“Happy New Year!” Felicia showed up on Jamie’s doorstep first thing in the morning, handing out party hats to the girls, blowing a noise-maker in his surprised and somewhat sleepy face, and delivering a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne.
“What’s this for?” he wondered.
“A toast!" she told him. “Now run and fetch us all some glasses.”
“Right,” Jamie said, knowing better than to argue. “Two glasses, one sippy cup and one baby bottle, coming up.”
He plopped Devon and Mackenzie in their high-chairs, cleared his papers off the dining room table, and did as Felicia bade, pouring one flute for himself, one for her.
“What are we toasting to?”
“To the new year,” Felicia said, clarifying further, “To the year Lorna comes home.”
Jamie hesitated, then clicked his glass definitively against hers. “I’ll drink to that.”
“What the….” Lila had waited until close to noon before she politely knocked on the door to Jasmine’s room in order to begin waking up her daughter’s slumber party guests and dispatching them home, only to find each and every girl already awake and in the process of getting a make-over. From Donna, of all people.
“Don’t they look lovely?” Donna trilled. “Each one a beauty. Though, I must admit,” she lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Our Jasmine puts them all to shame, don’t you agree?”
“Do you like this eye-shadow, Mama?” Jasmine closed her lids so Lila could have a better look.
“I do, Sugarplum. Though I liked it even better when Donna Mills was wearing it 20 years ago.”
“It really does bring out her eyes,” Donna agreed.
“Ladies,” Lila addressed Jasmine’s friends. “Breakfast is waiting for you down in the dining room. Please wash your faces – “
A chorus of “Aw, do we have to’s” rose up in protest.
“ – And go get it. Yes, you have to. Otherwise, with all the lipstick you’ve got on, I’m afraid the food will just slip right back out your mouths.” Lila tried to sound light-hearted. While feeling anything but.
“We’ll see you downstairs,” she told the girls, exiting Jasmine’s room and all but dragging Donna out with her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Trying to be a help.” Donna gracefully extracted her elbow from Lila’s grip. “You and Matthew were still asleep, so I thought I would entertain Jasmine’s guests for a spell. I was merely trying to be a good hostess.”
“This wasn’t your party,” Lila reminded. “And Jasmine isn’t your child.”
“I’m her stepmother.”
“Precisely. That means your job is to back Matt and me up. If asked. And stick to the background the rest of the time.”
“You know, when Carl and I were married, and even afterwards, I had the loveliest relationship with his son, Perry. The dear boy came to me for advice and – “
“The dear boy’s only other option was Carl Hutchins. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Jasmine.”
“You’re absolutely right. Jasmine has an entire family that loves her. Myself, included.”
“Listen, Donna,” Lila sighed. “I’m real, real sorry the adoption with Sarah didn’t work out. I know you were counting on it something fierce.”
“What does that have to do with – “
“But, Jazz can’t be your replacement baby. She already has a mother. And that’s not going to change. No matter how many layers you paint on her face. You got me?”
“Happy New Year,” Sharlene embraced her niece. “It’s so good to have you and Cass back!”
“It’s good to be back,” Frankie beckoned for Sharlene to join her at the kitchen table, where Frankie was busy stuffing letters into pre-addressed stamped envelopes.
“What are you doing?” Sharlene wondered, looking over the stack she’d already finished.
“When Cass and I were in Dubai, we got a first-hand look at the horrible conditions their foreign workers live under, especially the women. I’ve started a campaign writing to industries that do business in Dubai to boycott those hotels or risk being associated with trafficking sex workers. I’m also contacting elected officials in the US to pressure companies not to do business in Dubai until the situation is rectified.”
“That’s a pretty massive undertaking.”
“I can’t just close my eyes when other people are suffering.”
“And so time-consuming.”
“Especially when I’m trying to get the first round done before Cass and I leave again.”
“You’re leaving?” Sharlene’s head jerked up in surprise. “When?”
“Tomorrow,” Frankie shrugged apologetically. “We have a great lead on Carl, and I don’t want it to grow cold.”
“But, what about Lori Ann? And Charlie?”
“Felicia is happy to stay on for a bit more. And I doubt we’ll be gone as long as last time. That was… out of our hands.”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Sharlene asked, keeping the judgment out of her voice. “You have responsibilities here.”
