“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Alice told Rachel. “But, I’d expected to hear back from you by now regarding the money you needed for Cory Publishing.”
Rachel nodded, having unfortunately forgotten about Alice in the midst of everything… else. She invited her in, beckoning Alice to follow Rachel into the study even as she explained, “We’ve had a change of plans. I’m sorry, I should have called and told you.”
“So is everything alright now?” Alice wondered. “Crises averted?”
“Hardly,” Rachel sighed, sitting down, inviting Alice to do the same. “Iris has purchased enough stock on the open market to become the new Head of the Cory board.”
“Without your permission, I presume?”
“Without my knowledge.”
“That does sound like Iris,” Alice agreed.
“She didn’t do anything illegal – technically. And her influx of capital was desperately needed. Amanda and I were forced to accept the turn of events in the short run.”
“But, not in the long?” Alice guessed.
“Matters are… complicated.”
“Aren’t they always?”
Rachel was forced to agree. She confessed, “Some days, I wonder why I even bother to get up in the morning. Especially when it feels like there’s yet another crises I can’t do anything about lurking around every corner.”
“Spencer used to say if a problem could be solved with money, it wasn’t a problem, it was an errand.”
“Your husband was a wise man.”
“The problem with Iris and Cory Publishing is an errand. The problem with Iris in general…”
“She’s Mac’s daughter,” Rachel said. “No matter what she does or to whom, she is Mac’s daughter. And he loved her. And I can no more throw her permanently out of my life than he could. I owe him that much.”
“I understand Dennis has managed it,” Alice observed.
“Like Mark Twain giving up smoking,” Rachel joked. “Dennis has cut Iris out dozens of times. I’m afraid it rarely takes.”
“Well, do let me know if you still need my help. Iris can be a formidable opponent. I know, I’ve been up against her myself, several times.”
“She wasn’t a fan of your friendship with Dennis. Or his father.”
“As on other occasions, I allowed Iris to drive me away from Elliot.”
“With my help,” Rachel recalled.
“You and she were great friends at one time.”
Rachel rolled her eyes, “Please, don’t remind me. She was using me to manipulate you and Elliot, and I was so flattered that a woman of her position and – I believed at the time – class was taking an interest in me, I allowed myself to get thoroughly played. It wasn’t my most shining moment.”
“No,” Alice agreed. “But, I’d say the end result was worth it, wouldn’t you? You met Mac through Iris.”
“While she was having me escorted out in the middle of a party!” Rachel smiled, happy for the chance to be reminiscing about something joyful for a change. “He sent me roses the next day. I couldn’t believe it. A figure like Mac…”
“Another very wise man.”
The two exchanged warm looks, Rachel taking Alice’s hand and telling her sincerely, “Thank you for trying to help save Mac’s legacy. That meant a great deal to me.”
“Mac meant a great deal to me. So do his children. Well, most of them. The offer is still open. Tell me what you need to help fight Iris and, if it’s within my means, it’s yours, no questions asked.”
“How much did you get?” Steven asked Kevin after Jen’s father presented him with the briefcase of cash Kevin intended to give to Horace Johnson.
“A million even,” Kevin said, slamming down the lid and locking it.
“You think it’ll be enough?”
“I’ve done some looking into Johnson’s finances. Unless he’s a genius at keeping them hidden, he doesn’t have much. And the debts I’ve been able to track down are substantial. Which makes me think the ones he owes off the books are probably even more than that. A million dollars should go a long way to relieving some of the pressures of his current lifestyle.”
“Okay,” Steven said. Then, almost apropos to nothing, added, “We can’t tell GQ about this. Or Jen.”
Kevin furrowed his brow. “I understand not telling GQ. I’m not in the mood for another lecture on morality either. But, Jenny needs to know what kind of bastard – “
“Why?” Steven challenged. “She already wants nothing to do with him. Why add more reasons for her to realize her biological father is complete scum?”
“What’s going on, Steven?” Kevin guessed he wasn’t being offered the complete story. “Why so adamant about this, all of a sudden?”
“GQ,” Steven admitted. “He made some good points.”
“About Jen. About how Jen grew up knowing her mom was an addict and her dad was in prison, and how it made her feel like, if she wasn’t careful, she might grow up no better than them.”
