It wasn't until after he'd
caught up to them that Dean Frame even realized he'd flagged down
Carl and Rachel's car.
Dean was breathing heavily,
eyes wild and sunken. Dried blood caked along his palms and seeped
through the torn sleeves of his white shirt from wrist to elbow.
His pants were equally bloodied and shredded at the knees, as if he'd
been rock-climbing without any sort of protective equipment.
Before Rachel could suppress
her shock enough to ask what had happened or to offer any sort of make-shift
medical attention, before she could even step out of the car to face
him, Dean was tugging on the door-handle of the back-seat. Carl
reached over to unlock it, and Dean slid in, barely able to speak, but
nevertheless managing to hoarsely croak out, "Go. The convent.
Jenna, Felicia. She's sick. She needs help. Go!"
Carl stepped on the gas and
roared off into the night, obeying Dean's pleas to "Hurry, please!"
Within minutes they were at
the front entrance. Carl didn't bother attempting to park, simply
abandoning the car where it slid to a stop, practically crushing the
Virgin Mary statue that otherwise might have bid them welcome.
Dean hopped out before they'd even fully stopped moving. He
ran to the door, banging on it like a madman and leaving Carl and Rachel
no option but to follow.
The nun who opened up attempted
to impede his entering, or at least to settle Dean down, but he was
having none of it. He pushed past her, beckoning for Carl and
Rachel to do the same, heading for the stairs and shouting, "This
way. They're up here."
"This is private property,"
the nun protested. "You can't just barge in. We're
a holy order."
"It's alright," Carl
assured her, breaking into a run and loping up the stairs two at a time
in order to catch up with Dean. "I suspect I shall be going to Hell irregardless."
Rachel did her best to keep
up with them both, but by the time she'd made it to the top of the
stairs and down the dimly lit hall, she could already hear Dean and
Carl's voices raised in argument with the Mother Superior.
The older woman was insisting
that Dean was out of his mind. Ms. Gallant and her daughter were
nowhere on the premises, and she was not about to let them rip apart
her convent in order to verify that fact.
"They're in here," Dean
insisted, indicating a wooden door sequestered around the corner.
"Damn you, let us in. I'm telling you, Jenna is sick.
She's pregnant. She needs to see a doctor. Now."
Carl looked at Dean, and Rachel
could literally see the wheels turning in her husband's head as he
debated whom to believe. A split second later, he'd made his
decision. Presumably recalling what he'd told the first nun
about his afterlife being pretty much set in stone by this point, Carl
decided he had nothing left to lose and, without warning, raised one
arm and shoved the Mother Superior backwards with all his strength.
She crumpled at his feet, whimpering a muffled cry of surprise.
The unexpectedness of Carl's
action, momentarily shocked even Dean into inaction. He'd been
willing to commit a great many crimes in the name of saving his wife,
but he presumably had drawn the line at assaulting an elderly nun.
Dean stared at Carl, eyes wide.
"In for a penny, in for a
pound," Carl advised him, and indicated the locked door. "Knock
it down, son."
Dean obeyed instinctively.
His first kick loosened the doorknob, and his second ripped it from
the wood altogether. One final blow from Dean's shoulder was
enough to clunk it off the hinges, and they were inside.
"Dean!" Felicia was
sitting by a cot in the far corner of the room, dressed in a pantsuit
that once might have been white, but now showed streaks of black and
gray. What was even more eye-catching was that Felicia was wearing
no make-up. She leapt to her feet when she saw him come in, crying,
"Oh, thank goodness, you made it!" Then, spotting Carl and
Rachel behind him, Felicia could only cover her mouth with both hands
in shock before turning to indicate the agonizingly curled up figure
lying on the cot next to her. "Help her, please," Felicia
begged. "She's in so much pain. She started having convulsions.
I didn't know what to do."
"I'll call an ambulance,"
Rachel offered, taking in the unconscious Jenna, her face not so much
pale as nearly blue, her eyes rolled back in her head, her limbs looking
particularly weak and fragile compared to the swelling of her belly.
"No," Carl decided.
He told Dean, "Pick her up. We should make better time transporting
her by car."
Dean did, visibly wincing from
the throbbing it caused his nearly shredded arms, but stoically refusing
any offer of help. Carl led the way back downstairs, followed
by Dean with Jenna, then Felicia, clutching Rachel's arm for support.
This time, neither nun made
any attempt to get in their way.
As he stepped out the door,
Carl hissed, "Ultio omnium et nullius misericordia."
