“I understand that you declined the chance to press kidnapping charges against Carl,” Rachel saw no point in beating around the bush with her son.
Jamie nodded stiffly, his mouth set into a grim line, his eyes so full of pain it was all Rachel could do not to turn away.
“May I ask why you did that?”
“For you, Mom,” he said simply.
“I see.” Rachel sighed; she’d so been hoping…. “So you still do believe Carl was responsible?”
It was Jamie who turned away instead. He picked Mackenzie up out of her play-pen and silently carried her over to her high-chair, settling the baby in next to her sister, already delicately sorting through a plate of sliced bananas.
“When did it become impossible for us to talk, Jamie?” Rachel followed him. “We’ve never been not been able to talk before, no matter how bad things got.”
“I don’t have the energy for this. I’ve got my job – which isn’t exactly shuffling papers around; any mistake I make could have serious consequences. I’ve got the girls to take care of. And the boys, they might be legal adults now but, believe it or not, they still need me, too. Once in a while. And I do my best to be there for them when that happens. My plate is way too full right now to risk rocking the boat – if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.”
“Not mine,” Rachel said sadly. “I’ve got nothing but time on my hands. Nothing but empty hour after empty hour with nothing to do except sit and think and listen to the wind blow through my empty, lifeless house.”
“Come over here,” Jamie joked. “Never a dull moment here.”
“I’d love to,” Rachel told him sincerely. “I’ve told you before, anything you need me to do, baby-sit, run errands, cook you and the kids a meal, just say the word. Except…. Except I get the feeling you really don’t want me around. I’m one of those complications overrunning your plate. One you’d prefer not to deal with.”
“I said that I believed you didn’t have anything to do with Lorna’s disappearance. And I meant it. I refused to press charges against Carl, even if it might have meant getting my wife back sooner. Or at least finding out what really happened to her. What else do you want me to do, Mom? What else do you want from me?”
“I want my son back. I want things to be the way they were between us. You and me against the world, remember, Jamie? You were my rock. My anchor. You made me want to be a better person. You made me want to be someone my little boy could be proud of.”
“And I want my wife back,” Jamie’s voice cracked and he had to swallow hard in order to finish his sentence. “I want my little girls’ mother back. Lorna changed my life, too. In ways you can’t understand.”
“I want to,” she pleaded. “This… distance between us. It didn’t start last summer. It was long before that. You were a different man when you came back from San Francisco with the boys. You never did tell me what really happened there. What drove you to such a desperate place that you actually tried to take your own life.”
“No,” he agreed. “I didn’t.”
“That’s where things really started to go wrong between us. When the chips were down, when things were about as bad as they could possibly get, you didn’t feel you could turn to me.”
“I couldn’t turn to anyone,” he corrected. “That’s one of the worst parts about being caught in a cycle like that. You just withdraw deeper and deeper into yourself until suicide begins to look like the only possible way out.”
“I had a moment,” Rachel confessed. “This past year, right after we got the news about Carl and the kids – I had a moment where, I have to admit, it crossed my mind. But, it never really felt like a true option.”
“You’re strong, Mom. You always have been. Not like me.”
“No. I’m something even better – I’m stubborn.” She smiled through the tears that suddenly sprang into her eyes. “All I could think of was how many people would be publicly sorry about my death, but, deep down, they’d just see it as a validation of their disdain for my relationship with Carl. They’d think I got what I deserved. Hell, many of them already do.”
“Since when does Rachel Davis Frame Cory Hutchins care about what other people think?”
“I don’t,” she admitted. “It was more the principle of the thing. I am not going to let all those nay-sayers win. No matter what happens.”
Jamie cocked his head to one side. “What does that mean?”
She squeezed his shoulder reassuringly and kissed her son on the forehead, promising, “You’ll see….”
Disbelief radiating through every pore in his body, Zeno challenged Frankie, “Are you threatening me? No more help with the farm unless I go see Charlie?”
His onetime stepmother took her time answering, seemingly as shocked by her own actions as he was. But, in the end, Frankie confirmed, “Yes.”
Zeno flopped back in his chair, staring at her, bug-eyed. “Holy….”
“My daughter needs you to get well,” she stressed. “I am not going to apologize for doing anything I have to, to take care of my daughter.”
“So that makes me, what? The local gigolo?”
“Don’t be silly. I’m not… What I mean is… You started all this!”
“How?” Zeno wanted to know.
“All of Charlie’s problems, her confusion, her illness started after she began having feelings for you despite being involved with Kirkland. You shouldn’t have slept with her.”
