Frankie wasn't precisely sure what she expected the 4th of July at Bay City's maximum-security prison to be like. All she knew was she wasn't prepared for how simultaneously normal and bizarre it turned out to be.
On the one hand, there was the green lawn, the families with picnic baskets, the flags, the balloons, the music. On the other hand, looming cement walls and barbed wire surrounded all of the above, and while the women and children were decked out in colorful, holiday gear, the men were all wearing gray work-shirts and slacks. A few of the groups socialized Frankie gathered they'd been meeting like this for some time but most kept to themselves. And then there were the armed guards stationed along the perimeter, standing there with their arms crossed, their faces expressionless, watching.
There was no place to hide from the heat. Cass explained that shadows could presumably be used for nefarious activities and any sort of sun umbrella turned into a weapon at a moment's notice. Despite the sunscreen she'd slathered them all in before leaving the house, Frankie and Charlie, with their redheaded complexions, began pinking, then burning, within the hour. Lori Ann grew fussy and irritable, heat bumps rising along her skin where her diaper chafed her legs and back. She kept pulling off her hat and flinging it on the ground, then bursting into tears when it wasn't retrieved fast enough.
"I think you'd better go," Cass advised Frankie.
"No. We just got here."
"The girls are miserable. And so are you."
"It's a family holiday, Cass. We're going to spend it as a family."
"Stop it, Frankie, please." He begged. "It all sounded good in theory. But look around you. Take a good look. It's not going to get any better. This is what you signed up for. Do you really want to put yourself, not to mention our children, through this hellish charade for the next twelve years?"
Allie and Gregory sat on the bed in their cabin. Allie held the remote-control in her hand, aggressively flipping the channels between televised firework shows from New York City, Boston and Washington DC. Gregory leaned against the headboard. Next to him stood a plate with a hamburger, which he had painstakingly talked Allie through the process of frying in a pan. By her fifth try, she'd managed one that was neither charred on the outside nor raw on the inside. Gregory took a bite, pronounced it excellent, then set it back down again and hadn't touched since.
Allie might have taken offense, except that he'd barely eaten anything since they'd gotten there. She'd leapt on making the burger because Gregory mentioned having a craving for one in conjunction with the holiday, and she'd thought it might restart his appetite.
She could see him growing weaker. When she handed him his plate, he'd had to accept it with both hands, and, even then, they shook as he set it down on the bed. He only moved when he absolutely had to now, all the while reassuring Allie that he was fine, perfectly comfortable where he was. She curled up against him, both pretending that she wasn't also keeping him propped upright.
Gregory rested his head on her shoulder. "I'm so lucky," he murmured.
"Are you kidding me?" Allie twisted around. "How can you say that?"
"I never thought I'd live long enough to fall in love. And I did. I certainly didn't think I'd ever find somebody who'd accept me the way I was, the way I am. And I have. It's Independence Day. Look at me; I'm finally, finally independent."
"Something on your mind?" Jamie asked an unusually quiet Lorna as he closed the guesthouse door behind them.
"I'm a hypocrite," she announced, turning to Jamie, as if demanding agreement. "I was talking to Matt earlier. He brought up something about me that I wish weren't true. But it is. Do you realize that if I hadn't fallen for you, you'd be in prison right now? Even if I'd somehow found out that it was really my father and Cass who were responsible for Cecile's death, I'd have happily let you rot so I could protect my dad."
"Oh...kay," Jamie slowly processed her torrent of words.
"So not okay!" Lorna erupted. "How can I bitch out Matt and Frankie and Felicia over their defending Donna and Cass' crap, when I know I'd have been equally self-righteous and annoying and, here's the big one: wrong, were I not ridiculously, sickeningly, head over heels in love with you right now?"
"Yay me?" Jamie wondered.
"This isn't a joke," she groused. "I hate realizing that, under different circumstances, I would have been a callous, selfish bitch where you're concerned. And I hate that Matt pointed it out to me. And that he was right."
"Matt is all wrapped up in Donna right now. He has to defend her, if only to convince himself that she's worth the effort. Which means he's going to lash out at anyone who disagrees with him. You're not a hypocrite, Lorna. You're just a woman who believes in protecting her own. And leaving others to do the same."
"Which translation is a nice way of saying I'm a callous, selfish bitch."
