“Morning,” Kevin opened the door to his office at nine AM sharp, surprised to find Lorna standing on the other side, shaking her wet umbrella dry, and looking like she might have been camped out since midnight prior to knocking.
“I need the unvarnished truth,” Lorna said, walking in without being invited and heading for Kevin’s desk, taking a seat, not even bothering for him to catch up and do the same. “And I figure you’re my best candidate for an impartial observer.”
Kevin settled in his own chair, suspecting he knew what this was about, but too much of a lawyer to jump the gun. “How can I help you, Lorna?”
“Tell me what really happened when Jamie took Morgan to court. All of it, including the part my mother played.”
“I thought Jamie was going to explain…”
“He did. But, if he was protecting me then, what’s to stop him from doing it now?”
“The truth is out.”
“The truth belongs to whoever is telling it at the moment. Jamie claims Morgan and Felicia were motivated by love for me, nothing else.”
Kevin shrugged. “I was Jamie’s attorney, not theirs. My job wasn’t to decipher their motives. My job was to stop them.”
“They went to court in order to abort my baby.”
“Technically, they went to court because Jamie was challenging Morgan’s role, as your legal husband, to be signing off on your medical decisions.”
“And Felicia? What was her role in it?”
“She testified that she believed your marriage to Morgan was legitimate.”
“She what?” Somehow, in everything she’d learned over the past twenty-four hours, that part had been left out. “Felicia said that…”
“Jamie was arguing that the baby was his, that you two were a couple, that he was the one you’d want making the call about an abortion.”
“Jamie was right!”
“Felicia was desperate to save you. I can’t fault her for that. Honestly, I probably would have done the same thing in her place. Siding with Morgan was the only weapon at her disposal.”
“So, if she claimed my marriage was legitimate, what did Felicia have to say about Jamie and me then?”
Kevin hesitated, and then he reached to flick a sequence of buttons on his computer. Lorna’s cell-phone beeped in her purse.
“I’ve e-mailed you a transcript of the entire proceeding. It should answer all of your questions. Impartially.”
“Bridget, Michele, wait!” Donna called after her granddaughters as they attempted to scurry out the front door, Sarah already holding the car keys poised in her hand.
“We’ll be late for school,” Michele said.
“I’ll write you a note,” Donna reached them, attempting to block the girls’ way out.
“You can’t,” Bridget reminded pragmatically. “You’re not our guardian.”
“I’m your grandmother,” Donna seethed. “That will have to do. For them, and for you.”
“Why did you say that to Lorna?” Bridget demanded, figuring if Donna insisted, they might as well get this over with in time to still make second-period gym class. They were doing volleyball this unit. Bridget was particularly good at volleyball.
“I did it because Lorna’s mother and someone she believed to be her good friend have been lying to her for a very long time. Lorna deserved to know the truth.”
“So why couldn’t you have just told her quietly?” Michele wondered. “Why did you have to do it in front of all those people?”
“Grandmother was making a point,” Bridget said.
“Grandmother was making a scene,” Michele corrected.
“Do you know what those people – all of them; Felicia and Morgan and Lorna and Jamie – have done to your aunt Marley? Do you girls understand that she is sick in the hospital, blaming herself for things she had no control over, because of them?”
“Aunt Marley is in the hospital because she tried to run away with us,” Bridget said.
“She wasn’t supposed to do that. Steven and Kirkland were really, really mad.”
“She had no choice,” Donna pleaded. “She loves you both so much, and she was deathly terrified of losing you. Because of them. I had to demonstrate to the people who want to hurt us what happens when you cross me. I will fight to the death to defend those I love, with you girls being right at the top of that list.”
“People do the wrong things for the right reasons all the time,” Sarah spoke up, seeing the confusion on Bridget and Michele’s identical faces and striving to put it into terms they might understand. “Here’s the deal: Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, ‘Today I’m going to do something rotten.’ Everybody always thinks they’re on the right side. You know how in stories there’s a good guy and a bad guy? Well, that all depends on who’s telling it. For instance, remember Beauty and the Beast?”
