“What do you want from me?” Jen beseeched following Steven’s refusal to heed either her subtle prompt, or her outright demand that he leave her office.
“To know what’s really going on. Normal people don’t go around sitting in the dark.”
“Well, I’m not normal, am I?”
“Exactly. So you’ve got no reason for doing it at all.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Neither does this,” he insisted.
Jen’s laugh had a bitter, resentful tinge. “Is this how you get your way all the time? Confusing the hell out of people?”
“Most of them assume it’s their fault,” Steven admitted. “They figure I’ve said something profound and beyond their comprehension.”
“Or maybe they just want you to shut up and go away.”
He shrugged. “Whatever works.”
“It isn’t working with me.”
“Give it time. Maybe you haven’t fully absorbed my brilliance yet.”
She laughed again, this time in awe. “You really are a piece of work.”
“Tell me what’s wrong, Jen,” he urged. “I know something is. And really, the last thing you want added to your problems is my patronizing, infuriating presence.”
Jen said, “Those tests you made your dad run…”
“Yeah?” Steven stiffened, understanding there was no good way for that sentence to end.
“I have leukemia.”
In this case, it did not feel great to be right. “Oh.”
He nodded his head in several, brisk, officious jerks. “What’s the treatment plan?”
“Chemotherapy.” Jen was as happy to stick to concrete facts as Steven.
“And the prognosis?”
“Your dad claims it’s excellent. I – I’ve been doing some research…”
“Good. Research is good. Research is the right thing to do.”
“And he’s being a little overly optimistic. The prognosis is good presuming I have a very particular version of the disease. Which, at this point, they can’t know. The first course of chemotherapy will tell the story. I’ll either go into remission, or I… won’t. And if I don’t, then the statistics change drastically.”
“How soon do you start?”
“Your dad told me to take a few days to get used to the idea.”
“Why?” Steven looked ready to put in the IV himself on the spot. “What’s the point? Why waste the time?”
“He told me to fill in my family and – and GQ.”
“You haven’t done that yet?”
Jen took a deep breath. And then she said, “Chemotherapy makes you stupid.”
“Chemo brain. It’s a real thing, it’s been proven. Chemotherapy, radiation, it does damage to your mind. Some people never go back to their previous level of function.”
“You know what else keeps you from going back to your previous level of function? Death. Death has been known to really put a crimp in your IQ score.”
“Would you do it?” she challenged. “Would you risk – “
“Losing the thing that made you, you?”
“Exactly,” she exhaled, relieved that, despite his belligerence, Steven understood, after all.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“But, what does that have to do with not telling your dad or GQ yet?”
“Everything,” Jen said.
“Should I be kissing the groom?” Lila asked when, at his request, she met Grant for breakfast out the next morning, his having vetoed either her coming to his place, or Grant stopping by the Cory mansion.
In lieu of a reply, Grant stood up from the table and hugged Lila tightly, telling her, “It’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you.”
“Well, you’ve had a busy few weeks; I forgive you. Though I hear Kirkland is up and out of the woods.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Grant pulled out Lila’s chair for her.
She took a seat. “So may I ask what set your wedding bells a’clanging in such a red-hot hurry?”
“Marley was released from the hospital,” was all Grant would offer in reply.
“I know that. Jasmine filled me in, via Bridget and Michele. Still doesn’t answer my question.”
“We didn’t want to waste any more time.”
Lila hesitated. Then, operating on the That’s What Friends Are For premise, went ahead and reminded, “I can’t speak for what Marley was up to all these months, but, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you weren’t exactly idle in the meantime.”
“That’s all over with,” Grant bristled stiffly.
He squirmed. “You were right from the start. It – we – Sarah and I… a bad idea all around.”
“Didn’t stop you then. Why should it stop you now?”
“Because. Sarah was merely a… a stop-gap. A fill-in for the real thing.”
“That’d be Marley?”
“Why do you sound so surprised?”
