Episode #478

- Elly decided to return home to her parents in San Francisco.
- Danielle, though grateful for having had time with Elly, wished that their visit didn’t have to end.
- Sarah remained distant from Matt, but after Tori witnessed an argument between them, Sarah resolved to make things as normal as possible for her daughter.


The exclusive subdivision is quiet at this early hour of the morning… or late hour of the night, as the woman balancing between two tree branches sees it. She has not been to bed yet--not that sleep is much of a possibility these days. But something has to happen soon, because with the dawn will come a loss of her cover.

She could have waited in the car, but she fears that her vehicle might become familiar to the people she is tailing. She has taken great pains to ensure that they do not see her, are never aware of her presence, despite the fact that she has functioned as their shadow for much of the past week. Therefore, she parked several blocks away and came on foot.

Sarah Gray’s limbs are exhausted, and her muscles are sore from balancing in this tree for much of the night. But the moment could come at any time, and when it does, she has to be prepared to snap as many photographs as she can.

What she needs are photos of the professor and his research assistant coming out of his house together. From what she has gathered from observing the rest of their days, they leave the assistant’s car at the university’s Science & Engineering Library, carpool to the professor’s house, and return for the car before dawn to avoid anyone realizing that it sat there all night. This is the final piece of the case that Sarah needs to help the professor’s estranged wife make a case about her husband’s infidelity.

When the front door finally opens, Sarah’s adrenaline kicks into overdrive. She didn’t realize that she was drifting off until that door opened, but now she snaps awake, ready to go. Her camera snaps a photo, but the angle is bad… they have their backs turned… so she tries to climb across the tree’s branches to get a better look.

“Dammit,” she mutters, almost inaudibly. The release of saying something, even something so minor and imperceptible, helps relax her from the strain of being silent for so long.

Her subjects turn as they get into the professor’s car. She is about to snap another picture when she feels her foot slip off the branch upon which it was supposed to settle. Before she realizes it, a frightened noise--a squawk, perhaps--emanates from her.

She freezes. Not a move, not a sound, nothing. Peeking through the leaves, she sees the professor and his assistant exchange a look. They heard.

Sarah tightens her body for balance, but she can feel her muscles growing weaker by the second. She cannot hold this position forever. Eventually she is going to have to move, shift, something. She holds her breath as the professor moves away from the car and around to the side of the house, scanning the yard for the source of that strange sound.

And then he looks up.

Sarah wants to close her eyes, but she knows that would put her at a disadvantage as far as monitoring the situation, so she keeps them open. The professor stares almost directly at her. He takes a step closer to the tree.

He gives a quick look to the bushes below Sarah and then turns back to his assistant. “Probably those cats the people across the street refuse to keep inside,” he says. “If I find those things in my bushes again, I’m going to poison them, I swear.”

They get into the car and drive away. Sarah’s breathing is hard and her heartbeat is wild as she counts to fifty, waiting for them to be a safe distance away. When that time comes, she extracts herself from the tree and wastes no time in retreating to her car. She hopes the pictures that she managed to snap will do the trick and says a silent prayer of thanks that the first light of dawn didn’t come ten minutes earlier today.


“That should be everything.”

Danielle Taylor pulls the zipper closed on her suitcase, a feat that takes considerably more strength than it should.

“You’d better hope so,” Elly Vanderbilt says as she looks on, “because I don’t think you’re getting that thing closed if you open it again.”

Danielle laughs, even though it is true. She thought that she packed fairly economically, and she swears that she did not acquire too many new things while in San Francisco, but her luggage seems to have multiplied exponentially.

“Let me carry that for you,” Tom, Elly’s father, offers. Danielle thinks of insisting that she can do it, but as soon as she lifts the suitcase, she realizes that would be foolish. She thanks Tom, and he leads the way down the stairs to the living room.

Danielle peers out the window to see if her cab has arrived yet. There is no sign of it.

“It’s been really great seeing you,” Tom says as he gives Danielle a hug.

“It really has. New Year’s was so much fun.”

Despite all the drama surrounding Elly’s impromptu trip to King’s Bay, they really have had a wonderful visit. Elly has really seemed to make an effort with her parents, and as for Danielle, it has been far too long since she last spent time with her old friends.

