"May I call you Rick?"
"Sure. All my friends... and ex-wives... call me that."
Mel smiled uncomfortably. "The excessive formality just felt a little awkward."
"As opposed to rest of these proceeding," Rick teased, still in the witness box. "They've been a laugh a minute."
"Thank you for your cooperation," Mel said stiffly, as she turned to her notes, skimming the text briefly before locating the exact quote. "You testified earlier that, unlike you and your wife, Mr. Todd's only interest in Hudson is to prove a political point?"
"I didn't say that was his only interest," Rick corrected. "But, all I know is, whenever GQ is asked why he wants Hudson, he starts talking about needing to be a stand up guy and taking responsibility, defying cliches, and teaching Hudson to appreciate who he is as a Black man."
"You don't believe any of that is important?"
"Not as important as seeing that Hudson grows up happy, healthy, decent, loving and secure. GQ keeps talking about what being a father means to him. How about what it might mean to Hudson?"
"What do you think it will mean to Hudson, when he grows up and finds out that he had a biological father who was ready, willing and able to step up and take care of him unlike his mother. But, that you wouldn't let him?"
Mindy inhaled sharply. She'd been asking herself pretty much the same thing since the day GQ first expressed his interest in custody. She knew she didn't have an answer for it. She wondered if Rick might.
"I will tell Hudson the same thing I've already told the court. Mindy and I were more fit to be his parents at this time than GQ was. GQ loved him. But, he had some of this own issues to work through, first."
"Issues? What issues? I don't remember a negative psychological evaluation being submitted into evidence?"
"Mr. Todd clearly has some serious chips on his shoulder regarding race relations and his resultant place in American society."
"So his concerns are groundless, then? He just made the whole thing up?"
"Of course not. I'm not completely oblivious. I know that no matter how many times we've been told we now live in a post-racial America hooray! Problem solved! that the message hasn't exactly permeated its way down to everyone."
"How do you know?" Mel challenged.
"You said you knew. I'm asking how. Some recent personal experience, perhaps?"
"You're under oath."
"I remember," he snapped. Then knowing what she was getting at, conceded, "My daughter, Leah. She told me a few months ago that, once in a while, she still gets comments like, "Bauer? You're a Bauer? How could you be a Bauer when you're..."
"Was your daughter, Leah, recommended for the school gifted program?"
"She was. She's brilliant. She takes after her mother," Rick said truthfully.
But Mel wasn't about to be deterred. "Did she want to do it?"
"Because. She would have been the only dark face in the program. She said it was bad enough being a girl and smart. A smart, Black girl meant being a minority within a minority within a minority, and she would prefer flying under the radar and just being a normal person."
"What did you tell your daughter when she expressed her concerns?"
Rick blushed in a combination of anger, embarrassment, and self-chastisement. "I told her she should do it anyway."
"Did you ever attempt to see the situation from her point of view? Did you sympathize? Or were you too busy dreaming of Ivy League diplomas and proud dad bragging rights?"
"I messed up," Rick admitted. "But, trust me, that was color-blind stupidity on my part."
"And yet you still affirm that Mr. Todd is being ridiculous when he postulates that there are issues he could help Hudson with, that you might not even understand?"
"How's Mr. Todd on Human Reproduction?"
"What?" Mel's head bobbed up. There was nothing in her notes to help with that.
"The fact that we're here, discussing a child Mr. Todd wasn't even aware was his and one that he's admitted was conceived by accident suggests that Human Reproduction isn't exactly his area of expertise. I'm a doctor. I give a Birds and Bees lecture like you wouldn't believe. What do you want to bet the fatherly advice I give Hudson will be a bit more useful in the grand scheme of things? More applicable, too."
In her seat, Mindy couldn't help grinning. Even Kevin allowed himself a tiny smile. He hadn't prepped Rick for that. That was all Bauer Power.
Mel, however, appeared less than delighted. For a moment the name 'Jude' or was that 'Peyton' looked ready to shoot out her mouth. But, she decided to stay on point. For now. "So Mr. Todd is just being oversensitive or flat-out lying when he says that a Black or biracial boy need a unique set of instructions on how to respond when a policeman pulls him over for no reason? Or a landlord is friendly as can be over the phone, but once you get there in person suddenly the place has already been rented out?"
