Grant took a step forward, unable to stand seeing Sarah near collapse at the thought of his death.
But, as it turned out, he wasn’t needed.
Because before Grant could reveal himself, before he could throw his carefully thought up, executed – and rationalized – plan to the wind; all null and void at the sight of Sarah’s tears, Kirkland stepped up.
He leapt out of the church pew and squeezed Sarah’s hand, leading her to sit next to him, placing Daisy in her mother’s lap, prompting Sarah to bury her face in the little girl’s hair, even as Daisy tried to wriggle free and back to the video game Kirkland had been letting her play on his phone.
Kirkland now faced the crowd instead of Sarah. He cleared his throat. He said, “Thanks, uhm, for coming. Uhm, I’m guessing everyone here has some conflicted feelings about Grant. I know I do.”
Grant stiffened, bracing himself.
“But, I don’t think you – we – would be here, if we didn’t have some good memories of him, too. I don’t have many from before he went away. When I was little. But, after he came back…. Grant wanted to be the fun dad. He took me golfing. He rented out a pool so we could body-surf. That was fun. I guess. But, the thing about Grant is – was; the thing about Grant was that we’d be doing good for a while, but then… then he’d do… something.”
In the audience, a half-dozen heads nodded in understanding unison.
Grant’s brow furrowed. He could explain. He could explain all of it. The problem was that none of them had ever given him an adequate chance.
“I’d wish I could just freeze Grant, you know? Just freeze him in time, so that he couldn’t do something… something he probably didn’t even mean to. That used to be impossible, but now… Now I’m going to remember Grant and how much he loved Sarah. And what a good dad he was to Daisy. And nothing is ever going to change that. I think Grant would like me remembering him like that. As the man he always wanted to be, instead of the man he sometimes… was. So, if there is anything good that can come out of all… this. For Sarah and Daisy and me, too. Maybe it’s… that?” Kirkland finished feebly, adding. “Sorry, guess I’m not very good at this either.”
Grant begged to differ. Grant thought his son had made his point. Perfectly. And that Grant had heard enough.
“You deceitful, corrupt son of a bitch!” Rachel all but threw herself at the bars of her jail cell when she saw Chase, with the help of a police-officer, leading a hand-cuffed Cory down the hall towards her. “You swore you wouldn’t arrest him as long as Carl turned himself in!”
“Wrong. I promised not to arrest your son as long as your husband confessed to all his past crimes. Let the record show that he has most certainly not done that. Actually, now that you mention it, he never even officially turned himself in. Nothing was signed.”
“Are you seriously going to hold a sick man’s – “
Chase smirked at Rachel’s description of Carl’s alleged current state. “The moment Mr. Hutchins recovers from his most convenient illness and fulfills his end of the bargain, I’ll fulfill mine. Until then,” he indicated the cell next to Rachel’s, gesturing for the guard to open it and undo Cory’s hand-cuffs. “In you go, son.”
Chase took a moment to ponder the sight of mother and son imprisoned side by side, observing, “I should call the Oakdale police department, see if I can get Ms. Fowler transferred. You could have quite the family reunion.”
“You’ll pay for this,” Rachel promised. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
“Wrong again, Mrs. Hutchins. For the first time in his criminal career, Carl Hutchins is facing someone that knows exactly whom he’s dealing with. And someone who knows exactly how to deal with him, in return.” Chase indicated his bargaining chips, Rachel and Cory. “Exhibit A. And B.”
He raised his hand in a broad wave good-by to them both, then turned and walked down the same hallway he’d come through, leaving Rachel and Cory alone, surveying each other through the bars of their adjoining jail cells.
“Oh, honey,” Rachel reached her hand through to him, but Cory kept his distance. “Are you alright? Did they hurt you?”
“I’m fine,” Cory said stiffly, making no move towards his mother, despite Rachel’s obviously needing desperately to touch him, more for her own sake than for Cory’s.
“That man. That monster! To lock up a child!”
“I’m not a child, Mom. I’m an attempted murderer. When you thought Lorna was the one who’d tried to kill Father, you were demanding to see her behind bars. You were incensed that she hadn’t been locked up yet. Why is it different with me?”
“You didn’t know what you were doing, honey. I don’t blame you. After everything you’ve been through, after everything we’ve put you through… You were confused. What’s the point of punishing you, now that you’re sorry and you realize what you did was wrong?”
Cory looked at Rachel quizzically. “When did I say that I was sorry? When did I ever say that what I did was wrong?”
“You tried to kill your own Father! Your Father who loves you, who would do anything for you.”
