Episode #364

Previously ...
- Matt helped Jennie with a plumbing problem and saw firsthand her home life with her gruff father.
- Alex prepared for Vision Publishing to publish his first novel.
- Courtney dumped Dylan as a skating partner.


Folding his apron sloppily, Matt Gray stuffs it inside his locker and closes the door. What a hectic afternoon ... He's just glad that he doesn't have to work the dinner shift tonight.

He steps back from his locker and is pulling on his coat when the door to the employees' room opens. Jennie Burkle enters, displaying a weariness that Matt recognizes easily.

"Rough shift?" he asks, offering a weak smile that he hopes will lighten the mood.

"I think every table in my section had at least one screaming kid at it," Jennie says. "And I already had a headache to begin with."

After having spent a blessedly short amount of time in Jennie's--or, more accurately, her father's--house, Matt isn't surprised that she'd have a headache. There was tension practically seeping from the walls in that place.

She moves to her locker, and Matt finishes putting on his coat. He watches her as he does so, trying to figure out how she puts up with such a grumpy brute all the time.

She must notice him looking at her, because she turns quickly and says, "Thank you so much for helping with the sink."

"No problem. It's not leaking anymore, is it?"

"No, it's fine." She withdraws her purse from the locker. "Sorry you had to be there when my dad came in. I knew he'd get pissed if he saw the mess."

Matt shrugs. "It's kind of a shock to get home and see your kitchen covered in water. At least you got it taken care of."

"Yeah, but only thanks to you. You saved my butt, Matt."

"Wasn't a big deal," he says. They go quiet again as Jennie gathers her things. He imagines that she'll hurry home to get dinner ready and spend the rest of the night in that dark, depressing house, tiptoeing around so as not to set off her dad.

"You have time to get something to eat?" he asks. "Maybe a drink? There's this thing at Tori's school tonight, so I've gotta eat early or wait 'til way later."

Surprise washes over Jennie's expression, and after the slightest hesitation, she nods. "Sure. One condition, though."

"We go someplace else--something with a lot less kids," she says, digging in her purse until she finds a tube of chapstick.

"I can do that."

"Then let's go," Jennie says, running the chapstick over her lips.


Typical midday office activity swirls all around Brian Hamilton, but when he knocks on the door of Diane Bishop's private office, all that greets his ears is a frustrating silence.

"Diane, it's me!" he calls out. He knows that it isn't uncommon for her to do this when she's in the middle of something important; she simply pretends that she isn't there. Most people take the lack of response at face value and leave her alone--but Brian knows her better than that.

"I've got something you're going to want to see!" he says, managing a sort of hushed shout through the door. He swears that he can hear her indecision as she contemplates whether to acknowledge the tantalizing tidbit or keep up her charade. Knowing Diane ...

Movement and footsteps from the other side of the door precede the door's opening, though it is only a crack, enough for him to see Diane's dark eyes.

"What is it?" she hisses, as much a warning as it is an inquiry.

Brian holds up the thick manila envelope in his hand. "Guess what I've got."

She peeks out of the office just enough to observe the flurry of activity taking place. "Get in here," she says. "Before someone sees me."

He ducks inside the office, and Diane quickly locks the door. Brian observes the mess of papers on her desk.

"What are you working so hard on that you had to go into lockdown?" he asks.

"A couple of stupid manuscripts that somehow slipped through the cracks. Someone, for some insane reason, thought that these were worth my time, so I'm having fun writing some nice, thorough evaluations to reject 'em."

"Your favorite game," Brian comments with a grin. He hands her the envelope. "Give yourself a break. This is something decent for you to read. Just came in."

She opens the envelope carefully, wary of his words. As soon as she pulls out the hefty document, though, excitement replaces her skepticism.

"Is this it?" she asks. "The final copy?"

"Ready to go to press."

"Oh my God." She leafs through the pages, stopping here and there to pause on passages that she has ready many times by now.

"This is going to do so well," she declares. "Alex Marshall is going to be the next big thing in the world of young authors."

"That would certainly be nice for us," Brian says.

They are interrupted by a knock on the door. Diane freezes and places her index finger over her lips, a signal for Brian to pretend they aren't there. But another knock sounds, this one almost frantic, announcing that it won't be turned away.

