EPISODE #2009-9

"Lucas?" Rachel's identification turned into a question by the last syllable. 

Next to her, Carl had a different guess.  He snarled, "Nikos..." 

The man shuffling down the hall towards them seemed reluctant to acknowledge either moniker.  Truth be told, he looked as if he'd rather not acknowledge them at all.  His eyes darted from side, searching for a quick escape.  Only when he realized that there was no way out, did he suddenly increase his pace and, with a strangled cry of "You son of a bitch!" fling himself bodily at Carl. 

The dark-haired man had the element of surprise on his side, not to mention a fist already raised to strike a crippling blow.  But Carl had the instincts (plus the nine lives) of a feline, not to mention much more experience with strangers wanting to pummel him.  He was able to duck the head-on attack and even turn the tables on his assailant by grabbing the other man's arm, yanking it down hard, and flinging him against the opposite wall.  Before his foe had the chance to catch his breath, Carl pressed the palm of his hand into the other's back, trapping him there, then deftly kicked the legs out from under him, grinding his heel into the other's neck as soon as he hit the ground. 

"I'd heard rumors, Nikos," Carl sneered.  "That reports of your death were greatly exaggerated.  I should have known you'd end up here.  Don't we all at one time or another?" 

The man on the ground didn't reply.  Though writhing in pain, he used what strength he had left to twist his head so that he could look up at Rachel.  Choking and gagging from the weight of Carl's foot on his neck, he nevertheless refused to break their gaze, until Rachel gasped, grabbed her husband by the arm and tried to pull him off. 

"Carl!  Stop!  It's Lucas!" 

"Balderdash," Carl snapped, huffing from the effort of their altercation.  "Even if he were alive, what would Lucas Castigliano be doing here?  This is Alexander Nikos' milieu." 

"You put me here, you bastard."  Between Rachel pulling Carl off and Lucas regaining his breath, he was able to rise to his knees, knocking Carl off and sideways, though the latter did manage to retain his balance.  Lucas stretched to his full height, dusting himself off as he told Rachel, "Your husband's had me locked up inside this place for seventeen years." 

"Liar!" Carl roared.  "Even if he is who he claims to be, I had no previous knowledge of his whereabouts." 

"Lucas," Rachel said softly.  She took both of his hands in hers and looked into his eyes.  "You are Lucas, aren't you?" 

He nodded. 

"Oh, do spare us the theatrics," Carl groaned.  "Rachel, be reasonable.  I already explained to you what sort of enterprise this is.  Now who do you think was more the sort to obtain membership, here? Lucas, with his penny-ante money laundering for a drug cartel, or Nikos, who could have bought and sold the entire organization one hundred times over?" 

Without looking at her husband, still locked into Lucas' eyes, Rachel said, "Alexander Nikos kidnapped me.  He trapped me in a crypt.  I'd know him anywhere.  This is not Alexander Nikos." 

"Thank you, Rachel," Lucas said.  Then added, "You don't know how wonderful it is to see you again." 

Rachel embraced him tightly, holding on for a beat longer than otherwise might have been necessary.  Because she realized that, as soon as she let go, she would have to start facing even more unpleasant truths. 

Finally, when she could put it off no longer, Rachel told Lucas, "We all thought you were dead." 

"I know," Lucas said.  "For a long time, I thought I was dead, too.  The last thing I remember was being in the hospital after I was shot, talking to Lorna.  And then I woke up here.  I was still in bed, still hooked up to tubes and machines, but there wasn't a living soul around.  I guess they must have drugged me somehow to change my bandages and bring me food, because for months, close to a year, I didn't see anybody.  All I knew was that I was being taken care of.  I tell you, Rachel, at first I thought I would go crazy.  And then I prayed that I already had and this was some sort of hallucination, because the idea that I would have to live this way for the rest of my life...." 

"If you didn't see anyone," Rachel asked, "Then how do you know that Carl was the one responsible for bringing you here?" 

"Thank you!" Carl exploded.  "Finally, a sensible question." 

Lucas glared at Carl.  "I said that I didn't see anybody at first.  Once I was well enough to move around, Hutchins here paid me a visit." 

"I did nothing of the sort!" 

"He told me I had a choice.  I could accept my imprisonment peacefully and live out the rest of my life here in relative comfort — they're apparently set up for long-term 'guests' as long as we're willing to cooperate.  Or I could refuse and try to escape.  In that case, Carl would leave orders to have me killed at the first attempt." 