“I checked in with Zeno about the farm. Everything is going well, he has what he needs for the next few months. And I’ve reviewed Lori Ann’s therapy reports. The speech and physical is going very well. She’s a lot closer to hitting her milestones than she was half a year ago, which is a great development.”
“What about Charlie?” Sharlene prodded.
“Charlie’s fine. Her classes are going well. I’ll admit I’m still not thrilled about her forgoing Sarah Lawrence in order to stay in Bay City with Kirkland. But, first love, what can you do? In the end, learning about that is a lot more important than Physiology or Comparative Literature. And she and Kirkland are still together, so I guess she made the right call. You know, I’ve got to say, I am so proud of her. She is just growing into this amazing young woman.”
“Even amazing young women need some guidance once in a while.”
“I tried, Sharlene, honestly I did. But, Charlie… she’s a private person. I don’t want to be breathing down her neck every minute of the day like….”
“Emma?” Sharlene guessed.
“Mama casts a broad shadow,” Frankie admitted.
“She may not have always gone about it in the right way, but she loved you, Frankie.”
“She smothered me. I had to practically run away from home and change my name so I could begin figuring out who I was as an individual. Thank God, that won’t be the case with Charlie. I intend to give her all the space she needs to discover herself.”
“All the space from Dubai and back,” Sharlene observed.
“I’m sorry,” Frankie took her aunt’s hand. “I’m sorry. I know how hard this must be for you. After losing Gregory, you probably feel like any mother would be insane not to grab her child and hold onto them as tight as she can.”
“Gregory ran away, too,” Sharlene recalled, eyes welling with tears. “In the end.”
“We Frames kind of excel at that. Look at Steve and Willis, Janice and Jason, you and me, Dean and Gregory,” Frankie winced. “That’s why I’m being so careful with Charlie. After all the time we had stolen from us, I can’t risk driving her away. I can’t risk losing her a second time.”
“Rachel,” Alice merely repeated the name after Kevin filled her in on his mother-in-law’s New Year’s Eve ultimatum. Forty years of history resonated throughout the single word.
“I wanted to tell her to go to Hell, but I realized I couldn’t without talking to you, first.”
“She must be in so much pain to even consider doing something like this.”
“With all due respect, Grandma, Rachel’s suffering isn’t my concern. Not when she’s chosen to take it out on you and a pair of innocent kids.”
“Are you even capable of doing what she asks?”
“In theory,” Kevin shrugged. “I mean, if anyone can break one of my documents, it would be me. I could probably think of something if I had to.”
“Don’t,” Alice told him after a long moment’s thought.
“Not a problem. Except for what it would mean to you.”
Alice hesitated. “What if there was someway to stop Rachel?”
“I’m all ears. That’s why I came to you. Way I hear it told, you’re the only one who’s ever stood up to Rachel and lived to tell about it.”
Alice didn’t appear thrilled by the designation, instead asking, “Have you told Amanda?”
Kevin shook his head. “I’d rather cut things off at the pass than turn it into an even bigger deal. Rachel’s out of her mind, that much is obvious. Bad enough it has to affect you. I’m not letting it screw up my marriage.”
“Are you and Amanda having problems?”
“I can’t say she’s thrilled about what I did with Horace Johnson. Not the setting him up so much, the part where I want to turn myself in.”
“I noticed you haven’t yet.”
“Amanda convinced me to wait, see if the Springfield PD really has the evidence Chase heard they do.”
“That sounds prudent.”
“Yeah, well, in the interest of not sharing a family cell, you said you had a thought about how we could stop Rachel?”
Alice nodded, choosing her words with care, unhappy to even be so much as verbalizing the sentiment. “Rachel knows that I’m not the only one who took care of Spencer while he was dying. Jamie was there, too. And he would have been under the same obligation to report the crime as I was.”
Kevin’s eyes lit up. And, for the first time in twenty-four hours, he smiled.
“If you’re looking to punch Grant,” Marley coolly appraised Olivia. “He isn’t here. And Dennis already beat you to it.”
“Dennis punched Grant?” Whatever Olivia had come over to the house intending to say, Marley’s bombshell managed to temporarily derail her. “Well, what do you know?” She smirked, “You must have loved that.”
