“Hey,” Kirkland said, meeting Grant outside Spencer’s door, having agreed as soon as Jamie proposed it to drive over and see his grandfather immediately. Now Jamie stood quietly behind his son, letting Kirk take the lead. “How – how is he?”
Though the door remained closed – Alice was in with Spencer now – Grant couldn’t help instinctively looking over his shoulder before sighing and answering honestly, “He’s in bad shape.”
“Dad said they really worked him over.”
“Yes. They did. He’s doing his best to stay awake, to even talk a little, but it’s very difficult for him. Very painful.”
“Did you guys talk?”
“I talked. He listened. I hope he heard what I was trying to say.”
“How are…” Kirkland started tentatively, then rushed to the end of the sentence. “Are you okay, Grant?”
“No.” His father didn’t have the strength to put up a façade anymore. He didn’t have the strength to do much of anything anymore.
“I…” Kirkland seemed equally at a loss for words. So rather than trying to force another awkward phrase or stupid question, he simply leaned over and clumsily offered his father a hug.
For a moment, Grant stood frozen, unable to respond, unable to believe even. It took him a second to realize what was happening and that it was, in fact, actually happening. He hugged Kirkland back tightly, clinging to him, closing his eyes, but making equally sure to let go the instant Kirkland did, taking a step back for good measure and clearing his throat several times, smiling weakly.
“Go see your grandfather,” he said, tapping Kirkland lightly on the shoulder, nodding his head for good measure. “He’s waiting for you.”
“How…” Cass stammered, looking from a smug Zeno to an equally mystified Felicia. “How do you know my name?”
“It was all over the news last year,” Zeno said. “Your murder trial.”
“Oh…” Cass exhaled with relief. Of course, he should have guessed.
“Then why did you ask us if we were from the county?” Felicia cocked her head suspiciously, feeling there was more to this than the boy was letting on.
Zeno shrugged. “You could have been. Mr. Winthrop paid his debt to society. You know, couple of months for a life, that sure sounds fair.”
Now even Cass could detect the odd undertone in his voice. “Do you have something you’d like to say to me, son?”
“I’m not your son,” Zeno informed Cass lightly, then, almost as an afterthought added, “Even if you are married to my mom.”
“Matt? Can I talk to you for a moment?” Rachel caught her son on his way up the stairs, looking somehow exhausted, exhilarated and entrapped all at the same time.
“Sure…” Enthused, however, was definitely not on his list.
They walked side by side into the library without saying a word, Matt feeling all the while like he was about to be punished for something – was Matt too old to be grounded? – especially when Rachel pointedly closed the double-doors behind them, though, as far as Matt knew, his mother had no idea what he’d been up to that day, or with whom. And even if she had found out somehow, what business would it be of…
“I talked to Jeanne earlier,” Rachel said.
“She told me you’d somehow dug up the information on Clarice and Jerry Grove.”
Yup, Matt definitely was going to be grounded now.
He nodded weakly, feeling vaguely nauseated.
“You know, I remember when all of that happened, how horrifying it was for everyone involved. Poor Clarice, Larry, even Jerry… he was a very sick man. He needed help.” Rachel paused, “Jeanne thinks Jerry is her biological father.”
Rachel shrugged. “I never asked. She was Larry’s daughter in every way that mattered, the same way you were Mac’s son. It was hardly my place to butt in.”
Like me, Matt thought. What he said though was, “Jeanne and her parents, she never felt like she belonged with them.”
“Isn’t that true of every child?” Rachel speculated. “Certainly there were times I felt convinced Mom and I were from different planets, much less bloodlines. I bet Amanda would say the same about me. And then there are Cory and Carl…” Rachel trailed off, doing her best to forget the earlier scene between her husband and her son… and her.
“But, if this Jerry guy really is Jeanne’s dad, it would explain a lot.”
“It wouldn’t explain anything. Do I have to rattle of a list of Bay City offspring who are nothing like their biological parents, nature and nurture be damned?”
“I guess not,” Matt conceded, wondering if Rachel would place his name on such a list.
“Jeanne told me how wonderful you were with her. How you made it clear that you didn’t hold any of this horrid, sordid mess against her.”
“Well, yeah. None of it is her fault. I mean, I know what it’s like to suddenly find out you’re not who you’ve always thought you were.”
“She’s very concerned about this information becoming public. Not because of her, but because of the scandal it might cause us. The first time Jeanne and I really talked, she promised me she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass the Corys. She swore she’d do her best to fit in and not cause any trouble.” Rachel paused, wondering whether or not to fill him in, then told Matt, “Jeanne offered to call off the wedding.”
