"I thought we were past all of this," Grant thundered, his outrage rising to new levels, or, at the very least, decibels.
"Past what?" Marley disappeared into her walk-in closet, searching for something to wear.
"You hustling me out of your bedroom like a dirty secret, and hopping to whenever Jamie," he spat the name with unrestrained loathing, "So much as looks in your direction."
"Jamie," Marley countered sweetly, "Is dropping off the girls on his way to work. Would you prefer I ignored his text? How many more people do you want walking in on us?"
"If it's as innocent as all that, why can't I stay? Say good-morning to Bridget, Michele, and Jamie. Your nieces happen to like me. I have the snowball ruined suit to prove it."
"I don't trust you around Jamie," Marley said simply. "He's doing me a favor. He doesn't need to kick off his day with you getting in his face and gloating."
"Maybe it's Jamie you don't trust," Grant challenged. "You can't predict how he'll react to seeing us together, not just as some one-night stand, but as something real. And you're afraid to find out."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Marley whipped around.
"It means that you still have feelings for him."
"Of course I have feelings for him. We spent a decade raising children together. We spoke every day, several times a day. We were friends."
"And before that you were lovers. Engaged. Planning a life together. You two almost adopted Sarah!"
Marley laughed. "Not so fun when the shoe is on the other foot, is it, Grant? Just a few months ago, when Jamie and I were still married "
"Farce though that it was."
"You had no problem pulling every trick in the book to try and break up a relationship that was very, very important to me."
"To you. Not to him. Jamie didn't love you. My God, when will you accept "
"He wasn't in love with me. I've accepted that just fine. But he did love me. And your insecurities are showing. Again. Twenty years ago, your jealousy over Paulina or Vicky or Amanda drove you to do some horrible things. Ryan "
"No!" Grant leapt out of bed, grabbing Marley by the wrist. "Don't go there. Do. Not. Go. There."
"I won't," she told him calmly, disengaging her arm. "Primarily because I honestly believe you're not that man anymore. You've grown up. Maybe you've even realized that for a relationship to work, the onus is on the people in it, and not on any outside threats real or imaginary."
"You and Jamie share a history," Grant attempted to return to the topic at hand.
"So do you and Amanda. So do you and Lorna. Hell, so do you and Sharlene."
"That's all in the past."
"As are Jamie and I. You've dedicated the bulk of the last year to convincing me of that. Our romantic relationship is irretrievably over. But that doesn't mean I can't do my best to repair the damage I've done to our friendship. I want to be friends with Jamie. And if you have a problem with that, then it's good you spoke up now, so we can just end things, right here, before they go any further."
Grant snorted. "So, once again, Jamie Frame is the motivating force in your life."
"Jealousy in most men could be considered flattering," she dismissed. "With you, unfortunately, it can turn deadly."
"I told you not to "
"The only people in this relationship, Grant, the only people who can make or break it, are you and I. Not Jamie, not Vicky, not Kirkland or Steven or anybody else living or dead. Until you realize that, we really have nothing more to talk about."
"Jesus, Allie, you look like crap," Sarah offered solicitously upon stopping by to deliver a bag of groceries and find out how they were faring.
"That's because she hasn't been outside in days," Gregory lifted his head to chastise. "I keep telling her to go get some air. This isn't good for her."
"I don't want to leave you alone," Allie said.
"He's not alone. I'm here." Sarah held open the door. "Go. Take a walk. Smell some flowers, get a little sun. I know it's all about Twilight these days, but you don't actually have to look like a vampire to express your fandom."
Allie peered hesitantly at Gregory, even as her body turned instinctively towards the warmth outside.
"You heard Sarah," he prodded. "You deserve a break from me."
"Just stay away from where anyone could see you," Sarah reminded. "As far as management is concerned, GQ and Jen are renting this place. We don't want them getting suspicious."
Allie nodded and cautiously stepped through the door, closing it quietly behind her.
"Good," Sarah said. "She's gone. Now you and I can have a little chat about what a selfish bastard you're being."
"What's wrong, baby?" Lila asked Jasmine after the little girl came flying down the stairs and flung herself into Lila's arms,
"We need to go, Mama. Right now." Lila and Frankie's eyes met over her head as both heard the strangled hitch in Jasmine's voice.
"Did you and Charlie have a fight?" Frankie asked sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Jasmine. I'm sure she didn't mean it. Charlie has been very upset "
"Can we please just go?" Jasmine pleaded, ignoring Frankie's ministering, which was so unlike the child that it prompted Lila to put aside her own hard-drilled Southern manners and rise quickly from the couch.
