“No I told you so?” GQ mumbled as he and Steven left the hospital, having both grown convinced that Horace had let Jen down yet again – possibly for good, this time.
Steven shrugged. “You tell me how it’d be productive, and I’ll be happy to say it.”
“Kevin didn’t seem to care whether it would do any good or not.”
“Kevin is Kevin,” was all Steven had to offer there.
“Aren’t you even going to call me an idiot? Something?”
“Will that make you feel better?” Steven wondered, exiting the elevator, heading for the parking lot, GQ following behind.
“Hell if I know.”
“We all got played. You, me, Kevin. We can sit around piling on blame, or we can think of something to do to help Jen. I vote for B. You do whatever you want.”
GQ grabbed Steven by the arm, spinning him around and keeping Steven from getting into his car. “Are you in love with her?” he asked, sounding not so much accusatory, as resigned.
Steven hesitated for just a moment. Then, without breaking away from GQ’s gaze, said, “Yes.”
GQ had been expecting it. Maybe. He certainly hadn’t been expecting it being phrased so bluntly.
“I knew it,” he said, almost defensive. “I had a feeling…”
“She loves you,” Steven informed, as if that should end the discussion then and there.
“Does she know how you – “
“And?” GQ’s query came with the force of a punch.
“She loves you,” he repeated.
“I thought we were friends, man.”
“We are. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You told my girlfriend you were in love with her.”
GQ snorted. “Coming from anybody else, I’d think you were feeding me a line. But, you? Yeah, I can see it. She asked, and you had to tell her the truth.”
“You’re the guy she’s committed to. Jen told me. About a million times. I want her to get better. Because I love her, sure. But, I’m not planning on doing anything… She’ll get better, and you’ll get her back and live happily ever after. I won’t be an issue.”
“Damn it, if I were in your shoes…”
“Nobody’s in my shoes. Never has been, never will be.”
“’Cause you’re just that special, is that right?”
“I’m me,” Steven said, leaving it at that.
GQ stared at him for a long, angry beat. And then, as if capsized by a wave of exhaustion, dropped his shoulders and his aggressive stance, swearing to Steven, “I do love her and I do want her to get better. Me believing Horace…”
“Didn’t mean anything regarding your feelings for Jen. Except same way I’m me, you’re you. Programming, right? If Then Go To. We’re all who we are.”
“Guess Horace is who he is, too. You and Kevin were right about that.” GQ’s voice cracked and he had to swallow hard to keep from actually crying in front of Steven.
“It’s going to be okay,” Steven heard himself comforting GQ even while he felt as hollow and scraped raw inside as he ever had. “Jen’s going to be okay. She’s got all of us in her corner. And we’re the smartest guys in the room. So how can she lose?”
The two women eyed each other warily over the breakfast table, each having suspected that, what with them both living in the Cory mansion now, they were bound to run into each other sooner or later. They’d just both been truly hoping for later.
“Congratulations,” Iris offered, smiling insincerely and taking a seat.
“For what?” Donna inquired with equally fake enthusiasm, doing the same.
“Why, your most recent marriage to our Matthew. You know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You and Michael certainly made a habit of it.”
“Something that could never be said about you, now could it, Iris?”
“It could not, no.”
“I guess once is more than ample for any man where you’re concerned.” Donna managed to look innocent while sipping her coffee.
Iris reached for her own cup. “I prefer to learn from my mistakes, rather than wring alimony out of them.”
“Speaking of your many, many mistakes,” Donna went on. “How is Dennis faring these days?”
Much to Donna’s surprise, what she hadn’t intended to be her best spike, seemed to strike the deepest nerve with Iris. Her phony politeness dropped, and she snapped, “About to become a grandfather. And he doesn’t even know it. Unless, of course, that unhinged daughter of yours manages to finally have her way.”
The first half of Iris’ accusation flew over Donna’s head as she zeroed in on the latter. “Marley? What has Marley – “
“She’s up to her old tricks,” Iris took pleasure in filling in Marley’s mother, grimly delighted that, in this case, Donna truly was the last to know.
