“Carl has been telling the truth all along,” Matt repeated for perhaps the tenth time since he and Donna received their information, each incarnation coming out more and more gloomily. “Iris really did set him up.”
“As far as I can tell,” Donna leafed through the print-outs Laurent had given them – all the while begging the Corys not to rat him out to Carl – and searched for a silver lining. “Iris may have gone digging for evidence of Carl’s crimes, but she did not make them up out of thin air. Carl really had been defrauding the United States government, violating the terms of his pardon, and playing fast and loose with the world’s financial markets until everything collapsed in a fantastic heap.”
“I don’t think you can pin the entire worldwide recession on Carl,” Matt observed.
“He didn’t help, I assure you.”
“The point is, we all thought Carl was paranoid – “
“Really? I thought he was flat out lying.”
“But someone really was out to get him. Iris sicced Hamilton and the Justice Department on his case so that she could get Cory Publishing back.”
“Not that it worked. Truly, is there nothing that woman can do correctly?”
“It drove Carl out of the country. It forced him to take Cory and Elizabeth and Lorna.”
“There is nothing in these documents to indicate that Iris was ever a threat to your family’s lives.”
“But, if Carl was telling the truth about her setting them up, doesn’t it stand to reason that he’s telling the truth about the rest of it?”
“Not at all,” Donna dismissed easily. “I know that I, personally, often infuse my lies with just enough truth to make them seem authentic.” From the look on Matt’s face, Donna instantly back-tracked. “I mean, that’s what I have done… in the past.”
“But, Mom was in on it. Mom believed Iris was enough of a threat to all of them to let Carl take Lorna – and not tell Jamie about it. Mom knows Iris better than anyone. And these records prove she and Carl were right.”
“Lack of guilt hardly proves innocence, Matthew.”
“But reasonable doubt does suggest we may have been too hard on them. Mom and Carl had their reasons to do what they did. We should have listened.”
“If it were me Carl absconded with rather than Lorna – “
“I would have been grateful,” Matt insisted. “Keeping my wife safe is the most important thing in the world. What I suffered as a result wouldn’t have mattered.”
“So you believe Jamie is wrong to be angry with your mother?”
Matt ducked the question. “Jamie needs to see this. So does Mom. And so does Carl. Ever since he came back, he’s been looking for proof that Iris was behind everything. Mom says the materials he turned over to the authorities were ignored because they came from Carl and couldn’t be independently verified. These can be. What we’ve got here could get the Feds off Carl’s back once and for all.”
“And this is something we… want?” Donna probed tenuously.
“I don’t know,” Matt admitted.
“I do,” Donna said. “That man has yet to come close to paying for even a fraction of the damage he’s done through the years. Just because your mother has chosen to ignore all that, does not mean the rest of us have. What harm can there be, Matthew, in letting him continue to twist in the wind? If Carl truly is innocent, that truth will come out sooner or later. Why should we be the bearers of horrible tiding?”
“Because this might help reconcile my family. If Jamie and Amanda see that Carl and Mom really were acting in our best interests, maybe we can start repairing all the wounds that have opened up over the past few years.”
“Carl was still responsible for Kirkland’s kidnapping,” Donna insisted staunchly. “My grandson could have been killed, and Carl didn’t raise a finger to help.”
“I’m not saying he’s a saint,” Matt agreed. “But, if there’s anything I can do to resolve things between my mother and my brother and sister, aren’t I obliged to at least try?”
Poking her head in through the doorway to Chase’s office, Marley noticed Grant and Sarah, still in their casual but unmistakable wedding attire. She looked right past them to ask the mayor, “I’m sorry, I seem to be lost.” She stretched forward a document, making certain it could be seen by everyone in the room. “Where exactly should I go to file this custodial form?”
“Not here,” Grant seethed through clenched teeth. It took every ounce of self-control for him to keep from snatching the papers out of Marley’s hands. But, he realized that would only serve to draw more of Sarah’s attention towards them.
