"Hard to believe it's been a year since he died," Donna told John, dropping by the house to wish him luck on the day ahead.
John nodded stiffly, pulling on a sports jacket despite the August heat, seemingly oblivious to it.
"Are you sure you're up to..."
"It was my idea."
"You can still back out."
"No. Enough is enough," John said. "Besides, it's what Gregory would have wanted."
"Is Sharlene coming?" Donna asked.
"I invited her. Not certain if she'll make it."
"And all the kids..."
"You're very brave."
"My son was brave. If I had half his courage, most of the last year would have passed very differently."
Donna stood up on her toes and kissed John on the cheek. As she was headed back down, John caught Donna by the elbow, keeping her close. "Come with me?" he asked.
"If you don't think I'd be in the way."
"I'd appreciate seeing a friendly face."
"None of them blame you for what happened, John. Gregory certainly didn't."
"I'd like you to come. I think Sharlene would appreciate it, too. You did help us both when we needed you."
"I simply encouraged you two to help each other."
John let go of Donna's arm, shaking his head. "Much too late for that."
"Please don't say that, John. I would so like to see you and Sharlene happy again."
"You mean you'd like to assuage your guilt about turning me down for Matt?" John countered, not unkindly.
"That, too," Donna admitted.
John smiled weakly and, while escorting Donna to his car, offered, "I had a chance to speak briefly with the hospital this morning. Marley is doing a lot better. They've stopped having to sedate "
"What?" Donna stopped in her tracks, pivoting sharply so that John needed to stop short or risk bumping into her. "Why was she being sedated?"
"I... You didn't hear..."
"Hear what? I haven't heard anything. Nobody tells me anything. Marley had me blocked from visiting her, and God knows Grant and Steven never what happened? The last I heard she was doing well enough for Bridget and Michele to visit her!"
John hesitated, wondering how to break it to Donna gently. He said, "When Marley checked herself in, because it was a voluntary commitment, she was able to pick who she wanted to be in charge of her medical care in case... She picked me."
"Well, thank goodness for that. I was afraid she might have selected Grant!"
"I've been getting regular updates on her condition. She was doing rather well for a while, but then... a few days ago... she had a... break."
"A break," Donna repeated dully. "You mean like me. When Reginald..."
"No! No, nothing that severe. She did disconnect for a while, refusing to eat, becoming violent."
"Oh, God," Donna moaned.
"But, like I said, it seems to have passed. Alice Alice Frame, uhm, Harrison, I guess, she went to see her at Grant's request I gather, and Marley is doing much better. I was going to drop in on her myself later this afternoon. Is there... Is there anything you'd like me to tell Marley for you?"
"Tell Marley I love her," Donna said, realizing the words would probably ring as meaningless to Marley coming from John, as they always did from Donna. But, determined to try, nonetheless. "Tell her if she needs anything from me... anything... I'm here. Tell Marley if she needs me, I'm here."
"Are you ready for this?" Frankie asked Sharlene as they drove towards the cemetery.
"Not even a little," her aunt confessed.
"I think Gregory would be happy to see you and John together today."
"Right," Sharlene's vitriol bitterly turned back on itself. "If we couldn't get it together while he was alive, at least we can do it once he's dead."
"You and John tried your best."
"Did we really?"
"Yes. I can only imagine how hard it was, after you came back, even after your memory of them returned. Everyone expected you to be the same old Sharlene, to slip back into your former life. But, how is that even possible?"
"You can imagine?" Sharlene wondered pointedly. "Or you can relate?"
Frankie sighed. "I'm that obvious?"
"Only to someone who's been through it herself."
"Cass and Charlie and... well, honestly, everyone who knew me back then I can tell what they're thinking. They're thinking, where is the Frankie we thought we'd lost? Who is this woman in front of us now?"
"You're still her."
"No. I'm not. I'm a Frankie who has lived fifteen years as someone else. I had a life and experiences and feelings that didn't include the people I love most in the world. Am I just supposed to ignore that? Should I have been to Hell and back and not changed one iota?"
"Cass had a life those fifteen years, too. He's not the man you were taken away from, either."
