"You're Jenna's mother," Matt repeated, theoretically comprehending the meaning of every word in the sentence, yet unable to make them fit together. "I don't understand."
"I'm sorry, Matthew," Donna said. "I intended to take this secret to my grave. I never wanted anyone to be hurt by this."
"How?" he demanded. "This makes no sense. Gloria Norris... "
"Was my assistant."
"Right. When you were married to Carl. They had an affair. Jenna "
"No." Donna looked longingly at the gleaming bottle of scotch perched on the bar at the far end of the room, but made no attempt to refill her glass. In fact, she set the tumbler down decisively, determined not to use any crutch. Now that she'd committed to telling Matt the truth, Donna was going to do it valiantly unencumbered. "Carl never had an affair with Gloria. And even if he had, Gloria couldn't have gotten pregnant. She had some genetic condition, I don't remember what it was called. She could never, ever have a baby of her own. That's why she was so eager to take mine."
"Gloria stole Jenna from you?"
"No! Matthew, please stop interrupting or I'll never get through this."
"I'm sorry. I'm just trying to figure everything out."
"And I'm trying to explain it to you. I'm the one who got pregnant by Carl. It isn't so surprising, we were married, after all, and he did want more children. He was estranged from his son, Perry, though I always adored that boy; I thought Carl was much too hard on him. Still, I believed Carl had it in him to be a good father. Otherwise I would have never... " Donna trailed off.
"Did Carl know you were pregnant?"
She shook her head. "I never told him. I was going to, but then I found out... You know the story of Carl and Alexander Nikos' wife?"
"She had an affair with Carl and then was killed in a shoot-out between the Greek police and Carl's henchmen."
"Yes. I must admit, I wasn't ecstatic about the affair with Diana Nikos, but it was the deadly shoot-out that most convinced me I had to get away from him. I knew Carl would never let me go if he found out I was pregnant. He'd hound me to the ends of the earth. I'd never be rid of him. I'd never be out of the line of fire."
"So you gave the baby up to Gloria."
"She wanted a child so much. She just adored Jenna from the first moment. It killed her to send Jenna away to the convent, she was still such a little girl, and she was all Gloria had, really. But we agreed, Gloria and I, when Carl came to Bay City, that it was the best place for Jenna. She'd be safe from him there."
"I understand," Matt assured Donna, hoping she could feel his sincerity. He knelt down and took both of her hands in his own. "I understand why you felt you had to do it. And Jenna, she'll understand, too."
"Oh, no," Donna sprang up. "No, no, absolutely not. Jenna is never going to find out about any of this."
"It's a rotten idea, Grant, and you know it." Kevin situated himself between his client and his client's father, as if preventing Spencer from getting a good look at Grant would also somehow prevent him from carrying out his blackmail scheme against Rachel.
"It's the only surefire way for Grant to be reunited with Kirkland." Spencer shoved Kevin out of his way and challenged his son, "Did you or did you not tell me that was your key objective these days? Isn't it why you chose to reveal yourself in the first place?"
"Yes," Grant said slowly. "But..."
"But what?" Spencer spat. "Do you really think that Jamie and Marley are going to just hand our boy over after years of poisoning Kirkland's mind against you? They hate us! They've barely let me keep in touch with Kirkland all this time. What the hell's the matter with you? Where's your heart? I thought you wanted your child back!"
"He does want his child," Kevin interrupted coolly. "But he's going to accomplish his objective in the right way. In the legal way."
"You mean your way," Spencer turned on Kevin. "My way guarantees Grant getting Kirkland. I have yet to see your way making any progress on his behalf. Why hasn't a hearing been scheduled?"
"I don't have to explain myself to you. You are not my client."
"But I am," Grant finally spoke up, Spencer's words prodding him on. "And I have to admit, I've begun wondering, as well. You promised me a hearing momentarily. It's been weeks. Jamie and Marley aren't devoid of resources. The slower we move, the more time they have to plan an attack. I don't want this drawn out, Kevin. I need to see results."
"The only results that matter are ironclad, lawful ones. You're paying me a lot of money for my advice. I suggest you take it. Let me do my job."
"If you'd done your job properly," Spencer clipped, advancing on Kevin. " I wouldn't have had to take matters into my own hands. You think I'm a fool? I know all about you, Mr. Fowler. I know you've got a separate agenda here. You're using my son and grandson to further your own goals."
"Which Grant is wholly aware of, and which he realizes are complimentary to his own." Kevin added, "Not to mention, at least I'm following the officially permitted convention. You're trying to cheat. That won't benefit Grant one bit." He told his client, "Judges don't like extortion, and that's precisely what you'd be party to, if you let your father do this."
"I'm simply asking Rachel for a favor," Spencer tried to looked innocent. "We're old friends. Old friends help each other out."
