“I’m going to Mr. Harrison’s funeral,” Cory stood by the door, wearing his suit, his tie, and his most determined expression.
“Preposterous,” Carl scoffed, removing his son’s arm from the knob and looking over his shoulder at Rachel and Elizabeth in order to drive home the point that there would be no further discussion on the subject.
Unfortunately for Carl, Rachel was currently in no mood to be dictated to. Carl suspected it had something to do with whatever had taken place at Jamie’s the previous day, a topic which Rachel had refused to broach with him ever since she’d come home, visibly upset, audibly tight-lipped.
Instead of merely commanding Cory, Rachel attempted to reason with the boy. “Do you really think it’s appropriate to – “
“I want to pay my respects.”
“How respectful is it, Cory, for Mrs. Harrison to have Carl Hutchins’ son at her husband’s funeral?”
“I thought Father didn’t do anything wrong?” Cory challenged.
“He didn’t,” Elizabeth interjected. “We know that. Other people might not.”
“In that case, shouldn’t we walk in with our heads held high so people will see we have nothing to be ashamed of? Cowering at home – “
“No one,” Carl is seethed. “Is – by any stretch of the imagination – cowering.”
“We’re simply thinking about what’s best for Mrs. Harrison and the family,” Rachel added.
“Jamie and Kirkland are going to be there.”
“Jamie and Alice are… close. And Kirkland is Spencer’s grandson. Of course they would be there.”
“She’s married to Kevin.”
“We’re neighbors,” Cory refused to give in, despite Carl’s steadily increasing glower. “It’s the polite thing to do.”
“You just want to put Father on the spot,” Elizabeth accused. “You’re still mad he wouldn’t do what you said.”
“Yes,” Cory replied calmly, thus effectively taking the sting out of his sister’s taunts, leaving Elizabeth with nothing left to do but pout. “I am still mad. But, I didn’t ask Father or you or anybody to come with me. I just said I was going.”
“Not by yourself, you’re not,” Rachel said. “I’ll come with you.”
“Whatever for?” Carl demanded.
“Because I’m his mother. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a fourteen year old boy attending a funeral on his own. Cory might have questions. Our job, Carl, is to provide the answers. Whether they make us comfortable or not.”
“In that case,” Carl stepped up. “I shall accompany you, as well.”
“Me, too!” Elizabeth chimed in. “I want to come.”
“Splendid.” Now that he’d committed to the course of action, Carl was already arming himself for battle. In response to Rachel’s uncertain expression, he reminded, “Turnabout is fair play, is it not? After all, Spencer felt it appropriate to crash my own son’s funeral – with his murderous offspring in tow. Let’s see how the Harrisons appreciate the proverbial boot landing on the other foot this time around.”
Alice was sitting alone in the front pew, directly across from Spencer’s closed coffin, when Jamie arrived at the church. Asking Lorna and Kirkland to give him a moment, Jamie approached alone, sitting down next to her, attempting a reassuring smile despite knowing it was pointless.
She made a valiant attempt at returning the expression before futilely shaking her head in surrender. “We didn’t even get a year, Jamie. Our first wedding anniversary would have been at the end of this month. Not even a year. Same as with your father. I can’t help thinking… How can I not wonder… What is wrong with me?”
“Nothing,” Jamie insisted firmly. “Bad luck, nothing more.”
“We make our own luck. Isn’t that what they say? Somehow, I must deserve to…”
“Hold on a second.” Jamie rested a hand on her arm. “When Lorna was in the hospital, and I was so far at the end of my rope that I was wondering if maybe her accident was all my fault, that I’d brought it on us both by daring to dream of a future with a wife and a baby; when I said that I didn’t deserve to be happy, do you remember what you told me?”
“Lorna woke up,” Alice reminded without a trace of bitterness. “You have Devon now. She’s beautiful and healthy. You and Lorna have everything you both deserve.”
