Jamie sat doubled-over in a living room chair, Lorna next to him, his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.
"Marley?" he managed to retch. "You're sure? Donna couldn't have been lying to you?"
"That's what I thought at first, too," Lorna rested a hand on his shoulder. "But, then, Marley she confessed."
"Marley isn't... Her mental health has never been the greatest. If she really did try to commit suicide right now "
"Donna thinks it's because she confronted her about my accident."
"How do we know Donna isn't setting her up? That Donna didn't convince Marley she's guilty until Marley actually began to believe it?"
"That's what I asked." Honestly, Lorna wished Jamie were capable of coming up with a reasonable explanation for everything. It would make the entire situation so much easier. "I accused Donna of wanting to keep Marley away from Grant."
"Right! Yes!" Jamie raised his head, looking so hopeful Lorna actually cringed. "That's exactly what it could be."
"I confronted her, Jamie. I looked her in the eye. She denied at first, and then she... gave in. She tried to defend herself. She tried to make excuses."
"She came to see me at the hospital. She seemed so concerned."
"I'm sure she was. I don't think Marley was looking to kill me. Not consciously, anyway. I believe it when she says she's sorry. But, it's not even a matter of punishing her anymore. It's a matter of getting her off the streets, and especially away from your boys. She's dangerous. You have to face that."
"You don't want revenge?" Jamie checked. "That's not like you."
"Don't worry, I haven't turned into a saint overnight. Every instinct I have is screaming to lock Marley up, throw away the key, maybe add a nice cleansing fire for good measure you know how I am when I get on the warpath. I do want revenge. I do want Marley to pay for what she put us all through. Though not at Kirkland and Steven's expense. But, the truth of the matter is, ultimately, I'm doing this for me. I can't... I haven't been able to stop thinking about Gabe."
"Oh, Lorna, no... No. You can't compare... This isn't the same thing."
"Cindy Brooke was so obsessed with Gabe that she tried to kill me. I let her drive me out of town. I ran away, I left Gabe behind and he died. I lost a man that I loved more than anyone before you because I didn't stay and fight to protect what was mine. I am not going to let that happen again. Marley is dangerous. Going to jail won't change that. If anything, it might make matters worse. Even if we could get her convicted, which is iffy at best. A hospital might actually help her. It would make her safe to be around the kids again. To be around you. To live in the same town as our daughter without me shaking in terror every minute she's out of my sight. I am never, ever running away from my problems again. I am going to stay and I am going to fight for us. If I have to make a deal with the Devil's handmaiden herself?" Lorna shrugged. "So be it. I told you, Jamie. I'm no saint."
"Did Jeanne send you?" Donna asked Matt after giving him and only him permission to pass through her security gates and into the house
"Yes," he told her honestly. Which seemed to throw Donna for somewhat of a loop.
"I see you've picked up your new girlfriend's forthrightness. Let's hope it's the only syndrome she infects you with long term," Donna couldn't help adding.
"We've been through too much together to lie to each other, Donna. You'd see right through me."
"The same way you'd see through me."
"I don't know. You did a pretty good job of keeping me in the dark about some things."
"Out of necessity, Matthew, not choice. And never for long. You know me, darling. Better than anyone these days, I sometimes think."
"I wonder what John would say about that?"
"John..." Donna smiled fondly. "John looks at me and sees the teen-age girl he once knew. That visage will never thoroughly go away, no matter what contradictory things may have come after. You, on the other hand, your view of me is a touch more realistic. Your eyes are less clouded. That's why I desperately need you to believe me. I did not mail that infernal file to the authorities."
"You threatened to. I saw the interview, same as everybody else."
"It was a bluff. The only way I could think of to protect my family."
"You said if anything were to happen to the people you loved you would... And then Marley... she..."
"Tried to commit suicide. I'm convinced of it, no matter what she might claim to the contrary. She wasn't attacked. Which means I had no reason to go on the offensive. Not that I could have, in any case. There was never any file. My knowledge of Carl's dealings was always cursory, at best. I certainly was never intimate with his associates."
"Then where did it come from? Jeanne didn't make it up. That file exists. And from what I hear, it names names and pretty much draws a direct map straight to that place in Canada where you had Lucas held."
"Lucas," Donna leapt on the name with self-interested enthusiasm. "Lucas was ultimately allowed to come and go as he pleased. He did the compound's dirty work for years. Lucas is undoubtedly in a better position to expose them then I could ever be. And he has ample motive to frame me for his betrayal. The same goes for Carl. They despise me, Matthew."
"They've got pretty good reason," Matt reminded.
"Exactly! Carl and Lucas have a plethora of reasons for wanting their enemies wiped out. What's in this for me except more danger? I almost lost my only surviving daughter a few days ago. Do you honestly think my first reaction would be to turn around and put her at risk again?"