“You’re right,” Zeno agreed. “That was a really dumb move on my part. But, if you’ll excuse me, Frankie, I didn’t force Charlie into anything. She shouldn’t have slept with me while she was dating Kirkland anymore than I should have slept with her.”
“Charlie is young. She’s inexperienced.”
“She’s only a couple years younger than I am.”
“She’s been sheltered. You haven’t.”
“Not going to apologize for that, either.”
“I’m not asking you to. I am just pointing out that you have a responsibility in this situation.”
“What about Kirk?” Zeno challenged. “Where does he fit in?”
“Charlie doesn’t want to see him anymore.”
“Why not? Unlike me, Kirkland is a nice guy.”
“Yes, he is. And if it were up to me, Charlie would be with a nice guy who loves her and cares about her and wants to do anything he can to help her get well. But, it isn’t up to me. It’s up to her. And Charlie has made it clear that Kirkland is not who she needs. She needs you.”
“So Allie was right. Charlie’s freak out was over me.”
“Charlie didn’t freak out,” Frankie bristled. “She suffered a manic episode. She’s not to blame.”
“No,” Zeno agreed. Then asked politely, “Are you in the middle of a manic episode right now, too?”
“Watch your tone,” Frankie snapped, reverting back to the woman who’d once been a part of teaching Zeno how to speak respectfully to adults.
“Watch your blackmail,” he responded evenly.
“I am not… I would never…”
“What would you call it, then?”
“I am calling it asking for a favor. That’s what families do, Zeno. We help each other out. I helped you out with the farm when you needed it. And now I am asking you to do something for me, in return. I am asking you to help my daughter through a horribly difficult time. Charlie means everything to me, do you understand? So, you go ahead, you call me names and accuse me of all sorts of vile things. I don’t even care. The only person that matters right now is Charlie. And I’m not leaving here until I get what I came for.”
“How did it go?” Marley asked innocently after Iris stormed into her office, looking so furious and frustrated that the answer to Marley’s question was obvious. “With Dennis, I mean?”
“What are you up to?” Iris demanded, feeling utterly stymied and utterly unaccustomed to being in that position. “What do you want?”
“Everything,” Marley filled her in helpfully.
“It isn’t just Daisy,” Iris realized with a growing horror. “You want Dennis, too.”
“What about Grant?”
“Why? After everything Grant did to you.”
“Precisely because of everything he did to me,” Marley clarified. “I am so, so tired of people screwing me over, then blithely moving on to their happily ever afters while I’m left to grovel for scraps. Donna, Vicky, Jake, Jamie… I can’t really do all that much about them now. But, Grant…. Grant I can still make pay.”
“This is…. I don’t understand.”
“I want everything,” Marley reiterated. “And I want to make sure the rest of them are left with nothing.”
“So why not just leave Grant, then? That should be a terrific blow to his ego. Why play games? Why drag other people into it?”
“Because the first thing my darling husband would do the moment I walked out the door – or, more likely, kicked him to the curb; bruised ego or no bruised ego – is hightail it over to your disgusting granddaughter’s bed. And there he’d be, all snug and cozy, baby and bimbo at his side. What kind of punishment is that?”
“So you’re only staying with Grant in order to punish him? Keep him away from Sarah?”
“I’m staying with Grant in order to punish both him and Sarah. Why should they be happy when I’m not? As far as I can see, I’m the only thing keeping those star-crossed lovebirds apart. And I intend to do so indefinitely.”
“Oh, Daisy is definitely part of the equation. That little girl is my last chance to raise a baby. I’m going to take full advantage of it. I’m going to make sure Daisy loves her Marmmy. That’s short for Mommy Marley,” the younger woman offered helpfully. “Oh, and a Little Women reference, I guess.”
“You are not Daisy’s mother! When I tell Dennis what you are plotting – “
Marley smirked. “How did that work out for you last time?”
“He refused to listen,” Iris admitted grudgingly. “He seems utterly besotted with you.”
“Aw… how sweet.”
“And how does my son fit into your plan? You’re already leading Grant around by the nose, what do you need Dennis for?”
“Oh, you know. Other things….” Marley smiled.
“You calculating, manipulative bitch.”
“Coming from you, Iris, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You won’t get away with it for long. Even if they don’t believe me now, Dennis, Sarah and Grant aren’t stupid. They’ll see through your machinations soon enough.”
“I doubt that.”
“You think you’re that clever, do you?”
