Episode #401

Previously ...
- The Fishers held a large Christmas party instead of their usual family dinner.
- Jason planned to propose to Lauren on Christmas Day.
- Lauren spent a considerable amount of time with Josh at the Christmas party. Alex and Courtney shared Jason some tidbits that made him nervous about Lauren's friendship with Josh.
- Jason confronted Josh about his motives regarding Lauren. A brawl broke out between the men.


The crash and clatter of china and silverware explodes through the dining room. The Fishers' guests stand back, plates in hand, as Jason hurtles into the Christmas buffet and sends dishes flying.

"Boys!" Paula yells, but neither Jason nor Josh seems aware of the admonishment. Jason springs up from the ruins of the Christmas dinner and charges at Josh.

"Stop it!" Lauren shouts.

Jason slams into Josh, knocking him backward. Josh maintains his balance and throws a punch, which Jason avoids. Then another set of hands grabs Josh and pulls him away.

"What is wrong with you?" Brent says as he restrains his brother.

"He came after me!" Josh argues, keeping a hard stare trained on Jason.

Tim and Bill both step up and grab Jason before he can make another move.

"Stay away from her," he grunts at Josh.

Tim yanks harder on his brother's arm. "Get a grip."

Paula, looking shellshocked, takes a tentative step forward and addresses the other guests: "Please, eat your dinners... I'll straighten everything up here... I'm so sorry..."

The guests begin to dispense and talk among themselves. Jason can feel them all looking at him, talking about him, but the embarrassment is not enough enough to wash away his rage toward Josh.

"We are so sorry, Paula," Brent says as his own father pulls Josh aside and chews him out.

Paula mumbles a thank-you before directing her attention to her youngest son.

"How could you?" she asks him.

Words stumble past Jason's lips: "Mom, I-- You didn't see what he was doing with Lauren--"

"He didn't do anything," Lauren interjects.

Jason looks over and, in Lauren's face, sees what a mess he has truly made. But she looks away, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Let me help you clean up," she tells Paula. "I'm so sorry about this."

As Lauren and his mother clean up, refusing to look at him, the reality of what he has done hits Jason. It settles in his stomach like an iron ball covered in spikes.


Half-an-hour later, the crowd has thinned considerably. The guests, having hurried through a hasty dinner, are now making their exits. Jason sits in one of the overstuffed armchairs in the living room, watching the crowd file out into the barely-dark winter night.

When Courtney approaches him, he notices that she is wearing her coat.

"My parents thought we should probably get going," she says, offering an answer to his unasked question.

"You guys don't have to go." But the expression on her face silence any further protests that Jason might have.

Helen and Don follow, pulling on their coats. Paula is only a few steps behind them.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay for dessert and coffee?" she asks the Chases.

"It's probably best if we go home," Helen says. "Don't worry, Paula. You put together a wonderful dinner. Thank you for having us."

Paula sighs in defeat. "Thank you for coming. Merry Christmas."

While their parents exchange hugs and goodbyes, Courtney places a hand on Jason's shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up over this," she tells him.

"You do realize that I ruined Christmas."

"Don't give yourself too much credit. There was actually some food left to eat."

"Come on, Court," Don says.

As she follows her parents out of the house, Courtney turns back to Jason. "Merry Christmas. I'll see you at the rink."

"Merry Christmas," he says, and then the one person who hasn't been looking at him like some sort of criminal is gone.


The Yukon rolls through the dark evening, its headlights casting two sharp lines over the mostly empty highway. The vehicle's interior is taut with tension, as if the slightest movement might shatter the fragile balance.

That movement comes, seemingly, out of nowhere. "I don't know what the hell is wrong with you," Brent blurts out from the driver's seat. The refrain has been a familiar occurrence since they left the Fishers'.

From the back seat, Josh glares at his brother in the rear-view mirror. "What was I supposed to do, not stand up for myself?"

"You didn't have to act like a barbarian," Brent says.

"He started it!" Josh goes quiet for a moment before turning his attention to Molly. "Sorry, but your bro is nuts."

"He was a little out-of-control tonight," Molly agrees from the passenger seat. "I don't know what got into him."

Josh scoots forward in his seat, as if energized by his sister-in-law's agreement. "I'll tell you what his problem is," he says. "He needs someone else to be the bad guy so he doesn't have to feel bad about this thing with him and Courtney."

Molly turns fully in her seat, now engaged in the gossip--but Bob interrupts.

"Enough, Josh," he orders, and the vehicle plunges into silence again.

"It's probably better that we didn't stay long, anyway," Molly reasons. "The twins have been cranky all day."

Brent grumbles an affirmative response, but he continues his angry staredown with Josh through the mirror.


The dining room has been cleaned up, dirty dishes and glasses transferred to the sink and the dishwasher. There is hardly a sign of the party--let alone the disaster--that took place earlier in the evening. Jason stands at the kitchen sink, mechanically rinsing whatever is handed to him.

He hesitates when someone comes up beside him, until he realizes that it is Alex, who is, as usual, too nice for his own good.

"We're almost all cleaned up," Alex reports as he presents a few pieces of cutlery. "These are the last relics."

"Of a complete disaster," Jason mutters. He gives the items a quick rinse. "Thanks for staying to help out. I'd rather not be alone with my parents right now."

