EPISODE #2009-7

"Did you get rid of them?" Matt asked Donna as soon as she returned to the bedroom after shooing Cass and Lila out the door.  

"Well, I hardly invited them to come up and watch, Matthew."   

Physically, Donna may have been back in the room, but her mind was clearly elsewhere.  Instead of slipping under the sheets as promised, she stood in the doorway, eyes darting back and forth, hands raised, fingers absently opening and closing, seemingly unsure of which way to go.  

Hoping that talking it through would help Donna exorcise the encounter, Matt asked, "What did they want, anyway?"  

"Oh," Donna crossed to stand by the window, watching the Winthrops' car pull out of her drive.  "Cass and Lila are searching for Felicia, Jenna and Dean.  Apparently they've gone missing."  

"What does that have to do with you?"  

At Matt's question, Donna turned around, as if surprised to realize that she'd actually been talking to a real person rather than a disembodied voice in her head.  Apropos to nothing, she noted, "You and Jenna were quite an item back in the day, weren't you?"  

Matt shrugged.  "We dated, but it didn't go very far."  

"Should I translate that to mean you never managed to get her into bed?"  

"Dean Frame was the guy she wanted all along.  I'm embarrassed to say I went a little nuts when I found out, though."  

Donna said, "Do you still wish you'd been the one, Matthew?  Do you ever wonder what it might have been like?  Do you ever fantasize about her when you're with me?"  

"What?" Matt sat up in bed, his jaw practically hitting the floor then bouncing up again.  "Where the heck did that come from?"  

"She was a very, very pretty girl."  

"Yeah, she was.  I bet she still is.  So what?"  

"And so very, very young.  So innocent.  Is that what attracted you to her, Matthew?  That youth?  That purity?"  

"Why are we talking about Jenna?" Matt wanted to know.  

"Do you ever compare me to her?  Do you ever wish — "  

"Donna," Matt stood up and attempted to approach her.  "I'm not sure what brought this on, but, except for maybe a Christmas card once in a while or hearing a new song of Dean's on the radio, I haven't thought about Jenna in years."  

He reached out to touch Donna's arm, but she jerked away and moved to the furthest corner of the room, tightening the sash of her kimono robe.  "Are you trying to tell me that you wouldn't prefer some young, nubile, virginal teen-ager — "  

"Actually, no, I wouldn't, since that would be illegal."  

" — To a woman of my decrepit age and, oh, let's euphemize tactfully, experience?"  

"Okay."  Matt raised both hands in surrender, but continued walking towards her, albeit slowly.  "First of all, if you're the definition of decrepitude, then, in the vernacular of Inigo Montoya, "I no think that word means what you think it means."  

Donna did manage to crack a tiny smile at that.  

"And second, if I wanted to be with a younger woman, I would be with a younger woman."  He was standing in front of Donna now.  And, this time, when he reached out to cup her face in his hands, she didn't pull away.  "You're the one that I find desirable," he kissed her forehead.  "You're the one that I find elegant," he kissed her right cheek.  "Dazzling."  The left.  "Sexy."  He kissed her gently on the lips.  "Hot."  Then moved in for a longer kiss.  "You're the one that I want."  

Donna allowed him to kiss her.  She even kissed him back.  But when Matt attempted to maneuver her towards the bed, she wrenched back, holding him at arm's length.  

"What's the matter?" Matt asked, confusion mixing with agitation, not to mention quite a bit of frustration.  

"I need you to leave, Matthew.  Now."  

"What the hell?" he demanded.  "Would you please tell me what's going on here?"  

Donna looked at the clock and in blatant defiance of what it actually showed, insisted,  "It's late.  The girls will be back any minute.  We can't risk them finding us together.  We agreed, remember?"  

"What are you talking about?  We've got plenty of time."  

"Just go," Donna wasn't commanding him anymore, she was downright pleading.  "Please, Matthew, please, just go."  

The next morning, Marley leaned back in her chair and inhaled the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Exhaling a contented sigh, she opened her eyes to the quiet coffee shop, the A.M. rush now over. Turning to the window next to her, she peered out the steamed glass, looking for any sign of Jamie in the torrential downpour that was currently flooding Bay City. 
Normally, she'd enjoy being ensconced at the Bayside Coffee House on a rainy day. All she needed was a book and a never-ending supply of peppermint tea. 
However, today she was here to meet Jamie to talk about the problem of Grant Harrison, and for that she was going to need slightly stronger libation. 
"Hey, Marley," came a familiar, husky voice.  She looked up into the gentle smile of her favorite barista.  Once she'd known him as Mikey Miller.  But he preferred to be called Mike now, and, Marley suspected, he had very little memory of the brief period when their lives had inadvertently intertwined.  He had, after all, only been two years old at the time.  Mike asked her, "Peppermint Tea as usual?" 
"As tempting as that is," she smiled back at him.  "I'm afraid I'm going to need some real caffeine today."  
"Rough morning?" Mike asked, eyebrows knitting together in concern. "Or rough night?" 
"Neither. Just getting prepared for what's to come."  She studied the menu and shook her head.  "I'll try a Cinnamon Dolce Latte. That's good, right?" 
"The way I make it, it will be. One Cinnamon Dolce Latte, coming right up." 
Her eyes followed him back to the counter, a smile coming to her lips at his confident swagger and easy smile.  He was so carefree and fun.  Which she supposed was a given when you were still in college, came from a normal (for Bay City) family, and didn't have to worry about enemies coming back from the dead or the perils of co-parenting your late sister's kids with a man who you once intended to marry and share a life with, before you ruined it all by becoming obsessed with having his baby.  

