Episode #330

Previously ...
- While lurking outside the Moriani house, Stan overheard Nick on the phone discussing something very important. When Nick caught sight of Stan, who fled, he made another call to deal with the situation.
- Courtney and Josh had their first date over lunch.
- Alex's disenchantment regarding his relationship with Dylan grew, but he was plagued by guilt after having a fantasy about Trevor.


The half-decimated box of Krispy Kreme donuts sits on the coffee table. Jason Fisher and Alex Marshall have the box surrounded, Jason on the couch and Alex in one of the chairs beside the table. The young men are glued to the rerun of I Love the 80s playing on VH1.

"Thank God for days off," Jason says between bites of his donut. "This is so much better than practicing."

"Yeah, and I'm sure Sandy would appreciate the fact that you're using your spare time to fatten up on Krispy Kremes."

"I'll go to the gym later. These are worth it."

The morning sun pours into the apartment, bathing them in its warmth. Alex finishes off his donut and takes a drink of his coffee. They relax in the peaceful quiet, but the gears in Alex's mind are turning so quickly that they are nearly tripping over themselves. For the last several nights, he has hoped that a good night's sleep would clear his head, but it hasn't yet worked.

"How are things with you and Lauren?" he asks, hoping it doesn't sound too abrupt.

If it does, Jason doesn't seem to notice. "Good. Great, actually. We're just in that place where it's nice and comfortable now. No more weirdness, nothing's awkward, and it's too early to be, like, freaking out about the future. It's a good spot."

"Good, I'm glad." Alex pauses. "I feel like I need to talk to her at some point and sort out things between us. I don't want it to get weird down the road, but we haven't totally dealt with everything that happened."

"I think she'd totally be receptive. She's not one to hold a grudge. I think enough time has passed now. Besides, it'd be nice if my girlfriend and my best friend weren't completely uncomfortable around one another."

"I can see how you might like that," Alex says. His gaze fixed on the TV, he adds, "I feel like there's all this stuff I need to get in order, you know? Like, after my mom died and there was so much unresolved stuff between us, I'm scared of letting things linger for too long."

Jason shifts positions, turning his body more toward Alex, and Alex knows that the conversation is likewise about to take a turn.

"Like ... the Dylan thing?" Jason asks. It is clear from his tone that this is a leading question; he's merely laying the groundwork so that Alex can open up.

"Oh, yeah, that too. Just a little bit." Alex sighs and tosses his head against the back of the chair.

"I thought you were end it with him, and then you guys seemed to be doing fine."

"I know. I got all worked up when they went to Nationals, and then they got back and everything seemed okay. But it's just--that's all it is, fine. It's not good, it's not even that exciting. It's just, like, not bad."

"You don't sound too enthusiastic about this."

"I don't feel enthusiastic about it. Little things that he does are really starting to bug me, all the time, and I know it's because I'm annoyed with the situation."

"I hate to be the one to put this out there," Jason says, taking another bite of his donut, "but maybe you just need to end it."

Alex nods slowly. Until now, it's been a dim possibility, something that gone unspoken. But he knows that, as much as he might not want to face it, that ending the relationship is becoming more and more his only real option.

Jason must recognize his tentativeness, because he continues, "You guys are dating. You're not, like, bound together for life. And it's been going on long enough that you either have to decide whether you wanna be serious with him or just end it and move on. There's nothing wrong with doing that."

"I know you're right," Alex says, setting his mug down on the table. "I've just never broken up with someone. It seems like I should take what I can get or something."

"That's stupid. You don't need to stay with someone you're not even into because you're worried you'll never get anyone else." Jason's voice changes tone now. "And you know what? After everything you've dealt with--coming out, your mom dying--this is not gonna be that hard. You've gotten through some big stuff. This is small potatoes."

Alex nods in acknowledgement. That's a good way to look at it. There is more to the situation, but he can't voice it right now. Somehow it doesn't seem appropriate to add that one of the main reasons he feels so disinterested in Dylan is Trevor--whatever the hell's going on there, which is probably nothing, anyway.

The phone rings, and Jason leaps off the couch to answer it. He comes back from the kitchen a moment later holding the phone.

"It's for you."

Alex takes the receiver from him. "Hello?"

