“Doug Rivera is your… son?” Felicia choked out, wondering if maybe she’d slipped and been drinking after all.
“Eduardo Rivera,” the man they’d been chatting with for close to a half-hour stretched his hand forward. “Please forgive the belated introduction. I am afraid you lovely ladies overwhelmed me to the point of forgetting my manners.”
“That means Chase Hamilton is your…” Rachel wasn’t sure how to finish her sentence. All she knew was that anything that started with Chase Hamilton couldn’t possibly end well.
“He is my son’s partner. But, I consider him a son, as well.”
“That’s pretty open-minded of you,” Felicia leapt in, hoping to distract Eduardo and give Rachel time to pull herself together.
He shrugged. “When one has no choice in the matter, open-minded becomes the single stance left.
“I can think of quite a few fathers who’d disagree with you,” Felicia noted.
“My son knew precisely who he was from a very early age. He gave us no option but to accept him. Even if, to this day, I still admit some distaste for his lifestyle choices.”
“But, you just said….”
Eduardo went on, “A professional art curator! Can you imagine? What sort of example is that to set for his children?”
Rachel and Felicia both blinked in surprise. That wasn’t exactly what they’d expected him to say. In response to their baffled expressions, Eduardo burst out laughing. “I am sorry, ladies. It is a little joke of mine. I can’t resist watching people’s responses. Yes, my son is in a relationship with another man; a man with whom he is raising two children. But, truly, if you ask what vexes me most about the life he’s chosen, I should have to say that nonsense with the art museum. My son is a brilliant boy, he could have done anything, been anyone. And what does he choose?”
Felicia interjected, “Rachel is an artist.”
“Exactly.” Eduardo slapped the table with his palm for emphasis. “You create art. That is a noble activity. My son merely curates the work of others. That is disappointing.”
“That’s how Doug disappointed you?” Felicia couldn’t help repeating.
“The choice of career, Douglas could do something about. Everything else…” Eduardo explained. “My wife had a more difficult time with the rest of it, at first. She was so looking forward to grandchildren. I am happy she at least got to see Milagros before she died. It made her happy, knowing that Douglas was settled and taken care of.”
“Chase Hamilton wouldn’t be my first choice for a son-in-law,” Rachel observed.
“He wasn’t mine, either,” Eduardo confessed. “So… brash. So…”
“Obnoxious?” Rachel guessed.
As Eduardo laughed. “He can frequently seem that way, yes.”
“I’ve had a few run-ins with Chase over the years,” Rachel threw out a spot of bait and waited to see if Eduardo would bite.
He merely nodded thoughtfully. “I can imagine. The District Attorney’s office is not an ideal spot from which to make friends.”
“He prosecuted my son for a murder he didn’t commit.”
“But, Chase must have believed he committed it.”
“I don’t think so. I think he just enjoyed provoking us.”
“No.” At that, the merry sparkle disappeared from Eduardo’s eyes. “Chase can be overzealous and unyielding and most, most rude in pursuit of his objective. But, his motives are always pure.”
“Were they pure when he pretended to leave your son for my former daughter-in-law?”
“Ah! So that is who you are! You are Mrs. Rachel Hutchins!”
“You’ve heard of me?” Rachel exchanged nervous glances with Felicia. What in the world had they gotten themselves into?
“I heard of the situation with Chase and that woman, Ms. Hart. Douglas told me. He did not wish for me to be concerned if I read of their alleged split in the newspaper.”
“And you’re okay with your son being used like that?”
“Chase, I am told, had his reasons.”
“His reasons were to spy on my husband.”
“Yes,” Eduardo agreed, neither apologizing nor condoning.
“My husband is dead because of what Chase – and Doug – did.”
“Is he?” Eduardo asked politely.
“I’m not sure if I can do this, Mom,” Charlie fidgeted the next morning outside of John’s office, waiting for her check-up, the first since she’d left the hospital. “What if he figures out I haven’t been taking my pills the way I’m supposed to?”
“He won’t,” Frankie soothed, stroking her daughter’s hair, wishing there was something she could say to make Charlie less antsy. “That’s the whole point about a diagnosis like Bipolar Disorder. It can’t be pinpointed by a blood test. It’s a shot in the dark, at best.”
“But a blood test should be able to prove if I’ve been taking my medication.”
“Not exactly. Besides, the herbal supplements I’ve been giving you mimic the effects of pharmaceuticals. You’ve been feeling fine, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess,” Charlie told her mother what she wanted to hear.
“Then there’s nothing to worry about. John isn’t the enemy. He wants you to get better as much as we do. When he sees how well you’re doing, he won’t ask questions.”
