“You are taking this very well,” Matt told Donna with more than a touch of suspicion when instead of greeting him with the expected tantrum the morning after Matt’s surprise wedding day, Donna instead pulled him into an unoccupied KBAY-TV editing suite, locked the door behind them and proceeded to more than make up for the honeymoon night he’d rejected a few hours earlier.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Donna came up for air, pushing back the strands of hair that had fallen across her face. “You did like I told you to and intercepted the marriage license before the Justice of Peace filed it, didn’t you?”
Matt nodded. “Told him I’d do it myself. For sentimental reasons.”
“Then you’re not a bigamist. And everything is going according to plan.”
“We have a plan?” Matt double-checked, realizing that a good portion of the blood that would otherwise be used to power his brain was currently diverted elsewhere, but still pretty sure that this was all news to him.
“Of course. I always have a plan.”
“Want to fill me in?”
“Fine,” Donna sighed, sounding deeply and personally put-upon as she took a break from what she’d been doing previously – now, hey, wait, Matt hadn’t asked her to go that far – and patiently explained, “Now that she thinks the two of you are legally married, Jeanne is bound to let her guard down. She believes she’s won, she has nothing to fear.”
“So what? She’s right. Jeanne held all the cards before, and she’s still holding them now. Nothing has changed.”
“Everything has changed,” Donna corrected. “For one thing, the sexual harassment charges are moot now. Your inevitable break-up will now be the result of irreconcilable differences, with no connection to her job whatsoever. She can never threaten you with that particular bugaboo again.”
“Okay. But, she still knows that you had information about Marley being the hit and run driver. She can testify that you ordered her not to give all the tapes you had to the cops. She has the sign-out sheet proving you took the B-roll. She could still send both you and Marley to jail.”
“Yes. Which means now it is our task to come up with a way to make sure that exposing Marley and I proves even more detrimental to Ms. Ewing than it does to us. Obviously the information regarding her parentage was the wrong course to take…”
“I told you, Donna, I wasn’t going to hurt Clarice and Larry in order to – “
“And I told you that I understood completely. That doesn’t mean I can’t continue searching for more ammunition, does it? Some you might actually approve of?”
“Just make sure it doesn’t involve anyone but Jeanne.”
“You have my word, Matthew. Now tell me, darling,” Donna assumed her best socially proper tone. “How was the wedding?”
“Weird,” he confessed, declining to add that so was this whole conversation. “And not something I ever want to go through again.”
“Did you kiss the bride?”
He squirmed. “I kind of had to. There were people there, watching.”
“And then what happened?”
“What do you mean? We had a reception, a lot of drinks… Lila chewed me out for confusing Jasmine…”
“Poor baby,” Donna cooed, though Matt wasn’t sure if she meant him or his daughter.
“Clarice and Larry told me about a thousand times how happy they were to have me in the family… They invited us to Thanksgiving in Wyoming…”
“Now that’s just cruel,” Donna sniffed.
“Fortunately, Jeanne hates Wyoming, so I don’t think we’ll be taking this farce of a show on the road…”
“What about after everyone went home?” Donna was clearly tired of beating around the bush and leapt ahead several hours to the part she really wanted to hear about.
“I didn’t sleep with her,” Matt got the hint.
“I didn’t think so,” Donna said so quickly it was obvious she’d done nothing but.
“And I told her I had no intention of doing so in the future, either.”
“Perfect!” Donna crowed, then rushed to reassure, “It’s absolutely perfect for what I’ve got planned for our Miss Jeanne next….”
“Wow, that must’ve been a pretty intense car accident you were in,” Charlie looked over Kirkland’s still-healing injuries. “What happened?”
He shrugged self-consciously and mumbled, “No big deal, I screwed up, wasn’t alert enough, wasn’t on my guard. It was all my fault. I should have been more careful.”
“Guess your dad was right to be freaked out when you didn’t come home on time. I just figured he was overreacting like usual. I was surprised he called me, though. I know how mad he was about… Hell, I’m really surprised he let me come up and visit you today.”
“I told him it was cool. And he’s been real worried about me. He’s kind of willing to let a bunch of stuff slide to cheer me up. Not like before.”
“What about you?”
“Are you willing to let stuff slide?” Charlie shifted her weight awkwardly from foot to foot. “Are we, you know, cool?”
“Sure,” Kirkland said, his voice as toneless as it had been before.
“No, come on, don’t blow me off, tell me the truth. I feel real bad about what happened. Are you ever going to forgive me or what?”
“I… It’s okay, Charlie, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Is that a yes or a no on the forgiving me thing?”
