Marley wondered if she were dead.
Because all the alleged symptoms were there. She was floating outside of herself, coolly, neutrally, devoid of any sensation really, save for abstract curiosity about how far exactly this was going to go, watching some other Marley in bed, making love no, having sex with Grant Harrison. Clinically noting the way his expression changed from bemused confusion to a slow, astounded, then thoroughly delighted grin as he realized that she wasn't kidding or teasing, this was really going to happen, and he could either get with the program or...
He got with the program.
Apparently, so did she.
Marley watched, rather than felt, herself responding to his touch, his hands cupping both her breasts, mouth moving from one nipple to the next as if unable to make up his mind and terrified that he might lose both as a result. She heard herself urging him on and Grant laughing, "You need to give me a chance to catch my breath..."
He was still catching it, along with enjoying a blissfully drowsy melange of pride and satisfaction, when Marley unexpectedly pulled out of his arms, Grant's body immediately registering and protesting the loss of her soft, flushed skin vibrating against his.
Lifting his head with a groan, Grant watched as Marley collected her clothes from the floor and hurriedly began getting dressed. "There's no need to rush," he murmured. "I'm sure Lila can watch the girls a little longer. All night perhaps?"
"I'd rather get my walk of shame overwith while the clothes are still evening-appropriate, thank you."
With surprising speed and prowess Grant lunged for her, pulling Marley back into his arms, she shivering as his fingers trailed up her thigh and under her skirt. "You have nothing to be ashamed of," he breathed into her neck, his lips savoring the salt on her skin. "Absolutely nothing at all."
Marley made no move to stop his teasing fingers. "Easy for you to say. You have no shame."
"Oh, dear. Are you really going to play the Big Bad Seducer card in an effort to deny what just happened? You know, Vicky tried to ascribe our first night together to a weak moment as well, when we both knew it was anything but."
"Don't worry, Grant. While you are one for using a situation to your advantage, you bear no responsibility for what happened here. If I wanted to stop, I would have. I didn't."
"Because you, like Vicky, came to realize that what's happening between us is something that cannot be denied."
Marley pulled away to look at Grant. "What's happening between us? What the hell do you mean by that?"
Ah, still playing hard to get. "You know exactly what I mean, Marley. Those weren't just empty promises I was making when I spoke about us all being a family. You, me, the girls, Kirkland. I realize that we shouldn't rush things too much for their sakes, conduct a proper courtship for Bridget and Michele, allow Kirkland to get used to the idea..."
"Mmm-hmmm," Marley nodded. "And the fact that I'm still married to Jamie?"
"A mistake that will be rectified shortly. We should have no problem getting you an annulment on the grounds of him being an imbecile. I'll have Kevin look into it."
"And then?" she asked, again simply curious, feeling nothing.
"And then we wait a few weeks, have a small private ceremony, just us and the kids, maybe somewhere warm and tropical, I bet they'd like that; swimming at the beach... and we'll begin a new life together, the five of us."
"Marley Hudson Harrison," she mused aloud, getting a smile from Grant. "There's just one thing that might possibly keep it from happening."
"What?" Grant looked down at her. "Tell me and the obstacle's gone."
"I loathe you. I abhor you. As much as you pleased me just a few minutes ago, is as much as you're making my skin crawl remembering it now. I'll marry you when Hell freezes over." She nipped him briefly on the nose before pushing away to collect her shoes.
Alright, so she's really playing hard to get.
Surprisingly, he took no offense. "You don't hate me, Marley. You've been conditioned to hate me. By Vicky. And Donna. And Jamie. You need to let all of that go. Forget what you think you should do and let what you feel, really feel about me, guide you."
Marley laughed. He had no idea...
"You're overestimating your performance in bed."
"Not by much," he noted.
"Not by much," she conceded. "But still not enough for me to forget who you are, what you've done, and why you came back to Bay City in the first place. One orgasm "
"Only one?" Grant raised an eyebrow. "And here I lost count after "
"Won't change my mind about keeping you as far away from Kirkland as possible. I will not have you corrupting and twisting him the way you do everyone else. Including me."