“Including lie to my mother and tell her that my sister and I were dead? Including kidnap a woman and keep her from her family? If that’s how my father expresses his love – “
“You don’t understand, Cory,” Rachel pleaded with him to at least try and see the situation from Carl’s point of view. “He did it for me. He didn’t want me to suffer, trapped between my older children on the one hand, him and my younger children on the other.”
“So he made other people suffer, instead?”
“He did it for me,” she repeated. “Your father loves me, Cory. He loves you and Elizabeth. We’re all he has left. Think of everything he has lost. Perry, Ryan, Jenna, whom he never even got the chance to know. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing you, too. But, he knew that if he stayed in Bay City, I would continue to be torn between my two families. He did the only thing he could think of to spare me.”
“And I did the only thing I could think of to end this farce once and for all. I shot him. How come you forgive him, but you don’t forgive me?”
“I forgive both of you!” Rachel nearly sobbed.
“And that,” Cory told her. “Is something I’ll never be able to forgive you for.”
“No, Mom. Listen to yourself. Please. You’re standing there, telling me that everything Father and I do is alright, that whomever we hurt, it’s okay, as long as, in our minds, our reasons are good and noble. You’re saying we should get a pass on all of it – kidnapping Lorna, faking my and Elizabeth’s deaths, shooting Father – we shouldn’t have to pay for our actions, not like other people should, because – what? Because you love us? How insane and hypocritical is that? You’re the one who taught me right from wrong, Mom. And now, you’re furious because Chase Hamilton won’t let us get away with our crimes? What are you doing, Mom? What are you saying? What has Father turned you into?”
In the church parking lot following Grant’s memorial service, Kevin approached Lila as she opened the door to her car. She was alone.
“Where is… everybody?” Kevin wondered vaguely.
“Jazz went off with Kirkland,” Lila said.
“And where is….”
“Yeah,” Kevin admitted sheepishly.
Lila changed the subject, “Your wife thought you and me were carrying on behind her back.”
Kevin took the shift in stride, noting, “She won’t be my wife for much longer.”
“Yeah. She mentioned that.”
That got Kevin’s attention. His breath quickened. “Did she say why?”
“No,” Lila said slowly, confused.
Kevin lowered his voice. “Amanda found out about my taking the blame for what Steven did. She told Jenny.”
Lila inhaled sharply. “And… “
“And she and Steven are leaving town. Just in case Amanda decides to tell someone else. They don’t trust her. I don’t trust her. I can’t stay married to someone I no longer trust.”
“But do you love her, still? Not the same thing, you know.”
“I know.” Kevin said, not wishing to pursue the issue further. Instead, he asked, “Why did you say Amanda thought you and I were having an affair?”
“Because she sent Morgan to… debrief me about it.” Lila raised an eyebrow, hoping Kevin appreciated her pun. Because she wasn’t about to make the humiliating confession twice.
“Oh… I… I’m sorry, Lila.”
“Did you explain to Amanda why you did what you did?”
“I tried. She wasn’t very interested in listening.”
“Morgan tried explaining, too. I wasn’t very interested in listening, either.”
“You sound like you regret it.”
“Oh, I regret so many things; let’s just toss this onto the list, shall we?”
“You sound like you’d like to hear what he might have to say.”
“You think I should?” Lila wasn’t just being polite, she really wanted to hear what, in this case, he had to say. Surely, anyone else’s judgment trumped hers at this point.
“You are the most level-headed person I know, Lila. I wager you’ll always make the right decision about anything.”
“I’ll take that bet,” Lila said distantly, looking at the church door, wondering how long Grant had stood there, wondering how much he’d heard.
“Well,” Jamie leafed through Carl’s chart in Alice’s office. “What do you think?”
His stepmother referred Jamie to her own notes. “The majority of symptoms subsided without an hour of admission. Last time I checked, he was almost completely back to normal. It’s like there’d never been anything wrong, at all.”
Jamie sighed, “That’s what I was afraid of.”
Alice warned, “I don’t have any proof that Carl faked the whole thing. The toxicology report came back negative.”
“What did you expect?” He ran a hand through his hair and asked, “How did you end up as the attending on this, anyway?”
“When Chase Hamilton called for an ambulance, he asked for me specifically. He’d set up road-blocks in anticipation of a fake ambulance coming for Carl. He told me of all the doctors at the hospital, he suspected me of being the one least likely to team up with Carl and Rachel.”
“Man does his research.”
“He gave the order to only let through the ambulance carrying me. He brought in the drivers of the other one for questioning, but they only claimed to have been answering a different call; nothing about Carl.”
“Could anyone confirm their story?”
