"My condolences to you, Dr. Hudson," Carl stretched forth a hand to shake John's, who took it perfunctorily, the same way he'd accepted every other generic commiseration as he sat beside Sharlene on either side of their son's casket. "I regret to say I know precisely how you feel."
His words had a strange effect on John. Instead of letting go of Carl's hand after the appropriate time had passed, John gripped it tighter, as if in a sort of trance, pulling Carl closer, practically face to face as he whispered, half-accusing/half-pleading, "Jenna died because of you."
Taken aback, Carl wasn't sure how to react. "I don't know what sort of nonsense Donna has been spewing, but, rest assured, I had nothing to do with...."
"Not with what ultimately killed her, no. But, setting in motion the chain events... You didn't give her preeclampsia, you didn't even stick her in that damn convent, but none of it would have ever.... You started it all, even if you didn't mean to. Even if you didn't know it at the time."
Deciding that there was no point in discussing anything with a man obviously out of his mind with grief, Carl attempted to gracefully extricate himself. "Again, you have my deepest sympathy."
But, John was having none of it. He demanded, "How do you live with yourself, Carl? How do you close your eyes without seeing, over and over again, everything you might have done to prevent it?"
"I don't," Carl revealed, guilelessly. "That's the irony of it. Rachel is always urging me to forgive myself for things I've done, especially those that ended up hurting my children. She believes there is no point in self-flagellation, that it won't change the past, that there is nothing to do but concentrate on doing better in the present. But, I beg to differ. Not out loud of course; I'm no fool. Except I believe forgiving myself is akin to surrendering my children, relegating them to the dustbin of history, as it were. As long as I conscientiously blame myself for what happened, then they are still with me. I confess to you, John, I embrace the pain, I invite it. It's the only part of them that can never be taken away from me by anyone, not even by life itself."
"So is Dad finally letting Kirkland move in with you guys?" Steven ambled up to Lorna, having had enough small talk with the assorted Frames and Hudsons he otherwise only saw once or twice a year.
"It's not a matter of letting, it's a matter of us getting him trivial necessities like a bed and a desk. And a toothbrush."
"Better hurry. Before Grant lures him completely over to the dark side."
"I don't think that's likely to happen. Your brother has a good head on his shoulders."
"Yeah. And a tendency to let his heart overrule it. Given everything we've all told him about Grant, Kirk should have run screaming in the other direction."
"Take it from me," Lorna's gaze drifted across the room to Felicia, deep in conversation with Frankie and Morgan. "It's hard to think rationally about your parents. Rationally, Felicia and I should have cut our losses a long time ago. When you've got a mother just as stubborn and sure about being right as you are, it's not exactly The Gilmore Girls."
"I don't know, I can see you and Felicia as Lorelei and Emily. What?" He asked in response to the surprise on her face. "I've got sisters. I baby-sit. With the TV's help."
"There's a superficial resemblance, I'll grant you that."
"Especially the part where you constantly get on each other's nerves, but keep on trying anyway. That proves you still care, right?"
"I try and remember that when it comes to Felicia. But, then she opens her mouth and I immediately forget again. She's not easy, but then again, it's been suggested, neither am I."
"You can't be that bad. Dad's been grinning like an idiot last couple of months."
"Oxytocin," Lorna deadpanned, confident that a boy of Steven's intelligence and education would grasp exactly what she meant. His knowing smirk in return suggested she hadn't been mistaken. Lorna reassured, "The effect will wear off soon enough, and then you'll notice a definite increase in his number of frown lines."
"Hard to imagine. I've given him plenty to worry about already."
"He's your father. In love or out, he's going to worry about you."
"Can't you tell him not to?"
"He's your father," Lorna repeated, as if the echo clarified everything. "Even if he could protect you every minute, he'd still worry. It's what parents do."
"He's your father."
"That doesn't mean "
"You're not going to win this argument. He's your father. He loves you. He knows that you need your space and he's doing his best to give it to you wrinkles be damned. He's also hoping very, very hard that you'll come to him when you're ready, and tell him how you're really feeling. Please, Steven," Lorna appealed to Jamie's son, despite the young man's looking desperate to bolt. "Come to him when you're ready."
