"What the hell is this?" Jamie slapped away the sheet of paper Kevin was attempting to hand him.
Kevin didn't budge, arm still outstretched. "It's a official document naming me the legal guardian of the minor child, Gloria Ann Frame."
"How would you even get something like this?" Lorna demanded, snatching it from Kevin's fingers and skimming the tiny type.
"Dean signed it a few hours ago."
"Dean?" Felicia turned Kevin to face her. "You know where Dean is?"
"I know where Dean was," he clarified. "He came to my office."
"Oh, please," Jamie dismissed. "How would Dean even know you exist?"
Kevin prompted Felicia, "You were given Bay City newspapers while in captivity, were you not?"
Felicia nodded. "We read them cover to cover, there wasn't much else to do."
Kevin told Jamie, "I'm involved in a rather high-profile, local custody case. Perhaps you've heard?"
"You are a son-of-a-bitch," Jamie swore.
Kevin shrugged. "You knew Sally better than I did." Then, turning his back on Jamie, Kevin told Felicia and Lorna, not to mention Rachel, Donna and Matt, still standing silently in the background, "Dean came to see me. He said I was the only Family Law attorney he'd ever heard of. He wanted you all to know that he is physically all right, but that he doesn't feel fit to raise a child at this point. He needs time to grieve Jenna, and he indicated that he needed to do it alone, away from everyone else, and away from Bay City."
"No," Felicia insisted. "No, that's not right. He isn't thinking straight. He needs our help."
"He doesn't want it," Kevin said. "What he does want is for me to make the appropriate arrangements for Lori Ann's future."
"What does that mean?" Felicia asked, horrified.
"It means that he gave me temporary legal guardianship so that I can find Lori Ann the best permanent home. It's all spelled out in the document."
Lorna, who'd been reading even as he spoke, told Felicia, "According to this, Kevin gets to decide who will raise Lori Ann. If I'm understanding it right, it doesn't even have to be one of us, he could sell her into white slavery and there's nothing her family could do about it."
"This is ridiculous," Felicia looked at Kevin accusingly. "It can't be legal. I'm calling Cass." She whipped out her phone and speed-dialed his number, unloading the entire story before he'd even gotten past the first syllable of "Hello?"
Cass listened, and then he promised, "I'll be right there." Still at the fair, he told Frankie and Charlie, "Sorry, ladies, work calls. You two can manage without me, right?"
"No problem," Frankie said brightly.
Charlie just shrugged and studied her sneakers.
As he took off, Cass shot Frankie a puzzled look over Charlie's head. She waved him away, indicating that everything would be all right.
Even if, looking at her daughter's sullen face, Frankie didn't really completely believe it.
It should have worked.
Lila was a beautiful, vivacious woman. Kissing her should have wiped any and all memories of Marley right out of Grant's brain.
In practice, however, it did no such thing.
And if the smack Lila then proceeded to give him across the cheek failed to get the job done, then Grant feared the situation was even direr than he'd initially thought.
Still, he kept up the charade, rubbing his jaw even as he asked Lila, "It wasn't that bad, was it?"
"I don't know what you think you're doing," she stammered, smoothing her hair as she tried to collect herself. "But, if you believe that just because you're paying me to decorate your "
"Save the offended Southern Belle routine, Lila. You liked it well enough."
Lila shoved him away in disgust. "Fine. So you know how to kiss. All those marriages should have taught you something, even if it wasn't manners. Still, I don't appreciate being used so you can get some other woman off your brain. Go find your little girlfriend and show off those puckering skills to her, why don't you?"
"She's not my girlfriend," Grant shuddered. "She isn't anything to me. Besides, she's married."
"Why am I not surprised? " Lila snorted, whipping a compact and a tube of lipstick from her purse. "You know, a custody judge won't look kindly on you having an affair."
"This woman is the last person I'd ever consider having an affair with. And she's the last person who'd cheat on her wet noodle of a husband. She's happily married. Or so she keeps telling me at every opportunity."
Finished with reapplying her lipstick, Lila capped the tube. "Well, something is up. Either you gave her some kind of signal "
"No, no," Grant waved Lila off. "She was just playing games, I'm sure of it."
