"Here to welcome me to the neighborhood?" Lorna asked, walking into the kitchen of what was supposed to be her temporary residence, only to find Jamie at the table, finishing what appeared to have once been a turkey sandwich. At least they were both clothed this time. Though why that was supposed to be a good thing, Lorna couldn't quite remember at the moment.
He looked up, wiping his mouth diligently with a napkin. "You would be shocked at how difficult it is to find a private spot to eat up at the main house."
"Yeah, sixty-two rooms can get a little confining. I feel your pain."
"Plus, I wanted to check up on the work our handyman did." Jamie tapped the table with his foot, then shook it a little with both hands. "Sturdy," he observed.
Jamie smiled. Which was precisely when his phone rang.
"Of course," Lorna said, throwing her hands up in the air.
"It's Marley." He shrugged apologetically and moved to answer it.
"Of course it is."
Kevin told Felicia and the Winthrops, "I think Cass and Frankie adopting Lori Ann is a terrific idea."
Felicia and Frankie blinked at him, confused, while Cass, who'd been ready to launch a counter-argument before Kevin even opened his mouth, simply stood there, gaping.
"What did you say?" Felicia was the first to recover her voice, certain that she'd misheard or that, at the very least, Kevin still had some other maneuver up his sleeve.
"I said it's a great idea. It makes perfect sense."
"Why?" Now it was Cass' turn to be suspicious.
"Because," Kevin answered, lifting Lori Ann's file from his desk and leafing through all the motions Cass had filed since she was born. "I've read your briefs, and I think you're a very mediocre lawyer."
"You son-of-a-bitch," Felicia began.
Kevin cut her off. "But I had a very nice chat with your daughter over Thanksgiving. And I think you're a hell of a father."
Cass peered at him suspiciously. "As I remember it, Charlie wasn't too thrilled with me over Thanksgiving. Or really since then."
Kevin waved away his unease. "She's a teen-ager. You don't listen to what a teen-ager says. You listen to how she says it. Charlie is self-confident, intelligent, articulate, poised, funny. She knows how to be a friend; I saw her with Kirkland. That doesn't happen by accident. That's good parenting. Not that a teen-ager would ever admit it. Show me a kid who only has nice things to say about Mom and Dad, and I'll show you a kid living in terror. Or an obsequious ass-kisser. And Charlie is neither."
Again, the three of them could only stare at Kevin in reply. Rather used to such a reaction, he took no offense, reaching for a large, sealed enveloped and handing it to Cass. "I've put together all the information you're going to need to finalize the adoption. Home study, background check, filing for a revised birth certificate. It's self-explanatory. So. We're good to go. I'll see you tomorrow at the hospital to sign Lori Ann's release papers."
Sharlene looked from Gregory to Allie and, forcing herself to calm down, said, "Listen, both of you. I understand. People get carried away, especially young people. Things happen. I am the last person who would judge either one of you. But, what I don't understand is why you're talking about giving the baby up for adoption? It would be one thing if you were alone but, Allie, you have your entire family. Your mother and your grandmother... And Gregory, honey, I know you haven't had the most stable upbringing in the world. I know what I've put your through. But, surely, you have to believe that both John and I would do absolutely anything we could to help you and Allie with this?"
Gregory said, "It's what Allie wants."
"But why? Will somebody please tell me why?"
"She has her reasons."
"What about you? What about what you want? What about your reasons?"
Gregory took Sharlene's hand and politely but firmly, led her outside his room. He closed the door behind them, and then he told his mother, "Allie doesn't feel that she's ready to raise a baby right now, Mom. And you know why I can't."
Down the hall, in his own dorm-room, Steven asked conversationally, not meaning to push, just genuinely curious. "So. Sarah. Do you think we'll ever have sex again?"
"Eventually," she promised, laughing, not unkindly, at how disheartened he looked. "Just as soon as I recover from the whole you-could-have-been-my-brother thing."
"It didn't happen!" he reminded.
"I know." She confessed, "That's not what's really bothering me, anyway."
"Oh, great, there's something else I have to deal with? Now what?"
"I lied to you," she said.
"About what? You didn't know what Marley was planning twenty years ago."
"No. But I lied to you about the parents who decided to keep me. I made Olivia and Dennis sound like they were these picture-perfect, nice, normal Mommy and Daddy. And now you know how messed up my family really is."
"How messed up your family really is? Were you at a different hockey game? Did you miss the Jamie and Marley Dysfunction Recap? And that's just the early 1990s. Wait, like the Ginsu knives, there's more! I told you they got married for Kirkland's sake. They're not even living in the same house! Is that picture perfect? Is that normal? I don't even get why you thought you had to lie to me."
"I was embarrassed."
"Why? Come on, Sarah, remember me spilling my guts to you about my mom and Jake and Ryan and Grant? I wouldn't know what a normal family was if it popped up on my computer screen."
