“How did you manage to get yourself put in charge of my father’s will?” Grant demanded the moment he saw who was to be conducting the reading.
“Spencer had a whole team of lawyers go over his corporate interests,” Kevin reassured. “But he wanted to make sure Alice was thoroughly taken care of. And he knew no one would do a better job of seeing to that than me.”
“Chill, Grant,” Amanda addressed her ex-husband in a manner more befitting an aggressive – and annoying – terrier. “Nobody’s scheming to steal your fortune out from under you. Don’t you have more important things to worry about?”
Grant grunted and crossed the room to explore his options at the bar, while, on the other side of Spencer’s library, Amanda patted the lapels of Kevin’s suit and soothed, “Pay no attention to the cranky man by the curtains. I’d say Grant’s bark is worse than his bite, but even that isn’t too impressive these days.”
Kevin shrugged dismissively. “Cranky relatives at a will reading are my stock in trade. I barely noticed.” He bent over to kiss Amanda briefly. “But, it is sweet of you to come out swinging on my behalf.”
“Alice’s too.” Amanda glanced towards the door, expecting her to enter at any moment. “The last thing she needs is Grant provoking you into some kind of scene.”
“Kind of like you and your mother at Spencer’s funeral?” Kevin noted.
Amanda cringed. “I was hoping no one would see that. Especially Alice.”
“Jamie and I blocked her from the worst of it and, besides, Rachel and Carl were hardly uppermost on Alice’s mind that day. Despite their surprise appearance. Are you okay?”
“I was doing a lot better before my little sister dropped by to disown me at work earlier.”
“Elizabeth is Carl’s child. No matter what your parents may have done, that knee-jerk loyalty will always be there.”
“For most people,” Amanda mumbled.
“If this is about Allie…” Kevin began.
Amanda cut him off. “It’s about me. I agreed with Jamie. We should cut Mom out of our lives as long as she’s with Carl. I tried to convince Matt to throw in with us, too.”
“Hmm,” Kevin said.
“You disapprove?” Amanda asked anxiously.
“I…” Kevin shook his head helplessly. “I cut my mother and my grandmother out of my life for twenty years. And one of them was already dead. Who am I to judge?”
“Your reasons were…”
“Different from yours. Doesn’t make yours any less valid, though.”
“I’m sorry we’re late,” Jamie ushered Kirkland through the doors, looking around in surprise. “Where’s Alice?”
“She had a mysterious errand to run,” Grant offered, crossing the room.
“She texted me that she’s on her way,” Kevin assured, double-checking his phone, then tucking it back into his jacket pocket. “Just a few more minutes.”
“Hello, son,” Grant planted himself in front of Kirkland, doing his best to hold steady despite the, in retrospect, ill-advised pair of drinks he’d downed in anticipation of getting through the afternoon.
“Hi,” Kirkland bobbed his head, not unpleasantly, merely unsure of what to say next.
Taking in the book-bag slung over the boy’s shoulder, Grant presumed, “I see you’ve gone back to school.”
“Everything… alright? Nobody giving you a hard time over your injuries or anything, are they?”
“Nah. I even heard today that chicks dig scars.”
Grant turned to Jamie in alarm, indicating the gashes still visible on Kirkland’s face and accusing, “Those aren’t permanent, are they?”
“I took Kirk for a consult with a plastic surgeon. He thinks everything should fade eventually. Suggested aloe vera to help with the healing process.”
“He thinks? Aloe vera? Who did you consult with, a faith healer?”
“It’s no big deal,” Kirkland attempted to head Grant off before his father devolved into a full-out tantrum. “If that guy on Dancing With the Stars can manage to overcome his injuries, I can handle a slash over my lip, even if it turns out to be permanent.”
“There is no reason for this,” Grant raged at Jamie. “If you’d taken him to get treatment immediately…. It’s what I would have done.”
“Jamie was busy,” Alice interrupted, closing the door behind her and approaching both of her stepsons. “At my request.” Her implication absolutely clear. As was her follow up implication: that the entire discussion should be immediately terminated. She looked to Kevin. “Are we ready to get started?”
“Oh, right, yes. Yes, of course,” he nodded, reaching for his briefcase, as everyone else took the hint and scurried to get into a chair.
Kevin selected one as well, unwilling to sit behind Spencer’s desk. Instead, he merely set it down in a spot where he could see and face all of the assembled parties equally.
