“Hi, Mom,” Rachel’s son said. Rachel’s son who’d been gone for three years. Rachel’s son who was supposed to be dead. Along with his sister. And his father.
“Cory,” she repeated, part question, part cry, part gasp.
“It’s me,” he said. “It’s really me. I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean to shock you like this. But, I couldn’t call first and – “
“Cory!” She pulled him into her arms, rocking him back and forth, unwilling to completely believe that this wasn’t one of those horrible dreams she’d been having on and off ever since the Fourth of July when…. “What… How…. Where have you been? Is Elizabeth with you? Your father? What’s going on? Cory, what’s happened?”
“Elizabeth and Father are alright, too,” Cory told her slowly, picking his words with great care.
“Are they here?” Rachel looked desperately over his shoulder, wondering if she could stand another miracle. Wondering what she would do if it failed to materialize.
“Where are they, then?”
“I – It’s complicated. Mom,” a wry smile tugged at her son’s features. “Can I,” he indicated the other side of the threshold. “Can I come in?”
“What? Oh, yes. Yes, of course, I’m sorry – “
“It’s okay,” he reassured. “You’ve had a pretty big shock.”
“That’s one way to put it. Cory,” she couldn’t seem to stop touching him, rubbing his arm, his cheek, his shoulder, making certain he was real and not about to disappear at any moment. “Where have you been, honey? Where have you all been?”
“Different places,” he hedged again, then looked around. “What’s going on, Mom? The house… are you having a party?”
“What?” Rachel blinked, having forgotten the wedding, having forgotten everything except that Cory was here, Cory was home, Cory was alive. And so were Elizabeth and Carl. “Steven – he’s getting married.”
“Cool,” Cory said. “To Jen?”
“Yes.” Rachel startled. “How did you know?”
“I remember how he looked at her. Even while she was dating someone else.”
Rachel recalled, “You were always so observant. Even when you were a tiny boy. You watched and you paid attention.”
Cory said, “Please don’t tell anyone.”
The whiplash was dizzying. “What?”
“About me being here. Please don’t tell anyone. Not until I’ve had a chance to explain.”
“What’s there to explain?”
He fidgeted, “Quite a bit. I’m sorry I just barged in like this….”
“Don’t be,” Rachel warned. “Don’t you ever, ever be sorry about coming home to me, do you hear? Never. No matter what it is you have to tell me. Please, Cory, tell me everything.”
“Not right now.” He looked up the stairs. “How about I hang out in my old room for a little bit? Then, when everything is over, I’ll fill you in. Promise, Mom.”
“You want me to… You want me to just act like nothing has happened? You want me to pretend the most amazing thing in my life – “
“Just for a couple of hours. Just while everyone’s here.”
“I’ll cancel the wedding,” Rachel offered.
“No. Don’t do that. Then people will worry and you’ll have to explain why and… I’d rather you went through with it.” Cory took Rachel’s hand. “I’m not going to disappear again, Mom. You have my word. I’ll just wait up in my room and, in a couple of hours, I’ll tell you everything that’s happened. Please, just do this one thing for me. Please.”
They didn’t know what to say to each other. Kevin and Amanda didn’t have much of a precedent for her picking him up from jail.
“You sure you’re up for a wedding?” Amanda asked as they drove towards Bay City, her eyes on the road rather than on her husband.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I told Jen that the day you actually got out probably wasn’t the optimal time to – “
“She and Steven have waited long enough. It’s the least I can do,” Kevin said. Then, just to keep the conversation going, asked, “How’s Allie doing?”
“Oh, fine. You know Allie, she doesn’t exactly go for the heart to hearts. Not with me, anyway. But she and Zeno will be at the wedding. I guess they’re doing alright.”
“That’s good. She deserves a nice, normal relationship after everything she’s been through.”
“We all do,” Amanda said without thinking, then instantly backtracked. “I mean….”
“I know what you mean,” he took no offense. “And you’re right. We could all use some normalcy after the last few years. I’m looking forward to us picking up our lives where we left off.”
“Me, too,” Amanda winced.
“Felicia, my dear, you love absolutely lovely,” Eduardo stepped through the door, kissing her on the cheek and offering a bouquet of flowers upon his arrival into her home.
She accepted them with surprise, insisting, “You shouldn’t have.”
