“Tell me I’m not dreaming,” Jamie begged, unable to stop himself from laughing with both joy and incredulity as he lay in bed, curled up against Lorna.
“You’re not dreaming.” She kissed him to make sure Jamie believed her.
“And if I am dreaming, promise I will never, ever have to wake up.”
“You’re not dreaming,” she repeated, rolling over on her side, propping her head up with her palm, gazing down at Jamie, her fingers tangling in his chest-hair, her face inches from his, her mouth on his forehead, his cheek, his chin, his lips.
“You’re really back.”
“I’m really back. Here. With you.”
“We have to tell the girls.” Jamie pushed himself to sitting position, pulling her up with him. “We have to tell them you remember everything. And Felicia and Lucas and – “
“No.” Lorna drew away from him, shaking her head, Lorna’s face suddenly a mask of terror. “We can’t. We can’t tell anyone.”
“What are you talking about? Why not?”
“Carl.” She said. “He’ll kill us, Jamie. You, me, Devon, Zee. He’ll kill all of us.”
Jamie’s euphoric mood sobered instantaneously into grim realization. He squeezed Lorna’s hand between both of his, closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to brace himself for what he knew was coming – for what he’d always known was coming but, nevertheless, still held out hope might prove to be untrue. “All that crap about Carl whisking you away to save your life…”
“He had goons with guns. He pointed them at the girls. He didn’t say anything about our lives being in danger. Not then, and not afterwards. The first time I heard of it was when we got back to Bay City. I believed him because the only thing I remembered up until last week was my working for him twenty years ago. Nothing after that. That all came back later. Him following me at the park. Cornering me. I convinced him to back off by agreeing to go quietly. He wanted me to bring Devon and Zee, too. But, I threatened to throw all of us over the falls if he came anywhere near them.”
“It’s okay,” Jamie reassured, seeing how much of a toll confessing that she’d actually threatened to kill her own children in order to protect them from Carl was taking on Lorna. “You did what you had to do.”
“I couldn’t bear the thought of him getting his hands on them. Not after…”
“I understand.” Jamie wiped a tear from below Lorna’s eye with his thumb, attempting to keep on smiling reassuringly as he said, “What I don’t understand is what Carl wanted with you in the first place? He knew how you felt about him. Surely he didn’t think you’d be an asset to him in hiding, not after all this time.”
“He said that you’d cost him his wife and children. It was only right that he should steal yours in return.”
Jamie exhaled, his voice shaking, still unable to believe… “And Mom knew about this?”
Lorna shrugged. “I have no idea. Carl didn’t exactly let me into his confidence. She said she did at Steven’s wedding. But Carl never mentioned it to me.”
“What about Cory?” Jamie realized he was grasping at straws, but he still desperately needed to believe that his mother wasn’t – couldn’t have been – privy to her husband’s scheme. At least, not to this extent. “You two seemed pretty tight. Did Cory ever say anything that suggested Mom knew what Carl was up to?”
“Cory.” At the mention of his brother’s name, Lorna seemed to grow even paler, if such a thing were possible. “Yes, we were… close. He was my only friend, to be honest.”
“I’m glad. I’m glad you had somebody.”
“What?” He struggled to make Lorna understand that there was absolutely nothing she could tell him that Jamie wouldn’t accept. Or forgive.
“I was desperate to get back to you and Devon and Zee. I would have done anything. Anything, do you understand? If I could have picked up a letter opener and stabbed Carl in the throat, I would have done it without a second thought. Unfortunately, Carl never gave me the opportunity. But, Cory… He’s such a sweet kid. I swear, if Carl hadn’t delivered Cory himself, I’d think there’d been a mix up at the hospital.”
“Yeah. Matt, Amanda and I have floated that theory, too.”
“I suspected he’d help me get out if he could. Not that Cory was much better off than I was. We were both under lock and key twenty-four hours a day. But, he did have a little bit more free reign. Still, I had to be certain of his loyalty. I couldn’t take any chances. Too much was at stake. I had to make sure… I – I seduced him, Jamie. I was a grown woman with a lifetime of experience at precisely that – most of it instilled by Carl, and I seduced a sweet, innocent, lonely sixteen year old boy.”