“That’s ridiculous. Jenny is head and shoulders above – “
“She wants to be normal,” Steven said. “She told me that herself. She doesn’t want to stick out, she wants to be like everybody else.”
“Jenny has never been like everybody else. For one things, she’s absolutely brilliant – “
“Another thing that makes her a freak.”
“That’s rich; coming from you.”
“I like being a freak,” Steven stressed. “Jen doesn’t. It’s why she…” he trailed off.
“Why she what? What, Steven?”
“Never mind,” he mumbled.
“It’s why she turned you down in favor of GQ?” Kevin guessed.
The younger man merely shrugged. “Jen deserves to live her life anyway she wants. And if what she wants is to be normal, then the last thing she needs to hear is that the guy who gave her half his DNA was also happy to hold her life hostage for a couple of bucks.”
Kevin thought about what Steven had said. “All I care about is Jenny getting better. Everything else is… it’s irrelevant.”
“Good. So you won’t tell her?”
“No.” Kevin spread his arms to the sides. “If you really think it’s for the best…”
“It’s for the best,” Steven reverted to his incontestable tone of voice.
“Thank you,” Kevin said abruptly. “Thank you for loving my daughter, Steven.”
“It’s – I – Whatever, okay?”
“I’m sorry that Jenny isn’t able to see you for who you really are.”
“Oh, she can,” Steven reassured. “She totally can. Why do you think she turned me down?”
Curtains shut to keep out if not the actual St. Petersburg White Night then at least their September evening remnants, Cass and Frankie lay on the bed in their hotel room, Cass hovering above his wife, kissing her forehead, the tip of her nose, her chin, her neck and continuing downward even as the two of them carried on what, for most, might not seem like a particularly romantic conversation.
“If Carl isn’t in Russia,” Frankie mused. “Then where is the next most logical place for him to be?”
Cass’ tongue circled Frankie’s bare collarbone as he reported, “Interpol checked out his houses in London and Paris, and they both came up clean.”
“Well, sure, he wouldn’t be so stupid as to go to a known residence.” She indicated the hollow at the base of her throat for Cass to focus his attentions on.
“You know what I’ve been thinking?” Cass asked.
Frankie glanced down, tracing his trajectory and suggesting, “I certainly hope so.”
He grinned up at her, continuing as he was even while Cass ventured, “What’s Carl going to do about Cory and Elizabeth’s education?”
“Make them read Shakespeare until they drop, I presume,” Frankie managed to respond sarcastically while simultaneously arching her back and gasping in delight.
“Even Carl knows there’s more to the Information Economy than being able to quote Hamlet’s Soliloquy.”
“So he’ll hire a tutor. Isn’t that what the nobility used to do as a matter of course?” With Cass inside of her, Frankie pressed her knees against his hips, happy to be face to face again. It made for easier conversation. And other things.
“What kind of tutor would be willing to go into hiding for years?” Cass wondered between gasps.
“Somebody with a lot of student loans to repay?” Frankie matched Cass rhythm. In speech. And other things.
“There’s also the danger of their location being revealed. No, I don’t think that’s the approach Carl would take.”
“So what does that leave?” Frankie dug her fingers into Cass’ shoulders.
“Boarding school,” Cass said, his words coming faster and faster to accommodate his breathing. “Carl wanted to send the kids to boarding school once before. Rachel was against it then.”
“You’re amazing,” Frankie moaned.
“When I really focus,” Cass agreed.
“Grant stopped by the other day while you were out,” Jamie filled in Kirkland after his son had, on Jamie’s orders, returned from BCU with a list of for-credit courses he could still take this semester without being a full-time registered student.
“What did he want?” Suddenly, the choice between Marketing 101 and Accounting 302 didn’t seem nearly as interesting.
“To give me an update on his political career.”
“Grant’s decided to run for Mayor again.”
Kirkland sighed, “For real?”
“Seems so. I – Grandma is the one funding him.”
Kirkland scrunched up his face. “Why?”
“To get back at Chase Hamilton.”
“Oh. That makes sense. I guess. Well, you know, in our family.”
“Grant swore to me he has every intention of running a clean campaign.
