“Taking your luggage out for a spin?” Russ inquired dryly at the sight of Iris on his front porch, a dozen monogrammed suitcases in tow.
“Rachel has thrown me out of my own home!” His ex-fiancée raged, brushing by Russ and through the door, leaving her accoutrements for the invisible butler to presumably carry inside. The chauffeur standing by the limousine certainly appeared in no hurry to get to it.
“The gall!” Russ bobbed his head.
“Asking you to get lost merely because you ruined her family Thanksgiving.”
“That distasteful development is on the head of Rachel’s darling grandson, not mine.”
“Sarah and Steven appeared perfectly content with whatever arrangement they’d worked out for themselves.”
“No Cory child will ever be raised by Donna Love and that pretender to the throne she married.”
“It does seem like you’ve gotten your way. At least in that regard.” Russ indicated the still patiently waiting luggage.
Iris smiled at him beguilingly. “I can stay here with you, can’t I, darling? Just for a little while? Until the shock has worn off.”
Russ’ laughter boomed up nearly to the second floor of his notably modest domicile. The same one his parents had once lived in. “You can’t afford a suite at the Lakeside Hotel? A whole floor? Iris, if you wanted to, you could buy the entire place!”
“But, I don’t want to,” she explained most patiently. “What I want is to stay here.”
“Why?” He couldn’t help mocking. “We’re not exactly known for our four-star cuisine, prompt room-service or dry-cleaning delivery. The only thing we do offer regularly is wake-up calls. But, those usually come in the middle of the night from the hospital.”
“A hotel room is so cold and impersonal. And it’s nearly Christmas, Russ.”
He sighed. “Do not go batting your eye-lashes at me. Seriously, I’m not in the mood.”
“Would you like to be?” she inquired innocently.
His first impulse was to laugh. But, in the end, all Russ could do was shake his head in wonder. “I take it back. Rachel isn’t the one with gall. It’s you. Always has been and always will be you.”
“How kind of you to notice,” Iris said, pulling the good doctor in for a kiss. Signaling to the driver that it was all set. He could start bringing in her things now.
“Tell her,” Amanda demanded, all but marching Kevin down the stairs to see Alice as if he were the errant five year old she’d once known, rather than a grown man. Though clearly, one incapable of making his own decisions. “Tell your grandmother what you’re considering doing.”
Alice looked up, curious, eyes drifting from a fuming Amanda to a resigned Kevin.
Her grandson hesitated, turning his head this way and that as though searching for a way out before biting the bullet and revealing “I’m the one who set up Horace Johnson to meet with the drug dealer who shot him. Which means I am just as liable in his death, possibly even more so.”
Alice gasped. Though, clearly, this was not the news so upsetting Amanda, as she barely allowed the older woman to react before rushing to add, “And he wants to confess to the police about it!”
Alice, however, was still processing the first piece of information. “How?” She asked Kevin. “How did you do it?”
“I interrupted some texts, some emails between them. Changed things,” Kevin mumbled, dismissing the details as, well, just details. Something anyone could have done.
“And the police have tracked you down?”
“No!” Amanda exploded. “That’s just it. The police don’t have anything. Except some unfounded suspicions – “
“I wouldn’t say they’re exactly unfounded,” her husband corrected.
“They have no evidence. The only reason Chase said the Springfield PD is thinking of bringing you in for questioning is because you’re Jen’s father. You’re a logical suspect. But, if they have anything they could take to a judge, they’d be issuing a warrant, not inviting you for a friendly chat. They’re just fishing. That’s no reason for you to bite.”
“I know how you felt when Jennifer was sick,” Alice said softly. “How desperate you were. But, to set up a man to be murdered….”
“That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted him arrested and locked up. So Jenny could get the bone marrow she needed. I never expected… I didn’t think….”
“That doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“Even smart people screw up once in a while, Grandma.”
“Smart people, yes. Cautious ones, less likely.”
“Exactly,” Amanda leapt on the one phrase of Alice’s that confirmed her own stance. “You are way, way too cautious of a guy to just throw yourself on the mercy of the legal system like this. You know how volatile it can be.”
“I’d rather get it over with. I don’t want to sit around, hour after hour, wondering if today is finally the day they come to drag me off in cuffs. I can’t live like that. You can’t live like that. At least, if I take the bull by the horns, I’ll have some control of the process. I can plan my strategy, I can live my life.”
“From inside a prison cell?”
