“Hold up,” Cass ordered as, soon as they brought her home from the hospital, Charlie made a mad dash for the stairs without so much as a word to either him or Frankie.
She paused, hand still on the railing, and half turned to ask, “What?”
“We’re going to have a talk. Sit down, Charlotte.”
“I’m kind of tired, Dad.”
“And probably thirsty, too,” he agreed. “That’s a common side-effect of the lithium. You’d better start getting used to it.”
Charlie snuck a sideways peek at Frankie, who merely repeated, “Sit down, Charlie.”
“Fine,” their daughter sulked over to a chair, slumping into it and staring at the floor.
“Look at me,” Cass ordered.
Her head shot up in surprise. Charlie couldn’t remember the last time Cass had used that harsh of a tone with her. “I’m not feeling well,” she reminded him.
“Yes. That sucks,” he agreed, taking the seat across from her, Frankie in between. “But, this is how it’s going to be from now on, so let’s set some ground rules.”
“Can I get you something, honey?” Frankie asked. “Some water? Juice?”
“You can get him off my back,” Frankie indicated Cass.
Understanding she was looking for a reaction and consequently an excuse to terminate the conversation, Cass deliberately didn’t step into Charlie’s trap, merely calmly informing his daughter, “I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen.”
“Why are you acting like this?” Charlie whined. “You’ve got the same thing I do. You know what happened wasn’t my fault.”
“It wouldn’t have happened if you’d taken your medication like you were supposed to.”
“And that was my fault,” Frankie spoke up. “I take full responsibility for it.”
“It won’t happen again,” Cass said, addressing them both equally. “Charlie, you are going to take your medication every day, in front of me. I am going to count out your pills and I am going to watch to make sure you swallow them.”
“Gee, Nurse Ratched much?”
“You will also drop the attitude. Or I will go Nurse Ratched on you,” Cass added evenly.
“Your dad just wants what’s best for you,” Frankie attempted to soften the blow. “So do I.”
“Then why are you letting him grill me like a criminal?”
“Because you committed a criminal act,” Cass snapped. “The only reason you’re not in jail right now, being treated like an actual criminal – no matter what you may think, this doesn’t even come close to the real deal – is because I was able to pull some strings and get you house arrest instead of a cell.”
That seemed to break through Charlie’s doldrums. She raised her head to ask, “They wanted to put me in jail?”
“Zeno is pressing charges,” Cass said. Then added, “I encouraged him to.”
“What?” Both Frankie and Charlie yelped.
“It will make it easier for him to collect the insurance money he needs.”
“Like Kirkland,” Charlie recalled. “So this is about money.”
“No. It’s about justice. What happened with Kirkland was a real accident….” Cass trailed off for a moment. In light of what he knew now… “It was an accident, wasn’t it, Charlie?”
She shrugged and stuck to her original story. “I don’t remember.”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks, equal parts guilt and regret. How many other obvious signs had they missed while digging their heads in the sand?
“The point is,” Cass went on. “This family owes Zeno. Not just money. We owe him to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. And the only way I know to assure that is to make certain you follow your medical regiment to the letter.”
“The drugs will fry my brain,” Charlie said. “Mom said so.”
“We’ll be careful,” Frankie promised. “We won’t give you anymore than you absolutely need to stay well.”
“Which is a very meticulous, complicated process,” Cass said. “There are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be days when you feel like you have so much energy that you want to jump out of your skin, and there will be ones when you can barely get out of bed. Both of those are symptoms, and both of those need to be addressed. To that end, you will not be leaving this house unaccompanied for the near future.”
Charlie’s mouth dropped open, “Are you kidding me?”
“Your mother or I will be with you at all times.”
“This is insane.”
“This is how it’s going to be.”
She shook her head in disgust. “Take it or leave it, huh?”
“No,” Cass said. “Take it. There is no other option.”
Donna was still in her robe when Matt came in with the morning paper. He showed her the headline from the Local section. It was about her pressing attempted murder charges against Olivia.
Donna studied the layout critically. “Not a very flattering picture of Olivia. Though the mug shot does bring out her essential malevolence.”
“No one is going to come out of this looking good,” Matt observed, shoving the paper aside. “The article pretty much makes all three of us sound like idiots.”
Donna shrugged. “A worthwhile sacrifice.”
“For what?” Matt demanded. “Just what do you intend to accomplish here?”
“I intend to expose Olivia Matthews for what she really is. A slut and a home-wrecker.”
“Except that she isn’t,” Matt said.
