Donna's stomach lurched at the sight of Spencer, Lucas and Carl waiting for her in the shadows outside of John's house. So naturally, she did the only thing one could under the circumstances. She put a smile on her face, assumed an air of utter nonchalance, and came waltzing up to them as if the trio's presence was the most expected thing in the world. Reginald, rotting in Hell as he inevitably was, would have been infinitely proud.
"What an unholy trinity," she observed archly. "Goodness me, I'd have never dreamed the three of you might ever willingly find yourselves in the same room, much less on the same page. I'm honored."
"You're a dead woman," Lucas corrected.
"Oh, I don't think so. Not as long as I have you three fine gentlemen to protect me."
Spencer hissed, "Your stunt made a lot of very dangerous people very, very angry."
"Perhaps you should have thought about that before you decided to expose them."
"I did nothing of the sort!"
"You informed Rachel that I was behind Jenna's kidnapping. That's what started all this. The way I see it, if anyone's head is to be sacrificially served up on a silver platter for the crime of perfidy, it should be yours, not mine."
"I wasn't the one who stupidly gave you access to the compound in the first place." Spencer glared at Carl.
"Do you understand what you've done?" he snarled at his ex-wife. "You've put us all at risk. A breech of this magnitude cannot be allowed to stand unpunished. And not just us. Our families. Your family."
"I believe I made it infinitely clear the other night: If anything happens to Marley or my grandchildren or John Hudson, I won't have anything left to lose. Which means I will also have no qualms about personally leading a guided tour straight to the compound's doorstep, a live camera crew from KBAY leading the way." She helpfully elucidated, "I might as well go out to good ratings."
"I'll see you dead first," Lucas said calmly, not threatening, merely informing.
"Alas, it won't do you any good. I'm sorry you weren't listening closely enough, but, I have made arrangements "
"To hell with your arrangements. To hell with you! I lost nearly twenty years of my life because of you! My daughter," Lucas thundered, despite Carl's visible grimace. "Died because of you. If you think that I am going to stand idly by while your damned public relations campaign adds Fanny and Lorna to your list of victims "
"I have no intention of doing any such thing. I am perfectly happy keeping my mouth shut. As long as I am left alone. You three want to bring the wrath of multiple aggrieved associates down on you and yours, go ahead, be my guests. Persecute me for crimes real and alleged, get your petty revenge. But, anything that might happen to your loved ones down the line as a result, be advised, that fault will lie squarely and solely with you."
"Wow," GQ couldn't help but exclaim early the next morning, eyebrows lifting as he took in Grant's impressive new campaign headquarters, a redone warehouse now bustling with a small army of mostly college-age volunteers manning the latest in computer and communications technology. "Are you sure all you're doing is running for Mayor? You're not fronting a covert ops mission for the CIA or anything?"
"The CIA wishes they had my IT team," Grant chuckled. "Can I get you anything to drink? Water? Coffee? Red Bull? Bourbon?"
"Uh, no. Thank you," GQ quickly added, remembering his manners. "I'm good. Wouldn't do to get buzzed during a job interview."
GQ frowned. "On the phone, you mentioned an opportunity...?"
"I did. And while I am well aware of your software expertise, what I had in mind was a position as campaign spokesperson for a very important issue. To me, to you, to a lot of other men, both locally and nationally. Paternal Rights. I want you to be the voice of every father whose rights have been ignored, violated and trampled by vindictive women and a biased legal system. I want you to speak for these men, and allow me to guide you through the treacherous public and judiciary battlefield you are about to tread. I know what you're up against regarding Allie and your son. I can be of great service to you."
"While using my situation to gain votes?" GQ countered.
"God willing," Grant confirmed smoothly.
"I can fight my own battles, Mr. Harrison. I don't need to be anyone's mascot."
"I fear you've misunderstood me. I am not asking you to demean yourself in any way. In fact, I'm asking you to do the opposite. Put yourself in a position of power, a position from which to make your voice heard."
"Yeah, well, that's nice in theory. But, we both know the rich, blond, blue eyed mommy is going to be heard louder than the scary Black daddy, every time."
