“I talked to Zeno,” Frankie filled in Cass, who’d kept vigil by Charlie’s bedside while Frankie ran her errand. Now they both sat in the cafeteria, Cass exhausted by the ordeal going on now – and the one he knew was still ahead; while Frankie appeared strangely energized.
She filled him in on what Zeno said, watching Cass turn from pale to crimson at the tale of his daughter’s sexual misadventures.
“I thought Charlie was dating Kirkland.”
“She is,” Frankie assured. “But, come on, Cass, certainly I don’t have to tell you about the effect of hormones and desire, not to mention opportunity.”
He cleared his throat, but declined to comment one way or the other.
Frankie went on, “Charlie made a mistake. She wasn’t the first person this sort of thing has happened to, and she certainly won’t be the last.”
“Odds are good,” Cass concurred.
“She and Zeno got carried away. She was upset. It was nobody’s fault.”
“Zeno is older,” Cass reminded. “He should have known better. He should have put a stop to it.”
“He’s a kid, too. Come on, think of yourself at that age.”
“In reference to my daughter? I’d rather not.”
“They both made an error in judgment. Only Charlie, being a girl, and a very bright, very intuitive, very sensitive girl, at that, ended up taking the whole thing much harder.”
“If that kid of yours screwed with my daughter in any way beyond the, well, obvious… I’ll kill him, Frankie. I don’t care what you say, I’ll kill him.”
“He didn’t. Zeno told me he tried to talk to Charlie after the fact, but she shut him out.”
“Finally! A sensible decision.”
“Zeno says Charlie was furious, that she ordered him to stay away from her.”
“Barn door,” Cass mumbled. “Cows….”
“She told him she loved Kirkland.”
“Then why would she….”
“Again, Cass, remember yourself at their age.”
“One of the few advantages to being my age is that I no longer have to remember myself at their age.”
“If you did, though, I’m sure you’d understand what’s happened. Charlie is young. She is inexperienced. She loves Kirkland, but she had sex with Zeno. Obviously she felt guilty about it. And confused. She was afraid of Kirkland finding out and it ruining their relationship.”
“A valid fear.”
“Remember before, when you said you thought Charlie’s catatonic state was her hiding from something?”
“Obviously, we’ve figured out what it was.”
“You think Charlie’s catatonia has to do with Zeno?”
“Why else would she have mentioned him to Allie?”
“Hold up,” Cass raised a hand. “So you believe what Amanda said now? About Charlie driving Allie off the road and….”
“That’s probably what it seemed like to Allie,” Frankie allowed generously. “But, what I really think happened is the girls were in a fender bender. Charlie must have hit her head or something. You know how a brain injury can remove inhibitions. I bet, when she got out, she was probably already incoherent – just like Kirkland said she was when he found her. I suspect she wasn’t making any sense, just talking about a string of random things which Allie – accidentally, of course – interpreted as a threat and ran off. Charlie never even knew Allie was in danger from falling through the ice. That’s why she didn’t try to get her any help.”
“That’s…” Cass leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin. “Quite a theory.”
“But, it all makes sense. And, Cass, the best part is, I know exactly what we need to do to help our daughter.”
It took almost a full 24 hours from the time Amanda first got Kevin’s jailhouse call until she was allowed to see him. Steven and Jen had come by in the interim, but Amanda ended up sending them home, promising to be in touch as soon as she knew anything beyond the basic facts: Kevin had confessed to Horace’s murder.
Despite all her begging and pleading of him earlier not to.
By the time she did face him, across a metal table in a colorless, windowless room, Amanda had passed through anger and was sitting squarely in the befuddlement camp.
“Why?” she asked him, too tired for recrimination, now merely stupefied.
“They had evidence, Amanda. They were going to bring me in. I just decided to beat them to the punch, do this on my own terms.”
“But, why did you need to confess? You could have plead not guilty. You certainly have mitigating circumstances.”
“And I intend to lay them all out. When it comes to a plea bargain.”
“A plea bargain?” Amanda all but shrieked. “What about going to court?”
“It would be a waste of time. I did it. I want to serve my sentence and get on with my life.”
“What about me?” Again with the shrieking. Amanda could hear how ridiculous she sounded. She just couldn’t seem to stop.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “You have no idea just how sorry I am.”
“Don’t you think this is something we should have talked about?”
She wanted to laugh. She couldn’t quite summon up the energy. “So, I’m your wife, we’re supposed to share everything, but I don’t get a say in whether or not you should spend the next twenty years behind bars?”
