Judge Ellen Landregan was starting to get a headache, not to mention some nasty eyestrain, from watching Kevin Fowler and Cass Winthrop ping-pong their arguments back and forth in front of her.
"Your honor, I think this is pretty self-explanatory," Fowler said, then proceeded to explain it to her anyway. "Mr. Harrison never gave up parental rights to his son. With the death of Victoria McKinnon, custody of Kirkland Harrison should have gone to his biological father "
"Which it would have," Winthrop interrupted. "Had Mr. Harrison been something trivial like legally alive. At the time of Mrs. McKinnon's death, he was believed dead, as well."
"A fact that Mr. Harrison did not know due to having fled Bay City in fear for his life. He was in hiding, cut off from communicating with anyone from his past."
"Grant was the one who faked his own death, but he didn't expect to be declared dead?" Cass feigned confusion.
"What Mr. Harrison hoped and what he knew are two different things."
"Be that as it may, surely your client can understand that as Mrs. McKinnon believed Grant Harrison to be dead, she made other arrangements for her children's well-being, namely that her sister, Marley Frame, would be given legal custody of Kirkland."
"Understand? Yes. Accept? No. The threat to Mr. Harrison's life is no longer an issue. In light of this, my client has come to claim his son."
"After ten years of abandonment. During which there was no attempt to contact the child at all. No phone calls, no e-mails. Not even a birthday card."
"A fact that Mr. Harrison's son seems to have moved past. A fifteen year old boy has no trouble understanding that until the threat to his father's life was neutralized, Mr. Harrison did not want to put Kirkland in harm's way."
"Tabling the debate of whether any child should be around Mr. Harrison due to the fact that he has to deal with death threats on a regular basis, Your Honor, Mr. Harrison faked his death with the assumption that he would be considered dead. By doing so, Mr. Harrison, for all intents, surrendered his custodial rights to Kirkland's mother. Therefore, whatever arrangements she made are perfectly legal."
"But not necessarily binding. Upon learning of Mrs. McKinnon's death and the situation regarding his son "
"Took him a decade to pick up a newspaper or figure out how to boot up his Internet connection, did it?"
" Mr. Harrison returned to Bay City to assume custody of Kirkland. Which, as the biological father, he has every legal right to do."
"Not when he knowingly allowed himself to be declared dead."
"A fact which, as I have stated over and over, he did not know."
"My sentiments exactly," Judge Landregan interrupted, and genuinely tired of the two attorneys, turned her focus to their clients, who, after a quick assessment, puzzled her even more.
On one side, you had Grant Harrison, former Senator and Mayor of Bay City. Quite familiar with his sordid history and the accusations made but never proven, not to mention his self-confessed ten-year abandonment, the deck was certainly stacked against him.
But then you had the new Mr. and Mrs. Frame, who, quite frankly, puzzled her even more.
Judge Landregan had reviewed the circumstances under which Mr. Frame had taken on the daily care of the boy he referred to as Kirkland Frame, and everything seemed quite reasonable. What threw up a red flag was that, given that he'd raised Kirkland for over ten years, one would think Mr. Frame might appear more invested in the current proceedings. Yet his head was obviously not on what was going on in the courtroom, which was also quite apparent to his new bride, judging by the confused and anxious looks she kept throwing him.
Even forgiving the obvious, desperate move of their rushed nuptials; somewhat understandable and actually quite common when single parents felt threatened and were looking for ways to solidify their position, there was something going on between the pair that warranted a closer examination...
Fortunately, Judge Landregan was perfectly positioned to do just that.
"It is the decision of this court," she pronounced. "That before final custody of Kirkland Harrison can be decided, a more thorough assessment of both petitioners needs to be conducted. Mr. Harrison and Mr. and Mrs. Frame will each individually submit to several interviews with agents from Social Services. Kirkland Harrison will also be interviewed as to his feelings and wishes on this matter."
"And in regards to visitation, Your Honor?" Kevin raised.
"Visitation is granted. Mr. Harrison is to work out the details with the boy's current legal guardian, Mrs. Marley Frame. I will order that, given Mr. Harrison's past history, he surrender his passport to the court until further notice."
