"Please," GQ reached out to lightly nudge the Bauers' front door open an inch further. "I just want to see Hudson, and to talk to you and Dr. Bauer. I don't blame you for anything that's happened. I know it was all Allie's doing. You're just as much... I'm not here to... Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I just want to see... my son."
Mindy hesitated. But she was no longer blocking the entrance. "Rick's at work," she said. "I Come in. I'm sorry. I just wasn't sure how..."
"Me neither," he admitted. "I'm not sure of anything at all."
She closed the door behind GQ and hesitantly led him to the living room, where Hudson was sitting in his playpen, deeply focused on gumming a red, plastic bowling pin on one end while smacking it with the matching blue plastic ball on the other and chuckling at the subsequently most satisfying noise.
GQ crouched down, watching the baby through the mesh walls. He said, "I was there when he was born."
"I remember," Mindy sat down on the floor next to him. "The Cory cabin... the storm."
"I took one look at him, and I thought there was no way... His eyes were blue when he was born. Like Allie's."
"My husband says lots of babies are born with blue eyes. They darken eventually."
"They're brown now," GQ noted, as if that changed everything. And then he asked, "What's he... like? I mean, do six-month-old babies even have personalities? I don't really know much about kids. I'm an only child, no cousins even, or anything..."
Mindy said, "He's pretty mellow. Unless he's hungry. At which point Heaven help you if you aren't quick enough with the bottle or the baby food jar. He sees you coming and he goes like this with his hands," Mindy demonstrated. "Like, Get a move on!"
"My mom would say my dad's the same way," GQ grinned, cocking his head, peering closely at Hudson. "He looks a little like my dad, I think. When he smiles, see how his cheeks get all dimpled? That's definitely my dad."
"I'm sorry, GQ," Mindy said. "You didn't deserve..."
He shrugged. "Allie thought I did."
"That wasn't of fair of her. Not to you, not to us."
"She tried to explain to me why she did it," GQ confessed. "I got to admit, I didn't really follow much of it. Just that, I guess it was all my fault."
"What happened between the two of you?" Mindy wondered, knowing that it was none of her business, desperate for some insight just the same.
"I I made some bad judgment calls. That part definitely was my fault, I can't argue with Allie about that."
"Do you think there's any chance of the two of you getting back together?"
"Oh, no. No. That bridge is definitely good and burned, no doubt about it."
Mindy hesitated, and then she offered timidly, "A baby really is better off being raised by two parents."
GQ didn't comment one way or the other on that. Instead, he asked Mindy, "Allie said Dr. Bauer has a daughter from another marriage who's also Black. Is that right?"
Mindy nodded. "Her name's Leah." She pointed to a family picture on the mantelpiece. "That's her. Rick has joint custody with his ex-wife, so we see her all the time. Leah is a terrific girl. Super bright. She and Rick have a great relationship."
"How does she feel about being the only brown face in the whole photo?" GQ indicated the posed, smiling Rick, Mindy, Jude, Ed, Billy,Vanessa, Dylan, Daisy, Michelle, Danny, Robbie, Hope, Bill, Lizzie, Sarah and Alana.
"I " The urge to lie was right there on Mindy's tongue. But then she thought about all the lies there'd already been and changed her mind. She told GQ honestly, "Most of the time, it isn't a problem. And then, once in a while, it is."
"Like what?" he wasn't challenging Mindy exactly, but definitely interested.
"Well, for instance, we didn't know about it at the time, but Leah told us recently that she's periodically asked how she can possibly be a Bauer when "
"She doesn't match the color scheme?"
"People are thoughtless," Mindy realized that was no excuse. "But, that goes across the board. We have some acquaintances whose daughter has Down's Syndrome she goes to school with Leah, actually. Meg gets her share of stares and insulting questions, too."
"Being Black isn't an infirmity," GQ countered.
"That's not what I meant!" Mindy defended.
GQ shrugged and turned his attention back to Hudson. "People are thoughtless...."
"Is the coast clear?" Allie poked her head timidly into the Cory dining room, relieved to find only Matt nursing his liquid lunch of coffee and... more coffee.
"Depends on what you mean by that," he drawled without looking up.
"In that case, you can relax. Though either one could return at any moment. I'd suggest you stock up on edible necessities and scurry back into hiding. If you're waiting for them to conveniently forget your skyscraper of lies and criminal acts, that could take a while."
Allie paused at the buffet, looking at Matt, more confused than insulted. "Wh what?"
