At the sound of Rachel’s scream, Jamie dropped the jacket he’d been in the process of putting on and rushed to her side.
His mother was standing in the foyer, clutching the phone so tightly her knuckles had turned white, while her face flushed a furious scarlet. Her mouth was still open, though no more sound was coming out. She turned to Jamie, eyes wide.
He attempted to take the receiver from her in order to figure out what was going on, but Rachel glared at him furiously and yanked her arm back. Jamie retreated, not wishing to upset her further.
She returned the phone to her ear, nodding a few times despite the fact that the person on the other end obviously couldn’t hear her, then regaining her voice long enough to croak out, “I’ll be right there.”
She hung up, standing still for a moment, as if holding on to the table was the only thing keeping her upright.
Jamie waited for her to say something. When she didn’t, he ventured carefully, “Mom?”
“Carl’s dead,” she spat bitterly, not looking at him.
“They don’t know,” Rachel put a sarcastic spin on the last word, her high opinion of the Bay City Corrections System acrimoniously audible. “They’re still looking into it.”
“Do you intend to drive up to the prison tonight?”
Rachel nodded, as if that mere act were taking up the last of her strength.
“Let me take you. You’re in no shape to drive.”
She didn’t argue. Shaking with shock, Rachel was choosing her battles.
“Do you want me to call anybody to come with us? Felicia, maybe?”
“Felicia has been waiting decades to dance on Carl’s grave. She can wait a few hours longer.”
“I meant as a friend.”
“My friends,” Rachel snorted. “My friends hated my husband. Almost as much as my children did.”
Jamie ignored the last barb, gently leading his mother through the hall, into the driveway and towards his car. He opened the door for Rachel and fastened her seatbelt when she appeared too indifferent to bother.
He slipped into the driver’s side and started the engine. He opened his mouth to say something, but a fierce look from Rachel changed his mind. Instead, he did his best to offer her a reassuring smile as he turned towards the main road.
Rachel deliberately swiveled her head and stared out the window.
“Do you agree with Frankie?” Allie asked Zeno once his former stepmother had left. “Do you think GQ raped me
because I was too drunk to know any better?”
He hesitated. “What do you think?”
“I think he didn’t. But Frankie insists I’m just too stupid to realize it.”
“I think you knew exactly what you were doing.”
“Frankie said I’ve been brainwashed by a patriarchal society into accepting the blame for everything.”
“I know the drill,” Zeno said. “I heard it all the time growing up. My mom never bought into it. She said it infantalized women and turned them into victims without any agency of their own. My mom wasn’t into victim-hood.”
“Frankie seems so sure.”
“Frankie is trying to protect me.”
“She says I owe it to you.”
“To do what? Lie?”
“I’m done with lying,” Allie said. “All my life, lies were all I ever heard. It’s all people in Bay City know how to do. So I went along with it. I thought it would make things better. But it just made them worse. That’s why I was straight with you about what happened with GQ.”
“No,” Zeno corrected. “You didn’t lie because it was all you knew how to do. You lied because people constantly let you get away with it. You lied about Hudson’s real father, and everybody patted you on the head and said they understood. You lied about Gregory, and people called you heroine. I’m not judging what you did. You helped Gregory die the way he wanted to, and you had your reasons for keeping Hudson away from GQ. But you lied because you thought you could get away with it and make your life easier. You only came clean after you were caught.”
“Not about sleeping with GQ,” Allie stressed. “I told you the truth right away.”
“Except now, you want to change it.”
“I don’t,” she swore. “But, if you asked me to….”
“No way in hell would I ever ask you to do something like that.”
“Good,” Allie said. Then winced, “Will you explain it to Frankie?”
“This is none of Frankie’s business. She only got involved because she saw I was upset.”
“Not going to cut it,” Zeno snapped.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
Then he got up and left, without so much as looking Allie’s way.
“You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you?” Olivia challenged after having come home with Iris to tell her father she was back, and Russ’ obviously unprepared reaction.
Now she sat in his living room, Iris discreetly hovering upstairs and, fighting back tears of part laughter, part disbelief, pressed, “I was missing for weeks, and my own father didn’t even realize it!”
“I called you several times,” Russ attempted to defend weakly. “But you don’t always return messages in… the most timely manner.”
