“Huh,” was all Charlie said after Frankie got through explaining exactly who Zeno was, complete with key details about reincarnation and souls being connected throughout eternity, the only part during which Charlie, Zeno and even Cass all managed to roll their eyes simultaneously.
“I know it’s a lot to process,” Frankie ventured.
“No.” Charlie shrugged. “No bigger than you coming back from the dead, or dad going to jail, or us sharing Lori Ann. You know, just another day with the Winthrops.”
“Count me out,” Zeno headed for the door.
“Wait, Zeno, please,” Frankie called. “You – I – We can help you.”
“I’ve managed fine for the past few years on my own, I’ll sure I’ll figure out how to get through the next several decades without you.”
“I,” Cass reluctantly spoke up in response to Frankie’s frantic look. It never failed. No matter how he personally might feel about the issue, Cass could never, ever ignore a heartfelt plea from her about anything. “I’ve been looking over your case. I have some ideas about how you might be able to hold on to your land.”
“You’re not a lawyer anymore,” Zeno reminded.
“I can’t practice law,” Cass corrected. “I will always be a lawyer. They took away my license, they didn’t wipe my memory clean. I can give you tools to fight with.”
“Why?” Zeno challenged.
“Because,” Cass cleared his throat. “Your mother asked me to.”
The look Frankie flashed Cass in response proved so adoring and grateful that both Zeno and Charlie had to glance away. “Thank you,” Frankie mouthed silently. Cass smiled in return. Anything to make her happy. Anything. Always.
“Fine!” Zeno threw his hands up in the air, then outstretched one to Cass. “Let’s have it. What have you got for me?”
“I need some time to pull everything together. How about I call you when it’s ready, and we can all sit down and discuss your options?”
“One big happy family?”
“Only if that means I get to smack you around when you get out of line.” A frown from Frankie, and Cass amended, “Verbally, of course. We don’t believe in violence.”
“Bring it,” Zeno smirked, before heading out the door.
“Lovely boy,” Cass observed. “So well-mannered and respectful.”
“We dumped a lot on him,” Frankie instinctively made excuses, turning at the same time to Charlie. “We dumped a lot on both of you.”
She shrugged and addressed Cass instead, “Gotta say, you’re taking this really well, Dad.”
“Is it necessary to sound quite so surprised?”
“I mean, the idea of Mom and this other woman being together for years – “
“I have chosen to look at it as: After me, no other man would do.”
Frankie burst out laughing at that, playfully swatting Cass on the arm. “You would! That is exactly how you would interpret it!”
“You’re not jealous?” Charlie pressed.
“I’m jealous,” he confessed. “I am extremely jealous that someone else got to spend almost a decade with your mother. A decade that the three of us planned to spend together, that we should have spent together. I’m resentful that we were all cheated out of those years and I am furious that there is no way to get them back. But, we all know where those emotions got me the first time around. I am not making that mistake again and risking losing even more time with any of you.”
“So…” Charlie ventured a guess. “Zeno…”
“Zeno,” Cass repeated.
“We’ll figure it out,” Frankie said firmly. “Just like with Lori Ann and Dean, and your father going to jail, we’ll figure out how to make this work."
“You mean, we’ll figure out a way to make this work… for you,” Charlie thought, but knew enough not to say out loud.
“I’m glad you called,” Sarah said.
Grant smiled. “I’m glad you came when I did. I can really use a friendly face about now.”
“I can be a lot more than that,” Sarah reminded, stepping up and kissing him, allowing Grant, once again, to wallow in the unfamiliar sensation of being wanted without regrets, without hesitation, without guilt.
Because, this time around, the guilt and hesitation and regrets were all on Grant’s part. He pulled away reluctantly, stroking Sarah’s face with his hand, unable to separate completely even as he said, “I’ve been unfair to you.”
“You’ve been great to me,” she corrected.
