With Lorna in the passenger seat, Jamie pulled his car into the driveway of their house. He cut the engine and was already halfway turning to open the door so he could climb out and help Lorna do the same, when his cell-phone's chirp, indicating an incoming text, stopped him.
Jamie checked the message, hesitating, prompting Lorna to ask, "Hospital emergency? Do you have to turn right around and go back?"
"What? No." He shook his head slowly, seemingly mesmerized by what he was seeing on the screen. "I Steven..."
"Is something wrong with Steven?"
Jamie tore himself away, smiling at Lorna, his face cryptic. "Steven's fine. He wrote to say he's moving back into the dorms and Kirk is helping him out, so they'll both spend the night there. They didn't want to overwhelm you, first day back home."
"You raised yourself some thoughtful boys." Lorna eased the phone out of Jamie's hand. "So what's got you so distracted all of a sudden?"
"Look at the date," Jamie prompted. "I just noticed."
Lorna looked. "Okay. What about it?"
"A year ago," Jamie said. "Exactly a year ago. You and I, we were standing in a driveway... Not this one obviously. The one in front of my mother's guesthouse. You were going to Chicago and I..."
"You kissed me..." Lorna remembered.
"Yeah," he smiled, actually blushing. "It wasn't the first time. I mean, there was you kissing me in the hospital stairway before Jenna's surgery, and then..."
"The kitchen table..."
"Well, yeah. That."
"But, a year ago, that felt like the first time," Lorna articulated what he was trying to say.
"I remember the date," Jamie apologized. "Because, right after, everything kind of..."
"Went to hell?"
"See what happens when you leave me?"
"It won't happen again," Lorna swore. "Never, ever again."
Even before the judge called a recess, Kevin held out his hand to a tearful Jen, who took it gratefully, stumbling blindly off the witness stand, letting her father lead her out of the courtroom, GQ and Mel following.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," Jen was saying as Kevin found a private office for them to duck into. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know what to say."
Fully aware that Mel and GQ were listening, Kevin sat Jen down, cradling her face, using his thumb to brush away a tear just below her eye, and squatting down so he could look up at her. "First of all, Jenny, listen to me; I know better than most people that what goes on inside of a courtroom bears only the faintest resemblance to reality."
"I didn't mean to make it sound like..."
"And second; don't you realize I love you so much, I want only what's best for you? Do I wish the parents you started off with had deserved you? Do I wish you'd been able to stay with them and not have to go through everything you did? Of course I do. In a perfect world, do I wish there'd been a pair of Black adoptive parents to raise you? Sure. Heck, Jenny, I wish your grandmother were still alive. I miss her, too. But, it's not a perfect world. It's never been. I doubt it ever will be. We all try the best we can. I know I did with you. And I know it wasn't enough."
Jen looked up, sniffling, glaring at GQ and Mel. "Hudson would be lucky to have two parents who together were half as great as you by yourself."
"Let's not go overboard," Kevin kissed his daughter's forehead, straightening up and turning to face GQ and Mel.
"Listen," GQ began. "I'm sorry. I didn't think you I didn't think she'd get so upset."
Kevin ignored him completely, addressing Mel instead. "Would you enlighten your client that the only reason I am not currently beating him to a pulp is because I don't want to reward him with even an iota of sympathy as far as the judge is concerned. However, the minute this case is over, I strongly suggest he keep a constant watch over his shoulder."
"Jen," GQ attempted to step around Kevin. "Please, let me explain."
Kevin blocked his way. "You hurt my daughter. Even if she foolishly decides to forgive you, rest assured, I never will." Kevin asked Jen, "You want me to stay or go now?"
She thought about it, then squaring her shoulders, wiping away the last of the tears, told him, "You can go." She pointed to Mel. "Both of you. I'll be okay."
GQ barely waited for the two attorneys to exit, closing the door behind them, before he asked Jen, "Have I totally blown it with you?"
She ducked the question, asking instead, "Did you tell Mel all that stuff about me?"
"So, you really do think I'm this freak that other kids ought to be prevented from turning into at all costs?"
"Come on, Jen, even your dad realizes that..."
"Please answer me."
"I think you're amazing," he said. "I think you're brilliant, and beautiful, and kind and very, very understanding. But..."
"I also think... you're a little... confused."
"Is everyone who disagrees with you, confused?"
GQ crossed his arms. "You think I like the way I'm coming off in court? You think I don't know what people are saying about me?"
