The Bay City Police officer on the other end of the phone was still waiting patiently for John's answer. Sharlene was still behind him, hammering on John's back with her fists now, demanding that he tell her everything.
John turned around and looked at his ex-wife. She knew. She didn't know. She didn't want to know. She did.
"Gregory?" Sharlene choked out in conjunction with a sob, pressing her hands to her mouth, making it both a question and an acknowledgement. "Where's my son?"
"They're transferring," John said softly, still clutching the receiver. "His body to the Bay City Hospital morgue."
Sharlene screamed. She fell to the floor as if a hole in the Earth had opened up and sucked her straight down, her earsplitting cry covering up even the thud of her hitting the wooden floor. She doubled over, head on the ground, unable to inhale or exhale, seemingly stuck somewhere in between, paralyzed with grief.
John sunk to his knees beside her, arm around both her shoulders, attempting to force her to sit up, attempting to get her at least breathing again.
The last thing he said before flinging the phone back into its cradle was, "Go ahead and throw the book at them all."
What started out as Jamie's simply massaging Lorna's aching shoulders after an afternoon spent unpacking a mountain of boxes albeit in the nude; it was the middle of August, after all, and the house didn't yet have central air somehow turned into the two of them upstairs, atop their brand-new bed, Jamie meticulously kissing every vertebrae down the length of Lorna's back.
Around the sacral curve, he began to laugh.
She twisted around to look at him, brushing loose hair off her right shoulder. "Something amusing you'd like to share with the rest of the class, Dr. Frame?"
He rested his chin in the hollow of her back and said, "If anyone had told me when I first stumbled upon you in the hospital stairway, that, exactly a year later, we'd be lying here, like this, together, in our house... I'd have never believed them."
"Big deal," Lorna dismissed. "If somebody had told you you'd be like this with anyone, not just me, you wouldn't have believed them either."
"You are so far out of my league, Lorna," he sighed. "I wouldn't have believed it even twenty years ago. And I had a lot more going for me then."
Lorna rolled over on her back, cupping Jamie's face in her hands, pulling it up for a kiss. "Welcome to the big leagues," she purred.
"There's a joke in here somewhere," Jamie nuzzled her neck. "Something about Put me in, Coach... But, I'm too classy to go there."
She laughed, rolling out from under him in a single, smooth motion, standing up and stretching. "Before you get ready to slide into home plate "
"Now, see, I could have gone there, too. But, I didn't."
"I'm starving. We didn't do anything smart like remember to pack any food, did we?"
"Nope." Though no longer touching her, Jamie continued studying Lorna intently, as if seeing her for the first time. That was something else he never would have believed capable of happening. And thus had no intention of ever taking for granted. "But there was a whole stack of take-out menus on the mat when we drove up. I brought them in."
"You are a brilliant man," Lorna commended, streaking out the door.
Jamie barely had time to lean back, arms under his head, and remind himself that no, this wasn't a dream, this was actually happening, and the sooner he stopped questioning and actually started enjoying every moment, the better, before Lorna was back, shutting the door tightly behind her, looking simultaneously flushed and pale.
She cocked her head to one side and in response to Jamie's popping up in alarm, informed, "Kirkland's downstairs. I gather you gave him a set of keys?"
"And so is Marley," Lorna added. "And so is Grant."
"You lied to Mom," Elizabeth informed Carl calmly in the midst of their weekly chess lesson as she picked up a pawn off the board and set it on her side of the table.
"How so?" Carl raised an eyebrow, clucked his tongue, and directed Elizabeth's attention to where her shortsighted maneuver had put him in position to capture her rook.
"You told her you weren't going to go after Ms. Love."
"And I have not done so." He seized the piece as threatened.
"Yes, you have. I saw you."
"What?" Carl's head shot up.
"Yesterday. With Marley. While she was waiting for Kirk."
"Marley," Carl visibly relaxed. "Marley is hardly her mother. We were simply making polite conversation."
"You're going to do something to Marley to get back at Ms. Love." To Elizabeth, it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Don't be absurd," Carl harrumphed while acquiring yet another of her pawns.
"Except it's not going to work."
"Really, Elizabeth, this is a most unseemly conversation."
"She knows you're up to something. It can't work if she knows." Elizabeth studied the board, rested her finger on a Bishop, then quickly snatched it away, looking guilelessly at her father. "Never mind." She moved a Knight instead.
"You are a very bright child," Carl began, sliding his Queen almost the length of the board. "And a most promising chess player. However, next time, we need to work on your tells." He indicated the Bishop she'd failed to move earlier. "Never telegraph your intentions in advance." Carl captured her piece.
