Parking their own car next to Allie and Charlie’s abandoned and snowbound vehicles, GQ and Kirkland followed the footsteps that led off the road and into the surrounding woods. The worst of the storm was finally over, but it was still tricky to make out where they were going in the near-total darkness. Both Kirkland and GQ took turns getting thwacked in the face by an unexpectedly low tree limb, and tripping over obscured rocks.
“See anything yet?” Kirkland asked.
“No,” GQ shook his head. Then suddenly changed it to, “Yes!” He pointed in the direction of the lake, where a shadowy figure appeared to be moving sluggishly and clinging to the edge of a frozen fissure.
GQ ran towards the figure, Kirkland close behind, only coming to a stop once he’d assessed the situation and realized what had happened. And whom it had happened to.
“Hold on, Allie,” GQ promised, desperately looking around for anything he could stretch out for her to grab onto. He understood that walking up to her would only cause him to fall through the ice, as well. “We’re coming to get you. Hold on.”
“GQ?” she raised her head wearily, as if unable to believe someone had finally turned up.
“I’m here,” he reassured. “Kirkland, too. We’ll get you out.”
Everything within arm’s distance wasn’t large enough or strong enough to toss to Allie as a lifeline. So GQ did the next best thing. He lay down on his stomach, crawling across the murky surface like a polar bear in order to distribute his weight evenly and keep the ice from cracking. He called over his shoulder to Kirk, “I’m going to grab Allie’s hand. Soon as I do, you pull us both out. Think you can do it?”
Kirkland nodded fervently, despite having his doubts. “Got it.”
GQ painstakingly inched forward, using primarily his arms as if swimming. The cold seeping through his jacket and sweatshirt only drove home what bad shape Allie had to be in after who only knew how long in the water.
“Take my hand, Allie,” he urged, stretching it as far forward as he dared.
She made a feeble attempt to do so, but seemed too frightened to actually let go of the edge she’d been clinging to.
“Just a little more. You’ve got to risk it. Please, Allie. I’m right here. Take my hand.”
She shook her head, eyes barely managing to stay open.
“Allie, please. Please try harder. I know you’re scared. But, I won’t let you go, I promise,” GQ articulated the thing he thought she needed to hear most.
Allie’s feverish eyes met GQ’s, silently holding the gaze for what felt like an eternity. And then, in a flash, she let go of the ice and lurched forward, her fingers brushing GQ’s.
He grabbed and held on with all his might, bringing both his arms forward, clutching her wrist for a better grip. “Now, Kirk!” GQ shouted.
Kirkland obeyed, wrapping his hands around GQ’s ankles and tugging. Trying to balance on slippery ice and drag two people to safety was easier said than done. He lost control and came down hard on one knee, pushing GQ and Allie forward, sending his cousin back into the water.
Kirkland scrambled to his feet, tightened his hold and yanked again, this time feeling a muscle rip in his shoulder, but gritting through it.
The top half of Allie’s body was out now, making it easier for GQ to pull her the rest of the way, clutching her to his chest and ordering, “Whole way, quick!”
Kirkland did as commanded and, as soon as it was safe, GQ rose, carrying Allie in his arms. He sat her down on solid ground, peeling off Allie’s sopping wet coat and wrapping her in his own. She was shaking so hard she couldn’t speak or move.
“Come on,” GQ called, running back towards the car, having once again picked up Allie. “We’ve got to get her to a hospital.”
“No,” Kirkland said, jogging alongside him.
“What the hell do you mean, no?”
“Charlie is still out here. She could be hurt, too. I have to find her.” Kirkland fumbled around in his pockets. “Look, here, take my keys, you drive Allie to the hospital. I’m going to look for Charlie.”
Figuring it was easier than arguing, especially when time was of the essence, GQ grabbed the keys. The last thing he asked before taking off was, “What the hell do you think happened here?”
Kirkland only shook his head, as confused as anyone.
“It’s not too late for a visit, is it?” Dennis asked sheepishly, standing on the Harrison doorstep.
Alice’s expression of shock quickly turned to delight as she swept her one-time patient and almost stepson into a hug. “For you? Never! Come in, darling, please. It’s so wonderful to see you again after all this time.”
