Mike Bauer assessed Jamie, currently sitting across from him in a hotel-room chair, with a practiced eye. He waited for an explanation.
When none proved forthcoming, Mike decided to lead his witness a bit by prompting, "Have you suddenly realized yourself to be guilty?"
"Looking to punish yourself for some reason?"
"I've got plenty of reasons," Jamie reminded. "But, no. I'm not taking the deal because of that."
"Are you being coerced into doing this by someone? Grant Harrison, maybe?"
"No. I just... I thought things over, and I realized that it's best I take the deal. You said yourself this trial would be tough to win."
"I didn't, however, say that I couldn't win it. And this morning, you were prepared to fight. What's happened to change your mind?"
"It isn't relevant."
"Don't give me that. You've told me everything up to this point, lying to me now is just plain stupid. What's happened that you're suddenly all too eager to fall on your sword?"
Jamie confessed, "Grant Harrison did come to see me earlier. And our conversation ended with me wanting to kill him."
"Based on my research, that's not an uncommon sensation when facing Mr. Harrison."
"Yeah, well, I came a little too close for comfort to actually doing it." Jamie made a fist, digging it into his opposite palm, grinding the knuckles back and forth till the pain radiated up his shoulders. "My doctors... Alice... they tried so hard to convince me that I didn't rape Cecile. That it was the drugs. For a while I thought... I wanted to believe that was the case. That it was an isolated incident. That I lost control due to 'mitigating' circumstances but... Tonight, I didn't simply want to kill Grant. I was ready to grab him by the throat and snap his neck. I wanted to hurt him. I was so close to losing it again... and I wasn't drugged. I was just...mad."
"You are under a considerable amount of stress. It would be dangerously abnormal for you not to react or lash out once in a while. The important thing to remember is that you did back down. You did stop yourself."
"This time. What about when we go to trial and Hamilton is having a ball pushing all of my buttons? I'll be under 'considerable stress' then, won't I? I don't want to live like this. I don't want to be constantly afraid that I'm just one provocative word away from turning into something that scares the living hell out of me. Especially around my family, my boys... No. The best thing for everyone, the best thing for me, is to be in a place where I can't hurt anyone. Where I'm not afraid of hurting anyone. So I'm taking Hamilton's deal."
"You are not some rabid animal to be locked in a cage, Jamie. We can get you help."
"What?" He nearly laughed. "You mean like anger management classes? You think I haven't tried that?"
"I think that they've worked. You haven't had a single violent episode since "
"Jake McKinnon would disagree."
Jamie remembered his loss of control, gagging on the irony of his two-decades old self-righteous fury. He told Mike calmly, "I'm not going to change my mind. I just want this all to be over. Either you call Hamilton tonight, or I will."
"They haven't an inkling, have they?" Carl asked, flabbergasted, moments after he and Rachel had left Cory and Elizabeth with the promise that they would talk more much, much more about Jamie and his situation; not to mention their children's unique perspective on it. "They haven't the slightest conception that real life is in any way different from the fairy-tales and lyrical fictions I've been feeding them since birth?"
"It's not all your fault," Rachel reassured, despite her tone suggesting that well, it was mostly all his fault. "After the mistakes I made with Jamie and Amanda and Matthew, forcing them to grow up too fast, to deal with the consequences of my bad decisions long before they were emotionally ready for it... I wanted to spare Elizabeth and Cory. I wanted to tuck them away into a soundproof cocoon where they could grow up safe and sheltered, instead of terrified that the roof was about to come crashing down on them at any moment."
"Well, you've certainly accomplished that. They are a pair of self-confident, most self-possessed, secure children."
"That's because they have no idea that there actually are true dangers in the world! They think everything is a game with no consequences and a requisite happy ending!"
"Well, now, I wouldn't say that. Neither Hamlet nor Othello nor King Lear, for that matter, conclude on a precisely joyful note."
