Episode #400

Previously ...
- Jason purchased an engagement ring, which he planned to give to Lauren as a Christmas gift.
- Paula worried about the family Christmas celebration going awry, thanks to all the trouble between Tim, Claire, and Ryan. She decided to host a larger party to ease the tension.
- Claire's decision to pursue a divorce devastated Tim, but he received encouragement from Diane to move on.


Chafing dishes and foil-covered plates fill the Fishers' dining room table. The chairs have been removed and distributed throughout the other rooms to make for more widespread seating and easier access to the buffet-style meal. The guests who have already arrived stand in the living room, dining room, and kitchen with drinks.

In the space between the living and dining rooms, Jason Fisher holds a beer and chats with his mother and the Chases. It has been a long time since Courtney and her family joined the Fishers for Christmas, but Jason finds it a comforting change from the Fishers' recent tension-filled celebrations.

"It was so nice of you to invite us," Helen Chase tells Paula.

"It's our pleasure," Paula says.

Jason glances across the living room, where Claire and Ryan sit and serve as a captive audience for Travis as he shows off every possible feature of his new iPod.

"This way we can avoid people trying to kill each other," Jason mutters to the group. He catches eyes with Courtney, who seems to have heard what he said and laughs.

Paula is quick to follow up with, "We thought it would be fun to do something different this year."

The front door opens yet again, and Alex Marshall enters the house, followed by Trevor and Lauren Brooks. Jason excuses himself from the current conversation to greet them.

"Long time no see," he says to Alex. They had breakfast together at their apartment this morning before Jason came over to see his family. He greets Lauren with a quick kiss. She holds a sizable box, which she extends toward him.

"Let's stick that under the tree," Jason suggests.

"Don't you wanna open it?" she asks.

"We'll exchange gifts after dinner." As Lauren removes her coat, Jason shares a moment of eye contact with Alex. Aside from his parents, Alex is the only one who knows what Jason has in store for Lauren later.

He hangs up the trio's coats and directs them toward the beverages in the kitchen. Along the way, however, they get snagged by Helen and Don, who embrace Alex and exchange exclamations of "Merry Christmas!" by him.

"Courtney tells us you were in Portland for some kind of meet-and-greet," Don prompts.

"It was a reading and signing," Alex says.

"Good trip?" Don asks.

Alex quickly nods. "Yep. Good trip."

Jason is sure that he detects something strange about Alex's response--the same weirdness that he sensed when he asked Alex about the trip himself--and files the intrigue away in his mind for later reference. Alex shifts the topic by inquiring about Don's painting.

"Let's go get that drink," Jason says to Lauren as he finishes his beer. "I could use another one myself."

They start for the kitchen, but another mini-commotion at the front door gives them pause. Jason looks to see Molly and Brent, each carrying one of the twins, followed by Brent's father... and brother.

"I didn't know Josh was coming!" Lauren says to Jason.

Jason shrugs. "Molly said something about it the other day. I guess I forgot to mention it."

"Let me go say hi." Lauren squeezes his hand and then slips away to greet her coworker.


In the living room, Claire Fisher sits beside Ryan Moriani as her son enumerates every last feature of his brand-new iPod for them.

"You know, Santa did bring you some other things that you could pay attention to for a while," Claire suggests.

Travis smirks. "Santa should know that this was the one I wanted the most."

Claire and Ryan share a grin. They are now in that strange realm where she is sure that Travis no longer believes in Santa, but she would prefer to preserve the illusion for as long as possible--especially since Samantha and Tori haven't reached the same benchmark yet.

"I bet your Uncle Jason is dying to see how this thing works," Ryan says.

"Nah. He already has one." Travis resumes fiddling with the mp3 player's controls.

"Where's your sister?" Claire asks.

"Uh..." Travis whips his head around the room. "I dunno."

"Hey, Sarah!" Ryan calls out. His half-sister turns around from her conversation with Matt and Bill. "Do you know where Samantha and Tori are?"