“What are you talking about?”
“Marley proved unsuccessful at shanghaiing my only granddaughter right out from under her own father’s nose, so now she’s attempting to do the same to Dennis’ grandchild.”
“You are making absolutely no sense.” Donna threw her napkin down in frustration, no longer caring that the gesture proved Iris had managed to get to her.
“Sarah is pregnant,” Iris revealed with equal parts grandmotherly shame – and pride. “And Marley is right now scheming to filch her child. Exactly as before.”
“Clean bill of health!” Marley cheered as she and Sarah were in the car, driving home from the appointment with Dr. Raya Ng that officially cleared Sarah to get off bed-rest and get on with her life. “That’s wonderful news!”
“Yeah,” Sarah crunched her face into a smile, then shyly stretched forward a Polaroid-sized print-out. “She did another sonogram. Look. He’s got ears now. And eyelids.” That last one, Sarah said as if she couldn’t believe it herself.
Marley paused the car at a red light and took the scan from Sarah. She smiled as she looked at it. “He looks just like you,” she teased.
“It’s starting to feel real now,” Sarah confessed.
“It didn’t before?”
“Words,” Sarah admitted. “I could say the words. And I had this image of a baby – of me and a baby in my head. But, now… now it’s this baby. Does that make any sense?”
Marley stepped on the gas and looked back through the windshield. “Perfect,” she reassured.
They drove for a few more blocks in silence, Sarah continuing to stare in wonder at the sonogram, Marley allowing her to fully enjoy the moment without interruption. Once they arrived at a cross-roads, however, Marley cleared her throat and, indicating that they could go left or right at this point, kept her voice deliberately casual as she asked, “Where to?”
Sarah raised her head, and instantly understood what Marley was really asking. One way lead towards Sarah’s apartment. The other to Marley and Grant’s house.
She swallowed hard. “What – What do you think?”
Marley shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, honey, but this one’s up to you. You’re going to be making a lot of decisions for your baby for the next, oh, say, eighteen years or so. You might as well get as much practice as you can with the easy ones, before the really tough choices sneak up on you.”
“Are you sure… Do you think it would be okay?”
“Whatever you decide is okay by me. If you choose to go home and do this on your own, you will have my complete support. But, if you’re willing to accept a little help…”
“You’ve already done so much for me, though!”
“And I’m happy to continue doing as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. Just say the word, Sarah. I’ll follow your lead.
“Dean!” Rachel opened up the front door in surprise, genuinely happy to receive a visitor who wasn’t a family member – or an ex-husband – for the first time in what felt like weeks. “What a wonderful surprise! How nice to see you again. Come in. Come in, please.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cor – I’m sorry, Mrs. Hutchins,” he corrected himself sheepishly. “Old habits, you know…”
“Yes. They do die hard. I do know.” She beckoned him inside. “What brings you here?”
“I was looking for Matt. I know he’s still on medical leave, but, Lorna was supposed to be taking care of C-Squared and…” Dean’s voice trailed off as he wondered whether he’d just seriously stepped in it.
“And she’s not… here,” Rachel finished for him softly.
“Yeah. I – uh – I had this idea I wanted to run by Matt.”
“Are you thinking of returning to your music again? Why, that’s wonderful, Dean!”
“I… yeah. I have a couple of thoughts… These songs – more like pieces of songs, you know? – they’ve been running though my head, and I wanted to bounce a couple things off Matt, see what he thought, whether they might be any good.”
“I think he went riding with Jasmine. I can call down to the stables, check for you. And even if that’s the case, they should be back shortly. Please have a seat.”
Rachel did as she promised, reporting back. “Yes, that’s exactly where they are. Due back in a few minutes. You’re welcome to wait for Matthew here.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Hutchins,” Dean overemphasized the name to make up for his slip-up earlier.
“It makes me happy,” Rachel settled across from the younger man, smiling. “That you and Matt have remained friends all these years. Especially after…”
“Yeah.” Dean blushed beet red. “That was a pretty big mess.”
