"Happy birthday, sweetheart!" Her father's voice over the phone brought Lorna up short, forcing her to face just how far she'd veered off course in the past 24 hours, from driving back to Bay City alone, to transporting Jamie home, to sitting in the very same car again, a now fugitive Jamie in the passenger seat, heading off to confront a man who, on most occasions, Lorna went out of her way to avoid. "I thought we had a date?" Lucas reminded.
"Oh, damn, Dad," Lorna would have smacked herself in the head if she didn't need to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel, especially with the roads so slick. "I'm sorry, I... something came up."
"That's alright," Lucas reassured. "If you got a better offer for celebrating your birthday than with your old man, I understand."
"A better offer," Lorna repeated, amused. Then looking at Jamie, who, in spite of... everything, silently mouthed, "It's your birthday? Happy birthday!" with a smile so genuinely delighted and sincere that Lorna couldn't help it, she melted just a little; telling Lucas, "Yeah. Something like that."
"Well, have a great time. Nobody deserves it more than you."
"Thank you," she told him sincerely. "Thank you for everything."
"Yeah?" he caught her just as she was about to close the phone.
"This... your plans wouldn't be with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Complicated, would they?"
She sighed and told him, "I love you, Dad."
He sighed right back at her, "I figured."
Lucas hung up the phone, turning to Felicia, who'd just come into the room, and letting her know, "Looks like Lorna isn't going to be able to make it tonight."
"Tonight?" Felicia repeated, confused. "Lorna? I thought she was still in Chicago."
"She came back yesterday. So that the three of us could all go out and celebrate her birthday."
"Lorna's birthday," Felicia said the words as if it were one of those obscure holidays that you should remember studying at school, but can't quite recall the difference between Arbor Day and Earth Day. Or maybe like it was a Jewish holiday, the date of which changed from year to year. "I You're right... it completely slipped my mind. I'll give her a call."
"Don't bother now. She's out gallivanting with The Complicated Guy. Terrific! Just what a father's dying to hear."
"Who?" Felicia turned away from her computer, where Chapter Six flashed insistently, followed by an unacceptably blank page.
"You know, the guy that's kept her from going back to Chicago permanently all these weeks. Only thing I've been able to pry out of her is that the situation is... complicated. She wouldn't even tell me if it was Grant-complicated, or Carl-complicated. I shudder to think there's a third, worse option."
"I'm sorry, Luke, I still don't know what you're talking about."
"Lorna hasn't told you about him?"
"No..." Felicia wondered. "But, I don't understand, she's told you?"
"Well," realizing he may have spoken out of turn, Lucas attempted to smooth over, "Just that one detail. Hardly a heart-to-heart."
"It doesn't make any sense, though. Why would Lorna confide in you and not me?"
"You've been... preoccupied lately," Lucas gently pointed out. "You haven't exactly had a lot of time for Lorna. The other day, at Cass and Frankie's, with Lori Ann, remember? You hardly paid any "
"Yes, yes," Felicia dismissed. She did remember, and she sincerely intended to make the slight up to Lorna as soon as... as soon as everything else was finally settled. Besides, right now what she really wanted to know was, "But why you?"
Stung, he reminded, "I am the girl's father."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Luke, but, before you... went away, the two of you were barely on speaking terms. You were horrible to her, brutal."
"I know," Lucas' face darkened. "And I'm going to regret that for the rest of my life. I'm trying to make up for lost time, that's all."
"You've only been back for a few months. Are you telling me that, in a few months, you and Lorna have suddenly gotten so close that she'd rather fill you in on her mystifying love life than me? That doesn't sound like Lorna. She doesn't warm up to people easily. Some people, Lorna never warms up to. She can hold a grudge like... let's just say our daughter is very good at holding a grudge. Something strange is going on. What's really going on here, Luke?"
Steven drove without saying a word, his one, terse command upon all four of them getting into the car was that they not turn the radio on. He didn't want to hear...
All of them knew precisely what he didn't want to hear.
