“I’m sorry, you’re going to do what?” Marley repeated, staring daggers at her mother while making it clear Sarah wouldn’t be getting away Scott-free, either.
“I – I told your mother that she and Matt could adopt my baby,” Sarah struggled to sound a great deal more certain about the decision than she actually felt.
“Are you out of your mind?” Marley wondered, struggling equally as hard to remain calm. “Do you know what she’s done to the children she’s personally given birth to? Though, notice I didn’t say raised. Because that’s just not Donna’s style.”
“How dare you?” Donna spoke up. “You and Victoria were stolen from me. What chance did I have to – “
“You didn’t know Vicky existed,” Marley conceded. “Alright, I’ll give you that. But, what about me?”
“I did raise you,” Donna reminded. “After Reginald disappeared – “
“As my sister. You raised me as my sister,” Marley seethed.
“It was the only way.”
“Why?” Marley challenged, finally bringing up a point that had been gnawing at her for years, no longer even recalling that Carl had been the one to initially plant the distrust in her mind.
“You know why. Reginald threatened me. He forced me.”
“Reginald was gone. You said so yourself. Why couldn’t you tell me that you were my mother then?”
“The shock…” Donna waved her arm weakly. “I didn’t want to upset you.”
“I was barely out of diapers. I hardly had any memories of my “real” parents. That excuse doesn’t wash. So how about telling me the truth for a change?”
“You’d been through so much already,” Donna stuck to her guns. “And you wouldn’t have understood, anyway. You’d have had so many questions.”
“You mean, I’d have had so many questions you didn’t want to answer. Like about my father.”
“You wanted me to tell a little girl that her father had walked out on her pregnant mother without so much as a look back? Because that’s what I believed at the time. It’s what Reginald led me to believe. Did you want me to tell you how your own grandfather locked me up and forced me to give birth alone?”
“I wanted a mother,” Marley stressed. “Just like all the other kids. I wanted someone who loved me and who would take care of me.”
“I loved you, Marley. And I did my best. The same way I will Sarah’s child. Only it will be different, this time. Sarah’s child will have a mother and a father – “
“Unless you wake up one morning and decide Matt isn’t good enough for you anymore either. Then will you imprison Sarah’s baby in a convent for being an inconvenience, too?”
“Stop it,” Donna warned. “Please, darling, stop it. Don’t make me – “
“What? Don’t make you what?”
“Don’t make me bring up the obvious conflict of interest here.”
“And what might that be?”
Donna hesitated, prompting Sarah to wonder if she was about to spill everything, getting ready to run if that proved the case.
But, to Sarah’s relief, instead of bringing up Grant, Donna only said, “Don’t make me point out that your main objection to my adopting Sarah’s child is because you were planning on claiming it for yourself.”
“No!” Sarah called out. Then, more calmly, stumbled, “No. That was never – Grant – Grant made it clear that would never, ever happen.”
“Not just Grant,” Marley said. “I would never do that to Sarah. It would be too cruel. To her and the baby. Being raised by relatives of your birth family… talk about muddying the waters. Something else I learned growing up in the Love household.”
“Matt is a wonderful father to Jasmine.” Donna decided to disregard Marley in favor of appealing directly to Sarah. “And he will be a wonderful father to your child. Your baby will grow up with all the advantages of being a Cory.”
“Her baby is already a Cory,” Marley reminded dryly. “That’s part of the problem. And do you seriously think it’s Matt’s parenting ability that I’m objecting to?”
Donna turned to face Marley, hands on her hips. “You asked for the truth, my darling? Very well, then, here is the unvarnished truth. Do you know what I wanted to spare you all those years ago? I wanted to spare you living with a question mark hanging over your head, where a father should be. At least with Reginald, dead and safely out of the way, you had an answer to that primal question of: Who Am I? The answer may have been a lie. But not the sense of security that came with it. Knowing is always better than guessing. And that is what I am offering Sarah’s child. To grow up with a sense of identity and belonging. The alternative is a lifetime of searching. And who knows the form that might take. Or,” she leveled this last point at Sarah. “What he might find when he goes looking. Not everyone’s search ends with a man like Michael Hudson at the end of it. Most people find the last person they expected. And the repercussions of that act serve to destroy families and relationships for decades to come. In this instance, I am trying to spare everyone that.”
The look Cass gave Frankie as they were being chauffeured around Dubai in a limousine yet again asked, “Ready?”
