“Kirkland!” Grant eagerly stepped forward to envelop his son in a hug, pretending not to notice that the boy barely responded in kind.
“Welcome home! You look terrific! How was your trip?”
“It was fine. Though I don’t know why I rushed to catch the earliest flight. Steven and Jen are sure taking their time, aren’t they? Wasn’t the wedding supposed to have started by now?”
“Yes,” Grant agreed. “Pretty bad taste, if you ask me.”
Sarah interrupted, “I wanted to introduce Kirkland to Daisy. He hasn’t seen her since she was a baby. Where is she?”
“Marley took her inside to fix her hair.”
“What was wrong with her hair? I did it at home. She looks so cute in ponytails.”
“She wanted a French braid. Like Marley’s.”
“Oh,” Sarah said.
“It’s cool,” Kirkland rushed, hoping to defuse any potentially tense situations. He might have changed a lot over the past two years away, but that aspect of his personality stayed constant. “I can meet her another time. I’m not going anywhere.”
“So you’re planning on staying in Bay City, then?” Grant’s eyes lit up.
“Uh-ha. Already got a job lined up. Two of them, actually.”
“Really? Doing what?”
“I’ve got a sous-chef position at Tops, that’s evenings, six times a week. And in the daytime I’m going to be helping out with keeping the books at Carlino’s.”
“Excuse me?” Grant all but did a double-take. “Why in the world would you want to put yourself through a grueling schedule like that?”
“Because I want to open my own restaurant someday,” Kirkland couldn’t believe Grant wasn’t aware of his ambitions. “And to do that, you need to be able to keep and run a business. This way, I get experience in both, in half the time.”
“My son doesn’t need to get his experience by working like some illiterate immigrant, day and night, at below minimum wage. With the money Spencer left you, you could open you own restaurant tomorrow. You won’t get any better experience than that.”
“I’d rather work my way up, thanks,” Kirkland replied stiffly.
“What for? Damn it, Kirk, do you think Spencer killed himself building his empire so that his only grandson could launch his adult life from the end of the line? He wanted more for you than that.”
“Spencer wasn’t afraid of hard work. Neither am I.”
“You think running a restaurant isn’t hard work?”
“I’d rather not run it into the ground.”
“You won’t. You’re a natural, son. You’ll succeed at anything you try your hand.”
Kirkland shrugged. “Dad thought – “
“Ah-ha! I thought so! Jamie and his damn, middle class values. I knew it. He’s been working on you, making you feel bad for – let me guess – being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. As if his mother didn’t eventually get him the exact same thing. Well, let me tell you something, it’s not just Spencer – your mother knew what it was like to live with nothing. She wanted better for you, too.”
“Mom grew up an orphan with no money or opportunities. I’ve got a trust-fund worth all of Lassiter, Pennsylvania combined, a diploma from one of the best colleges in the world and more parents than I know what to do with. Leave Mom out of this, Grant.”
“And yet you’re still choosing to throw away all of those advantages to perform menial labor amongst the uneducated masses.”
“Funny, that’s not what you called them when you were running for office. Weren’t they your long-suffering, deserving, backbone of America working class heroes back then? Yeah, Grant, I’ve listened to your speeches.”
“I’m glad. Because then you also heard me speak about how everyone ought to be free to reach their full potential. Your road to success is clear. Yet you’re deliberately choosing to obscure it. Frankly, that’s downright offensive to anyone who actually needs the jobs you’re taking away from them. Have you thought about that?”
“I think Kirk just wants to make his own way in the world,” Sarah interjected. “He wants to know that any success he earns, he does it by being Kirk. Not your son, or Spencer’s grandson. Isn’t that right?”
“Pretty much,” Kirkland said.
“I don’t need you explaining my son to me, Sarah,” Grant snapped, not even looking at her as he continued to lecture Kirkland, “It’s stupid. Back when you were swimming competitively, did you tie extra weights to your legs so that your superior genetics didn’t overshadow someone with less muscle or a different build?”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Kirkland sighed tiredly.
“Sure looks that way to me.”
“Then I suggest you get your eyes checked,” his son shrugged before adding, “And you might want to rethink how you talk to Sarah, too,” before walking away.
“Can you believe him? Can you believe them? The nerve! The gall!” Iris climbed into the passenger seat of Russ’ car, still unable to get over what they’d just heard. “Rachel played you for a fool! The entire time the two of you were together, she and Carl…”
Russ gunned the engine, his face grim.
“And then to suggest that I am behind all this? And without a single ounce of proof! I may be no fan of those two Shakespeare-spouting brats, but to kill children! And Lorna! What quarrel do I have with Lorna?”
“Carl said it wasn’t Elizabeth, Cory and Lorna that you were after, but merely a way to cause the most pain to their fathers. Are you a part of the compound, Iris?” Russ turned around, looking her in the eye.