It had been a long time since
high-school Latin class, but Rachel was able to reach into the far recesses
of her memory to translate her husband's parting words.
"Vengeance for all," Carl foretold. "Mercy for none."
Allie told Sarah, "I thought the first commandment to driving guys wild was making them wait for you?"
Sarah snorted. "That is so 1990s. Don't tell me you actually fell for that Rules crap. You know where both those women are now? Alone. And old. With bad face-lifts. You make a guy wait for you, he finds someone else while he's waiting. Those are Sarah's rules."
With that, they swept into Carlino's at eight PM on the dot. Gregory was already there, waiting for them. GQ and Steven moseyed in twenty minutes later.
By that time, Sarah had managed to secure them a secluded corner table, where she and Allie sat on either side of Gregory.
Allie leapt up as soon as she saw the guys come in. She introduced Steven and Sarah perfunctorily, then made a special point of introducing GQ to Gregory. Her date.
Gregory nodded affably, and reached out to shake GQ's hand. GQ did the same. This was not at all satisfactory for Allie.
She asked GQ, "Where's your date?"
"Didn't bring one." If the question was mean to rattle him, it missed the mark by a mile. GQ continued smiling. He took the seat next to Sarah, i.e. the one furthest from Allie, and flipped open a menu. "Steven tells me your aunt and uncle own this place. What do you recommend?"
Over dinner Sarah waited until Steven had ordered so that she could then request the same thing the five of them made small talk. Well, actually, Sarah did most of the talking. She asked Steven about his research and his hobbies, feigning interest in everything from HTML code to the intricacies of dirt-bikes. Allie mostly alternated between looking longingly and/or staring daggers at GQ, who amused himself by periodically popping some of Steven's more pompous balloons. Gregory sat quietly, speaking when spoken to, but never venturing off on a topic of his own. Funny, with most people, his behavior would have come off as snotty and aloof, or at least timid and antisocial. But Gregory looked so comfortable and not at all self-conscious listening to others rather than always trying to be the center of attention himself, that on him the conduct seemed perfectly fitting.
GQ politely asked Gregory, "What are you majoring in?"
Gregory put down his burger, wiped his mouth and made sure he'd swallowed every last bite before answering, "Psychoneuroimmunology."
"Wow. Sounds intense.
And hard to say."
"The first semester, we just work on pronunciation." Gregory delivered the response so dead-pan, it took a moment for everyone to realize that he was joking and to burst out laughing.
"What does it mean?" Allie asked, figuring the more GQ saw her interacting with Gregory, the better. It was only after she'd said it that Allie realized your average girlfriend probably already knew what her average boyfriend was majoring in. Oh, what the hell? It's not like GQ was paying her any mind, anyhow.
"Study of the mind/body connection," Gregory said. "How psychological factors can ultimately influence physical health."
"Are you kidding?" Steven broke in. "You mean like Biofeedback? Hypnosis? Magnets? Healing crystals? That stuff's not science! It's voodoo. At best it's a placebo, at worst it keeps people from getting real help from real doctors."
Gregory shrugged, unoffended, and went back to his burger. GQ was the one who argued, "That only shows how ignorant you are, Frame. Just because scientists haven't yet figured out exactly how the mind/body connection works doesn't mean it can't exist. That would be like saying gravity didn't exist before Newton proved that it was there."
"Actually, gravity hasn't been proven. It's merely been observed. And only micro-gravity, at that. Macro-gravity is a whole other story."
"So we might all float off at any moment?" Sarah giggled.
Steven shook his head. "Don't worry, you're tiny enough to stay right where you are."
"Thanks goodness!" Sarah shifted her position so that her body language now mirrored Steven's exactly. "I'm having way too fun of a time to risk flying off at an inopportune moment."
And thank goodness that Allie's mouth was empty. She did have a highly sensitive gag reflex.
GQ insisted, "My mom, a real doctor, was involved a couple years back in a study at UCLA where they proved that there's this stress hormone, cortisol, that suppresses the immune system's cells' ability to grow properly. People under a lot of stress end up with these shorter cells, and they're much more likely to get sick than people with longer cells. Is that the kind of mind/body connection you're talking about, Gregory?"
Gregory nodded. And then, without changing expression, he told Steven, "Your fly's open."
Steven ducked his head, cheeks reddening, to verify. "No, it's not."
"You're blushing," Gregory noted.
"I said something to you that triggered a psychological response, embarrassment, which then caused a physical response, the blood vessels in your cheeks dilating."
GQ burst out laughing. "He's got you there, man!"
