“I know Jamie told you what went down between me and Kirkland,” Charlie filled in a stunned Cass and Frankie. “I just got back from seeing Kirk, he gave me the 411.”
“And everything is settled between the two of you?” Frankie asked eagerly. “You worked it out for yourselves?” She couldn’t help shooting Cass a triumphant look.
“We’re fine,” Charlie avoided answering her mother’s direct question. “Nothing for you guys to get worked up about.”
“Is Kirkland’s version of events accurate?” Cass asked, his voice grim, strongly urging Charlie to start taking the issue equally, if not more, seriously.
“More or less,” she admitted.
“Which one? More? Less?”
“I did call him a fag. I know that was wrong,” she interrupted before Frankie could step in. “I’ve never done it before and I swear I won’t do it again.”
“Did you hit him, Charlotte?” Cass had more important fish to fry.
“Yeah.” She bit her lip, looking down at the ground, the last of her bravado gone.
“Jesus Christ. That’s assault. Do you realize that? Hitting someone is a crime.”
“I know! I’m sorry. I told Kirkland I was sorry. I was a real bitch – “
“No.” Frankie reached out to grab Charlie’s hand. “Don’t use that word. Calling any woman that word, including yourself, is just as wrong as insulting someone else. You made a mistake. You’ve owned up to it now. You did the right thing.”
Despite Frankie physically reaching out, Charlie barely turned in her direction, ignoring her mother’s comforting words to continue pleading with Cass, “I thought Kirk was being a jerk, that he’d been leading me on, just pretending to like me. I didn’t know what else to think when he didn’t want to… you know…”
“Sex,” Cass said flatly. “If you can’t even say it, then Kirkland was absolutely right, you have no business doing it.”
“That’s not the reason I – “
“The reason doesn’t matter. All those No Means No lessons I drummed into your head? They work both ways.”
“You taught her to stand up for herself, Cass,” Frankie reminded. “Obviously she did, and it just got a little out of hand.”
“It won’t happen again,” Charlie swore, fighting back tears, not over what’d happened, but due to the disappointment she saw in Cass’ eyes. He’d never looked at her like that before.
“Of course it won’t,” Frankie soothed. “It was a misunderstanding all the way around. I’m so glad you two were able to talk. I’m so proud of you, Charlie, I know it couldn’t have been easy for you.”
“I’m sorry too,” Cass said unexpectedly.
“For what?” Charlie and Frankie asked in near-unison.
“Growing up with a dad like me,” he admitted. “The stories you must have heard… I realize how you might have gotten mixed messages about sex and male/female relationships. But, in case I didn’t make it clear before, there’s a lot more to showing that you care about another person than sex.”
“Like what?” Charlie sniffled.
“Just being there for somebody. Comforting them, making them smile when they feel like they’ll never have anything to smile about again. You can write Kirkland a poem. And mixed tapes are always nice.”
“Too 1980s,” Charlie mumbled.
“A personalized play-list then,” Cass lifted Charlie’s chin with his hand, smiling, the disapproval receding somewhat.
Relieved, she pressed on, “I’m sorry you guys got dragged into this. I mean, yeah, Kirk’s dad was the one who freaked out, but if I hadn’t made Kirk freak out in the first place – “
“You should have come to us right away,” Frankie said. “You must have been feeling so confused and overwhelmed. That’s what your dad and I are here for, baby. To help with all these bumps that are bound to come up in the road to growing up. You shouldn’t have needed to go through this on your own.”
“Oh. It’s okay. I wasn’t on my own. I actually got some really great advice. That’s how I scraped up the nerve to talk to Kirk in the first place. Lila suggested it.”
“Got a minute?” Amanda’s hand remained in the air from where she’d knocked on Morgan’s office door, ready to wave good-bye as quickly as hello, depending on his answer.
He looked up from the files he’d been going over and promptly shoved them aside. “Sure. Come on in, make yourself at home.”
Amanda took in the topiary of his desk, it’s surface nearly completely covered with paperwork, coffee-stained medical journals, several appointment calendars, each opened to a completely different month (and, unless Amanda was mistaken; year), as well as a rainbow of yellow Post-It and pink While You Were Away notes scribbled in a variety of incomprehensible doctor scrawls.
“I see you have the same decorator here as at your apartment,” Amanda observed.
“I insisted on it. Makes for a smoother work/life balance.”
“Your patients don’t mind?”
“The majority of my patients are well-anesthetized.”
“Before you allow them to see your office? Good thinking.”
“Aren’t you funny?” Morgan mused. “What’s the matter, DH – as they say on the message boards – doesn’t appreciate your sense of humor? Forced to get your jollies elsewhere?”
