“Thank you for coming,” Rachel felt foolish even saying the words to her three children. There was a time – was it only a few weeks ago? – when Jamie, Amanda and Matt hadn’t needed an invitation to come to her home. Because it was their home, too.
“You said you had something important to tell us.” As if to emphasize that Rachel had better get to it, Amanda looked down to check the time on her BlackBerry. Despite being prompted, she hadn’t so much as agreed to sit down.
Jamie and Matt, on the other hand, had accepted the offered seats on the couch across from Rachel. And it was Matt who reached up and yanked his sister to plop down between them. “Tone it down a notch,” he advised.
Rachel’s first question was to Jamie. “How’s Kirkland?”
“He’s doing great. Hopefully coming home in the next few days.”
“I’m very happy to hear that.”
“Thanks, Mom.” The two of them held a long look, which Jamie eventually, reluctantly, broke.
“And how are you, Amanda? Matt?”
“I’m okay,” her younger son conceded.
“Busy,” was as far as Amanda was willing to commit.
Rachel said, “Before I get to what I need to tell you, I’d like to, one more time, stress how disappointed I am with the ultimatum you three gave me.”
“It wasn’t an ultimatum,” Jamie began.
Only to have Amanda interrupt, “Why was it okay for you to tell us that we had to accept Carl – no ifs, ands, buts, or objections; like it or lump it, basically, but it’s not okay for us to submit the same conditions in reverse?”
“For one thing, because I am your mother. Our relationship was never one of equals, and it never will be. You owe me your respect, first and foremost.”
“Even while you’re standing by and letting Carl order hits on your neighbors?”
Rachel ignored Amanda’s slam. “And for another, because I never told you to like it or lump it where Carl was concerned.”
“What would you call it,” Matt wondered. “When you cut me out of your life for working with Alexander Nikos against Carl?”
“I call it a due punishment for a petulant child’s butting in where he doesn’t belong.”
“Mom,” Jamie said gently, uninterested in rehashing ancient history or stirring up tempers to ultimately futile conclusion. “As far as I’m concerned, all we did – granted, with varying degrees of tact,” he snuck a peek Amanda’s way, who shrugged, disinterested, in return. “Was fill you in on how concerned we were about the effect Carl was having on you. You’ve changed since you’ve been with him. You can’t deny that. Or maybe you’ve just reverted. You are turning a blind eye and, in some cases, even encouraging actions and behaviors that would have been unconscionable were – “
“Dad still alive,” Amanda finished for him.
“Leave Mac out of this,” Rachel warned, more rigid on this than she’d been on anything prior.
“Fine,” Jamie agreed. “But, the rest still needs to be said. Amanda, Matt and I don’t like what you’ve become since marrying Carl. Although we did not, no matter how you chose to interpret it, tell you to pick him or us. We merely said that if you continue down this path, with that man, we, and our children, can’t be a part of your life anymore. It’s dangerous for us. And, quite frankly, it’s terrifying, watching you drift further and further away from the mother we’ve loved all our lives. You’re not the only one who’s felt disappointed lately.”
“Carl moved out this morning,” Rachel blurted, unable to respond to the gist of what Jamie had said without dissolving into tears. Of anger, of frustration, of misery…
“He did?” Amanda perked up, almost dropping her BlackBerry in the process.
“I asked him to.”
“How did he take it?” Matt wanted to know.
“He wasn’t happy about it,” Rachel snapped. “Neither was I. I still love my husband. But, as I explained to him, I also love my children. Things can’t go on the way they have been, indefinitely. Somebody needed to do something, and since the three of you were seemingly too stubborn and self-righteous, I went ahead and took the lead. I asked Carl to move out – temporarily – so that you could see that I was serious about trying to repair our relationship and find common ground, a place where we might all be happy again.”
“Are Cory and Elizabeth okay?” Jamie wondered.
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “Since they decided to move out, too.”
“No, Mom!” Matt exclaimed instinctively.
“Yes. Your behavior hasn’t merely driven my husband out of my house, but my youngest children, as well.”
“You let Carl take Elizabeth and Cory?” Amanda couldn’t believe it.
“It was their choice. I’m trying to do what’s best for all my children in this. It has not, I assure you, been easy.”
“So what now?” Jamie asked. “What comes next?”
