"What are you doing here, sweetie?" Despite having come over expressly to speak with Felicia, the moment Lorna caught sight of Lori Ann sitting on the floor in the middle of her pink exersaucer, diligently swatting at a black, white and red butterfly on a spring, she sank down to the baby's level, gingerly stroking the back of her tender palm with one finger, trying to coax out a toothless smile.
"Frankie had her brought over as a welcome home surprise for Lucas."
"That was very nice of her," Lorna said generously.
"Yes, it was extremely thoughtful, especially considering everything she's going through. But that's Frankie for you."
It's only a slight if you interpret it as one, Lorna told herself firmly, rising. Stop being so sensitive. Grow up. Set a good example for Lori Ann.
"Where's Dad?" she asked to change the subject. And in search of a buffer.
"He's resting," Felicia said, gesturing towards the bedroom, her manner oddly distant, distracted. "He's exhausted."
"Jamie was the same way, right after his release," Lorna offered, unsure whether she was doing it in order to bond with her mother, or to needle her.
As it turned out, she managed neither. Felicia allowed the remark to pass over her head, uncommented on. Instead, she looked at Lorna for a long moment, as thought debating the wisdom of telling her... what?
"Is everything alright?" Lorna ventured.
"I'm not sure," Felicia admitted, without elaborating.
Lorna waited, and when nothing more proved forthcoming, pressed, "I came because... I wanted to apologize..." That part was actually rather tricky, as, to be honest, Lorna didn't particularly feel she had anything to seek forgiveness for. She finally settled on, "Things between us have been... strained lately."
For the first time since she'd come in, Felicia's attention focused squarely on Lorna. And not in a negative way, either. She pretty near smiled when she observed, "It's been known to happen. On occasion."
"Dad says it's because we're exactly alike."
"God help him then, loving us both." And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Felicia asked, "Did you really try to set Donna Love on fire back in February?"
Lorna cringed, wondering if she should cover Lori Ann's ears before sheepishly admitting, "Sort of...."
"Good," Felicia clipped decisively, as if that settled the matter.
Lorna supposed it probably wasn't optimal to revel in the fact that one's mother sounded proud of her only remaining child's nearly committing murder. But, at this point, Lorna was ready to take what she could get. Pathetic but true.
"Listen, Mom, what you said back in court, I know you probably didn't mean it to sound the way it "
"I'm sorry, Lorna," the distracted manner was back, more pronounced than ever. "This really isn't a good time. Lucas, Lori Ann.... You should see the amount of medical equipment she travels with. The nurse showed me how to use it all, but I just don't feel confident... How about if I call you? Maybe in a few days? We'll talk then. Really catch up, clear the air."
"Sure," Lorna felt as if she were nodding through waves, struggling to keep her chin up lest her lungs suddenly fill up with water and drag her down. "You... call me." She gave Lori Ann one last, fond look. "You be a good girl for Grandma."
"Oh, she always is, aren't you, darling? You're a wonderful, sweet, beautiful girl, just like your Mommy. Just like both your Mommies."
It's only a slight... Lorna began. Then figured, to hell with it.
She waved good-bye from the door. Felicia fluttered Lori Ann's pudgy hand back in return.
"Fanny?" Lucas called, seconds after Lorna had left. "What the hell was that?"
Felicia, still crouching on the floor by Lori Ann, looked up at him, genuinely puzzled. "What do you mean? That was Lorna. She stopped by for a visit. I explained that now wasn't a good time."
"It hasn't been a good time for the two of you in months."
"Well, that's to be expected. Between you and Cass.... "
"Forget about that. What about between you and Lorna? Fanny, I got to tell you, I've been watching and this behavior of yours, it's unacceptable."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I will not stand by and allow you to keep treating our daughter this way."
"I'm so sorry, Frankie, I'm so sorry," Sharlene rocked her niece in her arms. "I didn't know. If I'd known.... Are you alright?"
"I have to be," Frankie insisted. "Charlie, Lori Ann, Cass, they're all counting on me to be strong."
"You don't have to be strong for me," Sharlene reassured, sitting down on the couch, stroking Frankie's hair. "Tell me everything."
"There's nothing more to tell. My husband is in jail, my daughter is inconsolable, even if she'll never admit it, and my entire life has shattered into so many pieces, I have no idea how I'm ever going to put it back together again."
