“Alice called you? I should have known.” Rachel snorted at the sight of Jamie showing up in front of the morgue, where his mother had taken up seemingly permanent residence in her attempt to keep Carl’s body from being autopsied.
“She was worried about you. She said you were very upset.”
“Who wouldn’t be upset at the thought of their husband’s body being sliced open?”
“You signed the consent papers,” Jamie reminded.
“Which now I find out were just a formality. You people were going to do whatever you felt like, no matter what I signed.”
“Don’t you want to know what happened to Carl?”
“What I want is for my husband to be returned to me so I can lay him to rest with the dignity and respect that he never received in life.”
“As soon as the coroner is finished – “
“I don’t want him butchered!”
“Why?” Jamie asked. “What does it matter now?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Is it because… is it because Carl is still alive?”
Rachel whipped around, smacking her son hard across the face. “How dare you say that to me?”
Jamie didn’t flinch. His expression said it all.
Rachel raged, “Are you honestly that incapable of summoning up a single ounce of compassion?“
“Like I did the last time Carl “died”? When I grieved with you for him and Elizabeth and Cory? Only to find out later that you knew they were alive the entire time? And that my wife was with them?”
“I didn’t know!” Rachel exploded, only to cover her mouth with one hand, horrified, when she
realized what she’d just confessed to.
“So then you lied to me in order to cover up for Carl when he came back,” Jamie said, realizing he should have been surprised, sad that he honestly wasn’t.
“What does it matter now?” Rachel pulled herself together, stubbornly sticking to her offensive when the defensive would appear more appropriate. “You have Lorna back. While I’ve lost Carl forever.”
“Are you covering for him again?” Jamie wanted to know. “Has he faked his death again in order to stay out of prison?”
“I don’t give a damn what you do or don’t believe about Carl or about me, Jamie. If you can’t support me when I need you the most, then I don’t need you at all. Go. Leave. You aren’t my son anymore. Not after this.”
When Jamie refused to budge, merely standing as he was, studying Rachel with that same frustratingly inscrutable expression he’d employed earlier, she felt compelled to raise her voice. “Did you not hear me? I asked you to leave.”
“Sorry, Mom,” he finally said, brushing past her, heading for the morgue. “Can’t. Got an autopsy to watch.”
“My daughter claims you had her kidnapped,” Russ confronted Grant, who merely stared at him, dumbfounded.
Sarah’s nominal husband observed, “Is there a take-my-mother-in-law, please joke hidden in there somewhere that I’m failing to grasp?”
“Olivia claims she discovered that you were alive weeks before you made your triumphant return, and that you had her spirited away to some deserted island in order to keep her from telling Sarah.”
“Olivia is delusional. Or, more likely, lying. As usual.”
“She was kidnapped. Her and Dennis both. Iris and Marley found them.”
“Are you sure Olivia and Dennis didn’t just abandon Bay City for the tropics?“
“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Grant?” “Then made up this insane kidnapping story once they were caught?”
“Then how do you explain Daisy disappearing and reappearing?”
“I don’t have to explain anything. I had nothing to do with it.”
“I remember the stunts you pulled with Vicky, trying to keep Kirkland for yourself. How do I know history isn’t repeating itself with Daisy?”
“Because your granddaughter beat me to the punch!” Grant spat bitterly. “Sarah has had me cut out of Daisy’s life completely.”
“Go to hell.”
“Are you saying you had nothing to do with Olivia and Dennis’ disappearance?”
“I’m saying your daughter and stepson – there’s a family tree for the ages! Though par for the course in Bay City, I guess – Dennis and Olivia are no concern of mine. If you want to know who’s really behind this, I’d suggest you search a little closer to home. Like maybe in your own bed, to start with.”
“Prenatal vitamins?” Elizabeth held up the plastic container, waving it in Charlie’s face. “What the hell is this?”
Charlie lunged to get them back, but Elizabeth stepped to the side, raising her arm to keep the prescription out of reach.
“What the hell are you doing going through my purse?” Charlie shot back, flushed.
“You’ve been acting so weird lately. I wanted to know what was going on with you.”
“Give them back,” Charlie demanded.
“You’re pregnant?” Elizabeth sputtered in disbelief.
