"You said you would do anything you had to," Frankie reminded Cass, "To make sure you'd never lose me again."
"I know what I said." He snarled, "And I don't appreciate being blackmailed, Mary Frances."
"It's not what I'm doing, Cass, and you know it. You know me. You know that this is tearing me apart. But you also know that not to do the right thing would hurt me even more. And you are not capable of hurting me. Not like this, not this deeply."
"I never meant for any of this to happen," Cass swore.
"I believe you."
"I kept hoping that somebody else would do something, that somebody else would take care of my problem. And then I realized that wasn't going to happen, that it was up to me. You told me to be a man earlier, Frankie? I was trying to be a man. I was trying to look after you and Charlie and Lori Ann."
"I love you for that."
"You love me so much you're willing for us to be separated indefinitely. They'll charge me with murder, you know, I have no doubt about that. It's what Hamilton slapped both Jamie and Lucas with. And even if I can plead it down to manslaughter "
"You didn't mean to do it. It was an accident. The choice of drug and the dosage proves that. And Cecile had tortured you for years. Everyone in town could testify to that."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure Jamie will be first in line. After the way I acted with him...." Cass shook his head. "Anyway, like I was saying, even manslaughter, I could still be facing a decade in prison. A decade without you."
"No," she repeated, preparing to keep repeating it, until Cass finally understood what she was trying to tell him. "That's impossible. You will never be without me."
"When Kathleen came back and we broke up," Cass challenged. "That was barely a year, and in, that time, you managed to flirt with Ryan Harrison and John don't tell me John wasn't ready to move you into his house as a Sharlene stand-in."
"The situation with John was complicated. We were both grieving for Sharlene, and I'd lost our baby and John had Gregory.... In any case, you'd left me. You chose to return to Kathleen, I had no obligation to sit around waiting for you. The two circumstances are completely different. I am committed to you now, no one else."
"Ten years is a long time."
"My word is timeless."
Cass had to laugh, in spite of himself. "So is your resolve, apparently. You're not going to give this up, are you?"
"I'm not going to give you up."
Cass sank down onto the couch, covering his face with both hands. His shoulders shook, as if he were laughing and crying simultaneously, but his eyes remained dry. Finally, he looked up and whispered, "Okay."
"Okay?" Frankie sat down next to him, needing to understand exactly what it was he'd just agreed to.
"Okay," Cass said. "We'll do it your way."
"What in the world were you thinking, Marley?" Only back a few minutes from the mental hospital she'd been committed to after a suicide attempt, and Donna was in quintessential form, pacing up and down the Love study, hands fluttering, raven hair flying, demanding answers and explanations that were, frankly, none of her business.
"How about we back up a little," Marley suggested. "Before parsing my state of mind, what say we take a brisk stroll through yours? You can't possibly have recovered already."
Offended, Donna informed, "My doctors felt I'd made enough progress over the past few months that I could continue my treatment as an outpatient. Naturally, I wasn't released on my own recognizance. That would be irresponsible."
"I was signed out into the custody of my supervising physician."
"I know your supervising physician. She'd have called me. We've been in contact since you were committed."
"Really?" Donna smiled faintly, touched in spite of herself.
"Really. Just because I couldn't stand the sight of you at the moment didn't mean I'd abandoned you completely."
"I wish you would have told me that earlier, darling..."
"And I wish you'd tell me what's really going on. I know your supervising physician didn't sign you out."
"You're right," Donna admitted. "She didn't. John did."
"John," Marley repeated. "John Hudson? My uncle John?"
"Yes," Donna nodded, somewhat taken aback by Marley's incredulous laughter in response. "He visited me in the hospital several times during my treatment and "
"You played him like always. I should have known."
"That's not how it was. John helped me to "
"I bet he did. I bet you told him he was your savior, the only one who could understand you, the only one who could rescue the damsel in distress. You know that coming to a distraught woman's aid is John's Achilles Heel. And you... you're his other one. Don't you have any shame? No," Marley answered her own question. "Guess not. You manipulate, needle, and bully people into giving you what you want, when you want it, no matter what. You knew that I'd never sign you out of the hospital. And Matt didn't have the authority. So you turned to someone who did."
