“This isn’t weird for you?” Steven asked Sarah.
“Living here, in my grandmother’s house, while Marley and Grant are…”
“They’re not staying here. Marley moved in with Grant at his place.”
“Still. They’re over all the time, to see the girls.”
“You hired me to look after Bridget and Michele. Are you firing me now?”
“I’d have thought you’d want to go.”
“I love your sisters, Steven. I know you don’t think I’m capable of feeling anything – “
“Oh, come on, this isn’t about that.“
“But, I do love them. I think it’s been good for them, having me here. And I’ve been keeping Donna at bay. If only because she can’t stand to be in the same room with me.”
“You’ve been great for Bridget and Michele, okay? Hell, you’ve been a more consistent presence in their lives over the past year than anyone. I really appreciate it. But, the fact is, Marley’s determined to get Midget back fulltime.”
“Are you going to allow that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. They need a mom. Girls need moms, don’t they?”
“So do guys,” Sarah pointed out. “And in my case, that’s kind of debatable.”
He ignored her on both points. “Marley’s the closest thing they’ve got to one. So, yeah, if she keeps it together, doesn’t pull anymore crap… Yeah, eventually I probably will let her take full physical custody again. Even if I hold on to the legal. You know, just in case.”
“Okay, well, so we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. About Grant. It’s not weird for you being around him now?”
“Why should it be?”
“You guys were… I mean, I saw the two of you at the hospital when Kirkland got hurt. And now he’s…”
“Grant and I were in love. We still are.”
“So where does my Aunt Marley fit in?”
Sarah shrugged. “That’s her problem.”
“Are you and Grant still…”
Steven exhaled. “Okay. Good.”
“But, that’s just temporary.”
“Meaning that, sooner or later, Grant is going to realize who’s really good for him; who really loves him. And that’s me.”
“What about Marley?”
“What difference does it make? I thought you were mad at her.”
“Doesn’t mean I want Grant doing a number on her, like he did on my mom. Last thing Michele and Bridget need is her losing it again. Marley, she – she’s fragile, okay? You can’t mess with her.”
“I’m supposed to believe Grant is just going to up and leave her completely of his own free will, without you pulling any stunts to help make it happen?”
Steven shook his head. “You’re nuts, Sarah.”
“You go ahead and think that, if it makes you feel better.”
“You can’t just will somebody to love you. To dump the person they’re with. No matter how much you may want them to, or how much better you know you are for them.”
“Maybe you can’t,” Sarah agreed. Then wondered, “How’s Jen doing these days?”
“You took a hell of a risk,” Lila told Chase. “For a minute there, it almost looked like you’d actually talked Amanda out of running the story.”
He shook his head. “I just didn’t want to make it too easy for her. I had to make sure we raised and dismissed all of her possible concerns on the spot. If I’d allowed her to go back to the office and start writing, she’d have thought of it then; started questioning her motivation. And I wouldn’t have been there to remind Ms. Cory just how badly she wants to punch me in the face. Metaphorically, at least.”
“You are very good at making people want to punch you in the face. Literally.”
“It’s a gift,” Chase almost seemed proud, taking a moment to marvel before reiterating, “But, I told Amanda the truth, I knew exactly what I was doing. I always do.”
“You were right about Grant, too,” Lila said quietly. “He sicced her on us. Told Amanda where we’d be and when, just like you set up.”
“Yes. I know you were hoping…”
“Hoping. Not expecting.”
“It wasn’t all Grant’s fault. I manipulated him into it, left him with practically no choice.”
“Except to throw me to the wolves. Again.”
“Hey, that last time wasn’t all bad. It’s how we met, isn’t it?”
The look Lila gave Chase suggested he might want to ditch that train of thought. And quickly. “So,” she wondered. “What now?”
“Now,” Chase said. “We pull the rug out from under Amanda Cory and Brava. And then we really get down to business.”
In the car, driving home, Frankie gently chastised Cass, “I think Felicia was really upset about how negative you seem to be about her plans for the future.”
“What are you talking about? I’m her Business Manager. Felicia’s future is my future. There’s no one more gung-ho than me about it.”
