"May I presume that all went well with Kirkland earlier?" Donna asked Grant once he'd finally arrived to join her and Marley at TOPS.
"Other than the fact that my son left my home to continue living with the man he calls Dad," Grant graced Donna with a frozen smile just in case anyone from the press or public was paying attention. "It ranked right up there with a barrel of monkeys."
"Honestly, Donna," Marley took Grant's hand as he settled next to her and signaled to the waiter, mouthing for him to bring Grant's usual. "Show a little sensitivity for once."
"I'm not allowed to inquire about my grandson? Or note that this could be a potential pitfall in your Mayoral campaign?"
Marley was about to ridicule her non-sequitur, but Grant held up a silencing hand and, eyes narrowed, asked, "What are you talking about, Donna?"
"If I were Chase Hamilton, I would waste no time bringing up Jamie's name at every opportunity, if only to watch you turn seven shades of purple and commence sputtering."
Marley's mouth dropped open. "Are you threatening to go to Chase and suggest "
"She's not wrong," Grant interrupted, taking a healthy pull of his freshly delivered bourbon. "So what do you suggest I do about it, Donna? Though, I warn you, I've already embraced you to my bosom under duress. I'll be damned if I'm going to repeat the degradation with Jamie."
"I wasn't going to suggest anything of the sort," Donna said, tactfully suppressing her smile at the image. "But you do need to figure out how to channel that knee jerk reaction of yours to pitch a tantrum anytime the topic of Jamie and Kirkland comes up. And it will come up. Hamilton will be pointing to your ten year 'sabbatical' and asking the public 'If Grant Harrison couldn't be there for his own son, why should we believe he'll be there for this city?'"
"Sounds like you've already figured it out for me."
"Well, I don't mean to brag, but, I have recently been dealing with some... public relations issues of my own."
Grant didn't need to turn his head to hear the steam coming out of Marley's ears. He picked up the remains of his bourbon and silently passed it to her, all the while keeping his eyes and attention peeled squarely on Donna.
"And if there's one thing I've learned," Donna continued while her daughter alternately sipped and sulked. "It's that your best disarmament tactic is to bring up the issue before Hamilton does. Tell the heartrending story of how you disappeared to protect your son from your enemies, at great personal cost to your peace of mind. Then demonstrate how generous and sensitive you are. Rather than ripping Kirkland from his home, you allowed him to stay with Jamie. Not because you don't care, but precisely because you do. That's the kind of man you are. One who puts the needs of others ahead of his own."
"You expect me to say all that with a straight face?"
"And preferably without gagging. That is, if you want to win. I promise you, Grant, the voters will eat it up. Your constituents are either children of divorce, or they're divorced themselves; single parents, stepparents. You are their candidate. A champion of the 21st Century nontraditional family. With an approach like that, it goes without saying you'll also be beating Hamilton at his own alternative lifestyle game."
Grant chewed on her words, finally turning to Marley to ask, "What do you think?"
"She's got... something," Marley conceded. "I do think your best defense is a strong offense. But, an approach like that throws the door open to endless questions about Kirkland still living with Jamie. Are you sure you can keep your temper?"
"He doesn't have to," Donna reassured. "All he needs is to take that righteous indignation and redirect it. Towards GQ Todd."
"What does Thomasina and Carter's son "
"The whole town is talking about him and Allie and that poor baby living in Springfield. Who better to take up the noble torch of father's rights than the mayoral candidate with such intimate, personal experience in the matter?"
Grant actually felt himself starting to grin. "And because Hamilton is limited in what he can say while he's trying both Allie and GQ, he'll be bound by ethical constraints. He won't be able to rebut."
"Exactly," Donna nodded.
"I told you, Grant, I could be very useful to you. And for a great deal longer than a single month."
"That's our deal," Marley snapped. "Take it or leave it."
"Oh, I'll take it. And I will use the time to prove to you, that I deserve to be a part of all your lives again."
"Don't hold your breath," Marley stood up. She reminded Grant, "Bridget and Michele have a fencing lesson this afternoon. It's a new instructor, their first time going back since Gregory died, and they're both a little leery. I promised I'd drive them there and stay the entire time. Want to come along? We could brainstorm more "
"Actually," Grant begged off. "Would you mind if I took a rain check? Donna's got me really intrigued about this GQ Todd angle. I want to jot down a few notes while the idea is still fresh in my mind. Give my best to the girls, would you? Tell them to break a sabre or whatever the appropriate expression is. I'll stop by later tonight." He turned back to Donna. "You don't mind staying a bit, do you? I want to bounce some thoughts off that disturbingly fertile and fiendish mind of yours
"Of course not. That's what I'm here for." She reassured Marley, "Don't fret, darling. I'll keep an eye on Grant for you. I won't let him do anything foolish. Isn't it wonderful? We're all on the same side now...."