“So much has happened since…”
“I know. I saw the news today. They said your dad died of natural causes?”
“It’s easier that way. For everyone.” Grant would have explained further, except that Sarah accepted his words at face value.
“I’m sure it is.”
Damn it. Why did she have to be so accommodating to him? Didn’t Sarah realize that Grant could pretty much steel himself against anything, save pure, sincere kindness?
He forced himself to stay the course. “We never got the chance to talk about what… happened. The other night. After the dance at your school…”
Sarah grinned. “I don’t need any further clarification. Do you, Senator?”
He struggled not to mirror her expression, forcing himself to remain sober as Grant stuck to the script he’d been rehearsing in his head ever since he called Sarah to come over. “You are so, so young.”
“So are you.”
Now Grant finally did laugh. “Compared to what? The Egyptian pyramids?”
“Don’t you think you’d be happier dating boys your own age, Sarah?”
“Did I sound, the other night, like I’d ever been… happier dating boys my own age?”
Her implication was crystal clear, and just remembering the way she’d responded to him then, to his lips, to his touch, was enough to launch a visceral thrill shooting the length of Grant’s body, all but kicking out his legs from under him and sending Grant’s head spinning. Chronological years be damned, he was responding to her as if Grant and Sarah were, in fact, the same age. And it had been a very long time since that had happened, either.
“And then there’s Marley,” Grant blurted out. He’d been hoping to avoid this final point, hoarding it for emergencies only. The way Grant felt at the moment most definitely qualified as an emergency.
“Marley?” Sarah’s face crinkled in confusion. “I thought you two were… over?”
“We are,” Grant insisted. “We definitely are. She wanted it that way. She said so herself, she told me.”
“So what then…”
“But the two of you, you’re close, you’re close friends, good friends. I suspect a part of her – I think a part of Marley still thinks of you as the daughter she lost.”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Sarah said.
“Good. That’s good. Neither do I.”
“But… I don’t understand. Am I supposed to put what’s best for Marley ahead of what’s best for me? That doesn’t sound right, either. And it’s sort of a recursive problem, don’t you think? I mean, were you thinking about your brother when you went after Vicky? Was Mrs. Hutchins thinking about her kids when she married Mr. Hutchins? Was Dr. Frame thinking about Marley when he ran off with Lorna? Everybody else puts themselves first. Why shouldn’t we?”
“Now let me get this straight,” a smiling Jeanne stood up and circled her desk in order to better face Dean. “You’re asking me for my help with bringing down Donna?”
“Dragging people down does seem to be your claim to fame, so, yeah, I guess I am.”
“Ask nicer,” Jeanne ordered.
“No way,” he turned towards the door. “I didn’t come here to kiss your ass.”
“Well, in that case,” Jeanne clamped her hand on Dean’s shoulder, spun him around and, before he even knew what hit him, planted a kiss right smack on his lips.
“What the – What the hell did you do that for?” Dean spit, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Both hands.
“To get your attention,” she said calmly.
“What you should get me is a rabies shot,” he growled, edging away to keep a healthy distance between them. “Don’t you ever do that again.”
“I was merely demonstrating the inherent lopsidedness of your proposition – in a way someone like you could understand,” Jeanne said. “You came here expecting me to offer you the benefit of my advice based on… what? My gratitude that you’ve taken a break from insulting me, my marriage, and anything else that strikes your fancy at a given moment? Pretty one-sided, wouldn’t you say? Kind of like that kiss?”
Dean ignored her theatrical way with a metaphor to clarify, “I came to offer you a fair-square deal, no more, no less. Trust me, babe, I can figure out how take down Donna without you. I just thought I’d give you an opportunity to get in on the action via the ground floor, instead of getting stuck on the outside looking in with no exclusive scoop or firsthand account of the fall of Donna Love – just like every other reporter.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Jeanne hissed. “This was my story. I gave you the idea to sue Donna in the first place. You owe me the exclusive.”
