"Here," Jamie all but flung in Kevin's face the document agreeing to Kirkland's moving in with Marley in exchange for Grant dropping his custody suit. "I'd recommend what your client can do with it, but, frankly, that's more energy than I'm willing to expend on Grant, at the moment."
Kevin tucked the papers into his briefcase and observed, "You look like you could use a drink."
The noise Jamie made in reply might have been a laugh, might have been accord, might have been derision. But all he said was, "You buying?"
"Why not? I owe you one."
"Oh, one's the least you owe me."
"How charming," Donna dismissed Matt after he'd finished explaining why she would be required to remain in the hospital... indefinitely. "You've turned my daughter against me; convinced her to lock Dotty Old Mother up and throw away the key."
"We all just want to help you, Donna."
"Help me do what, precisely? Be happy? Because, I must say, you are failing rather miserably in that regard."
"This isn't about you being happy," Matt replied honestly, shocking Donna enough that, with a small "oh," she sunk down on the bed, looking up at him with heartfelt confusion, as if it had never crossed her mind that Donna Love's happiness might not be the world's uppermost concern. "Quite frankly, right now, after everything you've done, you don't deserve to be happy."
"Well... Matthew... I If you truly feel that way, then why are you even bothering to "
"What you deserve, is to finally get to the bottom of what in the world it is that drives you to behave like this. You deserve to find out what it is that's always stopping you from ever truly being happy. And I think the first step to that is you figuring out and admitting what it was that drove you to try and commit suicide in the first place."
"Oh," Donna said again, only this time the exclamation wasn't one of surprise, but of purpose. "Is that all? Honestly, Matthew, why didn't you say so at the outset? All this talking in riddles and circles. All this pop psychology and feigned concern."
"My concern is real."
"We could have both saved each other a great deal of fuss and time if you'd simply asked me straight out in the first place."
"I did," he reminded. "Only to have you block me along every turn."
"Oh, well, you see, darling, that was for your own good."
"Say what now?"
"Unlike you when it comes to me, I actually do have your best interests at heart at all times. I sincerely do want you to be happy. I am loathe to do anything which might jeopardize that."
"Let's risk it," Matt snapped. "Hit me, Donna. Why did you try to commit suicide?"
"I'm afraid I'd rather not."
"Donna," it took all of Matt's self-control to keep from shouting, but he forced himself to remain calm, to soften his voice until he could honestly tell her, "You don't have to be afraid. Not of me. You never have to be afraid of me. I told you months ago, I'm here to stay. Nothing you say could make me turn my back on you. Haven't I proven that already? I'm here. I know everything you've done, and I'm still here. It's okay to be scared. I was there when Dean called, threatening your life. I was there when Lorna tried to burn the house down. I'll be there when you get out of here, when you have to face Felicia and Lucas and Carl. I'm not going anywhere. Just tell me the truth. We can do this. We can get through this together, no matter what."
"I tried to commit suicide because it was Valentine's Day," Donna blurted the words out so quickly, it took Matt a moment to absorb and place them all in the correct order.
But, even after he had... "I still don't understand."
"Michael died on Valentine's Day. Twelve years ago."
"Okay. Yeah. I knew that."
"I can't help but think about him every year when the date comes around again."
"Sure. That makes sense. That's natural."
"Michael was the love of my life," Donna told Matt almost defiantly, waiting to see what he'd do with the information.
"I know," he confirmed neutrally, letting the detail of how she'd cheated on Matt with her ex during their engagement remain discreetly unstated.
"Which was why, this year, with all of the... unpleasantness... going on, I decided that I would rather be with a dead Michael, then with a living you, Matt..."
"No," Chase Hamilton informed Spencer. "Whatever or whomever you're here to advocate for, the answer is no."
"How very short-sighted of you."
"If this is about your perennially felonious son "
"It's about Jamie Frame."
That threw Hamilton for a moment. "What's your interest in Jamie Frame?" He snapped his fingers. "Of course, the custody case. Well, no worries, Mr. Harrison, I think we can safely say that Grant's going to come out the winner in that one. Jamie Frame has already agreed to go to jail. Lookee here, I saved you a bribe! Run along now."
