EPISODE #2009-22

Carl took a long moment to compose himself. And then an even longer moment to accept that he was doing so.

Finally, every muscle in his body stretched to the breaking point from the agony of complying, he managed to make his voice sound vaguely agreeable as he told Rachel, "I accept your conditions."

"Thank you," she said sincerely, understanding what it cost him. Understanding even better what it would have cost them if he hadn't.

"Now," Carl said. "You have information for me."

Rachel nodded, relishing this last moment of peace before all Hell broke loose for God only knew how long. She told him, "You are Jenna Frame's biological father."

Carl had been expecting a great many revelations. But that wasn't one of them. His nerves shattered as he exploded, "Oh, for goodness' sake, Rachel, not that again. I told you, Gloria Norris and I never — "

"Not you and Gloria," Rachel corrected. This was it, the point of no return. "You and Donna."

As quickly and dispassionately as possible, Rachel laid out the facts as she knew them. Carl and Donna, Donna and Jenna, Jenna and Gloria. The kidnapping, the use of Carl's own account to pull it off, then the last minute switch to the convent when Donna realized Carl and Rachel were getting too close.

"Donna," he repeated neutrally. Then, more with astonishment than anything else, "Donna!" Carl said, "You know, when I initially returned to Bay City, she was perfectly pleasant to me. We were the epitome of civilized exes. She never gave any indication...."

"As soon as Donna knew you were in Bay City, she and Gloria had Jenna moved into the convent. To keep her safe from you."

Carl fixed his gaze on Rachel. "And now you expect me to do absolutely nothing with this disclosure?"

"You promised," she reminded.

"Donna Love hid my child from me, my firstborn daughter. And then she got her killed!" As Carl said the words, Rachel could see their meaning sinking in. She couldn't imagine what it must feel like to both gain — and lose — a child, all in the space of a single moment. "Jenna is dead..." Carl recapitulated meekly, almost as if he expected, with so many other facts having been turned on their heads recently, this one to do so as well.

Rachel nodded.

"Blast it! Do you realize that the only remembrance the girl ever had of me, was of my causing that inadvertent car accident of hers nearly two decades ago?"

"The only inadvertent part about it, Carl, was that you intended to kill Lucas, and merely ended up injuring Jenna by mistake," she reminded.

"What does that have to do with anything now?"

"Just a reminder that perhaps Donna had ample reasons for hiding your first-born daughter from you."

Carl's eyes narrowed. "Are you on her side in all of this?"

"What Donna did was despicable. It was reprehensible. It was, frankly, incomprehensible to me."

"Thank you for that, at least!"

"I am talking about the kidnapping. I am talking about keeping Jenna from medical attention, a decision that most likely cost Jenna her life. But I am not talking about Donna's initial resolution to keep you away from Jenna. I have no right to judge her on that account. What she did isn't much different from the choices I made when I first tried to pass Matt off as Mac's son, and then kept Mitch in jail and away from Matt for years. I thought Mitch would be dangerous for Matt. But Mitch Blake had nothing on you."

"So this is a punishment, then? You're punishing me for my past, by tying my hands in this matter."

"No. I made peace with your past a long time ago. It's the future I'm concerned about. Yours, mine, Cory's, Elizabeth's. I told you when Grant came back that I wouldn't tolerate a resumption of hostilities. I am most certainly not going to stand by and watch you go after Donna."

"She murdered my child!"

"And destroying her will murder your soul."

"Am I at least permitted to confront her about it? I want to hear from her own treasonous lips what could possibly have possessed her to act in such a heinous manner."

"No," Rachel said. "As far as Donna is concerned, I'm keeping her secret. I never told you a blessed thing."

"To what end?" Carl demanded. "Have you gone completely mad, Rachel? What in the world could be possessing you to protect that woman?"

"I'm not protecting Donna. It's Felicia I'm concerned about."

"I have no intention of harming a hair on Felicia's well-coiffed head. Why would you ever think otherwise?"

"You have a granddaughter, Carl. Her name is Gloria Ann Frame, and right now she is fighting for her life in an incubator at Bay City Hospital."

By the look on Carl's face, Rachel could tell it was the first time he'd made the connection.

