Deciding that Amanda might feel less threatened if their... discussion... took place on her own turf, Rachel dismissed the notion of cornering her daughter at home and dropped in instead to the Brava offices.
"Mom? What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk. Do you have a few minutes?"
"Not really." Amanda indicated the piles of sketches, layouts and stories scattered across her desk. "We take the new issue to press next week, you know how that is."
"I realize you're busy," Rachel chose her words with great care. "Perhaps that's why you didn't manage to find the time to tell me that Allie was pregnant. I had to hear about it from Carl."
Amanda barely broke her stride. "What difference does it make who told you? My twenty-one year old daughter is having a baby she plans to give up for adoption. There's enough angst to go around for everyone."
Rachel offered, "I talked to Allie about her decision."
That got Amanda's attention. "What did she say?"
"She said that she's made up her mind. But you've been trying to talk her out of it. She said that you took her to see... Alice Frame?"
"Why would you do that?"
"I wanted to get her opinion. Alice is a smart woman."
"You barely know her!"
"She's Kevin's grandmother."
"And you're not even seeing him anymore."
"So? We've had some very nice talks. She's my friend."
"I don't believe this!" Rachel addressed no one in particular. "First Jamie, now you. That woman has some nerve."
"Yeah. After everything you did to her, she's still nice to your kids. The bitch."
"What?" she fired back. "What, Mom? What is this really about? What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell me," Rachel forced herself to calm down, to sound reasonable. "I want you to tell me what's wrong. Why have you and I been butting heads for "
"I was going to say, the past few weeks."
Amanda sighed. "Come on, Mom. It's been a lot more than the past few weeks."
Rachel reminisced, "We were so close when you were a little girl."
"You mean before I developed a mind and opinions of my own."
"You always had those."
"Let's be honest here. We haven't been close since... Carl."
Rachel stiffened. "I thought we'd worked through all that."
"If by worked through you mean I learned to suck it up and you pretended not to notice, then, yes, I guess we have."
"I didn't realize you felt that way."
"You didn't want to realize it. Just like you didn't want to realize that you've moved Lila Hart in as you new and improved daughter."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Okay." Amanda shrugged and went back to her layouts. "Whatever you say, Mom."
"Lila," Rachel defended. "Lila is... She asked me for some advice, I gave it to her."
"Which is exactly what I did with Alice."
"Oh, no, you can't compare that there is a lot more... baggage... between me and Alice than "
"But this wasn't between you and Alice. You just refuse to get that. My going to talk to her had nothing to do with you. You are not the central player in this story. This," Amanda over-enunciated each word, lest her mother miss the point. "Is. Not. About. You."
Jasmine beamed up at Lila, her face still flushed from their night out on the town. "Did you have a good time, Mama?"
"What?" Lila yelled back. Four hours at a CD signing for Jasmine's favorite band had left Lila with about sixty percent of her hearing; if that. Why, she wondered, did alternative necessarily have to mean loud? Wouldn't quiet be a nice musical alternative? For a change?
But it was worth it, Lila laughed to herself as Jasmine clutched her autographed poster and danced in the Cory foyer, a giddy bounce to her step. Lila hadn't seen Jasmine smile like that in a very long time.
"I said did you have a good time? I know you don't like going to these things, but since Daddy's busy with Michelle and Bridget's grandma..."
"I always have a good time with you," Lila proclaimed loudly, prompting Jasmine to shush her with a giggle. "What? Am I yelling?"
"You're past yelling and well into bellowing," Cass chided from the living room, his presence causing Lila to yelp and Jasmine's smile to drop faster than a stone in a pond.
"Can we keep it down?" He shot a glance across the hallway towards the study. "Marley and Jamie are meeting with the court appointed psychologist about Kirkland's custody case."
"Sorry," Jasmine whispered, Lila wincing as she saw her daughter's newly restored jubilant glow wink out. "I'm going to go to my room now," she glanced at Lila before dashing up and away, out of Cass's sight.
He blinked at Jasmine's hasty retreat. "I didn't mean to chase her away. What " Cass' question was cut off as Lila lifted her foot and slammed the pointed toe of her shoe right into his shin. " Was that for?" he whispered angrily after hopping back into the living room and using a couch pillow to muffle the curse that flew from his lips.
