"I'll scream," Donna warned Carl as they stood outside the Hudson house, his hand clamped firmly over her wrist. "John is right inside, he'll "
"Scream, then." Carl suggested politely.
"What do you want from me?" she demanded, inexplicably actually lowering her voice, rather than raising it as promised. Donna realized that whatever she'd be forced to face now, she owed it to John and Sharlene to leave them out of it.
"A bit late in the game to be posing such a question, is it not?"
"A bit late," Donna agreed. "To do anything."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that."
"Fine, Carl," she snapped, yanking her arm free, tired of the dread, tired of the game, tired of it all. "Go on. Get it over with. Recite your piece, do your worst."
"No," Carl said.
"No?" Whatever momentum Donna may have felt she'd gained by taking charge of the situation dissipated alongside his denial.
"No," he repeated. "That would be much, much too simple."
"It's Rachel," Donna guessed. "She's got you on a leash, is that it? She won't allow you to let the real Carl Hutchins come out. She's too scared of what it could lead to. Well, that's all right. I won't tell her. This can be our little secret."
"You know you're dying to let me have it, Carl. What are you waiting for?"
"I am waiting," he told her. "For you not to crave it quite so much. I am many things, Bella, but I will not be your absolution. You believe that by facing my wrath, you'll have fulfilled your penance and be well on the way to absolution. Never. I will never make matters that painless for you."
"You're wrong," Donna insisted. "I know there's no absolution for what I've done. I don't expect you or Felicia or anyone to offer it to me. But you're here. You must have something to say. You must have questions, at least..."
"Perhaps. But then I doubt you are in possession of a single answer I'd be inclined to believe."
"Then why did you come here?"
"I needed to look upon you. Now. Afresh. I needed to see for myself."
"What? What were you looking for?"
Carl merely smiled enigmatically in reply.
"What are you doing here?" Alice asked Kevin's daughter upon discovering her in Alice's office at the hospital, rifling through Alice's medical bag, holding a vial and a syringe.
"I Isn't it kind of obvious?" Jen stammered defiantly.
Alice approached cautiously, indicating the syringe. "Is that for you?"
"Yes," Jen insisted. "Yes. It's for me. You caught me. I'm an addict. Guilty as charged. Please don't tell anybody, especially my dad."
"Stop it, Jennifer. I've treated a great many young people with drug problems. You don't look it. You don't sound it. And," Alice gently removed both items from Jen's hands. "You aren't even holding the syringe properly."
Jen was about to argue, but the look on Alice's face quickly drove home the inevitable futility of that attempt. She shrugged. "Guess I should have paid more attention while my mom was shooting up."
"On the other hand," Alice said, "Whoever you were taking this for, please let them know that, as soon they're ready to accept help, I will be happy to go anywhere, anytime to get them started on the process. I know some wonderful counselors and clinics that do very good work, completely confidential." When Jen didn't say anything, when she simply continued standing there, looking at Alice, visibly desperate to ask her great-grandmother something, but equally as terrified of the potential consequences, Alice sighed, put the medical paraphernalia away, and looking Jen directly in the eye, suggested, "Or you could drop the act altogether, and tell me what's really going on with you."
Jen hesitated. Alice waited patiently.
Jen pursed her lips, looked down at the ground and, in a small voice, uttered, "Gregory Hudson."
Alice bobbed her head thoughtfully, facial expression completely neutral. "You know where he is?"
"Is he still alive?"
"He's in a lot of pain. We thought if we could..."
Alice reached for her bag. "Let's go."
"What?" Jen's eyes darted in terror.
"Take me to where he is. I'll see what I can do for him."
"Gregory doesn't want to go to the hospital."
"That's why you're going to take me to him." Alice firmly seized the younger woman's arm and led her towards the door.
"So? What do you think?" Lorna asked Felicia after taking her mother through an admittedly less comprehensive than Jamie's tour of the house he'd bought for them.