“What?” His head spun as his mouth dropped open. Jeanne offered… but… it didn’t make any sense… “Why?”
“For your sake.”
“For my…” Now the world really had flown off its axis.
“I’ll be honest with you, Matt. When you and Jeanne out of nowhere first announced your engagement, I was wary. I didn’t believe you’d known each other long enough, or well enough… I had my doubts.”
“Well, if you really feel that way,” Matt leapt on his opening. “Maybe we should postpone the wedding. I’ll talk to Jeanne, explain your position and – “
“You’re not listening, honey. I said that I initially had my doubts. I don’t anymore. Jeanne coming to me, her willingness to put your needs ahead of her own, it convinced me of just how much she loves you.”
“You… believed her?”
“I did. But, I’ll tell you what really clinched the deal for me. Hearing Jeanne talk about your sensitivity to her situation, that’s what drove home just how much you love her. The two of you are good for each other. You look out for each other. Not a lot of couples can say that. I know you didn’t ask for it, and it probably wouldn’t matter to either of you one way or the other, but, I just wanted to tell you, Matt, you and Jeanne, you have my blessing. I’m proud of you both. Remember when you told me how much you wanted to feel worthy of being called Mac Cory’s son? Well, I know Mac would have been so very proud of you, too.”
“Thank you, you’ve been a big help,” Amanda said, hanging up the phone.
“Who was that?” Kevin wondered.
“The BCPD.” Amanda thoughtfully clicked her fingernail against her front teeth. “Allie said she filed a police report about her car. They’ve got no record of it.”
“Kids,” Kevin shrugged. “I’m sure she means to do it someday.”
“As if Jen wouldn’t have completed all of the forms in triplicate and then followed up with daily phone calls?”
“My daughter needs to learn to take things easy,” Kevin said.
“I was paying her a compliment,” Amanda assured.
“Yeah. I wonder.” He caught the look on Amanda’s face and rushed to clarify. “Not about you; I didn’t mean it like that. I know you intended to pay her a compliment. I’ve just been pondering a lot lately – I’ve certainly had the free time,” he grimaced, mentally counting the minutes until his suspension to practice law would be lifted. “About what Jen said to Allie weeks ago. About her always having to be perfect so she doesn’t let me down. So I don’t think she’s ungrateful for everything I’ve done for her. How is a person supposed to live like that?”
“Yeah, who wants academic, professional and personal achievement when you can just let the wind blow you from place to place as you try to figure out who you are, what you want out of life, and how the hell you’re supposed to go about getting it?”
“You’re being awfully hard on Allie,” Kevin noted.
“What Allie? I’m talking about me. I stopped by the house this morning, and my daughter had to point out to me that I’ve been married for months and I still haven’t technically moved in with my husband.”
“That is odd,” Kevin agreed, noncommittal.
“The two of us need to get it together, don’t we?”
“Certainly before we start telling our daughters how to live their lives, that’s for sure.”
“Well,” Amanda hedged. “Maybe we could do it concurrently.”
“Amanda,” Kevin smiled pleasantly. “Dear. Sweetheart. Darling. What have you done?”
Jamie followed Kirkland into the room to see Spencer. He didn’t want the already shaky boy facing his grandfather’s battered visage alone.
Alice sat next to her husband. She withdrew the syringe she’d been using and set it aside. Alice and Jamie had been giving Spencer about as much painkiller as they thought he could stand and still remain somewhat lucid. They’d gradually had to increase the dosage just over these past few hours. At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to stay cognizant much longer. And the alternative was to leave him wracked with pain.
Alice smiled weakly at Kirkland, standing up to rest a hand on his cheek. “How are you feeling, darling?”
“I’m fine.” He couldn’t tear his eyes from Spencer. “How’s… he?”
“Thrilled to know that you’re fine,” Alice told Kirkland firmly, lest he harbor any doubts. She moved aside, clearing a free path. “Would you like to talk to him?”
Kirkland nodded, but it came out as more of a question.
“You’re going to have to get a little closer. He can’t see very clearly.” Alice didn’t add it was because she suspected the beating had detached his retina.
Kirkland perched on the edge of the bed, not so much sitting as crouching, ready to spring away at a moment’s notice.
“Hi… Spencer,” he said, his voice quavering almost a full octave. “It’s Kirk. I…” the words pretty much deserted him after that.
Spencer didn’t appear to take offense.
“Not… Your… Fault.” Each sound took an exemplary amount of exertion on his part, but Spencer made sure every word came out as clearly as he could make it, breaking into a cold sweat from the agonizing physical effort.
Alice took an instinctive step forward, ready to urge him not to exert himself like this. But, Jamie grabbed her hand and pulled his stepmother back. “He needs this as much as Kirk does,” Jamie whispered.
