“She pushed me!” Olivia curled pitifully into a fetal ball at the bottom of the church stairs, moaning in pain but still managing to point a finger upwards. “Marley pushed me! She tried to kill my baby!”
The last accusation seemed to shock Marley out of her trance. Still clutching Daisy by the hand, she hurried down the steps, pulling the little girl with her, protesting to anyone who would listen that, “No! I didn’t do anything to her! She just came up to me, and she started screaming, and then she fell. She fell all by herself! I didn’t do anything! Daisy,” Marley turned to the child. “Tell them, sweetie. Tell them I didn’t do anything to your Grandma Olivia. Tell them!”
“Leave her alone!” Sarah shouted, swooping in to pry Daisy out of Marley’s clutches, picking her daughter up and turning Daisy’s face away, so she wouldn’t have to see the writhing Olivia.
At this, Daisy broke into a round of heart-wrenching sobs that, even for a child with a taste for drama, sounded painfully genuine. “I want to go home!”
“Come on,” Sarah told Kirkland. “Let’s get her out of here.”
The crowd parted to let them pass, their attention split between the departing Daisy, the passionately denying Marley and the now howling Olivia.
Dennis instinctively reached out for his almost-wife, and Marley clung to him gratefully; while Russ, both as father and doctor, attempted to hurry over to Olivia’s side. It was Morgan, though, who cut him off, picking a limp Olivia up in his arms and heading for the church door. “I’ll drive her to the hospital,” he said, directing Russ, Dennis, Marley and Jamie. “The rest of you can follow me in your own cars.”
His manner was so no-nonsense, nobody in attendance thought to question what exact authority Morgan had to take over like this. They simply did as he commanded.
“I’m sorry,” Morgan mouthed to Lila as he passed her on his way out.
She indicated that, of course, it was okay. He was doing his job.
Morgan ran through the parking lot, depositing Olivia in his car, which he had parked on the very outskirts specifically for this reason. He peeled down the street, hoping that his speed would be interpreted as concern over Olivia’s condition, rather than so that no one would see her miraculous recovery from it.
“Quite a performance,” he commended in the stretch of journey that didn’t require Olivia pantomiming extreme distress.
“Thanks,” she told him smugly. “I basically channeled my labor with Sarah. Great sense memory whenever you need to summon up excruciating pain.”
“Were you making false accusations then, too?”
“I called Dennis every name in the book for doing this to me. And it was his fault, so accusations, yes; false, no.”
“None of this is Marley’s fault,” Morgan pointed out.
“Look who’s talking! I heard how you reduced her to a hysterical, babbling mess back when the woman was in a mental hospital. Compared to that….”
“She deserved it then.”
“She deserves it now,” Olivia snapped. “Marley never paid for what she did to you and Lorna. She never paid for what she did to Sarah. Karma’s a bitch. And so am I.”
“Are you done?” Rachel demanded after Carl finally returned to their bedroom following almost an entire afternoon spent sitting with Lorna, going over endless business matters that apparently couldn’t wait – not even for Christmas Day. “You were supposed to be resting.”
“I was supposed to be getting my strength back,” Carl corrected gently, settling on the bed next to Rachel, letting out a deep, admittedly exhausted breath. “And as you well know, my dear, nothing invigorates me more than stimulating work. That is, except for your lovely visage.”
“We were scheduled to spend the day with the children.”
“You said that you would come and fetch me once they became available.”
Rachel demurred a bit at that, admitting, “By the time I went to look for them, they’d both gone out. I called, they promised to be home by dinnertime, so that we could enjoy a Christmas meal together.”
“Splendid,” Carl said, reclining on his pillows, closing his eyes and sighing contentedly. “Oh, it is marvelous to be back home.”
“Don’t you mean, back at work?”
“I mean,” he opened his eyes to half-mast. “Back with you.”
