“What’s all this for?” Cass purred upon being woken up by Frankie nuzzling the back of his neck and playfully rolling a sleepy Cass over to curl up against her.
“To thank you.” Face to face now, she proceeded to kiss his eyelids, his cheeks, the tip of his nose before working her way down to his lips. “For a lot of things. But mostly for the way you’ve just accepted… everything I threw at you over the past few days.”
He shrugged. A tricky proposition while lying down, but it did get Frankie’s head onto his shoulder; always a good thing. “Love me, love my…”
“You said it, I didn’t. I learned a long time ago that living outside the box is part and parcel of the Mary Frances Frame Winthrop experience.”
“There’s living outside the box, and then there’s…”
“Accepting that an ill-tempered, resentful, unreasonably taller-than-me teen-age boy is actually the baby you and I lost…”
“We’re making progress! You actually said it!”
“Sure. Why not?”
They were completely wrapped up in each other now, laughing, even as Frankie, with utmost seriousness, told Cass, “You’ll never know how much it means to me, you taking it all so well.”
“Did you expect me to sputter and stomp and beat my breast and demand immediate and frequent reassurance that this is where you really wanted to be?”
“Well…” Frankie grazed her fingers down the length of Cass’ chest.
“Because that’s precisely what I intended to do the entire drive home from Oakdale. Ask Felicia, she got a sneak preview of it. Over and over and over again.”
“So what changed your mind?”
“You,” Cass said simply. “I walked in the door, and I saw you. As if it were the first time all over again. And I knew that it didn’t matter. That nothing mattered. That there wasn’t anything you could have done or been or said that would make me not want to be with you for the rest of my life. So what was the point of stomping and breast-beating and demanding reassurances? They wouldn’t change how I felt. The only thing they might possibly do was make you not want to be with me.”
“Never,” Frankie didn’t even hesitate.
“Why risk it? So, yeah… Here we are. You, me, Charlie, the girls… Where are the girls, anyway?” Cass awkwardly craned his neck, looking over his shoulder at the bedroom door as if expecting them to burst in at any minute. That would not be good.
“Charlie dropped Lori Ann off at Dean’s on her way to school, today.”
“So we’re alone?”
“Any pressing morning errands on the agenda?”
“Not a one.”
“I haven’t had a chance yet to congratulate you, my dear,” Donna swept into Jeanne’s KBAY office without knocking. Donna didn’t have to knock. She owned the place.
“Thank you,” Jeanne responded tonelessly, strongly intimating that Donna could go now.
Donna did not – now or ever – appreciate the dismissal. “I was quite surprised to find you in today. I expected you’d be on your honeymoon.”
“Just because I’m married to Matt now, doesn’t mean I have any intention of skipping out on my work responsibilities whenever the whim strikes me. That’s no way to run a business.” Jeanne’s rebuke was anything but subtle.
“But, you do accept that you will inevitably be treated differently now that you are wed to the boss – well, one of the bosses, don’t you? I mean, by your fellow employees?” Donna helpfully rushed to reassure.
“Not necessarily,” Jeanne looked up, fearlessly meeting Donna’s eyes. “I would say that practically everyone at KBAY knows what I bring to the table, with or without Matt in my corner. And I’d certainly say they’re aware of what I’m capable of.”
“Yes…” Donna agreed pleasantly. “You never have been one to hide your light under a bushel.”
“Never saw the point of it,” she shrugged.
“There is something to be said for subtlety, especially when it comes to particularly sensitive topics and objectives.”
“Maybe for some. But I appreciate knowing where I stand. No misunderstandings that way. Nobody going off half-cocked and doing something they might regret based on what they think they know.”
Donna leaned over, locking her elbows atop of Jeanne’s desk, towering above her without a hint of leftover pleasantness. “Then know this: Even Matt won’t be able to protect you from me. If you believe any lingering feelings I might still harbor for him will ever spill over onto the worthless piece of trash Matthew may have been temporarily hormonally-addled enough to marry, think again. I will neither forgive nor forget what you did to me or to my daughter. You can rest assured I will see you pay for it at the first, available opportunity.”
