“You are out of your mind,” Lorna said, realizing, with a sinking, hollow feeling that all the previous times she’d leveled the charge at Carl she was being sarcastic. And that now she was absolutely right…
“You fail to see the symmetry?” Carl wondered, seemingly concerned that she might be the one with the failing mental faculties.
“Jamie stole your family so you’re justified in snatching his?”
“Precisely.” Carl all but exhaled in relief at her understanding of the issue.
“Jamie didn’t do anything to you. Rachel made the decision to keep you from warping Elizabeth and Cory any more than you already have.”
“And who might have put that idea in her head, I wonder?”
“Certainly not Jamie!”
“Indeed not,” Carl conceded. “That, I realize, was all you.”
Lorna snorted. “You think Rachel would listen to a word I say about anything? Much less when it comes to you?”
“You attempted to convince Elizabeth that I was behind her recent misadventure with Fowler. I know that for a fact. Elizabeth told me.”
“You were, Carl. Even if you didn’t realize it, you were. Look at the kind of example you’ve set for your kids.”
Rachel’s words coming out of Lorna’s mouth were all the proof Carl needed as to the righteousness of his cause. She’d just incriminated herself without meaning to. Not that Carl needed any further proof. “The two of you, you and Jamie, you colluded to turn my wife against me. My children, as well. You knew Rachel could never deny her beloved eldest son. And, Lord knows, any male confronted with the full force of your singular talent, is helpless to resist.”
“You’re giving us both too much credit. Amanda was the one who – “
“Amanda is a ninny. And Matthew a patsy who could barely hold up his part of their Devil’s bargain without dissolving into heart palpitations. Even Jamie was merely your means to an end, a tool, as I always suspected him to be. Admittedly, even I was initially fooled into thinking you were merely after the family’s money. Now, I comprehend that your plan was, from the start, a great deal more insidious. This is your handiwork, don’t even attempt to deny it, you silly wench.”
“Why?” Lorna demanded. “Why would I bother deliberately breaking up you and Rachel? What do I care whom you choose to spend your Senile Years with? You’re nothing to me, Carl. Not anymore. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“Revenge, Lorna. This is your revenge. For crimes committed and imagined. You bid your time. You scoped out the lay of the land. You analyzed the situation, and then you struck, hard and fast and lethal. I couldn’t have done it better myself. The only flaw in your entire stratagem was attempting to use my own techniques against me. How could I fail to recognize my personal fingerprints? And thus, yours?”
“Leave me alone,” Lorna’s fingers tightened around the stroller’s handles. “Leave us alone. Aren’t the cops after you? Shouldn’t you be getting the hell out of Dodge?”
“Momentarily,” he promised, taking a step towards her. “Come along, Lorna. It’s time to take our leave. The plane is waiting. Enough stalling. As you yourself observed, my time is precious.”
Lorna instinctively veered back, shoving the stroller towards the edge of the falls. “Get any closer, and I’ll throw all three of us over.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Carl scoffed. Though he did pause in his tracks. “Not for an instant do I believe that you would risk your precious children’s lives – “
“To keep them out of your clutches? You bet I will.”
At that, Carl actually looked genuinely hurt. “Surely, I wasn’t that bad of a….”
“Don’t take another step,” she warned, lifting her leg over the knee-high safety barrier.
“Have it your way,” Carl stood rooted obediently to the spot. But, with an imperceptible gesture, the guns of both his goons were now pointed directly at the stroller.
“I won’t let you lay a finger on them,” Lorna bluffed, even as her options visibly shrunk.
“Don’t force me to do something you’ll regret,” Carl advised, his tone, as usual, helpful and avuncular.
Her instinct was to beg him. If she thought falling on her knees would help, Lorna would have done it in an instant. But, she knew that would only encourage Carl. And that her sole recourse lay in standing her ground, in not showing an ounce of weakness.
“Get those things away from my kids,” Lorna seethed through clenched teeth. “Put the guns away and – “
“And what?” Carl prompted, sincerely curious.
“And – and I’ll go with you,” Lorna blurted out, the rest of her offer forming barely ahead of her words. “Leave Devon and Mackenzie alone, and you can have me.”
He laughed. “What is it you young people say? Been there, done that?”
“We also say: Take it or leave it. Half a revenge is better than none. You’ll still get to stick it to Jamie this way. Show everyone who’s the smartest, who always wins in the end.”
