“Didn’t you get the memo?” Rachel inquired upon finding Russ waiting for her when she got home from her less than productive conversation with Chase.
“There was a memo?” Russ kissed his ex-wife on the cheek, took Rachel’s coat, hung it up solicitously, and escorted her into the library.
“The one that outlined how Rachel Davis Cory Hutchins is Bay City’s newly designated pariah, responsible for everything from aiding and abetting unrepentant criminals’ flights from justice, to the kidnapping of innocent young brides and mothers, to freezing any and all conversations in their tracks merely by entering a room. I’m pretty sure a copy was dispatched to every man, woman and child in the county.”
“Oh. That memo.” Russ shrugged. “My mother taught me not to believe everything I read.”
“Somehow, I suspect that when it came to me, Mary would have made an exception.”
“She wasn’t a big Ancient History fan.” Russ sat down across from Rachel. “Neither am I.”
“How about Current Events, then?”
“I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that there is more than one side to every story.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “Our marriage, for instance? Is there a version that doesn’t involve my cheating on you and passing off another man’s son as your own?”
“That’s how the story ends,” Russ agreed. “But, somewhere in there, I suspect there’s a chapter that includes my taking responsibility for not being able to provide you with what you needed.”
“That is ludicrously generous of you.”
“I’ve made my share of mistakes, Rachel. Marital and otherwise. The best I can hope for is some reciprocal generosity from a wide variety of parties.”
“You are the only one who didn’t feel the need to say I Told You So over Carl.”
“Well, for one thing, I didn’t. Tell you so, that is. Somehow, you managed to select your next husband without any input whatsoever from your first. And secondly, I repeat, there are a lot of people who would deem a few of my crimes far worse than his.”
“Sharlene…” Rachel began, reluctant to articulate the details.
“Yes,” Russ said, grateful that she didn’t.
“Well, thank you, in any case. Whatever your motives, thank you for not coming to harangue or accuse or, worst of all, patronize me.” Rachel smiled. “Even if Alice did send you.”
“Alice? No.” Russ shook his head. “Why would Alice…”
“Your sister was here earlier. Bearing a message from Lucas and Felicia. Apparently, two of my dearest friends have decided I am responsible for plotting with Carl to have their daughter – also my own son’s wife; but I guess that’s not relevant – kidnapped and held hostage away from her grieving family. I assumed you were Alice’s way of making sure I hadn’t been pushed completely over the edge in the face of her accusation. She is ever so considerate that way.”
Russ suppressed a small smile at the sarcasm. “I’m sorry to say I’m here completely of my own volition. I thought you could use a friend.”
“Thank you.” Rachel repeated, leaning over to take his hand in hers. “I am very, very grateful. At this rate, I suspect you might be the only one I have left.”
Grant thanked God – or whoever looked after scoundrels like him in their time of need – that, by the time Marley, after making sure Bridget and Michele couldn’t hear them, finally unloaded everything she felt about Donna and Matt adopting Sarah’s child, Grant had bought himself enough time following Sarah dumping the same information on him to fully process the news. As a result, he didn’t look or sound nearly as utterly stricken as he actually felt about the possibility.
Instead, he was able to merely nod thoughtfully as Marley went on and on, growing all but hysterical, without giving away the fact that no matter how much she objected to the development, it was still nothing compared to the iron band of pain currently squeezing Grant’s head, heart and chest nearly to the breaking point.
“Sarah won’t listen to me,” Marley pleaded. “I’ve tried everything I could to talk her out of it. She says her mind is made up. I don’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“What does Sarah give as her reason?” Grant inquired, desperate to hear the answer himself, suspecting that he already knew the truth. Sarah was doing this for one motive and one motive only. She wanted to force Grant to step up. To claim his child and forbid her giving it away to Donna. She was gambling that Grant wouldn’t sacrifice his own flesh and blood for anything. Or anyone. And Sarah was right. Except for her. No matter how much he wanted his baby. No matter how much he loathed Donna, he loved and wanted to protect Sarah more. He would do anything to prevent her from throwing her life away. For either him or for their child. It was one thing for him to sic Iris on the case. It was quite another for him to actually interfere personally.
“She says she doesn’t want the baby going to strangers. That this way she’ll be able to know that it’s alright, without the baby knowing about her. That Donna agreed to keep it a secret.”
“How is that possible?” Grant had obviously given this a lot of thought himself. “Too many people know that Sarah is pregnant. When Donna and Matt suddenly show up with a baby… This is Bay City. Keeping mouths shut is not our strong-point.”
