“Kirkland…” Grant’s heart leaped into his throat at the sight of Lorna standing on his doorstep. Jamie had promised to phone when his son was awake and he hadn’t yet so…
“Kirkland’s fine,” Lorna rushed to reassure. For all the hurt she intended to rain atop Grant’s head this morning, Kirkland was no part of it. “He sailed through the night with flying colors. They’re taking him for some tests, and then he can have visitors again.”
“You didn’t need to come – Jamie said he’d call…”
“This isn’t about Kirkland.” Lorna invited herself inside, slamming the door behind her before turning on Grant with both barrels. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, seducing a kid only a couple of years older than your son?”
Like Sarah before him, Grant first considered denying everything before changing his mind and choosing to own the situation, flipping the tables on Lorna and demanding, “What business is this of yours, exactly?”
“None,” she admitted.
“Good. I’m glad we’ve got that settled.”
“Except that I happen to know a little something about older men who prey on young girls.”
Her implication couldn’t have been clearer. Or more offensive. Grant’s face managed to both flush and pale at the same time as he thundered, “Are you seriously comparing me to – “
“If the pedophile fits, Grant.”
“Carl Hutchins picked a thirteen year old child up off the street.”
“Thanks for the recap. I was there.”
“Sarah and I… Sarah and I are nothing like you and Carl.”
“You’ve got her wrapped around your finger, dancing to your tune, convinced that all the decisions being made are hers, rather than yours. You’ve got her completely snowed.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong,” Grant said softly. “I – Sarah… she came after me. She wanted me. I know that’s impossible for you to believe – “
“I thought that being with Carl was my choice. I thought I was the one who went after him, and I was so thrilled when he magnanimously acquiesced. Honored even. So when did this fevered pursuit of you by Sarah begin exactly? Six months ago, she came to me asking for tips on how to get Steven back. Your name didn’t even come up.”
“Everything happened very quickly.”
“I’m sure. Once Marley checked into the hospital and you found yourself tragically short a brainwashed bed-partner, you looked around and zeroed in on what you knew would be the easiest target. A college girl on the rebound from a bad relationship. Her self-esteem practically non-existent. And let’s not talk about the Daddy issues! Sarah and Dennis barely speak. She must have been even easier pickings than your usual selection. Did you need to put in so much as an iota of token effort?”
“Go to Hell, Lorna.”
“What did you tell her? That she was beautiful? That she was special? That she was the only one who ever understood you? The only one who ever peered deep into your soul and saw the real Grant Harrison? How am I doing with the old rap? It’s been a while.”
“Sarah is special,” Grant insisted. “If you quit looking at her like an age, and tried just to view her as a person, you’d realize what an amazing young woman she truly is.”
“Emphasis on the young.”
“She… she loves me.” Even saying the words out loud – even to a hostile Lorna – nevertheless gripped Grant with the same jolt of pleasure, incredulity and awe that he’d experienced upon hearing Sarah say so the first time.
“Of course she does,” Lorna dismissed from experience. “You make it easy. At first.”
“Not every young woman in this world is you,” Grant stressed. “And, God help me, not every man is Carl.”
“Agreed. But, a lot of you sure do operate in the same way.”
“You don’t understand,” Grant wondered why he was lowering himself to even discussing this with her. And then Grant realized that convincing Lorna would go a long way towards convincing himself that this was all, in fact, actually happening. “I – I love Sarah.”
“You said that about me once. And Amanda. And Vicky. You said it about Marley just recently, if I recall. In fact, you pretty dramatically threw yourself on your sword in the name of undying love for Marley – excuse the pun. How did that work out for you all?”
“I got this for your birthday next month,” Felicia began. “But, I figured you could use a little cheering up now. Plus, it gives me an excuse to do even more shopping later.” She handed Charlie a package, then, unable to wait until the teen finished unwrapping it, trilled, “It’s a Kindle Fire! Conveniently loaded with every Felicia Gallant title ever written.”
“Wow!” Charlie grinned with genuine enthusiasm. “Thank you! This awesome!”
“This is very generous of you, Felicia,” Cass agreed, looking over Charlie’s shoulder as she sat in her hospital bed, to check out the new toy’s features. “And since when are your books electronic?”
