, not on top of everything else she's going through."
"He's right," Lorna said. "It's what I was trying to tell you before. Granted," she shot Cass a chastising glance. "In a slightly nicer way."
"You two are not going to keep me from Fanny."
Cass warned, "You take one step into that hospital, and I'm calling the police. Faking your death is a crime. Not to mention some of those... jobs... you've spent the past few years doing. I'll have you arrested."
"Oh, that'll be a big help to Fanny's peace of mind."
"Your choice, Lucas," Cass said. "I'm not kidding around."
"Neither am I."
"Stop it," Lorna said. "Both of you cut it out. Look, we can compromise, okay? Cass, you go to Mom right now. She really needs you."
"She needs me more," Lucas insisted. "Jenna was our daughter, not his."
"And she'll have you. She'll have you for the rest of her life, if that's what Felicia wants."
"You know it is," Lucas said.
"Let her get over the shock of Jenna's death first. Let Lori Ann stabilize. You can grieve for your daughter together. You can enjoy your granddaughter together. But later. Not now. Please, Dad."
Lucas looked from Lorna to Cass. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. He swallowed hard, wincing as if the action pained him. And then he told Cass, "You take care of my girl."
"You take care of her for me."
"No," Cass said, "For her."
Grant steeled himself as he lightly pressed the button to announce his arrival at the Cory-Hutchins home. He had no idea what to expect once the door opened. A united front of Frames/Corys/Hutchins lined up to take pot shots and goad him into a scene in front of Kirkland? Or, better yet, Kirkland conveniently not home, off on an unplanned trip for some unknown amount of time? Maybe a trademark Carl ambush resulting in Grant waking up three days from now on some remote island again only this time with no memory of how he got there?
He tried to be ready for anything. Even having to justify to Kirkland that the reason he decided to use the custody document Spencer gave him was to spare Kirkland a lengthy and emotionally draining custody battle in court.
He was doing the right thing for everyone especially his son by taking Spencer's gift.
At least that's what Grant kept telling himself on the drive over to the estate.
The door opened and a smartly dressed, if bleary eyed Jamie greeted him.
"Grant," Jamie said in a neutral tone. "Come on in."
The moment he wasn't set upon by guard dogs, warning bells immediately went off in Grant's head. They screamed: Proceed with caution.
"Jamie," Grant nodded as he swept past the good doctor, eyes darting around the foyer, searching for any sign of those absent canines. Realizing that he probably shouldn't have his back to what could very well be a calculating, desperate man, Grant turned to face Jamie. Paranoid, perhaps, but better paranoid than ambushed.
"I assume you know why I'm here," Grant pressed, even as Jamie continued to regard him with an eerie calm. "I have the agreement you signed. I'm glad you're finally being smart and doing the right thing."
"You wouldn't know the right thing to do if it bit you on the ass," Jamie replied with a cold smile. "But, yes, I did sign your agreement."
"Exactly," Grant nodded. "So if you wouldn't mind getting Kirkland "
"Too bad it isn't worth the paper it's written on," Jamie finished.
Grant shook his head. "Kevin Fowler drew up this document. He doesn't leave loop-holes."
"Oh, really? Try this one on for size: I don't have legal custody of Kirkland. Marley does. Vicky's will left Kirkland to her alone. At Marley's discretion, I have physical custody, so that I could raise the boys together."
Grant felt his stomach drop. "If you don't have legal say regarding Kirkland, then this document is useless."
"Give the fellow with the law degree a cigar," Jamie smiled. "I'm shocked, Grant. I would've thought you'd have done your research better. You've been wasting all this time coming after me when your real problem was Marley."
"You played me," Grant flared. "You set me up!"
"Your father played you," Jamie scoffed. "He tried playing all of us. Except you're the only one who fell for it. And lost. Now if you don't mind, I've had a really, really long day."
Grant didn't move, refusing to give up, refusing to let Jamie Frame, of all damned people, get one over on him. "This agreement may not hold up in court, but how do you think a judge will look upon a father who so easily signed away his custodial rights?"
"Rights I didn't have," Jamie reminded. "A fact I was fully aware of when I signed that worthless piece of paper."
"I can still use this against you," Grant insisted.
"You can try," Marley broke in, suddenly appearing from another room and taking a stance next to Jamie. "But it really doesn't matter what you do with that document. You won't take Kirkland away from Jamie. Ever."
"Oh, really?" Grant smirked. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because," Marley beamed up at Grant and lifted her hand to reveal an unmistakable gold band glinting on her ring finger. "Jamie and I are married. Which means Kirkland stays with us."