"What's happened, Marley?" Donna asked, truly dumbfounded. "When did you become so cynical?"
"Maybe it was when I learned that my mother had yet another daughter she'd denied. Or when I found out that, this time, her denial had gone as far as causing that daughter's death unintended though it may have been. I'm sorry, but you're deluding yourself if you think that a few months at a minimum-security health spa can undo the decades of damage that your demons have inflicted. Not just on you, but on everyone around you. You think you know what you're doing now, but, trust me, you don't."
"I could," Donna fired back. "Say the same about you and Grant."
Sharlene marched Allie to the door of Gregory's room and practically shoved her inside. Gregory lay in bed, multi-colored tubes of fluid sticking out of his bruised arms, some kind of a strap around his head, oxygen prongs under his nose and a whole space-center of machines beeping and displaying fluorescent-green peaks and valleys along with a string of fluctuating numbers. His skin was as pale as Allie remembered; almost light cobalt. Like non-fat milk, she couldn't help thinking. Black and blue marks, not just from the needles but also from where he'd fallen and thrashed against the floor, puffed around disinfected red welts. Allie didn't know where he got the energy to so much as open his eyes, much less smile when he saw her come in.
"Hey, beautiful..." his voice sounded as if someone were pouring acid down his throat.
"Your mom... your mom said you almost died."
"I scared you. I'm sorry."
"You scared the hell out of me. If Steven and Sarah hadn't... I didn't know what to do. They did everything. Steven and Sarah, they saved your life."
"I need to tell you something, Allie. I should have told you before, it was totally unfair of me not to. But, I just wanted, for a little while.... You were everything I wanted."
"A warning would have been nice," she admitted. "And maybe instructions on how I should respond. I'll do better next time, I promise. I won't freak out. You just need to teach me "
"I tried to tell you. One time, remember? The first time we.... When you talked about how everyone was looking at you differently now. I told you that I understood."
"I remember." Tentatively, Allie reached out and brushed Gregory's palm the only part of his hand not taped or pierced with her fingers. She thought he'd feel cold. But he was warm. And still... familiar. "This is connected to that brain cancer you had when you were a kid, right?"
"I still have it, Allie."
"The treatments I got when I was a kid, they just slowed down the tumors' growth."
"Tumors?" Allie's voice quavered. "Like, plural?"
"Yeah. There are dozens of them. They're tiny. And impossible to cut out. One of my doctors described it as trying to pick rice out of tapioca pudding. Guess he was hungry that day."
Allie didn't laugh. She barely breathed. Once again, just like back in Gregory's dorm room, she felt rooted to the spot. And helpless. "How how are they going to fix it then, if they can't get them out?"
"They can't fix it. Like I said, medication makes them grow slower. But, eventually..."
"No," Allie said.
"Yes," he corrected softly. "When I was ten years old, they thought I wouldn't make it to high-school. I beat every predication anyone made for me."
"No," Allie repeated firmly. "You stopped breathing. But Steven and Sarah got you started again. In the ambulance, they said you were breathing on your own."
"I owe Steven and Sarah a thank-you. But, the seizure... I haven't had one in years."
"So, then, it'll be another bunch of years again until "
"Not this time. This time, once the seizures start up again, that's.... it."
Charlie crossed her elbows on top of the kitchen table, then lowered her forehead until it was pressing into her arms. She remained that way for a very long time.
"Charlie," Frankie prodded gently. "Honey, look at me."
"No." Her voice came out muffled.
Cass said, "We thought you should know what I was planning to do, before I turned myself in. You're almost an adult. You deserve to hear the whole story. From us."
Charlie raised her face so that only her eyes showed over her wrists. "Why can't anything be calm and normal around here for more than a couple of minutes? It was finally all going to be okay. Mom didn't have to hide anymore, Lori Ann was better, you guys were married. Why did you have to screw everything up?"
