“Hello, Rachel,” a returning from work Iris greeted her stepmother cautiously, certain that Amanda must have come running to Mommy by now with details about her and Iris’ earlier conversation. Iris wasn’t sure how Rachel might react to it. As a result, she was determined not to slip and let on… well, anything, until she’d gotten a better sense of how Rachel planned to launch her counterattack.
Looking up from where she’d been sitting, reading a book in the library, Rachel merely nodded in Iris’ direction, then returned to the task at hand.
That came rather unexpected. Unless it was actually part of Rachel’s plot to throw Iris off-guard. Well, two could play that game as well as one.
Iris smiled pleasantly, and took the seat across from Rachel. “What are you reading?” she inquired politely.
Rachel lifted the cover so that Iris might get a peek: A Journalist’s Diary of Eastern Europe.
“Elliot’s book?” Iris managed to mention her ex-husband’s name without a trace of inflection. “What in the world prompted you to unearth that old relic?”
“Just searching for some insight,” Rachel said pointedly, finally deigning to look up. “On current events.”
“Oh, I doubt you’ll find any in there. Elliot was a terrible prognosticator, I’m afraid. Nearly all the predictions he made as to the future ended up subverted by history.”
“I wouldn’t say that. The players are more or less still the same. Merely the uniforms have been changed. I’ll grant you, there was a game attempt to make it appear like there’s a new world order on the march. But, it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Everything is exactly the same as it’s always been. In Eastern Europe,” Rachel clarified, lest Iris accidentally misconstrue her meaning.
“Is that book even still in print?” Iris wondered. “My goodness. Well, I guess these days, the digital age makes it possible for every title in creation to stay permanently in the public eye. I see that Felicia has gone ahead and turned all of her titles into ebooks.”
“I understand she’s doing quite well with them.”
“How wonderful to hear. Especially since I was just going through a list the editorial department sent me of Cory titles they recommend we scan and send right back out into circulation. One of them particularly caught my eye. An old thriller that I’m told we still get regular requests for: Harry Must Die.”
Despite the nonchalant way in which Iris let drop that tidbit, Rachel realized exactly where it was aimed, how, and why.
If Iris thought that bringing up the manuscript that had, in a roundabout way, led to Rachel and Mac’s first break up, her relationship with Mitch, not to mention Mac finding out – in court, of all places – that he wasn’t Matthew’s biological father….
“I gather our truce is over then?” Rachel closed her book.
“Did we ever truly have one?” Iris cooed.
“I let you into this house.”
“My father’s house.”
“That he bought for me.”
“If Daddy were still alive, he would have welcomed me home with open arms.”
“If you hadn’t broken his heart so many times, maybe your daddy would still be alive,” Rachel bit back, knowing there was nothing crueler she could have said, not particularly caring by this point.
Iris didn’t blink. Concrete evidence that she’d been wounded beyond the power of a snippy retort. She merely stood up, somewhat shakily, and turned to leave. The last thing Iris said to Rachel was, “I believe it was Oscar Wilde who observed: To lose one spouse is a tragedy. Two and it begins to look like carelessness.”
“Did Jen get her transplant yet?” Steven pounced on Jamie as soon as his father got home, barely waiting for Jamie to pay the babysitter or walk her to the door.
“No.” Jamie hung up his jacket and immediately tromped up the stairs, peeking into the girls’ rooms, making sure they were both asleep.
“Why not?” Steven hissed, keeping his voice down so as not to disturb the babies.
“How did you hear about it?” Jamie shut Mackenzie’s door gently and turned to go back downstairs, Steven dogging his footsteps on every stair.
“Amanda. I tried calling the hospital, looking for you, but they said you were on your way home, so I came here instead.”
“We’ve still got a lot of red tape to untangle before Mr. Johnson’s bone marrow is available for transplant.”
“That makes no sense. He’s a vegetable. He’s got no more say in the matter.”
“Which actually, in some ways, makes things worse. He can’t give permission now.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. What about all that crap about signing the box on your driver’s license to prove you’re a donor? Isn’t that supposed to be permission?”
“Horace didn’t do that.”
“But, he was listed with the national registry. Amanda said that’s how they even knew about Jen in the first place, her name pinged when they entered his data.”
“Yes. Signing up for the Donate Life Registry is considered explicit legal consent.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well, to start with, there are a lot of ethical considerations when taking organs or tissue from the brain-dead. It’s not like having a cadaver there at your disposal.”
“So the hospital would prefer to have more cadavers on their hands by not doing Jen’s procedure?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m just telling you, it’s a gray area. But, frankly, the biggest problem we’re facing right now is that Horace Johnson’s not quite dead yet body also happens to be evidence in a crime. The police coroner is going to want it.”