"Funny game for a happily married woman to be playing. She's just begging to get burned. Especially if she's playing with you."
"She is, isn't she? Begging to get burned, that is? I mean she knows me, she knows how I operate..."
Lila nodded. "Either she's got a masochistic streak or..."
"Or?" Grant turned to Lila when she hesitated.
"Or," she gritted. "She's really got a thing for you. Which, if true, earns her a place in my prayers tonight."
"A thing for me?" Grant barked with laughter. "Somehow I doubt that."
"It was just a theory," Lila rolled her eyes as she slipped on her shoes. She had a feeling they were done working for the day.
"A theory," Grant repeated, pulling out a cigar and clipping the end. "That means it can be tested...."
And, as he could already hear himself explaining to Kirkland should the need ever come up, a theory wasn't a plan or a scheme or machination. It was simply a search for truth. Kirkland always said he wanted the truth from the adults in his life, didn't he? Well, his father would get right on that for him.
"Lila, my dear," Grant laughed as he struck a match and heartily puffed his cigar. "You are a beautiful genius."
"And you," Lila groaned. "Look way too gosh-darn happy to be up to anything good."
As Cass leafed through the guardianship document, making non-committal noises every time Felicia nudged him for an answer, Kevin prompted, "Please inform your client that everything is in order. The doctors tell me that Lori Ann is in need of crucial surgery, and that there is no time to waste."
"Hold on a minute," Cass snapped. "I'm still looking."
"I could help you sound out the bigger words if you'd like."
Cass raised his head and looked from Kevin to Felicia. "Where did you find this guy?"
"Haven't you heard? I'm fine, upstanding Bay City stock. Frame, Matthews... I've even been told that my mother was the first woman you set your cap for when you got to town lo these many years ago."
"You are nothing like Sally Frame."
"Thank you," Kevin said. "Now please enlighten your client as to my rights in this matter."
Cass sighed and looked apologetically at Felicia. "He's right. This is rock solid. We can try to challenge it in court but, until a judge decides to throw it out, he really does have all custodial rights where Lori Ann is concerned."
"So a total stranger holds my granddaughter's life in his hands?"
"Hey, now," Kevin interrupted. "I'm family, remember? My mother and Dean were cousins, after all."
"Sally Frame was Steve Frame's adopted daughter. You have no blood ties to Lori Ann," Cass countered.
"And your client does?" Kevin snapped. "Isn't Felicia Gallant Jenna Norris Frame's adoptive mother?"
He reminded, "Lori Ann doesn't have a single blood relative in this room."
It was a good thing Cass, Felicia, and Lorna were so engrossed in their conversation with Kevin. Or they might have noticed the looks both Rachel and Matt shot in Donna's direction at his words.
"I'm a blood relative," Jamie, who'd just returned after consulting with Lori Ann's surgeon, spoke up.
"Good for you," Kevin praised. "But I'm sure you'd be the last person to speak up in favor of biology automatically trumping officially authorized custodial rights." He challenged with a smile. "Or am I wrong about that?"
Jamie shook his head in disgust. "You ambulance chasers are really something. You don't give a damn about real people, real feelings. You just get off on the sound of your own clever voices and playing God with other's lives."
"Something no one has ever accused the medical profession of doing." Then, as if suddenly bored with their sparring, Kevin dropped the baiting tone and turned deadly serious to ask Jamie, "Are you still recommending the surgery for Lori Ann?"
"Yes," Jamie was forced to admit, loathe to sound as if he might be agreeing with Kevin on anything. "The sooner the better."
"Then you have my authorization," Kevin said, as Felicia let out a low, guttural moan in return.
"You're here," GQ said softly, seeing Allie standing in the hall outside his dorm room. "I wasn't sure if you'd...."
"I wasn't sure, either. I went back and forth so many times... Even in the elevator up here, it was still fifty-fifty whether I'd knock or not."
"I'm glad you did." He beckoned Allie inside and shut the door behind her.
