"He isn't home, Jamie," Lorna indicated the rental car they'd parked down the street from the run-down Bakersfield bungalow with Frame scribbled in pencil over the mail-slot. "Let's just go back. I told you last night; this is pointless."
"He's here." Jamie pointed to the nearest window. "I saw the shades shut as soon as we started up the walk."
"In that case, he obviously doesn't care to see us. And, may I say, the feeling is mutual."
"All I want to do is make sure Dean is okay."
"And all I want to do is shove some legal papers in his face and demand that Dean allow me to raise Lori Ann instead of Frankie and Cass. Which, frankly, is the best reason of all for us to split. I can't be held responsible for what I say to him. I'm too damn mad."
Jamie squeezed her hand reassuringly, and stubbornly pressed Dean's doorbell for the third time. And the fourth.
"Fine. Have it your way." With her free arm, Lorna made a fist and pounded on Dean's door. "Come on, you coward, we know you're in there, and it looks like we're set to stay all day if it comes to that. So come on out and face the music. The sooner you open that door, the sooner you can tell us to get lost."
"Get lost." The door swung open, forcing Jamie to grab Lorna so that she didn't lose her balance and tumble into Dean, who stood on the other side, looking about twenty pounds lighter than the last time they'd seen him. Which, on Dean, was practically skeletal.
"We were in the neighborhood," Jamie offered with a jovial smile, as if their greeting had proven much more cordial. "Thought we'd pop in, say hello. Got a minute?"
"Listen to him," Lorna strongly recommended. "It's either Jamie doing his Frame family duty for five minutes, or me performing a half-hour soliloquy for the neighbors about how much Lori Ann misses her Deadbeat Daddy."
"We didn't come here to fight," Jamie tried honey in contrast to Lorna's vinegar. "It's only that we heard about "
"The rock you were hiding under."
"And we wanted to make sure you were okay."
Dean didn't say anything in response. But he didn't resist Jamie and Lorna inviting themselves in, either.
They'd expected the house to be a mess. It wasn't. Then again, it was rather hard to accumulate a mess in a space that simply didn't have much of anything. An air mattress in one corner, a card table in another, one folding chair tucked beneath it.
"Where do you work?" Jamie wondered.
"Studios," Dean grunted in return. It wasn't much, but it was almost a conversation!
"Lori Ann is doing so much better than the last time you saw her," Jamie assured Dean. "She's almost caught up with where she should be developmentally." He gestured for Lorna to hand him her cell phone and scrolled through to the most recent photos of Lori Ann. "Look for yourself."
Dean shook his head. And simultaneously reached out for the pictures.
Lorna accused, "Did you know that son of a bitch lawyer you signed your rights away to allowed Frankie and Cass to adopt your daughter? They were supposed to be this perfect, nuclear family. Except Cass is in jail now and Frankie is raising Lori Ann alone."
"She has a lot of help from Felicia," Jamie interjected.
"Still doesn't make up for her daddy running off like a punk ass coward."
"Just give it a rest, okay, Lorna?" Dean seethed, eyes still pasted to the phone in his hand.
"Why? You been in hiding too long? Skin gotten thin?"
"Maybe its time for you to come home, Dean," Jamie prompted, unsolicited.
"Jenna," he looked up abruptly. "She was my home. Everything else is just an address."
"I get that," Jamie said so sincerely it promoted both Dean and Lorna to look at him anew. "But, maybe Lori Ann could someday play that role for you, as well. Your daughter needs you."
"She's got Frankie and Cass. And Felicia. And apparently you two." As if the implication just hit him, Dean glanced from Lorna to Jamie and repeated, "You two?"
"Lori Ann is not some piece of property you get to wash your hands of, you bastard!" Lorna exploded. "She's Jenna's kid! The least you can do for the woman you supposedly loved is make sure her daughter is taken care of. Lori Ann needs a family, not that freak show at Frankie's! Do you know where they celebrated her first birthday? In prison, Dean! She deserves a stable home. And trust me, Attica ain't it."
