"So exactly how long are you and the boys planning to be partying in Cooperstown?" Lorna perched on the lid of Jamie's suitcase as it sat atop the bed, ostensibly helping him to close it, then somehow forgetting to move from the comfortable spot between his arms when he bent over to click both locks shut.
"A few days." He kissed her forehead. "You can come with us if you want."
"Oh, yeah, that'll really make them love me."
"They already know you play a mean game of hockey. That's half the battle right there."
"What's the other half?"
"Not sure. Last time I had to introduce a girlfriend to my kid, Steven was still in diapers. And the girlfriend was his mother's identical twin, so we kind of had the familiarity built in. This is new territory for me. Are you seriously worried that the boys won't like you?"
"No. Yes. Kind of. It's new territory for me, too. I've never had a boyfriend with kids I needed to impress. It's not like Grant introduced me to Kirkland when we were... whatever we were. Usually it's just parents or friends. Or their dog."
"You dated a guy who pitted you against his dog?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Lorna growled. "Let's just say I'm happy to be with you, and leave it at that."
"If the grin on Kirkland's face as I escorted you out of the house the other day was any indication, you're sitting pretty. And Steven is more interested in his love life than mine, so I don't think you have to worry about that, either."
"What are you worried about, then? You have that look in your eye again. Like you're trying to decide whether you'd rather get hit in the head with a lead pipe or a block of wood."
He smiled uneasily. "All of the above. I-I've been thinking... I need to tell Steven and Kirkland about Cecile. And me. I promised them no more secrets. This trip is supposed to be a fresh start for us."
"You want to tell them during the trip?" she made a face.
"Yeah. Not the best time, I know. But, then again, what would be? Whether it's here or in Cooperstown or space camp, it's not destined to be a pleasant conversation." Jamie looked to Lorna. "Please tell me what you're thinking before your head explodes."
"I think," she began slowly. "That you're being incredibly brave and forthright."
"But.... Maybe you should give them a chance to catch their breaths. They just got through processing you going to jail, and finding out about your breakdown.... Maybe this trip should be about healing, not opening new wounds."
He sighed, plopping down next to the suitcase and pulling Lorna onto his lap. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm sorry to be dumping all this on you. Especially when you've got your own family drama to deal with."
"Don't be. You're a great dad. That's one of the things I love most about you."
"You know," Jamie observed. "For a woman who only a few days ago couldn't say it and look me in the eye, you've become awfully comfortable with that word all of a sudden."
She shrugged. "You're not the only one who had some issues to work through this weekend, okay?"
"Glad to be of service."
"Don't get cocky." Lorna pressed her fingers into Jamie's chest and pushed him the rest of the way down on the bed. "You're not done yet."
"By the way," Jamie told her. "Your math was off by a factor of 10. I was a little too... preoccupied earlier to notice. It's 2,000 I'm behind. Not 20,000."
She recalculated quickly, and conceded his math, if nothing else. "I'm an overachiever. You got a problem with that?"
"Not a single one..."
"What are you doing here, Donna?" Marley pried loose her bedroom door a crack, hurriedly pulling on a robe and smoothing her unruly hair down with the fingers of one hand. "Did you escape from the hospital?"
"What? No! No, of course not." Donna flushed scarlet as she realized what precisely she'd interrupted; she'd been on Marley's side of the equation too many times not to recognize the telltale signs. Donna was about to apologize and make herself scarce disturbing her daughter while she was... entertaining was definitely not the way Donna had intended to extend her homecoming olive branch when a faint whiff of male cologne wafting off Marley's hair and skin hit Donna's sense memory with the forcible impact of twenty horrific years passed.
Without thinking through her actions, Donna shoved Marley's door the rest of the way, already knowing whom she'd find on the other side even before her eyes confirmed it.
Grant Harrison. Sitting on Marley's bed. On her unmade bed. Tying his shoelaces.
"Donna," he greeted as if her arrival were a long time coming. "You're looking a modicum less insane."
"If I had a gun," she informed him. "I would shoot you on the spot."
"They really do wonderful work with the criminally coo-coo there at the sanitarium, don't they?"
"Don't bait her, Grant," Marley warned, even as she privately admitted she'd been thinking the exact same thing. Maybe the S.O.B was right. Maybe they really were on the same wavelength. Whatever that meant. Or implied.
Mustering what dignity she might under the circumstances, Donna informed her daughter, "I think you and I need to have a chat. I'll wait for you downstairs in the study." She cast a baleful look at Grant. "Once you've thrown out the trash."
"You spoiled, selfish, self-absorbed, little bitch," Sharlene raised her arm and, without warning, smacked Allie across the face. "After everything my son has put up with, after everything he gave up for you, you can't be bothered to see him in the hospital?"
