“No,” Jamie said.
Followed by Lorna’s “Hell, no,” in response to Olivia’s plaintive request of, “Do you think maybe I could move in here with you all for a while?”
Olivia blanched in surprise, as if the notion of being turned down had never even crossed her mind. “But…” she swept a feeble hand along her abdomen, indicating her delicate condition. Hadn’t she just fainted right here in front of them?
“If you need taking care of,” Jamie stood up, lest Olivia confuse his medical solicitation with interest of any other kind. “I can recommend several excellent professional nurses.”
“You mean hire…”
“I’ll pay for it,” he cut her off, before the issue of money reared its head again.
“But, I’d rather you took care of me,” Olivia said plaintively.
“I’m sorry,” Jamie sounded as if he sincerely meant it, too… up to a point.
“We’re not idiots,” Lorna advised. “We know what you’re up to.”
“I need help!” Olivia shot back. “I would think you’d be the first to understand. Jamie told me what a difficult pregnancy you had with Devon, how sick you were…”
“Yes. Being pregnant sucks. You won’t get an argument from me. But, like Jamie said, there are plenty of qualified nurses – “
“I don’t want a total stranger around 24/7. It would make too uncomfortable.”
“Your father is a doctor, too,” Lorna reminded. “You could stay with him.”
“I wouldn’t impose on him and Iris like that.”
“But you have no problem doing it to us?” Jamie double-checked.
“I thought we had an understanding,” Olivia said pointedly, the hint of a threat creeping out instinctively.
“Don’t push me, Olivia,” Jamie warned.
“I want ‘Livia to stay!” Devon seized on the one part of the adult’s conversation that she could understand.
“Me, too!” Zee piped up.
“No,” Jamie repeated calmly. “That can’t happen.”
“You’re mean,” Devon crossed her arms and pouted, glaring at both her parents equally.
“Very,” Lorna agreed, taking Jamie’s hand and shooting a similar look Olivia’s way.
“May I come in?” Rachel wasn’t sure how she should be addressing Cass and Frankie, as her longtime friends, or as the people who’d spent the past several months trying to prove her husband was a kidnapper.
“Of course,” Frankie seemed to be struggling under a similar dilemma.
“How are you, Rachel?” Cass offered.
Much to the Winthrops’ surprise, she replied, “I’m wonderful.” Then explained, “All the charges against Carl have been dropped by the Justice Department.”
“Oh. Yes,” Frankie said. “We… heard.”
“Really? From whom?”
“Matt and Donna stopped by.”
“Ah. Of course. I suppose I should have expected it.”
“Congratulations, Rachel,” Cass said, making it clear that his good wishes were for Rachel no longer needing to be worried about her husband, and not his agreement with the latest development.
“Thank you. It is a great relief to finally have him vindicated.”
“Does that mean you won’t be needing to leave town?”
“We’re not sure yet. The Justice Department wasn’t our only concern. There’s still Iris. She’s the one who turned over the evidence against Carl. She and Eduardo Rivera were gunning for him. That’s why their evidence has been deemed inadmissible. But, we’re afraid this might only make them more determined to bring Carl down.”
“So Carl still thinks Iris is a danger to his life?”
“Who knows, with Iris?” Rachel looked from one to the other. “But, I can assure you that Charlie is in no danger due to her… association with Elizabeth. Carl is looking out for everyone.”
“That’s… helpful,” Frankie finished weakly, every other word that sprang to mind open to a negative interpretation.
“I know what you’ve heard,” Rachel saw no reason to beat around the bush, not anymore. “Jamie blames Carl for Kirkland’s kidnapping, Lucas blames him for Lorna’s desertion, and Alice even has the gall to blame him for Spencer’s death. The way they tell it is Carl circled the wagons to protect his own, then left everyone else high and dry. But, that’s not how it happened. Spencer and Lucas were as mixed up in bringing down the compound as Carl. It was Spencer’s shoddy security that resulted in Kirkland being kidnapped and led to Spencer’s death. And it was Lucas’ being targeted also that prompted him to ask Carl to take Lorna with him when he and the children went into hiding. Carl did all he could to help, but, in the end, Spencer and Lucas were the ones who turned on him.”
“Hm,” Cass replied politely.
“My point is, you don’t need to worry about Charlie. Carl has it under control.”
Frankie tried to make a bigger point without blatantly disagreeing with Rachel. “When do we ever stop worrying about our children?”
“Well, her physical well-being as long as she’s a friend of Elizabeth’s, anyhow.” Rachel smiled to show that she understood completely. “Which actually brings me to the main point of my visit. I wanted to invite the entire Winthrop family to Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Oh,” Cass and Frankie exchanged looks, a plethora of conflicting emotions scrolling across their faces. “That’s… we…”
“We already have plans with Felicia,” Cass told the truth.
But that barely seemed to slow Rachel down. “Bring Felicia, as well. The more the merrier!”
“Well, Lorna and Jamie were coming, too….”
Rachel nodded thoughtfully. “I see.”
