“What did you just say?” Cass couldn’t quite bring himself to repeat Zeno’s claim yet. All he did manage to do was sneak a quick peek at Felicia to make sure he’d just heard what he thought he’d heard. Judging by the shocked look on her face, indeed Cass had.
“You know her as Frankie,” Zeno enlightened, his tone light and conversational, chatting as if they were old friends. “I knew her as Mary. But, yeah…”
“My mom,” Zeno said.
“H-how? I don’t understand.”
“That’s what I called her for close to ten years.”
“That’s what you called…” Felicia began, putting the pieces together but getting cut off before she had the chance to articulate them.
“Yeah. Right up until she packed up and left.” He glared at Cass, “Because of you.”
Cass didn’t know what to say to that. Sure, he’d broken up relationships before, marriages even – it was his curse, after all, being so utterly irresistible to women. He’d tried to get therapy for it. He’d tried to be less delightful. Nothing seemed to help. But, he’d never broken up a family before. (Well, unless you counted him, Lila, Charlie and Jasmine but, again, he couldn’t help that one, either.) Breaking up a family somehow seemed a lot less quip-worthy than his previous, amorous intrusions.
Zeno went on, “All it took was her seeing you on TV once – WOAK, as a matter a fact, back when you were the one next to the witness stand, not on it – she saw you and I guess she remembered everything. She had to go running back – “
“She didn’t,” Cass corrected. “Frankie didn’t come running back to me. She stayed away from me for years after she remembered who she really was. She only came back for our daughter.”
“Charlie,” Zeno said, as though these were facts he’d memorized in school in case a test came up down the road.
“Yes. Charlie. I didn’t know Frankie was alive until – “
“It didn’t matter. She told me all about how you were married to somebody else and how she wasn’t going to break it up the way your other back from the dead wife – “
“Yeah, Kathleen. Seriously, dude? What’s up with you?”
“It’s a problem,” Cass conceded.
Felicia asked, “If Frankie wasn’t planning on returning to Cass, then why did she leave here?”
“Because,” Zeno snorted. “She didn’t think it was fair for her heart to be split in two. She knew that as long as he was still out there, she couldn’t commit to us one hundred percent. She felt we deserved better. Someone who’d put us first in a way she couldn’t do anymore. That’s why she claimed she split.”
“That sounds like Frankie,” Cass mused. “She’s always thinking about other people.”
“Right.” Zeno nodded in mock-thoughtfulness. “That’s exactly how I’d describe it when one day someone is your mom, and the next it’s: Get lost, kid, I found somebody better.”
“I know it didn’t happen that way,” Cass instinctively leapt to defend Frankie despite having no clue about what had really happened here. All he grasped without a shadow of a doubt was that, whatever Frankie did, she did it with this boy’s best interests in mind. It was, after all, the only way Frankie knew how to do anything at all.
“Okay,” Zeno shrugged. “Have it your way. Thanks for driving all the way up and setting me straight. Big help. Real nice of you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
“Wait a minute.” This time, Felicia managed to cut Cass off before he made the already volatile situation even worse. “He didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s just that we both know Frankie, we know what kind of a generous, good-hearted, devoted person she is in anything she does. You must know that, too. After all, you obviously loved her. I can see it written all over your face.”
He’d seemed so grown up when they first walked in. Talking about eminent domain and ethanol and property rights. The mask hadn’t slipped the entire time he was telling them about Frankie. But, it did now. As soon as Felicia mentioned how much he had to have loved her, Zeno’s façade of being in control dropped, and he was a little boy again, unable to think of a suitable retort beyond crossing his arms and all but stomping his foot.
“And there is no question about it, Frankie loved you. She did the best she could to resolve what must have been an excruciating situation for her. If Frankie said that leaving you and your father was the best thing for both of you, then – “
“Hold up,” Zeno said. His smile was back. So was the sense of control. Felicia suspected that couldn’t be a good thing. Cass knew it for sure. “Your Frankie wasn’t here with my father. I told you before, I haven’t got one of those.”
“No?” Felicia started. She’d been sure she’d figured it out. It was the only thing that made any sense. How else…
“Frankie was here with my mother.”
