“I… didn’t,” Steven began.
But, Kevin was in no mood for game playing. “You did. You may not have shot Johnson yourself, but you set it up to happen. Which makes you just as liable.”
“No,” Steven insisted.
“Damn it, I know you’re a certified computer genius, but trust me when I say that, in this, you are in over your head. I’ve been in the legal business for a long time. Longer than you’ve been alive. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the facts that aren’t there, often are more important than the ones that are. Whoever lured Johnson into the alley with that thug didn’t leave a single cyber-trace the cops have been able to find.”
“And they won’t.”
“Because they haven’t looked in the right place. Yet. Their first guess was GQ. He’s almost as good with software as you are, wouldn’t you say?”
“He’s good,” was as much as Steven was willing to concede.
“And he’s Jenny’s boyfriend. Which gives him a logical motive and makes him a prime suspect.”
“But, you said the police haven’t found anything.”
“Which is why they moved on to the next logical suspect – me.”
“You couldn’t have done something like this!” Steven appeared to be taking offense at the suggestion that any mere mortal might have pulled off his feat.
“Which is why I need you to walk me through the process.”
“So that I can confess,” Kevin said.
“Marley,” Grant felt like he was pushing each word out with his tongue as it clung and fought and struggled to remain on the other side of his lips. “Before Sarah confessed that Steven was her baby’s father, she – she accused me of the same thing.”
Marley blinked. The same words that had exhibited such a hard time leaving Grant’s mouth now fought being absorbed by her brain. He couldn’t possibly be saying what she thought he was saying…
“Sarah’s baby is… yours?”
“I don’t know,” Grant insisted. “I have no idea. She said so. But, then she turned around and accused Steven… Honestly, Marley, I don’t know what kind of game she’s playing. Maybe she’s mentally ill. She definitely unstable. I don’t know that we can believe anything she says or claims or – “
“Sarah’s baby could be yours?” Marley refused to be distracted.
“Y-yes,” he admitted.
“How?” Marley hissed. “When?”
“It was… it was a moment of weakness on my part. You have no idea how sorry I am. I should have known better. I should have resisted. But, I – she threw herself at me. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. I – I was flattered, I suppose. A young girl…”
“Very young. She’s younger than Steven. She’s practically Kirkland’s age. Hell, Sarah is closer in age to Michele and Bridget than she is to you!”
“Oh, good. At least you haven’t lost the ability to do math along with the rest of your mind.”
“I am so sorry.”
“And I can’t believe you’re still here,” Marley shot back.
“What – what do you mean?”
“This is a dream come true for you, isn’t it? Everything you’ve always wanted. A pretty little thing who worships you, a child of your own. You’ve even moved her into your house already. How convenient.”
“That was your idea,” Grant felt compelled to remind. “I was against it.”
But Marley was beyond listening to reason. “Now all you need is to move me out and there you have it, your perfect family.”
“I don’t want to move you anywhere!” Grant thundered.
“Were you intending to have us both? I’m sorry, Grant, but that’s a little too kinky for my taste.”
“I want you,” he insisted. “You. Not Sarah. You. For God’s sake, calm down and think this through. Even if Sarah’s child is mine – which, as I said before, I have no way of knowing; she’s already accused me and Steven, who knows how many other candidates are waiting in the wings? – but, even if it is, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters to me except for you. And the life we have together. That’s the only life I want.”
“You don’t want Sarah’s baby?” It was the last thing Marley expected Grant to say and, as such, it sobered her up quicker than any other denial would have.
“No,” he stressed, leaving it for her to understand just how momentous that was. “I don’t.”
“But… Another child… Another chance to… After everything that happened with Kirkland. How could you not want…”
“Nothing is more important to me than you are. You are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, you have every reason not to forgive me for it. But, Marley, listen to me. Please. You know how much I would have loved to be a father again. But, not at your expense. I was the one urging Sarah to give the baby up for adoption, remember? I was even willing to let Donna and Matt raise what might turn out to be my child. Why? Because of you. Because I would give up anything and anyone for you. That’s how much you mean to me. I can keep telling you over and over again, but, honestly, doesn’t this prove it once and for all?”