"I made a terrible, horrible, dreadful, unforgivable mistake. If I could go back... But I can't. The only thing I can do is take responsibility for it. I am trying to make it right."
"How the hell is you leaving us and going to jail making anything right?"
Cass snuck a look at Frankie, his expression indicating that she'd better field this one; he wasn't too certain of the logic himself.
Frankie stroked her daughter's head, unsure what to make of the fact that she didn't shirk away. Either Charlie was willing to accept her comfort... or she was too broken up to so much as resist. Frankie said, "You are the most important thing in the world to your father and me. What kind of an example would we be setting for you, what kind of a person would we be raising you to become, if we suggested that it was alright to commit a crime and allow someone else to be punished for it?"
Obviously, that aspect of the situation hadn't crossed Charlie's mind. Until now. Her eyes bored into Cass. "Kirkland's dad... Kirkland's dad almost went to jail for thirty years. And now, Lori Ann's grandfather... How come you didn't say anything before?"
"I thought I could help them stay out of jail. Your mother, however, made me see that wasn't a viable strategy."
"You told him to turn himself in?"
"I did," Frankie replied, hoping her voice, at least, sounded more confident than she felt.
"What is wrong with you? What is wrong with both of you?"
"I explained my reasons to you, Charlie. Now, I'm happy to keep discussing it, if that's what you'd like. But they are not going to change, no matter how many times you ask. Or how many insults you hurl at us."
"All the time you were gone," Charlie said. "Dad made you sound like a saint. You were the kindest, the most loving, the most generous, the most brilliant person who'd ever walked the earth. You were perfect. Except for one thing. Even Dad admitted that you had this rotten habit of always thinking you knew what was best. Not just for yourself, but for everybody."
"This is best for us. It's best for our whole family. I understand that you can't see it now. But you will one day."
"Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit," Charlie popped back up. "Don't worry, I don't have to keep asking you your reasons. I got them the first time. You're doing this so you can tell yourself what a great mom you are. What a terrific example you're setting for me, what huge sacrifices you're making to teach me a valuable lesson."
"I " Frankie began, unsure of how to deny what was, in fact, the truth. Except presented with a slant she'd never previously considered.
"When we were sneaking around, hiding you from Cecile... and Dad, it was the same thing. You got off on your suffering, on how noble you were being, staying away from Dad. I remember you telling me, over and over again, how you were doing it all for me. How you loved me so much that you couldn't keep away from me, but that you didn't want to disrupt my life, that you were willing to be my mom from afar, despite how much it hurt you to do it."
"That was all true, Charlie."
"Okay. It was true. But I didn't ask you to make those sacrifices. You made the choice. For yourself and for me. I was just the one who had to deal with it. Same as now."
"Don't you dare change the subject, Donna," Marley warned. "We were talking about you and your insanities. Not me, and not Grant."
"Well, at least you're cognizant enough to lump your... whatever it is you and Grant have, under the heading of Insanity."
"I repeat: The subject is not up for discussion."
"I say it is. Especially when it is happening in my house, where my granddaughters "
"Right now, I'd trust Michele and Bridget with Grant a hell of a lot quicker than with you."
"Really? Victoria's daughters? You would let that man anywhere near our Victoria's little girls?"
"He's very good with them, actually. You should see it sometimes."
"Of course, he's good with them. Grant has always been good with women. The younger and more gullible and more naive, the better."
"Yes, Donna. Gullible and naive. That was Vicky to a T."
"Exactly! That's exactly my point! If she couldn't handle him "
"Then what chance does meek, mild-mannered Marley stand?"
"You said it," Donna pointed out softly. "Not I."
"Rest assured, I'm smarter and tougher than I used to be. I've had to put up with a lot lately. Primarily thanks to you."
"This is because of Jamie, isn't it?"
"What?" Marley was amazed she didn't get whiplash from the swift change of subject.
