“You’re not going to win,” Jeanne burst in on Donna, promising, “I’m not going to let you. ”
Donna, for her part, appeared utterly non-pulsed by the interruption. She’d had so many over the past few days, after all. And none of them were from the person who really mattered. Despite everything, Donna had yet to hear from Matt.
“Actually, my dear, I believe I already have. ”
“Dean can always reinstate his suit against you. Now that you’ve gone back on your word. ”
“I suppose,” Donna shrugged, unconcerned. “And I wish him all the luck in the world proving it’s not a witch-hunt now. A tit for tat, as it were. ”
“You’re forgetting something, Donna. ”
“I don’t think so. ”
“You’re forgetting what I have on you. I know that you sat on evidence proving that Marley ran down Lorna. ”
“Yes,” Donna agreed. “It’s how you were able to get Matthew to agree to marry you. How does it feel, Jeanne, knowing that your husband is only with you, because he loves another woman?”
“That wasn’t the only reason why,” Jeanne insisted stubbornly.
“Well, yes. There was the matter of you secretly recording his conversation with Lorna and Jamie about the sexual harassment documents being accurate. But, Matt could have withstood that particular scandal. He even could have withstood you leveling the same charges against him. What truly sealed the deal was when you threatened to go after me. And you know that as well as anyone. ”
“I can still go to the police with what I know. Considering your record… you think diminished capacity would fly a second time? Or is it the third? Hard to keep track. ”
“And what do you think exposure would do to you?” Donna shot back.
“Nothing. I didn’t have anything to do with – “
“You suppressed evidence, Jeanne. As much as I did. The moment you knew I had that footage of Marley driving away in the car that hit Lorna, you became an accessory after the fact. It was your civic duty to report what you’d unearthed to the police. But, you didn’t. And for what? A promotion? A boost up the proverbial career ladder? I, at least, suppressed evidence because I was protecting my only living child. The public may not approve of my actions, but they will certainly understand them. You, on the other hand, you did what you did for selfish, grasping, mercenary reasons. Maybe if you’d played it a little smarter, if you’d exposed me on the air or written an expose, at least then you could hide behind journalistic integrity, claim you did it all for the public’s right to know, very Woodward and Bernstein. But, what kind of future do you think you’ll have as an investigative reporter, once your potential employers and colleagues learn that you buried a front-page story to protect your own interests? Who in the world would ever hire you after a bombshell like that? Face it, Jeanne,” Donna rose from her desk to pat the younger woman on the hand. “There is nothing left for you to do. I’ve already won. ”
When she walked in on her erstwhile date kissing his supposedly ex-partner in an office off Felicia’s book launch party, Lila wasn’t sure what to do. Announce herself? Leave?
The decision slid out of her hands when Lila’s inadvertent gasp seized both Chase and Doug’s attention. They separated quickly, guiltily, looking at each other, then at Lila, then back again, before Chase leapt forward, grabbed Lila by the wrist and pulled her fully inside the office, quickly but quietly shutting the door behind them all.
“What in blazes – ” Lila began.
“Shh,” Chase pressed a finger to his lips, listening for footsteps outside. “Did anyone see you come in here?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you two the same question?”
“We were careful,” Doug reassured.
“Tell me what’s going on,” Lila threatened Chase. “Or, so help me, I’ll scream loud enough to bring you more company than you ever wanted. ”
“I think you’d better tell her everything,” Doug prompted Chase.
“Listen to the man,” Lila advised.
Chase sighed. “I’m sorry, Lila…”
“Jesus Christ, are we ever going to have a conversation that doesn’t start or end with you begging my forgiveness?”
“Not at this rate,” he conceded.
“Getting a little repetitive. Though, I’ve got to admit, this,” Lila indicated Chase and Doug. “Is a new wrinkle in the proceedings. I thought the pair of you were over. ”
Chase said, “Remember when I told you that I had to make everything look real for Doug, so that when the press and other people questioned him, he didn’t have to lie but could tell them what he believed to be the God’s honest truth?”
