“When will they tell us anything?” Jeanne demanded as she and Rachel bid their time at the BCU emergency-room waiting area, following Jamie’s calls to them both about Matt being brought in.
“It always takes forever.” Unlike a pacing Jeanne, Rachel sat uncomfortably upright in her chair, nearly frozen with terror at the thought of yet another tragedy befalling yet another of her children. “You’d think knowing someone on staff would speed up the process, but, it’s actually the opposite. The more familiar they are with the patient, the more time they take, to make sure nothing’s been overlooked.”
“Jamie said Matt had… a heart attack?” Jeanne wanted to make sure she’d understood his message. He’d sounded so rushed.
“Jamie said that was his best guess,” Rachel qualified.
“But, Matt – he’s so young.”
“He’s been under a ridiculous amount of stress lately,” her mother-in-law reminded pointedly.
Jeanne nodded, accepting any blame Rachel wished to send her way, then adding, “I’m sorry.”
“Not the time, Jeanne. Not the place.”
“I disappointed you.”
“Did you hear what I just said? I don’t want to talk about this. I only want to know what is going on with my son.”
“I told Matt that I was sorry, too. I tried to make up for what I did.”
“Damn it,” Rachel snapped. “Are you simply incapable of listening? Is the voice inside your own head the only one you pay any mind to?”
“I’m sorry,” Jeanne repeated.
Thankfully, Rachel was saved from another go-around of this particular conversation by Jamie finally exiting through the swinging doors and, before either Rachel or Jeanne even had a chance to ask, reassuring, “Matt’s going to be fine.”
“Oh, thank God,” Rachel said.
“Did he really have a heart-attack?” Jeanne wondered.
“Seems that way,” Jamie nodded. “A minor one. Alice is running a few more tests to make sure we’ve thoroughly assessed the extent of the damage.”
“Alice?” Rachel startled. “I thought you were Matt’s doctor.”
He shook his head. “The hospital has a strict policy against treating family members. I was mostly in there to keep Matt from yelling that he was fine and we should let him out already.”
“When will he be able to go home?” Jeanne asked, as both Rachel and Jamie looked at her queerly. Neither figured Jeanne’s place was where Matt would want to be discharged to, under the circumstances.
“I’ll go check how they’re doing with the tests,” Jamie side-stepped Jeanne’s question. “I’ll keep you both posted. I promise.”
Rachel waited for her eldest son to exit before turning back to his brother’s wife. Rachel informed Jeanne, “You can’t be serious. You’re the reason Matt is in this state!”
“Not just me,” Jeanne stuck to her guns. “Donna is the one who – “
“Donna!” Rachel thundered, understanding that she was taking her pent-up anxiety and subsequent relief out on Jeanne; not caring one bit, figuring she deserved it. “Donna was not the one who set my son up to see pictures of his wife in bed with his best friend!”
“Actually, she was,” Jeanne was nothing if she wasn’t a stickler for details. “Donna had those pictures taken, and Donna had them published.”
That threw Rachel off her game for a moment. But, she recovered enough to demand, “And did Donna also doctor the pictures to merely make it look like you and Dean were playing my son for a fool, or is there at least one thing in this scenario you’re willing to take responsibility for?”
Jeanne declined to respond.
Which was perfectly fine with Rachel, who advised, “Go home, Jeanne. Go home and don’t come back here until you’re invited. Unless you’re invited. You’ve done enough damage. The last person Matt needs to see, in his condition, is you.”
“Is that Uncle Jamie?” Jasmine demanded upon entering the room and catching Lila in the process of hanging up her phone.
“No, sugarplum, I’m afraid it’s not. Though your grandma did call a few minutes back to report that it looks like your Daddy’s going to be just fine.”
“He didn’t look fine at Kirkland’s party last night.”
“Well, there’s a reason for that. It appears he had a heart-attack.”
Jasmine blinked frantically. “But, that’s serious! People die from heart-attacks! They die all the time!”
“Your daddy only had a little, teeny, tiny one,” Lila reassured, hugging Jasmine tightly. “He’s going to make a full recovery.”
“I was so scared, Mama,” Jasmine sniffled.
“I know you were. But, guess what else I know? I know that if it hadn’t been for your quick thinking, your Daddy might be a lot worse off right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know how Matt is. He’d be saying it’s just a little flesh wound as a shark bites off his leg. If you’d listened to his protestations, he might have gone home and gotten a whole lot sicker, with no one around to take care of him. You saved your Daddy’s life, I’ve got no doubts about that.”
