“Yes,” Lucas said, before Alice had even finished asking him about Dennis and Marley’s accusation. “They’re telling the truth.”
“I thought so,” Alice nodded.
“Should I be insulted by that?”
“No,” he admitted. “Merely curious.”
“Your reaction to what I did.”
She avoided his gaze, telling Lucas, “I am hardly in any position to judge. Spencer was just as involved as you in Carl’s plan.”
“But…” Lucas prompted, sensing a qualification based on, if nothing else, Alice’s jittery manner.
“But,” she confirmed. “I loved Spencer.”
“Ah,” Lucas said.
Alice smiled, remembering, “When Spencer and I first met, Kevin tried to warn me off him by suggesting I do an Internet search for Spencer’s name, plus a few choice aliases. I did. And I learned about the things he’d done in the past. Spencer assumed that would be the end of us. And it should, by all rights, have been the end of us. Except it wasn’t. No matter what I heard about him, I kept making excuses, coming up with justifications. Because, in spite of everything, I wanted to be with him. I was in love.” Alice ruefully observed, “Rachel thinks I don’t understand how she feels about Carl, or why she does the things she does for him. I understand exactly how she feels. That’s what I meant before about being in no position to judge anyone. I may not agree with Rachel’s actions. But, I do understand them.”
“So you understand why I did what I did?”
“But, you don’t love me.” It wasn’t a question.
“No,” Alice exhaled, pleased by how well he’d gathered exactly what she was saying. “When it came to Spencer, I scrambled for any opportunity to excuse what he’d done so that I could still be with him. When it came to you, my first instinct was to use it as an excuse to break things off.”
“You needed an excuse? What for? I’m a big boy, I can take rejection.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you. I care for you very much, Lucas.”
“Just not the way you cared for Spencer.”
“No. Not the way I cared for Spencer. Or for Steve,” Alice said. “I’ve been in love before. Deeply, desperately in love. So have you. And I’ve been with men merely for convenience or companionship or because it made sense… on paper. I suspect you’re familiar with that sort of relationship, as well.”
“Yes,” Lucas agreed.
“I’m one of the latter, aren’t I?”
Lucas shrugged. “I care a great deal about you, as well.”
“But not like you love Felicia.”
“No. And not in the way you loved Steve. Or Spencer.”
“I gave Kevin a lecture on this very subject a few weeks ago. I figured it was about time I took my own advice. You and I, Lucas, we’re friends. We never should have tried to be anything more. ”
“It just made so much damn sense,” he pointed out, smiling, as relieved as she was, even if he hadn’t realized it before.
“On paper, yes.” Alice noted, “There is nothing I can do about Steve or Spencer. But, you and Felicia…”
“She’s moved on,” Lucas reminded. “You saw her at Steven and Jennifer’s wedding, flaunting that Latin Lover on her arm.”
“The way I understand it, Felicia has moved on before. And yet somehow always ended up back with you, nonetheless.”
“Not this time. This time, we hurt each other too deeply. The things we said to each other. Me, when Lorna was in a coma, and Fanny now. She believes Carl and Rachel, you know. Fanny actually believes I would have lied to her for three years about Lorna being alive.” Lucas raised a hand. “And please don’t invoke my lying to her about being alive, like everyone else has. This is completely different. I was just another man in her life; she’d found someone else by the time I was in any kind of position to contact her. Lorna is Felicia’s last living child. I would never have put her through that kind of pain.”
“Do you want her back, Lucas?” Alice asked.
He took a long moment to think about it. He exhaled. He shrugged. He said, “Yes.”
“Then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
“Seriously, Frame?” Lorna popped a French fry into her mouth, wiped her lips with a paper napkin and asked, “This is your idea of a First Class first date? A blockbuster with a higher body count than you’ve probably seen in your entire medical career – unless you’re a pretty lousy doctor… then a greasy spoon afterwards?”
“Carlino’s isn’t a greasy spoon,” he took no offense, swallowing his own bite of burger before replying. “It happens to be a pretty classy, family style restaurant. Where my son has just started doing the books. So you know we won’t be overcharged. Besides, I figured, after all this time, you must be sick of that gourmet crap Carl force-feeds you. Seriously, how much foie gras and, I don’t know, gold dust sprinkled ice-cream can a person take before they’re chomping at the bit for some real food?”
