“Is there something you would like to say to me, son?”
Cory remained stubbornly silent, shifting his gaze out the passenger window, disapproving grimace intact.
Carl’s eyes darkened at the slight, “I asked you a question.”
“Leave him alone,” Rachel warned, weary from her confrontation with Amanda and not nearly recovered enough yet for another disagreement with another child, this time within the narrow confines of their limo.
“He rather obviously has something on his mind,” Carl voiced. “I should like to hear what it might be.”
“When he’s ready to share it with you, he will. Stop trying to provoke him.”
“My intention is not to provoke. I’d simply appreciate it if my son would confront me directly, rather than passively scowling his displeasure. It’s a sign of weakness. And bad manners.” When Cory still declined to be baited, Carl attempted a different tack, his body rigid with anger despite the attempt to appear contrite. “I am willing to admit that I may have chosen the wrong course of action in responding to Amanda’s utterly unprovoked attack on your mother. My emotions and my desire to protect her got the better of me. That you children were forced to witness it, I am truly sorry for.”
“So it would have been okay if we weren’t there to see it?” Cory wondered.
“The correct thing to do would have been to let your mother handle matters with your sister as she saw fit, without my interference in any capacity.”
“Mom should’ve just told Amanda to shut up,” Elizabeth piped in.
“Real mature,” Cory snorted.
“Oh, would you just stuff it, already? It’s your fault there was a scene in the first place, dragging everybody to this stupid funeral.”
“You’re right. I was wrong. I should’ve just ordered a car and come paid my respects alone. Having you all tag along only made things worse.”
“It wasn’t us. It was Kirkland’s dad. He’s the one who lied to Amanda and sowed the seeds of discontent, right, Father? Mr. Harrison hates you, he wants to turn everyone against you.”
“Grant Harrison didn’t turn everyone against Father; he did that on his own.”
“Cory!” Rachel snapped in surprise.
Carl held up his hand, once again protecting his wife from a petulant child. “What Cory says is not untrue.”
“But you’ve changed,” Elizabeth insisted. “You’re good now, and people need to realize that and stop blaming you for the past.”
“How about the present?” Cory asked his sister. “Did you see Kirkland? Did you see how messed up his face was?”
Elizabeth frowned. “Kirk was in a car accident. He told me so himself. What are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” Rachel asserted giving Cory a warning look.
“I have eyes,” Cory defended. “And ears.”
“Which may allow you to formulate a working theory,” Carl jumped in smoothly. “Based on the facts at hand. However, once all relevant information is added…”
“What relevant information?”
“That in order to ensure the safety of your mother’s grandson, who yes, I confess, was kidnapped and held for ransom, Spencer Harrison made the ultimate sacrifice. But the reason we, and in particular, I, could not interfere within that calamity in any was in order to comply with the bargain Spencer struck to get Kirkland back.”
“Really?” Cory and Elizabeth asked in unison.
“Yes,” Carl nodded.
“So you’re a hero,” Elizabeth fell back in her seat with a satisfied smile. “You were doing what Mr. Harrison wanted and protecting all of us.”
“Then why were you so upset by what Amanda said, Father? If that’s really what happened, why didn’t you just tell her?”
“Like she would’ve listened,” Elizabeth scolded her brother. “Besides, Father would never stoop so low as to defend himself against false charges. That’s only for the guilty. For someone who thinks you’re so smart, you don’t know anything about how the real world works.”
“Send this letter to the Board of Supervisors,” Cass handed Zeno a neatly typed sheet of paper, then showed him an accompanying file of documentation. “Follow up with photocopies of everything I’ve compiled here, and I don’t think you should have any more problems with eminent domain claims against your land.”
Standing on the front stoop of the farmhouse, Zeno skimmed through the document and grinned, “Some serious In Terrorem action, huh?”
Cass couldn’t help feeling pleasantly startled. “What do you know about In Terrorem?”
“Isn’t that Latin for Scare the Pants Off Your Opponent Without Technically Accusing Them of Anything Illegal?”
“More or less,” a smiling Cass concurred. “I’m impressed. Are you interested in the law, Zeno?”
He shrugged. “Guess Frankie would accuse me of getting that part from you.”
“Or vice versa,” Cass kept his tone light. “According to Frankie, souls travel in packs, but their relationships sift. So a father and son in this life might have been husband and wife in a previous one. For all I know, you’re actually an ancestor of mine, too!”
“For real? That sounds a little…”
“I hear it.”
