EPISODE #2010-64 Part #2

"See what happens when we skip the rib joint for something more swanky," Lila lectured Grant the morning after their less than successful double-date dinner out. "You nearly drown drooling over Amanda's humping your leg — "

"I didn't... and she wasn't — "

"And then, to top it all off, you sack my boyfriend."

"Your boyfriend deserved to be sacked. According to him, my case is over. I am never going to get full custody of Kirkland away from Father of the Year Jamie Frame."

"Kevin got your parental rights restored and regular visitation. How about a little gratitude?"

"He's the one who should be grateful I'm not bringing him up on malpractice charges of gross incompetence. Or smashing my fist into his nose. Which, for the record, I am still happy to do on your behalf. You claim I was drooling over Amanda's hot to trot routine? The way Kevin was looking at — "

"He was embarrassed for her, same as the rest of us."

"Right," Grant smirked. "Embarrassed, that's exactly the word I was going to use. Let's not kid ourselves, Lila. Amanda Cory always was, and still is awfully easy on the eyes. It's when she opens her mouth that the chimera shatters."

"I don't know. Her suggestion that you run for Mayor this November got your attention even better than her come hither act. That's all you talked about for the rest of the night."

"I was merely holding court on the current political climate of Bay City, its strengths, its weaknesses. Chase Hamilton is a damn good candidate, he's done a phenomenal job of focusing on the actual campaign issues instead of his personal ones, which is the guy's only potential weakness as far as I can see, and the opposition has mounted a piss-poor rebuttal. They're afraid to really go for his jugular because they're scared of looking like bigots or extremists. You don't win elections that way."

"You know," Lila observed, "That's the most words you've uttered on any subject save Kirkland since the day you came back home. Once a politician, always a politician...."

"Hardly," Grant dismissed, turning his back on her. As if it could ever be that easy.

Lila sashayed around to look Grant in the face and continued on as if he hadn't spoken. "Why don't you run for Mayor again? I've seen pictures from your Senate campaign. You looked like you were having the time of your life."

"That wasn't the campaign," Grant recalled softly. "That was Vicky."

"Bull," Lila challenged. "You loved it. Vicky or no Vicky. And later, when you ran for Mayor back in 1997, against Donna, I know that wasn't about Vicky anymore."

"Politics was never really my dream. It was my father's. I don't want to play things his way anymore."

"So play it your way, this time. You're a big boy now. You could do it, Grant. You're smart, experienced, savvy. You've got the speech-making thing down cold and — don't you go drawing any intimations from me saying it — you know how to work that silver fox look like nobody's business."

"Why, Lila," he drawled. "I never realized — "

"Shut up and listen." She'd been expecting as much and so was prepared to cut him off. "You're always talking about making Kirkland proud of you. You don't think this would get the job done?"

"As if being Mayor could compete with Jamie's performing open heart surgery on Third World orphans using but a penlight and paperclip."

"Just forget Jamie for five minutes, would you? I guarantee he ain't spending this much of his precious time thinking about you." Lila pointed out, "This is something you and Kirkland could do together. He could work on your campaign, really get to know you, see you at your best."

Grant shook his head, amused by her naivete. "Politics, even local politics, is a ruthless game. Odds are I'd just lower Kirkland's opinion of me."

"Not if you do it right. You're supposedly a better man this time around. Prove it to the voters, prove it to your son."

"This is a pleasant surprise!" Kevin put down the file he was holding and opened his arms to envelope Jen in a hug. "Feels like I haven't seen you in ages!"

"Just because classes are over, doesn't mean the teachers aren't still swamped. Final grades, clean-up, review, student evaluations..."

"And what did the fine future cognitive scientists of Bay City University have to say about you?"

"Guess," Jen raised an eyebrow.

"Let's see.... Ms. Fowler certainly knows her subject inside and out, but..."

"But," Jen prompted.

"Does she have to be so obvious about it?"

Jen burst out laughing and admitted, "More or less."

"I think I've been reading that feedback about you since third grade. Only back then, the ladies at Brearley would write: Perhaps Jennifer might have a better year if she didn't spend so much of her classroom time teaching the teachers how to teach. For a change."

"I certainly got a taste of my own medicine this semester."

"Steven Frame?" Kevin guessed.

"Who else?"

"Well, at least that's over with now, right? Wasn't he just auditing the class, anyway?"

"So he said. Although he did threaten to take the next course level in the Fall, which I also happen to be teaching."

"Cosmic payback?"

"I guess...."

Seeing that Jen had no interest in pursuing that particular topic further, Kevin changed the subject and asked, "On another, hopefully happier note, how are things with GQ?"

"Good," Jen said quickly, relieved.

"No more lectures outlining your role in your people's cultural genocide?"

