“Rachel, my dear!” Iris walked into the Cory Mansion as if she’d last left only a couple of hours ago, and proceeded to address her onetime stepmother as if they were already in the middle of a conversation. Not to mention on speaking terms. “How dreadful! How absolutely dreadful for you! You must be positively prostrate with grief! How are you possibly managing to remain upright? Truly, if I were in your agonized position I should have gone thoroughly catatonic. Oh, Rachel, you are indeed an inspiration to us all!”
At that, Iris proceeded to embrace her. Leaving Rachel with no choice but to hug back. Or, at least, to remain standing where she had been. Prostrate if not with grief, then with shock.
“What are you doing here, Iris?’
“Isn’t it obvious?” Mac’s oldest daughter signaled to the driver who’d been standing quietly behind her up to this point, indicating that he could commence bringing in her luggage. All of the seemingly infinite, matching pieces of it. “I came to be with my family in their hour of need!”
“After eighteen years?” Rachel asked incredulously.
“Well, I was rather inopportunely detained for a portion of that time…”
“You were in jail for trying to kill my husband,” Rachel was in no mood for euphemisms.
“An accident, as I made clear at the time of my sentencing. And beyond.”
“What do you want, Iris? I must warn you, I am not in the mood for yet another round of your attention-seeking, melodramatic – “
“Cory,” Iris said simply, and with seemingly so much sincerity that her single word proved capable of stopping Rachel in her tracks.
“What about my son?”
“You named him after Daddy,” Iris reminded.
“I know exactly who I named him after.”
“That always meant a great deal to me. I – I never got a chance to tell either you or Carl. I didn’t know how you might have received it, but, the notion of a young boy growing up in this house, named in honor of a man we both loved so very much… it made me happy. Carl’s son or not, it genuinely made me happy to think of him.”
“Cory was an astounding young man.” Rachel couldn’t help telling Iris, a catch in her throat. “He was one of the kindest, purest, most decent souls I’ve ever come across. Very much like Mac, in that respect.”
“You must have been most proud.”
“I was. Cory… Cory always pushed me to be better, to actually live the standards I preached to him and his sister. He had an unerring sense of right and wrong. Although, I admit, it often came up at the most inconvenient moments.”
Iris smiled. “A credit to you.”
“To me and to Carl,” Rachel stressed. “That boy you’re talking about was the son of a man you – “
“I’ve paid my debt to society, Rachel. And now I’ve come home, to pay it to you.”
“Thanks, Matt,” Cass hung up the phone and turned to Frankie, who was sitting by her lap-top, staring at the screen with a great deal of interest. “That was Matt Cory.”
“He talked to Donna and, according to Carl’s ex-wife, we might want to start our search in Eastern Europe. Russia, to be exact.”
“Huh,” Frankie said.
“My sentiments exactly.”
Frankie posed, “You know the two guys listed on Carl’s travel manifest? Other than him, the kids, and the pilot?”
“Security guards, we assumed. Hired muscle.”
“Right. I’d run the names by Rachel, but that seems a little insensitive under the circumstances. Besides, who cares what function they served, exactly? The fact is, they were on the plane with Carl, and now they’re presumed dead along with everyone else.”
“Right. So here’s something interesting. I took one of the guy’s names, and I did a general cross-reference. He was married.”
“Should we be sending our condolences to the widow?”
“We could try. But, there’s a problem.”
“A problem that’s making you smile?”
“It seems that, a few days before Mr. Hired Thug tragically perished, Mrs. Hired Thug moved out of the home they shared in Oakdale, Illinois.”
“A broken relationship could give anyone a death wish.”
“Yes. Except that Mrs. Thug managed to hold back her tears long enough to leave a change of address card with the post office.”
“And?” Cass didn’t even try to keep the eagerness out of his voice.
“St. Petersburg, Russia.”
Cass swept his wife into his arms. “I love you.”
“A very wise choice on your part.”
“What exactly are you guys doing?” Jamie asked when he caught Steven and Kirkland strapping Devon and Mackenzie into their stroller, all four poised in the doorway.
“Taking Devon and Mac-Whoops-Zee for a walk,” Kirkland said.
“Okay. First of all, your sister has a name – “
“I know. We’re just jazzing it up a bit.”
“And second, you don’t need to do this. The girls aren’t your responsibility. And neither am I.”
“Chill out, Dad,” Steven finished fiddling with the tiny seat-belts. “We just thought you could use a break, that’s all.”