"You had no choice," Lila reassured Chase after he gave Toni the go-ahead to pass on all their recently acquired information to the federal authorities who'd come calling as soon as Jeanne's report hit the airways. Toni left the Mayor's office to carry out his orders.
"Not exactly a position I like to operate from." He plopped down on the visitor's couch, leaning back and running his hands through his hair, sighing.
Lila sat down next to him, asking, "What would you have done if nobody forced your hand?"
"I don't know," Chase confessed. "But I would have appreciated the option to give the matter some thought. Jeanne Ewing gave those lovely people up in Canada a head's up that they were about to be raided. By the time anyone in law enforcement gets up there, odds are the place will be deserted. Sure, they may lay low for a while. But, as soon as the heat eases up, how long do you think it will be before they come looking to punish the parties responsible? And two part question how concerned do you think they'll be about collateral damage? Donna Love and Jeanne Ewing have, between the two of them, just painted a huge bulls-eye smack-dab around Bay City."
"Matt sure can pick 'em..." Lila mumbled.
Chase turned his head in surprise. "Your ex and Ms. Ewing?"
"So I hear through the family grapevine."
"First time your former mother-in-law has the new girlfriend over for dinner, promise you'll save your favorite Mayor a seat? I can't wait to hear what Mr. Hutchins might have to say to her over the bouillabaisse. You might want to hide the butter knives."
"You think Carl is entangled in this, too?"
"Up to that well-coiffed head of his, for sure."
"So anyone connected to him, no matter how peripherally, they might be in danger, too?"
"Someone like his stepson's ex-wife, you mean?"
"Actually, I was thinking more like his step-granddaughter."
Chase groaned. "Jasmine. Right. Sorry. I hate to say it, Lila, but, yeah. People like this tend to prefer the indirect approach. Why go straight after your target, when you can pick away at the people around him, first? Starting with the most vulnerable."
"How can I protect her?"
"I suspect Carl already has security in place. Probably ones you haven't seen, but they're there all the same. I was just a D.A. I read a lot of dossiers. He's lived the real thing."
"I'm supposed to put my daughter's life into Carl's hands?"
"Honestly? He's your best bet right now. He knows who we're dealing with a hell of a lot better than my police department does." Chase pivoted to face Lila, brushing a stray lock of hair from her face. "I know how terrifying this is. I have a daughter, too. Before Doug and I adopted Milagros, I had no idea what people were talking about when it came to kids. I'd nod my head and agree, and I'd certainly play it for all it was worth in court. But, I couldn't feel it. I can now. I will do everything humanly possible and then I'll do a little more; 'cause I'm like that to make sure you and Jasmine are safe. Sometimes being a real son of a bitch can come in handy. This is one of those times."
Hudson's first birthday party was in full swing by the time GQ got to the Bauers' house; the guests a combination of adults and kids ranging in ages from a little over a year to pre-teens. GQ recognized Leah Bauer there, too. They'd just brought out the cake.
The guest of honor sat in his high chair at the head of a table decorated with a Tigger tablecloth. He wore a Tigger T-shirt and held a stuffed Tigger toy while blowing a Tigger shaped party-favor. The cake had a bouncing Tigger drawn on it in icing. GQ sensed a theme.
A Tigger party hat lay discarded on the floor where Hudson had yanked it off his head and flung it to the ground. GQ suspected he knew how that party hat felt.
At first, no one noticed him. They were too busy singing 'Happy Birthday,' taking pictures, and urging Hudson to blow out his candle.
Hudson tried to do as directed, but only ended up closing his eyes, instead. Everybody clapped anyway. Especially Rick and Mindy.
Mindy leaned over to take Hudson's candle off his cake, preparing to start slicing it. She looked up and spotted GQ. She froze. The guests all craned their heads to see what she was looking at. A dozen pairs of pupils glared GQ's way.
"Hi, GQ," Mindy said. And then she awkwardly introduced, "This is Grant Quinn Todd. He's Hudson's... biological daddy."
A chorus of polite 'hi's' followed. GQ nodded to indicate he'd heard.
"Would you like some cake?" Mindy asked feebly.
"No. Thanks. I I just wanted to see him. Wish him a happy birthday, you know?"
"You're welcome to stay," Mindy said. "I mean it."
"Is Allie coming, too?" Rick wondered.
"I don't think so."
"Can you believe it's been a whole year?" Mindy couldn't stop talking. She was too afraid. Because if she stopped talking, then GQ would start. And Mindy wasn't sure she was ready to hear what he had to say yet. "On the one hand, it went so fast. And, on the other..."
"You can keep him," GQ blurted out, as eager to get his piece over-with as Mindy was terrified to hear it. "I told Mel to go ahead and draw up the papers. I'm withdrawing my petition to overturn his adoption. You can keep him. You win."
