"She wasn't even acting like herself," Matt told Marley as they walked through the Love house, checking whether the contractors had made it livable enough for her and the girls and apparently Jamie and Kirkland, too to move back in. "She was acting like... like somebody doing a bad Donna Love imitation. It was bizarre."
"I sometimes think her entire life is a bad Donna Love imitation. She's never been who she seems. She spent eighteen years acting like my sister when she was really my mother. She spent another twenty years pretending to be Carl's biggest supporter when, in reality, she was terrified of his finding out about Jenna. After my father got back to town the first time, he said he barely recognized the woman Donna had become; that there was hardly anything left of the girl he used to know."
"I understand the feeling," Matt sympathized. "She was trying so hard to make it seem like everything was fine and normal and under control, it gave me the creeps."
"Well, maybe this is for the best," Marley said. "Maybe, at the hospital, she can finally get some help in figuring out why she does the things she does, why she's always lying and covering up, then switching straight to denial as soon as she's caught. Maybe she'll get to the bottom of why she's so terrified of letting anyone in to see the real her."
Matt stopped, resting a hand on Marley shoulder, getting her to turn around. "You think there's some real Donna lurking beneath the surface that none of us know about?"
Marley shrugged. "I have no idea. Remember when I said Michael barely recognized the Donna he loved as a teen-ager? Well, John knew her back then, too, and he had a completely different recollection of what she was like, neither of which meshed with the woman she became."
"You make her sound like a shape-shifter," Matt joked. Because it was preferable to facing the implications of taking Marley's concerns seriously.
"I just know what it's like to lose your sense of self so utterly "
"You and Jake," Matt guessed. "After your surgery."
Marley nodded briefly. "That you can't see any way back. Or out."
"Short of slashing your wrists?" he swallowed hard.
"I never, ever wanted to kill myself," Marley clarified. "Kill other people, yes. I understand what it feels like to want to lash out and hurt somebody until they're in just as much horrible, paralyzing pain as you are. But the impulse to take your own life. That has got to be worse than anything I'd ever been through, even at my lowest point. I don't... I can't... Jamie said... "
"Jamie? What does this have to do with Jamie?"
Marley back-pedaled frantically, realizing that, once again, she'd almost spilled Jamie's secret. "Jamie I He... after Donna was hospitalized, he talked to me about what she might have been going through. I guess in his line of work, he's seen more than a fair share of attempted suicides. He tried to make me understand what might have driven her to it. You know Jamie, hand-holding the hysterical is kind of his specialty."
"Well, I wish he'd send a bit of that talent my way. I swear to you, Marley, I'm in over my head, here. I want to help Donna, I really do. I realize she's sick. But as soon as I get in the same room with her and she turns on the noblesse-oblige act, I just want to wring her neck."
"Tell the truth, though, Matt. Didn't you ever get that feeling when she wasn't sick?"
He had to smile at that. "It has been known to happen on occasion. Except I didn't feel so damn guilty, then."
"Maybe you should have. Maybe we all should have. Maybe there's been something seriously wrong with Donna for years, and we just didn't notice it because she was being so... so..."
"She was being Donna. And that was the only thing she ever wanted us to catch her being. The mental collapse she had in 1986, it wasn't just because Reginald made her think that John could have been our father. It was because he threatened to reveal her secret to the world. That's what finally pushed Donna over the edge, the possibility of being exposed."
"Of people finally seeing the real her..." Matt thoughtfully echoed Marley's earlier claim.
"I've been thinking a lot lately about that first breakdown of hers. When they carried her off, Donna was clutching three pillows, calling them "my babies." I've spent years speculating about that. I even, at one point, had this wild fantasy that maybe Vicky and I weren't just twins. Maybe we were triplets. Reginald took away one of her children, why not two? Isn't that ridiculous?"
"No more ridiculous that anything else that happens in this town on a regular basis."
"But it wasn't some mysterious triplet. It was Jenna. Jenna was the third baby Donna was talking about. Just one more secret she was willing to die or at least completely disconnect from the world rather than let see the light of day."