“Kevin finds me quite adequate all the way around, thanks,” Amanda bristled.
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Why would you think he wouldn’t?” She’d been shooting for a playful, challenging tone. She’d come off just a touch desperate.
Morgan leaned back in his chair, ticking off on his fingers, “You’re here. In my office. At eleven o’clock at night. Tickling my funny bone instead of home with your new husband, doing the same for his bone.“
“I had something to ask you.”
“That couldn’t wait until morning?”
“What did you say to Marley when you came to see her?”
Morgan’s chair lurched forward with a thump, and Amanda couldn’t hide her smile of triumph that she’d been the one to throw him off-balance for a change.
“What does that have to do with you?”
“I had lunch with Alice the other day. She’s participating in Marley’s treatment now.”
“And she sent you to grill me?”
“No. It was my idea. I thought I could help.”
“Marley. Alice. Steven, Kirkland, Bridget, Michele….”
“You came all the way over here. To my office. At eleven o’clock at night – “
“You’ve done that bit, already, Morgan.”
“To play Good Samaritan for the woman who screwed over your brother by screwing your ex-husband?”
“I’m no fan of Marley’s, you’ve got me there. But, if I can help Jamie and Steven and Kirkland to keep from getting hurt by her again – “
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t believe I care about my family?”
“You were sleeping with Kevin while he was helping Grant sue for custody of Kirkland!” Morgan reminded in disbelief.
“That,” Amanda enlightened him haughtily. “Happened to all be part of my carefully constructed plan – “
“To explore Kevin’s lawyerly briefs?”
Amanda did her best not to laugh. She failed. “Damn it, Morgan, why do you have to be so infuriating?”
“It’s part of my charm.”
“Clearly, Marley didn’t think so.”
“Marley deserves everything she’s got coming to her, and more. She might have killed me and Lorna, not to mention your niece. If Cass and Frankie hadn’t stopped her, she would have absconded with Bridget and Michele – and Grant. How do you think Steven and Kirkland would have liked that?”
“If Marley hadn’t injured Lorna,” Amanda turned the tables on him. “You and she might still be…”
“No.” He shook his head vehemently. “That ship apparently sailed the moment your brother dazzled my ex-wife with promises of a dull, boring, clichéd suburban life. Who could say no to that?”
“Don’t you mean – who could say no to you?”
“Lorna could,” Morgan admitted brightly. “And, of course, you…” He stood up, walking around the perimeter of his desk until they were suddenly, unexpectedly face to face. “You did say no to me, right, Amanda?”
“Well… I…” she wanted to take a step back, but there was a pair of chairs in the way. Not too complicated of a maze, to be sure, but, strangely one Amanda couldn’t quite figure her way out of at the moment.
“Because what other reason could there possibly be for your dropping by in the middle of the night on a mission of mercy for a woman you dislike on an errand you were never asked to run?” Morgan towered over Amanda now. Between him and the chairs, there was no place for Amanda to turn away.
Either from him.
Or from his kiss.
“Kirk, when you get this, call me. Better yet, just come straight home so I can yell at you.” Jamie flipped his cell phone shut and glared out the front window, wondering in retrospect if maybe threatening a fight wasn’t the optimal tack for getting a wayward teen-ager’s attention.
“Kirkland’s still not back?” Lorna asked as she appeared next to him, throwing a look out the window herself, just in case Jamie had missed something.
“Not answering his phone, either. We’ve gone past ‘oops’ into outright defiance.”
“I can’t imagine Kirk hasn’t broken curfew before,” Lorna offered with what she hoped was a comforting smile.
“Never?” The comfort turned to disbelief.
“Never,” Jamie shook his head. “Even when I was working late at the hospital and I’d never be the wiser, he’d call to check in and let me know he was home okay.”
“He could’ve been calling from anywhere.” Lorna pointed out, not so much looking to get Kirkland into retroactive trouble but more to keep Jamie’s visibly growing terror in check. “Are you sure Kirkland’s, well, normal? He isn’t some throwback Stepford child post-experimental brainwashing?”
“He’s a good kid. Who, at the moment, is scaring the hell out of me.”
“Maybe he’s just still upset from earlier.”
“And, what? punishing me for talking to Frankie by staying out, ignoring my calls, and making me sweat? No matter how mad he is, he’d at least answer his phone to yell at me about leaving him alone. When Kirkland gets mad, he also gets scarily articulate.” Jamie scanned the darkness beyond their window. “No. Something’s wrong.”
“I know you’re worried, but…”
“But, what? After what you told me earlier…
“Lucas says everything is under control.”