"You weren't listening. I said earlier I realized there'd be people, including landlords and bosses and teachers..."
"Or what about the flip-side? What do you intend to tell Hudson when your son wants to know why he's being accused of acting white, because his grades are good and he speaks proper rather than colloquial English? Because I assure you, that will come up; no two ways about it."
"I'll tell him that, in the United States, people of all races, ethnicities, nationalities and religions have the constitutional right to be idiots. God Bless America. And you know what? I'll actually mean it. I'm sorry," Rick went on. "But, I just don't see how the parenting mistakes Mindy and I will inevitably make we know we'll make them, just like you'll make mistakes, and GQ will make mistakes, and even Supernanny has her off days will be any worse for Hudson than growing up with a father who constantly encourages him to look for the bad in people. Am I sounding Pollyanna-ish? Okay, then I'm sounding Pollyanna-ish. But, why arm a kid for war before you have to? Especially one that, God willing, might never come? I thought my bubble-wrap was bad? It only cut Leah off from things. GQ wants to cut Hudson off from people. He wants to make Hudson's decisions for him, form his opinions, and put him on the defensive. He says it's for his own good. But, damn it, look where that attitude has gotten GQ."
The two of them stared at each other, in stalemate, for one long, interminable beat.
And then Mel simply asked, "To your knowledge, did Grant Quinn Todd ever sign any documents relinquishing custody of his child, Hudson Lewis Bauer?"
"No," Rick seethed, knowing that he'd won.
And that he'd lost.
"Not now, Donna," Marley snapped the minute she walked through the door, Bridget and Michele in tow, only to have her mother descend on them in the entry hall.
"I've been waiting for you," Donna said.
"Alright, girls," Marley told her nieces brightly. "Upstairs, wash your hands, get ready for dinner. Be back down in a few minutes, you hear me? No detours to check your e-mail or make a call or send a text now."
They scurried off, Marley informing her mother, "Save it. Unless you want the girls to know just how dysfunctional their family really is. I thought we'd save it as a special treat for their high-school graduations. After all, you told me you were my mother and not my sister around that time. Don't know if I'll quite be able to match your panache, but I'll do my best."
"I'll be brief." Donna appeared in no mood to be put off. "And I'm pretty confident you won't want the girls to hear this."
Something in the tone of Donna's voice suggested she wasn't bluffing. Not this time. Despite feeling like she was being conned, Marley escorted her mother into the library, closing the doors behind them. She turned around, arms crossed, "What?"
"I saw John earlier," Donna began.
"Is he alright?"
"He's... dealing. Losing Gregory..."
Marley said. "I've only lost potential children up to this point. I can't even imagine what it might be like to have an actual child die."
"I can," Donna reminded softly.
"Don't," Marley warned. "Do not compare what you did to Jenna with what John is..."
"Do you blame me for Victoria's death, too?"
Marley faltered. "No. But, I do blame you for a great deal of her life."
"This isn't what I wanted to talk to you about."
"I'm sure it's not. Taking responsibility has never been your strong point."
"You're right," Donna agreed, much to Marley disorienting surprise. "I was just telling John about that."
"I'm sure John has nothing better to do than listen to your self-pitying litany."
"I told John, after I left the hospital, that I was going to focus less on thinking about myself, and more about what I can do for others."
"Spare me. No, really, Donna, that wasn't just a colorful idiom. Please spare me your concern. And your grandstanding."
She went on as if Marley hadn't spoken. Typical. Even when talking to her and allegedly about her, Marley's mother still somehow managed to turn it into a monologue. "I realized then, that the person most important to me in the world you, Marley I was letting you down."
"Why stop now? We've been on such a roll for forty years."
"And the reason I was doing it is precisely the reason I vowed to avoid. I'm doing it because I'm afraid."
"Of me?" Marley taunted. "That is a switch."
"I want to help you, Marley. But, I've been holding back due to fear. Fear of losing you completely. Talking to John helped me see how cowardly I was acting. If I truly intend to live up to my pledge, I need to do whatever it takes. Whatever it costs me."
