“There he is! The hero I’ve heard so much about!” Marley smiled and embraced her nephew, having stopped by Jamie’s house specifically to check up on Kirkland.
“Thanks,” he blushed and awkwardly detangled himself, still getting used to the idea of his aunt being over half a foot shorter than he was. It felt odd to now tower over an adult he used to look up to.
“Is Allie going to be alright?” Marley asked.
“Dad said she’s going to be fine.”
“And are you okay? How’s the shoulder?”
“Not torn, just sprained. It’s already feeling better.”
“Well, I’m glad. And I’m very proud of you. Your mother would have been, too.”
“Thanks,” he repeated, blushing even harder.
“How’s your dad doing?”
Marley guessed, “Which means he’s putting up a good front, but you have no idea what’s really going on inside his head?”
“You let me know if either of you needs anything.”
“I will. How are you, Aunt Marley?”
“I’m fine,” she answered, a little confused why he was asking, especially in that particular, concerned tone of voice. Then she realized, “Oh. You mean because of Grant and….”
“Yeah.” Kirkland cringed, already sorry he’d alluded to the situation.
“I’m okay, honey. We – Grant and I – are okay.”
“He stopped by before. Told me that you two were staying together.”
“Yes. Is that upsetting to you?”
Kirkland looked away. “It’s none of my business.”
“We’re family. We care about each other.”
“Grant said you know about the baby. Sarah’s baby.”
“The whole town knows, thanks to Sarah and Iris. And Chase Hamilton.”
“Grant said it might not be his. It might be Steven’s.”
“Well, Steven did admit as much over Thanksgiving. You were there, you heard him.”
“Steven told me it wasn’t true. He just did it to make sure Sarah’s kid didn’t end up like me. Or Sarah like Mom.”
“Well, when someone has already told so many lies, it’s difficult to parse out – “
“Steven’s not lying. And anyway, Dad backed him up.”
“How would your father know – “
“Dad’s the one who made Grant come clean.”
“What?” Marley’s jaw didn’t actually hit the floor. It just felt like it did.
“As soon as Steven said he was the father, Dad knew it was impossible. So he went to Grant and told him to tell you the truth – or Dad would go to Hamilton. Steven was really pissed. He told Dad he had everything under control, but no way was Dad letting Steven step into Grant’s cross-hairs.”
Marley’s head spun. “Jamie forced Grant to confess to me? That's the only reason he did it? Because Jamie threatened to go to Hamilton?”
Kirkland nodded guiltily.
“That’s… I… What…. This doesn’t make any sense. How did Jamie know about Grant and Sarah, in the first place?”
“He said it was from the way she was acting when I got into my accident last year. You were still… away. Sarah came to the hospital with Grant and Dad saw them together and figured it out. Lorna did, too. And Steven. They all knew about it.”
“The accident you got into on New Year’s Eve?” Marley double-checked.
“Yeah. In the car with Charlie.”
“Grant and Sarah… they were already together last New Year’s Eve?”
With Jen outside the door, frantically trying to track down Mike Bauer in an attempt to keep her father from pleading guilty to murder, Steven leaned across the metal table in the visiting area and hissed to Kevin, “Don’t do this.”
“It’s too late,” Kevin advised.
“No, it’s not. Not if I step up and do the right thing.”
“The right thing for you to do is to stay with my daughter and make her happy. It’s why I’m doing all of this.”
“Who asked you to?”
“Nobody,” Kevin confirmed. “I took the initiative myself, and I don’t blame you for hating me for it.”
“I’m not doing this for you,” he went on. “I harbor no illusions about that. I understand that what I am asking of you is a million times worse than if we were to switch places right now. All I have to do is serve my time and then it’s over. I am asking you to live a lie indefinitely.”
“You want me to let somebody else take the blame for what I did. That’s not your time you’re going to be serving, Kevin, it’s mine.”
“I’m doing this for Jenny. I want her to be happy.”
“Does she look happy right now?” Steven indicated the door.
“She’ll get over it.”
“I’m not that important to her,” Steven insisted.
“You are. You are and you know it. Jenny has never felt as at home with anyone in her life as she does with you. You know it’s true. Because you feel the same way with her.”
Steven ran a hand through his hair. “Son of a bitch.”
“I can’t let you – “
“You can. Not for my sake or for your sake but for Jenny’s sake.”
“You’ll screw up. You don’t know enough about technology to convince the cops you were the mastermind behind everything.”
