"I don't mean to rush you," Donna hovered outside John's ajar bedroom door, reluctant to intrude as he sat on the bed, staring into space as though utterly lost regarding what he should be doing next. "But, the service is scheduled to start in an hour."
John nodded slowly, agreeing with her in principle. It was the practice he was having trouble with. He'd slipped on the black pants to his suit, as well as a white dress shirt. He hadn't managed to button it though, and the matching jacket still hung on its hanger. He held the tie in his hands, tugging on it, twisting it, then letting go and starting all over again.
"What would happen," John wondered out loud. "If I didn't go?"
"You would regret it," Donna told him firmly, knowingly.
"I don't want to say good-bye to my son in a room full of falsely sympathetic strangers."
"They are not strangers. They are all people who loved Gregory. Maybe not as much as you and Sharlene; but, they cared for him, all the same. And their sympathy is not false. Many of us," Donna took no pleasure in reminding. "Have been precisely where you are today."
John turned his head to face her and rephrased his objection. "I don't want to say good-bye to my son."
"That's a completely different issue, then." She sat down next to him. "You aren't saying good-bye. Not really. Just because Gregory is no longer here, doesn't mean he never was. As long as you remember him, you never have to say good-bye."
"What about: I'm sorry? How do I say that, if Gregory isn't here?"
"You and Sharlene did what you thought was best for him at the end. I'm certain that Gregory understood, even if he didn't agree with it."
"I'm not talking about that," John told Donna. "Allie came to see me the other day."
"Allie came to see.... Good Lord, does that child lack any semblance of common sense?"
"What in the world was she possibly hoping to accomplish?"
"She told me she had a message for me from Gregory. Before he.... Before my son.... Gregory wanted me to know that he didn't blame me."
"Well I Of course not, how could he? Why should he?"
"Because," John confessed. "His death was utterly and completely my fault."
"Cutting it pretty close, aren't you?" Jamie accused Lorna, holding up an engraved invitation and waving it as she descended the stairs, dressed for Gregory's funeral. "The PR Woman of the Year ceremony is this weekend in San Diego. We've got to make plane reservations, book a hotel, practice your victory speech...."
"You do know it's illegal to look through someone else's mail, right?" She attempted to snatch the invite out of his hands.
"It's illegal to open someone else's mail. This was just lying here, stuck in a book, almost like you didn't want me to see it," he teased, surprised at how upset Lorna appeared that he'd read it.
"I'll make sure to shred and burn all my correspondence from now on."
"You won an award," Jamie beamed at her proudly, still trying to suss out what the precise problem was. "That's fantastic. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I get awards like this all the time. I have a box of plaques...somewhere," she dismissed with a wave of her hand. "It's no big deal."
"I beg to differ. This proves that you're the best. I mean, granted, I tell you that all the time, but I'm no shiny plaque!"
She smiled finally, accepting Jamie's congratulatory kiss, then confessing, "With everything you've got going on, I didn't think now was the right time to go on about me and my stupid award for pulling the wool over the eyes of the American public... again."
"It's a weekend in San Diego! We've never gone away for the weekend before!"
"You're not counting Carl's " she asked, eyes dancing.
"But, don't you need to be here in case Steven "
"Suddenly changes his mind and deigns to speak to me?"
"Not so much fun being on the receiving end of the Famous Frame Freeze Face, is it?" Lorna couldn't help asking.
"Now, see, that's why you're PR Woman of the Year. You can take something deeply unpleasant, and make it sound downright fun."
"Are you absolutely sure you want to go with me to this? You'd need a tux...."
"I have a tux."
"Hell, yeah. The way people get married in this town, it's a mandatory investment."
"And there's this dull banquet, where I'll have to make a stupid speech...."
"Don't worry, if I get bored, I'll use that classic trick of imagining the speaker naked."
"I think it's the audience that you're supposed to imagine naked."
"Well, if you insist. But, I like my plan better."
"You know," Lorna pointed out. "Even if we do go, your problems will all still be here, waiting, when we come back."
"Yeah," Jamie sighed. "I called Steven, it must have been five times last night. I wanted to get some idea where his head is at.... Why he, Allie, and the rest are insisting on going to the funeral.... He never called me back. I wouldn't be going myself, if it weren't for Steven. I mean, under normal circumstances, obviously I would; they are family. But, I can't stop thinking about what John told me a slight alteration in the DNA.... If it were my son's.... If I were burying my son," Jamie's voice cracked. "I know I wouldn't want to see the people I considered responsible for it. Steven, however, is choosing to walk into God knows what... I have to be there for him. Whether he wants me to or not."
