Olivia opened her mouth to explain. Iris opened her mouth to deny. But it was too little to late. For both of them.
Dennis merely glared from one to the other and hissed, “I should have known.”
“It was for your own good, darling.” Iris had never been particularly skilled at leaving well enough alone. And she was hardly about to start now.
“Marley was right. You did set her up. Those photos in her drawer. You knew I’d fall for it, and I did. What a sucker.”
“If you really loved her,” Olivia said, shooting for reasonable, hoping to just buy some time. “You would have never even considered the possibility of her being the guilty party. The fact that you did proves you have your doubts about her.”
“All it proves is that I’m an idiot.”
“Hello, Dennis,” Russ walked in to catch the last of his self-deprecation. He looked to each of the players in turn. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing,” Iris assured.
“Nothing,” Olivia stressed.
“Your wife and your daughter are the ones who had me kidnapped,” Dennis happily blew their denials out of the water.
“Tell him,” Dennis ordered. “Tell Russ how you two conspired to snatch both me and Daisy. Remember Daisy? Your granddaughter. Your great-granddaughter. Remember Sarah? Her mother? Do you remember what Sarah went through, all those weeks she was left to wonder where the hell her baby was, who took her, what they might be doing to her? Tell me something, Mom, Olivia, how was that a part of your plan to keep me away from Marley? Were you planning to pin taking Daisy on her, too?”
“Hold on, hold on.” Russ held his hands up in a Time-Out gesture. “Is this true? Were you two really the ones behind Dennis and Daisy’s disappearance?”
Iris and Olivia exchanged glances, both waiting for the other to speak first.
“So all that bull about knowing Grant was alive…” Russ prompted his daughter. When Olivia didn’t respond, he sighed, “Wonderful, the one time Harrison was telling the truth, and it was because you lied to me.”
“It was Iris’ idea!” Olivia went with the one thing she thought might save her.
“Why, you lying, little witch! Olivia came to me, Russ! She swore she could keep Dennis away from Marley. She said all she needed was some time and space to work her dubious charms, and we would be rid of that lunatic – “
“Leave Marley out of this! She’s the victim.”
Iris pleaded, “I would have never felt driven to employ such drastic measures, darling, if I weren’t truly frantic regarding the danger she poses. Marley has yet to display her honest countenance to you. She has to me. Several times. She has admitted some horrible things, some dreadful motives.”
“Which are neither here nor there at the moment,” Russ interrupted. “Iris, Olivia, the truth: What, exactly, have the two of you done?”
As promised, Elizabeth picked up Charlie at Cass and Frankie’s house, so she could drive her to the hospital for her abortion, and back.
But the moment Charlie climbed in the car, Elizabeth said, instead, “I know Cory is the guy you slept with.”
Charlie who, up until that moment, hadn’t felt a whiff of morning sickness, which was actually making her hope there’d been a screw up and she wasn’t actually pregnant after all, now felt like she might throw up. Her head spun. She couldn’t breathe.
“Pull over,” Charlie ordered Elizabeth, who promptly did so.
Charlie opened the window, taking gulps of frigid November air and attempting to keep her heart from hammering its way out of her chest.
“So I guess you’re not going to deny it?” A part of Elizabeth felt triumphant. While another really wished she’d at least tried to.
“How did you – “
“He told me.”
Charlie had to turn around for that. “Why would he – “
“Because he’s my brother.”
“Your brother screwed me.” She meant that in a multitude of ways.
“He wanted to prove that you don’t really love me.” Elizabeth paused to add, “I told him it sounded like something Father would have done.”
“Bet Cory loved hearing that.”
“He didn’t argue the point.”
They’d gotten off track. Neither one exactly regretted it. But now it was time to address the elephant in the front seat.
“So what?” Charlie finally said. “Cory coming clean doesn’t change anything. I still want to get rid of it. Unless – unless Cory said… “
“Cory said for me to tell you that he didn’t want to sway your decision. That’s why he didn’t come with me today.”
“He didn’t come because it’s none of his business.”
“Your baby,” Elizabeth said. “Is my father’s grandchild.”
“Father entrusted me with taking care of the Hutchins family, the Hutchins name.”
“Yeah, well, Cory can go knock someone else up. Or you can – “
“Remember how you said before you didn’t know what you were going to do with your life? How you thought you might be stuck with your parents forever?”
“Right. Which is the reason I don’t want to be stuck with a screaming baby on top of that.”
