“Are you two out of your minds?” Grant took one look at the barely conscious Spencer and turned on Alice and Jamie with a vengeance. “What kind of doctors are you? Why isn’t he in a hospital? What have you been doing, just sitting around, twiddling your thumbs?”
“There is nothing that could be done for him in a hospital that we haven’t taken care of here,” Alice said quietly, her tone nevertheless indicating that Grant had best dial it down a notch ASAP.
“Alice was with Spencer all night,” Jamie didn’t feel as compelled to hold his tongue where Grant was concerned. “He wouldn’t have lasted this long if it weren’t for her.”
Grant swallowed hard, grasping what Jamie was trying to tell him. “He’s…”
“We told him you were coming.” Alice took Grant’s hand, leading him towards Spencer. “He’s been waiting for you.”
“I…” The bluster he’d been using to cover his fear dissipated as Grant turned to Alice, suddenly racked with helplessness. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.”
“Whatever you want,” Alice urged him gently. “Whatever you’ve always wanted to say to your father, say it now.”
Grant shuddered. “He’s really…”
“Yes. I’m sorry,” Alice rubbed his arm comfortingly. “We’ll give you two some privacy. I’ll be right outside.”
Just before stepping out the bedroom door, Jamie lowered his voice and told Grant, “I’m going to go back to the house, get Kirkland, bring him here.”
“Why?” Grant started.
“Kirkland blames himself for what happened to Spencer. Lorna and I have both tried to… Maybe hearing it straight from the source will finally drive the point home.”
“You honestly think that’s a good idea? Seeing Spencer like this…”
“Kirkland deserves the chance to say good-bye. So does Spencer. So do you.”
Grant nodded grimly. “Last twenty-four hours, all I’ve been thinking about is everything I should have… Everything I didn’t… I never thought I would be able to….”
“I’d give anything to have a few more minutes with my father,” Jamie advised. “Take advantage of your opportunity.”
Stunned by the possibility that this might, in fact, be the Zeno Tantalus they were looking for, Cass blurted out, “How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” the boy said good-naturedly, before narrowing his eyes and accusing, “Wait a minute, are you two here from the city council? Because I’m telling you right now, you can forget about it. I did my research. I’m old enough to own property; you don’t have to be twenty-one. I’ve got the paperwork if you want to see it. This place is mine, fair and square. You’re not going to find any loop-holes in my age, I can tell you that now.”
“We’re not from the city council,” Felicia assured him, hoping to calm Zeno down.
“Are they trying to take your property?” The lawyer in Cass couldn’t help inquiring. Well, that and the knowledge that, as long as he kept focusing on periphery issues, Cass wouldn’t have to find out something he didn’t want to know.
Zeno nodded. “Eminent domain. The county wants to use my land to grow corn so they can sell it for ethanol. Urged me to do it, but I refused. So they decided to just take my property by force. No, sorry, officially it’s,” he raised his fingers in air quotes. “For the good of the community.”
“Isn’t it, though?” Cass asked, confused. “I’d think, considering where this place stands on… everything, you’d be all for less gasoline, less drilling, less carbon emissions….”
“This place stands for helping people,” Zeno said. “I’m one of those weirdoes who happens to think it does more good to feed people than to provide fuel for their SUVs.”
“Have you tried explaining your position?” Felicia asked reasonably.
“Till I’m blue in the face,” he reassured. “You think the government cares about what we do here? They used to be just happy to get our taxes. But, now that they know they can make more money ripping up our fields and planting what they want, they’ve decided they can also do a better job running my property than I can.”
“You run this place all by yourself?” Cass asked incredulously. The boy was only a few years older than Charlie, and Cass couldn’t imagine her taking on this kind of endeavor, not to mention fighting city hall, on top of it.