“She’s manipulating you, you know,” Rachel burst out, having initially intended to approach the issue in a much more subtle manner. But, a day of twiddling her thumbs while waiting for her husband to remember she existed had stripped from Rachel a great deal of good will towards men. And women. One in particular. “Lorna.”
“Of course, she is,” Carl concurred smoothly.
“You mean, you know?”
Her husband turned his head and raised an eyebrow, “You insult me, my dear.”
“Then why are you letting her get away with it? For Heaven’s sake, if she batted those damn, fake eyelashes at you one more time….”
“You’re jealous. And after all these years.” He picked up her hand and kissed it. “I am touched.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m curious,” Rachel corrected. “First, Lorna worms her way into this house by playing on your sympathies…”
“I assure you,” Carl said darkly. “Lorna has never played on anything of mine. And she never will.”
“Then why did you invite her to move in?”
“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
“So you agree with me then? You agree that she’s your enemy?”
Carl hesitated. Rachel was not happy to see it. “I do not know it,” he finally admitted. “Yet…. But, nevertheless, she clearly wants something.”
“She wants you to claim you didn’t see her shoot you!”
“That,” Carl reminded, “Happens to be the truth.”
“But, I saw her. Why isn’t that enough for you?”
“Because, Rachel, the fact of the matter is, you do not know Lorna. Not anymore. The woman who left Bay City is not the one who returned. Losing all her memories wiped clean her decades-long antipathy towards me. She was a faithful and loyal companion to me during our final two years in exile, and she has done nothing since then to change my opinion of her.”
“What about getting back together with Jamie? That has to mean something. He hates you.”
“The Lorna who grew up orphaned and disconnected from the world would never walk away from her own children. I predicted this would happen. I bear her no ill will on that account. She would do anything to keep her daughters from suffering the same fate she did. Even put up with your boorish son if it means being with them.”
“He could have turned her against you.”
“We have no evidence of that. It is one of the reasons why I invited her to join us here, the better to keep an eye on her. I am sorry, my dear, but I am as yet unconvinced that your sighting the night of my shooting was wholly accurate. And until that time, I will not turn on Lorna. No matter how much you may wish me to.”
“She’s gotten to you,” Rachel accused. “You deny it, but she’s gotten to you. The crocodile tears and the flirting – “
“I have done no such thing!” Carl took great offense at her insinuation.
“Not you with her. Her with you. She’s been practically throwing herself at you from the moment you first opened your eyes.”
“I have assured you over and over again, that particular aspect of my relationship with Lorna belongs in a previous century. At no time now would I even consider – “
“Then why are you humoring her like this?”
“Because,” he said. “If Lorna, as I suspect, is not my assailant, then she possesses great motivation to help me ferret out precisely who is. And I intend to take full advantage of it. We will get to the bottom of this, Rachel. And we will use Lorna to do it. Together.”
Outside the examining room Morgan had taken Olivia into, keeping both Russ and Jamie from following, ordering them to join Marley and Dennis in the designated waiting area, Marley pleaded with anyone willing to listen, “I didn’t do anything to her, I swear!”
“Then how did my daughter end up at the bottom of the stairs?” Russ demanded.
“I don’t know! I don’t know what happened! One minute I was just standing there with Daisy, and the next thing I know, Olivia comes charging up, she starts yelling at me, and then she falls down the stairs. Everything happened so quickly – ask Daisy!”
“I am not going to cross examine a three year old child!”
“But, she’ll tell you I didn’t do anything!”
“Of course, you didn’t,” Dennis stepped in between Marley and Russ. “Jamie knows it, too. Don’t you Jamie?”
His momentary hesitation was all Russ needed to remind, “Marley has done this before. With Lorna and Jamie’s child. For God’s sake, when Marley found out Jamie and Lorna were going to have a baby, she ran her off the road!”
“That was an accident!”
“This is the same thing all over again, isn’t it?” Russ pressed. “Isn’t it?”
