"The pet store is down at the other end of the mall," Lila huffed at Grant when he fell into step next to her. "So you can take that hangdog expression and go find yourself a nice big ol' doghouse to sulk in."
"Could I hire you as my decorator?" Grant tried with a hopeful grin.
"Don't talk to me!" Lila snapped, only to belay that command by snapping at him again. "What in the world are you doing here? This is the mall. You never come to the mall. Too big a risk of rubbing shoulders with regular people and wrinkling your suit."
Grant sheepishly held up his cell phone. "You set it up so I'd get your Facebook updates. I saw you checked in here and thought I'd see if you wanted to... grab a pretzel or a... what do regular people eat?"
"A pretzel?" Lila deadpanned, snapping her Blackberry shut; the task of unfriending Grant dispatched with vicious haste. "What in the world makes you think I'd give you the time of day?"
"I heard Hamilton paid you a visit. Now that the BCPD are admitting they haven't any conclusive evidence and the worst is over "
"For you, maybe. You don't have an ex-brother-in-law staking out your baby girl's school so he can ambush you."
"Why would Jamie ambush "
"Not Jamie," Lila hissed. "Morgan. He failed to get his way in court so he's redirecting his righteous anger into investigating the accident. Which means I now have him up in my face and on my backside about a felony I certainly didn't cause, but bear a load of responsibility for possibly covering up. All because of you!"
"I'm sorry, Lila."
"That and a dollar will get me a pretzel."
"Would it make you feel better if I told you I'm so sorry I can't eat? Can't sleep? That I can't even enjoy a cigar anymore because of how awful I feel over what I did to you?"
"I notice Marley was nowhere on that list," Lila smirked. "Still enjoying her just fine, I take it?"
"What more can I do to prove that I want your forgiveness? I'm stalking you through a mall, for goodness sake!"
"Come clean about what you're hiding about that car to the police and maybe I'll consider reevaluating the situation."
"If I could, don't you think I would have by now?"
"Oh, you can. You just won't."
"You want the truth, Lila?"
"That'd be nifty."
"The truth is, I don't like myself a majority of the time. The lies I tell, the things I do... I always think I'm choosing the only option possible but then... I'm wrong. I'm always wrong, and things just spiral out of control. You, Marley, my father, Kirk...."
"Stop," Lila broke in, struggling to keep from falling for his latest act. "Don't do this. I am not your shoulder to cry on. Not anymore. You want somebody to talk to? Talk to your son. Seems he and Jazz put their precocious heads together, and he came to see me, asking, point-blank: What did my dad do this time, Lila?"
"Oh," Grant nodded, failing at keeping the hurt off his face about as dreadfully as Lila was at not letting his obvious pain get to her.
"He doesn't want to assume the worst about you, you know."
"And yet I always give him a reason to."
"It tore him up even to ask; he loves you so much."
"So what did you tell him?"
"I told him any answers would need to come directly from you. Best think long and hard about what you intend telling your boy. Your future's riding on it."
"So how's the toddler hand-off coming along?" Morgan asked Frankie when he arrived at the Winthrop house in time to see Dean give Lori Ann a hug good-bye and tell her he'd see her soon.
"It's going... okay," Frankie said, surprised by the truth of her statement. She peeled off her daughter's snow jacket and sweater, kissing Lori Ann on one chubby, wind-blown, rosy cheek, then led her by the hand into the kitchen, setting out a plastic bowl and sippy cup for lunch. "We're making it work. For Lori Ann's sake."
Morgan followed, observing, "Eventually, though, isn't she going to think it's all a little weird. One mom, two dads..."
"Speaking of which," Frankie said. "I heard you lost your case."
"Wow. That was... mean."
"You forget, I've had a front row seat to Lorna and Jamie these past few months. I saw what she went through when she thought he might be going to jail. Are you trying to tell me... Seriously, Morgan, are honestly trying to tell me you're her baby's father?"
"I'm the legal father. And Lorna's legal husband. Even the judge confirmed that."
"Not what I asked." Frankie chopped a handful of carrot slices into Lori Ann's bowl, then added a dollop of hummus for her to dip in.
"This isn't what I came to talk to you about."
"Did you come to see Cass? Because he isn't here."
"I know. I waited for him to leave." Morgan didn't elaborate on his motives as he asked, "Where is he?"
"Cleaning out his office."
Frankie sighed, pained to even say the words. "His felony conviction meant Cass was disbarred. No sense paying the mortgage on an office he's never going to use again."
"Wow. I That's rough. Cass okay?"
"No. But, he'll be damned if he'll admit it. Even to himself"
"So what are you guys going to do for money and stuff now?"
