Grant glanced at the name that flashed through his cell phone's caller ID and blinked in surprise. "Burrell must be making good time."
He readied his eardrums for yet more threats from yet another outraged woman the night was definitely picking up a theme, and offered, "Good evening, Marley. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Her laugh was brittle. "You got me. I admit it. You really got me. Planting the idea of Jamie and Lorna in my head? Brilliant! You knew that, sooner or later, I'd say something to him about it. That I wouldn't be able to help myself."
"Ah," Grant smirked, basking upon a warm wave of satisfaction. "Confronted him, did you? And how did that go? Did he tearfully deny it all, or drop to his knees and beg your forgiveness? With Jamie, I can really see it going either way."
"He made it clear that Lorna isn't an issue in our marriage. I believe him."
"Bad call. Of course he's going to plead innocent. Jamie knows that without you legally latched to him, his claim on Kirkland is as flimsy as his spine. He's bound to tell you whatever you need to hear in order to keep you on his side."
"Not quite," Marley answered, curiously bitter. "Pushed hard enough, Jamie can be rather bluntly honest about his feelings. Whether either of you likes it or not. "
"What happened, Marley?" Grant softened his tone. "What did Jamie say to you?"
"Are you seriously offering me a sympathetic shoulder to cry on? What? Are you reading from the How To Win Friends and Ruin Marriages Handbook?"
"Is it working? Because I would like to be your friend, Marley."
This time, her laugh proved so brittle it actually cracked in the middle. "Lot of that going around."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Understand this: Jamie and I will remain married, and our relationship will remain as strong as it ever was. While you... you amoral, opportunistic... you'll get what's coming to you."
The line went dead.
Leaving Grant to wonder what the hell really happened during Marley and Jamie's discussion about Lorna. And hoping that, when Chief Burrell finally came knocking on the Love mansion door, Marley would still be nursing her uneven, and to Grant's mind, volatile temper.
"You know what the best part of having sex with someone pregnant is?" Allie asked while lying next to Gregory, afterwards. "You can't get them pregnant."
Eyes half-open, he murmured, "I wouldn't say that's the best part..."
"Your vote goes for the bigger breasts, then?"
"Oh, so now you suddenly have a broad frame of reference?" she teased.
"Broader than I had when I woke up this morning," he grinned.
Allie raised herself up on one arm, so that her face was only inches above his. "I love you," she said quietly. "I'm sorry I didn't say it before. I should have. I should have been saying it all along. You've done so much for me. You've taken such good care of me. And you know what else? You're the only person who still treats me the same now as you did six months ago. Everybody else, it's like Pregnant Allie is a completely different creature from just Plain Old Allie. My teachers, my friends, certainly my family act like I'm some kind of awkward monstrosity to be tiptoed around. I don't think my mother can bear to look at me without wincing. Not you, though."
Very slowly, hesitating after each word as if unsure whether he wanted to continue, Gregory said, "When I was twelve, I had this growth in my brain. Not exactly a tumor. More like lots of little tumors. My mom and dad took me to Children's Hospital in Boston. They did it because it was the best one for the kind of treatment I needed. But I was glad to go, because there was nobody I knew there. So nobody could look at me differently."
"My God," Allie said. "How come I didn't know that? I mean, we weren't close friends when we were kids, but I certainly would see you around sometimes..."
"I wouldn't let my mom or dad tell anybody. They just said we were leaving town for a while. Most people probably assumed it had something to do with her being sick again. But it was me. I didn't want... what you said."
"That must have been horrible. How long were you in the hospital?"
"About a year. I had a lot of experimental procedures done. Also radiation, chemo, the usual. It was all kind of interesting actually. This one thing they did, it gave me aphasia. I couldn't talk for months. I understood what was said to me fine. But I couldn't make the right words come out in return."
"Were you scared?"
"Yeah. Taught me to listen, though."
"So when you told Rick and Mindy that a kid can seem okay, but then stuff still might happen down the road..."
"I wasn't thinking about that. I just knew you were too nervous to ask them yourself."
"I think the Bauers will be good parents," Allie said. "No matter what. We just have to make sure to keep GQ out of the way...."
"This can't be good." Jamie's voice wafted out of the dark, prompting Lorna to look up after shoving a suitcase into the trunk of her car. "You fleeing under cover of night."