"Whoa, hold on." Initial shock passing, Steven leapt from the chair and forcibly inserted himself between his aunt and cousin, pinning Sharlene's wrists when it looked like she might be making a grab at Allie's throat.
"This doesn't concern you, Steven." Sharlene attempted to wrench out of his grip, but he held firm. "John told me what you did for Gregory. You too, Sarah. We are infinitely grateful to you both. But this is between Allie and I."
Clutching her swiftly swelling cheek with one hand, Allie peered up, stunned, at Sharlene, sniffling, and frantically trying to blink back tears.
"Don't give me that, sweetheart," Sharlene warned. "I'm not your doting family, or an infatuated teen-age boy. That pitiful look does nothing for Let go of me, Steven!"
"Not until you calm down," he kept his voice steady but firm.
"My son is in Intensive Care! I don't damn well have to calm down!"
"I'm sorry," Allie whispered. "Is Gregory okay?"
"So now you care?" Sharlene demanded, peering over Steven's shoulder.
"I I care. Of course, I care. I love him."
"You just have better things to do than go in when he asks for you?"
"You didn't see him... Back at school.... It was horrible... He just collapsed, and he was shaking, and I was so scared.... "
"I've seen all that and more," Sharlene said. "Believe me, if I had my way, you wouldn't get anywhere near him, today or ever. But the moment he opened his eyes, you were all he could think about. My son nearly died, and the first thing he asked was if you were alright!"
With that, the worst of the fight seemed to drain from Sharlene. Steven felt it and, without comment, let go of her arms.
"Gregory nearly died?" Allie repeated.
Sharlene opened her mouth to say something, then seemingly changed her mind before the first word was out, choosing instead to hiss, "You pull yourself together, and you go in there now. Or, so help me, I will drag you in there by the hair myself."
Allie recoiled but also, instinctively, stood up. Sarah tapped her elbow. "You want me to come with you, Al?"
"No," Sharlene snapped. "She's a big enough girl to give away my grandson. She's a big enough girl to handle this on her own."
"And you," Sarah rose, too, getting in Sharlene's face in a way even Steven hadn't dared. "Should be grown up enough not to bully a kid too scared to fight back."
"Who the hell do you think you are, talking to me like that?"
"You know who I am." Sarah held her ground.
Sharlene smirked. "You're Olivia's brat. I'd have known your behavior anywhere."
"I'm Allie's friend," Sarah corrected.
Allie shot her a grateful look, then tentatively asked Sharlene, "Do I just go right through those doors there?"
"Come on, I'll take you." She reached around Sarah to pivot Allie in the right direction by the shoulders. "Don't want you getting lost on the way."
"I'll be right here," Sarah called after them, Allie turning around briefly, looking about as terrified as Sarah had ever seen her and that included only a few weeks earlier at the Cory cabin before disappearing into the ICU.
"Wow," Steven said. "That was... wow." He looked at his watch. "Oh, damn, I almost forgot. I've got plans with my dad. I promised I'd meet him and Kirk... I could call and cancel. If there's one thing my dad understands it's a hospital emergency. I could stick around here until Allie comes back."
"You don't have to," Sarah reassured. "I can handle Allie. And Sharlene."
Sarah reminded, "You and your dad and Kirk, you've got your own stuff to deal with. You should go. I'll be fine."
"You're more than fine." He kissed her. "You're amazing. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Just have a good time on your trip. And don't worry, the thing about life in Bay City is, there'll still be plenty of crises for you to deal with when you get back."
"I was so glad you called," Alice told Amanda over lunch at Tops. "I've missed talking with you. I was afraid that the end of your relationship with Kevin meant an end to our friendship as well."
Amanda shook her head. "It wasn't that. It's just that these last few weeks with Jamie..."
"Say no more. A pleasant lunch out was the last thing on anyone's mind. How is he?"
"Great!" Amanda said, then, curious, wondered, "Did you know about him and Lorna?"
"I did," Alice admitted sheepishly. "I saw them together once, in the emergency room. He was bandaging her arm, perfectly professional, but it was obvious... and then, when I caught her trying to bribe a guard to let her see him in jail, I kind of figured out the rest."
"Well, I've never seen Jamie this happy in my life. Or his. Lorna might not be one of my favorite people, but I'm willing to overlook that, under the circumstances. If anybody deserves to be happy..."
"We all deserve to be happy," Alice reminded her gently.
Amanda shrugged and pierced her shrimp with a salad fork as if harpooning an aggressive whale. "How's Spencer?" her rushed change of subject fooled no one, least of all herself, but Alice politely ignored the shift.
"Furious with me," she confessed, hoping her own candor might encourage some of the same in Amanda.