“A beautiful woman must always be surrounded by beautiful things,” Eduardo insisted. “And you were so kind to invite me to be your escort, especially considering this is the wedding of Rachel’s grandson.”
“Rachel understands you have nothing to do with your son’s ill-advised taste in men.”
“So she no longer suspects that I am an agent sent to spy on her, and finally believes that the only thing that brought me to your table in Paris all those years ago was the sight of two extremely beautiful women?”
“The way I remember it,” Felicia teased, turning to put the flowers in water. “You only had eyes for Rachel.”
“Then you remember incorrectly. I was happy to make conversation with your friend, yes, but it was merely a ploy on my part to ingratiate myself into your good graces.”
“Well, it worked,” Felicia admitted. “I must admit, I was very flattered when you called.”
“The second telephone call I made upon arriving in Bay City – after my son.”
“Doug must be happy to have you close by.”
“And I am happy to be here. Though I suspect Douglas is beginning to tire of my spoiling the children and leaving him to play the disciplinarian.”
“Isn’t that what Chase is for?” Felicia asked, only a tiny bit snidely.
“You would be surprised. In the courtroom, he is nothing but law and order. In the face of a small boy and girl, however….”
“If only he could summon up similar consideration for Rachel.”
Eduardo dismissed, “Remember our agreement? No talking business. I much prefer to spend our time together discussing social matters.”
“You have a deal,” Felicia turned to kiss him.
Eduardo kissed Felicia back, then held her at arm’s length, looking into her eyes and guessing, “It will be difficult for you, no? Being in the same place where you daughter got married?”
“It won’t be easy,” she admitted. “Lorna looked so beautiful on her wedding day. And so happy. She’d finally found what she was looking for. Jamie, a baby on the way. She truly thought the worst was over. She was finally home.”
“And she will be there yet, again,” Eduardo reassured. “You say that Jamie is certain of it.”
“I was, too. Once.”
“It’s so hard,” she lamented. “To hold onto faith when we haven’t had a single indicator in years to suggest that….”
“Your daughter’s father, I know he filed kidnapping charges against Rachel’s husband.”
“A fat lot of good that did,” Felicia snorted. “Despite all of your son-in-law’s big promises. Hard to believe it wasn’t all just another personal attack on Rachel, no more, no less.”
“Business, again,” Eduardo wagged his finger playfully in warning. He offered her his arm, instead. “Come, let us visit with your enchanting granddaughters, and look forward to the day when their mother will be there to see them for herself.”
Felicia linked her elbow through his, “Let’s,” she agreed, her voice wavering only a little.
The guests began arriving earlier than Rachel expected, though, the fact of the matter was, anytime would have been earlier than Rachel expected considering that, only a few moments before, she’d gotten the last thing she’d ever expected: Her son, home at last, with a promise of his sister and father to follow.
And yet, Rachel had promised Cory she wouldn’t give his presence away. So instead of sitting upstairs, listening to Cory finally fill her in on where he’d been these past three years and why it was so important to keep it a secret, Rachel was now standing at the entrance to the Rose Garden, going through the motions of welcoming loved ones to her grandson’s wedding when, in truth, it was the last thing she felt like doing.
She was able to get through greeting at least a dozen guests on complete automatic pilot before Iris, of all people, cut through Rachel’s reverie with the droll observation, “Truly, Rachel, I too can think of several more girls much more appropriate for Steven to wed, but at least I’m attempting to feign enthusiasm over the occasion.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Rachel forced herself to actually listen to what Iris was saying, rather than merely smiling pleasantly and shaking hands while offering air kisses like she had been up to this point.
“It’s your own grandson getting married. You might pretend to be pleased. Or at least a bit less grimly resigned to the inevitable.”
“I’m thrilled for Steven,” Rachel snapped. “Jen is a lovely girl.”
“She’s Alice Frame’s great-granddaughter.”
“Alice Harrison,” Rachel corrected, never failing to enjoy the rise that got out of Iris – even under the circumstances.
“Bad enough Kevin married Amanda, then disgraced the Cory name by being shipped off to prison. But, now, the addition of Jen to the mix… that ghastly father of hers….”
“Kevin is Jen’s father. Morally, legally….”
“What a shame bloodlines don’t take such distinctions into consideration.”
