“What’s this?” Matt grunted as Jamie dropped a heavily tissue-papered bag into his lap.
“A belated Sorry Lorna and I couldn’t make it to your wedding gift,” Jamie slapped his brother on the back. “Although in our defense, you marrying Jeanne really popped out of the blue. I didn’t realize you guys were that serious.”
“Circumstances can change on a dime,” Matt shrugged. “If anyone should get that, it’s you.”
Jamie regarded him a moment before slouching in his seat, resigned. “How much do you know?”
“Only what Amanda told me. Which is Grant’s version.”
“If it ends with Spencer dead and Kirkland alive, it pretty much squares with mine.”
“What the hell?” Matt sputtered. “Why didn’t you tell anyone what was going on? When crap hits the fan, you know you can count on me, Amanda, everyone to be there for you; you know that, right?”
“I do,” Jamie nodded. “But, all I could think about was getting Kirk back…nothing else was really on my radar. Besides, if I had called, you might’ve wanted to tag along. I wasn’t in the market to offer up more targets.”
“I would’ve done anything you asked of me. Even baby-sat Lorna.”
“Yeah, I remember the last time you were alone in this house with my wife.”
“I thought we were past that.”
“We are. That was my lame attempt at injecting some levity into the conversation. I’ve had way too many days recently without a hell of a lot to laugh about.”
“I can imagine,” Matt said quietly. “Is Kirk okay?” Jamie nodded. “Lorna?”
“She’s been a rock. Taking care of me, Devon, Kirkland…”
“God, I still can’t believe you domesticated that woman.”
At that, Jamie got his wish, bursting out laughing before advising, “Say that within Lorna’s earshot and you’ll find out just how domesticated she actually is.”
“I didn’t mean it as a bad thing,” Matt defended. “Only that it’s a completely unexpected development I don’t think anyone sober or sane would have ever predicted. In a good way.”
“You really are talking yourself out of that toaster.”
“Are you okay?” Matt reverted to being earnest. “I mean with… everything?”
“Kirk is safe and healing. Lorna, Devon, and Steven are all fine, so yeah, I’m okay.”
“And you and Mom?”
“What about me and Mom?” Jamie asked more amenably than Matt had expected. No tightening of the jaw or sulky look. Just an open weariness that made Matt want to hand his brother a beer and leave him the hell alone.
“Amanda said that you – “
“I told mom I can’t have her in my life anymore if she’s with Carl. I don’t like the person she’s become with him, or that she’s now actively supporting his less than savory endeavors. It’s not something I want around my kids.”
“Since when has Mom been any kind of threat to – “
“Since she okayed Carl setting up Spencer. She admitted it to me. She sat right where you’re sitting now and told me her side of the story; how she and Carl were just trying to protect everyone by keeping us in the dark about – “
“Seriously, man, with everything happening with Lorna and Devon and the wedding and Marley, did you really need another thing added to your plate to lose your hair over? Sounds like Mom really was trying to protect you.”
“She was protecting herself. She knew no way in Hell I’d support what she and Carl were up to. What part of Our mother approved a man being set up to die are you not computing, Matt? And then, Mom felt compelled to stroll over to the Harrison estate and gloat to Alice about it.”
Matt hung his head, “So that’s what this is about? You feeling the need to take Alice’s side over Mom’s.”
“I have a side in this too. My son was kidnapped. And, yes, I do feel an incredible loyalty to Alice considering everything she’s done for me.”
“What about everything Mom has done for you? I mean I know…actually, scratch that, I don’t know what Alice did for you, because you won’t tell me. But I realize it had to be a hell of a lot for you to embrace her like you have, knowing her history with Mom.”
“It was a hell of a lot.
“Okay, but Mom has been there for you, too. Fighting with Sandy over Cory Publishing, Blaine, Cecile, your tell-all book, knocking up Vicky while you were with Lisa, marrying Vicky, fighting her for Steven – ”
“I was there, Matt, I remember.”
“Jake’s shooting, his attempted murder trial, your feud with Jake, Kelsey, the sexual harassment lawsuit – “
“I said I get it!”
“Not to mention the 21st Century piece de resistance: Your double whammy of hiding a nervous breakdown and being accused of killing Cecile to cover it up.”