"An illegal favor that, combined with your family's past history, will cost your son any hope of regaining custody. You need to stay clean, Grant."
"I can have Kirkland here, with you, in his own room, tonight," was all Spencer felt it necessary to say in reply.
Grant looked from Kevin to Spencer, making a dramatic show of weighing their words, trying his best to hide the fact that he'd already made his decision. He'd promised Kirkland he would fight fair, and even though everything in him was screaming for a sanction of his father's plan, he couldn't go through with it.
He wouldn't go through with it.
Grant had given Kirkland his word, and the little inside him that was honorable and good would not let him break such a heartfelt vow.
He told Spencer, "There's a reason I hired Kevin as my counsel, Dad. I'm afraid I'm going to have to refuse your generous offer."
"Don't be a fool, Grant! Listen to me. Listen to your father! I know what's best for "
"Yes. I know. I've heard it all before," Grant cut him off. "But I am not doing anything that could potentially cost me Kirkland. And if you care about me as much as you say you do, you'll heed my wishes."
"You're taking this ambulance chaser's," Spencer indicated Kevin. "Side over mine? Oh, son, you're going to live to regret this. And you, Mr. Fowler, you're going to regret this most of all."
"We are talking about the same Kevin Fowler, right?" Rachel confirmed. "The Kevin who drove you to the hospital is also Grant's attorney?"
"It's... complicated," Amanda reminded her mother.
"He's the one I tried to talk you out of going to see. I gather it didn't work. Does he still think you're Jamie's lawyer, Ms. Ashton?"
"Actually," she sheepishly admitted, "He kind of figured that out before I'd even hung up the phone."
"So he's bright, that's one point in his favor."
"And he's cute," Amanda tried to keep the conversation light.
"That goes without saying. What also should go without saying, though it seems I'm going to have to say it anyway, is that you're playing a very, very dangerous game, here."
"Come on, Mom. You're married to Carl and you're lecturing me about sleeping with the enemy?" Well, there went her bid for keeping the conversation light. Amanda had no idea why it happened, but her mother just seemed to push all of Amanda's buttons. No matter how many times she vowed to keep her temper while in... discussion... with Rachel, it somehow never quite turned out that way.
Amanda's mother grit her teeth to clarify, "I did not sleep with Carl in order to manipulate him."
"And I'm not sleeping with Kevin."
"Yet," Amanda admitted. Then hurried to add, "And I'm not doing it or, you know, not not doing it, in order to manipulate him. Sure, it started out that way "
"Oh, Amanda, how could you?" Rachel railed in despair. "Do you know what this could do to Jamie's chances of keeping Kirkland? Things are already precarious enough without you butting in like a bull in a china shop."
"First of all," Amanda really was doing her best to stay civil. Even if Rachel wasn't making it easy. "I don't consider trying to help my brother, butting in."
"You don't know what you're doing. You said yourself, Kevin saw right through your ruse."
"He did. And that's why I dropped it. I was honest with him. I told him I was originally just going out with him in order to help Jamie."
"Oh, that's just wonderful, Amanda. A full confession. Do you have any idea how much mileage Grant will be able to get out that in court?"
"No mileage. Because Kevin isn't going to tell him."
"Of course, he won't. If there is one thing everyone knows about attorneys especially those hired by men like Grant Harrison it's that they absolutely abhor winning at any cost."
"Mom! Would you please listen to me! Kevin and I, we talked about it. And we agreed we are not going to let his being Grant's attorney and my being Jamie's sister get in the way of our seeing each other."
"And you believe him?"
"Yes," Amanda said firmly, surprising even herself with how much she truly did.
"I'm afraid you are being hopelessly naive, my darling. You thought that you could play Kevin. Instead, he's going to end up playing you. And it might cost Jamie his son."
"Kevin is not playing me," Amanda's gritted teeth were a near mirror-image of her mother's. Though both women would have been loathe to admit it. "He isn't like that. You don't know him."
"And I suppose you do? How long has it been, Amanda? A few weeks? I'm supposed to believe that you know this man, deeply and truly and soulfully, after a few weeks?"
More than anything, Amanda wanted to scream. She wanted to stomp her feet and bang her arms and throw the kind of tantrums she used to when she was just a little girl, and Rachel refused to let her have her own way. But those tantrums hadn't worked when Amanda was five. She doubted the result would be any different now that she was... a little more than that.
So instead of pitching a fit, or heeding her second instinct, which was just to throw her hands up in despair and march out the door in a huff, Amanda gathered her last vestiges of self-control and, very calmly, rationally, not at all hysterically, told her mother, "I'm not saying I know everything about him. To be honest, there are a lot of things I realize I still don't know. But I believe it when he says he cares about me, and he isn't just in this for the win. And you'd believe it, too, Mom, if you only took a moment and got to know him. How about if we all have dinner together? Maybe tonight, after Jenna is out of surgery? Back at the house? A family dinner, so everyone can get to know him and see that Kevin understands how to separate the personal from the professional."