"Don't underestimate the power of liberal guilt. You're smart, come from a good family, you don't have a history of drug abuse or violence. And there are bound to be people who will resent Allie on the basis of her wealth and privilege. Add in the fact that she not only lied to you and the adoptive parents, but also perpetuated a fraud on the court? Plenty of voters will want to side with you. Since you're friends with Steven, you know that I'm his brother's father, and what I've been through with Kirkland. This isn't just my hopping on a bandwagon. I'm taking up a cause and the side that I feel is right, that I have a vested interest in."
"You know what else I got from being friends with Steven? I know that partnering up with you could do me more harm than good. You don't exactly have the best reputation."
"True. But, keep in mind that, after my resignation from the Senate, I was still able to win over the people of Bay City to become Mayor. And I plan to do it again. I know what I'm doing, GQ. I am offering you the chance to get your son back."
"How? I'm not fighting dirty. That's not how I roll."
"That's not how I roll either. I'm running a clean campaign. I promised my son that much. We're simply going to present the facts and let your story speak for itself."
"Are you sure about this? Because, here are some facts no amount of spin is going to change: I'm Black and I'm male. My being the biological father and capable of taking care of my son financially and emotionally be damned."
"Let me help you change that perception." Grant pulled up a chair, looking GQ in the eye. "You are not the villain in this tale, no matter how much Allie and the Bauers might want to paint you that way. You are the hero. And before you and I are done, this town, the courts, and most importantly, your son, will know it, as well."
The younger man took a moment to ponder Grant's words. And then, slowly, hesitantly, only picking up confidence as he went along, GQ nodded his head. "Okay, Mr. Harrison. I You... let's do this thing."
"Great." Grant slapped a hearty hand on GQ's shoulder. "Wonderful. You won't regret it. And, if you're ready, we can get started right now. How would you like to do a live press conference with me in an hour? Luckily, I happen to know the owner of KBAY."
"I promised you I'd earn my keep," Kirkland happily flourished his spatula in Lorna's direction as she entered the kitchen. "Ta-da! Customized omelet bar! We've got cheese, ham, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives... You name it, I can make it."
"He isn't kidding," Jamie, sitting at the table, already halfway through his portion of what appeared to be bacon, spinach and cheddar. "He's really good."
"I'm living with a short-order cook? Fabulous," Lorna took an eager step forward, when the unexpected sight of raw eggs turned her previously ravenous appetite into a churning wave of nausea. For a moment, she couldn't figure out what'd happened. And then she remembered. And would have, once again, grinned like an idiot. If the bulk of Lorna's attention weren't, by necessity, focused on keeping her lips firmly clamped together.
"Short order cook," Kirkland snorted, oblivious. "As if. You just made Fernando cry."
"Fernando?" Lorna quickly crossed over to the sink, reaching for a glass and filling it with water. The better to keep her back to the eggs.
"A chef my mother had a while back," Jamie explained. "One fine day, after a steady TV diet of Emril, Rachel Ray and Paula Deen, Kirkland got it into his head to try a recipe of his own. He went down to the kitchen and proceeded to... let's say 'attempt' to cook."
"I was seven. I was doing pretty well for seven."
"You nearly burned the house down."
"Minor smoke damage! Nothing structural!"
"Only because Fernando arrived in time to douse you and your skillet with flour to smother the flames."
"And ban me from the kitchen."
Jamie told Lorna, "Kirkland couldn't go in for so much as a cookie. Steven had to bring it out to him."
"Knowing Steven," Lorna took small measured sips of her water, waiting to make sure each swallow stayed down before attempting another. "It was probably for a price, too."
"After a few weeks of cooling off and Kirkland sending Fernando a heart tugging letter of apology that explained his passion for cooking along with a new pan to replace the one he'd destroyed, Fernando showed mercy and allowed him back into the kitchen to observe. Eventually, Kirk earned a bit more responsibility, until he was as bona fide a chef as a seven year old could be. Believe me, we were all surprised that his first meal was not only good, but didn't make one person sick."
Boy, Lorna sure was envying those people right about now.... The water had not been a first-rate idea.
