"How could you do it, Marley?" The calm in Lorna's tone somehow seemed even more menacing than if she'd chosen to scream her accusation. "How could you do that to me and Morgan? How could you do it to Jamie's daughter?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Marley didn't recall consciously choosing to deny everything. It was simply instinctive by now. She leaned back against her pillows and frowned, the picture of genuine confusion and sincerity. To drive her point home, she purposefully met Lorna's eyes, proving she had nothing to be afraid of.
"I remembered," Lorna said. "I remembered seeing you behind the wheel of the car that hit me."
"You had a critical head injury," Marley reminded. "You were in a coma for months. You had brain surgery. Of course your memories are mixed up. Listen, Lorna, I know what you're going through. It's awful when your mind starts playing tricks on you. I understand, though. You have all this guilt about Morgan and Jamie. Of course you're going to project it onto me."
"How do you figure?" Lorna didn't know whether to be appalled or impressed by Marley's gall. Even as she wondered whether Donna had been telling the truth, after all.
"It's kind of obvious, isn't it? Jamie was with me while you were with Morgan. You're bound to see the situations as similar and "
"Okay, let's run with that," Lorna offered, drawing in closer, forcing Marley to tilt even further back and, for the first time, visibly flinch. "You told Jamie you saw me kissing Morgan."
"He told you that?" Marley winced.
"Not right away. I had to wear him down first. He was being a gentleman about it. But, I saw how upset your visit to pick up the girls the other day made him. He loved you, Marley. Maybe not the way you wanted him to or needed him to. But, he really did. You broke his heart, turning on him like that."
"I didn't... I just wanted to..."
"I don't care what you wanted. All I care about is that, unless you traveled back in time, the only way you could have seen me kissing Morgan in this century was right before you hit us with your car. I was kissing him good-bye, Marley. Because I was so grateful that he'd finally agreed to give me a divorce."
"No," Marley shook her head from side to side.
"Yeah," Lorna corrected. "Ask Morgan if you don't believe me. He'll confirm."
"No, that's not what I meant." Confidence back, Marley explained, "I meant that I lied to Jamie when I said I saw you kiss Morgan. I made it all up."
"Why?" Lorna leaned back, crossing her arms.
"I'm sorry, I'd rather not go into..."
"Why?" Lorna slammed the metal bar at the side of Marley's bed with an open palm, her engagement rink clanking against it so that both nearly jumped in surprise.
"You're accusing me of breaking Jamie's heart?" Marley went on the offensive. "You said it yourself. He didn't love me. Not the way I needed him to. He loved you. And your lies nearly obliterated him. I couldn't stand watching Jamie in the hospital, day after day, agonizing over you. He refused to see or accept the truth about what you'd done. You're no good for him. I wanted him to cut his losses. I wanted him to go home to his kids and his life and to try and pull himself back together again. So, yes, I lied."
"You're lying now," Lorna corrected.
"Let me explain something to you," Lorna took a deep breath. "And you'd better listen closely because I'm not going to repeat myself. A year ago, if this exact same thing had happened, I wouldn't have hesitated a minute before marching down to the police station and pressing charges. Because a year ago, you wouldn't have meant anything to me. Sure, you were very nice and helpful and supportive when I was raped years ago. I appreciated it then. I appreciate it now. But, not to the point where I'd be willing to overlook you almost killing me and my baby. But, the problem is, you're not nothing to me anymore. You're Jamie's sons' aunt. For better or for worse, you're family. I don't want Steven and Kirkland or Bridget and Michele, for that matter to have to deal with finding out about what you've done. With going to school, knowing all their friends have heard about their aunt being a hit-and-run driver. No matter how badly I may want to see you pay, I'm willing to suck it up, for those kids' sakes."
"What what does that mean?" Marley asked, trying to sound as if her curiosity were merely intellectual, like it didn't apply practically to her at all.
"It means, Marley, that I'm feeling magnanimous. And that you've got one chance to avoid a prison term for what you've done."
"I don't want to hear anymore," Marley said, folding down her blankets and looking away; the universal symbol for the conversation being over.
Lorna grabbed Marley's face, forcing Marley to look at her. The universal symbol for: Oh, no, you don't; not yet, bitch.