“It’s very nice of you boys, but – “
“Take the night off,” Steven urged. “Go out, get some air, have a drink, pick up a hooker – “
Jamie raised an eyebrow, no longer amused.
But, Steven refused to be cowed. “Just feel better, Dad. Please.”
Jamie shook his head sadly. “I’m not going to feel better until – “
“Lorna is back home. I get it. But, that doesn’t mean you need to hole up in here, avoiding the sun like some Twilight Zone vampire.”
“Twilight,” Jamie and Kirkland corrected him.
“Who cares?” Steven stuck to his guns. “Listen, Dad. We’ve all been here before, remember? You, me, Kirk?”
“I remember,” Jamie said softly.
“Well, yeah, okay. But, now that enough time has passed, I think I can tell you: You were a great dad to us, alright? You were there whenever we needed you. But, you know what? Once in a while, we needed you gone.”
“What the hell, Steven?” Kirkland demanded, that latter part clearly not a part of their plan.
“It’s the truth and you know it. You were there for us, yeah. But, it also got a little tough, having you living like a monk, supposedly all for our sake. Why do you think we were both so thrilled when you and Lorna finally hooked up? Sure, we wanted you to be happy. But, we also wanted you off our backs. You can’t just live your life for your kids. Not just for your sake, for ours, too. You said we’re not responsible for you? Well, that’s how you made us feel all those years you put your life on hold to take care of us. Don’t lie, Kirk, you felt the same way, you know you did.”
Jamie turned to Kirkland. “Is that true, son?”
Kirkland looked awkwardly down at the ground. “It was a little weird, you not having much of a life outside of us and work. I guess, yeah, Steven is right. We did feel responsible for you.”
“You don’t want to do that to Devon and Zee,” Steven stressed.
“I don’t plan to,” Jamie said. “Your mother was dead. Lorna isn’t.”
“Okay. But, in the meantime, don’t… don’t do it again. Please. Don’t close up and tell yourself you’re doing it for the kids’ sake. Because it’s not.”
Jamie glanced from his sons to his daughters, absorbing Steven’s words and Kirkland’s agreement, trying to extrapolate them forward. “You’re right,” he said finally.
“I usually am.” The response was reflexive.
“Shut up, Steven,” Kirkland advised.
“You’re right. I did hide behind you boys. I did use you as an excuse.” Jamie sighed. “But, there were reasons for that. I told you. When Vicky died, I’d just gotten out of the hospital. I was still in the process of coming to grips with my past and the things I’d done. That isn’t the case, here. I’m much better now. I’m a different man. And that’s all because of Lorna.”
“Good,” Steven said. “Keep being that man. Don’t let this change anything. This last year when you were with Lorna? You were happy, Dad. You were the happiest I’d ever seen you in my entire life. That’s the dad Devon and Zee deserve.”
“I don’t know if I can do it,” Jamie confessed.
“You have to,” Kirkland stressed. “For them. Steven and I love you. Even if he has a totally moronic way of showing it.”
Steven just rolled his eyes at that.
“But, seeing how happy you’ve been since Lorna, that made us happy, too. We don’t want Devon and Zee growing up – “
“Like you two did?”
“Not when there’s an alternative,” Steven said. “We’re here, Dad, okay? Kirk and me, we’re here to help. Will you at least let us try? Maybe Lorna will be back next week. Or maybe it’ll be next year or in five years, it doesn’t matter. You think she’s coming back? We believe you. But, until that happens, don’t you think Lorna would want Devon and Zee being raised by the guy she fell in love with?”
Rachel’s laugh was tinged with bitterness. “Exactly what kind of a fool do you take me for, Iris?”
“I don’t. It took me a great many years – several of them in prison – but I finally understood just what sort of woman my father married.”
“Leave it to you to make that sound like an insult.”
“I didn’t intend it to be.”
“I’m going to ask one more time, and then your luggage won’t be the first thing I bodily toss to the curb: What are you doing here?”
“I did come to see you,” Iris insisted. “Believe it or not, hearing about what happened to your children grieved me deeply. But, it also brought into sharp relief my relationship with my own son.”
“How is Dennis?”
“I don’t know,” Iris admitted. “He cut all ties with me years ago.”
“Since when has that ever managed to stick?”
“It did this time. He not only cut me out of his own life, but Sarah’s, as well. I haven’t seen the child in years. I didn’t even know she was living here until Donna Love, of all people, contacted me. She babbled something about Marley becoming much too attached to my granddaughter, which, of course, is ironic in light of Olivia’s earlier deception.”