“That,” Rachel’s eyes bore into all three of them in turn. “Is entirely up to you.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” GQ demanded upon finding a shirtless Steven opening the door to his girlfriend’s apartment after GQ had spent the bulk of his morning trying to reach her by phone and getting no answer.
Whether because he was still waking up or due to the fact that Steven rarely tended to show much emotion on any occasion, much less when being harassed to do so, he simply stepped aside to let GQ in and explained, “Right after you left last night, Jen passed out.”
“What?” GQ pivoted to look at her, instantly concerned and contrite. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She stepped up to him reassuringly.
“That’s what she kept saying last night, too. But, you know me, I like empirical evidence with my snap judgments. So I took her to the hospital, got my dad to check her out.”
“And he said I was fine.”
“What he said was, he’d know better in a couple of days,” Steven corrected. “After he got her test results back. I didn’t want Jen driving, so I took her home. I was going to leave as soon as I dropped her off, but then she fainted again – “
“Because your dad took enough blood to resuscitate a corpse.”
“So I spent the night. On the couch. Just to be on the safe side.”
“What do you think got you like that?” GQ asked Jen.
“Same thing I told Steven. I was hot, I hadn’t eaten, a cold beer on an empty stomach… Seriously, I’m embarrassed everyone is making such a big deal out of this.”
“You are a big deal. You deserve to have a fuss made over you.” GQ pivoted to shake Steven’s hand. “Thanks, man. Thanks for keeping an eye on my girl for me.”
Steven shrugged, as nonchalant as ever. “No problem. That’s what friends are for, right?”
“Thank you, Steven,” Jen said. “In all the fuss, I just realized I forgot to say that. You were… This was all really sweet of you.”
“That’s alright. Don’t worry,” he reached for his shirt, heading out. “We’ll have you back to normal in no time.”
“You and Marley can’t be married,” Sarah wasn’t about to let Grant blow her off that easily. “She’s still in the hospital.”
“Marley’s commitment was always voluntary. She and her doctors have decided she’s well enough to come home now, so she checked herself out.”
“When would you even have had time to – “
“Yesterday. I went to see her at Clareview. She called me. All I had to do was take one look at her, and I knew that I still loved her more than ever. She felt the same way about me.”
“Then why wouldn’t she let you see her all these months? It’s been almost half a year, Grant!”
“She thought I was angry. That I blamed her for forcing me to give Kirkland up to Jamie. I told her I wasn’t. That I was happy to do that, and a whole lot more for her. All she had to do was say the word. I’d do anything to prove how much I loved her.”
“But… she hurt you.”
“Things happen in relationships, Sarah. In adult relationships.” The qualifier couldn’t have been any clearer.
“So you married her?”
“Yesterday afternoon. She’s at my house now, getting settled. We didn’t want to shock the girls, so I came over to break the news to them first. Donna, too.”
“What about me?” Sarah asked, stunned, lost, and searing Grant’s heart all the while.
“That’s why I’m here now. I wanted to break the news to you before… Before you heard it from Michele or Bridget.”
“I don’t believe you,” Sarah repeated defiantly.
“Would you like me to show you the marriage license?” Grant attempted to play the whole thing off as a joke, reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“I don’t believe you love her instead of me,” Sarah said with as much dignity as she could muster.
“I’m sorry, Sarah,” Grant sighed. “I realize I bear some of the responsibility for this. You are still so young. It’s only natural you’d misinterpret – “
“I haven’t misinterpreted anything.” She refused to so much as waver. “I know what we had. I know how you looked at me and how you held me and how you reacted when I – “
“You’re a beautiful girl. I’m a man. I’m not going to claim I didn’t find you attractive.”
“You love me.”
“I love Marley.”
“Why?” Sarah challenged. “What can she do for you that I can’t?”
“Please, that’s hardly…”
“Is she better in bed, is that it? More experienced than me? Maybe she knows more. But, I can learn. I want to. I want to give you everything you need.”
“I have everything I need. In Marley.”
“She doesn’t love you as much as I do.”
“I’m sorry,” he half-turned to leave. “This conversation is going around in circles. I can’t do this anymore.”
“You know she doesn’t. And she never will.”
“Marley is an adult,” Grant thundered, desperately needing for this all to be over. “Do you understand? She is someone I can talk with, someone who I can relate to.”