"Matt," Rachel informed Alice after barging into her office at the hospital without so much as a perfunctory knock. "Is currently at Donna Love's house. In case you'd like to scurry over and add him to your Jamie and Amanda collection."
Alice put down her pen, leaned back in her chair and crossed both arms. "It's finally happened," she observed. "After years of us all just suspecting it, you've finally gone and lost your mind."
"And you've finally dropped the saint act," Rachel noted, pleased.
"I never made any claims to being a saint. Possibly it merely looked that way to you from where you were standing. Looking up."
Rachel allowed herself a full smile. This Alice was one Rachel could and preferred to deal with. One of the things that had driven Rachel alright, crazy in their early years was that, no matter how much Rachel dished out, Alice just passively took it. It was like kicking a helpless puppy. It wasn't a fair fight. Now, it was.
"Jamie wasn't enough for you? Jamie nearly dying wasn't enough for you? You had to go after Amanda, too?"
"If by go after you mean get to know better a young woman my grandson "
"That's over now."
"I know. I was sorry to hear it."
"Because it took away your excuse for encroaching on my daughter?"
"Because he loved her. And she loved him."
"Don't be ridiculous. Amanda would have told me if things were serious between them."
"Like she told you that Allie was pregnant?"
Rachel pounced, "So it was your idea to keep it from me!"
Alice went back to the pile of charts on her desk. "I'm not going to play this game with you. Not again. You've already pulled me down to your level way too many times."
"Speaking of sinking about as low as one can go: How's Spencer?"
"What?" Alice asked, understanding that there was an insult in there somewhere, but unsure of what exactly it was Rachel expected her to take offense at.
"I'm just curious where you get off floating so sanctimoniously above the mere mortals, looking down on us all, while, thanks to Spencer, you're wallowing about as low in the mud as a body can go."
"You'll forgive me, Rachel, if your approval of my relationship with Spencer isn't exactly a paramount concern."
"You're not his type, you know. I tried to warn you. He clearly wants something from you, even if you can't see it. That's the only possible explanation. The women he's been involved with before... Iris... His ex-wife, Justine... Me."
"You?" Alice couldn't help herself. She looked up.
"Didn't he tell you? When Spencer first came to town, he made his interest in me very clear." Rachel smiled. "Steve. Mac. Now Spencer. Honestly, Alice, if it weren't for second, you wouldn't have any place in these men's lives at all."
Marley, a thoughtful, faint smile on her lips, watched Jamie from her perch on a stool beside the kitchen countertop as he finished loading the utensils from their earlier dinner into the dishwasher, admiring how at home her husband looked in their kitchen.
Her husband. Their kitchen. Marley really liked the sound of that.
It had taken them almost twenty years to get there, but here they finally were, husband and wife, living sans mothers under the same roof, with their three kids. Well, soon to be living with their three kids. She and Jamie had left Bridget, Michele, and Kirkland at the Cory mansion for the night while they gave Donna's house one final walk-through. But if all went well, it'd soon be just the five of them. Here. Together. As a family.
For appearances only, a little voice in Marley's head reminded. Once they finished off Grant in court or just simply stalled him long enough; as Kirkland kept pointing out, he'd be eighteen in a little over two years there'd be no more comfort of hearing Jamie's voice somewhere in the house and knowing that he was only a room away. He'd go back to living at the Cory mansion, and she'd go back to living here alone. Again.
Which just suddenly seemed... stupid to her.
What the hell? Marley shrugged inwardly, draining her wine glass and setting it aside. Neither of us is getting any younger.
"Jamie," she informed him. "You owe me a talk."
What happened next was the longest pregnant pause in the history of the world. "You still remember that, huh?" he finally asked.
"I do. Obviously, you do too, judging by your sudden deer in headlights face."
"Yeah," Jamie slowly acknowledged after another mercilessly extended, silent beat.
"God, Jamie, why is this so hard? I kissed you. You kissed me back. And we both enjoyed it. Whatever attraction we had to each other twenty years ago is still there."