"The idea," Gregory continued, "Is to explore human beings' potential for using their minds to control their bodies. If a few words from me can make your vessels swell or your heart beat faster or your respiration speed up like they are now, maybe other words or behaviors might be able to suppress tumors from growing, or calibrate blood sugar in diabetics."
Steven glared at Gregory. "My dad's a doctor, too, and he uses real medicine to treat his patients. He doesn't just tell them to wish their diseases away. That's like those Christian Scientist weirdoes who think you should pray instead of take medicine." Then, without further comment or giving Gregory the chance to respond, Steven turned his head as if the earlier conversation hadn't even happened and observed to Sarah, "It's kind of funny how, growing up, we never met each other. Us being almost related and all."
"Well, I'm from the withered side of the family tree. Between everything my grandmother did to yours and everything my dad did to your dad "
"You mean that stuff with my aunt Marley? That was a million years ago."
"Well, I was on the road with my mom a lot of the time, too. She's a dancer. And dancers have such short careers, she didn't want to miss a moment of it. So any chance she got to perform, she took it. I've lost count how many times we went across the country or all the way to Europe with one touring company or another. We even spent a year traveling in China. It was all so interesting. And educational! I feel so fortunate that I got a chance to spend my childhood living out of suitcases and seeing the world."
Now Allie did have something in her mouth, which was why instead of demanding, "Say, what?" she only turned to stare at her best friend. As far as Allie knew, Sarah had hated every single minute of being dragged around in her mother's wake, getting dumped in strange, foreign hotel rooms while Olivia either worked or partied, and fielding periodic long-distance phone calls from Dennis promising that he'd come rescue her as soon as he got the chance. Which, more often than not, he never quite got. In fact, Sarah had once described her entire childhood as "Hoofing Through Hell." And here she was, waxing rhapsodic about it like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
Later that night, on a crowded nightclub dance-floor, Sarah would yell to Allie, "Guys have enough problems of their own. Or they think they do, anyway. Like guys know from real problems. In any case, they don't want to hear you whine about yours."
For now though, Sarah went on, "And if there is one thing that travel taught me, it's how fortunate I was, being an American, living in a comfortable home, having great food to eat. Ever since then, I've tried to give back. Or rather, to pay my good fortune forward. Hey, that gives me a great idea! Steven, there is this organization I volunteer with, it's for underprivileged kids. They could really use somebody to come by and reconfigure their computers. The machines they have are so old. They received some new software recently, but they don't know how to install it. Do you think you could help out? It would mean so much to the kids."
In another demonstration of holistic connection, Steven's body was making it very clear, though a variety of gyrations including his all but recoiling in his seat, nose scrunched, eyes narrowed how much his mind did not want to agree to Sarah's request. On the other hand, his mind was equally aware as evidenced by Steven's already narrowed eyes darting from GQ to Gregory and then to the girls that he would look like an utter punk if he refused.
Finally, reluctantly, Steven said, "Yeah, sure. I guess I could do that. For a little while."
"Oh, thank you," Sarah beamed.
"What was that all about?" Allie asked Sarah that same night, this time in the club Ladies' Room. "How is coercing Steven into performing volunteer work supposed to make him fall madly in love with you?"
"Guys like Steven," Sarah said. "The really smart ones, they take pride in being brains. In fact, its how they define themselves. They realize they don't have much else going on. Why do you think they're such pricks about it? Did you see how offended Steven got when Gregory brought up something he didn't know? It made him all freaked out and defensive because it was an attack on the only thing he feels really confident about."
"And that's a good thing?"
"Guys like Steven, whose entire self-esteem is stuck on how much they know, have one huge, gaping Achilles Heel. They think they're all brain and no heart."
"Oh, Steven doesn't think that!"
"He'll never admit it. But he does. They all do. That's why getting him to perform some volunteer work is going to puff him all up, make him think, Hey, I'm even more awesome than I thought. I'm not just a genius with computers, I'm also a savior of humanity! Steven will fall even more in love with himself, and that'll make him fall in love with me."
"You?" Allie clarified. "The girl who loved traveling the world with her mother and currently volunteers with underprivileged children?"
"That's the one."
"And what's the name, pray tell, of this organization that you've recruited Steven to volunteer with?"
"I'll let you know as soon as I find it," Sarah assured.
"Women," Matt muttered, stomping into the Cory kitchen. He ripped open the refrigerator door, his head throbbing. "Hypocrites, all of them."
"Who's a hypocrite?" came Jamie's voice from the table to Matt's left, followed by the unmistakable sharp escape of air as a bottle was opened.