“We just weren’t sure whether – “
“My son can stand the sight of me, these days?”
“We know it’s a complicated situation.”
“It shouldn’t be. Jamie is choosing to make it be. Goodness, even Lorna has told him Carl is the hero here. Jamie is the one who refuses to accept what’s right in front of his face.”
“But, maybe this is just what everyone needs!” Frankie made up her mind regarding where she stood. “Maybe this is the perfect time to bring everyone together under one roof, let bygones be bygones, toast to a fresh start… like Mac always did.”
“Yes…” Rachel smiled, becoming slightly teary-eyed. “Like Mac always did.”
“We’ll talk to Felicia,” Cass offered. “If she’s on board, she can extend the invitation to Lorna and Jamie? What do you think?”
“My son knows our door is always open. It’s up to him whether he wants to come in.”
“How have you been, darling?” Donna asked her daughter, despite Marley making it clear there wasn’t a topic on earth she wished to discuss with her mother.
“Well,” Marley indicated the two-bedroom apartment she now shared with Bridget and Michele. “As you can see, I’ve gone a bit down in the world. It would have been nice to have my childhood home to return to – the girls’ childhood home. But, you gave it away in an act of penance against your most recent sins, so…”
“I’m sorry that you’re unhappy, Marley. But, I am not sorry either about signing over the mansion to Lori Ann, or about you finally moving out of Grant’s house.”
“I’ve traded up,” Marley announced. “Dennis and I are back together.”
“Oh! That’s… I didn’t realize….”
“That there might be a man out there who cherishes and loves me unconditionally?”
“That Dennis was what you wanted.”
“Dennis is what I should have had over twenty years ago. Olivia and Sarah ruined it all then. Not this time.”
“How does Sarah feel about…” Donna felt uncharacteristically strapped for words. “It must be terribly awkward, with her and Grant and…”
“I don’t care how she feels.”
“Fair enough. How do you feel about it?”
“Fantastic. I finally have everything I’ve ever wanted. Dennis, Michele and Bridget, and I even got joint custody of Daisy in the divorce.”
Donna gasped, “How in the world did you manage to – “
“Let’s just say I got in touch with my inner Vicky. That and asking: What Would Donna Do?”
“You almost make it sound like a compliment.”
“Oh, it is. You’ll be happy to know that my years of watching you cut a broad swath of destruction through anyone and everyone who got in your away haven’t gone to waste. I finally know how to take care of myself so that no one ever needs to utter the words Poor Marley, again. Save your sympathy for the people who piss me off.”
“No one who upsets my daughter would ever inspire my sympathy. Only my wrath.”
“Right. Because upsetting me – that’s your job.”
“I love you, Marley,” Donna said simply, choosing to avoid the fight Marley was trying so hard to drag her into.
Which, frankly, wasn’t any fun for Marley. “Did you want something, Donna?”
“I did,” Donna said brightly, as if the question had not been posed in a fed up tone. “I wanted to invite you and our girls… and now Dennis, I suppose, too, to the Corys’ for Thanksgiving.”
“You’re going to be breaking bread with Carl when everyone knows you’d prefer to be jabbing a carving knife into his throat?”
“Carl happens to be feeling particularly magnanimous towards me at the moment.”
“That doesn’t mean you feel the same way about him.”
“It’s the holidays,” Donna cooed. “Anyone can lay down their arms and call a truce for a few hours. Anyone,” she told her daughter, pointedly.
“Sorry,” Marley said. “Dennis and I already have plans. We’re going to Iris and Russ’.”
“Iris and Russ? But won’t Sarah and Grant be….”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Marley grinned.
“So how many pumpkins do you think we’re going to need….” Allie was in the process of asking as she came into the alcove Zeno used as an office.
Only to catch him hurriedly sneaking a piece of paper he’d been reading back between a pile of books.
“What’s that?” she wondered.
“Nothing,” he told her, looking Allie directly in the eye to insure she believed him.
She didn’t believe him. But, she also knew better than to pry. Instead, Allie pretended to accept his explanation at face-value and finished her question, “How many pumpkins do you want to set aside for the pies.”
“Depends on how many people are coming for Thanksgiving. You know,” Zeno said. “You don’t have to.”
“I’m not invited?”
“I meant, if you’d prefer to be with your family….”
“What family? My mom isn’t even having Thanksgiving with my grandmother. She’s going to Kevin’s grandmother’s place, instead. If she can be a no-show, so can I.”
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to miss it because of me,” Zeno persisted.
“Do you have any idea what the politics are like at a typical Cory family Thanksgiving? It varies year to year but, as a rule, someone is actively plotting to ruin somebody, someone else is passively plotting to ruin somebody, everybody hates at least one other person at the table – and I mean really hates – like, killing hates; and there is usually at least one huge secret that everybody knows about, but they don’t know who else knows and so they act like they don’t know – until it explodes in their faces.”
“Sounds fun,” Zeno said.
“It is,” she admitted. “As long as you’re a spectator and not in the line of fire.”
“So…. You can still go.”