"I'm sorry. Was I supposed to be playing dumb? I was at Gregory's funeral, Allie. I heard what you said to the Bauers, same as everyone else."
"So," he pivoted in his chair, wondering if it was the lack of eye contact that might be making Allie particularly dim this afternoon. "It made me sick. Does anyone in this family ever learn anything? I didn't know who my real father was until I was in junior high school. Mom and Mac lied to me for years, supposedly for my own good."
"Me and GQ... it wasn't the same."
"It's always the same. And it always comes out in the end. What were you planning to do when Hudson got older? Lots of biracial kids get darker when they're older."
"That's not true."
"Oh, come on. Amanda spent a ton of good money to get you educated. Crack a book once in a while, would you? Are you honestly that dumb and in denial, or were you just that sheltered? Jesus. And here I thought Lorna was a crappy role model for Jasmine."
"Why are you attacking me?" Allie demanded.
"Why are you being so deliberately obtuse? That's an SAT word, by the way. I know Amanda sprung for those prep courses, too. And here's something from AP Biology: Dads aren't just sperm donors. Some of us actually want to be a part of our kids' lives. We at least like being informed of their existence. What was the problem, exactly? GQ good enough to mess around with, but when push comes to shove, you couldn't respect the man enough to tell him he was going to be a father?"
"The opposite, actually. I was good enough for GQ to mess around with. But, when push came to shove, he "
"So that's it!" Matt nodded, happy to have the final piece of the puzzle click into place. "He didn't want you, so you decided to punish him. Classic move, Allie. Lila tried the same thing with me when she was pregnant with Jasmine. Threatened that I'd never see my daughter if I didn't marry her. You weren't thinking about Hudson and what would be best for him. The only thing you were thinking about was how much GQ hurt you, and what was the best way for you to hurt him back."
"No," Allie stomped her foot. "If that's what I wanted to do, why would I have kept Hudson a secret from him? I didn't want GQ to ever find out."
"So why didn't you keep on lying then? With Gregory gone, you were home free. Or am I getting it backwards? With Gregory gone, you needed another sap to obsess over you. What better way to reclaim GQ's attention then by "
"That's enough, Matthew." Rachel surveyed her bickering son and granddaughter from the doorway, having heard enough to know that, whoever may have started it, she needed this conversation over. Now. "Stop bullying her."
"Bullying?" Matt double-checked. "She's not a little kid, Mom. If Allie's old enough to cause this kind of trouble, she's certainly old enough to face the consequences of it."
"And who precisely made you judge and jury? As a matter of fact, how is this any of your business at all?"
"You know how," Matt told Rachel meaningfully.
She got his inference. But, it wasn't enough to throw her off-course. "Stay out of this."
"With pleasure," Matt said. "As soon as you and Amanda stop protecting her. If you really want to be a help to Allie in the long run, how about standing back, letting her take her licks and just grow the hell up a little!"
"Good advice," Rachel countered evenly. Her implication no more lost on Matt than his had been on her.
"You and Amanda and everyone else who coddles her is just as much to blame for this unholy mess that Allie's made as she is," Matt got in a final, parting shot prior to stomping out of the dining room.
"Thanks, Grandma," Amanda offered shakily.
"Don't thank me. I won't stand for bullying in this house. Even when there's truth in it. Matt's timing and delivery were highly inappropriate. But, he wasn't wrong, Allie. Not by a long shot."
Despite the narrow discomfort of the front room couch, Kevin and Amanda never quite managed to make it to the back bedroom.
She remained on top the entire time, palms and nails digging into Kevin's shoulders, riding him hard, taking what she needed; especially when what she needed most of all was for him not to change his mind.
He responded, following her lead. Well, of course he did, Amanda hardly gave him a choice in the matter. But, he also kept his eyes closed, or at least half-mast, for the entire time. And he barely made a sound, not even at the end, beyond one, sharp gasp, his head jerking up, then falling backwards, his entire body going limp.
Amanda shuddered, her own head falling forwards, hair brushing the sides of her face as she attempted to catch her breath, elbows locked to keep from collapsing.
Kevin declined to respond. He didn't even acknowledge her, really. Through the fingers splayed across his chest, it seemed to Amanda that his heartbeat had hardly bothered to escalate. Or else it sure did return to normal quickly.
"Kevin..." she finally prodded, easing awkwardly off of him, looking for a place to move to, ending up sitting back on her heels, up against the furthest couch arm.
