Jamie lifted his hand to reveal a small vial. He placed it on his desk with a firm thud.
"What's that?" Frankie asked cautiously, her eyes flickering from the vial to Jamie's unwavering stare.
"An experimental drug used in the treatment of certain cancers, brain tumors to be exact. Right now it's only been seen in case studies abroad. The US isn't close to putting it on the market despite its promise. There are concerns about the side effects. Convulsions, seizures, severe anaphylactic reactions... amnesia." He nodded at the vial with a look of contempt. "It's the drug Cecile plied you with years ago."
Frankie swallowed, keeping her distance as if the potion could leap off Jamie's desktop and inject itself into her right then and there. "How did you get it?"
"Cecile gave it to me. To use on you with the intention of making you forget everything about her... me... yourself..."
"She asked you to drug me?"
Jamie shook his head sharply. "She's blackmailing me. If I help her, she'll leave me alone. If I help you, she'll ruin my life." He gave short laugh. "Looks like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, huh?"
Frankie studied her cousin for less than a heartbeat before shaking her head. "Why are you telling me this? You wouldn't tell me all this if you were going to drug me."
Disappointment...no, hurt... briefly flickered in Jamie's eyes, before the blue cooled into steel. "If that's your way of asking me if I plan on drugging you, let me put your mind at ease. No, Frankie, I am not planning on drugging you. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Mostly because it's wrong. You've suffered plenty at Cecile's hands already, and I'm not so desperate or depraved as to consider screwing up my own cousin's life even more than it already has been, not to mention take a wife and mother away from her family again. But also because Cecile drugged me once. You know all about that, it's why you're here. I would never inflict that on another human being. Even to save myself."
"So, you told Cecile..." Frankie began cautiously, forcing herself to mentally push aside the accusation and implication of Jamie's words.
"Nothing. She expects me to report to her once the deed is done."
Relief flooded Frankie as her mind clicked into gear. "Okay, so you've bought us some time. We can go to the police and you can give them your statement "
"No," Jamie shook his head. "I refuse to be Cecile's tool. I won't be yours either."
"Jamie, you can't be serious! She has to be stopped! Doesn't this," she pointed to the vial on his desk. "Prove that?"
"Yes," he answered her again with maddening calm. "And I will stop her in my own way."
"There isn't time to try to figure something else out! She's out there and wants to hurt me and my family, now! What about Charlie? What about Lori Ann? Cass and I are adopting her, do you really want a defenseless baby in Cecile's crosshairs?"
"And here comes that time-honored Frame arrogance," Jamie chided. "Do not put the welfare of your family on me. You have a dangerous, psychotic woman gunning for you, and the only action you take to fight her is to blackmail me into saving your ass. You know damn well you and Cass have no business taking in Lori Ann until Cecile is no longer a threat."
"She wouldn't be a threat if you would just come forward, Jamie. You can end this."
"No, I can't. My testimony won't be enough to do anything to Cecile except piss her off even more. And that is something neither of us want."
"I'll risk it," Frankie answered defiantly. "If your testimony doesn't work then we'll try to come up with something else."
"You'll forgive me if I decline to play the martyr, Frankie. I have kids to protect, too."
"So you're just going to think about yourself? So much for family loyalty, I guess."
"Don't go there, Frankie. We're way past playing the 'Frame family sticks together' card, and you know it."
He was right.
Damn her for taking Jamie away, too.
"I could make you come forward," Frankie refused to give up. Jamie may not have believed it, but she knew he was her best and last chance.
"I know you could."
"You're making me do this. I don't want to."
"I'm not making you do anything. You do what you feel you have to. And I'll do the same." He pushed himself away from his desk and stood. "You can keep that, " he nodded to the vial on his desktop.
"I'm not going to wait long, Jamie," Frankie insisted as he pushed past her, heading for the door. "New Year's Day," she turned to him. "You have until then to do whatever you think you can about Cecile. Or I am going straight to Grant's attorney with what I know about you."
"Merry Christmas, Frankie." Jamie slammed the door behind him.
Christmas in Bay City 1991 Part #1....
International viewers can screen the same episode through YouTube, here.
Christmas in Bay City 2009....
Several days later, while trudging through the frosty hospital parking lot with an entire dolly cart of gifts she'd gotten not only for Lori Ann, but for the wonderful staff who'd been taking care of her, the other babies in the NICU and their parents, who Felicia now considered comrades in arms, she heard her cell-phone chime the theme to Love is a Many Splendored Thing, a downloaded gift from a fan who'd said she found it most appropriate for Felicia Gallant.
The number was blinking Unknown. But Felicia knew.