"I do remember," Sarah said. "And I remember how, after you told me that everyone in your family is always lying and trying to pull a fast one on somebody, you said that I was different. I was honest and direct and simple."
"Simple like a beautifully written computer programmer, not simple like stupid," he reminded.
"I meant it."
"Except now you know I'm just as messed up as everybody else."
"Your family is messed up. So what? So is everybody's."
"I lied to you about them. That's not very honest or direct. Just simple. As in stupid."
"I get why you did it. And it doesn't change anything."
"Really?" she sounded unconvinced.
"Really. Okay, so your mom was a piece of work."
"Ask your Aunt Amanda about it sometimes."
"But you're still you. In fact, now that I know what Olivia was really like, I'm even more impressed that you can be the way you are. So open and optimistic and friendly. Heck, if it was me, I'd be "
"A cynical, manipulative bitch?"
"Throw son of a in there and, yeah, that sounds about right." He tried to make her laugh. He failed. He plugged ahead, "I've thought you were amazing since the first moment I met you. Now I just know it for sure." Sarah didn't say anything. She simply looked at him with the most inscrutable expression on her face. Steven waited patiently. Then, when no more conversation seemed forthcoming, he went back to, "So. Do you think we'll ever have sex again?"
Cass pulled his car into the driveway of their home, shut off the engine, but made no move to get out. He turned to Frankie and asked, "Did you buy what Fowler said? About Charlie?"
"That she's self-confident, smart, poised and funny? What parent wouldn't want to hear that about their kid? Or buy it hook, line and sinker? No matter who the source was."
"Do you believe what he said about it being due to me?"
"Only because it happens to be true."
"I don't know if I do," Cass confessed. "There were moments... weeks... a year here and there... when I was left with no option but to think that Charlie was a great kid in spite, not thanks, to me."
"Well, you were having a stupid moment. Week. Year. You're a great Dad. Charlie owes everything to you. And Lila." Frankie sighed and looked out the window. "I'm the one who doesn't get to take any bows in the matter."
"That wasn't your fault!"
"No. But it doesn't change the facts."
"Do you know how often, over the past thirteen years, I've wished you were around to help me with Charlie? Every decision I made, I'd wonder what you would have done if you were here? Not just the big stuff public school or private? Church or crystals? Real food or vegetarian nonsense?"
"Sorry. But that was how I phrased it in my head." Cass grinned. "I even wondered what you'd think about the toys I bought her, or the movies I took her to, or the clothes. My God, when she and Lila had their pink/orange battles, I wanted to plug my fingers in my ears and get as far away as possible. I needed you, Frankie."
"It sounds like you did just fine without me."
"Luckily, the issue won't come up with Lori Ann. She's going to have you for the long haul."
"Let's hope so," Frankie said. And then she admitted, "I just pray I'm up to the challenge. I love Felicia, I really do. But you know that somewhere in her head she's got this image of the perfect mother that Jenna would have been. And I strongly suspect, no matter what I do, I am never going to live up to that."
"One day at a time," Cass counseled. "This is a huge adjustment for all of us. There are bound to be bumps in the road."
"Boulders," Frankie agreed.
"But we're all on the same side. We all want what's best for Lori Ann. We'll make this work. For her, for you, for me, for Charlie, for Felicia, even for Dean, if and when he decides to get involved."
"How did you get so optimistic, Winthrop? Whatever happened to that charming curmudgeon I met and fell in love with? Going soft in your old age?"
"Your charming curmudgeon learned that miracles could happed. And that they all have your name on them."
She leaned in to kiss him, murmuring, "Good answer."
Holding hands, Cass and Frankie walked up the steps to their house. They entered the living room to find Charlie sitting in front of the TV, seemingly spellbound. "Mom! Dad!" she called out and pointed at the screen, where a picture of Cecile was currently taking up three-quarters of the available space. "Isn't that her? Isn't that the woman who..."
"What happened?" Frankie and Cass both lunged forward.
"Somebody killed her," Charlie said.
"Holy..." Jamie breathed with a sincerely stricken look, much to Marley's relief. "Cecile's dead?"
Marley nodded. "Grant found her."
Jamie reeled. "What the hell was Grant..." The realization hit him like a wall of bricks. "Oh, God. She was going to tell him... she was going to "
"He doesn't know anything," Marley cut him off. "If he did "
"He'd be gloating right now," Jamie finished, running a hand over his face as he tried to compute all that he'd just heard. "I can't believe it," he whispered, a curious mix of emotions cycling over his face. "She's dead."
"Murdered," Marley went on. "Someone strangled her in her hotel room. At least that's what Grant said. I don't understand, Jamie. I gave her enough money to not care about any of us anymore. Why would she stay here? Why didn't she just leave?"