"Do you really think," Kirkland challenged. "That I would've put myself out there like that if I didn't think I could do it?"
"It's been nine years, Kirk. Let it go. You proved us all wrong."
"Keep talking, Dad. You'll talk yourself right out of that Black Forrest Winter Cake I was planning on making for your birthday next month."
"Kirk takes it upon himself to make my cake every year. And I know you wouldn't be so petty as to blackmail your own father," Jamie scoffed, pulling a ringing cell phone from his pocket. "One, you like to show off, and Lorna here is a brand new victim. And two, you're just nice that way. Sorry, I gotta take this."
Kirkland and Lorna waited quietly for Jamie to finish his call, Kirkland fulfilling Jamie's prediction and dutifully showing off by perfectly flipping a second omelet and sliding it onto his plate. Lorna rifling through the pantry for anything in the dry cracker family.
As soon as Jamie snapped the phone shut shut, Kirkland analyzed his father's expression and sighed, "Let me guess You've got to go to the hospital?"
"Yup, but it shouldn't take long." Jamie gave Lorna a kiss, cocking his head as he backpedaled towards the door. "That was your ex, calling me in for the rare consult."
"My ex?" Suddenly, even the crackers didn't seem that compelling.
"Grant?" Kirk asked dispassionately, more interested in his breakfast.
"Morgan?" Lorna's panicked query overruled him.
"Did you date some other sexy doctor prior to me?" Jamie teased.
That got Kirkland's attention. "Hey, guy's trying to eat, here!"
"I'll give him your best," Jamie winked, leaving Lorna to smile feebly in his wake, even as she wondered: What the hell kind of game was her future ex-husband playing?
"I'm sorry," Lila attempted to back out of the Cory library. "I was looking for Matt."
But, both knew Amanda wasn't about to let her go that easily. "Good morning, Lila." She sounded awfully chipper. Especially for a woman whose daughter, at last count, was facing two separate felony charges in two separate criminal cases. "I don't think Matt came home last night," Amanda offered. "He's been in a very strange mood lately."
"Jazz mentioned something about him going off on Allie the other day?"
Amanda shrugged. "So Mom said. I wasn't there, I didn't hear the details. I gather it came down to Allie being a vindictive, spoiled brat who toyed with GQ out of spite, and how my coddling of her led to this most recent disaster."
"Oh. Well," Lila said, unable to think of anything to add. Or a place to disagree.
"Your name came up," Amanda observed. "Matt recalled how you threatened to cut him out of Jasmine's life unless he married you."
"It wasn't my most shining hour," Lila admitted.
"My marriage was somewhat shotgun, too," Amanda sympathized. "But, at least Sam and I were in love What we believed was love, anyway. I never quite understood the point of dragging a man to the altar when he's made it clear he isn't interested."
"For some of us," Lila said pointedly. "Marriage has to be about more than love. I get it's hard to see past the edge of that silver spoon in your mouth, but that's how it goes in the real world. Love is fine and dandy; when you can get it. Survival comes first."
"You know, Kevin gave me a similar song and dance on our first date. Which is ironic, since lack of money was never really an issue for him."
"There are other lacks," Lila said. "People got all sorts of dark holes in their souls they're looking to fill."
"And most of them go about it in completely the wrong way. Did marrying the Cory money I'm sorry, Matt did that help make you feel better about yourself?"
"Yes," Lila said defiantly, tired of being toyed with while pretending she didn't know it was happening. "Did knocking boots with another woman's man do that for you?"
Amanda's mouth dropped open, then closed abruptly. Wherever she thought she'd been leading this conversation, Lila's beating her to the punch hadn't been part of the plan.
"Kevin told me," Lila filled Amanda in. "He also told me he made it clear that being with you was a mistake. My man ain't interested."
"He ain't your man," Amanda imitated Lila's Southern accent, and took it down a few socioeconomic levels for good measure. "I thought you two were just having a deep-fried good time. Wasn't that part of your I am Woman, Hear Me Roar manifesto?"
"You don't want to hear me roar, Amanda. Trust me on that. If I ever decide to really let out how I feel about all this, you and Kevin are gonna be sorry you ever met, much less took a roll in the wrong bale of hay."
