Amanda supposed it could be taken as an indicator of precisely where her true priorities lay that her first thought, upon walking in on Lila in bed with the mayor of Bay City was, “Damn it, Grant was right,” rather than something more in the shock and awe family.
But, the fact was, Amanda had been prepared for the sight, so her shock was negligible. As for the awe, while philandering politicians were kind of a cliché at this point, and allegedly straight ones lurking on the down low even more so, discovering an avowedly gay elected official slinking over to the other side of the street was a new twist on an old story. So Amanda’s next, uncensored thought proved to be one she never, ever expected to cross her mind again. “Thank you, Grant!”
“I know your mama taught you how to knock,” Lila shot up, grabbing a blanket to cover as much of herself as possible.
Chase, for his part, merely met Amanda’s gaze head on as he guessed, “I don’t suppose there is anything I can offer you to keep this to yourself?”
“There isn’t enough government bail-out money in the world,” Amanda confirmed.
“I don’t believe in government bail-outs.” Even when caught el flagrante delicto, His Honor appeared incapable of refraining from making a stump speech.
“Works out perfectly for both of us then.”
“Please, Amanda,” Lila beseeched. “You – you don’t know what’s really going on here.”
“There’s an alternative explanation?”
“No,” Chase said. “But, Lila is, nonetheless, right.”
“Are you two nuts?” Amanda needed to know – for her own edification, off the record.
“No,” Lila said.
“Yes,” Chase said.
“Did you really think you wouldn’t get caught?”
“Yes,” Chase said.
“No,” Lila said.
“I don’t get it,” Amanda ignored her ex-sister-in-law to focus on the naked man beside her. “What is this? Why would you go through this elaborate charade – “
“It’s not a charade,” Chase insisted.
“I know the terminology for a gay person trying to pass as straight’s cover story is beard. Do they even have terminology for what you’re doing?”
“I’ve always been ahead of the curve,” Chase confirmed.
“Why?” Amanda demanded, still flabbergasted.
“I have my reasons,” he told her the truth.
“This will ruin you,” Amanda predicted. “You’ll be lucky just to get recalled, instead of strung up on your way to a tar and feathering.”
“Why? I’ve done nothing to warrant a recall.”
“You lied to the voters.”
“Not about anything relevant to my duties as Mayor.”
“How can you be so calm about this?”
“Would hysteria help the situation?”
“Do you actually want me to expose you?”
“I do not. In fact, Ms. Cory, I would very much appreciate it, if you didn’t. The reality is, you have seen nothing today that suggests I would make any less effective of a Mayor for Bay City. No money has been extorted, no bribes accepted, no jobs lost, no sub-par inspection overlooked. No one is in danger, no one is at risk. Which means, when you choose to reveal my relationship with Lila to the public at large, please understand that you will be doing it for purely self-serving, venial, and mercenary reasons. Do not for a moment deceive yourself into thinking you are serving the public good, or even a private one. You’re right about one thing. My relationship with Doug will be ruined. And I don’t want that. We have a child, if that means anything to you.”
“It doesn’t to you, apparently,” Amanda struggled to keep her voice – and stance – firm.
“As Lila said earlier: You don’t understand what’s really going on here.”
“You really are a piece of work.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“You almost had me there for a moment,” Amanda spoke with a great deal more bravado than she actually felt. “You almost managed to play me.”
“I meant what I said: You expose Lila and I, and it will be for purely petty and self-interested reasons. You will be doing it to sell magazines, no more, no less.”
“The public has a right to know the true story about their representatives.”
“Only as it pertains to their actions in office. Not outside of it. Would American interests have been served if Roosevelt, Eisenhower or Kennedy had been kept from elected office due to their infidelities?”
“Save it,” Amanda advised. “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“If I thought you were, trust me, Ms. Cory, I would be playing this completely differently.”
“I can’t believe – I can’t believe you did that!” Kirkland raged, stomping from one end of his room to the other in response to Jamie admitting he’d filled Toni Burrell in on Kirk and Charlie’s altercation the previous year. “I trusted you! You said I could trust you!”