“Because people like you believed in us. That’s another way in which Lorna and I were lucky. It’s a roll of the dice, Alice, nothing more. I know my father loved you. Spencer did, too. And you deserved all of it. Because of who you are. Everything else… just dumb luck. That had nothing to do with you.”
Alice allowed Jamie’s words to wash over her, her expression remaining neutral, making it unclear whether or not she’d absorbed his message. Instead, Alice said, “Spencer asked me to look after Grant for him.”
“About time someone did.”
“Kirkland…” Alice began.
“Can decide for himself what sort of relationship and on whose terms he wants to have with his biological father. I’ve told him that many times, and you’re welcome to pass the message on to Grant.”
“Thank you,” Alice nodded.
“Kirkland knows how I feel about Grant. As for Spencer… I honestly never gave him much thought, beyond as Grant’s father and someone else looking to take my son away from me. But, now… Now, he’s the man who saved my son’s life. I will never, ever forget that. And I’ll make sure Kirk never forgets it, either.”
“What are you doing here?” Amanda, waiting outside the church at Alice’s request to greet the early arriving mourners, was surprised to see Morgan walking up the stairs, a tastefully wrapped bouquet of flowers in his hand.
“Alice is a colleague,” he reminded. “I’ve got manners.”
“Sorry,” Amanda told him sincerely. “I just… I got thrown off, seeing you. I’m sorry. It’s been a crazy couple of days.”
Morgan nodded, “How’s Alice?”
“Keeping it together. I don’t know how, but she is.”
“What about you? I know you two are close. And you and Spencer… ex-father-in-law, right?”
“Yeah,” Amanda nodded. “I can safely say he was my all-time favorite in-law. Of course, his only competition was Sam’s mother so, you know… I mean, there was Gary, too, but his relationship with Cameron was complicated to say the least so… I’m sorry, I’m babbling.”
“That’s okay.” Morgan brushed her cheek with his fingers. “It’s cute.”
Amanda pulled back, hissing, “Cut it out, okay?”
“Not now?” Morgan asked innocently.
“Not ever,” she stipulated. “How many times do I have to tell you, Morgan? We are done. I am married.”
“For the what time now?”
“For the last time.”
“Good. So, like Rhett Butler, I won’t have to keep catching you between weddings.”
“You,” Amanda laughed, covering her mouth discretely with her hand out of respect for the surroundings. “Are no Rhett Butler, pal.”
“Good. ‘Cause ol’ Rhett didn’t get the girl in the end.”
“Neither will you,” she predicted.
“Look, Amanda, I appreciate your loyalty to Alice. I know you’re being genuine. But, don’t, for a minute, confuse your earnestness with Alice’s prodigal grandson ever getting around to showing you the same degree of devotion.”
“I’m right. Come on, admit it. You threw yourself at this guy for over a year, and he repeatedly refused to give you the time of day. Until he hit rock bottom, and then any warm body would do.”
“You really have a way with words, you know that?”
“And you have to know by this point that you sold yourself short. You deserve to be with a man who thinks you’re the cream of the crop and that he’s damn lucky to have you. Ms. Right, not Ms. Right Now. How long have you two been married and you’re still shacked up in his hotel room?”
“We’re moving out,” Amanda thrilled at being able to throw the fact in Morgan’s face. “Later today, as a matter of fact.”
“Guess Mr. Esquire can’t afford to pay the bills now that his hot-shot law practice is down the drain. So, what? is Kevin going to bunk at the mansion? I guess if you really want to pound that final nail in your marriage’s coffin, that’s as efficient of a way as any.”
“We are not moving in with my family,” Amanda corrected, a good bit of her confidence fleeting as she admitted, “We’re moving in with Alice. To help her out. So she doesn’t have to be alone.”
“Uh-ha,” Morgan bobbed his head thoughtfully, knowingly.
“What? What’s ‘uh-ha’ supposed to mean?”
“You’ll see,” Morgan promised, passing Amanda in order to enter the church, smiling discreetly to himself all the while.
“What did I do?” Allie stammered as she reported to the Bay City University Dean’s office in response to an urgent summons from the secretary.