“Never. I knew of their existence, of course. Too many men of my acquaintance were either investors or clients or… ancillary, for me to be utterly oblivious. But, I never, ever got involved.”
“Why not?” he demanded, searching for an answer Iris wasn’t sure she could give him.
“Well, to start, I prefer to lead rather than follow. Playing by someone else’s rules isn’t really my style.”
“That is true.”
“And, bottom line, they were too much of a boys’ club. They didn’t welcome women in their midst, must less among their vaunted upper echelons. I didn’t feel my talents would be thoroughly appreciated there.”
“You are an acquired taste, Iris.”
“And not for everyone.”
Russ said, “I made you an offer once.”
“Yes?” Iris was all ears.
“If ever it was proven that Rachel had lied while you told the truth…”
“Yes,” Iris leapt on it eagerly. She remembered perfectly.
“Well, what do you say?”
“I do,” Iris smiled.
“There’s been a change of plans,” Jen told Kevin.
He looked from her to Steven. “Are you two supposed to be seeing each other before the ceremony on your wedding day?”
“Turns out it’s not going to be our wedding day,” Jen said.
“Why not?” Kevin’s eyes darted Steven’s way, wondering what he’d decided to tell Jen that might have made her change her mind.
Steve gave a quick, almost imperceptible shake of the head to indicate that Kevin could relax, then briefly filled him in on everything that had happened over the past few hours.
“Wow,” Kevin said. “Carl is back?”
“With a vengeance.”
“Does Amanda know?”
“I’m sure she will shortly. I told Grandma we’d announce the wedding is being postponed, but she’ll have to be the one to tell people why. I’m not stepping into that.”
“Good move. I advise we all keep our distance for the time being.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Jen said. “I really wanted you to walk me down the aisle.”
“I really wanted that, too. But, shouldn’t you be more upset about not getting married today? I don’t really count for much in the great scheme of things.”
“We were kind of only doing this for you,” Steven said.
“Not the getting married part,” Jen reassured. “Steven and I want to be married. To be honest, we kind of already feel married. But, the whole wedding thing… I wanted to publicly show how grateful I am for everything you did for me. Amanda got a little carried away with the planning, and that’s how we ended up with something so grand. But, really, Steven and I would have been happy with just a few family and friends in front of a judge.”
“I have an idea,” Kevin said.
“Mr. Hutchins!” Chase’s smile was as wide as it was utterly insincere. “I understand I’ve had you kidnapped!”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Rachel demanded, stepping between her husband and his tormentor inside their now empty of guests living room.
“I got a text from Eduardo earlier, informing me about the exciting goings on here this afternoon, and about my name being invoked as part of the proceedings.”
“I knew it all along,” Rachel said. “I knew you were secretly behind Carl’s needing to leave town.”
“You mean my clandestine plan that I announced to anyone who’d listen of prosecuting him for his past crimes?”
“I mean your framing him. As if you gave a damn about some past financial dealings.”
“Present financial dealings. But, who’s counting?”
“If you’re so confident in your criminal case,” Carl taunted, holding out his wrists, one crossed over the other. “Then why aren’t you here to cart me off in shackles?”
“Funny thing that,” Chase thoughtfully scratched his nose.
“It was all a lie from the start?” Rachel guessed.
“Not exactly. Despite my vociferous protests to the contrary, the Justice Department chose to close Mr. Hutchins’ file once you’d had him declared dead. I’m afraid we’re going to need to start the process all over again. But, don’t worry, I kept my notes.”
“That would be remarkably stupid of me, so let’s presume no, I’m not.”
“Why don’t you just drop it already? Is all this really worth the effort?”
“It is to me.”
Rachel smiled triumphantly. “I knew this was personal.”
“You also, apparently, knew that your husband had faked his own death. Which, in case you’re wondering, is a criminal offense – accessory after the fact. But, until those papers are filed as well, kudos on your cleverness having him legally declared to the contrary. Well played. Did you also know that he’d faked the deaths of your children? And of your daughter-in-law? Want to make sure I’m not missing anything on the warrant.”
“Yes,” Rachel said firmly. “I did.”
“So what were all those halcyon times we spent together, you calling me a destroyer of families and a child murderer?”
“I was waiting for you to slip up and make a mistake. My husband and I both realized you didn’t have the brains or the clout to have organized this on your own. You had to be taking orders from someone higher up. And now we know that it was Iris.”
Chase barked a laugh. “And what does Mrs. Wheeler have to say to that?”
“Iris lies as easily as she breathes. First about your plan to help her take over Cory Publishing – “
“The one you could find not a shred of evidence for? That plan?”
“And not getting rid of Carl. You won’t get away with it. I’ll see you disbarred, recalled, jailed – “
“Tarred, feathered, disemboweled…” Chase counted off on his fingers.