“I forgive you, okay? I – I get it now. How one little mistake or bad move can get blown up until its huge, too huge to stop, and it pulls in other people and stuff happens you never intended and… Can we just forget about it? I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It never happened, deal?”
“Deal,” Charlie said eagerly, plopping down on the edge of Kirkland’s bed, genuinely giddy to have the weight finally lifted off her chest. “What do you want to talk about then? When are you coming back to school?”
“Soon,” Kirkland hedged, noncommittal. “Don’t want to go back looking like this, freak people out. I got all the homework off the website, I can keep up from here.”
“Got any plans for Halloween?” Charlie tried another tack.
“No,” Kirkland couldn’t help shuddering at the thought of a night devoted specifically to scaring people. For the life of him, he couldn’t recall why that had ever seemed like an entertaining idea.
“I’m thinking of throwing a party,” Charlie said. “If Mom and Dad say it’s okay, that is. Not that either one of them cares what I’m up to these days. They’re both so busy, having these loud, passionate discussions – ‘cause my parents are special, you know; they don’t have fights, they have passionate discussions – that somehow manage to come screeching to a stop the second I step in the room. I mean, what’s the big secret?
“Maybe you’re better off not knowing,” Kirkland offered. “Maybe your parents are just trying to protect you…”
“What do you want?” Allie demanded when GQ not only didn’t do his usual, patented, cross the street to avoid bumping into her move, but actually went out of his way to come up to Allie at school, maneuvering her to an isolated spot in the quad where they couldn’t easily be overhead.
“Would you lose the attitude,” GQ snapped, already feeling badly enough, not needing Allie to add to his guilt. “I know what happened to your car, okay?”
Allie faltered briefly before recovering to snap, “Duh, Sherlock, I told you it was stolen when I came to ask Steven for a ride.”
“Just quit lying already. Your mom filled me in on what really happened.”
“My mom needs to mind her own business,” Allie tried to growl, but it came out more like a whine. Or a whimper.
“She showed me a picture, too.”
Allie opened her mouth, then shut it abruptly with a click, looking down at the ground, shaking her head and pleading, “Just leave me alone. Why won’t you leave me alone?”
“Whoever wrote those things, they wrote them because of me,” GQ said gently.
“They wrote them because of me,” Allie corrected. “Because of what I did to you. They’re right, too.”
“Even if they were, what happened between you and me is nobody’s business but ours. I want to help find out who did this to you.”
“No!” This time Allie did manage to shriek. “Don’t you dare, don’t you do dare do anything, you hear me?”
“We need to confront this.”
“We need to forget this.”
“Look, Allie,” GQ attempted to reason with her. “I know this is partially my fault. I’m the one who made you and me about race. I’m the one who went on TV with Grant Harrison to talk about Fathers’ Rights, I made our private business public. None of this would have happened to you if it weren’t for me,” he repeated.
“So now you want to make things worse? Draw more attention to me?”
“Just because I was one hundred percent right about Hudson – “
“Thanks for reminding me. Afraid I might forget it for a minute?”
“ – Doesn’t mean anybody has the right to call you names, any names. We have to go to the University administration, we have to report this, and we have to make sure the people who did it are punished. We can’t let them get away with this.”
“We, we, we,” Allie chanted. “There’s no we. There’s only me, the person you and my mom are supposedly so concerned about, who wants to ignore the whole thing. And then there’s you, who’s making it all about you. Again.”
“Can we get you anything?” Amanda asked quietly, sitting down at the breakfast table next to Alice, tentatively resting her hand on Kevin’s grandmother’s shoulder.
“No, thank you, darling, I’m fine,” Alice replied without looking up from the newspaper page she’d been staring at for the past ten minutes. The one that reported the death of Bay City’s prominent citizen, Spencer Harrison. From natural causes.
“There must be something you need us to do,” Kevin paced behind both women, feeling utterly helpless and needing to channel his frustration into something, anything. “Funeral arrangements, maybe? Can we help you with those? Maybe make some calls or…”
“I need to wait for the body to be released from the morgue,” Alice said faintly, through today’s headline suggested that Grant had been successful in his promise; there would be no autopsy, and no police investigation as a result.
“I’ll see if I can speed up the process,” Kevin leapt on the meager opening, hustling out of the kitchen, his phone already open, almost smiling with giddy relief.
Amanda watched him go and tried to excuse her husband, “He wants to help you, he just doesn’t know how.”
“It’s alright,” Alice reassured. “I understand. I don’t hold it against him. Nobody knows what to say in circumstances like these. Even the staff has been avoiding meeting my eyes all morning. Don’t trouble yourself about Kevin.”
