- Claire told Tim that she had been dating someone but did not say that the man was Ryan.
- After learning that Ryan is his half-brother, Tim struggled to understand how his family could have accepted Ryan as a changed man.
- Distraught over his argument with his brother, Matt lashed out at Sarah.
- Molly shared some exciting news with Brent: she is pregnant!
Christmas decorating has never been a favorite activity of Claire Fisher's, especially the outdoor portion of it. If it were up to her, she would hang a wreath on the door and be done with it. The whole process reminds her too much of her childhood years, when a cloud hung ominously over the proceedings; her father never let her forget that they went to all this trouble for her, and how much work it was. It's no surprise that she grew up to be less-than-fond of the manual labor part of the holidays.
Since moving in with the Fishers, though, she has gradually grown accustomed to all of it. It would be unfair to deprive Travis and Samantha of all the holiday cheer, too--not that she would ever dream of talking about it with them as her father did with her.
She is busy untangling a strand of lights, hastily wound up during last year's clean-up, when she sees the Acura pulling up to the curb. Cars have been coming and going the entire time that she has been out here, but this one in particular catches her eye.
She gives up on the lights momentarily and watches as Ryan Moriani gets out of his car.
"Are you doing those all by yourself?" he calls out.
"Yeah. Paula and Bill are still at the rink, but I thought I'd get a head start. Travis is coming home tonight, so ..."
"Want a hand?"
"I definitely won't refuse help," she says with a self-deprecating chuckle. "The less responsibility I have for this, the better."
"I'm not exactly an artist with this stuff, either, but I'll try my best." He picks up another strand of lights from the ground. It appears to be even more tangled than the set Claire is holding, if that's possible.
The awkwardness is palpable to her, even as they stand in silence, fumbling with the lights.
"Are you ready for this?" she asks. "To deal with this Tim thing, I mean?"
"Don't have much of a choice, do I?"
"I guess not."
"Listen, Claire." Ryan lets the strand fall to his side. "I just want to get this over with. I haven't slept a wink since Paula called to tell me about Tim."
She pulls at a tough knot, to no avail. "This isn't easy for me, Ryan."
His hands go to her shoulders, but it takes a moment for her to relax under his touch.
"I don't expect it to be easy. I can't even imagine how hard this has to be for you," Ryan says.
His lips press against her forehead. They linger there, as if this is the last time they will ever have the opportunity.
"I feel like we've built this new life together," he says, "and now it's about to be ripped away from us."
The air is chilly against Claire's face, and when she exhales, she can see the ghost of her breath floating off into the afternoon sky.
"That's why we need to talk," she says at last.
Ryan's fingers press harder on her shoulders. "All right, Claire. Lay it out there for me. Where do we stand now?"
Inside the house, the December chill is of no concern. The fireplace burns brightly, its orange glow casting a cozy spell over the Fishers' living room.
Sarah Fisher sits on the edge of the sofa, cradling a mug of hot cocoa between her palms. "... so I got everyone in one place--in this room, actually--and I gave them my blessing to be together."
"It was the right thing to do," Tim says. He can tell how great a scar all this drama with Molly and Brent has left on Sarah, and as shocking as it is, he is determined to be as supportive as possible. From the look of things, Sarah needs it.
"I know. It was. It's still hard to see them together, as a couple, though. It sounds petty, but ... it's like a reminder of how stupid I was."
"You weren't stupid. You aren't stupid. It was a situation that none of you could control." Tim shifts his weight in the wheelchair and rests his elbows on his knees. "And it's over now, right? There's nothing you can do but move on."
Sarah nods as she stares down into the hot cocoa. "I'm trying my best. Definitely some things I'd like to forget, and some things I'm not proud of."
Tim offers the warmest smile he can muster. "It sounds like things are promising with you and Matt, though."
"Yeah." She pauses, and in that instant, worry settles back over her expression. "There are a ton of issues there right now, too, but I'm really hoping we can work them out, with a little more time."
"I hope so," Sarah says with a sigh. "It makes me wonder if things will ever settle down. It's one thing after another after another ..."
"I'm still trying to grasp how much stuff I've missed."
"I'll do my best to catch you up. I'm just glad to have you back."
Sarah takes a sip of the cocoa, which has finally cooled enough to drink without scalding her tongue. The flames dancing around in the fireplace hypnotize her momentarily. She continues to stare as Tim speaks.
"I'm sorry I haven't been here for you through all of this stuff," he says. "Sounds like you've had a rough couple years."
