Among the over 150 people in attendance at Spencer and Alice's wedding, were both her siblings, Russ and Pat, assorted nieces and nephews and their children, close to three-quarters of the staff from Bay City University Hospital, as well as former colleagues from Chicago Memorial, friends going back as far as high school, nursing school and medical school, and even small contingents from her time living in France, New York City and Washington (much to Kevin's disappointment, Elliot Carrington had sent his best wishes along with regrets). Spencer's side was represented by Grant, Kirkland, and a few dozen business associates, all eager to lay eyes on the woman who, after forty-plus years of futile attempts by others most notably, they recalled, one very determined Iris Cory had finally managed to coerce Spencer Harrison to the altar.
But, they were the ones in for the biggest surprise, as the man who stood before them, watching his bride come down the aisle unescorted (Russ, Jamie and Kevin had each offered to give her away, but were turned down politely by Alice explaining that she'd long ago stopped belonging to anyone), proved visibly about as far from a soul under duress as possible. At one point, he appeared ready to bolt, meet Alice halfway and drag her the rest of the distance, the better to make certain everything went off as planned.
When the minister asked if there were anyone present capable of providing just cause for why this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, Spencer actually turned and glared at his guests, poised to spring and rip out the throat of anyone brave enough to stand up and testify.
Lorna snuck a look at Jamie, who merely shook his head and shrugged ruefully.
And when Kirkland, looking so grown up in his tuxedo, handed his grandfather Alice's wedding ring while sporting an expression of adolescent gravity mixed with just a touch of sheepish self-consciousness at having so many adult eyes on him at one time, it was Grant who couldn't help getting choked up, bringing his fist to his mouth and faking a cough to cover up the unexpected sentiment. Marley turned her head and smiled at him fondly, kissing Grant briefly and resting her head on his shoulder, a gesture that, if Kirk hadn't already gotten to him, certainly would have pushed Grant over the emotional edge.
"I now pronounce you man and wife," the minister intoned as the entire assembly stood up to applaud, and the blissful bridal party headed back up the aisle.
Kevin caught Jen's eyes and winked, trying to reconcile the little girl with the pig-tails to the sleek, sophisticated woman who acknowledged his gesture with a cordial smile then turned her attention to GQ a few rows back. GQ also seemed to be appreciating the view; though, Kevin suspected, not quite in the same way her father was. Even Steven and Sarah warranted a longer look and a more sincere grin. Kevin figured that was how it should be. He met Amanda's eyes across the aisle and knew they were thinking the same thing: They grow up too damn fast. And we are just way too damn old.
The entire contingent of guests followed Spencer and Alice to an adjoining, cavernous, high-ceilinged banquet room, where a catered, sit-down dinner and open bar had been set up around a dance floor and live band.
There, the bride and groom shared their first dance as husband and wife, with more than one person laughing and clapping (there may have even been an approving whistle or two) at the aptness of their musical choice. Following the first verse, they joined in Grant and Marley, Lorna and Jamie, Felicia and Lucas, even Kevin and Amanda to:
Poor old Granddad, I laughed at all his words
I thought he was a bitter man....
Poor young grandson, there's nothing I can say
You'll have to learn, just like me
And that's the hardest way....
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger....
"Could you ever, in your wildest dreams, have imagined this wedding taking place?" Marley leapt on the rare opportunity of Lorna actually leaching away from Jamie's side for a moment to approach her ex-husband.
"Never," he shook his head, sipping champagne from a crystal flute as the newlyweds, exhibiting twice the energy of everyone else in the room, including those half their age, continued dancing on behind them. "The only pairing more unlikely would have been if Mac Cory's widow married the criminal who'd terrorized her family... Oh, oops," Jamie grinned, then abruptly turned somber. "Spencer Harrison is absolutely the last person I ever would have imagined Alice ending up with."
"You mean Spencer is the last person she deserves?"
"I didn't say that."
"You thought it," Marley accused, smiling in hollow triumph when Jamie's twitch of the shoulders indicated she was right. "I knew it."
"Spencer Harrison," Jamie repeated, as if that summarized all his concerns nicely.
"You can't be that upset about it. You came to the wedding."
"Alice is my friend. She's more than my friend, she's my family. She's a connection to my dad. After everything he and my mother put her through, she deserves to be happy into the next seven lifetimes. She thinks Spencer in the one capable of doing that. I can only pray she's right." Jamie turned to Marley. "Same goes for you and Grant, by the way."
