"I am so sorry, Alice." Jamie realized that a language hadn't yet been invented that would convey precisely how very sorry he was. "You are the last person I would ever want to sic my mother on."
"It's alright. As I told someone else earlier today, I can take care of myself. I've been doing it for quite a while now. Most especially around your mother."
Alice told Jamie not to worry about it "Doctor's orders," and flipped her phone shut with a faint smile precisely in time to answer the insistent knocking on her door.
Just like old times, she mused.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Rachel demanded.
Alice waited a moment. Then, when it became obvious that there would be no more to the question, sidestepped it completely and noted, "I understand that you're upset. I also understand why. You have every right to be."
"Don't patronize me," Rachel warned. "I am not in the mood for one of your gracious, refined, condescending tete-a-tetes. You have no right to look down on me. Not after what you did."
"Do you expect me to apologize for helping Steve's son through an extremely difficult time in his life?"
"You isolated him from his family."
"That was Jamie's choice. I went along because I felt it was crucial not to make the situation worse by betraying his trust and going against his wishes."
"If the situation was that dire, why...how could you take anything he requested seriously? You had to know that he wasn't in his right mind."
"I wasn't willing to risk it," Alice cut her off. "Not... not in the state he was in."
Her tone and the implications of her words momentarily sobered Rachel. And then they just made her angrier.
"My son nearly died," she began in a deadly, low voice. "He was in such a desperate state that he tried to kill himself. And you knew. You knew and you didn't contact me. What kind of person what kind of woman, a supposed medical professional, a mother yourself, could cold-bloodedly do something like that?"
"Once I became a consulting physician on Jamie's case again, at his request; he wanted someone he could trust," Alice held her ground. "Legally I was obliged to honor his "
"Save it for the ethics committee, Alice."
"And as Jamie's friend "
"Friend?" Rachel laughed incredulously. "You are no friend of Jamie's. This doesn't even ultimately have anything to do with Jamie, does it? This is just you finally, after all these years, finally stumbling on a fitting way to get back at me for things that happened a lifetime ago. You couldn't do it through Steve. You couldn't do it through Mac. Who did that leave except Jamie?"
"Do you really believe what you're saying?" Alice shook her head pityingly. "I have loved Jamie from the day he was born. When you made the decision to lie that he was my nephew. Do you honestly think I would use his illness as a weapon against you?"
"Yes," Rachel spat without hesitation. "I most certainly think you would. You never got over losing Steve. You never got over losing him to me."
"My God, are you really that self-absorbed? Or is it you who hasn't let go of the past?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that here we are, how many dozens of years later? And you are still throwing raging tantrums because I dared to love someone that you feel should not merely love you the most or the best, but love you and only you, anyone else's wants or needs be damned."
"Jamie is not Steve!"
"I know that, Rachel," Alice answered calmly. "Do you?"
"Stay away from my son. Or I will make sure you regret it."
Alice guessed this was her day for being advised to stay away from people. First Kevin's warning about Spencer, and now....
"Please," Alice said sincerely. "Do us both a favor, Rachel. Save your threats for someone who hasn't tangled with you in the past. And lived to tell the tale."
"Mom?" Allie knocked on Amanda's office door at Brava, then just walked in when she got no response.
Amanda was on the phone, telling someone in HR to "settle the John Stonemetz issue once and for all. Because if you don't, I will." She hung up, turned somewhat towards Allie and, without looking up, sifted through the stack of layouts on her desk, explaining, "I think Jasper Bancroft is trying to lead a coup in the Art Department. That's what I get, I guess, for hiring anyone connected to Iris. And talk about Christmas in July! We just got through the holidays, and now I have to come up with ideas for the July cover. It's kind of hard to think about summer fashions dressed in a turtleneck and knee-high boots."
"Where were you on Christmas?" Allie blurted out. She hadn't meant to ask. But then again, anything that stalled the inevitable, if only for a few minutes, was a good thing.
"Why?" The question seemed to genuinely puzzle Amanda.
"You didn't come home for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I wondered."
"Were you there?" Amanda tried to recall. "I thought you said you weren't planning on..."
"I changed my mind."
"Oh. Well, I didn't know."
"Grandma wondered where you were, too."
"I was with Kevin."
"How was it?" Amanda asked.