“Mitigating circumstances, Amanda. All I need is a couple of parents on the jury…”
“You want to put your fate in the hands of jurors who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty in the first place?”
“That’s the spirit, Amanda. Civic pride, at its finest.”
“Can we discuss my civic pride, later? Talk to him, Alice,” Amanda pleaded. “Tell him he’s making a huge mistake.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Alice admitted.
Good thing Amanda didn’t have that problem. She reminded, “When Jamie confessed to Cecile’s murder, you tried to talk him out of it by mentioning something about Steve going to jail over a stunt Mom’s dad pulled – “
“Steven bought your grandfather a restaurant in exchange for Gerald testifying against Rachel in the alienation of affection suit she’d brought against me. It was a rather sordid business all the way around. No one came out looking good, and both Steven and Gerald went to prison over it.”
“Right. So you know what that’s like. You tried to talk Jamie out of turning himself in. How is Kevin any different?”
“I didn’t believe Jamie was responsible for Cecile’s death,” was all Alice would say to that.
Realizing she wouldn’t be getting the kind of back up she’d hoped for, Amanda turned to Kevin, pleading, “At least give it some more thought. There’s no hurry, is there? Nobody has called. You only have Chase’s word that they’re thinking about it, and he’s been gunning for our whole family ever since Mom gave Grant that tape of Chase and Lila. Who knows if he’s even telling the truth? Besides, it’s a bureaucracy during the holidays. Paperwork could take forever. It’s almost Christmas. We have so much to be thankful for, with Jen finally being well. You don’t want to ruin this for her, do you? Not after everything she’s already been through.”
“Grant,” Marley made up her mind, turning her head, opening the door and calling over her shoulder. “You have a visitor.”
He came downstairs. And saw Sarah. For a long, long, seemingly endless moment, the two merely stared at each other. It was finally up to Marley to break the silence.
She said, “Apparently, Sarah didn’t believe your telling her to leave you alone. And she didn’t believe my telling her to leave you alone. Turns out, she is quite the glutton for punishment. Sarah wants to hear it again. Perhaps in stereo.”
Sarah clarified, “What you said, Grant, before, about not wanting me or the baby… That was… Marley didn’t know then. You wanted to protect her. I wanted to protect her, too. But, it’s all different now. She knows. She knows it’s your baby.”
“I don’t know that,” Grant finished descending the stairs. And pointedly passed by Sarah to stand by Marley’s side. “Didn’t you just claim that Steven was also a candidate?”
“I – I only said that because…. Because Marley was there. And I didn’t want to… You know Steven and I haven’t… not for a long time. Not since you and I – “
There was definitely one memory lane Grant didn’t want Sarah going down. He’d been deliberately vague with timelines when talking to Marley, and he intended to keep it that way. Better to let her believe his had been a one-time slip up, rather than months of infidelity, both before Grant’s marriage to Marley, and after. “I don’t know anything, Sarah. I can’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth now. If Steven couldn’t possibly be the father, why would he accept responsibility?”
“Because of Vicky,” she spat. “Because of the way you treated her over Kirkland. He didn’t want me going through the same thing.”
“No danger there,” Grant dismissed blithely, addressing his words equally to both women. “As far as I’m concerned, you can do whatever you want with this child. Whosever it turns out to be.”
“It’s yours,” Sarah insisted fiercely.
“It doesn’t matter,” Grant hissed back, equally as fiercely, wondering why the hell this girl couldn’t take a hint? The other women in his life, no matter how much he may have loved them, always insisted that he didn’t. Now here he was, desperately trying to convince the one he cared about most that he was precisely the sort of bastard and scoundrel everyone accused him of being all along, and she refused to buy it. “Can’t you get that through your fluffy, blonde skull? It doesn’t matter. I don’t want it. And I don’t want you.”
“I’ll take a test,” Sarah pleaded. “A paternity test. You’ll see.”
“See what? For goodness’ sake, Sarah, if you need any more evidence to prove that you are in no way old enough or mature enough to raise an infant on your own, just listen to yourself. You’re practically whining. I keep expecting you to stomp your foot and storm out. You’re still a child yourself. You have no business trying to be anyone’s mother.”
“I’m your baby’s mother.” Sarah remained unshakable. “You don’t have to like it. But, don’t lie about it, either.”
“I love Marley.” Grant tried a different tack, realizing that pursuing the previous point any further would, without a doubt, be the end of him. “Marley is my wife. She is the only woman I want to be with.”