Well, Rome wasn't built in a day. Marley obviously needed more time to adjust to the changes in her world and admit to herself what was happening here.
Grant reminded, "I told you I'd wait. And I will. Do what you need to take care of yourself, the girls, Kirkland. When you're ready, I'll be here."
"How nice of you. Being so patient and kind to me during such a difficult time. Let's see how long the feelings persist as I keep fighting you for custody of Kirkland. There aren't enough orgasms in the world for you to take him away from me."
Grant smiled. From me. Not 'from me and Jamie'. Progress.
"I'll tell you what, I'll withdraw my petition for the emergency hearing "
"Wow, you're just full of surprises tonight. May I ask why?"
"Because I sincerely want us to work, Marley. And because I believe that given the right amount of time, you will come to see the light regarding my proposal. We can be good together. For more than just a few hours at a stretch," he smiled, indicating the unmade sheets of his bed. "I also want to make this easier on Kirkland. The stress of another hearing while Jamie is on trial; even I don't want to put the boy through that. He'll be hurting enough and I don't... I want to be a comfort to him, not something else to tear him down."
"That I believe," Marley replied after a moment. "Alright, fine. What form of payment do you want from me to express my gratitude?" She glanced behind him at the bed once more.
"Please. I would never be so crass as extort favors from you. Especially not when you've so clearly indicated a willingness to bestow them voluntarily."
"Don't get cocky. I had a temporary lapse. It won't happen again."
"I do have a condition, one condition, for withdrawing my emergency custody request."
"And what," she sized him up coolly. "Might that be?"
Bright and early the next morning, after introducing himself and shaking hands with GQ's lawyer, Dr. Boudreau, Kevin took a moment during which their bailiff was calling court to order and Allie and Gregory were getting settled at the table beside to him, to text: A Black, woman attorney? Also your idea, Jenny?
I learned from the best, came his daughter's prompt reply.
Equally as promptly, Mel Boudreau wasted no time getting GQ on the stand to testify that this wasn't just a simple issue of paternity. It was a matter of culture, of philosophy, of fundamental existence and basic survival. Kevin silently gave her major props for not going the obvious, "this issue isn't black and white, Your Honor" route.
"An African-American child deserves to grow up in an African-American family," GQ stressed. "To know who he is, he needs to know where he comes from. And he needs to know what's expected of him. Only a Black man can raise a Black man right. The most well-meaning white parent in the world is just not going to know enough to teach my son the skills he needs to survive."
"Can you give us an example?" Mel prompted.
"Yeah, I can. My Daddy taught me never to raise my voice in public. Ever. It doesn't matter if you're cheering at a football game or if the house is on fire, a Black man raising his voice in public is a perceived threat. It can get you arrested. It can get you killed. My son needs to know things like that. And I'm the only one who can teach him."
"That's sociologically fascinating," Kevin said. "And if we were here debating reparations, it might even be relevant. This isn't a custody trial. Unless Mr. Todd believes that his alleged offspring is in danger while actually gestating within its Caucasian mother though, if that is the case, I'd love to hear what he suggests we do about it the child's future cultural upbringing is beside the point. We're here to talk about his request for a paternity test. Ms. Fowler is entering her third trimester. It is too late for a Chorionic Villi Sampling procedure, which means we're left with amniocentesis. At this stage of pregnancy, the procedure poses a risk to the health of the fetus."
"A very minimal risk," Mel corrected, all but flashing her MD.
"Placental puncture," Kevin rattled off. "Infection, clubfoot, rhesus contamination leading to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth." He asked GQ, "Are you willing to kill Allie's baby just to satisfy your curiosity a few weeks early?"
"Good grief, Jamie," Matt sighed dramatically as he dropped to a place on the living room couch next to his brother. "I realize that between Amanda having an unwed, pregnant daughter, and my drama with Donna, we've kind of been attention hogs, but getting arrested for murder was a little with the overkill, don't you think?"
