"Smile, Donna," Marley instructed her mother, sliding a linen napkin over her skirt and picking up a TOPS menu. "The public is watching, and we wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea now, would we?"
"Perhaps if I'd been given a bit of advance notice regarding what the right idea was precisely that we are attempting to convey, I might better rise to the occasion." Donna took a measured sip from her water glass as she studied her daughter across the table, trying to get a read on the conversation to come. Unfortunately, Marley had been working on her poker face. No doubt under Grant's tutelage. "So in the absence of actual information, I shall go ahead and presume that this command performance is in response to our discussion of a few weeks ago?"
"Less of a discussion and more of a veiled threat on your part, but yes, this is about that."
"Grant won't be joining us?"
"He's on his way. Jamie's coming back from San Diego today and picking up Kirkland. Grant is seeing his son off."
"Jamie and Grant raising Kirkland together," Donna shook her head. "Victoria would be "
"Happy to know that her son is loved and well taken care of by both his doting fathers," Marley cut Donna off. "Which is about two more than you chose to give me."
"Oh, come now, darling," Donna ignored the latter swipe to focus on the former. "We both know that, given a choice in the matter, Victoria would have preferred Kirkland stay with Jake. Jamie, she could have tolerated. The idea of Grant would have turned her stomach, same as it does mine."
"Are you seriously going to bash the very man whom you've just so publicly appealed to for protection?"
"I never said Grant Harrison didn't have his uses. Though the ones you've currently chosen to employ him for "
"Donna..." Marley warned menacingly. Another skill she'd presumably picked up from the delightful Mr. Harrison.
"I apologize. I was merely trying to be amusing."
"We are not amused."
"I can see that." Donna sighed. "Since you appear to be in no mood for the social graces, what say we forgo this tedious show of a civilized, mother/daughter brunch and cut straight to your point?"
Marley dropped her menu on the table. "I'm sorry. Am I keeping you from an urgent appointment? I didn't realize you had more pressing business to attend to than negotiating the terms of your recent offer. Please don't let me keep you."
"Negotiate? Is that what you intend to do?"
"Did you think we'd just roll over and play dead? Both Grant and I understood exactly what you were doing by lashing your well being to his. But, we have no intention of agreeing to this farce without setting our terms. And they are non-negotiable."
"You better be. Because if you step so much as a toe out of line, Grant and I are washing our hands of you. See how you like fending off Felicia and Carl and all the other enemies you managed to make with that television appearance, all on your own." Marley gestured towards Donna's purse. "Grab a pen and paper, and take notes. I know how your memory tends to falter at the most inconvenient times. I wouldn't want there to be any misunderstandings."
Donna smirked. "And I wouldn't want there to be any trail. Political lesson #1, Marley: Never record any conversation that may prove detrimental to a potential public figure. Cleaning up the inevitable leaks only sucks away valuable campaign time."
"I was merely trying to be amusing," Marley echoed her mother's earlier defense.
"And I was merely giving you an example of the sorts of things I can contribute to Grant's campaign. Lesson #2: When picking a place to conduct a sensitive meeting, reserving a booth rather than an out in the open table prevents being overheard."
"I picked this restaurant, and this table specifically because this is the first of many public appearances you will be making on behalf of the Harrison campaign. I wanted people to see you. I also wanted to see how you hold up to the pressure of public scrutiny which you will be undergoing a lot of." Marley leaned forward to look Donna in the eye. "For the next month, we own you. That means we set the rules for anything you say, do, think and feel. And whatever we instruct you to do, you do it; no questions asked, no deviation, no refusal. Then, once Grant is elected in November, this arrangement will end. The campaign will be over. Grant will be well familiar with the Bay City political scene by then. You will no longer be of any use to us."
"Maybe not to you," Donna struggled to cover up just how much pain Marley's words were causing her. "But what about Michele and Bridget? Kirkland and Steven?"
"What about them?"
