“Don’t get too comfortable,” Matt informed his so-called wife, barging into her bedroom as Jeanne was getting dressed, catching her only in a bra and panties, and taking pride in not responding in any way to the view. “Your invitation to the Hutchins/Cory Thanksgiving has been officially revoked.”
Jeanne didn’t look nearly as surprised at Matt expected her to. “By Rachel?”
He stared at her strangely. “Why would my mother…”
“I asked her to do me a favor earlier. I thought maybe I offended her.”
“What the hell did you ask?”
“For her to help Dean sue Donna.”
“Dean is suing Donna?” Matt’s point for coming in here in the first place flew out the window at her words. “What for?”
“Wrongful death. Jenna’s wrongful death. It’s a civil suit. The burden of proof is a lot lower than in a criminal case. He has a good chance of winning.”
“And then what?” Matt demanded. “Donna goes to jail?”
“It’s a civil suit,” Jeanne repeated patiently. “The only thing she stands to lose is money.”
“How did you get involved?”
“I offered Dean some suggestions on how he might want to build his case.”
“Why?” Matt asked the question it had taken Dean much longer to arrive at.
“Because Dean had no idea what he was doing,” Jeanne explained reasonably.
“And where does my mother come into all this?”
“Dean needs help corroborating the compound’s file on Donna. Your mother got it from Spencer Harrison. She could testify to that in court. Make things easier for Dean.”
“And Mom agreed to do this?”
“She said she’d think about it.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Matt scoffed. “If it means making Carl look bad – “
“Actually, it makes the two of them look like heroes.”
“Then consider it done,” the target of Matt’s disgust changed, but not his tone.
“Dean said he came to you for help first. But, you sounded kind of weird when he mentioned your mom so – “
“Yeah, speaking of that, like I said: Thanksgiving’s off. Oh, and we’re moving out.”
“Sorry about that. I’m sure you thought your blackmail came complete with a mansion and servants. Too bad circumstances change. Feel free to walk. I won’t be offended.”
Jeanne furrowed her brow. “Why would I walk?”
“Maybe because your husband just announced we’re homeless?”
Jeanne did not look even a little distressed. “You’ll figure something out. And we can always move back into my apartment. The lease is good until the end of the month.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Matt stared at Jeanne, mouth agape.
“I know it’s smaller than you’re used to, but…”
“I tell you you’re getting kicked out of my cushy Eden, and your response is to check the real-estate listings for a studio on the wrong side of town?”
“What did you expect me to do?”
“Seriously? The walking thing was number one on my list. After the requisite whining and cursing and threats to sue me for breach of blackmail contract.”
“I married you, Matt. I don’t care where we live. I only care about being with you.”
“Are you for real?” Matt stammered.
“I am. When are you finally going to accept that?”
“I don’t quite know what to say,” Felicia apologized to Rachel. “Lorna told me about your rift with Jamie. How he, Amanda and Matt…”
“Told me to go to Hell?” her friend wondered bitterly.
“I’m sorry. I – I know how it feels to have your children turn their backs on you.”
“And on Thanksgiving, too,” Rachel remarked. “No one can say my brood doesn’t have a sense of the symbolic.”
“If it helps any, I understand why you felt compelled to act the way you did.”
“Do you? You and Spencer, you two were friends, weren’t you?”
“We were. He even called me before he went to help Kirkland. He thanked me for being his sponsor. He sounded… he sounded resigned to his fate. I know it sounds odd, but, in some ways, he sounded almost happy to have been given this chance to redeem himself, to redeem his past. It’s tragic. For him, for Alice. Having so little time together. But, the life he led up to this point…”
“The life he and Carl both led.” There was only so much whitewashing of the past even Rachel felt committed to doing.
“Lucas, too,” Felicia shrugged. “When I heard about what had happened to Spencer, to Kirkland, my first, unchristian, uncharitable, ungracious thought was: Thank God it wasn’t Lucas or Lorna; Devon or Lori Ann.” Felicia smiled sadly. “So, you see, how can I possibly judge you when, if I were in your shoes, I probably would have done the exact same thing?”
