"Alright," Rachel told Carl calmly. "I've had a chance to sleep on it, and I am ready now to hear everything."
"I'm sorry, my dear, I'm afraid I don't understand."
"You told me you bartered my life, and Elizabeth and Cory's lives, for Spencer's. I want to hear the details."
"I have been utterly forthright with you."
"Details, Carl." She pulled up a chair to sit across from him, eyes boring into her husband so that he grasped that looking away was not an option. "If I am going to be party to this, I deserve to know everything. Start at the beginning. You told Jeanne that she was right, Donna isn't the one who sent the incriminating file. It was Spencer."
"No." He shook his head. "No, no, nothing so obvious as that. You know how reporters are. You hand them a story, they feel it's worthless. Something about their sophomoric ethics or whatnot. You make them work for it, allow them to believe they've uncovered the truth on their own, and they inevitably deliver precisely what you wanted, all while feeling self-righteously justified regarding their holy impartiality. I told Ms. Ewing nothing. I merely casually planted a few key seeds which, if she is half the correspondent she fancies herself to be, should set her on a pixie dusted bread-crumb trail opposite from us."
"And directly to Spencer."
"He did, in fact, forge those documents, I fabricated no falsehoods therein."
"At your request."
"A request I would never have been compelled to make, had Spencer not attempted to blackmail Kirkland's custody from Jamie by taunting you with alleged evidence of my culpability in Jenna, Dean, and Felicia's kidnapping. Despite your magnanimous nature and inevitable sympathy for the Devil himself who knows that better than I, after all? surely, you must admit, Spencer brought this upon himself."
"So. Once Jeanne puts the pieces together and points the finger at Spencer as the mastermind behind exposing the compound, what happens next?"
"I can't even hazard to guess, candidly."
"Try," she snapped.
"Very well. I Frankly, so much depends on what, if anything, of their infrastructure remains in place."
"You believed there was enough left to pose a threat to our family."
"I was merely being cautious. It is equally possible that the international authorities have done their jobs for a pleasant change, and rounded up anyone and everyone motivated and capable of striking a retaliatory blow."
"These would be the same international authorities that never quite managed to pin anything substantive on you for an extended period of time?"
"I happen to be an exceptional case."
"Will they kill him?" Rachel asked the one question she hadn't been able to get out of her head ever since Carl first filled her in.
"Possibly. But not likely."
Carl's discomfort was palatable. "For the same reason I was more concerned about you and our children than myself. Slaughtering the blameworthy party is a rather unfulfilling, short-term form of punishment. Why merely entertain a few moments of your enemy's blinding panic and pleas for mercy, when you can painstakingly torture them via compelling each to witness the people they care about being obliterated in their stead?"
"Charming. So it's Grant who's in danger, then? Alice?"
"I have no doubt Harrison has employed the very best security men to watch over his loved ones. Truly, it's the least he can do, considering his past dealings; and I include those that have nothing to do with me or this latest fracas in that count."
"So that's how you sleep at night," Rachel guessed. "By telling yourself that Spencer was already a target even before you got involved, and that, anyway, he brought it all upon himself."
"I'm not wrong," he pointed out.
"No. Though you are also anything but right."
"Oh, good," Kevin trilled upon seeing who Amanda had called to ostensibly cheer him out of his funk. "You've invited my grandmother to watch me hit rock bottom. How can I ever thank you, Amanda?"
"Shut up," she took no offense. "I figured you wouldn't listen to me, no matter what I said, so I brought in reinforcements to slap you upside the head."
"Alright," Kevin turned to Alice, bending a little. "Slap away."
"I suspect those drinks you threw back yesterday afternoon beat me to it," Alice observed, declining the honor with a polite sidestep.
"What? Was everybody counting?"
"Just the people who love you," Alice said.
"Oh, good. For a minute I was worried I might have to learn double digit addition."
"Mike told me about your suspension, honey."
"Mike talks a hell of a lot."
"You made a mistake," Alice rested a hand on his arm. "It happens to the best of us. Learn from it and move on. Kicking yourself isn't going to help anyone in the long run."
"You know what?" Kevin observed.
"What?" Amanda supplied, since he was so obviously waiting. A lawyer without a courtroom was still just a frustrated actor in search of an audience.
