“Okay,” Kirkland said, having driven out to meet Charlie where she said, in the bleachers of Bay City Latin’s currently deserted and dark football field, making sure they couldn’t be overheard or spied on. “I’m here.”
“Thanks.” She sat down next to him, close enough to be heard, far enough to give him plenty of space.
“What?” he wanted to know.
“I – I wanted to apologize. For the way I acted. Before. I shouldn’t have called you names.”
“Are your Mom and Dad making you do this?”
“What? No! They don’t know anything. Why would you think I’d tell them – “
“My dad told them. He told Frankie everything that happened, and Frankie told Cass.”
Charlie’s stomach lurched as her mind instantly went over every conversation she’d had with her parents over the past few days, looking for hidden messages she might have missed the first time around. “How did your dad know?”
“I told him,” Kirkland said, half-embarrassed, half-defiant.
“Why the hell would you do something like that?”
“Because I was upset. Because he could tell and he hounded me and… No, that’s only part of the truth. The whole truth is, I needed to talk to somebody. So I picked my dad. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest choice in the long run, but…”
“I told Lila,” Charlie confessed. “Difference is, she knows how to keep her mouth shut.”
“Well,” Kirkland pointed out reasonably, his knee-jerk reaction always to protect Jamie in the face of outsider criticism. “You’re not her kid.”
“Lila was the one who thought we should talk. She thought I should explain why I – why I reacted the way I did.”
“You were mad. When people get mad,” Kirkland thought of his earlier fight with Grant. “They say… stuff.”
“I thought you didn’t love me.”
“Because I wouldn’t….”
“Yeah. If you love somebody, you’re supposed to… want to.”
“I did want to. I do. Just not… then.”
“Steven kind of said the same thing. It’s not dating if you’re not having sex.”
“Everyone else at school is doing it.”
“They say they are,” Kirkland corrected. “Doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth.”
“True. Most people are full of it.”
“I didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“And I didn’t mean… I just thought you were dissing me. I was scared. I’d spent like, days, getting up the nerve to show you that I was ready, and then I was so worried about doing everything right – “
“Like I’d know the difference,” Kirkland pointed out with a self-deprecating smile.
“My mom and dad keep telling me how natural it all is. Sure didn’t feel natural. I felt like this stupid, clumsy idiot, and then, when you practically pushed me off you…”
“I think you’re beautiful, Charlie, you know that.”
“I’ve messed things up for good, haven’t I?”
“I – I don’t know. I’m not going to pretend I’m not still mad. Because I am still mad. I’m mad at my dad, too, but there was one thing he said, one thing he wasn’t wrong about. You had no right to call me names or hit me. If this was backwards and I’d done it to you – “
“I’d forgive you,” Charlie swore. “I would, I’d know you didn’t mean it, and that you just, you know, misunderstood where I was coming from.”
“Really?” he wrinkled his nose.
“Absolutely,” she reiterated. “I’d absolutely forgive you, Kirkland. Do you think you could ever forgive me?”
“If that’s for a hooker, she’s a very cheap hooker,” Jeanne remarked at the bills in Dean’s hand upon opening the door to his apartment.
Dean didn’t miss a beat. “It’s for the pizza delivery guy. Cash for hookers I leave on the nightstand.”
“Still looks like you’re low-balling the kid on a tip,” Jeanne scoffed as she breezed past Dean into the dining/slash/living room.
“You’re welcome to pitch in a few bucks. On your way out.”
She turned around and wondered, “Are you just going to stand there with the door open?”
“Until you leave, yeah.”
“I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“Guess that’s why you’re up on the going rate for cheap hookers.”
“I’m a reporter,” Jeanne sniffed indignantly.
“I’ve seen the kind of reporting you do. I’d sooner waste my time talking to the entire staff of TMZ and News of the World.”
“I’m sorry, but what exactly have I done to offend you?”
“Beyond calling me a loser has-been using his kid as an excuse not to restart my by now non-existent career?”
“It’s not slander if it’s true.”
“You work for the bride of Satan.”
“I understand why you’d have issue with my boss – “
“Your boss killed my wife.”
“The anniversary of her death – and your daughter’s birthday – being today, I know,” Jeanne nodded. “You have my condolences.”
“I don’t want your condolences. I want you gone.”
“Not until you hear what I have to say. I want to interview you about Jenna. As part of a series of special reports I’ve done so far on – “
“Donna Love and Spencer Harrison,” Dean completed for her. “I’ve seen your so-called hard-hitting journalism. I want no part of it.”
“You’d be telling your side of the story. Jenna’s side.”
