"What is that smell?" Rachel winced as she entered the kitchen, waving a hand back and forth in front of her face.
From near the microwave, Allie gasped, breaking out from the trance of her thousand yard stare through the kitchen window. She hurriedly wrenched the microwave door open to pull out a smoking bag of charred popcorn. "Sorry, Grandma. I... got distracted."
"Anyone I know?" Rachel wondered while helping Allie transfer the smoking mess to a garbage pail, and slamming down its lid.
"What? How? I no. I'm not sure what you mean," Allie did her best to form a sentence and look innocent at the same time.
"Don't try to kid a kidder, Alexandra. Your mother has worn that exact same expression many times in this house. And, more often than, there was a man somewhere on the periphery."
"It's nothing," Allie insisted. "Thanks for helping me clean up. But, I can take it from here."
"Given how quickly you fall into pensive staring, I think I'll stick around to make sure the squirrels and birds don't take advantage of the open windows to mount an offensive," Rachel said lightly, hoping the child understood that she wasn't laughing at her, but, rather, at the human condition. Especially the young female, human condition. "That could get you an even longer ban than Kirkland received years ago for almost burning down the place."
"If I tell you what I was thinking about," Allie cut right to the point of Rachel's obvious interest. "Do you promise not to make a big deal out of it?"
"Are you pregnant again?" Rachel asked.
"No! Of course not!"
"Planning to kidnap another young man and help him die?"
Allie rolled her eyes. "You know I'm not."
"Then, honestly, darling, I can't think of anything you could say that might prove a bigger deal that what we've already survived together over the past two years."
"You do have a way of putting things into perspective."
"Good. Because that was precisely my intention. Now, what's on your mind that it warranted the immolation of a perfectly innocent bag of popcorn?"
Allie took a moment to collect her thoughts. Then, in a rush of words nearly devoid of punctuation, she demanded, "How is it that a person can know someone is bad for them, know that they treat you badly and that they make you do bad stuff in return; how can you understand that you're much better off without them, but then still... still want them anyway? Or, at least, a part of you does?"
"I see..." In contrast to Allie's ramble, Rachel willfully dragged out her response.
"You promised not to make a big deal out of it," Allie reminded.
"All I said was: I see."
"It was the way you said it. Like you were gearing up for a lecture."
Rachel laughed. "Rest assured, I know the futility of that. I certainly never listened to my mother when she lectured me on the very same topic. Hard as it may be to believe, we were all young once, Allie. Before I was your grandmother, I was...well... a lot of things. Among them, a woman who knowingly allowed herself to suffer at the hands of more than one man who I also understood was very, very bad for me."
"Why did you do it, then?"
"Because I loved him them. Or thought I did. Didn't matter what they did to me, because I loved them. And then there was my ego. There is most certainly an appeal to landing the man who claims he doesn't want you, that he will never want you, the man who prefers someone else, someone absolutely perfect for him everybody says so. To win him over and defeat his own inhibitions, to make him like you. If you can force him, this man who is everything you could ever want... if you can bring him to heel in spite of the obstacles, then you must really be someone worthy of being loved yourself."
"You felt like that, too?" Allie asked timidly.
"More than once, I'm afraid. Sometimes, I think it must go all the way back to my own father." Rachel eyed Allie uneasily. "Looking back on it, I can't help suspecting that we that I went after men who are bad for me, who treated me badly, because I suspected I deserved their abuse. That I must have done something wrong or that I was inherently unworthy.... that I deserved to be punished."
"Yeah," Allie said softly.
"I hope you don't feel that way," Rachel stressed.
"Why are you with Carl, Grandma?" The question came so out of left field, Rachel recoiled like she'd been slapped.
"What?" She shook her head, eyes narrowing. "I... I love Carl. What does that have to do with anything "
"You thought you loved all the other men who treated you badly, too," Allie noted reasonably. "And you said there was something about winning a guy. Making him go against his own instincts. Doesn't Carl fit that bill, too?"
"You need to speak to your daughter," Frankie informed Cass the moment he walked through the door, still wiped from his earlier confrontation with Morgan.
"About what?" Cass asked idly, peeling off his jacket and tie, loosening his shirt collar.
"Sex," Frankie said.