"Why?" Carl demanded.  "Why did I allegedly do this thing?  What use, or rather, what threat, were you ever to me?  What did I possibly have to gain from neutralizing a man who, to all intents and purposes, was no more than a glorified thug, who thought that putting on an expensive suit and dropping his ethnic surname could ever cover up the stench of ramshackle Gold Street?" 

"Carl!" Rachel said. 

"Well," Carl zeroed in on Lucas.  "I'm waiting.  Tell me.  Tell us all.  What was my motivation?  Not that I am admitting to anything, but at least if you confessed to being Nikos, there would be some logic to this accusation.  Nikos had a legitimate grudge against me.  There was his luscious Diana.  There was my shooting him.  Nikos had vowed to destroy me, and, with a bit of providence on his part, he might well have managed to do so.  Nikos was a man I might have considered incarcerating for the long haul.  But, Lucas?  How could Lucas harm me?" 

"It wasn't about me," Lucas said grimly.  "It was about my daughter." 

"Lorna?" Carl laughed.  "Are you honestly alleging that I lived in fear of your deciding to avenge the lovely Lorna's honor?  Is that the best you can do?" 

"Not Lorna," Lucas took a deep breath, unsure up until the last moment whether he would really come out and say it.  "Jenna." 

"Jenna?" Rachel reacted as if struck by lightening.  "Carl had you kidnapped because of Jenna?" 

Lucas nodded.  "I was looking for her father."  He turned his head towards Carl.  "I found him."

At first, Cass thought he'd simply misheard Jasmine.  So he asked again, "Sorry, Jazz, where'd you say Charlie went?" 

Without tearing her eyes from the television screen where Right Said Fred was explaining why he was too sexy for several items of his clothing, Jasmine repeated, "She went out with her mom." 

"That isn't funny, young lady," Lila stepped in front of the TV, blocking Jasmine's view.  "Now apologize to Cass, and tell him the truth." 

"I am telling the truth."  Jasmine craned her neck for a peek at the screen.  "I was coming home from school, and I saw Charlie getting into a car with her mom.  Then they drove away." 

"Jazz," Cass reminded.  "Charlie's mother is dead." 

Jasmine shrugged.  "So was Kirkland's dad." 

Seeing that Cass was about to blow his top, Lila raised a hand and indicated that she would handle this.  She turned off the TV and sat on the couch next to Jasmine.  Her voice extra-sweet, she asked Jasmine, "Now, honey, how do you know for a fact this was Charlie's mama that she went off with?" 

"I recognized her," Jasmine said.  "From her picture."  And she pointed to the photo hanging on the wall, showing Cass, Frankie and Charlie on Charlie's first birthday.  Right underneath it hung a picture of Lila, Matt and Jasmine at her christening.  It was Cass and Lila's way of acknowledging the blended nature of their family.  "Can I watch TV now?" 

Lila nodded absently, handed the remote to Jasmine, and crossed the room to stand next to Cass.  She whispered, "I'm sure Jasmine just made a mistake.  She saw a woman with red hair and she assumed it was Frankie.  Why don't you give Charlie a call, put your mind at ease?" 

Cass agreed, reached for his cell-phone and moved into the kitchen to make his call.  Lila followed, hovering about anxiously while attempting to look as if she weren't hovering about at all. 

Cass dialed and waited through at least six rings.  He was expecting the voice-mail to click on when Charlie finally answered the phone. 

"Hey, Dad, what's up?" 

"Where are you?" 

Charlie hesitated.  "What do you mean?  I'm at home." 

Cass suppressed the urge to throttle the phone as an effigy of his daughter.  "Try again, sweetheart.  I'm at home." 

"Oh," Charlie giggled nervously.  "Busted, huh?  Look, I know you wanted me to hang with Jazz after school, but there was this stupid One Hit Wonders show she wanted to watch, and she's old enough to look after herself.  Give the kid some credit." 

"I asked you where you were, Charlotte." 

Cass could practically hear Charlie rolling her eyes.  "A friend's house.  It's no big deal." 

"Charlie," Cass took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn't sound like a complete lunatic but knowing that he wouldn't be able to breathe right again unless he asked.  "Jasmine said she saw you getting into a car.  Driven by your mother." 

"Lila?" Charlie asked. 

"Don't play dumb with me." 

"Oh!  Wait, I got it!  Jazz must have seen me with Mrs. Bratton, my friend, Ariel's, mom.  She picked us up today.  She's got red hair, too.  That must be who Jazz saw." 