"Take your pick," Lila began, closing the doors behind them. "For ruining my daughter's day. For making me sacrifice my hearing for nothing. For you and Charlie not giving Jasmine so much as a backward glance as you and Frankie shuttle in a replacement child and act as if Jasmine wasn't your daughter or Charlie's sister for over ten years?"
"Oh," Cass nodded, and Lila's anger flared at the realization that this point was just hitting him. "I didn't think "
"I know," Lila cut him off. "You haven't given a moment's thought to a little girl who you claimed as your own since she was a baby. A girl who loved you and looked up to you as much as she did to Matt. I get you and Charlie making a break with me, but kindly explain how it's okay to also toss Jasmine aside like she meant nothing to either one of you all these years."
"You know that's not true. I love Jasmine. I... I didn't mean to hurt her in all of this."
"Well, you have. Have you said two words to her since Thanksgiving? Has Charlie? Did you send her an e-mail to explain that just because you and I aren't together anymore, you're still family? A letter or a smoke signal to make sure she knew that Charlie is still her sister?"
"No," Cass figured righteous indignation could work both ways. "I've been too busy trying to protect my wife and daughter from a sociopath, supporting my friend who lost her beloved daughter because of another sociopath, and earning a living after you and your greedy, opportunistic sociopath of a lawyer decided to send me to the poor house for hurting your pride."
"My pride?" Lila raised a brow in sincere confusion. "You broke my heart, Cass. You broke my daughter's heart, too. And while I bit my tongue when you wasted no time bringing Frankie into our bed, I won't allow you to trample all over Jasmine without letting you know just how low I think you're being. I don't know what the hell is going on with you, maybe it's Frankie Tunnel vision, but the man, the father, I thought you were, would've treated my daughter a hell of a lot better than what I've seen coming from you these past few months."
"I'm sorry that Jasmine has been hurt. But I won't apologize for living my life with Frankie, Charlie, and Lori Ann. They're my family."
"Used to be a time when Jasmine was your family, too," Lila said. "For better or for worse, no conditions or strings attached. That's the Cass that Jasmine and I knew and loved. What I'm looking at standing in front of me now?" Lila eyes flickered coldly over him. "Ain't worth her time. Or her tears."
It took GQ almost five minutes, during which he read the restraining order over several times to confirm that, yup, it definitely said to stay away from Allie far, far away; before he looked back at Jen and queried, "Daddy?"
She reminded, "I told you my father worked in Family Law. Ta-da!"
"Yeah. But you didn't tell me your father was... " GQ trailed off.
"What? Six feet tall? Starting to go gray? Oh..." Jen managed to stretch out the syllable to sarcastic length. "I didn't tell you that my daddy was white."
"You don't look... Is he your real... "
"Yes," Jen said. "Kevin Fowler is my real father. But the guy you're referring to is most likely currently cooling his heels at Rikers. Or maybe Attica. Or maybe he's dead. I don't know, we don't keep in touch. Don't worry, though, he'd pass your one-drop rule test."
"You're adopted," GQ surmised.
"Yeah. You got a problem with that?"
"Actually, I do," he said without a trace of embarrassment. "White parents adopting African-American children is cultural genocide. They may think they're doing the poor, underprivileged kid a favor, taking care of their physical needs like food and shelter, but they're also depriving them of their community, their heritage, their authenticity."
Jen crossed her arms. "I'm from the Lincoln Projects, on the wrong side of Fifth Avenue. That's the part of Harlem folks from Harlem are afraid to go to. I'm willing to bet I know a hell of a lot more about my authentic, African-American culture than you do, Baldwin Hills Boy."
"See?" GQ threw his hands up in the air. "That's exactly what I mean. Even someone as educated as you can't help falling for the media-created fallacy that when I talk about authentic Black culture I'm talking about projects and drugs and rap music. That's the poverty of our experience. I'm talking about the richness of it. I'm talking about history and traditions that you can only get from being raised by Black parents. Did your Daddy from the right side of Fifth Avenue "
"We lived on the Upper West."
" Or Yale or MIT teach you about what it means to be a Black woman in America? Do you know anything about your multitude of birthrights? Things like Juneteenth and the Tuskegee Airmen, and Kwanza?"
"Juneteenth," Jen recited. "African-American Emancipation Day, celebrated since 1865 in commemoration of Union General Gordon Granger arriving in Galveston, Texas to put into effect the freeing of its slaves. Tuskegee Airmen: The 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps, World War II's first ever colored aviators. Kwanza: A Marxist holiday having nothing to do with any genuine African traditions, founded in 1966 by a man who later did jail time for the torture of two Black, female members of his cult a detail that, by the way, did not make it to any of my Women's Study classes. This is fun. Let's do capitals of the states next."
