“Hello, Jamie,” Marley began, before the rest of her words were wiped out of her head by the sight of her ex-husband standing in the doorway of his house, holding a barely two month old infant in his arms. “Is that Mackenzie?” she blurted out, having realized that while she’d heard about the baby, she’d never seen her.
Jamie nodded, somewhat thrown off his game, as well. “Yes.”
“She’s adorable. She – she looks like you.”
“The popular consensus is that she looks like my mother, actually. But, thank you.”
“May I… come in?”
“Alright.” He didn’t seem particularly enthused, but, then again, he didn’t throw her out, either. “I’m sorry,” Jamie called over his shoulder, turning away and putting Mackenzie down in her bassinet before indicating Devon in the playpen, tossing every single toy out and onto the floor with an expression of grim determination. “I’ve sort of got my hands full.”
“That’s why I came by,” Marley leapt on the opening. “Anything you need, Jamie, ask. Please.”
“I’ve got it under control, thanks.”
“I’m sure you do. But, just in case, I wanted you to know…”
“She’s not dead, Marley.”
Startled by his bluntness, Marley could only stammer. “No. I – Kirkland told us – he told Grant and I what…”
“She hasn’t left me, either.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“And she certainly hasn’t left the girls. Not of her own free will, anyway.”
“Lorna loved – loves you,” Marley mentally kicked herself for the grammar lapse. “She loves her babies. My God, what the two of you went through with Devon…” Jamie’s look suggested that wasn’t an optimal train of thought for Marley to pursue. So instead, she changed course, reassuring him, “Lorna would never leave any of you of her own accord. Whether it was Carl or someone else – “
“It was Carl. Who else would want to hurt us like this?”
“No one,” Marley swore, her subtext abundantly clear. And then she decided to make it even clearer. “In spite of everything that’s happened, everything I’ve done, I don’t want anything but the very best for you and your family. Please believe me, Jamie.”
“I’m glad you’re doing better,” was as far as he was willing to go. “That’s all I ever wanted for you, too.”
“I know what it’s like. Twelve years ago, you and I were in the same boat, remember? Vicky dead, followed soon after by Jake. Bridget, Michele, Kirkland, Steven, all four of them suddenly our responsibility. When Donna and I first brought the girls home with us, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. They cried all the time in the beginning. For Jake, for his wife, Molly. They didn’t understand what was going on. All they knew was their entire world had been turned upside down. And they were not happy about it.”
“Mackenzie has been okay,” Jamie admitted. “Not a big fan of the formula, she’s been spitting up more than usual. I was up half the night…. But, other than that, she’s been okay. Devon, though,” He snuck a peek at his older daughter. “She’s furious. She’s fighting me on everything. Clothes, food, sleep… Nothing I do can make her happy. She keeps asking for Mommy. Pointing at the door, gesturing for me to go get her, bring her home.”
“You need a break,” Marley advised sympathetically.
“I need Lorna!” Jamie snapped back.
“And you’ll have her. You’ll get her back. This is Lorna we’re talking about. Do you think anything can stop her from ultimately getting her way? In the meantime, though, there’s no shame in asking for help. Or in accepting it, either.”
Amanda pulled away from Morgan’s kiss first. Though it certainly took her a much longer time than anyone would have deemed necessary.
“No,” she said softly, bringing her hand to her mouth, as if needing the physical barrier to keep from changing her mind.
Morgan nodded understandingly, not pushing her in the slightest. Not even making a sarcastic quip at her expense. Which was precisely when Amanda realized just how devastated he was by the news she’d brought him.
“I don’t think Lorna hated you,” Amanda offered into the subsequent awkward silence. “Not really. She was upset. And she wouldn’t have gotten so upset if she didn’t still love you. As a friend.”
“It was more than that for me,” Morgan admitted something everyone knew, and yet he’d insisted on denying for literally years.
“I thought so.”
“I never stopped loving her. Not even after what happened with Grant. I was the one who was upset then. If I’d just managed to suck it up, be a man, swallow my pride for a change… Everything might have been different. No Gabe… no Jamie…”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Amanda spoke from experience. “You don’t get a control group to find out what might have been.”