"It's beautiful," Amanda told Alice, examining the diamond and white gold ring with its three interlocking ovals sitting newly ensconced on the older woman's finger.
"Spencer called it a Trinity knot. He says it's a Celtic tradition. Knots have no ending and no beginning. Which makes it a promise of forever."
"Wouldn't that be nice?" Amanda tried for sarcastic. What she got was wistful. And eager to change the subject. She admitted, "Kevin told me about you and... Gregory."
"Oh," Alice uncomfortably pulled her hand back, as if the two topics couldn't co-exist in the same space.
"That was very brave of you."
"I'm a doctor. Gregory needed help that I had the means to provide. I'll honestly admit I didn't think it through. Especially not the consequences. If I had... "
"You would have done the exact same thing."
Alice smiled. "Probably. The fact is, Amanda, no matter what happens down the line, I've already gained so much more than I could ever lose. I got Kevin back because of this. And Jen as a bonus. I have my siblings, and their children, and that's wonderful. But, Kevin and Jen are my very own family. I've dearly missed that all these years."
"Which is why we can't have you going to jail!"
"That's one of the reasons," Alice responded lightly.
Amanda indicated the ring and reminded, "And that's another. I am so happy for you, Alice. And for Spencer, too. I think you are exactly what he's needed all this time. Someone who'll keep him in line not because you made him do it, but because you made him want to do it."
"It would be ironic, wouldn't it, if, after everything, the person who ends up being hauled off to jail is me. I'm sure that's not where the odds-makers would place their bets."
"Nobody is going to jail," Amanda insisted. "Not you, not Allie, no one. Kevin and I will see to that."
"Kevin and I," Alice repeated slowly. "Is there a Kevin and you.... "
Amanda lowered her voice, despite there being no one in Alice's apartment to overhear them and confided, "We made love again the other day."
"Amanda! How I thought...."
"It wasn't a perfect situation," she conceded. "He was upset about you and Jen, and I was upset about Allie and.... But the point is, when he needed someone, he reached out to me. Not Lila, me. And I was there."
"So now what?"
"Now... I don't know. He said that nothing had changed. That it was a mistake."
"I'm sorry, darling."
"But, I don't believe him. He kissed me first. Even he admitted that much. It means he still wants me. He still loves me. He's just... confused. Who can blame him?"
"Please be careful, Amanda. I would hate to see you set yourself up for a fall."
"He loves me," she insisted. "It's just like you and Spencer. You hurt him without meaning to, and you were sure he'd never forgive you. But, look at you two now. He's promised you forever. You're getting the happy ending you deserve. And so will I."
"Nice place you guys got," Morgan observed, stepping inside Lorna and Jamie's house, and looking around with interest. "Very... domestic."
Lorna smiled uneasily, unable to think of a single response that wouldn't come off as defensive... or profane.
She said, "Thanks for coming over so quickly. I know you're busy at the hospital and "
"Hey, my wife calls, I drop everything and burn rubber right over."
"Please don't say that."
"Oh, right. I forgot. You never were a big fan of my motorcycle."
"You know what I mean."
"What?" he asked innocently. "Did you mean the my wife part?"
"I looked into it," she said, ignoring the teasing in his tone. "We can get a quick, no fault divorce in Illinois by "
"It's good to see you again, Lorna." He stepped up, meaning to touch her face, but in response to Lorna's death glare, settled merely for briefly rubbing her shoulder before wisely retreating. "I got to admit, I've missed you. Heck, I saw less of you after you'd moved back to Bay City than I did when you were living in Chicago."
"I know. I'm sorry. I never thought I'd be one of those women who dumped her friends the minute there was a new man in her life."
"Probably because you were never one of those women with many friends."
She rolled her eyes at him. "You and your weekly romantic crises kept me plenty busy."
"But, now you want to desert me for... Jamie? Seriously, Lorna? Jamie Frame?"
"What's wrong with Jamie?" Lorna asked, no longer hesitating to sound defensive.
"Nothing. He's a nice enough, boring, old "
"He's not that old!"
" Old enough guy. Look, don't get me wrong; I like Jamie. He seems to be a good father, a dutiful mama's boy, and he's a competent doctor no me, of course, but then who is? On the other hand, he is totally and completely wrong for you."
"How do you figure?"
"He's old," Morgan repeated, in case she'd missed it the first time. "And boring."
"He looks at me," Lorna said softly. "Like he can't bear to let me out of his sight."
