“I’m glad you stopped by, darling.” Rachel swept down the stairs to envelope Jamie in a hug, then crouched to study Devon and Mackenzie in their double stroller, Jamie’s younger daughter asleep, his elder scowling silently. “And it’s been much too long since I’ve seen these beauties.”
“Well, we were taking a walk…”
“All the way from your house? That must be at least seven miles, if not more.”
Her son shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do. And the girls have been having trouble sleeping at night. This helps keep them from completely melting down.”
“You don’t look like you’ve been sleeping too well, either.”
“I could say the same for you, Mom.”
“Oh, honey,” Rachel sighed, realizing there was nothing she could offer to make this any easier for him. And vice-versa.
“Anyway,” Jamie pushed the stroller into the library, unbuckling Devon and allowing her to scamper out and start exploring her grandmother’s antique furnishings. “I heard from Grant about your newfound desire to enter the political arena.”
“I’ve always been interested in politics. I’ve supported Grant as a candidate before.”
“You also supported Hamilton two years ago. Over Grant.”
“Things change,” Rachel dismissed.
“You mean, once upon a time, you actually cared about what a Mayor would do for Bay City. And now, you’re only interested in payback.”
“Grant will make an excellent Mayor.”
“Come on, Mom! This is me you’re talking to. You’re not making a stump speech. Grant’s entire political career has been an exercise in self-serving deception. He resigned from the Senate after framing Vicky for trying to kill him. His first Mayoral stint ended when he “died.”
“Those were all personal indiscretions. They had nothing to do with the office.”
“They showed where and what his priorities are. What they always will be. The man abandoned his son when Kirkland proved inconvenient. You think Grant gives a damn about the tax-payers?”
“And what about Hamilton? He abused his power to – “
“Diffuse a proven threat to Bay City?”
“To kill my family,” Rachel said simply.
Jamie nodded slowly, having come here expecting as much and uninterested in hashing that point out yet again. All he cared about was, “Hamilton is going to fight dirty.”
“I have no doubt.”
“He won’t just go after Grant. He’ll go after Marley, and Kirkland. He’ll invoke Jake, if he has to. And Spencer. Lorna. Me. You. Mac. That’s a hell of a lot of dirty laundry.”
“What if we can avoid it?” Rachel asked desperately. “What if we can head Hamilton off? Strike first, get something on him before he can come after us?”
Jamie studied his mother for a good, long time. And then he bent over to sweep a fussing Devon into his arms. “Carl would be very proud of you, Mom.”
“What’s the matter?” Cass and Frankie’s host clucked, looking from one to the other, appearing downright tickled pink at the matching dumbstruck expressions on their faces. “You both look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“What the hell are you…” Cass began.
“Expecting someone else, were you?”
“You’re Peter Love,” Frankie blurted out.
“At your service.” He mock bowed from the chair where Peter was sitting, Owen Lax standing behind him, watching the proceedings impassively. “I’m impressed. I don’t believe we’ve ever been formally introduced.”
“Your reputation precedes you,” she spat.
“Oh, Cass, you shouldn’t have.”
“I didn’t.” He turned to Frankie. “How did you…”
“Cecile,” Frankie reminded. “When I researched her, his name came up. Prominently.”
“Ah, yes, Cass, I never did get the chance to send a thank you note for that public service you performed in all our names two years ago.”
“Shut up,” Cass advised menacingly.
Peter had the good sense to take his hint. Instead, he changed tactics. “What brings you to my neck of the empire?”
“Peter the Great, I presume?” Cass smirked.
“I must admit, it is nice to finally reside in a place where one’s given name is properly venerated and admired.”
“Are you for real?” Frankie demanded.
He held out a hand, beckoning Cass’ wife forward suggestively. “In the flesh.”
Frankie ignored Peter completely to address Owen Lax. “I thought you worked for Carl Hutchins.”
Mr. Lax gave no indication of having heard. His eyelids didn’t even flicker. Not until Peter allowed, “It’s alright, go ahead and answer him. I suspect this will be amusing.”
On command, Lax replied, “I did. Not anymore.”
