“How was your lunch?” Iris inquired idly, stepping into Amanda’s office after she’d said good-by to Kevin.
“Undisturbed,” Amanda snapped.
“Are you certain of that?” Iris wondered.
“What?” Amanda raised her head, simultaneously confused and annoyed.
“You know what they say… Two’s company, three’s a crowd…”
“Which is why we didn’t invite you to join us.”
“Actually, I’m surprised Kevin invited you to join him.”
“Meaning that just a few moments before you arrived, I happened to pop my head into your office – “
“Which is why everything here is under lock and key….”
“And whom should I see sharing a most intimate tête-à-tête?
“In my office?”
“But your lawfully wedded husband… and Lila?”
“What?” Amanda blinked. “Kevin was here… with Lila?”
“And looking awfully cozy, if I do say so myself.”
“Why would he have brought Lila with him?”
Iris shrugged innocently.
“And why didn’t he say anything about her being here?”
“Well, she did scurry off in quite the hurry as soon as I walked in on them.”
“Walked in on them doing what?”
“Nothing,” Iris admitted. “Yet.”
“So now you’re prescient,” Amanda demanded with a lot more confidence than she actually felt.
“About certain matters, yes. A man, a woman, a private office… and a wife who isn’t where she’s supposed to be.”
“I had business to take care of.”
“Outside of the office?”
“Yes,” Amanda seethed defensively.
“Well, it better have been important, because leaving a husband unattended is never a good way to keep a marriage solid.”
“What would you know about it?”
“A great deal. I’ve made mistakes, Amanda. Bad ones. Mistakes that if you were any kind of Cory you’d be smart enough to let your older sister guide you into avoiding.”
“You know, I think this may be the first time you ever admitted to our being sisters without someone holding a gun to your head.”
“It just pains me to see you following in my footsteps.”
“Never,” Amanda swore.
“Oh, really. What do you think broke up those marriages you were just mocking me about a few moments earlier?”
“Well, I’m going to guess lying to Elliot about being Dennis’ father probably wasn’t a great start. Then there was all that crap you pulled on Clarice that drove Robert away. Not sure what you did to Brian, exactly, but I’m going to go with… being yourself.”
“I wouldn’t be so smug, if I were you, Amanda. How many times did you and Sam mange to find new and exciting ways to cheat on each other? Grant was an unmitigated disaster because you couldn’t keep him out of Lorna’s bed, and Cameron… well, since I wasn’t here, I’m going to presume the same reason you gave me for Brian. Face it, my darling little sister, you and I are a great deal more alike than you would like to admit. Which is why you need me.”
“For what?” Amanda laughed.
“To teach you how to keep from losing your husband to that Southern Fried hussy.”
“I’m fine, thank you. I don’t need your advice.”
“You will,” Iris predicted. “And when you do come crawling for it, I intend to be very gracious. You know where to find me, Amanda. I’ll be waiting.”
“I… I’m the one who got Morgan and Amanda to set you up.”
He recoiled as if struck. “You… why? How?”
“I blackmailed them,” she said simply, seeing that as the least of her crimes. “I told them to make it so you walked in on Lorna kissing Morgan.”
“He was kissing her,” Jamie corrected, his face impassive. “But, go on.”
“I couldn’t stand it,” she confessed. “I couldn’t stand seeing you hurting, day after day, mooning over some bitch who was never good enough for you, much less now. My God, if I had a man like you in love with me, do you think I’d ever look at another guy? Lorna doesn’t appreciate what she’s got.”
“That’s not her fault. She’s been hurt.”
“She might never get better! Never! And where does that leave you and Devon and Zee? You’re all stuck in this purgatory, this limbo – because of her! You need to cut her loose. For your sake and for the girls’. I was just trying to help you see how not worth it she is. Lorna wants Morgan? Let her have him! They deserve each other.”
“This isn’t your decision to make,” Jamie said, struggling to keep a lid on his temper, and succeeding… so far.
“Someone had to make it. Someone had to think about what was best for you.”
“Lorna is best for me,” Jamie said. “In ways you can’t even imagine.”
“Maybe not. But I can imagine that I’m good for you, too. It was one thing when she was gone and you were waiting for her to come back. But, you’ve got to see now that she is never coming back to you, or to Devon and Zee. The girls don’t even remember her. They think I’m their mother.”
“They know who their mother is!” Jamie cut Olivia off sharply.
“And you think that’s what’s best for them? Having a ghost for a mother instead of the real thing?”