"They're in there," Sarah says, pointing toward the dining room, which is just out of Claire's eyeline.

Claire leans across the sofa so that the dining room comes into view. Sure enough, there are Samantha and Tori... with Tim and Diane. The foursome laughs as Tim puts on some kind of show with a Coke can and one of Samantha's new dolls.

They look to Claire so content, so like a normal family--whatever that is--that she finds it impossible to believe Tim is the same man who faced her, brokenhearted, so recently when she told him that their marriage has to end.

Travis slips the earbuds back into his ears and does a ten-year-old's best impression of rocking out.

"Can I listen?" Ryan asks. Travis consents, and Ryan slips on the earbuds.

He listens for only a few seconds before a shocked expression takes over his face.

"What?" Claire asks.

"Listen to this." Ryan hands her the earbuds. It takes her a moment to get situated within the landscape of gnashing guitars and pounding drums--and then she hears what is, without question, a string of four-letter words.

"Where'd you get this song?" she asks Travis. His response is a mere shrug.

She glances back over to Tim, who is still goofing around with Diane and the girls. Then she takes Travis's hand.

"Come on. We're going to have a chat with your dad about this."


Meanwhile, Molly and Brent show off the babies to the Chases, and Brent's father, Bob, greets Sarah with a hug.

"Congratulations on your wedding," he says to his former daughter-in-law.

Sarah brushes a loose strand of dark blonde hair out of her face. "Thank you. Matt and I are really happy. How does it feel to be a grandpa?"

Bob laughs. "Strange, but not as scary as I expected!"

With his free hand, Brent passes off the diaper bag to Josh. "Will you stash this away somewhere?" he asks his younger brother. Josh takes the bag uncertainly and looks around for a place to stick it.

"You can put that over by the coats," Sarah tells him. Josh goes to do just that, and Sarah addresses Bob again: "Why didn't Danielle come up with you?"

"She's traveling for the holidays," Bob explains. "You know how those artist types are! She's in Europe for the time being."

Out of nowhere, one of the babies starts screaming.

"I need to feed them," Molly says to Brent as she trades babies with him. "Let me take Christian first."

"Let me help you," Brent says.

"I've got it under control," Molly insists as she heads for the kitchen with Christian.

Josh moves through the dining room with the diaper bag and nearly runs right into Lauren.

"I was coming over to say hi," she tells him. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas." They share a quick hug, full of arms that aren't sure how to maneuver the situation or where to land.

"Is that your dad?" Lauren asks, gesturing toward Bob.

"Yeah. It's kinda nice having him in town, I've gotta say. I'm sure I'll be ready for him to go home by Tuesday, though."

"Hey, at least he came to see you. Our parents took off on a cruise for Christmas and New Year's."

"That sucks," Josh says. "Are they not big on the whole family Christmas thing?"

Lauren shrugs one shoulder. "They used to be, when we were younger. Since my dad retired, they sort of do their own thing. Trevor and I are used to be on our own for this stuff."

"It was nice of the Fishers to invite us all over," Josh says. "You know where I can get something to drink around here?"

"In the kitchen. I'll go with you to get something."

"Sweet. But first, let's unload this baby crap."


Clutching Travis by the hand, Claire pushes her way through the people in the dining room--some of whom she remembers seeing at the New Year's Eve parties that the Fishers used to hold, and others whom she's never seen before. They stop in front of Tim and Diane, who are still playing around with Samantha, Tori, and the doll.

"I thought you might want to hear what Travis has been using his favorite new toy for," Claire tells her husband. She takes the iPod from Travis and hands it to Tim, who listens to several seconds of the song.

"Where did you get this song?" he asks his son.

"I downloaded it," Travis says casually.

"You know you're supposed to ask us before you download anything," Claire says. "I think we need to take your iPod away for a while."

"No!" Travis shouts.

Tim holds the device in his hand, halfway extended toward Travis. "I don't think we need to take it away..."

