“Are you unwell, my dear?” Carl asked Rachel solicitously the next morning, after what had rather noticeably been a most unrestful night’s sleep on her part.
She stifled a yawn behind her palm, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it, but merely succeeding in exhausting herself further. “I couldn’t stop thinking about Elizabeth. And Charlie.”
“I understand completely.” Rachel’s husband settled next to her on their unmade bed in his monogrammed dressing gown, proceeding to stroke Rachel’s cheek with his hand. “I find the entire thing utterly distasteful myself.”
“You do?” Rachel blinked in surprise. “But, you said to Elizabeth…”
“What else can one say to a willful child under such circumstances?”
“We can ask her if she’s really thought through what she’s doing?”
“Well, of course, she has not. What young person in the throes of primary passion does? But, if I were to unequivocally come out against her ill-advised dalliance, it would only serve to enrapture Elizabeth more. No, the preeminent thing is to appear thoroughly on-board and wait for the inevitable adolescent drama to play out. Hopefully, Elizabeth will be more judicious with her subsequent romantic choices. As I said to her yesterday, there are plenty of more appropriate young women, especially on the Continent, I could have introduced her to, had she given me the slightest inkling.”
“So you really are alright with Elizabeth… preferring girls?”
“That’s hardly up to me, is it?”
“But, Charlie Winthrop….”
“Agreed. A loathsome child, with only slightly more tolerable parents. Has her mother never heard of phoning prior to barging in to a man’s home? And what was that nonsense about Elizabeth misplacing her cellular phone? If that were the case, why didn’t Charlotte return it herself? Why did – “
But Rachel was far more interested in a different question. “A few years ago, Charlie almost killed Allie for being involved with a boy Charlie wanted for herself.”
“How delightful,” Carl drawled.
“Charlie claimed to be in love with Zeno. I guess they’d slept together before he started dating Allie; this was while Charlie was still involved with Kirkland. And that’s another thing – Kirkland! Before Zeno, there was Kirkland.”
“My, she is cutting quite the swath through this family, isn’t she?”
“Before Elizabeth, Charlie was involved with boys only. To the point where she was ready to kill for one of them.”
“What an unstable creature. Why our Elizabeth should find herself infatuated, I suspect I shall never know.”
Rachel insisted, “I think Elizabeth is confused. The last few years must have been so difficult for her. And you heard what she said the other day, about having no friends here in Bay City… no one to call, no life. Of course, she’d be vulnerable to the advances of someone like Charlie.”
“Precisely why it would behoove all of us to leave town as soon as possible.”
“Elizabeth says she doesn’t want to go.”
“She will as soon as Charlotte shows her true colors. Which, according to you, should be sooner rather than later. Truly, Rachel, you are better off feeling thrilled for this development. If a juvenile crush on a budding sociopath is all that is keeping our daughter in Bay City, it is far preferable to the alternative.”
“What alternative?” Rachel asked in surprise. It was the first she’d heard of it.
“Never mind,” Carl dismissed, not wishing to get into the lie Elizabeth had fed him earlier. If it had, in fact, been a lie. Most falsehoods, in Carl’s experience, still harbored a bit of truth in them. And Rachel did not need to know about his conversation with Elizabeth on the subject.
“I can’t help thinking,” Rachel went on with her original point. “That if Charlie moves so easily from boys to girls to who knows what she’ll do next, isn’t it possible Elizabeth will be the same?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Isn’t it possible that this is just a phase? That she’s clinging to Charlie due to a lack of alternatives?”
“That is a large part of the equation, obviously. But, Rachel, I am afraid I must ask – beyond the obvious - why are you so disturbed by this happenstance?”
“I’m not,” Rachel defended weakly. “Well, no more than usual, I suppose. No more than I was about Donna for Matt, or Lorna for Jamie…”
Carl cocked an eyebrow.
And Rachel gave up the pretense. “Alright,” she said. “This is different. I know that it shouldn’t be. I know how wrong it is to feel this way. And yet, that doesn’t matter – I can’t help feeling this way.” She went on, “It’s easy for you. I bet you like the idea of never losing Elizabeth to another man. You probably find it reassuring.”
“I love my daughter,” Carl said stiffly, declining to elaborate or address Rachel’s larger point.
“Well, it’s different with me. I can’t help thinking that if only I’d been with you, I could have helped Elizabeth with some of her… confusion. She needed her mother, and I wasn’t there for her. That’s why all this is happening. I abandoned Elizabeth, and Charlie took advantage of her vulnerability.”