"It is Marley, but not in the way "
"I know I hurt you. I also know that there's still a part of you that can't trust me after what I did."
"There isn't," he insisted. "I let all that go a long time ago. I wanted you in my life. I wanted us to be friends. And we are that."
Marley smiled up at him, all defenses down. "We're more than that. I love you. I think you love me."
"I do, Marley, you know that."
"That's why I don't understand why we're ignoring the opportunity that's right in front of our faces? What we have now the house, the kids, us finally, finally! being in sync this is everything we wanted twenty years ago. Despite all that's happened, we have it now. Why not have all of it?" she leaned up and gently kissed him. " Why shouldn't we finally," she whispered into his lips as she threaded her fingers with his. "Be together?"
"What is it?" Jen wrinkled her nose cautiously at the sight of GQ standing in the doorway to her apartment, holding forth a concoction of... something... in a clear glass lid casserole dish.
"Pan Fried Crow," he explained, lifting the top for closer examination. "Eggs, bacon grease, bread crumbs and genuine crow meat. I got the recipe off the Internet. It's supposedly a delicacy... someplace. That isn't here. Unless the article was pulling my leg. But what are the odds of something on the Internet being less than accurate?" In response to Jen's ongoing confusion, GQ got to the point and explained, "This is an overachiever's way of saying I'm sorry. You know... eating crow?"
"I got it," Jen suppressed her smile. She stepped aside and let him in, unable to stop herself from teasing, "But considering the anthropological lecture you gave me earlier, wouldn't fried chicken have been more on point?"
GQ set the dish down on her table and turned around to confess, "I'm going to let you in on my deepest, darkest secret. I hate fried chicken."
"That's a shame. I have an awesome recipe from my grandmother."
"I'm not too crazy about watermelon either."
"And yet you'll eat crow?"
"For you," GQ said. "I figure if I get food poisoning later, maybe I'll be pathetic enough for you to take pity on and forgive me."
"I'm not mad at you," Jen shrugged. "I'm just... disappointed."
"You should be. And you should be mad, too. The way I acted... Compared to your reaction when I told you about Allie... Hell, four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie wouldn't be enough crows for me to eat to make up for what an idiot I was."
"Please tell me you didn't get a recipe for that off the Internet, too."
"I was tempted," he admitted. "But fresh crow's meat is really hard to find!"
"I'm really, really sorry, Jen. I've got no business judging you or your dad. The only thing I can say in my defense is, well, I just, I liked you so much, the more I got to know you, the more I liked you, that I'd built up this image in my head of who you were. And the first time reality didn't mesh with conjecture "
"So it wasn't me you liked, it was the imaginary Jen in your head?"
"No. Look, I don't have to tell you, there aren't a lot of people out there like us. There are more Black men in jail than there are in college. My entire life, I've been a minority within a minority within a minority."
"What's the third one?" she wondered.
"Please, you guys run the world."
"Doesn't make us any less of a minority."
"I'll accept that." Jen softened, "And I do understand what you're talking about. Same thing happened to my mom. The way my grandmother told it, she was this whip-smart little girl. Grandma had to bitch-slap half the New York City Department of Education to get her accepted into this selective public school for gifted kids. Only my mom never felt like she fit in. She said she didn't want to be exceptional; she wanted to be normal. So for ninth grade, she made sure she got thrown out of her good school and into the local crap one. Next thing you know, just to prove how down she is, she hooked up with this worthless guy, got knocked up, had a baby, dropped out, and once he got her on drugs... well, it's not a very original story. But at least she got to stop being exceptional and die a cliche."
GQ opened his mouth, then closed it again without making a sound.
"Don't," Jen suggested. "Whatever you were going to say, just... don't. I understand where you're coming from, let's leave it at that, okay?"
He nodded, waiting a moment to collect himself before continuing, "Point is, I don't encounter a lot of people like myself. Moving to the Midwest probably didn't help in that regard. And when I met you, we had so much in common, I just leapt to the conclusion that we'd have everything in common."