"A family dinner," Rachel repeated. "Tonight? At the house?" She mused, "My husband is in jail, one of my best friends might lose both her daughter and her unborn granddaughter, my son hasn't slept for, by my count, a month, and I've got a decision to make that... well, never mind, just believe me when I say I've got some major choices to parse. So a sit-down meal for a half-dozen people? Sure. That's exactly what I need to plan right now. Call your Mr. Fowler. Invite him over. Why not? What else have I got to do?"
"You're double-daring me?" Frankie did a double-take as she double-checked, "What? Are we in second grade?"
"If we were in second grade," Cass noted. "All I'd have to do for you to love me is pull your pigtails and play keep-away with your lunch-bag at recess. Grown ups, alas, aren't nearly as sensible. They tend to play keep-away with all the wrong things."
"Fine," Frankie crossed her arms. "Go ahead. Bring it on. Do your worst. Take your stupid stroll down memory lane. It won't change anything."
"Don't mind if I do." Cass made a sweeping gesture with his arm toward the coffee-table, and Frankie noticed, for the first time, that it was supporting three, gaily-wrapped presents. A small one, a medium sized one, and a large one.
"When exactly did we celebrate Christmas with Goldilocks and the three bears?"
"I know whose been sleeping in my bed," Cass reminded wickedly. "Just last night, as a matter of fact."
Frankie, in spite of every promise she'd made herself since returning, flushed a furious crimson and corrected, "It was the couch. You weren't even here."
Cass ignored her nit-picking and picked up the first, Baby Bear-sized gift, bestowing it on Frankie. "For all the Christmas presents we've missed."
This time, there was no teasing in his tone, just a heart-breaking sincerity over all the time they'd lost.
Frankie cautiously peeled back the reindeer-festooned wrapping, as if she were afraid a gaggle of snakes might leap out at her, practical joke style. Instead, she pulled forth a tiny Christmas angel covered in Styrofoam snowballs.
"St. Stephan's Bazaar... " Frankie said.
"Crafted by little old ladies." Before she'd had the chance to fully process it, Cass grabbed the medium gift and thrust it at her. "Open this one next. This one's for all the birthday presents we've missed."
She didn't want to put down the angel, but Cass was insistent. Frankie unpacked the second box, stuffing the moon-dotted wrapping paper behind her back. "Binoculars."
"The better to see you with, my dear." When Frankie gave him a strange look, Cass shrugged innocently and said, "Just keeping with the fairy-tale theme you started."
"The first time you got me binoculars, I accused you of bringing me a gift filled with significance about our shared past."
"You were wrong then."
"I'm not wrong now."
"You are. Because last time you accused me of being underhanded. And this time, I confessed my intentions up front."
"You are such a lawyer, Winthrop. Is there a hair you won't split?"
"How about the one on my chinny-chin-chin?" Cass offered Frankie her final gift. "This is for all of our missed wedding anniversaries."
She dug in, figuring that as long as Frankie was busy rummaging through tissue paper, she didn't have to look him in the eye. And she didn't have to think. Or feel.
"A Santa suit?" Frankie gave Cass her best you've-got-to-be-kidding-me look. "You do know it's the middle of summer, right?"
"I know," Cass reminded. "I told you I packed my summer suit. This is it. I want you to help me put it on."
"And I'm the one who spent five years in a mental institution? You're certifiable."
"Double-dare, Mary Frances... "
"Oh, fine." She flung it at him so Cass ended up catching the bulk with his face. "How's that?"
"It's a start." Cass began slipping on the oversized red sleeves, then handed Frankie the belt. "Wrap this around me, would you? Just like last time."
"Don't tell me you've got a room of cherubic-faced orphans in the back, waiting to hear you Ho Ho Ho."
"Don't be ridiculous," Cass appeared offended by her suggestion. "It's the middle of summer."
"Is Steven around?" GQ stood on the Cory doorstep, his laptop bag slung over one shoulder, and told Allie, "We were supposed to do some work this morning, but he never showed up. Thought he might have forgotten."
Allie said, "He went out."
"Don't think it was supposed to be, but it's Sarah. So who knows?" Allie noted the sweat gathering at GQ's hairline and dripping into his eyebrows. She asked, "Did you walk all the way over here from campus? It's a million degrees outside!"
"I don't mind. I spend so much time sitting in front of a computer screen, I try to grab any chance I can to pretend I'm exercising."
"Well, do you want a drink of water or something? I'm scared you'll melt right in our driveway."
"Water'd be great. Thanks." GQ followed Allie into the front room and accepted the icy glass of Pellegrino she handed him. "Steven still pissed about Gregory taking him down a notch?"