“That sounds fair,” Jeanne said. She even sounded like the meant it.
“You think you can hide behind Matthew,” Donna accused.
“He’s my husband,” Jeanne said, and Donna thought she finally detected a touch of smugness behind the nonchalant demeanor.
“And when it comes down to the wire, of course he’ll choose you over me?” Donna needed to hear her say it.
Jeanne seemed determined not to give her the satisfaction. “You hurt him, Ms. Love. The way you kept taking him back and breaking up with him. Matt deserves someone better than that. He deserves to be with somebody who puts him first, who thinks about what would be best for him.”
“That would be you, I presume?”
“Yes.” No further elaboration necessary.
“You may have fooled Matthew,” Donna warned. “But, you can’t fool me. I know what you really are.”
“Mrs. Matt Cory,” Jeanne said easily. “Which reminds me: I’d like to change my on-air credit to reflect that, please. And my paycheck, too.”
Certain that she must have misunderstood Allie Fowler’s defiant question regarding just what was so offensive about the sentiment keyed into her car, Dean Katherine Donovan stammered, “They… they called you a… “ currently unable to quite repeat the words.
So Allie did it for her. “They called me a whore.”
“I had a baby out of wedlock last year,” Allie reminded – as if it might have slipped GQ’s mind. “I’d say whore is pretty accurate. It’s at least defensible.”
“It’s ridiculous. In this day and age… This university certainly is not in the business of passing judgment on their students’ personal lives. The use of that word – “
“And they called me white,” Allie was on a roll now, taking a perverse pleasure in how uncomfortable both GQ and the Dean looked. “I am white. I am about as white as anybody can get, right, GQ?”
Hudson’s father winced painfully. “Come on, Allie, we’re only trying to help you.”
“I didn’t ask for help. I don’t want help. Especially not from you.”
“Then I’m afraid we shall have to carry on this investigation without your cooperation,” Ms. Donovan struggled to regain control of the situation through a show of sheer force, if nothing else. “I will not tolerate this sort of aggressive, gender and race-based bullying and victimization at my University.”
“Even if the victim asks you no to? Even if the victim swears that you’ll only make things a million times worse?”
“Yes. In light of your stance, I am going to have to assume you simply don’t realize the full severity of what has happened. It’s most likely shock, or even Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Perhaps some counseling might be in order. Student Health Services should be able to help you better process the grievous nature of the crime that occurred –”
“To me. It happened to me. We all still agree on that part, right?”
“You are acting very immaturely right now, Ms. Fowler.”
“Careful, Ms. Donovan,” Allie snorted. “Or you might have to investigate yourself on charges of offensive speech. Even if what you say is true.”
Service over, the mourners proceeded to file out, stopping in turn to offer their condolences to Alice.
Grant stood off to the side, more or less ignored, until Lila and Jasmine broke away from the crowd and made a beeline straight for him.
“I’m very sorry about your Daddy, Mr. Harrison,” Jasmine told him solemnly, stretching out a formal hand to shake his.
Grant took it, then asked, “Would it be alright if I gave you a hug, too?”
She nodded and waited for Grant to crouch down before wrapping her arms around his neck and squeezing tightly. “It’s alright to cry,” Jasmine whispered. “It’s good for you.”
Grant straightened up, stroking Jasmine’s hair fondly. “I’m afraid I’m all cried out.”
Lila leaned in to kiss Grant on the cheek. “You need anything, you know who to call, you hear me?”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
“She meant the both of us,” Jasmine reminded. “I’m your friend, too.”
“That you are,” Grant agreed. “One of the best I’ve ever had, too.”
“Jasmine, honey, do me a favor. Go on over and sit with Kirkland for a minute, I got a couple words I need to say to Mr. Harrison in private.” She smiled as her daughter did what Lila asked without argument. “That’s a good girl.”