“Not a thing,” Kate Donovan, newly promoted from Head of the English department to supervising the entire institution, clucked soothingly, beckoning Allie inside. If there was one thing her predecessor had made clear before departing, it was the importance of the Cory family and their regular, generous donations to keep the University functioning. “You’re not in any kind of trouble. Quite the contrary. I thought there was some help we might be able to offer you.” She gestured to the figure already sitting inside, waiting for Allie to join them. “When Mr. Todd told me about what had happened – “
“No.” Allie skid to a stop. “No.”
“Please, Ms. Fowler, have a seat, I would very much like to discuss – “
“No,” she repeated. “I told GQ and now I’m telling you, I don’t want anything to do with any of this.”
“You were the victim of a very serious crime. It happened on this campus. As such, it is our responsibility to investigate and help you – “
“I’m fine. I don’t need any help.”
“I’m afraid I can’t accept that, Ms. Fowler. Your family has a long and illustrious history with this university. The idea that a Cory could be assaulted – “
“My car was keyed. Nobody laid a finger on me.”
“It is still an assault as defined by the law. And in any case, we do not allow this sort of language at our university. We have a code specifically prohibiting offensive speech.”
“What about free speech?”
Ms. Donovan shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Despite similar codes being on the books of numerous universities and colleges for close to twenty years now, no one had successfully come up with an answer to that most basic question. So she did what every other Dean in her position was compelled to do. She changed the subject. “Offensive speech includes harassment, physical intimidation, and defacing property, so your case most certainly applies. I’m sure you agree that we can’t permit that sort of behavior to continue unpunished.”
“What was so offensive about what they called me?” Figuring that no one would ever see her point of view, or even care what Allie personally wanted, she challenged them on logical grounds.
“What do you mean?” Ms. Donovan’s eyes narrowed nervously.
“Allie,” GQ finally spoke up. “I told her everything. She knows what was written on your car.”
“Okay,” Allie agreed. “But, my question is: What was so offensive about it?”
“Are you going to say something?” Kirkland sat down next to Grant as the room slowly filled up with people and Alice got up to speak to the priest in preparation for beginning the service. “Like a eulogy or whatever?”
Grant shook his head. “We decided there was really no way to sum up Spencer in a few words. Everyone who comes will have known some aspect of him. Let them hold on to that. Why?” he wondered. “Did you want to say something?”
“No.” Kirkland’s eyes widened. “No, no.”
“That’s okay,” Grant patted his leg reassuringly, letting the boy off the hook. “You don’t have to. It doesn’t make a difference. You know, son, Spencer was so moved when you agreed to be his Best Man. And then the toast you made…”
“I got it off the Internet,” Kirkland shrugged. “Googled Irish Wedding Toasts.”
“It still meant a lot to him. I think, at one time, he imagined himself the head of a huge family, dozens of grandchildren all around him…”
“Sucks that all he got was me.”
“No,” Grant corrected. “Sucks that all he got was me. You, he was very proud of.”
“You got to say good-bye to him, though.” Kirkland hesitated, then reluctantly admitted, “I used to be so mad that I never got a chance to say good-bye to you. One day, Mom just told me you were gone, and that was it. Same with her and Jake, too. I never got to say good-bye to anybody. Until Spencer.”
“I’m so sorry…”
But, Kirkland was on a roll now. “That’s why I got so mad about you helping Marley try and take Bridget and Michele away from us.”
“No, you don’t!” Kirkland hissed under his breath, managing to whisper and yell at the same time. “It wasn’t just the stupid trading me to Dad. It wasn’t even that you were taking the only things Steven and I still had left of Mom. It was that you were taking off without saying good-bye. Again.”
“I would have never done that,” Grant swore. “I never intended to leave with them. I was going to stay and – “
“What? Make me go with you?”
“I was going to ask…”
“And if I’d said no, then what?”
“I – I don’t know. I didn’t think that far ahead. I just wanted to protect Marley, and to keep our family – your family – together.”
