Sharlene said, "If I had any answers for you, Frankie, don't you think I'd have used some of that good advice on myself, by now?"
"Sometimes," Frankie observed. "It's easier to see another person's problems clearer than your own."
"So, what are we talking about, here? A sort of Strangers on a Train arrangement," she laughed with absolutely no glee in her voice.
"Do you think I should give Lori Ann up?"
"Is this a joke? Asking me, of all people? Look at where we are," Sharlene indicated Gregory's tombstone. "Am I someone who would have any insight whatsoever about when or when not to quit holding on to your child?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that I didn't mean to upset you. I hate seeing you this way."
"I hate being this way," Sharlene confessed. "I told Alice the other day I wish my alters would come back. Take this pain away. Even John... even John's not on my side, anymore. He hasn't really been for a while. He said he would stick with me, he said he'd help me keep Gregory alive no matter what. He said I could count on him. I can't count on anyone. No one understands."
"There's nothing John can do now. There's nothing anyone can do."
"That's what they kept saying about Gregory's illness. But, we showed them. He lived longer than even the most optimistic, original prognoses. That wouldn't have happened if I'd given up on him. If I'd believed the doomsayers. I could have done it again, I know I could have. There were still treatments to be tried. There was still hope."
"Is that why you're suing Allie and the rest of them? Do you think that if you can get it declared a Wrongful Death, it'll prove "
"It'll prove that I loved him more," Sharlene said simply, fully aware of how unhinged she sounded.
"No one no one is doubting how much you loved your son."
"Oh, really? What else could it mean when I'm told, over and over and over again, that I didn't know what was best for Gregory? That Allie Fowler and Alice Frame knew what he needed better than I did?"
"It means that you loved him so much you couldn't see straight. It means that love is blind. It means that every cliche you can think of was coined for a reason."
Sharlene shook her head at that. "They all think they're better than me. They all think they banded together to protect Gregory from his horrible, grasping, controlling, deluded mother. They're the heroes. So that makes me the bad guy."
"You don't have to be," Frankie pointed out. "Instead of fighting it, you can grieve with them."
"How? How can I even pretend to sympathize, when I know that what Allie is feeling, John even, it's all nothing compared to what I'm going through?"
"I feel that way, too," Frankie said abruptly, changing the subject not because she wanted to distract from Sharlene, but because her aunt's words had illuminated her own position. "I railed at Cass the other day, when he said he thought Lori Ann would be better off with Dean. I accused him of not understanding what that would do to me. I accused him of not caring about our family as much as I did."
"It helps, doesn't it?" Sharlene asked wryly. "Thinking other people couldn't possibly be hurting as much as we are. Because if they were "
"Then why the hell weren't they doing anything to help?" Frankie finished.
"It's a lot easier to believe they didn't do enough..."
"Then to admit there was nothing to be done."
"Wake up!" Lila bellowed, jolting Grant awake from his slouched repose within the ground-floor study's largest leather chair.
He grimaced and blinked at the light. "No need to give me a heart-attack. Or blow out an eardrum. What time is it?"
Grant gulped as Lila plucked a sterling silver cigar cutter from his desk and brandished it threateningly. "Time for you to explain why you went to Hamilton and warbled like an overstuffed canary about our little car snafu?"
"I wanted to help. You were so determined to needlessly throw yourself on the pyre, I felt the least I should do, especially since you were in this mess because of me, was whatever I could to turn down the heat. Hamilton's the one who'll ultimately decide what to charge you with. I thought if I explained to him the circumstances ahead of time "
"Leaving out that you knew full well what I did, when I did it, and that you were the one who tried to talk me out of going to police? Don't you dare widen your eyes at me as if you're shocked and innocent of any wrongdoing. You have neither the lush eyelashes nor the sterling reputation of being an Honest Abe to pull it off! Chase Hamilton was most certainly under the impression that you came slithering to him as soon as you found out about what I did. Which we both know isn't true."