"It's good to see you again," Grant told Sharlene softly, coming up behind her, gently resting a hand on her shoulder. When Sharlene turned around, it was the first time the two of them stood face to face in over a decade. "I'm so sorry it had to be under these circumstances."
"Once," Sharlene said, because honestly she could think of nothing else. "John thought you might have been Gregory's father."
"I remember. He came and asked me flat out."
"And you," Sharlene sighed, indicating they could have expected nothing less. "Decided not to tell him that would be impossible, that we'd never slept together. Then, anyway."
"A man does have his pride," Grant shrugged apologetically and took Sharlene's hand. "I don't have the words to express "
"Then don't. Please. I've had enough words today. None of them mean a damn thing."
"Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?"
"Help me toss your new client and the rest of them into jail, then throw away the key. Yes, Hamilton told me you were representing Sarah. She helped kill my son."
"That's not how she sees it," Grant attempted to explain.
"I don't give a damn how she sees it," Sharlene yanked her arm away. "And if you think that playing on our past relationship will help you in getting me to go easy on those they came! Can you believe the unmitigated gall? All five of them actually showed up at my son's funeral. To do what? Gloat? Rub it in?"
"They came to pay their respects. They all took a very big risk for your son. Because he was the sort of young man who inspired that kind of loyalty. You should be proud."
"And you should just shut up. You didn't know Gregory. You don't know the kind of young man he was. You have no idea what Allie and Sarah took away from me. If it was Kirkland, would you be preaching the same platitudes?"
"I'm sorry, Sharlene. I didn't mean to upset you further."
"No, you obviously meant to play me."
"I've changed," he told her. "I know it's hard to believe. Very few people, in fact, do. But, thankfully, the most important one Kirkland .... That's mostly because he knows I did it not just for him, but as a result of him. Kirkland finally made me understand, in a way no one else could, that holding grudges only ended up hurting me a hell of a lot more than it did the person I was aimed at. I don't want to see that happen to you, Sharlene."
Were they anywhere else at the moment, she might have snorted with derision. As it was, she merely shook her head in disdain. "Nice try, Grant. Except I'm not budging."
He shrugged. "Again, you have my sincerest condolences." He was about to turn and walk away, when Grant spotted Rick and Mindy with Hudson. "Isn't that Allie and Gregory's little boy?"
Sharlene nodded without looking their way, though she was perennially aware of their presence, almost like a subtle hum only she could hear.
"Don't you want to go and..."
"No. I can't. Allie thinks she can use my own grandson to soften me up... I won't. I won't give her the satisfaction."
"Sharlene..." he rubbed her arm, pleading. "Don't do this to yourself. Please. This is exactly what I meant about.... "
"Thank you for coming, Senator Harrison," she told him stiffly. "Now, would you please excuse me? I need to get ready to eulogize my son."
As they took their seats next to each other, waiting for the service to begin, Charlie leaned over to Elizabeth and, indicating Lorna with a toss of her head, whispered, "Hearing Jasmine tell it, you really smacked her but good 4th of July."
"Yeah, and I'm still getting grief for it."
"Wanna do it again?" Charlie challenged, only half-kidding. "You know, she's trying to steal my sister. Bitch."
"Careful," Elizabeth admonished with a roll of her eyes. "Or my mother will make you write a note of apology, too."
"Did you? For real? What did you say?"
"Blah, blah, blah, sorry I told the truth; I gather why that might upset someone like you."
"No way!" Charlie stifled a laugh and looked impressed.
"Maybe that's not precisely what I wrote," Elizabeth admitted. "It had to be vetted by the higher ups before I sent it. But, that's what I meant. And you know what really blows? My parents, my brothers, your parents, your sister... life was fine before Lorna moved back to Bay City. Now she's screwing Jamie, and we're all supposed to act like she's not the reason everything's going to hell."
"Kirkland likes her," Charlie revealed. "Stupid dumb idiot."
"So does Jasmine."
"Well... Jasmine's just a kid, leave her alone, she doesn't know any better."