Matt spun around, his eyes lasering onto the beer in Jamie's hand.
"Women," Matt repeated, striding over and grabbing the bottle before Jamie could say a word. He took several gulps, foiled from finishing it off by Jamie pulling the bottle away from his lips, which caused a loud pop.
"Mine," Jamie snapped as Matt reached for the bottle again.
"I need it more," Matt tried to sound perfectly reasonable and thus entitled. "I've had a bad day."
"Well, I need it too, and I grabbed it first."
Matt eyed Jamie dangerously. "Did someone die?"
"Get kidnapped? Aside from the people we already know about, that is?"
Jamie shook his head, hand tightening around the bottle in defiance.
Jamie hesitated. "Marley kissed me. With tongue and everything."
"Oh, yeah? Donna dumped me at the Bay City Grille after telling me I was too young for her. Or maybe that she was too old for me. It was kind of hard to tell."
Jamie looked from the bottle to Matt before holding it out to him. "Dumping trumps a kiss."
"It sure as hell does," Matt plopped down on the chair next to Jamie's.
"So," Jamie said after allowing Matt a moment to savor the last of his beer. "You and Donna? Again?"
"Don't start with me."
"I'm not," Jamie chuckled. "I'm just...surprised. I didn't have a clue."
"No one did. We were keeping it a secret."
"The thrill of the forbidden?"
"Something like that," Matt nodded. "And then it all devolved to..."
"Donna being Donna," Jamie finished.
"Yeah," Matt sighed. "I guess. One minute everything is fine and the next Donna's going on and on about not wanting to be humiliated whenever we go out and people talking about her robbing the cradle."
Jamie chuckled. "Robbing the cradle? She does know you no longer have a curfew and don't get carded anymore, right, babyface?"
"Funny," Matt bristled. "I don't know what's going on with her. She won't tell me anything. She keeps playing these games."
"Tell me about it," Jamie said in a tone that made Matt turn to his brother inquisitively.
"So," he began after studying Jamie's even more thoughtful than usual expression. "You and Marley? Again?"
"No," Jamie shook his head, sharply. "At least I don't think...no."
"Why not? You two had a good thing going before "
"How are you and Donna working out the second time around?"
"Touche," Matt muttered looking regretfully at his empty beer bottle.
"Exactly. And now we have the kids and "
Matt cut him off. "You and Marley aren't me and Donna. Marley is not Donna "
"Thank God for nurture versus nature." Jamie muttered. "Although in that house, who knows which was the greater of two evils?"
" And the problems you two had are moot now. You're raising kids together. Marley's finally a mom like she always wanted."
Jamie shook his head. "That wasn't the only problem we had. And it's been ten years, we're different people."
"Look, do you still love her? Because if you do "
"It's not that, Matt. I'll always care for Marley "
"Well, is it someone else? Someone from when you were living in San Francisco?"
Jamie pushed himself up from the table, suddenly restless. "There was no one in San Francisco."
"I don't buy that you were this celibate monk all those years. Single and living in one of the hottest cities in the world, with no kids or exes or family to hold you back?"
"There was no one in San Francisco," Jamie simply repeated, fumbling with an apple from the bowl of fruit on the counter.
Matt studied his brother; rather his brother's shoulders, since Jamie had his back to him, and sensed there was more to the story. No, Matt pretty much knew that there was more to the story, what with San Francisco being a complete non-topic ever since Jamie returned to Bay City. There had to have been more to his life than the hospital and his trips abroad, but Jamie was uncharacteristically tight-lipped, and with all the drama surrounding his return and taking on both the boys, Jamie's life in San Francisco had become lost in the shuffle.
"What the hell am I going to do?" Jamie muttered, turning to face Matt. "I don't want to hurt her."
"Maybe a kiss is just a kiss," Matt shrugged. "Even with a little tongue."
"It wasn't just a kiss. It was Marley's way of asking for something more. And I'm not sure I can give it to her."
"Why not? Leaving the kids and the past out of it, you have a good-looking woman who likes you. You're single, she's single. What's holding you back? From where I'm sitting, you're making a mountain out of a molehill. You should just go for it."
Jamie opened his mouth, but thought better of it and settled on a noncommittal, "I'll figure something out."
"Jamie," Matt began again, only to be cut off by Jamie's beeper, a device that had no doubt saved his brother from completing many a conversation.
"Gotta go," Jamie said after glancing at the display. "Hospital calling. Good thing you saved me from drinking that beer."
