"I'd like you to look into Marley's... accident," Rachel approached Carl. "Given her connection to Donna and Spencer, and considering Lucas' suspicions regarding what happened with Lorna, I need to know if this was part of a pattern of coordinated attacks. So we can take the necessary steps to protect our family, our children."
"Our children, as well as you, my dear, are already under ample protection. You have my word on that," Carl looked up briefly from his one-man chess game, offering Rachel his version of a reassuring smile.
"You know what happened with Marley." It wasn't a question.
Yet Carl still chose to treat it as such. "Only what I've managed to glean from news reports and such."
"Don't insult my intelligence," Rachel warned him, struggling to keep her voice from becoming shrill, struggling to keep this civil and productive. "We've been married for a long time. And I knew you well, even before then. The fact that you can sit there, calm and absurdly confident, tells me you feel you don't need to investigate Marley's situation. Which means you've already determined it poses no threat to us. All I want to know is: How can you be so sure? And please do respect me enough not to lie to my face."
"Previously," Carl reminded. "You deliberately asked to be kept in the dark when it came to the minutia of our perilous situation."
"And you took advantage of that loophole to strike out against Donna by terrorizing Marley." Again, not a question. When Carl merely stared at Rachel in response, his expression utterly unreadable, she challenged, "Tell me that I'm wrong. Tell me you had nothing to do with nearly killing Marley. That you weren't blatantly abusing my trust in order to send Donna a message."
"I," Carl chose that one pronoun with such deliberation and care, Rachel shuddered to think how long it might take him to get through the remainder of his thought. "I realize how you might choose to interpret my actions through such a prism."
"So you did do it," Rachel sighed, as so often happened these days, she was most unhappy to be proven right.
"However, let me promptly hazard to add that Marley's predicament was never, ever about seeking revenge against Donna. It was, as I swore to you from the beginning, exclusively in the interest of protecting our family."
"How?" Rachel shook her head in wonder... and a little bit of disgust. "Marley could have died."
"That was never a prospect. All necessary precautions were taken and, as you can see, strictly adhered to."
"How does terrorizing a woman who's been like a member of our family for over twenty years contribute to protecting us?"
"When this all began, when you gave me your blessing to go forth with whatever I felt needed to be done, you said that you didn't wish to be informed of the people both the guilty and the innocent who might end up serving as collateral damage in the struggle to keep you and yours secure. My goal, from the start, has been to spare you the burden of "
"Look me in the eye and swear there weren't other ways to accomplish your goal. That the idea of using Marley as part of your master plan didn't hold a certain attraction, an irresistible allure, because it allowed you to strike out at Donna as well as the others?"
Carl's lip curled. "Of course it did. I always consider every aspect of my actions prior to commencing."
"Carl," Rachel heard herself pleading. "I understand the temptation to... Honestly, I do... but you can't... you can't risk losing yourself to this bottomless pit of craving revenge."
"If I had lost myself completely, Donna would have ceased breathing shortly after Jenna did. I am in control, and I am particularly mindful of what's important. Which always has and always will be this: Preserving some semblance of the man you fell in love with, the man neither of us wants to lose."
"You're Carl Hutchins," she said his name with a combination of pride and trepidation. "Anything is possible. If you want it to be."
Carl gave Rachel a rueful smile, his eye flickering to the picture frames resting on the mantle, Perry looking down at him from one, Ryan the other, their youthful images both frozen in time and memory. "If only that were so..."
"You know," back pressed against her car's passenger side door, head resting on the lower half of the window, Frankie peered down to address the top of Cass' head. "Grant Harrison may be wily and diabolical, but I'm pretty sure he isn't hiding in my cleavage."
"A good detective is thorough to the nth degree," Cass's voice came out muffled. But, very, very happy.
Frankie lowered her binoculars and balanced them on Cass' head. "You are not making my surveillance any easier."
"Am I making it more fun, though?" He came up for air.
She kissed him. "You make everything more fun."
"That's all I need to hear."
Laughing Frankie pushed Cass back into the driver's seat and indicated the wall-sized solar window through which they could watch Grant and Kirkland's adventure in indoor surfing.
