“We need to talk,” Russ gamely attempted to interrupt Iris mid-tirade about Daisy, Sarah, Marley, Dennis, Grant… Russ was having trouble keeping all the players straight as she leapt from name to name, subject to subject, perceived insult to perceived insult.
“It’s ghastly, isn’t it, darling?” Iris took a stab at pretending this was actually a conversation rather than monologue as she stopped her pacing in front of him merely long enough to demand, “We must do something!”
“About what?” Her hands flew up in frustration. “Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said? That appalling, two-faced, lying Marley is attempting to pilfer our precious Daisy right out from underneath our collective noses!”
“I’m sure Sarah would never allow that to happen.”
“Sarah is a child. An innocent, naïve, helpless child.”
“Is that how she ended up having a married man’s baby?” Russ asked cynically.
“Surely, you don’t hold Sarah responsible for this fiasco!”
“How many does it take to tango again, Iris?”
“It also takes one to lead and one to follow. Sarah needs my help!”
“The sort of help you gave Dennis with his love life?”
“If Dennis had only listened to me….”
“Stop it, Iris. Just… stop. Let Sarah handle her own affairs. Pun most definitely intended.”
“Don’t you care about our granddaughter? Our great-granddaughter?”
“If Sarah needs my help, she’ll ask for it. Until then… sit down, Iris.”
“I am much too worked up to sit down,” she protested.
“Do it anyway.” Russ rested his palms on Iris’ shoulders and gently eased her into a chair. “We need to talk.”
The tone of his voice suggested Iris wouldn’t be able to dismiss his request quite so easily. That didn’t stop her from trying, however. Iris attempted to rise, telling Russ, “I’d love to, darling. You know how I always enjoy spending time with you. But, now isn’t the best – “
“Now, Iris.” He blocked her only escape route, pulling up a second chair so that they sat face to face, the air between them all but thickening with tension.
“My goodness, so serious,” Iris did her best to lighten the mood.
He said, “I’ve done my best.”
“I’m sure you have,” she was happy to agree, just as long as Russ’ frown went away, and quickly, too.
“I told you I was willing to give our relationship a try and I did my best to…”
“What?” Her breath caught in her throat.
He sighed. “I did my best to feel… the way that you would like me to feel about you.”
“I’ve had no complaints,” she assured him.
“I doubt that. You are a fascinating, beautiful, brilliant, challenging, exciting woman.”
“Why, thank you, Russ.”
“You deserve a man who appreciates all of that about you. All of that and more.”
“But… You just said. You appreciate me, Russ.”
“No,” he corrected sternly. “I am trying to be straight with you. Please do me the courtesy of actually listening to my words. I care about you, Iris, I do. But, I don’t… I can’t…. I don’t love you.”
“Oh,” Iris attempted to dismiss the confession as of no consequence. “That. Well… I never asked…. That is, I didn’t expect…. It’s only been a short time….”
“It’s been long enough to convince me that I don’t think I could ever love you. I – I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she insisted. “I – We – We have a good time together, don’t we? We are most compatible in other ways. I’m willing – “
“I’m not. And you shouldn’t be either. We both know what it’s like to be with a person who takes our breath away. One that we can’t wait to come home to, one that we feel like we can’t live without. Don’t pretend for a minute that I was ever that for you, either.”
“We’re adults, Russ. What you’re describing is fleeting, adolescent fancy.”
“What I am describing, is the only reason to get up in the morning.”
“There’s someone else, isn’t there?” Iris challenged. “Someone who does make you feel that way.” The last part wasn’t a question.
“I’m sorry,” Russ repeated, moving to stand.
“It’s Rachel!” Iris guessed. “It’s Rachel!” And then she burst out laughing. “Oh, my poor, poor, Russ!”
“Grant,” Marley rolled over in bed, sliding one hand beneath her husband’s pajama top and the other inside the waistband of his bottoms.
Grant startled awake, eyes snapping open, pupils nearly glowing in the dark. It had been so long since….
“It’s my fault,” Marley whispered in his ear, her tongue flicking in and out as she spoke in a manner that could only have been deliberate. “These past few months, they’ve been so difficult for me….”
“I know. I understand. You’ve been wonderful. I don’t blame you for anything.”
“I still want you, Grant.” Her thumb circled his nipple while her other hand mimicked the gesture below, prompting Grant to gasp in surprise. “Do you remember how good it was between us in the beginning? The things you made me feel? No one else had ever made me feel that way, no one.”
“I…” He was having a little trouble thinking straight. And not just because of all the blood currently being diverted from his brain.