“Seeing Dennis all riled up like that, his muscles rippling, sweat dripping from his brow, heavy breathing. That’s what your relationship was all about, wasn’t it? An overwrought romance novel with Dennis as the Alpha Male and you as the fragile, virginal princess in perpetual need of rescue.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marley said, even as she wished Olivia hadn’t hit the nail so squarely on the head. It had been a shock, seeing Dennis again after all these years. And not a completely unpleasant one, either.
“Please. He put you on a pedestal and you loved it. Dennis saw you as the epitome of womanly perfection. It’s all I’ve heard about these past twenty years. How much better of a mother you would have been for Sarah than the self-absorbed bitch she ended up with. That would be me, in case you’re wondering.” Olivia observed with a great deal of satisfaction, “Guess those blinders have been ripped off his eyes once and for all.”
“Did you want something?” Marley demanded, refusing to let Olivia see just how deeply her words cut. The truth of the matter was, Marley had once believed the exact same thing. Hearing Dennis confirm the sentiment earlier had sent her into a tailspin she had yet to properly process.
“I wanted to know what the hell you were thinking, letting Sarah get mixed up with that piece of scum you were stupid enough to marry?”
“You think Sarah came to me for permission before sleeping with my husband?”
“You were supposed to be looking out for her.”
“You mean because her parents had washed their hands of their own responsibilities?”
“Is that what she told you? Well, here’s another perspective. As soon as that child could walk, she made it her priority to run as far away from Dennis and me as possible. I tried taking her along when I toured, but all she did was whine about how much she hated it. I sent her to live with Dennis, but she laid the same act on him. From the moment she was born, it’s like she couldn’t stand either of us. She cried all the Goddamn time.”
“Babies cry, Olivia. It’s nothing personal.”
“Oh, in this case it was. She’d wriggle out of my grasp as soon as I picked her up. She barely slept for the first three years of her life, up and screaming every couple of hours, like clockwork. I did the best I could, but nothing was ever good enough for her. Or for Dennis. He kept browbeating me about it. He refused to believe there was nothing I could do, she was simply impossible.”
“That sounds like something was seriously wrong. Did you consider taking her to a doctor?”
“Doctor told me she was hypersensitive. Well, aren’t we all? Be grateful I didn’t follow through with my original plan to give her to you. The kid was a nightmare.”
“As I’m sure you let her know at every possible opportunity.”
“You would have done a much better job, I’m sure. You’d have coddled her night and day, let her get away with her tantrums and her manipulations, let her roll right over you, always given her way.”
“You know, when Dennis was here earlier, Grant asked why Dennis thought Sarah might have needed to go chasing after married men twice her own age.”
“Three times, by my calculations. But, who's counting?”
“I’m starting to think the blame can’t all be dumped at Dennis’ doorstep.”
Olivia shook her head, unable to get over Marley’s gall. “Oh, you’re just loving this, aren’t you? Finally getting the chance to judge me as a mother.”
“Don’t worry, Olivia, I’ve been doing that since the day Sarah showed up in Bay City, obviously so starved for love she was willing to pretty much do anything to get it.”
“Sarah thinks she got it by doing your husband,” Olivia drew particular enjoyment from her turn of phrase.
“And Steven. And Lord knows whom else. She is a very troubled young woman. She needs help.”
“Then why didn’t you think to provide it before everything got so out of control? Isn’t that what a good mother would have done?”
“I am not Sarah’s mother.”
“At least you can finally admit it. I know you took her in, let her live with you. Treated her like she was your very own. How noble of you. And how twisted. You think Sarah has mental problems? One guess who she contracted them from.”
Marley wondered, “Are you really here, taunting me, when you should be home helping your daughter through this mess she’s gotten herself into?”
“With your husband’s most eager help, no doubt.”
“I told Sarah, and now I am telling you: Leave Grant and I alone. The best thing you can do for Sarah right now is to get her out of town and support her in raising her baby away from the damage she’s done here.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like nothing better than my daughter to be out of sight and out of mind. Easier to keep you from facing the extent of your failure. Not only did you manage to do a worse job with Sarah than I did – and that was a pretty high bar to jump over, I’ll give you that. But, you also allowed her to give your husband the one thing you can’t – his own, biological child.”