“I am sure she did,” Carl’s eyes darkened. “But perhaps not at all in the way that you think….”
“Hey…” Jamie’s smile at seeing her was so genuinely delighted once he looked up from the paperwork scattered around his desk that it nearly made Olivia wince. Because she knew what she was here to do. Jamie didn’t. “It’s good to see you!” He stood up to give her a hug, pulling Olivia into his office, still smiling. “How have you been?”
“Oh… kay,” she offered timidly.
“The girls really miss you,” Jamie said. “I’d love it if you could stop by the house and see them.” He hesitated, “But I understand if you aren’t up to it.”
“I miss them, too,” Olivia admitted. And then she blurted out, “I hear Lorna’s moved back in.”
“Word travels fast,” Jamie said, then nodded. “Yeah. She has.”
“The girls are okay?”
“Not really. But, we’re working on it.”
“I also hear Lorna’s gotten her memory back.”
At that, Jamie’s face paled considerably, and he hurried to shut the door behind Olivia, lest anyone overhear. “Where did you hear that?” he demanded.
“Oh, hell,” Jamie groaned. “Marley. I forgot about Marley.”
“Well, she’s running around telling everyone how she helped you get your wife back.”
“Who? Who’s everyone? Who has she told?”
Jamie sounded so desperate, Olivia tried to soften the blow. “Me. Dennis… I really don’t know about anybody else.”
“Damn it. I should have asked… But I didn’t know… I didn’t think…”
“Isn’t Lorna getting her memory back great news? Shouldn’t you be announcing it from the rooftops?”
“No,” Jamie shook his head. “We can’t. She – it’s complicated. Lorna is afraid if Carl knew she’s got her memory back, she’d be in danger. We’d all be in danger. Olivia, please promise you won’t say a word to anyone.”
“I’m pregnant, Jamie,” Olivia blurted out, tired of discussing Lorna and looking to get to the real point of her visit.
The non sequitur threw him for a visible loop. Jamie looked as if he needed a moment to regain his balance. Unfortunately, Olivia didn’t have that kind of time.
“Dennis is the father,” she said.
“I didn’t realize…”
“Yeah,” she repeated. “Except he doesn’t want anything to do with me. He’s got Marley now, and I guess the rest of us can go to hell.”
“That doesn’t sound like Dennis. I mean, last time…”
“Last time he dumped Marley to follow me. And it worked out horribly. All I ever heard the entire time Sarah was growing up was what a hideous mistake he’d made, how much happier he’d have been with Marley, and how, if she ever deigned to take him back, he would never, ever do anything to screw that up again.”
“I’m sorry, Olivia.”
“Don’t be sorry, Jamie. Help me. You owe me at least that much.”
“What can I do?”
“I want you to claim the baby is yours.”
“I told Jen maybe we should think about leaving the country,” Steven confessed to Kevin.
“Because of Amanda?”
“Because of everything. Now that Amanda knows, what’s to stop her from telling the world?”
“She promised me she wouldn’t do that.”
“Yeah. Fine. Today. What about tomorrow? What happens the next time you guys have a fight and she feels like sticking it to you? Or me? Or my dad? It’s Amanda. She’s not exactly predictable.”
“I’m sorry,” Kevin said.
“What the hell are you apologizing to me for?”
“I’m sorry I put you in this position.”
“You kept me from going to jail.”
“Or from ever being honest with your wife.”
“Yeah, well, we both did it for Jen’s sake. So, whatever. It was worth it.”
“You know, Amanda has no proof. Even if she does decide to spill our secret, there is very little she can do in the practical sense.”
“She can make the police open the case again. Take a closer look. I’m good, but I’m not that good. No one is. If the cops ever put someone who knows what they’re doing on the job of looking through my computer, they’ll find the tracks eventually. We just got lucky they were so eager to close the case the first time, they didn’t bother.”
“Is Jenny on board about you two leaving town?”
“She’s thinking about it. She doesn’t like the idea of leaving you.”
“She’ll survive it. Jenny can survive anything, as long as you’re there. You know it’s true. That’s why I went to jail for you. And that’s why you let me.”
“So, you’re… living here now?” Dennis asked cautiously, looking around Grant’s house at a time when his future son-in-law (seriously?) wasn’t at home.