"So we all look the same to you, is that what you're saying?" she raised an eyebrow.
"I deserved that. And no, what I'm saying is I'm an idiot and I'm sorry, and if you'd even consider giving me another chance which, I understand, if you don't I promise to... to... to keep my mouth shut."
"That is the ultimate sacrifice for a guy like you," Jen noted. The last thing she asked before kissing him was, "But what fun would it be?"
Grant barely had time to protectively cradle his martini before he went spinning on his bar stool, abruptly turned around to face a if he did say so himself breathtakingly flushed Lorna.
"Whatever your airhead minion told you about me and Jamie, forget it. It's not true, so don't you dare try using it to screw over him and Marley for Kirkland's custody."
Passing up the obvious joke, Grant cocked his head at Lorna and observed, "Eyes flashing, color in your cheeks. I do so enjoy watching you fly into a lather. So alive, so wild and, if I recall... rather amorous. You're quite correct in one regard: The idea that Jamie, of all people, could inspire such raw passion on your part is a bit ludicrous."
Lorna snaked Grant by his tie and jerked him towards her. "I mean it. Go spreading Lila's ramblings to anyone especially Marley and I will make you regret it."
"By telling Jamie, Cass and anyone and everyone who'll listen that you've been seeing a married woman. How do you think that'll play with your judge?"
Grant jerked his tie from her grasp. "For your information, Lila is no longer chained to your mother's favorite fashion accessory. Besides, she and I aren't.... To surprisingly little regret on my part. Which, I do confess, puzzles me somewhat. She's a most congenial conversationalist, and certainly lovely to look at, but..."
"I wasn't talking about Lila. I was talking about Marley. I saw the two of you having dinner that night. I know a patented Grant Harrison seduction when I see it. You're working Marley, hoping to win her over to your side and squeeze Jamie out."
"Got it in one," Grant beamed. "Nice to see that proximity to that dim bulb Frame hasn't completely sapped away your savvy."
"So, you admit it? You're trying to seduce Marley away from Jamie to get Kirkland."
"I admit that I am reaching out to my son's legal guardian so we may amiably discuss working together to reach a solution that benefits all sides. If it happens to be over dinner, well," Grant shrugged. "A person does have to eat. Meanwhile, the good Doctor Frame is nowhere to be seen at these meetings, because he's too busy getting chummy with the notorious and very hard to miss Lorna Devon. Cozy meetings in hospital stairwells, late night house-calls... all while he and his wife occupy separate residences. Now, if you were a judge, how would our two situations appear to you?" In response to the frustrated look on her face, Grant added, "I must say, Lorna, this... slumming... of yours disappoints me. You deserve a real man, not a wet noodle. Although, if you hadn't decided to lower your standards I sympathize, a woman your age, the pickings just get slimmer and slimmer, don't they? Desperation is bound to creep in then I wouldn't be in this most enjoyable position to propel Jamie out of Kirkland's life for good. Think how crushed my poor boy is going to be when he learns what his oh so holier-than-though guardian did to his beloved aunt? So for that," Grant lifted his glass. "You have my sincerest and most heartfelt gratitude."
"You're willing to break Kirkland's heart for your own purposes? Awesome parenting, Grant. Father of the Year material."
"He'll get over it, I promise you. Now. Am I to be regaled with a spot of pitiful begging on your lover's behalf for me to stay my hand?"
Seemingly not. All Grant got from a departing Lorna was some choice profanity... and the flash of a look all too familiar from years ago, a mix of loathing and disappointment at him, with equal parts anger and guilt for herself.
Which, frankly, baffled him. In order for Lorna to reveal so much emotion, not merely anger, mind you, but actual emotion, even if it was only for a second....
"Hot damn..." Grant wasn't sure how he felt about the realization. "She's actually in love with the sap...."
They were already in bed, already half-undressed with no more questions about where things were ultimately headed before Allie felt she had to tell Gregory, "I'm sorry but I'm not... I'm not real experienced. I mean, I've only been with one other guy before."
