“I can’t,” Jamie told Chase. “I can’t do this to Mom.”
“Carl kidnapped your wife.”
“Yes,” Jamie exhaled wearily.
“Pressing charges against Carl means we can fully investigate the issue.”
Jamie asked, “Why does this matter to you so much?”
“I spent 20 years in the DA’s office. I’m kind of what you’d call a justice fan.”
“Do you take all of your former cases so seriously?”
“If you ask Doug, he’d say yes, I do.”
“True. I did enjoy the privilege of experiencing your full prosecutorial zeal during Cecile’s murder investigation.”
“You sure did look good for it on paper.”
“My confession probably helped,” Jamie noted, before returning to his original point. “Still, this feels above and beyond. Even for a dedicated justice fan. It feels… personal.”
“It is personal,” Chase confirmed without hesitation.
“Carl owe you money?” Jamie joked.
Chase said, “Hutchins’ case was the first I ever tried in the Bay City’s DA’s office. First one I ever lost, too. I blamed myself. I was too young, too green, too naïve. I actually thought facts and evidence mattered. I didn’t think Carl’s string-pulling could extend into a court of law. Boy, did I learn better.”
“We all do with a man like Carl, sooner or later.”
“I told myself I’d do better next time. I was certain there would be a next time.”
“And you weren’t wrong,” Jamie agreed.
“You should have seen how I prepared my next case against him. I was obsessed. I was sure I’d crossed every T, dotted every I and foreseen every eventuality. I still lost. He still went free. Time after time after time, I had the chance to put away a man who’d ruined literally thousands of lives. And time after time after time, he wriggled away. Which meant that every subsequent crime he committed was partially my fault. Even now. I had him. I had him, Jamie, dead to rights. He broke the law. He admitted it. And, yet again, he managed to escape justice.”
“So this is a vendetta?”
“And you want me to help you.”
“No. I want you to let me help you. And your wife. And your children. Press charges against Carl for kidnapping, and we will go after him with everything available. Even death won’t save him on this go-around. We’ll find them. Carl and Lorna.”
Jamie turned his head, looking at the wall. He said, “A few weeks ago, I told my stepmother that if you were to put a gun in my hand and convince me that shooting a random stranger in the head would bring Lorna home, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
“I’d feel the same in your position.”
“But, this isn’t some random stranger.” Now Jamie looked Chase in the eye. “This is my mother.”
“The charges wouldn’t be against her.”
“She’d feel like they were.”
Chase shrugged, making it clear he’d still take the risk.
“I can’t,” Jamie said. “Mom swore to me she wasn’t involved in Lorna’s disappearance.”
“I’m not saying she is.”
“You aren’t saying she isn’t, either.”
He pointed out, “You give us the go ahead to investigate, and I could get you a definite answer on that account, one way or the other.”
“I believe her. If my mother swears she doesn’t know anything about where my wife is, I believe her.”
“That’s fine. But, it still doesn’t mean – “
“It does,” Jamie said firmly. “I’m sorry, but it does. I can’t do this. Not to my mother.”
Chase sighed, giving it one last desperate shot. He said, “Then I certainly hope your own children’s mother will understand.”
“It’s so… minimalist,” Iris observed.
Despite having been pointedly not invited to be a part of Sarah and Daisy’s settling into their new home, Iris waited a solid hour before dropping by… just for a moment. She looked around the room that would be Daisy’s nursery, currently stocked with merely a crib, a changing table and a rocking chair. No pictures on the bare walls, no ruffles and bumpers in the bed, no dresser drawers full of adorable outfits.
“Daisy is only a couple of days old. She doesn’t really care.”
“There are mountains of research testifying to a stimulating visual environment being key in the development of an infant’s intelligence.”
“Oh, well, there goes her Nobel Prize, I guess.”
“Don’t even joke about such things. We want our little girl to have every advantage, don’t we, darling?” Iris cooed over the baby in Sarah’s arms. Since leaving the hospital – and Marley and Grant – Sarah had been clutching her even tighter than usual.
“I’ll get around to decorating… eventually. I just wanted to make sure I had the basics, first. Everything else can wait.”
“But you don’t even have those things,” Iris pointed out, starting to get exasperated but determined not to show it. “Where are your bottles, your nipples, something to sterilize them and something to warm up the milk?”
“I don’t need any of that. I’m going to breastfeed exclusively.”
“What? Like some animal in a field? Really, how can you even be sure she’s getting enough nutrition that way?”
“She’ll drink until she’s had enough, and then she’ll stop.”
Iris shook her head, “It’s needlessly primitive, if you ask me.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Don’t you want to do what’s best for her? In my day, we made sure our babies had the latest in formula. Scientifically balanced with the vitamins and proteins – “
“That you get in breast-milk.”