Marley struggled, but Lorna held on tight, squeezing until Marley's skin beneath her fingers turned first red, then white.
"Confess what you did right now, and I'll let you off the hook. I've got an idea for a deal that should make everyone happy. Not just you and me, but, most importantly, the kids. Unfortunately for you, it's only good for the next thirty seconds." Lorna roughly let go of Marley's face, snapping it left so Marley had a good view of the judgmental timepiece above the television set. "Clock's ticking. What's it going to be? Either own up to me, or my next stop is the police. Your choice...."
"Mindy..." Rick hissed, while GQ merely jerked his head up in shock and Kevin and Mel exchanged bewildered glances to confirm they'd both heard the same thing.
"No," Mindy said, more firmly, looking at Rick even as she made sure the rest of them were listening. "I won't share custody of Hudson."
"What are you talking about? This is what we agreed to with Allie. It's the same thing."
"It's not. With Allie, we were going to be Hudson's parents, and she was just going to get visitation. We agreed to an open adoption. Not joint custody."
"You're splitting hairs."
"I don't think so." She turned to Kevin and asked, "Legally speaking, am I?"
"You're not," he conceded. "Legally speaking, those are two completely different arrangements. But, under the circumstances "
Mel interrupted, "What he means is, you take this to court, you're going to lose."
"What GQ is proposing," Mindy insisted. "It isn't fair to Hudson."
"What the hell?" GQ demanded. "What is wrong with you people? Why am I always the bad guy? First, I'm the bad guy for wanting my kid, then I'm the bad guy for wanting to share him. It's your way or the highway, is that it? Whatever happened to all that compromise you were begging me for?"
"Not this way," Mindy said. "Listen, GQ, I have this nephew... Or maybe he's my brother... In any case, he's a young man by the name of Peter Reardon. He's in college now but, when he was a little boy, my father and my stepmother adopted him. After a while, his biological mother wanted him back. Everybody loved him, so they decided to ultimately share custody. I called Peter a few days ago. I wanted his take on how the whole arrangement worked out."
"And?" GQ asked softly.
"He's a good boy. He loves everyone involved. But, he told me how hard it was. How he never knew exactly where he belonged. How, when he was with one parent, doing things their way, it felt like a betrayal of the other; and vice versa. How he felt like he wasn't enough for either, and that somehow even both weren't enough for him."
"It wouldn't be like that here," Rick insisted. "We'd be better informed. We'd keep an eye out for any pitfalls. Come on, Mindy, do you realize what you're doing?"
"I want you to be a part of Hudson's life, GQ," Mindy said. "I want him to know who you are, to understand that you're his biological father, and you loved him so much that you gave him up for his own good. So that Rick and I could be his parents. Rick and I. Not Rick and you and I and Jen," she saw Kevin snarling out of the corner of her eye and amended, "Or whoever you might end up with in your life down the road."
"So... You're turning me down?" GQ still couldn't believe that's what he was hearing.
"For Hudson's sake."
Rick groaned in his chair and turned his head, unable to so much as look at Mindy anymore.
"You're willing to take your chances with the judge?"
"I'm willing to take my chances with you." Ignoring her husband and both attorneys, Mindy told GQ. "You were ready to do the right thing for Hudson before. I can't imagine that's changed in the last hour."
"Don't answer that," Mel warned.
"You know it won't do Hudson any good to be split down the middle, GQ."
"I swear to God, Mindy," Mel warned. "If you've got some guy named Solomon on stand-by...."
"Can it already, would you?" Kevin snapped at Mel who, surprisingly, did just that. Even she could tell that the moment had long surpassed both of them. It was between GQ and Mindy now, no one else.
"If I say no," GQ wondered. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," Mindy confessed. "All I know is, I can't say yes to this. No matter how much I may want to. It would be easy for me to accept your offer. Easy for me... but not so easy for Hudson."
"This isn't fair," GQ bristled. "You dumping it all back in my lap."
"You're right. I'm sorry. But, the fact is, both of us were willing to let a total stranger, the judge, decide what would be best for Hudson. To be honest, I feel more comfortable placing that choice in the hands of someone who really loves him."
Ever since he'd put the idea in Lila's head that Chase hiring her might not be nearly as straight-forward as she'd assumed, Lila found herself looking for hidden agendas and double-meanings in every word that came out of her new employer's mouth.
