"Congratulations," Grant magnanimously stretched forward his hand to shake Chase's. "I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job as our new mayor."
"Thank you," Chase ushered Grant and a jittery Sarah into his office. "I must say, it was a pleasure."
"What? Running against me, or winning?"
Chase gave it a moment's thought, then offered, "Both."
Grant smiled wryly. "I'm surprised to see you back on the job. You must have a million details to take care of."
"I do. Right here. My term doesn't begin until January. And I don't like to leave loose ends. Ms. Wheeler," he turned to Sarah. "Lovely to see you again, have a seat. I'm sure your attorney has briefed you on your rights, your options, and your obligations."
"He said I'm not obligated to answer your questions."
"Quite right. You are, however, obliged to listen. So, one more time," he pointed to a chair, tone no longer quite as congenial. "Have a seat, Ms. Wheeler."
She did as she was told, Grant next to her.
"Okay," Chase, across the table from them both, began. "I'm sure that your boyfriend, Mr. Frame, has filled you in on how this works."
"He's not my..." Sarah interjected. Then, realizing that just because it was the only thing she could think about, that didn't particularly make it relevant to every situation, blushed and shook her head. "Never mind."
"Really?" Chase startled.
"Really?" Grant echoed, suddenly recalling Marley comforting a tearful Sarah the previous day and why she probably hadn't found the time subsequently to fill him in.
"Yeah," Sarah mumbled, eyes fixed on the floor.
"I'm sorry," Grant offered.
While Chase merely smiled and, taking the file he'd prepared previously, pointedly and deliberately moved it aside. "In that case, I'm afraid I'm very confused, Ms. Wheeler."
"What? We can't all be like you and perfect boyfriend." She explained, "I saw you guys on TV last night. He is seriously hot."
"And seriously into you. I could tell. You're lucky."
"Yes," Chase agreed. "I most certainly am."
"Well, I'm not," she rolled her eyes, then demanded, "Is this what you brought me down here to talk about?"
"In a manner of speaking." Chase softened his voice. "Help me out, here, Sarah. I don't understand. I know that Allie was in love with Gregory, she instigated this whole thing; Gregory said as much on the voice-mail he left his parents. And Steven was clearly the brains of the operation. My forensic IT department still can't quite figure out how he tapped into the hospital system the way he did. I know Jen drove the car, there are photos from when she paid a toll on the way to the cabin, and GQ was the distraction we've got positive IDs from two members of the janitorial staff. By the way, here's a tip you might want to pass on to him: Black man with a broom is invisible. But, not to other Black men. This is where I start to get confused, however.... except for the fact that you were there when the body was discovered and turned yourself in with the rest of them, I've got nothing concrete tying you to this crime at all."
"So does that mean I'm free to go?" she pretended to stand.
"Aw, gee, and here I got all excited."
"What's your point?" Grant gestured for Sarah to sit back down.
"My point is, it's barely worth my time to prosecute you. Give me a reason not to, and you can walk out of here today, your record wiped clean."
"What kind of a reason are you looking for?" Grant wondered, knowing perfectly well what was coming next, but able to play litigation theater with the best of them.
"I've got physical evidence, I've got motive, I've got means. What I don't have is corroboration. Just confirm what I already know about the others, and we're good."
"You want me to inform on my friends?"
"Not all of them. I'm a reasonable man, and I've just won a major election, so I happen to be in a generous mood. Confirm a single detail for me. Pick any one you want. Pick anybody you want. Leave it to me to take care of the rest."
Rachel was only half awake when she felt Carl's lips nuzzling the back of her neck, and she purred contentedly, curling up even deeper against him.
As his mouth explored the sensitive skin on either side of her spine, moving southward all the while, Carl shared, "I paid a visit to Dean the other day."
"Did you now?" Rachel shifted her hair to the side to offer him easier access. "What a coincidence; I paid one to Alice."
"And how did that turn out?"
