Episode #353

Previously ...
- Despite Lauren's encouragement to pursue a relationship with Trevor, Alex didn't feel that it would or could ever happen.
- Claire told Ryan that she has chosen to stay with Tim--and Tim overheard, but didn't let anyone know that he had.
- Molly and Brent decided to throw a New Year's Eve party to celebrate their engagement.


Festive strains of Christmas music hum in the background, the undercurrent to the multiple conversations taking place in the Fishers' living room. With as many people as they have over for Christmas Eve this year, the Fishers have opted for a buffet-style dinner.

Jason Fisher sits on the edge of his parents' sofa, balancing a plate of food on his knees. Beside him, Lauren Brooks is attempting the same task, though with greater success than her boyfriend. She laughs as Jason stabs his fork at his food and nearly topples the red-and-gold paper plate.

"You'd better watch it," Jason warns playfully, "or this turkey's gonna wind up in your eye."

Lauren raises her fork and shakes it at him.

"I see you've really learned how to treat a lady," Tim comments to his younger brother.

Jason responds with an exaggerated eyeroll. "Tim, this isn't a lady. It's Lauren!"

"You know, I still have the receipt for your present," she says.

Tim is happy to observe as their banter continues; he enjoys seeing his brother so comfortable with Lauren. Their repartee is easy, lighthearted, and somehow reassuring to witness.

"Jason tells me you're working at Willis Advertising," Tim says to Lauren once the bickering subsides.

Lauren nods. "I'm actually spending most of my time working on the campaign for Molly's company."

"And you're enjoying it?"

"I love it. I did an internship there during college, and I loved it. It's a great place."

"I did some work with Willis back when I was working for Vision," Tim says. "It's a really nice set of people."

Lauren pauses to sip her wine, then asks, "Have you talked to anyone about going back to work there?"

"Not yet. I need to focus on getting better first." He pats the armrests of his wheelchair. "But yeah, I would love to, as soon as I can."

"Or you could be a bum with me," Jason cuts in.

Tim knows how self-deprecating the remark truly is, offhand as it seems.

"You'll find something you want to do," Tim says. "Right now, skating is your focus."

Jason lifts an eyebrow. "After that test, I'm not so sure that it should be."

"It was one crappy program. You'll pass next time," Lauren says.

Jason's shoulders lift in an unconvinced shrug. Tim is about to offer further encouragement when he sees Claire approaching out of the corner of his eye.

"Hey, guys," Claire says to Jason and Lauren. Aside from greeting them when they arrived, she hasn't spoken to them all night.

"Merry Christmas," Lauren offers. "Are you all ready for the big Santa visit tonight?"

"We're up to our eyeballs in toys and wrapping paper and tape," Claire says, "but it'll be worth it to see Travis and Samantha enjoy it all in the morning."

Jason reaches out and smacks Tim's knee. "I think those two got a pretty good early Christmas present this year."

"We all did." Claire smiles warmly and places a hand on Tim's shoulder.

Despite his best efforts, Tim cannot help but flinch at her touch. Ever since he overheard her talking to Ryan--telling him that their relationship has to end--Tim has not known how to act around his wife.

He is sure that Claire notices, because her hand hesitates before settling. But neither of them says anything, and Tim hopes that they will not have to. It's Christmas, and he is back with his family; that is all that matters.


The Christmas tree stands in one corner of the living room, its strands of multicolored lights providing the only illumination in the apartment. In hopes of setting a festive mood, Alex Marshall has dimmed the lights, turned on the tree, and put his favorite mix of Christmas music in the CD player. But now that his dinner is ready, the atmosphere doesn't seem right at all.

The meager feast--a chicken breast, some vegetables, and instant mashed potatoes--certainly doesn't help, but it isn't the problem, either. As much as Alex has been telling himself that he would make this an enjoyable, relaxing night, it doesn't feel the way that Christmas Eve should feel.

Not that it ever has, really. He can't even count all the holidays that his mother promised him would be special, that they would spend the day baking cookies or decorating the house or even just seeing a movie, but that turned out to be nothing more than a disappointment. Alex understands that his mother had to work to support him, and he does appreciate that, but he wishes she'd been more discriminating with her loose, frequent promises to her young son.