Timidly, Jen offered, "I brought a CD we could listen to on the way." She rifled around in her bag, pulled it out and showed it to Steven.
He smiled a little the first time Sarah had seen him smile in days and, reading the back, quoted a song title, "The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas. Idiots. It's "
"Plasma," he and Jen said together. "The fourth state of matter."
Jen suggested, "I thought we could all nitpick them on the way. I know mocking the ignorance of others always cheers me up."
Steven handed the They Might Be Giants CD to Sarah and told her to put it on. Which was about the last contact they had for the length of the drive. Even when Sarah rested her hand on Steven's thigh, he proceeded to stare straight ahead (in his defense, the rain was coming down pretty heavily by then; their visibility was practically zero), not even taking the trouble to shake it off.
While he drove, Sarah watched Jen closely through the rear-view mirror. That had been the point of this outing, after all. To study Jen and Steven in a non-classroom setting. To see if he'd been telling the truth when he said he had no interest in their professor whatsoever. And when Jen had told Sarah that she had no designs on Sarah's boyfriend.
Sensing the tension, once the CD ended and that particular topic exhausted, GQ and Jen attempted to make light conversation from the back seat, addressing questions to both Steven and Sarah, with only Sarah answering them.
The one query Steven did deign to reply to came once they'd pulled up to the cabin and Jen, indicating a light shining through the front window, asked, "Are we supposed to be meeting someone else?"
"No," Steven said.
They all grabbed their things and ran through the rain, bags perched on their heads like makeshift umbrellas. Steven opened the door with his key, ushering everybody else in first. They shivered and rubbed their arms to warm up, shaking off the water, then looked up to see Gregory and Allie sitting in front of the fireplace, staring back at the four of them in flabbergasted surprise.
"I knew there was a very good reason I loved you," Felicia sighed to Cass as the house lights came up, albeit annoyingly while the credits were still running. "Thank you so much for dragging me out of the house. Lorna blew us off for her birthday and Lucas... Lucas, for some reason, seems to blame me. He definitely accused me of something earlier. He is acting very strangely these days."
"Lot of that going around," Cass agreed.
"In any case, a newly-restored 35 millimeter print of Sunset Boulevard was exactly what the doctor ordered. Even if the roundabout message was a bit, shall we say, heavy-handed, Count von Stroheim?" she teased.
"Message? What message? I am aware of no message." Cass protested his innocence with one, most sincere hand to the heart. "It's nice to see you smiling again, Felicia."
"I wish I could say the same, pal." She twisted in her seat for a better look at him. "What's got you so out of sorts that you'd dare ignore the great Norma Desmond?"
"Oh, you know, the typical, middle-American concerns of a small town lawyer with a newborn baby. And a rebellious teen-ager. And a back-from-the dead wife."
"It's been a hell of year for us both, hasn't it, Cass?"
"Last Easter," he remembered. "That's when it all began. You called me from New York and..."
"Jenna..." Felicia had to bite her lip. "Last Easter, Jenna was still here..."
"But Frankie and Lucas weren't."
"One doesn't make up for the other."
"No. No, of course not. Never."
"At least you have some prior experience in the back from the dead spouse department. Juggling Frankie and Kathleen while tending to me and my incessant crises back in the 90s couldn't have been any harder than whatever you're dealing with now. 'Fess up, Cass. What's bothering you? This thing we've got has never been a one-way street. You've been there for me every step of the way since I called you for help twelve months ago. My turn to be the shoulder to cry on. What's wrong? What's really wrong? Is it Lori Ann? Charlie?"
"It's Frankie. She's been having nightmares. Ever since Cecile was killed."
"That's certainly understandable."
"She claims she doesn't remember what they're about."
"Maybe that's a good thing."
"She's shutting me out. Again. You're familiar with Frankie. She always thinks she knows what's best for everybody else. She always thinks she's protecting you, when what she's really doing is trying to control the situation, have everything her way."
