"Lucas?" Rachel's identification
turned into a question by the last syllable.
Next to her, Carl had a different
guess. He snarled, "Nikos..."
The man shuffling down the
hall towards them seemed reluctant to acknowledge either moniker.
Truth be told, he looked as if he'd rather not acknowledge them at
all. His eyes darted from side, searching for a quick escape.
Only when he realized that there was no way out, did he suddenly increase
his pace and, with a strangled cry of "You son of a bitch!" fling
himself bodily at Carl.
The dark-haired man had the
element of surprise on his side, not to mention a fist already raised
to strike a crippling blow. But Carl had the instincts (plus the
nine lives) of a feline, not to mention much more experience with strangers
wanting to pummel him. He was able to duck the head-on attack
and even turn the tables on his assailant by grabbing the other man's
arm, yanking it down hard, and flinging him against the opposite wall.
Before his foe had the chance to catch his breath, Carl pressed the
palm of his hand into the other's back, trapping him there, then deftly
kicked the legs out from under him, grinding his heel into the other's
neck as soon as he hit the ground.
"I'd heard rumors, Nikos,"
Carl sneered. "That reports of your death were greatly exaggerated.
I should have known you'd end up here. Don't we all at one
time or another?"
The man on the ground didn't
reply. Though writhing in pain, he used what strength he had left
to twist his head so that he could look up at Rachel. Choking
and gagging from the weight of Carl's foot on his neck, he nevertheless
refused to break their gaze, until Rachel gasped, grabbed her husband
by the arm and tried to pull him off.
"Balderdash," Carl snapped,
huffing from the effort of their altercation. "Even if he were
alive, what would Lucas Castigliano be doing here? This is Alexander
"You put me here, you bastard."
Between Rachel pulling Carl off and Lucas regaining his breath, he was
able to rise to his knees, knocking Carl off and sideways, though the
latter did manage to retain his balance. Lucas stretched to his
full height, dusting himself off as he told Rachel, "Your husband's
had me locked up inside this place for seventeen years."
"Liar!" Carl roared.
"Even if he is who he claims to be, I had no previous knowledge of
"Lucas," Rachel said softly.
She took both of his hands in hers and looked into his eyes. "You
are Lucas, aren't you?"
"Oh, do spare us the theatrics,"
Carl groaned. "Rachel, be reasonable. I already explained
to you what sort of enterprise this is. Now who do you think was
more the sort to obtain membership, here? Lucas, with his penny-ante
money laundering for a drug cartel, or Nikos, who could have bought
and sold the entire organization one hundred times over?"
Without looking at her husband,
still locked into Lucas' eyes, Rachel said, "Alexander Nikos kidnapped
me. He trapped me in a crypt. I'd know him anywhere.
This is not Alexander Nikos."
"Thank you, Rachel," Lucas
said. Then added, "You don't know how wonderful it is to see
Rachel embraced him tightly,
holding on for a beat longer than otherwise might have been necessary.
Because she realized that, as soon as she let go, she would have to
start facing even more unpleasant truths.
Finally, when she could put
it off no longer, Rachel told Lucas, "We all thought you were dead."
"I know," Lucas said.
"For a long time, I thought I was dead, too. The last thing
I remember was being in the hospital after I was shot, talking to Lorna.
And then I woke up here. I was still in bed, still hooked up to
tubes and machines, but there wasn't a living soul around. I
guess they must have drugged me somehow to change my bandages and bring
me food, because for months, close to a year, I didn't see anybody.
All I knew was that I was being taken care of. I tell you, Rachel,
at first I thought I would go crazy. And then I prayed that I
already had and this was some sort of hallucination, because the idea
that I would have to live this way for the rest of my life...."
"If you didn't see anyone,"
Rachel asked, "Then how do you know that Carl was the one responsible
for bringing you here?"
"Thank you!" Carl exploded.
"Finally, a sensible question."
Lucas glared at Carl.
"I said that I didn't see anybody at first. Once I was well
enough to move around, Hutchins here paid me a visit."
"I did nothing of the sort!"
"He told me I had a choice.
I could accept my imprisonment peacefully and live out the rest of my
life here in relative comfort they're apparently set up for long-term
'guests' as long as we're willing to cooperate. Or I could
refuse and try to escape. In that case, Carl would leave orders
to have me killed at the first attempt."
"Why?" Carl demanded.