"Your choice, wasn't it?"
"For the record, Rick and Mindy brought up the race card, I didn't. If they'd been willing to stick strictly to the law, I would have, too."
"Sure. Because it's in your favor."
"So, you admit it? You admit I should have custody of Hudson?"
"No question. If all you care about is the law, instead of him."
"I'm really sorry I hurt you today."
Jen wondered, "Are you going to keep changing the subject every time I say something you don't like?"
"You have every right to be mad at me. Tell me what I can do to make it up to you."
"I don't know," Jen said.
"You don't know what I can do?"
"I don't know if I want you to."
"So I decided," Morgan tipped back his head to down the last of his beer, putting the empty bottle back on the bar, next to three he'd already finished. "To hell with that. To hell with love and romance, Roman cherubs with bows and arrows, and all those other fantasies men spin for themselves in order to believe they aren't ultimately on their own in a cold, cruel world. I'm done chasing rainbows and looking for four-leaf clovers. I told myself, the next beautiful woman I see, I'm walking up to her and saying, "How'd you like to come home with me for a night of totally noncommittal, utterly unromantic, thoroughly in the moment, but guaranteed great sex?"
"Sounds good," Amanda slipped off her own barstool, reaching for Morgan's keys, since he was clearly too buzzed to drive. "Let's go."
It hit Marley like a sickening one-two punch. The first being the realization that she was waking up. The second that she didn't remember falling asleep.
"It's alright, my dear. You're going to be just fine," a voice soothed, her throbbing brain readily identifying the source despite feeling as if someone had wrapped it in gauzy fog. She pushed herself to sit up so she could look the man next to her in the eye.
"What happened?" she croaked to Carl, grimacing at the dryness of her mouth and the dizzying nausea that threatened to send her toppling back into blackness. She braced both hands on what she realized was the couch in her office at the gallery.
Carl frowned, handing her a glass of water, waiting until she'd gulped it down gratefully before explaining. "I found you on the floor, unconscious. I presumed you'd fainted."
"Fainted?" Marley took a deep breath with the hope that fresh oxygen might help clear her brain. "No, I..."
"What's the last thing you remember?"
She tried to reach back through the fog. "Driving to work.... stopping by the coffee shop... today he made me a foam butterfly..."
"Foam butterfly?" Carl's eyebrow lifted in question.
"Nothing," Marley shook her head, grimacing with immediate regret when her brain slammed against both sides of her skull.
"Nothing," Marley whispered.
"The coffee you purchased," Carl asked in a deceptively casual tone Marley knew all too well. It was the gear Grant shifted to whenever something troubling seized his attention, but he didn't want to alert her. Which, of course, he did, whenever Grant launched into that particular tone. "Where is it?"
"I usually bring it in with me..." her eyes shifted painfully to her desk.
Carl rose to pluck the cup and sniff its contents, nodding thoughtfully to confirm his own suspicions. "A bit heavy-handed and obvious, given the current precarious situation..." The confusion on Marley's face prompted him to ask, "Did Grant not fill you in?"
"Fill me in about what?"
Carl hesitated. "You know about Spencer's past, my past... our associates?"
Marley nodded. "I thought that was all settled."
"For a while it was. Alas, your mother..."
"Went on live television and threatened them," Marley groaned, deducing the rest for herself. "They drugged me? How? Why? When? You think they're using me to get to her?"
"And Spencer. Via Grant."
"This doesn't make any sense. Donna claimed she had a file detailing all their activities. Why would they deliberately risk provoking her?"
"My guess is they've gotten tired of waiting and are attempting to smoke her out. After all, Donna said if anything were to happen to her loved ones, she'd expose their dealings. What better way to force her hand and gain control of the situation than "
Overwhelmed by what Carl was saying, Marley interrupted to ask, "You were surprised to hear Grant didn't tell me. He knows this is going on, then?"
"Indeed. Spencer told him weeks ago. I confess, we have some plans of our own to keep the situation from escalating, but, to be safe, Spencer enlightened Grant, so that he might secure adequate protection for you and the children. Tragically, it seems that whomever Grant engaged is woefully unqualified for the job. Don't fret." Carl placing an avuncular hand on hers. "Now that I've been appraised, I'll make certain that "
"Why should I believe you?" Marley demanded.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Given a choice between trusting you over Grant.... You want my mother dead. You want Grant dead. And since you can't accomplish either without alienating Rachel, the next best thing is to torture them. By coming after me. How am I doing, Carl?"
