“Oh.” Rachel couldn’t think of much else to say when ringing Jamie’s doorbell brought out Felicia, instead.
Her friend explained, “I brought Lori Ann to play with Devon and Mackenzie while Jamie is at work.”
“I thought he’d hired a nanny.” Rachel walked in, noting that her granddaughters barely acknowledged Rachel’s presence from where they were sitting on the floor, surrounded by stuffed animals and dolls.
“He has. But, there’s been some trouble getting a schedule in place. Jamie’s hours are so irregular… He needs a little help once in a while.”
“He could have called me,” Rachel observed, failing to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
“Jamie doesn’t want to bother you,” Felicia attempted to smooth over. “You have a great deal on your plate these days.”
“I have nothing on my plate,” Rachel corrected, ignoring the feud with Chase. And Iris. “Nothing of importance,” she amended.
“This has been a very difficult time for Jamie.”
“You think I don’t realize that?” Rachel snapped, taking her feelings out on someone who really didn’t deserve it.
“What I meant was,” Felicia tread carefully. “I don’t believe he is consciously cutting you out. He simply knows how much Devon and Mackenzie love playing with Lori Ann, and how important their growing up together was to Lorna. So when it comes to calling someone, he automatically thinks of me first. It’s not a deliberate slight on his part.”
Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “When did you become my son’s biggest cheerleader?”
“We both miss Lorna,” Felicia said simply.
“And when did Jamie get over his aversion to so much as being in the same room with you? I know the pair of you agreed to play nice for Lorna’s sake after she woke up from her coma, but who are you putting this act on for now?”
“It’s not an act. Jamie and I… we’ve buried the hatchet.”
“How? Why? When?”
“A few months ago,” Felicia hedged, realizing that she was drifting into uncertain waters. The rules of AA made telling Rachel the details of Felicia and Jamie’s rapprochement out of the question.
“How did it happen?” Rachel refused to pull back. Especially when she picked up on Felicia’s hesitation.
“Just like that?”
“More or less. Jamie needed someone to talk to. I happened to be there to listen.”
“So my son preferred to turn to you, even after everything that’s happened. Even after you testified in court that Lorna never loved him. Even after you sided with Morgan and attempted to have Jamie’s baby aborted. Even after all that, my son still trusts you more than he does me.”
“So what?” GQ repeated, dumbstruck. “Allie, I just said that I loved you.”
“And I said, so what?”
“Look.” He moved closer to her hospital bed. “I get that this is coming out of the blue. But, I told you, I didn’t even realize it myself until I was afraid I might lose you in the ice. It made me see how much you meant to me. I even told Jen that it couldn’t work between us. Because I was in love with you.”
“I was in love with you,” Allie said coolly. “From the first time we met, almost. I was in love with you. And I told you it. Over and over again. I told you in Italy. I told you here. I told you when we made love in your dorm room. After you called me to come over. Right before you told me if I wanted to be with you, it’d have to be a secret.”
“I’m sorry about that, Allie. I really am. I – I’ve grown up a lot since then.”
“I told you I loved you a bunch of times. It didn’t matter.”
“I was wrong.”
“So what?” Allie couldn’t stop defaulting to that query. Because, truly, it encompassed everything she had to say on the subject.
“I want you to give me another chance,” GQ pleaded. “I want you to give us another chance.”
“What about all your principles?” Allie spat. “What about how being with a white girl would be the same as spitting in your mother’s face?”
“My mom will understand,” GQ assured. “I mean, she and my dad didn’t exactly get together under the best of circumstances, either. A lot of people were against their being married. Folks thought they were too young, or that having me would keep them from finishing college. But, my mom and dad persevered. We can, too.”
“I thought you didn’t want people looking at us. I thought you didn’t want trouble.”
“I can take it. For your sake.”
“And your obligation to set a good example? To not be another one of those educated, successful Black men who turned their backs on their community? Or their women?”
“So I’m a hypocrite,” GQ snapped. “Okay, I get that. I’m the biggest hypocrite there ever was. I still believe all that stuff I said. I do think that, in a perfect world, yeah… But, I’m in love with you, Allie. I have been for years. All that stuff I said before, I think I was jut trying to remind myself. Trying to force myself. I can’t do it anymore. I want to be with you. Just you, nobody else.”
“You told me once that you would never forgive me over what I did with Hudson.”
“I forgive you,” GQ said simply. “I understand… I understand better now why you did what you did. Why you felt you had to do it. It was my fault. The way I treated you… I don’t blame you anymore, Allie. I forgive you. The question is, do you think you could forgive me?”
“Never,” Allie said, and rolled over in bed, turning her back on him.
“What? What is it?” Seeing the way Jen paled after taking the phone call that came in, Steven could barely wait for her to hang up before asking, “What’s wrong? Who was that?”
