She’d asked Cass for the truth. And Frankie had gotten it.
Her husband stood in front of her, looking as if he wished he were anyplace else at the moment, and telling Frankie, “I can’t think of anything more destructive than what you have already done to this family.”
She nodded blindly, not trusting herself to speak, understanding that she had provoked this outburst and the least Frankie could do was take it with a modicum of grace.
“You wanted to know how I feel, Mary Frances? Here is how I feel: I love you. I love you for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. And even after that – ask Lila if you don’t believe me.”
Frankie swallowed hard. “I believe you, Cass.”
“There is nothing you could ever do to would make me stop loving you. It’s impossible. Do you believe that?”
“But that doesn’t make me blind to your faults. Or to their consequences. You’ve always insisted you know what’s best for other people. You’ve always made decisions, ostensibly in our interest, without feeling a need to fill us in and maybe letting us make our own choices. You’re much happier playing martyr, sacrificing your own happiness for the common good, taking solemn vows nobody asked you to take. That’s what you did when you first regained your memory, isn’t it? You left Orly and Zeno – telling them it was for their sakes. And then you declined to intrude on my marriage to Lila. For her sake and mine; I’m sure that’s what you told yourself. You convinced Charlie to keep your being alive a secret. But, did you ever think about what you were really asking of her? You were asking a teen-age girl to lie to her father, to her stepmother, to her sister, and to her friends. You were asking her to, in effect, lead a double life. Did it ever cross your mind that maybe the trouble she’s been having lately, her problem telling right from wrong, might be a direct result of – “
“Charlie is sick!” Frankie interrupted, only willing to take so much of the blame, and no more. “She has bipolar disorder, the same as you!” The last part wasn’t intended to be an accusation. It still came off that way.
“You can’t blame everything on Charlie’s illness. Some of it was just plain, old bad judgment.”
“And you blame me.”
Cass hesitated. Then he repeated, “You asked me how I felt.”
“I was wrong to encourage Charlie not to take her medication,” Frankie said slowly. “But, I will not be the scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong over the past few years. If Charlie’s moral compass hasn’t been particularly steady lately,” Frankie hesitated for just a moment, debating whether or not to go there, then plunged ahead. “Then your escapade with Cecile can’t exactly be discounted as a contributing factor.”
“I know,” Cass agreed. “I’ve been thinking about exactly that non-stop ever since I heard what Charlie did to Allie last January. She may not have meant to kill her – same as me with Cecile – but she well might have done it anyway – same as me with Cecile – if GQ and Kirkland hadn’t gotten there in time.”
“What are we going to do?” Frankie pleaded. “How are we going to fix this?”
“There’s no fixing it,” Cass said grimly. “The past can’t be undone. And as for the future… the best we can hope for is to manage her condition to the point where Charlie can lead a normal life. Where she isn’t a threat to herself or to others.”
“It’s not fair,” Frankie raged, exploding with such unexpected vehemence that Cass almost felt compelled to take a step back. “What have the two of us done – what have you and I ever done that was so horrible that we deserve this?”
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Cass offered gently, attempting to calm her down.
“It’s bad enough you and I were kept apart for so many years. And that, practically as soon as I came back, you ended up in jail. But, now this…. First Lori Ann – she’s never going to be completely normal, and I’ve accepted that, I’ve made my peace with it. Our job as her parents is to give Lori Ann the best possible life, to advocate for her, to help her reach her full potential. But, Charlie… why Charlie, too?”
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Cass refused to match Frankie’s level of despair. Because he knew that would prove deadly for both. “That’s your department, remember?”
“I used to believe in a just universe,” Frankie said. “I used to believe in karma and positive energy. When bad things happened, I’d just suck it up and muscle through it, convinced there had to be a light at the end of the tunnel. But, frankly, Cass, I’m not so sure anymore. And I don’t know how much more I’m going to be able to take.”
Of all the people attempting to get through to Rachel the following day, the only one she was willing to see was Russ, who, in any case, showed up on her doorstep without calling first.
“So you couldn’t tell me no,” he explained.
“Why would I tell you no?” Rachel escorted her ex-husband into the library.
“Because I understand you’ve gone into radio silence mode – if you’ll forgive my dated metaphor.”
“I said everything I had to at the press conference.”
“Did you?” Russ pressed gently.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rachel bristled.
“All I heard at the press conference was facts and evidence and Steven’s techno-babble. I didn’t come here to check his sources. I came here to check how you were feeling.”