“No!” Marley screamed back. “Why would I care about Jamie and Olivia having a baby? I was about to marry Dennis!”
“Iris warned you,” Russ turned to Dennis. “She warned you that Marley was still in love with Jamie.”
“Yeah, she did,” Dennis said. “I didn’t believe Mom then, and I don’t believe you now.”
“How about you, Jamie?” Russ wondered. “Do you believe me? Marley is still in love with you, and now she’s done to Olivia the same thing she did to Lorna.”
“Jamie,” Marley whimpered. “Tell them… please…”
“Marley and I haven’t had anything to do with each other in years,” Jamie informed Russ stiffly.
“Just because you’ve moved on with your life, doesn’t mean she has. Damn it, Jamie, I hold you responsible for this, too. You should have seen this coming.”
“Seen what coming?” Dennis exploded. “There was nothing to see! Marley isn’t in love with Jamie, and she doesn’t have it in for Olivia. If anything, I’m the one – “
“What?” Russ’ head jerked up, twigged by the unexpected conviction in Dennis’ voice. “Just what do you know about this? Why would Marley have a reason to go after Olivia – because of you?”
“Alright, Zeno, enough is enough,” Amanda drove straight from Dennis and Marley un-wedding to confront her daughter’s boyfriend. “It’s Christmas, and Allie is still in jail. She should have been out on bail, weeks ago.”
“Allie doesn’t want to be out on bail. She wants to prove a point.”
“That you’re a saint and deserve to hold on to your mother’s farm? Shouldn’t you be the one to sitting in jail to make that particular point?”
“That’s not how it worked out.”
“No. Pretty convenient for you.”
“It’s how Allie wants it.”
“My daughter doesn’t know what she wants. She never has. Luckily, I do, and I’m tired of sitting around, waiting for her to reach the same conclusion. While you’ve been free as a bird, slopping the hogs or whatever it is you do around here that’s so important it warrants my child’s life being destroyed, I’ve been dealing with the Oakdale District Attorney. Luckily, like all politicians, she cares more about press than principles. She has agreed to drop the charges against Allie.”
Zeno’s eyes narrowed. “In exchange for what?”
“You giving up the farm to Eminent Domain.” Amanda cut off Zeno’s protest with the prediction, “They are going to take this place, no matter what. The only choice you have is whether they’ll do it at Allie’s expense, or without it. You claim you love her, Zeno? This is your chance to prove it.”
Daisy had been so hysterical upon leaving the church that, instead of coming straight home, Sarah and Kirkland decided to drive around until she fell asleep in her car-seat, hoping that might calm her down faster than any attempts at soothing or reason.
Now that she was asleep, they were afraid to stop. So Kirkland merely continued driving while Sarah kept him company from the back-seat, soothingly stroking her daughter’s arm, the same way she had been doing for the past hour.
“So who do you believe?” Sarah wondered. “My mom, or your aunt?”
“Good thing we’re keeping it all in the family,” Kirkland smirked.
“Do we know any other way to do it in Bay City?” Sarah asked impulsively, then realized what it might sound like she was implying – and about whom, and promptly changed the subject. “So how are things going with you and Jasmine?”
“Speaking of keeping it in the family?” Kirkland needled.
“Shut up,” Sarah shook her head, pretending to be annoyed, but, in actuality, relieved that he hadn’t invoked a more close-to-home example. “Grant says the two of you are dating. He’s thrilled, by the way. He’s crazy about Jasmine.”
“She’s terrific,” Kirkland agreed.
“So, it’s… serious?”
“She’s also just turned seventeen. She’s a kid.”
Sarah winced. “I’m not really one to talk to about age differences.”
He caught her eye in the rearview mirror. “Guess not.”
“But, you like her? Right?”
“I like her a lot.”
“So why do I feel like we’re having two different conversations here?”
“I like her a lot,” he repeated. “I like her too much to stand by and watch her get messed up like all these girls I met at school. Girls who let guys treat them like crap because they just don’t know there’s any other way to be treated.”
