“Hello, Iris,” Sarah used her grandmother’s preferred form of address as Iris stormed into Grant and Marley’s guest-room, shooing Bridget and Michele out with a dismissive wave of the hand and a look that had terrified peons twice their age for multiple decades.
“My poor, poor girl.” Iris planted herself on the bed, hugging Sarah tightly, holding her at arm’s length to get a good look, then embracing her again. “You should have phoned me. You know I would have come immediately.”
“And done what?” Sarah painstakingly extricated herself.
“Well, offered you support for one thing. What a horrible calamity to endure alone.” Iris paused delicately. “That is the case here, is it not? The father of your child, he isn’t…”
“As I suspected,” Iris pressed a hand to her chest, as if she, in fact, were the key victim in this particular drama. “Oh, you poor thing. You may not believe me right now, but I do understand what you’re going through. Your grandfather, you biological grandfather on your father’s side, his name was Alex Wheeler. He and I – “
“He dumped you,” Sarah said, not unkindly. She was hardly one to sit in judgment these days, was she? “You were in love with him, but he dumped you before he knew you were pregnant. So you tricked Elliot Carrington into marriage, and then you dumped Dad on him before taking off for Europe. I know. Dad’s mentioned it. Several times.”
“I did the best I could under the circumstances. And Elliot was a marvelous father to Dennis, he was much better off with him as a little boy than with me. Of course, Alex would have been a wonderful father, too, if only I’d told him.”
“You mean, if he’d stuck around. Dad may have adopted Alex’s name twenty years ago, but he still wasn’t thrilled about how everything played out. Not with Alex, not with you, not with Elliot.”
“Matters would have been easier,” Iris conceded. “If Alex and I had raised Dennis together. Bringing up a child single-handedly is excruciatingly difficult. That’s why I was so upset when I heard that you were left all on your own today.”
“I wasn’t on my own,” Sarah reminded. “Marley was with me.”
“And that’s another thing. If I were there, I should have never allowed that scheming viper to swoop in and whisk you away, keeping you from your true family the way she did!”
“Marley offered me a place to stay and recover. The doctor said I needed to be off my feet for a few days.”
“I heard. Leave it to Marley to take advantage of a young girl’s medical emergency.”
“What are you talking about?” Sarah demanded. “Marley helped me.”
“Naturally, that’s what she would like you to think. Right before she helps herself to your baby.”
“Oh, come on,” Sarah turned away in disgust.
“She tried it with you and your own mother.”
“That was a long time ago. And my mother was hardly innocent. She only decided to raffle me off to the highest bidder after Allie’s dad refused to dump Amanda for her.”
“And Marley was perfectly willing to take advantage of your mother’s confusion.”
“When did you become my mom’s biggest supporter?”
“When it began to look as if you might be headed down her same path. Can’t you see what Marley is after? It’s as plain as day. She wants your baby for herself and Grant!”
“No,” Sarah shook her head slowly. “That… That’s not an option. Grant wouldn’t… Grant wouldn’t want… He doesn’t want my baby.”
“I doubt Marley cares about that. She certainly didn’t care about either Jamie or Dennis’ desires when it came to acquiring whatever she craved, by any means possible.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sarah stressed with a vehemence that made even the great Iris Cory Wheeler skip a beat.
She softened her approach in response to cajole. “You don’t belong here, my darling. Not among strangers. Let me take care of you. Let me take you home.”
“You don’t have a home here. You’re squatting at Rachel’s house.”
“I am staying,” Iris corrected. “At my father’s house. At our family home. Mine, as well as yours. You certainly belong there just as much as Rachel’s Alexandra. Let me help you. I swear, you needn’t go through this on your own, the way I did.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“You’ll regret it,” Iris warned. “You’re young, you’re innocent. You don’t understand. You need someone with a bit of life experience to help you navigate your way. Sarah, my dear, there is a great deal more going on here than meets the eye. And your child is at the center of it.”
“I know exactly what I’m doing,” Sarah insisted. “I’m your granddaughter, aren’t I?”
“You are interested in exploring adoption,” Kevin said slowly, dispassionately, his face an unreadable, professional mask. Even as he looked across his desk at Donna and Matt.
“Yes,” they answer in enthusiastic unison, then exchanged glances and smiled.
“May I inquire as to why?” Kevin pulled out his yellow legal pad, prepared to take notes.
