“You’re sure you’re up to a welcoming committee?” Jamie double-checked with Lorna as they stood on the doorstep of their home, Jamie holding their newborn infant in her car-seat with one hand while sticking his key in the lock with the other. “It’s just that so many people wanted to come by and see you guys, I thought it might be easier for you to get it over with in one fell swoop.”
“It’s fine,” Lorna reassured as they came in and were instantly engulfed by a swarm of eager friends and family, noting over her shoulder to Jamie. “Besides, too late to do anything about it now.”
He winked in Lorna’s direction, and dutifully rotated the car seat so that Rachel, Cory, Amanda, Steven, Kirkland, Jasmine, Felicia, Lucas and Lori Ann could get a good look.
Lorna, on the other hand, was busy sweeping the living room anxiously with her eyes, asking, “Where’s Devon?”
“She’s upstairs with Alice,” Amanda explained. “We didn’t want her seeing everyone fussing over you with the baby right away.”
“Thanks.” Lorna exhaled gratefully, and indicated the stairs. “I’m going to go check on her, okay?”
“We’ll be fine,” Jamie promised, un-strapping the infant and lifting her into his arms.
Lorna took a moment to fully enjoy the sight of her husband and her daughter surrounded by people who loved them both, followed by another moment to convince herself that none of it was a dream, before tearing upstairs.
She opened the door to Devon’s room gingerly, finding her older daughter – the concept was still a foreign one; how in the world had Lorna ended up with two kids? – on the floor, crawling over Alice’s lap in an attempt to reach yet another stuffed animal.
Devon looked up, saw Lorna and broke into a four-toothed – two on the top, two on the bottom – grin, standing up, using Alice’s shoulder for support, and bouncing up and down, though her tiny feet never actually left the ground, chanting, “Ma! Ma! Ma!”
Lorna squatted down next to them, and Devon threw herself into Lorna’s embrace, prompting Alice to observe, “Somebody missed you.”
“I missed her, too,” Lorna admitted, squeezing the little girl tightly in return.
At which point Devon lost interest, pulled away, and picked up her toy penguin again, proceeding to engage him in indecipherable chatter.
“All I could think about while I was in the hospital was how Devon would react to the new baby,” Lorna admitted. “I couldn’t wait to get home.”
“There’ll be good days and bad days,” Alice predicted. “For everybody.”
“My sister and I… it was different. Jenna and I only met after we were adults. And we had this really complicated history on top of it…”
“All family relationships are complicated. But, their being close in age should help.”
“That’s another thing,” Lorna confessed. “I have no idea how I’m going to make this work. A baby and a toddler? I mean, I wanted kids. Jamie and I both did. But, having two less than a year apart, it’s kind of overwhelming…” Lorna’s voice trailed off as she realized it might sound like she was complaining. And to a woman who’d lost all of her own children, at that. “Damn it, Alice, I’m so sorry. That was unbelievably, incredibly insensitive of me.”
“You’re allowed to be overwhelmed,” Alice smiled to indicate no offense had been taken. “Two babies in one year would overwhelm anybody.”
“I’m so happy, though. And so grateful. Three years ago, I came back to Bat City with nothing. My life was a mess and I’d run out of ideas regarding what to do about it. And look at me now.”
“I am,” Alice squeezed Lorna’s shoulder. “You and Jamie both. I couldn’t be happier for you.”
“You know, when we first found out I was pregnant again, Jamie said something about Irish twins. And we both thought the same thing: Spencer was sending us a message.”
Alice’s smile wavered, and she stood up off the floor, holding out a hand to Devon. “Let’s go introduce you to your baby sister, shall we?”
“Are you alright, Mom?” Jamie asked Rachel as she stood by his side, cooing over the infant who – even Alice had pointed out – looked exactly like her paternal grandmother.
“I have a lot on my mind,” was as far as Rachel would go.
“You seem exhausted.”
“I haven’t been sleeping very well.”
“Having Donna under the same roof not everything it’s cracked up to be?” Jamie attempted to lighten the mood.
“Oh, no. That part is exactly what I expected,” Rachel reported dryly.
“It was incredibly nice of you to let them move in.”
“She’s married to my son. I could never turn my back on one of my children.”
