“Allie’s going home?” Frankie asked wistfully upon catching sight of Amanda waiting for her daughter to finish filling out some papers at the Admissions Desk.
“Yes.” Amanda didn’t feel a need to add anything to her reply.
“I’m glad. Congratulations.”
“I’m sorry about… I’m sorry about everything that happened.”
Amanda finally turned her head to look Frankie in the eye. “I thought you didn’t believe anything did.”
“Something happened. I’m sorry our girls got hurt as a result of it,” Frankie held her ground.
Amanda shrugged, as if she should have expected as much.
“Well, anyway,” Frankie turned to leave. “Please give Allie my best.”
“Frankie!” Amanda called out abruptly, the question she intended to ask still half-formed in her mind even as she did so.
“Yes?” Charlie’s mother pivoted back.
“You… You and Cass… When he went to jail….”
“What about it?”
“You stuck by him.”
“H-how?” Amanda ventured.
Frankie hesitated. “It wasn’t easy. In fact, it might have been one of the most difficult things I ever did.”
“But you got through it. You guys made it.”
Frankie guessed, “Kevin? I heard.”
“Kevin,” Amanda agreed.
“Are you thinking about – “
“He told me if I wanted to divorce him, he’d understand.”
“Cass told me the same thing.”
“Really?” That was a surprise. Who knew the Winthrops weren’t perfection personified?
“He didn’t want me to put my life on hold waiting for him to get out of prison.”
“But, you did it anyway.”
“Cass is my life. How could standing by him ever be considered putting my life on hold?”
“So… how did that work? Being married to a guy in jail?”
“I visited him every day. I brought Lori Ann. Even managed to drag Charlie up a few times. We saw him on the holidays. We told him everything that was going on so that he could feel a part of our lives away from him.”
“What about… what about the… the conjugal… aspect of it?”
“Not in Illinois,” Frankie hated to be the one to break it to her.
“Oh.” Amanda realized she should have done her research first. “So…”
“Yes. Or, rather, no.”
“I didn’t realize that.”
“The whole process is excruciating. And demoralizing. It’s not for everyone.”
“You managed,” Amanda bristled. “What makes you think I couldn’t?”
“I didn’t say that,” Frankie reminded.
“This is just like with Ike. You didn’t think I’d be able to handle adopting special needs kid, even though you did.”
“Only you know what you’re capable of.” Frankie stepped back, lest Amanda erupt. Then, just to make certain they were through, she turned around and left without another word.
“How did your chat with Jasmine go?” Olivia asked Matt once he returned to the office from what she knew was going to be a difficult row to hoe.
“Good. I think. I think I made my fourteen year old daughter understand why going into an 18 and over club that serves alcohol is a bad idea.” He plopped down behind his desk.
“And how did your chat with Donna go?” Olivia took great pains to not make it seem like she was prying. Even though she totally was.
“Less… good,” Matt conceded.
“You couldn’t make her understand why sending a fourteen year old girl into an 18 and over club that serves alcohol is a bad idea?”
“She said she understood.”
“Donna says a lot of things.”
“I got to admit, when I first heard about the two of you, the word ‘surprised’ definitely came to mind.”
“You weren’t the only one.”
“It’s kind of amazing how the two of you managed to find each other and stay together despite all the odds.”
He had to admit, “It took more than one try.”
“But you stood by her. Through everything. Jenna’s death, the truth about Carl, Donna’s suicide attempt, her blackmailing Dean, that stunt she pulled with the compound and then her protecting Marley after the hit-and-run, her making a fool out of you over Jeanne, and now this!”
“That… is a lot,” Matt conceded.
“You’re an amazing man.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I would. Do you know what I’d give for a guy as loyal and understanding and just plain, old fashioned decent as you? I hope Donna appreciates what she’s got.”
“Donna appreciates me,” Matt said.
And Olivia pretended to believe him.
“You okay?” They’d gone to visit Kevin days before, but Jen still seemed shell-shocked by his refusal to defend himself in court.
“No,” Jen said.
“I told your dad,” Steven felt stubbornly vindicated. “I told him this would kill you. All that trouble to save your life, and now he goes and does this.”
“Sometimes I wish he hadn’t,” Jen mumbled. “Saved my life, that is.”
“Really?” Steven had a tendency to take all statement at face value until given a reason otherwise.
She shrugged. “I thought so. Except…”
“Except for you.”
“Dying would have sucked.”
“I can see that.”
“But dying before I told you that I loved you, that would have sucked even more.”
“I don’t think that’s empirically possible,” Steven said, while he felt his heart speed up to such an extent he was amazed it hadn’t burst out of his chest, Alien-style.
“Trust me, it is,” she corrected. “The only good thing that came out of me being sick was I had plenty of time to think. And most of that thinking was about you.”
“Sounds pretty dull.” Again, as long as he stayed cool on the outside, everything would be fine. Steven needed to believe that.
