“Is this the parent or guardian of Kirkland Frame? There’s been an accident….” The BCPD officer informed Grant without inflection, making it impossible to discern what precisely they were dealing with here.
“What happened?” Grant barked, his hand shaking almost as hard as his voice, requiring him to clutch the phone in order to keep from dropping it.
“Kirkland’s car struck a telephone pole approximately twenty minutes ago. The passenger, a young woman, Charlotte Winthrop, was thrown clear and appears, at this time, to have suffered minimal injuries. The driver remained trapped inside until the ambulance arrived. Kirkland’s driver’s license indicated he was a minor, and the car is registered in your name. Mr. Harrison, are you the parent or guardian – “
“I’m his father!”
“Yes, sir. In that case, we’re going to need your authorization. Kirkland is on his way to Bay City University hospital now, and any procedures that might be required – “
“How badly is he hurt?”
A pause. “Paramedics at the scene determined substantial internal bleeding in the abdominal area. Surgery will most likely be advised. If you could authorize the immediate triage care over the phone, then, once you’re at the hospital, you can consult with the medical team and…”
“I… can’t,” Grant croaked, the words coming in tandem with his sickening, sinking, horrifying realization.
“I beg your pardon, sir? Is this a religious issue? With all due respect, your son is in critical condition, delaying medical intervention might result in – “
“No. No,” Grant moaned. “I – I’m Kirkland’s father. But, I’m not his legal guardian. I can’t help him.”
“Morning,” Jeanne greeted Matt, getting home at dawn on New Year’s Day, unaware that Matt had only beaten her there by mere minutes.
“Hey,” he indicated the fresh pot in his hands. “Want some coffee?”
“Love some.” She reached for the cup, taking a long sip, desperate for the opportunity to focus on it, rather than meet Matt’s eyes.
Is this what guilt felt like? Jeanne wondered. Why exactly did people believe the ability to feel was a good thing now?
And then she remembered.
And felt even more guilty.
“How was your night?” Matt wondered.
As it took a startled Jeanne a moment to remember that Matt didn’t know what she’d really been up to.
Or did he?
He seemed in awfully good spirits this morning. Matt was practically beaming with happiness. Almost as if he’d found out…
“Nothing special,” Jeanne told one of her first lies ever, breaking Jeanne’s cardinal rule to always tell the truth – it made life easier. “What about you?”
“It was good,” Matt, on the other hand, told his wife the whole truth. “I’m really looking forward to 2012.”
“Was 2011 really that bad?” Jeanne asked in a small voice, suspecting she already knew what his answer would be, but needing to hear it, all the same.
He paused, thinking it over, then admitted. “No. Not all of it.”
“Just the parts with me in it?”
“No,” Matt repeated. “Not… all of it.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeanne blurted out.
“Are you?” Matt wasn’t so much accusing her as genuinely wondering.
“Yes,” she insisted. “I – I know you don’t believe me, but I do love you, Matt. My actions… My actions… recently… must have made that pretty tough.”
“Well, yes,” he admitted.
“I just didn’t know how else to prove it to you.”
“So you blackmailed me into marriage?” he laughed incredulously.
“Yes,” she said softly.
He cocked his head to one side. “You’re… serious.”
“You really thought that by making me marry you, you could prove that you loved me?”
“I…” Matt trailed off then, after a moment’s thought, offered, “I… believe you.”
“It makes sense. In a Jeanne kind of way.”
“It’s the only way I know how to do things.”
“I guess everyone only sees the world from their own point of you, don’t they? What seems like vindictiveness or cruelty or pettiness from the outside, the same act can feel absolutely right and justified and even noble, from the perpetrator’s perspective.”
“You do understand,” Jeanne exhaled in relief.
“I – Recently. I’ve been thinking about that very thing. A lot. Trying to make sense of how people can do the things they do. And how I can live with the choices others make. Whether or not I want to try.”
“Your mother and Carl?” Jeanne guessed.
And Matt let her think so.
“What the hell does he want?” Steven snarled upon checking his phone.