"Seriously," Amanda huffed in agreement, plopping down to sit on Jamie's other side. "You had your moment with Grant coming back from the dead and the whole custody thing. You couldn't handle being out of the spotlight for a few more months?"
"I just feel bad for Mom," Jamie laughed lightly, playing along. "Three adult kids and no real winner among them. Hopefully, she'll have better luck with Cory and Elizabeth."
Matt snorted. "Considering who their father is..."
"Matt," Amanda warned. "We've been over this. No picking on kids. When they're eighteen, they're fair game."
"Like they care. Cory and Elizabeth can dish out and take it fine. Besides, I'm just saying what everybody's thinking."
"Which is what?" Rachel spoke from the doorway, where she had been enjoying the sight of her three oldest children commiserating together. "Please, Matthew, enlighten me on what everyone is thinking."
"That considering who their father is, Elizabeth and Cory will probably become the first siblings to simultaneously hold the positions of President and Vice President of the United States," he deadpanned.
"You don't think Cory would want to be President?" Amanda queried.
"I don't think Elizabeth would let Cory be President," Jamie laughed.
"You see it, too, huh?"
"See what?" Rachel and Amanda asked in unison.
"Nothing," Matt and Jamie shook their heads.
"I think she'll throw him a bone," Amanda mused. "After her eight years in office, she and Cory will switch roles and he'll be President..."
"While Elizabeth continues her reign by pulling the strings as 'Vice President'. Can you imagine?" Matt clearly could. "Sixteen years of a Hutchins administration?"
"I'll be close to eighty by then," Jamie offered. "And still in prison. I doubt I'll know or care about what's going on in the world."
"No, you won't," Amanda countered. "Elizabeth would've pardoned you in her first administration. You'll be closer to seventy."
Matt punched Jamie in the arm. "Perfect. If this trial goes south, you totally have a back-up plan. And it's all because of Mom hatching a second set of kids." He turned to Rachel; Jamie and Amanda laughing at the look on her face. "Way to go, Mom!"
"Are you all done making fun of your brother and sister?"
"Don't be hard on them, Mom. This is just Matt and Amanda's way of trying to cheer me up; let me know that they're in my corner without the awkwardness. Unless you want Matt stomping around breaking furniture while Amanda weeps and wrings her hands."
"We could mix it up and I'll break the furniture," Amanda offered.
"How did your meeting with Cass go last night?" Rachel jumped in before they started another round of avoid and deflect. There was just so much damn-the-torpedoes joviality she could take before it completely fried her nerves.
Jamie ducked her gaze. "I have a new lawyer now. Mike Bauer. He's an old friend of Alice's."
To her credit, Rachel didn't outwardly flinch at Alice's name, but she did allow herself to frown. "I remember Mike. He's actually an old friend of her sister, Pat's.... But what happened with Cass?"
"I don't want to split his focus from Kirkland's custody trial. I met with Mike this morning," Jamie got on with the unpleasant task of updating them. "Hamilton's already offered a deal. Thirty years. If we go to trial and I'm found guilty, I'll get life in prison, so... Seventy, even eighty and on parole is starting to look pretty good."
"Steven!" Alice looked up, the name sliding, unbidden, from her lips even before her brain registered that yes, that was, in fact, Steven Frame standing at her office door. Just not the Steven Frame she'd initially registered.
"I know," he admitted sheepishly, entering. "Everyone says I look just like him."
"You look just like him," Alice confirmed. "I thought that was the case at Thanksgiving, but there were a lot of people around and I didn't really get a good... I'm sorry. I'm being foolish. Come in, please. How's your father? I thought about going down to the hearing, but I didn't want... Rachel has enough on her mind; I didn't want to aggravate her further. It wouldn't have done anybody any good."