"Why did I allegedly do this thing? What use, or rather, what
threat, were you ever to me? What did I possibly have to gain
from neutralizing a man who, to all intents and purposes, was no more
than a glorified thug, who thought that putting on an expensive suit
and dropping his ethnic surname could ever cover up the stench of ramshackle
"Carl!" Rachel said.
"Well," Carl zeroed in
on Lucas. "I'm waiting. Tell me. Tell us all.
What was my motivation? Not that I am admitting to anything, but
at least if you confessed to being Nikos, there would be some logic
to this accusation. Nikos had a legitimate grudge against me.
There was his luscious Diana. There was my shooting him.
Nikos had vowed to destroy me, and, with a bit of providence on his
part, he might well have managed to do so. Nikos was a man I might
have considered incarcerating for the long haul. But, Lucas?
How could Lucas harm me?"
"It wasn't about me,"
Lucas said grimly. "It was about my daughter."
"Lorna?" Carl laughed.
"Are you honestly alleging that I lived in fear of your deciding to
avenge the lovely Lorna's honor? Is that the best you can do?"
"Not Lorna," Lucas took
a deep breath, unsure up until the last moment whether he would really
come out and say it. "Jenna."
"Jenna?" Rachel reacted
as if struck by lightening. "Carl had you kidnapped because
Lucas nodded. "I was looking for her father." He turned his head towards Carl. "I found him."
At first, Cass thought he'd
simply misheard Jasmine. So he asked again, "Sorry, Jazz, where'd
you say Charlie went?"
Without tearing her eyes from
the television screen where Right Said Fred was explaining why he was
too sexy for several items of his clothing, Jasmine repeated, "She
went out with her mom."
"That isn't funny, young
lady," Lila stepped in front of the TV, blocking Jasmine's view.
"Now apologize to Cass, and tell him the truth."
"I am telling the truth."
Jasmine craned her neck for a peek at the screen. "I was coming
home from school, and I saw Charlie getting into a car with her mom.
Then they drove away."
"Jazz," Cass reminded.
"Charlie's mother is dead."
Jasmine shrugged. "So
was Kirkland's dad."
Seeing that Cass was about
to blow his top, Lila raised a hand and indicated that she would handle
this. She turned off the TV and sat on the couch next to Jasmine.
Her voice extra-sweet, she asked Jasmine, "Now, honey, how do you
know for a fact this was Charlie's mama that she went off with?"
"I recognized her," Jasmine
said. "From her picture." And she pointed to the photo
hanging on the wall, showing Cass, Frankie and Charlie on Charlie's
first birthday. Right underneath it hung a picture of Lila, Matt
and Jasmine at her christening. It was Cass and Lila's way of
acknowledging the blended nature of their family. "Can I watch
Lila nodded absently, handed
the remote to Jasmine, and crossed the room to stand next to Cass.
She whispered, "I'm sure Jasmine just made a mistake. She
saw a woman with red hair and she assumed it was Frankie. Why
don't you give Charlie a call, put your mind at ease?"
Cass agreed, reached for his
cell-phone and moved into the kitchen to make his call. Lila followed,
hovering about anxiously while attempting to look as if she weren't
hovering about at all.
Cass dialed and waited through
at least six rings. He was expecting the voice-mail to click on
when Charlie finally answered the phone.
"Hey, Dad, what's up?"
"Where are you?"
Charlie hesitated. "What
do you mean? I'm at home."
Cass suppressed the urge to
throttle the phone as an effigy of his daughter. "Try again,
sweetheart. I'm at home."
"Oh," Charlie giggled nervously.
"Busted, huh? Look, I know you wanted me to hang with Jazz after
school, but there was this stupid One Hit Wonders
show she wanted to watch, and she's old enough to look after herself.
Give the kid some credit."
"I asked you where you were,
Cass could practically hear
Charlie rolling her eyes. "A friend's house. It's
no big deal."
"Charlie," Cass took a
deep breath, hoping he wouldn't sound like a complete lunatic but
knowing that he wouldn't be able to breathe right again unless he
asked. "Jasmine said she saw you getting into a car. Driven
by your mother."
"Lila?" Charlie asked.
"Don't play dumb with me."
"Oh! Wait, I got it!
Jazz must have seen me with Mrs. Bratton, my friend, Ariel's, mom.
She picked us up today. She's got red hair, too. That
must be who Jazz saw."