"Kirkland's upstairs. Can you tell him I had an emergency call, and would you keep an eye on him until someone more responsible comes home?"
"I'm responsible," Matt huffed.
"You're dating Donna."
"Apparently not anymore." Matt felt whatever joviality the beer had temporarily infused him with, draining away along with the final dregs.
"Need I say more?" Jamie laughed before ducking out of the kitchen.
He hopped into his car, briefly noting then promptly disregarding that Carl's Aston Martin seemed to be missing from its usual place in the garage, only to come upon it a few minutes later, parked right at the entrance to Bay City University Hospital's Emergency Room.
Jamie ran inside. Carl, his mother and Felicia Gallant, of all people, were in the waiting area. Felicia pressed herself against the nursing station, fingers digging into the formica, demanding to know where they had taken her daughter and how soon could she see her? The nurse reassured Felicia that Jenna's husband was with her, and that they would let Felicia know what precisely was wrong as soon as they had something concrete to report.
"Jamie!" Relief flooded Rachel's face at the sight of her entering son and she called him over. "Can you help Felicia get some answers, please?"
Pulling on his white lab coat with one hand and accepting the chart a nurse handed him with the other, Jamie had only a moment to register surprise at his patient's name. Although that did explain why Felicia was there. Jamie kept moving as he called over his shoulder, "I just got here myself. I'm going to see Jenna now. I'll keep you posted, I promise!"
Felicia attempted to follow Jamie, but Rachel held her back. She told her, "Let Jamie see what he can find out, first. I'm sure Jenna is receiving the best care. You don't want to get in the way."
"You don't understand," Felicia insisted. "I can't lose her. Not like this."
"You won't," Rachel reassured, accepting that the words were empty and meaningless, but feeling that she needed to say them as much as Felicia needed to hear it.
"And she can't lose the baby." Felicia gripped Rachel by both arms, face to face, nearly shaking her as she attempted to convey, "She's been trying to get pregnant for so long. She and Dean had almost given up hope. I can't let Jenna lose this baby. I owe her, you see? I owe her, after last time. A healthy baby. A beautiful baby. I have to make sure.... I can't lose her, Rachel." Felicia broke down, her knees buckling to such an extent that Rachel was forced to catch and escort Felicia to a nearby chair. "Not here. Not like this. Not after everything... I lost Lucas here. Right in this very hospital. He died, and I wasn't with him. I wasn't with him when he died. Maybe if I'd been there... I have to get to Jenna. I can't... Not again... Not like Lucas."
"Jenna is going to be alright," Rachel maintained, even as, over her head, she and Carl locked eyes. Both were thinking the same thing.
How in the world and when should they tell her about Lucas?
"You're leaving me," Cass repeated, as though his wife had suddenly broken into another language.
"Yes," Lila confirmed.
"Right now?" Cass presented each fact slowly, "Out of the blue? You're leaving me?"
"I would hardly call it out of the blue, darling."
"Why, yes, she does have a little something to do with it."
"I Frankie... I've only had a couple of hours to deal with her being back. You can't expect me to make a decision... "
"Actually, I've taken a page from your favorite wife's book and gone ahead and made the decision for you. I've picked up here and there what happened back when it was Frankie and Kathleen that you were eeny-meeny-miney-mo-ing between."
"You make it sound like a beauty contest," Cass objected. "Or something equally trivial. I assure you, I agonized over my choice."
"And in the end, you picked Frankie. This time around, I figured I'd just cut to the chase and, what do they call it in politics? Withdraw my name from consideration."
"Lila... " Cass floundered for words. "We've been together... It's... ten years. I love you."
"I believe you do." She said pleasantly. "I also believe that you love Frankie more."
"This isn't fair. You haven't given me a proper chance to process everything."
"Lots of things aren't fair, Cass. You know what else isn't fair? Being married to a man who wishes you were someone else. That just isn't fair, not at all."
"I never said "
"You didn't have to. I'm not stupid. I told you the truth before; I do believe that you love me. But every day, in a million little ways, you've made it clear you wished I was Frankie. Frankie was a private detective, so you dragged me into tearing around, looking for Felicia. Frankie was a vegetarian, you notice you hardly ever eat meat any more when I cook it? We've got crystals in every corner of this house. I could go on and on, but I'll just ask you this one thing. When we lost our baby, our little boy, you remember the first thing you said to me, when I woke up in the hospital after the operation?"
"I " Cass stumbled. "Not exactly, no. I remember telling you that it was alright, I'm sure I said that."