"Okay. You're a callous, selfish bitch. Thank you, Matt, for pointing it out. And thank you, Lorna, for reporting back to me. So. What do we do about it?" Jamie asked her, "You going to break up with me on ethical grounds?"
Lorna looked at Jamie as if he'd lost his mind. "Uh... no. You're not getting out of this that easily."
"Are you going to lay off Donna now that Matt has helpfully illuminated your faults?"
"Me being a bitch doesn't excuse Donna's being a killer. And if Matt thinks it will, he's got another thing coming."
"So, what's left?"
"I could smash Matt's jaw to shut him up."
"Or you could thank him."
"For making me feel like crap about myself?"
She put a hand to his forehead. "Did you get hit by a stray volleyball while I wasn't looking?"
He lowered her palm and kissed it. "The fact that you're this upset about what Matt said shows, once again, that you're not quite the unfeeling person you fear you are."
"You really are bending yourself into a pretzel to make me feel better," Lorna chastised. While keeping her hand exactly where it was. And wrapping her other one around the back of his neck, pulling Jamie closer, kissing him deeply, allowing him to kiss her back, thoughtfully murmuring, "Nope, no way could I ever become bored with you. Or start doubting how much you love me."
Jamie laughed. "Now who put that idea in your head, all of a sudden?"
"Nobody of consequence," she reassured him.
"Despite your attempt to hide," Rachel pointedly told Carl as they walked side-by-side in the moonlight, making their final check of the now deserted party area, insuring that all fires were out, food put away, rubbish discarded, "I know that you heard what Elizabeth said to Lorna."
"I was not hiding," he corrected archly. "I merely surmised that my presence would only inflame the situation further, and so most diplomatically took my leave."
"How much does Elizabeth know about what went on between you and Lorna?"
"As much as is a matter of public record, I'd presume. Quite a bit was disclosed during my criminal trial. And then more during the Kevin Anderson business."
"So when she asked Lorna if she considered herself your "
"It was a rather sophisticated way of phrasing it, to my mind."
Rachel could only shake her head, wondering which parenting book might have a chapter on dealing with this particular situation.
"I've decided not to turn over my evidence against Donna to the police," she said, seemingly changing the subject out of the blue, but, in actuality, still following the same, clear to her, trail of thought.
"I am grateful to hear it. May I ask what changed your mind?"
"Not you and, God knows, not Spencer."
"This issue with Elizabeth, then?"
"That's a part of it. She and Cory already know way, way more than two eighth graders should have to about their father's disreputable past. Now isn't the time to add to it."
"I couldn't agree more."
"And then there's Matt."
"Matthew?" Carl repeated, surprised.
"He loves Donna. Still. In spite of everything. I can't stop her from breaking his heart. Which I know she inevitably will. But I can stop myself from being a part of the process."
"So where does that leave you and I?" Carl asked tentatively, as afraid to hear the answer, as he was desperate.
Rachel sighed. "It leaves us with me going into the house and explaining to our thirteen year old daughter why her father once had a... hetaera... her exact same age."
"Remind me to find out which brand of cigar Steven likes," Grant mused aloud as he escorted Marley to the front door of the Love residence. "Or is he more of a Scotch man? Unfortunately, the last time I felt moved to buy your nephew a gift, Transformers were the order of the day."
"Steven doesn't smoke, he's barely old enough to drink, I believe he still likes the Transformers and, for the record, his unexpected approval was not the only reason I decided to come out and see you tonight."
"Couldn't take another minute of that patented Cory family hypocrisy? Or did Lorna's monokini push you over the edge?"
"How the hell do you know what she was wearing?"
Grant cleared his throat, not sure whether to be more embarrassed or amused. "Amanda e-mailed me a picture from her phone." He shrugged. "She's a very strange girl, alright? Let's just leave it at that."
"The truth is," Marley admitted. "I guess I had something to prove. I mean, what would it look like to Kirkland not to mention Amanda if, a couple of days after they catch us together, we suddenly break up? Talk about serious I Told You So material."
"Was Kirkland still... put off by what happened earlier?"
"He's a teen-age boy who caught his father practically el flagrante delicto "
"You're right, it sounds better in Medieval Latin."
"With his aunt, of all people. We should be thankful he didn't throw holy water and beat us with a bible."
"Also in Medieval Latin?"
