Monday, October 19, 2015

Episode 25 - The Carnival

"I want all of you to be ready to go by the time your dad gets home," Jolene called up the stairs at her charges. "That means you have about ten minutes."

Ten minutes, she thought to herself as she quietly slipped into Lawrence's home office and closed the door behind her. She probably didn't even have that long, but she'd have to do what she could.

"Your husband has to have something in here, right?" she said to Eileen's portrait on Lawrence's desk as she opened the top drawer of the cabinet he used to store his important documents.

Quickly, she began sifting through the papers. She knew there had to be something here. Whether or not what she found would prove useful, was less certain.

She quickly skimmed past financial documents and household papers without interest. It wasn't until she reached the back of the drawer that something caught her eye. This might be it. Before she could pull the file folder out of the drawer to get a proper look at it, she heard someone in the doorway.

"What are you doing in here?"

Jolene jumped back, slamming the drawer shut as she spun around. She started at her young charge, who glared at her with arms crossed, as she took a moment to catch her breath.

"I- I was just putting away some things for your father. What are you doing down here? Are you ready to go to the carnival when your dad gets home?"

Lance continued to glare at her. He wasn't going to back down and he wasn't going to be distracted so easily.

"Are you supposed to be in my dad's office?"

"That's not for you to worry about," she said firmly. "What you need to concern yourself with is that you are definitely not supposed to be in your dad's office. Now, move it, before your dad gets home and we both have to explain what we're doing in here."

Jolene was relieved that Lance let her usher him out of the office without any further argument, even though he did so reluctantly. She didn't trust the stubborn expression that remained on his face though. She really hoped he would keep his mouth shut to his father about what he had seen.

She shut the office door behind them just as Artie and Lorna came bounding down the steps.

"We're ready to go!" Lorna sang out. "Is Daddy home yet?"

"Not yet-" Jolene started to reply just as the front door began to open. "Oh, I guess he is. Right on time."

"Looks like everyone is ready and waiting on me," Lawrence said with a smile as he entered the foyer.

"Not waiting, Dad," Artie clarified. "We just finished getting ready ourselves."

"Well then, if everyone is ready, let's head out."

Jolene stole a sideways look at Lance, wondering if he was going to say anything about the office, but he seemed to have forgotten the incident in favor of excitement over the carnival. His usual scowl was replaced by a rare smile as he started toward the door.

"Have a good time!" Jolene called out to the family.

"Aren't you going, Miss Jolene?" Lorna asked, sounding disappointed.

"I wasn't planning on it."

"You should come with us," Artie said encouragingly. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

"Oh please, please say you will," Lorna pleaded.

Jolene smiled apologetically at the pair. She hated to let them down, but when she looked Lance's way she saw the scowl was back. Finally, she turned to Lawrence with a shrug. "I don't want to intrude. It seems more like a family outing."

"You wouldn't be intruding at all," Artie spoke up, before turning to appeal to his father. "Would she, Dad? The whole neighborhood is going to be there."

"You're welcome to come with us," Lawrence said. His tone and expression more neutral than any of his children's. "It's an open event for everyone."

Jolene hesitated a moment, weighing the pros and cons, but it was Lorna's pleading eyes and tugging hands that ultimately won her over. "Thanks. I'd be glad to. Just let me grab my purse."

Cassie sighed heavily as the group met on the sidewalk in front of their house to walk to the carnival together. She wondered if this was how every event was going to be from now on. Instead of outings with just her own little family of four, were they now always going to be an extended family of seven? She greeted Reese and her family politely and with a smile on her face, but she still wasn't sure how she felt about this.

She walked quickly, a little bit ahead of the group, keeping pace with Doug, who was eager to get to the carnival as soon as possible and not miss a second of it. When she glanced back to see how well the others were keeping up, she saw Blaine not far behind her, chatting with Natalie on his right, while Brooke possessively gripped his left hand. Brooke didn't even try to put on a happy face, as she tried to catch her father's attention away from Natalie as much as she could. Cassie was surprised Blaine wasn't dizzy from turning his head back and forth as he tried to split his attention between his two daughters. Reese and Simon brought up the rear, walking at a more leisurely pace as they held hands. The sight brought a genuine smile to Cassandra's face as she turned forward again. She didn't know why she let her insecurities get the better of her. This had nothing to do with Reese. It was about Blaine and his daughter. She had to keep reminding herself of that.

"Oh, wow! Check it out!" Doug exclaimed, his eyes growing wide as they approached the park and the carnival came into sight. The park had been transformed. The simple, open natural area had been temporarily filled with booths strung up with lights where games could be played and food sold while the spaces in between had been decorated with bales of straw, pumpkins, and scarecrows to mark the season.

