"Hi." Marley tentatively offered once Jamie opened his front door to find her there.
"Hi," he replied after a moment's hesitation in a tone that just barely tipped the scales in favor of polite.
Jamie silently stepped aside and let her come in. Not exactly an engraved invitation, but still better than the slam in her face Marley had been half-expecting.
"I can't tell you how thrilled Grant and I were," she ventured cautiously. "When Kirkland told us Lorna and the baby were going to be alright. I'm so happy for you, Jamie. For you and Lorna."
A cordial smile, followed by a distant, maddeningly patient stare. "Thanks." And absolutely nothing else.
"I'm sorry," Marley whispered, breaking, pleading. "I'm sorry, okay? What I said before... at the hospital..."
"Forgotten," Jamie clipped to cut her off.
"Obviously not," Marley countered. "I know when you're angry. I especially know when you're angry with me. I'm trying to apologize."
"Why?" Marley frowned at Jamie's question. "Because I know what I said upset you, which was the last thing you needed or I intended at that moment."
"And yet you still said it."
"Yes, because at the time... It doesn't matter."
"It does to me," Jamie pressed, hesitating, taking a breath, debating before finally saying, "Look, I know that ever since... ever since we went our separate ways, things haven't been the same. We say that we're friends "
"We are friends," Marley asserted even as Jamie gave her a pained, knowing look. Her eyes began to burn with angry tears as she felt something inside her agree with him.
"We say we are, we pretend we are, we want to still believe that we are but "
"I think too much has happened, too much has changed," he completed his thought.
Ah, there was the blow Marley had been expecting. Not absent at all, just a little late.
"No. No, Jamie. What I said It wasn't... it wasn't about getting back at you or Lorna, or me trying to drive a wedge between the two of you. I-I just didn't want to see you get hurt again. You're important to me, Jamie. You always will be. I thought... I thought I was doing the right thing by telling you. That's it. I swear."
"I don't believe you," he said simply. "I don't trust you anymore. I'm sorry, Marley."
"Don't be sorry, tell me what to do! Tell me what I can do to prove to you that I "
"I think we both need to take a step back. Be honest with how things are now... really try to figure out how we fit in each other's lives. If we even still want that."
"I want it. Are you saying you don't? Or is it Lorna? I know what this is. You want me gone because I won't let you forget what Lorna did to you. How she lied to you."
"That is not what this is."
"How did she explain her lies about Morgan? About why she hid her marriage and the baby from you?"
"That's none of your business."
"Of course not. You want to continue to be in denial about whom you're with and what she's capable of, indulging some fantasy of your new, perfect, little family. Didn't you accuse me once of using you in exactly the same way that Lorna is using you now? Shoving you into the role of doting husband and father whether you liked it or not?"
"Don't go there, Marley. For your sake. Don't."
"You're pathetic," she lobbed at him angrily. "Pathetic and stupid and blind! That woman is going to break your heart. And rob you blind. Mark my words."
Jamie didn't move, content to let her have the last word if it meant that really would be the last word either of them ever said on the subject.
"I'll go get the girls," he offered. "So you can take them home."
"What?" Marley felt like her head had been spun around one hundred and eighty degrees. "What girls? My girls?"
"Bridget and Michele. They came with Jasmine to visit Lorna. I assumed that's why you were here."
"My girls are here?" she repeated. "Visiting Lorna?"
"Seriously, Michele?" Jasmine, hands on hips, furrowed her brow in disbelief. "Justin Bieber?"
"What?" Michele defended as Bridget looked on, no dog in this fight. "He's really good."
Jasmine hooted. "At styling his hair, maybe. That boy uses more product than my Mama and that's saying something."
"So? Just because he takes care to look nice doesn't mean he isn't talented."
"Do you even know what real music sounds like?" Jasmine snuck a 'can you believe this?' eye-roll at Lorna, who was watching the entire exchange like a tennis match. And all but taking notes.
"Okay, guys, we've gotten off-topic here," Sarah jumped in from the sidelines before Michele could follow through with tackling Jasmine in the name of protecting Justin Bieber's honor. "You're supposed to be easing Ms. Devon's mind about having a little girl of her own. Not freaking her out more."
Jasmine stood down from her stare-off with Michele, casting an apologetic look at Lorna. "Oops. Sorry."
"No, no," Lorna reassured. "This is great. I feel more prepared and terrified already."
"You'll be fine," Jasmine patted Lorna's hand with a seriousness that might have been funny, if she also weren't so adorably sincere about it. "You're awesome. That means you'll make an awesome mom."
Lorna was all ready with a sarcastic retort, but found herself sitting helpless in the face of the child's inarguable sweetness. "Thank you, Jazz. That means a lot to me."