Marley’s hand maneuvered even lower, one finger slipping between his balls and pressing against the agonizingly tender skin underneath. “Do you still want me, Grant?”
“Of course!” Was another answer possible under the circumstances? “But, I’d hurt you so much. I didn’t want to presume….”
“It’s my fault,” she repeated insistently. “The distance between us. I was punishing you, I’m ashamed to admit it, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was so angry that even when we… I know you were only trying to please me, but I held back. Do you understand? I thought that if I let myself enjoy being with you again, it would be giving in somehow. I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to be with you like this again.”
“I betrayed your trust,” he agreed. “That’s not something anyone gets over in a hurry.”
“Do you know what changed my mind?” she asked. “It was seeing you with Daisy. I thought it would make things worse. But, it proved to be just the opposite. Seeing you with your little girl, it reminded me of the man I fell in love with. The one who was trying his best to change, to become a better person. Spending time with you and Daisy, I felt like we were finally a family. It didn’t matter how it happened, the important thing was that it did. I’m so tired of playing games. You’re my husband. I adore making love with you, I always have. Not allowing you to satisfy me the way I’d been doing – I was hurting myself as much as you. I don’t want to do that anymore.”
“I don’t blame you, Marley. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you never wanted me to touch you again.”
“But, I do want it. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed…” Marley stripped off her nightgown and, in the same gesture, pulled down Grant’s pajama bottoms, climbing on top of him, straddling him, lowering herself down over him… “This,” she exhaled. “I’ve missed… all of this. Haven’t you?”
In lieu of an answer, Grant cupped Marley’s pair of breasts in his hands, squeezing them together and suckling both nipples into his mouth, guzzling greedily.
She moaned and encouraged him, “Yes. Yes, just like that. Make me come, Grant, make me come, please, you know what I like, just what I like, just like that.”
He did his best to oblige her, obeying every single one of Marley’s commands, indulging her every whim, doing exactly what she wanted. In more ways than Grant could possibly imagine.
Charlie’s eyes lit up at the sight of Zeno standing at the door to her room the next morning, Frankie behind him, cheerfully chirping, “Look who came to visit you!”
“Hey,” Charlie said, trying to play it cool while, at the same time, sneaking a giddy peek of clandestine excitement towards her mom, unable to believe Frankie had come through like she’d promised.
“How are you feeling?” Zeno asked as Frankie discreetly withdrew, closing the door and leaving the two of them to talk.
“Good. Great. I’m all better. My mom – she said you came to see me at the hospital, too. I – I think I remember that.”
Zeno said, “You shouldn’t have done that. Gone after Allie the way you did. She could have been killed.”
“I…” Charlie stammered. Everyone else had been treating her with kid gloves for weeks. Actually being called out on her actions was definitely unexpected. And not at all fun. “I – didn’t Mom explain? It wasn’t my fault.”
“It wasn’t Allie’s fault, either. What happened between you and me had nothing to do with her, and she didn’t deserve to be stalked or threatened or harassed. If GQ and Kirk hadn’t found her, she could have frozen to death.”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie mumbled.
“You could have told me the truth when I first asked. You lied to me.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” she reiterated. “Ask my doctors, they’ll tell you.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Zeno said, looking anything but glad.
“We were together first,” Charlie blurted out, unhappy with his attitude, needing to remind him how this all began. “You and me, we hooked up before you and Allie did.”
“You were dating Kirkland, then. And you told me to go to Hell; any of that ring a bell?”
“I didn’t mean it,” Charlie said in a small voice. “I was just so confused. Remember how I told you that when Kirkland and I – when we did it, I didn’t feel much of anything except kind of lying there, waiting for him to finish, you know? It wasn’t like that with you. The first time you touched me, it was like… like… I finally got what all the fuss was about.”
“It’s called an orgasm, Charlie. Yeah, it’s pretty sweet, and it does help when you know what you’re doing, but they’ve got electric devices that can pretty much achieve the same thing, and don’t require attempted murder afterwards.”
“Why are you being such a jerk?”
“Because you tried to kill my girlfriend, and now you’re trying to make me feel guilty about something that was as much your fault as mine. I’m sorry Kirk wasn’t everything you expected but, to be honest, considering the way you treated him, I’m not surprised.”
Charlie gasped. “You said it wasn’t my fault. That’s why you…. You said it was him, not me.”
