“I am fighting to keep Charlie being Charlie,” Frankie had said in John’s office. “Damn it, Cass, I am fighting to keep what happened to you from happening to her!”
Cass waited until they were alone in private, back home after yet another fruitless day of sitting by their daughter’s bedside, waiting for Charlie to do something, anything, to demonstrate that she was still in there, before he asked Frankie, “What do you mean, keep what happened to me from happening to Charlie?”
Frankie hesitated for just a moment, but it was obvious she was craving to get the truth off her chest. She said, “You killed Cecile, Cass. You murdered a woman.”
“That was an accident,” he reminded. “And it had nothing to do with my manic depression.”
“You don’t know that. You have no idea what two decades of ingesting a major, body-chemistry altering drug may have done to you. You may not have meant to kill Cecile. But you were willing to poison her into amnesia.”
“To protect you. To protect Charlie and Lori Ann. To protect our family.”
“The old Cass would have never done that. The old Cass would have never gone that far.”
“The old Cass also chased every skirt he saw and slept with anything pretty that crossed his path. He lied and he manipulated and he deceived people if it meant getting what he wanted. And what he wanted was usually money and the good life and even more pretty young things to sleep with. The old Cass wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue. People change. They grow up. That’s a good thing usually.”
“Do they grow up and change into killers?”
“You can’t blame the lithium.”
“And you can’t swear lithium had nothing to do with it.”
Cass shook his head. “Charlie needs medication to get well.”
“The doctors aren’t even sure it’s Bipolar Disorder. They’re making a guess based on – “
“Symptoms. And family history.”
“Based on the fact that they haven’t been able to determine any other causes for her condition. That’s not the same as being sure.”
“So let them try the lithium. If it works, we know what’s wrong, and if it doesn’t – “
“We’ve just flooded our teen-age daughter’s body with chemicals at absolutely the worst possible time.”
“We have to do something,” Cass pleaded. “We can’t let her just linger on like this.”
“We could try alternative therapies,” Frankie said.
“Like what? You think sniffing lilies and swallowing a spoonful of cod-liver oil is going to draw our daughter out of her catatonic state?”
“At least it won’t hurt her,” Frankie noted. “And you are being very, very condescending. You know there’s a lot more to holistic medicine than unregulated vitamin placebos. We’re talking about science that’s thousands of years old.”
“And totally medically unproven.”
“That’s not true. Even the Mayo Clinic recommends Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, St. John’s Wort. I looked it up.”
“They recommend all those things as a supplement, not in place of traditional treatment.” Cass told Frankie, “I looked it up, too.”
“We have to try. There will always be time to give her the more dangerous medications later.”
“You’re wrong,” Cass said. “The longer we allow this to go untreated, the worse it will get. Charlie might never come back to us at this rate.”
Of all the people in the courtroom the next morning, including Amanda, Jen, Alice and Kevin, the condemned man seemed to be in the best mood. He’d smiled all through the sentencing and positively beamed once he’d plead guilty to Reckless Endangerment in the 1st Degree and accepted his sentence of two and a half years in a minimum security prison.
“I told you I’d plead it out,” Kevin told the three women during the few minutes he’d been given to say good-by to them after the fact. “Two and a half years is nothing. I’ll be home in no time.”
“You should have gone to trial,” Amanda insisted. “You could have gotten off completely, once you’d explained why you did what you did.”
“This is better for everyone,” was all Kevin said before turning to Jen. “Still mad at me?” he wondered.
“Why? You want to plead that out, too?”
Kevin squeezed her hand. “That’s the spirit.”
“You shouldn’t have done it.”
“Wrong. All I need to do is look at you – beautiful, healthy, giving your old man a hard time, and I know I did exactly the right thing.” He looked past Jen at Alice. “I am sorry, however, if I disappointed you, Grandma.”
She shrugged. “You’ve done worse.”
And now Kevin full out laughed, startling the bailiff who wasn’t exactly used to such high spirits following a sentencing. Kevin indicated Jen with his head and pointed to Alice. “See, this is where you get it from.”