One arm around her daughter's shoulder, the other fishing in her purse for a hankie she could give her, Lila didn't bother responding to Frankie's apologetic, "Take care!" as she ushered Jasmine out of the house, down the driveway and into their car.
With an embroidered handkerchief to hide behind, the little girl finally allowed herself to dissolve into wordless sobs, no matter how many times Lila, sneaking frequent peeks from the road as she drove, prompted, "Do you want to talk about it, sugarplum? It might make you feel better."
Jasmine just shook her head, looking out the window and asking instead, "Where are you going, Mama? This isn't the way to Mr. Harrison's house."
"Mr. Harrison can wait. I'm taking you home."
"No. You have business. You said so before. It's rude to cancel at the last minute."
"Are you sure, honey?"
"I'm fine," Jasmine insisted, determinedly wiping the tears off her cheeks and handing the handkerchief back to Lila, as if to demonstrate her assertion. "Charlie can make me cry, but she won't make us unprofessional."
After what felt like an eternity of keeping it closed, Donna unexpectedly yanked the door open with such swiftness that Felicia felt as if a visage had suddenly materialized in front of her, like some sort of spirit. Or demon.
They'd known each other for over twenty-five years. If asked to describe Donna, Felicia felt certain she could have done so for paragraphs on end it was, after all, her business to make an image come alive through words. And yet, strangely, over the past few months, as she'd learned more and more about what Donna had done to Jenna, to Dean, to Lori Ann, to Felicia herself, Felicia's view of her had inflated to near monstrous proportion, so that her first thought upon finally setting eyes on Donna in the flesh, was surprise at how petite she actually was. How could someone this delicate, this harmless, this... lovely, have caused so much havoc and pain to so many?
"You look like Jenna," Felicia blurted out, unaware that she was even thinking the words until she'd heard herself say them out loud. "How in the world did I miss it before? The hair dark and curly in exactly the same way; the eyes those lashes!; the cheekbones, and she was small, like you. Perfectly built for being a dancer, we used to say."
"She always liked to dance," Donna recalled softly, moving aside, allowing Felicia to enter John's house. "From the time she was a baby, Gloria said."
"You and Gloria talked about Jenna? You kept in touch?"
"No. Only one time. After Carl came to Bay City with you. Gloria called me, she was frantic, wanted to know what we should do. I suggested the convent. That was when she told me about Jenna loving to dance. She kept talking and talking about her."
"She was a proud mother," Felicia guessed.
"I suppose. I more got the feeling that she wanted me to tell her that I approved of how she was bringing Jenna up."
"Did you? Approve?"
Donna shrugged. "It wasn't my place, was it? I gave Jenna to her. She was her child now, not mine."
Felicia nodded, still composed, still rational, still forcing herself to act as if this were the most reasonable conversation in the world to be having with the woman who'd caused Jenna's death. And given birth to her. "Did you ever think about her? You must have, especially with Carl back in the picture. The first time you laid eyes on him..."
"I was terrified. I was certain he'd found out somehow. His son, Perry you remember Perry? had been staying with me, so I knew Carl was bound to show up sooner or later. But, when he did... I though my heart would stop. He taunted me with a secret about my daughter. I thought... But, of course, he meant Marley. He'd learned about Marley."
Felicia nodded thoughtfully, and then she echoed, "I was terrified... I was certain... I thought my heart would stop. You've done a good amount of thinking about yourself, I'll grant you that. Tell me, did you ever, at any point, give a thought to Jenna?"
"Jenna was fine. Jenna was safe, Gloria and I saw to that. I was the one in danger from Carl."
"So you decided to sacrifice Jenna in order to keep it that way."
"I didn't mean for things to turn out the way they did. But when Jenna and Dean started asking questions about her mother at the convent, I knew it was only a matter of time before the truth came out. And I couldn't let that happen."
"Were you going to keep her locked up indefinitely? Like Lucas?"
"He shouldn't have... It was none of his concern... You and he were Jenna's parents, why in the world did he have to go looking for trouble?"
"Because he loved Jenna!" Felicia's patience snapped tersely to an end. "Don't you understand? Lucas loved Jenna so much, he was willing to risk us losing her in order to give her what she really wanted information about her biological parents. You'd do the same for Marley, wouldn't you? For Vicky? Steven? Kirkland? Bridget? Michele? I've seen you with all of them. I know you love them."
"I do," Donna swore. "I love them more than my own life. I would do anything for them."
"But not Jenna," Felicia guessed, no longer accusing, just... sad. For all of them.
"No," Donna confirmed, struggling to hold on to some shred of dignity even as she felt everything around and inside her collapse alongside the admission.
