“It was never about me,” Marley told Dennis, her eyes dry, her voice hollow, her entire, stoic visage suggesting she’d be a fool to expect anything different. “Even when a man tries to kill me, I’m not the one he’s after.”
“Is that what Lucas said?” Dennis stroked Marley’s hair as she lay in his arms, her back to him.
“More or less. He was out to bring down the compound and frame Donna to get back at her for kidnapping Felicia and killing Jenna. He chose me because I was already so weak and unstable, no one would think twice about my trying to commit suicide. And no one would believe me when I insisted I didn’t.”
“I would have believed you,” Dennis swore. “I know how strong you are. To have gone through everything you’ve been though and still come out fighting… you’re the strongest woman I’ve ever met.”
Marley snorted. “That wasn’t the case four years ago. Four years ago, I was exactly what Lucas and the rest deemed me to be. Poor, vulnerable, pathetic Marley. Did you know I lost custody of Bridget and Michele to Steven? Some judge thought a teen-age boy was a safer bet to raise two little girls than I was. And I’d been their guardian since they were toddlers. It’s never been the same between us since then. Michele and Bridget, they still say all the right things – “We love you, Aunt Marley,” – but it’s in their eyes. They don’t trust me. Steven poisoned their minds against me. I won’t let that happen with Daisy, though. You’ve seen her. You’ve seen how much she loves me. I’m her favorite person. She hates going home to Sarah. She wants to stay with me.”
“Daisy loves you,” Dennis agreed, kissing the back of Marley’s neck. “I love you, too.”
“Donna wants me to strike back at Lucas.” She turned to face Dennis, interrupting his plan to continue all the way down her spine. “Isn’t that just classic Donna? First, she pretends to be angry with Lucas over what he’s done to me – when, really, we all know it’s actually about what he’s done to her. He attacked her daughter. Everyone knows that privilege is reserved for Donna alone. And then she wants me to do her dirty work and destroy him. So that, when I do, Donna can kill two birds with one stone. She’ll have kept her hands clean and accumulated more evidence of how unstable I am, how much I need to be under her protection. Her control, she means. If I do fall for it and do what she says, bet you the first thing Donna will do is use it against me. Just like Steven, she’ll go running to a judge to prove me incompetent. Then she’ll be able to annul my marriage to Grant and take Daisy away from me. She thinks I can’t see what she’s up to, but I can. It took me a long time, but finally I see Donna for who she really is. ”
“Listen, Marley,” it always made Dennis nervous when she started talking like this. Which, he hated to admit, was happening more and more these days. “I think I know something about controlling mothers – right? But, in this case, I got to say, it seems like Donna really is only thinking about you and what Lucas did to you. Without an ulterior motive.”
“Donna doesn’t take a breath without an ulterior motive,” Marley corrected. “Especially when it comes to me. She wants me to destroy Lucas. But, check out the irony: Donna already beat me to that punch, as well. First, she fakes the man’s death and keeps him from his family for seventeen years. Then she gets his daughter killed, and now he and Felicia are estranged and Lorna doesn’t even know who he is. What could I possible do to Lucas that would be worse than that? You see? Even now, Donna is setting me up to fail. To come up short in comparison to her. There is nothing I can do to him, Dennis.”
“There’s still one thing,” Dennis said thoughtfully. He reassured Marley, “I’ll take care of it for you. You can count on me.”
“You’re home!” Kevin exclaimed in surprise when he returned to the Harrison house to find Amanda in their bedroom. Working, of course, but in their bedroom, nonetheless.
“You make it sound like that never happens,” she somehow managed to accuse defensively.
He instantly dialed his astonishment back a notch. “I’m just happy to see you, that’s all.”
“Where have you been?” Amanda asked.
“Walking the grounds,” he told her a partial truth. “Enjoying being able to go where I want, when I want.”
“It’s so hot out.”
“Still beats being cooped up indoors.”
“Right,” Amanda remembered what he’d just been through. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He sat down on the bed next to her, telling Amanda. “I understand. This is tough. You and I have been apart for two and a half years. And I wasn’t exactly away on business. I was in prison. We’re not going to just pick up where we left off, like nothing has happened. It’s impossible. And I don’t expect it.”
“Thank you,” Amanda exhaled, grateful for him having been the one to finally say it.
“I do love you, Amanda. I’m also extremely grateful. You didn’t have to wait for me. You did it anyway.”
