Valentine's Day in Bay City
Valentine's Day in Bay City 2011
"Nice monkey suit," Cass smirked at Matt when they encountered each other at the Annual Bay City Latin School Father/Daughter Valentine's Day Dance.
"Same to you," Matt barely had the chance to wave good-bye before Charlie and Jasmine disappeared into the dimly lit throng of other formally dressed, way-too maturely made-up, short-skirted and coiffed teen-age girls.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Cass maneuvered his way over to the bleachers, where the cacophony passing itself off as music didn't seem to be quite as ear-splitting as every other spot in the gym, and the strobes a tiny bit less blinding. "But, when we were kids, did dances require tuxedos? Or push-up bras?"
"Not when I was a kid," Matt followed, settling down between Cass and yet another familiar figure. "How about you, Carl?"
His stepfather, dressed in tails, no less no mere tuxedo for Carl Hutchins, thank you kindly sniffed dismissively regarding the entire scene and dryly informed him, "Alas, dear boy, in my day, we were still crouching about on all fours, wearing pterodactyl skins and fermenting our wine in the entrails of goats."
Matt smirked. "Feeling old, are we?"
"You don't believe the music could stand to be turned down a notch or two? Merely because an amplifier can go up to eleven, does not necessarily mean that it should."
"Dude? Was that an actual Spinal Tap reference?"
"And why, may I ask not?"
"Just doesn't seem to be your speed, that's all. I didn't realize the Bard scripted Christopher Guest movies."
"Au contraire. I have a variety of eclectic interests. Did you forget, Matthew, my brief foray into the music business?"
"I remember. So does the huge gap where my trust fund used to be."
"Caveat emptor. I taught you a valuable lesson. You should have thanked me."
"Can you even see them?" Cass shielded his eyes with one hand, half-standing up for a better view. In front of them, a dense mass of bodies gyrated in a series of spasms that might have been dancing, while a slightly stiller arrangement congregated around the refreshment table directly across from the stands. "What's the point of us bringing the girls here if, the minute we're through the doors, they ditch us?"
"Unaccustomed to such dismissive treatment from the fairer sex?" Carl inquired in much the same tone Matt had earlier used on him. "Afraid you've lost your irresistible touch?"
"I just want to know where my daughter went," he snapped defensively, then confessed, "Charlie turned seventeen last week. Do you know what that means?" The question was obviously rhetorical. He went on to answer, "It means I have less than a year before... I had these plans, these things I wanted to teach her. A lifetime of wisdom and experience that I was waiting for just the right moment to pass on. I kept thinking this wasn't the time, she wasn't ready yet. And now, it feels like I barely have any time left."
"I don't know if the kind of wisdom you have to pass on," Matt speculated. "Is the kind of wisdom a girl really wants to hear from her father?"
"It's precisely the kind of wisdom that she should hear from her father! I'm the only one who'll tell her the truth. I know every trick any guy with a slick line ever pulled. You can bet my little girl is going out into the world prepared."
"Doesn't seem very fair to Charlie."
"What are you talking about? Forewarned is forearmed."
"I don't know." Matt shrugged. "I think about this with Jasmine. Sure, there's stuff I could tell her about how the world works. Stuff I had to learn the hard way. But, you know Jazz. She's so sweet and so optimistic and open and just, you know, joyful. What right do I have to take that away from her? Sure, I'm a cynical bastard. Does that mean she has to become one, too?"
Cass sighed. "All Charlie thinks of are her feelings in the moment, nothing about consequences, nothing about repercussions. Like when she was so angry at Jasmine while I was in prison. She decided to take her frustrations out on her little sister. It never occurred to her to put herself into Jasmine's shoes, or to ponder that, five minutes later, she might wish she hadn't pushed her away. Like with Frankie now. One second Charlie is thrilled to have her mom back, and then next she's got all this resentment."
"That's kind of natural," Matt noted. "She's been through a lot. And she's just a kid."
"She's too old to be going off half-cocked, swinging from one mood to the next without the slightest consideration for the damage she might be causing; then coming back later, all smiles, and acting surprised when hard feelings remain. Charlie needs to realize you can't indulge every whim or impulse, good or bad. You can't only live in the present as if the future will never come. It will. And, damn it, a lot sooner than anyone expects."
"I taught Elizabeth to play chess when she was three," Carl spoke up abruptly. "She was a natural. It took Cory nearly a year longer to master the same basic endgames. I taught her to think two, five, as many as ten moves ahead, to always be on the look-out for pitfalls and traps, never to let her guard down and certainly never to concede defeat."
"That sounds appropriate for a toddler," Matt mumbled, receiving a reproachful kick in the shins from Cass in response. Don't poke the overdressed bear.
"And yet, I can't help feeling I might have gone a tad too far."