"I don't want him using it if he's going to listen to songs like that," Claire says.

"And I disagree," Tim says firmly. His eyes lock with Claire's in a hard stare.

"I promise I won't do it again," Travis pleads. Another several seconds pass before either of his parents looks at him.

Then Tim hands him the iPod. "I want you to make sure you ask me before you download anything, okay?"

Travis promptly agrees and takes off with the mp3 player, which has now captivated his sister and cousin's attention. The girls follow him, begging for a chance to play with it.

Claire looks sharply at Tim. "I do not want him using that thing if he's going to be listening to that type of music."

"I'll keep an eye on it," Tim assures her.

Now that the girls have run off, Diane pokes up her head from behind Tim. "He's going to hear that stuff one way or another," she says.

"This is none of your business," Claire says.

Diane rises to her full height. "That might be what you'd like to think, Claire, but... not so much."

The women stare each other down until Claire breaks the hold and looks back at Tim.

"It'd better not happen again," she tells him. "I'll be watching." She crosses the room and returns to Ryan.

"Someone's a little edgy, huh?" Diane murmurs to Tim.

Reluctantly Tim nods. "Yeah, I guess so."


"I'd say everything is going all right, wouldn't you?" Paula asks as she removes the final pan from the oven.

"Mom, everything looks--and smells--terrific," Molly says. She sits at the kitchen table, feeding Christian.

"We should be ready to start eating in a few more minutes," Paula says to no one in particular as she covers the pan in foil.

Lauren and Josh come into the kitchen.

"I put the diaper bag over with the coats, if you need anything," Josh informs Molly.

"Thanks for having us, Mrs. Fisher," Lauren says.

Paula turns away from the food. "Honey, call me Paula." When Lauren responds with a questioning look, Paula adds, "Just do, please."

Lauren agrees with a smile just as Jason joins them.

"What's the ETA on dinner?" he asks his mother.

"Everything will be ready in a few minutes," Paula says. "Would you take this out to the dining room, dear?"

Jason takes the dish from her, and she piles a bag of rolls on top.

"Lauren, can you give me a hand with this?" he asks.

Lauren, who is about to begin pouring herself a drink, says, "In a second, yeah."

"I'll get you a drink," Josh tells her. "Go ahead."

Jason and Lauren move into the dining room with the food and make space for it on the table.

"I am so hungry," Jason says as he empties the rolls into a basket. "I've been here for hours smelling all the food as it cooked."

Before Lauren can respond, Josh arrives with a glass of white wine in one hand and a beer in the other. He hands her the wine, which she accepts with thanks.

"Did you and Trevor do anything special for Christmas Eve?" Josh asks her.

"We had to go see our crazy aunt and uncle," Lauren says. "I think they're making up for lost hearing by getting more insane every year."

"It's good to see family around the holidays, though," Jason offers.

Josh makes a face. "Not when they're nuts! I'd rather spend the day all by myself than have to deal with people I wouldn't want to see on any other day of the year."

Lauren's eyes go wide with agreement. "Exactly! Trevor and I tried telling our parents that, but they pretty much forced us to go over and have dinner with the crazies."

"Excuse me," Jason says as he drains the remainder of his beer. "I need another one, too." He moves out of the room without even bothering to fight for her attention.


Paula begins removing the covers from the various platters of food. "I think we're ready to eat," she says to Sarah and Diane, who stand nearby.

The announcement spreads through the clusters of guests, and before long a line of people with plates in hand has formed at the dining room table. Jason emerges from the kitchen with a fresh beer and, seeing the line, hangs back to wait for the rush to die down.

Courtney joins him in the doorway to the kitchen. "Everything looks pretty good, doesn't it?" she asks.

"Oh, yeah, everything's great." He is unable to keep the scorn out of his voice as he stares at Lauren and Josh at the back of the buffet line together.

Courtney follows his gaze and then nods, as if something has been confirmed.

"What?" Jason asks when she fails to offer any explanation.