"Did you ever stop to think that he deliberately intended to give you that impression, in order to put us at each other's throats? Make us angry enough to get careless and give ourselves away over something more incriminating?"
"Like what? Neither you nor I know how that car got smashed up. How can we throw each other to the wolves when our only crime is stupidly trying to avoid bad press?"
"Hamilton isn't going to extend himself on our behalf no matter how charming and persuasive I may have been without making certain you and I aren't hiding something with the potential to leave egg on his newly elected face. However, since there is nothing for him to find, eventually he'll be satisfied that we were telling the truth, have mercy on your equally charming and persuasive self and send you on your way with nothing more than a stern wag of the finger."
"Sure. As long as that damned campaign car wasn't the one responsible for Lorna and Morgan's accident. If it is, all bets are off. I don't understand you, Grant. Why, after telling me not to, would you go to the DA without giving me a head's up? Why didn't you warn me he'd be coming a'hunting? I live with the Corys. What if Rachel or Matt or Jasmine had gotten wind of why Hamilton was there?"
"You'd tell them the truth. He was there to ask you about a damaged campaign car."
"Rachel and Matt can compute two and two. And Jazz is smarter than all the rest of us put together. I don't want any of them thinking, even for a minute, that I'm the one who put Lorna in her coma."
"I'm sorry," Grant pled sincerely. "If I had known Chase would be so bold as to approach you at the sacred Cory mansion, I most assuredly would have given you that head's up."
"I don't believe you," Lila said after a moment, and in such a hurt tone that Grant had to look away. "You're hiding something. And you're using me to do it."
"How can I convince you?"
"You can't, so you might as well quit trying. I couldn't stomach another pat and neat little answer. You've already got my BS detector shrieking so loudly I'm amazed the guard dogs ain't howling."
"Perhaps your detector needs a tune up?"
"Not when it comes to you. I know you too damn well. You've played straight with me up to this point, Grant. And I've appreciated it, too."
"That's because you're my friend. You are, quite frankly, the only person I wasn't related to or sleeping with who ever voluntarily gave me the time of day."
"I know. And I sincerely hope that, whatever it is you're up to, whomever it is you're covering for, they're worth it. Because you and I, Senator?" Lila rose from her perch on his desk, dropping the cigar cutter in Grant's lap. "We're done."
"Look me in the eye and tell me the truth, Fanny," stealing a moment as the sun rose outside before they returned to ICU in preparation for Lorna being taken into surgery, Lucas forced his wife to turn around and look at him, despite her best attempts not to. "Do you honestly, genuinely believe that our daughter's baby is, in fact, Morgan's? And that she intended to abort it, no matter what?"
"What does it matter?" Felicia demanded. "You heard the doctors. This is Lorna's best chance to pull through this. That's the only thing of any importance right now."
"It matters to Jamie."
"Because he's thinking about himself, and his wounded male ego, and marking his territory, instead of Lorna and what she needs."
"I don't care what that marriage license says. Lorna loves Jamie now. Period. You didn't see her face when she was willing to throw her whole life away and go on the run with him. I did. Or afterwards, when she came to visit me in jail. She was planning a future with Jamie. A family. She was urging me to fight and stay out of prison so I could stick around to enjoy my grandchildren. I'd never seen her happier."
"You've barely seen her anything," Felicia shot back, her nerves stretched to the breaking point, unable to take this nonsense anymore. "How long have you known Lorna, Luke? In real time, how long? Maybe eighteen months or so, twenty years ago. Most of which you spent hating her guts and warning her to keep away from us or else. And now, since you've been back. We've barely seen her. We don't actually know anything about what she's thinking or feeling. And you have no idea what makes her happy, or who. You disagree about my siding with Morgan. Fine. Disagree. Take Jamie's side. But, don't you dare suggest that you have any inkling of what Lorna would have wanted."
Lucas struggled to keep his feelings under control, understanding that one ill-chosen word or rebuttal had the potential to make the situation a million times worse. And he refused to do that to Lorna or Felicia. Still, he also refused to let go, "Do you or do you not believe the baby is Morgan's?"
