“Leave?” Carl managed to make the otherwise neutral word sound like the most terrifying possibility in all creation. “This house? The children? You?”
“Not for good,” Rachel reassured quickly, desperately. “Only for a little while.”
“To what end?” Carl continued to inquire darkly.
“Just until I’ve had a chance to settle things with Jamie and Amanda and Matt.”
“A task made easier by my absence, I presume?”
“Yes. Yes, you know that.”
“But, then what, Rachel?” He bore into her unrelentingly. “Your offspring made it clear that it was either them or me? Once you’ve brought them back into the fold with news of my departure, what then?”
“I need to think,” Rachel said.
“There has to be a solution to this. One that works for everyone involved. But, I can’t be pressured to come up with one while Jamie’s son is in the hospital and Amanda is so hostile, and Matt… my goodness, I don’t even know what’s going on with Matt these days, that’s how thoroughly he’s cut me out of his life. We all need to step back and reassess. Figure out what we want, what we’re willing to give up. And what we’re not.”
“I know what I want. I have always known it. As have you.”
“Yes, well, the question is, how high of a price am I going to have to pay for it?”
“Au contraire. The true question mark is how much you are willing to pay.”
“Yes,” Rachel agreed. “I learned recently that I am not willing to be a source of pain for my children. Not even for you.”
“And I imagine you expect me to merely roll over and accept this new edict of yours sans argument?”
“I would never expect you to do that,” Rachel couldn’t help smiling just a little, in spite of the circumstances.
“I will fight for you, Rachel,” Carl said calmly. “I shan’t go gently into the good night, you must know that, as well.”
“I’ll fight for you, too. For us. I know you don’t believe it, but, that’s precisely what I’m doing now.”
“They have no right,” Carl insisted. “Jamie, Amanda and Matthew have no right to tell you who you may or may not choose to spend your life with.”
“They didn’t,” she said softly. “They merely informed me that if I chose a life with you, they’d in turn choose to be no part of it.”
He hesitated, then confessed, “You know my instinct is to say, the hell with them.”
“I know. You’ve been doing a yeoman’s job suppressing it.”
“Your children initially objected to our marriage. Not merely Amanda with her Hadley Prescott masquerade, but Matthew bringing Alexander Nikos to town. We stood united in the face of their shenanigans, and they backed down in due course. What makes you think we can’t make that happen again, without employing these extreme measures?”
“Because. Fifteen years ago, you were merely the man their father hated. You’d been a threat to me, to them, but that was in the past. Now, you’re a threat to their children.”
“Poppycock! Kirkland – “
“I know. I understand. They don’t. I want to make them understand. But, I can’t while the situation is still so fraught. You moving out will calm the waters. It will allow them to let down their guards and listen to me. Without preconceived notions. I want to make it so that you can come home, Carl. I want to make is so that everyone can come home.”
“As soon as possible,” she assured.
He shook his head. “I am not in the least bit happy about this.”
“I didn’t expect you to be.”
“I shall do it, Rachel.”
“Thank you,” she exhaled.
“For your sake, no one else’s, let us be clear about that.”
“Thank you,” she repeated.
“And I won’t lie, either. When asked my reasons for this travesty, I intend to, as they say in your court system, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Especially to my own children. I shall be making it very clear to Cory and Elizabeth precisely who is driving their father out of our home.”
“John Hudson kissed me the other day,” Donna offered to Matt in her most off-handed manner as they passed each other in the halls of KBAY. She smiled when the revelation stopped her husband dead in his tracks.
“What?” Matt hissed, looking around to make sure no one else had caught her tidbit.
“You heard me, darling.”
“Why?” He opened the door to an empty edit suite and shuttled Donna inside, closing the door behind them.
“Well, I presume it was because I am an attractive, desirable, irresistible woman, and he wished to make his intentions toward me perfectly clear. Isn’t that why you kiss me?”
“John has intentions towards you? Since when has John had intentions towards you?”
“I daresay, since the first moment we met.”
“Really? I wasn’t trying to be.”
“Is John going after you again?”
