“Didn’t this seem easier when we were twelve?” Jamie put down the hammer and sat back on his heels, surveying the tenuous, wooden skeleton of the tree-house he and Dennis were attempting to erect on an unseasonably cold spring afternoon, where every gust of frigid wind shook the entire structure and threatened to send it careening to the ground.
“I think,” Dennis nodded his head thoughtfully. “We didn’t fully grasp how bad we were at this, when we were twelve.”
“Plus, we weighed less.”
Dennis peered downwards. “And was the ground quite so far away, then?”
Jamie admitted, “I’m not quite sure why I’m doing this, exactly. It’ll be years probably before the girls can use it.”
“Because you need the distraction,” Dennis guessed. “Same as I do.”
“Hey,” Jamie teased. “Your granddaughter is welcome up here anytime.”
Dennis mimed pushing Jamie out of the tree. “You’ve gotten mean with age, you know that, pal?”
“Not mean enough, apparently,” Jamie mumbled, more to himself than for Dennis’ benefit.
Still, his old friend had heard enough to ask, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jamie sighed. “It means I’ve recently come to the realization that it seems my example has taught my son it’s okay to stay in an abusive relationship.”
“Kirkland.” Jamie filled Dennis in. “There’s this girl. Charlie. Cass and Frankie’s daughter. She’s got some serious emotional problem. Though, up until recently, they’ve gone undiagnosed. She and Kirkland have been dating for about two years now. During which time she’s called him names, pressured him into doing things he didn’t want to do, nearly gotten him killed in a car accident, and out and out physically assaulted him. But, no matter what, Kirk keeps going back to her. I finally asked him why. And you know what he told me? He told me, “I want to be like you, Dad.”
“But, you… you’ve never…”
“I have, actually,” Jamie corrected, not really wanting to go into details with someone who’d also once been involved with Cecile. “And Kirk does know a little something about that. But, the irony is, that’s not what he meant. What he meant was the way I stuck by Lorna. Even when all the facts suggested she’d been playing me for a fool. Kirkland wants to stick by Charlie in the same way. Especially now.”
“Oh. Well. That’s….”
“Not exactly what I intended to teach him.”
“Actually, Jamie, as long as we’re on the subject…”
Dennis squirmed, wondering if he should forget it, but then pressed ahead, nonetheless. “The subject of you and women. Women who end up taking advantage of you. Women like… like Olivia.”
Jamie frowned. “Say what?”
“I know she’s been hanging around here.”
“She’s been helping me with Devon and Mackenzie.”
“Oh, come on, Jamie. I raised a daughter with that woman, remember? Olivia doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body.”
“My girls have a mother, they don’t need another one,” Jamie said sharply. “What they needed was a friend, and Olivia has more than filled that role.”
“She’s after you, Jamie, anybody can see that.”
He burst out laughing. “Because I’m a hell of a catch.”
“To someone like her you are.”
“Someone like her?” Jamie clarified.
“Olivia is a user. She’s a user and opportunist and, yeah, quite frankly, a class A bitch. She’ll make you miserable, Jamie. You and your kids. And she won’t give a damn, as long as she’s got money in the bank and a man to push around. Don’t take my word for it. Ask your sister.”
“I prefer making up my own mind, thank you.”
“You just got through telling me what a rotten example you’ve set for Kirkland when it comes to women. Well, I’m sorry, but you’re about to do it again. I’m only telling you this as a friend. And someone who’s been there.”
“If this is how you talked to Olivia, I can see why your relationship may have gotten off on the wrong foot.”
“Hey, I tried to make it work. For Sarah’s sake. I gave up everything for her. I left Bay City to chase Olivia down. I gave up Marley…”
“That was your choice. Don’t blame Olivia.”
“She’s really got you snowed, hasn’t she?”
“I don’t think so.”
Dennis snorted. “I’m trying to help you.”
“The same way you helped me with Marley?” Jamie wondered.
“Thank you,” Frankie stopped by the farm to tell Zeno. “For coming to see Charlie the other day. I know she appreciated it.”
“Did Charlie tell you that?”
“Well, no. But…”
“I wasn’t particularly nice to her,” Zeno said.
“Oh, I’m sure – “
“I told her to stop making excuses and accept responsibility not just for what she did to Allie, but also for cheating on Kirkland with me.”
Frankie’s mouth opened and closed, initially unable to make a sound, then bursting out with, “Why would you do something like that?”
“Because someone had to.”
“I invited you to help Charlie.”
“Actually, you more or less blackmailed me into it.”
“Would you stop saying that!”
Zeno shrugged, acquiescing.
Frankie took a moment to compose herself before continuing, “I thought I could count on you, Zeno.”
“You thought you could manipulate me.”
“No,” she pleaded. “Zeno, come on. You know me. I’m not the kind of person who…”
“Throws money around and expects to get anything she wants?”
