“Goodness, Cory.” Rachel looked up from making sure every aspect of the Thanksgiving table setting was perfect. “Hurry and get dressed. Our guests will be here any minute.”
“We have actual guests?” Cory wrinkled his nose, looking, for a moment, like the barely fifteen year old boy whom Rachel remembered, rather than the eighteen year old near-stranger she saw in front of her now.
“Yes. You know we invited the Winthrops. For Elizabeth.”
“And they agreed to come?”
“Of course, they agreed to come. They’re bringing Felicia and Morgan, too. And… Jamie and Lorna.”
“Wow,” Cory said.
“I told you, honey. Everything is going to be different from now on.”
“Except you and Father are still planning on leaving town.”
“How did you know that?” Rachel asked in surprise.
Cory shrugged. He always shrugged when confronted with that question. You’d think Rachel would have gotten used to it by now.
She collected herself to say, “Well, you’re right. We have decided. After Christmas, I think. We could all use some time away to clear our heads. A fresh start.”
“And if Elizabeth and I refuse to go with you?”
“We’ll go alone,” Rachel insisted. “I won’t be held hostage by any of my children. Not anymore.”
“And Father is okay with that?”
“He’s not happy,” Rachel conceded. “He still hopes you and Elizabeth will change your minds. You have to understand, Cory, you and your sister are all your father has. He’s lost three of his children so far. The idea of losing two more – “
“We’re not going anywhere. He is.”
“You’ll break his heart.”
Another shrug from Cory. “So you don’t have a single doubt?”
“What do you mean?”
“Of course not.”
“You believe his version of events is one hundred percent true – “
“Do you know anything that would convince me differently?” Rachel attempted to interrupt, forgetting how single-minded her son could be when the occasion warranted.
“And you’ll follow him anywhere, no matter what any of us say?”
“Again,” Rachel stressed, fed up. “Do you know anything to convince me differently?”
Her son hesitated for a long, tense moment. And then he simply shook his head and walked away.
“Just once,” Iris raged. “Just once, I should like to see Carl Hutchins not to win every hand he’s dealt.”
“That might happen yet,” Russ attempted to if not mollify his wife, at least talk her down to a manageable level of frustration. “But, it won’t be today.”
“Why doesn’t he ever lose? Surely, the law of averages – “
“I suspect Carl plays with loaded dice.”
“Eduardo swore to me that the government had an airtight case. He and Chase have been painstakingly building it for literally years. Decades. I gave them the final nail to close Carl’s coffin, and still they managed to bumble it! Idiots! Bureaucratic idiots! I knew I never should have placed my faith in them.”
Russ hesitated. “You aren’t thinking of taking… private revenge, are you?”
That certainly got Iris’ attention. And quickly. Gone was the frown, replaced by a beatific smile and a slight touch of the hair. “Of course not, darling. Don’t be silly. I’ve learned my lesson. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize what I have now. I’ve been waiting for this all of my life.” Another smile, and a link of her arm through his. “Come. Let’s get ready. We’re expecting guests!”
Rachel heard the doorbell ringing in the front foyer, and the sound of a maid, followed by Carl, moving to answer it and greet their guests.
She knew she should be out there with them. And she fully intended to be. But, first, one quick thing….
Rachel turned to the photograph of Mac that sat above the fireplace. She ran her fingers along the edge of the silver frame and, in a voice barely above a whisper, asked, “You understand. Even if no one else does, not even his own children, you understand why I have to stand by Carl. It’s because of you. If I can’t do for Carl what you did for me, then that would… it would somehow taint everything that we had. And I can’t allow that to happen. Carl’s redemption isn’t just a reflection on me. It’s a reflection of you, too. It’s a reflection of us. And you understand why I could never, ever give up on that.”
“Look who’s here, Rachel!” Carl’s booming joviality interrupted her reverie, and she turned briskly to find herself face to face with Frankie, Cass, Morgan, Lori Ann… and Charlie. The latter was looking at Rachel defiantly, almost as if she were craving a confrontation of some sort.
Well, Charlie wasn’t Rachel’s first aggressive adolescent. Rachel knew perfectly well how to deal with her sort.
“Cass, Frankie!” She held out her arms, embracing each in turn. “How wonderful to see you. And you, too, Charlie. I am so glad you were all able to make it. I’ll make sure Elizabeth knows you’re here.”…..
“Hey.” Morgan broke away from the Winthrop/Hutchins’ attempt to demonstrate just who was that much more delighted by the unexpected pairing of their off-spring, in order to sidle up to Lila, who was standing off to the side, staring so deeply into her crystal cup of eggnog, she might have been searching for the meaning of life amongst the… nog.
