“Elizabeth calls it her Mea Culpa tour,” Rachel sighed to Felicia when her friend dropped by the Cory mansion that evening. “And I realize she owes you one, as well. I feel pretty certain the police arriving to arrest one of your guests was not precisely how you planned for your launch party to end.”
“People are talking about it to this day, I’ll grant you that,” Felicia dismissed graciously.
“Elizabeth still owes you an apology but, I’ll be honest, after dragging her first to Kevin and Amanda’s, and then to Lorna and Jamie’s, I just don’t have the energy to go another round with that girl tonight. So I hope, for the time being, you’ll accept my most sincere regrets over what happened.”
“Consider it forgotten,” Felicia stepped up to hug Rachel, then hold her at arm’s length as she advised, “I’m somewhat familiar with having a difficult daughter. Who periodically makes rather ill-advised public scenes.”
“Lorna asked to speak to Elizabeth alone earlier today.”
“Really? Why? What did she say to her?”
“I have no idea. Elizabeth was rather tight-lipped over the whole thing. Not that it hasn’t been her default stance over the past few weeks. Or, truthfully, her entire life.”
“Another state of affairs with which I am infinitely familiar.” Felicia smiled wryly, then, realizing Rachel had given her an ideal opening, forged ahead, “That’s why, when Lorna does deign to let me into her confidence, however briefly, I’m left to believe the situation has truly grown desperate. Or, at the very least, that she has.”
“What’s wrong?” Rachel couldn’t think of any desperate situation for Lorna that wouldn’t include Jamie and Devon, as well.
“It’s… I… She…”
“What is it, Felicia? You’re scaring me.”
“Lorna told me… Lorna thinks that Carl…”
“What?” Rachel’s hackles went up, remembering the last time Lorna thought Carl had done something.
“Lorna thinks that Carl threatened her. And Jamie. And Devon.”
Rachel snorted. “What in the world could Lorna have that Carl – “
“He blames her and Jamie for being ring-leaders in separating the two of you.”
“That isn’t merely Carl’s suspicion, it’s a fact. Where Lorna managed to infer a threat from my husband merely stating blatant facts – “
“She says he manhandled her. Lorna says Carl grabbed her by the face, and he made it clear that unless Jamie dropped his objection to Carl being a part of your life – and, by extension, his and the children’s – Carl would make Lorna pay.”
“You’re right,” Rachel finally said after a long pause to process it all. “Your daughter and mine do have a great deal in common. Especially as it pertains to making up stories to get their way.”
“I don’t think Lorna was making things up,” Felicia tread carefully. “She seemed truly terrified.”
“Lorna mines terror from Carl saying hello. She seems incapable of imagining a world where my husband isn’t gunning for her,” Rachel pointed out, before realizing how close her words were to the ones Elizabeth had used to accuse Lorna earlier. But, it was too late to pull back now. “Which, frankly, makes me wonder what she’s done to make her feel she deserves it.”
“Lorna and Carl’s history is… complicated.”
“Not to mention, ancient,” Rachel was forced to remind a second of Carl’s exes for the second time that day. The math here was truly growing dizzying.
“Not to Lorna,” Felicia said.
“That’s her doing. Not Carl’s.”
Unwilling to get into a fight, all Felicia asked was, “Would you do me a favor, Rachel? Would you give me your word?”
“Promise me you won’t let your husband harm my daughter.”
“Felicia! No! Carl would never – “
“Then it should be a simple promise to keep. Please, Rachel, for Lorna’s peace of mind, if nothing else?”
“It’s ridiculous,” Rachel insisted, even as, before she could reply one way or the other, her cell-phone chirped, indicating an incoming text. So did Felicia’s.
They reached for them at the same time, reading the identical messages simultaneously.
“Rachel…” Felicia began.
Her friend nodded, beaming, the conflict of a few moments earlier temporarily forgotten. “We’re both grandmothers again…”
“Alice home?” Grant was forced to ask Amanda, who’d unfortunately answered the front door of what had once been his father’s house.