Jamie knocked on the doorframe to announce his arrival. "Sorry to interrupt, tutors, but we're going to have to wrap this up. Aunt Marley's downstairs."
That explains the Suppressed Frame Face of Fury (TM), Lorna thought silently. She tried to catch Jamie's eye, hoping to give him a reassuring smile, but he was too busy ushering Bridget and Michele towards the door.
"I was going to take them home later, Dr. Frame," Sarah offered, puzzled. "Tell Marley she doesn't have to "
"She has to," Jamie corrected Sarah meaningfully. "Marley wants the girls home right now. She said she'd give Jasmine a lift, too. And that you're free to take the afternoon off."
"Oh," Sarah gulped, understanding that she was in deep trouble. And that now wasn't the time to get into it. "Okay. I... will. See you later, Midget."
"But I still have so much material to go over with Lorna!" Jasmine waved her neatly printed list. "Dolls: Baby versus lifestyle aspiration models. Also charm bracelets, and how to know when you've gone overboard with the color pink that's super-important."
"We can save that for next time," Lorna coaxed. "You ladies have given me a lot of food for thought. Don't want to make my brain explode." Lorna winced as five pairs of eyes turned to her in sudden silence. "Too soon?" she asked sheepishly.
"A little," Jamie drawled.
It was Jasmine who took Lorna to task, informing her, "That wasn't funny. You really scared us when you were sick. Don't do it again, okay?"
Lorna didn't know whether it was pregnancy hormones, an allergy flare-up, or the way Jasmine was looking at her with those huge, soulful pupils, but damned if Lorna didn't feel her own eyes burning.
So it was finally beginning. Her going soft.
It wasn't nearly as bad as Lorna had feared.
"Never again. I promise," Lorna struggled not to melt into a sobbing puddle as Jasmine wrapped her arms around as much of Lorna as a second-trimester baby bump would allow.
"Thanks for bringing them," Lorna told Sarah as soon as the girls had followed Jamie out the door. "Sorry it got you into trouble with Marley."
Sarah shrugged. "I'll handle it."
"Don't feel obliged to stay. You don't need to entertain me."
"I " Sarah hesitated, glancing over her shoulder, checking to see that they wouldn't be overheard. "Actually, I... do you think... maybe.... Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Dr. Bauer," Kevin gestured for Rick to direct his answers to the judge. "Can you tell us why you're the one testifying today, rather than your wife?"
Rick smiled affectionately at Mindy. "She's afraid she'll burst into tears as soon as you ask her name."
Mindy tried to smile back, but it seemed the tears she'd meant to hold at bay had other ideas. She sniffled instead and sat up ramrod straight, hoping to at least demonstrate balanced posture, if not emotions. The last thing they needed was to lose Hudson because the judge decided Mindy was nuts.
Kevin said, "I don't think anyone in this room fails to realize just how much you and Mrs. Bauer love Hudson."
"He's our son," Rick stated matter-of-factly.
"And you would like him to stay your son?"
"Despite the fact that Hudson has a biological father interested in raising him?"
"So Mr. Todd's rights don't concern you?"
"Hudson's rights concern me more."
"And what would those be, in your opinion?"
"The right to feel secure. The right to believe that the world isn't some unpredictable, out of control, scary place, where you can go to sleep in one house, with one set of parents and siblings, and wake up in another, with no idea what happened to you or what might happen down the line. Even GQ can't claim he thinks that kind of upheaval would be good for Hudson."
"Objection," Mel reminded. "Mr. Todd never said he thinks it would be good for Hudson. Our position, however, is that children adjust to a variety of circumstances. With the right support, so will he. We also maintain that the sooner this transition is undertaken, the better. Dr. and Mrs. Bauer are only making matters worse for this boy that they claim to love."
"Dr. Bauer," Kevin went on. "Why do you contend that Hudson would be better off with you and your wife than with GQ Todd?"
"We're married. We're older. We're settled. We know what it means to be parents in general, and to Hudson in particular. We've been doing it for almost a year now. GQ is single. He's young, inexperienced. He's unemployed. My understanding is he only came to Bay City to complete his Ph.D. That's a very time-consuming endeavor. How does he plan to juggle both? Not to mention fit in a young man's social life? Is Hudson going to spend the bulk of his time with baby-sitters? How's that in his best interest?"
Mel interrupted, "Would Her Honor order the witness to answer Mr. Fowler's questions instead of making up ones of his own."
"Sorry," Rick said, before the judge could speak up. "I just... I - I love him, you know?"
"We know," the judge sympathized.
Kevin hesitated, and then he posed the query he knew he was obliged to if Kevin had any hope of controlling the outcome. "Dr. Bauer, you have gone on the record as saying you believe Hudson's life will be easier if he is raised as a white man rather than a Black one."