“We talk,” Sarah reminded. “The night you thought your father was dead. We talked for hours. About him, about your brother, about Kirkland…”
“I needed somebody that night. Marley wasn’t there. And you were. Just like all the other times. Please don’t try to give our encounters any more meaning than that.”
“Why are you doing this? You’re lying. I can tell you’re lying. You think Marley really knows you? I’m the one who knows you.”
“Would you just stop it!” Grant exploded, this time definitely turning towards the door, no looking back. “This infantile drivel is beneath us both. Honestly, I knew you were young, but if I had realized how truly juvenile and immature – “
“I can give you babies!” was the last thing Sarah called after him, freezing Grant at the door, his hand still on the knob. “A whole house full of them.”
It took all of Grant’s self-control to continue walking away.
“Got a minute, Jamie?” Cass poked his head into the latter’s office at the hospital.
“Sure. Come on in. I’m glad you stopped by.” Jamie waved him forward. “I’ve been meaning to check in on Charlie.”
“She’s being discharged today.”
“Great! Great, I’m so pleased.”
“Well, you know teen-agers, they bounce back a lot quicker than us old guys.”
“Hey, speak for yourself. I’m still approaching my prime, thank you very much.”
“I guess someone has to buck the statistical averages,” Jamie smiled.
“Actually, speaking of averages,” Cass sobered up pretty quickly. “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. We got Charlie’s medical bill, and the average total we need to pay… well, it’s a lot more than Frankie and I have at the moment.”
Jamie frowned. “Your family isn’t insured?”
“Oh, we are, we are. Not as well as when I was still practicing law, of course. But, we have catastrophic insurance that covers any in-hospital treatment as long as we enter through the emergency room.”
“Well, the kids certainly did that.”
“Yes… Except, see… The insurance company thinks that since Kirkland was driving, the accident was his fault. Which means they want your insurance to cover Charlie, too.”
“Okay,” Jamie looked at him quizzically. “That sounds like something for them to work out for themselves, file papers, claims, whatever…”
“In order for that happen, we – Charlie; that is, Frankie and I on Charlie’s behalf – would need to sue Kirkland.”
“Sue him?” Jamie repeated. “As in take him to court?”
“Well, hopefully it would never get that far. If the police determine that – “
“You want to get the police involved?”
“It’s not a matter of what I want. It’s a matter of what I need to do to get my daughter’s medical bills paid.”
“There’s absolutely no other way?”
“Not that I can see, no.”
Jamie hesitated. “So you’ve made up your mind then?”
“I don’t have a choice, Jamie. Surely you realize that? Charlie isn’t like Kirkland. She doesn’t have a half-dozen trust funds lying around in case of an emergency. And neither do Frankie and I. Ever since I was disbarred and sent to jail, we’ve been doing our best to make ends meet.”
Jamie absorbed Cass’ words. And then he slowly shook his head from side to side, musing, “This is just like Cecile all over again.”
“A problem I took care of for you,” Cass reminded, implying that Jamie owed him one.
“A problem I was willing and perfectly capable of taking care of for myself. Something you and Frankie would have known if you’d come to me first, asked for my help, instead of leaping straight into threats and blackmail.”
“We were fighting for our daughter’s life then, the same way we are now.”
“Those trust funds of Kirkland’s? I’m the executor. All you had to do was ask, and I could have paid Charlie’s medical bills. Not because we’re friends or because we’re family – that fiction was pretty definitively put to rest around the time you decided to let me go to jail for a murder you’d committed. But, because you’re right. Kirkland was the one driving, and I feel awful about Charlie being hurt. We both would have gladly done anything we could to help.”
“We don’t need your charity, Jamie.”
“You’re perfectly happy to play on my guilt about your current lack of funds, though?”
“I was simply pointing out that your financial position is a great deal more robust than ours, and that, yes, a portion of the blame for that does lie with you.”
“You kill a woman, try to cover it up, get sent to jail, lose your license to practice law and along with it your high end insurance plan, and this is somehow my fault?”
“If you had simply testified against Cecile two years ago like we wanted, none of this would have happened. But, you were too busy looking out for yourself and your family. Which is exactly what I’m doing now.”
This time, Jamie took an even longer pause before answering. And what he said was, “Then I guess we’ll see you in court, Counselor.”