"That was you," Jen clarified. "I was merely ignorant about my heritage."

"Silly boy. Doesn't he know Jennifer Fowler is physiologically incapable of being ignorant about anything?"

"Or of not being obvious about it?"

Kevin laughed and kissed the top of her head. "I would really love to stay and catch up, but I, unfortunately, have a court-date in twenty minutes."

"That's okay," Jen said. "I just stopped by to say hi." She reached into her purse, rifled around for a moment, and frowned. "Damn. I forgot my cell-phone. Could I borrow yours, Daddy?"

"You'll never believe what happened last night," Amanda blew into Alice's office, nearly bubbling out of her skin.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and guess something pleasant?" Alice ventured, even as she recalled her earlier conversation with Rachel, and pondered the possibility that Amanda's mother was right, that Alice really was doing the younger woman more harm than good.

"I ran into Kevin and Lila and Grant and Marley all having dinner together. God, you have never in your life seen a smugger quartet. Seriously, what do they all have to be so self-satisfied about? Lila is squatting in her ex-husband's house because she can't support their kid on her own, Kevin's been working on it for a year and he still hasn't managed to take Kirkland away from us, Grant's such a coward he spent a decade playing dead in the tropics and Marley — Marley! Does she really think she's landed herself such a prize? It's Grant. Grant will jump anything with a pulse, getting him into bed is hardly an achievement."

"So it was feeling superior to the four of them that put you into such a jolly mood?" Alice tweaked gently.

Amanda laughed. "That was only the appetizer. For the main course, I started flirting with Grant."

"I thought getting his attention wasn't anything to brag about?"

"It's not. But pissing off Marley is. I showed her whom she was dealing with. She deserves it, too, for turning on Jamie like she did."

"So this was all for Jamie's sake?" Alice forsook tweaking and slid into out and out amusement.

"Hell, no!" Amanda whooped. "Marley wants to hook up with my ex-husband, she better get used to me ragging on her about it. Except that wasn't the best part. The best part was Kevin's reaction to my flirting with Grant. You should have seen it! Lila most certainly did. He was jealous. Really jealous. I wiped that pompous smirk right off his face. So much for not caring about me anymore!"

"Technically," Alice broached gently. "I don't believe he said that he no longer cared about you. He said that he no longer trusted you. There's a difference."

"All I know is, I got to him last night. That has to be a good thing, right?"

"A very good thing," Alice agreed.

"So what's next?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what do I do next? What would my mother have done?"

Unfortunately, before Alice could answer — or come up with a reason not to, her phone buzzed. She reached for it, checking the number, surprised, "It's Kevin."

"Tell him I say hello," Amanda smiled.

"It's a text. He says he needs to see me. It's urgent."

"What about?"

"That's all he wrote."

"Well, I hope it's nothing serious," Amanda offered, then perked up. "Give him my best. Better yet, ask him how dinner went last night. I can't wait to hear his answer."

"And me with my blowtorch in my other purse," Lorna smiled sweetly at Donna, promising her and Matt, "Maybe next time."

"I think that joke has run its course," Matt snarled.

"And this joke," Lorna indicated the couple in front of her. "Hasn't?"

"Who the hell died, Lorna, and gave you the right to pass judgment — "

"Jenna," she snapped, answering Matt, but glaring at Donna.

"It's alright, Matthew." The older woman laid a calming hand briefly across his arm. "You don't need to defend me."

"From her, I do. She tried to kill you!"

"It isn't Lorna's fault she hasn't the faintest idea how to act appropriately. Just like those petty insults she hurled at you earlier weren't her fault either. Lorna simply doesn't recognize kindness or decency or genuine, human affection. It's cruel of us to expect it of her. After all, how is a person supposed to appreciate in others qualities she's never possessed for herself?"

And then Donna was gone, leaving both Matt and Lorna just standing there, momentarily speechless.

"Wow," Lorna regained control of her senses first. "You really can pick 'em, Matt."

"Yeah," he told her pointedly. "I sure can."

"So should I expect to be your next Boy Scout project? Are you going to make me a better person, too?"

"Tried it already," Matt reminded. "Epic fail all around."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. What you accused me of 4th of July, about my being a hypocrite, you were right," she told him sincerely, dropping the sarcasm.

"Yes, I just saw how you really took that constructive criticism to heart." Matt declined to let go of his.

"I felt bad enough to talk to Jamie about it."

"And let me guess, he patted you on the head — or wherever you like it, these days — "

"He sure figured it out a lot faster than you initially did."

"And insisted that I was just being a big, bad bully, and you were a saint. Talk about being whipped — or just stupid."

"Jamie and I," Lorna stressed every syllable. "Are nothing like you and Donna."