“That makes me feel so much better.”
“All things considered, we’re pretty low on the vengeance totem pole, Jamie. These people, they go directly after the ones that burned them. That’s not us.”
“Kirk isn’t just Spencer’s grandson – adoption or no adoption, you think that detail matters under the circumstances? – he’s also Donna’s. Throw in the fact that Carl is my… whatever, and Kirkland is practically the epicenter of this whole thing.”
“My father swore Spencer has guards on everybody, Alice, Grant and Kirk.”
“Then those guards would know where he is.” Jamie reached for his phone, only to swear in frustration a moment later. “Grant’s number is going straight to voice-mail.” An unexpected ring lifted Jamie’s hopes just long enough for him to realize it was Steven returning his earlier call. “Thanks, son,” Jamie deflated, telling Lorna, “Steven hasn’t heard from Kirk since he asked him to pick up the girls. They all got home okay, and Bridget mentioned she heard him calling Charlie…” Jamie dialed again, “Hi Cass, it’s Jamie. I know it’s late, but I’m looking for Kirkland and was wondering if Charlie…”
While Jamie waited for Cass to check with his daughter, Lorna drifted back to the window, willing a red sports-car to roar into the driveway and her stepson to come storming through the door in one piece.
“Charlie says she saw him at least two hours ago, which would have been before curfew, and that he seemed fine,” Jamie informed as soon as he hung up. “As far as she knows he was planning to come straight home.” Jamie hesitated, “Do you think I’m overreacting?”
“Can I withhold my opinion until after Kirkland is confined to his room for giving me frown lines and making you break out a new Frame face?”
“He’s just usually so damn conscientious. I’m spoiled, I know it. He’s seventeen years old. A couple of hours…. God, the stuff I put my mother through when I was his age…”
“You remember where I was when I was Kirkland’s age,” Lorna pointed out. “What do I know about normal teen behavior?”
“So then you won’t think I’m being a helicopter parent if I give the police a call?”
Sarah’s lips still on his, her arms around his shoulders, her breasts pressed against his chest, her hips swaying beneath his hands, Grant closed his eyes and, despite a mountain of misgivings and qualms and he-really-should-know-better-by-now-shouldn’t-he’s, gave in to the pure carnal sensations of unabashedly enjoying a woman, as well as the unique bliss of knowing that, for the first time in quite possibly forever, he was the one being pursued; ardently and brazenly and, most important, willingly.
The moment, unfortunately, was over much too soon as, without warning, Sarah pulled away from his embrace. Grant opened his lids to find her grinning at him, eyes dancing, and, with a quickly mouthed, “Come on,” she turned and began pushing her way through the crowd and out of the building entirely.
What choice did Grant have but to mutely follow?
Once outside, they were barely in the shadows behind the main building, where not even the moonlight could find them, although music continued to blare from every flung-open window, before Sarah was back in his arms, kissing Grant fervently against the wall, then moving down to his neck, into the open-V of his shirt, sucking the bump of each collar-bone in turn, her tongue flicking through the hollow at the base of his throat. She sunk to her knees then and, before Grant even fully comprehended what was happening – when it came to Sarah he seemed perennially a beat behind on everything – she’d undone his belt, sucking him inside her mouth, her tongue continuing it’s teasing, playful exploration there.
Grant gasped, then groaned, briefly allowing himself to sink back against the wall and revel in the full effect of her succulent ministrations, before the soft thunk of his head hitting brick – how was that for a subtle sign? – managed to bring him back to his senses. Somewhat.
Grant rested his hand on Sarah’s forehead and gently inched her away.
She looked up at him, stunned, confused, and stammered, “What’s wrong? Don’t you – don’t you like it?”
The sound that wrenched out of Grant’s throat in response to her mystified query was a combination laugh, grunt, and whimper, as he reassured her, “I like it. I like it very much, Sarah.”
“Not here.” He indicated how close they still were to the main area. Anyone could come out and see them. And Grant was long past his exhibitionism stage.
“Oh, okay,” Sarah said, nothing if not amicable as always. She stood up. “Follow me.”
And took off into the night.
Grant zipped up, and did as he was told, understanding that he had long, long ago lost control of this evening. Realizing, much to his surprise, that he didn’t at all mind.
She led him even further behind the building, into a grassy clearing between a grove of trees planted in a U-shaped semi-circle, presumably too dense to be peeked through, especially in the dark.
“How’s this?” Sarah asked, and Grant couldn’t be sure if she were referring to the spot, herself, or all of it.
He merely nodded in reply, voice cracking as Grant told her, “It’s… fine.”