Her story was so close to Lila's
theory and now that he thought about it, Cass did seem to recall
that Mrs. Bratton was a redhead; straight out of the bottle and the
color of turnips on fire, but a redhead, just the same that Cass
felt obligated to accept her explanation as the truth. Because
if he didn't, then....
"Say, Dad," Charlie wheedled.
"As long as I've got you on the phone, can I spend the night at
Ariel's? I'll be back tomorrow by lunchtime."
"Well... Lila and I were
planning to take you girls out for the afternoon." Cass looked
over and noticed that Lila was gesturing for him to say yes. She
mouthed, "We can do it another time, let the child have her fun."
Cass shrugged and said, "Alright, that's fine, I guess. If
that's what you'd rather do."
"Thanks, Dad. You're
the best. Listen, I got to go, phone battery is seriously dying
"Have a good time," Cass
said. "I love "
But Charlie was already hanging
up the phone. Unfortunately for her, she didn't do it fast enough.
The last thing Cass heard before the line went dead was a woman calling
out, "Come on, Charlie, pizza is here."
It wasn't the voice of Charlie's
It wasn't the voice of Ariel's
turnip-haired mother, Mrs. Bratton.
It was the voice of Mary Frances Frame Ordway Winthrop.
"So," Marley offered her
first words nearly half an hour after she and Jamie exited the Bay City
Grille following their face-off with Grant. "That went well."
Jamie attempted to keep at
least one eye on the road as, at the same time, he snuck a sideways
glance at Marley. She was smiling. Which didn't make any
sense. After everything Grant had flung at her, how in the world
could Marley be smiling?
"Jamie," Marley nodded
calmly towards the windshield. "Red light."
"Crap," he muttered, his
foot smashing down on the brakes. The car's tires squealed in
protest as they skidded to a stop inches from the bumper in front of
"Want me to drive?" Marley
offered. "You seem a little upset."
"I am a little upset,"
Jamie snapped, unnerved by her calmness. "Question is: Why aren't
you a lot upset?"
"Because Grant was just being
Grant," she shrugged. "You pick a fight with him, you have
to anticipate the low blows." Marley shifted her seatbelt to
better face Jamie. "Please stop worrying about me. I'm
fine. Really. I've gotten a lot tougher over the years."
"I know that," Jamie began.
Because he did know it. Unfortunately, he also knew that, no matter
what Marley claimed now, Grant's words had gotten to her. He
knew that, her protests to the contrary, Marley was just putting up
a brave front. And she was doing it primarily for Jamie's benefit.
Because even after all these years, even after everything they'd been
through together, she still felt compelled to hide parts of herself
from him. She still didn't trust him to accept her hurts and
her fears and, most especially, her anger. Jamie said, "Still,
I shouldn't have let you "
"You didn't let
me do anything," Marley chastised firmly. "I was the one who
picked this fight. You just came along for the ride."
"Some ride. Listen,
Marley, I hope you didn't take anything that son-of-a-bitch said to
heart." Jamie stepped on the gas pedal as the light turned green
in front of them. "Him taunting you about not being able to
have children of your own -- "
"I always wondered what I
did wrong," Marley cut Jamie off as if she hadn't even heard him
speak. "How I could have made God or Mother Nature or Fate,
whomever, how I could have made them so angry that "
Now it was Jamie's turn to
interrupt. "It wasn't your fault, Marley."
"I know," she sighed and
ironically quoted Grant's turn of phrase. "It was an accident
of biology. But.... Back when you and I were together.... Back
then, I was so infected with baby rabies, I couldn't see straight."
"Baby rabies," he repeated,
not sure whether to laugh or groan at the term.
"I was completely, utterly, irrationally obsessed with having a baby to the point of insanity. The things I said.... The things I did.... "
"We both made mistakes back
then," Jamie insisted.
"I wanted to have a family
with you so badly. And here's the kicker: Now, I do. All
it took was for my sister to die, and, all of a sudden, I have two boys
and two girls to raise a perfect set. And who was the closest
thing they had left to a father? You!"
"We did what we had to do.
We certainly didn't wish anything bad on Vicky or Jake."
"I wonder sometimes," Marley
mused, then instantly cut herself off from entertaining the thought
any further. "I am so grateful for Steven and Kirk, and Bridget
and Michelle. You've all made my life so.... Full."
Grasping what she was thinking
despite Marley pointed attempt to change the subject, Jamie sternly
told her, "You did not steal your sister's life. You simply
stepped into a difficult situation and did the best you could."