"I'm sure. Steven's used to being the resident genius. And if you don't see it, he'll be happy to point it out for you. Over and over again."
"That's what was so cool about Gregory. Obviously smart, but he doesn't feel he has to beat you over the head with it. Not like some people, huh?" GQ grinned. "Present company included. 'Fraid geeks like Steven and me tend to get a little full of ourselves. Gregory seems like a great guy, Al. I'm happy for you."
"What?" It took Allie a moment to appreciate why. And then she remembered. Gregory was her boyfriend. "Oh. Right. Thanks. He is pretty cool."
"I have to admit," GQ slowly lowered his glass, running his index finger around the rim. "I felt pretty bad about how we ended things back in Italy. You must have thought I was a real ass. Everything was going so well, and then one day, out of the blue... "
"I was there," Allie reminded, watching his active hands rather than his face. But that didn't really help much. Seeing his fingers circling like that just brought back too many memories. "I don't need the flashback."
"I even wondered if you thought I was some kind of S.O.B. player, you know? Having my fun, then making up this lame excuse "
"Did you?" Allie's heart leapt with hope. GQ admitting to being a player was much better than the alternative.
Because a player had potential. A player might even be vulnerable to the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan look at the killer job Sarah was doing with Steven, after all.
But the alternative meant that Allie and GQ were definitely over.
"You can't tell Jenna." Whatever weakness or vulnerability or exhaustion Donna may have exhibited earlier was gone. She charged at Matt, emphatic. "You may not tell her any of this. I won't allow it!"
"Well, of course, I wouldn't tell her now," Matt tried to calm Donna down. "Last I heard from Jamie, she was still in pretty bad shape."
"How bad?" Donna wanted to know.
"Well, did you know she was pregnant?"
Donna shook her head mutely.
"Yeah, but she's having complications, I guess. Jamie had to tell Dean to pick, basically Jenna's life or the baby's. They're doing a C-section today, delivering the baby early so Jenna doesn't end up having a stroke."
Donna said, "I lost a baby. A little boy, with Michael. It's been over twenty years now, but you don't forget it, and you don't really get over it."
"Jamie says the baby has a chance. It's not a great one, but the odds are still better than Jenna's without the surgery, and that would have killed the baby, too." Matt told Donna, "I'm not suggesting we spring all of this on her right away. We wait for Jenna to get better, we wait for the baby... we wait to see what happens with the baby. Then, when she's stronger... maybe we should go to Felicia first, see what she thinks is the best way to break the news."
"No." Each of Donna's denials was more categorical than the last. "What purpose would it serve? Jenna has her mothers, she has Gloria and Felicia. And Lucas, he was a far better father than Carl ever would have been. Why disrupt that girl's life? What good would come of it?"
"Come on, Donna, you know Carl. Now that you've opened this can of worms and accused him of fathering Jenna with Gloria, he's not going to stop digging until he finds out the truth anyway. Don't you want it to come from you? For everybody's sake?"
"I don't know what I was thinking." Matt wondered if Donna might break down again, but she remained strong, chastising herself, "The first few years, I expected to be found out at any moment. When Carl showed up in Bay City with Felicia, I thought for sure the jig was up. Gloria was Felicia's editor, for Pete's sake. I figured she'd said something to Felicia and Felicia said something to Carl.... But then he never broached the subject. Never made a move. I was finally able to relax. To have it all come up again now... I didn't expect this. I didn't know how to respond. I panicked."
"So Carl didn't really attack you last night?" Matt clarified.
"He never laid a finger on me," Donna sighed, clearly regretting it. "I was just... it was like you said before... The trouble doesn't come from the first lie, it comes from all the lies you end up telling afterwards. I thought if I had Carl arrested, it could buy me some time. Time to think of my next step."
"Your next step should be to end this entire thing by telling Jenna. She'll understand," Matt swore. "I promise you. Jenna, she's a very loving, very forgiving person. She forgave her mother Gloria, I mean for sending her away. She always said Gloria must have had a good reason for it. I never heard Jenna say a bad word about anyone. And once you explain why you gave her up, she'll understand your motivation, too. I mean, Carl almost killed Jenna in a car accident, remember? She knows how dangerous he is; well, how dangerous he was back when you and Gloria decided to keep her a secret from him. She'll realize you did it because you wanted what was best for her, because you loved her."
"No, Matthew." This time, Donna's denial was the most ardent of all. "That isn't... That's not how it was."
Ever since returning to Bay City, Lorna had done her best to avoid Rachel and Carl. The latter, she learned was pretty simple, since he was currently rotting away in jail. But her luck eventually ran out where Rachel was concerned. Her mother's friend cornered Lorna by the hospital coffee machine the moment Felicia stepped into Jenna's room for a last minute round of good wishes before Jenna was taken into surgery.
"You haven't told Felicia about Lucas," Rachel accused.