"Exactly! Their only passing acquaintance with misfortune is through stories! They might feel a pang of empathetic discomfort, at which point we close the book, put it back on the shelf and go on with our perfect, merry lives. What have we done, Carl? We've protected them so much we've made Elizabeth and Cory utterly incapable of functioning in the real world. We were so eager to shield them from any negative experiences and the emotions they bring that we've rendered Cory and Elizabeth completely incompetent at dealing with them. What are our children going to do the first time they're hit with a harmful state of affairs that we can't fix... and that just closing the book won't cure?"
"Wow," Allie mouthed to Gregory the next day, as they stood in Rick and Mindy's Springfield backyard, surrounded by smoke from the barbeque grill and... "There are a lot of Bauers. And Lewises. And all these other people I know we've been introduced to, but I already forgot."
When Kevin told Rick and Mindy that Allie wanted to meet the family, they apparently took it literally. Arranging an all day cook-out that included not just their parents (Billy and his wife, Vanessa; Ed and his girlfriend, Holly), siblings (Rick's sister, Michelle, and her husband, Danny, Mindy's brother, Bill, and his wife, Lizzie), children (Leah and Jude, visiting America for Spring vacation), nieces and nephews (Daisy and Robbie and Hope and Sarah and Alana), but also the best friends they'd mentioned as potential godparents (Phillip and Beth), their kids (Lizzie again, James, Zach, Emma, Peyton), their families (Beth's mother, Lillian and her husband, Buzz; Buzz's granddaughter, Marina and Mindy's cousin, Shayne, and their baby, Henry...)
"I know it's a lot to take in," Mindy clucked as she escorted Allie and Gregory from group to group for the introductions. "And you probably think it's a little weird, how Rick's son and Phillip's son are half-brothers, and Lizzie's little girl isn't just Bill's stepdaughter she's also his step-cousin, and... "
"It's okay," Allie reassured. "Really." When Mindy still didn't look convinced, Allie elaborated, "My dad is the half-brother of my uncle's biological father. And my mom just broke up with my other uncle's nephew."
"Oh," Mindy said. At which point her face lit up and she said, "Oh!" again. "I think Kevin was right. This adoption really was meant to be!"
"Kevin," Allie sighed. "Is the nephew my mom just broke up with."
"Oh," Mindy furrowed her brow.
Gregory asked, "Would it be alright if Allie and I walked around by ourselves for a little bit? Talked to some people one on one?"
"Yes! Yes, yes, of course!" Mindy bobbed her head enthusiastically. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to glob onto you like this. I don't want you to feel like I've got you on a chain or something. Like I'm afraid of what people might tell you if I'm not right there, watching every word." She laughed nervously. "Of course. I'm sorry. I'm going to go see how Rick is doing with the Bauer burgers. They're his specialty. Recipe has been in the family for generations. The trick is to get them almost burned but... " She sighed and repeated, "Sorry. I'll shut up now. Go. Talk to people! Have fun! Eat something!"
Gregory took Allie's hand and, without seeming to, led her over to where Leah Bauer was sitting on the edge of the outdoor hot-tub, dangling her feet in the bubbling water and turning her face up towards the sky, trying to catch whatever rays of sun she could.
"Hi," Gregory said, completely casually. Allie suspected the minute she opened her mouth all that would come out was a squeak, followed by guilty tears.
"Hey," Leah said. "It's the guests of honor. Dad and Mindy really went all out for you two. What?" she indicated Allie's belly. "That kid made out of gold or something?"
"Nope," Gregory said. "Just the normal stuff."
Leah smirked. Then, more seriously, she ventured, "You guys are only a couple of years older than me. This is pretty heavy stuff. I know I couldn't deal with it."
"You could," he opined. "When you don't have any choice in the matter, you'd be amazed by what you can handle."
Leah shrugged, then changed the subject. "Hudson Bauer, huh? Can I call him Hud, like the old Paul Newman movie?"
"He'll be your little brother," Gregory said. "You can call him anything you want. Until he gets old enough to fight back."
"Another little brother," she offered a melodramatic sigh. "A sister might have been cool but, oh, well, Jude's only around part-time. A back-up little dude might be fun, too."
"Do you and your dad get along?" Allie blurted out, realizing that Gregory was subtly leading Leah towards the same question, but lacking his patience to stay the course.