Jamie wondered if there was a message in there for him regarding his own ultimatum concerning Carl, but, luckily, the tense moment was diffused by Lorna descending the stairs, holding Devon, and bringing her over to see the baby.
Lorna sat down, balancing her younger daughter on her lap while Devon crawled into Jamie’s lap and peered down at the sleeping infant.
She reached for the face first, and was quickly redirected by Lorna to pat a chubby fist, instead. Gently.
“Hm,” Devon considered.
Jamie laughed. “I’m going to take that as a vote of approval.”
“Just wait,” Lorna cautioned. “She hasn’t figured out that Mackenzie is here to stay yet.”
“Mackenzie?” Rachel’s head bobbed up, an expression of wonder on her face.
Lorna snuck a peek at Jamie. “You didn’t tell them?”
“Nope,” her husband shook his head, amused. “I was waiting for you to make the grand announcement.”
“Oops,” Lorna said. “Cat out of the bag?”
Lorna sighed. “You would think I’d be better at this sort of thing. PR and all.”
“It’s alright,” Lucas soothed. “You’ve had a lot on your mind.”
“That’s no excuse. But… well… Everyone…” Lorna exchanged affectionate looks with Jamie, then beamed down at their daughter. “Meet Mackenzie Helen Frame.”
“Thank you,” the words sounded like they’d been wrenched out of Rachel’s soul, and she had to swallow hard to keep from getting choked up. She stood, kissing first Jamie, then Lorna on the cheek. “Thank you both.”
“It was our unanimous first choice,” Jamie revealed. “She’s named after two of the best people we ever knew. Mac, and Lorna’s grandmother.”
“Mackenzie Helen Frame,” Amanda reflected. “That’s quite a big name for such a little girl.”
“We’re hoping she’ll grow into it,” Lorna confided. “We thought we’d call her Zee, though, for short.”
Kirkland and Steven looked at each other and tried their best to keep from guffawing.
“What?” Jamie demanded. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing,” they both reassured, attempting to arrange their features into somber mirror-images. And failing miserably.
“Spill it, guys,” their father threatened.
“It’s just that,” Steven began. “I mean, it’s no secret that she – Mackenzie Helen – wasn’t exactly planned.”
“Yeah?” Lorna wondered. “So?”
“We’ve – Steven and me – we’ve kind of been calling her – it, before we even knew what it was,” Kirkland stammered. “We’ve been calling her… Whoopise-Baby.”
“And now, well,” Steven connected the dots for them, only partially apologetically. “It’s – Mac-Whoops-Zee.”
A moment of nervous silence, and then both Jamie and Lorna burst out laughing, allowing everyone else to do the same.
“I love it!” Lorna gushed.
“Whoop-Zee Frame,” Jamie agreed. “It has a definite ring to it.”
“Please promise me you won’t call her that,” Felicia interjected.
“What are big brothers for?” Kirkland countered.
“And what are grandmothers for,” Rachel noted. “If not to protect the little sisters from them?”
“That reminds me,” Felicia reached into her purse, pulling out a small box with a ribbon on top and heading towards Devon. “I actually have a present for the new big sister.”
Devon reached eagerly for her gift, while Lorna, with just the slightest touch of surprise in her voice, told Felicia, hovering above them both, “That was very thoughtful of you.”
“I know how hard it can be for new sisters to share the spotlight,” Felicia reminded with the hint of a smile. “I thought Devon would appreciate a bit of extra attention.”
“We all appreciate it, Felicia,” Jamie said, helping his daughter unwrap her gift.
“Ooh!” Devon hummed, pulling out a necklace with a tiny, shiny, silver coin dangling off the end.
“Is that…” Lucas began.
Felicia nodded. “It’s a Mercury dime. Just like the one you gave Lorna when she was born, the one she wears as a ring. I had an identical copy made into necklace.”
“That’s… Fanny…. “ he couldn’t seem to find the rest of the words.
“I got the idea after I saw you looking at Mackenzie through the nursery window the other day. That’s exactly how you first saw Lorna, isn’t it?”
Lucas nodded, still speechless, only managing to recall, “I didn’t realize you were there. Why didn’t you come up, say something?”