“You weren’t worried?”
“You always get back to me eventually.”
“It was weeks, Daddy!” She sighed, “I’m guessing Sarah wasn’t too concerned, either?”
“Sarah’s had a lot on her mind.”
“Yes. Grant. I heard he was back.”
“And it seems that she is now dating Kirkland, as well…”
Olivia barked a laugh. “My God, she’s worse than me!”
“Her life has been very complicated lately.”
“Some girls would turn to their mothers.”
“Some mothers wouldn’t make a habit of dropping out of touch for months at a time,” Russ noted pointedly.
“Touché,” she groaned, flopping backwards into the depth of the couch. “You know, Daddy, I still think Grant was behind my disappearance.”
Russ’ eyes narrowed. “I thought you said you just found out about him being alive from Iris and Marley?”
“I – “
“But then – wait a minute, wait a minute, Iris filled me in – you told Dennis you thought Grant was behind your disappearance because you’d learned he was alive and threatened to tell Sarah.” He turned to face his daughter, that old familiar expression of mistrust on his face. “What, exactly, are you up to, Olivia?”
“Grant and Lila?” Kirkland double-checked in disbelief.
“That’s what Jazz said,” Sarah confirmed.
“Poor kid. She’s going to need serious brain bleach to scrub that image out of her head.”
“I’m not thrilled about it either.”
“Are you jealous?” Kirkland wanted to know.
“Of course, I am! One minute the guy is practically down on his knees, swearing his undying love and devotion to me, and how everything he did was for my own benefit, and the next he’s happily screwing his BFF like I never existed.”
“Well, you did tell him to get lost.”
“Not in Lila’s bed!”
“You want him back.” It was a question. Kind of.
“You just don’t want him with Lila.”
“Or any other woman on the planet.”
He grinned. “Glad you’ve left his Martian options open.”
“Couldn’t he have shown me a little respect?”
“Well, you did tell him you and I – “
“I thought Grant was dead. And anyway, I didn’t really do anything, I was just messing with him.”
“He probably thought what was good for the goose…”
“I see your father as more of a peacock. And an ass.”
“You still care about him.”
“Does hate count as caring?”
“Actually, yes. It sure beats indifference.”
Sarah cocked her head to one side. “Want to make it real?”
“Excuse me?” Kirkland felt whip-lashed.
“What we told Grant about you and me. Want to make it, you know,” she reached a hand forward, slipping her fingers into his and pulling him closer. “Real?”
He let her lead him. But only up to a point. Once Kirkland’s face was only inches from her’s, Sarah’s lips all but brushing against his, he shook his head. “Not like this.”
“Oh, come on. We’ve done it before. And, if I remember correctly, it was pretty damn good, too.”
“It was great,” he agreed. “But I’ve already done the screw Grant bit. This time around, I was hoping for a little more…”
“What? Come on, you can tell me. I’m open-minded. Let your freak flag fly.”
“Love,” Kirkland said.
She frowned. “Excuse me.”
“You and I, we’ve already hooked up to get back at Grant. I’d really like it if, the next time, he wasn’t any part of the equation at all. I like you for you, Sarah. Is there any chance you could ever like me just for being me?”
“Wow. That’s – It’s – How very Frame of you.”
“Yeah. Turns out I wasn’t made for the Harrison approach to life. Hurting Jazz… That sucked. Guess love ‘em and leave ‘em just isn’t for me.”
“You… love… me?” Sarah spoke the word as if with an accent.
“I think I do,” Kirkland confessed, unashamed. “Watching how you handled Grant, when he was sick, and afterwards. And then how you dealt with Daisy’s disappearance. You’re an amazing person. I – I admire you.”
“That’s not love.”
“It could be. It feels like it is.”
“I like you, Kirk.”
“I don’t know what I would have done without you these past few months.”
“But that’s not love.”
“It’s okay. I get it. I don’t want to pressure you or back you into a corner. I just wanted you to understand why I wasn’t taking what you were offering. ‘Cause, see, I want a whole lot more.”
“Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.” Jamie hung up his cell-phone as he and Rachel cooled their heels outside the warden’s office, waiting for an explanation about what exactly had happened to Carl.
