“So much for warm and tropical,” Lorna observed as rain battered the windows of their hotel room. “And for being able to check in on Devon any time.” She slammed her dead cell-phone down onto the bedside table, nearly knocking over the half-dozen candles they’d been issued for illumination.
“Devon is going to be fine,” Jamie crawled into bed next to his wife. “Steven and Sarah are responsible kids.”
“Who’ve spent the past year growling and sniping at each other. What were we thinking, Jamie?”
“Steven asked Sarah to help. She agreed. I’m going to assume that means they’ve worked out whatever issues were still lingering over their break-up, and if they haven’t, they’ve figured out a way to get past them. Our daughter is in good hands.”
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Lorna confessed. “If I’m this much of a crazed lunatic with one kid, how the hell am I going to manage two?”
Jamie smiled. “I had the same thought when I agreed to take on Kirkland in addition to Steven. You know what my mom told me? She said: One child already occupies twenty-four hours of your day. So how could a second take up any more time?”
Lorna curled up against him, resting her head on Jamie’s chest. “You miss her.”
He nodded wordlessly, merely sighing in answer.
“Me, too.” Jamie stroked her hair, neither of them saying anything for a long, reflective moment, until, in an attempt to lift both their moods, Jamie offered, “So, I’ve been thinking. How does the name Lucas Frame strike you?”
“Lucas Frame,” Lorna repeated slowly. “That sounds good. You know what sounds even better?”
“Lucas Mackenzie Frame.”
Jamie’s face broke into an enthusiastic grin. “I like it. I love it, actually.”
“I love it, too. Shame it’s going to be another girl, though.”
Jamie rolled over to face her. “You can’t possibly know that yet!”
“I was right the first time, wasn’t I? About Devon being a girl?”
“You have a fifty percent chance of being right every time! Beginner’s luck, that’s what it was!”
“You don’t want another daughter?”
“I would love another daughter! Just like I would love another son, or twins, or triplets or whatever.”
“Whoa, pal, speak for yourself.” Lorna guided his hand across her abdomen. “Feel this? I’ve got no muscle tone left. It’s like the ligaments figured, if I’m not going to try, they’re not going to try. And that was just from one baby. Let’s not go overboard.”
“Could you ever have imagined…” Jamie began. “This?”
“Never. Not in a million years, not in my wildest dreams.”
“It’s been a hell of a year,” Lorna said.
“We made it through,” Jamie whispered, as if he had trouble believing it himself.
“We made it through,” she agreed, equally as astonished.
“Now let’s see what 2012 has in store for us….”
“No, I’m sorry,” Felicia informed Cass and Frankie as she blew into their home, eyes sweeping over their respective bathrobes, and dismissing their choices equally quickly. “Those simply will not do. You cannot wear those, darlings.”
“We can’t wear…” Frankie started.
“To sit in our living room?” Cass finished.
“I’m throwing a soiree,” Felicia informed in a tone that implied they really should have known that already. “At Tops. Right now. Come on, the champagne is on ice, and you don’t want it gone by the time you finally decide to make your fashionably late entrance.”
“When did this happen?” Cass wanted to know.
“I had a spontaneous impulse,” Felicia’s voice wrestled for dominance with the jangles of the bracelets she’d decked out on both arms. “Out with the old, in with the new! What better time to celebrate than the present?”
“What exactly are we celebrating?”
“Could you be more specific?” Cass requested.
“My life. My old life. The one Donna took away from me when she killed Jenna, and almost Lori Ann, as well. Well, I’m not about to let her have a minute more of it. What is it they say about living well being the best revenge?”
“Felicia…” Cass began, even as Frankie feverishly shook her head over their friend’s shoulder. Cass hesitated, not sure what Frankie meant, but willing to go along for the time being.
Felicia accepted his silence as acquiescence, beaming, “Wonderful. Now go upstairs, the both of you, and put on something respectable. Or, better yet, something completely decadent. We’ve got a party to get to.”
“We can’t,” Frankie said apologetically. “Lori Ann is asleep. We can’t leave her.”