He sat down slowly on the couch. "Isn't that more of a mother/daughter bonding thing?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Frankie concurred. "Turns out open, honest, healthy, non-judgmental, supportive conversation it just isn't my thing."
"Since when?" he wanted to know.
"Since I walked in earlier today to find Kirkland with his hand up Charlie's blouse, and my daughter informing me that I shouldn't worry, she's bought plenty of condoms, so she's all prepared for having sex."
"Charlie bought condoms?"
"So I've been informed."
"Well, good for her."
"Say that again?"
"Good for her, not leaving it up to the boy. Good for her, being smart and responsible."
"Yes, yes, she's terrific and conscientious."
"Isn't that what any parent wants for their child?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. I mean, damn, Cass, I thought I had this all planned out. I knew how I was going to talk to her, and the points I wanted to make, and what a great, what did you call it? bonding experience it would be for us."
"I freaked out, babbled something incoherent and, worst of all, turned into my own mother."
"How did Emma handle the birds and bees talk with you?"
"Don't know. Still waiting for it."
Cass grinned. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you've been doing a marvelous job at it, even without a parental prep course."
"I grew up on a farm," Frankie offered by way of vague explanation. "We were surrounded by birds and bees. Not to mention sheep, and cows, and goats."
"Oh, my," Cass evoked his inner Judy Garland.
"You're taking this awfully well."
"Finding out your daughter is planning to have sex in the near future."
"How did you expect me to take it?"
"I don't know. What about all that my little girl stuff dads are supposed to go through?"
"She's not a little girl anymore, Frankie. Charlie is seventeen years old. And, for better or for worse, that means she's going to be experimenting with a lot of things. Frankly, I'm glad it's not illegal drugs or some crazy cult or sitting up in her room, playing the same song over and over again, searching for the meaning of life. All things considered, sex is normal. And Kirkland is a nice kid. She has condoms, she's prepared "
"There's more to preparing to have sex than a packet of condoms, Cass. It's not supposed to be just some cardio work-out with a partner."
"Not if you do it right, no."
"What do two seventeen year olds know about doing it right?"
"How are two seventeen year olds supposed to learn, if they don't?"
"But, that's where we're supposed to come in. We're supposed to explain to Charlie that sex comes with feelings and consideration, not just for yourself, but for the person you're with. Sex comes with responsibilities. And risks. And consequences."
"So why didn't you tell her that earlier?"
"Because I was... she... she took me by surprise. I know Charlie is seventeen, okay? I was there when she was born, I remember. But, that's in my mind. In my heart, she's still the tiny little thing I was forced to leave behind. I didn't get a childhood with her. And now I'm supposed to jump straight into adulthood. It's not fair. I can't do it, Cass. Not yet. That's why you've got to step up. You've got to talk to her for both of us."
Spencer was waiting for Grant when he got home from Clareview. On some level, Grant supposed he'd been expecting it. When had Grant ever done anything, after all, without having to sit through a paternal post-mortem? What Grant hadn't been expecting was Spencer's demeanor.
Grant figured this conversation would simply be a rerun of his father's reaction when he learned Grant had lied about Marley being the hit and run driver. Grant prepared himself for being screamed at and chastised and slammed against the wall for the second time in as many weeks.
But, Spencer, much to Grant's surprise and consequent discomfort, did none of those things. He merely followed his son inside the house, closing the door behind them before Spencer asked, his voice almost pleading, "How could you do it? How could you sign our boy away?"
Grant startled. He'd assumed this would merely be about the attempt to assist Marley in spiriting away the girls. "How did you... Who told "
"Jamie thought it would be best if Alice broke the news to me."
"His consideration just knows no bounds today," Grant spat.
"Jamie said you offered he said you volunteered to trade Kirkland to him. Like he was some... some... possession."
"Can it, Dad," Grant snapped, willing to take the sole blame for a great many thing, but not that. Never that. "I did precisely what you taught me to do. I played the angles. I looked around, assessed my situation, decided what was most important at the moment, and bartered away the rest. I robbed Peter to pay Paul, figuring I'd think of some way to duck the bill at a later time."
"You gave away your son," Spencer's incredulous tone indicated he still couldn't truly believe it. "After everything we went through to finally get him back...."
"Speaking of which," another trick his father had taught Grant was using a good offense as your main defense. "If you'd never tried to cut corners and blackmail Rachel and Jamie, Donna's file would have never been made public, and none of us would currently need to be armed to the teeth, bracing ourselves for an imminent attack from the shadows."