"Yeah ... but it hasn't been all bad. If not for all the drama, I wouldn't have Tori."
A grin crosses Tim's lips. "I can't wait to see Travis and Samantha tonight."
"I'll bet." Sarah pulls her eyes away from the fire. "Tim, we're all so happy to have you back."
"Believe me, I'm glad to be back ... not that I even knew I was gone to begin with."
They share a tiny laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
"I know it has to be hard for you to be thrown into the middle of all this," Sarah says, "but I'm here for you, Tim."
She rests her hand on top of her brother's, and he smiles gratefully.
"What about you and Claire?" she asks. "Have you guys sorted through things yet?"
KING'S BAY PARK
"There's so much to think about. I need to find a doctor, and there's all this shopping to do ..."
Molly Fisher has been gushing for half an hour now, ever since Brent met her at her apartment and they walked over to the park together. For his part, Brent is happy to listen. He is already excited about the baby, and Molly's enthusiasm is infectious.
He holds Molly's hand as they stroll over the gravel-laden path. The cool air bites at his cheeks and nose, but the chill is refreshing. It's one of the few days lately devoid of rain and clouds, a perfect day to enjoy the Pacific Northwest winter.
Molly, bundled up in a ski hat, a scarf, and a warm winter coat, suddenly slows the pace of her steps.
"What about Christmas?" she asks.
"What about it?"
"Do you think that'd be a good time to tell everyone? About the baby, I mean?"
Brent shrugs. "Maybe."
He can feel her eyes upon him, and he waits for her reaction.
"What are you up to?" she asks. He can hear the amusement in her voice.
"Oh, nothing." He swings their linked arms back and forth as they continue down the path.
"Brent! Come on!"
He cannot repress the smirk that is overtaking his lips, but he has to draw this out a little longer. She isn't nearly frazzled enough yet.
"Don't worry about it, Mol," he says. "Doesn't concern you."
"Yes, it does! I can tell from that look on your face."
His only response is another shrug.
"I hate when you do this!" Molly says.
"I know!" Brent keeps his focus forward, but he can tell that she is caught between laughter and absolute madness.
Molly comes to a sudden stop, but Brent walks a few more steps before stopping. She yanks on his hand to pull him closer to her.
"Come on, you," Molly pleads.
Brent finally allows laughter to crack through his visage. Molly's eyes widen with frustration.
"All right, all right." He's built this up enough, though he could probably enjoy getting her all worked up for a lot longer. "There's actually a reason I wanted to go for a walk."
"So we could freeze our butts off?"
"Not exactly." He looks around them: no one in sight. Perfect. "Because it's a beautiful day out."
"I wanted to wait for Christmas," he explains, "but there's no way I can wait that long. So consider this an early present."
He searches her face for some hint of awareness. It takes a moment, but he finally sees that first light of recognition dawning.
"I should've done this a long time ago," he says, holding onto her hand as he drops down to one knee.
"Oh my God."
Brent fishes in his coat pocket for the small box. He has been secretly fingering it the entire time, but now he withdraws it.
He flips the box open, and the sparkle inside it reflects in Molly's eye.
"Molly Fisher," he says, a powerful surge rising in his chest, "will you marry me?"
Her expression tells him all that he needs to know.
Claire and Ryan stand in the middle of the yard, the Christmas lights in their hands all but forgotten.
"I don't want to make this decision," Claire says after a long silence.
Ryan responds with an understanding nod. This has to be hell for her, he knows that. It puts the entire family in a horrible position, and he cannot shake the thought that, if forced to choose sides, they will all be on Tim's.
"When Tim disappeared," she continues, "it took me forever to accept the idea of being with another man. It seemed like I was doing something wrong even thinking about it."
"That's natural. It goes to show how strong your bond with him was--is."
"But now it turns out that it was wrong?" Her eyes plead with him, as if suspecting that he might have the solution tucked away somewhere, hidden from her. "Moving on was supposed to be this positive, healthy thing."
"He wasn't dead!"
"You didn't know that." Ryan pulls her closer. "You haven't done anything wrong. Sure, it's not a pleasant situation, but it's no one's fault."
She goes quiet, and Ryan's words linger in the air around them. This would be so much easier if there were someone to blame, someone clearly in the wrong.
When Claire speaks again, it's almost as if Ryan isn't there at all.