“It made the most sense,” Sarah said. “I mean, Daisy already has her room all set up, and she’s comfortable here…”
“What about you? Are you… comfortable?”
“I’m great. I finally have everything I ever wanted. Grant and I, we’re going to be a family with Daisy. We’re going to give her something I never had.”
“That’s terrific,” Dennis told her, trying to be enthusiastic – or at least sound that way. “I know how important that is to you.”
“It’s the most important thing.”
“But, what about the boy you were seeing before…”
“That was nothing,” Sarah cut him off. “Nothing worth mentioning, anyway.”
“Okay,” Dennis nodded. “I get it. Listen, Sarah, there was something I needed to tell you. It’s about you and Grant – well, peripherally.”
“What is it?”
“Marley and I… Marley and I – we’re… together. Again. For good, this time.”
“You and Marley,” Sarah repeated slowly.
“Yeah.” He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. “I know how convoluted this all is, but, I figured we should be okay, right? I mean, everyone is getting what they want. Marley leaving Grant freed the two of you up to be together, so…”
“Marley didn’t leave Grant,” Sarah interrupted.
“Yes, she did. I just told you. She and I are together.”
“Yeah, that’s fine, I get that. But, Marley isn’t the one who left Grant. Grant left her. For me.”
“Okay, Sarah, maybe that’s what he told you, but…”
“It’s what she told me. She was here the other day, and she said so. Along with a lot of other garbage. But, Grant is the one who told her that it was over. That he loved me and always would. That he couldn’t live without me. He dumped Marley. That’s why she’s with you right now, Dad.”
Cass listened quietly, almost without interruption save a few points of clarification, as Frankie relayed to him first Charlie’s admission of stealing Elizabeth’s cell phone, then Charlie’s admission of how precisely she’d stolen Elizabeth’s cell phone, followed by Frankie’s confession of how she’d used that information to throw Carl off their trail – at least temporarily.
“Is that it?” He wondered once Frankie had wound down to a complete stop. “Or is there more?”
“That’s pretty much it. For now.”
“So Charlie wanted to prove to us what a help she could be to the family business by seducing our mark’s daughter?”
“That’s what she said…”
The hairs on the back of Cass’ neck stood up. So he’d been right when he’d asked the first time. There was more. “You don’t believe her?”
“I…. I believe that’s what she believes,” was the most Frankie would commit to. “It’s just so hard to know someone else’s motivation, isn’t it? I mean, it’s even hard to know your own, most of the time.”
“She said she’d not in love with Elizabeth.”
“No. She’s just using her.”
“I know. I tried to explain to her why she couldn’t live like that. But, then she brought up your past and…”
“Yeah, I figured. I’ve set a hell of an example.”
“Don’t worry. She also brought up me and Orly.”
“That was totally different! Did you tell her how that was totally different?”
“Not according to Charlie. She asserts I was just using Orly until I could get you back. And, you know, like I said before… I’m not sure if she’s completely wrong. The fact is, yes, I told Carl about Elizabeth and Charlie to distract him from cross-examining me about what I was doing with the phone – not to mention what I was doing talking to Cory. But, I also told myself I did it so that the girls’ relationship would be out in the open, and Charlie would be forced to take responsibility for it. Now that there’s no reason to keep it a secret, she’s going to have to deal with Elizabeth in a more forthright manner.”
“So in order to distract a murderous psychopath with a tendency to seek violent revenge for the most innocent of slights, you decided to tell said murderous, vengeful psychopath that our daughter was messing around with his?”
“He took it very well,” Frankie defended. “Didn’t seem at all put off about the same sex angle. Just the Charlie angle.”
“That’s what I said! Carl’s okay with his daughter dating girls, but not our girl? Excuse me?”
“You did what you had to do,” Cass said. “I understand.”
“I told myself that I outed the girls for Charlie and Elizabeth’s sake. So they could decide whether they really wanted an honest relationship or not. But, ever since then, I’ve been wondering… what if I’m lying to myself? What if the real reason I did it was to make it easier for us to keep spying on Carl? What if I’m using Elizabeth and Charlie in exactly the same way as Charlie is?”
“Thank you for being so reasonable,” Grant addressed Marley with impeccable politeness as they sat across from each other on either side of a massive mahogany conference table, their respective divorce lawyers by their sides, taking note of every word.
“I don’t want your money, Grant,” Marley sniffed.
“And I don’t want yours.”
