“Where is she?” Grant demanded, barging into Russ’ house and confronting Iris, looking around desperately as if Sarah might have taken shelter behind a piece of furniture.
“What are you talking about?” Iris drawled, unamused and uniterested.
“Sarah? Where has she gone?”
“Did she not tell you? Sarah moved out months ago. She has her own apartment now.”
“She isn’t there.”
“Have you considered employing the telephone?”
“She’s gone, Iris,” Grant snapped, taking disproportionate pleasure in being the one to break the news to her. “Sarah’s left town. Or so her note said, anyway.”
“Note?” Now he had Iris’ complete attention. “What note?”
“Sarah had Allie deliver a note to Marley and me. She’s leaving town for good.”
Iris smiled grimly. “Serves the two of you right. I hope Sarah takes that precious child of hers and hides her where neither of you will ever lay eyes, much less hands, on her.”
Now it was Grant’s turn to stare at Iris with dour satisfaction. “She left her behind. Daisy. Sarah left Daisy to Marley and I.”
Iris’ eyes widened. “You’re lying!”
“What would be the point? It’s easy enough to disprove. Your great-granddaughter, Sarah’s daughter is currently at my house, being rocked to sleep by my wife.”
“Sarah wouldn’t do this. She’s never leave Daisy to the two of you. Not after the way Marley tried to steal her twenty years ago.”
“Actually, Iris, you’re the only one who sees it that way. As far as Sarah is concerned, it was Olivia who stole Sarah out of what would have been a much better home. Sarah has finally made things right – in her own way.”
“Right? How in the world could Marley mothering my great-granddaughter ever be right?”
“Sarah thought it would be best for Daisy to grow up in a stable home.”
“Raised by a woman who’s spent more time in a mental institution than a bedpan, and a man who would seduce a teen-age girl?”
“You need to work on your math,” Grant advised.
“I won’t allow this,” Iris was already reaching for her phone. “I’ll sue. There is no way that I will ever allow a Cory child to grow up in your household.”
“You don’t have a leg to stand on.” Grant didn’t need to be a lawyer to know that. “I’m Daisy’s father. Even if I didn’t have the note from Sarah backing it up, I’d still be awarded custody over any… distant relative.”
“You did this,” Iris accused. “You drove Sarah away.”
“No,” Grant’s bravado and voice cracked even as he said it. “No, I never, ever wanted this to happen.”
“A likely story.”
“I want to find her,” he insisted. “I want to find Sarah and bring her home to our daughter. And I need your help for that, Iris.”
It had been a long time since Rachel had deliberately ruined a dinner party. She was afraid she might be out of practice. Luckily, that skill seemed to be like swimming or riding a bicycle. Once you’d mastered it, the ability never utterly went away.
To that end, Rachel went out of her way to be as horrible of a dinner guest as possible. Every time Accord and Felicia got into any sort of conversational groove, Rachel made a point of interrupting with an inappropriate comment.
She sent the food back several times with detailed instructions to the chef on how she liked it prepared, and observed that the wine was “okay,” upon being served what she was assured to be his finest vintage.
She talked incessantly and mostly about herself, arguing about the finer points of French history – World War II and a repeated tendency to surrender may have come up; several time – and even about wine-making, a topic Rachel proudly admitted she knew nothing about first hand – but she had read a Wikipedia article before coming on the tour.
Meanwhile, Felicia did everything she could to make it crystal clear to Accord just how interested she was… in more than just his grapes. She leaned over, she gazed into his eyes, she touched his arm flirtatiously, laughed at everything he said, asked probing and insightful questions about the wine business and, in case that wasn’t clear enough, took off her shoe under the table and slid her foot up the inside of his leg, inching it up past his thigh until Accord gasped in shock and pleasure. (Felicia decided that, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, neither Rachel nor Lorna ever needed to know that once, many, many, many years ago, she’s tried a similar maneuver with Jamie in the middle of a literary discussion. But, they’d all been a lot younger then. And she and Jamie, arguably, had been completely different people.)
The more Felicia made herself available, the more exasperating Rachel grew until finally, unable to stand it any longer, Accord burst out with, “Ms. Davis, you expressed an interest in seeing my home. Would you care to do that now?”
“Oh, yes,” Rachel sprung up, all eager enthusiasm.
“Very well,” he said. “Feel free to explore to your heart’s content.” And he waved her dismissively towards the door.
“Aren’t the two of you coming along?” Rachel asked innocently.
“Non,” he smiled lecherously at Felicia. “Ms. Gallant and I still need to finish our… conversation.”
“Have fun,” Felicia wriggled her fingers Rachel’s way. And winked.
“Happy birthday, son,” Jamie embraced Kirkland as his newly minted nineteen year old descended the stairs to greet his guests, primarily family. Amanda, Steven and Jen were there, Matt and Donna, Lila and Jasmine, Allie and Zeno, Dennis, Devon and Mackenzie, and Grant and Marley with Bridget, Michele and Daisy.
“Hey,” Kirkland addressed the crowd. “Thanks for coming everybody.”
“Happy birthday,” an assortment of relatives came to kiss and congratulate the almost grown man of the hour.
