“My granddaughter is being baptized today.” Rachel informed Carl without looking up from the clay she’d spent the past few hours since dawn futilely attempting to beat into something vaguely recognizable.
“It grieves me to observe you so distraught, my dear.” Carl rested his palm on Rachel’s shoulder, only to have her pull away abruptly under the guise of reaching for a cloth to clean her hands.
“I’m open to suggestions.” Rachel turned around to face him, daring Carl to come up with a cure for what ailed her.
Carl accepted the challenge. “You could well head over to the site, invitation or not, and make it clear to all concerned that you will not be treated in such a manner.”
“Because crashing a church the last time worked out so well for everyone involved.”
“Quite frankly, I believe it did. Us attending Spencer Harrison’s funeral brought to the surface multiple issues that would otherwise have continued to unpleasantly brew and simmer until this day. Better to force difficult matters out in the open, so that reasonable people might deal with them as sensible adults, rather than spoiled children.”
“Would you still feel the same if it were your own children disowning you in the most public and painful manner possible?”
“Quite frankly, Rachel, I daresay I would never permit circumstances to collapse into such a dire state of affairs were my children the ones involved.”
“Oh, really?” She crossed her arms, deeply intrigued to see where Carl thought he was taking this – and how he intended to squirm his way out of it.
“Yes, really.” Carl, for his part, appeared to have no intention of squirming, now or in the immediate future. He faced Rachel head on as he elaborated, “My children have been adequately indoctrinated in the proper means to show respect to one’s elders, regardless of what personal temper tantrum they might currently find themselves in midst of.”
“That was some toast Cory offered over Thanksgiving,” Rachel reminded with a smirk.
“Precisely,” Carl didn’t skip a beat. “Instead of stomping about, flailing his arms and issuing juvenile threats and ultimatums, my son submitted his rebuke with grace, class, a touch of whimsy and, yes, respect for his father’s position as head of this family.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever realized, not until this moment, just how much you genuinely dislike my kids,” Rachel noted, unsure whom she was most surprised by – Carl for feeling that way or herself for failing to notice it earlier.
“You expect me to express any sort of positive feelings towards three alleged adults who would cause the woman I love such turmoil? Your progeny, it pains me to observe, are spoiled, self-righteous, ignorant brats, excuse the colloquialism.”
Language, Rachel mused, really should have been the least of Carl’s worries. “So in your view, Jamie, Amanda, and Matt are completely in the wrong, while you and I are indisputably right?”
“You are their mother,” Carl stressed. “By definition, they are to amend themselves to you, not the other way around. It is most unfortunate you and Mac somehow failed to appraise them of this indisputable fact of life.”
“Mac believed your children’s respect needed to be earned.”
“Mac was wrong,” Carl said simply. “The job of a parent is to make decisions that are best for all concerned, regardless of their child’s feelings on the matter. You’ve done it, I’ve done it, I daresay Jamie, Amanda and Matthew have done it regarding their own off-spring without a second thought or expectation otherwise. A parent is older, a parent is wiser, a parent is not to be questioned. The job of a child is to understand their place.”
“Let’s say that’s true,” Rachel was willing to play along for a bit. After all, she was out of alternatives at the moment. “Let’s say that you are absolutely correct about everything you’ve just said. What now? What next? What do you propose I do to fix the situation I find myself in?”
“You do nothing,” Carl advised. “You stand strong and you demonstrate to your children that you will not be manipulated either by their alleged love, or their implicit threats of withholding it. You let them stew in their own bitter juices. You allow them to truly experience life without a mother who would happily die for them, should the need ever arise. You let them come to you. And when they finally do crawl back, repentant and beaten and contrite, you make it clear that such a travesty is never to happen again.”
“That’s what you’d do?”
Rachel nodded at him sadly, barely suppressing her shudder. “I believe you.”
“You both look beautiful,” Felicia fussed over Lorna and Devon as the three of them waited just outside the church’s main sanctuary for the service to begin.
“I wasn’t sure what to wear,” Lorna confessed. “There are millions of gowns to choose from for the baby, but damned if I could find guidelines for the mother of the about to be blessed. Oh, crap. Did I just swear in a church right as my kid’s going to be baptized?”
“I’m pretty confident you aren’t the first. Or the last.”
“You know, it was one thing to plan a wedding. I’d been to a couple of those. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. But, this… This is so… not… me.”
“Just keep your distance from the Holy Water, and everything should be alright,” Felicia quipped, watching Lorna getting more and more worked up by the minute and hoping to diffuse at least some of the tension.
“Thanks a lot, Mom.”
“You’ll be fine. When have you ever not been fine once you decided to be? Remember how nervous you were about what to wear when we went to see your grandmother together for the first time? Or for that party I threw to introduce you as my daughter? You got through both with flying colors. That and a lot more. Anything you set your mind to doing, you succeed in, you’ve got to know that by now.”
