“So, do you think my mother and I will ever manage to be in the same room again without it turning into a Tennessee Williams play?” Lorna asked Jamie.
She stood in the doorway to the bathroom, holding Mackenzie, while Jamie knelt on the floor by the edge of the tub, Devon inside, up to her waist in water and bubbles. Jamie had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt in order to keep his daughter steady with one hand, but it was a wasted effort, as Devon’s continuous splashing had still managed to soak him from more or less head to toe.
“I’m the wrong person to ask. Especially tonight. I’m not certain of it, but I think Mom gave me a pretty good smack-down earlier about my attitude towards Carl.”
“Carl almost got your son killed. You have just cause to keep your distance.”
“So do you. With Felicia.”
“You’ve forgiven her for what she and Morgan tried to pull.”
“I’m just grateful for everything I have.”
“Talk about a non-answer, Frame.”
Jamie shrugged. “If you’re waiting for me to criticize your behavior tonight so you can get angry and defend yourself in order to feel better…”
Lorna sighed. “I am definitely starting to see the downside to this you know me better than anyone else business.”
“Sorry.” Jamie squeezed a dollop of baby shampoo onto his hand and proceeded to massage it into Devon’s hair, making the wet tufts stick up into a point for good measure.
“She looks like an onion,” Lorna laughed.
“At least it got you to smile again.”
“I’m grateful for everything I have, too, Jamie.”
“I know you are.”
“I wish I could let go of this anger towards Felicia. I think I’m almost there, and then she says something, or she does something…”
“The necklace Felicia gave Devon, she didn’t mean for it to hurt her.”
“I know that.”
“Oh, and, by the way? Mercury dimes aren’t made out of mercury.”
That took her by surprise. “They’re not?”
“Then why – “
“People used to confuse the Winged Liberty carved on the front with the Roman God, Mercury.”
“Yeah. That’s what you get for marrying a nerd who used to collect coins as a kid.”
Lorna wrinkled her nose. “How come you didn’t speak up before? Correct me?”
“Because. I’m on your side. No matter what. Always. Forever. Come what may.”
Lorna wasn’t sure what to say to that. She merely swallowed hard, and nodded.
“The same goes for Felicia. Even when it doesn’t exactly feel that way. She didn’t mean for her gift to hurt you, either.”
Lorna hesitated. “I – I know that, too.”
“Your mother will always be your mother. Just like my mother will always be my mother. No matter how angry or how frustrated or how fed up we get with them, we still love them.”
“Does that mean we have to approve of everything they do?”
“If they had their way?”
Lorna rolled her eyes. “I withdraw the question.”
“You and Felicia will get through this,” he predicted.
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I know you,” Jamie reminded, grabbing a towel, picking Devon up out of the tub and wrapping her in it. “By heart.”
“So that’s how it is to be then, is it?” Carl snarled, pulling back from Rachel, his face now the one in the shadows of the darkened car. “You have chosen your grown children over me.”
“I have not chosen them over you,” Rachel was sympathetic to her husband’s pain – but only up to a point. “If anything, I have chosen myself. If you want to be angry at anyone, be angry at me.”
“Never. I know who is truly at fault here.”
“Yes,” Rachel agreed. “And, like it or not, it is me. For not being willing to give up everything to follow you into exile.”
Carl hesitated, then guessed, “You resent my putting you in this position?”
“Do you blame me? I really don’t think you fully understand the extent of what you’re asking of me.”
Carl bristled. “What I am asking you to do now is no more and no less what you have asked of me these past fifteen years.”
Rachel inhaled sharply. “What are you talking about?”
“To whit, you allege that I am asking you to go into exile from your home? What reason other than you do I have for remaining in this blasted, unforgiving town with its citizenry gleeful to throw my long-ago misdeeds into my face at every opportunity, where the level of art and discourse barely rises about the Neanderthal level, and where even a decent cup of tea is apparently too much to ask for? You say that I am asking you to abandon your children and your grandchildren, to never be a part of their growing up? How different is that from your insisting that I keep my distance from Lori Ann, my sole grandchild, surely the only one I shall ever possess the chance to watch bloom? And finally, you speak of what’s best for Elizabeth and Cory, to not be torn away from their home and the people they love. Jenna was torn away from her home and her family – permanently. She died at Donna’s hand, and yet I am forbidden from taking action that might allow my first daughter – and her still grieving husband, may I add – a sense of justice.”
“I… Carl… No. Those – It’s not the same.”
“It is. To me.”
“Isn’t there any alternative?” Rachel pleaded with him, tabling any further talk of comparison for now.
“Of course there is,” Carl dismissed, rather cruelly, slipping into sarcasm as a last resort. “Simply persuade Mr. Chase Hamilton to give up on his Les Miserables level of persecution against me, and all our problems will instantaneously fade into the ether.”
