"What the hell do you want?" Matt shot at a wary Jamie from the doorway of Donna's house.
"Hello to you, too," his brother replied. "May I come in?"
"Marley needs a few things. She wasn't planning to be the one to leave, so you caught her unprepared. She's staying at the house with the girls and "
"She sent you because she's too much of a coward to come herself. What a surprise."
Jamie blocked the closing door with a firm hand. "I get that you're protective of Donna. But could you stop being such a self-righteous jackass for one minute, and remember that you've obviously had a hell of a lot longer to process what she did than the rest of us? We're all still trying to wrap our heads around what happened. It's not going to occur overnight, no matter how loudly or how long you yell at us."
Rather than openly agree, Matt stepped aside and allowed Jamie to enter the house.
"Be quick and quiet about it, okay?" Matt threw at Jamie as he retreated to the living room. "Donna's upstairs, asleep."
Rather than ascend the stairs, Jamie followed his brother. "You look like crap."
"Thanks for the diagnosis, Dr. Frame. Don't you have bags to pack or something?"
Again, Jamie ignored the directive and sat down on the sofa. "How are you doing with all this? Without the attitude," Jamie added when he sensed that Matt was about to spit out yet another terse answer. "And don't say fine."
"Any other instructions, or can I actually answer your question, now?"
"If it's honest," Jamie nodded. "Then, yes."
"I'm dealing with it," Matt shrugged. "I'm..." he cast a glance towards the staircase and lowered his voice. "It's hard, but.... I know I'm where I'm supposed to be." Matt took stock of the look on Jamie's face. "You don't believe me?"
"I believe that's what you want everyone including yourself to believe. Or else why would you be waving your Team Donna flag so hard?"
"I love Donna," Matt snapped.
"I never said you didn't. I'm just saying that I know you, and I can't believe that you're okay with what she's done. To Jenna, at least, if not to Cecile."
"I wasn't," Matt shook his head. "And I'm still not, not entirely... maybe I never will be. But I love her. And despite everything's she's done, I can't abandon her. I'm not trying to prove anything or make excuses so that I can still be with her. I just... I'm trying to not be that guy anymore. That judgmental, unforgiving ass who holds on to the anger and the hurt. I've messed up too many people I've cared about, living that way. Myself included."
"That's admirable," Jamie said quietly.
"But stupid, right?" Matt finished what he believed was Jamie's unspoken thought.
"No," Jamie shook his head, oddly emotional. "I just wonder if there is ever a line that a person loved one or not can cross, where whatever it is they did becomes wholly unforgivable."
"Being responsible for someone's death is a pretty extreme line to trample over. Intentional or not."
"It is," Jamie conceded. "But there are others just as bad. Worse. When does a transgression finally grow impossible to forgive?"
"I don't know. I'd like to think that I could forgive someone I loved anything. Mac certainly was capable of it. Look at Iris and her... shenanigans."
"Mac..." Jamie said wistfully. "I really miss Mac."
Matt admitted, "I'm trying to be more like him. Where Donna is concerned. I'm not going to lie, what she did is hard.... it's hard to deal with. I hope that I'm never put in the position to find out how far is too far. Especially with someone that I care about."
Jamie took in Matt's weary face and smiled sadly to himself. "Me, too."
A hand clamped around Donna's throat, shoving her backwards against the headboard.
"Feel that?" Lorna asked conversationally, almost pleasantly, as if she really were soliciting Donna's opinion. "Trying to breathe while your throat's closing up? Trying to get just a little bit of air into your lungs, but you can't?" Lorna leaned in, lest Donna miss a word of the point she was trying to make. "Now imagine feeling this way with a baby inside of you. Knowing that everything you're feeling, she's feeling. If you can't breathe, neither can she. If you're dying, so is she."
Still holding Donna by the throat, Lorna wrenched her from the bed and pulled her to face a nearby mirror.
