“I know you didn’t kill Johnson,” Lila told Kevin, even while visiting him in prison for doing precisely that. “And I know that Steven did.”
To his credit, Kevin’s facial expression didn’t flicker. He merely inquired politely, “What makes you say that?”
“Chase Hamilton gave me your case file. And he told me that sometimes, it’s the evidence that isn’t there, rather than the evidence that is, that tells the whole story.”
“Unfortunately,” Kevin said smoothly, “The former is rather tough to prove. Which is why prosecutors like him tend to stick with the latter.”
“You’re not a computer genius,” Lila said. “Steven is.”
“Horace Johnson was killed by a bullet. Not a virus code,” Kevin reminded.
“But he was set up by someone who knew their way around computer. A heck of a lot better than you do.”
“There’s always outsourcing.”
“You’re too much of a control freak to outsource.”
“The court believed me.”
“The court wanted their case closed.”
Kevin crossed his arms defensively. “And what do you want, Lila?”
“To figure this out,” she admitted. “Nothing about you confessing made sense from Day One. You’re obviously protecting Steven. Why?”
“How is any of this your business?”
“It’s not.” She shrugged blithely.
Kevin burst out laughing. “Damn, Lila, but I’ve missed you.”
“I’d think you’d miss a lot of things being cooped up in here. And I wouldn’t even make the top ten.”
“You’d be surprised,” Kevin told her cryptically.
“Why are you doing this?” Lila asked, almost pleading.
He sighed, giving up the ghost. “For Jenny. She loves Steven. He loves her. He makes her happy.”
“What about you?”
“Seeing her happy makes me happy.”
“But, is it really worth….”
“Yes,” Kevin said firmly.
Lila clicked her tongue against her teeth. “You’re a confounding man.”
“You’re not the first person to notice that.”
“Does Amanda – “
“You didn’t tell your wife the truth?”
“Are you going to?”
“Good,” Kevin visibly relaxed.
She stood up awkwardly, unsure of what to say, figuring that leaving was probably her best option.
“It was good to see you, Lila,” Kevin said.
She nodded feebly.
“Do you… do you think maybe you might be willing to stop by again? Just to talk? I would really like having someone to talk with. Someone that I didn’t have to lie to.”
“When is Sarah coming by to pick up Daisy?” Grant asked the next morning, coming downstairs to find Marley playing with the baby, making a pink, stuffed bear bounce up and down on Daisy’s tummy as Grant’s daughter responded with a satisfied chuckle and a mad bicycling of her arms and legs.
“We’ve got a little time left.” Marley sat on the floor, Daisy lying on her back atop a blanket in front of her. “Join us,” she motioned Grant.
He sighed, squatting down and wincing at the cracking sound his knees made in response. “This,” he said. “Is why men my age shouldn’t have infants.”
“And this,” Marley scooped Daisy up and plopped her into Grant’s arms. “Is why they should.”
Grant unabashedly grinned ear to ear as the baby sucked on her fist and looked up at him adoringly. “Can’t really argue with your logic there.”
“We are so lucky,” Marley cooed. “Did you ever dream you’d get a second chance like this?”
“No.” He swallowed hard. “Never in a million years.”
Marley remembered she hadn’t yet had a chance to ask, “How did Kirkland like his new sister?”
“He… He warned me not to screw up. Again.”
“You won’t,” Marley said confidently, then promised, “I won’t let you.”
Grant said, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have Daisy now. You pushed me to ask Sarah about shared custody. “
“I like to think of it as gently guided.”
“You really did keep me from screwing up.”
“As advertised,” she mimed a soldier’s salute.
“Do you ever wonder how things might have turned out if you’d come into my life earlier? You could have kept me from making so many mistakes… having so many regrets. Everything might have been so different.”
“You mean, if you’d zeroed in on a different Hudson sister twenty years ago?”
“Yes.” Grant nodded slowly, actually considering the possibilities. “If I’d fallen for you instead of Vicky…. You might have forced me become a better person. Something my father never quite managed to do – though not for lack of trying.”
“You make me sound like a glorified baby-sitter.”
Grant was instantly contrite. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – “
“It’s alright.” Marley’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It’s nice to be appreciated for something.”
The doorbell rang.
Marley grit her teeth. “Guess it’s time to retreat to our designated corners.”
But Grant was already up on his feet and rushing towards entrance, as if he’d forgotten that Marley was even still there.
The disappointment on his face was obvious when Grant opened the door to find Allie, rather than Sarah waiting.
“What are you doing here?” Grant barked, primarily to cover up his displeasure.
“Sarah wanted me to give you this,” Allie said, and stretched a piece of paper forward.
“Thirsty?” Cass asked when a still half-asleep Charlie stumbled into the kitchen and looked around, somewhat dazed, as if she’d forgotten what she’d come in for. “The lithium,” Cass prompted. “I know it makes me crazy thirsty, especially first thing in the morning.”
“Oh, yeah,” Charlie mumbled, accepting the glass of orange juice Cass offered her and plopping down at the kitchen table. “Thanks.”
