“You gave me quite a scare, darling,” Donna purred as she waltzed into Matt’s hospital room, wrinkling her nose at the banal décor and thinking about what she could do to spruce up the place, even if it was only for a few days.
“Donna…” Matt croaked out, a shot of natural adrenalin prompting his heart-monitor to blip into double-time.
Donna noticed and instantly rushed to his bedside, stroking Matt’s hair, kissing him on the forehead, on the cheek, on the lips, murmuring, “Don’t get upset, everything is fine, nothing to worry about, everything is wonderful, as a matter of fact.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Where else would I be while my husband is in the hospital?”
“Who let you in?”
“Alice. And your mother was kind enough to give us our privacy.”
“Rachel was perfectly understanding.”
“Yes. As soon as I showed her our marriage license, she – “
“You did what?”
“I had to, Matthew. She wouldn’t believe me, at first. Which, I suppose, is perfectly reasonable in light of Jeanne and the farce of a ceremony she coerced you into enduring.”
“You told my mother we were married?”
“And she was fine about it?”
“In a fashion.”
“Ah.” He leaned back into his pillow. “That makes more sense now.”
“Except it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters save your getting well again.”
“Alice says I’m going to be fine.”
“Of course, you are.” Donna patted his shoulder reassuringly. “We’ll disentangle you from that Ewing parasite once and for all, and then you and I can spend the rest of our lives together, the way it should have been all along.”
“Does Jeanne know? About us, I mean?”
“What concern is that of yours?”
“I owe her an explanation.”
“You owe her nothing save a sharp punt to the posterior region and a brisk introduction to the sidewalk.”
“Was that your way of telling me I need to kick Jeanne's ass to the curb?”
“Don’t be vulgar, Matthew. But… yes.”
He smiled. “You really are something else.”
“It’s about time you remembered.”
“Alright.” He sighed. “Just let me get out of here, settle things with Jeanne, and then you and I can – “
“You know how impressed you were,” Donna interrupted. “With Ms. Ewing’s allegedly selfless gesture in sacrificing her career in the name of Dean’s honor?”
“Well, yes… It was just so unlike her…”
“I’ve given it some thought and decided you’re right. Dean does deserve closure, and justice for Jenna – even if it is only a symbolic gesture.”
His wife looked so darned pleased with herself, Matt could only fight his rising dread as he asked, “Donna… what have you done?”
“Something bound to make you happy, my darling. Earlier this morning, I spoke to my attorney. I am signing over all of my assets, absolutely every penny I can presently lay claim to, to Lori Ann – with Dean as trustee.”
“My dear, what is it?” Carl took one look at Rachel’s ashen face upon his return home, and instantly assumed the worst. “Matthew…”
“Is fine,” Rachel said dully. “Albeit married to Donna – “
“But, physically fine.”
“Matthew is married to Donna?”
“Since last summer, apparently.”
“A long, complicated masquerade, the purpose of which I’m still having a bit of trouble determining.”
“How very Donna.”
“You’d know, wouldn’t you?” Rachel mused. “My son is married to my husband’s ex-wife. There’s a tree not a lot of families can lay claim to.”
“It could be worse,” Carl observed.
“Yes,” Rachel said, suddenly no longer talking about Matt and Donna. “It could be.”
Carl picked up the implications in her tone, if not the specifics. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Wordlessly, Rachel picked up Cory’s laptop, and turned it for Carl to see.
He narrowed his eyes and scanned the topics just as she had earlier.
“I don’t understand,” Carl finally said.
“I think you do. Steven accessed Elizabeth’s computer remotely. This is a history of everything she’s read over the past few weeks.”
“Obviously, after her traumatic experience, Elizabeth wished to seek kinship in other – “
“Look at the dates, Carl.”
“Dates can be fabricated.”
“By whom? For what?”
“Steven!” Carl uttered the first name that sprung to mind. “He’s friends with the Fowler girl, is he not? Their acquaintance goes all the way back to Gregory Hudson’s demise. This sort of fraud is precisely within his skill set. The boy has both motive and means.”