Slowly, Felicia reasoned, "As much of a history as you had with Cecile, Frankie fought an even more personal war with that woman. For ten years. Alone. I would guess that, for Frankie, dealing with Cecile is something that she has to face and finish on her own."
"Cecile is finished."
"Not to Frankie, apparently."
"So? Do I need to call an exorcist? Ghostbusters, what?"
"I know how much you want to help, Cass, but you can't fight Frankie's battles for her. She'll come to you herself, when she's ready. In the meantime, your job and, oh, what the heck, let's say mine, too is to support her and love her and try to lift her spirits."
"I'd say spirits were the problem here, not the solution."
"Ha!" Felicia smacked Cass' shoulder with her purse. "You're a funny guy."
He grumbled and crossed his arms, but allowed himself a small smile, nonetheless.
"I have an idea," Felicia announced. "A party. A christening party. For Lori Ann. I know Frankie had some concerns when it came to me stepping back and letting her really be Lori Ann's mother. Well, I say it's time that Gloria Ann Frame-Winthrop made her community debut as your now and forever daughter. That ought to take Frankie's mind of her troubles, don't you think?"
"You came back." Donna proved so shocked to see Matt standing in her doorway once again, that she momentarily forgot to hide her surprise and whispered, with astonished sincerity, "I didn't think you'd come back."
"I know," he told her.
"After what I said..."
"You said it specifically so that I wouldn't come back. I'm not an idiot, Donna. Please do me a favor and stop acting as if you think I am."
"I don't think you're an idiot."
"Then what do you think I am? Obviously, I'm somebody you want gone from your life. Problem is, no matter how much I wrack my brain, I can't figure out why. You make no sense, you know that? One minute you want me, and the next you're doing everything you can to push me away. First, it was to keep me from finding out about Jenna. But I know everything now, and I'm still here. Is there more, Donna? Is that it? Is there something else you're afraid of my finding out? Something worse?"
"I've always wanted the very best for you, Matthew. You deserve better than to be stuck with a crazy woman; Rochester's wife, that's me! Locked up in "
"Give it a rest, Donna. Self-sacrifice was never your modus operandi. Though the melodramatic literary allusion, that, I'll admit, is your style."
"Maybe I've changed, turned over a new leaf," Donna said. But even she couldn't keep a straight face as she said it.
Matt smiled in return and gently suggested, "Try again."
"Why are you so good to me?" she demanded.
"I love you."
"Oh, well, too late."
"You can do better."
"So I've been told."
She took both his hands in hers, kissing first one than the other. "Get me out of here, Matthew, please. We'll go back to how things were before. Nothing good can come of plundering my psyche for the medical establishment's amusement. I did a horrible thing. I did it because I'm a horrible, selfish, self-centered woman who'd rather lie and put innocent people's lives at risk than face the consequences of my egotistical actions. See? I know all this about myself already. I've always known it; from the time I was a child. I don't need any help in that regard."
"But you don't believe that you should be doing anything to change the status quo?"
"Don't you think I've tried!" she exploded. "Don't you think I've made vow after vow to alter my behavior? To become a better person? You think I didn't mean it when I swore to Michael or to my daughters or to you, that I would never, ever do whatever it was I'd done to upset you again? The world is full of alcoholics and chronic gamblers and drug addicts. Why can't you accept that I'm like them? Hooked on... hooked on being me."
"Alcoholics and gamblers and drug addicts go into treatment, they recover."
"Not always. And, in any case, do you really think there's a Twelve-Step program to quit being Donna Love?" she laughed. "You, and everyone else in my life, have always wanted to fix me. Maybe it's time to face it. Maybe I just can't be fixed."
They had been driving for hours. Hours during which Lorna explained, explained again, and then explained some more in terms she hoped a slightly still hung-over Jamie could understand the reasons for why she'd dragged the two of them out through a storm that would make even Noah throw up his arms in defeat.
"Why would Carl kill Cecile?" Jamie repeated, grimacing and clamping a hand tightly on the armrest as Lorna's car alternately bounced and skidded along the muddy road. "She meant nothing to him. Well, as far as I know, anyway. Are you saying there's some connection between the two? It makes sense, I guess, sociopaths of a feather...."