"I can hear Bridget and Michele on the stairs," Marley lied. "Would you please just get to your point already?"
"I know that you were driving the car that hit Lorna and Morgan," Donna said simply.
So simply, in fact, that for a moment Marley couldn't believe she'd heard right. She must have imagined it. Her guilt was driving her to hallucinate; like that Hitchcock movie where the girl, after stabbing her would-be rapist, thought everyone around her was saying 'knife, knife, knife" over and over at breakfast. There could be no other explanation. She and Grant had been so careful. Even Carl had been fooled....
Unable to think of anything to say in response, Marley simply stared, dumbfounded, at Donna. Her mother met Marley's gaze, simultaneously defiant and apologetic.
"I know," she repeated softly.
"You don't know anything." Self-preservation kicked in faster than common sense. A part of Marley grasped that she was digging herself in deeper, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't do anything, really, except continue denying. The same way she'd been doing for months. It was, in an odd way, the only thing she still felt even partially sure of.
"We're here!" Bridget burst into the room, Michele right behind her. "What's for dinner?"
Marley and Donna exchanged fraught looks over the girls' heads. And then they both turned, in tandem, eerily similar smiles plastered across the dark and light of their faces, and headed off towards the dining room as if nothing had happened.
Because, in the end, that was what the Love women did best.
"You're up bright and early," Matt observed as Amanda stepped into the dining room, dressed for a board meeting, although devoid of make-up, and reached for the freshly brewed coffee-pot on the sideboard before the sun had even risen the next morning.
Amanda snorted, taking in Matt's own crumpled evening-wear and observed, "And I suppose you're all gussied up to go jogging and beat the crowds?"
He grinned, dipping the tip of his tongue briefly into his china cup, checking to see if the coffee had cooled down enough for him to try a sip. "Anyone I know?"
Needing to tell someone, Amanda confessed, part sheepish/part giddy, "Morgan Winthrop."
"Wow," Matt bobbed his head thoughtfully. "That's new."
"Not at all, thank goodness," she all but giggled. "How about you?"
"Hm," Amanda bit down on a jam-slathered croissant and gave his choice equal consideration. "Pretty."
"And indefatigable," her brother appended.
"Is that a good thing?"
"Under the right circumstances." He winked.
Amanda sat down beside Matt, ruffling his hair with her free hand even as he jerked away, still annoyed by the belittlement after all these years. You'd think he'd have gotten used to it by now. Or at least learned to fake it. "Aren't we related in some way?"
"No more than you and Winthrop. Let's see... His ex-wife is having our brother's baby."
"Jeanne's father is our nephew's uncle."
"Yup," Amanda confirmed. "Just another day in the Bay City dating pool." She slipped a linen napkin across her lap and inquired, "What about you two? Serious?"
"No. Just fun. It's been a hell of a long time since I've had some fun."
"True. You do have a tendency to fall in love with your bed-partners. That or marry them."
"Sometimes even both at the same time!"
"You don't have to rub it in."
"Oh, I think I do. My baby brother has finally learned to sleep around! How adorable."
"What about you, Ms. I Married the First Guy I Slept With?"
"Hey, at least I cheated on him."
"That's an incredible accomplishment, Amanda. I can see why you'd be proud."
"Shut up," she punched his shoulder.
"And, for the record, I cheated on Jenna with Lorna. And on Sofia with Lila."
"And you're still kicking yourself over both."
"I don't like hurting people," he sighed, suddenly exhausted despite the coffee.
"I know," Amanda told him sincerely, this time stroking his hair with affection. "That's why I think this is exactly what you need at this stage of your life. A fling with Jeanne isn't hurting anyone. And you do deserve some fun after the ringer Donna put you through."
"I realize Mac was devoted to Mom for most of the time that we knew him periodic separations and divorces aside but, he had some past before she came along; ask Iris way she tells it, Mac was constantly gallivanting around the world, a beautiful woman in every port. You'd think, as part of his fatherly duties, he'd have filled the two of us in on how much fun casual affairs can be. Look at all the time we've wasted!"
"There you go," Amanda agreed. "Everyone believes Daddy was perfect. We've sussed out his sole flaw!"
