Episode #367

Previously ...
- Alex learned that the allegation of plagiarism against him had been retracted. He set off to find Trevor to apologize for accusing him.
- Jason took time out from practicing with Kelsey to chat with Courtney, who was practicing by herself after her breakup with Dylan.
- When Claire failed to come home for dinner, Tim and Bill wondered if Ryan might be involved.
- Claire agreed to accompany Ryan on a spontaneous "last date," during which they talked about their past and their future--or lack thereof.


Tim Fisher closes the oven door, locking what was supposed to be his and Claire's dinner inside it. He could eat without her, but after the exhilaration of preparing the surprise evening and the subsequent crash of his wife not showing up, he doesn't have much of an appetite. Besides, she might walk in at any minute.

Or she might not.

He picks up the portable phone but then sets it down just as quickly. She hasn't answered her cell yet, so there is no reason to think that she miraculously would do so now. Instead he strolls into the living room, taking in the emptiness of the house around him.

This was supposed to be a special night, he thinks. A night for the two of us, with no distractions. Now the house feels deserted, lonely.

He knows that there are countless plausible reasons for her failure to come home on time, but his mind refuses to stray far from one of the most unpleasant of those reasons: Ryan must have gotten to her.

What that means, exactly, Tim is not sure. But the Ryan Moriani that he remembers was a dangerous thug, willing to go to great lengths to get what he wanted, and if Claire is what he wants now ...

He flips on the TV and tries to focus on baseball, with little success.


"So we do this forever? We go on with this charade for the rest of our lives?"

Ryan Moriani allows his questions to hang in the cool night air, his focus fixed firmly on the woman seated beside him on the blanket in the middle of the green.

"Claire ... can you really do that?" he asks.

"I have to," she says after a long silence. She draws another reluctant sip of the champagne that Ryan brought.

"But do you want to?"

"Sometimes it isn't as simple as doing exactly what you want. You, of all people, should know that."

"I do," Ryan says, "and I understand what a difficult situation this is for you. I know that you love Tim. You married him, and you built a life with him."

She opens her mouth to respond, but Ryan cuts her off: "But all of that changed when he disappeared."

She levels a hard stare at him.

"It did," she agrees, sounding hesitant to do so, "and now everything has changed again. Whatever developed between you and me--whatever kind of future we might have pictured for ourselves--none of that changes the fact that Tim is my husband."

Ryan struggles for words. He knew that the conversation would come to this, and as prepared as he has tried to be, he cannot think of a single thing to say that seems to have a snowball's chance in hell of appealing to her sense of logic.

So, instead, he leans toward her and plants his mouth upon hers.

In that first instant, the months since Tim's reappearance melt away. It feels exactly how it did the day before Molly and Brent returned from Vermont with Tim, throwing their finally peaceful lives into even greater chaos than before.

But reality creeps up on them, and suddenly, Claire's lips feel different against his. Ryan pulls back as soon as he senses the change.

He wonders what he can say now. Does he admit defeat? Emotion clouds his mind and prevents him from producing any sort of decision.

As it turns out, he does not need to decide anything--Claire does it for him. She sets the plastic champagne flute on the ground and rises to her feet. Ryan begins to follow her lead but stops, instead crouching on the blanket like an animal preparing to make its next move.

"Coming with you was a bad idea," she says, casting a final look down on him before she hurries away. He watches her form, shadowy in the blue darkness, as it moves further and further into the distance.


Setting down the cheap corkscrew that he's been making mental notes to replace for the past six months, Brian Hamilton pours two glasses of wine. He hands one, its yellow-white contents sparkling in the dimly lit living room, to Kelsey Barker; he keeps the other for himself. A Coldplay CD murmurs from the stereo, warming the apartment with its soft noise.

"I have been looking forward to this all day," Brian says, raising his glass toward Kelsey.

She lifts hers in return. "Me too. I had to be at the store early to move around the window displays, so Jason and I had to practice this afternoon. I'm beat."

"Same here. We had this huge catastrophe at work today."

"What happened?"

"We got his letter from a lawyer whose client claimed that he actually wrote a book that we're about to publish." He stops short of saying Alex Marshall's name, especially in light of Kelsey's roundabout connection to the young author. "The writer wouldn't do something like that, I don't think, but it has to be addressed before we can go ahead. So ... a quiet night sounds really good to me, too."

Kelsey removes two takeout containers of Thai food from a plastic bag, creating a storm of swooshing and crinkling noises. She hands one to Brian and then sets her own on the coffee table.

"There's something I wanted to run by you," she says. The pronouncement sounds sudden even to her own ears, though she has been considering how to make it for hours.


"While Jason and I were practicing today, his old partner--Courtney, the one who just broke up with her partner--was there, too. I left the ice for a minute, and when I came back, they were talking and, I don't know, looking so comfortable. And it got me to thinking about something."

"You're worried he's gonna dump you for her?" Brian asks.

"No. Jason wouldn't do that. But what if they're supposed to be skating together again? I've got my test already, so I'm just helping Jason get his now. Courtney's working toward the same thing. Sort of seems like fate or something, doesn't it?"

Kelsey folds her hands in her lap, and Brian doesn't answer until he opens up his Thai container and examines his food for a few seconds.

"Do you think you might be overanalyzing this?" he asks, cracking a smile--not because her overreaction surprises him, but because he now recognizes her tendency toward thinking things into the ground.

"I don't know," Kelsey says, her shoulders bobbing in a shrug. "When two people have a history like that, it never really goes away, right?"

Now Brian is poised to respond, but a solid knock thunders against the front door. He predicts its source before he even opens the door.

"I have amazing news!" Diane Bishop says as she bursts into the apartment. She casts a glance at Kelsey and turns right back to Brian. "I would've called, but I was on my way home, so I figured I would drop by to tell you in person. Alex is home-free!"

