“You’ve got a problem,” Lorna informed Matt over the phone after finally reaching him via his private number. The C-Squared designated cell had been full of messages by the time Lorna knew enough to dial, and he wasn’t answering his office line.
“And you’ve got a great grasp of the obvious,” Matt snarled. In the background, Lorna could hear him clicking computer keys. She had a pretty good idea of the site he was on.
“Look,” she kept her tone all business, not wanting to upset him further. “I’m not trying to butt into your personal life. But, we need to deal with the potential professional fall-out. You and Dean used to be partners, you’d even mentioned signing him to C-Squared. There are going to be questions. We need to figure out some answers. Fast.”
“You don’t think the photos are self-explanatory?”
Realizing he was in no state for a rational discussion, Lorna made an executive decision. “I’ll have all press calls referred to me. I’ll contact BCZ.com and see if I can bully them into taking down the pictures.”
Matt snorted. “Good luck with that. Have you seen their hit counter this morning? My wife and Dean are a smash!”
“Yeah, well, considering what happened with the Rutgers’ case earlier this month, people now have a better sense of the penalties that might await you for broadcasting others’ sex lives on the Internet.”
“That’s only if you were doing it to intimidate them. If you’re just doing it for fun and profit, go ahead, the First Amendment is still on your side!”
“We’ll see about that,” Lorna jotted down a thought on her notepad.
“Anything you could do, Lorna,” Matt gave up, too tired to maintain the anger any longer. “I’d appreciate it.”
“I’m on it,” she promised, dropping the PR whiz side to go sister-in-law on him. “And Matt… I am sorry.”
“It’s not the first time, is it?” Matt shook his head, trying to laugh, resultant sound not quite hitting the jolly note he was shooting for. “Dean and me. There was Jenna…”
“Dean’s had a really rough two years. Ever since Jenna died… I mean, obviously he hasn’t been himself since Jenna died. You should have seen the state he was in when Jamie and I found him. He – ”
“Don’t,” Matt warned. “Don’t defend him. Not to me. Not today.”
“People make mistakes. Take it from someone who knows, okay? I’ve got a hell of a C.V. on the subject. We do dumb things that we’re sorry for later. And then we do even dumber things, like not forgiving other people for theirs.”
“I hired you to handle my Public Relations, Lorna, not my private. Better hop to it, you should really be earning your retainer today.”
“Mr. Hutchins,” Douglas Rivera cautiously rose from his desk at the Bay City Modern Art Museum, stepping around it to shake the older man’s hand. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“It’s as I told your assistant over the telephone. I am interested in broadening my personal art collection, and thought I might expand my horizons with a dip into the modern wing. I was hoping you might be willing to share of your expertise. In exchange, I would be happy to donate a selection of – ”
“I know what you told my assistant,” Doug said pleasantly, though coolly. “I also know that your wife is more than capable of offering ample input on the subject. Rachel Cory Hutchins’ modern art collection is the envy of Bay City, not to mention her contribution to the scene as a whole.”
“I shall make sure to pass on your compliments.”
“I’d rather you just told me why you were really here.”
Carl hesitated, “Are you always this… curt with potential donors?”
Doug noted, “I haven’t been having a particularly good week.”
“Yes,” Carl mused. “About that…”
“Uh-ha.” Doug nodded, grimly pleased. “Shall we get on with it then?”
“Get on with what?”
“The point of this meeting,” Doug rolled his eyes impatiently, eager to move beyond the charade. “Chase,” he said his partner’s name simply, without elaboration. What more, after all, was there to say?
“I am sorry about…”
“That makes two of us then.”
“Did you have any indication that this might be percolating?”
“I did,” Chase said. “Though I’m confused what business it is of yours.”
“Your Mr. Hamilton has taken up residence in my home.”
“I know. It’s where I was asked to send Chase’s things.”
“In that case, I’m sure you understand why I might wish to gather a bit more intelligence about him.”
“And I’m sure you understand why Chase Hamilton might not be my favorite topic of conversation these days.”
“Do you believe his feelings for Lila are genuine?” Carl asked, ignoring the very obvious prompt to cease and desist.
“Yes,” Doug nearly bit the word in half. “I do.”
“But, surely, after twenty years…”
“It’s been… challenging. For all twenty of them.”