GQ looked at her for a moment, and then he said, "Anyone can memorize dates and quotes from books. My question was, could your father or your degrees from Yale and MIT teach what those things mean to us? Fine, Maulana Karenga may have been in prison. But does that mean that his principles of family and community and self-determination are consequently all wrong? That would be like... like saying that the cause of women's rights was illegitimate because Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an anti-abolitionist."
"She had her reasons for that," Jen dismissed. "And you know what? I'm not interested in any of them right now. Here's what this conversation comes down to, GQ. My father's name is Kevin Fowler. He is apparently Allie's attorney sorry, I didn't know. And he's white that, I'm not even a little bit sorry about. If you can't live with it, then that's that. If you can, let me know. We'll see where we go from there."
She grabbed her coat and walked out the door.
"There's my girl," Felicia's face lit up. Without a word of warning, she plucked Lori Ann from Lorna's arms, as oblivious to her daughter's shocked expression after she was left ineffectually standing there, still clutching Lori Ann's bottle, as Felicia was to Lucas' deep frown.
"When will Cass be back?" Felicia turned to Frankie. "I really need to speak with him right away."
"He's at the Corys. Jamie and Marley are being interviewed by the social worker assigned to Kirkland's custody case," Frankie said, equally oblivious of the effect her words had on Lorna.
"It's ridiculous, isn't it?" Felicia paced up and down, forcing all three to swivel their heads from side to side in order to keep up with her. "This business with Donna. Of course, she's insane. You'd have to be insane to do what she did. But that's all the more reason to see her punished, not rewarded with an indefinite stay at some... some... spa!"
"I'm expecting Cass back any minute," Frankie attempted to distract a distressingly intense Felicia. Every time she jiggled the baby, Frankie expected her to fly halfway to the ceiling. "Lorna was just about to help me feed Lori Ann. How about we "
"That dimple, right there," Felicia playfully rubbed her nose against Lori Ann's cheek. "That's pure Jenna. But she has Dean's chin. Can you see it, Frankie?"
"Better his chin than his mouth," Lorna quipped, moving towards Felicia with Lori Ann's bottle at the ready.
"I can hardly believe it," Felicia handed the baby straight past Lorna into Frankie's arms. "Just a few weeks ago she was still being fed through a tube, and now look at those chubby cheeks! You and Cass have really done wonders with her. She's absolutely thriving!"
Despite Lucas shaking his head in her direction, Lorna, resigned, shoved the bottle at Frankie.
"Guess I'll leave them to you," she picked up her coat and stalked out the door, side-stepping Cass as he entered.
"What have we here?" He grinned. "Nana Felicia over for a visit?"
"You have to stop this," Felicia pronounced without so much as a preamble. "Donna deserves the electric chair, not an all-expense paid vacation."
He sighed. "There is nothing to be done, at least from our end. I've been on the phone all day with the District Attorney's office "
"So have I," Felicia said. "He is a very unpleasant man. Poor Douglas can do so much better."
"They simply don't have enough evidence to charge Donna with Jenna's kidnapping."
"Her murder, you mean."
"All of the information found in Cecile's room is unverifiable. They don't know where it came from, they have no one to corroborate it, and, since the initial charges had nothing to do with the kidnapping, Donna's lawyer wouldn't let her say a word about it on the record. No D.A. is going to risk going to court with a case that tenuous."
"But isn't their case for Cecile's death solid? Why drop that? At least then we'd have something!"
"Once Donna attempted suicide," Cass began. "The deck became stacked in her favor for a non compos mentis defense."
"So because she worked up the courage to take a razor to her wrists and stage an eye-catching scene, she gets to slide on a murder charge?"
As Felicia's voice rose, Frankie interrupted, "I'm going to take Lori Ann upstairs, feed her there."
"And I think I," Lucas glanced from his wife to her best friend. "Am going to take a drive.... "
"You don't have to come," Gregory reminded Allie again as they stood outside of Carlinos, looking in the window, already able to see John and Sharlene at a table for four.
"I do," she corrected. "After everything you've done for me, I pretty much could do nothing but what you said for the next couple of decades, and we still wouldn't be even."
