"Got a minute?"
Morgan looked up from the medical chart he was reviewing to find Cass walking in step with him down the hospital corridor.
"Not really," Morgan broke away from his brother and turned down a side hall in a bid for escape.
"It's about your hit-and-run," Cass' words brought Morgan up short. "I know who did it."
That got Morgan to do an about-face. "Who?"
"We should probably do this in private."
"Who?" Morgan repeated as he stalked up to his brother, fists clenched at his sides.
"I'll explain. In your office."
"You tell me now."
"Marley," Cass whispered low enough for only Morgan to hear. "The person who hit you and Lorna was Marley."
"What?" Morgan repeated, face morphing to pure confusion. "But... she...."
"We can talk about it in your office," Cass repeated, moving away swiftly, which forced Morgan to follow him in a kind of discombobulated, eager scurry.
"Unbelievable," Morgan shook his head a good half hour later, after Cass had explained the entire sordid mess. "Marley went coo-coo for cocoa puffs over Jamie?"
"No," Cass corrected. "It was an accident that spun out of control, and then was made ten times worse by the Iago-like whisperings of one Grant Harrison."
"You really believe that? The mental ex-wife of the guy Lorna was dating is the one who hit her car and nearly killed her accidentally? After the hell Marley put us all through, she and Grant should be wearing prison blues for the rest of their lives."
"Yeah, well that's not going to happen. There's not enough physical evidence to convict Marley for the accident, or Grant for the cover-up. Besides, Marley is paying already. I told you, she's in Clareview until a team of specialists certifies her fit to leave."
"You'll forgive me if I don't give a damn that Marley's currently being coddled in some sanitarium while Lorna faces regular check-ups with a neurologist for another year in the hope she doesn't develop any complications from her head injury. Not to mention the risks she still faces during delivery... I'd think you, of all people, would understand."
"That Marley deserves to be punished."
"She is being punished."
"Talk to me after you've been locked away from your family, scared and alone, not knowing what the future holds, sorry for the pain you've caused people. You think she's not regretting what she did? That she isn't hurting? She is. That'll have to satisfy you."
"It wasn't enough for you. After what Cecile did to you and Frankie, you didn't settle for just sending her to off jail."
"I didn't mean to kill Cecile. What I did was an... accident." Cass realized how hollow the word was beginning to sound through repetition.
Morgan scoffed. "I know that's what you like to tell yourself."
"Having Cecile's blood on my hands is not something I relish living with for the rest of my life. Am I happy my family is safe? Yes. Am I happy Cecile is gone and I never have to worry about her, again? Yes. But that doesn't mean what I did was right. Besides, it's a moot point. Marley is nothing like Cecile."
"If it walks like a deranged bitch who couldn't handle losing her man to another woman and took action to permanently take out the competition, and if it talks like a "
"Let it go, Morgan. Lorna and her baby are Jamie's responsibility now. Not yours."
"Lorna is my friend."
"He's her husband. That trumps you by much more than a mile."
"Not if I'm the Cass to her Felicia."
Cass regarded Morgan curiously. "Felicia and I give a healthy respect to each others' spouses, and if you want to keep Lorna in your life, you'll be wise to do the same."
Morgan continued to pace the length of his office, still fired up and wanting to pound something. Finally, he stopped and, in one jerk, toppled his desk over on its side.
"Feel better?" Cass inquired.
"Not really," Morgan huffed as he surveyed he damage. "Tell Frankie I said thanks for getting to the bottom of what happened."
"I'm not just her messenger. I helped, too." Cass forced the petulance out of his voice and changed the subject. "Look, I didn't only come by to tell you about Marley. There were some loose ends...."
"I'll send the fee for services rendered directly to Frankie."
"I'm sorry. For calling you a self-righteous prick. You know, over Christmas, right after I got out of jail?"
Morgan waved him off. "Relax. I'm over it. You're back where you're supposed to be. With Frankie and your kids and Felicia."
Cass smiled as he helped Morgan hoist up the overturned desk. "So, I hear you and Amanda "
"We're friends with benefits. Well, more like casual acquaintances."
"Aren't you a little old to still be so...casual?"
"How old were you when you finally settled down, Casanova?"
"You're not me, Morgan. You were always looking to settle down, have kids, do the white picket fence bit."
"You got lucky, Cass. You found the woman you were meant to live out the rest of your life with, and she decided not to run away screaming, and actually marry you. Hell, she decided to come back from the dead for you. Twice."
"In all your years of gallivanting around, there was never... anyone?"
