"Jazz around?" Matt asked Lila after tracking his ex-wife down to the Cory gym, but failing to find his daughter anywhere on the premises.
Lila shook her head, huffing and puffing in between power walks on the treadmill, "Sarah came to pick her up. Jazz and the McKinnon twins have gotten themselves gigs as design consultants for little Devon's nursery."
Matt smiled, "Jazz must be ecstatic."
"Left the house bearing measuring tape, glossy magazines, and enough swatches to paper Buckingham Palace. Hope Lorna understands what she's in for."
"Like mother, like daughter," Matt said.
"Let's hope not," Lila cocked an eyebrow, the only part of her body not currently burning calories, and offered Matt a look that made it clear precisely what pitfalls she intended to help her baby girl avoid.
"I only meant she's following in your professional footsteps. Everything else, I'm sure you've got under control."
"What'd you need her for?" Lila wondered, turning off the machine and gratefully stepping off, reaching for a towel to wipe the sweat off her face.
"I I have some news."
"From the expression on your face, I'm going to guess either Led Zeppelin broke up "
"Or you and Jeanne "
"We're getting married."
"Oh." Lila needed to sit down, and not just because her legs felt like rubber after the treadmill. "That's not.... You sure got me there."
"I'd say! Didn't you all just meet a few minutes ago?"
"Whirlwind romance," Matt said through clenched teeth. "You know how it goes."
"What? You don't believe me?"
"I've seen you in love, Matt. Not with me, mind you, but, I've seen it. This ain't it."
"You're right. It's more... "
"Should I be buying Jasmine an I'm a Big Sister shirt?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that."
"Been hanging around two hundred year old men with magic hypno-rings, again?"
"Can we please never, ever mention that? Like, ever?"
"I'm out of ideas, then."
"It... it doesn't matter, okay? The only thing that matters is how I'm going to break the news to Jazz. I need your help."
"No," Lila said.
"Alright," Jasmine crossed her arms, tapped a finger against her cheek and gazed around Devon's makeshift nursery, which, for the moment, merely contained a crib, a dresser with a changing table on top, and a shelving unit, bare save a CD player and a stack of CDs. "I can work with this."
"Good," Lorna said, picking up her daughter and addressing their three, very serious, pre-teen designers. "I'll leave you alone to conceptualize. Shout if you need anything."
"We'll make you a list," Bridget promised.
Doing her best not to grin until after she'd closed the door, Lorna headed downstairs, where she told Sarah, "You don't need to hang around here. I can drive the girls home myself. You've done enough just bringing them over."
"It's okay," Sarah said. "I don't... I don't particularly have anyplace better to be."
"Steven..." Lorna prodded subtly.
"Still hates me," Sarah offered a resigned status update.
"Yeah, well, other fish in the sea and all that."
"Good for you!" Lorna said, putting Devon in a bassinet by the couch and focusing her attention on Sarah with renewed enthusiasm. "That's the right attitude."
"Yeah, it's great. Except for the part where the fish sees me as a dumb kid."
"So?" Lorna shrugged. "What are you doing to change his mind?"
A slow smile spread across Sarah's face. "You really think so?"
"You like this new fish guy of yours?"
"Yeah," she said softly. "I do. He's... different from anyone I've ever met before."
"Then go get him."
"I I'm not sure..." Sarah stopped, then started again. "I used to think I knew how to do this. I had a whole thing, I called it the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan. If I wanted a guy, then I just became whoever he wanted me to be. It was simple, it was easy, it was fool-proof. Except when I tried it on Steven, and it all blew up in my face."
"Well, Jamie's son is no fool," Lorna noted.
"You think that was the problem? Because, see, this other guy I'm interested in now, he's not exactly stupid, either."
"So forget the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan. Just be yourself."
Sarah snorted. "Not a good idea."
"Because. The whole reason there had to be a Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan, was due to no one particularly wanting the real Sarah Matthews-Wheeler in the first place."
"Ah," Lorna said. Then added, "Makes sense. I get that."
"Aren't you supposed to tell me I'm wonderful just the way I am?"
"I believe that's more Mr. Rogers' department." Lorna sighed, choosing her words with great care. "Trust me, Sarah, if there is one thing I know about, it's that, if you honestly and truly despise yourself as opposed to just fishing for compliments; which is lame so please cut it out if that's the case no platitude in the world, no matter how well-meaning or frequently repeated, will make you change your mind."
"That's a cheerful thought."
"I told you; I get it. When we talked months ago about you and Steven, I said that you reminded me of looking in an old mirror. I know what it's like to hate your reflection. And the only advice I can offer is.... Find someone who honestly loves you, and do your best to see yourself through their eyes. If you love them, they must be pretty awesome. And if someone that awesome thinks you're awesome, then hey, maybe you actually are, after all."
"I know," Steven swore. "I know you're on vacation, but... look!" He opened his lap-top and thrust it into GQ's face. All Jen saw was line upon line of glowing ones and zeros.