“And what of your own needs? If you are her only source of food, how do expect to find a moment for yourself, breast-feeding around the clock!”
“I want to do that.”
“So you’re perfectly content to stay chained to this child for at least three months.”
“Actually, I was thinking more like a year. That’s what they say is best.”
“A year? A year during which you can’t be out of her reach for more than a few minutes at a time?”
“Oh,” Sarah said. “I didn’t think of that.”
“Of course, you didn’t. What about friends and your own meals and nights out and – “
“Grant?” Iris made a face.
“Grant… came to see me at the hospital. Him and Marley both. He said… they said – They said they want to be a part of Daisy’s life.”
“Too late,” in Iris’ world, no further discussion was necessary.
“I told them they could be.”
“Daisy needs a father.”
“Daisy has you. And me. And Dennis and Russ…”
“Not the same,” Sarah said.
“Are you telling me that Marley is willing to go along with – “
“It was her idea. She loves Grant. She wants him to be happy. So she’s going to put up with Daisy. And me.”
“How lovely. Just what every child wants. Being put up with by their stepmother.”
“Beats not being put up with by your own mother,” Sarah said softly.
“You’re projecting. Just because Olivia wasn’t capable of providing a loving home for you does not mean history is obliged to repeat itself. Our little Daisy will be surrounded by more love than she’ll know what to do with.”
“I’m going to let Grant be a father to Daisy,” Sarah repeated firmly.
Prompting Iris to narrow her eyes and ask, “Is this your way of trying to win that horrible letch of a man back?”
“No,” Sarah told Iris honestly. “I don’t have anymore illusions about that. Grant doesn’t love me. He loves Marley. I get it. But, he loves Daisy, too. And that’s the only thing that matters now.”
“John,” Cass caught up with Dr. Hudson in the hallways of BCU Hospital, matching his pace and walking in the same direction. “Good. I wanted to talk to you. About Charlie.”
“Frankie seemed very upset the other day.”
“She is. So am I.” Cass asked John, “You really think lithium is the way to go, here?”
“Yes.” There was no doubt in his voice.
“Do it,” Cass said.
John hesitated. “Does Frankie agree?”
“She doesn’t have to. Charlie is over eighteen. You’re her doctor. The choice is yours.”
“Technically true. But, with someone Charlie’s age – she, what? just turned nineteen, right?”
“Right,” Cass said. “February 2nd.”
A day his daughter spent as unresponsive as any other.
“In these kinds of cases, when the patient is young and can’t speak for themselves, we like to get buy-in from the family first. It makes the whole process go more smoothly. You know the drill, Cass. Lithium isn’t some one-time only miracle drug. It’s not an antibiotic that cures the disease. It’s a lifelong treatment. It’s a commitment.”
“Do it,” Cass repeated, promising, “I’ll handle Frankie.”
“Marley.” Dennis caught up with her at the gallery. Only to seemingly find himself strapped for words.
“Hello, Dennis,” Marley said softly, actually appearing pleased to see him.
She helped him out. “I’m guessing you heard.”
“About you and Grant and…”
“Daisy. Your granddaughter’s name is Daisy.”
“Iris said you and Grant want join custody?”
“Eventually. Yes, that would probably be for the best.”
“But… when you and I talked. The other day. You said you were finally seeing things clearly. You knew exactly what you needed to do going forward.”
“I was. I do.” Marley smiled sympathetically at his confusion. “I realized that keeping a man from his child… that’s not who I am, is it, Dennis?”
“Well, no, of course not.”
“I said some horrible things to Sarah when I first found out. I called her baby a bastard. That’s not like me, either.”
“You had just cause to be upset.”
“That’s what my mother always thinks. Donna always thinks she has a good reason for her actions, no matter how awful. You know who else felt that way? Carl. Carl saw himself as the persecuted victim in any scenario, and thus perfectly justified in whatever he did to protect himself. Of course, the people who went up against him, they weren’t justified, at all. They were just being bullies and picking on a poor, old man. I am so afraid of turning into that. Someone who does horrible, horrible things, then looks surprised that others might take offense.”
“You are never going to turn into Carl. Or Donna. Those two, they enjoy hurting people. You, Marley, you don’t have a malicious bone in your body.”
“Thank you for saying so. But, I’m afraid I got close. Too close recently. I wanted to see Sarah suffer. I wanted to see Grant suffer. Even the baby. I actually wished for something to happen, for Sarah to miscarry, for an innocent baby to die…”
“You didn’t mean it.”
“I hope not. But I still feel like I need to make amends. Like I need to embrace Daisy into my life, be the best stepmother I can be for her.”