"I'll leave Jasmine alone," Elizabeth agreed, opening it to interpretation exactly who she had no intention of letting just be.
"I got to hand it to you," Amanda grabbed Sarah's arm just as the younger woman was moving to take a seat beside Steven. "Iris and Olivia couldn't have done it better."
"What are you talking about?" Sarah struggled to wriggle out of Amanda's grip as she dragged her to a private corner.
"You've sure gotten Allie into a ton of trouble. Even the Cory money is going to have a hard time setting all of this right again."
"I got Allie... She came to me."
"And you jumped right on it. Come on, Sarah, I know Allie didn't plan this on her own. This isn't her style; she wouldn't even know where to begin to be devious or scheming. And isn't it an incredible coincidence that, a year ago, you stopped speaking to her no explanation and now suddenly you're her best friend again, just in time to make all this happen."
"You're right, Ms. Cory. You've figured me out. I gave Gregory a brain tumor. It was all part of my evil plan for world domination."
"Don't be smart with me. You didn't give anybody anything. But, you certainly took advantage of Gregory's illness to screw up Allie's life. You encouraged her in this, she told me."
"I supported my friend," Sarah corrected.
"You got Steven and the rest involved, too. And now you've gone and hired your own attorney Grant, no less! You're planning to cut a separate deal and leave Allie high and dry, aren't you? What else could it be?"
Sarah cocked her head to one side. "You really are one messed up piece of work, aren't you? No wonder Allie doesn't know if she's coming or going most of the time."
"You haven't answered my question," Amanda refused to be distracted.
"And you haven't listened to a word I've said," Sarah shot back. "I've been looking out for Allie this entire time. Which is a hell of a lot more than you've been doing. I tried to talk her out of it. I tried to talk Gregory out of it. But, they were both so high on this half-Romeo and Juliet reenactment that they couldn't see beyond their own martyrdom. When I realized they were going to move forward no matter what, yeah, I stepped in with a couple of ideas to make sure they didn't get caught and thrown in jail immediately. You're right, I did shine her off a year ago. I had my reasons, but I am sorry for it now. This was my way of making it up to Allie. My way of proving that she could trust me again, that I was still her friend, no matter what."
"Well, then," Amanda switched tactics; twenty years as a reporter had taught her to listen to what people said and adjust her own approach accordingly. "If you've been such a great friend to Allie all along, why not go the distance?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You want to prove to Allie that you're her friend, that you're really, really sorry for the way you treated her? You said it yourself, you planned most of Gregory's breakout. So, how about you step up and take the blame for the entire thing?"
Lorna was on her way back from the Ladies' Room when Kevin unexpectedly popped up in front of her, blocking Lorna's path.
"I need to speak to you. It's about Steven's case."
"Shouldn't you be talking to Jamie?" Lorna attempted to push her way past him, but Kevin held his ground, looking over his shoulder to make sure they weren't overheard.
"It's about Lori Ann, as well."
"Seriously, Fowler? You're cornering me about this now? At a funeral?"
"Steven's best chance for an acquittal is Cass Winthrop."
"The disbarred dude? In jail? Just how hard up and crappy of a lawyer are you?"
"I'm not a criminal lawyer. Put me in front of a family court judge and I can make Mother Theresa seem unfit to run an orphanage."
"How difficult could that be? Isn't she dead?"
"But, Cass knows the lay of this particular land, especially in criminal court. Every case he's brought before the handful of judges that might be assigned to Steven down the line, he's won. We need him."
"Maybe you do. But, it sure sounds like Steven would be better off going with another lawyer. I'll tell Jamie to give Mike Bauer a call."
"If that's what Jamie and Steven want, fine. But, I still need Cass to help my daughter. Which means I need you to drop the custody suit for Lori Ann."
"Drop dead," she made another attempt at escape. "And be sure to take Cass with you."
This time, Kevin didn't try to stop her bodily. All he did was reach into his pocket and withdraw a sheet of paper, which he then reluctantly stretched forward.
She knew what it was before the document was in her hands, Lorna's face cycling through shock, panic and anger, before settling on, "What do you intend to do with this?"