“Well, actually, that was you. Doug knew everything that was going on from the start. ”
“Which is what, exactly? You’ve got my head spinning right now. ”
“Which is that Doug and I only pretended to break up. To help with the cover story of you and me, and my moving into Carl’s house. ”
“And you couldn’t let me in on that teeny, tiny detail?”
“I didn’t know if I could trust you, if you knew that Doug and I were still together. ”
“You trusted him,” Lila indicated Doug.
“I’ve know him for twenty years. I trust Doug with anything and everything. ”
“Me, on the other hand…. ”
“I thought it would be easier – “
“To play me, if I believed there might still be a chance for the two of us. ”
Her words were blunt, but accurate. “Yes,” Chase said.
“You son of a bitch!”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I am. ”
“You used me to get into Carl’s house so you could spy on him. ”
“That part, you knew. ”
“You didn’t think I’d go along if I knew you and Doug were still an item?”
“I couldn’t risk that. ”
“So you lied to me. ”
“How do I know you’re not lying to me now? How do I know this hasn’t been a set-up from the start? All that bullcrap about you being attracted to me – “
“That part,” Doug interrupted. “Was true. Before any of this started with Carl, Chase really was attracted to you. The conversation the two of us had about it – him, us – that was all true, I swear it. He was very drawn to you, Lila. Chase simply didn’t think that was an adequate reason to break up our family. I agreed with him. ”
“How do you know he hasn’t been playing you all these years, either?”
“I know,” Doug said simply, and looked at Chase with such love, faith and trust in his eyes that Lila instantly understood no words would ever be enough to sever.
“So when then, did you come up with your brilliant plan to use me as a way to get Carl?”
“After what happened with Kirkland and Spencer, when I realized that Carl Hutchins still posed a very real threat to Bay City and its residents. ”
“Why should I believe you?” Lila challenged. “After everything you’ve pulled, after all the lies, and the lies on top of lies, and the lies to cover those lies, why should I believe a single word that comes out of your mouth?”
“Because Jasmine could be next in the line of fire. ”
“Prove it,” Lila snarled. “I am done taking your word as gospel. ”
Chase gave her dare a moment’s thought. And then he said, “Alright. Let’s go home. Right now. Carl, Rachel, the kids, they’re all here. We’ll have the house to ourselves. Give me a chance to find what I’m looking for, and show it to you. Then you can decide for yourself whether or not I’ve been telling the truth about the danger we’ll all in. ”
The dimly lit halls of the Bay City Country Club were a thickly carpeted maze that made it nearly impossible for Grant to keep up with Sarah. Because, of course, he’d followed her off the dance floor. Had there ever been a doubt that he would? Had he ever truly had any choice in the matter?
She’d moved so quickly, though, all Grant caught was the flash of a blue dress around a corner, the padded rhythm of her feet that grew clearer the further they got away from the music of the main room, and, he could swear it, the linger of her perfume in the air, telling Grant he was headed in the right direction.
He followed almost blindly, hurrying past the pool, past gyms and billiard rooms, cafes and lounges, auditoriums and theaters, until a light at the end of a corridor, a sign in front advertising the Massage Center, told Grant he’d finally reached his destination.
He entered the brilliantly lit room, wincing after the dusk of the halls, to find Sarah standing there, waiting for him.
Winded, for a moment Grant could only stare at her, wordlessly.
Sarah didn’t say anything either.
Grant knew he could still walk away.
Turn on his heel and walk out the door and it would all be over. Grant felt certain of that. If he managed to resist Sarah now, that would be it. Her spell over him would be broken. He’d be a free man. Albeit a miserable one.
Freedom, Grant decided, was highly overrated.
In three quick steps he was across the room, pulling Sarah into his arms, kissing her so fully and so deeply that by all rights she should have melted into him completely. Only it didn’t work that way. Instead, Grant found himself melting into her, falling and being caught almost simultaneously.
He broke away merely long enough to whisper, “God, I’ve missed you so much. You have no idea. So much has happened…”
Sarah arched her back, laughing, allowing Grant’s lips to trail down her mouth and chin and across her exposed neck as she asked him, “Do you want to talk, or make love?”