"These look good, Lila." Chase glanced over the various mock-ups she'd had done of brochures to encourage more entrepreneurship in Bay City, especially among the recently unemployed. "I like choice #3 the best. Go ahead and put it through to production."
There. That seemed perfectly innocent and professional, didn't it? So why was Lila parsing each word for potential pitfalls. Damn Grant.
"Was there anything else?" Chase looked up in surprise when he realized Lila was still standing on the other side of his desk.
"You don't want to get a professional designer to look these over?"
He pointed a finger her way. "That's what I thought I hired you for."
"Hard to believe I was the most qualified person you could find," she challenged.
"Nooo..." Chase answered slowly. "There were a lot more qualified people. Whose work all looked exactly the same, by which I mean: equally boring. I wanted an original voice and a fresh attitude. I got the voice, alright. So what's with the attitude, Lila?"
"Just wondering if there were any other reasons, that's all," she heard how irrational she sounded. Didn't mean Lila had any intention to stop talking.
"Like what?" he appeared genuinely eager to hear any theories she might have.
"I don't know."
"Oh, come now. I'm sure if we put our two clever heads together, we could think of something." Chase offered, "Do you think I'm using you to launder mob money?"
"Please. You ain't paying me nearly enough for that."
"I'm a sore winner and I hired you in order to really stick it to Grant?"
"You hired him first," she reminded.
"I'm trying to get you into bed?"
"Very funny," Lila said.
"Well, I'm out of ideas."
"Mayor Hamilton!" Chief Toni Burrell marched through the door, despite a secretary's attempt to do this properly and announce her first. "We need to talk. It's urgent."
Chase rose, buttoning the front of his jacket and obediently holding out a hand to accept the envelope Toni was handing him. "What happened?"
Toni's eyes drifted to Lila. "Confidential city business, sir."
"First of all," Chase said. "We've known each other way too long for you to call me 'sir.' And, second of all, I trust Ms. Hart implicitly." The dig was anything but subtle.
If the Chief of Police weren't around, Lila might well have stuck her tongue out at him. But, for all she knew, there was a statute against making faces at the mayor.
Toni didn't look thrilled to have a witness. But, then again, she was too eager to talk to Chase to let Lila's presence stop her for long.
Toni indicated the envelope. "It came to the District Attorney's office, addressed to you."
"The Chief of Police is doing mail forwarding now?" Chase opened the top flap. "I've definitely got to see about taking that line out of the budget."
Without changing expression, Toni said, "We've known each other way too long for you to believe some patented Hamilton sarcasm is going to make me less concerned. Sir."
"Man's got to try." He began reading what she'd given him. "You look ready to burst."
"Once the D.A.'s office saw what was inside, they forwarded it to me, and since this could well affect the future peace of Bay City, I thought you should see it right away."
"It appears to be."
He let out a low whistle. "The infamous Donna Love file. The one she threatened to unleash if "
"Marley was in an accident a few days ago. At least, it looked like an accident to my men at the scene."
"Which means, if it wasn't..."
"It was a very professional job."
"So then Donna retaliated as promised..."
"And now we might very well have the evidence to bring down an international, criminal cartel in our hands."
"Which will, in turn, make Bay City Ground Zero for retaliation."
They'd both forgotten Lila was even in the room. But, Lila hadn't forgotten whose roof she and, more importantly, her daughter lived under. Between that and Matt's inability to completely detach himself from Donna...
"It's your call, Your Honor." Toni pointed at the document in question. "What would you like us to do?"
"You really need to take a break, get some sun," Jen chided Steven upon entering the computer lab. "Pasty doesn't look good on you."
"Machines with the kind of power I need prefer staying indoors. And since when are you the go forth and frolic type?"
"Since GQ and I worked things out."
Steven stared. Then blinked. "Congratulations."
"You... disapprove," Jen said flatly, her urge to frolic visibly draining.
"What do you care?"
"And now you're deflecting. I thought you'd be happy for me. Or, at least, happy for yourself. No more having to hear me whine and try to figure out what I should do."
"Did you not hear me say congratulations?"
"Sure. Right after I saw you swallow a dry heave."
"I had a bad burrito for lunch."
