“The pair of you certainly wasted no time moving on, now did you?” Felicia looked from Lucas to Alice as she noted, “At least Mrs. Harrison here waited until Spencer was neatly tucked away in his grave, albeit the body still warm. You, Luke, you haven’t even gotten a corpus to habeas, and yet here you two are, how cozy.”
“Fanny…” Lucas hissed while sneaking an apologetic peek at Alice.
Who appeared the most nonplussed of them all by this turn of events.
She smiled reassuringly at Lucas, then rose gracefully from her chair, slinging her purse over one shoulder as she turned towards the exit. Alice told Felicia, “I’ve been party to plenty such scenes over the years. I have no interest in reliving the experience. Thank you for your kind invitation, Lucas. Perhaps we could do it another time. Have a lovely rest of your afternoon, Ms. Gallant.”
Both of Lorna’s parents watched Jamie’s stepmother leave, mutually thrown by her serene response. It was only once Alice had exited that Lucas regained his faculties enough to demand, “Was that really necessary?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“You could,” Lucas agreed. “Except it wouldn’t make any sense.”
“I was under the impression that we were taking some time apart in an attempt to work through our problems. Not so that you could date. I thought Carl marrying Mac Cory’s widow was on the kinky and twisted side. But, you and Spencer’s wife…”
“Were having lunch. Period. She’s practically Lorna’s mother-in-law.”
“And I’m Lorna’s mother. A hell lot of good that’s done me.”
At the sight of Felicia’s obvious pain, Lucas instantly melted, setting aside her earlier behavior to predict, “She’ll come around.”
Lucas ignored her admittedly truthful observation in favor of reminding, “You and Lorna have tried to freeze each other out before. It never works for long.”
“It’s different this time,” Felicia confessed. “Do you know what she said to me, Luke? Our daughter looked me in the eye and said that what I tried to do to her and Devon was the same thing my stepfather did to her and me. What do you think of that?”
“Don’t tell me you agree with her!” She leapt on Lucas when he didn’t reply fast enough.
“I think…” he chose each word with exquisite care. “That Lorna has just cause to be angry with you.”
“She didn’t want to leave Devon alone with me.” Felicia choked furiously on the recalled humiliation. “She acted like she thought I was a danger to her child!”
“Lorna has a flair for the dramatic,” Lucas said calmly, attempting to reel Felicia back in. “Not unlike her mother.”
“I could have cut Lorna out, too. After everything she did to Jenna, after the way she treated me, I had every right to turn my back on her. But, I didn’t. Because she was my daughter. And that was a hell of a lot more important than holding petty grudges.”
“You didn’t come to that decision overnight,” Lucas reminded. “You and Jenna and I all certainly took our time bringing Lorna into the family fold. How about extending her the same courtesy?”
“Things were different then. We were strangers to each other. We didn’t have twenty years of being a family. Not like now.”
Lucas pleaded. “Fanny, please. The world can’t turn on your schedule, no matter how much you might like it to. Give us all some more time.”
“To do what?” Felicia glared at the spot occupied by Alice only moments earlier. Her implication crystal clear.
“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you…” Grant began, standing awkwardly in Marley’s hospital room, unsure of precisely what to do or how to behave now that he’d finally been given permission to see her again.
“Oh, no, no,” she spoke even quicker than usual in an attempt to cover up her own nervousness, succeeding only in making it more apparent. “Please… don’t… I heard about Kirkland. That happened at right around the same time I called, didn’t it? You must have been going out of your mind with worry. So have I. How is he?”
“Poised to make a complete recovery, I’ve been told.”
“Thank goodness. What you must have been going through these past few days…”
“Why did you reach out to me, Marley?” Grant cut through the chit-chat, needing to hear her answer before he could go on.
“I missed you,” she said softly.
“I wanted to visit. I tried, over and over again. Bribes, threats, flattery. You’d made it clear I was persona non-grata. When they took you away at the airport, you wouldn’t even look at me.”
He swallowed hard. “Do you really hate me that much?”
“No!” The words exploded out of Marley’s throat and she lunged for Grant, stopping only inches from him, realizing any kind of physical contact would be too much at this point. “I don’t hate you, Grant.”
“Then why? Why would you treat me like this? What did I ever do to warrant being cast out like some prodigal son who’d committed one infraction too many?”
“You… you loved me.”
“And that’s a crime now?”