“I gather the blame wasn’t all yours. Matthew was simultaneously cheating on Jeanne with Donna. Not to mention that their marriage was apparently illegal to begin with…”
“A really big mess,” Dean elaborated, in case he hadn’t been clear before.
Rachel nodded, suggesting that was all behind them now. “You know, in spite of everything that’s happened, I do still have a soft spot in my heart for Jeanne. I am very, very fond of her parents. And, of course, her grandfather was married to my mother. She’s family. And, in this house, we like to give family a second chance. And a third. And, sometimes, as many as it takes.”
Dean nodded. “You guys are amazing. I used to be so jealous of what Matt had. A mom, a great stepdad, a brother, a sister….”
“Speaking of second chances… Are you and Jeanne…. Is there any possibility there of a real relationship?”
“Why?” Dean asked bluntly, realizing, even as he said it, that he sounded exactly like… Jeanne.
“Because Matthew got the impression she had fallen in love with you. And maybe even you with her.”
“So?” Dean blurted equally as bluntly.
“So?” Rachel laughed. Not at him, however. “Is love so ever-present for you, Dean, that you can afford to throw it away?”
“I love Jenna,” he reminded harshly. “I’ll always love Jenna.”
Rachel’s amusement died and she addressed Dean in all seriousness. “Nobody expects you to stop. Not now, not ever.”
“Yeah, well, how the hell am I supposed to, you know, even think about anybody else, if Jenna is still the one I’m hung up on?”
“You mean, how are you supposed to move on?”
“I mean, how am I supposed to want to?”
“It isn’t easy,” Rachel sympathized.
“It’s impossible. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I don’t even want to want to.”
“Or maybe, you’re feeling guilty because, in fact, you do?”
“I love Jenna,” he repeated fiercely, like a mantra. “I am never, ever going to love anybody again in my life the way that I loved her.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t love someone else in a different way,” Rachel noted. “I loved Mr. Cory more than I thought was humanly possible, before I met him. And after he died, I was sure I’d never love that way again. And I was right. I didn’t. Instead, I fell in love with a completely different man in a completely different way. And, when he died, I mourned him completely differently, as well.”
“How can you stand it?” Dean demanded. “Losing them both like that? After the first time, how could you even – “
“Take the risk?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t think I ever consciously made the decision to. It just happened. He happened. We happened. And, even now, I can’t regret for a moment that it did.”
“It’s good to see you, son,” Grant moved in for a hug, which Kirkland allowed Grant to administer for a quick beat, before stepping aside and moving deeper into the Harrison living room, leaving Grant’s follow up question of “How have you been?” addressed to thin air.
“Dad told me about you running for Mayor again.” Clearly, the boy had not come looking for chit-chat.
“Yes. I asked him to tell you.” Grant had no interest in seeing Jamie come out as the hero of truth, justice and the American way on this go-around – again.
“Wasn’t last time enough?”
“I thought you enjoyed being on the campaign trail with me?”
“Sure. I enjoyed it. Until Aunt Marley almost killed Lorna and Devon with her car, and you tried to help her cover it up by kidnapping Midget.”
“Just because what happened took place the night of the Election doesn’t mean the events were necessarily related,” Grant pointed out reasonably.
“It means that things got out of hand. And the election was a big part of it. How do you know Aunt Marley won’t go over the edge again?”
“You aunt is in a very different place in her life right now. Previously, she didn’t feel confident in our relationship. Now she does. I promise you, I’ll watch out for her, I won’t let matters get to a point where – “
“And Dad said Grandma is funding you. Because she wants to get Mayor Hamilton out of office over what he did to Carl and Elizabeth and Cory.”
“Do you blame her? Your grandmother lost a huge chunk of her family.”
“Because Carl skipped the country to avoid going to jail.”
Grant spread his arms. “You won’t catch me defending him.”
“But, you’re taking Grandma’s side! Grandma doesn’t believe Dad when he says Carl kidnapped Lorna or that they’re all really still alive. Do you agree with that?”