“Dude was shot in the head. Last time I checked, bone marrow in your hip didn’t carry either gunpowder residue or blood splatter patterns. Didn’t take fingerprints, either. How about they hand over what Jen needs, and do whatever they want with the rest?”
Jamie paused at the swinging door to the kitchen, turning to face his son. “When did you become a forensic expert?”
“When I was nine and you got me that microscope, hoping to turn me into Dr. Frame Jr. I read every biology book I could get my hands on – before figuring out most of it was guesswork, voodoo, and leeches. That included your medical books, and a bunch of forensic stuff, too.”
“Stuff you just still happen to remember over a decade later?”
“Have we met, Dad?”
“Yeah,” Jamie said slowly. “Yeah, son, we have.” And then he couldn’t help adding, “By the way, where were you when Amanda called to tell you about Horace?”
“So what do you think?” Kirkland asked Charlie as they left the movie theater, hand in hand.
“It sucked,” she summarized succinctly. “October is supposed to be when all the really gory, scary stuff is released. That was lame.”
“I didn’t mean the movie,” he clarified. “Though, yeah, it was. I meant, what do you think about deferring college for a year and sticking around here?”
“Sticking around here… with you,” she reminded.
“That kind of doesn’t make me feel any less guilty.”
“What the hell do you have to feel guilty about? You didn’t ask me to do this. I wanted to, on my own.”
“And are you still glad you did?”
“Yeah. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“I dunno.” He walked her to the car, then paused, turning around and leaning on the still closed door so they could stand face to face. “I guess I’m worried it’s kind of boring for you. That I’m kind of boring for you.”
“Boring and stupid,” Kirkland counted off on his fingers. “Even better.”
“Haven’t we both had enough excitement for the past year?”
“That was bad exciting. I was thinking: Good exciting.”
“Like what?” she asked, sincerely wanting to know.
Equally as sincerely, he told her. “I’m not sure.”
“Oh, good. Well, that clarifies it.”
“I just… I want to do everything right with you, okay? I don’t want to mess up.”
“How would you mess up?”
“I don’t know that either! I don’t know anything. Except that I love you, and I want to make you happy, and I don’t want you to be sorry you’re with me.”
“You really are a nice guy, you know that, Kirkland Frame?” Charlie said, leaning over to kiss him. Without ever exactly answering any of his questions.
“Any word?” Morgan asked sympathetically when he passed through the hospital waiting area, only to find Amanda sitting there, alone.
She shook her head. “Kevin is still on the phone with Mel Boudreau in Springfield. She was his opposing counsel in Hudson’s custody case, but she’s a doctor and a lawyer, plus her brother is a cop. The one who found Johnson, as a matter of fact. Kevin thinks maybe she’ll be able to help.”
“Well, if you need me, I’m here all night. Have scalpel, ready to cut.”
“Thanks,” Amanda told Morgan absently.
He wasn’t satisfied. Instead of moving on, as was clearly the point of Amanda’s curt dismissal, Morgan took the seat next to her. He wasn’t touching Amanda or imposing on her personal space in any way. But, there was also no way for her to ignore him, either.
She turned her head. “What, Morgan?”
“How you doing?” he emphasized the you.
“How do you think I’m doing? My stepdaughter might die, and my husband is losing his mind trying to keep that from happening.”
“I’d say,” Morgan looked Amanda up and down critically. “You’re… pretty happy right about now?”
“Excuse me?” Her words took the place of a slap to the face. “What did you just say?”
“I said you look pretty damn happy.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“Oh, come on, Amanda, admit it. This is as good as it gets for you. The only time Kevin ever remembers you exist is when he’s in the middle of a crises.”
“Where are you getting your information?”
“From you! You told me yourself the only reason he married you was because he was suspended from practicing law for six months and couldn’t think of anything better to do while he waited for his sentence to be up.”
“I never said that. You said that.”
“And then he only finally moved in with you after Spencer died, and he wanted company for his grandmother.”
“You are completely twisting what happened.”
“He wanted to adopt a kid, and he needed a wife to complete the package.”
“And now you’re getting your chronology wrong, to boot.”
“Elizabeth accuses him of rape, and her half-sister defends him. What could be better than that?”
“I defended him because he didn’t do it. Even Elizabeth admitted as much eventually.”
“And now his daughter is sick, and he needs a shoulder to cry on.”
“I’m his wife. That’s my job.”
“And what’s his job in all of this? Have you even told Kevin about Iris all but stealing your company out from under you?”
“How – How did you know about that?”
“I read the papers. I can put two and two together. Especially when it comes to people I care about,” he raised a hand, stroking Amanda’s cheek with his palm.
