Jamie knocked briskly on the door to Kirkland's room in the Cory house, waiting until he'd received a sleepy, "What? Uh sure, yeah. Come in, I guess."
Kirkland popped up in his bed, blanket tangled around his waist, wearing a blue T-shirt, hair standing up every which way, cheeks still showing creases from his pillow, rubbing his eyes and blinking. "Dad? What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry to get you up so early."
He looked around for a clock. "What time is it? Oh. Nine AM. Guess it's not that early."
"Late night?" Jamie asked, curious. And stalling.
"Kind of." Kirkland yawned.
"You and Charlie have a good time?"
"Pretty good," his son said, the stifled smile and averted gaze suggesting more.
"Listen, if you need to talk to me about anything, I'm always "
"It's cool, Dad. I've got it. Steven "
"There's more to girls than nectarines," Jamie warned.
"Aw, jeez," Kirkland folded a pillow over his head. "He blabbed?"
"No," Jamie reassured. "I just know how Steven thinks. And I noticed the pit lying by the garbage disposal the day he came over. So I put two and two together..."
Kirkland flushed so red, Jamie was amazed his son's shirt didn't turn purple.
"It's okay," Jamie had to suppress a laugh. "I'm glad you have your brother to confide in. And his advice is usually pretty good. I'm just saying, if you'd like a less nuts and bolts perspective... I'm not only a doctor, you know. I'm also "
"A guy who just got married. Which brings up the question: Why are you here talking to me about, you know, stuff, instead of home with Lorna practicing what you "
Now it was Jamie's turn to blush. "Okay, point taken. I withdraw the topic."
"Why are you here, Dad?"
Jamie sighed. Out of time and ways to stall. "Did Steven call you yesterday? Fill you in on what went down with Marley and girls?"
"Yeah. He said they were fine. And that Aunt Marley was going to the hospital, just like you all agreed on before. Did something else happen?"
Jamie nodded regretfully, answering with a pause between each sentence. "It did. I'm going to tell you how I saw it. And then we're going to drive over to Grant's, so he can tell you his side. And, after all that, I'm afraid you're going to have a decision to make."
"That bastard," Donna seethed, having just gotten the full story of Marley and Grant's near-escape with Michele and Bridget from Steven. She recovered herself with a deep breath to ask, "Where are the girls' now?"
"Upstairs." He set his coffee cup down on the breakfast table, and indicated with a nod above. "I brought them home while Dad and Lorna handled Grant and Aunt Marley."
"Jamie didn't do something foolish like call the police, did he?"
"Why shouldn't he, after what they tried to pull?"
"Steven, your Aunt Marley needs medical help. Grant "
"Wasn't the reason she pulled this crap the last time around. I remember what happened the first time Aunt Marley got 'sick'."
"That was my fault, not hers."
"Aunt Marley is an adult," Steven snapped. "We've all had our share of childhood trauma and disappointments. We don't all lash out at half our loved ones while trying to kidnap the other half. We don't all have our feet 'slip' on a gas pedal or go Single White Female on our own sister. There comes a time when Aunt Marley needs to be held accountable for her actions, and not have you or Grant tripping over each other to absolve her."
Donna stared at her grandson, hesitant at this most unusual, angry outburst, realizing, "Marley taking your sisters, she didn't so much anger as... she frightened you."
"If Marley had had her way, Kirk and I would have probably never seen them again. She would've taken what we have left of our mother and..."
"Victoria would be gone again," Donna finished, struggling with emotion as she recalled the ten year old boy in the itchy suit and tie at his mother's memorial service, insisting he was fine, he was okay, it's Kirkland they should be worried about. "Oh, Steven..."
He waved her off with one hand and gulped down the last of his coffee. "Dad didn't turn Marley in. He got her to commit herself to Clareview like you always planned."
"Thank God," Donna sighed in relief. "What about Grant?"
"Dad's dealing with him."
"Dealing with him how?"
"You'll have to ask him. He told me to focus on taking care of Bridget and Michele, and that's what I plan to do."
