“Because,” Sarah told Grant as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I love you.”
She flashed him a quick, joyful smile, then promptly turned around and scurried out the bedroom door, her hair bouncing cheerily down the back of Grant’s borrowed dress shirt.
He’d raised his head to pose the question regarding why Sarah was doing all this for him. Now, Grant sunk into the pillow, breathless, speechless, checkered flashes of yellow and black squares jiggling in front of his eyes (the phlebotomist had warned him it might be a symptom of low blood pressure, but Grant felt certain it couldn’t be anything so simple), feeling shaken and overwhelmed. And desperately, desperately happy.
He wanted to say the words back, to shout them after her, to climb out of bed and follow Sarah downstairs, and tell her… everything.
No. Not now. Not like this.
Under no circumstances was Grant going to tell Sarah he loved her too while feeling so feeble, so useless, so… old.
She deserved more. Sarah deserved to hear from Grant when he was fully fit, so no one might be able to dismiss the proclamation as merely the befuddled result of his weakened condition, or a reaction of instinctive gratitude in the moment.
Sarah deserved to hear Grant declare his love for her with no distractions, no extenuating circumstances, no opportunity for misunderstanding.
He’d promised to take care of her, and Grant still intended to, in every way.
He closed his eyes and smiled, biding his time by permitting himself the bliss of wallowing in the sensual thrill of anticipation.
“I love you,” Sarah had said.
“I love you, too,” Grant whispered back, just a practice run for the real thing. And trembled with pleasure. “I love you, too, Sarah Matthews-Wheeler.”
Jamie settled a bowl of unadorned oatmeal on the tray in front of a propped up Kirkland’s hospital bed, and handed him a spoon. “Keep this down,” he promised. “And we may go crazy, let you have a sip of ginger ale, next.”
“Better stand back,” Kirkland warned.
“I’ll risk it.”
Jamie watched carefully as his son gingerly scooped some cereal onto his spoon, brought it stiffly to his mouth, and took a miniscule bite, swallowing cautiously, then waiting to test the results.
“It doesn’t taste like anything.”
“That was the idea.”
Kirkland tried the remainder of the serving. “It’s… okay. I think.”
Kirkland dug in with a bit more enthusiasm, realizing he was actually starving and that tasteless oatmeal tasted pretty damn good right about now.
“How’s Grant doing?” he asked.
“Alright, I hear.” Jamie declined to mention that the person he’d heard it from, was Sarah. With everything else going on in his life, Grant’s… unexpected relationship with his former stepson’s former girlfriend was the least of Jamie’s concerns. And he didn’t need it to be Kirkland’s, either. “I told him to come see you tomorrow morning, after he gets his strength back.”
“Was it dangerous what he did? Giving blood to me?”
“Under most circumstances, no. Giving blood isn’t dangerous. But, Grant gave way too much than is considered medically advisable. His body needs time to recover, same as yours.”
“Do you think he did it, you know, on purpose?”
Jamie cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, Grant… whenever Grant does something, especially something good, there’s usually an angle,” Kirkland repeated what he’d heard most of his life – and what he’d learned the hard way, recently. His voice a combination of cynical bravado, mixed with the fervent desire that maybe this time, this time, it might not be true.
“He did it for you, Kirk,” Jamie felt confident in reassuring once he’d figured out what his son was really asking. “No angles, no hidden agendas. He did it for you.”
“So I’d forgive him,” Kirkland insisted, needing to play the bad guy, the Devil’s Advocate, needing desperately to be convinced otherwise. “So I’d forgive him… again.”
“I honestly don’t think that’s what was going through Grant’s mind as he did it. Russ said you needed a transfusion; the blood bank was running low. I couldn’t do it. Maybe Steven… But, Grant stepped up. He did it automatically and… and about as selflessly as anyone could. It’s like with Spencer earlier. They’d do anything to keep you safe.”
“I don’t know how many more times I can do this,” Kirkland confessed. “Let Grant into my life, then have him disappoint me. It’s… it’s like it’s not even a merry-go-round with him. It’s a seesaw, you know?”