Lila raised her eyes slowly, looking him up and down in a manner that suggested she found the results wanting.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“Yeah, what are the odds of me celebrating a family holiday in my own house?”
“Thought maybe you’d have a hot date. Or something?”
“Are you volunteering?”
“Are you accepting?”
Lila shrugged. She’d been taking lessons from Cory…..
“I know you don’t remember me,” Jasmine began.
“You’re Jasmine,” Lorna said, once again forced to swallow what she was really feeling and thinking. “You’re Jamie’s niece. He gave me a crash course on family on the way over.”
“Yeah. My dad is uncle Jamie’s brother. You and he also used to…” Jasmine began, then trailed off, really unsure regarding the etiquette of such unsavory prompting.
“I know,” Lorna let her off the hook. “I led a very interesting life here in Bay City.”
“But, you’re back where you belong now. With Jamie and Devon and Zee.”
“Yes,” Lorna agreed.
“It must be weird, all of us being strangers practically.”
“There’s been a lot of weirdness,” Lorna agreed, telling the God’s honest truth, for once.
“You and me, we used to be friends,” Jasmine said.
“Yes. You were in Jamie’s and my wedding. I guess we bonded over music.”
Jasmine nodded, then felt compelled to ask, “Hey, if you don’t remember the last twenty years, does that mean you don’t remember any of the music, either?” She seemed much more horrified by that possibility than by anything that came before it.
And it gave Lorna an idea. “Maybe you could teach me,” she suggested. “Fill me in on everything I missed?”
Jasmine’s eyes lit up. “You’re so lucky!”
“Excuse me?” Lorna cocked an eyebrow.
“You get to hear Airbourne and Bonafide and 77 for the first time all over again!”….
“Where’s Elizabeth?” Kirkland asked Charlie, who was barely suppressing her yawns at being subjected to such a lame, stuffy party.
“I dunno. Somewhere.”
“I hear you guys are… together now.”
“So what?” She snapped.
“Nothing.” He took a step back, raising both arms in surrender. “Just… saying.”
“You want to watch, is that it? All guys are into watching girls get it on, right?”
“Yeah. Sure. If you say so.”
“Figures,” she snorted.
“You know, Charlie, you don’t have to be so defensive. Nobody is out to get you.”
“Then why is your grandmother shooting daggers at me from across the room?”
“I think she’s just picking out the appropriate cutlery for the turkey.”
Charlie shook her head. “College graduate, and you’re still such a doofus.”
“But now I’m a doofus with a degree!” He grinned.
While Charlie did her best not to do the same in return. “Sheesh, dude, how hard is it to offend you?”
She said, “You know, I remember, after I… did what I did to Allie. And you found out about Zeno and me. I remember you coming to see me at the hospital, when I wasn’t talking to anybody. And you telling me that you wouldn’t give up on me, no matter what. That was… nice. I never really thanked you for it.”
“You were sick. You can’t hold what people do when they’re sick against them.”
“Yeah. That’s what they said then. But, I’ve been thinking. How much of the crap I did – do you think… How much of it was the bipolar disorder? And how much of it was me just being a straight up bitch?”….
“They are absolutely lovely children.” Carl knelt down to where Lorna was sitting on the couch behind Devon and Mackenzie, both of whom, along with Lori Ann, were coloring with the paper and crayons Rachel had set out for them.
“Thank you,” she said, swallowing hard, willing herself to appear relaxed, unafraid. She had to remember, as far as Carl was concerned, she had absolutely no reason to fear him.
“This one,” he indicated Mackenzie. “I see a bit of Rachel in her, a bit of Jamie. Even some Fanny, do you not agree?”
Lorna nodded silently.
“But this one.” Carl reached forward to stroke Devon’s hair. “This one is the splitting image of you. It’s uncanny. I feel like I am looking back through time.”
It was taking all of Lorna’s self-control to keep from slapping his hand away from her child.
Carl went on, “You did not have it easy when you were her age. Or later, for that matter. I think of how I found you. Utterly alone, vulnerable. Lord only knows what might have happened to you had I not come along to offer protection.”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Lorna told him, once again reveling in being able to tell the truth. “It wouldn’t have been pretty. You did save me from some pretty horrible things, Carl. I’ll always be grateful to you for that.”
“Anytime, my dear,” he stressed. “Any time. It was my pleasure to keep you safe – even at great personal cost. Rest assured, the same applies to your children. Anything I did for you, I am happy to do for them.”