“I didn’t just mean too late tonight. I mean in general. I haven’t exactly been good about keeping in touch,” Dennis apologized as he followed Alice into the living room.
“I forgive you,” Alice dismissed with a smile. “Goodness, let me look at you. How have you been?”
“Well… You know about Sarah.”
“I guess I could ask why you didn’t see fit to fill me in. But, considering my own mother didn’t bother to either….”
“I try very hard to stay out of other people’s business.”
“Not exactly something anyone’s ever said about Mom, is it?”
“You’re here for Sarah now, that’s what matters.”
“Yeah.” Dennis sighed. “Just wish my daughter saw me as something more than a buffer between my mother and hers.”
“She called you when she needed you. That’s something.”
“I don’t know what to tell her,” he confessed. “Keep the baby, don’t keep the baby… She’s got Olivia’s and my example for reference. Who knows what she’ll decide.”
“It was my understanding that Sarah had made up her mind to raise the child alone.”
“That’s what she says. Personally, I think she’s gambling on Grant not being able to keep his distance. Oh, by the way, my condolences about Spencer. A year late and a dollar short, I know. Story of my life.”
“Thank you,” Alice said. And then, because Dennis just looked so disheartened by everything, changed the subject. “Tell me, how’s your father?”
“Good.” Dennis visibly perked up at being able to relay positive news, for a change. “He’s great, actually. He’s been asked to update A Journalist’s Diary of Eastern Europe for a new edition, so he’s back on the front lines. Putin met with him. Dad says he’s one scary dude, right up there with the Cold War dictators. Dad’s having the time of his life.”
“I’m glad. Not just for Elliot, but you, too. I’m glad the pair of you were able to mend fences.”
“Well, most guys would say: He’s the only dad I’ve got. Except it’s not exactly true in my case. In the end though, I realized the dad who raised me and loved me my whole life – even if he’s not my biological father and he did somehow manage to fall in love with my ex-wife along the way – still trumps the one I only knew for a year or so. I even thought about changing my name back to Carrington. But, it was such a hassle the first time. And who cares about names when you get down to it, right?”
“You always were a smart boy.”
“And you always were my favorite of Dad’s girlfriends. You ever wonder what might have been?”
“I don’t have to wonder. I know I would have loved having you for a stepson. But, it wasn’t meant to be. Some things simply aren’t.”
“Think you could explain that to Sarah? I know my kid. She’s got this fantasy of Grant riding up on his white horse to sweep her and the baby away into Happily Ever After.”
“Only if she asks for my advice,” Alice demurred.
“Oh, well, that’s that, then.”
“Are you in town for long, darling?”
He shrugged. “Until everything is settled, I guess. I promised Sarah I wouldn’t leave her alone in Russ’ house with Olivia and Mom.”
“In that case, do you think you could do me a favor?”
“Have you thought about seeing Jamie while you’re here? He’s going through a very tough time. He could use a friend.”
“Uhm, Alice,” Dennis shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know if you ever heard, but Jamie and I aren’t exactly the best buddies we were when we were kids.”
“I heard. I know about your bet with Jake over Marley. But, that was almost twenty years ago. I suspect you both have grown up a great deal since then. And that, right now, you could both use an old friend to talk to.”
“Well, if this isn’t a blast from the past!” Olivia tapped the shoulder of the man who sat down next to her at the edge of Tops’ bar. “Matthew Cory!”
“Olivia!” He smiled nervously, unsure of the proper response upon encountering the woman who’d tried to break up your sister’s marriage, nearly two decades after the fact. “What are you doing back in Bay City?”
“Sarah,” Olivia sighed, raising the Cosmo she’d been sipping to indicate the same answer applied to the question of: What drove you to drink?
“Oh. Yes. Right.”
“I hear you and your wife almost ended up adopting my,” Olivia nearly gagged on the word. “Grandchild.”
“It… didn’t work out.”
“Because Sarah lied about paternity. There’s a familiar story. Though, I got to admit, the thought of Donna raising Iris’ precious flesh and blood right under that bitch’s nose does make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”
“I think it’s the alcohol.”
“Nah.” Olivia drained the remainder of her glass. “Best I’ve managed so far is to just about take the edge off being hated by own kid.” She set it down on the bar and gestured for another round. “And what brings you out to imbibe on such a dark and stormy night – all by your lonesome, no less?”
