“This is really happening, isn’t it?” Frankie glanced in excitement around the First Class Delta Airlines cabin where she and Cass now sat ensconced in a pair of plush seats, their tray-tables in an upright and locked position, their carry-on bags safely stored overhead, waiting for the Fasten Seatbelts sign to go off so that they might freely move about the cabin. “We’re really doing it.”
“We’re really doing it,” Cass confirmed, thrilled by just how much Frankie seemed to be enjoying herself.
“Just like old times,” Frankie said.
“Hey, who you calling old?” Cass mock-pouted, prompting Frankie to punch him in the arm.
“I can’t believe it,” she confessed. “I thought this part of our life together was over for good. I mean, we’re parents now. Parents are supposed to be serious and responsible. They have mortgage payments to make and braces to worry about… Parents aren’t supposed to jet off for an international adventure on a moment’s notice.”
“Who says?” Cass challenged.
“Uhm… Dr. Spock?”
“Even the Enterprise has children on it now,” he reminded.
“Wrong Spock,” Frankie drawled, knowing full well he was pulling her leg.
“There is nothing for you to feel guilty about,” he reassured.
“Actually, there is.”
Cass sighed in exasperation. “We are perfectly within our rights to be doing this, Frankie. Not just because it’s our job, and not just because it’s a favor for my dearest friend. Parents have the right to enjoy themselves, too. We’re allowed to continue doing the things we love, whether or not that involves our kids. We’re not just Mom and Dad, you know. We’re still Cass and Frankie. And Cass and Frankie jet off for international adventures at a moment’s notice. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. It’s what makes us happy. You should never apologize for doing what makes you happy. Or feel guilty for it, either. Did Nick and Nora Charles feel guilty about their work?”
“Ever wonder why they went around plastered all the time?”
“Did Jennifer and Jonathan Hart feel guilty?”
“They didn’t have kids. Only Max the chauffeur.”
“Did Miss Marple?”
Cass laughed. “Neither should you.”
“I don’t feel guilty about leaving the kids to do this.”
“Then what are we talking about?”
“I feel guilty because I’m so excited we’re doing this again. And because we get to be alone, just the two of us, in a glamorous location, sailing by the seat of our pants, improvising on the fly, living off our wits. I feel guilty, Cass, because I don’t feel guilty for leaving the kids, at all.”
“I’m pregnant,” Sarah beamed up at Grant, her eyes shining, her lips curled into a grin, her whole body radiating so much joy that Grant couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it the moment he’d come in. Then again, his mind had been on something else. It had been on leaving Sarah for good. Now, however, for the life of him, he seemed unable to force it to so much as form a single, cohesive thought.
“I – I thought… you said you were on the pill…” The words choked through his teeth despite the invisible stranglehold tightening around Grant’s throat.
She shrugged blithely. “I stopped taking them. I wanted to surprise you.”
“Done.” Grant barked.
And still, Sarah wouldn’t stop smiling. “I thought I might be, a few days ago. But, I wanted to be sure before I told you. I didn’t want to get your hopes up. I took the test this morning. It was positive. No question.”
“Why, Sarah…” Grant realized he was pleading with her. “Why would you…”
“You deserve to have a baby. One you get to raise from the first day. One nobody will try to take away from you or turn against you. A baby who’ll love you just as much as I do. Marley thinks so, too. She – “
“Marley,” Grant leapt onto his wife’s name, clinging to it as means for retaining some vestige of sanity, not to mention balance. He felt like the floor might fall out from under him at any moment. “Where does Marley fit into this plan of yours for me?”
Sarah turned her palms up, unconcerned. “Wherever you want her to.”
“What the hell does that mean?” He roared.
“You can tell her, if you want.”
“Why would I want to do that?” Grant grabbed hold of a chair back, his head spinning even worse than after he’d given blood.
“Or we can go on keeping it a secret. I don’t mind. No one has to know but you and me.”
“And the baby?”
“That’s a long time off. I’m only about a month along. We can keep it our secret for now. For as long as you want. I told you, Grant, this is for you. I’ll go along with anything you say. I just want you to be happy.”
“Happy?” He gasped. “You think having a child I can’t acknowledge would make me happy?”
“You can do whatever you want,” she reminded.
“I told you. Over and over again. I told you I didn’t want to hurt Marley.”
“Me neither. That’s why I said we could keep it a secret. She never has to find out. I know how to keep a secret, Grant.”