“That’s what everyone says, it’s not my fault,” Kirkland conceded. “But, I know if I hadn’t gotten caught… If I’d fought them off, if I’d been brave and – ”
“My… fault,” Spencer chomped down on the first word, leaving no room for argument. “All mine. Bad decisions. Selfish choices. Don’t… deserve… you.”
“You’re a hero,” Kirkland said.
Now, Spencer finally did laugh, despite how much it hurt him. His chest trembled with such force, Kirk looked over his shoulder at Alice and Jamie, scared and questioning.
“No. Pretended I was… Long time ago. Truth came out… Always does… Grant, Ryan… Wanted to be…. For them…. Couldn’t…. Disappointed….”
“You were for me,” Kirkland insisted. “You came through for me.”
“Glad… Very, very glad.”
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to say thank you for something like that,” Kirkland blurted out, near tears. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I want to do the right thing, but…”
“Be happy,” Spencer begged. “Please. Best thanks… promise me…. Be… happy.”
“Lila?” Doug took a step back in surprise, having opened the door to find her on the other side. “What are you – Are you looking for Chase? He isn’t home.”
“No… Actually, I – I know. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh.” He smiled, mystified but perennially gracious, beckoning her forward. “Come on in. Milagros is sleeping.”
“Thank you,” Lila said awkwardly.
Doug sighed. “I know why you’re here.”
“You do?” Lila gulped.
“I can only imagine what Chase said to you.”
“What?” The one word managed to carry a half-dozen different meetings.
Doug smiled. “Feels like I spend half my life going around, explaining that Chase didn’t mean what he said the way you think he did.”
“You think he didn’t mean…”
“He never does.”
“We almost didn’t get to adopt Milagros, you know, because of Chase and his missing filter between thought and speech. Kevin Fowler was so pissed about the way Chase treated his daughter during Gregory’s Assisted Suicide investigation, he literally flung our file in his face and warned Chase never to darken his doorstep again. I had to go in and do damage control. Explain how Chase’s bark is much worse than his bite and, in any case, it all comes from a good place. So,” Doug either didn’t notice the confusion on Lila’s face or chose to ignore it. “What did my partner say to you that you’ve come to either yell at him or complain to me about? Try to repeat it verbatim, and I’ll translate it into human dialect the best I can.”
“No… I…” She’d arrived feeling pretty unbalanced, but now Lila didn’t even know where to start. “It wasn’t… he didn’t… Chase didn’t say anything to offend me.”
“Oh.” Now it was Doug’s turn to startle. “Well, that’s a refreshing change, I must say. I’m relieved everything’s okay. I know Chase is very fond of you. He talks about you all the time.”
“And you… don’t mind?”
“Are you kidding me? Chase… how to put this tactfully… hates everyone. I have to beg and plead for him to go out with me amongst people. He can glad-hand and talk for hours if we’re at a political fund-raiser or a debate, or, God forbid, if there’s a bill being introduced. The man’s not shy. And he has definite opinions. Have you noticed?”
“But ask him to join a few friends for a night on the town or even a simple dinner party? He responds like I’m trying to yank his teeth out with pliers. There’s this adoption support group at the Y. I make him go. But only because I convinced him it would be good for Milagros to see that we’re just like all the other families. He attends, but it’s a production each and every time. After twenty years, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that the man I love is much happier listening to the voices in his head, than to those of anyone else. As Chase is fond of saying: Why shouldn’t he talk to himself? It’s his one chance to experience a stimulating conversation partner.”
“What about you?” Lila asked softly.
Doug conceded, “Mayor Hamilton is willing to grant certain exemptions. Me and Milagros, primarily. He is perfectly content to spend his rare days off from public life just with the two of us. I know how he comes off to other people… Believe me, I know. But, if you could see him getting down on the floor and building block towers for a three year old girl to knock down over and over and over again… He does have a heart. It’s just been well insulated. And for some painfully good reasons.”
“He’s very lucky to have you,” Lila noted.
“So I keep reminding him,” Doug chuckled lightly, only for the merriment to die gradually as he fully observed Lila’s somber demeanor. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
“It’s about Chase,” Lila said slowly.
“Okay. I’m listening.”
“He and I… He said…. That is, he admitted… I – Chase loves you and Milagros very much.”
“So far, I’m not seeing a problem here,” Doug did his best to sound jocular in contrast to Lila’s oppressive gloom.
“But, the thing is, he and I… he…”
“Oh…” Doug exhaled, bringing up both hand to rub the back of his neck thoughtfully. “I see.”
