"You'd give up Kirkland?" Jamie spoke slowly, hearing the words as they came out of his mouth, but convinced he couldn't possibly have understood correctly.
"Yes," Grant said firmly, refusing to offer so much as a hint of doubt lest he crack and take it all back. "If you let Marley check herself into Clareview like we agreed, if you forget that any of this ever happened, I will sign over full custody of my son... to you."
Lorna, Marley, Steven, Jen, Frankie, Cass, Bridget and Michele all stared at Jamie. Even the ones who didn't quite understand precisely what was happening here realized that it had to be monumental.
The pause allowed Grant to sneak a peek at Marley. He'd hoped she might at least turn his way, offer some sort of sign to indicate that his words had gotten through to her, that she grasped and appreciated what he'd just done.
But Marley appeared to be deliberately avoiding his gaze. Like everyone else, she was fixated on Jamie, and what he might do or say next.
Grant nearly gagged on the disappointment, but forcefully shoved it aside, telling himself that Marley had to be shell-shocked, after everything she'd recently been through, it was amazing she could still remain standing, much less defending herself and her girls to the bitter end. He had no right to expect her to react on his calendar.
"I'll think about it," Jamie drawled, his voice neutral.
"You'll what?" Grant exploded, all the frustration he'd suppressed with Marley coming out towards Kirkland's other father. "I offer you the deal of a lifetime and "
"I'm not you, Grant," Jamie reminded. "I'm not as accustomed to using my son as a bargaining chip. You'll have to give me a minute."
"What about Marley?" Grant indicated Jamie's still open, as yet un-dialed phone.
Jamie looked at his ex-wife, taking a deep breath that might have been pity but, more likely, was merely exhaustion. Marley gazed back at Jamie pleadingly. He shook his head and turned away, addressing Steven. He did, however, close his phone. Jamie asked, "You okay with driving your sisters home, son?"
"I can do it," Jen spoke up. "I brought him here, I can take them all back."
Jamie nodded his thanks as Michele, twisting out from under the protective arm Steven had slung over her shoulders, pushed forward, demanding, "Why were you going to call the police on Aunt Marley, Uncle Jamie?"
"Because," Jamie said gently, bending at the waist to meet Michele at her level, gesturing for Bridget to join them. "Your Aunt Marley isn't as healthy as we'd like her to be. Steven and I were scared when we heard she'd left the hospital without telling anybody."
"Did you do that, Aunt Marley?" Bridget asked.
Their aunt nodded weakly.
"She isn't ready yet to take care of you," Jamie told the children. "I was worried if she didn't understand that, I might have to call the police to come and help me make sure you two stayed safe. But, it's okay. Marley just had a lapse in judgment. She's had time to reconsider since then, haven't you, Marley?"
Another fragile nod. "You go home with Steven, girls. Uncle Jamie is right. I need to go back to the hospital. A different one, this time. One that can help me not be so... confused. You two are the most important things in the world to me. I never, ever should have done anything that might have ended up hurting you."
"What about Kirkland?" Michele demanded. "Why did Grant say he would "
Steven said, "Nobody wants Kirkland hurt either. Grant finally understands that the best thing for him is to stay with our dad. Come on, we can talk more about it in the car."
He took each girl's hand, not sure if it was a good sign or a bad one that they went along meekly, offering no resistance.
"Bye, Aunt Marley," Bridget waved. "Feel better."
"You'll both come visit me," Marley pleaded. "Soon?"
"We'll see about that," Steven said as he and Jen led them off.
"You're going to Clareview tonight," Jamie informed Marley as soon as the kids were out of ear-shot. "No more stalling, no more excuses. And you," he addressed Grant. "I swear, you get any bright ideas about running or pulling another "
"I can keep an eye on Grant for a bit," Frankie offered. "I've kind of been doing it for the last few days already."
"Why?" Jamie wondered.
