"What are you doing here?" Donna strode into John's office at BCH without benefit of knocking or even a perfunctory greeting.
"It's a hospital," he replied calmly, thoroughly accustomed to finding himself, without any previous warning, smack dab in the middle of a conversation with Donna. "I'm a doctor."
"You weren't originally scheduled to work today. I checked."
"I volunteered to come in."
"On a national holiday?"
"4th of July is one of our busiest times. All kinds of burns, sports injuries, heat-stroke, drunk drivers, not to mention kids falling into pools that's the biggest killer of them all. Emergency room can always use an extra pair of hands. What can I do for you, Donna?"
"It's what I can do for you," she contradicted. "I remember last year, when Gregory was missing. You and Sharlene were going out of your minds with worry. Being here today can only exacerbate the situation."
John's face darkened. "I think about my son every minute of every day. I don't need a special occasion to have my memory jogged."
"I didn't think you did," Donna softened her tone. "But, if there is any way I can make today any less painful for you..."
"No," John shook his head. "I meant what I said at Gregory's funeral. I don't want it to become less painful. Less painful means I'm starting to forget."
"Less painful," Donna spoke from personal experience. "Means you can look back on the good times with your lost child and actually enjoy the memory for its own sake. It's what Gregory would have wanted, you know that."
"What would Vicky have wanted?" John challenged. "For you? You're such an expert on the subject. Tell me. Would Vicky have wanted you to be living the life you're living now?"
"I... I don't understand what you're implying."
"Then let me spell it out for you: I told you how I feel, Donna. I offered you a chance at happiness. With me. No, I'm not Michael. I don't love you the way he did. And, believe it or not, that's a good thing. I love you in my own way. I'm not trying to change you back into the teen-age girl I fell in love with. I'm not forcing you to jump through hoops to become the woman I'd prefer you to be. Because I know the woman you really are better than anyone. Even you've admitted that much. I love the real Donna. The one you're still struggling to make peace with. Don't you think that Vicky would've wanted that for you? Love an honest love, with no faking it, after all these years, finally instead of rattling around alone inside your mansion, your only living daughter rejecting you, your grandchildren wanting nothing to do with you?"
"That's temporary," Donna snapped defensively, instinctively.
"Maybe it is. But, what I'm offering you, isn't. I am offering you a future where you don't have to pretend to be someone you're not anymore. I'm offering you a future where, after a lifetime of playing a part, you get to find out who you really are."
"There you two are!" Rachel pasted as broad of a smile as she thought she could get away with on her face, adding a final, finishing touch to the BBQ grill and buffet tables, and circling around the swimming pool, Cory, Jasmine, Bridget, Michele, and Steven already splashing in the water, to greet an arriving Amanda and Kevin, "The guests of honor!"
"Thank you for having us, Mrs. Hutchins." Kevin extended his hand in greeting.
"I think you can call me Rachel now," she accepted Kevin's palm, then kissed him on the cheek for good measure.
"I realize Amanda's and my announcement came out of the blue. I apologize for that. And I appreciate your graciousness about the situation."
"Do I have a choice?" Rachel asked with a combination of blunt honesty and good humor.
"You always have a choice," Kevin replied. "Which is why I'm particularly grateful for the welcome."
"I am hardly in a position to hold a person's past against them. The future, on the other hand, is a different story. Treat my daughter well, and you'll always be welcome in my home, and in my life."
"Thank you. Rachel."
"Hurt her... and all bets are off."
"What's the matter with you?" Barefoot, with a beach towel draped around his shoulders, Steven padded up to Kirkland, who was sitting hunched over at the furthest picnic table possible, picking listlessly at a pathetic pile of chips on his plate. Steven shook his head vigorously, like a puppy after a bath. But even drenching his brother's lunch failed to elicit much of a response. "What's with the noiseless temper tantrum?"
"Am I bothering you?" Kirkland demanded. "Am I bothering anybody? Just leave me alone, okay?"
"No." Steven plopped down next to him. "You pissed 'cause Charlie didn't come? Hey, why didn't Charlie come?"
Kirkland shrugged, taking a sip of a soda he'd opened so long ago, it had gone flat.
"You two have a fight?"
"Go away. Come on, Steven, please. Gimme a break."
"She'll get over it," Steven promised. "Whatever it was you did, she'll get over it."
"Like you did with Sarah?"
