"You're looking well, Marley," Morgan drawled, walking slowly around her as if truly and professionally assessing the situation. "Beating an attempted murder rap definitely agrees with you. Like mother, like daughter, I guess."
Marley refused to let him intimidate her, staring straight ahead, determined not to give Morgan the satisfaction of trying to keep up with his pacing. "I never meant to hurt you. Or Lorna. I made a mistake. I voluntarily committed myself because I understood I needed help making sure it never happened again."
"Voluntarily?" he snorted. "You were making a run for it. If it weren't for Cass and Frankie..."
"I was confused."
"You were mindful enough to figure out that the only way you'd ever escape justice for what you tried to do to Lorna and Devon was "
"Devon?" Marley asked softly. "Jamie's daughter's name is... Devon?"
"Devon Ada Frame." Morgan flipped open his cell phone and pulled up a photo, holding it out to Marley even as he deliberately ignored the stab of irony in his next statement. "If it were up to you, she wouldn't even exist."
"She's beautiful," Marley exhaled, realizing that despite Sarah's reassurances, she hadn't truly allowed herself to believe it until now. "She looks... perfect."
"For the moment," Morgan plucked the phone from Marley's hands. "We have no idea what kinds of problems Devon might face down the line, thanks to the drugs we were forced to give Lorna while she was in a coma."
"What, Marley? You what?" He stopped abruptly, getting up in her face. "You did this. Do you understand? You. Did. This. You put an innocent child at risk. You doomed Lorna to spending her life worrying, waiting for something horrible to happen to her daughter. And why? Because you couldn't stand being dumped by a guy who was never really interested in you in the first place! It's been what? almost twenty years, and you still can't move on."
"At least I," Marley fought the flutter in her voice. "Didn't go to court to stake my claim."
Her pointing out precisely what Morgan had been doing his best to avoid only made him angrier. He exploded, "Because you didn't need to! You chose to spend the same time poisoning Jamie's mind against Lorna, telling him you saw her kiss me "
"I did see her kiss you."
"Right before you tried to kill us! What did you think would happen, Marley? Did you think Jamie would fall into your arms right at Lorna's funeral? Or maybe even before that? He'd need comforting, after all. Tell me, what precisely was the time-line you envisioned as you stepped on the gas?"
"What did you expect, Morgan?" Marley fired back. "That Lorna would wake up from her coma so grateful for your ministrations that she'd ignore you killing her baby to do it? Do you think she'd cut Jamie out of her life with the same surgical precision you'd used on their child and finally realize all she really wanted was to be your devoted wife?"
"Don't you dare... I tried to save Lorna's life. You attempted to end it. There is no moral equivalency here."
"No," Marley agreed. "There isn't. I'm sorry for what I did."
"And you think I'm not?"
"Have you told Lorna about trying to abort Devon?"
"Who would that help?"
"Well, just off the top of my head, I'd say... you."
"Oh, give me a break."
"You're obviously still very conflicted. Why else would you be here, desperate to make sure I take responsibility for almost killing Devon when you were the one who "
"I know what I did. And I know why I did it. I'm not walking around, deluding myself that it was just a one-off, an accident, that I was confused, that I'll never, ever do it again. How many times are you going to keep singing that song, Marley, until even you can't believe it anymore? What happened with Lorna was no aberration. You tried to do the same thing, more or less, with Vicky. So you could have Jake for yourself. Only this time it was Jamie you wanted to hold on to. Except, in the end, you drove him away for good. You're exactly like Donna. Not just in your near inhuman ability to escape taking responsibility for your actions, but in your tendency to 'slip' and destroy the people who you love, or at least the ones who might find it in their hearts to foolishly love you in return. Donna had her own little 'slip' with a car once upon a time, you remember?"
"Stop it." Marley shook her head. "I get it. Just stop."
"And before that, she made Michael so relentlessly miserable he got himself killed just to escape from her."
"I said, stop it, Morgan."
"And Jenna... Her only crime was being born at an inconvenient time for Donna. But, then, you know all about that. Except Jenna paid for it with her life "
"I'm nothing like Donna."
"You are Donna!"
"You want to be loved even as you insist on making it impossible. Because loving you is dangerous, Marley. Your version of love first alienates people, then it demolishes them. No one escapes it without paying some kind of price."
Marley shoved Morgan away, covering her ears with her hands.
Kevin said, "You do realize that I've been suspended from practicing law for the next six months, Frankie?"
She nodded fervently. "I just had some legal questions. For a case I'm working on."
"And Cass can't help you?"
"Family law isn't his specialty."