"I'd prefer not to do anything with it," he told her honestly.
"Spare me. What do you want?"
"To protect my daughter," he repeated. "And, like I said, it's good for Steven, too."
"Save it," Lorna seethed. "You go from using Jamie as a punching bag to work out your stupid childhood issues, threatening to take his son away "
"That's why I'm so determined to help Steven. To make up for that."
"How do you make up for putting a teen-age boy and his entire family through Hell? Kirkland was nothing more than a pawn for you to get revenge on the Frames, and now you want to use me and Steven to "
"That's not what I'm doing. Be fair, I'm not the reason you're in this position."
"No," Lorna conceded with a broken laugh. "You finally got one thing right. This is all on me. So, okay. Say I agree to your terms and give up my claim on Lori Ann forever. How long before Cass decides to blow me out of the water by telling Frankie and Felicia about... this?"
"He can't. He doesn't know. I just need to get you to drop the case. How I accomplish that is none of Cass' business."
"So what's to keep you from waving this in my face from now till the end of time? Today, it's leaving Lori Ann with Frankie and Cass, tomorrow maybe it's convincing Jamie to sign over Kirkland."
"If that was my game-plan," Kevin pointed out. "I could have done it months ago, as soon as you and Jamie hooked up. I've been sitting on this for a while. It's the reason I never seriously considered you for Lori Ann's guardianship to start with. If you go along with Cass' conditions, then, as far as I'm concerned, this piece of paper never existed."
"And if I don't?" Surrender had never been a big part of Lorna's vocabulary.
"Then," he sighed. "I'll go public. You'll lose the case, anyway. And maybe Jamie along with it."
Sharlene stood behind the podium, looking out into a sea of faces simultaneously familiar and utterly alien. She had no doubt that they all genuinely felt for her. Several in the audience Alice, Carl, Felicia, Lucas, Donna probably even thought they knew what she was going through. They'd all lost children, too.
But, they hadn't lost them like this.
Sharlene cleared her throat and began, "I never expected to eulogize my son. No one does, I'm sure. Gregory first got sick when he was ten years old. At the time, they told me he wouldn't live to graduate high school. He did. I remember John and I, sitting in the auditorium, watching him up on stage. We looked at each other, and we both knew what the other was thinking. He beat the odds. Every day afterwards was a bonus. I swore to myself that I would cherish every extra minute that I had with him. But, I guess I got greedy. I wanted more. He'd beaten the odds once. I was determined to see him do it again. There are people here today," she zeroed in on Allie, but Steven, Sarah, Jen and GQ felt the waves of animosity radiating towards them, as well. "Who'd like me to believe that was a mistake. I will never accept that loving my son and wanting to keep him with me, was a mistake."
It took every ounce of self-control Grant had not to turn at that and look at Kirkland who had chosen to sit next to Steven, in the same row as Jamie.
Sharlene went on, "I could spend hours telling all of you about the wonderful boy that Gregory was. He had an amazing capacity for accepting people, seeing the best in them. He never judged me for all the years that I wasn't with him. He never judged his father or I for our back and forth, our indecision, dragging him from place to place..."
Amanda snuck a peak at her daughter, while Donna did the same with Marley. Neither prodigal child appeared to notice.
"But, I don't need to tell you who Gregory was. In some ways, you knew him better than I did. You watched him grow up for all those years when I wasn't here. I lost so much time with him. Who knows what things might have been like if I'd been there for Gregory all along. Maybe he would have felt differently about... Maybe he would have trusted me more... Trusted how much I loved him, trusted that I only wanted what was best for him, always, always...."
Sitting next to Felicia, Lorna silently reached out and took her mother's hand, squeezing briefly. Felicia squeezed back, raised it, and kissed the back of Lorna's palm. On either side of them, Lucas and Jamie smiled just a little and exchanged looks. Without letting on to the women that they'd seen a darn thing.
"Over the past few days, I've heard over and over again how blaming myself won't bring Gregory back. I've also heard how punishing the people responsible for his death, won't bring Gregory back. I know that. Believe me, I know that. My son never got a fair shake in life. The odds were stacked against him from Day One. There was nothing I could do to change that. But, there is something I can do to insure that justice is done for him now. And, mark my words, I intend to."