He sets his plate down at the small dining room table and opens up the novel that he has been reading. He pulls out the chair but pauses to study his surroundings one more time. Despite his best efforts to make this a nice, if unexciting, holiday, now it merely feels lonely. Even the Christmas tree, which he and Jason took such pride in decorating last week, looks somehow pathetic now.

As he takes his seat, he almost wishes he had taken Jason up on his invitation to join the Fishers tonight. Almost. He knew that it was more or less a family thing, and he would've felt like he was intruding. Besides, he'll spend Christmas day with the Chases, so he should be able to spend a night alone.

So he'll do this his way: a quiet dinner, a good book, and later, a glass of wine and a movie. It's better than forcing himself into a family gathering--or, worse, getting his hopes up for an amazing holiday, only to be disappointed by someone he can't really trust. At least by himself, he knows that he'll get what he expects.

Resolving to enjoy his evening, Alex takes his seat, finds his page in the novel, and eats a bite of the mashed potatoes.

He is still chewing that first bite when there is a knock on the door. He considers not answering it, but that seems a little too hermit-like; besides, it might be important. He sets down his book and fork and goes to the door.

He opens the door to find Trevor Brooks standing there, a wrapped package in his hands.


In the dining room, Sarah Fisher and Diane Bishop have staked out a post at one corner of the long table. They eat their dinners with one eye on the food and the other on their children, who have spent the bulk of the evening running back and forth, screaming.

"I cringe every time they run by the food," Diane says. "I have visions of mashed potatoes landing all over someone's head."

"My mom has seen worse." Despite her nonchalance, Sarah still tenses up as Victoria and Samantha rush by for what has to the fiftieth time. "Be careful, you two!"

Between bites of turkey, Diane says, "Never thought I'd be in this house for Christmas Eve, I've gotta tell you."

"Sam deserves to have both her parents around for Christmas Eve."

"I was half-expecting to be lynched when I walked through the door."

"Welcome to the club," Sarah says. "I'm glad you're here, though. I don't know how much of that I could handle otherwise." Her chin tilts upward, tracing an invisible path across the room to where Molly and Brent stand, plates in hand, engaged in conversation with Bill.

"Let them be miserable together," Diane says with a dismissive wave.

"Yeah." Sarah pauses and considers the coupling--her sister and her ex-husband. She knows that she shouldn't even mind at this point, and to some degree, she doesn't. It isn't that she is jealous or even angry. The whole thing irks her, plain and simple. "This would be a lot easier if Matt was here."

Diane nods sympathetically.

Sarah continues, "At least then it'd be like we had all moved on. The way it is, I feel like the odd man out."

The women mull over that thought as they continue eating in silence, the rest of the family swirling around them with holiday cheer.

"Speaking of odd men out," Diane says, setting down her fork, "look at your poor brother."

Sarah follows Diane's gaze into the living room, where Claire stands behind Tim's wheelchair with her hand on his shoulder.

Diane shakes her head. "Tim doesn't even look comfortable, and he doesn't know the half of it."

"Claire's handling this really well," Sarah says, before Diane has the chance to cut down her sister-in-law, "but there's no way that this can end well for all of them."


Setting her plate down on the unoccupied end of the dining room table, Molly makes her way into the kitchen. It will give Brent and Bill a chance to talk privately; after all that has happened, she is a little concerned about her parents' feelings toward Brent. As far as she knows, they've been very fair toward him and understanding of the situation, but it will have to be a bit strange when he marries another of their daughters.

She feels her ring-less finger. They still don't know the news, but they will, soon enough.

In the kitchen, she finds her mother, Ryan, and Travis. Ryan stands over the stove, looking slightly uncomfortable as he watches a pan. Molly knows the routine well: trying to help out in the kitchen, but using most of your energy to avoid ruining Paula's cooking. Travis, meanwhile, is planted at the kitchen table, counting out plastic cutlery and paper dessert plates.

Paula pauses in front of the open oven. "Hi, dear. Do you need something?"

"No, I just thought I'd see what was going on in here," Molly says. "Everything under control?"

"We're finishing up the last of the desserts," Paula responds. She peeks into the oven and, apparently satisfied, closes the door.

"All done!" Travis announces from the table.

