“It’s funny,” Iris observed upon entering the Harrison home at Alice’s invitation. “I never dreamed I should see this house again. When he left town for the last time, Spencer made it rather clear he had no intention of ever returning to Bay City.”
“His son was here,” Alice reminded. “And his grandson.”
“Well, Grant was playing dead for years. And I gather Jamie and Rachel granted Spencer almost no access to Kirkland for the duration of that time.”
“The three of them were ultimately able to forge a relationship before Spencer died.” Alice indicated a photograph in a silver frame on a credenza in the living room. “This is my favorite picture of the three of them. From Spencer’s and my wedding.”
Like Rachel, it took Iris a moment to realize that no, she wasn’t mistaken, that really had been the once upon a time Alice Matthews who’d just all but backhanded Iris across the head. Somehow, it made Iris like the woman for the first time in over four decades.
“A terrible tragedy,” Iris didn’t make it clear whether she was referring to the Harrisons' marriage or…. “Spencer’s death, that is.”
“Yes,” Alice agreed. But declined to say more.
“I must confess, I came over here today on a rather delicate mission. Rachel and I, we are hosting a family Thanksgiving – “
“You and Rachel?” Alice blinked, as if she’d misheard.
“Yes. We’re both determined to bring all the Cory nearest and dearest together in Daddy’s honor next week. Rachel will, of course, have all her children present. And since Amanda is married to your grandson, and Marley will be there as Donna’s daughter, Grant as her husband, and then there’s Sarah and Russ… My goodness, ours is a complicated family tree, isn’t it?” Iris' attempt at a joyous laugh rang hollow for all concerned. “In any case, we would both love it if you were to join us for dinner.”
“Does Rachel know about this?”
“She insisted. Although, of course, I thoroughly understand if you feel you must decline, under the circumstances.”
“My circumstances with Rachel, Iris, much like mine with yours, are long water under the bridge.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was referring to that… unpleasantness with Jamie?”
“Jamie. Steven. Russ. As you said, it’s a complicated family tree.”
“Oh, no, I wasn’t invoking that at all.”
“Then what do you see as the problem?”
“Why, Carl, of course.”
“Carl,” Alice repeated slowly.
“He was responsible for Spencer’s death, was he not?”
“Spencer,” Alice briefly closed her eyes in pain at even saying her late husband’s name, but nevertheless stuck to what she knew to be true. “Was responsible for Spencer’s death. His actions led to Kirkland’s kidnapping. He did what any grandparent would have done to rectify the situation.”
“But, the aforementioned situation would have never grown so dire, had Carl not decided to provoke the compound into an all-out war.”
“And had Spencer and Lucas not conspired along with him.”
“Yet your husband is the only one who ended up dead as a result. Unless….” Iris trailed off, waiting for Alice to prompt her. Alice did not prompt her. She merely stood as she was, looking at Iris expectantly, but not saying a word. Forcing the other woman to awkwardly transition. “Unless…. Could Carl’s death last summer have also been a part of the compound’s vengeance?”
“I’m not sure why you think I might know anything about that.”
“It’s to be expected. Spencer must have told you about how the compound operates.” Iris gave up all pretense of just making casual conversation. “He must have given you some insight into their tactics; names, locations…”
Alice cocked her head. “I’m not sure what you and Spencer talked about for the duration of your relationship but, I can assure you, he and I found many more interesting activities to engage in rather than discussing the minutia of clandestine international cabals.”
And there it was again. One more backhand to the head. Iris really should remember to don a helmet the next time she chanced dropping by.
“Well, thank you for your time,” Iris held on to her manners, if not her dignity. “And I am sorry if my queries upset you. I completely understand your reluctance to open up old wounds and pursue such an unpleasant subject. On the other hand, if I may add just one more thing…. Spencer was butchered by the compound. It’s possible that not just Carl, but Rachel’s poor children, suffered a similar fate. The only man left standing is Lucas. I doubt he’s been overlooked ad infinitum. That’s something I would take the time to consider, if I were you.”
“Why would Lucas be any of my business?” Alice demanded, that smug, placid demeanor of hers finally shattered. Score one for Iris.
Who smiled, shrugged innocently, and saw herself out.
“That’s quite a guest-list,” Lila observed as Rachel rattled off the names of everyone that she and Iris were cumulatively inviting to Thanksgiving.
“I hope you’ll be on it,” Rachel prompted hesitantly, both women holding back for fear of saying the wrong – or right – thing.
“Of course. Jasmine deserves to spend Thanksgiving with her family.”
“So do I,” Rachel said. “That includes you, Lila. It always has.”