He opened his eyes slowly and, for a second, Amanda imagined he seemed surprised to see her there. She would have loved to know whom he was expecting. Or who exactly he thought it had been straddling him all along.
"Amanda." Well, bully for him, he got one thing right!
"Hi?" she greeted.
"Hi." He pushed up to a sitting position as well. After a moment's thought, he offered, "Thank you?"
"It was my pleasure," she smiled, hoping to provoke a mutual confession.
Nope. Not happening.
"Thank you for being here," he clarified. "I was... I was in a bad place."
Yeah. She'd try real hard not to read too much into that.
"I'm glad I could be here for you," Amanda reached for his hand just as Kevin gracefully withdrew it. "I'm glad we could form a united front, face this together."
"We are. We will. No matter what's going on with Alice and Jenny, I'm still committed to helping Allie in case GQ decides to pursue custody of Hudson."
"But, how would that affect Allie?" Amanda wondered. "He'd be suing the Bauers, not her. She signed away her parental rights."
"Technically," Kevin admitted. "GQ could charge Allie with criminal fraud."
"Oh, wonderful. Just wonderful." Amanda reached for her clothes, the mood she'd been so unsuccessfully trying to set now definitely broken. "How many felonies is that against her now?"
"I wouldn't worry too much about it. It'll be awfully hard for GQ to prove that Allie knew for certain Gregory wasn't Hudson's father. GQ'd have to be a mind reader. All Allie has to do is say she made a mistake, and the benefit of the doubt is on her side. I suspect GQ's lawyer won't bother. But, whatever shakes out, I promise to be there for her. And for you."
"Thank you, Kevin."
"Professionally," he said, and waited for the words to sink in.
They sunk in all right. Amanda cocked her head to the side, watching Kevin gather up his own shirt and pants before asking, "So... this... we.... It... Nothing?"
He buckled his belt. "I'm sorry, Amanda. I know I made the first move, and I take total responsibility for what happened. It shouldn't have happened. We both have way too much on our plates right now to complicate things."
"Right now?" she wanted to make perfectly clear. "What about down the line?"
"Down the line, nothing has changed. We tried. It didn't work. The best thing to do is just move on. Before either of us gets hurt again."
"I'm willing to risk it," Amanda insisted.
He shrugged. "I'm not."
"You could probably bring me up on charges," Lorna advised Jamie. "I promise you a romantic weekend at a five star San Diego resort, and we end up at a Motel 6 in Bakersfield."
Exhausted from her ordeal with Dean, not to mention the oppressive heat, Lorna kicked off her shoes and flopped down on the bed, grimacing at the unbending mattress.
Jamie sat down next to her, calling back to what Dean said earlier. "It's just an address. And spending the night in Bakersfield is a small price to pay for reuniting a family."
"Don't get too excited. Even though he promised, I'm still not certain Dean will get on that plane back to Bay City with us tomorrow."
"He will. Your Ghost of Lori Ann's Future argument got the job done, trust me. Though, for the record, may I say that Lori Ann could do a lot worse then emulating her Aunt Lorna."
"Just because you enjoy the end product "
"Oh, I do, I definitely do."
"Doesn't mean the road to getting there was paved with unicorns and bunnies."
"I know," Jamie opened his arms and Lorna gratefully collapsed into them, both of them resting against the headboard. "I didn't mean to make light of it."
"I wouldn't wish what I've gone though on anyone, most especially Lori Ann. If I can help her avoid even some of my well-worn potholes by bringing Dean back.... But, what if I'm wrong? What if I'm just making things worse? You saw Dean, he can barely take care of himself."
"That'll change. Lori Ann will make him change. You'll make him change. Frankie and Felicia might let Dean slide out of sympathy; you won't. He'll get his act together. If only to keep you from telling him how much he sucks."
Lorna smiled briefly, before shaking her head, puzzled. "I went in there today certain I was going to ask Dean to let us raise Lori Ann. I was ready to force him to sign her over to me. But, when I opened my mouth, all I could argue was that a girl needs her daddy. I know we can give Lori Ann a good life, I still believe that. But, rather than sealing the deal, I blew it to Hell instead. Why would I do that?"
"You know why," Jamie wasn't patronizing Lorna, just forcing her to be honest.
"And you knew I was going to do it all along, didn't you? You didn't even blink when you heard me tell Dean he should be raising her."
"I knew that whatever your response to Dean's question ended up being, it would be the right one."
"But what if I had asked him for custody?"
"But what if I had?"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I know you. What? Is that a bad thing?" Jamie asked in response to Lorna's silently staring at him.