“Steven called,” Kevin began, not even pretending to play dumb once Amanda arrived home.
“I figured he would,” Amanda said. “Don’t worry, he didn’t rat you out.”
“About what exactly?” Kevin leaned back in his chair, fully in lawyer mode.
“I asked Steven if he was the one who actually set up Horace Johnson to be killed.”
“Why would you ask him something like that?” Kevin appeared genuinely flummoxed.
“Because,” Amanda said. “Ever since you got out of prison, I’ve felt like there was this distance between us. And it bothered me. I want thing to be the way they were before. You and me against the world. Remember when we felt that way?”
“We were apart for over two years,” he reminded. “That’s a tough absence to overcome. Especially under the circumstances. It takes time.”
“It takes honesty,” Amanda corrected sharply. “How can we ever be close again, if you’re keeping something from me? Especially something as huge as my nephew’s involvement in your crime?”
“What makes you think Steven had anything to do with this?”
“He’s a computer expert. You’re not. And he’s married to Jen now.” Amanda noted, “If there’s one way in which Steven doesn’t take after either his mother or his father, it’s that he doesn’t fall in love at the drop of a hat. Heck, I sometimes wonder whether he even likes anybody. And yet there he is, head over heels for your daughter. That means he’d do anything for her. In that way, he’s actually exactly like both Jamie and Vicky. Jen would have died without her father’s bone marrow. The problem was fixed due to computer intervention. Who else could it have been?”
“Me,” Kevin insisted stubbornly.
Amanda ignored him. “What I can’t understand is how Steven got you to take the fall for him. Jamie’s kids are these white knight chips off the old block. They’re out of uniform Boy Scouts, all about honor, God and country.”
“Steven didn’t get me to do anything,” Kevin said. Then, catching the look on his wife’s face, added, “I’m the one who convinced him.”
Amanda exhaled gratefully, happy that at least one part of the exercise was over. “Thank you, Kevin. Thank you for trusting me with the truth.”
“I didn’t want to lie to you, Amanda. But, I didn’t want to ask you to lie for me, either.”
“I would have done it,” she swore. “I love you, remember?”
“I was trying to spare everyone. You… and especially Jenny. She’d just gotten out of the hospital, she and Steven had just admitted their feelings for each other. The last thing she needed was for the man she loved to go to jail – especially over something he’d done to save her. I know Jenny, the guilt would have sent her right back into Intensive Care.”
“You didn’t think she’d feel guilty about your going to jail?”
“It wasn’t the same. I’m her father, she loves me, yes. But Steven was who she needed to make her happy. He’s who she needed to make her whole.” Kevin clarified, “I begged Steven to let me take the blame. He fought me. I don’t fault him. Steven’s sacrifice was ultimately bigger than mine. I got to serve my time and move on. He has to spend the rest of his life lying to Jenny.”
“But, you were going to spend the rest of your life lying to me,” Amanda pointed out, hurt.
“For a good cause,” he insisted. “And I’m an adult. They’re just kids. They’ve got their entire lives ahead of them.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Amanda smiled. “I feel like this huge boulder has been lifted off of both our shoulders. We can move on now. Get back on track.”
“I’d like that,” Kevin admitted, pulling her to him, kissing her.
“There’s just one more thing,” Amanda said. “Just so I don’t accidentally screw up and say the wrong thing to somebody. Other than you and Steven, is there anybody else who knows the truth about what happened?”
Kevin hesitated, and then he flat out lied. “No.”
“No,” Cory said calmly after Rachel had announced plans for the entire Hutchins family to, once again, flee Bay City for parts unknown.
“I beg your pardon,” Carl clarified, as if he couldn’t have possibly heard right. “What did you just say to your mother?”
“I said no. I’m not leaving again.”
“That’s hardly your choice to make, son.”
“Actually, it is. I’m eighteen years old. I’m not a minor anymore. I don’t have to do what you say, and I don’t have to go where you go.”
“We’re a family!”
“Watch your tone,” Carl hissed.
“Cory,” Rachel all but physically got between father and son. If she could have sent them to their separate corners instead of facing off across a dining room table, she would have done so. “Darling, I realize this is a shock. You’ve been through so much over the past few years.”