After you experienced that (and a host of other unfortunate incidents, such as 1) being run over by your own mother, 2) being scarred in a fire and needing excruciating reconstructive surgery, 3) losing your twin sister in a plane crash) it got a little harder to be quite so happy-go-lucky. 
Not that Marley had ever really been that.  Innocent, yes. Sheltered, yes.  Naive, definitely.  But never happy-go-lucky.  And she certainly had never been fun.  That was Vicky.  Vicky had been the fun twin.  And the tough one.  No matter what came her way, Vicky would rally and pull herself through by sheer will, all the while keeping her sense of humor.  
Marley, on the other hand, never did learn how to just bounce back from the hits.  She'd survived by leaning on others, usually Vicky, to get her through one mess after another.  

Until the biggest hit came.  Vicky was gone and suddenly Marley wasn't just missing her rock, she now had to be the rock for others.  For Donna, for Kirkland, for Steven, and then for Michelle and Bridget, as well. So far she'd been managing things well enough, but now with Grant back... 

"Sorry, I'm late," came another familiar voice. "Traffic was crazy."  This time when she looked up, it was Jamie in front of her, his twinkling brown eyes making her feel warm and fuzzy like she'd fallen in a mug of good, hot (maybe more like warm; Marley had endured enough burns to last a lifetime) chocolate.  He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, the combination of his closeness and comforting scent making her heart skip a beat.  

He still got to her after all these years.  She guessed he always would. 
Marley forced an easy smile as she pushed the familiar, bittersweet pang away.  "I just got here myself.  Do you want to order first?  Mike's making me a Dolce Latte."  

"Mike?" Jamie asked with an amused look.  

"Someone say my name?"  Mike inquired as he set a bowl-sized mug in front of Marley with a flourish.  "One Dolce Latte with cinnamon."  

The heavenly scent of milk and espresso hit Marley's nose like a kiss and she sighed in appreciation.  Then, squinting down into the layer of foam, she gasped, "Is that a flower?" as her eyes made out the distinct shape of a flower, somehow drawn in the frothy bubbles of milk and espresso.  

"It's just something I do.  I call it Latte Art."  

"It's impressive," Marley nodded, suddenly unsure whether she was supposed to keep admiring it or actually be allowed to drink it.  

"Thanks," he beamed down at her.  

"I'll have a coffee," Jamie piped up after a moment.  Both Marley and Mike looked over at him, and she frowned at the expression on Jamie's face. 

"Sure," Mike nodded, giving her another smile before darting away.  

Marley briefly followed Mike's departing swagger, before turning back to Jamie who continued to regard her with that cryptic, amused look.  
"What?" Marley wanted to know. 
He looked behind her at Mike who was staring at them, but, as soon as he noticed Jamie's gaze, quickly resumed wiping down the counter. 
"What?" she repeated again. 
"Someone's got a boyfriend," he sang playfully, leaning back as another waitress — no Latte Art for Jamie — placed a cup of black coffee in front of him.  
"Who?" Marley hissed, her face burning. "Mike?" Jamie's laugh made her look again.  "But he's — I'm — We're practically related.  My parents once wanted to adopt him. " 
"I believe that was twenty years ago."  

"Eighteen," Marley corrected.  "I'm not that old."  

"Correct, you're not.  Which is probably why he's obviously got a thing for you.  And not in a you-were-almost-my-big-sister kind of way.  I sure as hell didn't get any foamy hearts and flowers in my coffee."  

"That's because coffee doesn't have any foam for him to — "  

"Leave you a little valentine," Jamie finished, dumping two sugars into his undecorated brew.  "What you've got there," he said pointing to the top of her cup.  "Is something we virile men like to call a blatant come-on." 
"Jamie!  He's half my age!  It would make more sense for him to be asking out Michelle or Bridget." 
"Bite your tongue," Jamie muttered. "Michelle and Bridget can hold off on dating for a while, if you ask me.  Steven and Kirk haven't gotten good enough with a shot-gun yet." 
She suppressed a smile at Jamie's overprotective father instincts — even when the girls in question weren't actually his, then couldn't stop herself from glancing back at the counter again to watch Mike tend to a customer.  