"I'm fifteen," was all Leah offered in lieu of an answer.
"Is he a good dad?" Gregory rephrased.
"He wants to be," Leah granted. "He really, really wants to be. Like, this thing we had last year, where my stupid teacher at my stupid school wanted to stick me in the stupid gifted and talented program, and I didn't want to do it, but Dad just kept pushing and pushing until finally I had to tell him, listen, Dad, it's bad enough that stupid school only has like, exactly one Black kid in each grade, but now you want to make me even more of a freak?"
Allie swallowed hard and exchanged infinitesimal looks with Gregory. "What did Rick say about that?"
"Oh, you know, blah, blah, he only wants what's best for me, blah, blah, he loves me so much, blah, blah, he's sorry, he didn't think, he didn't know..." Leah waved whatever segments of her father's argument lacked the blah, blah component away with one hand. "But that's what I mean. He wants to be a good dad. Even when he screws up bad, it's usually just because he's trying too hard. And that was even before Mindy. Now that she's here, the two of them are determined to be like, super-duper-uber-parents." Leah looked from Gregory to Allie and told them sincerely, "You guys have nothing to worry about. Dad and Mindy are going to love and spoil your kid rotten. And whatever tiny stuff they miss, you see all these people here? They'll be happy to pick up the slack."
"Leah!" All three turned at the sound of Rick calling his daughter's name. "Your mom's here."
And all three watched GQ's attorney, Dr. Melissande Boudreau, walk towards them.
Mel stopped short, her mouth all but falling open. "Hers?" she pointed to Allie as she glanced over her shoulder at Rick. "Her baby is the one you and Mindy are planning to adopt?"
Rick nodded, confused, and haltingly introduced, "This is Allie Fowler. And this is Gregory Hudson, the baby's biological father."
"Not exactly," Mel corrected.
"Why is Jamie doing this?" Rachel was beyond anger, beyond resentment, even beyond frustration following a conversation with her son wherein he'd declared his decision to accept a thirty-year prison sentence rather than attempt to defend himself in court. All she felt now was an encompassing, demoralizing anguish, the fraught desperation of which had driven her to the home of the one person who might possibly, maybe have the answer Rachel was looking for. Shaking, she stood in front of Alice Frame and all but pleaded, "Did he tell you anything?"
"No," Alice confessed, equally bewildered, equally crushed.
"You don't have to pass on what he said to me," Rachel refused to give up. "I know you're reluctant to fracture his trust. You don't have to tell me anything, I'll stay out of it, I promise. But, please, Alice, he listens to you, he respects you. You have to talk him out of this."
"I've tried," Alice insisted. "I raised everything I could think of. I even brought up Steve and how devastating his going to prison was, the nervous breakdown I had over it..." Under the circumstances, Alice and Rachel tactfully skipped over the part where Rachel had so generously contributed to Alice's collapse. "I wasn't above playing the guilt card by any means. I invoked his leaving the boys, what it would do to them to lose their father. He wouldn't budge, Rachel. It's like he was... he was..."
"Already gone," Rachel articulated what they both were feeling.
"What about Mike? Maybe he knows something."
"I called Mike the minute Jamie left here. I even got Pat to see if she could pry something out of him. If Mike still harbored any feelings for her after 40 years... let's just say I had no scruples about exploiting them, either." Alice spread her arms helplessly. "All Mike told her was that Jamie's mind was made up. That he had his reasons."
"Which are what?" Rachel exploded. "What possible reason could there be for a man to throw his entire life away? It's insane, Alice... It's... my goodness... insane... that's... is he having another breakdown? Is that it? That would explain everything, wouldn't it? He's not in his right mind. He can't be."
Privately, Alice had wondered the same thing. But with no evidence, as well as the niggling suspicion that no, it couldn't be quite that simple; she chose to stay silent on the matter. Alice had seen Jamie at his worst, when he'd barely been able to separate fantasy from reality, not to mention past from present. This wasn't the same. Jamie clearly knew exactly what he was doing and why. He was just equally adamant against filling them in on his analysis.