“I suspect that I’m sorry still won’t completely cover the scene Felicia subjected you to the other day,” Lucas began to Alice.
Who cut him off with a brisk, “Nothing I haven’t experienced before.”
“Then I am doubly sorry.”
“Please don’t be. Let’s presume it was flattering of her to view me as a threat, and leave it at that.”
“I must say, you have a phenomenal gift for looking on the bright side of things.”
“It didn’t come easy. Or cheap.”
Lucas felt compelled to explain, “Fanny is just at her wit’s end, this situation with Lorna… and with me.”
“There were times it felt like my daughter Sally and I were perennially at each other’s throats. I couldn’t do anything right as far as she was concerned. She had Kevin at eighteen, you know. Didn’t even tell me. She ran away from home. More than once. Took up with boys I could barely tolerate… It wasn’t easy. But, in the end, we made our peace. So will Felicia and Lorna.”
“Under different circumstances, I’d ask you to tell my wife that. But…”
“Perhaps not,” Alice smiled. “Maybe soon though. Once the two of you are back together, she may be more amenable to hearing from me.”
“The two of us…”
“That’s why her reaction the other day was so silly, wasn’t it? It’s obvious you’re still in love with her.”
“Since high-school,” he shrugged. “No way around that.”
“Exactly. She’ll always come first with you. Felicia knows it, too. That’s why she allows herself the tantrums. If she thought for one minute there was a chance of your eye wandering, she’d be playing all this in a completely different way. She’s too smart not to. She’s a romance novelist, for goodness sake.”
“I will always love Fanny,” Lucas agreed.
“Of course, you will.”
“But, I’ll be honest with you, Alice. I don’t know if I can ever live with her again. The person that I saw her turn into these last few years since I’ve been back…”
“She lost one of her daughters. She almost lost the other. No one can blame Felicia for nearly losing her mind with grief, as well.”
“You didn’t,” Lucas felt compelled to point out. “After you lost your child, you didn’t feel a need to strike out at everyone, to attempt to hurt people as much as you yourself were hurting.”
“We all mourn in our own way. Back in the day, I was famous for running away at the first sign of conflict. At least Felicia stays and fights.”
“You aren’t running away now.”
“I realized there was no point to it. Only more problems created when you come back. And I always came back. No matter how bad things got, I couldn’t keep my distance from the people who mattered most to me.”
“I think that’s what Fanny is doing now. Not running away on the outside, like you did. But, on the inside. She’s alienating the people who love her, so we can never hurt her again.”
“All the more reason for you not to give up on her. She’s testing you, Lucas, testing to see if you’ll abandon her.”
“Like I did before? Like it seems I always do in the end?”
“This could be your chance to settle matters once for all. To prove that you’re here to stay, no matter what she does or how she behaves. We’re all looking for someone to love us unconditionally, aren’t we? We’re all looking for someone who can see the worst of us, and then move past it. If Felicia truly is at her lowest point these days, what greater gift can you give her then to accept it? Then to accept her?”
While costumes were always nice and did tend to add a kick to what would otherwise be boring surveillance work, the fact of the matter was, anything Frankie intended to do with Cass down at the court-house could be just as easily accomplished sitting at home, on her lap-top.
It was painstaking, meticulous, dull work and, if she had her druthers, Frankie would have done it alongside a disguised Cass while experiencing the constant, erotic thrill of being caught in the act at any moment.
But, a job was a job – especially one Frankie had initiated herself. And so, after Lori Ann had gone down for her nap, Frankie hopped to it.
She braced herself for an afternoon of tedium, and proceeded to do records search after records search on Donna Love, hoping she could find anything – a cancelled check, a suspicious money transfer, a hotel room booked nearby; anything, honestly – that would tie her in definitively to Jenna, Dean and Felicia’s kidnapping. And, as an added bonus, demonstrate for John exactly the kind of woman he’d chosen to throw Frankie’s Aunt Sharlene over for.
The first hour of digging proved so painfully unproductive it managed to all but stick Frankie’s eyeballs to her lids.
But, in the second hour, her search suddenly became a great deal more interesting.
Because there, official, undeniable and in bureaucratic black and white, was the marriage license – issued only the previous summer – of one Donna Love and... Mr. Matthew Cory.
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