“No,” he repeated. “You don’t.”
“I don’t believe this!”
“I love you, Amanda,” Kevin said.
She snorted wordlessly in return.
“I love you,” he went on. “But, I also would understand it, if you chose to cut your loses.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I would understand if you wanted to get a divorce.”
“Hope you kept your receipt.” Jasmine’s tramp clothes balled up, Lila flung them into Donna’s face, watching as understanding slowly dawned regarding precisely what Lila was talking about.
To her credit, Donna barely blinked at the action. She merely bent over to pick up the discarded garments, looking them over before inquiring politely. “Wrong size?”
“I find out you took my daughter shopping again, I’ll slice your wrists with your own credit cards.”
“Seems I’m immune.” Donna held up her hands, where the scars from her Valentine’s Day attempt of a few years earlier were still clearly visible.
Lila, however, didn’t allow that to throw her off stride. “Stay away from Jasmine.”
“A little difficult to accomplish, don’t you think?”
“Why? Because you’re her stepmother?” Lila managed to infuse the word with all of its traditional, fairy-tale connotation.
“No. Because your daughter likes me.”
“She also likes to put maple syrup on her bacon. Thank goodness childhood bad taste passes.”
“You can’t do this to her,” Donna warned. “You can’t keep Jasmine on a leash the way you’ve been doing.”
“I beg your pardon?” Lila planted a hand on her hip.
“I realize she’s all you have,” Donna said. “After losing Cass and – “
“You think this is about me?” Lila thundered. “This is about Jasmine! I want to keep my daughter safe!”
“You want to keep your daughter yours,” Donna corrected.
“Stay out of this.”
“I know what it’s like. Having a parent who dogs your every step. Who is always watching you, telling you how to behave and what to do and whom to be.”
“Are you comparing me to that monster who raised you?”
“Jasmine deserves to find out for herself who she is outside of what you and Matthew want her to be.”
“And you think sending a little girl tarted up into a bar full of grown men is the prime means to do that?”
“She needs to learn that she has power. How to wield it, and how to control it. You do not want your daughter going into the world feeling like she has no agency with which to chart her own course.”
“She’s a young woman. She needs to be free to make her own decisions.”
“Like you did when you got knocked up only a few years older than Jazz is now?”
“No,” Donna said patiently. “That’s exactly my point. I loved Michael. But, all the problems in our relationship, all the problems in my life, could have been avoided if I’d had anything resembling a healthy sense of self. My father took that away from me – for sport. Now, I know that’s not what you’re doing with Jasmine. But, it doesn’t matter. Try to keep your child from being who they are, try to make them extensions of your dreams and fears and ambitions – and the final result will be a million times worse than you could possibly imagine. Just look at me, after all.”
“Yes?” Rachel inquired politely upon finding Iris on her doorstep, raising an eyebrow in surprise at the sight of Russ bringing up the rear.
For his part, Russ seemed just as stunned to find himself there as she did. And a lot more embarrassed.
Strolling in without actually being invited, Iris informed her stepmother, “Whomever you employed to pack up my things after you so brazenly kicked me to the curb did a dreadful job. I should have expected as much. Staff is always the reflection of their mistress.”
“Send me a bill,” Rachel suggested. “I’ll reimburse you.”
“I realize this may be difficult for you to comprehend, Rachel, but not every offense can be fixed with money. Some of the items you neglected to forward to me were of great sentimental value. I should like to go up and search for them myself.”
“Knock yourself out,” Rachel indicated that Iris knew where the stairs were. But, first, she signaled for a maid to accompany Ms. Wheeler and keep an eye on her. “I wouldn’t want you getting lost and accidentally wandering into the wrong room,” Rachel explained innocently.
“You are, as always, most kind.” Iris turned to Russ, standing on the tips of her toes and kissing him before cooing, “I shan’t be a moment, darling. Wait for me?”
“Your wish is my command,” Russ said, his tone somewhat overly dark under the circumstances.
Iris smiled pleasantly at Rachel and moved to ascend the stairs, Rachel’s maid doing as she was bade and dogging Mrs. Wheeler every step of the way.
Rachel waited for them both to disappear along the top of the landing before turning to Russ and asking, “What is she up to?”
He shrugged. “You never know with Iris.”
“Okay, in that case, what are you up to?”
He drew back. “Me?”
“The two of you…” Rachel wasn’t sure how to phrase it tactfully, without sounding petty. Or bitter. “The two of you are….”
“Do you object?”