"It's time for you take care of yourself, darling. I can see what an effect last night had on you. I'll watch over the girls from here on out, don't you worry."
"I'm sorry, Grandmother. I cannot leave you in charge of Bridget and Michele."
"I assure you, I've recovered from my own... issues. I'm completely capable "
"With all due respect, I have a pretty good memory regarding everything you're capable of. Especially recently."
"I would never hurt your sisters, Steven."
"I know you love them. I know you want what's best for them. But, we both know that's not you."
"As opposed to you, I presume? Emotional issues aside, you are barely an adult. You have a very full and busy life "
"My full and busy life can be put on hold."
"For how long?"
"As long as necessary."
"You wouldn't know how to raise two young girls."
"Michele and Bridget need someone stable, someone who will put them first and protect them. Right now, that's pretty much only me. Unless you'd rather pass them over to the McKinnons. But, considering how fond you were of Mary when she was married to your father, or Ben when he was dating Marley...."
"Steven, I don't really think you understand what you're saying, what you're committing to."
"No. You're the one who doesn't understand what I'm saying, Grandmother. I'm moving in. I'm in charge. If you don't like it, we can go court. I may only be twenty-two, but you've got felonies older than that. Which of us do you think will look better to a judge?"
"How you doing?" Amanda asked Kevin when she appeared at his front door, handing over an industrial-strength cup of coffee unbidden, which he accepted with gratitude.
"Other than a feature film sized hangover?" He took a sip, grimaced, and followed it up with a gulp. "Couldn't be better..."
Amanda plopped down in a chair, legs crossed, lobbing her purse onto a nearby table and filled Kevin in, "You missed a lot of excitement yesterday. Jamie and Lorna actually bailed on their own wedding reception."
"I heard," he took a seat on the couch across from her, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Jamie called me late last night. Had a document he wanted drawn up. I got to tell him I was on suspension. That was a thrill a minute."
"A document? What kind of document?" Amanda leaned forward, curious.
"Uh-uh," Kevin shook his head. "Client confidentiality still holds. Whether I'm allowed to practice at the moment or not. Luckily, Mike was still in town. Jamie should be able to get everything he needs from him."
"So, is this it?" Amanda poked Kevin in the shoulder with one finger. He barely moved. "Is this how you plan to spend the next six months? Drinking yourself stupid and feeling sorry for yourself?"
"You got a better idea?"
"Actually, I do. I know exactly what you need."
"Amanda..." he began.
"Oh, get over yourself!" She rolled her eyes and reached for her phone.
"How'd it go with Steven and the kids last night?" GQ asked Jen when he popped by her office at BCU.
"It sucked," Jen told him honestly. "Those poor girls."
"I guess you'd know what it's like for them."
"Yeah... My dad loved showing up at my grandmother's house, waiting for her to turn her back, and just taking off with me. Adults think kids don't know what's going on, but they always do."
"I wonder how long before Hudson starts asking questions?"
"It'll be sooner than you expect, I can pretty much promise you that."
"How's Steven?" GQ wondered. "He's been acting so weird lately..."
"What do you mean?"
"I keep getting the feeling he's mad at me about something."
"Did you ask him about it?"
"What did he say?"
"That I was imagining things."
"Then you're imagining things. You know Steven, ambiguity isn't his thing. The guy's got two switches, on or off, one or zero, that's it. If he has something he wants you to know, he lets you know it."
"He's probably just upset about his aunt and Grant. The flip side of being If Then Go To is that he also isn't a fan of ambiguity in others. You know he decked the guy? I got the feeling he'd been waiting for the chance to do that for a good, long time."
"Grant Harrison was nice enough to me, that's all I know," GQ said, not exactly defensive, but not particularly ready to get on the Hate Grant bandwagon, either.
"Fact is, none of this is any of our business. I only got roped in because Steven'd been drinking, and needed a designated driver."
"That was nice of you," GQ said.
"Well, we're friends. All of us, I mean. At least we were, kind of, for a while. What's that enemy of my enemy thing? Maybe we can all be again. I think Gregory would have liked that."