“What about your word? You gave me your word you wouldn’t – ” Grant felt a cold, leaden calm overtake him. The blood rushed from his head even as his arms and legs went frigid, and his stomach tightened into a knot that nearly doubled Grant over. He knew what he had to do. It was the only way out of this. The only solution. Not for him. For him, it was worse than death. He’d never, ever forgive himself for allowing matters to get to this. But, it was the only solution for her. The only way to protect Sarah. His last chance, no matter the cost. He told her, “You have to get rid of it.”
“To what do I owe the honor?” Kevin wondered as Chase ambled into Kevin’s office, looking downright sheepish. Which wasn’t like the Mayor at all.
“If this has anything to do with Carl or Rachel – “
“Personal business,” Chase clarified.
“Okay,” Kevin said slowly. “I’m listening.”
“How’s Jennifer?” Chase asked, making it clear he was being polite – and stalling, prior to getting to the real issue.
“Not good,” Kevin admitted, deflating on the spot. “They’re in the process of destroying her immune system so she’ll be able to accept the bone marrow transplant. The side effects… they’re pretty hellish, from what I’ve been told. I’m not even allowed to see her. She’s in isolation. Not that she’d let me help her, that’s just who she is. Even if I could. Which I can’t.” Realizing they were in the same boat, Kevin observed, “You know how, most days, you never think about your kid being adopted? They’re just your kid. You’re the same as any other parent.”
“Yeah,” Chase agreed. “I don’t even remember most of the time. When someone asks, it comes as a surprise. Oh, yeah, she is….”
“At a time like this, you can’t think about anything else. It’s right there, in neon letters. My daughter is sick. My daughter might be dying. And what she needs, I’m not able to provide.”
“At least you were able to find… him.”
“If he can save Jenny, he’ll have my eternal gratitude. But, it still sucks.”
“You let me know if you need anything, alright? I have a knack for shoving paperwork through.”
“Not to mention running undesirable elements out of town,” Kevin couldn’t help adding.
“I told your old client, Grant Harrison, this, and I’m telling you: The decision to run was Hutchins’. The only tears I’m shedding are for the innocent lives he took with him.”
“Elizabeth wasn’t exactly innocent,” Kevin reminded ruefully, indicating himself. “But, she didn’t deserve to die.”
“That’s kind of what I’m here to discuss with you. In a round-about way. I heard through the grapevine that Elizabeth’s little stunt kept you from adopting Ike.”
“Any luck finding him an alternative placement?”
“Not so far. Special needs is a tough assignment. Even with such a great kid. People are scared. They don’t think they’re up for the challenge. Or they don’t want to be.”
“I’d like to do it,” Chase said. “Doug and I. We’ve talked about another child for over a year now. And we’ve given a lot of thought to his health issues. I know about the heart surgery, of course. And the Down’s. We’d still like to give it a try. We think… we think it would be a good fit. Would you consider handling the case for us?”
“I’m so glad you were able to stop by, darling,” Felicia cooed to Dean as he sat on the floor of Cass and Frankie’s house, attempting to engage Lori Ann in putting down the doll she was holding and trying to pluck the strings of Dean’s guitar. “Our little girl has missed you.”
“She’s had a lot going on,” Dean mumbled. “Between moving and everything. I didn’t want to confuse her more.”
“Stability is very important,” Felicia agreed, stroking her granddaughter’s hair. “Lori Ann needs to feel loved and secure. That’s why, with Frankie and Cass away, it’s important for her to see you as often as possible. So she doesn’t feel abandoned.”
“When are they coming back?”
“When they’ve found Lorna,” Felicia said firmly. “And not a moment sooner.”
“You really think…”
“I’m sure of it.”
Dean nodded. “That would be… Yeah. I hope so. I hope you’re right.”
“You know I would give anything to have Jenna back, too, don’t you, Dean?”
He shrugged. “Shame there’s nothing Cass and Frankie can do about that.”
“But, the rest of us can. We can keep Jenna alive for Lori Ann. All of us who loved her, we can tell Lori Ann about her mother. We can show her pictures and videos and the letters she used to write me while you two traveled the world... You knew her best, Dean. I have no illusions about that. You’re the one who can do the best job of really helping Lori Ann feel her mother’s spirit.”
“I’m… words aren’t my thing, Felicia. I’m not like you.”
“It doesn’t have to be words. It can be music. It can be anything, honestly. As long as it’s true and heartfelt and consistent. Like I said, consistency is the key. Lori Ann needs to feel secure in how much we all love her. She needs her family around her. She needs to know we’re all going to be here for her always. That Cass and Frankie will be back, and that none of us will be permanently taken away. By anything. Or anyone.”