“I told her all that. But, she thinks that since everyone involved has a vested interest in keeping quiet….”
“Sarah thinks Iris has a vested interest in doing anything to help Donna?”
“Sarah claims she can take care of Iris.”
Grant snorted. “Famous last words.”
“It doesn’t matter. Iris doesn’t matter. What matters is Sarah and her baby. I tried to explain to her how difficult it would be, keeping her distance. The baby would be, what, Sarah’s second cousin? Something like that? I mean, Matt is Dennis’ uncle, so…”
“What do Dennis and Olivia have to say about this?” Grant figured it was time to send for reinforcements.
“They don’t know,” Marley admitted.
“They don’t know? Their daughter is pregnant and planning to give her baby away and they don’t know?”
“I promised Sarah I wouldn’t tell them.”
“Wasn’t that before Donna got involved?”
“One thing has nothing to do with the other. Sarah trusts me. I don’t want to do anything to betray that trust.”
“She clearly doesn’t trust you to know that Donna would make an absolutely horrific mother! Forget about Donna’s many, many wonderful personal qualities, the tendency to ignore her biological children or get them killed, not to mention the past suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns. How about the fact that, when we were talking about the possibility of adopting Sarah’s child, we decided we were too old. You and I. If you and I are too old to raise an infant, what does that make Donna? Frankly, the best thing that could happen to Sarah’s offspring is for Donna to shrivel up and drop dead immediately after signing the papers.”
“Would you talk to her?” Marley asked.
“Talk to who? Donna?”
“You want me to talk to Sarah?”
“She won’t listen to me. She doesn’t believe I have an objective perspective on Donna.”
“Of course you don’t have an objective perspective on Donna. That’s the point. You have the best perspective. You’re the only person on Earth who actually knows what it’s like to be her child!”
“Maybe if you could talk to Sarah about how it feels for you, living in the same town, being in the same family, seeing Kirkland call another man Dad.”
“Sarah knows how I feel about Kirkland calling another man Dad.” Then, lest Marley grew suspicious, Grant added, “Everyone in Bay City knows how I feel about Kirkland calling another man Dad.”
“Maybe she does, but she doesn’t understand how that applies to her. If she goes through with this, she’ll find herself in the same boat. Talk to her, Grant, please. You might be the only person capable of talking her out of this.”
When Doug poked his head into Chase’s office and saw his partner sitting hunched over behind his desk, head buried in his hands, Doug understood no words could possibly help the situation.
Instead, he merely crossed the room and began to massage Chase’s shoulders, waiting until the other man turned to kiss the back of Doug’s palm before venturing, “I take it Mrs. Hutchins was less than pleased with your response to her offer?”
Chase craned his neck to look at Doug. “I never liked politics, anyway.”
Doug knelt until they were face to face. “That’s why you’re so good at it. You care more about getting things done, than about winning popularity contests.”
“Fact is, I could get a lot more done in the private sector than I ever could in office. This pandering and begging and compromising… not my style.
“My father will be crushed,” Doug teased. “You were his last hope for a family dynasty. He gave up on me following in his footsteps long ago.”
“Tell Eduardo to hang on. Milagros is showing definite filibuster potential. And Ike has charisma to spare. He’ll get his legacy politicians yet.”
“You’ve done a lot of good for Bay City,” Doug reminded in all seriousness. “There is a lot of good you could do still. And you are certainly a better mayor than Harrison could ever hope to be. He’ll have us back in debt before completing the oath of office.”
“So I’ve got your vote?” Chase double-checked, eyes dancing. “Even if you don’t believe in half of what I advocate?”
“I believe in you,” Doug reiterated. “And you’re the one who taught me to ignore everything a politician says, and just look at what they do before pulling the lever.”
“So one down, how many more hundreds of thousands to go?”
“You’ll win them over. You’ve still got an entire year, and now that the presidential race is out of the way, people will finally be ready to listen again.”
“Oh, Grant and Rachel gave them a pretty earful to listen to already.” Chase noted, “Of course, I don’t plan on dignifying their tactics with a response.”
“Never doubted it.”
“And I am most certainly not planning on making Lila look bad in an attempt to make myself look better.”
“Never doubted that, either.”
“Their charges could hurt, though.” Chase finally admitted, as much to himself as to Doug. “They could really, really hurt me. Not just with my base, as Grant so insultingly insists on calling them. But, with everyone.”
“What are you going to do?”