Lorna seriously considered his question before admitting, “It does get old pretty fast.”
“I knew it!” Jamie beamed.
“Oh, stop looking so smug. Lucky guess, that’s all. Anyone who knows Carl could have figured out the same thing.”
“What about the movie?” he needled. “Tell me you didn’t like the movie.”
“It was okay.”
“Have you even seen a movie made in this century? That you recall, I mean?”
“Carl had films brought in for us,” Lorna defended.
“Were any of them in color? Or in English?”
“Well, no,” she admitted reluctantly.
“Ha!” Jamie leaned back in his chair, now even more smug and cheerful.
“But, Cory had his lap-top,” she blurted out, needing very much to wipe the satisfaction off his face. And to quell the feelings that seeing him so happy – and so right – stirred in her. “And we did have access to the internet; it was limited, but we had it. Cory and I would wait until after Carl and Elizabeth went to bed, and then we’d watch movies on his laptop, sometimes all night long.”
“But with a high body count?”
“Pretty much,” she actually blushed at the confession.
Jamie laughed, but it did seem to be with her, not at her. He told Lorna, “I’m glad you had a friend.”
Seeing an opportunity to change the subject, Lorna challenged, “So did you, from the looks of things.”
He blinked in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“I heard about her. The blonde. Olivia, right? The one that’s practically moved into your house.”
“Olivia is a friend,” Jamie confirmed. “Nothing more.”
“A friend with benefits,” Lorna accused. A great deal more harshly than she’d meant to.
“No,” Jamie told her sternly. “Just a friend.”
“Oh, please,” Lorna snorted. “You expect me to believe that a hot guy whose wife dumped him, spent three years sleeping alone?”
“You really think I’m hot?”
“I really think you’re lying.”
“About Olivia? No, I’m not.”
“So it was someone else, then,” Lorna refused to give up. Because if he was telling the truth… Well, in that case… Lorna didn’t even want to think about in that case.
“There was no one else,” Jamie said. “I was waiting for you.”
“So you knew we were alive!” Lorna pounced triumphantly. “Now who’s the liar?”
“I knew you were alive,” Jamie agreed. “Not because Carl told me about his plan to supposedly protect you from his enemies, but because I had faith. In you. In us.”
“So, you… what? Watched a lot of porn?”
“I waited for you,” Jamie repeated.
“Your Olivia is beautiful,” Lorna said with the confidence of an expert used to sizing up the competition.
“Yes, she is.”
“And you two never…”
“She not that into you?”
“Oh, okay. So that’s why – “
“Whether or not Olivia was “into me” is irrelevant. You are the only woman I want. It’s as true right now as it was the day we got married. I have never wanted anyone as much as I want you, I have never loved anyone the way that I love you.”
“Sounds pretty pathetic,” Lorna dismissed, her voice quavering.
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” was all Jamie had to say about that.
“How in the world were you able to get the yacht on such short notice?” Rachel marveled as she looked around the high-end vessel she and Carl had traditionally reserved for their Valentine’s Day celebrations.
“Please, my love,” Carl lit the pair of candles that towered over their romantic dinner for two. “Allow me to retain at least a modicum of secrets.”
“Is this it?” Rachel’s voice hardened as Carl realized he’d made a grave miscalculation.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Is this,” she indicated the yacht and the food and the mood he’d taken such pains to set for them. “The extent of the secrets you’re keeping from me? Do I know everything now, Carl?”
“What aren’t you telling me?” she demanded.
Carl sat down, wearily, suddenly showing every minute of his age – and then some. After a moment’s thought, he confessed to Rachel, “Our troubles may not all be behind us.”
She pulled up the chair next to him. “What troubles?”
“I fear that the financial improprieties which Hamilton first used to place me in the cross-hairs of his unconscionable witch-hunt have not been utterly wiped from the ledger. He is determined to see me in prison for crimes the statute of limitations has long run out on.”