“A penny for your thoughts, darling,” Donna offered Matt, smiling regretfully as she added, “I’m afraid that’s about all I have left these days.”
Matt took Donna’s hand, kissing the back of it and pressed her palm to his cheek before confessing, “It’s Jazz. She’s really upset about Cory and Elizabeth.”
“I don’t blame her. This sort of thing is nearly unfathomable for adults. A child…”
“She’s also mad at Lila. Which doesn’t help matters. She blames her for being part of Hamilton’s scheme to get Carl. And I haven’t even told her about Lorna maybe being involved, the way Jamie thinks. Once Jazz finds out I sat on that information, she’ll probably hate me, too. Got to admit, I’m taking the coward’s way out. I don’t need her giving me the silent treatment, too. So I’m letting Lila take the brunt of it.”
“Well, it’s never easy for mothers and daughters to find common ground. But, Jasmine and Lila appear unusually close. I’m certain they’ll manage to work it out.”
“In the meantime, I’m stuck in the middle,” Matt lamented. “And it’s hard because, truth be told, I kind of blame Lila, too. My mother takes her in, treats her like family, and this is how Lila repays her?”
“Lila was looking out for her own child. That takes precedence over anything.”
“I guess,” Matt admitted. “You know, I remember when I found out Mitch was my biological father. I was a mess. I blamed everybody. Him, Mom, Mac. I knew they all loved me, but boy, was I resentful for what they put me through. I always thought, when I had kids, my sole focus – other than loving them, obviously – would be to put a strict moratorium on the drama. I swore I’d make sure my kids had a normal childhood, if it killed me.”
“You are a wonderful father.”
“Jasmine was kidnapped a few minutes after she was born,” Matt reminded.
“Happens to the best of us. And you got her back.”
“Then I was hypnotized into marrying Lila…”
“Granted, that is a bit… less commonplace.”
“And, in the end, I didn’t even get to raise my daughter, anyway. Lila married Cass, and Jasmine always felt she belonged more with that family than mine. She even considers Charlie her sister still.”
“We all wish to give our daughters a perfect childhood. And we all end up falling short of the mark.”
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to give your kid a home and a family with two parents. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to raise your kid with someone you love, instead of someone you just tolerate because you have to.”
“None of us can turn back the clock, Matthew.”
“No,” he agreed, then turned to face his wife, taking both of her hands in his. “But, we can look forward. And we can try again. What would you say, Donna – what would you say if I told you I wanted us to have a baby together?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Hutchins.”
“Really, Mr. Hamilton. In the great scheme of things over which you should be begging my pardon, I hardly think that bursting into my home, yet again, even makes the top ten.”
“I am sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Hutchins,” Chase repeated as if she hadn’t just verbally smacked him upside the head, and continued, “But, there is an urgent issue I needed to discuss with you.”
“You’ve found more posthumous crimes to pin on my husband? Perhaps you’ve decided to unmask him as the Bay City Stalker? Or maybe the Sin Stalker, just for variety’s sake? Do you also have video of him kicking puppies and snatching lollipops from defenseless children?”
“I’ll keep looking and let you know,” Chase replied smoothly, then changed the subject. “I’m here to talk about Mr. Hutchins’ finances.”
“Isn’t that what started all this in the first place?”
“What more could there be to say?”
“Quite a bit, I’m afraid. You see, Mrs. Hutchins, all of the money that your husband has accumulated over the past decade or so, money that he was making clandestinely via the companies he should have divested as part of his pardon agreement; that money has been deemed fruit of a poisonous tree, and seized by the authorities earlier today.”
“Alright,” Rachel said. “In light of everything else I’ve lost recently, I hope you don’t expect me to act overly concerned over some financial holdings that never meant much to me in the first place.”
“No. But, I am compelled to inform you that since, in addition to his own businesses, Mr. Hutchins also invested a great deal in Cory Publishing…”
Rachel’s head jerked up. “That was temporary. A loan. Cory Publishing made the decision a few years ago to completely upgrade our operations, both technical and editorial. We had to go digital, but due to the falling revenue of the print publications, we didn’t have the cash on hand to…. Carl loaned us the money. We intend to pay it back.”
“Nevertheless, that money will be pulled from Cory Publishing. Effective immediately.”
“You can’t do that,” Rachel said. “Not without any warning.”
“This is your warning.”
