“Fancy running into you, here,” Olivia drawled Dennis’ way, making sure to keep her voice down so they couldn’t be overheard.
“I’m here for Sarah,” he reminded curtly, sitting in the front row of the church, watching his daughter dully greet the mourners arriving for her husband’s memorial service.
“Like you gave a damn about Grant.”
“I’m here for our daughter,” Dennis reiterated, wondering which part of his explanation Olivia was missing.
“And is Marley here, too?” Olivia looked around the sparsely filled room. If Dennis’s fiancée was here, she shouldn’t be too hard to find.
“She’s on her way. She’s picking up Michele and Bridget from school. They… actually liked Grant, I gather.”
“Well, he did have quite the way with teen-agers. Like Sarah.” Olivia and Dennis exchanged a quick look of surprised understanding about their daughter ending up with a man older than both her parents. Olivia then promptly added, “It’s going to be pretty awkward, isn’t it? I mean, Marley and Sarah in the same place…”
“Amanda is here, too.” Dennis indicated his aunt.
“Wow,” Olivia mouthed. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I didn’t make up the guest list.”
“Obviously. Who else but you could be so oblivious to the threat of having Marley in the same room with Sarah… and me.”
“What threat?” Dennis rolled his eyes. “What threat could Marley possibly be to either you or Sarah?”
Olivia gingerly touched the bandage still affixed to the side of Dennis’ head. “How did that happen?” she asked innocently.
“Cut myself shaving,” he mumbled.
“Hairy foreheads are the worst,” Olivia intoned solemnly.
“Oh, shut up, would you? Obviously you know what happened, or you wouldn’t be asking. Who told you? Iris?”
“She’s very worried about you.”
“You mean because I’ve finally started thinking for myself, instead of jumping every time she says the word?”
“Because the woman you intend to marry tried to kill you. In fact, she called your mother and claimed she already had.”
“That was just to put the fear of God into her. Mom deserved it.”
“If I’d ever pulled something similar with you about Sarah…”
“No. All you did was drag a kid halfway around the world, then accuse me of being a deadbeat dad because I wouldn’t drop everything and follow you.”
“At least nothing I ever did to you required stitches.” Olivia abruptly changed her tone to plead, “Promise you’ll be careful, Dennis. Promise you’ll keep an eye on Marley.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She got so angry, she almost killed you.”
“It was an accident! And I’m fine!”
“This time….” Olivia warned ominously. “Who knows what might happen the next?”
“Jamie? It’s Matt. I…” His brother’s voice over the phone sounded unsure about what to say next. Or how to best say it. “It’s Mom. She – She’s been arrested.”
Jamie didn’t say anything in response. Instead, he merely reached out for a kitchen chair, pulled it closer, and sat down slowly. There had to be more to this story. And he was about to hear it. Whether he wanted to or not.
“She and Carl went down to the police station so he could turn himself in and save Cory, like Hamilton offered.”
“But…” Jamie prompted, unable to imagine a version of this scenario that didn’t include a but.
“But… Carl suffered some kind of seizure. An ambulance came and took him to the hospital. Alice was the admitting physical, Mom said. Maybe you could call and find out how he’s doing?”
Jamie dismissed the request to pose the more important question, “What does this have to do with Mom being arrested?”
“Hamilton thought it was some kind of set up, so that Carl could escape.”
“I wonder what in the world could have given him that idea?”
“Well, the house was being watched, so he couldn’t escape from there. And I guess his tails followed him to the police station, which means they weren’t watching Cory, and then – It doesn’t matter. The point is, Hamilton thinks it was an escape attempt, that Mom was in on it, and he’s arrested her for aiding and abetting, and conspiracy and basically anything else he could think of. She called me for help.”
“You,” Jamie repeated.
“Yeah… I was kind of surprised. I mean, I’m not usually her go-to guy. That’s always been…”
“I know,” Jamie said.
“I thought you’d want to be kept in the loop, though.”
“I… Yeah. I guess….”
“I’m headed down to the police station right now. See if I can get her bailed out.”
“Does that really sound likely? I mean, if she and Carl are considered a flight risk…”
“He’s in the hospital. Where is he going to go?”
“It’s Carl,” Jamie reminded. “I’ll give Alice a call, see what I can find out.”
“Thanks. I know Mom is really worried about him. She said Chase deliberately kept the ambulance from arriving on time.”
“He did?” Jamie asked, surprised. “He’s usually so by the book. That could be considered a criminal offense.”
“Believe me, Mom’s mentioned it. Several times.”
“He must have had a reason.”