Kevin withdrew Spencer’s will from the manila folder he’d been storing it in, and cleared his throat, explaining, “Spencer divided his estate into the personal and the professional. The personal includes all of his residences, here and abroad. He left the entire assortment to his wife, Alice Frame Harrison, along with a fund to maintain their upkeep – staff, grounds, what have you… for the remainder of her natural life. There is also a discretionary income for Alice to do with as she sees fit, no limits or stipulations, that can never be revoked by anyone for any reason. Are those conditions agreeable to you, Grandma?”
Alice, who’d been sitting with her head down for the duration of Kevin’s explanation, looked up, blinking as if startled awake. “It’s… fine.”
Amanda reached over to squeeze Alice’s hand. The older woman allowed the gesture, but didn’t respond.
Kevin went on, “The bulk of Spencer’s professional estate is his holdings in a network of companies, foreign and domestic. They range from minor percentages in some instances to controlling interest in others. I have detailed documentation here on everything, and the names of the corporate lawyers actually in charge of day-to-day operations. They will also deal with the inheritance tax and other obligations down the line, with me as executor.” Kevin took a deep breath before delivering the final dispensation. “Spencer left this portion of his assets to his grandson, Kirkland Frame.”
“Kirkland Frame?” It wasn’t so much the name Grant was objecting to at this point – though it still stung and inevitably always would. “That means he made this will…”
“Following the adoption, yes,” Kevin concurred, hurrying on, knowing there was one more point of potential contention to get out. “In addition, there is a rider stating that if Spencer dies before Kirkland’s twenty-fifth birthday, his inheritance is to be kept in a trust. To be overseen by his father. Dr. James Frame.”
“What are you doing here?” Charlie wondered when she came home from school to find Zeno standing in her living room, studying the titles on Cass and Frankie’s bookshelves.
“I came to visit your mom,” Zeno explained, barely giving Charlie a glance before turning back to the books.
“So where is she?”
“Getting your sister dressed to go out. She said to make myself at home.”
“Should we import some manure for you?” Charlie dumped her bag by the door and strolled over to stand next to him.
Zeno laughed. “Another city-slicker! Like your dad, I guess. Whatever happened to your Frame side?”
“It got beat down by the Winthrop hay-fever. We like our environment air-conditioned, our wilderness landscaped, and our cows medium rare.”
“Guess the vegetarian gene skipped you, too.”
“Probably more of a nurture than nature thing. Mom’s got Lori Ann buying into it at the moment. We’ll see how long that lasts.”
“Mary – I mean Frankie, tried to sell my mom and me on the wonders of going meat-free. It didn’t stick too long with us, either.”
“Probably what drove her away,” Charlie joked.
Zeno didn’t respond to that, leaving an uncomfortable silence to swell between them like a foul odor both were pretending not to notice.
Thankfully, Frankie descended the stairs in that moment, leading Lori Ann by the hand and taking her time, as the little girl would step down with one foot, then bring in the other to join it before tackling the next step. While they all waited for the painstaking process to be completed, Frankie looked up from where she was half-crouched to smile at Charlie, “You’re home early!”
“Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You’re not interrupting,” Frankie looked at Charlie in surprise, not understanding what she could possibly mean by that.
“Thought you were having some mother/son bonding.”
The stairs finally maneuvered, Frankie began guiding Lori Ann towards the door and into her coat. “I wanted to talk to Zeno about something that could affect us all. I’m glad you’re here, maybe we can tag-team him.”
“She back on you about the vegetarian thing?” Charlie asked Zeno.
He smirked. “Frankie thinks I should be going to college.”
“You absolutely should. You know it’s what Orly would have wanted,” her mother insisted, explaining to Charlie, “I told Zeno that if he went to college, your dad and I would step in and help Zeno run the farm.”
Charlie’s eyes widened. “You and Dad are going to run a farm? That sounds like a reality show waiting to happen.”
“Well, obviously Cass will handle the business end of things. I’ll manage the day-to-day operations. We both have the respective experience. And it will free Zeno up to at least take some classes and review his options outside of – “
“Shoveling manure?” he raised an eyebrow at both mother and daughter.
“There is nothing wrong with farming,” Frankie insisted, placating. “But there is also a lot more to life beyond it. I know when I was your age, I couldn’t wait to explore the world and my own potential.”
“I’m not you,” Zeno reminded. “In this or any other lifetime.”
“I know that, sweetie. But, will you at least think about what I said? Humor me, okay? In the meantime,” she filled in Charlie. “Zeno and I are taking Lori Ann to see all the animals.”
