“I know you, Rachel. The only reason you were able to survive the lean years without Jamie adoring you unconditionally – the ones where he dared live his own life with a woman he loved; whether or not you approved – was because you’d trained Carl to fill the same role. But now both are gone. And you’ve got a vacancy to fill. Well,” Donna leaned over to make sure Rachel heard every word. “Not with my husband.”
Her mother-in-law declined to so much as flinch at the accusation. Instead, she asked politely, “Not feeling up to the competition?”
Donna pretended she hadn’t heard, sticking to her original point. “You may have magnanimously bestowed the title of Favorite Son on Matthew now that Jamie’s finally found the balls to walk away, but, he’ll come crawling back. He always comes crawling back. Especially once you’ve cried your crocodile tears and made him feel guilty for daring to put his wife ahead of his mother. You go ahead and keep playing your games with Jamie. But, I won’t let you treat Matthew in the same manner. He deserves better than to be second choice.”
“You mean like he was with you?”
“Matthew has never – “
“Michael,” Rachel said calmly. “Michael always came first with you. Don’t talk to me, Donna, about jerking Matt around.”
“He deserves better than to be your back-up consort.”
“Exactly what I’ve always said to him about you.”
“I love my husband.”
“I love my son. And I am not the one making him choose between the two of us.”
“I’d say that’s exactly what you’re doing.”
“How?” Rachel challenged. “How have I tried to come between the two of you, exactly? I allowed you to live in my house. How many women, do you think, would have been so generous as to let their husband’s ex-wife move in? Especially after what you did to Carl regarding Jenna?”
Donna said, “Carl kidnapped your children and let you think they were dead for three years. Your son is currently in jail for trying to kill him. And you still can’t see why I had to keep Jenna away from Carl at all costs?”
Now it was Rachel’s turn to pretend she hadn’t heard and stick to the original point. “I have not said a word against you to Matt since the day I found out you two were secretly married. I’ve accepted you as a part of his life. As a part of all our lives.”
“The way you accepted Lorna? Lovely. Should I expect to be snatched next?”
“Carl is no threat to you. Carl will never be a threat to anyone ever again.”
“You say that as if you’re sorry about it.”
“My husband is in jail! Of course I’m sorry about it.”
“You just can’t do it, can you? You just cannot admit – to me or to yourself – that your grand plan to reform Carl and turn him into an upstanding Bay City citizen has been an appalling failure, and resulted in a swath of death and destruction sweeping through not just your family, but a dozen others. This is what happens when you blind yourself to a man’s true nature and attempt to tame an essentially rabid dog, albeit with a much better vocabulary and fabulous taste in art and wine.”
“Are you finished? Have you said your piece?”
“Oh, I’m just getting started! I’m not Jamie. I’m not afraid to tell you what I really think in fear of offending your delicate sensibilities. And I’m not Carl, telling you what you want to hear, then wreaking havoc far and wide and leaving you to desperately conjure up excuses. Anything I have to do or say, Rachel, I’ll do and say it to your face, not behind your back. Matthew isn’t Carl or Jamie, either. Don’t you dare turn him into your lap-dog. You think you’ve seen me at my worst? Rest assured, you have not. I will fight you for Matthew, and I will fight dirty, should the occasion present itself. I will do anything necessary to protect my husband from you version of maternal love. And I will win. Because, unlike you, who has other children waiting in the wings, I’ve got no one else left except for Matthew. And I will die before I lose him.”
Rachel shrugged, sinking back down into her pillows, closing her eyes. “Suit yourself, Donna….”
“How would you like to be the new District Attorney?” Eduardo asked Cass, who’d only been expecting to be told whether or not the Justice Department had agreed to reinstate Cass’ law license.
“I’m sorry… What?”
Eduardo said, “The current man quit. A fear of prosecuting Carl Hutchins, I am told. I was asked to step in, but my experience is purely legislative, not courtroom. I thought you might wish to take the job.”
“I…” Cass stammered, caught completely off-guard. “I’ve only been a defense…”
“Chase once told me that defense attorneys make the best prosecutors. They can anticipate the opposition’s tricks.”
