“Welcome back, Carl,” Frankie attempted to summon up as genuine of a smile as possible. “To the land of the living, I mean.”
“As one who has been through the experience herself,” Carl’s expression was equally cautious. “I feel certain you comprehend precisely what I mean when I say it is a true pleasure to be back.”
“Thanks for the ride home,” Elizabeth told Charlie’s parents.
“No problem,” Cass assured. “And, by the way, I was serious about my offer: I taught Charlie to drive. I’m happy to teach you, too.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Carl stepped in before Elizabeth had a chance to answer one way or another. “But, I have been in charge of my children’s education for the past several years. I feel certain I can continue in that capacity without needing to ask for outside assistance.”
“Well, we do drive on a different side of the road here,” Frankie replied innocently. Followed by an equally innocent, “Or did they where the four of you were hiding out, as well?”
Carl’s expression suggested that if Frankie believed she was acting subtle, her pretense had failed miserably. So he merely smiled politely and said nothing.
“It was good to see you, Elizabeth,” Cass bid Carl’s daughter good-bye. “Don’t be a stranger.” He waited until Elizabeth had disappeared up the stairs before continuing, equally conversationally, “You know, I was looking at Elizabeth next to Lori Ann today. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought I saw a resemblance. Elizabeth is… what? Lori Ann’s biological aunt? Is that right?”
“Nonsense,” Carl sputtered, his attempt to seem nonchalant as full of holes as Frankie’s earlier endeavor. “Elizabeth resembles her mother, and Lori Ann looks like hers.”
“You know, we were wondering,” Frankie realized that Cass’ opening had managed to rattle Carl enough for her to briefly press their advantage. “The threat to Elizabeth and Cory and Lorna’s lives – did it extend to Lori Ann, too? In a way, she’s the eye of the storm. She is both your granddaughter, and Lucas’. Anyone wishing to target you both could do it through Lori Ann. Is our daughter in danger, too, Carl?”
“No one is in danger,” he snapped. Then added more calmly, “Not anymore. Now that I have exposed Iris as the mastermind behind the compound’s plot, you can rest assured, she won’t dare make a move against anyone, Lori Ann included.”
“But why didn’t she go there in the first place?” Cass seemed genuinely stymied. “Why only target Elizabeth, Cory and Lorna? You and Lucas have other loved ones. There’s Rachel, Felicia, Lorna’s children, Lori Ann…”
“I’m afraid you’d have to ask Iris that.”
“Iris is denying everything.”
“Would you proudly take credit for attempting to murder innocent children?”
“Maybe if you could give us more information about what exactly happened? Give us a chance to check for ourselves.”
“We wouldn’t be so anxious about Lori Ann, then,” Frankie chimed in. “We just need to ensure that our daughter is safe. The same way you did.”
Carl looked from Frankie to Cass. And then he asked, “Whom are you working for?”
“We aren’t,“ Frankie began. “We’re just concerned about – “
But, Cass cut her off, gambling that Carl would be better disarmed by a sincere truth than by the lie he’d already seen through. “Lucas,” Cass said. “Lucas hired us to get to the bottom of what really happened when you took Lorna.”
“And you decided to use my only granddaughter as bait? Charming.”
“We are concerned about Lori Ann’s safety. Look at it from our perspective. Either you are telling the truth, and Lori Ann could well still end up being a target down the road. Or Lucas is telling the truth. And you kidnapped Lorna, along with Cory and Elizabeth. If you’re capable of doing that, what’s to stop you from trying the same with Lori Ann?”
“This is getting ridiculous,” Carl sniffed. “How long does the man intend to continue with this charade? Especially when the person he is staging it for isn’t even interested? Lucas helped me save his daughter’s life. He should be using that fact as a means to worm his way back into Fanny’s affection. Truly, I cannot fathom what he hopes to achieve by constantly denying his involvement. Well, beyond tarnishing my name and reputation. Which, to be sure, is a bit of an all-year sport about these parts.”
“So where did you stay then?” Frankie picked up her earlier conversational thread.