“I thought – I thought, once I got her to marry me… “
“Wasn’t that supposed to be more of a deterrent to keep you two from getting serious about the wrong people?”
“That’s what we said,” Morgan agreed.
“You should have told her how you felt.”
He snorted, “Where were you and your helpful advice when I needed you?”
“Trying to make things work with Sam. For the third time. Trying to make things work with Grant. Even though he was cheating on me with your girlfriend. Trying to make things work with Cameron. After he slept with his brother’s wife.”
“Trying to make things work with Kevin…” Morgan continued in the same tone of voice, before Amanda cut him off.
“Kevin and I are fine.”
“He know about what you pulled with Ike’s botched adoption?”
“Yes. And considering he then accused me of putting Elizabeth up to crying rape, I’d say we’re even.”
Morgan’s eyes bugged. “Are you kidding me?”
“He was angry. He had every right to be. Things could have gone much, much worse for him. He might have ended up in jail!”
“And he thought you might be behind it?”
“Not exactly. Forget I brought it up, okay? Kevin’s been going through Hell with Jen’s illness. He doesn’t need me getting on his case.”
“You can’t keep doing this, Amanda. You can’t keep giving in to him.”
“I’m not giving in to him.”
“You’ve all but admitted he only married you because his law license had been suspended and he was bored.”
“You’re twisting my words, I never said anything of the kind.”
“You let him almost bully you into an adoption you didn’t want.”
“It’s not Kevin’s fault that I didn’t speak up.”
“You’ve given him all of the power in your marriage. And that’s not good for anybody.”
“I suppose now you’re speaking from experience?” she scoffed.
“Damn right. I loved Lorna a hell of a lot more than she ever loved me. That put all the power in her hands. And it ended up hurting us both. You think about that the next time you’re all,” he adopted a falsetto, batting his eyelashes. “Anything you say, Kevin, dear.’ It’ll come back to bite you on the ass. I guarantee it.”
Donna couldn’t help it. When Matthew told her Jamie’s theory about Carl and Lorna, she laughed. Not at Jamie. Not at Lorna. Certainly not at Matt. But, at everyone who hadn’t believed her reasons for keeping Jenna’s existence a secret for forty years. What Carl had done to Rachel regarding Cory and Elizabeth was bad enough. But now this latest development with Lorna…
“Jamie is certain of it?” she double-checked.
“He is. Mom isn’t.”
“I think we can both agree that your mother’s estimation is worthless from this point onward. She still sees Carl as the wronged hero in her misadventure. Apparently, the man didn’t decide to flee from justice and kidnap her children along the way. Rather, he was driven to it by our collective, utterly unwarranted obsession with wanting to actually see him pay for past crimes committed.”
“You talked to Mom?” Matt winced.
“I attempted to. I attempted to offer her my condolences regarding our family tragedy. Who better than I knows what it’s like to lose a child in a brutal and senseless manner? I must say, Rachel declined to be equally gracious in return.”
Matt had a feeling he’d be hearing all about it soon enough. And that his mother’s take on their chat might prove substantially different. Instead, he asked Donna, “Jamie was wondering if you could think of anyplace Carl might go to hide? Of anywhere he might have taken Lorna? An old favorite none of the rest of us are aware of?”
Donna thought hard. “Well, I presume his mansion on the coast is out, since odds are, Carl wouldn’t wish to remain in the United States?”
“That was the first place Jamie considered. I guess Lorna took him there a couple of years ago, during the Cecile murder investigation. It’s been searched by the authorities. Nothing.”
“A waste of time,” Donna agreed. “Just like the house in Paris. France has an extradition policy with the US. He wouldn’t risk it. Same as Japan.”
“Anyplace else? I – Jamie… You should have heard him. I thought I’d seen him at the end of his rope before. But, this was nothing compared to… Guy’s been gutted.”
