Jamie smiled. And took a broad step to the side. The better to let Donna see exactly who was heading down the dimly lit street and towards her front porch.
Donna's hands fluttered up from her sides, fingers trembling. The rings she wore -- one from ex-husband Carl, two from double ex-husband Michael, one from ex-husband Matthew; Donna didn't believe in letting the end of a marriage terminate her relationship with its corresponding jewelry -- caught the overhead light in a jittery, distressed kaleidoscope.
"Grant," she finally managed to choke out, hands falling in exhaustion from the effort of processing the shocking realization and all that it signified.
"Grant," Jamie repeated pleasantly. Then, a bit more smugly: "Now do you see why it's so important that I speak to Marley right away?"
"What a coincidence!" Grant exclaimed, his smile betraying the delight he took in rendering regal Donna Love speechless. "I was just on my way to do the very same thing."
"Stay away from Marley!" Jamie warned.
"I'd be happy to. As soon as she signs this affidavit my lawyer drew up, giving me custody of Kirkland, I sincerely promise to never darken her doorstep again."
"You've come for Kirkland?" Although, unlike Rachel Hutchins, Donna had not experienced four husbands coming back from the dead, she'd lived in Bay City long enough to be familiar with the phenomenon, and so she too managed to recover from her shock in record time and move on to the newer crisis at hand.
"What other reason could I possibly have for returning to this pathetic burg? Vicky's will awarded custody of my son to her beloved twin sister. Alas, the psychologically shall we say -- wobbly? -- Marley made an unfortunate error in judgment in letting Dr. Good-For-Nothing here raise my boy. I intend to rectify said error and be on my way. If you'd just get your daughter and a pen down here, this entire unpleasant situation could be happily over-with before your dessert course is served."
"I won't let you do this," Donna crossed her arms and raised her chin. "I will not let you take Kirkland away from Jamie."
It was difficult to say who was more surprised by Donna's pronouncement: Jamie, who couldn't exactly recall the last time his former mother-in-law had expressed approval or even grudging satisfaction with his child-rearing skills, or Donna, who'd never expected to hear herself doing so, even if it was only indirectly.
"You're taking Jamie's side?" Grant sounded more amused than thwarted.
"Y -- yes." Somehow Donna managed to turn her affirmation into three syllables. Then, realizing how it sounded, repeated more firmly, "Yes, I am."
"That's rich," Grant smirked.
"Victoria wanted Kirkland to be raised alongside his brother."
"Vicky is dead."
"If it were up to you," Jamie snarled, "It would have happened a lot sooner. How many times did you try to kill her?"
"Not nearly as many times as she betrayed me," Grant replied pleasantly.
"No court would give you custody of Vicky's son. Not after everything you did to her."
Grant didn't even bother replying to Jamie's assertion. His attention was focused squarely on Donna. He asked her, "Are you really going to let him do this? You, of all people?"
Unsure of what Grant was getting at, Donna kept up a brave front as she insisted, "I want what's best for my grandchildren."
"Did your father want what was best for his grandchildren," Grant wondered, "When he stole Marley and Vicky away from you?"
"You son of a bitch," Jamie took a threatening step towards Grant. "That was low, even for you."
Grant still didn't so much as look in Jamie's direction. All he said was, "Low? Maybe. Wrong? What say we let Donna be the judge of that?"
Unlike Donna's frenzied physical reaction to the sight of Grant, she responded to his words by practically freezing in place. Her jaw locked, her back stiffened. She stood so still, as if pinned into place by a perfectly aimed arrow, it was impossible to tell if she was even breathing.
Grant, eager to drive home his point before the opportunity was lost, reminded her, "Reginald Love didn't think you and Michael would make good parents for your daughters. He forced you to pretend that Marley was your sister, and he took Vicky from you completely. You know what it's like to have your child ripped away. Are you going to do the same thing to another parent now? Are you going to let Kirkland grow up like Vicky, raised by strangers instead of by his own flesh and blood? Are you really no better than your father?"
Jamie expected Donna to deny Grant's accusations. Frankly, knowing Donna, Jamie expected her to drop-kick Grant to the curb, call her lawyers, issue a restraining order, then call her private security detail and have him messed up for a bit before dumping Grant on the next slow boat to nowhere.
