Waking up first, Sarah curled up against Steven's back, sleepily reaching her arm around, stroking his chest and moving her hand downward, only to have a suddenly alert Steven recoil from her touch and spring out of bed.
"What's the matter?" Sarah sat up, confused. "What's wrong?"
He spun around, standing at the center of his dorm room in just his pajama bottoms, glaring at Sarah as if what she'd attempted was revoltingly inappropriate.
"Steven..." Sarah began hesitantly, sensing that something had imperceptibly changed, desperate to figure out what it was so that she could prepare her counter-offensive. "I don't understand. Why are.... Why are you acting like this? Did I do something..."
He smirked, but the contempt seemed more inward than outward directed. He asked her, "What's the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan?"
She swallowed hard. "Wh-what did you say?"
Steven didn't reply. His "you heard me the first time" utterly implied.
"I don't I don't know what you're..."
"Did you or did you not make a bet with Allie, over a year ago, that you could make me fall in love with you?"
"Who would tell you something like that?" Sarah ducked his question.
"Oh," Sarah sagged with relief. "GQ! GQ is furious at me because I chose to stand by Allie. He's furious at you, too. He'd say anything to make me look bad in front of you."
"All GQ did was tell me the truth. Something he wishes had been done for him. Now everybody thinks he's the bad guy for trying to take Hudson away from the only parents the kid knows, when GQ is a victim here, too. The problem could have been avoided, if Allie or anybody had just told him the truth."
"You believe him?" Sarah beseeched. "Over me?"
"I haven't heard you deny it, yet."
"I love you, Steven. You know that."
"Also not a denial."
"Damn it, stop acting like such a... such a... drone."
He declined to take her advice, crossing his arms. "I'm waiting."
"So, that's it? We're together for over a year, you claim to love me. And all it takes is a couple words from your spiteful, so-called friend, and you turn on me like this?"
"Answer me, Sarah," he wasn't exacting anymore, he was practically begging. But, he also wasn't backing down.
"Yes!" she shrieked. "Yes, I made a bet with Allie. There, are you happy? Now, I've got a question for you: What Goddam difference does it make? You did fall in love with me, don't you dare deny it."
"I don't," he said calmly, the louder Sarah got, the quieter Steven grew.
"And I fell in love with you. Who cares how it started? The only thing that matters is what it is now, what we mean to each other now."
"GQ said that the central tenant of the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan is that any guy can be caught, as long as you transform yourself into his ideal woman. That's why you froze Allie out for all those months. You didn't want her telling me that you were faking it."
"I wasn't," Sarah swore. "That was only in the beginning."
"You lied to me."
"You pretended to be a completely different person from who you really were. How is that not lying?"
"I just wanted to make you happy. Come on, like people don't do it a million times a day when they're dating? You go see movies you wouldn't otherwise see; you eat food you wouldn't otherwise eat. It's all part of the game."
"All part of the game?" Steven repeated, emphasizing the last word.
"Why are you acting like this? Everybody does it."
"Yeah," Steven agreed. "They do. I've watched my whole life. That's why I don't."
"I'm not sick, I'm a felon," Alice reminded Spencer lightly when she awoke to find him hovering above her bed, a three course lunch on a tray in his hands.
"Are you hungry?" he ignored her observation to cut to the basics.
"Famished," she admitted.
He gestured for her to move over and, once Alice had sat up against the headboard, set the tray across her lap, climbing into bed next to her. "Did you get any rest?"
"I'm fine," she assured him. "None the worse for wear."
"You gave me quite a scare," he slipped an arm around her waist.
"I'm sorry, darling. For a great many things. I suspect this isn't quite the honeymoon you had in mind?"
"You are out of that hellhole "
"That's the only thing I care about."
"What about the election?" Alice sliced into her grilled chicken salad. "How is Grant doing?"
"Early results haven't started coming in yet. I called a few people, but there isn't enough trustworthy data so far." Spencer cleared his throat and asked Alice, "Gregory Hudson was the patient you told me about, the one whose bravery inspired..."
"Me to bare my soul to you, yes."
"Then I owe that boy absolutely everything, don't I?"