“I meant the more personal stuff,” Frankie said, knowing Cass knew it all along.
He shrugged. “I just think she’s lying to herself.”
“Well, if she is, it’s her business, isn’t it, Manager?”
“She’s claiming she doesn’t need any of it, Lucas, Lorna, all the things she lost. That’s not progress, that’s denial.”
“I agree with you.”
“You do? Then why are we even having this conversation?”
“Because, what Felicia needs right now is our support, not our judgment.”
“I happen to excel at projecting both.”
Frankie laughed. “Come on, tell the truth, aren’t you a little excited for her? Maybe even a touch jealous?”
“Jealous?” Cass scoffed in disbelief. “Of what?”
“Of Felicia’s freedom!”
“Just another word for nothing left to lose,” he channeled Janis Joplin.
“Exactly! And that’s liberating, you’ve got to admit. Felicia’s entire future is one, big question mark at the moment. She can do anything, be anything, transform into anything.”
“Oh, she’s already something.”
“Don’t you ever long for the days when you weren’t tied down? No wife, no kids, no bills you couldn’t skip out on. The Cass Winthrop who first came to Bay City wouldn’t have just been cheering Felicia on, he’d be at her side, burning the candle at both ends, drinking in life, putting on a tux every night and jumping into a fountain to ruin it every dawn. Why not let that guy out for a bit? You know that’s all Felicia was looking for.”
“And you’d be okay with it?” Cass double-checked.
“Well, let’s not go crazy but, yes, for a little while, yes. Felicia isn’t the only one who’s missed him. I’ve missed him, too. I don’t blame you, Cass. The last few years; between me coming back and our problems with Charlie, not to mention… I understand why you feel you aren’t that man anymore.”
“Prison blues do tend to take some of the vita from one’s la dolce,” he conceded.
“But, instead of resisting Felicia, why don’t you join her? She’s trying to recapture the person she once was. You could do the same.”
“I don’t want to,” Cass said.
“Oh, come one. I told you, you don’t have to deny yourself on my account.”
“I’m not. The Cass Winthrop you’re talking about? The one in the tux with the party every night and the live every day like it’s your last philosophy? That’s the guy who killed Cecile and ended up in prison.”
“No, Cass. No.”
“Yes. The guy who never thought about the consequences of his actions, who pretended to care about others so he could use it as an excuse to do whatever he wanted in the first place… I don’t want to be that guy. You say Felicia’s future is one big question mark? Honestly, Frankie, I can’t think of anything more horrifying. I like knowing who I’m going to wake up next to every morning. I like having a house and a job and a wife and kids; all those things I used to think of as rings of a chain to loop around my neck. I used to think stability was a prison. And then I went to a real prison. And realized what an idiot I’ve been my entire life. I don’t find what Felicia is doing remotely exciting. I find it terrifying. And here’s the thing, I’m willing to bet you anything, so does she.”
“You win,” Dean told Donna.
“What, precisely?” she donned an air of utter indifference one way or the other.
“I’ll drop my civil suit against you.”
“You sound disappointed. I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“Of course it is, don’t be absurd.”
“I don’t think so,” Dean guessed. “I think it’s what you told yourself you wanted, because it made you kind of not seem too bad. Big picture-wise, I mean. I was a threat, so you took me out. Reasonable. Fair. Matt can’t get too upset about that.”
“I have no intention of telling Matthew any of what transpired here. And I would strongly advise you to do the same.”
“But, what I think you really wanted,” Dean went on, ignoring her latest threat. “Was for me to turn you down. Then you could go ahead and publish the pictures of Jeanne and me, and there goes Matt’s marriage.”
“You’re projecting, Dean…” Donna drawled. “That may have been your fantasy, I assure you, it isn’t mine. I have utter faith that Matthew’s sham of a marriage shall be collapsing any day now – with no assistance from me.”
“If I wanted to break up Matt and Dean, I could have gone to Matt myself, I didn’t need you.”
“You haven’t the courage,” Donna taunted.
“You’re right. That’s where you and I are totally different. I don’t have the balls to mess with people’s lives the way you do.”
