"What's this?" Alice wondered as she descended the stairs into the dining area to find a table set with freshly cut roses, sparkling crystal, gleaming china, crisp linen, and a baked crepe and red caviar breakfast waiting for her.
"You had to work Valentine's Day," Spencer reminded.
"Force of habit," she admitted sheepishly.
"Not a problem," he pulled back her chair. "Rain check."
Sitting, she craned her neck to kiss him, smiling as Spencer took the seat across from her; visibly beaming at how well his surprise had gone over. "I was thinking about you while I was at the hospital," she confessed.
"You should be. I was recalling all the holidays I've volunteered to work through in the past, because I had no one to spend them with and figured I might as well offer a break to those who did. And then I thought about how lucky I was that, at the end of this particular shift, I'd be coming home to you."
Spencer opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly, shaking his head and needing a moment to collect his thoughts. "I had an entire speech prepared. It was quite poetic, if I do say so myself. But, now, my darling, I'm afraid you have effectively stolen all my thunder."
"I'm sorry," she told him sincerely. "That wasn't my intention."
"Don't be sorry. I haven't been struck speechless by a beautiful woman... since the last time you did so. It merely reminds me of why I felt compelled to prepare my prattle in the first place. Because I take one look at you, and lose all my reason." As if to demonstrate the assertion, Spencer appeared at a loss for what to say next. Instead, he reached into his shirt pocket and produced a small, velvet box that he handed to Alice. "Happy Valentine's Day."
She opened the lid to discover a pair of earrings, a tasteful cluster of emeralds arranged in the shape of flowers dangling from delicate white gold chains. "They're lovely." Alice took one out of the box and held it up against the side of her face for Spencer to admire.
He beamed. "You're lovely. They're just the frame; if you'll excuse the pun."
"Forget me nots, if I'm not mistaken," Alice studied the floral design.
"Yes. They are."
"Were you concerned that I was in danger of forgetting you?" Alice asked, her voice light, before she followed up with. "Is that why you're having me followed?"
"Would you look at that," Spencer finally managed to sputter out after an interminable pause, not to mention several coughs and one extended swallow of coffee. "Struck dumb twice in one day."
"What's going on, Spencer? Why did you feel it necessary to shadow me?"
"He was supposed to stay out of your sight," Spencer dwelled on that one failure in lieu of answering her question.
"And he almost succeeded. But hospitals are not optimal sites for unobtrusive lurking. You're either staff, or you're a patient, or you're there with someone. When I realized he was neither, and that he always seemed to pop up in my vicinity, I put two and two together. What I couldn't reasonably figure out was why? Do you suspect me of being unfaithful to you?"
"No! No, no, goodness, no. No."
"Then that means I must be in some sort of danger."
The way she phrased it left Spencer no room for a plausible denial. "You might be."
"How? From whom?"
He sighed, wishing they didn't need to have this conversation. Wishing he'd married a woman he could look in the eye and lie to, simultaneously knowing that the latter was blatantly untrue. "Lorna's accident. Lucas thinks it may not have been an accident. That it may have been a message. For him, for me, and for Carl. Payback for our roles in allowing Donna to put our mutual acquaintances on the defensive."
She absorbed his words. "What do you think?"
"I think... I think that I can't afford to take any chances. Not with you. That speech I was going to make earlier? Lots of pretty words. But, it all boiled down to one thing. You are my life. If I lose you, it's the end of me. No questions."
"Now I'm the one who's flattered. And curious why you couldn't tell me this upfront?"
"Force of habit?" It was his turn to quote her. "Fear? That tangible evidence of the man I once was might prompt you to reconsider the man I swore to be. For you."
"Do you truly have so little faith in me?"
"I have every faith in you. It's myself I've long ago given up on."
Allie wondered where she belonged.
She stood at the back of the courtroom, looking down one side, where Rick and Mindy Bauer sat with Kevin at one table, across from GQ, who conferred with his lawyer, Mel Boudreau, at the other. Jen was in the first row, right behind GQ.