“That was never up for debate.”
“Think of how much Rachel will suffer, watching Jamie suffer.”
“I don’t want Rachel to suffer.” Carl appeared, once again, wounded to the core. “I merely want her to understand. To viscerally internalize the injustice that was done to me. Her and Jamie both. I am attempting to educate them as to the error of their ways.”
“Well, then, take it or leave it. I’ll go with you. Willingly. Just no guns. And no kids.”
Carl thought for a moment, then shook his head. “You’re bluffing. You won’t harm – “
“I will. And you know why? Because Jamie, he would understand.” Lorna held Carl’s gaze, willing him, commanding him to accept her assertion. Knowing it truly was her last chance. “Take it or leave it, Carl. Take it or leave it.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” Alice indicated a tombstone several rows down and to the right of Mac’s. “I was here visiting Spencer. He… the 4th of July meant a great deal to him.”
“I remember,” Rachel said. “He was quite the patriot. He used to say America gave him everything.”
Alice smiled fondly and, indicating the grave right in front of them, said, “I didn’t mean to disturb you. I have plenty of other people to check in on today.”
“Sally?” Rachel offered sympathetically.
Alice nodded. “Sally. My parents. Steve…”
“He loved the 4th of July, too. He always talked about how, only in America, could a poor farm boy like him have been allowed to pursue his dreams. And achieve them, too. Well,” Rachel conceded generously, her meaning clear. “Some of them. Some he had… thwarted. Rather unfairly.”
Alice paused, unsure of whether to bring it up. Then making up her mind, confessed, “I heard what you were saying to Mac. About Carl. I am sorry, Rachel.”
“You don’t believe it’s the least we deserved?” Her former nemesis wondered. Not maliciously, merely unhappily.
“Not my place to say,” Alice demurred.
Leaving Rachel to smile grimly. “I figured.”
“I have no interest in upsetting you,” Alice turned away. “I’ll leave you alone now.”
“No!” Rachel called out, desperation in her voice. “Please. Don’t. The last thing I want right now is to be left alone. Even though, I suspect, that’s precisely what I am.”
“Carl left?” Alice double-checked.
“Carl left,” Rachel confirmed. “He wanted me to come with him. I… couldn’t. He was furious. He blamed the children. Jamie, Amanda, Matt. He thought I chose them over him. He didn’t understand. I – I had to. For the first time ever, I had to.”
Alice nodded encouragingly, demonstrating that she was listening, nothing more.
Rachel went on. “I have never, ever chosen my children over a man before. I don’t – I don’t need to tell you about everything I did to Jamie. But, Amanda, too. I chose Mitch over Amanda when she was a little girl, and I left her with Mac to move with Mitch to California. Even Matthew, lying to him about Mitch being his real father, I did that because Mac insisted. Because Mac wanted a son so badly, and I felt I owed it to him. Always, I put the man in my life – or the man I was desperately scheming to get into my life – before my children. I couldn’t repeat that mistake again. Not with Elizabeth and Cory. Elizabeth and Cory were my chance to do it right. My miracle babies, the ones who wouldn’t have to suffer like their brothers and sister did.” Rachel shook her head. “I had only one dream for them. And I couldn’t even give them that.”
“Sounds to me like that’s exactly what you did do,” Alice observed.
“But, at what cost? I drove their father away.”
“You put them first.”
“My sacrifice pales considerably, compared to what Spencer did for Kirkland,” Rachel stated abruptly, surprising herself as much as Alice.
“Yes,” Alice said softly. “But he was also the one responsible for Kirkland’s kidnapping in the first place.”
“It’s the same with Carl.” Rachel had realized it previously, but she’d needed the stark parallels to drive that understanding home.
“We both knew the men we married. We knew their pasts. We knew there might be… consequences.”
“I wanted to believe the worst was behind us. Carl had changed. And he had. It were the circumstances that hadn’t. The repercussions.”
“Nothing undoes the past,” Alice sighed. “Not even the best of intentions. It’s always there. Aren’t you and I living proof of that?”
“You look mopey,” Frankie informed her cousin as he sat poolside, listlessly twirling the umbrella in his tropical drink, refusing to partake in the swimming or the volleyball or even the socializing.
