“Grant is the father of Sarah’s baby?” Jamie attempted to feign sufficient surprise at Marley’s revelation after she’d dropped by the house to fill him in. “Not Steven?”
“Well, those are the top two candidates, in any case. I just thought you should know. I doubt Steven would tell you himself. At least he hasn’t answered any of my texts or calls since Thanksgiving.”
“Mine either,” Jamie admitted. Then, since this really wasn’t quite as big of a shock to him as it should have been, switched to asking, “Are you okay, Marley?”
“Are you kidding me?” She gave him a look he hadn’t seen in years.
“Sorry. I guess that was a stupid question.”
“Not as stupid as what I’m going to tell you next,” she hesitated.
“I’m all ears,” Jamie offered, a bit disturbed by how easily he and Marley seemed to be slipping back into their old familiar patterns. But, then again, a ten year old habit was tough to break. And she obviously needed a friend right now.
“Grant told me about Sarah. He begged my forgiveness. And he told me he wants me, not her, and not her baby. That’s not the stupid part, though. The stupid part is… I’m tempted to believe him.”
“Grant doesn’t want Sarah’s child?” Jamie asked, incredulous, even despite having more of an insight into Grant’s reasoning than Marley did. He knew Lorna had attempted to put the fear of God into the man. But, Grant clearly had failed to stay away from Sarah after the first attempt, and now that there was a baby involved….
“So he says. He says nothing matters more to him than me. And that he’s proven it by turning his back on Sarah.”
“Sarah is one thing. But, after everything he put first Vicky then me through over Kirkland, I can’t believe he’d just – “
“Sarah stopped by the house earlier. She said she wanted to hear Grant tell her himself that he isn’t interested. He did, Jamie. He told her that and a hell of a lot more. He was brutal, to be honest. He told her he didn’t believe the baby was his – well, that part seems true, I mean, Steven did step up, so there must be at least a possibility… But, there’s also a possibility that the baby is Grant’s. She kept insisting it was. She even offered to take a paternity test. But, Grant wouldn’t budge. He wants her out of his – and my – life.”
“And you honestly believe that, after all this, you two can still have a life together? That this isn’t just another underhanded deception on his part?”
“To get what? He doesn’t need my money. I can’t help him with Kirkland’s custody anymore. There is no good reason for him to be playing me like this. I…” Marley waved her hands helplessly in the air. “I don’t know what to think. Except… Except that no one has ever made the kind of sacrifices for me that Grant has. He helped me cover up Lorna’s accident – I know it was wrong, and I’ve apologized to you both a million times for it. But, the fact is, he had just as much to lose as I did. But, he protected me anyway. He didn’t even hesitate. He was willing to help me flee the country with Bridget and Michele. Again, I know it was wrong. But, he was there for me when no one else was. He signed Kirkland over to you so Lorna wouldn’t press charges. He waited for me while I got out of the hospital. And now… Now he is willing to disregard a baby that may be his, for my sake. My God, Jamie, how am I supposed to respond to that?”
Stiffly, Jamie said, “Grant Harrison is not the only person who has ever loved you, Marley. Think of the sacrifices Vicky made for you. Think of the sins she forgave. There’s also Donna. There’s me…. We’ve all gone out on a limb for you at one time or another. Because, errors in judgment aside, you’re a good person who deserves loyalty and love. Don’t let Grant fool you into thinking he’s the only capable of providing it.”
“He’s all I have,” Marley said softly.
“That isn’t true.”
“Yes, it is. I love Vicky’s kids, you know that. But, the boys are yours. And the girls were never really mine. And never will be. They’re Vicky’s children. Vicky and Jake’s. Grant is the only human being on Earth who has ever made me his number one priority.”
“If that were the case,” Jamie realized how it sounded, but he couldn’t help snarking, “Sarah wouldn’t be pregnant now, would she?”