“Just as soon as you admit that Mom doesn’t deserve you turning your back on her. Not after she put up with all your crap for forty years, too.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you in a while, Marley. I did promise to.”
“Oh, no, no,” the younger woman stuttered. “Please, Alice, I completely understand. I-I know what happened… to Spencer. I am so sorry.”
“Thank you, my dear.”
“How’s… Grant?” Marley voiced the name cautiously, as if afraid that merely invoking him might somehow make the man appear in the flesh.
“Coping. In his own way. Like the rest of us. I’ll tell him you asked after – ”
“No! Don’t! Please. Please don’t mention me. Anything about me. He doesn’t know that you’ve been coming here, does he?”
Alice shook her head. “I wasn’t deliberately keeping him in the dark. It just never came up. We’ve been so preoccupied.”
“Of course. I’m amazed you’re even here now, that you can think about anything other than…. If I were in your shoes…”
“It helps to be able to focus on someone else,” Alice said softly. “Get out of my own head.”
“Thank you for coming. I’ve missed talking to you.”
“I spoke to your doctors. They tell me you’re improving daily. More importantly, you’ve finally decided that you want to improve.”
“No more withdrawing from the world,” Marley swore. “I’m facing my issues head-on. Well, trying to, anyway. I need to be healthy so I can get back to my girls.”
“Anything I can do to facilitate that, just let me know how I can help.”
“You can answer a question for me.”
“Look at you. You’re so strong. Even now, with everything you must be going through, here you are. You haven’t fallen apart.”
“Practice makes perfect,” Alice drawled.
“My mother is strong, too,” Marley faltered. “But she… she does it… Donna does it at the expense of other people. It’s like, in order for her to win, someone else has to lose.”
“Yes,” Alice said. “I’m familiar with the personality type.”
“I always tried to be different from Donna. I was always the one bending over backwards for other people, putting them first. Good girl Marley. The good Love sibling. That’s what I believed for seventeen years, anyway. And after that I was the good twin. Vicky… Vicky was the bad girl. But, she got everything anyway. Jamie and his baby. Jake. So what did that leave me?”
“Yes,” Alice agreed. “I’m familiar with that personality type, as well.”
“That was you, wasn’t it?”
“For far too long, it was, yes.”
“But, not forever. You put a stop to it, being the doormat, the perpetual victim, the one everyone always counted on to do the right thing, so they used it against you to get their own way.”
“I did my best,” was all Alice would commit to.
“You did it,” Marley insisted. “And you did it without turning into…”
“Them,” Marley shuddered. “The ones who are happy to walk over everybody without a moment’s concern. Not only because they know there won’t be any consequences, but because they don’t even think they’re doing anything wrong. Or maybe they do, and they just don’t care. I’m not sure which one is better actually. Or worse, as the case may be.”
“I did my best,” Alice repeated.
“How?” Marley pounced. “Tell me, please. Tell me how the hell I’m supposed to pull myself together and stay strong so that what happened this time doesn’t happen again… but do it without losing myself. Without turning into… her.”
“You bailed on my Halloween party,” Charlie pouted at Kirkland once he finally came back to school.
“Sorry,” Kirkland shrugged, shoving not just his head, but almost his entire upper body into his open locker, reaching in so deeply Charlie wondered if he’d left his Pre-Calculus textbook in Narnia by the light-post.
“Your dad being a pain again?” She offered Kirkland a face-saving way out.
He hesitated, tempted to accept the pre-made excuse and roll with it. Then changed his mind and shook his head. “I wasn’t up to being around a bunch of people yet.”
“Are you kidding me? With the mess on your face, you’d have been the guest of honor!”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly proud – “
“Chicks dig scars, dude!”
“Proud of how I got them,” he finished.
“It was just a stupid accident,” Charlie wished Kirk would hurry up and snap out of his funk already. “It’s not like you were drinking, or anybody else got hurt. You made a mistake. Stuff happens.”
“Okay,” he said, closing the locker.
“How long do you plan on staying like this?” Charlie poked him in the chest with one finger. “I know angst is in and everything. But, you’re no vampire. The brooding loner bit is getting old.”
“I’m sorry,” Kirkland repeated sincerely, not even bothering to deflect her poke, and simultaneously taking the wind out of Charlie’s sails.
