"Are the two of you done huffing and puffing and threatening to blow my house down?" Donna inquired impatiently as she looked from Carl to Rachel. "After my testimony last night as to the inherent dangers of being an ex-Mrs. Hutchins, whom do you think suspicion would fall on should anything happen to me within the hallowed Cory walls?"
"I daresay it would be worth it," Carl remained captivated by the sight of Donna's exposed neck, not unlike a hungry vampire. "To be rid of you once and for all."
"Rest assured, the feeling is mutual," Donna met Carl's gaze with a hate-filled one of her own... though her fingers did subconsciously creep up to cover the plastic-surgeon tweaked flesh below her chin. "While I am certain that I won't be the only past victim to rejoice once you're finally six feet under, until that glorious holiday is upon us, I am putting you on notice: Come after me all you like. But, target my children or grandchildren at your own peril. Otherwise, the day I dance on your grave will come a lot sooner than you think."
"How dare you threaten him?" Rachel steamed. "After everything you've done?"
"I dare because you've left me with no choice. That's right, Rachel, if anything happens to my family, I will hold you personally responsible just as much as Carl. You boast of reforming him! All you've done is coddle and enable him. Instead of letting Carl feel the sting that would finally result from the consequences of his lifelong 'faux pas' coming home to roost, you've kissed the boo-boos and assured him that the big, bad past doesn't matter, not now, not since he became a good boy as a product of your great and healing love. You cling to the insane notion that he deserves your or anyone else's devotion, and Carl knowingly, repeatedly exploits your blindness for his own ends."
"Since we are discussing love, forgiveness and a host other normal, human emotions, here, I wouldn't expect you to understand, Donna."
"Oh, spare me the condescension. You're a fool, Rachel, plain and simple. One day, hopefully before too many more people are caught in the crossfire, you'll see that. Until then, it's up to the rest of us to keep your pet Devil in check."
"I am intrigued as to how you intend to accomplish that," Carl mused aloud.
"With a .22 caliber, if necessary. Stay away from Marley. Stay away from my grandchildren."
"Well, considering that Steven and Kirkland also happen to be Rachel's "
"Stay away from them, Carl! If I hear anymore about you paying my daughter friendly visits to chat about ancient history "
"Why would Carl..." Rachel began.
"He's been playing mind-games with her, trying to turn Marley against me."
"I'd sooner play Trivial Pursuit," Carl sniffed.
Donna smiled at the wary look in Rachel's eyes that indicated she'd learned yet another surprising detail about her husband. Perhaps one day all those tidbits would finally form a critical mass. Until then.... "He's falling off the reformed wagon, Rachel. Don't you dare say you weren't warned. And don't you even think about feigning surprise when he fully reverts back to form."
"Neither you nor Marley have anything to worry about where Carl is concerned," Rachel asserted. But not nearly as forcefully as she might have even a few minutes earlier.
"That's good," Donna nodded affably. "Because, if that's the case, then you and your family have nothing to fear from Grant." She informed Carl on her way out, "Kirkland's father hasn't been thoroughly filled in as of yet regarding your recent advances toward the new woman in his life. I would say I can't imagine how he'd react if he thought you were attempting to injure Marley in any way. But, the fact is, we both know exactly how he'd react. And what it would cost every single one of us."
"Allie..." Even as John said the word, he couldn't believe it. The last person he expected to see when he opened the door was Allie Fowler. "What are you... why are you here?"
"I wanted to talk to you," she said simply, honestly, neither aggressive nor cowed.
"I I don't think we should be talking about your case outside of "
"I don't want to talk to you about my case. I want to talk to you about Gregory. Can I come in? Please?"
He didn't quite have the strength to actually say yes. But, John found himself moving aside, nevertheless, letting Allie walk through the door and into his home Gregory's home. John wasn't sure what he expected of her once inside, but he felt pretty sure that what he didn't expect was for Allie to seem so comfortable there. He tried to remember if she had ever been in his house before. And he tried very hard not to imagine what it might have been like if things were normal, and she had just stopped by to see Gregory, who was a perfectly normal, healthy young man.
"I don't have anything to say to you, Allie. Not anything you'd want to hear, anyway."
"I know," she bobbed her head as if expecting and taking no offense from his rejection. "But, I promised Gregory that I would give you a message."
"From Gregory?" John's heart exploded in his chest, his limbs going numb, his ears ringing. He could barely remain standing, could barely force the words out. "Gregory gave you a message for me?"
Allie nodded. "He wanted me to tell you that he knew."
"What? What did he know?"
"About the mistake you made when he was a kid, and got sick the first time."
"He knew?" John had to grab onto the back of a chair to keep from doubling over as a searing, fiery pain in his gut nearly sliced John in half and set him shaking uncontrollably. "Gregory knew that it was all my fault?"
"With all due respect, Marley," Spencer asked most seriously following a tag-team recap of the previous night's events by his son and Donna's daughter. "But, is your mother still suffering from her prior mental condition?"
"Allegedly not," Grant mused. "Though she obviously presumes the rest of us are, if she expects Marley and I to even consider her ludicrous offer."