"I know that. Logically,
I know that. But it doesn't mean I can't feel guilty."
Marley took a deep breath, fortifying herself. And then she assured
Jamie, "Don't worry. I am not going to let whatever residual
guilt I may feel about playing Mom to Vicky's kids help Grant Harrison
manipulate me for his own ends. He got his shots in tonight.
But as I warned him, he underestimates me."
"He underestimates us,"
Jamie corrected. "We're in this together."
"And at least we accomplished
one thing, tonight."
"What?" Jamie reviewed
the back-and-forth of insults between them and came up empty.
Marley patted the doggy-bag
of food balanced on her lap. "We completely ruined his dinner."
Fingers trembling, Cass hit
the re-dial button so ferociously that he split a nail.
"Cass, honey, what is it?"
Lila hurried over. "You've gone pale as a ghost."
"Frankie," the words were
coming out so fast his lips could hardly form all the appropriate sounds.
"I heard Frankie. Charlie's with Frankie."
Lila soothed. "You were just thinking about her, and then you
heard some other woman's voice and you thought "
"I'm telling you, I heard
Lila didn't flinch.
She simply said, "I'm your wife, Cass."
"Why isn't Charlie picking
up the goddamn phone?" Cass demanded. "No, I don't wish to leave
a message," he screamed into the receiver.
"Calm down," Lila pleaded.
"Did you take your medication today? Maybe you're having an
inappropriate reaction to "
"Hearing my dead wife's
voice on the phone, talking to my daughter? Actually, I think
I'm having a very appropriate reaction! Damn it, where is she?"
"Charlie's been having
a lot of problems with her battery recently. She kept asking you
to get her a new phone, remember? She probably just can't hear
"Bratton," Cass said.
"Charlie claimed she was spending the night with Ariel Bratton.
Do we have her number anywhere?"
"I'm sure we do," Lila
soothed. "Let me check." She found a landline connection
for the Brattons in her own cell, but was informed that it had recently
been disconnected. A call to Kirk Frame confirmed that the Brattons
had moved out of Bay City before Spring Break.
"Where is she?" Cass'
entire body was quaking now. He prowled the room, so wound up
all the lithium in the world couldn't have helped him. "I
have to find her. I have to find my daughter."
"I'm sure she's fine."
"Of course, she's fine.
She's great. How could she not be fine? She's with her mother!"
"You know what this means,
Lila? Do you know what this means? Either Charlie and Frankie
are both dead, and my cell-phone's roaming plan extends to the Great
Beyond, or Charlie is alive. And if Charlie is alive, then....
"Frankie is alive, too,"
Lila finished for him.
He stopped short. "Actually,
what I was going to say was that if Charlie is alive, then the person
she's most probably with isn't Frankie, but Anne O'Donnell."
"Oh." That brought
Lila up short, too. "I hadn't thought of that. Of course,
that must be it, you're right. She's with Anne. That's
who Jasmine saw, it all makes sense now."
"Which begs the question,
what the hell is that woman doing with my daughter? More importantly,
why is Charlie lying to me about it?"
"We'll ask her as soon
as she comes home, tomorrow, I promise. You know what? I'll
send Jasmine to spend the day with Matt, so you, me and Charlie can
have a nice, long, family chat, just the three of us. Clear the
"No way am I waiting until
tomorrow," Cass grabbed his car keys. "I'm getting to the
bottom of this tonight."
Rachel looked at Carl.
She said, "You're Jenna's father."
"The hell I am," Carl challenged.
"Whoever this charlatan is, Lucas, Nikos, some long-lost triplet to
them both, he is peddling a foul font of falsehoods. Not only
did I not lock him up here in order to keep Jenna's paternity a secret
what after all, is the big scandal in that? I dare you to
name me a single citizen of Bay City who doesn't claim at least one
ill-conceived bastard to their name -- but I categorically deny the
imposed mantle of fatherhood altogether. I engaged in no relationship
with her mother, and I intend to go to my grave insisting upon it."
Rachel hesitated. She
told Lucas, "He has a point. Why would Carl go so unduly out
of his way to deny Jenna? When he found out Ryan was his son,
he couldn't wait to claim him, why would Jenna have been any different?"
"Perhaps because she isn't
my daughter," Carl snapped.