“You and Carl,” Rachel tread carefully, having never admitted what she knew out loud before. “About a year ago, you were planning something… for Donna. Something having to do with Marley.”
Felicia nodded. “The plan was to turn Marley against her mother. To cost Donna her last living child. The justice seemed poetic. Carl planted seeds in Marley’s mind questioning Donna’s version of events regarding giving Marley up to Reginald. Why didn’t Donna ever claim her baby after Reginald was presumed dead? Marley was still a toddler then. Surely, the transition would have been less traumatic. As for me, I subtly insinuated to Marley that Donna was out to take Grant away from her. The same way she’d taken Jake. The last time I brought the subject up to her, as a matter of fact, was at Spencer and Alice’s wedding. And then, a few days later, Marley was apparently so upset by the sight of Donna swooping in to run Grant’s campaign that she took off into the night and….”
“Hit Lorna with her car.”
“So you do understand.”
“About how things can spiral out of control, taking the people we love right along with them? Oh, yes. Much better than I ever imagined I could.”
“I’d ask you to explain the facts of life to my children, but…”
“Sometimes a lesson must be lived in order to be learned.”
Rachel nodded thoughtfully, forcing a note of obviously false cheer into her voice as she deliberately changed the subject. “So will it be Thanksgiving at your place this year? Or are Cass and Frankie hosting?”
Felicia hesitated. “Actually…”
“What?” Rachel lost the ability to even fake joviality. “Tell me.”
“Lucas and I were invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with Jamie and Lorna and the kids… at Alice’s.”
“Alice’s,” Rachel repeated as if learning a word in a new language, then clarified, “Can I assume Amanda and Kevin will be there, as well? Allie? Steven? Kirkland?”
“That’s my understanding.”
“Well, then,” Rachel said brightly. “Do give them all my regards. And please pass on my best wishes to Lorna. I didn’t get the chance to earlier when Jamie told me the news. We – we had other issues to settle.”
“News? What news?” Felicia frowned.
Her friend’s obvious confusion managed to yank Rachel from her personal cocoon of pain to the belated realization that other people might currently be going through their own challenges. Rachel’s first instinct was to backtrack, but it was obviously too late for that. So, instead, she tried to break it to Felicia as gently as possible, striving to make it clear that the only reason Rachel was even in possession of this information was because her son had been using it to tell her good-bye. “Lorna is…. Lorna’s pregnant.”
“I don’t understand,” Donna fumed to the Clareview nurse on duty. “I thought I’d made it obvious that my more than generous contribution to your children’s private school fund granted me unlimited access to my daughter. If this is your pathetic attempt to extort me for more money – “
“It isn’t that, Ms. Love,” the woman insisted, looking genuinely disappointed at the possibility of not being able to meet this month’s tuition payment. “Ms. Hudson went above my head and notified the head of the hospital that if you were ever again allowed to see her without explicit permission from Ms. Hudson, she would immediately transfer to another facility.”
“Ah,” Donna said. “And my daughter’s regular payments are much more valuable to this institution then your children’s education.”
“That’s exactly it,” the nurse was sad to confirm.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” Donna pleaded. “Surely you can make an exception? Please…”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Love. Your daughter made it clear she has no interest in seeing you. Not even today.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Morgan couldn’t hold back his laughter while Cass filled his brother in on Cass’ plans for the immediate future as they sipped apple cider in the corner of Zeno’s farmhouse, surrounded by several dozen of the hands and their families, Charlie, Lori Ann, Sharlene, John, Josie, Gary and an obviously in her element Frankie. “You’re going from The Firm to The Farm?”
“It’s a temporary measure.”
“Law & Farmer? Anatomy of Manure? Witness for the Parsnip? Talk about a Reversal of Fortune!”
“Are you done?”
“Only if I can’t think of a pun for Judgment at Nuremberg.”
“Should I wait?”
“Nah. I’m out.”
“Quitter!” Cass smirked. “You missed Slurry With a Fringe on Top, The Hay We Were, The Man With the Golden Farm…”
“I was saving those for Christmas. That is, if you still intend to be in residence then.”