"He wants you to," Lorna stressed. "Even if he'll never admit it. Even if he pretends he doesn't. Trust me on that, okay? I'm kind of an expert."
"Thank you for doing this. I mean, for coming with me today."
"Where else would I be?" Lorna offered a confession of her own. "A year ago, when Jenna died, Felicia had Cass to cling to of course. I remember standing there, feeling so useless and helpless and... stuffing my hands into my pockets, wishing I had somebody to hold on to, as well." She stretched out her arm to Jamie, linking his fingers with hers. "You hold on to me as tight as you need. I'm not going anywhere."
"You didn't have to come with me, Grandma," Allie reassured Rachel outside the funeral home doors. "I can manage on my own."
"I have no doubt about that. But, Carl and I both wanted to pay our respects to Sharlene and John."
"I told Mom she didn't have to come, either."
"Your mother loves you. She's on her way. She didn't want you facing this alone anymore than I did."
"This is nothing," Allie explained honestly. "This isn't... Gregory. I watched him die. I remember the last breath he took. He sounded so exhausted, Grandma. And so relieved to finally be... done. I only came because Gregory said he wanted me to. He wanted me to show everybody I wasn't ashamed of what I did for him."
"Allie!" A man's voice from behind them prompted the women to turn around. Rick and Mindy Bauer, with Hudson in a car seat, were coming up the steps, looking both awkward and resolute. "I'm glad we caught you," Rick said.
"I hope you don't mind us coming," Mindy repeated, despite having already cleared it with Allie the night before.
"No." She shook her head. "I It was nice of you to drive all the way from Springfield."
"Gregory was Hudson's father," Mindy shrugged. "We wanted to be here. We thought maybe he'd be a comfort to Gregory's parents and... to you." She lifted the car seat, so that Allie and the baby were at eye-level.
Allie only looked for a second, then deliberately averted her gaze, introducing instead, "Dr. and Mrs. Bauer, this is my grandmother, Rachel Hutchins."
Rachel made the appropriate greeting noises in Rick and Mindy's direction, but her own eyes were stuck firmly upon her first great-grandchild. She raised her arms, reaching for Hudson, making sure to ask his parents first, "May I?"
Mindy didn't look thrilled, but she forced herself to nod valiantly. "Of course."
Rachel gingerly lifted the six-month-old baby out of his carrier, holding Hudson against her chest, smiling and cooing, gently redirecting as he reached for her dangling earrings, trying to shove them into his mouth.
"Would you be terribly offended," she asked Rick and Mindy. "If I said I thought he looked just like Allie's grandfather?"
"No," Mindy told her, sincerely. "We think he looks just like mine."
Inside the funeral home, Sharlene sat by her son's polished mahogany coffin, watching the mourners file in. Despite the supposedly exemplary job done by the mortician on Gregory's post-autopsy body, Sharlene had requested the lid be closed. Seeing Gregory in the morgue was enough. This wasn't how she intended to remember him.
She wondered where John was and then, after he'd finally arrived, Sharlene wondered what he was thinking, bringing Donna along when they were also expecting Felicia and Lucas... and Carl. But, even that proved to be a fleeting thought. Because, quite frankly, at the moment, Sharlene didn't give a damn about much of anything.
She nodded her head courteously at the murmured condolences and hand patting as the line of family, friends and colleagues, both hers and John's, filed past. If anything had the potential for rousing Sharlene from her stupor, it was the sight of Allie entering with Rachel. And a couple that Sharlene recognized as Rick and Mindy Bauer. And Hudson.
Strange. Sharlene figured she should have felt something for the boy. But, as it turned out, to her surprise, she felt nothing at all.
No. That wasn't true. She felt a profound, wrenching sense of unfairness. Why was Allie's child alive, while Sharlene's... wasn't?
"I'm sorry about your loss," Jasmine Cory stepped into Sharlene's view, using her best, practiced big-girl voice, Matt and Lila standing behind her. "I'm going to miss Gregory. He was my favorite fencing coach."
"Thank you, Jasmine." John spoke for them both. "I know he really liked teaching your class. And you in particular."
Jasmine beamed, while Matt stepped up to say, "We were thinking, we would like to establish a scholarship at the fencing academy in Gregory's name."
"No," Sharlene cut him off. "We don't want your money. Buying us off isn't going to be that easy."
"Now, hold on a minute," Lila intervened. "Nobody's trying to buy anybody off here. This was Jasmine's idea. She thought it might be a nice way to honor your boy."