“You couldn’t call Sarah on the phone? Send her a text?”
“I didn’t dare. There is only so much rejection a woman can take from her loved ones.”
Rachel had plenty to say to that. However, she chose to keep it to herself.
Iris went on, “It wasn’t until I heard news of your family that it, at long last, drove home to me just how finite our time is here. If I didn’t reach out to Sarah now, I may never get the chance. I might never get to know my granddaughter, my only granddaughter. I’ve made such a disaster of matters with Dennis. I blame myself for it, of course I do. Some other man was always more important to me than he was, while Dennis was growing up. I even lied to him about his true father for decades. He had a breakdown when he learned the truth about Elliot. Do you know what it was like for me, seeing my son in a straight-jacket in a mental hospital, all because of something I’d done? He became a different man afterwards. I barely recognized him. I can never make up for what I put him through, and Dennis made it clear that I am unwelcome to try. But, Sarah… perhaps there is still a chance with Sarah. A chance I won’t end up alone. That perhaps someone in my family might understand and, despite knowing all about my ignominious past, accept me. I realize that might be too much to ask for, but I couldn’t pass up my last chance to try it, nonetheless.”
Rachel stared at her stepdaughter, wondering how much was sincere, how much was an act – and for what purpose? There had to be a purpose. With Iris, there always was.
And yet, even if they were contrived – Rachel strongly suspected they were contrived – her words managed to strike a nerve.
She took a deep breath, already wondering how soon she would regret this, and precisely why, even as Rachel said, “Welcome home, Iris.”
“Hi, Matt.” Marley opened the door to the man she supposed should be called her stepfather. Though it wasn’t exactly a designation she felt comfortable with. Especially considering he was younger than her.
“Hey. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure.” Marley invited him in. “What’s going on?”
“It’s about Donna,” he began.
“I’m not surprised.”
Matt blinked. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t imagine anything other than marriage to my mother could be responsible for that look on your face.”
“I love Donna!” Matt defended.
“I’m sure you do,” Marley agreed. “Just like I’m sure she can’t be making that very easy for you.”
“I… Your mother… She’s been through a lot.”
“Yes. And most of it was her own damn fault.”
“Was losing your dad the very first time her fault? First him, then you and Vicky…”
“I don’t know,” Marley challenged what he’d assumed would be her response. “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately and, the fact is, there were things she could have done. At least with me. Why didn’t she tell me she was my mother after Reginald was presumed dead? What was stopping her?”
“She was scared.”
“Of what? Me? I was in Kindergarten. I probably wouldn’t have even understood what she was talking about. Her husband? Carl already knew; he held it over Donna’s head when he first came to Bay City. Reginald was out of the picture, too, and presumably for good. The only thing Donna really had to fear at that point was the gossip, the scandal. She could never stand the thought of people talking behind her back, much less their not buying the façade she’d put out.”
“And why do you think that was? Why do you think Donna worked so hard to create an alternative public persona?”
“Because she knew the real one was nothing to write home about?”
“Because the real Donna was a scared kid who thought the boy she loved had abandoned her, and who had her baby, the only thing in the world that she loved at that point, taken away from her. She’s still that kid, you know. Deep down. She’s still terrified of losing the people she loves. Of having them turn their backs on her, the way you did.”
“I’m not going to have this conversation with you, Matt. I have my reasons for doing what I did, and Donna knows exactly what they are. Sending you over here to plead her case – “
“Donna didn’t send me. I came because I wanted to talk to you. To see if maybe you could find it in your heart to give Donna another chance.”
“Jenna was her second chance,” Marley shot back. “If your tale of poor Donna is true, why didn’t she keep Jenna? Reginald wasn’t around like he was with me and Vicky. Why didn’t she keep this daughter, if she was suffering so much from losing me?”
“Because Jenna wasn’t you. And Carl wasn’t Michael. And, for the record, because she didn’t want Jenna ending up like Cory and Elizabeth.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Marley quickly changed her tune. “So sorry. Please tell Rachel how devastated I am for her. For the entire family.”
“So you can sympathize with my mother, but not with your own?”
“I could say the same thing to you. Look at everything you’ve forgiven Donna for, but when it came to your mother’s marriage to Carl…”
“Your mother needs you, Marley. She is so scared of being utterly abandoned that she won’t even…” Matt trailed off, having already said more than he intended to.