“Help me out,” Dean held out his hand to her. “And it’s all yours.”
“I’m sorry.” Chase looked back and forth from Doug to Lila, his voice low and strained and very, very unlike his usual tone of bombastic invulnerability. “I don’t know which one of you I owe the bigger apology to, so I’m just… sorry. For everything.”
Doug and Lila exchanged glances, both, at the moment, feeling much sorrier for the man in front of them than they ever could for themselves.
Chase peered up at his partner. “You knew? All along? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I told you from the start,” Doug gently prompted. “That you needed to figure out for yourself who you were and what you wanted, remember?”
“You,” he insisted. “I wanted you. Then, now, for always.”
“What about the women?”
“They don’t matter,” Chase insisted, then instantly whipped his head around to face Lila. “I don’t mean that…”
“I know what you mean,” she assured him.
“If Lila – or anyone – is really what you want…” Doug began.
“Then what?” Chase asked desperately.
“You still can’t have them,” Doug finished, smiling just a little. “We had a deal. You gave me your whole speech about how neither government nor God can hold men to any vows save the ones they make themselves.” Doug turned to Lila. “Have you heard that one? It’s really one of his best.”
Lila nodded. “It’s good. But, I personally prefer his classic Why The Government Has No Business Sticking Their Nose in Education – “
“Is that the one where he compares it to slavery, by noting that the government made the law that said you have to go to school in the first place, then forced people to attend the substandard institutions they provided?”
“And, just like slavery, the only way to escape is to buy your way out by sending your kids to private school, yup, that’s the one.”
“It is a doozy,” Doug agreed.
“What are you two doing?” Chase demanded, somehow unable to locate the same vein of good humor they seemed to be drawing from.
“We’re trying to prove to you that everything is alright,” Doug reached out to grab Chase’s hand, kissing it. “It’s not the end of the world. I understand what happened, and so does Lila. You were attracted to her. Who wouldn’t be?”
“You,” Lila pointed out archly.
“I can still appreciate beauty and charm when I see it.” He told Chase, “So things got a little out of hand. We’re all only human. You think I haven’t looked around and liked what I’ve seen once or twice over the past twenty years?”
“I didn’t guess that we owned A River Runs Through It on VHS, laserdisc and Blu-Ray because you’re a fan of fly-fishing.”
“I know you,” Doug said. “I love you. I trust you. We promised each other we were in this for the long haul. I knew about the women. I made some assumptions about why. But, I had faith in you. I had faith in us.”
Chase nodded his head up and down, swallowing hard several times before he could summon up even a choked, “Thank you.”
“Thank Lila,” Doug said. “If she hadn’t decided to take the bull by the horns, we’d still be tip-toeing around each other. I swore I wouldn’t say anything until you did. Maybe I was being noble. Maybe I was just scared. In any case, it was the wrong call. So you went on feeling guilty, and I went on feeling uneasy and… that’s all over now. Thanks to her.”
“Glad to be of service,” Lila offered flippantly, concurrently being battered by so many conflicting emotions that she couldn’t feel a single one. Or, maybe like Doug, she was just too scared to.
“How many more times do you think I’ll need to apologize,” Chase wondered, “Before you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
“You didn’t do anything,” Lila insisted. “I’m the one who stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong.”
“And we are very, very grateful,” Doug swore.
“You deserve a lot better than this,” Chase said.
“Yeah, well, not everybody gets what they deserve. Or maybe they do, who knows?”
“Where’s Alice?” Kevin asked, coming back into the Harrison kitchen to find Amanda alone.
“Talking to the undertaker about arrangements for Spencer’s funeral. How did you get the hospital to release the body so fast?”
“Between Grant and me, we bullied enough people to make it happen. It’s best for Alice to get this over-with as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t know,” Amanda hedged. “I mean, this way, she’s still doing something for him, it’s her last chance to take care of him. I don’t know if she’s in that much of a hurry.”
