"C-Cass?" A part of Frankie sincerely believed that merely saying his name would somehow prompt the apparition before her to disappear in a puff of smoke.
She said it anyway.
He remained where he was, just standing there on her doorstep, smiling.
"What are you... How... Did you..." It was official. Good-by, mind, hello, senility.
"May I come in?" he asked gently, comprehending Frankie's utterly mystified state, not wishing to add to it.
"Come in," Frankie parroted the words, before it slowly dawned on her what they meant and she opened the door further, standing aside, letting him in. Letting Cass in. To his house. To their house. Letting Cass in to their house when, by all rights, he shouldn't be there at all. "Come in."
"I'm real, Mary Frances," he brushed her hand to drive the point home.
"I was wondering," she admitted.
"And I'm not on the lam, either."
"I was wondering that, too." Frankie threw her arms around her husband, squeezing him desperately, trying to convince herself she wasn't dreaming. Or worse. "What is going on here? How did this happen?"
He hugged her back equally as tightly, and then he just breathed her in for a moment. All these months in jail, he'd heard Frankie, he'd seen her, he'd even been able to touch her a few times. But he hadn't been able to fill himself with her. Not like this.
"I'm free," he whispered in Frankie's ear. "On parole, but free."
"I don't understand."
"I didn't either. At first." Cass held Frankie at arm's length, explaining, "First thing this morning, they drag me out of my cell, don't tell me anything, throw me in the back of a squad car and take me to the courthouse. I keep asking what's happening no answer. They put me in front of a judge, she starts reading aloud about how my sentence has been commuted and still, I've got no clue. I go through the whole process without a word of explanation! It's not until they're returning my belongings, giving me this suit "
"Yes, I thought I it didn't seem like your usual fare."
"And shoving me out the door that the public defender they stuck me with not that he opened his mouth once throughout, no matter how many times I asked what was going on tells me, "It's Spencer Harrison's way of saying thank you."
Frankie blinked. She'd been expecting a lot of things. That wasn't one of them. "Spencer Harrison? What does he have to do with anything?"
"It seems that when Sharlene went to drop the charges against Alice and the kids, she intimated to Hamilton that you'd been the one who talked her into it."
"I did no such thing! Sure, we talked, and I offered my thoughts. But, Sharlene drew her own conclusions. I would never... "
"Spencer Harrison believes you would. And he wanted to thank you for your efforts."
"But, if Spencer has this much pull, why didn't he just get Alice off the hook himself?"
"Excellent question, Mary Frances. I asked the exact same thing. Great minds and all... I was informed that Mr. Harrison could not use his power to influence a case directly connected to him. It would be too obvious. I, on the other hand... I'm nothing to him."
"You're everything to me," Frankie breathed.
"Right back at you."
For a moment, they did nothing more than stare at each other, both trying to absorb the magnitude of what had happened to them.
"I never thought... I didn't expect... I don't know how to react."
"That's okay. We've got all the time in the world. Now."
"Merry Christmas," Amanda told Kevin awkwardly upon entering his office the next morning, ignoring both how they'd pointedly avoided each other at her mother's house the day before... and the memories of how they'd spent this holiday together the previous year. Right here, as a matter of fact.
"Thank you," Kevin appeared determined to do the same.
"And thank you for seeing me. I know you must be swamped with Jamie's case, plus Hudson's, too."
"GQ's attorney has already told me she intends to put Allie on the stand."
"But, you'll be there, right? To cross-examine?"
"I'll be there, Amanda, but, honestly, there is very little I can do. If Allie wants to lie under oath and claim she genuinely believed Gregory was Hudson's biological father, I can't stop her though I do advise against it. I'll question her, but I won't lead her into committing perjury. She has enough strikes against her as it is."
"Can't you defend her?"
"Not while I'm representing Rick and Mindy. It would be a conflict of interest."
"Well, the Bauers haven't pressed fraud charges against Allie yet. Neither has GQ. I guess we'll just wait and see."
"Is that all you wanted to speak to me about?" Kevin wasn't exactly rushing Amanda out, but he wasn't offering her tea and cookies, either.