"Wouldn't be the first time." She shrugged, keeping it light while cursing her dumb luck. Now she couldn't even make a clean escape and avoid a sure-to-be awkward good-bye with Jamie. "At least I'm not hiding under a sheet while being wheeled out of the hospital on a gurney." In response to his confusion, Lorna waved a hand. "Long story."
"I'd like to hear it sometime."
He came around the car, offering Lorna her first good glimpse of his face, and prompting her to ask in that subtle, oblique way she had, "What the hell happened to you? You look like crap."
"I feel like crap," he agreed. "Marley and I had a talk tonight. The one I'd been doing a great job avoiding for months. I think I just lost my best friend and ruined my marriage."
"She finally cornered you about that kiss, huh?" Lorna teased, trying to make a joke of it for her sake as well as his. Unfortunately, neither of them laughed, and Jamie continued to look as if he'd been punched in the stomach, then the back of the head for good measure "What happened?"
"She asked for more. I told her it wouldn't happen. She wanted to know why and I confessed that I didn't love her anymore. Not like that. She wanted me to be honest. What was I supposed to do? Lie, close my eyes and think of England just to make her happy in the short term, then have her get pissed off at me down the road for leading her on?"
"No," Lorna mused. "You did the right thing. Even if it was "
"Brutal," Jamie muttered. "I didn't want to hurt her, I never want to hurt her, but she "
"Asked for the truth. And you told it to her. She can't be mad at you for that." His eyes boring into her, Lorna defended, "Don't look at me like... I fully grasp the irony of what I just said. But I'm still right. Like me, Marley's a big girl. She understood what this marriage was from the get-go; and by the way, that's quite an effect you and your damned honesty have on women, Frame. If Marley didn't like what you told her when she tried to change the rules, tough. She'll just have to deal. Like the rest of us."
"Yeah, well, what if while she's dealing, Marley decides to quit backing me in Kirkland's custody case?"
"Do you really think she would screw you and Kirk over just because you popped Marley on the nose with a newspaper to keep her from humping your leg?"
The image was crude, tasteless and, under the circumstances, not particularly kind. But it also made Jamie laugh for the first time in what felt like months. "No. But "
"But nothing. Here's what you're going to do. You're going to give Marley the night to cool off, throw things, eat some ice-cream and call you every dirty name in the book. Then, tomorrow, you're going to sit her down and make sure you both get back on the same page regarding the real reason you got married in the first place. And that's Kirkland. Nothing more, nothing less. If Marley still gives you lip about it, pop her with the newspaper again. Although, if she's as good of a friend as you say she is, she'll forgive you for telling her the truth. Especially since she's the one who demanded it in the first place."
"And if she doesn't forgive me?"
"Screw her. Metaphorically, that is. It's not your fault you feel the way you feel." Lorna hesitated, "Unless, of course, you wish...."
"Then man up, Jamie! Stop treating Marley like she's some porcelain princess!"
He blinked. "Was that your idea of a pep talk?"
"Kind of," Lorna winced, realizing that what she'd honestly intended as unbiased, friendly advice might have inadvertently slipped just a teensy bit into the rant of a jealous rival. Not that the insight stopped her from continuing in the same vein. She was just more aware of it now. "Think of them as my parting words of wisdom. I had to cram it all in, since I won't be around for a while to kick you in the ass, and also because," she reached for his wrist, holding it up for examination. "You seem to have lost your bracelet. No wonder you're all messed up."
Jamie looked down to confirm what she'd said. The bracelet was gone. But instead of continuing the conversation or sliding his arm from her grip, he slowly rotated it, so that instead of clutching his wrist, Lorna's palm slipped effortlessly into his.
He stroked it thoughtfully with his fingers, asking, "Where are you going?"
"Got some business out of town," she struggled to sound casual even as every muscle in her body shivered in response to the slow, lazy circles Jamie was tracing onto her hand. "I'm freelancing now, you know. Got to go where the work is. This week, it's Chicago."
"Hmm..." was all Jamie said in reply.
"I need some space," Lorna finally, reluctantly, and a lot slower than necessary, pulled her arm away. "And so do you. You need to focus on Kirkland without me getting in the way."
"How are you in my way?" He looked up to meet her eyes, challenging with a half-smile, "Man up, Lorna. Tell me what's really going on."
"What's going on," she explained calmly, happy to finally be getting it all off her chest. "Is that I like you. But you have a lot of stuff on your plate right now. I need you to get all of it settled before we have a brutally honest talk of our own. Or maybe a date. I'd really like to go out on a simple date with you. You know, like normal people?"