"So will you do what I say and bail?"
"Sorry. Doesn't work that way." Allie took Gregory by the hand, kissed him quickly, and all but dragged him inside the restaurant.
Sharlene and John both stood when they walked in. Despite the forced cheer smiles and hearty welcomes, neither one looked particularly happy.
Allie didn't care. As far as she was concerned, she deserved anything either of Gregory's parents saw fit to throw at her. Even if they themselves didn't know just how much she deserved it. She would do this for Gregory. Even if he himself didn't want her to.
They'd barely ordered the food hadn't even arrived yet before Sharlene, obviously having held off for as long as she possibly could, launched into, "I don't understand this, Allie. When I spoke to Amanda, she said she would be happy to support you and the baby, both financially and emotionally, for as long as you both needed it. There is absolutely no reason for you to do something so drastic as "
"Sharlene... " John warned, off an equally cautioning look on Gregory's face.
"Do you understand them, John?" she demanded.
"We agreed we weren't going to do this," he reminded.
The agreement, apparently, was now null and void. Sharlene told Allie, "I know what it's like to raise a child alone. I did it with Josie; I am not for one minute suggesting that it's easy. But you're not alone. My son is the most miraculously responsible human being I have ever met."
"He's amazing," Allie agreed, smiling at Gregory.
"You know he would be there for you."
"He already is here for me."
"The way Allie wants me to be," Gregory interjected.
"And he would be there for the baby, too."
"Mom!" The unfamiliar sharpness of Gregory's tone startled them all. He locked eyes with Sharlene and for one, long interminable beat they appeared to be having a silent conversation. One that John seemed to understand, but Allie felt completely lost in. "Stop," he finally told her, his tone back to normal.
"Gregory..." she was begging him for... something. Again, John looked like he was the only other person who knew what.
"No, Mom." Gregory shook his head, also pleading. "Just... stop."
Sharlene covered her mouth with one hand, eyes filling with tears. John reached to comfort her, but she jerked away. "Excuse me." She stood up, looking at Gregory and, before leaving the table, offered, "I'm sorry, honey."
"It's okay." He was back completely to the boy Allie knew; sweet, gentle, kind, as if his earlier outburst had never happened. "I understand."
"You always have, haven't you?" Sharlene looked to John, who also appeared near tears. "I just wish to hell I did."
"I'm fine," Lorna informed Lucas after he'd tracked her to the Cory guesthouse. She flopped back down on the couch, continuing to flip blindly through the television channels, pausing only to watch a snow-boarder take a face plant. She kind of knew how he felt. "My arm is almost healed."
Lucas plucked the remote from her hand, switching the TV off. "I wasn't talking about your arm. I was talking about your mother. She hurt you earlier, I could see it all over your face."
"She's upset. We're all upset. No worries."
"You're my kid. It's my job to worry about you. Always. Even after you find your tall, dark, and handsome "
"Gee, I wonder who that sounds like, Dad?"
" Happily ever after, complete with white picket fence and two kids."
"Three is the new two," Lorna corrected. "Or so I've heard."
"Then three it is," Lucas chuckled.
Lorna looked at him doubtfully. "You can really see me with three kids?
"I can see you with a dozen, if that's what you want."
"I'd be happy with just one," Lorna sighed. "Okay, maybe two. Three max. But at the rate I'm going, I doubt that's going to happen. Tick-tock, tick-tock."
"Listen to you. Talking like you're an old woman. I know exactly how old you are, remember?"
"Well, then you know I'm creeping up on my baby sell-by date."
"So, go get yourself one right now. You can adopt. You could even go to one of those...you know..."
"A sperm bank?" Lorna finished, smirking at her father's uncomfortable sputtering.
"Yeah, one of those," Lucas nodded, clearing his throat. "If it's that important to you."
"I know I could, but that's not how... I want my kid to have a dad. A real dad to spoil her rotten and call her his princess, give her piggy-back rides, teach her how to pedal a bike, build a tree-house, help her make me burned toast on Mother's Day... I know how old school and totally not... me, it sounds, but... I want her I want her to have a real family."
"Like the one you never had," Lucas didn't even bother phrasing his guess as a question. "I will never, ever forgive myself for depriving you of that."
"I You... you didn't. It's over. We're finally together now. All's well that ends well."
"We could be better. Our family should be better."