“She is,” Grant said. “She is a very good girl.”
“You telling us the truth now? You really alright, or is this just an act? I noticed how Kirkland’s been keeping his distance throughout the entire service – boy made a point of putting Alice in between soon as you all sat down. That can’t be easy for you. Say the word and I’ll head back to the house, keep you company. Don’t want you drowning yourself in a bottle of hooch. Your daddy wouldn’t have wanted it, neither.”
“I’m as alright as I’m going to get,” Grant told her honestly. “And I really do appreciate your concern. And Jasmine’s. Kirkland and I… we had a talk before the service began. A nice, long, honest one.”
“That’s never good for ya’.”
“No,” Grant agreed. “It never is.”
“Anyway, my offer of company still stands. Unless…” Lila’s eyes drifted to the same spot Grant’s had every few minutes during the service – yes, she’d been watching; what else were friends for? “I’m not the female companionship you’re angling for.”
Halfway across the room, Alice was receiving condolences from her sister, Pat, her brother, Russ… and Russ’ granddaughter, Sarah.
“You know,” Lila advised, “If you two intend to keep this little May/Twenty Decembers Ago, damn-fool fling of yours a secret, you might want to put on a pair of sunglasses and keep those hang-dog eyeballs under wraps. Now’s the optimal time to do it. Folks will assume you’re just mourning.”
“Please, Lila,” Grant all but begged. “Not… now.”
“Just looking out for you,” she defended, glaring daggers at Sarah’s back. “Your head’s not exactly on its straightest these days. Don’t let it get turned so far there won’t be any coming back from it. For anybody.”
“I know it’s weird,” Cory broke away from the rest of his family – not that any of them made a move to come along – and scurried over to Jamie, answering a question that hadn’t been asked, only rather obviously thought. “Us coming here. But I – we thought we should pay our respects.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you.” Jamie focused on his youngest brother, rather than on Carl glowering in the background.”
“What happened to Kirk?” Cory pointed to where Jamie’s son currently stood in the receiving line with Alice. “His face, I mean.”
“He was in a car accident,” Jamie dropped a bit too quickly. “A few days ago. He’s fine now. It looks worse than it is.”
“A few days ago,” Cory repeated, brow furrowing even deeper.
“You should go over and say hi,” Jamie encouraged. “He’ll be happy to see you.”
“What are you talking about? You’re Kirk’s favorite uncle under the age of forty!”
“I’m his only uncle under the age of forty.”
Jamie smiled, faltering when Cory continued to look like he currently bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. “What’s wrong, dude?”
“It didn’t have to… I should have… “ Cory trailed off, his eyes focused on the casket, Jamie noting the intensity with which Carl and his mother were observing the scene and realizing with an inward groan that Cory knew. Maybe not everything. Hopefully not everything. But more than any kid should have to.
“Listen to me.” Jamie knelt to make eye contact. “Whatever you think you could’ve done about… anything, trust me when I say it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“You can’t be sure of that!”
“I can, and I am.”
“Mom didn’t come over to say hi to you,” Cory suddenly observed, brushing aside Jamie’s assertion. “Are you two fighting? Is it about this?”
“Mom and I are not fighting.”
“You’re not talking, either.”
“She’s just keeping a respectful distance. Mom and Mrs. Harrison…”
“You’re lying.” Cory threw his hand up in the air. “Whatever, I’m used to it. Just try to get past whatever it is quickly, okay? Otherwise I’ll likely get to see you and Kirkland and Steven even less than I do now.”
“You alright?” Morgan tapped Lorna on the shoulder as she was getting her things together to exit the church. “You look beat.”
“So my mother told me earlier.” She turned around, admitting, “It hasn’t exactly been my best week ever.”
“Let’s hear it for Superwoman?” Morgan grinned.
“Gig’s not everything it’s cracked up to be.”
“Need me to have a little chat with Jamie, man to man, about treating our girl right?”