"Okay," he shrugged. "I'll see what I can do. Probably be good for me, not letting my brain completely atrophy for half a year."
"I'm sure you have other things on your mind, these days. Being newly married and all."
"What would you like to know, Frankie?"
Recognizing she'd been rebuffed, she took the hint and got straight to the point. Sort of. "You handle same sex couple adoptions, right?"
"Not exactly. I work with same sex couples who want to adopt, yes. But, when it comes to paperwork, it's more efficient to have one partner do the initial adoption especially if we're dealing with a foreign country and then have the second partner also adopt the child down the line. It's the same for unmarried, straight couples, too, by the way. Many places that don't allow an unmarried couple to adopt do permit single parents, so it's just a way to get around the system. Believe me, no one is fooled, everybody knows it's being done, but we have to play by the rules as they currently are."
"Is that what Chase Hamilton and Douglas Rivera did?" Frankie mused idly.
Kevin shook his head. "I'm sorry, I can't discuss specific clients, just general parameters."
"Right," Frankie gulped. "Sorry. Can I presume that it's harder for couples like the mayor and his partner to get approved for an adoption?"
"It depends. I've been around long enough to have a pretty good sense of which agencies and which judges are more likely to be amenable to which clients. I wouldn't direct a gay couple to an overtly religious agency anymore than I would send prospective atheist parents there. Making the right match is part of my job. For instance, I can tell you that I thought of Chase and Doug specifically for Milagros because she didn't speak any English then it's certainly not the case now, I hear and they both spoke Spanish. Hopefully, it helped with her transition."
"All adoptive parents go through a pretty intense background check, don't they?"
"Yes. Multiple meetings with a social worker are part of the drill. You remember, from when you and Cass adopted Lori Ann."
"Those questions got awfully personal."
"To be fair," Kevin noted wryly. "It was the first time that particular social worker had ever interviewed anyone who'd come back from the dead."
"Then she must not have been working in Bay City for very long."
Kevin smiled. "Once again, we either play by their rules, or we don't play."
"But, even with all that scrutiny, details must still periodically slip through the cracks."
"Unfortunately, that's true. No one sets out to place a child in an unsuitable home, but it does happen. Those cases... They're the ones that keep me up nights."
"Have you ever deliberately obscured something from your clients' background in order to facilitate an adoption?" Frankie wondered, then quickly added, "Nothing that would prove detrimental to the child, of course, but something you personally thought was irrelevant? Have you held back information that might hinder their chances?"
Whatever polite goodwill Kevin had managed to summon up in response to Frankie's initial inquiry visibly dissipated. He cleared his throat. "As I said, I am not at liberty to discuss individual cases."
"Okay, here's another theoretical then," Frankie spoke quickly, speculating how many words she'd be able to get out before Kevin physically bounced her from his office. "What happens if only one partner manages to legally adopt the child before the couple splits up? Does the second person have any rights at all?"
"That's a tricky one," Kevin admitted, happy to be back in the realm of the abstract. "In the eyes of the law, they have no standing where the child is concerned. On the other hand, most judges will take into consideration whether the child considers the second person a true parent, and hopefully make their decision accordingly. Again, this doesn't just apply to gay couples. A lot of straight stepparents also find themselves in the same boat. Pretty tragic, in my opinion. But, fact is, in cases of a break-up, those who consider themselves the injured party will frequently sink to mind-boggling pettiness. Using the child as a weapon."
"And there's nothing the other parent can do?"
"You can sue, of course. But that's very expensive, very time-consuming and, worst of all, very disheartening. Some people prefer to just walk away, protect themselves."
"You don't think they do it to protect the child? Spare him a brutal custody fight?" Frankie asked with unexpected vehemence.
"No," Kevin said curtly, prompting Frankie to wonder if he were speaking from experience as an attorney... or a child. "It's an excuse to wash your hands and walk away from a child you raised and claimed to love as your own in order to spare yourself the brutality of going to court. Anyone who thinks it's better for a kid to wake up one morning and find out that the person they used to call Mom or Dad has just disappeared from their life with no explanation, is, quite simply, wrong." Noting Frankie's pallor in response to his assertion, Kevin cocked his head and double-checked, "We're still talking about this case you're working on, right?"
"Yes," she nodded, slowly at first, then emphatically. "Just a case...."
Walking into Carl's study, Rachel found her husband sitting at his desk, staring intently at the phone, his hand still on the receiver, his mind seemingly a million miles away.
In response to Rachel's arrival, he let go suddenly, pivoting around to declare, out of the blue, "Having given the matter some further thought, I've come to the conclusion that we may have been a spot hasty, deciding to send Elizabeth and Cory off to boarding school for the coming term."
