"Congratulations." Jamie looked around Alice's new office at Bay City Hospital. "I guess this means you've decided to stay in town for good."
"It's home," Alice shrugged. "I tried to fight it for a long time, but, it's family. And Sally. And Steve."
"Speaking of which," Jamie braced himself for the answer. "How did things turn out with you and my mother? I can't imagine she didn't make a beeline straight for "
"It was fine. I told you not to worry. I assured Rachel she was perfectly justified in being angry with me. She accused me of being out to get her through you. We both called each other a few choice names, and I felt forty years younger. It was better than a spa treatment."
"So I guess Mom won't be driving the welcome wagon over to your new place?"
"Prospects are dim."
"Well, in any case, I'm thrilled to have you as a colleague."
"You look thrilled," Alice agreed. "Though I suspect my news has very little to do with it. You look good, Jamie. May I ask whom do we have to thank for it?"
"I had a great, great holiday with my kids. With everything that's been going on... I've been so busy fighting to keep Kirkland, I found myself without any time to actually spend with him. Or with Steven, for that matter. I was able to rectify that over the break. I think we're solid again. The court gave Grant visitation rights, and we all still have to submit to interviews with a social worker, but my son believes that I love him again. I really can't do anymore than that. I really don't even want anymore than that."
"What about," Alice hesitated. "Frankie?"
Jamie sighed and ran one hand through his hair. "It's over. No thanks to me, and not the way I would have liked to handle it, but it's over. Marley went to Cecile and paid her off to leave town, so she can't threaten Frankie's family anymore. I was going to have her arrested, but maybe it's better this way, who knows? Under arrest, she might have been tempted to make a deal, expose my secrets in exchange for who knows what "
Alice cleared her throat and tapped Jamie's elbow, cutting him off mid-thought. She was looking over his shoulder and Jamie turned to follow her gaze.
Just in time to see Spencer standing in the doorway. Just in time to wonder how much he'd overheard.
"Charlie!" Frankie called down from the attic. "Could you come up here and help me with something, please?"
"What?" Charlie stomped up the steps, hovering in the doorway, watching her mother struggle to wedge one cardboard box out from between and underneath a half-dozen other identical boxes.
"Your dad said he's got all of your old baby clothes and toys and furniture stored up here. I thought we'd look through it and see what we might be able to pass down to Lori Ann."
"Oh!" Charlie brightened. "Sure. Yeah, that sounds cool." She stuffed her phone in her pocket and crossed to help her mother tug.
Frankie smiled and, between huffs and puffs, told Charlie, "I'm glad to see you're feeling better about the whole adoption thing."
"Hey," Charlie said, avoiding Frankie's eyes. "I've got no problem with the adoption. I think it'll be cool to have a baby in the house, especially since Dean can't take care of her right now."
"So you're fine with Lori Ann," Frankie fell backwards, their box finally free and clear. "It's me and your father you have a problem with."
"Pretty much," Charlie agreed pleasantly.
Frankie peeled back the decade-old tape and laughed, "Look at this, Charlotte!" She held up a black and white polka-dotted pinafore with red flower buttons. "Can you believe you were ever small enough to fit into this?"
Charlie studied the outfit, a strange expression crossing her face. Slowly, she said, "There's a picture of me wearing that. I've got a little barrette on that matches the buttons. You're carrying me. That's the picture Dad hung over my bed. I used to look at it every night after you were gone, and I'd try to remember what it felt like to have you hug me. I tried to remember what you sounded like, and what you smelled like. I tried to hold on to the memories for as long as possible. But, after a while, I couldn't do it anymore. I tried, though. I'd stare at that picture, and I'd try really, really hard."
Charlie wasn't looking at Frankie, which is why she didn't notice that, while she was talking, her mother had softly started crying. It was only when Charlie turned around and spied Frankie trying to cover her face with the same outfit that they'd just been talking about that she realized what was going on.
"Oh, come on, Mom, please don't cry. Don't cry, okay? I'm sorry I've been such a brat. Dad told me to cut it out, and I'll try harder. I'm not promising to reform one hundred percent. I'm fifteen years old; I should be allowed my sacred moments of snot-hood. But I'll try harder to keep it to a bare minimum."
Frankie laughed. Which was quite a feat while also crying. Her daughter's creative and expressive choice of words thrilled her, even as Charlie mentioning her age once again reminded Frankie of all the time she'd lost. Time she they would never get back.
