“Can you believe Marley’s nerve?” Olivia huffed as she slammed the passenger side door of Jamie’s car behind her. “Dragging people out of the house on Christmas Day to watch her get married for – which number time is this?”
Jamie checked his rearview mirror before backing out of the driveway, then observed, “I don’t recall you getting an invitation.”
“I’m your plus-one,” Olivia reminded, somewhat smugly. She couldn’t help it. She knew she was wrong, and yet even getting this dig in at Lorna put her in a festive mood. Noticing it was having no similar effect on Jamie, Olivia quickly changed the subject. “At least we were able to have a nice Christmas morning with the girls.”
“My girls deserved to have Christmas morning with their mother. But, they couldn’t. Because of you.”
“They didn’t even miss her,” Olivia pointed out.
“I did,” Jamie snapped.
Olivia shrugged. “Is Lorna coming to the wedding?”
“Why would she? Lorna has even less business being there than you do.”
“Well, in that case, frankly, I’m surprised Dennis and Marley invited you. I mean, you’re the ex-husband and all….”
“Marley and I were friends for a long time. And she helped me with Lorna.”
“Like she had a choice in the matter. It’s the least she owed you after running Lorna over with her car and – “
“At least Marley hasn’t blackmailed me lately,” Jamie observed, yanking the wheel much harder than it necessarily required for a simple left turn. “Which is more than I can say for some other friends of mine.”
“If you forgave her,” Olivia noted reasonably. “Then you can certainly forgive me. I didn’t put Lorna in a coma, after all.”
“What happened with Marley was an accident.”
“How can you be so sure? You dumped Marley for Lorna. And then, to add insult to injury, Lorna got pregnant, what, like, five seconds later? You know what a sensitive issue that is for Marley. How can you be so sure she didn’t do it on purpose?”
“Even if she did, what business would it be of yours?” Jamie pulled his car into the church parking lot, turning off the ignition and already stepping out, attempting to get as far away from Olivia as possible.
Olivia merely smiled innocently, and followed him.
“What do you mean you’re not coming?” Sarah stood, already dressed for the wedding, holding Daisy’s hand. The little girl, also outfitted to the nines, was impatiently pulling her mother towards the front door.
Grant spread his arms apologetically. “Marley’s wedding isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.”
“Mine either,” Sarah agreed, frustrated. “But, it’s my dad getting married, too, and Daisy is the flower girl. We have to go!”
“I got you a stand in,” Grant grinned broadly, as though his over-enthusiasm could make up for her lack thereof. He indicated Kirkland, standing next to him, wearing a tuxedo and looking just as disgruntled as Sarah. “Kirk can take you.”
“I don’t want a stand in for you,” Sarah blurted out. “Especially not Kirkland!”
“It wasn’t my idea.” Kirkland just wanted to make that point clear. “When Grant asked me stop by on my way over – “
“I know it wasn’t your idea,” Sarah let Kirkland off the hook. With no intention of doing the same for his father. “And I also don’t appreciate having this kind of change of plans sprung on me at the last minute.”
“I’m not feeling well,” Grant tried a different tack. Although it also happened to be true. “And I figured you might like an escort. To help you out with Daisy, if nothing else. She can be a handful, right, kitten?”
Daisy merely giggled mischievously in response.
“I can take care of my daughter myself,” Sarah shot back instinctively, still sensitive to any suggestion that she didn’t know what she was doing or that she couldn’t manage.
“Of course, you can,” he soothed, stepping up to rub the sides of her arms and smile encouragingly. “But, I just wanted to make things a little easier for you. I know you don’t like driving and dealing with Daisy at the same time. This way, Kirkland can drive, and you can focus on her. Plus, it’s a party. I want you to have a good time. And you couldn’t do that if you had to watch Daisy every moment.”
“I wanted to have a good time with you,” Sarah insisted.
He raised an eyebrow. “With Marley shooting daggers at us with her every breath?”
“No… I told you. She – she promised to call a truce. Start fresh.”
“I always take everything Marley says with a grain of salt. And a liter of gin.” Grant turned to Kirkland. “Wouldn’t you agree, son?”
“I’m staying out of this.” He checked his watch. “But, if we want to get there on time, I suggest we get a move on.”
“Go,” Grant urged. “Have fun. I’ll see you when you get back, and you can tell me all about it. Especially,” he bent from the waist to give Daisy a peck on the nose. “How you stole the whole show.”
“Let’s gooooo, Mommy,” Daisy whined at a pitch guaranteed to make adults cringe. “I want everyone to see my pretty dress, right now!”