“I used to never know what to say when someone died either. My dad, my Grandma, Ryan, Vicky, Jake, Jenna… I was completely tongue-tied. Even last year, with Gregory. I used to think that in order to comfort someone, you had to distract them. You know, like when a baby is crying and you wave a shiny object in front of their face?”
Alice smiled faintly at that.
“Turns out I was wrong. Allie taught me that. After Gregory died, all she wanted to do was talk about him. I kept trying to redirect her, figuring why let her wallow in sadness? It couldn’t be good for her. But she wasn’t wallowing. Talking about Gregory made her happy. I don’t know why I never realized that before. When you love someone, you want to tell other people about how wonderful they were so that those other people might see them through your eyes. That doesn’t change just because they’re dead. If anything, it makes you want to talk about them more, to bring them back to life, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”
“Nothing will bring Spencer back,” Alice shook her head.
“No. But, I’ll tell you the truth, Alice: I am so jealous of what the two of you had. He adored you. And not just in a passing infatuation sort of way. Spencer looked at you like you were everything he’d ever dreamed of. No, like you were more than he’d ever dared dream of. You told me once how you hated being put on a pedestal. How Spencer was the first man who didn’t. Well, it’s obvious why. He didn’t need to. A pedestal doesn’t do anything but insert distance between people. And Spencer wanted you with him every moment. The real you, not some ideal he’d created in his head, but the woman he fell in love with. You two had the kind of relationship most people never get. You saw each other for who you were, and you accepted each other, no lies, no illusions, no excuses. I want to know how you did that. I’d give anything to follow in your footsteps.”
Alice squeezed Amanda’s hand gratefully. “You’re very sweet, darling. And very, very transparent.”
“Good,” Amanda smiled, prompting a first stirring of the same from Alice. “That’s what I was shooting for.”
While, outside the kitchen door, Kevin could help being moved by the sight of them both.
“Shouldn’t you be on your honeymoon or something?” Dean noted upon finding Jeanne in her office.
“Shouldn’t you be flushing what’s left of your career down the drain?” She volleyed back without looking up from her desk.
“You know, I don’t really care what you do,” Dean explained helpfully. “I was just asking to be polite.”
“And now you’ve failed on both counts.”
“So, what, the plane for Paris or Hawaii or wherever doesn’t leave until tonight?”
“I thought you didn’t care?”
“All I know is, most newlyweds would have spent the day after the wedding – “
“If you didn’t think I’d be here,” Jeanne challenged, annoyed that she even had to spell it out for him. “Why did you come in to KBAY?”
Dean didn’t exactly have a good answer to that one. Either for her, or for himself. “I – I had a hunch Matt would’ve bounced you out of bed by now. And where else would you land but here?” was the best he managed to stammer out, convincing pretty much no one.
“What do you want from me, Dean? Thought of a few more insults you forgot to lob my way last night?”
“That’s hardly worth leaving the house for. Especially a lazy bum like me, right?”
“Did you change your mind about letting me interview you?”
“Maybe,” Dean shrugged. “Depends.”
Now he finally had her attention. Jeanne even looked up and everything. “On what?”
“On what you can give me to help win my civil suit against Donna.”
“You’re really going to sue her like I suggested?” Jeanne grinned, inordinately pleased… mostly with herself.
“I’m thinking about it. It is honestly the only way to hit her where she hurts. But I’m not about to make a major move like this without knowing for sure if I can win. I won’t risk opening up old wounds just for Donna to slither away untouched again. So you tell me: What would I need to do to bleed Donna dry?”
“That’s a question for your legal counsel. Not me.”
“Please,” Dean laughed. “You wouldn’t have said a word to me about it unless you knew exactly what steps I had to take.”
“And what would I get out of helping you?”
“Still a working girl even though you’ve wed the bank, huh? I can dig it. A woman keeping her career even after she gets hitched.”
“I didn’t marry Matt for his money.”
“I’m sure it didn’t hurt.”
“I married him because I love him.”
“Will you stop insulting me and the entire Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with your version of the performing arts, and get back to what you’re good at? Plotting, scheming, and being a general pain in the ass? You wanted to know what I came here for? It was that.”
“Why the hell would I help you when all you do is mock and belittle me?”
“Because I can get you what you want. Donna Love brought down to her knees. I’m not sure why you hate her so much – “
“I don’t hate Donna. I don’t hate anybody. Hating is a waste of time.”
“Again – I don’t really care,” Dean cut her off. “Your motives are your own. All I came here to find out was: Are you in or out, Jeanne?”