He said softly, "I must go see her."

"No," Rachel corrected. "You mustn't. Felicia has been through hell the past few months. The kidnapping, the escape, Jenna dying, Dean's collapse, Lori Ann... And she doesn't even know that Lucas is alive yet. Remember him? Her life is going to be nothing but pain and turmoil for the foreseeable future. Under no circumstances are you to so much as consider contributing an iota to her distress."

"So what do you propose I do, Rachel? Just go along, pretending utter ignorance, acting as if nothing of consequence has occurred?"

"That's exactly what I propose. And it's exactly what you agreed to. I told you the truth for two reasons. One, because I genuinely believe you deserve to know. You have been wronged in this, no question about it. But don't you dare compound the massive wrongs of this debacle by taking your fury out on somebody else."

"And what's the second reason?" Carl forced himself to ask, mostly in an attempt to avoid launching a counter-offensive to her accusations.

"The second reason, Carl, is that I love you. I am committed to our being completely honest with each other, no matter the cost. I don't want to hide things from you, and I do not want you hiding things for me."

"It is, however, apparently copasetic, for us both to hide things from Donna. Bollocks, Rachel, even if I were to agree with everything you've asserted up to this point, I simply can not fathom why you wish to keep my recent enlightenment a secret from Donna!"

"Again, that's for Felicia's sake. If Donna knew I'd told you about Jenna — even if she believed you weren't planning to retaliate — she would still start acting differently around you. Felicia might pick up on it and, like I said, I will not have her upset any further. You made me a promise, Carl. I fully expect — and trust — you to honor it. The next step," Rachel she told her husband. "Is completely up to you."

The first question Kevin asked Amanda when she woke up in his bed the next morning was, "So I take it you've come to a decision on the question of whether or not my continuing to work for Grant will affect our relationship?"

"My God," Amanda said. "It's true."

"What is?"

"Lawyers really do start speaking in briefs the minute they open their eyes."

They were laying face to face, both on their sides, beneath the covers. Kevin reached over to gently stroke Amanda's cheek. "Only when I'm lucky enough to open my eyes to something truly amazing."

"Kevin Fowler, you are a shameless flirt."

"Are we still at the initial flirting stage, then? Seems I've misread a signal or two."

She laughed. "I think I can safely declare we're past the initial flirting stage."

"Thank you," he said, and kissed her.

"For what?"

"For giving me a chance. For not defining who I am by what I do."

"You helped out my mom and Jamie both. That makes you a good guy in my book. And you're the only person in a long time who's taken me seriously, instead of acting like I needed to be sheltered from the world."

"And talking about you as if you weren't in the room."

"Yeah. What the hell is up with that?" Amanda wagged her finger back and forth between the two of them and observed, "You know... this... us... it's not going to be easy. Jamie still doesn't trust you. We've got the whole custody case to get through. That's bound to get vicious. And personal. And then there are our families... There's a lot of bad blood between my mom and your grandmother."

"That's not a problem. I've ignored Alice Frame for twenty years. I think I can continue to do so for twenty more, at least."

"Oh, really?" Amanda challenged. "Then what was that at the restaurant last night?"

Grant wasn't one for stalling when there was business to be done, but damned if the sight of his son sitting across from him at the breakfast table didn't make him want to delay any and all unpleasant business for a few more minutes. For a moment, Grant allowed himself to fantasize that they were simply a normal father and son, sharing breakfast before he sent his tenth (!) grader off to school. And that the only thing they had to talk about were upcoming PSATs and swim-team practices.

"Blueberry pancakes?" Grant gestured at a plate on the table. "I seem to recall they were your favorite."

"Still are," Kirkland nodded as he helped himself to the freshly made stack. "Although they're only good with — "

"Boysenberry syrup," Grant finished, producing the bottle with a flourish. "Fresh from the orchard."

"Good memory," Kirkland blinked as he grabbed the bottle from Grant and proceeded to create a lake of syrup around his pancakes. "If I ask for a Ferrari, can you pull that out of thin air too?"

Grant opened his cell phone. "I can have one waiting for you at school when the final bell rings. What color would you prefer?"

"Wow," Kirkland sighed. "This must be big."