Still holding on to Lorna's hand, Felicia shifted her head just enough to meet Carl's eye across the aisle, and to catch the imperceptible nod that he sent back in her direction.
Unlike Sharlene, John didn't look into the audience. He stood at the podium, staring straight down. He coughed once into his fist. Twice.
The silence stretched out until everyone was shifting awkwardly in their seats. Donna half-stood, ready to go up and get him before John seemingly broke down completely. The moment didn't escape Matt's attention. Or Felicia's. Or Carl's.
John caught Donna preparing to rise and shook his head, raising his hand to block her. She sat back down again, nervous, but determined to do as he requested.
"Sharlene was right," John began, his voice unexpectedly loud after the interminable quiet, prompting several people to startle. "Gregory was diagnosed when he was ten years old. But, he was sick for about six months before that. In fourth grade, he started getting headaches. Severe headaches. I prescribed Rizatriptan for migraines. I was a doctor, after all. I knew what needed to be done. Except the medication didn't seem to be doing any good. Now, at this point, most respectable MDs not to mention any responsible parent would have taken him for further tests. But, I assumed I knew what was going on. Sharlene's split personalities were accompanied by migraines. I was afraid that's what we were facing with Gregory, too. Terrified, actually. I sent him to a psychiatrist. When he said he didn't see any evidence of a mental disorder, I didn't believe it. I sought a second opinion. And all the while, Gregory kept on getting headaches. By the time I finally thought to have him physically assessed, it was too late. The tumors had spread too far into his brain. If I had gotten him treatment when the symptoms first appeared, we might have saved him. Granted, nobody knows for sure, but, earlier is always better. Any first year medical student knows that. We might have saved him. He might still be alive today, if I wasn't.... If it weren't for me."
Nobody knew how to react to John's disclosure. Or to the fact that, once finished, he stepped off the podium and stormed out of the funeral home. Only Donna had the guts or the foolishness to follow.
Later, while they were all standing on the sidewalk, waiting for Gregory's coffin to be loaded onto the hearse so that the rest could follow in their cars to the cemetery, Rick and Mindy came up to Allie.
Mindy looked like she wanted to say something, but didn't quite possess the nerve. So she looked pressingly to Rick who, after taking a moment to consider his words carefully, broke it to Allie, "Mindy and I have been thinking... Well, to be honest with you, we've been thinking about it for a while, but what Gregory's father said, it kind of helped make our decision.... Gregory's condition, there is a very good chance that it could be genetic. Hudson might end up contracting it, too."
Allie's eyes widened, and she looked from Rick to Mindy, terrified. "Does that mean Do you mean you don't want him anymore?"
"No!" The Bauers shouted in near unison, stumbling over each other to reassure Allie that she'd misunderstood.
"No, no, of course, we still want him."
"We'll always want him," Mindy swore. "No matter what. We love him so much, Allie. He's the best thing.... No!"
"Then, I don't understand."
"We think, under the circumstances, we should have Hudson tested, to see if he might carry the genes for the same condition that killed Gregory."
"Oh," Allie nodded slowly. "I These tests, will they hurt him?"
Rick and Mindy exchanged looks.
"They might," Rick admitted. "There's always some risk, no matter how seemingly simple the procedure, of an opportunistic infection or something else going wrong. Plus, he'll need to be sedated for the test, and there's a minor possibility of an allergic reaction or..."
"I don't want him to be hurt," Allie said.
"Neither do we," Mindy insisted. "But, under the circumstances, the alternative is so much worse. It's like Dr. Hudson said, if they'd caught Gregory's tumor earlier.... "
"No," Allie shook her head. "Don't do it, please. I know I can't make you, but, please listen to me, please...."
"We really think it would be in Hudson's best interests."
"Except that you don't need to."
"We can't be sure of that, Allie."
"I'm sure of it," she looked around desperately, realizing that people were eavesdropping but, at the moment, not really caring anymore. "I'm sure you don't need to do it. Because Gregory wasn't Hudson's real father."
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