"Oh, nothing." But she continues eyeing Lauren and Josh.

"Do you and Josh still talk at all?"

"No. I mean, I don't hate him or anything, but we never see each other." She folds her arms in front of her.

Jason drinks his beer. "He's a jackass. Some of the stuff he says... I don't get why Lauren even puts up with him."

He can tell that something important is perched on the tip of Courtney's tongue, and finally, he cannot take it any longer. "Court, what is it?" She hesitates. "Come on!"

"It's just that..." She glances around, at nothing in particular, and then settles back on Josh and Lauren, laughing together. "When Josh and I broke up, a big part of it was because I thought--I suspected that he had a thing for Lauren."

"Seriously? Why?"

"Just the way he talked about her, the way he constantly brought her up."

She clamps up as Alex approaches them.

"You two look awfully serious," he says, searching them for some kind of explanation.

Courtney's lips remain sealed, but Jason blurts out, "Courtney thinks Josh is after Lauren."

"I didn't say that!" A moment later, she adds, "Well, sort of." She explains her reasoning to Alex, who suddenly appears to have concerns of his own itching on his lips.

"What?" Jason urges him. "Do you know something, too?"

"I don't know anything," Alex hedges. "But... there was this one night, before Trevor and I officially got together, when I went over there to see him, and Josh was there with Lauren. I didn't say anything to you because I knew you were looking at rings--"

He stops himself in mid-statement, but it is too late. Courtney's eyes widen.

"You're looking at rings?"

Jason exhales, and his shoulders fall in defeat. "I have one. I'm giving it to her tonight." As Courtney absorbs the news, Jason throws back another swig of his beer. "But first, I think I need to sort things out with Josh."


Josh takes a plate from the stack on the table as he tells Lauren, "You want crazy aunts at Christmas? Our aunt from Long Island still sends me the kind of crap she sent when I was 14. Brent and Danielle get bottles of wine or chocolates. I get--no joke--these enormous Giants sweatshirts. They're always, like, double-XLs, too."

"Were you, uh, pudgy the last time she saw you?" Lauren asks, her laughter rolling over from the last story Josh told.

"No! My dad always says she's overcompensating because both of her kids are gigantic."

Lauren cracks up again, but she brings the laughter to an abrupt end when Jason steps up beside them.

"Can I talk to you?" he asks her. Before she can answer, he looks directly at Josh and adds, "Alone."

"What's wrong?" Lauren asks. She can tell that something is bothering him, but there is a fuzzy quality to his speech and his stare that makes her think it is just the alcohol.

"You might wanna slow down with those, buddy," Josh says, flicking a finger against Jason's beer bottle.

"Stay out of it," Jason snaps back.

Lauren grabs her boyfriend by the arm. "Jason! What is wrong with you?"

Suddenly he looks wild. "You wanna know what's wrong? Hmm?" He points a finger at Josh, nearly shoving it through the other man's chest. "Him. This. What the hell is going on?"

Her nerves flare, though she isn't sure why. "What are you talking about?"

"You hang out with him all the time," Jason says. "Don't you get what he's up to?"

Josh pushes Jason backward a step. "Dude, take it easy."

Lauren can feel the other eyes and ears in the crowded room focusing on them now. She has no idea what has gotten into Jason, but he is clearly upset.

He steps right back to where he was, getting even further into Josh's face. "Mind your own business."

Josh's stare grows harder, his jaw tighter, as he looks into Jason's face. "What, buddy, you're mad that I'm paying attention to your girlfriend while you're busy with your ex?"

In an instant, Jason's hands shoot out and shove Josh backward. He bumps into the table but manages to keep his balance. As people scatter, Josh reaches out and grabs Jason. He swings him around and, amidst shouts and screams, flings him into the buffet table.

The crashing of china, glassware, and food explodes throughout the house.


Have Jason and Josh ruined Christmas?
Should Courtney and Alex have told Jason what they did?
Was Claire out of line getting so upset with Tim?
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