“Yeah, well, the competition was four beige walls, a lot of medical equipment and how lousy I felt.”
“Okay, if you put it like that, I can see how I came out ahead. Although medical equipment can be pretty cool, too.”
She smiled, “I’m so happy to be with you right now. My dad is about to go to prison for God knows how long and, still, I am happier than I have ever been in my life.”
“You look thrilled,” she observed.
“I am,” he told her sincerely. “About you and me, really, I’m thrilled.”
“So what’s going?”
He shook his head and stalled, “It’s just such a mess with Kevin. I hate seeing you go through it.”
“I’ll be okay,” she said. “Hell, I have experience with dads going to jail.” Jen’s bravado lasted only as long as it took her to finish the sentence. “Though that was different,” she was forced to admit.
“Is there anything I can do?” Steven pleaded, knowing full well that the answer was beyond her grasp.
“Yes,” Jen said.
“What?” His head jerked up, wondering if the jig was up.
“Just… keep being you.”
“In the past, that’s really been more of a bug than a feature.”
“Not here. Not with me. You are exactly what I need. I’m just so lucky you’re here now. And that I was smart enough to snatch you up. Before it was too late.”
“So Mrs. Wheeler pulled the rug out from under you?” Doug took one look at Chase’s face and made a beeline for their bar, figuring a drink was in order.
Chase shook his head and held up a hand. He needed to be thinking clearly right now, not drowning his sorrows. “Make a deal with vipers, get up with fang marks.”
“Think she threw her lot in with Carl?”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s not helping me anymore.”
“So what now?” Doug grinned. “Since I know giving up isn’t an option.”
“Have we met before?” Chase teased.
“Once or twice.”
“Now,” he resolved. “We press on without her. Hutchins is out there somewhere, I’m certain of it. Thumbing his nose at the law and gulping down his expensive champagne. Only difference is, I’ll have to go looking for him without a prominent socialite as bait.”
Chase cocked his head. “You’re having a thought.”
“Have we met before?”
“Once or twice.”
“I have some contacts in France. Social and otherwise. Forget Iris. How about the two of us go, see what we can dig up? Make it a working vacation.”
Chase definitely looked tempted. “You’d certainly take the South of France by storm.”
“And you’d bring up the rear, looking grumpy and out of sorts. Like always. The perfect team.”
“What about Milagros and Ike?”
“They’re at the prime of their lives for learning a new language.”
Chase shook his head. “No. I am not putting my children in Hutchins’ line of fire. No way. Never.”
“We’ll protect them.”
“Like Spencer Harrison protected his grandson? No.” He made up his mind. “It was a sweet idea but, no, out of the question.”
“What alternatives have you got?”
Chase smiled, only now it was with anything but happiness. “I’ve still got one more ace up my sleeve. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use it, but Iris hasn’t left me any choice.”
“I’m not just speaking for myself,” John addressed Frankie and Cass as they sat in his office. “But for the entire team of doctors who’ve been working with Charlie since she came in. We thought, however, that it would be easier for you to hear our diagnosis from me, based on our long-term personal relationship and my connection to your family.”
“Alright,” Cass snapped. “You’ve done the legal disclaimer, can we cut to the chase, please?”
“Cass,” Frankie rested her palm on his arm, trying to calm him.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “It’s just been… I’m sorry, John.”
“It’s okay. Believe me, I’ve sat in that chair. I understand.”
Frankie tried to keep her voice from shaking as she asked, “So what is it that you need to tell us about our daughter?”
John did not look pleased to be the one delivering the bad news, but he maintained his professionalism as he reported, “Based on the tests we’ve run and our observations, plus talking to you and to Kirkland and Allie about Charlie’s recent behavior, her medical team feels that there is sufficient evidence to diagnose Charlie with – “
“Manic depression,” Cass interrupted, his voice dull. “Bipolar Disorder.”
“Yes,” John exhaled sadly.
“No,” Frankie said.
“Yes,” Cass stressed emphatically. “It makes sense. The average person has about a two percent chance of developing bipolar disorder. But, if one parent has it, what does that raise the numbers to, John?”
“About twenty-five percent,” he admitted.
“But that also means Charlie has a seventy-five percent chance of not having it!” Frankie insisted. “Goodness, I’d play those odds any day.”
“We did,” Cass informed her. “And we lost.”
“You don’t know that. Manic depression isn’t something you can run a blood test for or a brain scan, it’s a guess!”
“An educated guess.”
“It’s still a guess. You’ve simply latched onto a simple solution instead doing the hard work of actually trying to figure out what is wrong with my child!”
“No, Cass,” John was willing to go along with her theory. “Frankie is right. We did come to our decision based rather heavily on Charlie’s genetic history.”
“There, you see!”
“What we would like to do is start her on a course of lithium. If her condition improves, then we’ll know we’re on the right track. If it doesn’t – “
“What is this? The Salem Witch Trials? Drown her and if she dies, she’s innocent?”