"Then what is?" Dean countered just as fervently. "Tell me, Lorna. You seem to have all the answers. If Frankie shouldn't be raising Lori Ann, who should?"
"Amanda. Right. Yes. We did have an appointment this morning. Sorry, I forgot." Kevin opened the door to his hotel suite office and ushered her through. "Come on in."
She took one look at her ex and asked, "Did you get any sleep at all last night? Or the one before?"
He shook his head ruefully. "Rick and Mindy are about to go out of their minds. GQ won't return my calls. Neither will his lawyer. Neither will Allie, by the way. And you know what? I've got no one but myself to blame."
"Allie wields a bit of responsibility for all this, too," Amanda reminded.
"She made the initial decision. But, I didn't have to go along with it. I could tell she was lying about Gregory being the father as soon as she opened her mouth. I've been around the block a couple times. I know the signs. I called her on it and she admitted GQ was actually the one."
"But, you went ahead and..."
"Yup. And now I'm probably going to be disbarred for it, too."
"For God's sake, Kevin, then why did you do it?"
"Bunch of reasons. Take your pick. I hate seeing a child where it isn't really wanted? Rick Bauer is Mike's nephew? Allie is your daughter? I was trying to make things easier for Jen? All of the above? None?" he sighed. "Truth is, I'm pretty sure it was because I'm an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who actually thought I could get away with it. And now I'm stuck paying the price. Except, here's the kicker: At this particular moment in time, I honestly don't give a damn."
That certainly took Amanda by surprise. Especially the part where Kevin appeared to mean what he said. "Why not?" she asked timidly.
"Because," Kevin groaned and rubbed his face with both hands, pained. He flopped down on the couch, Amanda next to him. "You know that doctor or nurse Hamilton is all hyped up to find, the one who helped Gregory die?"
Amanda nodded. "You said if the kids testify against him, they'd most likely earn clemency. Maybe even have the charges dropped completely."
"I did say that," Kevin agreed. Right before he dropped the bomb. "It was Alice."
Amanda's mouth opened, but no sound came out.
"Exactly," he concurred.
"She caught Jenny trying to steal morphine from her office. And instead of turning her in or doing something foolish like letting me know so I could help protect them all, Alice went along for the ride."
"That sounds like something she would do," Amanda offered, meaning it in a good way.
Kevin understood precisely how she meant it. But that still didn't change the fact that, "Now I get to decide between sending my daughter to jail for up to three years or my grandmother for twenty."
"Twenty?" Amanda gasped. "She'd never survive that."
"You're right. Let me amend that. I get to decide between condemning my daughter to jail or my grandmother to a death sentence."
"No wonder you look like Hell," Amanda reached over to stroke the side of his face. "Oh, Kevin..."
He pointed out, "You realize what I'm doing, of course? By filling you in, I'm taking the oneness off. If you can talk Allie into turning on Alice, the decision will be made for me, and Jenny benefits, too."
"I wouldn't do that," Amanda reminded. "Not to Alice. You knew that, or you wouldn't have risked telling me."
He turned his head towards her and smiled. "You're a smart lady."
"Oh, yeah, smart, brilliant, gifted, that's me. It's why my life is just clicking along, my daughter, my mother..."
"Don't do this to yourself, Amanda. One self-flagellation to a room. I called it first."
".... A baker's dozen of failed relationships: Sam, Grant, Cameron, you..."
Kevin leaned in and kissed her. Amanda wasn't sure why. Her initial thought was that he felt sorry for her that was quite a pathetic list she'd just dumped on him. Her second was that he simply wanted Amanda to shut up he did warn her; one pity party to a room. Her third and final reflection, however, was that Amanda didn't particularly care why Kevin was kissing her. She just really, really, really needed him not to stop.
Amanda's arms snaked around Kevin's neck, pulling him closer. She rose up on her knees so that she was looming above him, and when she felt the beginning of his starting to pull away, Amanda's mouth moved on to his chin, his jaw, his neck. Her fingers tugged at the buttons of Kevin's shirt, refusing to quit until his hands were under her blouse, pulling it over and off Amanda's head. He buried his face between her breasts, Amanda stroking the back of his head, urging him on as he moved even lower.