"I remember exactly," Lila quoted. "You did tell me that it was alright."
"There, you see?"
"Your exact words were: It's alright. Frankie had a miscarriage, too. How nice, Cass, that right after I lost my son, you were there to reassure me that it was alright, I wasn't a complete failure, the sainted, perfect Frankie had miscarried once, as well."
"I didn't mean it like that!" Cass insisted.
"Maybe you didn't. But that's what I heard."
"I mean it was alright, Frankie had a miscarriage, but then we went on to have Charlie, anyway. That's what I meant!"
"Did you stop to think, even for a minute, that I might like to have one moment to myself, one moment that was just between you and me? Not you, me and Frankie."
"I'm sorry," Cass said. "I don't know what else to say. But, Lila, leaving like this, before we've talked it over, before we've thought everything through..."
"You say you went to Hell and back, being caught between Frankie and Kathleen," Lila mused. "But I suspect a part of you liked playing Monkey-In-The-Middle. It fit your image of yourself. Cassanova, the man no woman could resist."
"Would you please be serious? This isn't the time for name-calling."
"I am being serious. I loved you with all my heart, Cass. More than I ever loved anybody. Shane, Matt... you were it for me. And if Frankie never came back, maybe we'd have gone on the same way for years and years. I loved our family. I loved the girls. But you know what? Seeing the way you looked at the love of your life today, it made me realize, I deserve to be looked at like that, too. And I was never, ever going to get it from you."
Cass spread his arms wide, speechless and only able to repeat. "Please. Stay. I don't... I can't just let it us end like this."
"You'd like me to stay and fight for you?"
"Well, maybe not exactly in those words, but, yes. I'd like to think that our last ten years together meant something to you. That they weren't something to just be thrown away in the space of ten minutes."
"So you'd like to have it both ways? Me and Frankie both still madly in love with you?"
"I don't know how I'd like it! I don't know anything right now!"
"Then it's a good thing that I do. I am not going to lower myself to fighting for a man who doesn't want me. I've done that before. Many, many times. And the one thing I've learned is that it is never worth it. You made me feel special, Cass. You made me feel important. The side-effect is, I'm never going to let anyone make me feel not good enough again. Not even you."
Explanation over, Lila turned to more practical matters. "I've packed a few things. I'll send for the rest later. Jasmine is at Matt's and she can keep staying there until I get settled in somewhere else. Say good-by to Charlie for me. Whether she believes it or not, I will miss her. And give my best to Mary Frances."
With that, Lila was gone.
Cass felt like he'd just been hit by a freight train. From both sides. His ears rang, his head spun, he was practically hyperventilating. He doubted he had the strength to move, and wasn't planning on doing so again for at least several hours, except that the phone wouldn't stop ringing, and a part of him feared it was Charlie... and Frankie.
Cass picked up the receiver, only to hear Rachel on the other end.
"Felicia is at Bay City Hospital," she told him. "We're in the emergency room. She's physically alright but, Cass, I think you'd better get down here, right away. She really needs you."
He was out the door and in the car before Rachel had even hung up her phone.
When Kevin first accused Amanda of only coming up to his hotel room so that she could sneak a peek at his files detailing Kirkland's custody suit, she'd been struck by two simultaneous emotions.
First, she'd been furious at his implication. Was Kevin calling her a common hooker? Or was harlot the more appropriate term? Floozy, maybe? Strumpet? Which word exactly meant: Woman who sleeps with man in order to get something in return?
Her second sensation was one of guilt. Because, truth be told, she had more or less forgotten all about her initial motives for making Kevin's acquaintance. Some spy she was, forgetting her intentions the first time a man made goo-goo eyes at!
And speaking of those goo-goo eyes, did that mean all of Kevin's attentions had been as insincere as he was now accusing Amanda of being? Had he merely been playing her, just setting her up to come to his hotel room so that he could humiliate her by claiming he'd been on to her all along? (Even if, as noted earlier, there'd been nothing for him to be on to. Amanda the secret agent had already forgotten all about her mission.)
Wait. Was that three simultaneous emotions now? Amanda had lost count. Her head throbbed, a combination of too much sun and... life. She tried to answer his accusation, but found talking while walking an impossibility. Considering how mortified she felt, Amanda decided that, at the moment, locomotion beat loquaciousness. She stumbled up out of bed and stormed out of his room without a word.
A few hours later, after an afternoon and early evening spent at the hotel bar, quenching her disgrace, Amanda now had a whole host of words she felt like lobbing in Mr. Kevin Fowler, Esquire's direction. And she figured there was no time like the present to commence hurling them.
