"I realize this is a most inopportune time," Carl began, prompting a mirthless laugh from Rachel.
"That's one way of putting it."
"But I'm afraid it's simply essential I go out of town for a few days. There's a minor business problem that requires a dab of repair before it turns into a major one. I'd been putting it off, hoping the situation with Jamie might be concluded "
"It's going to be concluded, alright. He's bound and determined to see to that."
"In a favorable manner," Carl finished weakly.
Rachel sighed. "Go. Take care of whatever you need to take care of. I suspect, come tomorrow morning, I'm not going to be very pleasant to spend time with, in any case."
"If you need anything...."
"I need my son to be an infant again. So I can go back in time and fix every mistake I ever made that led him to this moment."
"Jamie is a grown man, Rachel. He is responsible for his own actions, no one else. You can't patch up his life for him."
"If this was Cory," Rachel challenged. "What would you be doing right now?"
"Hiring a private plane to take him out of the country, bound, gagged and drugged to the gills, if need be," he told her without hesitation.
"No," Allie answered Gregory while they were still driving home from Springfield, and later as they sat by her favorite spot on the Cory estate, overlooking the duck-pond, barely able to make out periodic white flashes of flapping wings through the rapidly descending darkness. "I am not going to marry you and ruin your life."
Gregory just smiled at that, without saying anything. He picked up a stone and tossed it into the water, judging the number of skips by sound rather than sight.
"You take rejection awfully well, you know that?" Allie observed.
"Only because I intended to keep asking you until you say yes."
"Waste of your time," she advised.
"Time," Gregory said. "Is relative."
"It's not because I don't love you."
She shoved him lightly. "Ego..."
"Fact," he corrected.
"It's because I love you too much to marry you."
Gregory shook his head. "You can do better than that. Please don't lie to me."
"Okay. Fine." Allie lay on her side, plucking at stray tufts of grass. "It's because I love you today, and you love me today. But what guarantee do we have about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is never guaranteed. For anybody."
"Do you know one single relationship that's lasted over time? One?"
"Frankie and Cass."
"Yeah, she was dead for a decade in between, doesn't count. Same goes for Felicia and Lucas, if you were going to bring them up."
"Your grandparents, your mom's parents. I hear they were in love."
"Sure. But even they cheated on each other. And split up. Twice. And then he died."
"Dying for real doesn't count either," Gregory said softly.
"Nothing lasts. So what's the point of pretending? What's the point of standing up in front of a judge and your family and your friends and promising something that you and everybody else in the room knows is never, ever going to happen?"
"Maybe," Gregory offered. "The point is to try..."
When sex failed to get Steven out of the dark funk he'd come home in, Sarah tried talking... to equally dismal results.
All he seemed interested in was staring at the computer-screen in his dorm room. No, scratch that, all he seemed interested in was hurling obscenities at said screen when the indifferent code flashing on it seemed unwilling to act the way he'd commanded.
Timidly, Sarah offered, "Tomorrow, were you planning to go with your Dad "
"Okay. Well, then, I was thinking... I was thinking maybe we should go away for a little bit? Maybe to the Cory cabin? There's no Internet or newspapers or TV up there. You wouldn't have to think about "
"Yeah, that's real likely. Maybe it'll just slip my mind."
"At least there won't be any press to bother you," Sarah tried another tack. But Steven had already abruptly stood up, grabbed his jacket, and stormed out the door.
There was nothing about Jamie that felt good or even remotely fine. His head was pounding, his stomach was churning, and, as the numb bliss of receding, pitch-black void began to fade, followed by a resurfacing of events from the past twenty-four hours, a noise somewhere between a whimper of pain and a growl of frustration rumbled in his throat, along with a fair share of bile.
Today was the day he was going to prison.
Slowly, Jamie lifted his head and stiffly uncurled from the near-fetal position he'd assumed when collapsing onto the guesthouse bed earlier that night (morning?) after....
He pushed himself up from the crumpled sheets and used the wall to edge his way out, down the hall, into the living room where....
The room was empty.
So was the kitchen.
