Olivia on his lap, her hands on his shoulders, her mouth on his, Jamie allowed her to kiss him. He even kissed her back. But, only for a moment.
As soon as Jamie’s brain caught up with his instincts, he gently pushed her back, shaking his head, insisting, “No. No, Olivia, I’m sorry. I – no.”
“Why not?” Olivia wasn’t feeling so much angry or rejected as confused. “Why not, Jamie? You want me. You know you do.” Still straddling his lap, she squeezed his thighs between hers, the physical evidence to back up her statement undeniable.
“Of course, I do,” he agreed. “I’m a man, you’re a beautiful woman, and my wife has been gone for nearly a year. Of course, I responded to you.”
“Until you stopped. Come on, Jamie. It’ll be okay. You need this.” She stroked the back of his neck. “We both do.”
“Maybe,” he agreed. “But, I can’t.”
“I beg to differ.”
He smiled warily. “Alright, you’ve got me there, it is quite clear that I can.”
“But, you won’t,” she guessed.
“Because of Lorna?”
“Out there somewhere.”
Olivia wanted to stomp her foot in frustration, but didn’t think such an act of petulance would be appropriate under the circumstances. “What about the tape your mom….”
“That doesn’t prove anything.”
“How long are you going to do this, Jamie? How long are you going to put your life on hold and stop yourself from being happy?”
“As long as it takes.”
“Until I have my wife back.”
Olivia said, “The other day, when I asked you why you were being nice to me, you said I already knew the answer. I thought… I thought it meant you… like me.”
“I do like you, Olivia. A lot more than I expected to, frankly.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Hey, friends are honest with each other.”
“Is that what we are? Friends?”
“I hope so.”
“But, nothing more than that?”
“No,” Jamie said, gently sliding her leg off from his and standing up, intending to go check on his daughters. “Nothing more than that.”
“Am I interrupting something?” Sarah gingerly made her way down the stairs, cuddling a newly awake Daisy in her arms, looking from Marley to Grant, neither of whom looked particularly happy at the moment.
“Grant was just telling me about this arrangement you two concocted on your way home from Canada?” Marley crossed her arms.
“I – Grant said Daisy needed me back in her life.”
“Do you think so, Sarah? Do you think you’re ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child? At your age?”
“I want what’s best for Daisy,” Sarah insisted.
“And you think you’re it?”
“No,” Sarah told her honestly. “I don’t. That’s why I left. I thought Daisy would be better off with you and Grant, and without me.”
“So what changed your mind?”
“Grant did. I mean, he didn’t exactly change it. He… he just asked me to come back and talk to you and he said we could make this work. The three of us. For Daisy’s sake.”
“That’s a hell of a promise to make,” Marley informed her husband.
“I have faith in you,” Grant said.
“Excuse me?” Marley’s crossed arms migrated to her hips.
“Sarah left because she felt she could never be the mother Daisy deserves. I told her that you are the best mother I know. And that you’d help her. Her and me. Frankly, Marley, Sarah and I couldn’t do this without you.”
“You have a lot of nerve, Grant.”
“I do,” he agreed. “I really, really do.”
“The least you could have done was ask me, first.”
“You’d agreed to share custody of Daisy with Sarah before. What’s changed since then?”
“Since then, Sarah has run out on her own daughter! How am I supposed to trust her after that?”
“I won’t do it again,” Sarah swore. “I promise.”
“Daisy needs her mother. But, she needs you, too, Marley. Please say you’ll be there for her. Please say we can do this.”
Donna was still reeling from Anna’s phone calling, wondering what she should do and when and how she should possibly go about informing Rachel that her presumed dead husband had been spotted – maybe – at a clinic in Switzerland, when Matt came home, looking frustrated.
“What’s wrong, darling?” Donna cooed, reasoning that her own husband took precedence over Rachel’s… dead or alive.
“I just caught a rebroadcast of Mom’s press conference. I tried talking to her about it, but it’s pointless.”
“What do you mean?”
“How many more times is she supposed to get her hopes up, only to have them crushed later? This is killing her, you know. It’s like a roller-coaster she can’t get off of.”
“But if it leads to finding Carl and your siblings…”
“Carl is dead! Cory and Elizabeth are dead! How many more years are we all going to have of charlatans and phony mediums and con artists coming out of the woodwork, claiming they’ve seen Carl and offering to take her to him – for a price? If she keeps pursuing this, it’ll never end. Her life will be ruined.”
“You can’t expect Rachel to just give up.”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I expect her to do. Look, I’m sorry. Mom loved Mac. And she mourned him like crazy. But, she mourned him, and she moved on. Granted, it was to Carl, but… She kept living. She didn’t embalm herself in amber and dedicate her life to chasing ghosts. I can’t stand to see her like this. She’s – she’s pathetic, that’s what she is. And that is one word I never thought I’d say about my mother. Carl did this to her. I’ve spent a lot of years wishing they’d never met. But, right now, I’d settle for him resting in peace – even if he doesn’t deserve to. If it meant my mother can do the same.”
“You’re doing what now?” Lila did a double take the next day over lunch as Grant filled her in on the latest developments in his personal life. “You went to Canada to grovel at Sarah’s feet but, when she kicked you to the curb, you decided to stick it out with Marley and Daisy and Sarah?”
“I take exception to several of your verb choices – “
“I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, Senator.”
Grant took a sip of his bourbon. “But, yes, in a nutshell, Marley and I are going to be sharing custody of Daisy with Sarah. What’s so odd about that? It’s no different than you and Matt and Donna.”
Lila raised a warning finger. “First of all, I share custody with Matt. The Jurassic viper he married has been warned to keep her distance from my baby girl.”