“Amanda,” Jen said slowly, sitting down, dazed, continuing to stare at the phone as if the answer were hidden deep in its wiring. “She – she said… She called to tell me that Daddy… “
“What?” Steven swallowed hard, already instinctively knowing what she was about to say but needing to hear it, nevertheless.
“He just confessed to killing Horace.” She looked beseechingly up at Steven. “He claims he didn’t mean to get him killed. He just wanted to lure him to a place where the cops would pick him up. He wanted him locked up, so I could get the bone marrow he’d promised. He didn’t mean for Horace to get shot. It was an accident. He didn’t…”
“I’m sure he didn’t.” Steven crouched on the floor, looking up into Jen’s face. “I’m sure it really was an accident.”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s still being charged with murder.”
“But… He had a good reason. Horace ran off. You would have died if….”
“I need to go see him.” Jen stood up abruptly, looking frantically around for her coat. “I need to go to Springfield and see him. Talk to him.”
“I’ll go with you,” Steven offered, reaching for both their coats, handing Jen hers. “We’ll both talk to him,” he said.
“What?” Zeno stared at Frankie, unable to wrap his mind around everything she’d just told him. Allie was in an accident? Allie almost died? And Charlie was involved somehow? Charlie was in the hospital too? Allie claimed that Charlie attacked her? While yelling about Zeno, of all people?
“I’m sorry,” Frankie said. “I assumed you knew. I assumed Allie had called you, filled you in.”
“No,” Zeno shook his head slowly, as if waiting for it to stop spinning. “I hadn’t talked to her in a while, but that’s no big deal. She’s got finals, and I had a ton of work to do on the farm now, with the weather constantly going from freezing to mild the way it’s been the past few weeks.”
“Global warming,” Frankie shrugged, grateful for the change in subject, no matter how brief it might prove to be.
“No,” Zeno corrected, distracted, still thinking about Allie and Charlie. “Remember those old journals my mom had? From her great-grandparents, when they first settled this farm? There are tons of entries about the exact same kind of weather patterns. They even had a frost on the 4th of July once. I’ve been using them as reference about what to do. Funny, isn’t it? 150 years of technology later, and the best advice still comes from the past.”
“It’s no different from holistic medicines and such. People are just now waking up to the healing properties of spices and herbs and extracts that other societies have been using for years… “
“Linseed oil,” Zeno said suddenly. “Allie’s car was sabotaged over Thanksgiving using linseed oil.”
“How…” Frankie began. “Linseed oil is harmless. I gave it to Sharlene for Gregory. It’s medicinal. Especially for some types of cancer.”
“It’s also flammable,” Zeno reminded. “Put it in a gas tank….”
“Allie had linseed oil dumped in her gas tank?” Frankie gasped.
“She thought Charlie might have done it,” Zeno winced.
“Charlie? Why would Charlie…”
“I asked her about it,” Zeno admitted. “She said she wasn’t involved.”
“Well, that settles it, then. Allie obviously has it in for Charlie. She’s clearly willing to accuse her of anything.”
“Or Charlie has it in for Allie,” Zeno offered, apologetically.
“That’s ridiculous. What has Allie ever done to Charlie, aside from making accusations? Which, I suppose, could have upset Charlie to the point where, when she confronted her about them, Allie could have misinterpreted Charlie’s understandable anger as something sinister.”
“Allie claimed that Charlie was yelling about me?” Zeno double-checked.
Frankie nodded. “That’s what Amanda said. But, on the other hand, this could really be a convoluted case of telephone. She said that she said that she said…”
Zeno cut her off. “I made a mistake, Frankie. With Charlie.”
“A mistake?” she startled. “What kind of mistake did you make with my daughter?”
“I… I slept with her, Frankie.”
“It was one time. One time only. Right after, what was her name – Kirkland’s stepmother?”
“Right. Lorna. Right after Lorna died. I guess Kirkland was upset and Charlie didn’t know what to do, so Charlie was upset. She came here to get away from – “
“You,” Zeno said gently. “She came here to get away from you and Cass and how the two of you were pressuring her to go see Kirk.”
“We weren’t pressuring her! She and Kirk are in love! When someone you love is in trouble, you go to them. That’s all that Cass and I told her. We didn’t pressure her!”
“It felt like pressure to Charlie. She couldn’t take it, so she came here. The two of us… we got carried away, okay? I tried talking to her afterwards, but she was just so angry. She told me to stay away from her, that she loved Kirkland, that she hated me. So I did what she said. I left her alone.”
Frankie paused, absorbing everything Zeno had just told her. After a moment, her eyes lit up and Frankie began nodding her head frantically. “Oh. Oh, I see now. It all makes perfect sense. I know exactly what happened with Charlie now.”