"You sure as Hell aren't. Donna and I have been in each other's lives for almost twenty years."

"The bulk of them spent with her dumping you every time a Hudson brother so much as glanced in her direction. Like, you know, now..."

"You and Jamie are a joke compared to Donna and I."

"We're moving in together," Lorna told him. "Jamie's bought a house for the both of us. And we're petitioning the court for custody of Lori Ann."

It took Matt a moment to process the information. Dumbfounded, he sputtered, "Are you out of your freaking.... Felicia will never.... Seriously? Seriously, Lorna? Could the two of you be any more obnoxious? Or clueless? I get that the perpetual afterglow from constantly going at it tends to blur the vision. But, please tell me that some blood is at least periodically making it all the way up to your brains so you realize you're being completely insane. Lori Ann's got hair older than the length of time you and Jamie have been together!"

What you said to Jasmine — Kirkland texted Charlie — Seriously not cool.

CW: Brat got on my nerves.

KF: She was just trying to be nice.

CW: Forget it.

KF: Cut her some slack, she's your sister.

CW: Not really.

KF: Now you sound like Jazz. I told her we got to look out for each other because we're family, and she says like you — not really.

CW: That's 'cause she's got the kiddie hots for you.

KF: Shut up!

CW: For real! Pay attention sometime, stud-monkey.

KF: She's a baby.

CW: She wants you.

KW: You're gross. We're cousins.

CW: Uh-uh. Not blood.

KF: Shut UP. Want to do something later?

CW: Like steal my baby sister?

KW: ????

CW: Your dad and his Glamazon want to take Lori Ann away. Heard Felicia tell Mom last night.

KW: Why????

CW: 'Cause they suck. 'Cause everybody sucks.

After lurking in the hospital hallway long enough to make sure that the coast was clear, Jen watched Alice leave her office, get into the elevator and head off for her unexpected meeting with Kevin.

Factoring in another ten minutes in case Alice forgot something and unexpectedly decided to return, Jen finally snuck inside. She made a beeline for her great-grandmother's medical bag, hoping what she was looking for — didn't have to be morphine necessarily, according to her last-minute research, Demerol or Oxycontin could get the job done just as well — would be well-labeled, and as long as she was making requests, some user instructions would be nice, too. If not, there was always the Internet.

Jen briefly wondered if she should also risk stealing a syringe; those weren't particularly easy to come by, either. Was there anything else she needed? She looked up from the bag, scanning the assorted shelves and cabinets.

And, in the process, coming face to face with Alice, standing so silently in the doorway, she might not even have been breathing.

"Put that down, Jennifer," her great-grandmother instructed calmly. "And then kindly tell me what — or more likely who — this is all about?"

Donna had told Matt the truth. The one thing she could now do to help John — beyond basically promising him an open checkbook for any resources he might need in the search for Gregory — was to stay out of his way and not make John's life anymore complicated than it already was.

That objective included keeping out of Sharlene's sight, as well, since the mere mention of Donna inevitably set John's ex off even more than usual.

As a result, Donna had gotten into the habit of stealthily entering John's house through the back door. His front room was currently being used as a makeshift command center, with him and Sharlene constantly on the phone, checking in with the police and the private detectives they'd hired; calling other hospitals in the area, perenially broadening their parameters, desperate for any sort of lead.

She surreptitiously watched them for a moment through the side-window. At one point, Sharlene paused what she was doing to pick up a framed photograph of John with Gregory at maybe two, maybe three years old, tops. He was clutching a stuffed bear and looking up, pointing to something above him.

The irony of that photo, Donna realized, was that Sharlene had never known Gregory at that age. She'd been missing for most of his toddler years, presumed dead, suffering from amnesia. It was Donna who recalled the boy Gregory had been back then. Donna, in fact, had actually snapped that particular picture of father and son. She even remembered what Gregory had been pointing at.

"Look at the birdie," John had said, indicating Donna and her camera.

And Gregory, sweet, obedient child that he always was, had dutifully looked up, searching for the promised birdie, looking puzzled when it failed to appear.

The expression on his face proved priceless, so guileless, so open, so trusting. It was one of the reasons Donna had enlarged the photo, framed it, and given it to John for his birthday... or was it Christmas? That part didn't really matter. He'd smiled when he'd opened it. And then he'd told Donna, his expression aware, accepting even, "Gregory looks a bit like Michael, doesn't he?"

Donna had no choice but to agree. It was one of the reasons she'd kept a copy of the photo for herself. "He looks a great deal like Michael when he was young. That... hope in his eyes. Like he's always expecting the best, even when he should know better."