"It was nice. Grandma and Carl and Cory and Elizabeth. Carl read from the bible on Christmas Eve. He's got that voice of God thing down pat. When he says, "Onto you a child is born," you don't doubt it. And Uncle Matt and Lila and Jasmine were there in the morning. They got Jasmine a new iPod. Can you believe she's already filled up two with just music not even movies or videos or anything? Kirk and Uncle Jamie and Marley came later. Kirkland was really happy to see his dad."
"What about Steven?"
"He and Sarah went to Cass and Frankie's wedding instead. Actually, if they hadn't, I probably wouldn't have come. I didn't really want to see her."
"What happened there, Allie?"
"I don't know."
Amanda, trying to be reassuring, said, "Well, I'm not surprised. If Sarah is anything like her mother or her grandmother you can't trust a word that she says. She was probably never really your friend. She was probably just playing some angle for her own benefit. You're better off without her."
"I'm not," Allie insisted. "I know you've never liked her, but I really could use Sarah in my life right now."
Frustrated, and needing to get back to work, Amanda gave up on trying to comfort her daughter only to get repeatedly smacked down, and just demanded, "What is going on, Allie? Are you trying to tell me something?"
"Nothing much," Allie snapped, sensing that she was being dismissed and figuring the least she could do was give Amanda something in return to compete with the layouts for her attention. "Just that you're going to be a Grandma."
"Damn her," Cass spat.
Frankie leaned back from where she sat comparing the fingerprints they'd lifted off the vial to the ones in the Interpol records Jamie had given her. "No match," she agreed.
"Only one set of prints," he groused. "And they're definitely not hers."
"Jamie's most likely," Frankie guessed.
"Well, that doesn't do us any damn good." Cass picked up the file and flung it against the wall.
"She's gone," Frankie turned around, hands on his shoulders, trying to calm Cass down. "For better or for worse, Marley paid her to get lost."
"Cecile never stays lost for long."
"But she isn't here now," Frankie stressed. "And we are. You and me and Charlie and soon, Lori Ann, too. All four of us are here now. Are we really going to sacrifice the present to worry about some future that may or may not come?"
"It won't, if Cecile has her way."
"She's gone," Frankie repeated. "Come on, Cass, you and I have both been through way too much to pretend that we still believe we can predict much less control the future. Cecile or no Cecile, we're helpless, in a way. What's fated to happen is going to happen. All we can really do is enjoy the good times and ride out the bad ones together; if that's in the plan."
"I can't accept that."
"You have to. Cass, think. Did you do anything to lose me? Or to bring me back to you? It's out of our hands. We can try our best to mold the universe to our wishes but ultimately..."
"How can you live like that?"
"What other way is there to live? I'm not saying we should just sit passively by. I'm happy to fight as hard for what I want and whom I love as the next person. But ultimately, we have to accept that this illusion of control is just whistling in the dark. There are people, and then there are forces that are greater than all of us put together."
"I am never, ever losing you again," Cass said. "You can tell the universe to bite me in that regard."
She was cold. She was wet. Her legs were killing her. But damn it if Lorna weren't also kind of, sort of having a good time. In a way.
Fact was she definitely had some serious aggression in need of channeling. And while a game of Frame/Cory family ice hockey wouldn't have been her traditional first choice, it was definitely getting the job done at present. (Half the pucks mysteriously appeared to have Cass Winthrop's face on them. Go figure.)
"You are such a dirty player!" Matt howled as Lorna shoved him off to the side. "Where's the call, ref?" he appealed to Steven, whose mind was obviously not on the action in the rink. "C'mon, man!"
"What?" Steven looked up from Sarah, who, as a member of Team Devon, was insuring their inevitable victory by playing the part of 'distract the ref' to perfection. "I didn't see anything."
"That's because you're too busy playing tonsil hockey! Try the other kind for a change!" Kirkland growled as he barreled past Sarah and Steven, and skated to catch up to Lorna. "Dad! Incoming!"
"On it!" Jamie yelled back from his position in front of the goal.
Lorna raised her stick, aiming straight for Jamie, when Kirkland whipped in front of her to snatch the puck and tear off in a blur towards the other direction.
"Help!" Jasmine cringed as he advanced mercilessly at her.
"Coming!" Lorna called out.
"Oops," Matt crashed into Lorna, sending her spilling onto the ice, a satisfied smile on his face. "Didn't see you there."
Lorna shook her head in mock dismay. "Are you really going to let Kirkland humiliate your daughter and make her cry?"