Nobody moved. Not GQ, not the guests, not Rick, not Mindy. Only Hudson seemed utterly unaffected by the drama going on just above his head. He picked up his Tigger and waved the toy by its tail.
"Grrrrr...." Hudson growled loudly. When that didn't get him the notice he'd expected, he repeated, "Grrr..." more insistently this time.
Mindy turned absently towards her son, smiling at Hudson perfunctorily and agreeing, "Grrrr...."
Hudson laughed, pleased to be the center of attention again, and threw the Tigger with all his might. GQ caught the toy before it hit the floor alongside the matching party-hat.
"Thank you?" Mindy whispered, realizing it could never come close to being enough, knowing that nothing ever would.
Rick stretched out his hand and GQ shook it automatically, still staring at Hudson. He said, "Visitation..."
"Anytime," Rick swore. "Just say the word."
"I'll want it in writing and... stuff."
Mindy plucked Hudson out of his chair and brought the boy over to GQ. "Look who's here," she cooed. "Say hello, sweetie."
"Hey, dude," GQ rested a hand atop Hudson's curls. Freshly washed for the occasion they stood up like a halo around his head. "Happy Birthday."
"You told Lorna you have proof that Marley was the one who hit her?" Jamie barked as he stalked past Donna into the foyer of the Love home, having been granted admittance through the salivating reporters at the gate without an iota of interest for why they might be there. He held out his hand. "Let's see it."
"I'm afraid that's impossible. You'll just have to take my word for "
"The day I take your word for anything is the day pigs levitate over ice-rinks in Hell, and Carl finally slices off that damn ponytail of his. Now show me what you think you have, if you expect either Lorna or I to go along with your plans for Marley."
Donna met her former son-in-law's (two times over!) arctic focus with an unwavering gaze that, to Jamie's concealed surprise, was less hostile and more... sympathetic?
"As I figured," Jamie clipped in disgust, willfully shaking off the uncertainty Donna's look had stirred in him. "You've got nothing."
"I understand how badly you want to believe in her, Jamie. I realize that reconciling what Marley did to Lorna and Morgan with the Marley you remember "
"Stop it," he warned. "Whatever you think you're accomplishing, snaring my family into your psychosis ends now. Leave Lorna alone. Don't even dream of approaching Steven or Kirkland with your lies. You will not suck us into your destructive orbit."
"If proof was what you genuinely wanted," Donna challenged. "You wouldn't have come here. You would have gone straight to Marley. You would have asked her yourself."
"I don't need to ask Marley. I know her. Marley isn't capable of cold-bloodedly leaving two people to die in the middle of the street like a raccoon run over on the highway."
"The Marley you were engaged to twenty years ago wasn't. The Marley you raised a family with for the past decade wasn't. But the Marley that tried to do away with her own sister so she could take Victoria's place with Jake and her boys? That Marley.... You weren't in Bay City, Jamie. You didn't get to witness just how far gone she was then."
"But she got better," he stubbornly defended.
"She did," Donna nodded wistfully, unexpectedly stirred by Jamie's continued denial. Even if Marley wasn't what she had once been to him, it was touching to see that some loyalty, some faith in her still held. "But she's broken again. She hasn't been herself for a very long time. You two aren't as close as you once were, but you must have picked up on at least that much."
"She's changed recently," Jamie conceded. "We all have. When Vicky died and then Jake, it hit her hard. But she dealt with it, she held it together then."
"She had the kids to keep her occupied. She had you and I to lean on. Don't get me wrong, darling, I'm not putting the blame for any of this on you," Donna continued on quickly, despite Jamie never making a sign of protest. "Marley is ultimately responsible for her own actions."
"In that case, if she really did what you claim, then she belongs in jail, not a hospital," he coldly assessed.
"That's not what you believed when she was accused of trying to kill Jake. You were ready to run away with her to protect Marley from going to jail. You were even willing to abandon Steven to take care of her."
"I never meant to abandon not for good and, anyway, according to you, that was a different Marley. The Marley responsible for Lorna's accident "
"Your Marley is still in there. Our Marley. We can still save her." Donna pleaded, "What do you think going to prison would do to her? For God's sake, you've been where she is now. Desperately ill, out of your mind, not responsible for your actions. What if you'd done something to warrant being sent to jail in such a state?"
For a moment, Jamie looked as if she'd punched him in the gut. He turned pale, swallowing hard as if he might be sick, and tightening both his hands into fists by his sides, only able to unclench them, along with his jaw, through sheer force of will.