Thinking of his most peculiar little sister, Matt rather wholeheartedly agreed with Carl's appraisal. But, knew better than to do more than make a noncommittal grunt. And not just out of fear for his shins, either.
"I fear I've taught her so well to be on the lookout for future calamities, that she fails to wholeheartedly appreciate the blessings of the present. Even in moments of peace, she is perennially preparing for war. From the time she was a small child, I don't believe I have ever seen Elizabeth utterly contented. On the one hand, that is a crucial survival-of-the-fittest characteristic. After all, how can one successfully remain ahead of the pack if they stop to rest on their laurels?"
"Yes, yes, right," Cass and Matt mmm'd and nodded, realizing that to do anything else could prove most detrimental to their overall well-being.
"Then again, perhaps a moment to drop one's psychic armor and smell the metaphorical roses...amidst the laurels... might endow with its own benefit. Who knows, maybe if she weren't quite so... on the alert... all the time, Elizabeth might prove a bit more..."
"Normal?" Matt blurted out.
"No need to be insulting," Carl bristled.
"I was going to say... happy." His brow furrowed as Elizabeth's father encountered that rarest of beasts: a puzzle he couldn't quite unearth the key to. "I fear that, in spite of her protests to the contrary, I have never come across my child truly... happy."
"So was it weird?" Allie wondered as Sarah unpacked the case of DVDs she'd brought to Allie's room at the Cory mansion. "Seeing Steven when he came to pick up the twins?"
"Weird for him, maybe," Sarah shrugged. "His problem."
"Did he know why you were there?"
"The girls told him, I guess."
"And what did he say?"
"It's Steven," Sarah reminded.
"Right. The more upset he is, the less he says."
"He didn't even come into the house. Just honked his horn from the drive and beckoned for the girls to come out. Didn't even turn to wave bye once they were in the car."
"You seem really calm about all this. That's not like you."
"Steven thought I was getting too clingy and intense before? Fine. If he wants cool and indifferent, I can do cool and indifferent."
"Now that's you. Only wouldn't the usual Step #2 of the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler plan involve you getting dressed up, looking drop dead hot, and stepping out with a guy three inches taller and thirty IQ points higher than Steven and making sure he saw you doing it? Especially with it being Valentine's Day and all?"
"Didn't feel like it," Sarah dismissed, holding up the DVDs for Allie's perusal. "Which do you think is more appropriate viewing for tonight: My Bloody Valentine, Tales From the Grave: Valentine's Day, or St. Valentine's Day Massacre?"
The realization hit Allie like a ton of bricks. "Are you doing this for me?"
"What are you talking about? This is our thing. Who else would I watch cheesy movies with?"
"Not on Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day, you shouldn't be stuck babysitting your lame friend "
"My lame best friend," Sarah corrected, selecting the Roger Corman disc first.
"Instead of going out and doing something a little less... lame."
"Funny, that's just what your mom said about you."
"You talked to my mom?"
"She thinks I'm going nuts!"
"I told her you weren't. Though, you might not want to mention our cinematic selections for the evening. It might get misinterpreted. You know how people are."
"Good. Who wants to watch stupid movies with a crazy person? Or is that, who wants to watch crazy movies with a stupid person? Same difference, right?"
"Stop trying to cheer me up."
"Alright. Let's talk about something sad. Did you see what Carl was wearing to go to her dance with Elizabeth? Poor kid must be mortified. He looked like a cross between Beethoven and Dracula. Hey, that wouldn't make a bad movie: Twilight Beethoven. He was deaf, right? Vampire constantly putting a hand to his ear and going, "What? What did you say?" Could be kind of funny. Have you noticed how there are no differently-abled undead? Discrimination! Someone should look into it."
"Stop it," Allie repeated a bit more vehemently. "You don't have to entertain me."
"Then what's the point of Crappy Movie Night?"
"It's like I told my mom. Why can't I just be sad for a while? Gregory is dead. A year ago, he rented an entire theater out so we could watch a movie and talk back to the screen without bothering other people. Isn't that so Gregory? He wanted to surprise me with something I liked to do, but he didn't want to disturb anybody else while we did it. He didn't even understand why I thought making snide comments was fun. But, he knew that you and I did it, and that I missed you and "
"Yeah. I remember where we all were last year."
"He even watched the movie first, so he could think of funny things to say in advance. He had them all written out on a pad of paper," Allie's eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, God, Al, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to remind you..."
"Why not? Why are you apologizing? I like being reminded of Gregory and how sweet and good and nice he was. Why does everybody think I want to forget him? It doesn't make any sense. I loved him. I'm happy thinking about him and remembering him and talking about him. Why doesn't anybody get that?"
"I get it," Sarah said. She shoved all three DVDs to the side of Allie's bed and sat down across from her. "You want to talk about Gregory? Let's talk about Gregory. Tell me everything you remember about him. That way I'll remember him, too."