"What do you want?" she wondered. Her tone sounded hostile, when what she really felt was exhausted. In the time it had taken her to make up her mind, Allie had lived through so many different scenarios in her head that it felt like an entire lifetime had passed between her receiving GQ's text and now.
"I wanted to tell you I was sorry."
"You've done that already."
"And I wanted to tell you I was wrong."
"About being sorry?"
"About letting you go."
Allie stopped breathing. Sure, this had been one of her many scenarios and more than a couple of times, too; but it wasn't one she'd ever actually believed could happen.
"I thought I could do this," GQ admitted. "I thought I could see you with another guy and be happy for you."
"It's what you said," she reminded. "Over and over again."
"Okay," she agreed, unable to think of a more appropriate response. Unable to think of anything at all, really.
"I missed you, Allie. I really missed you. Even before I came to Bay City. I was thinking about you all the time. I told myself it was because I felt guilty. I figured if I apologized, if I got you to forgive me, then maybe I'd stop thinking about you so much."
"I did forgive you. The day you came by the house, remember?"
"It didn't help. It just reminded me of how sweet you were and what a good time we had together."
"I'm not Black, GQ. I'm never going to be Black. And if you're just going to jerk me around "
"I'm not, I swear it. All this time, I kept telling myself that I was doing the right thing, the proper thing, hell, even the noble thing. But I'm miserable."
"Join the club," Allie blurted out, even as a part of her had to admit that the sentiment might have been true a year ago, a month ago, maybe even a day ago. But now...
"I don't want to be miserable anymore," GQ pleaded, taking her hands in his own. "And I don't want to be without you anymore. Please, Allie," he kissed her, and she kissed him back. Partly out of nostalgia, partly out of spite, partly out of politeness, partly out of surprise but mostly she had to be honest with herself about that out of desire. "Stay. Stay with me, Allie. Please...."
For a moment, as they were wheeling Lori Ann into surgery, Rachel feared that Felicia might through herself bodily in front of the incubator or, at the very least, insist on following the medical personnel into the operating room.
Ultimately, though, she did none of those things. She simply clutched Jamie's arm and, after days and days of making demands for her granddaughter's sake, simply pleaded, "Look after her for me."
"I will," he swore. Then signaled for Rachel to step up and embrace Felicia as Jamie delicately extricated himself and went to scrub up.
Felicia clung to Rachel, allowing Jamie's mother to lead her to a chair in the waiting area, where Felicia all but collapsed, head in her hands, shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Lorna had been too jittery to remain sitting, and so had stepped out into the corridor to pace. Kevin, understanding that his presence was an annoyance at best, a deliberate provocation at worst, chose a seat as unobtrusively far away from the others as possible. Donna and Matt were nowhere to be seen. And so it was only to Rachel that Felicia confessed, "I don't think I'll be able to survive it if I lose that little girl. With Lucas, when I lost him, I was losing my present. Even with Jenna now, at least I have our past together to hold on to. But Lori Ann, she's nothing but the future. Without her, I'm afraid I simply won't have one."
"You will," Rachel swore. "No matter what happens, I know you, you're strong, you'll find the will to keep going."
"Forgive me, Rachel," Felicia said. "I appreciate what you're trying to do. I appreciate your being here and I appreciate all your years of friendship. But, forgive me, please, if I tell you that you've never lost a child, you don't know what I'm going through."
"I do," the voice came from above them. Both Rachel and Felicia looked up to realize that Donna had arrived and, without asking permission, took a seat on Felicia's other side, across from Rachel. She told her, "I've lost a child."
For a moment, Rachel's heart froze, terrified that Donna would... Oh, good Lord, she wouldn't, not now, would she? Even Donna couldn't be that self-centered!
Donna must have sensed what Rachel was thinking, because she shot her a deadly look meant to stifle any apprehension, and she told Felicia, while actually addressing both women, "When I lost Victoria I was sure I had lost my future, as well. We didn't know about the twins being alive then. We thought all three of them were gone. Victoria and her little girls."
"How..." Felicia's voice faltered. "How did you survive?"
"I didn't," Donna said simply. "Not at first. Not for a long time. Maybe not even now."