“Jamie and I – “
“Oh, of course, of course, heaven forbid. I am certain both you and their father will be around to guide them for a good, long time.” Carl stood up, but his eyes never left the group before him. “Be advised, however, that should the need arise… should anything happen to you or to Jamie so that you wouldn’t be able to take care of them… You may sleep easily knowing that I would be happy to step in and take care of your daughters, exactly in the same way as I took care of you.”…..
Seeing Carl speaking to Lorna and the children, and realizing that Jamie would probably not be happy about any aspect of it, Rachel attempted to distract her son by directing his attention to the same photo of Mac that she’d previously been contemplating.
She said, “It’s hard not to think about him on the holidays.”
Jamie nodded. “Thanksgiving was kind of his thing.”
“Mac did love to look around the table and see all his family and friends assembled.”
“It made me feel safe,” Jamie confessed. “Both when I was a kid and, yeah, sure, even long after that. Sort of Mac’s at the head of the table, and all is right with the world. You know, when I was going through all that crap with Grant about Kirkland, I kept telling myself, hey, it’s okay for a kid to have two dads. I did.”
“Grant is no Mac. Nor is he your father. Steve may have had his faults and his rough edges. But, he never stooped as low as Grant.”
“I used to feel guilty. Especially at Thanksgiving. Loving Mac as much as I did. I felt like it was a betrayal of Dad. I never want Kirk to feel like that.”
“He won’t. And you shouldn’t have. Your father ran away from home and more or less raised himself from a painfully young age. I know he was happy that you escaped his fate. That you had Mac, growing up. He told me so himself.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Jamie attempted a smile. That didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Still, Rachel was willing to take what she could get. “Oh, honey. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for inviting us,” he said, almost formally
“I told Cory everything is going to be different from now on. I told him, now that you know that Carl and I were only looking out for you and Lorna… we can all have a fresh start. Now that you’re no longer having your mind filled with lies by Iris and Hamilton and everyone else who’s been gunning for him for literally years, maybe now, finally you can understand just how much Carl means to me, and see him for who he really is.”
“Yeah, Mom,” Jamie told her, sighing. “Finally, I can.”
“I presume you’ve taken all the appropriate precautions,” Alice whispered to her brother as they watched Grant, Sarah and Daisy come up the snow covered walk to a Matthews’ house that already held them, Iris, Olivia, Dennis, Kevin, Amanda, Steven, Jen, Bridget, Michele… and Marley. “Hidden all the knives, and such?”
Russ rolled his eyes. “You are funny.”
“And you, I must say, are very brave.”
“It could have been worse. Jamie could have accepted your invitation, too. I know you invited him.”
“Jamie is exactly where he should be for Thanksgiving. With his mother.”
“You don’t seem to think the same holds for Amanda.”
“Amanda made her own decision, the same way Jamie did. It’s none of my business to interfere.”
Russ shook his head in frustration. “Can you make heads or tails of this Jamie and Olivia situation? It doesn’t make any sense!”
“What does Olivia say?”
“What can she say? She’s heartbroken. You know she’s been in love with him for years. I warned her. I told her Jamie wasn’t ready to… But, still, I never expected him to treat her like this.”
“Maybe there’s more to the story than either of us knows. The best we can do is just try and support Olivia and her baby. This family is already complicated enough. Let’s not go looking for trouble.”….
“Don’t you look pretty!” Marely caught Daisy in an embrace as soon as the little girl walked through the door, ignoring Sarah and Grant, who’d come up behind her. “You’re wearing the sweater I got you.”
“Yes,” Sarah said, smiling sweetly. “That way we don’t have to worry about Daisy spilling anything on it. It can go right in the trash.”….
“Your nutso girlfriend looks awfully comfortable over with her other family,” Olivia observed, coming up to Dennis, who stood off alone to the side, watching Marley with a grim expression on his face.
Dennis forced himself to sound nonchalant as he offered, “She still loves Daisy. No divorce papers are ever going to change that.”
“Grant was lucky,” Olivia snorted. “Lorna isn’t willing to go anywhere near Jamie’s and my baby.”
Dennis cocked his head. “So it’s Jamie’s baby now?”
Olivia shrugged innocently.
“Damn you,” he hissed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Whatever I have to,” she informed him coldly, and walked away….
“I thought you’d be at your grandmother’s,” Kevin observed to Steven.
“I don’t think I’d be very welcome. I just turned over evidence to Cass and Frankie proving that someone with Carl’s IP address messed with that phone call Grandma got to make it sound like it was faked, when it really wasn’t.”
“What did Carl have to say about that?”