Donna tried to imagine Gregory now. Did he still have that spark, that hope, or had the world finally managed to crush even his one-time indefatigable spirit? It certainly seemed to have crushed his parents. Peering in through the window, it appeared to Donna that John and Sharlene were merely going through the motions now, diligently searching for a child that, in their hearts, both suspected was already gone.

Aching to do something for them, understanding that she couldn't, Donna turned to slip back into the house, reaching for the back-door knob.

Only to feel a hand shoot out from the side, grab her wrist and spin Donna around, so that she was standing face to face with... Carl.

"Hello, Bella," he sneered. "It's been a very long time."

"So, what do you think?" Jamie couldn't help crossing his arms, tapping his fingers and shifting nervously from foot to foot as, following an excruciatingly detailed tour, he stood back in the center of the sunken living-room of what he hoped would be his and Lorna's new home. When she didn't say anything, just continued looking around, noticing either the beauty of the cast-iron, period curlicues on the windows... or how they appeared to just jut out at vaguely threatening, possibly downright dangerous angles, Jamie continued with his hard sell. "They redid the kitchen and the wiring a couple of years ago. Two-car garage. There's tons of natural light, East and West exposures, full backyard, a pool."

"How many bedrooms?" Lorna double-checked.

"Six. I know that seems excessive. But, I figured, the master one, then an office for each of us. A room for Kirkland. Also for Steven, not that he's ever around, but I don't want him to feel left out. And then one for... whatever. Friends. Guests. Anyone who might feel like showing up."

"Anyone?" she teased him gently. "You mean like if Rachel kicks Matt or Amanda out of the mansion and they suddenly need someplace to crash?"

"Anyone," he repeated firmly, making sure that Lorna understood his implication.

She admitted, "I talked to my mother today. About Lori Ann."

"And the town is still standing. That's a good sign, I presume."

"Only because Godzilla and Megalon chose to play nicely. For now."

"Wow. You have been studying up. But, I told you before, it doesn't all need to be nerd references. I can speak Normal People if forced to. And given a dictionary."

"Felicia said Lori Ann already has two sets of parents. She doesn't need a third."

"And what did you say to that?"

"I said that you and I are the only ones who can give her a mother and a father that are actually there all of the time; not in jail, not in hiding, not... oh, crap, you have that look again. Frame Face. What? You don't agree?"

"I agree that, if there were no other options, you and I could give Lori Ann a very good home. But, Lori Ann already has a home. With Cass and Frankie and Charlie."

"Cass is — "

"In prison. But he is still the only father she has ever known." Taking a deep breath, Jamie told Lorna, "Until I was about four years old, I thought Russ Matthews was my father. I don't remember any of it. Not consciously, at least. I don't even remember Steve telling me that no, he was my real father. If you ask me, I will tell you, without hesitation or a moment's thought, that my dad was Steve Frame, there is no doubt about it. Except, I still miss Russ. Not in words, and not in anything I can describe. But, I hear his name, or I pass by him in the hospital unexpectedly, and I feel... loss. I want something back. And I understand that I will never, ever get it."

"But, don't you see?" Lorna insisted. "That's exactly why I want us to raise Lori Ann. So she can have a better childhood than you and me and practically everyone we know. That's why I want to do this now, and not years from now. She's still young enough..."

"She's not. Trust me. I've served my time on the custody battle front. Not just my parents with me, but Mom and Mac over Amanda, Mom and Mitch over Matt. Cecile pulled me in when she was fighting Sandy for Maggie by claiming I was her real father. I fought Vicky for Steven, and Grant for Kirkland. It battered me every single time. But that was nothing compared to what it did to the kids. These kinds of things can drag on for years. Do you really want Lori Ann shuffled back and forth between different homes, then periodically shoved onto the witness stand and forced to not just choose, but declare whom she loves more?"

"You think I'm being selfish," Lorna accused.

"No," Jamie swore, cupping her face in his hands. "I think you look at Lori Ann, and I think you see... yourself."

"So then I am being selfish?"

"No." He shook his head and kissed her brow. "Maybe somewhat deliberately obtuse..."

She smirked tearfully at that. "I don't want her to end up like me. I don't want her to feel like she doesn't belong anywhere or with anyone. It's going to be hard enough when she finds out about Dean leaving. Or when she understands what Donna did to Jenna. Put Cass in jail on top of that... it's too much. She deserves to have something solid she can always hold on to. Something she doesn't have to be afraid of losing."

"And she can still have that. And we can even still be that. Aunt Lorna and Cousin Jamie can still be a part of her life, without disrupting it completely. We'll find some way."

"Like what? You, me, and Kirkland moving in with Frankie, Charlie, and Lori Ann to live as one big happy family?"

"Maybe not that way," Jamie conceded. "Though, that would settle the question of what to do with our extra bedroom..."

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