"What must be big?" Grant cocked his head in confusion.

"Whatever it is you want to talk to me about. You call me up this morning saying school can wait and that you've got a car waiting for me down the block from my Grandmother's house. I get here and you're Mr. Mom, fixing all my favorite foods. Now you're flipping out cell phones to buy me a Ferrari just because I made a joke about it. I don't even have my license. You," Kirkland sighed as he speared a blueberry with his fork. "Are trying to soften me up for something."

Grant instinctively shook his head, despite Kirkland being, in a word, absolutely right. "Why can't a father simply want to buy his son a Ferrari?"

Kirkland rolled his eyes. "Maybe because a Ferrari is never just a Ferrari with you."

Grant shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Will you always be suspicious of everything I do?"

"I hope not," Kirkland answered with surprising openness. "But it's pretty obvious that you've got something on your mind. So, spill, already."

"You're a very astute young man," Grant conceded.

Kirkland shoveled a forkful of pancakes into his mouth. "I'm also going to be late for school if you keep stalling."

"You've asked me to be honest with you," Grant said after a moment, ignoring the sudden niggling feeling in the pit of his stomach. "That we have no secrets?"

Even as Kirkland nodded at him, Grant hesitated, taking in his son's unsuspecting face.

"There's no easy way to do this," Grant began. "Believe me, it isn't my intention to hurt you, but I think there's something you should know."

Grant pulled the wrinkled document from his pocket and slid it across the table towards Kirkland.

"What's that?"

"Read it," Grant said simply, even as that niggling feeling in his stomach flared angrily. He grimaced and suddenly Kirkland's face was all concern. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Grant tried to casually wave off the sentiment even as he felt another hitch in his chest. "Just a bit of indigestion or...something."

"Or something?" Kirkland asked with a raised eyebrow. "Like a heart attack or a stroke?"

"Nothing of the sort," Grant asserted, sipping from his glass of water in an attempt to quell his churning stomach. "I'm as healthy as a horse. Although your concern is appreciated."

"I just got you back, Dad," Kirkland stated bluntly. "I don't want to lose you again."

For a moment, Grant found that words failed him. He couldn't remember the last time someone had actually said that they wanted him around, the last time anyone actually worried about him dying, rather than attempting to facilitate his demise.

"I don't want to lose you, either," Grant quietly answered after he'd regained the ability to speak. He looked down at the document on the table, the urge to pick it up and pretend that he had never brought it up suddenly overpowering. "Which is why — "

"Which is why you're trying to be honest with me," Kirkland finished, suddenly picking up the document, putting it out of Grant's reach. "Which I appreciate."

"I hope so," Grant murmured to himself, his stomach now at a full boil as he watched Kirkland skim through the document, looking for some sign, any sign as to what his son was feeling or thinking.

Wondering if his (admittedly Kevin-prodded) honesty would be rewarded. Or if he had just made the biggest mistakes of his life.

Allie and Gregory had barely entered Sassy's for their brunch date before they spotted Sarah, Steven and GQ, already ensconced around a table smack in the center. There were three of them sitting down, preparing to dig into, respectively, an egg-white omelet, blueberry pancakes, and strawberry waffles, but the table could easily have accommodated four — or more.

Sarah's face lit up when she saw them, and she half-stood to enthusiastically beckon Allie and Gregory over. Steven and GQ turned their heads, saw whom she was waving at, and both politely, if somewhat perfunctorily, rose from their chairs.

"Hey, look who's here!" Sarah raved. "You guys want to join us?"

Allie looked at GQ. He, in turn, stretched out an arm to shake Gregory's hand. Steven did the same, but with noticeably less enthusiasm.

Allie was about to accept Sarah's offer — not only was it the polite thing to do, but she figured this was hardly a coincidence; their accidentally on purpose meeting had to be part of Sarah's long-range plan for reuniting Allie and GQ, and who was Allie, after all, to stand in the way of that? She'd long ago realized that this was Sarah's show. The rest of them were just along for the ride.

But before Allie could exhibit her first-class manners, Gregory cut in with some of his own.

He took Allie by the elbow, subtly turning her away from the table, and told Sarah, "No, thank you, we wouldn't want to interrupt."