“Ask Charlie to baby-sit.”
“Good girl!” Felicia praised, before getting down to business. “Well, then, let your fingers do the walking – do they still say that? Would it be let your fingers do the typing, today? Scrolling? Surely, you can summon up a capable sitter – “
“It’s New Year’s Eve,” Cass reminded.
“We’ll find someone,” Frankie promised, settling the issue and all but dragging her husband up the stairs, shutting the bedroom door behind them and keeping her voice down on top of it. “We’ve got to go to this party of Felicia’s.”
“What? Why? Can’t you see she’s in no shape – “
“I can,” Frankie said. “Of course, I can. She’s doing what she always does, burying her feelings, taking a couple of laps in Denial River, and putting on a happy face in the hopes that if we believe it, maybe she’ll start to believe it too. All that talk about bringing back the old Felicia – it’s ridiculous. After everything that’s happened, forget this year, how about this week? After everything that’s happened, she’s just supposed to forget about it and go back to being the goodtime girl you used to pal around with? She can give it the old college try but, way I see it, right now, the choice is either us going along with her party, or a carafe of booze. Which would you prefer she dive headlong into first?”
Jeanne wasn’t sure how long she stood there kissing Dean, or how long she let him kiss her. All she knew was that, at some point, the music outside his dressing room changed from 90s pop hits to an overly synthesized version of Auld Lang Syne, and that, during that time, she and Dean had shifted from an upright to a horizontal position.
The couch was covered with a blanket that had seen better days, and was only a two-seater, to boot (did that make it a love seat? Was now really the time to ponder this?). Luckily, both Dean and Jeanne were relatively short. (And was this also the time to be taking measurements? Well….)
He lay on top of her, Dean’s hands underneath Jeanne’s shoulders, one knee between both of hers, one foot still on the floor, keeping them both balanced. (What was it Jeanne had read about once? How women’s colleges used to require that male visitors keep one foot on the floor at all times? Seriously, why the hell was her mind wandering like this?)
Especially since Jeanne’s body seemed to currently be operating utterly according to its own principles.
Jeanne knew absolutely, positively well that this was not what she should be doing. Now or at any other time. It made no sense, frankly. Jeanne was married to Matt, she loved Matt, she wanted Matt.
And yet, here she was.
And here, every time Jeanne tried to act according to the edict of her mind instead of her body, that same mind filled with thoughts of proper couch designations, the average height of the American citizen, and house rules at Radcliffe and Smith.
While her body went right on kissing Dean, her lips expelling a sigh of regret and irritation when he suddenly pulled away, pushing up on both arms and looking down at Jeanne as if he were just as surprised and confused to find her there, as she was to find herself.
She wondered if he – they – were done? Had Dean managed to actually listen and heed the warning bells clanging inside his own head, despite what – to all appearances – seemed a good time being had by all?
She hoped so.
She hoped not.
In the second it took them both to catch their breaths, Dean’s hand plunged under Jeanne’s skirt, yanking it upwards, his head ducking between her legs.
She gasped at the first flick of his tongue, stiffening in surprise, unsure of how to respond. His thumbs dug into her thighs as Dean’s hair brushed, not unpleasantly at all, against her bare skin.
And yet, in spite of that, Jeanne drew back just a little, shifting where she lay.
“What’s wrong?” Dean’s face came up, confused. “Am I hurting you?”
“No…” she told him honestly.
“You don’t like…”
“I… No. It’s just… Just that… I… I never…. No one….”
“No one?” Dean repeated each word slowly, and Jeanne wondered if he were making fun of her, until she realized that no, he was just having a hard time believing it. Dean smiled gently, kindly; an expression Jeanne had never seen on him before. “Please,” he asked. “Allow me….”
She nodded. Tentatively at first, then more firmly.
“Yes…” Jeanne exhaled eagerly, lying back and opening herself up to him completely, allowing Dean’s mouth to explore her, feeling like she were waking up slowly, gradually, from the inside out.