Sarah, sitting at the kitchen table, scooping oatmeal – not rice – cereal into Devon’s mouth as the baby swatted the spoon away with both hands, then happily smeared the dropped mush all across her high-chair tray, asked, “Who?”
“Grant,” Sarah repeated the name as neutrally as possible, not even turning to look at Steven as she said it, lest he twig to something.
“Hello?” Steven dutifully answered, albeit with a minimum of enthusiasm. However, the expression on his face quickly shifted from contempt to alarm as he opened and closed his mouth several times, either trying to get a word in edgewise, or merely attempting to think of something to say.
Sarah, Michele and Bridget exchanged frightened looks in response, all three understanding that any situation that rattled Steven was bound to be really, really bad.
This time, Sarah deliberately tried to catch Steven’s eye in order to ferret out what Grant might be telling him. But, Steven turned his back on them all and plugged his ear with one finger, the better to concentrate on what Grant was telling him.
Finally, he nodded fervently – despite the fact that Grant couldn’t see him – and said, “I’ll call in and let them know soon as I hang up. I’ll meet you there. I’ll try and reach Dad, too. Text me if you hear anything else. Please, Grant.”
It was the please – specifically Steven saying please to Grant – that threw Sarah and the girls from controlled fear into unchecked terror.
“What is it? What’s wrong? What happened?” they peppered Steven with questions before he’d even hung up.
“Kirk was in a car accident.” Steven threw over his shoulder, heading for the door, grabbing his jacket and car keys with one hand as he dialed his phone with the other. “It’s bad. He needs surgery. Grant can’t authorize it. He’s tried calling Dad – “
“But their phones are out!” Sarah remembered.
“Yeah. If they didn’t get a chance to recharge before they left the hotel, they’re in the air now, anyway, on the way back. I’m going to give the hospital the okay to go ahead and operate.” He was already on the porch when he turned around to ask Sarah, “Will you keep trying to reach Dad and Lorna?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Sarah reassured.
“And keep an eye on the kids?”
“You know I will. Just go. Call us when you know anything else.”
“Thanks, Sarah.” Steven leapt down the stairs and made a beeline towards his car, not even brothering to wipe the frost off his windows as he gunned the still cold engine, starting it through sheer, brute force and desperation.
Sarah ushered Bridget and Michele back inside the house, reassuring both that their brother would be just fine. Saying all the right and comforting things, even as the only thing she could actually think about was:
“Grant!” Frankie caught sight of Kirkland’s father as soon as she and Cass flew through the emergency room doors in response to their own frantic summons, having deposited Lori Ann with a generous neighbor after Dean failed to answer his phone. “Is there any news?”
“Kirkland’s in surgery,” Grant offered the only piece of information he had. No, wait, there was one more. “Charlie, however, is fine.”
The last one wasn’t exactly offered magnanimously.
“Any information on precisely what happened?” Cass wondered.
“What difference does it make?” Grant snapped. “It wouldn’t change the end result.”
“No, of course not,” Frankie attempted to keep both men from blowing their stacks – that wouldn’t change the end result either.
“Was Kirkland drinking?” Cass wondered.
“No!” Grant barely managed to keep from screaming. “They tested his blood alcohol level at the scene. He was completely clean.”
“Was he speeding?”
“Why is this so important to you?” Grant demanded. “Already thinking of the civil suit you can file? Is that how the Winthrops earn their money these days? Spying on people and suing them?”
“I just want to understand what happened,” Cass also struggled to remain civil.
“What happened was an accident, wherein my son is fighting for his life, while your daughter managed to escape with a couple of boo-boos. Understand that. And thank your lucky stars.” Grant stomped off.
“Let him go,” Frankie urged Cass.
“With pleasure,” Cass spat, moving past Grant to approach the nurse’s station and ask about his daughter.
Frankie and Cass were informed that, contrary to Grant’s assessment, Charlie had suffered more than just boo-boos. There were several broken ribs, plus contusions along her body and face. Charlie was getting treatment for them now.
The Winthrops could see her in a minute.