Lucas ignored him and admitted
to Rachel, "I haven't the slightest idea why he did what he did.
I only know that I've been locked up in this godforsaken hell-hole
for seventeen years, and that Carl is the one responsible."
Rachel told Lucas, "Felicia,
Jenna and Dean have been missing since before Easter. Carl and
I came here hoping to find them."
Lucas shook his head.
"They're not here."
"How can you be sure?"
"After seventeen years, you
get to know the rhythms of a place. No one new has been brought here
in weeks, I'm certain of it."
"I'm sure you'll excuse
us if we don't simply take your word for it," Carl drawled.
"And take a bit of a look around ourselves."
"Of course," Lucas stepped
aside. "You'll see, the only times any of these rooms are
locked is when someone is being held, and they're all currently empty."
A thorough search of the floor
confirmed Lucas' assessment. If Felicia, Jenna and Dean were
being kept at the compound, they were in a location so clandestine that
neither Carl nor Lucas would admit to knowing about it.
At the end of their hunt, Lucas
challenged Carl, "What have you done with my family?"
"Ah, so now I'm the villain
responsible for their disappearance, as well. Tell me, do you
also wish to charge me with kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, assassinating
Kennedy and turning Jesus over to the Romans in exchange for several
pieces of silver?"
"I can't think of a better
can my wife." Carl indicated Rachel, who ducked her head, deeply
embarrassed. "I'd come here hoping to locate the misplaced
Gallant and Frame clan, and thus unshackle the light of suspicion from
my person once and for all. I must say, though, it is awfully
convenient, us running into you like this, Lucas," the way Carl pronounced
the name made it clear he highly doubted it was indeed whom he was speaking
to. "What better scenario for a man with the financial resources
of, say, Alexander Nikos, to destroy my life, my marriage, my home,
by setting up this entire venture to make me appear guilty not only
of Felicia, Jenna and Dean's abduction, but their paterfamilias, as
"That sort of sick game playing
is your thing, Carl, not mine." Lucas sighed. "But if
you want proof that I really am who I say I am, I know how we can make
Finding the appropriate thing
to wear for an eight AM date proved even more difficult for Amanda than
selecting a PM outfit. Especially since she had no idea what Kevin
had in mind for the two of them.
Finally, she went with an ankle-length,
white, flowing skirt, and matching, sleeveless tank-top. The monochromatic
color scheme initially came off as a bit too virginal for her taste,
but she hoped the provocatively bared arms and shoulders more than made
up for it.
Kevin, for his part, wore dark
jeans and a black polo shirt when he knocked on Amanda's door, promptly
at 8 AM. He was pulling a wheeled suitcase behind him with one
Both burst out laughing when
they took in each other's apparel.
"We look like a photo negative,"
"What's black and white
and red all over?" Kevin mused. "You and I after a day in
"Are we going to be outside?"
Amanda asked. "Do I need to change?"
"You look beautiful," Kevin
said. The words may have been perfunctory, but the way his eyes
took in every inch of her some parts more than once conveyed
Amanda craned her neck to peer
into the drive. "Where's your car?"
"Didn't bring one."
"Oh. Well. Do
you want to take mine?"
"Nope," Kevin said and,
from out of his pocket, produced a pair of plastic tickets.
Amanda looked closely.
"We're taking the bus?"
Kevin gallantly offered her
his arm. "Private jets don't land where we're going."
"So when do I get to meet
Cousin Steven?" Sarah asked Allie over breakfast.
"Would you stop calling him
that? I know our family tree can get "
"I was going to say, complicated.
But I'm pretty sure you and Steven are not related. Quit saying
stuff that might make me change my mind."
"Fine. When do I get
to meet Plain Old Steven?"
Allie challenged, "How does
it usually work on the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Fool-Proof Plan?"
"Well, usually, I scope the
guy out for a while, nothing stalker-y, just good, solid research.
See what he likes, what he doesn't like, get a feel for what he's
about. Then I make my move. Most times, I've got to be
the one to arrange our totally accidental meeting. But I figure
here, I've got a secret weapon. You."
Allie cocked her head to one
side. "Want to throw a verb into that sentence?"
"You want me to hook you
and Steven up?"
"Just a nice, casual introduction.
I'm new in town, don't really know anybody, what could be more natural
than a nice, friendly outing to introduce me to the young people of
Bay City? Say, I just had an idea! Steven's thesis partner,
that GQ fellow, isn't he new in town, too? What say we make
it a foursome?"
