“You’re not mad at me?” Lila double-checked with Chase after breaking it to him that she’d given Rachel a head’s up regarding Carl’s upcoming arrest.
She waited for more. There didn’t appear to be any more.
“That’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say?”
“After everything I’ve put you through during the past year, Lila, I don’t really have the right to take exception about anything you do.”
“But, won’t Carl being clued in mess up your case?”
“How? He can’t very well undo what he’s been doing ever since he got out of prison. And even if he tries to start covering up now, I’ve got all the evidence I need to put him away for good.”
“You mean, from the stuff you got off his files?”
Chase shook his head. “That material wasn’t admissible. The files just pointed me in the right direction. I needed independent corroboration, and I got it.”
“Here and there,” he hedged, looking nervous for quite possibly the first time since he’d launched his operation.
“Seriously?” Lila asked. “That’s what you’re going into court with? Here and there?”
“I’m going to put it up in a PowerPoint. It’ll look much more impressive,” he assured. And promptly changed the subject. “Are you okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“It couldn’t have been easy, telling Rachel what you’ve done.”
“No. It wasn’t. It was one of the hardest things ever. And I’ve given birth in an elevator without an epidural, so I have a frame of reference.”
“Was she very tough on you?”
“She told me she had faith in me. That even when her other kids turned their back on her, she believed that I was still on her side.”
“Did you explain why you did what you did?”
“Somehow it sounded a lot better coming from you.”
“In that case, if you want, I could – “
“Are you kidding me?”
He withdrew gracefully. “I can see where that might come off as inappropriate.”
“Good call, Your Eminence.”
“But, if there’s anything I can do for you to make things easier…“
“Find a place to stay tonight. As you might have gathered, you aren’t exactly welcome back at the Cory house.”
“Done,” he swore. “And Lila, please know how grateful I am for your help.”
“Stop it. If you’ve got to say something, you can go back to apologizing to me again. I think I prefer it to this constant praising.”
“You deserve praise. Everything I can dish out and more. When the whole story is finally out and people realize how much you contributed to keeping Bay City safe… You’ll be a hero.”
“Whoo-dee-doo,” Lila said. “And all I had to do to earn my Good Citizenship Award was betray the one person who ever trusted me. And never asked for a damn thing back in return.”
“Hello, Ms. Love,” Jasmine stood at the foot of Matt’s bed, looking from her father to his new wife, who sat perched on the edge, back straight, head up, smiling broadly.
“Please, darling. No need to be so formal. You can call me Donna.”
“But, you’re Bridget and Michele’s grandmother.”
“I am. I am also your stepmother now. I want us to be friends.”
“Mama said you and Daddy have been married since last summer.”
“Did she now?” Donna’s smile wavered just a little.
Jasmine turned to Matt. “You lied to me.”
“Yeah, Jazz, I know. And I’m real sorry about that.”
“You wouldn’t have liked it if I’d lied to you. Especially about something so important.”
“You planning on getting married anytime soon, Jazz?”
“This isn’t funny, Daddy.”
“She’s right, Matthew, it isn’t. We both lied to you, Jasmine, and we are both very, very sorry.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter if you did it, you’re not anything to me,” Jasmine countered, not meaning to hurt, just stating a fact.
Donna felt the sting, nonetheless. “We had a very good reason for it, though, darling. You see, your father and I love each other so much – “
“You told me you loved Jeanne,” Jasmine reminded Matt.
“You did?” Donna kept her voice level, even as she turned questioningly towards Matt.
“I was getting married,” Matt protested. “I had to tell her – “
“Another lie,” Jasmine summarized.
“Yes,” Donna stepped in, figuring Matt was in no shape to be speaking for himself, now and possibly ever again. “Your father lied to you when he said he loved Jeanne. The truth was, Jeanne blackmailed him into marrying her. Do you know what the word blackmail means, Jasmine?”
“I live in Bay City,” the teen reminded her.
“Excellent point. In that case, you’ll have no trouble understanding why your father and I married in secret, the better to circumvent Jeanne’s insidious plan.”