“Don’t, Carl.” Rachel begged. “Please. Just… don’t.”
“Your lack of faith in our child – “
“Is perfectly justified.”
“You’d take Steven’s word over Elizabeth’s? For goodness’ sake, Rachel, for all you know, Jamie has put him up to this. Blood, after all, is thicker than water.”
“Jamie is my blood,” Rachel reminded.
“But, he isn’t mine,” Carl seethed, then, realizing this perhaps wasn’t the best tack to take, softened his accusation to, “Lorna, then. It was most likely Lorna. She’s seduced Jamie into her plan to destroy me, how do we know she hasn’t done the same to Steven?”
“She did it with Matthew, Rachel. She did it with Matthew!”
“That was years ago. And on your orders,” Rachel said.
“My point still stands. Lorna is no stranger to this sort of deception.”
“Cory,” Rachel said.
“Cory. Our son. Your son. He’s the one who invited Steven over, who asked him to hack into Elizabeth’s machine. This was all Cory’s doing.”
“I don’t believe you. For all of Cory’s and my perfectly normal, perfectly to be expected father/son discord – it’s only right, a boy challenging his elder; I applaud him for it – Cory loves his sister. He would never, ever betray Elizabeth in such a manner.”
“Cory has a conscience,” Rachel said. “I realize you probably see that as something less than perfectly normal, not precisely expected. But, he does have one. Did you expect Cory to stand by watching Elizabeth destroy an innocent man’s life, and do nothing to stop it?”
“Kevin Fowler is hardly innocent.”
“In this he is! Kevin didn’t do anything to Elizabeth. Amanda was right.”
“Amanda was right,” Carl thundered. “Jamie was right, Matt, Steven, all of them. Is it too much to ask of you to, just once, take my children’s side over yours?”
“And here I could have sworn Cory and Elizabeth were my children, too,” Rachel said dryly, not a speck of amusement in her voice.
“You know what I intended to say.”
“I do. Except, right now, I don’t care. What I do care about, and rather urgently, is what you intend to do about Elizabeth. Because, I promise you, Carl, if you don’t immediately deal with this, I will.”
“Thank you for taking the girls to Lila’s today,” Marley told Grant after he’d dropped them off at school on his way home.
“You’re welcome,” Grant smiled, taking a seat across the table from his wife, reaching for an apple and slicing it with the extreme casualness of a man who had done absolutely nothing wrong earlier, across town. “I figured you could use the break.”
“Yes. I could. I did. Problem is, all I’ve done is push off the inevitable for a few hours. I still don’t know what to say the next time I see them. The next time they ask me about Jake and Vicky. I’m not so foolish as to think this will be the end of the discussion.”
“The discussion may not be over, but it can certainly be tabled until they’re older, more able to understand all the complex issues at play.”
“I’m how many times their age, and I still don’t understand it. Honestly, sometimes I look back on my life, and I have no idea how I got from one point to the next. Why I did what I did, how things ended up this way instead of that. If that’s where I am still, how can I possibly make any sense of it for the girls?”
“None of us are living the life we expected,” Grant noted.
Marley cocked her head, teasing him only slightly when she inquired, “You mean you didn’t expect to be married to Vicky’s sister, raising her and Jake’s daughters while your own son calls another man Dad?”
“Not exactly,” Grant grumbled.
“What did you expect your life to be like by now?” Marley wondered, genuinely curious.
“Well, I wasn’t counting on being on my fourth marriage, that’s for sure.”
“You mean, you really thought you’d meet the perfect woman while you were young and promptly live happily ever after?”
“What can I say?” Grant shrugged. “Spencer set a hell of an example, worshipping my mother’s “memory” all those years. By the time I found out it was all a crock, it was too late. The pattern had been imprinted. The expectation set.”
“And what did you think she’d be like, this woman you’d spend your life with? Was she like Ann – that was her name, right? Ann? The one you were engaged to when you first came to Bay City.”