“Do you?” she asked eagerly, overjoyed by the possibility that she wouldn’t be needing to spell this out. She doubted she possessed the letters.
“Yes,” Chase nodded, shaking his head in regret. “It’s been a while. I was truly hoping we wouldn’t be forced to go through this again.”
“Again?” she asked in disbelief. “You mean…”
Doug cocked his head to one side, pondering the bewildered woman in front of him with a combination of fed-up exasperation and genuine pity. “You didn’t think you were the first, did you, Lila?
“Have you completely taken leave of your senses?” Rachel gaped at Donna as the latter calmly stepped out of her Mercedes, having methodically and thoroughly crumpled the rear end of Carl’s Rolls Royce with her own front bumper.
Donna patiently checked her make-up before snapping shut her compact and waving her fingers in Rachel’s direction. “Be a dear and call your dog of a husband to heel, would you? I have something I wish to discuss with him.”
“What you have is thirty seconds to get off my property before I – “
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear,” Donna smiled tightly, casually retrieving a gas can from the trunk of her battered car before upending the container over the roof of Carl’s prized Rolls, the gasoline fumes hitting Rachel’s nose. “Summon your husband or I will summon him for you. You forget, your unhinged daughter-in-law gave me a little lesson on the motivating power of fire… Oh, why, good day to you, Carl,” Donna greeted the figure hurrying down the walk even as she threw the gas container to the ground and pulled a lighter out of her purse. “How gracious of you to finally join us.”
“I could never miss the glorious possibility that you might immolate yourself through a combination of hubris and gaucherie.”
“Why the hell are you here?” Rachel broke up the banter, deeply concerned about the lighter clutched in Donna’s hand and its proximity to the gasoline soaked car.
“I came to find out why your husband allowed my – our – grandson to be kidnapped.”
No matter how she may have personally felt about the subject, Rachel instantly fired back, “Carl didn’t allow anything to happen to Kirkland. It was Spencer who – ”
“Your husband set up to be killed knowing full well it would put everyone Spencer cared about in the line of fire.” Donna’s gaze went back to Carl. “Why the hell didn’t you protect Kirkland?”
“Spencer declined my offer of assistance and preferred to arrange for his own security.”
“Since when does Carl Hutchins take no for an answer? You never fail. Unless you intend to.”
“I merely respected the man’s wishes.”
“To the detriment of your wife’s son and his family,” Donna observed to Rachel. “I see Carl has finally broken free of your yoke and commenced thinking for himself again. I guess the rest of us should run for the hills. Danger is coming.”
“No one would have ever been in any kind of danger to begin with, Donna, had it not been for your actions. You kicked a hornet’s nest and brought this threat down on us all.”
“Which Carl always, always had the power to stop. There we were, living in vaguely functional Bay City disharmony until he decided, for some inane reason, to start tipping dominoes. What in the world for?”
“I was cleaning up your mess, Bella. I was protecting our families.”
“Kirkland is supposedly in your family, too. Or is it since he can’t be traced directly back to your loins, his being assaulted doesn’t really matter? Oh, if only Ryan could see you now. How do you think he’d feel about you allowing his nephew – a boy Ryan loved like a son – to become a bloodied pawn in your damned games?”
“Don’t speak to me about my son.”
“Why? Because you know he’d look at you in disgust? Ryan would have never, ever stood for this, no matter how many times you beat your chest and swore you filial devotion. He would have renounced you once and for all.”
“Leave,” Rachel stepped between Donna and Carl in an attempt to break the building rage between them. “Now.”
“You’re a damned fool, Rachel,” Donna condemned. “What happened to Kirkland could never have happened unless Carl either willingly turned a blind eye or actually made it happen. Your reformed lap dog obviously isn’t as reformed as you’d like to believe. And neither are you if you were willing to stand by him after what he did to Jamie and Kirkland. But, then again, why am I not surprised? Carl repeatedly tried to kill Mac and you; he stalked your own daughter. But apparently that wasn’t enough of a deterrent to keep you from welcoming him into your bed.”
“You insufferable bitch!” Rachel lunged for Donna, held back from digging her hands into the other woman’s throat by Carl’s arms reaching to pull her back.
“Leave,” Carl repeated Rachel’s directive. “Leave now, or you will regret it.”
“Gladly,” Donna sneered, returning to her car. “The sight of you two makes me ill.”
“If you ever,” Rachel yelled after her. “Ever come to this house again…”
“We’re family,” Donna reminded pleasantly. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
Rachel wrenched from Carl’s grasp towards Donna. “We may share a grandson – “
“Oh, no, Rachel, we share more than that,” Donna glowered at her with a canary eating smile. “Much more than you even realize…”
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