"The next time I'm in an accident," an exhausted Frankie leaned back in her chair after several hours of scouring the photos, records and data Cass downloaded onto his Flash drive from the auto body shop's computer. "I want these guys working on my car. They didn't leave so much as a stray hair."
"Nope," Cass agreed, rubbing his eyes with the palms of both hands. "This is one case you and I aren't going to crack simply by following up on leads the BCPD missed."
"Don't be so sure." Frankie instinctively lowered her voice, despite the fact that Charlie and Lori Ann were both asleep upstairs and in no danger of overhearing.
"You're thinking, Mary Frances. I can hear the gears grinding."
"The BCPD didn't seriously consider Grant as a suspect, because they've got video footage of him never leaving the campaign site."
"Plus the fact that he's the one who went to Hamilton with the information about the car as soon as he heard about Lorna's accident. Lila says it was her idea to get the car repaired secretly and quickly, not his. He didn't even know about it until she called."
"So Grant says."
"If Grant knew about the hit and run before Lila did, why wouldn't he take the car in?"
"The better to keep his hands clean."
"But, why? We keep coming back to the fact that he couldn't have been the driver."
"Doesn't mean he isn't protecting the real culprit. What does Lila think?"
"She agrees with you," Cass said.
"Well, we do have a lot in common."
"Listen, Frankie, if you're uncomfortable with the idea of us me helping out Lila...."
"I'm not. We both know we owe her one. Frankly, I'm happy for the chance to pay off my karmic debt."
"I feel that way about Jamie," Cass admitted.
"So we're both fighting the good fight. In the interest of re-setting the universe right "
"And bringing balance to the Force?"
"Are you making fun of my beliefs again?"
"No, ma'am. Never."
"Who does Lila think Grant might be protecting? It's not like he's loyal to a lot of people."
"Well, to be honest, a couple of weeks ago, Lila would have put herself on that list."
"How does the expression go? Lay down with Grant, get up with..."
"You're telling me she honestly trusted him? In spite of the combined life experiences of Lorna and Amanda and Sharlene and "
"Marley!" Frankie and Cass said at the same time, with Frankie following up. " Would Grant commit a felony for her?"
"You think she was driving the car? As far as I know, the police have her whereabouts accounted for, too. Besides, has Grant ever sacrificed himself for a woman? Ever?"
"That just leaves Kirkland, doesn't it?" Frankie sighed, articulating the name she'd been deliberately trying to avoid. She could tell Cass had been doing the same.
He nodded. "Spencer once claimed to be working with Carl to protect Grant's Senate campaign. If the Harrisons self-sacrifice for anybody, it's their own flesh and blood."
"And so far, Grant hasn't even really had to give up anything. Bet he intends to keep it that way, too."
"Kirkland and Charlie have been friends since they were in Kindergarten. I watched him grow up. Kirkland never struck me as the type of kid who could go blithely about his business while his father is in the hospital, keeping vigil over a woman Kirk might well have placed there."
"You never know. Grant could've put the fear of God into him. You remember how he operates. He might very well have Kirkland believing Kirk is protecting him."
"That does sound like something the good Senator would pull."
"We need to talk to Kirkland," Frankie said.
"We do. But, first, we should talk to Charlie."
"Lucas?" Alice was passing by the hospital chapel when she caught a glimpse of Lorna's father inside, sitting in the dimly lit back pew, his head hanging down, palms covering his face. She rested a hand on his shoulder, loath to disturb the man, but momentarily terrified. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to interrupt. I just I saw you and... Lorna... I heard she'd woken up... Has her condition changed?"
It took Lucas a moment to understand what Alice was asking, but, once he did, he shook his head fervently. "No. No, no, she's fine. Last time I checked... She's great. I came to see her; there was something I wanted to... But, when I poked my head into her room, she and Jamie were... otherwise engaged." He smiled ruefully and confided, "Freudian slip there on my part. She and Jamie didn't notice me, but, from what I saw... Lorna was wearing a brand new ring on her finger."
