“I beg your pardon,” Rachel sputtered upon accidentally walking in on Lila mid-lip lock with… the Mayor of Bay City?
The pair turned around in unison, shocked, guilty, stunned, embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel repeated. “I didn’t mean…” Before the obvious question surfaced. “What are you two doing in here?” she indicated her husband’s study.
“I’m afraid it’s my fault, Mrs. Hutchins,” Chase stepped forward so smoothly, Rachel felt certain that, even if she hadn’t immediately recognized him, she’d have known a polished politician anywhere. “Lila and I were headed…” he made a vague gesture that could have been anyplace, but one that Rachel interpreted as the direction of Lila’s bedroom – exactly as Chase had intended. “When I decided to get… spontaneous. I’m very sorry. I should have known better. Is this your personal office?”
“My husband’s, actually…”
“Then, please, do pass my apologies on to him.”
“Or you could just not mention it altogether,” Lila regained her power of speech to suggest, following up with, “I’m mortified enough as it is.”
“Call me Chase, please.” He offered Rachel his most dazzling, photo op smile.
She appeared anything but enchanted. “I must admit, I’m rather… surprised by this display.” She left it to him to discern precisely what had triggered her… surprise.
“I completely understand your confusion,” Chase reassured.
“Thank you,” Rachel drawled dryly.
“I’ll explain later,” Lila offered weakly, phrasing the offer as more of a question.
“I’ll look forward to it,” Rachel said, while, in the same breath, gesturing towards the door. “May I see you out, Mr. Hamilton?”
“Call me – “
He smiled obligingly. “Anything you say, Mrs. Hutchins. And, please don’t bother. I know my own way.”
“Have a good evening,” Rachel said. “My best to your partner. And your daughter.”
“Thank you,” Chase smiled brightly.
If proverbial looks could kill… Rachel graciously but resolutely escorted Lila and Chase out of her husband’s study and, despite Chase’s stated repudiation, stuck close to the pair all the way down the stairs and to the front door, only giving up her tail with a tight smile once both were outside, on the stoop, headed for the driveway.
“You heard her coming,” Lila guessed.
“I needed an excuse for me being on the premises.”
“How about, we had some work to do?”
“In Carl’s office?”
Lila granted his point with a shrug. “Quick thinking,” she praised.
“Yeah,” he looked at her sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”
“No need. I’ve had worse,” Lila attempted to play the entire encounter off as no big deal.
“You’re amazing.” Chase leaned over to give her a quick hug – because he sincerely meant what he’d said. And just in case anyone was watching. “Now, when can we do this again?”
“What?” Lila asked in alarm.
“Search Carl’s office.”
“Oh,” Lila said.
“Now that Mrs. Hutchins expects to see me around, things have just gotten much simpler…”
“There you are!” Jamie turned at the sound of Lorna’s key in the lock. He was holding Devon against his shoulder, jiggling the fussy baby as he patted her back. “I think she’s hungry, and I’m afraid I’ve run out of distraction tactics.”
“Give her to me.” Lorna held out her arms, crushing the infant against her chest and burying her face in Devon’s hair, taking deep breaths, clinging to her daughter as a means to both calm down and remain connected.
“You okay?” Jamie hovered over Lorna solicitously.
In response to which she craned her head, resting one hand on the back of Jamie’s neck and, with Devon between them, pulled down his face to kiss Jamie long and hard enough to cut off anymore questions.
“Let me just get lost in you for a little bit,” she entreated.
Jamie extricated himself gently and, not so much chiding as reminding, told her, “You know I love you, Lorna…”
“Back at you.”
“But, we’ve talked about this before. I’m really not a fan of you using me to avoid dealing with something unpleasant in your life.”
She took a step back, chastened, grimacing. “Oh, crap. I offended you.”
He shook his head, eyes dancing. “You wanting to make love never offends me, Lorna. Still surprises me sometimes…”
She smiled weakly.
“But it never offends me.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “I know Felicia was looking for you. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess she found you.”
“At the cemetery. With Gram.”
“That would have been my first stop, too.” Jamie sat down on the couch, pulling Lorna close, Devon still in her arms. “What happened?”
Lorna shook her head, a single tear slipping from her eye and dripping into the crook of Devon’s pudgy elbow. The baby stared at it with grave interest, trying to poke at the droplet with one finger, but missing on every attempt.
“I tried, Jamie. I really did. I tried to see things from her point of view.”
