“How did your meeting with Jeanne fare, darling?” Donna took great pains to make it sound as if she were merely making conversation.
Matt shrugged, plopping down on the bed, more exhausted by the day’s outing than he was willing to let on to anyone, most especially Donna. “Jeanne doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong in her coverage of Carl’s death.”
“Though I am loathe to agree with anything your ex-paramour has to offer, I confess, I do agree. Her hour-long news special merely scratched the surface of Carl’s villainy. Why, I doubt she even knows about what he did to Marley and her friends in Arizona. But, then again, that seems to be the case with all young people today. If it didn’t happen in their lifetime with accompanying Tweet and YouTube video, off to the trash heap of history it goes.”
“Personally, I don’t give a damn what Jeanne broadcasts about Carl. The only people I care about getting hurt in this equation are Mom… and you.’
“That’s very sweet.” Donna curled up against Matt, resting her head on his shoulder. “You’re very sweet. But, rest assured, there is little Carl can do to me now. Jenna was the last secret between us.”
“So that’s really it?” Matt couldn’t help asking. “You have nothing else to hide? Not just about Carl? About anything?”
“Nothing,” Donna swore. “Between that and our marriage, I feel like a new epoch of my life has finally begun. No more hiding, no more pretending, no more watching every word I say for fear of slipping. I feel so free, darling, so liberated.”
“I’m glad,” Matt said. “I want you to be happy.”
“That I am. Gloriously. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been able to give some serious thought to your… proposal, earlier.”
“Us having a baby, yes.”
“And?” He sat up eagerly to face her.
“I would like nothing more than to have a child with you, Matthew.”
“Really? Wow? That’s – that’s great. That’s wonderful. That’s terrific.” He kissed her once, then a second time for good measure.
“On one condition.”
“That you admit the future mother of your child is no fool.”
He blinked. “What? Why would I – “
“Did you really think I wouldn’t see right through you?”
“What’s to see? There’s nothing to see.”
“I decline to make love to you until after you’ve completely recovered, and suddenly, you are raging to conceive a child with me? Rather interesting timing, wouldn’t you say?”
“I thought having another child would help you stop being afraid that you’d be all alone if something happened to me,” Matt clung to a story he almost halfway believed.
Donna smiled. “I may be old fashioned, darling, but I know of only one way to produce a child.”
“Well, yeah… But, that – that was just a bonus!”
“Oh, Matthew,” she kissed him affectionately. “You are such a dreadfully adorable liar.”
“I do want to have a baby with you, Donna. I think it would be good for both of us. But, you especially. The circumstances you had Vicky and Marley under… and then Jenna… You know, after Lorna got pregnant accidentally with Mackenzie, Jamie told her the new baby was their gift, their compensation for everything they went through with Devon. Well, if Lorna and Jamie deserved it, so do you. You deserve to have a baby you love, with a man you love. You deserve to enjoy being pregnant and being a mother and everything else other women take for granted.”
Donna teared up. “You have no idea how much it means to me to hear you say that.”
Matt moved in to playfully dab his tongue and catch the single teardrop sliding down her cheek. Then another, then another, until, even with Donna’s eyes dry, he continued along her brow, the bridge of her nose, her eyelids.
When he got to Donna’s mouth, she called a halt to the proceedings, telling Matt, “I’m so glad we’re on the same page about our future.”
“Uhm….” Was Matt’s version of I beg to differ.
“Obviously, at my age, getting pregnant will hardly be a trivial matter.”
“No. Of course not. So. How about some Trivial Pursuit?”
She laughed and confirmed, “Absolutely adorable.”
“Matthew…. I’ve done some research. With a woman of my age, it is advised to consult with a fertility specialist immediately upon deciding to conceive. We can’t afford to waste any time. As a result, I have made us an appointment for later in the week.”
“Great,” Matt said.
“The guidelines advise abstaining from sexual intercourse for several days prior to the visit, thus allowing the doctor to take a proper baseline.”
“You’re kidding me!”
“Not at all.” Donna reached into the drawer of her bedside table. “Care to see the brochure?”
“Oh, good, Morgan, you’re here.” Jamie knocked on his colleague’s door, then walked right in. “I’ve got a favor to ask you. I was scheduled to do a bone marrow extraction this afternoon. Horace Johnson, Jen Fowler’s biological dad. Should be pretty straight-forward. Unfortunately,” Jamie raised his bandaged hand. “I had a little accident earlier. Me versus Devon’s breakfast. The oatmeal won.”
Morgan processed the flood of information. “You okay?”