Paula makes her way over to her grandson and examines his work. "You're sure you counted them all out right?"

He nods and makes a face, as if to ask how his grandma could question him this way.

"All right," Paula tells him, "let's go set everything out." Travis hops down from his chair, and the two of them take the plates and cutlery into the dining room.

Molly turns her attention toward Ryan, who stares at the pot with confusion.

"You look a little lost," she comments.

"I'm not really sure what I'm looking for," he says. "It hasn't overflowed or exploded yet, so ..."

"Just keep stirring. You can't go wrong with that."

Ryan drags the spoon through the pot's contents a few times.

They stand in silence for a few seconds before Molly speaks. "I'm really glad you could be here this year."

"So am I," Ryan says. "It really helps, just being here, seeing everyone together and feeling like a part of it."

"You are a part of it."

His head moves up and down in a slow nod, but Molly can tell that he isn't so certain about it.

"You are," she insists. "And don't worry: even Tim will come around eventually. He just has to adjust."

"I guess." Ryan lets the spoon rest against the rim of the pot. "I have a feeling things are going to get worse before they get better, though."

She is about to offer further encouragement, but she realizes that there are a lot of wild cards in the batch.

"What's going on with you and Claire?" she asks.

"Nothing." He meets her gaze and repeats, with greater resignation, "Nothing. She told me that she wants to be with Tim. He's her husband, and I have to respect that, so ..."

"I'm sorry, Ryan."

"There isn't anything I can do about it."

She can't argue with that, and she wouldn't ever attempt to. Hearing him speak about Claire this way helps to ease some of the uneasiness that she has felt ever since they found Tim, and now she feels compelled to do a final test.

"I can't believe what a mess this turned into," she says. "I'd love to know who was behind this. Someone wanted to ruin Tim and Claire's lives. If Dr. Domingo would only talk to the authorities ..."

"It would be nice to know. Not that it would fix any of this, but still," Ryan says, without hesitation.

Molly gives him a smile. "Hang in there. This will work out."

"I hope so."

She takes another look at the pot and then stays, "Keep stirring. I'll go grab Mom so that she can make a ruling on it."

Ryan laughs. "Okay, thanks."

Molly exits the kitchen, feeling much better about her brother. He didn't even react to Domingo's name. That has to mean something--or, rather, nothing at all, which is exactly what she was hoping for.


Once Alex sees who is at the door, he isn't sure if he is happy that he opened it or not.

"I'm glad you're here," Trevor says. "Lauren mentioned that Jason said you didn't have plans tonight, so ..."

He looks good, really good, Alex has to admit. Then again, appearances have never been a problem where Trevor is concerned.

"Why aren't you doing something with your family?" Alex asks. It is more a challenge than a question; he's sure that Trevor has something more important to do on Christmas Eve than dredge up all of this.

"My parents got home from their cruise yesterday, so they're exhausted. Lauren's at Jason's parents house." Trevor pauses awkwardly, then adds, "Christmas Eve has never been a huge thing for us. We're doing a big dinner tomorrow."


Alex eyeballs the present in Trevor's hands.

Trevor must notice this, because he says, "I wanted to give you this. I've been thinking about you, and ... I know it's not much, but I hope it'll show you how sorry I am for what happened."

He extends the gift toward Alex, who cautiously takes it from him.

"I miss you," Trevor says.

"I miss you, too," Alex admits. He holds the wrapped box between his palms.

"Go ahead, open it."

Alex has always hated opening gifts in front of people; he always feels that he is on display somehow, that he has to put on a show and make the moment meaningful. He almost hates to ruin this moment by unwrapping the package at all. The gesture itself is so thoughtful, and whatever item is inside the box threatens to devalue it, to reduce it to something ordinary.

"I hope you like it," Trevor says. "And I was thinking, maybe we could talk and hang out, now that the whole Dylan thing is blowing over."

Alex's fingers pause over a flap of wrapping paper. Blowing over?

The shift in tone is obvious to Trevor, who scrambles to add, "I mean, I hope you've had time to think stuff over. Dylan totally played games with both our heads--"

Alex doesn't know how to respond, other than to shove the present back into Trevor's hands. Trevor stands there, stunned.

"What are you doing?" he finally asks, when he realizes that Alex isn't going to break the silence.