“How come you’re not asking her if she knows what the word circumvent means?” Matt asked Donna, amused. “Or insidious?”
“Jasmine lives in Bay City, darling.”
“Besides, I harbor no reservations that she is a very bright, young woman capable of understanding complex adult issues of the heart.”
“I know what the word patronizing means too,” Jasmine advised.
“I patronize everyone,” Donna enlightened.
“It’s kind of a sign of endearment with her,” Matt confirmed, smiling, desperately willing his daughter to do the same.
Jasmine wasn’t quite willing to go that far. But, she did offer, “Daddy getting sick really scared me.”
“Oh, me, too, Jasmine, I was absolutely petrified.”
“I’m just glad he’s okay.”
“More than okay,” Donna promised. “We’ll make him better than ever. The two of us. We’ll take care of him.”
“I want you to be happy, Daddy.”
“Thank you, Jazz. That’s all I want for you, too.”
“So, if Ms. Love – “
“Donna. Please. I asked you to call me Donna. Do you think you might, at least, try to do so?”
“I’ll try.” Jasmine sighed, swallowing her discomfort. “So, if she – if Donna – if she makes you happy, then I’m happy, too. I guess.”
Matt held out his arms, flapping his palms inward to indicate that Jasmine should give her old man a hug. She did so. “You’re an amazing kid, Jazz.”
“You’re an amazing Daddy, Daddy.”
“And the three of us,” Donna said. “We’ll be an amazing family. Just you wait and see. We’ll surprise them all!”
The only ones at home for the afternoon, Kirkland and Charlie sat in her bedroom, air-conditioner on full-blast, looking through the Sarah Lawrence brochure she’d packed away, then pulled out again.
“So you really think you might get to go, after all?”
“My dad thinks he can make it happen.”
“Well, yeah. But, not too much. I don’t want to jinx it, you know? How about you? You make your final decision, yet?”
“Notre Dame,” Kirkland said. “The Fighting Irish.”
“That’s in, what? Indiana?”
“Yeah, South Bend.”
“Sarah Lawrence is in New York State.”
“I know,” Kirkland said. “But, that’s – it’s not too far.”
“I guess not,” Charlie said.
“We’ll still see each other… and stuff.” He leaned in to kiss her. Charlie hesitated for just a minute, then kissed him back.
She slid her hands underneath Kirkland’s T-shirt, pulling it up and over his head, using the second when their lips needed to separate to remind, “My mom and dad said they wouldn’t be back till dinnertime…”
“Good news,” Jamie stepped into Jen’s hospital room, which had grown to include Kevin in addition to Steven and GQ. Jamie held up a lab report. “Your father is a match, Jen. Almost a perfect one. We couldn’t have hoped for better.”
Kevin and Steven exchanged relieved, victorious smiles. GQ looked like he couldn’t settle on an expression that encompassed both pleasure and concern, while Jen, the one supposedly most affected by Jamie’s pronouncement, remained poker-faced.
“So what happens next?” she asked Jamie, her voice tight.
“Well, hopefully, we arrange to get the transplant done as soon as possible. We’ll have to administer a particularly high dose of chemotherapy to destroy your own bone marrow first. For some people, that can be the most difficult part of the procedure. You will feel sick, there’s no getting around it. But, we have some medications to try and control the side-effects as much as possible. Afterwards, you’ll need blood and platelet transfusions. We’ll also give you an antibiotic to prevent infection. We’ll definitely need to keep you in a sterile environment during that time. We’ll monitor your blood cell level and, soon as it’s back up, we’ll send you home. The whole process usually takes between four and six weeks.”
Jen said, “You told me about what happens before the transplant. You told me about after. But, what about during?”
“During is actually the easy part for you. Just a simple IV drip, a couple of hours, tops.”
“That is, if Horace agrees to donate.”
“He will,” Steven and Kevin said in near unison, both managing to make is sound more like a threat than a promise.
GQ asked, “What will the process be like for him?”