“Fine. But, I don’t feel comfortable operating. Do you think you could fill in for me?”
“Sure. Yeah. Let me check my schedule.” He pushed a few buttons on his PDA before confirming, “Yeah. I’m free.”
“Great. Thanks. I owe you one.” Jamie headed for the door.
“Wait!” Morgan called out before he even knew what he intended to say next. “I – Jamie, you and the kids, how – how is everybody… doing?”
“We’re okay,” Jamie clipped. “Thanks for asking.”
“I loved her, too,” Morgan blurted out, needing to make Jamie acknowledge at least that much.
“I know.” A beat. "Was that all?"
“Damn it, man, how can you be so….”
“You have no clue what you’re talking about.”
“If it were my wife dead – “
“Lorna isn’t dead! And also she isn’t your wife. Not anymore.”
“Amanda told me how you think Carl took her.”
“Who else could it have been?”
“What if Carl had nothing to do with it? No, seriously, Jamie, hear me out, I’ve been thinking. What if Lorna did leave on her own? Giving birth twice in less than a year could do a number, physically and psychologically, on any woman, you know that as well as I do. Throw in Lorna’s head injury on top of it, and there is a strong possibility of Postpartum Depression, maybe even Psychosis.”
“You don’t think I considered that?”
“You’ve sent Cass and Frankie to Europe on what could well turn out to be a wild goose chase.”
“We won’t know until we’ve tried. Until we’ve tried absolutely everything.”
“But, if Carl didn’t kidnap Lorna, if she took off on her own, then don’t you see how you’re just wasting time by obsessing over your mother’s husband? Time that could be spent looking for Lorna in a more realistic, more productive manner?”
“Basically, what you’re saying is that if she were your wife, that’s what you’d do.”
“Thanks for the input.”
“Amanda said you think those rings Lorna left behind in the diaper bag were her way of asking you for help.”
“You and my sister have been doing quite a bit of chatting lately. Amanda isn’t your wife, either, you know.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Morgan pleaded. “But, maybe not in the way you think. Maybe Lorna is begging for your help with those rings. Because she’s sick and alone out there, somewhere, waiting for you to find her and help her get well. If Lorna is mentally ill right now, who knows what might happen to her? And all because you were too busy working out your lifelong Mommy issues to consider all the possibilities.”
“Fanny!” Lucas exclaimed in surprise at the sight of his wife answering Jamie’s door. “What are you doing here? Is everything all right? With Jamie? The kids?”
“They’re fine. Jamie was needed at the hospital this afternoon, so he asked if I could come over to watch Devon and Mackenzie. I brought Lori Ann, too.”
“I came to see Jamie,” Lucas felt obliged to explain. “Check how he was doing. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at the memorial service. He left so fast. And he didn’t look good. I’m worried about him.”
“He seemed alright when I saw him this morning. Keeping it together the best he can, just like the rest of us.” Felicia took his arm. “Come in, Lucas, please. Come in and see all our beautiful girls.”
Lucas did as she invited. He stepped over the threshold in time to spy Mackenzie in her bouncy-chair, with Lori Ann hovering over her, very somberly shaking a rattle the baby was doing her best to focus both eyes on, while Devon was tugging on Lori Ann’s sleeve, trying to get her older cousin to stop paying so much attention to the boring infant and play with Devon, instead.
“Oh… my….” Was all Lucas could think of to say at the sight of all three together for the first time.
“I know.” Felicia linked her fingers and tucked them under her chin, taking in the scene with equal wonder. “Did you ever, in a million years dream that we….”
“Their mothers should be here,” Lucas said grimly. “Both of them. Lorna and Jenna. They should both be here.”
“Cass and Frankie will let us know as soon as they’ve learned anything,” Felicia reassured, guiding Lucas to the couch next to their pint-sized brood, wanting to avoid the justifiable anger for the moment and just focus on the miracle of it. “Aren’t they gorgeous? Every last one of them?”
“Gorgeous,” Lucas repeated. But, proved unable to let go. “I blame myself, Fanny. For all of it, I blame myself. If I hadn’t let Donna talk me into playing dead for Jenna’s sake, her damn secret would have been revealed years ago, Carl would have known he was Jenna’s biological father, and Donna wouldn’t have needed to – to kill her, in order to keep it.”
“You did what you thought was best for our family at the time. The same way I went along with Carl when I thought that provoking Marley into a breakdown was the best way to get our revenge on Donna. And look what happened. She broke down, alright. Except that Lorna and Devon ended up paying the price for it.”
