"Kirk?" Frankie rolled down the car's window and called out to her cousin as he was crossing the parking lot behind Bay City Latin's southern exit door.
"Hey, Frankie." He waved politely, but didn't approach.
She asked him, "Could you come in here for a minute? I'd like to talk to you."
He hesitated, glancing nervously around. "I "
"Charlie's not due out from volleyball practice for another twenty minutes. I'm glad I ran into you, though. I'll be brief, I promise."
Too well-raised to refuse an adult's quasi-direct order, Kirkland reluctantly climbed into Frankie's car, looking distinctly uncomfortable all the while.
"I hear Lorna's back home," Frankie began. "How's she doing?"
He nodded. "I haven't seen her yet. But, Dad says everything is good."
"That must be a huge relief for you."
Another nod, and then, abruptly, "Listen, Frankie, I know what this is about."
"You do?" she asked cautiously, reluctant to leap to conclusions.
He sighed, drumming his fingers nervously on the window and avoiding her eyes. "Look, I get that you think you're trying to help. That's your job. But, I'm sorry, I'm not telling you anything."
Frankie broached, "I realize how difficult this must be for you to talk about. This isn't any fun for me, either, I assure you. But, it's best for everyone in the long run. Especially you. Even if you can't see that right now."
"No. I don't care if spilling my guts would make things easier for me, okay? Not if it means breaking a promise and getting someone else in trouble."
"That's very noble. I understand exactly what you mean. I've faced similar situations in the past. It's very hard to balance your own interests against another person's. Especially someone that you care about. Someone you're afraid of losing if the truth comes out."
"She's better these days anyway, right? So what would be the point of me narc-ing out to you now?"
"It's not that simple, Kirkland. Other people might get blamed for what you and "
"They deserve it. They're not completely innocent. They broke the law, too."
"Well, yes, I suppose. But "
"Don't worry. It won't happen again. Not with me, anyway. I promise. I've learned my lesson. I know what I did. I know it was wrong. But doling out punishment now... how would that really help anybody?"
Frankie didn't exactly have an answer to that. She knew that she should. But, she didn't.
Kirkland took her silence as accord, apologizing, "I gotta go," and stepping out of the car convinced that he'd talked Charlie's mom out of grilling him about her daughter's pretty weird behavior of late, especially Charlie sneaking out during the Valentine's Day dance to drink with a bunch of guys some of whom were, like Kirkland, still in high-school, but a few who were already eighteen and thus definitely shouldn't have been there. But, he'd told Frankie the truth; Charlie seemed better. She'd even apologized to him about their fight over Lorna. Kirkland would do his best to make sure Charlie didn't get in over her head again. Not while he was around, anyway. Besides, Charlie was hardly the only girl to sneak or make out that night. Most importantly, Kirkland was no narc. Even if it might save his own ass down the line.
Meanwhile, Frankie watched him walk off toward his own car, equally as convinced that Kirkland had just confessed to hitting Lorna and Morgan, and letting Grant cover up the crime by framing Lila.
"Hey! You're back!" Steven enthused when he caught sight of Jen in her faculty office. "Is the trial over? What happened?"
"It's still going on," she sighed, exhausted. "But, I needed a break."
"I heard from Amanda that Allie bailed, too."
"Well, that's Allie's thing, isn't it? Making a mess, then bailing. Leaving the rest of us to deal."
"Sorry." He took a seat, despite a missing invitation. "Didn't mean to hit a nerve."
"You'd have been hard pressed not to. I'm just one big, raw nerve right now."
She snorted. "GQ's lawyer put me on the stand so she could demonstrate what a worst case scenario I am. And GQ's the one who fed her the intel to make it possible."
"Huh," Steven said, as Jen filled him in on her most recent day in court. "That's stupid."
For the first time in what felt like weeks, Jen felt a genuine smile looming. "Considering that's your default opinion regarding ninety-nine percent of what goes on in the world... care to elaborate?"
"Using you to prove a point about a kid turning out badly is like what Winston Churchill said about democracy: It's absolutely the worst form of government, except for all the others."
"So you don't think I'm a riddle wrapped in an enigma shrouded in mystery?" Jen stuck to the Churchill quotes.
"Why would that be a bad thing?"
Jen's smile died. "GQ isn't wrong. I am a freak."
"So am I. So what?"
