“Zeno!” Frankie called out in alarm as she stepped out of the car and, gesturing for Charlie and Lori Ann to keep back (not that they listened), ran towards the field directly adjacent to the farmhouse, where Zeno currently stood, fending off a dozen or so men and women holding up signs – with a presumably loaded shotgun aimed straight at the center of their demonstration.
“Too late, Frankie,” Zeno said pleasantly without turning his head to acknowledge her presence, eyes remaining peeled on the barrel of his rifle. “Should have come when I called you the first time.”
“I came as soon as I could,” Frankie told him the truth as she saw it, definitely second-guessing her choice to ignore his initial message. “What in the world is going on here?”
“Fascist,” one of the protestors spat Zeno’s way, bending over to reach for a pair of turnip stalks growing in the ground and attempting to yank out both in a single, dramatic gesture. It proved more difficult than he’d previously assumed. He almost lost his balance, falling backwards. To cover up the obvious embarrassment over his failure, he merely dialed up the rhetoric, adding, “Corporate stooge!”
Unflinching, Frankie stepped between Zeno’s gun and the mob, despite his hissing for her to get out of the way. Now. “What exactly has he done that’s got you so angry?”
“He’s a tool of the oil industry,” one woman shouted, while another added, “He’s committing genocide!”
Baffled, Frankie glanced over her shoulder at Zeno for an explanation.
“Yup,” Zeno deadpanned. “That’s me. One man death squad.”
“You’re damn right!” A third figure called, “America’s dependence on fossil fuels is destroying the planet. We need alternative sources of energy and we need them now!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Frankie said slowly, still more confused than anything.
“So why don’t you tell your little punk friend here to listen to the will of the people and turn this land over for the good of community, like the city council ordered. They offered him a fair price. He’ll still get his money. Greedy little pig. Bloodsucker. Leech.”
“Tear it up! Tear it up!” The crowd earnestly began chanting in unison, looking around for something else they could pull out of the ground to express their position – preferably something easier to dislodge than a growing turnip.
Zeno cocked his shotgun, taking a wide step to the side so that Frankie was no longer in his way.
Unsurprisingly, the chanting died down somewhat.
Sensing that he’d lost his backup, the leader haltingly looked from side to side and, in an attempt to urge his followers forward, pointed out, “Come on. He can’t get all of us.”
“I can get enough of you,” Zeno noted calmly.
Suddenly, the turnips just didn’t seem that pressing anymore. Neither, apparently, did the wholesale survival of the planet.
Unwilling – or maybe unable – to leave as an organized group, like they’d come, the protestors drifted off one by one or in pairs, most of them managing at least one angry look back at Zeno to indicate that yeah, sure, he was a big man now, with a gun in his hand and all, but they could’ve taken him. If they’d felt like it.
Zeno waited until the last one had straggled off his property before, with the weary sigh of a man three times his age, locked the safety on his rifle and set it down, barrel pointing at the ground, his arms shaking from the exertion of holding it still for so long. Or maybe from something more than that.
Frankie ran to hug him, and Zeno let her – only for a minute, before pulling back and shaking his head to indicate it wasn’t necessary.
“I’m okay,” he reassured. “You get used to it after a while. You get used to anything after a while.”
“You mean this has happened before?” Frankie gasped, horrified.
“Ever since I refused to comply with the eminent domain land grab. They show up every few weeks. Different people, different signs, same goal though, terrorize me out, claim the land, use if for – well, you heard them – the good of the community. Funny thing is, they don’t even know what they’re talking about most of the time. Guy called me a Fascist, you hear him? Fascism is government in charge of the means of production. Which is exactly what they say they want. But, I guess they figure as long as the government is tramping on my rights for something they approve of, that makes it a democracy.”
“Still, Zeno, honey… a gun? Your mother wouldn’t want – “
“I’m licensed to carry,” Zeno tensed up, whatever goodwill he’d harbored toward Frankie attempting to ride to his rescue dissipating into Zeno’s more familiar scowl. “The gun is registered. Feel free to check if you don’t believe me. This is my land, they were trespassing, and, besides, who do you think taught me to shoot in the first place?”
“I know it was Orly,” Frankie sighed. “And you know that I was against it back then. That was for hunting, though. I’m sure she didn’t intend for you to be pointing it at a fellow human being.”
“My mother instructed me never to point a gun at another person,” Zeno agreed as Frankie nodded in relieved approval. “Unless I was actually willing to kill that person.”
“What the hell happened?” Sarah asked as she blew through BCU Hospital’s emergency room waiting area doors in response to Allie’s frantic phone call. “Where’s GQ? Is he going to be okay?”