"Is that what ultimately broke up you and John? You'd grown too far apart?"
"John and I are not you and Cass," Sharlene told her sternly. "There was my illness, and Felicia... You and Cass don't have any of that. Your situation is completely different. You don't think Cass still has feelings for Lila, do you?"
"Oh, he does," Frankie said. "Of course, he does, how could he not? He wouldn't be the man I fell in love with if he could just toss away their ten years together. But, it's okay. I don't mind. I understand. I'm not threatened by it. It's like I was saying before. He's a different man because of everything and everyone he experienced while I was gone. And since then. What Cass went through with Cecile and jail, it affected him, naturally."
"So the problem is then," Sharlene took a guess. "Cass wants you to accept the man he is now, all the while expecting you to have stayed exactly the same?"
"Thought you might need a ride," Steven caught Allie just as she was exiting the Cory house, and he was coming up the drive.
"To the cemetery?" Allie asked in surprise.
"I-I... My car is right over there."
"I know. I just... I figured today would be tough for you. I wanted to... help."
"I thought you were mad at me."
"I was am."
"Because we're still family. And, whatever happens at the cemetery today with John and Sharlene, I didn't want you having to face it alone."
"That's nice of you, Steven."
"Yeah. I'm a prince. Come one," he gestured towards his car. "We don't want to be late."
"I'm sorry that what I did with Hudson for Hudson and GQ, I'm sorry it upset you, made you think of your mom."
"My mom pulled a lot of crap. With my dad. With Jake. With Grant. With other guys I probably don't even know about. Not that I'd want to." Steven opened the passenger side door. "But, she was still my mom. I still love her. I miss her. And I think I forgive her. I hope she knows that. Wherever she is. But, it's not like I can really show her so... Just get in the car, Allie."
"You know, you don't have to go to this if you don't want to," Jen reassured GQ as they approached Gregory's grave. "We can just turn around and head back the same way we came. It's not like we were even friends of Gregory's really."
"I don't think they've coined a word yet for what we were to Gregory." GQ popped on a pair of dark glasses to keep the midday sun out of his eyes and took Jen's hand, insisting they keep heading forward.
"You helped him. In spite of everything."
"I didn't know everything when I did it," GQ reminded.
"You knew that we could all be in big trouble. You thought it would be worse for you. But, you did it anyway. I'll never forget that."
"You don't have to butter me up, Jen. I'm here. I'm cool."
"I'm not buttering you up," she bristled. "I'm telling you the truth."
He paused, turning to face Jen. "It's okay. Feel free to quit constantly telling me how great I am at any time."
"I just feel like I took you for granted for so long. I want you to know how much I love you."
"I love you, too," he leaned in and kissed her lightly. "And I trust you. Now how about you start trusting me?"
"I do! Why would you think...."
"Hudson," GQ said simply. "You're still afraid I might change my mind and try to take him back from the Bauers."
"No! No, of course not."
"You accused me once of trading him for you. You thought I was blackmailing you, saying I'd only give him up if we got back together."
"I was wrong. I apologized for that. I'll apologize again if you need me to."
"Then why... Why do you keep acting like you think I'm going to walk out the door?"
"I guess I'm not very good at this girlfriend thing," Jen conceded.
"Not from where I'm standing."
"See! See how you always know the right thing to say? You're so good at making me feel loved and wanted and appreciated. While I compared you to a lab rat the other day."
"That was... odd, I'll grant you that."
"I really want us to work out."
"I do, too."
"You mean a lot to me. This relationship means a lot to me. I just don't want to screw it up. For anything."
John and Donna were the first ones at the cemetery. They watched Frankie drop Sharlene off, and waited for her to approach the grave.
"I'm glad you decided to come," John told his ex-wife.
"You asked me to." She shrugged. "You said it was for Gregory. Hello, Donna."
She looked from John to Donna, her face momentarily unreadable. And then, just before stepping aside, Sharlene said, "The two of you look good together. Sure took you long enough."
"No, I " Donna began. "We're not "
But Sharlene had already walked away to place a bouquet of wildflowers at the base of her son's headstone.
