Felicia looked at her daughter oddly. "Lori Ann already has a father. Two of them, as a matter of fact. Dean and Cass."
"One of whom hasn't seen her since she was a few days old, and another who's in jail."
"And whose fault is that?" Felicia bristled instinctively.
"That isn't relevant," Lorna snapped, raising her arms, both palms out. "What is relevant is that the court allowed Frankie and Cass to adopt Lori Ann for two reasons: Because Frankie was a Frame, and because they presumed Lori Ann would be raised in a stable home with two parents." Lorna didn't bother adding that the reason she'd been dismissed early on in the process was because she was single, and not a blood relative.
"Things happen. Situations change."
"They do. And we have to change with them." Cajoling rather than confronting, Lorna pointed out, "Jamie is just as much Lori Ann's relation as Frankie. And now the two of us could give her "
"The two of you," Felicia scoffed. "There is barely a two of you. All I see is an ill-advised, ill-conceived affair hatched out of extenuating circumstances and misplaced gratitude."
Lorna shrugged, more relieved than upset to finally be hearing Felicia's honest opinion. "I'm sorry you feel that way."
"No, I'm sorry you feel that way. Listen to me, darling, please. Jamie Frame is not a man to pin your long-terms hopes on."
Lorna shook her head, genuinely confused. "What do you know about Jamie?"
"I know that he cheated on your cousin, Lisa. I know that he broke her heart. I don't want to see the same thing happen to you."
"That was over twenty years ago. He made a mistake. We've all made our share of mistakes."
"It's not just Lisa. There was Nicole Love, Stacey Winthrop."
"Because we all know that no one with name Love, or God forbid, Winthrop could ever contribute to the demise of a relationship."
"What about the scandal with Kelsey Harrison? The one that ultimately drove him out of town?"
"Right, that wasn't a witch-hunt at all. Two consenting adults who happen to be colleagues sleep together, and Jamie's the one who gets hit with a sexual harassment suit."
"My point is that his record with women is atrocious. How many times, exactly, has Jamie been married and divorced?"
"Three. Twice at an age when most guys would still have just been hooking up indiscriminately, and once for Steven's sake. How many times have you been married and divorced, Mom?"
She let that one fly by unanswered. "Tell the truth, Lorna, do you really believe this... whim... of yours has the potential to last long enough for the two of you to raise a child together?"
"And beyond," Lorna told her simply.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," Felicia stood up. "It won't be Frankie and Cass' child. You make any kind of move to take Lori Ann away from them, and you and Jamie will have me to contend with."
"You took it too far, Carl," Rachel sighed to her husband, sinking into the seat across from him inside the library, indicating the shelves and shelves of classic tomes that, all of a sudden, seemed to be bearing down oppressively on them both. "It was one thing to broaden our children's horizons and introduce them to worlds outside their own. It's quite another to raise them in a completely alternate reality."
"I have done no such thing," Carl defended archly. "Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare, Moliere, Dante, Beowulf, Oresteia, Njals, Lais; they are each, in their own way, the very foundations of Western civilization. I did not bring up Elizabeth and Cory outside of reality. I merely offered them a richer understanding of their current one."
"Your thirteen year old daughter, in trying to make some sense of your past, has cast you in the role of German crown prince, and Lorna as Mata Hari."
"Truly, now? What an apt and erudite metaphor."
"Cut it out." The more high-falutin' Carl's language grew, the more tempted Rachel felt to simplify hers. "I am no fan of Lorna's, I think we all know that. But I will not allow Elizabeth to hide behind a version of events which paints Lorna as the shameless villain, and you as the cruelly betrayed hero. Not for Lorna's sake, mind you. For Elizabeth's. Let the lie stand now, and it will only be that much more difficult for her to handle once the real truth comes to light."
"What real truth?" Carl inquired, genuinely curious. "You assert that Elizabeth has conjured herself up an illusory version of my dealings with Lorna. I daresay, you have well done the same. Just what do you believe happened between us?"
Rachel looked away. In all the years she and Carl had been married, she had deliberately avoided tackling this particular aspect of his history head-on. Because while Rachel had long harbored her suspicions based on bits and pieces overheard though time, this was the one fact she like, ironically enough, Elizabeth most feared being confirmed.
