"Sarah?" Marley pulled into the parking lot adjacent to Bay City U's dormitories, and softly tapped the slumbering girl on the shoulder. "We're here."
"Oh, wow," Sarah laughed self-consciously, stirring from her repose in the passenger seat of Marley's car. "Sorry for drooling on your leather seats."
"Don't worry about it. You've had a rough twenty-four hours. Are you hungry? The dining hall is probably closed by now. Need me to get you anything from the store or "
"I'm good; there's always the candy machine and instant popcorn." Unable to restrain herself any longer, Sarah asked, "Why are you being so nice to me, Ms. Hudson? I mean, I appreciate it; I don't want to sound ungrateful. But, you shouldn't feel like you owe me something just because I'm Steven's girlfriend. And because he's acting really weird right now."
"First of all, call me Marley. Second of all, it's not only due to Steven's ungentlemanly behavior though that is a part of it; I could have sworn he was raised better." She sighed, "I am doing this, Sarah, because if you were my daughter, and I couldn't be there for you during a difficult situation for whatever reason; even if it was by your own choice I would still hope that someone else might step up and extend a hand, guide you a little, be a friend."
Sarah cringed guiltily. "Gregory was your cousin, wasn't he?"
Marley nodded. "John was my father's brother."
"I tried talking to him. I tried to make Gregory see how much he was hurting his parents. But, he was so stubborn, so sure that he was right...."
"It's a Hudson family trait. Throw in the Frame bloodline, and you had no chance of ever winning that argument. Look at Steven. He's a Hudson and a Frame, too."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Sarah articulated awkwardly. "And for my role in it."
"I don't blame you," Marley instinctively smoothed Sarah's hair. "Or Steven. I believe that it was Gregory's choice and the rest of you just honored his wishes."
"Could you tell Steven that? Maybe that's what's been bothering him. Maybe he thinks his family blames him..." Sarah looked ready to cry. "He's completely shut down. Or, at least, he's totally shut me out. I know he's not the most emotional guy in the world on a good day. But, ever since I dragged him up with me to check on Allie and we saw that Gregory was dead, its like Steven's been on autopilot. He keeps saying he's fine, but I know he's not. I'm not even sure he's.... still in there."
"Steven's a lot like his father," Marley divulged. "Jamie is great in a crisis when it involves other people. But, let it hit too close to home and... let's just say I'm familiar with the patented, Frame chilly retreat."
"Any tips on where to find the Defrost button?"
"Time," Marley shrugged apologetically, painful memories of past failed attempts nearly overwhelming her. "If Steven follows Jamie's pattern, the only thing to do is keep your distance and let him work through whatever it is he needs to work through on his own."
"I've never been particularly good at that," Sarah admitted.
"Me neither," Marley sympathized.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Lorna's hand still throbbed from the blow she'd planted across Matt's face to send him sprawling.
"Mind if I take a guess?" Jamie coolly closed the door behind him and stepped down into their sunken living room, towering over Matt as his brother struggled to push himself up off the couch. "You're an ass. Now apologize and get out."
Matt smirked, straightening his clothes with exaggerated care. "I don't get you, man. Any normal guy would've decked me by now; kicked me to the curb. Instead you're asking me to leave?" He turned to Lorna. "If that doesn't tell you his heart isn't in this so-called relationship of yours, I don't know what would."
"You got a death wish?" She challenged. "I'd be happy to oblige."
Sotto voice, Matt beckoned his brother closer and filled Jamie in. "This isn't looking good for you. Lorna doesn't like whipped men. It bores her. Next thing you know, she's prowling the streets, looking for a new White Knight."
"Someone like you?" Jamie guessed, his voice utterly devoid of inflection or emotion.
"Nope," Matt winked at Lorna, echoing her earlier denial. "Been there, done that."
Lorna started, now thoroughly confused. "So why the hell did
"I kiss you?" Matt finished. He was about to launch into his well-rehearsed explanation when Jamie interrupted.
"It was to prove to both of us that we're not as happy as we think we are. That when push comes to shove and the slightest bit of pressure is applied, we'll completely fall apart, realize that we are utterly unsuited to each other, and promptly end things before they get too... complicated." He looked to Matt. "That about right?"
"Got it in one. I'm impressed."
"Don't be. I'm an old pro. Dennis helped me with Marley in a similar fashion."
"Well, you got to admit, you can be a little oblivious about women sometimes. Marley, Vicky, Blaine, Cecile "
"You son of a bitch." Lorna breathed as Jamie flinched, pained. "Get out of my house."
