Cass stared glumly at the movie screen, body slouched in his theater seat.
"This sucks," he muttered, throwing his bag of popcorn aside.
"Tell me about it," Felicia's voice answered from across the aisle. "It's just not the same watching alone." She waved to him in the dark and invited, "Come on over. And bring your popcorn; I'm almost out."
Cass did as he was told, confused about a great many things, but choosing to stick to the simplest one. "What are you doing here? Tonight or Never is arguably Gloria Swanson's worst movie."
"It's pretty bad," Felicia agreed without tearing her eyes from the screen. "But, in light of her other, great films, I'm willing to forgive Gloria this one slip. Though, of course, I understand completely if you can't."
Cass smiled wryly, grasping that they were discussing a bit more than merely the career choices of Joseph Kennedy's mistress.
"I know I'm not an easy woman, Cass," Felicia admitted softly. " You've put up with a hell of a lot from me over the years."
"Worth it," Cass asserted without hesitation.
"You were trying to protect me. I know that now. I believe it, too."
"I was," Cass nodded, taking her hand, though both had yet to look directly at each other. "Looking at it from your point of view, though... had you known Frankie was alive and kept it from me... I killed a woman for that."
"You protected your family from a lunatic. I may get unhinged on occasion, but always in the name of good, not evil. Anything and everything I do for you, I do out of love."
"True," Cass nodded, then offered his own mea culpa. "I'm sorry I betrayed you. I'm sorry I traded on our friendship to manipulate Lucas into helping me. And I'm sorry for my part in the problems between you and Lorna."
"Lorna and I have always had our problems. You didn't add anything new."
"I didn't help."
"No. But, I forgive you. I forgive you all of it, if you could do the same for me."
Cass cocked his head. "What in the world do I need to forgive you for?"
"For taking you, and our friendship, for granted. For not being the Felicia you know, love, and are prepared to deal with."
"You've had a hell of a year."
"So have you. But you didn't fall apart and push away the people who love you; you didn't alienate them and isolate yourself."
"No, I just went to prison."
"I was in a prison, too. I let my bitterness consume me. I was so angry, so... twisted. Everything Jenna hated. I didn't realize... And then Lorna's accident and... I thought I'd lost before. But I still had so much to lose. I want to try to be happy again. That can't happen without you. I need you in my life, I want you in my life. Bad judgment, boorish behavior and all."
"You really know how to butter up a guy."
At long last, Felicia turned to look him in the eye. "Can you forgive me? Will you give me another chance to drive you crazy, overrun your life, interfere with the best of intentions, and, in general, be your best, devoted pain in the ass?"
Cass pivoted, too. He smiled. "When have you ever known me not to be a glutton for punishment?"
"My notes regarding your piece on Chase Hamilton's first 100 days in office," Donna handed Jeanne a piece of paper, both sides covered in scribbles, complete with time-codes and helpful suggestions on how it might be made better.
"Thank you." Jeanne smiled broadly. "I'll get right on it. Of course, you realize, it will probably require overtime for the editor. I don't know if that's in the budget."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll have no trouble spending someone else's money."
"Whatever you say, Ms. Love."
Donna locked her eyes on Jeanne. "He deserves better than you, you know."
"I know," Jeanne agreed. "But, I intend to live up to the challenge."
"May I ask what your intentions are towards Matthew?"
Jeanne's poker-face crumbled and she burst out laughing in spite of herself, "Are you serious?"
"Deadly," Donna said, with enough meaning to freeze Jeanne's grin in its tracks. "Don't forget, my dear, I know exactly the sort of woman you are, and precisely what you want out of life."
"Well then, in that case, you should be able to infer what I want from Matt."
"How very open of you."
"No reason not to be. I've already told Matt."
"My goodness," Donna huffed, mostly to cover up her discomfort. Her entire approach had been based on the assumption that Jeanne would wish to keep the more avaricious side of her personality hidden from Matthew. Donna had been hoping for a stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction. She never imagined that might not be an option. Blackmail, after all, was always an option. At least, in her day. "Is that what our electronic age of Facebook and Twitter and constantly blogging your every innermost thought hath wrought? Utter, complete and blatant... honesty?"
"Sure beats your generation's alternative."
"Oh, I don't know. There's something to be said for cultivating an air of mystery."
"Until that mystery comes to bite you on the ass. You don't get it. The only way not to get tripped up down the line is to be upfront from the beginning."
"I hate surprises," Jeanne said, driving her point home. "Matt knows exactly what I want from him. And I intend to get it, by giving him everything you couldn't, Donna."
Any optimistic hopes Grant may have harbored when he spied Lila standing in the door of his City Hall office dissipated as soon as she perfunctorily relayed, "Mr. Hamilton wanted me to go around and introduce myself to every member of his staff. I'll be starting work here next week."