"Thank you for coming," Amanda told Jen, managing to ignore GQ as she did so.
"Dad said it was important to you. That this was kind of supposed to be your wedding reception."
"Yes. A bit untraditional, I realize..."
"Oh, I always knew that when my daddy finally got married, it would be untraditional. I mean, he certainly took his time settling down."
"I hope you're okay with it us Kevin and I."
"It's not really any of my business, is it? As long as he's happy," Jen noted.
"And I see how there's a lot of potential for discomfort. You and GQ... and Allie." This time, she actually did look at her grandson's biological father. Discomfort seemed to be the word of the day. And then some.
"We're okay," GQ insisted. "Jen and I, we've talked about it."
"What about Allie?" Amanda couldn't help asking, much sharper than she'd planned to. "I'm glad you and Jen are fine, but have you given any thought to Allie's feelings?"
"We'll talk to her, too," Jen promised smoothly. "We'll figure out how to make this work for everyone. Please believe me, Amanda, any problems you and my dad might end up having, they won't come from your kids, I can promise you that."
"I told you!" At first sight of Jamie and Lorna arriving a sleeping Devon strapped in a car seat that Jamie carefully set on a table beneath the widest sun umbrella he could find Jasmine scampered out of the pool and came running towards them.
"Didn't I tell you? Last year?" She looked from Jamie to Lorna to Devon, grinning and infinitely proud of herself. "I told you you'd make pretty babies!"
Felicia watched them come in, as well. Yet, despite a brief moment of quickly averted eye contact, she made no move to break off her conversation with Frankie in order to step over and greet her daughter.
"Ouch," Frankie said, simultaneously sympathetic and curious.
"Yup," Felicia agreed.
The monosyllabic exchange expressing more than a dozen equally less apt words ever could.
Frankie hesitated, and then, biting the bullet, confessed, "Charlie... She said something interesting to Cass. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but, now that she said it... She compared our relationship, hers and mine, to yours and Lorna's."
"God forbid," Felicia burst out instinctively. "I wouldn't wish such a thing on either you or Charlie. No. No, Frankie. You and Charlie... no."
"She pointed out that Lorna wasn't much older than Charlie is now when you met her."
"When I met her," Felicia stressed. "I met my daughter when she was an adult. Charlie is still a kid. She needs you. You're her mother in a way I can never be to Lorna."
"And Cass is Charlie's parent in a way I can never be. She talks to him. She listens to him."
"Where is Charlie anyway?" Felicia wondered.
"Refused to come."
"Beats me. Even Cass couldn't get a straight answer there. I'm assuming it has to do with Kirkland. I can only guess they had a fight, or... something."
"Something?" Felicia broke the word into two syllables.
"Charlie and Kirk, they were getting pretty... intense for a while there."
"Intense as in..."
"She bought condoms."
"Ah," Felicia said neutrally, waiting to follow up until she had a better idea of Frankie's take on the issue.
"I don't know how far it's gone. Maybe they had a fight and broke up. Or maybe they went ahead and had sex and now can't occupy the same space at the same time. I don't even know which option I prefer, to tell you the truth."
"Charlie is a smart, sensible young woman. Whatever happened, I'm sure she'll come through it alright in the end."
"You're taking this a lot better than I did. I know how much she means to you. How big a part of her life you were while I was... gone."
"I adore her beyond all reason, that goes without saying. But, Charlie isn't my daughter. When it was Jenna running off to New York to follow Dean on tour... I wasn't nearly as sanguine as you might recall."
Frankie smiled, somewhat reassured.
"I know what you're going through, Frankie. Believe me, no matter how this particular drama of Charlie's plays out, you two still have plenty of time to get back on track. For goodness' sake, she's a teen-ager. Teen-agers are supposed to be a trial to their parents. All you and Charlie having a rough time now means is you're both perfectly normal."
"Still on vacation, I see," Jeanne purred as she passed Dean sitting on a lawn-chair by the edge of the kiddie pool, putting sun-screen on his bare shoulders and briefly squinting up at Jeanne from beneath his Yankees baseball cap. A few feet away, Lori Ann stood under a bubbling fountain with a tin bucket, filling it to the brim, then toddling over to drench Cass, who was taking his shift at the grill. She only managed to get him wet as far as the knees. Yet, the entire experience made her laugh uproariously, nonetheless.