Carl raised an eyebrow. “I am certain you understand why I cannot and will not reveal the location of a safe-house that I spent years securing and maintaining.”
“What about your staff, then? Could we speak to any of them? I’m sure they’d be able to confirm whether or not Lorna was with you by force, and that would solve half of the equation right there.”
“Out of the question. I would no more betray their confidence than they would mine.”
“Well, then, here’s the thing, Carl,” Frankie actually sounded almost kind of sorry to be telling him this. “Unless you cooperate, we’re going to assume you have something to hide. And if we assume that you have something to hide, we’re going to go digging after what it might be. And without you explaining what it is that we have found, we might jump to all sorts of conclusions that you wouldn’t want us jumping to.”
“Why should anything be different now than when I first left?”
“Because,” Cass said. “Three years ago, you were about to be arrested by the Justice Department, and so you skipped town – taking a pair of minor children and your stepson’s wife, with you. A lot of people would call that fleeing the jurisdiction – and kidnapping.”
“A lot of people would also call a whale a fish. That still does not make it one. Or them justifiable in their ignorance.”
“But if it breathes oxygen like a mammal, Carl, and delivers young like a mammal, then what’s an oceanographer supposed to think but the obvious?” Cass smiled. “I read Moby Dick, too.”
“I will not betray my family’s security in order to appease your hunger for sticking your rent-by-the-hour noses into other people’s business. I will not grovel for the scraps of your approval in the hope that you might magnanimously acquiesce one day and allow me contact with my own flesh and blood. I know what I did, and I know why I did it. Public opinion matters not one whit to me. Rachel accepts my version of events, and I retain the love and devotion of my children. The remainder of you can rot in hell.”
“I’ve been expecting you,” Lucas said, letting in a Marley who, unlike her fire-breathing mother, appeared counter-intuitively more subdued than usual.
“Donna’s already been here?” Marley guessed, followed by a sigh. “Figures.”
Lucas merely nodded, waiting patiently for some sign as to what exactly Marley might require from him.
She observed, “You’re not denying it, I see.”
“What would be the point?” he shrugged.
“How about an apology, Lucas? Or do you see no point to that, either?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, then paused. “Does that make it any better?”
Marley snorted with disdain, though it was unclear whom her distaste was directed towards. “Point taken.” She followed up with, “Was it because I hit Lorna and put her in a coma? Is that why you targeted me?”
“No,” Lucas shook his head.
“I didn’t think so.” Marley’s disappointment proved palatable. “It never had anything to do with me, did it? It was always about Donna. You needed a way to get back at Donna. To punish her for what she did to Jenna, and for having you kidnapped and kept away from your family. So you looked around and, well, you wouldn’t go after Steven and Kirkland, because they were Jamie’s. And Lori Ann is your granddaughter, too; more yours than Donna’s. Bridget and Michele… they were still little kids then. So that just left me.”
“Yes,” Lucas agreed.
“Nothing personal, huh?”
“We needed to make it look like the compound was calling Donna’s bluff. But, it couldn’t be obvious; we didn’t want the police looking deeply into the incident. A suicide attempt was perfect. Especially considering your history. I never intended for you to die. I always intended for Donna to find you, revive you.”
“What a gentleman,” Marley observed wryly.
“If I could take back what I did to you, I would. But, you and I know that’s impossible. We both know that we have to take responsibility for what we did, not for what we may have intended to do. Because the first is the only one that matters.”
“But you’d take it back, not because of what you did to me, or even because Donna and I found out what you did. You’d take it back because it didn’t work.”
“Yes,” Lucas said.
Marley had deduced as much. “Coming after me was supposed to be the beginning of the end for the compound. But, instead, it only made things worse. Kirkland was kidnapped. Spencer was killed.”
“While Carl walked away scot-free.”
“So did you,” Marley pointed out. “You were as involved as Carl and Spencer. You didn’t exactly suffer any repercussions, either.”