“People make mistakes. We’ve all made mistakes. Steven wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t made a mistake with Vicky. You wouldn’t be here. Matt. Sarah, herself. This town is a walking testament to mistakes. And to people moving past them. Alice took Steve back after you were born. Mac took Rachel back after Matt. The list is endless.”
“Does that mean you have to join it?”
“What options do I have? How many bad marriages is a person supposed to rack up before they put their foot down and say, enough is enough? This time, I’m not going to run away with my tail between my legs. This time, I’m going to stay and fight.”
Jamie hesitated. And then he said, “Lorna told me the same thing once. About how she ran away instead of fighting for Gabe. And he died. She wasn’t even there. She told me she would never, ever do that again.”
“Grant is my last chance, Jamie. My last chance to have what other people seem to get without effort. A home, a family, a man who loves me and is willing to give up anything to make me happy. How can I throw that away? Where would I ever find it again?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Frankie demanded, popping out of her hiding spot and confronting the maid as the woman went about calmly and methodically removing her clothes in front of an equally naked Cass.
Nonplussed, Fay indicated Frankie’s husband and reminded, “He asked…”
“I didn’t mean for you to go ahead and do it!” Cass spluttered, desperately grabbing for a robe and, with no time to put it on properly, merely wrapping it around his waist.
“No?” She blinked, confused.
“No!” Cass and Frankie answered in unison.
Faye glanced blankly from one to the other.
Frankie asked, “Do you get… this… a lot?”
“Naked men telling you to strip.”
“Oh, this. Yes.”
“It’s my job,” Faye shrugged.
“It is most certainly not your job!” Frankie exploded.
While Faye merely looked at her with genuine sympathy and said, “You are Americans?”
“You don’t understand.”
“Are you telling us,” Cass wondered. “That sexual favors are a part of your job?”
“Make the guests happy,” Faye clarified.
“In any way they demand?”
“Yes.” And then, just to make sure they were on the same page. “You do not want…”
“No!” Cass insisted.
“So I may go now?”
Frankie said, “He was never going to go through with it. Believe me.”
“I believe you,” Faye said neutrally.
“No, I mean, really. We just wanted to scare you a little. We wanted you to go running out and, you see, our door is locked, so…”
“Yes,” Faye said, with a level of indifference that made it clear whatever naughty game they were playing, she wanted no part of it. She had real problems.
“We thought if you reported Cass to the authorities, then the American Embassy would need to get involved, you see… It’s… There was a French official in the US… We were trying to….”
“May I go now?” she repeated politely.
“No,” Frankie said, the wheels in her head turning. “No… Not yet….”
“Surprise, darling!” Iris greeted her granddaughter upon Sarah’s return to Russ’ house from seeing Grant, gleefully filling the girl in that they would now all be roommates.
Iris had expected a variety of responses. Utter indifference hadn’t been one of them.
“Sarah.” She caught the younger woman by the arm during a stealth attempt to just brush by and disappear upstairs. “Have you been crying?”
“Leave me alone, please.”
“You have been. Darling, darling,” Iris attempted to wrap Sarah in her arms. “Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what I can do to fix it.”
“He doesn’t want me,” Sarah blurted out, realizing that words were the only way to keep the tears at bay, and that giving Iris at least a fraction of what she wanted was the only way to ultimately get away from her. “Me or the baby.”
“Well, what can you expect?” Iris offered her version of a sympathetic pep talk. “The boy comes from irresponsible trash on both sides of the family tree. Between Rachel and Jamie’s bloodlines, and Donna and Vicky’s, your Steven barely stood a chance. Not that he made much of an effort to rise above his regrettable origins.”
“Steven?” Sarah pulled away angrily. “Steven’s the only one who’s been decent to me throughout this whole thing. And he’s the only one who doesn’t have to be!”
“I beg to differ. His responsibility is massive, and the least he can do is practice – “
“Steven doesn’t have any responsibility here,” Sarah broke from the strain. “The baby isn’t his. He just said it was to help me out.”
“I beg your pardon?” Iris did so hate having her entire worldview upended. “This child you’re carrying isn’t Steven’s?”
