Cass sent Felicia on ahead to the church so she could help Frankie get everything ready for Lori Ann's christening, promising to catch up as soon as he crossed all the T's and dotted the I's of Lucas' paperwork.
By the time he arrived, his younger daughter was already all decked out in a white, silk and lace festooned baptismal gown, the flowing skirt of which appeared to be nearly twice her size. Even Cass' older daughter had deigned to girl up for the occasion, trading in her customary ensemble of jeans, knit splatter T-shirts, and sneakers, for an actual (though still splatter) tiered dress, and shoes with the slightest hint of heel. This, Cass had to believe, was a good omen.
He kissed Charlie and Lori Ann, who perched in Felicia's arms, trying to stuff the hem of her gown into her mouth with both hands. Cass asked, "Where's Frankie?"
"I'm not sure," Felicia admitted, in between explaining to Lori Ann, "No, darling, couture isn't for chewing." She smoothed down Lori Ann's gown, only to watch the baby go to town on the straps of her matching cap. "She went to talk to the minister, but he's here now, so I don't know where she ran off to."
"I'll find her," Cass assured, stepping through the door behind the pulpit and heading down the hallway towards the offices and classrooms.
After a few minutes, he located Frankie in the area designated for Sunday School. She sat at a desk, reading something on the computer. The minute Cass walked into view, Frankie hurriedly closed her document.
"Hey." She turned off the machine and stood up.
"What are you doing?" he asked the obvious question.
Frankie rolled her eyes. "Okay, you caught me. The minister and I got into a little... discussion earlier."
"That doesn't sound good."
"We may have exchanged a few words about what exactly constitutes pagan traditions, and whether the practice thereof is an inevitable road to hell. You know, no biggie. I hopped on-line to see if I could find some evidence to counter his argument."
"Sure. Tons. But, I changed my mind. It's not worth making a scene."
Cass offered, "We don't need to baptize Lori Ann today, in this church, with this minister. I have no problem finding one who'd be more in synch with your beliefs."
"It's fine," Frankie assured. "We can do this today. This is important for Felicia. And Charlie, too. Did you see what she was wearing? She went out and bought the dress herself, no prompting from me. It's a miracle."
"She looks beautiful. I can't believe how grown up she is."
"I know. I'm scared to blink in case Lori Ann is next. One minute they're a baby, and the next... who is this young woman? Although," Frankie swallowed hard. "I suppose the process goes even faster, when you miss a decade in between."
"Don't," Cass warned. "Do not bring Cecile here, not today. We agreed."
Frankie started to say something, but apparently changed her mind, because she just nodded curtly and said, "Let's go. Felicia is waiting for us."
"I'm sorry," Cass softened. "I didn't mean to snap. It's just that... "
"No. You said it yourself. Not now. We'll talk about it later. You're right. I can't let Cecile spoil Lori Ann's big day."
"Any world from Marley?" John asked Donna as she scrolled through the missed calls on her cell-phone.
"No. I've left several messages."
"Maybe she's out with Bridget and Michele. It's a nice day."
"The girls should still be in school. And Marley isn't the hooky-playing type." Donna set the phone aside and reached for the cup of coffee John had poured her earlier, now lukewarm and bitter. "Thank you for letting me stay here last night. I didn't want to inflict myself on Marley unannounced."
"It's your house," John reminded.
"We've had words about that." Less than a minute had passed. Donna reached for the phone again, sighing as she reported, "Matthew called. Several times."
"I'm afraid I went a little overboard with him last night. But he's a persistent fellow, isn't he?"
"He's a wonderful man," Donna said. "Who deserves much better than me."
"You know, maybe you should tell him that. Instead of sending ex-brothers-in-law out to break his heart for you."
"I appreciate your help, you know I do. And don't you think I've tried telling Matthew? He won't listen."
"Yeah. I noticed that about him."
"Did you listen when we warned you away from Sharlene?"
"I should have. You were right. In the end. We couldn't make it work."