Carl sighed. "Young Mr. Frame laid the blame for Jenna's death squarely at my feet and was kind enough to enlighten that, had Jenna lived, she would have never deigned to give me the time of day. You?"
Rachel rolled over on her back, and Carl reversed his trajectory, traveling upwards.
"Alice called me self-centered and manipulative. Instead of making matters better for the kids, I'm afraid I've made them a hundred times worse. Before, Alice only had her own reasons for not coming forward to help. Now, she can do it to spite me."
"And you know what the most odious part is," Carl mused, he and Rachel finally face to face. "About being accused of a villainy you haven't, in fact, committed?"
"Fewer Christmas cards?" She wrapped her arms around his neck.
"A distinct lack of results!" He kissed her throat. "It's one things to absorb the slings and arrows when you've at least achieved your desired objective. But, to fail and still stand condemned regardless, why that just adds unnecessary insult to injury!"
"I never thought of it that way," Rachel met Carl's eyes.
"It's enough to make a body rethink one's entire rehabilitated life course!"
"Is it?" Rachel asked, suddenly serious... and curious.
"As long as one is being forced to do the time, why not go on ahead and commit the crime? Accrue something for your trouble?" Carl thought he'd been joking. The look on Rachel's face suggested she hadn't quite picked up on that.
"Do you miss him?" she wondered. "The Carl Hutchins who may have been vilified from all sides, but, at least he got what he wanted?"
"Do you miss her," he responded in kind. "The Rachel Davis fit to say the same?"
Of Course Not was on the tip of her tongue. But, it came out as, "Sometimes."
Carl smiled, looking at his wife in a new light and liking what he saw. "In our younger days, you and I, Rachel, we used our respective... talents... solely to enrich ourselves. It doesn't seem fair, somehow, that we should forgo them at a time when they might finally be of assistance to others."
"We were not very nice people back then," Rachel recalled with majority regret, and just the tiniest bit of nostalgia.
Carl's proportion of lament to longing, on the other hand, was a bit harder to discriminate. "But, in the end," he couldn't help noting, "We did achieve results...."
"Thanks for meeting me," Kevin took a sip of his coffee and smiled over the edge of the cup at Lila, sitting across from him at the Daily Grind, looking as unsure about this whole thing as he felt. "I'm sorry I didn't have that much time last night to..."
"Work's a bitch." She shrugged. "On my way over to Grant's HQ myself, got some serious packing up to do."
"Well, in any case, thank you. I really have been wanting to talk to you. It's just that with Jasmine's birthday and Alice's wedding... followed immediately by her arrest..."
"It's alright," Lila reassured uncomfortably, avoiding his eyes. "I get it. Family first. Your Grandma okay?"
"I don't know. She says she is. But, she's in some pretty serious trouble."
"How about you? You okay?"
"Not even a little," he confessed. "Spencer is calling in a team of high-end criminal lawyers for Alice; thank God for that. I am painfully in over my head, which just becomes clearer every day. Back in August, I really thought I could do this. I never would have volunteered to take on the kids' case if I believed otherwise."
"Since when have you ever let a measly juris prudence get the better of you?"
"Apparently since the potential consequences for failure proved unbearable. You know how doctors shouldn't operate on family? Add lawyers to the list."
"They shouldn't be slicing open their loved one either?"
Kevin smiled, but it didn't last long. "I so much as allow myself to entertain the possibility of letting Jen down, and I become totally useless. Not that I'm doing much better with Allie or Steven. I'd quit, honestly, but "
"Amanda won't let you?" Lila guessed.
"I don't want to talk about Amanda," Kevin said.
"Then this is going to be an awfully short conversation."
"I miss you, Lila."
"And I've been down this road before. Plenty of times, long before you came around. I don't appreciate being second choice."
"You're not. Not with me. I've apologized for what happened with Amanda. I could beg your forgiveness again. But, I don't think that's what you want. You're looking for something else. I've tried to guess what, but, I've got to admit, you've got me stumped."