"We're gonna get going pretty soon. Trevor and Lauren are getting antsy, I think."

Jason flips off the faucet. "She's pretty pissed at me, huh?"

Alex's hesitation is enough of an answer.

As if on cue, Lauren pops her head into the kitchen. "Are you ready to go, Alex?"

Jason doesn't look up; he focuses intently on drying each and every item in his hands.

"Why don't you and Trevor go ahead? I'll drive Jason back to our place in his car," Alex says.

"All right. Merry Christmas," Lauren says.

At the first sound of a footstep walking away, Jason bolts from the sink. "Lauren. Wait."

No more footsteps follow, and he rushes over to her. She regards him with a cold gaze.

"I'm really sorry," he says. "I was out of line."

"That's a pretty major understatement." She speaks in a tone that Jason recognizes, but only vaguely. He never expected to hear it or feel it directed at him.

"Honestly," she continues before he can manage a response, "I'm not in the mood right now. I didn't even think you were capable of something like that."

He fumbles for some kind of justification, but Lauren looks past him.

"'Night, Alex," she says, and she walks over to where Trevor is waiting and thanking Bill and Paula.

A moment later, she is gone, and the full impact of tonight's incident strikes Jason. They were supposed to leave together, basking in everyone else's attention as Lauren showed off the new ring on her finger.

The only thing that breaks him from his daydream is the realization that both of his parents are staring at him, and he finally has no way to avoid them.


Jason remains silent. As much as he hated having all the guests staring at him after his scuffle with Josh, he was also grateful for their presence. He knew there was no way his parents would tear into him with company around. But now that the house is nearly empty...

"I am so disappointed in you," Paula says. "That is all I can say." The dominant element in her delivery is not anger, but sadness, and it twists the knife in Jason's gut a little harder.

"I can think of a few things," Bill cuts in.

Jason doesn't recall many occasions on which his father has gotten angry--or expressed it, at any rate--but the scarcity makes each of those instances that much scarier. When Bill fumes this badly, something really serious has happened... and getting back into his good graces is a significant challenge.

"After all of the work your mother put into this dinner, how could you disrespect her by making a scene like that?" Bill asks with disbelief. "I can't believe you would even consider starting a brawl--"

"It wasn't a brawl!" As soon as the words slip out, Jason knows that he should have held them back.

Bill's eyes widen. "I don't care what it was. It was inappropriate and childish. I can't believe that you could be so stupid."

The three of them fall into an uncomfortable quiet. All Jason wants to do is break it, but he fears the consequences if he does.

"Why don't we go up to bed?" Paula suggests to Bill. "We can finish straightening up in the morning."

"That sounds good." Bill addresses his son one last time. "I hope you're happy with what you've done."

As his parents disappear up the stairs, Jason turns to search for Alex. He emerges from the kitchen, where he took refuge during the confrontation.

"That could've been worse," Alex offers.

"Yeah," Jason says. "They could've shot me."

"Don't be stupid. Things will settle tomorrow. Do you wanna head home?"

Jason is about to say yes, but he catches sight of the Christmas tree--and his gift-wrapped present for Lauren beneath it. The sight of the still-wrapped gift and the sounds of his parents moving around upstairs stir Jason's restlessness even more. He cannot go to sleep like this. He has to take action, has to right some of the mess he made tonight.

"Do you mind playing chaffeur for a little while?" he asks Alex.


Jason's Honda rolls up alongside the curb and comes to a stop. The lights switch off, and for several seconds, nothing happens. Finally, with an uncertain look at Alex, Jason opens the passenger door and climbs out of the car.

His nerves tremble with every step that he takes toward the front door, but his determination overrides all that. He rings the doorbell and waits; he wonders if she will answer the door at all.

When the door opens, he is greeted not by Lauren, but by Trevor.

"She's pretty pissed," Trevor says.

"I know. That's why I need to see her."

"I don't think she wants--"

"Just let me come in. Please." Jason pulls out the small, wrapped box. "I didn't get a chance to give her her Christmas present."

Trevor takes in the size and shape of the box, then looks to Jason's face for confirmation.


"I know," Jason says, happy to ride on the tails of Trevor's excitement. "And what happened before--I was all anxious and I got stupid."

Trevor steps out of the way. "She's in her room."

Jason hides the box in his pocket and bounds up the stairs. He finds Lauren facing the doorway of her room, hair clipped up and wearing sweats. Obviously she has heard him coming.

"I didn't want to leave things the way we did," he says. He feels like a prisoner pleading for a stay of execution. "I have something for you."

Lauren's hands plant on her hips. "Unless it's a time machine that'll let you undo that scene you made..."

"It was stupid of me. I know that. I'm sorry. But I was really, really nervous."

"Nervous? Drunk, I could see. Stupid, definitely. What would you have to be nervous about?"

His fingers fumble in his coat pocket. He pulls out the box breathlessly, like a man gasping for whatever last swallows of oxygen he can get before an enormous wave crushes him.

"This," he says, holding out the box for her to see.


Will Jason go through with the proposal?
If he does, how will Lauren react?
And will he be able to patch things up with his parents?
Come on over to the Footprints Forum to discuss!

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