"It probably would be," Rick said, with no trace of discomfiture. "When my daughter, Leah, was just learning how to walk, I was so afraid she'd fall down and hurt herself, I practically padded our entire house in bubble-wrap. I baby-proofed all the outlets, the stove, the toilet, the hot water faucets on every sink, even ones she couldn't reach yet. We could barely open anything until Leah went to Kindergarten."
In her seat, Mel smiled just the slightest bit at the memory. He wasn't exaggerating.
Kevin added, "When I was teaching my daughter to ride a bike, I'd run ahead of her in Central Park and kick loose sticks out of the way so she wouldn't stumble."
"Everybody wants to protect their kids," Rick said. "We want to make their lives easier, shove the pitfalls out of their way. The idea that anything or anyone would deliberately hurt them... I've almost lost it on the playground when another kid kicked sand into Hudson's eyes. I once yelled at a department store saleslady for spraying perfume in our general direction because it scared Hudson and made him cry."
Mindy nodded from her seat. They weren't welcome at that particular store anymore.
"So, yes," Rick got to his point. "In a perfect world, I would want to cocoon my kids from anything that might harm or upset or even annoy them. And that includes ignorant people and teachers and employers who would say or do anything that might make them feel somehow degraded because of who they are."
"So your solution to that dilemma is simply to deny Hudson's Black heritage?"
"That was my initial impulse."
Mel frowned, utterly confused about where Kevin was going with this. He was making Mel's case for her. And there absolutely had to be a reason.
Rick went on, "But, the same way I couldn't keep Leah in bubble wrap forever or even for the short term; kids are these miniature Houdinis, who knew? I can't protect Hudson indefinitely, either. No matter how much I may want to. I understand that now. I was wrong to say he should be raised as only white. I apologize for that to anyone I may have offended. But, Mr. Todd was wrong, too. Hudson is so much more than this race or that race. He is, like my daughter pointed out, a member of the human race. We're not fighting over a possession, here. Or a political principle. This is a little boy we're talking about. And I'm sorry, I have seen no indication that Mr. Todd is, in fact, aware of that. He sees Hudson as a means to prove a point. Mindy and I just see him as our son."
"Well, you can ask," Lorna offered good-naturedly as Sarah hovered awkwardly at the foot of her bed. "I can't promise I'll give you an adequate answer. Sharing and bonding isn't exactly what I'm known for. It's one of the reasons Jamie decided I needed an intervention by twelve year olds. Sit down," she suggested. "Despite what you've heard, I don't bite. Unless provoked."
Sarah smiled weakly. "Not sure if I want to risk it."
"Suit yourself." Lorna shrugged, unoffended. "So. What can I do for you?"
Sarah hesitated, then blurted out, "You not telling Dr. Frame you were secretly married, that was a pretty big omission."
"Yes..." Lorna said cautiously. "It was. Not sure what it has to do with you, though."
"Nothing. Except that, well, I don't get it... I told Steven a little lie. You told Dr. Frame a really major one. And then everyone found out about it, too. But, he forgave you. And Steven won't give me the time of day."
"Ah." Lorna nodded thoughtfully.
"How did you do it, Ms. Devon? How did you get Dr. Frame to just totally ignore what you did?"
"First of all, call me Lorna." She gestured for Sarah to stop fidgeting and take a seat already. They'd passed the biting danger-point.
"Okay." She did as she was told. "Lorna."
"And second of all, Dr. Frame didn't ignore anything."
Sarah furrowed her brow. "But, he forgave you."
"That's a different issue. Dr. Frame chose to forgive me. And, by the way, I didn't do a lick to make it happen. Except fall in love with the most incredible man on the planet."
"Well, do you think it could be genetic? A latent trait? Like, maybe, if I went after Steven, and tried to make him see that "
"You're perfect for each other?"
"But, we are; we really are."
"I'm not a big fan of chasing a guy who's made it clear he's uninterested. Not because I've never done it myself, but because I've never seen it work out. Not in the long-run."
"Have you ever seen anything work out in the long-run?"
"You're very cynical for your age," Lorna observed.
"I'm not looking for happily ever after. I don't even believe in that. I just..."
"Don't like being dumped?"
"Yeah," Sarah conceded. "I'm kind of more used to things ending on my terms."
"So that's why you want Steven back? So you can be the one to dump him?"
"No," Sarah said. Then, "Not just for that. I really did like him. We had fun together. Once you get past the self-important, blowhard posturing, he's a sweet guy. And, the other thing is, I-I especially liked the Sarah he fell in love with, instead of the one I really was, you know?"
"Yes..." Lorna said, suddenly looking at Sarah in a completely new way.