“Nonetheless, after two decades, this is the first time that – “
“I beg your pardon.”
“This isn’t the first time.”
“And yet, if the two of you managed to persevere through every previous instance – “
“I guess Lila Hart is something truly special.”
“Or perhaps this is simply a case of their being caught. Perhaps if there had been no threat of exposure… You do realize that Mr. Hamilton only called his press conference after Brava Magazine – “
“That would be your daughter.”
“My step-daughter,” Carl stressed. “Amanda was going to write an expose. That is why Chase went public with his relationship. He was backed into a corner, with no choice in the matter.”
“Perhaps,” Doug appropriated Carl’s choice of words, flinging them back ironically. “But, what difference does it make? The betrayal still happened, whether I’m the only one who knows about it, or the whole world does. Of course, this way, I also get to be made a public cuckold and my daughter can one day read all about it. But, the fundamental issue doesn’t change.”
“It is only that I find it so difficult to believe that a man as devoted as Mr. Hamilton seemed to you and your child would betray – “
“Yes. Chase is quite the anomaly in the political world. I’d offer to alert the media but, well, you know…”
“I have never heard of an instance precisely like this one.”
“Chase is one of a kind. He’ll be the first to tell you that.”
“So nothing about this situation strikes you as… contrived, Mr. Rivera?” Carl refused to ease up, despite Doug’s growing anger.
“Does nothing about this line of questioning strike you as… inappropriate, Mr. Hutchins?”
“I am attempting to ascertain whether Chase Hamilton’s presence in my home is on the up and up, or whether there is something nefarious brewing beneath the surface.”
“Go to hell,” Doug advised, pointedly leading Carl towards the door. “And make sure to take Chase with you.”
“I’m really okay,” Jen insisted to Allie, wondering – only partly facetiously – if she should just issue a formal statement to keep from repeating herself over and over again. “I don’t need to be watched every minute.”
“GQ asked me to stop by, see if there was anything you needed. He’s sorry he couldn’t be here himself…”
“I’m the one who had to chase him out and make him go back to work. My dad and your mom were here an hour ago, and Alice before that. Seriously, I’m good.”
“Cool,” Allie said simply, nodding her head agreeably even as she declined to budge.
Jen smiled weakly. “Was this how you handled Gregory?”
“This is how I wish I’d handled Gregory,” Allie clarified. “I wish I’d stayed calmer and just listened to him, to what he wanted, instead of somehow managing to make even his dying about me.”
“What was it like,” Jen asked cautiously. “Watching someone die?”
“He was in a lot of pain at the end,” Allie didn’t try to sugar-coat it.
“I remember. Before Alice came to give him the pills.”
“And afterwards, he was kind of in and out of it, you know? Some moments, I don’t think he even knew who I was. And other times, it’s like he was completely there. Like he could see and understand stuff way beyond the rest of us. Then again, Gregory was always like that. The entire time I knew him, anyway. Really knew him, that is.”
“Did he ever, when it became completely obvious there’d be no way out, no Marines arriving at the last minute, no miracle cure… Did he ever… regret what he’d done?”
“You mean stopping the treatment?”
“Yeah,” Jen swallowed hard.
“I don’t know,” Allie said honestly. “I don’t know what he was thinking in those last few hours, days. He wanted me to hold him, so I did. Even when he couldn’t feel me anymore. I kept talking to him, telling him I was there. I don’t know if he heard me.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Gregory.”
“You’re not going to die.” Allie didn’t even bother guessing if that was what Jen had also been thinking. “I asked GQ and Steven and Uncle Jamie. I even talked to my mom.”
“Wow,” Jen mock-praised. “You really went all out with the sacrifices.”
“You know it,” Allie responded in kind. “And they all said your prognosis was good.”
“They’re right. Mathematically speaking, I’m damned lucky.”
“Except you don’t feel lucky.” It wasn’t a question.
“Not particularly.” Jen shook her head, despite the resultant dizziness, determined to change the subject before she slid into wallowing. “It was really nice of you to come. I know you and I haven’t exactly been…”
“I was going to say… friends.”
“Sisters is a rung lower on the get-along meter, far as I’m concerned. If my mom and Elizabeth are anything to go by.”
“Thank you, Allie.”