“You…” Zeno’s voice trailed off as the implication of what Sharlene was saying fully hit him. “You’re the one who….”
“Sharlene!” John interrupted. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you caught me,” she shrugged. “I’m the one who sent Allie the forget-me-nots. And the newspaper clippings. I’m the one who put linseed in her gas tank.”
“Why?” Allie’s voice wasn’t so much accusatory as lost. “Why would you…”
“My son is dead,” Sharlene said. “And you’re not.”
“You were trying to… kill me?”
“Oh, please. Even your Knight in Shining Armor here admitted it never would have gone that far.”
“You don’t know that.” Zeno’s face hardened. “You don’t know the worst that could have happened.”
“I’ve already faced the worst that can happen,” Sharlene informed them. “And, for some reason, the world just kept on turning. As if everything was still fine and dandy.”
“I loved Gregory,” Allie reminded. “I will always love him.”
“No,” John said, feeling like he was speaking for both him and Sharlene. “You won’t. You might remember him fondly as the years go on, but eventually, he’ll fade from your mind. You’ll go on with your life. You’ll have the chance Gregory never got.”
“So you’re taking your loss out on Allie?” Zeno refused to be manipulated like this.
Another shrug from Sharlene. “What other options have I got?”
“We could press charges, you know.”
“No!” Allie and John said in near unison.
“She could have killed you!”
“So you want to let her have another shot at it?”
“She won’t,” Allie said. “Will you, Mrs. Hudson?”
Sharlene stared at the younger woman for a long, long beat before agreeing, exhausted, “I won’t.”
“I’m sorry,” Allie told them both. “I’m sorry that I’m alive and Gregory is gone.”
“Me, too,” Sharlene agreed.
The pair of them left soon after. John, however, stayed behind. And when his ex-wife asked him whether he’d like another cup of coffee, he told her, “No. But, I would like to know why you just lied to those kids?”
Matt expected hysterics from Donna following Sarah’s curt pronouncement that they wouldn’t be allowed to adopt her baby, after all. But, it seemed that the majority of Donna’s rage had been expended over Thanksgiving. Now, she appeared utterly numb. To everything. And everyone.
Matt waited almost a full day, trying to respect her space. And her loss. But, the sight of her so still and wan and…un-Donna-like, pierced him to the core, until he couldn’t stand it any longer.
“We can try again,” he told her. “Sarah’s baby isn’t the last available infant on Earth.”
“It’s the last one, I imagine, related to us both. One that we can be assured of not losing.”
“That was never a guarantee. No child is a guarantee. Hell, Donna, I’m Jasmine’s biological father, and even I felt I had to marry Lila to ensure not losing my parental rights. It’s all a crap-shoot.”
“Interesting choice of words, Matthew. Since that’s precisely what I feel like at the moment.”
He pleaded, “Tell me what to do. Tell me what I can do to fix this for you.”
“Does it make you happy?” Donna wondered. “Always having to fix me?”
“What? No! I mean, I love doing things to make you happy. I love you. But, it’s not like I get off on – “
“That’s what Rachel did for Carl, isn’t it? She fixed him? Well, until this last, little slip into kidnapping. Are you and I Rachel and Carl?”
“I’d like us to be.”
Donna smirked. “Just as I thought. I’m a project for you. Though perhaps Rachel and Carl aren’t quite the right example. Should I have said Mac and Rachel, instead?”
“I’ll never be the man Mac was.”
“But, you’d like to be. You’d like to play the same role in my life as he did in your mother’s.”
“I love you and I want to make you happy,” is all that Matt repeated.
“And what if you can’t? What if you can’t work a Mac Cory sized miracle? What then? Will you give up? On us? On me?”