“I’ll be there,” Lila reiterated.
“Though I gather ‘with bells on’ is optional?”
“I never knew what that expression meant,” Lila plead guilty.
“It means that not only will you come, but you’ll feel happy about it.”
“These last few months, Lila, you can’t imagine what they’ve been like for me.”
“You’re right. I can’t. What happened to you, it shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
“I was so hurt and so angry… I completely failed to notice the hurt I was causing in turn.”
Lila raised her chin defiantly. “I thought that’s what you set out to do.”
Rachel shook her head ruefully. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“Wouldn’t know how if I wanted to,” she told her honestly.
“I’m not sorry about what I asked you to do. Chase Hamilton killed my husband and children as surely as if he’d snuck in here in the middle of the night and sliced their throats. I intend to make him pay for that atrocity in ways he can’t even imagine yet.”
“Chase is my friend,” Lila said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be telling me this.”
“Why not? I already told him.”
“Oh, okay,” Lila bobbed her head. “So now I can look forward to one of my good friends going to town on another, as Chase tries to take down Grant. And you stand behind him, pulling the strings and encouraging them both to tear each other to shreds.”
“That’s a very poetic way of describing it.”
“That’s more like it.” Rachel took a step forward, hugging Lila and looking her in the eye with earnest affection. “I don’t expect you to condone what I’m doing. But, I expect you to understand why I’m doing it. I promise, I will never again stick you in the middle of my battles, Lila. I was wrong to do that, wrong to play on your guilt, wrong to demand proof of your loyalty when I should have known I had it all along. But, I am not wrong about Chase Hamilton. Or my plans for him.”
“There’s my buddy!” Kevin opened his arms and Ike flew into his embrace, head first, patiently waiting for Kevin to complete their routine of flipping him upside down and then wondering where in the world the little boy could have gone.
After that part was done, Kevin set Ike back down on the ground and asked, “You happy with the Daddies I found you?”
“That’s good. Because I have a surprise here for all of you.” Kevin reached into his briefcase and pulled out a document, which he handed to Chase and Doug.
“What does it say?” Ike demanded, hopping up and down manically, trying to grab the papers. When that failed, he merely clung to Doug’s forearm, swinging like a monkey while repeating, “What does it say? What does it say? Tell me what it says, Papa!”
“It says,” Chase cut through the legalese quicker, but even he had to look at Kevin to make sure. “The adoption is final? Effective today?”
“That’s what it says, alright,” Kevin confirmed.
“But…” Doug looked from one to the other. “I thought we still had another week…”
“With Thanksgiving coming up, I convinced the judge to sign off early. Congratulations, gentlemen, he’s all yours. And good luck,” Kevin couldn’t help adding.
“What does it mean?” Ike persisted.
“It means…” Doug began.
“Nothing it didn’t mean the first day you got here,” Chase cut him off. “Except now we have the government’s seal of approval to confirm what we already knew. You’re here with us to stay.”
“Isn’t he adorable?” Doug indicated Chase, beaming all the while. “Nothing personal he can’t turn political. My very own radical. Really, every home should have one. They certainly keep the conversation lively.”
Kevin double-checked, “I assume you have all the corresponding paperwork you’ll need down the line? Inheritance, medical, power of attorney…”
“Oh, please,” Doug laughed. “If it upsets the status quo, Chase is on it. He’s had us both practically notarized and laminated since before it became trendy. We’re good on every possible front. Though, I have to admit, once in a while it amuses me to imagine what might happen to a poor, misguided medical professional should he or she ever try to keep Chase away from my hypothetical bedside. Or vice-versa.”
“Glad to hear it,” Kevin grinned and shook hands with them both. “If you need anything else, let me know. But, it sounds like you’re all set.
“Very nice of you to drop these by yourself,” Chase said.
“No problem. My favorite part of the job.”
“Listen, as long as you’re here. Do you think we could have a quick conversation?” Chase indicated his office. “In private?”
“Sure.” Kevin ruffled Ike’s hair one more time for the road. “What about?”
“Horace Johnson’s murder. Some parts of it just don’t add up….”
Three pairs of eyes stared, dumbstruck, at a perfectly composed Iris, as a sitting at the breakfast table Sarah, Marley, and Grant each attempted to absorb the invitation she’d come bearing.
“A family Thanksgiving,” Marley was the first to regain her voice, if not her appetite.
“Your mother will be there. Kirkland. Steven.” Iris placed particular emphasis on the last name, somewhat disappointed when it failed to elicit any trace of a reaction. “Oh, and I invited Alice,” Iris told Grant. “I’m sure your stepmother would love to see you.”
