“I’m sorry,” Jamie’s wife asked, politely if somewhat distractedly. “Do I know you?”
It took all of Jamie’s self-control to stop his head from spinning and his heart from hammering and his breath from hyperventilating at the sight of Lorna, after three long years, standing on his mother’s doorstep, acting as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Except for the fact that she didn’t seem to recognize who Jamie was.
“Lorna,” he repeated, her name a combination exclamation and plea.
She nodded and, as if not picking up on Jamie’s agitated state – or, more likely, merely choosing to ignore it in favor of her own agenda – said, “Would you happen to have any idea if Cory Hutchins is here?”
“Cory is…” Jamie couldn’t finish his sentence. Since, one, what he’d been about to say obviously wasn’t true. And two, Lorna was standing on his mother’s doorstep, acting as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Lorna shook her head, exasperated. “If I don’t find that kid and bring him back to his father before Carl realizes he’s missing… well, it’s not going to be pretty. For anyone.”
“Cory is with you? And Carl? Elizabeth, too?” Jamie tried desperately to find something to grasp onto amidst this surreal conversation they were having.
“Yes. Carl usually keeps the kids on a pretty tight leash, but I think turning eighteen has given Cory delusions of grandeur. I know he’s been missing his mother, but Carl made it perfectly clear why they had to keep their distance from her.”
“Mom’s missed them, too,” Jamie said instinctively. “You have no idea how much.” And then, because he could think of nothing else to do and the situation had seemingly already gotten as bizarre as he could stand, he said, “I’m Jamie. Jamie Frame. Cory and Elizabeth are my brother and sister, and – “
“Oh,” Lorna startled, recognition finally dawning in her eyes. But, not in a pleasant way. “You’re… him.”
“Yes,” Jamie confirmed urgently, not certain what she meant but relieved to have finally gotten some sort of reaction out of her. Any sort of reaction.
“You’re the guy I’m supposedly married to.”
“There she is!” Grant held out his arms and swooped Daisy up into a hug. “There’s my beautiful girl.”
The toddler patiently allowed her father to cover her in kisses before holding up a chubby palm to indicate she’d had enough . She looked around, lips pursed. “Where’s Marley?”
“Right here!” Daisy stepmother seemed to materialize magically at the sound of her name, and Daisy promptly dove headfirst from Grant’s grasp, tumbling into Marley’s with a laugh, confident that she’d be caught.
“She wanted to show you her new dress,” Sarah advised Marley.
Daisy smoothed down her pink taffeta skirt with both hands and advised, “Pretty. Daisy pretty.” It wasn’t a question, more of a universally accept fact.
“You are very, very pretty,” Marley agreed, setting Daisy down but continuing to hold onto her hand and beam down adoringly at the golden haired tot.
“How have you been, Marley?” Sarah attempted to make polite conversation.
“Busy,” Marley said. “Which reminds me - have you gotten a chance to look over those preschool applications I emailed you last week? The best places fill up very quickly, and we want to make sure our Daisy gets a spot, ASAP, don’t we?”
“I looked them over,” Sarah said slowly. “And they look really nice.”
“For the money they’re charging, they’d better be a whole lot more than merely nice!” Marley’s attempt at comedy didn’t quite hit the mark.
“I thought maybe I could visit sometime and see for myself?”
“No need,” Marley assured. “I’ve already toured. The links I sent you were for the schools I found most appropriate.”
“She’s not even three years old yet,” Sarah pointed out. “She won’t be until February. Does she really need to be going to school so soon?”
“Only if you want what’s best for your daughter,” Marley replied neutrally.
“What do you think, Grant?” Sarah turned to pull him into a conversation he’d been desperately trying to stay out of.
Grant’s head swiveled from one woman to the other. “They’re supposed to be very good schools.”
“You mean you haven’t seen them either?”
“Grant was busy,” Marley said. “I told you, I took care of it. All that’s left is for you to fill out the forms and send them in. Unless…”
“Well, I realize how busy you are, with Daisy and school and your presumably bustling social life…”
“I’m not – I mean – Daisy is the most important thing. If you say these schools are what she needs, I’ll take a look tonight, right after the wedding, I promise.”