But Donna did none of those things. She simply remained as she was, silent, frozen in place. And clearly affected.
Jamie realized that he'd lost control of the situation and decided that he had no more time to waste. Moving quickly, so that neither had a chance to stop him, Jamie pushed past both Grant and Donna and into the Love house, slamming the door behind him, then dead-bolting it for good measure.
"Did you just lock my mother out of her own house?"
Jamie turned around to see Marley standing on the stairs leading down from the second floor to the foyer.
"Is that a problem?" Jamie wondered.
"No." Marley smiled and took a few steps in his direction, both arms outstretched to envelop him in a hug. "I'm sure you have an excellent reason for doing it."
"Your mother is on the porch. With Grant Harrison. I think he's convinced her to help him take Kirkland away from me."
"Grant Harrison," Marley repeated slowly.
"Who died in 1999."
"Reports of his death, etc... etc..."
"Ah, yes. Life in Bay City." Marley peeked out the window to confirm that Jamie wasn't playing some sort of Easter Fool's joke on her. Then she turned back to Jamie, her face grim. "He's come for Kirkland?"
"He knows you have legal custody. He thinks he can get you to sign him over."
If she'd been raised with fewer social graces and restrictions about what one did and did not do in mixed company, Marley might have snorted in derision. As it was, she merely raised an eyebrow and clicked her tongue against her teeth. "Not even if he brought all the armies of Hell back with him."
Jamie hadn't realized how uncertain he truly felt about Marley's loyalties until he heard her reply and felt his entire body sag in relief.
"So I can count on you to help me keep Kirkland?"
"You can always count on me, Jamie, please remember that."
Jamie smiled weakly at Marley, but inside, he was cringing. He hated when she did that. Hated when she urged Jamie to remember. Because whenever she suggested that he remember anything, Jamie couldn't help it. He remembered everything.
Everything they'd once been to each other, everything they'd once meant to each other, and everything that they'd lost when their relationship fell apart.
Despite Jamie's best efforts, Marley somehow saw the wince he thought he'd managed to successfully suppress.
She grabbed Jamie's hand and clutched it tightly. "Please don't worry. It'll be okay. We can beat Grant. You and me, together. We'll make everything alright, I promise."
Jamie nodded mutely to show that he was listening. He might have even indicated that he agreed with her. But all he was really doing was staring down at how... right... their hands looked, fingers tangled together so that it was impossible to tell where one of them left off and the other began. And, in spite of himself, Jamie was remembering.
By the time Jamie said good-by to Marley -after popping his head into the dining room to wish Bridget and Michele a Happy Easter from their big brothers -- and unlocked the front door, Grant was gone.
Donna was standing on the front porch alone. And looking none too pleased with Jamie.
A part of him wanted to ask her what had happened, what had she and Grant talked about, what had she possibly agreed to in his and Marley's names? But another part of Jamie knew that it would be pointless. He'd only get angry. And there was nothing to gain from his getting angry with Donna. Grant was his enemy. He needed to save all of his energy for fighting Grant. Donna was irrelevant.
And so Jamie simply nodded in her direction, hurrying down the steps and out of sight so that even if she did call something in his wake, Jamie wasn't around to hear it.
Jamie hadn't been expecting a welcoming committee when he got back to the Cory mansion, but that was precisely what he got. Both Amanda and Matt were sitting in the living room, waiting up for him. They told Jamie that it was okay for the three of them to talk openly, all of the kids were sound asleep -- including Jasmine and Charlie, who'd been left to spend the night while Cass and Lila hopped a plane to New York City in the hope of finding out what had happened to Felicia, Dean and Jenna; or at least to reassure themselves that nothing had.
Matt said, "Mom told us about Grant. What was Marley's take on it?"
"She said that I could count on her to help me keep Kirkland."
"Well, of course," Amanda exclaimed. "What reasonable person could possibly think that Kirk would be better off with Grant than with you?"
Jamie indicated Matt, "His ex-wife for one."
Matt peered at Jamie curiously. "What did Donna say?"