“Of course not,” Zeno said. “I’ve got tons of people to help. We’re a co-op. Everybody pitches in. But, in the end, the land is mine, so the responsibility is mine. Buck stops here and all that.” He shook his head. “Anyway, that’s my problem. Sorry for the mini-lecture. If you’re not here from the county, why are you here?”
“We’re lost,” Cass said quickly, before Felicia had a chance to answer. This entire encounter proved so unexpected that Cass felt like he needed a moment to regroup and reassess the situation before trying to figure out the link between Zeno and Frankie. He’d thought he was ready to confront anything. Turns out he was wrong.
“Well, where were you trying to get to?” Zeno asked.
“Oakdale,” Felicia improvised. “I’m afraid we took a wrong turn.”
“Where in Oakdale?”
“WOAK,” Cass said, seizing upon the first landmark he recalled from his time there, defending Emily Stewart and Craig Montgomery.
“Oh, wow. Then you guys are really lost.”
“Broken GPS,” Felicia clucked apologetically.
“You’re completely on the wrong side of town. What you need to do is get back on the road and keep driving till you see signs for the Snyder Farm. Take a left onto the first, main street. That’ll put you on the highway, and then you’ve got to go pretty much all the way around, enter at the North End. TV station is a few blocks from there.”
“Thank you,” Cass said. “We appreciate it.”
“No problem,” Zeno shook his outstretched hand and waited until Cass and Felicia were nearly at the door before asking, “Are you sure that’s all you wanted… Mr. Winthrop?”
“Tell me the truth, just like always,” Rachel implored Mac’s frozen image inside the sterling silver picture frame she clutched in her hand. “Would you have condoned what I’ve done? Would you at least have understood why I felt I had to do it? Or would you not even be able to look at me right now?”
Her late husband’s visage stared back at Rachel. You know the answer to that.
“I do,” Rachel nodded, tears filling her eyes as regret and shame tightened her throat. She placed Mac’s photo back on the mantle, unable to look him in the eye, even like this.
Turning, she met another pair of eyes, just as strong as Mac’s, but radiating a more troubled mix of emotions. Or maybe that was just her own reflection that Rachel saw.
“Any news on Spencer?”
Carl shook his head. “No calls have been placed for emergency assistance. It appears the Harrisons have elected to circle their wagons and stay off the radar.”
Rachel frowned. “If it’s as bad as Cory believes, Spencer – ”
“Will meet his end in his own home with his wife by his side,” Carl’s words prompted a wave of nausea to shudder through Rachel. “They at least granted him that much.”
“What about Alice? What have they given her but hours of agony followed by a lifetime of horrible memories?” Rachel murmured, her leaden nausea giving way to sympathy.
“Alice Frame knew the man she married.”
“So did I,” Rachel cut him off with a vicious hiss. “Do I deserve to find your beaten and bloodied body on my doorstep if you’re ever called upon to repay old debts?”
Carl attempted to calm her. “I understand that our earlier conversation with the children proved deeply upsetting to you.”
“Upsetting, Carl? You think the only thing I am is upset that we basically told our two, impressionable, teen-agers it’s okay to stand by and do nothing, to allow another human being to die so we can save our own skins!”
“We are not responsible for what was done to Harrison! That was completely out of our hands.”
“How about emotionally blackmailing our son into compliance? Are we responsible for that bit of exemplary parenting?”
“I merely informed Cory of the facts and the dangers his actions would pose to us all.”
”What about the dangers your actions pose?”
“I repeat, Rachel: I’ve lifted nary a finger in attack towards anyone.”
“No. You just set matters in motion with a few well placed whispers and words.”
“With your blessing.”
“Yes,” Rachel nodded sadly as she looked out the window in the direction of the Harrison estate.
“Honestly, my dear, how long are you intending to continue this charade? It truly is quite beneath you.”
Rachel’s neck snapped around. “Excuse me?”
“No. I will not. This fretting, this lamenting, this regretful, tearful farce you insist on perpetuating must stop posthaste. You are not an ignorant woman. None of what has transpired over these past few days should come as a complete surprise to you.”