She jerked back. “Kevin’s been a little too preoccupied lately to be keeping tabs on the stock-market. But, it’s nice to know your medical hobby here doesn’t get in the way of your day-trading.”
“I pay attention to what goes on around me, Amanda. And not only to things that affect me directly. I know how serious Jen’s condition is. Of course, Kevin is upset. But, you’ve got some major stuff going down, too. If he can’t be here for you, at least know that I am. The same way you were for me with Lorna,” Morgan said and rose to go, leaving Amanda to sit there. And to remember.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the strict parent?” Doug poked his head into Chase’s home office. He stood covered in soap suds from head to toe after an hour of wrestling first Ike, then Milagros from bathtub to bed. Several times. “I’m the fun dad, remember?”
Chase glanced up briefly from his computer and over his shoulder. “Sure looks like they had their fun with you.”
Doug walked over to check out what Chase was working on. “Kevin’s daughter?”
“Getting there, I think. I might be able to get an injunction for the extraction even before Johnson dies, on humanitarian grounds, using the presumption that he would have wanted it, since he signed up for the registry in the first place.”
“Do you believe that?”
“From what Kevin told me? Not for a minute. But, I am very capable of filing papers I don’t personally endorse. It’s one of my more marketable skills.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Doug bent over to kiss him. “I prefer your less marketable ones.”
“Thanks.” Chase kissed him back, then flopped deeper in his chair. “And thank you for being so understanding about the late night. I know putting the kids to bed is usually my job.”
“What, you think you’re the only one imagining yourself in Kevin’s shoes right about now? Anything happens to either of our guys, we’ll be in the same boat. Someday it might be you and I down on our knees, begging their respective deadbeat dads for a tissue sample. I want as many precedents in the legal system as you can cram through.”
“I love you so damn much,” Chase sighed. “It’s unseemly, really.”
“I’ll let you know when you’ve crossed the line,” Doug straightened up and winked.
“You always do.” Chase was about to get back to work, when an e-mail message from Rachel Hutchins popped up on his computer screen.
Doug noticed. “You two forwarding each other cute pictures of cats now?”
“Nothing that evil yet.” Chase read the e-mail. “She wants us to turn on KBAY-TV.”
“Oh, that’s not weird at all,” Doug said, even as he did as ordered.
Just in time to catch a live press conference being given by Grant Harrison – announcing his run for mayor.
Doug shrugged dismissively. “You’ve beat him before. You can take him again.”
But, Chase shook his head, concerned. “No. They wouldn’t interrupt programming for just a regular announcement. He promised them something more. Something worth a Breaking News ticker.”
And here it came….
After the traditional banalities proclaiming his love of God, country, and Bay City – not necessarily in that order, and, even more broadly explaining all the wonderful programs he planned to implement once installed in the Mayor’s office... as soon as he got rid of all the problems Chase had implemented, whether they appeared to be working or not; it was the principle of the thing - Grant got to the real prime of his time. He explained his noble reasons for deciding to throw his hat into the ring once more. Because Grant felt Bay City deserved a mayor who was unabashedly open and honest and forthright.
“You give out your email to private citizens,” Doug indicated the computer. “How much more open can you be?”
Eyes peeled to the screen, Chase drawled, “I suspect Mr. Harrison is about to tell us.”
As if on cue, his opponent dutifully elaborated, “It has come to my attention recently that Mayor Hamilton is grossly misrepresenting himself, not only to us, his constituency, but within his base of support, and on a personal level, as well.”
“Maybe he’ll ask to see your birth certificate,” Doug smirked.
But, Chase was in no mood for jokes. As soon as Grant triumphantly produced the recording device – with amplifier attached for the press corps’ convenience – Chase realized what this was about. And how it had come to be.
Even before Grant played the soundtrack of Chase seemingly proclaiming, “You are very beautiful, Lila. You are the most beautiful, kindest, most loving woman I know. Right now, I am exactly where I should be, with whom I should be. Other people may not understand or approve, but, you now what? To hell with them. I don’t claim to be gay. Your ex-mother-in-law, when I came to serve the warrant for Carl’s arrest, she asked me if I was pleased with myself. And I answered, yeah, I usually am. Yes, absolutely, yes, Lila.”
“Marley and Grant aren’t home,” Sarah awkwardly explained to Donna. “Neither are the girls. They all went out somewhere.”
“I know that. They’re at the television station. Grant is announcing his candidacy for Mayor.”
“He is?” Sarah’s eyes widened.
“Indeed. And Marley, Bridget and Michele are all there, Uncle Grant’s living props. An ode to his wholesomeness. Bay City’s future first family.”
“Grant’s family,” Sarah repeated.
“I knew they wouldn’t be home. I came to see you, Sarah. May I come in?”
