Alice watched with mix of satisfaction and relief as Jamie finished his cup of coffee and placed it next to the empty plate on her table. It had been a bittersweet reunion, finding her former stepson on her doorstep. As happy as she'd been to see him after so many years, it had also been heartbreaking to observe how frayed around the edges he was. And all too reminiscent of a darker time for Jamie that Alice hoped never to witness him experience again.
"Eat a cookie," she said, picking up a plate from the room-service cart and offering it to him. That got her the first real smile since he'd come to visit.
"No, thank you. Between the sandwich and the coffee, I'm good. On top of everything else, I needed to sober up. Nothing scarier than bursting into NICU only to realize your hands aren't steady enough to do a damn thing to help."
"You're right, you are good," Alice nodded, taking a cookie from the plate and shoving it into Jamie's mouth before replacing the platter. "Even if you forget that sometimes."
"You think I'm overreacting," he munched the crumbly shortbread thoughtfully. "About Grant and this whole custody thing?"
"I think that it's understandable you feeling uneasy, given the situation and the players involved. If his father is any indication, Grant can be a ruthless opponent."
"What dirt he can't find, he'll create just to get Kirkland," Jamie nodded. "But he won't have to manufacture much. Marley and I have already given him something to play with over this quickie marriage. Now he's pissed and determined. It won't be long before he finds the real dirt and uses it to destroy me. With pleasure."
Alice shook her head even as a part of her feared that Jamie could be right. "Grant won't find anything."
"Marley did. Yeah. Go figure. She hired an investigator to dig up something to use on Grant. Instead they found out that I was in rehab while I was in San Francisco. At least she confronted me about it. Thank goodness for small favors. It gave me the chance to cover."
Alice sucked in a sharp breath. "She knows about your suicide attempt? She knows about Cecile and "
"No," Jamie said sharply. "God, no. If she had discovered the truth...the real truth... That would be that. It wouldn't just be Grant or some judge thinking I wasn't fit to raise children. I'm sure Marley would be right there with them. No, all Marley knows is that I was in a rehab facility under an assumed name. I told her the story we came up with. That I had relapsed because of something to do with a patient, being overworked... that I couldn't cope and turned back to drugs to keep me going..."
Alice reached out a hand to comfort him, but Jamie wasn't having it; all but smacking the reassuring overture away.
"I lied to her," he spat. "Like I've been doing to everyone else ever since I came back to Bay City. Living my one big lie of a life."
"I don't call the life you've built for yourself a lie," Alice scoffed. "Two loving sons, a career that you're dedicated to "
"I'd say it has less to do with dedication and more with guilt," Jamie shook his head ruefully. "Some fool's hope that if I work hard enough, save enough people, take in the stray Kirkland who needs a father, I can make up for what I did."
Sadness washed over Alice as she listened to that all-too-familiar self-loathing creep into his voice. "When are you going to realize that you were a victim, too? You're taking all of the blame and responsibility, when you know it's not that simple. You're living with all of this bottled up inside, needlessly."
"It's a relatively light punishment, given the crime," he shook his head resolutely. "I've managed to get to a place where I can live with what I've done. Which is certainly an improvement over the alternative. Though maybe not for me."
"I did it for Steven and Kirkland's sakes. They needed me. As long as I had them to focus on, to start over with and get me through it... past it all. If I lose them.... especially if it's because they find out what I did... I don't know... I don't know what'll happen to me."
Alice knew. She knew with a frightful certainty what would happen if the life Jamie had built for himself began to fall apart. And she couldn't allow that to happen. Not to her Steve's son.
She firmly grasped Jamie's hands. "We will figure out something," she vowed. "Neither Grant, nor Spencer, nor Kevin will find out anything about why you were committed. I'll see to it. I promise."
Jamie looked at her in disbelief. "Alice, I appreciate everything you've done for me. I wouldn't even be here today in one piece more or less, and I certainly wouldn't have been capable of taking on Steven and Kirkland, if it weren't for you. But this is not your battle to fight."
She shook her head, overriding him as he knew she would. "When you reached out all those years ago and asked for my help, you got it. Unluckily for you, this is how I do things. One hundred percent. We're in it together. To the end."