"Your family," Sharlene spat Matt's way. "Has done enough for my son, don't you think?"
"I don't know if I'll ever get used to seeing them together," Kirkland admitted to Steven as they took in Marley and Grant settling the twins at the front of the room, in the pew reserved for family, next to Marley's half-brother, Nick, and his wife, Remy. "I guess it'd be even weirder if Aunt Marley still looked like Mom, huh? Not that I remember her and Grant actually being together."
"Be grateful you don't," Steven answered instinctively, before catching himself and clarifying, "Mom wasn't herself when Grant was around. It's better to remember her with Ryan or Jake, they brought out the best in her."
"Yeah... I I think I remember that."
"Is there a reason you're hovering next to me like a seeker droid?" Steven asked, not bothering to hide his exasperation.
Kirkland shrugged. "Just waiting till the service starts, same as you."
"I don't need a baby-sitter."
"How about a body-guard? The way Aunt Sharlene is looking at you..."
"I can handle it. I'm fine."
"Well, bully for you," Kirkland's snap was so out of character, it forced Steven to finally turn and take a good look at his brother, at last guiltily realizing that the clinginess might not be so much for his own benefit, as for Kirkland's.
"Aw, damn, Kirk, I'm sorry. I didn't think... It's rough for me today, also. I keep thinking back "
"Mom's memorial service. Right here, just like this. Most of the same people, too." Kirkland looked around, pained. "I feel like I'm five years old again. Only instead of Jake, there's Grant. And Bridget and Michele."
"You won't get too bent out of shape, will you, if I say I'd trade Grant for Mom in a New York minute? Or Jake? Or Ryan? Or a really good sandwich?"
Fortunately, Kirkland was spared having to formulate an appropriate response to his brother's snark by Jamie and Lorna's arrival, and subsequent beeline towards the boys.
"How you guys doing?" Jamie clapped one arm on each of his sons' shoulders.
"Kirk's having a tough time, remembering Mom and all," Steven all but shoved him towards Jamie before acknowledging Lorna with a quick nod and, just as swiftly, breaking away from the group, effectively dismissing his father's concern along with any potential follow up.
"I'm fine," Kirkland corrected.
"Yeah," Lorna smiled knowingly. "Lot of that going around."
"I am also totally over needing my space and ready to come home. Like yesterday."
"What? Is Grant feeding you gruel?"
"Try foie gras. Blech."
"This is serious, Jamie," Lorna frowned. "In the interests of this poor child's cholesterol, we've got to get him home, ASAP."
"Okay," Jamie rubbed his hands together. "Here's the plan. Lorna and I have to go away for the weekend "
"Not really," she countered.
"Yes, we do," Jamie went on smoothly. "So Monday morning, first thing, I'm driving over to pick up you and your stuff. If you were serious about the sleeping bag thing..."
"Sleeping bag is cool. No problem."
"Then we're all set."
"I'm not going to be cramping your and Lorna's style too much, am I?" Now that the issue was settled, Kirkland found the courage to ask sheepishly, "I mean, my record with walking in on people about to... you know..."
"We'll do our best to control ourselves," Lorna reassured, though the smiles she and Jamie exchanged in response did suggest it might prove somewhat of challenge.
"Is Grant on-board with this?" Jamie double-checked. "I don't want a fight when I come to get you."
"Oh, yeah. He knew my moving in was only temporary. I told him on the way over here." Kirkland gestured in his other father's direction as Grant smiled pleasantly and nodded at all three from across the room; as advertised, fully aware of what his son and Jamie were discussing, determined not to let either of them see just how much it was breaking his heart.
The first person Felicia saw when she entered the main room, was Donna. It felt as if everyone else had faded away into nondescript black and white, and Jenna's killer stood there in stark, Joseph's Dreamcoat relief.
She hovered a few feet from John, watching him to the exclusion of all else, straddling the line between concern and intrusion. Donna saw Felicia, too. She held her gaze for one long defiant moment, before leisurely turning back to John.
"Fanny..." Lucas felt her trembling and clutched Felicia's arm tighter. "Not now..."
"Of course not," she gestured for him to loosen his grip, indicating that she had herself under control, he needn't worry. "Not here. John is burying his son. I would never... I'm alright, Luke, please, let me go."
He did so reluctantly, and only after Felicia pointed Lorna out, standing seemingly by herself while Jamie continued chatting with Kirkland. They moved over to say hello to their daughter, all three content to pretend that, for the time being, there was absolutely no lingering tension between them. After a moment of small talk, Felicia excused herself, explaining that she wanted to pay her respects to John.