"It's no interrupt — "

"Or upset anyone," Gregory indicated Steven. "It's bad for digestion." The reminder of their earlier conversation about mental and emotional states having an effect on the physical was implied. Politely.

Gregory guided Allie to a table in the corner, one from which it would be very difficult to see the trio. Unless you happened to lean back in your chair, tilt your head just the right way and crane your neck the fraction of a smidge. Not that Allie did. She was just thinking how it was possible.

Over brunch, Gregory engaged Allie in conversation about school — Had she picked a major yet? Journalism? That sounded interesting. The field was changing every day, it was exciting to see what it would evolve into next. He asked about her family, commiserating about Kirkland's custody situation and even generously suggesting that Steven was probably under a great deal of stress as a result. He talked about his sister, Josie, having to go on bed-rest — "I guess Bay City PD isn't too keen on nine month pregnant cops chasing down perps." — and mentioned that his mom was doing a lot better these days, modern medicine was really miraculous, wasn't it?

He was charming, and he was modest. He asked and said all the right things... and Allie could barely focus on a word Gregory was saying.

In the middle of his wondering if maybe she wanted another glass of ice tea, Allie blurted out, "I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. Gregory, you're a really, really sweet guy. But I only went out with you because Sarah thought it would make GQ jealous."

"Oh," Gregory said, and without changing expression or tone reassured her, "I know."

It took until well into the next morning before Felicia had absorbed Cass' situation enough to ask, "What about Lila?"

Cass sighed, "She left me. She told me she'd spent ten years trying to live up to ghost of Frankie. She wasn't about to tangle with the real thing. Or something like that. To tell you the truth, I was so in shock about the abrupt manner she chose to go about it, I didn't really process everything she was saying. I thought I had some experience in the matter — "

"When they write your biography, they can call it The Man Whose Wives Never Die," Felicia observed.

Cass chuckled ruefully. "I thought I knew what I was getting into. But this isn't like with Kathleen at all."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Good, I guess. In the long-run. Lila saved me the trouble of going back and forth choosing — or not choosing — like I did before. In that case, I only ended up hurting both women. Here, I don't have to pretend that it could ever be anyone but Frankie for me. I guess Lila knew that even before I did."

"I am so happy for you, Cass." Felicia's gaze drifted off towards Lori Ann again. Cass felt another disassociate moment coming, and tried to head it off at the pass.

Not to mention reintroduce the topic that was never very far from his mind. "Did you ever think about what it would be like, if Lucas weren't really dead?"

Felicia sighed. And then she confessed, "The first time I saw Nikos, when I sat down next to him on the plane. In that split second between seeing his face and thinking, "Is it? Could it be?" and hearing him ask, "I believe you're looking for me," when I realized that no, it isn't and it couldn't, in that split second, I managed to imagine it all. Lucas not really dead, him coming back to me, our living happily ever after."

"But did you ever stop to wonder about how it could have happened? What it would mean to have him let you believe he was dead all those years?"

"It was a split second, Cass. I only had time for the joyful reunion. The details I tabled for another fantasy."

"But that's just it, the reunion is the fantasy. The details are the reality."

"Fantasy is my business. No, seriously, Cass, if I could have Lucas back, it would be such a miracle, the details they'd just be... details." She shook her head. "But now we're talking fantasy again."

He raised an eyebrow, "The Man Whose Wives Never Die, remember?"

"Then you are a very fortunate man indeed. My husbands seem to die with rather disturbing regularity."

"Only the good ones. Louis St. George, I hear, is still peddling ill-gotten art in exotic locations."

"And Mitch Blake wasn't so bad..." Felicia smiled at Cass, trying her best to express that despite her own dire circumstances, she could still draw sincere joy from his unexpected good fortune. "For goodness' sake, Cass, Frankie is back. Why in the world are you sitting here with me instead of celebrating with her?"

"Well, first of all, because I love you and this is where I belong. And second of all... because it isn't quite that easy."

"I don't understand. It should be the easiest thing in the world."

"You would think so. But not when Frankie is hiding something from me. She's on the run, Felicia. Someone is after her. She won't tell me who and she won't tell me why. All she will tell me is the only way we can be together is if I drop everything and go on the run with her."