Alice beamed, thrilled and relieved at the same time. "Oh, I'm so glad for them."
"Me, too. I figured they had some celebrating to do. And three's a crowd."
"I'm very happy for you and Felicia, as well. I know what it's like to..." Alice shook her head, remembering that this wasn't about her, but about what Lorna's parents had just avoided, and deflected with, "My congratulations to you both."
"My daughter is going to be alright," Lucas repeated, as if trying to make himself believe it. As if trying to remind that all was not lost. Not yet. "My marriage, on the other hand...."
Alice hesitated. The conversation had taken a deeply personal turn, one that Lucas might very well regret voicing to a stranger moments after he did so. She was about to stand up and excuse herself, when Lucas turned towards her, his face filled with so much pain, she felt it would have been a betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath to do any less than hear him out.
"Trauma of the kind you and Felicia just went through," she began tentatively, not sure at which point her words might become interference. "Places immense stress on the family. You can't draw conclusions about the future based on what may have transpired "
"I've made everything worse," Lucas said, ignoring Alice's counsel in favor of offering his guiltiest confession. "I've made Fanny's life worse, just by turning back up in it."
Alice didn't know what to say to that. All she knew was her opinion didn't matter a bit.
"I did it to her twice, you know? The first time, I thought she wanted nothing to do with me, and she thought I'd abandoned her. Once the truth was finally out, and we had Jenna and Lorna, we figured... this was it, smooth sailing from now on. But, then, I had to go looking for Jenna's father. And that led to Donna. And that led to us being separated. Again. I heard what she went through when she thought I was gone for good. She nearly drank herself to death. She almost killed Jenna in a car accident. That was all my fault. I vowed never to hurt her again. That's why I stayed away for so long. But, she was right. I was selfish, and weak, and I only thought about myself. I had to do it. I had to come back to her. And look what's happened. This time around, I'm the one who almost got Lorna killed..." As soon as the words were out of Lucas' mouth, he snuck a culpable peek at Alice, realizing what he said wouldn't make any sense to her.
But, she only nodded encouragingly. "Spencer told me that you think Lorna's accident was because of you. And him. And Carl."
"Yes," Lucas exhaled, blessed to have stumbled upon such a non-judgmental listener. "Look at what I've done. Look at the havoc I've wreaked on my family." He swore, "It would have been better for everyone if I'd never come back."
Alice didn't respond either way. But, Lucas sensed the change in her demeanor, anyhow; the locking of her spine, the weary way her shoulders sagged, the sharp intake of breath. Previously, she'd had no trouble looking Lucas in the eye. Not anymore.
"I I'm sorry," Lucas instantly pulled back, despite not understanding precisely what he'd done wrong he still realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that some transgression had indeed transpired. "I don't know what I was thinking. I had no right burdening you with my problems."
She shook her head slowly, needing a moment before word could catch up with deed. "No. I'm the one... You didn't do anything. You couldn't have known."
Now it was Lucas' turn to wait silently until Alice felt moved to explain, "My husband, Steve Jamie's father was presumed dead for many years. By the time he came back, I'd moved on; I thought I'd moved on. We tried to recapture what we'd had, but..."
"No?" he asked sympathetically.
"No. Too much had changed. Too much had been lost."
"Did you... Do you ever wish he'd never...."
Alice nodded, a catch in her voice, despite the aridity of her eyes. Those tears had all been shed a long time ago. "I very much wish he had stayed in Australia. That he'd lived out his new life, and at least left me with our memories intact. Even those... now... it's not the same."
"I'm sorry for opening up old wounds," Lucas said, moving his hand to brush hers.
She smiled and returned the gesture, briefly squeezing his fingers. "I'm sorry I took a conversation about you, and made it about me."