"The whole point of my doing this was to be with my family again, to be forgiven by you and the children."
"You'll have us for about a month. At least publicly. After that, like I said, we're done."
"You want me to just accept on the spot? You've given me a great deal to think about. I need some time."
"You don't have it. This is a limited time offer. I'll expect your decision before we sign our check."
"What's wrong?" Lila took one look at Kevin face when she walked into his hotel suite and understood that this was not going to be pretty.
He tapped his fingers on his desk, seemingly unable to meet her eyes. Oh, yeah, that was never a particularly good sign. Lila braced herself on the inside, while arranging her features into the epitome of calm on the out. If nothing else, she intended to be a lady through to the end.
Kevin said, "At Gregory's funeral, I noticed Jenny with Alice. As far as I knew, they'd only met a couple of times; I was there. They should have been, at best, acquaintances. But, I could see it was more than that. I heard Jenny call Alice Grandma. Jenny isn't somebody who warms up easily to people. If she and Alice were close now, there had to be a damn good reason."
"You raised her alone, Kevin," Lila pointed out. "Not that you didn't do a darn good job, anyone can see that. But, maybe the child just needs a woman figure in her life."
"Alice is a doctor," he went on as if Lila hadn't spoken. "The kids had a doctor's help with Gregory. Autopsy report proved it. Hamilton is foaming at the mouth to find out who that doctor was and to lock them up, preferably before the election next month."
"Oh..." Lila exhaled.
"I've spent the last forty-eight hours trying to figure out what the hell I'm going to do."
"You should have called me." Lila leaned over, attempting to take his hand. "I am very good at supportive fretting."
He smiled weakly, still avoiding her gaze. "Maybe I should have. But, I was in no shape to do much of anything. I've got a mountain of calls and e-mails to return. The Bauers.... I owe.... "
"Let me help," Lila offered. "You do what you need to do about the Alice and Jen conundrum. I'll return those calls of yours; put folks off for a bit. I got a way about me when it turns to subtle stalling. Comes from a lifetime of dodging bill collectors."
"Lila..." He somehow managed to start and stop at the same time.
"What? What's going on, Kevin? Just spit it out."
"While I was here yesterday, Amanda came by. To talk about Allie."
"And?" Lila's eyes narrowed, already inkling towards where this was headed.
"I She We... we had sex." He finally looked at Lila directly, determined to absorb any and all consequences of his confession.
"Why?" Lila asked calmly. A little too calmly, perhaps.
"Why?" Kevin repeated. He'd been expecting several follow-ups. This hadn't even made the Top 100.
"Why? Were you and Amanda getting naked somehow supposed to help Alice and Jen?"
"No. Of course not."
"Did the heat suddenly go out and one of you was in danger of hypothermia?"
"Do you still have feelings for her, Kevin?"
"That isn't relative."
"Who-boy, big feelings. Got it."
"I made a mistake. I told Amanda as much "
"She must have enjoyed that."
"And now I'm telling you. Because I have no intention of compounding it by lying. I've done enough of that professionally lately. It hasn't turned out well.
"So," Lila wondered. "Where does this leave us?"
"I don't know. I was hoping you could tell me."
Lila snorted. "What's that? One of those law school tricks? Dump everything on me, why don't you?"
"All I can keep reiterating is that what happened with Amanda didn't mean anything to me. You do."
"Since when?" she asked. "You made it very clear from the start that this was all just fun and games, no strings, no commitments, no feelings."
"That's not true," he corrected. "You know I like you. You know I would never hurt you deliberately."
"Thanks for the hair-splitting, Counselor."
"I hope you'll be able to forgive me."
"Yeah. You go right on hoping, then. I'll keep you posted."
"How was your meeting with Bauers?" Jen asked GQ when she ran into him on campus, sitting outside on a bench, laptop open, mind thousands of miles away.
"Dr. Bauer wasn't there. I only talked to Mrs. Bauer."