Nearly overcome with emotion, Jamie nodded. "Okay," he said with shaky relief. "Thank you. I know I've said it so many times the word has probably lost all meaning. But, really, Alice, thank you for everything. I've got to get back to the hospital now, but maybe later we can talk a little more..."
"I'll walk you there. I've been meaning to visit some old friends anyway." Alice said. She rose from the couch, and fussed over Jamie until she'd properly straightened his tie and smoothed down his shirt. "There, good as new."
"Hardly," Jamie was about to reply, but when he saw the look in Alice's eye, he wisely decided to keep the negativity to himself.
The woman was tough. No wonder she'd managed to survive his mother.
Frankie lay curled up against Cass' body, her head on his chest, one arm wrapped around his stomach, holding on tightly, as if afraid that he... it... could be yanked away from her without a moment's notice.
She said, "I told myself that I had to be exaggerating. That, after all this time and after everything that happened, my mind must be playing tricks on me. That I was embellishing. I told myself that things between us, they couldn't have been as good as I remembered... "
"And?" Cass inquired.
Frankie smiled dreamily. "I wasn't exaggerating." She propped herself up on one elbow and kissed Cass. "It was even better than I remembered."
"Thank you," he kissed her back. "I've been saving up my A-game."
"How about trying for an A-plus?"
"Is that a challenge?" Cass wondered, laughing and already preparing to return to the playing field, when they both heard it. A door opening and closing. Cass looked at the clock and gulped, "Charlie!"
Frankie sat up with a start, forgetting the fact that she had every right to be here, with her husband, making love in the middle of the afternoon or any other damn time they felt like it. "I thought you said she wouldn't be home for hours."
Cass guiltily indicated the time.
"Oh," Frankie said, and stood up, reaching for her clothes.
By the time they made it downstairs both fully dressed; as respectable, grown-up parents are wont to be in the middle of the afternoon... or was it technically early evening by now? Charlie was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal and leafing through a magazine.
"There you two are," she looked up. "Thank God. It was getting too cold for me to keep walking around the block."
"Why were you..." Frankie began. Charlie raised an eyebrow. Then, to reiterate her point, she raised the other one. "Oh. Sorry," Frankie apologized sheepishly. "We kind of lost track of the time."
"Whatever." Charlie turned back to her magazine.
"No." Frankie gently lowered it with her hand so she could look Charlie in the eye. "Not whatever. Your father and I are very happy to be back together "
"So it seems," Charlie interrupted.
"Charlotte," Cass warned. "Watch your tone."
Frankie signaled to him that it was fine and continued, "But not so happy that we have any right to ignore you in the process. All these years, I didn't just miss your father. I missed my whole family. I missed us. All of us."
"On that note," Cass offered. "I have a suggestion. What say we have a family outing? Right now? Just the three of us. The Annual Bay City Halloween Fair kicks off tonight..."
"Awesome!" Charlie hopped up.
"No!" Frankie shouted, louder than she'd meant to. Especially in light of the way Charlie, so animated just a moment before, visibly deflated.
"Right," Charlie said. "I remember. No going out in public. The boogey-man lurks. And not just on Halloween."
"We ain't scared of no ghosts," Cass invoked a catch-phrase way before his daughter's time. But he hoped to at least make Frankie smile.
He failed with both of them. Frankie implored, "No, Cass. That's too much, anyone could see us." She stressed the final word, "Anyone."
"I don't care, Mary Frances," Cass said. "I want the whole world to see us. I want them to know that the Winthrops are not afraid."
"Daddy!" Elizabeth, sitting cross-legged on her bed, dressed in the oversized, Bay City University T-shirt a gift from her idolized nephew Steven jumped up and began bouncing with twelve-year-old glee. "You're back. Mom said you were out and she wasn't sure if you'd be home in time to read to us."
From the time Carl had returned after being presumed dead a decade earlier, he'd resolved to waste no more time, and embarked on a nightly ritual of reading to his children from the classics. They might be growing up in the Colonies, but that was no reason to remain unenlightened savages on the topic of great English language works of literature, and a few hand-picked translations (Homer, yes, Sun Tzu, naturally, Tolstoy, no; Carl had little doubt that his offspring would learn more than they'd ever want to as to the nature of unhappy families at some point, he saw no need to rush the process).
