“I’m sorry,” Felicia was already apologizing as she burst through Cass and Frankie’s front door the next morning. “I’m sorry to get you both up so early.”
“That’s okay,” Cass reassured, tightening his robe around him. “How is Rachel? Did you get to see her last night?”
“Rachel is a mess,” Felicia didn’t mince words. “Turns out it wasn’t just Carl on that plane. It was Cory and Elizabeth, too.”
Frankie exchanged looks with Cass, while she told Felicia. “We know. We heard. I can’t imagine what Rachel is – “
“It doesn’t matter,” Felicia’s agitation refused to let up. “Jamie thinks it’s all a dodge. Carl, Elizabeth, and Cory are still alive. And so is Lorna.”
“Lorna?” The Winthrops asked in unison.
“Lorna went missing yesterday morning. She left Devon and Mackenzie alone in the park, and she disappeared. The police don’t have any clues. Jamie, though, he’s certain Carl is involved.”
“Carl kidnapped Lorna?” Cass double-checked.
“It wouldn’t be the first time, would it?” Felicia reminded grimly.
“Actually,” her friend hedged. “I believe, the first time, she went with him of her own accord.”
“She was a thirteen year old runaway living on the streets. She didn’t know any better. She’d never go anywhere willingly with that man again. Especially not without her babies. He had to have taken her by force.”
“Has Jamie told the police that?”
“Jamie has told anyone who’ll listen that. Unfortunately, the police say there’s no evidence, and the Bay City Airport claims they’re certain Carl’s plane went down.”
“I am so sorry, Felicia,” Frankie said.
“Don’t be sorry,” Lorna’s mother snapped. “Be useful. It’s why I came. I want to hire the two of you to find my daughter. And to bring her back home where she belongs.”
Donna woke up to the sight of Matt, still in his pajama bottoms, sitting at the computer, scrolling through the pages, hitting the refresh key like it was a morphine drip, trying to get the very latest news.
Without turning around, he told Donna, “I wanted to know what was going on, but Mom isn’t awake yet. I didn’t want to disturb her.”
Donna nodded, sitting up, crawling to the edge of the bed and resting her chin on Matt’s shoulder, reading along with him. When it became obvious there were no updates to report, she kissed him on the temple and hugged Matt from the back. “I am so sorry, darling. So sorry. Cory and Elizabeth… What can I say? What can anyone say?”
“Cory was such a funny little kid,” Matt mumbled, realizing that even as he said the words, he didn’t quite fully believe them yet. Because, if he fully believed them, he doubted he’d be able to speak. “Weird as heck. But, it didn’t bother him, you know? He had this poise, this self-confidence…. I suppose he got it from Carl. But, he also had a conscience. That part… who knows where he got that part. Mom once told me she thought Cory was the best part of Carl. What Carl might have been, if his life had gone differently. If his own father hadn’t committed suicide, if he hadn’t been so warped by ideas of revenge that he couldn’t see anything else.”
“Please,” Donna sniffed. “Carl Hutchins was born evil. Environment had nothing to do with it.”
“Carl didn’t buy it, either,” Matt confirmed. “He thought Cory had a touch of Ryan’s spirit in him. Ryan always knew the right thing to do, no matter what.”
“Ryan had the excellent fortune to be raised away from his biological father.”
“You think Spencer Harrison was an improvement?”
“Without a doubt. Spencer was a criminal and a hypocrite and his parenting of Grant left much to be desired. But, Spencer hurt people because they were in the way of something he wanted. Carl enjoyed it. There’s a difference.”
“You were married to the man,” Matt reminded. “You must have loved something about him, once upon a time. He couldn’t have been all bad.”
Donna gave the matter some thought. “Well, to start with, my frame of reference was Reginald. Thanks to the man who raised me, I presumed Carl was a perfectly average representative of the gender.”
“No,” Matt said softly. “You couldn’t have. Not when you’d known and loved Michael, too.”
That set Donna back a moment. She recovered to correct, “I thought Michael had been putting on an act. That he’d only pretended to be a good, kind, decent man – nothing like Reginald – so that he could get me into bed. At the time I wed Carl, I thought Michael had abandoned me because I was pregnant. I’d given him my whole heart, only for him to stomp it into smithereens. I was never going to feel like that again. That’s why my marrying Carl was perfect. He could do whatever he wanted, have as many mistresses as he liked. He couldn’t hurt me. Because I didn’t love him. We both knew that.”