"You almost sounded like you mean it," Marley laughed nervously, attempting, by looking away, to cover up how much the concern in his voice, not to mention the way he was looking at her, so warmly, so considerately, so... familiarly was affecting her. "Guess Alice and Spencer gave you lots of practice."
"Hmmm... Let's see.... Falsely polite voice, breaking off eye contact, sudden interest in the contents of your champagne glass... You know, I'm not so rusty yet that I can't still recognize the infamous Marley Hedge for what it is."
"I am not hedging," she defended. "I don't hedge! Why are you laughing?"
"Because now we've gone Over The Hedge and into Level Two of the Marley Cover Defense: Righteous indignation."
"I am not " Marley cut herself off. Not because Jamie was right, but because she was having too much fun sparring with him like this again. And that... just... was not... good. "Why are you so supportive of Grant and I all of a sudden?"
"Because I care about you. Because we've been friends for a long time "
And a whole heck of a lot more, Marley thought, swallowing a sudden, bitter pang.
"And because, same as with Alice, I want only the best for you. While I have a hard time believing that could possibly be Grant "
"Okay, that's better. You were starting to scare me for a minute there."
"If you believe he's the right guy, then I'm happy for you. Of course, if he isn't, may I strongly suggest you waste no time dropping his pompous ass and moving on to greener, not to mention slightly less sociopathic, pastures."
"Pshew. There's the Jamie Frame I know and love. Cranky and judgmental, but with the best of intentions."
"Now with 75% less stomping and shouting, though," he emphasized. "Did you notice?"
"I noticed," Marley smiled; an easy, light smile that she realized she never employed with Grant. "You're a lot... looser these days, Jamie."
"You mean I'm a lot less uptight. And cranky. And judgmental."
"Would you think I was nuts if I told you I kind of missed that Jamie? After all, he's the one I fell in love with once upon a time."
"Well, I don't miss him. And I don't miss the Marley who cared about what everybody else thought, who made every word coming out of her mouth sound like a question. And you shouldn't miss her either. You've been so much stronger lately, so much more self-confident. If Grant is the one responsible for that, then "
"I'm sorry, Jamie," Marley took a hasty step away from him, suddenly loath to hear him finish that sentence, even if Jamie thought he was paying her a compliment. "I I need to...." With that last bit of inanity, she disappeared back into the throng of guests. "Go."
"Caught you on TV the other day," Steven sidled up to GQ while the latter was at the bar, waiting for Jen to come back from being photographed with Alice, Spencer and Kirkland. "Teaming up with Grant..."
"He wants to help me get my son back."
"There are other options, other people."
"Oh, yeah? Like what? Who?" GQ raised his voice, and not just due to the din in the ballroom. "You gonna get up on the stand and testify that your cousin played me?"
"I wish I could," Steven told him honestly. "I hate what Allie did to you, okay?"
"So what's the problem? Afraid they'll withdraw your trust fund for inadequate family butt covering?"
Steven stared at GQ queerly, his friend's guess so far left of reality that, for a moment, Steven couldn't even wrap his brain around what GQ was implying. "You think this has to do with money?"
"I That's Who cares about... What?"
"Alright, then." Even Steven couldn't fake being that bewildered. GQ tried another track. "You trying to tell me you think you owe Allie your loyalty?"
"I don't think I do. But, Sarah does. She's supporting Allie, and she asked me to support her, too. For Sarah's sake. She really wants to show Allie that she can be a good friend."
GQ shook his head in wonder. "Man, girl's really got you whipped."
Steven stiffened. "I love her. She'd do the same for me, if I asked."
GQ smirked. "Us geniuses can really be dumb, you know that? Guess it stands to reason. If it ain't made out of zeros and ones, we can't decode worth a damn."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm not the only one who got played, bro. You want to know why Sarah is even with you? It's 'cause she and Allie made a bet. When Sarah first came to town, she bet Allie she knew the secret to getting any guy to fall for her. Allie said, oh, yeah, prove it? Sarah said, sure, pick any guy and I'll show you. So Allie did. She picked you. Because she figured you were too smart to buy what Sarah was selling. That's why Sarah cut Allie out that time. Didn't want her spilling the beans to you. Didn't want Allie telling you that Sarah's been faking it all along." GQ picked up his Whiskey Sour and clicked his glass against Steven's Scotch and Soda. "Welcome to the I-Got-Screwed-Over-By-A-Girl club, buddy. How does it feel, being down here with the rest of us?"