“Money solves a lot of problems,” Elizabeth said.
“Except what to do when you don’t have any.”
“Father’s grandchild could be worth a lot of money.”
“You leave that up to me.”
“Okay,” Doug said slowly, looking over the documents Cass and Frankie showed him while standing in the parking lot of Lori Ann and Ike’s school. He handed them back to the Winthrops, face impassive.
“You’re not denying it,” Cass pointed out.
“That would be because I see no reason to have this conversation.” He attempted to move away and towards his own car.
Frankie blocked his path. She said, “Zeno was like a son to me for many years.”
“Okay,” Doug repeated.
“But he is actually your son,” Cass, in lawyer mode, stated the obvious, so there might be no misunderstanding.
“Where do you get off,” Doug seemed genuinely curious. “Sticking your nose into people’s personal business?”
“Carl left us these documents.”
“Oh, well, then that makes everything alright, of course. He left me a couple million dollars. You know what? I’d rather have Chase.”
“Carl knew Frankie and I were investigating your father.”
“Nothing incriminating, no.”
“So sorry to disappoint you.”
“Carl also warned us there might be enemies of his coming out of the woodwork now to settle old scores. Lori Ann is his only grandchild. We have to look out for our daughter.”
“Which has nothing to do with my father. Or me.”
“You’re keeping secrets.”
“I lived with a district attorney for twenty years, Cass, I’ve been informed that’s not a criminal offense.”
“Why haven’t you ever told Zeno about being his father?” Frankie wanted to know.
“Because my children’s names are Milagros and Ike. I’m their father, the same way you consider yourselves Lori Ann’s parents. And the way you, Frankie, thought of yourself as Zeno’s other mother. It doesn’t work both ways.”
“But if you wanted children enough to adopt Milagros and Ike, why – “
Doug sighed, looking around to make sure no one could overhear, and finally confessing in an angry rush, “Look, this is what happened. My mother was very sick for the last two years of her life. It was debilitating, it was agonizing. I’d come out to my parents years earlier. Neither one was ecstatic about it, but my father made peace with the whole thing a lot quicker than my mother did. Her big regret was, she didn’t care whom I loved, but she’d always dreamed of grandchildren, and she thought me being with Chase meant that would never happen. At the same time, Orly, who I knew from college, came to me and asked for a favor. I thought, great. Two birds, one stone. I could help her out get what she wanted, and my mother could maybe hold her grandchild before she died. Which is exactly what happened. Zeno was only a few months old, but Orly brought him over a bunch of times, and my mother died happy. That’s it. After that, we had no contact, just like we’d agreed on ahead of time.”
“That’s not true,” Cass said. “Your father helped Orly out financially with the farm.”
“That was between her and him, not me.”
“And Chase was a key player in getting the charges against Zeno and Allie dropped last year.”
“He was a good man. Nobody believed it, but he was.”
“You realize we have to tell Zeno everything,” Frankie interjected.
“No,” Doug said. “You don’t. One more time: It’s none of your business. Is that really so hard of a concept for you to understand?”
“You may not care about your relationship with Zeno – “
“I don’t have a relationship with Zeno. Which was what Orly wanted.”
“ – But I care very much about mine. I want him to trust me.”
“No. You want him to forgive you for abandoning him and his mother. And you’re happy to sacrifice me – and anyone else you have to – to do it.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Grant told Sarah, dropping by first thing Thursday morning, while Daisy was still in her frilly, pink PJs, plopped in front of the TV, watching the parade broadcast from New York. She barely gave Grant the time of day when he bent over to kiss the top of her head.
Sarah tried to be equally dismissive. “What do you want, Grant?”
She was wearing a robe over her own nightgown, and he could see every familiar curve in its outline.
“To thank you, Sarah.”
“Tis the season,” he reminded.
“For what?” she put extra emphasis on repeating the second word.
Grant sighed and, resting his hand in the crook of Sarah’s elbow, gently pulled her aside, so that Daisy wouldn’t be able to hear their conversation. He began, “You know all about my past before I met you.”
“Maybe I should have paid a little closer attention to it.”
“I guess you won’t believe me – nobody believes me – but, all those women you heard about, the ones I hurt… I loved them. I really did. Me being possessive and controlling and jealous, I thought that’s what love was. That wanting to be everything to a person, wanting them to be everything to you, that was how you expressed how much you cared about them. Maybe it
came from my mother leaving me. Maybe it came from Spencer planning out every detail of my life and career before I was old enough to know I had a say in the matter.”