Initially, both Cory and Elizabeth had shown minimal interest beyond gumming the books in the collected works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rudyard Kipling and Lord Byron. But once Carl moved on to Shakespeare, their tastes both peaked and diverged rather wildly. Cory preferred the comedies, laughing at the antics of Bottom, Puck, Snug, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, and Mustardseed so hard that Carl was often forced to turn pages with one hand while grabbing at the boy's pajamas to keep him from falling off the bed with the other.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, gravitated towards the tragedies. After pronouncing Romeo & Juliet "full of every cliche, like, ever" and refusing to entertain the possibility that the Bard's material might have been original back when he first wrote it, she sat, spell-bound, through Othello, Richard III, Henry V, and Macbeth, and now couldn't wait for her nightly reading of King Lear. To be honest, Carl would be a little concerned about her blood-thirsty tastes. If he weren't simultaneously bursting with pride that a daughter of his, at the ripe age of eight, had argued for the right to stay up later and continue listening, "Because, don't you know that Macbeth doth murder sleep, Daddy?"
Now she curled up on Carl's lap, handed him the book and opened to the last place they'd stopped.
Clearing this throat, Carl read. What choice did he have? Though, the moment he glanced down at the page, he knew which passage was coming.
"By all the operation of the orbs/ From whom we do exist, and cease to be/ Here I disclaim all my paternal care/ Propinquity and property of blood/ And as a stranger to my heart and me/ Hold thee, from this, for ever."
"Can you do that?" Elizabeth asked.
"Just throw one of your kids away, say they're not yours anymore and that's that?"
"Well, there is a legal procedure called disowning, where you don't pass on any inheritance, that's what Lear is doing here."
"No, it's not. He's not talking about inheritance like money. He says he doesn't love her anymore. See, right there: A stranger to my heart and me. That's what it means, right? Can a father do that? Just stop loving all of a sudden, like... like... you're not hungry anymore?"
Carl looked Elizabeth in the eye and swore, "Not this father. Not ever. You could never be a stranger to my heart. Because you are my heart, do you understand? You and your mother and your brother. King Lear was a madman, but, rest assured, your father is no King Lear. Once you are a child of mine, you are a child of mine forever. Come what may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day."
"Macbeth," Elizabeth giggled, proud of herself for identifying the quote.
Carl hugged his daughter tightly and reiterated even more firmly, this time evoking Twelth Night, "Come what may, I do adore thee so."
Most years, the Bay City Halloween Fair could count on the last few weeks of Indian Summer to pleasantly warm their attractions, booths, concessions, rides and obligatory Haunted Maze.
October 2009, however, proved freezing to the point where the Ferris Wheel, bumper cars, and merry-go-round creaked in rusty, arthritic protest at being forced to perform under such conditions, the hay-ride offered a vaguely mildewed smell, the petting zoo animals huddled in corners trying to conserve body heat, and most of the metallic tools, like rings to be thrown over bottle-necks, hammers to bang bells, and pistols for the shooting gallery were uncomfortably chilled to the touch.
When Gregory bought Allie a cotton candy from the one concession operator sturdy enough to brave the elements, he warned, "Watch your teeth, I think it might be frozen solid."
Allie laughed and risked it, happy to discover that sugar, at any temperature, was still sweet, sticky and quintessentially carnival. "What I want to know is, whatever happened to global warming? Where's disaster science when you need a little help, and maybe a ray of sun or two?"
"Actually, in the 1970s, some science was predicting imminent global cooling. One of them is bound to be right eventually."
"Guess that's why they went with climate change. It's a win-win." Allie offered her cotton candy to Gregory for a bite and he dove in enthusiastically, getting more on his nose than actually into his mouth in the process.
While attempting to lick the pink fluff off with his tongue, Gregory asked, "So how are you enjoying our first official, no hidden agenda date?"
Allie gingerly dabbed at a leftover spot of cotton candy and offered it playfully to Gregory who, spontaneously, kissed it off her finger.
Allie smiled and told him, "I'm enjoying it a lot."
Gregory grinned and held out his hand to her, which Allie accepted without reservation. Swinging their clasped palms back and forth, he wondered, "So what do you want to do next? We could risk vertigo on the Ferris Wheel, or whiplash on the bumper cars "
"Rabies at the petting zoo?"
"Asthma on the hay-ride?"