All it required was for Donna to take one look at Rachel's face as she stood in the doorway, and Donna understood that Carl's wife now knew everything. Donna attempted to stammer out a denial, more from instinct and habit than anything else.
Rachel remained impassive, following Donna silently into the house. And, finally, Donna gave up the ghost.
Doing her best to keep her voice from quavering more than it was already doomed to, she asked, "Does Carl know?"
"Not yet," Rachel said.
"How did you find out?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Was it Matthew?"
"Not all of it," Donna admitted. "Just the part about Carl and I being Jenna's biological parents."
"But not the part where you had her, Felicia and Dean kidnapped."
"No," Donna admitted. "He doesn't know that. Matthew was so horrified to discover what I'd done almost forty years ago. I can't imagine how he would react to learning I was indirectly responsible for Jenna's death, too."
"Jenna is dead?" The last Rachel had heard, Jamie was coming out of the operating room to announce that both she and the baby were holding their own. Rachel had been so caught up in her own family crises, she hadn't yet found the time to check in with Felicia and see if the situation had changed. Oh, God. Felicia...
Donna nodded. "I was with Matthew when he found out. He wanted some kind of reaction out of me. He wanted... To tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure what he wanted."
"My son is a very decent human being. He isn't cynical in the slightest. Despite everything he's been through in his life, everything he's seen, he still manages to be genuinely shocked by brazen malevolence. It's one of his most endearing qualities."
"Are you going to tell him?" Donna asked. "Are you going to tell Carl?"
"Carl deserves to know. He didn't do anything wrong "
"Oh, I beg to differ!" When it came to Matthew, Donna was willing to accept the lion's share of guilt for disappointing him. When it came to Jenna's death well, Donna hadn't given her preeclampsia, that was a case of nature and bad luck but she mournfully accepted her own role in causing the condition to get so out of hand. When it came to Carl, however... "You know what sort of man he used to be, Rachel. Would you have hesitated for a moment to protect any child of yours from being drawn into his orbit?"
"You knew what you were getting into when you married him."
"I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't. I was young and I was foolish and I was arrogant as hell. I thought that I could control him. I thought that I could change him. Like you did."
Rachel said, "I think I'm starting to realize that I haven't changed Carl quite as much as I thought, or nearly as much as I'd have liked. He doesn't even know half of what you've done to him yet. Nonetheless, my husband has recently, rather blithely, expressed his intention to destroy you."
When Felicia looked up from her vigil by Lori Ann's incubator and saw Cass, she said, "You didn't have to come."
"And you didn't have to stay." Cass pulled up a chair and plopped down next to her.
"Right," they both disbelievingly told the other, then Felicia leaned over and kissed Cass on the cheek. "Thank you."
She turned her attention back to Lori Ann, saying out loud what Felicia had been thinking non-stop since she'd laid eyes on the baby. "She's so small. How can anything this small possibly survive?"
"Miracles happen," Cass reminded.
"Where was Jenna's miracle?"
"Maybe Lori Ann is it."
Felicia eyed Cass oddly. "Since when did you become so mystical?"
Cass sighed, talking a deep breath and confessing. "When I saw Frankie, alive and well, standing in my living room, talking to our daughter."
"Cass!" Felicia gasped so loudly, she prompted an NICU nurse to turn around and shake a warning finger in their direction.
"Frankie is alive," Cass said. "The why and how and where is a long story, you don't need to hear it now. But she's alive. And she's come back to me. All these years, I watched men like Carl and Reginald Love and Grant Harrison return from the dead, and I'd think, is the cliché really true? Could it actually be that only the good die young? What would be so wrong with the good guys winning one every decade or so? Well, we have. Frankie, Felicia my Frankie I have my Frankie back."
"Oh, Cass," Felicia didn't know what to say. She simply threw her arms around him and kept repeating Cass' name over and over again, making up in raw emotion what was too big to respond to with words. "My God."
"So you see," Cass took both of Felicia's hands in his own. "We can't give up hope, not ever. Not really, not completely."
"It's too late for Jenna," Felicia said, choking on her grief. "I saw her die. I watched it happen."
"And I identified Frankie's body in the morgue." Cass tread gently, not wanting to give too much away, but needing to somehow prepare Felicia for what he knew was coming. "After Kathleen, after Frankie... After Sharlene.... Heck, even Lorna. Think about it, Felicia, they told you Lorna was dead when she was born and still, somehow, you two found your way back to each other. Frankie used to talk about the universe having a plan, about spirits connecting way before bodies even know what's happening. I used to think that it was all nonsense, but damn it, at this point, I've got to believe she was on to something. How else can you explain people who were meant to be crossing paths against all obstacles? If Jason Frame's delightful personality hadn't caused him to be bumped off, Frankie and I would never have met. If Carl hadn't brought Lorna to Bay City, you and Lucas would have never known who she was. That can't be mere coincidence. It has to be... something more."