“You thought I might want to take on Carl Hutchins?”
“What better way to insure your younger daughter never ends up in his clutches?”
“Leave Lori Ann out of this,” Cass snapped.
“I apologize.” Eduardo instantly realized he’d been barking up the wrong tree and smoothly changed tactics. “I did not wish to interfere in your private family business. My offer still stands, however. Considering your long history in Bay City, I thought you might be the perfect man for the job.”
“You mean because, at one time or another, I’ve defended practically everyone here, I might as well take a crack at prosecuting them?”
“I also thought, due to your own experience behind bars, you might express more empathy towards the accused, perhaps allow for shorter sentences in some cases, longer in others. You are in a very unique position to do a great deal of good for both sides of the aisle.”
“So I’ve got my license back?” Cass double-checked before they went any further.
Eduardo slid a manila envelope across the table towards Cass. “With the Justice Department’s most sincere thanks.”
“I didn’t end up doing all that much.”
“Carl Hutchins is behind bars and finally likely to stay that way for a substantial amount of time. That is all that matters.”
“I gather when you spoke about my empathy leading to reduced sentences, you didn’t mean him?”
Eduardo smiled thinly. “I leave that to your discretion.”
Cass smirked. “I doubt that.”
The older man bobbed his head to concede Cass’ point. “Rest assured, the Justice Department will be filing a Friend of the Court brief expressing our views on Mr. Hutchins’ preferred term in prison.”
“Will the word rot be making an appearance?”
“Quite possible, yes. So may I tell my colleagues you will be accepting the job?”
Cass hesitated. “I need to speak to my wife, first….”
“Of course.” Eduardo stood, looking as if the matter had been decided, nevertheless. “I shall be expecting your call.”
“You signed it.” Cory couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice as, in a private room at the police station, he studied the document that would allow Cory to get out of jail – while keeping Carl there indefinitely.
“I gave your mother my word.”
A muscle in Cory’s cheek twitched at that, but he didn’t say anything.
“Now do you believe, son, that I am truly interested in making amends for my actions, some of which, I comprehend now, caused you a great deal of pain?”
“The thought never crossed your mind when you kidnapped Elizabeth and I from our mother and our home?”
“I was doing what I believed best at the time.”
“Best for you,” Cory qualified.
“If you are waiting for me to prostrate myself on your altar of self-righteousness, I am afraid you have a long sojourn ahead of you,” Carl snapped, his patience at an end.
Cory smiled a little at that. “There you are. For a moment I actually thought the mighty Carl Hutchins might have truly been beaten.”
“Never,” his father assured with a lifetime of conviction.
“Chase Hamilton set up this deal,” Cory noted. “To drop the charges against me.”
“He did it in order to railroad me. It was hardly a charitable gesture.”
“Chase told me his father was a career criminal, too. Penny ante stuff, though. Welfare fraud, mostly. Whatever money he made, he gambled away.”
“Kindly refrain from placing me in a category alongside generic miscreants and others of Hamilton pare’s ilk.”
“Sorry. I forgot. You’re a much higher class of criminal.”
“And I bid you never forget it,” Carl said, barely able to suppress a smile in mirror to Cory’s expression.
Cory sighed, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if….”
… If this moment weren’t taking place in a police station.
… If Carl had made some different choices in life.
…. If Cory hadn’t felt so backed into a corner.
…. If… If… If….
“Yes,” Carl understood exactly what his son was saying. “It would have been very nice, indeed.”
“Am I… interrupting something,” Lila asked cautiously, not sure what she was afraid of more, finding Morgan elbow deep in a surgical patient… or Amanda.
As it turned out, he was merely doing paperwork, and seemed happy for the interruption. Or maybe he was just happy to see Lila. Based on their last few whiplash encounters, she obviously was incapable of reading the man accurately.
“Nothing interesting,” Morgan smiled, shoving said paperwork to the side of his desk so that he could focus exclusively on Lila. “What’s up?”
