“How did Rachel do this year after year?” Frankie wondered as she stood next to her new swimming pool, attempting to supervise her own staff – Question: how in the world had she, Mary Frances Frame Winthrop, ended up with a staff? – not to mention the outside caterers and decorators and Heaven knew what else, who’d all somehow materialized in anticipation of the 4th of July party she and Cass were throwing the next day. Rachel had begged off this year. Not that anyone could blame her.
“Rachel had help,” Cass advised. “Lots and lots of help.”
“So do I!” Frankie indicated the frenzy of activity taking place around them. “That’s the problem!”
“The point of all these people, Mary Frances,” Cass took her gently by the hand and lead Frankie out of the maelstrom. “Is to make your life easier.”
“I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t working.”
“Maybe if you relaxed a little; took one of those deep, cleansing, meditative breaths you’re always going on about.”
“I’ve taken so many I started to hyperventilate.”
“Chill out, Frankie,” Cass smiled, unable to help being amused by the spectacle. “And try to enjoy yourself.”
“Easy for you to say! You aren’t being asked to choose between Instalata Caprese with Avacado, and New Potatoes with Crisped Dulce for the appetizer course.”
“You don’t like your choices? I was told these guys were the best vegetarian caterers in town.”
“I don’t know if I like them! I don’t know what half their menu is! The only words I recognized are avocado and potato. And they’re not even in the same dish!”
“So ask for something simpler. Their job is to please you, that’s the whole point of outsourcing.”
“When I asked for something simpler, they suggested French Cognac Vanilla Crepes.”
“Yes. What a shame Lori Ann is still having a bit of trouble holding her liquor. Not to mention Charlie and Kirkland, Zeno, Michele and Bridget, Felicia.”
“I love you,” Cass said, kissing his wife.
She let him. And then Frankie said, “That’s nice. If not exactly helpful at the moment.”
“Mom!” Charlie called, coming out of the house, taking a moment to look in puzzlement at the bustle of activity.
“Good morning, sweetheart. What do you think of my party set-up?”
“It’s nice,” Charlie dismissed with the self-centeredness of every teen everywhere. She had more important veggie burgers to fry. Charlie has spent all night gathering up her courage to speak to Frankie, and she wanted to strike before her nerve dissipated with the sunlight, sort of like vampire valor. “Can I talk to you, Mom?”
“Yeah. It’s kind of important.”
“Well… sure, of course.” With a confused look over her shoulder at Cass, who imperceptibly shook his head to indicate he had no idea what this was about either, and another wary one at the industrious gaggle swarming around her pool, Frankie beckoned Charlie closer. “What’s going on, baby?”
Now that Charlie had her mom’s attention, the words she’d crafted so carefully in the darkness of her bedroom seemed stilted and inadequate. “I wanted to ask… It’s about… Well, you know I invited Kirkland tomorrow, right?”
“I was thinking, the stuff I said about him and me, you know, at the police station… See, Mom, ever since we….”
“I think I know what you’re trying to say.”
“You do?” Charlie exhaled in relief.
“You’re worried that your father and I might feel uncomfortable around Kirkland, now that you and he are making love.”
“Mom…” Charlie hissed, partially in embarrassment. And partially because that wasn’t it at all.
“I know I wasn’t exactly supportive the first time you brought the topic up. But, it just took me by surprise, that’s all. You growing up. Now that I’ve had time to get used to the idea, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.”
“Yes. The person you pick to have your first sexual experience with is so important. And Kirkland is such a sweet, nice, considerate boy. He’s perfect. I couldn’t be happier for you both.”
“Yeah, Mom, but, see, that’s not…”
“Mrs. Winthrop!” A voice called from a ladder leaning precariously against the back door. “Where do you want the bunting hung?”
“Not there!” Frankie fussed, looking from Charlie to the workman, and back again. “Would you excuse me for just a minute, sweetie? I just need to take care of this one thing…”
“It’s cool, Mom,” Charlie sighed, grasping at the excuse to cut this conversation short. “I’ve… heard enough.”
Rachel woke up to Carl gazing down at her, smiling, beaming almost. Under the circumstances, she’d expected somewhat more… anguish. Not to mention theatrics.
“I cannot articulate how happy you made me last night, my darling,” Carl cooed.
Again, not what Rachel had been expecting. She raised herself up on one elbow. “Carl… I…”
“I understand,” he assured her. “Completely. And gratefully. I realize how excruciating this choice has been for you.”