Rachel understood that he was being sarcastic. But, all she said was, “Alright, then. In that case, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“Feeling better, Fanny?” Lucas asked after escorting his wife home, Felicia in no shape to drive or even say much on the way over.
“Can you believe it?” She slammed the front door shut behind them. “Can you believe what Lorna accused me of?”
Lucas remained silent. Like Jamie, he knew the woman he loved well enough to understand that the questions were rhetorical and that there’d be no peace for anyone until Felicia had gotten everything she needed off her chest.
Except that this time, Felicia took his lack of response as accord. “You agree with her? You think I wanted to hurt Devon?”
“No more than I did when I gave Lorna a similar necklace forty years ago.”
“This is just like when I was watching Devon after Kirkland’s accident. Lorna acted then like she thought I was a danger to her child!”
Again, silence from Lucas.
“I’m sorry,” Felicia inquired. “Are we doing a reenactment of The Artist?”
“What do you want me to say, Fanny?”
“I’d like you to agree with me!”
“I do. About this.”
“Thanks for the clarification.”
“It’s been a long night. We have a new granddaughter. Let’s just be happy – “
“And that’s another thing. Mackenzie Helen Frame. Mackenzie Helen. Helen. Tell me that wasn’t a direct swipe at – “
“Lorna wanted to honor her grandmother.”
“She said Helen D’Angelo was one of the best people Lorna ever knew. So Helen, apparently, gets a pass for kidnapping our child – “
“She didn’t,” Lucas said tiredly. “You know that’s not what happened.”
“Not to mention taking such good care of Lorna that she drove a thirteen year old girl into Carl Hutchins’ clutches.”
“I’m not going to discuss this anymore.”
“Of course not. Why should you? You’re not the one who got shut out of her child’s life. Rachel and I, we’re the scapegoats. Jamie and Lorna have decided we’re to blame for everything, while you somehow managed to come out smelling like a rose.”
“Get some rest, Fanny,” Lucas turned towards the door.
“Or should I say, you and Alice?” Felicia called after him. His back tensed and, seeing that she’d hit a nerve, Felicia pressed on. “How the hell did you two manage it? You and Spencer were just as involved in what happened to Kirkland as Carl was. How is it none of the mud that got flung afterwards managed to stick to you?”
Watching Lori Ann, Charlie and Zeno splashing around Donna’s pool the next morning, her younger daughter moving her limbs more freely than she ever had, her older daughter laughing and forgetting to look thoroughly displeased with everything, and the boy that Frankie still thought of as her son – no matter what – finally acting like a kid instead of a prematurely worried middle-aged man did suggest to Frankie that maybe – just maybe – she’d made the right choice about moving into Donna’s house, after all.
On the other hand, when Cass came up behind her, settling on the beach chair next to Frankie and proceeding to start rubbing suntan lotion against her otherwise freckled back, asking, “So was I right, or was I right?”
Frankie, nevertheless, felt compelled to demure, “Time will tell.”
Cass smirked and instead continued to rub Frankie’s shoulders until she purred with pleasure. “You’ve got to admit, this beats working for a living.”
She swiveled her head abruptly, causing Cass to drop the tube he’d been holding. “I still intend to do that, too, you know. I’m hardly about to become some useless, pampered… I still intend to raise my kids, and run the detective agency, and – “
He raised his hands in surrender. “Don’t shoot, I’m on your side.”
“I intend to remain the same person I always was.”
“Which one?” Cass tried to make it sound like a joke. But, his obvious seriousness bled through, nonetheless.
Frankie caught his meaning – intended or not – and leaned in to kiss her husband before asking, “Does it bother you? Having Zeno around? Being reminded of – “
“Your life without me and Charlie?”
“It does,” he told her honestly.
“But, you let me invite him anyway.”
“Having Zeno around makes you happy, Mary Frances. There is not a force on this Earth that I can imagine being more important to me than that.”
“What about your feelings?”
“A close second,” he deadpanned.
“Not to me.”
“Being here,” she indicated their still uncomfortably lavish surroundings. “Living this lifestyle, it makes you happy.”
“What can I say? It does.”
“Then I’d say we’re both exactly where we should be.”
“Finally,” Cass agreed.
“And for good, this time.”
“Mr. Johnson is ready to make his donation.” Kevin all but shoved Horace through the office door. A fact that wasn’t lost on Jamie.
“Hello, Mr. Johnson.” Dr. Frame offered his hand in greeting. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”
“Morning,” Horace responded amiably.
“Have a seat,” Jamie indicated the chairs in front of him. Horace took one. Kevin, the other, despite not being addressed. “Thank you for coming to do this.”
“Your boy’s a good salesman,” Horace said. “He explained how I was the only one who could help Jennifer.”
“The sooner the better, right, Jamie?” Kevin prompted.
“Yes. Her negative reaction to the first course of radiation has caused her condition to deteriorate exponentially. A bone marrow transplant really is her only option at this point.”