John's lips twitched. "I don't think Sharlene meant to insult you."
"I wasn't insulted," Donna insisted. "I just didn't want her getting the wrong idea. On the other hand, the fact that she's so obviously jealous of..."
"Who said Sharlene is jealous?"
"Why else would she mention it?" Donna's implication left no room for ambiguity. She abandoned John to ponder her words and moved to greet a just-arrived Steven. He'd strolled in with Allie, but while Steven chose to hang back along the periphery, Allie walked right up to Gregory's grave, standing quietly behind Sharlene.
"How are you, darling?" Donna asked. "It's funny, we live in the same house now, but I feel like I never see you anymore."
"I'm fine," he clipped.
"Have you gone to see your Aunt Marley lately?"
"I hear she's had a bad... episode."
"Yeah. John filled me in. It's why Sarah hasn't taken the girls to see her in a few days."
"Aren't you even a little bit concerned?"
"Hospital's got it under control."
"Steven... she's your mother's sister. Her twin. She's the closest thing you have to... "
"My mother is dead. And, as far as I'm concerned, after what she did, Aunt Marley might as well be, too."
"Let it go, Grandmother. Marley made it clear she doesn't give a damn about any of us. I'm just returning the favor."
Donna was about to argue, when the sight of Sarah approaching her grandson prompted Donna to switch gears and demand, "What do you want?"
"To talk to Steven. In private, please."
Donna decided the most infuriating thing about Sarah Matthews-Wheeler was how even-keeled the girl managed to stay despite your making it clear she wasn't wanted. It were as if she simply refused to accept contempt in the spirit with which it was given.
"Excuse us," Steven leapt on the opportunity to step away, even though the choice between Donna and Sarah was a close one. Still, he figured at least Sarah wouldn't be getting on his case about Steven's attitude towards Marley. "What?"
"How long do you think this will take?" she wondered.
"Got a date?"
"I have to pick up Midget from camp, and I'm scared I won't make it in time."
"You couldn't have thought of that before?"
"I did," Sarah informed him coolly. "I'd arranged with the house-keeper to get them, but she just called that her son had an asthma attack and she's at the hospital with him."
"Oh." Steven winced. "Sorry. Agnezka's kid going to be okay?"
"I think so. They gave him a shot. He's out of danger for now. You know, you don't have to pretend to be such a bastard all the time. Act isn't fooling anybody, anyway."
"How about you mind your own business and leave me alone?"
"Your wish is my command." Sarah shrugged, as infuriatingly unflappable as usual. "Now what are we going to do about Michele and Bridget?"
"I'll call Kirk," Steven suggested. "He's got that fancy car Grant bought him. See if he can take care of it."
Sarah waited until Steven had confirmed that yes, Kirkland would do it, no problem, just fill him on when and where, before picking up her own cell-phone and dialing Grant's number. Speaking quietly so that she wouldn't be overheard, Sarah ventured, "I'm sorry to bother you, Senator, but I'm in a bit of a jam. Do you think you could help me out this afternoon? Bridget and Michele need to be picked up...."
Having taken care of Sarah's crisis with the twins, Steven cautiously sidled up to Jen, indicating GQ and observing, "Kind of surprised to see you guys here."
"I told GQ he didn't need to come. He wanted to. He doesn't blame Gregory for what happened with Allie."
"GQ's a decent guy."
"Yeah. He really is."
"I'm glad.... You two, you really deserve each other. And I don't mean that in a rotten way, either."
Jen smiled. "I didn't think you did."
"Well, I have this way of staying stuff that I think is harmless, but it still ends up coming out all wrong."
"I'm familiar with the tendency." Jen confessed, "I always have to stop and think before I say anything, analyze it from a bunch of different angles, try to zero in on the potential misunderstandings ahead of time."
"I just usually go ahead and blurt things out."
"It's okay," Jen assured him, briefly brushing her hand against Steven's bare arm, pulling it back swiftly when he stiffened in response. "I understand you just fine."
"Jennifer." Alice kissed her great-granddaughter, then did the same to her step-grandson. "Steven."
