“What are you doing in here?” Amanda did a double-take upon entering her office at Brava, still steaming from the earlier encounter with Lorna – and Kevin, to find Carl… lurking. Really, there was no other way to describe it. The sight instantly sent Amanda into full color flashbacks of the bad old days.
“I need a word with you, Amanda,” Carl’s tongue caressed every syllable, as if he were relishing not only the sensual texture of his response, but each connotation.
Something about the way he was looking at her nearly froze Amanda in her tracks. She only managed to make it to her desk through sheer force of will, yet Carl beat her to it, stepping between Amanda and her office chair, glowering down over his stepdaughter in a manner distinctively un-paternal.
“Your mother is deeply distraught these days,” Carl managed to make the innocent status update sound both sinister and threatening.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Amanda said. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“Bollocks. That may not have been Jamie’s intention, or Matthew’s intention, but it most certainly and definitively was yours. You have been lying in wait for, I daresay, years, looking for any adequate excuse with which to attempt battering your mother into submission. As if you give a fig regarding Spencer Harrison, or even Kirkland.”
“Kirkland is my nephew! I love him! And Spencer Harrison was the husband of a dear friends of mine, not to mention a father-in-law I actually liked.”
“Nonetheless, in this particular instance, both were nothing more than tools to further an insidious agenda, which is to make your mother pay for the perceived sin of stepping out on the sainted Mac Cory – death be damned – with another man.”
“A man who stalked me, a man who was planning to kidnap me!”
“During a time period when young Alexandra was still in diapers. And now here she is, a mother herself – inconvenient and unpalatable as you may find that fact to be, Grandma – and yet you insist on holding petty grudges. How childish!”
“The child of a father you tried to destroy, and a mother you actually succeeded in kidnapping, then shooting. And what was it you said to the police afterwards? I remember: Rachel shouldn’t have gotten in the way. Charming. Very romantic. Do you whisper those words to my mother in bed at night? Does she get turned on by that?”
“You will show some respect,” Carl hissed.
“I’m sorry, are you trying to threaten me into telling my mother I think you’re harmless? Interesting approach. Avant-garde, to say the least.”
“You will show some respect,” he repeated, steely. “And you will do it now.”
“Or what?” Amanda taunted. “What? You were itching to hit me after Spencer’s funeral the other day. Go ahead, Carl. You know you want to.”
He smirked. “And play directly into your hands? What sort of fool do you take me for?"
“I love it!” Amanda laughed, feeling for the first time like she’d gotten to him and thus regained control of the situation. “You’re holding back not because it’s the right thing to do, or because you wouldn’t hit a woman, or even because I’m your wife’s daughter. You’re doing it because you think this is some kind of game where we’re both looking to score a maximum number of points!”
“This is a game,” Carl assured smoothly. “One which I’ve amassed a great many more years of experience in playing. Do not presume to engage me on my own terms. That would be a most grievous error.”
“Don’t worry,” Amanda reassured. “We’re playing by my rules now. Which is how I know I’m winning.”
“Maybe,” Amanda shrugged. “But, if you didn’t think so, too, you wouldn’t be here.”
Even as he kissed her, Steven kept waiting for Jen to pull away. Which she did. Eventually. Slowly. Regretfully.
First she shifted her head, biting her lip apologetically. Then she leaned back. Then she stepped back. The last things to go were her arms. Jen withdrew them from around his neck, sliding her palms down over his shoulders, past his elbows, until just the very tips of their outstretched fingers were still touching.
And even then, she didn’t say anything. All she could manage was to soundlessly mouth, “No.”
“Why not?” Steven asked, not angrily, not belligerently, not accusingly. Merely curiously. Because he was very, very curious.
“I’m sorry,” Jen said.
“Why?” he repeated.
“I – I can’t be with you.”
“Because of GQ. Do you love him, Jen? Is that it? You love him?”
“I should,” she said.
“What kind of answer is that?”
“GQ is the kind of person that I should be with.”
“Because he’s Black?”