"You ever have to cop to it, on the record?"
"GQ shouldn't have done that," Steven said, using the same inarguable tone of voice he deployed towards all subjects, from programming conundrums to the right way to hold your fork at dinner.
"No. He shouldn't have. The question is, though, what am I going to do about it?"
"What do you want to do about it?" Steven asked, utterly devoid of any preconceived notions. When something wasn't his area of expertise, he knew enough to stay out.
"I don't know. I feel so many things, it's like I don't feel anything at all."
"Good. Makes it easier to just focus on the facts."
"Is that what you do when it comes to making life decisions? Just focus on the facts?"
"A man needs to know his limitations, Jen. I use my strengths, not my weaknesses."
"Did that keep Sarah from breaking your heart?"
"A perfect example of what happened when I failed to follow my own advice."
"But, you loved her. She made you happy."
"Yet not untrue. Thus making it a fact."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"I believe I am."
"Is it making you feel any better?"
She hesitated, then admitted, "I believe it is."
"Pop quiz," Jamie stuck his head around the door to Lorna's room. "Who is the best-adjusted, coolest, most awesome little girl we know?"
"It's okay," Lorna reassured him. "I've calmed down. Now I'm merely freaked out instead of completely panicked. You don't need to duck and cover, I'm not going to blow."
"Answer the question, please: Who is the kid that you would have absolutely no problem our daughter growing up to be like?"
"Well.... Jasmine, obviously."
"Ta-dah!" Jamie stepped aside to reveal his niece. "Plus, back-up." One more step, and Michele and Bridget were standing there too, Sarah bringing up the rear.
Jasmine announced, "Uncle Jamie said you needed some serious talking to. So I brought reinforcements, just in case."
"We're here to teach you about raising girls," Michele confirmed.
"We brought some stuff." Bridget hefted an overstuffed backpack off her shoulder; the other two did the same.
"I'm only the sherpa," Sarah explained, helping the girls bring in their things and begin spreading the loot across Lorna's bed.
Lorna just stared at the display, momentarily dumbfounded, as Jamie winked, "I'll leave you ladies alone. Call me if you need anything."
"We're good," Jasmine surveyed the scene in utmost seriousness. "But, stand by, this might take a while."
"You can't trust me?" Grant echoed Marley's words, hoping their meaning might become clearer to him through repetition. "You can't trust me? After everything..."
"Not when it comes to my children's lives, no," Marley told him reasonably. She took both of Grant's hands in hers, urging him, "Look at it this way. It's a compliment. I just don't think you're ruthless enough to do what needs to be done. Not anymore."
"Some compliment," Grant sniffed.
"Carl is responsible for starting all of this. Let him be responsible for protecting us. He understands what we're up against. You and I don't."
"No," Grant said slowly. "You're wrong."
"What?" Marley shook her head, confused. "Grant, please, don't let your ego get in the way of keeping "
"This isn't about my ego, damn it," Grant interrupted, swallowing the suspicion that she was righter than she knew. "This is about me protecting you. Always. Even when you don't know I'm doing it. And no matter who I have to sacrifice along the way." He took a deep breath, feeling the blood pounding in his head, knowing that once he said what he was about to, there would be no turning back. Unable to stop himself, nonetheless. "Do you know why Carl and Spencer think the people Donna pissed off with her ill-advised TV interview are finally coming to take their revenge? Because Lucas convinced them Lorna's hit-and-run was an attack against him, the first step to punishing them all."
The sound that escaped Marley's throat was a combination groan, whimper, and gasp.
"I could have told Carl and Spencer the truth," Grant thundered. "I could have stopped this before it began. But, I didn't. Even when they both made it clear that Kirkland, my son, might be one of the people targeted."
"This is all my fault?" Marley whimpered.
"No," Grant insisted. "We're all just victims of a perfect storm of bad luck, half-baked assumptions and a trio of old men who've been anxiously waiting for past sins to catch up with them. Carl, Spencer, and Lucas want it to be true. They're tired of chomping at the bit, they're ready to strike back while they still can. They saw what they wanted to see in Lorna's accident. If it wasn't this, it would have been something else."
"You're sure?" Marley asked cautiously.
