PCU: Lewis Hall Dorm
Georgie adjusted the strap of her backpag slung over her right shoulder, wincing at the weight of her books. It had been her choice to enroll in summer classes so she could graduate early, she reminded herself, even if it meant she didn’t have much of a social life.
She turned down the hallway to her dorm room, her steps slowing as she saw the vase sitting outside her room. Just as it had a few weeks earlier — only instead of a cluster of fresh red roses—
These were dead.
Georgie stared at it for a long moment, then twisted the knob on her door and pushed it open. Inside the compact room, Chelsea was laying on her side in the bed, a textbook next to her, the stereo on the dresser blasting Carrie Underwood carving her name into leather seats.
She looked up at Georgie’s entrance, shifting into a cross-legged sitting position. “Hey. You’re back already?”
“Library closes at five on Thursdays,” Georgie reminded her. She tossed her bag on the bed, then dug in the bottom drawer of her dresser.
“What are you looking for?”
“These—” Georgie plucked out a pair of gloves. “I always keep a set of winter stuff because the weather is so weird in the fall.” She slid them on, then picked up the vase. “How long have you been home?”
“Uh—” Chelsea squinted at the watch on her wrist. “Got back from the dining hall at like one. No one knocked or anything. Not that I heard—” She stared at them. “Those are dead.”
“Yeah.” Georgie set the vase on the top of the dresser. “Which is weirder than someone sending fresh ones.” She closed the door and Chelsea switched off the music. They stared at the vase for a long moment in silence.
“Maybe Spinelli should get today’s footage,” Chelsea suggested. “And we, um, should look at the other one. He got it, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. He pulled it the day after we talked. ” Georgie sat on her bed, kicked off her sandals, then slid back on her bed. “I’m sure there’s no problem. Frat brothers pulling their usual pranks.”
“Right. Right.” Chelsea smiled weakly, tore her eyes from the dead flowers. “Um, speaking of Spinelli, did you tell him about last week at Kelly’s? What you heard? You said you didn’t know if you were gonna, but—”
“No. I don’t want to be involved.” Georgie unzipped her bag to pull out her notebook and laptop. “What if I have to tell other people what I heard? Lucky and Liz are going to family court, my dad says. He’s been asked to testify as a character witness.”
“Oh. That would mean you’d testify on the other side if it came to it.” Chelsea twirled a piece of her springy brown hair around her finger. “But, like, it’s kind of terrible what you heard. I don’t know any of these people outside of the papers or whatever. I know you do—”
“I’ve known Liz most of my life,” Georgie admitted. “And my sister—” She exhaled slowly. “You know about Lucky and Maxie. Maxie was really mean to Liz for no reason. Lucky was on drugs last year, and he didn’t get clean until he found out Liz was pregnant. After all of that, he’s talking about making her an unfit mother? It just…I don’t want to be involved. It’s not my business. But it sucks.”
“Yeah. And you said Spinelli, like, worships Jason. You helped him get the penthouse ready for Jason to hang out with his kid.” Chelsea tilted her head. “Georgie—”
“I know,” she muttered. She let her head fall back against the wall. “I need to tell Spinelli so he can tell Jason. I’m not having that conversation with Jason unless I have to. Spinelli says Jason’s been with both boys, like, every day. He’s so happy, and Spinelli is, too. And I feel bad knowing this thing that could mess that up.” She plucked her phone out of a pocket in the backpack. “I’ll text him. I need to ask him about the security footage anyway.”
Miller & Associates: Diane’s Office
“And sign here—” Diane slid yet another piece of paperwork across the conference table to Elizabeth.
“Which one is this?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes crossed from all of the legal print she’d already absorbed.
“The petition to have the divorce bifurcated into two parts. One, the legal dissolution of the marital relationship and, two, the custody situation. This would allow your divorce to move forward uncontested and declare you legally single without tying the custody situation into it.” Diane adjusted her glasses. “The custody battle could drag on for months, Elizabeth. You’re not asking for any property or spousal support so there’s no real issue ending the marriage.”
“I didn’t know—” Elizabeth sighed. “This is all so much more complicated than last year. Lucky didn’t fight anything. Jake wasn’t born yet, so my lawyer told me Lucky could come back at me when that happened—”
“Lucky didn’t fight for custody of Cameron,” Diane said, with a nod. “Yes, that’s been noted in our custody petition.” She sighed. “I know it’s difficult, but there’s a chance a judge will review all of this paperwork, and you’ll walk away with both boys. Are you prepared for that possibility? If Lucky doesn’t get visitation, a judge isn’t going to order child support for Cameron.”
“That’s fine. I can take care of Cam on my own.” Elizabeth tapped her pen. “And whenever Jason and I settle child support for Jake, anything extra is going into his college fund. I can support them both on my salary.” It would be tight for a while, she acknowledged, but she could do it. She signed the petition, returned it to Diane who had more papers ready.
“This is the last set. It’s Jason’s paternity suit,” Diane explained as Elizabeth flipped through it. “You’re filing in support along with authorization to use the paternity test performed last year. The judge might order a new one if Lucky and his lawyer insists which would drag the whole thing out another six weeks, maybe longer. For the results to come back and set a new date,” Diane added.