There was not a single person who would be happy to see her.
"Where am I supposed to go?" Allie whispered to Sarah, who'd refused to take no for an answer when it came to coming along and supporting Allie.
"Anywhere you like." Amanda, who'd more or less invited herself, asserted. "You have every right to be here."
"Actually," Allie reminded. "I was subpoenaed."
"You want Dr. and Mrs. Bauer to keep Hudson, right?" Sarah offered reasonably. "So you should probably go sit on their side."
"Okay," Allie said, grasping Sarah's logic while knowing that she would be anything but welcome, nonetheless.
The three of them walked down the aisle, every head in the place snapping about. Dr. Bauer, Jen, and Ms. Boudreau stared at Allie with open distaste and hostility. Mrs. Bauer seemed a bit more sympathetic or maybe she was just more desperate, willing to extend an olive branch to anyone who might help her keep her baby; even the girl whose lies started the trouble in the first place.
GQ was the most difficult to read. Allie wouldn't have been surprised if he'd jumped on the enmity bandwagon. To be honest, she rather craved it. It's what she'd expected and prepared for. His ambiguity was... confusing, to say the least.
GQ looked at Allie like he was waiting for her to say something or to do something... something that would change the entire, seemingly inevitable course that they were all on. And like he wished he'd been extended a similar opportunity a year and a half ago.
At least Kevin smiled encouragingly at Allie as she, Sarah and Amanda sat down behind him. One friendly face beat none at all.
Amanda stretched out her hand, introducing herself formally to Rick and Mindy. They'd crossed paths at Gregory's funeral. But, in light of everything that happened there, Amanda hardly expected the Bauers to remember.
"You're Hudson's only grandmother," Mindy said, more to herself than even to Amanda. "Rick's mother is dead, and mine... isn't in the picture."
"Actually," Mel, who'd overheard, leaned over to remind. "Mr. Todd has a mother. And a father. Hudson has a whole other set of grandparents who were never even given the opportunity to meet him. But, I guess they don't count, according to you."
"This was always supposed to be an open adoption," Mindy reiterated, wondering why no one was listening to her. "We'd be happy to send pictures to Hudson's grandparents, and for GQ, for all of them, to visit him, and "
"Not on the table," Mel cut her off. "Not anymore."
At that, the court was called to order, the formalities who, what, and why established and the attorneys instructed to begin presenting their respective cases.
Mel stood up. She thanked Her Honor for agreeing to hear this case. And then she called Alexandra Cory-Fowler to the stand.
"I'm sure you well recall Donna's Emmy winning performance?" In case Lucas didn't, Carl flipped a switch on his computer and allowed Lucas to relive Donna's pre-election interview with Jeanne. "If only they gave awards in the category of Most Self-Serving."
"I remember it. So what?"
"Our Donna claimed to have compiled a tidy dossier which, if ever released to the proper authorities, would expose not only the existence of the compound that was already done post-Cecile; thank you, Lucas, excellent work as always... but its precise coordinates, as well as the various constituencies behind it."
"Do you believe her?"
"Clearly our friends do, as, almost a year after the fact, Donna remains hale and hearty."
"Which is more than can be said for my daughter," Lucas growled.
"No change?" Carl asked sympathetically. "Not even with the new medication?"
Lucas shook his head, looking as shattered as Carl had ever seen him.
"In that case, and so we need never experience a reprise of such travesty, I require of you to utilize your talents, and discern for me whether said dossier actually does exist."
"Why? You think you're mentioned in it?"
"I can't imagine that I am not; Donna's access did, after all, come through me. But, that isn't my concern at the moment."
"Then what is?"
"Donna publicly asserted the dossier would only be circulated in the event of something happening to her or her immediate family. What if, say, something catastrophic were to befall Ms. Love? The parties holding her assets would have no choice but to follow her instructions, leading to the compound being exposed, stormed and preferably eliminated. At the very least, their attention would be drawn elsewhere and thus away from us."
"And this catastrophe that you envision befalling Donna? An act of God, perhaps?"