“Olivia, I appreciate everything you have done for us. And I realize I must have led you on. I did my best not to, but I’m sure I did. I was being selfish, I get that. I liked having you around, so I didn’t think about the damage I was doing – or, rather, I did think about it, and then I went ahead and did it anyway. For that, I am truly, truly sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, Jamie, please, don’t be sorry. I’m not. I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent with you. I love you,” she finally blurted out, terrified and exhilarated at the same time.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Stop saying that! I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m sorry about what I did with Morgan and Amanda and Lorna. I made a mistake.”
“I understand,” he said calmly. “I’ve made my share of them.”
“That’s why I told you,” she could hear herself getting shrill, and deliberately lowered her voice so she wouldn’t frighten the kids. “Because I knew you’d understand. I knew you wouldn’t judge me. Other people would, but not you. You get me, Jamie.”
“I do. And I appreciate you telling me the truth. I know you didn’t have to.”
“I wanted to. After what you said about not being able to trust Amanda, I wanted you to know that you could always trust me. I know how important that is to you. That’s why I told you the truth. About everything.”
“Say something, Jamie, please.”
“Olivia,” he sighed, looking for just the right words, settling for the next best thing. “I – Here’s the thing: You did it all for nothing.”
“What? What was for nothing? You’re worth anything to me, Jamie.”
“All of it,” he spoke gently but firmly. “Blackmailing Amanda and Morgan… telling me about it afterwards. It’s all for nothing. I appreciate your honesty but, it was never going to work. There is nothing you or anyone could have done that would make me give up on Lorna.”
“I never had a chance,” Olivia dully repeated the gist of what Jamie had said, rocking back and forth on the edge of the bench, no longer even looking in his direction. “Joke’s on me, then, huh? I should have known it all along. The joke is always on me.”
“You came to see me?” Carl asked in surprise, his interactions with Kirkland having always been minimal, whatever tentative truce they might have once had from living in the same house irrevocably broken the day the boy had come upon Grant and Carl about to fight to the death after Grant’s return to Bay City.
Kirkland nodded. And he informed, “So I moved into my own place a couple of weeks ago.”
“Congratulations! Independence is a huge step on the path to manhood.”
“Thanks. It’s not much. In fact, I haven’t even bought all my furniture yet. But, Grant, see, he came by to visit me, and he brought me a housewarming gift.”
“How thoughtful,” Carl replied, still mystified as to why he was being told this.
“Yeah, it was really nice of him. And it was a really great gift, it meant a lot to me. He gave me Ryan’s police badge. He knew how much I loved him, and he wanted me to have it.”
“Ryan’s police badge?”
“Yeah. He said Marley got it from a box of my Mom’s stuff. I appreciated it, but I asked Grant if maybe you shouldn’t have it.”
“Did you now? And what did Grant say to that?”
“It doesn’t matter. The point is, I think he was wrong. The badge means a lot to me, but I think it would mean more to you. So, here.” Kirkland reached into his pants pocket and handed over the case.
“Thank you,” Carl accepted the offering with trembling hands, studying the precious object he’d been given. He turned it over and over with his fingers, smiling faintly. But, when he looked up again, his expression was as hard as stone. He asked, “Kirkland, your relationship with Grant, how would you categorize it?”
Kirkland shrugged. “It’s okay, I guess. I’m not a little kid anymore, I don’t really need his approval. I don’t really need him for much of anything.”
“And you consider Jamie your true father?”
“Good. Very, very good.”
“You’re not exactly my dad’s biggest fan. Either of my dads’, actually.”
“True, but we are currently not discussing Jamie, we are discussing Grant. And as you have indicated that he means very little to you, I believe I can tell you the truth.”
“Your father is a liar, Kirkland.”
“That’s not exactly news, Carl.”
“Well, this might be. After Ryan’s death, your mother gave your father his police badge to deliver to me. Grant did so.”
“Precisely. I still have that badge in my possession, if you would like to see it. The fact is, your father either lied then, to me, or he is lying currently, to you. In both cases, it hardly casts him in the best light, wouldn’t you say, son?”
“You don’t think I believed anything she said, do you?” Matt prompted Donna once they got back to their hotel room, realizing how upset she was about the aspersions Anna had cast upon her alleged friend’s past. “You think I’m going to take the word of some – “
“She told the truth, Matthew,” Donna said dully. “The presentation left much to be desired, but the facts, as she laid them out, are sound.”
“Oh,” Matt said, sitting down slowly, struggling to justify, “Well, you know, it’s none of my business. I mean, she’s talking about things that happened before I was even born…”
Usually, Donna bristled at any reminder of the age difference between them. The fact that she barely reacted now was what made him realize just how upset she was.
“It’s okay,” he reassured, reaching out to embrace her.
“It is not okay!” Donna snapped, pulling away. “But not for the reasons you think!”
“Alright,” Matt nodded agreeably, having long ago learned not argue with his wife when she was in such a state. Or, really, any state.
“Do you want to know why I acted the way that I did in my younger years?”