Her stepsister ignored the praise. “You came through for me. With Gregory. He’d want me to do this.”
“But, it was GQ who asked you to stop by, right?” Jen clarified.
“That must have been rough. For both of you.”
“Nah. It’s… we’ve… We’ve been okay lately. He basically keeps from shoving pictures of Hudson in my face every couple of minutes, and I… I try to forget who did what to whom and why. Maybe we’ll figure it out before Hudson graduates college. Then again, if he’s like you and GQ, he’ll probably be getting his doctorate at fifteen or something.”
“That’s more Steven’s area. I just have a plain, old Masters.”
“From MIT. Yeah, that’s totally normal. And you were how old when you got it?”
“Twenty-two,” Jen admitted.
“Uh-ha.” Allie laughed, then turning serious, told Jen. “GQ is lucky to have you. Not just because you stood by him during all the crap with me and Hudson, but because… because you’re exactly everything he’s always wanted. How often does anybody find that? The perfect person for them. He knows it, too. That’s why he’s so worried about you. Not that,” Allie fumbled, realizing how her words might sound misinterpreted. “That’s the only reason. I didn’t mean…”
“I understood what you meant,” Jen reassured. Better than Allie knew.
“We had a deal,” Dean burst in on Donna at KBAY-TV, no longer caring if anyone heard. Compared to what the whole town had probably already seen of him, worrying about mere eavesdroppers seemed meaningless at best, comical, at worst.
“And I kept it,” Donna demurred.
“Are you telling me it wasn’t you who ran those pictures of Jeanne and me?”
For a split second, Donna looked as if she actually might deny the whole thing. But, common sense – or was that supposed to be integrity? – won out, and she painstakingly split hairs. “I gave you my word those photos would not be published in the newspaper. BCZ.com is most certainly not a newspaper. Goodness, it’s barely tabloid fodder. It’s… it’s… a travesty!”
“You bitch!” Dean exploded, then, in the same breath, demanded, “Why? Why? What was in this for you? I dropped the suit. You had everything you wanted!”
“Matt,” Dean groaned.
“You said as much earlier. I must congratulate you on your prescience. Limited as it turned out to be.”
“You get it all this way,” Dean was forced to feel a little bit awed, even as the rest of him stewed and churned in turn. “No lawsuit, and no Jeanne.”
“Yes,” Donna agreed. “Matters did work out for the best, I’m happy to say.”
“I won’t let you get away with this.”
“Oh, please, darling. In matters of blackmail, one can hardly refer complaints regarding a breech of contract to the Better Business Bureau.”
“I’ll reinstate the suit,” Dean grasped at straws.
“On the basis of what, precisely?”
“I’ll tell the judge you blackmailed me.”
“I’ll deny it,” Donna shrugged. “And, trust me, your reputation isn’t nearly as stellar as it was only a few days ago. Reinstating the suit against me will come off as nothing more than trying to distract attention from your own moral shortcomings.”
“Do you think Jenna – Do you think your daughter would approve of what you’ve done?”
“I’m rather certain she wouldn’t. The same way I’m equally certain my other daughter, Marley, won’t. Victoria… Victoria might frown and stomp her foot for a spell. But, I like to think she, at least, would have understood.”
“You’ve really thought of everything, haven’t you?”
“I believe I have,” Donna’s attempt at modesty nevertheless came off painfully smug.
“Have you given any thought,” Dean wondered. “About how Matt is going to react to all this?”
“He’ll understand,” Donna predicted, even if her voice did waver somewhat as she added, “Matthew, I daresay, will feel grateful to finally be enlightened regarding how you and Jeanne have been carrying on behind his back.”
Now it was Dean’s turn to make a prediction. “Don’t bet on it.”
“You look like you’ve had a hell of a day.” Jamie had to wait close to fifteen minutes, hovering in the doorway to Lorna’s home office, having checked in on a sleeping Devon when he came in, before his wife finished the last of her phone calls – for now, at least – and could turn around to greet Jamie with a tired smile.
“That’s why your brother pays me the big bucks.”
“Every penny of which I suspect you’ve earned today. And more.”
“I went off the clock billing at noon,” Lorna sighed. “Even the Corys don’t have pockets this deep.”
“How’s Matt handling it?”
“He barked and snarled at me over the phone, so… so far, so good?”