“Like running a record company or a PR firm is really important in the long run? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I screwed that up? Wait, don’t answer: Lucky me, I know. But, if I screw this up,” Lorna looked down at Devon.
“You won’t,” Felicia assured blithely. “Devon will turn out perfectly. She’s my granddaughter, after all, how can she not? And so will your new baby.”
Lorna winced. “You didn’t look particularly thrilled when Jamie spilled the news at Thanksgiving dinner.”
“I’m just worried about you. Your health. After the accident, and Devon still being so young. It’s a lot for your take on.”
“No,” Lorna shook her head, unconvinced. “That’s not it. You’re worried about my health, sure, but… There’s something more going on. Spill, Felicia.”
Her mother considered another denial, then shrugged and admitted, “You’re right. I was not particularly thrilled to learn your news in a large group of people who included, among a few virtual strangers, Grant. Doesn’t exactly suggest a priority notification list.”
“Jamie and I weren’t planning to make the announcement then and there. He just got inspired at the last minute – more like trapped with Alice asking him to stand up and say something, and I figured, why not? Save us the trouble of telling everybody individually.”
“Maybe I’d have liked to be told individually,” Felicia proposed. “Last time, I found out you were pregnant while you were in the middle of brain surgery and there was a strong possibility neither of you might make it out alive. Maybe I resented being cheated out of a meaningful moment with my daughter. Twice.”
“Oh, come on, we’ve had plenty of meaningful moments. Ones other mothers and daughters can only dream of. I mean, sure, you never took me shopping for the prom. But, how many other mothers can say they dressed their daughter up to look like an old lady so she could escape a homicidal lunatic?”
“Why do I suspect trying to shop for the prom together would have turned one or both of us into a homicidal lunatic?”
“We’ve never done things the conventional way, Felicia. Why would we start now?”
“Is it okay?” Cory stood in the church’s entryway, asking Jamie, “Me coming today?”
“Of course, it’s okay.” Jamie gave him a hug. “I’m glad to see you, pal.”
Cory’s uber-serious frown refused to budge. “I know what happened with Mom.”
“She told you?” Jamie found that hard to believe.
“No. I just… hear things.”
“Oh. Yeah. I remember what that’s like. Living back at the house, things… echo.”
“I understand why you’re mad at Father.”
“And do you also understand that doesn’t mean I’m mad at you?”
“I miss you and Kirk living at the house. It was nice. It was… normal.”
Jamie laughed. “Been a long time since anyone called our family arrangement normal.”
“Consider the alternative,” Cory told him somberly.
“Just because Mom and I are having some problems right now, that shouldn’t affect our relationship. Or yours and Mom’s.”
“You said right now. Does that mean you think you might fix things? Soon?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie told his little brother honestly. “That depends on a lot of things.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Cory corrected wearily. “It just depends on Father.”
“Are you and Jasmine going to Devon’s christening?” Rachel asked Lila when she caught her ex-daughter-in-law in the hall.
Lila shook her head. “Jazz went with Matt and Jeanne earlier.”
Rachel said, “I know that Matthew asked you and Jasmine to move out of the house. In solidarity with him.”
“With all due respect, Rachel, one of the nicest things about being divorced from your son is not having to express solidarity with him. Especially when I think he’s full of it.”
“He told you Jasmine was in danger, living in the same house as Carl?”
“You didn’t believe him?”
Whenever possible, Lila’s motto was to stick close to the truth. It made remembering your lies easier down the line. Which was why she honestly told Rachel, “I don’t believe that you would allow any harm to come to Jasmine. Or me, for that matter.”
“Thank you, Lila.” Rachel beamed, taking the younger woman’s hands in hers. “Thank you for sticking by me. Us.”
“You have been kinder to me than anyone ever in my entire life. I will always be on your side,” Lila swore.
Baptismal ceremony over, Devon Ada Frame’s invited guests, including her godparents, Alice Frame Harrison and Morgan Winthrop, her aunt and her many uncles, her maternal grandparents, her siblings and her cousins, had moved from the church’s main sanctuary to a reception hall downstairs, lining up to fill their plates at the buffet, or just milling about, talking and offering their congratulations to Jamie and Lorna.
Kirkland waited until he was pretty sure his father was out of hearing range before going up to Alice and observing, “Dad’s Thanksgiving toast, it wasn’t too subtle, was it?”
Not particularly fond of playing dumb, his step-grandmother agreed, “No. It wasn’t.”
“He wants me to make up with Grant. For Spencer’s sake.”
“That’s not exactly how I interpreted Jamie’s words.”
“What do you think he meant with all that talk about paying forward and people he’d never be able to settle up a debt with, and how good I am at forgiving people.”
“You are good at forgiving people. I know how much it meant to Jamie that you and Steven were able to forgive him his past.”