"It's lovely." Felicia managed to keep the surprise out of her voice almost completely. "Jamie has excellent taste."
"Well, he told me he hit his limit making sure it had walls and a roof and wouldn't burst into flame spontaneously. The interior decorating is up to me."
"That's an enormous job."
"I know," Lorna said. "But I'm kind of looking forward to it. I never had a whole house to decorate before."
"And this one is huge! Six bedrooms?"
"A master suite, an office for each of us, a room for Kirkland, a room for Steven, and a... guestroom."
The word hung in the air between them like a particularly noxious smoke-ring. Which both chose to ignore. For now.
"I'm sure you'll do a beautiful job," Felicia smiled. A little too broadly.
"I think Jamie will be happy with anything as long as it doesn't look like a record cover." When Felicia just stared at her, confused, Lorna clarified, "That's kind of my field of expertise, artistically speaking."
Abruptly, Felicia wondered, "Whose idea was it? The house? Not this one in particular, but the two of you getting one together?"
"Jamie's..." Lorna said cautiously, not sure where this was leading, but instantly wary.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Lorna snapped. "What are you getting at?"
Felicia hesitated, weighed her words carefully, then began, "I was speaking to Rachel the other day... "
"Oh, I can't think of any way for that to go wrong."
"She wondered... and it made me wonder..."
"How well do you know what happened between Jamie and Marley?"
"Short version? She screwed Grant and Jamie in the same week. Only one of them had a distinctively better time of it."
"I don't mean recently. A long time ago. When they were going to adopt Olivia's "
"Oh, that. Yeah, I know about that, too. Ancient history."
"Did you know Jamie ultimately came to believe that Marley never wanted him for himself? That he was just a placeholder for this fantasy she had of a perfect family? Living a perfect life. In a perfect house..." Felicia trailed off.
Lorna didn't need to have a picture drawn. "This is nothing like that," she insisted.
"Isn't it?" Felicia probed. "The two of you have been together for such a short time. And already you've got him buying you a house "
"I told you that was Jamie's idea."
"And filing for custody of Lori Ann." Felicia drove her point home. "Or was that Jamie's idea, too?"
She didn't answer. Which was, honestly, all Felicia needed to hear.
"Is he really on-board with your plans for Lori Ann?" Felicia prodded sympathetically.
"He said he'll support me in anything I want to do."
"That's not the same thing. We both know that, don't we?"
"No," Lorna fired back. "We don't. The only thing we do both know is that the reason you're here, the reason you're saying all this is so you can convince me to leave Lori Ann with Frankie and Cass."
"That's not true! Why are you doing this, Lorna? Why do you always take my words and twist them into the most negative, offensive, insulting interpretation possible?"
"If this wasn't about Cass and Frankie, then what the hell was your point in pulling me down Jamie's Crappy Relationship Memory Lane?"
"I was trying to look out for you! I was trying to point out the similarities between your relationship with him, and what went wrong with Jamie and Marley. If he begins to suspect that you're treating him the same way that she did... I just want to protect you from being hurt, Lorna."
"By getting there yourself, first?"
"If that's what it takes," Felicia told her honestly.
"Why did you bring her here?" Allie sprung up off the bed where she'd been sitting next to a moaning, barely conscious Gregory for what felt like endless days, and glared at Jen as she led Alice in through the cabin door.
"It's okay," Jen insisted. "She wants to help."
Ignoring both girls, Alice knelt by the edge of the bed, stroking Gregory's hair gently with one hand, and looking him in the eye. "Hi, Gregory. My name is Dr. Alice Frame. I knew your mother a long time ago. I used to be married to your Uncle Steve." Slowly, so that he could see everything she was doing, Alice reached into her medical bag and brought out a stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff. "I want to examine you, see how you're doing. And then I want to give you a shot "
"No," Gregory groaned, then pleaded with the last of his energy. "No. Please. No shot. I don't want to be put under. Please don't put me under. Please, don't "
"It's only to help you get some rest. Take the edge off the pain. I promise you, Gregory, you will wake up from this. You have my word."
