Episode #310

Previously ...
- Paula invited Ryan over for lunch. Mother and son had an awkward but pleasant time together, but when Claire arrived home, she avoided Ryan's attempts at talking. Paula encouraged Ryan to give Claire time to cope with the shock.
- After catching Ryan sneaking around the Moriani house, Nick inquired about his adopted son's progress with the Fishers. He urged Ryan to remember his adoptive mother, Rose McGuire. Rattled by the encounter, Ryan took off without giving much of a response.
- Alex received help on his novel from Trevor, but the young men became very uncomfortable when an unsuspecting Lauren found them working together.
- Molly and Brent continued their secret relationship, but each wondered when they would be able to be more open about it. Unbeknowst to them, Diane and Brian spied them kissing.


A ding sounds from somewhere in the kitchen, and it takes Molly Fisher several seconds to figure out its source. There are so many different timers running concurrently that she has given up nearly all hope of even knowing what's going on; with any luck, she will be able to follow the rings and buzzes and everything will turn out all right.

She moves to the oven to check on the Christmas ham. After determining that it could use a few more minutes, she closes the oven, only to back directly into her mother.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Molly says, helping Paula carry the two loaves of bread to the kitchen table.

"No harm done. There have been far worse collisions in this kitchen," Paula says. She unwraps one loaf of bread and, setting it on the portable cutting board, goes about slicing it.

Molly glances at the clock. Almost right on schedule. "We should be ready to eat within the half-hour, don't you think?"

Paula nods without looking up from her slicing. "Absolutely, yeah. Is the ham almost done?"

"Just about. A few more minutes and it'll be perfect."

Suddenly Paula's voice grows much quieter, and she looks at Molly as she speaks. "Is Ryan here yet?"

"I don't think so." Molly pauses, uncertain of whether she should even broach the subject. "Mom, are you sure that he's even going to come?"

"He said he would." The slicing continues uninterrupted, determinedly.

Molly decides to drop the topic. She is searching for something to busy herself, some last bit of work that needs to be done, when Paula speaks again.

She sets the knife down as she addresses her daughter. "Do you think it was a bad idea to invite him?"

"No," Molly says, giving what she hopes is a convincing shake of the head. She certainly doesn't feel confident that it was a good idea, but there isn't much that can be done about it now.

"I just worry that it's going to--I don't know, make things uncomfortable for everyone."

It probably will, Molly thinks, but that isn't what her mother needs to hear right now.

"He's your son. He's our half-brother. The only way for all of us to get more accustomed to that is to spend time together," Molly says. "So yeah, it might be tough going at first, but it's probably what we need to be doing."

Paula considers the idea for a long moment. Finally she sighs and says, "I hope you're right. I'm sure you are, but it's so hard to look at the situation so calmly when all I want is to have a nice, normal, happy family Christmas."

"There's nothing that says that we can't. Or won't."

"Very true," Paula says, smiling with the false confidence that Molly is certain must come with being a parent.

She wraps her arm around her mother and they stand in silence, contemplating the half-sliced loaf of bread, as Bing Crosby's voice and the chatter of conversation drift in from the living room.


"Let me have the ball!" Victoria Gray yells out, her chubby toddler's legs working overtime as she chases her cousin.

"No!" Travis shouts back. "It's my turn!"

Claire Fisher rises from her chair, which is turned away from the dining room table. "Travis, let Victoria play with you."

The little boy pauses, considers his mother's request, and then takes off into the living room. Claire is about to chase after him when she sees Victoria snatch the ball from him and teeter toward the plastic basketball hoop affixed to the opposite wall.

"At least she can keep up with him," Jason says.

Claire turns to the younger man with a smile. "Yeah, he needs to be knocked down a few pegs every now and then. He gets a little big for his britches."

"I think having a three-year-old girl pull a steal like that on me when I was six would've knocked me down, for sure." Jason takes a sip of his beer and pulls up a chair beside Claire's. "How's Samantha doing?"

With a quiet sigh, Claire settles back into her own chair. "She's doing well. I'm sure she's handling the entire thing better than I am. She spent last weekend with us, so she got to help out with the Christmas tree and decorations."

"She's doing okay with Diane?"

"Yeah. Knock on wood--" Claire pauses for an instant to rap her fist lightly on the dining room table. "--but Diane somehow manages to put Sam ahead of herself, despite every destructive impulse in her being. I just wish I got to see her more."

"Yeah, that must be difficult," Jason says, nodding his head slowly.