Her story was so close to Lila's theory — and now that he thought about it, Cass did seem to recall that Mrs. Bratton was a redhead; straight out of the bottle and the color of turnips on fire, but a redhead, just the same — that Cass felt obligated to accept her explanation as the truth.  Because if he didn't, then.... 

"Say, Dad," Charlie wheedled.  "As long as I've got you on the phone, can I spend the night at Ariel's?  I'll be back tomorrow by lunchtime." 

"Well... Lila and I were planning to take you girls out for the afternoon."  Cass looked over and noticed that Lila was gesturing for him to say yes.  She mouthed, "We can do it another time, let the child have her fun."  Cass shrugged and said, "Alright, that's fine, I guess.  If that's what you'd rather do." 

"Thanks, Dad.  You're the best.  Listen, I got to go, phone battery is seriously dying on me." 

"Have a good time," Cass said.  "I love — " 

But Charlie was already hanging up the phone.  Unfortunately for her, she didn't do it fast enough.  The last thing Cass heard before the line went dead was a woman calling out, "Come on, Charlie, pizza is here." 

It wasn't the voice of Charlie's friend, Ariel. 

It wasn't the voice of Ariel's turnip-haired mother, Mrs. Bratton. 

It was the voice of Mary Frances Frame Ordway Winthrop.

"So," Marley offered her first words nearly half an hour after she and Jamie exited the Bay City Grille following their face-off with Grant.  "That went well." 

Jamie attempted to keep at least one eye on the road as, at the same time, he snuck a sideways glance at Marley.  She was smiling.  Which didn't make any sense.  After everything Grant had flung at her, how in the world could Marley be smiling? 

"Jamie," Marley nodded calmly towards the windshield. "Red light." 

"Crap," he muttered, his foot smashing down on the brakes.  The car's tires squealed in protest as they skidded to a stop inches from the bumper in front of them.  

"Want me to drive?" Marley offered. "You seem a little upset." 

"I am a little upset," Jamie snapped, unnerved by her calmness. "Question is: Why aren't you a lot upset?" 

"Because Grant was just being Grant," she shrugged.  "You pick a fight with him, you have to anticipate the low blows."  Marley shifted her seatbelt to better face Jamie.  "Please stop worrying about me.  I'm fine.  Really.  I've gotten a lot tougher over the years." 

"I know that," Jamie began.  Because he did know it.  Unfortunately, he also knew that, no matter what Marley claimed now, Grant's words had gotten to her.  He knew that, her protests to the contrary, Marley was just putting up a brave front.  And she was doing it primarily for Jamie's benefit.  Because even after all these years, even after everything they'd been through together, she still felt compelled to hide parts of herself from him.  She still didn't trust him to accept her hurts and her fears and, most especially, her anger.  Jamie said, "Still, I shouldn't have let you — " 

"You didn't let me do anything," Marley chastised firmly.  "I was the one who picked this fight.  You just came along for the ride." 

"Some ride.  Listen, Marley, I hope you didn't take anything that son-of-a-bitch said to heart."  Jamie stepped on the gas pedal as the light turned green in front of them.  "Him taunting you about not being able to have children of your own -- " 

"I always wondered what I did wrong," Marley cut Jamie off as if she hadn't even heard him speak.  "How I could have made God or Mother Nature or Fate, whomever, how I could have made them so angry that — " 

Now it was Jamie's turn to interrupt.  "It wasn't your fault, Marley." 

"I know," she sighed and ironically quoted Grant's turn of phrase.  "It was an accident of biology.  But.... Back when you and I were together.... Back then, I was so infected with baby rabies, I couldn't see straight." 

"Baby rabies," he repeated, not sure whether to laugh or groan at the term. 

"I was completely, utterly, irrationally obsessed with having a baby to the point of insanity.  The things I said.... The things I did.... " 

"We both made mistakes back then," Jamie insisted. 

"I wanted to have a family with you so badly.  And here's the kicker: Now, I do.  All it took was for my sister to die, and, all of a sudden, I have two boys and two girls to raise — a perfect set.  And who was the closest thing they had left to a father?  You!" 

"We did what we had to do.  We certainly didn't wish anything bad on Vicky or Jake." 

"I wonder sometimes," Marley mused, then instantly cut herself off from entertaining the thought any further.  "I am so grateful for Steven and Kirk, and Bridget and Michelle.  You've all made my life so.... Full." 

Grasping what she was thinking despite Marley pointed attempt to change the subject, Jamie sternly told her, "You did not steal your sister's life.  You simply stepped into a difficult situation and did the best you could." 