“You invited Alice? To your Thanksgiving? The one you’re hosting in tandem with Rachel?”
“We’re all adults, Grant. What better occasion than the holidays for letting bygones be bygones?”
“Is Jamie coming?” Marley asked, then, in response to the look Grant gave her, felt obliged to explain. “Thanksgiving… two years ago. It wasn’t exactly a great time for him. With Lorna… gone, I’m not sure he’d want to be reminded of it.”
“It’s been a difficult year for many of us,” Iris dismissed. “Which is why the explicit purpose of this gathering is to break free of the past and look forward to the future. Just think, darling,” she reminded Sarah with a smile. “Next year at this time, your baby will be joining us.”
“Yes,” Sarah said. “With his parents. Matt and Donna.”
At least her declaration made everyone in the room equally unhappy.
“Well, in that case,” Iris insisted on clinging to the silver lining – and her own agenda. “How can you not attend this year? It sounds like your child is going to be the one to bring our family together. We’d best get started then, hadn’t we?”
“Thank you for the invitation, Iris,” Marley interjected. “We’ll think about it. For Grant and myself, I mean. Sarah is, of course, free to make up her own mind.”
“Oh, but it wouldn’t be the same without you. After everything you have done to – for our Sarah this year, I simply must insist on your presence.”
“Let me see you out.” Grant gallantly rose from his chair, leaving Iris no choice in the matter, escorting Sarah’s grandmother out of the kitchen and towards the front door.
“Sorry about that,” Sarah wrinkled her nose and took a guilty sip of milk after the two of them had left. “Bet when you invited me to move in with you till after the baby’s born, you never expected that would include an open door policy for Iris.”
“No one ever knows what to expect from Iris. Frankly, she’s been downright restrained. For Iris.”
“Yeah. I know. That’s what’s got me worried. This Thanksgiving, it doesn’t sound… good.”
“We don’t have to go. You don’t have to go.”
“I think we should, though. She’s obviously got something up her sleeve. Better get it over with, instead of sitting around wondering what she might cook up next if we don’t.”
“True.” Marley laughed. “She might invite us all over again for Christmas!”
“Or New Year’s!”
“Or lay in wait with a butterfly net in the delivery room!” Marley laughter died to a shy smile as she confessed, “I saw on your latest sonogram, doctor thinks the baby will be born on Valentine’s Day.”
“She says it’s just an estimate,” Sarah tried not to make too big a deal of it. “Could be a couple of weeks earlier, could be later….”
“Are you getting excited?” Marley prodded gently. “That’s pretty soon. Less than three months.”
“Scared is more like it. I remember what happened to Allie… It didn’t look fun.”
“Just stay away from remote mountain cabins during rainstorms and you should be fine. Though giving birth in strange places is kind of a Bay City tradition. Vicky had Steven on her living room floor, and Bridget and Michele after a plane crash in Canada! Charlie and Jasmine were both born in elevators. The babies were still perfect, though.” She proposed, “You know, maybe taking a childbirth class might help you feel less apprehensive about it. I think now is the perfect time to sign up. I – I’d be happy to go with you. Be your partner or your labor coach, anything you think you might need.”
“Not a good idea.” Having returned from making sure Iris was gone, Grant pitched in his two cents without having been asked.
Both women jumped slightly in surprise, turning to face him.
“If you are planning on giving the baby to Matt and Donna,” he pointed out reasonably. “They’ll probably expect to be in the delivery room.”
“That’s not a given!” Marley objected.
“It is customary.”
“Sarah should do whatever makes her feel comfortable. She’s the one giving birth here, no one else. Unless…” Marley wondered. “Sarah, do you think… do you think you’d like to have the father in the delivery room?”
“What?” Grant and Sarah asked simultaneously, each in various degrees of shock.
“Maybe, if he was there, if he saw his baby being born, maybe he’d change his mind about not wanting to be involved?”
“No,” Sarah shook her head. “No. He wouldn’t. And, even if he did, it’s too late…”
“It is never, ever too late. You can always change your mind. Even after you sign the papers, you still have six months to – “
“It is,” Sarah insisted. “I’ve got to stick to the plan I made. Trust me, Marley, okay? It’s for the best. For everybody.”
“I can’t believe how big they’ve gotten.” Rachel looked at her youngest granddaughters, sitting in side by side high-chairs, Mackenzie attempting to keep her head upright while clutching a bottle of formula in one chubby fist, Devon opening and closing her mouth, though not necessarily in rhythm with the spoonful of oatmeal Jamie was attempting to insert in it. Whatever dripped onto her tray table, she instantly smeared over her palms, and most of Jamie’s forearm.