"Did you visit Hudson?"
"Yeah...." GQ couldn't help smiling. He pulled out his phone. "Want to see a picture? Or twenty?"
Jen clicked through the gallery. "He seems like a happy little boy."
"That's what Mrs. Bauer said."
"What else did she say?" Jen sat down next to him.
"That a baby is better off being raised by two parents."
"That's true," Jen said. "We both know that."
"I could do it," GQ mused. "I could raise Hudson on my own. Your dad did it."
"You're holding my dad up as an example now? Wow, things have changed."
GQ reminded, "I never said that he was a bad dad. Just that he shouldn't have.... The Bauers seem like really nice people, and I'm sure that if there were no other option, they'd be great parents for Hudson. But, he's got another option. I'm his father."
"Sounds like you've made up your mind."
He turned to face her. "What do you think I should do?"
"I I'm a bad person to ask. You know my issues with birth parents and... I sued my biological father to get away from him."
"Are you ever sorry you did?"
"What? No! He was in prison!"
"Didn't mean he didn't love you. Didn't mean he didn't want to still be your father. Look at Cass Winthrop."
"What about what I wanted? Maybe I didn't appreciate taking that long bus-ride to Rikers every Sunday."
"Maybe it wasn't your choice to make? Maybe you were just being selfish?"
"If your father had say, cancer, and he was in a special treatment facility outside of town, would not wanting to go visit him once a week be a good enough reason for you to have his parental rights severed?"
"Are you serious? My father was in prison. Because he habitually robbed people and pistol-whipped one guy into a coma. He spent more time behind bars than he did in front of them, and yeah, I selfishly wasn't a big fan of him popping up every few months in the middle of the night at my grandmother's, so he could drag me to whichever girlfriend's place he happened to be crashing at that week."
GQ noted, "I am nothing like your dad."
"I never said you were. You brought him up." She turned away, arms crossed.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"Could have fooled me."
"All I meant was, if a man wants to be a father, he should be given the chance to try."
"Sure. 'Cause it's all about you. Who cares what's best for your kid?"
"Rick and Mindy Bauer are not what's best for Hudson. No matter how much they want to believe that they are. They can't give him everything that I know he needs."
"So you have made up your mind," Jen sighed.
"Yeah," GQ admitted it as much to himself as to her. "I guess I have."
"You alright?" Jamie asked Lorna as he carried their bags into the house, dropping them in the entryway and watching Lorna collapse into the nearest chair.
"I'm fine," she assured him. "Just tired from the flight and the banquet and the drive to Bakersfield and... Dean." She sat up straighter and asked Jamie for the third time, "Are you sure we shouldn't have brought him here with us? What if he rabbits again?"
"Why would Dean come all the way back to Bay City, only to run off as soon as we're not looking?"
"I don't know. Why did, twenty years ago, he wear leather in the middle of the summer?"
"So did you," Jamie reminded.
"I could pull it off." Lorna sighed. "I just feel like we dragged him this far, shouldn't we shove him the rest of the way?"
Jamie smiled and kissed the top of Lorna's head. "He said he needed some space. It's been a crazy 24 hours for the guy. We made sure he understood we were available for him, day or night. He knows where Lori Ann is. Let him set his own pace. Ultimately, there's a limit to how much we can do for him."
"Quitter," Lorna pouted.
Jamie laughed, hefted the suitcases and ran them up to their bedroom, coming back down the stairs, checking his watch and telling Lorna, "I got to head out and pick up Kirkland in a few minutes. We'll probably stop on the way back, grab some supplies for him."
He paused at the door to ask, "You ready to play Mom to a sixteen year old boy?"
"Don't push it," Lorna warned. "Make sure Kirkland understands I have no intention of trying to replace Vicky. Or even Marley. I'll just be happy if he doesn't accuse me of slipping poisoned apples into his fruit salad."
"We'll see you in a few hours," Jamie offered a final wave, car keys already in his hand, before closing the door behind him.