"They seem to be getting along alright. Just your typical father and son seventeenth birthday celebration. If Kirkland is under any undue stress, he's hiding it beautifully."
"That's his Harrison genes kicking in. To look at Grant, would you think his girlfriend's in the hospital after nearly dying?"
"I thought Marley was going to be okay? And, yeah, fine, good point."
"Something strange is going on with that entire family. The details don't add up. If we crack this case, we won't have to worry about scrounging up any more investigative jobs. They'll be lining up around the block."
"Is that why you're so gung-ho to bring Grant down? Looking to make a quick buck?"
"A quick buck beats a slow buck not to mention, no buck any day of the week, Mary Frances. My license to practice law may be gone, but I still intend to support you in the style you've become accustomed to."
"I can become accustomed to anything," Frankie reminded pointedly. "I have before, and I can again. We'll make it work, no matter what happens."
"I know that," he shrugged, reaching for Frankie's binoculars and training them on Grant and Kirkland.
Frankie rested her hand gently in the crook of his elbow. "Cass...."
"Hm?" He peered intently into the distance, refusing to turn around.
"You know, we never did talk about it. You being disbarred. Being a lawyer a damn, good one it's such a huge part of your identity. You've got to miss it."
His back stiffened, but Cass declined to respond.
"Don't do this," she wanted. "Don't do this again. Don't hide how you really feel in order to protect me. No more of that, we agreed."
"Of course I miss it," he said. "So what if I do? I committed a felony, I got disbarred, that's the way it goes. Talking about it, not talking about it won't change things. No more Cass The Lawyer, now it's Cass The Private Investigator. Couple of new business cards and I'm good to go."
"I love you," she reminded.
"Lawyer, investigator, fashion maven, publisher, bookstore owner "
"Butcher, baker, candlestick-maker..."
"I fell in love with the man, not the job."
"Frankie," Cass beckoned her forward with his hand, gesturing for Frankie to grab the binoculars. "Take a look at this."
"Don't try to distract me, Cass, please. We need to talk about "
"I love you, too." Cass swiveled his head around, kissed Frankie quickly, then shoved the binoculars atop the bridge of her nose. "But, right now, I need you to tell me what you see."
She paused, adjusted the focal length, squinted and took a moment to process exactly where Cass was directing her. "Is that..."
"Uh-ha." Cass nodded his head enthusiastically.
"We're not the only ones watching him."
"Who are those guys?"
"From the steroid-addled looks, I'm guessing private security."
"Does Grant think he won the mayoral election after all, and now needs 24 hour protection?"
"Who says they're working for Grant?" Cass pointed out.
"You think Marley might have hired them?" Frankie ventured. "Or Donna?"
"Anything's possible. Seems we're not the only ones suspicious of Mr. Harrison these days. I wonder what we should do next?"
"Duck," Frankie advised, grabbing Cass by the shoulder, pulling him down and stuffing his face back into her chest.
"Not that I'm objecting," he piped up. "But, just so I can get with the program," he attempted to raise his head, only to feel Frankie press down. "What'd you do that for?"
"If we can see them," Frankie tossed their binoculars to the floor, playing the role of amorous, kinky couple who preferred to conduct their make-out sessions on the edges of multi-purpose recreational centers, to the hilt. "They can see us...."
"So Donna didn't say anything about what was on that tape she liberated from KBAY?" Jeanne asked Matt as the two of them sat on a blanket spread out beside the Cory pond. The site had been Jeanne's idea. She said she'd never had a picnic on private property before. Especially not one catered from the main house.
"Her daughter almost died," Matt reminded. "I didn't think it was the right time to..." He looked down awkwardly, popping a grape into his mouth and glancing away as he mumbled, "Sorry."
Jeanne didn't say anything for the longest time. And then she rested her hand on the back of Matt's neck, twirling the loose strands of hair there around her fingers as she said, "It's okay. I shouldn't have asked you to do it in the first place. I've got to remember, you're a nice guy."
He turned to look at her. "You almost make that sound like a bad thing."
