"Cecile," Frankie said.
"Of course," Cass replied with a sigh. Because even though Tony the Tuna may have threatened him, Christy Carson may have poisoned him, and Rex Allingham once actually took over Cass' life for a period of months, the only person who had repeatedly, continually and, let's be honest, sadistically, returned to torment him over and over and over again, was one Cecile dePoulignac. "Who else could it be?"
"She was the one responsible for my ending up in the mental hospital to begin with. I didn't know it at first, but after I got my memory back, I put the pieces together and figured it out."
"You always were a damn good PI."
"Not good enough to figure out what to do when she threatened our daughter. That's why I kept my distance from you, Cass. I swore to Cecile that you and I would never be together again. It was the only way I could think of to protect Charlie."
"Cecile wanted you away from me, but she let you see Charlie?"
"Oh, yeah," Frankie smirked. "As she put it: It was so I'd remember what I could lose."
"Bitch," Cass spat, utterly convinced that if Cecile were standing in front of him right that moment, he'd feel no qualms about strangling her with his bare hands.
"She's totally unhinged, Cass. You live in Bay City for a while, you hear stories, like about how she tormented Blaine Ewing, locking her up in a dark closet, slipping her water balloons and telling her they were her dead kittens... You figure that stuff's got to be apocryphal. If it were true, who allows a woman like that to walk the streets?"
"Cecile had a fall guy on that one. Woman named Alma Rudder. Cecile may have been the brains, but Alma did most of the dirty work."
"It doesn't matter who did what in that case. Cecile is absolutely nuts. Talking to her, I didn't doubt for a second that she could have an innocent child killed, just to piss you and me off."
Cass could only ask, "What in the world did we ever do to her "
"Maggie," Frankie reminded. "Cecile blames me for destroying her fantasy of you, her, and Maggie living happily every after as a very rich wholesome family."
"She's the one who lied about Maggie being my child! You just exposed the truth!"
"Well, in Cecile's world, that makes it all my fault. She told me that I shattered her family, so it was only fair that she should ruin mine."
"Amazing," Cass shook his head. "You've been living with this hanging over your head..."
"I did it for Charlie. And I'd do it again. Please, Cass, help me. Help me protect our daughter. We can't be together. There's too much at stake."
Cass thought for a moment. And then he told Frankie. "Thank you. Thank you for trusting me enough to share this with me."
"Now you understand why it's so imperative for us to keep our distance from each other."
"No," he said. "Now I understand exactly what I have to do to end this once and for all."
"Marley and I got married yesterday," Jamie told Steven. Apparently in the belief that the Computer Lab at Bay City University was an optimal venue for such an out-of-the blue pronouncement.
"Am I expecting a new baby brother or sister in about seven or eight months?" Steven looked up from his console and cocked his head at Jamie, then couldn't help laughing at his father's startled expression. "Guess not."
"Steven, you know Marley and I aren't anywhere near "
"Well, a lot can happen in a day," Steven shrugged. "And Kirkland did say you and Marley seemed to be getting pretty close at the bowling alley after I left."
Jamie grimaced. "He saw her kiss me?"
Steven nodded. "So did Bridget and Michele. Made their night. They're going to be crushed they didn't get to be flower girls."
"Damn," Jamie muttered and confessed, "Marley's talking to them, right now. Trying to explain "
"How about you explain it to me first?" Steven exhaled impatiently. "What happened that you had to go off and get married without telling any of us? Or do I even need to ask?" He turned back to his computer. "Let me guess. It has to do with Grant and Kirkland."
"Long story short," Jamie sped up, feeling like he was battling with the fine people at Microsoft for his son's attention. "Grant and Spencer were using some information they had on Carl to bait your grandmother. They would only hand it over to her if I signed a document relinquishing custody of Kirkland. So I did."
Steven's spun around in his chair, dumbstruck. "You gave Grant custody of Kirkland?"
"No! Of course not! You know me better than that! But Kevin, you know, Grant's lawyer that Amanda has been dating?"
"I love my family," Steven snarked as an aside.
"Kevin pointed out there was a loop-hole we could use. I never had legal custody of Kirkland, so there was nothing for me to sign away. Marley still retains those rights."
"Okay, but if Marley has custody, why go through the whole deal of getting married? This whole thing is legally between her and Grant, isn't it?"
Jamie hesitated for the briefest of moments as some cryptic emotion flickered across his face "True. But Kevin also said that us getting married would strengthen our position against Grant."