“What can I do? My only option is to hit them back harder than they’ve hit me.”
Doug nodded, agreeing in principle, but... “How? The problem with Harrison is all his peccadilloes are already out. The jail time, the playing dead, Marley, Kirkland, Donna, Spencer… We’ve got no surprises to spring.”
“With Harrison, maybe not. But, with his power behind the throne….”
“Rachel? You’re going to open fire on a grieving widow? While she’s beating her breast over you killing her husband and, more importantly, her children? Risky move.”
“Not exactly,” Chase said. He reached for his phone, dialed a number and, after a few minutes of perfunctory pleasantries, requested, “Do me a favor. Messenger me over a copy of the Horace Johnson file, would you?”
“Huh?” Allie wrinkled her nose when she and Zeno walked out of the farmhouse to find that her car had apparently been hit again. Only this time, instead of red spray-paint and profanity to deface it, there was merely a legal-sized manila envelope stuck beneath her windshield wiper. “What the…” Allie looked around. She didn’t see anyone who could have left it.
Zeno snatched up the envelope before she could get to it, holding it out of Allie’s reach. “You sure you want to open this?”
“It’s weird. Where did it come from?”
“Anyplace. You’ve got people coming and going here all the time.”
“Yeah. But, why would anyone who belongs here leave you a note? If they had something to say, they could just tell you. Or me. How about you let me ask around, see if they might have any idea who left this?”
“Okay.” Allie shrugged, then held out her hand. “I still want to open it, though.”
“Why not?” she repeated. “What do I have to be afraid of? I’m sick of being afraid.”
Zeno considered her words, then handed over the package without further argument. “Just be careful.”
“You think it might blow up on me? Anthrax? What?”
“Be careful,” he repeated.
Allie slit open the top with her finger, feigning indifference, although even she couldn’t disguise her obvious relief as the envelope turned out merely to contain a few folded up sheets of newspaper clippings, and some blue, pink and white dried flowers that fluttered to the ground.
“What is it?” Zeno peered over Allie’s shoulder.
“It’s… They… These,” Allie checked each sheet to make sure. “These are all about… Gregory. Two summers ago. When he and I… When he died.”
“Oh,” Zeno said.
“I don’t get it,” Allie said. “What’s this supposed to mean? How am I supposed to react to this? What do they want me to do?”
Zeno squatted, picking up the stray petals that had fallen into the dirt and studying them closely. He said, “I think these are Asterids.”
“Most people call them… Most people know them as… Forget-Me-Nots.”
The next morning, Nasser El-Gamal made no pretense of explaining how he happened to know that Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop were interested in a sand-boarding overnight outing in the desert, and Frankie and Cass didn’t bother to inquire regarding his prescience.
They simply climbed into the covered jeep rented to take them out there, expressing an equal lack at surprise over the fact that El-Gamal was, as always, accompanying them on their journey.
After a few hours of air-conditioned splendor – during which time Cass and Frankie suspected they’d heard every English-language Dubai rock band, twice, over the jeep’s radio –they arrived many miles outside of city limits, into a pristine desert that truly did take your breath away. Not only with its beauty, but its vastness, as well. It felt like they were the only people left on earth.
Well, save for the chef who’d come to prepare their gourmet dinner, the violinist who’d be serenading them throughout said dinner, and the belly dancer there for entertainment and “anything else you may wish,” they were both assured with a wink. Those three had come earlier, in a separate jeep, and had everything set up, including the sand boarding equipment, by the time the Winthrops got there.
The titular activity proved to be exactly as advertised. For close to an hour, first Frankie, then Cass strapped their feet atop a wooden board and proceeded to careen down a series of dunes, attempting to remain upright the entire time. Failing. Learning that Anakin Skywalker had been right. Sand really did get everywhere. And it chafed, too.
Fortunately, the jeep even came with a portable shower and water tank they could set up in order to clean themselves off prior to supper.
Then, also as promised, with El-Gamal and their driver/security man standing off at a discrete distance so as to give Cass and Frankie their privacy, they dined upon a Bedouin delicacy known as Stuffed Camel. Initially, Cass and Frankie assumed it was merely a colorful metaphor to honor the land’s earlier primary form of transportation.
No, they were informed. Stuffed Camel was prepared by stuffing cooked eggs into fish, stuffing the fish into a cooked chicken, stuffing the chicken into a roasted sheep, and stuffing the sheep into, well, a camel. Frankie swallowed hard and begged off on (multiple) vegetarian grounds.