"Exactly. Sharlene's problems ultimately drove you two apart. The same way that mine will only end up hurting Matthew. It's better this way," Donna insisted, trying to convince herself as well as John. "I don't have a lot of experience with putting other people first."
"Is that a fact?" his eyes twinkled.
"Don't tease me, John," Donna wagged a finger.
"It's therapeutic," he defended, then mused quixotically, "We've got a few horses. You've got at least one man. Let's see if, between the two of us, we mightn't put Donna back together again."
The invitation to Lori Ann's christening had come by text-message and from Frankie, not Felicia. Lorna guessed that when her mother instructed, "Just family," Cass' wife had foolishly assumed that obviously meant Lorna, too.
At least Lorna had received the correct hour for this occasion. Coming late had been of her own volition this time. She snuck into the back of the church, and watched, unobserved, as her niece was baptized the daughter of Mary Frances and Cass Winthrop, goddaughter of Sharlene Frame, sister of Charlie, granddaughter of the one and only Felicia Gallant.
Dean should have been here. Lucas should have been here. Jenna... Jenna should have been here most of all. This wasn't right. And everybody knew it.
Felicia, being Felicia, tried to make up for the underlying sadness on what ostensibly was such a happy occasion by being even more... Felicia than usual.
She lined the entire group up behind the baptismal font for a photo, pressing the minister into service, then proceeding to dictate exactly how he should frame the shot.
After a half dozen family photos, Felicia reclaimed the camera, sent the man of the cloth on his way, and began arranging, "Just the two sisters, now. Charlie and Lori Ann."
"You heard Felicia," Frankie plopped the baby into her older daughter's arms. "Got her?"
"I dunno," Charlie's face betrayed a good bit of apprehension. "She's kinda wiggly."
"I think her dress is scratching her," Cass sympathized, tugging on his own tie.
"It's silk!" Felicia insisted. "What girl doesn't like silk?"
"Maybe she just doesn't like looking like a nuked out marshmallow," Charlie suggested. Then, while Frankie was helping pose Lori Ann, Charlie leaned over, indicating the glowering, lurking Lorna with a nudge of her head and whispering, "Are we supposed to pretend we don't see her?"
"I think so," Frankie whispered back.
"She and Felicia fighting again?"
"Beats me," Frankie confessed.
"What about, this time?"
"Same thing as always. About how they're exactly the same person. And it drives them both nuts."
"Oh," Charlie grinned. "That. I totally get that."
"I had a feeling you would," Frankie kissed her daughter and, at Felicia's fervent urging, guiltily scurried out of the shot.
"Now the girls with their parents," Felicia flamboyantly waved both arms to scoop them into view. "Now a Father/Daughter shot. Now Mother/Daughter. Now, all the Frame women. Now Lori Ann and..."
Felicia was the only one who refused to turn her head when they all heard the vestibule's door swing shut with a creak that echoed throughout the empty pews.
"Look," Charlie said, running to the spot where Lorna had stood. All that remained was a flat, white gift box topped with a dainty pink bow. "Can I open it?"
Though her question was directed towards all the adults present, Cass and Frankie automatically yielded to Felicia.
Lori Ann's grandmother shrugged as if it were no concern of hers whatsoever, and they were totally free to do as they liked.
"Sure, honey," Frankie finally said. "Go ahead."
Charlie pried loose the bow and opened the box. Inside was a specially burned DVD.
"What's Ladykiller?" Charlie asked.
"Are you and Sarah still fighting?" Gregory asked Allie as they walked to his dorm room after the tension in the hallway.
"Should we have stopped?"
"I thought maybe, after everything that happened at the cabin..." Gregory unlocked the door, escorted Allie inside and closed it behind them.
"You heard what she said there, about why she dumped me. Am I just supposed to forgive her like nothing happened?"
"Only if you miss having Sarah as a friend."