“But, you’d never treat her like that.”
“No. I wouldn’t. Which isn’t to say I didn’t treat some of those girls the same way. I – It’s complicated.”
“Well, see, there you’re lucky. I really am one to talk to about complicated. So lay it on me.”
Kirkland considered her offer, then, figuring he had nothing to lose, confessed, “It’s not just the girls at school. It’s Charlie, too. I was her first and, well, look how messed up she is.”
“That, I think, had less to do with you, and more with crappy brain chemistry – not to mention a pretty rotten personality to begin with.”
“Yeah. But, I doubt I helped. Maybe if I’d treated her better, she wouldn’t have lost it over Zeno the way she did. And now this thing with Elizabeth. I can’t help thinking they’re both going to end up worse for wear from that one.”
“Again, less you, more their mutually rotten personalities.”
“Luckily, I know a lot more now than I did when I was dating Charlie. And more than I did back at school, too.”
“That would be when you – quote – got in touch with your inner Grant and cut a wide swath through the Notre Dame coeds – end quote?”
“Plus a couple of neighboring towns.”
“Now you’re just showing off.”
Kirkland grinned, followed by a sigh. “I can’t fix thing for Charlie, and I can’t make it up to those girls that I treated like crap. But, I can be a good first boyfriend for Jasmine. And maybe that will help make up for some of what I’ve done.”
“I hate to break it you, Loverboy, but maybe you don’t understand women quite as well as you think you do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, girls don’t exactly think in those terms: First boyfriend. Girls think every guy is a keeper. So how to do you plan not to stomp on Jasmine’s heart, if you see this as just a – what? – training wheels relationship?”
“Not training wheels. I want her first relationship to be a good one. So she doesn’t end up stuck in a bad one from not knowing any better.”
“You still haven’t answered how dumping her down the line fits into that equation.”
“I’m not going to dump her,” Kirkland assured. “Eventually, she’s going to dump me. It’s got to happen. Nobody ends up long-term with the person they fell in love with when they were seventeen. She’ll mature and she’ll outgrow me. And then we can go back to just being friends again. It’s going to work. You’ll see.”
“How is she?” Russ bounced out of his chair as soon as Morgan stepped into the waiting area.
He looked from Russ to Jamie to Dennis to Marley. He was still looking at her when he said, “Olivia lost the baby.”
Marley gasped. While Russ whipped around and demanded, “Are you happy now?”
“Hey!” Dennis held out a protective hand, as if Russ had physically attacked Marley. “Lay off!”
“I bet you’re happy,” Russ next accused Jamie. “You never wanted to take responsibility for this baby, well, now all your problems are over.”
Jamie didn’t say anything to that. He simply asked Morgan, “Is Olivia okay?”
“Physically,” Morgan consoled himself by reminding that he was telling the complete, medical truth. “Yeah. No extreme hemorrhaging, so no severe blood loss. We didn’t need to do a transfusion. I also checked her for fractured bones, hemotomas, contusions. She’s fine.”
“Thank God,” Russ spat.
“I bet she’s really broken up about it, though,” Dennis mused. “She really wanted this baby.”
Marley looked at him strangely. “How do you know?”
“She told me,” he covered easily. Since, like Marley, he also was telling the truth. “She told me how she planned not to make the same mistakes with this baby that she did with Sarah. Starting with,” he looked to Jamie. “Picking the right father.”
“Well, she was wrong there, again,” Russ dismissed, sickened. He looked from Dennis to Jamie. “You two both disgust me. I know my daughter is no angel, alright? I know how Olivia can be. But, still, there is no excuse for the way the two of you treated her.”
“Would you like to see her, Russ?” Morgan offered.
“Yes,” he said, without taking his eyes off Jamie. “But, I want him to go in first. I want him to face Olivia, see all the pain he’s caused. And you,” he turned to Marley. “You’re next.”
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