Allie's smile turned into a full-out laugh. "I like you! You're as good at worse-case scenarios as I am! Must be a consequence of living in Bay City."
"Ghosts..." Gregory trailed off.
Allie waited and, when, strangely, no more was forthcoming, prompted, "What about them?"
Gregory still didn't reply, his eyes fixed on a spot across the dimly lit fairgrounds. Allie turned and followed where he was looking. She saw Cass Winthrop. She saw Charlie.
And Gregory saw, "My cousin, Frankie..."
"Frankie..." Allie squinted. "Frankie Frame? She's... "
"It is St. Hallow's Eve," Gregory said, and sprinted across the grass, Allie following in befuddled pursuit.
"Frankie," Gregory grabbed her by the shoulder and whipped her around, confirming for himself what he'd known to be true even from several yards away. "Frankie."
"Gregory!" The sheer joy on her face at seeing him proved once and for all that this could only be the cousin who'd taken such good care of him after Gregory's mother disappeared and his father all but drowned in grief.
He'd been a very little boy then, but he could no more forget Frankie than she could him. "Oh, honey, Gregory! Am I happy to see you!"
"How?" He looked from her to Cass to Charlie.
And then Charlie said, "Just like your mom. She thought she was somebody else for a long time, too."
Gregory laughed. He laughed and he threw his arms around Frankie. "Must run in the family."
"Thank God for that," Cass intoned.
They spent close to a half-hour talking, with Frankie promising to call John and Sharlene first thing the next morning.
"If I see either of my parents first," Gregory asked. "Is it alright if I tell them, or is this a secret?"
"No," Cass cut Frankie off before she had a chance to answer. "It isn't a secret."
After Gregory and Allie stepped away, and while Charlie went off looking for a vendor who wasn't selling iced anything, Frankie said, "This is it. No turning back. Cecile is bound to find out now."
"Exactly," Cass agreed.
"Felicia isn't here," Matt reassured Donna as he led her towards the Bay City Hospital NICU. "Nobody is with Lori Ann right now."
"I'm sure Felicia will be back at any moment." Donna couldn't stop glancing over her shoulder, as if expecting a SWAT team.
"So what? You're not doing anything wrong. If you do see Felicia, just say you were at the hospital on board business and you stopped by to offer your condolences."
"It will seem suspicious."
"Why are we doing this, Matthew?" Donna stopped around the corner, refusing to take that final step and find herself in front of the viewing window. "Moreover, why are you doing this?"
"Because I think you need to see Jenna's baby. This whole situation is a tragedy beyond words. But looking backwards isn't going to do anybody any good. You need to move forward and I think seeing Lori Ann, seeing that she's a real person, not some abstraction or collateral damage, will help you do that. She's your granddaughter, for Pete's sake, same as Michele or Bridget."
Donna nodded, "I understand what you're saying. But it isn't what I asked. I asked why you're doing this? Why are you still troubling yourself with me?"
"Because," Matt said simply. "I love you."
Donna gasped, all but doubling over as if struck. "What are you.... How can you.... After... everything?"
"I'm not you, Donna," Matt said, pointedly. "I don't know how to just snap my fingers and turn my feelings off. I'm not saying that any of this is easy for me. There's a part of me that can barely stand the sight of you."
At that, Donna looked almost pleased. It's what she'd been expecting all along. This reaction of his at least made sense.
"But another part of me can't just disregard fifteen years of caring about you, of wanting the best for you. Of wanting to see you happy. You know that, in all this time, I don't think I've ever seen you really and truly happy. Not even once. I've always felt that there was this dark, yearning, lonely... absence... right at the heart of who you genuinely are. And that you've been looking to fill it your entire life. I know that I couldn't do it. Your children, your grandchildren.... Michael probably came the closest, but even he wasn't enough, was he?"
Donna didn't say anything. She simply bit down on her lower lip, blinked hard, and looked away.
"I think that you deserve to be punished for what you did to Jenna. But I also think that you deserve to heal whatever it is that's been broken inside of you for so long. And, just maybe, starting by offering amends to Lori Ann, is a way to make that happen. I don't know, Donna. I could be completely off, here. But you asked why I was doing this. This is why."