"Yes," Grant affirmed, declining to add that he had to be, or else how would he possibly be able to sleep at night, thinking of the potential blood on his hands. "Anything that might happen is their doing, not yours. Carl knows it, too. Why else do you think he would have been so solicitous, offering you his protection?"
"So my coming forward and admitting I hit Lorna, that wouldn't do any good, would it?" The tone of Marley's question made it perfectly clear how she wanted needed Grant to answer.
He didn't disappoint. "No. From what I gather, their plans have already been set into motion. There is nothing any of us can do now."
"Might I have a moment of your time?" Rachel inquired of Alice upon being admitted into the Harrison mansion, following Alice dutifully through the foyer into the living room.
"What's on your mind, Rachel?"
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything." Rachel desperately sought any excuse to abort her mission.
"It's my day off from the hospital."
"Is Spencer home?"
"No. Just me and the servants." Seeing that Rachel wasn't about to get to the point any time soon, Alice made idle conversation while she waited. "I must admit, that's taken some getting used to. Always having people around. I remember when I was engaged to Mac, feeling distinctively uncomfortable on the Cory grounds. Then again, perhaps it wasn't a matter of the servants at all. Merely a case of the entire situation being wrong."
Rachel let the digression pass without comment. Though, if pressed, she felt certain she could have come up with a few.
Instead, she continued to stall by looking around and observing, "You left everything the way it was. I'd have assumed you'd want to redecorate, add your own touch."
"I've been too busy, I'm afraid. Besides, it's not really an area of interest for me. I married the man, not the house."
Rachel wondered if Alice were making a tacit reference to the home Steve once bought for his new bride. One that Rachel ended up evicting Alice out of so she could live there with Jamie while Steve was in prison.
Less than eager to find out, Rachel got to the point. "I haven't been honest with you."
"Oh? Which time?"
Another swipe, another disregard. Briefly, Rachel considered that if Alice had exhibited this much spirit forty odd years ago, everyone's life would certainly have turned out very differently. Maybe Steve would still be here with all of them. Then again, maybe Rachel wouldn't have ever had Jamie. In any case, it was a moot if intriguing point.
"I've allowed Lila to take the blame for making the call that got you arrested."
"Yes," Alice said. "That never did add up right."
"That's because Lila didn't make it. She only confessed to protect... me."
"I see." Neither Alice's tone nor her countenance changed.
"I did it to protect my grandchildren."
"Of course." Again, no indication of what Alice was really thinking.
"I'm not sorry I did it." The calmer Alice stayed, the more defensive Rachel grew. "It helped get everything out into the open. Which, in turn, helped settle the situation. The last thing any of the kids needed was for this to just drag on and on. Especially Allie. It was worst for her. Even now, she's not back to 100%. But, the others... Jen, Sarah... it benefited them, too."
"What do you want me to say, Rachel?" Alice wondered.
"Jasmine found out. It seems Elizabeth was teasing Jasmine about Lila I do need to speak to her about that. But, then Cory told Jasmine what had really happened, and she came to me. I realized it was time to accept responsibility for what I'd done."
"Is that what you're doing right now? Taking responsibility?"
"Well, I'm certainly not apologizing," Rachel snapped.
Idly, Alice mused, "I suppose, on some level, I should have expected it. At Steve's and my engagement party, you told me you were pregnant with his child. Right after he and I were married, you had him arrested and sent to jail. And then, the day before we were to be remarried, you slept with him. In comparison, Spencer and I got off easy."
"Don't you dare," Rachel warned. "Compare what I may have done in the past "
"Oh, you did, trust me. I've got the scars to prove it."
"With my actions last November. You want me to say it? I'll say it. I was a scheming, selfish, self-centered bitch. But, that was then. This is now."
"And now, you're telling me you had absolutely no interest in humiliating me publicly? The timing was just a coincidence? You claim you're not who you used to be, Rachel? Well, inopportunely, I'm not nearly as naive as I once was, either."
"It was a coincidence. Kevin told Lila about you and Gregory when he told her about sleeping with Amanda. Lila was angry and hurt, and she told me all about it. So I made the call. I had no idea when the police would decide to act on my tip."
"Alright," Alice said simply.
"What does that mean?"
"It means, I presume you're done saying what you came to tell me. I've heard you out. Was there anything else?"
"What are you going to do?" Rachel wondered.
"Ah... So you aren't quite done."
"I'll fill Amanda in myself."