He checked the bathroom. Nothing. Jamie opened the medicine cabinet, looking for something to maybe take the edge off. And came face to face with the bottle of painkillers he'd prescribed for Lorna's burned arm weeks ago. It was still half-full. She'd obviously followed doctor's orders and only taken them as needed. Good girl. Good patient. A hell of a lot better than he ever was.
Jamie twisted off the cap and stared at the handful of tablets crowded along the bottom. They'd get the job done. They'd more than get the job done.
Jamie knew exactly how they would taste, the sensation they'd leave on his tongue and while sliding down his throat, and how they would make him feel afterwards.
That would be one solution to his problem.
But it wasn't one he was willing to take.
With a jerk of his wrist, lest the rest of his body try to interfere, Jamie shook every pill down the drain, running enough water after to insure their safely floating to China. And then he reached for the aspirin, not even extra-strength, standing on a lower shelf.
A feint rumble of thunder in the distance initially made Jamie think he'd heard Lorna come in behind him. He whipped around, wincing both due to his painfully throbbing, unhappily jostled brain and the equally sinking realization that no, it was just the weather. Lorna had most definitely left the building.
Not that he'd expected her to stay after... everything. But comprehending that she was really and truly gone made it all somehow more real, more final.
That first burst of thunder was promptly followed by a slap of rain against the windows.
"Fitting," Jamie muttered, briefly pondering the overcast sky as he returned to the bathroom, angling to make himself presentable for a date with the fine folks at the State of Illinois' Correctional Facility.
"Have you seen your brother?" Rachel asked Matt over breakfast, though neither one of them seemed to be doing more than picking at the extravagant spread of food in front of them. The coffee pot, however, even this early in the day, already stood empty.
"Not since I called him a weak, spineless coward practically on top of Mac's grave."
"How do you do it, Mom? How do you... forgive?"
She hesitated. "Are we still talking about Jamie or..."
"Everyone. Jamie, Donna... "
He avoided her last question to counter, "How did you manage to forgive Carl? After everything he'd done?"
"Well, to start with, Carl wanted my forgiveness. He worked for it. I'm not sure if either of the other people you've mentioned are on the same page where that's concerned."
"Jamie... It's like Jamie just wants us all to leave him alone."
"Well, that's not going to happen," Rachel said simply. "No matter what he says. Or does."
"And Donna. I understand that she's deliberately pushing me, trying to provoke me into leaving. What I don't understand is why."
"She's testing you."
"And how long is that supposed to go on for?"
"Until she's convinced that you're on her side to stay."
"I wanted to be like Mac," Matt confessed.
"I can't think of a nobler ambition."
"It's damned hard, Mom!"
Rachel laughed. "You aren't kidding. I still have my doubts sometimes, with Carl. I think of what Mac would have done in my shoes, and I try to act accordingly. But, yes, Matthew, you are quite right. It's damned, damned hard."
As she was breaking into the Cory mansion with the set of keys Lorna had purloined from Jamie's discarded jacket, then creeping stealthily down the hall towards Carl's study, Lorna pondered the fact that Jamie probably thought she'd run out on him.
Well, she hadn't. Not to say that the thought hadn't crossed her mind. Jamie was supposed to be the nice, sweet, somewhat dorky, safe guy that Lorna had finally managed to fall for after a lifetime of Carl Hutchins and Grant Harrisons. Not the guy who Lorna only had a few hours to save from going to prison even before they'd hashed out the details of why she still cared enough to do so.
But time was of the essence now. And Jamie, still sleeping off his hangover at the guesthouse when she'd left, was currently in no shape to be of use. Her plan was to deal with what she needed to, and get back to Jamie before he could even lift his head, much less walk himself downtown to sign an obviously false confession of murder. Tackle a big problem by turning it into a series of little problems and solving them one at a time. It was a trick Jamie's grandmother had taught her. Ada better have been right....
Lorna slipped into Carl's study, quietly closing the door behind her, and headed straight for his computer. Having no better ideas, she prayed for divine intervention as Lorna tapped in string after string of numbers and letters, phishing for any combination she could think of based on what Lorna knew about Carl, with the hope that one would turn out to be the password that cracked open his remarkably savvy (Steven-built, no doubt) security system.