“That was different. Different from me and Grant, I mean. The stuff Dad did, the secrets he kept, they didn’t have anything to do with us. He didn’t hurt us, personally. It was just something that happened a long time ago, and wasn’t even really his fault.”
“You’re right. That was different. But, if you could forgive Jamie, maybe you could forgive Grant, too.”
“Spencer didn’t. It’s why he made Dad guardian for all the money he left me, not Grant. Dad wants me to forgive Grant for Spencer’s sake, when even Spencer couldn’t.”
“I agree,” Alice said. “It’s all very complicated.”
“Just because Dad feels he owes Spencer – well, I mean, obviously I do too; I owe him a lot; everything… – but, does that mean I have to forget how, every time I cut Grant some slack, he just kicks me in the teeth again? Do you think Spencer would’ve wanted that?”
Alice hesitated. “Spencer knew what it was like when a father and son were estranged. He deeply regretted the wrong turns he’d taken in his relationship with Grant over the years. I’m certain he would have wanted better for you. Your grandfather and your biological father both had – have – a very difficult time expressing love in a way that – “
“Anyone human can understand?”
“Yes,” Alice confirmed. “That’s just who they are. Spencer always said you were the very best part of him. Maybe you could help Grant find that best inside himself.”….
“Hey,” Morgan nodded Kevin’s way, playing it cool.
“Hi,” Kevin bobbed his head in return, continuing to stare straight ahead.
“I guess I’m a little late offering congratulations on your marriage.”
“Thanks,” Kevin declined to confirm or deny.
“Congratulations,” Morgan said.
“Thanks,” Kevin repeated.
“Look, dude,” Morgan dropped all pretense of merely making small-talk. “I realize this is awkward.”
“You know… You… me… Amanda.”
“I know about me and Amanda,” Kevin said coolly. “Not sure exactly where you fit in.”
“Oh,” Morgan startled, realizing he may have made a huge tactical error. “You mean… you don’t know….”
“Of course, I know,” Kevin snapped. “I have eyes. Your hand was on my wife’s thigh for practically the duration of Jamie and Lorna’s wedding. I’m not an idiot.”
“She wasn’t your wife then,” Morgan noted in his own defense.
“Which is why I saw no point in bringing the subject up.”
“I just thought, since we’re going to be bumping into each other a lot…”
“Why in the world would be doing that?”
Morgan indicated the surroundings. “You’re married to Amanda, I’m Jamie and Lorna’s kid’s godfather….”
“Believe me, Dr. Winthrop, if Jamie can stand to see your face anywhere near his wife and daughter after what you tried to pull with them less than a year ago, I certainly have no reason to object. Oh, and there’s one more thing. When it comes to your general existence in this universe, I don’t give a damn.”….
“Poor baby,” Allie jerked her chin to indicate Devon, grumpily being passed from one cooing relative to the next. “Kid doesn’t know what she’s in for.”
“Who does?” Steven popped a miniature quiche in his mouth and reached for another.
“I don’t mean in the global, philosophical sense. Sheesh, you’re as bad as GQ, always turning everything into some profound, universal statement.”
“Two words is a profound, universal statement now? Guess this is what they refer to as the dumbing down of America.”
“I meant this family, in particular. Devon doesn’t know what she’s in for.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“Uhm, you’re the brainiac and you haven’t noticed that the Cory-Frames are a little… unusual?”
Steven waited to respond until after he’d swallowed. “Nope.”
“Your dad was on trial for murder last year!”
“So was Charlie’s.”
“I gave my baby up for adoption and that turned into a major mess.”
“So did Dean.”
“Your brother’s dad came back from the dead.”
“So did Charlie’s mom.”
“My mom married her brother’s sister’s son, whose daughter is now with my baby’s father.”
“Grant married his brother’s girlfriend. And then hooked up with her twin sister.”
“You’re right,” Allie sighed. “I take it back.”
“I usually am. Thanks for noticing.”
“It’s not our family that’s weird. It’s the whole, entire town.”….
“Why aren’t you posing for the happy family portrait?” Dean asked Jeanne, pointing to Matt and Amanda grinning for a picture with Jamie and Devon.
“Why aren’t you?” Jeanne specified Lori Ann sitting between Cass and Frankie, taking great and dutiful care to get more cake in her mouth than onto her pretty party dress.
“One of these things doesn’t belong here…” Dean hummed the old Sesame Street tune.
“You and Frankie and Jamie are cousins, right?”
“You and Matt are married, right?”
“Point taken,” Jeanne mumbled.
“Hey!” Dean cheered up considerably. “Did I just actually score a point with you?”
“You made a point that wasn’t completely erroneous,” was as far as Jeanne would go.
“You guys having a rough time already?” Dean asked, sounding almost, if Jeanne hadn’t known better, sympathetic.