"It's more what she didn't say. When Grant accused of her being like Reginald Love and keeping a child away from its real parents, she just froze, like he had her hypnotized."
"Donna's dad messed her up pretty bad. I wouldn't get on her case about it."
"When it comes to my son, I'll get on her case about anything I like. I am not going to let Grant's mind games cost me Kirkland."
"It probably won't come that," Amanda looked from her older brother to her younger one, willing both to stay calm. "I'm sure Donna was just stunned to see Grant. God knows I might have fainted dead away. I certainly wouldn't have had the presence of mind to stand up to him on the spot."
"You were married to him," Jamie reminded. "It's not the same thing."
"It's because I was married to him that I know how persuasive Grant can be, especially when he starts dredging up things from your past that he knows you're most sensitive about. But I also know what kind of man he really is. So does Donna, after everything he put Vicky through. As soon as she gets over the initial shock of Grant being alive, she'll see that he was just playing her, and she'll be on your side. Right, Matt?"
Matt didn't reply. He simply shrugged and developed a sudden, all-consuming interest in the loose upholstery thread underneath his index finger.
"What about you, Matt?" Jamie asked. "Are you on my side?"
"I know how much you love Kirkland."
"You're ducking my question."
"Matt?" Amanda queried. "You can't seriously think that Kirkland would be better off with Grant? The man shot Kirk's mother. He tried to blow up her car. He shot himself and pinned the blame on Vicky. What kind of father does that?"
Matt shrugged again, and then he informed the upholstery thread, almost conversationally, "The kind of father who's kid's mother first ran off with him, then tried to pass off somebody else's baby as the real Kirkland."
Jamie opened his mouth to sputter out a protest, but Amanda raised one hand, gesturing for him to be silent. She knelt in front of Matt, looking up into his eyes to ask, "Do you really think Kirkland would be better off with the man who married me just because it would benefit his political career? The one who cheated on me from the first day? The one who deliberately kept me in a wheelchair so I couldn't leave him, because then it would look bad?"
"This isn't about Grant, is it, Matt?" Jamie spoke up.
Matt raised his head, meeting his brother's gaze. "No," he admitted.
"I don't understand," Amanda said. "Is it about Donna?"
"Donna has a different perspective on the situation from the rest of you," Matt admitted. "So do I."
"Grant Harrison is no Mitch Blake," Jamie insisted.
"I didn't know who my real father was until I was thirteen years old," Matthew challenged. "Mitch was in jail for kidnapping me, and I didn't even know he existed."
Amanda said, "You know Mom and Dad lied to you for your own good. And Dad loved you like you were his own. Same way Jamie loves Kirkland."
"Lying is a hell of a way to express love."
"They wanted to protect you."
"Isn't that what they all say," Matt glared at Jamie. "You're acting like this is some property dispute. Or a test of the old ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law' bit. Believe it or not, this isn't about who is the better man, you or Grant. Nobody would argue that Mac Cory was a better all-around human being than Mitch Blake. Nobody would argue that he was beyond generous in taking me in and raising me and loving me. But this isn't about any of that. It's not even just about playing fair and letting a kid know who he is. It's about letting the kid have a say in who he wants to be."
For a moment, nobody said anything. Then, as if Matt hadn't even spoken, Amanda insisted, "Jamie is our brother. We owe him our support."
"Right. Because blood is thicker than water. Oh, except when it isn't." Matt looked from Amanda to Jamie. "I'm going to bed."
"Thanks a lot, Matt," Jamie managed to hurl the sarcasm in Matthew's direction before his brother disappeared up the stairs.
"Don't worry," Amanda rested a hand on Jamie's shoulder. "I won't let Grant do this to you. I won't let him hurt anyone in this family ever again. No matter what we have to do to stop him."
"No more Mr. Nice Guy?" Jamie joked in a way that made it clear he was dead serious. And remembered the last time he'd made a similar vow. And what it had cost him.
Cass and Lila's plane touched down in New York City at dawn. They rented a car and headed for the Upper West Side apartment where Dean and Jenna Frame lived on those rare occasions when they weren't touring the world in support of Dean's music career.