“You don’t need to!” Dennis insisted. “Be her stepmother, I mean. You do not need to stay married to Grant, not after everything he’s done.”
“I made a commitment to him.”
“He made one to you, as well. And look how that turned out.”
“He stood by me during my mistakes. The least I can do is return the favor.”
“You accidentally hit Lorna with your car. Grant did not accidentally have sex with my barely legal daughter.”
“Both were errors in judgment, however. And at least his produced a beautiful baby girl.”
“Is that what this is about?” Dennis wanted to know. “This is about you having a baby in your life?”
Marley paused, the conflict about whether or not to confess visible all over her face before she timidly dropped her head, allowing the slightest of nods.
“It’s wrong, I know it is. Daisy is Sarah’s child, not mine. I have no right to her. But… still… oh, Dennis, do you know what it means to me to finally have an infant to take care of… even if it’s for only half the time?”
“Does Grant know about this?”
“Please don’t tell him.” Marley grabbed Dennis’ hand. “Please promise that I can trust you.”
“Of course, you can trust me. You can always trust me.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, getting choked up. “Thank you, Dennis. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
His face was practically pressed against hers now. Her breath was caressing his cheek in the same way her fingers clutched his palm. Dennis couldn’t stop himself. He leaned in and he kissed her.
And Marley was happy to let him believe it had all been entirely his idea.
Olivia’s favorite part about hearing a child screaming in a department store was the comfortable knowledge that said child wasn’t hers – and thus she wasn’t obliged to do anything about it. She’d had enough years with Sarah throwing tantrums in public to be grateful that was no longer an issue between them. Or, at least, that when Sarah threw a tantrum now, Olivia was free to walk away.
That’s why she paid so little mind to the toddler girl sobbing in the clothing aisle – until she recognized the frazzled dad standing by her side as Jamie.
“Can I be of any assistance?” Olivia raised her voice to be heard over the din of Devon wailing, and her baby sister, still strapped into their double stroller, pitching in for good measure.
Jamie indicated the two, pink dresses he was holding in his hands, as Devon clung to the hem of each. “They look absolutely identical to me, but Devon insists they’re different and she needs to have both. I was willing to go along with it just to keep her calm, but now she’s telling me she wants to wear the ballerina one home, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out which is which.”
“It’s that one,” Olivia indicated immediately.
Jamie furrowed his brow. “How can you tell?”
“This skirt is tulle; it flies up when you twirl. The other one is cotton. It doesn’t.” Olivia knelt down so she was at Devon’s eye-level. “Isn’t that right, sweetie?”
The little girl sniffled loudly, wiped her nose on her sleeve, and nodded fervently, relieved to have finally been understood by a responsible adult.
“Here you go.” Olivia took the correct dress out of Jamie’s hands and handed it to Devon. “Now you can be a beautiful ballerina.”
“Bah-ree-na!” Devon repeated, excitedly hopping up and down.
“That’s right. You know, I used to be a ballerina. And my daddy bought me very pretty things, too. In fact, I bet if I dug around in some boxes in his attic, I could find all sorts of pretty things for you to play dress up with.”
“Dress up!” Devon squealed with glee.
“You’re a hit,” Jamie complimented Olivia.
“Oh, yeah. Kids love me. All kids but my own.”
“Congratulations, by the way,” Jamie said. “I heard about Sarah.”
“I’m a grandmother,” Olivia said the words ambivalently, indicating the newborn pink snowsuit she was currently holding in her hands. “I thought I’d pick up a few things for Sarah’s baby. That’s what – ugh – grandmothers do, isn’t it? Bribe their way into their grandkids’ good graces?”
“Bet Sarah’s daughter will never have to throw a fit to make you understand what she wants and why she wants it.”
“No. Her mother’s got that market cornered.”
“Please pass my congratulations onto Dennis, as well.”
“You’re likely to see him sooner than I will. We’re like matter and anti-matter. We can’t occupy the same space without there being an explosion. Though I bet you’re even less interested in seeing my ex face to face than I am.”
“Actually, Dennis and I are… okay. He stopped by the house earlier. We cleared the air.”
“There’s a designated air cleaner for the guy who agreed to seduce his best friend’s fiancée away from him? At the request of her ex-husband?”
“I figured Dennis got more than his own back in karma.”
“Sorry, that didn’t come out right.”
“No, I meant it. Thanks for giving me the idea that Dennis’ and my horrible relationship wasn’t all for nothing. I was his payback for what he did to you. I’m feeling better about myself already.”
“Somehow I suspect you’ve achieved a lot more in your life than just being my cosmic avenger.”
“Can’t think of anything at the moment.”
“Then I’m happy to have been of service.”
“Ditto,” Olivia said. And then she asked Devon, “Want me to help you put on your pretty new dress?”
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