"No!" Jeanne shook her head, now it was her turn to look away, embarrassed. "It's the way we're all supposed to be, isn't it? I know plenty of nice people. Some of my best friends are.... My mom and dad, they're nice. My mom's so nice that she constantly got jerked around. By my brother Cory's biological father; by your sister, Iris. And my dad my dad was so nice he forgave his deadbeat mom for abandoning him. He protected her even though he knew she'd killed somebody he named me after her! Don't worry, Matt, I know all about nice people. And what happens to them, too."
"We don't all finish last," Matt tried a joke in light of how genuinely upset she seemed.
"Not when you're born on the finish line. You can afford to be nice, then."
"What about you?" Matt asked. "You haven't done so bad for yourself, and you're..."
"Me?" Jeanne snorted. "Don't worry about me. When I said I knew what a nice person was, that's because, most of my life, I've understood I wasn't one. When my mom used to tell me stories about her past the point was to contrast the losers she used to fall for before she met my Dad; I think she believed she was telling me a romantic fairy tale, or something she'd be so sanguine about the whole thing, so turn-the-other-cheek-ish. Meanwhile, I'd just get madder and madder."
"Sounds to me like you were protective of your mom. That's pretty nice, in my book."
"I wasn't mad at the lousy guys, Matt. I was mad at her for being their doormat."
"Still, that doesn't mean..."
"My mom raised me and my brother to be happy and grateful for what we've got. I have never, ever been happy. Or grateful. From the time my eyes could focus, I've wanted whatever I saw. Especially if it belonged to somebody else."
"That's called drive, I think. Ambition. I've been told I could use a little of that myself. Instead of just sitting around at the finish line, waiting for... honestly, I'm not sure what I'm waiting for. I only know I haven't found anything yet to really get me moving."
"So you don't see anything wrong with me being..."
"The way I am?"
"If you had any self-protective instincts whatsoever, you'd be afraid I was plotting to take advantage of you and your nice guy-ness."
"How? It's not like you've been trying to fool me or anything. The first night we were together, you explained that you saw me as your ticket to a career-making scoop. You've been totally straight with me from the beginning."
"I wasn't sure you heard me. We were kind of... preoccupied."
"I think you're too rough on yourself," Matt said. "You've decided you're this rotten person. You do things, and then you go searching for the horrible motives that must be behind them. As if you can't believe you were capable of acting without one."
"I've got my reasons," Jeanne said.
"Want to tell me what they are?"
"No," she said, and cut off the remainder of their conversation with a kiss.
"How was surfing with your dad?" Charlie asked Kirkland as they kicked back in front of the TV, pizza box between them. After being feted by Grant, Kirkland needed something low-key and relatively normal to finish off his first day as a seventeen year old.
"It was fine. He threatened to stalk me wherever I end up deciding to go to college. That was a little weird. But, overall, it was fine."
"So does Jamie get to ask for equal time now? How's this My Two Dads set-up supposed to work? Clue me in."
"Why? You'll never need to worry about it. Your parents managed to stay together even while your dad was in jail. No joint custody deals in your future, that's for sure."
"Yeah... My mom and dad are constantly together these days. It's a little sickening."
"Aren't they working some P.I. case?"
"That's what they say."
"You don't believe them?"
"No, I believe 'em. It's only that... they'll grab any excuse to sneak off, just the two of them. I guess that's what it was like the first time around, too. Only I wasn't old enough to remember."
"Feeling kind of left out?" Kirkland guessed.
"Gross! Seriously, I'm glad they've got each other to obsess over. Keeps them out of my hair. Not like either of them will be threatening to stalk me to college anytime soon."
"If it makes you feel any better, your mom tried to pump me for details about what happened the night of the Valentine's Day dance."
"Yeah?" Charlie's reaction was a mixture of horror, surprise, and pleasure. "What did you tell her?"
"I pled the Fifth. I'm no snitch."
"I don't know why they're making such a big deal about it, anyway. Nothing happened. Nothing major. So I snuck out and had a few drinks with my friends? Big deal."
"Well," Kirkland tempered. "You had been acting a bit... weird before that."
"You mean losing it with you over Lorna, the way I did?"
"That was part of it."
"I apologized. I still hate her for trying to steal Lori Ann and jerking Uncle Morgan around. But, you were right, I shouldn't have gone snooping in her stuff."
"It wasn't just that, though. You seemed so angry all the time for a while there."