"I know that.  Logically, I know that.  But it doesn't mean I can't feel guilty."  Marley took a deep breath, fortifying herself.  And then she assured Jamie, "Don't worry.  I am not going to let whatever residual guilt I may feel about playing Mom to Vicky's kids help Grant Harrison manipulate me for his own ends.  He got his shots in tonight.  But as I warned him, he underestimates me." 

"He underestimates us," Jamie corrected. "We're in this together." 

"And at least we accomplished one thing, tonight." 

"What?" Jamie reviewed the back-and-forth of insults between them and came up empty. 

Marley patted the doggy-bag of food balanced on her lap.  "We completely ruined his dinner." 

Fingers trembling, Cass hit the re-dial button so ferociously that he split a nail. 

"Cass, honey, what is it?" Lila hurried over.  "You've gone pale as a ghost." 

"Frankie," the words were coming out so fast his lips could hardly form all the appropriate sounds.  "I heard Frankie.  Charlie's with Frankie." 

"That's impossible," Lila soothed.  "You were just thinking about her, and then you heard some other woman's voice and you thought — " 

"I'm telling you, I heard my wife!" 

Lila didn't flinch.  She simply said, "I'm your wife, Cass." 

"Why isn't Charlie picking up the goddamn phone?" Cass demanded.  "No, I don't wish to leave a message," he screamed into the receiver. 

"Calm down," Lila pleaded.  "Did you take your medication today?  Maybe you're having an inappropriate reaction to — " 

"Hearing my dead wife's voice on the phone, talking to my daughter?  Actually, I think I'm having a very appropriate reaction!  Damn it, where is she?" 

"Charlie's been having a lot of problems with her battery recently.  She kept asking you to get her a new phone, remember?  She probably just can't hear you calling." 

"Bratton," Cass said.  "Charlie claimed she was spending the night with Ariel Bratton.  Do we have her number anywhere?" 

"I'm sure we do," Lila soothed.  "Let me check."  She found a landline connection for the Brattons in her own cell, but was informed that it had recently been disconnected.  A call to Kirk Frame confirmed that the Brattons had moved out of Bay City before Spring Break. 

"Where is she?" Cass' entire body was quaking now.  He prowled the room, so wound up all the lithium in the world couldn't have helped him.  "I have to find her.  I have to find my daughter." 

"I'm sure she's fine." 

"Of course, she's fine.  She's great. How could she not be fine?  She's with her mother!" 


"You know what this means, Lila?  Do you know what this means?  Either Charlie and Frankie are both dead, and my cell-phone's roaming plan extends to the Great Beyond, or Charlie is alive.  And if Charlie is alive, then.... " 

"Frankie is alive, too," Lila finished for him. 

He stopped short.  "Actually, what I was going to say was that if Charlie is alive, then the person she's most probably with isn't Frankie, but Anne O'Donnell." 

"Oh."  That brought Lila up short, too.  "I hadn't thought of that.  Of course, that must be it, you're right.  She's with Anne.  That's who Jasmine saw, it all makes sense now." 

"Which begs the question, what the hell is that woman doing with my daughter?  More importantly, why is Charlie lying to me about it?" 

"We'll ask her as soon as she comes home, tomorrow, I promise.  You know what?  I'll send Jasmine to spend the day with Matt, so you, me and Charlie can have a nice, long, family chat, just the three of us.  Clear the air." 

"No way am I waiting until tomorrow," Cass grabbed his car keys.  "I'm getting to the bottom of this tonight." 

Rachel looked at Carl.  She said, "You're Jenna's father." 

"The hell I am," Carl challenged.  "Whoever this charlatan is, Lucas, Nikos, some long-lost triplet to them both, he is peddling a foul font of falsehoods.  Not only did I not lock him up here in order to keep Jenna's paternity a secret — what after all, is the big scandal in that?  I dare you to name me a single citizen of Bay City who doesn't claim at least one ill-conceived bastard to their name -- but I categorically deny the imposed mantle of fatherhood altogether.  I engaged in no relationship with her mother, and I intend to go to my grave insisting upon it." 

Rachel hesitated.  She told Lucas, "He has a point.  Why would Carl go so unduly out of his way to deny Jenna?  When he found out Ryan was his son, he couldn't wait to claim him, why would Jenna have been any different?" 

"Perhaps because she isn't my daughter," Carl snapped. 

Lucas ignored him and admitted to Rachel, "I haven't the slightest idea why he did what he did.  I only know that I've been locked up in this godforsaken hell-hole for seventeen years, and that Carl is the one responsible." 