“No one ever loved me the way you did. No one ever accepted me and supported me and built me up the way you did. You recognized my flaws, but you didn’t see a need to point them out to me over and over, like I was a charity project you’d taken on. You told me I was beautiful and desirable and special. Isn’t it ironic? You, of all people? You’re the one who, in the end, didn’t constantly make me feel like a pale imitation of Vicky. You helped me believe I could be my own person. That I didn’t need anybody else. Not Jamie, not Vicky’s kids, not Donna, not – “
Marley said, “I was so afraid I’d lost you.”
“Banning a man from your sight does have that effect on occasion.”
“Not now. Not here. Months ago. At the airport with the girls. When you offered to trade Jamie custody of Kirkland if only he and Lorna wouldn’t press charges against me.”
“Why would you think – “
“I drove you to that! I drove you to give up your son! How could you not hate me? How could you even bear to look at me, after?”
“I did it for you, Marley!”
“In the heat of the moment, sure! I was certain once you’d had time to cool down, to reflect on what’d happened, you’d blame me for forcing your hand, for costing you the one thing you ever wanted.”
“You are not responsible for my decisions.”
“I know,” she agreed. “Finally, at long last, I know. It’s what I needed to check myself in here to discover. I am responsible for my own actions, no one else’s. I can’t go on blaming myself for things you did, or things Donna did, or Vicky or Jake. And I can’t go on blaming other people for my mistakes, either. I didn’t intend to hurt Lorna or Jamie’s baby. I did, though. And I deserved to be punished for it. But, that’s where it ends. My crimes are my own. Other people’s are theirs. That’s what I called to tell you. New Year’s Day. It seemed appropriate. Fresh start and all. I wanted to apologize for how I treated you. And to tell you that I’m better. That I can stand on my own feet now. You don’t have to keep propping me up anymore, Grant. I don’t need you anymore.”
“Oh,” he said.
“But, I do want you. Desperately.”
“I want you back,” Marley told him, tentatively wrapping her arms around Grant’s neck. “I understand I don’t deserve it. And I completely understand if you don’t feel the same way anymore. I’d say I was sorry for everything I put you through, but, I’m not sorry. Because everything we’ve been through brought me to this place, where I can love you openly and honestly. Being here has helped me figure out what – and who – I want in my life. No more arm’s length, Grant. No more accusing you of ulterior motives or using you to fight my battles. No more pining away for what might have been, or what I can’t have. Those days are gone, and they are never coming back. You’re who I want to be with. I know that as surely as I know anything. The only thing I don’t know is whether or not you still want me?”
“Morgan agreed to do Ike’s surgery,” Kevin told Amanda off-handedly over dinner, as if he were merely asking her to pass the salt.
“You went to Morgan?” she set down her spoon with a clank.
“Why Morgan? He’s hardly the only surgeon at the hospital.”
“No. But, he is the best one.”
“Why Morgan?” Amanda repeated, a bit more insistently.
“Because. I suspected that, like Chase Hamilton, Dr. Winthrop might be moved to do me a favor. And it’s all for a good cause. Helping a sick, little boy.”
“In other words, you pimped me out. In the name of helping a sick, little boy.”
“How do you figure?” Kevin asked in his best lawyer voice.
“You used me – “
“Actually, Morgan brought the subject up first.”
“He did?” Amanda couldn’t hide her pleasure.
“Yes.” Whatever Kevin was feeling, he managed to hide quite well.
“What… what did he say?”
“He asked if I was there to deliver an Alienation of Affections subpoena.”
“He wishes,” Amanda snorted, before quickly collecting herself to tell Kevin, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Morgan can be a pain.”
“It’s fine. I told you, I used it to get what I wanted. Which is not,” he cut Amanda off. “The same as pimping you out.”
“You’re right,” she conceded. Then added, “I’m proud of you, going to bat for this boy. It reminds me of why I fell in love with you in the first place. How passionate you are about serving your clients, helping all those kids who don’t have anybody else in their corner. I remember how worried you were about Lori Ann when she was in surgery.”
“That’s actually something I’d like to talk to you about.” Kevin set down his fork and leaned back in his chair, taking a deep breath. “The last couple of weeks, while setting the ducks in a row for his surgery, I’ve spent a lot of time with Ike. He is a great little guy. Sweet and funny and happy and, let’s just say you don’t know what lights up a room means, until you’ve watched Ike barrel into one, head-first. His operation is scheduled for the end of the month. Assuming everything goes well, he should be up and about in a couple of days – modern medicine is really miraculous. And then… then, I’d like to adopt him, Amanda.”