“It’s none of my business,” Matt repeated stubbornly.
But Donna was too far gone to care. She said, “It’s because I was absolutely dead inside. Reginald sent me to that dreadful school in order to keep me as far away from Marley as possible. He’d gotten rid of Michael, he took away my baby, and then he banished me to another country with the warning that if I were spoke of what had happened to anyone, he would take it out on Marley. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to turn? How was I supposed to make conversation with these alien creatures known as normal girls whose fathers didn’t lock them up in secret rooms and steal their children? How was I supposed to look anyone in the eye ever again?”
“Donna…” Matt began.
But she refused to accept his sympathy. “It was my choice to act the way I did. After all, who better than Reginald to impart the central lesson that the best way to keep people at a distance was to draw them in close? I slept with the boys, and I gossiped about it to the girls, and I acted as if it were the gayest joke, and I never once revealed a single, honest thought that was going through my head. And that’s how I survived.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt said. “I am so sorry that you had to go through that. I’m sorry about Reginald, and I’m sorry about how you lost Michael and Marley and Vicky and Jenna, too. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have been there to protect you, and to tell you over and over again what an amazing woman you are – until you finally believed it.”
“I’m a joke to all these people. A dirty joke.”
Matt smiled and offered, “How’d you like to turn that joke back on them?”
“Am I supposed to know you, too?” Lorna wondered, having turned around in the middle of the Bay City Health Club to find yet another stranger staring at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just so incredible to see you back, and here, of all places. Don’t the Corys have their own gym?”
“I needed to get out from under that roof. Too many people breathing down my neck, watching my every move. I wanted to be anonymous for a bit, but I guess that’s a lost cause. Since you seem to know my name, do I get to find out yours?”
“Grant,” he said. “Grant Harrison.”
“You’re Jamie’s kid’s father.”
“Yes,” Grant said.
“I read about that. I’m guessing I’m not supposed to like you?”
“You did. Once,” Grant couldn’t help saying.
“Ah,” she sighed, guessing from his expression how – and where - exactly they’d known each other. “Another one of my bad life choices, I presume?”
“So you told me, after the fact.”
“Well, I wouldn’t trust my judgment, if I were you.”
“I did, though,” Grant said. “Before you left… almost right before you left, actually, you told me something about the mess Carl had once made of your life. And how, if I wasn’t careful, I’d do the same to a young woman I cared very much about. I took your words to heart.”
“You shouldn’t have,” Lorna said.
“Look, Lorna, I don’t know what Carl told you the last couple of years you were with him, but, before you lost your memory, you hated the guy. He exploited you, he abused you, he blackmailed you and he threatened you – and your kids and Jamie. But the worst thing he ever did, it wasn’t even how he made you hate yourself or the way he made you doubt yourself. It was the way he turned you into an adult long before you were ready. He took away your childhood, he molded you in his cynical, controlling image and he took away the innocence and optimism and joy that would have made you understand that you deserved better than him. Better than me.”
“Who told you that load of crap?”
“You did, Lorna. I know you’ve forgotten it, but I haven’t.”
“Carl Hutchins saved my life,” Lorna spoke slowly and clearly, so that there was no chance of Grant misunderstanding. “Maybe Jamie loved me. Maybe Morgan loved me. Hell, maybe even you loved me, who knows? But, here’s the deal, when it came time to keep me safe, when a bunch of lunatics were after me, it wasn’t love that kept my brains from being splattered across Europe. It was Carl. Old, cynical, controlling Carl. Because, guess what? Love doesn’t count for shit, if you don’t wield the power to back it up. You were worried about ruining some little nymphet’s life by treating her the way Carl treated me? You ask yourself this question: Who can take care of her better than you can? Some kid who loves her so very, very purely and nobly? How much does that trade for on the open market these days? Love doesn’t last. But, power – the kind of power that can buy protection? That’s a keeper. I don’t know what I told you back in the day. But, I’m betting if you took it all and reversed it, you’d probably be closer to the truth. And happier, too.”
Felicia waited until Eduardo was in the shower, the bathroom door firmly closed, the water running at full steam before she got up the courage go digging through his clothes in the hopes of finding… well, what exactly she didn’t know. But, if it could help Lorna in any way, Felicia was damn sure going to give it a try.
There was nothing of interest in his pants pockets, but Felicia hit pay dirt with Eduardo’s wallet, which she found in his jacket. While the ID inside did confirm he was who he said he was, Eduardo Rivera, a legal resident of several different places, that wasn’t the only proof of identity that Felicia found.
And this one made her gasp out loud, then cover her mouth with her hand, lest Eduardo somehow hear her, even through the door and the running water.
Because this tiny piece of laminated paper absolutely changed everything.
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