Her father pulled up a chair next to her and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Okay.” She buried her face in the juice, reluctant to meet Cass’ eyes.
“You know, Charlie, if you ever want to talk to me about anything… I’m here, just like always. I do understand what you’re going through.”
“I didn’t want to believe it, either,” Cass said gently, addressing the top of her head so as not to spook Charlie off. “When I was first diagnosed, I kept expecting to wake up every morning and hear from the doctor that it had been a mistake. That I didn’t really have an illness that I’d be forced to quote/unquote “manage” until the day I died.”
Charlie asked, “Other stuff goes away on its own sometimes. Why can’t this?”
“It can, in theory. But, you shouldn’t build your life around the possibility.”
“What life? How am I supposed to have a life now?”
“Yeah, well…” was the best Charlie could summon up in response.
Cass sighed. “There are people, Charlie, who would say that our illness – any illness – is a gift. That it gives us a unique perspective through which to view the world. That we are blessed with experiences and insights others can’t even imagine. Those people,” Cass said. “Are full of crap.”
Charlie’s head jerked up at that. “I thought – I thought that, in the olden days, some cultures treated crazy people like prophets and Holy Men. And that, these days, it’s the crazy people who come up with new inventions and stuff. That’s what they wrote in that pamphlet they gave me at the hospital, anyway.”
Cass nodded. “Yes, that’s what they say. Now here’s what I say: Tortured minds may be good for society overall. They create great art and innovation, found new religions, spout philosophy. But, at what cost to them? Vincent van Gough created amazing paintings, no one is disputing that. But, he suffered every single day of his life. I wonder… if he’d been given the option of medication, would he have taken it?”
“Are you ever sorry that you did, Dad?”
Cass’ pause was just a split second too long. “No,” he insisted.
“Don’t you ever wonder, though, if it changed who you really were? The stuff is major powerful, it, like, rewires your brain or something.”
“It makes it so that I can function. It makes it so that I’m not a danger to myself or anybody else.”
“When you killed Cecile, though…”
“That wasn’t the lithium. That was my own bad judgment.”
“But, if the lithium affects your brain, how are you supposed to know where it ends and the real you begins? I mean, isn’t it making you think that you’re thinking clearly, when maybe you’re really not? It’s that who watches the watchers thing.”
Cass smiled. “You’re a smart kid.”
“I’m kind of invested in the answer.”
Cass stroked her hair, gratified when Charlie didn’t jerk away. “The way I look at it is, the lithium helps clear the obstacles that keep me from being me. It’s like, glasses don’t change what you see, they just make it possible to see more clearly.”
Charlie smirked. “Is near-sightedness supposed to be a gift, too?”
“That’s what some people would like you to believe. They’re also full of crap. Me,” Cass confided. “I figure we’ve all got challenges to deal with. The real test is in how you overcome them, and what you choose to do in spite of them.”
“Spend a decade or two away from Dennis,” Jamie observed to Olivia. “And you start to forget his….”
“Dick-ish qualities?” Olivia supplied.
“More or less.”
“I, unfortunately, never got the opportunity. Thanks to Sarah, I rarely got to miss Dennis long enough to completely blot his memory from my consciousness. So,” Olivia plopped down on the couch and patted the spot next to her, urging Jamie to take a seat. “What did he do to you? I mean, in this century.”
Jamie accepted her invitation, though keeping a respectful distance. “He cast aspersions on my taste in women.”
“Any women in particular?”
Jamie raised an eyebrow.
“Right.” She tapped her chest with one finger. “Me. Who else could it possibly have been? Though, I gotta say, if I know Dennis, more of his aspersions were likely cast my way, than yours.”
“He doesn’t like you very much,” Jamie agreed.
“You are a very insightful man.”
“I’m a doctor. We’re trained to observe human behavior.”
Olivia contemplated the ceiling. “Do you blame Dennis, though? He may be a dick, but I wasn’t exactly a prize.”
“Vicky and I didn’t precisely have the greatest marriage, either. But, I do my best not to bad-mouth her in front of the boys. Then again,” Jamie conceded. “Many would declare that sort of sanctimoniousness to be my most dick-ish quality.”
“You’ve got a long way to go before you catch up to Dennis.”
“You didn’t know me in my prime.”
Olivia smiled as she recalled, “I did, actually. I just didn’t care very much. The only thing that concerned me about you back then was that you were Amanda’s brother and Marley’s fiancé, and, oh, yeah, that my Daddy thought of you as a long-lost son, which pretty much pissed me off. Then again, a lot of things pissed me off then.”
“How about now?”
“Now, it’s mostly just Dennis,” she conceded.
“Well, sign me up to receive your newsletter.” Jamie shook his head. And then he offered, “Remember when you wanted to pretend like we were involved just to make Dennis’ head explode?
“Sing me up for that, too.”
It took almost two hours on their English-language winery tour before Rachel and Felicia finally spotted their prey. The great man, himself, Rene Acord, was standing in the back of a high-ceilinged hall, surrounded by barrels and assistants, paying no attention to the two dozen American tourists being lead through his facility, swept from room to room by a most efficient guide.