“Why?” Sarah wondered.
“I’d like to speak with you.”
“Look, Mrs. Cory,” Sarah stayed pressed as she was to the barely open door. “I know Marley hasn’t been letting you see much of Midget lately, but, I really don’t want to get in the middle of it.”
“I’m not here to speak about my grandchildren. Well, not about Michele and Bridget, in any case. Please, Sarah, this will only take a few moments.”
“I don’t think so.”
Donna sighed in exasperation. This was what she got for being nice. Well, so be it. She straightened up, dropping the sycophancy that didn’t come naturally to her in any case, and reverted to a deportment Donna felt more comfortable with. She told Sarah, “I came to discuss your child. More specifically, the father of your child.”
Sarah didn’t blink. Like Iris, it was proof positive the target had been struck. Donna didn’t feel the need to wait any longer for an invitation. She let herself in, entering the living room and waiting patiently for Sarah to bring up the rear.
“I know,” Donna told the girl. “I know who your baby’s father is.”
“I am not blind, Sarah. Nor am I senile, regardless of what someone of your age might think. I am perfectly capable of putting the pieces together. The question is, what are we going to do about this?”
“We?” A still shocked Sarah parroted numbly.
“You can’t possibly be thinking of letting the situation go on as is indefinitely!”
“Well, no, not indefinitely, but…”
“I realize Marley has indicated that you are welcome to bring up this child under her roof. I am certain you realize why that would be simply untenable. Grant would never stand for it.”
“I know,” Sarah said miserably. “He’s made that perfectly clear.”
“And even Marley has her limits. You have no right to ask this of her.”
“I didn’t ask. She offered.”
“My daughter has many lovely qualities. And usually, her insistence on seeing the best in people, in giving them chance after chance after chance, is one of them. But, she can also take open-mindedness too far and continue extending an unwarranted kindness to her own detriment. I have no intention of your taking advantage of her in this manner.”
“I’m not! I wouldn’t! Marley wants to help me with the baby!”
“What choice have you left her? Marley would never turn her back on an innocent infant, especially not one as closely connected to her household as yours will be. But, be reasonable. Please. After Marley’s heartbreak over being unable to bear her own child, do you truly think she needs or deserves a daily reminder of her failure in the form of yours?”
“I don’t want to hurt Marley.”
“Good. Good, at least now we’re getting somewhere. The fact is, Sarah, I didn’t come here merely to tell you that I knew about your problem. I came to offer a solution.”
“I don’t think there is one,” Sarah confessed tearfully. “This is all such a mess. I didn’t want to do this on my own. I thought – “
“You thought you were well on your way to a picture-perfect family,” Donna guessed cynically. “Just like the ridiculous portrait Grant arranged for my cameras today. Well, you wouldn’t be the first woman to believe a child was the sure-fire way to a man’s heart; or at least his promise of devotion – only to realize too late you were grossly mistaken.”
“I was an idiot,” Sarah agreed.
“No doubt,” Donna got down to business. “But, the time for recrimination is over. You can’t go back and undo the past. The only path currently under your control is the one to the future. And not even so much yours, as your child’s. You must do what’s best for him or her, irrespective of your own personal feelings.”
“That’s what Grant said,” she admitted.
“Huh! A modicum of sense from the good Senator! Who would have guessed it at this late date? If only he’d taken his own advice…” Donna shook her head. “No matter. In this one particular case, he is absolutely correct. Your child needs to be provided for, first and foremost. And you are clearly in no position to do so. Grant won’t let you get away with using his home, and I refuse to allow you to exploit Marley more than you already have. So this house is out of the question. Your only option is to find a suitable adoptive family. One with a mother and a father who both not only want your child, but are mature enough to not make a mess of rearing it. I should like,” Donna considered now probably would be as good of a time as any to soften her rhetoric just a touch. “You to consider Matthew and myself.”
Now Sarah did blink. “You and Matt?”
“Yes. It’s perfect, don’t you see? We’re all family, aren’t we? Family helps each other. Let Matthew and I help you and your child. It’s the least we can do, considering.”
“I – I don’t know. I need to think about it. I don’t know what to say.”
“Think about it,” Donna clucked agreeably. “But, don’t take too long. After all, dear, we don’t want matters to get even more complicated than they already are.”
“How would that happen?” Sarah asked suspiciously, sensing she was being threatened, but unsure over precisely what.
“Well, the last thing either of us needs is for sensitive information of this nature to get into the wrong hands, don’t you agree? That would only pull in other parties, each with an opinion and claim, justified or not. A matter this delicate should be handled privately, just between the two of us, mother to mother. It’s the solitary way to insure your secret staying safe. For the baby’s sake. And yours. And, naturally, the father’s.”
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