"Lorna wants to take Lori Ann away from me?" Frankie struggled over the words as if each were a block with sharp corners that didn't quite fit the contours of her mouth.
"She has this ridiculous notion that because Cass is currently in prison "
"It's not so ridiculous," Frankie conceded painfully. "Kevin Fowler was very clear that he approved our adoption petition over yours and... Lorna's because Cass and I were a married couple."
"You're still a couple," Felicia reminded. "You and Cass are as much of a unit now as you always were. Even when you were... gone, you two were still together. He waited so long for you to come back; because that's what he was doing, you know; waiting for you to come back. Even if he didn't realize it at the time. Cass didn't go through all that for the two of you to be torn apart again. Jail or no jail."
"I know it, Felicia. He knows it. You know it. A family court judge, on the other hand, might not be nearly as open-minded to the idea of an alternative family structure."
"It won't ever get that far," Felicia promised. "I won't let it. Lorna.... Lorna isn't thinking straight at the moment. She's in hormonal overdrive. She always gets like this at the beginning of a relationship. The minute anyone pays her the slightest bit of attention, she starts thinking that, this time, it's going to last forever. She puts on all this attitude but, deep down, my daughter is a hopeless romantic."
"Not necessarily a bad thing," Frankie sniffled. "And somewhat expected from the child of Felicia Gallant, wouldn't you say?"
"It is a bad thing when it makes you lose your common sense! Lorna is planning a life with Jamie, a house, a child your child, when the two of them haven't spent a moment dealing with each other in anything resembling reality. First, it was the crisis with Jenna he was the attending physician, how much more textbook romantic than that can you get? She wouldn't be the first woman to react to the aphrodisiac of a white lab coat. And then it was Jamie's foolishness over Cecile, with Lorna planning dramatic, fugitive get-aways in the middle of the night. Once the dust finally settles, they are going to see that they're completely wrong for each other. Can you imagine Lorna as some conservative doctor's wife? She'd go stir-crazy in a week! Not to mention run out of appropriate things to wear after the first day. And Jamie.... Let's not even talk about.... Has he ever had a marriage last till its first anniversary?"
"I saw them at Cass' sentencing," Frankie began reluctantly. "There was this moment, when he took her hand.... "
"Jamie's inability to accept responsibility for his own actions is what led to first Lucas, then Cass being sent to prison in the first place. Rachel's son or not, I am not going to let him ruin any more lives. Not Lorna's, not yours, and certainly not Lori Ann's."
They spent the next hour talking strategy: making a list of solid citizens who could testify to Frankie and Cass' fitness as parents no matter what the circumstances, considering lawyers Felicia even suggested now that the situation was reversed, maybe it was worth giving Kevin Fowler a call; he was a bastard, and a bastard was what they needed right now while, at the top of the stairs, Charlie sat without making a sound, listening to every word.
By the next morning, even trying to be as gentle as possible, Allie couldn't figure out how to help Gregory sit up so that she could change the vomit-soiled pajama top he was wearing without him nearly gagging in pain and begging her to stop.
She was at wit's end about what to do, when Sarah and Jen came in, took stock of the situation and, without an extraneous word to either her or Gregory, simply bent over and, working together, efficiently, quickly and, most important, painlessly, rolled him to one side, slipped off the grubby pajamas and replaced them with a pair of clean ones.
At the end of the ordeal, Gregory was sweating as if he'd run a marathon in the heat. But after a barely audible, murmured thank-you, he was able to finally fall asleep. Or maybe he passed out. In any case, he stopped clenching his teeth to keep from screaming, which, as far as Allie was concerned, was both a miracle and a blessing.
"How," she asked Jen and Sarah. "How did you know what to do?"
"My mom had a bad back," Sarah reminded. "There were entire weeks, sometimes, she couldn't get out of bed. I had to take care of everything for her."
"My mom did a lot of drugs," Jen chimed in.
"I don't know how much more he can take," Allie said. "He stopped eating days ago. Now he can barely keep water down. And he's in so much pain. I keep asking him if maybe I shouldn't call an ambulance; take him back to the hospital. But he won't let me."
"Steven's dad said there was medication they could give him for the pain."
"Morphine, most likely," Jen guessed.
"Could we get some?" Allie asked eagerly. "Give it to him ourselves?"
