“Iris?” Rachel repeated. “Iris was behind Dennis and Daisy’s kidnapping?”
“Iris and Olivia,” Russ was forced to admit, wincing as he did so. He sat on Rachel’s couch, head in his hands, having turned up there because, honestly, he could think of nowhere else to go.
His ex-wife settled down to him, squeezing Russ’ shoulders sympathetically. “I should have known.”
“We all should have, I suppose.”
“Someone like Iris can’t change. Not for anyone.”
Russ looked at her queerly. “That’s an odd thing for you to say.”
But Rachel paid him no mind, instead asking, “How can I help you now?”
“Well, to start, you might tell me what the hell I should do next.”
It was Rachel’s turn to study him queerly. “What do you mean? The choice is obvious. You need to leave Iris immediately, and put that part of your life behind you. For good, this time.”
“After everything she’s done, how can you not?”
“What about everything Carl’s done?”
“Carl,” Rachel bristled, reminding, “Is dead.”
Russ made a vague, waving gesture with his arm. “Before that. The man made you believe your own children were dead, and still, you took him back with open arms.”
“That was completely different.”
“How?” he demanded incredulously.
“Iris was being… Iris. She was manipulating Dennis and Marley because she didn’t approve of their relationship. She was petty and spiteful and, as always, selfish down to the core. Carl was fighting for his life.”
“Might you have anyone’s word for that save his?”
“The compound – which your wife was a part of, by the way; I haven’t forgotten – they were after all of us. It’s why he took Elizabeth and Cory – “
“And Lorna, too?”
“Surely, you’re not thinking of forgiving Iris?” Rachel changed the subject.
But Russ stuck to his guns. “You forgave Carl. Over and over and over again. And you harangued the rest of us for being unable to do the same. You swore that all of his past offenses were water under the bridge now that you’d shown him the error of his ways. You lectured us non-believers about the redemptive power of love.”
“Carl wanted to change. Iris doesn’t.”
“Maybe she’s never been given the chance.”
“Mac gave her plenty of chances,” Rachel seethed. “Chance after chance after chance. And she let him down. Every. Single. Time.”
“So did Carl, where you were concerned. But you never gave up on him. Maybe that’s all Iris needs. To know that someone is in her corner, no matter what. She’s never believed that, you know. She’s always on the look-out for that next betrayal. Trying to stick it to them first, before they stick it to her. Maybe all Iris has needed all along was for someone to have unconditional faith in her, the way you did in Carl. What do you think, Rachel?”
“I think you’re living in a fantasy world.
Russ coolly looked his ex-wife up and down, and asked, “Room for one more?”
“Sit down, Charlie, we’re going to talk,” Cass informed his daughter once she’d finally deigned to come out of her room. Perhaps looking for a new, picturesque location from which to sulk? Cass pointed firmly at a chair, and wouldn’t look up until Charlie, albeit grudgingly, did as he’d commanded.
She shot Frankie a pleading look, waiting for her mom to play Good Cop to Cass’ Bad. But that didn’t appear to be the game of the hour.
“Are you planning on getting an abortion?” Cass asked, peering down at Charlie from above, arms crossed.
“That’s none of your business,” she snapped, happy that the conversation seemed to be heading down a familiar trail.
“You’re running out of time,” Cass noted. “A few more weeks, and it will be too late. The decision will be taken out of your hands.”
Charlie shrugged, seemingly indifferent.
“You have to decide.” Frankie lifted her daughter’s chin and forced Charlie to look at her. “We’ll support you, either way, but burying your head in the sand isn’t an option.”
“Probably not,” Charlie mumbled.
“Probably not, what, Charlotte?”
“I probably won’t have the abortion. There,” she spat at Cass. “Are you happy?”
“I thought you were against me getting one,” she turned to Frankie.
“What I was against, was your cavalier attitude. You’re acting like this is some homework assignment we’re forcing you to do, or a college we’re making you apply to. We are talking about a baby. A child. A lifelong commitment.”
“Well, even if I have it, I don’t have to be the one to raise it, do I? Look at Allie!”
“Are you thinking of giving the baby up for adoption?”
“Maybe,” Charlie hedged. “But not to total strangers, like Allie did. I was thinking, more like, you know, you guys and Lori Ann.”
“What does that mean?” Frankie began.
But Cass cut her off to say, “We are not raising your baby for you, Charlie.”
“Oh. So you’ll do it for Felicia’s grandkid, but when it comes to your own – “
“There was no other option with Lori Ann. Jenna was dead.”