"I-I don't understand."
"You fake it," Donna said. "It's a simple as that. When the will to do anything, the will to live is gone, you continue acting as if its there. You go through the motions. You pretend. You sit there and you listen to people compliment you on how well you're dealing with everything, how wonderfully you're moving on, what a trouper you are. And inside... Well, there's nothing left inside. You're empty. Just a collection of nerves and impulses firing on pure instinct. It's all a facade, all an act."
"Donna," Rachel seethed. "I don't think you're helping."
"No," Felicia interrupted over her shoulder. "No, Rachel she is." Felicia turned back to Donna. "So you kept going?"
"Why?" Felicia had to know. "If there was really nothing..."
"Because the future isn't something that you create. The future is something that comes barreling out of nowhere and most of the time knocks you flat on your back. You have no choice about the future that's coming. Your only choice is whether or not you'll be there for it."
"What's the point," Felicia asked bitterly. "How many times am I supposed to get knocked flat on my back and still keep getting up?"
Donna said, "In the years before I knew Victoria existed, there were so many times when I thought it would be easier to just never get back up again. But if I'd stayed down, if I hadn't at least pretended to keep living, I may not have been there when Victoria returned to me. I would have missed it. I would have missed her and Steven and Kirkland and the girls. And Michael. I would have missed Michael coming back to me, too."
"But you ended up losing them both," Felicia pointed out, not caring how cruel it was, but needing to fully understand just what it was Donna was trying to tell her.
Donna shrugged. "If I'd given up before... there was a time, before.... I wasn't living in Bay City then." Another warning look from Rachel, another angry dismissal from Donna. "Things were looking so bleak... if I had given up then, I never would have found them. And they made everything that came before worthwhile."
Matt's eyes followed Lorna up and down the hallway as she paced, and he was instantly transported to the early days of D&M, when Lorna was their hyperactive task master, he and Dean were just starting out, and Jenna was young, innocent, eager, radiant...
Lorna's shoes clicked to a stop in front of him. "Do you intend to keep loitering and feeling useless, or would you rather do something productive and buy me a drink?"
"I was going to wait for Donna..." Matt looked from Lorna to the NICU doors uneasily. He had no clue what was going on in there, what Donna was doing.
"She's a grown up. A couple of times over, as a matter of fact, or haven't you noticed?"
"Lorna..." Matt warned, amused in spite of himself.
"If they needed us, they'd have said so," Lorna jerked her head to indicate everyone in the other room who, so far, hadn't indicated requiring either of them one iota. "If you want to play hero now, you should escort me to the nearest bar, where you can say hi to Jack and I can say hello to Jim."
"You never change," Matt smiled, letting Lorna lead him out of the hospital. "Still bossing me around."
"You know you like it," Lorna smirked. "First round's on you."
"Do we have a problem here?" Frankie asked when she and her daughter crossed the threshold of home.
"No." Charlie headed up the stairs.
"I'm confused," Frankie said. "All those years we had to sneak around and I was asking you to lie to your father about me, we had a really good time hanging out together. Now that everything is out in the open and we don't have to hide anymore, it's like you don't want anything to do with me."
Charlie shrugged and paused at the top of the stairs, looking over her mother rather than at her. "You're back. That's great."
"Once more," Frankie joked. "With feeling." But Charlie neither smiled nor, to be honest, really understood the reference. Frankie switched tactics, pleading, "I wish you could tell me what was bothering you."
"I'm fine. I'm tired. Can I go to bed now?"
"You don't want to talk?"
"Charlie..." Her words were cut off by the sound of their doorbell ringing. Charlie took advantage of the distraction to sneak away upstairs while her mother answered the door.
"Hey." Kevin looked up to find Amanda taking a seat in the hospital waiting-room chair next to him.
She said, "My mom called and asked me to come talk to you."
"I see they're sending in the Marines."
"Semper Fi." Amanda cocked her head and smiled at him.
"Ipso facto," he replied, and leaned in to kiss her.
She responded, waited a moment, then asked, "So you're Lori Ann's guardian?"