“No. Was she expecting you?”
Grant shook his head. “I just like to come by once in a while. Check how she’s doing.”
“That’s uncharacteristically nice. What’s in it for you?”
“She’s my father’s widow,” Grant bristled. “I want to make sure she’s alright.”
“What’s in it for you?” Amanda repeated.
“And what’s got you in such a lovely mood this evening?” Grant wondered.
“There’s no point in you sticking around,” Amanda ignored his question. “Alice will probably be out all night. She’s watching Devon. Lorna went into labor.”
“How cute. And on their wedding anniversary, too.”
“That’s an odd fact for you to remember.”
“It was a… memorable day for me, too,” Grant growled.
“Oh, yeah. Right. Your big, dramatic, falling on your sword for Marley’s sake. How did that all work out for you?”
“We’re married, aren’t we?”
“I didn’t hear happily used as an adjective.”
“And where might Kevin be tonight, Amanda?”
“It must kill you,” she continued her train of thought despite Grant’s pathetic attempt at derailment. “Kirkland calling Jamie Dad, while he and Lorna are about to have a second baby of their own, on top of it.”
“Why should Jamie and Lorna’s unremitting mating habits be any concern of mine?”
“Because he got the life you wanted, once upon a time. You, Lorna, Kirkland, babies – wasn’t that the plan? While you were married to me, that is?”
“I’ve grown up since then, Amanda. What a shame you can’t say the same.”
“Right. You’re a changed man now. That’s a pretty common refrain around these parts. These days, you’d never dream of stringing your fragile, recovering wife along, while keeping some infatuated, misguided bimbo on the side, promising both that you are in this for the long haul; ruining both their lives in the process.”
“No,” Grant said with supreme self-assurance. “I wouldn’t, as a matter of fact.”
Something about the confidence and sincerity of his tone brought Amanda up short. She’d been expecting a variety of arch and/or flip responses. Confident sincerity hadn’t been an option.
Amanda peered at him queerly. “You’re serious.”
“Yes. I am.”
“I guess,” Amanda wasn’t quite ready to back down completely. But… “I never realized you loved Marley that much.”
“Yes,” Grant said, making a point to avoid proper nouns. “I love her that much. And even more than that.”
“This is fun,” Allie told Zeno as they sat side by side on a bench, unlacing the roller-blades Zeno had suggested she bring along so they could enjoy the local skate park.
“I’m glad you liked it. I wasn’t sure if…”
“I’ve never roller-bladed here before. Usually, my mom would take us – when we were little, I mean – to an indoor rink. Or sometimes my cousins and I would just shove back the furniture and tear around the formal dining room. It used to drive our grandmother crazy. She said we destroyed her beautiful, parquet floors.”
“Your dining room is big enough to roller-blade in?” Zeno asked incredulously.
“Well, not all of them are,” Allie said apologetically. Then, in response to the look on Zeno’s face, elbowed him playfully in the ribs and laughed, “There? Is that what you expected a spoiled little rich girl to sound like?”
He shook his head. “I – I didn’t – “
“Sure you did. Everybody does. As soon as they hear I’m a Cory, everybody expects me to be this stuck-up princess looking down her nose at other people.”
Zeno conceded, “Everybody expects me to be walking around holding a pitch-fork, hay-seed between my teeth, periodically stopping to deliver a calf in a barn.”
Allie said, “The boy who delivered my baby, he’d previously only worked on calves.”
“Wow,” Zeno gulped. “I guess we’re diving straight into the serious stuff here, huh?”
“I had a baby,” Allie said. “Two years ago. I gave him up for adoption. The boy who delivered him, he wasn’t the father. But, I loved him, I really did. I loved him so much that I helped him die.”
“I know,” Zeno said softly. “I mean, I live in Oakdale, not on Mars. I follow the news.”
“Then you know what happened afterwards, too. About me being arrested, and then the custody case for Hudson.”
“Yeah…” Zeno admitted.
“Are you… okay?”