“So why are you going along with all this?” Zeno wondered, half-challenging, half-honestly curious. “Why are you letting Frankie pull you into this fantasy of hers about us all being cosmically reunited?”
“Because I love her,” Cass said simply. “And because ever since the day she came back to us, something has been… off about the woman I love. Something was missing. I’m willing to accept that maybe it was you. Maybe the reason Frankie couldn’t return one hundred percent to her family was because she felt it was incomplete. Maybe now she can finally exhale and commence enjoying her life again.”
Zeno hesitated, and then he said, “My mom said almost the exact same thing to me when Mary first left us. She said that if we really loved her, we had to let her go to pursue her happiness wherever she – not we – felt it might be. That’s what real love was, putting the other person first.”
“Frankie taught me that lesson,” Cass admitted.
“I guess she did it for a lot of people.”
“Your mom…” Cass began. “She must have been a remarkable person; for Frankie to have loved her as much as she did.”
“Way to give a back-handed compliment to yourself, dude.”
Cass shook his head, dead serious. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah… Yeah, my mom was pretty great. You know she was sick most of her life, but she never felt sorry for herself. Never let anybody around her feel sorry for themselves, either. She used to say, “There’s always a way out. If you decide not to fail, you won’t.”
“You learned a lot from her. So did Frankie.” Cass cleared his throat and held out his hand. “So, what do you say? Should the two of us decide not to fail her? At least in this lifetime?”
“Thanks for babysitting,” Jamie told Steven as soon as they got home from Spencer’s funeral and, despite his son’s reassurance that Devon was fed, changed, and sound asleep, Lorna couldn’t stop herself from rushing up the stairs to check.
“It’s no big deal. Kid cries, you see what’s wrong. It’s wet, put a new diaper on it; it’s nuzzling everything in sight, you feed it; it’s still crying afterward, you give it a few good thumps on the back, and then you recite Euler’s formula over and over again until it gets bored and falls asleep. I got this.”
“You use it to establish the deep relationship between the trigonometric functions and the complex exponential function. You know, for any real number x where e is the base of the natural logarithm and i the imaginary unit – “
“I believe you!” Jamie held up his hands in surrender. “Maybe not the part about where you used it to put Devon to sleep…”
“Michele and Bridget loved it when they were little.”
“I think maybe it was you they loved. The calculus they politely put up with.”
Steven shrugged. “They’re playing video games on Kirkland’s computer upstairs. I’ll go get them and we’ll split, give you and Lorna your space. Hey, where is Kirk, anyway?”
“I dropped him off at swim practice. Thought he could use a little normalcy today.”
“Alright, then, I guess I’ll catch him later.”
“Actually, Steven.” Jamie caught the boy before he headed up the stairs. “While we have a moment alone, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. About you and the girls – ”
“It’s okay, Dad. Lorna filled me in before how you’re not comfortable with Midget and I moving in here. I totally respect it.”
“It’s only that I can’t risk – “
“I get it. Honest. Only thing is… Dad,” his voice quavered. “Do you really think Aunt Marley would try to hurt you guys again?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie confessed, feeling just as hopeless and confused as the look in his son’s eyes. “How can I pretend to know? I missed all the signs last time.”
“She tried to kidnap Bridget and Michele. She almost killed Lorna and Devon and she lied and covered up and…. Grandmother gave me hell for wanting to take the girls away from Marley. But, it’s my job to keep them safe now. I’m all they’ve got. What am I supposed to do?”
“Whatever you think is best,” Jamie urged, then attempted to inject some levity – and confidence – into the situation by pointing out, “A guy who can solve Euler’s Equation should have no trouble figuring out the correct course of action for everyone. Right?”
“Allie! Wait!” GQ tore out of the Dean’s office after her, needing to sidestep several fellow students staring at them in surprise as Allie power-walked past them, refusing to so much as acknowledge, much less heed, GQ’s call.
She managed to make it as far as the elevator ahead of him, realizing that waiting would give him a chance to catch up and deciding to take the stairs instead, but her hesitation cost Allie several precious seconds, so that by the time she was on the landing, he managed to leap over a few steps and land in front of her, breathing heavily.
“Come on, please, give me a chance to explain.”
“I told you I didn’t want to report this. It’s none of your business. Where do you get off butting into my life like this? Whatever happened to us keeping our distance from each other?”
“Whoever vandalized your car had no right to call you names like that.”
“Why not? You did.”
“I have never, ever…” GQ seethed.
“You just used the more polite terms,” she corrected. “It’s what you meant.”