“Well, you know how I hate hearing I Told You So. I’m a bit like my mother that way,” she realized uncomfortably. “The only reason Mom is sticking by Carl now is because she’d do anything to keep from giving the rest of us the satisfaction of saying we were right about him all along.”
“Is that why you’re sticking by me?” Kevin asked gently.
“No,” Amanda shook her head emphatically. “What you did… You did it to save your daughter’s life.”
“Carl is claiming the same, isn’t he? His daughter’s life, his son’s, Lorna’s…”
“Carl is full of it,” Amanda corrected. “He’s lying through his teeth. I know you, Kevin. You’d never lie about something like that. You’re nothing like Carl.”
“Lucas hired you to find out what really happened with Carl all those years he was gone,” Donna told Cass and Frankie. She indicated herself and Matt. “We want to help.”
The Winthrops blinked in mutual surprise, warily inviting Donna and Matt into their home, wondering if they were making a mistake even as they did so.
“What do you mean by… help?” Frankie finally asked with great caution.
“We want to pool our resources. The two of you, the two of us, Lucas… Five heads, after all, are bound to be better than one.”
“You’d be surprised,” Cass mumbled under his breath. Only to have Frankie kick him in the shin.
Donna, pretending not to notice the exchange between husband and wife – because she was a lady, that way – quickly filled them in on her mysterious phone call of two years before.
“And you didn’t see fit to tell anyone?” Cass looked at Matt, dumbstruck. Donna’s husband merely shrugged helplessly.
“It was hardly definitive evidence. Goodness, in twilight and with her eyes inevitably swollen from her numerous cosmetic procedures, Anna might well have mistaken any man of the right height with a mane of unkempt hair flopping about for Carl.”
“But, you’re convinced enough of it now to head to Switzerland and check it out,” Frankie noted.
“That outlandish story Carl told… You certainly don’t think there’s any truth to it, do you?”
“It’s not really up to us,” Frankie said. “Lucas came to us for facts.”
“He also told me that you are reluctant to travel, due to Charlie’s… unpleasantness.”
“Yes,” Cass clipped sharply, unwilling to discuss his daughter’s personal business.
“I understand,” Donna said, genuinely sympathetic to their pain, reminding, “You were the ones who stopped Marley at the airport when she was trying to flee with Michele and Bridget. You drove her to Clareview yourself, didn’t you, Cass?”
“I do understand,” she reiterated. “Nothing in the world is more important than our children and their health and happiness.” Donna hesitated. Then, feeling emboldened, asked, “May I ask how Lori Ann is doing?”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks. They’d agreed years ago that Donna was to have no access to their child whatsoever. But, did that ban extend to…
“Physically, she’s doing very well,” Frankie said abruptly. “The sleep apnea episodes are completely behind us. Her speech is a lot clearer, and her small motor skills are coming along. She can hold a crayon now. And she can feed herself with a spoon. We’re still working on the fork, though. She mostly dresses herself. She loves to bang that little piano Dean got her a few Christmases back.”
“Does she see a lot of Dean?”
“Not really.” It was Cass’ turn to speak. “She… she never quite warmed up to him the way Dean wanted her to. She calls him Daddy Dean, but I don’t think the word means anything to her. About a year ago, she started resisting when Dean would try to take her to his place, crying, refusing to put on her coat… It was all completely age appropriate but, Dean…. he took it personally….”
“He’ll come around,” Frankie jumped in. “He just needs a little more time to adjust. It’s a very complicated situation.”
“You mean he’s abandoned her. Again.”
Frankie’s eyes flashed. “I really don’t think you’re the appropriate person to be sitting in judgment over anyone’s parenting, must less the man you made a widower. Everything would have been different if Jenna were still alive. Dean would have been a wonderful father. You’re the one who made that impossible.”
Donna accepted Frankie’s chastisement with a silent grace, changing the subject to, “You said she’s doing well physically. What about… the rest?”
“Lori Ann is mentally challenged,” Frankie snapped, not at even a little appeased by Donna’s noblesse oblige. “She always will be. Even with the therapy we’ve gotten her, and the love and attention and effort, right now her doctor doubts she’ll ever progress mentally beyond a chronological age of eight or so. There was simply too much brain damage at birth. That’s something else we can thank you for.”