"No!" Felicia practically barked, shattering the early morning stillness, advancing on Lucas until they were face to face, no longer shirking from anything. "There. Are you happy? No, I don't believe it. But, you know what? I don't care. Because I believe that Morgan has Lorna's best interests at heart. The same way I do. I believe that he wants her to wake up and recover and go on with her life."
"How is she supposed to do that, with her child gone?"
"How did I do it forty years ago?" Felicia challenged. "How am I doing it now?"
"Oh, Fanny.... No...."
"I found a way to go on," she repeated the words like a mantra, willing the universe into believing it. "So will Lorna."
"This is ridiculous!" Standing at the foot of Lorna's bed in ICU, Morgan slammed her chart against Jamie's chest and glared.
"I couldn't agree more," Jamie told him evenly.
Morgan flipped to the appropriate page, jabbing his finger accusingly. "She's been holding steady for days and now, suddenly, right before she's scheduled for surgery, her fever spikes? Isn't that convenient for you?"
"What precisely about any of this," Jamie wondered through clenched teeth. "Do you think is convenient for me?"
"She can't be operated on while feverish."
"She shouldn't be operated on, at all."
"She appears fine to me. No sign of elevated temperature."
"Wow. Diagnosis on sight, Dr. Winthrop? I guess the hospital wasted a ton of money purchasing actual equipment to get the job done."
Morgan returned to the chart, pointing out, "There's no indication of who originally jotted down the alleged fever. None of the nurses seem to recall doing it."
Jamie pointed at the clock on the wall. "Shift change."
"Would you drop it already? At least have the balls to cop to it now you've been caught. You obviously did this, Jamie. You might as well have initialed it yourself."
Russ Matthews stepped through the doors, catching sight of Morgan and coming directly over. "You paged me? What's the problem?"
"Dr. Frame falsified a patient's chart in order to keep her from receiving immediate treatment as specified by her attending physician."
Russ peered at the documentation closely, looking from Morgan to Jamie. "That's a pretty serious charge. Grounds for termination. You're sure this wasn't just an honest mistake? You have evidence of actual misconduct on Dr. Frame's part, Dr. Winthrop?"
"Who else could have done it? Who else had a reason to?"
"I don't know," Russ said. "I'm not a mind-reader."
Even though Russ hadn't been there for the Diagnosis-on-sight crack, Jamie couldn't help feeling like it was a callback, nonetheless.
"You know standard procedure, Dr. Winthrop. We'll take Ms. Devon's temperature again at regular intervals. Once we're sure there's no infection present "
"You can't keep this scam going for long," Morgan warned Jamie and promised, "I'll be back," prior to storming off in a huff.
Jamie didn't even bother watching him go. Instead, he pulled up a chair next to Lorna's bed and, same as he'd done every other time Jamie was let in to see her, took her hand in his, methodically stroking each of Lorna's fingers with his, willing her to exhibit a reaction, any kind of reaction, anything at all to prove that she knew he was there. And that she was on her way back.
Russ observed the scene silently for a moment. Then, with a bolstering squeeze to Jamie's shoulder, he turned to leave.
"Russ...." Jamie called out, the older doctor pausing and turning around. "I Thank you."
Russ smiled wistfully. "You were my first child, Jamie. Nothing your mother subsequently did could ever change that."
"I'm sorry," Allie began, her voice barely above a whisper. "I'm not sure what to call you. Is it still Dr. Frame, or Mrs. Harrison, or Dr...."
"It's Alice," the older woman corrected kindly, opening the door to let her visitor in. "What's wrong, my dear? What's happened?"
Allie continued to hover unsteadily in the doorway, looking about her nervously as though she expected to be overheard... or stopped. "I I didn't know where else to go."
"Then I'm glad you thought to come here," Alice said soothingly, despite still having no earthly idea what the trouble was. She slipped one hand around Allie's waist, peeled off her coat and, courteously but firmly, guided her into the sitting room. "It's cold out."
