“I’m not as bad as Donna or Iris… am I?” Frankie pleaded with Cass after filling him in regarding her conversation with Zeno and what he’d accused her of.
Cass didn’t answer, he merely continued sitting where he was, staring at his wife as if she were a stranger.
“Cass?” She prompted, “Say something.”
“Why did you think it was necessary to….”
“Because Charlie needs Zeno. His rejection was what sent her over the edge earlier. I couldn’t risk that happening again.”
“Bad brain chemistry is what sent Charlie over the edge,” Cass clarified.
“Yes. I know. But, there had to be a triggering incident. Just like with you. In your case, your illness showed itself after Charlie’s heart surgery. With Charlie, it was the mess with Zeno and Kirkland. She’s still in such a fragile state. All I wanted was to make her feel loved and secure.”
“Zeno has every reason to be angry with her.”
“I thought he was smarter than that. I thought he was kinder than that. The boy I raised should have been able to put his own issues aside in order to help someone else.”
“And maybe he would have. If you hadn’t tried to blackmail him into it, first.”
“I didn’t blackmail him!” Frankie exploded, frustrated. “Why does everyone keep calling it that? I asked for a favor. And I reminded him of all the favors I’d done in return.”
“A year ago, such a course of action would never have even crossed your mind.”
“A year ago, I wouldn’t have had the money to follow through.”
“Money,” Cass sighed.
“What’s the matter with money?” Frankie asked defensively. “You like it well enough.”
“I do,” he agreed. “But you… you’re better than that.”
Frankie shook her head in disgust. “I am so tired of that attitude. Practically everyone in town throws money around in order to get their own way. And nobody pays them any mind. But let me do something just a tiny step beyond the pale in order to possibly save my daughter’s life, and you all look at me like I’m some kind of monster. What would you have preferred, Cass? Would you have preferred that I sit by, do nothing, allow Charlie to spiral out of control again? Would you have liked it better if our daughter died – just as long as I didn’t get my hands dirty? Just as long as your venerated image of me remained intact?”
“I do have a venerated image of you,” Cass agreed. “Charlie used to even make fun of me. All those years you were gone, when all I had to offer her was stories I’d tell about you. She used to tease: You make my mother sound like she was perfect.”
“Bet Lila really appreciated that.”
“We’re not talking about Lila,” Cass snapped out of his reverie. “Or even Charlie, for that matter. You’re right. I did put you on a ridiculously high pedestal. While you were here, and especially while you were gone. I built up this image of you in my mind: Frankie who was good, Frankie who was kind, Frankie who was…”
“Yes,” he exhaled.
“That’s kind of unfair, don’t you think?”
“My memories were all I had left of you. Do you blame me for rose-coloring them a little?”
“But, that’s not the case anymore. I’m here,” Frankie said, pausing to muse. “Maybe that’s the problem. The real, flesh and blood woman can’t live up to the memories you created. No one could”
“No,” he said firmly. “That is absolutely not true.”
“Do you know how many times, over the past three years, you’ve told me that I’m not acting like the “old Frankie?”
“I’m guessing more times than you would have liked?”
“You’re right. I’m not the old Frankie anymore. It’s been almost fifteen years. Even if I hadn’t been forced to leave you and Charlie, I’d still have changed. Grown up. If I’d been here, and you’d seen it in real time, it probably wouldn’t have been so jarring.”
“Probably not,” he agreed.
“But, I’m not the old Frankie. I’m someone who’s been through things the old Frankie couldn’t have imagined. The old Frankie never dreamed about the kind of evil that there was in the world. It’s easy to be sunny and optimistic when life has never given you any reason to feel otherwise. For goodness’ sake, I even beat death. It’s easy to say you’d never take desperate measures, when you’ve never felt desperation. We could lose our daughter, Cass. I can’t allow that to happen. Even if it means drifting further and further away from the Frankie you think you remember. Charlie is worth it. Charlie is worth anything.”
Rachel took great care to lag a few steps behind as Felicia and Accord strolled down the cobble-stoned path to Accord’s home, located about half a mile down the road from his winery. She wanted to give them plenty of time to get acquainted and for Felicia to work her charms on the flustered vintner.
Besides, it gave Rachel a chance to look over the countryside, the miles and miles of growing grapes, and to imagine Carl here, standing on that very spot, surveying the land and assessing the precious liquid gold he was about to buy.
The two of them had always talked about coming to French wine country. There were so many places he’d wanted to show her. They discussed bringing the children, too. Maybe even living in France for a year or so – it would have been so good for Elizabeth and Cory’s language skills.
But, she and Carl thought they had plenty of time to get to it. That is, until their time abruptly ran out. Was her husband still alive? Were her children? Was Lorna…
Rachel didn’t understand anything that was going on. All she knew was, nothing was as it seemed, and she wouldn’t be able to live with herself until she unraveled the puzzle.
“Why, of course, Monsieur Accord,” Felicia fluttered her eyelashes a few feet away from Rachel. “We would love to stay for dinner, how kind of you to invite us.”