“Allie?” Amanda didn’t wait to randomly run into her daughter. Things were too serious for Amanda to leave matters to chance. She called to find out if Allie was home, and then drove over to confront her. Without warning that she was coming. Or giving Allie the chance to find someplace else to be.
“What’s up, Mom?” Allie stood half-in and half-out of the garage, balancing on a bicycle she’d just dragged from storage.
“Planning to ride that to school?” Amanda wondered.
“Yeah,” Allie looked down and shrugged. “I’ve decided to see my car being stolen as a sign I should get more active, you know? I’ve still got some pounds to work off, after…”
“Any word from the police? About your car, I mean?”
“I don’t expect any.” Amanda noticed how deftly her daughter ducked the question. Technically, she wasn’t lying. Of course, Allie wasn’t expecting to hear from the police since…
“I know you never filed a report,” Amanda said.
Allie blinked. “I…”
“At least, they have no record of it down at the precinct.”
“You checked up on me?”
“I checked up on your car, Allie. Which, technically, is my car, since I bought it, and I make the insurance payments. In fact, it’s even registered in my name. Which is why I was able to file the report myself. And why I’m the one they called when they found it.”
“Found it,” Amanda said. “And I went down to get it.”
“You saw it?”
“Yes. Want to start your story again from the beginning, honey?” Amanda tried to soften her tone, to convince Allie she could tell her anything. Past history be damned.
“I… It… I didn’t want to deal with it, so I drove the car to Gold Street and left it there.”
“With the keys in the ignition?”
“Incentive for someone to take it someplace I’d never have to see it again.”
“Do you know who it was that wrote…”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course, it does. We can go to the administration. We can – “
“I don’t want to know, Mom, okay? Because I’d still have to go to school with – “
“You would not. If that’s not an expellable offense, then – “
“I don’t want any trouble. Not for them, not for me. I just want it all to go away.”
“Damn it, Allie, how much longer are you going to keep this up? You wanted your pregnancy to just go away, and that didn’t exactly work. And then you wanted GQ to just go away and all it did was make a lot of new problems on top of problems you already had. It was the same with the Assisted Suicide charges, and now this! When are you going to start taking responsibility for your life?”
“Maybe when you finally stop!” Allie shouted back. “Why did you stick your nose into this? This has nothing to do with you!”
“When my daughter is being called names – “
“That she deserves, okay? I know I deserve everything I’ve got coming to me.”
“Not if I have something to say about it!”
“You don’t,” Allie reminded forcefully, wondering all the while if her words would have any effect on Amanda at all.
“You’re back,” Grant growled as Jamie stepped through the door after having taken Kirkland home. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“Alice asked for my help. I don’t want her to be alone right now.”
“I’m here,” Grant pointed out the obvious.
“You’re in no shape to be alone either.”
“Like you give a damn about me.”
“Most days, no, you’re right, I don’t.”
“Oh, but this evening, since my father is inconveniently dying in the next room, you’ve graciously put aside your customarily judgmental, holier than thou attitude to bestow a magnanimous ‘there there’ pat on my shoulder and thus make yourself feel even more superior than normal? You know what you can do with your sanctimony.” Grant leapt up to pace the room, furious at Jamie’s refusal to respond and give Grant something concrete to rage against in the face of otherwise utter impotence. “Don’t think I don’t know what this is. Why you really came back. You want to watch me suffer.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Why? So Alice won’t hear how her golden boy – quite an unhealthy attachment the two of you have, by the way, considering her history with Rachel – is nothing but a gloating, sadistic bastard?” Grant fired back even as he dropped his voice to a low growl.
“Feel free to think whatever you want. Whatever you need to.”
“Give it up, Jamie. Admit it. You’re enjoying watching me experience a taste of the hell you lived through during Lorna’s coma.”
“When Lorna was in a coma, all I could do was wait and wonder what was going to happen to her and Devon. And it was hell, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It’s not the same thing, though, waiting for something you know is definitely coming, like you and Alice are. I don’t know if it’s better or worse. Just know it’s not the same.”
At this Grant reeled, pulling away from his attack to move elsewhere, anywhere so that he wasn’t forced to see the real, damnable compassion in Jamie’s eyes, which managed to alternately enrage and humble him even more.