“That’s fine,” Sarah said, squaring her shoulders, sucking it up. “I get it. You don’t want me. You don’t love me. You never said you did, after all.”
“Thank you for at least admitting that much,” Grant sniffed, even as he praised God he’d never slipped and made that critical error, even in the heat of the moment. Even if it was true. At least he’d done one thing right in all this mess.
“But, don’t punish the baby because of it. You can still be its father. You don’t have to be with me for that to happen.”
Grant’s breath congealed in his throat and he barely managed to croak out, “W-What?”
“You heard me. I’m not Vicky. I’m not going to keep your own baby away from you out of spite over the way you treated me, or because I’m unhappy about who its dad turned out to be. My mom tried playing that game. It’s not my thing.”
“No,” Grant said, cutting off Marley whom he feared might at any moment come to a different conclusion. “I would never, ever do that to my wife.”
“Grant…” Marley began. Just as he’d feared. But, no, that would ruin everything.
“It would be cruel,” Grant insisted, this time more for Marley’s sake than Sarah’s. “You rubbing her face in – “
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Sarah looked ready to burst into tears, and yet she kept it together, drawing strength from knowing that, no matter what Grant or Marley said, she was not the monster they both believed her to be. “I’m offering you the chance to – “
“Raise another man’s child? What’s the matter, Sarah? Steven refused your generous offer, so you decided to move on to the next patsy on the list? I bet you thought we’d be an easy touch. Me having lost Kirkland, Marley not being able to have children. You probably thought we’d jump at the chance to take this burden off our hands.”
“If I wanted that,” she reminded. “I’d have let Donna and Matt adopt it. But, I changed my mind. I’m keeping the baby.”
“You’re not ready for this,” Grant scoffed. “A baby is hard work. It takes over your life. You’ll get bored and start missing your carefree college days before it cuts its first tooth, I guarantee it. That’s why you’re here already, trying to pawn it off on Marley and me. Do you have any idea how insensitive you’re being?”
“Okay, Grant, that’s enough.” Despite her own tirade earlier against the girl, Marley felt like Grant had slipped into pure cruelty, merely for the sake of it.
“I will not have her treating you this way.” Grant, on the other hand, seemed to be under the impression that Marley was the one currently besieged. “My betrayal of you was bad enough, but to have her waltz into your own home and flaunt what happened…. I will not stand for it. Do you hear me, Sarah?”
“It’s your baby,” Sarah said, sticking to the only thing that mattered. “And I’m going to keep it. If you ever decide you want to be a part of its life, I will always, always let you in. Because that’s how much I love you both.”
“Gregory’s mom?” GQ repeated incredulously, sitting across from Allie at BCU, after she’d filled him in regarding Sharlene turning out to be her stalker.
“Yeah. Zeno figured it out. And she confessed to us.”
“You going to press charges?”
“No. She’s… she’s suffered enough, you know? I feel like, even if we sent her to jail, it wouldn’t really matter. Not after losing Gregory.”
“I guess Zeno is a pretty smart guy.”
“Yeah. He’s smart.”
“And he’s good to you?”
“He’s a good guy,” Allie said.
“I’m glad. You deserve…. Yeah.”
“When this all first started,” Allie shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “You thought it was, you know, about race.”
“Well, that first keying of your car…”
“If we’d stayed together, you’d have thought that about everything, wouldn’t you? I mean, anything that happened to us, you’d at least wonder whether it was because you’re Black and I’m white.”
“Yeah,” GQ said. “I would have.”
“Being with Jen makes stuff easier, huh? At least that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about it. Between you and her, between you guys and other people….”
“Well, sort of. I mean, yeah, her biological dad turned out to be pretty much of a sleaze at the end, but I still think a lot of the initial objections to him, those were race-based. Jen doesn’t see it. She grew up surrounded by white people, though. Crap happened to her that she didn’t even realize it was because she was Black. Maybe that’s better, maybe it’s worse. I don’t know anymore.”
“You’re afraid that’ll happen to Hudson. Because his mom and dad are white. That’s what you tried to explain to the judge. I – I get it now.”
“Thanks,” he told her sincerely.
“One thing, though. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, after what happened, and I just wanted to tell you…. If you and I had stayed together, and people had given us a hard time… It wouldn’t have mattered. I could have taken it. Turns out I’m a lot stronger than I first thought.”