“Knowing the possibilities is one thing, living with them – “
“Is quite another, yes, yes. But would you rather be the one currently sitting bedside, watching a soul you love shuffle off this mortal coil?”
“I’d rather no one had to suffer.”
“You knew that was never an option. I explained all of this to you prior.”
“You made a very convincing argument for the course of action you wanted to pursue by dangling the threat to our family – which apparently I now have been appraised only includes Cory and Elizabeth; not their other siblings – in front of my face.”
“I expected better of you, Rachel. You demean me and yourself by attempting to cling to this illusion of innocence. Accept that you condoned what needed to be done to protect your children. There is no shame in that.”
“There is when our son looks at me the way he did earlier. The way Jamie will look at me as soon as he finds out the role I played in his son being kidnapped.”
“Kirkland will recover. I have been assured no serious harm came his way.”
“If Elizabeth or Cory had been the ones snatched and used as bargaining chips, would you have accepted they’d suffered no harm? Would a callous ‘they’ll recover’ have ameliorated your rage one iota?”
“I am not most men.”
Rachel snorted bitterly. “I didn’t realize you considered yourself a man at all.”
“I don’t know,” she conceded. “God? The Devil? Or maybe something in between….”
“Sarah!” Lorna startled in surprise as she opened the door. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see Kirkland,” Sarah said.
“That’s not a good idea. He’s…”
“I know what happened,” Sarah said softly. “I know about him and his grandfather.”
“Grant told me.”
Lorna’s eyes narrowed. “When did you see Grant?”
“He calls to check on Marley’s girls. He sounded really bad. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me. Please don’t be mad at him, I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Unsure how she felt about this, Lorna nonetheless allowed Sarah to step inside. “Why do you want to talk to Kirkland?”
“Just see if he’s okay. Tell him that his dad is thinking about him.”
“Did Grant send you?”
“No,” Sarah swore the truth. “This is all my idea. I just thought Kirk could use some cheering up, some company.”
Lorna hesitated, feeling like there was something she was missing here, but unable to put her finger on what. Seemingly apropos to nothing, she said, “Grant Harrison uses people, Sarah. I realize he can seem like this nice guy, he can certainly turn on the charm when he wants. And God knows he has a way of making you feel like you’re the only one who’s ever understood him. But, I don’t want you to be fooled. He may claim that he cares about Marley’s girls, but the only person Grant ever has or ever will care about is Grant. Don’t let him try to convince you otherwise.”
“Grant didn’t send me,” Sarah repeated. “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to pull some scam. I just… I bet Kirkland could use a friend right about now.”
“He could,” Lorna agreed. “Someone not connected to… Yes, you’re right.”
“Can I go see him, then?” Sarah asked.
Lorna nodded and pointed the way upstairs.
“Dad…” Grant settled gingerly on the edge of Spencer’s bed, touching him on the shoulder, jerking his hand back when Spencer winced in obvious pain from even that light of a tap.
He struggled to open his eyes, smiling a little through a cracked lip when he recognized who it was. He opened his mouth to try and speak, but it turned into a wet, hacking couch that went on seemingly forever.
Grant froze, feeling helpless, and merely waited the attack out, wondering if he should run and get Alice. Terrified that if he left now, it would be too late.
Grasping his son’s dilemma, Spencer clutched Grant’s wrist and tried to indicate that he was alright. Finally, the coughing stopped and he sank back against the pillow, inhaling a long, rattling breath before regaining control.
“Kirkland’s okay, Dad,” Grant blurted out the thing he knew Spencer must want to hear most. “He’s fine. He’s home with Jamie. You saved his life.”
Spencer’s shrug indicated the initial fault was all his, so no kudos were to be expected for the follow up.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you for that. I didn’t get a chance to thank you for anything. You did so much for me. All my life. You took care of me, you looked out for me. You taught me right from wrong. And when I kept confusing the two, you never stopped trying to set me straight.”