"Grant's a nut, Dad. He has a prison record. You, on the other hand, have a town full of witnesses that would swear on a stack of bibles exactly how crazy he is. You and Marley didn't have to get married. You could've just sat back and let Grant mess up, like he always does. Now, you've just pissed him off. Which, if I remember the bulk of my childhood correctly, usually just makes him do something stupid. Which will piss off you and Marley, so you guys will go and do something stupid in return. Again."
Jamie warned, "Steven..."
"Been there, Dad. Done it. Remember, you were out of town for most of the really fun stuff. Back then, Mom was the one getting sucked into doing stupid stuff by Grant to protect poor, helpless Kirkland, who, frankly at this point, isn't so helpless or dumb that he can't decide for himself whether or not he wants Grant in his life."
"Grant isn't giving him a choice when he's trying to claim Kirkland by force."
"Well, you're not giving me or Michele or Bridget much of a choice in all of this, either. It was bad enough when I had a front-seat to all the crap that Mom and Grant pulled the first time around. I'm old enough and smart enough now to stay the hell out of it. But Michelle and Bridget aren't. They can't. You and Marley shouldn't have put them in the middle. They think they're getting the family they always wanted, when it's just a big lie."
"It's not a lie. We are a family."
"Not the way my sisters want us to be. You and Marley are going to lie to them, aren't you? Seeing as how you now have to play up this whole marriage thing for Grant and the judge. And I have to go along with it. This whole thing sucks."
"I... You're right," Jamie nodded. "It does suck, what we did. What we're doing. I'm sorry. We just did what we thought we had to do."
"That's what Mom always said. And then she'd promise me things would get better and back to normal. Only they never did."
"They will," Jamie insisted. "I promise. I will not let this situation with Grant spin out of control."
"It already has! The only way for it to end is if Grant manages to fall into some black hole again."
"We should be so lucky," Jamie muttered.
"When are you telling Kirkland all of this? You know he's going to be pissed."
"No, no. I've already talked to him. He's okay with everything for the most part. Once I told him what Spencer was trying to do to Rachel, he approved of the whole plan."
"He approved of your plan? You talked to Kirkland before you and Marley got married? Before you talked to me?"
Jamie stumbled, trying to explain. "It's like you said, I knew Kirkland had concerns about how we would be handling things with Grant, so "
"And I don't have any concerns? Me? Your other freakin' son?"
Your real son? Steven almost blurted out, and felt instantly ashamed. Kirkland was his brother, Jamie was their father. Steven had never, ever measured Kirkland any differently. Until this moment.
The near-slip made Steven want to punch himself in the mouth. As it was, from the look on Jamie's face, you'd think Steven had punched him in the gut.
"Steven, I'm sorry. I never meant to "
"Save it. What is it with you bending over backwards for Kirkland, and only managing to screw up everyone else's life in the process? The little idiot wants to give his scummy father a chance? Let him! If he gets burned, he'll learn his lesson and at least the rest of us won't be dragged down with him!"
Steven grabbed his jacket and stormed out of the lab, going to look for somebody, somewhere, who might feel like putting his feelings first. For a change.
"Let go of me," Kirkland insisted, tugging on the backpack Grant was holding so hard that he heard a strap rip.
"Not until you let me explain myself. You cannot leave until you let me explain myself. Please."
It was the 'Please' that made Kirkland stop struggling. Not that he hadn't heard Grant say the word before. But he'd never heard him say it in that tone, in such a small, tired voice, like a defeated man calling out for mercy.
Kirkland tried to act as if he hadn't been affected. He tried to sound just as defiant as before when he snapped, "There is no way you can spin your crap to make it okay."
"I know. But you have to understand where I'm coming from "
"No, I don't." Kirkland was doing his best to keep his voice from wavering. Being a teen-ager didn't help.
"My father," Grant began. "My father taught me that I have to do whatever it takes to get you well, anything that I want. Claw, scratch, steal, Grant! Nothing is given to you, son. You have to take it. You have to play to win!"
"I'm not a prize for you to fight over!"
"And then there's Kevin," Grant laughed, ignoring Kirkland's outburst. "My lawyer, who's supposed to be looking out for my best interests, but is constantly working behind my back. He helps everyone else my father, Jamie, Amanda, Rachel everyone except me. He tells me I have to play by the rules, but then gives me a set that's different from everyone else's."
"You're not making any sense! What does Kevin hanging out with Amanda have to do with you always doing the crazy thing instead of the right thing?"