“Well, yes. Thank you.”
“Which is why I will never, ever give you cause to regret choosing to accompany me into my inopportune exile.”
Rachel blinked, stunned and horrified at his erroneously drawn conclusion. “No, Carl. No. You’ve… you misunderstood. I’m not… I can’t… I am not coming with you.”
“But… What you said. Last night. About how unreasonable and intractable Hamilton is being….”
“He is. Which is why I agree, you need to leave as soon as possible.”
“Without you? Without Elizabeth and Cory?”
“We’ll come visit you,” Rachel swore. “We’ll come and visit you as often as we can.”
“No. No,” Carl shook his head. “I’m afraid that would be quite impossible. I am certain that as soon as he realizes I am gone, Hamilton will put you and the children under twenty-four hour surveillance. You’d lead him straight to me! I cannot risk such a thing.”
“But,” Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “When you were trying to convince me to come with you, you claimed Jamie, Matt and Amanda could visit us whenever they liked. Wouldn’t the danger be the same to you then?”
“I may have overstated the case, somewhat,” Carl conceded, at least summoning up the decency to look a touch chagrined.
“I’m sorry! I am sorry, my love! But, I was fighting for my family, for my heart, for my life! Do you not realize that depriving me of your presence, the comfort of my children, you may as well be cutting off the very air I breathe.”
“I can’t, Carl. I can’t. I explained to you my reasons.”
“Yes,” his face darkened. “I remember. I remember them all.”
“You just said it yourself,” she pleaded. “You’ll be in exile, cut off from everyone and everything that might lead the authorities to you. Do you honestly think that’s a healthy way for Cory and Elizabeth to grow up? As fugitives on the run, constantly looking over their shoulders?”
“Family harmony requires some sacrifice,” he reminded her stiffly.
“And we’ve made them, Carl. We’ve all made them. For your sake. We’ve gone along with what you thought best. And in some cases, the price to be paid was truly horrible.”
“Then why not now? Why not again? You love me, Rachel.“
“I do. And I always will,” she agreed. “But, I can’t. Not this time. Not in this way.”
“Don’t you ever,” Grant raged, pacing in front of Sarah as she sat on the couch in her apartment, watching him, swiveling her head as though in the midst of a tennis match, her own expression utterly serene. “Don’t you ever do that again, do you understand? Your behavior the other morning was disrespectful to Marley, to the girls, and to me. I won’t stand for it. I won’t stand for you playing those kinds of games. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” Sarah nodded dutifully.
“Then you’ll cut it out?”
That stopped Grant in his tracks. He pivoted to look at her. “What do you mean, no?”
“No,” she repeated, not changing her inflection, still as pleasant as could be.
“Sarah… I… Do you realize what you’re doing?”
“Then kindly explain it to me. I thought we had a deal. I thought you understand that I have no interest in leaving Marley.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
“You promised you wouldn’t tell her about us, either.”
“Then what was that all about yesterday?”
“I love you,” Sarah said, Grant once again feeling convinced that she couldn’t possibly know the effect those words had on him. If she did, she’d be saying them constantly. And he’d be pretty much helpless. “I want to be with you.”
“You are with me. I see you whenever I can, you know that.”
“It’s not enough. I miss you. I want to be near you. That’s why I took the job Marley offered. Because it gave me the chance to see you.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m being discreet.”
Grant snorted, remembering the feel of her bare leg brushing against his. The way the swing of her hair had mesmerized him. The way watching her eat a pear had nearly struck him dumb. And how it took all his self-control not to grab her by the shoulders and take his own turn licking the juice off her fingers.
“Marley didn’t say anything about me, did she?”
“And she won’t. I told you the first time, I won’t say a word to Marley. I would never do anything to hurt you.”
This time, Grant actually laughed out loud.
“You’re killing me, Sarah,” he informed her. “You’re killing me.”
She merely smiled broader and opened her arms, pulling him close, running her fingers through Grant’s hair, kissing his face a hundred times. “But, what a way to go, huh?”