“Your name was listed on his flight manifest.” Cass reached into his pocket, withdrew the photocopied documents and passed them to Lax.
Once again, he read without expression.
“Carl’s flight went down. He’s presumed dead. So are you.”
“Reports exaggerated, etc… etc…” Peter said. “Surely you and your lovely bride – or is that brides? – are familiar with the concept.”
“Were you on that flight?” Frankie demanded.
Lax said, “I have been in Mr. Love’s employee since July 1, 2012.”
“Then why is your name on a manifest dated July 4th?”
Lax stared at them, unblinking and unyielding. “Beats me.”
“Did you know Carl Hutchins was planning to leave the country?” Cass asked.
A pause. And then, after a nod from Peter. “Yes.”
“Did he ask you to go with him?”
“Chatty guy, aren’t you, Mr. Lax?” Cass mused.
“When I have someone worth chatting with,” Lax slapped him back.
Frankie decided now would be a good time for her to step in. “Why didn’t you keep on working for Carl?”
At that, Lax actually appeared to squirm uncomfortably.
Prompting Frankie to guess, “Is it because you knew he was planning to kidnap his children?”
“I don’t get involved in domestic disputes,” was all Lax had to say to that.
“So you quit…”
“I took another position. Mr. Hutchins set it up, as a matter of fact. He knew my wife was studying Soviet politics, so….”
“He wanted you out of the country so you couldn’t give him away,” Cass corrected.
“My wife and I were dying to see St. Petersburg’s White Nights,” Lax spat.
“Those are in June,” Cass remembered what Frankie had taught him.
“We’ll catch them next year.”
“You’re working with Carl?” Cass accused Peter.
“Heaven forbid. I merely accepted a professional recommendation from him. Carl is quite the expert in employees who know how to be discreet. And who marry well.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Frankie felt like they’d missed a step.
“It means my wife is not an idiot,” Owen said. “She warned me that you two were up to something. This is how you repay someone’s hospitality? By spying on them?”
As long as everything was out in the open, Frankie figured they had nothing to lose from revealing, “If you’re not working with Carl, why do you have files on Donna and Grant? Those are two of Carl’s favorite targets.”
“Donna is my sister,” Peter noted. “I like to stay in touch.”
“And phone calls or letters are so impersonal, when you can get up-close surveillance photos instead,” Cass guessed.
Peter merely smiled.
“What about Grant?” Frankie refused to let up. “Are you two equally close?”
“Grant is married to Marley, my other sister. No, I’m sorry, my niece. The Love family tree is somewhat confusing. I like to keep up with Marley’s exploits, as well.”
“Where is Carl?” Cass asked Lax. “You knew what he was plotting well enough to know you wanted no part of it. Where was he intending to take Rachel’s children? And where the hell is he now?”
“What are you doing?” GQ asked when he arrived at the computer lab to find Steven hunched over his work-station, perusing code GQ had never encountered previously.
“This,” Steven said, hitting a button and transforming the screen full of zeroes and ones into a grainy, black and white video feed of Bay City Hospital’s oncology ward.
GQ squinted. “Is that…”
“Jen’s room,” Steven said grimly. “View from the security camera. I got familiar with the system when Gregory…”
“Yeah. I remember.”
“I thought you might want to see how she was doing.”
GQ studied the feed for a moment, then turned away, shaking his head. “Turn it off. I – She – Jen wouldn’t have wanted any of us to see her this way.”
Steven thought about it for a moment, then flipped the monitor switch. “You’re right.”
“Damn it,” GQ’s shoulders were shaking, and he covered his face with his hands. “She – She’s really…”
“She’s dying,” Steven said. “Unless Jen gets her transplant soon, she’s going to die.”
“It’ll happen,” GQ swore. “Mr. Johnson will come through.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Why do you believe in this guy so much? You don’t even know him.”
“I know what it’s like to be him,” GQ insisted. “I know what it’s like to have your kid taken away from you, and for the courts to decide you’re not good enough to raise him.”
“You lost Hudson because Allie lied and committed fraud. Johnson went to prison for robbery and assault.”