“You will speak to my wife with respect!” Carl roared.
“Or you’ll what?” Chase challenged. “Have me killed? Go after my children? Doug? Same way you did with Jamie and Lorna? Is this the new and improved Carl Hutchins? Are you taking notes, Mrs. Hutchins?”
“My husband saved Lorna’s life! From you and from Iris. He protected them.”
Chase looked at Rachel sympathetically. “And who is going to protect you from him?”
“Need a ride home?” Kirkland asked Sarah as they both stood in the Cory parking lot, waiting for the valet.
“I have my car,” she said.
“That’s good. ‘Cause I came with my dad, and I’m not sure where he is right now.”
Sarah laughed, “So what you’re actually saying is you’d like me to give you a ride home.”
“On what? The kind of car I drive?”
“Oh, I’ve got you pegged for a pretty slick ride.”
“Is that a fact?” She cocked her head.
“Yup, quick to rev up, skilled with controls, and fantastically tight on the curves.”
Sarah laughed. “You’ve got me there. I drive a mean stick shift.”
“Where’s Daisy?” he wondered.
“With Marley and Grant for the night.”
“In that case,” Kirkland said. “I would most definitely like a ride home.”
“To your house?”
“Yours,” he corrected with a smile.
And Sarah smiled right back at him.
“May I come in, darling?” Rachel stood on the threshold to Elizabeth’s bedroom. It had been so long since she’d been in there… so long since she’s seen her daughter… It felt awkward to just barge in.
“It’s your house,” Elizabeth pointed out.
“Yours, too. Again. And always.”
“Lorna ruined everything,” Elizabeth said. “This wasn’t how we planned to come home.”
“It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters as long as you’re back. You’re so grown up, Elizabeth. So beautiful.”
“Father says I look more and more like you every day.”
“I was never this stunning at your age. Certainly never as self-possessed, or poised…”
“Cory missed you,” Elizabeth said.
Rachel recognized a rebuff when she heard one. “I missed all of you. So much.”
“You had Jamie,” she pointed out. “Amanda, Matt, all your precious grandchildren, especially Mackenzie. They’re why you didn’t come with us.”
“It was a bit more complicated than that, my darling.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “We managed fine.”
“I’m happy to hear it.”
“Cory didn’t get Father’s permission to come back and see you. He said now that we were eighteen, Father couldn’t control him anymore. He snuck out, didn’t even tell me. Cory used to tell me everything. But, I guess you’re more important to him. Lorna knew Father would be mad, that’s why she went running after him. Leave it to Lorna to screw everything up. Ever since her brain got scrambled.”
“How did that happen?” Rachel wondered.
Elizabeth shrugged. “Don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
Elizabeth said, “I’m really tired, Mom. I’d like to get to sleep. Please go now.”
Rachel did as her daughter requested, stepping out into the hallway in time to catch her husband hovering on the outskirts of their bedroom.
Carl said, “I didn’t wish to presume….”
“Come in,” Rachel told him, her voice noncommittal.
“I realize,” Carl said. “That it might be impossible to pick up where we left off, as if nothing had happened in the interim. I am happy to take my leave to the guestroom or…”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Rachel agreed.
Leaving Carl a bit taken aback. “Oh.” He recovered enough to swear, “I have so missed you, Rachel. Not being able to gaze upon your countenance daily was nothing less than insufferable torture. The children were some comfort, yes, but…”
“What about Lorna?” Rachel wondered.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You… and Lorna? If she doesn’t remember anything that happened over the past twenty years in Bay City then, obviously, she doesn’t remember the antipathy she built up towards you. Or that your sexual relationship ever ended.”
“Rachel, are you implying….”
“I am flat out asking, Carl?”
“She’s Jamie’s wife!”
“And once upon a time she was a teen-ager. That didn’t stop you then.”
“I love you, Rachel. Do you honestly think I would betray our vows in such a manner?”
“Men get lonely. Women, too. Russ and I….”
Carl sniffed distastefully. “I certainly don’t consider Dr. Matthews a worth adversary.”
“Russ is a good man. He was extremely kind to me while you and the children were gone.”
“Then he has my eternal gratitude for that. But, merely because you elected to seek physical comfort from a familiar face doesn’t imply I chose to do the same. I informed Lorna that I was a married man, loyal to the end to my extraordinary wife, and that was the end of that.”
“I trust you,” Rachel finally said.
“Thank you for that, my love.” Carl hesitated. And then he added, “In that case, if I may impose upon that trust, will you promise to answer my following query in all honesty?”
“Try me,” Rachel offered.
“Why did you tell your guests that you’d known all along about my plan to rescue Lorna, Elizabeth and Cory? Why did you lie for me, Rachel?”
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