“Rachel!” Iris trilled, all but stepping between her stepmother and her husband, wrenching Rachel’s hands out of Russ’ and into hers. “Out and about already, are we? What a miracle! Especially considering your advanced age.”
Rachel couldn’t help it. She smiled. It shocked her now that she had once taken Iris’ threats so seriously. These days, she merely found her stepdaughter’s antics amusing.
“Turns out I’m a touch more difficult to get rid of than everyone assumed,” Rachel told her smoothly.
“Yes,” Iris sighed, not even trying to hide her disappointment.
Rachel asked Russ, “May we continue our conversation at another time? I wouldn’t want to get in your way,” she indicated Iris.
“Oh, Rachel, how uncharacteristically thoughtful of you.” Iris hooked her elbow through Russ’ and rested her head against his shoulder.
“We’ll talk soon,” Russ promised, trying his best not to slip his arm out of her grasp.
“Thank you,” Rachel said.
“What are friends for?”
“Russ is a wonderful friend, isn’t he?” Iris subtly maneuvered Rachel towards the door, and even further away from her ex-husband. “He has so, so many of them, and yet he possesses the gift of making each feel somehow unique and special. Though, obviously, they’re not. That would be impossible.”
“Oh, I suspect Russ is used to dealing with impossible people by now.” Rachel looked over Iris’ head in time to catch him grinning at her.
“You would think so,” Iris agreed. “But, alas, the poor darling is so tender-hearted, he hasn’t yet learned to put himself first and not let the demands of others take precedence over his own needs.”
“I can’t think of a better teacher than you, in that regard,” Rachel cooed.
“If only everyone were as open to learning their lesson.” Iris politely slammed the door in Rachel’s face.
Russ observed, “That was firm but insulting.”
Iris turned around, hands on hips. “I’m sorry, darling, but the woman needs to respect your boundaries. It is imperative Rachel comprehend that you have priorities beyond holding her hand through every umpteenth crisis!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Russ said.
Iris all but did a double-take. His concord was the last thing she’d expected.
“In fact, I just got through telling her the same thing.”
“You – you did?”
“Tough love.” Russ took Iris in his arms. “We can all stand a dose now and then.”
“Yes. Right. Of course.” She curled up against him, now utterly confused and unsure of what to think.
“Every once in a while,” he went on. “We all need to take a step back and reassess our current situation, and decide whether or not we’re content with the status quo, or whether it’s time to make a change.”
As Sarah climbed into a cab, desperate to get as far away from a suddenly living Grant as possible, Kirkland jumped in at the last minute after her. Her death glare on the way back to her house made it clear that they would not be discussing the current situation while Daisy sat between them, oblivious.
And he’d also have to wait until after they’d gotten home, and Sarah had given Daisy her bath and tucker her into bed.
Only when she’d come back downstairs after all that, did Sarah dare ask, “You…. You didn’t know that – “
“No!” He swore. “I would have never kept a secret like that from you. Never!”
“Was just as shocked as we were.”
“What happened with the two of you, anyway? What was Lila railing on about?” Sarah figured sticking her nose into someone else’s business might spare her a restful moment of dwelling on hers.
“I – Jazz broke up with me.”
“Well, there’s a girl too stupid to live.”
“Aw, don’t say that. You like Jazz.”
“I do. I did. I thought she was a sweet, smart, sensible kid. But any girl who thinks she’ll be able to do better than you, that’s not very smart or sensible.”
“She – she had her reasons.”
Sarah shrugged. “So did Grant, I’m sure.”
“I don’t understand,” Kirkland admitted. “Grant is crazy about you. And Daisy.”
“He was crazy about you, too. Or so I hear. All the stuff he pulled to get you away from your mom and then – poof! – off he goes, anyway. Ten years, was it?”
“Something like that.”
“Wonder how long he planned to stay away this time.”
“I punched him,” Kirkland confessed sheepishly.
“After you took off, I – kind of – I punched him in the jaw.”
“Is he okay?” Instinct briefly overruled anger.
“Don’t know. Didn’t stick around to see.”
A giggle welled up in Sarah’s throat, and she guiltily covered her mouth. “Did you knock him down?”
“Did he look shocked?”
“Shocked. But not surprised.”
“Well, he had to know he had it coming.”
“Grant never knows when he has it coming. Remember that movie, Memento? Where the guy couldn’t keep any memories longer than ten minutes? I think Grant has a variation of that disease. Only, in his case, it applies to lessons learned. Or, you know, not learned.”
“I wish he’d stayed dead,” Sarah blurted out.
“Yeah. I know how you feel.”
“At least then, I’d have the memories and…”
“Did he say anything to you? About why…”
“I didn’t give him a chance.”