“Yeah,” they nodded in unison.
“Well, the story goes that an old beggar woman is wandering through the forest, and she stops at the Prince’s castle. She asks to stay the night, and he says no. She decides he’s spoiled and arrogant, and so she puts a spell on him. And not just on him, but on his entire household. How fair is that? Look at it from the Prince’s point of view. He’s hanging out at his castle, not bothering anybody, not doing anything to the old woman, for sure, when she bursts in and demands he give her food and clothes and shelter. Why? Because she said so, that’s why, no other reason necessary, I guess. Maybe the Prince is busy. Maybe he has a cold or someplace he needs to be just then, we don’t know. He says no, and suddenly – poof! – he’s a beast. Not just him, but all his friends – who certainly didn’t do anything wrong – too. Does this bitch just go from place to place, demanding people give her anything she wants – “You, I want your hat! You, I want your husband!” and if they dare say no, she puts a mean spell on them?”
“Language, Sarah!” Donna admonished, despite rather liking where this was going. As long as she came out looking good in the end.
“My point is,” Sarah winked at the girls and ignored Donna altogether. “Everybody thinks they’re the good guy. Your grandmother thought she was defending your Aunt Marley. Probably not what Lorna thought. Then again, Lorna didn’t seem too thrilled with her mom yesterday, did she? But, I bet Felicia thought she was doing the right thing while Lorna was sick. Two sides to every story, Midget. Always. Sometimes more.”
“I am sorry that I upset you girls,” Donna said sincerely. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“Why were you so mean to Steven, too?” Bridget followed up. “What did he do?”
“Your brother is a young man. Young men periodically forget to show proper respect for their elders. Victoria would have wanted her son brought up better than that.”
“Our dad didn’t show proper respect, did he?” Michele’s eyes lit up. “For anybody. I’ve heard stories about him from Steven and from Aunt Mary and Uncle Vince. Our dad had a motorcycle, and a leather jacket, and he was cool, wasn’t he, Grandmother?”
“Yes,” Donna said fondly, nostalgically. “Jake McKinnon was rather… cool.”
“I bet Steven wants to be just like him,” Bridget guessed. “He did when he was little, he told me so himself.”
“In that case, it would be beneficial for Steven to emulate Jake’s nobler qualities. If there was one thing your father knew how to do, it was demonstrate unwavering loyalty. Not just to his family, but to the people he loved. Your brother might well take a lesson.”
“Alright, time’s up!” Sarah gently tapped the top of each girl’s head with her magic wand index finger and a cheerful “ding!” sound. “School. Now. Say good-bye to your grandmother and get in the car.”
“Good-bye, Grandmother,” they parroted politely, and took off down the walk towards the drive.
Sarah was about to follow them when Donna held her back, asking suspiciously, “Why would you do that for me?”
“I didn’t do it for you,” Sarah jerked out of the older woman’s grasp. “I did it for them.”
“Because. I grew up in a family where everybody pretty much hated everybody else. It sucks. They’re just little kids, they don’t need to be playing referee. Let them grow up and make up their own minds about you. Don’t worry, I won’t be defending you then.”
“Thank you so much for coming over,” Jen rushed Steven to the computer in her apartment. “I was running some data simulations, when the whole thing started to go haywire. I called GQ, but he’s in class. I tried everything I could think of to salvage my work, but it’s like the machine sent it into a parallel dimension. I’ve got five years worth of data on this thing.”
“You don’t back up?” Steven asked calmly, taking his messenger bag off over his head and dropping it on the floor next to Jen’s lap-top, pulling up a chair, squinting at the screen.
“No,” she admitted guiltily.
“Bad,” Steven said. “Very, very bad.”
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
“That’s what they all say,” he mumbled.
“Can you fix it?”
“Hurumph,” Steven responded. Which proved to be his de facto answer to any question Jen dared pose his way over the subsequent hour and a half.