GQ, on the other hand... "Holy Hell!"
"What did you do?"
"I don't know," Steven admitted sheepishly. "I thought maybe if you took a look..."
"Yeah, yeah, come in," GQ beckoned and closed the door behind his friend. He turned apologetically to Jen. "This'll only take..."
"A couple of weeks or so?" she guessed.
"Nah," Steven dismissed. "GQ's a pro. Day or two, tops."
"How the hell did this happen?" GQ tapped key after key, flashing Jen a quick, apologetic smile, but focusing primarily on Steven.
"I was kind of hoping you could tell me."
"Hold on," GQ bounced a finger against his forehead. "This looks like... I think I've seen.... Let me check something, I'll be right back..." he withdrew to his bedroom.
Leaving Steven and Jen with nothing much to do except wait.
"So," Steven asked. "How's a life of leisure treating you?"
"It's good. It's... interesting. I never knew time could..."
"Move so slowly?" Steven guessed.
She laughed. "When I'm working, it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day. Without a project to focus on...."
"I thought you and GQ were the project."
"Here's something else I found out," she noted. "Guys don't appreciate being compared to lab rats."
"You didn't?" Steven tried to suppress a grin, but failed.
"Well, no. Thankfully. But, I did offer a couple of what I thought were totally harmless observations that apparently are open to being misconstrued. Live and learn, I guess."
Yeah, Steven wasn't touching that one.
"You look happy, Jen," he said somewhat wistfully.
"I am happy. All my life, I felt like I was this observer sent from outer space to study normal humans in their natural habitat. For the first time ever, I feel like I might have a shot at becoming one of them."
"And that's a good thing?" Steven double-checked.
"Yes," Jen insisted, despite the fact that it took a moment before her head remembered to move up and down rather than instinctively side to side. "Of course, it is...."
Rachel had told Carl the truth. She'd absolutely intended to go to her studio and work her frustrations not to mention her confusion out on an innocent piece of clay.
Yet, as she approached the structure, Rachel found herself walking past it and continuing to the edge of the Cory grounds, onto the Harrison property line.
Whereupon Rachel was immediately accosted by a black-clad security guard seemingly materializing out of the shadows who demanded to know where Rachel thought she was going while holding her at machine-gun-point.
It was only after he'd radioed the house and received confirmation from Mrs. Harrison that Mrs. Hutchins should be allowed in, that he lowered his weapon and escorted Rachel to Alice and Spencer's front door.
Indicating the departing guard, Rachel asked, "Is that because of..."
"So Spencer truly believes the two of you are in danger?"
"I've been led to understand that's traditional upon crossing an international criminal cartel."
"It wasn't supposed to happen this way," Rachel instinctively echoed Carl, defending him publicly much more vehemently than she could bring herself to in private. "The plan was to diffuse their threat to us all by exposing the compound and having its leadership arrested and rendered inoperative."
"I know. Spencer explained."
"No one could have foreseen their being tipped off early."
"Carl obviously did."
Rachel's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"
"Carl must have foreseen it. And found time to prepare a back-up plan."
"Carl always has a back-up plan. It's only sensible. The fact that my husband happens to be skilled at thinking on his feet is hardly evidence "
"That he'd planned for this to happen all along?"
"Carl was trying to protect everyone!"
"Why?" Alice asked sensibly.
Her calm in the face of Rachel's irritation throwing the other woman momentarily off-balance. "What - what do you mean?"
"Why?" Alice repeated. "What reason did Carl have for allying with Spencer in the first place? Carl hates the man. Justine, Ryan, Grant, it's a very well-known list."
"All richly warranted," Rachel reminded.
"While I can see how you naturally would agree that Spencer deserves the blame for Carl having an affair with his wife, that's neither here nor there right now. My point is, Carl wanted to keep his family from becoming targets in retaliation for putting Donna in a position to expose the compound. Why couldn't he have taken the necessary steps on his own, why involve Spencer?"
"Because this is all Spencer's fault in the first place!" Rachel felt stunned Alice failed to recognize it. "If he hadn't tried to blackmail me with Donna's file, Lucas would have had nothing to plant on Cecile's body and tip off the authorities."
"Well, in that case, Carl is completely innocent "
"I never said that. Stop twisting my words, I'm warning you!"
"Carl still could have taken care of the situation on his own. He didn't need Spencer. Yet he insisted on involving him nonetheless."
"Spencer stood to benefit as much as anyone. Why shouldn't he assume some of the risks?"
"Did you know what those risks would be?" Alice asked Rachel.
Who considered lying, but ultimately chose to own up. "Yes."
"You knew, if anything went wrong, Carl intended to scapegoat Spencer?"
"Not at the start but... yes, eventually. Carl was truthful with me. He always is."
Alice let that one pass without comment. "Thank you, at least, for your own honesty."