“I’ll be here as long as Frankie wants me to be.”
“Dude, you break out in hives looking at American Gothic.”
“Does Valentino make overalls?”
“I’ve put in a special order. And, may I say, it is truly gratifying to know how much joy this is bringing you."
“Seriously, Cass, are you turning your entire life upside down for a woman?”
“I’m doing it for Frankie.”
“If that’s what you think, it explains why you’re here stag.”
Morgan clucked his tongue against his teeth. “Low blow, bro’.”
“You don’t get it, do you? This isn’t the first time I’ve rearranged my world for Frankie, and if she says the word, it won’t be the last. And if you’re wondering why, it’s simple. Frankie is my world. Without her, there’s nothing worth rearranging – or keeping the same. So you do the math, Doctor, okay? I’m going to see if my wife needs any help.”
Morgan watched Cass storm off, knowing he should be duly chagrined by the verbal beatdown, but unable to keep from thinking, “Oh, yeah, this is going to work out swell…”
“Did you tell Jasmine Thanksgiving was cancelled this year?” Lila figured she’d give her ex-husband a chance to explain before she tore into him.
“I didn’t tell her it was cancelled!” Matt protectively raised his arms in anticipation of a pummeling – either physical or verbal; with Lila, both required a strong defense. “I just told her it wasn’t going to happen here, tonight.”
“Jeanne and I… we’re moving out.”
“Okay,” Lila nodded. “I get that. You’re newlyweds, you need your own space. Kind of hard to get adequately freaky under your mom’s roof. Does that mean the entire house calls for being quarantined in yellow police tape?”
Matt winced at the metaphor – under the circumstances, and clarified, “I’m moving out because Amanda, Jamie and I pretty much gave Mom an ultimatum: Carl or us. And Carl is – “
“Still here,” she noted.
“He’s dangerous, Lila,” Matt lowered his voice. “I can’t go into details right now, but, trust me. Jasmine needs to be as far away as possible from him. We all do. Jeanne and I are moving out first thing tomorrow morning. I can rent a hotel room for you and Jazz while you look for a place of your own. I’ll even buy you a house, if you’d like, make the entire process easier, it’d be my pleasure.”
“You really think Carl is a danger to Jasmine?” Lila pressed.
“Yes,” Matt nodded. “Absolutely. You have got to get out of here, Lila. You and Jasmine need to relocate as soon as possible.”
Lila took in Matt’s words, and the desperate sincerity behind them. And, only because she absolutely believed him, did Lila say, “No.”
“I can take her for a while, if you want,” Jamie offered Lorna, who was holding Devon and trying to keep the baby from stuffing fistfuls of Lorna’s hair into her mouth, as they walked into the Harrison mansion with Steven, Kirkland, Bridget and Michele; greeting Alice and being shooed into the parlor to join Amanda, Kevin, Allie, Jen, GQ, Grant, Felicia, Lucas, Russ, Pat and Sarah, while their holiday dinner was still being laid out in the formal dining room.
“It’s okay, I’ve got it,” Lorna reassured.
“Just tell me when you get tired,” Jamie stressed, one eye on Lorna and Devon, the other watching Kirkland and Grant greet each other stiffly, then move on.
“I’m fine,” she insisted. “Really. So far, this pregnancy has been a breeze compared to the last one.”
“Amazing what an absence of lies can do to hearty up the constitution.”
Lorna elbowed him in the ribs with her free arm. Hard.
“I deserved that,” Jamie groaned.
“So did I,” Lorna admitted….
…. “Here you go.” Kevin, playing the role of bartender for the occasion – it beat making small talk, handed Kirkland a soda.
“Thanks.” Kirkland popped the tab, took a sip, then peered up at Kevin. “Can I ask you something?”
“No, you may not have a vodka chaser to wash that down,” Kevin clarified. “Otherwise, pretty much anything else is on the table.”
“You and Alice, you guys didn’t talk for like, years, right?”
Kevin nodded. “Not something I’m exactly proud of in retrospect, but, yes, that’s true.”
“She must have really done something to piss you off.”