"Because I don't know what the right thing is, son! I'm being pulled in all these different directions! The people I'm supposed to be able to trust only make things worse. Following my proverbial gut would be useless at this point, as it's been sufficiently warped by Spencer. I try to do what you asked, the 'right' thing, and then Jamie and Marley run off and get married "
"Do not bring them into this. What they do has nothing to do with what you've done."
"But they are in this, Kirkland. Them, Rachel, Amanda, my father, everybody is in this. Acting, reacting, blackmailing, scheming, all of us doing what we think is right, all of us doing what we think we have to in order to protect what we love. I'm not saying that it excuses my actions, but you have to understand that I cannot, I will not, simply stand aside and do nothing. I've lost too many years with you. I want us to have a relationship, a real father and son relationship. I want to have something different better than what my father and I have. I won't apologize for doing everything I can to be in you life, especially when everyone fighting against me is doing the exact same thing. Only they're not getting the same amount of grief for it!"
"Okay," Kirkland balked, fighting between his reason and his anger. "Fine, I get what you're saying. But there has to be another way to do this. Some way where you guys don't have to blackmail and threaten each other to 'protect' people."
"It's the usual way these things are done in Bay City," Grant laughed humorlessly, then sighed. "If I knew of another way then, for you, I would try it."
"There is a way," Kirkland answered. "You can be the one to yell, 'Time out.' You be the better person."
"I'm not sure I know how to do that," Grant confessed.
"It's easy," Kirkland smiled. "Just think of what Spencer would want you to do. And then do the opposite."
"Guess what, Grandma?" Jasmine asked as Rachel joined her and Lila for breakfast. "My mom got a job!"
"Oh, hush now, Jazz, it's only a little bitty thing."
"Good for you!" Rachel cheered.
"I took your advice to heart," Lila said. "It was really kind of you to take the time to talk to me."
"She's going to be decorating the house where Kirkland's other daddy lives. Kirkland is still going to live here with us, but he's going to visit his daddy sometimes, and my mom is going to make sure he has a great room there, too."
Lila winced and sheepishly asked Rachel, "Feel like you might want to take back your best wishes?"
Rachel thought for a moment. She poured herself a glass of orange juice and took longer than necessary to sip and swallow. Finally, she said, "No. No, I don't."
"My daddy is real mad," Jasmine advised.
"That's too bad," Rachel commiserated lightly. "But your Daddy has a lot on his mind right now." And then she told Lila, "The paramount way to make sure you never find out exactly what you want out of life is to let other people make that decision for you. The best way to never think for yourself is to give a damn about the opinions of others. Lila," she tipped her glass towards her former daughter-in-law. "You have my very best wishes."
It was Steven who called Sarah and asked her to meet him in a grassy corner of the Bay City University campus quad. She took this as a very good sign. Previously, Sarah had been the one doing the asking, i.e. the heavy lifting. Steven taking the initiative was an excellent step in the right direction.
When Sarah arrived at the designated spot, she found that Steven had spread out an entire picnic, complete with blanket, sparkling water, a pizza, and even a few freshly plucked daisies plopped into a paper cup. She took all of that as a very, very good sign.
Any relationship book currently on the shelves would have advised that this was the time to pull back, play hard to get, pretend that Sarah received similar tokens every day of the week, and make it clear without being obvious that it would take a lot more than a last-minute invite and a swiftly wilting bouquet to capture the heart of this mysterious, aloof and elusive creature.
But that wasn't the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler way. She'd seen what playing ice princess had gotten her mother. A succession of men who decided that life with Olivia was too much work... and that she wasn't worth the effort.
So when Sarah saw the trouble that Steven had gone through for her, she lit up with a beatific smile, sunk to her knees, and surveyed everything as if she'd never encountered anything quite so wonderful and enchanting in her entire life.
"For me?" she asked him.
"Nah, it's my way of asking GQ to take second billing on our latest paper." Steven tapped Sarah lightly on the shoulder. "Of course, it's for you." And left his hand where it had landed.
Sarah pretended not to notice. And simultaneously made it clear that she didn't mind. "What's the occasion?"
She sat down next to him on the blanket and, while inwardly agreeing, outwardly only arched an eyebrow to ask, "And that's grounds for a picnic?"
"It's grounds for... something."
"What's wrong?" Sarah wondered, accepting the plastic cup of sparkling water he offered her. It matched the one holding her daisies. How cute, now their picnic had a theme....