“Exactly! That’s not who I am! That’s… that’s Donna… or Iris or…. Grant….”
“So what would you do then, Frankie, if I told you that’s it, I’m done with Charlie?”
“I’d ask you to reconsider. If not for her sake, then for mine. Zeno,” Frankie took a deep breath. “I miscarried my first baby boy. I was snatched away from my daughter. I found you – and then I lost you, too.”
“That was your choice,” he reminded.
“I realize you believe that. But, I also know that you, of all people, understand that life is never that simple. If there was one thing Orly taught you, it was that. Just like this current situation with Charlie. I cannot risk losing my daughter again. But, I don’t want to lose you over it, either.”
“Now this,” Zeno said. “This is exactly like you, Frankie. Trying to make everything work out for everyone involved.”
“Yes,” she agreed, relieved that they were finally on the same wavelength again.
“But, trying to make it work out the way you think is best. Because you always know better.”
Frankie hesitated. “You’re not the first person to accuse me of that.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“All my life, I have tried to help people. I have tried to put others first, to do the right thing. When Cass’ first wife, Kathleen, came back from Witness Protection, I stepped aside, I didn’t even tell Cass I was pregnant, so that he wouldn’t feel obliged to stay with me. I left your mother because I realized I would always love Cass more than her, and I didn’t think it was fair to Orly to live like that. I left you because I didn’t want you to feel torn between the two of us. I didn’t tell Cass I was alive because he’d started a new family with Lila, Charlie and Jasmine. Now, yes, all those were instances of me deciding what was best for other people. But, the key word here is: best. I was trying to make everybody happy. No matter how much that might hurt me.”
“Or the other people involved.”
“Damn it, Zeno,” Frankie snapped. “Where do you get off judging me? You are a kid! You haven’t lived long enough or experienced enough to have earned the right to judge me! Maybe you’re right. Maybe I did go too far in pushing you to see Charlie. But, when it comes to my daughter, being nice doesn’t seem to be working. Why should I be the only person in town constantly trying to do the right thing, and getting nothing for my trouble? Rachel Hutchins gets to go on a tear over her husband and children, Felicia does the same over Jenna and Lorna, Donna with Marley…. And all of them get a pass. They act selfishly, they hurt other people, they get their way, and it’s okay. But, I step even a little bit out of line, and I get smacked in the teeth for it. My daughter needs help. And I am determined to get it for her. Even if it means no more Ms. Nice Girl.”
“You do what you need to do, Frankie,” Zeno said calmly, a lot more affected by Frankie’s accusation than he allowed himself to let on. “And I’m going to do what I need to do. Thank you very much for your past help with the farm. But, I won’t be needing it anymore. The interest on your loan turned out to be too high.”
“I figured I’d be seeing you today,” Allie let GQ into the Cory mansion.
He shrugged sheepishly. “It’s Hudson’s birthday.”
“Did Rick and Mindy invite you over again?”
GQ nodded and showed her the photos on his phone.
“It was a Thomas the Tank Engine party. They had everything Thomas, even a full train out in the back yard for the kids to climb on.”
Allie said, “Hudson is getting older, he’s not a baby anymore. Does he know who you are, now?”
“Kind of. He says Birth Dad. Well, what he actually says is Bird Dud. But, I’m not sure if it means anything to him. He probably thinks it’s my name.”
“How does he act when he sees you?”
“He’s three years old. He finds me interesting for about fifteen seconds – especially if I’ve brought a present, and then something else catches his eye and off he goes.”
“Does he seem happy?” Allie asked.
“He seems great,” GQ reassured. “You did a good job, finding him a mom and dad.”
“I didn’t think you’d ever forgive me for that.”
“I love you, Allie,” he reminded.
She winced. “Don’t. Okay? Just… don’t.”
“I’m sorry. I – I guess I know now how you felt, after I – “
“It’s fine. I’ve moved on. We both moved on.”
“I was just faking it.”
“So was I. In the beginning. Eventually, though it becomes real.”
“Is it? Honestly? Are you really over me?”
He took the news in stride. “I’m not. Over you, I mean. I thought I was. I wasn’t.”
“Do you love Zeno?” GQ asked.
“Is it any of your business?”
“No. But, I know what it’s like, telling yourself you’re exactly where you should be, with whom you should be, all the while knowing, deep down, that this isn’t right.”
“Sorry,” Allie repeated more firmly. Only, for the first time ever, she also tapped her cell-phone against GQ’s, copying the photo of Hudson he’d shown her.
“Would you classify this as more of romp or a caper?” Felicia asked Rachel as they sat in their first-class airplane seats, headed for France, Rachel sipping a celebratory glass of champagne while Felicia joined her with a sparkling cider.
“Is there a difference between the two?”
“A romp,” Felicia parsed. “Is a madcap outing with no particular resolution in mind. A sort of art for art’s sake endeavor. A caper is more goal-oriented. And frequently requires a separate wardrobe.”