“Why does anyone want to adopt?” Donna took offense.
“Actually, the reasons are myriad, you’d be surprised.”
“We want to have a family together,” Matt said.
“Matthew and I each have children individually. We’d like to have one together.”
“And how do your existing children feel about this?”
“Why should it matter?” Donna bristled.
“Well, on a practical level, because they’ll probably need to be interviewed by the social worker prior to your being approved for an adoption.”
“Is that absolutely mandatory?” Donna wondered.
“Jasmine would love to have a little brother or sister,” Matt cut her off.
“I’m sure she would,” Kevin agreed. “But, I suspect Marley might sing a different tune. She harbors some rather strong – and public – opinions about your overall parenting, not to mention some more recent behaviors.”
“Marley is hardly qualified to throw stones.”
Once again, Matt interrupted to ask, “Could Donna’s recent… behaviors, be a problem when it comes to us adopting?”
Kevin sighed, putting down his pad and leaning back in his chair, studying them each in turn. “I’m going to be frank with you.”
“Quite a bit of that going around lately,” Donna mumbled.
“With Donna’s criminal background – “
“I was never convicted,” she reminded primly.
“ – Her stint in the mental hospital, not to mention her advanced age, you have no chance of adopting through the state. They simply will not approve you.”
“That’s certainly frank,” Matt agreed ruefully.
“Your only option at this point, and even that is a long shot, would be a private adoption, one where the birth parents personally select you.”
“No,” Donna shook her head adamantly. “No, I won’t have it.”
“Donna,” Matt hissed. “Kevin said that could be our only chance.”
“I won’t have the birth parents knowing who we are, or where to find us. I won’t live in fear of them coming out of the woodwork, claiming rights they surrendered ages ago and winning on the basis of genes and legal precedent, rather than the true best interests of the child.”
Matt explained to Kevin, “Donna and her husband, Michael, they adopted a little boy years ago. And then they lost him to his biological parents.”
“It was a travesty,” Donna raged. “We could have done so much more for him, given him so much more. He deserved a better life. He deserved us, not them.”
“I’m familiar with the situation,” Kevin advised grimly. “And you have my word, in my practice, I do everything in my power to insure that doesn’t happen.”
“Your power didn’t help the Bauers very much, did it?”
“No,” Kevin admitted. “It didn’t.”
“You should have tried Stacey Winthrop’s approach, and simply blackmailed the other parents into dropping the suit. That’s how we lost Mikey, you know. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to any of us.”
“Donna, Matt,” Kevin said slowly. “It doesn’t sound to me like you’re precisely ready to be embarking on a grueling adoption process. Birth mothers may pick you one day, and change their minds the next. It’s an emotional roller coaster. I’ve seen people, couples utterly break down from the stress. You have to be prepared for that. And, right now, it looks like you’ve still got several complicated issues of your own to work through before you truly are.”
“Wait a minute. Stop.” Allie pulled back from where she and Zeno had been lying on the bed in his room, his shirt off, her on its way to being the same.
“Okay,” he obeyed instantly, pausing, but leaving his hands where they were, one underneath Allie’s head, stroking her back, the other cupping her breast in his palm.
“That feels nice,” she admitted.
“Good. It’s what I was going for.”
Allie bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. You said stop, I stopped.”
She smiled weakly. “Your mom raised you right.”
“She did her best.”
“I’m sorry,” Allie repeated. “I want to, I really do. But…”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“It’s just that… the only two guys I was ever with before you. I – It didn’t end well.”
“With Gregory, I mean, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. He was sick. But, he – the last time he got really sick, it was right after we…”
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
“It wasn’t because… Gregory said it was just a lousy coincidence, that it could have happened anytime. I wish it had happened some other time.”
“Must have sucked for you.”
“Yeah. You could say that.”
“And GQ?” Zeno prompted, convinced that’s what this really was about.
Allie sighed. “That one was my fault. Well, part of it, anyway. He told me he didn’t want me. But, I pushed and I pushed, and I made him tell me why. And when he did, I got mad at him.”
“He gave you a pretty lousy reason.”
Allie cocked her head, the better to look him in the eye. “You really think so?”
“Hell, yes. Any reason that basically comes down to: Because I’m a coward – “
“No. No, that wasn’t it.”