And Grant, as much to his own surprise as anyone’s, sheepishly admitted, “Both. ”
For the second time in as many months, Steven saw the light on in Jen’s BCU office, hours after it rightly should have been, especially under the circumstances.
“What are you doing here?” he poked his head in, shaking it disapprovingly for good measure.
“I had a lot of work to catch up on. ” She didn’t look up from her desk.
“The University doesn’t offer a sick leave policy?”
“I can carry my own weight. ” The entirety of Jen’s attention appeared to be focused on two pages from her textbook. “I’m not going to ask anybody to add my class-load to theirs. It wouldn’t be fair. ”
“Lots of things aren’t fair. ”
“Does that mean we should give up on trying to make them that way?”
Steven groaned. “You really are a pain in the ass, you know that?”
“No one is making you stick around,” Jen reminded, still not looking up.
“Just what is so damn interesting there, anyway?” Steven stepped to peer over her shoulder. He tapped the open textbook page. “This? This is just a standard dynamical systems equation, right?”
“You know it?”
“Not this one in particular, but I’ve used comparable models in ergonic theory, some functional analysis. This is undergrad stuff. ”
“It’s for one of my undergrad sections. ”
“Yeah, right, like I said, basic. ”
“I can’t make it work,” Jen said, dully.
Suddenly near tears, Jen told him, “I’ve been teaching this set of equations since I was a TA, Junior year. And right now, I can’t make it work. ”
“Maybe there’s an arithmetic error,” Steven scanned her scribbled calculations.
“No. I don’t – I don’t even know where to being. I can’t even figure out how it’s supposed to work, much less what I did wrong. ”
“You’ve got a lot on your mind. ”
“Or I’m losing it. ”
“You’re allowed to have an off day. Nobody’s perfect. ”
Jen cocked her head. “Would you accept that as an excuse?”
“From myself? No way. ”
“But, from other, lesser mortals? Sure. ”
This time, Jen’s laugh was actually sincere. “Sure, kick a girl when she’s down. ”
“Just give it some time,” Steven urged. “You’ll get it eventually. ”
“I’ve been at it for close to an hour. ”
“I’ll help,” Steven offered, pulling up a chair next to her.
“I’ve got a dozen of these to prepare for tomorrow. ”
“Then we’d better get started. ”
She shook her head. “Even if you can… What are you going to do, Steven, come into class with me tomorrow and walk me through each equation?”
“No need,” he said. “What do you think Smart Boards are for? We program in the whole lesson – presto! – no memorization required. You just read what’s there. Trust me, Jen, the two of us? We can pull this off. Nobody ever has to know. ”
“I’m sorry,” Alice filled in Lucas when he showed up on the doorstep. “Lorna and Jamie haven’t come home yet. And I’ve already put Devon to sleep for the night. ”
“You’re still welcome to come in. ” Alice opened the door.
“I – I wanted to wish my little girl a happy birthday. In person. ”
“I doubt they’ll be much longer. You can wait for her, if you’d like. ”
“I wouldn’t want to impose. ”
“Not at all. I’d enjoy the company. Your granddaughter is beautiful and charming and an overall delight. But, I’m afraid she isn’t much of a conversationalist. ”
“Yet,” Lucas predicted.
“Yet,” Alice agreed, ushering him inside.
“If she’s anything like Lorna…” Lucas took the seat Alice offered. “Lorna isn’t exactly shy about expressing her opinions. Verbally or otherwise. Though I don’t really know what she was like at Devon’s age…”
“Can I offer you some coffee?” Alice deftly maneuvered him off the painful subject.
“No, thank you. I’m fine. I just got back from Felicia’s shin-dig. ”
“How was it?”
Lucas struggled to think of a single word to describe the entire experience, finally settling on, “Loud. ”
Alice smiled in spite of herself. “That’s it?”
“Mostly. Between the music and the chatter and the glad-handing… Fanny didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she seemed precisely in her element. ”
“But, it wasn’t your idea of a good time?” Alice asked sympathetically, settling next to Lucas on the couch.