The look she gave him in return said, “Let’s roll.”
“Excuse me,” Cass tapped on the partition separating him and his wife from El-Gamal and the driver. It was ostensibly to give them privacy. Though Cass and Frankie had no doubt they were being monitored at all times. Hence the Eyebrow Only communication. “Could you pull over here?” He indicated the vendors dotting the streets. “We’d like to check out some of the local goods.”
“Twelve hundred stores at the mall,” the driver grunted, looking distinctively displeased at the prospect of trying to find parking amidst the swarming pedestrians.
“We were hoping for something a bit more authentic,” Frankie smiled brightly. “Local color. You understand.”
But El-Gamal merely smiled congenially and reminded, “Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop are our honored guests. Their wish is our command.”
A few mumbled curses in Arabic, but the driver did slow down, not so much parking as merely idling his engine while pedestrians continued to pass on either side of them.
“Thank you,” Cass said, climbing out of the car.
“We appreciate it,” Frankie followed.
Once outside in the heat, Frankie and Cass exchanged another pair of silent glances, this time both thinking the same thing, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all?”
The sun beat down mercilessly, frying not only the few inches of skin peeking out from their sleeves and collars, but also their lips and ears. Cass wondered if it was possible to actually feel the fluid in your eyes boiling, while Frankie was more interested in how her eyelashes seemed to be shriveling up into themselves like scared potato bugs.
Still, they had to make this look good. With a friendly wave to their hosts/captors, Cass and Frankie moved towards the first stand selling rugs and knick-knacks which the proprietors swore were authentic antiques – that, nevertheless, would pass Customs without a problem. After a few minutes of examining the stitching in the cloth and the gleam in the bronze, Frankie and Cass made matching faces to indicate this was not precisely what they were looking for. The moved along to inspect another vendor’s wares. Further away from their waiting car.
They proceeded to do so for the next forty-five minutes, even as both could feel the blisters beginning to form on their skin. But, that didn’t really matter, as long as they kept moving further from the car – and nearer to the American embassy, it’s flag waving triumphantly and tantalizingly in the distance.
Cass and Frankie were mere feet from the gates, the Marines standing guard there a most welcome sight indeed. If they made a run for it now, they were certain to beat the car, even if it did try to catch up to them. It would be too hard, what with all the people in the way.
“Now,” Frankie said, and she and Cass got ready to hustle.
When both were struck by a horrible realization.
The automobile shadowing them had no intention of avoiding the people between them and the Winthrops.
First, they utterly leveled the rug stand, its owner leaping out of the way at the last minute to avoid ending up as road kill under the expensive wheels. And then the car continued on its way straight to Frankie and Cass… as if the mass of people between them weren’t even there.
“We can’t,” Frankie whispered. “They’ll kill them.”
“I know,” Cass said, even as he couldn’t help staring at their escape hatch, now less than half a block away.
He and Frankie froze in place. At which point El-Gamal’s car also slowed its trajectory. Instead of mowing down his countrymen, El-Gamal solicitously got out of the car and came to fetch Cass and Frankie himself.
“We had best be heading back,” he clucked. “The streets, they are not safe, here.”
“There you are,” Jamie wasn’t particularly surprised to find Steven waiting for him in Jamie’s office. He was just pleased the boy hadn’t run off completely.
“I figured I’d just be in the way. You know, around Kevin and GQ?”
“I know,” Jamie said sympathetically, wanting nothing more than to hug his son and tell him everything was going to be okay. Knowing that so much as attempting to do so would prompt Steven’s bolting even faster. Instead, he said, “Jen is doing great. I just checked on her. Textbook recovery.”
“Yeah. Jen’s real good at doing everything by the book.”
“You can see her, too,” Jamie assured. “Couple of days…”
“I don’t want to be in the way,” Steven repeated.
“Okay,” Jamie let the subject drop.
“Listen, Dad, I was wondering though…”
“With cancer, you’re considered cured if it doesn’t come back for five years, right?”
“That’s about right.” Jamie didn’t want to split hairs.
“Well, what happens if Jen gets sick again? I mean, if Horace isn’t around to provide marrow a second time?”
Jamie nodded. “It could be a problem.”
“So, is there any way you could, maybe, you know, bank it or something? So that if she needs more…”
Jamie winced. “That’s a tough call. We had a hard enough time getting this donation approved without his explicit permission. Going back to the well, as it were, taking more marrow just in case… It really does start to look like we’re using the man for parts.”