"Tell him, Spencer," Marley urged. "Tell him what will happen if we don't. If Donna so much as falls and scrapes her knee, she'll make sure it looks, to the voting public, at least, like Grant is to blame. She was pretty clear about that."
"Except Donna failed to consider one thing," Grant foraged relentlessly for a bright side. "None of her threats will carry any weight, if I drop out of the race."
"What?" Marley and Spencer barked at nearly the same time. And, disturbingly, in nearly the same tone.
"That's your solution?" Spencer double-checked. "To quit? To run away with your tail between your legs? Again?"
"Absolutely not," as far as Marley was concerned, such an option wasn't even on the table for them.
"We agreed at the start," Grant reminded her gently. "If there was any chance of my campaign hurting you or the kids, I would drop out immediately. Donna using me as the means through which she can worm her way back into your life is definitely a negative for everyone concerned."
"But, it's my fault, not yours. You shouldn't have to suffer for it."
"He doesn't necessarily have to," Spencer considered thoughtfully, having taken the time during their back and forth to mull over their options and come up with an alternative. "Donna is a loose cannon. After what she's done with this interview, if you become useless to her altogether, you may very well be doing more harm than good. Stay in the race. Make it work. Bring her in, smile for the cameras, invite her over for dinner, drag her from campaign to campaign spot if that's what she insists on "
"In other words," Marley finished, "Get our money's worth."
"Make her feel safe, make her feel protected. Give her no reason to lash out," Spencer added.
"Then once you're safely in office, we cut her loose."
Grant shook his head, unconvinced. "What about when she realizes that we just used her for the campaign? We send Donna back into exile after the election, she may retaliate."
"Not if we let her know from the get-go what the deal is. She can't expect us not to counteroffer. Donna's insane, not stupid." Spencer sighed regretfully. "That's the worst possible combination."
Donna had understood that coming to the Cory mansion was a risk. Not because of Carl or Rachel. Them, she had every intention of handling without so much as breaking a sweat.
Matthew, on the other hand...
She'd only thought herself prepared to handle Matthew.
Prior to bumping into him in the foyer, both of them on their way out, Donna felt certain she knew what she'd say in response to his inevitable appeals that Donna allow him to love her and stand by her and protect her from anyone and everyone.
What she didn't know was how to react when Matt, looking somehow a decade older than when they'd last spoken, merely silently side-stepped Donna on his way out the door, closing it firmly behind him, despite Donna's attempt to follow.
He'd finally given up on her, Donna realized. And told herself that it was for the best.
Someday, she was sure, she might even come to believe that.
"What is wrong with that boy?" Jamie hadn't meant to hurl the question at Alice the moment she walked through his office door at the hospital. But, then again, she was as good of a person to ask as any. Jamie held up his cell-phone and filled her in. "Your grandson just e-mailed to let me know that he spent the morning with my son down at the courthouse. Only Steven neglected to mention it to me."
"Has something new come up in the kids' case?" Alice asked cautiously.
"Kevin isn't sure. Hamilton kept hinting like it had, but refused to elaborate. Kevin's going to poke around, see what he can find out." Jamie sighed. "All I want to do is help him, and Steven is acting like I'm the enemy."
"Not an utterly exceptional occurrence between parents and children," she noted.
Jamie crossed his arms and observed, "You and my mother have a disturbing amount in common."
"Well, we both love you. And Steven."
"Among other people...." They couldn't help adding in near unison.
"Would it be terribly crass of me to observe, Jamie, that in spite of what I know is your unquestionable worry about Steven, I've never seen you looking happier?"
Jamie grinned, self-conscious, but unable to deny a thing. "Lorna," was all he had to say. "She... She's more than I could have ever even dared dream of."
"I am very, very glad. For both of you."
"Speaking of which, I'd be lying if I claimed I didn't know that you and Spencer were back together. Amanda told me."
"Yes. We... I think...." Alice took a deep breath and confessed. "He's asked me to marry him."
"Yes. That was more or less my reaction, too."
"What did you say?"
"You mean, after, oh? I'm afraid my eloquence rather peaked at that. I told him I would think about it."
"And have you?"
"If it weren't for the situation with Steven, and the occasional patient or two, I could honestly say I've thought about nothing but."
"Does he love you, Alice?"
A pause. "I believe he does, yes."
"Do you love him?"
A longer pause. And then, "I think I think I do."
"How's the sex?" Jamie asked, joking.
Only to be knocked down a peg by the directness of Alice's answer. "Fantastic."
It took him a moment to recover from that one.
Jamie forced himself to smile at Alice. He forced himself to swallow every reservation he had about Spencer and to sound positive because, truly, a part of Jamie genuinely was heartened by how blissful she seemed. She deserved it after all this time, after everything she'd been through.
And he'd be damned if he'd take it away from her. Jamie had already been down that road once before with someone he cared about. And, despite the best of intentions, it had all blown up in his face.
"Then you should follow your heart," Jamie told his stepmother. "Because it doesn't get any better than that."
