"Am I interrupting?" Sarah asked Grant, looking over his shoulder and into the house, as if she expected to catch him in the middle of something much more important.
"No," he shook his head slowly. Lately, Grant felt as if he were doing everything under water, like life had suddenly started moving way too quickly, and it was all he could to just to keep up. It was not a particularly pleasant sensation.
"Can I come in then? I won't stay long, I promise. I I just have something I want to ask you."
"Sure. Sure, come in." Grant stepped aside and ushered her through the door. "I'm always happy to see you, Sarah."
"Really?" The tone of her voice suggested it wasn't just a casual query to fill the silence. She honestly needed to know.
"Yes. Of course. Why do you ask?"
She brought a lock of hair from behind her shoulder and twisted it around her finger, looking down, not meeting Grant's eyes. It was the most uncertain Grant had ever seen her, and that included Gregory's trial, when Sarah was facing several years of jail-time.
"What's wrong?" he prompted. "How can I help?"
"You know I used to date Steven, right?"
"Yes," Grant said cautiously, wondering if she was about to ask him for advice on getting Grant's one-time stepson back. Wondering why the entire subject made him feel so uneasy... and disappointed.
"And I told you how he dumped me because he thought I'd been lying to him, when all I was doing was trying to become the girl he wanted."
"Yes," Grant repeated, more grimly this time. He was certainly familiar with the unfairness of that situation.
Sarah's head bobbed up and, finally looking Grant in the eye, she said, "The reason I did it, though, it wasn't to fool him or play him or anything. It was because... because I knew he wouldn't want the person I really was. Nobody does."
"That's ridiculous," Grant responded instinctively, only comprehending later that he meant every word.
"It's true," Sarah insisted. "That's why I do it, become somebody else. Not just with guys, with everybody. I do it with my teachers, I do it with my friends, I even did it with my parents only, in that case, I kind of became the person I knew they didn't want me to be, just to piss them off, you know?"
"I wish I had your courage," Grant told her honestly. He could only imagine how different his life might have been if he'd been brave enough and clever enough to go against Spencer's wishes at an early or even middle age.
"The only person... The only person in my entire life I was ever myself with... it was you, Senator."
Grant blinked in surprise, unsure of how to react to that, so he merely smiled and offered, "Should I be honored?"
She shrugged. "Not really. There was no reason to pretend. I didn't want anything from you."
"Oh." Again with the unexpected disappointment. Grant realized that, for a girl her age, if he wasn't a teacher or a boss or someone else with direct influence over her life, he probably didn't even register as a human being. As a man.
"I was talking to a I guess she's kind of a friend earlier, and she told me that the best way to stop hating the reflection you see in the mirror was to find the most awesome person you know and try to see yourself through his eyes. That's you, Senator."
"I'm the most awesome person you know?" Grant's heart inexplicably skipped a beat. It had been a long while since anyone had paid him a compliment, even a back-handed one.
"You're the only one who's seen the real me."
Which wasn't really an answer to his question. But, beggars couldn't be choosers, so Grant decided to take it, nonetheless. "If you say so, Sarah."
"I do. That's why I came over. I wanted to ask... I wanted to ask, do you... do you... like me, Senator?"
"I do. I like you very much."
She smiled, somewhat shyly. "You know, you could have taken a second to think about it."
"No need. You've been a wonderful friend to me and Marley and especially to the girls. You are a very special young woman and, quite frankly, despite your protestations to the contrary, I can't imagine anyone not liking you."
"Doesn't say much for your imagination," Sarah observed, beaming all the while.
"You have something to tell me, Matt?" Rachel glanced from her son to Jeanne.
When it appeared that he wasn't about to step up, Jeanne offered, "Matt and I are getting married."
"Oh," Rachel opened her mouth, waiting for more sound to emerge. None proved forthcoming beyond, "Oh."
"We were hoping to find some time to do it this weekend."
"Oh," Rachel repeated, head spinning. "So soon?"
"I don't understand." Quite frankly, there was a great deal Rachel currently didn't understand, but she clung to the most obvious, figuring the other points could be dissected at a later time preferably one-on-one with Matt. "That barely gives you any time to plan. A wedding is a complicated "
"We don't really need a wedding. Marriage is about two people making a commitment to each other and the law. Everything else is just window dressing."