"Unless," Elizabeth pointed to his now wide-open Queen. "You're going for a deliberate misdirect." She tossed it in the air in triumph, then spun it like a top for good measure. "You tell people exactly what you're planning to do? They never believe you...."
"I am so sorry, Dad!" Kirkland, looking even redder than Lorna, bounced up as soon as Jamie wearing hastily thrown on pants and a shirt and Lorna, in just a robe "Horses, barn door, no point trying to close it now," descended the stairs into the half-unpacked living room.
Grant and Marley sat across from each other on either side of Kirk in a pair of matching armchairs still wrapped in plastic. Marley's mortified look suggested she wished she were anywhere but here at the moment. Grant's projected a deliberate nonchalance that unmistakably boasted, "Nothing I haven't seen before."
Uninterested in either of them for now, Jamie reassured, "It's okay, Kirk. I did say you were welcome at any time." He leaned against a table and noted, "I'm a little confused, though; I thought you were planning on spending a couple of days with Grant before moving in here."
"I was. I still am. But then, you remember Trey Morgan?"
"Yeah, from the track team with you. Henrietta and Bob's grandson."
"Well, he and his dad are going bridge bungee jumping right outside Bay City. They're really into extreme sports. But, they have an instructor and helmets and everything, so it's totally safe. Trey invited a bunch of us to go along. Can I?"
Jamie looked questioningly at Grant, who explained, "I told Kirkland that, if it were up to me, of course, he would have my permission. Go! Have fun! How often does an exciting opportunity like this come along, after all? We're only young once, aren't we?"
"Uh-ha..." Jamie prompted, wondering precisely how thick Grant intended to lay this.
"But then, I reminded him that you were his legal guardian. I couldn't make a decision of this magnitude without consulting you first."
"But, personally, you're totally okay with the idea?" Jamie clarified.
"Of course. Several other boys from his class are going. I wouldn't want Kirkland to feel left out. That wouldn't be fair to him."
Jamie shrugged, "Well, in that case, have a good time, Kirk. Try not to break your neck."
Grant's mouth dropped open and he shot Marley an accusatory look. As she had yet to glance up from studying the hardwood floors, she managed to miss not only that, but also Jamie and Lorna's visible amusement.
"Are you serious, Jamie?" Grant sputtered.
"As serious as you are," he smiled, then put an arm on Kirkland's shoulder. "I suspect Grant isn't quite as on-board with this endeavor as he'd like you to believe...."
Kirkland faced his other father. "You're not?"
"Of course not! You could get killed!"
"Then why oh, you were trying to make Dad the bad guy. I get it."
"Not exactly... But, he's a doctor! What kind of a doctor "
"What kind of a Dad?" Jamie challenged. "Watch and learn," he turned to address Kirkland. "Over my dead body. And even then, I'm putting a provision in my will."
"I'm the executor," Lorna piped up. "I'll see to it that his wishes are followed."
Kirk sighed. "Okay...."
Grant looked from his son to Jamie, and back again. "That's it?" he demanded. "You say no, and he just accepts it?"
"Oh, I'm sure he'll claim terrible things about me to his friends."
"Mega-terrible," Kirkland agreed. "They already think you're an ogre. This'll prove it."
"The key, Grant, is to think more about him, and less about what he thinks of you. Give it a shot, let me know how it goes." Jamie stood up, steering Kirkland and, by extension, Grant and Marley, to the door. He reminded his son, "Anytime..."
"But call first?" Kirkland inquired sheepishly.
"That sounds like a good idea." Jamie kissed the top of his head, then informed Grant in the same breath. "You? Make an appointment."
The three of them shuffled out, leaving Jamie to once again shamefacedly beg Lorna's forgiveness. She laughed, "Oh, it's only fair. Kirk already walked in on Grant and Marley...."
"Oh, damn." Jamie smacked himself in the head. "I'd forgotten about that. The poor kid. We're going to scar him for life."
"Thank you," Lorna said dryly.
"What I meant was, he's going to spend his entire life now trying to find somebody as perfect as you, and coming up short every time."
"Nice save," Lorna commended. "But a girl doesn't live on compliments alone. Where were those menus you promised?"
"Right here," Jamie picked up a half-dozen advertisements and handed them to Lorna. "Your gastronomical wish is my command. Well, within the delivery zone, anyway. Pick something special. It will be our first meal in our new house."
Lorna hesitated, "That is kind of special, isn't it?"
"Very," he told her sincerely, reaching for his phone to place the order, when it rang in his hand. "Maybe they're calling us," Jamie joked.
"That would be special."
He answered, the smile on Jamie's lips dying in seconds, replaced with a tension Lorna had honestly hoped her presence might wipe from his repertoire for good. "I'll be right there," Jamie said tersely, snapping the phone shut. He told Lorna, "Sorry, go ahead and order without me. This could take a while."