Allie reached for both of Gregory's hands and pulled him closer. "Why do you have to be so sensible? You're making it very hard for me to keep acting juvenile and blowing things all out of proportion."
She leaned in to kiss him, sliding her arms around Gregory's waist, pressing against him.
"Are you... Is it..." he struggled nobly to get his question in edgewise. "Are you okay to be doing this?"
"Well," Allie sat down on the bed, gesturing for him to do the same. "I'm not okay to be doing everything, yet."
"That's what I figured."
"But I can do a whole lot of stuff."
Gregory didn't look convinced. "Really?"
"Do you want to see the doctor's note?" He thought she was kidding. She wasn't. Allie reached into her purse and pulled out a piece of paper, handing it to Gregory. "I figured you might be a little... cautious. I don't blame you. Like I said before, I'm amazed you still want to have anything to do with me at all. So, just in case, I had the doctor write me a list of what exactly it was okay for us to do."
Gregory's eyes widened, and then he blushed furiously as he read over the inventory.
"Cool, isn't it?" Allie perched her chin on his shoulder. "There was stuff there I didn't even know about." She nuzzled his ear with her nose. "Want to give it a try?"
He cleared his throat. "Which which one?"
"Wow," Jamie let out an appreciative whistle as Lorna opened the door of the guesthouse and did a quick twirl to show off her wine-colored, sleeveless, mini-cocktail dress, one strap looping straight up her right shoulder, while the left tie stretched across diagonally, forming an upside down-V that drew attention to the graceful curve of her neck. "You look fantastic."
"I figured our first official date deserved extra effort." Lorna beamed, a little too brightly, Jamie thought.
"You could wear spandex parachute-pants with acid-washed denim over shoulder-pads and still look hot," Jamie stepped through the doorway, pulling Lorna in for a kiss.
"My fashion sense isn't that bad. Then again, you did know me twenty years ago. I came pretty darn close."
"I had a Members Only jacket," he reminded.
Deciding to face the elephant in the room head on, Jamie asked, "How did it go today?"
"Don't really feel like talking about it," she dismissed.
"Feel like taking a sledgehammer to the wall, then? Eating a gallon of ice cream? Screaming? Ranting? Setting fire to the place? Oh, wait, we've done that one already. But, hey, I'm up for anything."
"The only thing I feel like doing is going out and having fun with you," Lorna insisted. Then warned, "Stop looking at me like that. I'm fine."
"You are not fine," Jamie corrected without hesitation, sounding so reasonable and sure of himself that it left Lorna no choice but to, after a few seconds of stubborn, silent stand-off, give in and agree.
"Okay, so maybe I'm not exactly, technically fine. My father is stuck in jail until his trial, which could be months from now. And my mother..." her voice cracked and took the rest of the sentence with it. "I just want to be with someone who actually likes me right now, so I can forget about how much the rest of my life sucks. Is that so wrong?"
"Not at all. I'm honored you picked me."
"Good. You should be. So get out your 'A' game and show me a good time. No more questions, no more worried looks."
"You really know how to pressure a guy."
"If you can't stand the heat..." Lorna didn't get the chance to finish her thought, as the mere suggestion of the word kitchen set them both off into a fit of giggles.
"So much for my attempt at sophistication," Jamie wiped his eyes with thumb and finger. "I'm afraid this is much more my speed. And maturity. Keep in mind, the last ten years of my life have been spent almost exclusively in the company of teen-age boys."
"I like dorky, unsophisticated Jamie," Lorna swore. "Except when you keep looking at me like that."
"I'm looking at you like this, because you're still looking at me like that."
"Like what you really want to do is cry," Jamie said simply, his words a little difficult to deny as Lorna swallowed against the urge to do just that.
"Crying doesn't solve anything. When it's over, everything is just as crappy as it was before, except now you've also wasted a perfectly good make-up job."