“What happens while the paternity suit is pending?” Elizabeth wanted to know. “Does Lucky get to ask for visitation?”
“He can.” Diane paused. “How long since you separated?”
“Hard to say. Um, I testified on August 8. Lucky didn’t come home that day, and I didn’t hear from him until after Jason was acquitted. That was almost a week,” Elizabeth said. “I mean you know that, but—um, I knew where he was staying, but I figured since he didn’t come home, he should be the one to contact me. I didn’t know if he even wanted to talk to me.”
“Fair enough. So you spoke for the first time about two weeks ago. Lucky didn’t ask to see the boys? Even through someone else? Emily or Nikolas?”
“No. And we only spoke once. I waited to move out until after the acquittal to avoid the press. Lucky came over while I was packing. We argued, and he told me to be out by the end of the day.”
“So for the last three weeks, Lucky hasn’t asked to see the boys once.”
“No. That’s—I mean, that’s going to hurt him, isn’t it?”
“It might.” Diane paused. “And Jason? Is he spending a lot of time with Jake?”
“Since he’s been released, as often as I can manage it. Nearly every day. I take the boys over to him, and today—he has them while I’m here.”
“So you and Jason already have an informal custody arrangement—” Diane made some notes. “He has Cameron as well?”
“It’s just…I guess it’s easier right now. Why should I get another baby-sitter when Jason offers to look after Cameron? Is that going to hurt me? Letting Cam spend so much time with Jake’s biological father?”
“It can be spun either way. Lucky’s lawyer likely will point to you hedging your bets with Jason until he was single and legally exonerated. He’s wealthier than Lucky, of course, which he can point to. You’re giving Lucky’s children to him.”
“I’m not—” Elizabeth huffed. “It’s not that. Cameron loves his little brother. He likes to help me rock Jake to sleep for a nap. And he likes to feed him—he shouldn’t lose any of that because of what’s going on. And he’s always liked Jason—” She stumbled to a stop when she saw Diane smile. “What?”
“In my experience, in cases like these,” Diane said, “the opposing party centers themselves in the narrative. If Lucky means what he said to you, what you’ve heard from others, he’s only talking about he’ll feel if he loses custody of Jake. He isn’t thinking about Cameron. You are. You’re absolutely right. Cameron’s relationship with Jake should be preserved as best as possible. If Jake is going to spend time with his father, and Jason is all right with including Cameron, it’s beneficial. Particularly when the only other father Cam knows isn’t reaching out.”
Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “Jason was right. You really are good at this. I’m glad you’re on my side.”
“I do like to earn that hefty retainer. Let’s finish this paperwork so I can file it. I’m very interested to see how Lucky and his lawyer will react.”
The lawyer Alexis had recommended hadn’t sounded much more positive than she had, but at least Lincoln Frazier painted a slightly optimistic picture.
“There’s been nothing filed since Diane Miller filed her notice to appear,” Lincoln said briskly, as he opened his case and removed a folder. “I filed my own notice this morning, and I think, as long as we’re agreed, we should do our best to file first.”
“I don’t understand how Diane can represent Elizabeth,” Lucky said, leaning against Nikolas’s desk, his jaw clenched. “Isn’t she Jason’s lawyer? Didn’t you tell me Jason had to file his own thing?”
“I could argue a conflict of interest,” Lincoln said slowly, “but she would argue their interests are united. Elizabeth has indicated that she supports terminating your rights and declaring Jason as the legal father. Even with your suggestion that you would surrender rights to Cameron, she’s held firm.”
Lucky made a face. He’d really thought Elizabeth would back down if he threatened his role in Cameron’s life. He loved Cameron, but it would be too much to lose Jake and still have to watch him grow up.
“So we just let it go?”
“For now.” Lincoln slid on his reading glasses. “Now, for the divorce, you’ve indicated you want to file on grounds of adultery. She admitted in court that she had an affair, and you think that affair has continued.”
“Yes,” Lucky said tightly. “And it’s still going on. I have a friend who’s told me she’s over there almost every day. With the boys. They were just waiting for him to get acquitted.”
“All right. As for custody, we’re asking for joint custody of both boys.” Lincoln hesitated. “You understand that you have no legal right to Cameron as his stepfather. You never had yourself declared his father through adoption.”
“Didn’t see the point.”
“It just means you have a little bit less of a legal standing to use him as leverage,” his lawyer told him. “Fortunately, there’s not another legal father out there—” He made a note. “As for the paternity suit, the only way to prevent a judge from declaring Jason the boy’s legal father is to have him declared an unfit parent. I know you had hoped to do the same with Elizabeth, but it’s not going to work.”
Lucky exhaled, taking that in. He hadn’t really been enthusiastic about throwing Elizabeth under the bus as a terrible mother. She hadn’t been a good wife—not this time around, he allowed himself. “All right. I guess.”