Donna blushed furiously and Matt reached over to take his wife’s hand. He said, “I think we’ve all gotten a little off-track here. We were talking about Carl.”
“If he is capable of absconding for years with Elizabeth and Cory,” Donna attempted to control her still-wavering voice. “What’s to stop him from doing the same with Lori Ann?”
“We’ve considered that,” Cass admitted.
“We have to stop him,” Donna leaned forward, burning with self-righteous fervor. “We have to expose him, once and for all. I understand how you feel about me. I don’t blame you. Though, I would request, now that it’s your own child in danger from Carl, that you devote at least a moment’s thought to imagining my desperation when I was in your position with Jenna.” Donna went on. “Let me help you. Let us join forces for the good of both our families. Let me attempt to make up for at least a fraction of the damage I wrought when I first inflicted Carl onto Bay City.”
“Are these all the clothes you have?” Charlie pawed through Elizabeth’s closet, wrinkling her nose at every hanging option.
“They’re all from before,” Elizabeth defended weakly. “They probably don’t even fit me anymore.”
“Where’s the stuff you wore while you were gone?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Probably still back at our house.”
“And where’s that?”
When Elizabeth didn’t answer; she simply stood there, looking not so much like a deer trapped in the headlights, but a chipmunk, Charlie added, “I mean, is it close enough that you can have it shipped in by tonight?”
“I – I don’t think so. I don’t think Father was planning to – “
“What about your pilot? How far away is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Elizabeth insisted. “We – we didn’t always take the most direct routes…”
“You mean, you don’t even know where you were hiding?”
“Not exactly. We didn’t need to know. What good would it have done us? Father took care of everything.”
“Your dad bought your clothes?” Not merely Charlie’s nose, but her entire face wrinkled at the thought of that. “Let me guess; Early Victorian Drab?”
“I could use some new things to wear, I suppose,” Elizabeth conceded, refusing to answer Charlie’s challenge directly.
“Great. Let’s go shopping!”
“What for?” Elizabeth asked, partially afraid to hear the answer.
“Because, soon as you’re properly put together – for this century – we’re going out and hitting the clubs; showing you what you’ve been missing all these years.”
“Oh, good, it’s you again,” Lorna drawled at the sight of Jamie making himself at home in the Cory Mansion. Lorna figured he had a right. It was his mother’s house. He’d grown up there. She was the interloper. And yet, at the moment, it was the closest thing to a safe haven Lorna had. And she really resented him intruding on it.
“Got plans for tonight?” Jamie wondered, putting away the book he’d been leafing through and standing up to face her.
“I’m helping Carl twirl his mustache and plot against you,” Lorna snapped.
“Oh, I’m sure Mom can take care of that on her own. You deserve a night off.”
“Is that what you came here to tell me?”
“Actually, I came to ask you out.”
“On a date?”
“Well, we could start with simply out-side, and work our way up, if you’d prefer.”
“I’ve got no intention of working my way up – or down – where you’re concerned.” Lorna told him pointedly, her eyes drifting southward to make her implication crystal clear.
Jamie said, “Once upon a time, you insisted that we go out on a real date.”
“What does that mean, real? You mean, as opposed to cyberspace or something?” The way Lorna said the word told Jamie she was still feeling a bit out of the loop where the great Internet revolution was concerned. A common side-effect, he presumed, of losing all memories post the early 1990s.
“I mean, as opposed to what we’d been doing up to that point. Which was, in a nut-shell, you stopping me from confessing to a murder I didn’t commit.”
“Excuse me?” Lorna shook her head, as if she couldn’t have possibly just heard what she’d thought she’d heard.
“My ex-wife was murdered. She’d been blackmailing me. Rather than confess to what exactly it was she’d been holding over my head, I confessed to murder, instead, waived my right to a trial and accepted a deal that would send me to jail for thirty years. You… disapproved.”
“What business was it of mine?”
“None,” Jamie confirmed. “But, thank God, you didn’t let that stop you. The night before I was scheduled to turn myself in, you swept me away and promised we’d get to the bottom of who’d really done it.”
“Did we?” Lorna was leaning forward now, as eager to find out what happened next as if in the middle of a particularly compelling serial.”
“Yes,” he assured her with a smile. “You saved my life. And then… you asked me out on a date.”
“Wow, nice to know getting older didn’t make me any smarter where this whole dating thing was concerned. I never did get my taste in men or my timing right, did I?”