Finally, after Jen had paced the floor up and down, gone to the kitchen, drunk a glass of water, turned on her cell phone, scrolled through her messages, returned to pace some more and been shooed from staring over Steven’s shoulder more times than she could count, he asked her, “Any of this look familiar?”
Jen blinked in surprise as her pupils darted around the screen. “That’s… that’s it. You found it! You did it!”
“Yes,” Steven said. “I am that good.”
“How did you…”
“Let’s just say the Titanic was an easier excavation.”
“Thank you,” Jen flung her around him, unaware of what she was doing until they were face to face. And it was too late to step back.
So she didn’t. And neither did he. Jen and Steven stood for a long beat, just staring at each other, not moving, barely breathing. Her arms were around his neck. His hands rested lightly along her back. He pulled her closer just the tiniest bit. She didn’t object.
Steven ducked his head and he kissed her, first pressing both of his lips on top of hers, then shifting ever so slightly to caress her upper lip, followed by her lower. Her tongue slid into his mouth and it was all Steven could do not to inhale all of her, to get too greedy, to push it too far.
Instead, he stayed exactly as he was, doing nothing more than just kissing her, tasting her. Her fingers dug into the base of his skull until Steven almost moaned in spite of himself. Jen’s hair fell past her face and brushed against Steven’s cheek. He nuzzled the corner of her mouth and traced it with his own tongue, one side then the other. He let her set the pace and the speed and the duration. And he just kept on kissing her.
“Lorna?” Now it was Amanda’s turn to bump into her sister-in-law with surprise, this time as Lorna was coming from, rather than to, the door of Kevin’s office. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Lorna bobbed her head distractedly.
“What are you doing here?”
“I had a legal question for your husband.”
“Lorna,” Amanda said slowly, not certain whether or not this was a good idea, but feeling compelled to do it, nonetheless.
“What?” she snapped, obviously eager to get out and on with her day.
“I – I was just with Morgan.”
“Really?” At least the declaration succeeded in capturing Lorna’s attention, even if she looked anything but pleased to hear it.
“He feels awful.”
“No, honestly, he does. Having you find out about what happened when you were in a coma – and the way you found out… He’s a wreck, a complete and total wreck.”
“Impossible,” Lorna repeated, slower in case Amanda was feeling unusually dim today. “If Morgan thinks he’s feeling awful now, he’s going to embrace a whole new appreciation for the true meaning of the word once I get through with him.”
“Seriously, Lorna, he’s suffering enough, and he’s going to keep on suffering for a long time. What good would you laying into him do?”
“How is my relationship with Morgan any of your business?”
“He’s a good guy, he doesn’t deserve – “
“Did your brother deserve to be dragged into court and forced to prove that my baby was his?”
“That was your doing, not Morgan’s. You’re the one who lied to Jamie about being married. Why don’t you just admit that all this righteous indignation at both Morgan and your mother should rightfully be pointed your own way? You’re the one who stuck them all between a rock and a hard place, and now you’re shrieking as loud as you can in the hope that no one comes to their senses and realizes what’s actually going on here!”
Lorna glanced over her shoulder to where Kevin was standing behind his desk, arms crossed, wordlessly watching the altercation and, indicating Amanda’s husband, raised a single eyebrow. “Ditto,” before storming out the door.
“I swear,” Amanda slammed it behind Lorna, then flung her purse on the nearest couch, fuming. “Every time I run into that woman, I remember why I couldn’t stand her in the first place.”
“I thought that was Grant’s doing?”
“She was no prize before that, believe me. You know, it was her stupid idea to turn Sam into a country singer that first sent him on the road and away from me and Allie. Breaking up someone else’s family obviously never caused her to lose much sleep. But, now that it’s her family someone dares threaten…” Amanda trailed off, catching sight of Kevin on the computer again, peering so intently at the screen, she might as well have been talking to herself. “Are you listening to me?”