Lorna knew it was a long shot. She sincerely doubted that Carl would have left an incriminating file on his desk-top entitled, 'How I Killed Cecile and Framed Donna for the Crime." But that was precisely what Lorna believed happened.
Sure, other people in Bay City possessed motives for doing the same thing. Lorna's parents, chief among them. But the only one who was both furious enough with Donna and capable of setting up a slick murder scene, complete with a misdirect good enough to keep the cops guessing for several days, was Lorna's former... benefactor.
"Bingo!" she smiled in satisfaction as the security prompt on the computer screen gave way to Carl's desktop. Rolling her eyes at his audacity in having a picture of Cory and Elizabeth as infants, no less! for his wallpaper, Lorna quickly navigated her way through the folders and files, scanning the names for any clue or hint as to their contents, grimacing at the seemingly endless icons. There was no way she was going to be able to get through all of them here. Fortunately, she'd anticipated as much Carl was nothing if not a good teacher about adequately preparing for setbacks. She whipped out a flash drive, about to pop it into the USB port, when there was a sudden ping and a calendar notification popped up onscreen.
Her eyes only had a moment to register the nonsensical which she immediately concluded meant coded message, before she heard the door opening behind her, and Rachel, sounding in no mood for this, not this morning of all mornings, demanding, "What the hell are you doing here, Lorna?"
"Waiting for Carl," Lorna answered in her best casual tone as she leaned back in the leather chair, ostentatiously planting both feet on his desk as a visual distraction from her hand innocently brushing the 'Esc' key and sending the computer screen blank coincidentally just as Rachel rounded her husband's desk. "We need to have a little chat."
Rachel slapped Lorna's feet back down to the ground and plucked Lorna's cell-phone from her pocket, all but flinging it at the younger woman. "How about you reach out and touch someone remotely, instead?"
"Carl prefers to see me in person. Old habits and all that... " Lorna figured the best way to keep Rachel from wondering what she was really doing there was to make Jamie's mother so irate that it slipped her mind. It shouldn't be difficult. Despite a warming over the years triggered primarily by their working together during Felicia's alcoholic intervention Rachel had taken a dislike to Lorna from the first time they met. And that was even before she knew, or cared, about the former relationship with Rachel's current husband. In other words, luckily it didn't take much to bring Rachel's inherent antipathy for Lorna to the surface. "Mind running off to fetch him for me, or should I hunt him down myself?"
There. That seemed to do it nicely. Rachel wondered, "Where do you find the gall to speak to me that way in my own home?"
"Carl," Lorna replied, as if the question had been legitimate. "I'm sure you've noticed that he's not one to suffer wallflowers. You either toughen up, or become pulp under the heel of his boot. Now, do you want to go wrangle him, or should I?"
"Carl's not here," Rachel snapped.
"I can wait."
"No you cannot. He's away on business on the coast and won't be back for a few days."
On the coast... That was all Lorna needed to hear. She didn't even have to decode the calendar message now. The old dog couldn't quite give up his tricks. She knew exactly where Carl was. Even if the thought of what he might be doing there did send a slight chill up her spine. Carl didn't go to the coast over something minor.
"Real stand-up husband you've got there, Rachel," Lorna finally said, not wanting to raise Jamie's mother's suspicions by abruptly disengaging. "Putting business ahead of being there for you and your son. Classy."
"Would you just get the hell out, Lorna? Or so help me, I will toss you myself. You do not want to play this game with me, little girl. Not today."
"I'll take a rain-check then," Lorna offered brightly, leaping on the convenient out so she could hurry back to Jamie before
"Grandma?" A knock at the door and Kirkland poked his head into the study, Lorna's heart lurching at the sight of his miserable, grave face. He does look mostly like Vicky, Lorna thought. The eyes especially. The chin, though, that's definitely Grant's. But the way he had it set now, in obvious determination to be brave and not cry, no matter what, that was pure... it was Jamie all over again. "Mr. Bauer's here to pick up Dad."