"You think that we could ever be normal?"
"Why does that shock you?"
"Because I have no clue how a woman like you would be interested in a man like me. It's equivalent to... to... Catwoman dropping Batman for Superman. And I know how that sounds. Which makes me wonder even more why you'd give me the time of day."
"I have my reasons," Lorna insisted, only now realizing that, when she'd extricated her palm from his, Jamie had slipped first one arm, then the other around her waist, gradually pulling Lorna closer and closer, the switch to intimate embrace going unnoticed at first due to its feeling so utterly and completely natural. "All of which I will bullet-point for you once we go on our first date. But, until then, just so you can put your mind at ease, I promise that, unlike some other people, I am not into you because of your money, your family name, your social status, or your suitability as a Stepford husband and father."
His smile in response to her words proved both appreciative and sad, "Good to know." Jamie studied her for a moment, then added. "But it's not just Marley and Kirkland. There's a great deal more about me that you still don't know."
"You'll tell me when you're ready," she predicted simply, despite the visceral understanding that it would be anything but simple for him. "And I'll tell you stuff about me, and then we'll take it from "
Jamie cut her off, leaning in and catching her upper lip between both of his; nudging, tasting, exploring, until she opened herself up to him and Jamie slipped his tongue into her mouth, swallowing the tiny cry of pleasure that escaped Lorna's throat. Jamie cupped her face in his hands, all the while fully aware that, if not for his own unwillingness to break off their kiss, he might well have sunk, grateful, to his knees in front of her.
The next morning, Amanda was getting dressed for work, when she happened to look out her bedroom window just in time to see Kevin's car pull up in front of their house. And Lila, wearing the same clothes as the night before, climb out of it.
Even if Amanda were a more-than-two-cups-of-coffee-for-breakfast kind of girl, that surely would've been enough to kill any possible appetite.
Seeing Lila kiss Kevin good-by, however, effectively squashed Amanda's urge for so much as that.
She realized that the sensible thing to do would be to get away from the damn window. That didn't seem achievable right now.
Amanda watched Lila walk up the drive, turning around at the front door to offer a final, coquettish wave, before heading inside. And then Amanda watched Kevin continue to sit there, engine idling, making no move to back out and drive on.
It was very peculiar. Was he waiting for Lila to return? What would be the point of that? Why drive her all the way home just to take her away again? (If it were a change of clothes issue, it would be more efficient to simply buy her new things.) And why the little wave on her part, if this was only for a few minutes?
Kevin was clearly waiting for something someone? though. Could it be... was it possible... might he be waiting for... her?
Amanda told herself that was silly. She and Kevin were done. They were over. And yet, last night, he'd come early, before Lila was ready. Was it so he could wait in the house on the off chance of running into Amanda? Was he doing the same thing now? He knew what time Amanda left for work. Was he hoping to bump into her, accidentally on purpose? Hoping to continue their talk from before. Hoping...
The front door opened. Backpack slung over one shoulder, Kirkland took the porch steps two at a time, sprinting across the drive and sliding into the passenger seat of Kevin's car.
Without another moment of hesitation, Kevin gunned the engine and peeled off. Leaving Amanda still at her window, looking after them.
Taking in the DA's perplexed expression, Detective Chiang was relieved to find he wasn't the only one baffled by what Toni had just told them.
"You went to see Marley Frame, and she just handed you the rope to string her husband up by?"
"More or less."
"You think she's suffering from some kind of shock or depression over her mother's condition?" Chiang tried. "Because that would completely invalidate "
"Marley's done a bit of time at Clareview herself, but I didn't get that vibe from her today. She knew exactly what she was doing. If she was anything, she was angry. But it wasn't at me."
"If my husband set up my mother to take a fall for a crime he committed," Chiang offered. "I'd be pretty pissed."
"Not pissed enough to tell me what it was Cecile was blackmailing Jamie Frame with, unfortunately. All Marley did was confirm that she'd paid our vic off on his behalf. Claims she didn't want to know the details."
"She has to know," Hamilton snorted. "You don't write a check for that many zeros without getting a little curious. And it's her husband, for Pete's sake. Think another chat might help jog her memory, Toni?"
"Who knows? I can't get a read on this woman. Part of me wonders if she's playing us somehow. And it's not just female intuition," Toni cut off Chiang's obviously forthcoming remark. She picked up the well-worn file chronicling their inventory of contents bagged during the search of the Love estate. "Marley Frame hired a private detective, Gary Sinclair, a few months back. To dig up dirt on Grant Harrison for the custody hearing over her nephew. There were several reports at the house."