“Is anything ever your fault, Charlie?” Zeno demanded. “Your cheating on Kirkland wasn’t your fault, your treating me like dirt wasn’t your fault, your terrorizing Allie wasn’t your fault. Do you ever intend to take responsibility for anything you’ve done?”
“She’s such a good baby!” Olivia marveled as, following a meal and a hearty burp, Daisy curled up in Sarah’s arms and dropped promptly off to sleep.
“Unlike me?” Sarah guessed.
“You were a lousy sleeper,” Olivia agreed. “Bad eater, too. And the screaming. My God, could you scream. Colic is supposed to stop after three months. You obviously never got the memo. I figured once you finally learned to talk, we could make the shift from howling to asking politely. But, you just added whining to your repertoire, and plowed straight on ahead.”
“I don’t mind Daisy crying,” Sarah beamed down at the baby. “I like picking her up, holding her, being the one to give her whatever she needs.”
“You’ll spoil her,” Olivia warned.
“I don’t care,” Sarah said, though her voice did waver with uncertainty. “I want her to know how much I love her.”
“Unlike the way I treated you, you mean?”
Sarah shrugged, unwilling to get into it, though agreeing in principle. Instead, she asked, “Do you ever wonder…”
“What?” Olivia asked tiredly, already suspecting where this was going.
“Do you ever wonder if Marley might have been a better mother for me than you?”
Olivia snorted. “Your father certainly thought so. And he didn’t bother hiding it from me, either.”
“But, what do you think?” Sarah pressed.
Olivia shrugged. “I suppose she’d have had more patience. But, it’s easy to be patient when you’ve only got a kid to take care of. Instead of a kid and a job and trying to have some kind of life of your own on top of that. You’ll find out soon enough. Those new Mommy hormones will wear off and you’ll find yourself wanting to do something just for yourself, like maybe go out without another screaming, needy human being hanging off of you. Or take a shower. Watch TV. Go dancing. Except you can’t. ‘Cause it’s all on you. Maybe then you’ll understand what it was like for me. When you find yourself in the same boat, making the exact same decisions for the exact same reasons.”
“You really think so?” Sarah asked in a near-horrified whisper.
Olivia smirked. “Marley’s got money, too. If she ever ran out of patience she could have hired a whole fleet of nannies. Make them do the disgusting stuff. The diapers, the vomit, the snot. Leaving her to be the good guy. The fun mom. You can do that when you’ve got Marley’s resources.”
“You weren’t exactly destitute, Mom. Dad gave you money. So did Granddad.”
“Yeah. And you should have seen the looks they gave me when I told them I needed a weekend for myself. You’d have thought I’d stuck you in a refrigerator and shut the door, instead of asked your own father to watch you for a bit. I don’t think Dennis ever made it more than twenty-four hours before he was on the phone asking me come over and do something he perfectly well could’ve figured out for himself. You should be thanking your lucky stars Marley understood what Daisy wanted that time. If it had been up to Grant, he’d have come running to you, no doubt about it. Men are useless.”
“Yeah,” Sarah nodded. “Marley is really good with Daisy. We are lucky.”
“Now Donna is involved,” Lucas sighed tiredly to Alice. “Rachel has suddenly decided that Carl is still alive. That he was kidnapped in retaliation for his role in bringing down the compound along with me and Spencer, despite his best efforts to lay all the blame on us. And that Lorna was taken for the same reason, in order to teach me a lesson.”
“I know,” Alice admitted. “Rachel came to me earlier. Her theory is that Spencer set all this into motion. From beyond the grave, apparently.”
Lucas’ eyes widened. “Are you serious? She actually had the nerve to… After what Carl did to Spencer, she actually had the audacity to flip the entire scenario on its head and – “
“It’s a rather common psychiatric defense mechanism,” Alice shrugged. “I, frankly, don’t care what she thinks. There’s nothing Rachel can do to hurt Spencer now.”
“What about you?” he inquired, concerned.
“I’m immune,” she patted his arms reassuringly, “Don’t worry. Prolonged exposure has left me utterly inoculated. The important question here is, Spencer aside, do you think it’s possible Carl wasn’t the one who kidnapped Lorna, after all? That they were both snatched by a third party? And that they both are still alive?”
Lucas admitted, “The thought did cross my mind briefly.”
“Did you tell Rachel?”
He snorted. “The mere suggestion that Carl might be anything less than a candidate for sainthood is an invitation for Rachel to accuse the messenger of, at best, disloyalty, and, at worst, of having personally driven the man to his undeserved, early grave. Proposing that Carl and Lorna may have been grabbed by someone else would have implied that Carl’s past actions might be the sort that inspire justifiable feelings of revenge in other people. And that topic is off-limits, as well. Up until recently, no one could dare even float the possibility of his still being alive under any circumstances. So rather than provoke Rachel, I made my own inquiries. And came up empty.”