"My dad," Steven said, debating how much to tell her and finally settling on just a portion of what was really bothering him. "He and Marley up and eloped the other day!"
"How romantic! After all these years!"
Steven grunted in reply.
"And how may I interpret your grunt?" she teased him lightly.
"As a concise summery of my opinion that they didn't think things through before they did it."
"Oh, come on, Steven. It's not like your dad and Marley just met yesterday. They planned their first wedding back in, what? 1991? It just took them a while to go through with it. I think it's sweet."
"Will you still think it's sweet if I tell you they only did it so they can look better in front of a judge for Kirkland's custody hearing?"
Sarah considered his question seriously. And then she said, "Yes. Okay, so their reasons may not be the most straightforward, but I still think it's sweet, a star-crossed couple banding together to protect their blended family, a marriage of convenience with potential to turn into something more, a long-lost love rekindled years later under tense circumstances... This has the makings of a great romance. Or at least a terrific romance novel."
"I'll leave that up to you and Felicia Gallant," Steven said.
"Give it a chance," she urged. "This could all work out for the best. You told me yourself how your dad's been practically a monk since he took custody of you and Kirkland. Maybe he's just using this latest legal situation as an excuse to go after what he really wants, which is Marley."
Steven told Sarah, "You're amazing."
She merely giggled and took another sip of her drink.
"Is there any state of affairs out there which you can't find the bright side of?" Steven took her free hand between both of his and at least that's how it seemed to her briefly digressed. "I sometimes think about how, the year I was born, the Internet was barely the beginning of an idea in the minds of a few scientists and engineers. There were so many places where it could have been derailed. Can you imagine how different our lives would have been now if the Digital Age hadn't happened? Frankly, I don't know what I'd have done with my life if I didn't have my computers and my research and my work. I figure I'd have just been stumbling around with this vague feeling that something was missing, knowing I was unhappy, but not knowing exactly why or what to do about it. I always considered myself so lucky to have escaped that fate. Turns out, I was wrong, though. Turns out I have been stumbling around not even knowing what I was missing. Turns out the thing I was missing was... you."
"Me?" Sarah clarified, this time without the self-deprecating giggle.
"You. Someone light and positive and fun and... simple."
"Not simple as in stupid," Steven rushed to reassure. "No, no. Simple like a computer program. Clear. Straightforward. Direct. Unambiguous. Honest. All my life, as far back as I can remember, everyone around me has been plotting and conniving and trying to pull a fast one over on somebody else. There was my mom and Grant. Well, even my mom with my dad before that she wasn't sure I was his when she convinced him to dump the girl he was engaged to at the time and marry her instead.... There was my step-dad, Jake he was a great guy, but he always had one scheme or another percolating. Him and my mom, him and Paulina....
Steven went on, "And don't even get me started on Carl. Or my aunt Iris. Even both my grandmothers. My grandmothers, for Pete's sake! And now my dad and Marley... I am just so happy to have someone like you in my life. You say what you think. You don't play games. You're like the Internet, Sarah. I simply can't imagine what my life would be like without you."
Ever since Rachel left her home after confirming the facts about Felicia, Jenna and Dean's abduction, Donna had been waiting in terror for Carl to come banging on her door, demanding answers, swearing vengeance, making veiled and not so veiled threats.
But when the banging on the door did at last come almost a full 24 hours later, it wasn't Carl standing on her stoop. It was Matthew.
Donna let him in. Partially out of relief and partially because it was Matthew. No, mostly because it was Matthew.
He followed her awkwardly into the house and began, "My mom and I, we talked about you. You and Jenna and Carl. My mom told me some things that made me look at the situation in a different "
"I didn't mean for matters to get so far out of hand," Donna swore. "You have to believe me. I panicked and I did the only thing I could think of, under the circumstances. I never would have had them all snatched like that if I'd had more time to think of a better plan. I'm not a monster!"
"What?" Matt blinked. "What are you talking about?"
Donna froze in horror, realizing she'd just made yet another tragic miscalculation. What was wrong with her? It felt like she hadn't been able to think straight in weeks, months even.
She barely managed to choke out, "Rachel didn't tell you that I was the one responsible for Jenna's kidnapping?"
"No," Matt whispered, the revulsion on his face more ghastly than any words he could have ever flung in Donna's direction.
"Then what... you said she told you something that made you see me in a different light?"