“Yeah. Feels like Zee is just going to pull herself up and take off running any minute. She wants to do everything Devon does. And that’s what Devon does. She runs.”
“How are you managing?” Rachel pulled up a chair, sitting next to her son, noticing how consciously he avoided her eyes by focusing exclusively on his girls.
“We’re managing. Kirkland has been a huge help. Steven, too. Alice, Felicia, even Amanda. And we all know how she feels about kids. But, I can’t keep imposing on other people like this. Finally broke down and hired a nanny. Had to, especially for nights when I’m on call.”
“You can always call me, Jamie, you know that. Please say that you know that.”
“You’ve had a lot on your plate, Mom. I didn’t want to add to your problems. You need time to….” Jamie changed his mind about finishing the thought, observing instead, “By the way, saw you on TV the other day. With Grant.”
Rachel saw no need to defend her actions, only reminding, “Chase Hamilton does not deserve to be Mayor of Bay City. I should think you’d be first in line to agree, after he nearly sent you to prison for a crime you didn’t commit.”
“Chase Hamilton had me arrested based on evidence that strongly suggested I had committed said crime. And let’s not forget the part where I confessed. Once he had evidence to the contrary, he let me go. And arrested the next guy who confessed. And the guy after that. He was the District Attorney, Mom. It was kind of his job.”
“He wasn’t District Attorney when he went after Carl for no reason.”
Jamie shrugged and went back to wrestling with Devon over her spoon, flicking tiny grains of oatmeal from his daughter’s hair, even as she laughed and attempted to stop him.
Sensing she’d gone too far, Rachel backpedaled. “So what do you think about my proposition?”
“You and Iris hosting Thanksgiving dinner? I think you should sell tickets.”
“May I leave you some comps at the door?” She teased.
“I don’t know…” Jamie looked anything but enthused by the prospect. He indicated Devon and Mackenzie. “Do these two seem ready for a formal sit-down?”
“They can stay for as long as they – and you – like. I’ll have Cory and Elizabeth’s old cribs brought down from storage. We’ll tuck the girls in for naps in another room as soon as you think they’ve reached their limit. Lori Ann is coming with Felicia. I doubt she’ll make it through the whole thing, either.” Rachel tentatively reached out to stroke Jamie’s hair, gratified when he let her, not pulling away like she’d feared he might. “It will be good for you, honey. You need to get out of the house once in a while. You can’t just run yourself ragged, from the hospital to the kids, then back again.”
“Why not?” he challenged, turning his head so abruptly, Rachel’s hand slipped off with a thump. “What else do I have to do? My job and my kids are all I have left. In case you’ve forgotten, I am very, very familiar with that lifestyle.”
“You were so unhappy back then, Jamie. I’m sorry I didn’t realize it at the time, but, in retrospect… Please don’t do this to yourself again.”
“It’s not about me,” he stressed. “Steven and Kirkland… they made me see how tough it was for them, having a dad who basically withdrew from the world, who made them feel responsible for him, instead of the other way around. I promised the guys I wouldn’t subject Devon and Zee to the same thing. So, don’t worry, I’m on it.”
“I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about you.”
“Don’t be,” he repeated.
“You’ve pushed me out of your life before, Jamie. And you allowed matters to get so far out of hand I didn’t even… If you’d succeeded in killing yourself, I wouldn’t have even known until after it was all over.”
“That won’t happen again, either. I will never abandon my kids.”
“All the more reason for you to take care of yourself. All the more reason for you to let others help you take care of yourself. If not for your sake, then for Steven and Kirkland, Devon and Mackenzie. You need to be surrounded by people who love you and support you. You need your family. No matter how you may feel about any of us individually at any given moment, you need your family.”
“Even Iris?” Jamie couldn’t help asking.
“Even Iris,” Rachel said, surprising herself as much as him. “Because, for better or for worse, she’s family, too.”
Seemingly apropos to nothing, Jamie said, “Damn, I miss Mac.”
“Me, too. Especially this time of the year. No matter how much I loved Carl…” Rachel took a small pause, wondering if Jamie would use her admission as cause to pick a fight. But, he let the assertion pass without comment. She continued, “No matter how much I loved Carl, come every Thanksgiving, you don’t know what I would have given to see Mac at the head of the table just one more time.”
“You really think he’ll be there next week?” Jamie couldn’t help asking, knowing how ridiculous it sounded.
Except Rachel didn’t think it was ridiculous, at all. “With Iris and I hosting? Together? How could he resist?” Rachel tickled Mackenzie’s downy, damp cheek with her fingers. “Don’t you think Mac deserves to meet his namesake?”
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