Sharlene hesitated, debating the wisdom of dumping even more atrocious news on Frankie's already overflowing plate, but deciding that she was obliged to, lest Frankie resent her for not doing so once it was too late. "I have something else to tell you. Under any other circumstances, I'd wait. But I'm afraid time is a luxury we just don't have anymore. Frankie, Gregory is.... Gregory is in the hospital. He's dying."
Frankie had thought or, rather, she'd hoped herself immune to any new horror. After the repeated blows of the past few weeks, she'd genuinely assumed herself incapable of absorbing any more agony. She was wrong. Sharlene's words struck her like a full body blow. She felt the blood draining not just from her head but from her heart, too, her arms and legs going limp, her tongue paralyzed.
She had to focus all her energies merely on whispering, "No... How..."
Sharlene filled Frankie in, concluding with, "I don't know what to do. John is trying to find a doctor at the hospital willing to disregard Gregory's wishes and keep treating him. I've even called Rick and Mindy Bauer in Springfield. They're the ones who adopted Gregory and Allie's baby. I thought if they brought Hudson to see Gregory, he might realize that he has someone to fight for. He can't just give up, he can't."
Frankie didn't say anything. Unable to look Sharlene in the eye, she turned her head, willing her breathing to remain slow and steady, willing it not to give her away.
But all of Frankie's efforts proved for naught as Sharlene grabbed her by the shoulder, forcing Frankie to turn around and meet her eyes. "This is not the same thing," Sharlene insisted. "Gregory is not Douglas Carson. Your old friend's husband was a grown man, he'd lived his life, he'd gotten the chance to make choices. Your supporting his right to die is not the same as Gregory's. My son is nineteen years old. He hasn't had a chance to live yet, that means he doesn't know enough to decide whether or not he wants to die."
"Gregory is an old soul," Frankie tried to sound upbeat. "He's always been that way. I used to tell John I felt he had so much to teach me. I felt so privileged to be around him, even when Gregory was a baby."
"I didn't get that privilege," Sharlene reminded. "I was cheated out of years of my son's life. I will not be cheated out of it again."
"Could you be a tad more specific?" Felicia picked up Lori Ann, unsure whether to use the little girl as a shield or a battering ram where Lucas was concerned. "Precisely what's got you so upset about the way I'm allegedly treating Lorna?"
"I just stood right over there," Lucas indicated the hallway leading into the living room, "And watched our daughter doing her best to reach out to you. Wasn't that your primary complaint a few weeks ago? When she wasn't around on her birthday?"
"It wasn't her actual birthday," Felicia appeared ready to pick up exactly where they'd left off in early April. "And the reason she wasn't around was because she preferred to be with Jamie."
"You said then that Lorna wasn't making an effort. That she was being too sensitive and difficult, that she was always spoiling for a fight. I didn't see any of that on display today. All I saw was Lorna ready and willing to extend an olive branch, and you just rejecting her out of hand."
"I wasn't rejecting Lorna. After the bombshell Sharlene dropped, it simply wasn't a good time for us to talk. Lorna understood just fine. You're the one making something out of nothing."
"I don't call you hurting our daughter nothing." Lucas pointed to Lori Ann's christening portrait on the mantelpiece. "Where's Lorna in this happy family shot?"
"That was... a misunderstanding."
"You know I asked Lorna about it. She more or less said the same thing. She didn't rat you out."
Felicia sighed dramatically. "Alright. So I made a mistake. But I was angry. You'd just been arrested and I "
"Took it out on Lorna."
"Luckily, with you in jail, she had Jamie there to swoop in and comfort her."
"She's got Jamie now," he pointed out. "And she still looked in need of some serious comforting. What did you say to her, Fanny? At the courthouse? What did you say that Lorna had to come here and make up excuses for you after the fact?"
"I didn't say anything. Lorna may have inferred "
"You know how she gets when she's upset. She starts looking for a scapegoat, lashing out in a completely unwarranted manner "
"A common family trait."
"She was attacking Cass. Worse, she was attacking me for standing by him. I had to stop her, Frankie was right there, she'd already been through enough! I told Lorna she had no idea what she was talking about, that Cass and I have a history of loyalty and unconditional love that, unless you've experienced it yourself, you simply can't hope to understand. Leave it to Lorna to interpret my talking about Cass as a slight against her."
"Did Lorna also misinterpret you blaming her for my arrest?"
"I know she manipulated you into it, she said so herself. She begged you to help Jamie."