“No,” Kevin told her honestly, a huge grin creeping across his face, followed by a yell of “Yahoo!” as he stood up and, without warning, swept Amanda up in his arms, kissing her so fiercely, any further objections were forgotten.
“That’s quite a mood swing there, pal.” Amanda patted him cautiously on the shoulder, gesturing for Kevin to set her down. “Did we win the lottery?”
“Like that would make a dent in the Cory fortune.”
“Well, no. But, it’s the principle of the thing. What’s going on?”
Kevin couldn’t seem to stop smiling. Amanda could honestly say she’d never seen him happier. Which was a bit disturbing. “Six months suspension is up. I’m officially able to practice law again!”
“That’s it?” Amanda wrinkled her nose. “That’s the big news? You knew it was coming.”
“I wasn’t sure. Not until the official notification came through. Something could still have gone wrong at the last minute. They could have changed their minds, decided to bring new charges…”
“You’re a lawyer again,” Amanda sighed. “Woo? Hoo?”
Kevin cocked his head. “I’m not certain if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been going stir crazy these past six months, itching to get back to work.”
“A typical newlywed reaction, I’m sure. Couldn’t you have found anything else to occupy your time? Or would that have been too much of a hardship for you?”
“I’m really not getting where this hostility is coming from, Amanda,” Kevin weighed each word with care. “You know how much my job means to me. You’ve always known that. I won’t apologize for feeling thrilled about being reinstated.”
“So thrilled that your wife can come home after being out all night with another man, and the only thing you’re interested in discussing is your precious legal practice?”
“How’s Morgan?” Kevin asked politely.
“You heard what I said to Lorna. He’s a mess. A devastated, agonized mess.”
“Then I’m sure he appreciated having you there to hold his hand… or whatever.”
“Or whatever? Aren’t you even interested in what that might have entailed?”
“Obviously not as much as you’d like me to be.”
“Morgan kissed me.”
Kevin nodded thoughtfully. “And?”
“And? And I told him to cut it out!”
“Seriously? You’re okay with that?” Amanda seemed unhappy unless she could find at least one word in every sentence to over-emphasize.
“With what he did? No. With what you did? Yes. When I got married, it was with the sincere intention of completely trusting my wife, her words, her actions, and her judgments. I’m sorry, Amanda, if you find that somehow upsetting. Would you like it better if I were currently foaming at the mouth and accusing you of all sorts of nefarious behaviors committed under cover of darkness? As if said behaviors were incapable of being carried out in the light of day, as long as both participants were willing? And had plenty of sun-screen?”
“Yes,” Amanda told him firmly.
“Then I’m sorry,” he told her again. Equally as firmly.
“Who do you think you are?” The pair of girls blocking Allie’s path in front of the BCU Student Union made it impossible for Allie to walk around them on either side without slipping off the path and into the mud from the previous night’s rain.
She tried to do it anyway, only to be blocked by an arm grabbing Allie by the elbow and jerking her back towards them.
“Getting them to put that picture in the paper? Making us all look bad.”
“I had nothing to do with it,” Allie said, struggling to wrench out of her grip. “The Dean decided to do that, not me.”
“Probably fake, anyway,” the second girl accused. “You just wanted to make it look like the sisters were after poor, innocent you.”
“I didn’t want it to look like anything,” Allie insisted.
“What’d you call the police for, then?”
“What, you want me to believe it was ESP or something? The cops just knew something was going down and came around to take a quick picture?”
“Maybe Ms. Cory has own private security? Nothing’s too good for the little Princess. Her granddaddy’s name is up on the wall, you know. Means she can do no wrong.”
“Is that it, Ms. Cory? You got the cops in your pocket? Got them to dummy up that security picture for you? Do a nice little frame job?”
“Leave me alone,” Allie said. “Please.” And this time tried to escape by slipping between the girls.
Both were too quick, however, jostling Allie like a pinball, refusing to let her pass, bumping her bag off her shoulder and into a nearby puddle.
