"Fanny?" Lucas took one look at Felicia's ashen face as she stumbled through the door, and broke out into a cold sweat. "Where have you been?" He looked down at her shoes. The rounded toes of Felicia's $1000 violet Gucci boots were both stained with... "Is that blood?"
"Donna," Felicia croaked out, her eyes glazed with shock.
"What about Donna?" Lucas stood, grabbing Felicia's hand and guiding her to sit down.
"She's... She was still alive when I left."
"For God's sake, what happened?"
"I want her to pay." Felicia bobbed her head up and down. "For Jenna. For Dean. For Lori Ann."
"We all do. But what did "
"I went over there to... I don't know what I went over there to do. I had to see her, face to face."
"Did you... "
"No! No, Luke, no, I swear. She did it herself. I found her. All that blood..."
"Donna did what herself?"
"She cut them? Donna slit her wrists?"
"Jesus Christ. Did you call for help?"
"I I came to you...." Felicia began, then looked confused, as if she weren't sure anymore what she meant by that.
"I'm going over there." Lucas grabbed his coat.
"She needs to pay..." Felicia repeated dully.
"Come on in, coast is clear," Lila told Grant when he arrived at the Cory house to pick up Kirkland for his court-appointed overnight visit.
Grant poked his head cautiously through the door, looking left, then right, then at Lila to ask, "Where is everybody?"
"Doing their best to avoid you, I presume. When they heard you were coming over, all the Corys, Hutchins and Frames mysteriously managed to have plans elsewhere."
"Even Jasmine?" Grant asked with some disappointment. "She's the only Cory with a soft spot for me."
"Jazz is at a Valentine's Day school dance with her Daddy."
"That's sweet," Grant said, and appeared to mean it, too. "Where's Kirkland?"
"He's taking a shower, said to tell you he'll be down in a minute, hockey practice ran late."
"I was actually surprised he agreed to coming over tonight when I asked," Grant confessed. "I was sure he'd have Valentine's Day plans of his own."
"The boy likes spending time with his Daddy. No matter how much he pretends to be cool about it."
Grant chuckled ruefully. "Wish I could say the same. My father and I really went at it, last time I saw him. He threatened to bash my teeth in."
"What did you do?" Lila asked, semi-horrified.
"Why do you think it's something I did?" Lila's silent look spoke volumes. "Oh, all right," Grant conceded. "I may have insinuated something about the current woman in his life playing Mata Hari to help Jamie hold on to Kirkland."
"You called your Daddy's lady friend a whore?"
"Not in those words...." Again, with the look. Grant said, "She's got him completely besotted. He's a different person. I mention playing hard-ball with Jamie legal hardball, may I add and he stares at me like it's the first time he's ever heard of such a distasteful notion. God, I miss Iris! The only thing she ever made him do was stomp his feet and flail his arms and threaten to give up on women altogether."
"I think it's adorable. A man his age, still able to fall in love. It gives us all hope for the future."
"Speaking of which," Grant eagerly changed the subject from his father's romantic adventures to Lila's less skin-crawling ones. "How was your date with my attorney?"
"Lovely," Lila told him. "His oral arguments are most persuasive."
Grant took a moment to let that sink in. Then shuddered. "Please, stop it. I still have to do business with the man."
"It went fine," Lila amended. "Thank you for asking."
"That's better," Grant said. And then, as if the thought had just occurred to him, he asked Lila, "Listen, has Kirkland or Steven, maybe, said anything about how Marley is handling this whole thing with Donna?"
Lila hesitated, wondering whether or not to enlighten him, then realized that he was going to find out sooner or later, they might as well get it over with. It's not like Grant would listen to her advice and keep his distance for the long term. She sighed and told him, "You can ask her yourself. She's in the game-room with Michele and Bridget."
"You're a gutsy man," Jen told GQ. "Most guys would be afraid to take a girl out on a first date for Valentine's Day. Too much pressure."
He shrugged. "You said you were free Sunday. I wasn't going to give you a chance to change your mind. Besides, it's opening night for the exhibit. I wanted to make sure you hadn't already seen it." He indicated the NUERO Project installation all around them, advertised as a cross-section of art, science and engineering "cross-fertilized by researchers in a wide variety of fields, including systems neurophysiology, psychophysics, computational neurobiology, microelectronics and micromachining, optoelectronics, learning theory and pattern recognition, control, locomotion, sensory-driven autonomous behavior and systems." He double-checked, "You haven't already seen it, have you?"
