“Charlie!” Rachel exclaimed, flustered regarding how exactly she should be reacting to the girl who was dating her daughter – but pregnant by her son. Miss Manners hadn’t exactly covered the situation.
“May I come in, Mrs. Hutchins?” Charlie appeared strangely subdued.
“Of course.” She opened the door wider and shuttled her inside. “I’ll go get Elizabeth. Or,” Rachel hesitated. “Is it Cory you’re here to see?”
“Actually, it’s you I wanted to talk to.”
“Oh. I – Alright, then.” Rachel led Charlie to the parlor, remembering, apropos to nothing, the little girl in pigtails who used to come over and play, and the gangly adolescent who’d stood there so seriously at Cass and Lila’s wedding. She didn’t recognize either in the young woman who passed before her now.
Charlie settled gingerly on the couch that Rachel indicated and defensively blurted out, “I didn’t know Elizabeth was going to do… what she did, at Thanksgiving.”
“Were the two of you ever planning to tell anyone?” Rachel took the seat next to her, doing her best to just listen, and not judge.
“We kind of hadn’t decided that yet.”
“Because you were planning on getting an abortion?”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
Rachel struggled to suppress the spark of hope that leapt in her heart at Charlie’s announcement. “So you’ve decided to have the baby?”
“And raise it… with Elizabeth?”
“God, no. Can you imagine Elizabeth…”
“It is difficult to imagine,” Rachel conceded. She wondered, “Cory, then?”
“Cory doesn’t want a kid.”
“Well, his desires may not be relevant at this point. The child is his responsibility.”
“It’s my responsibility,” Charlie said before admitting, “But, I don’t want it, either.”
“So, what then….”
“Elizabeth told you about the baby because she thought you’d be happy to hear it was Mr. Hutchins’ grandchild.”
“It doesn’t make up for his loss,” Rachel said. “But it is wonderful. Carl was so looking forward to becoming a grandfather one day.”
“Do you want it? The baby, I mean? My parents – they don’t. They flat out told me so. They said they were too old and too busy to take on another kid. Because of Lori Ann. But, you…”
“You’d let me raise your baby?”
“Maybe,” Charlie hedged.
“I – I definitely want to be a part of its life.”
Charlie gestured in the direction of Rachel’s half-decorated holiday tree. “I’m not talking Christmas and birthdays and a couple of weekends babysitting. I’m talking the whole thing. You’d be, like, it’s mom, and I wouldn’t be in the picture all.”
“Charlie,” Rachel tried her best not to upset or spook her, no matter how much Rachel wanted to believe what Charlie was saying. “The baby isn’t born yet. You’re only a few weeks along, right? You have no idea how you’ll feel in a few months, or when it’s actually here. You might take one look at him or her, and decide you can’t possibly give them up.”
“That won’t happen.”
“You can’t predict that. Carrying a baby for nine months, then giving birth, it’s a life-changing experience.”
“But, that’s just it. I don’t want my life to change. It’s not so great now, I admit it. But a baby would only make things a hundred times worse. The only reason I wouldn’t get rid of it, is because I knew that somebody would take it off my hands soon as it’s born.”
“And you want that person to be me?”
“More like you’re the only person willing to do it.”
“Have you talked to Cory about this?”
“He won’t care.”
“They won’t care, either. In fact, I was wondering, Mrs. Hutchins, would it be okay if I stayed with you, here, until the baby is born? I really don’t want to go back home.”
“We did it!” Sarah came spinning into her house, not unlike Julie Andrews in the opening to “The Sound of Music,” grinning all the while and pulling Kirkland in after her. “You were awesome. You really stood up to Grant. Now he knows he can’t mess with us!”
“Well, that’s what he said, anyway.”
Sarah stopped her giddy celebration to wonder, “You don’t believe him?”
Kirkland shrugged. “I’ve taken Grant’s word before. And I’ve always regretted it in the end.”