She felt herself respond instinctually, moving to a strange, untried rhythm that it took a while to recognize as hers, not someone else’s; listening to the unfamiliar sounds that burst from her in response, the cries, the murmured encouragement, finally understanding what she’d been faking and approximating for so long, finally getting it, finally shutting off her mind.
“So where to now?” The New Year’s Eve bash having been broken up by their friends’ parents insisting they needed to get some sleep and their guests needed to get out, Charlie and Kirkland stood on the dimly lit suburban street, next to his car, weighing their options for after-parties.
“We could go for a drive,” Charlie suggested. “Just the two of us.”
“No place in particular. We could talk or something. You know, without music blaring. You haven’t been drinking, right? You can drive?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Okay. Sure, if that’s what you want.”
They climbed into the car, Kirkland checking both his rear and side mirrors before turning on the engine and pulling out, the pair riding in comfortable silence for a while, before Charlie said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about what you said. About still feeling scared after your accident.”
“It’ll get better,” Kirkland predicted, not certain whom he was trying to convince, but needing to believe, nonetheless. “I think I just need time to… forget.”
“I think you need to get back on the horse,” she suggested firmly.
“What does that mean?”
“Whatever scares you the most, that’s the thing you should do. Or else who’s the one living your life, you or it?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Kirkland said.
“Sure it does. Think about it. Until you do the thing you’re afraid of, you’ll keep being afraid of it. You said you feel like it’s not over, like it’s happening again and again.”
“I said sometimes. I feel like that sometimes. Not all of the time.”
“Wouldn’t you like to make that: none of the time?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Come on, what are you waiting for? So you got into a little fender-bender, banged your face up. Does that mean you need to spend the rest of your life driving like a blind, old lady?” Charlie leaned and flicked one leg over the gear-shift, pressing her foot down on top of Kirkland’s, squeezing the gas pedal, causing the car to speed up.
“Charlie!” Kirkland shrieked. “That’s not funny!”
“Would you relax? It’s the middle of the night, we’re the only car out here. Live a little, would you!”
“Cut it out!” Kirkland lifted one hand off the wheel, attempting to push her leg back over to the passenger side, but Charlie took advantage of his distraction to plant her palm where his had been and yank the wheel sharply to one side.
They both lurched, nearly bumping heads before Kirkland managed to right the car again.
“There!” Charlie announced triumphantly. “See? Did anything horrible happen? Everyone’s still alive, no harm, no foul.”
“Don’t you ever do that again,” Kirkland seethed.
“Then how about this?” Charlie karate chopped both of Kirkland’s elbows from underneath, forcing him to temporarily let go of the wheel, and the car to serve a second time. “Would you lighten up already? When did you become this boring – “
“Stop it.” He grabbed both her wrists with one hand, holding on tightly even as a giggling Charlie attempted to wriggle free. “I mean it.”
“Hey, it’s alive!” Charlie laughed. “Finally! I was beginning to wonder if you’d had all the life sucked out of you. Welcome back, dude! Happy New Year!”
Cass had to hand it to Felicia, no matter what her motivation, the woman threw a hell of a party.
After finally having rounded up a baby-sitter – the last minute cost of which might well require the Winthrops taking out a mortgage on their house – Cass and Frankie arrived at TOPS – dressed in outfits personally approved by Felicia Gallant herself – to find, as promised, the champagne flowing, the food respectively piping hot or perfectly chilled, the live music an impeccable assortment ranging from Cole Porter to Lady Gaga – and everything in between, and the ambiance both tasteful and decadent. Alcohol may have been imbued at one point from a slipper, but it was a Jimmy Choo original slipper.
Cass even took a moment between keeping a worried eye on Felicia as she flitted from guest to guest, inquiring if everyone was having a good time and, if it seemed said good time were not dialed up to maximum, insisting that they do so pronto – to find his wife and, at the stroke of midnight, offer a kiss meant to take them both into the new year… and beyond.
As they swayed to the band’s rendition of New Year’s Day by U2, Cass whispered in her ear, “Best year ever coming up?”