"Actually," she admitted. "I did check out the original at Caltech. But that was years ago. I've been dying to see it again now that they're on tour. This was very thoughtful of you."
GQ mentally scored one for his algorithm that a nice girl could always find a nice way to let you down easy. Not that he had any intention of allowing her to do so.
As they meandered lazily from one blinking, digital interactive exhibition to another, GQ inquired, "So how did you get into Cognitive Science, anyway?"
Jen confessed, "From the time I was little, everyone was telling me how smart I was. They made it sound like I'd done something to achieve this, when I knew pretty early on it's just who I was. I didn't do anything; I was born this way, for better or for worse."
"Did they sound surprised when they said it?" GQ asked. "Because with me, they always sounded surprised. Especially since I played football, too, like my dad. Why, would you lookee here? All-State and a National Merit Scholar? How can that be?"
"Aren't you the overachiever?" Jen teased.
"Excuse me? Have you looked in the mirror lately?"
"Who, me? I only have a measly Masters. You're the Doctoral candidate."
"You're right," GQ agreed. "Now that I think about it, you do seem a little slow on the uptake..."
It took GQ almost the length of the dinner they'd grabbed at a Greek diner on the outskirts of campus to bring up the issue that had been hanging over his head, Sword of Damocles style, ever since the evening began.
"Are you," he asked Jen. "Are you by any chance related to a girl named Allie Fowler? She lives here in Bay City."
"I don't know. I doubt it, though. It's just me and my dad. He's got... issues with his family. We hardly ever see them. Who's this Allie person?"
"She's my ex," GQ admitted. Then, before he lost his nerve, blurted out, "She might be pregnant with my baby."
Jamie glared at the infuriatingly stuck Snickers bar as it leaned tantalizingly close to falling from its circular perch in the vending machine.
"Come on," he muttered, trying to gently, if one could do that with a five hundred pound machine, jostle his admittedly inadequate patients, don't try this at home dinner towards freedom.
"Break that thing, and you're going to be mighty unpopular with the rest of the staff come the communal midnight drop in blood sugar," Alice scolded from behind him.
"I don't have any more change," Jamie muttered.
Alice fired several quarters into the machine and seconds later pulled out two candy bars.
"Thank you," Jamie inhaled the first and promptly started in on the second. "You're the best. I promise I'll pay you back."
"Give me a hand in the clinic and we'll call it even? Fifteen minutes."
"That bad?" Jamie accompanied Alice down the hall.
"It's flu season. And with everyone being cautious about H1N1..."
"Say no more. Happy to help. And it's totally worth it after being treated to dinner by such a cool lady."
Alice laughed. "You really should eat better. But speaking of beautiful women "
"I said cool lady," Jamie corrected, already knowing where this was going. "Not that you aren't a beautiful woman, because you are. Beautiful, kind, not at all prone to prying..."
"And not blind," Alice cut off his rambling. "This is your cue to tell me what happened the other night in the cubicle between you and that irrefutably beautiful woman from Thanksgiving."
"Her name is Lorna Devon. She's Felicia Gallant's daughter."
"Oh, yes.... The barracuda of the NICU, now I remember."
"She's not that bad," Jamie said. "And nothing happened the other night. She burned her arm so I brought her in to have it cleaned and bandaged. The pain medication made her a little loopy and I had to wrangle her. You understand how that goes."
"I do. But you understand that's not what I'm talking about. And the fact that you're avoiding the subject tells me all I need to know."
"Which is what?" Jamie asked, following Alice into the rarely empty elevator.
"That you like her," Alice said easily. "And she likes you."
"She also thought she was seeing butterflies fluttering around the room. I had her on Lorcet Plus. She was flying high."
"You, however, were stone-cold sober," Alice countered. "And I recognize the way you were looking at her. It's the way Steve would look at me. Or at your mother depending on what day of the week it was."
"I wasn't looking at Lorna in any kind of way other than as a friend," Jamie defended. "Why can't she and I just be friends? I like having her as a friend."
"Me thinks you doth protest too much."
"Please don't do that. Between Carl, Elizabeth and Cory, I get more than my Recommended Daily Allowance of Shakespeare quotes. I don't need you throwing them at me, too."
"I'm sorry," Alice chuckled. "But it does apply. Why can't you just admit that you like her?"