Marley smiled and hugged Daisy to her side, ostensibly addressing the little girl when she said, “What do you say we give your Mommy a break? How about I complete those silly forms and take them to the school myself? Sarah won’t have to lift a finger, and you’ll be all taken care off for the fall.” She looked at Sarah. “How does that sound?”
“I don’t want to put you out…”
“It’s no trouble. Nothing is too much trouble for our Daisy, is it? There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for our little girl.”
“It’s so wonderful to see you!” Alice hugged Kevin tightly, thrilled that she and her grandson were no longer separated by either glass or a long, metallic prison table.
“I’ll admit, it’s good to be seen.” He hugged her back while Amanda discreetly ducked into the house to check on Jen.
“How are you, darling? How do you feel?”
“Great. Terrific. I’m a free man again, what’s not to love?”
“I’ve missed you. We all have. Jennifer, Amanda…”
“Yeah,” Kevin nodded, a fraction of his smile fading away, despite Kevin’s best efforts to keep it up.
“It’s difficult,” Alice advised. “The readjustment. You know, Steve went to prison, too. Right after we were married, actually. I still remember how tough that time was for us both.”
“Amanda stuck by me,” Kevin said. “I really couldn’t have asked for more than that. And, on top of it, look at this amazing wedding she put together for Jenny. I’m truly grateful to her.”
“It’s going to be nice having you both under my roof again,” Alice said.
“How have you been, Grandma?” Kevin changed the subject. “Amanda tells me you and Lucas…” Kevin nudged his chin in the direction of Felicia’s ex, who currently stood off to the side, talking to Dean and Lori Ann.
“Lucas and I are… friends.”
“Just friends?” Kevin raised an eyebrow.
“He is a very nice man,” Alice said. “And, yes, you’re right, we are more than merely friends.”
“You don’t sound particularly happy about it,” Kevin twigged.
“I am. I’m happy with the way things are. I enjoy his company.”
Alice shrugged, more bemused by her situation than anything else. “It’s difficult,” she attempted to explain. “I’ve been here before. After Steve died – well, after we thought he’d died. I became involved with several very nice, very pleasant, very decent men – Mac Cory, among them. But, all of those lovely men, they weren’t…”
“No. They were not. It wasn’t until Spencer that I finally met someone who affected me the same way. Who wasn’t merely nice and decent and pleasant to be around. Someone who made my heart beat faster. Someone I couldn’t imagine living without. Someone who I counted the minutes until I could see him again. I don’t want to make the same mistakes with Lucas as I did with Mac and the others. It isn’t fair to them,” Alice said. “Love needs to be equal on both sides. Or else you’re just setting everyone involved up for future misery.” She kissed her grandson on the cheek.
And hoped he’d been listening.
“We are married!” Jamie exploded. “We’ve got kids. Two girls. Look…” He reached for his cell-phone, intending to show Lorna the handful of photos he’d been staring at every day since she’d disappeared. Photos of the four of them.
“No.” She raised her palms in the air, warding off both Jamie and whatever it was Jamie wanted to show her. “No. Carl explained it to me.”
“What the hell is there for Carl Hutchins to explain to you about us?”
“Give it up,” Lorna advised coolly. “I know everything. I know you’re part of the plot to lure Carl out of hiding. I’m not falling for it, so save your breath.”
“You don’t remember.” Jamie finally allowed himself to process and understand what should have been obvious from the first moment. “You don’t remember me, or the girls…”
At that, Lorna’s self-assured façade briefly wavered. “No,” she admitted. “I – I was in an accident a couple of years ago. My memory… I’ve been having trouble with it.”
“Oh, God,” Jamie moaned. “Your head injury from the coma. Another blow to the same region…”
“I’m fine,” she insisted, pulling herself together. “And, FYI, getting hit on the head didn’t make me stupid. This isn’t going to work. I don’t care what you say, I’m not giving up Carl.”
“Giving Carl up to whom?”
“Well, to start with, you and your brother and your sister. Seriously, how ridiculous of a Mama’s Boy are you that her getting remarried is a big enough threat for you to actually conspire with the people trying to kill him – “
“Is that what Carl told you?”
“It’s why he had to get Cory and Elizabeth out of the country. Why we all had to go into hiding. Why he couldn’t risk letting them see their mother for three years. It would have been too dangerous for everyone.”