“Mom said he wanted Carl dead.”
“No,” Jamie said. “What Hamilton wants is Carl behind bars. He wants it very, very much. Carl dead wouldn’t make him happy, at all. I – I’ll follow up with Alice.”
“Thanks. And Jamie… if you want to come to the station with me…”
“Carl kidnapped my wife,” Jamie said coldly. “Mom is helping him to get away with it. You let me know when that changes.”
“My condolences,” Amanda approached Lila at Grant’s memorial service, ignoring Morgan, who hadn’t left her side since they’d come in. “I think you may well be the only person in attendance who genuinely liked the deceased.”
“There’s his wife, over there,” Lila indicated Sarah, standing next to Kirkland at the door.
“Oh,” Amanda dismissed. “Sarah loved him. Hell, I loved him once. So did Marley. So did Sharlene. I said you were the only one who liked him.”
“I did,” Lila offered defiantly.
“You have interesting taste.” Now Amanda did actually look Morgan’s way.
He smiled neutrally in return.
“You know,” Amanda told him. “You can stop it now.”
“Smiling?” he wondered, even as his did just that. His expression darkened in fear of what might come out of Amanda’s mouth next.
“Morgan is so sweet, isn’t he?” Amanda asked Lila.
“He has his moments,” Lila said, suspiciously.
“Such a good friend to me. Just like you and Grant, I’m guessing.”
“I know you and Morgan were… friends,” Lila’s tone made it clear she also knew the benefits plan they were on. And that she didn’t give a damn.
“Yes. And friends do favors for each other.”
“Amanda….” Morgan warned, taking a step forward, wondering how inappropriate it would be for him to bodily toss her from the church.
She ignored him. “For instance, Morgan, good friend that he was, knew how important my marriage to Kevin was.”
“I know it, too,” Lila said. Again, the sarcasm hung hot and heavy.
“That’s why, when I was worried that you and Kevin were having an affair, Morgan agreed to help me find out.”
“Shut up, Amanda!” He grabbed her by the elbow, flushing scarlet.
Lila, for her part, remained perfectly composed. “Did he, now?”
“He did. I’m sure you two have talked about it, at length. After all, what other reason would he have for spending so much time with you?”
“You might want to ask your husband about that,” Lila’s saccharine tone matched Amanda’s.
“He won’t be my husband for much longer,” Amanda advised. “We’re splitting up. So he’s all yours, Lila! Lucky you!”
“Thank you for the update. I do have such a hard time keeping up with your affairs sans a scorecard.”
“Oh, Lila, I’m sure your homerun average far exceeds mine.”
“Give Kevin my best,” Lila turned to leave. “Tell him I couldn’t be happier for him.”
“Don’t you want to tell him yourself?”
“No,” Lila linked her arm through Morgan’s, who couldn’t believe how easily this had gone. Or that it was anything near over. Lila was being too calm. And Amanda… Morgan knew Amanda well enough by now to realize that she was just getting started…
They both stood awkwardly on the mansion’s doorstep until she cautiously ventured, “Can I come in?”
“Sure.” He stepped aside to let her pass through the foyer. “I didn’t think you’d ever want to, again, though.”
“There’s only one person in this house I never want to see again. And you’re more important to me than he is.”
“What about Mom? I can’t imagine she’s on your favorite person list, either.”
“No. She’s not. But she’s Jamie’s mother. And she’s Devon and Zee’s grandmother. And if any of them want to have a relationship with her at some point down the road, I plan to suck it up and deal. Besides, I know what it’s like to be so completely under Carl’s spell that you’d defend him to anyone and everything. I don’t blame Rachel. I’ve been there myself.”
“Well, she isn’t here, anyway. She and Father went down to the police station earlier.”
Lorna’s eyes narrowed. “Carl is taking Chase’s deal?”
Cory shrugged. “That’s what he said.”
“I’m glad. For your sake.”
“I knew what I was doing when I shot him.”
“I believe you, Cory. But, maybe, Rachel wasn’t completely wrong when she said that how I treated you – “
“I knew what I was doing then, too,” he said without a trace of self-pity. “I knew you didn’t love me. I knew you were using me to get back to Jamie and your kids. I didn’t care. Because I – I loved you. And I wanted you to be happy. And that meant getting you back home.”
“You know,” Lorna said, struggling not to cry, suspecting it would only embarrass Cory. “I used to think your brother was the best man I’d ever known. But you sure are giving him a run for his money.”
“I owe you, Lorna. After everything my family did to you – “
“No.” She held up a hand to stop him. “Not your family. Your father. You are not responsible for what Carl’s done.”