“He didn’t want to be seen in public with you. Sure sounds cowardly to me. Look, I know all about it. My mom and Frankie used to get crap. Not all the time – most people don’t give a damn who other people are sleeping with. But, it still happened once in a while. You can worry about public opinion and get pushed around, or you can say to hell with them and just live your life. GQ wasn’t brave enough to do that for you.”
“It was more than that,” Allie tried to explain. “He wanted to live his life a certain way. And I just didn’t fit the picture.”
“So you change the picture,” Zeno refused to cut GQ any slack. “If there’s one thing I learned growing up with my mom it’s that you fall in love with a person, not a gender. And certainly not a color. If GQ doesn’t agree with me, that’s his business; no skin off my nose. Until he starts hurting people I care about.”
“Like me?” Allie asked tentatively.
“Like you,” Zeno confirmed, kissing her.
“I’m scared,” she admitted.
“That’s okay,” he assured, cautiously continuing what Zeno had been doing moments earlier. This time without her directive to stop.
“I’ve been giving some thought to what you asked,” Lila approached Rachel cautiously. “You know, about pimping me out to Chase.”
Her choice of words was deliberate. She’d thought that by expressing it so bluntly, Lila might shock Rachel into realizing just precisely what she’d proposed.
Her arrow obviously missed its target by a wide margin. Rachel merely looked up from where she was sitting. She didn’t blink at Lila’s phrasing. All she did say was, “How is what I’m asking any different from what you and Mr. Hamilton did to me, in reverse? You faked a romantic relationship so that he might worm his way into my home and collect evidence against my husband. This would be the exact same thing, wouldn’t it?”
Lila blanched. “Chase and I, we were just pretending… You’re asking me to…”
“Do whatever it takes to make sure Chase Hamilton is never elected to another office again for as long as he lives.”
“But, why do you even think it would work?” Lila demanded. “If Chase wasn’t thrown out of office a few months ago when he went ahead and publicly admitted to having an affair with me, why would my coming forward with the exact same information now have any different effect?”
“Two reasons,” Rachel said. “One, no one was running against Hamilton then, so there was no one to trumpet this issue to the electorate. And two, didn’t you tell me that Mr. Rivera was in on the deception?”
“Yes,” Lila nodded. “Doug knew. I didn’t know that Doug, but Doug knew.”
“This time around, he’ll be feeling like the cuckold. It is not a pleasant sensation, I assure you. As a result, I suspect he can be convinced to speak out against his former partner and turn at least one of Hamilton’s expected bases of support against him.”
“They have a child,” Lila heard herself pleading. “A little girl. And they’re about to adopt a little boy.”
“I had two young children once,” Rachel reminded icily, not needing to finish the thought. Instead, she noted, “The man used you, Lila. He toyed with your emotions and he led you on.”
“He… didn’t. I mean, it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
“I don’t care,” Rachel said. “All I know is, when it came down to the wire, you chose a total stranger over your family. And we all ended up paying the price.”
“I’m sorry,” Lila wiped the tears off her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Rachel. I’ll keep saying it over and over again.”
“You’ll keep saying it. But, will you do anything to help set matters right again?”
“Getting Chase voted out of office won’t bring Carl and the kids back.”
“No. But, it might teach Hamilton a valuable lesson. One he might do well to remember the next time he goes gunning for innocent people.”
“Rachel – I… Why are… This isn’t like you.”
“You’re wrong,” her former mother-in-law corrected. “And, trust me, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
“Are you feeling any better?” GQ asked Horace, stopping by his apartment unannounced just like Steven – only without rifling through his medicine cabinets along the way.
“Getting there,” the older man promised. “Just a few days more, I think, and we should be ready to go.”
“That’s all Jen has. Just a few more days. They can’t keep her in isolation forever, and without the transplant… she won’t have an immune system.”
“I understand. I’m doing the best I can here.”
“I know,” GQ said, but his conviction left much to be desired.
“You don’t believe me, do you? None of you do. Fowler, the Frame boy, none of you believe me.”
“It’s… we’re all just really worried about Jen.”
“And you think I’m not?”
“I don’t know,” GQ confessed, the effort that it took him to admit even that much visible in the way he winced as he said it. “As everyone keeps pointing out, I don’t really know anything about you.”
“Except what you hear,” Horace prompted.
“Except what I hear,” he agreed.