"But, surely you'd want what about Clarice and Larry and your brother? Surely, you want them there. Also Sandy and Blaine..."
"What Jeanne means, Mom," Matt interrupted, having been struck with a thought and proceeding to make the rest up as he went along. "Is she thought another wedding so soon after Jamie and Lorna's would be too much."
Matt's alleged fiancee looked at him oddly. "That's not "
"Tell her it would be fine, Mom. Tell Jeanne it would be no trouble for us to throw something together in a few weeks."
Something in Matt's tone caught Rachel's attention and pleaded with her to play along, even if she didn't quite understand the entire circumstances. Yet another thing to discuss with Matt in private. "Of course," Rachel said. "Jeanne, I'd be happy to help you plan any kind of wedding you want. We can do it here like Jamie and Lorna's, or maybe you have another location in mind..."
"I just want to marry Matt," Jeanne insisted.
"I understand that, my dear. Believe me, I know what it's like to want to skip all the preliminaries and get on with your lives together. But, every woman deserves a special day dedicated exclusively to her."
"Come on, Jeanne," Matt urged. "You don't want to deprive me of the chance to show you off. You're going to be a Cory now. Corys like to do things big."
"Well... okay," Jeanne conceded.
"Great," Matt said. With a great deal more relief than Rachel would prefer to see from her newly engaged son.
"Hand off," Dean said, passing a giggling Lori Ann to Frankie, football style.
"Touchdown!" Frankie gave the little girl a hug before setting her down on the floor. "How was your visit?" she asked Dean.
"How was our visit?" Dean lobbed the query back Lori Ann's way.
"Smurfs," his daughter replied.
"We went to see The Smurfs," Dean translated. "Awesome flick. Really. Right up there with Shakespeare meets A Hard Day's Night."
"We all make sacrifices for our kids, Dean."
Lori Ann scurried up the stairs, eager to check that her toy haul at the Winthrops hadn't diminished while she wallowed in the one at Dean's.
"You guys have a good time?"
"We always have a good time," Dean sighed.
"I can tell. You sound thrilled."
"I Frankie, I'm... I'm summer camp. I'm Christmas Break. I'm the fun uncle who she just happens to call Daddy Dean. Cass is her father. You guys are her family."
"Where is this coming from?" Frankie asked, suddenly alarmed, Cass' earlier misguided guess about the source of her anxiety returning with a vengeance.
"It's been almost a year since I came back to Bay City. I thought I was hoping things would be better by now."
"Between you and Lori Ann?"
"Between me and... me. I thought after a year of being back, having you around and Felicia... Matt and Lorna... Everybody from before, I thought I'd have a shot at getting back on track. But, it's no use. Without Jenna, I can barely think of a reason to get up in the morning. If it weren't for Lori Ann coming over once in a while, I probably wouldn't even bother."
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry. I didn't realize things were so bad."
"I didn't either. Or maybe I just didn't want to admit it. I'm dead, Frankie. I mean, I breathe and I eat and I even turn on the radio once in a while, wondering if maybe.... But, talk about going through the motions."
"It's not easy to step back into your old life. Even when all the pieces are seemingly in place."
"No. I'm still feeling my way in. To be honest, my easiest relationship these days is with Lori Ann. She and I don't have a past I'm desperately trying to live up to."
"Wow. Between you and me, that's a lot of pressure on those tiny shoulders. Can't be good for a kid."
"Are you thinking of... giving up?" Frankie asked gingerly.
"I think about it every day," Dean told her honestly. "Just taking off again, disappearing."
"I hope you won't."
"Why not? It'd make things easier for you."
"But, not for Lori Ann. And that's what matters. She didn't ask for any of this. She didn't ask for her mother to die, or for Cass to go to jail, or for you to still be so broken, or for me to...."
"What? Hell, Frankie, you've been her rock from the beginning. You've been all of ours."
"You know what they say about water continuously falling...."
"Better call a plumber?"
Frankie laughed, then finished the quote she'd first heard from a Russian monk teaching meditation. "Water continually dropping will eventually wear hollow even the sturdiest stone."