"You took a desperate thirteen year old girl off the streets, Carl," Rachel's voice shook as she recounted. "No matter how precocious she may have been, no matter how much she may have thought she was a willing participant, no matter what she may have consented to, she was still a child. She was Elizabeth's age."
"And I treated her like a child!" Carl thundered. "She was my pupil, my protegee, nothing more. My God, Rachel, do you honestly think... You know me, my dear."
"I know you now," Rachel pointed out. "I didn't know you then."
"What is this all about? Truly?" Carl lowered his voice. "Are you bothered about Lorna being with Jamie after "
"No!" Rachel shook her head, dismissive. "No, my issues regarding Jamie and Lorna have nothing to do with you. They're all her, believe me. This is about Elizabeth and about Cory. I'm afraid you and I have been sticking our heads in the sand, pretending that they're still babies, or that your indefensible actions are so far in the past that they can't come back to hurt us or them. We were wrong on both counts. The longer we put off telling them everything, the worse it's going to get."
"Elizabeth seems to be handling things quite well, in my opinion."
"Well, your opinion is wrong," Rachel snapped. "You let her romanticize what went on between you and Lorna, and you are just asking for her to waltz into a similar, destructive relationship, over and over again, looking for the fantasy, and getting God only knows what in return."
"I would never let that happen," Carl clipped.
"You bet you won't." She indicated their daughter's bedroom, located on the floor above them. "You are going to talk to Elizabeth, and you are going to explain everything to her. You are going to make her understand. No matter what it costs you. Or us."
"Another round?" Grant queried the group, and, upon receiving three nods of affirmation, signaled for their waiter.
"Aren't we the big spender, tonight?" Lila drained her whiskey sour in preparation for a fresh glass. "Better not be planning on calling this a business dinner and sticking Kevin with the bill, my friend."
"Grant is familiar with Illinois tax law," Kevin, one arm around the back of Lila's chair, explained. "If we don't talk about his custody suit "
"Which you won't," Marley warned both men, prompting Grant to hold up his hands in acquiescence. "Unless you two want to spend the rest of the night stag."
"Oh, Grant would never risk that," Amanda observed conversationally as she approached their table, critically sizing up each occupant in turn. "Dining alone might prompt some much needed soul-searching about why things have come down to this. And that's the last thing he wants."
"Good evening, Amanda," Grant greeted politely, even as he observed the line along Lila's jaw tighten, and Marley's eyes narrowing. "What brings you out on this lovely, summer evening?"
"Table for one?" Marley inquired, drawing an appreciative smirk from Lila.
"Actually, I'm meeting Chase Hamilton. He intends to officially throw his hat into the Mayoral race this Fall constituents are unhappy; lot of upsets expected come November and he's promised Brava the first in-depth interview. It should be a fascinating read. We've never had a Log Cabin Republican in office before. I think this local story could go national. Of course, we'll be covering all the hopefuls eventually. Wouldn't want to appear biased. Should I pencil you into my calendar, Grant?"
"Me?" Grant boomed, his laugh a mixture of amusement and involuntary piqued interest. "My campaign days are long over."
"Voters love a comeback kid. And coming back from the dead sure beats not having Nixon to kick around anymore. Mayor Grant Spencer Harrison, part deux." Amanda slowly tested each syllable, noting and enjoying Grant's eyes firmly fixated on her lips, even as Marley and Kevin's eyes were fixed firmly on Grant, and Lila's ping-ponged furiously between her ostensible boyfriend and his ostensible ex, which made Amanda's grin even bigger. "I'll admit, it's not as sexy sounding as Senator Harrison, or Spencer's dream, President Harrison. But it'll do. For a start. Yup.... Feels nice and pungent on the tongue. Just makes you want to keep savoring it over and over again.
"Man said he ain't interested," Lila snapped.
"In anything you have to offer," Marley added.
"Oh, listen to you both." Amanda intercepted Grant's fresh glass of bourbon from the waiter. "When you've known Grant as long and as intimately as I have, you'll learn to recognize that, even though his lips say no, his eyes are telling a somewhat different story." Amanda knocked back the glass and sighed with satisfaction, returning it empty to Grant. "You change your mind about getting back on that horse, you give me a call. It'll be just like old times...."