"Here it comes," Jamie began as Mike flicked a quick glance in Marley's direction, causing her to quickly look away, biting a lip to keep her smile from growing.  "Yup, ol' Mike's been bitten by the Marley bug," Jamie sighed. "Can't say I blame him." 
Marley swallowed her smile and said, rather primly.  "Well, I hope he recovers. Soon." 
"Marley, you've flogged yourself long enough. The girls are older and don't need you full-time anymore. You deserve to find someone and be happy.  Even if it's Arty Foam Boy." 
"He's not a boy," she corrected, causing Jamie to throw her a look.  "And I am happy. Besides you're one to talk. You weren't seeing anyone either, last time I looked." 
"But in my case it's deliberate.  I've sworn off women for the time being.  With my track record, I figure I'm performing a community service, sparing any more innocent victims the pleasure of knowing me." 
"That's a shame.  I think you're denying yourself and a lucky woman something really special," Marley countered. "Whatever the problem with your relationships, Jamie, the issue has never been with you. You're the sweetest, most loving man a woman could want."  

"So you're saying that the actual hitch is my lousy taste in women?" he teased.  

Marley shrugged innocently, then ticked off a list on her fingers, "Well, let's see.... Blaine, Cecile, Marianne, Stacey, Nicole, M.J., Lisa, Kelsey, Vicky, me — " 
"Hey," he interrupted, gently taking her hand in his.  "You don't belong on that list. You and I were just.... It was a case of bad timing."  

"That's a nice way of putting it," she said softly. "You were ready, Jamie. I was the one who — "

"Like I said," he massaged her hand. "Bad timing.  Vicky, though, there was never really anything between us.  It was mostly about Steven and even then..."  

Marley tensed as Jamie's whole demeanor changed, those tender eyes darkening with an irate emotion that startled her.  In all her years of knowing Jamie, she'd never seen him look this way when talking about her sister.  She guessed that his mysterious mood was somehow related to why they were meeting.  

"You wanted to talk to me about Grant," she recalled. 
"He snuck onto the grounds and saw Kirkland," Jamie began. "And he really did a number on the poor kid.  The way Kirk tells it, The Gospel According to Grant is that because I didn't love Vicky they way Grant did, I can't love Kirkland as much as Grant can."  

"Are you kidding me?  That is such bull — " Marley caught herself before finishing the sentence, noticing the heads of everyone, including Mike, turning in her direction. She shrank in her chair, taking a full gulp of her now lukewarm coffee before calming down enough to continue, "I know that's not true. You know it's not true. I bet even Grant knows that's not true.  So I can't believe Kirk would even for a minute — "  

"He's confused.  Grant is this glamorous, fascinating enigma to him."  

"No.  No, Kirkland knows who Grant really is.  All the stories we've told him... and those were just the PG-rated versions!"  

"Stories.  Stories are all he has of either of his parents.  We've all told him everything we know about Vicky, but Grant is dangling this carrot in front of Kirkland, claiming he can tell Kirk things about her that we can't.  Grant's argument is that he loved her like none of us did, which means he knew her like none of us did.  That has to be very tempting for a boy who barely remembers his mother.  I'm afraid that until Kirkland sees for himself just what kind of person Grant really is..."  

"But at what cost?" Marley wondered.  "Learning your lesson about Grant rarely comes without a few pretty painful scars."

"I told Kirk that whatever he decides to do about his dad, I'd support him."  In response to her shocked expression, Jamie explained, "I didn't know what else to do, Marley.  Kirk isn't some five-year old I can hide away from all of this.  He's fifteen and he has a mind of his own."  

"Like his mother," Marley conceded.  

"He blew a gasket when he found out I hadn't told him about Grant being back in town. One more bad call like that on my part and I could very well push him into that bastard's web permanently."  

"True.  But if you back down, you know Grant will just use it to get closer to Kirk and manipulate him some more.  Kirkland doesn't have any experience dealing with Grant.  It's like leaving a lamb for slaughter.  We have to fight for him!"  

"Maybe that's my problem," Jamie snorted humorlessly. "I don't have that fight to win, that killer instinct. All my failed relationships, all those women.  Maybe I didn't want them enough.  Maybe I didn't love them enough.  And now with Kirkland — "  

"That's it." Marley felt something inside her snap.  She'd be damned if she was going to sit here and allow Grant Harrison to cause the best man she'd ever known to crumble and become paralyzed with doubt and cynicism. Vicky sure as hell wouldn't have allowed such a thing to happen.  Vicky would never huddle on the sidelines, wringing her hands.  She'd step right up to the devil and tell him to go back to hell.  Which was exactly what Marley intended to do.  She asked Jamie, "Are you back at the hospital today?"  

He nodded, "My shift starts in an hour.  Why?"  

"When do you get off?"  

"Tomorrow night."  

"Fine.  Make a note on your calendar.  Tomorrow night, you and I are going to go see Grant together.  We're going to set up a few ground-rules, and then we're going to draw a line in the sand.  The way Vicky would have done it."  

Amanda started getting ready for her date with Kevin a good two hours before they were scheduled to meet.  She figured it would take at least that long to achieve the look she was going for, which was one that would make it seem like she had put absolutely no thought into her clothes, make-up or hairstyle whatsoever.  