“That’s a crock,” Jamie snapped. “And even if it were true, why would Carl take you with him? How were you in any danger from the thugs gunning for Carl?”
“Carl didn’t take me anywhere.” Lorna looked at Jamie as if he were an imbecile. “I work for him.”
“No. You don’t. You haven’t for years. You’re my wife.”
“I told you to can it,” Lorna warned. “I’m onto you. Did you honestly think making up this idyllic home life for me – yeah, I went on line; I did my research. I read all those stories you planted about our wedding and these photogenic kids we supposedly have – did you really think that would be enough to make me betray Carl? If that’s the extent of your plan, then – may I say? – it sucks. Especially using yourself as bait. Me as some prim little doctor’s wife, living in the suburbs, cooking meatloaf, playing Mom? Boy, did you miss the mark.”
“You loved being a mom,” Jamie said softly. “You nearly died for Devon. And you were so happy when Mackenzie was born. We both were.”
“Shut up,” Lorna seethed, her patience at end.
“No,” Jamie swore. “Never. I’d never give up on you. Ask anyone.”
“Fine,” Lorna dismissed. “Have it your way.” And turned back towards the door. “I’ve got a job to do.”
“Hey, strangers.” Kirkland sidled up to Charlie and Jasmine, grinning.
“Kirk!” Jasmine squealed, throwing herself at him for a hug. “You’re home!”
“Whoa!” He pretended to stagger backwards from her enthusiasm, then laughed and returned the enthusiastic embrace. “Look at you, Jazz! You’re all grown up!”
She twirled around so he could get the full effect, then teased, “Thank you for noticing.”
“Seventeen in October,” he said. “You know I’d never forget your birthday.”
“Hi, Kirk,” Charlie said, her voice neutral.
The easy banter of a moment earlier dissipated under the weight of their discomfiture.
“How… how have you been?” He posited.
“The same,” she told him pointedly.
“Charlie’s been great,” Jasmine interrupted, trying to re-elevate the mood. “She’s been feeling a lot better.”
“That’s good to hear,” Kirkland said.
“How was college?” Charlie wanted to know. “As cool as you expected?”
“It was… pretty good.”
“Hey, no need to softball it on my account.”
“I’m not,” Kirkland sounded less than convincing.
“So are you back to stay?” Jasmine wondered.
“Yup.” He bobbed his head up and down. “I’m in Bay City for as long as you want me.”
At which point both girls smiled.
“Mom!” Jamie’s summons boomed through the house, loud enough for Rachel to hear him in the garden and come rushing inside to the library, where she froze in her tracks at the sight of Lorna.
“What the hell is going on, Mom?” Jamie demanded. “Is Cory – Is Cory here?”
“Of course, he’s here,” Lorna informed Rachel. “He’s been chomping at the bit to see you for years, and he’s finally figured out a way to slip his tail. Where else would he go?”
“Lorna…” Rachel repeated her daughter-in-law’s name in much the same way Jamie had earlier, disbelief mingling with relief. And terror.
“Just tell me where he is, Mrs. Hutchins, and we’ll get out of your hair. I see you’ve got some party happening this afternoon. I have no intention of getting in your way.”
“It’s Steven’s wedding day,” Jamie told Lorna. “My son, Steven.”
She clearly couldn’t care less.
“Devon and Zee are going to be his flower girls. They’re so excited, they’ve talked about nothing else for weeks.”
“Great for them.” Lorna addressed Rachel. “Cory. Please. Now.”
In response to Rachel’s confusion, Jamie explained, “Lorna says she doesn’t remember being married to me. She doesn’t remember Devon or Mackenzie. She doesn’t even remember ever having lived in Bay City. She says Carl told her it was all a plot on my part to get her to turn on Carl and lure him out so the compound could finally kill him.”
“Carl…” Rachel’s breath caught in her throat. “You’ve been with Carl all this time? And Cory and Elizabeth, too?”
Lorna nodded dismissively and turned toward the stairs. “Fine. I’ll find him myself. Thanks for nothing.”
“Where is Carl?” Rachel demanded, grabbing Lorna by the arm and yanking her back.
Lorna responded in kind, angrily pulling away and snapping, “Hopefully someplace where he doesn’t know his son’s flown the coop yet.”