“That’s right. And I have no interest in doing it again.”
“But, it would be different now. We would be together. All four of us. I missed you so much when you were gone.”
“You could have come any time,” Cory reminded. “At least, that’s what you said. You said you knew where we were.”
“I couldn’t. Not without giving away your father’s hiding place to his enemies. But, we’re safe now.”
“Then why are we running away?”
“Because I won’t ask your father to live in a town that treats him like a leper, a criminal. He deserves better. And so do you.”
“I deserve to live wherever I want. And that’s here in Bay City.”
Carl snorted in disdain. “Do you honestly believe that the so-called good people of Bay City will ever allow you to live down the Hutchins name?”
“Yes,” he asserted.
“Then you’re a fool!”
“They despise us, son. How much more evidence of this indisputable fact do you need?”
“They despise you,” Cory corrected. “And for ample reason.”
“Cory!” Now Rachel really did wish she’d separated them earlier. It had been a long time since she’d needed to play referee between parent and child (to be honest, most of the time it was Mac interceding between her and Jamie, her and Amanda, her and Matt) – she wasn’t particularly enjoying being on the other side.
Cory went on, “I haven’t done anything to aggravate the people of Bay City.”
“Your mere existence as my son is enough.”
“Ryan managed it,” Cory pointed out. “So did Perry, from what I hear. The sins of the fathers didn’t hit them too badly. And nobody blames Kirkland for Grant, or Donna for Reginald Love. I’d rather take my chances here, thanks.”
“The topic isn’t up for discussion,” Carl thundered.
“Good,” Elizabeth piped up. “In that case, I think you should know – I’m not going anywhere, either.”
“Are you out of your mind, my darling?” Iris asked Sarah politely. Iris always preferred to begin all of her conversations politely.
“What are you talking about?”
“I have been lead to understand that you and that horrible Grant are… back together?”
“Who told you that?”
“It doesn’t matter. My only concern is in discerning whether or not it’s the truth.”
“Grant asked me to marry him.” Sarah jutted out her chin defiantly.
Iris gasped. “And you said?”
“I said yes.”
“You foolish child!”
“Thanks,” Sarah said dryly.
“Do you have any earthly idea what you are getting yourself into?”
“I’m getting someone who loves me,” Sarah said. “And you’re right. I had no idea what that might be like. Before I met Grant.”
“If your definition of love includes seducing and abandoning a girl young enough to be his grandchild, then, yes, I’d say you’ve been adequately schooled in Grant Harrison’s edition of the state. But, I assure you, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the true thing.”
“How would you know?” Sarah asked, her tone eminently reasonable in the face of Iris’ near hysterics.
“I beg your pardon?”
“How would you know what it feels like to be really loved? As far as I can tell, you’ve never had it, either. No one in this family has.”
“My father loved me,” Iris insisted stubbornly.
“And you reciprocated by going out of your way to screw up his love life.”
“That is neither here nor there.”
“Have you ever loved anyone, Iris?”
“I love you. I love your father.”
“Huh,” Sarah said.
“I loved your grandfather, too. A man named Alex Wheeler…”
“I only know Elliot Carrington. Who you also screwed over.”
“What does my – we weren’t talking about Elliot. We weren’t even talking about me, for that matter. We were talking about you, and the devastating mistake you are about to make.”
“Grant loves me,” Sarah said. “He loves Daisy. He wants us to be a family.”
“That’s no reason to marry! Your own parents tried it, and you saw how that turned out.”
“It’ll be different with me and Grant. My mom and dad didn’t love each other. And they didn’t need each other. Grant needs me. He needs me to love him.”
“Oh, my darling… And here I thought matters couldn’t get any worse.” Iris all but wrung her hands. “If you are pledging your eternal troth to Grant Harrison out of pity…”
“No!” Sarah shook her head, frustrated. “It’s not like that. Why won’t any of you try to understand? Grant can be a good person. Except no one will let him. He needs me so he can become the man he always meant to be – the father he always meant to be. Nobody has ever needed me like that before.”
“Because it’s unhealthy,” Iris stressed.
“So is passing off your bastard as somebody else’s, and that never stopped you. Or my mother. At least I’m marrying my kid’s real father. At least I’m not lying to anybody.”