"Shall we alert Amanda and Allie?" Carl wondered to Rachel as they sat in front of the computer monitor in his study, watching a live stream of Grant's press conference, wherein he declared his newfound passion for all fathers' rights in general, and GQ Todd's in particular.
"No. Knowing Amanda, she'd probably charge right over and make matters ten times worse. She's never been very good at letting a perceived slight pass uncommented on. And Allie... honestly, I have no idea what Allie might do in response. If there's one thing I've learned these past few weeks it's that my granddaughter is a virtual stranger to me." Rachel saw the look in Carl's eyes and immediately rushed to apologize. "I'm sorry. That was incredibly insensitive of me. Lori Ann...."
"Will always be a stranger to me. And I to her. Same as Jenna. Ironic, isn't it, to find myself, at this late stage of the game, on the same side as the good Senator?"
"Just because the message comes from Grant, that doesn't make it wrong."
"Do you believe young Mr. Todd has a right to his child?"
"In theory? Yes, of course."
"How about in practice, then?"
"In practice... I saw what getting an out of the blue father did to Jamie and Matt. I look at the hell that Grant put Kirkland through when he resurfaced. And yes, I'm sorry, but also at the tailspin finding out about you sent Ryan into. In every case, these lives were upset not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the men involved."
"Grant had a choice. I did not. Like GQ Todd, had I known about my son from the start, none of the subsequent distress and heartache would have been necessary."
"But, was it ever necessary at all? For goodness' sake, Carl, you only told Ryan the truth to keep him from dropping you off a multistory building. You can hardly claim his well-being was your primary concern at that moment."
"And you can hardly claim that your own contrary stance isn't coming from a place of equal selfishness."
"I don't understand. I have always taken complete and utter blame for what I put Matt and Jamie through. I recognize that they resent me and I can't fault them for it."
"But, you can fault any and all men interested in standing up and claiming their children, regardless of the mother's wishes. After all, wouldn't your life have gone much, much smoother had you been allowed to pick your sons' fathers after the inconvenient fact of conception? The sainted Mac for Matthew, the legitimate Russ for Jamie."
"I realize you're angry. But, I think you're taking it out on the wrong person."
"You just told me you don't think GQ deserves to have his son returned to him."
"For my great-grandson's sake, no. And I have no intention of apologizing for caring more about Hudson's future happiness, than I do about GQ's. Allie may have done a horrible thing. But, it stands to reason that GQ must have done at least a minimum of something to provoke such a response. He cannot be completely innocent, no one ever is in these types of situations, we both know that. Please, my darling, I understand how it's affecting you. But, quite frankly, none of this is any of your concern."
"Is that a fact?" Carl asked curiously, before rising swiftly from his chair and departing the room without another word.
"She didn't look happy to see me." Dean nervously chewed on a cuticle as he and Felicia sat on a couch in the Winthrop living room, waiting for Frankie to return with Lori Ann.
"Are you kidding me? Frankie practically cracked a rib hugging you," Felicia squeezed Dean's arm reassuringly. Despite her privately agreeing with him. Frankie had said all the right things and done all the right things. And yet she'd seemed... off somehow.
"You know what? Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." Dean leapt from the sofa, his twitch towards the door prompting Felicia to clamp down harder, keep him from bolting.
"Nothing doing, buster. Sit down."
"I'd forgotten how bossy you are." Dean smiled fondly at Felicia. "I've missed it."
"The longer you wait, the harder it'll be to finally see her," she clucked sympathetically. "I know how terrifying this is for you, how overwhelming. I've been though my own overdue parent/child reunion drama, remember? This needs to happen now. For both your sakes. While Lori Ann is still young enough for it to feel normal."
Dean's head jerked up as he heard Frankie's footsteps on the stairs.
"Sorry we took so long," she apologized with an awkward smile. "I had to untangle the cords and..." Frankie hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. "Dean, this is our Lori Ann."
He made no move to approach, staring, dumbstruck, at the child from across the room.