"I really wish he were still here," Matt swallowed the by now lukewarm coffee.
"You know what else I wish?"
"That, even if it ends up being only for a little while, you could, just once, experience a relationship like the one Mom and Dad had?"
"How'd you guess?"
"What else is worth wishing for?"
"If I didn't know better," Rachel came up behind them, steeling herself not to cry through sheer force of will. "I'd suspect this scene was deliberately staged for my benefit."
"Morning, Mom." Amanda and Matt exchanged guilty glances, realizing exactly what they looked like. Content to share the less than savory details of their late-night conquests with a co-conspirator sibling, less keen to do so around their mother.
Rachel, for her part, utterly ignored the sight of her son and daughter eating breakfast at dawn while still dressed for the evening before to continue, "However, seeing as how none of us expected to meet like this, especially at this hour, I am going to presume the tribute to myself and your father was purely spontaneous. And thus all the more meaningful." She confided to Matt and Amanda, "I miss him, too. Every day."
Matt stood up awkwardly, kissing his mother on the cheek and, in the same breath, excusing himself.
"Coward," Amanda mumbled as he brushed by her, wishing with all her might that she'd thought to escape first. "I'd better get going, also," she began, only to have Rachel reach out with one arm and gently stop her.
"Actually, darling, I've been meaning to speak with you. Now is as good of a time as any."
"I really need to get to work."
"You're the boss, Amanda. When your name is on the masthead, you can be a few minutes late. I used to be married to a publisher, remember?"
With a sigh of frustration, Amanda sat back down. "What is it, Mom?"
"It's about Allie."
Petulance gone, Amanda leaned forward. "Have you heard from her? Where is she? Is she alright? Is she ready to come home?"
"No," Rachel said. "I haven't. I don't know how she is. I can only hope "
"Then what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about this past fall. When Allie, and Steven, too, were facing a jail sentence. It killed me not to be able to do anything to help them."
"It killed all of us, Mom. But, that's over with. Why bring it up now?"
"I just wanted you to remember how desperate we all felt then. I think it might help you to understand why, when I saw a chance to protect my grandchildren, I took it."
"You're not making any sense."
"Lila didn't call the police about Alice, Amanda." Rachel looked her daughter in the eye. "I did."
"Room service!" Sarah chirped as, carrying a bag of groceries, she let herself into her dorm at BCU, to find Allie sitting on the bed, staring at the wall, pretty much where she'd left her almost forty-eight hours ago. Sarah set down the food and offered, "Thought you might need a restocking of provisions." She bent over to open the mini-fridge beneath the microwave, surveyed the slowly rotting contents and observed, "Or not." Sarah straightened up, hands on her hips. "Listen, Al, you got to eat."
"I did. I will." Allie turned her head slowly, as if she were operating on a time-delay from everyone else. "Thanks for letting me crash here."
"Anytime, you know that. Though your family is going kind of nuts, worrying about you. Your mom texts me, like, every twenty minutes. I keep telling her you're okay. Am I lying, Allie?"
"I'm okay," she insisted.
"Then why the hibernation routine?"
"I just don't feel like talking to anybody. Or seeing anybody." She asked, "Has the judge made her decision about Hudson yet?"
Sarah shook her head. "Amanda said closing arguments were yesterday afternoon. Now everybody just waits, I guess."
"They must all hate me, huh?"
"Maybe. But, I don't think that's what's bugging you. Fact is," Sarah plopped down next to her. "I think it's kind of the opposite."
Allie didn't even bother pretending not to understand what her friend meant. "He said he loved me, Sarah."
"He did. I heard him."
"I wanted to believe it. But, I didn't think it was true."
"Do you think it's true now?"
Allie shrugged. "Maybe it was just to look good in front of the judge. And, anyway, he was talking about the past. He's with Jen now."
"Yeah, I wouldn't be so sure about that."
"Why? What happened?"
"He " A knock on the door cut Sarah off.
"Did you tell anyone I was here?" Allie jumped back, as if putting more distance between herself and whoever it was.
"No. I told you I wouldn't."
"And you're supposed to be living at Marley's, so who..."
Sarah stood up and crept to the door, peeking through the peephole. She turned around and whispered, "It's GQ."
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