“Then why didn’t you stay?”
Donna shrugged. “Being married to Carl was one thing. Raising a child with him, completely another. I could put up with a Reginald Love clone who was charming and witty and a delightful accessory to bring to parties. But, a quasi-Reginald bringing up any child of mine was out of the question.”
“So you did love Jenna!” Matt exclaimed triumphantly, happy to be vindicated regarding the position he’d held all along.
“No, Matthew,” Donna said gently, looking at him sympathetically, realizing how badly Matt wanted it to be true, knowing how much easier her life would be if she just gave in to him, but refusing to lie about something so important. “I did not. I’ve told you before. I felt absolutely nothing for her.”
“But, you took a huge risk, hiding her from Carl.”
“I’d have done that for anyone. Do you know how much guilt I carried for allowing Marley to be sucked into Reginald’s orbit? I couldn’t fix that. But, I could protect Jenna. Perry, too. He was such a sweet boy. He was perfectly within his rights to treat me like the evil stepmother. But, he was so open-hearted and good-natured… Honestly, I’d never met anyone like him. A happy child. Who could have imagined that? When he showed up on my doorstep all those years ago, of course I took him in. I’d have protected anyone who asked from Carl Hutchins’ version of parental devotion.”
“So you never regretted giving Jenna up?”
“Never. Gloria was a wonderful mother. And Felicia, too. Do you honestly think Jenna would have grown up to become the young woman you fell in love with if she’d had Carl and I as parents?”
“Dad,” Kirkland half whispered, half prompted, causing Jamie to jump up, startled, out of the half-sleep he’d fallen into on the couch, and to frantically swing his head from side to side, as if expecting to be sucker punched.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Kirkland repeated, thrusting both arms out in front of him. “It’s okay, Dad, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Mackenzie,” Jamie mumbled, willing his eyes to remain open as he rubbed his forehead, and lurched sluggishly in the direction of the kitchen. “She must be hungry.”
“I gave her a bottle,” Kirkland said.
Jamie turned around slowly. “How did you know to…”
“Alice filled me in last night. She told me to go to bed since she didn’t know what time you’d be home, to get some rest; you’d probably need my help once you did. I heard Zee crying about an hour ago, so I grabbed her some formula. Alice mixed up a bunch ahead of time, showed me how to warm it in a pot of boiling water. Zee’s back asleep now.”
“What about Devon?”
“I’ve got her changed, dressed, and watching cartoons on my iPad in her room. Educational ones, don’t worry. I wanted to check on you first, see how you were feeling.”
Jamie stared at the boy in wonder. “I don’t know how to thank you, son…”
“Forget it. How are you feeling?”
Jamie considered lying, then admitted, “I’ve been better.”
“Have you heard anything more about…”
“Carl’s got her. He kidnapped Lorna and he faked his death, along with hers, Elizabeth’s, and Cory’s.”
“I’m going to find her,” Jamie said. “I’m not sure how exactly, at the moment, but, I’m going to find her. Devon and Mackenzie need her. I need her, too.”
“You’re sure,” Kirkland tread gently. “I mean, about Carl? I know what happened to him. I even know that he had Cory and Elizabeth along. But, nobody’s said anything about Lorna…”
“Your grandmother doesn’t believe me. Not about Lorna, not about all of them still being alive.”
“I – I guess you could be right. I mean, Grant, he did hide out for a bunch of years…”
“It’s kind of an epidemic in Bay City. I’d say no one should even consider mourning until they’ve seen an actual corpse. But, then I think of Frankie…”
“Yeah. Right. Her, too.”
“I’m not going crazy,” Jamie assured his son.
“I didn’t think you were, Dad, honest.”
“Lorna is alive, and I’m going to find her. I know how it sounds. And I know how I look. I need a shower and a shave and a good night’s sleep. But, I’m right. I’m sure of it. And she’s counting on me.”
Jasmine sat bolt upright in her chair, looking from Lila to Matt, her lower lip trembling, tears welling in the corners of her eyes, doing her best to remain brave.
“Cory and Elizabeth are… dead?”