“That situation had nothing to do with this one. Not to mention the fact that it was years ago. Your mother and I were younger then, and we didn’t yet know the full extent of Lori Ann’s special needs, or the kind of work and commitment that they would require from us. Now that we do, we know that we do not have the time nor the energy to take on another child at this stage in our lives.”
“Figures. I come last. Again.”
“Wrong,” Cass corrected, pulling up a chair so he could look Charlie in the eye. “The exact opposite, actually. I put you first. Always. I thought I was doing the right thing. But, in the end, it looks like all I taught you was that yours are the only feelings that matter. Well, now it’s your turn to pay it forward. Stop thinking about Charlie, for a change, and think about your baby. Because its future is in your hands. And, right now, to tell you truth, it deserves better.”
“If you came here with yet another complaint,” Olivia attempted to shut her apartment door in Dennis’ face. “You can leave it in a box outside the door. As you may have noticed, you aren’t the first.”
“May I please come in, Olivia?” Dennis sighed tiredly, sticking his foot out to keep her from finishing her action.
“What’s with the boarding school manners, all of a sudden?”
“Please,” he repeated.
“Are you going to hit me?” She inquired cautiously through the crack.
“Have I ever hit you?”
“Bet you’ve wanted to a bunch of times.”
“That’s not what you asked.”
“Fine,” Olivia flung open the door with exaggerated courtesy. “Come in.”
“What do you want?”
“I told Marley. About you and Mom being behind everything.”
“She want to hit me?”
“Okay. I can take her.”
“I apologized to Marley for thinking that she might have been responsible. I begged her to forgive me. But, she wouldn’t.”
“Give her some time. We’ve all seen this dance before. Change partners as much as you want, you two always end up back together in the end.”
“It’s different, this time. This time… This time, Marley said the reason she wouldn’t take me back is because… because… it’s because she thinks I’m not in love with her. That I’m in love with you.”
Olivia hooted with laughter. “Boy, talk about barking up the wrong ex!”
“Is she right?” Dennis wanted to know.
“Are you asking me?”
“You thought you could make me fall in love with you.”
“Yeah. When I was literally the last woman on Earth, as far as you were concerned.”
“What if you did?”
“Made me fall in love with you?”
“Or, what if, I’ve been in love with you along?”
“Then you sure have a funny way of showing it.”
“How’s this for a demo?” Dennis wondered, and swept Olivia in for a kiss.
“I was waiting for you to stop by,” Doug said when he spied Zeno on his doorstep.
“Well, Frankie did say she was going to tell me. And Frankie always keeps her word.”
“Come on in,” Doug beckoned the boy inside. “It’s cold out.”
Zeno looked around. “Where are your… other kids?”
“School. The museum is closed today, so I was doing some work from home. Do you like art?” Doug wondered.
“Not particularly.” Unsure of what he should say next, Zeno defaulted to a social nicety. “I – I never got the chance to say before,” he indicated a family photo, Doug, Milagros, Ike, and Chase, on the wall. “Sorry for your loss.”
“He was a good guy. He helped me out a lot. I used to wonder why. Now, I guess…”
“Chase’s stance was that he loved me. So how could he not love you, too?”
“Maybe he should’ve asked you for advice about that.” The snark came out instinctively, but Zeno was glad it had. At least there would be no more tiptoeing.
“It’s how your mother wanted it,” Doug advised gently.
“I used to ask about my dad. She’d never tell me anything. I knew it wasn’t some sperm-donor stranger. I knew it was somebody she was friends with. All she’d say was that you were kind, and smart, and really, really good looking.”
“As are you,” Doug offered.
“I look like my mom.”
“Exactly,” Doug said. “She was kind and smart, as well.”
“Didn’t you ever even want to see me?” Zeno exploded. “I mean, we lived, like, one town over?”
“No,” Doug told him honestly. “As far as I was concerned, you were Orly’s child. Orly’s and Orly’s alone.”
“How convenient for you,” Zeno spat. “My mom died when I was still in high-school. Mary – I mean, Frankie – was gone. I had the farm to take care of, the people on it, the people who counted on what we grew, and I was all alone. Did you ever think that maybe I could have used a dad?”
“My father gave you money. Chase helped legally. You were being looked after, Zeno. But I am not your dad. And I never will be.”
“There you are, Matthew,” Rachel greeted her son as he was coming down the stairs and she was rounding the corner to the study, arms full of boxed Christmas decorations. “Just the man I was looking for. Could you help me bring the rest of the ornaments out of the basement? I’m having the tree delivered this afternoon.”