She loosened his belt and stepped out of her own clothes while relieving Kevin of his, pushing him down onto the couch, sprawling on top, her lips and fingers desperately straining to reach everywhere pertinent at once. Anything to keep Kevin both focused and distracted. Anything to keep him here. With her.
"I was happy you called," Spencer told Alice as he escorted her into the house.
"I did promise you an answer. I never had any intention of keeping you waiting any longer than absolutely necessary."
Spencer looked at Alice for a moment. Then, instead of replying to what she'd said, he offered, "I took the liberty of having a brunch set out for us. Nothing grandiose, I just thought you might be hungry. Shall we go to the dining room?"
He didn't wait for her to answer, turning and leading the way, his hands in his pockets, as nonchalant as a man could seem, when he truly wasn't nonchalant, at all.
Alice followed, amused and touched by the performance seemingly being put on in her honor. Previously, she'd seen Spencer Harrison in a great many moods. This was her first encounter with him jittery.
He couldn't seem to settle down. Despite the table already appearing as set as it was ever going to get, Spencer insisted on fiddling with the sterling silver cutlery, the crystal goblets, the linen napkins, the fresh flower arrangement at the center pink roses again, Alice noted, for her birth month.
She waited patiently for him to turn and face her so that Alice could finally deliver the answer he'd previously asked for. But, whenever it began to look like Spencer might be finishing up his interminable fussing, he'd find yet another detail requiring his urgent attention. Who knew the tablecloth was hiding so many wrinkles?
At last Alice gave up and informed Spencer's back, "I told Jamie and Kevin, too that you'd asked me to marry you."
"Jamie," Spencer repeated the name, inflectionless, picking up a knife to review it, presumably, for stains. "Kevin. There's an objective pair destined to give me the benefit of the doubt. May I inquire what it was that they said?"
"Kevin asked if this was what I really wanted. And Jamie wondered if you loved me?"
"And your response was?" He'd stopped puttering, but Spencer couldn't quite bring himself to turn around, not just yet.
"I told him I believed you did. So then, he wanted to know if I loved you?"
"And?" In contrast to his earlier mania, Spencer now stood absolutely still, hardly even breathing.
"I told him... yes."
He had to clutch the table to keep from buckling, closing his eyes for a moment and letting out the breath he'd been holding more or less since she'd called, asking if now might be a good time for her to come over.
Spencer turned around slowly, repeating, "Yes?"
"Yes," she nodded, holding out her hand until he took it gratefully, needing the support as much as the contact.
"I I do realize that I don't deserve you." He brought both of her hands to his lips, kissing first one then the other. "But, you, of course, must realize that the knowledge won't in any way stop me from keeping you to your word."
"I'm counting on it," Alice's mouth settled on his.
It took Spencer a moment to respond. Mainly because he still couldn't believe this was genuinely happening.
Unfortunately, the businessman in Spencer couldn't relax until no ambiguity was left. Even as the Irish romantic screamed for him to quit while he was ahead. "So, you'll marry me then?"
"Yes," she said. "I will marry you."
"Whenever you'd like."
"Soon?" he pleaded. "In a few weeks, perhaps? Anywhere you'd like, anyway you'd like.... Why waste time, right?"
"Right," she agreed, a touch of wistfulness in her voice that Spencer couldn't quite identify. "None of us really know how much of it we ultimately have left."
"I never thought I'd be saying this," he kissed her again, giddy. "But I guess I owe Jamie Frame a debt of gratitude."
"You know, that wasn't the only thing he asked me about you."
"Oh, really? There's more?"
"He asked how the sex was." Alice's eyes danced in delight at the sight of Spencer Harrison furiously blushing.
"And may I inquire what you said to that?" he queried, looking as if he really didn't want to know.
"I told him it was fantastic."
He furrowed his brow. "Fantastic? Truly? Only fantastic? And here I thought I'd been putting forth my very best efforts. Ah, well, I suppose I shall just be forced to buckle down and try harder."