"We'll think of something," Frankie said with a great deal more conviction than she actually felt.
"Actually, I I didn't know that about Cass. But, I might be able to help."
"I'd like to hire you."
"To do what?" Frankie straightened up from bending over a chewing Lori Ann.
"What you do best. I'd like you to investigate Lorna's accident. And I'd like you not to mention it to Cass."
"Why?" Frankie wondered. Then added, "And why not?"
"Because you're the best private investigator I'm... related to."
"So you're expecting me to work for cheap?"
"And because Cass made it perfectly clear how he feels about me and the whole Lorna situation. I don't need his getting on my case about it. Not with everything else I've got to deal with."
Frankie paused for a moment, reaching out to sympathetically rub Morgan's arm. "You really do care about her, don't you?"
"Did you think I went to court as an example of high-concept performance art?"
"No. I thought you did it to prove a point. Stake a claim on what is was yours."
"Lorna means a hell of a lot to me, okay? Just because I didn't feel like putting her on display for the family to gawk at doesn't mean we didn't really have something. There is nothing I can do for her at the hospital. Jamie made sure of that. He's practically got her under armed guard. Finding out who hurt her is all I've got left."
"Allie? Hi." Jamie stood up, as surprised to see his niece in Lorna's hospital room as she seemed to find herself there.
"Is it okay?" She asked timidly. "I mean, Mom said you didn't want any visitors, but, I wanted to just stop by and say that I was thinking about you. Before things got... busy."
"You're going to court next week," Jamie nodded. "Amanda mentioned it."
"So can I come in? I won't stay long or bother you."
"Sure. Sure. The no-visitors thing, that was just... It's fine. Feels like everyone else has put in their two cents. Come in, Allie. Sit down." He offered her a chair.
She took it, eyes fastened on Lorna. Allie noted the monitors, the IV poles, the purple and yellow bruises on Lorna's arms from the constant needles. "This is... This is everything Gregory wanted to avoid."
"I know," Jamie said. "He'd had enough of it."
"Most of the last day, I think he was in a coma, too."
"Probably," Jamie agreed. "Body starts to shut down."
"But, it's different with Lorna, right? I mean, Gregory had a disease no one could cure. She's going to wake up."
"I hope so. It's why I'm here, waiting." Jamie hesitated, realizing that all his years on the other side of the healing aisle hadn't prepared him for the question he was about to ask. "Allie? How did Gregory... how did he know that it was time to let go?"
She didn't seem surprised by his query. Then again, her entire demeanor suggested Allie never intended to be surprised by anything ever again. "Are you thinking about that?"
Jamie took a long, deep breath, then exhaled it slowly. "I'm going to have to, sooner or later. If Lorna doesn't show any signs of improvement... We can't just keep her alive by artificial means indefinitely. I mean, we could in theory, but that would be..."
"Cruel," Allie supplied for him.
"Cruel," Jamie agreed. "The question is: When? How long? To what end? There's the baby, of course. But, Lorna isn't just a human incubator. Once the baby is born... When is it time to give up hope?"
"She'll let you know," Allie said confidently.
"What do you mean?" Jamie shook his head, as if he'd misheard.
"When Lorna doesn't want to fight anymore. You'll know. Because you love her." In response to the skeptical look on Jamie's face, Allie insisted, "I knew. With Gregory. I could feel it. Do you feel like she's ready to give up yet?"
"Do you?" she pressed.
"No," Jamie whispered. "But, maybe that's just my own wishful thinking."
"If she wanted you to let her go, you'd know," Allie stated with absolute certainty. "And you don't. That means she doesn't."
He wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. "I've been a doctor for a long time. It's not that simple."
"Actually, Uncle Jamie, it is."
"You're really giving up the office?" Despite standing amidst half-packed boxes and a paper-shredder running at full speed, Lila couldn't believe what Cass had told her.
He nodded. "I leased it out what I went to prison. Figured might as well earn some extra money for Frankie and the girls. But, that's when I expected to be gone for a decade or more. Being back in town but not being allowed to practice law... I figured it's better if I just make a clean break."
"You're real good at that," Lila observed, then instantly wished she could take the snark back. "Sorry. Not the time. Not the place."
"It's okay. You've got every right. I do have a tendency to move on to the new rather quickly. Without giving a lot of thought to the havoc I might have left behind."
"Well, you made up a lot of ground last night," Lila assured. "Jasmine tells me you were real sweet to her after Charlie blew her off. Said she was the only girl there with two daddies to dance with."
"I still think of her as my daughter, you know. I love her. And I'll talk to Charlie about her behavior."
"No need. This time around, she was perfectly justified. No seventeen year old girl wants her itty-bitty sister tagging after when she sneaks off to "
"Get a breath of fresh air," Cass informed primly.