She was promptly feted with Mehalabiya, a pudding sprinkled with rosewater and pistachios. That no camels were harmed in the making of. Followed by hemp stuffed grape vine leaves. Very addictive, Frankie guessed.
It wasn’t until midnight that the multiple courses and drinks stopped coming, the chef and the violinist and the belly dancer (who’d looked kind of sad when they’d declined her “anything else you may wish” overtures) packed up and went home, and Frankie and Cass were escorted to their tent, already all erected for their overnight stay. (Though to say that the domicile into which they were lead was a tent was the same as saying that the Taj Mahal was a house. Or that Cass Winthrop was good with women.)
He and Frankie passed the time waiting for their guards to doze off by appreciating the King-sized air mattress they’d been given, as well as the silk sheets, pajamas and robes that came with it. They split a bottle of champagne from the mini-bar, stashed a few of the Cuban cigars to give away as gifts later, and emptied the overnight bag they’d brought to fill it with water (and, okay, more champagne). Cass and Frankie really didn’t plan to be out in the desert that long. Their sole destination was back to Dubai and the American Embassy before El-Gamal and his Thug Friend realized what hit them.
“Ready?” Cass asked Frankie. Out loud, this time.
“Let’s roll,” she confirmed.
They snuck out of their tent and towards the jeep. On the count of three, Cass opened the driver’s side door, grabbing Thug by the lapels and flinging him out of the air-conditioned cabin. Frankie did the same on the passenger side with a sleeping El-Gamal.
Within seconds, they’d jumped into the jeep, locked the doors, and, even as El-Gamal pounded on the window, Cass was turning the key, flooding the pedal to the metal and taking off into the Dubai desert.
Headed for home.
“Don’t,” Iris advised Donna calmly, having tracked her nemesis down to KBAY-TV.
“I beg your pardon?” Donna suspected she knew exactly what this was about, but she was hardly about to offer Iris the tactical advantage of admitting it first.
“I would advise you to refrain from making any plans to adopt my granddaughter’s as yet unborn child.”
“Those plans have already been made. And finalized. As with most things, I’m afraid,” Donna indicated Iris’ wardrobe, to start. “You are tragically out of date.”
“Sarah will change her mind,” Iris predicted. “I’ll make certain of it.”
Donna smiled. “If Marley – who has given Sarah both hearth and heart these past few months – wasn’t up to the task, what chance does a virtual stranger like you – “
“I am her grandmother!”
“Her jailbird grandmother.”
“Perhaps Sarah and your grandchildren could start a support group.”
“You’ve had barely any contact with Sarah from the day she was born.”
“I’m sure she simply wanted to duplicate the experience Dennis went through growing up. After all, your abandonment served him ever so well….”
“I wanted matters to be different with Sarah. I wanted to save her from reliving the pain that I went through – “
“Reading Dennis’ letters begging Mummy to come home while sitting on a beach along the Riviera?”
“Perhaps my personal correspondence got mixed up with yours at the hotel,” Iris drawled. “It would be such a shame if any of that, not to mention your fragile mental history, complete with most recent suicide attempt, were to find its way in front of a judge. Honestly, Donna, how can you possibly think anyone in their right mind would approve your being handed an innocent child?”
“As long as the biological mother approves – “
“What about the father?” Iris played her trump card. “The law requires his cooperation, as well. And since Sarah refuses to divulge that critical tidbit of information, your quest is doomed before it even begins. Surely, after losing your little urchin from years back, you, more than anyone, know the danger of embarking on an adoption without every i dotted and t crossed.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Donna corrected smugly, happy to know yet another thing that Iris didn’t. “I know who the father is, and I shall make my own arrangements with him.”
Iris wavered just a little. “You’re bluffing.”
“I am not. Though, under the circumstances, I would advise you to step away. Truly, a public revelation of the truth would hurt you most of all.”
“How so, pray tell?”
“Simple,” Donna’s resemblance to the Cheshire Cat in this instance was unmistakable. “Sarah’s reasoning for keeping his name a secret has to do not with his claim to the child, but his family’s.”
“Why would that be a negative for me? If the father’s family would object to Sarah’s child being given up for adoption – especially to you – then we are natural allies. Please, before you attempt to pull the wool over my eyes, do attempt to get your stories straight. This feeble effort is an insult to both of us. Well, primarily to me.”
“Because. Should the truth come out, then your nemesis for custody of Sarah’s child wouldn’t be me.”
“That’s all I’m asking for.”
“It would be Rachel.”
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