“You look happy,” Russ observed as he walked in on Iris packing a travel bag inside the bedroom she currently occupied at Russ’ house.
“I am happy,” she beamed at him. “I’m off on a little trip!”
Russ took a seat, observing her closely. “And if past experience has taught me anything, it’s that when Iris Wheeler is happy, that means someone else is about to become sad.”
She hesitated. “Is that truly how you perceive me, darling?”
He shrugged. “I just call them as I see them.”
“Sorry. Now, tell me: Am I right?”
Iris looked away, pretending great fascination with the precise folding of a cashmere sweater. “In a manner of speaking.”
“I knew it!” he crowed. Then, on a more serious note, asked, “Is Rachel the current target of your… happiness?”
Still not looking his way, Iris reminded, “Rachel is attempting to push me out of Cory Publishing.”
“Oh, I suspect you’re more than capable of holding your own in that regard.”
“Why, thank you, darling.”
“It wasn’t a compliment,” he stressed, then pushed, “What are you really up to, Iris?”
She gave up all pretense of playing coy and turned instead to face Russ. “Carl isn’t dead,” Iris said.
That certainly got his attention. “You know this for a fact?”
“It stands to reason.”
“Do you, or do you not,” Russ stressed, no longer joking around in the slightest. “Know this to be a fact?”
“Not exactly,” she conceded.
“Damn it, Iris, then what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I think that I am following a trail that might lead me to the man himself and prove that his tragic demise – not to mention the even more tear-jerking alleged passing of Rachel’s children – is nothing but a plot cooked up by Mr. and Mrs. Hutchins to pull the wool over our collective eyes.”
“You’re saying that Rachel is in on this?” He shook his head. “No. No, I don’t believe it. I – Rachel is nearly out of her mind with grief. That kind of pain is no act.”
“When did you last see her?” Iris asked, making it clear that she couldn’t care less one way or the other, she was merely making polite conversation, nothing else, truly.
“A few days ago,” Russ dismissed with a wave of the hand as being of no importance. “Alice was worried about her, she asked me to pop in and see how Rachel was feeling.”
“And you are such a great humanitarian,” Iris concurred.
“If Carl is alive,” Russ insisted. “Then Rachel had no part in faking his death.”
“Alright,” Iris was willing to play along. “Let’s say it was all Carl’s doing, then. Don’t you think Rachel would still like to know that she isn’t a widow? Much less that her children haven’t been taken from her permanently?”
“Now who’s the great humanitarian?” Russ snarked.
“Afraid of what I might find?” Iris inquired.
“No. Afraid of what you might do with the information? Always.” Russ took both of Iris’ hands in his and he pleaded, “Don’t go.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Wherever you’re off to, whatever plan you’ve got concocted, just… don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t go. For me,” the last part of his appeal couldn’t have been more pointed.
“For you?” she raised an eyebrow, intrigued.
“Drop your plan. For my sake. Do it because I am asking you to.”
“Hm,” Iris mused, the wheels in her head turning visibly. “An intriguing proposition, Dr. Matthews. Just one question, though: What will you offer me in return?”
“Hey,” Allie rubbed the sleep out of her eyes with one hand while pushing up to a sitting position with the other. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to visit you,” Sarah chirped brightly.
Allie checked the hospital’s bedside clock. “At seven in the morning?”
“I had a lot of stuff to do today, wanted to get an early start.”
“What kinds of stuff?”
“Oh, you know.” Sarah nonchalantly ran her fingers along the metal bar of the bed. “Have a baby….”
That certainly woke Allie up the rest of the way. “Are you…”
“I started having contractions last night. They were getting more and more regular and kind of really starting to hurt, so I wanted to come to the hospital and have Raya check me out. But, I didn’t want to clue the extended family in on what’s going on, you know? So I told them I was coming here to visit you.”
“And…” Allie prompted.
“Rays said I am in labor. It’s a little early, but just like a week or two, so it’s no big deal.”
“It’s no big deal? You’re having a baby, Sarah!”
“Yeah….” Her friend looked both excited and terrified. “So, also, I was wondering, you know, if maybe… if maybe you want to… help me out?”
“Sure. Totally.” Allie threw back the blanket, already climbing out of bed. “Just let me get dressed.”
“I mean, if you’re up to it, and it’s okay and everything.”
“I’m fine. I was going to check out today anyway. Clean bill of health, yadda, yadda, yadda.”
“Thanks,” Sarah exhaled, her relief palatable.
“Sarah?” Allie slipped a T-shirt Amanda had brought earlier over her head.
“I know you didn’t want to tell your mom or your grandparents. But… do you think… Maybe you should call Grant?”
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