Excellent question, Doctor. Lila wished she knew the answer to it herself.
“I was just in the neighborhood,” she began, hearing how lame she already sounded.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Morgan agreed, prompting Lila to laugh. Why did she have such a weakness for men who made her laugh?
She blurted out, “You and Amanda….”
Morgan’s smile faded. Was that a good or a bad sign? And when would Lila stop asking herself questions and come up with an answer or two?
“Is there…” she soldiered on. “A…you and… Amanda?”
Now Morgan was the one stumped by a question. She couldn’t tell if he was angry about what he’d been asked, or by who’d asked it. All she knew was, he was definitely angry about… something.
“What difference would it make to you?” Morgan snapped, much harsher than Lila thought the situation warranted.
“None,” she replied defensively. “But, see, Kevin…”
“Amanda and I aren’t any of Kevin’s business, either. Aren’t those divorce papers supposed to be coming through any day now?”
“Actually, they have. And Amanda signed them. She and Kevin are divorced.”
“Amanda gave Kevin the impression that the two of you were together.”
“And he sent you over here to spy on me?”
“No!” How had they managed to get so far off course so quickly? “Kevin thought there was something… odd going on.”
“You mean that a guy should be so invested in who his ex-wife is dating? Yeah, that is odd.”
“So you are dating?” When Morgan took a long time answering, Lila added, “It wasn’t meant to be a stumper.”
He smiled, anger dissipating away as quickly as it had come on. “It’s good to see you, Lila.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Morgan.”
“But, you’d better go.” He stood up abruptly, circled his desk and all but bodily hauled her to
Her eyes narrowed. “Something is going on, isn’t it?”
“Between me and Amanda? Yeah, sure. Of course, it is.”
“No,” Lila cocked her head to one side, studying him closely until Morgan was practically squirming. “Something else….”
“So Rachel, what, disowned Jamie?” Felicia asked as she and Lorna stood side by side at the playground, Felicia pushing Devon on the swing while Lorna did the same with Zee.
“Well, no. First she gave him the chance to grovel back into her good graces if only he’d admit that Carl’s current incarcerated state is all Jamie’s – or rather, my – fault.”
Felicia cautiously gave Devon’s swing another tap with her palms – making sure to keep her manicure safe from any wear and tear – before admitting, “I don’t know what’s come over Rachel. I understand that she loves Carl. I even respect it. Grudgingly, but I respect it. Who am I, after all, to judge? My choices in men haven’t exactly been stellar through the years.”
“Neither have mine.” Lorna winced. “And they both included Carl.”
The women exchanged glances, followed by tacit, silent agreement to sidestep that uncomfortable reality, and quickly.
“Carl,” Lorna said. “Can really do a number on a woman’s head.”
“To the point where she loses all touch with reality?”
Lorna shrugged. “Apparently so.”
“How is Jamie handling all this?”
“He’s… relieved,” Lorna relayed what her husband had told her. “He said he spent his whole life kicking himself for never being able to make Rachel happy. Now that he knows that’s impossible, he says he’s… relieved.”
“Sounds like there’s a bit of self-convincing going on.”
Lorna shrugged. “I’m staying out of it. She’s Jamie’s mother. I’m going to keep my mouth shut and follow his lead.”
“That,” Felicia observed. “Doesn’t sound even a little bit like you.”
“When it comes to dealing with difficult mothers, my strategy has always been to deny and avoid for as long as possible.”
“Ah, yes, that does sound familiar.” Felicia said. “Though I’m sure I haven’t the foggiest idea which difficult mother you could possibly mean.”
“I, personally, would like to wrap my hands around the woman’s neck and squeeze the life out of her,” Lorna offered honestly, though quietly. No reason for the kids to hear. “I lost three years with my family because Carl is great in bed.”
Another exchanged look. Another agreement not to compare notes.
Felicia asked, “Would you like me to talk to her?”
“You sound absolutely thrilled by the possibility.”
“For you,” Felicia said firmly. “Anything.”
“You and Rachel are friends.”