"I am just so damn tired of this cult of mediocrity. Everybody makes mistakes. That's the problem! We've been told over and over again that it's okay to make mistakes, that it's good to make mistakes, that it helps us grow as people. Well, that might be true in Amanda's line of work, where a mistake means, what? a little box in the next issue confessing that you misspelled a word or misquoted a politician, or got your dates confused. But, what about you, Grandma? What happens when you make a mistake? I'll tell you. People die. Now maybe it's not quite so dire in my business, but, when I make a mistake, we're not talking about a little box and maybe a lawsuit. We're talking about a kid's life getting turned upside down because I didn't cross a T, or dot an I, or forgot a comma, or just got too damn arrogant for my own good. Only I'm not the one who ends up paying the price for my mistake. So how could it ever be okay?"
"But, everything worked out in the end," Amanda insisted. "For better or for worse, Hudson is staying with Rick and Mindy, like Allie wanted."
"That's Hudson. What about the next time I screw up? I swore to myself I would never become one of those lawyers, the ones who care more about showing off how smart they are, than the fate of the kid they're supposed to be protecting. I did it with Hudson, and, hell, I did it with Kirkland, too. That's another happy ending in spite of me."
"I'm sorry," Alice said softly. "I'm going to keep on saying it, Kevin, even if you stopped hearing it a long time ago or maybe you never started. I am sorry that we were all the kind of people who cared more about ourselves than about you. I'm sorry your mother Jennifer I am sorry she died the way that she did, when she did. I am sorry you lost David, no matter how awful of a man we all know he was. I'm sorry that Sally insisted on forcing you back into her family, and I'm sorry that she died before you two could make any kind of peace. I'm sorry about Catlin. I'm sorry about Brittany, and I am so, so sorry I was obviously never able to give you what you needed growing up."
"Stop it, Grandma," Kevin seethed. "That's not what I was talking about. This has nothing to do with you."
"Oh, honey, you'll forgive me how this sounds, but, honestly, do you really think anything you've done since the day you sued to have yourself emancipated from me hasn't had to do with the little boy you once were?"
"So because Sally Frame made a bad decision when she was eighteen years old and again five years later I almost got disbarred yesterday? I don't see it."
"Are you telling me you didn't see yourself in Hudson? That you don't see yourself in every child's case that you take on? You were so eager to see Hudson in a loving adoptive home, instead of being torn between biological parents who hadn't really wanted him to start with, that you didn't bend a few rules to make things come out your way?"
"Which brings us back to: I'm a crappy attorney with a luggage rack of unresolved personal issues who shouldn't be allowed near another brief for as long as I live."
"Or you're a human being who made a mistake that came from a good place, and now that you're aware of it, you'll be extra-vigilant to make sure it doesn't happen again."
"That's a pretty high not to mention charitable opinion you have of me, Grandma."
"Please. My grandson, the hot-shot attorney. You're a boastful grandmother's dream."
"Your grandson, the suspended attorney."
"You'll find your way back. I have every confidence in you."
Kevin turned to Amanda. "I'm beginning to see why you called her."
"Yeah. I am pretty good."
"Thank you," Kevin said, his shoulders visibly sagging with relief. "Thank you both. It's nice to know I have a two man woman cheerleading squad on call."
"I was thinking of calling Jen, too," Amanda said. "But, considering how your daughter hero worships you, I didn't want to risk your getting too swelled a head. Or whatever the ego-boosting version of the bends is."
Matt blearily opened his eyes in response to an odd clicking noise he presumed was a new and exciting form of champagne hang-over, only to groggily realize it was coming from Jeanne, sitting at the card table propped at the foot of her bed, typing away on her lap-top.
"Hey," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes with both hands and shaking his head to clear it. "You're up early."
She smiled at him briefly before returning back to her screen. "Just some quick research. Got a hot tip recently. Sorry."
"You don't need to apologize. That's what I get for crashing with KBAY's star reporter."
"Oh, that's not all you got," she reminded, this time with a very different sort of smile.
"Right." He nodded thoughtfully. "Thanks for the fact-check."
She stopped typing, looking at Matt, wrinkling her nose. "That was pretty obnoxious of me, huh?"