Felicia looked over Cass' shoulder. She checked under the chair he was sitting on, and then she tapped one finger against her cheek as she asked, "Then how come I don't see your bags packed, pal?"

"I was going to do it," Cass admitted. "I was ready to do it."

"And then I stopped you," Felicia realized with horror.

"No. Don't you think that for a minute. I stopped me. It was my choice."

"Cass Winthrop, you listen to me," Felicia faced him, both hands on his shoulders and more animated that she had been in seemingly forever. "True love doesn't come along every day. It doesn't come along every year. Heck, for some people it doesn't come along even once in a lifetime. You are so lucky. You thought Frankie was gone forever. You and she have been given a second chance at happiness. It's a blessing. It's a miracle! Don't you dare sacrifice it for anything. Or anyone. I want you to get up right now, go to Frankie, and you two do whatever you need to in order to be together, do you understand me?"

Cass took a moment before answering, and then he nodded his head slowly. "I understand you," he told Felicia. "And I know exactly what I need to do next."

"What is it, Mom? I'm late for work." Matt stood in the foyer, one hand on the door-knob, one foot on the threshold, mind already on the job.

"We need to talk, Matt."

"Can't it wait? I — "

"About Donna."

"Oh," Matt said. And let go of the door. He followed Rachel into the living room. He made sure that they couldn't be overheard, and then he asked, "She told you?"

"I found out."

"Did you tell Carl?"

Rachel ignored his question to ask instead, "Are you alright? It had to have been such a shock."

"Yeah," he snorted ruefully. "You could say that."

"I know how much it hurts, Matthew, being betrayed in such a manner by someone you cared about."

"Oh, I'm fine. She didn't do anything to me, after all. It's Jenna... Jenna..." Matt shook his head, dropping the nonchalant facade. "How the hell could she do it, Mom? How could she just walk away without a second thought? Pretend like Jenna never existed? Bump into her in Bay City for years and years and never give the slightest indication... What is wrong with her? Something's got to be wrong with her, am I right? It's not normal to just dump your own kid and not feel even so much as a twinge of guilt or interest in how they're doing or what's going on in their lives? I mean, I'm not the crazy one here, am I? I'm not the one who's overreacting? What Donna did, it's unforgivable. Isn't it?"

"I'm the last person right now who feels like defending Donna. But, the fact is, she didn't just, as you put it, dump Jenna. She found her a loving adoptive home. She and Gloria worked together to keep Jenna safe from Carl by sending her to the Convent when she was a little girl. She did take an interest in Jenna's well-being, up to a point. By the way, Matt, when was the last time you heard from Mitch?"

"What?" Her son did a double-take.

"I know how upset you are about Donna," Rachel prodded gently. "But I think this... your anger... I think it's maybe about something a little bigger than just her and Jenna."

"Mitch... I haven't heard from him in a while. Over a year. Maybe even closer to two. He got remarried, you know. He's got a daughter now. Melanie."

"Mitch and I made a lot of mistakes where you were concerned, Matt. None of them were your fault."

"Thanks, Mom. I think we already had this talk when I was twelve."

"I'm not so sure it sunk in."

"Compared to what Donna did, Mitch Blake is Father of the Year."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Matt told his mother, "I'm not."

"I know." She moved in to give him a hug. "And I am so, so sorry about that..."

Kirkland folded up the document, dropped it on the table and calmly helped himself to the plate of bacon.

"Son?" Grant leaned over to him, sincere concern in his eyes. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," Kirkland nodded, exaggerating a casual shrug as he pointed to the carafe next to Grant. "Why wouldn't I be? Could you pass the OJ?"

"Your juice can wait," Grant shook his head in confusion. "We should talk about this. You must have some reaction to what you've just read."

Kirkland stilled and thought to himself a moment, an unmistakable flash of anger in his eyes.

"Why did you show me that?" he whipped his gaze over so sharply, Grant felt as if he'd been nailed to his chair.

Feeling less like a parent and more like a cornered child caught coloring on the wallpaper, Grant gave his best shot at a fairly appeasing answer. "It was something I thought you should know about."