"This might all still amount to nothing," Rachel pleaded with the voices in her head as much as with Alice. "It's entirely possible there is no one left to seek revenge, or that they'll choose to lay low and not draw any unnecessary attention to themselves."
"Yes. I suppose it is possible."
"This wasn't personal," Rachel blurted out, fully cognizant it's what she'd meant to say all along. "Things just spiraled out of control."
"Interesting, isn't it?" Alice observed. "That whenever things just spiral out of control, they always tend to do so in your favor?"
"Oh, would you can it already?" Rachel exploded, furious at how her best intentions were being deliberately misconstrued yet again. "I had two decades of your non-stop martyrdom, what do you say we give it a break for the new millennium?"
"Alright," Alice agreed readily. "As long as we can apply the same moratorium to your eternal pleas of mitigating circumstances. I'm equally as familiar with your drill as you are with mine, Rachel. You never mean to do anything less than upright. It's always the rest of us who drive you and now Carl to it with our own behavior. You can't be held responsible for the consequences of your actions, because your intentions are perennially pure."
"No," Rachel corrected, turning to leave, but not before she made one more thing crystal clear to Alice. "Not anymore."
"He said what?"
"Don't make me repeat it again," Frankie grimaced.
"I need you to say it again because after hearing the word 'attacked' preceded by 'Charlie' and succeeded by 'Kirkland' everything subsequent was drowned out by the rushing in my ears."
"That was pretty much the gist of our conversation. I told Jamie it was ridiculous. He had to have misunderstood or was deliberately exaggerating. I'm sorry, I know we're family, but I just don't get him. To be honest, I've never gotten him. After everything we did to help him with Marley and Grant.... I thought we were finally past the mess of the last year. And then he goes and does something like this. How Jamie could possibly believe that "
"I've known Kirkland for a long time, Frankie. Jamie's boy doesn't lie."
"He's lying about this. Or maybe he's the one who misunderstood what Charlie meant."
"When she called him names and "
"Kids call each other names all the time. Just stand outside of school one afternoon yes, even Bay City Latin. The language... Today's teen-agers would put a Marine to shame! It's just how they talk."
"Kirkland claims she hit him, too. Are kids also slapping each other around these days?"
"Even Kirkland admits they were on his bed, most likely doing... something. Come on, Cass, think back."
"How far back?"
"To being young, when everything is still new and no one is exactly sure what they're doing or what you're supposed to do with your extra hand or how to keep from bumping noses or getting your watchband caught in the girl's hair. A pair of kids trying to have sex for the first time are bound to be... awkward. Even if I believed that Kirkland got hit, I don't believe Charlie meant it maliciously."
"In what world does a teenaged boy lie about being physically attacked by a girl half a foot shorter and fifty pounds lighter?"
"You think our daughter is the one lying?"
"I never said How could she lie? We haven't asked her one way or the other yet. But, something is going on with her. Why else would she refuse to go to Rachel's barbeque?"
"Probably because she and Kirkland had a fight. A run-of-the-mill, we're-not-even-Seniors-in-high-school-yet fight. The most likely explanation is Jamie being Jamie and running his perennial Father of the Year campaign, badgered Kirk about what happened between him and Charlie, and Kirkland, to save face, made up some story where he was completely innocent and Charlie the only one at fault. We both know how Jamie has a tendency to blow things out of proportion. He's always been slightly hysterical and eager to charge other people with imaginary crimes. Remember how he badgered Jake? The time Jamie accused him of raping Paulina? And, in the end, Jamie was actually the one who "
"I understand what you're saying, Frankie. It's tempting to believe that Jamie's overreacting because of his own history with Cecile, but "
"Until we go to Charlie and hear her side of the story, we're no better than Jamie, just jumping to conclusions based on our own presumptions."
"I am not presuming that my daughter isn't a sexual predator. I know it."
"And I am certainly not presuming that she is one. I'm not even suggesting it. But there's no denying she's very upset and has been for going on several weeks. Odds are, Kirkland is somehow involved."
"Then let the two of them work it out for themselves. Would you want your mother butting into your personal affairs?"
"I wouldn't want my mother occupying the same continent, so that's not really applicable. Also, I'm not a seventeen year old girl."
"Alright, then. When you were a seventeen year old boy, would you have wanted to discuss with your parents how you'd tried to have sex for the first time and it didn't go the way you expected?"
"Actually, that was almost exactly the conversation I had with my mother when I was a teen-ager and she blamed me for knocking up one of her friends."
"Fond family memory, was it?"
"I get your point."
"Unfortunately, I don't agree with it."
"Your relationship with your mother was ruined because she stuck her nose into your sex life and accused you of something you hadn't done."
"And I hated her for it."
"Except now that I have a child of my own, I understand why she did it."
"I will not ruin my relationship with Charlie the same way your mother ruined hers with you. Not after everything I went through to get my little girl back. I made enough of a fool of myself over the condom discussion earlier. I have no intention of confronting her with this. And I forbid you to do the same, Cass."
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