"No," she admitted. "I Kevin, remember when I told you I'd put my BCPD reporter on finding out who called in that anonymous tip about Alice?"
Kevin nodded, even as he pointed out, "Doesn't really matter now, does it? Alice is free and clear without me having to thoroughly screw up my first criminal court brief. Thank God for that!"
"Yes. It is great news. Except, see, Kevin, my guy did get me that information. I know who turned Alice into the police. I It It was Lila, Kevin."
"Are you alright with Sharlene's dropping the charges?" Donna asked John.
He tapped ten fingers along the edge of his hospital desk and, without looking up, noted, "It was always her quest, not mine. I didn't need to see Allie and the rest in jail to stay connected to my son."
"You've got your guilt for that," Donna agreed, knowing exactly how that went. "Have you talked to Sharlene since..."
"I can't," John cut Donna off. "I can't even look at her. You're about the only person I can stand to be around these days." He shook his head. "Ironic, isn't it?"
"Why? Am I that horrible of a companion?" she asked, mock-offended.
"Only in the sense that everyone else in town is doing their best to avoid you, while I..."
"Always did have exquisite taste," she finished for him.
John smiled. A genuine smile was so rare from him these days, Donna felt like she'd scored an unspeakable victory. "We make a hell of a pair."
"We do," Donna agreed. "Which is why I'm thinking we should stop."
"We can't go on like this. Hiding away from life one behind the other."
"Oh, I don't know about you, but I feel like life's done a darn good job of finding me, no matter how hard I try to hide."
"I've had a wonderful time staying with you. You were exactly what I needed when I needed it. But, sooner or later, we both have to face reality."
"Been there. Did that. Underwhelmed, to say the least."
"We have responsibilities. I know I do. My family needs me."
"You might want to check that market research again. Marley "
"Doesn't know what she needs. The fact that she's with Grant should be ample evidence of that." Donna confessed, "I spent my entire life thinking only about what I needed to do in order to survive, or just to make it through to the next day. There were reasons for that. Reasons for why I had to ignore other people and focus on myself whoever that may be; I'm still working on it. But, that kind of self-preservation can't go on forever. My only chance of getting better and, more importantly, staying better, lies in learning to puts the needs of others before my own."
"You helped me," John said. "You helped me more than you know."
"I'm glad. I'd like to keep doing that. Which is why, John, that's one of the reasons I've decided to move out."
"I wish you wouldn't."
"I wish I didn't have to. But, it's for the best. We've clung to each other for way too long. It's time for us both to go out and deal with the rest of the world."
"And how is our Lorna today?" Carl inquired sincerely once Lucas had settled into the passenger seat of Hutchins' tinted-window Bentley.
"You might want to rethink your pronouns there," Lucas strongly suggested, before deflating to admit. "The same. She's still the same. There was that slight improvement at Christmas, but since then..."
"If there is any way in which I might be of service, a specialist flown in perhaps, or
"You want to be useful?" Lucas clipped. "Find out who did this to my daughter."
"I was under the impression that this was a tragic, yet nonetheless simple traffic accident. Surely, the police are "
"The Bay City Police Department, on a good day, wouldn't be able to find their asses if you spotted them a cheek. We both know that. Even with something this 'simple,' they've got nothing. It's as if the bastard "
"Covered their tracks," Carl completed the thought, his eyes focused on the partition in front of him as his mind began to tick through the possibilities.
"Exactly. As a professional, what would you say the odds are of your average drunk driver or careless idiot committing an impromptu, near-perfect crime?"
"So you believe Lorna's accident was no accident? That your old friends wanted to send you a message?"
"There you go with the pronouns again. Our old friends, Carl. People that you were supposed to have handled."
"I did handle them. I made it quite clear that you and yours were under my protection. If anything suspicious were to befall "
"My daughter is in a coma!"
"I cannot believe any of our mutual associates would be so stupid as to openly defy me in my own backyard."
"Why not?" Lucas scornfully laughed. "Donna did."
"Donna will get what's coming to her. Don't you worry about that."
"I'll believe it when I see it."
"Need I remind that you twice allowed the opportunity for Donna's just deserts to slip through your fingers? You have no room to scold or mock me."