She snatched up the phone, certain, but still terrified as she whispered, "Dean?"
"Merry Christmas, Felicia." He sounded so old. Years, decades older than he'd been just a few months ago. And so tired. So... lost.
"Oh, Dean, darling, thank you. Thank you for calling. Where are you? Wherever you are, just stay there, I'll come and get you. We've been waiting for you for so long."
"How is she?" Dean asked, ignoring Felicia plea.
"She's absolutely beautiful. She looks just like Jenna. But she's got your spirit. You should have seen how she fought them every time the nurses would try to do some Godforsaken procedure. It's a very good sign, they said. The more active the baby, the better her chances. She's almost ready to go home. Oh, Dean, this is perfect, you can come pick her up and "
"I'm not coming home," he said. "I can't. I woke up this morning and all I could think about was my first Christmas with Jenna, remember? It was your first Christmas with her, too. Do you remember how happy she was? How much fun she was having? I remember her face and I can't breathe. I can't move. I can't come back, Felicia. I can't. It'd kill me."
"Well then, at least revoke that horrible piece of paper you signed for Kevin Fowler. I don't blame you, Dean. I know you weren't in your right mind. But you couldn't have meant for a stranger especially a man like that to be making decisions about our little girl."
"I want what's best for her."
"We all do, Dean."
"That's not me right now."
"We can help you, Dean. We can all help you. Lorna and I, and Cass, and, oh my God, Dean, you don't even know. Frankie, she's "
But the connection had already been broken.
"Don't take this the wrong way; I like having you here," Kevin began when dawn had come and gone, and Amanda still made no move to put on her clothes, much less get out of his bed. "But don't you have a Christmas morning thing at your mom's house to get to?"
"I'd rather stay with you." She rolled over on her side, propped her head up with one hand and asked, "Is that a problem?"
"Not for me, but..."
"My mother won't miss me. She's got Lila now, the daughter she always wanted."
Kevin frowned. "I feel like I just skipped a large chunk of conversation. Can we rewind?"
"Sure. Lila is spirited, she's vivacious, she's charming. She listens to my mother's advice. She's brunette. And, oh, yeah, she's an allegedly reformed bitch. They've got oodles in common. Much more than my mother and I ever did."
"I don't know. I've seen you get your Rachel on. You've got more of your mother in you than you think."
"Doesn't matter. It still will never be enough. Anything I do, it's never enough for my mother. I'm a good girl, and it's: Why are you being so passive, so wishy-washy? You want something, don't complain, do something! Go out and get it, Amanda!.... I'm a bad girl and I use the term lightly; I've watched plenty of masters at work, I know I could never live up to the true meaning of the word and it's: I thought I raised you better than that. Or, even worse: That's not how it's done, Amanda."
Kevin listened thoughtfully, and then he asked, equally thoughtfully. "Why do you care what she thinks of you?"
"She's my mother."
"That's not an answer, that's a fact."
"So you're telling me that you don't give a damn what anybody thinks of you?"
"Cass Winthrop wiping the floor with you in court "
Kevin raised two fingers, as if holding up a pair of miniature goalpost and corrected, "Cass Winthrop did not wipe the floor with me in court. Cass Winthrop got a couple of snarky jabs in at my expense, but at the end of the day, his client left with less than he'd come in with, and mine now has visitation rights with his son. That's the only thing that matters."
"Felicia Gallant bursts in, accuses you of selling babies and swindling grieving widowers, not to mention very possibly being the Anti-Christ himself, and that doesn't bother you in the slightest?"
"No," Kevin said.
"So no teeny, tiny chink in the armor even? No hint of human feeling at all?"
"Oh, I'm rife with human feeling. I'd think you, more than anyone, would know that by now. I can be very passionate," the way he said the final word made Amanda blush. "Just not about this. Other people's opinions are useless. I learned that when I was a kid. Every time I'd get shipped off to a new branch of the Matthews family tree for my latest straightening out, I'd come in, and they'd already have these pre-conceived notions about who I was and what I thought and how I should be handled. All these opinions that had nothing to do with the real me. Most of the time it was their projection, not reality. As soon as I realized that, I realized how meaningless it was to respond to them in any way. People are going to think what they're going to think. Still doesn't change who you are."
"Remember our second date?" Amanda asked. "Remember what I told you?"
"That your 13 year old nephew Dante, right? bats like a 13 year old boy?"
She raised an eyebrow. "After that."
"That you're much better at becoming whatever a man wants you to be, than at knowing who you really are."
"You were listening."
"If I stop listening to what other people think and only care about who I really am, won't that just be me listening to what you think, and still not being myself at all?"