"Marley, I assure you, when it comes to threats against Rachel and my children, I do not fabricate. You are hardly the only one in danger in this circumstance."
"You'll forgive me if I require something more than your word before I descend into panic." She held out her hand. "Give me the cup. I'll have it tested."
Carl handed it over, all the while warning, "It won't do any good. I guarantee whatever was used is undetectable."
"How can you be so sure?" Marley proposed, "Unless you did it yourself."
"Why would I "
"To scare my mother. To incense Grant."
"I would feel infinitely more at peace if both your mother and your current paramour were roasting in Hell. But, at the moment, I have more pressing concerns requiring my undivided attention. We are all targets. And not just of a physical nature. These people will come after you psychologically, socially, even legally. They will comb through your past looking for skeletons to dig up, weaknesses to exploit, fears to expose. Secrets you thought you'd long buried and could forget about, they will dredge up one and all..."
"How do you know?" Marley demanded, more rattled than she was willing to let on.
"Because. It's how I would do it."
"So how the hell can I protect myself? Short of building a panic room, arming myself and barricading Bridget and Michele inside?"
"As I said, I will extend my protection to you and your family for the duration of this crisis. No harm will come to your household. And if you have questions, other concerns, if you need an understanding ear "
"Your door is open? Jesus, Carl. If even half of what you say is true..."
"It is. All of it. It's true.
"I don't believe you," she insisted stubbornly.
"You don't want to believe me. Which is perfectly understandable. However, if you are foolish enough to dismiss what I have told you," Carl looked at the coffee cup that now rested on the table between them. "It could very well end up being a fatal mistake."
"Do you intend to punch me out, too?" Mel asked Kevin as they approached their cars, parked side by side in the courthouse lot.
"I don't punch out talented out attorneys," Kevin opened the driver's side door. "I beat them."
"Judging by the state of your apartment," Amanda informed Morgan as she looked around, tossing his car keys on the table in the entryway, already overloaded with old mail, coffee-stained medical journals, and a wide variety of baseball caps heralding teams within the American, National and apparently Eastern European Leagues. "You were telling the truth about this being a spontaneous hook-up."
"At no point was a tidy bedroom a part of the initial public offering." Morgan flicked on the overhead light, surveyed the scene, thought better of it, and doubled-down to merely a freestanding floor lamp.
"You're a man of your word, Dr. Winthrop."
"Besides," he split a hair. "My house happens to be operating-theater clean. It just isn't particularly neat."
"So you could perform surgery," she offered agreeably, stepping over stacks of books arranged like some sort of modern art installation in uneven piles and crop-circles the length of the living-room floor. "Assuming you could locate the scalpel."
"Precisely," Morgan confirmed. He stepped into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and announcing, "I also put forward a fine selection of wines, as long as you don't mind two choices: Red or White?"
"Now that's going above and beyond the initial public offering." Amanda followed him into the kitchen and randomly chose, "White."
He poured and handed her, as promised, a sparkling clean glass, waiting until they'd both taken several sips of what proved to be a surprisingly agreeable California vintage before venturing, "Listen, Amanda, I appreciate the ride home, and the pleasant conversation, but, you know, you've been a good sport. You don't have to stay if you don't want to."
"Getting cold feet?" she wondered.
"Are you sure? Sounds to me like you're the one having second thoughts about the totally noncommittal, utterly unromantic... or is it just the guarantee of great sex that's suddenly got you panicked? Don't worry, I won't call the Better Business Bureau on you. Though I can't promise we won't do a false advertising expose in Brava. For the good of the community, of course."
"I just don't want you to feel pressured into anything."
"By your irresistible charms?"
"By feeling sorry for me. You know what I've been through over the past few months."
"No danger of that," Amanda reassured. "If anything were going to make me walk out the door assuming I could find my way in the dim light without tripping it would be what you put my brother through."
"Right," Morgan said. "That, too."
"But, Jamie's got Lorna and their baby and the promise of happily ever after, and you've been pretty publicly dumped. I'd say you've paid your dues."
"So you don't mind that "
"You're so obviously in love with my brother's fiancee?"
"You're in love with your daughter's lawyer," Morgan replied somewhat automatically, not sure if it was his pride or his self-destructive streak talking. Wondering if there was really that much of a difference between the two.