“I don’t know,” Allie said. “The ambulance came and they took him to be examined, and nobody’s told me anything.”
“Are you okay?” Sarah rubbed Allie’s trembling arm with the palm of her hand.
“I did the best I could,” Allie swore. “Everything I couldn’t do for Gregory, I did for GQ.”
“I’m sure this is nothing like Gregory. You said GQ just bumped his head and passed out. It’s no big deal. They’ll stitch him up and…”
“He was defending me.”
Sarah appeared unsurprised. “Least he could do.”
“This is exactly what GQ warned me about,” Allie said. “From the beginning. He said people would treat us like crap.”
“Not all people. Idiots. You can’t live your life worrying about what idiots will think about your relationships. You have to do what’s right for you, and the hell with popular opinion.”
“This is my fault. If I’d stayed away from GQ like he said…”
“Oh, come on, Al, not that again. GQ is a big boy who made his own big boy decisions.”
“But, he was right about this.”
“So I should have listened.”
“And let them win?”
Allie indicated where they were currently standing. “What have I won?”
“GQ said he forgave you,” Sarah reminded. “You’ve wanted that forever.”
“That was just… he didn’t mean it. He said it because he wanted them to back off.”
“Then why did he come to your rescue?”
“I… uhm… I wanted to invite you,” is what Jeanne thought Dean mumbled, standing in the doorway of her KBAY office. But, it was a bit hard to tell, what with him addressing the carpet, the walls, the paperweight on her desk – basically anything and everything other than Jeanne.
“Invite me where?”
“To… uhm…. Here’s the thing,” Dean closed the door behind him, lowering his voice despite there being no one around to overhear them. “There’s this club, see, and they’re doing a Party Like It’s 1999 theme for New Year’s Eve.”
“That’s original,” Jeanne drawled.
“I’m going to play. The midnight show.”
“You are?” Jeanne’s eyes widened in what Dean hoped was delight and interest, rather than condemnation. He was more used to the latter.
“How did that happened?”
“I… I wrote some new stuff and – “
“You’ve written a new song?” This time there was no mistaking Jeanne’s enthusiasm.
“A couple, actually,” this time he addressed her phone.
“That’s amazing! When?”
“You know, here and there. I’ve had some ideas for a while, but actually putting them down on paper…. I think they sound okay… Still a lot of work to do. You really need to hear music with an audience, you know, get that live feedback?”
“You’re going to be doing new material at this club on New Year’s Eve?”
“Well, a mix of old and new. I mean, it’s a 1990s theme, so they want to hear the old stuff, obviously. But, I figured I could throw in a couple – “
“Absolutely. Sign me up. We’ll be there.” Jeanne all but leapt out of her chair. “Matt and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I… see, the thing is… Don’t tell Matt, okay?”
“Why not? He’ll be as excited as I am. Heck, he’ll probably want to put D&M back together again just to – “
“That’s the point. I’m not ready yet to… go there. This is just a try-out, you know? See if I’ve still got what it takes?”
“You’re talented, Dean. That doesn’t go away.”
“I was talented for a lot of years. It didn’t get me anywhere. Not until Jenna. I needed… I need… her. She was like my, what do you call it, muse… thing? I don’t know if I can do it without her. And I’m pretty sure I can’t do it with Matt or anybody watching.”
“So I’m not anybody?” Jeanne asked.
“No,” he told her honestly. “You’re… you.”
Somehow, that seemed to make perfect sense to both of them.
“Anyway,” Dean went on. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but, do you think you can make it? I know it’s New Year’s Eve, you and Matt probably have plans…”
“I’ll be there,” Jeanne promised. “And don’t worry about Matt. He won’t even notice I’m gone.”
“I want you to understand something,” Amanda told Kevin, returning to his office later that afternoon and launching into her piece without preamble.
“I’m listening,” he said so calmly, Amanda half expected her husband to pull out his beloved lined, yellow legal pad and start taking notes. He was a lawyer again, after all.
“You shouldn’t trust me,” Amanda said.
“I shouldn’t?” It wasn’t so much a question as a clarification.
“No.” Amanda bit down on her lip, and then she told Kevin, “I don’t deserve to be trusted. I cheated on Sam. I mean, yes, Evan was hired by Iris specifically to break up my marriage but, still, in the end, I cheated on my husband.”
“Right.” He reminded, “I had a full dossier done on your family before I even came to town. And Grant gave me a great deal of background on you specifically.”
“Then you should have known better!”
“Than to do what?”