“Here is the situation,” Jamie pulled up a chair to the edge of Jen’s bed; Kevin, Steven, and GQ standing on the other side, all four of them hanging onto Jamie’s every word. “The Ethics Committee has agreed to consider my request to allow Horace to donate. This is a good sign. They didn’t dismiss it out of hand. But, based on the cardiac episode you suffered earlier…”
Jen nodded, still looking somewhat shell-shocked about what had happened. They’d needed to put her on permanent oxygen, but she had yet to adjust to the prongs up her nose, her face twitching periodically as if trying to get rid of an irritation.
“I feel we can’t wait much longer to start the chemotherapy. So, what I’d like to do is begin right after the 4th of July. Like I said, it’ll take at least a month. And by then, we should have the answer about Horace.”
“But, what if he’s not a possibility at that point?” Kevin demanded.
“He will be,” GQ assured. “I talked to him. He’s ready to do this.”
“You talked to him?” Jen swiveled her head as far as she could in light of the oxygen. “When? Why?”
“I wanted to apologize. About the way he’s been treated.” GQ didn’t say Kevin’s name. Or what precisely the word treated encompassed. He didn’t have to.
“Fantastic,” Kevin spat. “So now he’s got you in his pocket. Just great.”
“Are you sure?” Jen asked GQ. “About him being willing?”
“I swear it. He loves you, Jen. He wants to see you get better.”
“Got help Jenny needing to rely on Horace’s love again,” Kevin mumbled.
“You have no idea,” GQ exploded, ignoring an earlier promise he’d made to himself to keep calm and out of it. “You have no idea what that man thinks or feels. Just because your biological parents jerked you around, doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Aren’t you the one always lecturing that the best thing we can do for our kids is to give them up? So why can’t you believe that our motives are actually pure, instead of malicious?”
“Watch your pronouns, GQ,” Kevin advised. “You’re tipping your hand.”
“Cut it out,” Steven snapped. “Shut up, both of you, and let my dad talk.”
If the situation weren’t so serious, Jamie might have been amused by his son’s spirited defense. Not that Jamie believed Steven’s outburst had anything to do with him.
“You are not giving him a fair shake,” GQ seemed unable to let go.
“My dad knows him better than you do,” Jen pointed out.
“And you don’t know him at all,” GQ countered. “Everything you know about your father comes from Kevin. Don’t you think his point of view is a little skewed?”
“As opposed to yours,” Kevin shook his head. “Yours is utterly unbiased.”
“Okay,” Jamie raised his hand. “Steven is right. How about we table this discussion for now, and just focus on Jen’s immediate future?”
“Thank you!” Steven’s disgust with all of humanity, and this group in particular, was palatable. As was his relief at Jamie finally taking charge.
“We’ll start the chemotherapy right after the holiday,” Jamie continued as if there’d never been an interruption. “Our goal is to destroy your natural immune system completely, so it won’t fight the new cells. What that means, unfortunately, is that you will be vulnerable to any infection that comes along. We’ll need to put you into isolation.”
“Can I at least keep my BlackBerry?” Jen struggled to make a joke. Because it sure beat articulating how she was really feeling.
“I’m afraid not,” Jamie wasn’t fooled one iota, but played along, just the same.
“Now I really do feel sick,” she sighed.
“So you’re running away,” Cory said, upon listening to Carl’s version of events. The four of them, two parents and two children, sat facing each other in the mansion’s dining room. Four plates of uneaten food in front of them. “You’re fleeing the country so that you won’t have to go to jail.”
“They’re railroading him,” Elizabeth turned to her brother, eyes blazing. “Weren’t you listening? The Mayor is out to get him. He won’t rest until Father is rotting in prison.”
“But, you broke the law, didn’t you?” Cory ignored his sister to focus on Carl.
When her husband refused to answer, Rachel felt compelled to speak up. “Yes.”
“They drove me to it,” Carl reminded. “They set me up. They deliberately arranged circumstances that made it impossible for me to behave otherwise. That’s entrapment. That’s selective prosecution.”
“That’s a crock.”
“Cory!” Rachel gasped.
“It is, Mom. You know it is.”
“Chase Hamilton has unfairly targeted your father. He is the worst kind of hypocrite.”
“It’s unfair to want to put someone in jail for committing a crime?”
“It is when the means he used to collect the evidence against him are equally as criminal. That’s the hypocritical part.”
“Then why isn’t Mr. Hamilton fleeing the country?”
“Because, you idiot,” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “He’s the law.”
“So why doesn’t Father make his case in court? If Mr. Hamilton is guilty of misconduct, why doesn’t Father prove it and get off on a technicality? If he really is innocent, why is he running away?”