“I keep thinking, maybe if I’d put up more of a fuss about going away with him in the first place. Maybe I could have stopped him then. That’s why I tried to stop him now.”
“I didn’t come over here to talk about Carl,” Lorna said. “I came over to talk to you. To thank you. To apologize. To tell you that I know I owe you everything. And that I will never, ever forget it.”
“Are you going to testify against Father?”
“That’s the plan.” Lorna hesitated. “You know, if I were his defense attorney, I’d definitely use what happened between you and I to shred my credibility. The press is bound to get wind of it.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care who knows what or who writes what. As long as we can put Father away for good. He hurts people, Lorna. And no one has been able to stop him. I’m his son. It’s up to me now.” Cory ventured, “You know, Father is always talking about how I remind him of Ryan. I think it’s kind of funny, he barely knew him. I bed the Ryan Father remembers is his idea of Ryan. No real man can be the paragon Father talks about. But, he also has this idea that, when I was born, I got Ryan’s soul.”
“How did you feel about Vicky Hudson?” Lorna wondered.
Cory grinned. “Yeah, I know it’s stupid. But, Father swears by it. So I’ve been thinking a lot about Ryan lately, too. What would he have done? And I keep coming back to the idea that, if he really was the man Father believes him to be, then he – Ryan – he would agree with me. He’d want Father stopped, too.”
“Sarah,” Marley said softly. The younger woman looked so fragile, Marley was afraid even raising her voice might shatter her.
“Hi, Midget,” Sarah smiled weakly from Bridget to Michele, hugging first one, then the other, in turn. “It was nice of you to come.”
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Bridget parroted dutifully, if somewhat sincerely.
“Yeah,” Michele added. “Sorry.”
“Thank you.” Sarah brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. “Hello, Marley.”
“How are you holding up?” Marley wondered.
“I’m… holding up.”
“What about Daisy?”
“She’s okay,” Marley indicated her daughter, sitting on Kirkland’s lap, playing something very engrossing on her big brother’s cell phone. “You should go over and say hi. She’s been looking forward to seeing you.”
“Girls,” Marley instructed Michele and Bridget. “Why don’t you say hello to Kirkland and Daisy?”
“Subtle, Aunt Marley,” Michele observed, nevertheless doing as she was told, taking Bridget along with her.
“She’s such a handful, these days,” Marley sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering who her parents were. Adolescence wasn’t exactly Vicky and Jake’s finest hour, I gather…” Marley shook her head, realizing she was getting off track, and this wasn’t at all what she’d wanted to say to Sarah.
The younger women stood silently, looking at Marley, somewhat confused about what it was she did want to tell her.
“He loved you,” Marley abruptly changed the subject, prompting Sarah’s head to all but bounce back, as if struck; a dramatic contrast to her earlier stillness. “Grant loved you more than any other woman in his life. I know. Because he didn’t love me as much. Not even close. Not me, not Amanda, not Lorna, not Sharlene – no, not even Vicky. Grant wanted to possess my sister. He wanted to control her. To own her. But you… all he wanted to do was love you to the very best of his ability. Every time he pushed you away – and I know how much it hurt you. It hurt him even more. Until finally, he couldn’t do it again. Loving you not only overcame his worst impulses, but his best ones, too. He loved you in spite of himself. He loved you more than himself. And that was something none of us who’d ever experienced his “love,” would have ever thought possible. He never thought it possible, either. You took him by surprise, Sarah. You made him happy. Whatever else you might think about Grant through the years, never forget that.”
Sarah blinked, stunned and overwhelmed. “Why – why are you telling me this?”
“Because you deserve to know. Because, if I were in your shoes right now, I’d be beating myself up over what I should have done or what I could have done. And Grant wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have wanted you to understand that you were more than he ever dreamed he was worthy of. You didn’t know him as long as pretty much everyone else in this room did. So you have no idea the kind of miracle you worked on him. You made Grant Harrison a better person. And for that, we all owe you.”
“Thank you, Marley,” Sarah chocked out.
“You’re welcome,” Marley hugged the girl who was once supposed to be her daughter while, from across, the room, Dennis beamed.
And Olivia fumed.
Cory was opening the front door, seeing Lorna out, when he caught sight of the two uniformed policemen striding up the walk.
He and Lorna exchanged nervous looks, each one guessing what it could mean.
“Cory Hutchins,” the first officer said, bringing out his handcuffs. “You are under arrest for the attempted murder of Carl Hutchins.”