“But, it’s not like he’s going to get any better, right? He could stay the way he is indefinitely. If he’s still alive, would that be better, then? Easier, I mean?”
“Hard to say. And, at this moment, theoretical. Jen is going to be fine and, with a little bit of luck, there should be no recurrence of any kind. I – Steven,” Jamie chose his words with care. “I’ve said before that I think you’re a lot more involved with all this than you should be. Now that Jen’s is on the road to recovery, maybe you should pull back even further. Don’t take everything so personally. This is not your problem to solve. It wasn’t before, and it isn’t now. Do you understand me, son?”
“Hello, darling,” Rachel leaned over to greet Lori Ann; Felicia, the person she’d really come to see hovering protectively in the background. “Don’t you look pretty, today?” Rachel took in Lori Ann’s painted nails, matching toes and the bracelets that ran from her wrists practically up to her shoulders. “You and Nana have obviously been having a wonderful time together.”
“Pretty,” Lori Ann agreed, shaking both arms to make the bracelets jingle.
“Any word from Cass and Frankie?” Rachel straightened up to ask Felicia.
“Not for a while,” Felicia admitted. “They’re in Dubai now.”
“Dubai? Why in the world – “
“It’s apparently the newest hideaway for the rich and felonious.”
“I see,” Rachel said neutrally. “Have they turned up anything?”
“I am so sorry, Felicia. You have no idea how much I wish Frankie and Cass all the luck in the world with finding Lorna. For you, for Jamie, for Devon and Mackenzie…”
“I should think you’d be equally as invested in their finding Elizabeth and Cory.”
“My children are dead,” Rachel said softly.
“Then so is Lorna.”
“You don’t know that. You still have hope.”
“Carl has come back from the dead before,” Felicia reminded.
“So has Lucas. And you always said how alike he and Lorna are.”
“Too much alike,” Felicia said. “After what he went through, being held prisoner for over fifteen years. He can imagine exactly what it would be like for Lorna to suffer the same fate. That’s why he actually wants it to be true. He wants our daughter to be dead.”
“Lucas is actually who I came to talk to you about. Well, indirectly. Felicia, did you tell Lucas that you thought I conspired with Carl to kidnap Lorna, take her and the children out of the country, and fake all their deaths?”
“Yes.” Felicia didn’t even try to deny it. If anything, hearing Rachel say the words out loud only made her more angry. Because it made it more real.
“You honestly think I would be capable of something like that?”
“Before Carl?” Felicia shook her head. “No. After Carl….”
“You think I could be so monstrous to one of my best friends? To my own son? To my granddaughters?”
“If Carl convinced you it was us or him…. You forget, I fancied myself in love with the man once upon a time, too. I know how he operates.”
“You’ve got it backwards, Felicia. Carl isn’t the one who offered me an ultimatum. My children did that.”
“And you made your choice.” Felicia shrugged.
Rachel changed tactics. “Do you know who told me about your theory?”
Felicia’s brow furrowed. “Lucas. You said that Lucas…”
“Alice,” Rachel corrected. “Lucas told Alice, and she magnanimously volunteered to come over and cross-examine me about it.”
“Alice….” Felicia wasn’t sure what to make of this new information.
“How long have you and I been friends, Felicia? Close to thirty years now. You think I’m a threat to your family? You think I’m the one you should be watching out for? The one to be suspicious of? The one who’s a threat? Please don’t be fooled. Or distracted. You’ve lost Jenna. You’ve lost Lorna. Don’t risk losing Lucas, too.”
“What are you talking about? Alice is no – “
“Don’t underestimate the effect she has on men. That fragile, helpless, damsel-in-distress persona of hers is rather irresistible to some. I know what I’m talking about. Remember how you were after you thought Lucas died? And Jenna? You nearly drove away everyone who truly loved you, who’d stood by you, all in the name of wallowing in your own pain. I couldn’t bear to see that happen to you again. With Lucas it was alcohol, with Jenna it was revenge, and now it’s fantasy. Your granddaughters need you, your friends need you, and Lucas needs you. Please, Felicia, please don’t risk what you have in order to go chasing after ghosts. Don’t drive Lucas way. He’s hurting, too. And if you’re not there for him, someone else will be.”
“Someone like Alice?” Felicia guessed.
“Yes. Yes, precisely. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I understand,” Felicia said.
“Good,” Rachel exhaled.
“Except I just have one more question.”
“Where the hell is my daughter?”