"Gregory..." GQ said, his voice noncommittal.
Sensing an unexpected shift in his mood, Jen obligingly changed the subject, asking, "So, anything interesting happen at the wedding after I left?"
GQ took a moment to consider her question. Finally, he shook his head. "No. Nothing at all."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," Lila apologized when she stepped into Chase's office only to realize he had company. A little girl in a yellow, daisy-dotted sun-dress with matching pony-tail holders, and a man who's shoulder-length jet-black hair made such a stunning contrast to his nearly translucent blue eyes and olive skin that Lila found she couldn't stop staring at him.
"It's okay, come on in," Chase beckoned Lila forward. "I don't think you've officially met. My husband, Doug Rivera, and our daughter, Milagros. May I present the one and only Ms. Lila Hart."
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Lila," Doug held out his hand. "Chase has done nothing but rave about you for months."
"I'm not quite sure what I've done yet to earn his praise," she hedged.
"Our Mayor Hamilton is not known for suffering fools gladly. Or at all. Trust me, if he's impressed, you must be quite impressive."
"It's nice to meet you, too," Lila said.
"I was hoping to convince His Honor to come to the park with us this morning. With all the insane weather we've been having, who knows when we'll get another nice day like this? But, he claims he's too busy. Something about keeping Bay City safe... or is that commercial?" Doug winked. "He has such a hard time differentiating between the two."
Chase explained, "Doug was born with way too much money, so he has the luxury of feeling guilty about it. I was born without any, and thus have no qualms about earning it. Or enabling others to do the same."
"I'm afraid I agree with Chase," Lila demurred. "The best thing we can do for Bay City is get people working again. He's made it his mission to encourage new businesses and investment."
"Oh, I know, I know. It's all he talks about."
"Untrue!" Chase challenged. "Did I or did I not spend close to twenty minutes last night listening to you go on and on about that... art-like... thing..."
"Award winning installation..."
"You want to commission for the museum?"
"I believe the extent of your interest was how much would it cost the tax-payers, and can't I talk her down some, considering the bulk of the materials are "
"Eco-friendly. And, on that note, I am going to go teach your daughter how to appreciate nature's beauty, while you stay locked up in here, crunching numbers and pouring over balance sheets to your heart's content." Doug hoisted Milagros into his arms, kissing Chase on his way out. The last thing he said to Lila was, "I'm happy to see Chase has at least some natural beauty right here in his office."
"Is he always that charming?" Lila couldn't help smiling in Doug's wake.
"Now you know why nobody thinks I'm good enough for him. Doug has a certain people-person quality that it's been implied I... lack."
"How did you guys even meet?" Lila wondered. "You not being a people-person and all?"
"My first year at boarding school. I was a freshman, he was a junior."
"Wait a second. Boarding school? Whatever happened to being born with no money?"
"Not a lifestyle choice I was comfortable with," Chase explained in a tone so reasonable, Lila couldn't have disagreed even if she'd wanted to. Which she, obviously, did not. "Let's just say that things at home were less than pleasant, and the first opportunity I found to get out via a full scholarship plus room and board I leapt on and clung to."
"Ah. That explains it."
Chase reminisced, "I was in massive culture shock my first year of school. I'd never seen buildings like that, or grounds they didn't just have fields for football and baseball, they had lacrosse, and ice hockey. I'd never known people like that. Money had no meaning whatsoever to the boys I went to school with, because they thought it came from a spigot. It's not that they were snobs. Quite the opposite. Snobs think they're better than you. These guys thought everybody was exactly the same. They simply couldn't comprehend that not everyone grew up the way they did. And I had certainly never, ever in my life met anyone like Doug. His dad had been the Cuban Ambassador to the US, smart enough to stay here once Castro came to power. His mother was this Daughters of the American Revolution Hollywood bombshell. They defined fabulous. And Doug... Doug was so charismatic, so confident, so... comfortable in his own skin. Do you know that he was completely out in high school, and nobody dared give him a hard time about it? Kid was a god."
"So it was love at first sight then," Lila marveled.