"No. I meant it. I like being kept on my toes. Between being the youngest kid in the family well, before Cory and Elizabeth came along, but it was too late by then and surrounded by servants and running my own business instead of working for somebody else like a normal person, I haven't exactly been put in my place nearly enough." He sat up, trying to look over her shoulder. "So what's the hot tip?"
She closed her lap-top. "Nothing important. It might not even pan out."
"Jeanne," Matt rested his hand on hers as she locked the machine. "You don't have to do that."
"Do what? I'm done working." She stood up, slipping off her robe and climbing back into bed with him.
"Look, it isn't as if I were... unappreciative." In point of fact, Matt found himself feeling so appreciative that even coming up with a word for what he wasn't proved a challenge. "But, I want to make something clear to you. You don't have to apologize to me for who you are or what you do, okay? I learned my lesson with Donna. You either accept and enjoy people for who they are, or else you're just asking for heartache. Because people don't change. And anyone who thinks they do or, worse, that you can make somebody change, is particularly doomed. So is the relationship."
"Right," Jeanne laughed. "Tell me another one, why don't you? You like everything about me?"
"Everything I've seen so far, yeah."
"You don't mind that I'm a self-centered, workaholic, glory-seeking bitch?"
"I like that you're a hard-working, ambitious woman with high self-esteem."
"It does sound better when you say it...."
"Stop being scared of me, okay, Jeanne? Stop waiting for me to sit in judgment of you. I'm not saying I didn't used to be that guy. Boy, did I used to be that guy. And it got me absolutely nowhere. So that's not who I am anymore."
"I do know what's wrong with me," Jeanne said quietly. "It's not like I'm unself-aware."
"Another thing I like about you."
"Nobody has ever known about the crap I tend to pull, and still liked me anyway. Are you messing around with me, Matt?"
"Well, I'd like to," he indicated them both coincidentally being naked and in bed. "But, this way. Not the way you mean."
"Because, if this is just some line you lay on women to get them to sleep with you, you should have figured out by now, it's not necessary."
"Trust me, if I was as clever as you're accusing me of being, I'd have gotten a lot more action over the past twenty years. I'm telling the truth. I like you just the way you are. And not the Billy Joel version, either, where he basically says he doesn't want someone beautiful or intelligent he just wants you."
"Yeah, I never got that song, either."
"I think you're both those things. And a lot more. I wish I were more like you. I wish I had your drive and your honesty and your... self-awareness."
"That's not all it's cracked to be."
"I don't care. Because you are."
"Damn it, Matt," she could barely look at him. "If you're lying..."
"I wouldn't do that." He put a finger on her chin, turning Jeanne to face him. "I'm a nice guy, remember? This is kind of where we shine."
"Hey," Steven sighed into his cell-phone, happy to have caught Jen between classes. "Listen, I didn't have much of a chance to thank you last night, I was so concerned with getting Michele and Bridget settled in, but I really, really appreciate what you did for us."
"Nothing you wouldn't have done if our situations were reversed."
"Well, considering the fight we had..."
"It wasn't a fight, remember? You said so yourself."
"Oh, yeah. Lucky thing I'm always right."
"Nice to hear you sounding normal again. How are the kids?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "Sarah is here right now. They've always been better at talking to her than me. Rather, she's better at talking to them than I am."
"Oh, good. I'm glad. And now it's my turn to say I'm sorry I could have been more helpful earlier. But, me and kids.... I kind of freeze up around them. To be honest, I didn't even get along with other kids when I was a kid, so it's not destined to get much better, I don't think."
"What about Hudson?"
"Well... I GQ mostly goes to see him without me. And anyway, he's just a baby. It's not like there's a lot to talk about with a baby. Maybe when he gets older...."
"So," Steven tried to sound utterly casual when he asked. "You really see yourself still being around, with GQ, I mean, when Hudson is older?"
"I don't know. Things are good now. I think. Oh, by the way, that reminds me," Jen was in no way trying to shift the subject, she honestly just remembered. "GQ said he thinks you're mad at him about something?"
"Aw, hell, I told him he was barking up the wrong tree."
"And since you're never wrong..."
