“How is she?” Cass and Frankie moved on from hounding Kirkland to interrogating John, who came into the waiting area to announce he’d been the one taking care of Charlie since she was first brought in.
“She’s…” The length of his pause didn’t fill either of Charlie’s parents with confidence.
“What’s going on?” Cass demanded.
While Frankie opted for the softer, “Please, John, tell us everything.”
“Physically, she’s fine,” John hedged.
“Thank God,” Cass exhaled.
“But, something is still wrong?” Frankie sensed.
John tried another tack. “How much did Kirk tell you about Charlie’s condition when he found her?”
“He said she wasn’t moving or talking. That she was disoriented, not answering when he called her name. I figured it must have been the hypothermia.”
“No,” John said. “Charlie was warmly dressed and she was moving the majority of the time she was out. The effects of the cold were minimal. Her body temperature is stable. No signs of frostbite. Her pulse was strong, her breathing and heart-rate were steady. She was conscious. Kirkland says she walked out of the woods on her own.”
“But, she was just sitting there…” Frankie looked at John helplessly. “Where is she now? I need to see her. Let us see her.”
“In a minute,” John promised. “I just need to prepare you.”
“Prepare us?” Cass’ voice bounced off the walls. “Prepare us for what, John?”
“It appears that Charlie has slipped into a catatonic state.”
“No,” Frankie said, as if such a conclusion weren’t even up for discussion.
“She is unresponsive to all external stimuli, including verbal and physical. She hasn’t spoken or moved of her own accord since I’ve seen her.”
“This is ridiculous.” Frankie attempted to push her way past him. “Obviously, there’s something you’ve missed. Let me see my daughter.”
John sighed, and then he said, “Come with me.”
“Is there anything you won’t do for attention?” Sarah shook her head in an exaggerated manner as she surveyed Allie in her hospital bed. “First, it’s giving birth in a storm, and now getting lost in one. You’re a better barometer than The Weather Channel!”
“I’m seriously thinking of staying inside from now on.”
“You okay, Al?” Sarah asked sympathetically, stepping over to give her friend a hug.
“Doctors say I’m fine.” Allie mumbled under her breath, “At least my mother believes them.”
“What’s that now?” From years of experience, Sarah knew the minute Amanda came up in conversation, that they were in for a long, usually full of complaints, slog. Not that it didn’t work the other way around where Olivia was concerned.
“Charlie has been stalking me for months now, she tried to kill me the other night, and my mom doesn’t believe me.”
“Are you sure?”
“What, now you think I’m making the whole thing up, too?”
“No. I mean, are you sure about Amanda?”
“Oh. That. Well, she claims she does. But, I can see it all over her face.”
“What’s Charlie’s problem with you?”
“I don’t know. She was out of her mind, screaming about Gregory and Zeno…”
“She sounds nuts.”
“You should have seen her. Scared the hell out of me. At one point, she was making it sound like I’d stolen Zeno from her. What a joke, she and Zeno can’t stand each other! Next thing you know, she’ll be accusing me of having designs on Kirkland, too, because he and GQ were the ones who pulled me out of the ice.”
“GQ?” Sarah had missed that detail in the initial telling. “GQ came riding to your rescue?”
“GQ and Kirkland,” Allie stressed.
“Was it weird? GQ saving you?”
“I had other things on my mind at the time,” Allie reminded her.
“I thought he was supposed to hate you.”
“He does. But, you know how GQ is. He’s a born Boy Scout. He wouldn’t let a little thing like hating my guts keep him from doing the right thing. It’s who he is.”
Sarah said, “I saw Grant earlier.”
“Yeah?” Allie sat up in bed, happy to have someone else’s problems to distract from hers for a bit. “And?”
“Nothing,” Sarah reported. “He looked at me, and he just kept on walking. Hell, if I were falling through the ice, I doubt that would even break his stride.”
“Am I bothering you?” Jen wondered meekly, hovering at the door of Steven’s dorm room, knowing how she personally hated being interrupted in the middle of a project.
“It can wait,” Steven reassured, beckoning her inside and, as if to really prove his point, actually closing his lap-top. “What’s up?”
She asked, “Have you heard about Allie?”
“Yeah. My dad filled me in. He’s heading over to the hospital now to check on Kirk.”
Jen said, “GQ helped Kirkland save her.”
“Right. I owe the dude a huge thank-you the next time I see him. I know it couldn’t have been easy for him. Allie and everything…”
“Actually,” Jen kept moving until she was sitting on the edge of Steven’s bed. “It wasn’t that hard at all. GQ told me he’s still in love with Allie.”
Steven’s eyebrows lifted in conjunction with his chin falling.