“He made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I made one with Allie that cost me Hudson. Anyone can make a mistake.”
“What does it matter?” Steven honestly wanted to know. “What do you care if Johnson is a bad guy or a good guy, as long as Jen gets her transplant?”
“Because maybe, when Jen gets her transplant, she’ll understand that her dad does love her. And everything he did, all the mistakes he made, they weren’t about her. They were never about her. And maybe she’ll forgive him. And maybe they’ll have some kind of relationship now.”
“And what if he’s not? A good guy? What then?”
“Jen needs this, too,” GQ said. “I know you and Kevin don’t want to believe it, but Jen needs to have her dad come through for her. You know how Jen is. Always wanting to do the right thing, being proper and together and not taking chances.”
“Wanting to be normal,” Steven said dully, remembering her explanation for why he and she couldn’t…. “Yeah. I know.”
“Well, did it ever occur to you that it’s because she thinks, deep down, she’s garbage? The daughter of a drug addict and a felon? That Jen is scared to venture even a centimeter off the straight and narrow because she’s scared of turning into them?”
“Of course it’s occurred to me,” Steven bristled. “I’m not completely oblivious. I just act that way. Because most things aren’t interesting enough for me to pay attention to.”
“If Jen could believe that her dad isn’t a bad guy, that he’s not the worthless monster Kevin and her grandmother convinced her he was, don’t you think that could go a long way towards making her feel better about herself? Maybe then she wouldn’t be so scared all the time. Maybe then, Jen could finally feel secure. Maybe she could finally be happy.”
“Donna,” Marley startled in surprise when she arrived at the hospital pharmacy, picking up Sarah’s prescription for iron pills prior to her discharge, only to come upon her mother, seeking a remedy of her own.
“Oh, hello, darling.” No matter how fast Donna tried hiding what she’d just been issued, Marley was quicker, and her eyes widened in disbelief when she read the medication’s name.
“Donna? Are you – are you and Matt trying to have a baby?”
“What gave you that idea?” Donna’s default setting was always to bluff by pretending not to understand what she was being accused of.
Her daughter raised an eyebrow. “Do you honestly think there’s a fertility drug out there that I’m not aware of?”
“Oh, darling, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to raise the specter of – ”
“Don’t.” Marley lifted a hand in warning, palm out. “Don’t try to distract me. A baby? Are you serious?”
Donna thrust her chin out defensively. “Matt believes I deserve to enjoy a happy, normal pregnancy with the man I love, instead of the horrors I went through previously.”
“How can any pregnancy of yours be normal? For goodness’ sake, you’re old enough to be a great-grandmother!”
“Hardly,” Donna sniffed.
“Count again. If Steven and Sarah had – “
“Our Steven is much too sensible to ever become permanently ensnared by that viper.”
“Still, if it had happened, you’d be a great-grandmother now. Are you telling me there’s a doctor on Earth actually willing to indulge your delusions?”
“Raya Ng is among the best in her field. And she admits there’s a chance.”
“That doesn’t sound like Raya,” Marley said. “She pretty much told me that – “
“Are you trying to get pregnant as well?” Donna asked, genuinely happy for her daughter, even if that meant Grant was probably inevitably involved.
“Tried, Donna. Past tense. I tried and I tried and I tried. I tried when I was one-third your age – “
“I wouldn’t say one-third…”
“And I kept trying until it became obvious that my ever having a biological child was a lost cause. I accepted reality. It took a long time, and I did some crazy things along the way but, finally, I accepted it.”
“When you were going through all of you problems, darling, when you forged Jamie’s name on that prescription for those dangerous drugs, and when you went after Olivia’s infant, I – I’m afraid I didn’t understand. Not then. I didn’t understand how it could be. This craving for – “
“Baby rabies,” Marley said bitterly. “They call it baby rabies.”
“The baby boy I lost with your father. I wanted him desperately. And Mikey, when we had to give him back to his biological parents, that broke my heart. But, none of it – none of it was like what I feel now. Matthew and I need to have a child together.”
“Why? Matt already has a kid. He has Jasmine.”