"I have never depended on the Almighty to do my dirty work previously. I hardly intend to commence now."
"So you really intend to kill her?"
"Perish the thought! If I wished Donna dead she would have been long ago. Death, we both know, is much too good for her. Donna deserves to suffer, and we deserve to sit back and savor every moment of it. Furthermore, it's illogical. I kill Donna, Donna's death exposes the compound, I'm right back in the bull's eye, not to mention Rachel and the children. No, thank you. I am many things, but a fool is not one of them."
"Then I guess I am, because I have no clue what you're talking about."
"What if an attempt were made on someone close to Donna? One grievous enough to spur her into seeking restitution and foolishly playing her one Ace? The compound still ends up under international scrutiny without any of us bearing the slightest blame."
"Someone close to Donna, huh? You planning to pick names out of a hat?"
"No," Carl reassured. "That decision has already been made."
"Do you realize that, a month ago, I didn't even know places like these existed," Dean told Frankie while scribbling his name to the bottom of a form in triplicate. "And now I'm signing on for a year long membership?"
She smiled, pointing to Lori Ann shrieking with delight as she leapt into a pile of multi-colored, plastic balls before promptly climbing out and repeating the process. Frankie reassured Dean, "These indoor play-spaces are a God-send. Especially in the winter."
"If you say so." He sighed, settling down on an unnecessarily hard wooden bench in the corner from which to watch his giddy offspring, along with other parents doing the same. "I really mean it, Frankie. I don't know what I'd have done if I didn't have you to show me these parenting ropes."
"You'd have figured it out," she told him confidently. "All parents do. Eventually."
"But, not all parents start a year behind."
"You're doing great," she reassured, patting his arm and clapping enthusiastically when Lori Ann yelled for them to watch her jump into the ball-pit. Yet again.
"How about you?" Dean wondered. "How are you doing?"
"You mean with sharing Lori Ann?"
"I mean with everything. Sharing Lori Ann, Cass being back, Charlie being...."
"Seventeen!" Frankie exclaimed. "Can you believe it? My baby is seventeen years old and, I'll be honest with you, Dean, ninety-five percent of the time, I have absolutely no idea what she's thinking."
"Did you know what I was thinking when I was a teen-ager?" he challenged.
"Yeah," Frankie threw right back at him. "I did. You were easy."
"Right. I was so easy it took most of the extended Frame family playing Hot Potato with my ass before you took pity and let me crash for a while."
"But, that's just it. I got where you were coming from. Your mom was gone, your daddy ran out on you. Lord knows my mama couldn't handle the long hair and attitude. But I knew it was all just sound and fury. You were a decent kid, who merely required a long leash, a periodic reminder to fly right... and a good woman to make him want to."
"Well, you took care of the leash and the reminders..."
"And Jenna took care of everything else."
"Yeah..." Dean looked away, rubbing the back of his neck, taking in his surroundings. "She did. And look at me now."
"You're exactly where she wants you to be."
"I know. But, she was supposed to be here, too. This gig was supposed to be the two of us. Not me filling out forms, and leaving Mother's Name blank. No offense. I mean..."
"I know what you mean. No offense taken."
"All the plans we made, they were for the two of us. This parenting thing is supposed to be done in pairs."
"It could still happen," Frankie pointed out to him. "You've got a lot of years ahead of you. It's not outside the realm of possibility that you'll meet someone else."
"Yeah, I'm a real catch. Unemployed, single dad... still hung up on his wife."
"Jenna's been gone for over a year," Frankie gently prodded. "In all that time, while you were away, there wasn't... anybody?"
He shook his head. "Couldn't do it. Wasn't interested, you know? Even when I wanted to be interested... it just didn't happen. I look at women around me. Every day, I'll be walking down the street and I'll be thinking: She's not Jenna, and she's not Jenna, and she's not... I get that any normal guy would be crazy not to want them. But, I... don't."
"Give it time. You deserve to be happy again."
"Hell, I didn't even deserve it the first time," Dean sighed ruefully. "Do you ever think that maybe the fairy tales and old wives' legends are true? Maybe there really is only one person for everybody on Earth? And once you've used that up, you're done."