He listens to the other voice, his disbelief growing with every word he hears. No way. He manages to stammer enough responses to get through the conversation, though he isn't certain how he does it.

When he hangs up, he looks squarely at Jason. "You, my friend, have got some serious explaining to do."


Courtney Chase adjusts the athletic bag slung over her shoulder. She knows that it is no heavier than usual, but after the uninspiring practice she and Dylan just had, the bag feels four times its normal weight.

"I don't know why I can't control that damn throw triple Sal," Courtney says as she follows Dylan through the rink's front doors and out into the bright summer morning.

"It feels weird. Like the timing is totally gone or something."

She takes a deep breath and feels the air moving through her beat-up body. "Ugh, I hate these spurts of horrible skating. It seriously makes me not even wanna come to the rink."

"Maybe we need to take a week off," Dylan says. "You know, recharge our batteries, that kinda thing."

"I hate the idea of slacking off like that, though."

"Sometimes you need to do it to get your focus back."

She doesn't respond. With a sigh, she reaches into her bag and fishes out her car keys.

"I am gonna crash so hard when I get home," she says. "I don't have to be at work until 3:00, so I should have plenty of time for a nap."

"You have a long shift tonight?"

"No, just a couple hours. But with any luck, I might be going out afterward, so ..."

Recognition flashes across Dylan's face. "Does that mean your date yesterday went well?"

Courtney pauses, since they are almost at her car. "Yeah. I think so, anyway. Josh is--he's awesome. I had a really good time."

"He also seems insanely hot, based on what I saw at the Objection show."

"There is that, too," Courtney says through a grin. "And he's funny, and he has a great job, and ..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Dylan reaches into his equipment bag. "Where the hell is my phone?"

He keeps moving his hand around blindly in the bag--until the phone comes spilling out and tumbles to the pavement.

"Dammit!" He reaches down and picks up the phone, and his expression shows that it didn't make it through the fall unscathed.

"Shit," he mutters. "The screen's cracked."

Courtney peeks at it, and sure enough, there is a very noticeable crack right down the center of the phone's screen.

"Lovely continuation of an already bad day," Dylan says as he clutches the phone in one hand and locates his keys with the other. "I guess I should get going. Maybe I can get to the phone store today and deal with this."

"All right, I'll see you in the morning," Courtney says, unlocking her own car.

"Yeah. And good luck with Joshy!"

"Thanks," she says, feeling a smile creep across her face.


Lauren Brooks is focused on her computer monitor, but out of the corner of her eye, she sees Josh Taylor pop his head into her cubicle.

"What's going on?" she asks as soon as she manages to pull her eyes from her e-mail.

"We just got another call from Julian St. John over at Objection," Josh says wearily. "He had some more bitching to do about the full-page ads."

"What now?"

"More layout stuff. He thinks the logo isn't prominent enough."

"What does he want, the logo slapped over the models' faces?" Lauren takes the ad from Josh's hand and studies it. "Seriously, I think the logo looks good."

Josh leans against the cubicle's wall. "So do I. And Byron told me not to worry about it anymore, but that was before this Julian guy called again, so ... I might screw around with this thing a little more just to make him shut up."

"This is so frustrating. I just want to be done with this set of ads!"

"I know, I'm sick of looking at 'em." Josh takes the sheet back from her. "I don't really have any intention of sitting here 'til all hours of the night working on this."

Lauren glances at the computer screen one more time, to close her e-mail program, and then looks back to Josh. "Big plans, huh?"

"We'll see," he says, unable to keep a self-satisfied grin off his face. "Hey, guess who I went out with yesterday."

"Umm ... Camille Lemieux?"

"Yeah, I figure it's time to start hitting up rich old ladies to be my sugar mama." He lifts his eyebrows suggestively. "But no. That chick Courtney--the one who was the fashion show."

Lauren's eyes feel as if they bug halfway out of her head at the news. "How'd that happen?" she asks as casually as she can.

Apparently it isn't very casual, because the next words out of Josh's mouth are a challenge: "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing's wrong with it! I didn't say--"

"You don't seem thrilled to hear it."

"Yeah, well ..." Lauren fiddles with the clip on the back of her hair. "Courtney and I are sort of on bad terms."

"I sorta got that vibe at the fashion show. She totally ignored you and Jason. What's the story there?"

She sighs and turns back to the computer, suddenly wishing she'd left something open on the screen so that she could focus on that.