On their way to the high-rise, Cass filled Lila in on Jenna and Dean's tumultuous romance.
"Picture it," he said. "Felicia adopts this sheltered, teen-age convent girl -Jenna's mother, Gloria, was Felicia's editor at Cory Publishing for years before she died -and next thing she knows, there's Dean Frame at the door, all long hair and leather jacket and monosyllabic "What are you rebelling against?"/"What you got?" attitude. Not that Dean was a bad kid. He'd caught some rough breaks. His mom died. His dad was a gambler who never stayed in one place long enough to let the debt collectors catch up with him. Dean mostly bounced around from relative to relative until he came to live with Frankie when he was already almost grown."
"That's when he caught Miss Jenna's eye?"
"Not that she admitted it at first."
"But true love conquered all," Lila prompted. "And they lived happily ever after, right?"
"So I've been led to believe by Felicia."
"Then maybe that's where they are right now. Living happily ever after, the three of them, someplace so happy it doesn't get cell phone reception."
"Maybe," Cass said absently.
"Once more, honey, and this time try saying it like you mean it."
Cass shot his wife an apologetic glance at the same time as he pulled up to a parking space right in front of Dean and Jenna's building. "Thank you for supporting me on what might very well turn out to be a wild goose chase."
Lila smiled her most charming smile as she got out of the car and closed the door behind her. She hummed her own variation of the classic, "I love New York at... dawn. How about you?"
Even consumed with worry, Cass had no choice but to smile in return. He walked around the car and took Lila's hand in his. They entered the lobby and looked around. Despite there being a desk set up for a doorman, complete with black and white video monitors connected to cameras throughout the building and a phone with which to call up tenants and announce visitors, no employee could be seen at his post.
"There you have it. Mystery solved," Lila pronounced. "Felicia has obviously run off with the doorman."
Cass shook his head and pointed to one of the monitors. It showed, in fuzzy black and white splendor labeled ‘basement,' a portly gentleman wearing a uniform bearing the building's insignia having himself a nice little snooze atop a discarded couch. Cass said, "My money is on an iron-clad union contract."
He looked behind the desk, where sets of duplicate keys hung on hooks bearing each apartment's number, reached over and plucked the ones dangling beneath 5A.
"With sterling security like this," Cass said, "I can't imagine why I was worried for Felicia's safety."
Before taking the elevator up to the fifth floor, Cass and Lila stopped by the mailboxes. Dean and Jenna's had been filled to capacity, and the overflow lay on a lacquered wooden bench below. Some of it, according to the postmark, was at least three days old, maybe more.
Cass and Lila exchanged glances, then headed upstairs.
Once there, both to the Winthrops' relief and consternation, they discovered nothing amiss. Except for a fine sheen of dust that, in New York City, could easily accumulate in the space of a few hours, the apartment appeared undisturbed. The beds, in both the master suite and guest room, were made. The refrigerator was empty, the cable box turned off, no pets or plants lounged about needing to be fed. All gave the appearance of an apartment neatly and methodically packed in anticipation of being locked up for some time, rather than one hastily abandoned -- or worse.
"Everything looks normal," Cass sighed. "I don't know whether to feel happy or even more terrified."
"What?" He turned around to find Lila standing by an antique, roll-top desk in the corner, holding a manila envelope in her hand.
She peeked inside again, double-checking, then asked, "Is it normal, do you think, to keep a copy of your mama's death certificate tucked into the top drawer of your writing table?"
"What are you talking -" Cass flew across the room in fewer steps than he would have previously thought possible. He yanked the envelope out of Lila's hands, snatched at the documents inside, pulled them out and, in a panic, skimmed the contents, only calming down when he realized, "Death certificate... this isn't... I thought... Felicia... I thought... This is Gloria Norris' death certificate."
"Oh, Cass, honey, I'm so, so sorry." Lila wrapped her arms around his shoulders, patting him ineffectually, as thought that could somehow lessen the shock she'd inadvertently given him. "I didn't mean to give you a fright. Yes, of course, I meant Jenna's real mama's death certificate. What in the world do you think it's doing here on her desk? Says right there her mama died way back in 1990."