“But you won’t let that happen,” Rachel urged desperately. “As soon as you prove that Chase was working with Iris to kill you and the children, he won’t have the power to – “
“Once the American wheels of justice have been greased with the oil of falsehood, it is no trivial matter to bring them to a halt.”
“Does that mean that, after everything, you might still – “
“Be railroaded into prison by a government fixed on my utter annihilation. I am afraid so, yes.”
“What are we going to do about it, then?” Rachel’s tone was just as determined now as it had been earlier, when she’d been grilling Carl for answers.
“We?” He raised his head, surprised.
“Of course, we.”
“Rachel,” Carl tread carefully. “Three years past, when this affair initially surfaced, I outlined our most prudent course of action – which was to flee the jurisdiction and seek refugee with a government less hostile to our cause. At the time, you indicated you were unable to follow me into exile due to your sentimental connection to this town, the people in it and, as you stressed most vehemently, your children and your grandchildren. If that hasn’t changed, then I am afraid neither have our options.”
“I won’t lose you again, Carl,” Rachel swore. “Nothing on Earth could ever make me lose you again. I will do anything necessary to make certain of it.”
Carl exhaled in relief, pulling his wife into a kiss… Their first since his return; thrilled when she responded with no hesitation and equal desire. “I was so hoping you would say that….”
“That’s far enough.” Lorna raised her hand to keep him back as Jamie escorted her up the front steps of the Cory Mansion. “I can make it on my own from here. Thanks,” she added awkwardly, not sure what she was thanking Jamie for exactly, but nevertheless feeling compelled to say it.
“You’re welcome,” he ignored the beginning of her sentence to focus on the conclusion. Though he did also stop in his tracks, obeying her directive.
“Yeah… well… good-night.” Lorna rested her hand on the doorknob. Without turning it.
“Good-night,” Jamie said, still not budging.
She finally did open the door. But, when Jamie remained as he was – obviously not getting the hint – Lorna turned back around again and marched down the steps to face him. “What are you waiting for?” she demanded.
“You,” he reminded. “For as long at it takes, I’m waiting for you.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Lorna didn’t so much roll her eyes as her entire body. She grabbed Jamie by the shoulders and pulled him to her, kissing him full force on the mouth, not giving him a chance to close his eyes or catch his breath or respond in any way before she shoved him back again. “There. Is that what you wanted?”
“No,” Jamie said slowly, calmly. He raised his hand, resting his fingers beneath Lorna’s chin and urging her towards him. She struggled for the briefest of moments, then gave in, as if in a trance. Jamie caught her upper lip with both his own, his tongue flicking ever so briefly against the roof of her mouth before he moved lower, somehow managing to inhale Lorna and simultaneously fill her completely.
She wasn’t sure how long they stood there or how it was that, by the end, Lorna had ended up in Jamie’s arms, despite neither of them seemingly having moved.
All she knew was that it felt not nearly long enough when Jamie finally did step away – exactly as Lorna had ordered earlier. The look on his face proved so utterly guileless that Lorna found she couldn’t summon up so much as an ounce of irritation over what he’d done, even as he told her, “That’s what I wanted.”
“What’s this?” Kirkland wondered, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as Grant invited himself into Kirkland’s new apartment, bright and early the next morning.
“A house-warming present,” his father shoved a brightly wrapped box the size of a pencil case into Kirkland’s hands. “And an apology.”
“For what?” Kirkland closed the door behind Grant and led him into what would one day be the living room. As soon as Kirkland got around to unpacking. And buying furniture.
With nowhere to sit or even recline against, Grant shifted awkwardly as he explained, “I wasn’t very supportive when you first told me about your post-college plans.”
“Ya think?” Kirkland smirked, his physical resemblance to Grant never stronger.
“I realize it now,” Grant grimly continued to fall on his sword. “And I’d like to make amends. Open your gift,” he urged.
Kirkland did, coming up with a weathered leather case. That held a Bay City police badge. “Is this…”
“Ryan’s,” Grant confirmed.
“How – how did you get it?”
“It was in a box of your mother’s things that Marley received after Vicky died.”
