"How long?" Charlie asked Frankie the moment her mother stepped through the front door.
Frankie hesitated, unsure if she had the emotional fortitude to go head to head with her daughter again, after the kind of morning she's had, when all she really wanted to do was the one thing she'd spent her life encouraging others not to do curl up, lick her wounds and die. But, looking at Charlie's face such a heartbreaking combination of adolescent anger, despair and need, reminded Frankie of something more important: She was the parent, and Charlie was the child. If her daughter desperately needed something, it was Frankie's job to provide it, whether she felt like doing so at the moment, or not.
"Twelve years," Frankie told her. "With a possibility of parole after five."
"Is he in jail now?"
"Yes. The judge ordered him remanded immediately."
"Did he look scared?"
"Are you scared?"
"Is that why you aren't telling me it's going to be okay? This is usually the part where somebody starts trying to convince me that everything is going to be okay."
"I'm not telling you that everything is going to be okay, because you're not ready to hear it yet."
"Or because you know it's not true."
"I know that the four of us, you, me, Lori Ann, and your father are going to figure out some way to make it okay."
"Good luck with that," Charlie smirked to cover her trembling lower lip.
"The good news is, because Cass negotiated a plea, Lucas has been released. He's on his way home now. I called ahead, told Lori Ann's nurse to bring her over to Felicia's for the night, so she can welcome her grandfather back."
"She left a little while ago," Charlie confirmed.
"So it's just you and me," Frankie said and hesitated again, as both she and Charlie took a moment to process the full implication of their new situation.
"This is how it's going down," Sarah closed the door of Gregory's hospital room after ushering Allie and GQ inside, to insure their not being overheard. "Do you think you could walk from here to the parking lot?"
Gregory considered it. "I I think so."
"I'd help you," Allie said. "You could lean on me."
"Yeah, this isn't Heidi," Sarah cut her off. "We've got to know for sure, otherwise, a couple of details will need to be changed."
"I can do it," Gregory resolved. "To the parking lot."
"Good." Sarah reached into the shopping bag she'd brought, and handed Gregory a neatly folded stack of clothes. "Put these on. The hospital fashion is kind of a tip-off."
Allie walked over to the wall Gregory had indicated earlier and flicked off the siren set to trigger if his monitors were disturbed.
Examining the pants and T-shirt she'd brought him, Gregory pointed out, "The nurse out front will still be able to see as soon as I disconnect. All the indicators will flat-line."
"I looked into it," Sarah continued talking even as Allie drew the curtain around Gregory's bed so he could change in private. "The nurse watches one monitor, which has the vital signs of all three of her patients on it. But if there's a problem in one of her patients' rooms, she goes to check, which means she isn't looking at the other two in that moment."
"What? You going to suffocate the other guy with a pillow to distract her?" GQ joked. Sincerely hoping that he was, in fact, joking. Ever since Sarah had agreed to help with Gregory, the girl had gotten... kind of scary.
"No," she added a few extra vowels, and an implied duh to her answer. "I'm just going to pop in next door and loosen a few wires. Nothing life threatening!" she defended in response to GQ, Allie and Gregory's horrified glances. "The wires leading to his monitors, not the ones supplying his meds. Sheesh, people. Besides, he's probably a horrible human being who cheats on his wife. And his taxes." When they still didn't look adequately appeased, she added, "The point is to distract the nurse long enough to get Gregory off this floor. Nobody's going to get hurt, you have my word."
"To make sure we don't have any photographic evidence of you taking off no point in leaving the cops anymore clues than we have to Steven's out in the parking lot with Jen. I call her phone, give the word, and Steven's got his lap-top. He'll slice into the main security camera hub and loop the footage, so the guards will be watching old action instead of the most current for the fifteen minutes or so it takes us to disappear. Only thing we need to do is distract them for the split-second glitch it'll take us to reset everything."
"How are you going to do that?" Gregory asked.
"I may have liberated a janitor's uniform. All I need is a bucket and some butter-fingers, and I'm afraid the security desk is going to find themselves temporarily soaked."
"You're not afraid they'll be able to describe you later to the cops?" Allie wondered.
"Nah," he reassured. "Everybody knows: Black man with a mop is invisible."
Jamie looked up as a tentative knock sounded on his door, followed by Kirkland slowly peeking into his office. "Can I come in?"
"Always, you know that. What's up?"
"Can't a kid just visit his Dad on his first day back at work?"