"No," Lorna said. "I think killing Cecile was simply a means to an end. Just a way for him to frame Donna."
"Come on! There has to be an easier and more direct way for Carl to get his pound of flesh."
"That's the beauty of it. You know, Strangers on a Train. No previous association."
"But that could apply to a lot of people. By that logic, anyone could have killed her."
"Anyone didn't have a motive for also framing Donna. And there's one more thing..."
"Okay, I'm listening."
"When I... worked... for Carl, he had this guy. A fixer. He didn't actually commit Carl's murders. Carl liked using professionals for that, the more untraceable the better. But what this guy did, is he'd go into a crime scene after the fact, and stage it to look like something else. That usually muddled the police long enough for the real culprit to get away. I never knew his name, but Carl called him a real artist. He used to tease me. You know, you two are in the same business: Public Relations, spinning and shaping the truth until it resembles something else entirely."
"Yeah, yeah, Carl has a real way with words. You think he called this guy in to work on Cecile?"
"Sure smells like it."
Jamie sat silently for a minute, then finally said, "I don't want to believe it. For my mother, the kids... I don't want to believe that my brother and sister's father, who, no matter what I think of the man, they both happen to adore, just snapped and went back to his old ways. Carl has too much to lose now."
"He's dropped the reformed act before, Jamie. And you know how he gets about his offspring, and being betrayed. Donna pulled a double no-no with him in that regard. Killing Cecile just so he could frame and send Donna to prison is, I'm sorry to say, a thing I can totally see Carl doing. And that's him letting her off lightly, if you ask me."
"Okay, say I'm with you now, say I believe that Carl has something to answer for." Jamie peered out the window at their desolate surroundings. "You actually think it's a good idea for the two of us to just drive up to this well, I guess I don't have to cover with alleged, there are plenty of crimes we actually do know about so up to this convicted murderer's isolated, creepy lair in the middle of nowhere "
"You make it sound like the Batcave."
"I will be sorely disappointed if it isn't," Jamie told her, making Lorna smile briefly which, apparently, had been his intention. He smiled back and went on, "You want us to drop in on an unrepentant killer and confront him with your suspicions about yet another crime he may have committed, with nary a cop or small army of mercenaries as back-up? That doesn't sound like the typical, Lorna Devon shatteringly brilliant plan."
"I was in a hurry," she dismissed. "It's not like I had time to run a computer simulation, what with your stupid insistence on skipping off to prison."
"I never intended to skip. I had a dignified trudge in mind."
"I had to act fast. Rounding up a posse wasn't an option. Besides," Lorna winked at him. "Why do you think I've got you riding shot-gun?"
"Me?" Jamie snorted. "Fat lot of good I am. I couldn't even talk you out of plunging head-first into the storm of the century in order to help me."
"I'm sure you'll come in useful sooner or later," she quipped, earning a puzzled, almost wounded look from Jamie. "What? I was joking."
"It's not that. I... Why are you doing this? After everything I told you last night...."
Lorna tried to keep her tone light even as her chest tightened at the pain in his voice. "We'll talk about that later. Preferably when you no longer have a prison sentence hanging over your head. Besides," she slowed down the car into what Jamie could only identify as a soundless hole of absolute, pitch-blackness. "We're here."
Ever since her nocturnal face-off with Cecile, sleep had stopped being an option for Frankie. She'd start to drift off, and then she'd remember and snap right back to again, her mind whirling at a million miles an hour.
Currently, the only way Frankie could stop herself from thinking about the woman who'd made her life miserable for over a decade and what exactly Cecile had meant by her prediction that Frankie was about to lose everything, was by focusing on the other burning issue in her life, and that was Jamie.
Despite Cass' insistence that there was nothing they could do for him now, Frankie refused to give up hope. She was partially responsible for what had happened. Which meant that she was equally as responsible for making things right again. It was karma. It was balance. It was something to do to as long as she couldn't sleep.