“That she won’t what?”
“She won’t what, Matt?”
“Your mother won’t make love to me, alright?” he blurted out, blushing a furious scarlet and looking anywhere in the room but directly at Marley.
“I – I…. I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Then please don’t say anything. To anyone.”
“Why would I? This is… I – I’m sorry, Matt. I’m genuinely sorry. But, I’m not sure exactly what you think I can do about that.”
“Ever since my heart attack, Donna is afraid… She thinks it – she might kill me.”
“Oh,” Marley said.
“Yeah. I thought… I thought if maybe I could get the two of you to reconcile, then I wouldn’t be the only thing in her life anymore and… Well, you know…”
“I do,” Marley nodded thoughtfully, the wheels in her head starting to turn. “I can’t really help you with that. But, I do have another idea you might want to try….”
“Russia?” Felicia studied the evidence Cass and Frankie presented her with.
“St. Petersburg, to be precise.”
Felicia considered the possibility. “Donna is right, he did love Eastern Europe in that regard. He thought the entire nation was nothing but a clan of Asiatic barbarians who, periodically, mostly by accident, produced a Tolstoy or a Pushkin – both of whom he considered vaguely adequate, when it came to literature. But, he did appreciate their openness to a good bribe.”
“We don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Frankie said. “That the wife of one of the men on the plane with him, moved there a few days prior to Carl’s own departure.”
“I don’t think so, either,” Felicia agreed.
“Frankie and I want to check it out for ourselves.”
“You should! And on the next available flight, to boot!”
“In order to do that,” she ventured. “We have a favor to ask you.”
“Anything, you know that.”
“Will you move in here and watch the girls while we’re gone?”
Felicia hesitated, and Frankie rushed to note, “We realize it’s a great deal to ask. Not just Lori Ann’s health issues and her therapy schedule, but also… Charlie. An eighteen year old girl, she – that’s a huge undertaking.”
“I’ve done it before,” Felicia reminded.
“Jenna was… somewhat easier to handle.”
“Not all the time,” Felicia defended, even as she admitted, “Though mostly, yes, she was.”
“If you think it’s too much, I suppose one of us could go to Russia and one of us stay here….”
“No. Absolutely not. You’re a team. You work best together. And I need your best. For Lorna’s sake, and for Rachel’s, too. If Jamie is right, Cory and Elizabeth are also still alive. They deserve to be reunited with their mother. You two go. Stay as long as you need. I’ll take care of your daughters. You bring home mine.”
“Good work, Mr. Hamilton,” the familiar voice purred over the phone.
“I couldn’t have done it without you, Mrs. Wheeler,” Chase assured.
“Don’t say anything,” Grant instructed Sarah, having arrived at her apartment on a mission, holding up one hand before she managed to get so much as a single word out. “I’m going to talk now. You just listen.”
He had a whole speech planned. Grant was going to tell Sarah, “I’m a rotten person. I know I’ve told you that before, but I don’t think you really believed it. It’s not your fault. I didn’t really believe it, either. I said the words, but, that was just me being… that was me living out a romantic fantasy, pretending I was acting noble and patting myself on the back for it. I didn’t push you hard enough to understand, because I didn’t understand it myself. Not until now. Lorna’s dead. Or maybe she’s just missing. Hearing about it, though, it really made me think… it made me remember. What I was like when I was with her. And Amanda. How I treated them both. How much I hurt them both. I won’t do that again. Not to you, not to Marley. Marley deserves better than me, but I’m what she got, and we’re both doing our best to make it work. She needs me. And I like being needed. I always have. She’s the kind of woman I should be with. You, on the other hand, you deserve much, much better. And, unlike Marley, you’re free to get it. You don’t have to stick with me. You’re young, you’re beautiful, you’re smart and caring, and you can do better. I won’t let you throw your life away. I won’t let you waste another moment of what should be your best years. You think you know what you want, that you’re ready to put up with anything. Lorna thought so, too. She was wrong. The only thing I did for her was prevent Lorna from finding the person she should really be with, sooner. Lorna and Jamie barely celebrated their first wedding anniversary. And now she’s gone. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten in the way… I don’t want to stand in your way. This has to end, Sarah. For your sake, this has to end.”
But, Grant never got past asking her to be quiet.
Because, instead of heeding his instructions, a beaming Sarah informed Grant, “I’m pregnant.”
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