Jamie said, “I’ll explain everything to Mr. Johnson in detail. But, it’s basically a routine surgical procedure, done in the operating room. We can put him under general anesthesia if he likes, although some people prefer to be conscious, then we do a local. The donor lies on their stomach. We make incisions, sometimes as few as one, sometimes as many as four, through the skin over the pelvic bone. We insert a needle attached to a syringe, get what we need, and that’s it. The incisions are so small they don’t even require stitches. He’ll be sore for a while afterwards, but there’s no reason why we can’t have him in and out in just a few hours. Of course, if he wants to stay the night, make sure everything is alright, I can arrange that, too.”
“And how soon after he donates can Jenny get the bone marrow?” Kevin asked.
Jamie opened his mouth to answer, but GQ cut him off, glaring at Kevin, “Jesus Christ, I thought lawyers were supposed to chase ambulances, not actually get up and shove people into them.”
“Give it a rest, GQ,” Steven advised. “Not everything has to be a Lincoln/Douglas debate.”
“No. I won’t. Not as long as the three of you stand around, talking about cutting a man open and sucking him dry without so much as admitting that this is a human being. You’re all making decisions for Horace Johnson like he doesn’t get a say in the matter.”
“He doesn’t,” Kevin stressed. “Anymore than Jenny did about getting sick in the first place.”
“It’s okay, Daddy,” she spoke up. “I can answer for myself.” She turned her head to address GQ. “Horace does have a say in the matter. He has more say than anyone. And, no disrespect to Steven, who was awesome to do what he did for me, but, I’m still not convinced that this is going to happen. That my dad will come through. So, until it does, there isn’t anything to fight about, or even discuss. The ball is in his court now. All the rest of us can do is just wait.”
“What’s the square footage of this place again?” Frankie asked as, at Cass’ prodding, the two of them were taking a walk-thru Donna’s house – on the off chance that they might want to move in there now that she’d settled in elsewhere.
“I dunno,” Cass shrugged. “What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?”
“I was rounding,” Cass admitted.
“Down,” he deadpanned.
Frankie shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.”
“And you’re intransigent. Just let go of your Power to the Proletariat class war consciousness for one moment, Mary Frances, and consider the possibilities.”
“Right after I consider how long it will take to clean every room. I bet it’s like The Golden Gate Bridge. You start on the first floor and, by the time you get to the fourth, it’s time to begin all over again.”
“There’s staff for that. It’s in the budget. We can use any funds we need to insure Lori Ann’s health and comfort.”
“Lori Ann’s health and comfort requires a billiard room?”
“No. But, think how much more she could get out of her physical therapy doing it in the pool here every day, instead of us driving her halfway across town twice a week.”
Frankie hesitated. He did have a point. But… “Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the money to dig a pool at our house?”
“What about the stables?”
“What about them?”
“We’ve both read the studies about how special-needs kids thrive working with animals. They’ve got entire summer camps set up for just that purpose. Even Don Imus agrees!”
“And he’s obviously right about everything. That’s why he got banned off the radio.”
“We could fill the gym with any piece of equipment Lori Ann needs. We could hire people to work with her all day long, one on one. Physical therapy, speech therapy, vision, sensory… The more stimulation the better, especially during these critical years.”
Frankie looked around, hearing what Cass was saying, agreeing with him even, but, still needing him to understand. “This isn’t… me.”
“Try it,” Cass suggested. “You might like it.”
“You obviously already do.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to make my family – and myself – as comfortable as possible?”
“I don’t know,” Frankie admitted. “But, this just doesn’t feel right.”
“Let me help you make it feel right,” Cass urged, taking Frankie into his arms.
“How?” she asked, suspecting that Frankie already knew the answer to her own question. Not that she was against it in principle. She was just trying to make a point, here.
“You’ve taught me so much.” Cass buried his face in Frankie’s neck. “You’ve taught me to care and to accept and to honor and to believe. Let me teach you how to – “
“Yes…” Cass’ mouth traveled across Frankie’s throat.
“Explore?” she purred as he changed trajectories, moving up towards her lips.
“Immediately,” Cass whispered, just before catching her mouth with his.