"I can't imagine anyone ever being furious with you." In response to Alice's raised eyebrow, Amanda clarified, "Well, except for my mother, of course."
"Do you know how many times, over the past forty-five years, I've wished that I could be more like your mother? That I could hurt people, and not let it bother me in the slightest. Never as much and never as fervently, though, as I wish it now."
"What happened?" Amanda sat back in her chair, stunned.
"I played with a fire I had no earthly idea how to control. And I burned not just myself, but someone I had grown to care about a great deal." She filled Amanda in on the situation with Spencer, concluding, "I betrayed his trust. I thought, for once in my life, I could be the sort of woman who has a fling without any concern for the consequences. And I thought Spencer would be the perfect man to do it with. After all, if he were using me, the least I could do was use him in return. No one gets hurt that way. But he tells me that wasn't the case. He claims he fell in love with me. Because he thought I'd seen the good in him that he himself had long ago given up hope of ever finding."
Amanda admitted, "I've always felt sort of sorry for Spencer. I like him. But I've never met anyone in my life so desperate for human connection, without the slightest idea of how to go about it. Well, except maybe Grant. When he and I were married, I'd watch Spencer with Grant or with Kirkland, Spencer would make this attempt to reach out, but within minutes, he'd be bossing Grant around, trying to make him do something that I don't think either one of them really cared about, except as a power struggle. They'd be at each other's throats before they even knew what hit them. And looking like they had absolutely no idea how they'd gotten from Point A to Point B."
"When I did my psychiatric rotation during residency," Alice said. "They taught us that if a child loses both their parents at a developmentally critical age, the brain literally can not make the connections necessary for them to recognize what a functional relationship is. It's not a psychological issue; it's a physical one. The neural pathways are lacking. I worried about that with Kevin. Jennifer and David, Sally and Catlin, he had no stability whatsoever growing up."
Amanda could have, like Alice earlier, simply politely ignored the pointed shift in topic. But she apparently lacked those particular neural pathways. "Maybe that explains it."
Alice smiled and folded her napkin across her lap. "I had a feeling we'd get to the true reason behind your invitation eventually. What happened, Amanda?"
"I really did want to see you," she insisted. "I've missed our talks, too."
"I believe you. So now I'm here, and I'm ready to listen. Shoot."
Amanda blurted out, "Your grandson is impossible."
"I can't really disagree with that assessment."
"I went to him. I swallowed my pride. I apologized, told him I was wrong about everything, that I was wrong to walk out on him."
"And, let me guess, he told you, thanks for the sentiment, but it really doesn't change anything. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice..."
"Yes!" Amanda exclaimed. "That's almost exactly what he said. And it's certainly precisely what he meant."
"Some things never change. He was like that as a boy, too. I thought admitting that he was right; that we, his family, we made some terrible misjudgments when it came to his upbringing, might clear the air between us. Instead, it just confirmed his resolution never to trust any of us again. I'm afraid second chances aren't in Kevin's skill set." Alice smiled, "However, that doesn't mean you should give up on him."
"I don't have much of a choice. He's seeing Matt's ex-wife, Lila."
"Hardly an impediment that would have stopped your mother."
Amanda shook her head, as if to clear it and make sure that she'd just heard what she thought she'd heard. "Are you telling me to..."
"Regrets are very unpleasant. I mourn my daughter, and I wish things with my grandson had turned out differently. But the only thing I truly regret is that I didn't fight harder for Steve when I had the chance. Remember our conversation at Christmas about being the good girl? I'm sorry to say, in my experience, it doesn't get you anything but regrets. You want Kevin? Then, my dear, you go after him with everything you've got. I'll help you in any way I can. After all, I learned from the best."
"I am not going on the run with you," Frankie told Cass in a voice that made it clear there would be no further discussion.
"I thought you wanted us to be together? The four of us, as a family."
"I do. More than anything."
"Then what choice have we got? I told you, I'll clear Lucas. You have my word."
"I believe you. But, think for a moment, Cass. Think about Lori Ann. She is still so medically fragile. We don't know how much longer she'll need the apnea monitor. Do you think Lori Ann could physically survive a life of scurrying from place to place under cover of darkness, endless road trips on buses and third-rate trains, bunking down who knows where, eating who knows what, for months, maybe years at a time?"
"We'd do whatever we had to, to take care of her. I'd never let anything happen to Lori Ann, you know that."
"What about Felicia? Are you prepared to take Jenna's child away from Felicia?"
Cass hesitated, as if the enormity of what he'd proposed just hit him. Reluctant to say it, but feeling obliged nonetheless, Cass ventured tentatively, wincing even as he did, "We... we could leave Lori Ann with Felicia. That way, she'd be taken care of and "
"No!" Frankie verbally smacked his suggestion away, face flushing a furious pink. "The family stays together. That means you, me, and both our daughters."
