“Do you think it’s true?” Matt kept his voice neutral and supportive as, in the aftermath of Carl’s will reading, he and Donna sat in the car, Carl’s letter in her lap all but glowing and vibrating with his claim that Michael was still alive.
Donna shook her head wordlessly from side to side, finally managing to summon up the obvious, “It’s Carl…”
Her power of speech came back in a rush as Donna raged, “I can imagine the glee he must have taken, writing this so carefully, knowing that he was deliberately throwing a hand-grenade into our marriage.”
“So you think he’s lying? Messing with us?”
“On the other hand,” Donna said. “If anyone had access to information like this…”
“It would be Carl,” Matt finished for her.
“What do you want to do?” Matt asked.
“Dig Carl up and throttle him.”
“There are some ashes on Mom’s mantelpiece I’d be happy to help you flush down the toilet, as an alternative.”
“I’m no environmentalist, Matthew, but even I wouldn’t so vilely pollute the ecosystem.”
“We could check them out. The papers Carl left, I mean. See if there’s any truth – “
“There can’t be. Michael wouldn’t… Even if he still hated me for whatever reason – God knows, I gave him plenty to choose from – he wouldn’t do this to his children. He – Victoria’s funeral… He would have been there. He wouldn’t abandon her boys or the twins. When Marley was hospitalized a few years. Do you really think Michael would have stayed away from his daughters and his grandchildren when they needed him?”
“Not willingly, maybe. But what if – “
“You mean, like Lucas?” Donna deftly managed to ignore who’d been responsible for his multi-year captivity.
As did Matt. “Or like Frankie. Lucas was held against his will, but Frankie just forgot who she was. What if Michael is hurt? What if he’s not staying away on purpose? What if he’s waiting for something without even knowing what it might be? What if he’s waiting for… you?”
“Oh, Matthew. You’re being too, too kind.”
“I love you,” he said simply. “And Michael was a huge part of your life.”
“What Carl said, in his letter, about how, no matter whom I was with, Michael was whom I really wanted…”
“I never listened to a word Carl said while he was alive, why should I now that he’s dead?”
“That letter was written solely to hurt. You. Me. Us.”
“I don’t care,” Matt insisted. “The only thing that matters to me right now, Donna, is what do you want to do about it?”
“So, how was your Dad’s… thing, yesterday?” Charlie awkwardly asked Elizabeth when the latter stopped by her house.
“Fine,” Elizabeth answered curtly. “The usual. Blah, blah, blah, money, blah, blah, blah. He left everything to Mom. Cory and Lori Ann and I don’t get to see a penny until we’re at least twenty-five.”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie offered tenuously. “I know you loved him. A lot. I was really little when my mom died – well, you know what I mean. But, I remember – “
“Forget it, okay? He’s gone. Talking about him won’t bring him back. Something my mom doesn’t quite seem to grasp.”
“She misses him.”
“We all miss him. But what’s the point of wallowing in it? He left me a letter,” Elizabeth admitted after an uncertain pause, during which she wondered whether or not to say
“What did it say?”
“That he wants me to focus on the future, to look after his legacy and make sure the Hutchins’ name doesn’t get forgotten by history.”
“The Hutchins’ name,” Charlie repeated slowly.
“Yeah. I think Father had this grand vision of a dynasty, you know? Tough luck for him both Ryan and Perry died without kids, and then Jenna’s turned out to be a retard.”
“Shut up!” Charlie snapped.
Prompting Elizabeth to instantly backtrack. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I keep forgetting she’s your sister more than she is my niece.”
“Don’t you ever talk about her like that again.”
“I said I was sorry! And, anyway, speaking of kids…” Elizabeth gestured vaguely in the direction of Charlie’s waistline, which, for the moment, looked perfectly normal.
Subject changed, Charlie shrank back, almost as if Elizabeth had physically poked her in the stomach, but she tried to keep her voice nonchalant as she reported, “It’s all set up. The abortion. I talked to Raya, and she just needs to run a couple of tests, but we should be able to get it done this week, before Thanksgiving, at the latest.”