“Because. I was there for all your angsty back and forth about should I or shouldn’t I with Sarah? Does she or doesn’t she? She loves me, she loves me not – “
“I wasn’t myself then. I was at loose ends, upset about Marley and Kirk and my dad…”
“She made you happy, Grant. Happier than I have ever seen your morose, self-pity lovin’ self be. She put a spring in your step and a gleam in your eye and a lift in your – “
“That’s enough,” Grant hissed, bitterly enough to not merely cut Lila off midstream, but prompt her to lean back in her chair, as if struck by a swift wind.
“You are not the sort of man,” Lila continued after a beat, unbowed. “To throw away happiness. It simply doesn’t float your way near often enough.”
“Marley makes me happy,” Grant insisted.
“Is that a fact? ‘Cause, see, Senator, I was there for that little passion play, too. And, way I recall it going down, there was a great deal more teeth-gnashing, and snarling, and game playing than there ever was skipping through the daisies.”
“Life wasn’t set up to support daisies, Lila. We can’t always have what we want, when we want it, the way we want it. Life is about making hard decisions, doing things you maybe don’t want to do. Sometimes, it means hurting people you care about, knowing that a little pain in the short run beats real agony down the line.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way. There are compromises…”
“No. That’s the compromise right there. I used to not get that either. But, Kirkland, he – would you believe Kirkland told me he was happy I left him all those years ago? That me staying in his life would have only made things worse? He said that, he really did.”
“Kirk doesn’t know that. Nobody can know that.”
“I am trying to do my best here,” Grant swore. “I am trying to look out for everyone involved. For the first time in my life, I really am trying to put other people first. I know it doesn’t look that way or seem that way, but – You believe me, don’t you, Lila? Please say you do. Promise me.”
“Promise you what?” she asked, feigning confusion despite secretly holding a pretty good idea of what he was aiming for. And understanding that their conversation was no longer merely about his actions with Sarah and Marley.
“Promise that, no matter what happens, what you hear, or what you think about what I’ve done – what I’m going to do, promise you’ll believe that I truly meant… well.”
“I just wanted to see how you were,” Lorna explained to Sarah, who seemed genuinely surprised to find Steven’s stepmother braving the Love estate – and a possible run-in with Donna – for Sarah’s benefit.
“You heard about Grant and Marley,” Sarah guessed.
“They stopped by to fill in Kirkland.”
“And you wasted no time rushing over to say, I told you so?”
“I told you so,” Lorna repeated softly.
Sarah barked a laugh. “At least you’re not trying to soft-soap it.”
“It’s for the best. I know you don’t believe me now – “
“Is that what you thought when Grant dumped you?”
“Grant didn’t – “
“Right. You dumped him. Guess I’m the only loser in the room.”
“I prefer to look at it as both of us being winners. Finally getting Grant out of my system years ago allowed me to move on. I met and fell in love with a really nice guy named Gabe. And ultimately, Jamie.”
“With Dr. Winthrop in the middle.”
“Anyone can backslide.”
“Grant treated you like crap over and over again. I did my research. First, he wouldn’t divorce Amanda for you, then he dumped you to try and get custody of Kirkland. He admitted to shooting himself and framing his ex for it, and you still stuck by him. So you must have seen something worthwhile in Grant, too.”
“At the time, I honestly didn’t know there were better men out there. Or, if there were, I certainly didn’t think I deserved one.”
“He’s not the man you knew. He’s not the man anyone knows.”
“Yes,” Sarah crossed her arms defiantly.
“I used to feel that way, too. You don’t know how many arguments I had with my mother, with my friends…. It’s all an act. A well-honed, practiced, manipulative act. Consider yourself lucky you only lost a few months of your life to him. You’re young. In a couple of weeks, you’ll meet someone else, and it won’t even matter anymore.”
“In a few weeks,” Sarah predicted. “Grant’s marriage to Marley will be over.”
“Very possibly,” Lorna conceded. “That does seem to be Grant’s pattern.”