“I tried to reach him earlier…”
“He’s not in a very chatty mood.”
“I gathered. I also saw that the pictures got pulled off the web about an hour ago. Your doing?”
“Like you said, that’s why I’m paid the big bucks.”
“How did you…”
“I approached it not from a legal or moral stand-point, God knows that won’t get you anywhere with these guys; but, from the standpoint that, logically speaking, those photos were the personal property of Dean Frame and Jeanne Ewing. Unless BCZ.com could prove they had legally purchased them from the rightful copyright holders – “
“You’re kidding! That worked?”
“Easiest way to get something pulled off the web and entire sites shut down indefinitely is to claim copyright infringement. You don’t even need evidence, just the suggestion is usually enough. BCZ.com does not want me going to their Internet Service Provider.”
“You are a scary, scary woman,” Jamie marveled.
“That’s why you love me,” Lorna merely stated the by now obvious fact and moved on, even if she did smile impishly as she said it. The smile died, however, when Lorna got to the next part of her story. “Son-of-a-bitch couldn’t provide me with proof of ownership, so he backed off and agreed to pull the pictures. Honestly, it’s too little too late, by now anyone that matters has seen them, and I’m sure there’ve been a million digital copies made, I can’t exactly track them all down. But, while I was on a roll, I thought I’d do a little digging about how he managed to get his hands on those sexual harassment papers I threatened to file against Matt, remember?”
“I remember. It made our wedding day even more exciting. Well, until Marley decided to run off with the girls, that is.”
“Yeah, well, anyway, on that one, he was happy to provide me with documentation of precisely where those documents came from. I – Jamie, if the e-mail trail is accurate,” Lorna cringed. “Elizabeth was the one who sent them.”
“How did your talk with Lila go?” Marley cautiously asked Grant as he walked through the door. It was impossible to determine based on his expression. Grant merely looked wiped.
He gave the question serious thought, crossing past Marley and instinctively heading for the bar. His hand was already on the ornate, crystal brandy stopper when he paused, reconsidered, and deliberately lowered it.
“Not… bad.” Even hours later, Grant continued to sound surprised.
“You mean, she forgave you?”
Grant smiled wryly. “I wouldn’t quite go that far. My vocabulary of Southern pseudo-profanity has been greatly expanded. But, I think… I think she… understood.”
“Why you told Amanda about her and Chase?”
“It was for Lila’s own good. He’s only going to end up hurting her in the long run. It’s inevitable. Better to end things now, before she was in too deep.”
“I’m glad you were able to make her see reason.”
“Yeah…” Grant briefly stared off into space. “It makes perfect sense. Once you really think about it.”
“I’m proud of you,” Marley said.
“You’re what?” That certainly pulled him out of his trance.
“I’m proud of you,” she repeated, wondering if Grant had ever heard those words aimed his way before. “It would have been much easier for you to do nothing, to just let matters take their course, to choose the easy way out and wash your hands of the consequences. But, you didn’t. You put yourself on the line to protect someone you really care about.”
“I… did. Yes. Yes, I did.”
“You really have changed, Grant. I know Kirkland is mostly the one responsible for it. But, I’d like to think, maybe, I had something to do with it, too.”
“You are a huge part of it,” he told Marley sincerely. “A huge part of the choices I’ve made recently.”
She smiled and moved in to give him a kiss, telling Grant, “On a related note, I have some great news. I talked to Steven earlier, and he’s allowing Michele and Bridget to move in with us!”
Grant blinked in surprise. “Permanently?”
Marley nodded. Taking in Grant’s startled expression, she dialed back her enthusiasm to wonder, “Is it too much, too soon? I know we talked about it, but, we thought it would take Steven months to come around. Will it be too difficult for you to have the girls here? Will it remind you of Kirkland not…”
“No. No,” Grant insisted firmly. “I – I’m thrilled to hear it. You’re right, this is great, great news. We can finally be a family, just like it should have been from the start.”
“It’ll be a huge adjustment.”
“I’m ready for it,” Grant swore.
Marley slipped her arms around Grant’s neck. “I love you,” she whispered, moving in for another kiss.
When a knock from outside interrupted them.
“To be continued,” Marley winked, rushing to answer, opening the door to Bridget and Michele.
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|