"I know it's hard to make out in this light, but your lips are starting to turn blue," Lorna continued after a few very, very long seconds, during which Donna writhed in an attempt to get away. "Your eyes are bulging out, maybe even bursting a capillary or two. That's what happened to Jenna. This is exactly what she felt. Not just for a couple of minutes, but for days, weeks, while you had her locked up."
Desperate, Donna flailed her arms, looking for something she could grab to use as a weapon. Blurred yellow flashes bobbed in front of her eyes. She wondered if she were about to pass out.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Lorna ordered, the pressure around Donna's throat suddenly gone. "You're going to be awake for what I have planned for you."
Donna coughed and sputtered, barely hearing Lorna's words, happy to just be breathing again.
"I promised myself that I'd make certain whoever was responsible for Jenna's death burned in hell." Lorna struck a match. "And I figure this mausoleum of a house is close enough."
She tossed it at the ornate drapes, smiling in grim satisfaction as the parched, antique fabric promptly went up in flames.
"How did it go?" Rachel asked Lila when she waltzed back in from her date with Kevin.
Lila hesitated, thinking about the question. "Nice," she finally said. "It's been a long time. I was wondering if I even knew how to hold a man's attention anymore."
"Oh, I suspect you've never had any trouble with that."
"I don't know. I couldn't keep Cass' attention, and I was actually married to him."
"That was a special case. Getting between a man and the love of his life whether purposefully or not is always a fleeting situation. Believe me."
"Can't say that Kevin was one hundred percent there, either," Lila admitted. "But that's okay. I'm nowhere near ready for one hundred percent."
"If I recall, Mr. Fowler can be very charming."
"That he is."
"Are you going to see him again?"
"I'd like to. And he did seem to indicate the same."
"I'm happy for you, Lila, I really am. You deserve to be shown a good time by a charming man. Even if it is Kevin Fowler."
Lila stepped forward and impulsively hugged Rachel. "Thank you for everything," she said.
"What did I do?"
"Well, to start, you put up with me."
"Not at first," Rachel reminded.
"No, even then, you put up with me. You just weren't very happy about it. It meant a lot to Jasmine and Matt. And to me, too. You didn't have to let me move back in."
"You're my granddaughter's mother."
"Well, you certainly didn't have to become my friend."
Rachel smiled, "It's been a pleasure getting to know you, Lila. Finally."
"Same here," Lila said.
Rachel bade her good-night, then turned to walk from the foyer back into the living room, where she found Amanda waiting, arms crossed, obviously having overheard the entire exchange.
"Can I just ask one thing, Mom?" Amanda inquired.
"Of course, darling."
"How come, when I'm dating Kevin, it's a potential threat to Jamie's custody of Kirkland, but when Lila spends her evenings with Kevin and her days with Grant, it's all a-okay by you?"
"Lila can take care of herself."
Amanda opened her mouth to reply, then thought better of it. She simply shook her head at Rachel, threw her arms up in the air as if surrendering, and stormed out of the room.
"What the hell?" Matt asked after every sprinkler in the Love mansion abruptly turned on at the same moment as both he and Jamie heard the screams coming from upstairs.
They raced to Donna's room, Matt barreling in despite the smoke billowing out from underneath the door. Inside, the sprinklers were on in full-force, drenching the singed, black-coated far wall, the charred drapes, Donna and... Lorna?
"Hi, Matt. Sorry about the mess. Donna and I were just chatting about how actions have consequences. I guess it got a little out of hand."
"Chatting?" Matt seethed, reaching for Donna, who was trying to look dignified, even amongst the damage. "You nearly burned the house down. There's water everywhere. Do you know how many valuables you've probably ruined?"
"Things, Matt," Lorna said. "They're all just... things."
"Are you insane?"
Lorna raised an eyebrow. "You're with her and asking me that question?"
"You could have killed Donna!"
"If I wanted her dead, your precious Donna would have been a corpse before you ever set foot through the door."
"Damn it, Lorna, this irate lashing out bit was childish twenty years ago." He charged at her, furious, only to have Jamie intercede.