Allie laughed so hard that
orange juice nearly came out of her nose. "Oh, God, Sarah, that
was really awful."
"Hey, I'm majoring in sociology,
not drama. Besides, you've got to be the one to sell this to
Steven and GQ, not me."
"What makes you think I want
to go on this group outing with you, Steven and GQ?"
"Because," Sarah said simply.
"If you could stay away from him, then you wouldn't be in love with
Allie said, "I hate you."
"That's alright," Sarah
shrugged. "Just let me know when and where we're all getting
Kirkland used to think that the one place his troubles couldn't find him was under water at his school's Olympic-sized training pool. And he was right. This morning, his troubles waited until he resurfaced. And they came dressed in a fedora and wing-tipped shoes.
"Going to a costume party?" Kirk treaded water in the deep end and peered up at his biological father. Grant's puzzled frown indicated that he didn't comprehend the reference, so Kirk expanded, "The hat? The shoes? You look like you're headed to a lunch meeting with Al Capone. You can't be serious."
"It's called style, Kirkland." If Grant was offended, he hid it well. "Your mother had it, as well."
"Don't get me wrong, man. It gives you a certain, what do you call it, panache? But, still, it's kind of scary."
Grant removed his hat with a fluid sweep of one arm. "Your grandmother's fetish for brash jewelry? Now that's scary. I don't believe Donna ever met a bauble she didn't like."
"Whatever. You come here to show off your new hat?" Kirk pushed off from the side, kicking up a spray of water in Grant's direction.
"Do you mind?" Grant made scurrying away from an attack of liquid chlorine seem somehow smooth. "The suit is silk." He removed a handkerchief from his right-breast pocket and used it to dab at a few stray drops on his lapel. "Would you please get out of the pool, son? I have something for you."
"I'll show you when you get out of the pool." Grant's calm demeanor suggested that he could wait as long as he needed to. Which, of course, made it no longer fun to tease the old guy.
Mumbling under his breath, Kirk swam over to the ladder and hefted himself out. He sloshed over to Grant, not bothering to grab a towel and dry himself off despite the chill that assaulted him. Kirk wasn't about to give Grant the satisfaction of thinking Kirkland was actually trying not to splash him a second time.
"Okay. I'm out. What is it?"
The old man hesitated, his sardonic eyes suddenly unsure, even wary. Reaching into his pocket, Grant pulled out a small, wrapped gift and handed it to Kirkland.
"It's a present. For your birthday. I know it's late, but..."
"Oh," was all Kirkland said as he looked at the gift, oddly touched.
Until he remembered that this was one of ten birthdays his father had missed.
"Cool," he nodded dismissively, turning back to the pool. "Just put it over there next to the diving board, and I'll pick it up when I'm done."
"I was hoping you'd open it now."
"Because one stupid present is supposed to make up for letting me think you were dead and then for popping up out of nowhere and being a real dick to my family? No, thanks, I think I'll pass on playing along."
"Which part of 'no, thanks' don't you get, Grant? You can't come here after ten years and suddenly want to be my dad and expect me to be okay with it, not after the crap you've pulled. Where were you for ten years? What were you doing that was so important it was more important than me?"
"I didn't I didn't want to leave you, Kirkland. You have to understand "
"No, I don't. I don't have to do anything. I don't have to understand anything except that you're a douche."
Come on, Grant, Kirkland urged silently. Get mad. Yell at me. Prove that you're the bastard everyone says you are. Make it easy for me to give up on this fantasy of my great, terrific, wonderful, hero dad that I've been carrying around since I was five. Make it easy for me to choose between you and the family that's loved me ever since you went away.
"You're right," Grant nodded. "I do have a lot to explain. A lot to make up for."
Kirk snatched the gift from Grant's hand and tore into the wrapping with his wet fingers, causing it to disintegrate. "It's going to take a lot more than some overdue, crappy birthday presents to...."
Kirk's voice trailed off as he stared at the image of his mother's face.
Grant's fifteenth birthday gift to Kirkland was a framed picture of his mother, looking so beautiful, her eyes alive and bright and even a little devilish, as she was caught mid-laugh along with Grant, the two of them in each other's arms.
Kirkland's parents. Together. Looking...happy.
"I've never seen this one before," Kirkland murmured.
"I'm sure you haven't," Grant chuckled. "That was taken the night your mother helped me win my Senate seat."