"I know." Grant stood up, eagerly circling his desk to approach her. "I got the memo. Congratulations, I'm sure you'll do great things."
"Seeing as how we already know each other way too well, I'll just be on my way, then."
"Wait. Please. It's good to see you, Lila. How have you been?"
"Fine." She indicated their surroundings. "I got a new job."
"And Jasmine? How's her golf game?"
"Lonely," Lila admitted. "Kirk'll play with her sometimes, Cory, too. But, she misses you, I can't deny that."
"I'd like to see her."
"I'd rather you didn't. She'll find out quick enough that some people, men and women, don't deserve to be trusted. I'd rather put the lesson off as long as possible."
"I miss you both."
"Let it be a lesson to you, then." She turned to leave.
"Don't you think this is all a little... odd?" Where an honest appeal from the heart failed, Grant instinctively fell back on what he knew best manipulation.
"What are you talking about?" she pivoted slowly, already bracing herself.
"This job. Chase just offered it to you?"
"How's that any different from you sauntering up and handing me your business card on the street last year?"
"I'm not the mayor of Bay City."
"And I didn't just get finished threatening to arrest you for a hit-and-run."
"And who's fault was that?"
"Not the point, Lila. The point is, your Southern charm, All-American comeliness and versatile skill set aside "
"Tone it down a notch, you ain't running for office at the moment."
"Why would the mayor personally go out of his way to recruit you?"
"Maybe the mayor appreciates what I have to offer as an employee? And a friend."
Grant accepted the slight as his rightful due, but pressed on. "Your bullshit detector is usually better than this."
"Guess it's been dulled recently."
"It never even crossed your mind that Hamilton might be up to something?"
"What could the man possibly want from me?"
"I don't know," Grant confessed. "But, you can be damn sure, I intend to find out."
"I'm looking at him," Allie said.
GQ called ahead and told Mindy that he and Allie were driving up to see Hudson. She hadn't sounded thrilled. Quite frankly, she sounded absolutely petrified. But, the judge had ordered GQ be given visitation with Hudson, and she wasn't about to go against that, not while they were all still on pins and needles, waiting for a decision.
Once they got to Springfield, Mindy let them in without protest, and led GQ and Allie upstairs to Hudson's bedroom. He stood in the center of the floor, looking up at them. He stood in the middle...
"Whoa!" GQ grinned at Mindy in surprise. "When did this happen?"
"Yesterday," Mindy said. "While he was at my Daddy's house. He was practicing all day, Daddy said, pulling himself up, and then he just let go. We weren't there to see it," Mindy said, meaning herself and Rick, but including GQ, too. "We were all too busy. In court. We missed him learning to stand."
"Look at you, Little Man," GQ knelt down in front of Hudson. "Great job! Do you see this, Allie?"
She nodded briefly, but made no move to engage with the boy.
Thinking maybe Mindy's hovering was intimidating her, GQ asked Mindy, "Do you think you could give us some time alone, Mrs. Bauer? Just the three of us?"
It was obviously the last thing Mindy wanted to do. But, she only echoed Allie's wordless nod and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
"I'm looking at him," Allie said. "Are we done now?"
"Your grandmother thinks he takes after your grandfather, Mackenzie Cory. That's a heck of a legacy." GQ refused to give up. "Do you see it?"
Allie shrugged. "He died when I was barely a year old."
"Hudson is almost a year old," GQ reminded.
"Okay," Allie said.
"Do you want to hold him?"
"No." She sat on the edge of the rocking chair in Hudson's room, feet firmly on the ground. "I want to leave. I did what you asked. I'm here, I've looked. But I'm not changing my mind. About anything."
"Why are you acting like this, Allie?" GQ squatted on the floor, pulling Hudson into his lap, handing the little boy a puzzle cube and, one by one, shapes to stick into the sides.
"Because I'm someplace I don't want to be, doing something I don't want to do. I gave Hudson to Mindy and Rick. They're his parents. This isn't fair to them."
"What about being fair to me?"
"Fine. I suck all the way around. I thought that had already been proven in court. But, why do you want to take my screw-up and make it a thousand times worse?"
"When Dr. Bauer got on the stand the other day, he said that, if I got custody of Hudson, I'd constantly be encouraging him to look for the bad in people, instead of the good. He said I'd arm him for a war that might not happen. He said I want to force my opinion on him and cut him off from people." GQ asked, "Do you think that's true? Do you think that's what I'm really like?"
"What do you care what I think?"
"I care," he said.