“But, this is different. We finally have something to hold over his head. One wrong move, and he loses both you and Daisy. He’ll have to tow the line now!”
“I hope you’re right.” Kirkland took Sarah in his arms, and she gazed up at him adoringly.
“I love you,” Sarah swore.
“And I love hearing you say it,” he admitted.
“I really want this to work. I know I’ve screwed my relationships up in the past, but this is different. You’re different. I don’t want us to break up. Ever.”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.
“Actually, I had an idea about that.”
“I want you to make me a promise.”
“I want you to promise that anything you might hear about me, like something I did, or something I said – you’ll come to me, first. I’ll do the same. We’ll trust each other before we trust anyone else. That way, we won’t have any stupid misunderstandings where somebody overhears something or they misinterpret something, and next thing you now, people are flying off half-cocked and doing dumb stuff in retaliation and breaking up, when all they really had to do was ask the other person whether it was true or not.”
“That does happen a lot around here,” Kirkland conceded, for the first time considering the possibility that it wasn’t how things worked in the rest of the world.
“We won’t let it happen to us. You know how Grant operates. He lies and he manipulates and he turns people against each other. But if we promise not to listen, if I promise to always believe you and you promise to always believe me, we’ll be safe from him. From everyone.”
“Pinkie swear.” Kirkland held up his hand.
Sarah followed suit, pressing her palm against his, and linking fingers. “Me, too.”
And then, out of a combination of relief, happiness, and the sudden urge to act their age, instead of decades older, like they both had been doing for God only knew how long, Sarah and Kirkland burst out laughing.
“Eduardo hired Frankie and I to investigate him,” Cass reminded Alice. “And he wanted us to report whatever we found, to you. This is it,” he indicated the paperwork laid out in front of them.
Alice barely gave it a look. “Most of it came from Carl, didn’t it?”
“Frankie and I didn’t find much of anything incriminating on our own,” he admitted. “But, I suspect that Eduardo knew we’d hit a wall. Otherwise he wouldn’t have put us on the case. The information from Carl – “
“Is none of my business.”
“It proves Eduardo has been keeping secrets.”
“Then he must have had his reasons for it.”
Cass shrugged. “Is there ever a good reason to turn your back on your own grandchild?”
Something in Cass’ tone suggested they were no longer talking about the tribulations of the Rivera and Tantalus families.
“Charlie?” Alice guessed.
Cass sighed. “You’ve heard?”
Alice said, “You know, my daughter, Sally, when she was about Charlie’s age, she had a baby and gave it up for adoption.”
“Right. Kevin. I remember.”
“She didn’t tell me about it. I’ve spent decades wondering if there was anything I could have done differently, any way I might have made her suffering a little easier, made the situation turn out happier for all of us. Kevin loved his adoptive mother very much. He hated Sally for breaking up his family, and he hated me even more after I took over raising him.”
“Frankie and I told Charlie we wouldn’t raise the baby for her. She’s been so cavalier, so dismissive about the whole thing, we thought some tough love was in order.”
“And… I have no idea. She left the house this afternoon. I don’t know where she went or what she’s planning to do. I wonder if she’s taking her medication. If she isn’t… Hell, if she has another manic episode, who knows what might happen?”
“Do you think she needs to be under observation?”
“I’m out of ideas,” he confessed. “I’ve tried coddling her, I’ve tried protecting her, I’ve tried treating her like an adult, I’ve tried reasoning with her. Nothing seems to work. She and I, we used to be so close when she was little. And now she’s a stranger. I want to help her, but I don’t know how.”
“Are you and Frankie, at least, on the same page?”
Cass thought about it, then nodded once. “We are. It took some doing, but we are, about this.”
“Then you’ll figure it out. You love Charlie, and Charlie loves you. I know it may not exactly look like it at the moment – “
“ – But the fact that she’s even bothering to be angry with you, means that she’s listening. And if she’s listening, eventually, she’ll hear what you’re saying.”