Donna’s eyes narrowed. “Are you defending her?”
“Olivia isn’t a home-wrecker because I’m still here, with you. Exactly where I want to be, now and forever. What happened at C-Squared, that was just about sex, pure and simple. Olivia was never a threat to you or to our marriage.”
“She was threat to your life.”
“Come on, Donna, please…”
“Maybe you were willing to throw it away on a nymphomaniac bimbo. But, you mean more to me than that, Matthew.”
“And you mean everything to me.”
“Then why take such a risk? Why even tempt the possibility of something going wrong and my losing you? Again. Only for good this time.”
“You are never going to lose me,” he swore.
Donna said, “One of the fringe benefits of marrying a younger man is supposed to be not worrying about being left alone.”
“I can think of a few others,” Matt said, sliding his hand beneath Donna’s robe and up her thigh.
“One,” she pulled away with a whimper of regret, but determined to stay strong. “Is not worth the other.”
“You’re looking at this all wrong,” Matt said.
“I am the only one looking at this right – for both of us.”
“Why can’t you look at it as,” Matthew approached his wife again, this time cupping her face in his hands and kissing her so deeply she couldn’t resist even if she tried. “Why can’t you look at it as… being with you is worth dying for?”
“Stop it, Matthew,” Donna insisted, though a great deal more feebly, this time. “Don’t say things like that….”
“It’s true…” he nibbled her neck. “You know it is…”
“All I know is,” Donna’s voice caught in her throat in reaction to Matt’s tongue hitting the exact same spot his lips had earlier. “That there is nothing I wouldn’t give up to keep you.”
He’d told Sarah he loved her. He’d told her he needed her. He’d told her he couldn’t live without her. And still, she just stood there, Grant’s phone with the pictures of Daisy in one hand, her backpack slung over the other.
“Can we go somewhere and talk privately?” Grant pleaded, not thrilled with the idea of their having this discussion in the middle of the McGill college campus. It was way too exposed for his liking. And everyone around them was way, way too young. Grant could only imagine what he must come off like in comparison.
“No,” Sarah shook her head, handing the phone back to Grant. She said, “You blew it.”
“I know I did,” he swore. “I never should have – “
“I loved you, Grant,” she said, the paste tense of her verb pointedly emphasized. “I loved you not because of who I imagined you were, or what you could do for me, or even who I wanted you to be. I loved you because I know who you really are.”
“Yes,” he agreed. He would have agreed to anything at that moment, but most especially to this. She had known him. And she’d loved him anyway. Not a lot of people could lay claim to that.
“You could have had it all,” Sarah went, seemingly genuinely sympathetic that she had to be the one to tell him this. “The family you always wanted, the job you always wanted, and real love, too. You could have had everything with me. You know that, right? You could have finally had the life you’d always dreamed of.”
“Don’t, Sarah, please…” Grant had to press his fingertips against his eyelids, determined that the one thing he wouldn’t do was cry, not now, not here.
“We could have been so happy together. You could have been so happy. Do you ever think about that, Grant? What it might feel like to be happy?”
“I know what it feels like,” he insisted, still taking deep gulps of air in an attempt to keep himself under control. “Because that’s what I was, when I was with you.”
“It’s too late,” she told him.
“No. It can’t be. I told you, I’ll leave Marley, I’ll do whatever you say…”
She shook her head. “I don’t trust you anymore, Grant.”
“But do you love me?” He insisted. That was all that mattered.
He faltered as if struck. “How can you… how can you say that?”
“Because you ruined it.”
“That was a mistake,” he stressed.
“It doesn’t matter. I am sorry, Grant. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
“Need a hand?” The voice came from above where Zeno, Allie and several dozen others were spread out on the ground around the farmhouse, sorting through the items that had burned, determining what could be salvaged and what would need to be replaced.
“GQ?” Allie blinked up in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“I read on-line that people were setting up a volunteer effort to help out. I thought I’d pitch in.”
“Why?” she wrinkled her nose.
“Because Zeno is a friend of yours. And you’re a friend of mine.”
“Is that what we are? Friends?”
“Yeah,” he said easily. “We’re friends.”
“Hey, friend,” Zeno stood up, stretching out a hand to shake. “You any good with a hammer?”
“I’m better with computers,” GQ conceded. “I thought you might need somebody to check out your Internet connection, make sure nothing’s going to snap on you and fry a season’s worth of inventory and records.”
“That’s… yeah.” Zeno nodded enthusiastically, having not given the issue much thought previously. “That would be great, actually. I can take apart a combine engine and put it back together without breaking a sweat, but those wires and modems and things… far as I’m concerned, magic makes it happen.”