"Maybe," Jen and Sarah said in unison, exchanging looks.
"What did we do?" Cory asked the moment he spied both parents, wearing matching, grim, we need to talk expressions coming up to the East Wing garage where he and Elizabeth were storing their bikes after a morning ride around the grounds.
"Chillax," his sister patted Cory on the head, ruffling curls that, except for being so blond they appeared almost white, were the spitting image of his late half-brother, Ryan. "We didn't do anything. This is still about me. Am I right?" she challenged Carl and Rachel.
"I thought we might all take a constitutional," Carl neither denied nor confirmed her assumption. "Talk through some... issues that have arisen recently."
"You're not in trouble," Rachel assured Elizabeth.
"Yet," her daughter sighed, even as she and Cory dutifully did as they were told and followed their parents up the wooded path that led towards the duck pond.
Carl cleared his throat. Three heads turned in his direction, each, for their own reasons, deeply curious regarding what he might say.
But, after the ceremonial clearing, Carl did nothing more than smile apologetically, stick both hands in the pockets of his white slacks, and walk on ahead, leaving the rest of his family to bring up the rear.
"Wow," Cory observed. "Father is speechless."
"Merely reflective," Carl corrected. "No good comes of heedlessly blurting out the first notion that comes to mind. Isn't that so, poppet?" he addressed Elizabeth.
"Aw, jeez." She looked to Rachel, "Didn't you tell him I already wrote that stupid apology note to Jamie and Lorna?"
"What do you know about Lorna?" Carl asked abruptly. "Truly now, what precisely do you think it is that you know about her?"
"And we already had this stupid conversation, too. Mom set me straight, okay? You're no saint, Lorna's no succubus, and I'm too young to hear anything else. Case closed."
"If you have any questions," Rachel broached gently. "Your father and I want to help "
"I don't want to talk about it anymore," Elizabeth crossed her arms, jaw jutting forward in a stubborn pout so reminiscent of Rachel in profile, they might have been two matching sides of a skillfully sculpted, marble bust. "You think I'm too young to understand? Fine. Let's just drop it. I promise I won't say anything to Lorna ever again. I'll make like the rest of you and pretend as if her being Father's girlfriend, and Matt's, and Mr. Harrison's and now Jamie's is perfectly normal. Heck, and I guess it kind of is in this family. Jamie was married to Vicky and Marley. And he and Sandy were both married to Blaine and to Cecile. Plus Dennis dated Cecile, too. And Marley."
"I know this is very confusing," since she couldn't very well deny anything Elizabeth said, Rachel settled for merely comforting. "That's why your father and I thought we should talk "
"I don't want to talk about it," Elizabeth repeated shrilly, all but covering her ears with both palms like a child half her age. "I've heard enough. I just want to forget about it, forget about all of it. It's none of my business. Leave me alone!"
Matt was getting up from his desk at C-Squared, rounding the side to pick up the latest box of demo CDs from that morning's mail, when he looked up to find Donna standing by the door, hand on the knob, half-in/half out of his office.
Their eyes met. She didn't say anything. So he didn't say anything.
He waited. So she waited.
Finally, Matt couldn't take it any more and burst out, "What? John tired of you already?"
She shook her head. "John is..."
"Oh, damn, right," Matt rubbed his forehead, instantly contrite. "Gregory. He's - How is that... going?"
"He's still missing. So is Allie, I presume. I think John is about to lose his mind. Sharlene seems to already have. There's nothing I can do for either of them, except stay out of the way."
"But, wait, let me guess: There is something I can do for you. Why else would you be here?"
"Please, don't be so angry with me, Matthew."
"Sure. Just calibrate me an appropriate level of rage, and I'll try to stay under that."
Donna confessed, "I finally spoke with Felicia."
"Did you ask her not to be angry with you, too?"
"She wasn't, though. I mean, obviously she is, how could she not be? But, she wasn't what I expected. I thought it would be like Lorna. All fury and flames and accusations. But Felicia was so calm. I never could have been that calm were our positions reversed."
"Believe me," Matt corrected. "You could have. You can be just as cold as the next person when the situation calls for it."
"I told her the truth. All of it. She said she just wanted to know. To understand."
That brought Matt up short. He asked cautiously, "All of it?"
"I told her that I didn't that I couldn't love Jenna."