“We?” Accord repeated, confused, having forgotten that Rachel was even there.
“My friend and I,” Felicia prompted. “We’re on this winery tour together. I couldn’t just abandon her, you understand.”
“Understand, yes,” he mumbled, dinner party enthusiasm visibly diminishing.
“And you promised us a tour of the house. Rachel and I are terribly interested in French architecture.”
“Terribly,” Rachel concurred. “In fact, I could wander around an old house like yours for hours, just breathing in the ambiance.”
“Well,” he demurred. “I’m afraid….”
“It’s going to be a lovely evening,” Felicia promised, gazing deeply and with such promise into Accord’s eyes that any other objections were promptly forgotten. “I cannot wait to get to know you better.”
The vintner grinned. And leered.
And Rachel smiled.
Allie was gone, and Daisy was tucked into bed. But, Grant still sat on their living room couch, staring at the letter Sarah had left behind as if attempting to ferret out a secret code from the rather otherwise clear statement.
“She doesn’t mean it,” he mumbled. “She couldn’t. Sarah wouldn’t abandon Daisy.”
“She didn’t,” Marley rested a gentle hand on Grant’s arm, easing the letter from his fingers. “She left Daisy with her father.”
“She made it sound like she has no intention of coming back.”
“We knew there was always a possibility of this happening,” Marley reminded.
“What are you talking about?”
“Sarah is young. Don’t let that sophisticated act she puts on fool you. Underneath, she’s no more than a child. And an irresponsible one at that.”
“No. She’s not. Sarah is incredibly mature for her age. For any age, really.”
“That’s what she wanted everyone to think. But, look at her actions. First, she moves to Bay City without so much as telling her parents where she’s gone. Then there was that silly game she played with Steven, dating him on a bet. She participated in the scheme to kidnap Gregory from the hospital – that nearly killed John and Sharlene, and Sarah didn’t care one bit. She made some terrible overall decisions, and even the little things… Do you remember how she forgot to pick up Michele and Bridget from fencing class, then got hysterical when they weren’t at school?”
Grant gulped guiltily, remember his own role in so many of Sarah’s… errors in judgment. “Anyone could have made that mistake.”
“My point is, we should have seen this coming. Taking care of an infant was simply too much for Sarah. So she did what she always does when things get difficult, she ran away without leaving a forwarding address.”
“Sarah loves Daisy.”
“And Iris loved Dennis. Or so she always claimed. You’ve seen how that worked out. Please. Sarah is simply following in her grandmother’s footsteps. Iris abandoned Dennis, Dennis was hardly there for Sarah, and now Sarah is simply repeating their pattern. It’s tragic, really. But, the fact is, Dennis was much better off being raised by his stepfather, and Sarah would have been better off…”
“Raised by you?”
Marley shrugged, as if the thought had never previously occurred to her. “Sarah seems to think so. It’s why she was so comfortable leaving Daisy with me from the beginning. She knows I’ll take wonderful care of her. We’ll take wonderful care of her.”
Grant shook his head. “No. A child needs its mother. I – I know that from experience. I spent my entire life missing Justine. I don’t want that for Daisy.”
“But, your case was different. Spencer told you your mother was dead. Of course, you missed her. And he never remarried, so there was always this maternal gap in your life. That won’t happen here. We’ll be able to tell Daisy that her mother loved her so much, she left her with you and me because she knew we’d make a wonderful family together. She’ll have you, me, Michele, Bridget… she won’t want for anything.”
“You’re okay with this?” Grant asked. “Raising another woman’s child?”
“What do you think I’ve been doing all these years with Steven and Kirkland and the girls?”
“Steven, Kirkland and the girls are your sisters’ children. Daisy is my – “
“I was married to Jake, too. Our history was even more complicated than yours and mine. And that doesn’t affect how I feel about Bridget and Michele. The girls are practically in high-school. Do you know how much I love the idea of having a tiny baby in the house, again? It’s going to be wonderful, Grant. We can raise a child together. Not part-time, like you had with Kirk or you thought you were going to have with Daisy. She’s going to be all ours. Can you imagine anything more wonderful? We have a beautiful little girl. Let’s promise to enjoy every moment of this.”
“Donna doesn’t have a clue, does she?” Olivia challenged Matt when he arrived at work, definitely not looking like a man whose wife had just accused him of infidelity.
“No,” Matt conceded. “But, that doesn’t mean she won’t, eventually.”
“Would you just trust me, please? I have everything under control. The only thing you need to do is just make sure Donna comes with you to Kirkland’s birthday party tonight. You are going to be there, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah… Jamie invited us.”
“Are you going to be there, too?”
Olivia nodded. “You’ll see, after tonight, Donna will never have a reason to suspect you and I of being involved.”
“Frankie wanted to pay you to see Charlie?” Allie furrowed her brow, trying to understand exactly what Zeno was telling her.
“More like, she threatened to stop paying me if I didn’t.”
“Why? I mean, why is it so important for Charlie to see you?”