“My adoptive father’s adoptive grandmother? I’ll check in with some of the biology professors at the University, but I don’t think that’s exactly right.”
Kevin said, “You know the phrase Blood is Thicker Than Water is completely misunderstood. It actually dates back to the 15th Century, when it meant that blood bonds foraged in the heat of battle were much stronger than whatever amniotic fluid you happened to have bathed in.”
“I’m the one who told you that,” Jen reminded.
“In the fifth grade!” Kevin exclaimed, as proud now as he had been then. “All I know is, the three of us,” he indicated himself, Jen and Alice. “Have been through some major bloody battles, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’d rather hoped that was all behind us,” Alice observed.
“Soon,” Kevin promised.
Alice nodded, understanding there was nothing she could say at this time and instead choosing to hold her tongue. She kissed Kevin on the forehead. “Take care of yourself, darling.”
Kevin did the same with Jen. “That goes for you, too.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I know that.” He held up a hand to wave as Alice and Jen withdrew, giving Kevin and Amanda a moment alone.
They didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
Finally, Kevin began, “About what I said…”
“I’m staying put,” she cut him off. “No divorce, no annulment, nothing. I’m your wife, and I intend to stay your wife.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for, Amanda?”
“No,” she confirmed. “But, I guess I’ll find out soon enough. If Frankie Winthrop could do it…”
“This isn’t a contest.”
“I know that.”
“I’m grateful,” Kevin said humbly. “Thank you.”
“We can do this,” she swore. “After all, what’s two and a half years? Right?”
“Are you going home today?” Grant’s voice was the last thing Sarah expected to hear as she sat on her hospital bed, fully dressed, a sleeping Daisy in her arms, waiting for the paperwork that would release them both.
She startled, gasping, her eyes lighting up with hope in spite of everything… until she realized that Grant was being followed into her room by Marley. At that point, Sarah’s optimism turned to caution, followed by trepidation.
She merely nodded, and clutched her daughter even tighter.
“We wanted to talk to you,” Marley said.
“Daisy. And you. And her father.”
“Grant is Daisy’s father,” Sarah stressed, in case any doubt lingered.
“I realize that.” Marley’s tone remained neutral, as if she were merely confirming some well-established fact.
“I want to be her father,” Grant said.
Sarah beamed. “I knew you would. I knew it.”
“And that means we need to establish some ground rules,” Marley interrupted, physically stepping between the two of them.
“Ground rules for what?”
“Visitation,” Marley said. “Custody.”
“Custody?” Sarah drew back. “You want…”
“Of course not,” Grant rushed to reassure. “I wouldn’t – I would never take Daisy away from you.”
“Grant is entitled to joint custody by law,” Marley clarified, then abruptly changed her tone, going from businesslike to warm in the space of a second. “But, you heard him, we would never do that to you, Sarah.”
“Then why are you here?”
“We’re here because we want to make this work. For Daisy’s sake. You, Grant and I need to put aside our own feelings and think about what’s best for her. And what’s best for her is to have a mother and a father. And a stepmother who accepts that and supports it.”
“You accept… me?”
“I accept her,” Marley indicated the baby. “I accept that she’s Grant’s daughter, and that the three of us need to do everything we can to make sure she grows up feeling happy and secure and, most importantly, loved. I don’t think anyone in this room would argue about how important that is, or what can go wrong when a child doesn’t have it.”
“I want her to be happy,” Sarah whispered.
“Good. Then we’re all on the same page.”
“I – I don’t understand, Marley. When you first found out, you told me to go away, leave town, even. You said you didn’t want anything to do with us.”
“I’ve had some time to think about it.”
“Why did you change your mind?”
“Because I love Grant.” Marley threw the words out like a gauntlet, daring anyone to contradict her. “I want our marriage to work. I want him to be happy. And I realize that’s impossible without Daisy.”
“You’re willing to put up with us… for Grant?”