“But, then she’ll be fine?” Horace double-checked.
“We’ll do everything in our power to make sure of it,” Jamie reassured.
“You’ve still got to prep her for the transplant, though?” Kevin interrupted. “Kill all her existing marrow? And you can’t start on that process until you know that you’ve got the replacement.”
Jamie nodded. “We can’t risk destroying her immune system without something to restore it with. The timing is critical.”
“So let’s get started then.”
Jamie looked at Horace. “I’ll need to give Mr. Johnson a complete physical, first. Make sure he’s up to the procedure. Do you have any history of arthritis or asthma, sir?”
“How about heart or autoimmune disease?”
“Don’t think so. I’m pretty lucky, been healthy most of my life.”
“What about any Sexually Transmitted Diseases?” Jamie asked the question in the same neutral tone of voice he’d used for all the other queries, though maybe a little more gently.
Horace fidgeted awkwardly. “No. I mean, not that I know of.”
“Well, we’ll run some tests to make sure,” Jamie smiled reassuringly. “Though it does sound like you’re the ideal candidate.”
“When will you know for certain?” Kevin pressed.
“Give me a couple of hours,” Jamie continued to speak calmly, even in the face of Kevin’s rising anxiety. “I should have an answer for you by this afternoon.”
“Isn’t this delicious?” Curled up in bed next to Matt, both of them propped up against the headboard, Donna might have been referring to the breakfast tray spread out in front of them. But, what she really meant was, “The two of us spending all morning together, no need to hide or sneak around. Just heavenly.”
“You know what would make it more perfect?” Matt murmured into her neck.
He reached across his own lap onto hers. “If I could just have a taste of that bacon – “
She slapped his hand away, all but throwing herself bodily across the offending side-dish in an attempt to prevent Matt from making a terrible mistake. “Absolutely not!”
“Oh, come on, Donna. This oatmeal,” he raised his spoon sluggishly, letting the gray mush slowly rain down back into his plate. “Is pretty tasteless.”
“It was on the list of approved foods,” she reminded primly.
“For Devil’s Island, maybe.”
“How do you expect to recover if you don’t follow doctor’s orders?”
“It’s all an evil plot. Jamie is just getting back at me.”
Donna bit her lower lip, thinking for a moment. “Are you sure you don’t mean… for marrying me?”
“Look,” Matt conceded, considering sweeping the topic under the rug, then realizing they might as well face it head-on. “I realize you aren’t Jamie’s favorite person. Or Lorna’s. Or Mom’s.”
“Or my own daughter’s,” Donna ticked off on her fingers. “Or my grandchildren’s…”
“Yeah, okay, whatever. Jamie and Lorna are probably still pissed about the stunt you pulled at Devon’s christening, not to mention Marley’s hit and run, and Mom and Carl have it in for you because of Jenna and Felicia. But, you know what? They’ll just have to deal, okay?”
“And if they don’t? After all, you, Amanda, and Jamie threatened to cut your mother out of your lives over her marriage to Carl. Why wouldn’t they do the same to you over me?”
“Carl is different. Carl is dangerous. You’re…”
“What? What am I, Matthew?” her voice trembled just a little as Donna waited for his answer.
“You’re…” a multitude of responses flashed through Matt’s head before he settled on. “You’re… my wife. Yeah. You’re my wife. Everything else is just details.”
Matt shoved their respective trays out of the way, stretching out, reaching for Donna, kissing her. She responded immediately, sinking against Matt, wrapping her arms around his neck. He slipped one hand behind her head, pulling Donna closer, while cupping her breast with the other. His thumb first languidly caressed, then squeezed her nipple between two fingers, while his lips traced a path from Donna’s mouth up her cheek until his tongue was inside her ear.
She gasped and Matt took that as a sign to relocate his hand from her breast to her thigh, sliding it beneath Donna’s robe and nightgown in conjunction with a trail of kisses across her neck, head moving downward as his arm rose upwards, fingers and tongue reaching their respective destination simultaneously, just the way he knew Donna liked it.
She shivered, confirming Matt’s assessment. But, then, much to his surprise, the movement turned into a jerk – and not exactly the kind he’d been aiming for, either – as, without warning, Donna suddenly seemed to liquefy and slither out of his embrace.
“What the…” Matt began, head spinning as he looked from where his wife had been only a moment before, to Donna suddenly standing on the floor by the bed, adjusting her gown and looking everywhere in the room but at Matt. “What’s going on?” he sputtered.
“I realized you were right, darling. That unpalatable concoction you were served for breakfast is no way to treat a man newly home from the hospital. What do you say to my popping down to the kitchen and rummaging for a more palatable alternative?”
“What do I say?” he blinked, more confused than ever. “I say, get back into bed, Donna. I’m a hell of a lot hungrier for – “
But, his wife was already gone.
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