"Cass?" Frankie stared at her uncharacteristically silent husband through the prison glass. "Did you hear what I said?"
"Yeah," he finally answered in a weary, apologetic voice. "Dean wants Lori Ann back. He wants to be her father." Cass looked away, studying the line of men in similar, gray garb sitting on either side of him, talking through the same, moldy, black phone, feeling just as weary, just as apologetic, just as useless. When he turned back to Frankie, Cass proposed, "I say we let him."
Frankie blanched. "Cass! She's our daughter!"
"She's Dean's daughter. You said it yourself when we first adopted her, we were taking care of her for Dean. That when he returned, his daughter would be waiting for him."
"I know what I said!" Frankie seethed, furious at Cass for using her own words against her. "But, he's in no shape to.... He has no idea how to be a parent to a child, much less a child with Lori Ann's medical needs."
"He can learn. We did."
"When Lorna and Jamie found him, Dean was holed up in an empty apartment, living on ramen noodles and beer. Does that sound like someone mentally fit to take care of a sick, little girl?"
"If you'd seen me alone with Charlie in the beginning," Cass said softly. "You wouldn't have thought I'd be up to it, either."
"No, Cass! No! I will not sit here and listen as you try to justify giving Lori Ann back to Dean when you and I both know he is nowhere near the father Lori Ann needs!"
"And I am?" Cass challenged with a broken sob. "Frankie, look around you. Look at where we are! What kind of father can I be to Lori Ann when she only sees me once a month and on holidays?"
"Cass, we've talked about this. We're making it work. We're staying a family!"
"You've talked about it, Frankie. The rest of us are going along because... because you've given us no other choice. But, Lori Ann deserves better. And she can have better. With Dean. He can be there for her on a daily basis, like it's supposed to be."
"And what about me? What about Charlie? Where do we fit into all of this?"
"Dean would never cut you out of Lori Ann's life. Not as close as you two have always been. You are still going to be the nearest thing to a mother Lori Ann has. And Charlie will still be her big sister."
"It's not the same," Frankie shook her head, tears spilling from her eyes. "It... you and I were supposed to raise Lori Ann. Together. She was our second chance. We were going to make up for everything we lost when...."
"I know," Cass nodded grimly. "But, I'm sorry, Frankie, that dream is over. It died the day I walked into this place. We have to do what's right for Lori Ann now. And I truly believe the best thing for our daughter is to let Dean be her father again. We have to let her go. You have to let her go."
"And I should listen to you because, what? You've been so right about everything else up to this point?"
"You think I'm happy about this? I'm not. Especially when I see how much it's hurting you."
"Don't you dare patronize me," Frankie warned. "Don't. You. Dare. I came here hoping, believing you'd help me figure out a way to keep our family intact. Instead, you did what you always do."
"Which is?" Cass asked coldly, comprehending, though no longer caring that he was picking a fight.
The words tripped frighteningly easily off Frankie's tongue, aided by her surging anger. "Which is: You make a mess, then leave me to clean up and suffer the consequences. You always let me down, Cass. You tell me I can count on you, you make some big, romantic, dramatic gesture to illustrate the point in theory, and then, when the chips are really down, you throw up your hands helplessly and try to coast on a smile. While I do all the heavy lifting. And the biggest losing. Kathleen. Carl. And, of course, the piece de resistance, Cecile."
"I took care of Cecile," he reminded grimly, indicating their surroundings. "I did away with her once and for all."
"After I'd lost over ten years of my life to a mental hospital, to drugs, to torture. After I lost ten years with my daughter. You could have prevented it, Cass. You could have prevented all of it. If only you'd gotten serious for a moment and stopped treating Cecile like she was some minor inconvenience that you, quite frankly, enjoyed flirting with, instead of the obsessed, psychotic, dangerous threat she so obviously was to us all!"
"I didn't know," he pleaded. "How could I have known, Frankie?"