“Actually, it was more a case of me punishing her for things a lot of other people did to piss me off. But, Alice was there, so she made an easy target.”
“You made up, though. Eventually.”
“That we did.”
“How?” Kirkland put down his empty can, leaning forward eagerly. “How did you make everything alright again?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, Kirk, it’s kind of hard to go on resisting someone who loves you unconditionally and is willing to put up with whatever you throw at them, in order to prove it. But, then again,” Kevin’s eyes drifted over to a solitary Grant on the other side of the room, knowing all along that this hypothetical conversation was never about Kevin and Alice. “You already know that, don’t you?”….
…. “Hey,” Steven awkwardly tapped Jen on the arm the moment GQ stepped away to fetch them both a drink, with only an eagle-eyed Sarah – who had her own reasons for being on the look-out – seemingly noticing the auspicious timing.
“Hi!” Jen turned around, smiling. “How are you?”
“I’m…” Steven knew perfectly well what was expected of him. He was familiar with the requisite social pleasantries. And yet, despite all that, something about the way Jen was looking at him, like she really cared about the answer – protocol be damned, prompted Steven to swallow the expected answer and tell her, “I went to see my Aunt Marley a couple of days ago. At the hospital.”
“To talk about Michele and Bridget?”
“How did it go?”
“She apologized. You know, for the whole trying to kidnap them so Kirk and I never saw our sisters again thing.”
“Can I guess from the tone of your voice that it… didn’t go well?”
“I don’t know how it went,” Steven admitted. “She claims she’s trying to get better. She claims she is better. She promises she’ll never let us down like that again.”
“Do you believe her?”
Steven shrugged. “What do you think?”
“Yeah. You study this stuff.”
“You mean in that pseudo-scientific field of mine?” Jen couldn’t help poking.
“Exactly.” A tiny smile, quickly suppressed, was the closest Steven would come to acknowledging his capitulation. Somehow, strangely, it was enough. “You tell me: Can people really and truly change? Or are you – we – hardwired to be who we are, no matter what?”….
…. “What have you done now, Grant,” Amanda sidled up to her ex-husband. “That warrants you being banished to stand all alone in the corner?”
“The better question is,” he corrected. “What have I done to warrant being forced to endure you joining me?”
“Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “I just thought you looked kind of lonely. Figured I’d pop over to say hello, that’s all.”
“What? No smart remark about how I deserve the isolation? After all, not just anyone can manage to alienate both their father and their son in the span of a few months.”
“Hate to bust your bubble, pal, but substitute mother for father and daughter for son, and you’ve got some serious competition.”
Grant looked at Amanda with renewed interest. “You and Rachel…”
“I couldn’t just ignore what she and Carl did to Spencer.”
“Ah, that explains,” Grant gestured around the room. “All this. Nice job getting Jamie to throw in his lot with yours.”
“Jamie almost lost his son because of Carl’s games. He had a hell of a lot more reason to turn on Mom than I did.”
“And yet, you were the ring leader,” Grant observed. “Interesting.”….
…. “Forgive me for interrupting,” Lucas apologized, coming into the otherwise empty dining room just as Alice was putting the finishing touches on her table, insisting on laying out the napkins and cutlery herself despite having an entire staff waiting in the kitchen, grumbling about people who simply didn’t understand how things were done in proper households. “I just – I wanted another chance to try and… I realize that my last attempt at sympathy wasn’t particularly well received.”
“I was… otherwise occupied,” Alice told him distantly, though not unpleasantly.
“But, I needed to say just how very, very sorry I am for your loss. I’m afraid I do know exactly what it’s like to finally find the person you’ve been searching your whole life for, only to have them ripped away in an instant.”
“I keep looking around here,” Alice admitted. “And thinking: A year ago….”
“You were newly married.”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“It makes no sense,” Lucas commiserated. “None of it.”
“Then again,” Alice resolved to focus on the bright side. “A year ago, your daughter was in the hospital. We didn’t know whether or not she was going to make it. And look at Lorna and Jamie now!”
“One thing doesn’t make up for the other.”