“Father will never get a fair trial in Bay City! The law are the ones who forced him to do what he did in the first place. They knew he’d have no choice, they coerced him into it, so they could arrest him again.”
“Okay,” Cory spoke slowly. “So, if I go to Father and ask him for money, and he says I can’t have it, but he leaves the precise amount I need in his wallet, and I then go and take it anyway, it’s his fault, not mine because he created a circumstance where I had no choice but to take what I wanted illegally, because he refused to give it to me honestly?”
“Your argument is specious,” Carl sniffed. “A case of reductio ad absurdum if I have ever heard it.”
“He’s also right,” Rachel said, as Carl, Elizabeth, and even Cory stared at her in shock. “Cory is right, Carl. I won’t sugarcoat this for them. Not something this important, no. I want them to understand. Yes, your father committed a crime. Yes, he deserves to go to jail. Yes, he is running away to avoid punishment. And yes, I approve wholeheartedly.”
“If you approve,” Elizabeth spat, near tears. “Then why aren’t you going with him?”
“Because I do not want the two of you growing up thinking that what he’s doing, is right.”
It was the first time Rachel had ever expressed herself in such a manner, and Carl’s expression of shock quickly morphed into horror. “Rachel!” he cried as if stabbed.
“I’m sorry,” she went on, avoiding his eyes, focusing on the children. “When I married you, I accepted your past. I believed you’d changed. I still believe it. But, I will not risk my children thinking that I condone your previous actions. You committed crimes, Carl. Horrible crimes. Crimes that I may have inadvertently given the impression I found acceptable. Where else do you think Elizabeth might have gotten the idea she could get away with what she did to Kevin?”
“It wasn’t Father’s fault!” Elizabeth interjected. “Why does everyone think it was his fault?”
“Because your father has gotten away with far worse things. He’s about to get away with it again. I do not want him to go to jail. I do not want him to suffer. I believe, in this case, he is the victim of an overly zealous former prosecutor with an axe to grind. But, that aside, I most of all do not want either one of you thinking his behavior is tolerable in any way. I believe your father is a good man. He is someone who has made mistakes, but who has taken responsibility for them, the same way I have my own. Your father and I are both doing our best to be good people. But, I want you two to be better. And, in the end, that is why we’re staying.”
“Jamie says I’m fine. We’re fine,” Matt stressed for Donna, in case she missed the implication of his brand new bill of health.
“What does Jamie know? He didn’t even notice that Marley was breaking down until the situation had spiraled into complete tragedy.”
“He knows about this. He examined me. He says there’s no reason you and I can’t – “
“You talked to your brother about us?”
“No kidding. And I’m the one who had to do it, too. But, don’t you understand? I’d do anything for you.”
“No, Matthew. You’re the one who doesn’t understand.”
“So explain it to me, then.”
“I love you.”
“I adore making love to you.”
“I know that, too,” he grinned.
“I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t. It’s impossible.”
“Did you think it was possible for you to have a heart attack at your age?”
“Well, statistically speaking…”
“Statistically speaking, any sort of unnecessary exertion could kill you.”
“Making love to my wife doesn’t qualify as unnecessary. In fact, I can’t think of anything more necessary…”
“I lost Michael,” Donna said abruptly, as if that should explain everything.
“In a car accident,” Matt qualified.
“That I caused indirectly. Every time I think back to that night, of his driving up to talk to Victoria about Shane… I think of a million things I could have done differently. Any one of them, and he would still be alive.” Donna caught herself, “That’s no offence to you, darling, you realize that, don’t you?”
“Uh… sure, yeah, I guess.”
“Odds are, Michael and I would have never made it, anyway. We’d failed in all our previous attempts, why should that one have been any different?”
“Okay, but I still don’t understand – “
“I couldn’t bear to lose you, Matthew,” she repeated. “I’ve lost Michael and Victoria, and most likely Marley at this point, as well. You are all I have. You mean more to me than anything. Even the thought that I might in some way be responsible for your – “
“You won’t. You can’t. Jamie said – “
“I wouldn’t survive it. Do you understand me? If anything were to happen to you, I wouldn’t be able to survive it. Especially the thought that I might have been able to prevent it. The way that I felt when I first heard you were ill, it was the most horrifying moment of my life. I can’t risk ever feeling that way again. I won’t. I won’t.”
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