"Isn't she beautiful?" Felicia gushed, hoping to fill the gaping chasm between them with words. "The perfect blend of you and Jenna. See that dimple, there? Remember how, when Jenna smiled, she had two of the most perfect dimples? Isn't it just uncanny?"
"I remember," he struggled to breathe as Lori Ann buried her face shyly in Frankie's shoulder, then peeked at him suspiciously from the side. With Jenna's eyes.
Felicia held out her arms and, after a whisper of encouragement from Frankie, Lori Ann willingly slipped into them. Her Nana crossed the room, planting herself in front of Dean and urging, "Would you like to hold her?"
"I I don't know how. I don't want to scare her. She doesn't know who I am."
"Well, that's easily corrected. This is your Daddy, sweetheart," Felicia plopped Lori Ann into Dean's arms, despite the sharp intake of breath on the part of both him and Frankie.
For a second, Lori Ann seemed poised to burst into tears and scramble back towards Felicia. But, then, Dean's shiny earring caught her eye, and she lunged for it with glee.
"Ow," he cried and squirmed, not sure what to do, looking desperately to Frankie for help. She swooped in, prying the little girl's fingers loose and distracting her with a toy.
"That's why I gave up on all jewelry," Frankie joked, realizing that she could easily use the opportunity to take Lori Ann back. Consciously deciding not to.
Dean smiled at Frankie gratefully. "I don't know where to start thanking you. You and Cass. Everything you did for her..."
"We're family, Dean. You, me, Lori Ann, Felicia. Whatever Cass and I could do to help, we were happy to do it."
"I was just so messed up back then, I couldn't... I knew I couldn't be a dad to Lori Ann."
"But now you're better?" Frankie forced herself to ask, heart thudding in her chest as she waited for the answer. "Did you come back so you could raise Lori Ann yourself?"
Press conference over, Grant sat in the back of his campaign headquarters, huddling with a half-dozen advisers of which Donna had somehow assumed a prominent position while Marley stood watch at the front of the warehouse, dealing with volunteers, donors and... uninvited guests.
"Carl!" she didn't bother hiding her surprise, turning to hand a stack of Harrison for Mayor flyers to a handful of eager interns along with directions about where they should be posted, before pleasantly asking her unwelcome visitor, "What do you want?"
He actually appeared to hesitate before answering a phenomenon in and of itself. "I watched Grant's press conference earlier."
"I'm sorry. All requests for equal time rebuttals or live tar and feathering need to go through KBAY, not this office."
She expected him to counter with an equally witty rejoinder. He did not. Instead, Carl said, "Unless my memory deceives me, you and young Ben McKinnon were part of the same crowd that included Carter and Thomasina, as well as Nancy and... and...."
"Perry," Marley finished softly for him, no longer in the mood to quip.
"Yes," Carl sighed, suddenly looking his age... and more. "Perry."
She nodded. "Yes, we were all friends, to a degree."
"Have you kept in touch with the Todds since that time?"
"I have. GQ hasn't been particularly forthcoming with his parents through all this. He has his reasons, and they don't want to pressure him. I've been keeping Thomasina and Carter updated, best as I can."
"Good. Good." Carl reached into his pocket and pulled out a checkbook, thumbing through it almost... nervously. "Then perhaps, in honor of your youthful friendship, and in memory of my son your friend you would be willing to accept this donation toward GQ's legal fund. And, well, to keep its origins under wraps. I'm sure you realize that, as Rachel's husband, I can't very well directly support the boy out in public. I wouldn't do that to Rachel, no matter what my personal feelings. On the other hand, I can't quite raise an arm to make a direct contribution to Grant's campaign, either. Even if, God help me, I currently find myself reluctantly on his side. But, I would like to help GQ. I've found that, in matters such as these, extra money never hurts. And this seems the best way to go about it, under the knotty circumstances."
"I don't know, Carl.... I Is this some kind of set-up? Are you trying to discredit Grant? When he was elected Senator, it was his association with you that nearly torpedoed the whole thing."
"I have made no secret of my loathing for the man, Marley. But, no, I'm afraid to say, in this instance, my intentions are utterly honorable."
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