Out of a loss for what to do next, Grant took off his jacket, squatting to spread it on the ground in lieu of any sort of blanket. He placed it lining-side down, comprehending that it would be ruined no matter what he did, but somehow not quite managing to care.
He turned around, meaning to invite Sarah to join him, only to lose his balance and collapse backwards to a sitting position at the sight of her, still standing, first bending at the waist to remove her boots and then, in a single, fluid motion, pulling the mini-dress up and over her head, blithely casting it aside, confirming for Grant that he was right with his first guess, she wasn’t wearing a thing underneath.
Grant gulped. Silhouetted in the moonlight, the only thing he could think of to say to her was, “You… are… exquisite.”
Sarah lit up with delight. Grant wondered how she could have possibly doubted his verdict.
She knelt down beside him, kissing Grant at the same time as she unbuttoned his shirt, the two of them managing to stay connected even as, together, they removed the rest of his clothes. The blood in Grant’s veins boiled, broiled, and turned into pure steam, and when Sarah helped him slip on his condom, her fingers seared his flesh.
She pushed Grant down onto the ground, stretching out next to him and pulling him closer. Hurriedly, Sarah twisted to slide underneath him, already guiding him with her hand, when Grant, once again with regret, put a stop to her actions.
“I am not a horny frat-boy,” he told Sarah sternly, voice hoarse. “And this is not the back of his Daddy’s car. We are going to take our time, and we are going to do this right.”
Sarah’s brows furrowed and she looked at him quizzically, unsure of what Grant meant, wondering if she’d done something wrong.
He rolled Sarah fully onto her back, cupping her breast and lowering his mouth to suck on the hard, puckered point of her nipple. He burrowed his other hand between her legs, sliding a single finger inside her while using his thumb to stroke and caress and explore just above it.
Sarah’s stunned gasp, followed by a series of astonished moans and her thighs intuitive tightening around Grant’s hand told him his preliminary assumption was correct and not one of those immature dolts she must have been with previously had ever properly taken the time to put Sarah’s pleasure ahead of their own.
“Is it,” she looked up at Grant, eyes wide and suddenly not nearly as sophisticated as she usually pretended to be. “Is it supposed to feel this good?”
“Yes…” he breathed, fighting the impulse to pick up the pace, keeping his promise to take their time, resolved not to deny her a single drop of ecstasy.
She writhed and trembled and arched beneath him, finally crying out and bucking straight upward, driving Grant to slide over and at last inside her, enjoying the last of her tremors right along with Sarah.
Her arms went around his neck and Sarah kissed Grant’s chest repeatedly, then raised her chin to meet his gaze, beaming, glowing, utterly open, utterly exposed, utterly thrilled to be with him, holding absolutely nothing back in a way that Grant could honestly say he’d never once previously encountered.
“My God, Sarah,” was what he’d meant to say, but it was all too much and, lost in the waves of her unquestioning, absolute adoration, the only sounds he managed to force out his strangled throat proved, “My… Sarah…”
She stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. “My Grant….”
He realized it was the first time she’d ever called him by name. Always before it had been “Senator, this,” and “Senator, that.” This unexpected intimacy proved the last straw, and Grant, who long prided himself on lasting as long as absolutely necessary to completely satisfy, felt himself coming much faster and much harder than he’d intended and certainly believed himself still capable of, as, through the open windows of a dance it felt like they’d left a lifetime earlier, America plaintively sang the refrain to their hit, Daisy Jane, “Well, I've been pickin' it up around me/ Daisy, I think I'm sane/ Well, I'm awful glad/ And I guess you're really to blame…”
It was actually Lorna’s idea, rather than calling merely anyone at the police station, to contact a former partner of Gabe’s who might be able to give them some information unofficially. Within twenty minutes, he called back, taking long pauses between each word, suggesting it couldn’t possibly be good news, to let Jamie know that Kirkland’s car had been found down the road from Bay City Latin. With nobody inside.
He promised to keep them posted, and urged Jamie to file a missing person’s report ASAP.
Jamie was in the process of reciting all of Kirkland’s vital statistics, including what Jamie thought his son might have been wearing last, when their doorbell rang.
Lorna hurried to answer, finding Spencer on their stoop, looking about ten shades paler and fifty years older then the last time they’d seen him.
Jamie hung up the phone without another word. He looked at Spencer expectantly, both dreading and already suspecting what he was about to hear.
Spencer’s hands were shaking and he appeared ready, even eager, to accept whatever punch Jamie would inevitably throw his way shortly.
Spencer said, “They’ve got Kirkland.”
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