"Dad's home now. He's out on bail." Steven tapped his knee nervously with one hand, looking anywhere but directly at Alice as he asked, "He said you were his doctor, one of his doctors, when he was... sick. In the hospital."
"I was more of a friend, looking out for him when he wasn't quite up to doing it himself."
"What happened?" Steven demanded. "I mean, he told us some of it, but... why would he... how could he... How do you just get up one morning and decide that you don't want to live anymore?"
"It's not that simple," Alice said. "Your father was in a lot of pain. A mental illness is an illness just like any other. Only more vicious. It turns not just your body, but also your mind against you. Everyone tells me what a smart boy you are. Try to understand. Instead of taking your life through a heart-attack or cancer, this disease convinces you that everything would be better, that the pain would finally stop, if you just put an end to it all. Jamie genuinely believed, at that moment, that there was no reason for him to keep on living."
"No reason? I wasn't a good enough reason?" Steven recognized how petulant he sounded, how whiny, how childish, how self-absorbed. And yet he had to know. "I wasn't a good enough reason for him to stay alive?"
"You were the only thing keeping him alive!" Alice's voice hardened.
"But not enough to make him think twice about trying to "
"Your father was not in his right mind. If he were, the idea of hurting himself and consequently you, would have never occurred to him, ever."
"Right," he carelessly muttered.
"Listen to me," Alice stood, rounding her desk to tower over Steven. "You have no idea what your father went through. You have no idea how easy it would have been, once he had his breakdown, to just stay there in the hospital without ever trying to climb out of that hole. Recovering from a suicide attempt physically is the easy part. Recovering from it mentally, going back to that dark place you barely escaped from, figuring out what sent you there, admitting to yourself what you'd done, who you hurt by doing it, and why you did it, not to mention how to keep from ending up there again... trust me, it's the most harrowing, brutal experience anyone can possibly go through. Some people just give up. They spend the rest of their lives numb and medicated. Or they keep trying to kill themselves until finally, anyone who really wants to, succeeds. Jamie could have taken either of those routes. He didn't. He went through the agony of putting himself back together for one reason and one reason only. You. You were all he talked about. You were all he thought about. Seeing you again, being a real father to you, the kind of father you deserved. One who was healthy, no matter what it cost him to get back there. You have questions about Jamie's illness? That's fine. That's normal. I am happy to answer anything and everything. But don't you dare fault him for committing an act that he simply wasn't in control of. Or ever question, even for a second, just how much he loves you."
"I'm sorry," Steven blurted out. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean.... I just I lost my mom. I still miss her. When I think that Dad could have also...that I could've lost him, too... "
"But you didn't. And you're not going to lose him, now," Alice reassured. "He fought for you once. He'll do it again. I promise you, everything is going to be alright."
Stopping by the house, looking for Jamie, Marley first encountered his brother, who remarked that, coincidentally enough, he'd just been heading out to find her. Guiltily, she told Matt, "Thank you for going to see Donna. I've been... busy."
"I can imagine," he sympathized. "This mess with Jamie has thrown us all for a loop. First the arrest, then... Though I guess you, at least, you knew about the suicide attempt. That's what you meant the other day, right? When you slipped and said something about Jamie understanding how Donna felt when she tried to..."
Marley nodded. "He trusted me to keep his secret. And I couldn't even do that."
"I'm glad he had you to confide in," Matt sighed. "I think about him keeping something like that to himself all these years... He could have ended up like... "
"She isn't any better, is she?"
"She thinks she is."
"Well, she never thought there was anything wrong to begin with."
"She wants out," Matt said. "She thinks now that the charges against her have been dropped for Cecile, and the DA is having trouble building a case for kidnapping, she should be able to waltz right out and resume her life as if nothing's happened."
"Of course, she does. That's classic Donna. She makes the mess; we deal with the cleaning crew. And pay the bill. And go around making the apologies."