“Or maybe your parents had nothing to do with it, and you’re a self-made ass.”
“Maybe,” Grant conceded with a chuckle. “The point is, it wasn’t until I met you that I realized love wasn’t about walling people away in an attempt to keep them all to yourself. It was about wanting what was best for them, not you. I never felt that, not until you came into my life. That’s why I tried to stay away from you, and why I rejected Daisy at first and why I thought you’d both be better off without me.”
“Old news, Grant,” she reminded.
“I know. I’m sorry. That wasn’t what I came here to say. I came here, like I said, to thank you. You taught me what real love is. You taught me about putting myself second to people I care about. You taught me to look out for someone else, and to let them go if that’s what they wanted.”
“Facts not in evidence,” Sarah indicated that, despite his pretty words about leaving her alone for her own good, here he was. In her living room. Again.
“They’re about to be,” he promised. “You have my word, Sarah, that I won’t bother you or Daisy anymore. I’ll be here whenever you need me. I will always be here for you both. But I won’t impose on your lives, I won’t try to force myself in. I intend to let you call the shots and decide how much or how little of me you and Daisy want to see. I am going to take what you taught me, Sarah, and I am going to put it into practice. I am going to be the man your love turned me into.”
“Or fake your death trying?” she asked cynically.
Grant only smiled and leaned over to peck her on the cheek. Sarah was so shocked, she didn’t pull away. “I am going to be the man you need me to be. No matter what form that might end up taking.”
Cass and Frankie’s Thanksgiving guest list quickly took on a life of its own.
Inviting Felicia means also inviting Lorna, Jamie and the girls (they’d invited Kirkland, too, but he begged off, explaining he needed to work at the restaurant that day). Morgan meant Amanda, Zeno meant Allie, plus they invited Elizabeth for Charlie. After a lot of soul-searching, Cass and Frankie offered Donna the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with her granddaughter, Lori Ann, so that meant Matt and Jasmine were coming, too, as were Marley with Bridget and
Michele, and Dennis with Sarah and Daisy.
Then, with four-fifths of Rachel’s children, plus four of her grandchildren committed to celebrating with the Winthrops, it only made sense for Cass and Frankie to extend an invitation to Rachel and Cory, who both accepted.
“Quite a group,” Cass observed as he watched Frankie sweat out the seating arrangements. “Just finding a spot for Rachel that isn’t next to a woman who once slept with her husband…”
“No kidding,” Frankie shuffled some place-cards around, studied the new configuration critically, then shuffled them again. “Plus I don’t think Rachel is speaking to either Jamie or Amanda. Or maybe they’re the ones not speaking to her. Either way…”
“Where do Lorna and Morgan stand?”
“As long as it’s not next to each other, or Amanda will go on the warpath.”
“And how are things between Sarah and Marley these days?”
“Last I heard, they both hated Grant equally.”
“What about Donna and Marley?”
“Marley agreed to come to Thanksgiving without insisting her mother be placed at a different table, so maybe there’s a bit of a thaw there.”
“Of course, we can’t have Felicia next to Donna, either.”
“Absolutely not. And Lori Ann positively cannot be seated between them.”
“They’ll snap her like a wishbone.”
“Good luck,” Cass playfully punched his wife in the arm. Then wandered out to round up enough chairs to fit them all.
As it turned out, dinnertime conversation remained relatively civil – for a while.
Zeno talked about the year’s harvest, a subject no one could take any offense to.
Matt, Lorna and Jasmine discussed the latest trends in music, and even if other guests voiced opinions about what they’d liked or didn’t like in recent years, the variance never descended into the personal realm.
Cass fielded questions about his new position as District Attorney, Amanda offered an update about digitizing Cory Publishing’s archives, which prompted Felicia to talk about her own electronic books and how they were faring in the marketplace.
Jamie promised to pass on everyone’s good wishes to Kirkland regarding the restaurant, while Sarah shared some behind the scenes tidbits of how they’d gotten it up and running.
Marley talked about the art market, Bridget and Michele discussed their college choices, and Dennis complimented the food, both the turkey and Frankie’s vegetarian options.
Daisy then loudly announced that she wanted to sing a song about Thanksgiving she’d learned in preschool, which prompted Devon to announce that she knew a much better one and insist on singing it, as well.