She indicated the neatly folded baby clothes. "This box, it's the only one of all these here that I packed. See, that's my handwriting on the side. Charlie 0-2. I remember sorting through all your little outfits and crying because you were such a big girl now. You were walking and talking and making demands and expressing opinions. You were a miracle. But you weren't a baby anymore. I was so proud, but I was also a little empty. Everything else up here; that's not my handwriting. Charlie 2-4 that's your Dad's. I'd recognize his chicken-scratch anywhere. And the rest... "
"Lila's," Charlie confirmed.
Frankie nodded. "This attic is full of your memories, and Cass', memories I'm never going to be a part of. Anywhere I look, there's more proof of what I missed."
Charlie considered what Frankie had said. And then she walked over to the corner, pulled back a tarp and wheeled out a pink bicycle with a Powerpuff Girls basket attached to the handlebars.
She said, "Dad got this for me for my fifth birthday. But since it's in February, I had to wait forever to ride it. Every day I'd wake up in the morning, rush to the window, and ask Dad if it was dry enough yet for him to teach me. He must have said no for, like, years. Well, okay, it was probably only a couple of weeks, until the snow melted. But it felt like years. Finally, he said it was D-Day. I was so excited. The whole time we were walking to the park, Dad kept going on and on about how it takes time to learn to ride a bike, and I shouldn't get discouraged and if at first you don't succeed, try, try again, I was his brave, determined girl, and he would be there with me every step of the way, holding on until I told him it was okay to let go. Finally, we got to the park. Dad put our stuff down, and he reached into the bag he'd brought to get my helmet and my kneepads and my wrist-guards. He got them all sized right and he turned around, and there I was, riding the bike all by myself. I just got on and started peddling. He said he was proud of me. But I think he was a little pissed."
Frankie laughed again. Still crying, but for a completely different reason now.
"And this," Charlie said, dropping the bike to pick up a tangled fishing rod. "This is from when I was eleven, and Dad decided we should all be getting in touch with our senselessly murdering ocean-life side...."
"I've been thinking," Matt said. "About the toast I gave at Thanksgiving. About Mac."
He'd come to Donna's office at KBAY-TV and shut the door behind him. Now he stood, fingers nervously tapping the chair back in front of him, looking anywhere in the room but directly at Donna.
His anxiety put her on the edge, as well. She waited silently for him to complete his thought, wondering what in the world Thanksgiving and Mac Cory could possibly have to do with the two of them.
"I said at Thanksgiving that Mac wasn't my stepfather. He was my father in every way that mattered. I think I kind of took that for granted my whole life. Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe it's because Mac was my stepfather, but he always treated me as his own, that I felt like I could just coast. Mac was doing all the work to prove that he was my real father, so I didn't have to do anything to prove I was really his son."
Donna continued sitting quietly. So far, everything Matt had said was certainly interesting in an introspective, self-reflective, know-thyself-Phemonoe sort of way. Though she still had no idea what he thought he was getting at.
Matt went on, "Mac had the most amazing capacity for forgiveness, of anyone I'd ever met. I mean, I'm physical proof of that. My mother slept with Mitch, tried to pass me off as Mac's, then had to reveal the truth in open court for the whole world to hear. And you know why my mother was on the witness stand in the first place? Because she was on trial for shooting Mitch. And you know why my mother was with Mitch in the first place? Because he was helping poison Mac and my mother was trying to stop him. And you know how my mother ultimately stopped him? By killing Mitch's co-conspirator, Janice. Stabbing her in a swimming pool."
"Oh," was all Donna managed to say. Because while she'd heard bits and pieces of this story over the years, this was the first time it had ever been presented so succinctly.
"But you know what? In spite of everything, Mac stuck by her. He didn't just take her back, he accepted me as part of the package. Matthew Cory is what it says on my birth certificate. And Matthew Cory was what he always treated me as. And years later, when Mitch got out of prison and came back to Bay City, Mac was civil to him. For my sake."
"I remember when Mitch came back," Donna said absently. "He was working for my father."
"He worked for mine eventually, too. That's the kind of forgiving man Mac was." Matt sighed. "I've always wanted to be like him. But, every time an opportunity to follow his example turned up, I'd fail the test. I couldn't forgive Lorna for what she did to Jenna...."
".... I could barely forgive my mother for hooking up with Carl and that took a while. I couldn't forgive you for cheating on me with Michael, and that was nothing compared to...." Matt shook his head. "I'm no Mac Cory. No matter how much I'd like to be."