"Where does that leave people like Rachel then? She loved Mac, and she loves Carl. Or Felicia? She loves Lucas, but she loved Zane, too."
"You can love 'em, but maybe the dying is proof that this isn't the relationship you were meant for, long haul."
"Listen, pal, nobody enjoys overanalyzing signs from the universe as much as I do, but, I think that's stretching things just a bit. Kathleen didn't die. Well, she did, but then she didn't you were there. She may not be one of my favorite people, but I'd never suggest that Cass didn't truly love her once."
"They weren't meant to be, though. Not like you and Cass. The minute he saw you, Lila was history. He knew it, you knew it, she knew it. Same with you. You were gone for years. You didn't even remember Cass, but still you...." Dean trailed off, intrigued by Frankie's expression. "Hold on. Scratch that, never mind. There was somebody while you were missing?"
"It doesn't matter," Frankie insisted. "As soon as I remembered... it's like you said, Cass and I, we were meant to be together."
"But, when you remembered being Frankie Frame, you didn't forget being... what was the name you used? Mary Ordway, did you?"
"No... It all kind of merged."
"So, this guy you were with...."
"I knew I couldn't do it. It wouldn't have been fair. My heart was with Cass and Charlie."
"All your heart?" Dean pressed.
"The part of yours that's currently still with Jenna," Frankie told him firmly, effectively ending the conversation, without really answering his question at all.
Lorna felt like she'd been climbing interminably, in the dark, and with no sensation save a profound, terrible exhaustion that seemed to permeate every inch of her, pushing Lorna down like an iron hand despite her best efforts to move up and out, even when she no longer had a firm notion of what those terms meant precisely.
For the longest time she had the impression of running, crawling, swimming, straining as fast as she could, only to remain rooted in the same spot. Sometimes she heard voices, familiar and strange. Sometimes she didn't. Sometimes her objective was right there, all she needed to do was just take one last final leap and she'd have it in her grasp. And other times, she had no idea what she was reaching for or where it might have gone. Merely that she was desperate to find it. Him. Them.
It had been dark for so long that the first streaks of light caused Lorna to gasp, as if finally breaking the surface after a particularly long and badly calculated dive. Her eyes burned, scoured by sandpaper, taking forever to focus, even as the familiar, persistent pain was joined by a more immediate sensation of needles piercing and taped to her skin, and the horribly dry rasp in her throat, which made every breath, in and out, feel like she was gagging and choking on a thicket of clammy dust.
She flailed instinctively, realizing that she was making things worse, but unable to stop herself. The combination of sudden sights and sounds made it impossible for Lorna to discern one from the other. She automatically recoiled from it all, desperately searching for something, anything she could seize that might curb the nearly overwhelming panic.
She saw Jamie.
He was hovering above her, one hand blindly fumbling for the on-call button by the side of her bed, while his eyes remained fastened solely, exclusively, urgently on her.
He was moving his lips, but either Lorna couldn't hear or he was failing to produce a single sound. In any case, the mere sight of Jamie was enough to make Lorna quit her frenetic thrashing, every taut and overwrought nerve in her body slackening so that she sank back down onto the bed, not caring anymore about her confusion or discomfort, not caring about anything at all except the look on Jamie's face.
And the tears in his eyes. Which, she realized, could only mean one thing.
"The baby..." Lorna managed to croak out, despite the scorching in her throat, the lethargy of her tongue, and the unexpectedly Herculean effort of so much as tilting her neck to look down and check for herself. "I'm sorry, Jamie."
He merely continued starting at her, dumbstruck, only beginning to feebly shake his head from side to side when Lorna interrupted to go on, "I should have told you. I should have told you from the start. I'm so sorry. I lost the baby, didn't I?"
"No...." The head shaking became more emphatic. "No. You She's fine. She's okay." Jamie deftly wrapped his fingers around Lorna's wrist and, struggling not to hurt her needlessly, gingerly repositioned her hand so that Lorna's palm rested atop the unmistakable bump in the middle of her abdomen. "The baby's okay. And, oh, god, Lorna, you're okay. You're okay, too...."