"I know how this looks," Jen quit playing dumb. "But I didn't make a deal with GQ over Hudson. His decision to drop the suit was completely independent of my decision to give him another chance."
"Still feeling that burrito?"
"What do you expect me to say? GQ made his decision to drop the suit. You made your decision to forgive GQ and start over. Duly noted."
"GQ admitted his mistakes. That shows he's willing to learn from them and grow and do the right thing. For both him and Hudson." Despite her best efforts, Jen's statement somehow turned into a question by the end.
"Awesome. That sounds like a win-win for everyone involved."
"It is. I'm really happy."
"You think I took GQ back because of what he said. His offer." This time around, what was meant as a question came out like a statement.
"I only know what you told me. And you told me it wasn't an either/or proposition."
"But, you don't believe me."
"I believe that you believe it. Or that you want to, in any case. I also believe if GQ cared about your making an honest, unbiased decision about taking him back, he wouldn't have pitched it to you before talking to the Bauers. He'd have done the right thing first, and let his actions speak for themselves."
"His actions do speak for themselves."
"And you see nothing wrong with the emotional manipulations at play here? You're a scientist, Jen. Look at the data. Once GQ laid out his intentions, your decision-making process was corrupted. You couldn't not associate forgiving him with GQ dropping the suit and vice versa."
"I'm sorry I didn't think to have a control group in place. Real life isn't a lab experiment. I chose to forgive GQ because I love the man he's trying to become. No matter how that graphs out on your data sheet. GQ is trying, Steven. I should try, too."
"In that case, class dismissed," Steven shrugged, and turned back to his computer.
Lori Ann stared quizzically at the chocolate Easter Bunny in her hands, as if attempting to determine the prime entry point. Then, with a look of determination, she leapt into the breach, thrusting her face forward and biting off the bunny's nose in one gulp.
Frankie, Cass, Charlie, Dean, Felicia and Lucas, who'd been silently watching her meditation, laughed and clapped their hands. Lori Ann grinned back, her teeth and lips smeared with chocolate. Remembering her manners, she then went around in a circle, offering each of the big people in her life a piece of the now conquered rabbit.
"Daddy Cass," she said, breaking off a section and turning around. "Daddy Dean," she handed over another.
"It's amazing," Lucas marveled, using a handkerchief to discreetly wipe the lovingly distributed, yet undeniably sticky, half-melted chocolate off his hands. "She didn't blink an eye. She thinks this is all completely normal."
"Kids are damn adaptable. Right, Charlotte?" Cass winked at this daughter.
She shrugged, pointing to her mouth apologetically, ostensibly busy chewing her share of a bunny's foot.
"They have to be," Frankie said. "Considering everything we adults put them through."
"It's hardly deliberate!" Felicia bristled. "We all try our best. It isn't our fault that things sometimes get... out of hand."
"Then whose fault is it?" Dean challenged. "Maybe my mom's dying wasn't her fault, but my dad pulling a disappearing act whose fault was that?"
"His," Lucas said sharply, as if daring anyone to disagree. "Choosing to run away instead of staying and facing the music is a coward's way out. There's never an excuse for it."
No one in the room had any doubt that Lucas wasn't referring to merely Henry Frame.
"That's not true," Frankie's voice was just as resolute as his, if somewhat softer as she disagreed, "Sometimes, keeping your distance is the best thing for everyone."
"I told myself that for years," Lucas said grimly. "What do you think of how my rationalizations turned out, Fanny?"
Felicia opened her mouth, then closed it again, surprised that he would be so open on the subject, then realizing that this was Lucas' way of apologizing to them all for what his decision had triggered in turn. "I think... I think everyone in this room has made their share of bad judgment calls. We're really in no position to cast stones." She looked from Lucas to Frankie, doing her best to smile. Doing her best to genuinely believe what she was actually saying. "It wasn't just Cass and Charlie and I. You and Frankie suffered just as much during the years when we were all separated. At least we had each other. We had our family and our friends and the support you get when you lose someone close to you. You and Frankie, Luke, you were all alone. You didn't have anyone to turn to."
At that, Frankie and Lucas exchanged quick, cryptic glances. Even though they'd never discussed the subject when would it have come up, after all? both felt certain they knew what the other was thinking on that score.
No one could ever spend so much time completely alone....
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