“From Fowler and from Jennifer. Bet they gave you a real earful. What did they tell you? Did they blame me for Jennifer’s mother dying? Did they?”
“Jen says you got her mother hooked on drugs. That she was a seventeen year old girl and she fell in love with you, and you treated her badly, and you got her hooked.”
Horace studied GQ thoughtfully. “You believe there’s ever only one side to any story? Especially when there’s a man and a woman and pretty nasty break up involved?”
GQ swallowed hard. “I’m sure everybody has their version.”
“Except one’s the truth, and one’s a lie. Is that right?”
“I loved Jennifer’s mother. I did. You go ahead and you ask any of the doctors who’ve examined me these last few weeks. Or just take a look at my arms.” Horace thrust both forward, the bare backs of his elbows exposed. “You see any needle marks?”
“That’s right. Because I never used. Not once. How was I supposed to be the one that got Jennifer’s mother hooked, when drugs were never my scene? I dropped her, I’m not denying that. But, that was after she started using. When all she cared about was where her next fix was coming from. She didn’t care about me, and I don’t know what lies Miss Camille fed her later on, she didn’t care about Jennifer neither. I didn’t want that in my life, so I cut her loose, yeah.”
“You may not have used, but you’ve been arrested for dealing.” GQ did deliberately try to see the bright side of things, but he wasn’t blind, either.
“Right. That sure was one eagle-eyed cop, able to see straight through my clothes into my pocket and see that I was carrying. Must have been from the X-Ray Vision Squad.”
“Was your arrest for burglary and assault a few years later a set up, too?”
“I did some dumb things in the past, never said I didn’t. But, that had nothing to do with Jennifer. Not until Fowler made it so. Was I the best damn Father of the Year? Not even close. Did I ignore Jennifer to hang with my boys more times than anyone would say is good for a kid? You bet. But, I was young and stupid. And I was sorry. But, did I get a chance to tell her? No. Never. Because Fowler convinced a judge she was better off with him than with me. So anything I had to say to her after the fact, I never got a chance to say it. And now she thinks I ran out on her. I never ran out on her. Same way I never ran out on her mother. They both got taken away from me, in one way or another. I’m trying to make it up to Jennifer now. Except nobody believes me. You know what that’s like, trying to make yourself understood to people who’ve already made up their minds and decided you’re the bad guy, no matter what? Who won’t even listen to what you’ve got to say, because they think they know better?”
GQ didn’t say anything. But, after a while, he slowly nodded.
“So St. Petersburg was a bust?” Jamie exhaled in frustration and sank down into the couch, leaving Felicia to hover over him while around them both, Devon and Lori Ann played and Mackenzie gurgled in her bassinet, none of them paying any attention to the grown-ups' somber conversation.
“Not completely. Cass and Frankie got confirmation that Carl had been planning his get-away for days, that it wasn’t some split second decision. Which means he had plenty of time to set up the plane crash and – “
“Disappear without a trace. And take Lorna with him.”
“We’re not giving up. Frankie and Cass are going to keep looking. They emailed me this morning to say they’re headed for Switzerland to check out the boarding schools there. Carl is going to have to educate Elizabeth and Cory in some way.”
Jamie shook his head. “Have you talked to Mom about any of this?”
“Rachel and I haven’t really spoken since the memorial service. I – Honestly, I don’t know what to say to her. My heart breaks over what she thinks she’s lost, but, how am I supposed to offer my sincere condolences when I know this is all Carl’s doing? That he is alive, and so are her children. And so is my daughter.”
“I haven’t been doing too well on that score myself. I stopped by to see Mom earlier – it didn’t even have anything to do with Carl or Lorna. But, there they were, hanging in the air like smoke. You try to swat it aside, and it just comes back, stronger than ever. I’m scared it will always be that way. And I’m even more scared of what will happen when Cass and Frankie at last find Carl and the rest, and Mom is forced to finally confront the kind of man she married. We tried to warn her. All of us. We knew something like this was inevitable. But, she wouldn’t hear of it. And now… damn it, Felicia. The thing I’m praying for every day… that miracle is my mother’s worst nightmare.”
“So what do you want to do?” Felicia wondered. “Should we fill Rachel in on what Frankie and Cass found out in Russia? Or should we keep her in the dark, not cause her anymore pain until we know for sure, one way or the other?
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