"Why does Cecile do anything that she does? For more money. For revenge. For her own demented amusement. She took your bribe and let you think that you'd bought her off. But she was going to screw me over anyway, selling the information to Grant because she could. That's just how she is... was."
"Not anymore," Marley said quietly from the couch. "Someone finally stopped her."
Jamie turned at the tone in Marley's voice. "Whoever did this didn't simply stop her. They killed her. Believe me, I despised the woman but..."
"But what?" Marley prompted when Jamie hesitated. "She was horrible. She did horrible things to people and the consequences finally caught up to her. Some might say she got what she deserved."
"No one has the right to decide what someone else deserves. Even Cecile. There's no satisfaction in sinking to her level. Whoever killed Cecile may have thought they were justified, but they'll realize soon enough that she wasn't worth the price they'll have to pay. She just... she just wasn't worth it."
"You sound so sure," Marley whispered. "Like you've been "
A long bang at the front door cut her off. Casting a concerned, puzzled look at Jamie, Marley went to answer it, feeling Jamie behind her as she entered the foyer.
"Good afternoon, Marley." Toni Burrell stood on the Love doorstep, flanked by a uniformed police officer. "May we come in?"
Marley held her ground, unable to move. "What's this about?"
"I'm here to interview a person of interest regarding the murder of Cecile De Poulignac," Toni explained, all but forcing her way inside. Jamie gently nudged Marley to allow them to pass.
"Who?" Marley asked even as she looked to Jamie, who was looking to her with equal concern.
Toni's answer made both their heads snap back in her direction. "Your mother...."
The first time a presumed dead Lucas had suddenly materialized in Lorna's life, she'd been genuinely shocked. And more than a little skeptical.
In fact, the first time she saw him, her thought hadn't been, "There's my father." It had been a more logical, "Oh. There's someone who looks like my father."
He'd had to convince her. He'd stood in Lorna's living room in Chicago, trying not to scare or overwhelm her (too late for that), stubbornly, calmly, patiently insisting that he was who he said he was.
But it wasn't until he looked Lorna in the eye and whispered, "You're my daughter, too," that her heart leapt into her throat, and she even allowed herself to contemplate the possibility.
She said the one thing back that she could think of, the same thing that she'd told him all those years ago in the hospital room, when Lucas, when her father lay dying from a gunshot wound. "That's one hell of a broad you've got for a wife."
"Like her kid." He supplied the next line. The one only he and she ever knew about. "I can see your face, when you were born. When I gave you that Mercury dime, I wanted it to protect you. And bring you back to me."
Lorna held up her hand, showing the ring. "You know what? It worked."
He'd told her everything then. About Donna and Jenna and Carl. As soon as he explained about Carl, she'd understood why he agreed to stay away, to keep Jenna and Felicia safe. He told her he thought he could live out the remainder of his life without any of them. But he was wrong. He'd reached out to Lorna, he said, because she was the one he knew would appreciate his reasons best. And because she was the one who he felt sorry to ask her this, but it couldn't be helped would best be able to lie to her mother and sister.
Lorna wasn't sure how she felt about his assessment. Of course, it was true. But what did it say about her exactly?
She pushed all her doubts aside, however, to concentrate on the miracle at hand. She finally had her father back. Or, to be more accurate, she finally had a father.
They'd had so little time before. They'd barely had any chance to get to know each other. Now they had the chance. They had the time. And they even had one extra reason.
The fact was, as soon as Lucas came back into her life, Lorna found herself withdrawing from Felicia and Jenna, just a little, not so much that they'd notice and ask questions, but enough. Because now, every conversation, even the most innocent of ones, was a minefield of places where Lorna could slip up and reveal something she didn't intend. She found it more and more difficult to look either of them in the eye, or to even speak to them on the phone. So she hid behind e-mails and text messages, where Lorna could proof-read her words over and over again, making sure nothing could be misinterpreted or, worse, interpreted correctly.
Her regrettable alienation and distance from her mother and sister did, however, have one upside. Lucas became her primary confidante, and she his. In three years, they learned more about the other than some parents and children did over an entire lifetime.
It was a closeness that Lorna didn't know how she'd hide when, following Carl and Rachel's dragging him to her apartment for an identity check (during which Lucas' repetition of their initial reunion had hit Lorna nearly as hard as it did the first time), Felicia finally introduced her daughter to Lorna's presumed dead father. For the third time.
They were at the hospital. Felicia said she wanted to see her whole family together at least once, before Lori Ann became Cass and Frankie's daughter, too.
Felicia and Lucas were waiting for Lorna in front of the NICU window. They heard her come in, and both turned around to face her. Felicia was practically beaming with happiness, glancing from Lorna to Lucas and back again, trying to gauge their mutual reactions.
Lucas smiled, his face joyful but, vacant, too. He was waiting for her to give him some sign about how she wanted to proceed. He was waiting to follow her lead.
Except that, once again, Lorna had absolutely no idea how she should react.
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