"So, as far as you're concerned, Cass is completely faultless here?"
"Cass got you out of prison!" Felicia reminded, "Nobody forced you to conspire with him, Luke. You made that choice on your own. And now we all have to deal with the consequences."
"You're right," he agreed, voice raising with every sentence out of his mouth. "And one of those consequences is the inexplicable decision you seem to have made to give your former lover a free pass and focus your anger at the mess he left behind on our daughter, our only living daughter. Who was taken from us. Whom we mourned. Whom we finally found after years of searching for her."
The previously unrealized depth of his anger froze Felicia, wordless, in her tracks.
"We lost Jenna," Lucas went on. "Do you want to lose Lorna, too? Because, unless you get a handle on whatever it is that's compelling you to take every available opportunity to attack our daughter, that is exactly what's going to happen, you mark my words."
"I don't want to call my mom," Allie told Steven after a moment's thought. "She'd just get... it wouldn't do any good, that's all."
"Okay," her cousin shrugged, tucking the recorder with Gregory's message to Sharlene and John into his pocket. "You guys need anything else?"
"I think we're good."
"Then I'm going to head back, pick up Jen on the way, make sure Sarah and GQ made it out of the hospital in one piece and aren't under arrest right now."
"GQ said he'd be fine," Allie relayed. "That a Black man with a mop is invisible."
"Yeah, GQ says a lot of stuff." Steven told them both, "Good luck, guys. Gregory, I Bye, Gregory." The way he said the word made it clear Steven was trying, just in case, to make sure Gregory understood the leave-taking wasn't only for now.
Gregory slowly reached out to shake his hand and repeated reflectively, "Bye, Steven."
Still shaking from her encounter with Frankie, Sharlene arrived in Gregory's hospital room to find his bed empty.
"Where is he, John?" she leapt on her ex-husband, all but daring him to give her the wrong answer. "Where is he?"
"I don't know," John's voice sound calm, too calm, inappropriately, horribly calm.
"What the hell does that mean, you don't know? Where is my son?"
"He... left." The mere effort of saying the words seemed to exhaust John into further silence.
"Gregory can't leave, Gregory can barely walk."
"He had help." John handed Sharlene his cell-phone and said, "He left a message. Here. Listen. It's for both of us."
Sharlene pushed the button, pressing the device to her ear, glaring at John, blaming him already without even knowing all the details.
"Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad," Gregory's voice sounded far away, as if echoing through a tunnel; there were some scraping noises and a low level hiss. But his words, unfortunately, still managed to come through loud and clear and unyielding. "I left the hospital. I couldn't trust you to let me go the way I wanted. I'm okay. I'm safe. But I'm not coming back. I know you both did your best. I'm grateful. I'm sorry for hurting you. Please don't come looking for me. Allie will let you know after I'm gone. I had to do this. I love you."
Sharlene looked at John, who was shaking, tears in his eyes. Her, eyes, however, remained as dry as a bushfire.
"Allie," she hissed. "Just like I thought. This is all about Allie."
Lorna came back to the guest-house that evening, following an afternoon spent taking Matt to school regarding how now, pay attention if a press release fell in the woods and no one heard it, he might as well have skipped the middle man and just set his money directly on fire, to find Jamie sitting on the couch, staring into space. He smiled when he saw Lorna come in, but it wasn't enough to wipe the despair from his eyes.
"What is it?" she felt her stomach churn into her throat. "What's wrong now?"
"John Hudson," Jamie shifted to face Lorna as she sat down across from him, reaching out her arm and linking her fingers with his. "He had a total meltdown in my office today. I don't blame him one bit. Gregory is dying. He's been sick for years, brain cancer. They've gone through every possible therapy, but this is the end of the road. Gregory is refusing anymore treatment. He just wants to be left in peace. John came to me, begging for help, begging for me to back him up, to make Gregory take the treatment by force. I told him I couldn't do it. He completely collapsed. He was crying, he just kept saying that Gregory was his only child, asking me what I would do in his place..."
Wordlessly, Lorna leaned over, hugging him tightly, knowing that her attempt at comfort was ultimately futile, knowing that it was all she had.
Jamie clung to her for a moment, only pulling back to reflect, "John reminded me that Gregory and Steven are related on both the Frame and Hudson side. A slight alteration in the DNA sequence, he said, and it could just as easily have been Steven in this situation."
"Oh, Jamie... no, you can't think that way, it'll drive you crazy."