"Is that what she told you?" Lila asked, amused.
"It's what I chose to believe. Better for everybody that way."
"So what was it? Boys? Booze? Cigarettes?"
"Probably a combination of all three," Cass admitted. "But as long as no illegal drugs were involved and nobody drove afterwards and the boys were all around her own age... I wasn't going to spoil her fun. That's what the principal is for."
"And who might have tipped self-same principal off as to the illicit activity potentially going on right within his very own school grounds?"
"I plead the Fifth," Cass said.
"Too late," she reminded. "You ain't a lawyer anymore."
"So what can I do for you, then?" He asked, "If you didn't come here for legal advice or about Jasmine, why did you come?"
"Your brother," Lila sighed.
"Oh, great, what's he done now?"
"He's hell-fire determined to suss out who hit him and Lorna that night. And if he can't get his hands on the real culprit, he's happy to pin the blame on me."
"I thought Hamilton cleared you?"
"Not thoroughly enough for Morgan's liking. And the fact is, he did make me think. I am somewhat responsible. If I hadn't taken the car in for detailing, they might have been able to find some solid evidence to nail that son-of-a-bitch. I don't need that kind of guilt snapping at my conscience late at night. And I certainly don't need your brother dogging me. It's bad enough Matt found out, and now he's on tear about it. Seems he and Jazz went to visit Jamie at the hospital, and the poor man's at the end of his rope."
"I don't blame him."
"Neither do I. But with Matt blaming me for Jamie's state and Morgan for Lorna's, I just want to get this settled."
"And you think I can help?"
"I seem to recall you having some skills in the sneaking and snooping arena. We did a pretty nice job, if I do say so myself, scooping out that convent. Before..."
"I remember," he said softly.
"So will you do it? Will you look into Lorna's hit and run for me? Now that the law business looks it won't be working out for you, this could be a whole new career!"
"Thanks for rubbing it in."
"Just trying to help. Oh, and Cass, one more thing. Don't tell Frankie."
"You killed me!" Kirkland watched as his videogame avatar let out an outraged death cry and crumpled into a motionless heap on the flat screen television.
"All I did was press a button!" Grant sputtered next to him on the couch, sans jacket, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up.
"You shot your own son in the back."
Another death cry sounded, this time from Grant's avatar as an explosion dispatched the fallen solider with merciless haste. Presuming the match thankfully over, Grant pushed away the controls and reminded, "I didn't come here to play video games. I came to see how you were faring."
"I'm in one piece, I don't stink, and as you can see," Kirkland indicated the empty pizza box on the table. "I'm eating. So it's all good."
"Is this all you do? Play video games while Steven is off doing whatever, and Jamie is at the hospital?"
"No, sometimes Steven plays video game with me. And Dad stops by once in a while to change clothes and then I cook for him. Other times I'm doing homework, or golfing, or swimming or surfing Internet porn "
"I beg your pardon? Is that why you look like you haven't slept in days?"
"I was kidding," Kirkland reassured, covering his mouth to suppress a yawn. "I just had a late night, that's all."
"Taking your sisters out to dinner requires all night, does it?"
"I may have gone someplace after." In response to the unrelenting concern on Grant's face, Kirkland relayed. "That stupid Father/Daughter Dance at school. A couple of us guys went to meet some girls out back in the parking lot. Little private party. No big deal, just some fun while the chaperones weren't looking."
"Were you drinking? Were you driving?"
"No! I'm not an idiot. Just some harmless, non-alcohol fueled making out, okay?"
"Do you have condoms?"
"Yes! Don't worry, Dad gave me "the talk." Seriously, Grant, you need to lighten up."
"I'm your father. It's my job to worry. And, frankly, I am very disturbed by the idea of you living here alone with only sporadic supervision." Grant grabbed the remote control and turned off the television, hopefully securing Kirkland's attention. "Look, how about you and I go away for the weekend? President's Day holiday is coming up. We can get a little sun; take a break from all of this. How about Bermuda? Golfing, swimming? Bring Marley and the girls, too. What do you say?"
"Not really feeling it." Kirkland flicked the television back on.
"Not feeling up for the trip or not feeling up to being around me?" Grant compromised, turning down the volume while allowing the image to stay. "I saw Lila today. She told me that you two talked. About me."
"Yup." His eyes remained plastered to the screen.
"She said you wanted to know what happened."
"Would you please stop saying yup?"
"That's very funny. I'm trying to talk to you, son."