“I should have said no when Carl roped Spencer and I into his plan against Donna and the compound. I should have played it safe.”
“But, then Carl would have gone ahead without you, and who knows what kind of danger we would all have been in then? Without you and Spencer there to keep some semblance of a leash on him, everything might have been so much worse.”
“Tell that to Spencer. How could we have been so blind? How could we have believed that Carl would keep his word, that he wouldn’t turn against us the same way he’s turned against every other partner he’s ever had? I stood there on the Love estate, watching Marley struggle for breath in the carbon monoxide garage I set up for her, counting the seconds until Donna arrived to save her, needing to practically chain myself to a tree to keep from rushing in there and doing it myself. And then, when I called Carl to tell him the job was done, he was so calm, so… professional about it. Just like always. And this wasn’t some random business rival. This was a woman he knew, hell, a woman he helped raise while he was married to Donna. She was his son’s friend. She’s Vicky’s sister. I should have known then, if he could react like that to Marley nearly dying on his orders, none of us were safe.”
“Even Rachel couldn’t keep Carl in check,” Felicia reminded. “And if she couldn’t, what chance did the rest of us have?”
“I only threw in my lot with him because I thought it would keep you and Lorna safe. I swear to you, Fanny, I never, ever would have done it otherwise. I am so sorry. Maybe if I’d kept my distance, Lorna would still be here. Our daughter would still be alive.”
“Lorna is alive!” Felicia unconsciously echoed Jamie.
“Our daughter is alive,” Felicia seethed, over-enunciating each syllable. “I won’t hear a word otherwise. They tried to do this to me once before. Convince me that my baby was dead. Tore my heart out of my chest. Not again, Lucas. Never again. Not even from you.”
“Okay, I got to say, you’re taking this being dumped and pregnant a lot better than I ever did,” Allie advised Sarah as the two of them walked across BCU’s campus.
“I wasn’t dumped,” Sarah took offense.
“But, you are pregnant.”
“I am,” she nodded enthusiastically, the beatific look on her face similar to the one that had greeted Grant.
“So what are you going to do?”
“If it’s a boy, I think I’ll name him after Grant’s dad.”
“I was thinking before that. Like, you know, right now? If Grant didn’t dump you, then what is I plan to forget I ever knew you supposed to mean exactly?”
“He was just shocked, that’s all.”
“You blame him?”
“No. That’s why I’m not mad about what he said. It was my fault. I should have waited to break the news to him. He was still upset about Lorna, probably. It was too much for him to take in all at once. Grant needs some time to get used to the idea, to fully absorb that we’re going to have a baby. That he’s going to have a baby.”
“And how long do you think it will take Marley to absorb the news?”
Sarah shrugged. “I told Grant she doesn’t have to know if he doesn’t want her to. It’s perfectly fine with me to keep it a secret. Grant can visit us whenever he likes.”
Allie connected the dots. “This is all part of your original plan to make Grant realize he can’t live without you, isn’t it?”
“No! I mean, yes, but, no. Grant accused me of trying to trap him by getting pregnant. But, that’s not what I did, honestly, it’s not. I know how much Grant wants another child. He wants it more than anything. Marley said so, too; it’s not just me. It’s the one thing she can’t give him. I can. I can give Grant the thing he wants most. I love him. So how could I not do it?”
Allie didn’t appear sold. “Come on, drop the act. This is me you’re talking to. Admit it, you’re playing it cool, telling Grant he can be involved as much or as little as he wants with you and the baby, that it's all up to him, he can continue having his cake and eating it, too, no sweat. And, one day, when he’s good and attached to both you and the baby, bang, you pull the rug out from under him, make him choose or lose you two forever. How am I doing with the new and improved Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan?”
“Grant loves me,” Sarah insisted. “He can’t live without me anymore than I can live without him.”
“I don’t know. He seemed to be doing okay at Grandma’s memorial service the other day.”
“Are you kidding me?” Sarah looked at Allie, taken aback. “Did you hear how many times Marley asked him if he was feeling okay? Dude looked like a mess.”
“That’s because he’s old, Sarah.”
“It’s because he misses me. He wants me and he wants our baby. I just have to prove to him how much, once and for all.”
“No, thank you, Iris,” Amanda’s brittle answer came almost before her half-sister had completed her offer to save Cory Publishing – by purchasing a majority share in it.
“You’re being foolish. Isn’t she, Rachel?”
Her stepmother looked from Iris to Amanda, then back again. “We can’t sell.”