“Are you certain?”
“Of course, I’m certain.” Sarah took offense. But, it didn’t stop her from firing back, “Weren’t you certain about who my dad’s real father was, no matter what you may have told other people?”
“Well… Yes. But, I had my reasons for distorting the truth then.”
“Normal people call it lying.”
Iris let the slight fly right over her head in favor of more important things. “Well, if Steven isn’t the culprit, then who is?”
Sarah figured there was no point in denials any longer. Now that Marley knew, Sarah’s reason for keeping their secret was no longer valid.
And so she told her grandmother, “Grant. It’s Grant Harrison.”
“It’s been a while,” Sharlene told Charlie, hugging her great-niece then looking her up and down for good measure. “How have you been, sweetheart?”
“Good,” Charlie offered blithely, not sure why exactly Sharlene was there, but striving to be polite, like she’d been taught.
“Have you heard from your mom and dad recently?”
“They sent a text over Thanksgiving, but you know how Mom and Dad are. All they need is a bad guy to chase after and they’re off on their latest adventure. I’m sure there’s a postcard on the way.”
“Sounds terribly glamorous.”
“Yeah. I’m so lucky to have such awesome parents, not boring stick-in-the-muds who have nothing better to do than sit around at home and poke their noses into their kids’ business every minute of the day,” Charlie parroted in a bored monotone, then, figuring that probably wasn’t the definition of politeness, changed the subject to, “How are you?”
“I’m a little confused, to tell you the truth,” Sharlene said.
“About why you’ve been terrorizing Allie Fowler with forget-me-nots and newspaper clippings about Gregory’s death?”
“W-what?” Now the struggle was just to get the words out.
“Or about why you put linseed in her gas tank over Thanksgiving?”
“Who said… Why would….”
“Forget-me-nots, Charlie. Your mom loves them. She’s grown them ever since she was a little girl. She’s always got a pot blooming somewhere where she can see it. And now that you’ve moved into Donna’s place, I know she planted a whole crop of them right out by the pool.”
“So?” Was the best Charlie could do, drowning.
“And linseed oil. It’s supposed to have anti-cancer properties. Your mom kept telling me to try it with Gregory. She even pressed some herself and brought it to the hospital. She swears by it. But, she told me to be careful. If stored wrong, it can be deadly.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Aunt Sharlene.”
“Allie and Zeno accused me of being the one behind everything. They thought I resented her moving on after Gregory’s death. I am, that part, at least, is true. So I told them, yes. Yes, it was me. I did it.”
“Why would you do that?” Finally, Charlie’s confusion was genuine.
“Because, frankly, I don’t give a damn about Allie Fowler or Zeno Tantalus. And I love you.” When Charlie failed to respond, Sharlene went on, “And also because I know what it’s like to have your feelings run away from you. To be so hurt and so angry that all you want to do is make everyone around you feel exactly the same way. And if you can’t make them hurt, then maybe the least you can do is make them pay attention, make them understand that things have changed and that you’re scared they’ll never be the same again. Or that you know for certain that they won’t. And that’s even scarier.”
Charlie said, “I hate her. Allie. I hate her.”
“Why?” Sharlene prompted gently. “What happened, baby?”
“Everything is just so easy for her. No matter how badly she screws up, everyone still loves her and trips over themselves to protect her.”
“I can’t argue with you there.”
“She has an illegitimate baby, lies about who the read dad is, dicks over both him and the adoptive parents, and still it’s all: Poor Allie, look at everything she’s been through; oh, poor, poor Allie.. Then, with Gregory, she breaks the law. She kidnaps him away from you and Uncle John and basically kills him, that’s what she does. And instead of going to jail, it’s: Allie is so brave; isn’t Allie so brave?”
“Yes,” Sharlene bobbed her head, not wanting to intimidate her into silence but, at the same time, prodding, “Except neither of those things really had much to do with you. What did Allie do to you in particular that made you want go after her like this?”