"I want us to both cut the bull, Kevin."
Now this was more like it. "Elaborate..."
"First time we went out, we told each other stories about ourselves. I told you how I was this strong, independent, self-determining woman just out for a good time, no strings, no commitments. And you told me how you were this cocky, arrogant shyster, uninterested in opening your heart to anyone, looking out for number one and the almighty dollar."
"That does sound vaguely familiar."
"We were both full of it."
"That sounds vaguely familiar, too."
"You care a hell of a lot more than you let on. And I still haven't quite got the hang of that standing on my own two feet dealie."
"Your self-determination goals sound a good deal more noble than mine."
"All I'm saying is, if this is going to work between us, it's actually got to be between us, the real us, not the people we'd like to be... or the ones we're afraid we truly are."
Finding Rachel on her doorstep the previous day hadn't come as a surprise to Alice. Neither did Sharlene's appearance in the same spot the following morning.
"Come in," Alice said, even as her former sister-in-law seemed unsure as to whether she genuinely wanted to. "Please," Alice added encouragingly.
Sharlene did, though she declined the chair she was subsequently offered. Instead, she asked, voice halting, "Was he... was he in a lot of pain?"
Alice nodded regretfully.
"When he was first diagnosed," Sharlene recalled. "I used to think the treatment was worse than the disease. The things they put him through... But, he was so brave then."
"He was brave now."
"Not brave enough to fight."
"Brave enough to know when it was time to stop."
"That wasn't your decision to make!" Sharlene exploded.
"And I wasn't the one who made it," Alice replied, her voice calm in comparison. "Gregory did."
"He couldn't have. He was nowhere near capable of making a choice like that."
"I'm sorry, Sharlene. I am so sorry for your loss."
"I'm not sorry," she said abruptly, glaring at Alice as if daring her to be shocked by the pronouncement. "I'm angry. I keep waiting for the pain, for the grieving to kick in. But, all I have is the anger. Rivers of it; oceans. Everyone's noticed. I've even gotten a few tentative comments... Am I sure it's not my alters rearing their ugly heads, again? They claim I haven't been acting like myself. What do they want, Alice? Do they want my son to die and for me to go on as if nothing has changed? Everything's changed! The entire universe has been ripped off its axis! I can't even draw breath the same way I used to anymore. I wish I were sick again. The alters used to protect me from feelings this intense. Where are they when I really need them?" Sharlene snorted.
"You're stronger now. You can face this."
"I don't want to!"
"I know," Alice said.
"Isn't this where you're supposed to tell me that punishing you and the kids won't bring Gregory back?"
"I have no doubt you understand that."
"Damn it. Damn you. Why won't you fight back?"
"I will. In court. And it won't be pleasant for anyone. But, I won't fight you. You are absolutely right. The same way Gregory was absolutely right."
"But, you still let him die. Where was your sense of loyalty, of family? Where was the Hippocratic Oath, for Pete's sake?"
"I did no harm. Just like Gregory meant you and John no harm."
"Don't tell me about my son!" Sharlene raged.
"But, isn't that why you came?" Alice prodded softly.
"I came to give you a piece of my mind."
"Alright," Alice agreed. "Go ahead. I'm listening. I won't interrupt you again."
Sharlene glared at the older woman, waiting for all the venom Sharlene had been keeping inside and nurturing and stoking ever since she'd learned of Alice's role in Gregory death to come spewing out like tentacles with which to suffocate her self-righteousness. But, all that finally did emerge was an agonized whisper, and the question, "Was he alright? Was he scared? I keep thinking about how scared he must have been..."
"He was scared. But, he was also... content. I know it sounds ridiculous, especially after I told you how much pain he was in. But, the most horrible thing that could happen had already happened. He didn't have to worry about when and how or what to do. He'd made up his mind. He was at peace, I swear to you, Sharlene, he was... happy."