"But is it a good witch or a bad witch, Dorothy?" Felicia invoked The Wizard of Oz.
"I don't know," Cass admitted. "All I do know is that it has a mind and a timetable all of its own. We have to be ready for anything, anytime. I have a feeling there are still a lot of good, and maybe not so good miracles in our future."
"Can a miracle be bad?" Felicia wondered.
"Depends on how we react to it...."
"So what's the latest?" Sarah strode into Allie's room, plopped down on the bed and tossed a pillow into the air, letting it land on her chest before repeating the gesture.
Allie, who'd been sitting, back against the headboard, popped both iPod buds out of her ears and, long accustomed to Sarah barging in to pick up a conversation in the middle, launched promptly into a full report.
"Well... GQ stopped by the other day. He said he was looking for Steven."
"But Steven was out with you."
"Oh. That. Okay, so maybe he was telling the truth. Steven did tell me he had something else planned."
"But I'm sure you talked him out of it."
"What can I say? I'm gifted."
"Where did you guys go anyway?"
"Steven was teaching me to mini-golf."
"Sarah! You were on your high-school team!"
"Really? That was so long ago. I guess I forgot."
"You wasted your time. Steven already thinks he's so much better at so many things than, well, frankly, the rest of the planet, that playing dumb blonde is not the way to get him interested."
"Dumb blonde was just my B-story," Sarah said. "Doesn't matter how great a guy thinks he is, he still doesn't like it when a girl is better than him at anything. I didn't want to rock the boat. My main objective that day was to convince Steven that he was a great big brother to Kirkland. He was feeling insecure about this fight they'd had, and I wanted to make him feel better. Mission, as they say, accomplished." Sarah sat up, Indian-style, to face Allie. "Now. We were in the middle of you and GQ. There is a middle of you and GQ, right? This story doesn't end with you saying, "Steven non è home," and slamming the door in his face, does it?"
"You speak Italian?"
"I'm a treasure trove of hidden talents. But enough about me. Confessare!"
Allie winced. "There isn't that much to confessare. He apologized for being such an ass and dumping me the way he did."
"And then he started explaining again why he felt he had to do it."
"Yawn. Hate reruns."
"And then he said he guessed he was kind of a racist, but his reasons were noble, so that made it okay. I think."
"Lame," Sarah rolled her eyes. "He totally knew that someone like you could never challenge someone like him on that issue."
"Exactly," Allie sighed, then changed the subject. "How are you making out with Steven?"
"Interesting choice of words."
"You know what I mean."
Sarah said, "Everything is going according to plan."
"For one of us, at least."
"Give me a minute, I'll figure out how to get you and GQ back on track. We've just started, after all."
"And I'm already tired of it," Allie confessed. "I'm not good at this scheming and plotting thing. And, you know what? I'm also tired of, every time we get together, us talking about nothing but guys, guys, guys. We used to be able to have whole conversations about other things. For instance, what else is going on in your life these days? I feel like we haven't caught up in forever."
"Well," Sarah revealed. "Both my mom and my dad have decided to move back to Bay City."
"I know! Twenty years of ignoring me for ballet and bimbos respectively, and suddenly they can't stand to be away from their precious princess. Luckily, I think it's just a passing phase. They've each got stuff going on now that's keeping them busy and out of my hair, thank God. What about you?"
"My mom started dating this guy who turned out to be practically related to us. Which, granted, isn't hard in my family."
They both giggled at the memory of their well-worn bit. Allie said, "I've missed this, us just hanging out, instead of long-range planning to take over the world."
Sarah flopped over on her stomach and reached for the remote control. She clicked on Allie's TV and channel surfed until Sarah found exactly what she was searching for: a classic old movie, complete with sweeping, unnaturally colored panoramas, overripe dialogue, and a musical score that swelled at the slightest eye-brow twitch.
"Shall we?" Sarah asked Allie.
"Oh, yes, we most definitely shall."
They spent the next few hours in front of the tube, asking each other and the surrounding universe, in case it felt like chiming in penetrating questions, the most trenchant of which boiled down to, "Where do Zhivago and Lara go to the bathroom if the whole house is frozen over solid?"
It was the most fun either of them had had in a very long time.
Grant looked from Marley to Jamie, and then to the gold wedding band she was so proudly flashing.
"Married?" Grant said slowly, realizing that while he knew what the word meant, it still wasn't registering in context.