“Because he’s normal,” Jen spat back. “GQ is a normal person. He does normal things, and he thinks normal thoughts, and he discusses normal things, and whenever I’m with him, I believe that I can be normal, too.”
“Normal is highly overrated.”
“Maybe for someone like you. I’ve been a freak my whole life.”
“And you think I haven’t?”
“Of course you have! You’re still a freak!”
“That’s why I can’t – Why we can’t… It’s okay for someone like you. You’re rich, and you’re male and you’re, okay, white, yeah, that’s a part of it. You act strange, and that’s considered eccentric. Eccentric means weird but rich, right? When I did it, I was just a freak, and an outcast. Bad enough being the only Black one, the only one with a dad in jail and a mom dead from an overdose. Add to that being the class brain, and usually the youngest person in the lecture hall, and not knowing – or caring – about the right things to wear, and say… I had enough of that growing up. One day, I just decided: No more. I’m going to be like everybody else.”
“Jen,” Steven did his best not to laugh. “You have an undergraduate degree from Yale, a Master’s from MIT, and you were a college professor before age twenty-five. Which prototypical sample set are you including yourself in here, exactly?”
“The one where I have a nice, normal boyfriend, with whom I can have nice, normal conversations, and who looks at me and treats me as if I were anybody else in the world, and that makes other people treat me the same way.”
“And that’s a good thing?” Steven double-checked. “You’re happy to be with a guy who doesn’t recognize how incredibly amazing and special you are?”
“Yes,” she said firmly.
“That’s whacked,” was the best Steven and his 180+ IQ could come up with in response.
“GQ is my best chance to fit in. If you and I… If I were with you, could you say the same?”
“Okay, then.” She smiled for the first time, thinking that he finally understood. Even if the smile itself were wistful.
“So, what are you going to do, Jen? Spend the rest of your life pretending to be somebody you’re not?”
“No.” She said, “I’m going to try and spend the rest of my life pretending to be somebody I really wish I could be. And GQ is going to help me with that.”
“But… the kiss.” He moved his hand within the space that had opened up between them.
“Please, Steven.” Jen begged. “Don’t….”
She hoped he understood precisely what she was asking. Because Jen certainly didn’t.
“The only reason why I am talking to you now,” Lorna filled in Morgan upon storming into his apartment – lest he get the wrong idea. “Is so I don’t have to talk to you later. I want this settled, over and done, and you out of my life as soon as possible.”
Despite Amanda’s claim of his devastation, Morgan stood defiant. “You can’t just come here, mind made up, and not listen to what I have to say. After everything we’ve been through, you at least owe me the – ”
“I owe you?” Lorna roared, her resolve to stay cool, controlled and detached lasting all of thirty-four seconds. “The only thing I owe you is a bullet between the eyes!”
“Just calm down, okay? I get that you’re angry – “
“I’m way past angry. I am furious. I am livid. I am just about every degree of wrathful emotion you can imagine, pumped up as high as humanly possible. You lied and you fought Jamie and you claimed my child, all for the express purpose of killing her!”
“To save your life!”
Morgan’s head whipped around with a crack as the flat of Lorna’s palm connected with his cheek. “Devon is my life, you son of a bitch! You knew that. You knew she was the one thing I wanted more than anything.”
“I wasn’t going to let you die,” Morgan ignored the slap to focus on Lorna. “I wasn’t going to lose you. I couldn’t lose you…not like that. Jamie, that was one thing… Losing you to him. But this…”
“I see,” Lorna nodded. “My nearly dying, that was all about you? Forget about what I wanted or needed or expected from you as my best friend. You had to make sure you got what you needed out of all this.”
“I wanted to give you a chance.”
“To what? Live out the rest of my miserable life mourning the baby you took away from me? Did you actually think I would thank you for it?”
“As long as you were alive… that’s all that mattered to me.”
“How about what mattered to me?”
“The choice was you or her. Your doctors agreed…”
“Don’t hide behind the damned doctors! You weren’t obliged to give them your permission. You chose to sign my child’s death warrant even though you had no right to!”
“You gave me the right when you married me. Because you trusted me to do what was best for you, to have your back. No matter what.”