Spencer peered at Grant meaningfully, stubbornly unwilling to sweep under the rug their confrontation over Grant’s having used Kirkland to protect Marley, and Spencer’s subsequent washing his hands of his son.
“I know you didn’t mean it,” Grant said. “Same way I never meant all those times I told you to get out of my life and stay out. It’s just how we talk. Two stubborn, arrogant, self-important, Irish bastards.”
At that, Spencer almost managed to gasp out a laugh. His eyes danced with amusement.
“Guess it’s about time I embraced my heritage, right, Dad? All of it. The good, the bad, the stuff I tried to forget, and the things I promise you I’ll always remember. Hell, I ran halfway around the world, I played dead, and I still couldn’t get away from who I was. Who you made me.” Grant hesitated and then he told Spencer the secret he’d regretted most of all not having had the chance to tell him. “Your wedding day. You remember when we were getting dressed before the ceremony? You told me that instead of a big, white house with an American flap at the top of it, the only thing you really wanted now was for me to feel as terrified and bewildered and overjoyed as you did, thinking about marrying Alice.”
Spencer nodded. He did remember.
“You couldn’t understand why I was with Marley when I knew she didn’t love me. You thought I deserved more. Better. Dad,” Grant bent over, whispering the last part, unable to believe it himself. “There’s this woman. She’s phenomenal. Everything a man could want. Smart and beautiful and caring and honest. And she likes me. She says that she honestly likes me. Just for being… me.”
Tears filled Spencer’s eyes. He grabbed his son’s hand, pressing it to his chest, nodding and smiling and squeezing as tightly as he could.
“What might this be?” Donna frowned as she entered the Love dining-room to find Steven behind his laptop, scrolling through a smorgasbord of local real estate listings.
“An exercise in futility,” he muttered, slamming the computer shut.
“Darling, I’m confident you’ll succeed in finding the perfect bachelor pad for yourself given enough time.”
“And, what, make Bridget and Michele fight over who sleeps on the sofa?”
Donna’s expression hardened. “You cannot seriously believe I’d allow you to take those children from this house? This is their home.”
“As long as we stay here with you we’ll never be safe. Though, in your defense, getting away from you wasn’t enough to protect Kirkland.”
“You are not taking Vicky’s girls away from me,” Donna challenged heatedly, her brain vaguely registering his mention of some trouble with Kirkland, but nimbly skipping over it to defend the more egregious slight against her. “Now, I’ve been patient with this petulant exercise of yours regarding assuming custody of your sisters, but if you think – “
“Kirkland was kidnapped two days ago.”
Donna blinked at Steven, the nonchalant way he dropped the information and his casual demeanor at odds with the severity of his words.
“Why would you say such a thing? Kirkland…”
“Was kidnapped,” Steven repeated, his eyes meeting hers calmly. “By people Spencer used to work with in his bad old days. I believe you know them, too. They made their demands of Spencer, who contacted Dad. The two of them, along with Grant, met with the kidnappers yesterday morning and got Kirkland back.”
“Got him back?” Donna gasped, befuddled, her mind whirling to keep up with Steven’s rapid recount. “How?”
“Spencer traded himself for Kirkland. Kirkland went home with Dad, Spencer went with the kidnappers. He hasn’t been heard from since.”
“Oh my God,” Donna shook her head in disbelief. “Oh my God, I… I can’t believe this. I can’t believe no one thought to call me.”
“Why would they? You’re the reason Kirkland was snatched in the first place.”
“No, darling, no, no, that blame rests on his criminal grandfather’s shoulders, not mine.”
“There’s more than enough blame to go around for what happened to Kirk. Spencer at least owned up and tried to make them right.”
“If your father had bothered to call me – “
“You’d have what? Done the selfless thing and offered yourself up? Give me a break.”
