"Why?" A stunned Grant couldn't help asking Marley after she'd stumbled through an account of Lorna's earlier visit. "Why would you concede anything to Lorna?"
"She threatened to tell... everyone. What are we going to do, Grant? She asked about you. I tried to tell her you had nothing to do with it, but think of the trouble she could stir up for you with Kirkland. If we don't do what she says, she'll go to the police."
"Whereupon, if Toni Burrell and her minions even bother to investigate the claims of a woman with documented, recent brain damage, you'll simply deny the entire thing. It'll be her word against yours," Grant soothed confidently.
"But, I... I confessed."
"Can she prove it?" Grant asked, even as he mused that it would be just like Lorna to have recorded the entire conversation. He was left hoping that the documented brain damage had actually done some temporary, of course harm. "No one was witness to the conversation other than you and Lorna. All Lorna has for the police is a lot of hot air, which we in the legal profession call hearsay."
"Even if the police don't believe her, what about Steven and Kirkland? What about Bridget and Michele? She'll turn them all against me. The boys, they know... "
"What? What do they know?"
"They know I've done this before. To Vicky and Jake. They'll take Lorna's word for it, even if she has no real evidence. They forgave me before, but Jamie is their father " Marley ignored Grant's wince at her lumping Kirkland into that group. "God, why did she have to remember?" Marley whimpered. Primarily because, at the last minute, even she couldn't bring herself to wonder: Why did she have to wake up?
"We always knew it was a possibility," Grant said grimly, frowning as a new thought occurred to him. "A better question is: Why is she trying to make a deal? Why come to you instead of going directly to the police?"
"Because we're family," Marley spit out the last word. "Apparently, she's mellowed."
"Sex with Jamie will do that," Grant mumbled, definitely not meaning it as a compliment. "All I know is, when crossed, Lorna is ten pounds of vengeance in a five pound bag. Always has been, always will be. And that was before the presumed Mama Bear hormones. No way would she roll over without seizing even the remotest chance to carve out a pound of your flesh for putting her in the hospital and endangering her child. Not even to convince Jamie how mellow she now is. This 'offer' doesn't make sense. It reeks of desperation."
"Lorna seemed anything but desperate when she was here before," Marley swallowed heavily. "She was livid... disbelieving..."
"Disbelieving?" Grant cocked his head. "If Lorna remembered, if she was sure it was you who'd hit her, she should have been full of righteous anger. Nothing you said should have surprised her."
Marley's eyes widened as she went over every nuance of their altercation and, sickened, realized, "She wasn't sure. She didn't know. She didn't know, Grant. I don't understand. Why...what "
"She was sent," he concluded.
"Donna," Marley said without thinking, immediately regretting uttering the name as Grant's eyes snapped directly back to her. "Lorna's offer. She wants me to commit myself. Which is what Donna "
"Has been trying to do," Grant completed, mulling it over. "But what would put it in Donna's head to use Lorna's accident as a means to her end?"
"Who knows how my mother's mind works?" Marley shrugged, still not ready to admit to Grant that Donna knew the gritty details about the hit-and-run and had tried to force Marley into checking herself into a sanitarium with the same information. "It fits."
"It does," Grant agreed, eyes darkening. "That bitch. When I get my hands on her...."
"No. Confronting my mother won't do any good. Especially now that she's put it into Lorna's head that I'm responsible for her accident."
"I can talk to Lorna. Convince her that Donna is just yanking her chain."
"Do you really think she'll believe you? Lorna has some pretty sound reasons for doubting your integrity."
"I'll make her believe me. Your mother is hardly one of Lorna's favorite people to begin with. And once she feels the burn of being a pawn in a Donna Love mind game, Lorna will never trust another word that comes out of that demented harridan's mouth."
"What about Jamie?"
"What about him?"
"What if Lorna... I asked her not to tell Jamie, but I can't believe that she wouldn't..."
