“Anna is an idiot,” Donna fumed to Matt, hovering over his hospital bed, stroking his forehead at the same time as her other hand smacked the blanket for emphasis. “To say that you were dead – “
“She said she thought I was dead,” Matt parsed.
“Still! Why call me when she should have been calling an ambulance? What a silly, little twit!”
“She figured it out eventually.”
“After I screamed at her…” Donna’s voice trailed off as she realized, “How do you know what Anna said when she called me? You were unconscious.”
“Not exactly,” Matt demurred.
“Matthew!” Donna looked at the monitors, all of which seemed to indicate Matt was currently at the peak of health. “Did you fake your heart attack?”
He shrugged. “Anna wasn’t being very forthcoming about Carl. In spite of my best efforts to… warm her up.”
“Please spare me the details.”
“So before things went too far – “
“And what might your definition of too far be?” Donna narrowed her eyes, then just as quickly shook her head and insisted, “I told you, I don’t want to know.”
“I needed a polite way to extricate myself from the situation.”
“So you pretended to be dying?”
“I was familiar with the symptoms. And I figured, if that’s not a mood killer…”
“You don’t know Anna.”
“It got the job done.”
“Well,” Donna sighed. “At least it saved you from a fate worse than death.”
“Better,” Matt grinned. And indicated where they currently were. The hospital of the clinic that might have harbored Carl and treated Lorna immediately after her head injury. “It got me in here.”
“Matthew, you’re not suggesting that we – “
“Break into the patient files and see what we can come up with? You bet I am.”
Donna grabbed the front of Matt’s hospital gown, kissing him strongly enough to make the heart monitor utter a surprised and enthused squeak.
When Matt came up for air and looked at her questioningly, Donna explained, in all seriousness, “Best make your cardiac episode appear authentic.”
“I love a method actress,” Matt deadpanned. Then proceeded to make the heart monitor perform all sorts of nifty tricks.
Rachel had to hand it to Eduardo. Despite her exultant reveal that Rachel knew Eduardo was the Federal agent who’d been hounding Carl for decades, the man’s facial expression barely flickered.
He merely nodded briskly, as if a controversial issue had been definitively decided – so what would be the point of discussing it further? – and waited for Rachel to go on.
She accused, “Your running into Felicia and I in France was no accident.”
“No, it was not.”
“You were on Carl’s trail as much as we were.”
Rachel shook her head, disgusted, observing, “You might at least have the decency to look embarrassed about it.”
“I should look embarrassed to have been doing my job?”
“Considering that your job is to hound an innocent man – “
“No!” Eduardo’s civilized façade fell away and he raised his muscular arm, a single finger outstretched and stabbing the air inches from Rachel’s face. “You wish to sing the praises of Carl Hutchins as a lover, a husband, a father, a versifier of pretentious poetry, a connoisseur of the arts… that is your prerogative. But do not lecture me on his innocence.”
“My husband has been a model citizen for close to two decades.”
“Did he or did he not confess to you, prior to fleeing the country like a thief in the night, that he was, in fact, guilty of the charges filed against him by the Justice Department?”
“They were ridiculous charges. His crimes were utterly victimless. Money, that’s all they were about. The US government had no right to take away my husband’s ability to earn a living – “
“Via the companies he acquired and ran illegally – not to mention brutally – for a great deal longer than a mere two decades? I beg to differ. We had every right to do so. He violated the conditions of his pardon.”
“Except that you were after him long before you knew that. Lila only got you and that flunky of yours in the Mayor’s office the evidence about that a few years ago. Your involvement with Carl’s case goes back much further than that; I checked.” Rachel crossed her arms. “You’re not the only one with friends in high places. According to my sources, you’re the one who brought Carl to the authorities’ attention nearly fifty years ago. You got yourself placed on his case, and you’ve been dogging his steps ever since.”
“There was a time when you would have applauded my efforts,” Eduardo reminded. “You and your late husband, both.”