"Because it doesn't matter one way or another," he said resignedly, abandoning his attempts at being casual. "And you know why. So can we drop this, please?"
The elevator doors opened, signaling the end of their conversation, at least for Jamie, who seized the opportunity for a quick escape. "Tell me where you need me in the clinic and "
"Watch it!" Lorna hissed, holding her bandaged arm protectively. "Where's the fire? I've already been in one... Oh," she said, once she realized who'd bumped into her.
"I think you found your first patient," Alice informed the equally unhappy Jamie and Lorna, breezing past them, marveling at how sometimes fate really did work in one's favor, after all.
"I should like to speak to Felicia soon," Carl told Rachel as they were getting dressed to leave the yacht and head back home.
His wife nodded. "Yes. Now that everything is out in the open, yes, I think you're right. You two do need to talk."
"I had initially thought we might catch a private moment prior to Donna's hearing, but Felicia was in no state... She told the people gathered there: Marley, Matt, Jamie, Lorna, Lucas, that none of them knew what she was feeling at the moment. I begged to differ, told her that I knew. She seemed to agree with that, if only by declining to refute it."
"You were both betrayed by Donna. You both lost your child, even if the circumstances weren't exactly identical."
"Funny," Carl mused. "Those are almost precisely the same words I used on Amanda when she attempted to coerce me into talking Allie out of her plans."
Rachel frowned. "Plans? What plans? What's Allie planning?"
Carl looked at Rachel oddly. "Why, to give the baby up for adoption. Has she not informed you of her intentions?"
"What baby?" Rachel demanded.
"Allie's baby... "
"Allie is pregnant?"
"I'm sorry, my dear," Carl sputtered. "Naturally, I presumed Amanda had brought you up to date. After all, she filled me in, and I am, quite possibly, her least favorite person in our household."
"Great," Marley muttered as she read Jamie's text message.
"Still at the hospital. Never did get you the stuff you asked for from Donna's. Off in a few hours. I'll stop by and get what you need then. Sorry! BTW: It might be a little wet. Will explain when I get home."
"The perils of having a doctor for a messenger service," Marley shook her head, typing a response to Jamie, telling him not to worry, she'd be a big girl and take care of it herself, when she heard Bridget and Michele's gleeful shouts of "Grant!" She looked up from her comfortable perch on a beanbag chair in the Cory game room to see the girls abandon their round of ping-pong to welcome him inside.
Grant grinned at Marley over their heads, then allowed her nieces to convince him to watch their play for a couple minutes. After refereeing a disputed shot in Bridget's favor, Grant told them he had to speak to their aunt, and plopped himself down in an adjoining bean bag chair, setting his fedora on the floor. It was really all Marley could do to keep from laughing out loud. The entire scene was so absurd.
"I was sorry to hear about your mother," Grant offered gravely.
"I'm sure you are," Marley replied, keeping focus on her Blackberry. "Since you were hoping Jamie had murdered Cecile so his pesky prison sentence would leave you to move right in and take over as Kirkland's father."
"I am Kirkland's father," Grant bristled in reflex.
"Be that as it may, I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for Jamie to be out of sight and out of mind. Sorry to disappoint you, Grant, but, unfortunately, my mother is the guilty one, while Jamie has been nothing short of perfection this past week."
Grant rolled his eyes. "Has he now? How so? Has he been holding your hand and spouting the usual worthless platitudes that all doctors are trained to do?"
Marley looked at him with pity. "You would underestimate what a few kind words and a comforting hand can do for a person's well being."
"Au contraire. While I realize that those things can be... nice, they're about as useful to you at a time like this as an umbrella in a hurricane."
"What do you know about what I need?"
"Quite a bit, actually. Have you forgotten that my mother was also guilty of resorting to desperate, criminal means? Or that my father once faced a prison term because of Carl Hutchins? I know what you're going through. It isn't easy, having to become your parents' caretaker."
"I remember your mother. I also remember that you aided and abetted quite a few of her desperate, criminal acts, which included kidnapping Vicky and Kirkland."
"I had nothing to do with that."
"And the reason your father was facing prison was because he was covering for you."
"So you'll excuse me," Marley went on. "If I don't run into your open, waiting arms. You don't have the comfort I want or need."
"Donna will be out of prison before you get what you want or need from Jamie."
"On the contrary, Grant, I'm getting exactly what I want and need from Jamie. More even. When Donna refused to leave the house to me and the girls, Jamie brought us here. We're living at the Cory mansion full-time now."