In the meantime, here was some paperwork for them to fill out.
“He didn’t buy it.” Lila waited as late as she could for propriety’s sake – 8 AM on New Year’s Day – before barging in on Chase in his Mayoral office, utterly confident that he would be there; Federal Holiday or not. Some people burned the midnight oil. Chase was a rise with the sun kind of guy. “Carl. I overheard him talking to Rachel. He didn’t believe that you and I were an item.”
“I am deeply offended,” Chase said. “For your sake.”
“He said he intended to get to the bottom of what was really going on with us.”
“And arrest himself? That would save me a lot of time.”
“I don’t think that’s exactly what Carl had in mind,” Lila drawled. “And you are taking this much too calmly, considering the crux of your plan involved you getting access to the Cory house and Carl’s cavern of secrets via pretending to find me irresistible.”
“I do find you irresistible,” Chase reminded. “It’s precisely why I work so hard to resist you.”
“Please don’t start that again. I’ve barely gotten over my headache from the first time.”
“Sorry,” Chase conceded. “That was inappropriate.”
“What are we going to do?” Lila demanded.
“We,” Chase smiled. “Are going to make sure that Carl accepts our illicit, illogical, and ill-advised affair – which needs to be carried out beneath his roof for obvious reasons; I can’t very well check into a motel now, can I? I’m a public figure! – by making it so he hears about it from the one person Carl is bound to believe.”
Chase smiled, deeply pleased with himself and all the gears visibly turning in his head. “Grant Harrison.”
“How’s Kirkland?” Steven made a beeline straight for Grant as soon as he entered the hospital.
“Still in surgery,” his ex-stepfather replied dully, sitting hunched over in the chair, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “No one’s told me anything beyond he’s bleeding internally, and they’re trying their best to stop it.”
“Have you tried asking Russ or John for help?”
“I’m not quite the big man around here that you are, Steven.”
“What about Alice?”
“Haven’t been able to reach her.”
“So you’ve just been sitting here all this time!” Steven exploded in frustration. “Not doing a damn thing?”
“What can I do?” Grant looked up at Steven, almost pleading with him for guidance. “Tell me what I can do. My son is in critical condition, and I don’t even have the power to get him the medical attention he needs.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“Mine,” Grant conceded. “All mine. It’s all my fault. I’ve let Kirkland down in a myriad of ways since the day he was born, and this is just another in a long line of my failures. There,” Grant addressed the air. “Did you hear me, Vicky? Did you hear what I said? Are you happy now? Have I groveled enough to get you to come in here and save Kirkland? Vicky? Jake? Dad? Anybody? Is anybody going to help my boy?”
Steven merely shook his head in disgust, Grant’s flight of fancy so far from Steven’s own coping mechanism that he failed to even recognize it as such.
“I’m going to call Russ,” he said.
“Any luck reaching Jamie?”
“His and Lorna’s plane should be landing around now. I told Sarah to keep trying to get through. But, if they didn’t recharge their phones before leaving, they’ll probably have to get home before…”
“Sarah,” Grant said.
Steven thought Grant was merely confirming what Steven told him, until Steven followed where Grant was suddenly staring, dumbstruck, and realized that – speak of the devil – Sarah had just stepped through the doors.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Steven demanded, cutting off anything else Grant might have intended to say.
She rushed by Steven without answering, kneeling on the floor in front of Grant, taking both of his hands in hers, kissing first one then the other, looking up at him, beseeching, “Are you okay? I came as soon as I could.”
Already pushed to the breaking point, Steven’s brain hit full tilt, as understanding fought for dominance with shock, disgust, and ultimately indifference.
At least for now.
He grabbed Sarah by the shoulder and pulled her back far enough so that she was forced to look at Steven. “I told you to – Did you leave the girls alone?”
“Of course not,” she jerked out of his grip, insulted. “What kind of idiot do you think I am? I called Lorna’s mom to come and watch Devon.”
Mountain of paperwork filled out, and Charlie adequately patched up, Frankie and Cass were finally allowed in to see their daughter.