It was no fun to tease if he was going to be so serious and downright morose about it. She’d been hoping he’d razz her back, not just stand there and take it. “Oh, come one, Kirk, don’t be like that… I didn’t mean…”
But he’d already walked away down the hall.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Amanda wondered when she looked up from her desk at Brava to see her little sister standing there, kind of glowering.
“I thought we were friends,” Elizabeth accused, arms crossed against her chest.
“We… we are.”
“Then how could you go off on Father like that at Mr. Harrison’s funeral?”
“That had nothing to do with you,” Amanda pointed out. “It was grown up business.”
“You called my father a heartless, ruthless, vindictive monster. You said he was holding Mom hostage and turning her into a monster, too. You think that doesn’t have anything to do with me?”
Amanda tapped her fingertips together, momentarily pressed them against her nose, eyes closed, then opened her eyes and pointed at Elizabeth. “I’ve known Carl a lot longer than you have.”
“You knew the old Carl. Not my Father.”
“He did some horrible things, Elizabeth.”
“He was protecting his family. That includes you.”
“I was one of the people he did those horrible things to.”
“A long time ago. Bet you did some stuff in your past you wouldn’t appreciate having thrown up in your face every time you turn around.”
“I’ve put up with Carl… and Mom… for almost fifteen years now. For her sake, for your sake, for Cory’s sake. It’s one thing to leave the past in the past. But, we’re talking about the present now. Kirkland – “
“Is fine. Because Father protected him, and the people out to get us know that you don’t mess with Carl Hutchins.”
“That’s right,” Amanda agreed. “Unfortunately, now the people that he was supposedly protecting know it, too.”
“I should have known you couldn’t be trusted,” Elizabeth huffed, trying to keep back the tears. “We’re only half-sisters, after all. Blood will tell, Father always says. Guess he was right. As usual.”
“The putting up with each other’s crap goes both ways, Matt,” Jamie sighed tiredly. “If this were just about me and Mom, I would be totally be on board with giving her a taste of her own medicine, and becoming an interfering pain in the butt in her marriage like she did in so many of mine. But, this is not just about me. This is about my family.”
“Mom’s your family, too. And what about Lucas? He’s just as much in this as Carl.”
“That’s Lorna’s call. He’s her father and whatever my feelings about his role in this, I won’t make her choose.”
“Doesn’t that strike you as a bit hypocritical?”
“Maybe. But, Carl’s always fancied himself the ultimate power broker. So I’m giving him that respect – and responsibility. Lucas may have played his part, but in the end the buck stops with Carl. I can’t bend on this, Matt. I won’t.”
“You can’t show your own mother the same kind of consideration that you show Alice? I mean come on, Jamie, didn’t Alice do the same thing you’re picking on Mom for? She knew what Spencer was up to, knew there was a threat to you, and she didn’t say anything. She’s just as guilty of keeping secrets from you as Mom. And yet you’re falling all over yourself, making sure Alice is okay while giving Mom the cold shoulder.”
“Alice lost her husband in this mess, while Carl lives to sneer and flip his hair another day. Believe me, if Spencer had come out in one piece, I would’ve let him know exactly how pissed I am. I would have definitely kept him away from Kirkland, and I’d have let Alice hear my feelings about their mutual silence. But given that the man is dead… I suspect Alice is going through enough without my dumping on her, too.”
“So since you can’t confront Alice, Mom has to absorb a double dose of your frustration? Did you ever stop to think about how scared she must have been? You know she would never have supported Carl under normal circumstances. Look at it this way: When Kirk was kidnapped, wouldn’t you have done anything to protect him?”
“Don’t go there, Matt.”
“Why? Because I have a point?”
“No, because as much as I can appreciate Mom’s position, I can’t believe that setting up Spencer to take the blame was the only way Carl could’ve handled the situation. It was just the most convenient – for him. How about you look at it this way: After months of leaving well enough alone, Carl stirs matters up to the point a sacrifice is demanded, and Carl suddenly can’t think of any other solution save facilitating the death of a man he’s hated for decades? Ryan’s presumptive father?”
“No. No. I am not going to ignore this. I am not ignoring what Carl did, or our mother’s part in it. I get that you don’t like it, but can you at least respect it? It’s not like I’m trying to win you over to my side, asking you to join me in a holy crusade.”