"What?" She pulled a strand of hair around her shoulder self-consciously.
"Nothing," Lorna reassured. "It's just... I feel like I'm peering into a very old mirror. Well, if I were honest, not that old, at all."
"But, that's why I came to you. I thought you might be able to help me out. At least offer me a couple tips."
"You wouldn't listen to them," Lorna said, utterly non-judgmental, merely resigned and more than a little bit reflective. "You're going to do what you want. You're going to make your own mistakes and draw your own conclusions."
"Actually, I was kind of hoping to circumvent that last part by coming to you. See, me, I'm not a big fan of making mistakes; no matter how character-building they might be. My mom used to tell me that's why I'd never be a great dancer, because I wasn't willing to try new things and risk looking foolish to start. Not that I cared about becoming a great dancer. Or anything my mom said. Honestly, Ms. Dev Lorna, you have no idea how good I am at taking direction. Just tell me. I'll do whatever you say."
"No. Because then it wouldn't be you dating Steven. It would be me dating Steven. And considering who his dad is and who I hope to be to him soon, that would be very, very disturbing on multiple levels."
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Besides, isn't that how your problems with him started? Jamie filled me in a little. Wasn't Steven upset because you pretended to be someone you weren't?"
"No. Steven was upset because I didn't do a good enough job covering up the fact that I was pretending to be someone I wasn't. I thought maybe once you explained how I could get him to forgive me for that, I could give it another shot, and do it better this time."
"It doesn't work that way, I'm afraid," Lorna confided, sympathetic.
"So how does it work, then?"
"Beats me. I told you upfront: I'm no good at this advice thing. I'm the last person anyone should turn to about anything. All I can tell you and this is from experience, nothing else; we haven't gone to clinical trials is that your best bet is to stay patient and keep waiting."
"For a man who will look at you and through you, and who will see exactly who you are, no facades, no pretense, no games. He's going to understand and accept everything about you, the good and the bad, and even the stuff you're afraid to admit is there. And then, as Steven might put it, he's going to think they're a feature, not a bug."
"I don't believe you," Sarah said, the conflict on her face indicating just how badly she wanted to do precisely that.
"That's okay. Some days, I can barely believe it myself."
"Kirkland hit Lorna and Morgan," Frankie sighed to Cass. "I honestly think he'd like to come forward, but he's afraid of getting Grant into trouble over covering it up. He said as much to me. He won't make things worse by hurting someone else."
"Jesus Christ," Cass marveled. "Is there a depth Grant won't sink to?"
"It's his son," Frankie offered sympathetically. "Are you saying you wouldn't have done the same thing?"
"I may have helped my kid out, but I certainly wouldn't have flipped the situation and put the onus for protecting us both on him! How can Grant ever look Lorna or Jamie in the eye again? How can he expect Kirkland to? Does he understand the position he's put that boy in? The poor kid...."
"I tried to explain, convince Kirk it would be better in the long run for everyone if he just confessed. It's so unfair what Grant is asking of him. It's a life sentence!"
"So what do we do now?" Cass wondered.
"I don't know. It does explain why Grant was willing to sacrifice Lila. He does care about her. But, Kirkland trumps everything. I say we tell Lila what we dug up, and let her take it from here."
"Passing the buck, Mary Frances? That's not like you."
"We were hired to find out who hit Lorna and Morgan. The rest isn't up to us."
"It could be," Cass said.
"What do you mean?"
"Do we really want to do this? Ruin a teen-ager life?"
"He almost took a life, Cass. You know how close Lorna came to dying. And the baby... quite frankly, who knows what might still happen to the baby?"
"Would Kirkland going to jail help any of that?"
"Now you sound like him. Kirk insisted that because Lorna was fine, his taking the blame wouldn't do anybody any good."
Cass covered his face with both hands, taking a deep breath before he reminded Frankie, "I took a life. Yes, it was by accident. But, it was certainly entered into with a great deal more malice than Kirkland's monetary lapse in judgment."
"Wait a minute. You can't compare..."
"Why not? Why can't I? I didn't mean to kill Cecile, and yet I did. I didn't mean for Jamie to suffer the consequences, and yet I certainly didn't step up while he was on trial, did I? Let's lay our cards on the table, Frankie. Without you figuring it out, without you insisting on my taking the blame, I probably would have kept it secret forever. And I'm an adult. I should know better, supposedly."
"So? What? You want us to just ignore what we've uncovered?"
"I don't deserve to be out of prison. I caught a lucky break through, basically, no effort of my own. Dumb luck! Maybe the thing to do is pay it forward."
"Okay," Frankie was willing to play along for the sake argument. "What then, are we supposed to tell Lila and Morgan?"
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