“No,” Marley told her honestly. “I’m too pathetic. Poor, innocent, put-upon Marley. Poor, dumb, victimized Marley. It’s how they see me. It’s how they all see me. The idea that I might be more than that never ever crosses their minds. That’s why they didn’t believe what you said about me. That’s why they’ll never believe it. Marley couldn’t possibly harbor an evil thought in that feeble, naive brain of hers. Marley was put on this Earth to be used by others. She’d never use anyone else for her own means. Why, she wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I knew it.” In spite of everything, Iris felt strangely vindicated. “I always knew it was the nice girls you should watch out for. They’re the ones who’ll stab you in the back, then stand around, their big cow eyes wide, looking like they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. You’re simply the first one who’s admitted it.”
“I’m nobody’s doormat, anymore,” Marley filled Iris in. “I am going to have my baby, my husband, and my boy-toy on the side. And your son and your granddaughter and Grant are going to be left with nothing. For the first time in my life, I am going to win.”
“You really needed that, didn’t you?” Olivia stroked Matt’s hair affectionately. Having sensed that he wasn’t quite ready to go all the way yet, Olivia had simply ducked beneath Matt’s desk, quietly taking care of him with her mouth and tongue without anyone else being the wiser.
“Yeah,” Matt mumbled, his skin flushed crimson, every rapid, frantic beat of his still-hammering heart – both from the excitement and the guilt – reminding him of…. Donna.
“Well, I’m happy to help.” Olivia slipped onto Matt’s lap.
“It’s just that…. Donna, see, she… she’s worried about me. After my heart-attack… she’s afraid my getting excited might…”
“Should I tell her she’s got nothing to worry about?” Olivia asked innocently.
“God, no!” Matt looked at her, terrified Olivia might actually be serious. As had been made obvious previously, he really had no clue about what the woman was thinking.
Olivia laughed, giving Matt a quick peck on the nose and reassuring, “You have nothing to worry about. I know how to be discreet.”
“Why?” Matt blurted out.
“A lifetime of practice.”
“No. I mean, why… why are you doing any of this?”
“I’m sorry, do you not realize why any woman would feel moved to give you a yummy blow-job in the middle of the afternoon?”
“I… uh… is there a right way to answer that question?”
“You are a gorgeous, successful, sweet specimen of a man. I’m surprised that when I went under the desk, I didn’t find a line of woman already in place.”
“I’m also a married man,” Matt reminded.
“I know. And I respect that.”
“Look, Matt, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Well…” He wasn’t precisely sure that was the right word to use.
“And friends help each other out, don’t they?”
“They do, but…”
“You need what I’m offering. And I’m happy to help.”
“We can’t…. I mean, if Donna ever found out…”
“I don’t want to hurt her. I love her. Do you understand? I love my wife. It’s just…”
“She won’t put out.”
“Because of me. Donna is worried about me.”
“So how long until she gets over it, then?”
“I don’t know,” Matt admitted. “I keep waiting and hoping, but….”
“Exactly. So, until then, I’m here for you.”
“But, what if Donna starts to suspect….”
“No worries.” Olivia’s hand slipped into Matt’s pocket, starting to stroke him again. “I’m taking care of everything.”
“May I come in?”
Felicia hesitated, then opened the door wider.
“How is Charlie feeling?” Rachel asked politely.
“Much better. She’s out of the hospital.”
“Full recovery. No complications.”
Rachel asked, “Have you spoken with Chase Hamilton yet?”
“But you are going to.”
“You know, I remember when you first learned Lorna was the baby you’d lost. How you wondered if the two of you would ever have a civil relationship, much less a mother-daughter one.”
“It hasn’t been easy. But I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.”
“Elizabeth and I…. Elizabeth isn’t exactly an easy child, either.”
“I know. What she did to Kevin….”
“But I also wouldn’t trade a moment of it, either.” Rachel said, “I went to see Jamie earlier. I tried to get him to tell me why he decided not to press those charges against Carl. He kept changing the subject. But, what I did manage to get out of him was, more or less, the same thing that you said. About my feelings being more important than Lorna’s safe return. You were right.”
“I know.” Felicia bent a little. “But, I should have found a more tactful way to say it, nevertheless. I do know what you’re going through, Rachel. Jenna… The way I behaved after Jenna’s death…”
“I want you to hold off on contacting Hamilton.”
“Just for a little while,” Rachel rushed to reassure.
“How long is a little while?”
“Just until you and I have had time to take a quick trip to France. There’s a vintner there I’d like to have a chat with….”
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