Unable to move his head, Gregory shifted his eyes to look questioningly at Allie. Unsure herself, Allie clung to the one thing she had to go on, "Jen said we can trust her."
"You can," Jen reiterated. "She's... she's family."
Alice smiled gratefully at Jen, then returned her focus to Gregory. "I promise this will not put you out for good." She held up the syringe, rolling up Gregory's sleeve and wiping down his upper arm with alcohol, asking solicitously, "May I?"
He winced, but, ultimately, looking at Allie, offered the slightest nod of his head.
"This is only for a little while," Alice kept repeating as she injected the morphine. "You will wake up again."
The medication took a few minutes to kick in and, during that time, Alice quickly and efficiently checked Gregory's vital signs, waiting until he'd finally fallen asleep before straightening up and walking over to Allie and Jen, who'd been watching her every move from the corner.
"How is he?" Allie asked.
"He's dying," Alice reminded gently.
Allie nodded. Then, as if they were at a birthday party, offered, "Thank you for coming."
"He's dehydrated," Alice said. "Have you been able to get him to drink anything? Juice? Milk? Even water?"
"It all makes him too sick. He just throws it back up again."
"Try a teaspoon at a time, see if he can hold that down. Every little bit helps." Alice handed Allie a pill-bottle and explained, "The shot that I gave him should be good for a couple of hours. Afterwards, give him one of these as often as he needs. We're not really worried about addiction at this point."
"I begged him to go to the hospital," Allie said. "But he won't."
"It's his choice to make," Alice hesitated, then told Allie, "If the pain gets unbearable, the same pills, about six of them six, maybe seven, they should get the job done; state that he's in. Do you understand?"
"I do. But no. Thank you. That's not what he wants. If he wanted to kill himself... we've talked about it. We could have just gotten a bunch of aspirin. Or the stove or the exhaust of a car..."
Alice nodded. "Alright. But fill him in on all his options. Sometimes, just knowing that you can... it helps. Gives a sense of control."
"I will. Thank you."
"You're a very brave girl," Alice told her as she packed up her bag. "Don't let anybody try and convince you that what you've done here is a bad thing. You honored Gregory's last wishes. He doesn't have any doubts about it. You shouldn't either."
"How is everything going?" Frankie faced her husband through a bullet-proof sheet of glass, realizing that her question, asked over a two-way prison phone line, was at best comical, at worst, degradingly insensitive, but, at the same time, unable to think of any better way to phrase it.
"My learning curve continues," he replied, mock jovial. "Since we last spoke, I've gleamed that, at my age, I am of absolutely no interest to anyone in the prison population. Add to that the fact that, in just a few weeks, I've helped a handful of inmates craft their appeals papers, with another dozen chomping at the bit for my services and, so far, I've got no salacious jailhouse stories to convey."
"That's good," Frankie said.
"That is good," he agreed. Then added, "That's all I've got, Frankie. Not a lot of daily news to report from this side of the bars."
"Lori Ann took her first steps," Frankie held up her digital camera and showed him the photos.
"Today the living room carpet, tomorrow the catwalk," Cass predicted with a wistful smile.
"Felicia has certainly supplied her with the wardrobe for it."
"What are you all doing for her birthday? I can only imagine the bash Felicia's got planned."
"Actually, we thought we'd bring the festivities here," Frankie offered.
Only to watch Cass, in the blink of an eye, explode. "Damn it, Frankie, I told you on the 4th, if you want to keep doing this to yourself, then I can't stop you God knows I've never been able to stop one of your crusades. But leave the girls and Felicia out of this. Do you honestly want Lori Ann looking back on pictures of her first birthday party in prison?"
"Yes," Frankie insisted. "I want her to see proof of how we all pulled together and stood behind each other, no matter what. Especially if... " she trailed off, having promised herself she wouldn't go into this right now.