"Why?" Kirkland pressed, his voice so tight with anger, Grant knew he had to be missing something. Through clenched teeth, his son repeated, "Why did you think I should know about this? Was it because you wanted to come clean about your dad being a dick to my grandmother? Or were you pulling your own dick move to try and make me think Jamie was a bastard for signing it?"

Grant blinked, less due to Kirkland's choice of words and more at the realization that Kirkland knew. About Spencer and Rachel, about Jamie's successful fake-out. He knew everything.

"You said you'd changed," Kirkland reminded quietly. "You promised me that you wouldn't start pulling the same crap with my family as you did with Mom. And I was dumb enough to believe you. But my dad told me everything. Before he signed that stupid document of Spencer's, he came to me and he explained what he was doing and why. Because when my dad swears to be straight with me, he keeps his word. He doesn't suddenly forget what he promised just because it's not convenient anymore."

"I haven't done anything of the sort," Grant shook his head, reaching out for Kirkland even as his son pushed himself up from the table. "I didn't! My father — "

"Is a jerk," Kirkland cut him off, yanking his backpack off the floor and slinging it over his shoulder. "But you didn't try to stop him. You didn't tell me or anyone else what he was up to. You were trying to have it both ways, Grant. Which makes you an even bigger jerk. We are so done," Kirkland spun away from Grant, marching to the door with such determination, such finality, that Grant knew if he didn't do something, this would be the last moment he had with his son.

This would be it.

"The hell we're done," Grant grabbed Kirkland's backpack, yanking his son to a stop.

"Let me go!" Kirkland roared back at him.

"No," Grant shook his head. "You're not leaving here until I've had my say. Until you understand why I've done the things that I've done for you!"

"You know," Allie set her ice-tea down with a thump.

Gregory nodded mutely, chewing on his home-fries, unwilling to speak with his mouth full.

"What do you know? How long have you known it?"

Gregory swallowed and confessed, "I knew from the first time you asked me out. I mean, I didn't know the details. I put those pieces together after we all had dinner at Carlino's and you couldn't stop looking at GQ. But I knew as soon as you invited me to come out with you guys that there had to be a reason."

"Couldn't the reason have just been that I thought you were a sweet, cute guy and I wanted to get to know you better?"

"I've been sweet for a while," Gregory pointed. "Cute, too. You didn't seem particularly impressed before."

"I'm sorry," Allie said.

"That you failed to pick up on my cuteness earlier?"

"No." He was being so... sweet... about everything , Allie couldn't help but smile in return. "That I used you to try and make jealous a guy who clearly," she indicated GQ hanging out with Sarah and Steven, not giving her a second thought. "Doesn't give a damn."

"He does," Gregory reassured. "That's how guys show how much they care, by pretending that they don't."

"You think GQ is still interested in me?" Allie couldn't help asking, though she understood how inappropriate the question was under the circumstances.

Gregory shrugged, but admitted, "Seems that way to me."

She wanted to giggle. She wanted to get up and run right over to GQ to ask if Gregory was right. She realized that would be ill-advised. And rude. She settled for wondering, "So if you knew all along, why did you agree to go out with me that first time? And why did you call and ask me out again?"

"Because," Gregory said. "I think you're sweet and cute. And I'd like to get to know you better."

"Even though — "

"And because I know that it's easier to win over a girl if she's dating — or least interested in — somebody else, than if she's available."

"Huh?" Allie comprehended that there were other, more articulate ways in which she could have phrased her query, but Gregory had completely lost her on that one.

He explained patiently, "If a girl is single, she has this image of the perfect, dream guy in her head that any flesh-and-blood male can't hope to measure up to. On the other hand, if she's dating someone else, all you have to do is be better than that guy. It's a lot more doable."

Kevin got out of bed and threw on a robe, turning his back to Amanda and avoiding her eyes as he dismissed, "Last night was just my being a Good Samaritan. Alice has no idea what kind of a man Spencer is. I warned her the same way you'd warn somebody crossing the street that a truck was about to squeal down on top of them. It didn't mean anything."

"She's your grandmother."

"She's Sally Frame's adoptive mother. We're not even blood relatives."