"That's all?" Jamie suddenly started, his attention jolted back to the proceedings. "Grant gets to pick right back up where he left off after dumping his son for ten years?"
Finally, some emotion. "If proof of the claim of abandonment is forthcoming, it will be taken into consideration when determining custody."
Jamie shook his head incredulously. "You have got to be "
A restraining hand over each of Mr. Frame's shoulders from both his lawyer and his wife prevented Jamie from completing that statement, and Judge Landregan from having to charge him with contempt of court.
"That's my decision," she said to Mr. Frame, all the while noting the smug smile on Mr. Harrison's face.
"Bollocks," Carl spat and jerked his head across the table towards the entrance to TOPS.
Rachel turned in her chair to see what, or whom, exactly her husband was currently glaring daggers at, and realized that Donna was walking towards them. Escorted by Matt.
"Agreed," she told him.
"Hi, Mom. Carl," Matt appeared ready to at least slow down; out of politeness and obligation, if nothing else.
But Donna refused to break her stride, sweeping by them with only a curt nod and a vague, social smile in Carl and Rachel's direction, pulling Matt with her.
Carl gripped his knife and fork so tightly, he was amazed he didn't feel the metal liquefy and dissolve in his hands. He couldn't hear Matt's greeting over the roar in his head as every blood cell in his body boiled and pounded against his skull. He tensed, wanting to spring, wanting to pounce, wanting to act.
But all Carl did was nod politely in return.
And remind himself, "Soon...."
All things considered, the hearing didn't go nearly as badly as Marley had feared it would. One look at Jamie, though, and she knew he didn't agree.
But, then again, he'd been in a foul mood when she first met him at the courthouse. She didn't have a chance to ask him what was going on before they were ushered into the courtroom, where instead of her having a rock to lean on, Jamie had just sat there like a rock.
She simply did not understand him these days. What happened to her Jamie?
"Let's get out of here," Marley smiled up at him, hoping to soften the hard look in his eyes. "I'll buy the first round."
He shook his head and she felt the slam of a wall go up between them. "I can't. Not tonight. I have to "
"No," Marley shook her head, patience gone. "You've brushed me off long enough. Whatever it is you think you need to do can wait. Tonight you're focusing on me."
"Marley, let the good doctor tend to his duties," Grant warmly suggested behind her. "We can't have the poor and huddled masses suffering. Besides, you and I have business to discuss regarding Kirkland. Which we don't need Jamie for."
"Go screw yourself," Jamie bit at Grant before stalking away without a word to Marley.
"Jamie!" she called after him, ready to follow, but stopping when she realized it would be useless.
Whatever was going on with him, Jamie didn't want to let her in. And frankly, between him and Donna, Marley was beginning to tire of beating her head against their walls.
Besides, she had other things to worry about. Things that were at least willing to give her the time of day.
"Now, how about that dinner?" Grant continued without missing a beat. "I'm famished. Would you prefer The Bay City Grille or Carlinos?"
"Carlinos," Marley sighed, defeated. "First rounds of drinks is on you."
Gregory knocked on the door to Steven's dorm room, gambling that if, as Allie said, Sarah had moved out of the Cory mansion, this was the logical place for her to go. Despite her waxing poetic about her mother way back when the five of them first went out to dinner, Gregory still got the feeling it wouldn't be Sarah's first choice of living arrangements.
Steven, shirtless and wearing only pajama bottoms, opened the door. As Gregory predicted, Sarah, dressed in the matching navy top, was behind him, sitting cross-legged on the bed, highlighting passages in a thick textbook on Cognitive Science.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Gregory meant it, too. "I needed to talk to Sarah."
She looked up. "I'm kind of busy."
"You hurt Allie a lot," Gregory said.
She shrugged, but refused to meet his eyes. "Yeah, well, sucks to be her."
Gregory closed the door behind him, crossed the room and sat down across from Sarah. He asked simply, "Why?"
"None of your business."
Gregory didn't reply. He sat, waiting quietly and expectantly.
And, from Steven's point of view, creepily. "What's going on?" he asked Sarah.
"Nothing. Allie and I had a fight. Stuff happens. Didn't know she'd sic her lap-dog on me."