"He can," Jamie said slowly, sensing a curious vibe from Kirkland.
"Looks like you're diving right back in. That was quick."
"Yeah. Russ just handed me my old hospital ID and the keys to my office and that was that. Almost like I never left." Jamie paused, taking in Kirkland's expression. "But you didn't come here to talk about that, did you?"
"No," Kirkland finally admitted, taking a seat in front of Jamie's desk. "Dad, did you..." He paused, chewing on the words before a new thought came to him and he asked, "You and Aunt Marley...what happened with you guys?"
"Nothing, we've both just had a lot to deal with in the past few months."
"Truth, please. "
"I am telling you the truth."
"Not all of it."
"Okay," Jamie conceded. "There are some things that your Aunt Marley and I still have to work out."
"Adult things," Jamie countered with mock sternness. "That have nothing to do with you and aren't really any of your business."
"Did you know that she and Grant are seeing each other?" Kirkland finally asked in a fervid rush, eyes glued to Jamie in order to gauge his reaction. He'd expected to see surprise. Part of him had hoped to see the same concern and confusion that he felt on the matter. But what Kirkland didn't expect to see was the kind of acceptance that could only mean... "You knew?"
"Not that they were still seeing each other," Jamie quickly said. "Just that they... that things were headed in that direction. When did you find out?"
"Today. I went over to Grant's to drop off...something, and I kind of walked in on him and Aunt Marley."
"Oh," Jamie winced in sympathy. "Sorry. That must have been awkward."
"I think I'll call before dropping by from now on, and make sure to knock."
"Not a bad idea," Jamie smiled in understanding. "So how do you feel about this latest development?"
"I don't know. I mean... I don't know," Kirkland ran a hand through his hair. "He's so.... and she's so.... and when did this all even happen? Not to mention, my dad dating my aunt? Well, I guess Mom dated my uncle, but.... How am I supposed to feel about it?"
"I was married to your mom and to your Aunt Marley. How do you feel about that?"
"That's different. You and Aunt Marley fit. She and Grant... don't."
"I know it's unexpected, but the same could be said about Lorna and I. The people who thought they knew us never saw it coming. But we're very happy right now. Maybe it's the same for Grant and Marley."
"Wow," Kirkland gaped at his father. "You must really be delirious over Miss Devon if you can say that with a straight face."
"I am," Jamie laughed. "But that's not why I said it. I'm saying it because... you just never know."
"So you think them getting together is a good thing?"
"I think that we'll all just have to wait and see," Jamie answered carefully. "But I don't want you to feel like you have to keep your thoughts about it to yourself. You can always talk to me. And I'm sure that Grant and Marley want to know how you feel. "
"Well, when I figure it out, I'll let them know."
"I realize it's an understatement when I say things have been insane this past year."
"You think? Next you'll be telling me that Miss Devon is moving into the Cory mansion with us." Kirkland took in his father's face and blinked. "No way. Seriously?"
"Lorna is definitely not moving into the mansion with us."
"I've been thinking it's time we got a place of our own. Our own house. You and me."
"And Miss Devon?"
"And Miss Devon," Jamie confirmed. "I know. It's a lot. Too much maybe?"
"Maybe," Kirkland admitted. "Half my stuff is still at Aunt Marley's, the other half's back at the Corys'. And now I'm moving again? To live with just you and a.... girl?"
"You live with girls now," Jamie teased. "Grandma, Amanda, Lila, Allie, Jasmine, Elizabeth, not to mention Marley, Michele and Bridget..."
"Yeah, but this would be different. Way different."
"I know," Jamie nodded. "And I understand if it's too much too soon for you. I mean, my having a girlfriend is one thing I think we both agree it's about time. But having her around constantly, living with her... That's one of the reasons I invited Lorna to the 4th of July family pool party. So you'd both have the chance to get to know each other."
"Maybe it would be better if I just stayed at the mansion. That way, you get to have your own space with Miss Devon, and I can get used to you guys being together."
"You've got it wrong, buddy. Moving, getting a house, making a home, that's about us. You and me and Steven, whenever he deigns to visit. I've been thinking about moving out for years, but it never felt like the right time, until now."
"Because of Miss Devon."
"She's a big part of it, yes."
"Great, so now I can feel guilty that I'm screwing up your game?"
"Kirkland, from the day all babies are born, they're screwing up their parents' game. It's part of the deal in having kids."