“What kind of tests?”
“I’m on a bucket-load of medication for the… you know… the crazy. They need to make sure what I’m taking won’t react badly and mess up the anesthesia or make me bleed to death, or anything. But, I made it clear I wanted it done ASAP, and she was cool about it, didn’t give me any static or anything.”
“Is she going to tell your parents?”
“She can’t. I’m a legal adult.”
“But aren’t you still on their insurance? Won’t they find out that way?”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“We can pay cash. I have the money.” Elizabeth made a motion as if she was about to
whip out her checkbook on the spot and fill in the appropriate amount.
“I can come with you,” Elizabeth offered.
“Why? So you can make sure I go through with it?”
“Don’t you want to go through with it?”
“Of course. Can you imagine me as anybody’s mom? What a disaster.”
“Right. Totally.” Though Elizabeth felt compelled to add, “You’re not… you’re not only doing this because I told you to. Are you?”
“Get over yourself!”
“Sorry! I just meant – “
“I don’t want to have a baby. And I certainly don’t want to be like Allie, spend nine months puking and whatever else, then just hand it over to strangers. Gross.”
“Okay. As long as you’re sure.”
“And, besides, any baby I have would probably be nuts too, like me and my dad. It might turn out like Lori Ann. And I know how you Hutchins’ feel about that.”
“Where is he?” Iris demanded, storming into the Cory house and skipping over any perfunctory condolences for the widow before demanding of Rachel, “Where have you got him stashed away?”
“Seriously, Iris?” Rachel sighed, more exhausted than offended. Truly, there was nothing more anyone – but especially Iris – could do to offend her. “Are you seriously accusing me of – “
“That bastard and I had a deal!”
That got Rachel’s attention, in spite of herself. “What sort of deal?”
“I free him from prison in exchange for – “
Rachel burst out laughing. “Oh, Iris, truly? Do you truly expect me to believe not only that Carl would enter into any sort of partnership with you, but that your contribution would consist of liberating him from the same prison you’ve spent years trying to ambush him into? What could possibly be in it for you?”
“Russ,” Iris said simply and without a trace of embarrassment.
Both the answer and her seeming honesty took Rachel by surprise. “Russ?”
“My husband, Rachel.”
“I know who he is.”
“And I know that, without Carl to gaze upon you adoringly from morning till night and assure that all your past sins were, in fact, forced upon you by other people, it would only be a matter of time before you turned to your back-up man for the job.”
“You think I want Russ?” Rachel asked incredulously.
“I think that you’re incapable of functioning without a man. Or an apologist. I’m aware that, during particularly difficult times, you’ve been known to recruit one of your sons to pinch-hit. But Jamie is no longer available and Matt… he’s got his own bitchy, brunette crone’s every whim to cater. So that just leaves Russ. And I wasn’t about to stand for it. Carl and I agreed. His freedom for – “
“What? What could you possibly have to offer my husband that he’d be willing to get into bed with you?”
“Metaphorically speaking,” Iris reminded. “Some of us have more to offer the world than merely our skills in the bedroom.”
“What did you promise him?”
“Is it? My stock. The controlling stock. I sold it to Carl.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Be my guest. Check the SEC filings. The deal only went through last week. A scant few days before he ‘died.’”
“Then where is it? The stock wasn’t listed as part of his holdings.”
“It was. It just wasn’t willed to you.”
“Who else could he have willed it to?”
“Amanda,” Iris said smugly. “What? She failed to mention it?”
“Why would Carl – “
“Who knows? My guess is he figured willing it to you would make it way too obvious that he was planning to come and, at long last, take over Cory Publishing from Daddy’s rightful heirs, just like Carl always wanted.”
“Carl isn’t coming back!”