“I lost my family,” Lucas reminded. “Right now, Lorna doesn’t even remember who I am, while Fanny is siding with Carl’s version of events. You and Donna want to get back at me for what I did to you? That’s fine. Go ahead. Your mother already took seventeen years of my life. She cost me Jenna and Lorna and Fanny. Just what else do you think the two of you can do to me?”
“I don’t want anything from you, Lucas,” Marley said. “What would be the point of revenge? Especially over something in which I was, at best, a peripheral player? I am so tired of getting caught in the middle of Donna’s affairs. I am so tired of the things that happen to me not actually being about me. I didn’t mean anything to you when you tried to kill me, and all I mean to Donna now is an excuse to put on her concerned mother face and make all kinds of impressive noises about avenging my honor. Did she ask me whether or not I wanted my honor avenged? Did she ask me anything at all? No. She told me how I should feel about the situation. And when I didn’t react the way she presumed I would, she simply went right on with what she’d planned to do in the first place. Do you see what I mean? Do you understand what I’m saying? How am I supposed to blame you for what happened, when it was all Donna from the start?”
“So did Steven and Jen ever manage to get married?” GQ asked Allie when they ran into each other at BCU.
She nodded. “Mayor’s office. Just them, Kevin and Jamie.”
“That sounds about right. The black tie affair at your grandmother’s house never seemed like their thing.”
“That was mostly my mom’s doing. Guess she figured it’s the only big wedding she’ll ever get to plan, so she went a little nutty.”
“What about you?” GQ asked.
“What about me?”
“I mean, doesn’t your mom think she’ll be planning your wedding someday?”
“Not if she intends us to both be alive at the end of it. We don’t exactly see eye to eye on… anything.”
“Are you and Zeno thinking about it? Getting married, I mean?”
Allie’s scrunched up face showed what she thought of that idea – and GQ for thinking he had the right to ask.
“Sorry,” he shrugged. “Just you guys have been together for such a long time.”
“We’ve both got stuff going on. He has the farm, and I’m trying to finally graduate – which is taking forever. This summer school class was supposed to be my last requirement, but who knows; maybe I screwed it up, too.”
“Why are you always so down on yourself, Allie?” It wasn’t the first time GQ had noticed, but he decided it was time to ask.
“We can’t all be geniuses like Steven and Jen – and you.”
“I’m talking about being happy, not about being smart.”
“I’m happy,” Allie defended.
“I’m not,” GQ said.
“Sorry,” she shrugged and attempted to move past him.
“I miss you, Allie.”
“Don’t,” she warned. “Don’t start that again.”
“If Zeno doesn’t make you happy – “
“You know what else Zeno doesn’t do?” Allie cut him off.
“He doesn’t make me cry. We’ve been together for three years now, and he’s never once made me cry. Which makes for a nice change. I think I’ll stick with it.”
“Mrs. Hutchins,” Lorna asked politely, employing a deferential tone of voice she’d never use with anyone else – save Carl; figuring his wife warranted the same level of respect.
“Hello, Lorna,” Rachel said, her own tone equal parts warm and wary.
“May I… ask you something?”
“Of course,” Rachel smiled, suggesting anything but.
“Jamie and I…” Lorna began, not sure how to express what she was feeling. Not particularly sure about what exactly she was feeling, for that matter. “Jamie and I, were we… were we… in love?”
Rachel hesitated. “That’s a rather loaded question for an outsider to answer. No one really knows what goes on inside of a relationship, do they?”
“I’ve heard Jamie’s version,” Lorna said. “And I don’t have one of my own. An outsider’s perspective is the best I can do right now.”
“My son and I, we used to be close. Once upon a time.”
“Was I the reason that changed?”
“No. Jamie’s childish attitude towards my marriage to Carl was the primary factor.”
Lorna heard what Rachel didn’t say as well as what she did. “But, I didn’t exactly help.”
“No,” Rachel admitted. “You… you were why Jamie changed his tune. He’d managed to co-exist alongside Carl for years. We all lived in this house together while he raised his boys. We were a family like any other; we had our ups and downs, but we weathered them. It wasn’t until he got involved with you… You turned Jamie against Carl. And me.”