"It is. Every time I see her, I realize that a few weeks have passed in-between, and there are so many moments in there that I've completely missed. And before you know it--"

"--she'll be wearing some cheerleader's outfit with a bare midriff and smoking behind the school gym." He catches the slightly terrified look on her face and adds, "Or, you know, doing algebra and learning to drive. Whatever it is kids do these days."

Claire gives an uneasy laugh. "Yeah. I'm just afraid that I'm going to miss all those small things that make a child's life so special."

As much as he'd like to offer some sort of supportive advice, Jason cannot think of any.

"And how about you?" he asks. "I mean, aside from that. How've you been holding up?"

"Probably not as well as I should be," she admits, somewhat sheepishly.

A quiet moment passes before Jason speaks again. "I think about Tim every day, still. Even more since we found out about Ryan."

"Me, too." Claire moves her wine glass to her lips but doesn't drink. "And every day, I think that maybe that will be the day I wake up from this nightmare and he'll be right there beside me. But it never is."

"How about you and Ryan? How have you guys been dealing with this thing?" he asks. She can tell that he's trying to feel out the situation, see what might or might not be appropriate to say.

"Honestly ... I don't know. Part of me knows that it shouldn't change anything, and that Ryan didn't bring any of this on. But another part of me feels like it's just too much -- it's too close, too connected."

Jason looks relieved. "Yeah, it's like he's--I dunno, like he's taking Tim's place or something. It's creepy. And people keep telling me that I shouldn't be looking at it that way, but I can't help it."

Nodding in agreement, Claire says, "I can barely comprehend it right now, let alone deal with it. There are too many complications, and--"

The sound of the doorbell cuts her off. She and Jason go silent as they await what they both know it must mean.

Seconds later, Ryan Moriani steps through the front door.


"I'll get that," Nick Moriani says. Placing his fork and knife on his plate, he rises from his chair and makes it to the telephone before it completes its third ring.

"Nick Moriani," he answers.

"Nick, hello. Merry Christmas," comes the reserved voice from the other end of the line. "Would my mother happen to be around?"

Hearing Andrew's voice comes as quite a surprise to Nick, and it takes him a moment to gather his response: "Yes, of course, she's right here."

Katherine, until this point barely showing interest in the phone call, now snaps to attention. She hurries over to take the phone from Nick.

"Hello?" she asks. "This is Katherine--oh, Andrew!"

Returning to his seat, Nick eats his meal and listens as Katherine shares what sounds like a warm conversation, though stilted at times, with her son. Nick isn't certain what to make of the call; aside from the occasional letter to inform Katherine that he is doing okay and to hope that she is the same, they haven't heard from Andrew since he moved to Seattle over two years ago.

After a few minutes, she says her goodbyes -- quite the prolonged effort, replete with urgings to phone again soon and to take care of himself -- and hangs up the telephone. She returns to the table beaming.

"That was certainly a Christmas surprise," she says as she settles back into her chair.

"He sounded awfully cheery," Nick says. "What brought about the change of attitude?"

"Time, I suppose. How wonderful to hear his voice! I had nearly convinced myself that I'd never hear it again."

He listens to Katherine share odd details about her son's life: he is working for an architectural firm; he is still seeing that Maggie woman whom he met before leaving King's Bay; he is looking to purchase a house in Seattle. Nick wants to ask if Andrew has decided to let bygones be bygones, but he is sure that the topic of Danielle Taylor didn't come up in the short conversation.

He doesn't even realize how much his personal reaction must be showing until Katherine mentions it.

"Things will improve between you and Ryan," she says. "If anything, this should give you faith in that."

"I hope you're right. Whatever faith I've had is getting rather strained. He never even mentioned joining us for Christmas dinner, and the most I've heard from him recently was that phone message while we were out last night."

"The shock of everything that's happened is still fresh. As he gets more accustomed to this ... new family situation, I'm sure that he will be less hostile toward you." Then comes that devious expression that Nick has grown to relish from her. "In the meantime, what's to say we can't do something to, oh, expedite the process a bit?"

"I'm not so sure that meddling is going to earn me any favor," Nick says.

"Not if he never finds out about it," Katherine says. "All we have to do is show him that the Fishers aren't nearly the upstanding family that he wants them to be."

Nick can already see the wheels turning in her mind, and despite the part of him that realizes the risk involved, the idea is incredibly appealing to him.


"Merry Christmas," Ryan says awkwardly, raising his hand in a general wave at everyone.

His greeting hangs in the air for several seconds, but it feels to Sarah like much longer than that. She looks to her father; Bill sits beside Matt on the sofa, his expression stern.