Working as a maid at the most expensive, most exclusive, most decadent hotel in Dubai for close to five years had convinced Faye that she had pretty much seen everything. She no longer even bothered writing home to her daughter in the Philippines. Why fill the girl’s head with nonsense when she should be focusing on her schoolwork and getting into college. So that she didn’t end up spending her life unappreciated and overworked hundreds of miles from home, among people who spoke a different language, and paid lip service to practicing different customs – while, in reality, engaging in activities so bizarre Faye doubted there was a deity in existence who would approve. Or forgive.
In half a decade of servitude, Faye had cleaned up after parties and bacchanalias and orgies that featured everything from girls dressed as mermaids floating in gigantic fish tanks to naked boys strung up in nooses and treated like virtual piñatas with objects that were most certainly not sticks. She’d seen livestock and midgets and children and “toys” that she’d then been required to wash of assorted bodily fluids and return.
Nothing surprised Faye anymore.
Not even the dark, curly-haired American lawyer who’d been staying in the hotel’s most luxurious suite with his wife – though they’d been away for a while; but Faye guessed they were back now – emerging totally naked from the second-floor bedroom while Faye was cleaning. And propositioning her.
Frankly, that sort of behavior was par for the course.
So Faye responded as always. She put down her cleaning supplies and, without another word, proceeded to strip.
That seemed to take the American by surprise. What had he been expecting? Was he one of those who wanted her to protest? To fight? To beg? Was that part of what he needed? Was he one of those who got off on humiliating her before getting down to business?
Faye sighed. She still had two more floors to clean. She hoped this wouldn’t take too long.
But, she was afraid it might. Because, before she was even done taking off a majority of her clothes, the American’s wife stepped into the room from where she’s apparently been hiding.
Would there be two of them now? Faye sighed. She might never get her work done at this rate.
“How does it feel to be back?” Steven wondered, catching Jen in her BCU office for the first time since getting out of the hospital.
“Different,” she admitted. “I know it’s only my perception, but, I’m not the same person I was before, so how can anything else be?”
“That sounds more like philosophy than Cognitive Science,” he observed, awkwardly pulling up a chair in front of her desk.
“I said I knew it was only perception. I could probably even tell you why, biologically speaking. If you wanted to hear it, that is.”
“Oh,” Jen said, suddenly without an expertise to hide behind. As long as they were talking about school and academics, they didn’t have to be talking about….
“Sarah’s baby isn’t mine,” Steven informed her.
“What?” Jen’s head jerked up in combination of shock at him being so blunt, surprise that he was even addressing the sensitive subject, and a further attempt to suggest she hadn’t given the matter much thought whatsoever since the holidays.
“I said that I was over Thanksgiving, because I know who the real father is and… and it’s a real mess. But, I’m not.”
“I was just trying to help her out. Her and some other people.”
“No. I mean, why are you telling me this?”
“Because I wanted you to know.”
“You don’t owe me any explanation.”
“I didn’t say I owed it. I said I wanted to. I wanted you to know that Sarah and I haven’t been a thing since, hell, over two years now.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“Ok,” he said.
“I mean, just because you and I… over Thanksgiving… I’m the one who owes you…”
“You don’t owe me any explanation, either.”
“I kissed you.”
“Technically, I think I’m the one who kissed you.”
“I didn’t exactly object.”
“It was that bad?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Shut up,” she advised.
“And stop being so agreeable.”
He hesitated. “Now I’ve got nothing to say.”
Jen leaned forward, stressing, “This isn’t how I usually operate. I swear. I don’t string guys along. I’m not like that.”
“I believe you.”
“I told you before why – “
“That hasn’t changed. GQ and I… GQ is who I want to be with.”
“So why did I kiss you like that over Thanksgiving?” She slammed her hands on the desk in frustration.
“Nothing beats you.”
“True,” he conceded. “But, if I told you, you wouldn’t like it.”
“It’s okay, Jen. Whatever you decide, it’s okay.”
She asked, “Did you really just come by today to tell me about Sarah’s baby?”
“No,” he admitted. “I came because I wanted to see you.”
“I missed you. I missed talking to you. I missed looking at you.”
She waited for him to say something else. When he didn’t, she admitted, “I missed you, too. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.”
“We’ve got a real problem here.”
“Yeah. We do.”
“Believe it or not, though,” he sighed tiredly. “This isn’t even the toughest issue on my plate these days.”
“You shouldn’t be. The other one, it kind of has to do with you, too.”
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