When Kirkland had a minute, Jamie pulled him aside to introduce, “You know Olivia, right?”
“Yeah,” Kirkland nodded. “You’re Sarah’s mom.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Kirkland. Your dad talks a great deal about you. I hear you’re a great kid.” As Olivia said the words, she slid one arm around Jamie’s waist and gazed up at him adoringly.
“Oh,” Kirkland noticed. And got the message. “Uh… thanks. Nice to meet you, too. Excuse me, please.”
“You okay?” Olivia caught the pained look in Jamie’s eyes. “It’s one thing to mess with Dennis’ head. Another to lay this on your kid.”
“No, I – It’s alright. Kirkland got some… wrong ideas about me and woman and… This will be good for him. Seeing me with you. Thinking we’re together.”
“Well, then, we’d better really sell this.” Olivia stood on her tiptoes and briefly kissed Jamie on the lips, making certain that everyone saw exactly what was happening.
“Are your dad and Sarah’s mom…” Jasmine wrinkled her nose.
Kirkland shrugged. “Looks that way.”
“She’s been gone for almost a whole year. I guess Dad is ready to move on.”
“I thought you said he believed she was still alive.”
“Yeah, well, nothing lasts forever, does it?” He figured he might as well tell Jasmine everything. “Speaking of which, Charlie dumped me.”
“How?” Jasmine burst out. “She’s been sick!”
“Not too sick to dump me.”
“I wanted to visit her at the hospital, but Frankie said she didn’t want to see me, either. Mama told me to be patient.”
“That’s what I wanted to be, too. I told Charlie I’d stick by her, no matter what. She blew me off.”
“I’m sorry,” Jasmine said. “You guys made a really cute couple.”
“I really loved her,” Kirkland admitted. “I don’t understand what happened.” He looked over his shoulder at Jamie, Olivia draped all over him, and added, “Sometimes I feel like I don’t understand anything at all.”
“Well, well, well,” Donna nudged her chin in Jamie and Olivia’s directions. “That’s certainly… interesting.”
“I told you,” Matt groused. “I told you the first time I caught her here, pretending she was just hanging out with Devon and Zee. Olivia is after Jamie.”
Donna shrugged. “Fortunately, Victoria’s boys are too old to suffer under her influence. Though, if I were Felicia, I certainly wouldn’t want Olivia assuming my daughter’s place, especially not with those little girls. Just look at what a horrid job she did with Sarah!”
“I don’t think Jamie and Olivia are anywhere near – “
“Oh, they will be,” Donna predicted. “I know a predatory woman when I see one. No man is safe until Ms. Matthews gets precisely what she wants. You mark my words about that.
“I went to visit your dad the other day,” Amanda filled in Jen, who stood holding Steven’s hand, her face anxious, while Steven did his best to appear supportive.
“How’s he doing?”
“He says he’s fine.”
“Dad always says he’s fine.”
Amanda smiled. “That’s what he told me about you.”
“He ordered me not to come see him too often. He knows I’ve got this thing about prisons.”
“No one can blame you for that,” Steven interjected.
“It doesn’t matter. This is different. Daddy isn’t…. I can handle this.”
“Kevin asked about the two of you.” Amanda indicated Steven and Jen. “He wanted to know how you two are.”
“We’re great.” Jen allowed herself to smile for the first time. “Did you tell him we were great?”
“I did. And it made him very happy. Your dad loves you very much, Jen. He doesn’t regret what he did. Not as long as you’re alive because of it.”
“Still,” Steven couldn’t stop himself from grousing. “He dumped a ton of crap on Jen’s shoulders. It’s not fair. He’s asking for a hell of a lot from all of us. Maybe it’s too much.”
“What the hell was that?” Dennis took advantage of a second when Olivia didn’t seem to be attached to Jamie’s hip to pull her aside and demand in a furious whisper.
“What the hell was what?” She asked innocently.
“I warned you to stay away from Jamie.”
“I’m sorry, would you be so kind as to remind me exactly what right you have to do that?”
“Jamie’s my friend.”
“And I’m your….?”
“Unfortunate one night stand. The guy just lost his wife, for Pete’s sake!”
“Which means he’s lonely.”
“And vulnerable. Jesus, Olivia, don’t you have any standards at all?”
“You mean?” Jamie sidled up imperceptibly, having heard only the last part of Dennis’ question. “In order to settle for me?”
“Hey,” Zeno and Allie both came up to Kirkland, who’d been hanging out with Bridget and Michele, seemingly trying to keep out of the adults’ way.
“Happy birthday,” Zeno said.
Allie gave her cousin a hug. “Guess you’re all grown up now.”
“I never got the chance to thank you.” She attempted to drag Kirkland out of his funk. “If you hadn’t come looking for me, who knows what would have happened back in January?”
“I was looking for Charlie,” he reminded. “I didn’t even know you were with her.”
Allie refused to let that deter her. “Anyway, thanks for being such a nice, responsible guy. We all owe you for it.”
Kirkland looked to Zeno. “What happened with Charlie? I mean, what really happened? Why did she flip out like that? And why was she talking about you when she went after Allie?”