"I'm not a fool, darling. I've watched you all these years ever since he returned to Bay City with the boys. You've never truly let go of your fantasy of you and Jamie having a family, living happily ever after. And then, all of a sudden, you had it. In a manner of speaking. But it was something. And it gave you hope. And then, finally, he married you. For Kirkland's sake but, again... so close. You were so close to having your dream come true. I don't blame you, after it fell apart, for needing, for searching desperately for something to anchor you, and for latching on to a man who certainly knows how to take advantage of "
"You think I'm latching on to Grant because I've lost Jamie?"
"What else could it be? The Marley Hudson of even a few weeks ago would have never let Grant Harrison into her bed."
"Okay," Marley took a deep breath, attempting to remain calm. "First of all: Jamie was never mine to lose. How can I mourn something I never had in the first place? And second of all: Maybe you don't know me as well as you think. Maybe you never did."
"Or maybe you're changing. And not for the better. That's how it starts."
"What, Donna? That's how what starts?"
"You turning into me."
Another laugh from Marley, even more derisive this time. "I think we're pretty safe there. Thanks for your concern, but I've got everything under control."
"That's what I always told myself, too. It's what I believed for a long time. That I was in control, that I set the rules for others to follow. I didn't bow to others, they bowed to me. And if they didn't, I knew that they would eventually. I would make them. Because I would not be the weak one. I would have power. I would not be a victim. The way I took that power was by becoming whoever the people around expected me to be; creating a Donna that Reginald couldn't break, a Donna that your father couldn't truly have but could also never completely let go....
"Except that, in saving myself, Marley, in trying to protect myself, I somehow manage to lose myself along the way."
"And this fascinating window into your psyche relates to me, how?"
"I see you making the same mistake I did. You're becoming someone you're not and you're using Grant to accomplish that feat; always a dreadful idea in order to avoid facing the fact that you're alone and scared and hurting, and you have no clue what to do now that the only dream you've been counting on for years "
"I am not you!"
"I hope not," Donna said. "I very sincerely hope not."
"And furthermore, you have no idea what happened between me and Jamie because you weren't here, were you? Not to mention the fact that not everything I say, do, or think is a reaction to Jamie. Or to you. I do have a mind of my own."
"Then you must be out of it," Donna said without rancor and trailing more than a slight tinge of sadness. "To be even considering, much less participating in, any sort of liaison with Grant."
"Caught you," Jen poked her head into Kevin's office at 3 PM sharp, knowing it was when he traditionally kicked off the message returning portion of his day.
Her father already had the phone in his hand, getting ready to dial. He set it down slowly when he saw her come in, all the while appearing utterly nonplussed by the interruption.
"I figured if you were going to keep ducking my calls, I might as well try an ambush." She plopped down in the chair across from his desk.
"I haven't been "
"Yes, you have. I've left you five messages since that breakfast we had together."
"I'm sorry, Jenny. I guess I lost track of time. Was there something important "
"You know, when your grandmother called you a coward, I assumed that just applied to you and her, not you and me."
"I've been afraid of you from the first day we met. We've talked about this." He tried for a joke. He failed.
"Are you okay, Daddy? You seemed really shaken up by what Dr. Frame said."
"I'm fine," he insisted. "I've been fighting with Alice Frame since before I lost all my baby teeth. What you saw the other day was nothing."
"Why do you hate her so much? She wasn't the one who gave you up for adoption. And she wasn't the one who came to get you back. All she did was try her best to take care of you when there was nobody else left. I've been thinking about this. The way I see it, Alice is really more your mom than your grandmother. She ended up raising you longer than anyone else."
"My mother's name was Jennifer Thatcher. Anyone else "
"You made sure they knew it."
Kevin challenged, "If you saw your biological father on the street right now, what would you do?"
Jen hesitated, pondered the question, and mused, "I hope I'd have the strength to just turn around and walk the other way. I suspect though that I'd probably stop him and make a scene. Demand to know how he could do what he did. To my mother and to me."
"As you may have noticed, I prefer the turning around and walking away approach. Why charge deliberately into trouble and pain, when there's enough of it on a good day to blindside even the most vigilant? If that self-protective attitude makes me a coward, so be it. I only hope you'll consider being exactly the same sort of coward."
"Our situations are hardly analogous."
"From where I sit, they are."