Instead, as soon as Lucas and Lorna were no longer looking, she headed straight for Carl.
He, too, had chosen a spot as far away from Donna as possible. Which didn't keep his eyes from tracking her every move.
"She's gone too far," Felicia hissed under her breath.
"Indubitably." Carl didn't bother pretending he had no clue what Felicia was talking about.
"Already in motion. Trust me. As a matter of fact, it was Donna herself who gave me the idea for the final coup de grace." Carl looked over at Marley, with Grant, and smiled.
"How are you holding up, darling?" Alice came up to Jen, standing alone, reluctant to intrude either on GQ talking shop with Steven in one corner, Kevin admiring Hudson in Rick and Mindy's arms, or Allie surrounded by her own concerned family in another.
"Fine," Jen insisted. "I'm fine, Dr. " she smiled when she remembered and amended to, "Grandma."
"Jamie keeps me up to date on Steven, and Amanda tells me about Allie. But I've been worried about you, as well."
"I guess my dad isn't big with the news bulletins."
Alice snuck a peek at Kevin. "I don't think I've ever seen him look so terrified in his life. Not even when he lost his own parents. If he could switch places with you, he would in a heartbeat, you know."
"I know," Jen sighed. "I want to tell him not to worry, but... "
"You're too scared yourself."
"I'm fine," she repeated. "Allie is the one Hamilton is gunning for. The rest of us are just window dressing."
"You want to be brave for your dad, Jen," Alice suggested. "You go right on ahead. He's doing the same for you, it's only fair. But, you don't have to pretend with me."
"I'm not pretend..."
"Jennifer...." Alice offered her best Grandmother look. One she hadn't had opportunity to use in a very long time.
"I'm scared," Jen whispered. "I don't want to go to jail."
"I'm here," Alice promised, pulling the trembling girl into a comforting embrace, neither one noticing Kevin glancing over, looking distinctly perturbed by this latest development.
Donna managed to ignore Felicia. She managed to ignore Lucas and Carl, and the fact that Marley, Steven, Kirkland, even the girls, all seemed to be keeping their distance from her, as well. The only person she couldn't ignore, was Frankie.
She arrived not with Cass rumor had it his furlough request had been denied; possibly with some laughter involved but with his brother, Morgan, and Charlie.
Donna waited until Frankie was alone, though, before abandoning her post by John and sidling over to ask, "How is Cass holding up?"
Frankie turned around slowly, and for a moment it looked as if she might not answer at all. But, curiosity got the best of her, and she observed, "You really care, don't you?"
"Of course, I care. Cass and I have been friends for a very long time. I think its unconscionable that he is the one in jail, and not "
"I was going to say Carl," she demurred.
"Cass is doing as well as can be expected," Frankie told her the truth.
"And Charlie? Lori Ann? How are they handling everything?"
"Well, Charlie hates me. Blames me for everything. Wishes I'd never come back. And Lori Ann is just confused, so she only blames me for some things. We had her birthday at the prison last month. She was so happy to see Cass, I can't describe it."
"Have you heard from Dean?"
"No. Not since Felicia got a call last Christmas. We keep hoping, though."
"If there is anything I can do. Some money, perhaps, to hire a private detective..."
"You want to find Dean?" Frankie double-checked. "After he threatened to kill you?"
"A child needs her father."
"She could have used a mother, too. I'm just the stand in. Shame you didn't reach your conclusion earlier."
"You know, Frankie," Donna leveled with her. "I would have thought you, of all people, might understand why I did what I did."
"Excuse me?" Frankie raised her voice about as high as could be considered socially palatable at a funeral. "What in the world could have made you think that?"
"The fact that you know exactly what it's like to feel compelled to protect your child from a ruthless sociopath, even if it means staying away from that child for their own good."
"Are you," Frankie stammered. "Are you seriously comparing Cecile's threatening me to keep away from Cass and Charlie "
"To Carl being a danger to Jenna? I most certainly am. Carl almost got you killed, Frankie. Forget his current turn-over-a-new-leaf persona "
"Forget it? I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it. Carl and Rachel? He stalked her. He blinded her. The mind, frankly, boggles."
"Exactly! Unlike apparently everyone else in town, you actually remember the man he used to be the man that, I assure you, he still is. You didn't just come close to losing your life with that bomb he set; you almost lost Cass because of Carl's machinations with Kathleen. You know what he is capable of. So how can you possibly judge me about doing everything I could to protect my family from him?
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