"Are you alright?" Marley asked, genuinely concerned, having entered the Ladies' Room to catch Lorna exiting a stall looking equal parts green and ashen, then making it only as far as the marble row of sinks before she needed to grab the edge to keep her balance, and struggle to stiffen a body-wrenching dry heave.
"I'm fine," Lorna insisted despite all evidence to the contrary, rinsing her hands under the faucet, then wetting a paper towel to dab the clammy sweat from her face.
"Do you want me to go get Jamie? I know where he is, we were just talking...."
"No," Lorna spun to face Marley, raising her fingers to squeeze the bridge of her nose and trying to blink away the resulting dizziness. "I'm fine. Honest. I just had too much to drink on an empty stomach. Stupid of me. Please don't bother Jamie, he'll only worry. And I'll look like an idiot."
"Well, if you're sure...."
"I'm sure," Lorna's nods were a great deal slower and more measured than her pivot had been. And she was forced to hold on to each sink as she passed by. But, she did make it as far as the door. "Thanks for your concern."
Marley shrugged, her "You're welcome," mumbled towards an already closing swinging door. Once she exited herself a few minutes later, Marley spied Lorna back in her seat next to Jamie, her plate of food seemingly untouched, talking to a couple Marley thought she vaguely recognized oh, yes, one of them was the doctor who'd treated Donna after her suicide attempt. Good times.
Marley returned to her and Grant's table, where he'd struck up conversation with Kevin.
"You can call me Uncle Grant, if you like," Grant teased his former attorney fraternally.
"My last uncle was suffocated with a pillow. By my father."
"Duly noted," Grant paled a little himself and chomped down on an unlit cigar.
Kevin smiled and stood, "Good to see you again, Marley," walking away to refresh his drink.
Grant was about to signal for a wandering waiter to do the same, when he caught the odd expression on Marley's face, and lowered his arm. "What's wrong?"
"Lorna is pregnant," Marley said, her mind swirling with so many emotions that her voice managed to come out utterly neutral.
"What makes you think that?"
"I just saw her in the bathroom, turning about seven distinct shades of green."
"Maybe she just has the flu."
"People with the flu, stay home. People trying to hide a pregnancy, discretely upchuck in the bathroom."
"Well, well, well...." Grant leaned back in his chair. "I'm amazed Jamie isn't shouting the big news from the rooftops. And even if they are keeping it quiet from the general public for now, I'd assume Kirkland would have told me..."
"Kirkland doesn't know. Neither does Jamie."
"How can you be sure?"
"I asked if she'd like me to get him. Man's a doctor, after all, not just her... her... She begged me not to even mention it to him. Obviously, she doesn't want Jamie to know."
"That's unusual. Jamie just spent the past year doing his damnedest to steal my child. He would be ecstatic about getting one of his own. Why wouldn't Lorna tell him?"
"You've got me there."
"Hmm," Grant mused. "Clearly, something fishy is going on. Should be interesting to find out what...."
"You don't look good," Jamie told Lorna once he'd finished chatting with Dr. Noviski and her partner, and turned his attention fully to Lorna.
Too tired to keep up the all-encompassing pretense, she admitted, "I think I'm coming down with something. I've been trying to fight it off, but..."
Jamie pressed his palm to her forehead. "You don't have a fever."
"It's no big deal, probably some stupid stomach bug."
"Okay," Jamie stood up. "Let me just go give my best to Alice and Spencer, and I'll take you home."
"No! You don't need to do that! I know how much Alice appreciated having you here."
"And I've made my appearance, now I'll say good-bye, and we'll leave. Spencer won't miss me, and Alice and I can talk another time. I'll be right back."
Jamie crossed the room to where Alice and Spencer were accepting good wishes, arriving at the same time as Kevin.
He told Alice, "Lorna isn't feeling well, we're going to take off."
"Oh, I'm sorry, honey. That's a shame."
"I'd take her to the hospital, but you got quite a turn out, here. I'm afraid our halls will be filled with wind-blown tumbleweed and nothing else."
