Episode #398

Previously ...
- Tim was crushed by Claire's announcement that she plans to start divorce proceedings.
- Nick was released on bail after directing the police to the inside source of the Objection drug ring, Julian St. John.
- Trevor boosted Alex's spirits after he read a bad review of his novel. Alex left for a book signing in Portland.


White icicle lights hang from the light posts of the downtown streets, giving the gray winter day a holiday sparkle. Bodies in coats and hoods fill the sidewalks as people move briskly through the chilly air.

Travis and Samantha Fisher walk a good ten steps ahead of Tim and Diane. The kids appear ready to break into a sprint at any second, restrained only by Diane's periodic threats. For his part, as long as they remain in his eyesight, Tim is content to stroll along behind them and carry the shopping bags. As much as he wants to enjoy the holidays with his kids, he worries that they are just waiting to ask about him and Claire--and he cannot handle that right now.

"Are we sure that we want to let them loose in a toy store?" he asks Diane.

"They won't be any worse than the other lunatics in there," she says. "And I'd much rather have Samantha show me what she wants than have to figure it out myself."

"Hey, guys, go left!" Tim calls out. For as much of a rush as the kids seem to be in, they have no idea where they're going. At Tim's instruction, they hang a left, and the adults follow a few steps behind.

"You should try to have some fun," Diane says. "Or do you wanna waste the whole holiday season moping?"

Her bluntness stuns Tim. He keeps walking without responding. She has been so supportive lately; he had almost forgotten about this side of her.

"That came out wrong," she says. "What I mean is, this stuff with Claire has already made things pretty crappy. Why not try to find some way to enjoy yourself?"

He sighs. She is right. And as insulting as it is to Diane for him to mope over Claire in her company... well, she knows what she is getting into.

He notices that the kids have stopped in front of the colossal toy store. "Ready for this?" he asks Diane with widened eyes.

"Yeah--" She slows her step. "Are you ready for that?"

Tim follows her gaze down the sidewalk to find Nick Moriani approaching them. He has already spotted them, and a madman's sneer has crept onto his face.


Alex Marshall stands outside, behind the bookstore, and savors the crisp winter air. He has done a few of these readings from his novel since it was published, and each time, his nerves have kicked in horribly in the hours leading up to the event. When people started to gather in the store, he had to get out for a few minutes to distract himself. Presently he has his cell phone pressed against his ear as he leans against the back wall of the building.

His call is picked up after the first ring. "Hey!" Jason Fisher answers. "Did you get my message?"

"Yeah. I only have a couple of minutes before this thing starts, but you sounded so excited. What's the big surprise?"

"I just bought Lauren's Christmas gift," Jason says. In his mind, Alex can see Jason's expression: he is sure that it is the same wide-eyed look that his friend wears when he tells a joke or a story and is waiting to drop the punchline on his audience.

"Is it what I think it is?" Alex asks.

"Dude, yeah. I bought the ring. Actually, my dad helped a lot. I didn't really have any clue what I was doing."

"That's awesome! When are you going to give it to her?"

"Christmas Day would be cool, wouldn't it?" Jason goes quiet for just a moment before adding, "Don't say anything to Trevor!"

"Don't worry. I'm not that stupid," Alex says.

"Are there a lot of people there for your thing?"

Alex is grateful that there isn't a window nearby, or he would peek and thereby send his nerves into the stratosphere. "I don't know," he says. "I'm trying not to think about it."

"You really get that nervous? All you have to do is read a chapter, right?"

"I hate public speaking, though."

"Just zone everybody out. Imagine that you're reading by yourself," Jason says. "It's what I do when I'm skating at a competition. I pretend it's a practice and no one is paying any attention to me."

"I'll give it a shot."

"Good. Now get in there and--kick some ass or whatever."

Alex laughs. "Because kicking the asses of people who came to hear me will surely sell lots of books."


Any delusions Tim might have of avoiding a confrontation with Nick Moriani go out the window almost as soon as he spots the silver-haired man. Nick strides toward Tim and Diane, appearing to savor the approach like an animal closing in on its prey.

"Go on inside," Tim tells Travis and Samantha. "We'll be in in a minute." Without giving it a second thought, the kids dart into the store.

Nick walks up to them with one deliberate step after another. "Tim. Diana."

"My name is not Diana," she says through gritted teeth, "so watch what you say!"

"My apologies. Out for a little Christmas shopping with the family, I take it?"

"What are you doing here?" Tim asks, unable to maintain his cool. He senses Diane growing agitated beside him.

"It's a free city," Nick says, "and I'm a free man." He pauses, allowing just enough time for Tim and Diane to absorb the information, and then cuts them off: "You'd be amazed at how generous the courts will be if you help them out a little bit."

Tim can't even bear the sight of the man who kept him from his family for so long. He takes Diane by the arm.

"Come on, we've got shopping to do," he says as they push past Nick.

"Oh, one more thing," Nick says. "How's my son doing?"

Tim feels Diane's fingers grip his forearm, a silent warning to keep himself in check. Nick isn't worth it--he knows that. But at this moment, he needs the reminder.