"Because we all know what a high premium you put on blood relations," Amanda teased gently.

She'd hoped to coax a smile out of Kevin. What she got was a frown as he tied his sash and turned back to face her. "I've managed to survive for over twenty years without a single Frame, Matthews, Gordon, Randolph branch of the family tree to hold on to. Why fix what's not broken?"

Amanda had a great many answers to that question. Not to mention the observation that, from where she was sitting — er... laying — there seemed to be quite a bit broken and in need of fixing. But she understood that they were still far too early in their relationship for her to be offering helpful psychological advice, otherwise known as getting all up in his personal business. The good part about having so many, many, many failed affairs in her past, was that Amanda had hopefully learned a thing or two. She had a clue now about a few mistakes to avoid making on this go around. Of course, what that meant was that she'd probably just blunder into a host of new ones.

So Amanda held her tongue, only offering meekly, "When I was married to Grant, Spencer was actually nicer to me than Grant was."

Good going, Amanda, she instantly thought and, if she hadn't been lying down, would have kicked herself. Because reminding the man you're sleeping with that you used to sleep with his client doesn't constitute one of those relationship mistakes we were just talking about earlier. Good Lord, was she really this hopeless?

"Probably because you were nicer to him than Grant was. And because Spencer needed something from you. Damn it, how stupid can Alice be? The woman can't see she's being used?"

"For what?" Amanda challenged. "Sure, she told everybody who you really were but, beyond that, what can Alice do for Spencer?"

"I don't know," Kevin admitted. "But I'm willing to lay down money that Spencer does."

Cass tried calling Frankie's cell phone, but she wasn't answering. At Felicia's urging, he left the NICU determined to search every corner of Bay City until he'd tracked down his wife. Cass made it as far as around the corner of the next hallway before he spied Frankie headed straight for him.

That was easy.

What was it Frankie always said about the stars guiding people to where they needed to be? Maybe she was on to something.

"Frankie!" Cass called out, not giving her the excuse of brushing by and pretending she hadn't seen him.

Of course, when Cass did manage to catch up with her, he realized that maybe what he'd assumed was an excuse was actually genuine disorientation. Frankie's eyes were full of tears, and she was staring straight ahead, lost in her own world. It took her a moment to recognize Cass. Once she did, she lamented, "I went to see Dean."

"How is he?"

"Horrible. He's more dead than alive. And I think he prefers it that way."

Cass said, "After I lost you, I didn't think I wanted to keep on living. If it weren't for Charlie..."

"Dean has Lori Ann. But he has to pull himself together first. He's shattered, Cass. I've seen him heart-broken and I've seen him discouraged and I've seen him lost. But I've never seen him like this."

"We're all here for Dean. We'll help him get through this."

"How's Felicia?" Frankie asked.

"Come see for yourself. I told her about you being back. She's so happy for us. I'm sure she'd love to see you."

"Maybe another time," Frankie hedged.

"Why? We're both here now."

"That's just it. You and me, together in public... I told you, Cass. We can't. Not in Bay City."

"Damn it, Frankie, I've had about enough of this. My best friend has just suffered a loss the likes of which you and I hopefully will never know. Her life is in turmoil, and she doesn't even realize the half of it yet!"

"What?" Frankie began, but Cass cut her off.

"If there is one thing that spending last night by Felicia's side has reinforced for me, it's that life is short. I have no desire to waste one more second of it at cross-purposes with you, playing guessing games. You're in danger, I'm in danger, Charlie is in danger, I get that. But I am not about to let you face it alone. Tell me what's going on, Frankie. Tell me now, or so help me, I am going after the truth myself."

"You can't do that," she warned.

"I can, and I will. You say this mystery person forbids our being together? Then you know what I'm going to do? I am going to publish our wedding announcement in every newspaper in the country. I am going to broadcast it over every television station, and I am going to hashtag it on Twitter.com until you and I are the number one trending topic! That should drive him out of hiding, don't you think?"

"You don't know what you're saying, Cass! She threatened to kill Charlie!"

"She?" Cass caught the unexpected pronoun. "She, who? Who, Frankie? Who the hell are you and I in all this peril from?"

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