“Thank you,” Rachel cleared her throat, looking from Jamie, to Amanda with Kevin, and then Matt with Donna and Jasmine, as all seven of them stood in the South Garden prior to the start of Carl, Elizabeth and Cory’s memorial service. “Thank you all for being here with me today. It means a great deal. I – I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get through – “
“You won’t be alone, Mom,” Matt reassured. “No matter what.”
“Thank you,” Rachel repeated, holding out her hand to Jasmine and asking, “Do you think you could help me with setting up the flowers, sweetheart?”
Jasmine looked questioningly at her father, as Matt nodded encouragingly. “Sure, Grandma.”
The pair of them walked away, Matt and Donna drifting vaguely in the same direction, while Kevin excused himself to make a phone call, leaving only Amanda and Jamie.
She asked her brother, “How are you doing?”
He shrugged. “This is Mom’s day. I promised to support her.”
“Still, this can’t be easy for you. I mean, you and Lorna got married right here in the – “
“I know where I got married.”
Amanda wisely changed the subject. “Mom told me you think Lorna is still alive.”
“Lorna. Cory. Elizabeth. Carl. All of them. This memorial service is a farce. But, it doesn’t change the fact that Mom still did lose her husband and two of her kids. If this is what she needs to deal with it….
“You’re being generous.”
“I have no interest in seeing Mom suffer. That won’t bring Lorna back any faster. It’s going to be hard enough when Cass and Frankie get to the bottom of Carl’s sadistic plot and Mom is finally forced to confront the whole truth about the guy she married. It’s not exactly something I’m looking forward to. I might as well do what I can to make her life easier in the meantime.”
“That’s lovely,” Rachel complimented Jasmine’s arrangement of the flowers around a blown up photograph of Carl with Elizabeth and Cory. The picture had been taken on the twins’ fifteenth birthday earlier that summer. There they all were, smiling at the camera. With absolutely no premonition of this being their final celebration.
“Thanks,” Jasmine mumbled, continuing to fiddle with the display, nonetheless.
Rachel ventured, “It’s alright to feel angry, you know.”
Jasmine’s head jerked up. “What? I – I’m not…”
“I think you are,” Rachel said gently.
“And it’s okay, Jasmine.” Rachel leaned over so that she and her granddaughter were face to face as she whispered, “I’m angry, too.”
Jasmine scrunched up her face. “You mean, you’re angry about them being dead?”
“And I’m angry about the way they left. Without saying good-bye.”
Jasmine’s eyes widened with shock. “Who told you I – ”
“Nobody. But, that’s exactly how I would feel if I were you. Angry. You and Cory and Elizabeth were friends. You were more than friends. You grew up together. I know you and Cory were especially close. You didn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
“He’s dead,” Jasmine sniffled. “You shouldn’t be angry at somebody who’s dead.”
“Maybe not,” Rachel agreed. “But, if you are, that’s okay, too. I am very, very angry at Cory and Elizabeth for not telling me they were leaving. Even if I understand why they felt they had to do it. And, on that same note, I understand why your mother felt she had to do what she did, as well.”
At that, Jasmine’s mouth dropped open. “You’re not mad at Mama?”
“I am extremely mad. But, I understand. Same as with Cory and Elizabeth.”
Jasmine admitted, “I’m mad at Mama.”
“I suspected as much.”
“She lied to all of us!”
“Yes, she did. Because she believed that she was protecting you.”
“What are we going to do?” Jasmine asked plaintively, looking at Rachel.
“We’re going to love each other,” Rachel said. “And we’re going to stay a family, no matter what.”
Jasmine flung herself into Rachel’s arms, hugging her grandmother tightly while, over Jasmine’s head, Rachel caught a worried Matt’s eye and gave a small nod, indicating that everything was going to be alright. At least in this respect.
“You know you don’t have to do this, Fanny,” Lucas reminded as the two of them approached the Cory house. “Rachel won’t hold it against you if you don’t come. She’ll understand.”
“Rachel needs me today.”
“If Jamie is right…”
“Of course, Jamie is right.”