Donna still refused to meet Matt's eyes. Her face remained turned to the side. She allowed his words to sink in. And then she allowed her body to follow the direction of her head, silently turning the corner and taking the dozen steps necessary to arrive in front of the NICU observation window.
Matt pursued, indicating Lori Ann. "That's her," he said.
"It really is astounding, isn't it?" Donna whispered, more to herself than to Matt. "When Michael and I lost our son, he was almost exactly the same size. But, twenty years ago, they told us he was too small to survive. There was nothing medical technology could do. And look at it now." Then, still to herself, she recalled, "Reginald cost me that baby, too. He was attempting to cover up the fact that he'd murdered my mother. He took me hostage. I fell down some stairs.... Michael killed him for it. He didn't mean to. It was an accident. I didn't mourn him. I don't think anyone did. I wonder, if Reginald had survived, how would he have lived with the guilt? Then again, how did he live with the guilt over everything he'd done up to that point?"
A flurry of activity disrupted her train of thought. Donna and Matt turned their attention towards the team of medical personnel swarming around Lori Ann's incubator as, for the second time in twenty-four hours, Jenna and Dean's daughter stopped breathing, triggering the machines' incessant and terrifying blare.
Rachel didn't expect Jamie to appreciate her ambushing him at work in order to continue their unfinished discussion from before. But in the hours since Jamie had stormed out, Rachel had been unable to put their jittery conversation out of her mind. Her son wasn't acting like himself. Jamie was deeply, deeply disturbed about something that went much further than the surface situation with Kirkland and Grant. He'd always been a brooder. Rachel was used to his moods. He was a lot like his father in that respect. What she wasn't used to was the sense of helplessness that seemed to be running concurrent to this latest installment. Rachel was accustomed to Jamie wrestling with life. She was less accustomed to his appearing ready to give up.
Which was why, despite anticipating Jamie's irritated reaction to her disrupting his hospital routine, Rachel said goodnight to Elizabeth and Cory, and drove over anyway. (Carl and King Lear appeared to have the bedtime routine well in hand, in any case). What she did not anticipate was coming upon her son standing outside his office, deep in conversation, but visibly no longer quite as deep into his dark mood he even appeared to be slightly smiling! with, of all people, Alice Frame.
"Hello, Alice." Rachel attempted to keep her voice neutral while, at the same time, conveying how surprised she was to run into her here. With Jamie.
"Rachel..." If Alice thought the situation warranted an explanation, she certainly was choosing to play it close to the vest.
"Thank you," Jamie told Alice, leaning in to kiss her briefly on the cheek. "For everything."
"Anytime," Alice reminded him. "And you know I mean that."
Jamie continued smiling as he watched Alice walk away down the hall. His expression faded once he turned back to face his mother. "What are you doing here, Mom?"
"What was Alice doing here?"
"She's a doctor, Mom. We're in a hospital."
"She's not a doctor at this hospital."
"Actually, she's thinking of coming back to practice. Part-time, for now."
"Is that what you were talking about?"
"Among other things."
"I just didn't realize that you'd been in touch."
"And I didn't realize I was obliged to have you vet my Christmas card list." Jamie looked at his watch. "I'm very busy, Mom. Did you merely come to check up on me, or was there something in particular you wanted?"
She let his rudeness slide, because her next words were the truth. "I'm worried about you."
"Yes, you made that clear earlier."
"I just think if you talked about what was bothering you "
Jamie's beeper squeaked, slicing the rest of Rachel's sentence. He looked at the display and swore, "Damn, it's Lori Ann, again."
He took off down the hall. Rachel followed, concern for Felicia's grandchild momentarily overtaking her worries about her own family.
Having spent more than enough time in hospitals over the years, Rachel knew not to trail Jamie all the way into the NICU. But it wasn't as if she were lonely along the outside of it. Donna was there. With Matt.
Rachel stared daggers at them both, though she saved the more lethal ones for Donna. "What in the world are you doing here?"
Matt said, "I brought Donna to see Lori Ann."
Rachel indicated the commotion surrounding the struggling infant's incubator and demanded, "Haven't you done enough damage? If that little girl dies, it will be no one's fault but your own!"
It only took two subtle hints from Sarah in order for Steven to decide it was his idea to invite her to the Halloween Fair. But it took three distractions before Sarah was able to divert Steven from the question of why she seemed so reluctant to head back home to the Cory mansion.