If Gregory was offended, his face didn't show it. Which, to be honest, kind of pissed Steven off even more. Ever since they were kids, his younger cousin's utter inscrutability had always kind of pissed Steven off. And that was before Gregory had humiliated him in public. "Okay. You heard her. It's none of your business. Go away."
Gregory ignored Steven and reminded Sarah, "You told Allie she wasn't worth being friends with anymore. Did you mean it?"
Steven wanted to know the answer to that one himself. "Ouch. That's kind of cold."
"It was also personal. Between the two of us. I didn't ask for our conversation to be taken to committee."
"Look, believe me, Sarah," Steven offered. "I know what it's like to get angry and blurt out stuff other people sometimes see as... harsh."
Now Gregory looked amused.
And Steven really wanted to punch him. Instead, he focused on Sarah, admitting, "When I get angry, my mouth starts operating without a run code from my brain. I'm sure if you just told Allie you didn't mean it "
"I meant it," Sarah said. She turned to Gregory. "You can tell her I meant it."
"Sarah..." Steven began. "You guys have been friends, like, forever."
"Exactly. Which means a whole lot of stuff has gone on that neither one of you knows anything about. And I plan to keep it that way."
"I want you to destroy him," Felicia calmly told Cass as he and Frankie sat across from her in their living room. "Kevin Fowler. I want you to do whatever you can legally and otherwise to obliterate him. I want him to lose, I want him disbarred, and I want him to suffer. Actually, in all honesty, I would like him to drop dead. But I'll settle for suffering. Or, at the very least, losing."
For the umpteenth time since it had first been presented to him, Cass parsed through Lori Ann's guardianship document. "The problem is, if we challenge this, it's not like custody will automatically go to you. Lori Ann would become a ward of the state. The court will appoint her an advocate, and while he or she will undoubtedly be less obnoxious about it than Fowler "
"Hard to imagine anyone could be more, isn't it?"
"I don't think they'd be any better or any easier for us to work with. All those issues he listed for why you wouldn't make the best guardian for Lori Ann, he didn't pull them out of thin air. They're Adoption 101. Judges do care about those things. Besides, there isn't a lot here to work with for a legal challenge. He didn't miss a comma."
"You mean, he didn't miss a trick. I caught him interviewing a couple of prospective adoptive parents."
"For Lori Ann?" Frankie queried.
"He said not. But I'd be an idiot to believe him. You can't let a total stranger decide the fate of my own daughter's child, Cass."
"A court-appointed advocate would be a total stranger, too," Cass pointed out. "And I've already gone ahead and filed a petition to have you named Lori Ann's guardian."
"Kevin," Felicia pronounced the name as if it were a synonym for pestilence. "Doesn't think the court will like my petition. Remember, I'm single, I'm old, I'm an alcoholic "
"Recovering!" Cass held up a finger and corrected, angrily.
"You think Kevin cares?" Felicia shook her head. "All he has to do is come up with some picture-perfect, young married couple to make me look bad in comparison..."
Cass looked at Frankie. Frankie looked at Cass. He raised an eyebrow. She smiled and nodded her head, just once. Cass grinned back and squeezed her hand.
Then, in near unison, they both turned to Felicia and announced, "We can adopt her!"
Allie realized that a public bathroom on the Bay City University campus was probably not the optimal location for her mission. On the other hand, she doubted that she was the first or the last person to use it for precisely this purpose, and if evidence was discovered, there'd be a lot of potential suspects in addition to her. Such was the beauty of a large university.
Furthermore, since her grandmother's house was out of the question, a public bathroom was exactly where Allie was when she took a deep breath and pondered the results of an unquestionably positive home pregnancy test.
Back in his suite after Kirkland's custody hearing, Kevin filed his day's notes from the Harrison case, and took out the file he'd started for Rick and Mindy Lewis of Springfield.
Sifting through the stack of personal documents they'd provided at his request, Kevin frowned, and reached for the phone, calling Mindy.
When she picked up, he asked, "You do know that your birth certificate isn't valid, right?"
To read more of Kevin's conversation with Mindy (including her take on the encounter with Felicia), go to: http://twitter.com/melindasuelewis
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