"Yeah, well, blame Donna. If it wasn't for her, we'd be getting slideshows from all over the world of Lori Ann doing a sound-check for her Daddy's band, wearing those cute, teeny-tiny headphones. Instead, she'll probably be getting a teeny-tiny gavel and crystals for her next birthday, while Felicia... Felicia is a mess. And none of us can do a damn thing about it. Well, Cass, maybe...."
"You're right. It's too much. You shouldn't have to be shouldering.... You should get out of here. Get out of Bay City and back to your life in Chicago."
Lorna blinked at him, startled. "So, what, now you don't want me around, either?"
"You know that's not true. But I do want you to get your life back. You've already put it on hold for me for the past three years. Now, you're doing it for Felicia when "
"She doesn't appreciate it?"
"When you deserve to find your own happiness. Start your own family."
"It's not like I was making any headway on that front in Chicago. City was nothing but a pit of losers. On a lake."
"I'd think the pool is even smaller here. And there are a lot of ghosts... Matt, Grant "
Lorna nodded, knowing where he was headed. "Gabe..."
"It might be good for you to make a fresh start. Something tells me you'd knock, say, New York, flat on its ass."
Lorna smiled at the thought. "I probably would. But the men there are all ambitious suits. On two rivers. And, besides, it doesn't have you. Or Mom. Or Lori Ann. And I just... I want to be here right now. With my family and the old friends I can count on one hand and..."
"And?" Lucas cocked his head at Lorna, his eyes narrowing as she hesitated and he saw the wheels turning behind those beautiful eyes. "You know it's not nice to keep secrets from your father."
"It's not a secret," she demurred. "It's... He..."
"He?" Lucas peered at his daughter with new interest.
Lucas did his best not to groan. "Married like Grant complicated, or evil incarnate like Carl complicated?"
"Complicated. For a lot of reasons."
"Anyone I know?" Lorna averted her eyes, which was enough of a tell for Lucas to deduce the answer. "Is it serious?"
"I want it to be," Lorna answered honestly, as much for her benefit finally as for Lucas'. "He's a good guy. I like him, and I think he likes me. I like being with him."
The unfamiliar note of happiness in her voice instantly convinced Lucas of that. He also heard the hesitation. "But..." he nudged.
"Complicated," Lucas finished, Lorna shooting him an apologetic look.
"Sweetheart, I'd love to give you some advice, but you're not giving me much to work with here. Why the secrets?"
"Because you have enough on your plate with Felicia. And I know that if I give you too much information you're going to try to sniff this guy out and have a little 'talk' with him."
"What's with the air-quotes? I can talk without air-quotes."
"Just to make sure he understands: If he breaks your heart, I'll make him regret it."
"I don't need you to beat up guys for me, Dad. I can do it myself."
"Father's prerogative," Lucas asserted, pulling a laughing Lorna into a hug.
Police Chief Toni Burrell stared at District Attorney Chase Hamilton in disbelief. "You're doing what?"
"We're tabling the murder charges on Donna Love. Both the hospital and court psychologist deemed her unfit to stand trial."
"So she gets off because she had the presence of mind to try killing herself?" Toni paced her office. "Am I the only one seeing the flaws in our system?"
"How long have we known each other, Toni?" Hamilton asked, not needing to remind her of their initial meeting, when he'd been a lowly ADA prosecuting at her rape trial. "Have you ever known me to give up on a case I even marginally believed I could win?"
"No," she admitted. "You make a pit-bull look reticent."
"Are you going to claim now that you don't know what Doug sees in me?"
"What?" she asked, totally confused.
"Nothing. Sorry. It's been an odd day. In any case, the truth is, it's pointless for us to push a court-date with the way things stand now. Seeing how the scarf has been ruled out as our murder weapon due to the tox report "
"My team is working on finding a link between Love and the substance that killed Cecile. We had anything and everything seized from Donna's estate that could possibly be a poison analyzed. We're still waiting for the results."
"You are not going to believe this," Detective Chiang burst into Toni's office, too excited to even knock. "That vial we sent to Bay City Hospital for testing? They found trace residue of the same substance that killed our murder victim."
Toni shot Hamilton a victorious look. "We've got our physical link to Donna Love as the murderer!"
Chiang nodded. "But we've got an even stronger link to someone else. "
"Who?" Hamilton sat up in his chair with renewed interest.
"Our victim's ex-husband. Dr. Jamie Frame."
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