GQ grinned, “I’ll take a look. Make sure the fairy dust’s in working order.”
“Thanks, man, I’d appreciate it.”
“No problem,” GQ smiled at Allie as he headed for the main house. “Anything for a friend.”
Zeno watched him go. Or, rather, he watched Allie watch him go. And then he asked, “You okay with this?”
She pivoted to face him. “I was going to ask you that.”
“I’m not exactly in the position to be turning down helping hands, these days.”
“You turned down the money I offered you.”
“And I told you why, too. Difference is, if being beholden to GQ Todd ruins his and my relationship, well, I could live with that, you know?”
“And the fact that he and I used to have a relationship…”
“You didn’t give me grief over what happened with Charlie.”
“You weren’t in love with Charlie.”
“But you were in love with GQ.”
“Yeah. I was. A long time ago.”
“Are you still?”
“No,” she shook her head emphatically.
“Then I’m cool. How about you?”
“Congratulations,” Iris breezed into Amanda’s office, feeling no need to be announced. “I see you’ve managed to finagle yet another loan to keep Cory Publishing afloat – for one more month, at least – without my contribution.”
“The company is doing well. Circulation is up – “
“Web circulation,” Iris clarified. “The print numbers are still dismal.”
“We’re doing no worse than our competitors.”
“What a delightfully rousing endorsement.”
“Everything is fine, Iris, thank you for asking.”
“Until the loans come due, that is. You are aware, Amanda, that the cash influx is not a gift. Sooner or later, that money will all need to be repaid – with interest.”
“I’m familiar with how loans work.”
“A difficult prospect to surmise, based on the evidence at hand.”
“Did you want something?” Amanda fought the urge to shove the latest transparencies down her half-sister’s throat.
“Merely to compliment you.”
“Was that what you were doing?” Amanda smiled with absolutely no genuine emotion behind it. “A difficult prospect to surmise, based on the evidence at hand.”
“Oh, no,” Iris reassured. “That was merely my making some gracious small talk.”
“I’m glad you explained, otherwise I might have misunderstood your gracious intentions completely.”
“The compliment was regarding to how nimbly you’ve been juggling everything lately.”
“You mean the loans? I told you, I have a plan for paying everything back in time for – “
“I mean your men, darling.”
“Of course, no one could blame you one bit. A husband in jail is quite a burden to bear, especially for a woman as accustomed to certain… services in life as you are.”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I am merely praising you, Amanda, for how you didn’t allow Kevin being… away to interfere with your going on as before. After all, a woman in your position has no reason to make lifestyle sacrifices when she doesn’t have to.”
“I’m sorry, Iris, are you calling me a spoiled brat, or a slut?”
“Why limit yourself, darling?”
“I am not cheating on Kevin!” Amanda exploded.
“Is someone I went out with a couple of times, years ago. If you’re implying – “
“Actually, I believe you’re inferring. All I did was mention the man’s name.”
“There is nothing going on between me and Morgan.”
“No one would blame you if it were. After all, women in our position – “
“Yes,” Iris beamed. “You and I, Amanda, we’re a great deal alike, wouldn’t you say?”
“As a matter of fact, no, I would not.”
Iris went on, “It’s why I feel so comfortable leaving Cory Publishing in your hands… for the time being, that is.”
“Anything?” Rachel leaned over Steven’s shoulder, her grandson having called her in to see what he’d accomplished so far.
“Yeah,” he bobbed his head, not looking up from the computer screen where a series of seismograph-like white and black lines ran from left to right, periodically spiking, then settling down again. “I ran the recording that Hamilton played through some software.”
“What kind? Where did you get it?”
“The less you know, the better, okay, Grandma?”
She got his drift. “Okay.”
“Right, so I ran it through this software, and I broke it down to its most basic elements. See?” He indicated the screen.
Rachel saw nothing. “What does it mean?”
“Notice how the spikes from the word Mom don’t match up to the ones on Lorna?”
“Well, there was a great deal of static and interference.”
“I got rid of all that,” Steven said, looking insulted that she’d think he hadn’t.
“And what do the spikes mean, then?”
“They mean,” Steven sighed. “That the two words weren’t recorded at the same time from the same place.”
“I don’t understand.”
“They mean that someone faked this call. That’s Cory’s voice, and he is saying Mom and he is saying Lorna. But those were two different recordings spliced together. And the static sound was added later. This call is a set up, Grandma.”
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