Episode #435

- Alex went to Portland for Seth's wedding. On his way into the church, he ran into Seth, who stopped him and dragged him back toward the parking lot.
- Josh showed up at Lauren's and announced that he had a surprise date waiting for her.
- Claire agreed to marry Ryan. They decided to be careful about breaking the news to the family, but Ryan told Paula.


Alex Marshall does not say a word until he and Seth Ashby are settled in his car in the church parking lot. But once they are in there, boxed away from the world, he does not know what to say--whether out of genuine confusion or a fear of presuming the wrong thing, he cannot tell.

"I really didn't think you were going to come," Seth says while casting furtive glances out the windows.

"I wasn't going to-- I only decided at the last minute-- I thought a trip might help me clear my head."

"Clear your head from what?" Seth asks. Is that a note of hope in his voice?

"Writing's been rough lately," Alex answers, his tone matter-of-fact. "What are you doing? Are you having cold feet?"

Seth's eyes bulge in that same sarcastic--almost condescending--way that Alex remembers. "You think?"

"So you're running away?"

"No!" But Seth's eyes reveal far less certainty, and a moment later, he mumbles, "I don't know."

Suddenly things feel very claustrophobic, and Alex thinks he might prefer to do this outside the car, to risk Seth being seen, than to be trapped like this with Seth's doubts and his own nostalgic impulses.

"I don't know what happened," Seth begins, and then the slow introduction gives way to free-flowing babble: "We had breakfast this morning, Miriam and me and the families, and she's always hated that I don't put anything in my coffee--"

"You still drink it totally black?"

"Yeah." The moment of acknowledgement seems to confuse Seth even further, and his speech hiccups before continuing: "She thinks it's gross and that I should at least use a Splenda or something, just to look like I have some taste. And that's when it hit me: I am going to hear that every damn day for the rest of my life."

"This is all about Splenda. Or lack thereof."

Alex knows that this is about a lot moer than that. Seth does, too, but he never was one to say what he meant.

"How am I supposed to be sure?" Seth asks, with a pointedness that suggests he expects an actual answer from Alex.

Instead, Alex responds with a question of his own: "What do you want to be sure about? That Miriam is the one?"

Seth is quiet, unable to answer. Alex looks at him, dressed up in his tux, his boyish attractiveness made even more appealing by the shift into adulthood. He is raw and vulnerable--and Alex's for the taking, it appears.

"You need to go back inside," Alex says.

"I don't know if I can do it."

"You have to talk to Miriam. Tell her what you're feeling." He pauses to let the words sink in. "If you still want to see me after you talk to her, I'll be out here."

One long, heavy moment later, Seth opens the door and heads back toward the church.


Lauren Brooks puts one foot in front of the other with the utmost care, as if the next step might be the one that detonates a landmine and blows her to smithereens. In truth, Josh Taylor has done an admirable job of loading her blindfolded self into his car and now guiding her into their secret destination, but that hardly makes Lauren less antsy to regain the use of her sight.

"Are we there yet?" she asks. "I know we're inside, someplace."

"You always have been a sharp one," Josh says with more than a liberal dose of sarcasm. "Here, follow me."

His hand settles around Lauren's--a casual enough move, but in her sightless state, the warmth and the strength of Josh's grip seem even more pronounced.

They move only a few more steps, but it is enough for the floor beneath them to switch from carpet to linoleum.

"Here," Josh says, moving her hand to something cool... hard... metallic.

"What is that?"

Josh sighs. "A key. Turn it." When she hesitates, he urges, "Come on, wind it up!"

His choice of words add fuel to her suspicions, and as soon as she turns the key--producing a ratchety sound--a mechanical jingle begins. Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

"Come on, Josh! Is it time yet?"

He does not respond, but soon enough, fingers graze against the sides of her head. They pull away the elastic band of the mask, and finally, the world comes back into view.

"The big surprise is... your house?" she asks, seeing the plush bear from which the Christmas tune continues to play merrily. Then she spots the setup on the kitchen tale: bowls of candy, jars of frosting, boxes of graham crackers.

"Not just my house," Josh says. "Gingerbread houses."

Lauren takes it all in. She hasn't made a gingerbread house in a good fifteen years, if not longer.

As much as he might try to hide it, a mask of worry drops over Josh's face.

"Very cute," Lauren says, allowing herself to break out in a wide smile.

"Good." He steers her to the table; the feel of his hands on her shoulders is no less heightened than when she was blindfolded.

"Now let's get to work," he announces.


Ryan Moriani has his coat on and is about to open the front door when it opens for him. Or, rather, someone opens it from the outside.

It is Claire Fisher, and she pauses long enough to give him a peck on the cheek before moving along to drop her bag and kick off her shoes.

"You're earlier than I expected," Ryan says.

"I made good time getting home. About the only part of today that wasn't a catastrophe."

"What happened."

"It was just one of those days where nothing went smoothly." She hangs up her coat. "Where are you headed?"

"I have to run to Paula's for a little bit. Do you want to come?"

"I'd love to, but working a 12-hour shift under fluorescent lights doesn't seem to agree with my head today."

"All right. I shouldn't be long." He takes her hand, intending a quick goodbye squeeze, but instead it stops him in his tracks.

He can tell that Claire also notices what is bothering him--or, more likely, that she knew all along that it would and intended for him not to see.

"It's in my jewelry box," she says quickly.

"I didn't buy you an engagement ring so that it could sit at home."

"It just seems like it's really soon."

The more he stares at her bare finger, the more it seems like a bold-faced insult toward him and their relationship.

"If it's too soon, maybe you shouldn't have accepted it." He regrets the words as soon as they slip out, but judging from Claire's expression, the damage has already been done.