“Because you want to stay married to him?”
Sarah turned to face Daisy’s father, the unspoken question between them obvious. “Do you want that, too?” She didn’t need to ask.
Grant felt obliged to answer, in any case. He said, “Marley and I talked. We’re in total agreement. We believe we can make a good home for Daisy. Part of the time. When she isn’t with you.”
“You’re her mother,” Marley soothed. “I would never try to replace that or even come between the two of you. But, you’re young and you’re inexperienced. You have no idea how hard taking care of an infant is. Let us help you. Let us help you both.”
“I’m sorry,” Jasmine cringed as she came upon Donna in the dining room. “I’m sorry I got you in trouble with Daddy.”
“You did no such thing,” Donna corrected. “That was all your mother’s doing.”
“Mama kind of overreacted.”
“I should say so.” Donna held out her arms, urging Jasmine to step in for a hug. “But, that is no concern of yours. Your mother and I will come to our own detente. And as for your father and I, well, we love each other madly and always will. So there is nothing for you to worry about.”
“Mama grounded me.”
“And she said I can’t go out anymore unless I tell her exactly where I’m going and with whom, and then she said she’ll call and check up on me.”
“I believe that might even be illegal.”
“It’s definitely embarrassing.”
“We’ll just have to do something about that,” Donna said, and hugged Jasmine even tighter.
Despite The Spa’s steam room thermometer reading 110 degrees Fahrenheit, Rachel nevertheless detected a definite chill in the air when a towel-draped Iris entered… and realized who was already inside.
Without saying a word, she proceeded to select a seat as far away from her stepmother as possible, though that did mean she and Rachel ended up facing each other across the steam. Iris turned her head, feigning deep fascination with the aforementioned thermometer. She crossed her legs, the raised foot jiggling nervously. She didn’t say anything for quite a long time. Before suddenly bursting out with, “Russ isn’t making a mistake.”
Rachel presumed Iris was speaking to her. They were the only two women in the steam room. Still, she wasn’t certain why Iris seemed to be answering a question Rachel hadn’t asked.
To help clarify, Iris continued, her tone equally as venomous, “I know you think Russ is making a mistake, being with me.”
“Russ’ mistakes are none of my business,” Rachel reminded.
“I care for him a great deal,” Iris said. “And he cares a great deal for me.”
Rachel had no interest in challenging – or confirming – either statement.
“I do realize,” Iris leaned back on her arms, suddenly a great deal more confident. “That our relationship created quite a stumbling block in your own plans.”
“What?” Rachel supposed she could have said, “I beg your pardon?” or “Come again?” But, under the circumstances, “What?” got the job done nicely.
“Did you really think you were fooling anyone, Rachel? Even the blind could see that you were setting Russ up as your next conquest. I guess the fatal day has finally arrived. You truly have tramped your way through every man in the world and are now ready for a second go-around.”
“Oh, please, Iris,” Rachel demurred. “I’m nowhere near in your league.”
“Carl – not to mention your children – was barely cold in his watery grave before you’d set your eyes on Russ,” Iris accused.
“If it makes you feel better about your relationship to pretend that you stole Russ out from underneath my nose…” Rachel shrugged. “Go right ahead.”
“Do you blame him for wanting nothing to do with you? Why, every day at the hospital, the mere sight of Jamie must remind Russ of your true, duplicitous nature.”
“You know,” Rachel also leaned back, mimicking Iris’ pose. “For a woman supposedly in the throes of a new relationship, you seem unnaturally… tense.”
Now it was Iris’ turn to offer a more refined, “Excuse me?”
“A woman in love is supposed to be floating on Cloud Nine.”
“I’m floating,” Iris snapped. “Who says I’m not floating?”
“I’m saying it.”
“Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Russ is a good man.”
“Of course, he is. That’s why you were dying to get your claws into him. Again.”
“He deserves to be happy.”
“I make Russ very happy.”
“And I hope you always will,” was the only thing Rachel had to say to that.