She and Cass exchanged looks. "We were working for Lila and Morgan. They hired us separately to find out who really hit Lorna's car back in November."
"And?" Lorna spoke up, avoiding looking at Marley.
"We I It was Kirkland," Cass said.
"What?" Lorna shook her head. "Oh, no. No way, you guys got it all wrong."
"He told me "
"You misunderstood him," Lorna corrected. "It was not Kirkland."
"So you actually know who it was?" Frankie jumped on the obvious.
"Yes," Lorna said. "And I know what to do about it, too. Thanks but no thanks, we don't need your help. And tell Lila not to worry, she's off the hook, no question."
"We were just trying to " Cass began.
"I get it," Jamie said. "And I appreciate it. But, Lorna is right. We can handle this ourselves."
"Well... then..." he fumbled. "How about you let me take Marley to Clareview, while Frankie slaps Grant under surveillance until you give the all-clear? It's the least we owe you. I mean, don't you two have a honeymoon to go on, or something?"
Jamie and Lorna smiled imperceptibly at each other. In all the commotion, they'd kind of forgotten.
"I would like to take Lorna home," Jamie admitted. "Get her off her feet. It's been a hell of a day."
"You do that then," Frankie confirmed. "Cass and I will take care of Grant and Marley."
"Wait a second," Grant interrupted. "We're not done here. Damn it, are you two going to press charges against Marley or not?"
"I said I'd think about it," Jamie hissed. "Do not push me, Grant."
"So, you're using Clareview as a holding pen now? How is Marley supposed to focus on her recovery if she's worried every minute that you and Lorna might decide to up and have her arrested? How is she supposed to live like that?"
"Maybe it'll give her a better appreciation," Lorna snapped. "Of how Jamie felt the entire time I was in the hospital."
"I told Jamie I was sorry," Marley whimpered. "I told you I was sorry. What else do you want from me?"
"Reassurance that neither Jamie or I or our kids have anything to fear from you ever again," Lorna said, simultaneously cluing in Cass and Frankie regarding the piece of the puzzle they'd been missing up to this point.
They consoled themselves with the knowledge that they'd been close. Grant was protecting someone he loved. Just not the person they'd assumed.
"And you'll forgive me," Lorna added. "If I don't just take your word for it, either."
"It's going to be okay, Marley," Grant soothed, even as Cass nudged her in one direction, while Frankie maneuvered Grant in another. "I'll take care of everything. I'll make them see reason. You have nothing to worry about."
Marley didn't answer. She didn't even look at him. She merely let Cass lead her away.
Jamie and Lorna watched them go, Cass and Marley in one direction, Frankie and Grant in another.
For a moment, they could do nothing but stand rooted to the spot, studying each other wearily. Finally Jamie asked, "So? Married life everything you expected?"
She gave it some thought, then nodded. "Pretty much."
"I'd say stop fidgeting before I get out the hand-cuffs," Frankie warned Grant, who seemed unable to settle down in the passenger seat of his car which Frankie insisted he let her drive, constantly looking over his shoulder and to the side, as if expecting the cavalry to come riding to his rescue. "But, I'm afraid you might actually like it."
At least that got his undivided attention. "I know you see me as a great, big joke. All of Bay City does, that's no secret. But, do you really believe what Marley just went through is a laughing matter?"
Frankie hesitated, regretting her flip attitude of a moment before. "You really love her."
"Is it necessary to sound quite so surprised?"
"You're right. I shouldn't be. What you just did... offering to give up Kirkland..."
"Might all still be for nothing, if Jamie decides to press charges anyway. And here I'm supposed to be the spiteful and petty one. What do you call him and Lorna torturing a broken, vulnerable woman like that?"
"What if he says yes?" Frankie asked softly. "What if Jamie takes your deal? Are you really ready to sign Kirkland away?"