"You don't have to. This is between you and I. No one else."
"Still the martyr to the end, I see?" Rachel scoffed.
"Would you prefer I dispatch a press release to Brava?"
Through clenched teeth, Rachel clarified, "What I mean is, I will take care of informing my children."
"Well, by my count, Cory knows; Matt, I can't imagine would care very much; you've already mentioned enlightening Elizabeth and Amanda. That just leaves..."
"He doesn't need this right now. Not after everything he's been through."
"I couldn't agree more."
"He'll understand when I explain it to him," Rachel insisted. "So will Amanda. I was looking out for their children. Something you could have done, but decided not to. I had no choice. You left me no choice."
"Fine work," Carl clicked his tongue against his teeth, surveying the dossier Spencer had painstakingly forged to make it seem as though Donna were the one exposing the compound.
Lucas conducted his own appraisal, leafing through the pages, checking that they didn't look uniform or otherwise suspect before finally conceding, "It's adequate."
Spencer snorted. "I was running numbers while the two of you were setting up boutique PR firms and kicking soccer balls around the fields of Eton. My fakes needed to be good enough to dodge entities far less forgiving than pub bouncers or even the cops."
"You'd best hope then that you haven't lost your touch owing to years of neglect."
Spencer fumed, "Everything I know about the compound is there. Plenty of evidence and corroboration for the authorities to take them all down. Permanently."
"Surely not everything you know," Carl mocked.
Lucas picked up, "I didn't notice a mention of your name anywhere."
"I know it would make it much easier for you both, but I'm not a fool." He flung the file at Carl. "I've done my part. Now you'd damn well better get on with yours."
"I've made contact with Marley. Filled her head with enough mistrust, doubt and alarm against the people closest to her that it shan't surprise anyone when the poor thing cracks under the strain and attempts to commit suicide." More to himself than anyone else, Carl mused, "A much simpler feat to accomplish when you actually are telling the truth. In your own fashion."
"Hold up a minute," Lucas raised a finger in warning. "We agreed. Marley wasn't to be seriously hurt. The whole point is simply to make it look like Donna assumed there was an attempt on Marley's life, jumped the gun, and released her information as threatened."
"Of course, of course. But, surely you concur the obligation to make it convincing?"
"Not if it means hurting Marley. I won't go along with that. And what's with the suicide angle? Why is it necessary to take the extra step of messing with her head? It just makes the plan overly complicated."
"Because," Carl lectured Lucas as if he were a petulant, and vaguely dim, child. "That element is our personal insurance. Lest anyone get it into their heads to investigate her... incident, and lest that lead back to us, we need the plausible deniability of her looming mental instability. In this manner, the compound will suspect Donna of overreacting, but Donna and Grant will never suspect us."
"I hate to admit it," Spencer growled. "But, he does have a point."
"Thank you. Football wasn't the only thing I learned in school. After all, as the Duke of Wellington is so often quoted: Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton."
"In that case," Lucas said. "I want to be the one to set the scene."
"Absolutely not," Carl dismissed. "It's much too perilous."
"Exactly. The only way I can make sure that your little accident for Marley doesn't get out of hand courtesy of an overenthusiastic flunky is to do it myself."
"And if you're caught?"
"Have I ever been before?"
"The Cecile fiasco," Carl reminded.
"I wasn't caught. I confessed. That won't be a problem here."
"I say let him do it," Spencer voted. "The last thing you need, Carl, is for this to inadvertently go wrong, and provoke the wrath of not only Donna, but Grant, too."
"Ah, yes. Just thinking about your bumbling son shoots terror deep into my heart."
"You mess this up, and you'll have both Grant and I to contend with."
"Another palpitation," Carl sneered.
"Are you done posturing?" Lucas demanded bitterly. "While you two are tossing around hypotheticals, my daughter has already been victimized. She barely escaped with her life. No matter how much we want to protect our families, I'd prefer to keep the body count of innocent victims as low as possible."
"Donna killed my daughter," Carl reminded. "A girl you once considered your own."
"She is still my own," Lucas corrected.
"Donna is anything but innocent. If anyone deserves to feel the kind of pain that you and I "
"Donna, yes. But, Marley didn't do anything to you. The last time I checked, sleeping with a man you happen to dislike is not a death-penalty offense. You either let me handle this my way, or our deal is off."
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