"You look after Donna," his brother ordered, one hand firmly pushing Matt away. "I'll take care of Lorna."
"The hell you will," Lorna snapped. "I'm not finished here, yet."
"You are for tonight," Jamie said grimly, yanking Lorna from the room before Matt lost all restraint and things really turned ugly.
"Would you talk some sense into my daughter, please?" Amanda stood outside of Carl's study, a very reluctant Allie in tow.
"I beg your pardon?" Carl looked up from the book he'd been perusing.
Amanda gave Allie a gentle push and, when that didn't get the job done, followed it up with a firmer one, nudging the girl inside to face Carl.
She reminded her stepfather, "I told you about Allie's... situation."
Her daughter rolled her eyes, "Oh, God, Mom, are we living in The Scarlet Letter?"
"Very nice, Alexandra," Carl observed. "I didn't realize the colonial school system still or frankly, ever taught the classics."
"I don't care about what you've done, Allie," Amanda snapped, simultaneously shooting Carl a look indicating that now was not the time to discuss Great Novels of the 19th Century. "You're an adult, you are certainly entitled to a romantic life."
"My concern is with what you're about to do." Amanda told Carl, "She's planning to give the baby up for adoption."
Carl nodded, his face neutral. "I fail to see what counsel you wish me to contribute in that regard."
"Tell her it's a lousy idea."
"That's hardly for me to say."
"After everything you just went through with Jenna? You never got to know your own child. And now you never will."
Carl's face darkened at the manipulation, but he kept his voice steady as he challenged, "The two circumstances are hardly analogous."
"Yeah," Allie agreed. "What he said."
Amanda disregarded them both. "I just don't think that Allie understands what it means, what it will feel like, to turn your back on your own flesh and blood."
"I did no such thing," Carl corrected. "My child was maliciously and unlawfully stolen from me. I was given no voice in the matter. Donna went ahead and made the decisions. She put her own needs and wants and prejudices ahead of all else, deliberately cutting me out of the equation. That's what I cannot forgive. It was the same with Ryan. Justine decided to abandon him to Spencer's care, and we all witnessed how that turned out. This time-honored belief among women not to mention, may I add, much of the law that the biological gestation of a child automatically entitles one to sole discretion of its future is offensive at best, maliciously barbarous at worst. I did not give my daughter, or my son, up. I'm sorry, but I have no guidance to offer Allie in the matter."
He turned back to his book, but Amanda was pleased to see that at least something in his words had gotten through to Allie. The sarcastic bravado with which she'd entered the room was gone. Her daughter stood now, hugging herself with both arms, shaking, and obviously trying her best not to cry.
Amanda attempted to hug her, telling Allie, "It's okay, sweetheart, it's okay. I know how overwhelming this all has been. I just wanted to make you see that you had choices. You don't need to "
"Shut up, Mom," Allie shoved Amanda's arms away. "Just shut up. You don't know anything at all."
"What are we doing here?" Lorna frowned as Jamie pulled his car into the parking lot of Bay City Hospital, forcing her to break the vow of stubborn, uncomfortable silence she'd been nursing ever since he'd dragged her out of Donna's house.
"You burned yourself," Jamie answered, pointing to the throbbing red cluster of blisters just beneath her right elbow. "You probably didn't notice because of the adrenaline."
"I'm fine," Lorna scoffed, even as the pain she'd been trying to ignore radiated both up her shoulder and down her fingers.
"You need to have that disinfected and bandaged. Ignoring a festering wound for too long just makes things worse."
"Wow," Lorna said. "That's profound. And subtle."
An hour later, they were sitting in an ER cubicle, Jamie putting the finishing touches on Lorna's gauze dressing while she enjoyed the benefits of some excellent pain medication.
"What the hell did you give me?" she blinked fuzzily, her free hand swatting at the air. "I'm seeing butterflies, and I'm pretty sure butterflies are not standard issue in the ER."
Jamie smiled in spite of himself. "No, they're not." Attaching one last strip of tape to secure the bandage, he snapped off his gloves. "Done."