“Ah, well, in that case, this is definitely a caper. I have a very specific agenda in mind for our trip, and I have no intention of quitting until I’ve fulfilled it.”
“I admire you,” Felicia said.
“Me?” Rachel laughed. “Why? You’re the one with the caper experience, here.”
Felicia nodded. “Yes. But, after Jenna died, after Lorna disappeared, after Lucas and I… I didn’t think I’d ever have the energy – or the desire – to do this again. I was so mired in doom and gloom, I completely lost the Felicia I used to be. And look at you. You’ve suffered just as much as I have. And yet, you’re not sitting around, wallowing in self-pity and petty revenge plots. You’re taking action.”
“It’s different with me,” Rachel said. “You saw Jenna die in front of your eyes. You knew that no action could bring her back. I’m in a position where there’s still hope… no matter how slight. And, not that I don’t appreciate the compliment, but you might recall my spectacularly disastrous attempt to run Grant for Mayor against Hamilton. If that wasn’t a petty revenge plot, I don’t know what was.”
“Speaking of Mr. Hamilton, I haven’t pressed charges against Carl yet,” Felicia said.
“Thank you for that.”
“But, if we don’t turn up anything…”
“I understand. Let’s take it one day at a time, shall we?”
Felicia nodded her head in agreement. She lifted her glass and offered a toast. “To finding what we’re both looking for.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Rachel said.
“This is quite a lot of stuff,” Grant observed as, in addition to Daisy herself, Sarah handed over not only a diaper bag, but also a separate bag of clothes, blankets, and stuffed animals.
She said, “I wanted to be sure she had everything she needed. Not like last time.”
“You know, Marley bought some things for Daisy, too. Dresses and toys…”
“But, these are her favorites,” Sarah insisted, pressing Grant to accept them all.
“We’ll take good care of her,” Grant promised.
“I know you will. I wouldn’t be leaving her with you if I didn’t think you would.”
“Thank you, Sarah,” Grant said awkwardly, instinctively looking over his shoulder as if he expected Marley to appear the moment he offered a kind word Sarah’s way. “You don’t know how much this means to me, being able to spend time with Daisy like this.”
“I know how much it means to you,” Sarah corrected. “I know how much you wanted to have another child. That’s why I…” she trailed off, unable to finish.
“I’m sorry,” Grant felt compelled to tell her. “I’m sorry about how everything worked out.”
“Are you happy?” Sarah challenged him. “With Marley. Are you happy?”
“Yes, of course,” he hurried to assure her. “Yes. I am.”
“Then why would you be sorry about anything?”
“I – I meant… with you. I’m sorry about how things worked out… for you.”
“My fault,” Sarah shook her head. “All my fault. People tried to warn me. Steven, Lorna. I didn’t listen. I didn’t think.”
“You’re young,” Grant offered. “You’re supposed to make mistakes. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“It’s one thing to make mistakes that affect just you. It’s another to screw up somebody else’s life. Daisy is going to have to live with my mistakes. That’s not fair.”
“I know how you feel,” Grant admitted. “Kirkland… I’m the same way about Kirkland.”
“But, you tried to make it up to him.”
“Not sure if it worked,” Grant shrugged.
“At least you tried, that’s got to count for something. Kirk’s got to appreciate that.”
“I remember when you went to him, tried to make him see things my way. You did so much for me, Sarah.”
“It was easy.” She looked up to meet his eyes. “I loved you.”
At which point, Grant immediately looked away, focusing on Daisy in his arms. Not that she was a much safer option.
“I love you, too.” Sarah leaned over to kiss the baby on the cheek. “I love you so much.” She smoothed down the tiny wisps of Daisy’s blonde hair, kissing the top of her head, and then the back of her tiny fist. “You be a good girl for your Daddy. And for Marley, too. They’ll take great care of you. You won’t even miss me. Bet you won’t even notice I’m gone.”
She forced herself to take a step back, gripping the doorknob as if to remind that she was on her way out, practically pulling herself away from Daisy.
“We’ll see you soon,” Grant called to her retreating figure.
Sarah didn’t answer.
“This is a surprise.” Kevin startled when led into the prison’s visiting room, only to find Lila waiting for him.
“Long time no see,” she offered, noncommittal.
“Sorry,” he indicated their surroundings while taking a seat. “I’ve kind of been tied up.”
“Still funny, I see.” She settled across from him.
“It’s pretty much all I’ve got left.”
“How are you doing?” Lila asked.
“Taking it one day at a time.”
“How many of those are you in here for, again?”
“About nine hundred and twelve. But, who’s counting?”
“That a pretty stiff sentence. For a guy who didn’t do it.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Kevin blanched.
“I know you didn’t kill Johnson,” Lila told him. “And I know that Steven did.”
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