“I’m so sorry, Sugarplum,” Lila reached over to take her daughter’s hand. “This is the absolute worst news in the world, I am so, so sorry.”
“They left with Carl?” Jasmine seemed to be having just as much trouble with that part of the story. “They left without saying good-bye?”
“Well, Carl probably took them without permission,” Matt tried to explain. “I don’t think they knew they were going until the very last minute.”
“They went with him when he moved out,” Jasmine noted. “Maybe they went with him this time, too.”
“Maybe,” Lila conceded. “But, the fact is, Rachel didn’t know they were going.”
Jasmine wrinkled her nose. “They didn’t tell their Mama?”
“No,” Matt said.
“Were they leaving forever?”
“It’s hard to say. Carl left because he was about to be arrested.”
“What did he do?”
“He broke the law,” was about as far as Matt was interested in going.
Jasmine nodded. “Mr. Hamilton was on TV before, talking about it. He said Mama helped him catch Carl. He said them being together, that was all pretend, so he could get in our house and find evidence against Carl.”
“Yes,” Lila confirmed. “That’s about right how it happened.”
“He said you were a hero, Mama.”
“I was just trying to help protect you.”
“So you lied to Grandma?”
Lila swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“And that’s why Carl had to go? And why he took Elizabeth and Cory with him?”
Lila was about to agree yet again, when Matt interrupted. “Carl did not have to leave. He chose to. He knew he was going to be arrested, and so he ran away. That’s not your mother’s fault.”
“Is Grandma mad at you?”
“She is. I told her how sorry I am. But, no matter how much I love your grandmother, I love you more. Mr. Hamilton explained to me how dangerous it could be, you living in the same house with a man who’d committed a whole heap of crimes. And who had a lot of people out to get him because of that.”
“Cory and Elizabeth didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Of course not.”
“But, they’re still dead, anyway,” Jasmine wailed, finally allowing herself to break down in tears and pointedly throwing herself into Matt’s arms, rejecting Lila’s attempt at comfort wholeheartedly.
“Elizabeth was a liar,” was the first thing Michele said after Marley and Grant had sat both her and Bridget down to fill the twins in about what had happened to Carl, Cory, and Elizabeth.
It was, admittedly, not what anyone had expected.
“She lied about Mr. Fowler,” Michele pressed, in case anyone failed to get the inference.
“Yes,” Marley began. “But, I don’t think that has anything to do with – “
“I’m not going to feel sorry for her. Even if she is dead. I’m not.”
“We’re not asking you to – “
“Cory was our friend,” Bridget interrupted. “He was nice. Cory.”
“Except that he always stuck up for Elizabeth, no matter what.”
“He’s her brother. Her twin,” Bridget stressed.
“That means he was a liar, too.”
Trying a different tack, Grant pointed out, “Cory and Elizabeth were Jasmine’s family. They were all three very close. And you’re Jasmine’s friends.”
“Is Jazz okay?” Bridget wanted to know.
“No, she’s not,” Grant told them honestly. “I talked to Lila, and Jasmine is very, very upset; understandably so.”
“Well, I’m not upset,” Michele announced. “I never liked her.”
“That’s fine,” Marley said. “But, for Jasmine’s sake, if no one else’s…”
“Elizabeth was a liar,” Michele repeated. “Mr. Fowler never did what she said he did to her. But, she made people think so, anyway.”
Sensing she knew where Michele’s misplaced anger was coming from, Marley tried to diffuse the situation by suggesting, “We just wanted you girls to be aware of what was going on. There will probably be a funeral in the next few days, and we think it would be nice if you went. To support Jasmine. And Kirkland, too. He was very close to Cory.”
“Cory knew that Elizabeth was lying, but he didn’t say anything.”
“Actually,” Marley corrected. “Cory went to Steven, who found the proof that Elizabeth had made her story up.”
“But, what if Steven didn’t find it? Or what if the police hadn’t believed it? Elizabeth would have gotten away with everything. She’d have told her lie, and everybody would think it was true. Forever. Like, a hundred years later, it would still be a fact. And by then, there’d be no way to tell what really happened.”
Enough was enough, as far as Marley was concerned. “Most charges of rape, Michele, are not lies. Some are, of course, but, overall, it’s much more likely that a woman won’t be believed, than that the man is innocent.”