"You know," Steven prompted Michele and Bridget as the three of them, along with Kirkland, gave their dinner order to the waitress at Carlino's. "We could all still motor over to that dance at your school. We've got plenty of time."
"It's a Father/Daughter Dance," Bridget reminded glumly.
"Which means," Kirkland chimed in. "While everyone else is going to be there with their boring, old dads I know what I'm talking about; Elizabeth took Carl! you'll be the only two escorted by your cool, older brothers. Everyone will be dying of jealousy."
"Since when do you like dances?" Michele challenged Steven. "I've never heard of you going to one."
"Never found the right date," he shrugged and took a sip of his Coke. "Till now. And, lucky me, two for the price of one."
"You don't have to try and make us feel better," Bridget reassured.
"Who's trying to make you feel better?" Kirkland countered. " I want to go!"
"For real?" Michele crossed her arms and looking at him with disbelief.
"Totally. You know the rules, they told us all at Assembly. Only girls and their dads, no guys. If I sneak in using you two as decoys, maybe snap a few pictures with my phone, I'll be a Bay City Latin hero."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Michele made it clear she wasn't buying a word of it. "But, I don't want to stand there, feeling stupid, looking at all the other girls with their dads."
"Your dad would have been the coolest one there," Steven reassured his little sister.
"Totally," Kirkland agreed. "Jake would've had all the girls and probably their moms, too begging for a chance to dance with him. He really knew how to turn on the charm."
"Was he a good dancer?" Michele asked.
"A great dancer," Steven replied confidently, though frankly, he had no clue. "You would've had to drag him out of there, especially if it meant showing you two off."
"No," Kirkland corrected. "He would've shown you two off, alright, big time. He'd have practically cornered every other dad so he could boast about how his girls were so much better than, well, pretty much any other kid on the planet. But, he wouldn't have hung around for the whole dance."
"Why not?" Bridget wondered.
"Because, Jake would have needed to get home early, to set up whatever Valentine's Day surprise it was he'd planned for Mom."
"Like what?" Michele leaned forward in her chair, eyes shining, thrilled with this peek into the family she should have had but didn't.
"Like... well... uhm... " Kirkland's fantasy hadn't quite gotten that far. He hadn't expected to be pressed for details.
Watching his brother flounder, Steven offered, "Probably something totally hokey, like the time he recreated their high-school prom for her, 'cause they didn't get to go when they were actually, you know, in high-school."
"And there'd be swings involved," Kirkland dredged up a brainstorm. "Mom and Jake and those swings... Seriously."
"Dad proposed to Mom on their swings," Bridget recited in the same rote way some girls recalled a favorite fairy tale.
"Then again," Steven said, "Maybe Jake would've planned something fun for all four of you. Like the time he took Kirk, Mom and me to New York. We went to Central Park. It was great. I think that day helped show Mom how we'd all be as a family."
"It's not fair," Bridget mumbled, the glee of a minute ago suddenly replaced with tears. "Jake was our dad, not yours. How come you're the ones who get to remember all the fun times with him?"
"Because life sucks," Steven said simply.
"And dances are stupid," Michele amended. "And I wish he was here to take us."
"Me, too," Kirkland said.
"Me, three," Steven agreed. "But, he's not."
"Maybe he'll come back," Bridget ventured. "Like Kirk's dad. Or Charlie's mom."
"Yeah, I used to think so, too," Steven confessed.
"Really?" Kirkland asked in surprise. "You?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you... you're so, you know, logical and practical and... serious."
"In Bay City," Steven pointed out. "It's logical and practical to think that if other kids' parents can come back from the dead, why not yours?"
"So why didn't they?" Michele demanded. "Elizabeth and Cory got their father back. And Kirk and Charlie, and Lori Ann's Grandpa and a bunch of other people. Why didn't our Mom and Dad love us enough to come back for us, too?"
"Get lost," Elizabeth told Jasmine as the latter attempted to follow Charlie and a half-dozen other Upper School girls sneaking out through the back Fire Exit door.
"Why can't I go, too?" Jasmine demanded, watching her older sister and friends disappear into the chilly night, giggling and, on the face of it, talking about something without actually saying anything at all, while Elizabeth bodily blocked Jasmine's way.
"This isn't for little kids."
"I am not a little kid!" Jasmine stomped her foot, which she realized probably didn't help her case any. "What are you going to do, anyway?"
"None of your business."
"Well, if I'm a little kid, so are you."
"One year makes a big difference," Elizabeth begged to differ from up on her lofty perch of nonexistent life experience.
"Sure. If you're a dog."
"Let's just say nobody has to be afraid of me snitching."
"I'm no snitch! Come on, let's just ask Charlie. She'll let me come along, I know she will."