“I don’t know. Some days I think I am, and then other days… That’s why I was happy you called, Zeno. I – It’s nice to meet a normal guy, for a change. Minimal drama.”
“You think I’m normal?” he double-checked.
“In my world? Yeah.”
“Then I’m really glad I called you, too, Allie.”
“Is Cory with you?” Carl asked his daughter upon Elizabeth’s return to the domicile where he’d presently been exiled.
“No. He decided to spend the night at Mom’s.”
“And how was your visit with your mother, then?”
“It wasn’t exactly a visit.” Elizabeth dumped her overnight bag on the floor and slumped into a chair. Straightening up as if jolted by electricity at Carl’s raised eye-brow, which translated as: Proper young ladies do not sit that way, regardless of how beaten down by circumstances they may be feeling. “More of a dog and pony show.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Mom dragged me around to Kevin and Amanda’s, and then to Jamie and Lorna’s, so I could throw myself on the mercy of the court and beg their forgiveness.”
“And did you now?” Carl wondered, leaning back in his own chair and studying his off-spring closely.
“Not to Mom’s satisfaction, that’s for sure. And then, to top it all off, I got to listen to a lecture from Miss High and Mighty Lorna.”
“What did she want?” Carl did not appear even a little pleased by the development.
“To warn me about you, of course. What else does she ever want, except to make you look bad?”
“How so?” Carl tapped his index fingers together and brought them to his lips, listening intently.
“She made it sound like it was your idea for me to go after Kevin.”
“Did you inform her that was most definitely not the case?” Carl’s face darkened.
“Of course, I did. Not that she listened. She just turned around and started in with this lame nonsense about how you don’t have to say what you want out loud. How we’re all supposed to just figure it out and run off to try and make you happy no matter what.”
“And who is this we that Lorna might have been referring to?”
“Me. And her. She said she loved you, Father. Well, I mean, a long time ago. But, she still said it, plain as day. And then, right after she said it, she tried to make me believe that we – her and I, I mean – were the same. She told me that if you thought I’d betrayed you, you’d turn on me same way you did on her. But, that’s ridiculous. For one thing because I’m your daughter, not some piece of trash you picked up on the street. And for another, I’d never, ever betray you like she did.”
“Except that you did betray me, Elizabeth,” Carl said slowly.
“This scheme of yours, against Kevin, it was a betrayal.”
“You mean because it failed?” Elizabeth asked in all sincerity.
Which was not nearly the conclusion Carl had been fishing for. “No,” he tried to make her understand. “You betrayed my trust, Elizabeth. I believed you.”
“You did?” It was the first time the notion had crossed Elizabeth’s mind.
“Naturally, I did. You are my child. I will always take your word above all others.”
“But… at the hospital, right after I was examined… You asked me if I was sure of what I was doing. And I said yes. I thought….”
“You thought wrongly.”
“I thought you were happy about it. Me getting back at Kevin and Amanda for what they did to us. I thought you approved.”
“A proper punishment, poppet, must always fit the crime. Otherwise it is vengeance, not justice. And vengeance is the act of a savage, not a gentleman. Your sister and brothers, as well as their miscellaneous partners, will ultimately pay the price for their actions, you need not worry about that. But, it will be done my way and upon my time-table, are we absolutely clear on that?”
“Yes, Father,” Elizabeth said.
“Congratulations, Dad, I heard!” Steven shook Jamie’s hand enthusiastically inside the confines of his father’s BCUH office. “Two girls and two boys. Love the symmetry.”
“That was Lorna’s idea. She told me from the start that’s what we’d have and, lo and behold, she did it. Somehow.”
“Everything’s great. The baby is in the nursery, Lorna is resting. You can pop your head in later to say hello, but first, tell me, how did your trip to New York go?”
Steven took a seat across from Jamie, reaching into his pocket for the plastic bag that held Horace Johnson’s cheek-swab, and handing it over. “Mission accomplished.”
“That’s terrific son. Great work. Mr. Johnson give you any problems?”