“Only if you rethink your pronouns. And even then: No. Stay out of it, Morgan.”
“Just looking out for the welfare of my soon-to-be goddaughter. By the way, when’s that happening, anyway? I’ve been sitting by my phone, waiting.”
“We’ve had stuff,” Lorna indicated the surroundings. “Going on.”
“That’s alright. My schedule’s pretty full these days, too.”
“Not judging by the way Amanda blew you off earlier,” Lorna smirked, shaking her head. “Are you still barking up that tree, Morgan? Which part of: The Woman is Married hasn’t managed to sink in yet?”
“The Till Death Do Us Part – part. More like: Till Fowler Gets His Law License Back. He’s going to break her heart. The least Amanda can do is kick him in the balls on her way out.”
“You know, you’re awfully invested in a relationship you have no business with.”
“Just trying to look out for a friend.”
“Like you did with me?”
“We had a pact. I kept my end of the bargain.”
“You know you went too far with Jamie and I, don’t you, Morgan?” Lorna asked, actually anxious to hear his answer. “You do know that, right?”
“I did what I thought was best for you. Then and always.”
“And now you’ve decided to transfer all that goodwill to Amanda and Kevin?”
“Jealous?” Morgan teased.
“Worried,” she told him. “I know how you get. You put your heart one hundred percent into anything you do.”
“You used to say that was something we had in common.”
“So was making bad choices.”
“Something you want to tell me?” Morgan jerked his chin in Jamie’s direction.
“Yes,” Lorna sighed. “Only I don’t think you’re hearing a word of it.”
Morgan said, “Amanda and I hooked up because I decided to do the opposite of what I usually do. Instead of looking at every woman as if she might be The One, I went for the quick, emotionless, down and dirty affair. No strings, no commitments, no attachments.”
“And how long did that last, Romeo?”
“Hey, don’t blame me. You’re the one who dropped the ball. You were supposed to protect me, remember?”
“That’s what I’m trying to do now…”
Taking advantage of Jamie joining Grant, Kevin and Kirkland as pall-bearers to carry Spencer’s coffin out to the waiting hearse at the curb, Rachel gestured furiously for Cory to hurry and follow her from the church, down the stairs, and towards the car and driver they’d requested pick them up as far away from the assembling funeral procession as possible, where Carl and Elizabeth already sat, waiting.
Catching sight of Amanda and seeing a perfect buffer to keep Cory from haranguing them with even more questions, Rachel asked her daughter, “Need a lift back to the house, darling?”
“No,” Amanda told her mother tersely, about to walk away when she abruptly changed her mind and turned on her heel to inform Rachel. “Actually, Mom. I won’t be coming home at all today. I’m moving out. This afternoon, as a matter of fact.”
“Ah, well,” Rachel put on a cheerful face to cover her surprise, both at the news and at Amanda’s peculiar attitude. “I knew it had to happen sooner or later, given you’re a married woman now. So should we send your things to Kevin’s hotel suite, or are the two of you putting down roots with a home of your own?”
“We’re moving in with Alice,” Amanda said, seemingly proud of the fact, or at least proud of her ability to upset Rachel with it.
“Alice? Why would you – “
“She’s alone. Kevin and I want to help in any way we can. I’m sure you understand.”
“Understand,” Rachel repeated the word slowly, as if translating it from a foreign language. “You expect me to understand that yet another of my children has decided to turn their back on me in favor of Alice Frame?
“Alice is my family now, and she’s just lost her husband, a man that she truly and deeply loved.”
“Oh, please. They were married for less than a year.”
“Wow!” Amanda blinked at Rachel in disbelief. “That’s… harsh.”
“Alice Frame Harrison is not the first woman in history to lose a husband, and she won’t be the last.”
“Does that preclude you from offering her a bit of compassion? I remember Alice showing a hell of a lot more respect towards you at Dad’s funeral, despite having a perfectly good reason not to.”