"Your house?" Matt packed up his belongings with an air of satisfaction. "And here I thought Jamie dropped the cash for this place. Already claiming it as your own, are you? Do me a favor, try and leave him something when you two break-up. Please? Giving back his balls would be nice. Oh, for God's sake, Jamie, are you ever going to do anything besides stand there and glare at me?" Matt sighed in disappointment when Jamie rigidly kept his distance; his only answer the same steady, flat look. "Guess so...."
"Leave," Lorna shoved Matt, the wounded quiver in her voice pinging an emotion that he immediately squelched.
Giving Jamie a wide berth, he made his way to the front door.
"By the way," Matt called out before departing. " I know it's tempting to stay together just to spite me, but I sincerely ask you to save yourselves and everyone else a lot of time and pain and accept the valuable lesson that you learned here tonight."
Jamie, having kept his back to Matt while he was departing, at last turned to face him, self-restraint broken as Jamie stormed for the front door and slammed it shut in Matt's face.
"Jamie," Lorna reached to rest a hand on his shoulder. She heard him exhale a single, shaky breath. "Look at me. Please. Please, look at me."
"Unbelievable." Jamie let out a strangled laugh before turning to Lorna. She ached at the sight of him struggling to maintain a neutral facade. He gently but firmly moved her hand off his shoulder and replaced it by Lorna's side. "You okay?"
"Me? I'm fine. You're the one who Matt... he's "
"A Class-A dick who doesn't merit any further thought or discussion."
"True," Lorna agreed. "But, what he said..."
"Was a bunch of bull. He's been attacking you and me for weeks, this wasn't anything new. He's trying to provoke us." Despite Lorna's attempt to touch him, Jamie headed for the stairs, taking off his jacket, loosening his tie. "I've had a long, rotten day, I'm exhausted. I've tried to be understanding with Matt. Donna really put him through the wringer; I get that. But, I'm done cutting him slack. I'm over it. And him. You should be, too."
Amanda felt she'd given her daughter ample time after getting home from the courthouse to shower, change, rest and eat, before knocking on Allie's bedroom door.
Her subsequent "Come in," proved distinctively lackluster, but Amanda comprehended it was the best she could expect to get, and so accepted as if it were an engraved invitation.
She found Allie at the computer, scrolling through Google's cache of reports surrounding Gregory's death. Unsure of what to do next, Amanda merely perched on the edge of Allie's bed, waiting for her to say something.
She soon realized it was destined to be a very long wait.
Figuring it was up to her to get the conversation ball rolling, Amanda offered, "Kevin thinks you have a very good chance of beating this. I thought maybe, tomorrow, the three of us could get together and work on your testimony, go over every detail, figure out exactly what you should say to "
"I'm going to tell the truth," Allie informed her mother. It wasn't exactly a contradiction. Even if it sure felt like one.
"Of course, you are," Amanda placated. "But it has to be handled "
"No, it doesn't." Again, not a contradiction, merely a confident statement of fact. "Nothing about this needs to be handled. Especially not me."
Wondering if her daughter understood, Amanda decided to spell it out, "I'm trying to help you, Allie."
"Thanks. But I'm okay. I'm going to tell the judge exactly what happened. I'm going to tell them what Gregory wanted, and why I did what I did. If they don't understand..."
"You could to jail!" Amanda exclaimed.
"Then I'll go to jail." She shrugged.
"Allie!" Amanda stammered, "You you don't know what you're saying. But, that's okay. Jamie thinks you're probably in shock. Obviously, that's what it is. Shock. We'll talk some more later, when you've had time to "
"What?" Allie turned around, facing Amanda for the first time since she'd come in, genuinely curious. "When I've had time to what exactly?"
"To to come to your senses."
"So now both Gregory and I weren't in our right minds? Is that Kevin's and your defense strategy?"
"Maybe," Amanda reasoned. "No one would argue that you and Gregory were under a crippling amount of stress. And you, in particular, very well could have been suffering from postpartum depression. You had that traumatic delivery, then you and Gregory gave up Hudson, followed almost immediately by his illness recurring. How could anybody expect you to make rational, logical decision under those circumstances?"
"We knew what we were doing, Mom. I'm not going to pretend we didn't."
"You don't have to pretend. Let me take you to see someone."
"You mean, a shrink?"
"Yes. Obviously, if you were sick, you wouldn't know it. That's the point."
"Okay. So Gregory had brain cancer. I was cuckoo for cocoa puffs...."
"What about the rest? Steven, Sarah, Jen, GQ.... How do you plan to explain them?"
"I don't know," Amanda admitted. "And I'll be frank with you, Allie, right now, I don't care. Let their parents worry about them. You are my only concern."
"They did it to help Gregory and me. Every one of them. They didn't have to, but they did. You think I'm going to hang the people who did me a favor out to dry?"
"Who said anything about "
"You said it, Mom." Allie sighed sadly.