Kevin nodded thoughtfully, seeing her point, then told Amanda, “I heard what you said to her earlier. How did you know it was exactly what Alice needed to hear?”
“I just tried to put myself in her shoes. I know how much she loved him. If it were me…”
“I’m sorry,” Kevin blurted out.
“What?” Amanda looked up at him in confusion. “For what?”
“I’m sorry I’m… I’m sorry I’m not – I can’t be what you need. The way you were talking about Alice and Spencer, I wish I could be that for you. I do love you, Amanda. I’m sorry it’s not the way… not enough… I’m just not… I’m not very good at… I never have been.”
“Wow,” Amanda said, not unkindly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a loss for words before.”
“We didn’t think this out enough, this marriage… I don’t think either one of us took it particularly serious…”
“I did,” Amanda gulped.
“I know. This is all my fault. I was listening to you with Alice today, and… you’re an amazing person, Amanda. I can’t thank you enough. God knows, I certainly wouldn’t have known what to say, how to help her… I just – I wanted to say thank you and I’m sorry and… and I’ll try harder. I will. Just tell me what to do.”
“Do about what?”
“This? Us? I want to be… I want to be there for you, the way you were for Alice.”
“I’m fine,” Amanda said, still unsure what exactly had triggered his outburst, but pretty certain she was liking the results. “Alice is the one we should both be worrying about. You know, I’ve been thinking, Kevin, she’s all alone here – well, except for the staff, and they’re hardly helpful. It can’t be good for her to be alone right now. We were talking before all this happened about finding a place that isn’t just yours or just mine… What would you think about us moving in here with your grandmother? It might be good for all of us.”
They sat for what seemed like hours, Rachel recounting the events that brought them all to this place, Jamie listening quietly, not so much as shifting in his chair to disrupt the flow of her tale, as, periodically through the door, Rachel could hear Devon crying and Lorna scurrying to get her, or Kirkland stomping by; in other words, life going on as usual despite the critical scene playing out between them.
Rachel hoped that Jamie’s lack of resistance, his refusal to question anything that she said, was a sign of his understanding, of his actually believing her rather than Jamie merely waiting politely for her to finish, gathering up his strength before her oldest son reared up to rip Rachel to shreds.
“I’m not proud of what Carl did or what I allowed him to do,” Rachel stressed for the umpteenth time. “But Spencer’s fate wasn’t entirely Carl’s doing. Spencer was already a target, ever since he gave me that file on Donna, the one he used to blackmail you into giving up Kirkland. Do you remember that, Jamie? Do you at least remember that Spencer was the one who started all this? He is – he was – an investor in the compound. Carl would have never had the file to give to Lucas to plant on Cecile’s body if Spencer hadn’t flaunted it in the first place. Please try to understand, honey, Carl and I had to do what was right for our family, the only thing that would protect all of us in the long run.”
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?” A quote from Star Trek was the best he seemed capable of coming up with in response.
“It wasn’t a question of if this war would happen, but when. Carl took the initiative to make sure we all ended up on the winning side.”
“All of us. Except Spencer. And Alice. And Grant. And Kirkland. Do you not see that?”
“And do you not see that I did what I thought was best for you as much as for anyone? For Amanda and Matt and Cory and Elizabeth? I just wanted my children safe.”
“I want my children safe, too. But not Carl’s way. Not at the expense of someone else. There was a time, Mom, when you would’ve agreed with me.”
“If there had been any other way, any other way at all…”
“There’s always another way. Carl just didn’t want to take it. Did you try even once to lead him there?” Jamie looked at Rachel expectantly, desperately. When she declined to correct him, he merely sighed. “I don’t think so. You followed Carl down his path…and that… that scares the hell out of me.”
“This was a one-time only, catastrophic, isolated incident. Carl will never… I won’t ever allow him to go to these means again.”