Realization dawned slowly, but once it did, Donna felt as if Matt had taken the desk between them and tipped it over on top of her. "I see... I I understand, Matthew. Of course. What I've done is unforgivable. Even Mac would have had a difficult time "
"No," he interrupted. "You don't see at all. What I'm saying is, I've failed in the past. But I'm not going to do it again. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. But, I want to try. I want to follow in Mac's footsteps. I want to forgive you, Donna."
"You want to," she said lightly. "But can you?"
"Yes," he told her. "You have my word. As Mac Cory's son."
"Happy New Year, Jamie." Spencer stretched one arm forward, then withdrew it gracefully once it was pointedly ignored.
Jamie told Alice, "I'll talk you later."
She nodded apologetically, but Jamie shook his head to make it clear he didn't blame her for anything.
"Give my best to my grandson, would you?" Spencer called in Jamie's wake. Once again, he was pointedly ignored.
"I don't think Jamie likes you," Alice observed lightly, closing the door behind Spencer, lest someone else decide to burst in just as rudely.
"What about you?" Spencer did his best to make the query come off as spontaneous and casual. He failed by the second word. "Do you like me?"
"Yes," she told him honestly, albeit reservedly. "I do. Very much."
Spencer heard the reserve. "But..."
"I don't know," she confessed. "I've been trying to put what I feel into words since the other night. But I can't."
"And I have been trying to come up with ways to defend myself. But I can't," Spencer echoed. "Certainly, I could tell you there were reasons for the things I've done. I could go on about living on the streets of Boston on my own at thirteen years old. I could tell you about being so hungry and so desperate that I would have leapt on anything just to quit feeling that way. But such Dickensian melodrama is merely a rationalization, it certainly isn't a justification. The fact of the matter is, given the exact same set of circumstances and the exact same choices, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I won't lie to you about that."
"Thank you," Alice told him sincerely. "For not lying to me."
"I wouldn't dare," he allowed himself the slightest of smiles. "You've seen through me from the first day. You've called me on every single thing. I would be grossly disappointed if you were to stop."
Alice admitted, "I spoke to Amanda Cory about you."
"Thank goodness it was Amanda. Any other Cory and I shudder to think what they'd have said. But Amanda always seemed to have a soft spot for me."
"She does," Alice agreed. "I told her that I thought you were a good man."
"That means more to me than you could possibly know," he told her earnestly. And then he owned up, "Because, you see, I've been with a fair number of women in my life. I've even loved several of them. But I've never respected one. Until now."
"Oops," the young woman in the doorway indicated a dumbstruck Amanda when she apologized to Kevin, "I guess you haven't yet gotten to the Did I mention I have a grown daughter? part of the relationship?"
Kevin sighed and shook his head. "Not exactly, no... Amanda, this is my daughter, Jennifer Fowler. Jen, Ms. Amanda Cory."
"It's very nice to finally meet you, Ms. Cory. My father has told me a lot about you." Jen struck one hand forward, needing to do the bulk of the shaking, since Amanda still stood more or less in shock. "Though I can see that didn't go both ways. I am very, very sorry for interrupting. I'm going to go now. Daddy, I'll call you later."
"What are you doing in Bay City, Jenny?" Kevin wondered. Amanda had to admit, the look of sheer delight and adoration on his face when he addressed his daughter was one she'd never seen before.
"Remember that lecturer position at the University that I figured I didn't get after they declined to call me back? Turns out I got it. They were just really disorganized about letting me know. I start next week. I wanted to surprise you." She cringed. "Surprise!"
Kevin told Amanda, "Jen graduated from MIT with a Master's in Cognitive Science. She did her undergraduate work at Yale. Finished in three years."
"I'm sure Ms. Cory isn't interested in my curriculum vitae, Daddy." She smiled at Amanda apologetically. "He forgets that not everyone in the world is my father." Jen told Kevin, "I have to check in at the University anyway. We'll talk later, okay?"
He nodded, then took a step forward and hugged her tightly. "I am really, really glad you're here."
"And I'm really, really sorry I didn't call first," she told them both before quietly shutting the door behind her.
Amanda turned to Kevin, a million questions swirling in her head, but first and foremost. "How old is Jennifer?"
"She just turned twenty-four."
"I adopted her."
"Oh." Which brought up another question. "Alone?"
Amanda recalled, "When we were at the hospital with Lori Ann, you talked about wanting to adopt. Someday. You didn't mention that you'd already done it."
"Actually, what I said was that officiating over adoptions made me want to do it myself. I didn't say I hadn't already done so."