"Neither have you," Lorna pointed out.
"It isn't my place."
"And now isn't the time."
"I don't know about that," Rachel mused. "Your mother could use all the support she can get."
"Are you kidding me? Seeing Lucas alive when all this other stuff is going on with Jenna and the baby would make her head explode. How about we deal with one crises at a time?"
"Where's Lucas now?"
"He's back at my place in Chicago."
"You know," Rachel noted. "You don't seem particularly taken aback by the latest turn of events."
"I've had some time to get used to the idea." Lorna heard how defensive she sounded and wished she could pull the words back in. The last thing she needed right now was for Rachel to start questioning how long Lorna had known that Lucas was alive. That would ruin everything. For him and for her. "Besides," now Lorna could hear herself speaking faster, as if jamming the maximum amount of words into the minimum amount of time would make them seem more sincere. "I hear Grant's done a reappearing act, too. I guess it really is only the good who die young. Maybe it's about time they got a second chance at life, too."
Rachel didn't look convinced. Perhaps that was because, like Lorna, she realized her words didn't make much sense.
Rachel asserted, "Carl swears to me he had nothing to do with Lucas being held prisoner all these years."
"And you believe him?" Now that they were on firmer ground, Lorna had no trouble truthfully warning, "I wouldn't."
"I know him better than you do."
"I know him in ways you never will," Lorna countered.
For a moment, Rachel looked as if she might challenge Lorna's assertion, but then the moment passed, and all she said was, "I'm not giving up until I've gotten to the bottom of this phony conspiracy against my husband. If you know something that could help me, I strongly suggest you give it up now. Since you and he are such old friends, I presume you're aware that Carl doesn't react well to being betrayed. And since you and I don't know each other quite as intimately, here's a tip: Neither do I."
Frankie bit the metaphorical bullet as a peace-loving vegetarian, it came doubly-hard for her and proceeded to slip Santa's sash around Cass's waist. Which, naturally required her to put her arms around Cass. She understood perfectly well that it was what he'd wanted all along. She understood perfectly well that she was being manipulated. She also understood that it was working.
Reaching both hands behind his back prompted Frankie to rest her chin on Cass' shoulder. It was only for a moment. She leapt back as if singed. But it was long enough for her to get a good whiff of that mixture of aftershave, shampoo, and, well, Cass, that sent her senses into overdrive. How many times had she gone to sleep with her face buried in his hair? How many mornings had she woken up with the two of them wrapped up in each other, her own scent blending with his until you could no longer tell which was which?
"There," Frankie pushed Cass to arms' length, pretending she needed to study her handiwork at a distance. "Jolly St. Nick in the flesh. Am I done? Can I go now?"
"You forgot the most important thing."
"Get your own reindeer, pal. I don't eat meat, and I don't enslave it."
"Eyebrows." Cass held up what looked like two mold encrusted caterpillars and raised them to the slots above his eyes. "We decided they make the costume, remember?"
She remembered. God damn it, she remembered everything. Why was he doing this to her, Frankie wondered. And then she remembered. Because he was Cass.
"Give 'em here." Frankie snatched the cottony duo out of his hands and proceeded to try and paste them as quickly as possibly to his forehead. He looked absolutely ridiculous, and he must have been dying from the heat. Yet, if Cass was willing to play this charade out to the end, so was she. She had been double-dared, after all.
Frankie waited for Cass to make a smart, vaguely salacious remark about her stirring up some creature that most definitely wasn't a mouse. But he did no such thing. Instead of the joking, mischievous, infuriating Cass he'd been just a moment before, Frankie was faced with a man doing no more than looking at her. But, oh, how he was looking at her.
It wasn't even at her, it was through her. There seemed to be nowhere she could duck to avoid his gaze, nowhere she could place her hands on his face without feeling a heat that couldn't simply have come from an inappropriate winter's costume in August.
He hadn't laid a finger on her, and yet Frankie could feel him everywhere. She was breathing him in. When she could breathe, that is.
She wanted to cry uncle, to tell him he'd won, if this was a game of Truth or Dare then she wasn't up to either. She'd have to suffer the penalty. Why not? Suffering was what she'd been doing for the past thirteen years, she ought to be a pro at it by now.
"You son of a bitch, Winthrop," Frankie flung the frosty eyebrows down on the floor, wishing she could stomp on them for good measure. Brought down by a pair of cotton-balls? It was humiliating!
It was a relief.
It was wonderful.
It was perilous.
Without the excuse of a costume, Frankie returned her hands to his face. Cass didn't move. He was afraid to. He'd planned out every minute of the day up to this point, both his actions and hers. But now, Cass had no idea what was coming next.
Neither did Frankie.
Jamie took the stairs three at a time, propelling himself up to the top floor of the hospital before turning around and racing right back down again. He'd do it until his beeper went off, calling him to surgery.