"Exactly." Steven smiled. As he smiled, he realized it had been a very, very long time since he'd last done so.
"Coming to class today?" Jen asked. "My concluding lecture of the semester, you won't want to miss a moment. It might well change the course of the rest of your life."
"Does that happen a lot?"
"Always a first time," she predicted. "Maybe we're looking at a case of the brilliant message just waiting to encounter an equally brilliant receiver?"
Steven smiled again and, despite having Donna breathing dissatisfaction down his neck on one side, and Sarah ever so gently reprimanding him on the other, with Bridget and Michele caught smack in the middle, promised, "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Thank you," Kevin told Amanda after Alice had left, having extracted her grandson's promise to snap out of his self-pitying funk. "I seriously needed a kick in the pants."
"Well, talking to Alice always helps me see things more clearly. She's got this way of cutting straight through to the heart of the matter. Without making you feel like an idiot for not having seen it yourself."
"Why did you do it, Amanda?"
She frowned. "Kick? Pants? Alice? I thought we just covered that."
"Why do you care how I'm feeling?"
"Could be because my kid is the reason you're in this mess in the first place."
"Could be because I know, with my family, I'm going to need legal advice down the line and I want you firing on full thrusters when I do."
"Could be that, too."
"You know what, Kevin." She shrugged. "We've gone back and forth how many times, and we always end up in the same place. At least, I do."
"That's true," he concurred. "You do...."
"Everything I have ever done, son, from the moment you were born before that, even was about you," Grant insisted.
"I know," he said sadly. "Everything you did to Mom, everything you did to Jamie, it was all because of me."
"Yes!" Grant thundered triumphantly.
"Which sounds like the best reason of all to finally end this, doesn't it?"
"Dad has the papers ready for you to sign."
"Isn't he the eager beaver?" Grant seethed.
"I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible." Jamie reached into his pocket for the document Mike had drawn up. "For Kirk's sake."
"Problem is," Kirkland said to both Grant and Jamie's surprise. "What Mr. Bauer wrote, it doesn't go far enough. I don't want you to just give up custody, Grant. You said it yourself, I'm almost eighteen, it doesn't really matter. I want you to give up all your parental rights. I don't want to have anything to do with you ever again. I don't want to be your son anymore. I want Jamie to adopt me. If if that's okay with you, Dad?"
Jamie's mouth opened, then shut, then opened again to sputter out, "Kirk... You don't have to..."
"I want to. I know how Grant works now. He'll sign like he promised, to make himself look good, and then a couple weeks, maybe even days later, he'll start coming around again, explaining how what I think happened isn't what really happened, how he was forced into doing everything he did by somebody else, how much he loves me "
"I do love you, Kirkland," Grant realized he was begging.
"And I'll believe him. I always believe him. And then he always screws me over. This is the best way. If you adopt me, he won't be able to undo it, no matter what he says or does, right?"
"I'm not sure," Jamie said. "I'd have to check."
"Sign it," Kirkland shoved the stack at Grant. "Sign this, and then we'll send you the rest of the papers by the end of the day."
"Don't do this, son. Please. I heard what you said. You believe that I love you, you admitted it. You're scared, that's all. You're angry, and you're confused. You have every right to be all those things, but if you'd only let me explain "
"No!" Kirkland screamed, in that moment his voice sounding more like Grant's than it ever had. "See, again, you weren't listening. Again you only hear what you want to hear. I said I wanted to avoid you doing exactly what you're doing now."
"Because you know everything I say is true!"
"I do know it. Same way I know it doesn't matter. Loving me makes you do horrible thing to other people. And it's got to stop."
Grant was about to continue his protest, when his eye was caught by... "Kirkland Ryan Frame?" Grant asked slowly, jabbing his finger at the offending line. "That is not your name."
"It will be. Once Dad adopts me. And besides, I know the law, it's fine to call yourself anything you want, as long as you also add an AKA to your legal documents. I've been Kirkland Frame pretty much ever since Mom died. And you disappeared."
"Ryan? Your name is Kirkland Grant Harrison."
"It's what Mom wanted my middle name to be."
"It's who Mom wanted your father to be, too! Unfortunately, she didn't get to pick."
"Yeah. Fortunately, I do. And I pick Jamie Frame."
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