"She's a popular lady," Kevin interjected.
"Always was with me," Jamie confirmed. "Sorry to cut out early. You look beautiful." He kissed her on the cheek. "I hope you'll be very, very happy. The only thing I'm sorry about is seems I can't call myself your stepson anymore. I guess that's Grant, now."
"You just try and slip away from me," she raised a warning finger, then kissed him back. "See how far you get."
"And you," Jamie turned to Spencer. "If you make her unhappy "
"If you so much as make her vaguely displeased," Kevin upped the ante.
"Yes, yes, yes," Spencer looked from one to the other. "The two of you will have me drawn and quartered. And I'll deserve every lash."
"I'll have you drawn and quartered," Jamie corrected and jerked a thumb in Kevin's direction. "He'll probably just litigate you to death."
"Probably," Kevin agreed pleasantly.
"You be good to her," Jamie warned and indicated the crowds milling about behind them. "Or you'll have a hell of a lot of people to answer to."
"Are you having a good time, Daddy?" Jasmine tugged somewhat anxiously on Matt's hand as the two of them strolled down a breezy Chicago street, Lila struggling to keep up in her these were most definitely not made for walking pair of high heels.
"I always have a good time with you, Jazz," Matt grinned down at her. "So how do you like your birthday present so far?"
"Love it, love it, love it," Jasmine bobbed up and down, her enthusiasm encompassing the surprise day trip to Chicago, the matinee of Billy Elliot, and now... "Fernando's!" she squealed with glee as they stopped in front of the former Cory chef's titular restaurant. "Is this where we're having dinner?" When Matt nodded in the affirmative, she giggled, "Kirkland is going to be so jealous!"
"Especially when he finds out Fernando invited you into the kitchen to watch him in action."
"Really?" Jasmine's grin was already ear-to-ear, any further and it would stretch pigtail to pigtail.
The three of them walked into the restaurant, where Matt exchanged a few words with the maitre'd, who offered to escort Ms. Cory behind the scenes personally.
"Aren't you coming?" Jasmine asked Matt nervously when she realized he and Lila intended to stay behind for this portion of the evening.
"You know how Fernando hates a crowd," Matt reminded. "This is a special treat, just for you. You name it, he'll make it. Lady's choice."
"I " Jasmine hesitated, glancing nervously from the maitre'd to her parents. "I think I'd rather just stay here with you. We can all order from the menu. I don't need anything out of the ordinary. Everything Fernando makes is great."
"Well, if you really don't want " Matt began, only to experience Lila's nails digging into his arm with such force, he felt it through his dress shirt, sports jacket and camel hair coat.
"Jasmine," Lila said sternly. "Your daddy went to a lot of trouble to set this up for you, and I know you want to go. So why don't you just skeddale on in and enjoy yourself. We'll be fine here. I promise," she emphasized the last word.
"Oh... kay," Jasmine reluctantly followed her escort, the last words she tossed over her shoulder at both Lila and Matt were, "Be nice."
"Ow," Matt shook off Lila's death grip the minute Jasmine disappeared into the kitchen. "What is your problem? I didn't realize it was time for the annual de-fanging. Retract your claws, would you?"
"I think I'll keep them right where they are, thank you. Might help you remember what I'm about to say." Lila got into Matt's face, hissing, "This is going to stop, and it's going to stop now."
"What is?" Matt yanked her wrist away, rubbing his forearm.
"This mood of yours. The one that's got you picking fights with Jamie and Allie and Amanda and your mother."
"They weren't fights. They were differences of opinion."
"Well, here's an inarguable fact: Your daughter has eyes, she has ears, and she's got a lot more brains in her head than you're giving her credit for, if you think she hasn't noticed. Jazz has noticed. And she's decided that it's her responsibility to fix things. To fix you."
"That's ridiculous. I don't need fixing."
"You do, and soon. But, that's not the point here. The point is you and your issues are making our daughter miserable "
"Oh, please, Lila. Have you ever seen a less miserable kid in your life than Jasmine today?"
"Smiling and gushing and fawning over you isn't her being happy, Matt. It's her working her butt off trying to make you happy because she can tell that you're not. What twelve year old girl decides she doesn't want to have a birthday party with friends her own age and chooses to spend it with her parents instead?"
"So that's your definition of me being a crappy dad? Jazz wanting to spend time with me? With us?"