“Do you think I don’t know how people feel about Matthew and I? What they say? The jokes they make when they believe I’m out of earshot? Robbing the cradle, Mommy issues, Mrs. Robinson, Oedipus… I’ve heard them all.”
“Since when do you care what other people think?”
“I’ve always cared,” Donna said softly. “I need to make my marriage legitimate. I need to make sure that it isn’t seen as a joke. A child will do that. A child will make us whole in a way that nothing else will. A child will make our lives matter. A child will make my life matter. Finally.”
“Jamie!” Amanda caught her brother at the door, on his way out with Devon and Mackenzie just as Amanda was coming in. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see Mom.”
“How are you?” Amanda winced while asking, knowing how banal she sounded.
He shrugged in return. “Busy. The kids and work, they’re keeping me busy.”
“Speaking of work…” Amanda ventured.
“I can’t talk about Jen,” Jamie cut her off. “I told Kevin as much, so please don’t push me. Jen’s an adult, and she gave very strict orders about what I can and cannot say to her family. She’s got Alice under a similar gag order.”
Amanda sighed. “This is killing Kevin.”
“I know. And I sympathize. But, my hands are tried.” Jamie hesitated. Then, not giving himself a chance to back out, he told her, “I talked to Morgan a while back. It started as a consult about Jen, but then he had some choice opinions regarding my course of action where Lorna is concerned.”
“I’m sorry, Jamie.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jamie waved away her apology. “I stopped listening to anything he had to say right around the time he went to court to abort my daughter. This isn’t about Morgan, it’s about you. Or, rather, you and Morgan.”
Amanda’s face flushed even as she tried to deny, “There hasn’t been a me and Morgan since Kevin and I got married over a year ago.”
“Does he know that?”
“Of course, he does.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Amanda, you know what I went through with him over Lorna. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that Morgan Winthrop doesn’t give up easily. Especially not when he thinks something – or someone – is rightfully his. Be careful, would you? Please?” Amanda’s older brother gave her a quick hug. “You don’t want your life getting any more complicated than it already is.”
With Marley out of the hospital room, Grant and Sarah did nothing more than stare at each for a long, silent, dare they call it pregnant beat, her still in the same bed she’d been examined in, Grant loitering by the door, afraid to get too close. For a variety of reasons.
Finally, Sarah said, “Marley took such good care of me. I panicked when I saw the blood. I thought – I thought I’d done something wrong. Marley got me up and in the car and she took me to the hospital, and, the whole way over, she kept telling me everything was going to be alright. I don’t know what I’d have done if she hadn’t been there.”
Grant swallowed hard. “Marley is a very caring person.”
“You’re right,” Sarah said. “I mean, you were right. When you said Marley doesn’t deserve to be hurt. I never wanted to hurt her, but now… I can’t. I won’t.”
“What does that mean?” Grant asked anxiously, unsure what he wanted it to mean.
“We have to protect her.”
“Are you saying that you want to get rid of – after all?” Grant couldn’t quite bring himself to articulate the words in between.
“No!” Sarah shook her head emphatically. “No. I’m keeping my baby. I – I saw him today.” She stretched the sonogram towards Grant. Who averted his eyes. Sarah took no offense, merely keeping the photograph where it was between them. “I’m keeping him no matter what. But, you’re right, we shouldn’t tell Marley.”
Grant nearly choked on the bile that accompanied his laughter. “So what you’re telling me is that you intend to raise my child, right here in Bay City, practically underneath my own nose, and I’m not supposed to be a part of its life or even acknowledge it? Ever?”
“I thought that’s what you wanted!”
“I didn’t want any of this!” Grant thundered, his eerie quiet of a moment before exploding loudly enough to make Sarah draw back.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah whimpered.
“You’re sorry? Now you’re sorry? It’s too late to be sorry now, Sarah!”
“I know. But, this is the only thing I can think of. You and I did this. We’re the ones to blame, so we’re the ones who deserve to be punished. You give up your baby. And I give up you. But, Marley goes on the same way she always did. It’s what we owe her, Grant. It’s the only way to be fair.”
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