"Bull." Kirkland finally turned to face him. "You're trying to talk around me, so that it seems like we're discussing something, but, really, you're just doing the politician thing. If you had any intention of being straight with me, you'd have led off with it, first thing, instead of letting the elephant sit in the room for the last hour while you set a new record for how many times a man can shoot his own kid in the back playing Call of Duty."
"I was waiting for you to ask," Grant defended, wounded. "Instead of ambushing Lila, how about you get it straight from the horse's mouth? Or, in this case, the horse's ass."
"I don't want to know anymore," Kirkland claimed. "It's one thing if you'd told me on your own, but, Lila said it was grown folks' business, so I'm just going to let it go. You don't have to spill your guts about private stuff so I'll let you keep hanging around with me. That's blackmail. I don't do that. Sorry to disappoint you. If something bad went down between you and Lila, even if it was all your fault, I know it doesn't mean you've gone back to framing people for arson or drowning puppies."
"Or drowning people while framing puppies," Grant tried to joke, even as the weight on his chest seemed to push all the air out of this lungs.
Kirkland magnanimously ignored the feeble attempt. "Ball's in your court. If you want to tell me what happened so I can help you figure out how to get back the best-looking friend you've ever had, I'm all ears. But if you think it's too much for my delicate system to handle, or just that it's none of my damn business, then I'm cool with that, too."
"Or you'll pretend to be, anyway," Grant gave him an admiring smile. "Son, I want you to know that I would never I'm not that man your mother feared anymore, the one she took such extreme measure to protect you from. You don't ever have to worry..."
"Fine. Cool. It's settled," Kirkland said. "So, you up for another go? Watching my back instead of shooting it this time maybe?"
While, inside, all he thought was: So much for reverse psychology....
"Why did the police confiscate your video of Grant's Election Day coverage?" Matt leaned over Donna's desk, practically locking her into her chair.
"Because they have too little couth, too much free time, and an obvious overabundance of tax-payer money. At least that's my interpretation. Clearly, they found nothing of use on the tape, or we'd certainly have heard about an arrest by now."
"Hamilton told Lila they couldn't find a thing. She's off the hook."
"I'm glad to hear it. For Jasmine's sake."
"You didn't think Lila actually had anything to do with Lorna's accident, did you?"
Donna shrugged. "She was the one who got the car fixed."
"In order to protect Grant! Seriously, what she sees in that son of a bitch..."
"I couldn't agree with you more."
"Oh," Matt remembered. "Right. Marley."
"He's got some kind of hold on her," Donna confessed. "I can't make heads or tails of it. I've tried to talk to her, talk her out of it.... "
"Half the town tried to talk you and I out of... us. Did that do any good?"
"No," Donna said dryly. "We managed to ruin our relationship all on our own."
"Maybe it'll be the same for Marley and Grant? Can you think of any affair Grant's had that he didn't thoroughly bumble in the end?"
"That is a cheerful thought," Donna sighed. "Hope springs eternal."
"You saw the tape, right?" Matt returned to his original subject. "Was there anything on it anything at all that you noticed out of the ordinary? Something the police might have missed?"
"Is this for Lila's benefit?" Donna wondered.
"Partially. Mostly for Jamie's, though. I visited him in the hospital the other day... he's losing it. Maybe if I could give him some answers..."
"They won't help Lorna. Finding the person responsible... how could that do anything but simply add to Jamie's burden?"
"I don't know," Matt admitted. "But it beats sitting around waiting for my brother to have another nervous breakdown."
"I'm sure Jamie appreciates your efforts."
"I doubt it." Matt reminded, "My efforts have a tendency to go... unappreciated."
"Oh, Matthew, don't. Please. Let's just leave matters the way they are. What could possibly be the point of inflicting more pain on each other?"
"Have it your way," he snapped, straightening up. "But, do you think I could have a copy of that tape? I'd like to take a look at it myself. You never know."
"The police have the original," Donna said. "You'd have to ask them."
His shoulders slumped. "I was afraid of that. Okay, well, then, thanks for your time."
"It was good to see you, Matthew," Donna said.
He didn't return the sentiment.
Matt was out of Donna's office, halfway down the hall and nearly at the elevator when Jeanne seemingly popped out of nowhere, calling Matt's name and beckoning him over.
"Hey," Matt said. "Long time no see. What's up?"
"I overheard your conversation with Ms. Love."
"How?" Matt wondered. "The door was closed."
"I eavesdropped through the wall from one office over," she told him without a trace of guilt, almost with pride.
"Okay, I'll bite. Why?"
"Because that tape you were looking for? I think I can help you. Actually, I think I can help you more than you know."
"Alright," Matt said. "What?"
Jeanne smiled and told him, "Dinner. Tomorrow Night. Tops. Order a drink as soon as you get there. You're going to need it...."
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