“Yes,” Rachel told Iris pointedly, unmistakably referring to Iris’ own less than blue-blooded origins. “It is.”
That seemed to take a bit of wind out of her sails, and Iris awkwardly defended, “I was merely offering you my sympathies. I know how you feel. The idea that my own great-granddaughter was fathered by Grant Harrison stabs me through the heart every time I lay eyes on the otherwise delightful child.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Iris.” Rachel attempted to make the universal sign for move along, this conversation is over.
Iris failed to take the hint. “Oh? Then what in the world is wrong with you? Truly, Rachel, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine,” Rachel repeated, seizing on the one thing she believed might make Iris drop her line of questioning. She caught sight of Russ coming up the drive and, with a forced smile, gaily waved him over, taking his hand and all but thrusting Iris’ ex between the two of them. “I’m more than fine, as a matter of fact. Russ has seen to that.”
“Misplace your harem?” Lila wondered, sidling up to Grant.
He raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“I’ve just kind of gotten used to you being trailed by a gaggle of females everywhere you go. Marley, Bridget, Michele, Daisy… Sarah.”
“That’s hardly a harem.”
“It’s a damn, good start,” Lila observed. “Where are they, anyway?”
“Daisy is coming later with Sarah, and Marley had some errands to run; finishing touches for the girls’ bridesmaids dresses.”
“I think it’s fitting, you living in a house full of women. You deserve it.”
“You mean my friendship with you hasn’t wiped my slate clean regarding all past crimes committed against women-kind?”
“Please. You’ll be working that debt off until the day you die. And then some.”
“Kirkland is supposed to be here today,” Grant said, looking around in anticipation. “Maybe that will help even out my odds a bit.”
“You’ve missed him,” Lila stated the obvious, then added, “He keep in touch with you much while at school?”
“No,” Grant admitted. “But, it’s not like he came home to visit Jamie, either. Boy was sowing his wild oats, out from under the parental thumb for the first time. I don’t blame him. I’m also looking forward to our relationship now that we don’t have to ask Jamie for permission to draw breath.”
“He was pretty mad at you when he left town, on account of you cheating on Marley, and how you treated Daisy and Sarah.”
“That’s all in the past,” Grant insisted. “Marley has forgiven me, and so has Sarah. We’re all perfectly civil now. If they can move past it, so can Kirk.” Lila opened her mouth, possibly – probably – to contradict him, so Grant cut her off at the pass, changing the subject to observe, “Guess Kevin is being released from prison in time to walk his daughter down the aisle.”
“That was the plan,” Lila said neutrally.
“Going to be strange for you, isn’t it, seeing him in something less than that chic, orange jumpsuit they make prisoners wear?”
“There’s the pot calling the kettle orange. If I recall, you did some time in the big house yourself. And for a crime a hell of a lot less noble than saving your little girl’s life.”
“Be careful, Lila. If Amanda hears you jumping to Kevin’s defense like that, she’s likely to figure it out.”
“Figure what out?”
“That you’re in love with her husband.”
Once Rachel was done using Russ as an Iris repellant – a capacity Russ was happy to serve in – he was free to peel off from her side and mingle with the rest of the guests, catching up to Olivia, who’d kicked off the festivities by ordering a drink – followed by a second one.
“Easy there,” Russ advised his daughter. “Pace yourself, sweetheart.”
“Oh, I am, don’t worry.”
“Weren’t you going to help Devon and Mackenzie with their flower girl dresses?”
“I tried, but both Amanda and Marley assured me they had it covered.” Olivia lowered her voice, “I’m not exactly either of theirs favorite person.”
“I picked up on that,” her father observed. “What about Jamie, then?”
“He’s getting Kirkland from the airport, then changing. He’s part of the wedding party. I’m… not.”
“I’m sorry,” Russ offered sincerely.
Olivia shrugged blithely. “For what?”
“I know you care about him.”
“I do. And he cares about me. Jamie and I are friends.”
“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like something more.”
“I would. Jamie wouldn’t. End of story.”
“Is it really?”
“Yes,” Olivia hissed through clenched teeth, angry at him for asking, angry at herself for telling the truth. “This isn’t like with Sam, Daddy. Or with Dennis, or with anybody. Jamie is… different. He’s still in love with his wife, and that’s all there is to that. They got married here, you know.”