Jasmine didn’t look completely convinced. “When can we go see him at the hospital?”
“Well, not this morning,” Lila said. “For one thing, he’s still being looked over, Grandma reported. And for another, Michele and Bridget are coming.”
“I offered. Those girls have had some rough news themselves recently.”
“What kind of rough news?”
“I promised I wouldn’t repeat. Now, it’s nothing bad they did, but, when I heard about it, I thought they could use a little cheering up. And I know how good you are at that.”
“Should I tell them about Daddy, or should I keep it a secret, too?”
“Go ahead and tell, if that’s what you want. I think the three of you ought to be real good company for each other, keep your minds off your troubles.”
The doorbell rang.
“That ought to be them now,” Lila smiled broadly in an attempt to buck her daughter up, and Jasmine obediently did the same. “That’s my good girl. I can always count on you.”
She let Michele and Bridget in, then shooed the twins off with Jasmine before turning to Grant, who’d dropped them off without Marley, and asking, “And where might you be headed this fine morning, Senator?”
The look on Grant’s face told Lila everything she wanted – and didn’t want – to know. “Oh, Lord.”
“I thought you’d be happy with the acceptances I got,” Charlie looked, befuddled, from Cass to Frankie, wondering why her college options were being received with such gloom. “The only major no was from Northwestern, and we always knew that was a reach, right?”
“Oh, no, no, we’re very proud of you,” Frankie rushed to reassure, patting her daughter’s hand. “You got into some wonderful schools.”
“Okay. So… this being Bay City, I guess I’ve got to ask: Who died?”
“What?” Cass’ head bobbed up.
“You guys look like you’re ready for a funeral. And if it’s not my college – “
“Nobody died,” Cass said.
“Good. I thought maybe Matt…”
“I know. I texted Jazz. But, there's always last minute stuff…”
“Matt is fine,” Frankie backed up Cass. “The reason your father and I look so upset… Charlie… We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to afford college for you.”
“Oh,” she said, uncertain of how to react exactly.
“Our finances have been very unstable lately,” Cass walked the fine line between giving her a realistic assessment, and scaring her. “Ever since I – “
“Went to jail?”
“Lost my license,” Cass said. “We’ve been barely getting by.”
“And then my accident pushed us over the edge,” Charlie guessed.
“Not exactly. Now that the case is settled, insurance should reimburse us, but, some expenses needed to be covered out of pocket and…” he sighed. “This is all my fault.”
“It’s the truth, Frankie. Charlie was right. If I hadn’t gone to jail – if I hadn’t done what I did in order to be sent to jail, we’d be fine. I’d have my license and my practice and we’d have enough money for everything, including Charlie’s education. But, as it stands, we don’t.”
“It’s okay, Dad,” Charlie said softly.
“It is?” Cass had been expecting a plethora of reactions. He hadn’t been expecting that one.
“It’s okay. I get it. I get what it means to make a bad choice, or, worse, to do something without thinking through the consequences, and then the whole world going to Hell in a flash. Like daughter, like father, I guess.”
“Please don’t blame yourself.”
“Back at you.”
“She’s right,” Frankie said, moved. “We all have to accept responsibility for where we’ve ended up – for the moment. Just like we all have to take responsibility for digging ourselves out of this hole. If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.” She identified the originator, “Askhari Johnson Hodari.”
“All for one, and one for all,” Cass agreed, gamely. “The Three Musketeers.”
“Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all. Together we stand, divided we fall,” Charlie quoted just as gravely as they had, only to burst out laughing when her parents, in unison, named the speaker.
“What did Mike say?” Amanda all but leapt on Kevin as soon as her husband finished reading the e-mail from his attorney.
“In a nutshell? Sit tight.”
“The wheels of justice grind slowly. Especially when some very wealthy and powerful people are the ones in charge of the train schedule.”
“I wish there was some way I could help,” Amanda said. “I’m doing the best I can with massaging the media coverage, but….”
“There’s a losing battle. Rachel Hutchins’ son-in-law accused by her teen-age daughter? An Internet-wide black-out couldn’t keep it from spreading coast-to-coast. They’d send it by drum if they had to.” He sighed, forcing himself to let go of the bubbling anger. “I really appreciate your unyielding support throughout all this.” Kevin raised his hand to stroke Amanda’s cheek.