You better hope she hasn't, Grant's throat involuntarily constricted as his mind jumped back to the disconcerting confrontation he'd had with Jamie in the Cory study after Grant had gloated about bedding Marley the first time. For a split second there, Grant had been convinced that meek, mild, tedious Jamie was about to rip Grant's head off and take pleasure in it, too. He had no interest at this time or ever of provoking that particular Jamie again. And he certainly didn't want Marley to, either.
"Then again, he'd be here already if he knew, right?" Marley asked hopefully, to Grant's disbelief. "He'd never just take her word for it... Even her word.... He'd come ask me directly. He'd..."
She trailed off as her speculation seemingly made Jamie materialize in Marley's hospital doorway. He wasn't wearing his white lab coat. He was mostly definitely not there on medical business.
Immediately, Grant rose, defensive.
Marley took one look at Jamie's face and began to tremble.
"Well," Jamie asked, Marley's heart splintering as she registered the pain, disbelief, anger, and disappointment loaded in his seemingly simple query. "Did you?"
She couldn't speak. She couldn't move.
She didn't have to.
Jamie saw the answer on her face before the question was even out of his mouth. She did nothing to stop it.
Even as Marley realized that she was confessing everything, that she was committing herself and maybe even Grant to ruin, she also realized that she just didn't have it in her to lie to him. Not anymore.
Distantly, Marley registered Grant tense at her side, coiled to counter Jamie's next move, whatever that might prove to be.
Yet Marley's eyes remained on Jamie as he silently regarded her for a long beat with an anguished, then hard finality before turning around and leaving without another word.
"I'm sorry..." Marley sobbed, knowing that he couldn't hear her. Knowing that even if he could, it wouldn't matter in the slightest now....
"So what's up?" Steven, who'd biked over to Jamie and Lorna's house, wiped the sweat off his forehead with a forearm, reached into the fridge to pull out a soda, popped the tab and plopped down on a stool by the counter, taking a long sip before asking Kirkland, "What'd you want to talk to me about that couldn't be done over the phone?"
"I just had something to ask you, that's all." Kirkland took the seat across from Steven, somehow managing to look everywhere but at his brother even as he explained, "And I wanted to do it face to face."
"Okay. I'm listening."
"I need some advice."
"About girls," Steven guessed.
Kirkland's head swiveled. "How'd you know?"
"Asking me to fix your computer wouldn't be making you turn five shades of red."
Steven's deduction only served to add another tint to Kirkland's coloring. However, he bravely pressed on. "What's the difference, would you say, between a girl who's just a friend, and a girlfriend?"
Steven didn't need to think about it. "Sex."
"So... if you're not having sex, you're not..."
"Well, at my age, yes. At your age, there's all sorts of kiddie sex you can be having. That counts, too."
"I am not a kid!"
"You are," Steven corrected without judgment or confrontation. As with everything in his life, facts were facts, and when he knew he was right, he saw no point to belabor it. "And, anyway, shouldn't you be having this conversation with Dad? A dad? With one of your many, many dads?"
"If I asked Dad," Kirkland reiterated what they both knew to be true. "He'd want to talk about love and feelings and crap like that. Not to mention drag out his world-famous 'no means no' lecture. And if I talked to Grant, he'd be all about condoms and making sure nobody ends up suing me. What I really want to know about is "
"Is that your answer to everything?"
Steven shrugged. "It's the answer to most things. And am I wrong in this case?"
"You looking for a mechanics tutorial? What goes where?"
"I know all about that," Kirkland scoffed.
"Doubtful. But, okay, you're the boss. What kind of advice are you looking for, then?"
"I want to know how... how you get from just being friends to the... the..."
"Would you stop saying that?"
Steven laughed. "You're going to have a pretty tough time doing it, if you can't even say it, man."
"I didn't realize there was an oral component to the exam."
"Then you really don't know "
"Ha, ha, very funny. I get it." Kirkland was no longer just red. Rather, he was a color even the best of Impressionist painters would have been hard pressed to match.
Steven leaned over the counter and rifled around in the fruit bowl, finally finding the nectarine he was looking for and snapping it open, turning the seedless half Kirkland's way. For the next two minutes he proceeded to offer his brother a tutorial on the oft-neglected oral component that, despite Kirkland's attempt at feigning veteran disinterest, utterly captivated the younger boy's attention.