“In that case, then not only is Carl still alive, but he’s the one responsible for stealing our daughter from her family. That’s hardly a conducive atmosphere for sincerely paying our regrets.”
“Carl can rot in Hell. I can’t believe I ever allowed myself to trust that man again, even for a minute. But, this isn’t about Carl. It’s about Rachel. She was there for me when… I told you how, after I thought you were gone, I… I hit rock bottom. With the drinking. Rachel joined Lorna and Cass in forcing me to face what I’d become. They saved my life. I said horrible things to her. I said horrible things to all of them. I can never make up…. This is the least I can do. I can show Rachel that, no matter what, I will always be her friend. She’s going to need one. She’s going to need all of us today.”
“I hope it’s alright that I came,” Russ greeted Rachel apologetically. Responding to his ex-wife’s questioning look with the sheepish explanation, “Alice thought someone from the Matthews family ought to make an appearance, convey our condolences. She figured I’d be the most innocuous choice.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said. “And thank Alice for her concern, as well.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Losing one child is an unspeakable tragedy. Two at the same time…”
“The baby we lost,” Rachel recalled unexpectedly. “Do you ever think about him?”
“From time to time,” Russ admitted. “You think it would have been a boy?”
“James Matthews,” she said with certainty. “He would have deserved the name. He would have deserved to keep it.”
“I have to believe everything worked out for the best,” Russ seemed loath to pursue the subject.
“Everything would have been so different….” Rachel supposed. “I might have never… if we had a child before I met Steve, I might have never…”
“Had Jamie. Or met Mac. Or had Amanda and Matt and Cory and Elizabeth. They’re the children you were destined to raise.”
“Then where are they?” Rachel demanded. “Why does it feel like I’ve lost them all, in one way or another?”
“I don’t know,” Russ told her honestly. “God has never shared his master plan with me. Despite my frequent railing on the subject.”
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said. “You’ve had your share of loss, too. I didn’t mean to imply that my situation was unique.”
“That doesn’t make it any less tragic,” Russ sighed, and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.
“Are you alright?” Marley asked Grant once they’d arrived at Rachel’s and Michele and Bridget took off to sit with Jasmine in the rows of folding chairs that had been set up for mourners. “You were tossing and turning all night, last night.”
Grant rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, knowing how bloodshot they must look, the bruises beneath both testifying to his lack of rest. “I think I’m coming down with something. I feel sick,” he told her honestly.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have come. It’s not like Rachel would believe we’re exactly heart-broken over Carl’s death.”
“We both agreed it was important for the girls to support Jasmine, not to mention their brothers. Same as us. We’re here for Kirkland. I’ll… get through it,” Grant assured, even as the sight of Sarah, entering and waving first to Allie, crossing to say hello to Russ, her gaze settling only momentarily on Grant before smiling politely, neutrally at him – and Marley, then moving on, forced all the bile Grant’s stomach had produced the night before to churn into his throat, setting Grant’s chest on fire and causing him to nearly gag.
She didn’t look any different. Did she? Grant told himself it was too early for anyone to be able to tell… And maybe she’d lied. Maybe he’d been right all along and Sarah was playing him, trying to force his hand, trying to manipulate Grant into leaving Marley for her. Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe she wasn’t pregnant at all. Maybe there’d be no need for a… Maybe…
“I’m going to say hello to Sarah.” Marley indicated where the younger woman had stopped to hug Michele and Bridget. Sarah was so good with kids. A natural born mother.
“I’m going to… take a seat,” Grant croaked before his legs gave out from under him and he all but collapsed where he stood.
Marley looked at him with renewed concern. She placed a hand to his forehead. “Are you running a fever? Your face just went gray, all of a sudden.”
He pulled back, unable to bear her touching him, even as the cold sweat rolled down his skin. “I’m fine,” he assured. “I – Everything is going to be fine. Trust me, Marley.”
“Grandma…” Allie approached Rachel cautiously, hugging her quickly before pulling Zeno forward. “I wanted to introduce you. To a friend of mine. This is Zeno Tantalus. He’s Frankie’s…”
“Yes,” Rachel nodded. “I – I’ve heard.”
