“You should have seen her face,” Donna crowed to Matt. “Iris! With her mouth hanging open! Shocked! Stunned! She never saw it coming!”
“You told her about Steven being the baby’s father?” Matt winced, declining to share in his wife’s euphoria. “I thought Sarah said – “
“Oh, Iris will never let the cat out of the bag.”
“Why would you assume that? Sarah warned that if you told anyone about Steven, the adoption is off.”
“It’s not in Iris’ interests,” Donna tried to make him see. “Even she realizes that now. After I laid out all the facts. Think about it, Matthew. Sarah doesn’t want her child. Previously, Iris believed that as the closest interested relative, she would be able to petition for custody. But, Steven being the father changes everything. He won’t take it. Grant has made it clear he won’t allow Marley to do so. Jamie has two little girls of his own to take care of. Amanda shudders at the thought of children – no matter how enthusiastic Kevin might have been. That leaves you, as Steven’s uncle, and me as his grandmother. We are much more likely to receive guardianship of this child than Iris on her own. And if not us, that only leaves Rachel. Iris would never, ever stand for that. Who knows, Rachel might name the boy after Carl! Something to remember him by!”
“I don’t think that’s very likely,” Matt mumbled.
“Neither do I,” Donna conceded. “But, it was certainly pleasant to watch Iris’ face as she pondered the possibility.”
“Pissing off Iris,” Matt said. “Is never a good idea.”
“Neither is keeping me from what I deserve.”
“You do deserve this,” Matt agreed. “You do deserve a baby. However, I’m not sure if Sarah’s baby…”
“Sarah’s child will be a blood relation to both of us. It’s what we wanted. It’s a miracle, really. What could be more perfect? It will also be Victoria’s grandchild. Do you know how much that means to me? Not to mention, he’ll be a part of Mac, too. Mac loved you so much. Don’t you think he would have approved of you raising this boy?”
“Did Sarah tell you it was going to be a boy?” Matt wondered.
“No. She says she wishes to wait, be surprised. Terribly inconsiderate, if you ask me. How are we supposed to get a nursery ready, and select a name… I admit, I am a bit put off at Jamie and Lorna swooping in to appropriate Mackenzie the way that they did. It would have been perfect, don’t you think? Boy or girl, we could have started planning for our own little Mackenzie.”
“I – I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Donna. There are still papers to be signed. And, even then, remember what happened with Allie and GQ and Hudson? Nothing is really ever a done deal. Especially as long as Sarah is in town… It’s hard. I mean, look at Grant with Kirkland and Jamie. Or, I can tell you from experience, the years Mitch lived in Bay City and Mac was still alive… That was a tough time for me. I loved Mac, but with Mitch, there was always this pull…”
“That won’t happen with us. Sarah has eschewed an open adoption. We never have to tell this child where it came from.”
“We do,” Matt insisted. “Trust me, we will have to. Eventually. And then for him or her to find out its biological parents were under its nose the entire time… Remember how Marley reacted to learning you were her mother?”
“Vividly.” Donna sniffed. “I was accorded an encore of her perennial snit just the other day.”
“Then you know we’ll have to do it eventually. Before they find out by accident. Like I did.”
“You were practically grown by that time,” Donna waved her fingers dismissively. “Why are we discussing matters that might become pertinent a lifetime from today, instead of focusing on the here and now? Matthew.” She grabbed both his hands in hers. “We’re going to have a baby!”
“Air conditioning,” Cass checked off, both hands on the steering wheel, one foot on the gas pedal. “Enough food and water to last a week. A portable shower, seats that convert into beds. You know what this luxury vehicle could have really used? A GPS system!”
“What good would that have done us?” Frankie countered. “It’s not like if it said: Make a left at the next sand dune, we’d know which one it was talking about.”
“They all do look alike,” Cass agreed, looking out the window to one side. Realizing it looked dishearteningly like the other side.
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” Frankie fought to keep the judgment out of her voice, well aware that their current predicament was as much her fault as his.
“East,” Cass declared authoritatively, indicating the sun just beginning to rise in front of them.
“Is that where we should be going?”
“I have no idea.”
Frankie sighed. “It’s going to get hot soon. No sense running the engine. We should probably pull over somewhere, try to sleep through the day, then start traveling again at night. Save resources.”