"At least I tried. You're too busy trying to keep your nose clean enough to satisfy Rachel. Only you fail to get that if you refuse to own whatever happens to Donna, then to those that matter, you're nothing but a toothless paper tiger. Of course they're going to defy you, and openly too. Because they know your hands are tied. And your balls are rattling around in Rachel's purse."
"Considering the emotional anguish you are currently suffering, I will magnanimously overlook that rather crass remark. As well as look into the matter of Lorna's accident."
"And then what?"
"If any of our former associates are involved, then I shall deal with it. Swiftly and permanently." Carl met Lucas' skeptical eyes. "You have my word."
"Thanks. But, I have enough worthless crap lying around already."
"Oh, for goodness' sake, would a head on a silver platter prove satisfactory?"
"It would be a step in the right direction. Because make no mistake; coming after me, a low guy on the totem pole, that was just the appetizer. If you don't give them a show of vengeance worth writing home about, they'll happily move up the food chain to the main course. Right now, it's only Rachel's unborn grandchild that's in jeopardy. Fail this test, and you'll be using that possessive pronoun free and clear."
It was a moment before Marley called out to him, a moment where the shock and guilt of seeing Jamie looking spent and tormented proved so intense that, instead of going to him, she wanted to run away and never look him in the eye again.
But, that wouldn't do. She couldn't avoid him forever. Might as well get the first, worst time over with. Marley steeled herself, walking over to where Jamie sat crouched in the waiting room, his eyes trained on the door in front of him. She tentatively placed a hand on his knotted shoulder. "Jamie?"
He started, blinking up at her in confusion before realizing. "Oh. Hey. Marley. I... um, sorry... What-what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you. I'm sorry I haven't been by sooner, but "
"It's okay," Jamie dismissed, allowing Marley to swallow her carefully prepared excuse. "I made it pretty clear I didn't want to see anybody. Besides, you have things to do, kids to take care of. Thanks so much for giving Kirkland a nice Christmas. I really owe you and Grant one. That was way more important than you wasting your time here."
"I don't consider being there for my friends a waste of time. If there is anything I can do to.... " She drifted off as Jamie's attention returned to the door across the hall. "Is that Lorna's room?" Marley asked in a controlled voice.
Jamie nodded. "Felicia's in with her now."
"Kirkland said... " Marley braced herself, willing the words to come out without so much as a hitch in her voice. "He told me that Lorna's pregnant?"
Jamie forcibly unclenched his jaw before nodding and looking up with a hesitant smile. "Yeah. About sixteen weeks now. Everything looks good so far. Can you believe it? Lorna is barely.... But, the baby is okay. And Lorna was right, too. It is a girl."
"That's... wonderful. Really, I-I'm happy for you."
Once again Jamie's attention snapped to the door as Morgan approached, the two men exchanging glares that would scald lava before the latter, with a look that could only be classified as defiant, stepped into Lorna's room.
"What was that about?" Marley couldn't help asking, shocked and confused by Morgan's appearance, not to mention the open hostility between them.
"It's nothing," Jamie insisted, the crimson creeping up his cheeks suggesting otherwise.
"You're shaking. Why? What's got you so upset? Why is Morgan "
Jamie lifted a hand, begging for her silence, the struggle to contain his emotions apparent. "You're going to hear about this sooner or later. Morgan and Lorna, they're... married."
Marley wavered in her chair as a warm, unbidden flush of vindication flowed through her. "Lorna is married to Morgan?"
"I don't want to get into details, but Morgan's asserting spousal privilege over Lorna so he can have control over her medical care. Which would include the baby. I'm taking him to court to establish my rights so I can protect Lorna and our child."
"Jamie," Marley began slowly, trying to choose her words carefully. "Are you sure?"
"Felicia and Morgan aren't leaving me with much of a choice. If I don't do something... I have to go to court. It's the only way."
"No. Not court. I mean.... Are you sure that the baby is yours?"
Disbelief flickered in his eyes before they hardened into a cool anger. "Why would you even ask me that?"