Rachel told Lucas, "Felicia, Jenna and Dean have been missing since before Easter.  Carl and I came here hoping to find them." 

Lucas shook his head.  "They're not here." 

"How can you be sure?" 

"After seventeen years, you get to know the rhythms of a place. No one new has been brought here in weeks, I'm certain of it." 

"I'm sure you'll excuse us if we don't simply take your word for it," Carl drawled.  "And take a bit of a look around ourselves." 

"Of course," Lucas stepped aside.  "You'll see, the only times any of these rooms are locked is when someone is being held, and they're all currently empty." 

A thorough search of the floor confirmed Lucas' assessment.  If Felicia, Jenna and Dean were being kept at the compound, they were in a location so clandestine that neither Carl nor Lucas would admit to knowing about it. 

At the end of their hunt, Lucas challenged Carl, "What have you done with my family?" 

"Ah, so now I'm the villain responsible for their disappearance, as well.  Tell me, do you also wish to charge me with kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, assassinating Kennedy and turning Jesus over to the Romans in exchange for several pieces of silver?" 

"I can't think of a better candidate." 

"Neither, unfortunately, can my wife."  Carl indicated Rachel, who ducked her head, deeply embarrassed.  "I'd come here hoping to locate the misplaced Gallant and Frame clan, and thus unshackle the light of suspicion from my person once and for all.  I must say, though, it is awfully convenient, us running into you like this, Lucas," the way Carl pronounced the name made it clear he highly doubted it was indeed whom he was speaking to.  "What better scenario for a man with the financial resources of, say, Alexander Nikos, to destroy my life, my marriage, my home, by setting up this entire venture to make me appear guilty not only of Felicia, Jenna and Dean's abduction, but their paterfamilias, as well." 

"That sort of sick game playing is your thing, Carl, not mine."  Lucas sighed.  "But if you want proof that I really am who I say I am, I know how we can make that happen." 

Finding the appropriate thing to wear for an eight AM date proved even more difficult for Amanda than selecting a PM outfit.  Especially since she had no idea what Kevin had in mind for the two of them. 

Finally, she went with an ankle-length, white, flowing skirt, and matching, sleeveless tank-top.  The monochromatic color scheme initially came off as a bit too virginal for her taste, but she hoped the provocatively bared arms and shoulders more than made up for it. 

Kevin, for his part, wore dark jeans and a black polo shirt when he knocked on Amanda's door, promptly at 8 AM.  He was pulling a wheeled suitcase behind him with one hand. 

Both burst out laughing when they took in each other's apparel. 

"We look like a photo negative," Amanda giggled. 

"What's black and white and red all over?" Kevin mused.  "You and I after a day in the sun?" 

"Are we going to be outside?" Amanda asked.  "Do I need to change?" 

"You look beautiful," Kevin said.  The words may have been perfunctory, but the way his eyes took in every inch of her — some parts more than once — conveyed genuine sincerity. 

Amanda craned her neck to peer into the drive.  "Where's your car?" 

"Didn't bring one." 

"Oh.  Well.  Do you want to take mine?" 

"Nope," Kevin said and, from out of his pocket, produced a pair of plastic tickets. 

Amanda looked closely.  "We're taking the bus?" 

Kevin gallantly offered her his arm.  "Private jets don't land where we're going." 

"So when do I get to meet Cousin Steven?" Sarah asked Allie over breakfast. 

"Would you stop calling him that?  I know our family tree can get — " 

"Borderline incestuous?" 

"I was going to say, complicated.  But I'm pretty sure you and Steven are not related.  Quit saying stuff that might make me change my mind." 

"Fine.  When do I get to meet Plain Old Steven?" 

Allie challenged, "How does it usually work on the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Fool-Proof Plan?" 

"Well, usually, I scope the guy out for a while, nothing stalker-y, just good, solid research.  See what he likes, what he doesn't like, get a feel for what he's about.  Then I make my move.  Most times, I've got to be the one to arrange our totally accidental meeting.  But I figure here, I've got a secret weapon.  You." 

Allie cocked her head to one side.  "Want to throw a verb into that sentence?" 


"You want me to hook you and Steven up?" 

"Just a nice, casual introduction.  I'm new in town, don't really know anybody, what could be more natural than a nice, friendly outing to introduce me to the young people of Bay City?  Say, I just had an idea!  Steven's thesis partner, that GQ fellow, isn't he new in town, too?  What say we make it a foursome?" 