"She kidnapped you! She had her own daughter kidnapped to make a buck! And it never crossed your mind that Cecile might get it in her head to come after me? That she might want to hurt me? You truly, never for a minute, thought her capable? Did she really have you so blinded to her true nature courtesy of her charms and your warm, fuzzy memories of the good old days? Or did you just not want to see it? Because then, you might be expected to actually do something? And that's just not Cass Winthrop's style."
"I don't think so," Jen grabbed Allie by the shoulder as the latter tried to brush by her indiscernibly, without making eye contact, in the outdoor Quad of Bay City U.
"I'm guessing you talked to GQ," Allie struggled to keep her voice strong when she turned to face Jen, both their breaths hitting the air as November puffs of frosty steam.
"Once he finally got over the shock of your latest stunt and actually could talk, yeah." Jen shook her head in wonder. "To think, I actually defended you to him...."
"I didn't ask you to defend me." Allie poked her chin up defiantly. "I don't need you to defend me. I can take care of myself."
"Is that a fact? Then why did you need Gregory to help lie about who Hudson's father really was? And why did you rope my father into your criminal fraud? Finally, how come it took Gregory, Steven, Sarah, GQ and me to not only deliver that little boy, but also to help you and Gregory pull off your ill-advised ode to Romeo & Juliet? Except, funny how it happened, you somehow still ended up standing at the end?"
"I never asked for your help."
"No. But you didn't turn it away, either. You used all of us; your best friend, your cousin, the man whose baby you stole "
"I didn't steal Hudson. He was my baby, and I did what I thought was best for him."
"The definition of which has now been expanded to include sending his father to prison? Do you even know anything about prison, you stupid, spoiled, over-privileged... Nobody comes out of jail the same person they were when they went in. It warps folks and it ruins them and sending any person there, especially an innocent person, is the same thing as killing them, even if their body still keeps breathing for another fifty years. Do you get that? Did you even take a moment to think about that? Do you really believe that ruining a man's life, taking away his freedom in order to justify your mistake not to mention sticking the knife just a little bit deeper into the guy who dumped you is really what's best for Hudson in the long run?"
"Yes," Allie answered the only thing she could under the circumstances, not just for Jen's benefit, but for the benefit of all those eavesdropping around them, even while pretending they weren't. "I wouldn't expect you to understand. Hudson isn't your kid "
"No," Jen agreed. "But, he's the kid I was. You're the one who doesn't understand what you've done to him."
"GQ is trying to take him away from Rick and Mindy, not me."
"Save it," Jen snorted in disgust. "I can't stand to listen to one more syllable of your self-righteous bullshit. If you truly feel you can justify everything you've done to GQ and your son, then all I can say is: Hudson's lucky you were self-aware or, more likely, self-centered enough to realize that you are in no way, shape or form fit to bring up a child. That boy deserves better than anything you have to offer. Hopefully, whoever does end up raising him be it the Bauers or GQ or feral wolves will be able to compensate for the multiple personality deficiencies he may have been unfortunate enough to inherit from you."
"What's going on here?" Steven, having caught in his peripheral vision while crossing campus Allie being reamed out by... someone, was surprised to approach and discover that Jen was the one dishing it out. "Who did what to whom now?"
"No," Jamie said. He didn't thunder, he didn't shout, he didn't even raise his voice. Yet, his resolve was categorical. "No. It's way too early to make a decision like that."
"Except that every day we wait," Morgan challenged, looking to Abel for back up. "The procedure becomes more complicated, more risky, and Lorna grows weaker, to boot."
"We have time," Jamie insisted.
"No." Now it was Felicia who disagreed, and she actually did shout. "That's what you told me with Jenna. You told me there was time. You said to put the baby ahead of her. And my daughter died."
"This isn't the same thing," Jamie struggled to remain calm. "Lori Ann was on the cusp of being viable. We just needed to give Jenna some shots to make the fetal lungs mature quicker. Lorna's baby isn't anywhere near term."