"Bribes," Spencer sighed. "What a sloppy way to do business. Not to mention that they inevitably place the power in the wrong pair of hands. No, no. I don't operate like that. I prefer... discussions."
"How fortunate for me that we have nothing to discuss."
"Not even a few choice... peccadilloes... on your part? Ones that might be of great interest to the voting public?"
Hamilton flung down his pen and addressed the ceiling. "Are you serious? Do your research, Mr. Harrison. I've been out my entire life, including during my last two campaigns for District Attorney. You're not going to shock anyone with that bit of news."
"Why is it you fellows always think your sex lives are of interest to anyone other than yourselves?" Spencer mused. "I'm talking about real peccadilloes, ones with actual consequences, like how the woman that you personally recommended to replace Donna Love as city commissioner of cultural affairs promptly re-jiggered her budget to nearly double the funding for that modern art museum where, Douglas, is it? Works as curator."
"What's so improper about that? Naturally, I'd recommend someone whose priorities meshed with mine."
"Of course, of course," Spencer agreed. "I see your point completely. I just wonder if the voters will be equally as adept at splitting such hairs once the mayoral election rolls around. You are intending to throw your hat into the ring, are you not? I hear the exploratory committee's already been formed." When Harrison didn't answer one way or the other, Spencer smiled, leaned forward in his chair, and proposed, "Let's discuss Jamie Frame...."
Jamie directed Kevin to steer them to the Pig Whistle Saloon and, once there, ordered the bartender to just start sending over shots of vodka, and to put it all on Kevin's tab. After confirming that Jamie wouldn't be driving, he obliged.
Jamie made a face as he forced down the first gulp but, by the third, was able to do it with barely a wince. By the fifth, he might as well have been drinking water.
Kevin, still nursing his first Scotch, informed Jamie, "Mike told me about you taking the deal. When do you turn yourself in? Tomorrow?"
"Bright and early," Jamie paused, the break in his rhythm enough to suggest that maybe he should stop standing and sit down at the bar now. "How do you know Mike?"
"He's my mentor. He was also my lawyer, years ago, when I sued for emancipation."
"Oh, yeah. From Alice. We're, what? Help me out here? Cousins?"
"I'm your nephew."
Jamie smirked. "You know, you were sort of responsible for Alice and I reconnecting. She came back to town for my stepfather, Mac's, funeral in '89, I think. Yeah, '89. Steven was just a baby. We were standing in the parking lot after the service, waiting to get in our cars. We started talking, you know, social chitchat. She asked about Steven. I was doing the new dad boasting thing. He can raise his head! He can roll over! He can spit up! Obviously, he was already showing signs of genius. Then, mostly to be polite, I asked about you. That's when she told me how you'd just walked out, never gave her a second thought. You were all she had, and you spit in her face. She was devastated. She had no idea where you were, if you were all right, if you were even still alive. I felt so bad for her, I started calling regularly, just to see how she was holding up. That's when our friendship really took off. Alice is one of the most important people in my life now. And I owe it all to you being a prick."
Kevin challenged, "Alright, I was a prick who broke the heart of somebody who really cared about me. But I was sixteen years old. What do you call what you're doing now?"
"Go to hell, Fowler."
"In a little while. But first, you're going to tell me what in blazes you're trying to prove here? Mike Bauer is a fantastic lawyer. If anyone can get you off, he can. Why throw in the towel before you've even given it a shot?"
Jamie wondered, "Where was all this concern for my welfare when you and Grant were conspiring to take my son away from me?"
"That was just business."
"Yeah? Didn't feel that way to me."
"You were never going to lose Kirkland."
"Did you tell your client that?"
"Actually, I did. From the beginning, I told Grant that joint custody was the best we were ever going to get, and that was a big If. You're too good of a dad. Or at least you were, before you decided to take a page from Grant's book and abandon the kid."
Jamie looked through Kevin and corrected the bartender, "Never mind. I'll pay for my own drinks. The company isn't worth it." He told Kevin, "Have a nice evening, counselor. I can go it on my own from here."