“I will never give up on you,” Matt swore. “You have my word. And, you know what, Donna? I really wish you’d stop testing me. How many times have you pushed me away? After Jenna died and you didn’t want to tell me you were her mother. While you were in the sanitarium after trying to commit suicide. You told me you didn’t love me. That you would rather be with a dead Michael than a living me. You pushed just about as hard as you could that time. But, still, I came back. Isn’t it about time you gave it a rest and finally accepted that I’m in this for the long haul?”
“We’ll see about that,” Donna sighed.
Rachel knew it was incredibly childish and petty of her, but she couldn’t help it. Even though she might have easily reached over and opened the front door once she heard Iris outside it, struggling with her key, Rachel allowed the moment to continue on for almost a full minute before finally ending her stepdaughter’s misery and allowing her inside the Cory mansion.
“Rachel, thank goodness,” Iris glared. “I don’t know what happened, but I had the most terrible time – “
“I changed the locks.”
“I’m sorry, you did what?”
“The locks. I had them changed. As for your personal belongings, they’ve been packed up and are sitting in the back of the car.”
“You went through my things?”
“The staff took care of it. I have no interest in wallowing in your dirty laundry any more than I’ve already been forced to. Everything is there, feel free to check. The driver has been instructed to take you anywhere you’d like to go. One way.”
Iris couldn’t believe it. “You’re throwing me out of my own father’s home?”
“I am throwing you out of my home. The one whose hospitality you took advantage of to attack my grandson, not to mention Mac’s great-granddaughter. If you think your father would have stood for – “
“Jamie’s spoiled, condescending brat taking advantage of Daddy’s only true heir – “
“Who did what to whom is between Steven and Sarah, no one else.”
“If it hadn’t been for me, Rachel, our mutual great-grandchild would have ended up in Donna’s hands. Don’t tell me you had any interest in that happening.”
“Your selflessness is truly an inspiration to us all, Iris.”
“Where do you get the right,” Iris demanded. “To sit in judgment of anyone? You and your checkered past. You and your tawdry, back-street affairs. You and the way you interfered in the lives of your own children. My goodness, you and Daddy actually split – don’t ask me which time; the calculations would take hours – over your treatment of that Wyoming slattern Jamie wed during his cowboy phase. The one he so generously passed down to that hustler my father claimed as a son. You are hardly one to talk about sitting back and letting fate take a hand when it’s one of your bastard mongrels under discussion.”
“I try to learn from my mistakes. Jamie and Blaine was a very long time ago.”
“From what I heard, you weren’t too thrilled about his latest waltz down the aisle, either. Of course, under the circumstances, who can blame you? Your precious, irrefutably favorite son married to your husband’s teen-age concubine…. Truly, Rachel, we’ve all been racking our brains trying to come up with a sound motive for why Carl might have absconded with Lorna, when the answer sat right in front of our noses the entire time. He did it for you. To get that unsavory reminder out of Bay City. The better to allow you to keep pretending you’d married a darling instead of a devil.”
If Iris had been hoping to get a rise out of Rachel with her conjecture, she stood to be sorely disappointed. All her stepmother said was, “Your car is waiting, Iris.”
“Thank you.” She smiled magnanimously. “You truly have thought of everything. Oh, just one small detail… Should any mail arrive for me at this address, be a dear and forward it, would you? Directly to Dr. Russ Matthews’ house. I shall be residing there for the time being.”
“You’re going to confess to getting Horace Johnson killed?” Steven repeated slowly, as if Kevin were speaking another language.
“Why the hell would you do something like that?”
“To protect you, you idiot!”
“Why?” Steven refused to give up.
“I have my reasons.”
Steven desperately searched his brain. “Is it… Is it because of… Sarah?”
“What?” Now Kevin was the one looking at the boy like he’d lost his mind.
“What Sarah said, about her baby being mine. Are you doing this because you think I should be – ”
“I don’t give a damn about Sarah or her baby,” Kevin said, only pausing long enough to ask. “Are you in love with her?”
“Why does that matter?” Steven made a face. “And… no.”
“I didn’t think so,” Kevin said. “I’m sure you’ll do whatever is best for your child. But, you’re in love with my daughter.”