Zeno took a deep breath. And then, without any embarrassment, he told Allie, “Charlie and I slept together. It was before you and I were really dating. And it was only one time. She was still with Kirkland then, so she kind of freaked out about the whole thing.”
“Oh,” Allie said. Then offered the first thing that popped into her head. “Does Kirk know?”
“I don’t think so.”
“He really loved her.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too.”
Zeno returned to the original subject at hand. “I guess our sleeping together meant more to Charlie than she let on.”
“Were you her first?” Allie asked. “I mean, GQ was my first, and, yeah, that took a while for me to get over.”
Zeno shook his head. “She and Kirkland had sex before. But, I guess, with me… She said she…. Charlie is pretty messed up.” He left it at that and instead asked, “Are you mad at me?”
“Why? We weren’t together then. What would I have to be mad at you about?”
“I didn’t tell you about it afterwards.”
“So what? I haven’t told you everything about me, either.”
“Some girls would have been mad.”
“Some girls didn’t spend a year lying about who their baby’s dad was. If I ever try to throw stones, you have my permission to hurl one right back my way.”
Zeno smiled. “You’re really special, you know that, Allie?”
She only allowed herself a shy grin before asking, “What are you going to do about the farm, now that you don’t have Frankie’s money, anymore?”
“Same thing I always did before. Work my ass off, and hope we can scrape by.”
“Or,” Allie spoke slowly, the thought forming in her mind just ahead of her words. “You could let me help you. I’ve got trust funds all over the place. I have money. I could take over for Frankie. What do you think?”
“How did it go, darling?” Iris’ tone was part mocking, part sincere. “Your little chat with Rachel?”
Russ’ eyes narrowed. “How did you know I’d spoken to Rachel?”
“Well, you’d broken matters off with me. Where else was there left for you to go but to scurry to dear Rachel with the news?”
“You make me sound like a puppy.”
“No, darling, I am merely using the appropriate terminology. It stands to reason. If Carl was Rachel’s lap-dog, then she must surely be in the market for a new pet.”
“Rachel doesn’t believe that Carl is dead.”
“Hardly an original sentiment.”
“You agree with her?” Russ’ head shot up.
“Only in as much as the man is surely somewhere right now, sipping champagne and having a good laugh at us all, with Rachel’s children by side, their minds being filled with all sorts of evil murmurs about how the people of Bay City wronged their father. And that includes Rachel as the chief culprit.”
“You think Carl stole Rachel’s children, then faked all their deaths?”
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind.”
“Oh, she, I feel certain, went off on her own accord. A woman like that can only fake playing the happy wife and mother for so long. I’m sure Lorna was just biding her time, waiting for the optimal offer to flee her dull state of domesticity. It’s what she did the first time around, after all. Run away from what must surely have been a ghastly farm and straight into Carl Hutchins’ eager arms. Though, granted, she isn’t quite the nubile, young thing she once was. Then again, Lorna still has a few decades on Rachel.”
“If that’s true, it will break Rachel’s heart.”
“Leaving you, no doubt, to step in and pick up the pieces.”
“I’m not wishing – “
“Of course, you are,” Iris corrected politely. “You are dying to step in and play Rachel’s hero. Please don’t insult my intelligence by suggesting otherwise.”
“I want Rachel to be happy. Period.”
Iris considered, “It must have so peeved you, all those years ago, to lose your beautiful young wife to an uncouth ruffian like Steve Frame. Here you were, offering her the best that middle class morality had to offer, and Rachel still went sniffing after a working-class stud. And then, of course, there was the scandal with Jamie! She let you name that boy after your own father, all the while knowing – “
“This isn’t going to work,” Russ informed Iris calmly. “Digging up ancient history isn’t going to change how I feel about Rachel today.”
“So I was right.” Iris smiled without a touch of genuine emotion. “You are in love with her.”
“Yes.” Russ all but flung the word at Iris.
Her expression didn’t waver. “How terribly sad for you.”
“You mean, because Carl is still alive?”
“Because you’ll never measure up,” she explained as if to a dim child. “Look at all the men Rachel has to compare you to. Daddy, of course, first and foremost. Carl and his sleazy charm. Even Steve Frame clearly had something you lacked. Now granted, those husbands and lovers who came in between, your Ted Clarks, your Ken Jordans, them you could probably best. But, even Spencer once showed an inexplicable interest in Rachel. And then there’s Mitch Blake. I do hear very positive things about Mr. Blake’s charms… His attempt to murder my father, aside. Truly, darling, how do you expect to compete?”
“Your sympathy is touching.”
“My sympathy is real,” Iris stressed. “Goodness gracious, Russ, why in the world would you want to put yourself though all that agony and rejection for a woman who is clearly still pining for her bastard of a husband when, right here in front of you, you have a woman who recognizes just what a wonderful man you are and how lucky she would be to have you in her life?”
“You have an interesting way of showing it, Iris.”
“It’s who I am,” she reminded. “But, at least, unlike Rachel, I own up to it.”
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