“I called Jen to come join us for a bit,” GQ filled Steven in as he spotted his girlfriend across the crowded campus bar’s dance-floor, and stood up to wave her over. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” Steven shrugged, nonchalant, taking a sip of his beer. A nice, long one.
Jen wound her way through the throng and towards their table, bending over to kiss GQ, seemingly not noticing Steven there at all, needing to raise her voice to ask, “I got your message. What’s the big news?”
GQ pulled out a chair for Jen, then held up his own beer in a toast. “We’re done! Steven and I wrote the last line of code an hour ago!”
“And it worked?” was Jen’s immediate question, prompting a smile from Steven, which he instantly suppressed.
“GQ wouldn’t let us test it,” Steven told a spot above Jen’s ear. “He said there was plenty of time for that. Tonight, we’re just going to celebrate finishing Step #1.”
“Of course it won’t work perfectly,” GQ insisted on clicking his glass against Steven’s in any case. “But, why pass up a chance to kick back and have a couple of drinks in the meantime? We worked our asses off just to get this far.”
“Congratulations,” Jen said. “That’s quite an achievement.”
“Oh, yeah? How long did it take you to write your Master’s?” Steven teased.
“Well…” she demurred. “I didn’t… I didn’t have as much outside stuff going on as you two do.”
“Fighting for custody of your kid, helping your cousin’s boyfriend die, your dad being accused of murder, your aunt trying to kidnap your sisters, and your brother deciding to wrap his car around a pole does cut into a guy’s productivity.” Steven dismissed. “But, come on, ‘fess up, what’d it take you? A weekend?”
“At least two,” she protested, as Steven and GQ broke out laughing.
“Jen’s one in a million,” GQ beamed at his girlfriend.
“Means there are six thousand people on earth exactly like me,” she shot back.
Steven shook his head, downing the remainder of his beer. “Doubt it.”
Neither Jen nor GQ were particularly certain how to reply to that. So GQ changed the subject, setting down his empty glass and apologizing, “I hate to drink and run, but, I’ve got to drink… and run.”
“Right,” Jen said. “You’re going up to Springfield tonight, I remember.”
“The Bauers have some hospital function to attend, asked if I wanted to baby-sit Hudson,” GQ explained to Steven. “Another reason why I really pushed to get the code done first.”
“You’re driving, what? close to four hours roundtrip so you can hang out with a kid for a few minutes before he goes to bed?” Steven asked, incredulous.
“When it’s your kid,” GQ reassured Steven. “You’ll understand.” He kissed Jen good-bye. “Call you in the morning?”
“I’ll see you later.” She kissed him back as quickly as possible, gyrating her head into an impossibly uncomfortable position, all to make sure she blocked Steven’s view.
GQ raised his hand, waving to both of them, then dove into the crowd, fighting his way towards the door. Jen and Steven both watched him go. It gave them something to do, rather than look at each other.
“So,” he finally said, once that particular activity had run its course. And then some. “Situation… normal?”
It was an innocent inquiry, except that it also simultaneously managed to be geeky (an obscure Star Wars reference)… and taunting.
“Yes,” was all Jen had to say to that. “Perfectly normal.”
“That’s how we like it, right?”
Steven knew a brush off when he got one. “Good. Really good, Dad says. Should be coming home in a few days.”
“Dumb, stupid kid,” Steven tapped the table with both hands, as if drumming. “What was he thinking? I’d have never…”
“Me neither. I had a perfect driving record when I was his age. I have a perfect driving record now,” Jen counted off. “Never been in the hospital. Never broken a bone. Never even gotten a cavity, believe it or not.”
“One in a million,” Steven reminded.
“Can’t help feeling I’m missing something,” she admitted somewhat wistfully. “Some life experience….
“You’re not,” Steven nipped her train of thought in the bud. “Kirkland’s been a human pincushion since he was a kid. Got hit by a car our aunt was driving, aneurysm in his brain, allergy to antibiotics, now this. Trust me, that’s not a club you want to join. For one thing, it hurts like hell. I’ve broken a bone or two in my day – nothing as extreme as Kirkland, but enough to know I don’t go looking for trouble. And it drives the people who love you over the edge. Look at what my Dad went through when Lorna was in a coma. That really a life experience you want to have? Or one you want your dad – or GQ – to have?”
“So you don’t believe that a life of the mind is inferior to experiential – “
“Look around you, Jen. Bay City is Ground Zero for people who live their lives without so much as a glimmer of a coherent thought. The dumb stuff done by the citizens of this town could have kept Dickens busy writing stories for forty-five years. If even one-third of the people we know had stopped and considered their actions before leaping without looking, calculate how much easier their lives – and ours – would be now.”