Dean indicated where they all currently were, the pool, the volleyball and tennis courts, not to mention the rather informal dress code. "And I suppose you're hard at work climbing the corporate ladder as we speak?"
"Actually," she winked. "That's exactly what I'm doing."
"What's with the low profile?" Amanda sidled up to Elizabeth, who'd refused several entreaties to join the other kids in the pool in favor of propping a book up in front of her face Silas Marner, no less for the past hour.
"Just keeping my distance." Elizabeth indicated Jamie and his picture-perfect family on the other side of the patio. "Wouldn't want to speak the truth again and get beat down for it."
"Oh, yeah... Right. I remember now. That was... yeah."
"Can you believe how she's still got the wool pulled over everybody's eyes?"
"That's kind of Lorna's thing. Stuff the rest of us would never hear the end of just rolls off her back."
"At least she's fat now," Elizabeth offered in sisterly solidarity. "No red monokinis this year." The two exchanged grins that were anything but charitable. "Seriously, though? I thought when it came out how she tried to blackmail Matt, Mom would at least give her one of those looks. You know, that Mom look..."
"The kind that makes milk curdle?"
"That's the one. Instead, she's cooing over that dripping, smelly lump that's probably not even Jamie's anyway."
"Wow," Amanda said. "You're... angry."
"One good thing about going to boarding school, I won't have to sit around, making nice with the bitch who tried to ruin Father. I know he's a gentleman, and a gentleman is always courteous, no matter what, but, I don't know how Father does it everyone at this party has tried to abolish him at one time or another they even tried to kill him once, on Halloween, I know, I heard. And still, he's civil to them. More than civil gracious! Opening his home like "
"This house, Elizabeth," Amanda interjected having been at the aforementioned Halloween, having wanted Carl dead along with the rest, having known that he deserved everything anyone had ever thrown at him and yet, still feeling for her obviously love-starved little sister, all the same, merely corrected, "This is my father's house, not yours."
"Exactly! Mac Cory tormented Father for years and years. Most men wouldn't have been able to turn the other cheek like he has. They would have insisted on settling somewhere else, away from all the bad memories. But, not Father. Father acquiesced to Mom's wishes. He was magnanimous enough to allow her to stay in this house."
Amanda opened her mouth, then closed it again, reminding herself that Elizabeth had just turned fourteen in June.
There was plenty of time left for her to be disillusioned by Carl down the road.
It didn't have to be today. And it didn't have to come from Amanda.
"Got a job for you," Lila told Cass, taking the spatula from his hand and expertly flipping a burger he'd previously watched slide off and crumble. "And it ain't short-order cook, that's for certain."
"On that note, thanks, by the way, for settling the hit and run issue once and for all."
Cass sighed. "I wish it had ended a bit differently. But, you're in the clear, that's the most important thing."
"You and Frankie make a good team."
He accepted the compliment in the spirit that it was given, telling her sincerely, "Thank you, Lila."
She shrugged and looked away, unwilling to spend any more time on the subject than she absolutely needed to. "Anyway, that's why I got another job for you two should you wish to accept it and all that."
"What's up? At Winthrop & Winthrop, no job is too small, no fee too big!"
"I want... I'd like... Could you two take a look into Chase Hamilton's past for me?"
"Chase Hamilton? What for? I can't imagine Frankie and I could dig up anything the press wouldn't have during the election."
"Now, where is that famous Cass arrogance we all so know and love? Anything those chumps can do, you can't do better?"
"Well, the burger fiasco did take the wind out of my sails just a bit. But, seriously, we are talking about a public figure. What precisely are you interested in that hasn't come to light yet?"
"I... He... I don't think Chase is exactly who he presents himself to be."
"Are any of us?" Cass noted.
"It's particularly noticeable in his case. Like, you know how open he is about Doug, right?"
"Yeah. Damn brave for a politician, if you ask me."
"Well, so he's been with this guy for over twenty years; he told me, in fact, that Doug's the only guy only person he's ever been with."
"Really?" Cass interrupted.
"That's what I asked. In the same tone of voice, too. He swears it's true."
"Wow," Cass repeated, thinking of his conversation with Charlie. "In Bay City?"
"Go figure. So, anyway, like I was saying, here he is, totally committed to Doug, but the man's against gay marriage! When the news came about it passing in New York State the other week, I thought he was going to kick the television!"