"You gave permission for her to have surgery?"
Amanda sighed and indicated Felicia and Rachel, who sat watching them wearily from the other side of the room. "You can't blame them for being upset."
"It's just so hard for Felicia to have her granddaughter's life resting in the hands of someone who doesn't really care "
"You think I don't care?" Kevin cut her off, straightening up in his chair. "Amanda, if I didn't care, I would have gone into real-estate and spent my days collecting checks for sitting in on condominium closings. I specialized in Family Law because I happen to care very much about the population segment that, as far as Lady Justice is concerned, doesn't have a voice to speak for itself. You want to know what's upsetting Felicia and Lorna and the rest? It's not because they think I don't care. It's because they know that the only thing I care about is what's best for Lori Ann, not what's best for all of them. It's not the same thing."
Amanda gulped. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
"You don't offend me," Kevin reassured, taking her hand and kissing each of the knuckles in turn. "People who forget what In the best interests of the child means, they offend me."
"Felicia loves that child."
"I have no doubt about that. What I do have doubts about is whether she is the best possible person to raise her. She's single, she's older, she has a history of alcoholism and falling apart in the face of tragedy, which her daughter's death most certainly is. Dean had his doubts, too. That's why he came to me, instead of just abandoning the baby to Felicia or Lorna. He told me he couldn't think straight right now. He wanted what was best for Lori Ann, but he didn't know what that was. That's why he asked me to step in. He wanted someone impartial to make the call."
"I don't envy you." Amanda said, looking at the clock. "How much longer is Lori Ann supposed to be in surgery?"
"I don't know," Kevin confessed. "This waiting is excruciating. Every time I'm sure an hour has passed, it's barely been five minutes. Then again, I tell myself that each minute the doctors aren't here to tell us that something went wrong, it's got to be a good thing."
"Wow," Amanda sympathized. "If you care this much about your clients, you'd probably be a mess with kids of your own."
"I'm actually kind of looking forward to that," Kevin admitted. "The real thing after all these professional dry-runs. I've had this fantasy ever since I was in high school, maybe even earlier, of adopting a whole house-full of kids from all over the world. Sort of Josephine Baker meets Mia Farrow with a touch of the Jolie-Pitts thrown in."
Her throat dry, Amanda choked out, "You want to have kids? A whole house-full?"
"Well, maybe a small house," he joked in response to the horrified look on her face. "A cottage?"
But Amanda wasn't laughing.
"Remember when I gave him that gold beeper?"
Matt's hand, holding a shot of tequila, paused in front of his lips as he snickered. "How could I forget? Dean was so excited."
"And Jenna was so not."
Lorna sighed. "God, I was a bitch back then."
Matt lifted an eyebrow. "Back then?" The quip earned him a patented Lorna glare, which prompted Matt to quickly hold up a hand in concession and admit, "Alright, alright, I was a bitch, too. A whiny, two-timing bitch who wanted to have my cake and eat it too." He sighed as the memories washed over him. "I was a jerk to you and Jenna both."
"You were a bitch," Lorna corrected, lifting her shot-glass to toast.
"I was a bitch," Matt lifted his in answer, and they both slammed back their shots.
"The bar fight!" Lorna suddenly blurted out.
"You mean the one you got Dean arrested for? Because you thought it would be good publicity?" Matt grinned.
"And poor Jenna had no clue what we were up to."
"God, that was...almost twenty years ago," Matt shook his head. "Sometimes I forget I had a life before Jasmine."
"Well, having kids, that's when your life really begins," Lorna shrugged. "Or so they say."
"It's true. I have no idea what I did with my time before she came along." Matt nodded.
"Jenna tried for so long to have a baby," Lorna suddenly sobered up, despite the tequila's best efforts. "I can't believe that just when she and Dean were finally going to have it all that... it's so unfair. She didn't deserve this."
"No, she didn't," Matt agreed quietly, downing another shot as a wave of guilt hit him for knowing a secret that wasn't his.
"Whoever's responsible for this, I am so going to make sure they pay," Lorna promised in a deadly tone.