"It's not going to change," Cass gently told Frankie, removing her fingers, which had been all but nailed to the refresh button on her browser as she pounded it like a morphine drip, looking for the latest news on Jamie's arrest.
"He's going to turn himself in today, Cass. Leave his life, his kids.... I know what he's going through, in a way. That's how I lived for years, staying away from you and Charlie. But, no matter how bad things got, I knew that I had a choice. If I changed my mind, I could still come back. Jamie won't have even that much to cling to."
"He had a choice. He didn't have to take the deal. He did."
"But that had to be... I've been thinking about this non-stop, and that had to be because he didn't want the story about him and Cecile getting out."
"Be that as it may, it was his choice and he made it. Please stop torturing yourself. To be honest, Jamie doesn't deserve your sympathy. Not after he stormed in here, accusing you of having something to do with Cecile's death. He had no right to speak to you that way."
"Can you blame him for wondering, though? As far as he knows, you and I were the last ones to handle the vial with the drug that killed Cecile. It's a reasonable suspicion."
"Not for anyone who truly knows you. Anyone who loves and understands the kind of person you are knows that there is no way you could have so much as bumped up against Cecile's aura, much less snuffed it out."
"I did make a voodoo doll of her once," Frankie confessed.
"You don't believe in voodoo dolls. You think they're a commercial bastardization of legitimate spiritual practices," Cass quoted.
"I could have been wrong..." Frankie sighed. "The only reason that my fingerprints weren't on that vial too is because I was vigilant enough "
"You're a trained private eye, you have no reason to feel guilty about that, either."
"It's what sunk Jamie. His prints being the only ones. If there was a bunch of us, you, me, him..."
"They still would have zeroed in on Jamie. He has the best motive."
"Along with half the town. You and I have motives, too."
"Not as good as his. She was blackmailing him. He knew Cecile. He knew she wouldn't stop with just one payment, no matter how huge. He had to put an end to it or spend the rest of his life risking his secret coming out. His motive was immediate."
"You sound like you think he's guilty."
"I'm just telling you what any good prosecutor would say."
"What about a good defense attorney, what would he say?"
"Doesn't matter. Jamie got himself a fabulous attorney and he still threw in the towel. A damn stupid move, in my opinion."
"He was facing life in prison if he was found guilty. At least a deal gets him... Wouldn't you have made the same choice?"
"Never," Cass swore vehemently. "Never, ever, ever. If I were in Jamie's shoes I would fight this with everything I had, and when I didn't have anything left, I'd still keep fighting. I was separated from you for way too long. I would never let anybody or anything keep me from you or our girls again."
Frankie said, "I realize that Jamie doesn't want our help."
"Yes, he made that very clear the other night."
"But remember how you said anybody who truly knows me...."
Cass sighed, fully aware of what was coming. "Would know that you'd never let a little thing like that stop you."
"I have to do something. If only to make up for the way I tried to use him in my own battle with Cecile, and ended up pulling him into my mess."
"You didn't pull Jamie into anything. You know Cecile. She had to have been chomping at the bit for years, waiting for the perfect time to spring this on him. You were the excuse, not the reason."
"I put the target on his back."
"So, what do you want to do?" Cass grew visibly frustrated with the topic, switching from husband to lawyer in an attempt to put an end to it. "Go to the police and tell them that we had the vial once, too? How do you plan on explaining the means by which it got to Donna's?"
"I... I don't know. I don't know how it got to Donna's."
"Bad answer," he was completely in counselor mode now. "Between that and our ample reasons for wanting Cecile dead she was blackmailing Jamie himself, but she was threatening our child how do you think we'll look to the police? The best thing that will happen is they just dismiss us out of hand, figuring you're making up the whole thing to help your cousin. Don't you see, Frankie? There is nothing you can do for Jamie anymore. Nothing except let him go and move on."
"I'm sorry," Rachel apologized to Mike, glancing briefly at Lorna, Matt and Kirkland in case either of them could correct her. "I don't know where Jamie is. The last time I saw him was yesterday. His bed hasn't been slept in."
"I tried calling him several times last night," Mike said. "He sent everything to voice-mail until the phone was full."
"I'm sure he's fine," Rachel said, purely for a visibly distraught Kirkland's sake.