"He was a remarkable young man by all reports. And the rest of the kids... I've been at a lot of deathbeds. It's a grueling experience, physically, mentally, emotionally. The fact that they were able to band together... they should be proud. So should their parents."
"I don't think pride is precisely the sentiment Mr. Hamilton is attempting to stir up with the public. Amanda did her best, the coverage overall stayed away from the sensational. But, some of the reports, I'm afraid, are quite brutal."
"I gave up caring what other people thought about me a long time ago. I am worried about what this might mean for Russ as Chief of Staff, for Jamie, since, to some people, one Dr. Frame is as good or as culpable as another, and for Grant, too. But, I'm not worried about myself."
"I won't let you go to jail," Spencer said as calmly as if he were offering Alice a second glass of orange juice. "No matter what I need to do, I will not allow that to happen."
"Sarah?" Marley called out to the younger woman through the constantly pulsing throng of harried campaign workers and aides, Marley's welcoming smile faltering as she took in the devastated look Sarah's face. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Steven dumped me," Sarah glanced around. "I'm sorry, I know you're busy but... I couldn't think of where else to go."
"Come with me," Marley guided Sarah past Grant and Donna, who both only paused long enough to cast a curious glance at the pair, before turning back to whatever they'd been discussing earlier in front of Jeanne's ubiquitous video feed.
Marley led Sarah into Grant's private office and shut the door behind them. "Okay, I'm listening. Tell me what happened."
"We had a fight." Sarah said, and then clammed up. Marley waited patiently, until the uncomfortable silence forced Sarah to elaborate. "About how, when we first started dating, I wasn't exactly honest about why... I See, I kind of began dating him on a bet."
"A bet," Marley repeated dully, the word stirring up memories she'd really overall prefer to keep buried.
"You know, like what my dad did to Dr. Frame and you..." she said apologetically, looking down at the floor, then peeking back up at Marley.
"You know about that?" Marley groaned. There went the buried option.
"Kind of. My mom used to throw it in his face whenever she wanted to remind him about what a jerk he'd been back then. Or when he'd compare her to you. She said that's how she always knew he wasn't father material. And how she was sorry she ever gave him the chance to prove her right."
"That couldn't have been a lot of fun for you," Marley offered.
"Whatever," Sarah dismissed. "Except I guess Steven hates me now as much as "
"Steven doesn't hate you."
"You didn't see his face. First, he looked like I'd gutted him. And then, it's like I wasn't even in the room. Like he'd erased me or something."
"I know the look," Marley sympathized. "And I know what it's like to have the man you love think that you deliberately tried to hurt him."
"How can I make Steven understand that I didn't mean it? That's it's not fair to take one mistake, something I did a long time ago and am sorry about now, and allow it to mess up everything that's happened since then?"
"I don't know. If I did, my life would be a lot different right now."
"You and Dr. Frame never did get past my Dad messing with you, did you?"
"No. But, that part wasn't your dad's fault. It was mine. Dennis didn't stop me from fighting for Jamie. I did that. I let Jamie go. Because I was tired of everything being so damned hard. Tired and frustrated. So I went with the path of least resistance."
"And you haven't been happy since." It wasn't a question.
"Don't be like me, Sarah," Marley urged. "If you truly love Steven, don't let him go so easily. Let him heal, give him time and space and whatever else he needs, but don't give up on your relationship. Try to believe in it enough for the two of you."
"Does that ever work?" Sarah asked skeptically.
"I don't know. You tell me." Marley gave Sarah a hug. "All I know is trying and failing beats a lifetime of regret, no matter which way you slice it."
Marley kept her encouraging smile up until Sarah had turned around and left the office, blending back into the crowd. Only then did Marley allow the facade to crumble and the predictable waves of loss and regret to come sweeping out. For a time, they'd been her constant companions. But, lately, she'd managed to suppress them so successfully, that Marley actually allowed herself to believe they'd been banished for good.
Marley still had a million things to do for Grant; the first set of returns hadn't even come in yet. Unfortunately, she didn't feel like tackling any of it. The tiredness and frustration she'd invoked for Sarah had obviously done a number on her susceptible mind, turning words into actual sensations.
Pretending she didn't hear Donna calling her name from across the room, Marley stepped out into the dusk, shivering slightly in the crisp Fall air.