“So that makes her a saint in your eyes?” Rachel demanded even as a voice in her head urged her to just walk away. “I am so sick of you and Jamie putting that woman on a pedestal while standing ready to toss my every transgression – real and imaginary – in my face at first opportunity. What did I ever do to either of you to warrant that kind of malicious betrayal?”
“Really, Mom?” The smile on Amanda’s face suggested that perhaps this question of Rachel’s was one Amanda had been egging her mother towards all along. “Are you really asking me that? You want to talk about betrayal? Okay, then, let’s talk about betrayal. Let’s talk about Carl. About how you betrayed us all when you married the man who tried to kill you, who tried to kill my father, who stalked and terrorized me – “
“That is ancient history. And completely irrelevant to this conversation.”
“There was a time when you would have never, ever forgiven anybody who tried to hurt your children. But, I guess the rules are different for Carl. You expected – no, you demanded – that everyone accept your relationship, or we were out of your life. You thought you could snap your fingers and we’d all forget and smile and take it because it’s what you wanted. You married him, you moved him into my home – my father’s home – without giving a damn about what I thought or how you were betraying me by bringing that man into my life. Making me sit across him at the dining room table on a daily basis, enduring holiday gatherings with my daughter, my father all but forgotten –”
“I have never forgotten your father! Everything I’ve done – the reason I’m with Carl – is because of your father.”
“Are you kidding? Did you actually just say that to me?”
“Your father advocated forgiveness.”
“For those who deserved it.”
“Carl deserved it."
“You changed because Daddy loved you. He didn't dangle his love like a carrot on a stick to be taken away if you acted out of line. And you didn't manipulate Daddy by suggesting you’d only play nicely if he stayed with you. He wouldn’t have stood for that kind of emotional blackmail, for being a hostage in his own marriage.”
“I am nobody’s hostage. Carl loves me and I love him.”
“Even better – you're a willing hostage. You enjoy pretending to be of critical importance to the fate of Carl's soul. You enjoy believing you're in control of Carl because finally – finally! – you have a man that kow-tows to you. Except for the minor detail that we all know Carl pulls whatever the hell he wants and you do nothing to stop him because you are so desperate for him to fluff your pathetic ego with sonnets and poetry and make you feel good about yourself that you are willfully blind to the monster he still is, that he's always been and always will be. Or maybe it's just that you don't suffer Carl's darker side. You appreciate it. Enjoy it. It calls to that part of you that was supposedly gone but really was just buried deep until Carl came calling. And she decided to come out to play with fire. Maybe not all at once, but little by little, bit by bit, over the years that little devil kept urging you to give Carl his inches as he slithered his way back into his filth, lying to yourself that you could always snap him back if you wanted to, that you absolutely would call him back if he got out of line.”
“One more word out of you…” Carl leapt out of the car, having heard enough, grabbing Amanda by the arm.
“Father!” Cory shrieked in alarm, sticking his head out and looking at Carl with such disapproval that the older man just as quickly let go and swiftly stepped back, arms raised, a look of innocence on his face, to show that he’d meant no harm, he was merely protecting his wife, like any gentleman would under the circumstances.
Despite his prompt unhanding of her, Amanda couldn’t help taunting, “Or you’ll what? Put out a contract on my life, too?”
Rachel inhaled sharply. “What did Alice tell you?”
“Alice didn’t tell me anything.”
“Jamie, then. He must have…”
“Grant,” Amanda spat with relish. “Right before the services started. We did a little catching up.”
“And you believed anything that man had to say?” Rachel practically laughed out loud. “You, of all people?”
“I know. It surprised me, too. But, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and consider that he wasn’t even being 100 percent vindictive. He is absolutely devastated about his father and Kirkland. When he told me who was responsible for both of them, yeah, Mom, I believed him.”
“So basically, you’re willing to take the word of absolutely anyone before that of your own mother?”
“You were willing to put your husband ahead of your children, your grandchildren. Why shouldn’t the rest of us do the same?”
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|