“No. Nothing does. But, it helps. Very much so. Seeing Lorna and Jamie and Devon, and Kevin and Amanda… Plus, a year ago, the kids were all facing potential jail terms. Thank goodness that ended well; though my heart does go out to John and Sharlene. The holidays must be particularly painful for them. Everything is still so fresh. They have an agonizingly long way to go before the pain recedes.”
“Thank you, Alice,” Lucas said from the bottom of his heart.
“For graciously allowing me to say my piece. For magnanimously being able to look beyond your own hurt in order to reach out and comfort somebody else.”
“Do you mean John and Sharlene? I’d like to, but I suspect seeing me would only make things worse.”
“I meant me,” he admitted. “The guilt over what Carl and I did to you… it should never go away, I realize that. It’s the least I deserve. You had every right to ban me from your home, to spit in my face, to call me every name in the book and make sure the whole world knew my sin and shunned me for it. Instead, you invite Fanny and I here – “
“You’re Lorna’s parents. You’re my soon-to-be goddaughter’s grandparents. It’s Thanksgiving. This is where you belong.”
“Why couldn’t we just join Jamie and Amanda at the Harrisons like they suggested?” Jeanne queried Matt as he ushered her into the Harbor Club.
“You broke the news report that got Alice’s husband rubbed out,” Matt reminded tersely. “Besides, it’ll be easier for the two of us to keep up surface appearances without other, genuinely happy couples around for comparison.”
Jeanne accepted both parts of his explanation without argument; valid points all. She waited for the maitre d’ to escort them to their table and for Matt to pointedly avoid gallantly pushing in Jeanne’s chair, leaving her to do it on her own, before asking, “Did you speak to Lila?”
“You know,” Matt pressed his fingers to his forehead, as if in pain. “Everyone warned me. Before Lila and I got married. They told me she was a gold-digger who was only interested in my money, nothing else. I didn’t exactly disagree, but she was pregnant, so what could I do? And Jazz… Jazz is worth anything, you know? Plus, Lila turned out to be a great mother. So I couldn’t complain. I’ve always been generous with her, too. I paid alimony right up until she married Cass. Child support for Jasmine, also. Anything she wanted. But, I guess it wasn’t enough. Not for Lila.”
“What are you talking about?” Jeanne looked up from her menu.
“I told her she needed to move out of the house. For Jasmine. That our kid was in danger, for Pete’s sake! And what do you think Lila said? What do you think she told me? She told me no! She likes it at the mansion! She’s become – what do you call it? – accustomed to the Cory lifestyle, and she wasn’t budging! Not even if it could save Jasmine’s life!”
“Maybe Lila just fails to see the danger. After all, she didn’t know Mr. Hutchins at his worst, and she wasn’t privy to the details of this latest – “
“I told her,” Matt seethed. “I told her about Kirkland and what he went through because of Carl. That could’ve been Jasmine. It might still be Jasmine. But, Lila just laughed it off. She dismissed me, claimed I was overreacting. Seriously, I have half a mind to hire a lawyer and revisit our custody arrangement….”
Matt’s voice trailed off as his eyes drifted over Jeanne’s head and towards the club’s bar. Jeanne swiveled in her chair to follow his gaze, settling on the solitary figure sitting on a stool, nursing a martini, the toothpick piercing her olive topped with a tiny Pilgrim hat in the spirit of the day.
“What’s Donna doing here?” Matt wondered, unable to look away.
“Where else would she be?” Jeanne mused reasonably. “Steven took the girls with him to Mrs. Harrison’s, and Marley is still in the hospital.”
“She looks so… alone.”
“She is alone,” Jeanne managed to sound matter-of-fact, rather than cruel. And, in the same breath, added, “Would you like to invite her to join us?”
That, at least, managed to temporarily redirect Matt’s attention as he gaped at his wife. “Are you serious?”
“You obviously want to. You feel sorry for her. You’re a good man, Matt. You always look for the best in people, no matter what they may have done, even to you. You’re a forgiving person. It’s why I love you. One of the reasons, anyway. “ Jeanne indicated Donna. “Go ahead, ask her.”
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