“What about Dad?”
Frankie startled. “What about Dad?”
“Is he the enemy?”
“No! Of course not.”
“Then why are we keeping this a secret from him?”
“Because. Your father… most people, really… Most people can only see the world through their own experience. Medication helped your father, so he can’t imagine any alternative. I can.”
“We’ve lied to him before,” Charlie reminded. “About you being alive.”
“Yes. We did it for his own good then. And we’re doing it for your own good now. Trust me, Charlie, please. Everything is going to be okay. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Have you heard from Rachel?” Iris attempted to sound casual while cross-examining Russ over the breakfast table.
“No,” was his short, sweet and curt reply.
Iris tried not to take the disinterest personally. “I guess Europe agrees with her.”
“I hope so. I hope she’s found exactly what she went looking for.”
“She went looking for Carl,” Iris stated the obvious.
“And her children. And Jamie’s wife.”
“Well, in that case, I would hope that if Rachel’s found them, she’d have let Jamie know by now. It would be absolutely cruel to keep them apart any longer than absolutely necessary, don’t you think?”
“I haven’t heard from Rachel,” Russ repeated, to make it clear he had nothing to add to this particular conversation.
Iris pretended not to get the hint. Instead, she mused, “If Carl has gone into hiding for whatever purpose, and Rachel does manage to ferret out his location, doesn’t it stand to reason that she would join him and the children rather than come back to Bay City?”
“And leave her other children behind?”
“Jamie, Amanda and Matthew are hardly babes in arms. And they’ve made it clear what rung their mother occupies in importance to their lives. They were each ready to turn their backs on her had Carl not fled the jurisdiction last summer. Elizabeth and Cory are still youngsters. Surely, they need a mother’s guiding hand more.”
“And I’m sure you’d be just devastated never to see Rachel again,” Russ smirked.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Iris said.
Russ merely nodded, knowingly. “When did you become so honest, Iris? Back in the day, why you felt absolutely naked without a scheme or a plot to wrap yourself up in.”
“When people began presuming that every word out of my mouth was a lie,” Iris told him honestly. “I started offering the truth merely to confound them.”
Russ smiled. “One thing I can say, life is never boring with Iris Cory Wheeler around.”
“Is that all you can say?” She wondered coquettishly.
“In mixed company,” he clarified.
And Iris laughed. “Oh, goodness, Russ, when will you give up this ghost of making right a marriage that went wrong decades ago and look forward? See what’s right in front of you?”
“You’re right in front of me.”
“And I see you very, very clearly.”
“And I you,” she said. “That’s exactly why we belong together. No illusions, no games, no disappointments.”
“The day you stop playing games, Iris…”
“Is the day you’ll what, Russ?”
He leaned back in his chair and he promised her, “Is the day I marry you.”
Iris smiled. “You’ve got yourself a deal, Dr. Matthews.”
“Is that all you’re going to do?” Michele grudgingly asked Marley, who sat on the couch with Daisy, giving the baby a bottle. “Just hang around with her all day?”
“Did you have something else in mind?”
“Would you like to do something with me today?” Her aunt pressed.
“You’re too busy.”
“Cut it out, Michele,” Bridget advised. Then told Marley, “Don’t pay any attention to her, she’s just in a bad mood.”
“I am not in a bad mood.” Michele angrily flopping down in a chair suggested otherwise.
“You know,” Marley tread carefully. “I never did get a chance to ask you girls how you felt about Daisy coming to live with us full time.”
“No,” Michele agreed. “You didn’t.”
“It just that it all happened so fast…”
“And you jumped on the chance.”
“Daisy is Grant’s daughter,’ Marley reminded. “This is where she belongs.”
“With you? Why does she belong with you?”
“Because I’m married to Grant.”
“And now, thanks to him, you’ve finally got the baby you’ve always wanted.”
Much to Michele’s surprise, Marley didn’t try to deny or soften the blow. “Yes,” she said. “I have.”
That seemed to throw both sisters for a loop.
“What about us?” Bridget asked hesitantly, looking to her twin for support.
“I love you,” Marley told her nieces. “More than either of you could ever know. I have loved taking care of you and watching you grow into these amazing, young women – with strong characters and minds of your own, right, Michele?”
The girl didn’t deign to answer.
“But, you have to understand something: You two could never be my daughters. Not because I don’t love you, but because I loved your mother. You are Vicky’s children. You, Kirkland, Steven… you’re hers. I would never, ever do anything to upset that.”