“I don’t blame you. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. The idea of standing around and listening to him make excuses….”
“Aren’t you even a little curious?”
“No,” she swore, albeit very unconvincingly.
“Me neither,” he echoed.
The doorbell rang. They exchanged looks. Both knew who it had to be.
“I wonder where his key went,” Sarah said.
“Are you going to let him in?”
Slowly, Kirkland headed for the door.
Amanda groaned. The only empty exercise bike left was next to Marley. And she really had
come to the Bay City Health Club for a work out, not to trade barbs with yet another member of the Grant Harrison Ex-Wives Club. She hoped Marley wasn’t in the mood for conversation.
To Amanda’s initial relief, Marley barely acknowledged her presence, focusing on her own cardio, staring straight ahead, only taking a break periodically to check her watch or adjust her damp T-shirt.
They pedaled silently side by side for almost ten minutes. It was only as Marley was getting ready to leave, climbing off her bike and conscientiously wiping it down for the next user, that she offered, “I heard you got control of Brava back from Carl.”
Amanda nodded in between deep breaths. “I got all of Cory Publishing back.”
“Congratulations. That’s a pretty big deal. Hardly anyone ever gets the drop on Carl.”
“I had to,” Amanda huffed and puffed. “Had to show him – them – that I couldn’t be pushed around. You let people like that think they can push you around, they’ll never stop doing it.”
Marley nodded thoughtfully. “That’s the conclusion I reached, too. Half a century of being good, docile, forgiving Marley was enough. I realized if I didn’t put a stop to people taking advantage of me, nobody else would.”
“And how’s that working for you?” Amanda asked, not sarcastic, but sincere. She really wanted to hear the answer.
Marley shrugged, non-committal.
“Same,” Amanda agreed.
“I really thought things would be different once I started refusing to be the world’s doormat anymore. But, instead, all I got were concerned looks and people telling me I’d changed. Of course, I’d changed. I wanted to change. But, I wasn’t the Marley they remembered and, it didn’t matter that I was happier now, they wanted the old Marley back. The one they were used to. As long as I was suffering silently, all was right with the world. Me standing up for myself threw off the status quo.”
“Are you?” Amanda asked.
“Am I what?”
“Are you… happier now?”
Marley was about to nod fervently. But then she hesitated. “I – I think I am. I mean, I’m
definitely being taken advantage of less. No one is doing horrible, thoughtless things, then just expecting me to understand and roll with it because, hey, I’m goodie-two-shoes Marley. I’m actually admitting – especially to myself – that there are things I want, and I am going after them without apologies. No matter what anyone else thinks about it.”
“But are you happy?” Amanda repeated.
“Are you?” Marley asked.
“I should be.”
“This bad girl bit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?”
“I know!” Marley commiserated. “I used to watch women like Donna and Vicky and Lorna, all of them going around, doing what they wanted, how they wanted, and to hell with everybody else. They seemed so happy in their bitchery.”
“Maybe because it came naturally to them,” Amanda mused. “And we had to work for it.”
“Yeah. It’s like I’m playing a part. Going through the motions, an imposter. I tell myself I should be enjoying myself and, some things, I do, I really do. I don’t regret cutting Donna out of my life – she was toxic. And sticking it to Grant, that was pretty awesome, too.”
“Sticking it to Grant can never be not awesome.”
“But, the rest of it… Dennis…. I wasn’t exactly very nice to Dennis. But he kept coming back for more, anyway. I don’t know if it was guilt over the first time we were together, or just being raised by Iris. For all I know, he gets off on being controlled and humiliated by a woman. It would certainly explain Olivia, wouldn’t it?”
“Nothing explains Olivia.”
“But, the worse I treated him, the worse I felt. And I don’t think that’s a problem Donna or Vicky or Lorna or even your mother ever had.”
“Well, at least you can make it up to him now.”
“What are you talking about?”
Amanda cocked her head to the side. “You mean Dennis isn’t back yet?”
“No. Why would he be?”
“I heard that Daisy – “
“Daisy is home?”
“She was just sitting there on Sarah’s doorstep, none the worse for wear. Jasmine told me. She and Kirk saw the whole thing. I just assumed Dennis was back, too.”
Allie expected Zeno to ask her where she’d been once she finally made it back home. It would have made the subsequent conversation much easier.
But he didn’t. She should have known. Zeno wasn’t the kind of guy who monitored her comings and goings, or made her feel guilty when she didn’t keep him in the loop. It was one of the many things she loved about him.
Instead, she was forced to get the ball rolling herself. She said, “I slept with GQ.”
Zeno head jerked up sharply, but he didn’t say a word.
“Today,” Allie clarified, lest he think she was confessing some ancient sin.
“Why?” He asked reasonably.