"I'm sorry," Kevin said. "That's way too profound for Christmas morning. Just do what makes you happy, Amanda. Nobody is going to know what that is better than you."
"You make me happy."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"So can I just do you?"
Kevin laughed, rolled over on his back, and pulled Amanda on top of him. But then he asked, "Okay, so your mother won't miss you. What about your daughter?"
"Oh, Allie's got her own stuff going on. I haven't seen or spoken to her for over a week, I think. And even when I do, she's too preoccupied to give me the time of day. She's young. She's got her own friends, her own plans. She doesn't need her mother anymore."
"Where have you been, Dad? We waited for you." Charlie, in pajamas and sitting cross-legged on the floor next to their Christmas tree, indicated the piles of festively wrapped packages, as yet tragically unopened.
"Aren't you a little old for this sort of behavior?" Cass teased good-naturedly.
"It's Christmas. I revert." She shrugged. "Besides, none of my friends are around to see me."
"Ah. That explains it." Cass shook the snow off his coat and hung it up.
Frankie came up, kissed him, and asked, "Where have you been? You snuck off so mysteriously this morning."
Cass told his daughter, "Dive in! Ready, set... " She had the first box in her hands before he'd reached, "Go!" To Frankie, he whispered, "I was liquidating the last of my tangible assets to pay off that disbursement Lila and Grant stuck me with as the price of a divorce. At least they haven't tried to repossess Charlie's Christmas presents. So far, anyway."
Frankie tried to be charitable. "You hurt Lila a great deal. And she was devoted to you and Charlie for ten years. She deserves something. If this money helps her heal and get back on her feet financially "
"Oh, she's not keeping a penny of it." Cass informed. "No, no. She and Grant presented me with a list of battered women's homeless shelters they want it all donated to. In her name, of course, so I can't even claim the tax deduction. Lila said she thought it was an appropriate charitable choice. Under the circumstances."
Frankie tried her best, but she couldn't help it. She covered her mouth with one hand and laughed. "That is very funny. I wouldn't have guessed she and Grant had it in them."
"Oh, yeah, they're a regular Jerry and Elaine. We'll see how funny you continue to find this when we're living on the sidewalk in a cardboard box, gagging on domestic champagne and choking down defrosted caviar."
Frankie wrapped her arms around Cass' neck and solemnly reassured him, "Just give me a jug of wine, a tofu hot-dog and thou... and I'll be happy in a cardboard box."
"It's the Midwest," he reminded.
"A cardboard box with insulation... "
"Funny you should say that." Cass took Frankie's hand and led her towards Charlie and the tree.
"Were you actually serious?"
"About the box? No. About this? Yes." He asked Frankie, "Will you marry me?"
"I thought you guys were already married," Charlie said.
"And I thought I'd already told you yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Yes, Cass."
"I'm sorry, I don't think I phrased that properly. Mary Frances Frame, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife... today?"
"I can't believe we got snow," Bridget squealed as she and Michele ducked for cover to avoid Kirkland's incoming bombardment of snowballs.
"Thank my Dad," he laughed, only half-joking. Grant had promised him snow for Christmas. And here it was, right on schedule. Donna may have mumbled something about a deal with the Devil, but Kirkland didn't care. Snow!
Not to mention halls decked within an inch of their lives, an actual train set circumventing the Christmas tree, and a mountain of presents not just for Kirkland, but for his little sisters, too.
"Lila," Grant explained, when Marley wondered how he'd suddenly become such an expert on the tastes and holiday wishes of tweens. "Her rule of thumb is, if Jasmine turns up her nose at it, it's probably every other girl's heart's desire."
The only thing missing, as far as Kirkland was concerned, was Jamie. But when he asked Marley about it, his aunt merely shrugged, "Work." She, not bothering to offer any additional details and he, swallowing his anger and disappointment, not bothering to ask.
"Victoria is spinning in her grave," Donna hissed at the sight of her granddaughters happily cavorting, building a snow-fort in Grant Harrison's backyard.
"Donna," Marley clipped out in warning. "We are Kirkland and Grant's guests. The least you can do is be civil. And if you can't do that for your grandson," she continued as Donna opened her mouth to retort, "Then you can go home and spend the remainder of the day alone."
Donna compromised. She stayed. But she consoled herself by sulking indoors with a glass of wine while the rest of them proceeded to enjoy the unexpected weather.
"Gotcha back!" Kirkland had no time to move for cover as Michele and Bridget pelted him with their snowballs and scurried away, laughing.
"You guys are so dead!" he called out, standing up to launch his own attack, but stopping short when he saw that his sisters had sought refuge with Grant.