“I told you, it came with the vows. Listen,” he sighed. “In my line of work, all I ever hear are stories about families that fell apart because someone overreacted, or someone misinterpreted, or someone didn’t trust enough. I vowed that when I finally did get married, I wouldn’t fall into any of those traps.”
“So you’re not worried about Morgan and me?”
“If you’d wanted Morgan, wouldn’t you have married him instead?”
Amanda had to laugh at that. “You’re new around here, aren’t you? Bay City is kind of known for people marrying one person while actually wanting someone else.”
“Like I said, I have dossiers on all of you. So, in point of fact, I did know that. The issue is, Amanda, do you want to continue with your local traditions, or would you like to try something different, for a change?”
She hesitated, and then Amanda admitted, “I’m scared.”
“I’m scared I won’t be able to – I won’t be able to keep from falling into old patterns. I mean, it’s kind of all I know. Even my parents, who were crazy about each other, even they cheated. And I really did love Sam. I wanted our marriage to work. I wouldn’t have married him – “
“Twice, if I didn’t want it to work. But, I couldn’t make it happen. Maybe everyone was right and we were just too young. Or maybe, if Sam had – “
“Kept you on a leash?”
Amanda startled at his choice of words. “What?”
“Isn’t that what you’re asking me to do? Question you, and suspect you, and scrutinize you? The better to keep you from slipping again?”
“That’s not what I said!”
“Is it what you meant?”
“You really have been away from the courtroom too long, haven’t you?”
“I’m trained to listen to what people don’t say, in addition to what they do say. And what I’m hearing is you want me to help you walk the straight and narrow. Which I’d be happy to do, Amanda. But, not in the way you’re looking for. You can spend as much time with Morgan or anyone else that you like. And I’m just going to keep on trusting you. Until you finally learn to do it for yourself.”
“What do you expect to find there?” Lila hissed to Chase from where she was standing, keeping watch by the door, while he rifled through the contents of Carl’s office desk. “A copy of, If I Did It, Here’s How by Carl Hutchins?”
“Preferably on CD, read by the man himself.” Chase paused for a moment to ruminate, “Can you imagine? It would be like the Masterpiece Theater version of a confession.”
“Less talking, more breaking and entering,” Lila urged him, practically vibrating from the nervous energy currently coursing through her.
“Not breaking or entering,” the ex-District Attorney corrected her. “You invited me in.”
“I think that’s for vampires, not mayors.”
“You’ve met one bloodsucker, you’ve met them all,” he cooed reassuringly while continuing to rummage.
“You are just having way, way too much fun with this.”
“I’m the proverbial kid in a candy store. Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to get some kind of bead on Hutchins? I spent twenty years in the DA’s office. Unlike the majority of the population, I remember what he did to this town once upon a time.”
“Guess you were just biding your time then, waiting for the right chump to give you the keys to the castle.”
Chase stopped what he was doing, turning around to face Lila. “Look at me,” he ordered, which she reluctantly did after a moment’s hesitation. “You are nobody’s fool, Lila. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel like one.”
“You’ve got to admit,” she slowly articulated a topic Lila had only been inching herself around over the past few days. “This is all awfully convenient.”
“You hiring me to work for you – out of the blue and with no experience.”
“Untrue. Your experience was with Grant’s campaign in 2010. It’s what initially caught my eye about you.”
“Then our becoming friends…”
“I’m an exceedingly friendly fellow. Ask anyone.”
“Our almost becoming more than friends….”
That sobered Chase up in a hurry. “I explained about that. And apologized.”
“I know you did. Then the next thing you told me was that my child and her whole, entire family were in danger, and I was the only one who could help you protect them.”
“Actually, you came to me with your concerns about Jasmine first. Months ago, in my office, remember?”
Lila did. But, she also remembered, “You didn’t exactly go out of your way to reassure me then. And this was all before what happened with Kirk and Spencer.”
“All that proves is that you were right to be concerned months ago. I have always been honest with you, right from the start. Hell, I’ve told you things about myself no one else knows. Well, things I didn’t think anyone else knew. As it turned out…” he trailed off before regrouping. “The point is, I have never been anything but straightforward and sincere with you. You can trust me, Lila,” Chase said.
Right before kissing her.
Sitting facing her grandmother’s gravestone, Lorna nevertheless heard Felicia come up behind her. She’d know the sound of that jewelry anywhere.
Her mother supplied by way of explanation, “I called Jamie. He said you needed time to think. I suspected I’d find you here.”
Lorna declined to respond. Or turn around.
“I must say, I’m happy the whole truth is finally out.”
Lorna smirked to herself ironically.