“Start thinking ahead,” Kirkland advised tiredly. “It could save you a bunch of problems down the road.”
“Thanks for the lift, Daddy,” Jen told Kevin as she slid into the passenger seat of his car. “But, you needn’t have bothered, I could have driven myself to the funeral. You should have gone straight to Grandma’s.”
“Amanda is with Alice at the church,” Kevin reassured. “She’s much more useful than I could ever hope to be. I spent most of yesterday on the phone, getting the paperwork straightened out, while Amanda actually sat with Alice, talked to her, made her feel better.”
“Sounds like me whenever GQ visits Hudson. He does all the hands-on stuff, but I’m a whiz at finding toy sales on-line and calculating the tax and shipping fee in my head.”
The two exchanged smiles as Kevin admitted, “I wanted to talk to you, anyway. In private.”
“Oh-oh. Did I do something wrong?”
“Do you ever?” Kevin asked, with a bit more edge than he’d intended.
She wasn’t sure how to react to that. “What’s going on, Daddy?”
“I’ve been shuffling back and forth on this, wondering whether to even bring it up, but… Weeks ago, you and Allie had a fight, do you remember?”
“Could you be more specific?”
“You told her… You told her,” Kevin had a hard time even repeating the words. “You told her that you always try to do the right thing, to be perfect, because you’re afraid of disappointing me.”
“And you’re upset because your daughter admitted to always trying to do the right thing?” Jen frowned.
“There is a big difference between doing the right thing, and being perfect. Not that either one is possible one hundred percent of the time.”
“So we shouldn’t even try?”
“Not if your motivation is fear, no.”
Jen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Like you’re not a perfectionist? How many times have I seen you beat yourself up over a missed clause in a document or a lost case?”
“That’s different. That’s me driving myself. My motivation is internal, not external and, quite frankly, yeah, it’s a little insane. I was hoping to spare you catching my hang-ups.”
“I guess I’m that rare case of nurture over nature,” Jen shrugged.
“Except that you’re afraid of exactly the opposite,” Kevin didn’t phrase his guess as a question.
Jen didn’t argue. “You took a huge chance on me. Considering the kind of people my parents were, most folks would have run in the opposite direction.”
“I didn’t care about your parents. I cared about you. Did you think that one little screw-up meant – “
“Off to the foster home with me? Yeah, pretty much.”
“Oh, Jenny, no… I’m so sorry if I made you feel like – “
“You didn’t. I did. These are all my dumb issues, okay? They’re not your fault. I was the one – I didn’t want to turn out like them, okay? Repeat their mistakes, end up in jail or dead from an overdose – or, hey, why not both? People can think whatever they want about me, but I am never, ever going to give anyone the chance to say I was stupid, or that I made a mistake.”
“But… Jenny, that’s how you learn, it’s how you live, it’s how you know you’re alive!”
“Got an office full of EKG equipment that says otherwise.”
“Young people are supposed to make mistakes. That’s the privilege and the thrill of being young. You can’t live your life in terror of possibly doing something wrong. For any reason.”
“It’s worked so far,” she insisted, and refused to say another word on the subject.
Even when her father couldn’t help it and pressed, “Has it really?”
“Where’s our baby girl?” Felicia looked over Lorna’s shoulder and into the church after giving her daughter a tighter than usual hug in a combination of sadness and appreciation for life and family that funerals had a habit of stirring up in her.
“Devon is with Steven, Michele, and Bridget,” Lorna explained, nervously adding, “She was fine when I left her. Just lying there, chewing on her fist, drooling away while the twins chattered over her head. No sign of separation anxiety or anything.”
“Not for her, no,” Lucas teased his own daughter gently.
“I trust Steven,” Lorna reiterated for her benefit as much as his. “He’s a responsible kid. I know he knows CPR. He saved Gregory’s life with it. And he’s got my cell number and Jamie’s, and I wrote down the pediatrician’s contact info for him in the kitchen and in Devon’s room…”
“Are you certain you aren’t spreading yourself too thin?” Felicia inquired with concern. “You look a little pale.”