“That’s still up for debate.”
“Sarah says she’s sure of it.”
“A month ago, she was just as sure of it being Steven’s.”
“Everybody knows how badly Grant wants a child. A Harrison mini-me. You couldn’t give him that. It must kill you that Sarah could.”
“Grant isn’t interested,” Marley said stiffly.
“So he says.”
“So he acts.”
Olivia shrugged. “Little Spencer hasn’t made his debut yet, has he? Did you know that’s what Sarah is planning on calling him if it’s a boy? Spencer Grant Harrison. Let’s see your husband keep his distance from that. He won’t be able to resist. No matter what Grant says now. And what are you going to do about it then?”
For the first few miles, Allie paid no attention to the other car appearing persistently in her rearview mirror. There was nothing that odd about it, they weren’t the only ones on the street, after all. The beginning of what was promising to be a major snowstorm meant half of Bay City was in their cars, trying to make it home before they were buried beneath a Winter Wonderland indefinitely.
It was only when Allie turned onto the nearly deserted road that led to the back of the Cory Mansion that she noticed the same car was still following her. And that now that it was just the two of them, it was speeding up, too.
The snow falling onto Allie’s back window made it difficult for her to see clearly, and she was afraid to take her eyes off the front windshield for too long, lest the road grow unexpectedly treacherous.
She told herself that everything was fine. Yes, this was a rarely trafficked road, but the Corys were hardly the only ones who ever used it. For all Allie knew, it was a shortcut to a whole bunch of places and, in weather like this, the shorter the drive the better.
She kept telling herself that everything was fine. Right up until the first time the car behind her nudged Allie’s bumper.
It wasn’t too hard of a blow. It could still have been an accident.
The second one definitely wasn’t.
And neither was the third.
The fourth one caused Allie’s car to spin out on the wet ground and go flying across the road, ending up lodged in a snow-bank, her tires stuck in the mud.
She gunned her engine, trying to free herself, but it was useless. Allie was stuck. She reached for her phone, only to find a dearth of bars.
The other car pulled up behind Allie’s. And stopped.
Allie froze in her seat. The driver was getting out.
The driver was Charlie.
Charlie was holding a large branch in her hand, probably knocked down by the wind off a tree. Charlie slammed Allie’s passenger side door with the branch. “Get out of the car,” she said levelly.
Allie shook her head, grabbing the handle for good measure.
“Get out of the car,” she repeated, this time smacking the branch straight against the window. It shook from the impact.
Allie found her voice long enough to insist, “No!”
Charlie shrugged and hit the window again, harder this time. A crack appeared. The next time, she aimed specifically for the fissure and struck again.
“Cut it out!” More angry than scared now, Allie flung open the door and climbed out, her feet immediately sinking in the ankle deep snow. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
Charlie looked equal parts pleased to have driven Allie outside and also at a loss for what to do next.
“What do you want from me?” Allie demanded.
“I want you to stop it,” Charlie said, sounding almost reasonable.
“Stop it? Stop what?’
“Stop pretending you’re so perfect.”
“When did I ever claim I was perfect?”
“Everybody acts like you are. Everybody loves you. Everybody wants you.”
“Not everybody,” Allie assured her sincerely.
“Everybody who matters.”
“Look Charlie, I don’t know why you’re so mad at me. What did I ever do to you?”
“You don’t even know,” Charlie said sadly. “You don’t even get it.”
“Get…” Charlie trailed off. Then suddenly picking up the branch again, she swung it wildly at Allie’s head. “Get lost!” she screamed. “Just get lost! Get out of here! I don’t want to see your face! Go away!”
“Gladly,” Allie mumbled, and made a move to get back into her car.
But, Charlie cut her off, aiming the stick directly for Allie’s head this time.
Allie ducked at the last minute, falling in the snow on all fours, so that instead of her head, the weapon merely made contact with Allie’s shoulder. It still hurt like hell.
She scrambled to her feet, backing away from the car… and Charlie, who was glaring at Allie with an expression that finally drove home the literal meaning behind If Looks Could Kill.
Allie didn’t stick around to ask any more questions. Without so much as a glance over her shoulder, she turned tail and ran.
Straight into the darkest part of the woods. Away from Charlie. Away from everything.
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