Episode #320

Previously ...
- Alex and Dylan argued over Alex's desire to stay home and write rather than travel to Atlanta with Dylan.
- At Nationals in Atlanta, Dylan remained bitter over what he perceived as Alex's lack of interest and decided to go out for the night with another male skater.
- Though it hit some rough patches as far as travel was concerned, Jason and Lauren's trip to Whistler resulting in them making love for the first time.
- Brent wondered if everything was on the up-and-up with his brother, Josh, and Josh's roommate, Scotty.
- Individually, Claire and Ryan both received a torn-up dress of Claire's from a mysterious source.


Papers lie all over the living room: on the sofa, the coffee table, and the floor. Marks from highlighters and other pens cover the pages.

Setting his mug down on the coffee table, Alex Marshall reclaims his spot at one end of the sofa.

"Sure you don't want any?" he asks, gesturing toward his fresh cup of coffee.

"Nah," says Trevor Brooks. "It's April. Hot coffee in the middle of the afternoon seems weird."

"What does it matter? It looks like it's the middle of January outside!" The springtime sun, which for the last several days has been riding high in the sky, is nowhere to be found today.

"I dunno. Psychological thing, maybe." Trevor makes one last mark on the page in front of him before slipping it to the back of the stack. "This chapter is really good, Alex."

Alex looks up from his own editing. "Which one is that?"

Trevor flips back through the pages. "Sixteen. The one right after the party, where they go back into the woods."

"You think it's okay? It seemed way too melodramatic to me."

"No way! It has to be really high emotion. You have it building and building through that whole night--it needs to peak at this point. I really like it."

"Thanks," Alex says, unsure how else to respond. He hasn't felt very positively about having that scene as the story's climax, and although Trevor's praise offers some reassurance, Alex still wonders if his volunteer editing partner is being overly generous.

Trevor must notice his uncertainty, because the next thing he says is, "I think it works really well. Like, it's got enough momentum to make me wanna plow through the rest of the story."

"Well, don't plow too fast. I don't have much more after that."

"You still haven't written the ending?"

"I don't even have an ending," Alex says. He stares at the page for another moment before setting it aside. "I have no clue how to wrap this thing up."

Trevor pulls one leg up onto the sofa. "Well, how did the real story end?"

Alex sighs. "I don't know if I should give it a happy ending or be more realistic ..."

"You never did tell me how things turned out between Max and Bryant," Trevor says. "Or should I say Alex and ... who?"

"Seth." It sounds weird to speak the name to someone else. "It didn't turn out well, let's just say that."

He picks up the coffee to see if it's cool enough to drink yet.

"I get the impression that you haven't talked about this much," Trevor says. "Not that you have to, but--"

Alex stands, the coffee cup in his hand, and indicates the papers spread out around them. "This has kinda been my way of doing that, I guess."

"Don't get me wrong, because I think the book is awesome, but I'm sure there's a lot of stuff about Bryant or Seth or whoever that you're not saying in these pages."

"Maybe. I just--I dunno. It's so far in the past that I wonder if it even matters, you know?" Alex steps past Trevor.

He sees Trevor nodding, but everything after that is a wild jumble as he feels himself go tumbling.


Paula Fisher's smile broadens at the sight of her youngest son. She looks up from her gardening to see him standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the deck.

"You're back!" she says, setting down her tools so that she can greet him with a hug. "What a nice surprise!"

Jason comes down the stairs to meet her at the foot of the deck. "I had to drop my skis off, so I thought I'd come in and say hello."

"Well, I'm glad you did." She takes in the sight of her son, looking so healthy and so grown-up.

"I didn't expect to find you out here today."

"It's not the nicest day, but I've been dying to get started back here, so I figured a few hours under the clouds couldn't be too bad for me."

"I bet you're glad to get back out here," Jason says.

"It is. So tell me, how was your trip? How was the audition?"

"The audition went really well. I think this is going to work out. Sandy needs to speak to this girl's coach, but I get the feeling that we have a new partner on our hands."

"Wonderful! And the rest of the trip?"

"That was good, too," Jason says, though he is suddenly much more reserved.

She can see the grin peeking through, waiting to burst out.

"I presume things went well with Lauren, then," Paula says.

"Yeah." His cheeks fill with crimson. "Really well, actually. I think we're ... together, or a couple, whatever. It was a really nice chance to get away, just the two of us."

"And you're sure this is what you want?"

He doesn't even have to think before answering. "Absolutely. I love being with her. I love the way she makes me feel. If it weren't for her, I think I would've had a much harder time pulling myself back together ..."

"Well, then, good." She rests a hand on his forearm, and there is something about the contact that makes Jason consider the gravity of her words. "And you're sure that this will be okay, as far as Courtney goes?"

"I don't know," he has to admit, "but neither of us want to wait until Courtney is okay with it. She probably never will be. I mean, I'm sorry that things can't be better between the three of us, but ..."

Paula's face wrinkles with concern. It gives Jason momentary pause, but he makes himself finish what he is saying. Because he means it.

"But I'm not gonna let that keep me from having something really good in my life."


Ryan Moriani waits on the front porch with one hand stuffed in the pocket of his pants. His other hand is clenched tightly around a now-shapeless piece of fabric.

When the door opens, Claire Fisher looks anything but pleased to see him.