“Come on, Frankie, that’s not what he’s suggesting and you know it. I’ve been on lithium for years, it saved my life.”
“But, you were an adult. Charlie is still growing and maturing. Her brain isn’t even fully developed yet, that doesn’t happen until the mid-20s, isn’t that right, John? You pump Charlie full of chemicals now and who knows what kind of long-term damage it might do to her down the line?”
“How about the damage Charlie has already done to herself? Our daughter almost died, Mary Frances. She almost died because you and I were too busy jetting around the world to notice how severe her condition had gotten.”
“Charlie was hardly alone while we were away. How bad could this alleged condition have been if nobody else noticed, either? Not Felicia, not Kirkland – “
“Sharlene,” Cass said.
“What?” John’s head bobbed at the mention of his ex-wife.
“Sharlene, Frankie. Didn’t you tell me that Sharlene stopped by around Christmas specifically to warn you about Charlie?”
“No! No, Sharlene was just…”
“What? She was what?”
“Sharlene barely knows Charlie. She’s only seen her maybe a couple of times this past year. Felicia and Kirkland were with her every day.”
“Kirkland has been telling us for months that Charlie is angry for no reason. That she is acting oddly. Zeno told you the same thing. And Allie – are you going to dismiss what happened with Allie?”
“Why do you want this so badly?” Frankie demanded.
“You think I want our daughter to be mentally ill for the rest of her life? You think I want her to suffer the same way I’ve suffered?”
“Why are you just passively accepting this diagnosis? Because it would make things easier? Because then we can just drug Charlie and not have to worry about it again?”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I am fighting for my daughter’s life. I am fighting to keep it out of the hands of a medical establishment that would rather treat the symptoms than find a cure. There’s no money in finding a cure, after all. I am fighting to keep Charlie being Charlie. Damn it, Cass, I am fighting to keep what happened to you from happening to her!”
“I saw her, Grant,” Marley told her husband once they were both back home, arriving within minutes of each other. “I saw her. I saw your daughter.”
“Marley, I… we still don’t know if – “
“Please,” she cut him off. “Please, let’s stop playing this game. I don’t have the energy anymore. I saw your daughter. She’s you, Grant. Sarah’s coloring, yes, but otherwise, she’s all you. The chin, the forehead. She even has that little line right above her nose,” Marley scratched the spot with her finer. “You can see it when she squints. I don’t care how many other men Sarah may have slept with. That little girl is yours.”
“Daisy,” Grant said, needing to share it with someone. “Her name is Daisy.”
“Daisy,” she shrugged. “Okay. A little juvenile, but what can you expect, under the circumstances?”
“I’m so sorry, Marley.”
“That’s… whatever, okay? We’re way past the point of apologies. Your daughter has been born, she exists, she’s a part of our lives now. That means her mother is, too.”
“No. No, I swore to you before and nothing has changed. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“And I wouldn’t do it to you.”
“Keep you from the only biological child you will ever get a chance to raise.”
Grant was sure he’d misheard. “Raise?”
“She – Daisy – Daisy needs a father. And, more importantly, you need a daughter.”
“Not at your expense,” Grant stuck to the course he’d embarked on.
“You think I want to be responsible for keeping a little girl from her father? Whom do you take me for, Grant? Donna?”
“I didn’t mean….”
“I know what you meant.”
“I won’t hurt you. Not for anyone.”
“It would hurt me more if I knew that you had a child growing up across town, a child that you’d rejected – because of me.”
“I want to stay married to you, Marley.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I want to stay married to you, too.”
“Yes. You can be a father to Daisy and a husband to me. Don’t look at me like that, I’m hardly proposing anything revolutionary. Seriously, can you think of any child currently in Bay City that’s being raised by both biological parents?”
“Jasmine,” Grant replied mindlessly.
“Matt and Lila may live under the same roof, but they’re hardly together. Try a couple that’s still together.”
“Cass and Frankie and Charlie.”
“Sure. With, what, a fifteen year break in between? Anyway, my point still stands. They’re hardly in the majority.”
“I won’t ask you to put up with having another woman’s child in your home. And Sarah… What about Sarah? She’ll be around, in that case. All the time.”
“Not necessarily. Think about it, Grant. Sarah is young. Taking care of a baby on your own is hard work. She’ll probably be thrilled for a chance to get some time for herself.”
“Still. We’ll both have to deal with her in some capacity. We’ll have to see her, talk to her, make arrangements about pick ups and drop offs. She’ll be a constant presence in our lives. I don’t want – I won’t ask you to do that, either.”
“You’re not asking me. I’m asking you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know how much you would like to be a father again. And you know that I can’t give you that.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“Two years ago, you were willing to walk away from your son to protect me. Today, you’re willing to walk away from your daughter. The least I can do is swallow my pride and keep you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Be a father to Daisy. Do it for her sake, for your sake and for my sake, too. It’s what I want. Do it for me, Grant.”
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