He cleared his throat several times before managing to cough, "You're not going to pull out a cucumber next, are you?"
"Only if you want to make a salad."
"So, okay, so maybe I do still have a lot to learn."
"The first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem."
"But, see, the thing is, I'm not even close to being at the... nectarine stage yet."
"Do you want to be?"
"Sure. Yeah. Of course. Eventually. Right now, though, see, I could kind of use more practical advice on the making your first move part. How are you even supposed to make it clear to a girl that you're interested? You know, so you can check out if she'd be interested back?"
"Oh." Steven sat back down on his stool, pondering the fruit bowl, understanding that there was nothing in there to help with this particular visual aid. For either Kirkland or himself. "That...."
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Lorna was barely through the door before she interrupted her mother's idiotic chatter about wedding details, maternity gowns, and who should be seated where during the reception to demand, "Making Marley think that Grant and Donna were having an affair?"
Felicia blanched, happy that her back was momentarily to Lorna so that she might have a fair chance to compose herself before answering. "I don't understand."
Lorna grabbed Felicia by the shoulder and whipped her around. "Marley told me what you said to her at Alice and Spencer's wedding. Why? What do you care?"
"I remember speaking to Marley at the Harrison wedding," Felicia hedged. "I certainly don't remember saying anything that might have made her think..."
"Was this all part of your plan with Carl? You told me you had one. You said you were going to make Donna pay. I know how Carl thinks, Felicia. He taught me, remember? Donna killed his daughter. The only poetic justice in his book would be to cost Donna hers. Were you in on it, too?"
"I don't understand," this time, Felicia spoke the complete truth. "You wanted to get back at her just as much as I did. You almost set the woman on fire, for goodness' sake. Why are you so upset that yes, maybe Carl and I did plant a few, choice suspicions in Marley's mind in order to alienate her from Donna. So what?"
"So what?" Lorna repeated. "I'll tell you so what. Between Donna, Carl, Grant and you, you all pushed Marley so far and so hard that one night, she got in her car, and she tore off, barely looking where she was going, and she ran into Morgan and me."
"No," Felicia moaned.
"Marley hit you and Morgan?"
"Marley almost killed me. Marley almost killed my baby. And I'm not even counting right now what she did to Jamie."
"But... I You can't possibly believe I wanted any of that to happen!"
"What did you want to happen?"
"Just what I said! I wanted Marley to turn on Donna, to reject her completely. I wanted Donna to lose her daughter."
"And if the psychological torture hadn't worked, what next? Would you and Carl have killed Marley to make your point?"
"Don't be absurd."
"I don't know... Marley keeps insisting that she didn't try to commit suicide. That she was locked in a poison-filled garage and left to die. That sure sounds like Carl's work to me. Did you know he was going to do it? Did you encourage him?"
"Are you serious?" Felicia gasped.
"Tell me something," Lorna swallowed hard, determined to get her question out before she began to cry. "Am I ever going to come first with you? Is there ever going to be an occasion where I'm your priority? Where someone else or something else doesn't always take center-stage, leaving me as an afterthought, as collateral damage?"
"I understand that you're upset," Felicia pleaded. "It must have been horrible for you for you and Jamie to find out that Marley was the one responsible for all your pain and suffering. But, Lorna, darling, how can you believe me responsible for something that nobody could have predicted? It truly was an accident, in every sense of the word."
"An accident that would've never happened if you'd stopped even for a moment to think through the consequences of what you and Carl were plotting. Did you really think you could contain the damage to just Donna? Marley is Steven and Kirkland's aunt. What if she'd hurt one of them? Or Michele and Bridget? If Marley did try to kill herself, you were a contributing factor. Do you think this is what Jenna would have wanted?"
"I know what Jenna would have wanted," Felicia seethed, fed up with being accused of motives she never intended. "Jenna would have wanted to live. She would have wanted to love her husband and to raise their child."
"That's all I wanted too," Lorna snapped. "And you almost made it impossible."
"Thanks," Allie said dully as GQ showed her the documents he'd had drawn up and signed, handing custody of Hudson irrevocably to the Bauers.