“Not really. I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion, to tell you the truth. All I’m doing is – “
“He’ll fight dirty.” Kirkland abruptly changed the subject. “Mr. Hamilton. He won’t hold back this time like he did before. Not if Grandma is gunning for him.”
“No. I agree. I doubt that he will.”
“And you’re okay with it? Okay with every lousy thing you ever did getting dredged up again?”
“The only person whose opinion matters to me, Kirk, is you. And you already know everything.”
“Do I?” Kirkland demanded. “Do I?”
Just as Marley – with Sarah in tow – walked through the door.
“Sarah,” Donna repeated, a knot of dread settling in her stomach.
“Yes,” Iris drawled. “From what I’ve been led to understand – though goodness knows, your daughter has practically erected a moat to keep me from speaking freely with the girl – the father-to-be is out of the picture. So Marley has ever so magnanimously stepped up and offered my own flesh and blood room and board – as if Sarah were some Dickensian orphan requiring of charity.”
“Marley has always been big-hearted,” Donna defended. “Often to her own detriment.”
“Well, I assure you, she is clearly villain and not victim in this scenario. She has utterly isolated Sarah from her family. She has convinced the befuddled child that Marley is the sole person in the entirety of Bay City meriting her trust and confidence. All in the interest of coercing my great-grandchild out of Sarah’s arms and into her own.”
“Did Marley admit that to you?”
“She needn’t. Unlike you, Donna, I am capable of recalling the past long enough to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself. This is precisely the same maneuver she attempted to blind Olivia with some twenty plus years ago.”
“What does Marley need with Sarah’s child? She has Bridget and Michele to raise.”
“You,” Iris noted pointedly. “Also had your chance to damage several offspring. Yet, here you are, salivating for yet another grab at the brass ring of parenthood, and willing to do just about anything to get it.”
“How would you know – “
“This may be a large house. But, trust me, my dear, voices nevertheless carry.” Iris made a face of distaste. And it wasn’t in relation to her poached egg.
Donna pushed the stomach-churning implications of Iris’ insinuation out of her mind – and made a point of making sure her and Matthew’s bedroom door was locked at all times from now on – to get back to what Iris had accused Marley of plotting. Donna said, “I can’t believe Grant would ever entertain the idea of raising a child who wasn’t his.”
“If Marley didn’t bother filling Jamie in twenty years ago that she was acquiring them an illegally-gotten baby, what in the world makes you think she’d enlighten Grant this time around?”
“Jamie was willing to accept a child that wasn’t biologically his. After all,” no matter how serious the situation, Donna couldn’t resist getting this one dig in. “Mac treated him like he was his very own, didn’t he?”
“My father had an unfortunate penchant for unpedigreed strays.” Iris sniffed. “Like your husband, for instance.”
“Mac Cory was a magnanimous man. Grant, on the other hand, would never stand for it.”
“Why not?” Iris argued reasonably. “After all, Spencer put up with his own mongrel.”
“There never was any accounting for Spencer’s taste.” Again, Donna couldn’t help observing to the woman who’d nearly made a fool of herself trying to get Grant’s father to marry her, when he clearly never had any intention of doing so.
“No,” Iris’ gaze drifted out the window in the direction of the Harrison house where Alice Frame – Alice Frame, of all people! What precisely did she posses that Iris lacked? – was apparently currently ensconced. “There never was, at that.”
“Spencer had his reasons for claiming Ryan. None of them apply to Grant agreeing to play Daddy to some bastard Marley picks up off the street.”
“I beg your pardon!” Iris huffed. “This bastard you’re referring to is Mackenzie Cory’s first great-grandchild.”
“Actually, that would be Allie’s baby. His name is Hudson, and he is currently living in Springfield, being raised by a completely different family.”
“Exactly!” Iris didn’t skip a beat. “Which means he doesn’t count. Sarah’s child, I assure you, will not suffer the same fate. He will be raised by his own family, under his own roof. He will know exactly who he is and what he represents.”
“To whom?” Donna asked, making it clear precisely what she was implying.
“Not,” Iris said. “To Marley, that’s for certain.”
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