"I heard you got your way," Elizabeth strolled into Cory's room without knocking and peered over his shoulder.
He twisted his neck from where he was sitting at his desk, diligently oiling and then wiping down with beeswax the fencing sword Carl had given Cory for his fourteenth birthday. He'd given Elizabeth a matching weapon, along with the same instructions regarding how to take care of it. She intended to get around to it shortly.
"It's a family trait," was all Cory had to say about that.
"Father just told me he's decided to postpone sending us off to boarding school."
Cory merely smiled mysteriously at that.
"You tanked your admissions essay, didn't you?"
A shrug. Another smile.
"Father is very, very upset."
"I wanted to stay in Bay City."
"Aren't you scared?" Elizabeth asked.
"No. Of whatever it is he was trying to get us away from. Something is going on, Cory. Something big. It's been percolating for months. I've overheard some phone calls..."
"It's uncouth to eavesdrop."
"Says the human lawn furniture."
"I don't eavesdrop. People just forget I'm around, and start talking. Not the same thing."
"Matters are coming to a head. Finally. Mom thinks Father's past is catching up with him."
"It's about time," Cory said. "Honestly, I don't understand how half of Bay City hasn't taken a shot at him by now."
"Just goes to prove his reputation is way exaggerated. Mostly by people like Lorna, who have a vested interest in making him look bad, so that they look good in comparison."
Cory put down the sword, pivoting in his chair to look at his sister for a good, long beat. For a moment, he seemed ready to say something, then merely shook his head, deciding that now wasn't the time. "It's connected to what they said on TV about Mr. Harrison, I bet. That compound where Donna kidnapped our sister to, Father was a part of it."
"A million years ago. And that Jeanne Ewing, she didn't mention anything about him being involved."
"Father talked to Ms. Ewing for a long time at Jamie's wedding," was all Cory had to say about that. "Are you scared?" he asked Elizabeth. "You really think we're in danger if we stay here?"
"Of course not! Father will take care of us!"
"Then why do you look so upset? You didn't really want to go to boarding school, did you? Leave home? Leave Father?"
"Well, no," Elizabeth admitted.
"Then what's wrong?"
"Your essay," she finally confessed after a long, long pause. "You tanked it on purpose. I didn't."
"Hello, Marley," Alice's voice managed to sound perfectly neutral even as she entered the younger woman's hospital room and instantly felt her heart break, both for the huddled form lying lifeless in bed, and in reflexive memory of a tragically similar figure over a decade earlier.
As expected, Marley offered no acknowledgment of Alice's presence. Not a blink, nor twitch of the mouth or hands.
"Grant asked me to come see you," Alice pushed on. "He loves you very much, Marley. So do your girls. They're all worried about you, they all miss you, and they all need you to get better and come back to them." When that also failed to produce a response, Alice switched tactics, dropping the hearts and flowers and bluntly appraising Marley, "Hurting yourself hurts your children. After everything that's already happened, I know hurting even more innocent people is the last thing you want to do. Withdrawing from the world is no answer to your problems. Believe me. I know. I've lain in that bed. I've craved that needle that turns out the lights and makes the pain stop as much as anyone. I've hurt so much and so deeply that I didn't know what else to do but let go and shut down. Curl up into the smallest ball possible and try to tuck inside, where the voices became faint and the faces fuzzy. But, even when I managed to push away the voices and faces, I couldn't make the feelings go away. The pain, the guilt, the anger. Especially the anger. I'd been swallowing that for so long, there was more of it than there was of me by the time I ended up here. There was no escaping it. Not until I admitted it was there, and faced it head-on."
At that, Alice saw a flicker in Marley's previously dull eyes. Recognition? Fear?
"Stop running, Marley. Stop trying to hide from something you know you can't. Face it."
"No," came a terrified whimper as Marley turned away, her body going fetal, still trying to protect itself.
"Yes," Alice pushed gently, ever so gently, determined to keep the door open, to not let her slip away. "Face your pain, your guilt, your misery, your sins, your hurts, all of it. Learn to control them, instead of letting them control you."
"It hurts," Marley's body shuddered as Alice placed a calming hand on her back.