"Dammit, look what you started," Diane grumbles. She hands the manuscript back to Brian before opening the door.

"Chelsea," she says, when face with the young intern, "when my door is closed--"

"This is important, Ms. Bishop," Chelsea says, though she appears ready to topple with fear. "I was told to bring this to you right away."

Diane accepts another manila envelope from the intern, who scurries off without even being prompted. Brian watches as his colleague opens this envelope, scans its contents, and loses all color in her face.

"Holy crap," she says, rereading the new arrival.


"Get Alex on the phone right now. He has some serious explaining to do."


The cold air nips at Jason Fisher's cheeks as he and Kelsey Barker fly down the ice, their hands joined as they hold the exit position of the triple twist they have just executed. Finally Kelsey turns forward and, breaking their hold, they skate over to where their coach stands.

"I really want to try and get rid of that hiccup right before the setdown," Sandy James says, as much to herself as to the skaters. "Can you guys feel that?"

Jason nods. He's almost certain that he knows what she is talking about, though he doesn't have the slightest clue how to smooth it out.

"We'll start out with that on Friday morning," Sandy says. "Right now, I've got to get to my next lesson."

After a few parting words, Sandy skates off to work with another skater. Jason and Kelsey linger by the barrier, each with a water bottle in hand.

"The twist still feels a lot better than it did a week or two ago," Kelsey comments.

"I know. I'm sure Sandy can help us clean it up, but it's gotten so much better, anyway." He caps his water bottle and sets it down. "Do you wanna run through the middle section of the program once more?"

"Sure--in a minute. I need to make a detour to the ladies' room first, if you don't mind."

"Go right ahead," Jason says. "I'm all for preventing accidents!"

With a chuckle, Kelsey hops off the ice. Jason watches her go, then turns to observe the rest of the activity on the ice. The afternoon sessions are always more crowded than the morning ones, or at least it seems that way, since there are so many more beginners and young kids out here. His focus drifts toward the center of the ice, where Courtney is launching herself into an acrobatic death drop spin.

He watches with admiration as she kicks her legs up, one after the other, in a scissoring motion. She lands gracefully and pulls her body low, into a back sit spin position, which she holds for several revolutions before rising and gliding out gracefully.

Jason catches her eye as she completes the spin.

"That looked awesome," he says.

Courtney glides toward him, hands on her hips as she catches her breath. "Thanks. I'm finally getting the feel of those."

"Remember when we were working on death drops in Sun Valley when Sandy wasn't there, and I almost cracked my skull open?"

"And then Sandy almost cracked it open for you when she found out," Courtney says with a laugh.

Jason lingers inside the memory for a moment longer, then says, "So what's your plan, now that you and Dylan are done?"

"Not a clue. Find someone to take this test with, I guess. It's hard to keep myself motivated to practice when I don't even have a partner, though."

"Believe me, I know how that goes." He regrets the words as soon as they slip out and waits for Courtney to snap back at him with some comment about how it was his fault that they split up in the first place, but she allows it to pass without response.

"It'll work out," he says, as encouragingly as he can. Courtney offers a halfhearted nod, as if she'd like to believe the same but doesn't want to get her hopes up too high.

An instant later, Kelsey reappears. "Ready to run that section of the program?" she asks Jason.

"Yeah." He glances from Courtney to Kelsey and back again. "Let's do it."


"See? Not a screaming kid in sight," Matt says as he carefully picks up a nacho, piled high with toppings, and maneuvers it to his mouth.

"Thank God," Jennie says, surveying the Happy Hour crowd. The restaurant is calm, a steady but unobtrusive undercurrent of chatter buzzing through the air. "That'd be the upside of working in a bar--no brats screeching at you to get them balloons or crayons."

"Instead you get the sleazy old guys hounding you for your number."

"Yeah, true." Jennie reaches for a nacho and, despite her best efforts, loses out to gravity. Most of the toppings tumble off the chip as soon as she grabs it. She tries to scoop some of it up with the chip, with little success.

"Here," he says, handing her a fork. She accepts it gratefully and reloads the chip.

She crunches her way through it and then says, "You know, as long as we've worked together, I don't know much about you."