“It used to be,” he admitted. “There was a time when I loved nothing better than a party, working the room, having a good time, making connections, networking. You name the buzz-word, and I was there. ”
“So what’s changed?”
“I have. After everything I’ve been through, not just the period I was gone, but, the past few years, losing Jenna, then nearly losing Lorna, too… My idea of a pleasant interlude no longer includes an adrenalin rush. ”
“Age?” Alice teased.
“Wisdom,” he corrected.
She smiled, admitting, “I feel the opposite. I feel like I wasted too much of my early life being timid and conservative and polite. I must admit, I’m enjoying finally being able to say what I really feel without being afraid of what others might think. ”
“I suspect Fanny agrees with you. Not that she was ever a shrinking violet. ”
“I can imagine. ”
“But, her behavior tonight, she was clearly having the time of her life. ”
“Without you?” Alice guessed.
He nodded gloomily. “I wonder sometimes if I ever knew her, really knew her. Our time together has been so brief… First, we were kids, then we were instant parents, then, all this non-ending drama…. Jenna, Lori Ann, Lorna, Morgan, Cass, Cecile, the compound. I look at Fanny sometimes, and I see a stranger. ”
Alice listened intently, but declined to say anything in response. What, after all, was there to say?
Lucas seemed to have run out of words as well. All except, “Thank you,” he told Alice. “Thank you for allowing me to ramble on like this. ”
“Everyone needs a sympathetic ear once in a while. ”
“True. Not everybody finds one, though. Especially not one as kind as you or generous or… beautiful,” Lucas said.
“Oh,” Alice startled at the last one.
Just before Lucas, to their mutual surprise, leaned in to kiss her.
“Where’s your blushing groom?” Morgan sidled up to Amanda, bearing a drink she hadn’t asked for.
She accepted the drink, even as Amanda told him. “I don’t know. I don’t need to keep an eye on Kevin every single minute. We’re not co-dependant. That’s yours and Lorna’s department. ”
“Not anymore,” Morgan qualified, the regret in his voice obvious and pained.
“She still not over that pesky you tried to abort her baby thing?” Amanda wondered in mock-shock.
“Go figure. And speaking of which… How’s your path to second-time motherhood moving along?”
Amanda glared at him even as she kept her tone chipper. “Kevin’s gotten the ball rolling. Filed the papers. It takes a long time to adopt. ”
“I saw Ike for his post-op check-up this morning. He didn’t say a word about it. And Ike… Ike doesn’t really play a lot of cards close to his vest, if you catch my drift?”
“He doesn’t know yet. ”
“You haven’t told him?”
“In case it doesn’t go through. We wouldn’t want to get his hopes up. He’ll be crushed. ”
“Why wouldn’t the adoption go through? This is Kevin’s area of expertise. Tearing me a new one on the witness stand was only a side-gig for him, and he did a bang up job with that. Can’t imagine what kind of miracles he could pull off in his own wheelhouse. ”
“Adopting a child is complicated. There are social worker interviews and background checks and criminal records…”
The remainder of Amanda’s words were cut off by the sound of a shrill shriek coming from the party’s outdoor area, followed by the splash of bodies hitting the pool.
Amanda turned around, amused in advance to see who exactly had gotten so smashed already that they couldn’t remain upright. The smile wavered in confusion and died as soon as she realized that one of the waterlogged parties appeared to be her husband.
And that the other was Elizabeth.
Even Morgan proved too surprised to smirk at the sight. Although Amanda knew he was thinking about it.
Her sister was the first one out of the pool, scampering up the ladder while Kevin was still treading water, looking equal parts startled and baffled.
She staggered into Rachel and Carl’s waiting arms, dripping wet, teeth chattering from the cold, babbling incoherently and hysterically, gesticulating in Kevin’s direction.
“What the hell is going on?” Amanda ran up to the three of them, grabbing Elizabeth by the shoulder, shaking her for good measure. “What happened?”
“Him,” Elizabeth’s voice cracked. “It was him. Him. ” She pointedly definitively at Kevin. “He attacked me!”
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