“What in the world could they possibly be discussing for all this time,” Donna leaned over to whisper in Matt’s ear as the clock indicated it had been almost an hour since the doctor at the Swiss clinic where Carl had allegedly hid out during his three year long banishment had taken a “very important” call from a “Mrs. Wheeler,” prompting him to usher Donna and Matt out of his office.
“The most efficient way to bury our bodies?” Matt guessed.
Earning a “Not at all amusing, Matthew,” from his wife.
“It’s got to be Iris. Right? I mean, I know there’s probably more than one Mrs. Wheeler in the world – “
“Actually, isn’t Iris Mrs. Matthews now? I swear I heard she and Russ had run off and gotten married in response to Rachel’s betrayal. Did you hear that, too?”
“Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire… I mean, yeah, I get that Mom screwed Russ over pretty good and he felt like an idiot when Carl came swooping in, but to get back at her by marrying Iris…”
“I am certain our Doctor is speaking to Iris right now,” Donna said. “The coincidence is… well no coincidence.”
“Carl did accuse Iris of being the one after him and the kids.”
“Perhaps the doctor is in on it, too. The man’s judgment cannot be trusted,” Donna said, rubbing the areas of her face he’d singled out as needing cosmetic improvement.
“What if they’re all in it together?” Matt mused.
“Carl, the doctor… and Iris?”
Matt shrugged. “It’s possible. I mean, she was The Chief. And he is… Carl. If those two ever joined forces, they’d probably run half the world.”
“Then why make such a big show of claiming to be mortal enemies?”
“To throw people off-track. You don’t think…” Matt began.
“You don’t think Carl and Iris could be… involved, do you?”
Donna snorted in a most unladylike manner. “That’s preposterous. They despise each other, always have. The two of them together would be oil and water and… and an accelerant of some sort.”
“Any more preposterous than Mom and Carl? Or Lorna and Jamie? Or you and me…”
“We never despised each other. We merely moved in different circles.”
“And eras,” Matt couldn’t help adding. Then, off the blistering look Donna gave him, hurried to change the subject, pointing out, “Both Carl and Iris have been known to make deals with people they hate in the past, in order to advance a greater agenda. Plus, come on, how many people do we personally know who thought they despised each other until all that excess energy somehow ended up exploding… in bed?”
Donna shuddered. “The idea of Iris and Carl… together…”
“Why?” Matt challenged. “Is he really that bad?”
“Come on, you were married to the guy. He’s got to have… something going for him.”
“Are you honestly asking me to wax poetic about how Carl Hutchins performs in bed?” Donna hissed, mortified. “Isn’t that rather Oedipal? On several levels?”
“I’m just saying….” Matt began.
But Donna was in no mood to let him finish. She stood up unexpectedly, marching over to the closed office door in a huff and announcing, “I’ve had just about enough of this. We made an appointment and we most certainly do not warrant being treated in such an inconsiderate matter.”
She flung open the door.
Only to find the doctor still at his desk. Still on the phone.
Only no longer… alive.
“You want to talk to me about Sarah?” Kirkland squeaked out, his voice, though having changed years earlier, suddenly reverting to an earlier, more adolescent state.
“Yes. Listen, Kirk, is there anywhere we can sit down and talk about this?”
“Well, there’s the floor,” Kirkland indicated a space between boxes. “I haven’t gotten around to unpacking yet. Been too busy.”
“Oh, really? With what?” Grant asked, even as he gingerly lowered himself to attempt to sit cross-legged. It proved to be a greater effort than he remembered from summer camp.
“You know…Work… Stuff…” Kirkland replied vaguely, popping down next to him as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
Grant fidgeted uncomfortably – when had floors gotten this hard to sit on? – as he swore, “I really want to be a good father to Daisy.”
“Okay. So what’s stopping you?”
“I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made with you.”
“Well, not playing dead and high-tailing it to a tropical island is a good start.”
“I don’t mean only that. I mean, the mistakes I made with your mother, too. I – I get the impression that Sarah is seeing someone now.”