“I knew it! You see it, too. You see that he doesn’t love her!”
“Grant doesn’t love anyone. He’s incapable of it.”
“He loves me.”
“Is that what he told you?” Lorna’s eyes narrowed. “Did he – Has he tried to – “
Lorna looked ready to kill. “That son of a bitch!”
“Has he tried to convince you to… When Grant and I were together, he strung me along for months, claiming he had to stay married to Amanda for political reasons – how would it look, leaving his paralyzed wife? Is that what this is? Has he spun some story to you about staying married to Marley while keeping you dangling on the side?”
Sarah ignored Lorna’s question to zero in on the new detail. “Grant didn’t love Amanda when he was married to her?”
“No! I keep telling you, the man is incapable of having or expressing a sincere feeling. He only married Amanda because he was afraid of his public image being tarnished. He never touched her the entire time. That’s what he had me for.”
“So he did love you!”
“He needed an outlet for his oh, let’s say – energy. That’s it.”
“So this could be the same thing, then?” Sarah leaped on the suggestion with such open glee, Lorna’s heart actually ached in sympathy. “Grant’s reasons for marrying Marley could have nothing to do with the way he feels about me.”
“Let it go, Sarah,” Lorna pleaded. “You’re just asking for more heartbreak.” But, even she could tell the girl was no longer listening.
“Jasmine ready to go?” Matt asked his mother, barely over the Cory threshold and already itching to leave.
“She’s on her way down,” Rachel gestured for Matt to come in, ignoring his resistance, and, when he remained planted in the doorway, pretended it was a perfectly reasonable spot to hold a conversation when she told him, “By the way, I wanted to tell you – you and Jeanne both; Carl has agreed to testify against Donna at Dean’s hearing.”
“What?” The pile up of names made it impossible for Matt to parse out which he should be focusing on first. Carl, Donna, Dean, Jeanne…
“I know it was months ago that Jeanne came to me, but I presume nothing has changed.”
“Carl is going to testify against Donna?”
“He is the only one who can confirm the validity of the evidence linking her to Jenna, Dean and Felicia’s kidnapping.”
“But… I thought… I thought Carl refused to…”
“I asked him to reconsider. For Dean’s sake.”
“Oh, yeah, I bet you really had to twist his arm when it came to sticking the knife into Donna one more time. Tell me this isn’t what he’s been itching to do ever since the truth about Jenna came out?”
“I’m not denying Carl has wanted to get back at Donna for their daughter’s death for a very long time now.”
“It’s what he was trying to do with Lucas and Spencer, wasn’t it? Set her up to make it look like she was the one who exposed the compound. Only I threw a wrench into those plans, and Carl had to change tactics at the last minute. Though I guess, in the end, one old enemy obliterated is as good as another. He couldn’t kill his daughter’s mother. So he got his son’s father, instead.”
“I thought you would be happy to hear that Dean would be getting support in his case. He is your friend, isn’t he? And you and Donna… you and Donna are over.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m looking to have her end up like Spencer!”
“How dare you? Do you have no notion of what a sacrifice Carl is making? He is putting himself on the line, confessing to things he’d prefer to keep private – “
“Why?” Matt challenged.
“Because it’s the right thing to do!”
“And?” Matt asked cynically.
“And because I asked him to.” Rachel stressed meaningfully. “He’s doing it for Dean and for Jenna and for Lori Ann. But, most of all, he is doing it for me. And if that doesn’t convince you of just how much Carl loves me, and how far he’s willing to go to appease – “
“Two years ago, when Carl was ready to strangle Donna with his bare hands, you pulled him back. You forbade him from taking his revenge. Because you were afraid of what slipping back into old habits would do to him. Unleashing the beast within, as it were. You were afraid it might destroy Carl. What’s changed, Mom?”