“A private ambulance company.”
“Ever hear of it before?”
“No,” Alice admitted. “But, like with the toxicology report….”
“Carl knows how to cover his tracks.” Jamie mused, “If Chase hadn’t figured out what he was up to, Carl would probably be a million miles away from here by now. And so would Mom.”
“And you would miss her,” Alice prompted gently.
“I don’t know what I would feel,” Jamie confessed. “Lorna talked to Cory earlier. She was with him when he got arrested. Cory is so determined to protect Mom from Carl, he’s willing to go to prison for the rest of his life, as long as it forces Mom to wake up and see what she’s become – someone who’ll condone kidnapping, murder, anything as long as Carl tells her he had a good reason, and she should just trust him.”
“Your brother is a remarkable boy.”
“Tell me about it. Pretty humbling, admitting your kid brother is a better man than you are. Honestly, I have no idea how Cory turned out as awesome as he is. Maybe there’s something to that Ryan’s soul thing, after all.”
“But, surely Rachel won’t let Cory go to prison.”
“Considering she’s currently there herself….” Jamie really didn’t appreciate the visual. Instead, he asked Alice, “When do you think you’ll give Carl the all-clear?”
“Based on what I saw today, I see no reason to keep him in the hospital beyond twenty-four hours. We could discharge him tomorrow.”
“Just make sure you alert the proper authorities,” Jamie advised, standing up to return to his rounds. “We don’t want Carl getting lost on his way back to the police station. And leaving Mom and Cory holding the bag. Though I’m sure it will be for their own good. As usual.”
“I really screwed that up, didn’t I?” Kirkland asked Jasmine as he opened the front door of his apartment, passed through the living room and headed straight for the bedroom, falling into his pillow, face first, mumbling. “Hell of a eulogy. I’m a hell of a son.”
“Well,” Jasmine began tentatively, perching on the edge of Kirkland’s bed, rubbing his back with one hand. “Did you mean what you said?”
“Yeah,” Kirkland groaned. “That’s the problem.”
“I think it was nice. You talking about how Grant finally learned to be a good husband and father with Sarah and Daisy.”
“And then I pretty much said, good thing he’s dead and won’t be able to screw it up, like he did everything else.”
“I’m sure a lot of people agreed with you,” Jasmine hesitated for just a moment, then bent over, kissing the back of Kirkland’s neck.
He smiled. “That feels nice.”
“It was supposed to.” She did it again, tugging down the collar of Kirkland’s dress-shirt and sliding her lips even further down his spine.
He purred, “That’s nice, too.”
She rolled him over, so that Jasmine’s face was now inches from his. She reminded, “You know, we never did finish what we started the other night. When you had to leave…”
“It’s cool if you’re not in the mood. If you’re upset about your dad or… whatever. But, I just wanted you to know that I’m here. And I’m ready.”
He stroked her hair, wrapping a raven lock around one finger, then letting it go, watching it sway in wonder. “You are so damn beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine said politely, beginning to unbutton Kirkland’s shirt and rub her hands up and down his chest. “So are you.”
Kirkland’s snorted. “Never been called that before.”
“So it will be a day of firsts for both of us.”
“You’re sure about this?” He pulled her closer to him.
“Absolutely,” she swore, the warmth of her breath on his cheek.
Kirkland stared at Jasmine for a long moment. She stared back, challenging, defiant, and pleading all at the same time. Kirkland made up his mind. He slipped Jasmine’s dress up and over her head, tossing it aside, unhooking her bra with one hand and discarding it in the same manner. He lowered his head, flicking first one nipple, then the other with his tongue while Jasmine gasped and arched her back. “Absolutely sure,” she repeated.
Jasmine pulled off her panties and Kirkland slipped one hand between her legs, sliding his finger inside her, feeling her thighs tighten around him before drawing it out slowly and trailing it upwards until Jasmine shivered. He stroked her then, slowly, then faster, mouth still on Jasmine’s breast as she dug her palms into his shoulders, her breathing speeding up, her hips moving against him.
“You like that?” he whispered into her ear.
“So much….” She moaned. “So, so much…”
“Good,” Kirkland sped up, listening to her whimper, feeling her tremble until she tensed for the last time, and finally let go.
“Oh,” Jasmine blinked up at Kirkland, her eyes vaguely dazed and unfocused, the smile on her face uncertain, as if her mind couldn’t quite believe what her body had just done. And then, without thinking, she blurted out, “I love you…”
Kirkland reached for a condom, tearing open the packet and pulling it on, climbing on top of her and entering Jasmine as gently as he could, understanding he would probably have to hurt her, but still hoping to make it as easy as possible.