“You can. That’s why I’m telling you this now. No secrets. I don’t want any secrets.”
“Maybe you should have mentioned that before you got me to spill mine! Jesus, Dad!”
“You flunked your lie-detector test,” Jamie said bluntly. “The police know you’re lying.”
“Yes, you are. I saw it from the start. And I didn’t need a machine that measures your heart-rate. I knew you were hiding something the moment you woke up in the hospital.”
“Great. So now you don’t trust me, either.”
“I was willing to let it go. But, Frankie and Cass left us no choice in the matter. You are digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself every time you open your mouth. Toni was kind enough to give me a head’s up. Give me a chance to get through to you.”
“Or neither she nor I will be able to help you.”
“What makes you think I need help? And what gave you the idea that Charlie – “
“You are acting exactly the same way now as you were last summer. After she – “
“She didn’t, okay? Not this time.”
“It was my fault. Frankie and Cass are right. The crash was all my fault.”
“All systems go,” Cass assured Felicia as the two of them, along with Frankie, went over the details for her upcoming e-book launch party at the country club. “We’ve got food, drinks, decorations; invitations and press releases are in the mail. The stage is set for yet another Felicia Gallant show stopper.”
“It’s been a long time,” she observed.
“For all of us,” Frankie confirmed.
“Well, enough is enough,” Felicia tossed down the papers Cass had given her to look over, and smiled at them both. “I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how I lost… her: Felicia Gallant, the good-time girl. Felicia Gallant, the character. Felicia Gallant, the broad.”
“It’s been a rough few years,” Frankie suggested gently.
“Which means it’s more than past time to lay that tired, old excuse to rest,” Felicia insisted. “Enough dwelling on the past. As of today, my only interest is the future. That’s what this project is all about in a way. If electronic publishing is the terrain of tomorrow, then I intend to be a part of it. Hell, I intend to lead the charge!”
“That’s great,” Cass said. “Really. It’s good to see you so energized.”
“I’m done with self-pity. And with revenge. They’re really just two sides of the same coin, aren’t they? I will never, ever forgive Donna for what she did to Jenna. But, it’s time she went stewing in a Hell of her own making without my contribution, don’t you think?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Frankie predicted. “Dean will make sure it happens.”
“To the future,” Felicia lifted her cup of coffee, Cass and Frankie following suit.
Even if, after swallowing his portion, Cass did glance down at the confirmed guest list to note, “You invited Lucas.”
“He loves a good party.” Felicia shrugged blithely.
“I thought you were done clinging to the past?”
“I’m done trying to force things,” Felicia corrected. “I’m done begging for it. But, should events simply happen, I wouldn’t be averse to exploring where they lead.”
“You want Lucas back?” Frankie guessed.
“I’m not dead yet, am I? I deserve to enjoy my life. Whether that’s with Lucas or a player yet to be named, I’m done hiding behind my grief. I am open to any and all possibilities.”
“That’s great,” Cass repeated.
“Once more,” Felicia prompted dryly. “With feeling. Try to sound like you actually mean it.”
“I think you getting back into circulation is great; no one is more eager to welcome the old Felicia than I am,” Cass insisted, heeding her suggestion to crank up the enthusiasm. “I’m just wondering if you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
“Having fun isn’t a good enough reason?”
“As long as that’s all it is.”
“What else could it be?”
“There’s hiding behind grief,” Cass said. “And there’s hiding behind euphoria.”
She sighed and turned to Frankie, asking, “Was he always such a stick in the mud and I just never noticed, or is this a new development?”
“You were right,” Amanda informed Grant over the phone as soon as she returned to the Brava offices and ordered her cover designer to rip up what she’d been working on. Amanda was about to give her a new story, which they’d be rushing to press a week early. “Chase and Lila… You were right.”
“I told you,” Grant crowed. “Feel free to commence showering me with praise at any moment. I can spare an hour or two.”