Donna realized she'd never have a better opportunity to press her advantage, even if she didn't completely comprehend what precisely she'd said to hit him so hard. "Would you have gotten better under such circumstances? That's not any kind of justice, it's sadism. Marley needs to be protected from herself as much as "
"What about the people who need to be protected from Marley?" he fired back. "Today it's Lorna just out of a coma, tomorrow it might be one of your grandchildren! We need to go to the police. The case of Grant's campaign car is still open. We "
"Will lose our leverage against Marley," Donna pointed out. "She'd deny everything and hide behind Grant. Which means she wouldn't get the help she needs! You're concerned about my grandchildren? The boys, they were always yours. But, Michele and Bridget are Marley's. They need her whole and healthy and taking care of them. Those poor children have already lost one mother. Are you honestly prepared to be responsible for their losing another?"
"Don't try to manipulate me, Donna. I love Marley's girls. But, I'm no chump."
"Marley is all I have left," Donna pleaded. "She is my only living daughter. I will do anything I have to in order to save her."
Jamie bristled, this time around her words most definitively missing their desired target. "Now where have I heard that rationalization before? Oh, yeah, from Felicia. While Lorna was in the coma you claim Marley put her in. My God, the callous entitlement you both fling around like it's some blanket justification for doing whatever the hell you want, it's sickening."
"What is it that you want then, Jamie? Justice? Grant's cover-up made certain you'll never get that. Revenge? You want Marley to be punished? She has been. She is. She will be for the rest of her life, knowing how much she hurt you and that things will never be the same between you two ever again. Losing you like this, finally, completely, is worse than any prison term. The only thing left is to try to salvage what we can. To help my daughter heal, to recover, to no longer be a threat to herself or anyone else, and to give Bridget and Michele their mother back. And for that I need your and Lorna's help."
"I stopped being Marley's white knight a long time ago."
"Then why are you here, talking to me, instead of to her? I'll tell you why. Because it's easier to come after somebody you don't particularly care for, than someone who once meant everything to you."
Jamie glared at Donna, hating the truth of her words, nevertheless conceding, "I loved her once."
"And once you ask her about this, all that will be forever destroyed. Not just the future will change, but the way that you look at the past, as well."
"She'll be nothing to me," Jamie swore with such emotion that Donna knew it was the farthest thing from the truth.
"All our elaborate work," Carl seethed as he and Rachel eyed the television screen, Jeanne Ewing aping for the cameras yet again to report that there was nothing to report on the latest development in the Donna Love saga. "Undone by this ninny."
Carl turned to his wife, thrown somewhat when she did not immediately prompt him to elaborate. Instead her eyes remained on Jeanne. Or rather they avoided looking to him.
"Because of Jeanne Ewing's short-sighted, self-serving ambition," Carl took it upon himself to explain. "Management at the compound was warned well in advance of any action the authorities might take against them. They've had time to destroy records, move buried bodies; the more dangerous associates burrowing underground. The physical compound may be shut down, but the vermin who ran it will rise again after regrouping stronger, angrier, and more vicious."
At that Rachel suddenly rose from her chair and took a turn about the room. Actually it was more of a stalk. When she finally ground to a halt, it was to cross-examine Carl, "How is it then that all of your elaborate plans managed to be foiled by Jeanne Ewing? Why weren't you prepared for this or any other potential complication?"
"Not every contingency can be planned for," he defended.
"Would you have accepted that excuse from anyone unfortunate enough to have worked for you so many years ago? Or even now?"
Carl's eyes went hard. "This is a delicate situation.
"Yes, and your soft touch only resulted in it escalating."
"My soft touch, as you so put it," Carl over-articulated which, for him, was really saying something. "Is solely and utterly a consequence of your constant warnings to, as we tell children on the playground: Play nicely."
"So now it's my fault?" Rachel thundered. "I trusted you to protect us! What happened to the Carl Hutchins who knew how to stay several steps ahead of his enemies? Who intuited when to play with his food and when to strike hard and fast? Your insistence on getting revenge against Donna put us all at risk. Had you gone after these people directly, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to scurry underground."
"Rachel, I do love you," her husband said with great care. "But I will not be spoken to in this manner!"
"I'm not you, Carl. When my children's lives are at stake flowery language and courtly manners are the first things to fly out the window. Followed by patience. Jeanne Ewing or no Jeanne Ewing, I need you to settle this now."
"Are you aware of what you're asking of me?"
"You are not." He challenged. "The situation has changed. For me to do as you ask nay, demand will require marshalling all of my resources and skills. Skills and resources that you once equally as forcefully ordered me to place under lock and key, never to be invoked again."
"Are you threatening me?"
"I am leveling with you, my dear. You cannot have it both ways. Not anymore. I cannot remain the husband and father you require me to be while simultaneously being the man you believe our current troubles call for. It is empirically impossible. You may have the Carl Hutchins of old back, with all the grief and handiness that brings with it, or you may keep the Carl Hutchins you fell in love with the man you have no qualms about sharing a bed and a family and a life with. The choice, Rachel, is yours."
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