"Funny," Kirkland snorted, before lapsing into thoughtful silence. "Can I reserve the right to give you my answer until after the pool party? I want to formally meet your girlfriend. Grill her about her views on the rights of teenage boys."
"Grill her?" Jamie quirked a brow.
"Dad, you know where you go, I go, and that I'm moving with you. But I would like to know more about who I'll be living with, not to mention begin ingratiating myself so she won't hassle me about homework and curfews."
"Funny," Jamie rolled his eyes, even as he felt his chest lighten in relief.
He hugged Kirkland good-bye and had barely closed the door behind him, when John came bursting through in Kirkland's wake.
"Jamie, I heard you were back. I need your help."
"I swear, Fanny, she looks more like Jenna every time I see her," Lucas held Lori Ann over his head, smiling each time she shrieked with glee at his spinning her around. "Can you believe she'll be a year old in August?"
"No," Felicia said. "I can't believe that in August it will be a year since...."
Lucas slowly lowered his granddaughter. "I wish I could have been there for you. I wish I could have been there for Jenna, for Dean, for all of you."
"Dean called on Christmas Day," she clung to straws. "Maybe, when it's been a year...."
"We can look for him. Hire a private detective."
"He's made it clear he doesn't want to be found." Felicia kissed Lori Ann on the cheek, then wiped the lipstick mark off with her fingers. "She's not even a year old, and she's already lost two fathers. It isn't fair."
A knock on the door distracted them both from precisely how unfair the situation really was. Felicia crossed to answer, surprised to find Sharlene on the other side.
John's ex-wife opened her mouth, prepared to say her piece, when the sight of Lucas over Felicia's shoulder momentarily distracted her. "You're out already?" she asked, puzzled. "They couldn't have had a trial yet. Have the charges been dropped?"
Felicia nodded, wondering how she hadn't heard. "Cass fixed it so that Lucas' sentence was communed to time-served in exchange for his waiving the right to his own trial."
"What? Waving whose right to whose trial? Cass? I don't understand."
"Cass confessed to killing Cecile," Felicia explained gently. "He was sentenced this morning. Twelve years."
"What?" Sharlene repeated. "Why "
"She was threatening Frankie and the girls. He did the only thing he could. It was an accident. He didn't mean to kill her. He "
"Frankie. Oh my god, Frankie..."
"She's home now," Felicia said. "With Charlie."
"I need to see them. I didn't know. I've been so preoccupied.... "
"Of course," Felicia agreed. "Except, Sharlene, I'm sorry, but, before you go, may I just ask, why did you come over here in the first place?"
The initial point of her errand had completely slipped Sharlene's mind. She took a moment to compose herself, and then told Felicia, "I was over at John's earlier." She snuck a peek at Lucas, wondering how much he'd been filled in on about his "widow" and Sharlene's then-husband.
"It's alright," Felicia said stiffly. "Luke knows about John and I."
"How nice for you both," Sharlene suppressed the urge to add that she still wished she didn't. But then, remembering her original point, and guiltily taking just the tiniest bit of pleasure she certainly deserved something at this point in her life at being the one to deliver it, she went on, "Seems John has a houseguest. Donna."
"Donna's out?" Lucas unconsciously echoed Sharlene's question about him.
"Uh-ha." Sharlene bobbed her head. "She's been released. At John's urging. And into his physical custody."
Despite all four open windows, it still felt distinctively stifling inside the car as Steven and Jen sat in the two front seats, waiting for first Sarah's, then GQ's activation phone calls.
Trying to keep her mind off the heat, not to mention the crime they were about to commit, Jen told Steven, "I was happy to hear about your dad."
"Oh. Yeah. We did talk about that, didn't we?"
"A million years ago. I think it was right before we drove up to the cabin."
"Yeah..." Steven shook his head. "The cabin...."
"Is life always this exciting in Bay City?" she teased.
He grinned. "Pretty much. I used to think it was just my mom who kept things hopping. But she's been dead over ten years now, and the drama continues..."
"Funny. You don't strike me as a drama seeking kind of guy. And yet, as long as I've known you..."
"Avoiding drama has kind of been my modus operandi since I was a kid. Futile though it may be. I've never seen one that ended well."
"What about this?" Jen asked, serious now, indicating their current circumstances.
"When the finale you're shooting for," Steven pointed out. "Involves a nineteen year old kid dying, there really aren't a lot of happy ending options, are there?"