"Lorna!" Matt greeted with hearty false cheer upon entering his office at C-Squared, extra large traveler cup of coffee in hand. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Run out of dull knobs to polish?"
She handed him an envelope and crossed her arms, silently waiting for Matt to open it.
He clucked his tongue, "Oh, dear, I'd hate for this to be a resignation...." His eyes narrowed as Matt actually read her document. "You can't be serious!"
"Notarized and everything," Lorna confirmed. "I wanted to get it all down while the memory was still fresh. A detailed account of what happened the night you sexually harassed me."
Matt stammered, "This is a joke, right? Tell me it's your warped idea of a joke!"
"You came to my house uninvited, on the pretense of work, while I was on leave. You initiated a very inappropriate conversation regarding our past sexual history, reminded me pointedly that you were my boss now, and then kissed me without permission."
"I well, sure, when you lay it out like that "
"You get an almost textbook definition of sexual harassment."
"Give me a break. You know that's not what I intended."
"What you intended was to gut your brother. Now, I intend to see you pay for it."
"With a lawsuit? Doesn't exactly seem your style. Wouldn't you rather torch my house or, better yet, the office?"
"I'd never leave Jasmine homeless. And as for C-Squared, why would I torch it? I aim for it to be a part of the settlement."
"Okay, let's pretend for a minute that you're serious. It'd be your word against mine. I'm a Cory and you're... you. Who's version do you think the hypothetical courts would believe? Especially after my hypothetical lawyer the best money can buy, of course reminds them how you've cried wolf before, with Morgan Winthrop?"
Lorna's shock at hearing his words was nothing compared to Matt's revulsion that he actually said them. And yet, both had gone too far with this to back down now.
"What version do you think your clients and their agents, a good number of whom and I'm not being hypothetical now like me a hell of a lot more than they like you, will believe? Not to mention at least some percentage of the CD buying public?"
"You wouldn't," Matt half-threatened/half-pleaded. "It'd ruin us both in the music industry."
"You should have thought about that the other night."
"What the hell do you want from me, Lorna?"
"An understanding. You take another sucker-punch at Jamie, over me or anything else, for that matter, and this legally signed, sealed and delivered statement will prove only the tip of one hellish iceberg that I will unleash on you."
"So you're not going to file it now?" Matt wondered if he were understanding correctly.
"Unlike you, I don't enjoy hurting other people just for the hell of it "
"Since when?" Matt tried to interrupt snottily, but his heart obviously wasn't in it.
"Anymore," Lorna finished her thought. "If I can avoid being the cause of Jasmine learning that her Daddy is a dick.... "
"You leave Jasmine out of this!"
"I would very much like to." Lorna picked up her bag. "See you Monday, Matt."
"What? Are you kidding me?"
"No. I'm a professional. I can separate my personal urge to kick you repeatedly in the groin from my professional assessment that you're an idiot." Lorna threw him a wave and a tight smile. "Give my best to Jasmine."
Sharlene realized that asking her ex-husband whether he was all right the afternoon they met up at the District Attorney's office for an update on Gregory's case would have been the height of ludicrousness. And yet, she was tempted to do so, anyway. Because John looked even worse now that he had in each of the other times she'd seen him previously. Before, he'd been demoralized, devastated. Now, he merely appeared... lifeless.
He barely acknowledged either Sharlene or Chase's greeting, not even bothering to mumble the semblance of a response. He followed them inside, somnambulistic, slumping in his chair, one hand nearly obscuring the top half of his face. His breathing sounded raspy, the gasps ultimately coming after much too long of an interval.
Tentatively, Sharlene reached over from her own seat to brush John's hand. He jerked away as if she'd scorched him, all but curling up in the furthest corner of the chair like a trapped animal... who'd long given up the fight.
Chase had to have noticed John's peculiar behavior, but he ignored it in favor of telling Gregory's parents, "I received the autopsy results this morning."
John only groaned softly to himself at the update, leaving Sharlene to ask, "Does that mean we can finally have his body for burial now?"
Chase nodded. "I did put a rush on it. I realize how hard "
"You don't realize a damn thing," John roused from his stupor long enough to correct.
"You're right," Chase backed down immediately. "I don't."
"Why did you want to see us?" Sharlene pressed in order to move the meeting along and have it be over as soon as possible. She doubted John could survive much longer.
"Because. The Medical Examiner found something interesting. There was morphine in Gregory's system."
"Thank God," Sharlene said much to everyone surprise. "At least he didn't suffer. I've been trying to imagine what it must have been like for him.... Good. This is good."
"There was also a miniscule needle-mark on his arm, relatively fresh. He didn't just take the painkiller orally. He was injected. Now, it's possible that one of the kids knew how to do it but nothing in their backgrounds suggest that. There's also the matter of how they got the medication in the first place. This was hospital-grade stuff."
"So, what are you saying?" Sharlene asked.
"I'm saying that Allie and her friends didn't act alone. They most likely had a medical professional helping them. Which means this crime just went to a Class A Felony: Physician Assisted Suicide. The rest of them might be facing three years in jail. But, when I find the doctor who went along with this, he or she could be looking at up to two decades in maximum security prison."
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