“Oh,” Kirkland said. And there went that adolescent voice change again.
“She won’t tell me, of course. She says it’s none of my business.”
“It’s not,” Kirkland interjected.
Grant’s eyes narrowed. “Anyone who spends time with my daughter is my business.”
“She’s Sarah’s daughter, too.”
“Of course, she is. And, like I said, I don’t want things to deteriorate between Sarah and I like they did with your mother.”
“So stay out of it.”
Grant chuckled. “If only it were that simple.”
“It is. Leave Sarah alone, let her live her own life and just focus on Daisy when you’ve got her.”
“What about the rest of the time?” Grant sighed, indicating the police badge he’d given his son earlier. “You loved Ryan. And Jake. And now Jamie. I’m jealous. I try not to be. But, I’m afraid I can’t help it. The idea that Daisy will one day see another man as her father…. “
“Whoa. Aren’t you getting seriously ahead of yourself, here? You don’t even know if Sarah really is dating anybody.”
“She is. Daisy told me.”
“Daisy told you? What did Daisy tell you?”
“Not much,” Grant admitted. “She’s barely three. You can hardly count on her for a comprehensive report. But, she’s said enough. I know there’s somebody.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s serious.”
“It almost doesn’t matter, in a way. If this relationship isn’t serious, then the next one will be. All I can think about is losing Daisy the same way I lost you. It breaks my heart.”
“You didn’t lose me because of Ryan or Jake. You lost me because of you,” Kirkland hated having to point out the obvious, but it needed to be said.
“I know,” his father sighed. “And that’s what scares me the most. The idea that I might revert back to the man I used to be because of this. The idea that I might hurt Daisy the same way I did you…”
“What about Sarah? Do you care about hurting her?”
“Of course. That’s what I’m trying to say; I’m just not making myself very clear, am I? I am going to try my very best to be a better man. For Daisy, for Sarah, for Marley and the girls… and for you, too. I want to be a father you and Daisy can be proud of. But, I’m scared. What if I fall off the wagon, as it were?”
“You mean Original Recipe Grant? Yeah, that would seriously suck.”
“I agree. It would suck. For me, for you, for Sarah and Daisy… I want to spare them all that.”
“Then just keep it together,” Kirkland snapped. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to help me, son. Sarah and Daisy, too. I know it’s a great deal to ask, but would you? You know how bad this could get. You’ve been there, right at the center of the storm. Would you help all of us? I honestly think you’re the only one who can.”
“What’s this?” Russ wondered when he woke up the next morning to find Iris in their bedroom, holding a breakfast tray and doing her best imitation of a Stepford Wife. Which, in Iris’ hands, was even scarier than an actual Stepford Wife.
“I wanted to surprise you,” she set the tray over Russ’ legs and curled up next to him, gazing up at Russ as adoringly as if he were running for office.
“You didn’t need to do this.”
“I know. But, as we never got a proper honeymoon….”
“Yeah. Listen, Iris, I am sorry about that. But my schedule at the hospital…”
“I understand. A doctor’s wife needs to grow used to such things….”
“We’ll pick a time… later… and we’ll…”
“I said it was quite alright,” she tapped him playfully on the nose. “All I meant was, we never got honeymoon, so I wanted to pamper you a little.”
“I appreciate it. This looks delicious,” he admitted. “Did you… cook?”
Iris laughed gaily at that. “I’m devoted to you, Russ. And what better way to prove it than by protecting you from the inevitably tragic results of my home-making?”
“You’re a good wife, Iris,” Russ’ jovial tone matched hers.
Only for Iris to suddenly grow sober and tell him. “I want to be. You have no idea how much I want to be a good wife to you.”
“Hey,” he pushed the tray away. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t,” she insisted. “Right now, I am happier than I have been in years, truly I am. I am thrilled to finally be your wife. No matter how it happened.”
Russ swore, “I want this to work out, too.”
Which wasn’t exactly the same sentiment Iris had expressed earlier. But, it would do for now. What choice did she have, after all?