"Don't be. Please. You have no idea how much this talk helped. I came in here tonight looking for guidance. I found it. I know exactly what I need to do now."
First thing the next morning, as soon as the judge gave her permission, Mel had GQ back on the witness stand, asking, "What do you think of Mr. Fowler accusing you of being a bad parent because you won't let your son be raised white instead of Black?"
"I think he's full of..." GQ censored himself at the last moment. "It. His allegation is ignorant and insulting. But, most of all, it's irrelevant. Is there a marauding band of social workers wandering door to door, asking people if they are doing the very, very best that they could for their children? By that logic, if you didn't put your kid in the right school or didn't get their teeth fixed, you're not doing your best by them, and deserve to lose custody. Hell, anyone who doesn't immediately give their kid up to someone who makes more money than they do, or has a bigger house so all the kids can have their own rooms, or displays more patience when it comes to reading the same book over and over again, is falling down on the job."
"Do you disagree that Hudson would most likely have an easier life as the son of Dr. and Mrs. Bauer?"
He looked at Rick and Mindy as he answered, "I disagree that easier is necessarily better. And I disagree that anyone can predict the future like that. Yes, they're married and I'm single. But, this is hardly either of theirs first marriage. I don't even think it's, like, their third? Fourth? Who knows how long they're going to stay together? And yes, they're more established financially. And they're whiter. But, I think we all know at least a couple rich, white kids with two parents who managed to screw up their lives anyway."
"Mr. Fowler also intimated that you were a racist for refusing to acknowledge Hudson's biracial heritage, which Dr. and Mrs. Bauer have promised to do, in favor of seeing him as only Black. You terminated your relationship with Allie due to her appearance. In the eyes of some people, Hudson looks white as well."
"I didn't break up with Allie because of how she looked. There are lots of very light-skinned African-Americans. Some even have blond hair and blue eyes. It's an issue of culture, not skin tone. I'm going to raise Hudson to appreciate his culture. I really don't care what other people think he looks like."
"What about teaching Hudson about the other side of his legacy?"
"White culture in America is kind of everywhere. I don't think Hudson's in any danger of missing it."
"So you don't believe that the negative way your relationship ended with Allie has any bearing on your future relationship with your son?"
"Did I treat Allie badly?" GQ asked. "Yeah, I did. Do I wish I'd handled things better? Kept better control of myself? Not liked her as much as I did? I really, really wish I had. Am I sorry?" He looked past Mel, meeting Allie's eyes. "I really, really am."
She blinked, stunned. Allie had expected a lot from the proceedings. She hadn't expected this.
"I'm sorry, Allie," GQ said. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry you felt you had to hurt me back. And I'm sorry that both our actions are hurting the Bauers. But, me being a jerk doesn't mean I should be kept from being a dad. Again, I keep going back to it, but, it's the truth: If every acrimonious break-up where people were less than upstanding and righteous made you an unfit parent, half the country would have lost their kids by now."
Allie continued staring, unblinking, at GQ. And then she did the last thing anyone expected. She stood up and left the courtroom, without once looking back.
"Where's Jamie?" Morgan ventured cautiously into Lorna's room, glancing from side to side as if he expected to be blindsided and tackled at any moment.
"I sent him home to get a few hours sleep," Lorna said. "Reconnect with his kids. Take a break from worrying about me."
"Oh." Morgan stood by the side of her bed. "That's okay, I guess. You're really the one I wanted to... Here." He shoved a stack of papers her way, dumping them all on the food tray across her chest and producing a pen in a single motion. "The divorce papers. I signed them. All you have to do is... here and here and... we're done."
She stared at them with a combination of disbelief, gratitude and exasperation. "You couldn't have done this six months ago?"
"No," Morgan told her honestly, as Lorna tore through the papers, scrawling her name firmly on each page, so that there could be no doubt about intentions. "I wasn't ready then. I'm not sure I'm ready now."
"Too bad." Lorna thrust the bundle back at him.