In the Cory recreation room, while paddling a ping-pong ball back and forth across the table, Kirkland confessed to Jasmine, "Your mom told me what happened with Charlie. Actually, that's not true. She couldn't tell me what happened, since she doesn't know what happened. She just told me that something did."
Jasmine allowed an easy shot to whiz by her so that she had the excuse of ducking to pick it up and not looking Kirkland in the eye as she lightly dismissed. "It was no big deal. She's really sad about Cass."
"Doesn't mean she gets to make you cry."
"It's okay. Your dad cheered me up."
"You talked to my dad? When? He's been at work since "
"I meant your other dad. Mr. Harrison."
"My other dad cheered you up?" Kirkland asked, incredulous.
"He said he and his brother used to fight all the time."
"That's certainly true."
"But that they still loved each other."
"I guess...." Kirkland's memories of Grant and Ryan were vague. But they were certainly... loud.
"He said Charlie was so mean to me because she knows I'll still love her no matter what. All brothers and sisters are like that."
Kirkland thought of Steven, and had to concede that Grant had a point. Which was a surprise in and of itself. "But Charlie still shouldn't treat you like that. I'll talk to her."
"No," Jasmine pleaded. "Please don't. She'll think I tattled and just get madder."
"Tough," Kirkland shrugged. "Anybody messes with you, they've got to answer to me. We're family, right, Jazz?"
"Not exactly..." she reminded him with a puzzling smile.
The second time Gregory had a seizure in front of her, Allie was ready. He'd told her what to do and she had gone over it so many times in her head as preparation, that it felt almost instinctual to slip a pillow between his back and the headboard, to keep Gregory from banging against it and hurting himself.
After it was over, she checked to see if Gregory was still breathing.
If he wasn't, he'd instructed her not to do anything, just let him go.
Except that, today, he still was.
In that case, Allie rolled Gregory over to his side, clearing his mouth of the saliva that had accumulated there with her finger, to make sure he wouldn't choke on it. She sat next to him for close to an hour, rubbing his back, telling Gregory that he was fine, that she was here, that she would take care of him, he didn't have to worry.
At first, he was too disoriented to respond, mumbling fragments of words and sentences that made no sense. Despite the seizure being over, he continued to shake intermittently, gritting his teeth, whimpering in spite of his best efforts not to.
"It hurts, Allie," was the first coherent sentence he managed to groan out. "It really hurts now."
"No," Lorna informed the hapless waiter who'd just explained that her and Jamie's dinner had been covered by Mr. Grant Harrison; sitting right across the room, ceremonially lifting his glass of bourbon a double by now in their direction. "You tell him we can't, and won't, accept this."
"Mr. Harrison instructed me not to take no for an answer," the waiter bowed solicitously. And ran for his life.
"Damn," Jamie observed, looking over their paid in full bill. "Now I wish I'd ordered the Baked Alaska. For eight."
"What is he hoping to score by doing this?"
"Points with Marley?" Jamie ventured. "Proof that he can play nice with me, like she stipulated?"
"This means we now have to walk over there and acknowledge his benevolent generosity, doesn't it?"
"Not necessarily. A bracing cold shoulder could prove quite refreshing on a muggy night like this."
Lorna groaned in frustration. "My grandmother raised me better than that. God, I do hate that guy."
"I'm not too crazy about him either," Jamie pushed back from the table and gallantly offered his elbow to Lorna. "Shall we? For Gram?"
"How about we don't, and I'll just tell her we did? She can't be watching over me every second, can she?"
"I certainly hope not," Jamie winked, with an unmistakable implication that made Lorna blush. He promised, "We'll make it quick and painless."
"Nothing involving Grant is ever painless," Lorna grumbled even as she obediently followed Jamie over to Grant's table, plastering a counterfeit smile on her face as tight as the ones Marley and Lila wore during the perfunctory exchange of group hellos.
"How nice of you both to stop by and see us." Grant rose solicitously from his chair, as did Kevin; a pair of snakes in gentlemen's clothing. "I trust you enjoyed your dinner?"
"How could we not, thanks to you?" Lorna pointedly told him. "You shouldn't have, Grant. Really. Trust me on that."