Iris promised, “I intend to do everything perfectly this time around.”
Now it was Russ’ turn to laugh. “That’s a pretty tall order. And not one I recall making, either. I didn’t marry you to change you.”
“I know why you married me,” Iris said softly. The truth hung in the air like a vaguely toxic mist. “But, it doesn’t matter,” she went on cheerfully. “My objective is to prove to you what a wise choice you’ve made. I am going to be the perfect wife. You just watch me. Making you happy shall be my top priority. There is absolutely nothing standing in our way now.”
“There,” Allie slid her college diploma, still in it’s faux-leather case, across the table at Zeno. “Done. Finally.”
“You’ve graduated?” He asked in surprise, picking it up gingerly, not wanting to smudge or otherwise damage it.
“Yup. Only took me, what? six years? I’m a real go-getter.”
“You had a good reason for taking a break,” Zeno reminded. Then asked, “Don’t these usually come with a big ceremony? Caps? Gowns? Inspirational speeches from people who never actually went to college?”
“Not if you burn off your last class in the summer just for the credits. Besides, I didn’t want a big fuss. Look at how over the top Mom went for Jen and Steven’s wedding. And that didn’t even end up happening. Having a kid who took six years just to get her bachelor’s degree isn’t exactly something you want to draw attention to.”
“I’m proud of you,” Zeno said simply.
She smiled weakly. “Thanks.”
“I know how hard this was.”
“Look who’s talking! You’re going to school part-time and working and paying for it all yourself – now that you’ve told Frankie to take a hike. I went fulltime, no job and my mom footed the bill.”
“You also had a baby, Gregory died, the custody fight, your car getting vandalized and…”
“What?” Allie couldn’t think of what else Zeno warranted adding to that list.
“It must have been tough, running into him on campus, being reminded…”
“It was fine.”
“Good,” Zeno said. “I’m glad.” He dropped the subject, asking instead, “So, what now?”
“What do you mean?”
“What are you going to do now? You’ve got your diploma. What’s next?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Allie admitted.
“I do,” Zeno grinned.
“Will you be straight with me?” Lorna burst into Morgan’s office, already in the middle of a conversation.
He blinked, momentarily blind-sided before promptly pulling himself together and acting as if beautiful women descended on him daily, complete with non-sequiturs. “Always.”
“What’s the deal with Jamie?”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to give me a little more to work with, here.”
“Why is he so Goddamn nice all the time?”
“That hasn’t exactly been my experience,” Morgan observed. “Guy sucker-punched me once when I had a broken arm and couldn’t defend myself. That’s not exactly nice.”
“What did you do to provoke him?”
“Claimed I was the father of your baby,” Morgan admitted sheepishly.
“You’re lucky he didn’t break your other arm.”
“Look, I’m not saying I wasn’t asking for it. But, the point is, dude’s no saint. He has a temper. Why do you think he works so hard to keep it under control all the time?”
“He also claims, the whole three years I was gone, he never hooked up with anyone else. Not even a one-night stand here and there. How nuts is that?”
“Nuts,” Morgan agreed. “And also not true.”
“What do you mean?” Lorna had been expecting to hear as much. And not expecting it at all.
“Olivia,” Morgan said. “She – “
“I know who Olivia is,” Lorna snapped. “Jamie claims they’re just friends.”
“Jamie is lying. What? I know it for a fact. His sister – Amanda, remember her? You guys met at – “
“I remember Amanda.”
“Amanda told me Jamie and Olivia have been an item for at least two years now. She was hanging all over him at Jamie’s kid’s birthday party. It was one of those family-only deals, but there Olivia was, acting like the lady of the house, practically ripping Jamie’s clothes off right then and there to mark her territory.”
“So why did Jamie say that….”
“What did you expect him to say? That he cheated on you?”
“It would have been okay, though,” Lorna insisted. “I wouldn’t have minded. I told him. I mean, I get it. Three years is a long time. He didn’t have to lie about it….”
