“Excuse me, do you speak English?” Frankie’s voice sounded appropriately frazzled as she rushed up to Chloe Lax, even grabbing her arm for good measure, the better to convey Frankie’s sincere desperation.
“I do,” Chloe said slowly, unsure what this was about and, quite clearly, when in Russia doing like the Russians, i.e. not trusting anyone. Ver no prover. Trust but verify.
“Oh, thank goodness, do you think you could help me with something?” Frankie all but dragged Chloe over to a food vendor standing at the edge of St. Petersburg’s open market, and, with one finger, indicated a pair of identical looking perogi, each floating in its own, individual vat of bubbling fat. “I know one is supposed to be meat, and one vegetable, but I’m not sure how to ask which one. I’m a vegetarian,” Frankie explained. “Very strict. Could you find out for me? I’d be eternally grateful.”
“Sure,” Chloe shrugged, a bit confused as to why the seeming extreme anxiety over such a minor issue, but happy to help. She queried the vendor, “Kakoy c’ovashchamee?”
The woman grunted, and pointed indifferently.
“You want that one,” Chloe said.
“Oh, thank you so much.” Frankie handed over her rubles in exchange for what proved to be, indeed, a vegetable perogi.
“No problem. Happy to help.”
“I’m afraid I’m in over my head,” Frankie confessed, talking continuously so as not to give Chloe a chance to excuse herself and leave. “My husband warned me. He said you can’t go to a whole, other, foreign country with only a phrase-book and a smile. Oh, this is him, this is my husband. Cass,” she waved him over. “Come say hello. This is my husband, Cass Winthrop. I’m Frankie Winthrop.”
“Chloe Lax.” She shook hands with each of them, in turn.
“Are you from America?” Frankie wondered.
Chloe nodded. “Illinois.”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks of gob-smacked amazement. “So are we!” Frankie exclaimed. “Bay City, Illinois.”
“Wow. I’m from Oakdale.”
“We’re practically neighbors,” Cass observed.
“What are the odds,” Frankie wondered. “Of us bumping into each other here in St. Petersburg, Russia, of all places?”
“What brings you here, Chloe?” Cass asked casually.
“I’m finishing my Master’s in Political Science,” Chloe explained, putting the final nail in the coffin of Cass’ assumption that she’d be a bimbo gun moll. “Emphasis on the Soviet Union’s treatment of minority ethnic groups. My parents are Kazakh, but they grew up in Russia. They escaped after World War II. I always wanted to come see the country for myself. A few months ago, my husband got a job offer in St. Petersburg. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
“What does your husband do?” Frankie inquired. You know, just making conversation.
“Private security,” Chloe said.
“Oh, that sounds glamorous!”
“Not really,” she admitted. “It’s mostly just a lot of long hours that turn into long nights and then long weeks. I’m glad to be here – he did it for me. But, now that we’re in Russia, it feels like I never see him. It’s kind of lonely, I’ve got to admit.”
“That’s rough,” Cass said, while Frankie nodded sympathetically.
“Listen,” Chloe offered. “Would you like to come to dinner tonight? At my place? Owen’s working, and I'd like the company. We can use American idioms and talk about football, the kind without the black and white ball, and movies where everything explodes and, I don’t know… deep fried Oreos.” She assured Frankie, “I’ll make sure everything is strictly vegetarian.”
“We’d love to,” Cass beamed.
“Sorry I was gone so long,” Jamie apologized to Felicia, finally making it back home. “Lot of work to catch up on at the hospital.”
“That’s alright,” she reassured. “I don’t mind. It was about time we got the three youngest Frame girls together.”
“Everything go okay?”
“Perfect. I even managed to get them all to take a nap at the same time.”
“You’re a miracle worker.”
“Let’s just say there was some bribery involved. Don’t be shocked if you find your daughters covered in glitter.”
Jamie smiled weakly, his mind already on his subsequent question. “Have you heard anything from Cass and Frankie?”
“They’ve found the woman they went looking for. The supposed widow of the man who was on Carl’s flight manifest. Unless she’s in a severe state of denial, Cass and Frankie say she talks like he’s still alive.”