"They're going to change their minds," Allie rattled to Gregory on the drive home from Springfield. "I know it. Rick and Mindy are going to change their minds. Did you know Leah's mother was GQ's attorney? Of course, you didn't, stupid question. How does something like that happen? God, I hate small towns."
"They didn't say they were going to change their minds," Gregory pointed out, eyes on the road. "And even if they do, remember all those files Kevin showed us at the beginning? You can just go back and pick somebody else, somebody just as good."
"But now GQ knows I want to give the baby up for adoption. Mel is right, he's never, ever going to allow it. As long as he didn't know, I had a chance to get it all done before... without... This just ruins everything."
Gregory slowed down the car and came to a gradual stop in front of a red light. He turned to face Allie and told her, "It doesn't have to. Before, you wanted to give the baby up because you weren't ready to be a mom all by yourself. But, what if you didn't have to be all by yourself? What if you kept the baby and raised him... with me? Would you like to marry me, Allie?"
"Did you think I wouldn't find out?" Grant asked Spencer almost rhetorically, too busy fuming to actually wait for his father's reply. "I do still have some friends on the Hill. They were more than happy to fill me in about the phone calls you've been making on Jamie's behalf."
"I never asked them to keep it a secret."
"So, you're what? Proud of yourself? Does Alice Frame at least appreciate all the hoops you're jumping through to win her approval?"
"She does. And, once again, I strongly recommend you watch your tone."
"Damn it, Dad, Jamie going to jail was my best chance to get Kirkland back home where he belongs. I thought we both wanted that. How could you undermine "
"I haven't undermined a blasted thing. Jamie a man who, for the record, has done absolutely nothing wrong where you're concerned save loving and taking care of your son while you were busy elsewhere is still going to jail. Even I don't have the pull to make a confession of murder disappear into thin air. The lowest Hamilton was willing to go was fifteen years, with a chance for parole after ten. It's a hell of a lot better than thirty, but it's plenty adequate for your purposes. Kirkland will be, at best, twenty-six years old before Jamie sees the light of day again. If that's not enough time for you to win our boy over, then, frankly, one decade or three or a hundred, wouldn't have made a spot of difference."
"You're right," Grant conceded. "You're right. It's plenty of time. The important thing now "
"The important thing now is that you wipe that smirk of satisfaction off your face and think about Kirkland's needs, for a change."
Grant bristled. "I'm always thinking about Kirkland."
"You're always thinking about what Kirkland means to you. Believe me, I am more than a touch familiar with that particular parenting fallacy."
"What?" Spencer challenged, almost teasing. "Don't look so surprised. I'm old and I'm Irish, the combination is bound to lead to wisdom... eventually."
"My son means everything to me," Grant insisted.
"Then prove it. Instead of strutting around, crowing about how you've won and Jamie's lost, take a minute to think about what Kirkland's lost. And what he's going to need from you to help him get through that. You want to be the father your son can turn to and depend on? You better start acting like one, pronto. Otherwise, you risk alienating for good the one person on this green earth whom you claim to truly love."
Jamie didn't so much regain consciousness as he momentarily dipped into it from his otherwise immeasurable drunken haze, to appreciate that he was moving. Not north to south in a falling off your bar-stool sort of way, but in the smooth, lulling, slightly nauseating, back and forth, side to side of a traveling vehicle.
With great effort he peeled open first one eye, then the other, cautiously raising his head and swallowing hard to keep the contents of anything he may have recently ingested from joining his crumpled jacket on the floor. Jamie realized that he didn't actually recognize the backseat of the car he'd apparently been rather unceremoniously dumped into.
The driver, on the other hand...
"Lorna?" He reached out his fingers to touch her, not quite believing that she was actually there, and found her solid enough to rule out a drunken hallucination. "When did you get back into town?"
"About an hour ago. I tried calling you. Several times. Your new friend, the nice bartender, finally took pity on me and answered. He told me that of all the calls you blew off tonight, you actually spent the longest time staring at my name on the Caller ID. I'm touched."
"I'm drunk," Jamie explained helpfully, in case his state had somehow slipped her scrutiny.
"I noticed," she reassured. "He told me where you were, and I figured, since you refused to answer my calls, the only way to get you to talk would be to hunt you down like a Terminator."