"This is not a good idea," Alex says. He takes a step backward. "Merry Christmas."

Trevor doesn't even have the chance to reply. Alex closes the door in his face.

He returns to the table, to the dinner he no longer has any interest in, his own thoughts about the holidays buzzing through his head like the shiny message of a marquee: I won't let myself be disappointed by someone I can't really trust.

Or by someone who doesn't even understand that, his mind adds sadly.

He slumps into the dining chair anyway and runs his fingers over the novel's glossy cover.

Outside the apartment, Trevor restrains himself from bashing the gift against the door.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," he mutters before beating a hasty retreat down the stairs and away from Alex.


Samantha sits in her mother's lap at the dining room table and watches with great interest as Paula and Travis organize the desserts.

"Chocolate cake!" the little girl exclaims.

"Keep those paws to yourself until it's time to dig in," Diane says. She wraps her arms around Sam and pulls her closer. As out-of-place as she has felt being at the Fishers' tonight, having the chance to be with her daughter makes it worth every bit of discomfort.

Samantha peers at another dish. "What's that?"

"This," Paula says, pointing to the elaborate-looking dessert, "is bananas."

"B-A-N-A-N-A-S!" Samantha calls out triumphantly.

Diane stares down her daughter. "If you keep that up, I'm calling that teacher of yours and demanding that she quit it with the spelling lessons."

Samantha giggles and then returns to quizzing Paula about the various desserts.

Diane's eyes stray toward the living room, where Claire and Tim are now engaged in conversation with Sarah. Claire excuses herself and heads toward the kitchen, leaving the siblings to talk.

A moment later, Molly emerges from the kitchen and hurries over to Paula.

"Mom," Molly says, "I think Ryan's ready for you to render your verdict."

Paula sets down the tray of cookies in her hands. "All right, I'll go check on him in a moment." She continues organizing the platters.

Doing a quick glance around the rooms, Diane uses process-of-elimination and realizes who must be in the kitchen. She cranes her neck so that she can see through the doorway ...

And, sure enough, there are Claire and Ryan. Every aspect of the encounters screams awkwardness: Claire's uncomfortable lean against the counter; the way Ryan keeps diverting his eyes; the obvious stops and starts in the conversation.

Serves them right, Diane thinks, for what they're doing to Tim. If Claire hadn't explicitly warned her, she would have told Tim about his wife and brother as soon as she saw him. He deserves better than this--and if Claire knows what's good for her, she'll limit her interaction with Ryan to awkward small talk from now on.

Paula scurries into the kitchen, effectively ending the show for Diane. Samantha squirms in her mother's lap, but Diane doesn't want to release her; Travis is practically salivating over the desserts, and the two siblings in combination might be disastrous.

A few moments later, Paula returns with two more dishes.

"Dessert is served, everyone!" she calls out, utilizing that action-stopping voice that all mothers seem to possess. The family trickles into the room and toward the table where the dishes have been laid out.

Diane notices Molly standing off to the side, and as Brent passes, she catches his hand. The two share a hushed exchange, and Diane watches with great interest. This can't be good.

"Brent and I have an announcement to make," Molly says. Her announcement is less effective than Paula's, but slowly, the rest of the voices quiet. Attention in the room turns to Molly and Brent.

"We wanted to have everyone together to do this," she continues. "Brent and I--we have some news."

Diane looks immediately to Sarah, who appears to be caught someplace between shock and laughter. Diane can tell that she is working hard not to show a reaction.

"We're getting married!" Molly says. Most of the family responds with genuine excitement, but to Diane, Brent looks almost as self-conscious as Sarah. Not that Molly would settle for any less than a grand-scale announcement ...

"We're going to have a party on New Year's Eve," the announcement continues. "Kind of a half-New Year's/half-engagement party."

The family crowds around to bury them in congratulations; dessert is temporarily forgotten. Sarah slides up beside Diane, hanging back from the crowd. Diane allows Samantha to wriggle off her lap.

"Just stay calm," Diane tells her friend quietly.

"Doing my best," Sarah says, folding her arms. "You're coming to that party with me, you know that?"

Diane makes a face.

"You're coming," Sarah insists. "Now come on, let's get to work on that chocolate cake."


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