“Spare me your platitudes. And your self-righteousness.”
“Do you know why I decided to give in to you, Donna?”
“Because, evidence to the contrary, you’re no fool?”
“Because, if I let you publish those pictures, then anything that happened would be my fault, too. And I’d rather suck up my own problems, than make them for other people.”
“How noble of you. And how ultimately juvenile. It may shock you to learn, darling, that you are not the center of the universe. There are forces at play that you’re not only ignorant of, but also incapable of imagining. Nothing is black or white, right or wrong. A single flick of your finger can ultimately crescendo into devastation. Do remember that next time you elect to climb onto your high-horse and cling to the belief that your actions don’t impact the lives of others in negative ways. Every single one of us holds the power to destroy.”
“Maybe,” Dean agreed. “But, we don’t all get off on it.”
“Well, you do have Jeanne for that, don’t you?” Donna eschewed continuing along the philosophical vein for something more… earthy.
“Leave Jeanne alone,” Dean seethed, over-enunciating each word. “We have a deal.”
“I do hope she’s worth it,” Donna trilled.
Dean turned to leave, tossing out over his shoulder, “Why don’t you ask Matt about that?”
“We’ll talk to Toni Burrell,” Jamie said as he and Kirkland approached the police station. “Explain exactly what happened.”
“Okay,” Kirkland’s voice barely rose above a whisper.
“It’s going to be alright,” Jamie reassured. “I swear to you, Kirk. This is for the best. Continuing to lie will only make matters worse.”
“I’ll be with you the whole time. I promise.”
This time, Kirkland didn’t even answer. He merely nodded glumly.
Once inside, Jamie escorted his son towards Toni’s office, drawing little pleasure from the realization that he was now intimately familiar with the building’s layout.
Jamie was about to knock on Toni’s door, when it opened from beneath his knuckles. Toni came out. Followed by Charlie.
“Kirkland. Jamie.” Toni looked awkwardly from one to the other. “What are you – “
“We came to make a statement,” Jamie said, praying they weren’t too late. Hoping his fear wouldn’t show up on his face.
“I see,” Toni said. “What a coincidence. So has Ms. Winthrop, here.”
“I’m okay,” Jen insisted to both Kevin and GQ as they hovered on either side of her for the length of Jen’s journey down the hospital’s corridor. “You don’t need to be here. Either of you.”
“You’re not doing this alone,” Kevin said.
“I won’t be alone. Alice is meeting me.”
“So we’ll hang out,” GQ said. “Say hello to Alice, too.”
“Hello,” Alice said, startling GQ as she came up behind them.
“Did that meet your requirement?” Jen wondered as GQ shook his head at the predictability of her response, and Jen shrugged to indicate he’d been asking for it.
Kevin interrupted, instructing Alice, “Would you please tell my daughter about all the studies that have been conducted proving that healing is accelerated when the patient is placed in a supportive environment?”
“Only when it’s an environment the patient is comfortable with,” Alice stipulated.
“There,” Jen said. “See? I told you both, I’d rather do this by myself.”
“She’s been like this since she was a kid,” Kevin sighed. “I used to call it Lassie-in-the-mud syndrome, after the episode where Lassie is bitten by a snake and crawls off to be by herself until the poison is out of her system.”
“I don’t like having an audience when I’m sick,” Jen stuck to her guns.
“We can help take your mind off things,” GQ stuck to his.
“I’m afraid this is Jen’s call,” Alice said. “If having the two of you around adds to her stress, I’d rather you went elsewhere for the duration of the treatment.”
“How’s she going to get home?” Kevin challenged. “She won’t be in any shape to drive afterwards, will she?”
“I can take her,” Alice offered. And, before either of them had a chance to question further, added, “And I can stay to make sure she’s settled and there are no complications. Would that be alright with you, Jen?”
“Yeah. I – That would be great.”
“How come she gets an exemption from Lassie-in-the-mud?” GQ wanted to know.
“Because she’s a doctor.”
“And a grandmother,” Kevin amended knowingly.
“Yeah,” Jen conceded. “That, too.”