“Are you alright?” Lila asked Amanda sympathetically when Rachel’s daughter stopped by the house, looking for her mother, only to be informed that Rachel was out.
“Not even close,” Amanda fired back.
“I read about Kevin’s sentencing.”
“Two and a half years,” Amanda shrugged dismissively.
“That’s a long time to wait for your husband to come home.”
“You think I can’t do it?” Amanda challenged.
“I’m just saying, it’s bound to be a trial.”
“I can do it,” Amanda reassured. “Frankie’s not so special. I figured if anyone knew that, it’d be you.”
Not sure how to reply and having taken a lifelong vow never to publicly discuss the subject of Cass and Frankie, Lila changed the subject, “Two and a half years is awfully short for a murder charge.”
“It wasn’t a murder charge. Kevin pled it down to Reckless Endangerment. He didn’t mean to get Johnson killed and he’s not the one who pulled the trigger. All Kevin did was set it up so Johnson would end up in that alley. What happened afterwards wasn’t his fault.”
“That doesn’t sound like Kevin,” Lila was thinking out loud without considering that she was also talking. “He’s so meticulous about every detail of – “
“Sleeping with my husband for a couple of months years ago doesn’t make you an expert on what is or isn’t like Kevin,” Amanda reminded haughtily. “I’m his wife.”
“Okay,” Lila agreed. “You’re his wife. And you don’t find his behavior… odd?”
“Any behavior that lands you in jail is bound to be odd.”
“Kevin isn’t the sort of person who leaves outcomes up to chance. He’d gone so far in getting Johnson precisely where he wanted, when he wanted, and then he suddenly forgot to tie up the final, most critical loose ends?”
“He didn’t know Johnson was going to be shot.”
“No. But, Kevin wasn’t doing this for petty revenge or money or whatnot. He was doing it to get his Jenny the bone marrow she needed. Which means Johnson was only worth the effort to Kevin if he was alive. If that bullet that went into his chest had gone in a different place or the police been detained even a couple of minutes, he’d have been dead and it would have been too late to harvest anything.”
“So Kevin got lucky,” Amanda shrugged.
“Kevin doesn’t believe in luck….” Lila recalled.
“I’m sorry to intrude like this, Jamie. Do you have a minute?” Chase stood on the Frame doorstep, looking around lest there be a child who currently needed Jamie’s immediate attention. Luckily, the coast seemed clear. Devon and Mackenzie were jointly sharing a playpen, tussling over a one-eared stuffed rabbit, yet neither had yet to scream. Which, in a household with two kids, Chase knew from experience, meant all was as calm as it was ever going to get.
“Come in.” Jamie stepped aside to let him pass. “What’s this about?”
“Your wife,” Chase said.
“Have you found anything?” The hope in Jamie’s voice was physically painful for Chase to hear.
Especially when he had to tell him, “No. Nothing new.”
“Oh.” Jamie swallowed hard, attempting to collect himself from the seemingly non-stop crushing disappointments.
“But, I did have an idea about something that could be done to facilitate the search.”
“It would require your cooperation.”
“Anything, just name it. I’ll do anything.”
Chase hesitated, then he said, “I would like you to file kidnapping charges against Carl Hutchins.”
Jamie appeared more confused than anything else by that. “How would that help?”
“Right now, when it comes to investigating Carl, the DA’s office’s hands are tied. Yes, there are the Federal fraud charges against him, but since he’s considered legally dead, that investigation is pretty much closed. If you were to file kidnapping charges against him, though, that would open up an entirely new avenue for pursuit. We could follow leads that right now we just can’t.”
“You believe Carl is alive?”
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind.”
“And Lorna is with him?”
“All evidence points that way.”
“But you can’t go after them.”
“Not with the case currently against him, no.”
Jamie said, “My mother…”
“This would kill my mother. My formally accusing her husband of…”
“I understand what I am asking of you, Jamie. But, please understand something in return. This may be your best – your only chance – at finding your wife.”
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