“Yeah,” Jen confirmed. “He didn’t know it either. Not until he thought he might lose her. And then he realized that, no matter how much he cares about me and how worried he was while I was sick, that’s nothing compared to the way he felt when faced with the possibility of Allie dying.”
“That son of a bitch,” Steven said, looking like he might go out, hunt GQ down, and beat him to a pulp on the spot.
“No,” Jen insisted. “No, you don’t understand.”
“Telling you something like that? After everything you put up with over him and Allie and Hudson? What a goddamn punk!”
“No,” Jen repeated, taking Steven’s hand and pulling him down to sit next to her. “No.” She moved her fingers to Steven’s chin, bringing his face in closer. “I’m happy he did it. He’s a stand up guy, you’ve got to give him props for that.”
“Stand up guys don’t…” Steven wasn’t sure which way to look. All he knew was that in Jen’s eyes wasn’t an option.
“He was honest with me.”
“Which was more than I’ve ever been with him.”
To answer his question, Jen leaned in and kissed Steven. For the first time since they’d met, she wasn’t holding anything back.
“He did me a favor,” she insisted. “I never would have had the courage otherwise. I was too busy worrying about the smart thing to do, instead of the right thing to do.”
She tried to kiss him again, but Steven drew back.
Prompting Jen to stammer, “I-I’m sorry. Did I… misunderstand?”
“What? Me? About me?”
“No!” He shook his head emphatically. “No, you didn’t. You didn’t. I…. I’m… I’m just… surprised.”
She scrunched up her face. “Too much too soon?”
“Not too much. Never too much. Not with you,” he swore. “I just… I don’t want to rush you. You’re still recovering and everything. I don’t want you to feel like you have to prove anything to me. “
“I’m fine.” Jen reached for Steven’s shirt, beginning to unbutton it. “We’ve both been waiting so long for this. I don’t want to wait anymore. Do you?”
“No,” he admitted.
“But, I can if I have to,” Steven felt obliged to let her know that. “Seriously, you and GQ just broke up.”
Jen looked up, making it impossible for Steven to avoid her gaze any longer. “GQ and I haven’t been together since I got out of the hospital before Thanksgiving.”
“Really?” Steven found that very hard to believe. “I – Why not?”
“Because,” she told him simply. “I’m not in love with him. I’m in love with you.”
“Alice strikes again?” Rachel wondered at the sight of Russ back in her home, unbidden.
“I cannot tell a lie.” He spread his hands in surrender. “She was worried about you.”
“Considering I threatened to have her husband dug up, my daughter’s husband destroyed and Alice and Jamie thrown in jail, I can see why.”
“Actually, Alice didn’t fill me in on the gritty details.” Russ held up a palm. “And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to hear them. She merely sent me over to check on how you were feeling?”
“So this is purely a professional call?”
“How are you, Rachel?” Russ asked.
“Well, in retrospect, I can honestly say that I nearly lost my mind a few days ago.”
“Does that mean the worst of it has passed?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, taking a seat, or rather collapsing into one, bidding Russ to do the same. “Earlier, I received a rather dire warning about what might happen should I continue down this path.”
“Did it make you reconsider?”
“It made me wonder if the die has already been cast and I might as well continue on, since things can’t get any worse.”
“Things can always get worse,” Russ advised.
“Yes. I was afraid of that.”
“There is nothing wrong with what you are feeling, Rachel. Losing Carl and the twins the way you did… Anyone would be thrown into a tailspin.”
“Would ‘anyone’ channel their grief into revenge plot after revenge plot, indifferent to whom they hurt along the way?”
“In Bay City?”
“Don’t answer that.”
He bobbed his head approvingly. “It’s nice to see you smiling again.”
“Am I?” Rachel brought a hesitant hand to her face. “I was afraid I’d forgotten how. I was afraid I’d forgotten how to feel anything outside of pain and anger and vengeance.”
“What can I do to help?” Russ asked solicitously.
“I’ll be damned if I know. Hell,” Rachel shrugged. “At the rate I’m going, I suspect I’ll be damned either way.”
“Just tell me what you need, and I will do my best to make it happen.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. “And what would Iris have to say about that?”
Russ leaned back in his seat. “Who cares?”
“How does that feel?” Jamie indicated Kirkland’s shoulder, having read the report his ER doctor filed.
“Hurts. But, I can manage.”
Jamie couldn’t help smirking. “There’s a Frame family motto if I’ve ever heard one.”
“You didn’t have to come down here. I’m okay.”
“And there’s the second one.”
Kirkland rolled his eyes. “Very funny, Dad.”
“How long have you been sitting here, waiting for news about Charlie?”
“I don’t know. Since I brought her in. John came out a while back to talk to Cass and Frankie, so maybe I’ll hear something soon.”