“You call me as soon as you can,” Kevin pleaded. “Promise?”
“Promise. Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ve got no doubt about that,” Kevin said, hugging her tightly.
GQ went next, kissing Jen and reminding, “Anything you need, anytime, I’m there. You got that?”
“Got it. And, you know, thanks for understanding.”
“Yeah, well, you cost me the chance to show off what a good boyfriend I am. I’m going to expect you to make up for it. When you’re better.”
“When I’m better,” Jen promised.
Alice waited until Kevin and GQ had both departed before telling Jen, “I’m happy to back you up in anything you need, but I think you might have let them go too hastily. It can take a while before the treatment room is ready, no matter when your appointment was scheduled for. Plus, the actual intravenous injection might last as long as an hour, especially the first time. You risk getting bored.”
“No one ever died from boredom,” Jen said pointedly.
Alice nodded to indicate she understood. “Alright then, in that case, let me get your paperwork started. That should keep you engaged for a bit,” Alice smiled encouragingly and briefly stepped back into her office.
Steven watched her disappear from sight. The same way he’d watched Jen, Kevin and GQ enter. The same way he’d watched Jen’s father and boyfriend leave. Only when Jen was all alone, did Steven dare step out from where he’d been – there was no other word for it – lurking.
“Hey,” Steven said.
“Hey,” Jen said, expressing absolutely no surprise at suddenly finding him there. Almost as if she’d been expecting it all along.
“Want some company?” Steven wondered.
Jen thought about it for a moment, then granted, “Yeah…”
“Would you mind turning on the television?” Lila politely asked Rachel once Chase had texted her that it was time.
“Of course.” Rachel stood to do so, turning to the channel Lila specified. “What…” Her voice trailed off at the sight of Mayor Hamilton holding an impromptu press conference. To announce that he’d left his partner of over twenty years, Douglas Rivera… for a woman. Lila Hart.
“Oh…” Rachel made the only sound her brain still seemed capable of forming.
“I guess I should have prepared you.”
Rachel shook her head, still in shock. “I’m not certain that would have been possible.”
“That’s what I figured.”
“How… Why? Why now?”
“Amanda walked in on Chase and I together,” Lila said. “She… figured out what was going on.”
“What was…” Rachel began, the look on Lila’s face filing her in. “I see.”
“Amanda is planning to run a major story on us in Brava by the end of this week. Chase decided to steal her thunder. Try to control the information best he could.”
“Chase left Douglas?” Rachel had a hard time believing it.
“More like Doug left him. After Chase told him what’d happened. He didn’t want Doug getting blindsided by Amanda’s story.” That part was true. While Chase seemed to have no qualms about asking Lila to lie for him in the name of a greater good, he refused to put Doug in a similar position. Chase wanted Doug to be able to respond honestly to the inevitable press barrage. And so, earlier in the day, Chase had told Doug that Doug’s intuition was right, after all – Chase was in love with Lila. Chase had filled Lila in about their scene over the phone. He’d sounded like his heart was shattered.
“It will all be worth it,” Chase swore before hanging up. “Once I nail Carl.”
“And the child?” Rachel wondered.
“Doug doesn’t want Chase anywhere near her.”
Rachel absorbed the information, then, sympathetic, asked, “Are you alright?”
“No.” As always, Lila stuck to the truth whenever possible.
“I can’t believe Amanda would – “
“It’s not her fault. This is a great story. She’d be letting down Mr. Cory’s legacy if she didn’t run with it.”
“Mr. Cory’s legacy did not involve betraying your own family.”
“What’s done is done,” Lila dismissed, realizing too late another inadvertent aspect to their plan – adding fuel to the fire of Rachel and Amanda’s currently already strained relationship. “I – I hate to do this, but I’m afraid I need to ask you a favor, Rachel.”
“What is it?”
“Well, Chase can’t go home, and the mayor’s mansion is bound to be crawling with reporters from now until… well, a long while from now. They’ll want to talk to me, too, I’m sure.”
“Security will take care of it,” Rachel swore.
“Right. That’s what – that’s why I was wondering, Rachel, would it be alright if Chase were to move in here for a while?”
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