"For me," Chase admitted. "Not exactly for him. I mean, he was nice enough when I hung around. But, Doug's nice to everyone."
"I kind of got that feeling earlier."
"He kept telling me I was too young, I didn't know my own mind. He said I needed to go out in the world, have some other experiences, that I had nothing to compare him to, that it was for my own good. But, I knew what I wanted. He graduated, went to Carnegie Mellon to study art. I waited two years and followed him."
"You went to Pittsburgh?"
"If that doesn't say love, I ask you, what does?"
"I guess he accepted that you were serious then."
"I'm pretty good at wearing people down," Chase conceded modestly.
"You're lucky. When I employed similar... tactics, it didn't go nearly as well."
"I find that hard to believe. I can't imagine any man being able to resist you for long."
"I'm sorry about this," Steven said over the phone. "I don't mean to keep dumping my family's messed-up crap on you."
"It's okay," Sarah dismissed, getting to the more important issue. "How's Midget?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I talked to them last night, tried to explain what was going on with Marley, and they acted like they got it. I tried talking to them again this morning, but they were like, whatever."
"That sounds about right."
"What do you mean?"
"You've got to give them some time to process everything that's happened. They're not your precious machines, Steven. They're people. People can't decide how they feel in a split second. And piling on extra data certainly won't help. More facts don't make everyone feel better."
"Oh," he said.
"Don't worry about it. That's why you called me, right? I'll come over, we'll hang out, I'll poke around - subtly, see what I can pry out about what's really going inside those matching heads."
"I don't want to impose."
"Then why did you call?"
"I I thought maybe you could talk me through it, or something."
"You mean play Universal Translator for Preteen Girl Speak?"
"That would be nice."
"Sorry, pal, it doesn't work that way. You want my help, you're going to have to put up with seeing me again."
"I always took you for a fool, but never a sadist," Grant seethed upon Jamie's arrival at his doorstep, Kirkland in tow, with the self-righteous news that he'd filled their son in on everything that happened last night, even as Grant felt his heart lurch and his stomach clench into a dead weight of burning bile.
"Quit it, Grant," Kirkland pushed his way into the foyer. "Dad brought me here so you could give me your side of the story. He's giving you a chance to explain yourself."
"My side," Grant repeated, mind working furiously, the prepared speech he'd started composing from the moment he'd made his bid to Jamie suddenly not good enough.
"So is he telling the truth?" Kirkland pressed. "Did you really offer to give me to him if he didn't press charges against you and Aunt Marley?"
"Why? Why would you say that? Why would you do that?"
"Because... because your Aunt Marley needs help, not jail, and this was the only way."
"You didn't seem to think she needed Clareview last night, since you were trying to help her escape going there. Try again."
Grant frowned at the demand, his brain searching. "I did it to protect your family, your sisters need Marley to "
"They need Marley to take them away from me and Steven? Sorry, that one's not flying either. What else you got?"
"I know there's nothing I could say, son "
"No," Kirkland cut him off. "You don't get to call me that. Not right now. I may have half your DNA, but you are not my father. A father doesn't let his kid think he's dead for ten years. A father doesn't take off again just two years later, without saying good-bye."
"I wasn't going to leave you, Kirkland. I was going to stay and explain. Ask anyone. Ask Jamie. I didn't even have a ticket."
"Waiting until you could snatch me, too?" Though his voice had changed years earlier, it now cracked as Kirkland did his best not to cry. "I trusted you. When everyone told me... I trusted you to be better. I had faith you could be better."
"I was. I am. Honestly, Kirkland, if it weren't for you, I never could have become the kind of man who'd put himself on the line for a woman who desperately needed my help the way Marley did."
"I needed you to be my father," Kirkland turned Grant's words back on him. "The kind of father you promised me you'd be. Damn, I was an idiot to believe I meant anything to you."
"You mean everything to me. That's the point. You're almost eighteen years old. What I offered Jamie, it was tangibly nothing. You're my son, I'm your father, no judge's signature can change that. Everything I do "
"Is about you. Not me. Never me. It's time you've admitted that. And it's time I accepted it."
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