“A right I took back weeks earlier. Because of Jamie, but mostly because of our baby. A right you’d finally agreed to forfeit. If you’d signed the damned divorce papers when I asked, instead of dicking me around for your amusement… I was in that car that night because of you!”
“I know,” Morgan nodded. “That’s why… That’s what I was trying to make up for.”
“How was taking advantage of my trust making up for what you did? Give it up, Morgan, you’re making no sense!”
“I’m trying to make you understand!”
“Everyone keeps talking about how much they love me. Ironic, huh? Having people fighting for the right to love me, to take care of me, to look out for me, that’s never really been what you’d call a problem before, you know?” Lorna faltered, a look of revulsion rippling across her face. “But, at the same time, you keep talking about losing me to Jamie. You were mad that I chose him. You joked about raising my baby without him…with you…”
Morgan shook his head emphatically. “No, Lorna, it’s not what you think.”
Suddenly drained, Lorna could only speculate, “You were trying to punish me, weren’t you? To get back at both Jamie and me by killing our child.”
“No!” Morgan bellowed angrily. “You know me better than that!”
“I thought I did. But the Morgan I knew…the one who understood how much I wanted a baby of my own… that Morgan would have never agreed to get rid of her. Not under any circumstances. So something obviously must’ve changed.”
“Jamie was ready to risk your life to get what he wanted,” Morgan felt obligated to remind.
“What we both wanted,” Lorna corrected.
“Jamie’s way could very well have left you as nothing more than a vegetative incubator who most likely would’ve died upon induced delivery. Or waking up with brain damage, saddled with a child suffering from teratogen-induced developmental issues…or worse. You didn’t deserve that.”
“You looked me in the eye, day after day, acting like you were happy for me, for Devon. And then you had the gall to accept being her godfather.”
“I accepted because I knew what I owed you…and her. I want to make it up to both of you.”
“Well then, you are tough out of luck. You can never make up for what you tried to do. Nothing would ever allow me to trust you again. Of all the men who have betrayed me, Morgan, you were the worst. Congratulations.”
“I love you, Lorna,” he said quietly.
Receiving a second slap for his trouble, this one succeeding in nearly knocking Morgan off his feet.
“Don’t say that to me. Don’t you ever say that to me again.”
Morgan sucked the blood from his split lip. “It’s still true.”
“Feel free to believe whatever the hell you want, you delusional bastard. Just understand that anything I ever felt for you is gone. You are as dead to me as if I’d killed you today with my bare hands. I don’t give a damn about you or anything that happens to you from now on.”
“Shit!” The boy who’d punched GQ, meaning only to… well, he couldn’t remember now exactly what he’d only meant to. All he knew was he definitely hadn’t meant for GQ to end up on the ground, unconscious, the back of his head bleeding from where it’d hit the arm of the metal bench.
The girls who’d previously been taunting Allie exchanged horrified looks, as did the rest of the boys.
For a moment, nobody moved, or spoke, or did a damn thing.
Even Allie mutely froze to the spot. Until her mind flashed back to Gregory on the floor of her dorm room, having a convulsion, barely breathing. And Allie just standing there, helpless and useless, same as now.
It was that memory which spurred Allie into action.
She turned to the boy who’d punched GQ, ordering him, “Call 911!”
As he instinctively reached for his cell-phone, she shook her head and, channeling Steven from over a year ago, directed, “No, you’ll just get a useless mobile operator. Use a landline. There’s one in the Student Union, soon as you walk in.” When he failed to budge, unsure of whether or not to obey, Allie barked, “Go. Now. What are you waiting for?”
He took off running.
She addressed the girls next. “Find a campus security guard, get them to open the gates closest to here, and clear a path for the ambulance. Make sure they can drive in directly, if they try to follow the regular access roads it will take all day. Got that?”
More nods, more running.
“Don’t touch him,” Allie used her foot to block two other boys who had squatted down in an attempt to move GQ off the wet grass. “There could be a neck or spinal injury, you’d only make it worse. He’s breathing, that’s the most important thing. Don’t do anything until the ambulance gets here.”