“How did she look?” Amanda asked Kevin as soon as he came back from seeing Jen.
“Awful,” he admitted. “She’s lost a horrifying amount of weight. She’s barely got the energy to keep her head up. She’s still being fed intravenously. But,” he broke into a grin, barely able to contain himself. “She’s alive. She’s alive, Amanda, and she’s going to get better, and a week ago I didn’t think I’d be able to say these words, but she’s alive and she’s going to be okay.”
Amanda hugged her husband. “You have no idea how happy I am for you.”
“I love you,” he told his wife. “I know I haven’t said that much lately. Or at all.”
“It’s okay. You’ve had other priorities.”
“I’ll make it up to you,” he swore.
“You already have,” she reassured him, beaming. Wishing Morgan were around to see this. Realizing that her impulse was petty and childish. Not caring.
Kevin’s phone rang and he let go of Amanda to answer it. She watched Kevin listening for a long moment, not saying much more than, “Uh-ha. Yes. Thanks. I understand,” before hanging up, his previously good mood seemingly forgotten.
“What’s wrong?” Amanda wondered just how long her family could go without being hit over the head with yet another crises.
“That was a contact of mine from Springfield. Horace Johnson died about an hour ago.”
“Oh. I – What does that mean?”
“For Jenny? There goes her only donor, so we really better hope this transplant took and the need won’t come up for another one.”
“What do you mean, for Jenny? Who else could it affect?”
Kevin shrugged. “The guy who plugged him. Charges just went up to Murder.”
“Spencer must be spinning in his grave,” Iris drawled to Grant, having invited herself into the office he’d set up for the purpose of launching his Mayoral campaign. “I know he taught you better than this.”
Grant shrugged, indifferent. “Didn’t take while he was alive. Why should his death have made any difference?”
“I’d have thought his death would have driven home for you the danger of aligning yourself with the wrong partners.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Suddenly Grant wasn’t nearly as indifferent.
“It means that Carl got your father killed, and now you are allowing his vengeful wife to play puppet master with what’s left of your political career. Spencer would be horrified.”
“My father taught me that money has no loyalty. All political checks feel the same once they’re cashed.”
“But, the strings that come with them – those certainly vary.”
“Are you here for a reason, Iris? Beyond speaking in fortune cookie aphorisms, I mean?”
She was happy to oblige. “You can’t trust Rachel. Her solitary motivation for your campaign is to make Chase Hamilton pay for exposing the so-called inconvenient truth about Carl.”
“And your motivation in pointing out the obvious to me is….”
“I can do better. Rachel’s sole goal in this is to humiliate Hamilton. It’s his failure she cares about, not your success. That’s purely a byproduct. One that she’d be content to sacrifice should it get in the way of her true objective. In fact, considering how she feels about you overall, it would probably even sweeten the deal.”
“You, on the other hand, have only my best interests at heart.”
“I don’t give a damn about you,” Iris clarified.
“Thank God. You had me worried there for a moment.”
“But, I don’t give a damn about Hamilton, either. It’s Rachel I wish to put in her place. Once and for all. And I am willing to quite handsomely reward the first soul who helps me accomplish my mission.”
“Just what do you think I can do for you, Iris?”
“Help me prove that Rachel was a willing partner in Carl faking his death in order to escape justice.”
Grant nearly laughed out loud. “And how do you expect me to do that?”
“You have access to her now. You’re one of the few people she actually talks to these days, having alienated the majority of her family and friends with her obdurate refusal to perceive the man she married for who he truly was. Who he probably still is. With all the pressure she’s under, Rachel is bound to slip, say something she shouldn’t.”
“And you expect me to hurry on over and share those scraps with you?”
“If you’re smart, yes.”
“And what did my father have to say about that particular subject?”
“Spencer thought… he believed that you had… potential.”
Grant snorted. “Maybe when you knew him twenty years ago. By the time he died, he wasn’t even willing to go that far.”
“There’s still opportunity to prove him wrong. If you make the right decisions.”
“You know, Iris, if I were you,” Grant leaned back in his chair, tapping a pen against his open palm. “I wouldn’t be quite so smug about your ability to influence others towards making good decisions.”
“Is that an all-purpose insult, or are you attempting to drive home an obscure point?”
“Your granddaughter, Sarah. She’s made a decision herself recently.” Grant realized that even by saying this much, he’d already picked sides. “She’s decided to give her child up for adoption. To Donna.”
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