He sighed, already exhausted and he hadn't even left the house yet. "Steven's been arrested."
"I'm a little old to be scolded, don't you think, Mom?" Matt asked in response to Rachel telling him they needed to have a word. Now.
"In that case, don't you think it best if you were to stop acting like a child?"
As Matt couldn't think of a single rejoinder that wouldn't make him sound like exactly that, he merely looked at her expectantly. And, all right, he admitted it, a little petulantly.
"Cory filled me in on what happened with you and Jamie."
"Kid's a tattletale, Mom. I'd look into that if I were you."
"He may be a tattletale. But, he's not, as far as I know, a liar. Furthermore, he doesn't pick fights just for the fun of it."
"Jamie had it coming." Matt defended. "I'm sorry that it happened in front of Kirk and Cory, but I'm not sorry I said what I said. We both know I'm right. Lorna is bad for him. Well, technically, she's bad for anybody."
"I thought you two were friends," Rachel observed. "You're the one who invited her to move into the guesthouse. You're practically the one who stuck her in Jamie's path."
"That was.... Lorna can be a fun friend. Jasmine is crazy about her and, as long as she doesn't follow too closely in Lorna's footsteps rock music, no problem; overall personality... not so much I'm okay with it. But, get romantically involved with her, and she's poison. She a guy can't think straight around her."
"Do I want to know her secret?" Rachel asked dryly. "Or should I just use my imagination?"
"Probably the latter," Matt admitted, stopping before either of them grew even more uncomfortable. "Lorna has this talent for making you do stuff you had no intention of doing, and then telling you it was all your idea. And you believe her! So you go do it some more!"
Rachel attempted to mollify, "You were still a boy when you and Lorna were together. Jamie is a grown man "
"Who hadn't dated in how long before she came around? Face it, Mom, Jamie was the definition of easy pickings. And it wouldn't be his first time, would it? My big brother is hardly the world's best judge of character when it comes to knowing he's being played. And another thing: When Lorna convinced me to sink my entire trust fund into D&M, you pitched a fit. The two of us couldn't have a single conversation that didn't end up a fight about Lorna. And now, Jamie's just dropped how much on a house for her? Not to mention, who do you think will end up footing all those legal bills for Lori Ann's custody? And I haven't heard a peep out of you. Don't you care that Lorna's going to grind him down, use him up, then dump him when she's through?"
"Like Donna did to you?" Rachel proposed gently, her comment causing Matt to freeze mid-tirade, his face flushing an even deeper crimson.
"Who's talking about Donna? I was talking about "
"I know you care about your brother, Matt. But this level of anger... it can't all be for him. It can't even all be for Lorna. I think those particular wounds were scabbed over a long time ago. On the other hand, Donna... Oh, sweetheart, I know how much you loved her. But, you have to face reality: Donna has some severe demons to wrestle with. And most of them no, I daresay, all of them were in place long before she met you. Long before you were even born. You can't hope to fix a person that damaged."
"Really?" he challenged. "What about Carl? Isn't that exactly what you claim you did with him? Fixed him up so he could stand straight and fly right, same way Mac did with you? That's all I wanted. I wanted to help Donna be a better person. I thought you, of all people, would understand."
"You tried your best."
"I did. Except Donna decided my efforts weren't good enough. I did the right thing! I supported her, I loved her, and she just... she threw me away."
"Then that's her mistake," Rachel asserted. "Not yours."
"Doesn't make it hurt any less."
"Give it some time. It will get better, I promise you that."
"And until then?" Matt choked out, angry wall dropping briefly to reveal the grieving, battered man inside.
"You go on hurting," she conceded. "Sorry, darling, that's the best I can do. You keep hurting, but you also try not to take it out on the people around you, the ones who have loved you all along, the ones who love you still, the ones who have no intention of ever throwing you away."
"Okay." Matt cleared his throat. "So that's me. What about Jamie?"
"Jamie will make his own choices. And if they don't work out the way he planned, then I will be right here for him, same way I am now for you."
"Yeah, on that note, do yourself a favor, Mom," he hit her with another wave of sourness prior to stomping out of the study. "Unless you want two, bitter, pissed-off sons licking their wounds under your roof, you'll do for Jamie what I wish anyone had done for me. Make him realize that whatever this thing he thinks he has with Lorna is, it's not worth the pain he's going to feel in the end."
In the car heading back from Jamie and Lorna's, Kirkland prodded, "You okay, Aunt Marley? You didn't say much."
"Didn't really have anything pertinent to add to the... exhibition." She continued to stare out the window with the same fascination she'd employed for the hardwood floors.
"I guess that get-together didn't turn out the way any of us expected," Grant mused, trying to fill the ensuing awkward silence that, otherwise, threatened to drown them all.