"You ain't listening," out came the claws again. "You are hurting our daughter. And I will not stand by and allow that to happen. Whatever cliche of a mid-life crisis you've got going on, you better resolve it, pronto. Else I'll do whatever I have to do to protect our little girl from you."
Lorna deemed her evening a raging success when her single objective actually making it home before she threw up again was accomplished with several minutes to spare.
She staggered out of the bathroom adjoining the master bedroom to find that Jamie had turned down the sheets and, despite Lorna's admittedly feeble protests, took her arm and, sliding off the little black dress she'd worn to the wedding, directed her straight into bed, where she curled up into a miserable, fetal ball. Jamie tucked the blankets around her shoulders and perched on the edge, stroking Lorna's hair.
She murmured, "You don't have to stay with me, you know."
"My solicitous hovering annoying you already?"
Lorna smiled weakly at how well he knew her and admitted, "I do kind of prefer to do my vomiting without an audience. Do you mind?"
"Not at all. If it'll make you more comfortable, I'll bunk in Kirk's room. He's going home with Grant once the festivities are over. Call me if you need anything, okay? I'll be just down the hall with the door open." He kissed Lorna on the forehead and stood up.
"I don't want to bother you."
"Lorna," Jamie sighed, amused. "I'm a doctor and a single dad. I haven't slept through the night in twenty-five years. You need anything, you let me know."
"Jamie," she called out right as he was about to exit.
"That was fast." He turned around, smiling.
"I'm sorry I ruined your evening. I know you were looking forward to it. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
He studied her as if she were vaguely insane and reminded, "For better or worse, Lorna, remember? Sickness, health, there's a whole list; it's kind of famous."
She chuckled. Which was surprisingly easy to do when your throat was clogged. "We're not married."
"I know," he told her in all seriousness. "We're a hell of a lot more than that."
From his spot at the main table, Spencer signaled the band to take a break when he spied a nervous Kirkland stand up in his seat, pick up his glass of ginger ale and shuffle over to the microphone, clearing his throat several times in preparation for fulfilling his final Best Man obligation.
The guests quieted down, turning in their chairs and away from the food, focusing their attention on the very uncomfortable looking teen who, honestly, would have preferred they just keep eating. Sitting next to Spencer, Alice flashed Kirkland a reassuring smile, and Grant shot him a quick thumbs up.
"Uhm," Kirkland began, recoiling a bit at the mike's hissing feedback. "When I first said yes to being Spencer's Best Man, I didn't know about the giving a toast part thing. And by the time I found out, they'd already ordered the suit."
A small scatter of laughter rose up from the audience, which made him blush furiously and sneak a furtive peak at the closed doors at the far end of the hall.
"I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say. I mean, it's not like I have any advice to give about being married. I figure Spencer already knows a lot more than I do about life and how to get it right and everything."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Grant whispered furtively to Marley, who stifled a laugh behind her palm and slapped him playfully on the shoulder.
"So, instead, I went on-line, and I found this toast. It's Irish. 'Cause, you know, he's Irish." Kirkland paused for a moment, as if the notion just hit him. "I guess I am, too." A declaration that seemed to make Spencer prouder than anything he'd said previously.
Kirkland pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and proceeded to read, with great solemnity, "May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light./May good luck pursue you each morning and night./ May your troubles be less and your blessings be more./ And nothing but happiness come through your door./ May your neighbors respect you, trouble neglect you./The angels protect you, and heaven accept you."
Relieved to be done, Kirkland looked up from the sheet to realize that his earlier wish had been granted. The spotlight had been lifted off him. While he'd been zealously focused on the toast, the majority of the assembled had swiveled their heads, shifted in their chairs, and were now looking toward the same doors Kirkland had longed for earlier.
Police Chief Toni Burrell, along with a pair of uniformed officers, had entered, and all three were making their way, briskly and efficiently, between the tables, headed straight for the newlyweds.
"Now, see here," Spencer rose. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Dad..." Grant reached across Alice to pull Spencer back, his tone cautionary, warning his father to play it cool, not make a scene, the Harrisons were rather used to moments like these.
But, as it turned out, Chief Burrell and her minions weren't interested in Spencer.
"Alice Frame," Toni began, her voice flat. "You are under arrest for the Physician Assisted Suicide death of Gregory Hudson...."
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