Vaguely unsteady due to a half-dozen Cosmopolitans and not nearly enough food to go with them, but still feeling like she possessed a clearer head now than during their taxi ride home, Amanda turned tail and headed back up in the elevator, finding herself knocking on Kevin's door before she'd even finished organizing into an acceptable order all of the epithets she was presently planning to hurl and lob.
"Ass," Amanda told Kevin. "Bastard. Creep."
Apparently her rancor had decided on alphabetical order.
"Were you planning on going up through Z in the corridor," Kevin asked politely. "Or would you like to come in?"
"You can download the rest of the list from my website," Amanda told him, waltzing in more or less upright. www.All-The-Things-Kevin-Fowler-Is.com.
"I'll make sure to bookmark it." He shut the door behind her.
"What the hell?" Amanda demanded. "Who do you think you are, accusing me of only coming up here so I could look through your files?"
"Isn't that why you came to see me the very first day, Ms. Ashton? To get information helpful to your brother's case?"
"That was... before."
"Before... you... listened to me," Amanda blurted out, the admission as much of a surprise to her as to him. She hadn't realized she was thinking it, much less that she intended to say it. "You listened to me. About my mother. About my crappy marriages. You listened, and you didn't give advice. Most people, you tell them something, and they think you're asking them to step in and fix it, or at least to tell you how you should fix it. You didn't do that. You just listened. I liked that."
Kevin smiled. And didn't do anything else.
"That's it? You're just going to stand there and leer at me?"
"I thought you liked it when I listened quietly?"
"Aargh!" She groaned. "You are exasperating."
"So I've been told."
Unable to hold back any longer, Amanda took a deep breath and demanded an answer to the question that had truthfully been bugging her all afternoon, "Did you just go out with me to help Grant?"
Still pissed at GQ and Gregory for making him look like an idiot, Steven had blown off their offer of a ride back to campus, as well as Sarah and Allie's invitation to go clubbing with them, and instead sulked over to spend the night at the Cory house.
He'd planned to crash in his old bedroom, but that proved impossible as next door, Kirkland was blasting his stereo while playing Mario Kart.
"Kirk!" Steve knocked on the wall. "Would you please keep it down?" The combination of a guitar riff and screeching tires as Kirkland guided Mario through a sharp turn on the flat screen television completely drowned out his voice. Refusing to blow out his vocal cords, Steven got out of bed and barged into Kirk's room without knocking. He strode towards the entertainment console and flipped the volume down on the stereo. "What are you still doing up?"
"Who are you? The sleep police?"
"Think you could stop being a jerk for just five minutes? It's late."
"Hey, I wasn't the one who abandoned his brother to the most boring night of family bowling ever, just to chase a girl."
Steven rolled his eyes. So that's what this was about. "I don't chase girls, Kirk. Girls chase me. And what am I? Your baby-sitter? You're old enough to hate family bowling night on your own."
"A little loyalty would be nice. Bro's before ho's and all that."
"Fine. If I say I'm sorry, will you turn all this crap off and let me get some sleep?"
"Not good enough. I was deeply, deeply hurt by your abandonment."
At that, Steven couldn't help but laugh. He wasn't sure if the shrinks Dad had made them see after Mom and Jake's deaths had done any good for their psyches, but they'd certainly increased both Steven and Kirkland's psychobabble vocabularies.
"How about if I let you race
me," Steven offered. "Will that soothe your abandonment issues?"
"You'd let me race you? I thought you said you'd never come out of retirement."
"Well, in the interest of your mental health.... And your promise that, whoever wins, it'll be the last game."
"For real?" Kirkland eyed him. "This counts?" Kirkland was resetting the game before Steven could even sit down. He looked so happy, Steven felt a twinge of guilt that they didn't do this more often, and not merely as a bribe.
For several minutes, they drove with silent intensity, Steven and his Princess Peach jostling Kirkland's Mario around the track.
"You'll never guess what happened tonight," Kirkland piped up out of the blue. "At the bowling alley after you left."
"Cheating by way of distraction?" Steven laughed. "Way beneath you, Kirk."
"Marley kissed Dad."
Princess Peach suddenly swerved, her little kart overturning and stalling in the grass. Mario flew past her and straight over the finish line with a victorious cry.
"Marley kissed Dad?" Steven interrupted Kirkland's victory dance.
"Yep," Kirkland nodded, his face flush. "On the mouth. None of that 'we're just friends' here's my cheek stuff."
"Did Dad kiss her back?"