"Courtney and I used to be best friends." The situation has been bothering her ever since she and Jason explained it to Kelsey the other night, and having to go over it again is even more difficult. "She and Jason used to date, too. They had an ugly breakup--loooong story, you can ask Courtney if you want--and he and I bonded after that."

"Sounds very Jerry Springer," Josh says.

"It's not like I stole Jason away from her or anything. A lot of things happened, and a lot of stuff changed."

"I can see how it could happen. I can also see why it would mess up your friendship."

"Pretty much what happened, yeah. We never had, like, an official fight that made us stop being friends, but things just sort of deteriorated." Talking about it makes her feel distant, too consumed by thought to focus much on her actual whereabouts, and she realizes how greatly the shattered friendship disturbs her.

"I'd like to think that it'll get better eventually," she says. "Time heals all wounds, that sorta thing. But at this point, I have no clue if it'll work out that way."

"Jason's got to be a real hot commodity if you two threw away such a good friendship over him."

There is something about Josh's tone that bothers Lauren, and she is unable to keep a scowl off her face.

"Jason's a great guy."

"I'm sure he is," Josh says, though he doesn't sound particularly convinced of the fact. "So do you think Courtney's still hung up on him?"

"Uh, no. Not even close." Lauren swivels her chair back around to face the computer. "You better get to work fixing that thing up."


She can feel Josh's presence lingering in the cubicle, but she keeps herself focused firmly on the computer.

"I'll give you a look at it when I'm done," he says.

"Okay." Lauren opens her e-mail again and reads her latest message. After several more uncomfortable seconds, Josh finally leaves.

Lauren tries to return to her work and not let any of what he said irritate her.


The boutique sits on Platz Street in downtown King's Bay, nestled among the other stores in the city's shopping district. Outside, the street is busy with the usual mid-morning activity; inside, the store is alive with last-minute preparations for its opening.

Molly Fisher stands in the middle of the floor, observing the preparations. When she came in yesterday, the store was a skeleton: shelves and racks were set up but still bare, mannequins standing and posed but not yet clothed. Today, the staff has already been bustling around for a few hours to set things up, and the merchandise that is already out has brought life to the shop.

"Exciting, isn't it?" Camille Lemieux says as she comes up behind Molly.

Molly turns to her boss with a smile. "Yeah, it looks terrific. I can't wait until the doors open and there are customers in here."

Camille brings her palms together in a light clap. "We've done it, Molly. Soon our clothes are going to be in department stores, the boutique will be open ... and Objection will be on its way to grand success."

"Excuse me, Ms. Fisher?" a young woman says as she approaches them with a stack of folded clothes.

Molly's grin renews itself. "You can call me Molly. Kelsey, I'd like you to meet Camille Lemieux, the founder of Objection. Camille, this is Kelsey Barker. We just hired her as the assistant manager."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Camille says warmly.

"You too," Kelsey says. She seems a bit flustered, almost awestruck, by the meeting. "And thanks for giving me a chance, Molly. When Jason said he'd give you my number, I didn't really expect anything to come of it--"

"You're more than qualified," Molly says. "And I'm very happy to help out a friend of my brother."

Kelsey smiles gratefully and then points to an empty table near the front door. "I wanted to ask what you thought we should do with the table over there."

"I think it would be a good place for the tank tops. It'll be a colorful display, and customers can come in and start reading the different ones, so it'll give us a way to pull them into the store. What do you think, Camille?"

"That sounds wonderful to me," Camille says. She doesn't sound particularly concerned about the matter.

"All right, thanks. I'll get started on that." Kelsey flashes them another smile and hurries off.

"She's a nice girl," Molly says. "She's my brother's new skating partner and just moved here, so I thought it would be nice to help her find a job. It turns out that she has tons of retail experience already, so she should be a good fit here."

Camille nods, and the women stand in mutual silence for a few seconds.

"You're doing wonderfully," Camille says finally. "A few months ago, you would have been terrified of making a decision like that. Now you're taking charge, really becoming a part of this company. It's delightful to see, Molly."

"Thanks," Molly says. The unexpected praise makes her feel about as awkward as Kelsey seemed a few moments ago. "And I have you to thank for the opportunity."