Allie laughed so hard that orange juice nearly came out of her nose.  "Oh, God, Sarah, that was really awful." 

"Hey, I'm majoring in sociology, not drama.  Besides, you've got to be the one to sell this to Steven and GQ, not me." 

"What makes you think I want to go on this group outing with you, Steven and GQ?" 

"Because," Sarah said simply.  "If you could stay away from him, then you wouldn't be in love with the guy." 

Allie said, "I hate you." 

"That's alright," Sarah shrugged.  "Just let me know when and where we're all getting together." 

Kirkland used to think that the one place his troubles couldn't find him was under water at his school's Olympic-sized training pool.  And he was right.  This morning, his troubles waited until he resurfaced.  And they came dressed in a fedora and wing-tipped shoes.

"Going to a costume party?" Kirk treaded water in the deep end and peered up at his biological father.  Grant's puzzled frown indicated that he didn't comprehend the reference, so Kirk expanded, "The hat?  The shoes?  You look like you're headed to a lunch meeting with Al Capone.  You can't be serious."

"It's called style, Kirkland."  If Grant was offended, he hid it well.  "Your mother had it, as well."

"Don't get me wrong, man.  It gives you a certain, what do you call it, panache?  But, still, it's kind of scary."

Grant removed his hat with a fluid sweep of one arm.  "Your grandmother's fetish for brash jewelry?  Now that's scary.  I don't believe Donna ever met a bauble she didn't like."

"Whatever.  You come here to show off your new hat?"  Kirk pushed off from the side, kicking up a spray of water in Grant's direction.

"Do you mind?" Grant made scurrying away from an attack of liquid chlorine seem somehow smooth.  "The suit is silk."  He removed a handkerchief from his right-breast pocket and used it to dab at a few stray drops on his lapel.  "Would you please get out of the pool, son?  I have something for you."


"I'll show you when you get out of the pool."  Grant's calm demeanor suggested that he could wait as long as he needed to.  Which, of course, made it no longer fun to tease the old guy.

Mumbling under his breath, Kirk swam over to the ladder and hefted himself out.  He sloshed over to Grant, not bothering to grab a towel and dry himself off despite the chill that assaulted him.  Kirk wasn't about to give Grant the satisfaction of thinking Kirkland was actually trying not to splash him a second time.

"Okay.  I'm out.  What is it?"

The old man hesitated, his sardonic eyes suddenly unsure, even wary. Reaching into his pocket, Grant pulled out a small, wrapped gift and handed it to Kirkland.

"It's a present.  For your birthday.  I know it's late, but..."

"Oh," was all Kirkland said as he looked at the gift, oddly touched.

Until he remembered that this was one of ten birthdays his father had missed.

"Cool," he nodded dismissively, turning back to the pool. "Just put it over there next to the diving board, and I'll pick it up when I'm done."

"I was hoping you'd open it now."


"Well, because —

"Because one stupid present is supposed to make up for letting me think you were dead and then for popping up out of nowhere and being a real dick to my family?  No, thanks, I think I'll pass on playing along."

"Kirkland — "

"Which part of 'no, thanks' don't you get, Grant?  You can't come here after ten years and suddenly want to be my dad and expect me to be okay with it, not after the crap you've pulled.  Where were you for ten years?  What were you doing that was so important it was more important than me?"

"I didn't — I didn't want to leave you, Kirkland.  You have to understand — "

"No, I don't.  I don't have to do anything.  I don't have to understand anything except that you're a douche."

Come on, Grant, Kirkland urged silently.  Get mad.  Yell at me.  Prove that you're the bastard everyone says you are.  Make it easy for me to give up on this fantasy of my great, terrific, wonderful, hero dad that I've been carrying around since I was five.  Make it easy for me to choose between you and the family that's loved me ever since you went away.

"You're right," Grant nodded. "I do have a lot to explain.  A lot to make up for."

Kirk snatched the gift from Grant's hand and tore into the wrapping with his wet fingers, causing it to disintegrate.  "It's going to take a lot more than some overdue, crappy birthday presents to...."

Kirk's voice trailed off as he stared at the image of his mother's face.

Grant's fifteenth birthday gift to Kirkland was a framed picture of his mother, looking so beautiful, her eyes alive and bright and even a little devilish, as she was caught mid-laugh along with Grant, the two of them in each other's arms.

Kirkland's parents.  Together.  Looking...happy.

"I've never seen this one before," Kirkland murmured.