"Your make-up looks fantastic," Jamie agreed. "And if you did it once, I'm sure you'll have no trouble doing it again." He led Lorna over to the couch and announced, "Fifteen minutes. I'm giving you permission to cry for exactly one quarter of an hour, no more, no less. And then you're going to stop, fix your make-up, and we'll go out on our date."
"You're giving me permission?" Lorna challenged, even as his words, the look in his eyes, and the warmth of his hand made the offer very, very tempting. "I don't need your permission to do anything."
"On this, you do. Because you'll never give it to yourself. But, don't worry, my motives aren't entirely altruistic. It's just that my 'A' game won't be fully appreciated if you're distracted by trying to hold it together all night."
"So my going off on a crying jag would actually be doing you a favor?"
"A public service." He opened his arms. "I'll hold you and I won't say a word. I'm good at that, remember? You can even use my shirt as a tissue, if you like."
"Fifteen minutes?" She confirmed, almost overcome with relief at the prospect; gratitude mixing with bewilderment in regards to how easy Jamie was making this for her.
"Fifteen minutes," he promised, Lorna curling up beside him on the couch. "And then we're definitely going out on that date. Seriously. I made reservations and everything."
"See how important it is," Allie teased Gregory as they were both finishing getting dressed. "To always follow doctor's orders?"
He smiled shyly and buttoned his shirt. Allie figured that, in this case, speechless was a good thing. She slipped on her sandals and asked, "What do you want to do now?"
"Do you have another list?" he wondered.
"Well, I suppose we could always do the first one again. Maybe in alphabetical order this time? Or we could cut it up and pull options out of a hat?"
"I say we eat first. Keep our strength up."
"Oh, fine. Be that way."
Gregory helped Allie on with her jacket, then reached for his. She'd just looked down to fit her zipper, which is why Allie only caught Gregory's fall in her peripheral vision.
One minute he was to the side and behind her, and the next he'd hit the ground with a sickening thump that echoed up through Allie's legs, straight into her gut.
Eyes closed, mouth open, Gregory shook as if he were being kicked by a mob of invisible assailants from all sides. His arms tightened up, fingers clawing into fists, legs flailing, the movements jerky, but repetitive.
The entire seizure barely lasted a minute. Just when Allie was wondering how his spine was managing not to snap from the violence of the convulsions, it abruptly stopped.
Now, Gregory wasn't moving at all, his limbs completely limp, his head flopped backward, his chest absolutely still, the skin around his lips slowly turning blue.
"I have to say, Frame," Lorna, wearing Jamie's jacket over a dress that proved a touch too skimpy for the late Spring weather, complimented him as they strolled through the Bay City Botanical gardens. "I am liking your 'A' game."
"Even though I went with the wholly unoriginal first date itinerary of dinner, movie, and a walk through the gardens, instead of flexing my trust-fund muscle and spiriting you away on a private jet to Paris for the weekend?"
"I happen to prefer Chicago deep dish pizza to crouton-encrusted snails. And I can't tell you how much I appreciated you taking me to see Iron Man 2 instead of some lame romantic comedy like most men would have. You scored a lot of bonus points for that risky maneuver."
"I got a feeling you were the type of woman who'd like movies where stuff blows up."
"I am. I'm also the type who likes root beer with her pizza, and listening to AC/DC, which you seemed to have picked up on, too."
"I'm a man who pays attention."
"You're sure you didn't grill Matt for a few pointers on me?"
"One: That would be cheating. Two: It's a lot more fun figuring things out for myself. Three: The woman he knew in the early nineties is most definitely not the one standing in front of me now. And four: Matt has yet to regain his ability to speak after witnessing our walk of no-shame this morning."
"Matt needs to get over himself. I mean, I get that me having dated your brother, your step-father, and your baby daddy "
"Please don't ever refer to Grant like that again. Ever."
" Might raise some eyebrows. But it's not like I'm the first person in this town to double-dip in a family tree." She winced. "Did that sound as icky as I think it did?"
"You're talking to a man who married twin sisters," Jamie laughed.
"Right.... We do have interesting track records."