"Kirkland," Grant said in a mock stern voice. "Is this any way to behave with two young ladies?"
"They started it," he insisted, taking a snowball into each hand. "And I'm going to finish it."
"Nuh-uh!" Bridget taunted from behind one of Grant's legs. "We're safe behind here."
"Think so?" Kirkland smirked.
"You wouldn't dare," Grant said in a somewhat more serious tone. "This is a one-of-a-kind, custom-made suit. The material flown in from Italy "
"Should've thought of that before you became their fort."
There was an eruption of squeals and giggles and a few words that should probably have never been said in mixed company as Kirkland let fly a barrage of snowballs that left Grant and his sisters sputtering and coughing up wet snow.
"Oh my God," Marley laughed, pointing to Grant, his face red, his suit ruined. "The look on your face!"
"Ladies," Grant turned to Michele and Bridget. "Step aside. I am about to teach your brother why it is never, ever wise to attack a man's suit."
"Barracuda Alert," the nurses whispered to each other at the sight of Lorna Devon paying one of her terror inducing visits to the NICU.
On most days, the woman was merely insufferable, barking orders at the staff, questioning competency, and asking questions in a tone of voice most normal people reserved for animals at obedience school, only to then turn on a dime and, without warning, rain lavish gift cards for chocolates and spa visits over everyone on the unit.
Today, however, her heart had clearly grown thematically three sizes too small. Within minutes of Lorna's arrival on the floor, one nurse was fighting tears; another was hiding in a utility closet, while a third had just about convinced herself that it was worth the reprimand and possible loss of her job to punch Lorna Devon in the face.
But fortunately, there was no need to come to blows or call security. All it took was for a new nurse, one who'd never met Ms. Devon before and, as a result, wasn't sure what the warning hisses of "Barracuda Alert!" were supposed to mean, to approach Lori Ann's aunt and gush, "Wonderful news, Ms. Devon! We've removed the feeding tube, and Lori Ann's sucking reflex is now strong enough for her to take a bottle. I notice her Grandma isn't here right now. She came by earlier and said she'd be gone for the entire afternoon. Would you like to give our girl her bottle instead?"
For a fleeting moment, the smallest of eager smiles softened Lorna Devon's face. But then....
"No," Lorna shook her head with a note of regret, newly furious, except that no one could tell with whom or for what. "That's your job, isn't it? Damn it, doesn't anyone around here ever do their Goddamn jobs?"
And she was out the door.
"Today?" Frankie repeated.
"Today. In a couple of hours, to be more precise."
"You want me to just drop everything and marry you today?"
"You've had a better offer?"
"You want me to throw together a wedding, in my living room, in just a couple of hours?"
"No at all. That would be too much to ask."
"Hoping to commandeer an unoccupied church, then?"
"Why not? Is December 25 a big day for church-going?"
"Are we renting a hall?"
"Lila has all my money," he reminded.
"Okay, Cass. I give up. What's going on?"
"You don't have to do a thing. It's all arranged. Minister, guests, food, clothes, I've got everything under control."
"You forgot one thing."
"I don't think so. What?"
"A bride willing to go along with your insanity."
Lorna felt pretty sure that her day couldn't get any worse.
First, she'd had to deal with Felicia's choice to celebrate Christmas watching Cass and Frankie get married for, was it the sixteenth? seventeenth? time? (And with their pending adoption of Lori Ann, Lorna supposed they could throw in a topical Virgin Birth, as well.) Not that she necessarily wanted to spend the holiday with her mother. They hadn't really talked since Felicia had all but told Lorna that she should avoid reproducing at any cost and burdening an innocent child with Lorna as a parent. But it might have been nice for Mom to at least pretend to want to wish Lorna a Merry Christmas face to face.
Then, Lorna had stopped by Lucas' place, but he was nowhere to be found. Which couldn't be a good thing. And his not wanting to wish her Merry Christmas either kind of grated too.
But the star on the spruce tree had come from her behavior back in the NICU. And this time, she couldn't even irrationally blame the nurses.
Because the fault was all hers.
"Chicken!" Lorna scolded herself, kicking open a random door and landing in a familiar stairwell, only to encounter a familiar face looking up from his seated position on the stairs.
"Not the first time I've been called that," Jamie shrugged.
"I wasn't talking about you." Lorna leaned back against the wall to look at him, taking note of his subdued slouch. "What are you doing here? Don't you have chestnuts to roast and bells to jingle with your picture-perfect family? Or did you forget that you were married again?"