"When you first fell in love with her," Kirkland invoked the words as if they came from an oft-repeated fairy tale.
"Yes," Grant nodded fervently. "So many people in Bay City like to pretend that my and Vicky's marriage never existed. But it did. You're proof of that."
Kirkland studied the picture
for a moment before looking up into Grant's hopeful eyes. He
faced his father, trying his hardest not to cry.
He told Grant, "You really
suck, you know that?"
The bus dropped Amanda and
Kevin off at the edge of Bayside Park. He stretched his arm forward
to gallantly help her down the steps, then asked, "Did you enjoy your
Amanda put her hand on one
hip, maneuvering the stairs on her own, thank you very much, and informed
him, "You don't have to be so patronizing. I have ridden the
bus before, you know."
"In this millennium?" he
She thought about it, then
reluctantly admitted, "No."
"They've got motors now
and everything. No more horse-drawn street-cars."
If anyone else had made such
a crack, Amanda would have presumed it was a reference to her encroaching
middle age and proceeded to get if not exactly insulted, then at least
somewhat huffy. But, with Kevin, all she did was laugh and counter,
"Actually, in my day, they were still dinosaur-drawn. And we
had to move the street-cars with our feet."
Now it was Kevin's turn to
laugh. He took Amanda's hand in his and led her deeper into
the park, where they encountered a baseball-diamond, and what appeared
to be the first inning of a Little League game between the Bay City
Braves and the Springfield Spirits.
Kevin picked a shady place
under a tree, unzipped his suitcase, and proceeded to pull out a picnic
blanket, which he then spread on the ground.
Amanda asked, "We're having
our date, here?"
"You told me you were a sports
fans. This is a great spot. Perfect view of the action,
without having to fry in the sun or break your back on those wooden
Amanda said, "You're not
He looked up at her, shading
his eyes with one hand. "Beg your pardon?"
"You're one of the most
successful family practice lawyers in the country, so I know you're
"Did I ever say that I was?"
Amanda sat down on the picnic
blanket, smoothing down her skirt and feeling grateful she hadn't
opted for a micro-mini version. "Even if you didn't grow up
with money, you must have plenty of it now. So what's the deal
with the bus ride and the free Little League game and the do-it-yourself
picnic? I get it, I went a little overboard last time. But
that's no reason for you to rub it in like this."
"Actually," Kevin said.
"I wasn't going for poverty. I was going for diversity."
He reached back into his case and withdrew a cooler, out of which came
caviar, both red and black, a chilled bottle of white wine, goat cheese,
and, separately, a loaf of French bread. The caviar was Iranian,
the wine Tuscan, the cheese Italian. And each was that nation's
most expensive brand.
"Oh," Amanda said, now
thoroughly confused, not to mention a touch embarrassed.
"I figure we'd go from
private jets and courtside seats with pizza and hot dogs, to bus, Little
League, and a gourmet spread. Somewhere in between, I was hoping
to get rid of all those exterior trappings, and locate the real Amanda
"Oh," she repeated, taking
it all in. Amanda accepted the plastic cup of wine that Kevin
offered her and, after taking a sip, said, "If you do find her, would
you let me know?"
Allie was on her way out the
door to see Steven... and GQ... not that she had any idea what she'd
say to either one of them, when she bumped into her uncle Matt heading
in the same direction.
"Allie," his eyes lit up.
"Perfect, Allie, could you do me a favor? I've got to go grab
Jasmine from Lila's, take her to Donna's so she can hook up with
the twins for their fencing lesson, then pick her up again at 10:30.
Except, I've got a meeting scheduled for then. Any chance you
could swing by and get Jazz at the fencing school then bring her back
Allie looked at her watch.
Whatever she had to say to Steven and GQ, it couldn't possibly take
her two hours. And, if it did, then it might be nice to have a
handy excuse for getting away. So she told Matt, "Sure."
As it turned out, Allie should
have cut her projected appointment time in half, as Steven wasn't
even at the computer lab. GQ was there alone. And he'd
seen Allie come in, so it was too late to turn the other way and flee.
"Hey," GQ said, his voice
so neutral that it was impossible to read a single emotion into his
greeting. Not that it stopped Allie from doing just that.
"Hi," she said.
"Steven isn't here."
"I can see that."
"You want me to take a message
"Uhm... yeah, sure.
Yeah, that would be good."