Grant stood at the back of the church, surprised he’d even gotten that much of a turn out but, nonetheless, noting who hadn’t bothered to attend, either.
He’d kind of hoped Sharlene might pop by – for old time’s sake. After all, she’d been the one to initially blow him off in their relationship. Oh, sure, he’d messed a bit with John’s head regarding Gregory’s paternity. But that was eons ago.
And would it have killed Lorna to come? Now that she had everything she’d ever wanted out of life, how about some noblesse oblige for an old friend who hadn’t been lucky enough to warrant an equally happy ending?
Instead, he got Amanda. Who was sitting in a different pew from Kevin. That couldn’t possibly bode well.
And Marley. She was practically glued to Dennis’ side now. Setting a pretty bad example for Michele and Bridget, if Grant did say so himself. With two impressionable teen-age girls, it was important that Marley demonstrate it was possible to live without a man – instead of desperately flitting from one to another.
Heck, even Steven was there. Representing Vicky, possibly. Or maybe just honoring the period when Grant had been his stepfather. The boy had liked him once. Sure, Grant was no Ryan or Jake, but he’d treated him well. Grant liked to think some of Steven’s adult brilliance was the result of proper nurturing as a child – of which Grant had been a part.
He only wished he’d been able to do the same for Kirkland. Grant had to admit, it had bothered him when the boys were small, and still even a bit now, to admit how much brighter Steven was than his brother. It had been obvious at a young age. What other ten year old reads computer manuals and physics textbooks for fun? Kirkland had seemed lacking in comparison. But Grant was convinced if he’d only been given the chance to raise him, his son would have grown up every bit the prodigy his brother was. It was Jamie’s fault. He clearly hadn’t devoted enough attention to the boy, obviously favoring Steven. Jamie could have made Kirkland a genius, too. If he hadn’t prioritized his biological son. Things would have been different, had Grant been around.
He turned his head slightly, noting Jasmine and Lila sitting together, both dressed in black, both mourning him with a sincerity the majority of the room obviously lacked. Lila had come in with Morgan, but now he’d been relegated to another pew. Good. He wasn’t nearly worthy of her.
Lila and Jasmine, in fact, were sitting in the family pew. With Daisy, Kirkland and Sarah. Grant had avoided looking at Sarah for as long as possible. As long as he didn’t look at her, he could keep telling himself he’d done the right thing. She would understand it someday, even if she’d never know just how much he’d sacrificed for her happiness.
Kirkland would never know, either. It would, honestly, never even cross his mind. His default setting was always to believe the worst about Grant. He probably thought his father had abandoned Sarah and Daisy the same way he’d been brainwashed into thinking Grant had abandoned him.
Sarah was getting up. She was moving to the front of the room. She stood there, looking around uncertainly. For a moment, it seemed like Kirkland was about to spring up and stand next to her, but she gave a nearly imperceptible shake of the head, and he promptly sat back down again.
Lila had told Grant that Sarah was looking awful, these days. Grant thought she looked beautiful. She was wearing a simple, black dress Grant had never seen before. She must have bought it specifically for the occasion. Why, after all, would a girl her age need a dress appropriate for funerals? Unless she’d foolishly married an old man.
Her hair was pulled back and, Grant was pleased to notice, she wore minimal make-up. Anyone else wouldn’t have bothered, but Sarah had made an effort to look nice at his memorial service. Grant found that quite touching. Even in grief, his wife had standards.
Sarah cleared her throat and, after a hesitant start, offered, “Grant said I was the only one who ever “got” him.” She raised her fingers to make air quotes, then indicated the guests. “He said nobody else ever did. I don’t know why. He wasn’t that hard to get. Grant wanted to be loved, just like anybody else. But, he was so sure that nobody could ever love the real him, that he created this other, public Grant. That nobody even liked.”
Grant smiled ruefully to himself. She had a point.
Sarah went on, “I think, as long as people were rejecting the Grant he put on, instead of the real person he was, he was okay with it. Well, more okay with it than he would have been otherwise. I didn’t mind the public Grant. The suits and the cigars and the snark. I thought it was funny. But, see, I loved the real Grant. I know I wasn’t supposed to. I know I hurt people because I did.” She looked briefly at Marley. “Everybody tried to warn me. Even Grant. But, I couldn’t help it. I saw who he really was, and I wanted to be with that man. Forever. Grant told me the age difference… I didn’t care.” She looked down at her hands and mumbled, “I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this.”
She looked like she might burst into tears on the spot, after having successfully held them back for days.
And Grant, instinctively, took a step forward.
Wanting to protect her. Like always.
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