"What should we do first, Mom?" Doug asked, bright eyed with excitement. His enthusiasm was contagious.

Cassie smiled happily at her son. "Whatever you want."

Cassie glanced back at the others. Reese and Simon had wandered off to explore the sights on their own, while Blaine was occupied with the girls. Seeing that everyone else was content, Cassie started off with Doug to check out the games.

"Do you mind if I go say hello to my friends?" Natalie asked Blaine, hesitantly. She didn't want to be rude, considering he had invited her to join them on this outing.

"No, not at all," Blaine replied with an kind smile that put her conscience at ease.

"If you're sure you don't mind . . ."

"Oh, he doesn't," Brooke spoke up as she tugged on her father's hand. "Come on, Dad. Let's see what games there are."

"Okay, sweetheart," he said to Brooke before turning back to Natalie. "Have fun!"

"I will and I'll catch up with you later," Natalie promised.

Natalie started over to Maura who was in what looked like a very animated conversation with Meghan as Judith and Vince stood by. Before she reached the group, she felt a tap on her shoulder.

She was surprised to see Jeremy grinning at her once she spun around.

"Oh, hi!"

"Enjoying the carnival?" he asked.

"I hope to. I just got here," she replied with a shrug. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Yeah, but I think it's geared more towards the younger kids though. I was walking around with my little sister, Jackie, and she was going nuts," he laughed. "The games are kind of fun though. Want to check them out?"

"Hey, Jeremy," Vince called out as he walked over to the pair. He had been watching them since Natalie's arrival, just waiting for an opening to butt in. "Have you played 'Hit the Target' yet?"

"Uh, no," Jeremy answered, a bit taken aback by the interruption. "I haven't tried that one yet."

"Oh man, if you're looking for a game that's not for little kids that's the the one you need to try. I'm pretty good at it, but . . ." he trailed off as he looked Jeremy up and down doubtfully. "It takes a lot to strength and skill. It might not be for everyone."

Jeremy eyed Vince coolly. He knew a challenge when he heard one. He glanced at Natalie without fully taking his eyes off Vince, "Are you interested in Vince's game?"

Natalie wasn't sure how to answer that. She looked back and forth between the two boys trying to gauge their intentions, but she found them both hard to read. Vince was grinning eagerly and Jeremy maintained an expression that was completely neutral. "Seems as good a place as any to start as any," she said uncertainly.

"Then let's go," Vince said, leading the way.

"So, the big concert is tonight. I bet you're excited," Meghan said, winking at Maura.

"I can't wait!" Maura replied, giddily.

"So?" she said, dragging out the word in a sing song fashion. "What's your plan?"

"Well, the date for Judith didn't work out, so Vince is coming with us instead. Jeremy's still in. The four of us are going there together after the carnival."


"And what?

"What's your big plan for once you get there?" Meghan asked. When her question was met with a confused expression, she rolled her eyes. She couldn't believe she had to spell it out. She lowered her voice in case one of the boys were close enough to hear. "How are you going to get him see this outing as a date with you and not just a favor to his little sister and her friend?"

"How?" Maura sputtered and then shrugged. "I just thought I'd let things progress naturally."

"There's nothing natural about this situation," Meghan smirked. "But, if that's the way you want to go. I just assumed with all of the planning you've done so far, you'd have the entire evening planned down to every detail."

"Well, I've imagined how I'd like it to go," Maura said dreamily. "In that way I've planned every detail."

Meghan seemed unconvinced. "Well, good luck."

"Thanks," Maura replied chipperly. Her interest was already starting to stray elsewhere as cheers and shouts from the competition between Vince and Jeremy caught her attention. "Good luck to you too," she said as she started to wander over to watch the game.

"Hi, Natalie," Maura greeted her friend, before turning towards Jeremy. "What's going on?"

"He's getting beat," Vince called out as Jeremy stomped forward to collect the plastic axe that had completely missed the target and fell to the ground.

"Not yet, I'm not," Jeremy insisted. "I'm just warming up."

"Better warm up quick. This is your last throw for this round."

"Step aside," Jeremy said with a smirk as he grabbed he axe handle, stood back behind the line and prepared to throw again.

"This is so exciting," Maura gushed.

Natalie nodded noncommittally and said nothing.

When Jeremy threw the axe again this time it hit the target with a satisfying thud.

Maura clapped and cheered enthusiastically. "Oh, Jeremy. That was so good!"

"Better," Vince grinned. "But I still win this round."

"Best two out of three?"

"You're on."

"You can do it, Jeremy," Maura said, as she came up to him patted his arm encouragingly.

He turned to see what Natalie's reaction was, but she had already lost interest in the contest and was starting to wander off to check out the other sights.

Meanwhile, Cassie was taking a break from the carnival games to chat with Chloe.