“How long…” he finally broke. “How long does he… does he have to endure this?”
“Not much longer,” Jamie said quietly.
Grant moved to his father’s wet-bar, the key to which he’d all but wrestled out of the housekeeper’s hand, and poured himself a drink, downing it in one shot, reaching for another, and glancing over his shoulder back to Jamie. “You really should go.”
“Guess there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to make the sight of me palatable?” Jamie attempted to lighten the atmosphere.
“You have people waiting for you at home,” Grant addressed him with sudden seriousness. “You shouldn’t take them for granted.”
“I don’t. I won’t. Ever.” Jamie watched Grant force down another straight shot. “Is that really helping?”
“Not for some time.”
“Then do I have your sanction to keep drinking? Seeing as how Alice will be tended to by you, and I will be – already am – superfluous.”
“I’m here for you, too.”
“All the more reason to drink,” Grant huffed as he refilled his glass, nearly dropping it when Jamie got up from his chair, moving towards the door. “Where are you going?”
“To check in with Lorna. See how she and the kids are doing.”
“No. Just going into the hall. Reception is better there.”
“Because you said you’d stay until… For Alice.”
“I’ll be right outside the door if you need me,” Jamie reassured.
“I don’t need you,” Grant corrected. “But, if Alice comes out looking, I want to be able to tell her where you are.”
“Just down the hall,” Jamie reiterated, easing the glass from Grant’s hand before guiding him to sit. “Will you be okay until I get back?”
Grant shook his head, struggling between laughter and tears. “Damn it, Jamie, I don’t think I can ever be okay again….”
“What are you doing here?” Matt did a double-take after almost crashing into Jeanne while rounding a corner at the Cory Mansion.
She seemed equally as surprised to see him. “Your mom called, asked me to come over right away.”
“Okay. Then why are you… lurking?” It was the best word Matt could think of to describe what she was doing, standing just outside the closed library doors, making no move to enter.
“She told me to wait. She said she had a surprise for me.”
“Mom called me to come home, too. Did she tell you what this was all about?”
“It would ruin the surprise!” Jeanne sounded genuinely offended. Matt wasn’t sure on whose behalf.
“Speaking of surprises,” Matt figured now was as good of a time as any to get into this. “What did you think you were doing, talking to Mom about… about what we talked about?” Matt figured that sounded better then: The documents I didn’t have the balls to blackmail you with.
“I wanted her to know what a good son she’d raised. I wanted her to be proud of you. That’s important to you, isn’t it? Having your mom be proud of you?”
“She is,” Jeanne reassured and, despite the bizarre circumstances, Matt couldn’t help standing a little taller as a result.
“You told her you were willing to call off the wedding.”
“I did. I was.”
“Damn it, Jeanne, what the hell… You know that I wouldn’t be marrying you if – “
“So, what? Were you just playing with my head?”
“I want to marry you, Matt. I want to be a member of the Cory family. Forever. But, I’m not going to do it if it hurts them.”
“I’m a Cory,” he felt ridiculous reiterating the obvious. “And you’re hurting me.”
Jeanne shrugged. “It’s not the same thing. Your mother doesn’t deserve – “
“And I do?”
“Yes,” her pitch didn’t waver. As always, Jeanne spoke as if she couldn’t understand how anyone could fail to follow her logic. “You told me you loved me, Matt. No one forced you to. I didn’t even ask you to. I never ask. You just did. Even after everything I told you about myself. So, if you could get past that, why can’t you get past – “
“Being blackmailed into marriage?” he sputtered disbelievingly.
“Rachel told me she thought I was good for you. She’s right. You’ll see.”
“I don’t want to see. All I want is to put an end to this farce once and for all. You’re right, Jeanne, I did like you once. I liked you very much. But, right now, I can’t even remember why or…”
“I’ll help you remember,” she offered. “I’ll be a good wife to you. And a good daughter-in-law. I’ll even try my best with Jasmine. I’m not sure how that will work out, I’m not really good with kids, but, I will try. I need this, Matt,” she said simply.
“You need something,” he diagnosed, but got no chance to elaborate as Rachel unexpectedly opened the doors, smiling.