"Come with me if you want to live," Jamie muttered.
"Something like that." Through the rearview mirror, she nailed him with a look equal part angry and frustrated. "What the hell, Frame? I turn my back on you for a couple of days and not only do you cop to murder, but you decide to skip a trial and head directly to jail? Honestly, the lengths some men will go to so they can weasel out of a date. A girl could start taking it personally."
"Stop messing with my computer and get over here," Steven ordered his brother. "We've still got a ton of your crap to pack up and send to Marley's."
"Uh-ha," Kirkland mumbled absently, continuing to stab the keyboard and only kicking a pile of clothes from the floor in the direction of a half-filled cardboard box.
"What are you doing, anyway?"
"Trying to help Dad."
"Getting your accelerated law degree on-line?"
"Researching who else might have wanted to kill Cecile de Poulignac. Frankie and Cass, that's obvious, after everything she did to them. Marley, too. I bet she didn't like Cecile coming back to mess with Dad. Grant. He's the one who found her, after all. But also maybe Sarah's dad, Dennis, or Grandmother's brother, Peter, or what about Maggie, or Maggie's dad, or Alex, or Alex's mom? You know what she did to Alex's mom? She had her locked up and tortured. Tortured! Wouldn't you want to kill somebody who did that to you? No matter how long ago it was?"
"Give it up, Kirk," Steven said softly.
"No! Why should I?"
"Because it's over, okay? Because Dad's taking a deal that's going to send him to prison for thirty years. Maybe, if he's a good little felon, they'll let him out in twenty-five. Whoop-Dee-Do."
"Why don't you want to help him?"
"Because he doesn't want to help himself. He's given up. Not so he can quote: spare us the stress of a trial: unquote; that's crap. But because he's the one who doesn't have the guts to go through with it. He's caved before, Kirk. Obviously, he's doing it again."
"I don't get you." Kirkland swiveled around in his chair. "We've already lost Mom. There's nothing we can do about that. And Jake, too... How can you not want to at least try keeping Dad "
"My dad," Steven corrected, urgently needing this conversation to be over and snatching at the cruelest, most effective way he could think of to accomplish that. "Jamie is my dad. Your dad lives in a house on the other side of town. You'll probably be moving there in a couple of months, maybe even weeks. So do me a favor and drop the loyal son act. It's just stupid for you to be wasting any time or energy on Jamie now. He sure as hell isn't concerning himself with you. Or me."
"You selfish jerk!" Kirkland screamed, voice cracking, making him sound a decade younger. "You want to see a real quitter? Go look in the mirror! In the meantime, I'm going to figure out some way to help our dad before its too late."
"You don't want a straight answer from me," Jamie advised Lorna after she'd helped him up the steps to the guest-house and onto the living room couch where, much to his surprise, he managed to remain upright, despite the walls spinning all around him. Granted, spinning walls more like a pitch-black void had been Jamie's explicit goal at the start of the evening. But, then again, the night had taken an unexpected turn.
Lorna sat down on the coffee table in front of him. "You don't trust me?"
"I... it's not about trusting you, it's about... there are things I don't want you to know."
She sighed, nervously tapping her fingers against the spot on her arm that still displayed a vestige of whitish scar. "The twenty-four hours around when Donna cut her wrists were not precisely my shining moment."
"I wouldn't say so, no. You tried to set her on fire."
"I also, at the hospital, while you were talking to Marley... I heard... I overheard... It's not like you were in a sound-proof bubble or anything...."
He braced himself. "You heard us talking about my own suicide attempt."
"Yes. And I'm sorry. I suppose I could have just walked away. Eavesdropping behind a candy-machine can be construed as vaguely pathetic, I get that. But, the point is, I know. I've known for a while. And I didn't run away screaming in the opposite direction. Instead, I asked you out. On a date. Which I was really looking forward to. Except now you're kind of ruining things by volunteering to go to prison for a crime you didn't commit."
"How do you know I didn't kill Cecile?" he demanded, more desperate to hear her answer than Jamie was willing to admit, even to himself.
"That seems to be the theme at hand. Go for it."