"Not me," Kirkland shrugged. "I was pretty sure Dad wouldn't let me go bungee jumping."
"So was I!" Marley chimed in. "I couldn't believe it when he said yes!"
"Ah, Jamie," Grant muffled his sneer, attempting to remain civil on the surface. "What a quixotic sense of humor. Remind me never to take your advice again where he's concerned, would you, Marley?"
"I was joking," she told him pointedly. "I didn't mean you should actually clomp over and make Jamie do your dirty-work for you. Soon as I realized you were serious, I tagged along to keep you from making a fool of yourself."
"I don't think it worked," Kirkland observed, prompting first Grant, then Marley to smile just a little. "So, I was wondering, maybe I should get one of those collars that they make for cats, with the bells, so people can hear me coming and... you know... put some clothes on."
At that, Grant burst out laughing, followed by Marley. "All I can say, son, is your timing lately has been alarmingly inopportune."
"Tell me about it," Kirk finally joined in the merriment. "But this didn't used to be an issue for me. I mean, Dad, he's "
"Changed," Marley finished for him. "I saw it, too. Toying with Grant the way he did, making him squirm. It's like Jamie's a different man now. He's so... lighthearted," she said, suddenly once again looking anything but.
"You know," Kirkland interjected, sensing their mutual high spirits slipping away at an alarming pace. "We all got so... distracted, we forgot to tell Dad about you running for mayor."
"Actually, would you do me a favor and hold off on that for the time being? I'm going to drop you and Marley off at the house, and then I have a meeting scheduled with my potential esteemed opponent. I want to have a little chat with Mr. Chase Hamilton, set some ground rules. This is going to be a civil race, or else I want no part of it. When we do finally tell Jamie about my plans, I need to be able to reassure him that this won't negatively affect you or him in the slightest."
Kevin was the first to arrive at the police precinct. He informed the officer on duty that not only was he Jennifer Fowler's father, he was also her attorney. In fact, he was the attorney for all five of the young people arrested in conjunction with Gregory Hudson's death and, as such, was entitled to speak with each one of them immediately.
Jamie came in as Kevin was pacing in front of the bullpen, waiting for his request to be cleared by someone with actual authority. Jamie wondered if he'd heard anything new.
Kevin shook his head. "Just the same phone-call you got. They won't even give me a straight answer about the charges, much less bail."
Jamie looked like he wanted to punch a wall, but settled merely for beating himself up metaphorically. "I knew he was involved. That high-tech escape had Steven's name written all over it. I tried to get him to come clean. He just blew me off."
"You're still a step ahead of me. I had no inkling at all that Jenny might be a part of this. Although, I guess it makes some sense. She and Steven are friends."
"They are?" First Jamie had heard of it. "I thought, outside of getting stuck at the cabin with Allie, all he and Jen did was take pot-shots at each other's intelligence."
"That's my kid's idea of a rollicking good time."
"My kid's, too," Jamie admitted.
"There you are!" Amanda blew through the door, somehow appearing disheveled even despite the perfect make-up and clothes. She made a beeline for Jamie and Kevin. She asked her ex, "Are you representing Allie?"
"If that's what she wants," Kevin said. "I'd be happy to represent the entire group, but I need to speak to them," he shouted that part loud enough to be heard by the duo still pondering his application in the back. "First."
"Thank you," Amanda exhaled, turning to Jamie. "And thank you for calling to tell me about it."
"No problem," Jamie said. "I was certain you knew already. I just thought we could combine resources; if only in dealing with the press. Not every day three Corys get arrested in one sweep."
"No," Amanda fumed. "I didn't even get the courtesy of a phone call."
"Really?" Kevin tossed another log onto his righteous indignation. "That is completely unacceptable. Who's in charge here?" He strode into the bull-pan, beckoning the original arresting officer over for a full debriefing.
"I don't know about GQ," Jamie conferred with Amanda, "He might be making his own arrangements; but if Sarah needs someone to take responsibility for her, with Olivia and Dennis being out of town, I'm willing to do it."
"That's awfully nice of you. Considering Dennis and... what happened. I know the thought never even crossed my mind."
"Well, you have a justifiably bigger beef with Olivia than I do with Dennis. But, Sarah is still Mac's great-granddaughter. Which makes her our family, whether you like it or not."
"I have yet to encounter one aspect of this entire state of affairs that I like," Amanda complained, then spied Kevin coming back towards them. She left Jamie's side to meet the attorney halfway and cross-examined, "Well? What did they say?"
"They said," Kevin spoke slower than usual, which was never a good sign with a lawyer. "That they asked all the kids who they wanted notified to come and get them. And that Allie specifically forbade them from calling you."
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