"Okay, then," she looked him in the eye. "Here's what I think: I think that Gregory was willing to pretend he was my baby's father, even if that meant pissing off our parents and being reamed out by you. He was even willing to marry me and raise Hudson as ours " when a stunned GQ opened his mouth to interject, she cut him off "I turned him down, too. Same reason I didn't want to be a mom. But, Gregory was willing to do all that for me, no matter how much trouble it made for him. Because he loved me. And you you say you loved me. But, you wouldn't even risk the two of us being seen in public. You want to know what I think about you, GQ? I think you're a coward. I didn't used to. I used to think I just didn't understand where you were coming from. But, then I met someone brave. Really brave, you know? And I got it finally. You're a coward." For the first time since they'd come in, Allie smiled down at her son. "There's a reason I named Hudson after Gregory. Because that's the kind of man I hope he grows up to be."
"Don't tell me you did it for Allie or for Steven," Jamie warned Rachel. "Honestly, I don't want to hear anything from you on the subject. I only came by to say that I knew, because I'm trying to cut down on my secret-keeping. We all saw how well that went with Lorna and Morgan."
"Amanda told you?" Rachel guessed and, when he nodded briskly, added, "I wish she hadn't done that."
"I wish she hadn't either," Jamie confessed. "But, that's Amanda for you. And it saves Alice the trouble of lying to me, so at least I'm grateful for that."
"She was willing to let your son go to prison!" Despite Jamie's warning, Rachel couldn't stop herself from reminding him.
"So you helpfully took matters into your own hands?"
"Yes! Yes, Jamie. Yes, I did."
"I'm going to go now, Mom."
"When do you think you might stop punishing me?" Rachel blocked Jamie's exit.
"For what?" he asked, exhausted.
"For anything. For everything. Steve, Russ, Ted, Carl, Blaine, Cecile... take your pick. God knows I've given you enough material over the years; you've made that point crystal clear. You've done everything you can to distance yourself from me. I don't even know what drove you to your breakdown!"
"And Alice does," Jamie noted evenly. "Is that what's really bothering you?"
"What's bothering me is, we used to be so close, Jamie. All those years before Mac and Amanda and Matthew... before Carl and Elizabeth and Cory... It was just you and me. We were like two soldiers in a foxhole, fighting to survive together. You were the man in my life."
"You mean I was your stand-in, when you didn't have anyone else."
"I know I made mistakes with you. Ones I avoided with your brothers and sisters. But, that's just one of the reasons why..."
"Why you've always been my favorite, Jamie," she confessed. "You have to know that. Everyone else certainly does."
"Right. They've thrown it in my face on plenty of occasions. Thanks for that."
"That's why this distance between us, it's killing me. And over Alice, of all people."
"It's... It's not... Leave Alice out of this. None of it is her fault. I'm sorry that things aren't the same between us. I'm sorry you feel like I've pushed you out of my life."
"Do you think I wouldn't understand what happened? That I'd judge you? There is nothing you could ever do that would make me turn my back on you. Nothing." She ventured, "Your breakdown... Does Lorna know what happened?"
Jamie hesitated, then admitted, "Yes."
"Leave it alone, Mom. Leave Lorna and Alice and me and my past alone. It's the best thing for everyone. Please trust me on that."
"They're coming, Marley," Grant burst into her bedroom. "The police!"
"I told them where to find you," Donna appeared.
Lila stalked into view. "Do you know how many lives you've near ruined? Not to mention seducin' Grant to do your dirty work. You're nothing but a two-bit whore out to save your own skin."
"No, she's something much worse," Felicia hissed. "She's another Donna. Heartless, dangerous, destructive...."
"Leave me alone!" Marley couldn't tell if the mob around her was spinning out of control, or whether she was. "It wasn't my fault! It was an accident!"
"It's always an accident with you," Jamie charged. "How could you do this to me, Marley?"
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jamie, I never meant to hurt you. I love "
Lorna's hand whipped across Marley's face, making her taste blood. "You haven't even started being sorry yet, you bitch. You almost killed me! You almost killed my baby!"
"I saw you with Morgan!" Marley shrieked. "What was I supposed to think? This is all your fault!"
"Like that time it was my mother's fault?" Vicky's eyes blazed from Kirkland's face.
"Or our father's?" Bridget and Michele accused, Jake never more evident across their expressions than in that moment.
"I was sick," Marley feebly defended. "I was sick back then...."
"I'm afraid the DA's office won't be falling for that old chestnut from the Love family a second time," Chase Hamilton stepped up, two police officers in tow. "Marley Hudson, you are under arrest for attempted murder. You have the right to remain silent..."
"What?!" Marley struggled as the cops took her arms. "No! What are you doing? Let me go! Grant! Help me! Do something!"
"Marley, I " Grant hesitated, casting a glance in Kirkland's direction. "I'm sorry. I can't."
"But you promised! You said that I could depend on you! You, me, Kirkland and the girls... we were going to be a family!"