And she – instinctively, involuntarily, unthinkingly – flinched.
For a moment both stood frozen in place, realizing what had just happened.
“I’m sorry,” Amanda pleaded. “I didn’t mean – “
“It’s okay,” Kevin said calmly. Much, much too calmly.
“I don’t know why I did that. You surprised me, that’s all.”
“It’s okay,” he repeated. “I understand.”
“I know Elizabeth is lying,” Amanda insisted. “I know she is. You could never do what she’s accused you of. I don’t have any doubts, none at all.”
“That’s nice of you to say.”
“I mean it.”
“I don’t blame you,” Kevin went on, her denials flying past him, unacknowledged. “It’s hard. Saying the words is one thing. Feeling them…”
“I know you’re innocent,” Amanda swore.
“It’s okay,” was the only thing Kevin could offer tiredly in return.
“I knew you’d come,” Sarah flew into Grant’s arms before he even had the chance to fully cross her apartment’s threshold.
“You have so much faith in me,” Grant said softly, clearly not merely referring to the present situation.
“I do,” she beamed. “I always have.”
“Yes.” Grant closed the door behind him, allowing Sarah to lead him to the couch, then to curl up against him, sighing so contentedly that Grant instantly felt guilty for whatever it was he knew he’d eventually do to disappoint her.
“How long can you stay?”
“How long do you want me to stay?”
“Forever,” Sarah tossed the word off as if it were nothing.
Grant shook his head, fighting the urge to laugh – not at her, at himself. “You’ll get tired of me,” he predicted. “You’ll realize how old and boring and set-in-my-ways and – “
“Sexy and exciting and fantastic and – “
“I am,” Grant finished despite her attempt to redirect. “You’re young and beautiful and smart and vivacious and ambitious.” There, now they’d both set the record for most conjunctions in a conversation. “And you have your whole life ahead of you. I’ll only slow you down. You should be enjoying yourself with boys your own age.”
“I am smart,” Sarah concurred. “Smart enough to realize I’ve got nothing to learn from boys my own age. And they’ve certainly got nothing to teach me. Not like you.” Same as Grant earlier, Sarah clearly wasn’t merely referring to American History.
“There’s more to life than – “
“Trying new things? Learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know? Meeting all kinds of different people? Improving yourself?”
“That’s what college is for. A year abroad. An internship. Backpacking through Asia. The Peace Corp. Not a furtive fling with… with an old man.” Grant figured he’d better say it, in case it had escaped Sarah’s attention up to this point.
She ignored the furtive and the old to focus on, “I’m not having a fling. Are you?”
Grant groaned, hating himself for being unable to lie to her as he confessed, “No….”
“What do you want, Carl?” Lorna continued to hold the front door open, so Rachel’s husband might get the hint he wasn’t wanted, even as Carl appeared content to make himself at home in her and Jamie’s living room.
He sat down, arms draped over the back of the sofa, legs crossed, head turned in Lorna’s direction. “We need to have a little chat.”
“No, Carl, we really don’t.”
“I understand that you are one of the scant people in Bay City who did not automatically assume my daughter was fabricating her allegations against Mr. Fowler.”
Lorna stayed where she was, fingers tightening around the doorknob as she noted, “I’d hardly be one to talk, would I?”
“Quite right, quite right. You do bring an impressive wealth of previous life experience to this particular table.”
“I wasn’t lying when I…” Lorna reminded through gritted teeth.
“You were about the good Dr. Winthrop.”
“I – I made a mistake.”
“And is that what you believe Elizabeth has made? A mistake regarding her attacker’s identity?”
He was trying to intimidate her. Lorna knew it as clearly as Carl was making no attempt to hide it. She refused to let him get to her. “You can stop beating around the bush. I know Jamie talked to Rachel about what I thought might have really happened.”
“You conniving, manipulative, little harlot,” Carl said as conversationally as if he were reading off today’s weather. “Even you, for all your black, putrid, misplaced hatred towards me, cannot truly believe that I would be capable of molesting my own child.”
“I like the qualifier,” Lorna observed. “Your own child.”
“What sort of game are you playing, my dear? What is your true objective? Come now, tell me. I might be able to assist you in refining your strategy.”