"Then what's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's just that this is the first time someone's said that to me ...and I actually believed them." She smiled up at Jamie, planting a kiss on his lips. "It's kind of a nice feeling."
He responded by lowering Lorna down on the bed, their mouths only separating long enough for them both to discard their clothes and come back together, bodies intertwining so perfectly it seemed impossible to believe they'd been created for anything other than each other's pleasure.
"That's kind of a nice feeling, too," Lorna purred as Jamie slid a single finger inside of her, sweeping it briefly before settling on a selected spot and crooking it slightly as if beckoning forward.
"Good God," Lorna panted, struggling to catch her breath following a series of thrilling, teeth-rattling spasms that shot through her in response to his caress, each subsequent, rapturous wave hitting her stronger than the previous one, until she practically levitated off the bed, coming down craving more; much, much more, and demanding to know, "How did you.... You been holding out on me, Frame?"
He smiled languidly, dipping his head and whispering in Lorna's ear, "Didn't want you thinking you were the only one full of pleasant surprises this weekend...."
"Is Lori Ann still up?" Frankie asked Felicia as she came home and tossed her purse on the table.
Felicia shook her head. "I put her down about a half hour ago. It's amazing what a good little trooper she is about having all those wires attached."
"It's all she knows," Frankie collapsed in a chair, exhausted. "And it's amazing how fast a human being can become accustomed to anything, no matter how awful."
"Did something happen during your visit with Cass?" Felicia asked, concerned.
"Nothing out of the ordinary. I sat and talked to my husband through an inch of bulletproof glass. I told him about my day. He told me about his. We both pretended that we could do this, we could hold on to each other no matter what. And, the kicker was, it actually did feel kind of normal by now. I think I'm finally starting to get it. This is it. This is my life. For the next dozen years, this is all I have to look forward to."
"You're not thinking of giving up on Cass, are you?"
"No! Never! I made a vow, just as binding as the ones when we got married. For better or for worse."
"You're a remarkable woman, Frankie."
"Yeah. So people keep telling me."
"Well, you keep believing it. No matter what."
"Question is," Frankie studied her friend sideways. "Are you going to be able to keep believing it, once I tell you the same thing I told Cass?"
"I can't imagine what you might possibly "
"Donna," Frankie said simply.
Felicia blanched and numbly repeated, "Donna?"
"She cornered me at Gregory's funeral. Tried to convince me to see things from her point of view. She claimed we both took drastic measures to protect our children. And that, in both cases, things went tragically awry."
"She's out of her mind," Felicia steamed. "To even suggest that her situation is in any way analogous to what you and Cass are going through..."
"I don't know," Frankie confessed. "About fifty-one percent of me is really starting to see her point...."
Lorna lay curled up behind Jamie, her cheek pressed against his back, one arm wrapped around his chest, where he'd linked her fingers with his. In the dark, she listened to him breathe. When the steady rhythm suggested he'd fallen asleep, Lorna gingerly untangled from his embrace. He stirred, sensing her withdrawal, but didn't wake up.
She padded quietly to the bathroom; turning the light on only once she'd closed the door firmly behind her. There, without even waiting for her eyes to adjust to the glare, Lorna sat on the edge of the bathtub and opened the shutter beneath the sink, rummaging around for the item she'd deposited there earlier, but hadn't had the chance to retrieve until now.
Taking a deep breath, Lorna straightened up and, gathering courage, forced herself to quit stalling and finally look at the results of an undeniably positive home pregnancy test.
Lorna gasped and covered her mouth with one hand, blinking hard. Otherwise, she sat absolutely still, staring at the white, plastic stick in her hand. It was only when she set it down on the edge of the sink that Lorna realized her hand was trembling. That she was, in fact, trembling all over.
Lorna wanted to shriek with joy. She wanted to shake Jamie awake and see the look on his face when she broke their astounding news. She wanted to call Felicia and Lucas, Rachel, even screw the time difference and tell them. For a split second before she remembered, she even wanted to call Jenna.
But, Lorna did none of those things. Instead, she picked up the test, wrapped it in enough tissue paper to thoroughly disguise the shape and tossed it in the trash. Then she reached for her purse hanging on the back of the bathroom door, and pulled out her cell-phone.
Lorna pushed the speed dial and, keeping her voice low, apologized for waking him up. "It's me. Yeah. I know. It's been a long time. I'm sorry.... No, I'm fine... I'm great. I actually, that's why I'm calling. We need to get a divorce. Right away."
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