“What’s your interest in this?” Amanda knew there had to be one. A Good Samaritan, her ex-husband was not.
“SOB beat me out for mayor. Next election is in two years. I don’t intend for it to happen again.”
“I thought you and Lila were tight?”
“We were – are,” Grant had to clear his throat as he said it.
“Then again,” Amanda mused. “You have thrown her under a bus before… Lorna’s hit-and-run. You were ready to let Lila take the blame for that one. I guess you’re just being consistent.”
“This is for Lila’s own good,” Grant swore. “The sooner she’s out of that screwed up, destructive relationship with Hamilton, the better.”
“You honestly expect Lila to thank you for spotlighting the error of her ways?”
“Maybe not immediately…”
“Good luck with that. And let me know when I should start ducking the flying pigs.”
“You are still going to run the story,” Grant double-checked.
“Yeah,” Amanda sighed.
“Why the hesitation? It's destined to be huge.”
“Hamilton… Hamilton made a few good points regarding my motivations. I am being petty. And mercenary. Lila and I haven’t exactly been the best of friends since my mother decided Lila’s the daughter she always wanted. And Lila dating Kevin for a while there didn’t help, either.”
“The public’s right to know…”
“Yeah, yeah, I played that card, too. Does the public really have a right to know who people are sleeping with?”
“When it proves that those people are hypocrites the likes of which I don’t think this country has ever seen before, I vote yes.”
“Careful, Grant. Come next election cycle, what’ll happen should the voting public decide to impose that same standard on you….”
“I took your advice,” Lucas told Alice over the phone, still a bit disconcerted about why he’d been so eager to make the call in the first place… and why it had then taken him so long to actually do it.
“Oh?” She sounded interested and polite. And guarded.
“Fanny… She – she invited me to this launch party she’s having next month for her new series of e-books.”
“That sounds like a step in the right direction.”
“Am I missing something?”
Lucas hesitated, then confessed, “The party, it’s on April 6th.”
“Is that significant?”
“It’s Lorna’s birthday.”
“Well, it actually isn’t exactly Lorna’s birthday. It’s the day she grew up thinking was her birthday. Her adoptive parents changed – Her true birthday is a few days… It doesn’t matter. It’s the day Lorna thinks of as her birthday. She and Fanny… they’ve had issues over it. Lorna says it helps keep her connected to her grandmother. Felicia thinks…”
“It’s a personal slight.”
“Yes,” Lucas sighed, happy not to have to be the one to say it.
“How did Felicia respond when you mentioned it to her?”
“She said it was the only date the country club was available.”
“That could be true.”
“The important thing is she’s reaching out to you.”
“Or she’s testing me. Like you said before.”
“I was only making a guess. You know her far better than I do.”
“I miss her,” Lucas came clean.
“That’s only natural. Good luck,” Alice wished. “I hope everything turns out for the best. For both of you.”
“Whom were you talking to?” Marley wondered as she stepped into the room just as Grant was hanging up his call.
“I…” he stumbled, strapped for words.
“Sneaking around behind my back already?” Marley asked playfully. “That was fast!”
“No! No!” Grant thrust the phone forward, display side up, so that Marley could see for herself. “Amanda. I was talking to Amanda. About a story for Brava I suggested she…”
Marley waved away his offering. “I have no interest in checking up on you.”
“It was just business,” once he’d started making excuses, Grant found he couldn’t stop. Old habits – and a guilty conscience – seemingly died rather hard.
“I’m sure it was,” Marley felt compelled to reassure him, confused about why Grant was reacting so strangely. “Just like I’m sure that if you were still interested in Amanda – “
“I believe you.” Hoping to put him at ease, Marley said, “Listen, if I can deal with the fact that you used to be head over heels in love with my twin sister, I can certainly handle you occasionally having a chat with another of your ex-wives.”
“You’re the one I love now, Marley.”
“I believe that, too. Even if I know it’s not in the same way you loved Vicky.”