When it came to Steven spotting Allie and Gregory at the fairgrounds however, and suggesting that he and Sarah join them to make it a foursome, Sarah was forced to go for the outright lie as she told Steven, "No. They're having fun, just the two of them. We'd only interrupt. Besides, I don't want to share you with anyone."
Steven had laughed and kissed her, agreeing that the haunted shrubbery maze, with its dark, secluded dead-ends and romantic candle(well, flash)light, probably was more appropriate to couples rather than groups.
Sarah kissed him back, happy to have dodged another bullet.
At first, Felicia felt certain that the nurse had to be mistaken. "Away" was simply not an appropriate destination for Dean. He was still recovering himself, for goodness' sake.
Yet, a search of the hospital failed to turn up anything beyond signed confirmation that Dean had, indeed, checked himself out, AMA (Against Medical Advice) and left no forwarding contact info. He'd paid his bill by credit card. And took off before the card could be returned to him.
"Where could he possibly have gone?" Felicia wondered. "It wasn't to see Lori Ann, and who else does he have?"
"Sharlene?" Lorna took a stab. A quick phone-called confirmed that Dean's aunt hadn't seen him either.
Felicia and Lorna racked their brains trying to figure out a site Dean might have retreated to if he needed to think. The problem was, he'd been away from Bay City for so long, it wasn't as if there was an obvious place for him to go.
In desperation, they drove by the former site of D&M Productions and, for a moment, for Lorna at least, it was 1991 again. She, Dean and Matt were headed to the top of the music business as long as rivalries, in-fighting, romantic musical-chairs and, oh, yes, the minor fact that Lorna was secretly working for Carl, didn't derail them first.
Felicia caught the look on Lorna's face and asked, "Memories?"
"More like regrets."
"That's a shame. Because I don't have a single one where this place is concerned."
"Are you kidding me?" Lorna demanded. "You don't have any regrets about anything I did to Jenna back then? Like, say, broadcasting a phony X-rated video of her into every home in Bay City?"
"Don't be silly, Lorna. Jam Sessions was popular, but it wasn't that popular. We never outranked any of the soap-operas we were up against. At best, maybe your stunt got what, a twelve share?"
Lorna laughed, grateful for the permission to finally do so. "You are a very forgiving person, Mom."
"No. It's just that my regrets have to do with you being forced to grow up in such a way that you felt compelled to make these awful choices. But how can I regret D&M Productions, or even your involvement with Carl, when that's precisely what brought you back to me?"
"The cabin," Lorna said suddenly. Felicia looked at her, baffled at the rapid change of subject, but Lorna persisted, "Carl. When he tried to kill Lucas by cutting the brakes in his car but got Jenna by mistake, weren't she and Dean headed up to the cabin?"
"Were they?" Felicia tried to recall. "I don't remember."
"Doesn't matter. The Cory cabin was always a special place for them. Maybe..."
"What are we waiting for?" Felicia all but put Lorna's hands back on the steering wheel. "Let's go."
Despite Lila's misgivings about her boss, his motives, and the rather brusque, mysterious request earlier that afternoon for her to meet Grant Harrison at some address barely within Bay City limits, Lila was, nevertheless, surprised to find that she was having the time of her life.
Probably because she was doing what she did best. Making things pretty.
Although it wasn't much of a challenge, what with the beautiful house Grant had bought for himself and Kirkland. Whatever misgivings she'd had as she drove up to the secluded, modest two-story home were dashed as soon as Grant led her through the sigh-inducing, authentic oak front door.
Lila didn't think her eyes could get any bigger as she danced from room to spacious room, taking in the delicious hardwood floors and open windows, the chef's kitchen and impressive breakfast nook. Rooms full of understated charm and coziness.
So unlike Grant.
"This is the house you bought for yourself and Kirkland?" Lila queried as she took in the lush but tasteful backyard. "It seems so... modest."
"I wanted a home for my son, not a museum," Grant snapped, glaring at her over crossed arms. "Now do your thing and decorate."
Her brain already percolating over the things she could do with the windows alone, Lila bit her tongue and glided past the sulking brute of an owner to tour the house alone.
Now, hours later, her insensible shoes off and her hair no doubt all over her head, Lila was giddy with excitement as she paced the living room floor with her tape measure.