“No, that’s Amanda’s angle,” Matt groused. “She’s put her foot down with Mom over Carl, too. She’s moving out of the house. She wants me to leave and take Jasmine. Make it a clean sweep, strength in numbers protest. Now, do you see what you’ve started? ”
“I can’t help what Amanda does. But you are old enough to stand up to her without trying to goad your big brother into fighting your battles.”
“She’ll back down if you do. Come on, Jamie, you know that forcing Mom to choose like this…it can’t lead to anything good.”
“She’ll either choose Carl or she’ll choose her children.”
“And either choice is going to lead to a lot of hurt feelings, people – kids; your kids, my kid, Cory and Elizabeth – caught in the middle as the battle lines are drawn…. Mom made a mistake.”
“Not to hear her tell it.”
“She knows she made a mistake in supporting Carl. She’s just hurt by your rejection and digging in her heels. It’s how she is. You two have a lot in common. It’ll take time for her to admit it, but when she’s ready, you need to give her the chance to say it to you.”
“I’ll always give her that chance, Matt,” Jamie looked upon his brother with something akin to pity. “I’m sorry you got caught up in this. Although I am glad Mom’s got you in her corner. She’s going to need someone to look out for her from now on.”
“Donna wanted to know who put me up to my lawsuit,” Dean told Jeanne when he stopped by her office to announce that the papers were filed, the plan in motion.
“Did you tell her?”
“Hell, no. I wasn’t there to make small-talk.”
“Good,” Jeanne said.
“What do you mean?”
“Why is it good that Donna doesn’t know?”
“Donna hates me,” Jeanne pointed out reasonably. “For marrying Matt. If she thinks I’m involved, she’ll fight you all that much harder. Mentioning me would just cloud the issue, and not in your favor.”
“Donna thinks you have an agenda in setting me up to do this.”
“I thought you weren’t there to make small-talk?”
“Do you?” He ignored her snipe. “Have an agenda?”
“Of course,” Jeanne said.
Dean shook his head. It might have been awe. It might have been disgust. “You’re really something else, you know that, lady? What the hell is your deal in all this?”
“I want you to take Donna for everything she’s got. Including this television station. And then I want you to give it to me.”
“In gratitude?” Dean scoffed.
Jeanne shrugged. “Your reasons don’t matter.”
“Are you for real?” Dean demanded. “And why the hell didn’t you tell me any of this before?”
“You didn’t ask. Besides, what difference does it make? You still have a case against Donna. I wasn’t wrong about that, was I?”
“Actually,” Dean pulled up a chair and sat on it, backwards. “That’s what I came here to talk to you about.”
“So you’re the one with the agenda,” Jeanne said brightly, as if quid pro quo were the sole way to live, and only to be expected.
“My lawyer tells me that, even with the lower burden of proof in civil court, we still need some way to connect Donna to kidnapping Jenna and causing her death.” Just saying the words caused Dean to nearly groan, but he pushed through. “The reason the file of evidence that they found on Cecile’s body couldn’t be used against Donna originally was because no one knew where it came from and nobody could verify it. From what I’ve been able to piece together out of old police reports and the testimony they took while looking for who killed Cecile, all that stuff about Donna originally came from Spencer Harrison.”
“There’s a witness you’ll have trouble subpoenaing.”
Dean blinked. “Was that a joke? Did you actually make a joke?”
“My sense of humor is an acquired taste,” Jeanne explained helpfully.
“Kind of like the rest of you,” Dean said. And he wasn’t even being one hundred percent insulting this time around. “Spencer gave that file to Rachel. It was part of a scheme to get Jamie to sign over Kirkland. Which means Rachel can testify that the file’s for real.”
“And risk pissing off the people Spencer was working with?”
“That’s done,” Dean reminded. “The compound where we were held has been raided, no one is left. Rachel wouldn’t be in any danger.”
“You’d still have to convince her to confess in open court that her husband held lifetime membership in an organization whose function was to kidnap, torture and kill people.”
“I was kind of hoping not to be the one to convince her of that,” Dean admitted.
Jeanne took a moment to think. “I suppose maybe Matt…”
“There’s something weird going on with Matt and his mom. I actually called him before I came over here, and the minute I mentioned intervening with Rachel for me, he got all nervous and changed the subject.”
“Hm,” Jeanne said.
“Which is why I was kind of hoping… Would you talk to Rachel for me, Jeanne? There’s a television station in it for you…”
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