Why was she here? What was she doing? Since when was a madhouse like this her type of scene? Marley looked through a window and realized that while she knew everyone in the room, she didn't strictly know anybody. And certainly none of them knew her.
She needed to get away. Clear her head. But, Marley's car wasn't here. She'd come in the morning with Grant. And now she was trapped. Dependent. Stuck.
Marley looked at the fleet of volunteer cars at the far corner of the lot and remembered Lila's terribly efficient clipboard. But, the cars were there for anyone who needed one. And Marley most certainly needed one right now.
Screw Lila. Marley got in the front seat, flipping the key hanging idly in the ignition. Screw everybody.
"There you are, darling!" Rachel greeted Amanda in the foyer when her daughter finally made it home by dinnertime. "You were out all night. I was worried about you."
"I was on the phone. I think I talked to the editor of every newspaper and magazine in the state of Illinois, trying to get them to go easy on Alice. I called in a lot of favors. And I owe a hell of a lot more back now." Amanda hung up her coat. "But, it was worth it. Most of them were willing to at least entertain Alice's side of the story."
"I'm sure she'll be very appreciative of your efforts."
"I just hope they end up doing some good."
"Is Kevin defending her?"
Amanda nodded. "He and Spencer spent all night at the station. They finally released Alice on bail a few hours ago."
"What, Mom?" She tuned around, hands on hips, bracing for a fight.
"Drop the tone, young lady," Rachel was in no mood for attitude. "No matter how tired you are, I am still not the enemy, here."
"Sorry," Amanda mumbled. "I just... It's been a long.... What were you going to say?"
"I was going to say that it would probably be best for you to hire a new attorney for Allie as soon as possible. Maybe you and Jamie would like to employ someone from the Cory corporate stable for both Allie and Steven. If not, perhaps Mike Bauer or "
"Why would I get Allie a new attorney? Kevin hasn't said anything about quitting."
"His representing Alice is an obvious conflict of interest."
"How? They're all charged with the same crime."
"No, they aren't. Alice is a doctor, her indictment is much more severe than theirs. Not to mention the fact that Allie and Steven will need to testify against her."
"No way," Amanda said. "If they're were going to turn on Alice, they could have done it weeks ago. Clearly, the kids aren't interested."
"Which is precisely why they need their own attorney, to explain to them why they should get interested, and quickly."
"I'm not going to let you do this, Mom."
"Do what? Protect my grandchildren?"
"At another person's expense."
"Alice is guilty. Even she isn't denying it. If anyone should be laying down the law here, it should be me forbidding you from sacrificing your daughter and your nephew to protect the grandmother of a man who certainly wouldn't do the same for you."
"You think this is about Kevin?"
"You have been pursing him rather fruitlessly, may I add for months now. If you think this will endear you to him well, quite frankly, I don't care whether it will or not. I won't allow it."
"This is none of your business, Mom. And I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts, Jamie says the same thing. These are our kids, not yours. And Alice has been Jamie's friend much longer than she has been mine. He's not going to sell her out."
"If that's the case, then you'll both be making a tragic, foolish, misguided, selfish mistake. That your children will end up paying for."
Amanda threw her hands up in the air. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. And don't you dare go bringing it up to Allie, either. She has enough to worry about these days." Amanda stomped up the stairs without another word.
Rachel wondered whether or not to follow her, to try and make her see reason, but then realized now wasn't the time. They were both too upset, the situation could only escalate and that wouldn't be good for anyone, most especially not Allie or Steven.
She turned around, intending to return to the dining room, but found Carl blocking her path. He'd apparently heard at least some part of her confrontation with Amanda, and now he had only one question for Rachel, "Tell me, my dear, how did Bay City's finest seize upon the notion to zero their investigative tentacles onto one Dr. Alice Frame?"
"Have you considered names yet?" Parked at a red light, Morgan momentarily took his eyes off the road to look at Lorna, sitting in the passenger seat of her own car, glaring in pained silence out the window. "Luckily, Morgan works for a boy or a girl."
"Stop talking," she ordered, her voice steely.
"Morgan Felicia Devon. I like that. It flows trippingly off the tongue."
"The only words I want to hear tripping off your tongue are: Yes, Lorna, I'll give you a divorce. Otherwise, shut up."