Rachel took a seat, gently reminding, "You thought it would be better for them."
"Oh, I'm not discounting it completely; perish the thought. I am merely proposing that we should put it off for a year or so. It will grant us the opportunity to more thoroughly explore our options."
"You're not happy with the list of schools you initially told me about? You said they were the very best."
"Alas, I'm afraid I've been operating at the mercy of outdated information. So many of these selective institutions spend decades coasting along on no-longer valid reputations. What say, at Christmas break, perhaps, we all take a journey to Europe; explore some of the newer places that have sprung up since I sought a spot for Perry to matriculate?"
"Carl," Rachel said slowly. "The primary reason I agreed to let you send Elizabeth and Cory to boarding school was because you convinced me they'd be physically safer away from us. Otherwise, frankly, I'm not certain that the problems Amanda and I've had since she so suddenly hit her teens weren't triggered by our being apart during her key, formative years. I'm not sure I did the right thing, allowing Mac to convince me it would be best for her. And I am very, very hesitant to repeat the experiment with a girl as... challenging as Elizabeth. However, you persuaded me their safety needs to come first. Has the situation changed?"
"Unfortunately not," he admitted.
"Then why the change in plans?"
"I've reconsidered," he repeated, as if that should settle matters without further question.
"Truth, please," Rachel said simply, not accusing him, merely making it clear she wasn't keen on purchasing the current offering as is.
Carl sighed, for a moment looking so devastated, Rachel felt sorry she'd ever started on this particular train of thought.
As if he were delivering the most horrible news in the world, Carl said, "I spoke to a few of the admissions officers at the top schools I'd selected. All of them... they said, that is, they implied...."
"What?" Rachel demanded.
"They said that Cory and Elizabeth were... rather average."
Rachel didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the tragedy imbuing his tone. "Average?" she repeated, having braced herself for all sorts of horrible revelations.
"Yes!" Carl raged. "What sort of illiterate, insensate imbeciles are they hiring to work in schools these days? To suggest that my children are anything short of extraordinary "
"They've never even met them, Carl," Rachel attempted to calm him down.
"Precisely! As if standardized testing and a few essays composed under the auspices of barely literate Colonial instructors were any sort of indicator regarding Elizabeth and Cory's potential!"
"Are you telling me you've changed your mind about boarding school because our children didn't get into any?" Again, Rachel knew it wasn't her place to laugh, but, honestly, she felt so relieved, mirth was about the only response she could summon.
"They claimed Cory and Elizabeth wouldn't be able to keep up with their rigorous curriculum. That their institutions were geared toward children on the extraordinary scale, rather than those of," Carl all but shuddered at the word. "Normal abilities."
"Enjoy it, Carl," Rachel suggested. "It might be the one and only time that word is ever applied to our children."
"It's an insult," he insisted.
"Actually," she confessed. "It's a bit of a relief. I'd wondered, you know."
"It can't be true," Carl said.
"It's not the end of the world."
"Elizabeth and Cory are by no scale currently in existence, mediocre. Which means there must be another reason for their being rebuffed."
"You don't need to rationalize, Carl. I'm perfectly happy with their conclusion. My children are normal. Do you know how many parents wish they could say the same?"
"It's me," he decided, hearing Rachel's words without listening to even one. "That must be it. Cory and Elizabeth couldn't possibly have been examined and deemed wanting. It was me."
"You're normal, too?" Rachel had to ask, disbelief in her voice.
"I am Carl Hutchins. My reputation has preceded me. My children are currently being denied an education not to mention suffering cruel slander in academic circles, to boot because of me."
"You win," Matt informed Jeanne, walking into her office.
She was so enthralled with what she was typing on her computer, she didn't even turn around, merely asking, "Hm?"
"You win," he repeated. "I'll marry you."
That got her attention, she swiveled in her chair, not looking even a little bit surprised. "I'm glad you made the right choice."
"That implies you actually gave me one."
"Have you told Donna?"
"Yes," he snarled.
"No." It was Donna's idea to let Jeanne think Donna wasn't in the know. She thought it would make Jeanne more complacent. Though, honestly, Matt didn't see how that might be possible. Jeanne was acting as if this entire conversation were preordained.
"Good. What goes on between you and I is personal, that's how it should be."
"Nothing between you and I," he emphasized. "Is as it should be."
"We should tell your mother together. Let her know our plans."
"Don't you think you'd better fill me in on them first?"
"I don't understand." And, truly, it appeared that she didn't.
"You've been pulling all the strings from Day One. Might as well keep going. What's supposed to happen next, you tell me."
"I just did. We get married."