"What?" Brian's eyes bulge with surprise, with relief. "Already? How did that get worked out so fast?"

"It was a prank, just like he said, someone pulling an asshole stunt to cause trouble."

"That 'prank' could've cost the kid any shot he has at a writing career," Brian says.

"I know! But it doesn't matter now. The lawyer sent word over that we can disregard the notice, because his client decided not to pursue the matter--which, I think, means that the client was full of crap to begin with."

"Absolutely, yeah." Beaming, Brian turns back to Kelsey. "This is that mess I was telling you about. It's all resolved now!"

Kelsey manages a grin, but a strained one--because, while she is happy for Brian, her own question of a moment ago seems to have received a much more twisted answer than she expected.


Stones click beneath Alex Marshall's feet as he crosses through the dark woods. The path is only vaguely familiar, despite the destination being a constant in his dreams. He wonders if what he takes as signs that he is on the right track only appear that way because he wants them to. Pushing the dense brush of the evergreens away from his face, he moves toward what looks to be the glow of the clear night sky.

Alex steps out of the trees at last, holding back a branch to keep it from swinging into his face. He knows immediately that his instincts were correct and that they led him to the right place. Trevor's form sits at the edge of the cliff, the same one off which the two young men took such careful leaps into the still blue water below.

Alex recalls the rush of adrenaline as he stood on the edge of the rocky ledge, willing his legs to do what Trevor did so easily. He remembers the surge that filled him as he hit the water and the calm, the tranquility, that came afterward.

All Alex feels now is nervousness, uncertainty. Maybe it was a bad idea to come here.

He steps out of the trees, letting go of the last of the brush. The sweeping noise catches Trevor's attention, and he turns with a start. His mouth hangs open at the sight of Alex.

"I figured you might be out here," Alex says. He doesn't make another move. He fears that Trevor will tell him to get lost, or even worse, not say anything.

But Trevor continues watching him, draws a breath of the crisp air, and says, "Kind of a long way to come on a hunch."

"I needed to." Alex approaches tentatively, watching his steps over the rocky ground, and only speaks again once he has stopped moving. "How'd you get Dylan to 'fess up?"

"I told him he'd won. He got what he wanted." Trevor sighs and turns back around, leaving Alex to stare at the back of his head. "To keep us from being together."

Alex approaches the ledge. The silky moonlight falls upon Trevor's brown hair, casting it in a warm glow, and he cannot take his eyes off it.

"Has he won?" Alex asks.

"Looks like it, doesn't it?"

Carefully, Alex lowers himself down onto the ledge, draping his legs over the side. The ground is cold to the touch, and a shiver runs through his body as the cool air wraps itself around him.

Alex draws a deep breath, and then asks, "Why'd you even go after Dylan, after I accused you?"

"I didn't want him to get away with it. After that stunt he pulled with setting me up--not that I shouldn't have known better, but still ... I didn't want to see him screw you over again. Especially considering how hard you worked on your writing and how much you deserve to succeed with it."

"I wouldn't have gotten that novel to where it is without your help." He glances over at Trevor, only a foot or so away from him now. Trevor's gaze is fixed across the river, at the opposite wall.

"Trevor, I'm really sorry everything's gotten so screwed up. I never should have accused you of being behind this mess. I shouldn't have even suspected you at all. You're not that kind of guy." Alex's hands move together, intertwining themselves to keep busy. "And maybe I was too hard on you about hooking up with Dylan."

Again Trevor turns to face him. Alex is hit by an overwhelming force, something that he hasn't felt in a long time, and the absolute purity would knock him off his feet if he were standing. He knows now that this is right.

"Dylan doesn't have to win," he says, "not unless we let him."

Trevor just stares back at him, his tanned skin soft under the moonlight.

"If you can forgive me for thinking the worst of you--"

"Shut up," Trevor says, a grin filling his face. He leans toward Alex, closing the gap between them, and in the instant before their lips touch, Alex wonders if some force might intervene at the last second to keep this from happening yet again.

But the intervention never comes. Their lips meet, and then their mouths, and nothing in this peaceful, perfect place can stop them or interrupt them or take this away from them.


The Mariners' home crowd erupts in a cheer as what could have been the inning's final out is transformed into a triple and a legitimate hope for tying the score. Tim watches intensely from the sofa, not quite resigned to his spoiled night but absorbed in the game enough not to obsess over the dinner and the empty house going to waste.

The next batter takes his place, and he is still preparing to salvage the game when the Fishers' front door opens.

When he sets his sights on Claire, the first thing to wash over Tim isn't anger or bitterness--it is relief. "You're all right," he says, standing carefully to greet her.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I left my phone in the car, and--" She brushes her dark brown hair back behind her ears. "I got held up, that's all. Nothing to worry about."

"Thank God. I was getting nervous."

"I'm so sorry, Tim."

"It's okay." He takes a final glance at the TV and, seeing that the Mariners have failed to make much of the potential of that last hit, switches it off. "I made some dinner, and it should still be warm."

"Okay. All right." She seems poised to follow him into the kitchen, but then she changes course abruptly. "Let me go upstairs and change. I'll be right down."

"Sure. I'm just glad you're okay."

She vanishes up the stairs, and Tim turns on the television again. The Mariners are still hanging in there, so he settles back onto the sofa to wait for Claire.

At the top of the stairs, Claire pauses and breathes her own sigh of relief. She'll do her best to put tonight's encounter with Ryan out of her mind; she has to. She never should have left Tim waiting like that, and she won't make the same mistake again. She can't.


Will Claire be able to stick to her vow? Will Ryan let her?
Can Alex and Trevor finally have some peace and happiness?
Share your thoughts over in the Footprints Forum!

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