Finally, Allie herself knelt down besides GQ, lowering her face until she could whisper in his ear, “You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine.”
“What the hell were you thinking yesterday?” Matt closed the door to Donna’s office behind him and crossed his arms, waiting impatiently – also desperately, pleadingly – for her to explain to him what’d just happened and how he was supposed to react.
“I was thinking that Morgan Winthrop deserved to be hoisted on his own petard. He felt Marley deserved to hear the truth about herself? I repaid him in kind, by making certain that Lorna knew the truth about him.”
“And you saw nothing wrong with the manner in which you helped the truth set Morgan free?”
“If you are referring to the fact that I did so at your niece’s christening, well, darling, that just could not be helped. I do apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Matt shook his head. “Do not presume that a half-assed apology is all it’ll take to smooth this over. Again. How could you hurt my family like this?”
“Morgan Winthrop and Felicia Gallant conspired to rip your niece from Lorna’s womb. Jamie, in turn, chose to keep this information from her. In the great scheme of things, my alleged crimes pale in comparison, wouldn’t you say? If anything, I was trying to help.”
“Give it a rest, Donna. You wanted to hurt Morgan, Felicia and Lucas, and you didn’t give a damn what innocent people got hit by the fallout.”
“Innocent people?” Donna laughed. “I realize there were quite a few of your family members in attendance, and that you love them no matter what – it truly is one of your most endearing qualities. But, to attribute innocence to that particular collection of – ”
“After what your daughter did to Jamie, Lorna and Devon – genuine accident or not – they didn’t deserve this happening to them. After they bent over backwards to help you keep Marley out of jail, they did not deserve to have Lorna’s world effectively blown up in her face! After the hell Kirkland’s been through lately, he didn’t deserve to have his sister’s christening ambushed by his grandmother reverting to form and indiscriminately hurting people because she got her nose out of joint!”
“I beg to differ.”
“Knock yourself out.” Matt spat, then wondered, “Is this you doing better, Donna? Is this you learning from your past mistakes?”
“Yes! That’s precisely what this is! Can’t you see that my actions were not at all about avenging myself, but rather completely for Marley? After what Morgan said to her, she was in such a state that she required sedation. She went catatonic!”
“And you didn’t think to take your objections to Morgan directly?”
“Of course, I did. What do you take me for? Morgan thoroughly blew me off.”
“Which raised your hackles and made you smart to get back at him even worse. What you did yesterday at the church had nothing to do with defending Marley, and everything with getting revenge.”
“He needed to be taught a lesson.”
“Not by you, and not by your using my family to do it.”
“I had to do something!”
“How about acting like a damned adult? How about not resorting to emotional assault for once? How about considering the consequences to your actions?”
“I am not a child to be scolded. I am your wife. I expect you to treat me with respect. I’m not perfect. I know that. I still have to fight my demons on occasion.”
“Fight harder. Because when your demons get out, they don’t just hurt you.”
“It was a slip.”
“Bull! It was a well-thought out plan, not some spur of the moment impulse. You had plenty of time and every opportunity not to drive to the church, not to get out of the car, not to open your mouth. You deliberately chose to do this and I’m telling you now… it will never happen again. You will not so much as give a dirty look, directly or indirectly, my family’s way again. Do you understand me?”
“Who do you think you are, dictating what I can or cannot do?”
“I don’t think a husband asking his wife to make a sincere effort to keep from hurting members of his family is an untenable request. I shouldn’t even have to ask!”
“And I don’t think a wife should be required to beg her husband to take her side, even if it is against his own family. To support her unconditionally.”
“Now you sound like my mother,” Matt said. “And Carl.”
“Bite your tongue!
“I won’t look the other way when you hurt people. I won’t. And the Donna Love who left the hospital wanting to be a better person, the one who felt genuinely sorry for how her actions destroyed so many lives, she wouldn’t want me to, either. She’d want me to speak up and help keep her from reverting back to her old ways. Am I right about that, Donna?”
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