Rachel raged, "If Donna Love can be deemed unfit to stand trial for crimes everyone knows she committed, why can't Jamie "
"He doesn't meet the medical criteria for being judged clinically insane."
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Rachel demanded.
"I'm on Jamie's side. I have always been on Jamie's side."
"Then quit wringing your hands and forge some paperwork declaring that he is mentally ill, that he can't make his own decisions or be held responsible for ones he's already made. I know you've done it for him before."
"I have," Alice agreed. "And if I thought Jamie would go along with it, I'd gladly do it again."
"Then do it!"
"I can't. I offered. Jamie won't let me."
"Who cares? You have to. He's Steve's.... Alice... we... we're going to lose him."
"How did it in go in court?" Jen asked GQ when he stopped by her University office in between classes.
"Your dad didn't tell you?"
"My dad never breaks client confidentiality, not for anybody. Otherwise, I'd have just flat-out asked him by now if you were the father of Allie's baby."
"You'd do that for me?" he looked at her in surprise.
"Hell, yeah. You think I enjoy watching you suffer? This is killing you. The sooner we know one way or the other, the better."
"And if the answer is yes, if he's mine, what then?"
"That's up to you; I'm just an interested bystander. Will you sue for custody?"
"Mel thinks, with a baby this young, I probably have a good shot at getting joint, but not physical custody. Not for a while, anyway."
"Still, being a single parent, even part-time, is pretty intense. And you have school and your thesis. Think you can write code and change a diaper simultaneously?"
"I'll learn," GQ asserted, albeit less than wholeheartedly.
"You don't have to," Jen pointed out softly. "Sounds like Allie and Gregory would be perfectly happy to never lay eyes on you again. You could walk away, guilt-free, even tell yourself it's for the best, that you're doing a good thing."
"I wouldn't be the first Black man, would I?" he snapped.
"You wouldn't be the first man, period," she corrected, taking no offense.
"I can't... I won't give them the... That's what everybody expects, you know?"
"You're fighting to be a dad to your son so you can rub it in the faces of judgmental bigots who think you can't be a good one? That's a little twisted, don't you think?"
"Well, sure, if you put it that way."
"It's what you said."
"It's not what I meant," he insisted. "Not one hundred percent, anyway. Sure, I'd like to rub it in their faces a little, prove that not every Black man is a deadbeat dad with a passel of bastards on every corner. But, more importantly, I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I've always known I wanted a big family. Some guys, they don't care about stuff like that. Or they see it as something way down the line that they might get to one day, if they feel like it. Not me. I know I want to be married, I know I want kids, and I know that I want to raise them right. The way I was raised. This thing with Allie, I'll be honest, I'm furious with myself. I should have known better, I should have never let it happen."
"What?" Jen asked, genuinely curious. "The baby, or Allie herself?"
"What what do you mean? What's the difference?"
"You know what I mean," Jen refused to let him play stupid. "Getting her pregnant was one thing; a slip-up, it happens. But if you were determined to have this picture-perfect, Kwanzaa-bordered, Afro-centric family, why did you ever take up with Allie in the first place?"
"Allie and I... we were in college. Neither of us was thinking long-term."
"Still, there's always the possibility of something long-term developing. Or did you not care about her at all? Was it just some casual hook up, no strings, no commitments? She obviously didn't think so. Were you just messing with her?"
"No!" GQ defended. "I'm not like that! I I liked Allie well enough. I liked her a lot."
"Despite her being white?"
"God, you really are a lawyer's kid, aren't you?"
Jen didn't say anything to that. She just kept looking at GQ, silently but expectantly, until finally he confessed, "Getting involved with Allie was a huge mistake. I take full responsibility for it. You're right, considering how I felt, I never should have let things get so far out of hand. We should have just been friends, that's it."
"Did you love her?" Jen asked.
"Yeah," he sighed, relieved to finally admit it. "I did. I even thought, for a little while... but no. I can't. I know who I am, I know what I want, and I know who I intend to be. What I'm talking about is bigger than me. I'm talking about the future. For all of us. Allie just doesn't fit into that."
"What about her baby?"