“Daisy isn’t your baby, either,” Michele pointed out, unwilling to show just how hurt she was by Marley’s statement. Showing it clearly all the same.
“Vicky didn’t want to leave you girls. Neither did Jake. They both couldn’t help it. They died. Much, much too young. But, in Sarah’s case… she left Daisy of her own free will. She wanted me to be her mother. She said as much in the note she wrote us.”
“So that’s it? She’s just going to be your kid now?”
“Well, I still have to legally adopt her, that takes a bit of time. But, in my heart, yes – she’s mine.”
“Congratulations,” Michele snapped, flouncing out of the room.
Bridget watched her go, her expression a combination of distaste and envy.
“Bridget…” Marley prompted.
“Are you mad at me, too?”
“I’m sorry. If I had known this was going to happen, I’d have prepared you better.”
“What if Sarah comes back?” Bridget asked abruptly.
“Like Grant did for Kirkland. What is Sarah comes back for Daisy. What are you going to do then, Aunt Marley?”
“No, thanks,” Jamie pushed away Dennis’ cell-phone, declining his offer to watch the video of Matt and Olivia Dennis had shot earlier.
“I hate being the bearer of bad news, man.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Jamie continued walking away, preferring to focus on Devon and Mackenzie sitting in their playpen, rather than the footage Dennis was so eager to show him.
“I told you she was trouble,” Dennis reminded. “That getting involved with her would be a huge mistake.”
“That you did,” Jamie agreed.
“Good thing you found out the truth sooner rather than later.”
“What would I do without you, Dennis?”
“Hey, what are you mad at me for? I’m not the one screwing around on – “
“Did I ask for your help?” Jamie challenged.
“No. But, you damn well needed it.”
“How’s Matt?” Jamie changed the subject.
“How do you think he is? Donna looked ready to rip him a new one. And so should you.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“Don’t tell me you’re just going to ignore this? Come on, Jamie, there’s being a nice, understanding guy, and then there’s not doing anything about your girlfriend screwing your own brother. Didn’t you tell me just a couple of days ago how worried you are about the example you’re setting for Kirk? How he’s letting girls walk all over him the same way you – “
“I’ll handle my son,” Jamie informed Dennis. “And my brother. And Olivia. Consider your good deed for the day accomplished.”
“You okay?” Jen asked the third time Steven’s gaze drifted away from their lunch and out into the ether.
“Just… thinking,” Steven clarified the obvious.
“Tough day at the office?” She joked. “Bunch of O’s where you should have zeros?”
He smiled wanly to indicate he appreciated her attempt at programming humor. And/or that he didn’t find it funny.
“The thing about computers,” Steven said instead. “Is that when you make a mistake, if you look hard enough, eventually you can track it down and fix it.”
“And life isn’t like that?” Jen guessed.
“In a computer program, the mistake is obvious. System won’t run otherwise. The choices are limited.”
Jen frowned. “Questioning some choices you’ve made recently?”
“Anything I can do to help?”
Steven asked, “Are you happy?”
That wasn’t at all what Jen was expecting. “You mean, with life in general, or something in particular?”
“Either. Both. Just… are you happy, Jen?”
“With you,” she said. “I’m happy with you.”
“But…” he prompted.
“Well, I’m not exactly ecstatic about what’s going on with my dad.”
“You’d change it if you could?”
“Sure, of course. But, if we’re playing the travel back in time/alternate universes game, then I’d want to do a major reset and just make it so I never get sick in the first place. That way Horace never has to get involved and….” Jen trailed off. “Except that…”
“If none of that had happened, you and I might have never…”
“So you wouldn’t trade…”
“No,” she said firmly. “I wouldn’t trade anything.” Then, because she was a scientist trained to view a problem from every angle, Jen felt forced to ask, “Would you?”
“I – I’ve been thinking about that. A lot.”
She gulped hard. “You have?”
“Like I said before, in a line of code, it’s easy to see where you went wrong and then to redirect the whole thing back on track. Life isn’t like that. There isn’t a single point anyone can point to and say: There! That’s where the wrong turn was! If I just adjust it, everything will be okay, again. The only way to fix something that went before is to change your behavior going forward. That really sucks, you know?”
Jen shrugged, unsure of where he was going with this, and more than a little bit anxious.
“I’ve been thinking,” he repeated. “About things I’ve done. And how they’ve turned out. I didn’t mean for… but, it doesn’t matter. There’s no going back. No magic button to push. I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can only make the best of what I’ve got. That happens with programming too, sometimes. You have to use a different code to get the outcome you intended. It’s a lot harder, but as long as everything works out in the end… Jen?”
“Will you marry me?”
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