“I do,” Jamie said. “And I understand. And all I can tell you is: Since you can’t change Grant, maybe it’s a matter of adjusting your expectations. Instead of expecting him to be the father he always promises, but never quite hits the target on, you might consider just letting Grant be Grant. And working from there.”
“I never thought I’d hear you taking his side.”
“I’m on your side, Kirk. Always. You know that. And quite frankly, right now I am so relieved to see you sitting up, eating that disgusting hospital oatmeal – “
“You promised ginger ale if I could keep it down! Look!”
“ – I am willing to overlook a great many things I was incapable of overlooking before.”
“You think I should give Grant another chance?”
“Honestly, you’re almost a man now, son. You’re not a kid anymore. Especially not after everything you’ve been through. I think maybe it’s time you stopped giving Grant chances, and just work on forming a relationship that works for you both. As adults.”
“So… we should be, what? Drinking buddies?”
“Let’s not get carried away. I’m still your father. And you’re still underage.”
“Okay, then. Am I supposed to let Grant be my wingman for the prom?”
Jamie briefly recalled the age of Grant’s latest conquest, and repressed a shudder at the possibilities. “You might start with… friends. The bar is set lower than for parent.”
“Yeah…” Kirkland chewed over the suggestion. “I guess…”
“Okay.” Jamie pulled up a chair to sit next to Kirkland’s bed, smiling. “Enough with the wise fatherly advice.”
“You mean forever?” Kirkland teased.
Jamie ruffled his hair. “Glad to see your wise-ass muscle wasn’t in your spleen.”
“Oh, no, I’ve got it well-hidden. No one’s taking that out surgically.”
“I do have a question to ask you.” Jamie hesitated, then plunged ahead, hoping to ride on the fumes of their previously easygoing mood. “Kirk, we need to know, for the police report, and some other paperwork – What happened? How did you lose control of the car like that?”
Kirkland hesitated, he ducked his father’s eyes, and he mumbled, “I – I don’t remember.”
“What are you doing back here?” Jeanne hissed in surprise at the sight of Dean.
“I know Matt’s not home,” Dean said. “I waited until I saw him leave.”
“Because. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why?” she repeated.
“Because I didn’t like how we left things.”
“No! With me.”
“You were going to tell him everything, weren’t you?”
“I – I don’t know,” Dean confessed.
“Then why did you come?”
“I wanted… I wanted to see…”
“Why?” That seemed to be her question of hour.
“Because… Because, damn it, Jeanne, you and I, we… we shouldn’t have…”
“Why not?” Well, okay, that made a nice change from the relentless whys, Dean guessed.
“What do you mean why not? Matt is my best friend, and you’re his wife and…”
“How does our having sex hurt Matt?”
“Are we seriously having this conversation?”
“Did our having sex hurt Jenna?”
“What?” Now Dean was utterly, completely, totally lost.
“You still love Jenna, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do.” Dean’s confusion morphed instantly into blinding anger.
“I know. The same way I love Matt.”
“Now, hold on a minute, I wouldn’t say – “
“You love Jenna,” Jeanne continued. “And I love Matt. But, if our having sex didn’t hurt her, how would it hurt him?”
“Well,” Dean spoke as if to a dense child – who didn’t understand English. “For one thing, Matt’s, you know, alive…”
“That’s right. Which means he’s less likely to find out about it than Jenna is.”
“Are you for real?” Dean felt compelled to ask the woman in front of him for the umpteenth time.
“Don’t you believe Jenna is watching over you and Lori Ann?”
“Well…” he hedged. “Not all the time.”
“Sleeping with me on New Year’s Eve didn’t affect how you feel about her, did it?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why should it affect how I feel about Matt?”
Dean stared at her blankly for a moment, then offered, “Sorry, I’m going to have to go with: He’s alive, again, Wink, for one thousand dollars!”
“I love Matt,” Jeanne said. “I love being his wife. I want to make him happy – “
“Hell of a way you’ve got there of – “
“But, I loved being with you,” she told Dean as matter-of-factly as Jeanne did all things.
“You… did?” He couldn’t help it; the flattery fired up a part of him that hadn’t been touched in a very long time. Flattery… and something more.