“It’s hardly my place to.”
“Does it bother you to see me with her?” Russ pressed.
“It bothers me to see anyone with Iris. Man, woman or child, it won’t end well.”
“She’s not as bad as you think,” Russ told Rachel, honestly this time. “She’s just so damn scared of being hurt that she makes sure to strike first and sort out the casualties later.”
“Hardly a ringing endorsement.”
“I meant it as an explanation.”
“You don’t need to explain Iris to me. I practically hold a doctorate in the subject.”
“So it doesn’t bother you?” Russ refused to quit unless he got a straight answer. “Seeing Iris with me, in particular?”
“Oh, Russ, didn’t you learn your lesson the first time around?”
“You know me. Once someone gets under my skin, they tend to stay there.”
“Like a parasite?”
Russ’ laughter echoed to the rafters. “Don’t hold back, Rachel, tell me how you really feel.”
“You deserve better,” she told him.
“I’ve had better,” he reminded. “I’ve been fortunate to know some remarkable women. And unfortunate enough to lose them all, one way or another. In light of some of the things I did to drive them away, maybe Iris is precisely what I deserve, after all.”
When Grant’s phone buzzed, Marley said, “That’s probably the girls calling to tell us when to pick them up from fencing class.”
“It’s a text,” Grant noted, pushing a button to read the message, freezing in place as he did so. His face paled for a moment. He raised his thumb, hovering it above the Delete key, then pressed it definitively, as if waiting another second might change his mind.
“What is it?” Marley wondered.
Grant shook his head, still somewhat too dazed to speak.
“Grant,” she repeated more forcefully. “What was that about?”
He took a deep breath. He said, “Allie texted me.”
“Allie? Allie Fowler? Why would Allie….”
“She’s with Sarah,” Grant said. “Sarah has gone into labor.”
Grant nodded wordlessly.
“Are you… Are you going to….”
“No,” he bit the word off as if snapping its neck. He dropped the phone on the table, where Marley could see it clearly, and went back to what he’d been doing before.
“Am I interrupting?” Olivia knocked tentatively on Matt’s office door.
“Hi.” She indicated the threshold. “May I come in?”
“Uh, sure.” Matt closed the file he’d been reading and stood up out of his desk-chair to greet her.
Olivia laughed. “You don’t need to be so polite. When it comes to the Corys, I’ll take not being run out of town on a rail.”
“Ancient history,” he tried to make her feel at ease.
“Not to Amanda, I suspect.”
“What can I do for you?” Matt indicated for Olivia to take a seat, unsure of what else to do.
She took it gratefully, crossing her legs and placing her purse in her lap. She said, “I came to ask if you might have a job opening.”
“A job opening? For you?”
“It looks like I’m going to be staying in town for a bit, and I’d like to make myself useful. God knows, my daughter has made it clear I’m not needed as far as she’s concerned.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt couldn’t think of what else to say. It seemed to be quite a pattern.
“How old is your little girl, Matt?”
“Fourteen this past October.”
“Ah. So you’re right at the threshold, then.”
“The threshold of what?”
“Adolescence. Jasmine – it’s Jasmine, right? Jasmine starting to resent you, hate you, think you’re hopelessly out of touch.”
“No. No, Jazz and I… we’re cool. We hang out, we listen to music. She’s got great taste.”
“In dads,” Olivia smiled in a manner that might have been flirtatious. Or innocent. Matt had never been too good at figuring these sorts of nuances out. “Of course,” Olivia went on. “In my case, Sarah’s adolescence started roughly in tandem with her teething. She made up her mind that I was unacceptable pretty early on in life.”
“What kind of job are you looking for?” Matt deliberately changed the subject.
Olivia said, “I ran my own dance company for years. I know all about marketing, public relations, promotions. I can manage people, I can plan events. I know the art scene, from Assigning Editors to influential bloggers. I have a great deal to offer. C-Squared, that is,” she clarified. In case Matt might be thinking otherwise.
He said, “Well, to tell you the truth, the PR and social media end of things has really been suffering since Lorna… left.”
“I’d be happy to step in. Temporarily, of course. Just until she… comes back.”
“That would be great,” Matt admitted. “When can you start?”
“Actually,” Olivia admitted. “I already have.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a list. “Some outlets you might want to contact regarding your latest album. Or I could contact them for you. You don’t have a presence on their sites, but I think they’d really like your material, given the chance.”
“Thanks,” Matt grinned in surprise. “This is a big help. I could really get used to having you around!”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” Olivia said.
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