“It’s not a particularly difficult point of view to see. She was fighting to save her child.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I can’t shake the feeling, no matter what she says or you say, that this was never as much about me as it was about Jenna. Felicia went through Hell with her, I’m not saying she didn’t. She couldn’t bear the thought of feeling that way again.”
“Can you blame her?”
“No. I can’t blame her for that, and I can’t blame her for wanting to hold on to me as a result. I can even understand her siding with Morgan. He’s Cass’ brother, that makes him sacrosanct. What I can blame her for – what I can’t forgive her for, is what she did to you. The way Felicia has treated you from the start, Jamie, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does to me,” he said slowly.
“Look, I know there was your thing with Lisa a million years ago. She was furious when you cheated on her precious niece with Vicky, and she was worried you’d do the same to me. In the beginning, that even made a certain amount of sense.”
“In the beginning, I was looking at a thirty year jail term. What mother would be thrilled about that?”
“So, fine, so maybe we didn’t make a stellar first impression as a couple. But, it’s been almost two years since then. If you haven’t demonstrated a dozen times over just how good you are for me – “
“You don’t think that’s part of the problem?”
“Your being good for me is part of the problem,” Lorna repeated, confused.
“Maybe. Look at it from Felicia’s point of view. Yes, again - humor me. She spends two decades mourning her lost baby, only to find out her daughter is alive and – “
“Me.” Lorna made a face.
“You’ve got to admit, that would’ve been a shock to anyone,” he deadpanned.
“And then, for the next twenty years, Felicia does her best to get close to you. By the way, you don’t make that easy, Lorna.”
“Score another one for you,” she mumbled.
“Maybe she convinced herself you needed more time. Or maybe she resigned herself to it never happening and just accepted your relationship the way it was. She’s your mother. She wants to make things better for you. That’s a universal parenting instinct. Think about how it must have felt for Felicia when she couldn’t. And then think about how it must have felt for her when I could.”
“You think Felicia is jealous of you?” Lorna asked incredulously.
“I think she wishes she’d played more of a role in you finally finding your place, with Devon, with me. She didn’t get a chance to raise you. Maybe Felicia would like to feel like she had some kind of influence on the person you became.”
“By driving me absolutely insane?”
“Can’t get more traditional mother/daughter than that.”
“You’re lucky you’re cute when you’re smug and superior, you know that, Frame?”
“It’s my best feature,” he agreed amiably. “Oh, and one more thing, Lorna. I appreciate your concern about what I went through when you were sick. You wear the self-righteous hat well, no argument there. But, please, do me a favor. Whatever issues you have with your mother, don’t hide behind me. Don’t take offense on my behalf in order to cloud the issue. I can take care of myself. I made my peace with Felicia the second you opened your eyes. She’s your mother, and I will follow your lead on whichever way you want to handle this. Considering the issue with my own, I can hardly pass judgment now, can I? But, please, think about it, take all the time you need, and figure out what’s really bothering you here. Because this volcanic anger… it can’t possibly be all about me….”
Sarah seemed to be the only one who noticed that when Jen finally arrived in the BCU emergency room, Steven was with her.
“Where is he?” Jen demanded of Allie. “Where’s GQ?”
“Still being examined,” Allie said. “I think.”
Steven looked ready to say something, then changed his mind in favor of actually doing something instead and strode up to the nurse’s station, telling her, “Would you please ask the doctor in charge of GQ Todd’s case to come out here and give us an update?”
“The doctor will come out when he’s ready,” came the pro forma reply.
Steven waited until he had his back to the nurse before rolling his eyes and, despite the signs clearly warning him not to, surreptitiously took out his phone and sent a text.
GQ’s doctor was out within five minutes.
“Who in the world did you text?” Jen whispered under her breath.
“My dad. Your great-grandmother. My uncle John. Russ Matthews. I figured someone would get the message across.”
“I’m sorry for keeping you kids waiting,” the doctor said.
“Russ Matthews,” Steven guessed quietly.
“How is he?” Allie asked, before Jen – who honestly had intended to – got the chance.
“He’s going to be fine,” the doctor reassured. “He’s conscious. His vital signs are good.”
“What about the blood?” Allie squirmed. “There was so much blood…”
“Scalp wounds tend to bleed quite a bit when they’re superficial. With head injuries, a lot of blood is a much better sign that a little. We’ve stitched him up. He’ll be good as new in no time.”
“Thank you,” Jen finally managed to get a word in.
“No problem,” the doctor said to all of them, with special emphasis towards Steven before departing. “Have a nice day, Mr. Frame.”
“Pays to have friends in high places,” Jen observed.
“It doesn’t suck,” Steven agreed.
