“Don’t just stand there,” Frankie ordered her daughter. “Call 911, tell them to send the fire department. I’ve got to warn Zeno!”
Without waiting to see whether or not Charlie heard or was doing what she’d been told, Frankie ran towards the farmhouse, screaming Zeno’s name.
He heard her eventually, and so did a dozen of the people who worked there. All came running, whether in response to Frankie’s call or merely also seeing the flames, which had risen far above the roof now.
Zeno burst out the front door, Allie behind him. He took one look at what has happening and immediately began giving orders, telling half the group to bring water, the other to grab sacks they could use to beat the secondary flames started by cinders hitting the grass before they could reach the crops, too.
He paid no attention to Frankie, except to nod bruskly when she told him she was calling 911. The bulk of his focus was on saving as much of his property as he could.
Frankie attempted to help, and so did Allie, but neither was familiar with the physical labor necessary, whereas everyone else seemed to know just what to do. Eventually, Frankie pulled Allie rather than continue to be in the way.
“It’s okay,” Frankie reassured Allie. “It’s not you. I grew up on a farm and I feel just as helpless. Zeno’s prepared for this. Just let him handle it.”
“How did it happen? How did it start?” Allie demanded as Oakdale’s fire trucks pulled up, finally contributing enough water-power to begin extinguishing the flames rather than merely keeping them at bay.
Frankie hesitated before answering, “I think Charlie set the fire.”
Allie’s head jerked up, but she didn’t contradict Frankie’s assumption. Instead, Allie glanced around until she’d spied the tiny figure standing on the outskirts of everything, just watching. “I guess she wanted to make sure the job got done.”
“Please, Allie. Charlie couldn’t help it. She’s sick.”
“That’s what you said the first time she tried to kill me.”
“It was true then, and it’s still true now.”
“Then why isn’t she locked up somewhere where she can’t do anymore damage?”
“Because she’s getting treatment!” Frankie lied with impunity, believing in what she was saying.
“It’s not working,” Allie observed.
“I’m so sorry,” Frankie said, first to Allie, and later to Zeno. After the fire trucks had left, he sat in the northernmost corner of the first floor, the walls black and charred, the entire place smelling of smoke. In his hands, Zeno held a dozen photo albums, ruined by fire and later, water, damage.
Zeno looked up, his eyes blazing hotter than anything Charlie matches had managed to create. “Go to hell,” he seethed.
“Zeno, no, please…”
“Get the hell away from me, Frankie,” he repeated, rising to his feet, approaching her menacingly.
“It’s going to be okay,” she reassured. “I’ll help you rebuild. I’ll get you anything you need. This damage looks mostly superficial, we should be able to – ”
“Is this superficial?” Zeno demanded, showing Frankie the damaged melted pictures that rained from the half destroyed albums. “These were the only things I had left of my mother.”
“That’s not true, honey. You have your memories of Orly. You have the man that she raised you to be. That can’t be taken away by anyone.”
“I know you don’t give a damn about her,” Zeno went on as if Frankie hadn’t spoken. “I know you don’t give a damn about me – “
“That’s also not true. I love you; you know that.”
“But, at least try to understand what your daughter did. First, she took you away from me. And now she’s taken my mom.”
“This wasn’t Charlie’s fault – “
“Would you stop saying that?” Zeno shrieked, losing control in a way Frankie – and Allie – had never previously seen. “Would you just shut up and go away? Haven’t you caused enough damage? You and your precious daughter both?”
“Welcome home,” Russ kissed Rachel on the cheek the next morning at the Cory Mansion, heartened by the fact that she didn’t pull away or look unhappy to see him.
“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see more,” Rachel told Russ sincerely, beckoning him inside.
“How was your trip?” He asked neutrally, making it so that Rachel could tell him as much or as little as she wished with no obligation.
She chose to tell him everything. “Ultimately futile.”
“Me, too,” she nodded, blinking back tears.
“So there was no indication of…”
“The wine-maker was a dead end. But, Felicia and I did have a most interesting run-in with Douglas Rivera’s father, of all people.”
“That’s quite a coincidence,” Russ observed.
“A little too much of a coincidence, for my taste.”
“What do you think it means?”
“I think it means that we’ve gotten into Chase Hamilton’s way somehow, and he sent out a trial balloon to see if he can ferret out just how much I know.”
“Gotten into Hamilton’s way how?”