To that end, she pulled practically every outfit that she owned out of the closet and tried it on, first by itself, then in a mix and match with previous outfits.  Unfortunately, as her choices increased, her ability to decide shrank exponentially.  Finally, Amanda settled on a pair of black slacks that could be dressed up or down, and a slim-fitting, violet designer T-shirt.  If she threw a dark blazer over it, she'd look chic.  But by itself, the ensemble gave off a devil-may-care, laid-back air.  Or so she hoped.  

Hair was next.  Amanda settled on a French braid, again on the assumption that it could look both formal and casual, depending on what she paired it with.  

Make-up was the hardest.  Too much, and it would look like she was trying too hard, which reeked of desperation; an impression she was most definitely trying to avoid giving off.  Not enough and she looked, well, old and haggard.  An impression she wished to avoid even more.

Amanda figured she must have come reasonably close to hitting her target when, upon her arrival downstairs, Rachel greeted her daughter with the observation, "Whoever this mystery date is, he must have made quite an impression for you to go to such trouble to look like it was no trouble at all."  

Amanda laughed.  "Am I that obvious?"  

"Only to another woman," Rachel reassured.  "I'm certain he won't have a clue."  

"Good." Amanda giggled.  

"It's nice to see that sparkle in your eyes again, darling.  It's been a long time."  

"I know," she admitted.  

"I'm proud of you.  It can be very difficult to remain strong when it feels like the easiest thing in the world would be to just give up."  

"I know," Amanda admitted.  "I've certainly considered the possibility enough times.  But we can't do that, can we, Mom?  Just give up?"  

"No," Rachel sighed, and Amanda suspected her mother was agreeing with more than just the immediate query.  "That's one thing women like us simply can not do."  

"Mom!  Grandma!"  Allie bounded into the room.  "Great, you're both here.  Listen, a friend of mine is coming to take some summer courses at Bay City U, and she hasn't found a place to stay yet.  Would it be alright if she bunked here for a while?"  

"I don't see why not," Rachel said.  "We've got plenty of room."  

"Oh, you're the best."  Allie ran to hug her grandmother just as they heard the doorbell ring.  "That's her now."  

"Good thing you didn't wait till the very last minute," Amanda teased her daughter.  

"I knew you'd say yes," Allie admitted.  

"We are the best," Rachel reminded.  

Allie grinned and ran to answer the door.  She returned accompanied by a young woman an inch or so taller than Allie, but weighing a good fifteen pounds less and looking like she'd fit a size zero.  Her blonde hair hung straight down her back, and she didn't so much walk as glide, an ethereal presence that contrasted with her somewhat husky, smoky voice.  

"Hello," she said to Rachel and Amanda.  "I'm Sarah."  

"Sarah," Amanda repeated, all the pieces falling instantly into place.  

"Sarah Matthews-Wheeler," Rachel said.  It wasn't a question, but a resigned statement of fact.

"That's right.  It's so nice to finally meet you all."  

Amanda stared at Olivia's daughter.  Rachel stared at Iris' granddaughter.  

And they both lied when they said, in near unison.  "How nice to finally meet you, too."  

"Did you see the look on your mom's face?  Not to mention Rachel's?" Sarah asked once Allie had finished helping her settle into the guest bedroom closest to hers.  "I thought you were going to warn them I was coming."  

"I changed my mind.  Why give them a chance to say no?"  

"They wouldn't say no.  I'm family, remember?"  

At that, the girls burst into a gale of giggles, remembering the pleasure they always took in explaining exactly how they were related to anyone who asked or mistook them for sisters.  

"We're practically sisters," Allie would say.  "My dad was almost her dad."  

"At least that's what my mom claimed," Sarah interjected.  

"Turned out her mom lied."  

"But then it also turned out that my real dad was actually Allie's cousin, so we got to be related after all."  

"My grandfather is her great-grandfather."  

"And my grandfather was once married to Allie's grandmother."  

"My uncle Jamie used to think he was Sarah's grandfather's son, which would have made him her uncle."  

"We're a very close family."  

That last part wasn't exactly true.  After Sarah's mother, Olivia Matthews, left Bay City, and Sarah's father, Dennis Wheeler, followed her to Los Angeles to help raise his daughter, the two clans didn't exactly keep in touch.  Periodically, Rachel would make some noise about going out to see Mac's great-granddaughter, it was the least they could do, after all. But then Amanda would mumble something about hereditary conniving-bitch DNA, and the proposed trip never quite managed to materialize.  It was finally Jamie who offered, in the spirit of family and letting bygones be bygones, to visit his boyhood best-friend, Dennis — without mentioning how Dennis had once tried to steal Jamie's fiancée, Marley, away from him.  

He tried to bribe Steven into coming along by offering a side-trip to Disneyland.  But by then his son was already too engrossed in the intricate workings of cyberspace to bother with Mickey and Goofy.  Eight year old Allie, however, leapt at the chance to score some face-time with a fairy princess or two, and volunteered to go with Uncle Jamie, thus kicking off of a decade-long friendship.  