“That’s none of your business.” A second lunge and she forcefully wrestled the bottle out of Elizabeth’s hand.“So, are you saying it isn’t mine?” Elizabeth asked sarcastically.
“Immaculate conception, then?”
“Just shut up.”
“You’ve been sleeping around behind my back! With boys?”
The vehemence of Charlie’s answer took Elizabeth aback somewhat and she dialed it down long enough to ask, “Did someone… were you…”
Charlie hesitated, realizing that it would be so easy to agree with Elizabeth’s suspicions without out and out lying. Just let her believe the worst. But she found, much to Charlie’s surprise, that she couldn’t do it.
Instead, she hedged, “Not… not exactly.”
Sympathy withdrawn, Elizabeth demanded, “So what exactly did happen?”
“I went out, and I got drunk, and there was this random guy… My mom says, when it happens like that, it’s not the girl’s fault. Because I was drunk,” she repeated like a magic mantra.
“But isn’t it your fault for getting drunk in the first place?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“If you drank too much, then got in your car and ran somebody over, it would still be your fault. In fact, it would be double your fault.”
“This is different. My mom says so. I was drunk, so it was the guy who took advantage of me. He, like, should have known better or – or something.”
“Was he drunk, too?”
Charlie shrugged. She hadn’t gotten that far in the story, and didn’t see how it was relevant.
“So how come he’s still responsible for what he did, but you’re not responsible for what you did?”
“It just is, okay? Stop asking stupid questions.”
“So you told your mom?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Did you tell your dad?”
“I haven’t told anybody. I certainly wasn’t planning to tell you.”
“Why not?” Elizabeth asked. “I can help.”
“Help with what?”
“Getting rid of it. Obviously.”
Iris looked at the photographs Marley was holding out to her. She listened to her son’s ill-advised paramour accuse Iris of being the one to have had taken the pictures and planting them in Marley’s drawer.
And then Iris laughed.
“No,” she handed the alleged evidence back to Dennis. “I don’t think so, darling.”
“Who else has the connections to pull something this intricate off?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Iris drawled, looking pointedly at Marley. “Your mother, for one?”
“Why would Donna have Dennis and Olivia kidnapped?”
“Why did she have Jenna, Dean and Felicia stashed in some convent tower for months?”
“They were a threat to her. Dennis isn’t.”
“Who knows what sick fantasies your mother dreams up in her pathetically delusional mind?”
“Just leave Donna out of this. If you’re not the one who stashed Dennis and Olivia away, how were you able to find them so quickly once I got on your case about it?”
“Believe me, Marley, I was “on the case,” as it were, long before you deigned to get involved.
And it was hardly a rapid process. Nor an inexpensive one. You can’t begin to imagine what I was forced to sacrifice in order to unearth the information that I finally did about Dennis.”
Her son’s eyes narrowed. “What have you done, Mom?”
“What she’s done is made you think I could have been responsible for pushing you into Olivia’s arms!”
“Oh, I see,” Iris smiled in triumph. “So that’s what this is all about. I should have guessed.”
“You’re the one who wants Dennis and I broken up, not me. Stranding him with Olivia would fit your needs perfectly.”
“Because, obviously, given the choice between you and literally any other woman on Earth – “
“More like the last woman on Earth. You made sure Olivia was Dennis’ only choice.”
“Nothing happened between Olivia and me,” he insisted.
But Marley wasn’t listening. Instead, she prodded Iris to ‘fess up, “Were you hoping that, with enough time passing, we’d all forget about them? Or maybe we’d just presume them dead like Grant and Carl and – “
“A tragedy neither of those particular examples actually stuck,” Iris sighed.
“It might this time around,” Marley mused.
“What do you mean?”
“Carl. You haven’t heard?” Marley took great pleasure from being the one finally in the know. “This time it’s allegedly for real. They’ve got a body to autopsy and everything.”
“Carl is… dead?”
“That’s the official word from the coroner. It’s not public knowledge yet; I’m not sure if his kids have even been told. And the press certainly hasn’t been given the head’s up. But Donna heard from Matt. Rachel got a call last night, and the body got transferred to BCH this morning.”
“No,” Iris shook her head from side to side. “No, it’s impossible.”
“Mom?” Dennis asked, confused. He hardly expected Iris to be broken up over the news.
“No,” Iris seethed. “He can’t do this to me. The son-of-a-bitch and I had a deal!”