Matt looked up from his drink with dread. He'd heard that tone from Lorna before. He knew it would lead to nothing but trouble.
He tried to change the subject. "Not now, Lorna. This isn't the time. Right now I just want to remember Jenna. I want to remember what a beautiful person she was. How kind "
"And brave," Lorna held out her glass for Mat to fill.
"Forgiving," Matt supplied.
"And sweet," Lorna finished. "Don't forget, she could be annoyingly, unrelentingly, tooth achingly, diabetics-run-for-your-lives sweet." Lorna felt the tears coming. The whole point of her last sentence had been to keep the tears at bay, and here they were, coming anyway. Damn, she'd gone soft. "I'm going to miss her, Matt. I already miss her, and it doesn't even feel real yet."
He took Lorna's hand and squeezed it tightly. "Me, too."
Cecile reminded, "We had a deal, Mary Frances."
Frankie's eyes darted up the stairs and she finally felt grateful for Charlie's angry stomps and punctuating door-slam. Content that her daughter was out of the line of fire, Frankie simply told Cecile, "It's off."
Cecile grabbed Frankie's arm, hissing, "It's not off until I say it's off."
Frankie twisted out of her grip and stepped away, moving calmly, deliberately, making it clear who was in control now. "You're wrong. We're done."
"Look at you," Cecile smirked, closing the door behind her. "So smug. One sweaty afternoon romp with Cass and you suddenly think you can take on the world. Been there, dear heart, done that. He isn't that good."
"Maybe you were doing it wrong," Frankie suggested sweetly. And then she corrected, "I'm not invincible. But Cass and I, together, are."
"What about that grouchy Pipi Longstocking of yours upstairs?"
"You come near my daughter," Frankie said calmly, rationally, dead-seriously. "And I'll kill you."
Cass stepped through the front door. He surveyed the scene and caught the last fragment of their conversation. He told Cecile. "I'll help her."
"I said, no, Matt. I am not going home with you to that house. That Carl house... The house where Carl lives..."
Matt carefully marched a very wasted Lorna down the stone pathway, not towards his mother's house, but in the direction of their guesthouse, located about an acre away.
"Carl won't find you here," Matt laughed as he lifted one of her legs, then the other, up the porch stairs. Lorna slapped at his hands. "Stop trying to cop a feel!"
"I was just trying to help you," he explained.
"Are we there, yet?" Lorna whined. "I could've been back at my mother's house and in bed already, slowpoke."
"Yes," Matt said patiently, as he propped Lorna against the wall so he could unlock the door. "We're here."
"You're a good Matt, Matt," Lorna laughed, plopping down in a heap on the porch. "That's why I like you. That's why I've always liked you. A good Matt is hard to find, you know. The Army is always looking for a few good Matts."
"Come on. Easy does it," Matt laughed, grabbing her hands and pulling her up, then deftly hoisting Lorna over his shoulder.
"What happened?" she asked in a wondrous voice as he carried her into the house and closed the door. "How did you do that?
"I go to the gym," Matt chuckled, rather enjoying this side of Lorna. It was kind of like old times again. Before everything got too complicated. Before he knew things he'd really rather not know.
"It's like you're SuperMatt," her voice came from behind him. "Where's your cape?"
"Lorna!" Matt laughed as she goosed him. "Stop it!"
"I was looking for your cape!"
"Well, that's not it," he said sternly, completing his navigation to the bedroom. "Now hold on, we're coming in for the landing." He eased her off his shoulder and onto the bed. "There. Touchdown."
"You have a great butt," Lorna announced.
Matt rolled his eyes. "Thanks."
"Jamie has a great butt, too," she sat up as Matt pulled off her shoes. "Must be genetics. Does Rachel have a nice ass? Or does she only reproduce with men who have nice ones?"
"You are so drunk," Matt observed, rather needlessly.
"I do believe you're right." Lorna sighed and pulled the quilt with her as she rolled over and settled down in bed. "You can go now," she dismissed him from somewhere underneath the folds of her blanket.
"Yup. Still bossy," Matt muttered under his breath in amusement as he left Lorna to sleep it off.
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