“It allows me the chance to explain.”
“You don’t have to.” Lorna pivoted where she sat, looking at Felicia for the first time. “I read the court transcript. I know everything now.”
Though surprised, Felicia pressed on. “You may know what I said. I assure you, you have no idea how I felt.”
“That’s rich,” Lorna snorted. “You claimed to know exactly how I would feel about the abortion Morgan proposed. I guess our Mother/Daughter ESP only flows one way.”
“What about your own daughter? You’re a mother yourself now, Lorna. Take a moment to imagine what you would have done in my position. If Devon was the one fighting for her life, and you had the means to save her, wouldn’t you take it? Wouldn’t you do anything you had to, no matter what the cost?”
“I did think about that,” Lorna mused. “I haven’t thought about much of anything else for the past twenty-four hours.”
“And?” Felicia asked eagerly.
“And… “ Lorna sighed, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Jamie urged me to forgive you. That’s ironic, isn’t it? He wants me to give you the benefit of the doubt. So I tried. I really, really tried. Even as I read the transcript, the one where you made it a matter of public record that you believe your daughter is a selfish, self-centered, neurotic slut – “
“I never said anything of the kind!”
Lorna flipped open her phone and, in a voice devoid of expression, read, “My daughter has a tendency to be her own worst enemy. She sabotages her happiness at every turn. Lorna only acts out when she senses that the man she's with is the real thing. Cheating on Morgan was practically the same as her admitting that she knew they were headed for the long haul. For better or worse, Lorna has always been about Lorna, first and foremost.”
“That… I… I was trying to save your life!”
“I know,” Lorna repeated. “I even believe you. At least, I believe that’s what you thought you were doing.”
“What else could it have been?”
Lorna shook her head, unwilling to go into that right now. Instead, she continued, “I kept telling myself that it’s okay, you seeing me this way. I mean, we really don’t know each other. Not the way a mother and daughter should. We’ve tried. Both of us tried. But, you can’t make up for twenty-five lost years. You just can’t. That’s why, when I think of me and Devon being in the same situation, I tell myself it wouldn’t be the same. I’m going to know my daughter in a way you can’t know me. That’s not your fault. That’s just the way it is. I told myself that’s why you were able to get up on the stand and swear I would want the abortion. You believed it was true, you believed you were doing what I’d want you to.”
“I love you so much, Lorna,” Felicia pleaded. “The thought of losing you…”
“But, then,” Lorna said. “Then I read the rest of your testimony. What you said about Jamie. Maybe you honestly thought I was back to playing my usual games with him; Lorna the ice queen, Lorna the user, Lorna the bitch. But, Jamie… Damn it, Felicia, you’ve known him longer than you’ve known me. And you and Rachel, you’re friends. Good friends, close friends, at your intervention, Rachel said you were practically sisters. You had to know, from Rachel, from Jamie, that this was no casual fling for him.”
“Jamie wasn’t my first concern,” Felicia said stiffly.
“No,” Lorna greed. “But, he is mine. He was already going out of his mind with worry for me, for Devon. And you added to his torture by telling Jamie that I didn’t love him. That I was cheating on him. That the baby we both wanted desperately wasn’t his. He’d already been through this twice, you know. With Maggie – when Cecile claimed he was her biological father. With Steven and Vicky and Jake. The man was drowning, and you decided to pour a few more gallons of water over his head for good measure.”
“Jamie was being selfish. Think about it, Lorna. Just think about it. No matter how much he loves you, you are just one woman in his life from a string of dozens. Yes, he wanted Devon. But, she is simply one of his three children. He would have mourned you both, he would have missed you both…. And then he would have moved on with his life. Another woman. Another child. I didn’t have that option. You are the only daughter I have left, the only one I’ll ever have. I’m sorry for what I put Jamie though. I’m sorry about his suffering. Genuinely and truly sorry. I wish there had been some other way. But, when it comes down to someone else’s child – even a friend’s – or mine, I am going to pick mine. Every. Single. Time.”
Lorna asked her mother, “Tell the truth, Felicia. If you’d gotten your way, if you and Morgan managed to get rid of Devon and then I woke up, wanting to know what happened to my baby, would you have told me the truth?”
“Yes,” Felicia nodded her head fervently. “Yes, yes, we would have.”
“And how did you expect me to react?”
“I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. As long as I saved your life, I was willing to accept anything. Your scorn, your fury, your hate. I didn’t care if you never spoke to me again, as long as you were healthy and still with us.”
“Congratulations, Mom.” Lorna stood up, brushing past Felicia on her way out of the cemetery. “You got your wish.”
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