“It’s the 21st Century!” his friend chided. “Evolve or die! I had my complete backlist digitized, and I’m selling it myself. If Barbara Freethey can unload a million copies of her books, can you think of a reason why Felicia Gallant shouldn’t?”
“Not a single one.”
“I’ve got a major publicity campaign planned, personal appearances, talk-shows, the Internet. Can I tell you how much I love the Internet, all those lovely blogs and radio programs, and twits.”
“I think that’s tweets,” Charlie managed to correct without looking up from her Kindle.
“Right, yes. Perhaps I should hire you as my consultant. Both of you.”
“I’m not a lawyer anymore,” Cass reminded, wondering when it might stop hurting quite so much to say the words.
“Doesn’t mean you can’t read over my contracts and offer wise counsel on demand. I’ve been in the market for a business manager, Cass. You’d be perfect, with your knowledge of publishing…”
“My one attempt went belly up within the course of a single year. Remember? You were there.”
“And the book selling business…”
“So did the store.”
“This would be different. It’s electronic! The new frontier! Teenage girls scribing about vampires are making millions, from what I understand. With yours and my combined years of knowledge and experience, surely we can beat them at their own game.”
“This sounds cool, Dad,” Charlie chimed in. “You should totally do it.”
“Totally,” Felicia deadpanned.
He looked at them both with a combination of bemusement and caution, “You’re talking about a major undertaking here, with a very, very steep learning curve. You and I must be reading different things, Felicia, because from where I sit, it looks like years of knowledge and experience don’t amount to a hill of beans in this Brave New World. Look at Borders. You said it yourself, teenagers are making millions. We aren’t teenagers anymore.”
“Thank God,” Felicia dismissed his concerns.
“If we do this – “
“When we do this.”
“It’s going to require a massive amount of work.”
“Bring it,” Felicia swore.
“You’re sure you don’t have… other commitments?” Cass attempted to be both vague and specific at the same time.
“I do. And I don’t,” Felicia said, succeeding where he’d failed. Probably why she was the writer. “It’s been made very clear to me recently, where I’m not needed. Or wanted. I’d like to, for a pleasant change, focus on an area where that isn’t the case.”
Cass hesitated, seeing the desperation behind Felicia’s joie de vivre, same as on New Year’s Eve. She’d needed him then. She needed him now. When had Cass ever been able to say no to that?
“Hey,” GQ had to whisper, having come upon Allie in the BCU library.
“Hey,” she looked up in surprise, just as quickly ducking her head, but not before instinctively taking a peek at the back of GQ’s, checking for remnants of the damage done the last time they ran into each other.
He guessed what she was doing and tapped his skull, reassuring, “Good as new.”
“John Hudson actually ended up being the one who took out my stitches.”
“Yeah. We… we had a nice conversation, him and me. Dr. Hudson apologized. For what Gregory did.”
“Oh,” Allie repeated, not sounding at all happy with the news.
GQ decided to let it slide. Instead, he pulled out his phone. “Mrs. Bauer sent me pictures of Hudson from Christmas. Want to see?” he offered tentatively, having finally learned not to just shove the photos into Allie’s face without permission.
She hesitated, then nodded.
GQ handed her the cell, prompting, “He’s supposed to be a reindeer.”
“I got that,” Allie assured in a tone meant to convey that she wasn’t completely clueless where kids were concerned.
“Yeah,” GQ hissed apologetically. “I guess it is kind of obvious.”
“It’s okay,” she told him. “You don’t have to – You don’t have to tiptoe around me. You want to have a relationship with Hudson. That’s cool. I… don’t.”
“He’s happy with them. The Bauers. You… you made a good choice.”
Allie’s head jerked up. “You mean that?”
“Well, I still wish… I wish things had gone down differently, worked out differently. But, if it had to be… the Bauers, they’re cool.”
“We weren’t ready to have a baby then.” Allie knew she’d said it before, but hoped this time he might actually hear her. “Think of how different your life would be today if I’d kept him. Your theses – I bet you wouldn’t be anywhere close to done. And Jen. You probably wouldn’t have Jen if you were raising Hudson fulltime. She doesn’t seem like a, you know, a baby person.”