“Carl doesn’t know Cory is with me?”
“He’d throw a fit, if he did.”
“I’m sorry.” Everyone turned towards the voice at the top of the stairs, where Cory stood, descending slowly, looking genuinely contrite. “I’m sorry, Lorna.”
“Forget it, dude.” No matter how angry, Lorna did seem to have a soft spot for the boy. The sight of it gave Jamie hope. “Just get your butt back on the plane, no harm, no foul – and, best part, no Carl finding out. The pilot is waiting.”
“No!” Rachel and Jamie shouted in near unison.
“Don’t go,” Jamie begged. “You can’t leave. I won’t let you. Give me a minute. Let me show you our girls. Please.”
“You can’t go,” Rachel put it more forcefully, unlike Jamie, declining to so much as offer a reason.
“Watch me,” Lorna suggested.
The two men exchanged ridiculously brief handshakes, while Felicia and Alice merely smiled suitably at each other.
“You look lovely, Mrs. Harrison.” Eduardo’s old world charm made its predictable – and never unwelcome – appearance.
“Thank you, Mr. Rivera.”
“You look terrific, too, Fanny,” Lucas said. “Really great.”
She ignored him to tell Alice, “A delightful day for a wedding. Jen and Steven got very lucky with this weather.”
“Yes. Though, I must admit, with those two, there could have been a tropical storm bearing down or unseasonable hail, and they’d still only notice each other.”
“As it should be,” Felicia recalled. “One of the perks to young love.”
“Yes,” Alice agreed.
An awkward moment of silence, and then Eduardo, to fill the gap, inquired, “I wonder where our hostess is?”
“I think I saw Rachel step into the house a few minutes ago,” Alice observed, and pointed through the bay windows.
Just as a dark haired woman flitted past.
And Felicia gasped.
“Lorna!” Her mother flew through the French doors, Lucas, Alice and Eduardo doing their best to keep up. “Lorna!” Felicia shrieked, face to face with her daughter, not caring how she sounded or what it looked like. “Lorna!”
“Felicia…” Jamie stepped in to explain, wanting to save her the pain and confusion he’d just gone through, even if only for a second.
But, it was too late. Lorna turned around, her eyes full of disdain. “What?” she asked, more concerned at keeping a grip on Cory’s elbow.
“Lorna, you’re home…” Felicia attempted to cup her daughter’s face in both hands, but Lorna ducked away in disgust.
“Oh, great,” she turned to Jamie. “Another one? More people I supposedly know?”
“Lorna doesn’t remember us,” Jamie told the assembled group. “Not me, not Devon and Zee. Nothing.”
“Lorna!” Felicia heard Jamie’s words, but she refused to absorb the full weight of their meaning. “Darling… Lorna… No… It can’t be true. You can’t… I’m your mother.”
“And I’m your father,” Lucas stepped up, feeling more like Darth Vader than he usually liked.
Only to hear Lorna snort, “Nice try, guys. My parents died when I was a kid. That much I do remember.”
“Those were your adoptive parents,” Felicia stressed. “They adopted you the day you were born. Lucas and I, we’re your biological parents.”
“Wow,” she turned to Jamie. “You all are really committed to this bit, aren’t you? You must seriously hate Carl.”
“Carl?” Lucas roared. “Carl did this to you?”
“Carl didn’t do anything to me,” Lorna fumed. “Except save my life. More than once.”
“Lorna’s been with Carl all this time,” Jamie said. “And now she can’t remember her family. Hell of a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”
“Ask her,” Felicia indicated Rachel. “Ask her if I’m telling the truth. She’s Carl’s wife. She’ll tell you.”
“Why should I believe a word she has to say? Carl had his reasons for leaving her behind when he took off with Elizabeth and Cory. Why would I ever trust her, when Carl obviously couldn’t?”
“Where is he?” Lucas looked desperately around. “I’ll kill him. Where the hell is he?”
“Yes,” Rachel said. “I’d like to know that, too. Where is my husband, Lorna?”
All turned towards the front door. Where Elizabeth – also so much more grown up than Rachel remembered her – stood, looking very pleased with herself, downright beaming.
Next to a much less amused, but, nevertheless, indisputably alive, Carl.
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