“No need to sound so surprised. Did you honestly expect me to sit home with an empty dance card while you take your time shedding that Jeanne shaped bit of excess baggage?”
“I told you, just give me some time to – “
“Kill her with kindness. Yes, yes, I remember. And I am giving you all the time you need, Matthew, am I not?”
“While kissing John Hudson!”
“He kissed me.”
“Did you tell him you weren’t interested?”
“It proved rather hard to speak, under the circumstances.”
“So you are interested?” Matt demanded.
“In you,” Donna stressed. “The only man I am interested in – yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is you. I married you. I allowed you to then turn around and marry Jeanne. I kept my mouth shut as, night after night, you went home to her, and simultaneously as, day after day, she waltzes about here, lording it as Mrs. Matthew Cory. I have refrained from strangling her, solely for your sake. What more can I do, Matthew, to demonstrate my devotion and commitment?”
“Laying off on kissing John would be a pretty good start.”
“And here I thought you’d approve,” Donna tsk-tsked. “It was, after all, no different from your approach to Jeanne. It was the nice thing to do.”
“You’re looking better,” Grant smiled at the sight of Kirkland sitting up in his hospital bed, thumbs busily working the GameBoy Jamie had fetched from home.
“Back atcha,” Kirkland said, turning it off and tucking it under his pillow, gesturing for his father to come in. “Dad explained what you did for me.”
“It was the only useful thing I could do,” Grant admitted. “Something only I could do.”
“Well, you know… thanks.”
“Well, you know… you’re welcome,” his father echoed.
“You feeling okay now?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“Good. They just did a bunch of tests, and I guess I passed.”
“Dad said I should thank you.”
“How magnanimous of him,” Grant snapped, then instantly backed down. “I’m sorry, that was – “
“Vintage Grant,” Kirkland said with a shrug, seemingly unoffended. “Dad said I should also quit waiting for you to be the father I want, and just accept you as the guy you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, ever since you came back, you and I have been doing this lame dance, you promising to be a perfect father, me giving you a chance to try, then you screwing up and me having a hissy fit. It’s getting kind of boring, don’t you think?”
“Boring isn’t precisely the word I’d have used…”
“Dad suggested maybe we should give up on this father/son thing that’s obviously not working for either you or me, and just give being friends a shot. The point of friends is taking them as is, instead of waiting for them to change into someone they’re not.”
“I – I want to change for you, Kirkland. I’ve been trying.”
“I don’t think you’re very good at it,” his son observed dryly.
“So you’d prefer I stop even making the effort?” Grant checked, incredulous.
“Maybe. Yeah. You never know, I might end up liking the real Grant, more than the guy you’ve been trying to be.”
“Highly unlikely,” Grant drawled.
“My mother loved him,” Kirkland reminded.
“Your mother…” Grant shook his head, unable to finish the sentence without groaning.
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. It was kind of either that, or counting the tiles in the ceiling.” Kirkland said, “This friends thing could work. I wouldn’t be expecting you to act like my dad. Because, truth, Grant?”
“Oh, yeah, sure, what the hell? Permission to speak freely.”
“I don’t really need another dad.”
“I already have a father. I’m sorry. I’ve been trying not to put it that way for, like, two years. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but…. Like I said, I’ve been thinking, and, well… Dad said I owe you a debt of gratitude. And I do. For more than just giving blood to me this time around. I owe you my gratitude for, thirteen years ago, realizing that you couldn’t be my dad, and leaving me with someone who could. First Mom and Jake, then Dad. You were watching out for me then, in your own way. I’ve been looking at it all wrong my whole life. Instead of being angry, I should have been grateful.”
“Grateful,” Grant all but choked on the word. “You’re grateful that I abandoned you?”
“You did what was best for me.”
“Damn it, Kirk…”
“You did! I got to grow up with my brother and my sisters, and a whole family I’d have lost if you took me away. So now I’ve got them, and Dad, and you… as a friend.”
“Are you telling me,” Grant pleaded, his head spinning, Lorna’s words echoing in his head along with Kirkland’s. “That the best thing I ever did for you, was walk away?”
“Busy?” Kevin knocked on Morgan’s office door, waiting for permission before stepping inside.