"This is true," Amanda took no offense. In fact, she seemed pleased all the cards were so blatantly on the table. "So are we done talking? Can we have sex now?"
Morgan set down his glass and accepted hers, turning both upside down in the drying rack after rinsing them. "Let's have sex now."
"What was that for?" Lucas asked Felicia after his wife acknowledged Lucas' arrival home with a bone-crushing hug, and a smile on her face that at long last actually touched her eyes.
"I need a reason?" Felicia tried, her smile widening in open desperation before she sighed as concession to Lucas' patient, knowing look. "I suppose after the way I've been acting these past few weeks, you feel I do."
He took off and hung up his coat, turning to face her. "I'm sorry. I don't understand."
Felicia pressed her fingers to Lucas' lips, silencing him. "No, I'm sorry. For everything. But mostly for being selfish and crazed and taking you for granted."
"You've been through a lot," Lucas gently removed Felicia's hand from his mouth. "And I'm afraid I haven't helped any."
Felicia stared at him in disbelief. "What in the world would make you say that?"
"I look at you and Lorna and I see the tension there. I listen to the anger in your voice when you talk about Cass or Rachel. I have to accept it's because of me. I've corrupted every one of the most important relationships in your life with my lies. Including ours."
"You did what you thought was best. I understand that now."
"You do?" Lucas peered at her skeptically. "Or is it that seeing our daughter awake and talking, and planning to get married with a child of her own on the way has made you all too happy to let those betrayals slide for the time being? That is until something picks at that wound and the anger you've buried comes out again? Anger that's there because of me, because of what I've done."
"Fine," Felicia felt relieved to drop the pretense. "You're right. I am still angry. I am still hurt. But I do want to let it go. And I will let it go. Because, in the end, what's important is I have you back. And I have Lorna back. And we can all move on now."
"We can't use Lorna's recovery as an excuse to pretend everything we've said and done since her accident didn't happen. I won't do that. I can't."
"Why not? If I'm willing to forgive you, why can't you do the same for me?"
"You're not forgiving me. You're overlooking. You're burying your resentment and your pain. That's not true healing. That's letting the rot set in and fester. I don't want that for us, Fanny."
Felicia stared at her husband. "What are you saying, Luke?"
"I've been thinking," he began, the tone of his voice causing Felicia's heart to skip a beat. "I think it would be a good idea if we gave each other some space."
"Some space?" she repeated dully.
"If we separated," Lucas clarified.
Felicia blinked at him in shock. "You're leaving me? Again?"
"I don't see any other way for us to figure out how to fix what's wrong between us unless we give each other some space to clear our heads. To decide what we really want."
"I want you," Felicia said calmly. "I want us. It's the only thing I've really wanted for the past forty years now. I thought you wanted it, too."
"More than anything," he swore. "But I don't know how to make that happen when lately the only time we're together we're fighting, trying not to fight, or licking our wounds in recovery and preparation for the next round."
"You're leaving me," Felicia stuck to the tangible. "No matter that we've already lost so many years together. Damn it, Luke, don't you believe we have a better chance of working through this together than we ever would apart?"
He gave her a wry smile. "As has been consistent of late, I disagree."
"What about Lorna? She'll blame herself for this, you know she will."
"I know now is not the ideal time for this to happen; not that there ever would be. But our staying together... the way things are between us... that's no good for Lorna either. We practically came to blows in her hospital room. If that isn't proof that we need to "
"That was before," Felicia insisted. "Please listen to me, Luke. Listen to what I am trying to tell you. My head is finally clear. I understand what I've done. I've pushed you away. I've hurt you and Lorna. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I promise things will be different from now on. I'll be better. I am better."
"This is about what I've done, too. My lies and secrets have hurt you. Us. Lorna. It's something you and I both need to come to terms with."
"I can't believe this is happening," Felicia paced up and down. "First I lose Jenna, then we almost lose Lorna, and now you..."
"I'll be back, Fanny. I swear."
"You swore you'd never leave me again. And here you are, ready to walk out the door!" Felicia shook her head. "Lorna will feel compelled to pick sides. And she's chosen you over me before."
"I'll explain it to her. I'll make her understand that this was my call, not yours."
"There's still so much distance between her and I. You're what connects us, now. You walk out that door and you not only put our relationship in jeopardy, you put my relationship with our daughter on the line as well!"
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|