“Would you cut it out,” Allie snapped, leaning to pick it up, sopping wet. “I didn’t do anything to you.”
“The hell you didn’t. Talk about passing the buck. What’s the best way to get folks to stop talking about what a bitch you’ve been? Set it up to look like someone’s after you. That picture in the paper could’ve been anybody. Puts us all under suspicion now.”
“I don’t care who did it. I don’t want to know, okay?”
“What a saint! Turning the other cheek!”
“For Pete’s sake, what do you want me to say? Who do you want me to apologize to? Just point them out, and I’ll get right on it! I’m sorry.”
“Not good enough.”
“It was for me.” GQ’s voice booming behind them prompted all three young women to turn around.
“For real?” The girl who started it all glared at GQ suspiciously. “You expect me to believe you actually went and forgave this twit?”
“Yes,” GQ said, looking Allie in the eye.
“Then you’re even a bigger fool than we all thought.”
“Get your hands off of her,” GQ ordered, reaching for Allie to speed up the process, only to have his hand smacked away, followed by a peal of laughter.
Undeterred, GQ grabbed at Allie again, this time managing to pull her aside but, in the process, nearly knocking down both the girls who’d been holding her.
“What the hell?” A voice called from across the quad, followed by a half dozen twenty-something men descending on GQ, surrounding him and Allie. “Did you just push that sister over?”
“Hey, man,” GQ raised his arms. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Should’ve kept your hands to yourself then,” the leader advised, raising his fist and aiming it at GQ.
GQ ducked, managing to miss getting clocked full in the face, only ending up with his ear cuffed. But, he’d moved too fast and, maneuvering on the slippery grass, accidentally lost his footing – exactly the same way the girls had earlier – legs going out from under him and falling backwards, the back of his head striking the arm of a metal bench.
Fingers fumbling with the buttons of his shirt, Frankie told Cass, “I am so glad we had that fight about Felicia and Morgan earlier.”
“Because we get to have great make up sex as consolation?” Cass was happy to go along with anything she said, sliding his hands beneath Frankie’s sweater.
“This isn’t make-up sex,” she whispered into his neck.
“It’s not?” He tilted his head back to give Frankie ample access to that sweet spot right between his collarbones which always drove him crazy. “Then I have been seriously and egregiously misinformed all these years.”
“Only you, Cass,” Frankie told him. “Would use egregiously at a moment like this.”
“You like it?” Free of his own shirt now, Cass moved to return the favor. “I’ve got more LSAT words where that came from.”
“This isn’t make-up sex,” Frankie figured she might as well finish her point, before all hope of coherent thought flew out of her head entirely, courtesy of Cass lowering her onto their bed and proceeding to systematically nuzzle the spots he knew drove her equally as crazy. “This is: We’re great parents sex.”
“Whatever you say,” he agreed between nips.
Frankie pressed herself up on one elbow. “Don’t you want to know what I mean by that?”
“Whatever you say,” he repeated, without ceasing what he was doing.
Dirty trick. Well, Frankie would show him!
No matter how difficult Cass was making it, she managed to inhale enough air to tell him – or at least the top of his head, “I’m very proud of us, demonstrating for Charlie and Lori Ann that adults can have differences of opinion while still respecting each other.”
“I respect you like crazy.”
“And that one argument doesn’t have to mean the end. I think, considering the… issues we’ve had with Charlie about boundaries and relationships and how to treat members of the opposite sex – “
“We are so awesome.” Cass at last had Frankie on her back, looming above her, smiling.
“That’s what I said,” she pulled him closer, languidly arching her back to let Cass slip his arm underneath.
Just as the phone on her bedside table rang.
Cass paused, listening to the tone. “It’s Zeno.” He sighed, already half resigned to her inevitable answer. “Do you need to get that?”
Frankie hesitated, ready to tell him no.
Only to hear Cass’ own phone warble on the other side.
“It’s Felicia,” Frankie said. “Do you need to get that?”
The pair exchanged guilty looks.
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