"Which is why the procedure is much simpler in this case," Morgan put in. "The potential harm to Lorna is negligible. The potential benefits are near infinite."
"First of all," Jamie spun around, figuring now would be an excellent time to ask Morgan what business he thought he had even listening to, much less participating in their discussion. "Stop calling it a procedure. It's an abortion. Let's all be really clear about that. With minimal concrete evidence, you are advocating aborting Lorna's baby "
"Your baby," Felicia interrupted. "Your baby, Jamie. How can you possibly be expected to make a clear-headed decision about what's best for Lorna, when it's your baby we're talking about, too?"
"I could say the same thing about you, Felicia," he shot back.
"Okay, hold on now, Jamie, both of you, please, hold on," Lucas attempted to intercede.
"You're right," Felicia agreed, somewhat frenetic. "Lorna is my child. She is my only living child. You have other children, Jamie. You and Lorna can have other children. But, she needs to be awake, she needs to be alive, first!"
"There are alternatives," Jamie stubbornly insisted. "Medications we can try to bring down the inflammation and swelling, which is much more likely to be causing the coma than a 10 week old fetus."
"We thought so too, at first," Abel admitted. "But, that doesn't seem to be the case. I've had several neurologists in to "
"Not to mention," Morgan pointed out. "The kinds of dosages we're talking about here, ones that would actually make a difference in whether or not Lorna wakes up, would be severely teratogenic for the baby."
"So we'll start with the minimum prescribed amount."
"Which would be pointless and, again, waste time we just don't have. The longer Lorna stays unconscious, the greater the odds of permanent brain damage. Face it, Jamie, the baby isn't viable under any circumstances. We either abort now, or face a spontaneous abortion down the road, where it would be much, much worse for Lorna physically. Or we just sit around, do nothing, and wait for Lorna to die. And take the baby with her."
"Lorna has wanted this child for a very long time," Jamie pleaded, making his desperate appeal to the group at large. "You can't just snap your fingers and take it away from her. Long before I came into the picture, Lorna has wanted a baby."
"Not this baby," Morgan's voice shook as he made his pronouncement, prompting the rest of them to turn in his direction.
"What are you talking about?" Jamie demanded. "What do you know about any of this?"
"I know that, if we hadn't come into the Emergency Room, you'd never have known that Lorna was pregnant."
"Don't be ridiculous," Jamie scoffed. "I told you, I already knew before... "
"What's going on?" Felicia leapt in, utterly lost but determined not to stay that way. "What do you mean?"
"You may have known that Lorna was pregnant. But, she didn't realize you knew. And, trust me, she never intended to tell you."
"That's a hell of a lot of wool to pull over a guy's eyes for nine months," Jamie observed.
"Lorna didn't tell you she was pregnant?" Felicia double-checked. "For God's sake, why not?"
"Because," Morgan answered in Jamie's place. "Lorna was planning to abort this baby no matter what."
"Mom? We're ready!"
Rachel looked up from where she was sitting, scanning the same paragraph on her Kindle over and over again, pretending that, this time, she might actually absorb the words and comprehend what she was allegedly reading, to see Elizabeth come bursting into the room, followed by Amanda, both of them carrying their coats and purses.
It took Rachel a moment, and then, in a flash, she exclaimed, "Oh! I'm so sorry, girls! I completely forgot!"
"But, we always go shopping the day after Thanksgiving," Elizabeth sounded more puzzled than upset. "How could you forget?"
"I took the whole day off just for this," Amanda prompted in solidarity.
"I'm sorry," Rachel repeated, a bit more piqued this time. "It's just that, with everything happening with Jamie..."
"Has Lorna's condition changed?" Amanda wondered.
"Not that I've heard." Noting the irritation on her daughters' faces, Rachel gave back in exasperated kind, pointing out, "You know, taking into account what your brother is going through right now, you both could be a little less petulant "
"What would you like us to do, Mom?" Amanda asked reasonably. "You're the one who told us Jamie didn't want to see or hear from anyone. How would Elizabeth and I sitting around, chewing our nails and furrowing our brows help anybody?"