Kirkland’s snort suggested his level of belief on that particular count.
“But, even if that’s the case, Hamilton would be stupid to do the same. Your dad is just too rich of a target.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Which means you’ll probably be a target too. Or, at least, as it pertains to Grant and your mother and everything they did – “
“Because they loved me so, so much,” Jamie’s son finished for him.
“Your mother did love you,” Jamie refused to let Kirkland ever doubt that. “But, she also made some very, very bad decisions where Grant was concerned. Add to that Grant now being married to Marley, raising Vicky and Jake’s kids, who are also Donna’s grandkids; throw in Spencer’s criminal past, Spencer’s involvement with Carl, Carl’s marriage to your grandmother – “
“Two of my grandmothers,” Kirkland corrected. “And an affair with the third, who got killed when – “
“It’s going to be rough, Kirk. Very, very rough. Which is why,” Jamie seamlessly transitioned. “I really think you might want to reconsider not getting out of town. At least until – “
“Is Lorna home yet, Dad?”
“Kirkland… Pal, come on…”
The boy crossed his arms against his chest. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Jamie tried another tack. “Kirk. Listen to me. All those things we just said Hamilton could bring up to smear your dad – those are just the things we know about. Listen to me, son. For every bad deed of Grant’s that’s been made public, how many do you think are still out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a political opponent to dig them up and smear them across the front page tomorrow, not to mention the Internet in perpetuity? You think you know everything about Grant that could possibly hurt you. But, what if you don’t? What if there’s more? How much more do you think you can take? I know I can’t take seeing you hurt anymore. Protect yourself, Kirk. Please. Go to college. Forget about Bay City for a while. Save yourself from what’s about to happen while you still can.”
“Hey, there, Ms. Love. Haven’t seen you in a long time,” the young man behind the coffee-counter grinned in seemingly genuine delight at the sight of Donna walking through the door. There weren’t many people prone to reacting in such a manner to her presence, and Donna never failed to appreciate it.
“I’ve told you before, Mikey, please call me Donna.” When he just grinned sheepishly, she clarified, “You’re never going to do that, are you?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t think I will.”
“Alright, then. How about Mrs. Cory? I waited a long time to get that name back, and I prefer it, if you don’t mind.”
“What can I get you, Mrs. Cory?” The boy who, for a little while, at least, was Donna’s son asked.
“An answer,” she told him.
“Don’t think that’s on the menu,” he joked, but appeared all ears, just the same.
She patted his face affectionately. “Do you remember living with me and Michael?”
He wrinkled his nose. “I think I do. But, it all flows together, you know? You and Michael, my mom and dad… I think I remember living with you. In the big house, with the swimming pool. You have a swimming pool, right?”
“I did,” she conceded. “Then.”
“I think I remember. But, sometimes I wonder if it’s really from the time I lived there, or from when I’d visit afterwards. Or maybe from when Michael would visit me….”
“Michael visited you quite often after you were returned to your parents, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. I really missed the two of you in the beginning. I wish you’d come to visit me, too, Ms. Lo – Mrs. Cory.”
“I couldn’t,” Donna told him. “I hope you understand. I was just so destroyed by what had happened. Michael and I didn’t want to give you up. We felt like you were ours in every way. But, your parents… they fought for you. They loved you, too.”
“I do understand,” Mikey said.
“Were you happy with them?” Donna wondered. In all the years she’d been coming in here, all the years she and Mikey had chatted about a whole host of unimportant things, she’d never asked him this before. “Were you happier with them than you were… with us?”
Another sheepish shrug. “I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t remember much.”
“Were your parents good parents? Did they give you everything you needed?” Donna looked around, trying to think of a way to ask her question without coming off as insulting – not exactly her greatest strength. “Why are you working here? Why aren’t you in college? Young people have so many opportunities these days – “
“Guess school just wasn’t for me. I was never very good at it. They gave me those tests, you know? Turned out, I guess, my brain doesn’t work quite right.”
“You mean, you have a learning disability?”
“That’s it, I think. It took me forever to figure out how to read, and my handwriting still looks awful. Good thing I can just type in the orders here.”