“Chick chick here!” the baby announced proudly.
Charlie looked from her mother to her sister to her… whoever the hell he was. And spontaneously asked, “Can I come, too?”
“Here’s the info on Devon’s christening,” Lorna handed Morgan a hand-calligraphied, cream-colored piece of card stock. “Date, time, proper Godfatherly behavior.”
“When am I ever inappropriate?” Morgan leaned in to smile at Devon, lying cuddled up against Lorna’s chest, eyeing him warily over her pacifier, possibly remembering the last time they’d met, when there had been a needle involved.
“Can you take her for a second?” Lorna asked abruptly, all but thrusting the baby into Morgan’s surprised arms and needing to reach over to grab the back of the couch with both hands, closing her eyes, making a face and swallowing hard.
“You okay?” he asked, cradling Devon in one arm, resting the other on Lorna’s back with concern.
“Give me a second,” she warned, taking a deep breath, then cautiously opening her eyes, looking around the room, checking to see if maybe this time the walls and floor might refrain from lurching about unexpectedly. “Yeah. I am. Now. It’s – I’m fine. You can give her back to me. Thanks. Sorry about that.” Lorna held out her hands for Devon.
Morgan looked from the baby he was holding, to Lorna, and with a combination of past experience and medical license, groaned, “Oh, come on! You’ve got to be kidding me! What are you and Jamie, rabbits?”
Seeing no point in lying, Lorna merely shrugged, reclaiming Devon and kissing the top of her daughter’s head while telling Morgan, “I love my husband.”
“I love avocados,” he pointed out. “But, I have no intention of wasting the best years of my life cloning a bushel of them.”
“Yes, Morgan,” Lorna nodded sagely. “That’s exactly right. What a perfect metaphor.”
He declined to accept her mocking. “What the hell were you guys thinking?”
“We weren’t,” she admitted. “I didn’t even realize it was possible, and with everything else we’ve had going on… “
“So… an accident,” Morgan looked at her critically.
“A surprise,” she corrected.
“There’s a difference?”
“An accident is something that, if you had the chance to do again, you wouldn’t. A surprise is something you didn’t know you wanted until you got it.”
“So which one was I?” Morgan wondered. “To you, I mean?”
“You,” Lorna told him, smiling. “Were a blessing. And a curse. And everything in between.”
“Do you know her?” GQ showed Allie a BCU student newspaper, the front page featuring a grainy, black and white photograph taken off the parking lot security tape of a shadowy figure rather clearly keying Allie’s car. Based on the size of the figure and the body language, it did appear to be a woman.
“No.” Allie shoved the copy out of her face and kept on walking. It was hardly the first time she’d seen it today. Then couldn’t help asking, “Do you?”
“Of course not!”
“It’s too dark to make out details or identification. Just like I said from the beginning. This won’t do anything good.”
“Did you read the editorial right next to it? The University has taken a pretty strong stand against any kind of bullying or racism…”
“I feel better already.”
“You should. I think you’ll be surprised by how supportive people will be. It’s important to show zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”
This finally made Allie stop, turn around, and face him. “Is there anything you can’t turn into a bumper sticker? Are you even capable of carrying on a conversation without getting all The Personal Is Political? Seriously, what do you and Jen talk about? I know she isn’t into your soapboxes and stuff. When Jen wants to change someone’s mind, she hooks it up to electrodes.”
“I…” GQ stammered defensively. “I can talk about more than…”
“Take computer codes out of the equation. What’s left then?” She didn’t allow GQ to get a word in edgewise. “Why does everything have to be a cause with you? Why does it need a deeper meaning? Even with Hudson. You couldn’t just say you wanted to raise your son. You had to make it about politics and history and – “
“Maybe it’s because I’m capable of seeing the big picture in a way that you’re simply not.” GQ’d had enough. “You claim I make everything out to be bigger than myself? You’re the opposite. No matter what happens, it comes down to: How does this affect Allie Fowler? You refuse to see that the things you do have repercussions for other people. You did it with Hudson, you did it with Gregory, and you’re doing it again now. Maybe you don’t care about being called names and attacked. But other people do. Some of us don’t want our kids growing up in a world where bullying anyone for any reason is acceptable. You’ve got a kid, too, Allie. No matter how much you try to ignore it and him. You shouldn’t want that for Hudson either.”
“Did you and Lucas put Dean up to his lawsuit?” Donna burst in on Felicia, shoving a copy of the offending document into the other woman’s hands.