"Merry Christmas," Sarah says, stepping forward to take Ryan's free hand.

Paula emerges from the kitchen, followed closely by Molly.

"I'm so glad you could make it," Paula says. She hurries over to Ryan and, brushing aside the uncertainty that Sarah can tell they both feel, hugs him.

"Dinner is almost ready," she adds, not only to Ryan but to everyone else, as well.

Molly lifts a hand in greeting. "Merry Christmas, Ryan."

"You, too," he says, with a genuinely appreciative smile. He looks past her and sees Claire and Jason, seated on the cusp of the dining room, still and silent as statues.

He doesn't say anything to either of them.

"Can I get you anything?" Paula asks. "A drink?"

"No, I, uh--" Ryan lifts a hand to scratch the back of his head. "I can't stay long, actually. I just wanted to come by to wish you all a merry Christmas and bring you this."

He holds up a gold and red giftbag, which Paula takes hesitantly. She pulls out a bottle of wine and a tin of what must be candy.

"Oh, thank you," she says. "Thank you very much. But--are you sure you can't stay? We'd love to have you for dinner."

Sarah sees Ryan's gaze drift back toward Claire and Jason, then over to Bill.

He shakes his head, though he does appear sincerely sorry for turning down the offer. "No, I have some other things I need to do. But I really appreciate the invitation."

Paula stares at him in utter bewilderment. "You're welcome."

"I should get going," Ryan says. "I, uh ..." His eyes move around the room again. "I hope you all have a really nice holiday."

"You, too," Molly says.

Ryan makes a quick turn and moves back to the door. He opens it with just a short glance backward, but it is enough for Sarah to catch his eye. She isn't certain what to say to him, but she hopes that a sympathetic look will suffice.

And a moment later, he is gone, and Sarah is sure that she can hear the house itself breathe a little more easily. But Paula retreats into the kitchen, gift bag in hand, mumbling something about dinner being close at hand.


"So, I should have a full manuscript -- at least a draft -- done sometime in the next couple of weeks," Alex says, his fork and knife hovering right above the turkey, sweet potatoes, and other items that fill his dinner plate.

The announcement draws impressed nods from Don, Helen, and Courtney, though Alex wants to add that it really gets him nowhere to have a manuscript if he doesn't have an agent ... which he doesn't, so there is still a long uphill battle ahead.

"And then what will you do?" Helen asks.

Alex lets out an uneasy sigh. "That's a good question." He pauses to take a few bites of turkey and then explains, "Start shopping it around, I guess. I need to find an agent who's even willing to read it, and if one of them miraculously decides it's good enough to represent, then we need to find a publishing house that's interested in it ..."

"Do you think you have a realistic shot at getting it published?" Courtney asks.

"I guess I wouldn't be trying if I didn't think so," Alex says with a shrug. "Of course, it's not like I have any actual idea of how difficult it is."

Don holds up both his hands, as if physically bringing a halt to all the doubting.

"You can do this, Alex," he says. "You've been centering your life around this book for how long? It's going to pay off."

"That's another thing I worry about" Alex says. "It's been such a solitary process. What if the stuff I've written doesn't work for people who read it?"

Helen delays lifting a forkful of mashed potatoes to her mouth. "Has anyone read it yet?"

"A grand total of one person. It's actually been really helpful." He pauses to have a drink of his wine. "I ran into Lauren's brother at the coffee house one day, and he noticed I was writing and asked me about it, so I gave him some of it to look over. He's given me some really helpful feedback."

Courtney narrows her gaze at him. "Lauren's brother? Trevor?"

"Yeah." Alex senses that they've moved into sensitive territory, though he has no idea why. "Why, is there something wrong with him?"

She shakes her head dismissively. "No, I guess not. I'm just not a huge fan, you could say."

Alex decides to leave it at that, at least for now. Christmas dinner isn't really the time for those questions.

"Anyway," he says, "it's been useful to throw ideas back and forth with someone, and to see how it comes across to someone else. I've totally reworked a couple of sections that I probably would've left alone otherwise."

"I bet it'll be strange not to have your whole life consumed by writing, huh?" Don asks.

Alex isn't sure that he even wants to face the possibility. There is something relieving about finally being done, but the thought of everything that comes next terrifies him.

"Yeah, it will," he says. "I'm gonna start looking for a job, too. I think I've lived off what I had saved up for long enough."

"That's probably wise," Helen says.

"And hey, maybe you'll have more time to be social," Courtney adds with a grin. "I know I wouldn't mind getting to hang some more. And I don't think Dylan would, either."