Grant shrugged blithely, the textbook illustration of a man whistling in a graveyard to keep from acknowledging the cold, hard facts. "It's nothing. Kirkland will be eighteen in less than a year. Guardianship won't matter then. It's only for a little while. Just a sop for Jamie, really. You know how he loves feeling superior to everyone else."
"Still, after all the time you've already lost..."
Grant opened his mouth to rebut, then shut it abruptly. He coughed into his fist and confessed, "I was about to say you have no idea what you're talking about. But, then I realized, if anyone could..."
"It's me." Frankie sighed. "You and I will never get those missing years back with our kids. And it's not like we can make up for them, either. The people they are today, that's directly a result of who they became without us. Every mislaid minute is more than just the time itself, it's a piece of the future, too."
"Here we are," Cass said as he pulled his car into the Clareview parking lot.
Marley hadn't said much all during their drive. And now she declined to move, even as Cass turned off the engine and unlocked the doors.
"It'll be okay," he told her. "Really."
Marley slowly turned just her head, moving as if under water, staring at Cass with an expression part plea, part confusion.
"I know what it's like," he reminded. "I was sick once, too. You weren't in town, then, but, when Charlie was a baby, she had a heart condition. Turned out she'd inherited it from me. I felt so guilty... I couldn't take the stress. I cracked. The official diagnosis is manic depression. I'm going to have to take medication for the rest of my life to keep it in check. But, that's alright. Because it works. It helped me. Therapy helped me, too. The same way it'll help you. A hospital isn't anything to be afraid of."
"You killed Cecile," Marley said out of the blue, seemingly startling herself as much as Cass.
"Yes," he swallowed hard. "I did."
"You said in court that it was an accident."
"Me hitting Lorna and Morgan was an accident, too. I didn't set out to do it. It just... happened."
"I believe you," Cass said. "And once you check into the hospital, they'll help you get to the bottom of why it happened. So that it won't ever happen again."
"You supposedly had your illness under control when you killed Cecile." Marley wasn't accusing him so much as pointing out a contradiction in what he'd told her.
"Even healthy people make mistakes."
"Okay," Marley agreed. "Then why does everyone assume that I'm sick, then?"
"Do you think you're sick, Marley?"
"I think... I think I just got overwhelmed, that's all. Ever since Grant came back to town... and then my mother and Jenna... All the things, all the people that I used to be able to count on, they... changed. So I changed, too. But, it wasn't all for the worst. I'm not as frightened as I used to be. I think that bothers some people. They prefer me the way I was before. The Marley they could push around. Is it crazy not to want to be pushed around anymore?"
"No," Cass said. "It's perfectly reasonable."
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Marley's head suddenly jerked up, as if she'd just joined the conversation already in progress.
"Because I've sat where you're sitting. Because, almost exactly a year ago, I accepted a jail sentence not because I wanted to, or even because I believed I truly deserved it, but because everyone around me kept saying that's what I should do. I was ready to go on the run," he confessed. "Take Frankie, my girls, and just hightail it out of here. Frankie stopped me. She wanted me to stay and take responsibility for my actions. So I did."
"Do you regret it?" Marley asked.
Cass hesitated. And then he admitted, "Yes."
"Only married a couple of hours and you're already slipping off to place secret calls?" Lorna teased Jamie upon entering their bedroom just as he was snapping his cell phone shut.
"Chase Hamilton said to tell you hello," Jamie answered as he rose from his perch on their bed. "And that you made a beautiful bride."
"Don't try distracting me with compliments. You called him about Grant and Marley, didn't you?"
"To turn them in?"
"No. To talk about a 'friend' who had a few legal questions. I figured, Chase being the ex-DA, he'd know what kind of case the state might make against 'Carly' and her SOB boyfriend."
"Couldn't figure out a name that rhymed with Grant?"
"SOB is more on point. Anyway, Chase's take on the situation was that getting a hit-and-run conviction "
"You told him about that?"
"I told him everything. Hypothetically."