“Please,” Dean scoffed. “You don’t give a damn about me or Jenna. I know what you are, Ms. Ewing. One of those scrambling, opportunistic cows that’ll do just about anything to get ahead. Including stepping on the back of a dead woman in order to boost yourself up as high as she’ll take you.”
“What does it matter if telling your story happens to further my career as long as your side gets heard?”
“Because my wife deserves better than you for her mouthpiece. If I ever decide to open up about what happened to Jenna, I’ve got any number of more reputable talking heads to sit down with.”
“Perhaps. But I beat them all in one important respect.”
“I was the only one to nail an exclusive interview with Donna Love.”
“A tongue bathing fluff piece on your boss – “
“I asked hard questions and let Donna have her say. Unedited, if you noticed. I would do the same for you.”
“Dean, how do you think the public would react to you raking the owner of KBAY over the coals and KBAY still running the story?”
“I think it’d make Donna look good for allowing it, and leave me looking like a raving, bitter loon.”
“I wouldn’t let that happen. You have my word. Listen, Dean. If there is one thing you do believe about me, it’s that I’m only out for myself, right? Then why would I exploit a grieving widower on national television? Even I know that would sink my career faster than pointing out that the job stimulus didn’t create any jobs. I’m not as dumb as I look.”
“Given that you came to me on this day of all days to make your pitch, I wouldn’t feel so sure about that.”
“Just think about it. I really think it’s time Jenna’s story was told. She deserves that. You both do.”
“Lori Ann finally crashed,” Cass reported, coming downstairs after close to an hour of convincing his still sugar-high toddler that the festivities were over and now it was time to go to sleep. Yes, she could do it in her Princess dress and crown, but she really, really needed to lie down and be still just for a minute. See where that might lead them.
Frankie smiled, pulling down the last of the obnoxiously pink decorations and looking at them almost wistfully. After all, how many fairy-tale parties did their daughter really have in her future, before those awful Bratz dolls and their ilk swooped in?
“Let me help you,” Cass picked up the box she’d been carrying, following Frankie back inside the house and setting it down next to the nearly finished cake. “I think Lori Ann really enjoyed her birthday.”
“It was nice to see everyone together. Like Dean said, we’re family, the good stuff and the bad. We’re stuck with each other.”
“You and Lorna managed to make nice, I noticed.”
“So did you and Jamie.”
Cass nodded. “He asked me if I wanted to be Charlie’s friend, or her parent?”
“Would he just can it, already?” Frankie flung aside a pair of streamers and plopped down on the couch, exhausted. “I told him we’d handle this.”
“Except we’re not handling this,” Cass pointed out. “We’re ignoring it.”
“We’re handling it our way. Not everyone has a stick up…” Frankie softened her epithet. “Not everyone is Jamie Frame.”
“Agreed. Just like no one,” Cass stressed, sitting down next to her, slipping an arm around her shoulders. “Is Mary Frances Frame Winthrop, that’s for sure.”
Frankie hesitated. Then, recalling her conversation with Sharlene, asked in a small voice. “I bet you miss her. That woman you married.”
“I know how I’ve been acting lately, Cass.” Instead of looking her husband in the eye, Frankie linked her fingers through his, stroking the back of his palm with her other hand. “Don’t think I’m oblivious. I know I haven’t been acting like myself. Not just about this thing with Charlie, but so many other things…”
“Actually,” Cass corrected. “I think you’ve been acting exactly like yourself.”
“What?” she spun around, the shock compelling her to finally face him. “You do?”
“Yes.” Cass cocked his head. “Mary Frances, you are the kindest, most loving, most giving, most generous, most open-hearted and open-minded human being I have ever had the good fortune to know. You would never hesitate to help a person in need, no matter what the cost, and you would give your life for someone you love. Or, I suspect, for a total stranger. But – and I expect you may have noticed this yourself – you also have a tendency to, once you’ve settled your loving, giving, generous, open heart and mind on what you think is best for this loved one or stranger; you are loathe to change your game-plan – even if the loved one or stranger himself begs you to. In other words, Frankie, you always think you know best, so damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Frankie said in a tone that implied she most certainly did.
“Uh-ha. So when you kept your pregnancy a secret from me… “
“It was for your own good.”
“Did you ever think to ask me what I thought?”
“That would have only muddled the issue.”
“And when you decided not to tell me you were alive….”
“It was for your own good. And Lila’s, and Charlie’s and Jasmine’s.”
“Did you ever – “
“How about that time with Christy and her sick husband – “
“I was trying to help everyone involved.”
“Laurie Michaels suing the hospital…”
“I had to protect John.”
“The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”
“Alright,” Frankie conceded. “So maybe I sometimes have a tendency to only see things from my own – well-meaning and benevolent – point of view.”