Several days after Carl Hutchins’ autopsy was completed and filed, the cause of death listed as natural causes – primarily because the coroner couldn’t discern any unnatural ones that he could prove – and twenty-four hours after his wife had the body privately cremated with only herself and the funeral home director in attendance, his lawyer sent out emails inviting beneficiaries to the reading of Mr. Hutchins’ last will and testament.
Some of the recipients were expected.
Some… less so.
Cory and Elizabeth, both of whom first received the news of his passing from their mother, responded in much the same way to the invitations as they had to learning of their father’s death. Cory merely nodded his head as if to indicate that he understood, even when nothing in particular was being explained to him. Elizabeth, on the other hand, simply clicked the link to indicate that she would attend, then moved on to something else, refusing to so much as acknowledge the issue even existed, much less suggest she wished to discuss it further.
Frankie and Cass, at first, couldn’t understand why they were even on the list.
Finally, Frankie said, “Lori Ann. He must have left something to Lori Ann.”
“Carl’s gifts rarely come without strings attached,” Cass noted.
As both wondered what that could possibly mean for their child….
“Carl wanted me at his will reading?” Lila squinted at the email on her phone, then turned to show it to Grant, the only person who, more or less, was willing to speak to her now that news of their “relationship” had gotten out.
“Did he mention if you could bring a date?” Grant wondered. “Because I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“I’ve got my shoes all ready,” Donna playfully swung a pair of brand new pumps by the straps as she told Matt. “Time to dance on Carl’s grave.”
“You might want to tone that down a bit while my mother is around,” Matt advised. “Out of respect.”
“Hard to respect the dead if you didn’t respect the dead when the dead was alive.”
“I meant my mother.”
“Oh, please, Matthew, she’s had plenty of practice at it. This Carl’s grieving widow routine is old hat to her by now.”
He looked at the email again. “This is addressed to both of us.”
“Carl had many flaws, but ignorance of social etiquette wasn’t one of them. You always address correspondence to Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Cory.”
“This says Matthew Cory and Donna Love Cory. It looks like he wanted to make sure we would both be there.” Matt said, “I can’t imagine what Carl might have left me, but what in the world could he have in store for you?”
“I’m not going,” Amanda informed Morgan as they lay in bed. She put the phone back on her nightstand – face down. “I’m afraid, this time around, my mother will just have to sing Carl’s praises without me.”
“You don’t think she could use your support?”
“I’ll see if I can dig up the condolence card I sent her last time. And the time before that. Really, I should have bought in bulk.”
“I’ll go with you if you want,” Morgan offered.
“How would that help?”
“At least you’d know that, whatever happens, you’ve got someone there on your side.”
She turned her head, looking at him with bemusement. “Are you sure this isn’t just your sneaky way of being in the same room with your ex-girlfriend? And your ex-wife?”
“If I wanted to be with Lorna or Lila instead of you, I’d be with Lorna or Lila instead of you.”
“Heel, Romeo. Lorna is married, and Lila is… out of her mind, apparently. But still otherwise
occupied. Besides, don’t they both hate you now?”
“Nobody hates me,” Morgan corrected. “I’m too loveable.”
Amanda was about to say something equally snide in return. But, instead, she leaned over and kissed Morgan on the lips before admitting, “Yeah. Actually, you kind of are.”
“Well, if the autopsy didn’t convince us,” Lorna showed Jamie the summons to Carl’s will reading. “Maybe this will.”
Jamie said, “I stood there, watched his internal organs being taken out one by one and examined, and I still wouldn’t put it past Carl to be sitting somewhere with a bunch of closed-camera monitors, laughing at us.”
“With your mom right next to him?”
Jamie hesitated. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t. She seems broken up. But, then again, she seemed so last time, too.”
“But didn’t she just confess to you that the last time wasn’t an act, either? She was as much in the dark as everyone else?”
“Mom’s given me so many version of that story – most of them contradictory – that I have no idea what’s true and what isn’t anymore. All I know is, even if he’s dead, this little command performance,” he indicated the missive. “Suggests that, either way, he’s not done with us. And we’re not done with him. Not by a long shot.”
The only one not surprised by the invitation was Rachel.
She looked at the urn holding her husband’s ashes.
And smiled wistfully.
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