Allie said, "I wanted I needed to talk to somebody who was there. Who saw... I mean, the rest of them... Jen said...."
"Start at the beginning," Alice urged, taking the seat across from her. "What did Jen say to you?"
"I'm sorry, I know she's your...."
"What did she say?" Alice pressed.
"She said," Allie looked away, addressing some mythical listener past her left shoulder when she confessed, "Jen said I never loved Gregory."
"She said I was just using him. That everything I think I did for him, I did for me."
"Well," Alice mused. "That's often true. With everyone, hardly just you. We all act primarily in our own self-interest, even with the people we love."
"So you do believe I loved him?" she asked desperately.
"I can't tell you how you felt, Allie."
"He was so... nice. The nicest person I ever met. I didn't even really believe it, at first. I thought he was faking or something. But, he really was. He helped me with Hudson. And he stood up for me. With everybody. GQ, my mom. His parents. That last one... he really didn't have to. I don't know how anyone could not fall in love with someone like that. He made me feel like I wasn't... that bad. Like I was worth something."
"Then you are a very lucky young woman. Some people live their whole lives without ever feeling that way even once."
"I know. I know how lucky I was... am."
"But.... I don't think it was enough."
"For me," she owned up, the tears starting to flow, and Allie doing nothing to quell them. "I loved him, Dr. Fr Alice. I really, really did. The whole time we were together, though, I didn't I still didn't feel the same way about him as I had about.... "
She didn't have the guts to finish, so Alice timorously helped out, "GQ?"
Allie nodded, sobbing too hard now to speak, even if she'd wanted to.
Alice didn't say anything for a while, waiting for the initial hysteria to pass and Allie to regain a semblance of control, before Alice inched a little closer, close enough to stroke the distraught girl's damp hair and relay, "Your grandfather, Mac, was a wonderful man. One of a kind, a true gentleman. Just being in his presence could cheer you up not only about your own prospects, but that of the entire human race. I cared for him very, very much. I loved him. Once upon a time, I even agreed to marry him. But, the minute Steve that's Jamie's father came back into my life.... There was no contest. Not even a question of where my heart lay. Do you understand what I'm telling you, Allie?"
She sniffled. "Did my grandfather know?"
"On top of everything else, Mac was a very wise man. And gracious enough to liberate me from our engagement in a manner that allowed us both to save face, and even remain friends, of a sort."
"Bet Grandma loved that," Allie pulled herself together enough to snort.
"Your grandmother, despite her best efforts, had very little to do with Mac and I she had her own entanglement going on with Mitch Blake, at the time. And she certainly has no place in this conversation," Alice dictated firmly.
"I tried so hard to make sure Gregory never knew... never felt... But, he was so good at reading people, figuring stuff out even when nobody said or did anything. What if he did know? See, I don't really care what Jen thinks, or Steven or Gregory's mom and dad or anybody. But, I can't bear thinking that he... I couldn't bear to think that I hurt him."
"So you came for my opinion?"
"You were there. You saw. And you don't have an axe to grind with me. At least, not as big as some other people. Though, I guess I did get you into the most trouble of all."
"You didn't do anything to me," Alice corrected. "Jen was the one who asked me to help. And I was the one who made the decision to do so."
Allie nodded. "Okay, then. Yeah. I came for your opinion." She squared her shoulders, as if bracing for a blow.
Alice mused, "I don't think it's possible to love any two people in the exact same way, whether the relationship is romantic, familial, friendly... After all, we become slightly different depending on whom we're with, so how could the feelings be exactly the same? And different doesn't have to mean worse or less. It's just different."
"I've been asking myself since yesterday if Jen was right. Maybe everything I thought I did for Gregory because I loved him, I only did it out of guilt. Or worse. Because I was using him, just like she said."
"And what conclusion did you come up with?"