“I would never call – You didn’t conceive Hudson on your own.”
“What I mean is, you – we – didn’t do anything wrong. I mean it was stupid and we both should have known better, but it doesn’t warrant…”
“What right do you even have to file a complaint on my behalf?”
“I didn’t. I simply let Ms. Donovan know what had happened. A crime committed on University property is the University’s responsibility. They need to send a message that they won’t tolerate sexism or racism – “
“I thought it was only considered racism if it went the other way,” Allie challenged.
“You know that’s not true.”
“That’s not how you made it sound in court.”
“In court, I wanted my son.”
“So you didn’t believe all that stuff you said about Rick and Mindy not being able to raise Hudson right because they’re white?”
“It’s more complicated than that. Don’t play dumb, Allie.”
“Then how about you do the same? Stop pretending like you don’t know that it was what you said in court about the Bauers and me that got my car keyed in the first place.”
“You’re… suing me?” Donna stared at the papers Dean had thrust into her hands, trying to make sense of the words and match them to the demeanor of the anxious, irate young man who stood in front of her.
“Technically, Lori Ann and I are both suing you,” Dean indicated a smudge at the bottom of the page. “That milk stain is taking the place of her signature.”
“W-Why?” Was about the only thought Donna could force out, more confused than anything else.
“Because you got my wife – my kid’s mother – killed. Lori Ann almost died too. And this is how you’re going to pay for it.”
“But… Dean, I – This… It won’t bring Jenna back.”
“No. But, it might possibly keep you from going on with your life as if nothing ever happened.”
“You think I’m going on with… Dean! Look around me, ever since… ever since Jenna, look what’s happened! I’ve got Carl gunning for me, my daughter is in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt, my grandson was kidnapped and held for ransom, I nearly died, and we’re not even talking about Lorna’s assault, or the social banishment…”
“I’m looking around.” Dean nodded thoughtfully. “And I’m counting up how much those silver knick-knacks on your bookshelf cost. Or those fancy drapes. Or the house and the grounds and the stables and the horses and the pools – indoor and outdoor. And I’m thinking about how you get to spend your poor, tragic, socially banished life enjoying them all 24/7. Instead of inside a cell where a leaky toilet serves as the room’s central conversation piece.”
“So you’ve decided that taking them away from me…”
“This should all be Lori Ann’s right? I mean, if you’d kept Jenna, she’d be your heir. I’d think you’d want to set everything straight, fix some of your past mistakes, make it the way it should have been to start with. I’m giving you the opportunity. Say thanks.”
“If you would like me to set up a trust-fund for Lori Ann, I would be happy to. Just name the amount and – “
“No! It’s not your money I’m after, Donna. It’s a court saying once and for all, black and white, matter of public record, that you killed your own kid. The cash is just a way to make it real clear to you that I’m not kidding around.”
“This isn’t like you, Dean. This isn’t how you think. This is sneaky and underhanded. You’re not – ”
“Let’s get one thing straight: You’ve got no idea how I think. You’ve got no idea about who I am or what I feel or what I want.”
“Someone must have put you up to this. It’s the only explanation. If you’d wanted to sue me you’d have done it immediately after Jenna died.”
“Sorry I’m late to the party, Donna, but some of us actually need a moment to, you know, process things. We’re not as good as you at, whatchamacallit? Compartmentalizing.”
“When you came back to town, then. That was over a year ago, wasn’t it? Why not file your papers then?”
“I was trying to get back in touch with my kid. Hate to break it to you, but you’re not my priority.”
“Was this Felicia’s idea?” No matter how much Dean denied it, Donna knew perfectly well she was on the right track.
“Like Felicia needs your money. Trust me, unless it’s a pound of flesh, she ain’t interested.”
“It’s not about the money, you said it yourself. Carl, then? This sounds very much like Carl, forever using proxies to get his dirty work done.”
“It wasn’t Carl, either.”
“So it was someone!” Donna crowed triumphantly. Dean and the rest of Bay City may think she was an obsolete pariah, but Donna Love still knew how to get things done.
“Check the names on those documents. We’re the only ones you need to concern yourself with. Oh, and you might want to start packing. I plan to take you for everything you got, and if your crap isn’t out of here the minute that judge’s gavel comes down, it’s all going in the incinerator.”
“You’re being used, Dean,” Donna advised. “Whoever planted this idea in your head obviously has their own agenda. Don’t you owe it to your daughter to find out precisely what that is before you allow her to become a pawn in somebody else’s game?”