“No,” Grant shook his head. “Ann was my father’s idea of an ideal wife for his future President of the United States, not mine. I just went along because… because I thought Spencer knew best, and I… didn’t. Ann was pleasant enough. But, I wasn’t interested in pleasant. I wanted exciting. I wanted challenging and passionate and unpredictable. I wanted a woman who’d make me think and make me feel and make me do crazy things and not regret a moment of it. I wanted a woman who would force me to live life without a net – or a focus group. And who’d make me a better man for doing so.”
“Sounds like someone I knew very well,” Marley said softly.
She was talking about Vicky. Of course, she was talking about Vicky. All Grant could do at this point was nod, noncommittal. And wish like hell his description didn’t fit yet another young woman equally as well.
In any case, he changed the subject. “Naturally, I also expected to have as many children by now as a Kennedy.”
“Robert,” Grant laughed. And then he asked Marley, “How about you? Where did you expect to be today?”
“Not married to you.”
“I assumed as much,” he took no offense, smiling. “Who did you think you’d be with? Who was Marley Hudson’s – no, Marley Love’s – dream man?” He guessed, “Jake?”
“No. Oh, no.” Marley shook her head. “I think the reason Jake was so attractive to me in the beginning was because he was the exact opposite of everything I once thought I wanted. He was dangerous and brooding and he wouldn’t let me boss him around. Plus, never discount the allure of a black, leather jacket.”
“Ah, yes, it did do wonders for The Fonz.”
Marley recalled, “Jake’s cousin, Ben, on the other hand…”
“Isn’t Ben,” Grant searched for a tactful way to phrase it. “Currently married to his own dream man?”
Marley nodded. “He hadn’t quite connected the dots when we… Anyway, he was very sweet. Polite, upstanding, respectable.”
“Sounds like someone I know very well,” Grant turned Marley’s words back on her. “Not that I’m happy about it.”
“Funny that before they got around to us, Vicky and Jamie found each other, isn’t it?”
“Talk about a mismatch made in Hell.”
“I’m sure they’d say the same about us.”
“I’m pretty sure Jamie has said a lot worse.”
“But, it’s okay, isn’t it? Dreams… fantasies… They’re not supposed to come true, are they? They’re just something you cling to when you’re young, and you don’t know how the world really works yet. You set a life-plan for yourself, and then things… happen.”
“That’s awfully fatalistic of you, Marley.”
“They don’t have to be bad things. They can be good things, too. And, as long as you’re willing to be flexible… As long as you don’t insist on trying to force things that aren’t meant to be – “
“Like I did with Vicky?” Grant asked, ruefully.
“Like I did with Jamie,” Marley refused to let herself off that particular hook, either. “I think, as long as you don’t hurt anyone – as long as you don’t hurt them irrevocably, and you’re open to possibilities, then things can still turn out… okay. We can all still be happy. Even if our lives didn’t end up exactly like we wanted. Or planned.”
“As long as we don’t hurt anybody….”
“Irrevocably.” Grant smiled sorrowfully and took his wife’s hand. “You are a very wise woman.”
She shrugged. “What options do I have left?”
“You want to know what makes me morally superior to Horace Johnson,” Kevin did his best to keep his voice down. “Well, for one thing, I’m not a drug dealing, armed robber whose idea of parenting was taking a cigarette to – “
“Daddy!” Jen interrupted, half-rising out of bed, only to lower her voice and beg, “Don’t. Please… don’t.”
Kevin looked at his daughter in surprise, first unable to understand why she cut him off, then, when comprehension slowly dawned, merely looking disgusted.
Jen flashed him an expression of gratitude, then turned to GQ, telling him, “And you, please don’t talk to my father like that. He’s only trying to help me.”
“By turning another human being into a spare parts factory? Come on, Jen, nobody wants you to get better more than I do. But, there are limits, even in matters of life and death.”
“This isn’t about Jen’s biological father,” Kevin cut GQ off, partially to protect Jenny from hearing anymore of his nonsense, but mostly so that he could observe, “This is obviously about you and me. And Hudson.”