"You never loved her at all..."
"No." She'd thought, after telling Matthew, that it might somehow be easier the second time. It wasn't. "I did not."
"I think this belongs to you." After ushering the girls upstairs, after making sure they said thank you to Uncle Jamie for the ride home, after asking him to please stay, just for a minute, there was something she needed.... Marley hesitantly reached into her pocket and handed him the yellow rubber bracelet, WWLD scribbled across the front in magic marker. "You left it..."
"The last time I was here," he remembered with a pained groan. "I was doing the dishes, I took it off to... I'm so sorry, Marley. I'm so sorry for everything."
"You're sorry?" she had to double-check his pronouns. "I found it, freaked out, and went running to the police about you."
"You told the truth."
"My intentions were far from honorable."
"You had every right to distrust me. I lied to you. About Cecile, my breakdown."
"It was none of my business. And, cards on the table, Jamie. I didn't fly off the handle over any of that. I saw you and Lorna in her driveway that night. I saw you kiss her. I saw you look at her the way that you used to look at me. I knew I'd lost you then, for good. And I wanted to make you hurt as much as I was hurting in that moment."
"I never, ever wanted to hurt you. Lorna and I just... happened."
"You had every right for it to happen. You deserved for it to happen. I know what you've given up these past ten years for the boys. For me. What you didn't deserve was to have me sign your son out from under you, then sleep with Grant the same week you were falsely arrested for murder. So if we're playing the I Screwed My Best Friend Over game, sorry, Jamie, I'm afraid I'm going to have to claim victory."
"I still want to be your friend, Marley."
"You do?" she asked in genuine surprise. "I thought... with everything... with Grant and I... it'd be too much."
"Is it too much for me to ask you to be my friend now that I'm with Lorna?"
"No," Marley shook her head after a moment's thought. "But Lorna isn't Grant."
"That's a good thing," Jamie noted.
"You could really forgive me?"
"Can you forgive me?"
"Stop answering my questions with a question!"
"It's a small town, Marley. I'd rather be friends than awkward exes. Again. Especially considering you're dating my... Baby Daddy." Jamie winced. "Sorry. Lorna said it once, and I haven't been able to get the expression out of my head since."
"She's really gotten under you skin, hasn't she?"
"Yeah," he admitted reluctantly, eager to drop the subject.
"It's good to see you so happy, Jamie. It's good to see you... in love."
"Are you in love?" he asked, swallowing visible nausea before adding, "With Grant?"
"Would that bother you?"
"It's none of my business," he quoted her.
"You're Kirkland other father, of course it's your business. And you're my friend, remember? We just got all that newly straightened out?"
"Be careful, Marley. Please. I have to assume Grant's made some kind of deal with the devil in order to land himself a phenomenal woman like you. I admit, I'm a little scared to find out what that deal might have been."
Marley smiled. "I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
"I trust you. I trust that you've seen something worthwhile in Grant Harrison. Albeit something utterly and completely invisible to the rest of us." In response to the look on Marley face, Jamie prodded, "What? What did I say?"
"Nothing. I just can't believe how easy this was. You and me, talking, laughing, just like old times. We're friends again. I didn't expect it."
"When you've been through as much together as we have," Jamie quietly pulled her into his arms, Marley instinctively relaxing into his familiar, comforting embrace with a relieved sigh. "It's impossible to just walk away."
"There you are, Jasmine," Grant said in some relief upon entering the library and finally unearthing the heretofore-missing child's hiding place. "Your mother and I were about to put out an APB." Turning, he called up the stairs, "It's alright, Lila, I've found her. Go on with what you were doing. Jasmine and I will just have ourselves a little chat."
"I don't want to bother you," she said politely, crawling out from the cavern beneath his antique oak desk. "Mama said you and she had some calls to make."
"A great many people bother me, kiddo. You, I am happy to say, are not one of them." Grant took a seat on a leather upholstered couch, patting the spot next to him, inviting Jasmine to hop on up. "Your mother can handle the calls by herself. There is a very unhappy man right now, being schooled in the difference between real and imitation maple flooring. She's got it under control. Now, if I may... Whatever Charlie said to you, I'm sure she's already sorry."
"Mama told you?"
"Didn't have to. I took one look at your face, and I thought to myself: That kind of misery can only come from a sibling with a big mouth."
"You're wrong," Jasmine contradicted as politely as she could, considering Grant was a grown up and her mother's employer and the owner of this house, making her his guest. "Charlie and me aren't sisters anymore, she said so."