"I'm sure you haven't," Grant chuckled.  "That was taken the night your mother helped me win my Senate seat."

"When you first fell in love with her," Kirkland invoked the words as if they came from an oft-repeated fairy tale.

"Yes," Grant nodded fervently.  "So many people in Bay City like to pretend that my and Vicky's marriage never existed.  But it did.  You're proof of that."

Kirkland studied the picture for a moment before looking up into Grant's hopeful eyes.  He faced his father, trying his hardest not to cry.   

He told Grant, "You really suck, you know that?" 

The bus dropped Amanda and Kevin off at the edge of Bayside Park.  He stretched his arm forward to gallantly help her down the steps, then asked, "Did you enjoy your ride?" 

Amanda put her hand on one hip, maneuvering the stairs on her own, thank you very much, and informed him, "You don't have to be so patronizing.  I have ridden the bus before, you know." 

"In this millennium?" he teased. 

She thought about it, then reluctantly admitted, "No." 

"They've got motors now and everything.  No more horse-drawn street-cars." 

If anyone else had made such a crack, Amanda would have presumed it was a reference to her encroaching middle age and proceeded to get if not exactly insulted, then at least somewhat huffy.  But, with Kevin, all she did was laugh and counter, "Actually, in my day, they were still dinosaur-drawn.  And we had to move the street-cars with our feet." 

Now it was Kevin's turn to laugh.  He took Amanda's hand in his and led her deeper into the park, where they encountered a baseball-diamond, and what appeared to be the first inning of a Little League game between the Bay City Braves and the Springfield Spirits. 

Kevin picked a shady place under a tree, unzipped his suitcase, and proceeded to pull out a picnic blanket, which he then spread on the ground. 

Amanda asked, "We're having our date, here?" 

"You told me you were a sports fans.  This is a great spot.  Perfect view of the action, without having to fry in the sun or break your back on those wooden bleachers." 

Amanda said, "You're not poor." 

He looked up at her, shading his eyes with one hand. "Beg your pardon?" 

"You're one of the most successful family practice lawyers in the country, so I know you're not poor." 

"Did I ever say that I was?" 

Amanda sat down on the picnic blanket, smoothing down her skirt and feeling grateful she hadn't opted for a micro-mini version.  "Even if you didn't grow up with money, you must have plenty of it now.  So what's the deal with the bus ride and the free Little League game and the do-it-yourself picnic?  I get it, I went a little overboard last time.  But that's no reason for you to rub it in like this." 

"Actually," Kevin said.  "I wasn't going for poverty.  I was going for diversity."  He reached back into his case and withdrew a cooler, out of which came caviar, both red and black, a chilled bottle of white wine, goat cheese, and, separately, a loaf of French bread.  The caviar was Iranian, the wine Tuscan, the cheese Italian.  And each was that nation's most expensive brand. 

"Oh," Amanda said, now thoroughly confused, not to mention a touch embarrassed. 

"I figure we'd go from private jets and courtside seats with pizza and hot dogs, to bus, Little League, and a gourmet spread.  Somewhere in between, I was hoping to get rid of all those exterior trappings, and locate the real Amanda Cory." 

"Oh," she repeated, taking it all in.  Amanda accepted the plastic cup of wine that Kevin offered her and, after taking a sip, said, "If you do find her, would you let me know?" 

Allie was on her way out the door to see Steven... and GQ... not that she had any idea what she'd say to either one of them, when she bumped into her uncle Matt heading in the same direction. 

"Allie," his eyes lit up.  "Perfect, Allie, could you do me a favor?  I've got to go grab Jasmine from Lila's, take her to Donna's so she can hook up with the twins for their fencing lesson, then pick her up again at 10:30.  Except, I've got a meeting scheduled for then.  Any chance you could swing by and get Jazz at the fencing school then bring her back here?" 

Allie looked at her watch.  Whatever she had to say to Steven and GQ, it couldn't possibly take her two hours.  And, if it did, then it might be nice to have a handy excuse for getting away.  So she told Matt, "Sure." 

As it turned out, Allie should have cut her projected appointment time in half, as Steven wasn't even at the computer lab.  GQ was there alone.  And he'd seen Allie come in, so it was too late to turn the other way and flee. 

"Hey," GQ said, his voice so neutral that it was impossible to read a single emotion into his greeting.  Not that it stopped Allie from doing just that. 

"Hi," she said. 

"Steven isn't here." 

"I can see that." 

"You want me to take a message for him?" 

"Uhm... yeah, sure.  Yeah, that would be good." 