“Good. That’s good. That means…”
“I feel like I should be doing something more. Like I should be getting on a plane and going to Russia, myself. I know how much Cass and Frankie love you. I know they’re doing the best they can. Still, I feel like, if I was there, maybe I could hurry things along. I’m Lorna’s husband. It’s my responsibility. I’m the one who should be fixing this for us. And I want to, so much.” He sighed. “A year ago,“ Jamie checked the date on his phone. “Almost exactly a year ago. When I was going to get Kirkland. Make the exchange for Spencer. Lorna wanted to come with me. She thought she could help. I told her, no. We couldn’t risk leaving Devon alone. We couldn’t risk her losing both of us. I want to go to Russia. But, Lorna – she wouldn’t want me taking the chance of anything happening. Not with Devon and Mackenzie…”
“You’re right. And she’s right. Your girls need you here. They need their father. They need to know their world hasn’t been completely turned upside down. You’re doing more for Lorna here than you could with a thousand trips to Russia, or anywhere else. You’re doing what a real man does. You’re taking care of your family. Exactly the way Lorna would have wanted you to.”
“I’m going crazy, though,” Jamie admitted. “It’s a major effort for me just to get up in the morning, to see that Devon and Mackenzie are dressed and fed, that Kirkland is okay. That’s why I took so long at the hospital. I checked and re-checked every decision and prescription a million times. The idea that I could make a mistake with a patient… I had Russ look it all over, too, just to be safe.”
“You have every right to feel this way, Jamie. We’re in an awful, awful situation.”
“And there’s nothing I can do about it! That’s the worst part! I’m completely helpless. I would do anything to help Lorna. I hear what you’re saying about being here for the girls, and I agree with you in theory. Still, I feel like I should be doing something more. Something desperate, something illegal, anything, it doesn’t matter.”
“Now maybe you’ll understand how I felt,” Felicia said softly. “When Lorna was in the hospital.”
Jamie hesitated. He and Felicia locked eyes for a good, long beat, and finally, all he could offer was, “Yeah….”
She smiled grimly. “Good. So now that’s settled, you can explain it to Lorna when she comes home, and maybe then we’ll put the past behind us, once and for all.”
He looked at her desperately. “Lorna is coming home, isn’t she, Felicia?”
“There is not a doubt in my mind,” his mother-in-law-said firmly.
“So,” Kirkland began. “I have something to say to you, and I don’t think you’re going to be happy about it.”
“What?” Charlie’s mind instantly swam with the possibilities, all of them centering on Kirkland finding out about… everything.
“Well, you know how we said, when we both went to college, we’d visit on weekends and hang out and do cool stuff?”
“I don’t think that’s going to work out.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” Charlie demanded, unsure of how she felt about the development, short of stunned and angry. Though precisely about what was yet to be determined.
“No! No, no, I’m not!”
“Oh,” Charlie said, his answer only adding to her confusion. And her ambivalence.
“I’m just – I’m trying to tell you… I’ve decided to defer Notre Dame. For a semester. Maybe a year. It depends.”
“On what happens with my dad. And your mom and dad. And if they can find Lorna.”
“My dad’s in bad shape. I don’t want to leave him alone right now. He says he’s fine, but… he’s not. He needs somebody to keep an eye on him.”
“That’s not your job, taking care of your dad.”
“That’s what he said.”
“You’re really going to skip going to college?”
“Not skip. Just postpone it for a while. And I know that really messes up all the plans we made.”
“We can still see each other. Bay City isn’t that much further than Indiana.”
“I know. But, it won’t be the same. I mean, we talked about parties and finally getting to be alone without our parents around. This screws that all up.”
“You can still come and visit me,” she reminded.
“Yeah. I’ll – I’ll see how that goes.”
“It’ll be okay. We’ll think of something.”
“Thanks, Charlie, but you don’t have to… I mean, I’d understand if…”
“Are you trying to get me to break up with you, now?” she challenged.
He shrugged and mumbled something she couldn’t quite make out.
“We’ll think of something,” Charlie reiterated, already formulating an idea of exactly where she might want to start.
“Are you really going to have all these tests?” Matt looked over the list Dr. Raya Ng had sent for Donna to look over prior to their getting started.
“It’s the full panel.” Donna didn’t look ecstatic about the idea, merely resolved. “Dr. Ng says their cumulative results will give her the best possible picture regarding our ability to have a child together.”
“Some of these look kind of painful.”
“I’ve given birth twice without medical intervention, Matthew. I can assure you, the end process is hardly pleasant, either.”