“So what now?” Sarah wondered, looking from Jen to Allie to Steven, somehow making clear to all of them that she wasn’t just talking about the next few minutes.
“Sorry I’m late,” Charlie slid into a booth at Carlino’s next to Kirkland. “My mom dragged Lori Ann and me out to that farm I told you about, to watch her spiritual son – or whatever she calls him – play Shoot-Out at the OK Corral.”
“What?” Kirkland looked up, confused, from his menu. “Somebody shot…”
“Nah. Zeno just waved his big gun around in the direction of some protestors who wanted him to save the planet by growing less beets, or something. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
“Did anyone get hurt?”
“No! I just told you. What’s the matter?” Charlie peered closely at Kirkland. “You okay? You look like you’re going to throw up or something.”
“I’m… I’m okay,” Kirkland said, despite the sweat breaking out on his forehead. He reached for a napkin, but was too embarrassed to use it to mop his face, and so just ended up twisting it this way and that until it crumbled in his hands. “That sounds… Were you scared?”
“Why should I be? I wasn’t even involved.”
“Things can get… out hand. Especially with guns and stuff. Maybe nobody was aiming for you, but just being around when…”
“You should have seen my mom. She jumped right in, stepped between Zeno’s gun and the guys he was aiming at. Pretty cool, I got to admit.”
“Guess it’s her PI training.”
“Maybe. I’m going with, my mom’s a bad-ass. Damn it, Kirk, you sure you’re okay? You’ve gone all pale. What’s the matter, ate a bad taco chip or something?”
“I’d have been too scared,” Kirkland admitted. “To do what Frankie did. I don’t know if I’d have even been able to stick around and watch.”
“Sure you would’ve.” She guessed, “Is this about your accident? You still shaken up over it?”
“You probably think I’m a real dork.”
“No, I get it,” Charlie attempted to sound sincere. “It’s cool. You’re just being cautious. That’s… responsible of you.”
“I’m trying not to think about it much. I can’t help it. One minute I’m fine, and the next it’s happening all over again. Not really, I mean. I’m not going crazy, I know it’s over and I’m good, I got away. But, sometimes, it just feels…. I keep thinking about what I should’ve done, how I could’ve avoided it. I was such a coward. Guess I still am.”
“What are you doing here?” Sarah did a double-take upon arriving – with seconds to spare – at the Fencing Academy for Bridget and Michele’s scheduled group lesson, only to find Grant, of all people, sitting in the parent bleachers, watching the action.
He smiled and scooted over so that Sarah could take an adjacent seat, the space available so meager that of course she had to all but press up against him. “Matt and Lila were busy; asked me to bring Jasmine,” he indicated her already suited up and on the strip.
“Matt and Lila asked you…”
“Well, maybe it was more a case of I offered when I saw that Lila was in a bind. And Matt wasn’t exactly informed about the change in plans.”
Sarah noted how closely he was following the action, wincing when Jazz got stabbed in the chest, even if the sword in question had a rubber tip on its end. “You really miss her, don’t you?”
“She’s a terrific kid. If I had a daughter…” Grant trailed off, shaking his head, refusing to continue. “Whatever.”
“Kirkland…?” Sarah prodded tentatively.
“You saw him over Thanksgiving. It’s been radio silence ever since.”
Sarah maneuvered her hand along the iron bench so that the very tip of her pinkie was unobtrusively brushing his. Grant felt it and, still looking straight ahead, just as unobtrusively, hooked his own finger over hers.
He said, “When I was… away. I stayed for a while at this hotel, right on the beach. Every Sunday afternoon, after work, the staff, they’d all bring their sons and a soccer ball, and play until sundown. It seemed like fun. I had all this money, you know? I don’t think they had much of anything. But… it seemed like… fun.”
“Kirkland will come around.”
Grant raised an eyebrow. “Talked to your mom and dad lately?”
She rolled her eyes, “Cheap shot, Senator. Be positive!”
“I’m being realistic. I’ve blown all my chances with him. And even if he deigns to give me another, it’s only a matter of time before I blow that one, too. Positively.”
“Hey, what brings you here?” Matt almost brushed by Dean in the hallways of KBAY before doing a double-take and recognizing him.
“You know,” Dean made a vague gesture with one hand, then the other for good measure. “Donna… Legal stuff…”
Matt nodded. “That’s still happening, huh?”
“What? You thought one mercy Thanksgiving dinner would be enough to get everybody to hold hands and skip through the tulips singing Give Peace a Chance?”
“I hoped it might help you guys find some common ground.”