“My condolences, Mrs. Hutchins,” Zeno said, shaking Rachel’s hand.
“I – Grandma, Zeno, he – I told him about how close Carl and I were when I was little.”
“Yes,” Rachel said with a faint smile. “He loved you very much. Before Elizabeth came along, Carl always said that if he ever had a daughter, he’d want her to be exactly like you.”
“Really?” Allie wrinkled her nose in disbelief.
“Yes. Carl truly enjoyed the time you two spent together. And he mourned the loss of it, afterward.”
“I enjoyed it, too,” Allie admitted. “And that’s why – Zeno was the one who urged me to tell you that. He thought you might like to hear it. And also, Zeno thought… I know it’s too late for Carl, but I wanted to apologize anyway. About the way I kind of… stopped and turned on Carl the way I did. He didn’t deserve it.”
“No,” Rachel agreed. “He didn’t.” She took her granddaughter’s hand in both of hers and squeezed it reassuringly. “But, thank you for saying it now.”
“Jamie,” Kevin approached his brother-in-law as Jamie hovered on the edge of the crowd, his expression grim and resolved, accepting condolences for himself while making it clear he had no interest in prolonged conversation.
“I’m sorry,” Kevin said. “I know this is a hell of a time to bother you. But, I’ve been trying to get a straight answer from someone at the hospital for days, only to have them keep referring me to you. Shouldn’t Johnson’s bone marrow extraction have been scheduled by now?”
Jamie nodded slowly, seemingly waking up and forcibly shifting from family to work mode. “Yes. It should have. I – I haven’t been in lately to set it up…”
“I get that. I don’t want to rush you. But, is there anyone else I could talk to? Alice said this kind of thing is outside of her specialty.”
“She’s right. She… I could give you a couple of names but… It’ll take them a while to get caught up on the case. I…” Jamie made a decision on the spot. “I’ll take care of it. I’ll call Mr. Johnson, set the whole thing up, schedule an OR, and let you know, ASAP.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Kevin exhaled in relief even as he asked Jamie, “How’s Jenny doing?”
“She’s tolerating the therapy as well as can be expected.”
“What does that mean? I’ve read up on the side effects. I swear, the cure sounds worse than the disease.”
“It’s pretty bad,” Jamie conceded. “She isn’t keeping any food or even fluids down, so we’ve had to put her on supplements. She’s lost a lot of weight, as a result.”
“But, that’s not the worst of it, is it?” Kevin challenged. “By knocking out her immune system, a common cold could kill her. Isn’t that right?”
“We’re talking every precaution.”
“I know you are. It’s just… Until Johnson’s bone marrow is in the can, as it were, I can’t help worrying that something might still go wrong. And then where does that leave Jenny? She’d be completely vulnerable.”
“I’ll schedule the extraction for as soon possible,” Jamie promised. “I’ll call the hospital right after… this.”
“Thank you, Jamie.”
“It’s alright. It’s – it’s nice to be able to do something productive. For a change.”
Rachel ascending the podium indicated that it was time for the memorial service to start. Everyone promptly took their seats.
All except for a solitary figure, arriving last, the better to make her entrance.
Iris swept in at the final possible moment, making sure that all eyes would be on her as she demurely planted herself in the most rear of rows.
Jamie, Amanda, and Matt exchanged apprehensive looks among themselves, each one fully aware that the arrival of Mac’s prodigal daughter always heralded… something. And rarely was it something good.
Russ caught Sarah’s eye, wondering if she’d known that her grandmother was in town. Sarah shook her head, indicating it was as much of a surprise to her as to anyone.
Under different circumstances, Grant might have been intrigued by Iris’ presence, as well. But, he was currently cocooned much too deep in his misery to pay anyone else much mind.
Donna merely rolled her eyes, refusing to so much as acknowledge her one-time rival’s presence by appearing to notice her.
Felicia snuck a peek at Lucas, gauging his reaction to the sight of Lucas’ ex-fiancée, but the only expression on his face was one of utter indifference.
Rachel looked to be of the same mind. She ignored Iris completely, proceeding, without introduction to read Grief, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.