“Great. Now all I need to do is figure out something worthwhile to say.”
“Yes,” Alice agreed. “That is the harder part.”
“Did you see Doug?” Allie wondered.
“And… he basically told me to get lost.”
Zeno sat down at the kitchen table, thinking. “Is that how you feel about Hudson? Like he has nothing to do with you?”
Allie hesitated. Whenever she’d confessed how she really felt in the past, all she’d gotten for it was grief. But she owed it to Zeno to be honest. “Pretty much.”
“You don’t feel any attachment to him? None of that flesh and blood stuff?”
“I think of him as Rick and Mindy Bauer’s kid. The only thing I owed Hudson was to find him a good Mom and Dad. And I did.”
“That’s kind of what Doug said about me. He said my mom wanted me all to herself, and he just went along with it. He thinks of Milagros and Ike as his kids. Not me.”
“That bother you?”
“Not sure. I grew up wondering who my dad was. I didn’t give much through to what I’d do once I found him. And he didn’t want me.”
“Do you need a dad?”
“My mom certainly didn’t think so.”
“Mine wasn’t too into me, either,” Allie reminded. “Neither of my parents were.”
Zeno said, “The whole time I was talking to Doug, I was thinking – it’s kind of like you and me.”
“Huh?” Allie believed she’d been following his train of thought up to this point.
“I wanted Doug to feel something for me that he doesn’t feel. It’s the same with Frankie. She did all this because she wants me to forgive her for walking out on my mom and me. The funny part is, I have forgiven her. A long time ago. But that doesn’t mean I’m ever going to feel the same way about her like I did when I was little. That’s just not going to happen. She’s trying to make me feel something, and I’m trying to make Doug feel something, and that made me wonder: Are you trying to make yourself love me?”
“It’s all mine!” Unlike the twenty years younger Sarah, Amanda didn’t exactly spin around her office with her arms outstretched, ready to yodel. But she did plop down, giddy, behind her desk and beam up at Morgan. “It’s all mine. Finally. No more Iris, no more Mom. Cory Publishing belongs to me.”
“Congratulations.” He took the seat across from her, seemingly genuinely happy, and with no other agenda in sight.
Amanda didn’t know how to take that. “Aren’t you going to tell me that I should have returned the shares Carl left me to my mother?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
“You’re not going to warn me that Iris always has a trick up her sleeve?”
“If she does, I’m sure you’ll have no problem handling her.”
“You’re not even going to remind me that pride goeth before the fall?”
“I tend not to use words like ‘goeth’ in my everyday conversations.”
“The actual quote is: Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
“Wasn’t going to say that, either.”
“Damn it, Morgan, what’s with all the unconditional support?”
“What were you expecting?”
Amanda confessed, “When I was little, my mom had this fantasy of turning me into the great debutante she never got to be. So she’d take me to dancing school and these kiddie parties for the crème-de-la crème of Bay City society. I hated going. I hated the pinafores the pigtails and the shiny shoes that gave me blisters. But, more than anything, what I really hated was that, after we’d leave, my mom would spend the whole car ride home telling me what I did wrong, the faux-pas I’d committed, and all the ways she expected me to behave better next time. That was one of the main reasons I fought so hard against her throwing me a debutante ball when I turned eighteen. I figured it would just be more of the same.”
“I’m not your mother,” Morgan reminded.
“I know. But, Sam was the same way. He was always making sure I knew how I’d failed to live up to his expectations. I suppose I brought it on myself. I mean, I did lie to him the first time we met, and for months afterwards, so he had pretty good reasons not to trust me. And then Grant – well, I was certainly never a good enough political wife for Grant. Though I did try. He just never believed me. Cameron and Kevin, too. I felt they were constantly judging me. They had every right. I pulled some stupid crap with both of them. I just wish they’d…. “
“Accepted you for you were?”