Camille gazes around the work-in-progress that is the boutique. "We really have something special here, Molly. Objection is going to be quite a success, I can just feel it."


"I'll be there in a minute!"

Nick Moriani takes a deep breath and attempts to compose himself. He hardly slept a wink last night, and now he has to go into the dining room, sit across from Katherine, and plaster a pleasant expression on his face while they eat whatever the cook has prepared and make casual conversation. No mention, not even the slightest acknowledgement, of the absolute madness that has been dominating his life recently.

He doesn't have the energy to deal with this.

He walks over to the window and stares out of it. How could he have been so stupid to have had a conversation like that in the open, where anyone could overhear? Of course, he hadn't been expecting it; it caught him so off-guard that he didn't even have time to consider things like that. And if Stan hadn't been lurking around, doing God-knows-what ...

His phone chirps, and he answers swiftly, before the noise has a chance to float into the kitchen and attract Katherine's attention.

"Nick Moriani," he says, even though he recognizes the number on the display.

He listens to the voice on the other end and, before hanging up, says, "Thank you. Good work."

He turns and heads into the dining room. This day just became much easier to face.


The glass doors and walls of Vision Publishing stand imposingly before Alex. He realizes that there is no reason to be intimidated--Diane Bishop called him, requested to see him--but he can't help it. Besides, he has had no time to prepare himself mentally for this.

Still unsure whether or not he is fully in control of his body, he makes his way through the office's front doors and to the receptionist's desk.

"I, uh, I'm here to see Diane Bishop," he says to the middle-aged woman behind the desk. "My name's Alex Marshall ..."

The woman presses some combination of buttons that allows her access to an intercom. "Ms. Bishop, there's an Alex Marshall here to see you."

Diane's response comes loud and clear through the speaker, her voice an unflinching reflection of the tough-as-nails persona of her that he has gathered from Jason's stories.

"Send him in."

The receptionist directs him to Diane's office, and Alex runs the instructions through his head over and over as he walks, like text scrolling over a marquee. Down this hallway, take a left, go to the end of the row, turn right, and it'll be on your left. Down this hallway, take a left ...

He manages to locate the office without incident, doing his best to look natural as he walks past the scores of employees who sit in cubicles and roam the hallways. He knows that not every one of them can be a powerful publishing executive, but he can't discern the interns from the execs from the assistants.

Outside Diane's office, he pauses for a moment to compose himself. He lifts his hand to knock on the open door, but before he can, she looks up from her desk.

"Alex?" she asks, though the question seems to be a mere formality.

He nods. "Yeah."

"Come on in. It's nice to meet you."

Alex strides over to her desk and extends his hand. She meets it with a firm shake; he hopes his grip comes across as strong and assertive, not flimsy or wimpy.

"You didn't have to get dressed up," she says, noting the shirt and tie he threw on in his hurry to get out of the apartment.

He shrugs and grins.

"Not that I mind," Diane adds. "You certainly are a nice looking young man. You wouldn't believe how some of these writers I meet with look."

He responds with a chuckle, trying to wrap his brain around the fact that she is addressing him as a writer. Not a student, not some kid, but an actual writer.

Well, he hopes that's what it means.

"Have a seat," she says, taking one herself. Alex folds his hands in his lap while Diane moves some papers around on her desk.

Finally she holds up a thick stack, one that looks familiar to Alex, right down to the clip. It is one of the copies he had printed up a few weeks ago.

"So, this manuscript of yours," Diane says, laying it down between them. "Sarah Fisher recommended it to me. Usually I don't accept unsolicited material like that, but Sarah's a friend, so I gave it a read."

Alex suddenly feels the need to make excuses. "I didn't even know she had it. Jason--her brother--let her take a copy and didn't even tell me--"

"And I'm glad he did."

Alex swallows hard and knots his fingers together even harder.

"I'm very impressed with what I read." She drums a set of French manicured nails over the top of the manuscript. "You're a very promising writer, Alex. A lot of potential."

"Thanks," he says, shifting in his seat. "I don't even have an agent--well, yet. I've been sending letters out, but no one's bitten."

"That's a minor issue. We can get around it," Diane says. "Because I want Vision to publish your novel."


Is this finally Alex's big break as a writer?
Will Objection be the success for which Camille and Molly are hoping?
Why did Josh put Lauren's buttons so badly?
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