“What was that all about?” Marley, holding Daisy in her arms, asked Jamie, having caught some of his confrontation with Dennis and Olivia.
“Nothing important.” He shook his head.
“Are you and Olivia…”
Jamie shrugged, indicating he didn’t care to discuss it. But pointedly not denying it, either.
“Obviously Dennis thinks something is going on,” Marley said, her voice surprisingly tight. Almost as if she had a vested interest in whether or not Dennis was still obsessed with his ex.
“It’s none of his business. Dennis and Olivia broke up twenty years ago, and the last time he stuck his nose into my love life…” Neither needed that sentence to be finished. Instead, Jamie changed the subject and indicated Daisy. “How are you managing… this?”
“Oh, she’s wonderful. A perfect baby almost. A good eater, a good sleeper, and such a sunny personality, too. She’s always smiling, always ready to laugh.”
“I didn’t mean the nitty-gritty stuff,” he clarified. “I have no doubts you can handle that. I mean taking care of Grant’s…”
Jamie shrugged. “Yup, that pretty much covers it.”
“You can’t hold a child responsible for what its parents did. Look at you and Alice.”
“You’re right. Sure. But, you – “
“Aren’t Alice?” Marley guessed.
“I was just going to say: Your situation is even more complicated. For everything that happened, Alice always knew that my dad loved her, not Mom. That was a constant.”
“Grant loves me,” Marley gulped defensively.
Jamie, again, declined to respond. “It can’t be easy, though. Having Sarah hovering along the periphery. Both with Daisy and with Grant.”
“Sarah is gone,” Marley informed Jamie triumphantly, not caring how she came off.
“What do you mean… gone?”
“I mean that she abandoned her baby and took off. Daisy is mine now.”
“What were you doing over there?” Matt’s petulance had yet to dissipate by the time he made it over to Olivia.
“You mean with Jamie?”
“Of course, I mean with Jamie! What was that all about?”
“I told you. I intended to put on a show to make it clear to Donna that I had no interest whatsoever in you. And that’s precisely what I did.”
“So it was all an act?” Matt wasn’t sure how he felt about that, exactly.
“Well, no. Your brother is a sweet guy. He’d be a great catch for… someone.”
“Someone like you?” Matt asked suspiciously.
She laughed. “Are you jealous? Matt Cory, that is absolutely adorable!”
“I’m not jealous. I just… I don’t want you leading Jamie on. It’s not fair, he’s been though enough.” Matt suddenly realized. “And I thought he was convinced Lorna is still alive.”
“I’m just keeping her spot in the bed warm.”
“You mean the two of you are…”
“Metaphorically, Matt. Don’t worry,” she assured. “You are the only real man in my life.”
Somehow, that only made Matt worry more.
“Well, hey there.” Dennis awkwardly approached Marley, who was holding his granddaughter in her arms. Dennis figured that gave him the perfect excuse to approach. “How are you two beautiful ladies doing this evening?”
Marley had been smiling down at Daisy, making silly faces to cajole a smile, but when she saw Dennis, her expression hardened. “Fine,” she clipped. “We’re both fine.”
Dennis lowered his voice. “Is something wrong, Marley?”
“Come on,” he cajoled. “Tell me, please…. Did I do something….”
“What do you care if Olivia and Jamie are dating?”
“Are they? Dating? Jamie denied that anything was going on.”
Marley snorted. “You know Jamie. He’s all about propriety. Lorna hasn’t even been gone a year. Of course he’s going to deny it. But, look at them. What could be more obvious?”
Dennis did look. She had a point. “I just don’t want to see Jamie hurt again.”
“So that’s what this is about? Jamie?” Marley rolled her eyes in disgust.
“Totally.” For a moment, the obvious answer refused to click for Dennis. Once it did, however. “You think I care that Olivia is….”
“Sure seemed that way.”
“No! That’s ridiculous.” He looked meaningfully at Marley. “You know where my heart lies these days. And it’s not with Olivia.”
Marley blushed, burying her face in Daisy’s neck to hide it.
Worried that someone might have overheard, Dennis switched his focus from Marley to his granddaughter, clumsily patting her on the head and telling Marley, “She seems to really like you.”
“Luckily.” Marley expounded, “At least that’s one thing Sarah did right. Allowed Daisy to get comfortable with us before just taking off the way she did.”
Dennis blinked. “I’m sorry. What?”
“It would have been much harder for Daisy if she hadn’t already spent a lot of time with Grant and I. This way, I doubt she’ll even notice that Sarah is gone.”
“What are you talking about? Gone? Gone where? Where’s Sarah?”
“Didn’t your mother tell you?” Grant crossed over to stand between Marley and Dennis.
“How would Iris know?” Marley wondered.
“I told her,” Grant didn’t even deign to look Marley’s way as he answered dismissively. “I thought Iris might know where Sarah went.”
“Where Sarah went?” Now Olivia joined in the conversation, zeroing in on Marley. “Are you telling me that my daughter is gone?”
“Yes,” Marley said, hugging Daisy closer.
“And that she left her baby to you?”
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