“Who was that?” his mother asked absently, more out of needing to make conversation than genuine curiosity. From going mute in the car, she’d abruptly changed gears and now was desperate to fill up the infinite silence.
He hesitated, then admitted. “Alice.”
That certainly got Rachel’s attention. She whipped her head around, glaring at him accusingly. “Why in the world would be calling her now?”
“I wanted to know if she could spare a couple of Spencer’s security guys to watch the house and keep an eye on Lorna and the girls.”
“Because,” he told her evenly. “I remember what happened the last time Carl died.”
Rachel recoiled as if Jamie had smacked her in the face. Except this was a thousand times worse.
“You’re not suggesting…”
He shrugged, refusing to back down. Not over something this important. “You told me you were in on it last time. You knew Carl was faking from the start, and he had your blessing to do it. So, you tell me, Mom.”
“My husband is dead.”
“How dare you?”
“Carl never struck me as the kind of man who’d be content to spend his golden years behind bars, paying his long-delayed debt to society.”
“You’re wrong. Why, just the last time I visited, Carl told me that he had dropped all of his appeals. For my sake. He didn’t want to put me through anymore pain. Oh, God,” Rachel moaned. “This is what he meant. This!”
At that moment, the warden’s door opened and he beckoned both Rachel and Jamie inside, unperturbed by her tears. He merely offered Rachel a box of tissues from his desk, and went straight into the customary condolences for her loss.
“What happened?” she demanded, furiously wiping her eyes and sitting up straighter, ready for battle.
“We’re not completely certain yet. There were no signs of foul play that we could see on the body.”
Rachel winced at his use of the word.
“And a preliminary medical examination didn’t reveal any obvious causes, such as heart attack or stroke, nor a clear method of suicide, such as hanging or exsanguination.”
Baffled, Rachel looked to Jamie for translation.
“Bleeding to death,” he explained. “Like if he’d cut his wrists or another major artery.” Jamie addressed the warden, “So you’ll be doing an autopsy?”
“Only if the family asks for one.” He glanced at Rachel.
“Oh, I definitely think we want one. This is all very mysterious. We need answers. But, first, we’d like to see the body. Wouldn’t we, Mom?”
“It’s so, so good to be back,” Dennis buried his face in Marley’s neck as they lay curled up in bed. “I was afraid I might never hold you in my arms again.”
“I was, too,” she admitted.
“You know,” he began tentatively. “What you saw with Olivia – “
“Was nothing,” Marley cut him off. Then clarified, “Olivia is nothing.”
Dennis wasn’t quite willing to go that far. Though he did amend, “Olivia means nothing to me.”
Marley only cared about one thing. “She said that Grant was behind what happened?”
“That was her guess, since she found out he wasn’t really dead and threatened to tell Sarah.”
Marley tapped her fingers on the blanket, thinking. “Okay, then I get why her, in that case. Seriously, does anyone need a reason to want to send Olivia to an uninhabited island? But what does that have to do with you?”
“Daisy,” he guessed. “Grant wanted Daisy, and she happened to be with me when he decided to snatch her.”
“Then why bring her back?”
“To get into Sarah’s good graces?”
“If Grant thinks scaring the life out of her is the optimum way to win Sarah back, he doesn’t know my daughter at all.”
“Oh, Grant doesn’t know anything. Not when it comes to women, at least. Maybe he was planning to play hero and return Daisy to Sarah, but something went wrong and he had to change his plans on the fly.”
“All I know is, Daisy is home with her mother, and I’m home with you. That’s the only thing that matters. Let Mom get to the bottom of this. You know she will.”
Marley quickly kissed Dennis, then slid out of bed, telling him, “I’m going to take a shower.” She dropped her robe and looked over her shoulder. “You’re welcome to join me.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Dennis winked.
He heard the water running in the en-suite bathroom and stretched lazily, trying to get his strength back for another go-around. Neither he nor Marley were as young as they used to be. But she seemed to be the only one not showing any ill-effects.
Dennis wondered if she might have any aspirin he could take prior to diving back in. He climbed out of bed and went to her vanity table, absentmindedly skimming the surface, then rifling through the drawers.
Only to come to a dead stop, mouth dropping open, by what he found there.
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