“How should I be feeling?” Rachel snapped.
Russ shrugged, unoffended. “I said I came here to ask, not to offer instructions.”
“I’m sorry,” Rachel instantly backed down. “It’s just that, after everything that’s happened – Hamilton making his accusations, forcing me to defend myself to Felicia and Jamie… I am just so tired of being treated like the bad guy all the time.”
“Do I make you feel that way, Rachel?”
“No,” she admitted. “You are one of the few people who doesn’t.”
“Good.” He smiled. “Then we can go back to my question: How are you feeling?”
“That’s to be expected.”
“You haven’t heard whom I’m angry at, yet.”
“Hamilton?” he guessed.
“Hamilton,” Rachel agreed. Then added, “And Steven.”
“Steven?” Russ’ eyebrow shot up.
“If he hadn’t proven that the tape was doctored,” Rachel confessed guiltily. “I could still have hoped that my husband and children were alive.”
“I didn’t want to be proven right. I don’t give a damn if Chase Hamilton is tried and convicted for all his dirty dealings. Well, I do… but not as much as I want my family back. I’d have given up the chance to hoist Hamilton by his own petard, if it meant I could bring Carl and the twins home. Lorna, too, if it turns out they’re all connected.”
“I understand,” Russ said.
“And you know the biggest irony? The one could-have-been piece of silver lining to having my heart broken – again? Hamilton is going to walk. I spoke to a lawyer. More than one, actually. They all told me there’s no way to pin the fraud on him. That the chain of evidence has been corrupted at so many points along the way, it would be impossible to prove who originally doctored the message from Cory.”
“Does that really matter, though?”
“It would have been something! Something I could do for my husband. If I could have brought down the man who drove him to his death….”
“It wouldn’t have brought Carl back.”
“I know that!”
“Oh, Rachel,” Russ said, and then just wrapped her into his arms, holding her tightly, knowing that there were no appropriate words, not even trying to offer any.
“I’m surprised the wardens let you though,” Charlie informed Kirkland when he showed up in her bedroom, explaining Cass and Frankie told him to just go on up.
Kirkland did not appear to be in the mood to be provoked. All he asked was, “How are you feeling?”
“You mean, do I feel like burning down anymore farms?”
“I mean, how are you feeling?”
“Jesus, Kirk, lighten up. Can’t you take a joke?” She waited a beat, then added, “Lighten up. Get it? See what I did there? Lighten up… fire?”
“I came to say bye,” Kirkland informed her.
“Bye? Where are you going?”
“That’s in September, Genius. It’s the beginning of June.”
“There are a couple of classes I can take over the summer that will allow me to come in as a sophomore with standing. So taking a year off won’t count against me.”
“Aren’t you the go-getter all of a sudden?”
“I’ve spun my wheels long enough. Time to get my life started.”
“Away from Bay City, you mean?”
“College is supposed to be about fresh starts. I figured I could use one.”
“Sorry I made your life so miserable last couple of years.”
Kirkland shrugged, but didn’t say anything in return.
“No, I mean it,” Charlie insisted. “I really am sorry. You were always so nice to me. Nicer than I deserved.”
“I loved you, Charlie,” he said simply. “I wanted to make you happy.”
Charlie snorted. “Don’t think that’s possible, dude.”
“Yeah,” Kirkland nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a shame.”
“Welcome back!” Marley smiled at the sight of Grant walking through the front door. Only for it to waver when she realized who was with him. “Sarah?”
Daisy’s mother looked around awkwardly, as if seeing the house and everyone in it for the first time. “Hi, Marley.”
“What are you – where – how…” she couldn’t seem to start, much less finish, a sentence.
“I tracked her down,” Grant said simply. “To McGill University, in Canada.”
“You did?” Marley wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that.
“Daisy needs her mother,” Grant’s tone didn’t leave any room for argument.
“Where is she?” Sarah asked eagerly. “Can I see her?”
“She’s upstairs. Asleep.”
“I promise I won’t disturb her,” Sarah swore. “I just want to take a quick peek. I’ve missed her so much. Please, Marley.”
“Go ahead,” Grant offered his permission before Marley had a chance to weigh in one way or another. “You know where her room is.”
“Thank you,” Sarah flashed them both a grateful smile, already tearing up the stairs.
Marley waited for her to disappear before turning back to Grant, asking, “What the…”
“It couldn’t go on this way.”