“A shame you were never allowed to use this particular brand of closing argument in court,” Frankie whispered in between gasps.
“It’s true, the legal system never did get the best of Cass Winthrop.”
“Unlike you,” Cass confirmed, just before sweeping his wife off the floor, to the sound of Frankie’s delighted laughter. “And do you know what the best part of our moving into a house with this many rooms would be.”
“Me making love to you in every single one of them…”
Frankie gave the matter some serious thought – not particularly easy to do while her husband was nuzzling her bare shoulder. “We’d better get started then….”
“Is Chase Hamilton telling the truth, Carl?” Not waiting for him to come to her, Rachel had, this time, descended upon her husband’s pied-a-terre, wasting no time in filling him in regarding what Lila had said, and demanding answers.
“The odds of such a feat are slim, indeed.”
Except that Rachel was in no mood for clever word games. “Did you or did you not violate the terms of your pardon agreement?”
He considered her question, then countered most reasonably, “What did you expect me to do, Rachel? Under such punitive conditions as the ones I was offered – no, coerced into accepting; what was I left to live on? Raise my children on?”
“Damn it, Carl!” Rachel exploded. “Are you seriously telling me you thought I wouldn’t be able to provide for all of us?”
“Support my own flesh-and-blood on alms from your previous husband? Inconceivable! What sort of man do you take me for?”
“An honorable man,” Rachel spat. “That’s who I took you for. And I’m starting to feel like a fool over it.”
“I have done nothing – nothing! – to deserve forfeiting said designation in your eyes. Have I not always treated you and the children with nothing save honor, with nothing short of my very best self?”
“What about the rest of the world? What self did you offer them?”
“I did what needed to be done. Nothing was reaped which wasn’t previously sown.”
“And if what needed to be done required taking criminal action…”
“Then it was inevitably triggered by the same.”
Rachel shook her head, barely able to speak. “I defended you. To my friends, to my family, to my children. I told them you’d changed.”
“I had changed, Rachel. Falling in love with you, changed everything about me.”
“Except the way you did business.”
“I have never, ever allowed my business dealings to interfere with our family life. I fail to understand why you cannot do the same.”
“Because your business dealings are about to come washing up on our doorstep in the form of Chase Hamilton and an arrest warrant.”
“He has no case,” Carl dismissed. “If the entirety of his alleged evidence comes from data stolen off my own property, I will not only laugh him out of court, I shall promptly see him up on charges of prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution, not to mention malicious intent. The man has grand political ambitions. He’d never risk such a set-back. I assure you, Rachel, this is all a smoke-screen.”
“Chase thinks he has independent confirmation of your actions.”
“He’s getting the warrants.”
“It’s a bluff.”
“How could you do it, Carl?” She gave up on that train of thought in order to pursue the one Rachel really needed to know most desperately. “How could you look me in the eye, swear that you’d turned over a new leaf, and continue with business as usual?”
“I did no such thing. Business as usual would have meant my taking revenge on Donna the moment I learned about Jenna. It would have meant disemboweling Grant the instant he dared show his still-living face in this town again, and it would have meant crushing your three ungrateful brats as soon as they dared come between us. The fact that I did none of those things, at your request, may I stress, should demonstrate, without shadow of a doubt, the man that I am now.”
“In that case, if it wasn’t business as usual, then what was it? Just business?”
“Precisely. Unlike the false accusations your children have been hurling my way since the previous September, you cannot claim that anyone has gotten hurt as an indirect – much less direct – result of my actions these past years.”
“Are you telling me that you’ve continued to run a criminal empire without a single casualty? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“No innocent casualties, Rachel, there is a difference.” Carl sighed, taking both of Rachel’s hands in his, pressing them to his heart, then dipping his head to kiss first one then the other. “Please, my dear. Before condemning me any further, allow me to, at the very least, get to the bottom of what it is specifically we are facing, and what it is that Mr. Hamilton believes he has on me. It can well be that Lila has misunderstood completely, and this is all a tempest in a teapot. Not even worth your time, much less your tears. Will you grant me this much? Will you permit me to prove them all wrong?”
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