"So what? We're older and hopefully wiser now. I don't see us, whatever it is we're doing, being a mistake."
"Me neither." Lorna planted both hands on her hips. "What? What's with the grin?"
"Nothing. It's just one thing for me to say it, but for you to agree...."
"Do you want to know why I've been so eager to go out on this date with you?"
"I believe you made a promise, what seems like a lifetime ago, that you were, in fact, going to enlighten me as to the reasons."
"It was because for weeks, months, I couldn't get you out of my head. I kept trying to figure out why. At first, I thought I was just horny. But, I always had... people I could turn to for scratching that particular itch."
"Really?" Jamie coughed, Lorna quickly clamping a hand over his mouth to quiet him.
"And then I thought it was because I was lonely. It's not like I have a lot of friends. But when I considered hanging out with the few people whose faces I could stand, I realized I didn't want to hang out with them. I wanted to hang out with you. Because you're sweet and you're smart and you're funny. In an unabashedly, slightly pathetic but nonetheless adorable, geektastic way. When you talk about Star Wars and comic books, I actually want to listen, instead of shoving sticks in my ears. And when you talk about your kids, it makes my ovaries hurt."
"You really need to get that checked out," Jamie managed to mumble through her fingers. "I could refer you to a specialist."
"The first time you looked at me the way you're looking at me now... I can't explain it, suddenly I could see myself with you ten years in the future, being happy. But in order for that to happen, for us to get there, we had to take the first step here and "
"Go out on a date," Jamie finished. "You've really put a lot of thought into this."
"This from the guy who, just this morning, over-thought..." Lorna didn't quite have the guts to finish her sentence.
"I'm still pleased with my conclusion," he challenged. "How about you?"
In lieu of an answer, Lorna gifted Jamie with a tender smile that made his heart hitch. And, in that moment, he felt something finally give way and break free from that last remaining tie that had been holding him shackled to the past.
Lorna must have felt it too, because after Jamie had kissed her, she opened her eyes, meeting his and seeing the answer there even before she asked, "Ready to go home?"
"I don't think this is what Felicia had in mind," Cass joked.
Post-baptism, Lori Ann's grandmother had proposed taking the girls back to Cass and Frankie's house and spending the evening baby-sitting, so that their proud parents could have a private date-night out.
At first, both had demurred, pointing out that after the kind of day Felicia just had, the last thing she needed was to
"Go home to an empty house and sit there alone, missing Lucas and wondering how late the local liquor store delivers?"
When she put it that way, neither Cass nor Frankie dared say no. Even though, to be honest, both of them really wanted to.
"Can we watch the DVD as soon as we get home?" Charlie cajoled. "Please, please, please?"
"Yes," Cass said. "But brace yourself, it can get pretty hairy."
Charlie peered at the case, confused. "Ladykiller is a horror movie? I thought it was a music video."
"Hairy," Cass repeated, and raised both hands about five inches above his head. "As in lots and lots of hair."
"And lots and lots of make-up," Frankie added.
"The 1980s were a frightening time," Cass lectured solemnly.
"This says it was made in 1991."
"Like the smell of fish." Frankie was forced to agree.
"Fish who wear hairspray. If you ever want to know what killed the ozone layer..."
Cass and Frankie watched Felicia drive off with the girls, then, abruptly, uncomfortably out of things to say to each other, climbed into their own car, Frankie in the driver's seat, Cass beside her.
He waited for her to turn on the ignition. She didn't. Instead, Cass' wife rested both palms on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead into the night through the smudged windshield. She bit her lip, seemingly lost in thought.
"Frankie?" he prompted. "What's wrong?"
"I know," she said in a hollow voice, still looking anywhere but directly at him.
"You know what?" he asked.
Clutching the wheel with shaking hands, her knuckles blanching white, Frankie slowly turned her head. Struggling to get the words out, as if she were arguing with herself between each syllable, Frankie told Cass, "I know you're the one who really killed Cecile."
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