“We have thousands of employees all over the world. We have payroll to meet. You yank out that much capital overnight… our stock will plummet. We’ll go under.”
“That can’t be helped. Mr. Hutchins’ money is tainted. It was earned illegally. He must have known that when he made you the loan.”
“He did it because I asked him. I asked him to help me keep my late husband’s company afloat. He was helping me. He wasn’t looking to make a profit.”
“All of that is irrelevant, Mrs. Hutchins. Your husband had no right to be in possession of that money in the first place. Which means he had no right to loan it to you and risk putting you in this position. I’m afraid there’s nothing anybody can do about it now.”
“Get rid of it,” Sarah whispered in a small voice, her confidence fading for the first time.
“An abortion.” Grant strove to make himself perfectly clear. “You said you were only a month along. That’s nothing. A simple, outpatient procedure, I believe. You should be fine in no time.”
“I won’t abort our baby.” The look Sarah gave him made it clear the topic wasn’t even up for discussion.
“You have to,” he insisted. “Damn it, Sarah, you’re too young to have a baby. Especially on your own.”
“I won’t be on my own. I’ll have you.”
“Well, not all the time, I realize that. But, whenever you can. Whenever you want to. We’ll be here, waiting for you. You can stay with Marley. Help her with Michele and Bridget. They’re the family you ended up with, kind of by accident. And then you’ll come here, and be with the family you deserve. The one you always wanted.”
What he wanted was to hit her. He wanted to shake Sarah, and keep shaking her until she came to her senses, realized that what she was advocating was ridiculous, irresponsible, cruel, and, most importantly, undeserved. No matter how much she insisted on it, Grant knew he didn’t deserve the picture perfect family Sarah was describing. Grant didn’t deserve a woman who loved him. A child who would never be taken away. He might have once. But, not now. Not after, despite all his promises and dramatic declarations, he’d still gone ahead and managed to irrevocably destroy the life of the one person he’d sworn to protect. First and foremost, from himself.
“I don’t,” Grant seethed with fury. “I don’t want – I never wanted – I don’t want… this.”
“You don’t want our baby?” Sarah’s eyes widened, the possibility clearly never having occurred to her.
“I don’t want you,” Grant spit, forcing out every word through a wall of psychic pain so solid, it became physical. He could feel a blood vessel pop in his eye. He persevered, nonetheless. It was the last thing he could do for her.
“I don’t believe it,” Sarah challenged. “You said it before. Right after you married Marley, you said the same thing. But, you couldn’t stay away for long. You needed me. You wanted me. Not her.”
“I wanted to screw you, Sarah.” Grant ground his voice as cold as possible. “You’re right about that. I couldn’t stay away. But, having you all but suck me dry on a regular basis is not the same thing as playing house forever. I’m sorry you didn’t pick up on that distinction.”
“You love me,” Sarah insisted stubbornly.
“What gave you that idea?” he wondered, cruelly. “Have I ever said it, Sarah? Have I?”
She took a small step back, as if withdrawing from his assault. Good, Grant thought. Good.
“I didn’t, did I? I never have. That’s because, unlike you, I do know how to keep my word. And my word, from the very beginning, was that this was just a down and dirty affair, nothing more. I won’t leave Marley. I won’t hurt Marley. Because her, I do love.”
“You’re lying,” Sarah attempted to stay strong, but Grant could hear her faith wavering. Good.
“So are you. To yourself. You thought you could trap me with – “
“I never tried to trap you.”
“You lied to me. You tricked me.”
“No! I wanted to do this for you! I wanted to give you the one thing you never had. I wanted to surprise you.”
“I can’t trust you anymore, Sarah. I thought that I could. I thought that you were mature enough to understand what an affair with a married man means. Obviously, I misjudged you. You’re nothing but a dumb kid, full of juvenile, romantic notions. That’s the last thing I need right now. Hell, who knows what kind of “surprise” you’ll dream up next.”
And still, she held her ground. Even as her eyes filled with tears, Sarah reminded, “You never got to be a real father to Kirkland. This is your chance to make up for all that. Let me do this for you, Grant. Please.”
“Get rid of it.” The only way he could issue the final order was to divorce the words he was saying from any and all meaning. They were just sounds now. “I know you have plenty of money, but if you insist, I’ll pay for the abortion. Just get rid of it. Then move on with your life. Because you and I – we’re finished. I never want to see you again, do you understand? Forget about me. Forget any of this ever happened. It’s certainly what I intend to do.”
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