"Digging up dirt on Grant Harrison?" Hamilton speculated. "That must have required several minutes of hard-core detective work on his part."
"Except that one report he turned in wasn't about Grant Harrison. It was about Jamie Frame. Nobody bothered to look at it before, because it didn't seem to have anything to do with our case. But it's still downstairs in the evidence locker."
"The results of a completely legal, judicially signed off on search and seizure?" Hamilton double-checked.
"Uh-ha," Toni grinned.
"Ms. Wheeler?" Jen beckoned Sarah forward again at the conclusion of yet another class during which Steven had seen fit to challenge Jen's interpretation of haptic stimuli, Dynamical systems, and even the Platonic theories of knowledge.
"I know the drill." Steven winked at his girlfriend. "I'll wait in the hall."
"Oh, come on," Sarah turned to Jen once he was out of hearing range. "I really worked hard on that last paper. Seriously, it's the best I can do, no joke."
"I realize that. It was an excellent paper. That's why I'm giving you an A-minus."
"I believe there's always room for improvement."
"So what's this supposed to be? A pat on the cranium?"
"In a manner of speaking." Jen offered, "I understand that it was your idea for GQ Todd to introduce himself to me."
"That depends," Sarah hedged. "Did you like him?"
Jen laughed. "I did."
"Good. So... now can we talk about that minus, again?"
"No. Because that's not why you did it," Jen challenged. "GQ and I have gone out several times, and we intend to do it again in the near future. But even if we weren't, Sarah, believe me, no matter how avidly we may go back and forth in class, I have no designs whatsoever on your boyfriend."
"What?" Sarah asked, hoping that surprise at Jen's figuring it all out might come off as surprise at the ridiculousness of her presumption instead.
"Nothing," Jen figured two could play ignorant as well as one. Her point had been made and received, no need to dwell on it. "Great job on your paper. I look forward to many more just like it."
Hours after her interview with Toni Burrell was over, Marley found she still couldn't stop shaking.
What did you do, Marley? What did you do?
Despite a laudable effort to quit torturing herself, Marley's eyes repeatedly kept flitting towards an item on the counter next to the kitchen sink. An item that she knew for a fact had been left behind by Jamie, for neither she, nor her mother, nor the girls owned such a yellow bracelet, certainly not one featuring the letter 'L', which Marley knew sure as night followed day stood for one name and one name only.
She'd found it last night. Right after she'd convinced herself that she'd overreacted, that she'd gotten exactly what she asked for when she pushed Jamie for the truth, that just because Marley didn't like what she heard coming out of his mouth didn't mean he was the enemy, or that he was wrong, or that she couldn't still trust him and salvage what was left of their friendship.
And then she'd found the damned bracelet.
And then she was in her car, driving to the Cory mansion, somehow already knowing what she would find, but still clutching onto a last shred of hope that her best friend hadn't just blatently lied to her face.
Instead, she found Jamie right where she'd expected him to be. In Lorna Devon's arms, the two of them standing out in the open for the entire world to see. For her to see.
Why didn't you confront him then? Why did you run away? Don't you see what you've done by lashing out at him this way? Do you not see what you've started?
"I didn't start this," Marley shook her head defiantly. "Jamie did. He lied. He lied to me."
And for that he deserves....
Marley blinked, her righteous anger faltering as she finally allowed herself to think about the very real and very sobering consequences of her interview with Toni Burrell.
"Oh my God," Marley sobbed to the empty kitchen. "What did I just do?"
"Aw, look how big she's gotten!" Matt grinned at Lori Ann, sitting snugly on Frankie's hip, gumming a daisy-shaped teething ring that matched the trim on her dress, tights and jaunty hat. "Can I presume the outfit was Felicia's contribution?"
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
He held out his arms. "May I?"
Frankie hesitated, prompting Matt to note, "Jasmine's eleven. And she's still alive."
Not wanting a repeat of the incident with Lorna, Frankie handed the baby over, though the urge to hover remained strong. "Maybe you should have a seat," she suggested anxiously.
Matt grinned, but obeyed good-naturedly. Settling on the couch, bouncing Lori Ann on his knee though gently, in consideration of Frankie's eagle-eyed gaze he asked, "Is Cass home?"
"He'll be down in a minute. He's been working ridiculous hours lately. Felicia... As you can imagine, Felicia is inconsolable."