He kissed her on the forehead and on the eyelids and back on her mouth.
So that neither of them could say anything else.
“There you guys are!” Now it was Matt’s turn to hurry down the hall towards Rachel and Cory. “Are you alright?”
“We’re both fine,” Rachel reassured him, relieved that Matt, at least, didn’t shirk away when she reached through the bars to touch him. “Did you get our bail set, honey?”
“I’m working on it,” Matt hedged, admitting. “Hamilton filed a brief with the court citing you and Cory as flight risks.”
“My God, is there nothing he won’t stoop to?”
Cory reminded, “You had a fake ambulance standing by to spirit Father away. Were you planning to grab me, too, since you’d lured the guards away from the house with Father’s bogus surrender?”
It was exactly what they’d been planning to do. So Rachel ignored her son’s question. What was the point of confirming what they both already knew, after all?
Matt, however, demanded to be filled in. “Is he telling the truth, Mom?”
“You think I would allow that bastard Bay City elected Mayor to lock up my eighteen year old son with hardened criminals? What do you think would have happened to Cory in a maximum-security prison?”
“Nothing,” Matt reminded. “If Carl had kept his word and turned himself in, like he said he would.”
“I’m not pressing charges against Carl for kidnapping Elizabeth and Cory. And Lorna is safely back home now, with Jamie and their daughters. So what good would putting Carl in prison have done, save help Hamilton avenge a family vendetta that isn’t even really his?”
“You don’t think of Doug and Eduardo as Chase’s family?” Matt raised an eyebrow, forcing his mother to confront what she was implying, even if it was inadvertent.
“Oh, you know I didn’t mean it like that,” Rachel snapped.
Cory said, “It’s okay, Matt. Don’t worry about bail for me. I’m not exactly in a hurry to get home and face Father, in any case.”
Rachel’s head whipped around. “You’d rather stay here than – “
“Yes,” her son said calmly. “I thought I’d break family tradition for once, and actually pay for my crimes, instead of blaming other people for driving me to it.”
“That’s enough!” Rachel exploded. “I will not have you speaking to me like that, and especially not about your Father. You will treat us both with respect, is that clear, young man?”
Cory didn’t say anything in response, merely withdrawing to the furthest corner of his cell, sitting down and staring straight ahead, arms crossed, face set in determination.
Rachel turned in frustration back to Matt. “Do you see what he’s doing to us? Hamilton? He’s tearing this family apart. You have to get us out of here, Matt. You are the only one I can count on now.”
Her son swore, “I’m doing the best that I can.”
“Then do better!” Rachel ordered. “What if it were Donna behind bars? God knows, she deserves to be here more than Cory and I. Or have you forgotten what she did to Jenna?”
“That was an accident,” Matt defended instinctively. “She didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
“And neither did Cory. Neither did Carl. Donna claims she was protecting herself when she had Jenna, Dean and Felicia kidnapped? Well, what do you think Carl was doing? How are his actions any different from hers?”
“They’re not… I guess.”
“Then why is Donna walking free, while all of Bay City is out for my husband’s blood?”
Matt didn’t really have an answer for that one. Seeing that she had him exactly where she wanted him, Rachel pressed on. “You love Donna, Matthew?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Well, I love Carl just as much. Can you understand that? If you can love a woman who has done everything that she has, than how can you question – or judge – my loving Carl? You say that Donna has changed? Carl has changed too. I changed him, the same way you changed Donna. It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it? Helping someone become the very best version of themselves? But, it’s an awful responsibility, too. You know what it’s like. You know better than anybody. You know what it’s like when the people we love do the wrong thing – for the right reason. Especially when that right reason is us. They want to make us happy. So they revert back to the tactics they may have once used. But, they do it for us. I taught Carl what it means to love someone more than yourself. To be willing to sacrifice your happiness, your desires, for your family. The same way that Mac taught me. The way he taught all of us. Without Mac, I wouldn’t have been able to accept Carl. And you wouldn’t have been able to accept Donna. Do you understand what I’m saying, Matt?”
“Please don’t drag Mac into this.”
“But I have to. Mac is the reason for everything I’ve done since the day I met him. You think I’m doing all of this only for Carl? No. I’m doing it for Mac, too. To substantiate how much good he did, how much good he’s still doing, even though we don’t have him with us anymore. It’s all we have left of him. Don’t you see, if we allow my redemption of Carl to be nullified by Hamilton’s petty vendetta, we’re destroying Mac’s legacy to us. I won’t let that happen, Matthew. And neither should you.”
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