"Finally," Kirkland breathed a sigh of relief when Steven answered his phone. "You and Dad are the worst about returning calls. I thought I'd have to hunt you down myself. Why aren't you staying at Dad's? Or Grandma's?"
"Because I'm not in the mood to see the alternate looks of disappointment, panic, and concern on everyone's faces," Steven sighed.
"You could come over here," Kirkland offered. "You won't see anything other than a You're a jackass look on my face."
"Liar. I can hear your anxiety oozing through the phone right now. You'd be nailing me with puppy dog eyes all night long."
"I'll wear sunglasses to dull the effect. Seriously, you should come over. Grant wouldn't mind."
"Last time I lived under Grant's roof, things didn't work out so well. But, thanks, anyway. You're such a considerate little brother. It's annoying."
"I'm okay, Kirk. Honest."
"I've been reading "
"Stop. Reading is the gateway drug to studying. Next thing you know, you're slamming dissertations and jonesing for footnotes."
"I overheard Grant telling Marley that you could go to prison."
"I heard that, too. Between me, Dad, Grant, and Donna, you have one jailbird family."
"Dad didn't go to prison in the end. And neither did Grandmother. You won't either. I mean, do you really want Michele and Bridget to have just me for a big brother?"
"They could do worse."
"Promise me, Steven. Promise like you made Dad promise that time; promise that you're not going to go to jail."
"Jeez, if I had known you were going to be such a nag, I'd have never answered the phone."
"What do you want me to tell Michele and Bridget?" Kirkland ignored Steven's scolding.
"Tell them that I'm okay. They shouldn't worry about me. You shouldn't worry, either."
"I left a message for your dad," GQ told Jen when he arrived at her doorstep the next morning. "But I wanted you to hear it from me, first. I'm not having him represent me. I've hired my own lawyer."
"Grant Harrison?" she guessed, seemingly unsurprised.
"No." He followed her inside the apartment. "That was just a one-time thing, while Hamilton was laying out his squeal deal. I'm sure the D.A. will get around to you too, eventually. But, for the trial, I called Mel Boudreau. You know, the one who "
"Yeah, that's her." GQ waited for a reaction from Jen to any of the things he'd said, be it Kevin, Hamilton, or Grant. When all he got was a blank look in return, GQ probed gently, "You okay?"
"No." She didn't seem eager to elaborate on that front, either.
"Guess that was a stupid question," he conceded.
"A professor of mine at MIT used to say: There are no stupid questions. Only stupid people who ask them."
GQ grinned at that. "Now you're sounding more like yourself."
"He also used to say: Questions are a burden to others, and answers a prison to oneself."
"He sounds like a fun guy."
"It's from The Prisoner. A TV show. Somehow that makes it a tad less profound, don't you think?"
"An English TV show," GQ pointed out. "That's a little better, right?"
"So is Benny Hill," Jen reminded.
GQ studied her for a moment, the ventured to guess, "You are not this depressed merely over the lopsided quality of the BBC's broadcasting output. What's wrong, Jen? I mean, besides the obvious? It goes without saying we're all freaked out over what happened. But, you were keeping it together fine yesterday. What changed?"
"I held it together yesterday for my dad's sake, because I could see he was barely holding it together for mine. You know the last time he and I were in jail together? How's that for a phrase that doesn't get bandied around much?" Jen challenged. "The last time he and I were in jail together, it was Rikers. My biological father demanded to see me. He said he wouldn't sign any damn well, obviously damn wasn't the precise word he used legal papers giving up his parental rights until he'd heard it straight from me that it was what I wanted. He claimed he thought I was being pushed into it by 'the system.' Which was a crock, of course, he knew that... I honestly don't know what his real agenda was. Once I finally got there, all he did was yell and call me an ungrateful little.... I went with my grandmother, and with my lawyer, Kevin Fowler. I remember holding both their hands so tightly, trying not to look on either side of me. I'd gone to visit him before, with my mother, so I knew what to expect. But, that time just seemed scarier than usual. The other night, when they were taking us to the holding cells... It's so ridiculous, Bay City, Illinois, even their prison, is no Rikers. But, I swear, I kept expecting to see him just pop up. I told you so. You thought you could get away from me. Told you so...."
GQ looked at Jen for a long moment. And then, instead of trying to reason with her, or talk her out of her fears, which were clearly irrational, illogical and, frankly, completely beneath someone of her well-established intelligence, he simply took Jen in his arms, hugged her tightly and quietly promised, "They'll have to go through me. I won't let him get you, Jen."
"I will not allow you to use me to get back at Donna." Marley had planned a special trip out to the Cory house so she could make herself clear to Carl. They sat across from each other in his study, Marley nearly bubbling over with repressed fury at the idea that he could have thought her so gullible, Carl surprisingly nonplussed at having his plain as the nose on your face plan unearthed. "So you can stop wasting your time with the innuendos and the avuncular concern."