"Yes, Grant," Marley said in a sunny, patronizing tone, enjoying the look of shock and confusion in his beady little eyes. "Married. As in I now pronounce you "
"A fraud," Grant barked. "Your marriage is no more valid than this custody agreement. It's simply an amateur move to cover Jamie's ass. I guess we know who fills out the pants in this newly formed family."
"You are a petty, selfish buffoon," Jamie observed in response.
"I don't give a damn what you think," Grant laughed. "You are an irrelevant coward, always hiding behind a woman's skirts." He looked back to Marley. "Any judge with an ounce of brains will see right through you two. And if they don't, I'll draw them a picture."
"Oh, Grant," Marley shook her head condescendingly. "With my and Jamie's history, it's no stretch to believe that we'd reunite after all these years. It really makes quite a romantic story."
"I'm sure you'll try to play it that way. But when this renewed romance just happens to coincide with my filing for custody of Kirkland, it won't quite wash. I seem to recall the other night, you going out on the town, accepting drinks from strange men "
"You are very strange, I will give you that, Grant."
" And making no mention of a boyfriend much less a fiance," Grant sneered.
"Well, that was the other night," Marley dismissed, marching over to the door and opening it with a flourish. "Today, I am Mrs. James Frame. He and I plan on having a wonderful life together raising Steven, Michele, Bridget, and Kirkland. Now, if you're done making a fool of yourself, you can leave."
"You two," Grant laughed. "You think you've bested me, when you've only proven one thing."
"And what would that be?" Marley sniffed.
"That you're scared," Grant replied, no longer bothering to address Jamie at all. "If you truly believed that I didn't have a chance to get Kirkland, you wouldn't have made such a clumsy, obvious, desperate move. You think you've strengthened your position against me when, in fact, you've weakened it."
"I'm sorry," Marley feigning a confused smile as Grant paused in front of her. "I'm not sure I follow that logic."
"You may have convinced yourself that you did this for Kirkland, but we both know better. We both know you still harbor that pathetic fairy tale of you and Jamie and a houseful of kids. You think this little stunt has at long last sealed the deal. Only problem is," Grant leaned close so that just Marley could hear him. "Jamie doesn't love you, Mrs. Frame. And he never, ever will. This hasty marriage will destroy your united front faster than anything I ever could have done."
Two hours into his vigil with Felicia, Cass excused himself and exited the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Frankie's number. When she picked up, he demanded, "Where are you?"
"Still within Bay City limits," she reassured.
"Good." Cass said, "I realized why your threat to leave town and never return was an empty one."
"Does this involve some variation regarding my supposed inability to defend against your overwhelming charisma?"
"That goes without saying. No," Cass corrected. "What I remembered was Charlie."
"You spent the past couple of years hiding in the shadows in order to spend time with your daughter. Whatever this mystery threat against you is, it isn't strong enough to keep you away from Charlie."
"As Lila astutely pointed out, my behavior was selfish at best, child abuse, at worst."
"You won't abandon Charlie."
Frankie paused. And then she admitted, "You're right."
"So much for that threat."
"But I can and I will stay away from you. No matter how much it hurts me. Asking you to give up your entire life for me "
" Was just as selfish as my asking Charlie to lie to you. Not to mention impossible." To prove her point, Frankie asked, "How's Felicia?"
Cass sighed, the urge to banter instantly fading. "Awful," he admitted. "We'll be talking and she seems to be doing alright, but then, right in the middle of a sentence even, she just drifts off, forgets what's she saying, probably forgets that I'm even there. She can't take her eyes off the baby. I don't think she's moved for hours. I think she really believes she's the only thing keeping Lori Ann alive. If something happens... I don't know how Felicia will survive it."
"What about Dean?" Frankie wondered. "How's he?"
Cass hesitated before answering; remembering how close Frankie was to her cousin, then admitted, "He's had a complete breakdown. He tried to attack Jamie, they had to sedate and restrain him. He's gone practically catatonic, won't respond to anyone."
"Oh, God," she whimpered. "Poor Dean. Poor Felicia. Poor little baby."
Cass said, "I know you said the two of us have to keep a low profile. I know you won't tell me why; and I'm not asking right now, really, I'm not. But, do you think maybe, under the circumstances, you could come by the hospital? I told Felicia about you. I wanted to remind her that miracles can still happen."
Frankie's mind churned in every direction, wondering, weighing, balancing, speculating what if, what if, what if....
Finally, she told Cass, "I won't put any of us at risk. But, maybe... it's possible.... Give me a little time, I'll see what I can do."
Frankie hung up the phone and considered her options. Then, mind made up, she marched determinedly out the door.
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