"Did you explain why?"
"I did. I tried to. But I don't think she understood. Only you understood, Matthew."
"What about John?" A part of Matt heard how childish and petulant he was sounding. A bigger part of him didn't care.
"John I haven't told John. Not that. Not with what he's going through."
"Ah..." Now that the answer was clear, Matt could relax. "So that's why you're here. Nobody else around to pat you on the head and tell you what a good Donna you still are, regardless of whatever you may have done."
"I can see I was mistaken in that regard," she said softly. "I came to see you, because I missed you. Just because the romantic side of our relationship is over "
"Did it ever really start? I've got to wonder now."
Matt had meant for his latest rejoinder to come off as no more serious than all of his previous sarcastic jabs. And yet, from the way Donna recoiled, the mockery appeared to have struck a nerve Matt never aimed for at least consciously. Donna deluded, or Donna defensive, even especially Donna manipulative, Matt had built up armor for over the years. Donna genuinely and sincerely hurt, however, still sliced him through to the core, instantly erasing the hostility she'd engendered earlier, and prompting him to shift gears between breaths, back-pedaling, "Okay, sorry, that was uncalled for."
"My God, Matt," the indignant voice from the doorway prompted them both to startle and turn around. Lorna stood there, having obviously overheard at least the tail end of their conversation, arms crossed, shaking her head in patented dismay. "Are you seriously that whipped, or just stupid?"
"You want me to steal morphine from my dad?" Steven snuck a peak to the side to make sure GQ was hearing the same thing. The look on his face suggested that yes, as a matter of fact, he was. And GQ sat equally unconvinced.
"Not steal," Sarah snapped. "I just meant, could you think of a way to get any? Maybe via your dad, maybe not. Suppose we just asked him? He told us himself he didn't want Gregory to suffer. Maybe if we tell him "
"We tell my dad we know where Gregory is, he's going to want him at the hospital, pronto. And from what you're describing, it doesn't sound like he'd be wrong."
"We gave Gregory and Allie our word," Sarah reminded, then sighed. "Fine, so we'll have to think of some other way to get him painkillers."
"Stealing prescription drugs is a serious felony," GQ pointed out.
"So is kidnapping. So is assisted suicide. So is obstruction of justice," Jen rattled off. "We're already in up to our ears. What's another strike or two?"
"When each count carries a mandatory ten year sentence? You do the math," GQ suggested.
"Cross my dad off your potential victims list," Steven said. "He had a drug problem when he was younger, he knows how junkies operate. Anything slightly useful, he keeps locked up tight." Sarah opened her mouth, but Steven cut her off. "He even keeps his prescription pads locked up. So don't get any ideas."
"Actually," Jen said with a start. "That gives me one."
"Frankie has already lost so much," Felicia lamented to Rachel. "The idea that Lorna and Jamie could swoop in and take Lori Ann, too, I can't just stand by and allow it to happen, for any of their sakes, to be honest."
Attempting to digest everything Felicia had already told her, Rachel clarified, "Lorna said that she has Jamie's support to do this?"
"That's the impression that I got," Felicia searched for a way to phrase her next thought tactfully, understanding all the while that there probably wasn't one. "Rachel, you and I have been friends for such a long time, I would hate for anything to jeopardize that. But you and I both know that loving our children doesn't mean being blind to their faults. Jamie may be a devoted father, a brilliant doctor "
"But he's not good enough for your daughter?" Rachel wondered. "I'm sorry, Felicia, we certainly have been friends for a very long time. Still, I don't believe that gives you the right to badmouth my son."
"And it's the last thing I want to do. Especially under the circumstances. I just remember how devastated Lisa was when she found out he'd cheated on her with Vicky. And then only a few months ago, it was Marley, with Lorna as the other woman."
"Marley is doing just fine these days," Rachel noted wryly. "No need to cry over her."
"Lorna has been used and abused by so many men, so many times. Grant, and Matt..."
"And Carl," Rachel said, more to herself than to Felicia.
"I know I'm being overprotective. She's a grown woman, after all, with, God knows, plenty of life experience. But she's the only child I have left, Rachel. And I'm afraid that she's pinning all of her hopes for the future on a man who'll only break her heart again. Except this time, it won't be just Lorna whom Jamie will hurt. It will be Lori Ann and Charlie and Frankie and Cass, too."