“I didn’t want to interrupt,” Felicia clipped, looking everyplace in the room but Alice’s direction. Which made the reference obvious. Particularly to Alice.
Oblivious to any mounting tension, Devon grinned, grabbed her new bauble with both hands, and attempted to pull the necklace on over her head.
Only to have Lorna reach out and stop her.
Devon looked at her mother in surprise, opening her mouth, prepared to bawl in objection.
It was Felicia, however, who articulated for her granddaughter, “What are you doing?”
“She can’t wear this,” Lorna looked pleadingly at Jamie, indicating that he should distract Devon before she launched into a full-out tantrum.
“Why not?” Felicia clasped Lorna’s wrist, keeping her from pulling the gift away from Devon.
Lorna wriggled out of her mother’s grasp, clutching the necklace in her palm, keeping her voice steady as she tried to explain inoffensively, “It’s a strangulation hazard. You’re not supposed to put anything around a child’s neck. Isn’t that right, Alice?”
This was the last conversation – and duo – that Alice wished to get in the middle of, but she did confirm, “The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against it.”
“And it’s a Mercury dime,” Lorna cut off whatever protest Felicia was going to launch next. “That means it contains mercury. If she puts it in her mouth, she could poison herself. Not to mention a choking hazard.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Lorna, do you honestly think I’m out to kill your child?”
The question hung in the air.
Without an answer.
“Hey,” Dean hovered in the doorway to Matt’s bedroom.
“Hey,” Matt echoed. When nothing happened for a long beat, he offered, “You wanna… come in?”
“How’re you… you know… feeling?”
“That’s… awesome. We were all really worried, man.”
“Yeah. Jeanne told me.”
“Jeanne,” Dean repeated, noncommittal.
“She told me about you giving her the station, too.”
Dean shrugged. He said, “It wasn’t… I didn’t… We… I’m sorry, okay?”
“Was it because you found out Donna and I were married? Is that why you – Did you think Jeanne was fair game because – “
It would have been easy for Dean to agree with Matt’s conjecture. But, he hadn’t come here for more lies. “No. I – Jeanne and I – it – we started before I found out about you and Donna.”
“I wasn’t trying to mess with you.”
“No. Just her. Hell, Dean, a couple of months ago, you didn’t even like her.”
“Not too crazy right about now, either.”
“You give all the women you aren’t crazy about a TV station?”
“She earned it.”
“Damn, you’re dense.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You really believe Jeanne was working for Donna when she slept with you? That it was all a set-up to get you to drop the civil suit?”
“It’s what she said. And Jeanne never lies.”
“Yeah,” Matt agreed. “Except this time she made an exception. For you. You think about what that means.”
“Run out of excuses finally?” Horace asked Kevin in a tone that might have been taunting – if you were expecting that. Or perfectly decent if you weren’t.
Standing outside of Jen’s hospital room, looking at Horace and at Steven, who’d left his little sister’s Welcome Home party to bring Horace over – not that the festive atmosphere hadn’t dimmed substantially after Lorna and Felicia’s showdown – Kevin tersely informed his daughter’s biological father, “Jenny wasn’t up to seeing you yesterday. She’d just been through a round of pretty painful tests and procedures. She’s very sick. And every minute you waste – “
“Then I guess we’d best get a move on,” Horace continued smiling pleasantly as he pushed his way past Kevin, and into the room where Jen and GQ waited, Kevin and Steven bringing up the rear.
She’s been expecting him, but the sight of her dad – over fifteen years older than she remembered him; even if she had seen a recent photograph – still brought Jen up short.
She sat up in her bed, arms crossed against her chest, GQ’s hand resting comfortingly on her shoulder. The second Horace stepped through the door, Jen began to shake.
“It’s okay,” Steven blurted out, knowing it wasn’t his place or his business, but unable to handle seeing her this way.
“He’s right,” Horace agreed. “It’s okay, Jennifer. I’m not – I won’t hurt you.”
She swallowed hard. “That sounds familiar.”
Horace said, “It’s been a long time. You’re all grown up.” He admitted, “I thought you’d look more like your mother.”
“No. Matter of fact, you look like my mother.”