“Why would I do that?” Lorna’s confusion was sincere.
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “Just like I don’t know whether you really did love my son or…”
“Or what?” The confusion was joined by desperation.
Rachel sighed, shifting the subject slightly. “My son was in love with you. I feel I can say that without any hesitation. But, Jamie, he has a tendency to fall and fall hard. And, once he does, he becomes incapable of seeing anything but the best in the woman he loves. Believe me, you aren’t the first in that regard. The truth can be right in front of his face, but once Jamie gets his blinders on, it’s almost impossible to get them off.”
“I’m going to guess you tried, though.”
Rachel conceded, “I didn’t see the two of you as a match made in heaven, no.”
“Well, for one thing, you are completely different people.”
“You can say that again.”
Rachel did. “Different interests, different temperaments, different life goals. Felicia agreed. She couldn’t believe you’d give Jamie so much as a second look, much less change who you fundamentally were – “
“The lawsuit,” Lorna said. “Jamie going to court against Morgan. He claimed he knew me better than anyone. And that included Felicia.”
“That hurt her a great deal,” Rachel said. “You and your mother were very close.”
“Felicia sided with Morgan, though. Not Jamie.”
“Thank you,” Lorna said.
“What are you doing here?” Lila asked in surprise at seeing Kevin at the Cory Mansion. “I’d have thought Amanda wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near the place.”
“Amanda isn’t here,” Kevin said.
“I came to see you.”
“Oh,” Lila repeated.
“I missed you, Lila,” he confessed. “I didn’t realize how used I’d gotten having you to talk with on a regular basis.”
“You telling me you miss visiting hours?” Lila attempted to joke her way out of what was turning into a more and more uncomfortable predicament.
“With you? Yes.”
“Don’t,” she warned him. “Please.”
“I won’t,” he swore, understanding what Lila was asking of him. “Believe me, I have no interest in making your life difficult. I care too much about you for that.”
“Then just go, alright? Door’s that way.”
“Can’t we be friends, Lila? That’s all we are, after all. Neither of us has done anything wrong.”
“So far, you mean.”
“We’re adults,” Kevin said. “Adults have self-control. I am married to Amanda, and I very much want to make our marriage work. But does that mean I have to cut off contact with everyone else in my life?”
“Have you tried asking Amanda that question?”
“We’re friends,” he repeated. “And I would like to stay friends. You and Grant – “
“He and I… he doesn’t… Forget about Grant, okay?”
“Fine. If you’ll forget about Amanda. Our being friends has nothing to do with her.”
Lila couldn’t help laughing. “My goodness, do you know that woman at all?”
“You must be pleased with yourself right about now,” Iris offered.
He shook his head, grim. “Not yet.”
“Carl is back in Bay City, just like we wanted.”
“A free man.”
“That’s only temporary. We have Lucas on our side now.”
“And no evidence that his agenda matches with ours.”
“Lucas is desperate to prove Carl a liar. I’m sure he’ll do anything we say. As long as he’s approached correctly.”
“Carl has implicated you in his disappearance.”
“I can handle it.”
“All our efforts might well end up being for nothing.”
“No. Not for nothing. I won’t allow it.”
“Do not underestimate Carl Hutchins,” he warned, darkly. “I will not have 50 years of careful planning undone by your arrogance. Or your personal vendettas.”
“I am hardly the only one with a personal vendetta,” Iris shot back. “And it is you who would be well advised not to underestimate me. Before I came along, every one of your endeavors against Carl had accomplished precisely nothing – despite all your supposed connections. You were, at best, an irritation to him. I’m the one who exposed his on-going criminal activity. I’m the one who made him run away like a whimpering dog with his tail between his legs.”
“That proved only temporary,” he flung Iris’ words back at her, mocking.
She assured, “Everything we’ve set in motion is about to catch up with Carl. This is the end of the road for him. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Let’s hope you are right, Mrs. Wheeler. Because I am getting very, very impatient. And that’s not a good thing. For Carl. Or for you,” Eduardo said.
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