“Come on,” Kirkland reached for Sarah’s coat and held it out to her. “The wedding can’t start until the flower girl gets there, right?” He offered his palm to Daisy.
“Right!” His little sister gave him a high-five.
Sarah shot one, final, longing look Grant’s way. He offered yet another look of support.
“Fine,” Sarah sighed, allowing Kirkland to help her into her coat. “Have it your way…”
“Welcome home!” Rachel beamed at Carl, helping him over the doorstep of the Cory Mansion, him trying to walk on his own power, but still needing to cling to her arm for a bit of extra support. “And what a perfect day to do it, too. The children and I waited to open our presents until you could be here. But, really what could be a better gift than – “
“Merry Christmas, Carl!” Lorna appeared seemingly out of nowhere, approaching them directly, a broad smile on her face – and a stack of papers in her arms. “It’s good to have you home.”
“Thank you, Lorna,” Rachel’s tight smile was the inverse image of Lorna’s own. “I’m sure we both appreciate your sincere good wishes.”
She attempted to walk her husband around their interloper. But Carl paused to inquire, indicating the reports Lorna was holding, “And what might those be?”
“Everything you asked for.” Lorna glowed proudly. “I figured you’d want to see these as soon as you walked in the door.”
“You figured wrong,” Rachel corrected. “Carl needs to rest. And then we have an entire afternoon planned with our children. I’m sorry you weren’t informed earlier, but feel free to take the entire day off. Maybe even the week.”
“Now, now,” Carl reached for the paperwork Lorna was still holding so tantalizingly in front of him. “Elizabeth and Cory don’t appear to be present as of yet. What harm might it do for me to take a swift glance at the data Lorna has so conscientiously prepared? I’m afraid I have been terribly remiss in my professional duties these past weeks.”
“That’s alright,” Lorna reassured. “I’ve been holding down the fort for you.”
“Yes,” Rachel drawled. “She’s made herself quite at home in your office. And in my house.”
“Thank you again for having me,” Lorna gushed to Rachel. “Thank you both. I don’t know where I would have gone if you hadn’t agreed to take me in.”
“My dear,” Carl suddenly realized. “Why are you not with your own children on this festive occasion?”
Lorna blushed furiously. “Jamie – he didn’t want me there. He said it would be too confusing for the girls.”
“He’s right,” Rachel defended. “You can’t keep flitting in and out of their lives like this. They need stability.”
“How monstrous of him!” Carl exclaimed.
“It’s okay,” Lorna bravely blinked back tears. “I’ve kept myself busy. It helps me not to think about things. That’s why I was hoping maybe you and I could go over some….”
“Of course,” Carl said, magnanimously giving in to Lorna’s pleas to open up documents he’d been unable to keep his eyes off since walking in the door. “Of course. Anything for you.”
Rachel could see exactly what he was doing. Carl could see that Rachel could see exactly what he was doing. And yet, Lorna or no Lorna, he truly had spent the bulk of his hospitalization worrying about work left undone. Rachel decided that, in this case, it probably was the best medicine. And so she stepped aside graciously, telling Carl, “I’ll go track down the children and call you when lunch is ready.”
“Thank you, my darling,” Carl said. Although, for a moment, it was difficult to tell which of the two women he was addressing.
“You know,” Lila observed flirtatiously while Morgan fiddled with his tie for what felt like the umpteenth time. “You’re not the one getting married here.”
“I know,” he mumbled distractedly.
“Then how come you’re looking more nervous than the groom?” She pointed to Dennis, standing calmly off to the side, chatting with Donna and Matt, while they all waited for Marley to make her grand entrance.
Morgan flashed Lila a brilliant smile – seemingly forcing whatever was currently making him so jumpy to the back of his mind. “Maybe I’m nervous about escorting a beautiful woman whom I just got to give me the time of day to such a romantic occasion like a wedding.”
“Afraid it will give me funny ideas?”
“No. Afraid you’ll see just how many fish there are still left in the sea and throw me over for a better catch of the day.”
“Why, Dr. Winthrop, are you suffering from an uncharacteristic attack of modesty?”
“You look great, Lila,” he told her sincerely.
“You clean up pretty good yourself.”
Noting Kevin and Amanda walking in, Morgan asked, “Want to go over and say hello?”
She cocked her head suspiciously. “Not unless you do.”
“What? Me? Nah. You’re family. What would I have to say to Amanda and Kevin?”