Lorna couldn't be certain, but Jamie seemed to wince from her phrasing. "No," was all he said. "My memory is really good these days."
"Why aren't you at Frankie and Cass' wedding?"
"I sent my regrets."
"So you could spend Christmas Day lurking in a dark stairwell?"
"I needed a quiet place to think."
"Don't you have an office for that?"
Jamie shook his head and sighed. "Too many people come looking for me there."
Lorna straightened up, prepared to leave even though she didn't actually want to. "Do you want me to leave you alone so you can keep thinking, or are you done for the day?"
That earned her a laugh. "You are in some mood."
"This? This is nothing. Believe me I can be much, much worse."
"What's wrong?" Jamie asked, sounding as if he were really interested in hearing the answer. Which, by her count, made him about the only one.
"I'm an idiot," she explained.
"Lot of that going around."
Lorna rolled her eyes, wondering why she was confiding in him, then realizing that it was because, well, he'd cared enough to ask. "One of the nurses taking care of Lori Ann asked me if I wanted to feed her."
Jamie nodded. "Yeah. I took out the tube myself this morning. She's doing great."
"That makes one of us," Lorna said. "I chickened out. Said something nasty and ran out of the room. And don't say, 'What? You? Lorna Devon chickened out? I'm shocked!' You shouldn't be. Chickens aren't baby friendly."
"You are not a chicken," Jamie laughed. "You're quite normal. I'm a doctor, and the first time I was left alone to feed Steven...." He stood up and gently took her hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" she pulled back, her heels instinctively trying to dig into the concrete floor.
"You, Aunt Lorna, are going to give your niece her first bottle."
"I can't," she stammered in panic. "I'll drop her, or break her, and then Felicia, and Cass and Frankie will all be glaring at me and foaming at the mouth, saying that I did it on purpose, and Kevin Fowler will stick his nose in because he's a jerk that way and throw me in jail for child endangerment."
"You won't break her."
"Then I'll feed her wrong." Lorna shook her head. "She'll spit up everything and starve and... stop laughing at me!"
"You won't break her and you won't starve her, Lorna. I promise I won't let you."
She swallowed as she allowed him to lead her out of the stairwell. "Okay. But I intend to hold you personally responsible if you let me give Lori Ann so much as a hiccup. Got it?"
Frankie pulled Cass into the kitchen, away from Charlie, to ask, "Do you really think this is a good idea?"
"Frankie, my dear, marrying you has probably been the only good idea I've ever had. I decided to play to my strengths."
"What I mean is, do you really think it's a good idea for us to get married before my situation with Cecile is settled? She's really, really mad now. What kind of mood do you think us getting remarried will put her in?"
"Frankie, my dear, I don't give a damn."
"You're really not going to give that bit up, are you?"
"Not until I get at least as big of a laugh for it from you as Lila and Grant's little scheme did."
"Ha," Frankie said. "Are you happy?"
"It's my wedding day. I'm ecstatic. As all sensible grooms should be."
"Cecile isn't a joke, Cass. She threatened Charlie. After what she did to me, I have no choice but to take her threats very, very seriously."
"I'm taking them seriously, as well. And I'm fighting back the best way I know how. She wants us miserable? Let's show her we have no intention of playing along. What's that expression? Living well is the best revenge."
"Are you deliberately provoking her?" Frankie asked suspiciously. "Why would you do that?"
"Because she deserves it. Because after what she did to you and me and Charlie and yes, even Lila, by extension; I'm not utterly without sympathy re: Lila's position in all this "
"You are such a lawyer, Winthrop."
" Cecile deserves to be provoked and enraged and made as miserable as possible every minute of every hour of every day." He stopped kidding around to explain, in all seriousness. "Right now, we don't have anything we can use as evidence or ammunition against her. She's been too good at covering her tracks. She hasn't slipped up once. But that's because she's had the luxury of time to plan everything out in a calm, rational "
"Rational for Cecile, manner. I want to shake her up. I want to force her into making a rash and desperate and un-thought-out move, so that we can catch her, and we can check-mate her, and we can get her out of our lives for good."
"Cass Winthrop," Frankie said. "I think that's your most romantic marriage proposal yet."
"So will you please say yes, already? Or else the minister is going to feel pretty foolish when he gets here."
She wanted to. Cass would never know just how much she wanted to. But... "You're asking me to take a huge risk. And this isn't just about you and me. It's about Charlie, and Lori Ann now, too. You're asking us all to.... "
"Take a leap of faith, yes. But isn't that what all marriages are? A leap of faith?
"What if we wait? Just for a few days?"
"Why? Why, Frankie? What could possibly change with Cecile in a few days?"
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