“Why not?” she demanded. “Daisy was happy. Thriving. You know that one, stable home is a lot better for a child than – “
“I didn’t want Daisy growing up like me. Missing her mother, wondering what she did wrong to make her go away.”
“It wouldn’t have happened that way. I was willing to be Daisy’s mother. She wouldn’t have wanted for anything.”
Marley’s eyes blazed. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going after her?”
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be successful in convincing her to come home.”
“You had to convince her? For God’s sake, Grant, if that doesn’t prove Sarah isn’t ready to be a mother….”
“She was staying away because she thought that would be better for Daisy.”
Marley threw up her hands in surrender. “Fine. Have it your way. You’ve got it all figured out. Tell me, then, how do you expect this arrangement to work?”
“The same way it works for millions of families all over the world. Daisy will spend half her time with Sarah, and half of it with us.”
“Us,” Marley repeated. “You mean, you expect me to be a part of this?”
Grant blinked in surprise. The fact that Marley might not be on board had never crossed his mind. “I – of course. I thought – why wouldn’t… I mean…”
“This isn’t what we agreed on, Grant. This changes everything.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia told Jamie the next time she saw him. “I saw your mom and Steven’s press conference. The tape is a fake?”
“Looks that way.” Jamie’s jaw was set in a straight line, the words wrenching themselves through clenched teeth. Though he sat on the couch, every muscle in his body reeked of tension. He kept curling and uncurling his fingers into fists, seemingly without realizing he was doing it.
Olivia sat down next to him. “What can I do?” she pleaded.
“Nothing anyone can do.” He wouldn’t even look her in the eye.
“I’m so sorry, Jamie,” Olivia repeated, feeling just about as helpless and useless as she ever had.
She reached out to stroke the side of his face, to try and be some kind of comfort to him in the only way she knew how. Then, when Jamie didn’t flinch or push her away, Olivia moved closer to him, caressing first his hair, then his cheek, brushing her fingers past the edge of his lips.
He did turn to look at her then, part surprised, part angry, part… something else.
Olivia leaned in and kissed him. She honestly hadn’t planned to. But he just looked so devastated, so vulnerable, so… poignant, that she couldn’t help herself.
Olivia kissed Jamie, her hands on both his shoulders, sliding one leg across his lap so that she sat straddling and pressed against him.
She kissed him. And, finally, Jamie kissed her back.
“Donna! Darling!” The voice on the phone practically vibrated with good cheer, while Donna rolled her eyes and tried to control her tongue. Ever since her former schoolmate, Anna, had moved to Europe, she’d not only picked up an accent of indeterminate origin – a sort of Madonna meets Gwenyth Paltrow… and doesn’t like her – but she’d also taken to calling herself Ah-Nah, rather than the plain Anna she’d been for the first fifty years of her life.
“Hello, Anna,” Donna pronounced her name the old way and waited to be corrected.
Except it seemed that wasn’t on the agenda today. Instead, Anna informed her, “Darling, I have some devastatingly interesting news. I was at this rather exclusive, terribly chic medical facility in Switzerland last week….”
“Another facelift?” Donna inquired politely.
“Of course not! You know how I feel about such enhancements. It just isn’t cricket. Not when so many unfortunates in the world lack adequate access to cosmetic procedures.”
Donna wondered if, by the same logic, Anna would be depriving herself of clean drinking water, since there were places on Earth where people lacked that, too.
“I was just taking a bit of a spa treatment for my exhaustion,” her friend went on. “Fashion Week does take such a toll on the body.”
“And the pocket book,” Donna commiserated. Because it beat expressing what she really thought.
“Anywho,” her friend trilled. “While walking about the grounds, taking a constitutional to get my strength back, I saw… well, I think I did… It was dusk and he was only there for a moment.”
“Who?” Donna counted slowly to three and promised herself that if this conversation didn’t get more interesting and pronto, she would hang up. And not feel guilty about it.
“Well, like I said, darling, I can’t be certain, and it’s been a great many years since your wedding – oh, what a part that was; I still recall the stunning dress I wore. Do you remember? We found it at that charming little shop on – “
“Whom did you see?” Donna repeated, exasperated. “And what does my wedding have to do with any of this?”
“Oh, but it has everything to do with it. Donna, darling, the person that I believe I saw was Carl Hutchins. And, forgive me, but isn’t he supposed to be… well, forgive me… dead?”
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