"But what if he's not, Grandma? What if something happened or he did," Kirkland's voice dropped to a scared whisper. "Something?"
From the corner of his eye, Mike noted Ms. Devon's poker face briefly slip into a torn, sympathetic grimace. But before he could follow up, Amanda blew into the room, still wearing her raincoat, hair damp and dripping into her eyes.
"Did Jamie come home?" she demanded.
"We didn't even realize he wasn't here until a few minutes ago," Matt said. "Where have you been?"
"Kevin called me last night. I ignored it stupidly, because I didn't want to.... Anyway, he left a message saying he'd driven Jamie to this bar and left him there. Jamie seemed pretty determined to tie one on, so Kevin wanted to make sure he got home okay, but, by the time I finally listened and went over there, the place was closed up. I drove around, just in case, I even called a couple hospitals... nothing," she reassured Kirkland. "He wasn't there, sweetie." And then her tone changed as Amanda realized there was an interloper on the scene. "What are you doing here?" she glared at Lorna.
"Working my last nerve," Rachel explained, then indicated the door. "And on her way out," pointedly daring Lorna to contradict her.
"Sorry," Jen poked her head through the computer lab's door, inadvertently waking up Steven, who'd apparently spent the night hunched blearily over his machine. "I was looking for GQ."
Steven sat up, blinking groggily, red key imprints dotting one cheek. Jen had been meaning to slink off quietly, but something about how lost he looked and it wasn't merely the usual disorientation of sleep prompted her to stick around long enough to ask, "You okay?"
"What time is it?" he mumbled.
"A little after seven."
"Oh. So before business hours, then."
"Yeah. It's still early. GQ and I were going to go running, but with the rain...."
"I was hoping I'd sleep through... that's why I stayed up.... never mind." He stood, stretching, and rubbing his face so aggressively with both hands Jen was surprised his skin failed to catch fire.
She hesitated. Then, figuring this wasn't an outlook he was bound to hear from a whole lot of other people, ventured, "My dad's been in and out of jail since before I was born."
Steven's head jerked around at that and Jen wondered if she'd just made things worse. But he seemed more intrigued than anything else. Like a little kid who's found a brand new and previously unidentified specimen for his bug collection.
He didn't say anything, just looked at Jen expectantly. She hadn't planned out what she'd say past the initial shot, and now struggled to follow up with, "Not Kevin, obviously, my biological father. My mother used to take me to visit him when I was really small. There's a bus, the Q101, from Port Authority to Rikers Island. Takes forever and its packed with people on visiting days. Old ladies going to see sons and grandsons, about a million hoochie-mamas dressed like they're going clubbing, and then the kids. So many kids. My mother used to bring a book on-board. Something classic, like Dickens or Steinbeck or Fitzgerald, even Shakespeare once or twice. She loved to read. That was something she never dropped, not until way towards the end when the drugs got too.... Anyway, she always brought the most highbrow things she could get her hands on. All so that, when we got home, she could whisper in my ear, "Just remember, we're not like the rest of the trash. We're better." I told my grandmother what she said once. My grandmother laughed, "Baby, that's what every single other woman on that bus thinks." Jen trailed off, "I don't know why I told you that. I've never told anybody that."
Steven admitted, "I'm scared to go see my dad in jail. I don't want to see him be... like everybody else." And then, unexpectedly, he indicated the inside of Jen's wrist, asking, "Did your father do that to you?"
Jen jumped, guiltily, though way too belatedly, slipping the hand behind her back. "How did you know?"
"Those are cigarette burns, aren't they? It's okay; you don't have to tell me. I really didn't have any right to pry."
"Most people just assume they're birth-marks."
"Sure. If birth-marks sprouted in a geometric pattern, which really would be something new." Steven went on, explaining as if really, anyone who paid the least bit of attention could have figured out the same thing, "Based on how the skin's stretched out since they've healed and the difference in the scar tissue pigment, I figured you had to be really young when it happened. That's why I guessed your dad. I mean, I suppose it could have been an oil splatter..."
"Sure," Jen told him, almost smiling. "If oil splattered in a geometrical pattern."