"Wow. So much for nostalgia."
"After what you put Jamie and me through? You're lucky I don't currently have the strength to claw your eyes out."
"The anesthesiologist peeled all your fake nails off prior to surgery." Morgan explained. "He needed to keep an eye on the skin underneath to make sure you were getting enough oxygen."
"That, too." Lorna sighed. "Would you stop standing there looking all despondent? I'd have been a heck of a lot more melancholy about all this if you'd only believed me right away about Jamie being the one. If you'd only been happy for me, instead of...."
"I was supposed to be happy that my wife was in love with another man?"
"You could have tried being happy that somebody finally loved me back."
"I love you, Lorna," he said simply.
"I love you, too."
"No. I I really... Never mind." He bent over and kissed her chastely on the forehead. "You, Jamie, the baby... I wish you guys all the luck in the world."
"Oh, come on, don't be like that."
"All 'tis a far better thing I do than I have ever done before. Nobility isn't your color."
"I'm trying my best here, I really am. I'm trying to do the right thing...." Morgan heard how close he was sounding to whining, and decided to get off that self-pity train, and fast. He cleared his throat before embarking on a completely different direction. "Listen, Lorna, that reminds me. Our accident. I've been looking into it. Do you recall anything at all about who might have hit us?"
"No," she shook her head, stiffly but definitively. "The police were here earlier, getting my statement, trying to jog my memory. I didn't see a thing. I was facing the wrong direction, remember?"
He considered making a smart remark. He thought better of it.
"You and Jeanne," Donna repeated, having stood up in puzzled surprise at the sight of Matt and Jeanne entering her office. "The two of you are dating now?"
"Yes," Matt said, taking Jeanne's hand as a visual aide.
"And you made a special trip to flaunt your new status in front of me. How thoughtful."
"We're not flaunting anything," Jeanne said. "Quite the opposite, actually. We wanted to tell you ourselves, so you wouldn't be taken aback by the information."
"Were you intending perhaps to broadcast it on the Six O'clock News?"
"We wanted to tell you ourselves because Jeanne works here, and obviously I'm going to be stopping by "
"You have every right. You're still a part owner here."
"We didn't want things to get uncomfortable," Matt finished.
"For whom?" Donna inquired.
"For anyone," Jeanne said.
"Well, aren't you considerate? But, then again, Jeanne, you are the smart one; always thinking ahead."
"It's what you pay me for, Ms. Love."
"Are you asking for my permission to date this girl, Matthew?"
When Matt didn't respond quickly enough, Jeanne answered for him. "Of course not! I told you, we were just being "
"My blessing, then?" Donna suggested.
"No," Matt stammered. "We came here to "
"I know what you came here to do," she chastened him softly. "And rest assured, I'm about to give it to you."
"I realized I never thanked you properly for the divine Valentine's gift you got me." Marley reclined on Grant's bed, the yellow and white diamond pendant in question dangling seductively between her bare breasts.
"Your happiness is thanks enough," Grant drawled dryly, refusing to budge from his spot in the doorway.
"I'd like to make you equally happy," she offered, crawling towards Grant on all fours.
Only to have him saunter by her without so much as an appreciative peek on the way to retrieving a book from his nightstand. Then heading right back for the door.
"What the hell?" Marley demanded, rising to her knees.
He turned around, observing her temper tantrum with amusement before suggesting, "You might want to put some clothes on. There is a definite cooling in the air."
"You son of a bitch!" Marley whipped the necklace off her throat and flung it at him. Grant deftly caught the projectile with one hand, slipped it into his pocket, and exited the bedroom. Whistling.
By the time a robed Marley tracked him down to the kitchen, Grant was standing behind the granite counter island, toasting her with a freshly poured crystal tumbler of V-8.
"Are you for real?" she demanded.
He squeezed in a twist of lemon and took a sip, advising, "I was being post-modern."