“You’ve clearly crunched your numbers,” Jen couldn’t help smiling.
“I like my life of the mind, thank you very much.”
She cocked her head to one side, studying him as if for the first time. “You really are something.”
“About time you figured it out.”
“Oh. I’ve known it for a while.”
“Yeah?” Steven had been striving for flip. What he got was hoarse, as all the liquid in his mouth suddenly dried up.
“Yeah,” Jen said. Just before unexpectedly blinking her eyes several times, taken aback by the onset of blurring vision. Dizzy, she brought her thumb and forefinger up to her nose, squeezing the bridge.
“Hey, you okay?” Steven half-leaned over the table, reaching for her.
“I’m fine,” Jen waved for him to sit back down. “I’m fine,” she insisted.
And promptly fainted.
“If Father goes,” Elizabeth crossed her arms, glaring defiantly from Carl to Cory to Rachel. “Then I’m going with him.”
She stuck out her chin, the gesture a carbon copy of not only her mother, but Amanda, as well. Clearly, Elizabeth was spoiling for a fight.
Which was why she felt strangely disappointed as soon as Rachel nodded her head and said, “Alright.”
“What?” Carl and Elizabeth appeared equally shocked by the acquiescence.
“If you’d like to go with your father, you may.”
“What I’d like,” Elizabeth stood determined to get her brawl, no matter what. “Is to stay here. With Father.”
“I’d like that, too. And I intend to do everything in my power to make that happen as soon as possible.”
“In that case, all you have to do is not give in to Jamie, Amanda and Matt’s blackmail.”
Carl smiled at his daughter’s staunch defense of him. Then quickly hid it, off Rachel’s warning look.
She told her younger children, “Your brothers and sister are not blackmailing me. They are upset over what happened with your father and Spencer Harrison, and Kirkland.”
“Cory was upset, too,” Elizabeth reminded. “But, he didn’t make you throw Father out of the house.”
“Jamie, Amanda and Matt are not making me do anything, either. They simply informed me that, as long as I was with Carl, they didn’t feel safe around us. I mean to change their minds. Having your father move out for a little while will make it easier for them to hear me. It will demonstrate that I am willing to meet them halfway.”
“How is it halfway if you’re giving them everything they want?”
“That’s not exactly true,” Rachel said softly. “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
“Are you certain you wish to do this, Poppet?” Carl took both of Elizabeth’s hands in his. “Go into exile with poor, old King Lear? I assure you, you shall be much more comfortable here in the interim.”
“If you go, I go,” she repeated stubbornly. “Let them see that this war isn’t just against you, it’s against all of us.”
“We are not in a war!” Rachel interject, offended.
“Sun Zu said all war is deception. And that’s what you’re doing now, Mom, no matter how you slice it. You’re either lying to Jamie, Amanda, and Matt, or to us.”
Rachel looked sharply at Carl, who merely shrugged helplessly, indicating he’d done all he could to keep the peace. The ball was in Rachel’s court now.
Slowly and pointedly, Rachel said, “Children learn from their parents. They learn from the things we tell them to do and from the things we tell them not to do. But, mostly, they learn from watching what we do, and comparing how our actions measure up to our words. There was a time when I felt I had every right to interfere in my children’s romantic relationships. I wasn’t subtle about it, and I wasn’t courteous. I have no right to be surprised now about receiving a bit of my own back. If this were a war, like you claim, Elizabeth, then I should be fighting fire with fire. But, I won’t. I’m going to take the high road. Not just for their sakes, and for my sake, but for yours, as well. I won’t make the same missteps with you and Cory as I did with your brothers and sister. I want to demonstrate to you all that families can resolve their conflicts by – “
“By being reasonable. And that sometimes things don’t just require being said. They require being said in a way that also makes them palatable to hear.”
“Father, how can you let them do this to you?” Elizabeth demanded of Carl.
“Make no mistake,” he corrected. “I am not letting anyone do anything to me. I am choosing to heed the request of the woman I love. That is all.”
Cory spoke up, “If Elizabeth is going with Father, I’ll go too.”
That certainly threw Rachel for a loop. She’d been expecting Elizabeth’s defection. She’d prepared for both it and the inevitable tantrum to follow. But, Cory…
“What? Honey, why?” Rachel turned to her son, confused.
“Because,” he sighed as if the weight of the word were, as usual, perched upon his fourteen year old shoulders. “Somebody’s got to keep an eye on them both.”
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