“I dunno. You were awfully curious about them the other day.”
“Just making conversation. To keep from freezing to death.”
“You know, there’s more than one way to keep warm,” Lila advised, pulling Morgan in for a kiss.
“That,” Morgan corrected upon finally coming up for air. “Wasn’t warm. That was hot.” Before grabbing Lila and kissing her back. And making sure that both Kevin and Amanda were watching.
“Ah, Mom, you came.” Dennis greeted Iris as she reluctantly dragged herself down the aisle, kissing her on the cheek and offering her his arm for the remainder of the walk to her seat. “And you wore black. How appropriate.”
“Black happens to be very slimming,” Iris lectured.
“I hear stewing in your own juices burns a lot of calories, too.”
“How else do you think I’m able to keep my girlish figure?” Iris wondered innocently.
Prompting Dennis to laugh. “I love you, Mom. I really do.”
“Good. Then maybe, for once in your life, you will listen to me when I tell you that you are making a terrible mistake.”
“Too late. We wouldn’t be able to get our deposit back.”
“Would you please be serious, darling? Marley is using you. She confessed as much to me years ago, back when she was stringing both you and Grant along for sport.”
“She left Grant. She’s with me now. That’s all that matters.”
“She doesn’t love you. You’re making a mistake.”
“You’re wrong. The only mistake that Marley and I made was not fighting harder to be together twenty years ago. We both wasted so much time, and for no good reason.”
“Maybe that reason is that you were never meant to be.”
“Oh, please, Mom. I didn’t see you following that logic when Alex Wheeler waltzed back into your life after a few decades away. You didn’t think that maybe there was a relationship never meant to be.”
“Actually, considering how soon after that I lost your father…”
“Oh, please. That was bad luck, nothing else.”
“It does no good to try and recapture the past. The Marley you think you’re in love with is not the woman she is today. Unfortunately, however, the woman she is today is the one you’re planning to pledge your troth to.”
“Pledge my – what is this, a PBS fundraiser?”
“You can’t fool me, Dennis. I know you. The moment you start obfuscating like this, that’s the moment I know you’ve finally heard me, and you’re doing your best to deny what I’ve said. Blinded as you are, even you must be able to see that this is not the Marley you first fell in love with.”
“No. She’s the Marley I fell in love with again. She’s a woman who can get knocked down and knocked down and knocked down again, and still rise up every single time. She is the strongest, best person I have ever known. I want to spend the rest of my life making her happy. And protecting her from a world that seems determined to turn Marley into their personal punching bag. I want to make it so that, the next time she has to pull herself up, she knows she’s got a ready hand there to help her.”
“Oh, she knows it. In fact, she’s counting on it, the manipulative, conniving, little bitch.”
“What was that? A preview of your wedding toast?”
“It was only a few years ago that Marley was using Grant to cover up her hit and run of Lorna. He gave up custody of Kirkland to keep her from going to jail! And how did she repay him? By having an affair – “
“After he’d already knocked up their nubile, young babysitter. Remember Sarah, Mom? Remember Daisy? They kind of played a role in that break up, as well.”
“So what happened the minute Grant got wise to her and walked away? She digs her claws into you – her next patsy.”
“You have an interesting grasp of current events. One I don’t think I’ll subscribe to, if you don’t mind.”
“Marley always needs a fall guy. A foolish knight to her damsel in distress.”
“And why shouldn’t she have one? After years of not being able to count on anybody – “
“Don’t fool yourself. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Why, even before you came along, Jamie was willing to take Marley on the run to keep her from going to prison for shooting Jake.”
“Which she didn’t do,” Dennis reminded.
“The point is, she’d gotten him to a point where he was willing to give up his career, his family, his son – all to facilitate her needs. And you’re next on her list.”
“Okay.” Dennis all but shoved Iris into her pew. “I’ve heard enough. Sit down, Mom. Time to play mother-of-the-groom. Luckily, that’s not a speaking part.”
“You know, she never loved Grant,” was the last thing Iris threw Dennis’ way.
“And why should I care about that?”
“He was a rebound. Because Jamie didn’t want her.”
“So? That was years ago.”
“She’s still in love with him. You mark my words. And now that it looks like Jamie and Lorna have broken up for good – you watch your back, too.”
“You know that I’m not the District Attorney anymore, right, Toni?” Chase double-checked, beckoning her into his office, wondering if they were the only two civic employees actually working on Christmas Day. “Haven’t been for about two election cycles now.”