"What do you wanna know?" he asks, hoping that it's nothing very significant.

"I dunno. Your family. Stuff you like to do."

"Big football fan--Steelers especially. One thing I still miss about living in Pennsylvania is being able to catch a game or two every year."

"It's not that far to see the Seahawks ..."

"Can't say I'm much of a fan. Old loyalties die hard." He pauses to down a gulp of his beer. "What about you?"

"Me? I don't really know anything about football."

"No, what do you like to do? That restaurant can't be the most exciting thing in your life."

She laughs but then grows much quieter as she responds. "I'm really busy with work, stuff at home ... I don't have a lot of free time. I read a lot, I guess."

"That sounds like a hobby. What do you read?"

"Mysteries, usually. Nothing special." Matt notices that her eyes practically sink into her daquiri as she speaks.

Matt throws back another long sip of beer before speaking again; he wants to get her to open up a little and prays that she won't misinterpret his interest.

"What else? What do you wanna do with your life?"

"Get married, have a family, I dunno. Right now I'd settle for being able to get a place of my own."

"Are you saving up for that?"

She shrugs. "I wanna, but ... my dad needs me around."

As delicately as he can--which doesn't sound very delicate at all once the words come out--he says, "Your dad's a grown man."

"Yeah, but he needs me. He needs someone."

"What happened to your mom?" he asks gently.

"She died a couple years ago," Jennie says, sadness evident in her voice. She seems now to be sinking beneath the table, barely even glancing at Matt.

"Sorry to hear that."

A moment of grim silence passes between them, and then Jennie explains, "She was driving to visit her family over in Wanker County, and she lost control of the car--probably trying to put on makeup in the mirror or something, knowing my mom--and crashed into a ditch."

"Sorry to make you get into that," he says, struck suddenly by the overwhelming air of melancholy surrounding Jennie.

"Don't be. I never talk about her. It's nice, for a change." She sighs and fingers another nacho. "I was going to community college when it happened, and I had to work more to make up for the money that my mom brought in, so I put school on hold and never got back to it."

Matt grabs another chip and eats it as he contemplates his next words.

"So you feel like you owe it to your dad to stick around because he had to deal with losing your mom?" he asks finally.

"I guess. He hasn't been the same since she died. It's hard to see him like this, but I know that he needs me."

"But you deserve to have a life of your own, too. You're an adult," Matt says.

"Maybe." Jennie takes a sip of the daquiri, and her eyes wander around the bar. "But maybe that's not in the cards for me."


"I swear, I have no idea what this is about."

Alex Marshall sits in a chair in Diane's office, hands folded uncomfortably in his lap. His gaze tracks Diane around the office; every slow, deliberate step that she takes makes his breathing a little tighter and his stomach a little looser.

"Alex, I have a letter here from an attorney who claims that his client wrote a manuscript that's almost identical to the one that was originally presented to me as yours," Diane says. "Look at it--it even has that diner scene that we cut out."

She flings the document into Alex's lap, and he flips through it frantically. The pages are familiar to him: he already knows their sequence, their contents, everything except the actual character names.

"This doesn't make any sense," he says.

Diane casts upon him a sharp glance, one that lingers so long that he has to look away.

She stops pacing to say, "There has to be an explanation for this--and, over the years, I've found that the simplest explanation is most often what's true."

"I didn't steal this book from anyone," Alex insists, looking first to Diane and then to Brian, who stands in the corner with his arms folded. "You guys have got to believe me."

A sigh escapes Diane's throat before she speaks again. "I'd like to believe you, Alex, I really would. You're a good kid, and I've enjoyed working with you on this project. But I swear to God, if you're lying to me right now--"

"I'm not."

He hopes that her pause is a sign that she is taking his vow to heart. A glance passes between Diane and Brian, some sort of silent communication that Alex cannot decode. Brian unfolds his arms and takes a step forward.

"We're going to have to halt plans for the publication," Brian says, almost matter-of-factly, but a hint of sadness creeps into his voice.

"But it isn't true!"

"Then we need to prove that," Diane says. "If you can't, then we have no choice but to terminate your contract."


Will Alex be able to prove that he's telling the truth?
What's with Matt softening toward Jennie?
Are Jason and Courtney on the road to reconciliation?
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