After that first trip, the girls used to beg and plead and cajole their parents so much for another get-together that the adults eventually agreed to send them to the same camp the following summer.  And the summer after that.  And the summer after that.  There, they'd proven so inseparable, Allie and Sarah were referred to as twins ( "It's like something out of that stupid movie, The Parent Trap," one disgusted bunkmate offered).  They sometimes felt like they were, too.  

Well, if not exactly twins, then definitely family.  

"Okay," Sarah plopped down cross-legged on the bed, picked up a pillow, tossed it at Allie and said, "I'm here.  I'm settled.  Spill it."  

Allie sighed, silently hugging the pillow to her chest.  

"I flew across the country for a sigh?"  

"His name is GQ."  

"That much I got over the phone.  Now let's hear the details."  

"Remember last year when I did that semester abroad in Italy?"  

"You sucked up culture, cappuccino and hot, swarthy guys while I was stuck with malls, instant coffee and brain-dead, surfer dudes.  Yeah, I vaguely recall that."  

"Well, GQ was there, too.  Same program.  We — "  

"Hooked up?"  


"What?  Does it sound better in Italian?"  

"Well, actually, yes.  Yes, it does.  And it wasn't like that.  We really connected, you know?  We did everything together.  We went to museums, we went to the beach, we went to the mountains, we stayed up all night and we danced — "  

"Is that what the Italians call it?"  

Allie flung the pillow back at her.  "Who's telling this story?"  

"Sorry.  But I was waiting for you to get to the good part."  

"That was the good part," Allie said sadly.  "After that, everything is pretty much a bad part."  

"He dumped you," Sarah guessed.  

"Not exactly."  

"You dumped him?"  

"No!  I — I think I feel in love with him."  

"And that's the bad part?"  

"It was.  After he told me he couldn't be with me anymore."  

"Which, I believe technically qualifies as a dumping.  But, yeah, yeah, I get it, you're the one telling this story, I'll shut up.  Just answer me one thing: Did he tell you why he was calling it quits?"  

"It's kind of complicated."  

"Which is why I'm here.  Let's hear your entire sorry tale of woe, and then we'll figure out how Dr. Sarah is going to fix it."  

"I don't think you can."  

"Let me be the judge of that.  Talk!"  

Allie took a deep breath.  "Okay.  GQ's mom and dad both used to live in Bay City.  His dad, Carter, was this working-class kid who got to go to UCLA on a football scholarship.  His mom, Thomasina, grew up practically on the streets.  Her parents dumped her or died, nobody knows; her aunt was a hooker.  She caught a break when she went to this life-skills class for runaway girls and her mentor there, this woman named Quinn Harding, ended up adopting her and giving her a good life."  

"Roots," Sarah rolled her eyes.  "I'm waiting to hear about An Affair to Remember and you're giving me Roots."  

"Shut up, it's all relevant."  Allie went on, "Anyway, Thomasina ended up going to medical school and becoming a big-shot doctor.  GQ's dad played college football and now he's in marketing for the NFL.  They both really made something of themselves, and they raised GQ to understand that he's got to make something of himself, too.  And also that he owes it to give back to people who aren't as fortunate.  They expect GQ to be really involved with his community.  His African-American community."  

"So?" Sarah asked, sarcasm gone, genuinely confused.  "What's that got to do with you?"  

Allie asked, "Did you know that something like sixty percent of African-American women aren't married?  And when it comes to educated African-American women that number is even higher?  Between Black men who are in jail, Black men without jobs, and Black men without an education, Black women have hardly any options."  

"Al?"  Sarah pointed out, "You aren't Black."  

"Exactly," Allie said.  "That's the problem."  


"Yeah.  GQ told me, with numbers like that, it's his obligation as an educated African-American man to be with an African-American woman and raise a strong, African-American family and preserve their culture and all the values his parents raised him with."  

"Is that all?" Sarah asked.  

"Is that all?  That's pretty major!  GQ told me his being with a White girl would be the same as spitting in his mother's face.  It would be like he was turning his back on everything she taught him and everything she and his dad stand for."  

"Allie, you need help," Sarah said.  "Luckily for you, I know exactly what we're going to do next."  

"So," Kevin inquired as he tightened his seat-belt with one hand while using the other to wave facetiously about the luxurious interior of Cory Publishing's private jet.  "Is this a typical first date for Ms. Amanda Cory?"

"Not yet," she winked at him, and pushed a button to tell their pilot that his passengers were ready for take-off.

Two hours later, after some 20,000 feet up small-talk during which Kevin learned nothing about where they were headed and even less about the woman shanghaing him there, Grant's lawyer found himself in Chicago, sitting courtside on bleacher seats at the United Center, watching the Chicago Bulls play the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs.

As he observed Bay City socialite Amanda Cory eat hot dogs, gulp beer and cheer for ‘her' Bulls until she was hoarse, Kevin, so as not to be forced to shout over the increasing din echoing off the walls, waited until time-out to observe, "You know, if you want to send a message, it's much cheaper to use Western Union."

"Not a basketball fan?" Amanda inquired as she unwrapped yet another hot-dog and ripped off a chunk.