“You come first,” Felicia said. “No ifs, ands or buts.” She considered, “You know, when my life was spiraling out of control, Rachel threw me an intervention. Maybe….”
“We wanted you to join Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t think they have a detox program for Carl.”
“Well, there’s certainly enough of us around to start one,” Felicia joked. Then added sincerely, “Whatever you need, I’m here for you. Tell me that you know that.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Lorna said. Then, lest the moment turn more mawkish than she was prepared to deal with, Lorna changed the subject. “Have you seen Dad recently?” She lifted Zee out of the swing and set her down on the ground, thus allowing Lorna to avoid Felicia’s eyes. And vice-versa.
Which her mother most definitely chose to do. “Lucas?” As if Lorna had several fathers to choose from. “I can’t say that I have, no…”
“Speaking of denying and avoiding, how long are you two going to keep pretending you don’t live on the same continent, much less in the same town?”
Felicia busied herself with getting Devon out of her own swing. The child was wearing so many necklaces, it was a challenge not to get the two of them tangled in jewelry. “Your father walked out on me,” she reminded. “He said it hurt him to be around me.” The slight catch in Felicia’s voice made it clear how much the confession still hurt her, even years later.
“That was right after I was sick. You guys went through a lot. Too much. You were both still raw and hurting. Shouldn’t those wounds have healed by now?”
“When I was hurting, I wanted to turn to your father. He’s the one who decided to turn away.”
“The way he tells it, you were willing to turn to anyone but him: Cass, Morgan….”
“Because Lucas wasn’t there!” Felicia shouted, a bit too dramatically for the playground. But, this was Bay City. They were used to her, here.
“Look, I don’t mean to get all self-centered kid who thinks Mom and Dad split up over her but, let’s face it, in this case, you did.”
“Obviously, Alice Frame was more of what your father was looking for.”
“Dad and Alice stopped seeing each other over a year ago. Same as you and Eduardo.”
“What? I was supposed to sit around, waiting for my phone to ring?”
“Phones work both ways,” Lorna reminded. “You could call Dad.”
Lorna could think of a million reasons. She settled on, “So that the girls can have one set of grandparents who are on speaking terms with us – and each other.”
“You are running a little low on those,” Felicia concurred.
“So.” Lorna asked, “For the girls?”
Felicia sighed, making a big gesture of how she was acting against her will, but there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her children. “For the girls….”
“Olivia! Wait! Wait up! What’s going on?” Dennis chased his ex up the beach, still stunned to have found her on the island, much less in a frenzy about Daisy’s well-being.
She didn’t so much as look back, running towards the house, flinging open the door and calling, “Daisy? Daisy, where are you?”
Breathing heavily – when had he gotten so out of shape? So old? – Dennis followed Olivia from room to room, trying to calm her down, telling her, “She’s got to be around here somewhere. Where would she go? I’ve been trying to find a way off and – “
“He’s got her,” Olivia repeated over and over again. “He’s got her.” She told Dennis, “I should have kept my mouth shut. When I found out, I should have just minded my own business. That’s always been my problem, hasn’t it? Sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong?”
“No,” Dennis wasn’t sure what she was asking or even what she was talking about. “Yes,” he corrected, when the first answer obviously proved to be the wrong one.
“He had his reasons for wanting to stay below the radar, and I should have respected them. But, I was worried about Daisy and – “
“You think Daisy is gone?” Dennis incredulously. “How?”
“The same way we got here. The same way you’ve gotten food and clean laundry and all those toys for her. Have you seen a single soul except for Daisy?”
“That’s how!” Olivia smacked him on the side of the head.
“What are you talking about?” He rubbed the sore spot, offended. “Who are you talking about?”
Olivia took a deep breath, centering herself, calming down through sheer force of will. She looked Dennis in the eye and she told him. “I found out he’d faked his death. I confronted him about it. For Sarah’s sake. I’m still her mother. I still care about her. And now I’m here. I guess it’s true what they say, no good deed goes unpunished.”
“Who?” Dennis repeated, although, deep down, he already knew. How could he not?
“Grant,” Olivia said.
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