"We can't all have a gaggle of wives fighting over us, Cass. Twice."
"How did it go?" Lorna all but leapt on Jamie as soon as he got home. He'd only gone to pick up Kirkland a few hours earlier, but he looked as if he'd been forcefully kept awake for days. Then again, that was probably why custom dictated a nice, relaxing honeymoon immediately following an exhausting wedding, and not a foiled kidnapping followed by a highly emotional tug of war over the heart, soul and potential future of your teen-age son.
Jamie exhaled slowly, all but collapsing on the couch even as he reached into his pocket to show Lorna the document. "Grant signed. Kirkland made him."
"God, that poor kid." Lorna clucked in sympathy even as the misanthrope in her skimmed the contract, looking for any dodge Grant may have thought to pull at the last minute.
"Oh, and I sent Frankie home. She did a great job watching Grant for us last night, but I doubt he'll be skulking off anywhere this morning. Or, if he is, it'll be without Kirkland, so, for all I care, he can fall off the edge of the earth."
"Where's Kirk now?"
"I dropped him off at Mom's so he could get his car and drive over to visit Charlie. I got the feeling Kirkland really isn't in the mood to see another adult right about now."
"I don't blame him."
"Oh, good," Lorna winced and shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
Jamie noticed. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." She waved away his concern. "What shoe's about to drop on our heads now?"
"Kirkland doesn't just want Grant to give up custody, he wants me to adopt him so that Kirk never has to deal with Grant again."
"Well, that's incredibly unlikely."
"I know. I tried to tell him that. If anything, my adopting Kirk will only make Grant more..."
"Exactly. But Kirkland's mind is made up. He thinks this is the strongest message he can send Grant that his usual act just isn't going to work anymore. I also think it's Kirk's way of making sure he never considers falling for it again."
"You know, I used to feel sorry for myself, not having enough parents. Apparently, too many is no walk in the park, either."
"I could have told you that," Jamie advised.
Lorna smiled even as, at the same time, she attempted to hold back a grimace.
"Okay," Jamie stood up. "That's the second time you've done that. What's going on?"
"Nothing," she insisted, then added sheepishly. "You were right. I was on my feet way too long yesterday. I've been having these back spasms on and off all morning."
"Back spasms?" Jamie's eyes narrowed. "Where exactly?"
"Lower back," she reached behind her spine to indicate the general area. "I'm fine, they're not that bad. Just a reminder that the next time I get married, maybe I should consider not being pregnant. Or at least sitting out a few dances here and there. But, what could I do? Jazz spun great stuff."
"I'm going to ignore that next time I get married crack, since that obviously isn't ever going to happen."
"Right. I was dealing in theoreticals."
"Now describe the spasms, please."
"Don't you need a nurse present, Dr. Frame, if you're going to cross-examine me?" When Jamie failed to look amused in response to her attempt at a pun, Lorna sighed and answered his question. "They're normal spasms, okay? I feel something tighten, it hurts a little, I shift my position, take a deep breath, and they go away."
"But then they come back?"
"If I'd found a miracle cure, wouldn't that put you and your ilk out of business?"
"How long has this been going on?"
"I told you, a couple of hours, pretty much since you left."
"More or less."
"More?" Jamie clarified. "Or less? Has the frequency been going up or down?"
"Up," she admitted, then catching the was it actually amused? expression on his face, shook her head, "Uh-uh. No way. Don't you look at me all smug like that. I'd know if I were in labor."
"How?" he inquired politely.
"I'd feel... ready to have a baby."
"And you don't?"
"I do. But... It's probably just those, what do you call them, practice contractions."
"Right. Braxton-Hicks. It's probably just that."
"I'm no obstetrician, Lorna, but I believe Braxton-Hicks are purely uterine contractions, so you'd feel them in the front, or at least the sides, not the back."
"It's too early. I still have a couple weeks left."
"You're full-term by medical standards. And also," Jamie added as she bit down on her lower lip again. "One thing I do know for sure is that Braxton-Hicks don't increase in frequency and intensity, which I can tell yours are just from sitting here."
"So, what do you want, a round of applause?"
"And here comes the heightened sensitivity, right on schedule." Jamie smiled, unoffended, and held out his hand to help her rise from her chair. "What I'd like is to drive you to the hospital so you can get checked out by someone who actually is an obstetrician."
"Fine," Lorna grumbled, realizing she really couldn't argue with him much longer, but nonetheless unwilling to fully let go and admit he was probably right. "Will that make you happy?"