"I saw that your family and Reese's walked over together," Chloe remarked as she nodded towards where Blaine and the children were playing a game while Reese and Simon watched. "I guess that means you're one big, happy family now?"

Cassie grimaced slightly before putting on a brave face. "Apparently so."

"How are you holding up?"

"Fine." When Chloe gave her a pointed look, Cassie added emphatically, "Really. I mean it. This isn't about me or me and Blaine or Blaine and Reese. It's about Blaine and his kids and I'm not going to let myself think anything otherwise."

"Good. I'm glad to hear it," Chloe said sincerely. As she squeezed Cassie's arm as a show of support, she caught a glimpse of Lucy across the yard. She smiled and waved her over.

"How did I miss you earlier?" Chloe asked once Lucy had joined them. "I saw your kids."

"I just got here. I had to work late, so I told the kids to come over without me. I just stopped by the house to change and came straight over."

"One of the benefits to having teenagers," Cassie remarked.

"One of the few benefits," Lucy corrected her with a wry smile. "You did see both Vince and Maura earlier, right?"

"Yes, they were playing games with some of the other neighborhood kids. It looked like they were having a good time," Chloe answered.

"Good," Lucy asked, breathing a sigh of relief.

Chloe picked up on her best friends' concern. "How has Vince been doing lately?"

"Oh, so much better," Lucy replied emphatically. She looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders. He's making a serious effort at school. He's seemed to have cut himself off from those bad news friends of his completely. He's really turning things around and I'm really proud of him."

"Oh, that's great!" Chloe seemed nearly as relieved and proud as Lucy. "I've always known he was a good kid at heart. Maybe he was just a little lost."

"He was . . ." Lucy said with a frown as she thought back to the way things were just a few months ago and her mind drifted even farther into the past. "I wonder if I should have done things differently for him."

"What could you have done differently?" Chloe asked. "You have always been an excellent mom."

"Well, thank you," Lucy replied, half-heartedly accepting the praise. But she couldn't stop her mind from going back, recalling her failed relationships, her struggles to balance career and single parenthood, desperately wishing for an easy answer, one thing that she could go back in change. She knew the one thing she could change if she could, but she wasn't sure it would have made any difference to Vince. "I don't know . . . sometimes I wonder if things would have been better if I hadn't gone it alone all of these years."

"I doubt it. Sometimes kids are just going to go their own way, regardless," Chloe said with a dismissive wave of her hand. She stared pointedly at Lucy. Being friends for so long, she could read Lucy like a book and it wasn't hard for her to read between the lines. "Are you sure it's not just you that is lonely?"

Lucy shrugged and said nothing.

"When is the last time you really dated?"

"Too long. Who has the time? Besides bringing someone new into my life now could only make things more complicated and more complications are the last thing I need in my life right now."

"I think you're wrong," Chloe persisted. "I think you want somebody."

Lucy just sighed impatiently. She did want somebody, but not just anybody.

"Even Lawrence is here with somebody," she said, nodding to Lawrence and Jolene as they walked and browsed the booths together.

"Oh, that's just the kids' nanny," Cassie said, immediately dismissive of the idea that they were together.

"They're looking a little cozy to me," Chloe muttered as she followed the couple's movements with her eyes.

"It's not that I'm opposed to the idea. I'm open to dating. I am," Lucy insisted. "But I'm not going to make it a priority to find a man. If it happens, it happens. If I'm fated to be alone, then so be it."

At the word "fated," Cassie's ears perked up. "Let me see your hand."

Lucy looked confused, but she held her hand out to Cassie.

Cassie took Lucy's hand and turned it palm up. She leaned in closely and examined the lines closely. She didn't look up or flinch when Lucy scoffed. Instead she remained focused, only murmuring an interested, "Hmmm."

"What?" Chloe asked eagerly as she leaned in to try to see what Cassie saw.

"You definitely are not fated to be alone," Cassie said releasing Lucy's hand. "I'd say you have another marriage or least a serious relationship ahead of you. But there's something more interesting than that. . ."

"What?" Chloe asked eagerly while Lucy tried very hard not to roll her eyes.

"I think you have a great love from the past that isn't finished yet."

Despite her skepticism, Lucy was taken aback. Her heart was racing, but she tried not to let her reaction show. "I don't really believe in fortune telling, but thanks all the same."

"Fortune telling?" Maura repeated, rushing up to the women, with Meghan, Judith, and Natalie following behind. "Are you telling fortunes, Mrs. Kitteridge?"

"I wasn't really-" Cassie replied, hesitantly.

"Oh, please. Do mine," Maura said, eagerly pressing her hand forward.

"Then mine, next," Meghan spoke up.

Cassie looked from the girls to Lucy and shrugged.