“Not really. He was kind of… low-key about the whole thing. I couldn’t really get a read on how he felt about anything; Jen reaching out to him, Jen being sick, me asking for the DNA sample.”
“Did he seem willing to donate should the need arise?”
“I don’t know,” Steven confessed. “Like I said, he played everything pretty close to the vest. He seemed to understand the implication of giving me the sample, but…”
“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess. I’ll send this to the lab. Listen, Steven, while I’ve got you here, there’s one more thing.”
“Your brother. I know that, in the past, Kirkland’s come to you with questions about sex and that sort of thing. It’s great. I’m thrilled you were able to be there for him.”
“But… What happened? Kirk and Charlie…”
“No. This isn’t about Charlie. It’s about Jake. Apparently, Bridget and Michele found out something pretty disturbing about Jake. And they took it to Kirkland.”
“This is about Jake raping Marley, isn’t it?”
Jamie blinked in surprise. “How did you know? I mean, how did you know that’s what we were talking about? And how did you know in the first place?”
“The Internet, Dad. I started back when Al Gore and me were the only two guys on the web, remember? I found out a whole lot of stuff that way.”
“You never said anything.”
“What was there to say?”
“Not even when I told you boys about Cecile.”
“It wasn’t relevant. What happened between you and your ex-wife wasn’t relevant to the guy who became my dad, and what happened with Jake and Marley wasn’t relevant to the guy who became my stepdad.”
“It is to Kirkland. He’s afraid that if men that he admires like Jake and I could lose control, then what’s to stop it from happening to him, too? Especially now, when everything is still so new and exciting and – “
“Hard to control?”
“Exactly.” Jamie sighed. “Will you talk to him?”
Steven hesitated. “You know, what Jake did, it’s not exactly my favorite subject.”
“I didn’t think it was.”
“I’ve got to wonder how Mom was able to get past it. Aunt Marley, too.”
“That what Kirkland, not to mention Michele and Bridget, would like to know.”
“Damn, but this stuff is complicated.” Steven rolled his eyes. “Give me a nice, clean line of code, any day.”
“You know, Steven,” Jamie probed gently. “If there is anything you need to talk about. As in respect to life being… complicated; I’m here anytime you need me.”
“Yeah, I know, Dad,” Steven brushed the attempt at prying aside. “But, it’s okay. I’m cool. Everything’s under control.”
“Of course it,” his father agreed amiably.
“Rachel?” The exhaustion on her former mother-in-law’s face told Lila the last thing she wanted or needed now was yet another inoculation of bad news. But, unfortunately, time was of the essence. “Do you have a moment? I really need to speak to you.”
Rachel glanced up from where she’d been sitting, staring into space, obviously a million miles away and looking as if she’d prefer to stay there for the moment. Nevertheless, she attempted to smile warmly and beckon Lila forward. “For you? Always?”
Oh, great, Lila cringed. Just what she didn’t need: Unwarranted kindness.
“I think I know what this is about,” Rachel said.
“You do?” Lila gulped guiltily.
“Matt and Donna moving into the house.”
“Matt and Donna are doing what?”
“You hadn’t heard?”
“No! When did this – “
“Matthew needs a comfortable place to recuperate.”
“I understand that, but – “
“And Donna has apparently given up her own home.”
“Looking for something with a little more square footage, is she?”
“Quite the opposite,” Rachel said, though she couldn’t quite believe it herself wholly. “She has signed over all her assets to Lori Ann and Dean; as a penance, I gather.”
“Well, Donna is prone to making big gestures. Good and bad.”
“I guess I should warn Jasmine. I haven’t even told her about Matt and Donna being married yet. Or about him and Jeanne splitting up. She’s been so worried about her daddy.”
“If Matt and Donna weren’t the issue, what’s got you looking so concerned, Lila?”
Oh. That. Lila had nearly forgotten all that.
She didn’t know where to start now. Not that she’d harbored too detailed of a plan upon first coming in.
“I,” Lila began. “I – It’s Chase.”
The expression of unhappy exhaustion on Rachel’s face deepened. “What is it? What’s happened now?”
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