"You son of a bitch," Diane says.

As Tim stares at Nick, Claire's words replay in his head: "In a different world, one where Nick hadn't taken you away and interfered with our lives, I really think we would have made it." But instead she is with Ryan, and the life that they'd planned together is nothing but a shattered image stuck in Tim's head.

"Enjoy your freedom while it lasts," Tim spits. He doesn't wait around for Nick's reaction; he doesn't need to see any more sneering or any more bizarre confidence. He leads Diane into the toy store to find the kids.

"He doesn't stand a chance of staying out of jail," Diane reassures Tim quietly as they walk inside. "It's only temporary."

"I know," Tim says, though it does little to quell the rage inside of him.

When he looks back through the store's window, Nick is still standing there, staring after them.


Having ended his call with Alex, Jason steps back inside the house. He finds his father and mother at the kitchen table, picking at a plate of crackers and cheese.

"Who was that?" Paula asks, in that nosy tone that mothers can somehow get away with.

"Alex. He's in Portland for this book reading and signing thing. I think he's really nervous." Jason tucks away his phone. "So, Mom, you wanna see it?"

Paula's eyes light up. "Of course! Your father says it's beautiful."

"I hope so! It cost enough!" He pulls out the little black box and darts it around in front of Paula's face for a few seconds.

"Stop torturing her," Bill says.

Jason flips open the box and holds it out for his mother to see. She gasps.

"It's gorgeous. She's going to love it, Jason." Paula looks to Bill. "Can you believe this? Molly and Sarah both get married in the same year, and before it's over, Jason will be engaged, too."

"Assuming she says yes," Jason interjects.

His parents ignore the crack. Paula lowers her voice as she adds, "I can't imagine this is going to be easy for Tim, though, seeing all of you beginning new lives just as he's..."

"There's still a chance that he and Claire will work things out," Jason says.

Paula looks up at him. "I'm afraid not. Claire was here to talk to him about a divorce."

"What?" The news should hardly be a surprise to Jason, but it sounds so definite. After all these months of uncertainty between Tim, Claire, and Ryan, that's it? Tim gets tossed aside after everything he's been through? "That's not fair!"

"You know this hasn't been easy for Claire, either," Paula counters.

Jason looks to his father for support. He knows that Bill isn't Ryan's biggest supporter, either. But Bill sits there, a solemn look on his face, not saying anything.

Jason fiddles with the ring box. "That should make things sufficiently awkward for Christmas."

Paula sighs and touches a hand to her face. "It seems that's the standard for this family, doesn't it?"


Alex's relief is palpable as he sits at the small table. The reading went off without a hitch. He tried to take Jason's advice and pretend that none of them were there, but he wasn't very successful at it. Nevertheless, it passed without incident or disaster, and now there is a line of people waiting to meet him and have him sign their copies of his novel.

The experience is surreal. To think that all these people are interested in what he has to say, what he has written, blows his mind. It also makes all the nerves and the anxiety over the bad reviews seem worth it, somehow. Trevor was right.

He finishes signing the copy in front of him and hands it to the meek young woman with thin-framed glasses. She smiles and thanks him in a quiet voice before leaving the table.

Next up is an older man, probably in his late 40s. His brown hair, or what remains of it, is clipped close to his scalp, and he wears Abercrombie & Fitch clothing that would be perfectly appropriate if he were two decades younger.

"Hi," Alex says, holding out his hand for a shake.

The man takes it and grips it tightly. "Hi. I'm Phil."

"Nice to meet you." Alex tries to shake his hand free, but it is another very long moment before Phil releases it. Quickly Alex takes his copy of the book and gets to signing it.

"Your writing is very impressive," Phil says.

Alex looks up to find the man leering at him. That is the only way he can describe it: leering.

"Um, thanks. This is all pretty unreal to me. I just like writing, and--"

"I'm a writer myself. I write poetry, though. I've been published in a couple of anthologies."

"Oh, cool." Alex finds himself grasping for whatever words present themselves. "It's always nice to meet another writer."

"It really is." Phil goes quiet for several decidedly uncomfortable--at least for Alex--seconds. "What do you think about getting together later and, you know, discussing it some more?"

I did not sign on for this, Alex thinks. He looks around for some aid. "I, um, actually, I'm dating someone right now."

Phil cocks an eyebrow. "Is it serious?"

Alex nods, slowly at first, then vigorously.

"That's a shame. You know what? Let me write down my number, and if you--"

"I really don't think that's a good idea. It's really serious." Alex hands back Phil's copy of the book. "It was nice meeting you."

The older man stands there for a moment, staring at Alex as if expecting him to change his mind. Finally Alex glances back down at the table, and when he looks up, Phil has stepped out of the way.

And the next person in line is there in front of him, like some kind of apparition. At first the face doesn't even register--and once it does, Alex can hardly believe that it is real.

"Hi, Alex."

The man steps up to the table.

"Hi, Seth."


What could Seth's reappearance mean for Alex?
Are Jason and Lauren headed for wedded bliss?
Can Tim really move on with Diane?
Come over to the Footprints Forum for some discussion!

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