"Does this look familiar?" he asks, holding up the torn dress.

"What are you doing with that?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out."

Her face tightens, and Ryan prepares for an angry outburst. But before anything comes out of her mouth, her features soften; when she does speak, her tone is pleading, almost desperate.

"I can't do this, Ryan. I don't have the energy. Please."

"Do what?" he asks, but realization hits him immediately. "Claire, no. This isn't some scheme--"

"Then what is it? How did you get the other half of that dress?"

"Other half?"

She stares at him with extreme annoyance. When he doesn't add anything to the mounting argument, Claire disappears into the house. Ryan is about to step inside when she returns.

She blocks him from entering the house and thrusts a piece of fabric at him. It is identical to the one that he holds.

"I really didn't think you would sink to something like this," she says. "I thought you had changed."

It takes every ounce of willpower he has not to reach out and shake her.

"I did not do this," he says. "I found this--it was left for me at my father's house."

"And how the hell did it wind up there?"

"I don't know!" he shouts. Immediately he admonishes himself to keep his voice down. He doesn't want Paula to witness this.

He looks at the piece of the dress in his hand and then tosses it to the ground.

"I did not do this," he says again. "You have got to believe me, Claire. This is not some ploy for attention. I am as confused about this as you are."

He manages an instant of eye contact, and before she can break it, Ryan makes sure that the gaze sticks. He isn't sure how long it lasts, but he thinks that he finally sees some relenting on her part.

"You said it was at Nick's house?" she asks.


"You don't think ..."

But the thought has crossed his mind.

"Why would he?" she asks. "That would mean he'd have had to get in here, steal the dress, cut it up ..." As she walks through the process, the horror shows more and more prominently on her face. Ryan's first instinct is to reach out protectively toward her, but it seems inappropriate.

"I really don't know. He's never been a fan of our relationship, but it's not like ..." It's not like we're even together now. "Maybe there's something we aren't seeing."

"Maybe," Claire says, and they lapse into silence. Even though a barrier--one of many between them--has been toppled, Ryan feels no closer to her.

So he stands there in the doorway and tries to figure out why Nick might be doing this.


The clamor filling the office is probably no greater than usual, but after her time away from the office, it sounds like an absolute ruckus to Lauren Brooks. She steps cautiously inside the conference room where the team assigned to the Objection Designs campaign is gathered around the table, photographs and potential ad schemes spread out before them.

Jackie, one of the senior executives on the team, spots Lauren in the the entryway. "Hey there! We weren't expecting you to be back until tomorrow!"

"I had to drop by and pick up some files, so I thought I'd stop in here and see how things are going," Lauren explains. She moves toward the table and glances over the samples. It's the first she has seen of them, and they look even more impressive than she'd imagined they would.

"We're just beginning to get organized with these," Jackie says.

The chatter in the room continues. Lauren positions herself behind two of the others and studies the samples over their shoulders. Her gaze moves down the table until it passes over one of the people. She doesn't recognize him, and a second glance confirms that she has no idea who he is.

Jackie must notice, because she interjects almost immediately as Lauren locks eyes with the blond-haired young man.

"Lauren, this is Josh. He just started here, and Byron thought it would be a good idea to have him work with Objection to get his feet wet."

The newest team member flashes what Lauren has to admit is a charming smile as he rises from his seat. He extends a hand, and Lauren moves closer to shake it.

"Nice to meet you," she says.

"The pleasure's all mine." His shake is firm and his smile unfading. "Looking forward to working with you."

Lauren manages to mumble some kind of response that she hopes sounds polite. She returns to looking over the photos and layouts on the table, taking care to listen to what the others are saying about them. A few short minutes later, she makes her exit, promising to see everyone in the morning.

But right before she steps out the door, it happens again -- that moment of contact with her new coworker's clear blue gaze -- and she spends the walk back to the elevator wondering if work is about to get a bit more uncomfortable.


Jason maneuvers his car into its regular spot beneath the carport in front of the building. As usual, the single mother next door--"SMND," as Alex has dubbed her--has parked her Ford Taurus on the line that is supposed to divide their spaces, so Jason has to wedge his car carefully between the Taurus and Alex's car.

He gets out of his Civic and gathers some of his things from the trunk. His skating bag is still in there, but it looks too cumbersome to drag up the stairs now, so he decides to come back for it later. He could use a nap first.

Locking the car, he realizes how exhausted he is from the trip. If they hadn't been able to get his car fixed in Whistler ... he doesn't have the energy to consider the debacle. Besides, they made it back all right, and more importantly, things are looking very promising with Lauren.

He climbs the stairs with his backpack and one other bag. He could have just come straight home and crashed, but it was good to see his mother, and at least the skis are taken care of now. He could have done without bumping into Ryan on his way out of the house, but the encounter was relatively civil, so he doesn't feel much need to let it ruin his otherwise good day.

Setting down his bag, he takes his keys from his pocket. In one quick motion, he puts the key in the lock, unlocks the door, and tosses the door open.

And freezes in his tracks.

Because on his couch, shirtless and looking shocked, is Lauren's brother. And standing over him is Alex, who has an even guiltier look on his face.


Did Jason just interrupt something very personal?
Will Lauren and Josh grow closer through working together?
How will Claire and Ryan deal with this latest incident?
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