Alex feels his cheeks burn at the mention of Dylan's name.

"I see him a lot," he says, though he knows that they probably could spend more time together.

"I know, I know. But I think Dylan will be glad when you have the time to get more serious. Not that he hasn't made that clear to you, I'm pretty sure."

"Believe me, he has." They share a laugh at Dylan's complete lack of subtlety.

Courtney points her fork at him. "He's a good guy. You shouldn't let this one get away."

"I'll keep that in mind," Alex says, moving quickly for another drink of wine.


Molly slides the glass door closed behind her. The evening air nips at her face and hands as she paces over the deck, paging through the numbers in her cellular phone.

She stares out into the dark night as the phone rings in her ear. After two rings, she hears a click, followed by a very familiar and very welcome voice.

"Merry Christmas," Brent says.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," she responds, unable to keep her voice from going up a few notes just from hearing his.

"How are things up there?"

"Fine. We just finished dinner." She pauses, unsure of whether to raise this topic with him, before deciding that it is important enough to mention. "My mom invited Ryan to join us, but he dropped by to bring her some wine and chocolate and then bolted. I think she's really disappointed."

Brent's reply surprises Molly: "This can't be easy on her. I'm sure she wants him to fit right in with the family."

"Yeah. But it was so uncomfortable, even for the short while he was here. It was like the house was going to explode from the tension."

Now comes the silence that Molly was expecting at the original mention of her half-brother.

"We need to give him a chance, Brent," she says. "What happened to innocent until proven guilty?"

"I don't know," he grumbles. She knows that's as much as she is going to get out of him right now.

"Listen," Brent says, "let's not get into that tonight. It's Christmas, and ..."

"I wish we didn't have to do this. This is the second year in a row that you've been in San Diego and I've had to act like there was nothing missing from my holiday."

"It won't be like this next year." There is a sense of urgency to his words that alarms Molly, sending simultaneous shocks of panic and excitement through her.

"I hope not," she says. "I hope that--somehow--there's a way we can stop being so secretive."

"There is. I promise."

There's no way either of us can guarantee that, she thinks, but it's too unpleasant to say aloud.

They share a few more minutes of pleasant conversation -- him filling her in on his father, on how Danielle is doing, on his strange encounters with his brother, and her telling him about all the things that Travis and Victoria have done today. By the time she hangs up the phone, she has somehow managed to push all the troubling thoughts to a dark corner of her mind.

A second later, the sliding door opens, and Sarah peeks her head out. Molly's heart jumps, maybe skips a beat, as she hurriedly shoves her cell phone inside her pocket.

"Dessert's ready," Sarah says. Before she ducks her head back inside, there is that underlying tension that has come to mark every interaction between the sisters: something just below the surface, contained only temporarily, perhaps merely until the next bit of provocation comes along.

Molly nods and follows her inside, trying as she always does to separate her life with Brent from this part of her life before she rejoins the family.


Light blue wisps rise from the trio of logs, and soon enough orange flames fill the fireplace. Ryan sinks deep into his leather recliner, transfixed by the fire as it licks away at the logs.

He glances at the clock on the wall. Midnight is still more than three hours away. He hopes that he will be tired enough to fall asleep in an hour or two, but he can already feel the beginning stirs of the restlessness that threatens to keep him awake all night.

He brings the wine glass to his lips and takes a deep gulp. As the bitter liquid washes down his throat, the same scolding voice that he has been hearing inside his head all night pipes up again. He should have stayed at the Fishers', or he should have gone to see his father and Katherine. Either choice would have promised a Christmas meal better than the half-assed plate of leftovers he scrapped together a few minutes ago.

But neither would have made this any less miserable of a day. He wouldn't have been alone, true, but that might only have made him feel worse. The Fishers certainly didn't need him around to make their day even more painful than it undoubtedly is already, and he doesn't think that he could have stomached a full night with Nick.

He briefly contemplates turning on the television, but the prospect of having to focus on anything is exhausting. He'll have another glass of wine or two and--God only knows. Sit in the dark, stare into the fire, wait for time to pass. Wait for this horrible Christmas to become a thing of the past.

Not that that'll fix much, he thinks, downing another gulp of wine.

The fire continues to burn, casting flashes of light throughout the otherwise dark living room.

Ryan raises his glass to the fireplace. "Merry Christmas," he mutters.


Can Ryan ever really fit into the Fisher family?
Can Molly and Brent keep their relationship secret any longer?
What will it take for next Christmas to be nicer than this year's in King's Bay?
Join us for discussion in the Footprints Forum!

Next Episode