"I took that risk, because I believed getting your son back was the most important thing to both of us. Kirkland is a Harrison. He belongs with us."
"Now who's treating him like a possession?"
"How could you do it? Why? Marley... She... You told me yourself, before my wedding, you told me she doesn't even love you."
"She needed me."
"And Kirkland doesn't?"
"Not like this. Lorna and Jamie wanted to send Marley to jail. She couldn't have borne that. There was only one person who could help her. I was her only hope."
"And that was more important to you than keeping your son's respect? His love?"
"In the moment, Dad. In the goddamn moment! Marley's fate was hanging in the balance right then and there. Kirkland is almost grown. I thought he'd understand. Hell, I thought he'd want to help his aunt, too. I made the best choice I could at the time."
Spencer took a deep breath, looking at Grant as if he were a stranger. No. Looking at Grant as if that's precisely what he wished his son was to him. "You don't put some woman ahead of your own flesh and blood. Family always comes first. Always!"
"What if it were Alice?" Grant challenged. "If you had a choice between your wife and me "
"I had that choice once," Spencer reminded. "Your mother. I didn't have to send her away after Ryan was born. I could have opted to suffer her betrayal in silence, to live with it. I loved Justine. Even after she cheated on me, it killed me to let her go. But, I did it for your sake. I didn't want you growing up with a mother like that. I didn't want you suffering the rumors and the whispers. Most of all, I didn't want you to be like me, living in fear, wondering if today might be the day Justine just picks up and takes off without warning. I chose you. You and your future, over Justine and mine."
"And then you made sure that my future was all about you," Grant snorted.
His father stared at Grant coldly for a single, infinite moment. And then, as if he hadn't spoken, Spencer said, "I sincerely hope Marley is worth it, son. Because you haven't only lost Kirkland today. Right now, I pretty much never want to lay eyes on you again."
"Ready for that final push?" Dr. Ng, a face-mask plastered over the bridge of her nose, asked Lorna from her perch at the foot of the delivery table.
"You ready?" Lorna turned to Jamie who, despite staying steadfastly by her side, and saying and doing all the right things at the right times, still couldn't prevent turning a deathly shade of pale every time the monitor indicated another contraction was imminent and Lorna obeyed Dr. Ng's instructions to bear down.
"How are you holding up?" he asked, Jamie's tone a blend of doctor detached and father-to-be uneasiness.
"I'm fine," she reassured him. "A little anxious to get this over with already..."
"We're almost at the finish line," Dr. Ng encouraged. "Baby's crowning."
"Really?" Lorna hoisted herself up on her elbows, thrilled to hear there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel not to stretch a metaphor too far.
"Yup," Dr. Ng said. "From what I can see, it's definitely a... brunette."
Lorna couldn't help grinning Jamie's way, squeezing his hand. "The odds were always kind of high in that direction."
"Alright, here we go," Dr. Ng instructed. "Let's shoot for one, long, non-stop push, keep going until I tell you to stop."
Lorna did as she was instructed, bearing down with all her might, mindful to exhale smoothly and not hold her breath, despite the impulse to do just that. She understood the pressure risked popping a blood vessel in her eye. Or, in Lorna's compromised case she could practically observe Jamie thinking something a great deal more serious.
Unfortunately, she ran out of air before Raya told her to stop, simultaneously surprised that the pain which, up to that moment had been noticeable but controlled, thanks to the epidural, suddenly exploded, enveloping Lorna in an intense burning sensation.
"Push through it," Dr. Ng ordered, fully aware of what was going on.
Lorna was about to gasp that she couldn't, she needed a break to catch her breath and let the pain recede a bit; just a quick break and then she'd get right back with the program, she promised. But one look at Jamie visibly torn between contradicting a fellow doctor and excruciating concern for Lorna convinced her that she owed it to him to end the torture as soon as possible.
So despite the unexpected, agonizing flare up and the smothering lack of air and feeling like she didn't have an ounce of energy left, Lorna pressed on. She was rewarded with the sensation of a single, abrupt tug, and then something sliding smoothly, almost pleasantly, out of her, followed by the secondary shock of her pain utterly and completely dissipating in an instant.