"Well," Alice admitted. "I only told him fantastic because I didn't want Jamie to feel bad. You know how young people are. They think they know everything. The haven't the slightest notion about the unique fulfillment of experience...."
"You, Dean. The best person to raise Lori Ann has always been and always will be you."
Her brother-in-law gaped at Lorna in surprise. She didn't blame him. Lorna herself hadn't known that me would magically transform into you until the words were actually out of her mouth.
"Me? I'm the best man for the job?" Dean snorted derisively and looked to Jamie for support. When his cousin appeared to be in agreement with Lorna's ridiculous assertion, Dean reminded, "I come from a long, long line of crappy Dad stock."
"Jamie comes from the same stock," Lorna countered. "He managed to get the job done. If you can function well enough to dash off jingles for ramen noodle and beer money, you can give raising your own kid a try. Unless, of course, you just don't want Lori Ann cramping this fabulous sex, drugs and rock & roll bachelor lifestyle you've got going."
"Get out, Lorna," Dean ordered. "And take St. Jamie the Role Model with you."
"You could do worse," Lorna advised, not budging. "And throwing me out won't change the fact that I'm right. My sister was all about loving people with her whole heart, no matter how tough they might decide to make it for her. God knows, you and I, we sure tested that theory of hers, didn't we? What you're doing now, wallowing in your grief and giving up, not just on your daughter but on yourself, too, you might as well be spitting on Jenna's grave."
"Don't you lecture me about who Jenna was. I knew her better than anyone. I loved her more than anyone. You have no idea what her dying did to me."
"Oh, no, of course not. Because you're the only one still hurting. Your pain is so special it justifies you abandoning Lori Ann to grow up without her father. She needs you, Dean. I don't care if you don't like hearing it, it's a fact. No matter how much Frankie and Cass, and Felicia and Lucas, and Jamie and I love her, it will never, ever be enough. There will always be a hole in that little girl's heart. She will always be wondering why you left her. How you could value your grief more than you did her."
"The only person that Lori Ann needs that she's not going to have is Jenna."
"But, you can give her Jenna!" Lorna pleaded. "In a way that none of the rest of us can. You can tell her things about her mother that only you know."
"It wasn't supposed to be this way," Dean tried to explain. "We were supposed to do this together. I can't do it alone. I wouldn't even know where to start."
"You won't be alone. You and Jenna had all these plans and dreams for your daughter. I know you did. She told me. Well, you can still do them. That's one of the ways you'll keep Jenna alive for both of you."
"Why do you care so much?" Dean challenged. "It's not like I left Lori Ann on the street to fend for herself. She's got parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles...."
"Not having a dad growing up can really screw up a kid." Lorna spread her hands and bobbed her head in a mock bow. "Exhibit A."
"Having a rotten one can screw you up, too." Dean echoed Lorna's gesture and pointed to himself. "Exhibit B."
"Yeah, well, rest assured, I won't let that happen. You so much as start looking like you might be headed in the wrong direction, I'll happily smack you back on course."
"Me, too," Jamie chimed in, having kept quiet up to this point, figuring Lorna had it under control. "I'm no saint. But, I have done the single dad thing myself. Anything you need, you pick up the phone. I'll be there. Middle of the night house calls and all."
"You guys are making it sound so easy."
"God, no," Jamie contradicted. "It's going to be the toughest thing you ever tackled."
"But, the alternative," Lorna said. "Is Lori Ann forty years from now, after a lifetime of rotten relationships with here's a shock slimy geriatrics old enough to be her father."
"Are you seriously trying to scare me into reclaiming my daughter by claiming she's in danger of growing up to be you?"
"Is it working?"
"Yeah..." Dean said softly. "It kind of is...."
"Our lawyer thinks it would be best if you talked to him," Mindy refused to open her front door beyond a crack.
"I don't want to talk to him. I want to talk to you," GQ refused to budge while, at the same time, attempting to sound as non-threatening and reasonable as possible under the circumstances. "Please, Mrs. Bauer. Let me in."
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