“I know,” Russ said. “I was there.”
“Yeah, well, then you can imagine where Jamie’s head is going to be all day today. My usual bag of tricks, they won’t work on a guy like him. Not even in the short run. He told me no, and he meant it. Playing games would only piss him off. And I don’t want to piss him off. I like him too much.”
“I’m sorry,” Russ repeated.
“Yeah,” Olivia sighed. “Me, too.”
“You look amazing,” Matt informed Donna, taking her arm to escort her into the Rose Garden. “I predict this wedding will be the first one in history where the grandmother of the groom upstages the bride.”
“You always do say the sweetest things, Matthew.” Donna rose on her tiptoes to kiss him, smoothing down her hair with a single hand to ensure his prediction coming true. “Not that it would matter one whit to Steven or Jennifer. I do declare, I have never seen a couple treat the most important day of their lives like such an afterthought.”
“I’ll just be happy to get through a family wedding without the drama that seems to dodge us at every turn. Between Alice getting arrested at hers and Marley trying to run off with Michele and Bridget after Jamie’s…. a boring, unmemorable affair sounds pretty damn good right about now.”
“It has been wonderful, hasn’t it?” Donna prodded, hoping Matt wouldn’t pick up on the desperate undercurrent in her voice. “The last two years, how humdrum they’ve been? Seems you were right, darling, as soon as your mother got Carl out of her system and stopped holding out hope that he and your siblings were still alive, everything became much more peaceful. For all of us.”
“Yeah,” Matt nodded thoughtfully. “I hate what happened to Elizabeth and Cory, but Carl… getting rid of Carl sure did bring down the family stress level. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to wake up in the morning without a knot of fear in my chest about what horrible thing was going to happen next. It’s nice taking my daughter to school without worrying that someone from Carl’s past might be sitting right outside the gates, using the rest of us as target practice until the real thing comes along.”
“And Rachel seems happy,” Donna continued, primarily for her own peace of mind. “She and Russ are a perfectly well-matched couple.”
“Well, they weren’t fifty years ago.”
“Please, Matthew, at that time you and I would hardly have been ideally suited, either, seeing as how you hadn’t yet been born. We are speaking of the present, not the past. Russ makes your mother happy. And she him.”
“He’s not the love of her life,” Matt conceded, and when Donna set out to protest, rested a finger against her lips, shaking his head. “But, that’s okay, too. I know I’m not yours, either – “
“But, I love you and you love me. The fact that you once loved Michael, too, that doesn’t take away from us, does it?”
“No,” Donna exhaled in relief, moved to tears by Matt’s generosity and how well he understood. It reminded her of why she’d fallen in love with him in the first place; what an old, wise soul he could be.
“It could be the same for Mom and Russ, too. He isn’t Mac and he isn’t even Carl. But, he loves her and he’s good for her. Maybe that will be enough.”
Having dropped Kirkland off at the back of the house so he could start getting dressed, Jamie drove around, dropping off his car with the valet and jogging up to the front door rather than straight into the garden – he still needed to put his own tuxedo on.
He was halfway up the drive when he saw the woman on the veranda. She appeared to be knocking on the door, but, with the entire staff out back, getting no response.
Jamie reached into his pocket for the keys, opening his mouth to offer her a hand, when, at the sound of Jamie’s footsteps, the woman turned around.
And Jamie saw… Lorna.
It had to be Lorna. Jamie’s eyes couldn’t be playing tricks on him to such an extent. In all the years since she’d been gone, he’d caught sight of random figures from out the corner of his eye that reminded him of her, but, once he’d gotten a good look, the illusion promptly vanished.
This was no illusion.
This wasn’t a woman who looked like Lorna. This was Lorna.
Jamie mounted the remainder of the stairs in a trance, his heart hammering so loudly it drove every thought out of his head. He thought he was speaking, but he realized no sound was coming out.
Instead, it was Lorna who spoke. She said, “Excuse me, I’m looking for Cory Hutchins. I have reason to believe he might be here.”
“Lorna…” Jamie finally forced the word out of his mouth, feeling so lightheaded he was afraid he might pass out before she responded.
She nodded her head, as if confirming that’s who she was, then added, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
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