But Cass had always been way too good at reading her moods. "Especially if what, Mary Frances? What were you about to say?"
She shook her head. "Nothing."
"Hey, who's supposed to be the psychic in this family?"
"I've been getting in touch with my clairvoyant side a bit, as well," Cass remarked dryly, without pausing to explain what he meant by it. "What's wrong, Frankie? If this crazy arrangement is going to work, it has to go both ways. It can't be just you bucking me up all the time. I need to be of some use to you, too."
"You have so much to deal with already..."
"And you don't? Are you trying to tell me that, after her sullen teen act up here, Charlie came home and turned into sunshine and lollipops?"
"Charlie is... I expected Charlie to act out."
"So what didn't you expect then? Come on. Tell me. Please."
"I didn't expect though, I guess maybe I should have; she made her feelings clear from the start..." Frankie sighed. "And I certainly didn't do myself any favors being so tense and overprotective that time she... She's always resented me. Us."
"You're speaking Babylonian."
"Lorna wants to sue us for custody of Lori Ann." In response to the surprise on Cass' face, Frankie asked, "There. That clear and direct enough for you?"
"She can't do that," Cass flicked his lawyer switch. "The adoption was approved and finalized."
"The circumstances were different then."
He sank back into his chair, wracked with guilt. "You mean my circumstances were different then."
"Our circumstances," she insisted.
"What does Felicia think?"
"Felicia swears that Lori Ann is our child. And that she'll always be our child. She said she'd try to talk Lorna out of "
"Ha!" Cass barked.
"We'll fight this," Frankie swore.
"I know you will," he smiled at his wife with a combination of pride, exasperation and exhaustion. Then Cass' expression darkened as he added, "And I'll sit here, waiting for you to come and tell me how it's going, being absolutely no earthly use at all."
"There's something I'd like to discuss with you," Grant began in a surprisingly serious tone, prompting Marley to eye him warily as she accepted the glass of wine he handed her before settling down on the couch.
She took a sip to brace herself, then reminded, "We've talked about this, Grant. You are presently limited to one 'Come on, let's throw caution to the wind, Marley!' marriage proposal per week. And you've already used up your allotment."
"While I am breathlessly looking forward to that inevitable day when you finally stop stalling and accept my offer, I actually wanted to discuss a different sort of more perfect union."
"Don't tell me. Let me guess. You're going back into politics."
Grant blinked in surprise. "How did you... "
"I saw the way your eyes lit up last night. That wasn't just plain old, run of the mill lust Amanda Cory inspired in you."
"She didn't "
"Don't bother," Marley dismissed, determined to stick to the topic at hand. "I was expecting it. We've been officially dating, what, a couple weeks now? You're right on schedule for getting bored and going out to look for new worlds to conquer. I suppose I should be grateful it's just politics and not another woman."
"I am anything but bored," Grant corrected firmly. "I've simply come to realize that the political beast in me has slumbered far too long. He's ready to come out of hibernation. I know I can do some good things for this town as Mayor. Things my son could be proud of. The Frames and the Corys, their legacy is plastered all over Bay City. I want Kirkland to be able to look around and see the contributions we Harrisons have made."
"Grant Harrison, The People's Champion? I don't know if Bay City could handle it," Marley joked even as she secretly thrilled at seeing him so enthused. "Have you talked to Kirkland yet?"
"I wanted to run it by you first. My jumping back into the political brawl will affect you as much as him."
"Not to mention Bridget and Michele. Steven. No way will the press ignore your past with Vicky. Especially if you're with me now. They're going to bring up Ryan, Jake, Carl, and most certainly Donna..."
"I know. I've considered all that. You have my word, Marley, at the first hint of my campaign hurting anyone you care about "
"You'll counter-attack like the rabid dog Spencer trained you to be."
"I'll withdraw from the race."
"Then you might as well do it now," Marley told him simply.
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