Rather than address Felicia's point or bring up just how much Cass had hurt Jamie recently, Rachel returned to her own earlier one. "I'm sorry, but I'm having a hard time believing that Jamie is as sanguine about this plan of Lorna's as she'd like you to believe."
"She made a point of stressing that Jamie was a Frame, too, just like Frankie. And, being a doctor, he's an even better guardian for Lori Ann. He can take care of any issues that come up with her health down the line. Lorna certainly made it sound like Jamie is willing to go all the way with her on this. Previously, Fowler told her point-blank she has no chance at custody. But now that she and Jamie are together, Lorna is acting like she thinks it's a done deal."
"Do you remember when Jamie and Marley broke up?" Rachel asked.
"Which time?" Felicia wondered, only a little bit ironically.
Rachel sighed. "Not this last go-around, and not the time she dumped him at the alter New Year's Eve. The one in between. It was after he found out that Marley had been planning for them to adopt Sarah, without telling Jamie that she was Olivia and Dennis' child. Without telling Dennis, either, for that matter."
"I remember. That was quite a scene."
"What made Jamie particularly furious, what broke his heart," Rachel also couldn't resist reminding that her son had suffered a great deal in the romance department, as well. "Was that he felt Marley had never wanted him for him. That her supposed love was really just Marley using Jamie to fill out some fantasy that she had of a perfect family. It wasn't Jamie she wanted; it was this dream upstanding husband and father. And Jamie just happened to be the guy that she managed to snag to make it happen."
Grasping what Rachel was trying to tell her, Felicia observed, "You think that Lorna is using Jamie in the same way that Marley did?"
"I'm afraid it certainly sounds that way to me," Rachel couldn't help agreeing.
Each name proved simultaneously a question, an identification, and an expression of surprise. Truth be told even factoring in Jamie and Kirkland the two of them had very little reason to cross paths. Marley couldn't even remember whether they'd exchanged so much as banal pleasantries on the 4th of July.
And yet here Carl was, in her gallery, looking... odd. Impeccably groomed, naturally. Flamboyant, of course. But, nonetheless, odd.
"What brings you here?" She wondered, beckoning her one-time stepfather and stepfather-in-law into her private office and closing the door.
He took a seat, linking his hands in his lap, leaning forward and divulging, "I am afraid that there are a pair of issues which I feel compelled to bring to your attention."
Marley sighed and guessed, "Donna. You heard that she was back."
"Yes," Carl winced visibly. "I had heard that."
"I had nothing to do with it. I don't think she's anywhere remotely close to being well."
"Interesting," Carl mused. "I happen to be of the mind that she was nowhere remotely close to being ill. Or, at the very least, to not being responsible for her actions."
"She tried to commit suicide," Marley bristled.
"She didn't succeed now, did she?"
"I'm not sure what you want from me, Carl." Marley shrugged. "If you think I approve of my mother's actions "
"Not at all, not at all, my dear. Please forgive me, I wasn't being adequately clear. Yes, I had heard about Donna's release and, indeed, I'm afraid I am not quite ready to let bygones be bygones in that regard."
"No one is expecting you to."
"But that isn't what I came to speak with you about."
"Oh." There went the rest of what she'd intended to say. "Then what was it?"
"Grant Harrison," Carl said simply.
Carl waited for her to elaborate. She declined to do so.
"Surely I misheard from Kirkland," Carl offered. "Surely you and he can not be...."
"Any of your business," Marley finished. "But, since you came all the way over... yes," she told him, almost proudly, almost smugly. "We are."
"How can Are you out of your gourd? After everything Victoria went through!"
"I am not my sister," Marley told him sharply. "Sometimes I think Grant is the only one who understands that."
"Which leaves me inclined to surmise that you do not understand him at all!"
"Then I guess some hands-on learning is in order," Marley couldn't help smiling at Carl's obvious discomfort. If she'd figured out how much power dating Grant gave her over other people, who knows, Marley might have gone for it earlier.
"You are playing a very dangerous game," Carl warned.
"It's about time, wouldn't you say? I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines. Why should I let everyone else have all the fun?"
"I had no idea you were so much like your mother, after all, Marley," Carl mused thoughtfully. "That's a very intriguing thing to know...."
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