"Hello." Steven bobbed his head awkwardly, almost immediately following up with, "Will you excuse me, please?"
Both women watched him go, neither one saying a word. All Alice could think was that the look on Steven's face, so much like his namesake grandfather's, was very, very familiar. At least to her.
God help them all.
"Hi," Allie walked up to both of them, having deliberately waited until Alice was there as a buffer before crossing into Jen's line of vision.
"You okay?" Jen asked her stepsister, as if their earlier altercation had never happened.
"No." That seemed to surprise them. "I know I'm supposed to say it's for the best, and thank goodness he isn't suffering anymore, and that there's a reason for everything that happens, we just don't know what it is yet. But, I don't believe any of it. I want Gregory to still be here. There can't be a good reason for a kid being sick most of his life and then hurting so badly and dying before he's even twenty years old."
"You're right," Alice said. "It's unjust and tragic, and you have absolutely every right to feel the way you do."
"Really?" Allie blinked.
"Really. Go ahead, be as angry as you like."
"It won't help anything."
"It might help you."
"Wait a minute," Jen interrupted. "How about considering somebody else for a change? Allie and Gregory were together, what? less than a year? His parents loved Gregory his entire life. Allie is going to have more guys falling at her feet and committing felonies for her before we know it. John and Sharlene are never going to have another son. The last thing they need is Allie going all Drama Queen on them and making Gregory's death about her and how she wishes he were still around to worship her on a regular basis!"
"Jennifer," Alice kept her voice low and cautionary. "I understand what you're saying. You're very good to be thinking about Sharlene and John. But, mourning isn't a contest. It's not a matter of who loved Gregory more or who misses him less. Everyone has their own way of dealing with loss."
"Which is a nice way of saying back off," Sarah, either lacking her great-aunt's sense of decorum or merely choosing to chuck it under the circumstances, swept up to defend Allie just like always. "No one asked you your opinion, Jen. If Allie had been worried about John and Sharlene, she wouldn't have been able to help Gregory the way that she did. And that's what really mattered in the end. Allie did what was best for Gregory. She helped him die the way he wanted to. His parents would've had him hooked up to machines and pumped full of drugs and turned into a zombie."
"They're his parents," Jen insisted, standing her ground despite the attacks coming from all corners. "You don't think he owed them anything? Some respect, if nothing else?"
"Newsflash, Professor Fowler, only thing putting other people's wishes ahead of your own does is make you miserable in the long-run. Maybe you get off on that kind of thing. Probably collected all sorts of fancy rationalizations and academic theories for why it's good for your brain, too. Allie and I may not have your alphabet of overpriced degrees, but at least we've got some sense. You want to get off on being all holier-than-thou, you go ahead and keep running around, pleasing other people and feeling all superior. See where that gets you in the end."
"Enough!" Alice ordered, looking sternly at each young woman in turn, making it clear she held all three equally accountable. "This is neither the time to debate philosophy, nor the place to settle personal scores. I realize we are all upset, but it is nevertheless entirely inappropriate to use genuine grief over Gregory's death as an excuse to say hurtful things you otherwise wouldn't."
"You're right," Jen instantly backed down.
"Sorry," Sarah mumbled at least for inspiring Alice's wrath, if nothing else.
Allie, on the other hand, merely turned around and walked away from them all.
GQ, who'd been watching from the side knowing the players involved, no way was he going to step in the middle of whatever was brewing caught up to her. Unfortunately, once he had, GQ had absolutely no idea why, or what to say as a result.
He'd acted on instinct. Just like at Jamie and Lorna's wedding earlier...
He really needed to stop doing that.
Allie looked up at him in surprise. Her expression mirrored the one on GQ's face. After a moment she merely shook her head and kept going.
It was John who ultimately managed to break her stride. He stepped into Allie's path, keeping her from leaving, if that was, in fact, what she'd intended to do.
"Wait, Allie," John said. "I have something to say." He turned to face the congregated guests: Sharlene, Donna, Alice, Steven, Jen, GQ and Sarah. "I have something to say to all of you."
What should John say?
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