"I don't know." Cass checked the enclosed letter. "Looks like Jenna ordered it from the records' bureau almost two months ago."
"Was there something suspicious about Gloria's death? Something Jenna might want to be looking into after all these years?"
"Not that I know of. Felicia led me to believe it was natural causes. Wait a minute, let me see right here." Now that he was no longer afraid of spying his best friend's name on it, Cass read the certificate more carefully. "No, look, it says ‘Natural Causes," just like Felicia always said. Cause of death: Kidney failure due to complications from Turner's Syndrome."
"What in the world is that?"
"Don't know," Cass said. He whipped out his BlackBerry and clicked a few buttons, linking up to the Internet in seconds. "These things are so handy," he observed. "Don't know how any of us ever lived without them." He hit ‘enter' and read aloud, "Turner's Syndrome: A chromosomal abnormality involving the absence of all or part of one X chromosome. Occurring in 1 out of every 2500 girls, the syndrome manifests itself in a number of ways. Health concerns include congenital heart disease, diabetes, vision and hearing problems."
"Poor thing," Lila clucked. "No wonder she went so young."
But Cass wasn't listening. Slowly, he read, "Girls with Turner's Syndrome typically experience gonad dysfunction and non-working ovaries, which results in the absence of a menstrual cycle and... sterility."
"Sterility," Lila repeated. "Jenna's mama was sterile? Is that something that could have come on as she got older? After she'd had one baby, maybe?"
Cass shook his head and kept reading, "Women with Turner's Syndrome are almost universally infertile."
"Hm," Lila said.
"Hm," Cass agreed.
"So Gloria Norris..."
"Was most likely not Jenna's biological mother."
"Which might have nothing to do with them all being missing," Lila reasonably pointed out.
But neither of them really believed that.
No more Mr. Nice Guy....
Jamie had promised no more Mr. Nice Guy. And it scared Amanda to no end.
Because deep down, her brother actually was a nice guy. He was no saint, of course. He'd had his stumbles along the way, just like any normal person. He'd developed a substance abuse problem in the early 1980s from a combination of working too hard to try and please Mac and being married to a scheming, cheating, manipulative opportunist named Cecile who'd perpetuated Jamie's problems by slipping drugs into his food. Disgusted not only by Cecile's deviousness (and her affair with Amanda's older brother, Sandy) but also by Rachel's seemingly non-stop bouncing between Mac Cory, Mitch Blake, and even adding Jamie's father, Steve Frame, to the mix, Jamie lashed out by writing, A View of the Bay, a thinly disguised novel that revealed the secrets of practically everybody in town, including those who'd never done him any harm. Then, in 1991, before Carl was their reformed (so he said) and accepted (more or less) stepfather, when he was still the scourge of Bay City, gleefully poisoning, kidnapping, swindling, murdering and obsessing over Amanda, Jamie had joined a group of men, including Cass, Vicky and Marley's dad, Michael, Felicia's late husband, Lucas, and others, who'd vowed to take down Carl -- by any means necessary.
That was the problem with Jamie. Offend him on an intellectual level, and he could respond calmly and rationally, like the nice guy that he really way. But provoke him emotionally, and Jamie lost it. He struck out without thinking, doing things he clearly never would have considered if he were in his right mind.
What Jamie didn't understand -- but Amanda did, courtesy of her disastrous past marriage -was that Grant Harrison was counting on precisely that.
Grant wanted to make Jamie mad. Grant wanted to make Jamie downright furious. He wanted Jamie to do something impulsive and reckless and horrible. Because only if Jamie did that, would Grant have a chance in hell of proving himself a better guardian for Kirkland.
Remembering how upset Jamie had gotten over merely Matthew's disagreement with him the other night, Amanda couldn't begin to imagine what a full-out confrontation with Kirkland's biological father might drive him to do.
All she knew was that Amanda had to protect her brother. Even if it was from himself.
Because there was no way in hell Amanda was going to let Grant Harrison win.
For Kirkland's sake, of course.
That was why, when Amanda picked up the phone to hear a man who identified himself as Kevin Fowler, Grant's attorney, asking to speak with Mr. James Frame, ASAP, she hesitated.
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