His face buried in the crook of her neck, he murmured, "Still one up on me."
For a moment, she thought he was making an odd homophobic joke. Until Allie recalled that Gregory would never do something like that. And finally realized what he actually meant.
She pulled back, meeting his eyes. "You mean, you've never... "
"No." There wasn't a trace of embarrassment in his voice. Not that there was anything to be embarrassed about. Except Allie couldn't think of another guy who wouldn't be. "I wanted to be in love first."
"Oh..." Allie's throat went dry. She had to look away, her voice barely above a whisper when she asked, "And are you? Now?"
"I'm sorry," Allie said, her eyes filling with tears.
"You don't love me," Gregory guessed, again unembarrassed and seemingly serene.
"I do. I really do," she swore. "I wasn't sure of it before but... looking at you today, I can't explain it. There was this moment, this instant; it was like a light-switch going on. I was watching you while you were asking Rick and Mindy about what they would do if the baby wasn't what they expected, you were asking them because you knew I couldn't bring myself to do it, I was too afraid I'd give something away... I was looking at you and thinking about what you were doing for me, about everything you'd done for me, and I just, I knew, right then, I knew that I loved you. It was so simple, so obvious. I don't know how it could have taken me so long... I love you, Gregory."
"But you're sorry about it," he clarified.
"No!" she shook her head, wondering how it was that Allie always managed to mess everything up. "I'm sorry that... your first time... it should be special. It shouldn't be with some dumb, knocked up chick."
"You're special," was all Gregory said in return.
"How the hell do you do it? How can you be so sweet?"
He shrugged. "Maybe it's because I'm trying to score with a hot, knocked up chick."
And now Allie laughed, which, at any other time, she would have believed grossly inappropriate for the moment. Except that, right now, it felt exactly and utterly right.
She was still smiling as she kissed him, moving from his lips to his throat, across his chest and down his stomach until she could finally take him in her mouth. Gregory inhaled sharply, the gasps turning to moans and then a muffled cry through clenched teeth.
A few moments later, having managed to catch his breath, he told Allie, "That was the most amazing thing I've ever felt in my life."
She raised her head and inched up his body, slowly impaling herself on top of him, predicting, "Don't bet on it...."
"I'll kill him," Lucas said after Felicia told him about Carl's visit. And that was just about Carl's claims on Lori Ann. She hadn't gotten to the part yet where he'd compared himself and Lorna to them and Jenna.
"It won't take," she predicted.
"Than I'll have the pleasure of doing it over and over again, like with Rasputin."
"That would be a funny analogy. If it weren't so apt."
"Cass and Frankie would never let Carl anywhere near Lori Ann, would they?"
"Oh, I don't think so. Remember, Frankie hasn't had the past fifteen years of watching his reformed act. Her frame of reference is Carl's involvement with harassing Kathleen, culminating in his almost killing Frankie during Dean and Jenna's Ladykiller shoot."
"That's more or less where I left things, too. Tell me something, how the hell did this happen? How did Carl go from inveterate villain to harmless eccentric in the span of a few years?"
"Rachel," Felicia said simply. "Well, first it was Ryan. Finding out about Ryan purportedly made Carl want to be a better man. He decided he was going to be a father to his son whether Ryan wanted it or not. Carl actually had Vicky kidnapped during her honeymoon with Grant so that Ryan could unwittingly ride to the rescue."
"God help me, Fanny, but the only silver lining to Jenna's death is that our daughter never had to suffer through that lunatic's idea of paternal devotion."
Felicia hesitated. "No, Luke, don't say that, please. I've been turning it over and over again in my mind, and it doesn't matter, I would accept any terms, pay any price, even cozying up to Carl if need be, for the chance to have Jenna back again."
"You're right," Lucas conceded. "Of course, you're right. That was a stupid thing to say. Hell, we know now that if it hadn't been for Carl and the kind of man he was, we'd never have had Jenna in our lives in the first place. I was being selfish. I guess I wanted to be Jenna's only father."