“You allowed it this time. If he could convince you once, odds are he could do it again. And where does that leave the rest of us? Perennial bargaining chips, looking over our shoulders indefinitely, wondering who the next person to be kidnapped might be? Wondering which ransom will be asked for this time around? Or if there will even be a ransom?”
“That will never happen. You have my word. I will never again – Carl will never – ”
“Carl Hutchins is a man you can’t – or won’t; or maybe you never could – control. He’s dangerous. Not just because of what he’s proven himself capable of time and time again, but because of the people he’s brought into our lives.”
“Carl is not that man anymore. He’s not of that world.”
“I know you want to believe that. He’s your husband. You love him.”
“I do,” Rachel nodded. “I love you, too. That’s also something that you must know. And believe.”
“I do,” Jamie said after a lengthy beat, giving her a sad, mournful smile. “And I love you too, Mom. That’s what makes this so difficult.”
“What? Jamie, what is so – “
“As long as you’re with Carl, I can’t have you around my kids,” Jamie enunciated each syllable with great care, looking Rachel in the eye, making sure there would be no mistaking his meaning – or his resolve.
“What about Lucas?’ Rachel shot back the first rejoinder that came to mind, the better to hold back the stabbing pain Jamie’s ultimatum caused. “He was just as deeply involved in Spencer’s death as Carl. Are you and Lorna planning on cutting Lucas and Felicia out of your lives as well?”
“Lucas didn’t set up a man to die while Felicia supported him every step of the way.”
“No, he only framed you for a murder that nearly left you spending the rest of your life behind bars! Felicia only backed up another man’s claim to your unborn baby so that she could have her aborted! You act like none of that ever happened, yet you’re punishing me for standing by Carl!”
“I’m not,” Jamie said quietly, any emotion that Rachel might have provoked as a result of her outburst carefully concealed beneath a stony mask. “I am protecting my children. Same as you just claimed to be protecting yours.”
“How dare you?” Rachel exploded, the guilt and penitence she’d arrived with turning on a dime to transform into equally guilt-fueled, resentful, defensive rage. “How dare you sit in judgment over me? I am your mother. I have always, always put you first. And the one time I don’t – “
“This isn’t about that.”
“Would you get off your high horse, already, Jamie? This is so like you. Sitting back, calm and smug and condescending. Don’t you have a single ounce of feeling towards the predicament I was facing? The choice I had to make?”
“Any feelings I may have had, Mom, I unfortunately exhausted by rescuing my son from a cabal of murderous thugs, patching up his injuries, then sitting bedside vigil over the man who ultimately traded his life for Kirkland’s, all the while wondering whether my other children or my wife or anyone else I care about might be next in line as Carl’s collateral damage. I’m sorry if my current emotional response isn’t to your liking. But, I am a little drained at the moment, and if you expect me to remain civil – “
“To hell with civil! Anything would be better than this cold front you’ve thrown up to shut me out. You have something you want to say to me? Let’s hear it. All of it. Now. I demand it.”
Jamie’s expression didn’t change. He declined to say a word in response to Rachel’s challenge. Instead, Jamie merely rose up out of his chair, opened the study door and called down the hall, “Kirk? Could you come down here for a moment, son? Your grandmother would like to see you.”
“Hey,” Kirkland popped his head around the corner a moment later. His smile of welcome failing to cover up the ugly bruises still dotting the side of his head, not to mention the gash over his lip or the crimson scabs around his bare wrists.
“Oh,” Rachel gagged on whatever words she’d intended to offer next, silently taking in Kirkland’s injuries, instinctively covering her mouth with one hand as Jamie grabbed her other one to keep Rachel from collapsing with shock.
“It’s okay,” the boy rushed to reassure. “It looks worse than it is. Dad said there was nothing broken and it doesn’t really hurt that much anymore…”
“My God,” Rachel breathed, as Jamie, reassured that she wasn’t going to fall now, took a step back, his point made. In perpetuity.
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