Oddly enough, running was the only way he'd found to effectively calm his nerves and keep him alert. All the nervous energy went into physical energy, helping him clear his head and focus on the task that lay ahead of him.
The back stairs of the hospital were the perfect place to do it, too. Practically everyone used the elevators or the more conveniently lit stairwell at the front of the hospital. He was safe from colliding into any other people here.
Well, usually he was. Today his secret stairwell had an unexpected visitor.
Jamie prepared himself for a collision, but caught a break when the other figure on the stairs heard him approach and deftly moved out of his way, saving them both from a bruising.
"Sorry," he panted to the woman. "There usually aren't many... Lorna? Hey, look at you! I guess I should have guessed you'd be here."
"Hey, Jamie," she said in a low voice, clearing her throat so he wouldn't hear the suppressed anxiety, and swooping back her hair. "It's good to see you again."
"You too," he smiled gently, noting her red, tired eyes. "I wish it'd been under better circumstances, though."
"Oh, crap, wait... Am I stopping you from getting to Jenna's surgery?" Lorna pressed herself against the wall, expecting him to swoop right by her.
"No, no, it's alright," he reassured. "They'll beep me when everything's ready. I'm just performing my pre-op tranquility routine."
"Oh, yeah? Feel like sharing a few tips?"
"Well, you could start by sitting down and taking a couple of deep breaths."
She pointed out, "You're doing the exact opposite."
"What can I say? There's a reason they came up with that whole Physician Heal Thyself bit." Her smile, weak as it was, encouraged Jamie to observe, "And my expensive physician training is telling me about the only thing holding you up right now is that wall."
"I'm fine." She attempted to stand up straighter, but found that the wall did come in awfully handy.
"Humor me." Jamie pulled Lorna to sit down next to him on the nearest step, and refused to budge until she'd exaggeratedly inhaled and exhaled twice.
"There? You happy?"
"Very. Breathing is a key indicator of being alive. Trust me, I went to medical school."
She scowled, "You're making me feel like I'm six. Next you'll be giving me a lollipop."
"Snickers?" he offered, producing one from his pocket. "When was the last time you ate?"
"You're a life-saver." She ripped open the wrapper and took a bite.
"Eh. You're only saying that because I gave you candy."
"Are you kidding? You're Hippocrates himself, far as I'm concerned. Chocolate beats a shot any day of the week."
"I've got one of those, too, if you'd like. Maybe a little B12..."
"Stop fussing over me!" she growled with a mixture of exasperation and amusement.
"I can't help it, I'm a doctor "
"Yeah, I think we just covered that."
" I see a person who needs help, I'm going to do something."
"Save it for Jenna, okay?" Lorna ordered, her voice suddenly emotional, the breezy playfulness of a moment earlier completely gone. "She and her baby need your help a lot more than I do right now."
Jamie felt the muscles of Lorna's back go rigid against his hand. As much as he wanted to bolster her with the plethora of usual platitudes, he found himself unable to scrounge up the oft-repeated words. He'd said them all so many times, they'd lost their meaning. And now wasn't the time for disingenuousness.
"I know you're scared," Jamie began. "I'm scared, too. That's not exactly what anyone wants to hear from their doctor."
"Actually," she said after a moment. "It's kind of reassuring. You're not being cocky. Which means you won't let any of those other doctors in there get cocky, either."
"No," he shook his head as Lorna's eyes lifted to meet his. "I won't."
"Good," she nodded, for his benefit and hers. "At least there'll be one person doing something right."
Jamie's beeper sounded. He pulled it from his pocket.
"Jenna?" Lorna asked, rising with him from their seat on the stairs.
"They're ready for her in the OR."
He started to give Lorna one last comforting smile for the road but, before he could finish the gesture, she popped up on her toes and gave Jamie a quick peck on the cheek.
"For luck," Lorna said.
Jamie couldn't help it. His age, and his childhood geekiness, was showing. "How very Princess Leia of you."
Lorna merely smiled and reminded, "They won, didn't they?"
"That they did."
"You better win, too."
He wanted to promise her. But Jamie had been a doctor too long not to know the danger of such a guarantee. Instead he merely completed his earlier smile, gave Lorna's hand a reassuring squeeze, and headed up the stairs, ready to do battle with the Dark Side.
"No!" GQ defended. "Definitely not. I told you the truth."
"Oh," Allie said. And thought that honesty was really overrated.
"I just, I can imagine how it seemed, me saying that I could only be with a Black girl for the long haul. I mean, it sounds like a lame excuse. We're in the 21st Century, right? Look at the president. America is supposed to be past all our racial hang-ups. And me, well, I bet that you think I'm a racist now."
Allie wasn't sure how to answer that. All the multicultural and sensitivity classes required in high-school and college hadn't prepared her for how to reply when a member of an oppressed minority posed such a loaded question.