“I’d do anything for Kirkland. I’d do anything for all of you!”
“Except what we need you to do, need you to be. What did you think would happen when you went on TV and waved a red flag about having a secret file? Did you think that wouldn’t come back to bite any of us?”
“I was trying to protect us. Do you really think I intended for anyone to be hurt? I made a mistake, yes. But, only because Carl and Spencer – “
“Intention has nothing to do with it. Intention is never even on your radar. You just don’t care about consequences until it’s too late and the damage is done.”
“That’s not true.”
“Kirk’s face and his arms are covered in bruises. Some adult men grabbed Vicky’s son and roughed him up to the point where Dad worried they might have broken his nose. Kirkland is freaked out about what happened, and he has every right to be.”
“Oh,” Donna gasped at the images Steven painted in her head. “Oh, my poor…”
“Don’t,” Steven said as he deftly moved to block her hurried exit. “Don’t even think about going to see him. You leave my brother alone. He’s got enough to deal with without you in his face.”
“Get out of my way,” Donna seethed up into Steven’s immobile expression. “Move or I’ll – “
“Call your own personal kidnappers to have me thrown into a nunnery and kept out of your way? Sorry, I think those guys are currently busy dumping Spencer’s body in the bay. But, that is what you do to people who get in your way, right, Grandmother?”
“How can you be so cruel? So disrespectful? How you can say such things to me? I just want to make sure Kirkland is okay.”
“He’s not, and you’ll only make things worse by turning what he went through into all about you, as usual. Dad and I will take care of Kirkland. You leave him alone. Give Kirk a chance to recover from what you did to him.”
“Your dad needs you,” Sarah told Kirkland simply.
The boy sat on a chair in his room, shoulders hunched, using one fingernail to clean out under another, then repeating the process with all ten fingers. He didn’t meet Sarah’s eye or do much more than grunt to recognize her presence.
“I saw Grant earlier,” Sarah said, despite the lack of acknowledgement. “He feels horrible about what happened. Not just about your getting kidnapped; though, believe me, he is tearing his heart out over that. What’s really killing him, though, is that he couldn’t help you when it counted. When the chips were down, you ran straight to Jamie. Grant doesn’t blame you for that. He knows you just did what you needed to, and he’s happy Jamie was there. Grant blames himself. Even after you had him sign the adoption papers, he never gave up hope that you might let him be your dad again. In some way. Even some small way would have been enough. But it wasn’t until you tore right by him on your way to Jamie, like Grant was nothing, like he didn’t matter, like he didn’t exist, it wasn’t until then that Grant gave up. Because he understood those weren’t just angry words you were throwing at him. Grant knows a little something himself about yelling at your dad and saying you never want to see him again. He’s done it enough. But, he never meant it. So he assumed you never meant it either. Except the other morning. When it wasn’t words anymore. It was actions. And not something you thought about or planned to make a point. Just how you felt. How you honestly felt. Grant finally got it.”
Kirkland stopped picking at his nails, but he had yet to straighten up or face her. “What do you want, Sarah?”
“I want you to give your dad some hope again. His father is dead,” Sarah said bluntly. “You know how important Spencer was to him. He was the one constant in his life. Spencer and you. Nothing else matters to Grant. He’s lost one; he’s never going to get his own dad back, no matter what. But you – there’s still a chance with you. Grant used to believe that. It’s what kept him going. It’s what should be keeping him going now. Except that it’s not. You’ve got Jamie. You’ve got Lorna and your brother and sisters and your entire family. All Grant has left is you. I know that ever since he came back, everyone’s been focused on how you feel, what you need, what’s good for you, and what Grant can do to make things better. I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to give you a challenge. If you’re half the kid I think you are, if you’re half the kid you think you are, if you’re any part of the kid that your other dad raised, you’ll take a minute to think about how Grant feels, what Grant needs right now, and what you can do to make things better for him.”
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