“I don’t want spousal support, I don’t want the house, the cars… there’s only one thing I need from you.”
“And what’s that?” He asked warily. It was the first time she’d brought that caveat up.
“Daisy,” Marley said.
At first, Grant could only stare at her, dumbfounded. And then, after a beat, he burst out laughing.
Marley simply remained sitting as she was, elbows on the table, arms clasped in front of her, fingers linked, face vaguely beatific.
“You’re not serious,” he repeated between mirth-filled gasps of air.
“I am,” she confirmed.
“Are you out of your mind? I am Daisy’s biological father. Sarah is her biological mother. You have no connection or claim to her, whatsoever.”
“She loves me.”
“That’s hardly binding in court.”
“No. But your signing your parental rights over to me, is. I checked.”
Grant figured sure, why not, he’d play along. This was bound to be entertaining. “And why would I do that?”
“Well, for one thing, because you’re an old hand at it, by now. I mean, you did it with Kirkland and Jamie.”
“That,” Grant reminded darkly, the jollity of the previous moment dissipating under the black cloud of his flaring anger. “Was for your sake. Remember?”
“I do. I remember everything, Grant.”
“I gave up my son for you. No way in hell am I giving up my daughter.”
“Oh, this isn’t for me. This is 100% for you.”
“You’re out of your mind.” Grant looked to Marley’s attorney. “Is that your game here? Is the idea to prove she’s not mentally fit to sign divorce papers? Is that how you intend to prolong this?”
“I have no interest in prolonging this,” Marley assured. “I want to be rid of you as badly as you want to be rid of me. Just sign the papers transferring joint custody of Daisy from you to me, and you can walk out of this room a free man.”
“And if I don’t?”
Marley shrugged. “Sarah wants to get married as soon as possible, doesn’t she? Get started on that perfect family you’ve promised her. I hear she thinks she can make Daisy forget Mommy and Daddy were ever not together.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing.” Marley raised her hands to indicate there’d be no argument coming from her. “Nothing at all. It’s adorable. And charming. And utterly impossible – unless you do what I say.”
“I am not signing Sarah’s child away!”
“Agreed. You are signing your child away. This in no way affects Sarah.”
“Sharing custody with you in no way affects her?”
“It’s more or less what we’ve been doing up to this point, anyway. I just want to make sure Daisy’s life isn’t disrupted any more than it has to be. I want her rights protected. And mine.”
“You want to steal my child.”
“And,” Marley went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Just to prove what a good sport I am, I’m willing not to tell Sarah about this little… arrangement… of ours, until after the two of you are married. So you go ahead and get that poor teen-ager tethered to you for life, enjoy your honeymoon… then we’ll break the news to her. I mean, Grant, if she gets upset about what you did merely so that you could hurry up and divorce me in order to marry her, well then, I’m afraid you’ll need to ask yourself: Just how much does she love me, after all?” Marley smiled. “You’re not afraid to find that out… are you?”
“You want me to claim to be the father of your baby,” Jamie repeated, vaguely gesturing in the direction of Olivia’s stomach, convinced he couldn’t possibly have heard right.
“It’ll drive Dennis nuts,” Olivia confided. “It’s one thing to throw me over for Marley, but his own kid… and especially if you’re the one playing Dad… not that I would ever ask you to do that, Jamie. It would all be just for show. And, besides, Dennis will crack, I’m sure of it. Probably before the baby is even born. So you wouldn’t have to…”
Jamie said, “My mother lied about who my real father was. Vicky lied about Steven or, at least, she thought she was lying when she named me as the father. It’s not exactly an issue I take lightly.”
“I need your help,” she pleaded. “We’re friends. You said we were friends.”
“And what if Dennis doesn’t step up? How long am I supposed to continue this charade? Dennis is my friend, too. You’re asking me to deceive him, to deceive a child…”
“This is about Lorna, isn’t it?” Olivia felt ready to burst into tears. “You don’t give a damn about Dennis or me or the baby. You’re just scared of losing Lorna.”
“Lorna has nothing to do with this,” Jamie said evenly.
“That’s where you’re wrong.” The idea came to Olivia in a flash. She realized she’d be a fool not to use it. No matter how much she hated to. No matter how much she knew she might regret it. This was her only shot. And so Olivia threatened Jamie, “You agree to say you’re the father of my baby, or I tell Carl all about Lorna’s memory coming back.”
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