“Beats looking dopey,” Dean attempt a drum-beat rim-shot on his lounge chair. Even that came off pathetically.
“Go hang with your daughter.” Frankie pointed him in Lori Ann’s direction, as the little girl sat on Cass’ shoulders, swatting at the red, white and blue streamers above her head and laughed uproariously every singe time, as Cass pretended to fear it all coming down on top of them.
“She’s cool,” Dean mumbled. “Don’t want to interrupt.”
Frankie sighed, figuring now wasn’t the right moment for yet another lecture on how Dean was welcome anytime. Instead, she playfully punched him on the shoulder and asked, “So what’s got you in such a great mood today?”
“Donna’s house,” Dean looked around warily. “I was thinking, if Donna had kept her, this is where Jenna would have grown up. This is where she’d have been living when I first came to Bay City. Made me think what she’d have been like. If we’d even have met? If she still would’ve been… Jenna, you know?”
Frankie nodded. “I know. I do. I think about it all the time, whether Charlie would be the same girl she is now, if I’d been around to raise her?”
“Yeah…” Dean nodded, looking at the ground, after a handful of sentences, seemingly all talked out on the subject.
“Shame life doesn’t come with a control group, isn’t it?” Frankie had been hoping for at least a smile from Dean. When she got an ode to Mt. Rushmore, she changed the subject. “You think Jenna would be happy with the person you’ve decided to be these days?”
“Lay off, Frankie,” Dean warned.
“You know she wouldn’t be,” Frankie answered for him.
“And here it comes, right on schedule: Mary Frances Knows What’s Best For Everyone.”
“And she’s generous enough to share it with the world, too,” Frankie added, not even a tiny bit offended.
“Put the crystal ball away, we don’t want any.”
“Crystal balls are so last century,” Frankie rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “These days, it’s all about fiber optics.”
“Huh?” At least she had Dean’s attention. He looked up and everything.
Frankie handed him her cell-phone, open and in the process of connecting to the number she’d surreptitiously dialed.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dean demanded as soon as he recognized the digits.
“Talk to her.”
“No!” Dean shoved the phone away. “Hell, no!”
“Yes. The two of you have unfinished business.”
“Stay out of it, Frankie!”
Now it was her turn to say, “No.” Although Frankie managed to do it with a smile and an innocent shrug.
“I don’t want to,” Dean stared at the newly made connection, eyes all but bugging out of his head. “I don’t – I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Invite Jeanne over,” Frankie suggested, just as they heard a click on the other end, indicating their call was being answered. “You know a better time than Independence Day to say good-by to the past, and hello to the possibility of a future?”
With her and Carl at stand-off, his even taking a moment to consider her counteroffer emboldened Lorna enough to press her luck.
She told him, “I don’t get you. You’re not thinking straight, you’ve totally lost it. Once Rachel finds out what you’ve done, it’s Game Over. She will never, ever forgive you for messing with one of her kids.”
“You’re right, Lorna,” Carl said, much to her surprise. Only to add, “You truly do not understand the intricacies of my actions. I should have hoped, by now, you would have learned to underestimate me at your own risk.”
“If Jamie has as much power over his mother as you seem to think, how do you expect harming his family – “
“I intend you no harm,” Carl said, looking to all the world like he meant it, too. That was the most frightening part of all. He honestly believed what he was saying.
“Then leave my kids alone,” Lorna, once again, fought the urge to plead, sticking instead to hard-line negotiation – the only language Carl understood or respected. “Take me. That should be plenty.”
He smirked. “You truly believe you mean all that much to him?”
“Yes,” Lorna told Carl the God’s truth. “I do.”
“How romantic,” Carl sneered. “An epic love story for the ages.”
“You want to hurt Jamie, you do it through me. Our kids are innocent in all this.”
“So were mine,” Carl reminded. “And yet, you and Jamie thought nothing of wrenching them away from me. The same way that Ryan was kept from me. The way that Jenna was kept from me. Perry… All of them. I lost them all, because of people like you.”
Lorna realized it would do her no good to argue the ludicrousness of his melodramatic self-pity. Her entire existence had narrowed to a single point – getting the guards’ guns to point away from Mackenzie and Devon. Keep them safe. The rest she would figure out as she went along.
“Clock’s ticking, Carl,” Lorna snapped. “There’s an offer on the table.”