“Absolutely.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
Both unwilling to tempt fate by saying more.
It wasn’t until a few hours later – Felicia still going strong with no end-date in sight, when Cass had gone to retrieve their coats from the checker, that he finally managed to catch some face-time with his brother. Previously, on every occasion Cass had attempted to draw Morgan’s attention, the good doctor proved too busy burying his face in another pair of comely, female breasts.
“Calling it a night?” Cass wondered.
“Not exactly,” Morgan admitted as he handed over a ticket for both his own jacket, and a cropped, dyed-pink rabbit fur number, as well.
“Definitely your color,” Cass praised.
“What?” Cass raised his arms in surrender, then waved Morgan on his merry way. “Go! Have a good time! Happy New Year!”
“And miss a lecture from my big brother on the wages of sin?”
“Who says I’m against sin? I used to earn some pretty good wages myself.”
A dismissive shrug. “Far be it from Cass Winthrop to stand in the way of a man out for a good time.”
“Then why do you look like you just sucked on a lemon?”
“The tequila bar was out of limes.”
“God, no,” Cass told him honestly.
Unfortunately, Morgan believed him.
“I’m worried about you. I’m allowed. It comes with the job description.” Cass sighed. “In this past year, you’ve been rejected by both Lorna and Amanda, and pretty publicly, too.”
“Thanks for the recap. I wouldn’t volunteer to work the suicide hotline this time of year, if I were you.”
“And now here you are, back in the high-life. Except this was never your life, Morgan. You’re a one woman man, always have been, always will be.”
“So, let me get this straight: It’s okay for you to go from Casanova to Old Faithful, but I’m not allowed to make a trip in the opposite direction? Should auld acquaintances be forgot,” Morgan spat his brother’s way, poking Cass in the chest with one finger, but seemingly including a whole host of people in his final invective. “And never brought to mind. Happy New Year, bro.”
At midnight, Grant considered calling Sarah. But, she told him she’d be with the girls – and Steven.
Not that Grant was jealous.
What did he have to be jealous of? Steven was only a good-looking boy in his early twenties, whom Sarah had loved for the major portion of a year, and took equally as long to get over – supposedly.
Steven was attractive, he was intelligent, he was athletic, he was virile.
And even if he weren’t any of those things, Steven was still young.
Now Steven and Sarah were spending the weekend together. Baby-sitting. Supposedly.
Grant told himself he had no claim on Sarah. They hadn’t made each other any promises – outside of a US Treasury bond. And everyone knew what those were worth.
They were both free, independent, autonomous adults.
He considered calling her again at 1 AM.
And when his phone rang at 5:32 AM, Grant couldn’t help it. Instinctively, he hoped it was Sarah.
At first, blinded by a disappointment he told himself he wasn’t, in fact, feeling, Grant didn’t even recognize whom the incoming call was actually from. All he knew was, the display didn’t read Sarah.
Because it read: Marley instead.
He told himself – calmly – that it couldn’t be.
He told himself – calmly – that he was seeing things.
He told himself it was Michele or Bridget or, God damn her, Donna, using Marley’s phone.
He told himself it was a wrong number or a dream.
And he let the call go to voice-mail.
He ignored the subsequent beep informing Grant he had a message.
He tried to go back to sleep.
He kept thinking about Marley, and everything she’d meant to him, and everything he’d tried to do for her, and the last time he’d seen her, and how she’d cut him from her life. How that banishment had led him to Sarah.
And how Sarah had somehow – strangely, inadvertently, finally – led Grant to… himself.
The phone rang again.
Grant was prepared to ignore it.
But, then again, what if…
He checked the display. The Bay City Police Department?
Grant groaned, hitting the answer button, already prepared to ask what the hell he had supposedly done now to offend local sensibilities and didn’t the BCPD take any holidays off from harassing private citizens, when his prepared tirade was abruptly interrupted by a brisk, official voice inquiring, “Is this the parent or guardian of Kirkland Frame? There’s been an accident….”
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