"It's okay," GQ prompted. "You can say it. I am a little bit of a racist, I guess. I mean, I can work and be friends with all sorts of people. And I don't care who lives where, or who gets to go to what school or hired for what job. But if being racist means thinking that people other people, not just me shouldn't intermarry or even inter-date, because what's the point of dating if you're not at least considering the long run, then yeah, I'm a racist. Every time I see a person who says he's half this and half that, I think: That's two rich, historic cultures being watered down until they don't mean anything to anyone anymore. All this talk about multiculturalism and appreciating everybody's differences, it only leads to everyone mixing until they become more and more the same. It's crazy."
Now Allie was really stumped. Years of schooling had advised her that, except on gender issues (fortunately girls could speak up about that), she was forbidden from expressing anything but the standard opinion on matters of race, ethnicity or (because while she was a girl, she was also wealthy and thus oppressive) class. But here was someone who was, in fact, entitled to offer a point of view (the only thing GQ had going against him was being male, but fortunately African-American trumped it), asking Allie to agree with his non-standard outlook. Was there even a right answer here?
"What I'm trying to say, Allie, is, you're a terrific girl. We had a great time in Italy. I wish... I wish things could be different, I really do. I hope you don't hate me too much. I hope we can still be friends. I felt so bad about everything. It was all my fault. I never should have even started... But you're just so great and I liked you so much... Can you ever forgive me?"
Wonderful. Another question to which the politically correct answer wasn't the one Allie really wanted to give.
"And things worked out okay, right? You've got Gregory now. He's an awesome guy. So everything turned out for the best."
"Yeah... " Allie managed to squawk out weakly. "Everything's just great."
Frankie cupped Cass' face in her hands, her palms on his cheeks, her fingers just beneath his eyes, her thumbs stroking the sides of his chin. Every contour felt so familiar, every breath, inevitable. It would be so easy to succumb right now. To forget everything and everyone except for him. Except for them.
But Frankie knew she couldn't, she mustn't. Not just for her own sake her own sake was the least important one here - but for Charlie's and for Cass'.
Was there really an unless? For so many years, Frankie hadn't even dared to entertain the hope.
"Cass," she blurted out.
"Yes?" The hope in his tone matched hers. He didn't fully understand what was going on, but Cass saw the faint spark in Frankie's eyes at the flickering possibility and he too was clinging to the unless, without even knowing what it might be.
"Do you want me back?" she asked, and for a moment, even though the answer had been guaranteed to her in advance, Frankie's heart stopped, lest it not be the one she ached for.
"Yes," Cass' voice broke in the middle of the word. He had to pull himself together before reconfirming, "Oh, God, yes."
"Then will you promise to do whatever I say? Meet any conditions I make? No questions asked?" That last bit was the most important.
Cass studied her for a moment. She could see the part of him that wanted to snark back wrestling with the part that understood how serious she was, and that this might be no, in fact, would be Cass' only chance to get his heart's desire.
Finally, without a trace of joviality, Cass swore, "Yes. For you, yes. Anything, yes. A million times, yes. A James Joyce of yes. Yes."
"I didn't love Jenna," Donna said. "You see, Matthew? That's the thing I'm most desperate to hide above all else. I didn't love her. I didn't feel anything for her."
"That makes no sense," Matt argued. "I know you. I know how you grieved all those years you couldn't acknowledge Marley as being your daughter. You just said you still haven't gotten over the baby boy you lost twenty years ago. And Mikey Miller! Mikey wasn't even yours, you'd only been planning to adopt him, and it killed you to give him back to his parents. These past ten years, I don't think a day has gone by when you haven't remembered Vicky or missed her. And now you're telling me you didn't feel anything for Jenna? I don't believe you."
"I didn't believe it myself. I thought, after my father took Marley away I didn't even know about Victoria yet I thought I was desperate for another baby. I thought it was about the only thing that could put me back together again. And then I got pregnant, and I waited and waited and waited to feel happy about it. But I didn't feel a thing. At first I thought: Well, it's the circumstances. I'm hiding from Carl. It must be the stress of the situation. I tried to make excuses for myself. I said that I was already detaching, because I knew I'd be giving it she was always 'it' to me, even after I knew she was a girl giving it away. I rationalized that I was just trying to spare myself the pain. And then, one day, I realized, I didn't want a baby. I wanted Michael's baby. I wanted our child, I wanted Marley, and I wanted the family we'd been cheated out of. Being pregnant with a baby that wasn't his, it felt like a betrayal. No, worse, it didn't feel like anything at all."
Matt knew he should say something, at least acknowledge somehow that he'd heard and that he sympathized with her plight. But he felt rooted to spot, numb, trying his best not to judge, trying his best to understand, and failing miserably.