"When? Where? What kind of wedding do you want? Who's invited? What "
"Oh, I don't care about any of that," Jeanne dismissed with the flick of her hand.
Matt blinked. "You don't care about the wedding?"
"I thought all women..."
"I want to marry you, Matt. The sooner the better." She opened her calendar. "I'm doing a big story tonight, so the follow-up will probably keep me busy for the next day or two. But, how about this coming weekend?"
"You want to get married this weekend?" Matt's head spun. Every time he thought he had this girl figured out, she pulled the rug out from under him.
"I suppose we could squeeze it in Friday night, too. Let me call around."
"No!" Matt burst out. Struggling to think quickly, come up with some method to stop her the way Donna wanted. "You can't... we can't... What about Jasmine?"
"Yes. Right. You haven't even officially met her yet."
"Is that necessary?" Jeanne wondered. "It's not like we need her permission."
"Well, no. But, I can't just spring this on her. She'll she'll hate you!"
With any other woman, it might have sounded like sarcasm. But, Matt was horrified to realize, Jeanne truly wondered why this would be a problem. "Don't most kids hate their stepmothers anyway?"
"No point in giving her extra reasons. First, you need to formally meet her. Let Jazz get to know you a little bit. And then, the wedding... she's going to be so upset if we don't have a real wedding. Heck, Jasmine was just Lorna's bridesmaid. How would it look if she had a role in her uncle's wedding, and not her father's?"
"How would it look to whom?"
"Just trust me on this, Jeanne. I've agreed to marry you. But, we have to do this my way."
"I talked to Kirkland," Jamie confirmed to Lorna.
"Don't tell me, let me guess: Like his father, Kirkland remained stubbornly tight-lipped about what's bothering him."
"At first. But then...."
"What? What, Jamie? You look... what did he say?"
"He and Charlie... or rather Charlie...."
Lorna held back a groan. "Is Charlie pregnant?"
"No," Jamie snorted. "They haven't made it that far."
"Okay, well, that's a relief."
"The day Devon was born, when you and I were both at the hospital, and the kids were here alone, they were in Kirkland's room... Charlie wanted to.... Kirkland didn't and... she didn't take it well."
"What teenaged girl, hell, what girl of any age, takes rejection by a guy she likes well?"
"She attacked him," Jamie said the words, a part of him still in a state of shock. "She called him names... called him a fag. She told Kirkland there must be something wrong with him if he didn't want to have sex with her; said that's why Grant abandoned him to me."
"The little bitch did what?" Lorna half-rose, looking ready to storm out of the house and fly the distance to Cass and Frankie's on sheer ire alone.
"Kirkland says he told her no repeatedly but she wouldn't stop. He actually had to push her off of him, and then she... she hit him."
"Is Kirk okay?"
"He's... confused. Taking all the blame. I tried to tell him that it was Charlie who crossed a line. I don't think he believed me. He's convinced he did something wrong to set her off like that. I know teen-agers are hormonal and emotional and moody but..."
"All I know is, if you reversed the names in that story, Frankie and Cass would have been on our doorstep hours ago, with the cops in tow, and Kirkland would have been facing assault charges, at the very least."
"Oh," Jamie said, his voice noncommittal.
"What? You don't agree?"
"I thought... I was afraid," Jamie admitted. "Considering my own... issues, that I was overreacting, projecting.... I thought maybe I was too close to the subject..."
"You are not overreacting. You are not projecting, and you are not too close to the subject to be objective. If anything, you realize it's not always a case of the man being the aggressor and the woman being an innocent victim. You know the kind of damage this could do to Kirkland. And, quite frankly, when it comes to our kids, I'd rather overreact than under-react. Do Frankie and Cass know about this?"
"I I can't imagine they do. Like you said, they'd be on our doorstep...."
"So let's show up on their doorstep, then."
"Really? You honestly think that's a good idea?"
"It beats my original one. Which included me, Charlotte Frame Winthrop, and some brass knuckles."
Jamie couldn't help smiling for the first time in hours. "Do you have any inkling of just how much I love you?"
"Yes. But, let's not get off-track here. Cass and Frankie have to be made aware of what their precious darling has been up to. Preferably before she gets a chance to tell them her version of the story."
"You're right. I know you're right. But given everything that's happened between us and them these past two years..."
"Things are likely to get very ugly, very quickly."
"Not to mention balloon out of control. It might not end with just the four of us. There's Morgan, your mother..."
"Do you want to sweep this under the rug?"
"No," Jamie said.
"Then don't worry about anything else. Whatever you choose to do, I'm on your side. Whatever is best for Kirkland, count me in."
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