"Yes," Jamie said calmly, putting his arm around her and looking down at Lorna in that way he had that managed to completely disarm her even in cases when she actually was right. Damn it, the man simply didn't play fair, that was the problem. "All of this makes me very, very happy."
"Lift one foot across the threshold and I'll have you castrated personally." Donna warned Grant.
He pushed past her into the foyer, not bothering to dignify the threat with a reply. "I called Clareview this morning. The duty nurse said Marley has settled in nicely."
"Settled in nicely?" Donna furiously hissed the last word. "She's in mental hospital!"
"As if that weren't precisely what you wanted."
"As opposed to you, who wanted Marly to kidnap our girls and run off with them to God knows where. You say you love her? Then leave her alone. Nothing good has come from your relationship. Even you must see that. Walk away and at least give Marley the chance to find some happiness someday."
"If you could get Bridget and Michele ready," Grant said politely. "I'll take them to see Marley."
Donna stared at Grant, a flicker of a smile tugging the corner of her mouth as her brain processed and tried to make sense of his ludicrous words.
"I'm sorry," she blinked after a moment, her smile giving way to a chuckle. "What?"
"Marley would like to see the girls. I checked with her nurse and she told me it would be alright for me to bring them by for a visit."
Donna closed her eyes, the tendons in her neck straining as she tried to maintain her composure and keep her voice below that infamous range which only dogs could hear.
"Let me be clear, Grant. If you ever come near my granddaughters again, there won't be enough left of you to fill a coffin for Spencer to bury."
"I'd listen to her if I were you," Steven called from the top of the stairs. "Between the gun cabinet, assorted vases, candlesticks, and fireplace pokers, Grandmother could do you some real damage. Not to mention, she knows people skilled at making problems... disappear."
"Trot along, son," Grant dismissed without so much as turning around. "Adults are talking."
"Then you'd better speak up, since I'm in charge of Bridget and Michele now."
Grant's eyes slid to Donna who solidly returned his gaze. "You dumped Marley's children on another child to raise? What's the matter, Donna, actually taking responsibility for two young girls still incompatible with your society lifestyle?"
"I took control of the situation as I saw fit," Steven asserted.
"Did you sucker-punch Granny in the jaw, too?"
"You did that?" His grandmother indicated the ugly black and blue bruise on Grant's chin, unable to hide her newfound respect for Vicky's oldest son. "Bravo, darling!"
"Fine," Grant turned on a dime, realizing he'd been wasting his time with Donna and appealed directly to Steven. "You want to pretend you're a big boy now? Then realize you need to put your petty feelings aside and do what's right for Marley and those girls."
"Fair enough. My petty feelings aside oh, and, by the way, you talk to Kirkland yet this morning?" Steven barreled on, taking pleasure in the flicker of agony that crossed Grant's face, but refusing him the right to respond. "My sisters are in no shape to be taken for a joyride by the man who recently tried to kidnap them and could very well be planning to do it again. Especially not so they can visit a sick woman ranting about shadow figures hiding in garages and poisoning her coffee cups."
"I talked to her nurse, she's much calmer now," Grant kept his voice even, lest he be accused of hysteria, as well. "Steven, please, just let Marley see Michele and Bridget so she can ease their minds about what's happened and make them understand she'll get better and come back to them as soon as possible. You know they won't accept anything secondhand. Not from any of us. They have to hear it from Marley herself. If you're really that adamant, then I don't have to take them to her this morning, but someone should. For their sakes as much as for Marley's."
Donna spoke up. "I could do it."
"Given how things are between you and Aunt Marley right now, it's probably not the best idea," her grandson denied.
"Then you take them," Grant directed Steven.
"I can't. I have a class. It's the last one of the semester, I can't miss it."
"I can take them." Unbeknownst to anyone, Sarah had come in through the side entrance, wearing a terry-cloth robe over a dripping bathing suit, her nose slightly sunburned from taking the girls for a morning swim. "I'll just tell Midget to shower and change and we'll hit the road."
"What is she doing here?" Donna looked to Steven is disbelief. "Please tell me you haven't reconciled with this "
"Rest assured, Ms. Love, Steven and I have struck up a purely business arrangement. I'm here to look after Michele and Bridget when he's unavailable."
"I am perfectly capable of seeing to that myself," Donna asserted.
"Sarah's going to look after the girls when I'm not here," Steven explained, as if neither woman had spoken.
"Good," Grant boomed. "Then perhaps Sarah will be more reasonable about letting Bridget and Michele visit Marley."