"I screwed up. But I'm not going to make a bad situation worse. If that's my son, then I'm going to make damn sure I raise him my way. I'm stepping up and doing the right thing, whether Allie and Gregory like it or not."
"Nice to see that my brother going to prison hasn't ruined your day." Amanda snarled at Marley, catching her at the gallery. "You're still just plugging away at work. Can't risk a parcel of early Cubism going unsold now, can we?"
"Jamie was just here." Her sister-in-law's scorn fell on deaf ears as Marley struggled to process the hideous news. "He told me... about taking the deal. Thirty years? I don't understand. I don't know why.... Yesterday... he hired a new attorney. He was getting ready to go to trial."
"That was all before he talked to you."
"Me?" Marley repeated the accusation without comprehending it.
"You," Amanda was happy to explain. "You asked him for an annulment. And then you told him you were taking his son. No wonder Jamie decided to throw his life away. You made sure he barely had one left!"
"No," Marley insisted, feeling like they were speaking two different languages. "I tried to... I even went to Grant "
"So I see." Amanda's eyes dipped to the bouquet of flowers on Marley's desk. "Oh, good God, he's even still using the same florist. Reliable, predictable Grant. I knew he'd get around to wooing you to his side eventually. The old guy really needs to change up his repertoire."
"Those aren't from "
Too quick for Marley, Amanda snatched the card from the bouquet and read it aloud, "To more nights like last night. Love, Grant...." Amanda slowly crumpled the card, her anger building until Marley felt obliged to take a step backward, bracing herself for an explosion of sound that, surprisingly, never came. Instead, Amanda's voice turned low and arctic as she hissed, "You backstabbing bitch. You slept with Grant. While my brother's life was falling apart, you slept with the man who's been set on destroying him from the moment he came back to town!"
"Actually," the pause during which she'd wondered what Amanda would do next had given Marley some time to think, and now she came back with an accusation of her own, equally low, equally chilled. "That would technically be you. Does the name Kevin Fowler ring a bell? How many nights did you crawl into his bed after he'd come back from a hard day of filing motions to undermine Jamie?"
"I only got involved with Kevin to help Jamie!"
"Well, you've done a stellar job."
"At least I came to my senses," Amanda rankled. "Kevin and I aren't even together anymore, while you and Grant on the other hand..."
"Oh, please!" Marley laughed. "You only dumped Kevin after his habit of keeping family secrets came back to bite you. It was all about your ego, not any sense of loyalty towards Jamie. You have never been able to look beyond your own needs and wants. Hell, you were so threatened by an unborn baby that you were pushing for Sam to deny his own child with Olivia."
"Not his child," Amanda reminded. "Dennis' child. And I seem to recall you using that same child for your own agenda, trying to lash my brother to you with a whole novella of lies after you broke his heart and walked out on your wedding."
"A wedding which you had no problem commandeering," Marley countered. "You sure as hell weren't worried about supporting or comforting your devastated brother then!"
"I get it. I haven't been there for Jamie as much as I should have. We all got smacked in the face with that lesson this week. But at least I'm trying to change, starting now."
"Too little, Amanda. And way, way too late."
"If you and Grant think you can set up housekeeping with the boy my brother has raised for over a decade "
"I am not setting up anything with Grant. I am taking custody of Kirkland specifically so that Grant cannot. Jamie and I are at least I thought we were in agreement on this. I have tried to love and support your brother all these years the best that I could. What's happened to him... it's not my fault."
"Oh, yeah," Amanda challenged. "Then why do you look so damned guilty?"
Spencer arrived at Alice's door just as Rachel was leaving. She blew by him without a word, but Spencer was used to that.
What he wasn't used to was finding Alice near tears.
"What did Rachel say?" Spencer demanded. "What did she do to you now?"
"Nothing," Alice shook her head. "Honestly, not a thing, not this time." She told Spencer, "It's Jamie. He's not going to go to trial. He's decided to take the DA's deal. Thirty years in jail."