"Because I saw them," Marley blurted out. "Lorna and Morgan. I was going to tell you, except I didn't know how and it wasn't any of my business before, but... I saw Lorna kissing Morgan." Marley appealed to him with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I know how much you care about her, how hard it must be to hear that she would "
"It wasn't what you think. Lorna and Morgan are friends."
"I know what I saw. It wasn't innocent," Marley insisted, Jamie's denial fueling her fervor. "Did Lorna tell you about her and Morgan being married? I didn't think so. She's been lying to you," Marley pushed on despite because of Jamie's silence. "The entire time you've been together, she's been lying to you. God, it's like Vicky and Jake with Steven, all over again."
"This is nothing like the crap with Vicky and Jake."
"It's in the same ballpark. Vicky cheated on you with Jake. Now Lorna and Morgan have been carrying on behind your back. You have to consider the possibility that "
"Do you really think I need this, Marley? Do you really believe you're helping me?"
"Better to face the truth now then when you're in court."
"I know what the truth is."
"Do you? Or are you just choosing what you want to believe, because it hurts less?"
"One good surprise deserves another," Frankie grinned at a still sleepy Charlie, stepping aside so that her daughter could see Cass standing hidden behind her.
At which point Charlie the blase teen, too cool for Christmas presents, certainly too evolved for hugs from her mother shrieked at the top of her lungs and barreled into Cass with all her might.
He nearly stumbled from the impact, recovering to scoop Charlie up and spin her around while all three of them somehow managed to laugh and cry and ask and explain and celebrate simultaneously. (Even if no one was precisely sure what Charlie meant when, in the midst of it all, she blurted out, "I knew she was wrong, I knew it. I told her so.")
"You're not going to do anything stupid like this again, are you?" Charlie asked once they'd recovered.
"Never, ever," Cass swore. "I will never do anything that will keep me away from you and your mother again."
"I guess you guys want to celebrate, huh?" Charlie asked, both embarrassed and proud of her sophistication in asking. "I can make myself scarce. Take Lori Ann to the library to meet Dean. It's not too cold out, we can walk it."
"Actually..." Cass began.
Frankie interrupted. "That would be very sweet of you, Charlie."
"No problem. I figure you and Dad need your alone time." Again, she managed to sound both nonchalant and mortified. "I'll go upstairs and get Lori Ann dressed." Charlie turned to the kitchen door then, halfway there stopped and scampered back for one more hug, whispering, "Thanks for coming back, Daddy."
"I'll always come back to you, Charlotte," Cass swore.
"I know. I knew it all the time."
They watched her go, heads still spinning, Frankie waiting to make sure Charlie was out of hearing range before awkwardly clearing her throat and offering, "Listen, Cass, about last night..."
"It's alright, I already told you so."
"It's not that I didn't don't want... it's just, it was all so much to process..."
"I understand," he insisted. "Frankie, I'm not going to pretend that after six months in jail I'm not dying to make love to you again. But, I don't want to force I want things to happen naturally. And, believe me, I realize that there has been nothing natural or normal about the last half a year."
"I love you."
"We've been through so much. And we still have so much..."
"But, we will get back on track. It might take a little work, but it will happen."
"It always has before," Cass agreed, with a great deal more confidence than either one of them felt at precisely that moment.
"This is just the main Cory home phone number," Kevin stared down at the alleged evidence Amanda had presented him. "Why would you think Lila made the actual call?"
"Who else could it have been? Other than Allie and I, Lila was the only other person at the house who knew Alice was involved. And if Allie or I were going to turn her in, we'd have done it openly, in exchange for Chase dropping the charges against the kids. We wouldn't have reported her anonymously, there'd be no benefit to it for us."
"And what was the benefit to Lila?" Kevin challenged.
Shamefaced, Amanda reminded, "She was furious with you. Look at the date, this was right after you told her about... about..."
"I know what I told her," Kevin said stiffly.
"It makes sense, doesn't it? It was the best way for Lila to hit you where it hurt. You were going out of your mind over Alice and Jen..."
"You're just speculating."
"I'm being logical."
"You don't have any proof."
"You're right," Amanda agreed. "I'm just telling you what I dug up. You can decide what to do about it for yourself."
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