Frankie slipped out of bed, careful not to disturb a softly snoring Cass, and snuck downstairs, powering up their laptop.
She figured a little research on the drug that had killed Cecile wouldn't be out of place. And it might offer Frankie some clues on who, beside herself, Cass, and Jamie also had access and a motive for wanting Her Royal Whatever She Was of Tanquir silenced permanently.
There wasn't much to find at first, other than the fact that the FDA had repeatedly refused to approve the medication, or even so much as to put it into controlled clinical trials due to the side-effects being reported from the other side of the ocean. The most interesting thing Frankie initially managed to stumble over was an open letter from a Bay City physician strongly urging the FDA to reconsider. It was signed Dr. John Hudson.
Interesting. But probably irrelevant. John and Cecile had hardly ever crossed paths as far as Frankie knew. He certainly couldn't be considered a suspect in her murder. She made a note to ask him about it though, just in case.
The next thing Frankie found, however, drove all thoughts of John completely from her mind. A website instructing patients willing to take the drug illegally on exactly how and in what doses, showed up marked as having been previously read on this browser in early January 2010. Frankie knew she certainly hadn't been the one looking at it. And Charlie stuck to her own computer, she never used this one. Which left... Cass.
There were just enough towels at the cabin to go around for everyone to dry their hair. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be equally enough space for the six of them to co-exist, despite the airy front room, adjoining kitchen, three bedrooms and four baths.
Allie gawked at GQ. GQ glared at Gregory. Jen studied Allie with curiosity. Steven looked plain embarrassed, and Sarah... Sarah might have found the whole thing kind of funny a French farce with a Midwestern twist if everyone else didn't look so darned intense.
"We were here first," Allie all but stamped her foot to make her point.
"We could go," Steven offered, in no mood for... anything, and realizing just how big of a mistake this whole excursion was from the start.
"Doubt it," GQ drew back a window-curtain. "It's coming down even harder now. Both cars have completely sunk into the mud. We'll never get them loose."
"So we wait it out," Sarah decided. "No big deal."
Jen stuck her hand out to Allie. "I'm Jennifer Fowler. You know my dad, Kevin."
Allie shook it tentatively, wondering why Jen was being so friendly. Wondering what the heck she expected from Allie in return. "Kevin's mentioned you. He didn't mention..." her eyes, which had drifted away from GQ for only a moment, drifted back. But the gesture was interrupted when she suddenly winced, her knees briefly buckling.
Gregory caught Allie by the arm and helped her to sit down. "Again?" he asked.
Allie nodded, exhaling slowly, sniffling. "That really hurt."
Gregory looked at his watch. "Twenty-three minutes since the last one. There doesn't seem to be any kind of regular pattern."
"Are you in labor? Now? Here?" Steven demanded, accusatory, as if she were doing it specifically to make his bad day even worse.
"We're not sure," Gregory admitted. "It's too early, and the contractions are all over the place. We were just timing them, wondering whether to risk driving to the hospital in this weather when it's most likely a false alarm."
"Maybe it's Braxton-Hicks," GQ suggested. "You know, practice contractions." They all turned to him, curious where GQ had acquired his unexpected labor knowledge. He shrugged. "I've been reading up on the subject lately, okay?"
"GQ's probably right," Gregory nodded, suggesting to Allie, "Why don't you go take a hot shower? That's supposed to make you relax and help the contractions ease up a little. Tension..." he indicated their less than ideal grouping. "Tension makes pain worse."
"Okay," she said in a small, obedient voice that frankly, freaked Steven out more than anything else. His cousin being meek and agreeable wasn't normal. Which meant it couldn't possibly be good.
Even with Gregory's help, Allie had to push up with both hands in order to rise from the couch, shuffling off painfully in the direction of the upstairs bathroom.
Steven waited until Allie was out of sight and they'd heard the water in the shower turn on before demanding from the rest of them, "What the hell are we supposed to do now?"
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