“Zeno,” Charlie mumbled.
“Oh. I see.” Sharlene tactfully declined to press for details. “When was this, honey? Before he and Allie started dating?”
Charlie nodded miserably.
“I thought you were seeing Kirkland, though. In fact, I though that’s why you stayed in Bay City instead of going to Sarah Lawrence. Because Kirkland chose to stay.”
“I stayed because of Zeno.”
“Oh. I see.”
“I told everyone it was because of Kirk but, really, it was because of Zeno. I like Kirk. Kirk is a really great guy and he says he loves me and… But, we… He’s not… Zeno… I… I feel… stuff when I’m with Zeno that I just… don’t with Kirk. Although, you know, Kirk is really… nice,” Charlie finished feebly.
“Okay. I think I understand.”
“He doesn’t want me, Aunt Sharlene. Zeno doesn’t want me, he wants Allie.”
“It’s not fair, is it?” she sympathized.
“No,” Charlie sniffled. And then she asked, “Are you going to tell on me?”
“When my chauffeur told me where he’d dropped Iris off…” Rachel looked around in wonder. “You’re not seriously letting her stay here, are you, Russ?”
He shrugged. “What are ex-fiancées for?”
“In my experience? Staying away from.”
“What about ex-husbands, then?”
“That’s different,” she demurred, though with a smile to indicate Rachel got his point.
“You know,” he changed the subject, also with a smile. “You saying those words, my chauffer, it really suits you.”
“Fine, go ahead, tease me all you like. I won’t be distracted.”
“You always did know you were meant for the fancier things in life. That’s why my fine, upstanding, middle-class Matthews wholesomeness never quite fit what you were looking for.”
“I was young and stupid and greedy and, most importantly, ungrateful. I took you – and your entire fine, upstanding, wholesome Matthews family – for granted, chasing after things that didn’t really matter. It’s why I named Matt after you all. I finally understood your worth.”
“My worth?” Russ clarified, his tone unexpectedly changing to something… different.
“Your family’s,” Rachel corrected, wondering why his question made her feel so uncomfortable. Deciding that Iris must be to blame. Iris was always to blame for everything. She said, “Please don’t let my stepdaughter corrupt the fine, upstanding, middle-class home your parents raised you in.”
“I’ll put slipcovers over the furniture,” he offered.
“Just don’t let her pull you back in again.”
“Into whatever she’s plotting now. Between conspiring with Chase Hamilton to drive Carl out of town so she can take-over Cory Publishing, and now obsessing over Sarah and Steven’s baby, the woman’s got a lot of irons in the fire. And a lot of schemes you can find yourself sucked into before you know what’s happened.”
“I can handle Iris.”
“Famous last words. That you are hardly the first man to utter.”
“She’s lonely, Rachel.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“You don’t think that makes her actually feel worse about it?”
“Who cares? I tried, Russ, God knows, I tried. When she came back last summer, I gave her a chance. Another chance. Who knows what number chance. I’ve done my part. My debts to Mac – on this front, at least – are paid.”
“It’s almost Christmas. You expect me to throw her out in the cold like the Little Match Girl.”
“She’ll have her spite to keep her warm,” Rachel reassured.
“Mrs. Wheeler.” Chase stood up as Iris swept into the Mayor’s office.
“I have some information for you. On one condition.”
“And what might that be?”
“That you have the balls to use it.”
“Leaving my balls out of it – they’re spoken for – I’d have to hear what it is you have, first. And find out where you got your information. Unlike your stepmother and her Mayoral hand-puppet, I actually like to vet my sources.”
“My facts come straight from the horse’s mouth.”
“Hopefully with a notary attached.”
“What would you say, Mr. Hamilton, if I told you that Grant Harrison is hiding a whopper of a secret?”
“He can’t be doing a very good job of it, if you know what it is.”
“Oh, everyone will know what it is, soon enough. After all, it’s the kind of truth that you can only keep under wraps for nine months or so….”
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