“You here delivering Alienation of Affection subpoenas?”
Kevin’s face remained impassive. “No.”
“Then come on in. What can I do for you?”
Kevin took a seat, clarifying. “I’m here in a professional capacity.”
“Of course. It’s not like we have anything personal in common.”
“I understand you saved my nephew’s life recently,” Kevin clarified.
“That was purely professional.”
“Of course,” Kevin echoed Morgan’s earlier agreement, the two men continuing to circle each other, psychologically if not actually physically.
“So,” Morgan prompted. “What’s on your mind?”
“A four year old boy. Name is Ike. He has Down’s Syndrome. No, actually, wait,” Kevin checked his notes, reading off the page. “Mosaic Down’s Syndrome. Are you familiar with it?”
Morgan nodded. “Not all the cells carry the extra copy of Chromosome #21. Kid ends up with two, distinct groupings.”
“My understanding is that these children share some of the characteristics of Down’s Syndrome, but not all of them?”
“That’s a simplified way of looking at it, but, yes, more or less.”
“Well, unfortunately for Ike, even with the Mosaic version, he was born with a,” Kevin checked his notes again. “Ventricular Septal Defect? That’s a hole in the heart?”
“Again, simplified version.”
“Ike’s, I’m told, requires surgery to fix.”
“About eighty percent of them do.”
“Ike is a ward of the state. A colleague of mine filled me in on the case. They’d like him operated on, but since the condition isn’t considered life threatening at this time, the funds aren’t being made available. I’ve spoken to Chase Hamilton and he’s filed a friend of the court brief on our behalf, but there is just so much he can do on the local level. He did make arrangements to get the hospitalization fees covered – “
“You’re kidding? Mr. Libertarian-Throw-Them-To-The-Wolves-Hamilton?”
“His justification was: Better fix a small problem now, before it escalates into a big problem down the line. It’s fiscally sensible.”
“Plus, he owes me a favor. I handled his daughter’s adoption.”
“I figure you owe me a favor, too.”
Morgan managed to make his snort sound curious. “Now how do you figure that?”
“I didn’t blink an eye when my wife decided to go home with you after the fall-out at Devon’s christening.”
“That was Amanda’s choice.”
“And I didn’t come smash your face open after you kissed her. That,” Kevin advised. “Was my choice.”
“She told you?” Morgan appeared definitely thrilled by the information.
“The rest is between me and my wife.”
“You mean, as long as I operate gratis on this orphan kid of yours.”
“I would be very appreciative,” Kevin said.
“Understood,” Morgan said.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Harrison,” Lucas looked up from his as yet untouched lunch, disproportionately pleased to catch sight of Alice entering the Harbor Club.
She paused by his table, smiling. “I believe you and I are well past the Mrs. Harrison stage. Please do call me Alice.”
Lucas indicated himself, “One of the benefits of only having a single moniker. Everyone is on a first name basis with me.”
“I have wondered how that happened,” she admitted.
“Join me,” he suggested. “And I’ll tell you all about it.”
Alice hesitated for a moment, just long enough for Lucas to wonder if he’d pushed her too far. It was one thing to be civil to the man who’d contributed to killing your husband – for the kids’ sakes. Quite another to break bread with him publicly.
He was about to apologize for his presumption, when Alice seemingly dismissed her concerns and pulled back a chair. “I’d love to.”
Lucas signaled for the waiter to bring them another menu, asking politely. “On a recess from the hospital?”
She shook her head. “It’s my day off. I – I’d rather spend it outside of the house.”
“I understand,” Lucas commiserated.
Alice shook her head, cutting off any further sympathy on his part with a raised hand and reminded, “You promised to tell me how you managed to end up with only one name.”
“I was looking for a clean break,” he admitted. “It was an attempt to ignore the past, maybe even forget it.”
“Did it work?”
“Not even a little.”
“What precisely were you trying to forget?”
Lucas sighed. “A snot-nosed punk kid by the name of Luke Castigliano, who thought he knew it all, and ended up losing everything that mattered as a result.”
“Felicia,” Alice guessed. “Lorna.”