“Just like old times,” Lorna sniffed.
“Precisely.” Carl smiled, avuncular, in an expression that failed to quite reach his eyes. “What are you after here? What might be the ultimate end-game? Jamie’s money? A piece of the Cory estate? The entire pie, perhaps? Alienate Amanda and Matthew from their mother. Do the same to Elizabeth, Cory, and I, and your way – along with that of your photo-finish legitimate offspring, is practically clear. Except I’m afraid I have no intention of allowing that to happen. Jig is up. Time to concede defeat, cut your losses, and withdraw to greener pastures. I’d be happy to make your excuses to the family.”
“It’s finally happened,” Lorna dismissed. “You’ve gone completely senile, at last.”
“No such luck, I am afraid. My faculties are most in order. I daresay, I am seeing clearer these days than I have in years.”
“Isn’t that the first sign of insanity? Insisting your point of view is normal and everyone else is out of whack?”
“In point of fact, if anything, my first sign of malfunction was permitting you anywhere near enough to undermining me before my wife and children. I should have grasped the obvious as soon as you commenced sniffing around Rachel’s eldest son. Alas, I had the wool pulled over my eyes regarding your newfound kindler, gentler nature. The fact that others were equally deceived is small comfort – I should have known better. Kudos, my dear, on your masquerade. A spectacular job all around. Precisely as I taught you.”
“Go to Hell, Carl,” Lorna’s polite tone echoed his. Although it took all her self-control to keep from marching over to the couch, grabbing Carl by his wrinkle-free lapels and drop-kicking him to the curb.
He stood up slowly, advancing on Lorna until he towered directly above her, his face inches from hers. In a flash, he’d raised his arm to grip Lorna’s face between his fingers. Stunned and out of practice when it came to his lightening strikes, she momentarily froze.
“Fair warning,” Carl hissed. “Do listen closely, for I shan’t be repeating myself. Proceed down this path, attempt by any means to come between Rachel and I, and I will transform your existence into a Hell beyond even your fertile imagination.…” Carl’s eyes wafted up the stairs, in the direction of Devon’s room, then pointedly returned to drift over Lorna’s body, towards her swelling waist-line.
It was the threat to her children that snapped Lorna out of her shocked paralysis, and she wrenched free from Carl’s grasp with an almost feral growl. “Speaking of pulling wool over the world’s eyes regarding someone’s newfound, kindler, gentler nature….”
“I will do whatever is necessary to protect my family, Lorna.”
“So will I, Carl.”
He smirked. “Hardly a fair fight.”
“Don’t bet on it,” she predicted.
“Where’s Matthew?” Donna blew into the waiting area, descending upon Rachel with nary a preamble or lament.
Matt’s mother looked up in surprise from her phone, where she’d been texting the latest prognosis to Lila for Jasmine. “What are you doing here, Donna?”
“Why was I the last to hear of Matthew’s illness? I had to learn of it from Marley, for goodness’ sake, and she didn’t deign to fill me in until late this morning. How is he? What happened? Where are his doctors? Do I need to call Russ directly? Damn it, Rachel, answer me. Tell me what’s going on with Matthew!”
Sympathetic to her genuine distress, Rachel reassured, “He’s going to be fine. He had a minor heart-attack – “
“Oh, my God,” Donna’s hand flew to her throat.
“A minor one,” Rachel stressed. “Jamie and Alice assure me he’s going to be fine.”
“Jamie and Alice are not cardiologists! Matthew should be seen by a specialist!”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“I don’t give a damn what you think,” Donna dismissed, reaching for her own phone. “I’ll make some calls, see who’s available. Though, frankly, the dearth of medical talent in this town is deplorable. We’ll need to enlist a helicopter, have Matthew air-lifted to someplace with a legitimate cardiac center, not merely the edict to swallow two baby aspirin and revisit the situation in the morning.”
Rachel reached over to snap shut Donna’s phone, nearly catching her fingers in the latch and prompting the other woman to gasp with over-exaggerated shock. “You won’t be doing anything where my son is concerned.”
“I beg to differ. I am going to see to it that Matthew receives the absolutely best care possible.”
“Just who do you think you are?” Rachel wondered, incredulous.
Donna flipped open her phone dismissively, raising it to her ear, and half turning away from Rachel. The last thing she told Matt’s mother was, “I’m Matthew’s wife.”
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