"I wasn't going to kill her," Lorna blurted out. "Not really. If I could've killed her a little, then I would have, but since I couldn't, I didn't."
"I know," Jamie answered simply, causing Lorna to blink in surprise. "You threw your match right under the smoke detector. You knew the sprinklers would kick in after a minute or two. You just wanted to scare her."
"Exactly," Lorna smiled in relief. "See? You get it. You get me. Which, quite frankly, really, really sucks."
"Why?" Jamie asked, despite knowing better than to ask anyone in Lorna's current state anything.
"Because." She shrugged as if that answered it all. "Can I have some water, please?"
"Yeah, I think you'd better," Jamie handed her a cup.
"So, now what?" Lorna gulped down the contents and looked at him expectantly. "You going to turn me in to the cops?"
Jamie shook his head in amusement, rising from his stool. "I'm going to take you home."
"And then?" she pressed as he sterilized his tools and washed his hands.
"And then you'll go to sleep, and hopefully wake up more appreciative of why one shouldn't play with matches. And maybe a nasty headache."
"Great. Between that and my arm, tomorrow's sounding like a grand old time. I'm really looking forward to it."
"I'll prescribe some more pain meds to get you through the night," he offered, shrugging into his jacket. "We'll pick them up on the way out. Can you walk?"
"Of course, I can walk," she sneered, hopping off the gurney. "I didn't break my leg or Crap!"
He'd been expecting the fall and, taking into account her injured arm, had adjusted his catch accordingly. What Jamie hadn't been expecting was for Lorna to land against him the way she did, looking up at him the way she was.
For the second time that day, Jamie found himself peering into her eyes and seeing something in them that he desperately wanted to respond to. And, for the second time that day, he reacted by holding back, by hiding behind the safe, the guarded, the professional.
"Are you okay?" he asked carefully, subtly moving to ease her away, to put more distance between them even as Lorna seemed to hold onto him that much tighter.
"No," she shook her head, craning up to kiss him before Jamie could say another word.
He wasn't sure what he felt worse about, pushing her away, or how long it took him to finally do so.
"This can't happen," Jamie gently untangled Lorna's arms.
"Why not?" Her question echoed the one in his own head. Why the hell not?
He reached for the most convenient answer. "You're high as a kite on medication I prescribed for you. The Ethics Committee would have a field day."
"And tomorrow?" Lorna challenged, suddenly quite serious.
"Tomorrow..." he began, torn between what he knew he should say next, and what he knew he wanted to say next.
"I'm sorry." Jamie and Lorna both looked up, startled, as the dividing curtain was suddenly whipped aside to reveal an equally shocked Alice. "I didn't realize this cubicle was being used," she began with an apologetic smile.
"It's okay," Jamie called her back; Alice recognizing his not so subtle appeal and obligingly staying put. "We're done."
"I guess we are." Lorna snatched her coat from the gurney and stormed, albeit somewhat still unsteadily, past him.
"Did you enjoy your first night at Chez Cory?" Lila asked Marley as the two women bumped into each other descending the stairs the next morning.
"Five stars, no doubt about it," Marley sighed. "I just wish I could've enjoyed it more. I spent half the night trying not to think about everything that's happened, and the other half trying to figure out what to do next. You'd think I'd be used to my life blowing up in my face by now. But it still smacks me fresh every time."
"Amen to that," Lila chuckled knowingly. "Thank goodness for the Corys and their big hearts and their even bigger mansion, or else I'd be up a creek."
"Me, too. I mean, I know I could afford a hotel, but it's nice to have the support for my girls. And I won't lie, for me, too. If it weren't for Jamie, I don't think I'd be holding it together nearly as well as I am right now."
"You're stronger than you think," Lila encouraged. "No need to rely on a man when you can do things just as good or better for yourself."
"Oh, dear," Marley sighed. "Are you going to give me your I am woman, hear me roar speech, again?"