When asked if she would like to perform too, Mackenzie demurred, burying her face in Jamie’s chest. Despite the progress Lorna had made with both girls since coming home, Zee still made it clear that she preferred her father, and was only tolerating her mother – for Jamie’s sake.
Meanwhile, Lori Ann just pounded her hands on the table and sang a rousing round of “Happy Birthday, dear Lori Ann” (despite her birthday being in August), which garnered an equally enthusiastic round of applause from the adults. Which led to Daisy wanting to sing another song.
“Go ahead, sweetie,” Marley promoted her.
While Sarah shook her head and said, “No. Enough is enough. She can’t keep hogging all the attention.”
For a moment, the guests tensed, wondering if this was going to be the spark that would ignite everything.
But Marley merely shrugged and told Daisy, “Listen to your mother.”
The little girl plopped down on her chair, crossed her arms, and pouted. But Sarah flashed Marley a grateful smile. And everybody else relaxed.
Though Rachel had yet to say anything.
They’d all noticed, but everyone was also polite enough not to draw attention to her understandable silence.
It proved a little harder to ignore the fact that, soon after the turkey dishes had been cleared away and the pumpkin and apple pies brought out, tears began to gather at the rims of Rachel’s lashes.
By the time Cass and Frankie were passing generous slices around, those same tears were silently sliding down Rachel’s cheeks.
“Mom?” Jamie was the first to break the awkward silence and speak up. “Are you okay?”
She glared at him bitterly across the table. “Of course, I’m not. How could I possibly be okay?”
“Rachel,” Felicia began cautiously. “It’s alright. We understand. Everybody here knows how you feel.”
“How could you?” Rachel bristled, deeply offended.
Somewhat taken aback, Felicia enumerated the obvious. “We’ve all lost someone dear to us. Lucas and I, Cass with Frankie, Donna and Michael – “
Matt and his wife exchanged furtive glances, but didn’t say anything.
“Allie lost Gregory, Zeno lost his mother, Jamie and Lorna – “
“None of that compares.”
“Excuse me?” Amanda snapped, even though she hadn’t even been mentioned in the original accounting.
“It doesn’t compare,” Rachel said pointedly, “Because when all of you lost the people you loved, your friends and family gathered around you. They mourned with you, they commiserated with you. They didn’t accuse you of being part of some insidious plot that was suddenly all about them, instead of the person who was actually gone. And they didn’t pile insult upon insult by making it clear they’d been looking forward to this day for years.”
“I don’t think that’s exactly what’s going on here, Mom,” Matt tried to broker a peace before half the heads around the table blew off at the neck.
“Really? Are you telling me your own wife didn’t buy a pair of new shoes specifically so she could dance on my husband’s grave?”
“They were on sale,” Donna shrugged. She reminded Cass and Frankie, “I have so little money ever since I gave it all away to Lori Ann.”
“Happy birthday, Lori Ann!” The little girl warbled again, which broke the tensions somewhat.
Unfortunately, not enough.
“We are all very sympathetic to your feelings,” Frankie assured, hoping to restore harmony before her dinner completely imploded. “And if there’s anything we can do – “
“Oh, you’ve all done plenty already.” Rachel stood up, tossing her napkin on the table and making it clear she’d be taking no more of this. “Look at you all going on with your lives as if nothing has happened. Well, something has happened. Your denial will never change that. I lost the man I loved. A remarkable man, a noble man. A man who only wanted to be accepted by you so-called good people. But you couldn’t bring yourselves to offer him even that much. He was never good enough for you. So what choice did he have but to end his suffering? Even an afterlife in Hell can’t be as brutal as the one you created for him, here on Earth. My husband is gone,” Rachel repeated. “And nothing can ever bring him back.”
“Actually,” Elizabeth spoke slowly, hearing her own words only when they’d exited her mouth, unsure of her motivation, but certain that this was an opening not to be missed. “Mom, there might be some way. Well, not literally, but – “
“What are you talking about, Elizabeth?” A dismissive Rachel was already heading for the door.
While Charlie and Cory both stared at her in horror. Surely, Elizabeth wasn’t planning to… What was she thinking?
“Even if Father can’t be brought back, a part of him is still here with us. Mom, Charlie is pregnant.”
Cass and Frankie’s eyes widened, and they both opened their mouths at the same time to demand to know what the hell –
But Elizabeth wouldn’t let them.
“And Cory is the baby’s father.”
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