“Why do you care, anyway? Aren’t you two kaput? And even if you weren’t, that stunt she pulled at Jamie and Lorna’s kid’s christening… man, talk about Wicked Witch. I get dry heaves just thinking about her being my kid’s grandmother. Thank God it’s in DNA only, and hopefully not too much, either.”
“Donna felt justified. Morgan and Lucas and Felicia, they went after her daughter…”
“Between Donna and Marley, it’s a miracle Felicia and Lucas have even one daughter left,” Dean spat, unwilling to give so much as an inch. “Maybe Jenna’s parents did mess with Marley’s head a bit. But, you know, Donna killed my wife and had Lucas locked up to rot for fifteen years, so, hey, six of one, about a million of the other. I can’t believe you’re defending her.”
“I’m not defending what she did,” Matt split hairs.
“No,” Dean agreed. “You’re just defending her.”
“There’s more to Donna… There’s more to Donna than the things she does. Deep down, she’s… she’s not a bad person. She’s just… damaged. And lost.”
“Aren’t we all?”
“Maybe she would do the right thing. If she knew what that was. If she’d had somebody to guide her, to teach her. Reginald….”
“How many marriages did it take Michael before he gave up on her for good? How many times did Marley try to set her mom straight only to have Donna fall off the wagon as soon as the going got rough – or she got bored, whichever came first? You know, I don’t get you. Why are you giving that bitch a moment’s thought, when you’ve got a wife who’s clearly crazy about you, practically begging for you to toss a crumb of attention her way.”
Matt opened his mouth to reply, then shook his head and merely said, “I’m not looking to fight with you, Dean.”
“I’m not looking to pick a fight,” Dean told him honestly.
The two stared at each other for a long beat, unsure of where to go from here. Then, with a pair of simultaneously mumbled, “Catch you later, man,” turned and stalked off in two separate directions.
“Fanny? What happened?” Lucas took one look at his wife’s face as she arrived home, and he could fill in the blanks by himself. “Did you find Lorna?”
Felicia nodded, ashen.
“And?” he asked, already afraid of the answer.
“It’s no use,” Felicia shook her head. “She won’t… She won’t listen. She won’t even try to see it from our point of view, to understand why we all did the things that we did.”
“Not all of us,” Lucas said slowly, articulating for the first time what he’d actually been feeling for weeks, months. “We weren’t all in agreement. I told you not to do it. I warned you that the result would be – That it very well might come down to… this.”
Felicia glared at him in shock, eyes blazing. “What the hell are you implying, Luke? I told you so? Are you actually telling me: I told you so? Now? Like this?”
“I did tell you so,” he took no pleasure in reminding. “Please do not insult either of our intelligences by acting like you’re surprised by my opinion, or by the domino effect of your actions.”
“The domino effect of my actions,” Felicia sneered, the frustrated anger she’d barely managed to keep suppressed in the face of Lorna’s accusations rising now with a vengeance, albeit at the wrong target. “A few months ago, the domino effects of my actions almost led to you walking out the door.
“Yes…” Lucas confirmed evenly, refusing to give her any more rope until he managed to get a handle on where precisely she was heading.
“Can I presume that you still feel that way?” Felicia baited, literally feeling unable to stop herself, even as she wondered what the hell she thought she was doing.
“I still feel that you were wrong to side with Morgan,” was all Lucas would stiffly concede to.
“You only stayed with me because I begged you to. For Lorna’s sake. Let’s not upset her during her recovery, I said. You stayed for her. Not for me.”
“I know what I said. And I know what I did.”
“Well, you’re off the hook now, aren’t you? Lorna knows everything. She can’t possibly get more upset than she is already. Of course, not with you. Lorna could never be upset with you. God knows, she kept your being alive a secret from me for three years. Let Jenna and I believe we were the ones who’d done something to alienate her. When all along it was you. You and Lorna against me and Jenna. And now, it’s just me…”
“You need to calm down,” Lucas straightened up, turning towards the door. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this.”
“Like this? Like what? Honest? You can’t take hearing how I really feel?”
“Lorna and I did betray you,” Lucas confirmed grimly. “Though the fault was mine, not hers. And if you want to talk about that, I am happy to do so. We never did really, not the way we should have. Too many other pressing matters got in the way. But, I won’t let you bait me into a new fight purely so that you can forget the one you just had with our daughter. I’m going to get some air, Fanny.”
“Luke!” she called once his hand was already on the doorknob.
“When will you be back?”
He shrugged on his winter coat. “When I can.”
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