"No. Don't be so stupid. Charlie was the one who told me to keep you out in the first place."
"She... was?" Jasmine wasn't certain whom to believe now. On the one hand, Charlie had invited Jasmine to her birthday dinner, and she'd been nice to her so far tonight, letting Jasmine hang out with the older girls, telling them her little sister was "cool." Then again, she did have the tendency to change her mind without warning.
"Uh-ha." Elizabeth haughtily declared case closed and turned to scurry after the others.
Jasmine pulled her back by one arm. "Why would Charlie do that?"
"Maybe because she figures the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and explained with a condescending groan, "It's an idiom, you idiot," smiling at her own cleverness. "The first cited reference was in German in 1842 in a "
"I know what it means," Jasmine cut her off, exasperated. "What are you talking about?"
"Your mom," Elizabeth countered snidely, peeved at being interrupted mid-speech and even more nervous at the thought that the others might leave without her, too. "Charlie doesn't want you blowing the whistle on what she's up to same way your mom squealed on Kevin's grandma to the cops."
"What lovely flowers," Donna offered with a smile, inwardly wincing as Marley flinched at the sound of her voice. "Your father "
"Wouldn't have cared about the flowers. He'd just have been happy to see me." Marley cut Donna off, hiking up the collar of her coat to both ward off the cold and bring up her shields, literally. Her legs instinctually put distance between herself and Donna while her hands clenched into tight fists. She shoved them into her coat pockets and, with one last smile in his direction, backed away.
"I'll leave Dad to you," she deferred quietly, not wanting to come to blows at her father's grave, but unable to endure even another second next to her mother at this particular spot.
"Darling, please," Donna called out. "Of all days, can't we put aside "
"Here? Honestly? You're asking me to overlook your life full of transgressions, here?"
"It happened so quickly," Donna knew they'd already gone over it a million times. But she was willing to endure a million more, if it meant finding a way to reach her daughter. "That moment when I recognized your face "
"My old face."
"When I realized what I'd done. Realized that I'd nearly killed you. You have no idea of the self-loathing I still carry, the shame, the revulsion...."
"Good. There's no excuse for what you did. Being angry and hurting, feeling alone and like you'll never get back what you were stupid enough to lose in the first place... that's no excuse for deliberately hurting someone! Especially not someone you claim to love!"
"Of course not. I never implied...." Donna shook her head. "My reasons "
"Were selfish! And delusional! What did you think you'd accomplish by hurting Vicky, by running her over? Did you think it would bring Dad back to you? A life for a life, is that what was going through your mind?"
"I wasn't really thinking anything. Please believe me. I acted on instinct. I saw a woman who I thought was Victoria..."
"Let's pretend it had been Vicky," Marley offered. "And your little instinctual lapse in judgment succeeded in killing her, after all. And somehow it prompted the gods to smile down upon you and send Dad back. Now what? What happens next in this scenario? What happens when the man you proclaim to love learns you killed his daughter in a fit of anger and rage? And that the anger and rage were because of him? I'll tell you what happens. In unspeakable pain because of your ruthless selfishness, he leaves you. So he's still gone, and you're as alone as you were before. Only, in addition, you've destroyed a couple more lives in the process: Kirkland, Steven. You took away their mother. Someone you or I could never, despite our best efforts, replace."
"I know." Sensing Marley's growing hysteria, Donna kept her voice deliberately calm and accommodating. But it did no good.
"Stop saying you know! If you knew, you would've never gotten behind that wheel. The thought would've never crossed your mind to kill someone, and you certainly would've never actually tried to kill them me."
"Marley," Donna cradled her daughter's face in her hands. "I'm sorry, darling. I'm so sorry for everything."
"Sorry doesn't change anything! Sorry doesn't make it better!"
"It's a place to start," Donna said softly. "A way to free yourself from your own pain so you can finally conceive of a way to atone; to reach out to those you've wronged, to help them, to help yourself."
Marley shook her head. "Too much has happened. Too many people have been hurt."
"It's never too late. We can do this. Together. Whatever needs to be done. Just tell me what is tearing you apart like this. We'll find a way to fix it, I swear to you."
Marley's hands grabbed desperately at Donna's, her daughter's anguished face on the brink of giving way to confession, release, Donna was certain of it. But then, Marley's gaze fell on Donna's wrists, the smooth, deep scars inflicted exactly one year ago instantly destroying whatever moment they might have had.
"What use are you to me," Marley smiled bitterly, pushing her mother away in disgust. "When you couldn't even help yourself?"
"Because Lucas was feeling inexplicably generous that day."
"I got help."
"I'm better now, Marley. I can take care of myself. And everyone who depends on me."
"How many times have I heard that before?" Marley smiled wryly, wrenching her arm from Donna's grasp and turning on her heel, leaving her mother alone at her father's grave.
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