"You're nothing to them now!" Steven pronounced.
"You're nothing to any of us now!" Kirkland affirmed.
"Don't worry about the girls, Marley," Lorna pulled Bridget and Michele to her. "Jamie and I will take care of them. Kirkland and Steven, too."
"No!" Marley wrenched free, lunging for Bridget and Michele only to have them shrink from her grasp.
"Leave us alone!"
"We hate you!"
"No!" Marley backed away as the crowd pushed in, the cold glint of metal handcuffs coming at her from one direction, Donna holding a strait-jacket approaching from the other...
Marley ran. She ran out of her room, down the hall, slipping, falling into the pool of blood spewing out from beneath the bathroom door.
A body on the cold, white floor, crimson flowing from two slashed wrists... the woman's face not her mother's...But her own.
She backed away, screaming, when she felt someone behind her...Carl smiling down at Marley, his grin distorted into a malicious, predatory smile....
"They always make it look like an accident...."
Razor blade in hand, lifting it high into the air. And coming down with a vicious swipe right at her.
Marley sat up in bed, too terrified to even scream, greedily gulping in air, both hands checking her throat, her wrists, searching for cuts, for blood...
A dream. A nightmare.
Except the sound footsteps Marley heard outside her door was definitely real.
Bridget and Michele were at school, Donna and Grant at work, and Sarah dispatched the previous evening. It could be one of the staff, she supposed... But, they were pretty good about only coming up here when she was out.
Marley reached for the drawer of her nightstand, pulling out a snub nosed .38. She slipped off her bed, padding quickly to the door. She listened, bracing herself with a steadying breath, and wrenched the door open. The hallway was empty.
Marley ventured beyond the door, gun at her side, eyes darting, ears keen.
"Lourdes, where are you?" Marley attempted to summon the head housekeeper over the estate's intercom. "Lourdes?" she repeated when she got no response.
The urge to flee became too strong.
Marley sped down the back stairs, forgoing her coat and purse, grabbing the spare set of car keys from a secured panel on the wall before escaping to the garage.
She'd take a drive, clear her head, come back when she was calmer... steadier. And when there were other people in the house.
Sliding behind the wheel, with the gun on the passenger seat next to her, Marley felt more in control already. A push of a button started the car. Another push and the garage door hitched in preparation for rising.
Marley hit the button again, but the garage door didn't move, apparently stuck.
"Great," she muttered, shifting the car back into 'Park' and turning the key to cut the ignition, only to find that she couldn't get it to turn or release.
She couldn't turn the car off.
Even though it had only been a few seconds, Marley could already sense or at least imagine the smell of gas, of the garage filling with the running car's exhaust...
They always make it look like an accident...
"No!" She cried, smacking the garage opener several times with her whole hand, then running back to the door she'd come in through.
Only to find it locked. Apparently from the outside.
She pounded on the wood, screaming for help, then tried to turn off the car again by yanking the keys out of the ignition, to no avail. A coughing fit overcame her, whether from the gas or merely her hyperventilating in fear and panic, she didn't know.
What she did know was that if she didn't do something, she could very well die here.
There had to be something...some way she could save herself...
Her eyes fell on the gun.
Marley grabbed it, fingers shaking. Peering up, she saw the window at the top of the wall and, willing her hands steady, aimed and fired.
The glass cracked. Not completely, but hopefully enough to let a blast of fresh air in.
Was it big enough for Marley to crawl out through?
Maybe.... If she was careful and knocked more of the glass loose. No sense escaping from a carbon monoxide filled garage only to slice open her jugular vein.
The question remained, with the window at least seven feet if not more off the ground, how could Marley get up there?
She looked around for something to stand on. Nothing handy, like a ladder, in sight. But there was an old, narrow credenza on its way to being thrown out that might get the job done.
Marley grabbed it with both hands, pulling with all her might while continuing to cough from the increasingly bad air. The fact that she was able to drag it several feet over to perch underneath the window was both reassuring and disheartening. She was glad she'd managed to budge it, but also concerned about how something so flimsy might hold her entire weight.
But, half-suffocated women couldn't be choosers, now could they?
She pulled open a drawer for a foothold and scampered up. But, it wasn't enough. Marley's fingertips just barely brushed the window's lower edge. No way would she be able to hoist herself the distance necessary.
She'd have to pile something else on top of the credenza. And quickly, too. Not just her eyes but her lungs were burning now. She could barely see, and every step was coming harder and harder. Not to mention every thought.
Yanking out the drawers, Marley piled them, upside down, one on top of the other, then attempted to scale the entire wavering structure.
She'd just managed to get her right elbow over the window sill, gratefully gasping for clean air at the same time, when Marley felt the entire construction collapse below her feet....
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