“She’s got her own stuff going on,” GQ hedged, unable to come out and admit that Allie was right. Even though she was.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Allie defended Jen and, by extension, herself.
“No, of course not,” GQ parroted by rote.
She awkwardly handed him back his phone. “Thanks.”
“He’s a good looking kid, isn’t he?” GQ couldn’t quite stop himself from asking. Part of it was simple fatherly pride. Part of it was being able to talk about Hudson with someone as connected to him as GQ was. And part of it was just the need to keep talking to Allie.
“Of course you’d think so,” she allowed herself a tiny smile. “He looks just like you.”
“You think so?”
“I can see so! The smile, and the high forehead, and the mouth and…”
“The ears,” GQ sighed. “It’s alright, you can say it. I’ve had two decades to deal, I’ve accepted it finally. My ears stick out. So do Hudson’s. Poor kid.”
“Is this the kind of thing you claimed he needed you around for? You and nobody else? To help him accept and be proud of his ears?”
GQ paused, knowing exactly what she was really asking, and admitting, “I was kind of an ass, wasn’t I?”
“You believed in what you were saying.”
“Does that make it better or worse?”
“Better,” Allie affirmed. “Definitely better.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” GQ clarified. “I just realized maybe I could have gone about the whole thing in a different way, you know? Hurt less people in the process?”
Tentatively, almost unsure that she was actually doing it until she’d gone and done it, Allie reached forward and, ever so briefly, rested her hand atop of GQ’s. “I know,” she told him softly.
“How is the case against Donna going?” Frankie asked Dean when he came by the house for a visit with Lori Ann.
Dean shrugged. “Beats me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I hired this lawyer, and he told me a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and then he wrote a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and now it’s just emails full of stuff I don’t understand, asking for stuff I’m not sure I have, and then a bill. How the actual case is going? No clue.”
“Would you like Cass and I to take a look?” Frankie ventured carefully, having meant to get around to the suggestion eventually, now having the opportunity dropped into her lap much earlier than she’d expected.
“If you guys wouldn’t mind. I didn’t want to bother you, with everything that’s going on with Charlie…”
“Charlie is going to be fine, thank Heavens. And, Dean, come on, you know you can come to Cass and me about anything. We’d be happy to take a pass through the documents your lawyer put together. In addition, I – Dean, how would you feel about me doing a little digging regarding Donna on your behalf?”
“What kind of digging?”
“Oh, you know, the kind that a lawyer might not be able to dredge up via discovery, but a private eye…”
“You think there’s even more dirt on Donna out there? Something that could help me prove she’s responsible for killing Jenna?”
“We’ll never know until we try, will we? I mean, the police gave it a shot, but Donna – and you – weren’t their priority. I suspect there are still stones to be flipped over.”
“Well, sure, yeah, that’d be great, I guess. As it is, we really only have that file, and no one ever proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was real, not just some fake Cecile dummied up to go after Donna.”
“I’d like to do this for you, Dean,” Frankie said, assuaging her guilt by reminding herself that it was true. “I want to help.”
She did want to help. Just because Frankie had an ulterior motive for offering her help, didn’t make it any less true. Did it? If Dean could benefit as well as John from her snooping around, why shouldn’t Frankie work twice as hard to make it happen?
That’s what she told herself, anyway.
Believing in her own rationalization… that part was still pending.
“Am I allowed to come in?” Charlie peeked her head around the corner of Kirkland’s hospital room. Newly unhooked from her IV’s and other gadgets, she couldn’t wait to move around.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m coming in,” she warned with a great deal more defiance than Charlie actually felt.
“Cool,” he said.
She approached his bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay. Dad says that’s mostly the painkillers, though. So I’m, you know, withholding judgment till those get turned off. How about you?”
“Oh, I’m alright.”
She touched it self-consciously. “Just scratches. My dad made sure a plastic surgeon stitched me up. He says everyone has a right to ask for a plastic surgeon, but most people don’t know that. It’s supposed to heal. Doctor promised I wouldn’t even be able to see the scars in a couple of weeks.”
“I’m going home today. When do you think you’ll be getting out?”
“I don’t know.” Kirkland hesitated, looking around as if they might be overheard, and then he said, “My dad asked me how the accident happened. He said they need it for the police report and insurance and other stuff, I guess.”