“You’re in the wrong part of the building,” Chase began. “But, even if you weren’t, it’s too late to file any papers now.” He indicated the clock. “Everyone goes home at five. Government work, you know?”
“What is that?” Sarah asked slowly, trying not to jump to conclusions, trying to convince herself that there had to be an explanation for what she was seeing. Beyond the obvious.
“Oh,” Marley smiled, as if she’d just been waiting for Grant’s child bride to ask. “This is the document Grant signed giving me joint custody of Daisy.”
Sarah recoiled as if slapped, seemingly shocked speechless, and forcing Grant to jump in and attempt to explain. “I had no choice – “
“That’s right, he didn’t.” Marley’s tone suggested she was only trying to be helpful. “I told him either sign the papers, or no quickie divorce. And he was so eager to mark his territory where you were concerned – “
“You signed Daisy over to her?” Sarah turned to Grant, more horrified than accusatory.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Grant insisted. “We’re still Daisy’s biological parents. No one will be able to take her away from us.”
“Then what does that mean?” Sarah indicated Marley’s document.
“It means… it means Marley will be able to visit, that’s all. We never meant to stop that, did we? Daisy is… attached to her. It wouldn’t be in her best interests to cut contact off completely.”
“Actually,” Marley held up a finger. “It means a little more than that.” She beckoned Chase over. “You’re an attorney. A real one, unlike Grant. Take a look. And explain to the new Mr. and Mrs. Harrison here, just what precisely it means, would you, please?”
“I’d rather not get involved,” Chase declined stiffly.
“Oh, come on, now. You’re a public servant, aren’t you? We’re your public!”
“Please,” Sarah turned to the Mayor of Bay City. “Could you take a quick look?”
Chase sighed, visibly unhappy to have been dragged into this family drama, yet, nonetheless, crossed over from his desk to pluck the papers from Marley’s hands and skim them quickly.
“This looks,” he clicked his tongue against his front teeth. “Like a second parent adoption.”
“Adoption!” Sarah exclaimed, while Grant looked furiously at Marley.
His ex-wife clarified, addressing Chase, “Isn’t that what you and your partner did? So that you’d both have equal standing where your children were concerned?”
“Our situation is different. Doug and I are together. We are both our children’s legal parents.”
“Well, Grant and I were Daisy’s parents all the years we were married. All I’m trying to do is protect my stepdaughter’s rights.”
“You were never Daisy’s mother,” Grant hissed.
“Really? What about while Sarah was off gallivanting in Canada? She left Daisy to us. I was your daughter’s mother in every sense of the word.”
“I came back,” Sarah said. She grabbed the documents out of Chase’s hands and flung them at Marley. “And I never signed anything.”
“Of course, you didn’t. You are still Daisy’s mother, and you always will be.”
“Just like Grant will always be her father.”
“Biologically,” Marley shrugged, as if that were the least important piece of the equation. “But, we all know how that’s worked out for him in the past.” She looked around, despite there obviously not being anyone else in the room. “Where is Kirkland, anyway? I wanted to say hello. After all, if I hadn’t been through all of this already, when you and Jamie were playing tug-of-war over my nephew, I would have never known about all the wonderful legal loop-holes available to people like me.”
“They haven’t yet coined a name for people like you,” Grant snapped.
“In any case,” Marley continued addressing Sarah. “You should be honored. Grant was so eager to marry you as soon as possible that he was willing to sign away that precious baby you so generously had for him. You know, the one that was going to make up his discarding Kirkland.”
“For you!” Grant all but screamed. “I signed away my son, for you!”
“And now you’ve signed away your daughter, for her. You’re quite the man, Grant.”
He pleaded with Sarah, “It was purely ceremonial. She can’t take Daisy away from us. I did it so she’d sign the divorce papers. So we could get married the way you wanted – as soon as possible. I did it for you and for Daisy. Tell me you understand that, Sarah.”