“You did,” Jamie smiled softly. “You came into my life right when I needed you.”
“Cut it out,” she warned, taking a step back, the temporary spell between them broken.
“And I came into yours just when you were ready to accept that somebody could love you for exactly who you were. The first time we made love – “
“Oh, hell. You just don’t know when to quit, do you, Frame?”
“You asked me if I loved you because I thought you were perfect.”
“Now I know you’ve got the wrong girl. I would never – “
“I told you I didn’t.”
“Oh,” Lorna said, disappointed despite herself.
“I told you that I knew you weren’t perfect. In fact, I knew everything about you. The same way you knew everything about me. And I loved you even more because of it.”
“Okay,” Lorna said.
“Okay, what?” Jamie furrowed his brow.
“I’ll go out with you.”
Her change of tune nearly gave him whiplash. Happy whiplash, but whiplash all the same. Jamie’s head jerked up and he grinned. “Great. That’s great. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?”
“You pick,” Lorna challenged. “After all, if you know me so well, you should be able to plan the perfect date for us. That shouldn’t be any trouble for you at all. Right?”
“Were you thinking of telling him?” Kirkland asked Sarah. “The other day? Would you really have told Grant about us?”
“I thought about it,” she confessed, pulling her dress up and over her head as Kirkland stepped out of his pants and dropped his shirt on the chair next to Sarah’s bed. “But then it occurred to me – what would be the point? You know Grant. He’d have yelled and stomped about us betraying him – though, you know, I’m not sure how he figures that. I mean, he’s married, for Pete’s sake. I’m not. But still, I bet he’d see it as me cheating on him. Like, because I had his baby, I now have to remain pure forever. He can screw around as much as he wants, but I have to become a nun, pining away from him chastely till the day I day. Not that he thinks any other man could compare after him, anyway.”
Kirkland considered asking whether or not he rated. Then realized he really didn’t want to know and suppressed the impulse.
Sarah answered it anyway. “You are twice the man your father is,” she assured him. But declined to get into specifics. Which, frankly, Kirkland was grateful for. Sarah went on, “And you certainly don’t owe Grant a damn thing. He dumped you for how many years? He traded you away to keep Marley out of prison. He’s lucky you still acknowledge he exists instead of crossing the street as soon as you see him coming. You most definitely are under no obligation to keep your hands off “his” property.”
“You’re not property,” Kirkland shot back instinctively, offended for both of them. “His or otherwise.”
“And then I thought,” Sarah slipped under the blanket, waiting for Kirkland to join her. “Why should I give Grant the satisfaction of finally having a reason to go off on me? He makes up plenty of excuses as it is. Feels like I everything I do is wrong as far as he’s concerned. It’s like he’s actively looking for a reason to make me feel bad about myself, so I can hate him even more than I already do. You know, it’s funny. When we first returned from Canada, I didn’t hate him. I wasn’t even angry. I was just so happy to see Daisy again, the only thing I really felt towards Grant was gratitude that he’d taken such good care of her and that he wanted me back in Daisy’s life.”
“You don’t need Grant’s permission to be a part of your daughter’s life,” Kirkland said darkly. “Promise me you won’t ever let him make you think that you do.”
Sarah shrugged, sliding one hand up Kirkland back as he did the same along her stomach in order to cup Sarah’s naked breast. “The point is, when we first got home, I was feeling pretty neutral about him. Honestly, I even felt a little sorry for how unhappy he seemed to be. But then, it’s like he went out of his way to piss me off. I guess he was mad about what I’d said to him first…”
“What was that?” Kirkland wondered. While burying his face in the crook of her neck
“That I wasn’t in love with him anymore,” Sarah simplified her and Grant’s two year old conversation. “I guess his ego couldn’t take it. He’s been punishing me ever since.”
Kirkland lay Sarah down, proceeding to kiss her throat, moving lower, murmuring, “But when you had the chance to get him back… you didn’t.”
“No,” she agreed.
Kirkland raised his head, puzzled enough to take a break from what he was doing. “Why not? I thought our entire reason for doing… this… I thought it was to…”
“Do you still feel that way?” Sarah challenged.
“No,” Kirkland admitted.
“Sarah?” Kirkland asked.
“Are we… could we… are we possibly thinking about having a relationship?”
“Wouldn’t that drive Grant crazy?” Sarah couldn’t help laughing.
Prompting Kirkland to join in.
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