"It was... it was the way you kissed me the other night."
He'd been expecting to hear a great many things. He hadn't been expecting that. Stunned to the core, Jamie burst out laughing, more a guffaw, really; gratefully releasing an infinite amount of tension until he was wiping tears from both eyes.
"I'm sorry, Lorna. I didn't realize your lips were the latest in lie-detection equipment."
"There was tongue, too," she reminded, utterly un-offended. "The fact is, I've been on the receiving end of more than a fair share of kiss-offs in my life. And what you planted on me last week, that wasn't an ending. That was a beginning."
"I wasn't planning on going to jail, last week," he pointed out, laughing-jag endorphins regretfully dying out, replaced by his now all too familiar sense of despair. And exhaustion.
"Exactly. You kissed me like a man who was looking forward to the future."
"Maybe I'm just an arrogant SOB who never thought he'd get caught. I am a doctor, you know, we're very full of ourselves."
"Oh, yeah. You were so arrogant that night, you were kicking yourself up and down the driveway just over having wounded Marley's feelings. You could never kill anyone, Jamie. We both know that."
"Yeah, well, Marley I liked. Cecile, I... didn't."
"Probably why you were divorced in the first place."
Jamie might have laughed again, but he no longer had the strength. "Let's say that was just one, tiny part of it."
"Fine. Fill me in. Fill me in on everything. You might as well. The sooner you do, the sooner we can start figuring out a way to get you out of this mess."
"My life and all the myriads of mistakes I've made in it is not something for you to fix. Have we really known each other long enough for you to care this much?"
"Yes," was all she said, crossing her arms, leaning back, waiting, eyes boring into Jamie, refusing to give him so much as an inch until, more to get it over-with than anything else, he finally exploded.
"Where would you like me to start, Lorna? With how, when Cecile and I were married, she wanted to make me look unstable in front of Mac, so she secretly plied me with drugs amphetamines mostly, but there were some hallucinogens in there, too until I totally lost control one day and raped her? Or would you rather hear about how, last night, I nearly smashed Grant's head into a wall with Kirkland only a few feet away?"
To her credit, or maybe it was to her shock, Lorna didn't blink. She returned Jamie's steady gaze without batting an eye and calmly suggested, "Start at the beginning."
That was the ironic part. Once Lorna gave him permission, once she didn't immediately flinch or, worse, recoil, at the sight of him, once Jamie did, at long last, start talking, he found that he couldn't stop.
He told her everything. His initial drug addiction, the hellish marriage to Cecile, her deciding that she and her bank account could do better hitched to Mac's biological son, and what it all brutally, ultimately lead to. Jamie told Lorna about his repressing the truth for years, and about his complete and utter collapse once he no longer could. Going back on pills, the suicide attempt, the commitment, the ten years of celibacy and sobriety as he focused on his kids and only his kids before the life he'd carved out for the three of them all started going up in smoke. First, Grant's return from the dead, then Frankie's. Cecile blackmailing him, Frankie blackmailing him, and then the piece-de-resistance, Cecile getting herself killed and the evidence somehow overwhelmingly pointing to him.
Why was he hanging up his stethoscope, deserting his sons and trudging off to prison? Because it was the safest place for him to be.
"I raped a woman, Lorna." He kept repeating, stressing the word, the act, the crime, emphasizing it over and over again, trying to make Lorna shirk back, trying to make her understand. "You, of all people... Can you really argue that I don't deserve to be locked up?"
She was shaking. Head down, hugging herself with both arms, and shaking. But still, she hadn't said anything.
That was all right. She didn't need to. Honestly, it was cruel of Jamie to demand a verbal response. Her actions said it all.
Drawing on what little vigor he had left, Jamie pushed himself up from the couch with both hands, staggering out of her sight as quickly as he could under the still-unsteady circumstances, eager to spare Lorna any further contact with him.
Still, before at least earning the dignity of passing out in private, he couldn't stop himself from pausing at the door to the bedroom, turning to drive his point home, to make sure that there would be no misunderstanding whatsoever. "Now that you know, do you get why you shouldn't waste a moment more worrying about me?"
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