"Okay. So, he old, boring and needy. When did that become your type?"
"When I got tired of pompous, self-absorbed and shallow?"
"I'm sure I don't know who you're talking about."
"Come on, Morgan, enough is enough. You've had your fun. Just give me your power of attorney and I can take care of this without you needing to lift a finger."
"What's the hurry?" he asked. "Didn't you and Jamie just hook up, what? A few months ago? You guys haven't even unpacked everything yet, far as I can see."
"The hurry is," Lorna instinctively sucked in her stomach and told him, "Jamie bought a ring. He's ready to propose. I had to stop him from doing it this past weekend."
"Sounds like somebody isn't interested."
"I am interested!" she practically shouted, forcing herself to calm down before explaining. "I am not going to accept Jamie's proposal or tell him that I'm I am not going to accept Jamie's proposal with you hanging over my head."
"Yeah, I can see how that would be awkward. The direct comparison and all."
"I want to say yes. But, in order for that to happen, you need to "
"Do you remember why we got married in the first place, Lorna?"
"One too many bad tequila shots?"
"More like one too many bad relationships. We did it to protect each other from making the same dumb mistakes over and over again. That developer in Chicago? The one you were so sure was the real deal? You asked me for a divorce back then, too. Right before he was arrested for fraud and racketeering and who knows what else? Oh, wait, I remember! Soliciting! If I'd given in, you would've gone down with him."
"This isn't remotely the same situation. Jamie doesn't have any skeletons in his closet waiting to pop out and punch me in the face. I know him. And he knows me."
"Oh, yeah? You tell him about us?"
She stopped short. "Well, no."
Lorna hesitated, and then confessed, "It wasn't because I didn't trust Jamie. It was because I didn't trust myself. You're right, Morgan, I have dated some lousy, lousy guys."
"Present company excepted, of course."
"You were the best of the bunch," she agreed. "And we couldn't make it work either. Jamie tells me he loves me practically every time he sees me."
"Aaaannd we're back to needy."
"I know he means it. But, no matter what he says, I still can't make myself believe that a nice guy like him could ever love somebody like me."
"You know what, Lorna? If he makes you feel like that "
"No! You're not listening! He doesn't make me feel like that. I make me feel like that. The reason I didn't have the courage to ask you for a divorce until I saw that ring-box in Jamie's pocket was because I thought that would somehow... jinx things. Me divorcing you would be the same as admitting, to myself, nobody else, that I actually believed Jamie would want to marry me. And I couldn't do it. I was too scared of having my heart broken if it wasn't true."
"What about my heart being broken, have you devoted any thought to that?"
"Oh, give the melodrama a rest, Morgan. We were never anymore than friends with benefits, and you know that."
"But, they were pretty good benefits, if I do say so myself."
"Well, now like so many other victims of this economy, yours are being cut off."
He laughed. "You see why I love you?"
"You were there for me when I needed you, Morgan. Same way I always tried to be with you. That part doesn't have to change. You are still my best friend. I'd just rather not be married to you anymore, k?"
He gave it some thought, then shook his head slowly. "Nope. We had a deal, once upon a time. And I intend to hold you to it for your sake, naturally. You want a divorce, Lorna? You're going to have to work for it."
Kevin took a seat across from Cass in the prison visiting room and slid his phone across the table so the other attorney could see it.
He announced, "Got a text from Lorna Devon this morning. She's officially dropping her custody petition for Lori Ann. And she's invented several new emoticons to describe how she feels about my role in that."
Cass studied the digital message, emoticons and all, and wondered, "How the hell did you pull this off?"
"I have my area of expertise. You have yours. Speaking of which, we had a deal."
"I'd need to read the complete file...."
Kevin popped open his briefcase and handed Cass a freshly printed copy. Cass leafed through only the top few pages before observing, "Those kids are in a heap of trouble."
"Always good to have an expert opinion."
Cass paused at the autopsy report. "There was a doctor involved?"
"That's the working theory."
"If the kids roll on..."
"Tried it. No one is budging."
"Well, that's admirable, I guess. If self-defeating."
"No different from what you did," Kevin pointed out. "Refusing to defend yourself."
"I didn't want to put my family through a trial. Frankie and Charlie sitting in court day after day, hearing about what I'd done, how I tried to cover it up, who I betrayed in the process. I just wanted it to be over. Cecile had stolen enough time from us already."
"Do you still believe you made the right decision?" Kevin wasn't snarking anymore. He really wanted to know. He even sounded borderline sympathetic.
"I don't know," Cass admitted. "Odds are, trial or no trial, I'd have ended up behind bars anyway. I keep telling myself I did the humane thing. No dragging it out, no false hope. The sooner I start serving my term, the sooner it's over, right?"