“But, it can happen, can’t it?”
“Yes.” Grant took the hypothetical a step further, grounding it in reality. “But, that was not the case with your Aunt Marley and your father.”
Michele gasped. It had been one thing when she was the one driving the conversation. But, hearing Grant flat out state it like that was more than she was willing to take.
“I hate you,” she stood up, charging out of the room. “I hate you both.”
“Are you going to do it?” Charlie wanted to know. “Are you going to look for Lorna like Felicia asked?”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks. “If it’s okay with Jamie,” Frankie finally said. “We want to check with him, first, make sure we won’t be intruding on whatever he may have planned.”
“But, it sounds like a wild goose chase. I mean, Mrs. Hutchins doesn’t even believe Lorna was on the same plane as Mr. Hutchins and the rest of them.”
“Rachel has her reasons for believing that,” Cass said. “She’s just had a horrible shock.”
“And there’s no proof.”
“That’s what Felicia wants us to find.”
“Okay. So let’s say you do that. All your proving that Lorna was on board will do is show that she must have died with everybody else.”
“Jamie doesn’t think so.”
“Hasn’t he had a horrible shock, too? Why would he be thinking any clearer than Mrs. Hutchins? Or Felicia, for that matter?”
“You’re absolutely right,” Cass said, impressed with his daughter’s skills of deduction. “But, it won’t do any harm for us to dig around a little bit. Otherwise, Felicia and Jamie will have absolutely nothing to go on.”
“Have you talked to Kirkland yet this morning?” Frankie wondered.
When that was the extent of Charlie’s answer, Frankie prompted, “Don’t you think you should?”
“Well… Lorna was – is – Kirkland’s stepmother. He’s got to be very upset about this. Not to mention, Jamie is going out of his mind with worry. That must be tough on Kirk.”
“So why do you think it’d be a good idea for me to bother them right now?”
“Aren’t you and Kirkland… dating?”
“He could probably use your support.”
“I’d just be in the way, Mom.”
“Still, you could at least offer.”
“It is the right thing to do,” Cass echoed.
“Why don’t you call Kirk? Or, better yet, go see him. Let him know you’re thinking about him.”
“I – I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“The words aren’t important. He needs to see you’re there for him.”
“I’ll look like a dork, just showing up out of the blue like that.”
“He’ll appreciate it,” Cass said. “Trust me, Charlotte.”
“I don’t want to,” Charlie pouted.
But, both her parents had stopped listening by then.
The two of them merely stared at each other across Jamie’s doorway, both having plenty to say, neither possessing the energy or desire to do so.
“May I come in?” she finally asked.
Jamie stepped aside. “How are you holding up, Mom?”
She took in her son’s disheveled appearance. “About as well as you, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I know you are,” she agreed, taking no pleasure from it. Instead, Rachel informed him, “I’m planning a memorial service for Carl, Elizabeth, and Cory. If you would like Lorna included…”
“No,” he shook his head firmly. “My wife is alive.”
Rachel declined to argue the matter. She said, “I can’t do this, Jamie. I can’t bury my husband and my youngest children, and have you hating me, too. I won’t be able to survive it.”
“I don’t hate you, Mom. I could never hate you, no matter what.”
“I don’t think you can do it, either. Get through whatever this is with Lorna, take care of your girls, be there for Kirkland and Steven, and fight me every step of the way.”
“I probably can’t,” he conceded. “On the other hand, what choice have I got?”
“We need each other. We need to be there for each other, the way we always have been before. I’ve been thinking about this all night. Obviously, we don’t see eye to eye on the situation.”
“No,” Jamie said. “We obviously don’t.”
“But, I am here to ask – to beg, if I have to – for you to consider setting that fact aside. You continue believing what you believe, and I’ll continue believing what I believe. We will both ignore our respective positions long enough to support each other through this horrible, horrible time in our lives. I’ll be your mother, and you’ll be my son, and neither of us will address – “
“The unbelievably large elephant in the room?”
“There are more important things right now than who’s right and who’s wrong. You need me, Jamie. I need you. To hell with everything else – at least for a little while. Let’s fight one battle at a time, instead of fighting each other. Please. What do you say?”
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