“Go home, Kirk. Get some rest. I’m on duty in a little while, anyway. I’ll call you if there’s anything to report.”
“Charlie…” Kirkland looked wistfully towards the Emergency Room swinging doors.
“Is in good hands.”
“I know. But…” He bit his lip, debating whether or not to say anything. “I don’t know what happened to her out there. First Allie and GQ, and then when I found Charlie, she was just… It’s like she wasn’t… there.”
“I’ll see what I can find out for you,” Jamie promised.
“Something’s really wrong, isn’t it?”
“From the way you’ve described it, yeah, son, I think there is.”
“I love her, Dad, I really do.”
“I never doubted that.”
“She does. I keep telling her and telling her, but… Who knows, right?”
“You need a break,” Jamie reiterated. “What you’ve just been through… You were hurt, too. And all the stress… When was the last time you slept? Or ate something?”
Kirkland pointed to the corner. “Vending machine.”
“I have sampled everything that vending machine has to offer. Several times. There is nothing of nutritional value. Here.” Jamie reached into his wallet and handed Kirkland several bills. “Stop by whatever’s your favorite place this week, get anything you want, then go home, eat it, and go to bed. It’s on me, okay?”
“I don’t want to leave until – “
“Precisely why I’m making you.”
“This is definitely lying,” Jasmine informed Donna as her stepmother pulled her car up to the front of Bay City University’s 18+ Club.
“How?” Donna slowed to a stop. “You told your mother you’d be spending the evening with some girlfriends from school. That part is certainly true.”
“I didn’t tell her what we’d be doing or where we’d be going. Or how I’d be dressed.” Jasmine indicated the outfit Donna had bought her on the way over. One that no one could ever accuse of being babyish.
“If you’re uncomfortable with this,” Donna soothed. “I am perfectly happy to turn right around and take you home. But, I thought this was what you wanted. Didn’t you tell me how tired you were of constantly being forced to turn down your friends’ invitations?”
“This club is for youth eighteen and under. They won’t be serving alcohol to anyone under age twenty-one, I phoned ahead and checked. And if you don’t plan to drink, there is no reason to check your identification. The objective is to dance and have a good time, nothing more. I know how much you enjoy listening to music. I’m certain you’ll have a lovely evening.”
“This is really nice of you, Donna.”
“It’s my pleasure, darling. I told you, I understand your situation completely. And I should like to help in any way I can.”
“Thanks,” Jasmine leaned over self-consciously and pecked her stepmother on the cheek prior to climbing out of the car. “I’m really glad you married my Dad.”
“Thank you, Jasmine,” Donna honestly felt too moved to speak above a whisper. “That means the world to me.”
“More people?” Lucas thundered at Iris. “You want to bring more people in? How the hell is anything supposed to be kept secret with you broadcasting our business to anyone who asks?”
“I did no such thing!” Iris bristled. Then, in an attempt to calm Lucas down, cooed, “I am so sorry. I had no idea this would upset you so much.”
“You didn’t think that talking about my daughter’s murderer would upset me?”
“I thought you’d be pleased to hear we are not the only ones set on digging up the truth regarding Carl. Chase Hamilton is a powerful man. He can be a great asset to us.”
“Chase Hamilton might have been responsible for Lorna’s death. How do we know he isn’t connected with the compound? Maybe this appeal to you is his way of finding out what we know in order to report back.”
“If Hamilton were a part of the compound, what would he be doing slumming his life away as Mayor in some sleepy, Midwestern burg?”
“He could be a plant. Their man to watch Carl.”
“For the past twenty years? Highly doubtful.”
“Ever wonder why Carl was never punished for his crimes? Having a bought and paid for stooge in the District Attorney’s office would certainly get that job done. Maybe the Mayor’s gig is his reward for a job well done. All that business about Carl having to flee the country, it could all have been a set up they cooked up together in order to hide some other illegal scheme.”
“You’re grasping at straws. You’re looking for an excuse to say no.”
“I don’t need any excuses. I don’t owe him – or you – a damn thing.”
Iris changed tactics, cajoling, “But, if Lorna and the rest are truly dead, what harm could this do?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas spat. “All I know is I don’t trust him. I don’t trust anyone. And, in any case, I don’t know what you think I can contribute to – “
“Frankie and Cass,” Iris said. “You were informed regarding what they’ve turned up. That information could be very useful if we were to join our resources with Hamilton’s.”
“What if it’s a trap?” Lucas refused to let down his guard. “What if Lorna is still alive and what if she’s not in the compound’s hands? I’d be leading them straight to her.”
“If you could lead anyone to your daughter, wouldn’t you be there yourself?” Iris noted gently.
He glared at her for a long beat. “Damn you.”
“No,” she corrected. “Help me. Help Hamilton. Help Lorna.”
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