Cass nodded, asking flippantly. “You see a valet anywhere?”
“Not a one. And here I thought this was a full-service country.”
“If we make it out alive, I am definitely withholding a Forbes Travel Guide star for this.”
“Marley wanted me to talk to you,” Grant began gingerly. “About your decision to give up the baby to Matt and Donna.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “I thought you made your position perfectly clear when I first told you about it, and all you did was just stare at me for a minute, then turn around and walk away.”
“What did you want me to say?” Grant challenged, harboring his own opinion on the subject.
“I wanted you to tell me how you really feel about it.”
“Not a problem,” Grant acquiesced. “I feel that Donna has proven, over and over again, that she has and always will make an atrocious mother.”
“And that’s it?”
“And that’s it.”
“Marley could have told me that herself. Why did she send you?”
“Because. In addition to placing your child with Donna in particular, I think that finding them a home anywhere in Bay City is a bad idea in general.”
“Why? I think it’s a great idea. That way, I’ll be able to see that he’s okay. Allie and GQ can’t do that. All they get is pictures from Springfield once in a while. I want more than pictures. I want to see for myself.” A sitting Sarah drew her knees up, already in protective mode. “Don’t you want to know that he’s okay?”
“Kirkland is okay,” Grant said. “With Jamie for a father. Kirkland is more than okay. He’s told me so himself on numerous occasions. And, each and every time, it hurts like hell for me to watch him being so Goddamn okay.”
“Well, if you felt that way, why did you give him up then?” Sarah’s taunting tone made it clear she wasn’t merely talking about Kirkland.
“For his own good,’ Grant told Sarah the truth. More than she would ever know. “The same way I agree you giving up this baby is for his own good. But, that doesn’t mean you should also put yourself in the position of being reminded on a daily basis about what you’ve lost.”
“I’m scared,” Sarah told Grant. “I’m scared of just handing him over to somebody else and walking away and never seeing him again.”
“It will be easier that way, I promise you, Sarah.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You should. If there is anyone at all that you should believe on this subject, it should be me.”
“Just because you never want to lay eyes on him, that doesn’t mean I feel the same way. After Hudson was born, Allie didn’t even want to see him. I mean, she ended up not having any choice in the matter, because of how everything happened. But, when she signed the papers, Kevin asked if she wanted to say good-bye, and she didn’t.”
“Less painful that way, I’m sure.”
“But, isn’t it supposed to be painful?” Sarah stressed. “Isn’t giving up your baby supposed to be the hardest thing in the world?”
“The process will be difficult enough, Sarah, without you going out of your way to punish yourself.”
“Don’t I deserve to be punished?”
“What? No! Who said – “
“I never – “
“You said this was all my fault. I lied to you and I tricked you and so I ruined things for everyone. You, me, Marley, the baby… I’m the one who made the mess, so I’m the one who has to clean it up. That’s why I’m doing this. So the baby can have two parents who want him, and so you and Marley…”
“You’re important, too. This will be good for you, not just Marley and I. You’ll be able to go on with your life. You’ll finish school. You’ll fall in love, you’ll get married, you’ll have other children. When the time is right.”
“I’m already in love,” Sarah told Grant plainly. “Just because you were faking it the whole time, didn’t mean I was.”
“I thought you hated me,” Grant sorely wished it were only true. And worked both ways.
“I’m a very good multi-tasker,” Sarah sniffled.
She looked so small, so vulnerable, so… young sitting there, it was all Grant could do to keep from pulling her into his arms, kissing her tears away, reassuring that everything was going to be okay, that Grant would make it okay, no matter what. Which was, he forcibly reminded himself, exactly what he was currently doing. Even if Sarah didn’t see it that way. Especially because she didn’t see it that way.
“You haven’t screwed everything up,” Grant told Sarah the thing she wanted to hear most. Well, the second thing she wanted to hear most. “And what you have screwed up, you are doing everything to fix. Just, please, consider the fact that Donna and Matt may not be the ideal adoptive parents for your baby. If nothing else, look at Donna’s age. You and Steven were close a while back, you have to know how much he still misses Vicky to this day.”
Sarah nodded. “Yeah. He does.”