"Your dad was a bad guy, wasn't he?"
"Mine.... Mine isn't. Damn it," Steven looked like he was going to cry. "Now I sound just like your mom and everyone on that bus, thinking that my dad is different somehow. That's he's not just a common criminal."
"Even if he is," Jen said. "Even if he did what he's accused of. That doesn't change the fact that he was a good dad to you, and you love him. No matter what. It's not the same as with me."
"There you are," Sarah's voice startled them to the point of jumping. To be honest, for a moment, both Steven and Jen had forgotten that other people existed. Sarah asked Steven, "Are you okay?"
He just shook his head and turned back to the computer.
Sarah said, "I checked the weather forecast, the rain is just supposed to get worse throughout the day. If we want to get to the cabin, we should probably start out soon."
"I didn't say I wanted to " Steven began.
Sarah interrupted and addressed Jen, "Steven's family has a fantastic cabin, it's about an hour's drive out of town. We were going to go up there to get away from... you know. Why don't you and GQ come too?"
"Huh?" That got Steven's attention. Which had been the whole point. Well, part of the point, anyway. The only one Sarah would admit to.
"The more the merrier," Sarah insisted. "Come on, Steven, don't tell me you couldn't use the company? The distraction, at least? And if you feel guilty about being away from your precious code for too long, you and GQ can talk shop or whatever it is you two talk about. What do you say?" she looked from Steven to Jen.
First she shrugged, then he shrugged. And then they both, somewhat reluctantly, agreed, Okay...."
Jamie had to listen to Mike's phone message almost twelve hours after it had originally been left three times before he allowed himself to absorb what it was saying.
Chase Hamilton had inexplicably lost his taste for blood and actually cut Jamie's sentence from thirty to fifteen years, ten with good behavior? Somehow, overnight, Jamie's life in prison had suddenly become... well, still a good bit of time wearing an orange jumpsuit, but not nearly as daunting as what he'd been facing last night.
He should have been relieved. He should have felt hope or gratitude or... something. But despite what could have been classified, relatively speaking, as good news, Jamie realized that he felt... nothing. He didn't care. It didn't matter. Thirty years or fifteen, his reasons for accepting Hamilton's deal hadn't changed.
Prison was where Jamie belonged.
He was reaching for the knob, heading up to the main house to meet Mike, when the door popped open and Jamie found himself unexpectedly face-to-face with an out-of-breath and somewhat waterlogged Lorna.
"Great. You haven't left yet," she grabbed his hand, pulling Jamie outside. "We've got to motor. Everyone's looking for you. Sooner or later they'll think to check here."
"I'll save them the trip."
"No. You're coming with me."
"Where?" Jamie jerked his hand from hers, bringing them both to a stop.
"Just get in the car, I'll explain on the way." Lorna yanked open the passenger side door. "I'm trying to help you!"
"I think you're overdoing it with the Terminator analogies now."
"Oh, God, you really are a geek, aren't you? Would you hurry up and get in before somebody sees you!" When he refused to budge, Lorna threw up her hands and, in the interest of getting this show on the road, rushed through, "We're going to confront Carl. Cecile's murder scene... it reminded me.... I think he knows something. Your mother told me he was on the coast. I remember where that is. I say we drive up and surprise him. See what he has to say."
"No," Jamie said firmly. "You are not going to see Carl. Most especially not for my sake. I remember what he did to you. I see the way your face changes, just saying his name. He scares you."
"I can handle Carl."
"You shouldn't have to. Not to mention that, whatever it is you think he's done, if he did do it and I hope for my mother, Cory and Elizabeth's sakes that you're way off base with this he's obviously performed a stellar job of covering his tracks. You confronting Carl about it would only threaten him. And I do not want you anywhere around that guy when he's feeling threatened. Let it go, Lorna. Let me go," he urged, still shocked and amazed that they were even having this conversation in lieu of what he'd told her last night.
"Fine," Lorna kicked the passenger-side-door closed and marched around the car. "You want to turn yourself in? Go right ahead. I'll go by myself. I'll send you a postcard care of the State, telling you what I found out."
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