"What's to keep him from putting two and two together and sending the cops to Grant's er, SOB's house?"
"The same thing that's keeping me from telling Grant to take his deal and shove it. If we turn Marley and Grant in, it's far from a lock they'd be convicted and put away. Grant wiped down the car. What remaining evidence the cops do have is circumstantial."
"And the star witness me has a documented brain injury. Plus, truth is I don't actually remember seeing who hit me. Grant hires her a good enough lawyer, Marley could end up free and clear to do anything she wants, with both Grant and the girls."
"Yeah," Jamie said, his one syllable pulsing with a variety of bitter, resentful emotions.
"That leaves taking Grant's deal, then."
"What would be the point? Marley's in Clareview, which is all we ultimately wanted."
"It gives you Kirkland."
"I have Kirkland. Neither of us needs a piece of paper to say I'm his father and he's my son."
"You don't, but the courts do. If Grant ever decides he wants to fight you again..."
"Kirkland will be eighteen this coming April. He'd no longer be a minor and at the mercy of Grant's whims."
"Grant could still make it a very long and painful year. You saw him. You heard him. He thinks we're the bullies and Marley the victim in all this. You know how he responds to perceived slights. He'll come after us any way he can, including through Kirkland. As long as he has joint custody with you, Grant can spirit Kirk to God knows where the same way Marley tried to do with Bridget and Michele."
"And I'd have no legal recourse to get Kirk back," Jamie finished the grim thought.
"If you could even find them." Lorna sighed. "Listen, Jamie, believe me, I understand that nothing, nothing could ever make up for what Marley and Grant put you through."
"Put us through," he corrected.
"But, if anything good could come out of it, if this could get you your son, free and clear, once and for all, I'd almost say it was worth it."
Jamie exhaled slowly. "I get that. But, if I take this deal...damn it, Grant gets away with it. Again. With hurting people, nearly destroying lives... families. Doesn't it make more sense to roll the dice and see if we can't put him away for good?"
"If we turn in Grant, we turn in Marley. Now, Grant indisputably deserves to be thrown into some dark pit to never see the light of day or a Cuban cigar ever again. I'd say the same about Marley, too, if..."
"If it weren't for Bridget and Michele."
"If it weren't for Bridget and Michele. As messed up as Marley is, she's their mother. If she can be saved... if she can recover and go back to raising them... isn't that a good thing?"
"I hope that happens, I really do. But, in the meantime, we need to protect ourselves from Grant."
"I think," Lorna tread carefully. "That means taking his deal."
"Except, I've been thinking about this, and it's not our decision to make. If Grant's parental rights are going to be severed, that has to be Kirkland's call."
"You're going to tell him? You're going to tell him everything?"
"I promised the boys no more secrets after Cecile. As much as it will hurt Kirk to know what Grant offered, he's old enough to decide for himself. I'll pop over to Mom's in the morning. Lay out the situation and go from there."
"Okay," Lorna nodded thoughtfully. "Okay. If that's what you think is best for you and your son, then I will back you up to the death. Now," she held out her hand. "Come to bed, and make love to your wife."
Jamie had already been headed in that direction, when her words stopped him dead in his tracks. "Say that again," he murmured.
"Bed?" Lorna asked innocently.
He shook his head with a small, cryptic smile.
"Come?" This time with a bit more suggestiveness.
"Nope." He moved towards her.
"Wife," Lorna breathed, momentarily as dazzled by the word as he'd been.
"Wife," Jamie repeated, sitting down next to her, kissing Lorna, then burying his face in her neck.
"I am familiar with the time-honored concept of Cold-Feet Groom and Runaway Bride," Carl assured Rachel once they'd finally said good-bye to the last of Lorna and Jamie's wedding guests. "I must admit, however, both parties absconding from their own reception is a bit of a bolt from the blue."