“I know,” she plopped down, rolling her eyes. “But, I don’t like your replacement. All he cares about is press conferences and sound-bites, the actual putting bad guys in jail part just isn’t a priority with him.”
“Hey, the people elected him – “
“Don’t you dare sit there and pretend you have any respect for the people, Hamilton.”
“ – They have to be the ones to un-elect him,” he finished.
“Thank you for the civics lesson. In the meantime, I’ve got an unsolved attempted murder in my jurisdiction, and a DA who practically wets his pants whenever the name Hutchins comes up.”
“I could introduce you to a couple mob bosses with the same response.”
Toni didn’t doubt it. But that still didn’t change the facts. “We’ve got nothing, Chase. A murder weapon that’s been wiped clean. A safe that the murder weapon belongs in, also wiped clean.”
“Who has the combination?”
“No one but Hutchins, allegedly.”
“Not even Rachel?”
“She says Carl brought it with him when they got married, and she never had a reason to know it.”
“The kids? The staff?”
“Nothing jumping out at me.”
“How did our shooter get in?”
Toni raised an eyebrow. “Our shooter?”
“Old habits are hard to break,” he dismissed. “Now answer my question.”
“The security system was disabled. From the inside.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess – no prints?”
“You’ve done this before!”
“In my nightmares,” he sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “What about other physical evidence? Hair?”
“Only the people who live and work there.”
“Rachel claims she saw Lorna Frame do the deed.”
“Yeah, well, unfortunately, Lorna Frame hasn’t been kind enough to corroborate her story. She’s got herself lawyered up, is stone-walling our questions at every turn, and whatever evidence we did turn up; some loose hairs in the study is about the long and short of it – “
Toni said, “I’m starting to remember why I voted for you for Mayor. It was because I wanted you out of the DA’s office, so we could stop having conversations like this.”
“Be careful what you wish for…”
“Don’t remind me,” she went on. “The hair samples we found that match to Lorna Frame? She’s married to Rachel’s son and she was staying there for months after her and Carl got back from their side-trip to Heaven.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about destinations.”
“The point is, any good lawyer could prove she had a perfectly good reason to be there, without needing to plug a bullet into Carl’s back.”
“Are you telling me the Cory staff is so delinquent in their duties that they only vacuum once every few weeks? Doesn’t sound like any one-percenters I know.”
“I’m telling you that any good lawyer – heck, even you – could get that evidence dismissed.”
“I am deeply hurt.”
“You’ll get over it.”
“I already have.”
“What a relief.”
“So you’ve got nothing.”
“No. What I’ve got is a prime suspect whom the victim’s family invited to live in their home. Try convincing a jury that Lorna Frame is a threat to Hutchins’ life in light of that!”
Chase leaned back in his chair. “I think I have an idea for how to help you…..”
The church was full. The guests were seated. Dennis stood at the altar, next to a priest, and Matt as his best man – they’d figured he was family (uhm… half/step-uncle, was it?). Plus, Matt didn’t have a complicated history with Marley. Which was more than could be said for any of the other candidates.
Jamie, for instance, who, despite having come in with Olivia, now sat alone, sharing a pew with Amanda and Kevin. They’d chosen the groom’s side. Despite Matt’s wife, Donna, sitting on the bride’s side, next to Michele and Bridget, and Steven and Jen (whose fathers were on the groom’s side). Theoretically Kirkland should have sat there, too. But he, having come with Sarah, was also on the groom’s side.
It was, as previously noted, a very complicated family tree.
However, Dennis didn’t care about that. All he cared was that, at any moment, the door at the back of the church would open and Daisy would come out, tossing flowers right and left, followed by Marley, wearing a wedding dress she had superstitiously not allowed Dennis to see before the ceremony.
The organist began playing. The guests all turned expectantly towards the door.
That was when they heard the scream.
It was a woman screaming.
It was Olivia.
Dennis would know the sound of Olivia screaming anywhere.
The guests exchanged uneasy looks.
And then Morgan, of all people (groom’s side, for those keeping score) leapt up and went running to the vestibule. Prompting a handful of other guests, as well as Dennis, to follow.
When he got there, he found Olivia lying curled up in a ball at the bottom of the stairs, and Marley frozen at the top, still holding Daisy’s hand in hers, looking astonished and bewildered.
“She pushed me!” Olivia screamed in anger, then doubled over in pain, followed by another howl. “Marley pushed me! She tried to kill my baby!”
ANOTHER WORLD TODAY will be taking the Christmas holiday off. We’ll see you on Monday, December 30!
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