"My dear Marley, how can anything I say be considered in the realm of innuendo when I flatly came out and told you what I'd intended to accomplish?"
"Right. Because that's vintage you, Carl. One confrontation and you buckle. Obviously, this is just Step #1 in some far more diabolical plan."
"Is it now?" He nodded his head, deeply interested in what she had to say. "Enlighten me."
"Would you stop it!" she snapped. "I told you, I know what you're doing. All your talk about why didn't Donna claim me when we thought Reginald was dead, you're trying to turn me against her."
"My understanding was that you'd thrown Donna out of her own home and banned her from seeing her grandchildren long before I'd ever entered the picture."
"So what is it I am allegedly doing again?"
"You're messing with me," Marley said firmly. "And I'm here to tell you to cut it out."
Carl hesitated. Then, after a moment's thought, he swiveled in his desk chair towards the computer. A click of a button and Lori Ann's birthday photo was smiling down from the screen at them both. "Your other niece," he introduced formally. "Have you even seen her yet in person?"
"At the hospital..." Marley recalled. "The one time.... Thanksgiving... She was still in the incubator... She looks wonderful now. So healthy. Frankie and Cass have really worked a miracle."
"Alas, not one good enough for Lorna." Carl wondered, "Did you know that Lorna and Jamie are suing the Winthrops for custody of Lori Ann?"
The news hit Marley exactly as hard as Carl had meant it to. Despite his pretending that he'd intended no such thing, and her pretending that it'd had no effect at all. "Jamie is... Jamie and Lorna are looking to adopt Lori Ann?"
"So it would seem."
"I I guess that makes sense. They're both relatives, and Lorna did want Lori Ann, right from the beginning. 4th of July, Jamie said something about them starting a family..."
"Actually, Marley," Carl offered as if the thought had just occurred to him. "You are the perfect person for me to consult regarding this issue. You see, while a part of me dares hope that Lorna and Jamie bringing my granddaughter into what is tangentially, at least my own household would give me far greater access to the child than I currently enjoy, what with Frankie and Cass, Felicia and Lucas keeping her virtually sequestered from me, another part is deathly worried regarding the potential repercussions of such an action. I would hate for their well-meaning intercession to inflict upon our Lori Ann the same sort of damage that Donna once did to you."
So many words... Marley could barely absorb them all, much less summon up an appropriate response. The best she finally managed was, "What?"
"Surely, you wouldn't argue that Donna, in addition to her multitude of tangible sins against you the abandonment at birth, the affair with Jake, the vehicular 'accident' "
"I was there, Carl. I remember. Get to the point."
"I am sure you'd agree that, in addition to all those, there were also a host of more abstract indignities, ultimately even more damaging. The woman completely and utterly decimated your sense of personal identity. First, there was the shock of learning she was your mother rather than your sister. That effectively forced you to reevaluate every relationship you'd previously taken for granted. And then the arrival of Victoria, who was constantly comparing her life to yours, leaving you no choice but to define yourself as her opposite rather than as an independent person in your right. Finally, the ultimate indignity: Donna's role in the fire that destroyed your face. Encountering a new visage staring back at you every time you looked in the mirror would have been a crushing challenge for anyone. But, in your case, it was made a thousand times worse by the fact that Vicky, the latecomer, the interloper, now solely possessed that, as well. Honestly, my dear, I am astounded that you managed to handle it all as well as you did."
"I snapped, kidnapped my sister, and was hospitalized. You want to hold me up as the poster-child for Mental Health Month?"
"But look at you now! You've persevered! You run a successful gallery, you've been a wonderful surrogate mother to Victoria's offspring... and this past year, the misadventure with Donna, the struggle over Kirkland, Jamie's troubles.... A lesser woman would have fragmented from the strain. Not you. That's to be applauded."
"Save your accolades, Carl. A lesser woman might have fallen for them. Not, as you so kindly pointed out, me. What does any of this have to do with Lori Ann?"
"I am terribly afraid that the constant shuffling from home to home, parental figure to parental figure might well engender in her a similar sort of dissociate insecurity "
"I thought we just agreed that I was A-Okay?"
" From which you once suffered in the past," he finished kindly.
"So what do you want from me now?"
"Perhaps you might consider advising Lorna and Jamie on some of the potential pitfalls down the line for Lori Ann, should they succeed in their quest. Although, please forgive me, I realize the awkwardness of my request, given your feelings for Jamie "
"We're friends," Marley corrected tersely. "We have been for over a decade."
"Of course, of course," Carl agreed.
She asked, "Have you always been this transparent, Carl, or have I just gotten smarter?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
She stood up. "Then you should be very afraid that I do."
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