“You’re being awfully brave.”
“I want this,” she said simply. “I want it more than anything.”
“I wish there was something I could do to help,” Matt leafed listlessly through the print-out.
“Actually, there is.” Donna’s finger drew Matt’s attention to the very bottom of the page. “Here are several procedures for you to undergo in conjunction with mine.”
That got Matt’s attention, and quickly. “Wait a minute. I – why do I – I already have a kid.”
“So do I,” Donna reminded.
“Yeah, well, but… you’re a lot older than when you had – “
“So are you,” she reminded.
“I’m fine,” Matt stressed.
“I have no doubt about it.”
“Then why do I need to get tested?”
“It’s part of the procedure. Apparently, there are medical ways to test whether or not we are compatible.”
“Since when do we need medical tests to tell us that?”
Donna smiled. “On a biochemical level.”
“And you think this,” Donna pointed to some of the explorations she’d be experiencing shortly. “Isn’t?”
“It’s not the same. I know everything is in perfect working order with me. If you’d only let me show you…”
“Oh, come on!” He all but stomped his foot in frustration.
“You know what you said earlier, about wanting me to have the experience of being pregnant and having a child with a man I love, a man who would stay by my side, no matter what, and a child I wouldn’t be forced to give up?”
“Well, darling, I wish the very same thing for you. You and Lila weren’t in love when Jasmine was born. You are both wonderful parents to her now, but that doesn’t change the basic facts. You’ve never had that experience, either. Don’t you think you deserve it as much as I do?”
“We’ll have a baby,” Matt swore. “You have my word on that.”
“I know I can count on you,” Donna said, then added with meaning. “I know you won’t let me down.”
“How are you feeling?” Steven asked Horace, having dropped in on him, unannounced.
“Getting better,” Jen’s biological father reassured, though he didn’t appear too happy to have Steven standing at the door, much less making it clear he wouldn’t be budging anytime soon.
“Do you still have a temperature?” Steven inquired politely.
“Just a bit.”
“Have you tried any medication?” Steven raised the paper-bag he was holding in his hand. “I brought you a wide selection. I thought you could try it, see what works best.”
Horace shook his head. “Nah, doctor told me not to, something about it being dangerous for Jennifer. They need to be sure my body’s really free of infection, not just covering it up with medicines and such.”
“Well, just to be on the safe side,” Steven all but pushed his way in, heading for the bathroom. “Let me leave these here. In case you start to feel worse.”
He opened the medicine cabinet, lining up the aspirin, Tylenol and more alongside the items already in there.
Horace followed Steven. “You don’t need to do that.”
“I do. The sooner you get better, the sooner you can help save Jen.”
“I heard your daddy at the hospital before. We’ve still got a few more days.”
“But, that’s all we have.”
“Not to worry. I should be good as new in no time. Doctors couldn’t even figure out what was causing the fever, so it couldn’t be anything too dangerous. Just a little bug, I figure, that’s all.”
“We’re running out of time,” Steven told Horace pointedly. “If Jen doesn’t get that bone marrow transplant soon, she’s not going to make it. That’s why they usually don’t start the procedure to get rid of her own immune system until they have the replacement marrow in hand. Jen took a huge risk. Because you promised to be there for her.”
“It’s not one hundred percent, though, is it? I could give her the marrow, and it still might not take, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. Rejection is always a possibility.”
“So it’s not all up to me. You’ve been acting like it’s all up to me, but, it’s not. I’m just a piece of the puzzle.”
“You’re the most important piece.”
“Heh. And you can see it’s killing Fowler, too. Him being so high and mighty, thinking he can tell me what to do and I’ve got no choice but jump. Steals my kid from under my nose because he’s so all that, and I’m nothing, and where does that leave him in the end? Still needing to come to me to take care of her.”
“This isn’t about Kevin,” Steven said, utterly uninterested in the one-upsmanship, even if what Horace was saying was technically true. “And it isn’t about you, either. It’s about Jen. She needs your help. You’ve never done a damn thing for her previously – “
“Did she tell you that? Yeah, bet she heard it from her mother. Or that grandmother. How about Jennifer’s life? How about me doing that for her? Had to talk her mother out of getting rid of her. Does Jennifer know that?”
“I don’t know,” Steven said calmly. “And I don’t care.”
“Well, aren’t you an arrogant prick?”