“I understand,” Donna said. “I do. I’m trying to think… Obviously, once upon a time, he’d have turned to the compound. This sort of situation is precisely what he was paying them for all those years. They’d have taken care of everything. Now, however… now, the only location I can think of is – Eastern Europe.”
“Eastern Europe?” Matt repeated, incredulous, having a very difficult time imagining Carl holed up in Siberia, feasting on roasted bear meat and vodka stilled from potatoes. It didn’t precisely seem to be his type of place.
“It’s exactly his kind of place,” Donna all but read Matt’s mind. “Carl used to say that he adored Eastern Europe, because it was the most corruptible spot on the globe. Everyone was playing an angle, no one had any loyalty to anyone, and absolutely anything your heart desired was available – for a price. For a moment there, he was afraid that the collapse of Communism might force him to find another favored nation. Fortunately, he discovered that reverse revolution simply made the Russians more greedy and more desperate. Carl’s favorite state of mind when it comes to doing business.”
“You think Carl is in Russia?” Matt reached for his phone.
“I think it’s as good of a locale as any to start looking…”
“What are you doing here?” Allie asked GQ in surprise.
“I go to school here,” he reminded. “Same as you.”
“Yeah, well, it’s summertime. I’ve got credits to make up. You….”
“Have a Ph.D. to finish. The sooner the better.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“I lost a lot of time, too, same as you,” he didn’t feel a need to remind her why.
“I thought you’d be with Jen, though,” Allie deflected.
“Can’t,” he shrugged. “She’s in isolation for the next few weeks. Mandatory before the transplant.”
“Steven explained it. Is everything going okay?”
“Don’t know. Nobody tells me anything. I’m not technically family, so I can’t get updates directly. Kevin… Kevin isn’t my biggest fan. And Alice… I guess she’s been busy the last few days with your family stuff.”
“I think she was helping Uncle Jamie.”
“Right. I didn’t want to bother her. So, as of right now, I’m kind of out of the loop. Just hoping for the best, praying it for it, actually. Figured I might as well do something productive in the meantime, get work done. You know, it’s funny, the only other guy more in the dark than me is Jen’s dad, and he’s the most crucial piece to the whole procedure. Except Kevin doesn’t think either one of us is important enough to keep in touch with. No, scratch that. He keeps in touch with Jen’s dad, but, that’s mostly to threaten him into not leaving town.”
“Kevin’s worried about Jen, too,” Allie felt obliged to point out the obvious.
“I’m not saying he’s not. But, he’s acting like a… You know what? Forget it. The guy is married to your mom, and you’ve always worshipped him.“
“Kevin helped me when I needed help.”
“You could have come to me,” GQ finally blurted out something he’d been keeping inside for over two years. “Instead of going to a lawyer or to Gregory, you could have come to me.”
“And what would you have done?” Allie challenged.
“I’d certainly have told you to keep Hudson, for a start.”
“Would you have raised him with me?”
“The two of us together? As a family? As a couple?”
“I’d have stepped up, you know I would have.”
“And it wouldn’t have embarrassed you? Being with me?”
“Being with you never embarrassed me, Allie. I simply thought we’d be better off not asking for trouble.”
“Impossible if we raised Hudson together.”
“We’d have found a way to work it out.”
“You weren’t willing to do it for me. Why should I have believed you’d do it for him?”
“Because I would have. Because Hudson is my son, and because every damn day, I hate the idea of him growing up calling some other man Dad, thinking I didn’t want him. You did that to me. You and Kevin Fowler. Sorry if I haven’t been as good as you at putting it behind me and just moving on.”
Allie said, “Tell Jen, when you see her, tell her I hope she gets better soon. And that the two of you have a great life together.”
“You son of a bitch!”
“Present,” Chase smiled pleasantly as Grant burst into his office.
“How dare you?”
“Could you be a touch more specific?”
“How dare you treat Lila the way you did?”
“My relationship with Lila is between the two of us. The same as your relationship with her is between the two of you.”
“Well, here’s an update from my relationship with Lila. She’s devastated. Absolutely and utterly devastated.”
“I know,” Chase said, no longer smug or flip or condescending.