Marley smiled in spite of herself, then encouraged, "Give Kirkland a little more time to get used to the idea. He'll come around."
"Well, considering you eventually did, I have sound precedent not to give up hope."
"Not so fast," Marley held up a hand between them, keeping Grant at a distance. "We still have some ground rules to set regarding... whatever it is we're doing here. To start with, I want to take things slowly. No more talk about you, me, Kirkland and the girls all moving in together as one happy family. I want to be certain about this... thing before I inflict you us on innocent children."
"I have no problem with that."
"Are you sure? Because you've been known to swear one thing to a woman's face and then do whatever the hell you want anyway. I'm not playing that game with you, Grant."
"No games. I promise."
"Rule #1," she ticked off. "No making promises you can't keep."
"I realize what you're trusting me with here, Marley." He inched towards her even as she took a defensive step back. "I intend to move heaven and earth to ensure you never regret it."
"Rule #2: No faking sincerity." When Grant failed to respond, Marley teased, "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"
"I'm just trying to avoid breaking any more of your rules until I receive my comprehensive copy of the play-book."
Marley opened the front door and pulled him inside with her. "Don't worry. I'll be putting you through your paces soon enough. Followed immediately by an oral exam."
"Good thing I'm a quick study then," he followed Marley up the stairs to her bedroom.
"Not something to brag about under the circumstances, Grant...."
"It was very nice of you and Jasmine to come see us," Frankie smiled hesitantly and politely offered Lila a seat the next morning, after telling her daughter that Charlie was upstairs; Jasmine could go right on up and say hello.
"Bet you expected me to be more petty," Lila supposed.
"No! Nothing like that!"
"It's alright, I've been known to dabble on occasion. Now ain't the time for it. Jasmine wanted to come cheer her big sister up she still thinks of Charlie that way; can't help it and I came along to offer my condolences to you. Because no matter how hard it was for me to give up Cass, it's nothing compared to what you all are going through now."
"I'm not sure I could have been so magnanimous, were the shoe on the other foot."
"You stayed away from me and Cass for years."
"Not exactly the same thing. And, while we're on the subject, I don't think I ever formally apologized to you for my coming back and turning your life upside down."
"Apologizing for being alive, are you, Frankie? Now I surely have heard everything."
"You know what I mean," she refused to allow Lila to let her off the hook.
Lila shrugged. "Water under the bridge. I walked away because even I knew you and Cass belonged together in the long run."
Frankie couldn't stop the laugh that exploded out of her mouth, only sounding more like a sob. "And look at us today. How's that for irony?"
"Don't that beat all," Lila agreed. "Here both you and me knocked ourselves out for years to do the right thing by Cass, our girls, each other, and that bitch, Cecile, is it? She comes along and ruins everything. At least she's burning in Hell where she belongs."
"It doesn't matter," Frankie sighed. "Wherever Cecile is, she's got to be thrilled. Somehow, she managed to get the last laugh on us all."
"In a couple of minutes," Rachel laid a sheet of personalized stationary and a pen on top of Elizabeth's desk in the corner of her room, redecorated most recently to resemble, appropriately enough, a historically-accurate, Elizabethan bed chamber save the cell-phone and computer. "You are going to sit down and write a note to Lorna and Jamie apologizing for your rudeness yesterday."
"But, I "
"It's not always about what you say, Elizabeth, sometimes it's also about how you say it." Rachel turned to face her daughter, "But first, you are going to look me in the eye and answer the following question: Were you deliberately trying to provoke Lorna, or did you honestly believe that there was nothing wrong with what you asked her?"
Elizabeth hesitated, looking everywhere but at her mother's eyes.
"The truth, young lady. You're already in trouble, don't make things worse by lying."
"I wanted to know," Elizabeth said finally.
"I wanted to... understand. Cory and I, after that morning when Jamie came to breakfast with Ms. Devon, remember?"
"I remember," Rachel gritted.
"We were curious about her. I mean, we know she's Ms. Gallant daughter, and that she used to work for Father and with Uncle Matt. But this was different. So we did some research, and we read the transcript from the trial where Father was accused of harassing her, but it turned out to be someone named Kevin Anderson trying to frame him instead."
"That was seventeen years ago," Rachel tried to recall. So many things happened in Bay City, sometimes it was tough to keep it all chronologically straight.