For a moment, Lorna did nothing more than continue sitting where she was. With no one around, she finally allowed herself to express the exhaustion she'd been feeling for days, sinking back into the chair, arms by her sides, head hanging down, eyes closed.
When she opened them again, Lorna found herself gazing down at her still as far as she could tell absolutely flat stomach. Tentatively rather embarrassed, to tell the truth she raised one hand and gingerly crept it to settle atop her abdomen.
Lorna knew it was way too early to feel anything. But, she couldn't help grinning like an idiot all the same.
The doorbell rang, ending her reverie and reminding Lorna of the clandestine phone-call she'd made the night before.
Right on time. Hopefully, the rest of their conversation would prove just as simple.
Lorna stood up and opened the front door.
"Hey," he said.
Lorna smiled, genuinely happy to see him, despite the awkward circumstances. "Hey, Morgan."
"Well, it's about time," Felicia huffed in a deceptively casual tone after opening her front door and finding a hangdog Dean outside. "What's the matter, pal? Make a wrong turn at Albuquerque?"
"I missed you, too," he mumbled from the depths of his mother-in-law's subsequent, ferocious hug.
"Oh, thank God, thank God," Felicia keened as she deftly maneuvered Dean into the living room, clutching him tightly to make sure he was real and wouldn't run off on them again. She squeezed his arms, his shoulders as Felicia urged Dean to sit down. She clucked, "You're so thin. You haven't been taking care of yourself. Goodness, I don't know what to do first: feed you, grill you about where you've been, or forget all that and just hightail it over to Frankie's so you can see your little girl. Oh, Dean, you have no idea how beautiful, how perfect she is. She looks exactly like Jenna. But, she's as stubborn and original as you. She's missed you so much."
"She doesn't know me," Dean contradicted quietly.
"You're her father. She'll know you as soon as she sees you."
"Like Lorna did you and Lucas?" Dean couldn't help evoking, not trying to be cruel, just realistic. "Cass is Lori Ann's father. I'd probably just confuse her."
"Don't you want to see her, Dean? Isn't that why you came back?"
"I I don't know. It all happened so fast. Lorna and Jamie just popped out of nowhere, coming at me from both sides, bringing up all this stuff that I'd done my best to avoid thinking about.... I don't know. It made sense while they were badgering me, but now...."
"Wait a minute. Back up, honey, just a second. What do Lorna and Jamie have to do with you and Lori Ann?"
"They tracked me down. I've been living in Bakersfield, doing some freelance jingle writing, mostly just hiding out, really. They showed up at my place, started hounding me about how Lori Ann needed her father they were brutal, they wouldn't let up and how I owed it to Jenna to come back here and do the right thing finally."
"Lorna said all that to you?"
"All that and more. Frankly, when I first saw her, I expected her to just rail about what a piece of crap father I am and she did do some of that, believe me. I guessed she was getting ready to make the pitch for her raising Lori Ann."
"She didn't mention that?" Felicia clarified, surprised.
"Nope. Just said that I should be there for my daughter. Unless I wanted Lori Ann to end up on a stripper pole. Or worse, like Lorna."
"That's a bit of an exaggeration," Felicia raised her hand with a shake of her head. "But, Lorna isn't wrong. Lori Ann needs you in her life. We all do."
"Cass and Frankie, though, they've been good to her, right?"
"They've been wonderful. Frankie and Cass couldn't love Lori Ann more if she were their biological child. Same way that I felt about Jenna."
"So, what would be the use of me just showing up, out of the blue, upsetting them, upsetting her?"
"A child can never have too many people who love her. Especially when one of them is her real father. Frankie always said, from the beginning, that she and Cass were filling in for you. That soon as you came back we all knew you'd come back someday, we knew you could never abandon your own child for good there'd be a place for you in Lori Ann's life; a prime place, the center place. All you need to do is say the word, Dean."
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