"You never can tell. You might have been able to beat it."
"Yeah. And then my daughters can walk around knowing that their father isn't only a killer, but that he got away with murder, too. I'm not sure which is worse, honestly."
"You wouldn't be the first in town. The fact that Carl Hutchins is allowed to roam free still boggles my mind. And then there's Grant... Rachel..."
"Bay City is a passionate place."
"The inmates are running the asylum."
"That, too." Cass sighed. "Frankie is doing yeomen's work, struggling to make the best of this. She comes to see me every day. Every goddamn day. Acting casual, like she's visiting me at the office, or something. Charlie only comes when she's forced to."
"She's a teenager. They don't do anything unless they're forced to."
"There's a part of me that wants to order Frankie to stop."
"But, since Mrs. Winthrop doesn't strike me as the type to take orders well..."
Cass smirked, "There's a bigger part of me that wants to beg her to stop. To quit throwing away her life, and Charlie's and Lori Ann's. At the very least to stop battling with Charlie over me. That alone ought to make both their lives easier. I know it's what would be best for everyone. But, I don't have the guts. I can barely face the next decade in this place knowing Frankie will be there for me. The idea of trying to hack it alone.... I guess that makes me a selfish bastard."
"No," Kevin said. "You're trying to balance what's best for everyone. And that's never an easy call."
"Hey, Mama," Jasmine skipped into the kitchen, dipping her fingers into the cookie jar and helping herself to a handful of fresh oatmeal raisins.
"Only two," Lila restricted without raising her eyes from the real estate listings on her BlackBerry.
"Oh, phooey. I already touched three by accident. Unsanitary to put it back now. Wasteful to throw it away."
Lila eyed her daughter with amusement. She got up, plucked the third cookie from Jasmine's hand, and popped it into her mouth. "Problem solved. Boy, these are good."
Jasmine frowned suspiciously, well aware that if her mother was having more than a taste of anything sweet, there had to be a crisis brewing... or recently brewed. "Did you and Daddy have another fight?"
Lila shook her head, mouth full of cookie.
"Did Mr. Harrison call the new paintings you picked out for him tacky again?
"What do you mean tacky? And what do you mean again?"
"You're changing the subject, Mama."
"Nothing is wrong, baby. Things are great. So great I think it's time for us Hart women to get their very own home."
"Our own home?" Jasmine repeated, her voice hitting a pitch that was more apprehensive than excited. "You want to move?"
"You knew we couldn't stay here forever, sugarplum. I have taken embarrassing advantage of your daddy and grandma's hospitality. My staying here was supposed to be just temporary and I've stretched it into a year. It's time to move on."
"Did Daddy ask you to leave?"
"No, of course not. But remember my telling you, after Cass and I split, how I plan to stand on my own two feet and not rely on anyone for anything anymore? Well, living in someone else's house just doesn't fit that bill."
"But I want to stay here."
"You'll still get to see your Daddy," Lila soothed, presuming this was the reason for Jasmine's trembling lip. "It'll be like when we were living with Cass. You'll still be over here all the time."
"I can't just be visiting. I need to live here. Somebody has to take care of Daddy."
Lila blinked. "Your father is a grown man, Jazz. He can take care of himself."
"Not now. He's sad now. He's fighting with everyone. Cory told me he yelled at Uncle Jamie right before Uncle Jamie moved out. And yesterday, I heard Grandma telling Aunt Amanda that Daddy said some mean things to Allie. Grandma said they were true but "
"Are you sure you understood right? Your Daddy was picking fights with Allie?"
"He's sad," Jasmine reiterated. "And he needs to know there's somebody on his side. Grandma has too many other people to worry about. And it's not your place since you're not married anymore. That just leaves me. It's my place. He's my daddy."
Lila shook her head. "No, Jasmine. It is not your responsibility to "
"I'm not leaving him," Jasmine's voice shook. "I can help him, I know I can."
Unable to take her daughter's obvious distress, Lila conceded. "Okay, we won't move. Not yet. Not until you're satisfied that we've gotten your Daddy all straightened out."
"Promise?" Jasmine sniffled.
"Promise," Lila smoothed down her daughter's hair and silently made another promise, this time just for herself: Track down Matt. And skin him alive.
Donna came home to John's after her meeting of the minds with Grant in a particularly good mood. Even Marley's cynicism failed to bring her down.
However, the sight of three shadowy figures standing on the porch, seemingly waiting for Donna, did manage to alarm her a little.
Especially when she realized that the trio lying in wait for her comprised of Spencer, Lucas, and Carl.
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