“I’m capable of evolving. Of believing that a man can change.”
“Some men never get the chance,” Eduardo noted.
“Clearly, you’re Exhibit A.”
“No,” Eduardo said, his voice lowering, becoming weary rather than strident. He told Rachel, “My father never got that chance. Neither did my brother, my sister, my nieces and nephew.”
“I don’t understand,” Rachel said, though she suspected his answer would be anything but pleasant.
Eduardo said, “Your husband thought he recognized me. He did not. We have never met face to face. But, I resemble my father a great deal. And I am about the age now that he was when your husband orchestrated his death.”
Rachel opened her mouth, intending to defend. But then she remembered the time period Eduardo was referring to. And realized there was nothing she could say.
Eduardo knew it, too. He could have stopped then and there. But, he chose not to. “Your husband remembers his time in Cuba fondly. He should. He funneled enough cash through my country to ensure a very comfortable stay whenever he visited. Unfortunately for Carl – and all of Cuba – Fidel Castro put an end to those halcyon days. As soon as he came to power, Castro nationalized and seized every single private fortune on the island. Carl, I understand, did not like that. So he made a deal with the new Communist regime. Carl turned over the names of everyone he’d done business with. In exchange for being allowed to retrieve his own funds, of course. The people he betrayed were rounded up and thrown into prison. And not just them. Their families, too. Their wives, their children, their grandchildren. They were all enemies of the state and needed to be made examples of. My nephew was ten years old. His name was Diego, the same as my father’s. Douglas is named in their honor. Diego disappeared into the bowels of Castro’s prisons, never to be seen again. A child, Mrs. Hutchins. A young boy no less innocent than your own children when it came to suffering the sins of the fathers. He never got a chance to grow up, to change and evolve. He never even got a chance to live. Because of your husband. And his penchant for so-called, victimless crimes.”
“You’re home!” Kirkland exclaimed in surprise.
Steven opened the door to his apartment and let his brother in. “Why did you come over if you thought I wouldn’t be?”
“I took a chance. But, I’m so used to you spending every minute in the computer lab…”
“Yeah, well, things… circumstances… change.”
“Do those circumstances go by the name of Jen?”
“Maybe,” Steven took a lazy swipe at Kirkland’s head to cover up the goofy smile that still seemed to assault his features whenever his wife’s name came up.
Kirkland looked around. “She here?”
“Still teaching. Start of the semester, lot of prep work, you know?”
“Good. I – I wanted to talk to you.”
“Talk,” Steven plopped down on the couch, gesturing for Kirkland to do the same.
“It’s about Grant. And Sarah… and me.”
Steven hadn’t paid much attention to the first two names. But, the third… “What about Grant? And Sarah? And you?”
“Sarah and I… We…. Uhm….”
“Jesus Christ, Kirk!”
“Oh, come on, look who’s talking! You fell for her once!”
“And it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life! What were you thinking?”
“At first, we were both just thinking about sticking it to Grant.”
“By sticking it to each other?”
“Great. Very mature. Brilliant.”
“You’re the brilliant one, not me,” Kirkland reminded.
“You said at first. What happened next?”
“Next, Grant came to warn me.”
“I’m not sure,” Kirkland confessed. “He came to see me, and he started talking about Mom and Ryan and how crazy Grant got last time and how he didn’t want it to happen again and didn’t I agree that it would be horrible for Daisy if it did?”
Steven groaned. “So he does know. Fantastic.”
“I couldn’t tell,” Kirkland admitted. “Just when I’d think he was definitely threatening me, he’d say something about needing my help.”
“He wasn’t threatening you, Kirk, he was playing you.”
“I guess… There… there was something else that happened recently. He lied to me. Again.”
“Not exactly stop the presses news.”
“But, if he was threatening me about getting involved with Sarah, he kind of has a point, don’t you think?”
“How do you figure?”
“I did betray him.”