Felicia raised a brow, her eyes skimming down the page, her smile growing broader and broader with every word. “Dean is suing you? At-ta boy!”
“I offered him money for Lori Ann. As much as he thought she might need. I realize my responsibility in – “
“Getting her mother killed and insuring that the rest of Lori Ann’s life is filled with an assortment of health problems?”
“ – In providing for all of my grandchildren,” Donna finished.
Felicia shook her head in disbelief that anyone could be quite this clueless. “If you think this is about the money for Dean…”
“He made it perfectly clear it wasn’t. His goal is seeing me legally declared culpable for Jenna’s death.”
“Smart move. Since obviously moral culpability is beyond your skill set.”
“I am sorry,” Donna seethed. “I am deeply and truly sorry for what happened to Jenna. How many times am I supposed to keep repeating that?”
“Just once over the past two years would have been nice,” Felicia informed her.
“Dean thinks that besting me in court will make him feel better, that it might somehow alleviate the emptiness. We both know that’s not the case. We’ve both lost enough to understand that all his actions will do is prolong Dean’s pain and keep the anger and bitterness bubbling close to the surface until it engulfs him. And that’s not good for either Dean or Lori Ann.”
“Kindly do your best, Donna,” Felicia warned. “To keep from subscribing me to any clubs in which you claim membership.”
“I know what it’s like to lose a child,” Donna reminded, holding her ground, refusing to be marginalized, not on this issue, of all things. “Twelve years on, Victoria’s death is still as freshly painful to me as if it happened yesterday. In addition, I had to give up Mikey, the little boy Michael and I were intending to adopt. And Marley… I almost lost Marley to a suicide attempt just a few months ago. If I hadn’t come home when I did, the garage filled with carbon monoxide would have – “
“It was a set up,” Felicia said flatly.
“I – I beg your pardon?” Donna’s voice quavered.
“Marley’s so-called suicide attempt. It was a set up.” The coldness in Felicia’s voice made it clear she wasn’t speaking out of anger or lying in the heat of the moment. Felicia knew exactly what she was doing, and she wanted Donna fully cognizant of that fact. She wanted her to feel every ounce of what Felicia was telling her. “You went on television and announced that any threat to your family would result in the release of your file on the compound. Carl wanted the file released. So he was obliged to create a plausible premise for it. An attempt on Marley’s life.“
“She was trying to commit suicide. She was distraught over having hit Lorna and – “
“That part was just a lucky bonus for us. We didn’t know about it then. Though I can’t say it made me feel any sorrier for your demented daughter after the fact. Carl had been playing with Marley’s head for months. Working to turn her against you. That part of the equation wasn’t particularly difficult.”
“Carl…” Donna struggled to keep up with what she was being told, putting the pieces together on the fly and growing more infuriated by the moment. “And you don’t think that may have contributed to Marley’s breakdown? To her losing control and running down Lorna in the first place? You don’t think that your daughter’s accident was just as much Carl’s fault as – “
“Marley was the one who hit her. Marley was the one who hid the truth for months,” Felicia stuck to the facts. Because acknowledging Donna’s point meant admitting Felicia’s own culpability in what had happened to Lorna. “My daughter was the one who almost died, while yours was never in any real danger. You think it was a coincidence that you arrived just in the nick of time to pull her out of the garage? Carl doesn’t deal in coincidences. Everything was timed out to the last second.”
“By Lucas,” Donna guessed, not even needing the look on Felicia’s face to confirm her assumption. “Lucas is Carl’s favorite scene designer, isn’t he? That’s what he did on Cecile’s death. He had to have been the one who set up Marley, too.”
“Marley is fine,” Felicia repeated.
“No,” Donna hissed. “Lorna is fine. Lorna has her new husband and her new baby, and my grandchildren, to boot. Marley is the one who’s been broken possibly beyond repair. My daughter, the one who has already suffered more than anyone should have to – “
“At whose hand?” Felicia challenged.
“Mine,” Donna admitted. “And yours. And Grant’s and Lorna’s and Jamie’s and Vicky’s and Jake’s and Morgan’s… How much is she supposed to take? She was never the strongest of women, but to have all of you attack her like this… All you supposedly good, decent people, all of you who feel entitled to criticize my choices…”
“Even good, decent people reach their breaking points, Donna. What you and Marley have put me and my family through over the past two years – “
“Was nothing,” Donna interrupted to threaten Felicia just as coldly as Felicia had her earlier. “Compared to what I’m going to do to you all now.”
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