"I don't speechify," Lila huffed. "I was merely pointing out that to rely on a man only leads to trouble. Whether it's because he inevitably lets you down, or because you allow yourself to become so dependant that you can't take care of yourself when he finally up and splits "
"You're speechifying," Marley cut in, causing Lila's mouth to snap shut. "I hear what you're saying and I appreciate it, but it really doesn't apply to me and Jamie."
Don't be so sure, Lila managed to bite her tongue in the knick of time to keep from saying. Marley didn't need her input in that regard. Not now, anyway. And, truth be told, despite Lorna moving in just a stone's throw away, Lila hadn't seen or heard anything that made her suspect Marley's lawfully wedded husband had been paying Ms. Devon any more 'house calls'. It could be that they were being extra-discreet, or it could be that Jamie had scratched that particular itch and moved on.
In any case, it was none of Lila's business what happened between Marley and Jamie. Or Jamie and Lorna. Or Marley and Grant, for that matter. She had her own life to think about and, as of last night, it now included the seemingly ready and willing Kevin Fowler.
"That smile," Marley nudged Lila playfully. "That can only be about a man."
"I beg your pardon?" Lila willfully wrestled the corners of her mouth down as she followed Marley into the kitchen, then stopped and felt those same corners turn back up again as she took in the scene before her.
Jasmine, Michele and Bridget were sitting at the counter, their undivided attention on Kirkland, who was flipping pancakes over a sizzling skillet like a pro.
"Care to place an order?" He looked from Marley to Lila, before reaching into the pocket of his jeans and pulling out a vibrating cell phone. "Sorry, hold that thought."
"Kirk can make anything," Jasmine solemnly informed her mother. "He made Bridget a Mickey Mouse one, Michele a heart-shaped one, and for me," Jasmine held up her plate proudly. "A flower. See? It's a jasmine!"
Hoo, boy, Lila sighed inwardly at the sight of starry-eyed Jasmine gazing at Kirkland with a dreamy smile. Trouble, trouble, trouble.
"Charlie's coming over for breakfast, if that's cool," Kirkland announced. "Things are a little crazy over there with the new baby and everything, so she's looking for a place to hide."
"New baby?" Jasmine asked with a furrowed brow.
"Yeah," an oblivious Kirkland went on before Lila, who was still a bit unsettled by the news herself, could stop him. "Frankie and Cass adopted Lori Ann. They brought her home last week."
"You mean Charlie has a new little sister?" Jasmine asked in a voice that made even Kirkland realize his mistake.
"Um, yeah," he looked to Lila with uneasy apology. "I guess."
"Oh," was all Jasmine said, even though what Lila heard was her little girl's heart shattering into a million itty-bitty pieces.
"So this is how it works," Kevin spread a half-dozen manila folders with at least twice that amount still waiting across his desk in front of Allie and Gregory. "These are profiles of folks looking to adopt. Families with children, families without children, single people, gay couples, you've got a lot of options. Look through them; take your time. Anyone you're interested in meeting, I'll set it up. Remember, it's just a meeting. You're not promising anybody anything. You can always, always change your mind, right up until the minute you sign those papers and, in fact, for six months after that."
Allie nodded, but made no move to reach for a folder. It was Gregory who ultimately plucked one off Kevin's desk and showed it to her. Allie stared at a picture of a stylishly put-together woman in her late 40s. She began reading the "Dear Birth Mother" letter, explaining how eager the woman was to have a child and why she believed being a single mom... Allie shook her head and closed the file.
"No. Not her. She's all by herself. I don't want... I know it's okay, I mean, my mom was alone. But... I don't want... "
"That's perfectly fine," Kevin counseled. "That's the whole point of an open adoption. You get to choose who you want to raise your baby. You'll get no judgments from me on that account." He handed her another folder.
Allie double-checked, "You said I have six months after signing the papers to change my mind?"
"That's what the law says. However, it is in everyone's best interests, yours, the baby's, the adoptive parents', for you to decide on what it is you really want before you sign. Nobody deserves that kind of heartache."