“Is that him?” Felicia did a last minute check.
Rachel squinted into the distance, then nodded affirmatively. “He matches the picture on the website.”
“You’ve never met him?”
Rachel shook her head. “This was Carl’s passion, not mine. Honestly, I felt embarrassed drinking all of his expensive wine, knowing the taste was utterly wasted on me.”
Felicia said. “I wish I’d packed my boa. Capers somehow always feel better with a boa.”
“What about romps?”
“They’re black-tie optional.”
Rachel grinned at her friend. “Are you ready?”
“And willing, too.”
The two women waited until they’d drifted to the back of the tour group, then proceeded to surreptitiously wander off, inching closer and closer to where Monsieur Acord was standing before, at a key moment, Felicia stumbled dramatically, going down in a face-plant that looked much worse than it actually felt, and came accompanied with her purse flying across the room, scattering its contents nearly at Acord’s feet.
No way was he missing that subtle pass.
Especially not when Rachel proceeded to commence shrieking loud enough to rattle the rafters.
No French gentleman worth his champagne – especially not one who also owned the place and likely knew about the American penchant for frivolous law suits – would be able to ignore that.
As expected, Acord – and company – came rushing over to see what was the matter. So did the tour guide, looking most displeased to have been thrown even a moment off her schedule.
“Are you hurt, Madame?” Rachel’s expert blocking made it so that only Acord stood near enough to help Felicia to her feet.
“I don’t know.” She raised a hand dramatically to her forehead. “I feel a bit faint.”
“She needs to sit down,” Rachel decided, indicating a chair in the back, obviously next to Acord’s desk. “Take her over there.”
Acord blinked and looked around, unable to believe that Rachel was addressing him in such a curt manner. When none of his staff seemed to know how to handle the situation either, he resigned himself to following orders and doing as Rachel bade.
“We don’t want to keep you,” Rachel turned to the tour guide. “Please do go on without us.”
The woman hesitated, looking from Rachel to Felicia to the door through which they should have passed a full five minutes ago. Eventually, her love of efficiency overruled any sense of propriety, and she shuffled off, promising to come back and check on Felicia… when she had time.
That aspect of the plan taken care of, Rachel caught up with Felicia and Acord. Felicia sat slumped in the chair… yet not so slumped that the vintner could miss a peek at her still shapely legs, or at the way she kept clinging to his arm, as if he were her only salvation.
“It’s all settled.” Felicia perked up at the sight of Rachel – though still keeping hold of Acord. “It turns out that Monsieur Acord’s home is right behind the winery. He has kindly offered to let me rest up there until I feel up to departing. Isn’t that a terribly fortunate stroke of luck for all of us?”
“What’s that?” Marley demanded as soon as she saw the letter Allie was offering Grant. “If Sarah thinks she’s going to sue us for sole custody of – “
“That’s not it,” Allie interrupted, urging Grant, “Read it.”
Confused, Grant handed Daisy off to Marley, opening the envelope, realizing that his hands were shaking, even as he asked, “Why didn’t Sarah come herself? Why did she send you? Why did she feel a need to write? Why couldn’t she just talk to me?”
“It’s all in the letter,” Allie insisted. “Just read it.”
“You know what it says?” Marley challenged Allie.
“Then you tell us. What’s with the cheap theatrics?”
“Sarah wanted Grant to hear it from her.”
“Dear Grant and Marley,” Grant read out loud, clutching the paper for dear life in order to be able to make out the suddenly jittery letters. “You were right. Daisy needs to be in a home with two parents who know what’s best for her. I love her, but, you’re right, I’m too young. I keep making mistakes. They’re not too bad so far. But, one day, I’m afraid they will be. I can’t take care of her as well as you two can. My mom says it’s just going to get harder and harder. And that I’ll start resenting Daisy for everything that she’s making me miss. Grant said that, too. I can’t risk that happening. I can’t risk hurting her. I’d rather she hate me, than for that to happen. I’m leaving town. I don’t want you to know where I am. I don’t want to hear from you about how Daisy is doing. That’d just be too hard. I know she’ll be happy with you, and that you’ll love her. Tell her that I loved her, too. I loved her enough to let her go, just like Allie did with Hudson. I hope you guys have a great life together… Sarah.”
Grant raised his head as if resurfacing from a deep dive, gasping for air, head swimming, bright colors exploding in front of his eyes. He turned to Allie, “Where did she go?”
“I don’t know,” Allie lied rather unconvincingly.
“Is she alright?” Marley oozed sympathy.
“No,” Allie looked at Marley as if she were an idiot. “Sarah could barely stop crying.”
“Then why did she do this?” Grant demanded.
“She told you. In the letter. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? You kept telling her she wasn’t responsible enough to be a good mother. She finally believed you.”
“So, that’s it?” Marley asked. “Daisy is… ours?”
“Yes,” Allie conceded.
“No,” Grant said.
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