"What right?" Felicia stalked past a taken-aback Rachel, immediately spiraling around in the Cory foyer to continue, "What right did you possibly believe you had not tell me that you knew Lucas was alive months before I did?"
Keeping in mind her friend's compounded hell of the past few weeks, Rachel chose to ignore Felicia's accusatory tone and instead remind, "I did what I thought was best at the time. The stress you were under due to Jenna "
"I already heard that excuse from Cass, and I'll tell you what I told him. I am not a child. Unlike Jamie, I don't need to be coddled or protected by you!"
"You sure as hell are acting like a child," Rachel clipped, sympathy exhausted by the mention of Jamie. Felicia wasn't the only one who'd been living in hell since Election Day. "Barging into my home, insulting my son, attacking me."
"What about the attack your son launched against me?"
"Jamie going to court had nothing to do with you. He did it to protect Lorna's interests, no more, no less. He loves her. She is the mother of his child."
"Just like Vicky, who Jamie knocked up while he was still allegedly in love with my niece. We saw how reverently Jamie treated the mother of his child then. How long was it, exactly, before he turned on Vicky and snatched her son right out from under her, all the while stomping and bellowing that he knew what was best?"
"Jamie and Vicky shared the blame equally for how their relationship ended. Luckily, in the end, cooler, more mature heads prevailed," Rachel told Felicia pointedly.
"At which point Jamie promptly abandoned the child he claimed to love so much and high-tailed it to San Francisco. Then Africa. Then London. Steven spent more time in those first few years with Ryan, with Jake, with Grant, even, than with his doting father."
"Enough!" Rachel hissed. And not merely because most of what Felicia charged was true.
"Don't you see? He hasn't changed a bit. Jamie is still the same petulant, selfish, spoiled brat he was all those years ago! Bullying people into giving him the toy he fancies at the moment, only to throw it away as soon as he wins, not caring about the heartache he caused along the way. I cannot I will not stand by silently and allow him to discard Lorna the same way he disposed of all the other women in his life."
"My turn," Rachel announced as soon as there was silence longer than a heartbeat between them. "First of all, Jamie is not the same person he was twenty years ago. And neither, unfortunately, are you."
"What are you talking about?" she scoffed, Felicia's voice faltering for the first time since she'd come in.
"I'm talking about you, Felicia. You wielding your grief as a weapon to intentionally inflict as much pain on the people around you as possible. You claim Jamie has complete disregard for the misery he metes out? Take a good look in the mirror and think about your behavior of the past year, before you dare open your mouth in criticism of anyone."
"My behavior? My behavior? I lost my daughter!"
"And I can't even begin to imagine what that must feel like. But, then you decided to hold on to your grief as fiercely as, once upon a time, you held onto a bottle of vodka."
Felicia gasped. "How dare you compare what I went through with losing Jenna to my addiction? To something as horrible and destructive as alcoholism?"
"Your grief for Jenna has changed you. Taken over your life. Pushed you away from the people you love. Sound familiar?"
"Of course, I've changed. Of course, losing Jenna informs every waking moment of my life! But it has not made me into some irrational, hysterical ninny to be condescended to!"
"How is it condescending of me to tell you the truth?"
"Where was your passion for truth, Rachel, when it slipped your mind to inform me that the love of my life, the father of my children, was alive and well and walking the streets of Bay City?"
"I am your friend," Rachel said calmly, pushing down her anger and her instinctive need to defend her own in a last-ditch attempt to get through to Felicia. "I will always be your friend. You may not believe me, but it is true. However, if you continue down this path of attacking and lashing out and steamrolling over anyone and everyone in the name of your grief over Jenna, you will wind up more alone than you ever thought possible. Don't you ever, ever again throw my son in my face the way you did earlier. I promise you I will not be as understanding of your pain, or as restrained in my defense. Do I make myself clear?"
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|