And, after that, she didn’t say anything else, at all.
Rachel also declined to stay for the reception, leaving her guests to mill about in a state of vague confusion, picking listlessly at the buffet that had been left out for their enjoyment, and wondering what the proper course of action might be now.
Jamie, after making sure that Kirkland could catch a ride home with Charlie, took off, wanting to get back to the girls as soon as possible.
Amanda picked up the slack of playing hostess, while Iris, after a few perfunctory greetings to family and old acquaintances, made a beeline for Sarah.
“Hello, darling. It’s been such a long time.”
“Hello, Grandma,” Sarah parroted dutifully.
“Now, now, what did I ask you to call me? Surely, you haven’t forgotten.”
“Hello, Iris,” Sarah stressed.
“That’s better. Formal titles merely insert barriers between people. I want there to be no barriers between us.”
“You mean, outside of prison bars?”
Iris’ face darkened. “That sounds like something your father would say.”
“Dad wasn’t exactly thrilled about it.”
“Ancient history,” Iris dismissed with a wave of a hand. “I’m much more interested in the future. You have no idea how happy it makes me, Sarah, to see that you’ve made a home for yourself in Bay City. Your great-grandfather Mac would have been so pleased. And now that I’m home, at last, we can really get to know each other. Tell me what you’re up to these days. Tell me every little thing.”
“Are you leaving?” Charlie caught up to Zeno as he stood by the parking valet, waiting for his car, looking distinctively uncomfortable with the entire experience.
“Soon as Allie gets here, yeah.”
“You came with her,” Charlie accused, though it appeared to be an established fact.
“It’s her grandfather’s funeral.”
“How could you do that?”
“You’re here with Kirkland,” he noted.
“He asked me. I had to come. I told you how Mom and Dad have been on my back about it. Besides, I told him I would before…”
“Nothing’s changed, Charlie,” Zeno stressed, looking around uncomfortably, lest anyone be listening in to their conversation. Luckily, the car park was currently abandoned. “We – we got carried away. It was dumb. I was dumb.”
“We were careful,” she reminded. “You had a condom, so it was okay.”
“Yeah, well, the fact that we could have been a lot dumber doesn’t change the underlying fact.”
“So. You’re… sorry it happened?”
“You have a boyfriend. And, oh, yeah… you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you. Anymore. All of the time.”
“You have a boyfriend,” he repeated.
“And are you and Allie… Is she your girlfriend?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Why are you being such a jerk?”
“Because I’ve been kicking myself for days, okay?”
“Do you love Allie?”
“Jesus, Charlie, would you let it go? Please?”
“No,” Charlie said.
“You wanted to see me, Rachel?” Grant appeared in the Cory study in response to a surprise summons just before he and Marley had been getting ready to leave.
“Yes,” she said. Then paused to wonder, “Are you alright, Grant? You don’t look well.”
“A touch of the flu,” he dismissed. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Rachel’s lips set into a grim line. “Chase Hamilton.”
“I don’t work for him anymore.”
“Good. Because, if I have my way, Mr. Hamilton won’t have his job for too much longer, either.”
Grant cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“This,” Rachel waved her hand in the direction of the window, through which her last few guests could be seen getting ready to leave. “This is all Chase Hamilton’s fault. He abused the power of his office to selectively prosecute my husband for a series of ancient crimes. He gave Carl no choice but to run, knowing he could never get a fair trial while Emperor Hamilton was on his throne. He killed my husband. He killed my children. And I have no intention of letting him get away with it.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Grant responded, still wondering where all of this was going.
“When Hamilton came to arrest Carl, I called him a disgrace. The son of a bitch responded that I was welcome to express my displeasure at the ballot box. I intend to take him up on his offer. That, and much more. I don’t care if the next election is two years off. I swear right now to put all of my resources and all of my painstakingly accumulated influence in Bay City into making certain Chase Hamilton is never voted into any sort of office again. To do that, I need to run a candidate against him who knows what he’s doing, understands whom he’s dealing with and, most importantly, one without fear of getting his hands dirty. I would like that candidate to be you, Grant.”
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