Jamie understood there was no reason for him to be pacing directly outside the Operating Room doors. He could have gone to his office. He could have crashed in the on-call room after being up and frantic all night. Lorna's surgery would very likely take hours. Even Morgan had stepped away to get his broken arm finally set and taken care of. Jamie knew he didn't have to be here.
But, he'd promised Lorna he'd wait for her. And that meant being there the moment she was ready to be moved into the Recovery Room, whether or not Lorna even knew he was there.
"Jamie!" He turned around to see Felicia and Lucas flying in, headed straight for him, talking over each other as they attempted to find out what in the world was going on.
"Where is she?"
"What are they doing?"
"How long is this supposed to take?"
"How could this happen?"
"Why didn't you call us, Jamie?" Felicia demanded. "I had to find out from Morgan."
"I'm sorry," he told them from the bottom of his heart. "You're right. I should have called. But, everything happened so quickly, I've barely been able.... She was brought in, and she was fine, she was talking, arguing, and then she just coded all of a sudden."
"Oh, God," Felicia covered her mouth with both hands. "Morgan said she hit her head, and that there was bleeding in her brain?"
Jamie nodded. "That's what they're trying to stop right now. She began convulsing as they were taking her into the Operating Room. They were able to stabilize her enough to perform the surgery, but, the medication, it's tricky, I... She... " Jamie looked from one of Lorna's parents to the other, hoping he could still convey what good news this was, in spite of everything. "Lorna's pregnant."
Felicia gasped, even as Lucas, once the news sank in, couldn't stop himself from grinning ear to ear. He grabbed Jamie's hand, pumping it ardently and telling him in all sincerity, "That's wonderful. Wonderful, Jamie. Congratulations!"
"The surgery," Felicia wondered. "Will it hurt the..."
"It shouldn't," Jamie said. "I mean, yes, the introduction of anesthesia and other drugs into her system isn't optimal, but, there are procedures for minimizing the potential damage."
"What about the damage to Lorna? What does this mean for her? Brain surgery, Jamie? How is she ever supposed to come back from something like that?"
"We need to wait and see. Hope for the best. Pray."
Felicia mumbled into her clenched fist, "Not again. I can't go through this again. I sat in this hospital with Jenna. I listened to doctors you, Jamie, it was you! I listened to you tell me that surgery was Jenna's best option. And then..."
"The cases were completely different," Jamie tried to explain.
"What about the results?" She looked helplessly at Lucas. "We lost Jenna. We can't lose Lorna, too."
Jamie was about to attempt to reassure her, when the doors opened behind them and Dr. Shapiro stepped out, untying her face-mask and peeling it off her pink, flushed nose and cheeks, recognizing Jamie, looking questioningly at Lucas and Felicia.
"These are Lorna's parents," Jamie explained.
Dr. Shapiro nodded a polite hello, before telling all three of them, "She's out of surgery. We were able to stop the bleeding and reduce the intra-cranial pressure."
Jamie exhaled in relief, prompting Felicia to guess, "That's good? That's a good sign?"
He nodded, but kept his eyes peeled to Dr. Shapiro, fully aware that there was a lot more still to come.
"We're medicating her right now to get the swelling down, prevent another seizure, and keep her from developing a blood clot," she answered Jamie's unspoken question. "The next twenty-four hours will be critical in telling us more about her condition."
"Brain damage?" Lucas mused grimly. "That's what you're talking about, right? You'll be monitoring to see how bad the brain damage is."
A pause, then a regretful nod. "That's one of the complications, yes. There are others."
"Terrific," he snorted, forced to resort to derision to keep from completely breaking down.
"We won't be able to do a full assessment of the damage until she wakes up."
"Which will be when?" Felicia pressed, neither she nor Lucas noticing Jamie's eerie silence. Because he already knew the answers to all their questions. No matter how much he currently wished he didn't.
"That's very difficult to pinpoint."
"An estimate then," Felicia begged. "An educated guess. A statistic."