Kirkland shook his head. "He just kinda sat there. Like he was stunned or something."
"I bet," Steven said with a shake of his head. "Wow, they might actually do it."
"Raise chickens," Steven snapped. "Get back together, you idiot."
"And that would be a good thing?"
"Dad being happy? Us being a normal family? How is that not a good thing?"
"But you heard what he said earlier. He's happy with the way things are. And we are a family. They don't need to be married for that to happen. Anyway, don't you think it's a weird coincidence that for like, a million years, there's been nothing between them, and then all of a sudden when Grant comes back to town "
"Grant coming back has nothing to do with them getting back together."
"I think it does," Kirk said simply. "Mom pulled all kinds of crap to 'protect' me from Grant. If Marley and Dad are doing the same thing now, if they're just working an angle for the court or something... I don't want the craziness to start up again. Not over me."
"Not everything is about you, Kirkland." Steven kicked the video-game aside. "I am so sick of you crapping on everyone else so you can feel better about giving your son-of-a-bitch father a chance to ruin your life."
Steven stormed out of the room, ignoring that shocked puppy-dog look that Kirkland's face got when you struck him deep. Steven slammed his own bedroom door, happy now to hear Kirk cranking up the stereo again. Steven was determined to stay mad. Because the alternative would have been to think, really think, about what his little brother had said. And possibly even admit that Kirkland might have a point.
Maybe Marley's renewed interest in Jamie really was only in response to Grant's return. Maybe the craziness really was about to start all over again.
"No." Kevin clarified, "I did not go out with you just to help Grant. Did you go out with me just to spy for Jamie?"
"No," Amanda admitted. "Not just for Jamie."
"So I'd say we're even, then."
"Great," she huffed.
"And yet you don't sound thrilled."
"What the hell are we supposed to do now?"
"I don't know. What would you like us to do now?"
"Could you stop being such a lawyer for a minute?"
"Gladly. As soon as you stop being such an uptight princess."
"Is this about my money again?"
"No. It's about your obsession with labeling things and needing to know exactly what's going to happen before it actually happens. What do you say we stop trying to define ourselves and predict what we might feel like doing at some point down the line, and just explore what we feel like doing right now?"
"You know what I felt like doing right now." Amanda indicated the bed. "Or was I too subtle?"
"Okay, this is good." Kevin nodded. "I can work with this." He wondered, "So, did your earlier urge survive the afternoon?"
"Are you asking if I still want to sleep with you?"
"Am I the one being too subtle now?"
"Yes," Amanda snapped. "Yes, I do. And I probably would, too, if I didn't also hate you so much at the moment."
"I can see how that could be a problem."
"Damn it, Kevin, stop being so relentlessly charming."
"I can't help it. Reflex."
"I'm just supposed to sleep with you? Even though you might have a million hidden agendas?"
"Only if you want to. Besides, you just admitted to having hidden agendas of your own. As long as we're both honest about being secretive, that's practically the same as being truthful in my book."
"It's because you're a lawyer."
"And you're a beautiful, desirable, fascinating woman that I would very much like the chance to get to know better."
"And out. I'm a man of eclectic interests."
Amanda laughed, and was thankfully spared from having to come up with an equally clever retort witty banter could be darn exhausting, how did Hepburn & Tracy, Beatrice & Benedick, Dave & Maddie do it? Oh, wait, they were fictional! by the sound of her phone going off.
"Speak of the Jamie," she observed, glancing at his illuminated number.
"Probably wants to know how your undercover work is coming along."
"No double entendre intended on your part, I'm sure."
"Rats." Kevin snapped his fingers.
"He doesn't know," Amanda admitted. "No one in my family knows about... this." She popped open her cell phone and brought it to her ear. "What's up?"
"Amanda, listen, I'm at the hospital. Mom's here, too. She's okay, but she and Carl found Felicia, Dean and Jenna. They just brought them in. Jenna's in bad shape. Mom's holding Felicia's hand, but I think she could use someone to hold hers. With everything that Carl's been accused of, I'm not sure he's the best choice under the circumstances. Do you think you could get down here? I've got my hands full with Jenna."
"Of course, yeah," Amanda told him. "I'll be right there." Only to hang up the phone and realize, "Oh, damn. I can't drive. I've been drinking all afternoon. And in any case, my car is back at the house."
"That's okay," Kevin said as soon as she filled him in. "Mine's in the hotel garage, I'll drive you."
"Are you sure?"
"It's no trouble. I can't help being reflexively charming, remember?"
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|