“He didn’t care. Haven’t you heard the big news? Carl Hutchins is a free man!”
“I heard. I’ve heard of nothing else from Amanda since it happened.” Realizing that this conversation could only lead them into treacherous waters, Kevin changed the subject, asking his son-in-law, “So? Any progress on you and Jenny moving out of town?”
“We’ve sent our resumes around to a few Universities, see if we get any bites.”
“And if you don’t?”
“I’ll think of some other way to get her out of Bay City.”….
“You look happy,” Olivia told her daughter.
“I am. I have Grant. I have Daisy. What else do I need?”
“How about a life, Sarah?” Olivia exhaled in frustration. “My God! You’re at an age now where you should be having a blast! Finishing school, traveling, finding yourself!”
“As you just said, I’m perfectly happy where I am.”
“As nothing more than somebody’s wife and mother? Listen to me, Sarah: Don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Don’t give up who you are to raise a kid when you’re still a kid yourself. Look at me. Look at Amanda. Allie had the right idea. Realizing that she wasn’t ready to be a mom. You know I’m no fan of Marley’s. But, if she wants to give you a hand with Daisy so that you can go out and live your life, by all means, take it. Take it before it’s too late. And you’re left with nothing but regrets.”…..
“Did your mother tell you?” Iris inquired of Amanda. “About her offer to buy me out of Cory Publishing?”
“Are you going to take her up on it?”
“If I were you, Amanda, I would do everything in my power to change Rachel’s mind.”
“Are you kidding me?” Amanda nearly choked on her eggnog. “Why would I give up the opportunity to get you out of my hair, once and for all?”
“Because,” Iris informed her. “With me gone, there is no one to stand in the way of Cory Publishing… and Carl Hutchins. He came to Bay City thirty years ago determined to destroy our father and everything he’d built. He finally has his chance to do precisely that. Unless, of course, you and I work together to stop him.”….
“Pregnancy definitely does not agree with you,” Marley informed Olivia, despite not exactly having been asked for her opinion.
“I could say the same about you,” Olivia pointed out.
“So where’s Jamie?” Marley made an exaggerated show of looking around the room, but coming up empty. “Oh. Right. He’s with his wife. And the kids he actually cares about.”
“Do you blame him? I can only imagine how happy Jamie must have been, finally marrying Lorna after freeing himself from the likes of you.” Olivia smiled. “Except you almost kept it from happening, didn’t you? Tell me something, should I be extra-careful crossing the street these days?”
“Jamie doesn’t mean anything to me anymore!” Marley defended, that last barb getting a rise out of her like nothing had managed to previously. “I am utterly devoted to Dennis. We couldn’t be happier. And neither one of us gives a damn about your latest bastard.”
“Luke!” Felicia gasped, coming home from Rachel and Carl’s Thanksgiving to find her ex-husband waiting for her – rather impatiently, not to mention furiously – on Felicia’s front porch.
“How could you?” he demanded, pulling her inside, not even bothering to remove his coat before he launched into, “How the hell could you do something like this? Break bread with Carl? Then force Lorna and Jamie to do it, too?”
“Nobody forced anyone!” Felicia understood some of Lucas’ anger, but not all of it. “It’s alright. You don’t have to lie anymore. It’s over. Everything is finally over. Carl has been cleared, so there’s no more danger of you being implicated in his actions. You can admit that you helped Carl save Lorna from – “
“There’s more danger than ever,” Lucas insisted, refusing to be mollified. “Damn it, Fanny. Listen to me. You have to hear the whole story. And if you don’t believe me – ask Lorna.”
“Lorna? Lorna doesn’t – “
“She does,” Lucas winced at breaking his daughter’s confidence, but it was the only way to make Felicia see. “Lorna remembers everything now.”
After their guests had gone home, Carl and Rachel gave their staff the rest of the night off – along with an early holiday bonus. Who knew if the Hutchinses would even be here for Christmas?
Carl and Rachel filled the children in about their plans, though Carl suspected Cory had already deduced as much. Neither was too happy to hear it, so after the initial discussion, Carl retired to the library, hoping for some peace and quiet, even as Rachel and Elizabeth battled on.
He must have fallen asleep while reading, because when Carl next opened his eyes and stiffly moved to stand up from the arm-chair he’d been sitting in, the house was dark, and deathly silent.
Except for the sound of the bullet that came from behind, catching Carl squarely in the back….
IN HONOR OF THANKSGIVING, THERE WILL BE NO ANOTHER WORLD TODAY ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2013. WE’LL SEE YOU ON MONDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2013.
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