Matt hesitated, checked his watch, then nodded briskly. “Sure.” He turned towards the bottom of the house.
Rachel followed, wondering, “Are you headed somewhere? Am I holding you up?”
“The airport,” Matt confessed.
“The airport? Where could you possibly be traveling so close to Christmas?”
“Actually, Mom, Donna and I aren’t going to be here for Christmas, this year.”
“What are you talking about? What – what about Jasmine?”
“She spent Thanksgiving with us. She’s cool.”
“What about… me?”
Matt looked around uncomfortably, burying himself in the task of picking up stray tinsel and sticking it in a box, avoiding Rachel’s eyes as he said, “Something came up. It was kind of last minute.”
“Can’t it wait a few days?”
“It’s pretty urgent business.”
“Business?” Rachel scoffed. “What about family?”
“Family business,” Matt amended.
“This is about Donna, isn’t it? She’s making you choose between your family and – “
“Donna is my family, too,” he reminded gently.
“I am well aware of that. It’s why I allowed her to live in this house. My house.”
“I need you to be here for Christmas, Matthew,” Rachel’s voice softened. “I – it’s… Carl is gone. Jamie and Amanda are being difficult, and Cory and Elizabeth are… well, they both have their own concerns at the moment. You’re the only child I can count on.”
“I’m sorry.” He straightened up, no longer avoiding her eyes, taking full responsibility for his stance.
“I need you,” she repeated. “Please. You are the only one I have left.”
“Not this year,” he said firmly. Then, unable to stop himself, added, “And by next year, you and Jamie will have patched everything up, like you always do. And you won’t even be giving me a second thought.”
“We have something to tell you,” Kirkland informed Grant.
Though his father hardly needed to be drawn a picture. The boy was standing there, holding Sarah’s hand. And she was looking at him like… She was looking at Kirkland the way she used to look at Grant.
That told him everything he needed to know.
Still, he was gracious. Mostly because Lila had warned him to be – or else.
He invited them both into the apartment he was renting – seeing as how his own home was now occupied.
“What is it?” Grant asked with a tired sigh, bracing himself.
Though Kirkland had been the one doing the talking up to this point, it was Sarah who burst out with a triumphant, “I love Kirkland.” And then, quieter, as if she couldn’t quite believe it herself
yet, she added, “And he loves me, too.”
“Marvelous,” Grant drawled. “Thank you for the relationship status update. Now I have no need to check Facebook.”
“And there is nothing you can do about it,” Sarah continued.
“Apparently not,” he agreed pleasantly.
“And nothing that you will be able to do about it, either,” Kirkland warned, sans Sarah’s enthusiasm.
“Listen, Grant,” Kirkland took a menacing step forward. The action was so unlike him, that Grant instinctively – and much to his own surprise – found himself recoiling “The reason we’re both here today is to make it clear that this isn’t going to be a rerun of you, Mom, and Ryan. I have no interest in taking Daisy away from you. You are her dad, and she deserves to know that. But, you try pulling any – and I mean any – of the stunts you did with Mom on us – or any new ones; I don’t want to hear you law-degreeing your way out of this one – and here is what’s going to happen: Sarah, Daisy and I will pick up, and we’ll leave, and we’ll go somewhere where you will never find us. And you won’t just have lost your daughter, you’ll have lost your son, too. Do you understand?”
“You look like him,” Grant blurted out.
“Ryan. You’ve always looked a little like Ryan. There were times when I would wonder if… But, no, I had the tests run a half-dozen times. And then, when I donated blood to you a few years ago…. You’re my son. Sorry about that, but it’s the incontrovertible proof. You’ve always looked a little like Ryan, though. At least, that’s who I see when I look at you. I guess it’s because we don’t really see ourselves, right? Maybe both you and him look like Justine, I don’t know. But, I see so much of him in you.”
“So?” Kirkland asked, unsure of where this was going.
“I loved him,” Grant said. “And I love you. But, I couldn’t forgive Ryan for loving Vicky. Or, maybe, I couldn’t forgive Vicky for loving him and not me.”
“I wanted to love you,” Sarah said softly. “I wanted to love you forever. But you – “
“Made that impossible, I know. So now you love my son. The younger, taller, better version of me. Just like my brother was once.”
“And we all know what happened to him,” Sarah snapped, clutching Kirkland protectively around the arm.
“I loved my brother,” Grant repeated patiently. “And I love Daisy, and I love you, son. I’ve learned my lesson. You have my word, what happened with your mother and Ryan and me – it won’t happen here. I don’t want to lose Daisy. Or you. This time, everything is going to be different.”
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