“Do spare me. Do you expect me to believe that, last week, the man was plotting his umpteenth triumphant return from prison and, this week, he just gave it all up and decided to take his own life? We had a deal, and he welshed on it. Now, I don’t give a damn that the two of you are planning to run off and live happily ever after on some tropical island with a year-round Shakespeare festival and full moons every night of the week. But, I’ll be damned if it’s going to cost me my father’s company. Get me back that stock, Rachel, or I will blow Carl’s and your scheme wide open.”
“You lying, little bastard!” Grant bodily charged Kirkland as the boy stood at the front podium to his restaurant, making small talk with the arriving and departing customers.
Grant grabbed Kirkland by both shoulders, meaning to shake him. Only to have his son, with a minimum of effort, shove Grant away from him and hiss, “This is my place of business. Control yourself, or I’ll call the police.”
“Control myself? Control myself? That’s rich, coming from you! You couldn’t control yourself around my wife, could you?”
“Excuse me,” Kirkland apologized to his customers – and pointedly not to Grant – before indicating his office off to the side and making it clear that, if Grant wanted to continue this discussion further, he’d better get in there. And keep his voice down.
Grant did it. Not because Kirkland ordered him to – it would be a cold day in Hades
before Grant took orders from his son. But because, as an investor in the restaurant, he had a vested interest in not causing a scene, either.
“Now,” Kirkland closed the door behind them. “What the hell?”
“You slept with Sarah.”
“What? Are you on a time delay of some kind? We’ve already covered this.”
“You slept with her before she and I were married! I know the truth, don’t you dare try to deny it.”
Grant’s revelation took Kirkland by obvious surprise, but all he did was shrug. “How’d you find out?”
“From Carl,” Grant hissed, his frustration, humiliation and fury audible in every syllable. “It was his parting gift to me.”
“Okay,” his curiosity assuaged, Kirkland now only wondered, “So?”
“So? So?” Grant voice rose with each repetition.
“You said it yourself, you and Sarah weren’t married yet. As a matter of fact, you were still married to Aunt Marley. And you’d more or less told Sarah to get lost.”
“You’re my son. I trusted you.”
“Technically, you’d told me to get lost by that point, too.”
“You know the only reason I signed those adoption papers for Jamie – you know he forced me into it.”
“You offered, in his version. And, anyway, it’s irrelevant. Sarah and I both were legal adults, with no other commitments.”
“You knew I loved her.”
“Yeah, you dumping her when she was pregnant to stick with Marley made that totally loud and clear.”
“You didn’t find it disgusting? Being with a woman who’d slept with your father, not to mention your brother?”
“You, Mom,” Kirkland counted off on his fingers. “Aunt Marley. That’s some serious pot calling the kettle black action you’ve got going there.”
“I knew leaving you to be raised by Jamie was a mistake. You’ve turned out just as smug and sanctimonious as he is.”
“Dad’s not the one in here chewing me out for my dating choices.”
“A man of honor doesn’t ‘date’ his father’s wife.”
“I,” Kirkland said calmly, “Did nothing wrong. You made it clear you didn’t want Sarah. I did. When she preferred you, I stepped aside, and we both kept it quiet in order to spare your fragile ego. And when you dumped her – again – I stepped in to help with Daisy and all the other messes you left behind. You have done nothing but hurt Sarah, over and over again. I’ve been her friend. So if you’re waiting for an apology, settle in, maybe order something from the To Go menu, because you’re going to be waiting for a good long while.”
“Do you think it’s true?” Frankie sat with Cass, looking over the documents Carl had willed them pertaining to Eduardo Rivera.
“I’ll have it checked out more thoroughly but, so far, yes, they look authentic. The dates match, so does most of the superficial evidence.”
Frankie leafed through the papers. “Eduardo Rivera paid for Zeno’s legal defense last year?”
“And made Orly several substantial loans over the last two decades to keep the farm going. She paid them all back – “
“Of course, she did. I remember how Orly would get every time she was forced to go into debt. She’d stay awake nights, trying to figure out the best way to pay it all back as soon as possible. She hated being beholden to anyone.”