Spencer inhaled slowly, squatting until he was looking up at Alice sitting in her chair. He chose his words with great care, considering several different ways of phrasing his question before finally, hesitantly offering, "I could... I still know a few people... who know a few people... I could make some calls, speak to the DA on Jamie's behalf. See if maybe there isn't a way to..."
"What sort of people?" Alice asked, despite knowing the answer perfectly well.
"The kind of people who know how to get difficult things done. Bad people," he clarified, lest there be any misunderstanding.
Alice covered her face with both hands. She might have laughed, if she weren't already crying. She might have cried, if she had any tears left.
Alice knew who she was. She knew how she'd been raised and what she believed in. She knew how far she would go to protect herself. And she knew how far she would go to protect those she loved.
Which is why Alice knew exactly what she was doing when she lowered her hands, looked Spencer in the eye, and told him, "Call."
Matt located Jamie at Mac's grave, having a private conversation with their stepfather that Jamie clearly had no intention of inviting his brother into.
Nor did he have any intention of explaining himself. No matter how much Matt may have first railed then sulked then finally pleaded, "You've got to give me something to work with here, man."
"No," Jamie said simply. "I'm sorry if I've disappointed you." And he left with one final look back at the headstone, silently apologizing to Mac, as well.
"I've heard of kickin' a man when he's down, but this is ridiculous." Lila's voice interrupted Matthew mid-tantrum just as he appeared Matt could see how it might have looked that way from where she was standing to be in the middle of booting Mac's stone monument in frustration. "I gather that chatting with your Daddy didn't help calm you down none."
"Wait. I haven't pulled out the Ouija board yet. Maybe then Mac can tell me what the hell Jamie's thinking, because right now, I have no freaking clue."
"We've all got a right to our secrets, Matt."
"He didn't kill Cecile."
"Didn't say that he did. Just saying that he's got his reasons, whatever they are, for doing what he's doing, and your job as his brother is to support him; that's it."
"Do you know something? Is Grant behind this? Is he making Jamie "
"No. At least, not that I know of, and that's the truth. I'm just "
"You're just what? Why are you here, Lila? Did you follow me from the house?"
"Sure as shootin'. Your job is to support your brother; my job is to support my Jasmine's daddy. I'm sorry that you're hurting. And I'm sorry that you're looking for answers, but Jamie isn't obliged to give you any. I just watched a man going around, saying good-bye to everything he knows and everyone he cares about. I don't think you want that hissy-fit of yours to be the last conversation you two have outside a layer of bullet-proof glass."
Matt felt the heat rise to his face and he nearly doubled over, groaning at the words he'd just thrown Jamie's way. And here of all places. In front of....
Coward. Embarrassment. Spineless. Weak.
Lila rubbed Matt's back, assuring him, "I know that's not how you want to leave things."
"I didn't mean... He has to know that I didn't mean... "
"I'm sure he does."
"I was just trying to make him angry, make him snap out of it, you know? Even when I accused him of killing Cecile and framing Donna and putting her through Hell. I told him he was dead to me, but... I just wanted to wake him up. I wanted Jamie to defend himself. He didn't say a word, Lila. What kind of person just stands there and takes the abuse?"
"Someone who feels they deserve it," Lila supplied the obvious.
There was very little Allie could do except stand by, clutching Gregory's hand, cheeks burning crimson, as Mel filled in Rick and Mindy not to mention all of their convoluted friends and relations about GQ's claims on Allie's baby.
"You didn't tell GQ that you intended to give his son up for adoption," Mel accused.
"It's none of his business," Allie sniffled, burying her face in Gregory's shoulder as he wrapped both arms around her, protecting Allie from the once-friendly crowd that now felt like a twitchy mob.
"He's never, ever going to allow it, you obviously know that."
"Allie," Mindy gently stroked the younger woman's hair with her hand. "Sweetie, do you want to talk about this? In private?"
"It's not GQ's baby," Allie insisted, voice muffled. "He's wrong. I keep telling him that, but he just won't let up."
Mel advised Rick and Mindy, "It's going to be obvious soon enough. But if I were you two, I wouldn't get my heart set on adopting this particular baby. Just wash your hands of it right now and try to find a less complicated situation. It's for your own good, believe me."
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