“You always think you know best,” Cass summarized. “Not just for yourself, but for everybody else, too.”
“Being perennially right, Cass. It’s a curse.”
“Yes. For both of us.”
She had to laugh at that, burying her face in his chest. “I’m sorry about everything. I’m just so terrified of alienating Charlie. These teen years are a mind-field for everybody, but she and I have such a tenuous connection as it is. She says she has, but I’m not certain Charlie has ever forgiven me for all the years I made her lie to you about my being alive. She’s got some very legitimate grievances against me. I just don’t want to add to them.”
“Well, not to give you a swelled head or anything, but Jamie told me Kirkland is furious that he butted in.”
“There! Ah-ha! See? What did I tell you?”
“That’s still not a good enough reason for us to bury our heads in the sand. You and I have to talk to Charlie, if only to find out what she thinks happened. Fact is, maybe you’re right and Kirkland completely snowed Jamie. Doesn’t Charlie deserve to know what he’s claiming she did?”
“You really think this is what’s best for Charlie?”
“I do. How is she supposed to learn from this situation if she doesn’t know the full extent of everything it triggered?”
“She’ll be mad.”
“She’ll get over it.”
“I’ll be mad.”
“You’ll get over it, too.”
“I know,” Frankie sighed, turning to kiss him. “God, I hate it when you’re right.”
“You love it,” Cass corrected.
“Okay, break it up you two.” The front door slammed behind them as Charlie strolled back into the house. “Impressionable child on the premises.”
Cass and Frankie turned to look over the back of their couch at their daughter. Charlie certainly didn’t seem to be in a bad mood. Always a plus. And so rare these days, too.
She walked around and flopped into a chair from which she could see them both. “Okay,” Charlie said. “You two better get on with it.”
“What?” Frankie asked, genuinely confused.
“The talk you want to have with me.”
“Who says we wanted to have a talk?” Cass felt his lawyer instincts kick in. Whenever a cross-examination took an unexpected turn, the best thing to do was hit the breaks and try to figure out where he’d lost control of the situation.
Charlie rolled her eyes and informed Frankie and Cass, “I know Jamie told you what went down between me and Kirkland.”
“I spoke to Marley,” John filled in Donna.
“How is she?” Donna’s voice caught in her throat.
“Better, no question about that. She was lucid, calm, talking rationally when I saw her.”
“Thank goodness. Did she tell you anything about what happened that put her in such a state?”
“No.” John shook his head. “What she wanted to talk about, was you.”
“I’m not surprised,” Donna wiggled her fingers dismissively, only the tremble of her hand betraying the outward air of nonchalance. “She must be at that part of her therapy where everything gets blamed on the mother.”
“Actually, Marley was more interested in you as Reginald’s daughter. And in your relationship with Michael.”
“My word, whatever for?”
“She sees herself following in your footsteps. Marley thinks maybe if she figures out how you got to be who you are, she can break the pattern.”
“Marley is nothing like me. She’s always been fragile, sensitive. Life’s slings and arrows that the rest of us would just shrug off, she takes much too much to heart.”
“I don’t know. That sure sounds a lot like you.”
“Oh, yes, a delicate shrinking violet, that’s me. Be serious, John.”
“You’re forgetting something.” John stood his ground, way too used to this game of hers by now, and indisputably sick of it. “You told me the truth, remember? About the faces you put on and the roles you play? Telling people what they want to hear in order to get your way and protect the real you.”
“What makes you think I wasn’t pulling the wool over your eyes at that time, as well?” Donna challenged. “Telling you what you wanted to hear?”
“Because. Whenever you want to get your way with me, you turn on the charm and bat those beautiful brown eyes of yours and flirt and wrap yourself in a veneer of bull so thick I couldn’t break through with a chainsaw if I wanted to. Not this time. This time you were raw and exposed and real. After all these years, I know the difference.”
“You flatter yourself.”
“No. That’s what you do when you want to throw me off balance. You know how I understood you weren’t just playing with my head this latest go-around? It’s because, if you really were just toying with me, you wouldn’t be pushing me towards Sharlene at every opportunity.”
“Maybe I’ve merely changed tactics?”
“You’ve grown up, Donna. Finally. Quite frankly, I’m honored. I might very well be the first person you’ve ever tried to help for reasons other than your own selfishness.”
“You sure do know how to flatter a woman, Dr. Hudson.”
“Actually, Donna, I think I do. You know I’ve cared about you for a long time. But, this is the first time I think I’ve actually genuinely liked you.”
Donna honestly didn’t know how to react to that. She flushed with pleasure, even as she struggled to hide her reaction by hurrying on to demand, “What does this have to do with Marley?”