Rachel shrugged. “The good mayor of Bay City has always been much too obsessed with Carl for it to be purely professional; I’ve suspected as much from the start. Oh, sure, he tried to spin me some tale about how Carl was the first bad guy who got away when he was D.A. And he even sent Doug over in an attempt to convince me that Chase behaves like this with all his cases.”
“You’ll forgive me if I say you don’t look convinced,” Russ offered.
“Chase had a vested interest in driving Carl out of town. And now he seems very, very interested in proving that Carl faked his death.”
“What if he did?” Russ asked gently.
“If he did, it was because Chase drove him to it, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Rachel snapped. “If Carl is hiding out somewhere with our children and Lorna, there has to be an exemplary reason for it.”
“For putting you through this hell? You’re damn right there better be,” Russ said, a bit harsher than he’d intended.
Rachel caught the undertone in his voice and softened her own. “You’re very sweet to be so concerned about me.”
“I really was hoping you’d find what you’re looking for.”
“Not this time,” Rachel said. “But, I’m not even close to giving up yet.”
“Seriously?” Jamie descended on his little brother, not so much angry with Matt as exasperated. “You are seriously going to stand by and let Donna charge Olivia with attempted murder?”
Matt squirmed in his seat. “It’s what Donna wanted to do. And considering how bad I screwed up, I couldn’t exactly stop her.”
“So you screwed up, but Olivia has to pay the price?”
“They’ll never convict her. This is just Donna trying to make a point about how serious this is.”
“She’s trying to publicly humiliate Olivia.”
“Hey, and me, too. How do you think this makes me look?”
“Like a fool.”
“A fool who can’t make either his wife or his girlfriend happy.”
“I thought Olivia was your girlfriend.”
“No, you didn’t. You knew she was just using me to cover up what was really going on.”
“Well, yeah, that’s what Olivia said. But, I still wondered….”
“Are you jealous?” Jamie couldn’t believe his ears.
“No, of course not!”
“Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too!”
“I told you I wasn’t jealous!”
“Then man up and do something about this, Matt. Yeah, you owe Donna. But, you owe Olivia, too. She didn’t exactly tie you up and seduce you against your will. She offered, and you accepted. Now fix this. For Olivia and for Donna and for yourself, too. Your affair isn’t the problem. Your marriage is. And dragging Olivia through the mud isn’t the way to fix it. Talk to your wife, Matt. And then talk her out of this craziness.”
“You should have seen her,” Lila sighed, no longer wondering what had prompted her to pour her heart out in the middle of minimum security prison; merely happy that she’d been given the opportunity and someone who certainly wasn’t going anywhere to listen. “All tarted up like that. Donna made Jazz look like the Junior Whore of Babylon!”
“There’s a beauty contest I don’t see anyone lining up to sponsor,” Kevin observed dryly, equally pleased by the opportunity to focus his mind on anything outside of four, depressing, institutional walls.
“Maybe I did overreact,” Lila conceded grudgingly. “But, truly, Donna had no right.”
“No, she didn’t,” Kevin agreed.
“I just wanted to protect Jasmine a little bit longer. Was that so unreasonable of me?”
“In the sense that we really can’t protect our children from the world? Yes. But, in the sense that your motives were noble – no.”
“All I could see when I looked at her was myself,” Lila confessed. “Going too far too young. With absolutely no way of getting back.”
“You and Jasmine are apples and oranges in that regard. You can’t compare her upbringing to yours.”
“That’s what I was shooting for. Before Donna came along.”
“Jasmine is just experimenting a little. What she did wasn’t all that far removed from playing dress-up, really.”
“Except instead of Barbie’s Dream House, she ended up in a college bar, being offered beers by some lout nearly twice her age.”
“Let’s say two-thirds.”
Lila raised an eyebrow. “That’s your takeaway from all this? I’ve got my math facts wrong?”
“My takeaway is that you’re a terrific mother, and Miss Jasmine is lucky to have you.”
Lila snorted in derision.
“You don’t believe me?” Kevin tapped the metal table between them with his finger. “Lila, kids who don’t feel secure in their parents’ love don’t take stupid leaps off cliffs. Because they don’t trust their mom and dad to catch them if something goes wrong. You should be feeling good about your child raising skills. Great, even.”
“Been giving the subject a lot of thought, have you, Counselor?”
“I’ve had some extra free time on my hands,” he reminded.
“Jen is the perfect kid.”
“A little too perfect,” Kevin lamented. “I know some of it is her grandmother’s influence, and some of it is her not wanting to follow in her biological parents’ footsteps, but, damn it, I’ve got to take at least a fraction of the responsibility for my daughter growing up terrified of making a mistake.”