"Just remember, it's only for fun. Don't take it too seriously," Lucy told her daughter.

"Yes, it's just for fun," Cassie reiterated. Permission granted, Cassie took Maura's hand and examined it. "What do you want to know about?"

"Well," Maura said hesitantly, a blush creeping across her cheeks.

"She wants to know about her love life," Judith chipped in with a roll of her eyes and arms crossed firmly across her chest.

"We all do," Meghan added.

"Speak for yourself," Judith scoffed. Meghan and Maura ignored her, but Natalie grinned.

"Well, it looks like you have a very strong heart line," Cassie said, tracing her hand across Maura's palm as the girls leaned in for a closer look. "You love others freely and fall in love easily, but you also love deeply, with all your heart which can lead to heartbreak. You have a lot of love to give and you aren't afraid to express what you feel."

Maura beamed excitedly. "Can you tell who I'll get married to and how many kids we'll have?"

"Not who, palm reading isn't quite that specific," Cassie explained as she studied the lines. She was determined to choose her words carefully and keep her readings positive no matter what she saw. Girls like Maura especially, could be impressionable, and there was no need to make any drastic statements. This was just for light-hearted fun. "I see a significant relationship for you, fairly early on, while you're still young and I see, oh, lots of children in your future."

Maura's eyes grew large. "Lots, like how many?"

"It's hard to count exactly and the lines are rather faint. The lines might not indicate only biological children. Maybe you'll grow up to be a teacher and have lots of children in your life through your profession that will be as dear to you as if they were your own or maybe you'll be really involved with your kids' social activities or be like a mother figure to their friends."

Maura beamed, pleased with that answer, but before she could ask another question Meghan pushed her way in. "Okay, now me."

"Oh, I see you'll have a couple of really significant romantic relationships in your life. These relationships will also start in the early part of your life, but both will continue into later life. There will be some difficult times, but eventually everything will stabilize and turn out all right in the end."

"Now you, Judith," Maura insisted as she pressed her reluctant friend forward.

"Not surprisingly, your heart line indicates a very cool head when it comes to relationships," Cassie said as she studied Judith's palm. "You do not have a high interest in romance. You rarely get carried away with emotions and you prefer to let logic and common sense rule over your heart. You'll be very content though and have a lot of stability in your relationships."

"Okay, Natalie," Maura called back.

"If I had to do it, you do to," Judith whispered to her as they passed each other.

Natalie managed a nervous smile as she walked forward and offered her new stepmother her hand.

As Cassie leaned forward to look at Natalie's palm a wave of nausea washed over her. She couldn't focus on the hand in front of her, instead everything went dark and she felt like she was falling into a deep, dark pit. She dropped Natalie's hand and brought her own hand up to the bridge of her nose as she tried to settle the sinking feeling that came over her and tried to find the air to breathe. She heard her friends' voices calling her name and asking if she was alright, but they seemed so far away and at that moment and she didn't have the strength or the awareness to answer back. She could barely stand upright. All she wanted to do was curl up into a ball on the ground and cry. Suddenly bright light flashed before her eyes, orange and flickering. Searing heat engulfed her body and she wasn't sure she could bear the pain. Just as quickly as the experience had started, it ended. She gasped and the world returned before her eyes. She felt unusually aware of her surroundings, the sunlight beaming down on the park, the shadows of the trees above swaying gently with the slight breeze, the voices and movement of the other people around her. She looked straight ahead into Natalie's dark eyes, wide with shock and fear. Her friends stood close by her side. Maura with her arms around her shoulders.

"Cassie, are you alright? What happened? What did you see?"

"I-" she wanted to answer, but she didn't know how. But she had to say something, for Natalie's sake, if for no one else's. "I didn't see anything. I'm sorry. I must be coming down with something. I just suddenly felt faint."

"Let's find a quiet place for you to sit down. We'll get you some water," Chloe suggested, stepping forward to take her arm.

Cassie shook her head. "I think I'd rather go home and lay down."

"Are you sure? Maybe you should rest a little bit before you try to walk back to the house."

"I'll be alright now," Cassie insisted. She met Natalie's eyes again. "I'm just not feeling well. We'll try this again another time. When I'm feeling better, I can do a reading like I did for the other girls. It will be fine." She tried to muster a smile, but she felt like all of her efforts were failing. She was feeling too shaken herself to reassure anyone else at that moment. "Tell Blaine I went home, but I'll be fine."

Cassie walked away in a daze, leaving the others behind her in a stunned silence. It took all of the effort she could muster to hold herself together. Once she was alone at the edge of the park, her strong facade started to break and she let her emotions give way. She had been trying to ignore the unsettling feelings that had been nagging her for months, but now she couldn't deny them any longer. Something terrible was going to happen to someone and soon.

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