The next morning, Steven was at Cass and Frankie’s door bright and early, having run every diagnostic possible before he could confidently assert, “The call my grandmother played on TV didn’t come in on the day she said it did. That original call was erased – I found traces of it – and this second, fake one inserted in its place, to make it seem like the original had been doctored.”
Cass shook his head, trying to keep track of it all. “So a fake call replaced the original call to make the original appear fake?”
“Yeah,” Steven said, realizing how ridiculous that sounded.
“Why?” Frankie demanded. “What was the point of going to so much trouble?”
“Well, if I remember right, Chase originally used the call as evidence that Grandma was hiding Carl, Cory, Elizabeth and Lorna’s whereabouts. But then Grandma had me prove that the call had been tampered with, so she could accuse Chase of planting it in order to make her look bad. And I fell for it,” he sighed.
“So Rachel had the original call replaced?”
“I don’t think so. It looks like that was done remotely. From one of Carl’s IP addresses.”
“But, Rachel was in on it?”
“If she was,” Cass said. “Why didn’t Rachel just erase the call, so no one would be the wiser?”
“She could erase it on her phone,” Steven said. “But not on Chase’s wire-tap. I think that recording might still have the original call.”
“So Cory did contact her,” Frankie tried to keep all the threads from turning into a holy mess.
“Why wouldn’t he, if Grandma knew all along where they were, like she claims?”
“Because,” Frankie said. “If Rachel was in contact with Carl and the twins through some other means, why would he risk calling her on a line that might be tapped?”
“They didn’t know it was tapped,” Cass said.
“Then why change the recording?,” Steven and Frankie answered in near-unison.
“Why can’t anything ever be easy?” Cass lamented.
“Because you’re dealing with my family,” Steven said.
“Hey,” Dennis attempted to sound casual as he popped into Jamie’s office.
“Hey…” Jamie’s response leaned more towards the wary side.
“Got a minute?”
“Sure. Come in,” Jamie said. “Close the door.”
“I… uh… I hear you and Lorna are back together. That’s… great.”
“Marley told me,” Dennis explained. “She said she helped you jog her memory.”
“Yes. I’m very grateful to her. I also asked her to keep that last bit of information to herself.”
“Oh, my lips are sealed. Totally. I don’t want to cause you guys any problems.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Olivia…” He floundered in asking directly and ended up taking a roundabout route. “Olivia told me… the two of you… she says you guys are having a baby together.”
Jamie nodded, seemingly confirming that yes, he believed Olivia had told Dennis that; no more, no less.
“So you… are?”
“Olivia told me she’s pregnant.”
“And the baby is yours?”
“I’m not sure how that concerns you.”
“She’s Sarah’s mother.”
“This doesn’t concern Sarah, either.”
“I just… I needed to know… See, Olivia… Olivia told me the baby was mine.”
“Oh,” was all Jamie saw fit to reply to that.
“So she’s got to be lying to one of us.”
“Could the baby be yours?” Jamie asked.
“Well, technically… yes.”
Another inflection-less, “Oh.”
“It was only one time,” Dennis stressed. “After Lorna came back and I guess you’d told Olivia there was no chance for the two of you. She came to see me. She was upset. She wanted to know what was so wrong with her that she was every man’s last choice. I tried to tell her that wasn’t true and….” He shook his head, trying to suppress the memory. “Marley doesn’t know.”
“About the baby?”
“No, she knows about the baby. Olivia said you were the father. Marley believed her.”
“She’s got no reason not to.”
“You’re not going to tell her, are you, Jamie?”
“Remember how Olivia and I were none of your business? You and Marley are none of mine.”
“The two of you were tight… once.”
“That was before,” Jamie said.
“I know she’s changed,” Dennis admitted. “I see it, too. I know she’s had problems… mental health problems. I tried mentioning that maybe she’s having another breakdown or… She gets really mad whenever I say that. She wants to know how come people think she’s acting normal when she allows herself to be treated like a doormat but, whenever she starts to stand up for herself, to go after what she wants, to quit being a victim, they accuse her of losing her mind? She says Vicky and Donna and Lorna and Olivia got to go around not caring who they hurt as long as they got their own way. But, as soon as she does the same thing, we all want to have her committed.”