Jen never got the chance to answer as, at that moment, her phone beeped with Sarah on the other line. "Let's do this thing."
So they did.
The nurse was distracted, the security guards were soaked, Steven chewed his lower lip and pushed a sequence of buttons and, after a nail-baiting seventeen minutes Sarah's initial projection had been fifteen; luckily, Steven always prepared for the unexpected and safety-padded to twenty Allie and Gregory all but collapsed into the back seat of the car. Despite the June weather, he was deathly pale, his skin cold and clammy, his breath coming out in pained gasps as he buckled at the waist, face pressed into his knees.
"You made it," Allie rubbed his back soothingly. "You made it. You did it."
He nodded weakly to indicate that he'd heard and, summoning up the last of his energy to raise his head and look from Steven to Jen, managed to whisper, "Thanks, guys."
Jen started the engine, but even as she was pulling out of the hospital parking lot, Steven twisted over in his seat to tell Gregory, "You don't have to do this, man. You look... you don't look good."
Gregory actually smiled weakly at that. "Sorry."
"What I mean is, we could turn right around and take you back to the hospital. They know what they're doing. We don't."
"He's right," Allie said. "You can still change your mind. You can always change your mind."
Gregory shifted his weight so that he was lying, curled up in the back-seat. His entire body shook with exhaustion and who knew what else. He indicated Jen, her hands paused on the steering wheel, and repeated, "Let's do this thing."
Jamie told John, "Steven filled me in on Gregory's seizure, and then I looked at his chart when I came in.... I am so, so sorry, John."
"Thanks. But I'm good on sympathy at the moment. What I could use is some actual help."
"Your old friend, Kevin Fowler, got his ambulance-chasing claws into Gregory now. Convinced him to sign a DNR and an Allow Natural Death. Gregory is refusing any further treatment."
"I saw that," Jamie nodded slowly, unsure where John was heading.
"Yeah, well, I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. We still have options."
"Not many. And if he's refused "
"You and I both know what's left to be tried."
It took Jamie a moment to realize what John was implying. Once he did, he instinctively took a step back, shaking his head. "It hasn't been FDA approved."
"I don't give a damn. And I'm looking for a doctor who agrees with me. Gregory's current supervising physician has all but washed his hands of the matter. You know that, ethically, I can't step in. But you... Despite everything that's happened, you've done your due diligence. You understand it's the only chance my son's got."
"Gregory is a legal adult. If he's made the decision to discontinue "
Any semblance of John's clinging to reason or rationality, cracked under the strain and he begged, "What if it were Steven? Gregory and Steven are cousins on both sides, the Frame and the Hudson. A slight alternation in a single DNA sequence, and that could just as easily be Steven in there right now. What would you do? He's my only child, Jamie. He's all I have..."
Gregory slept for most of the drive up to the rental cabin, his head on Allie's lap, wincing in pain over every bump in the road despite being only partially conscious.
Steven had to assist him up the two steps, supporting most of Gregory's weight with one arm, then helping him to sit down gingerly on the bed so he could catch his breath.
"Thanks," Gregory rasped. He raised his head to address Jen and Allie, too. "Thanks for everything."
"No problem," Jen said. "I'm going to go make an appearance at the Visitors' Center, check in, let them know we're here and that we don't want to be disturbed under any circumstances. GQ and I stocked the kitchen with groceries last time we came. Also soap and toothpaste, shampoo, stuff like that. One of us will be back at least every day to check up on you, see if you need anything."
"That's... That's really nice of you," Allie felt like she'd run out of words for being grateful and was stuck just repeating the same thing over and over again.
Jen stepped out, telling them she'd be back in twenty minutes or so it was a bit of a hike to the Vistors' Center; which was what attracted them to this spot in the first place.
While she was gone, Steven pulled out a mini-digital recorder. He instructed Gregory, "You tape a message to your mom and dad on this. If we're lucky, you asking them to leave you alone will actually convince them to leave you alone. And then no harm, no foul. But, just in case they still want to get the authorities involved, I'm going to drive back to Bay City, then play this message over a new cell-phone I bought. Soon as its done, I'm tossing it in the river. Even if the boys in blue are together enough that fast to try and triangulate it, it won't get them anywhere. Oh, and I'll make sure to wipe it for prints, too. The mess with my Dad definitely reinforced that point." Steven handed Gregory the recorder, then turned to Allie, "You want to tape a message for Aunt Amanda, too? Let her know what's going on? So she doesn't worry?"
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