She sat propped up in a hospital bad, a bandage across her forehead and along Charlie’s cheek, her ribs wrapped up tightly beneath the hospital-issue gown, looking as pale and as terrified as either parent had ever seen her.
“Oh, honey,” Frankie swept Charlie into her arms, getting confirmation of just how shook up Charlie must feel by the fact that she clung to her mother, instead of rolling her eyes and pushing Frankie away after the minimum amount of time.
“How do you feel?” Cass asked, offering his own hug from the other side.
“How’s Kirkland?” An agitated Charlie ignored his question. “Nobody will tell me anything. Is he okay? He was hurt real bad, wasn’t he? I could tell. I called 911 as soon as I could, but he kept going in and out while we waited. I tried talking to him. That’s what you’re supposed to do with an unconscious person, right? Keep them talking? But, I don’t think he knew I was there. He wasn’t making any sense. And there was all this blood. He was trapped behind the wheel. Like squished. Is he alright? Where is he?”
“Kirk is in surgery,” Frankie broke it to Charlie gently. “Uncle Morgan is operating on him. Kirkland is lucky in that respect. You know what a good doctor Morgan is.”
“Is he going to make it?”
“How did the accident happen?” Cass asked, partly to distract her, partly to assuage the suspicion that had been niggling in his mind ever since the BCPD’s call.
“What do you mean?” Charlie started. “It just… did.”
“Cars don’t drive into telephone poles by themselves, Charlie. I know Kirkland hadn’t been drinking, and it doesn’t look like he was going too far above the speed limit, based on the skid marks. So what happened? What was he doing that he lost control of the car like that?”
“Why do you think Kirkland was doing anything wrong?”
“Again, Charlie, accidents don’t just – “
“What is your problem with him? Why are always after him like this?”
“Hold on a second. I’m not after anyone.”
“A year ago, you were sure Kirkland was the one who ran down Lorna.”
“Well, yes, that was a mistake, but…”
“Why do you hate him so much?”
“Your dad does not hate Kirkland!”
“Then why won’t he leave him alone? Kirkland could die, Dad, couldn’t he, couldn’t he? Tell me the truth! He’s hurt really bad. He could die!”
“Your uncle Morgan is doing everything he can for him. We should know soon how the operation went and – “
“Kirkland could die, and you’re sitting here, looking to get him into trouble. What the hell is the matter with you?”
“What are you doing here?” Lorna gasped upon walking through the door and finding Devon – seemingly perfectly content – in Felicia’s arms.
Her mother stood up, ignoring Lorna’s question to look past her at Jamie. “Did you get Steven’s messages?” she asked.
“Messages?” Jamie instinctively checked his phone, despite knowing what the result would be. “No. We didn’t get a chance to before – “
“Kirkland is in the hospital,” Felicia hated to break it to him like this, but time was of the essence. “He was in a car accident, he’s in surgery. Steven and Sarah went down there a few hours ago.” The latter was in peripheral answer to Lorna’s question about what Felicia was doing there.
“How bad?” Jamie inhaled sharply.
“I don’t know,” Felicia confessed. “All I know was they required someone to authorize the procedure, and Grant couldn’t do it, so he called Steven and Steven took care of it.”
“I need to get to the hospital,” Jamie mumbled, turning instinctively and authoritatively towards the door, yet managing to still seem lost at the same time.
Lorna pulled him back for just a second, fumbling in their spare knick-knack drawer, pulling out the family’s emergency cell-phone and pressing it into Jamie’s hand. “Here, take this, you can call Steven on the way, get an update.”
“Thanks,” he nodded, still slightly dazed, and heading for the car.
“Aren’t you going to go with him?” Felicia asked Lorna.
“And leave you alone here with Devon? I don’t think so.”
Felicia’s eyes darkened and, still clutching the baby protectively, she approached her daughter. “You listen to me, young lady. And grow up while you’re at it, would you? Unless you truly believe I’m a danger to your child, are you honestly going to dig your heels in and allow your pig-headed, spiteful, petty stubbornness keep you from being there for your husband when he needs you the most?”
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