“Both my wife and my ex-wife are pretty mad at me, at the moment. I thought I’d get out of the way and let them compare notes on my inadequacy in private.”
“So you and Donna, huh?” Olivia worked to wrap her brain around the odd pairing. “Which go-around is this, again?”
“The last one,” Matt stressed.
“I’ll drink to that.” Olivia clinked her newly refilled glass against his still half-full one. “To finally getting it right. One of these days.”
“How long did you and Dennis make it?” Matt asked. Because hearing about someone else’s failures was more pleasant than thinking about his own.
“Oh, a few weeks, months, tops. We were done by the time my feet hit the stirrups to deliver Sarah. And I don’t just mean romance done. I mean, civility done.”
“Sorry. That sounds rough.”
“A one night stand followed by an accidental pregnancy is hardly a sound basis for a lifelong relationship. I mean, hey, look at your mom and dad, right? At least, Dennis and I managed to avoid jail-time. Though it came right down to the wire a couple of times.”
“Yeah,” Matt conceded. “I did swear I’d try to do better with my own kid. Lila and I are… civil. Well, at least we were. Until Donna got involved.”
“Lila regretting giving you up?”
“What? No! Hell, no. Why would you say something like that?”
Olivia shrugged innocently. “I certainly would have.”
Another trail of footprints lead away from the lake. Kirkland followed them while GQ hurried Allie towards the car. It took him close to an hour before he found Charlie.
She was sitting at the base of a tree, her back against the trunk, her knees drawn up to her chest, arms folded, head down. She was sitting so still, Kirkland almost walked right by her, as if she were an inanimate object.
“Charlie,” Kirkland said softly.
She didn’t budge.
“Charlie. It’s me. It’s Kirk.”
Still no response.
He took another step forward. “You must be cold, sitting like that. Let me take you home.”
Finally, she acknowledged him, her eyes glazed over and confused.
“It’s Kirk,” he repeated, when it didn’t look like she recognized him. “Come on, let’s go home.”
He held out his hand.
Charlie stared at it like a foreign object. When Kirkland refused to back down, she, somewhat dazedly, did as he said and rose from the ground, mutely allowing him to lead her out of the woods.
“Thanks for coming in early, Mom,” Amanda ushered Rachel into her Brava office and shut the door behind them. Despite them seemingly being the only ones in at this hour, Amanda still didn’t trust the walls not to have ears. With Iris’ eavesdropping equipment on them. “I’m scheduled for a board meeting at eight, and I need to make sure we’ve got all our financial ducks in a row in case Iris tries another stunt.”
Rachel nodded, ready to get down to business. “How can I help?”
Amanda indicated a column of figures with one finger even as, with her free hand, she checked her buzzing phone.
“Jesus,” Amanda snapped, “This is the third time since five a.m. Morgan’s called me. What is his problem?”
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” Rachel asked, confused. In her world, a five a.m. phone call was an emergency, not something to send straight to voice-mail.
“Well,” Amanda hesitated, realizing that telling her mother why precisely she was avoiding Dr. Winthrop’s calls would probably be worse than just seeing what he wanted. She pushed the answer button, demanding, “What?”
A minute later, Amanda was at the door, grabbing her coat, telling Rachel, “Allie’s been in an accident. She’s at BCU Hospital. I’ve got to get over there right away.”
“I’ll come with you.” Rachel reached for her own coat.
“No. Mom, please. I need you to stay, fill in for me at the board meeting. It’s extremely important, one of us has to be here.”
“Oh, well, then, in that case, alright. But, please, call me as soon as you know more.”
“Yeah. Sure. Morgan said Allie fell through a hole in the ice…
“Oh, my God.”
“He said she didn’t drown. She held her head above water. It’s just, the water was freezing…”
“Go,” Rachel urged. “I’ll hold down the fort.”
“Thanks. Oh, and one more thing, Mom. Could you call Kevin for me? Tell him it looks like I won’t be able to make Alice’s thing this afternoon.”
“Thing? What thing?”
“Oh,” Amanda dismissed. “She’s having Spencer’s body exhumed.”
“Alice is what?”