“Jamie’s got this thing – it’s a compulsion, really – to always come off as a nice guy. No, scratch that. Not just any nice guy, he has to be the nicest guy in the tri-state area. Man isn’t happy until he’s shoved his niceness down your throat and made you feel bad for not meeting his impeccable standards.”
“Yeah,” Lorna mused. “I guess I can see that.”
“What did he do now? Lay a guilt trip on you for not running back into his arms?”
“I don’t think that’s what he was doing,” Lorna said, though now that Morgan put it that way, it did cast a totally different light on the previous evening.
“Just be careful, okay? Don’t let him play you. Again.”
“Again? What do you mean again?”
“I mean, the first time around, Jamie really snowed you. I don’t understand how he did it exactly but, after hooking up with him, you… you weren’t you anymore, you know?”
“Yeah. Sounds like it.”
“It freaked me out a little. Seeing you go all suburban mom and housewife. I practically expected you to pick out a mini-van and start wearing, I don’t know, pearls. You always used to be so focused on your career, so gung ho about it. And then you just quit to stay home and pop out babies and make sure Jamie’s dinner was on the table every night. I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“I don’t exactly recognize that version of me, either.”
“I really missed you, Lorna,” Morgan told her honestly. “These last three years that you were gone. And before, too.”
She nodded thoughtfully. And then she asked, “What would you say to getting me back?”
“I say the time has come for us to put our proverbial cards on the table, as it were. What do you say to that?”
“I say start dealing. I’m listening.”
“We are both men of the world, Mr. Hamilton.”
“Sure,” Chase shrugged, leaning back in his office chair. “Except yours happened to be the playing fields of Eton, while mine were the abandoned lots behind a trailer park but, yes, for the purpose of this exercise, let’s say we’ve both had the exact same advantages in life.”
“And we both know the role you played in my recent troubles.”
“That we do.”
“You understand that naturally I cannot allow such an affront towards me and my family to stand without taking appropriate, equivalent action.”
“Naturally,” Chase mimicked Carl, accent and all. “Go ahead, do your worst. Though I hope you don’t expect me to just sit back and take it.”
“An eye for an eye, Mr. Hamilton, and the whole world well ends up blind.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned,” Chase shot back, then asked, “What? We’re not playing: Name you favorite aphorism?”
“I daresay, are you always this tiresome?”
“No. Sometimes I’m downright insufferable.”
“I assure you, that time is, once again, here.”
“What do you want?” Chase was done humoring the old coot.
“A truce,” Carl offered.
“You’re turning yourself in?”
“Not exactly.” He leaned forward. “The point I was trying to make earlier was that you advancing on me, my parrying your riposte and so on ad infinitum was a tedious activity, and one whose only purpose ultimately is to distract us from the truly important things in life. You have your family, I have mine. I am certain we would both rather spend time with them, than waste precious energy on this endless cycle of vengeance.”
“So you’re turning yourself in?” Chase double-checked.
“No. But I am willing to turn the other cheek and conveniently forget what you have put me through over these part three years, in exchange for a small… consideration on your part, in return.”
“And what might that consideration be?”
“I will overlook your role in my unjust and slanderous persecution, if you will publicly confirm Iris Wheeler as the mastermind behind it all.”
“You want me to flip on Iris?”
“Surely, you don’t deny the pair of you being cahoots?”
“You know, your wife tried something similar to this while you were gone. She wanted me to turn over evidence that Iris used inside information from me about your arrest in order to buy up controlling shares in Cory Publishing.”
“Rachel was thinking small. Cory Publishing was only the tip of the iceberg where Iris’ insatiability is concerned.”
“I politely declined Mrs. Hutchins’ offer.”
“Rachel lacked possession of all the facts. I do not. I know precisely what you and Iris are up to, and I have every intention of exposing your iniquity… when the time is right. Cooperate with me, and you shall be spared her fate. Stick with Iris and prepare to hang side by side. You know what they say, Mr. Hamilton: When faced with the choice between two evils, always go with the one you haven’t tried before. Who knows, you might even like it?”
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