"Why does it always have to be about what you think is appropriate?" she snaps back. "My divorce from Tim isn't even final. Maybe I'd like to avoid drawing any more attention to this entire mess."

A mess? That's all this is to her? Ryan's instinct is to take off the gloves, to get fully into this, but he catches himself. It takes every ounce of strength and willpower within him to dial it back, but he has to. He cannot put their relationship in jeopardy now.

Instead he nods contritely. "Take your time."


"Really. I know I've been pushy. It's just, we're almost at the finish line, after all this time, and one thing after another keeps getting in the way."

When she smiles back warmly, appreciatively, Ryan's heart settles: crisis averted. He reminds himself to be patient--that this might take longer than he would like, but in the end, it will all have been worth it.


Christmas carols fill the room as Josh and Lauren sit at the table, working hard on their projects. Lauren takes a cinnamon gummy bear from one of the bowls and pops it into her mouth.

"Stop eating those!" Josh says.

"They're my favorite," she says, taking another and chomping off the head. "They're yummy, head to toe."

"You disgust me!" he says with mock disdain. "And what's with all the bears in the front yard?"

On the tray, in front of Lauren's gingerbread house, is a yard covered in white frosting--and lying in the "snow" are several more of the cinnamon bears.

"They're decorations!" she declares.

"It looks like they all got shot and died on the lawn."

"They just passed out. It was an early winter, and they weren't prepared."

"Uh-huh. Murderer." Josh narrows his eyes at her.

Lauren mirrors his expression, and suddenly, despite the music still playing, things seem very quiet.

"Thanks for doing this," she says. "It's been fun."

"Good... although, to tell the truth, I kinda had an ulterior motive."

Lauren feels his hand settle on her knee. She glances down at it, and when she looks up again, there is no mistaking the suggestive expression on his face.

She backs away. "Josh!"

"What?" He looks at his hand, as if there might be something wrong with it. "You can't tell me you thought this was a just-friends thing."

"No, but I'm not whoring myself out for cinnamon bears." She hesitates over the bowl, then pops another one into her mouth. "Even if I do really like them."

"Who said anything about whoring yourself out? Unless you want to."


"Look, I don't expect anything from you," he says. "Except..."

He reaches into a nearby bag and pulls out something green.

"...maybe we could put this to use. Just for a second."

Mistletoe. He holds it up and watches Lauren expectantly. And she has to admit, he looks amazingly cute, sitting there with a goofy look on his face.

The next thing she knows, she is leaning in, touching her lips to his, feeling his tongue against hers. And all of a sudden, doing this even without the gummi bears seems like a pretty good idea.

When they pull apart, Josh has another peculiar expression on his face.

"What?" she asks.

"You taste like cinnamon. And bear murder."

She considers telling him to shut up, but she takes care of it by moving back underneath the mistletoe.


The radio station goes to commercial, and Alex's fingers jump for the buttons. They seek music, sound, anything to distract him from the waiting and wondering.

Seth has been gone for a while now--fifteen, twenty minutes--and the initial rush of excitement has given way to a shaky nervousness and a dull pessimism. Alex really doesn't know what he expected to gain by coming here. Closure? Maybe, but he knows that some remote corner of his psyche hoped that seeing him here would make Seth realize the error of his ways, make him acknowledge all the potential that he threw away years ago.

When Seth grabbed him outside the church, it seemed exactly that had happened. Alex allowed himself to be caught up in it; he could swear that he felt the old energy between the two of them. But Seth has yet to re-emerge from the church, and the stream of wedding guests heading inside has slowed to nothing.

He knows now that all he ever had on his side was wishful thinking and a healthy dose of self-delusion. This is how it always was with Seth. Alex would get his hopes up, expect that they were about to have a breakthrough, and then be slapped in the face by the harsh reality: Seth never was interested in him. As a friend, maybe, sure. But aside from that, all he cared about was sex and protecting his image.

Alex's hand moves to the key in the ignition. Why should he pin his hopes on Seth, anyway? He has something terrific with Trevor. Even if things have been a little weird lately, that's how relationships go. They'll work through it.

His resolve suddenly strong, he turns the key. The car rumbles to life, and he pulls his seatbelt over him.

He backs out of the parking spot, but when he turns his attention forward, his hand about to put the car into Drive, he sees it:

Seth. Standing there, where Alex's car was parked a moment ago. Motioning for him to stop.

Against his better judgment, Alex rolls down the window.

"What are you doing?" Seth asks, sticking his head into the car.

"I'm going home. Seth, I wish you and Miriam all the best, and I really hope you're able to get past whatever's bothering you right now, but it has nothing to do with me."

He waits for Seth to back away. It doesn't happen.

"You're wrong," Seth says. "It has everything to do with you."

Alex has no idea what to say. He is sure that his mouth is hanging open, or that he looks completely skeptical, but he does nothing to correct either of those situations.

"Seeing you again, reading your book-- that's why I'm so screwed up."

"I think your relationship probably has bigger problems than me," Alex fires back. Will Seth just leave him alone, finally? He's dealt with this for long enough.

"Maybe, but it all goes back to you and me," Seth says.

Alex wants to push him away, to drive off, but he does neither of those things as Seth opens the passenger door and gets into the car.

"What did you say to Miriam?" he asks.

"I told her I couldn't do it. That I need time, at least." Seth glances around the parking lot. "Now come on, let's get out of here."

Despite his better instincts, Alex puts the car in Drive and does just that.


Is it a mistake for Alex to go off with Seth?
Are Lauren and Josh ready for a relationship?
Will Claire and Ryan make it to the altar?
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