"Right," Elizabeth nodded. "In 1993. Anyway, at the trial, people said horrible things about him. They said that Ms. Devon was only thirteen when "
"This is just one of the many reasons why you and Cory shouldn't go digging around in things that don't concern you."
"He's my father."
"And you are still a child. Just because you possess the ability to read the words and define them, doesn't mean you have enough life experience to understand what they actually mean."
"A courtesan used to be considered a very noble profession," Elizabeth reiterated her assertion from the previous day. "And the men who hired them were the cream of society, royalty even, that's why the word court is in the title, you know. They were part of the royal court. It was... romantic. They didn't force anybody to do anything they didn't want to. The women were totally there of their own free will."
"There was nothing romantic..." Rachel began, choosing her words with great care. "No matter how much you may want need him to be, your father is no royal hero in this story."
"Well, he certainly isn't the villain. If anything, he's the victim. He protected Ms. Devon. He took care of her. He didn't have to. He could've just left her on the streets where she belonged. Where would she be now if he'd done that? Not with Jamie, I bet. All Father asked for in return was a little loyalty. That's only fair. She owed him that much. But Lorna betrayed him. She got him sent to prison. And you want me to be nice to her now? After everything she did? No way, Mom. Jamie's the one you should be forcing to apologize, for bringing her around here. I was standing up for my family, he was the one being disrespectful."
"Remember when Cass took us to that funny karaoke bar for your birthday?" From the moment Jasmine bounded into Charlie's room, all unabashed energy and enthusiasm and metaphorical sunshine and lollipops, she'd been diligently trying to coax her sullen former stepsister into a conversation with negligible results. "And he challenged us to a Go-Go's sing-off?"
"My Dad is in prison." Charlie lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling and doggedly ignoring Jasmine's perky skip down memory lane. "He's not dead. Quit boring me with your lame Kodak moments."
"Sorry," Jasmine whispered. "It's just that, whenever I start missing you or Cass, I think about all the fun stuff we used to do together, and it makes me feel better."
"How?" Charlie demanded. "Doesn't it just remind you that we'll never get to do them again?"
"No," Jasmine wrinkled her brow. "Not until now, anyway...."
"Well, I've got zero interest in thinking about my dad. And I certainly don't want to talk about him to you."
"Okay," Charlie agreed. "We could do something else. You could come over to my house, and we could swim or ride. Kirkland said he really felt better that time you "
"So that's why you're here. Kirkland sent you. God, it doesn't matter who his real dad is, he's such a total Frame, all the way. Butting into people's business..."
"He's worried about you. He's your friend. I'm worried about you, too. I'm your sister."
"No, you're not. Not anymore."
"Why are you being so mean to me?" Jasmine's voice cracked in confusion.
I don't know. I'm sorry, Jazz. I really don't know.
"Because you're annoying me! I didn't ask you to come over! You just showed up. Probably to gloat. Well, go ahead. After all those years of trying to keep you from horning in on my Dad and me, now I only get to see him for a few hours a week on Visiting Day, and you've still got your Dad fulltime. Why don't you run home to him now? Tell Matt how mean I was to you. Maybe he'll buy you another pony to make up for it. Go home, Jasmine. Leave me the Hell alone." Charlie yelled, feeling tears burn her eyes and her stomach churn in protest as she all but shoved Jasmine out of her bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
"Let me in, Donna," Felicia took great care to keep her voice composed, reasonable, but intractable. She knew she had no intention of budging from the spot until she'd had the chance to confront her daughter's killer face to face. Donna might as well know it, too.
No sound from the other side of John's door. Yet, Felicia still sensed that Donna was there, and that she was listening.
Felicia said, "It's time we talked. Mother to mother. I want to hear you explain why you did what you did to my child. I want you to describe for me how you managed to pass Jenna in the street, day after day, while she still lived here, without screaming out the truth. I've been going over it in mind, I can't stop thinking about it, all those times you would causally ask me about Jenna. I thought you were being polite. I never suspected a thing. You came to the hospital to see Lori Ann. You gave me a pep talk about how to survive losing my child. You said you knew how I felt. We all assumed you were talking about Vicky. Open the door, Donna. Matt has been running around town, telling everyone that you had your reasons for what you did. Don't you want to tell me your reasons? I promise I'll listen. I'll even try to understand. Open the door. This could well be your only chance to give me your side of the story...."
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