“Because I was mad. And because I’d been drinking. But, mostly because I wanted to hurt him.”
“Did you go out intending to sleep with him?”
“No,” Allie said, then amended to, “Maybe. I mean, I went to BCU. There’s always a chance of me running into him there.”
“So, how exactly did you hurt him, by sleeping with him?”
“He thought it meant something. I told him it didn’t.”
“Just like he told you the last time.”
“How did it feel?”
“Good. I – It felt good.”
“And then you came home and told me. Are you also going to tell me why?”
“Because I didn’t want to lie to you about it.”
“Wow, that’s thoughtful.”
“And I didn’t want you finding out from someone else.”
“He doesn’t mean anything to me. You do. But this was something – I had to, Zeno. I had to just end things with him, once and for all. Or else he’d always be around, bugging me about you, bugging me about Hudson. I had to get rid of him. He didn’t believe I didn’t love him. Now he does.”
“And I’m just supposed to… what?”
“Love me,” Allie said. “You’re supposed to love me, same as you always have. I’m counting on it, Zeno. Honestly, it’s about the only thing I can count on these days.”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” Cass decided to call on Alice at home, rather than at the hospital, considering the nature of what he had to tell her.
“No. Come in, Cass, please.” She opened the door, somewhat befuddled, but welcoming. “I understand congratulations are in order. You’re the new DA in Bay City?”
“I am. Thanks to Eduardo Rivera.”
“Well, I’m certain you’ll do an excellent job.”
“It’s a different side of the aisle, but I’m warming up to the idea; a fresh challenge and all that. Especially since it feels like I’ve already defended every citizen in Bay City. Twice.”
“We are a trouble-prone bunch,” Alice agreed, then wondered, “Are you here to speak to me about prosecuting Carl? Something to do with his connection to Spencer?”
“No. I – uhm,” Cass chuckled to himself, unsure of how to ease into the subject. “I – After I was approved for D.A. by the new Mayor, I went to Eduardo and asked, basically, what do I owe him for the favor?”
“Politics as usual?”
“That’s what I thought, anyway. But, turns out he didn’t want anything. Well, not of a strictly political nature, anyway.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Eduardo asked me to investigate him.”
“He asked you to investigate him?”
“Yes. He – “ another self-conscious chuckle. “He – it seems he was very… impressed by you, while you were treating Chase.”
“That’s certainly not how he acted while the treatment was happening.”
“Yes, well, he’s sorry for that.”
“I know. He came and apologized himself. I’m not sure where you fit in.”
“Eduardo is concerned, because of the wrong foot that the two of you stared off on, that you might – that you might have the wrong idea about him.”
“And what wrong idea might that be?”
“That he’s a thug,” Cass said simply. “Or a criminal. Or worse. His association with Carl…”
“I thought that was his father, not Eduardo.”
“In any case, Eduardo wants me to investigate him – thoroughly, so that he can prove to you that he is a man who can be trusted.”
Alice hesitated for a moment, and then she burst out laughing. “What Mr. Rivera really needs is someone to do a thorough investigation for him – of me!”
“You’re back,” Lorna observed dryly, upon discovering Donna on her doorstep. “Jamie isn’t home right now.”
“I came to see you.”
“And what sin did I commit to deserve that?”
“A word of advice,” Donna declined to wait for an invitation before stepping through the door and making herself at home in the living room. “I wouldn’t ask such leading questions if I were you. Unless you have the time – and inclination – to hear a rather long list of possibilities.”
“What do you want, Donna?”
“I presume Jamie told you what he and I discussed earlier?”
“My husband and I don’t keep secrets, so yes.”
“How adorable. And hopelessly naïve. Ah, young love….”
“Neither one of us is getting any younger. What. Do. You. Want?”
“To help you.”
“The kids’ room could use a good cleaning. I’ll get you a dust rag.”
“To help you reunite Jamie and Rachel.”
“And what makes you think either of them wants that?”
“Well, in Rachel’s case, it’s obvious. I live with the woman, and she’s been positively despondent ever since their falling out. Truly, a sad, pathetic sight. And Jamie is no better. Speaking to him the other day made it clear just how much he misses his mother.”
Lorna hesitated. “He says he’s fine.”
“Have you ever met a man who wouldn’t, under the circumstances? Keeping secrets is one thing, but deep, primal feelings… surely you don’t believe he shares every tidbit of his inner life
with you? Such co-dependence wouldn’t be healthy for anyone.”
“Okay, let’s say you’re onto something. So what?”
“An unhappy man leads to only one thing, and that is an unhappy marriage.”
“Another subject you’re an expert on.”
“Indeed, I am. Which is why I’m here to make you an offer: Work with me to salvage Jamie and Rachel’s relationship. Or risk your own.”
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