"A good lawyer could make the case that she deserves to be released. Luckily, Cass, at least, isn't in contention for the job. I went to see him earlier, when I actually thought he might help to get the murder charges dropped. But he refused to have anything to do with her, out of consideration for Felicia."
"Can't blame him for that."
"He was, however, willing to draw up a document that would keep her in the hospital until she recovered fully according to a team of experts, not just her own personal diagnosis. Frankly, Cass doesn't want Donna out and about for Felicia's sake as much as I don't want it for her own. It's right here." Matt pulled the papers out of his bag to show Marley. "The thing is, though, legally speaking, I'm nothing to Donna. I have no say in what happens to her. You, on the other hand, you're her next of kin. If you insisted that she be held for treatment, a judge might actually listen."
"So, you're asking me to sign a document that would keep my mother locked up for an indefinite period of time?"
"Yes," Matt said. "Will you?"
"Porsche for your thoughts?" Grant gently prodded his son, who was staring at a plate of cold blueberry pancakes, chewing his lip with such ferocity, Grant wasn't sure he'd still have one left by the end of brunch. "Kirkland?"
He looked up at the sound of his name. "Huh?"
Although knowing the answer, Grant felt it better to ease, rather than bulldoze, into the conversation. "What's on your mind, son? Can I hazard a guess? Is it Jamie?" Kirkland eyed Grant guardedly for a moment before nodding. "Would you like to talk about it? I do have some experience with the shock and confusion one feels when a loved one, specifically one's," Grant cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Father, is on trial."
"Spencer's trial," Kirkland said after a moment's search of his memory. "Grandma mentioned it once. Wasn't it about him working with Carl? Weird...."
"I know this isn't exactly the same thing. Jamie is facing something a lot more serious. But I did once have to ponder the possibility of my father spending the rest of his life in prison. I was a lot older than you, but it was still pretty terrifying." Grant shifted in his chair. "I've also been on the other side of the table. Facing prison. Leaving you." He hesitated. "I don't know if you remember when I was the one who had to go to prison? You were about three or four..."
"I don't... I'm sorry, I don't remember that."
"It was... well, the word hard doesn't fully encompass just what the thought of never seeing you again... it just about killed me. I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on any father."
"Really? Not even Jamie?"
"Not even Jamie. He and I have our differences. But one way we're the same is we both love you. I have no doubt about that in regards to him. Though I can see it surprises you that I'd admit it."
"Kirkland, you know you can talk to me about anything. What affects you, affects me, and I will do whatever I can to help you with whatever it is you're going through."
"Do you mean that?"
Grant answered without hesitation. "I do."
Still, it was a moment before Kirkland lifted his head and looked him in the eye. "I need you to help prove that Dad's innocent. That he didn't kill that woman. You can hire the best private detectives, ones who'll find the truth. He's innocent! I know he is!"
"I never said anything to the contrary. I just... I don't want you to get your hopes up. The police conducted a thorough investigation."
"Is that what you call playing 'pin the dead body' on my whole family? First Grandmother, now Dad. I know it's a lot to ask, but will you do this? Will you help me prove that he's innocent?"
The words 'Of course' should have instantly and automatically flown off his tongue, because Grant honestly believed that he would do anything for his son. Whether it was a new car, a trip around the world, hell, a trip to outer space on a Russian shuttle, Grant would make it happen.
And yet when it came to promising his son help for the man Kirkland so easily and without hesitation called 'Dad', Grant couldn't lie. Which meant he couldn't say yes.
"The risk to Ms. Fowler's baby from amniocentesis is minimal," Mel repeated stubbornly. "While I believe we have proven that the risk to a child growing up unfamiliar with cultural behavioral expectations is the true potential fatality."
But even she could see that Kevin's words had done their job. GQ glanced past their attorneys at Allie, who was staring back at him, both looking sorry that they'd ever started this. Or possibly even met. Gregory took her hand and squeezed it. She nodded her head absently, but her eyes stayed locked on GQ.
"Well, Mr. Todd?" Kevin repeated. "The court is waiting for your answer."