“But she took money from Eduardo.”
“Certainly looks that way.”
“And you didn’t know anything about it?”
Frankie shrugged. “Honestly, the name would have meant nothing to me. She might have mentioned it, but she certainly didn’t tell me why.”
“So you had no idea, then, that Doug was Zeno’s biological father?”
“Your wife drove my husband to suicide,” Rachel calmly informed Jamie, not caring that Lorna was standing only a few feet away from them.
Jamie opened the door and let his mother the rest of the way in, asking with politeness and calm to match hers, “How do you figure?”
“Did you read the letter he left her? Did she let you read it?”
He nodded slowly. “I did.”
“There. What more proof do you need? Did you know she went up to see Carl a few days before he died?”
“So did you, Mom,” Jamie reminded. “That’s hardly evidence of foul play.”
“I didn’t tell him that everybody’s life would be better if he were gone. That was all on Lorna.”
“And Carl has always been such a fragile, delicate soul that a few words from my wife just pushed him right over the edge, is that it?”
“You aren’t denying it, are you?” Rachel charged Lorna. “You aren’t claiming that Carl killing himself wasn’t your objective all along?”
“No one can make Carl do anything he doesn’t want to do,” Lorna reminded. “Most especially not me.”
“You took a vulnerable, humbled, noble man, and stuck a knife in precisely the spot you knew would do the most damage. You made Carl feel responsible for my happiness – “
“To love, honor, and cherish,” Lorna recited.
“And you convinced him that the only way he could make me happy was by permanently removing himself as the obstacle keeping me from reuniting with my children. You used my feelings for my son, and Carl’s feelings for me, to execute your vengeful agenda.”
“Did Carl tell you that?” Jamie wondered.
“He didn’t have to! I put the pieces together myself.”
“You don’t think the prospect of a life-sentence might have been the factor that prompted Carl to allegedly put an end to his misery?”
“Carl wasn’t going to serve a life-sentence! He and Iris had a deal. She was all set to get him out of jail. She told me so this morning. Carl was just counting down the days until we were reunited. That is, until Lorna decided to throw a monkey-wrench into his plans.”
“So, rather than return to you, Carl killed himself?” Lorna summarized.
“Yes! He did it for my sake. For our sake,” she indicated Jamie.
“No,” her son held up a warning hand. “Don’t you dare drag Lorna or me into whatever sick, manipulative game Carl is playing this time.”
“What game? What game, Jamie? My husband is dead. He’s dead.”
“You watched the autopsy,” Rachel spat bitterly.
“And it proved to be completely inconclusive. To start with a key aspect of your theory, we have no evidence that Carl took his own life.”
“Do you have any evidence suggesting otherwise?”
“Then why won’t you let the poor man rest in peace?”
“I’m not the one bursting in, making unfounded accusations.”
“No. You’re just the one who believes my pain is part of some manipulation,” she turned Jamie’s choice of words back on him with a vengeance.
“It was the last time.”
Rachel glared at her son. “When did this happen, Jamie? When did you become so cold, so unfeeling, so… monstrous, that you feel perfectly justified in standing there, brazenly
and unapologetically defending the person responsible for ripping my heart to shreds?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Mom.”
His implication couldn’t have been clearer. Rachel nearly snorted in disbelief. Jamie was actually likening his situation with Lorna to Rachel and Carl. As if he didn’t understand that, no matter what Carl may or may not have done to Jamie’s wife in the distant past, she was back now and they were reunited, a family once again. As if he believed that his ten-minute, hormonal, adolescent infatuation with Lorna was comparable to the lifetime of true love Rachel and Carl had shared.
She shook her head, disgusted, “My god, you really have turned into a first-class son of a bitch.”
Perfectly content to absorb Rachel’s attacks on her without comment, but not about to stand for it when it came to Jamie, Lorna stepped forward and, sounding genuinely curious, asked, “In that case, who does that make you, Rachel?”
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