"Message received," Marley snapped.
Grant met her eyes, the mirth of a few seconds earlier now utterly absent. "Ditto."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I now thoroughly and utterly understand my designated place in your life. To function as a human vibrator."
The bark of Marley's laugh echoed against the top-of-the-line cabinet fixtures. And then she realized Grant was serious. "What... Why... How could you think that's all you..."
"It's what we started with," he reminded. "Jamie may have married you, but he also wouldn't give you the time of day. You had needs. You got off on screwing over him by screwing me."
"And you weren't doing the exact same thing?" she challenged. "Except, in your case, there was the added bonus of sticking it to Vicky, too."
"So now we're even," he shrugged.
"I thought we were way past this, Grant."
"Sure didn't feel like it the other day."
Marley blinked, again taking a moment to comprehend that he was serious. "So just because, one night, instead of candles and whispered sweet nothings and satin sheets with rose petals sprinkled over them I was in the mood to blow off steam with something quick and sweaty and casual "
"You treated me like a stud horse."
"And because I mistakenly assumed that the man who claimed to care about me, who claimed to know me and understand my needs, would be up for a little fun "
"I'm always up for fun." Grant slammed down his glass, hand shaking. "But, I want more from you. From us. I thought you wanted that, too. I love you, Marley. Why is it you constantly find it impossible to say the same?"
"Love takes time."
"Not for me. Not with you."
"Okay... Let's say I believe that."
"What more can I possibly do?"
"Nothing," she insisted. "You don't need to do anything. But, I'm sorry, Grant. I guess I'm not as brave as you. I'm no good at opening myself up like that. You know what I've been through. Jake and Dennis and Jamie...."
"I'm not Jake. Or Dennis. Or Jamie," Grant put particular emphasis on that final one. "I will look out for you in a way they never did. I have looked out for you. And, as long as we're on the subject, don't you think I've been hurt in the past, too? You think Paulina and Vicky didn't do a number on my heart? Or my faith in love? Hell, Amanda, Lorna, Sharlene, even Cindy each managed to leave their marks, for better or for worse."
"I know what they did to you," Marley reached for Grant sympathetically.
He seized her palm in both of his, bringing it gently to his mouth, kissing it, then rubbing the back against his cheek. "I'm not that man anymore.
"I know. Except in the one way that scares me the most." She disentangled herself awkwardly, telling Grant, "You need people too much. I could move in here today, marry you tomorrow, and still you'd wonder, you'd worry, you'd still seek constant reassurance that I really do love you."
"Try me," he urged. "Skip the moving in and the wedding vows for now. You can even forget telling me you love me. Just tell me that you need me."
"Oh, Grant, for goodness' sake. If I've done anything over the past few months, over the past year, it's need you, over and over and over again."
"I don't mean needing me to solve a problem. Or be a shoulder to cry on, or someone to yell at, or a warm body to slip under. Although, believe me, I am more than willing to be all those things for you. Right now, however, I'm talking about wanting to be with me always. To know that, whenever you call my name, I'll be there. Of having me in your bed every night and waking up in my arms every morning. I'm talking about needing me to the point where the thought of being without me hurts. Physically hurts you, the way it hurts me when I'm away from you."
She shook her head. "See? This is what I meant. You always want too much."
He backed away, arms upraised, assuming full surrender. "If those are the first words that come to mind, Marley, after what I just said to you then we really don't have any "
"Grant?" Kirkland's excited voice sounded from the foyer. "Aunt Marley? You guys around? And, uh, you know, decent?"
"We're in the kitchen, son!" Grant called back, turning his back on Marley, the easier to assume an utterly neutral facial expression. He could only imagine, and hope, that she was doing the same.
"Did you hear?" Kirkland looked from one to the other, his enormous smile managing to cheer Grant in a way nothing else ever could. "Dad called. Lorna woke up. She's out of the coma. And she's going to be okay!"
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