“Well, you don’t want that happening to your child, do you? Losing their mother when they’re still so young? I remember how I felt when I thought mine had died. It affected every single aspect of my life. My relationship with my father, with my brother, with other women down the road… I never trusted any of them not to leave me. And when it looked like they might, I took desperate, dangerous measures…”
“I would have never left you,” Sarah said. “I would have never let you feel alone or unloved, not for a minute.”
“Oh, Sarah, don’t be silly,” Grant had to laugh. Because the other alternative was crying. “You would have outgrown me faster than… than…” Where was a good metaphor when a man needed one? He indicated the newly tight fit of her peasant blouse. “Than you’re outgrowing your clothes.”
She pulled the garment down and around herself, so Grant could get a good look at the swell of Sarah’s stomach. “It’s like he popped all of a sudden,” she couldn’t keep the pride out of her voice. “And he’s kicking so hard, too. I can actually feel the heels. Unless they’re elbows. Hard to tell sometimes. Here.” Sarah grabbed Grant’s hand, pulling it closer. “Want to…”
“No!” He leapt to his feet, wrenching his arm out of her grip, nearly knocking Sarah off-balance. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Sarah.”
She looked up at him, eyes glistening, defiantly reminding. “I can do anything I want. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Listen, I’ve been thinking,” Zeno began, sitting across from Allie at the BCU Library, both of them supposedly cramming for midterms. “About those newspaper clippings you got. And the forget-me-nots.”
“Don’t,” Allie warned without looking up. “Forget about them. That’s what I’m doing.”
“But someone is clearly after you. They could be dangerous.”
“It’s just stupid pranks. People have nothing better to do.”
“I think you should take it a little more seriously.”
“I said no.” She sighed and slammed her textbook shut. “Whoever is doing this wants to freak me out. I don’t freak out, I win; it’s that simple.”
“Unless they actually mean to hurt you.”
“So far, my car’s borne the brunt of it.”
“That could change.”
Allie shrugged and tried to get back to her book.
In an attempt to hold her attention, Zeno blurted out, “I think I know who might be behind this.”
“What?” Allie’s certainty wavered. “How…”
“I was trying to figure out what message they might have wanted to send. The clippings about Gregory dying, the forget-me-nots… What if the person who sent them thinks that you’ve forgotten about Gregory?”
“Then they’re idiots. I’ll never forget him.”
“Okay. But… You have moved on. A little. I mean, with me….”
“So, it could look… to an outsider… it could look like…”
“Who the hell would care what I was up to these days, or with whom?”
Zeno hesitated, and then he proposed a guess. “What about… Gregory’s mom?”
“I heard the police have arrested a suspect in Horace Johnson’s murder,” Amanda ventured tentatively when, despite having been home for several hours already, Kevin failed to bring it up himself.
“Oh. Yeah.” Kevin looked up at her, seemingly confused as to why she thought the subject even warranted discussion. “Some drug dealer. Used to work for the Santos crime family. When they went legit, it left their former foot-soldiers to fight it out for the remaining territory. Guess this guy used to be a front-runner. Till he got sloppy.”
“He confessed?” Amanda asked with baited breath, wondering if all her worrying the past few weeks had been for nothing.
“Might as well have. There’s video surveillance footage from a bank across the street that shows him following Johnson into the alley where he got shot. They found the gun, matched ballistics. Practically an open and shut case.”
“But he didn’t confess?” Amanda double-checked. “So there’s still reasonable doubt…”
“If I were his lawyer, I’d tell him to sit tight and keep his mouth shut. Maybe he can plead it out to self-defense or manslaughter. Beats Murder One.”
“Murder One means he went there with the deliberate intention of killing Johnson?”
“Uh-ha,” Kevin nodded. “Cops got a warrant to check his email. He and Johnson had a back and forth couple of days before. He lured him there, no doubt about that. About the only loose end is that Johnson promised to finally pay this guy the money he owed him. Turns out that was the reason he came to Bay City in the first place. We were his hide-out from the mob – all expenses paid, no less.”
“So why is that a loose end?”
“Money hasn’t turned up. Not in the perp’s bank account, not in his apartment, not with any known associates… Easier to prove the veracity of the entire scenario if they had the money in evidence. Which we know Johnson had.” Kevin sighed. “Because I gave it to him.”
“Jen’s alive,” Amanda reminded. “That’s all that matters.”