"My mother tried to defend you, Donna. She pointed out that you didn't just abandon Jenna. You gave her to a woman who loved her and wanted her. You and Gloria hid Jenna from Carl for years. You did care about her, even if it wasn't in the conventional way. And Mom also suggested that I wasn't so much angry at you as I was at Mitch, for dumping me years ago. She reminded me that she'd done something similar with me and him, as you did with Jenna and Carl. I'd forgiven her, maybe you deserved to be forgiven too."
"Oh, God," Donna covered her mouth with both hands. "Matthew..."
"You were the one?" He repeated the fact as if just hearing it wasn't enough to make Matt believe. "You were the one who had Felicia, Jenna and Dean kidnapped? You were the one who kept Jenna from getting to a doctor? You're the one who killed her?"
"No!" Donna insisted. "No. I didn't want to hurt her. I didn't want to hurt anybody. I didn't think the situation was that dire."
"Didn't they tell you she was pregnant?"
"They did. The nuns did. But I wasn't even sure if she was telling the truth. Maybe it was just a ploy."
"And was Jenna getting sick a ploy? Was her having convulsions just an act?"
"I didn't know what to think. I told you, I acted on instinct. When I found out that Jenna was at the convent asking questions about Gloria, I panicked. I had to keep her from finding out the truth. For everybody's sake."
"Oh, please. You haven't thought about a single person other than yourself since all of this began. If you'd stopped to consider someone else's welfare even for a moment, you would have realized that Jenna couldn't survive a pregnancy being locked up in some godforsaken room!"
"Why not, Matthew?" Donna asked, her voice trembling. "I did."
"Hey..." The voice was hoarse, weak, exhausted, but it was also very, very familiar.
Felicia turned her head from Lori Ann's incubator to find Dean standing at the doorway to the NICU. He was wearing a hospital-issue blue robe over his paper-thin gown. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot, days worth of beard stubble dotted his chin. She could still see the scabs on his forearms and knees through their freshly-changed bandages. He was dragging an IV pole behind him and using it for support, as well.
But none of that mattered. Because Lori Ann's Daddy was finally here to see her.
"Oh, Dean!" Felicia leapt up from her chair to gingerly embrace him. He let her do it without responding in kind.
Dean looked over Felicia's shoulder. "Is she... "
"She's fighting. She's still fighting, Dean. Come. Come look at your baby girl. I've been sitting here, just watching her. Call me crazy, but I think she looks like you and Jenna both. The hair, there isn't much of it now, but it's definitely going to be dark. Curly probably, too. And her mouth, don't you think that wave in her upper lip is just like Jenna's? A perfect little bow. But look at those fingers. Long, artistic fingers. I bet she'll be musical. With fingers like that, she'll be able to play the piano, the guitar, any instrument she wants. You can teach her. Jenna would have loved that."
Felicia realized that she was rambling. But it was mostly in response to Dean's not saying anything at all.
He shuffled over to Lori Ann's incubator, peering down through the tubes and the heating lamps and the monitors to its interior, his face expressionless.
Felicia tried explaining, "That one is to help her breathe. And this one pumps food straight into her stomach; she isn't ready to suck yet. She has a little jaundice, that's what the lamps are for. It's also why her color seems off. She's started gaining weight, though. That's a very good sign. Almost a full ounce since she was first born. And her lungs are getting stronger every day. They might even consider weaning her off the respirator soon. She doesn't like it very much."
"How..." Dean began, seemingly formulating the question as the words stuttered out of his mouth, one by one. "How am I supposed to do this? I'm totally useless without Jenna. I always have been."
Dean noted, "I told Jenna. I told her I couldn't do this. Not by myself."
"You're not by yourself," Felicia reminded, wavering between sympathy and firmness. "You have me, you have Lorna. You have Cass and all of your family... "
"My family," Dean smirked. "My family knows more about pawning kids off than raising them."
"You are not your father, Dean. He is not the only Frame in the world. You have aunts and cousins who will be there for you and Lori Ann. She is going to grow up loved by a great many people."
"Will she make it, though?" Dean demanded. "Look at her, Felicia! Really look at her! She could fit in the palm of my hand."
"She's getting stronger every day," Felicia insisted.
"Jenna should be here...."
"I know," Felicia agreed.
"I can't do this," Dean said, shaking his head. "I can't do this."
Felicia put her arm around Dean's shoulder, and he clung to it, both of them looking down at Lori Ann, neither saying a word.
Meanwhile, behind them, also silent, also watching the tiny newborn in her incubator, stood Carl Hutchins.
He, too, was pondering his plans for the future.
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