“You made some good points about her not volunteering information for Jake’s paternity during the kidnapping,” Lincoln said. “But I think that would only work if Jake had been missing longer. It might have felt like a lifetime, but it was a matter of days. Other than that, a judge isn’t going see lying about paternity as evidence she’s unfit.”
“Okay. But Jason?”
“We have a little more to work with, but not much. He’s clean legally. We can introduce his lengthy arrest record, but without a conviction—” Lincoln shook his head. “There’s not much.”
“What if…” Lucky pressed his lips together. “What if he never files? If I can keep him from filing a paternity suit, I’ve got a stronger case in family court, don’t I?”
“Yes. As the boy’s legal father—” Lincoln peered at him over the glasses. “Do you have reason to think he won’t?”
“I don’t know if I can keep him from filing, but he can always drop it before it goes to court. You said Elizabeth and I would be required to do mediation before the hearing. At that hearing, we give options right?”
His lawyer frowned. “What kind of options?”
“If Jason doesn’t go after custody of Jake,” Lucky said slowly, “then I won’t make a police report detailing what I know about Manny Ruiz’s death last summer. The official record says I killed him in the line of duty. But the autopsy report doesn’t support it. Jason killed him. If he drops his paternity suit, I won’t push for an investigation.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Spinelli scowled. “What do you mean, the flowers were dead this time?” He launched himself off the sofa. “I told you—”
“Hey, we agreed it was weird, right?” Georgie put her hands up in mock surrender. “I told you to get the security footage. And now, here I am, a week later, saying that we need to get more and look at it.”
Spinelli made another face, but sat down, yanking his laptop into lap. “I’ll get the thumb drive from Stone Cold.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Georgie sat next to him. “Really, Spinelli. But thank you for being worried.”
“The Jackal looks after the people who matter.” He tapped some keys. “And Faithful Friend matters.”
Her smile dipped a bit at the nickname of Faithful Friend, but it wasn’t his fault she liked him and he didn’t share those feelings. Just like Dillon, Spinelli only seemed to have eyes for blondes who talked too much. “Oh. Um, there was one other thing I needed to tell you. About something I overheard at Kelly’s.”
Greystone: Living Room
Sonny raised his brows when Max announced Jason, and his partner came in carrying Jake with Cameron racing in behind him. “Uh, you could have told me you had the kids today.” He moved out of the way as Cameron started a lap around the sofa.
“It’s fine. I, uh, didn’t think it’d be that much work with both of them,” Jason admitted. “Cam—”
“Hey, Cam, you know I got a kid your age,” Sonny told him, grabbing the three-year-old on his next lap and lifting Cam into his arms. “He’s got a huge play room upstairs. He’s not home, but you can play up there if you want.”
Cameron pursed his lips. “How big?”
“Gigantic.” Sonny grinned at Jason. “I’ll take him up and grab the monitor in case he needs anything. Next time, let me know. We can hook him up with Morgan. They’re the right age to be friends.”
“Uh, okay—” Jason exhaled with a bit of relief as Sonny disappeared upstairs. He checked his cell phone, but Elizabeth was still with Diane.
“Kid’s got more energy in his pinky than I had all of last week,” Sonny said, returning a few minutes later with a white monitor in his hands. I got lucky, I guess. Michael was older than Morgan and basically self-sufficient.”
And Sonny had always had a nanny, but Jason didn’t offer that. “Elizabeth makes this look easy,” he admitted. “She’s always bringing both of them to see me, and I didn’t think—”
“It’s good, though, that you’re getting Jake on your own,” Sonny said. “I know it’s good you and Liz to do this parenting thing together, but you won’t always have her in the room.” He hesitated. “Both boys, you said. I didn’t realize—”
“I told you what Lucky’s pulling with custody. And there’s no reason Cameron can’t come over. Why should he have to sit at home with someone else when Elizabeth could have both of them together? Cam likes to feed Jake sometimes—”
“You don’t have to justify it to me.” Sonny squinted. “It’s just—you know—if Lucky loses the way he should, you got a kid without a father who’s watching you be a dad to his brother. You’re not worried he won’t start to see you that way?”
Jason looked at him, then went over to the desk to set down the diaper bag and retrieve a blanket to set down on the floor for Jake. He set the infant on his belly, put a few soft toys within reach.
“Oh, I get it.” Sonny smirked, folded his arms. “That’s the plan, isn’t it? How long after the divorce is finalized before I get an invitation?”
“It’s not—” Sonny made it sound calculating. And it wasn’t. “It’s not like that. Elizabeth and I are figuring things out. I don’t—” Jason stopped. “Diane said something about there not being anyone out there to step up for Cameron, so Lucky could get visitation by default. And I guess—I know it’s what Elizabeth wants. I just—” He shook his head. “He’s willing to walk away from Cameron after all this time. Just to hurt Elizabeth.”
“I’m not arguing with you,” Sonny said. “Idiot doesn’t deserve the kid. I’m just saying, if you’re hoping to back your way into being something more permanent, you might want to run that past Elizabeth. You don’t want her feeling like she has to settle for Lucky just so Cameron has someone in his life. Make sure she knows you’re an option.”