"But, isn't he a libertarian?" Cass tried to remember the campaign materials he'd read. The beauty of being locked up during an election cycle... gave you plenty of time to read. "He believes government has no business legislating marriage for anyone. That instead of trying to pass laws state by state, there should just be a federal mandate to take them out of the process altogether."
"And you believe that?"
"I didn't say I believed it. I'm not a radical like he is. I just said it's a stand. And it's consistent with his other stands: anti-hate crime legislation, anti-any kind of equal rights amendments. Guys like him think everyone already has equal protection under the law, and parsing separate interest groups just weakens those protections for everyone."
"So, you don't think he's... hiding anything?"
"I don't know," she confessed. "I just can't shake the feeling that he is. And that I hear how this sounds, okay but, that, it it has something to do with... me."
"Mom," Lorna said softly, coming up behind Felicia, cradling Devon in her arms.
Her mother spun around, the look on her face suggesting Felicia didn't believe she could have possibly heard what she'd just heard, and thus sensibly refusing to give in to her delusion.
"Lorna," she whispered, then, completely and unabashedly melting at the sight of her sleeping granddaughter, added, "Devon..."
"I realized... before... I realized you haven't had a chance to hold her yet." Lorna tentatively stretched the baby forward. "Do you want to hold her, Mom?"
Felicia didn't trust her voice. She merely nodded and held out her arms, Lorna settling Devon's head in the crook of one elbow, the tiny, bare feet in the other, and forcefully took a cautious step back, willing herself not to hover... much.
"Jamie taught me how to hold a baby," Lorna said. "With Lori Ann, when she was still in the hospital. He had to show me again with Devon. It's harder than it looks. The head and... everything. I keep thinking I'm going to break her or hurt her."
Her voice cracking, Felicia said, "I've never held a baby this young. Especially not one of my.... You and Jenna were... And, with Lori Ann, it was months before she was healthy enough..."
"You got screwed, there's no doubt about that," Lorna said without a hint of hesitation. It reminded Felicia of Lucas and the way he had of making pronouncements that left no room for argument.
"I don't think I've ever seen you happier," Felicia told Lorna, determined not to dwell on the past, not now.
"I know. It's kind of pathetic, isn't it? For years and years, I thought I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. I used to laugh at all that domesticity crap. Even when Jenna first told me she and Dean were trying to get pregnant, I couldn't believe it. Give up the road to stay home and drown in diapers? And now look at me! I'm... I'm a... cliche!"
"You're a mother," Felicia corrected.
"And a wife."
"And a daughter."
"Yes." This time, the confirmation was more of a sigh.
Lorna looked down at the ground, then back up at Felicia. "My grandmother was the most important person in the world to me."
"I know. And I'm sorry, what I said about her before... Helen loved you and raised you. I owe her my gratitude, not "
"It's... don't. Forgotten, okay? Never happened?"
"Okay," Felicia was more than willing to go along.
Lorna went on, "I want Devon to know both her grandmothers. I want her to have what I had growing up. And also, I want us... I want us to be... better. For Devon's sake, if we can't quite manage to do it for ours yet."
"I'm going to try," Felicia swore. "I am going to try harder than I've ever tried anything in my life."
"Me, too." Lorna said.
"What are you doing here?" Matt demanded upon seeing Jeanne lounging around the pool, making herself quite at home.
"Your mother invited me," she said, looking around to make sure no one could overhear them before adding, "I guess you haven't gotten around to bringing her up to speed."
"I Jeanne... look," Matt pulled up a chaise-lounge next to her, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "I'm sorry. I know this is awkward."
"Not for me," she told him. "I'm having a wonderful time. You Corys really know how to throw a party."
"Good. I'm glad you're having fun. You know, you're always welcome here. You're family, after all."
She took a sip of her tropical drink, nodding thoughtfully, continuing to look at Matt in that utterly opaque way she had. The one that made him feel like something more was expected of him at this time.
"But, I think we should let people know we're not together anymore. Just so there isn't any, well, confusion."
"Oh. Is that so you can tell your family that you and Donna are back together?"
"Eventually," he assured. "You know, down the line."
"So you haven't yet?"
"It's... Donna isn't exactly a popular figure around here."
"Good," Jeanne said.
"What do you mean?" Matt startled.
"I mean, good. It will save you the trouble of then having to turn around and explain why you're marrying me."
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