“Yes.” Kevin didn’t look as cheered up by the prospect as he should have been. “And now I’ve got to tell her that her old man sold her out. Again. And almost for good.”
“Now what might bring you here?” Iris beamed her thousand-watt smile at the sight of Russ in the Cory living room. Even if Rachel was sitting directly across from him.
“Visiting a friend,” Russ indicated Iris’ stepmother, whom the other woman had barely acknowledged since coming in.
“How very thoughtful of you. Indeed, I fear Rachel hasn’t been getting out and about as much as she should, lately. She’s growing dangerously close to becoming a regular Miss Havisham. So sad and lonely, alas.”
“With you in the house, Iris,” Rachel reassured with equal sincerity. “I positively yearn for the chance to be lonely again.”
Russ coughed awkwardly into his fist and attempted to excuse himself. “I really think I should be going.”
But, Iris would have none of it. “No, Russ. Please. Stay. I had the most marvelous idea earlier, and I should like you to hear it, as well as Rachel.”
“Okay.” Once again, as with all things Iris, acquiescing was easier than putting up a fight.
“I propose,” she turned to Rachel. “We host a family Thanksgiving.”
“We?” Rachel felt compelled to address each word individually, since they most certainly made no sense all in one sentence. “Family? Thanksgiving?”
“Here,” Iris responded equally monosyllabically. Though still enthusiastically.
“We should host a family Thanksgiving here?”
“You and I,” Iris clarified in case the pronouns remained confounding. “Just the way Daddy would have wanted it.”
“Oh, there are a lot of things Mac would have wanted you and I to do….”
“And we have sorely disappointed him along each and every turn.”
“That we have,” Rachel agreed.
“Can you imagine how happy it would have made him, you and I, our children, our grandchildren, all under the same roof – his roof? For his favorite holiday?”
“Nothing would have pleased Mac more.”
“Then we should do it. For him.”
“A majority of my children aren’t speaking to me at the moment,” Rachel noted. “How about yours?”
“We’ll tell them to get over it.” Iris shrugged.
Prompting a bark of laughter from Rachel. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
“For Daddy. We’ll tell them to get over it, for Daddy’s sake.”
“We,” Rachel repeated.
“I’ll help you, of course. In extending the olive branch. I thought, in addition to our respective family members, perhaps we should invite Grant and Marley, as well? They’ve been so kind to Sarah in her hour of need.”
“And you’ve been so very appreciative,” Rachel observed.
“This way, Marley’s nieces can spend the holiday with their grandmother, and Matthew and Donna won’t be forced to choose which household to grace with their presence. Oh, and Russ, you’ll come too, of course? For Sarah?”
He hedged, “I’m not sure. Alice and Pat were planning…”
“Invite them, as well! Again, that should make the choice easier for Amanda and Kevin.”
Russ’ eyes slid nervously Rachel’s way. “I’m not sure if Alice – “
“Please,” Rachel drawled. “The more the merrier.”
“I’ll do it myself,” Iris offered. “Make sure both your sisters feel equally welcome.”
“I think the invitation to Pat had better come from me,” Russ demurred diplomatically. “I’ll pass it on. See what she says.”
“And we must have Felicia and Lucas, don’t you think, Rachel? For Jamie’s girls… And then Cass and Frankie’s…. Tell me, are our intrepid duo still out of town?”
“I believe so,” Rachel said without inflection.
“Their adventure going well, then?”
“Actually, according to Felicia, they haven’t managed to turn up a single, viable lead as of yet.”
“But, neither have they returned home in defeat.” Who knew Iris was such an optimist?
“I’ll invite Jamie,” Rachel said. “But, I wouldn’t count on him attending. The girls are so young still. He might not feel they’re up for a huge family gathering.”
“Oh, Jamie won’t want to miss this! How exciting! So it’s all settled then? I’m so pleased. We’ll talk specifics later. Oh, and Russ, I am so happy you’ll be able to attend. You can be my guest!”
“Did I say I would attend?” Russ asked once Iris was safely out of earshot.
“I’m not even certain I did,” Rachel noted.
“You know you don’t have to do this. You don’t have anything to prove to Iris. And you need to figure she’s got something nefarious planned beyond roast turkey and stuffing.”
“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” Rachel reminded. “If Iris wants all of my family and friends in one room with her for the holidays, I have no choice but to be there. To protect them from her.”
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