“That’s ridiculous. I – “
“It’s true. And it’s okay. The feelings you had for Vicky, let’s be honest, they were obsessive, and controlling, and unhealthy. For both of you. And certainly for Kirkland. I don’t want what you two had. Not for me, not for my girls. I know that kind of thing passes for passion with some people, but that’s not what I’m interested in. Maybe I was once. Maybe I also bought into that whole thing about how, if you’re not screaming one minute and tearing each other’s clothes off the next, it’s not really love. Not anymore. I want us to build something different, something better. We’ve both been through so much in our lives. I’ve had my share of drama, how about you?”
“God, yes,” Grant exhaled.
“Go ahead, talk to Amanda. Talk to Lorna. Sharlene. Lila. Heck, call up that woman you were engaged to when you first came to Bay City. Track down Paulina in Italy, or Cindy… wherever. Talk to anyone and everyone you want. I told you, the one thing I vowed when I was in the hospital was to start taking responsibility for my own actions – and stop taking it for the actions of others. For the first time in my life, I intend to be an adult. You’re the one who helped get me to this place, Grant. I fully intend for you to be the one to enjoy it.”
“How was the accident your fault?” Jamie refused to let his son off easy. “You weren’t drinking. You weren’t speeding. What other reason could there be for suddenly losing control of the car except – “
“I was crying, okay?” Kirkland snapped. “Are you happy now? Are you proud of me? I was bawling my eyes out like some stupid little kid.”
“What? Why? I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, Charlie was ragging me a little before. Telling me what a downer I’d been ever since my – my car accident over Labor Day weekend.”
“Oh…” Jamie felt the air drain out of his lungs.
“How I’d been walking around for months, scared of my own shadow, acting like a total loser.”
“Charlie had no right to say that. If she knew what you’d been through…”
“Yeah, well, she didn’t. We all decided to keep it a secret, remember? So you and Alice and Grant wouldn’t get into trouble for not reporting what really happened to Spencer.”
“It was more than that. We didn’t want the people who went after you to have any justification for striking back. If we’d gotten the authorities involved – “
“I know. I got it. You explained it to me. You said me keeping quiet was the best way to make sure everybody stayed safe.” Kirkland turned away so that Jamie wouldn’t see the fresh flow of tears reddening his eyes. “And it’s not like I wanted to broadcast the news, anyway. Tell everybody what a big coward I was.”
“I still don’t understand what any of that had to do with – “
“I told Charlie.” Kirkland hurriedly wiped his face with the back of his sleeve. “She wouldn’t stop bugging me about it, so I finally told her. And, once I started – once I started talking, it’s like I couldn’t stop. I just went on and on, and I got more and more upset, and Charlie, she tried to calm me down, she really did, she told me it was okay, how, if it happened to her, she’d have been terrified too, and how sorry she was about everything she said, and… and… But, I just couldn’t pull myself together, you know? I freaked out. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t see and… that’s when I lost control of the car. I don’t remember much after that. Honest.”
Jamie leaned slowly back in his chair, as though Kirkland’s onslaught of words had physically pinned him there.
“I’m sorry,” Kirkland began. “I’m really sorry, Dad. I should have told you from the start but…”
“I’m sorry,” Jamie shook his head, speaking slowly, trying not to let on just how thrown he was by the information. “I should have seen… I should have guessed…. You needed help, and I was too busy with my own issues…”
“Cut yourself some slack. Lorna was pregnant, Donna spilled the beans about Felicia and Morgan, Marley up and married Grant, not to mention everything with you and Carl and Grandma. You had a lot on your plate.”
“And I wasn’t exactly going out of my way to fill you in. I wanted you to think everything was fine with me. I didn’t want anybody to know how I really felt.”
“And look what it led to! You could have been killed! You and Charlie both.”
“I lied, and I messed up, and then I lied about it some more. Exactly what you always tell me not to do. I – Am I going to jail, Dad?”
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