“There are worse qualities.”
“It’s no way to live,” Kevin insisted. “I should have made that clearer to her. She told me – years later, mind you; not when I could actually do something about it - that she was afraid that if she wasn’t perfect, if she disappointed me or let me down in some way, that I would send her back to where she came from. That I wouldn’t want to be her dad anymore.”
“Kids gets all sorts of foolish notions into their heads,” Lila reassured. “Don’t you go paying it any mind, same as you told me about Jasmine.”
“And you listened to me?” Kevin joked.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Lila reminded.
Kevin smiled, prompting Lila to smile back at him across the table.
Which was precisely when Amanda came in.
“Tell me that Iris is lying,” Donna challenged Marley.
Her daughter shrugged and dutifully parroted, “Iris is lying. When is she ever not?”
“Iris told me you’re the one who drove Sarah out of town. That it’s all part of some diabolical plan of yours to claim Daisy for yourself while stringing both Grant and Dennis along indefinitely.”
Marley looked up innocently. “Now, does that sound like something I would do?”
“You have your answer then.”
“It sounds like something I would do.”
“Here to offer me pointers?”
“Is Iris telling the truth?”
“Is Iris telling the truth?” Donna repeated, emphasizing each word and forcing Marley to look at her as she asked.
Her daughter hesitated for a long, excruciating beat. And then she said, “Yes.”
“My goodness, Marley, why?”
“Are you that desperate for a child of your own? What about Michele and Bridget?”
“They’re Vicky’s. And they always will be.”
“Daisy is Sarah’s.”
“Not for long.”
Donna gasped. “You would actually steal a child from its mother?”
“Its mother abandoned it to my care. What, Donna? What? Go ahead, say it. I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t sound like me either?”
“No.” Her mother said slowly, sadly. “But, it does sound like… Reginald.”
“I wondered when you’d come slithering by,” Rachel observed as Chase more or less let himself into her home. She didn’t bother to stop him. She knew that, like any rodent, he’d just burrow an alternate way in.
“Did you enjoy your European sojourn, Mrs. Hutchins?”
“Paris is lovely this time of the year,” she replied neutrally.
“Any sigh-seeing tours you wish to recommend? I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting vacation spots.”
“I’d suggest you skip the wine country. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Depends on what you were expecting to find, I guess.”
“Perhaps your partner’s father could point you in the direction of the latest hot-spots. He seems to possess a much better lay of the land than I ever could.”
“So you enjoyed meeting Eduardo?”
“A most charming man. Perhaps you might ask him to give you a lesson or two.”
“Eduardo likes me just the way I am.”
“Then he is the only one.”
“His son is pretty fond of me, too.”
“Shocking, considering how you’ve treated him in just the short – yet most excruciating – time that I’ve known you.”
“Where is Carl Hutchins?” Chase turned on a dime, hissing, no longer in the mood for games.
“Oh,” Rachel observed. “Has our period for witty banter come to an end?”
“Tell me where he is,” Chase pressed. “You do realize I could bring you up on charges of Obstruction of Justice?”
“Didn’t your very charming spy fill you in? I have no idea where my husband is. I wish I did,” Rachel told Chase honestly. Then sadly. “But, I don’t.”
“You know that he is still alive, though.”
“No. I only hope it. Though, to tell you the truth, even that is growing harder every day.”
She shrugged. “Feel free to believe whatever you like. It still won’t bring my husband and children back. Unfortunately.”
“I stopped by Ms. Gallant’s earlier.”
“My what a busy Mayor you’ve been. Do all your constituents warrant such personalized attention?”
“She declined – once again – to press kidnapping charges against your husband.”
“Felicia is a loyal friend. Another lesson you’d do well to learn.”
“So you’re perfectly okay with her daughter possibly never coming home – to your son and grandchildren, no less – as long as you aren’t forced to face the truth about the man you married? Some loyal friend you turned out to be. And what an awesome mom, too.”
“A man like you would never, ever understand.”
“Alright.” Rachel wondered if Mr. Hamilton had ever been formally diagnosed with a whopping case of ADD. He did seem to leap around from subject to subject, mood to mood, with disturbing frequency. “But, here is something I do understand. I understand that you are lying to me, Mrs. Hutchins.”
“Do you now?”
“Yes. And I’ve got evidence to prove it.”
“This should be interesting.”
“I don’t want to use it,” he informed her, sounding almost sincere. Almost. “But, I will, if you force me to. Don’t make me use what I know about you, Rachel. You’re going to end up regretting it a lot more than I will.”