"That's it?" They sat side by side on a white, hand-carved, ornate swing inside a gazebo on the Cory property, their feet brushing the ground as they lazily swayed back and forth. "That's all you've got to say?"
She handed him back the papers. "What do you need me to say?"
"I did what you wanted."
"You did what was best for Hudson," she corrected.
"Aren't you happy?"
"You have an interesting way of showing it."
"Damn it, Allie," GQ stuffed the briefs back into his bag. "What is wrong with you? We've been fighting about this damned situation for over a year. I tell you it's finally over, and all you can manage in response is... thanks?"
"It shouldn't have happened, period."
"Do you mean us fighting, or Hudson?"
Allie said, "We didn't want him. Either of us. We screwed up."
"Yeah," he sighed, letting his head hang down until his ears were nearly at his shoulders. "We really did."
"At least we found a way to fix things. A lot of people never get a second chance."
"Like Gregory?" GQ guessed.
Allie nodded. "It isn't fair. You and I have pulled some pretty rotten crap. We've hurt people who didn't deserve it. Gregory never hurt anyone. He was the nicest, kindest human being I ever met. And he didn't get a second chance."
"You were his second chance, Allie," GQ reminded.
Allie snorted. "Then he really got the short end of the stick."
"Come on, Allie...."
"So. I hear you and Jen are back together." She changed the subject so quickly, had GQ's head been any higher, he might have gotten whiplash.
"Yeah," he merely confirmed instead, swallowing the remainder of what he'd meant to say to her. "We are."
"I have a lot to make up to her for," he admitted.
"Then why aren't you out there doing it, instead of wasting your time here with me?"
"I I wanted to tell you about Hudson."
"Because. He is ours. Yours and mine."
"He was ours. Though not really. Not the way a kid is supposed to be. But, you don't have to worry about that anymore. You don't need to feel obligated. There's nothing left to connect us in any way. You're finally free of me, once and for all."
"Mom," Charlie followed her mother around the house as, with Lori Ann sitting on one hip, Frankie attempted to get her youngest daughter ready to be dropped off at Dean's so that Frankie could then start the rest of her day.
"What?" Frankie rifled in the closet, looking for Lori Ann's jacket.
"I Kirkland asked me to go to Jamie and Lorna's wedding with him. Can I?"
Frankie resurfaced, holding in one hand a jacket appropriate for Spring/Fall and another better suited for Spring/Summer. Despite what the calendar said, Frankie couldn't decide which might be more fitting for the weather ahead. "You mean, like a date?"
"I don't know," Charlie admitted.
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Frankie straightened up, deciding to toss both coats into Lori Ann's diaper bag. She then proceeded to begin hunting for her own purse and coat. Not to mention gathering up binoculars, button camera, extension lens, and a half-dozen false ID's. The usual working mom paraphernalia.
"I mean, Kirk and I have been friends since we were babies. We always used to hang out and do stuff together, in school, out of school.... Thing is now, I'm wondering if his inviting me to his dad's wedding means that he "
"Be careful around Kirkland, alright?" Frankie paused at the door, palm on the knob, half of her already heading out as she turned at the last minute to warn Charlie. "He's a nice kid. But, he's also had a very difficult life. None of us know precisely what effect all that may have had on him. Promise me you'll watch out."
"For," out in the driveway, Cass honked his horn. Frankie yelled that they were coming before quickly answering, "For anything even a little bit out of the ordinary. If Kirkland does something or says something that makes you feel even a little bit uncomfortable, I want you to "
"I'm seventeen, Mom. Pretty much everything rubs me the wrong way."
Frankie grinned, leaning over to kiss her daughter on the forehead and give Charlie a quick hug, even as Lori Ann squirmed in the opposite direction. Frankie had to let go of Charlie in order to keep Lori Ann from tumbling over backwards. She told Charlie, "You are so funny. I am so proud to be your mother."
"Okay, yeah, great, but what I really wanted to know was "
"Tonight!" Frankie hurried down the driveway, calling over her shoulder. "We'll talk more tonight. Have a great day! Say hello to Kirkland for me!"