“Not to an outsider, no, of course not. But, I am no outsider. I am a Cory, just as much as the two of you. More than you, Rachel, in fact, and certainly more than that husband of yours, whom you had no qualms about allowing in, and now look at the position that’s put us in.”
“Don’t make me do this, Iris. Do not force me to spell out all the reasons why doing as you propose is exactly the opposite of what Mac would have wanted.”
“Would Mac,” Iris echoed Rachel’s tone. “Have wanted you to marry Carl Hutchins?”
“That has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.”
“It has everything to do with it! Carl Hutchins made no secret of the fact that destroying Mac Cory was his life’s ambition. And now he’s finally done it. With your eager help, no less.”
“I will never, ever let your father’s legacy be destroyed,” Rachel swore. “We’ll find some way out of this.”
“We can release more stock on the general market,” Amanda piped up. “Raise some capital that way.”
“Or we will do as Amanda suggested, and go to our friends for help.”
“Alice Frame,” Iris snorted distastefully.
“Actually, it’s Alice Harrison,” Rachel knew it was petty, but she couldn’t help getting that particular dig in. “She’s Spencer’s widow. Or hadn’t you heard?”
“I heard.” Iris attempted to dismiss.
“I must admit, we were all rather surprised by the development. Didn’t Spencer once say something about never getting married again?”
“I believe that only applied to me,” Iris got her own dig in to prevent from handing Rachel the satisfaction. “And I don’t know why you would find it so shocking. After all, Alice always did have a penchant for my cast-offs. There was Elliot, of course… Then again, Elliot was only a place-holder for Alice while she waited for Steve to wash his hands of you, once and for all.”
“Thank you so much for your offer, Iris,” Rachel doggedly rounded their conversation back on point. “But, I’m afraid we’re going to pass for now.”
“Damn it, Rachel, why are you being so pig-headed about this? I am attempting to extend the olive branch.”
“Most people, Iris, don’t need to explain that. Their actions speak for themselves. As, per usual, do yours.”
“Mr. Johnson, this is Dr. Winthrop,” Jamie introduced the pair. “He’ll be handling your extraction today.”
Horace’s eyes narrowed. “Thought you were going to do it.”
Jamie apologetically held up his bandaged hand for not just Horace, but Kevin, Steven, and GQ to see, as well.
“You okay, Dad?” Steven wanted to know. “What happened?”
“Just a stupid accident,” he dismissed, then reassured Horace, “You’re in good hands with Dr. Winthrop. He’s an excellent surgeon.” Something about the way Jamie said the last two words suggested that was the sole positive review he felt like offering the man.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Johnson,” Morgan held out his own hand to shake, pausing once their palms actually made contact. “Are you alright, sir?” Morgan asked.
“What do you mean?” Kevin responded as if the question had been aimed at him.
“I’m fine,” Horace insisted.
While Morgan qualified, “You feel a little warm.” He beckoned a nurse from behind her desk over. “Would you please take Mr. Johnson into an examining room and measure his temperature?”
“Don’t tell me,” Kevin said, not even waiting for Horace and the nurse to step out of ear-shot. “Let me guess. If he’s got a fever, no donation today.”
“You wouldn’t want it,” Morgan said. “If he’s sick, that puts Jennifer at risk.”
“I don’t believe this,” Kevin mumbled. “I do not believe this. Seriously. What’s it going to take before you guys realize the S.O.B. is jerking our collective chain? He has no intention of donating to Jenny. Meanwhile, he’s got us paying for his room and board and who knows what else?”
“Room and board is the least we all owe him,” GQ snapped. “If you’re ready to pull the plug, just let me know, and I’ll write him a check.”
“A) You don’t have any money,” Kevin reminded. “And B) Don’t you ever again suggest that I’m putting a price tag on my daughter’s life.”
“Sure sounds like it.”
“It isn’t the damn money. It’s that we’re all being played.”
Steven asked Jamie, “If Mr. Johnson does have a fever today, how badly does that throw us off schedule?”
“Completely, right, Jamie?” Kevin demanded. “By my count, if he doesn’t donate in the next couple of days, then that leaves Jenny totally exposed to infection.”
“It’s cutting it close,” Jamie admitted. “But, we can work around the set-back; keep her in isolation a little longer than planned…”
“So torture her some more, is what you mean? Sit around and watch her get sicker and sicker?”
“It isn’t optimal,” Jamie conceded. “But, let’s see what the nurse says – “
“101,” came the verdict. As Kevin growled in frustration and Horace shrugged helplessly at them all.
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