"I already told you that I'd take care of it," Steven snapped. "But today just isn't a good time."
"There'll never be a good time for them to see her in that place, Steven," Sarah spoke up before Grant could. "The longer you wait, the more anxious they'll get. It's not right to keep them in limbo."
Grant beamed. "Exactly my point."
"Shut up," Steven and Donna simultaneously advised him.
"I promise I won't let anything happen to your sisters," Sarah assured Steven. "But, I do think Senator Harrison is right. They need this to happen as soon as possible."
Steven looked from Grant's pleased face to Donna's aghast expression before meeting Sarah's eyes with a grimace of his own. "I'm trusting you..."
"I won't let you down," Sarah smiled, giving Steven a quick salute before dashing up the stairs to change out of her wet clothes, Donna following, eyes narrowed with resentment.
"I don't know what you think you're doing," she hissed just before Sarah ducked into the room she'd occupied once, and now would again. "But, whatever it is, rest assured, I will not let you get away with it."
"Oops, excuse me. Sorry," Frankie burbled upon arriving home to find her daughter and Kirkland horizontal on the living room couch in a tangle of arms and legs that made it difficult to tell where one ended and the other began, except for Frankie's feeling pretty sure that one of Kirkland's hands began at his elbow and ended underneath Charlie's shirt.
The pair sprang apart at the sound of her voice. Or, rather, Kirk sprang away from Charlie, only avoiding bouncing off the opposite wall by the restraining couch arm, while Charlie merely sat up slowly, pulling down the bottom of her shirt, but not bothering to fix the obviously loose strap of her bra as it dangled against her shoulder.
"You're home," she observed, somewhat surprised. "I thought you and Dad would still be out making the streets safe for democracy."
"We took a break." Frankie approached the kids slowly, as if afraid they might explode if she got too close. Kirkland certainly looked poised to do just that. In more ways than one. "Superman and Batman were complaining we hadn't left them enough to do."
"Ha," Charlie said, in a tone that suggested she didn't find her mom the least bit amusing.
"I should go..." Kirkland stood up awkwardly, tucking his own shirt into his pants in the most unobtrusive way possible.
"Wait," Frankie placed a hand on the cringing boy's arm, then thought better of it and drew back. "It's okay, Kirk, really. I was just surprised for a minute. I didn't expect... You didn't do anything wrong, either one of you."
"Okay," he nodded fervently, obviously willing to agree with anything she said at the moment. "I uh, thanks. I'm still going to go. I'll later, Charlie."
"Later," she waved as he darted out the door, the sound of his car peeling out of their driveway coming unbelievably soon after.
"Thanks, Mom," Charlie drawled, flopping back down on the couch. "Thanks for giving Kirk and me the okay to have sex, don't know what we'd have done without you."
"I didn't What? Are you..." Frankie trailed off, wondering if Charlie were deliberately provoking her or whether Frankie's words had honestly been interpreted as permission to... "Are you and Kirkland..."
"Not if you keep interrupting us."
Frankie couldn't help feeling relieved. Which she knew was wrong. Or was it? Was she supposed to be supportive here? Happy? The world had changed so much. And so had Charlie.
"So, you think you and Kirkland might be having sex... soon?"
"Maybe," Charlie shrugged blithely, as if Frankie were offering her a choice for lunch.
"Do you... need anything? From me? Information or just to talk or..."
"I got condoms."
"There's this place called the store? You give them money in exchange for goods and services?"
"You... went into a store? Alone? And just bought condoms?"
"They didn't require a co-signer."
This wasn't how their conversation was supposed to go. Frankie always imagined that when the time came, she would be exactly the kind of mother she'd always wanted for herself. She'd be open and understanding and non-judgmental and certainly, absolutely not... uncomfortable. Her daughter was seventeen, after all. This was perfectly natural and expected and... very, very disconcerting.
Fully dressed now, Matt was standing at Jeanne's door, preparing to leave. She'd kissed him good-bye and instantly returned to her computer, putting on headphones so she could transcribe without forcing him to listen.
She was completely focused on her task, hunched over the lap-top, eyes pasted to the screen, fingers flying over the keyboard.
Matt couldn't help it, instead of taking off as promised, he snuck up behind her, meaning to give Jeanne one last kiss before he left.
Reaching across her, his hand accidentally got tangled in her headphone's wires, inadvertently ripping them out of the machine, and filling the room with the sound of his talking to Lorna and Jamie about their lawsuit the morning of the wedding.
A conversation Matt hadn't been aware of Jeanne's recording....
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