“On what planet? Grant and Sarah are long over. He dumped her for Marley. If you betrayed Grant in sleeping with Sarah, then you betrayed me, too. And, trust me, you did nothing of the kind. The question here isn’t whether you have anything to apologize to Grant for. You don’t. Trust me, I’m brilliant, remember? The question is, do you think Sarah is worth the kind of hell that Grant is bound to unleash on you sooner or later?”
“You really think he will? I’m his son…”
“And Ryan was his brother. And he ended up with a bullet in his chest.”
“That was an accident.”
Steven shrugged, “Freud says there’s no such thing.”
“Since when did you start believing in voodoo science,” Kirkland challenged, then answered his own question. “Right. Jen….”
“She’s a cognitive scientist, not a shrink,” Steven was quick to parse. “But, yeah, maybe there’s something to that psychology crap, after all.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Kirkland confessed. “It’s Sarah. If Grant goes after her the way he went after Mom…”
“You’ve got every right to be worried.”
“So what should I do?”
“Walk away,” Steven said without hesitation. “For your sake, for Sarah’s, for Daisy’s.”
“And if I can’t?”
“Then duck, cover… and pray,” his big brother advised.
“Got something to hide?” Amanda asked Lila, stopping by the Cory house on the pretense of… oh, hell, it was her father’s house, she didn’t need any pretense; she could come and go as she pleased. She certainly had more right to be there than Lila did.
“W-what?” Lila jumped, partially out of guilt, and partially out of surprise. It felt like Amanda had been sitting in wait for her, looking for an opportunity to pounce.
“I heard you stopped by my office the other day, but instead of waiting for me to come back or leaving a message, you just ran off. As if you had something to hide.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lila scoffed, wary about how much Amanda knew… or thought she knew. “I was in the neighborhood, so I popped in spontaneously. When I heard you were out, I left. It’s hardly a mystery.”
“What did you want?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lila dismissed.
“Kevin change your mind?” Amanda was clearly fishing for something. The question was… what?
“As a matter of fact, he did,” Lila replied, emboldened.
“Oh,” Amanda said, surprised.
“I’d come by to ask for an internship for Jasmine. She needs to do one this semester for school, and I thought Cory Publishing would be perfect. Kevin convinced me that Jazz should be making her own choices and arrangements for that sort of thing. Even if she does want to work at Cory, she should be the one doing the asking, not me.”
“How perceptive of Kevin.”
Lila shrugged. “He’s clocked more years in this parenting thing. I took his advice.”
“Is that all you took?” Amanda wondered.
“Say what now? You think I was there to slip a couple stolen staplers into my purse?”
“No. It’s just that Iris said…”
“Iris.” Of course. Lila should have known. “You listening to Iris’ gossip, these days?”
“How do you know she was gossiping?”
“Because you look all hot and bothered, coming around, asking your snoopy questions, looking for me to slip up.”
“Only if there’s something to slip up about.”
“I’ve got no interest in your husband, Amanda.”
Her former sister-in-law blinked in surprise. Innuendo and tap-dancing around the truth, Amanda was intimately familiar with. But she had very little experience with in-your-face directness. It wasn’t exactly a staple of Bay City conversation. “I…”
“Made the mistake of listening to Iris, yeah, I heard. It never crossed your mind that your big sister might have ulterior motives? Like she might be messing with her head, trying to get you focused on this supposed threat to your marriage… and away from the threat to your Daddy’s company?”
“Of course, it crossed my mind! I’m not stupid.”
“No,” Lila agreed. “Just foolish. And that, no fancy finishing school can fix.”
“What are you doing here?” Sarah blocked Grant from coming in. “It’s not your day to take Daisy.”
“I know,” Grant said.
“And she’s at school, anyway, you can’t see her.”
“I know,” he repeated. “I planned it that way. So we could talk. Alone.”
“Nothing to talk about.”