"I couldn't agree more," he bobbed his head frantically. "But then I don't understand. The only way that can possibly happen now is for us to "
"It's not the only way. You've never been on the run, Cass. I have. All those years after I'd regained my memory, while Cecile was threatening to hurt you and Charlie if I ever came home, I lived a life in purgatory. It's horrible. More devastating than prison even, because in prison, you know you have no choice. But when hiding in plain sight, every day is torture. The people you love are out there. You can watch them from the shadows. But you can't call out, you can't talk to them, you can't touch them. It's a living hell. That's why I reached out to Charlie. That's why I made my little girl lie to her father, to everyone that she loved. I made her afraid of slipping, saying the wrong thing and costing her mother her life. Looking back, I can't imagine what could have made me put my daughter under that kind of pressure. No, that's not true. I don't have to imagine, I know. It was loneliness and desperation. And selfishness. I will never, ever put her through something like that again."
"I'm not asking you to."
"Yes, you are. That's exactly what you're asking."
"No. This time will be different. We'll be together. She won't have to lie."
"Maybe not to you. But how is Charlie supposed to make friends? How is she supposed to grow up and find someone to spend the rest of her life with, have a family of her own, if we've burdened her with our secrets? No, Cass. I love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my being. But I will not sacrifice our girls for you."
"What do you want me to do?" he demanded, near tears.
"What you promised to do. Turn yourself in. Accept your punishment."
"You want me to go to jail?"
"I don't want you to go to jail. But you committed a crime. A crime two other people have paid for so far. I want you to turn yourself in, go to trial, do whatever you need to do, but then I want you to accept the punishment you're dealt. I want you to be a man."
"How the hell is that keeping our family together?"
"You have my word, if you do this, you will never, ever lose me."
"Fine consolation from inside a jail cell."
"I will come see you every day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, you name it, and I'll be there. You will be a part of every family decision; you will be a part of your children's lives. We will be together. It will be complicated, it will be painful, and God knows, it will be unconventional. But we will be together. Face the consequences of your actions, and I will stand by you, no matter what sacrifices and accommodations it requires or how long it takes. Run away, and you do it alone, Cass."
"He's got that look on his face again," Kirkland noted to Steven as they sprawled on a couch in the Cooperstown hotel lobby, watching Jamie complete their check-in at the front desk.
"Yeah, I see it."
"What do you think it could be now?"
"Should we ask?"
"We could. Don't know if we should."
"Dad promised us he wouldn't be keeping any more secrets."
"Dad promised us a lot of things."
"How are we supposed to have fun on this trip if we're waiting for some other bomb to drop at any moment?"
"Just close your eyes and think of baseball," Steven quoted his brother's words back at him.
Check-in complete, Jamie turned from the counter and waved them over. He was smiling, making all the right gestures to signify sincere enthusiasm. But, behind the pantomime, his eyes remained overcast.
"I'm going to ask him," Kirkland decided.
"Knock yourself out," Steven shrugged nonchalantly as they followed Jamie to the elevator. "This is your vacation. I wanted to go to space camp."
"What's going on, Dad?" Kirkland barely waited for the bellboy to drop off their bags and shut the hotel room door behind him.
"We know you're hiding something," Steven helped out. "Because you really suck at it."
Seeing that Jamie was getting ready to spout a denial, Kirkland interrupted, "We'd rather you told us now. Otherwise, Cooperstown's going to be totally wasted on me."
"There is something," Jamie admitted, feeling his way in. "But I don't know if this trip is the right time to.... "
"Come on, Dad," Kirkland encouraged. "Let's just get it over with."
Jamie crossed his arms, digging in his fingers with such force that they left a whitish imprint on his flesh, head down, practically trying to shrivel inside his skin. He took a deep breath and forced himself to look both boys in the eye. "I didn't tell you everything about what led to my breakdown. Or about what Cecile was blackmailing me with."
"You don't have to," Steven blurted, suddenly looking as terrified as Jamie felt. "That stuff all happened before we were born. It's none of our business."
Kirkland whipped around, reminding, "You're the one always griping about Dad keeping secrets. He's trying to tell us something now and "
"He's not doing it for us, you idiot. He's doing it to make himself feel better."
"So what? If Dad needs to tell us something, then Dad needs to tell us something."
"I really think," Jamie offered each word slowly and apologetically, desperate not to upset Steven any further. "It would be best for all of us, in the long run, if I just got everything out into the open."
"I'm listening, Dad," Kirkland reassured.
"Don't do this," Steven all but whimpered. "Please don't do this. It's over. It's done. Please, Dad. Just let it drop."
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