"So that's her game, is it? Classic gambit, if a bit unoriginal. I can't tell you how many times my brother, Ryan, smacked me down with the exact same thing."
"You have a brother, Mr. Harrison?"
"Had," Grant admitted hesitantly. "He... passed away. Some time ago."
"That must have made you very sad," Jasmine patted Grant's back sympathetically.
The realization that Jasmine was the first person to offer him comfort rather than blame where Ryan was concerned momentarily squeezed the air from Grant's lungs, and he required a moment to pull himself together before admitting, "Very, very sad, Jazz. We used to fight all the time, you know. I mean all of the time. But I knew that he loved me. And I hope, especially now that he's gone, that he believed the same about me. No matter what we said to each other, no matter what either of us did, we were brothers."
"I don't know what I did to make Charlie so mad at me," Jasmine said in a small voice.
"You didn't do anything. No, I take that back. You provided an easy target. That's just the way it goes, remember Cain and Abel? Can I tell you something else? From personal experience? I would bet anything that, no matter how awful you feel right now; Charlie is feeling a heck of a lot worse. Because, unlike you, she realizes she was wrong. And she deeply regrets hurting you."
"So why did she do it then?"
"Because she was angry and frustrated. So she took it out on the one person she knows will go on loving her, no matter what."
"That's... messed up."
"I couldn't agree more. But there it is. Older siblings will always use their younger ones as punching bags, and younger ones will keep on forgiving them. Because, like it or not, you're stuck with each other. Your parents will die; your loved ones and your children will leave you. Your siblings are the only ones who know you from cradle to... grave."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Some days it will, other days it won't," Grant chuckled. "How's that for a bit of useless advice from an old man?"
The previous evening, Carl had given Felicia the number of his private phone line. She dialed it now, sitting in the car outside of Donna's house.
He picked up before the first ring was through.
Felicia said, "I want her destroyed."
"Consider it done," Carl promised.
"I know I'm being a selfish bastard," Gregory painfully pushed up to a sitting position on the bed, needing to prop himself with both arms. "I keep telling Allie she doesn't need to watch me every minute. She should take some time for herself."
"Oh, Allie is going to have plenty of time for herself soon," Sarah reassured. "Like in solitary confinement. Your mom has gone ballistic. She's got the cops out looking for you both, and she wants Allie charged with kidnapping and, oh yeah, murder."
"She can't do that," Gregory insisted. "Allie didn't kidnap me. I left on my own. I told my parents that. And murder.... That's just ridiculous. My dad is a doctor, he knows..."
"Allie said she offered to marry you, so she could be your next of kin and sign the papers you needed at the hospital. You turned her down because you didn't want her having to face off with your folks. How the hell is this," Sarah indicated their surroundings. "A better plan?"
"It is a better plan. At the hospital, Allie would have had to deal with my parents haranguing her as I was dying. It could have gone on for days, maybe even weeks. I didn't want to put her through that. Here, I can die with just her, nobody else around, the way I want it. Afterwards, what's there for my mom and dad to fight with her about? I'll already be gone. It'll all be over."
"Except for them pressing criminal charges."
"My mom is bluffing. She gets like that when she's upset. Irrational."
"She's got good reason."
"I know," Gregory admitted softly.
"How can you do this to them?" Sarah demanded. "I mean, I don't even particularly like my parents, and I'd never put them through something like this. They're going out of their minds. They love you, they know they're going to lose you, and you're depriving them of what? Their last few days with you? There must be stuff they're desperate to say. Apologize, or just how much they love you. For the rest of their lives, Sharlene and John are going to have to go around knowing that they never got the chance to tell you good-by. That's pretty damn selfish of you."
"And their wanting to keep me alive, isn't? How come they get to be selfish, and I don't? When is it finally going to be my turn? I've always been a good boy. Did what I was told, put others first, never complained. Well, I don't have time for that anymore."
"Look, Gregory," Sarah sat down next to him on the bed, calmer now. "I'm not going to pretend that I understand how you're feeling. Not only have I never been terminal, I've never even been good, much less put others first. And forget about the no complaining thing." He smiled weakly at that, and so did she. "Maybe I'm wrong to do this, maybe I'm no better than everybody else who's bossed you around your whole life, so I'm sorry about that, but I've got to try. Allie's had a hellacious year. GQ dumping then harassing her the way he did, giving up Hudson, the fighting with her mom, not to mention me being... me. You were there for her through all of it. I don't know if she'd have made it without you. She believes she owes you, and she's probably right. That's why she's doing all this. But I don't think Allie gets just what kind of trouble is waiting for her on the other side. Can't you help her out? This one last time?"
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