“Yes.” Just that one word.
“Why can’t you continue loving Jenna, while being with me, and I continue loving Matt, while being with you?”
“I wanted to stop by and say thanks,” Jamie held out his hand to Morgan inside the latter doctor’s office. “For everything you did for Kirkland.”
“My pleasure,” Morgan accepted the shake proffered him. “I’m really glad everything worked out.”
“And I’m relieved Charlie wasn’t hurt too badly. I haven’t had a chance yet to speak to Cass and Frankie – “
“They understand. You had other priorities.”
“Well, please pass on the message if you see them. I’m sorry she had to be involved.”
“How’s Lorna?” Morgan blurted out, having promised himself he’d play it cool. Learning – to no one’s surprise – that he seemed unable to.
“Alright. She’s home with Devon now.”
“Good. She needs to take it easy. With the new baby and everything…”
“I’m trying to get her to take care of herself. It’s… challenging.”
“Yeah. That’s Lorna, alright.”
Jamie nodded, neither one really having anything to say beyond the obvious.
Not that it stopped Morgan. “I miss her,” he said simply. “Even more than I thought I would. It’s one thing if you don’t speak for months, but you know if you need to, you always can. This way, I think of something I want to say… and then I remember.”
“She misses you, too,” Jamie saw no reason to lie. “You and Felicia both.”
“Think she’ll ever…”
“It’s Lorna,” Jamie reminded.
“You’re up early,” John addressed Donna the next morning, stunned to see her standing by the curb, supervising as a convoy of vans filed past at a snails’ pace while a small army of bulky men in even bulkier winter jackets filled them with bags of clothes, objects of art, and even furniture. “Going on a little trip?”
“You could say that.” Donna refused to tear her eyes from the procession.
“Wait a second. You’re not… moving, are you?”
“What would be the point?” Donna wondered. “Wherever I went, there I’d still be.”
“What’s going on, then?”
“Out with the old, in with the new. Isn’t that what the recent holiday was all about?”
“Something tells me this isn’t just a whim to redecorate.”
“Do you realize, John, that some wings of that mausoleum behind us,” she indicated the Love mansion. “Haven’t been touched since the days of Reginald stomping about?”
“Ah. So we’re talking exorcism, here. Good for you!”
“Do you think it’s something in the air?” Donna wondered. “That actually breathing the same air he did is enough to muddle one’s mind to the point where the unthinkable becomes… logical?”
“Air, gene pool, habit. What difference does it make? We all still have free will.”
“Then why is my daughter following in my footsteps? Why do my grandchildren look at me the same way I looked at Reginald? Why, even when I try my best, when I resolve to walk the straight and narrow, is it still so damn easy for me to drift off course?”
“Habit,” John repeated. “Gene pool. Air. Nothing that can’t be fixed.”
Donna indicated a family portrait: Reginald, Donna, Peter, and Nicole done in oil. “If I never see that smirking face again…”
“You should have done this ages ago,” John advised.
“I’m afraid there’s a long list of things I should have done ages ago,” Donna sighed.
“Me, too,” John said and, before he had the chance to reconsider, grabbed Donna, kissing her in full view of the hired men. And painted Reginald.
“Kirkland…?” Carl asked in rising terror at the sight of his wife’s devastated visage once she finally made it home from the hospital.
“Is going to be fine,” Rachel reassured him.
“Thank goodness,” he exhaled in relief, before realizing, “Then why do you seem so…”
“I thought I could do this,” she confessed, broken. “I thought I could obey my children’s wishes, stay away from them until all three came to their senses and realized what a futile cause it was, trying to separate me from you.”
“And you’ve done it. Surely, you don’t consider rushing to be by Jamie’s side a slip in our strategy? This was an aberration, a necessary bending of your resolve – “
“Jamie didn’t want me there,” Rachel said. “He said… he said he didn’t want to get into it with me.”
“Jamie was in shock,” Carl dismissed her concerns as hardly meriting discussion. “His son was battling for his life. Who takes seriously the word of a soul in such dire straits?”