She collapsed backwards, gasping, head spinning, her entire body beginning to shake.
"It's okay," Jamie was standing over her, wiping the sweat off Lorna's face with a cool cloth, stroking her hair, reassuring, smiling finally, finally! Jamie was smiling. "It's all over, you did it. You did it, Lorna. You made it."
She tried to sit up, but was stopped by both Jamie resting a hand on her shoulder, and Dr. Ng instructing, "One more second, we've still got a placenta to deliver here."
"The baby?" Lorna grabbed Jamie's arm. "Is she alright? Where is she? Why isn't she crying? Why can't I hear her crying?"
"Not all babies cry at birth," Dr. Ng soothed. "That's just a myth."
"She's being checked out right now," Jamie assured, his eyes drifting nervously to the corner, where a tiny scale stood beneath its heating lamp. "It's just procedure."
"But, everything's okay?" Lorna's head swiveled from one to the other, pleading. "You saw her? She's okay?"
"Everything looks in order," the examining pediatrician materialized behind Dr. Ng, carrying a squirming bundle wrapped in a white blanket with red and blue rectangles at the edges, and topped with a pink and blue, striped gnome hat. "Here you go, Mom."
He deposited the cocoon into Lorna's arms, stepping discretely aside and allowing Lorna her first, dazed peek into a pair of vaguely sleepy, unfocused, darkly blue eyes, accented by a damp lock of equally ebony hair neatly swept across her pink forehead.
After a moment, Lorna craned her neck, grinning ear to ear, eager to gauge Jamie's reaction and discern if it was anything analogous to her own swarm of indescribable, overwhelming, paralyzing sensations, only to find Jamie's gaze still locked squarely on the doctor, whom he blocked from leaving by demanding, "What was the Apgar score?"
The pediatrician hesitated, making Jamie more anxious as a result. "Well, at five minutes after birth "
"How about at one minute?" Jamie interrupted, not about to be placated.
"The Apgar score was a seven," he admitted.
"Jamie," Lorna, understanding that Jamie thought what he was doing was important, but equally convinced that nothing could be more important in that moment, attempted to redirect his attention.
Jamie refused to let up. "Why only seven?"
"There was a minor issue with color and respiration to start. But, she tested nine at the five minute mark."
"Jamie," Lorna repeated, this time almost begging him. "Stop. Please. Look at her. Don't be scared. Please, Jamie. Just look at your daughter."
At Lorna's pleas, he turned slowly towards her towards them. Lorna shifted in order to accord him the best possible view. "She's perfect. She's absolutely perfect."
"Would your misery care for some company?" Matt asked Donna when he stumbled upon her sitting in the dimly lit KBAY screening room traditionally Matt's favorite sulking location, too.
She looked up, smiling wanly, willing to play along with the pun. "I'd love it."
He sat down next to her. "I heard about Marley. I'm sorry."
"Two family members committed to Clareview over the period of a single year. That can't say anything particularly positive about us, now can it?"
"It says that when you both realized you needed help, you went ahead and got it. You didn't deny and pretend that nothing was wrong. Sounds pretty positive to me."
"I wouldn't say that Marley was precisely accepting of her fate."
"That was Grant's doing," Matt said confidently. "Running away rather than accepting the consequences of his actions has always been that son-of-a-bitch's modus operandi."
"Funny," Donna mused. "Grant accused me of the exact same thing when he found out I'd allowed Steven to take guardianship of the girls, instead of doing it myself."
"You gave up custody of Bridget and Michele?"
"More like, I didn't seek it."
Donna sighed. "I am certain that Steven believes it was because he threatened to take me to court and parade my entire history recent as well as former in front of a judge. But, I have nothing more to fear on that account. All of my secrets are out in the open these days. It's a rather liberating feeling, I must say."
"Then why did you give in to him?"
"Because," Donna looked down at her hands, flexing and unflexing her fingers as though deeply uncomfortable within her own skin. "If Steven had come after me like a true Love, all fire and bluster and epic pronouncements, I could have given as good as I got. There hasn't been a twentysomething born yet who can defeat me on my own terms. But, you know our boy. With Steven, everything is logic and reason and quiet, steadfast conviction. If he'd insulted me in the heat of anger, I would have felt no qualms about promptly putting him in his place. Imagine, speaking to your own grandmother like that! But, Steven merely laid out the facts. Calmly, coolly, as if it were the most rational thing in the world. And frankly, once he was done, I too could not think of a single reason why he or anyone should entrust Michele and Bridget into my care."