"I I heard that it was no big deal. Like a blood test."
"Sometimes you can get away with a simple procedure," Kevin agreed. "But in this case, it turns out, coincidentally, that both you and the other potential father, Gregory Hudson, have the same blood type." He handed the judge a series of documents. "Exhibit A, your Honor. This means the test will need to be a bit more extensive, requiring several ounces of amniotic fluid to make a certain genetic match. Which makes it substantially more risky for the fetus."
"I want the baby to be okay," GQ said quietly. "But I need to know if it's mine." He turned to the judge and told her, "Forget about the test. I can wait." Looking back at Allie, he forecast, "Once he's born, it's not like everyone won't be able to tell who the father is anyway."
Neither Marley nor Jamie knew what to say next. Too much had happened. Too much had changed. In a matter of days, a gulf had widened between them until it effectively swallowed up the bond it had taken them twenty years give or take a canceled wedding, several break-ups, and a lot of shouting followed by stomping out to forge.
"I'm sorry," she began, uselessly. "What I said to Toni about "
"You told the truth. I'd never expect you to put yourself in the position of lying to the police for me."
Translation: I don't want to talk about it. What's done is done, and there's really no way for you to apologize that could make me feel any better right now.
"So," he pushed on. "You said you needed to discuss something urgent. Something about Kirkland?"
"Yes. Um... Grant served me with a summons for an emergency custody hearing."
"Guess my notice got lost in the mail." Jamie dug deep, searching for the resources to launch yet another battle, scraping the bottom of his emotional barrel, but still forcing himself to begin, "Alright, so we need to talk to Cass, figure out a game plan..."
"Actually, we don't. I... I talked to Grant and... I think we've worked something out."
"You and Grant worked something out? You talked to him before you talked to me?"
"I was trying to spare you the unpleasant task of adding yet another court date to your rapidly filling calendar," Marley snapped, then instantly backtracked. "I'm sorry. That was awful of me."
"No, you're right," he replied neutrally. "And it's probably for the best that I steer clear of Grant. I'm not in the mood for his taunts or goading. The last thing I need is to end up back in jail on assault charges. So. What devil's bargain did he offer you?"
Marley took a deep breath, steeling herself for Jamie's reaction. "Grant will withdraw his request for the custody review... if Kirkland moves in with me."
"No," Jamie answered immediately.
"If we give in to Grant on this "
"We don't have any other choice. The judge has already warmed to Grant by reinstating his parental rights. Between that and Kirkland wanting him in his life.... "
"And me being accused of murder," Jamie completed her thought when she trailed off. "Grant has momentum on his side. He could actually... he could actually win."
"That's why I went to convince him that with everything you're facing, putting Kirkland through another hearing on top of all that would be cruel. Kirkland would hate Grant for taking him away from you, especially now."
"And he agreed to back off? For Kirkland's sake?" Jamie laughed incredulously. "Bull."
"Whatever his real reason, he offered it, and I'm accepting his terms. Look, the important thing here is Kirkland. He won't be with Grant; he'll be with me, his legal guardian. And it'll only be temporary, just until your trial is over."
"Which could be months. Or longer. What makes you think Grant will stick to this deal?"
"Because he'll want to stay the hero in Kirkland's eyes. He does care what Kirk thinks of him. That should be enough to keep Grant at bay. For a while."
"But?" Jamie prompted, obviously seeing the dread and hesitation on her face.
"But. In the event Grant gets impatient, I need to be in the best legal position possible to fight for Kirkland..." She held out a document that Jamie quietly took and looked over, emotion flickering across his face as it finally hit him what was happening.
"Annulment papers. Right. I guess it would look pretty bad for you to stay married to a man accused of killing his ex-wife."
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "But this isn't about you or me. This is about Kirkland and what's best for him. I need you to do this, Jamie. I need you to do it so that I can protect Kirkland. Vicky was always willing to do anything for her kids. Now, it's time for us to do the same."
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