“Yeah. My dad asked me, too. Same reason.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I… I kind of changed the subject.”
“What did you tell them?” Charlie asked nervously.
“I told them I didn’t remember.”
She scrunched up her face. “Do you?”
“Marley,” Grant hissed at Lorna. “Clearly didn’t appreciate my, as you put it, pretty dramatic gesture.”
“Won’t be making that mistake again, will you? Instead of a grown woman who can think for herself and form independent opinions, you went for an inexperienced little girl who’ll look up at you adoringly, hang on to your every word, and appreciate whatever gesture or crumbs you deign toss her way. Plus, a smaller pool to compare you with in the bedroom. Just some fumbling college boys. You’ve got it all over them, don’t you? Talk about stacking the deck.”
“I didn’t hear any complaints from Sarah,” Grant couldn’t stop himself from snapping back, no matter how petty he realized it sounded.
“You will. Eventually. Even you have to be aware of that by now.”
“No,” Grant said, surprising himself as much as Lorna with the calmness of his tone. “No. I intend to do everything in my power to make Sarah happy. I won’t let her be hurt. Not by me, not by anyone else. I gave her my word. I plan to keep it.”
Lorna cocked her head to one side, the remainder of the arguments and accusations she’d come in with withering on her lips as she reconsidered… no, it couldn’t be… This was all just another act. Grant wouldn’t be fooling her this easily, not after everything… And yet… Unable to believe that she was actually cutting him even this much slack, Lorna asked, “Do you… Do you genuinely care about this girl, Grant?”
“I love her,” he repeated, gathering strength and confidence with every reiteration. Who cared what Lorna thought? Who cared what anyone thought? Grant loved Sarah. That was the only thing that mattered.
She stared at him for a long beat, Grant meeting her critical gaze in triumph and defiance. And utter confidence.
“You love her?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Then how can you possibly justify what you’re about to do to her?” Lorna wondered.
“What are you talking about? I just told you, I’m going to look after her, protect her – “
“What - What do you mean?”
“I mean, how are you going to protect her from you?”
“I’m a different man now,” he swore. “The Grant you knew… Even the Grant that came back to Bay City two years ago… I’m not him anymore. I know better now what it means to love – “
“Great. Swell. Tell me something, this new man, he still the same age as the old man? Emphasis on old?”
“Why do you keep dwelling on age, for God’s sake? If it doesn’t bother Sarah – “
“It doesn’t bother Sarah because Sarah doesn’t know any better. Right now, she thinks it’s terrific to be with someone who can teach her things, who can guide her, expose her to places and people she’d never have access to otherwise, be a mentor and a lover and a parent all in one – jackpot! She finds it flattering that someone of your supposed wisdom and experience would bother with someone like her.”
“Stop it, Lorna. Just stop. Do not project your own issues – warranted and traumatic as they may be – onto a relationship that – “
“Will end,” Lorna said simply.
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. All relationships ultimately end.”
He shook his head. “Well, yes, sure, if you insist on looking at it from an existential perspective. Of course, you’re right, all relationships do end. That applies even to you and Jamie, I daresay. But, if you’re not letting inevitable mortality stop you two from – “
“The question is when. Think about it. Think about what you’re doing. Let’s pretend that, all previous history be damned, you somehow figure out a way to stay the course and keep your relationship with Sarah from imploding in the exact same way every other relationship in your life up to this point has. Let’s say you marry her, and the two of you live happily ever after, complete with a white picket fence, dog, and two-point-five kids you don’t run out on for decades at a time. Let’s say you two are spared the traditional Harrison cheating and the custody battles and the periodic drifts into homicide and jail time. Everything’s clipping along like a Norman Rockwell painting when, guess what, Grant? You’re still going to die. Even if you live to a ripe, undeserved old age, you are still going to die years before Sarah. And there she’ll be: alone, middle-aged, raising your children, tending to your flame. With no chance to ever be young, or live a life of her own again. You will have taken that from her. Something that can never, ever be reclaimed, no matter how immature you act or how hard you try to pretend it doesn’t bother you. Trust me. I know. You stick with Sarah and, best-case scenario, you will have stolen away the life rightfully due her. How does that square up with protecting the woman you claim to love, Senator?”
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