"I miss him so much, Alice. I didn't get a chance, at the end, to really feel much of anything. I was so busy trying to take care of him and make him comfortable and make sure he didn't see me upset or scared. But now, when I remember how awful it was for him, I feel like I'm going to throw up. I should have done more for him. I wish I could have done more for him. And yeah, maybe a little was because I felt I owed him. But, I did owe him. That's not the same as just guilt, is it? That doesn't mean I didn't really love him, does it?"
"I can't answer that," Alice reiterated. "I can't tell you what was in your head or in your heart, or why you did the things you did. Goodness, most of the time, I have trouble discerning my own motivations. What I can tell you, though, is that the boy I treated for a very short time this summer, was head over heels in love with you. He could barely move by the time I got to him, and still, he followed you with his eyes wherever you went. You said that Gregory was very good at intuiting things. I believe that. I've spent a lot of time with sick and dying patients. Once the surface trappings of life are stripped away and every day comes down to a battle for mere survival, it does present a clarity of vision the rest of us tend to lack. You said Gregory made you feel like you weren't as bad as you thought. Maybe it's because Gregory saw not the person you wanted others to think you were, not the person you were afraid you were, but the one you could be."
"Time's up," Morgan, with Felicia and Lucas watching their exchange through the glass leading into ICU, informed Jamie when a full hour had passed without a recurrence of Lorna's mysterious fever of unknown origin.
"I'm afraid he's right, Jamie," Abel reluctantly confirmed, and gestured for a pair of orderlies to move the patient onto a gurney for transportation to the OR.
"Don't do this," Jamie was back to pleading with Morgan, his dignity or anything else, really, that wasn't Lorna be damned. "You claim you love her. Don't do this to her. Give her a chance."
"I do love her," Morgan corrected. "This is me giving her a chance."
Jamie followed them down the hall, running ahead of the gurney without actually laying a finger on it or impeding their journey in any way. He had no intention of handing anyone the excuse to call security and remove him from the picture completely.
They were at the OR doors. He looked up to see Kevin all the way at the furthest end of the hall, running up, out of breath, a document rolled like a tube and fastened with rubber bands in his hand.
Kevin gauged the distance and, gambling he could make better time this way, chucked the papers, Hail Mary pass style, down the entire length of the corridor.
Jamie dove to catch them, already unrolling the cylinder as he stood up, heart pounding, sighing with relief as soon as he confirmed their contents. He shoved the legal order into Abel's hands, allowing Lorna's physician to skim it even as, over his shoulder, Jamie informed Lorna's presumptive husband. "We'll see you in court."
"You want to drop all charges," Chase repeated Sharlene's astonishing declaration without inflection.
"Yes." Her voice was as toneless as his, if somewhat more resolved.
"May I ask why, Mrs. Hudson?"
"Because. A conversation I had with my niece "
"Mr. Winthrop's wife," Chase confirmed for his own purposes he presumed Sharlene knew who her niece was married to. Chase had lived in Bay City for over twenty years, but, once in a while, the incestuous small-towness of it still startled him.
"Yes. Frankie helped me to understand that what I was truly looking for can't be found in a court of law."
"I see." He crossed his arms, taping fingers against elbow, then queried, "You are aware that the case I'm building is not Sharlene Frame Hudson v. Alexandra Fowler, et al... It's The People versus, etc, etc...."
"I am. But "
"Assisted Suicide, especially Physician Assisted Suicide is a crime against the state. I don't need your permission to go forth with the prosecution."
"That's true. But, you do need my testimony. Gregory was a legal adult. He'd drawn up papers stating his wishes to die without medical intervention. The only thing you had to contradict that is my swearing that he wasn't in his right mind. If I withdraw "
"I could still subpoena you."
"Is that really what you want, Mr. Hamilton? To put a grieving mother on the stand and browbeat her into badmouthing a dead boy? Heck off a way to kick off a mayoral term."
"You've thought this through," Chase commended.
"Actually, I talked to Cass. He prepped me for our conversation."
"Oh, really? How am I doing?"
"Practically word for word, so far."
"And here I thought I was an unpredictable iconoclast."
"Will you dismiss the case?" Sharlene asked.
Chase Hamilton hesitated.
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