GQ waited.  Then he prompted, "What's the message?" 

"Right."  Allie nodded her head fervently.  "The message." 

"For Steven." 

"Right.  Right, tell Steven that my friend, Sarah, Dennis and Olivia's daughter from California, she's in town, and she'd like to go out and meet some people.  So we thought her, me, Steven, tomorrow night, maybe Carlino's, we'd hang out.  Hey," Allie said.  "Maybe you want to come, too?  You haven't met too many people since you got here."  Allie swallowed hard, mouth dry.  "Have you?" 

"Allie.... " GQ began, and Allie thought she heard a trace of pity in his voice.  

Alexandra Cory Fowler could handle a lot.  But she never had been able to handle pity. 

"Of course, if you have, then bring a date," Allie said blithely.  And then, having no idea what prompted her to say it or how exactly she expected to back her claim up, Allie added, "I am." 

This time, as Matt sent the girls off to class with Gregory Hudson, Donna was most certainly not waiting for him, nude, at the house. 

In fact, fully clothed, she told Matt to go away, she had said everything she needed to back at the station, they had nothing more to talk about. 

"Then don't talk," Matt told her.  "Just listen." 

When she didn't deny him, when she didn't say anything at all, Matt took it as the closest he would get to her accord, and plunged straight ahead.  He did feel mighty foolish, addressing a closed door.  For all Matt knew, the reason Donna wasn't saying anything was because she'd already walked away.  But, somehow, Matt didn't think so.  He knew it was quixotic and overly romantic, but Matt believed that he could sense Donna on the other side, listening to him in spite of herself.  Matt believed that even if he couldn't see her, he knew when Donna was there.  And she was there now, as eager to hear the words that would fix this rotten state of affairs between them — whatever they were; it's not like he'd ever been drawn a clear picture — as Matt was to say them. 

He cleared his throat and began, "I've been thinking about what you said the other day.  About my acting juvenile." 

"Well... I... "  So she was still there.  Matt took it as the smallest of victories.  "Perhaps I was a bit harsh." 

"No," he insisted.  "No, you were right.  I was acting juvenile.  From the very beginning with us, I've been acting like a dumb kid.  When we were married and I found out about you and Michael, I threw a tantrum.  There's no other way to describe it.  I threw a tantrum like I was six years old, and insisted that we get our marriage annulled.  Well, you know what?  That was stupid of me.  Because look at us now, Donna.  Obviously, something keeps pulling us back together.  Maybe because, deep down, we know its where the two of us belong. And maybe if I'd been a little bit more mature thirteen years ago, we could have worked through it.  I gave up then.  I'm not going to give up now.  You're worth fighting for.  It's the grown up thing to do." 


"I know something is wrong, Donna.  And the juvenile thing would be for me to just throw my hands up in the air and walk away, pretend I didn't care, pretend that you and I never happened.  Isn't that what an annulment is?  Where the law says that everything we went through, all the good times and the bad, they never happened.  We may have annulled our marriage, but I am not annulling what we have now.  I am not going to pretend that I can't see you hurting.  And I am not leaving this spot until you let me help you." 

Slowly, so slowly that, at first, Matt thought he might even be imagining it, Donna opened the door.  She peered at him through the crack.  She said, "It can get rather chilly on the porch, Matthew." 

He smiled wryly.  "You're worth it." 

Donna shook her head, but whether at herself or at him, it wasn't clear.  "Damn it.  Damn you." 

"Hey, that's a start, we're talking again."   

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" 

"Just born lucky, I guess." 

At that, even Donna couldn't help it, and she laughed, only by the end it seemed to have turned into a sob.  She said, "I thought if we kept our relationship secret this time, we could avoid the pitfalls." 

"I don't think it worked," Matt observed. 

"No.  It didn't.  But not in the way you presume.  Turns out, we aren't exactly a secret." She sighed and looked away, embarrassed, when she confessed, "Grant Harrison knows." 

"Grant?  How the hell did Grant find out?" 

"Apparently being part weasel comes in handy all sorts of ways." 

Matthew pondered the implications, then shrugged.  "So Grant knows, so what?  It's not like I really care what he thinks about my personal life." 

"You don't understand."  Donna took a deep breath.  "He's blackmailing me.  Grant is threatening to tell the world about us, unless I agree to testify on his behalf at Kirkland's custody hearing.  I can't let our relationship hurt my grandson, or Marley or your brother.  That's why we have to end things, Matthew.  Don't you see?  It's out of my hands." 

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