“I’m fine. And so is Devon, I’m sure. It’s more important for me to be here for Jamie and Kirkland. It’s been a hellish week for them. I mean, I’m used to middle of the night kidnappings and ransom demands and prisoner exchanges… but that cloak and dagger crap is kind of outside the Frame family wheelhouse.”
“Kirkland is lucky to have both you and Jamie looking after him,” Felicia smiled encouragingly.
“How is he handling things?” Lucas wondered.
“If you were a seventeen year old boy, how would you handle the guilt of knowing your grandfather is dead because he surrendered his life to save yours?”
“Kirkland has to realize it was a great deal more complicated than that,” Lucas ventured.
“Yes. It was,” Lorna agreed, momentarily distracted by the sight of Jamie, on the other side of the church, warily accepting a handshake of greeting from Morgan, and thus oblivious to the uneasy looks her parents exchanged.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Lucas tapped Lorna on the shoulder to regain her attention – a task made easier by Morgan thankfully stepping aside and moving on to offer his condolences to Alice. “I want to apologize again for keeping you and Jamie out of the loop regarding what was going on.”
“It was just with you recovering from your accident,” Felicia rushed in. “And then the wedding and Devon being born…”
“So you knew this was going on, too?” Lorna’s focus was now fully back on her mother.
“Fanny put the pieces together mostly after the fact, same as you.”
“Your father and I agreed this wasn’t a matter to burden you with after everything you’d been through already.”
“You mean like when I kept the truth about Lucas being alive from you because you were still so upset about Jenna and Lori Ann? You called it a betrayal, then.”
“I was wrong, darling. I understand now.”
“Is that supposed to convince me to just overlook that you kept Jamie and I in the dark about our whole family’s lives being in danger?”
Lucas shook his head. “Sweetheart, even if you and Jamie had known everything, there still would have been nothing you two could have done to stop these bastards from taking what they wanted. They got past Spencer’s trained security guards. You – “
“That’s not the point. The point is: I thought we were done with secrets. None of us appreciates being kept in the dark about things that directly affect us. No matter what the good intentions. It just ultimately leads to more drama and more hurt feelings that push us farther apart precisely at a time when we should be pulling together.”
“I know,” Lucas said. “You’re right.”
“You are, you absolutely are,” Felicia echoed. “Do you think you can ever forgive us?”
“If you can promise you won’t ever do this again. No more secrets. No more lies. For any reason. You want me to trust you with everything that’s going on with me? Show me the same respect.”
“We will,” Lucas nodded.
Lorna fixed them both with a pleading look. “No more apologies after the fact, okay? After the damage has already been done is just too damn late. This happens again and, so help me, it’s bye-bye forgiving, magnanimous, out of character Lorna.”
“I’ll take my Lorna any way I can get her,” Lucas’ eyes twinkled. “But, I got to admit, I’m liking this forgiving, magnanimous version.”
“Makes a nice change, I know,” Lorna smirked, self-deprecating, before taking a deep breath, letting it out, and smiling brightly at both of her parents. “So we’ve got a deal. Clean slate, reboot, end of discussion. Let’s all just move on.”
“Yes. Let’s all just… move on,” Felicia repeated, desperately trying to return Lorna’s smile.
With Alice, Grant, and Kirkland filling the first pew, Lorna and Jamie took a seat right behind them, next to Kevin and Amanda, Lorna putting her phone on vibrate, not quite ready to turn it off completely, Jamie slipping an arm around her shoulders, kissing her and whispering, “You’re beautiful when you’re neurotic.”
“Just wait, at this rate, I expect to be downright radiant by the end of the day.”
Jamie was about to respond when a gasp from Amanda prompted both him and Lorna to whip around in their seats just in time to witness Cory entering the church and slipping unobtrusively into the very back pew, followed by Rachel, Elizabeth… and Carl.
“They didn’t…” Lorna whispered.
“They did,” Jamie confirmed grimly.
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