“So what?” Steven countered, accepting the affront indifferently. “This isn’t about me, either.”
Johnson chuckled bitterly. “No wonder Fowler likes you so much. Both of you thinking you’re better than other people, regular people, normal people. People who maybe didn’t get the same good breaks in life you did. Not like GQ. That boy has manners. That boy knows how to speak to his elders. Show some respect.”
“Feel better soon, Mr. Johnson,” Steven said, shutting the medicine cabinet, having finally gotten precisely what he came for.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Alice glanced from Amanda to Rachel as they sat in the Harrison parlor. “I didn’t realize you had a guest, Amanda.”
“Actually,” Rachel stood up, beckoning Alice forward. “I came to speak to you.”
Alice looked at her in surprise. “With me?”
“Yes.” Rachel waited until Alice had settled on the couch next to her. “It was Amanda’s idea, but…”
Alice held up a hand to put Rachel off momentarily. “First of all, Rachel, before you get to whatever it is you intend to say, please allow me to convey my deepest condolences. I would never claim to know how you feel, grief is simply too individualized for that kind of easy platitude. But, do believe that you have my most sincere sympathy.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said, then hesitated. “I presume Jamie filled you in on how he thinks this is all a deception on Carl’s part? And that not only is he alive somewhere with my children, but that he also has Lorna in his clutches?”
Alice answered cautiously, “Jamie did tell me that, yes.”
“And you think he’s right?”
“I think that it’s none of my business.”
“Carl wouldn’t do this to me. He would never, ever put me through this kind of pain. Carl knows what it’s like to lose a child. He wouldn’t inflict the same on me.”
“I’m sorry that you are forced to go through it, Rachel. I’m sorry for you, sorry for Jamie, sorry for everyone involved.”
Rachel clearly heard the dodge in Alice’s reply. But, she decided to let it pass in favor of the business at hand. She said, “In addition to everything else, Carl’s death has caused the money he once loaned Cory Publishing to be forcibly withdrawn. By Chase Hamilton. This puts us in a very precarious position. The company that Mac spent his life building is in grave danger of going under.”
“How can I help?” Alice asked.
“We need money,” Amanda said bluntly. “A lot of it. In cash, immediately, and for an indefinite period of time.”
“How much money?”
“A few million,” Amanda admitted. “Maybe as much as ten.”
“I would do it myself,” Rachel said. “I would put in every penny I had if I thought it could help save Mac’s life’s work. But, the problem is, my personal finances are so tied up with Carl’s, I can’t risk Hamilton going after them and causing another upheaval. The company wouldn’t be able to weather two blows in a row, our stock is already dropping precipitously as it is. We need an unimpeachable, presently liquid source.”
“That isn’t Iris,” Amanda added.
“Oh. Yes. Russ told me she was back in town. Quite a surprise.”
“Iris offered us the money we need,” Amanda said. “In exchange for a controlling share of Cory Publishing.”
“Iris…” was about all Alice could say, shaking her head.
“Exactly,” Rachel agreed. “Obviously, that isn’t what Mac would have wanted. No matter how much he loved her, he ultimately saw his daughter for what she was.”
Amanda said, “I thought maybe you might be willing to help us. We’d pay you back, with interest, of course. And, if you were the investor, I could stay in control of Cory. We wouldn’t have to worry about hostile take-overs or any other attempts to hijack it away from us. We are family. And I know that you loved Daddy once, too.”
“I did love Mac,” Alice said. “And I certainly know how much his business meant to him. Not just for its own sake, but for passing it down to his children. He would have been so happy to know there’s still a Cory at the head of Cory Publishing.”
“We’re desperate,” Rachel laid all her cards on the table, understanding that now was not the time for games or clever negotiating. Now was the time for heartfelt honesty. “Will you help us, Alice?”
When Jamie’s stepmother didn’t answer immediately, Rachel went on, “I know what I am asking. And whom I am asking it of. Our history is very, very complicated. I don’t need to rehash it now, except to say I realize that you blame Carl for Spencer’s death. And that the idea of using your husband’s money to help Carl’s wife is offensive at best, grotesque at worst. But, this is not about them. It’s not even about us. It’s about Mac and his children and his grandchildren. It’s about protecting a family legacy and passing it on to the next generation. A generation that I think you love as much as I do. Please, Alice, not for me. For Mac. For them.”
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