“Surprised I might feel empathy for another dad who got screwed over by you in court?”
“No,” Kevin said. “But, damned surprised you’d take it out on my daughter.”
“Okay, enough,” Jamie barked, figuring that interfering was, by this point, a medical issue that fell within his parameters. “GQ, no one is harvesting anyone for parts. All we’re talking about is contacting Jen’s father and asking if he’d be willing to be tested as a potential donor match.”
“And if he says no, then what? Break out the chain-saw?” GQ taunted, disgusted.
“One step at a time,” Jamie said. “And, Kevin, at least let me make the initial call. See what happens. You do not need to be skipping out on bail, right now.”
“Listen to him, Daddy,” Jen said. “You won’t do me any good at all, under arrest.”
Kevin told Jamie, “Twenty-four hours. If Johnson isn’t on a plane to Bay City in twenty-four hours, I’m going after him.”
“Come in, Dean,” Frankie ushered her cousin inside her home, checking with both him and Cass. “Were you supposed to pick up Lori Ann for a visit today? I must have gotten the schedule mixed up.”
“No. I – I just wanted to talk to you guys about something.”
“Shoot,” Frankie said, despite the look on Cass’s face that suggested this might not be good news. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer, she supposed.
“I… uhm… I suppose you heard about the pictures of Jeanne and me…”
“We did,” Frankie tread carefully, declining to comment further before she got a better sense of how Dean wished to proceed.
Cass, however, suffered no such qualms. He stood up, approaching Dean, informing him, “We could sue if you want. I’ll make a few calls. Put the fear of God into them. We call that In Terrorem. BCZ had no right to publish – “
“It’s okay. Lorna got everything taken down. She terroremed them pretty good, from what I hear.”
“Oh,” Cass shrugged, feigning disinterest. “Sure. Never mind, then. Glad it’s all taken care of.”
“Anyway, that’s not what I came to say. The thing about the pictures is, well, Donna had them taken, and Donna had them published. Except, first, she told me she wouldn’t publish them, if I dropped my civil suit against her. So I did.”
“Oh, Dean…” Frankie looked at him sympathetically.
While Cass observed, “That’s breech of contract!”
“Donna suggested I go to the Better Business Bureau with my objections.”
“That was particularly bitchy,” Frankie viewed.
Dean shrugged. “Whatever. I thought that was that, I thought I’d blown it for Lori Ann and for Jenna. But, then, this morning, I got a call from Donna’s lawyer. She – she’s signed over all of her assets – all of them – to… Lori Ann.”
“She what?” Frankie’s mouth dropped open.
“Did exactly what Dean said,” Cass accepted the documents the younger man handed him, skimming enough to realize that Dean had not misunderstood the situation. He told Frankie’s cousin, “She made you guardian of the estate until Lori Ann turns twenty-five.”
“Yeah, I saw that. But, Cass, Frankie, I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it. I didn’t to begin with really. This was always about getting justice for Jenna, and making sure that Lori Ann was taken care of.”
“Well, the amounts we’re talking about here will certainly achieve the latter. And then some. Just look at the commission you’ll be making as her guardian! That alone will cover anything she needs. Now and down the line.”
“I don’t want it,” Dean reiterated. “I don’t want to manage that kind of money. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to do it, I’d probably just screw it all up.”
“We’d be happy to help you,” Cass reassured.
“I don’t want help,” Dean struggled to make himself clear. “I want you to take it. You and Frankie. Take the entire estate – well, except for one thing; there’s one thing I want to do, first. I want you guys to manage it. Nobody cares more about Lori Ann than you two. You’ll see that she gets everything she deserves.”
“No, Dean, we couldn’t,” Frankie insisted.
Even as Cass checked a key paragraph and reported, “Actually, we could. Donna made the trust fund transferable.”
“You’d be helping me out,” Dean swore. “Lori Ann is already in great hands with you as her parents. Please say you’ll look out for her like this, too.”
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