He had a point. Amanda hated it when other people had points. "Why didn't you tell me you had a daughter? You told her about me."
"Honestly? It never came up. Look, you're right, I probably should have. But my family tree is so convoluted; I got into the habit a long time ago of keeping the details private from everyone. It's just knee jerk by now. I'm sorry."
"Did you blow her off to spend Christmas with me? You told me you were free. Otherwise I'd never have invited myself to "
"Jen went to Puerto Rico with some friends."
Amanda nodded. And then all she could think of to say was, "How did you end up...."
"Okay." Kevin took a deep breath. "Reader's Digest Condensed version: My first year out of law school, I was working at this huge firm in Manhattan. One day, a couple of months into it, I look up and there, standing on the other side of my desk, barely tall enough to see over it, is this little girl with two pig-tails and a very serious expression on her face. Turns out, being the lowest man on the totem pole, I was the only one without a secretary to stop her from coming in. She told me she'd read about our firm in the newspaper, and she got on the subway all by herself and came downtown looking to hire a lawyer. Jen lived in Harlem with her grandmother. Her mother died from an overdose before Jen was in kindergarten, and her father was a frequent guest of the New York State penal system. Armed robbery mostly, but a little dealing and assault once in a while, just to keep things interesting. Problem was, in between his incredibly successful rehabilitative stints, he'd come knocking on her grandmother's door, looking to take Jen away. She didn't want to go. She wanted me to help her. Oh, and she would like me to do it pro bono. That's what she said. Pro bono. Pronounced it perfectly, too." Kevin smiled at the memory. "Even then, you didn't say no to Jen. I took the case pro bone got her father's parental rights terminated. And then afterward, I kept in touch with her and her grandmother. Helped them out with some landlord issues, got Jen enrolled at Brearley; it's the best girl's school in the country, she positively thrived there. And then, when Jen was ten, her grandmother got sick. She knew she didn't have much time left, she was worried about what would happen to Jen once she was gone, and she asked if I would adopt her. Well, not only did you not say no to Jen's grandmother, either, but, I always knew I'd have a daughter named Jennifer someday. She just arrived a lot earlier and a little differently than I'd expected."
"You have a daughter... " Amanda repeated.
Confused, because he felt pretty certain he'd just explained exactly that, Kevin could only nod in reply.
And that was when Amanda exploded. "So you have no excuse. You have a daughter, too, which means you knew exactly how I would feel being the last to know that Allie was pregnant!"
"I did," he agreed. "And I am sorry you are so upset now. But, Amanda, I couldn't let the fact that I was in love with you affect the way I did my job."
"You're what?" Her fury skidded to a halt.
"I'm in love with you," he said simply. "This probably isn't the most apt of venues to declare it..."
"But I do love you, Amanda. And I think we should be able to work this out."
"Of course you do. You think you should be able to have everything the way you want it. Me, your job with Grant, your job with Lori Ann, your job with Allie... Well, it doesn't work that way. I have a personal connection to every one of them. I can't just turn my feelings on and off like you can. I can't watch people I care about get pummeled in court, or make the mistake of their lives, and then come home and jump into bed with you as if nothing happened. I can't do that, Kevin." She indicated the two of them. "Which means, I guess, that I can't do this."
Carl was in Elizabeth's room, sonorously booming his way through Act 4, Scene 5 of Hamlet, when Rachel came to stand in the doorway.
He looked up briefly and caught her eye. She didn't say anything. She merely nodded her head, once.
But once was enough.
Then, as if unable to actually face what she'd agreed to, Rachel turned and hurriedly walked away.
Carl smiled down at Elizabeth. He read, And where the offense is, let the great axe fall...."
It took Grant several days to come to a final decision about Cecile's offer. On the one hand, there was his promise to Kirkland kept so far, though not without some effort to play fair. On the other hand, just what exactly was so dirty about using damaging information only if it were true, of course against Jamie in court? How was it any different from Jamie bringing up Grant's less that pristine past? If Jamie had, in fact, committed some crime that would make him an unfit guardian for a teen-age boy, wasn't it Grant's duty as an officer of the court, not to mention a concerned father, to bring it to the judge's attention?
He wasn't playing dirty. He was being a good parent. And a good citizen.
Unfortunately, moments after arriving at Cecile's hotel room door, finding it ajar and inviting himself in, Grant was faced with another moral, legal and ethical dilemma.
What should be the correct response of a good parent and citizen, upon finding the occupant of the suite sprawled purple, swollen and lifeless on the couch, a length of silk bathrobe tied about her neck?
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