"Did it occur to you that it might help me?" Rachel challenged. "That I am going out of my mind with worry "
"But, what purpose would our worrying along with you serve?" Elizabeth echoed Amanda's reasonable tone, which only succeeded to make Rachel even angrier.
She stood up, informing the pair, "I expected better from you both," before striding out of the room.
They watched her go, turning to exchange looks equal parts exasperation and insolence once the door closed. After a beat, Amanda casually inquired of Elizabeth, "Want to go shopping anyway? Just the two of us?"
"Sure," Elizabeth shrugged. They'd never done it before, but, why not? A sister was a sister, even if she was a million years older. "Is Allie coming along, too?"
Amanda shook her head. "Allie isn't too crazy about her mom, at the moment."
"I'm familiar with the feeling." Elizabeth rolled her eyes, the adolescent gesture in direct conflict with the sophistication of her phrasing. "You know, if we'd been Matt or Cory, Mom wouldn't have gotten furious like that."
Amanda sighed and, after considering it for a moment, took her sister by the hand and pulled Elizabeth to perch down next to her on the window-seat overlooking the North Garden. She said, "I'm pretty sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know you're a smart kid; too smart for your own good, at times, but, thank God, that's not my problem you're smart enough to have figured out by now that Mom... Mom is kind of all about her boys. And Jamie is right there at the top of the list."
Elizabeth stared at Amanda expressionlessly for a moment, and then she confessed, "I thought I was imagining it. Father keeps telling me I'm imagining it."
"My dad kept me telling me that, too. Even when the evidence was right there for everybody to see. My Grandmother Ada, though, the one you're named after, she had this way of not sugarcoating things. She wasn't mean, but she was honest. One day, after Mom and I had gone at it over... I don't remember what, all I remember was that Matt got away with a hell of a lot more than I ever did, and it wasn't just because he was a couple years younger. I came crying to Grandma, asking, "What's so great about stupid boys, anyway?" And you know what she told me?"
"What?" Elizabeth pretended like she didn't really care one way or the other. She failed.
"Grandma told me, "What's so great about boys, is your mother doesn't look at Jamie or Matthew and see every mistake she ever made, angling for a second crack at bat."
"That's stupid," Elizabeth decreed.
"Doesn't matter. Put it together with Mom feeling guilty over the head-games she played with both Jamie and Matt about who their real dads turned out to be, and they're the chosen ones."
"What does that make us then?"
"The ones who'd better be perfect, to make up for all her faults."
"I didn't sign up for that gig," Elizabeth pouted.
"Neither did I," Amanda sympathized. "Sometimes well, my therapist and I have been talking about this for oh, about a decade now; so I guess a little more frequently than sometimes but, I wonder if I didn't get pregnant at eighteen just so Mom could quit trying to force me into her holy paragon mold. I figured the sooner I showed her the halo didn't fit, the sooner she'd give up and lay off."
"For real?" Elizabeth cocked her head.
The juvenile query prompting Amanda to stammer, "Oh, gosh, that was... that was really inappropriate of me. I'm sorry, you just sound so damned grown up nuts, there I go again so darn grown up, I forget you're still a... never mind. Don't listen to me. I'm just talking nonsense."
"Actually," Elizabeth corrected. "You're the first person in this house I've heard making any kind of sense in a pretty darn long time."
"Isn't it a bit soon for you to come to me on bended knee asking for favors, Harrison?" Chase sized up his freshly appointed Fathers' Rights Task Force leader. "How about you let me break in a good groove on my new City Hall desk, first?"
"My apologies," Grant conceded with an appropriate for the occasion awkward and acquiescent smile. "I realize how improper this is. In my defense, however, this consideration isn't actually directed towards the Mayor Elect, but rather to the sitting District Attorney."
"Consideration?" Chase made it sound like his least favorite word on the SATs.