“I didn’t stay and fight for them, like a real man would have. I got played, and I didn’t even realize it at the time.”
“Happens to the best of us,” Alice reassured.
“I thought changing my name – classing it up; Lucas instead of Luke – would make me a new person. Someone nobody would dare mess with. I started hanging with the kind of people I wanted to be like, copying their style, wearing expensive suits, using big words, flashing money around. I was a big man.”
“But not a happy one?” It was a question that didn’t really require an answer.
So Lucas didn’t bother giving her one. He figured now would be a good time to change the subject to something a bit more pleasant for them both, when, out the corner of his eye, Lucas registered a figure that always got his attention, no matter what.
“Felicia.” Lucas instinctively dropped his napkin and rose in his chair at the sight of his wife approaching.
She nodded briefly in his direction before shifting her gaze to Lucas’ lunch companion.
“Well,” Felicia addressed them so pleasantly, it was amazing everyone within a square mile radius didn’t immediately lapse into a diabetic coma. “The pair of you certainly wasted no time moving on, now did you?”
“You’re just in time!” Frankie informed Cass as he stepped through the door. “Pick a disguise and let’s get cracking! Today, I’m offering a choice of Cable Guy, Plumber, or Deliveryman.”
“Tough call,” Cass mused. “Which one comes with…. And His Naughty Vixen?”
“They all do.”
Cass deflated. “I knew there’d be a catch.”
“We’ve got work to do,” Frankie said. “Dean hired you and me to dig up dirt on Donna in advance of his trial, so I thought we’d head down to the courthouse and – “
“I can’t,” Cass apologized. “I promised Felicia I’d look over these contracts.”
“But, you can’t…”
“Not as a lawyer. As her business manager. Felicia Gallant is going into the e-book business, and I’m along for the ride. Or steering the ship. Or rounding up the lifeboats. We haven’t worked out the exact details yet.”
“You got a new job?”
“More like, it got me.”
“But… I thought – I thought we were partners. Winthrop & Winthrop.”
“We are partners. Winthrop & Winthrop from now till the end of time.”
“Just not professionally?”
“Frankie, the Private Eye biz isn’t getting the mortgage paid. It’s fun. You know there’s nothing I like more than getting dressed up with you. Unless it’s getting undressed with you.”
“Please focus on the topic at hand.”
“I know it’s your passion, and I think you should go right on ahead. I support you one hundred percent. Emotionally. However, if you expect me to support you and Charlie and Lori Ann financially, I need to get a real job.”
“So what you do is real and what I do is a hobby? Did I understand you correctly?”
“What I do provides a regular income. What you do, doesn’t,” Cass felt compelled to give it to her straight. “And we need a regular income right now. I just got Charlie’s hospital bill.”
“Won’t our insurance cover it? We have catastrophic health insurance specifically for this kind of thing,” Frankie was willing to temporarily table their discussion about which one of them did real work and which one dabbled, to deal with the more pressing issue.
“I just spent an hour on the phone with the insurance company. Well, forty-five minutes of that was being transferred from one imbecile to another, but, in the end, I was able to get an answer out of them. They don’t want to pay the bill because, while Charlie was a passenger in Kirkland’s car, Kirkland was the one driving, which means the accident is his fault. They think his insurance should cover it.”
“Okay. So let our insurance company duke it out with Jamie’s insurance company. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
“No, we didn’t. And yes, they should. Except that, in order for it to happen, you and I have to sue Kirkland.”
“We have to…”
“Kirkland is required to be found legally guilty of causing the accident in order for Charlie’s bills to be covered by his insurance company.”
“Could he go to jail?” Frankie gasped.
“I don’t know,” Cass admitted. “If we’re lucky, the accident may be deemed nobody’s fault, an act of God, or faulty brakes, or bad street signage. Actually, that would be best. Then we could sue the city ourselves. But, if that doesn’t happen, at the very least, it would be a very black mark on Kirk’s record. That is,” Cass hesitated. “If Kirkland, in fact, caused the accident.”
“Who else could it have been?”
“I don’t know,” Cass admitted. “But, if we go forward with this, we’re going to find out. Whether we want to, or not.”
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