“Your daughter is terrified of turning into you. Maybe if you showed Marley that you had changed – genuinely changed, the way I know you have – she’d be able to believe she could do it, too.”
In spite of his better judgment, which included moral, ethical, sensible and fashionable, Grant nevertheless found himself at the appointed time in the appointed place, in front of Cory Hall at BCU, 8PM sharp, wearing, if not quite the 70s leisure suit Sarah had requested, at least a casual, cream Elements By Zanetti designer one over a Ferregamo dress-shirt, no tie, collar unbuttoned. This, for Grant, was as laid-back as it got.
All around him, kids who looked Kirkland’s age – no, Grant wasn’t going to dwell on the fight with Kirkland, not right now anyway – streamed past him into the dance dressed in an assortment of outfits ranging from Saturday Night Fever to Woodstock to Annie Hall. None of them gave a damn about Grant’s presence. And none of them were Sarah.
He was beginning to wonder if he’d misunderstood her directive entirely – maybe she was just asking him for advice on what she should wear to best reflect his archeologically ancient generation – when he heard a voice call out behind him, “You made it!”
Grant turned around, already smiling in anticipation, ready to tease her about being late. Except that every word instantly flew out his head the moment he caught sight of Sarah’s chosen get-up for the occasion.
She wore a hot-pink, Lycra, micro-mini dress, turtleneck but sleeveless, and so skin-right, Grant couldn’t believe anything might possibly prove capable of sliding in beneath it and her skin, accessorized with matching, knee-high boots on spiked heels that brought her up nearly to Grant’s eye-level.
His speechlessness seemed to thrill Sarah to no end. She grinned, grabbing his hand, and leading Grant inside. “I’ve been waiting for you!”
Once over the threshold, it was wall-to-wall bodies. Wall-to-wall gyrating bodies, and music that echoed off every one of those walls, along with strobe lights and the smell of cheap, college beer. Grant wasn’t sure what to do first. Blink until his eyes adjusted to the glare, shake his head in hopes of warding off the ringing in his ears, or just drink and see if that might conveniently solve both problems.
He never got the chance to attempt either.
Sarah didn’t so much as break her stride, pulling Grant to the middle of the dance floor, starting to move to the music the second they’d stepped inside, throwing her head over her shoulder and, with a wink, urging Grant to do the same.
He saw people dancing in large groups, small groups, couples and by themselves. Grant wasn’t sure where they belonged until Sarah settled the issue for him, dancing while facing Grant, yet not touching him, eyes closed, arms over her head, blatantly enjoying herself whether he felt like joining in or not.
As if to taunt him, the song that kicked off just as they’d entered proved to be ABBA’s Does Your Mother Know? (Had Sarah planned it? Just how much control did she have over him, anyway?) Its refrain of “I can see what you want/ But you seem pretty young to be searching for that kind of fun/So maybe I'm not the one” managing to both ridicule Grant and spur him on at the same time.
He stepped up, resting a hand on Sarah’s shoulder, prompting her to open her eyes and look at him with surprise… and also utter confidence. As if she’d been expecting this all along.
Hadn’t they both been expecting this all along?
Grant drew her to him, moving only to the music, matching his rhythm to hers and nothing more.
She slipped one arm behind his neck, her fingers playfully toying with the base of his hairline while her other hand settled along his back. The warmth of her palm trickled upwards, prompting Grant to flush. He told himself that they were indoors on a summer night in a room packed with furiously dancing people. Who wouldn’t feel flushed?
Her knee darted in and out between his thighs and Grant barely had a chance to regain his equilibrium before Sarah turned around, dancing with her back to Grant now, pressing insistently against him.
She set both his hands on her hips, making it clear that Grant could move her the way he liked. Her fingers linked through his, pressing into his skin.
He’d had enough.
Grant whipped Sarah around, the spot on his chest where her back had been now filled with Sarah’s breasts. She looked up at him, smiling, again utterly sure of herself. And of him. Convinced she knew exactly what was happening.
A part of Grant wanted to push her away, to scowl that it – he – wasn’t that simple. That sooner or later Sarah would find out life didn’t always go the way you expected, the way you’d set it up to be. It shouldn’t be this easy. It couldn’t be this easy. There was no use fooling yourself.
But, instead, Grant glanced down into her eyes and saw a young woman who desired him – without feeling mortified or embarrassed about it. How long had it been since any woman had desired Grant without an accompanying sense of guilty revulsion?
Her lips were moist and they were soft and they were utterly, unabashedly eager when Grant inhaled her, no longer hearing the blaring music or feeling the airless crush of bodies on every side. All Grant felt was Sarah molding and melting into him, her arms tightening around him, and the sense – gone so long he’d forgotten it was even possible – of being completely and fully and unashamedly… wanted.
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