"I like basketball fine," Kevin dismissed as their seats began to vibrate to the pounding beat of music and the indecipherable shrieks of the announcer.  "What I don't like is an entire psychodrama set up in my honor, with no tangible point in sight."

Amanda shrugged and by way of an explanation said, "The last two times we met, it was on your turf."

He raised an eyebrow.  "When did the park in your hometown become my turf?"

"Metaphorically speaking.  Thanks to Grant, I wasn't at my best that day."

"You mean you weren't in control," Kevin translated.  "So you decided to turn the tables, throw some family money around and knock me off balance, for a change."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Amanda teased.  "Awww, now who's afraid of feeling out of control?"

Before Kevin could respond, she was back to screaming and cheering as play resumed on the court.  When he didn't promptly follow suit, Amanda stomped her Converse heel on his foot and he immediately stood, dutifully watching the court.  Soon Kevin found himself keeping up with the flow of the game, becoming more invested in whether Derrick Rose's shot dropped or if Joakim Noah beat Rajon Rondo for the rebound.

By the end, he found that, in spite of her admitted attempt to make him uncomfortable, Kevin was genuinely enjoying himself.  More disturbingly, he was enjoying Amanda's company.  The transformation from quiet, self-conscious socialite into this passionate, manic sports fan had made her more...something to him.  He didn't know what exactly.

He just hoped it wouldn't become a problem in the long run.

Because right now, taking in Amanda's dejected slouch as she glared at the slice of uneaten Chicago style pizza they'd brought on-board with them for the flight back to Bay City, Kevin found the bona fide reason for this encounter between them slipping his mind for much longer periods than he otherwise would have liked.

"We lost," Amanda pouted for the fourteenth time since they'd left the United Center.

"It was a great game," he offered, smiling at her adorable pout, then chastising himself for even noticing.

"We lost," she repeated, indignantly inconsolable.

"I know," he laughed, picking up his bottle of beer.  "I was there."

She stuck her tongue out at him.  "Kevin Fowler, lawyer extraordinaire.  I forgot, you never lose so you can't relate."

"I know what it means to lose," he said easily, even as he felt the anger rise in his chest.

Which was good.  He needed to get angry, to remember why he was doing this, why he was here with her.

"What did you ever lose?  Your car keys?  One girlfriend among dozens?"

"No," he regarded her carefully, readying himself. "My mother."

His admission had the desired effect.  Immediately Amanda's face paled, softening into concern and sincerity as she deteriorated from confident in-your-face spitfire and returned to being somewhat unsure and nervous.

Now Kevin was back in control.  So what if it had taken an actual, honest truth to get him there?

"Oh," Amanda finally breathed with a pained expression. "I'm sorry.  I didn't know."

"How could you?  It wasn't on Wikipedia."

She winced and shook her head. "Kevin — "

"It's okay, Amanda.  It happened a long time ago.  I barely remember her."

"Somehow I doubt that," she said softly.

He shook his head. "I remember the way a kid remembers.  Who knows if it's even real?  I remember that she loved me, that I was the center of her world, that we had fun, we were happy, and then...."

"What happened?" Amanda asked.

"And then she was sad.  She cried a lot and told me that it wasn't my fault, I was still her good little boy.  And then she was gone.  I don't know all the particulars.  A car accident, my dad told me."

"That must have been horrible for you and your father."

"Nah, he bounced back pretty quickly.  Ran right out and got engaged to the woman he was having an affair with when my mother died."

"Oh," she cringed again. "God, Kevin, I don't know what to say. "

"Nothing to say.  Don't worry, he got his.  He died, too, about a year after my mom.  I ended up bouncing from relative to relative.  Never stayed in any one place too long.  I was a bit of a handful.  Hard to imagine, I know."

"What a childhood," Amanda murmured.

"Not exactly a fairy tale," he conceded.  "But that's how it goes for us regular people."

She blinked at him, slowly realizing his implication.  "My childhood was hardly an ideal one, either."

"I know," he sympathized.  "Choosing just which jet to take to an out-of-town basketball game can really take its toll on a young girl."

"Money doesn't equal happiness," Amanda snapped.

"Agreed.  But I believe that, in addition to said money, you also had a Daddy who adored you.  Apple of his eye and all that."

"My father was a great man, and yes, he and I were close."

"I rest my case."

"My mother and I, on the other hand...."

"At least you had one," Kevin said.  "You're lucky you still do."

"I know.  I am lucky, I realize that.  My mother loves me.  But, sometimes, the way she shows it..." Amanda tried to find the appropriate words to convey what she meant without it coming off as petty or ungrateful.  "She can be overbearing.  And overprotective."

"I'm so sorry, let me take out my violin," Kevin teased, causing Amanda to laugh in spite of herself.

"Having your life managed for you because your mother thinks you're too dumb or too naive or too inept to think for yourself... it's stifling.  You end up forty years old and still feeling like a child."

"Especially when you continue to live at home with your mother."

"You just don't give an inch, do you?" Amanda challenged.