All of Rachel’s carefully prepared speeches, rationalizations and self-righteousness went by the wayside as soon as the front door to Jamie’s house opened, and she glimpsed his face. In a blink, she could see the toll the past few days had taken on him, and, in a heartbeat, she knew that ultimately there were no words from her that could ever make up for what he’d just been through.
“Jamie,” Rachel tried to smile, reaching out to hug him, only for her son to pull away in a disguised sidestep, as if he were merely allowing her to pass into his home.
“Let’s go in the den,” he said, a directive, not a suggestion. “Kirkland’s upstairs.”
Rachel mutely followed, trying to regroup her thoughts, reorganize her argument, sharpen her defense, all the while seeing only Jamie’s slumped shoulders as he led the way, her stomach churning from the memory of the sad, disillusion eyes that had greeted her at the door.
“I’m sorry to just drop by,” Rachel began. “ But, when you didn’t return my calls – ”
“I’ve had a lot to deal with recently. As I’m sure you know.”
Rachel faltered at those last, pointed words before finally asking, “How is he? How’s Kirkland?”
“Better. Now. But you could have checked on him anytime before this, Mom.”
“I didn’t know until – “
“You knew the minute it happened,” Jamie corrected. “Or at least the minute Carl knew, which was Day One, seeing as how your husband is the one responsible for setting Spencer up as the sacrificial lamb and nearly getting my son killed in the process.”
“That wasn’t the plan!” Rachel blurted out reflexively, clamping down as soon as she realized what she’d said.
“I know,” Jamie nodded. “According to Spencer, he and Carl were supposed to be in this fight together. And according to Alice – “
“How…” Rachel couldn’t help wincing. “And how is she… holding up?”
“How do you think? She’s just lost her husband. Again.” No further explanations were necessary regarding whom else Jamie was referring to.
“Listen to me, Jamie, please. I am so, so sorry about what Alice is going through right now, truly I am. But, you can’t take the word of a grief-stricken woman over – “
“My own mother?”
“No. That’s right. You can’t. Anything Alice says to you now is bound to be heavily influenced by – “
“As opposed to you? Your version of events is beyond reproach, I suppose? You aren’t currently under the influence of anything? Of anyone?”
“Let me explain. I think you owe me that much,” Rachel pleaded, trying to head him and this conversation off before things completely went off the rails. “Just please, let me… let me tell you all of it, everything that happened, from the beginning, and then maybe you’ll understand…”
“Okay,” Zeno stomped through Frankie and Cass’ front door, looking from one to the other, unsure whom to rain his disdain on first. “You called, said you knew a way I could keep the country from snatching up my farm. Most people would have just dropped a friendly e-mail but, fine, I’m here like you wanted. Tell me.”
“Hello, baby,” Frankie said, visibly moved at finally seeing him in the flesh. The last time they’d talked, Zeno had been barely to her eye level. Now she had to look up to meet his eyes. He was even taller than Cass.
“Hi,” Zeno did his best to sound neutral and off-handed. He failed on both counts.
“It’s so good to see you again.” It took all of Frankie’s self-control not to reach out and touch him.
“You could have done it any time, didn’t need to send your proxies.”
“Frankie didn’t know Felicia and I were coming,” Cass interrupted. “I only told her after I’d gotten back.”
“Okay. So the greatest love that ever loved in the history of love since the invention of love has communication issues.”
“Please don’t be angry at Cass,” Frankie begged. “He had nothing to do with – “
“You left us for him.”
“I was there first,” Cass reminded, before Frankie shook her head in his direction.
“What is the point of this?” Zeno demanded. “Why drag me up here? I’ve got stuff to do at home. In case you’ve forgotten, Mary – sorry, Frankie – October is really busy with the apples and the kids coming to pick pumpkins and getting ready for winter…”
“Are you running the place all by yourself?” Frankie asked with the same sense of disbelief Cass had exhibited earlier.
“No. We always have plenty of help, especially now, lots of people out of work, willing to pitch in for a share of the yield.”
“But, it’s so much responsibility at your age. You should be in college. You used to dream of being a writer, a poet. Do you still – “
“My letters to the county are works of art,” Zeno snapped. “With a few four-letter words thrown in for color and emphasis.”
“I still have some of the poems you wrote me,” Frankie said.
Zeno turned to Cass, “Those were for Mother’s Day. Wouldn’t you say your client got them under false pretenses, Counselor?”
“Shut up, you arrogant little snot. Even you should be able to see how much of an effort Frankie is making – “
“Cass!” This time Frankie literally stepped between him and Zeno. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay! I can’t believe you talked to her this way when you were both – “
“Dad!” Charlie walked through the door, surprised to find her father yelling a strange teen-ager. “Mom. Hey. What’s going on?”
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