“Once again, I do enjoy your way with words.”
“And second, Jasmine isn’t the result of some sordid affair – well, alright, she is; but not while Matt was with Donna, which makes a world of difference when you’re comparing apples and oranges, don’t you think?”
“Marley and I have moved past my… indiscretion with Sarah.”
“Have you, though? Moved past it, I mean?”
Grant shrugged. “Irrelevant. Sarah doesn’t want me.”
“I call foul on that. Child was head over heels in love with you.”
“That was before I treated her like garbage.”
“Not really,” Lila observed. Then added, “And you’re still head over heels for her.”
“Even more irrelevant. Try this logic on for size: If I loved Sarah, I’d want what’s best for her, which is to stay as far away from me as possible. If I didn’t love Sarah, then I’d also want her as far away from me as possible. So the course of action here is obvious, regardless of motivation.”
“Uh-ha,” Lila popped a bit of steak into her mouth. “That argument may get you high marks on the Law School exam, but it don’t wash, here. You’re trying to talk yourself into staying away from Sarah at the same time as you moved heaven and earth to bring her back to Bay City.”
“I did that for Daisy.”
“And are you sticking with Marley for Daisy’s sake, too?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“That’s some bad manners you’ve got there, Grant.”
“Marley and I make sense. If I’m going to be with someone – “
“Someone who isn’t Sarah, you mean?”
“I might as well be with Marley. We care about each other, we’re compatible. She is an excellent stepmother for Daisy – and Kirkland, too. And… and I owe her.”
“For sticking by me after she found out about Sarah and Daisy. She must really want to be with me, if she was willing to put up with that level of betrayal.”
“And I guess after having your ego stomped on by a coed, a woman willing to take your crap and keep coming back for more is pretty damn appealing.”
“Being with Marley is the sensible thing. For my sake, for Daisy’s and for Sarah’s, too. I admit it, I had a momentary lapse. When I saw her again in Canada I – I remembered how much I loved her. Thank God, Sarah had the sense to push me away. I promised myself a long time ago that I was going to put Sarah’s interests first. And that means protecting her from me. No more lapses. You just watch.”
“Hello, Jamie,” Rachel said softly, opening her arms and embracing her son, whispering, “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I had to – “
“It’s alright,” he assured her, hugging Rachel back just as tightly.
“It was all Hamilton’s fault. He doctored that tape.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jamie said. “The fact is, Lorna is still out there. I know it. Same way that you know it about Carl and Elizabeth and Cory.”
Rachel hesitated, confessing, “If you had asked me a couple of days ago, I would have said yes, yes – you’re right, of course they’re alive, all of them.”
“You don’t think so anymore?”
Rachel threw up her hands in frustration. “I don’t know what to think. Every single clue I’ve followed for the last year has turned out to be a dead end. How much longer can I go on hoping? How much longer can I put myself – and you and Felicia – through this?”
“As long as you need to, Mom,” Jamie said.
She looked at him in surprise. “Really, Jamie? Do you mean that?”
It took a great deal of effort, but he did ultimately nod his head. “Yes.”
“That means a great deal to me. May I ask what brought about this change of heart?”
Jamie said, “After Hamilton had his press conference, about the tape, a… friend asked me why I wasn’t at your house, raining fire and brimstone, letting you have it. I told her – “
“Her?” Rachel caught the unexpected pronoun.
Jamie ignored the implied question to continue, “I told her it was because I didn’t have the energy to fight you. That I had to take care of my kids and my work and that I didn’t want to be the guy I used to be. The one who attempted to solve all problems by stomping around and pointing accusatory fingers.”
“You were justified. In some cases. Not in others.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t tell her the whole truth.”
“And what’s that, Jamie?”
“The truth is, what you said – about feeling like you didn’t know which way to turn or what was right and what’s wrong and the sense that any decision you make is bound to hurt somebody you care about… I know what that’s like. I’ve been there. And I couldn’t take it. The last time I felt like that, Mom, I tried to kill myself.”
“Now, I know you’re a hell of a lot stronger than me, but… I just – I wanted to let you know that I understand. And that I’ll do anything I can to help you. So, please, Mom, if you need anything – I’m here for you. I’ve got your back. And you don’t have to worry about me passing judgment or… or anything. You can count on me, no matter what. Same way I’ve always been able to count on you.”
“I’d ask if you had a rough day at the office,” Doug noted facetiously when Chase finally got home a few minutes after midnight and, only kicking off his shoes, flopped onto the bed, still fully dressed, next to Doug. “But, lucky for me, I got to watch the entire thing, live-streamed.”
“Rachel Hutchins called me names.”
“Did you deserve them?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Doug bent over to kiss him. “So what’s the real deal with this mystery tape?”
“Steven Frame has evidence that it was doctored.”
Chase shrugged. “Seems that way.”
“Is that going to be a problem for you?”
“In the legal sense? No. I’ve got a well-documented paper trail of how the tape got into my possession. And with the news that broke last week about the Federal Government collecting private citizen’s phone records, no one’s going to come down on some small town Mayor for doing the exact same thing. I hear Mrs. Hutchins has been making calls, asking what she can charge me with and getting the cold shoulder all the way around.”
“Well, that’s good, at least.”
“It’s good,” Chase agreed, his mind visibly a million miles away. “About the only time Big Government has ever been good for me, anyway.”
“So why aren’t you smiling?” Doug prompted.
“Because,” Chase rolled over on his side, propping his head up with one hand. “Here’s the problem: Rachel is certain I faked that tape. Except I know I had nothing to do with it. Which begs the question… Who’s responsible? And why?”
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