"I know it does. Hurting is a part of living. But it doesn't last forever. Unless you allow it to. The pain is only as strong as you permit it to be."
"I can't...I can't..."
"You can. You'll have help. Your doctors, your family, me. We'll all help you."
"It's too much.... It's too big..."
"We'll break it apart, then. Bit by bit, piece by piece. It's possible, Marley. I've seen it before. I've done it before."
"For Jamie," Alice acknowledged. "And for myself. He and I each went through our own personal Hells and look at us now. The same can happen for you."
"No, it can't."
"Give me the chance to prove you wrong," Alice challenged. "What do you have to lose?"
Marley rolled back over, looking Alice in the eye. "Me," she managed to croak out.
Matthew's phone-call trumpeting that, with Rachel's somewhat mystified help, he'd managed to push back his wedding to Jeanne by a few weeks spurred Donna into action. The time to get rid of that tiresome girl was now. Before Matthew suffered another most inconvenient twinge of conscience where Jeanne was concerned.
To that end, Donna turned to Cass, brushing aside both the ancient history between them and the more recent ugliness surrounding Lori Ann to propose, in a purely business-like manner, "I should like to hire you and Frankie to conduct an investigation for me. I presume it goes without saying you'll be discreet?"
"Hold up now," Cass said, clearly not as skilled at compartmentalizing his life as Donna. "I'm not so sure this is a good idea."
"There is no one in Bay City I trust more."
"You'll forgive me, Donna, if I can't say the same."
"Do you doubt my ability to pay?"
"You know that's not it." Cass wouldn't think he'd have to remind her, "The last time you decided to circumvent the law..."
"Who says I'm trying to circumvent the law?"
"Do you expect me to just ignore what you've done to Felicia and Dean?"
"Yes. If you truly are a professional."
"I'm a human being first. People I love are still suffering because of you. Felicia and Dean will never, ever fully get over losing Jenna. Lori Ann..."
"Might you have a photograph of her?" Donna asked, her own attempt at professionalism flying out the window.
Cass hesitated, sighed, then reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet and, after another moment of thinking about it, handed Donna a snap-shot. "It's a few months old," he cautioned. "She changes so much every day, it's..."
"She looks like me!" Donna exclaimed.
"Yes," Cass conceded. "She looks like Jenna but, yes, we all see it."
"It's remarkable. Vicky and Marley, they both favored Michael much more than me. I was happy about that. I love seeing him in them. Steven and Kirkland, Bridget and Michele, they're all much more Hudson than Love. Well, and their fathers, too, of course. But, Lori Ann... she's the first one to look like..."
"She's Felicia's," Cass reminded softly. "Felicia and Lucas' granddaughter, and Frankie, Dean, Jenna's and my child. Lori Ann has plenty of family who love her. She's nothing to you, do you understand?"
"Of course," Donna's defenses kicked in and she handed the picture back as if it were merely a post-card from his last vacation. "In that respect, why should Lori Ann be any different from the rest of them?" She offered Cass a tight-lipped smile. "I'm sure you've heard that Marley wants nothing to do with me?"
"I yes, I did hear that."
"On top of which, Steven Steven! I practically raised that child while Vicky and Jamie had ever so much more important things to do has taken legal custody of the girls away from me. He claims I'm a danger to them."
"He's got good reason. We all do."
"Damn it, Cass! I would think you, of all people, might be a touch sympathetic towards the concept of accidentally letting matters spiral out of your control. Jenna died due to preeclampsia, a pre-existing condition that yes, my actions exacerbated. Cecile, on the other hand, that poison hardly found it's way down her throat on its own, now did it?"
"If this is your way of buttering me up..."
"It's my way of knocking you off that high-horse of yours! You killed a woman. You served jail time "
"Which is more than can be said about you."
"And yet you don't see me accusing you of being a danger to your children, one of whom is "
"Nothing to you," Cass reiterated. Her words, however, had obviously gotten to him enough for Cass to ask, "What is it you want Frankie and I to investigate, anyway?"
"Jeanne Ewing," Donna said, with just a touch of smugness at having gotten her own way. "I want to know every single detail about her. And I'm in a hurry. I'll pay you whatever it takes. Just get the job done."
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