“God, no. They’d have to be total idiots to have done that. But, you know, a break once in a while from the perennial raised eyebrows would have been nice.”
“I hate to break it you, Amanda, but you’re not that bad.”
“Aw, you sweet-talker, you.”
“You’ve got your flaws.”
“But so do we all. You want to be happy about finally getting your father’s company? Be happy! Hell, I’ll be happy with you.”
“There’s a saying,” Amanda began cautiously.
“Does it have the word ‘goeth’ in it?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No. It’s: A true friend will overlook your failures and tolerate your success. I’ve never experienced either.”
“I am your friend, Amanda.”
“Even after everything I’ve done?”
“That’s the overlooking part.”
“Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“We make a good pair,” he ventured tentatively, unsure of how far he could push this. Or how far he wanted to push this.
“What would you say if I – if I thought – What would you say if I told you I thought I was… falling in love with you?”
He gave the matter some serious thought. For a moment, Amanda wondered if she’d made a strategic mistake. And then, Morgan answered, “I’d say: Whither thou goest, I will go.”
Amanda cocked her head, her heart beating so quickly she was amazed she could still breathe. “I thought you didn’t use words like that in your everyday life.”
“For you,” Morgan held out his hand. “I’ll make any exception.”
Along with the documents testifying to Michael still being alive, Carl had left Donna a key to a safety deposit in box in, of all places, Rumania.
It wasn’t a site Donna would ever dream of setting foot in otherwise, but as she’d promised Matthew a speedy conclusion to their purgatory, one way or another, she was determined to see it through.
So Rumania, it would be.
If Donna thought the flight had been horrid – who knew that First Class on their national airline was the equivalent of being transported aboard the back of a flying donkey (or so it had felt to her, at least; Matt appeared none the worse for wear following the experience) – then the harrowing taxi ride across barely paved streets and through sewage drenched alleys had nearly done her in.
She was already perspiring, shaking, and clutching Matt’s elbow for equilibrium. And that was before they opened the safety deposit box.
And found photographs of Michael.
They were recent. They had to be. He looked years older than Donna remembered him. Though, Matt did point out that her memories of him tended to go even further back. When Donna thought of Michael, it was as the boy she had first fallen in love with, not the man who’d caused her so much heartache later on.
But Donna insisted. His hair appeared grayer, there were more lines on his face.
Not that the pictures were all that clear. Most of them looked to have been taken by telephoto lens from across the street or a nearby rooftop.
Donna didn’t dwell on that. What she did dwell on was the outward show of Michael being free to do what he liked, when he liked, as he liked. There was certainly no evidence of him being held prisoner, or even under guard.
Footloose and fancy free, that’s what he looked like.
And there was certainly nothing to indicate that he might be missing his children. Or his grandchildren. Or her.
“There’s just so much a picture can tell you,” Matt tried to reassure. “We don’t know what he’s really thinking or feeling or going through.”
“He’s alive,” Donna gasped, pressing a fist to her chest, as if to get her heart restarted after it had stopped at the sight of him.
“They could have been doctored. In this day and age, anyone can Photoshop anything. We could be on a wild goose chase.”
“He’s alive,” Donna repeated, as if Matt hadn’t spoken.
“Then let’s go find him,” her husband said determinedly.
“How?” Donna despaired. “This is the end! Carl left us no more information. He did it to torture me, I know it. He wanted to make me aware that Michael was alive, but that there was no way I could go to him. It’s his revenge. His ultimate revenge.”
“Then it’s a pretty rotten one,” Matt said. He picked up several of the photos, and began showing Donna details she might have missed in her shock at just seeing Michael again. “There’s a street name here, a shop awning there. And this place, doesn’t this place look like an apartment house? Look, he’s got keys and he’s going in. It’s very possible he lives there. And we have an address. Donna, we can find him. Just say the word, and we’ll go out right now to find him.”
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