"She knew what she was getting into when she chose your team over mine. Complete and total annihilation.... Damn, she's fast," Matt muttered at the sight of Sarah cutting around Kirkland.
A hip check and Kirkland ended up just enough off balance for Sarah to scoop away the puck. Matt charged her. He'd almost managed to steer her away from their goal when Steven's whistle cut through air. "Penalty! Tripping!"
"Tripping?" Matt scoffed, slapping away Steven's accusing finger. "Do you even know the rules of hockey?"
"I know what I saw," Steven shrugged. "And I know Sarah gets a penalty shot."
"Are you kidding me? She cut me off!"
Steven shook his head. "Not the way I saw it."
"You are so whipped," Kirkland groaned.
"I don't like your attitude," Steven glared at Kirkland. "Sarah gets two penalty shots."
"I could call the game right now with you guys forfeiting and Team Devon wins."
"You can't do that!" Kirkland yelled, outraged.
"Yes, I can. I'm the ref."
"Fine," Matt grumbled. "We'll take the penalty shots. Jamie will stop her anyway."
"We'll see," Lorna smiled sweetly at Matt, then Kirkland, and finally Jamie, who returned her smirk before flipping his mask down and taking position at the goal.
"You've got this," Lorna called out to Sarah. "He's old and slow and out of shape."
"Old and slow and out-of-shape?" Jamie cocked his head at her. "Really?"
Even through his mask she could make out the amusement in Jamie's eyes and God help her, felt the heat rush to her face.
"Yeah," she returned, not nearly as forceful this time. "Really."
"All of you to the side, please," Steven sternly commanded before refocusing on Sarah and Jamie. "Sarah, you let me know when you're ready. Take your time."
Cooling their heels, Lorna exhaled and told Matt, "This is fun. Thanks for inviting me."
"Uh-huh," Matt threw an irritated look her way. "I take pity on an old friend and invite her out for an afternoon with my family and what do you do? You turn my daughter against me, beat me up, and taint the honor of a noble sport like hockey by cheating."
"I'd pull out my violin, but I left it back in Chicago," Lorna snorted.
"Oh, yeah," Matt said. "That reminds me. When are you heading back? You still on a leave of absence from your job?"
"Actually," Lorna admitted. "I kind of quit."
"Say what? Why? I thought you loved it there?"
"I did. To a point. It's a great agency to work for and they've agreed to let me free-lance a little. But, Lori Ann is here. I wanted to stick around, watch her grow up."
"That's cool," Matt raved. "I bet your mom's thrilled."
"My mom's got a lot on her mind these days. I'm not exactly at the top of the list."
"Did you have fun today, Jazz?" Matt asked his daughter, who was pulling at the too large padding that currently ensconced her body.
"Yeah," she huffed from under her mask. "But I don't think I want to be goalie anymore. It's scary."
"You were really brave," Matt praised.
The three of them, along with Kirkland, turned to watch the action on the ice; Sarah grinning flirtatiously at Steven before taking the first of what, by Matt's count, was now her umpteenth penalty shot.
"You know," he said. "I still can't get over seeing those two together. I mean, if Marley had gotten her way, they'd have been siblings."
"What?" Kirkland and Lorna barked in unison.
Sarah's shot went wild, sailing completely over Jamie's head, as she and Steven also turned towards Matt, echoing the sentiment. "What?"
"You're pregnant," Amanda said each word extra slowly, as if the truth might change before she got to the end of the sentence.
Allie nodded, thinking that Gregory was right. Now she felt adequately miserable. Momentarily shocking her mom hadn't proven nearly as satisfying as she'd hoped.
"How... After everything I've told you and warned you and tried to teach you.... How could you let this happen, Allie?" When her daughter declined to respond one way or the other, Amanda changed tactics, asking instead, "Who?"
Allie winced, apologized to him in her mind, and whispered, "Gregory Hudson."
"Gregory Hudson?!" Amanda practically flew out of her chair. "Gregory Hudson? Gregory Never-Says-A-Word Hudson?"
"It doesn't really require talking much, Mom."
"I'm sorry," Amanda shook her head, as if checking her hearing. "Are you being funny?"
"What would you rather I be?"
"Okay," Amanda took a deep breath and Allie watched with a measure of satisfaction her mother's desperate and frantic attempt to calm down. "Okay. We can... This is... Are you sure? Have you seen a doctor?"
"How far along are you? Are you still in the first trimester?"