“I already have convinced them. What I won’t be able to do is fool a trained expert. That’s why I waived a trial. I’m not getting up and being cross-examined on the witness stand. You gave me enough information to make a convincing allocution, though. That should be enough.”
“And if it’s not? What if you get caught?”
“This case is already an embarrassment to the Springfield Police. You – I – hacked into their foolproof system to make the cops find Horace. No one wants those particulars in the public eye any longer than they have to be. They’ll close the case quick. And they won’t look too closely.”
“I can’t do this.”
“You have to,” Kevin insisted, just as Jen came back into the room.
“You saw Allie,” Frankie guessed, catching Zeno at the hospital.
“How is she?”
“Good. She’s going home today.”
“That’s wonderful. Charlie is… Charlie is the same.”
“Do you want to help her?”
“Me? What can I do?”
“I think I finally understand what’s going on here. The doctors tell me there is nothing physically wrong with Charlie – well, they are still running more tests, but it’s nothing obvious. Cass thinks she’s hiding from something. Emotionally. That’s why she’s shut down like this. I think she’s scared.”
“She’s scared of Kirkland finding out what happened between the two of you.”
“What?” Zeno blinked.
“Charlie is young,” Frankie said. “In some ways, she’s a bit more immature than her age would suggest. You know that I wasn’t here to raise her for most of her life. Cass had to do it alone – well, with Lila. And I’m sure they did their best. But, it’s not the way I would have done it. Charlie tends to see the world in black and white, right and wrong. She doesn’t understand that things can be… fluid.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not following.”
Frankie sighed, realizing that she wasn’t making much sense, and trying another tack. “We live in a rather puritanical society when it comes to things like sex. Everything is so rigid. For instance, I suspect Cass still has a hard time understanding how I could have loved both him and your mother.”
“But, I bet like most guys, he’s kind of into it.”
“That’s neither here nor there.” Frankie went on, “Cass tried his hardest to raise Charlie right. He knew that being his daughter, there’d be aspects of his past that Charlie would find confusing – not to mention embarrassing. He didn’t want her making the same mistakes he had. He raised Charlie to believe that sex should be connected to love.”
“And he’s right. Of course, he’s absolutely right. But, I think he may have forgotten to mention that sometimes things don’t go precisely according to plan.”
“Like what happened between her and me,” Zeno guessed.
“Exactly! Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. Charlie is in love with Kirkland, but she was attracted to you. That must have confused her terribly.”
“Well, she and Kirk…”
“Never mind,” Zeno reconsidered.
“If she’d come to me, we could have talked about it. Discussed that it was alright to feel an attraction to another person while you were in love with somebody else. It’s normal, it’s healthy. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.”
“But, you weren’t here,” Zeno noted. “You and Cass were in Europe or the Middle East or wherever.”
“No. I wasn’t.” Frankie said, “But, I’m here now. And I am going to do everything I can to help my daughter. Charlie is terrified of Kirkland finding out about you and her. She’s afraid it will ruin their relationship. Zeno, I need you to tell Charlie that what happened between the two of you will stay just between the two of you. Can you do that? Can you tell Charlie everything is going to be okay?”
“You think I’m involved in Lorna’s disappearance,” Rachel repeated Jamie’s accusation feeling absolutely hollow. She wasn’t hurt, she wasn’t shocked, she was merely numb.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I wish I didn’t. I wish I could just take that suspicion and rip it out of my brain for good. But, I can’t. My wife is gone. She went missing the same day that your husband left town and took your children with him. Carl threatened Lorna. He told her if she cost him his family, he would make sure she lost hers. And now she’s gone. Presumed dead, along with Carl and the twins. How many times has Carl faked his death before? Tell me, what the hell am I supposed to think?”
“You think I know what’s really going on?”
“Carl loves you.”
Rachel cocked her head ironically. “This is a heck of a time for you to acknowledge that, Jamie.”
“Carl loves you. Would he put you through the pain of believing he was dead? Of believing that your children were dead? I have to say no.”
“But, I, on the other hand, I would put my son through the agony of losing his wife?”
“I’d like to think you wouldn’t. But… There are quite a few things you’ve done while under Carl’s spell that I once would have believed you incapable of.”
“I had nothing to do with it.” Rachel looked her son in the eye and spoke slowly, firmly and clearly, making it unambiguous that this was the last time she would be saying these words, and Jamie could take them or leave them, she’d had enough. “I swear on your life, on Amanda and Matt’s, on all my grandchildren and on my mother and Mac’s souls: I had nothing to do with whatever it is that’s happened to Lorna.”