“I saw you,” Kevin said. “The two of you. Thanksgiving. Rachel’s house. I saw Jenny leave the room and I wanted to make sure she was alright. I followed her and I… saw you. I’m sorry. I left as soon as I could.”
“You… saw us?”
“And now you’re going to confess to…. Damn it, I didn’t mean to get him killed,” Steven’s break was as definite as his earlier denial. “I didn’t. I don’t know what he said or did to piss the other guy off. All I wanted was to have him arrested for dealing. That way he’d be sitting in jail, we’d know where he was, he wouldn’t be able to run off again, and Jen would get her transplant. I swear. That’s why I sent the cops in.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Kevin said, his mind on only one thing. “Right now, the Springfield District Attorney has no reason to connect you to Jenny. Let’s keep it that way.”
“Why are you doing this?” Kevin had been right. Steven was in over his head. But, not the way Jen’s dad thought.
“Because my daughter needs you. She needs you more than she has ever needed anyone else. She doesn’t realize it yet. But she will. Eventually. And when she does, you need to be there for her. What you did, Steven – you did what I wish I had the guts and the brains to do. You saved her. And you didn’t even ask for credit.”
“I didn’t want credit. I just wanted Jen to be okay.”
“Whether or not she was with you?”
“I just wanted her to be okay,” he repeated.
Kevin sighed. “Let me do this, son. She’s my daughter. I make a much more sympathetic defendant than you do. Even Hamilton gave me the head’s up and said he understood why I did it. And you know how he is. I might be able to plead it away.”
“A murder charge?” As they’d established earlier, Steven wasn’t stupid.
“Better me than you. My daughter has spent her entire life feeling like she doesn’t fit, like she doesn’t belong anywhere. What I saw the other night… She belongs with you. Let me do this for you both. But, you have to help me.”
At least at her grandfather’s house, Sarah didn’t need to answer any questions. Russ let her spend the night, and most of the next day, too, without an inquisition or even so much as a lecture.
“You know,” Sarah noted. “This isn’t at all how Mom describes growing up with you.”
Russ shrugged. “I made mistakes with your mother. Big ones. I’m doing my best not to duplicate them with you.”
“I take it I was one of those mistakes my mom made?” Sarah winced and indicated her swollen stomach. “Guess it’s too late to keep history from repeating itself.”
“I didn’t support your mother enough when she was pregnant with you,” Russ admitted. “I wasn’t happy about how things happened. With her and Sam, with her and Dennis… I let Olivia know it in pretty uncertain terms, too. I wonder sometimes, maybe if I’d been more of a help to her and less of hindrance, maybe you and your mother might have a better relationship now.”
“Did she want me?” Sarah wondered. “I mean, she always said she did. But, then, the way she acted… I figure she was happy to be pregnant when she thought it would help her hold onto Sam. But then, when she found out it wouldn’t… was it just too late to get rid of me?”
“I don’t know,” Russ said, then wondered, “Was that the case, here?”
“No!” Sarah shook her head adamantly. “Oh, no. I wanted the baby from the first day. Even before. I – It wasn’t an accident.”
“I see.” Russ kept his voice nonjudgmental.
“I really thought he… the dad, I thought he’d be happy.”
“Are you happy, Sarah?”
“About the baby? Yes. More than anything. About how things have turned out… Not so much.”
“So, the idea of adoption…”
“Off the table,” Sarah said firmly. “I thought I was doing the right thing. The mature thing, you know? For the baby. But, when I told Donna she couldn’t have it, I felt so happy, Granddad. So relieved. I guess I was kind of lying to myself, thinking I could do this. I don’t want to do this. I want to keep my baby. Even if I have to raise it alone.”
“So your grandmother was right,” Russ prompted. “She really did do you a favor.”
“I wouldn’t quite go that far.”
Russ laughed, kissing Sarah on the forehead. “Neither would I.”
The doorbell ringing interrupted their moment of harmony, and Russ stood up to see who it was.
He returned a few moments later. With Marley.
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