Rachel smiled as she stood in the doorway of the main ballroom, surveying her hired staff taking down all the decorations, tables and chairs they'd put up merely twenty-four hours earlier. "Jamie called. The situation with Marley and the girls... Thankfully they were able to get that all under control. Steven has Michele and Bridget now, and Marley will finally get the care she needs."
"Just keeping her away from Harrison ought to do wonders for the mental health," Carl said, feeling only the slightest twinge of guilt regarding his own role in upsetting Marley's equilibrium. He wrapped his arms around Rachel, telling her, "Irregardless, you may feel justifiably proud of the day you mounted for your son. It was a glorious wedding, a flawless reception, and, if I do say so myself, the mother of the groom quite nearly outshone the bride without tumbling over into vulgarity, naturally."
"You're in a good mood," Rachel observed, turning around to kiss Carl before leading him away from potentially prying ears.
"I am a renowned romantic, my dear. Weddings bring out the best in me."
"No," Rachel shook her head. "That's not it."
"I am deeply wounded by your reservations."
"You'll get over it," she predicted. "Tell me, what did you and Jeanne Ewing chat about when you swept her off from the receiving line?"
"Ms. Ewing?" For a moment, Carl appeared unable to connect name to face, or even recall the incident to which Rachel was referring. She raised an eyebrow. Translation: Don't even try pulling the wool over my eyes. That triggered Carl's memory nicely. He tapped his head absently with one finger. "Ah, yes, Ms. Ewing. I daresay, we discussed a great many things."
"Including her breaking reports on Donna Love?"
"That may have come up."
"What have you done, Carl? I need to know."
"I merely told her the truth."
"And what does that mean, precisely?"
"It means that, like you, Ms. Ewing is a highly intelligent and capable young woman."
"What have you done?"
"And, like you, she also harbors periodic reservations. Except that hers are centered on the topic of whether or not Donna actually sent that incriminating file to the authorities as she had long threatened to."
Rachel blanched. "But, I thought that was the entire crux of your plan? If Jeanne doesn't believe...why are you looking so happy?"
"As Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf so famously observed over a century ago: No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. The mark of a true warrior reveals itself in being able to alter strategies mid-stream, in taking a survey of conditions on the ground and using those precise, unexpected failures against your enemies in a surprise and deadly frontal assault."
"I would ask you to speak English, but I suspect you already think you are. So let's just hear it. What is this new plan of yours for a, I quote, surprise and deadly assault?"
"Our primary priority, if we are unable to tack the blame for their organization's recent downfall upon Donna, is to, at the very least, deflect the presumed responsibility and thus, the repercussions from falling upon us."
"In other words, if you can't hide behind Donna while doing your dirty work, you'll find another scapegoat."
Carl frowned. "Honestly, Rachel, why do you insist on being so..."
"Right?" She refused to listen to one more flowery adjective until her initial question had been answered. "So you're using Jeanne to continue your misinformation campaign."
"Au contraire. I've told her the Lord's truth."
"Well," he hedged. "The portion most useful to us, anyway."
"I don't know if I can do this, Carl," she fretted. "It was one thing when Donna was your target. We agreed, she deserved to be punished for what she did to Jenna, not to mention the toll it took on Felicia, Dean and Lucas. All we were doing was bringing Donna's sins out into the open. I could live with that. But, to think that now, some innocent person "
"No." Carl's eyes darkened. "The only innocents in all this are you, Elizabeth and Cory. You three had no part in my past, and yet you are the ones who well might end up paying the price for it. I swear on our children's lives, I incriminated no innocents."
"Alright, then," Rachel said, knowing that she should be feeling appeased. Knowing that she most certainly did not as of yet. "So who was it? Who exactly did you throw to the wolves via Jeanne Ewing in order to protect us?"
Carl hesitated. "I don't believe it necessary to "
A deep, regretful sigh. And then, "Very well, if you insist. It was Spencer. I have bartered the lives of you and our children, for Spencer Harrison's."
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