"You see!" Extraordinarily, his mute state seemed to perversely satisfy Donna. "You see how you're reacting to what I just said? Don't you think it would be a million times worse for Jenna? Do you think she needs to hear this? Do you think this is the sort of thing any person ever needs to hear?" Donna held up her hands to quiet him, despite the fact that Matt had yet to collect his thoughts enough to so much as consider replying. "This is what I was most afraid of. Even more afraid than I was of Carl. And it goes much deeper than just Jenna and I. How will Marley feel when she finds out? How will my grandchildren take it? What about the rest of Bay City? What about you, Matthew? You can't even look me in the eye. You'll never feel the same way about me again. This is precisely what I would have done anything to prevent happening."
"Anything?" Matt found his voice just in time to blurt out the chilling thought that struck him next. "Donna, were you the one that had Felicia, Jenna and Dean kidnapped? Are you the one responsible for Jenna being in the hospital?"
The delivery room was more crowded than Dean had expected. He stood by the head of the operating table, dressed in surgical scrubs, complete with face-mask, holding one of Jenna's hands while Felicia, dressed in the same manner on the other side, stroked her hair and murmured reassuringly. Dean watched the final preparations, and counted the players.
In addition to Jamie, who was supervising the overall surgery, there was an obstetrician who was actually going to perform the procedure, two scrub nurses, a pediatrician on stand-by, and a half-dozen residents and interns off to the side, observing.
It was their presence that made Dean the most uneasy. If Jenna's case was so interesting that six obviously busy and otherwise sleep-deprived medical professionals wanted to come in and watch it, that couldn't be a good thing.
"Dr. Spencer is making the incision now," Jamie told Jenna. "You'll be meeting your baby in no time."
Dean attempted to take a peek over the blue, sterile, cloth barrier erected between Jenna's head and her abdomen, but Jamie gently pushed him back. "Dr. Spencer doesn't need to be quality-controlled," Jamie assured jovially. "He's an old pro. He delivered my sister, Amanda. She was a preemie, too. And besides, believe me, Dean, you don't need to see this. Focus on your wife." He told Jenna, "You should be feeling a little pressure now, no pain."
"I don't feel anything," Jenna cried out in a panic. "Nothing at all. This isn't right. I'm having a baby. I should be feeling something. Please. I want to feel something."
Dean turned to face Jenna, heeding Jamie's suggestion to ignore the operation and focus on her. "You can feel something. You can feel how much you love our baby. She's not even born yet and you already love her. That's something you can feel right now."
His words had the desired effect, calming Jenna down. "I do love her... I do."
Dean kept talking, anything for a distraction. "You love her, I love her, Felicia here, Lorna out there, everybody loves her. And I love you. You want to feel something? You feel that. Can you feel how much I love you?"
"I love you, too," Jenna began, but was cut off by Dr. Spencer.
"Here we go," he announced, though seemingly more for the benefit of the pediatrician and the residents than for Jenna and Dean. "Here she comes."
A quick, fluid tug, a snip, and then a hand-off so rapid, Dean couldn't believe it was over. One second the baby was inside of Jenna, and the next she was in the arms of the masked pediatrician who whisked her over to the warming table so swiftly and efficiently, Dean felt like he'd missed the entire thing.
"Go over there," Jenna urged, pointing to the throng of medical professionals huddled over little Gloria Ann Frame. "Tell me what's going on, please. She isn't crying. Why isn't she crying?"
"We're intubating her," Jamie called smoothly over his shoulder. "We're going to help her breathe for a bit. Don't worry, not crying is completely normal under the circumstances."
Jenna clearly didn't believe him. Felicia, noting her daughter's growing anxiety, urged Dean, "Go on, go see what's happening and tell us. I'll stay with Jenna."
A part of Dean didn't want to see what was happening. A part of him wanted to let the pros do their jobs without getting in their way. But this wasn't about him. This was about Jenna and his daughter. He was a dad now. Dads had to be, well, dads.
Dean inched his way over to the table, eyes adjusting to the glowing red overhead warming light at the same time as he visually sifted through all the frantically working, white-gloved hands to locate the baby at the center of it all.
Except that she didn't even look like a baby. Babies were pink and round and constantly wriggling. This baby his baby looked skinless, or, if that was supposed to be skin, then it was gelatinous, colorless, the pediatrician's giant stethoscope leaving bruises on Lori Ann's chest every time it touched her. Her eyes were fused shut. She wasn't moving.
Dean thought he heard someone say, "Weight: 489 grams."
How much was a gram? The baby looked as if she weighed barely a pound. She looked as if she could fit into the palm of his hand.
Dean thought he heard someone else ask for the oxygen mask. The gargantuan thing they brought out looked big enough to swallow up Lori Ann's entire head.
And then Dean most definitely heard the doctor with the stethoscope say, "No heartbeat."
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