"So this is still fixable."
"Fixable?" she clarified. And then, just to make sure Amanda didn't confuse her euphemisms, Allie stated, "I'm not getting an abortion."
"Why not? It's still early enough. We're not talking about a baby; we're talking about some random clump of cells the size of a pea. Allie, listen to me," she pleaded. "You are too young to be a mother. You have no idea what you'd be getting into."
"I dunno, Mom. You've been pretty clear about it all these years."
"You're right," Amanda admitted, realizing what she was finally confessing to, but convinced that keeping her daughter from making a terrible mistake was more important than what Allie thought of her in that moment. "I have been. If you didn't listen to me about taking proper precautions, at least listen to me about this. You do not want to do this."
"I know," Allie said.
"Then I don't understand... "
"I am too young to be a mom. But I'm not too young to make arrangements for my baby to end up with someone who isn't."
"You're talking about adoption? Allie, that's the worst possible choice! You'd be dooming yourself to a life of wondering and second-guessing and guilt."
"And you don't think that would happen with an abortion?"
"An abortion means it would be over. You could move on. Adoption is a life sentence!"
"An abortion means my baby would be dead." Allie held up her hand. "No. Don't give me the clump of cells speech again. If somebody else wants to make that choice for themselves, then good for them, it's certainly none of my business. But here's something that I know for a fact: If Dad hadn't followed you to New York and stopped you from getting an abortion, and if Olivia had gone through with one of her infinite, melodramatic threats, then those wouldn't have been just clumps of cells. Those would have been me, and those would have been Sarah."
Amanda didn't know what to say. All she knew was that everything she'd said up to that point had been the wrong thing.
"Anyway," now it was Allie's turn to struggle for calm. "I'm not going to be wondering. Not about my baby's parents, anyway. I talked to Kevin, and he said that with an open adoption, I get to choose. I can meet them and I can say yes or no. And afterwards, they'll send me pictures and updates and I can even visit if I want to and... "
"Kevin?" Amanda's focus once again shifted. "Kevin?" She clarified, "Kevin knew about your being pregnant? And he didn't tell me?"
Rachel's tirade had eaten up the bulk of Alice's afternoon. So that it wasn't until just a few minutes before she expected Spencer to come by her place that, after a great deal of deliberation, Alice reluctantly took Kevin's advice, turned on her computer and typed into the search bar the names and terms he'd flung at her.
The results popped up quickly enough. And there were plenty for her to sift through. Alice clicked link after link, first reading every word, then proceeding to just skim, as the story they told grew clearer and clearer.
She heard Spencer knocking on her door. She heard him let himself in. She heard him call out her name. She responded to none of it. She simply kept reading.
He came up and stood behind her chair, watching stoically, without comment as she parsed through his life electronically.
Alice wondered if he would challenge her findings, if he'd try to defend or explain. But Spencer simply stood there for as long as he could take it. And then he silently picked up his coat and walked out the door again.
"Grant, darling," Cecile's voice all but tongued his ear through the phone. "A hearty, if unforgivably belated welcome back to the land of the living. Listen, darling, I'm wondering if you might be available to meet with me tomorrow? We have quite a bit of catching up to do."
"I'm sorry, Cecile." Grant fought the urge to hold the phone away from his head, lest the sickly-sweet treacle drip all over his suit. "My time is very limited these days. I have my son, Kirkland "
"Of course, of course. You've gone from part-time lover to part-time father. How delightfully domestic that must be for you."
"He keeps me very busy."
"How would you like to be a full-time Daddy, Grant?" Cecile wondered, dropping the sociability and getting to the point.
"I intend to be one shortly," he snapped, also giving up on courtesy.
"Not if our Jamie has anything to say about it."
"I'm hanging up now, Cecile."
"I wouldn't if I were you. I've recently been informed that it was my lucky day. Well, being the magnanimous soul that I am, I'm paying it forward. To you, Grant. How would you like to acquire a spot of information that guarantees your getting full custody of young Kirkland?" She smiled at the hesitation on the other end of the line.
"I'm listening," Grant said a moment later.
"You'll need to do more than listen. You'll need to pay. Dearly. And preferably in non-sequential bills. Trust me, darling, it will be money well spent. At least Marley seemed to think so. She's given me an obscene amount of cash to keep my mouth shut about it. And shut it will stay, unless someone offers me an even greater incentive to open it up again. Am I making myself clear, Senator?"
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