"You love them," Matt had no doubts about that.
"I love Marley. I've loved her from the moment she was born. And where has that gotten her?"
"Is long gone. My last quarter century of mistakes can no longer be dropped at his door."
"I hate to see you like this," Matt said. "Donna Love wasn't made for self-doubt."
"Donna Love," she corrected him gently. "Is nothing but self-doubt. Why do you think I work so hard on appearing otherwise? Some doth protest too much. I do it exclusively."
"I've missed you," Matt said, apropos to nothing. Except it being the truth.
She patted his hand. "You seem to have done a stellar job of moving on. After all, if you were willing to let Jeanne tape our conversation "
"That was for your own good," he stubbornly insisted. "You didn't send that file about the compound to Hamilton. You needed to get that fact out there, on the record. It was to keep you safe. Marley and the girls, too."
"Alright," Donna said softly. "I don't want to fight, Matthew."
"Besides," he fidgeted awkwardly in his seat. "I've been meaning to apologize to you about that. My heart may have been in the right place and it was, I swear to you but, you had a good point. Secretly taping a private conversation, no matter how noble your reasons, is a gross breach of trust."
Donna pondered his profile for a solicitous moment, before prompting. "What did Jeanne do to you, darling?"
"The same thing I did to you," Matt admitted, anger battling it out with embarrassment for emotional supremacy. "She recorded a conversation I had with Jamie and Lorna about that sexual harassment suit thing that came out the day of their wedding."
"Oh, yes, I'd heard. I have no doubts Lorna is completely and utterly to blame."
"Well, actually, I it doesn't matter. The three of us settled it among ourselves. But, Jeanne, she used my cell phone to.... She said it was for my protection. So that if Lorna went back on her word, we'd have her own voice to fight her with."
"In that case, why didn't she let you in on the deception in advance?"
"I know right?" Matt shook his head. "I thought I got where Jeanne was coming from. I thought I understood what made her tick. And I liked what I saw. Well, most of it some of it. And the stuff I didn't like, I.... I guess I just don't have it in me," he exhaled plaintively. "Anytime I try to be Mac Cory's son, whenever I try to live by the principles he lived by "
"Some ungrateful woman kicks you straight in the teeth for it."
"I don't think that's how it's supposed to go," Matt observed wryly. "But, I guess I'm no Mackenzie Cory."
"No," Donna agreed. "You are Matthew Cory. And, please believe me, darling, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that."
"Then why am I here? Pouting in a dark screening room? Alone?"
"You're not alone," she reassured him.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "I didn't mean..."
"I know," Donna said. "I didn't mean that, either."
She leaned over to kiss him, expecting to be tentative, questioning, ready to pull back at the slightest sign of resistance. But, there was no resistance. Not from either of them. The minute Donna's lips touched Matt's, any plans she'd had to go slowly, or even to stop, faded away, overwritten by a longing she'd been denying for much too long.
Matt's hands were on her face, and then they were on her neck, her shoulders, up and down her back and on her hips, pulling Donna closer to him.
And, after that, nothing much mattered anymore.
Spencer had stormed off hours earlier, but Grant still sat shell-shocked on the couch in the living room, hearing his father's words on a loop inside his head, a loop that included Kirkland's words, and Frankie's and Jamie's and Marley's refusal to see him and even Sarah saying, "What the hell is wrong with people, Senator? You and I, we kill ourselves to show how much we love them, we do everything they say they want from us, and that's the thing that gets us bounced?"
Apparently, according to the vernacular of the times, he'd been... bounced.
By his own father. By Marley. By Kirkland.... And all because he'd tried to become the man they claimed they wanted him to be.
The kind of man who would fight to the death to protect the people he loved, the people who counted on him. The kind of man who would put the needs of others before his own.
He'd done it. He'd done all of it. And Grant's reward was complete and utter rejection by the very populace he'd put first.
The doorbell ringing once, then twice, then an insistent three times, tore him out of his self-pitying reverie.
Lila stood on Grant's stoop, looking equal parts awkward, defiant, fed up, unsurprised, and compassionate.
She said, "I thought you could use a friend...."
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