"You were," Felicia swore. "She adored you. You know, if Lori Ann had been a boy, they were planning on calling their son Lucas. You meant the world to her."
"And I lost the last few precious years of her life because of Donna. Damn it," Lucas exploded. "Her and Carl, they destroy people, and they never end up paying for it. I am not going to let that happen with Lori Ann. I am never, ever letting that man hurt anyone in my family again."
Jamie gently pushed Marley away, injecting a cold distance into her warm embrace.
"Marley..." She heard his rejection of everything she'd presented just from the way he choked out her name. "What you're asking... I don't think it's a good idea."
She shook her head, not willing to give up just yet. "I know what you're thinking. Why rock the boat? We've been raising the kids together as friends for years. What happens to them if our marriage doesn't work out? Well, I'll tell you," she rushed to answer. "We go back to the way things were before."
Jamie looked at her doubtfully. "You really think it'd be that easy to go back to being just friends?"
"I think we'd do it. For the kids. But then I also think it won't come to that, because we can make our relationship work. We're older and wiser, now. The first time around I was caught up with making the fantasy in my head a reality and not appreciating what I really had with you. Now, I'm living in reality and... I still see us having something wonderful. Not just for the kids, but for us, too. Doesn't it say something that, in all these years, neither of us found anybody else? That it's just been the two of us doing this together, through thick and thin? Raising kids is supposed to be the hard part. The rest should be easy. Right?"
Another loaded pause as they stared at each other, her waiting for him to say something anything so she might know what was on his mind. There was a time when she could read him so well, but not tonight. There were too many things, too many conflicts swirling behind his eyes for Marley to figure out what exactly was wrong.
Finally, he said, "I wish it could be that easy, Marley. But it isn't. You and I.... us... like we were before? It'll never happen."
Never? She frowned in shock at his choice of words. "Never is a long time, Jamie. How can you...why..." The next words flew out of her mouth unbidden. She'd sworn to herself she wouldn't give Grant the satisfaction. "Is there someone else? Is it... Lorna?"
Shock, but not, to Marley's dismay, the confusion of complete innocence, flashed across Jamie's face. "Lorna? Why would you... What does she have to do with any of this?"
"I don't know." Marley's suspicion and anger surged following Jamie's lack of immediate denial. "You tell me. The two of you have been spending an awful lot of time together. She's staying at the guesthouse. She was at your family hockey outing during the holidays "
"Both at Matt's invitation," Jamie calmly defended. "Not mine."
"What about the fact that she tried to kill my mother and you didn't tell me? Matt had to fill me in on what happened. He said that you were here and saw what Lorna did!"
"I was," Jamie refused to give her any more than that.
"So, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you take her directly to jail? We're not just talking arson. She helped push my mother into trying to kill herself!"
"You and I both know that's not true. Just like you aren't responsible for Donna's actions, neither is Lorna. I didn't tell you about what happened because I felt the last thing you needed was another crisis to stress over, when you should be focused on yourself and the girls. And I didn't take Lorna to jail because one, she was hurt also, and two, while what she did was dumb, her spending a night behind bars wouldn't have done either Lorna or anybody else any good."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing. You're defending her. After what she did, you're defending her!"
"Because you're attacking her for no reason. I don't even know what made you bring Lorna into this conversation. She has nothing to do with why things can't work out between us."
"Well, if it isn't her, then what is it? Why," Marley grabbed Jamie's arm as he moved to leave and yanked him around to face her, all caution and reason gone. "Why are you so sure that we can't work? That we can never work? What are you so afraid to tell me?" She searched his eyes. "What are you hiding from me?"
"Marley," he pleaded, his anger replaced with a pitying, regretful look that made her stomach lurch. "Just let this go. I don't "
"Tell me the truth."
"I'm not in love with you. Not anymore, not for a long time..." he left the rest unsaid. "I'm sorry. You wanted me to be honest."
"I did," she nodded numbly, backing away from him as the words sank in. "My mistake. All of this... all just my damn, stupid mistake...."
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