"I'm sorry, I can't do that. Between the initial trauma and the stress of surgery..." Dr. Shapiro hesitated, obviously having more to say, but unsure of where to begin. Finally, looking at Jamie, the doctor admitted, "She was less responsive than I would usually like upon being taken to recovery. We suspect she's slipped into a coma..."
Sarah didn't need Grant to translate Chase's offer for her into plain English. She could do it herself. "You want me to rat out Steven."
"If I were in your situation," the District Attorney/Mayor-Elect advised. "Steven would be my first choice, yes."
Sarah snorted. "You just think you're so smart."
"I know precisely how smart I am," he corrected. "Question is: How smart are you?"
"Smart enough not to get played," Sarah boasted confidently.
"Okay, then explain your position to me. As far as I can suss out, your only motivation for becoming involved in Gregory's death was out of loyalty to Steven Frame. You just told me that's not an issue anymore. So why are you putting yourself thought this, when, with a couple of legally notarized words, you can both place yourself in the clear and get back at a guy who, I have to guess, didn't treat you very well."
"I didn't realize romantic revenge was within the jurisdiction of the DA's office," Grant held up a hand to keep Sarah from saying anything more.
"It's the latest thing," Chase reassured. "I'm planning to submit an article on it to the Law Review."
"You're not very funny, either," Sarah told him.
"So, I'll keep my day job."
"Is this even legal?" Sarah asked Grant.
"It is," he admitted. "Not particularly ethical, however."
"Or effective." Sarah crossed her arms. "I'm not telling you anything about Steven. Or anybody else. You're right, you don't understand what happened, or why I "
"That's enough, Sarah," Grant interrupted. "Don't give Mr. Hamilton anymore rope."
Chase sighed, "That darned right to an attorney. Gets me every time. You're free to go, Ms. Wheeler. But, remember, should you change your mind..."
"Bite me," she tossed over her shoulder, flying out of Chase's office without stopping to wait for Grant.
"I guess we're done here." Grant moved to collect his papers.
"Actually," Chase held up a finger and leaned back in his chair. "I had a bit of business to discuss with you, Mr. Harrison, irrespective of the Hudson case. Tell me, would you be interested in a spot within my administration?"
Grant had to do a near double take at that. "A spot in your... I don't know if you paid attention to any of my campaign commercials, but, I'm pretty much a dyed in the wool, lifelong liberal."
"Nobody's perfect," Chase deadpanned.
"No... And, as long as we're on the subject, this has been dogging me for the start, I've been dying to ask; forgive me: How in the world do you reconcile your personal life with your choice of political parties?"
"So, because I love Doug, I should also love high capital gains taxes?"
"What you should love is keeping the government out of people's bedrooms."
"I do. I also love keeping it out of their kitchens, their workplaces, their grocery stores, and their schools. Did you watch any of my campaign commercials? I believe I was pretty clear on that."
"And you see a place for me on that bandwagon?"
Chase nodded. "My internal polling shows you really hit a nerve with your Father's Rights angle. I'd like to set up a Task Force to evaluate how custody decisions are made in Bay City, whether there truly is a bias and, if that turns out to be the case "
"Oh, it will, trust me."
"How we can go about fixing it. I'd like you to head it."
"Are you serious?"
"You're a smart politician, Grant. I'd rather have you working with me than against me."
"Let's say..." he quoted Chase's earlier answer. "Both."
"So you're interested?"
"I am. It's only that..." Grant's cell-phone rang. He caught Lila's name in the Caller ID and all the unexpressed reasons for why a return to public life might not be a good idea at this time, crystallized even further. "Would you excuse me?" Grant asked, standing up and exiting Hamilton's office, promising, "I'll get back to you."
In the hallway, Grant forced a jovial and innocent tone as he answered, "Lila. Hey. What's up?"
"We've got a problem," she huffed, sounding frazzled and at loose ends. "One of the rental cars is seriously damaged. Not sure how it happened, I did a quick overview last night and didn't see a thing. What do you want us to do about it?"
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