"I know," Matt said. "I saw her at the courthouse. If she's lashing out at Marley of all people, she can't be thinking straight."
"I understand how she feels. I don't think I would have, before Lori Ann, but I do now. I realize now that it's possible to love your biological and your adopted child equally, but not the same. I don't feel I have to prove how much I love Charlie. I mean, obviously, I do. She's a teenager, if anybody needs that kind of constant reassurance, it's her. But I don't have to prove it to myself. And I certainly don't have to prove it to other people. With Lori Ann, no matter how much I love her, I still sometimes catch myself second-guessing, wondering if my actions are enough. And when it comes to other people, like, first and foremost, Felicia, I feel like I have to really make a big show of it, so that she believes I'm a good mother, too."
"You think Felicia is putting on a show about Jenna?" Matt asked, totally confused.
"No! Oh, no, no, no, no, nothing of the sort. No. Felicia adored Jenna. I was there when she and Lucas adopted her. They loved her like she was their own, no doubt about that."
"Then I don't understand."
"I guess what I'm saying is... Felicia stopped by the other day to talk to Cass about Donna's case. Lorna was here visiting Lori Ann and Felicia... she pretty much ignored her. I'm not saying she did it deliberately; she has a lot on her mind. But I could see how hurt Lorna was. She didn't understand. I did, though. Lorna is Felicia's biological child. So she doesn't feel obligated to prove she loves her in the same way."
"Then she doesn't know Lorna very well," Matt observed. "If there is one person who needs constant reassurance "
"Matt! What brings you by?" Cass interrupted their conversation, and Frankie took advantage of the distraction to sweep Lori Ann off Matt's lap and back into her arms.
"Bye, Beautiful," Matt waved to the baby.
"What can I do for you?" Cass finished tightening his tie, taking a seat across from the couch and reaching for his briefcase.
Matt hesitated, then, rather than lose his nerve, blurted out, "It's about Donna."
"Donna," Cass repeated, noncommittal.
"You know she's been committed for psychiatric observation?"
"I do know that, yes."
"Well, I got to thinking, and it seems to me that there's very little motivation for her to get better, if the only thing she has to look forward to is being brought up on murder charges."
"That's how the system works. Donna was deemed unfit to stand trial. But unless her doctors determine that she was actually mentally incompetent at the time Cecile's murder was committed, she can still be made to answer for it in court down the line."
"Donna swears she didn't do it."
"She wouldn't be the first defendant to deny her guilt," Cass pointed out, albeit gently. "It wouldn't even be the first time this year that Donna's denied "
"But that's just it," Matt leapt on Cass' point before he completed it. "Once she was confronted with the evidence, Donna didn't deny what she'd done to Jenna."
"Really? I didn't see any kidnapping or manslaughter charges on her indictment."
"She didn't deny it to me, Cass."
"Oh, well, then, that makes all the difference."
"It does," he refused to back down, even in the face of sarcasm. "She swears she didn't kill Cecile. And I believe her."
"Okay. So what? What does this have to do with me?"
"You and Donna, you were friendly. You even dated for a little while."
"Bowling. We went bowling. She wore heels. And possibly pearls. That should give you an ample idea of how realistic any sort of relationship between us would have been."
Frankie, who'd stepped into the kitchen with Lori Ann, poked her head back through the doors to ask, "Donna? You went out with Donna?"
"Still obviously reeling from losing you, my darling."
"Donna?" she repeated. "I thought you once claimed you never found her even remotely attractive."
"You say that as if it should have any bearing on my dating options."
"My bad." She went back into the kitchen.
Assuming their delightful banter was over for now, Matt returned to the subject at hand. "The point is, you cared about her once. I can't imagine that you're totally indifferent to her situation now."
"She was responsible for the death of a young woman I was very fond of. And Dean, he's not just Frankie's cousin, he was practically a son to me at one point. Let's not even talk about what this has done to Felicia."
"Donna didn't mean for any of that to happen."
"Nevertheless, it did." Cass told him, voice steely. "Listen, Matt, I don't mean to be rude, but could we cut to the chase, please? Why did you come here? Why this trip down Donna and I memory lane?"
"Because. I need your help. Donna needs your help. That lawyer she hired, he's just a corporate hack. He's out of his league at a murder trial. And he doesn't really give a damn. You know what you're doing. You understand what's at stake. I really think you're the only one who can help Donna get better."
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