“But, there’s treatment for that. Special programs, tutors. Why didn’t your parents – “
“They did the best they could,” Mikey said. “My mom and dad were never too good at school, either.”
“You were a very smart little boy, Mikey,” Donna couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around reality. Also not one of her strengths. “With the right attention and help, there’s no telling how far you could have gone. In school or anywhere else.”
“I like it here.” Mickey handed Donna her usual order. “I meet a lot of nice people.”
Donna smiled at him wistfully. “Do you ever wonder – Do you ever think about what your life might have been like if – “
“Things happened the way they happened. Look, you just told me how happy you were being Mrs. Cory. Well, if I never went back to my mom and dad, you and Michael might have – things would be different. For everybody. And then you wouldn't be Mrs. Cory now. Right?”
With Sarah settled in the guest room upstairs, Michele and Bridget fighting over who would get the privilege of fetching and carrying anything she needed, Marley and Grant ended up downstairs, both of them utterly drained and dizzy from the day’s events.
They sat side by side on the couch, heads spinning too quickly to even look at each other, until Marley finally broke the silence by saying, “I’m sorry.”
“What?” He jerked as if slapped, harshly snapped out from his own train of thought.
“I’m sorry,” Marley repeated. “For springing everything on you like this. I mean, first we get our wires crossed and you thought I’d been hurt. And then, a split second later, I’m not only telling you Sarah is pregnant, but that she’s moving in with us, to boot!”
“Yes…” Grant replied slowly. “It’s been… exciting.”
“I know I put you on the spot, demanding that you agree right away. I didn’t give you any time to think about it, hardly.”
“Have you thought about it?” Grant challenged. “Have you really thought about the kind of responsibility you’re taking on? A pregnant girl, all alone…”
“It’s precisely because she’s all alone that I felt I had to.”
“She has parents, Marley. She may not want to speak to them, but she’s their responsibility, not ours. She also has grandparents; Iris and Russ are both in town. Alice is her great-aunt. There’s her best friend, Allie, there’s Rachel, who used to be married to her great-grandfather. Sarah has people she can turn to.”
“But, she turned to me,” Marley said softly.
“In a crisis, sure! Now that she’s had some time to calm down… I’m not saying throw her out on the street, but, to suggest she stay here indefinitely….”
“Only for as long as she wants.”
“What if she wants to stay until the baby is born?”
Marley shrugged. “Then we’ll make do.”
“Don’t you think,” Grant tread carefully. “Aren’t you afraid that Sarah is taking advantage? Of you? Of your hospitality? Of your guilt?”
“My guilt? I have nothing – “
“What happened with Olivia,” Grant prompted.
“We’ve talked about that. Sarah and I. She understands exactly where I stand.”
“She’s taking advantage of you,” Grant pressed. “Let’s say she does decide to stay here until the baby is born. You know who’s going to end up bearing the bulk of the work – you! Sarah is a kid. She’s not even done with college yet. She’s going to want to go out and have fun and pick up her life where she left off. And you’ll be stuck here, playing nursemaid, as if you haven’t a life of your own.”
“You mean like I was before you came along to rescue me?” Marley asked dryly.
“Sarah is too young to be having a baby,” Grant insisted. “And you are merely enabling her. At your mutual expense.”
“What would you have me do?” Marley reared her head back. “Encourage her to have an abortion?”
Grant swallowed hard. “That’s one option.”
“No. If Sarah wanted one, that would be different. But, she doesn’t. And I’m hardly going to try and bully her into it. Especially not when I think she is too perfectly capable of raising a child on her own. Look at how wonderful she is with the girls!”
“That’s a part-time job! One she can always walk away from. A baby is a lifelong commitment. You won’t be there for her forever. Eventually, Sarah is going to have to do this on her own. And then what? Her choices are either do a piss-poor job of trying to juggle both a child and college and some semblance of a normal life, or she throws that all away in order to devote herself to the baby. And then what? Where does that leave Sarah? She’s a smart girl with her entire future ahead of her. But, not like this.”
Marley was about to respond, when the doorbell interrupted them.
“Where is she?” Iris barged in without waiting to be invited. “Where is my granddaughter? And what in the world do you two think you’re doing, stealing her away like this?”
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