GQ waited. Then he prompted,
"What's the message?"
"Right." Allie nodded
her head fervently. "The message."
"Right. Right, tell
Steven that my friend, Sarah, Dennis and Olivia's daughter from California,
she's in town, and she'd like to go out and meet some people.
So we thought her, me, Steven, tomorrow night, maybe Carlino's, we'd
hang out. Hey," Allie said. "Maybe you want to come,
too? You haven't met too many people since you got here."
Allie swallowed hard, mouth dry. "Have you?"
"Allie.... " GQ began,
and Allie thought she heard a trace of pity in his voice.
Alexandra Cory Fowler could
handle a lot. But she never had been able to handle pity.
"Of course, if you have,
then bring a date," Allie said blithely. And then, having no
idea what prompted her to say it or how exactly she expected to back
her claim up, Allie added, "I am."
This time, as Matt sent the
girls off to class with Gregory Hudson, Donna was most certainly not
waiting for him, nude, at the house.
In fact, fully clothed, she
told Matt to go away, she had said everything she needed to back at
the station, they had nothing more to talk about.
"Then don't talk," Matt
told her. "Just listen."
When she didn't deny him,
when she didn't say anything at all, Matt took it as the closest he
would get to her accord, and plunged straight ahead. He did feel
mighty foolish, addressing a closed door. For all Matt knew, the
reason Donna wasn't saying anything was because she'd already walked
away. But, somehow, Matt didn't think so. He knew it was
quixotic and overly romantic, but Matt believed that he could sense
Donna on the other side, listening to him in spite of herself.
Matt believed that even if he couldn't see her, he knew when Donna
was there. And she was there now, as eager to hear the words that
would fix this rotten state of affairs between them whatever they
were; it's not like he'd ever been drawn a clear picture as
Matt was to say them.
He cleared his throat and began,
"I've been thinking about what you said the other day. About
my acting juvenile."
"Well... I... " So
she was still there. Matt took it as the smallest of victories.
"Perhaps I was a bit harsh."
"No," he insisted.
"No, you were right. I was acting juvenile. From the very
beginning with us, I've been acting like a dumb kid. When we
were married and I found out about you and Michael, I threw a tantrum.
There's no other way to describe it. I threw a tantrum like
I was six years old, and insisted that we get our marriage annulled.
Well, you know what? That was stupid of me. Because look
at us now, Donna. Obviously, something keeps pulling us back together.
Maybe because, deep down, we know its where the two of us belong. And
maybe if I'd been a little bit more mature thirteen years ago, we
could have worked through it. I gave up then. I'm not
going to give up now. You're worth fighting for. It's
the grown up thing to do."
"I know something is wrong,
Donna. And the juvenile thing would be for me to just throw my
hands up in the air and walk away, pretend I didn't care, pretend
that you and I never happened. Isn't that what an annulment
is? Where the law says that everything we went through, all the
good times and the bad, they never happened. We may have annulled
our marriage, but I am not annulling what we have now. I am not
going to pretend that I can't see you hurting. And I am not
leaving this spot until you let me help you."
Slowly, so slowly that, at
first, Matt thought he might even be imagining it, Donna opened the
door. She peered at him through the crack. She said, "It
can get rather chilly on the porch, Matthew."
He smiled wryly. "You're
Donna shook her head, but whether
at herself or at him, it wasn't clear. "Damn it. Damn
"Hey, that's a start, we're
"What did I ever do to deserve
"Just born lucky, I guess."
At that, even Donna couldn't
help it, and she laughed, only by the end it seemed to have turned into
a sob. She said, "I thought if we kept our relationship secret
this time, we could avoid the pitfalls."
"I don't think it worked,"
"No. It didn't.
But not in the way you presume. Turns out, we aren't exactly a
secret." She sighed and looked away, embarrassed, when she confessed, "Grant Harrison knows."
"Grant? How the hell
did Grant find out?"
"Apparently being part weasel
comes in handy all sorts of ways."
Matthew pondered the implications,
then shrugged. "So Grant knows, so what? It's not like
I really care what he thinks about my personal life."
"You don't understand."
Donna took a deep breath. "He's blackmailing me. Grant
is threatening to tell the world about us, unless I agree to testify
on his behalf at Kirkland's custody hearing. I can't let our
relationship hurt my grandson, or Marley or your brother. That's why
we have to end things, Matthew. Don't you see? It's
out of my hands."
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