"It was my pleasure. Hope you enjoy the rest of your evening." Grant sat back down, then, almost as an afterthought that had just occurred to him, assured Jamie, "Don't worry. This isn't a business dinner. Kevin is off the clock tonight."
"Tonight?" Jamie's fake confusion was even better than his fake gratitude. "I assumed he'd be off the case entirely, under the circumstances." Jamie nudged Kevin, "You didn't tell him?"
"Tell me what?" Staged nonchalance gone, Grant's eyes speared Kevin.
"Remember how the night before I was scheduled to turn myself in to the police, I went on that infamous bender?" Jamie clamped a hand down on Kevin's shoulder. "My, remind me again? Is it nephew? My nephew, Kevin, here, generously bought me my first round. And then, whether in a bid to convince me not to turn myself in, or merely to twist the knife a bit deeper I'm still not really straight on that part he complimented me on being a great dad. He also confessed that, great dad that I apparently am, he never expected to win you full custody of Kirkland. Shared was really the most you could ever hope for."
"So recollects the falling down drunk," Kevin deflected easily, "Who ended up disappearing for the next twenty-four hours."
"I did," Jamie agreed. "And you know who I disappeared with?" He smiled at Lorna, who smiled back and briefly rested her head on his shoulder. "And you know how that happened? The bartender called her to come get me. He's a very nice guy. I stopped by in person to thank him a few days ago. Way, way too late, I know. But I have been busy. Not only did he recall contacting Lorna for me, but also Kevin's and my conversation. And he'd be happy to testify to it in court. Like I said; nice guy."
"Hearsay," Kevin dismissed, though not quite as easily this time.
"Yeah, I guess. But Mike Bauer still thinks that between putting you and the bartender on the stand, under oath and all, the family court judge will most likely see things our way and let the current arrangement stand, with me keeping custody of Kirk, and Grant having to contend himself with weekends and every other holiday."
"You retained Mike?" Kevin downright squirmed.
"Who better to fight you, than the man who taught you everything you know?" Now it was Jamie's turn to leave, only to turn back at the last minute and, as if the notion just came to him, suggest, "Give me a call when you're ready to hammer out a visitation schedule, Grant. Drinks and dinner will be on me."
"Oh, my, God!" It was all Lorna could do not to strip Jamie on the spot, but chastely wait until they'd exited the restaurant and were in the parking lot, before throwing her arms around him and kissing him hard enough for a few just arriving patrons to feel like they needed to avert their eyes lest she decide to go further. "My man totally knows how to throw a smackdown!"
"I was pretty good, wasn't I?" Now that it was over, Jamie seemed most surprised of all by what had happened.
"You were amazing. How long do you think it'll take Grant to fire the bum?"
"Kevin was fired before we walked out the door."
"I'm sorry to be bothering you so late," Felicia was still apologizing even as she stepped into Cass and Frankie's foyer.
"It's alright." Frankie sighed and escorted her further. "I'm grateful for the friendly face. I'm afraid Lori Ann was very mad at me for taking her out of the tub, giving her a bottle, and then, the ultimate indignity, putting her to bed. And Charlie... Charlie is just mad at me for existing. So, don't worry, Felicia, I am very, very happy to see you."
"How are they handling Cass... being gone?" Felicia posed delicately.
"Lori Ann keeps looking for him," Frankie confessed. "I bring her into our room in the morning, and she starts digging under the covers, like he's hiding. And then she glares at me. As if I'm the one deliberately hiding him."
"Poor baby. She doesn't understand."
"Neither does Charlie. Not really. She's been unmanageable for weeks. We visited Cass over the 4th of July, and I don't think she said more than three words to him. Unless snorts count."
"I hate to add to your problems, Frankie..."
"What is it?" she braced herself. "What's happened now?"
Felicia hesitated. "I It's Lorna."
"Another one of my fans! The looks she kept giving Cass in court.... Jamie seemed to be handling the whole thing better than her, and he's the one Cass actually put on the.... Though, of course," she considered. "Jamie hasn't exactly spoken to me since then, either."
"Well, it seems Lorna's figured out a way to get back at you both." Begging Frankie's forgiveness ahead of time, Felicia explained, "I'm afraid she's gotten it into her head that, with Cass in jail and you more or less being a single parent now, she and Jamie would make better guardians for Lori Ann. And she's willing to go to court to prove it."
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