"How do you feel about green? Emerald curtains.... a rug that goes from here to there...?"
"Whatever you think is best," Grant grunted distractedly. "Though, emerald curtains? Let's not go whole-hog Scarlett O'Hara, shall we?"
Lila grimaced and turned to find him exactly as he had been for the entire afternoon, leaning against the wall with the same scowl on his face from hours earlier.
She put a hand on her hip and pointed at the mantle. "How about I have you stuffed and mounted over where you're standing? Your head would make great target practice for all the locals."
"Whatever you think is best," he glowered again.
"Oh, good grief," Lila muttered, marching up and giving him a pinch.
"What in the world is wrong with you?" he boomed as he rubbed his arm.
"Me? I'm right as rain. You, on the other hand, have been muttering and snapping and grumpin' ever since I've gotten here. How am I supposed to do my job if you keep ignoring me to pout like a five year old in the corner?"
Grant's eyes narrowed. "I am not pouting. I have a number of things on my mind, as adults often do, and I am thinking."
"You're not thinking. You're brooding," she snorted. "Like somebody's gotten all up under your skin."
"She did not get under my skin," Grant bellowed.
All that moved on Lila was her eyebrow as it shot up in surprise at this nugget of information.
"A woman?" she chuckled. "You're all pitiful and ruminating against the wall because of a woman? Oh, Grant, sugar, you are too old for that!"
"I am not brooding over some woman," Grant all but stomped his foot petulantly, eliciting another unladylike laugh from Lila. "And I am not too old for anything!"
"Well, something has you hot under the collar."
"That woman did not get me hot under the collar!"
"Under the collar, into your skin, and everything in between," Lila laughed. "Goodness, do I pity "
But her words were cut off as Grant swiftly pulled her into his arms and kissed Lila so long and so hard that it took her breath away.
A ninety-minute round-trip drive later, and Felicia and Lorna had determined that Dean wasn't at the cabin. As far as they knew, he'd simply dropped off the face of the Earth.
Unwilling to stay away from Lori Ann any longer, Felicia urged Lorna to drive them back to the hospital. Only to find, upon their arrival, an entire welcoming committee.
That couldn't be good.
Rachel and Matt and Donna, Felicia could believe they all just stopped by to offer her some good wishes.
But the look on Jamie's face told her that something much more serious was going on.
"What is it?" she demanded. "What's happened? Where's Lori Ann?"
"Lori Ann is fine," Jamie rushed to reassure. "For now."
"What does that mean?"
"It means she had another episode. She stopped breathing again."
Despite Jamie's reassurance, Felicia pushed him away and hurried to the viewing window to make certain that Lori Ann was still there. And that she was still breathing.
Jamie said, "It's my opinion, as well as that of the pediatric cardiologist, that her surgery can't be put off for much longer. We need to go in and fix that patent. We need your permission."
"I told you, Jamie," Felicia insisted. "I can't. I am not Lori Ann's legal guardian."
"Well, in that case, maybe another family member..." he looked questioningly at Lorna.
"I'm not her guardian either," she shrugged helplessly.
"Actually," a voice spoke up from behind them all, prompting every head to swivel around. "I am."
Kevin Fowler smiled pleasantly at the assembled crowd. And handed Jamie a folded, legal document.
"That was wild," Allie told Gregory as he walked her to the door of the Cory mansion. "Frankie coming home...."
"My mom's going to flip," Gregory said. "In a good way this time, which is always a plus."
Allie smiled. "I had a really nice time tonight. Thank you."
"Maybe next time we can try something indoors? Global climate change and all..." He winced, "Or am I being too presumptuous, assuming there's going to be a next time?"
In lieu of a reply, Allie leaned over and kissed him. "I'll see you next time," she promised, and darted into the house.
Once up in her room, Allie finally reached for her cell-phone, which had been vibrating with an urgent text, for over an hour. She'd ignored it because 1) it would have been rude to check her messages while out with Gregory (Allie didn't even like call waiting, because it gave the impression that the person who was interrupting the call was more important than the person you were already speaking to), and 2) because she was pretty sure she knew who it was from.
Sarah was writing to apologize and explain her odd behavior from before. It had to be.
Except that it wasn't.
The missive was from GQ, asking Allie to come see him. Right away.
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