Jen shrugged, indicating she didn’t give a damn. When she very obviously did.
It was GQ who made the next overture, sticking out his hand, introducing himself as Jen’s boyfriend, telling Horace, “Thank you so much for agreeing to be Jen’s donor.”
“They say I’m a perfect match.”
“Yes, sir, you are. We’re very lucky. And you’re very generous.”
Kevin said, “Jamie tells me the operating room is ready whenever you are. You’ve just got to give us a firm date, so they can start prepping Jenny.”
“I’m ready anytime, too,” Jen informed him.
“You know, I wondered about how you’d grow up. I figured you’d be doing something with the sciences. I remember how much you loved reading those great, big books Miss Camille would have to help you lug home from the library. Some of them, I swear, were taller than you stood.”
“I remember you from back then, too,” Jen countered.
Horace laughed. “And – now! – you looked like your mother right there! Girl could hold a grudge like nobody’s business.”
“Not against you, though. You always managed to weasel your way back in.”
“Your mama loved me. We don’t get a choice about who we love, Jennifer.”
For a split second, Jen’s eyes met Steven’s. And then she quickly looked away to reach up and link her fingers through GQ’s. “That’s another thing you’ve got wrong.”
“You’ve made your decision,” Carl asked Rachel, his heart in his throat when she finally arrived at his apartment, dropping off Cory and asking for Carl to meet her downstairs in the car, in order to make sure they weren’t overheard.
Rachel nodded. She said, “I just got back from Jamie and Lorna’s.”
“Yes. I would offer the happy couple my congratulations regarding the new arrival, but, under the circumstances…”
“Amanda was there, too. Matt couldn’t make it, Jasmine did, though. No Allie, but Steven and Kirkland…”
“Sounds like a marvelous time,” Carl stalled, even as he desperately yearned to hear her answer.
“If Cory, Elizabeth and I were to leave the country with you, how soon could we come back?”
Carl hesitated. “That’s difficult to gauge. Legal proceedings can stretch remarkably tedious, especially when one is being pursued as zealously as I by a member of the sitting government.”
“So it might be, what? Months? Years?”
“Most likely the latter,” Carl conceded.
“I might not be able to see my children and my grandchildren for years?”
“They would be most welcome to visit us wherever we might ultimately choose to settle.”
Rachel snorted. “After I flee with you, do you really think Jamie, Amanda, and Matt will be in the right frame of mind to pay us a friendly visit?”
“The loss, in which case, would be theirs,” Carl sniffed.
“No,” she corrected. “It would be mine. And not just mine, but Elizabeth and Cory’s, too. Make no mistake about that. Our children have already been damaged plenty by the fall-out from your situation. What would taking them away from their school, their friends, their family do to them on top of it?”
“They would make friends and receive an adequate education – more than adequate, quite frankly – elsewhere. As for family, we are their parents. We are what matters.”
“We, as their parents, have put our daughter in the position of thinking she needs to make horrific false accusations in order to get our attention, and we have forced our son to turn on his own sister. Do you honestly think this awful state of affairs will be made better by forcing them to go into virtual hiding?”
“You seem to be ignoring the fact that none of this would have happened if – “
“Jamie and Lorna named their baby girl Mackenzie,” Rachel cut him off abruptly.
Carl startled, then pasted on a benign smile. “A lovely tribute.”
“If I leave with you, I may never get to see her grow up. Her or Devon. I’ll miss all their milestones. They won’t even know who I am.” Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again, seeing clearly at long last. “I’ll miss Jasmine graduating high-school and Steven finishing college with who knows how many honors. I’ll miss Allie finally finding her place in the world and Kirkland becoming a man, and Matt… Amanda… Jamie. You are asking me to give every single one of them up.”
“Temporarily, my love. Merely temporarily.”
“You can’t promise that. What if the case against you is never resolved or dropped? What then? Live out the rest of our lives in exile? The four of us, cut off from the world?”
Carl had no answer to that, except to remind, “At least it will still be the four of us.”
But, Rachel, at long last, had one for him. “I can’t go with you, Carl. I understand why you feel you need to do this. I won’t stop you. And I will always love you, please have no doubts about that. But, the children and I… I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave us behind.”
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