“I don’t think Matt understands or believes how much I love him,” Jeanne confessed.
Thinking back to his friends’ behavior on their wedding day, Dean couldn’t exactly claim Jeanne was being completely erroneous either. But, for some reason, he also didn’t feel the need to bring it up. Instead, Dean offered, “Maybe dude is gun-shy. I mean, Donna did a real number on him for, seriously, years; decades. Running hot and cold, jerking him around. You know Matt, he’s a totally heart-on-his-sleeve, one hundred percent, in it to win it, kind of guy. He must’ve assumed he and Donna were the real thing. That kind of heartache doesn’t just go away. In fact, it kind of tends to leak over into the next person. Now you’re stuck with cleaning up Donna’s mess. Sucks.”
Jeanne studied him with new respect. “That’s pretty insightful of you.”
“Yeah, well, you know, even a broken clock’s right twice a day.”
“You should write a song about it.”
“Broken clocks? The Architects beat me to it.”
“What you just said,” Jeanne corrected patiently, making clear that she got his jab but was refusing to play along.
“Elton John got there first, too. It’s called Innocent Man.”
“I bet you could do it from the woman’s point of view. You’ve always been really good with that kind of thing. It could resonate with a lot of people.”
“A point and a compliment from Ms. Jeanne Ewing? In one afternoon? Somebody get me to a fainting sofa!”
“Your music made Jenna fall in love with you, didn’t it? Gave you guys something to bond over? Maybe it could do the same for you and your daughter? Oh, and, by the way, buddy, it’s Mrs. Cory.”….
“Just one more picture,” Felicia insisted, despite the groans her suggestion engendered. “Last one, I promise. I know when I’m beginning to try people’s patience…” Felicia waved a warning finger at the crowd. “Don’t anybody dare correct me.” She swept her arms together, gesturing for everyone to get closer. “Final shot: Devon, Lorna, Jamie, Morgan, Alice.”
Lorna leaned in to Jamie and whispered, “Do you think she’d believe me if I told her Devon refuses to come out of her trailer?”
“You heard your mother: Just one more shot.”
“You are so trusting,” Lorna clucked.
Nevertheless, everyone dutifully did as Felicia ordered. Lorna and Jamie posing with Devon between them, Morgan and Alice on either side of the proud parents.
Felicia had finally gotten the composition exactly to her liking and was threatening to click the shutter any minute now, when a new, albeit familiar, voice from the back of the room purred, “What a lovely tableau.”
All conversation ceased and every head turned in her direction as Donna slowly made her way down towards the guest of honor.
Taken aback, but refusing to show it, Lorna told her husband. “Hide the spinning wheels, Jamie, Maleficent is here.”
Jamie smiled weakly, a niggling dread starting to grow in the pit of his stomach.
“Huh?” Kirkland failed to get the reference.
“The evil witch from Sleeping Beauty,” Steven and Jen said in near unison, exchanging quick smiles before, just as quickly, guiltily looking away from each other. Despite not really having anything to feel guilty about.
“She comes to the baby princess’ party,” Bridget filled in her brother the rest of the way. “Mad ‘cause she wasn’t invited and all the other fairies were.”
“And casts a spell on her,” Michele finished. “You know, so Sleeping Beauty dies when she pricks her finger.”
Lucas stepped in Donna’s path, physically blocking her from getting any closer to Felicia, Lorna, or the baby. “Get out.”
“No,” Donna said calmly.
“Grandmother,” Steven began, trying to shield his sisters from what he, like Jamie, felt certain was coming.
“How nice of you to remember, darling.”
“Please. Whatever you’re going to say or do, just… don’t.”
“Ah, so you are, in fact, capable of speaking to me respectfully when you’re properly motivated. I was starting to wonder.”
“Leave him alone, Donna,” Jamie ordered. “Leave all of us alone.”
“With pleasure. Just as soon as I offer you my compliments, Jamie.”
“Donna,” Matt hissed to her under his breath, hoping he might be able to spare everyone – especially Donna – the inevitable fall-out from what was about to be a reckless, self-destructive power-play.
Unlike with Lucas, Steven and Jamie, Donna refused to acknowledge Matt’s appeal. Because his was the only one she couldn’t feel confident of refusing.
“You know what you can do with your compliments,” Lorna handed off Devon to her husband – the maternal equivalent of literally taking her gloves off – and strode towards Donna, ready to throw down, if need be.
“And you, too, Lorna. Truly, I doff my hat to you both. I honestly don’t know how you and Jamie managed to do it.”
“What? Have our baby despite your daughter’s best efforts to get her own way?”
Donna inhaled sharply, unprepared for the attack on Marley, but quickly recovering to correct Lorna. “Why, no. I meant, the two of you standing here, smiling, showing off your absolutely precious little girl, when she wouldn’t even be here today if Felicia and Morgan had gotten their way.”
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