"As a lawyer, it's in the inches where you yank out your victory," he shrugged. "I will concede, in having reviewed a rather thick dossier on your mother, that she has certainly led a colorful life. When you have something that big to behold and try to live up to — "

"Exactly!" Amanda pounded the table between them in relief. "If she's not telling me how to run my life, then she's reassuring me that whatever I did wrong was nothing compared to the many different and more outrageous ways she'd managed to mess up hers once upon a time." Amanda let out a long breath, catching herself in the middle of her rant. "I sound like a poor little rich girl, don't I?"

"You sound like a woman who has the most typical of issues with her mother," he smiled. 

"I suppose after we land you're going to go home and strategize with Grant about how my mommy issues can help you win your case."

"I told you yesterday, you and your mommy issues are irrelevant to my case.  I simply asked you out to enjoy your company."

"Right.  And I accepted," she began, leaning over in her chair. "Because I intended to get you drunk and have my way with you."

"Well, we are alone," he gestured around the empty plane interior, somewhat intrigued at just how far this would go.  "If you'd be so kind as to get me another beer, I'm sure I can accommodate you. "

"Ms. Cory," came the pilot's voice over the intercom. "Please stay seated with your seatbelt firmly fastened.  We should be on the ground shortly."

Amanda sighed and flopped back in her seat, dutifully buckling up.  In response to Kevin's obvious amusement, she lamented, "In the immortal words of my daughter, tonight I was an epic fail.  Not only did I fall short on the drunk and seduction front — "

"Don't feel too bad.  I'm pleasantly buzzed.  And rather charmed."

" — I didn't get anything useful out of you at all about Kirkland's case."

"That is too bad for you," Kevin mock-sympathized.  "I, on the other hand, quite enjoyed watching you let your hair down and try to get inside Ray Allen's head by attacking his manhood."

"What?  My being a Bulls fan wasn't in your precious Cory/Frame family dossier?"

"It was not, I'm ashamed to say.  I intend to have a very stern talking to with my investigator about it in the morning."

"Ha!"  They were walking down the plane's steps to the tarmac when Amanda added, "You've still got the advantage over me.  But don't worry, on our next date, I'll be learning a lot more about you."

"Our next date?" Kevin cocked his head, the competitive confident Amanda from earlier that night rearing her head once more.

"I get another turn at bat," she insisted. "Getting you drunk. Having my way with you. Ferreting out more of your secrets."

"Another turn at bat? You're a baseball fan as well?"

"You'll just have to find out," she smirked, her laugh causing him to smile.

"Good night," she sang out as her driver drew up.  Knowing they'd be drinking, Amanda had made sure to order cars for both of them.  Separate cars, of course.  

But, before she could slide into the back seat of her ride, Kevin pulled Amanda gently to him, leaned down, and kissed her.  

Leaving Amanda speechless yet again.  

Rachel's third night of sleeping in the guest-room was topped off by Cass and Lila arriving the following morning to pick up Jasmine and Charlie.  And, while Matt was upstairs helping his daughter pack up her stuff and Charlie sat in the car mumbling about certain sisters being slowpokes, Cass and Lila asked Rachel to spy on her husband.  

That's wasn't exactly how they phrased it, but it was the gist of what they were requesting.  Basically, having gotten nowhere with Carl himself, they now wanted Rachel to do a little further digging.  Using any means necessary.  

"What makes you think Carl would tell me anything more than he's already told you?"  

"Well," Lila hedged.  "We weren't thinking that you should exactly ask him flat out.  We thought a more... subtle... approach might be in order."  

"I see.  Were you expecting Mata Hari or maybe Tokyo Rose?"  

When Rachel's historically-based question elicited nothing beyond a blank look from Lila, Cass stepped in to smooth over, "We don't mean it like that, Rachel.  Our thought was, what Carl said to you with the two of us in the room might not be the same thing he'd say when you were alone.  We just believe there's more to the story than Carl is telling.  And if he's going to come clean with anyone, it would most likely be you."  

"I'm not certain your high opinion of me is warranted."  

"Carl loves you. He got no pleasure seeing you so upset the other day, anyone could tell.  Maybe he wanted to tell you the whole truth, but couldn't with us around."  

"You really think that he's involved with Felicia's disappearance."  

"Yes," Cass said.  "But it doesn't have to be in a malevolent way.  He could simply know something about Gloria and Jenna that would help us find them.  Something that he doesn't think is relevant, so he sees no need to confide in Lila and me.  But maybe it's something that he would tell you."  

"So you are asking me to betray my husband's confidence? That is if he in fact has anything to say on the subject at all."  

"I'm getting desperate, Rachel," Cass confessed.  "Felicia has to be in serious trouble.  She'd have never stayed away this long without contacting me if she weren't.  You're her friend.  You know that if the situations were reversed — "  

"Don't, Cass."  Rachel held up one hand.  "Not the guilt card.  I get it."  

"Please, Rachel," Lila said.  "You might be Felicia's only hope."  

Carl was in his study, staring intently at his computer screen when Rachel came in.  He hurriedly clicked the Minimize button, leaving only a screen-saver featuring some random pastoral English countryside, and swiveled about in his chair to face her, asking jovially, "Shall I duck and cover, my pet?"  