"I'm only doing this because I love you," Morgan tried to sound like he was kidding, but the inadvertent sincerity bled through in any case. At least, to his ears, if not Lorna's. "In that not precisely romantic but not utterly platonic, slightly unhealthy, co-dependent kind of way. I thought we had a deal. We'd protect each other for as long as anyone of the opposite sex could find either of us even remotely attractive. Then, in our dotage, we'd sit on rocking chairs and make fun of those saps still plugging away, still convinced that true love is out there for the finding. You can't bail out on our beautiful dream now... Wait, Lorna, are you crying? Oh, hell, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to "
"Don't flatter yourself. These tears have nothing to do with you. And everything to do with me, and how I always mange to screw up anything good that happens to me, just by being... me."
"You haven't screwed anything up."
"Oh, yeah? I'm with a great guy. A guy who was brutally honest with me from the start about everything he is. And how do I repay him? I lie to him about a little detail like, oh, yeah, did I forget to mention I was already married? I freak out at the sight of an engagement ring. I don't tell him I'm pregnant with a baby that we both really want, and all because "
"Because you know that, no matter how much you try to tell yourself otherwise, this isn't right. This isn't the life you want. This is some... interlude; a break from reality. A nice place to visit, but Lorna Devon would not want to live there."
"No!" She whipped around, willing to concede some points to him, but not that; never, ever that. "You're wrong. I've been lying to Jamie because I wanted to be able to say yes to his proposal without fearing lightening coming down and striking me dead on the spot. I wanted to tell Jamie about the baby without crunching the numbers and making sure that you and I could be divorced in time to make him or her legitimate. I wanted a perfect moment. Or, at least, my dumb idea of what a perfect moment should be."
"There is no such thing," Morgan reminded, not vindictively, seemingly as sad about the fact as she was. Only more realistic. "And there's nothing any of us can do about that. We can't force it to happen. We certainly can't stage-manage it."
"You're right," Lorna said, sitting up straighter, suddenly smiling.
"Finally!" Morgan slapped the wheel triumphantly with his hand. "You know, for a smart woman, you sure took your time... I blame the hormones."
"I was looking at this from completely the wrong angle... "
"Wait. Are we still talking about the same thing here?"
"There is nothing any of us can do to make a moment perfect. It either is or it isn't. And any moment I'm with Jamie, it's already perfect, no matter what else might be going on."
"Okay, definitely not talking about the same thing. I think you missed my point."
"Jamie loves me. He gets me. He'll understand why his insecure, neurotic girlfriend had an insecure, neurotic moment. He'll tease me about it for the rest of our lives, but he will understand. Everything. It's going to be okay, Morgan. I don't have anything to worry about. I never did."
"Quit it," he said. "Quit trying to play me. I did do a psychiatric residency in medical school. I know when someone is pulling the ol' reverse psychology. You think that if you act like you don't care, I'll give in because it won't be fun anymore. No dice."
"Just take me home, Morgan. I want to be there, waiting when Jamie gets back."
"And I'm supposed to believe that you're just going to tell him everything now?"
"Yes. Stay and watch, if you don't believe me. But, I warn you, Jamie probably won't want an audience around once we get down to really celebrating his birthday. And our engagement. And our baby."
"What? Each one requires it's own... celebration?
"Possibly more than one. Oh, and he also might deck you for being such an ass about the whole divorce thing. Before we start celebrating, not after."
"You're babbling," Morgan observed.
"I'm happy," she shrugged.
"That's never been a symptom before."
"Maybe I've never been truly happy before."
"I hate you, too," Morgan muttered.
"We had a pact. And now you're leaving me to become a soccer mom and drive a minivan and pack lunches with juice boxes in them. Fine. Go ahead. Go marry Jamie."
"What did you say?"
"I said: Go marry, Jamie. Move to the suburbs. Get fat. See if I care."
"Don't mess with a pregnant woman, Winthrop. Hormonal mood swings are a precedent defense in cases of justifiable homicide."
"Can't a guy have a mood swing too, once in a while?" he huffed. "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy. If Jamie makes you so happy he's got you babbling, who am I to stand in your way? If you've found a man you're not scared to be really yourself with, then, yeah, I guess he is the right man for you, after all."