“No.” She tried to shut the door in his face, Grant pushing back just as hard to stop her. She warned, “Don’t. Don’t you dare whip out your sad, vulnerable, puppy dog face. I’m immune.”
“I love you, Sarah,” Grant blurted out, not at all the way he’d intended to. Which didn’t make it any less true.
His words struck Sarah like a blow to the gut. But, she’d be damned before she’d let him see it. “Immune to that, too.”
“I need to explain.”
“Not again. Didn’t we already play this scene in Canada? I told you – “
“Except I didn’t tell you everything, then.”
“There’s more?” she rolled her eyes.
“I’m ready to tell you everything.”
“I lied to you, Sarah.”
“I lied when I said I didn’t love you. I never stopped loving you.”
“When did you ever start?”
“The morning of Kirkland’s accident,” he told her sincerely; utterly, completely, nakedly vulnerable for the first time in quite possibly ever. “After I’d given blood. You brought me home and you took care of me… you took care of me like no one ever had before.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Not the sex, Sarah. The fact that you gave a damn whether or not I was dead or alive. I asked you why you were putting yourself out like this. And you said –without even stopping to think about it – you said, “Because I love you.”
“I did love you.”
Her voice faltered just a little, giving Grant the opening he needed to push his way into her apartment and close the door behind them. “I loved you, too. I wanted to say it, right then and there, there was nothing in the world I wanted more in that moment than to say that I loved you, too.”
“Must have slipped your mind, then.”
“No. It didn’t. But, you were so beautiful and carefree and so… young. I didn’t want to tell you while I was lying there, weak and sick like an old man. You deserved better.”
“I did. Like when I told you that I was pregnant. That I was going to give you the baby you wanted more than anything in the world; maybe I deserved being told then.”
“I couldn’t then.”
“Right. Because you were in love with Marley.”
“Because I wanted to protect you.”
Sarah’s bark of a laugh stabbed him straight through the heart. “Banner job, Grant.”
“Listen to me,” he pleaded. “Didn’t you tell me once that Lorna tried to warn you about me?”
“She also warned me about you. Lorna gave me a sneak preview of what your life might be like tethered to mine. How, under the very, very best circumstances, you’d spend your best years with a cynical, jaded geriatric, only to inevitably be left a widow, bringing up our children on your own, with no possibility left to be young… because I would have robbed you of it forever.”
“You couldn’t have told me that?” Sarah asked through gritted teeth. “You couldn’t have come to me and told me?”
“No. Because I knew what you’d say. You’d say you didn’t care. And I couldn’t let you do that. I couldn’t let you throw away your life for me. Which meant I had no choice but to drive you away. Don’t you see? I did it all for you. No matter how much it broke my heart, I had to do it. And I would have continued on doing it until my dying day.”
“Are you dying, Grant?”
“No,” he smiled wryly. “But, thanks for asking.”
“So what’s the point of all… this?”
“The point is, I realized that I was wrong. I was only thinking about the harm I could do you. I never stopped to think about the good. I can take care of you, Sarah. I can take care of you and Daisy better than any kid who doesn’t know his way around the world.”
“Oh,” Sarah nodded slowly. “So that’s what this is about. You’re jealous.”
“Of course, I’m jealous! The idea that you could love another man, it tears me up inside. I know you’re seeing someone. Is it serious? Does he love you?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Does he love you enough to put your feelings ahead of his? Does he love you enough to fall on his sword in the name of making you happy? Does he love you enough to, if it comes to that, give you up for your own good?”
“What do you want from me, Grant?” Sarah’s eyes filled with tears as she realized that this was much, much more than she could process on the spot.
“I want you… I want you to marry me, Sarah.”
“You’re already married,” she reminded.
“I’ll end it. Say the word, and I’ll end it with Marley. She’s not who I want, she’s not whom I should be with. Only one woman fits that bill, and it’s you. I told you before that I can’t live without you. Please, don’t make me. Please say you’ll marry me. Say that you’ll marry me, Sarah.”
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