"It did make me think," he slipped a strand of Lorna's hair between his fingers and tucked it behind her ear. "You and I, we've talked about having a baby. There's a statistical chance that any child we had could carry the same potential for getting sick...."
"There's also a statistical chance that she'd have a taste for oversized, feather boas. No child comes with a guarantee. I'd certainly never ask for one."
Jamie smiled at that, a real smile that triggered in Lorna a sense of achievement even greater that shepherding an album platinum.
"Speaking of which," he changed the subject. "How did it go with your mother?"
"I don't know," Lorna admitted. "We didn't actually have a fight this time, so I guess that's a mark in the plus column."
"Why the qualifier?"
Lorna shrugged. "Felicia just seemed... off. Like her mind was on something else. But not the same something else it's on usually. Cass only came up in passing, and that's not like her. She tried to play it off like it was because Lori Ann was there, visiting..."
The mention of his youngest cousin kept Jamie's earlier smile from dying. "She must be getting so big."
"She's sitting up by herself, even trying to stand, yelling very loudly when she can't. I figure we should chalk that trait up to Dean."
"I'm glad you got the chance to see her. It's been a while. Not afraid of breaking her anymore, I trust?" he teased.
"No," Lorna had to laugh, remembering the person she'd been then, feeling much happier about the one she was now. And then she felt compelled to add, "Jamie, I I know this is going to sound ridiculous... well, I guess no more ridiculous than me bringing up babies on our first official date... Our timing, from the beginning, has been pretty much all over the place, so...."
"Was there a question in there somewhere, Lorna?"
She forced herself to stop, shut her mouth, rearrange her thoughts and start again, hopefully more coherent this time. "The only reason Cass and Frankie got to adopt Lori Ann in the first place was because they were this stable, picture-perfect couple, picket fence and all. Kevin said Felicia was too old, and I was single, and Frankie was a blood relative, that helped, too. Except now, Cass is in jail and Frankie is raising the girls alone for at least the next decade. That's hardly what the court signed off on."
Jamie leaned forward. "Where are you going with this?"
"I'm going.... I'm thinking.... I was looking at Lori Ann today, and the only thing that kept flashing through my mind was: You and I, we could offer her a much better, more stable home now than Frankie and that jailbird husband of hers."
"What kind of a mother are you?" Sharlene flew into the Cory home, past a somewhat dumbfounded Rachel, rabidly stalking from room to room until she found Amanda out on the patio, sipping a drink and leafing through a magazine with, honestly, the most asinine, insipid expression Sharlene had ever spied on another human being, save for Allie.
Amanda looked up, confused, half-rising, "Sharlene? What's wrong?"
"Do you even know where your daughter is? Or isn't?"
"My Allie? I Please calm down. I'm sorry. I don't understand what you're talking about."
"Gregory left the hospital today. Without permission, or telling anyone where he was going."
"Gregory is in the hospital?" Amanda struggled to keep up with the conversation.
"Allie didn't tell you?"
"I haven't seen Allie in a couple of days. Our schedules are both so "
"Yes, Amanda." Sharlene's fury dissipated, replaced by an even more frightening coldness. "Gregory is was in the hospital. My son is dying. And it's your daughter's fault."
"Now, hold on just a second...." Rachel, who'd followed Sharlene in, felt she could no longer remain silent.
"Gregory needs to be under a doctor's care," Sharlene spat at them both. "He doesn't have a hangnail, he has a brain tumor. Dozens of them, actually, and they are going to kill him unless he gets treatment immediately."
"What does that have to do with Allie?" Rachel took over the conversation, realizing that Amanda had seemingly slipped into shock, or at least mute disbelief.
"Allie kidnapped my son from the hospital this afternoon."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Rachel could only take so many accusations, no matter how badly she felt for Sharlene's situation. "Why would she do that?"
"Because she has Gregory convinced that he would rather die than take a medication that would save his life and make him forget Allie in the process." Giving up on Amanda, Sharlene unleashed the remainder of her demands on Rachel. "John is talking to the police right now. But I know there's only so much they can do. Gregory is a legal adult, after all. On the other hand, I know what kind of power the Corys wield. I know you've got dozens of investigators on your payroll at just Brava alone, not to mention an entire security force at your disposal, sitting around, itching for something to do. You call them this minute and you order them to find Gregory and bring him home, or, so help me, I will see to it that Allie rots in jail for the rest of her life."
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