“To be reburied in Ireland,” Amanda offered her mother a confused look, wondering why the site of Spencer Harrison’s remains should be of any concern to Rachel.
Donna had her marching orders from Matt and Lila: Donna was to refrain from offering her help, advice and/or friendship to Jasmine at all costs.
But, surely, those costs didn’t include passing by Jasmine’s room, hearing the distinctive sound of sobbing on the other side, and merely continuing on, did it?
Donna knocked discreetly on Jasmine’s door.
“Come in,” came the muffled, sniffling reply.
When Donna entered Jasmine’s room, the child, still in her nightgown, was boasting puffy eyes, damp lashes, and moist sleeves from where she’d hurriedly wiped the tears away and forced her face into an expression of normalcy.
But, Donna wasn’t fooled. “What’s wrong, my darling?” she cooed.
“Nothing,” Jasmine answered brightly. “Everything is fine.”
“You know,” Donna said, perching tentatively on the edge of Jasmine’s bed. “That’s what I used to tell people, too. I used to wish so hard that they’d believe me. And then feel so disappointed when they actually did.”
Jasmine seemed to understand exactly what Donna was getting at. She asked, “What were you trying to hide?”
“Oh, the fact that anything might bother me. I wanted to seem strong, unbreakable, so that the people with the capacity to hurt me would realize it was an impossible task, and move on. I made it happen, too. Eventually. But, it was a very painful journey. Now, I think it might have been smarter to let them see how hurt I really was. Because maybe then they would have stopped. Or, at the very least, I could have dealt with the problem head on, instead of skulking about, being so unhappy. Maybe if I’d shared my worries with someone else, the two of us could have put our heads together and even come up with a solution. So many opportunities lost.”
Jasmine wrinkled her nose. “I know what you’re doing.”
“Goodness, I would certainly hope so.” Donna smiled. “I am attempting to act as transparent as possible.”
Jasmine said, “They all made fun of me.”
“Who did, darling?”
“The girls. The ones who were here over New Year’s. Who you did the makeovers on. They laughed at me because Mama won’t let me wear make up. They all do!”
“Well, not everyone can be a natural beauty, like you and I, Jasmine. I’m certain those girls are merely jealous.
“Of me,” Jasmine snorted. “No one is jealous of me. They called me a baby.”
“Sticks and stones,” Donna dismissed.
“They’re right,” Jasmine plopped down next to her stepmother. “Mama does treat me like a baby. No make-up, no rated R movies, no going out without an adult chaperone. I’m the only one at school who gets treated like that.”
“I doubt that.”
Jasmine ignored Donna’s denial to demand, “If your parents treated you like that, if they monitored your every move and bossed you around and told you what to do and how to think and who to be every minute of the day, what would you do?”
“Oh, Jasmine,” Donna began. “It’s not that I don’t know how you feel. Trust me, my darling, I do, more than you could possible realize.”
“You mean your mom and dad were like that, too?”
“My father,” Donna said after a moment’s hesitation. “Reginald Love was a very… controlling man.”
“So what did you do?” Jasmine pressed.
“I – I didn’t do anything,” Donna confessed.
“Oh,” the child deflated in front of her eyes.
Spurring Donna to grab Jasmine’s hand, hug her tightly and promise, “But, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to.”
He saw her through the window. Grant was on his way to the gym, walking by the same high-end furniture store he always passed, when he saw Sarah through the glass. In the nursery department.
It had only been a few weeks since Grant had last seen her, but it seemed to him that Sarah had grown by leaps and bounds. There was no mistaking that she was very, very pregnant, possibly due to give birth in… Grant did some quick mental math… less than a month. February 14th, she’d told him. Valentine’s Day.
She wasn’t wearing any make-up, and her hair was swept back off her face in a French braid, with a few loose wisps falling down around her face and neck. Her cheeks were pink from the cold, and her slightly chapped lips just a little redder than usual.
A salesman was handing her a blue baby blanket to feel, and when Sarah brought it to her face, it matched the color of her eyes, exactly.
Sarah was standing next to a crib, which came with a corresponding dresser and changing table. She ran her fingers along the gleaming bright finish and, as she did so, she caught sight of Grant on the other side of the glass.
Sarah froze in place. And so did Grant. The pair of them standing there, in stalemate, waiting for the other to make the next move.
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