“Indeed,” Carl nodded, thoughtfully. And then he ordered his guards, “Step away from the Frame scions, gentlemen. And kindly escort their mother in my direction.”
“No,” Lorna held up a warning finger. “I’ll do it myself.”
Carl shrugged, the details being of little importance. “As you wish, my dear.”
Lorna knelt down in front of her girls, adjusting the stroller’s cover to keep them from getting sunburned while they waited to be found. They would be found, Lorna was sure of it. Someone from the Park Department patrolled regularly. It would only be a few hours, at most. She reached into the diaper bag to get a bottle of water for Devon. And, while her hand was in the bag, Lorna slipped off her wedding ring, Ada’s engagement ring, and the ring with the Mercury dime she’d worn for most of her life, leaving them on the bottom. Jamie would understand what it meant.
She told her daughters, knowing Devon would never remember and Mackenzie was too young to understand, but needing to say it, anyway. “Mommy has to go for a little bit. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise.”
“Guess you can call me the girl in the bubble,” Jen joked, talking to Kevin for the last time before she went into isolation in preparation for the chemotherapy that was set to destroy all of Jen’s own immune system and get it ready to accept a transplant.
“I think technology has evolved a bit from the days of John Travolta,” he attempted to match her joke for joke, determined to play it any way Jen wanted.
“Thanks, Daddy,” Jen unexpectedly grew serious.
“For what?” he wondered, truly flabbergasted. “I haven’t done a damn thing since – “
“Putting up with GQ, for one thing.”
Kevin snorted, “Yeah, bang up job I’m doing of that.”
“For you?” Jen’s eyes twinkled. She’d lost so much weight recently, they seemed to take up her entire face. “I’d say you’ve been downright restrained.”
Kevin couldn’t help smiling in return. “Point taken.”
“I know you’ve never liked him.”
“I’m trying, Jenny, I really am.”
“And that’s why I said thank-you. For that, and for…. For Horace, too. I know it can’t be easy having him around. Again.”
Kevin sighed. “I hate, hate, hate your needing to depend on that man. Again.”
She shrugged, hoping to put Kevin at ease by faking nonchalance. “Beggers… choosers…”
“The idea of you begging that son-of-a-bitch for anything…”
“GQ thinks he’s changed. That it won’t be a problem.”
“GQ never knew him to begin with. Not like you and I did.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d been keeping tabs on him?”
“It wasn’t important.”
“Important enough for you to do it in the first place,” she pointed out.
He smiled, “Say, what are you, a lawyer’s kid?”
“I happen to be the best lawyer’s kid.”
“Yeah… I’m a great lawyer. Jury’s still out on the dad part.”
“You’re a great dad, too. Take it as expert testimony.”
Kevin cleared his throat, “Jenny… I…”
“Don’t, Daddy, please,” Jen actually sat up in bed for that one. “Don’t. I – It’s – I’m not going to die, okay?”
“Of course, you’re not!”
“Then don’t do it. No deathbed speeches.”
“But, I love to make speeches,” Kevin reminded, feigning hurt. Because it was easier than genuinely reacting to what she’d said.
“It’s not closing argument time, yet. I swear.” She, too, hid behind the lawyer-ese.
“How about a friend of the court brief, then?”
Jen turned both palms upward magnanimously. “I’ll allow it.”
“I love you, Jenny.”
“I know that.”
“Without you, my life… I wouldn’t have had much of a life, at all.”
“Counselor is drifting into arguments previously ruled inadmissible.”
“Then site me for contempt of court. I can take it.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been acting so crazy. But, parents and their kids… it’s like all reason goes out the window. The stuff you do for your kids, you’d never dream of acting that way over anyone else.”
“Sustained. Temporary insanity. Mitigating circumstances. I won’t be filing charges. It’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Say hello to Ms. Devon,” Carl ordered once the two of them, along with their guards, stepped inside his brand new private jet; Elizabeth and Cory already sitting there, strapped in, being watched over by a third lackey, who nodded Carl’s way to indicate everything was under control.
“It’s Mrs. Frame,” Lorna snapped back, unwilling to give him even that much, as she processed the disconnect of seeing Rachel’s youngest children.
“What is she doing here?” Elizabeth demanded.
And Cory, whose attitude of defiance, desperation, protectiveness and resignation exactly matched Lorna’s own, answered, “Same thing as the rest of us….”
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