"I was angry," Charlie admitted.
She shrugged. "I don't know."
"How can you not know what you're angry about?"
"What? Haven't you ever been in a lousy mood for no reason?"
"Not for weeks at a time."
"I'm a girl. Girls are moody."
"You know," Kirkland said. "There aren't a lot of people who can say this, but I understand what it's like to suddenly have a parent you thought was dead pop up again."
"Actually," Charlie corrected. "In this town, a lot of people can say that."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah. I do..."
"Your mom and dad love you. Same as my dads love me."
"At least your dads show it by fighting over you and trying to win your love with expensive presents and trips."
"I don't think Jamie got that memo. It's mostly Grant trying to outdo himself."
"It's not the same with my parents. It was one thing when Dad was in jail and Mom clung to me and Lori Ann to keep from going mental. Now, as long as they've got each other, my parents really don't need anybody else."
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice," Mel told Rick and Mindy as the five of them sat across a table in Kevin's office.
Mindy shrugged. "GQ says jump, we jump." When Rick shot her a look of warning, she ignored it.
"What is it your client wants now, Ms. Boudreau?" Kevin wondered.
"My client," Mel said. "Would like to make your clients a proposition."
"Prior to the judge rendering her verdict, Mr. Todd is offering the Bauers joint custody of Hudson, with Rick and Mindy retaining physical custody while Mr. Todd is given regular and reasonable visitation."
Neither Kevin nor Rick nor Mindy had seen that one coming. For a moment, all three could do nothing more than gape at Mel, followed by GQ, first wondering if they could have possibly heard right, and second, checking the calendar to see if it still might be April Fool's Day, after all.
Kevin didn't so much regain the power of speech as he acted on impulse and training, asking Mel, "Why the change of heart?"
"Does it matter?" she challenged.
"No," Rick spoke up quickly, scared that Kevin might ruin everything.
"Yes," Kevin said evenly. "If, after months of litigation and heartache for everyone involved, your client can so easily turn on a dime and change his mind, what's to prevent him from doing it again down the line?"
"You think this was easy for me?" GQ demanded, despite Mel's having instructed him to keep quiet and let her do all the talking.
"That's what I'm trying to discern, Mr. Todd."
"I didn't just wake up one morning and decide to give up my kid. It's killing me. But, what do you care?"
"Do you care what you did to my kid?" Kevin shot back, professionalism be damned.
"Yeah," GQ said. "Not that it's any of your business, but I apologized to Jen. I was wrong to treat her the way I did. That's actually one of the things that made me realize that maybe I wasn't as ready to be a dad to Hudson as I thought. I hurt Jen, I hurt Allie. I didn't mean to, but I did. A guy who doesn't think his actions through like that, he probably isn't mature enough yet to raise a kid who won't make the same mistakes. And that's what I want to protect Hudson from more than anything. He's going to make his own mistakes. He doesn't need to have mine dumped on him, too."
"Are you satisfied, Mr. Fowler?" Mel shook her head, indicating that GQ should shut up now and stay that way until papers were signed and their ink dry. He was undermining his own case. Anything he said in here, Mindy and Rick could still use against him in court. "My client is being remarkably generous. Instead of cross-examining him about an irrelevant personal issue, you might consider thanking him, and looking over this agreement I've drawn up."
Mel slid a document across the table, so that Rick and Mindy could have a look. Kevin skimmed the contents even as Mel went on, "As you can see, it outlines the parameters of our proposed joint custody agreement. Sign this right now, and we will officially drop the case to have Dr. and Mrs. Bauer's adoption overturned. You can go home to your son tonight, knowing that Hudson is home to stay."
Mindy's fingers brushed the papers, as if she'd spied a speck of dust or a smudge. She looked at it and she looked at Rick and she looked at GQ. And then she said the last thing any of them ever expected.
"Lorna!" Marley hurriedly pushed herself up to a sitting position in the hospital bed, scrambling to... what? What could she possibly do under the circumstances besides cover her shock? "What are you... You look You look well. Is it okay for you to be up and around like this so soon after..."
Lorna strode up to the bed, pausing with one hand on the sidebar. Her voice low, her tone steely, she asked, "After you put me in a coma?"
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