“That’s rich,” Dean scoffed. “Especially coming from you. Isn’t that exactly what you did, Donna?”
“Which means I know what I’m talking about,” she pointed out archly.
“Hello Steven,” Marley greeted her nephew in the hospital’s visitor lounge, giving him an awkward smile, more than a bit stung when he didn’t so much as give her a cursory hug. “It’s nice to see you.”
Continuing with the compulsory script, they both took a seat at the table, staring at each other from opposite sides.
“How are things?” Steven inquired.
“They’re good. I’m good. Better. Looking forward to coming home soon.”
“When do you think that’s going to be?”
“Any day now,” she gave him a bright smile. “ I feel like I’m close to where I need to be for myself and the girls… for you and Kirkland, too. How are they? Sarah hasn’t brought Bridget and Michele by in a while… and Kirkland, I expect that he’s still upset.”
“Bridget and Michele are fine. Kirkland’s…busy. But he’s okay, too.”
Marley felt her throat tightening. “You know I can always tell when you’re lying? It’s such a rare thing for you to do. You don’t do it well.”
“I guess the Love pathological gene skipped my generation.”
“Look, honey, I know you’re still angry about… everything that I did.”
“You don’t think I have a right to be?”
“You do,” Marley nodded. “I was…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hurting your father and the accident with Lorna and Devon, and for what I almost did by trying to run with the girls. I was so caught up in what I was afraid of losing that I didn’t think… You and Kirkland have already lost so much… I’m sorry,” she repeated, reaching out to take one of his hands. “I’m sorry for betraying you… for betraying our family. I hope that one day you can forgive me. I hope that day is today…”
“Well, Steven was telling the truth,” Lorna informed Jamie upon coming back downstairs and plopping next to him on the couch. “Devon is fed, dry and sound asleep. I don’t think she even noticed we were gone.”
“I’m sure she noticed,” Jamie slipped an arm around Lorna’s shoulder. “You should be proud you’ve raised such a secure, happy kid that she can spend an afternoon being spoiled rotten by her big brother and two adoring quasi-relatives.”
Lorna only grunted noncommittally and rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder.
“You look beat,” he observed.
“So everyone from Felicia to Morgan felt compelled to tell me today. You guys keep it up, I’m going to start taking it personally.”
“You have every right to be tired. Taking care of a four month old infant around the clock on top of the stress over me and Kirkland… That kind of insanity would take its toll on anybody.”
“I know, I know. But, I felt like I was finally getting out of that postpartum thing. I had more energy, I could think straight for a change, and then, last couple of days, I just got smacked back down again. I am seriously dragging; can barely keep my eyes open.”
“Have you eaten anything today?” Jamie went into doctor mode.
“Just thinking about food makes my stomach flip over.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, Jamie stroking Lorna’s hair while she attempted to summon up the motivation and energy to get up and check on what work she must have piled up by now, before Devon’s next feeding.
“You know,” Jamie began tentatively. “With symptoms like that, there’s always the possibility you could be…”
It took Lorna a beat to grasp what Jamie was implying, but, once she did, she sat up with a start, glaring at him. “Oh, no… No, no, no… Absolutely not.”
He shrugged to indicate that well, technically…
Lorna continued shaking her head, despite the dizziness that immediately followed. “We’ve hardly… since Devon was born. I mean, damn it, when did we have the time?”
“The night I went to get Kirkland,” Jamie reminded, almost apologetically. “We didn’t use… anything.”
“But, I’m breast-feeding! Exclusively! That’s supposed to….”
“It’s not one hundred percent,” he winced apologetically.
“Now you tell me?”
“Well, theoretically, Raya should have filled you in on…” Jamie stopped abruptly, smacking his forehead with an open palm, relived and dismayed that he hadn’t thought of it earlier. “Pause. Rewind. Forget I said anything. False alarm. If you were pregnant, Raya would have noticed right away at your six-week check up.”
Now it was Lorna’s turn to wince. “Actually, I… kind of blew that off.”
“What?” Jamie stared at her in shock.
“Come on, with all the fires we were trying to put out simultaneously,” she defended. “I had other priorities!”
“You skipped your first check-up?”
“And kind of my second one, too…”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I felt fine! Everything bounced back to where it was the first time.”
“Exactly,” Jamie sighed.
She saw his point. Lorna looked down, guiltily tapping the tips of her fingers against each other. “I guess we know what you have to do now…”
“Get myself to an all-night drugstore?”
“And step on it.”
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