"Alice loves you. That's obvious. And she did her best. That's obvious, too."
"I don't want to talk about this anymore, Jenny. You're the most important person in the world to me. But for some things, I don't owe you any explanations."
"Okay," she shrugged. Clearly it wasn't, but being raised by a professional negotiator had given Jen a pretty good instinct for when to push and when to pull back.
"Okay," he smiled pleasantly. "So." Kevin queried, "How are things going with GQ?"
"Good," she conceded. "Actually, really good, now that the whole situation with Allie has been settled. I've got to admit, I'm relieved. I mean, I told GQ the truth when I said I'd stick by him, even if the baby turned out to be his. But, honestly, that was one cliche I had no interest in living out. Keeping It Real has never been my ambition. This way, everyone still gets a chance for their happy ending. Hudson, most of all."
"How did you know?" Kirkland questioned Steven, the two of them alone now in the hotel room, Jamie having left to give them some time to digest everything he'd said. "How did you know that we really didn't want to hear everything about Dad and... her?"
Steven shrugged. "I reasoned, if Dad was willing to go to jail to keep his secret, if he was willing to let us think he was a murderer, it had to be something even worse than that."
"Wow. So that's what it's like being super-smart. Figuring out stuff even when you don't want to."
"Yeah," Steven admitted. "That's actually pretty much exactly what it's like."
Kirkland ventured, "She drugged him...."
"That's what he said."
"You don't believe him?"
"I believe him."
"It only happened because she drugged him. He never would have... otherwise..."
"No. No, I'm sure.... The effect of psychotropics on the brain, especially the areas that regulate judgment and impulse control... No. He wouldn't have. It was the drugs."
"I guess," Kirkland began. "I guess if I can forgive Grant everything he did to Mom... and he was in his right mind, more or less... I should be able to forgive Dad."
"Well, isn't that lucky for you."
"Stop being such a prick, Steven," Kirkland said, but it was more of a suggestion. He asked quietly, "Do you hate him?"
"Dad? No. I'm disappointed. Guilty about being disappointed. Angry that he told us, so now I have to sit here, feeling guilty about being disappointed. But I don't hate him. He owned up. He didn't have to. I can respect that. I guess."
A knock on the door prompted them both to look up, Jamie entering the room. "I just wanted to check on.... Look, I know Scratch that. I don't know a damn thing. I asked about return flights, and there's one going to Bay City in a couple of hours if you two want to "
"I don't want to go home," Kirkland insisted. "Do you, Steven?"
Steven looked down at his hands, unable to make eye contact, but shaking his head, nonetheless. "No. Kirk here had to break down and hug me to earn this trip. We gotta give the kid his money's worth."
Jamie nodded slowly, unable to speak, wondering what in the world he'd done to deserve such extraordinary kids. "Yeah," he finally managed to choke out. "Got to do that."
"Say something, Felicia," Cass pleaded with his friend, wondering if he were about to get smacked with a repeat of Charlie's denunciation, profanity and all.
But instead, Felicia just hugged him tightly and assured, "You don't have to do this."
"I do." Cass pulled back, looking her in the eye, trying to make her understand. "Lucas didn't kill Cecile. I did. I'm the one who should be sitting in prison, not him."
"You should both be getting medals!"
"Not according to Frankie," he noted.
Felicia shook her head, sighing, "You know how much I adore Frankie. But, on this, she just doesn't understand, does she? Not like us. She wasn't the one left behind, like you and I were. Yes, Cecile tormented her and made her life hell. But not in the same way as she tormented you. She made you believe you'd lost the love of your life for good. I know what that feels like. Frankie, no matter how much she suffered... doesn't. She knew where you were, even if she couldn't get to you. No matter how dark things grew for her, she knew there was still an iota of hope, something that she could do if she ever summoned up the courage, some semblance of control that she still held. You and I didn't have that. We thought the situation was hopeless and we certainly thought it was out of our control. That's a very particular sort of agony. Of course, when you got your miracle and Frankie came home, you weren't about to risk losing her for anything. Not a second time. You did the only thing you could, Cass."
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