“I made it worse, Carl. My being there made my son’s already excruciating burden even worse.”
“Amanda said as much to me.”
“Ah,” Carl sighed, happy to finally be at the crux of the matter. Jamie’s perceived grief and subsequent rejection he could do nothing to assuage Rachel’s concern over. But, Amanda and her petty vengeance…. “Amanda, of course. Not Jamie, at all. Amanda.”
“Amanda was the one who had to point out to me that I was hurting my son just by being around him.”
“Amanda,” Carl reminded, not even vaguely amused. “Has an agenda where you and I are concerned.”
“You think I don’t know that? You think I didn’t call her on that?”
“Then I don’t understand what the subsequent issue could possibly be.”
“She wasn’t wrong, Carl. She may have had selfish, manipulative reasons for drawing my attention to the situation, but she was not wrong. I ran to Jamie so I could be there for him, comfort him – I’m his mother!”
“And that is precisely what you did. Despite the cruel and callous manner in which he’d treated you only a few weeks prior. You deserve to be commended for your actions, not condemned. If anything, you were the paragon of selfless motherhood.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow at Carl’s flowery language, but now was neither the time nor the place to suggest he dial the histrionics down a notch; they weren’t on stage at the Old Vic. “Jamie had Kirkland in the operating room, Steven near-nervous breakdown in the waiting area, Grant breathing down his neck, a pregnant Lorna refusing to so much as take a seat… He was getting hit from all sides.”
“All the more reason to count his blessings at having you there to help keep the peace.”
“I was the last person Jamie needed to see.”
“According to Amanda!”
“According to Jamie. He didn’t want to get into it. He didn’t need one more thing to worry about, one more painful thing to remember. He looked at me, and he saw you. You and your role in Kirkland’s kidnapping. Can you honestly say my presence was in any way helpful to my son last night?”
“Neither you nor I hold any sway over what thoughts flit through Jamie’s mind at a given time,” Carl countered stiffly. “If his break with you were truly as painful to Jamie as you seem to believe, then the logical thing for him to do under the circumstances would have been to accept the olive branch you so magnanimously stretched forward to him.”
“Now who’s the one being manipulative?” Rachel wondered. “And self-serving?”
“Amanda has never approved of our marriage,” Carl ignored her query to focus on the facts. “My goodness, have you forgotten that ridiculous Hadley Prescott masquerade of hers, trying to make you think I was cheating with some mystery tart – “
“This isn’t comparable.”
“Perhaps not in means – our Amanda has thankfully refined her approach over the years; huzzah for her! But, certainly in motive.”
“Would you please just listen to me, Carl!” Rachel exploded, exasperated. “This isn’t about Amanda. It isn’t even about Jamie, in the end. Or Matt, or my grandchildren. It’s about me. I thought I could stay away for the time that it took them to get over these respective snits of theirs.”
“Thank heavens you at least recognize that much.”
“But, it turns out, I… can’t.”
Carl hesitated, unable to summon up a single flowery phrase to rebut, or even question, that. “I – I beg your pardon?”
“I can’t do it. I can’t bear the thought of being a source of further pain for my children. And I can’t bear the thought of keeping my distance from them when they’re in pain. If it were Cory and Elizabeth – “
“I told you before, Rachel, if it were Cory and Elizabeth, I should never have let matters devolve to such a calamitous state.”
“Fine,” she snapped, in no mood to receive parenting lessons from a man who’d buried three children without ever really knowing a single one of them. “Then I’m not you. I’m not as ruthless. Or maybe I’m merely not as strong. If my children need me, then I have to be with them. And if it can’t be on my terms – “
“It’s going to have to be on theirs,” she finished, despite knowing it was the last thing he wished to hear. “I’m sorry. But, right now, Jamie needs me more than you do. And I need to be there for him.”
“What – what does that mean?” Carl stammered, world-famous flowing command of the English language gone as he felt the ground shift and pull away from beneath his feet.
“It means I love you. I still love you as much this minute as I did the day we got married, and every day after that. But, right now, it means I’m going to ask you to please… I am going to ask you to move out of this house.”
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