"Really?" Lorna gulped.
"Thank you, Morgan, thank you," she flung her arms around his neck, kissing him fully on the lips even as the light finally turned green. "And I don't hate you anymore, either."
"Just remember, Morgan Felicia Dev Shit!"
Morgan grabbed at the wheel and slammed his foot onto the gas pedal, but it was too late to get out of the way of the vehicle that shot out of the dark, barreling down on top of them. It smashed into the passenger side, spinning Lorna's car sickeningly through the intersection and into the oncoming traffic.
Even with a seatbelt on, the recoil momentum of skidding to a stop ripped Lorna away from Morgan, despite his last minute attempt to grab for her, and flung Lorna back towards the door, her head slamming into the side-panel. A torrent of blood from the gash just below her hairline instantly poured down Lorna's face and flooded her eyes.
She was too shocked to scream, and Morgan too busy fumbling with his own seat-belt in order to get to Lorna and inspect the damage for either of them to notice the other driver.
As a result, Marley wasted no time shifting into gear and speeding away from the scene, too scared to look back or fully absorb the effect of her genuinely unintended action.
She'd gotten mixed up, that's all. Hit the gas instead of the brake. Because she'd been looking at the wrong light when it changed to green. Because the bulk of her attention had been focused on Lorna.
Lorna, who'd begged Marley not to tell Jamie about her being sick at Spencer and Alice's wedding. Lorna, who obviously hadn't yet told the man she allegedly loved about being pregnant. Lorna, who'd come back to Bay City and ruined everything.
Lorna, who'd been kissing Morgan....
"You're a jerk, you know that?"
GQ paused from shrugging into his coat, and looked up to see Sarah glowering at him as they stood at the exit of Grant's campaign headquarters. He guessed, "Steven finally dumped your ass, huh? Can't say I'm sorry. About time your and Allie's lies came home to roost."
"You had no right telling Steven anything."
"No fun having strangers getting all up in your business, is it? Think about that next time you're self-righteously supportive about Allie keeping me away from my son."
"GQ? Sarah?" Grant stepped up and forcefully between them. "Something wrong, kids?"
"We were just catching up," GQ explained pleasantly even as Sarah stalked off into the night. "I'm going to be heading out now. I've got a meeting scheduled with Hudson's adoptive parents. Not expecting much, but, we'll see. I really appreciate everything you've tried to do for me, Mr. Harrison."
"Everything I am going to do for you," Grant promised. "Win or lose tonight, I still intend to promote our cause. And help you get your son back. You have my word."
They shook hands on it and GQ stepped away with a wave, leaving Grant unusually alone for the moment.
This was it. Possibly his last chance to do something notable with his life before he was too old, too obsolete, too... defeated. His last chance to leave a legacy Kirkland could be proud of. (And maybe even prove a point to Spencer, too.)
"There you are," his son ran up to Grant's side, grinning with excitement. "Returns are starting to come in finally. You ready?
"No," Grant shook his head with a sigh.
"What's the matter? You scared or something?"
"I am," Grant told him honestly. "No matter how old one gets, the perennial fear of failure is always there, nipping at your heels."
"That's not a fear of failure," Kirkland deadpanned. "That's a fear of Elmo."
"Are you still planning on holding me to that?"
"Thinkin' about it."
Grant smiled and slung an arm around his shoulder. "Thank you for being here today, son. Just this moment, the two of us talking like this, has made everything worth it."
"What's with everybody thanking me? I wanted to be here. I wanted to see you win."
"And if I lose?"
"Then we'll do it again in four years. I'll be old enough to vote by then. Who knows, that could totally make the difference."
"You've already made a difference. To me. I don't know what I would do without you. Where I'd be... "
"Are you crying?"
"Absolutely not. I never cry."
"Spencer's wedding. I saw you."
"You're mistaken. Something flew into my eye."
"Uh-ha. Listen, no matter what happens tonight with the votes and everything, I just want you to know I had a blast. And I'm real proud of you. I'm proud to be your son... What? Something in your eye again?" Kirkland gave his father a playful shove, just before Grant pulled the boy into a quick hug, and they both turned to head back inside, where, as promised, the first results were just starting to come in.
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