“So what does Rachel know that you don’t?”
“Nothing. She’s grasping at straws. She came to Donna insisting Donna had to know something due to her past association with the compound. But, Donna… Donna is a lightweight. She couldn’t even keep Fanny, Jenna and Dean from being discovered, and her bluff about having a file that would expose them all is what triggered everything in the first place. If Donna had any kind of power, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“Rachel won’t let this go,” Alice predicted. “If she is determined to make Carl come out the innocent victim – or, better yet, a hero, she won’t quit until she’s forced the facts to fit her scenario.”
“Let her,” Lucas shrugged. “You said it yourself, there is very little she can do to hurt any of us now. Spencer is dead, and my daughter is…”
Alice pulled him into her arms, hugging him tightly. “Maybe Rachel is right. Maybe they are all still alive. And maybe she will find them. There’s something to be said for tenacity. You and Lorna and Felicia and Jamie may yet get your happy ending, after all.”
“Wouldn’t that be something?” He struggled to pull himself together, leaning back, holding Alice at arm’s length, telling her, “Thank you. Thank you for listening.”
“Yes?” she smiled up at him.
“I – Donna and Rachel, they weren’t all that I came over here to speak with you about.”
“Oh. Was there something else?”
“Yes,” he nodded, as if trying to shake the remainder of the words loose. “I – I wanted to tell you… Not that you should think it… I didn’t mean to…. I wanted to tell you… I – Alice, Felicia and I, we’re… over. Officially. We talked and…. We… it’s…. over.”
Alice took a moment to absorb the information. “I’m very, very sorry.”
“Me, too,” Lucas said, then awkwardly added. “I just… I just wanted you to know.”
“I saw our granddaughter earlier,” Olivia needled Dennis, knowing how much it gnawed at him to be called Grandpa, ignoring the fact that she was equally as upset about having become Grandma.
“How are Sarah and Daisy doing?” Dennis refused to let Olivia get under his skin. At least, that’s what he told himself.
“Sarah says they’re fine.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“Obviously, you’ve forgotten what those first few months of parenthood are like. She’s tired, she’s hormonal, she stresses over every little detail, feels like she can’t do anything right. Add to that the fact that our daughter is still in love with a guy who threw her over for his wife and, no, I don’t believe that Sarah is fine, in the slightest.”
“Well, maybe as her concerned mother, you should be offering her a helping hand instead of criticizing her behind her back.”
“Don’t worry, I said as much to her face. The sooner Sarah drops this romantic notion she has of motherhood and accepts the nitty-gritty reality of what she’s just committed the next eighteen years of her life to, the sooner she can start making some real plans.”
“My God, Olivia, are you for real? You actually told her that?” He shook his head in dismay. “You know, I always suspected you lacked a single maternal bone in your entire body, but this….”
“Oh, save it. I already spent the afternoon listening to Sarah go on and on about how Marley would have been a much better mother for her.”
“You won’t get any argument from me on that account.”
“Oh, yeah? What about Jamie? How come all those years you spent telling me about how much better Sarah would have been off with Marley, you forgot to note how much better of a father Jamie would have been for her? Look at Steven. Look at his adopted kid, Kirkland. Look at those two little girls Jamie is raising all by himself now. There’s a man who knows how to be a father. There’s a real man.”
“When did you become an expert on Jamie?”
“I’ve been helping him out with Devon and Mackenzie.”
“Excuse me? You’ve been doing what?”
“Helping out with his girls. Devon is in her ballerina stage, so I brought over some of my old ballet costumes, some music, showed her a few steps. It’s the least I can do, the poor little thing really misses her mother. And Jamie has his hands full.”
Dennis couldn’t believe his ears. “I’m sorry, didn’t you just tell me you didn’t have the time to help your own daughter, who also has her hands pretty full with a new baby?”
“Actually, it’s more that my own daughter doesn’t have the time for me, and, judging from what she says, probably thinks I’m a danger to her new baby. Jamie was happy to have me come over. And grateful, too.”
“I bet he was. What the hell are you up to, Olivia?”
“Helping out a friend.”
“Right. For God’s sake, they haven’t even found his wife’s body yet, and you’re already making yourself at home?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Olivia said innocently, watching Dennis grow more and more upset, thrilled that her plan was coming along perfectly.
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