Charlie raised one hand to tepidly wave in Frankie, Cass, and Lori Ann's direction as they drove away from the house.
She shut the door and stood in the center of the living room for a beat, wondering what she should do next, feeling more lost than ever.
Impulsively, Charlie grabbed her cell-phone and dialed a number from memory. She almost chickened out at the last minute but, once she heard her pick up, Charlie forced herself to relax and offer, "Hi, Lila...."
Realizing that she obviously had no intention of coming out and giving them a statement, the reporters sniffing around outside the gates of the Love Mansion had finally dispersed a few hours earlier.
Which was why Donna found it deeply intriguing to hear her own station tout that Jeanne Ewing would be premiering her exclusive interview with Ms. Love at the start of the next news cycle.
She tried phoning Jeanne directly down at KBAY, but was bounced straight into voice-mail. What a surprise.
Donna attempted to reach Matthew next on his cell-phone, but whether he was truly out of hearing range or merely screening his calls, she'd never know.
A message to the News Director yielded similar results.
Donna was about to buzz the security guard and order him to step away from his post long enough to track down Jeanne or Matthew and drag them to the phone if need be, when the special report, as promised, began on her television screen, and Donna decided she might as well view it before continuing on with her efforts.
Jeanne's face appeared, looking all the more smug and self-satisfied for being broadcast in High Definition. (Somehow, Donna didn't think it was right that her personal cash investment to upgrade the station's equipment was being used in the service of making Jeanne Ewing look good.)
She began by airing a clip from Donna's pre-Election interview, wherein Donna of her own free will had expounded, "I am well aware that Carl and a number of people in his professional acquaintance may still have issues with me, and the actions I took to protect Jenna. Consequently, I have taken several precautions. I am quite prepared to defend myself if need be against anyone who threatens me or my family." And then a quick cut to: "Carl's world involved a number of nefarious characters, people who considered themselves above the law. People who would have been all too willing to use anyone and anything against Carl including his children. Sequestering Jenna with Gloria was only one of the means by which I shielded her. I also took steps to amass information that I could use to neutralize any and all threats against myself or my loved ones should the circumstances ever call for it."
At that, a file photo of Donna replaced the moving image and, much to her shock, she heard her own voice, helpfully subtitled for those who might have trouble making out the muffled recording, saying, "I did not mail that infernal file to the authorities. It was a bluff. There was never any file. My knowledge of Carl's dealings was always cursory, at best. I certainly was never intimate with his associates."
"Would the real Donna Love please stand up," Jeanne was back to chirp cheerfully. "Which version are we to believe?"
Donna grabbed her phone, punching in Matt's number for the second time, certain that she would be getting the run-around again, but needing to do something, anything to express the rage welling up inside of her.
Much to Donna's surprise, he answered on the first ring.
For a moment, she was so shocked all she could do was sputter, willing for the words currently fluttering around in her head to make some semblance of sense and to file out past her tongue in a recognizable order.
"It's alright, Donna," Matt beseeched her from the other end. "I think you came off great. Very sympathetic. It's obvious you're being threatened and that you didn't have anything to do with "
"How could you?" In this case, it wasn't a cliche. Donna really and truly and desperately needed to know how Matt could have done such a thing. "You taped me us it was a personal, private conversation between two people who "
"I sat with Jeanne every minute in the editing room," Matt swore. "I made sure that nothing personal or private made it into her piece."
"It was all personal! Because it was you and me, Matthew. My goodness, I knew you were angry, but I had no idea you actually hated me enough to "
"I did this for you," he insisted. "Your side of the story deserves to be out there. People need to know you're not responsible for this. Hell, Donna, you were terrified of what the retaliation might be. Don't you want it on the record that you are not to blame?"
"The only thing I want on the record right now, Matthew and feel free to click on any recording device you might have handy; in this case, you absolutely have my permission is for you to understand that I will never, ever forgive you for this. You have betrayed my trust in a most grotesque, vile and exploitative way. I hope you're proud of yourself. And I certainly hope Jeanne Ewing is worth it...."
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