“No,” Allie insisted. “This is where I live now. This is where I want to celebrate Thanksgiving.” Her eyes slid over to where Zeno had stashed the letter he so obviously didn’t want her to see. “There’s plenty of excitement going on right here.”
“Carl wants us to come over for Thanksgiving?” Jamie double-checked.
“Well, technically, it’s your mother who invited Frankie and Cass, who invited my mother, who is inviting us,” Lorna clarified.
“Why would my mother invite…”
“Elizabeth and Charlie,” Lorna said.
“Ah.” Jamie thought about it, then couldn’t help chuckling. “Poor Charlie. If Mom is as tough on the girls in her daughter’s life as she was on her sons’…”
Lorna smiled wistfully. “I almost miss those days. When your mother and mine thinking we were ridiculously mismatched was our biggest problem.”
“And I miss the days when I merely disliked Carl, rather than being afraid of him.”
“Rachel really believes that the worst is behind us. She thinks now that Carl has been cleared, there’s no more reason for you to distrust him… or her.”
“Except for the part where she was either a party to my wife’s kidnapping, or is covering up for it after the fact.”
“As far as Carl and Rachel are concerned, I support their story. Carl took me for my own good. He saved my life, and the reason Rachel couldn’t tell you about it was in order to save yours and the kids’. I kind of think we have to show up for Thanksgiving. Keep the cover story going, you know?”
“Carl must believe he’s gotten away with it,” Jamie sighed. “Again. Just like he got away with what he did to Mac and to Mom and to Frankie and to Spencer and to you.”
“No,” Lorna swore. “He’ll pay. We’ll make him pay. We just have to be smart about it. Bide our time, play nicely. I won’t let him get away with it, Jamie. I promise you. I swear it.”
“This is ridiculous!” Iris huffed, reading over the letter Rachel personally delivered – the better to catch every second of Iris’ shock and frustration.
“Feel free to call any of your friends in the Justice Department. They’ll confirm. The charges against Carl have been dropped. And all because of you.”
“Every piece of information I gave them was true!”
“But, for some reason, getting it from the woman who already served time for trying to kill Carl – “
“A damned accident, and you know it!”
“Made them a little gun-shy – if you’ll excuse the pun – about using it in court. Add to that the fact that the agent on the case had his own agenda – “
“That idiot, Eduardo!” Iris shook her head in frustration. “I told him to keep his mouth shut.“
“And it all smelled just a little too fishy.”
“But, they verified my evidence with their own independent sources!”
Rachel shrugged innocently. “What can I tell you?”
“You can tell me that you’ve finally opened your eyes about the criminal you married. Fine. So the Justice Department isn’t pressing charges. But, that in no way changes the fact that your husband has been lying and breaking the law for almost two decades since his alleged, miraculous conversion at your hands. All those protests by the ninety-nine percent last year. Who exactly do you think is responsible for the state of the economy but men like Carl, the ones who conspire their illicit transactions behind closed doors and rob everyone else of what’s rightfully ours?”
“You are hardly one to cast stones. You think I don’t realize that your up-to-the-minute passion for justice has nothing to do with your concern for that ninety-nine percent whom Carl supposedly swindled? It’s not even about Carl. It’s about Cory Publishing and your scheme to bankrupt me in order to get to it.”
“The money that Carl invested to keep Cory Publishing afloat came from illegal sources and out of the needy’s pockets; don’t you dare kid yourself about that.”
“You let me worry about where the money to support Cory Publishing came from. You worry about where it’s going. Or, rather, where it isn’t going. Your insider trading scam with Hamilton – “
“You’ve been trying to prove that one for years. You know it’s not true.”
“Maybe not on his part; I’ll agree to that much. But you deliberately dug up information on my husband so that you could drive him out of the country, have his assets seized and Cory Publishing nearly bankrupt until you triumphantly swept in and bought the majority of our subsequently dropping stock. That’s fraud.”
“That’s business. If you understood that, Rachel – if you understood that doing what’s best for the company Daddy left you was more important than appeasing that monster you embraced in his place, Cory Publishing would never have been in any sort of danger. Not from me, not from anyone.”
“The charges being dropped means Carl got his money back. We’re solvent again. And I am happy to offer you fair market prices for all of your shares in Cory Publishing.”
Iris may have been too well bred to snort. But, the sound that escaped her lips (and nose) sure sounded like one. “You’re out of your mind. Why would I – “
“Because, otherwise, I will go after you with everything I’ve got. I will prove that what you did to Carl was not only immoral, but illegal. I will have you prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And you are way, way too close to Three Strikes You’re Out to want to experience what that means.”
“You’re bluffing,” Iris said, even if her voice did waver a bit as she said it.
“Are you willing to risk it? Jeopardize your fledgling domestic bliss with Russ all for a bloody battle you’re still likely to lose?” Rachel cajoled, “Turn over your stock, Iris. Every last share of it. Walk away from Cory, and our last remaining connection will be permanently severed. You need never worry about me coming between you and Russ – or you and anyone. Do this one thing, and you and I are finally done for good.”
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