“Oh, good, you’re both here. Right on time.”
“What’s going on, Mom?”
Matt followed Rachel inside, more or less ignoring Jeanne.
“I have a surprise for both of you, look who’s here.” Rachel beamed and indicated the couple standing and grinning broadly in the corner.
“Mom,” Jeanne gulped. “Dad….”
“Who let you in here?” Marley demanded upon coming back from dinner to find Donna making herself at home in her hospital room. “Get out.”
“Hello, darling,” Donna rose to greet her daughter, eyes razing Marley up and down in quick inspection. “You’re looking well.”
“I thought I made it clear that I want nothing to do with you. That you were not to be admitted.”
“That’s all well and good, but, I wanted to see you. And as for you banning me from the facility, well, money always talks.”
“Then I guess I’ll get a restraining order since your promises of only wanting what’s best for me – which, in this case, is you leaving me the hell alone – were nothing but lies. How typical.”
“Oh, do grow up, Marley,” Donna snapped, the pent up frustration which had begun with Steven’s insulting accusation and proved only partially assuaged by the stand-off at Rachel and Carl’s flaring up again with a vengeance. “I do wish you all would stop defaulting into attacking me in these pathetic bids to make yourselves feel better.”
“Exactly how many people do you currently see here?” Marley wondered, not bothering to wait for a reply before correcting, “If it weren’t for you – “
“You and the rest of Bay City would be happier, healthier, saner, with luxurious hair, a harem of men under your thumbs and a gaggle of perfectly-behaved moppets at your feet? I don’t think so. I have made my share of mistakes with you, Marley. I’ve made my share of mistakes with all of my children. But there comes a time when you stop blaming others and admit to your own failings, then move on.”
“Now who’s attacking someone else to make themselves feel better?” Marley smirked.
“At least I’m willing to take the licks and the hits, instead of hiding in here!”
“You hid in here as long as it suited you.”
“And then I left this place and I faced Felicia and Dean, Lucas and you, and everyone for the things I did. It’s time you do too. Your family needs you, Marley. Your girls need you.”
“I will not risk going home too early only to fail them again. When I leave here, I am never coming back.”
“Wait much longer, and you won’t have anyone to come back to.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Steven has made it perfectly clear he intends to cut me out of his sisters’ lives completely.”
“I can’t exactly say I blame him,” Marley gloated.
“I assure you, you won’t be smiling like that when he turns around and does the same to you.”
“He can’t, I’m their legal guardian.“
“Their legally committed guardian. The longer you stay in here, the better the case Steven has to go to court and take over all parental rights to Bridget and Michele.”
“He wouldn’t do that. Steven…. “ Marley backed off, shaking her head. “My God, I can’t believe that you… that I almost fell for this.”
“Fell for what?”
“Your little psychodrama. It’s so obvious. Steven pissed you off, so you came here to alternately bully and sympathize with me in order to get what you want, which is keeping Vicky’s girls in your lunatic clutches. Classic Donna.”
“Psychodrama? Lunatic? What interesting choices of words, Marley. I came here to offer you a dose of hard-hitting truth. You are going to lose everyone you hold dear if you do not get yourself together and leave this place, post haste.”
“I’m so sorry my recovery isn’t meeting your personal timetable, Donna. Maybe if you hadn’t been quite as instrumental in screwing with my mind, I wouldn’t have so much crap to deal with and heal from.”
“Oh, no, darling. No, no, no, I am done bearing that cross. I am done begging you and the rest of the Hypocrisy Club for forgiveness. You don’t want to forgive me? That’s your prerogative. Just understand that one day you could very well be in my shoes, looking into Bridget or Michele’s stony expressions, begging for their understanding for the hell you unintentionally put them through, only to have them spit in your face and blame you for the mistakes you made.”
“I’m not you. You are not my future. Not anymore.”
“Not at this rate, certainly not. The difference between you and I, Marley, is that no matter how difficult it’s been, I am still out there living my life and doing everything I can to protect my family. I am a fighter. You,” Donna shrugged into her coat with finality. “Are a quitter. And if you keep along this path, you are going to cost the both of us any and all contact with Vicky’s children.”
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