The two stood still for a long, silent, interminable beat, neither one backing down until finally Jamie was the first to break, “Thank you, Mom,” he said, blinking back tears.
“Is that it?” Rachel demanded. “Do you believe me now?”
“I believe you,” he swore.
“Good.” Now Rachel was the one dabbing at her eyes. “Now can we please go back to how things were before? I’ve already lost two of my children. I couldn’t bear to lose another one.”
“I’m sorry,” Jamie hugged her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too,” she agreed.
The next time a text message arrived in Grant’s phone from Allie’s number, Grant vowed to ignore it.
He managed to do it for close to an hour.
And then he couldn’t bear it any longer.
He grabbed the BlackBerry and read the display.
It’s a girl.
For a moment, the words didn’t register with Grant. Everyone had been so sure the baby would be a boy. Everyone had been calling it him, and Iris even referred to her great-grandson. Grant had simply assumed they knew what they were talking about and the baby was going to be a boy. Spencer Grant Harrison. Iris said Sarah had already picked out a name.
He’d braced himself for a boy.
It’s a girl.
Grant had a daughter. How the hell was he supposed to react to that?
It’s a girl.
He kept staring at the message.
It’s a girl.
He grabbed his coat and headed out the door.
“It’s a girl,” Russ told Iris.
She gaped at him. “Sarah’s child…”
“Born a few hours ago. Alice called from the hospital to tell me. Sarah told her it would be okay to do that.”
“But… but… Why weren’t we informed as soon as… We could have been there with her through the entire ordeal!”
“Sarah wanted to do this alone.”
“There was no need for that!”
“She’s fine. The baby is fine. Congratulations,” Russ kissed Iris with a smile. “You’re a Great-Grandmother.”
“Goodness.” Iris felt a bit light-headed at the word. But not too light-headed to realize, “I must get to the hospital immediately.”
“Let Sarah rest. We can go in the next few days.”
“Don’t be silly. I want to see them!”
“Iris,” Russ warned. “Stop.”
“I – “
“Just stop.” Russ put both hands on Iris’ shoulders to keep her from flying out of the room like a whirling dervish. “I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you, in any case, and now seems as good of a time as any.”
“Don’t you want to see her, too, Russ? She’s your great-grandchild, as well.”
“Not right this very minutes. Right now I want to speak to you.”
“About Rachel?” Iris guessed. “Again? Why is every conversation between us destined to return to the subject of Rachel?”
“Because your behavior the other day at her home was deplorable.”
“I beg to differ. I was nothing but politeness itself towards that horrid woman.”
“I wasn’t talking about the way you treated her.”
“Then what – “
“I was referring to the way you treated me.”
The genuine confusion on Iris’ face indicated she really didn’t know what he was talking about.
“I am not a bought and paid for accessory, Iris, that you can rub in Rachel’s face like your latest designer purse.”
“When did I ever – “
“You dragged me over to Rachel’s house, and you kissed me in front of her, specifically for that purpose. Please don’t insult both of our intelligences by denying it.”
Very well, Iris would pout, instead. “Well, if you felt that way about it, then why ever did you agree to accompany me there?”
“Because we had a deal: You quit trying to prove that Carl is still alive, and I will give you and I a fair chance to see if, this time around, we might be able to make our relationship work.”
“You only said that out of concern for Rachel,” Iris finally gave voice to what she’d known all along.
“No,” Russ said.
“No?” Her eyes lit up with both confusion… and hope.
“Not only for that reason. Yes, I would like to protect Rachel by keeping you from stirring up what is an excruciatingly painful situation for her. But, I’m not your old friend, Phillip Lyons.”
“Phillip was – “
“A gigolo,” Russ refused to sugarcoat it. “You hired him to seduce Cecile away from Jamie so that you could hand her over to Dennis.”
“That didn’t go well,” Iris conceded.
“I should say not. Your actions turned a sweet, innocent girl into… well, Cecile. A fact from which most of Bay City has yet to recover. But, you know what? We’re not going to talk about that, either. The past is the past and the present is the present. And, in the present, Iris, I am here. With you. Not because you tricked me or because you bartered for me. But because I meant what I said: I would like a chance to see if I can make Iris Wheeler happy… without someone else having to be sad as a result.”
“This isn’t about Rachel?” Iris couldn’t quite believe it.
“No. It’s about you and me. Now, will you allow it to be just you and me, or are you going to insist on dragging other people in until we crumble from the sheer weight? I’ve told you where I stand. The final choice, though, is up to you.”
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