“I know how much you loved him. I loved him, too,” Grant said. “I didn’t always agree with the choices he made or the life he lead – “
“You guys had pretty similar taste in women, though,” Kirkland interrupted, trying to laugh when what he really wanted to do was cry.
“Yes,” Grant agreed ruefully. “That we did. And, even then – even in the middle of all that – I continued to love him. The same way I will always love you, son. No matter what.”
Kirkland continued staring at Ryan’s badge, scratching the back of his neck before finally raising his head to tell Grant, “Apology accepted.”
“But… don’t you think maybe Carl would want to have this?”
“Carl,” Grant snorted with derision. “Carl wasn’t Ryan’s family. We were. Carl is no more to Ryan than an accident of biology.” Grant’s eyes locked onto Kirkland’s and he exhaled deeply as he said, “The same way I am to you.”
“It’s okay. Well, not the way things turned out. That’s not okay in the slightest. But, it’s okay that you feel that way. I understand. And I don’t blame you.” Grant said, “That’s why I’m so determined to be there for Daisy. To be a real father to her, not just some guy she shares a few random strands of DNA with. I don’t want to make the same mistakes with her that I did with you. In fact, I’m wondering if you might be able to help me with that, son?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I’d like to pick your brain a little,” Grant said. “About Sarah.”
“Welcome, Mr. Cory. Welcome, Mrs. Cory.” The doctor who ran the Swiss clinic where Donna’s friend swore she spotted Carl years earlier ushered both into his office, shutting the door, taking a seat and smiling at them from across his desk. “What a pleasure to meet you both. Tell me please: What can I do for you?”
Matt said, “My wife is beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Ravishing,” the doctor’s head bobbed up and down.
“But, surely, you would also agree that anything can be improved on,” Donna prompted.
“Even God needs a little help sometimes, yes.”
“I’d like to have a bit of work done,” Donna raised a hand to her neck, smiling modestly, ready to hear a litany of reasons as to why that wasn’t necessary.
“I understand completely.” The doctor leaned over, studying Donna with a critical eye before waving his arms dramatically in front of her and announcing, “I would say we start with blepharoplasty for the eyelids, brachioplasty for the arms, then a basic skin resurfacing, followed perhaps by a forehead and brow lift – “
“I beg your pardon?” Donna interrupted. “You’d start with that?”
“Well, yes. I presumed you’d want to see some evidence of my skills before proceeding to the serious work.”
“What sort of serious work?” Donna demanded, mortified.
“Well, in my professional opinion…”
“With all due respect,” Matt interrupted. “All the procedures you just listed – “
“Do you think I need them, Matthew?” At some point, Donna had clearly gone off-script here.
“You look great,” he appeased his wife, even as Matt pressed on with the doctor. “With all due respect, everything you just mentioned, we could get in the United States.”
“Are you saying I should get them?” Donna leapt on her husband’s words.
This time, Matt ignored Donna in favor of sticking to their original plan, telling the doctor, “We came to you specifically – “
“Due to my outstanding, international reputation,” he finished the sentence for Matt.
“Because we heard that you can be… flexible… when it comes to some… out of the box procedures.”
“And where might you have heard that?”
“From my stepfather,” Matt said. “Carl Hutchins.”
“Doctor,” the nurse who’d initially greeted Matt and Donna popped into the room, looking simultaneously apologetic and firm. “I am sorry, Doctor, but you have a phone call. It is rather urgent, I am afraid.”
“Tell them to wait. I am in the middle of a consultation.”
“Doctor,” the nurse repeated. “It is Mrs. Wheeler.”
Donna and Matt barely had a second to exchange intrigued looks before the doctor was on his feet, ushering them towards the door. “Would you excuse me for just a moment?”
He didn’t give them a chance to either agree or disagree.
“Is that Iris Wheeler on the phone?” Donna asked the nurse after the door had been shut in their faces. “From America?”
The nurse smiled blankly, as if her ability to understand and speak English had disappeared in the time it took to return to her desk.
“Now Iris,” Donna said. “There’s someone who could use a great deal of work. And her appearance is just the tip of the iceberg.”
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