“What’s changed, is that I realized we had no right to be selfish. Carl has information that could help Dean. He deserves some closure for what Donna put him through. Not to mention, considering Lori Ann’s special needs, her medical issues, Donna’s money could go a long way towards making her life – and Cass and Frankie’s lives – a lot easier. It’s the right thing to do,” Rachel reiterated. “And Carl and I want to do it.”
Unable to deal with the multiple levels of hypocrisy, Matt reverted to a more manageable topic. “You said – you said that Jeanne asked you about doing this?”
“Yes. She appealed to me on Dean’s behalf.”
“I – I didn’t know that.”
“She didn’t tell you?”
“Well, she did. Kind of. And Dean did, too. But… I guess I didn’t pay it much mind. She’s really been his cheerleader for this whole thing. She’s the one who first gave him the idea to sue Donna. Like you said, she thought it would give him some closure.”
“It was no small thing, her coming to me the way she did. The two of you had just gotten married, she and I were still feeling each other out. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the way you went about it, how rushed everything was. For all I knew, she was after your money – “
“No,” Matt interrupted. “It’s not that. She… It’s not that.”
“I know. It took me a while to come around but, I agree. Jeanne loves you. Not your money, not your name… you. She may be an acquired taste…”
“Yeah,” Matt smirked. “She’s definitely that.”
“But, she is a good person. I don’t know how she did it, but she figured out a way to get through to Dean, when no one else could. He was floundering, lost. We all wanted to help him. But, Jeanne is the one who actually did. She brought him back from the abyss. Gave him something to focus on. You are a very lucky man, Matthew, to have a woman like that in your life.”
“Donna is married to…” Dean double-checked the certificate Frankie offered him, just in case his eyes were playing tricks. “Matt?”
Frankie nodded, juggling balancing Lori Ann on one hip while she held out the wedding license with her free hand.
“But… Matt – Matt’s married to Jeanne.”
Dean absorbed what she was telling him, while simultaneously realizing he couldn’t actually absorb it at all. “This doesn’t make any sense. Why…”
“Donna claims it has nothing to do with your case.”
“Well, yeah, how could it?”
“I don’t know,” Frankie admitted. “I mean, I have some theories, but I don’t honestly know. All I do know, however, is that Donna isn’t stupid, and she doesn’t do things for no reason. If she and Matt secretly got married, there’s an agenda in play.”
“Do you think Jeanne knows about this?”
Frankie shrugged, not particularly concerned. “The important thing is you know now.”
“Because. You need leverage against Donna. I’m sorry I couldn’t find anything that concretely ties her in to Jenna’s death; I’ll keep digging, you have my word. But, this could be the next, best thing.”
“When I talked to Donna earlier, she made it clear she does not want this information getting out. I suspect you’d find her pretty reasonable about making a deal.”
“Isn’t that what, in your line of work, they call blackmail?”
“This might be your only chance to get Donna to take responsibility for what she did,” Frankie ducked the question – and its implication.
“Or what? I sell this wedding license to some tabloid or gossip website?”
“I know, Dean. I understand. This isn’t how I like to deal with people, either. But, we’re talking about Donna. Do you honestly think, if the tables were reversed, she’d hesitate for a second to do the same to you?”
“So we’re supposed to sink down to her level, is that it? Today it’s blackmail. Tomorrow we start kidnapping people to get our way?”
“The choice is yours, honey,” Frankie assured him. “I won’t push you.”
“What about Matt? I expose this, it screws him up, too. We’re… we’re friends. You don’t pull crap like this on a friend.”
“Matt brought it on himself, wouldn’t you say? He had to know what he was getting into. He’s obviously going along with whatever Donna has planned.”
“And Jeanne? Did she bring it on herself?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe she’s in on this.”
“No.” Dean shook his head. “Jeanne loves Matt. Their marriage… it means everything to her. This sounds like she got played for a sucker. How’s she going to feel about being publicly made a fool of?”
“The point here isn’t to expose Donna and Matt,” Frankie reminded Dean. “We’re talking about merely threatening – “
“And if she calls my bluff?” Dean demanded. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
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