"It's been one thing after another. Convincing myself it was okay to feel the way I did about you, accepting that you weren't the same man I'd thought you were for so long, and then being okay with you being Tim's brother. It's like there's someone out there throwing this stuff at us whenever we seem to being getting too stable."
"But we've made it," he says. He can feel the desperation swelling in his chest. "We've come to this point because of the way we feel about each other."
Claire's head moves up and down, but the movement is slow, almost reluctant.
"I don't want to pressure you. The last thing I want is to make this harder on you. But ..."
"I have to know what this all means."
"I don't know, Ryan."
He isn't as sure of that as she seems to be. From the way she's talking, it sounds like she is certain of more than she has admitted.
"Just tell me," Ryan says. "Who is it you want to be with?"
Tim sits back in his wheelchair. "Claire told me she's been seeing someone, and I'm okay with that. I feel ridiculous even saying that. Of course I'm okay with it--she thought I was dead!"
"You're being way more understanding than a lot of people would," Sarah says. She already got the scoop from Claire, so she knows that Tim doesn't know about the Ryan factor yet. However, she's interested to hear her brother's side of it, to get a grasp on what he is feeling and thinking.
"It's not like I could hold it against her. It's difficult not to be jealous, yeah, but I'm doing my best."
Sarah takes another sip of her cocoa. "This'll all work out, Tim. I'm just sorry you had to come back to such a mess."
"Hey, I'm glad to be back, period," he says. "Everything else, I can deal with." His gaze drifts to the floor, though, and Sarah questions how much he truly believes that statement.
If it were any other man dating Claire, Sarah would be on Tim's side in an instant. But she has come to care about Ryan in the last year; the two of them have a lot more in common than she does with any of her other siblings, she suspects. She doesn't want to see him or Tim hurt because of this situation, though that seems impossible.
"I'm holding out hope that Claire and I can rebuild our marriage," Tim continues, "but I know that's not completely realistic."
"Have faith," Sarah tells him, because she can't think of any more reassuring to say.
She checks her watch and sets down the cocoa. "I need to get going. I have to meet with a client before I pick Tori up."
"Thanks for coming and hanging out," Tim says as his sister rises from the sofa.
Sarah pats him on the shoulder. "I'm thankful to have you back. We'll be hanging out plenty, just you wait."
"Glad to hear it."
She pulls her purse onto her shoulder and says, "I should probably use the bathroom before I go. No way am I sitting in that traffic on 202 with a full bladder."
"Traffic's still bad there?"
"It's gotten worse." She heads for the bathroom that is located right off the dining room. "I'll be right back."
Tim hears the bathroom door open and close. He rolls his chair over to the window. He didn't want Claire to go outside and work on the lights by herself, but she insisted, and he's really in no condition to spend all that time out in the cold. Wouldn't hurt to check up on her, though.
He can't see her from the window--not that he has much ability to move around to get a better view--so he goes to the door. As soon as he has it cracked, he spots her. She is standing in the middle of the yard with Ryan.
They are engrossed in conversation, far too much to notice Tim's presence. He is about to close the door--he can't face Ryan yet, not this casually--when Ryan's question catches his ear.
"Who is it you want to be with?"
A long silence follows. Claire fidgets, as if she might somehow be able to escape the situation. Ryan doesn't move.
Tim can't move, either. He sits there with the door cracked, unable to close it despite his better judgment.
"I don't know how I can do this," Claire says, barely loud enough for him to hear.
Ryan looks her straight in the eye. "I don't want to pressure you, I really don't. But I get the impression that you've made more of a decision than you've told me, and if that's the case--I need to know, Claire."
Tim's chest tightens as he listens. It can't be ... it's too twisted.
"Tim," she says.
For an instant, he thinks that she has seen him. But she hasn't; she is still looking at Ryan.
"I need to be with Tim," she says, her voice gaining ever so slightly in confidence. "He's my husband."
Tim can't bear to watch Ryan's reaction. He already feels that he has intruded upon something intensely personal. It's almost enough to make him shut the door, but his head is spinning too fast.
Claire's been seeing Ryan?
He waits for one of them to speak again, to say something that disproves it, but all that follows is a lengthy silence.
When Claire finally does speak, she only has two words: "I'm sorry."
The only thing Tim can do is ease the door shut and back away from it, as though he never opened it at all.
END OF EPISODE #351
will Tim do with this newly acquired knowledge?
Can Claire and Ryan set aside their feelings so simply?
Are Molly and Brent about to embark upon a happy life together?
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