Only the smallest of frowns betrayed Grant's surprise. "You're living with Jamie? Since when?"
"Since last night," Marley smiled at him.
"One night," Grant harrumphed even as Marley could see the line of his jaw clench in frustration. "So, he took pity on you when you ran away from home. Let's see how long he'll let you guilt him into keeping that guest-room in the west wing. Somehow I doubt it'll be as long as you'd like."
Marley cocked her head at him with a small, dangerous smile. "I'm not staying in the West Wing, Grant."
"Please," he laughed, immediately recognizing what she was trying to imply. "Don't kid a kidder. There is no way in hell you went from sleeping at your mother's to sharing Jamie Frame's bed in the span of one night."
"It's like I said," Marley held his disbelieving gaze with what she hoped was an unruffled, knowing look. "Jamie's giving me exactly what I need at a time like this."
"You're a fool to think it'll last," Grant said with surprising anger. "Don't confuse pity with love. Once everything with Donna blows over, he'll be back to keeping you at a cold arm's length."
"If that happens, so be it. It's better than confusing your obvious attempts at manipulation with actual concern for my welfare." She stood up and called, "Come on, girls, let's go get your brother. He's going to need to help yank Mr. Harrison here out of his chair."
Jen's eyes widened. She set down her silverware, linked her fingers in front of her face, and rested her chin on her hands. "Is this typical, first-date banter for you?"
"No!" GQ sputtered. "But... I like you. And I wanted to be... I didn't want it to seem, down the road if there is a down the road, I mean for it to come off like I was lying or hiding things."
"Certainly no one can accuse you of doing that..."
"I know what this sounds like. I know what this makes me look like. But it's not what you're thinking."
"I'm not really sure what I'm thinking right now. I know; ironic, considering my field."
GQ relaxed a little. If she was cracking jokes, she couldn't be too mad. Then again, he didn't know her that well. Maybe this was how Jennifer Fowler expressed mad.
He rushed to explain, "Allie and I broke up a long time ago. It's been over a year."
"So this is, what, an elephant-like gestation?"
Another joke? Or did GQ detect some crankiness creeping in? "We broke up, and she's been dating this other guy for months. But, see, there was this one time... "
"I get it," Jen held up her hand to ward off any further details.
"Allie swears the baby isn't mine."
"But you don't believe her?"
"I don't know what to believe. Her friend, Sarah well, actually, her former friend; though that doesn't really have to do with anything Sarah advised me to just sit tight and wait. She said we'll know soon enough if the baby is mine or not, so I might as well quit obsessing, go out, have fun, keep myself occupied "
"Like we're doing now?" Jen guessed.
"Those people from when you were little weren't kidding. You are smart," GQ praised.
"This Sarah you're talking about, she wouldn't be Sarah Matthews-Wheeler, would she?"
"You know her?"
"She's in my seminar." Jen clarified, "She told you to keep yourself occupied until Allie's baby is born, and recommended you do it with me? Did I get that right?" When GQ nodded, Jen said, "Hmmm..."
"Nothing," Jen said. "Just hmmmm...."
"Anyway, I'm really glad she pointed you out to me. I had a great time tonight, and I hope that, what I said, I hope it hasn't messed things up too badly. I'd like to see you again. I'd like to get to know you better. Even if you now know me better than you ever wanted to."
Jen sat back in her chair, choosing each word with care. "GQ, I'm okay with what you told me. I wasn't there; I'm not going to judge a situation I don't know anything about. But it seems to me like you're not quite ready to follow Sarah's advice and sit back, twiddling your thumbs until Allie's baby is born. It sounds like you need to know ASAP, or you'll go crazy. "
"Yeah," GQ admitted. "You're right. I'm just trying to convince myself. And it ain't working. But, what am I supposed to do?"
"I have an idea," Jen submitted. "My dad is a Family Law attorney. I've picked up a few short-cuts along the way."
Marley suspected that something was wrong the moment she drove up to her mother's house and saw the smashed window and open front door.
She felt certain that something was very, very seriously wrong as soon as she went inside and up the stairs, taking in the odor of stale smoke, the waterlogged walls, and Lucas kneeling on the bathroom floor next to a deathly inert Donna, his hands covered in blood.
"What did you do, Lucas?" Marley screamed, sinking to her knees beside them. "What the hell have you done to my mother?"
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