"Although, it is possible that I am completely overreacting. Between the internal sensor that was installed in our brains in law school to fire off whenever we detect the whiff of a potential legal landmine, and my personal interest, not to mention the open faith and respect you've shown me in extending the invitation to join your administration "
"Oh, this must be a doozy of a consideration," Chase groaned.
"Not so much a doozy as...somewhat complicated."
"If you would kindly get to the point? My swearing in is in six weeks."
"The night of our election, my campaign made a fleet of cars available for our volunteers. Unfortunately, an aide yet to be identified... damaged the car."
"Damaged?" Chase sprang to full alert. "As in the sort of damage one would incur with a hit and run? Such as the one Lorna Devon and Morgan Winthrop were involved in?"
"Possibly. I didn't see the car myself, but I was told "
"Where is the car now?"
"It was returned to the rental agency. After the damage was repaired," he dropped the final complication, then all but stood back to watch the resulting bomb go off.
"So any evidence that the city's lab techs would've found on the car "
"Has been tainted, if not out and out destroyed. I'm sorry, Chase. As soon as I found out what happened, I came straight to you."
He didn't appear particularly honored. "And you are seriously telling me that you had nothing to do with the cover-up of a potential crime executed by your own people?"
"I know how it looks. But, if I'd had anything to do with the cover-up, why would I be here, telling you about it? As soon as I found out what Lila did "
"You know Lila?"
Chase sheepishly admitted, "I loved the look of your campaign posters. Very unique, fresh, I knew it wasn't some old political hack. I had one of my people look into who'd designed them, and the name that came back was Lila Hart."
"Yes, well, Lila was also in charge of the cars. Assigning them to the volunteers and dealing with their return to the rental agency the morning after. She's a woman of many talents."
"So Lila Hart decided to have the damaged car secretly restored and returned to the rental agency? Why?"
"She was trying to protect me," Grant explained, deftly avoiding actually answering the questions. "Even though the campaign was over, Lila thought any negative publicity would still reflect badly. Since the driver managed to return the car, she assumed that they were not hurt in any way..."
"What's that old saying about assuming...?"
"She had the car repaired and returned. She was then going to perform her own internal search to discover the culprit and deal with them herself. And then "
"Ms. Hart became aware of Ms. Devon and Dr. Winthrop's accident," Chase finished.
"Precisely. Lila came to me and explained the situation. As I said, I was shocked and disappointed to learn she'd acted in such an irresponsible manner on my behalf and explained to her that it would be best for everyone if we were to come forward. Especially since there is a strong possibility that the car from our campaign has no connection to the accident. "
"I'm not a big believer in coincidences. We haven't found any other damaged cars. You realize, of course, that the detectives on the case will have to interview Ms. Hart."
"I expected as much. But may I respectfully request that you understand Lila meant no malice with her actions. I truly believe her intentions were simply to protect a friend. Please take that into consideration when you question her and when contemplating taking any action."
"Intent only counts in hate crimes, Grant a legislation I lobbied against, by the way."
"I know. I watched your campaign commercials."
"Good or bad intentions aside I don't care what was going through a person's head; that's un-American, all I care about is if I can prove what they did Ms. Hart tampered with evidence. That makes her an accessory after the fact for what is, at best, vehicular assault and at worst... if Lorna Devon's condition doesn't improve..." Chase sighed at Grant with an admiring shake of his head. "You must be one hell of a terrific friend for the lady to extend herself to the degree she has. Because, I'm sorry, there's just so much I have control over... Ms. Hart is in serious trouble. Make sure she understands that. And hires herself a damn good lawyer."
"You son of a bitch," was all Jamie could spit out. "Where do you get off... How can you say..." Unable to finish his thought in any manner that wouldn't be utterly absurd, not to mention beneath his dignity to acknowledge, Jamie, voice choked with rage, could only taunt furiously, "Why? Why, Morgan? Why in the world would Lorna want to have an abortion?"
"Because," Morgan answered calmly. "The baby isn't yours. It's mine."
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