"You also said the father has to sign in order for the adoption to be official."
"Yes," Kevin said. "I've been thinking about that. This is what we're going to do. Gregory, you are going to sign a document that I'll draw up in which you surrender your parental rights to Allie's baby. However, nowhere in this text will it actually say that you are the biological father of Allie's baby. Do you understand the nuance?"
Gregory asked, "Isn't that illegal?"
"It's... borderline," Kevin admitted. "I'm not so much falsifying information as I'm letting people read more into it than is actually there. They're drawing the conclusions, I'm simply staying out of their way."
"Who's this?" Allie turned a folder around so that Kevin could see the photo of a potential adoptive couple with their two older children.
"Ah, that's Dr. and Mrs. Rick Bauer, from Springfield. Very nice people, very nice family."
"No, I mean, who's she?" Allie tapped the head of the older girl in the picture.
"That's Dr. Bauer's daughter from a former marriage. The little boy is also just his. He and Mrs. Bauer have no children together. I believe there's a history of recurrent miscarriages."
Allie stared for a few moments at the dark-skinned teen-ager smiling out from the center of the Bauer family snapshot. And then she told Kevin, "Them. I want to meet them."
Lorna's arm throbbing in synch with her head did a better job of waking her up than any alarm clock ever could.
She was whimperingly making her way to the kitchen, anticipating a large cup of coffee with a shot of Tylenol, when she stopped short at the sight of Jamie sitting up from the living room couch.
"How you feeling?" he asked, then, without waiting for her to answer, shook a pill from a bottle into his hand and offered it to Lorna.
"A painkiller for that," he nodded at her bandaged arm. "It was either this or you biting on a stick while I dressed your burn."
Lorna gratefully swallowed the pill, recovering enough to snark, "I didn't realize the prescription called for personalized medical supervision."
"I gave you a strong dose. You were pretty out of it. I didn't feel comfortable leaving you alone."
"Worried I was so high I'd go back to Donna's and finish the job?"
"No. You already told me that you don't want to kill Donna. Just scare the crap out of her. Which I'm sure you did."
"When did I tell you that?" Lorna frowned.
"Last night," Jamie said tentatively. "In the ER. You were drugged at the time, but I don't think you were lying. You don't remember our... conversation?" Something about the way he said the last word, twigged Lorna's radar. Except she couldn't say why.
"I remember some of it, not all," she admitted. "Anyway, that was last night. Today, I'm back to wanting her dead."
"I'm sure that's true. But I still don't believe for a second that you'd ever actually try to kill her."
"Don't act like you know me, Jamie." She indicated the door. "You can go, now. I don't need a baby-sitter anymore."
He went on as if she hadn't spoken. "Did running Jenna's fake porno tape on TV back in... was it 1992? make you feel better about yourself or life in general?"
"What? Why the hell are you bringing that up now?"
"Because. A juvenile prank left you wallowing in so much guilt you couldn't see straight for months. How do you think you'll feel if you actually do somehow manage to get that pound of flesh from Donna?"
"The guilt would be worth it."
"You're wrong," Jamie said. "Even telling yourself you did it for Jenna won't make the self-loathing go away. I know."
"Don't you dare use Jenna against me," Lorna flared. "Whatever further Hell I choose to rain down on Donna, I'll be just fine. Now, feel free to stop acting like you care, and leave."
"I do care about you, Lorna. I..."
"You, what?" she threw back at him in frustration. "Like me as a friend? Like me enough to almost have meaningless sex with on a kitchen table? Like me as a "
She paused while an image.... or was it a memory?... hit.
Her. Jamie. Looking up at him... Kissing him... Someplace else... Not here...
And the smell of sterile, hospital grade alcohol.
"What's wrong?" Jamie asked, suddenly in front of her. "Are you okay? That stuff I gave you was pretty strong. Sit down..."
"What happened last night?" she asked and then promptly watched, confused, as panic flickered in his eyes. "At the hospital? What did... Did I kiss you?"
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