“No,” Iris sighed. “Except yourself.”
“Here you go,” Charlie casually handed her mother the cell phone on her way upstairs. In response to Frankie’s questioning expression, she explained, “It’s Elizabeth’s.”
“This is Elizabeth Hutchins’ cell-phone?”
“I heard Steven saying it would help figure out who made that call to Rachel a couple of years ago if he at least had the phone of somebody who’d called Carl before. I figured Elizabeth would be the best candidate.”
“I didn’t realize you’d overheard our conversation.”
“No sweat. I just wanted to help. Oh, by the way, the first year they were hiding out, they were in Switzerland. Some small town Carl pretty much bought. I know that’s not a lot to go on, but it should be a start helping Steven track down the server Carl might have used. Switzerland isn’t that big, and once he gets out of major big cities, should be even easier to narrow down the possibilities.”
“Charlie, I – this is amazing.”
Her daughter grinned, proud of herself. “Guess I’ve got a flair for the family business.”
“I had no idea you were even interested.”
“Well, I’ve got to do something, right? And I am a Frame-Winthrop, after all.”
“You are, you really are,” Frankie beamed, hugging Charlie, then asking, “Only thing I don’t understand is, how in the world did you get this from Elizabeth?”
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Easy. I’m sleeping with her.”
Lorna looked away, unable to meet Jamie’s eyes, desperate to know his reaction, but too scared to face it head on.
She waited. She waited for Jamie to say something. Anything. And when he didn’t, Lorna wondered if she’d finally made that strategic mistake she always expected she’d eventually make with Jamie. The one that even he couldn’t forgive.
Jamie still didn’t say anything. Instead, he gently cupped Lorna’s chin with his hand and turned her face so that she was looking right at him. He told her, with all the sincerity he could summon, so that there could be no misunderstanding – he told her, “I’m glad.”
“I’m sorry if Cory was hurt; I can only imagine that he was, especially if you then didn’t remember what had happened.”
“I didn’t,” she confessed. “That was gone, too until recently. I didn’t remember that it was Cory who’d helped me escape. It was about two years ago. He was there when I was hurt. We’d ducked our guards and we were trying to make it on foot over the Alps; we couldn’t stop at the nearest town, everyone there was loyal to Carl, so we had to go further. It was spring, so we thought we’d be okay, but there was this freak snowstorm – where’s global warming when you need it? I slipped. I presume that’s when I hit my head and lost my memory. Afterwards, Cory and I… I didn’t realize… and he never said… God, that poor kid.”
“I’m sorry Cory was hurt,” Jamie repeated sincerely. “But, I am not sorry that you did whatever you felt you needed to, in order to come home. There is nothing you could have done – do you understand me, Lorna? – nothing; that would have made me judge you or reject you or even look at you any differently. Tell me you believe it.”
“I believe it,” Lorna whispered, shaking with relief.
“Thank you,” Jamie said.
“Are you kidding? What are you thanking me for?”
“For having as much faith in me, as I do in you. You have no idea what that means to me.”
“You’re a lunatic,” Lorna shook her head in awe.
“Very possibly,” he agreed, pulling her to him again. “I would say I’m crazy about you, but I know how you feel about my corny lines.”
“I missed your corny lines,” Lorna swore. “I missed everything about you.”
“Then stay with me,” he urged. “Just stay. Forget about Carl, forget about Cory, forget about everything. You’re home now. Stay. We’ll got pick up Devon and Zee and – ”
“I want to. I want to so much. I want to see the girls, and I want to tell my parents. But, Jamie, if Carl finds out I’ve gotten my memory back… I’m a threat to him now. And you know how Carl responds to threats.”
“I’ll protect you.”
“But who’ll protect you? I can blow this asinine story Carl has been peddling for months wide open just by telling the truth about how Carl kidnapped me. If Rachel really wasn’t in on it, how far do you think Carl would go to keep her from ever finding out the truth?”
“My mother needs to know.”
“But, it’s not going to be from me.” Lorna crossed her arms, reminding Jamie just how stubborn she could be when the cause warranted it. “I will not put you or our kids at risk. Even if that means I have to spend the rest of my life pretending not to know any of you.”
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