“Like I said, Marley is no longer my concern.”
“Olivia has got to be lying to one of us,” Dennis repeated, a bit more strenuously this time. “The baby can’t be both of ours. And it makes much more sense for it to be yours than mine. I mean, how long were you two guys together? Close to three years, right? She and I… it was only the one time.”
Jamie had nothing to say to that.
So Dennis went on, “Except, here’s the confusing part… Olivia, when she told me about the baby, she first said that it couldn’t be yours. Because you guys never actually slept together. She’s lying, right, Jamie? She’s lying. It’s ridiculous. Everyone knows you guys were dating. I know you don’t exactly want to broadcast it now that Lorna is back, but Olivia is just messing with me, right?”
“Olivia says I’m the father. She told Lorna as much, too.”
“Aw, hell, Jamie, that must have been brutal.”
“We’re handling it.”
“I know what you’re going through. I mean, Marley and I… remember? I didn’t know I was Sarah’s dad. Olivia first claimed it was Sam, and then she was going to give her up for adoption…. It ruined everything for Marley and me.”
“I was there,” Jamie reminded. “Marley and I were going to adopt Sarah. Before I knew she was yours.”
“Olivia is some piece of work, isn’t she? I can’t believe it’s, like, a quarter of a century later, and she’s still pulling the same scam, playing two guys against each other. Marley is right, how come we never think Olivia is nuts? It sure would explain a lot.”
“I’m not going to tell Marley about you and Olivia,” Jamie said, figuring what was good for the goose, he might as well take advantage of himself to keep his family safe. “If you don’t breathe a word about Lorna getting her memory back.”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Dennis swore. “Never. You can count on me, Jamie. I’d never rat you guys out.”
“Good,” Jamie said.
“Fancy running into you, here,” Morgan observed, all but blocking Lila’s way so she had no chance to escape down the City Hall corridor.
“I work here,” Lila reminded. “You’re the one who’s out of place.”
“Had some paperwork to take care of,” he waved feebly in a non-specified direction.
“I won’t keep you.” Lila attempted to walk around him.
Morgan blocked her way.
“What?” She planted a hand on her hip, looking up at him, exasperated.
“How have you been, Lila?”
“Yes.” Her eyes narrowed. “What’s it to you?”
“Look,” he told her honestly. “I was never particularly happy about the way things ended between us.”
“What things? What ended? What between us?”
“We were family for a long time.”
“When you deigned to pop yourself around, sure.”
“I’m not too thrilled about that, either. You’re right, I was never really there when you and Cass were together, and then when you two split up…”
“We went back to being strangers which, truthfully, Morgan, I’m fine with.”
“I’m sorry, anyway.”
“Apology accepted.” She waited expectantly for him to move on. He didn’t move on. “What?”
“I’d like to make it up to you.”
“Make what up to me?”
“The whole being strangers thing. We could change that.”
“Why would we want to?”
“Because,” he ducked his eyes, only to raise them again at just the right moment. “I’ve always found you… attractive, Lila.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Yes. There wasn’t much I could do about it when you and Cass were still married.”
“We haven’t been married since Jasmine was in middle school. She’s looking at colleges now.”
“You struck me as the kind of lady who likes to take things slow.”
“There’s slow, and there’s glacial.”
“I wanted to make sure an appropriate amount of time had passed before I – “
“Before you what?”
“Before I… asked you out.”
Lila snorted derisively.
“Was that a yes?”
“That was a: What the hell, Morgan?”
“Been a while?” he asked sympathetically.
“Not so long that I’ve lost my sense of smell.”
“This stinks to high-heaven.”
“It shouldn’t. I showered this morning and everything.”
“What are you up to?” Lila demanded.
He offered her his most irresistible grin. “Go out with me and find out.”
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