“Jasmine is inconsolable, Rachel is furious, Amanda is on the warpath, and Matt isn’t exactly on Lila’s side, either. All because of you.”
“You’re right,” Chase agreed, effectively taking the self-righteous wind out of Grant’s sails.
“I thought you cared about her.”
“You used her.”
“Which brings us back to son-of-a-bitch now, doesn’t it? Lila is blaming herself for Cory and Elizabeth’s deaths.”
“I told her not to.”
“You’ve told her a hell of a lot recently. Most of it lies. Do you use a spreadsheet to keep track of them all?”
“Lila knew what she was getting into.”
“She didn’t expect – “
“Carl to run? What was Lila hoping would happen when she gave him and Rachel the head’s up regarding my arrest warrant?”
Grant paused. “You knew about that?”
“I had a hunch she’d try to protect them.”
“So why did you tell Lila your plans?”
“Because I believe in free will and personal responsibility. Carl Hutchins always had a choice. He chose to run. He chose to kidnap his children and, apparently, he chose an inferior pilot for the task. That isn’t my fault, and it most certainly isn’t Lila’s.”
“Why didn’t you arrest him beforehand, then? If you knew Lila was going to – “
“My goal, from the start, was to protect Bay City. Hutchins’ presence was a danger. He attracted a criminal element. We all saw how that played out with your son. And your father. I wanted Carl gone. Whether via rotting in a state penitentiary or cowering overseas, that made less of a difference to me than simply being rid of him.”
“You set him up,” Grant realized. “You wanted him to run.”
“No. I simply declined to care if he did.”
“Did you care about what would happen to Lila as a result of your little game?”
“It wasn’t a game. It was dead serious. Again, I refer to your father.”
“Fine. But, you haven’t answered my question about Lila.”
“No,” Chase agreed. “I haven’t.”
“Whatever Donna said, Mom…” Matt began.
Rachel shook her head, uninterested in discussing it.
He offered instead, “This all… sucks.”
To which she could only nod in agreement and accept her son’s embrace, wondering if this moment would end in a similar manner to her conversations with Jamie and Amanda.
But, Matt seemed less interested in casting blame than in relating, “Jasmine is… She’s… It’s her first brush with death when it comes to someone her own age. I mean, there was Gregory. She was very upset about him. But, even those couple of years between them, he still felt like an adult. Cory and Elizabeth…”
“Would you like me to speak to her?”
“No. Thank you, Mom, but no. You have enough to worry about right now.”
“I don’t, actually,” Rachel said. “I have absolutely nothing to do at the moment but sit and dwell on what I’ve lost. I’d welcome a chance to focus on someone other than myself. I even reached out to Jamie. I realize he’s suffering, too.”
“And?” Matt wondered.
“We agreed to… table our respective stances in order to be there for each other.”
“That’s good. Isn’t it?”
“We’ll see,” Rachel smiled sadly, adding, “Thank you, Matthew.”
“For not coming in here with a diatribe against Carl. I know how you felt about him, once upon a time.”
“And I know how you felt about my expressing those feelings. You cut me off. You told me to accept Carl or…”
“I actually thought you would. I honestly thought that when you, Amanda and Jamie realized just how much Carl loved me, and how much I loved him in return, you’d be able to get past your resentment.”
“We tried,” Matt couldn’t help defending himself and his siblings. “We all tried.”
“I accepted Lila when you married her. And Donna. I accepted Amanda with Grant, and Jamie with Vicky. I didn’t merely try. I did it. Because it made my children happy. Because those otherwise very questionable people made my children happy – at least for a time. All I asked was for the same consideration in return.”
“You’re right,” Matt said, unable to think of anything else.
“Hell of a time for you to realize it,” Rachel took no pleasure in the retort. Instead, eager to end the conversation, she said, “I’ll speak to Jasmine. As I said, I’m eager for any sort of distraction.”
The doorbell ringing seemed to be an answer to Rachel’s stated wishes, and she promptly excused herself, sending Matt on his way, in order to answer it.
To Iris Cory Wheeler.
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