Rachel said, "Sorry.  I lost my temper."  But declined to follow up with anymore details.  

Carl looked at her expectantly.  

She linked her fingers together and brought up both hands so that her thumbs were tapping her sternum.  She said, "Now that I've calmed down, I just wanted to ask you one more time: Are you sure you can't remember anything about Gloria Norris or Jenna Frame that might help Cass and Lila figure out what could have happened to Felicia and her family?"  

"No," Carl said.  And this time he wasn't defiant or over-the-top.  This time he appeared genuinely dumbfounded.  "Everything I said was the God's honest truth the way I recall it.  The woman was barely a footnote in my conscience."  

Rachel took a deep breath, needing to gather her courage before she articulated a suspicion that had been percolating in the back of her mind ever since Cass and Lila showed them Jenna's documents from the convent.  She spoke slowly, choosing each word with infinite care as she recalled, "You almost killed Jenna, once."  

"That was an accident," Carl sputtered.  

"True, you always claimed that you were really after Lucas."  

"I didn't know Jenna would be driving."  

"Yes," Rachel agreed, emphasizing the last word.  "So you said."  

"For God's sake, do you honestly believe that I would — "  

"What, Carl?  Try to kill an innocent girl because she was a loose end from some twenty-year-old felony you thought you'd previously buried?  Cover up one attempted murder by confessing to another?  Actually, that sounds a great deal like something you would do."  

"You don't trust me," Carl said.  It wasn't a question.  

Rachel answered it anyway.  "No.  Not now."  

"Then I know what I need to do," he said.  Carl stood to face Rachel.  "I shall be leaving town tomorrow morning."  

Rachel struggled to keep her voice steady as she asked him, "For how long?"  

"For as long as it takes me to settle this issue of Felicia and her missing kin once and for all."  

"How do you intend to do that?"  

"I'm afraid I can't tell you, Rachel.  You see, you've put me in a terrible bind.  I can't win.  If I fail to find Felicia, well, then obviously I've done something nefarious to her; If I do manage to locate her, then naturally I was the villain who has had her stashed away all along.  No, the best thing for me to do is to unravel this conundrum first, suss out the parties responsible and bring the entire chronicle to your doorstep as a fait accompli.  It is the only chance I have to clear my name.  Notice," he said with a trace of the playful twinkle that had made Rachel fall in love with him in the first place, "I did not say, my good name."  

It took all of her willpower to keep from smiling back.  Instead, Rachel merely asked, "Will you keep in touch?"  

"I can't really say.  It may have been a while, but I still posses an acquaintance or two in the realm of the less than... hallowed... pursuits.  When I retired my wicked, wicked ways, I left several debts outstanding.  I believe I shall presently give the gentlemen in question the chance to repay what they owe me."  

"Be careful," Rachel urged.  

"Oh, I can take care of myself.  I always have in the past."  

"You aren't just responsible for yourself, anymore," Rachel reminded.  "There's Cory and Elizabeth."  

"And you?" he wondered.  

Rachel couldn't quite bring herself to say the words. But she did manage a nod.  

"Thank you," Carl said.  And turned back to his computer, pointedly waiting for Rachel to leave before he resumed what he'd been working on before she interrupted.  

Rachel told herself that she was doing it for Felicia.  For Jenna and Dean.  For Lila and Cass.  For Cory and Elizabeth, even for Carl, himself.   

She certainly wasn't doing it for herself when she called Steven at school and asked him about hacking into another person's private e-mail account.  

"Don't know what you're talking about, Grandma."  He sounded so much like Jamie at that age.  So much like Jamie at that age, lying.  

"Not now, Steven," Rachel said.  "I know perfectly well that you hacked this entire household before your voice started changing."  

"Nah, I think you're confusing me with someone even more brilliant."  

"I said, not now," Rachel's nerves were already on edge and she couldn't take any more clever double-talk.  She'd gotten enough of it from her husband.  "I need to see Carl's e-mails from the past few weeks.  Actually, as far back as you can get it."  

Steven hesitated, and then he said, "Well, maybe I do have a back-door way in.  I'll call you back."  

"No," Rachel said.  "Don't call the house.  Just forward me everything you can dig up.  Do it as soon as possible.  And don't tell anyone."  

Rachel's tone made it clear that there would be no more discussion of the subject.  And that another smart remark would go equally unappreciated.  "Okay, Grandma.  Give me an hour.  I'll get it all to you by then."  

The boy was good at his word.  

Fifty-seven minutes after she hung up the phone, Rachel received a zip-file containing every e-mail Carl Hutchins had sent or received over the past three months.  It took her most of the afternoon to go through it, missive by missive, painstakingly reading and re-reading each line, searching for possible hidden meanings or code.  

By the end of the day, Rachel hadn't found any obvious links to Felicia's disappearance.  She did, however, learn that earlier in the morning — possibly right as she'd come into his study, her husband had made a reservation to fly to a remote town in Canada, as well as reserved a rental car at the airport, his final destination listed as Unspecified, and providing no date of return.  

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