“Are you sure we can’t convince you to stay a while longer?” Tom’s wife, Melanie, asks as she emerges from the kitchen.

The joking proposal sends a shiver of awkwardness through Danielle. Melanie probably has no idea how badly Danielle would love to stay here--to be around Elly all the time, have the opportunity to see her grow from a child into a woman.

“I had forgotten how gorgeous San Francisco is,” Danielle says, trying to play it off, “but I have a feeling my brother and his wife might object.”

“Yeah, the twins are kind of nuts,” Elly says. “But I’m gonna miss them.”

“I think it’s safe to say they loved having you around, so anytime you want to visit, I don’t think they’d mind.”

Elly beams. “Cool.”

Danielle checks for the cab again and still does not see it. “I hope this driver isn’t running late. I’m already cutting it a little close with making my flight.”

“We can give you a ride, if need be,” Tom says.

“While we’ve got a minute,” Melanie says, “come into the kitchen with me. There’s something I want to show you.”

The two women excuse themselves. Once in the kitchen, Danielle asks, “Did you get some kind of gadget you forgot to show me?”

“No, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute. Alone. About Elly.”


Pale but broad marks of dawn streak across the sky as Sarah lets herself into the apartment. Her heart has yet to slow down completely, but she has become aware of an intense fatigue poised to overtake her body and mind. Maybe it will be enough to grant her a few solid hours of sleep later this morning.

She creeps into the bedroom, where Matt is sound asleep, and changes into her pajamas. Then she goes back out to the kitchen, where she is sitting with a fresh cup of coffee ten minutes later, when alarms go off and Matt and Tori stagger out of their bedrooms.

“Good morning,” she says to her bleary-eyed daughter. Tori plants herself at the kitchen table with little more than a grunt as a response.

Matt casts a knowing glance at his wife but goes about preparing breakfast.

“Sleep well?” Sarah asks Tori.

“I guess.” Tori yawns. Suddenly, energy hits her, in the form of panic. “Oh! You need to sign my permission slip.”

“Go get it,” Sarah says, and Tori scrambles out of the room.

Matt looks over at Sarah, his stare hard and accusing.

“Good night?” he finally asks from his post at the stove.

“It was fine. Not too restful, but productive.” The words are business-as-usual, but her tone is snappy; she wishes that she could keep herself from getting like this, but it is her natural response to what feels like an indictment.

Tori returns with the permission slip. Sarah picks up a pen to sign it, but Matt steps in and does it instead. “I’ve got it,” he tells their daughter, casting another glance at his wife.

Sarah makes small talk with Tori while Matt prepares breakfast. They eat in a weird kind of half-silence--or it would be weird, if it weren’t routine by now. Sarah talks to Tori, Matt talks to Tori, and the parents hardly even look at each other.

“All right, honey, time to shower,” Sarah says. Tori doesn’t seem to be in any rush to get ready for school, but she obligingly drags herself away from the table and in the direction of the bathroom.

Sarah busies herself by cleaning up from breakfast. Matt watches her intently from the table. They hear the shower start up down the hallway.

She can feel his gaze beating into her, and finally she can’t take it anymore. “What?” she demands, whipping around.

“When did you finally come in?” Matt asks.

“Not long before you guys woke up.” She rinses the dishes in the sink. “I think I got what I need to close this case, though.”

He nods, seemingly supportive, at least until he speaks: “Good. Then maybe you’ll run out of excuses to avoid being here.”


Danielle’s mind races. Is Melanie mad? She has been so pleasant this whole trip--but perhaps she picked up on Danielle’s sadness about leaving Elly behind. She is about to apologize, though she is not exactly sure for what, when Melanie continues.

“You’ve been amazing with Elly and this whole situation,” Melanie says. “Tom and I are so grateful. Her running away could have been a disaster, but I think it really helped her sort things out. We have you to thank for that.”

“It’s been my pleasure.” That sounds like both an overstatement and an understatement to Danielle. Of course she didn’t think twice about taking Elly in and helping her cope with learning that she was adopted; it was her natural instinct. On the other hand, it does not begin to describe how thrilled she was to spend a few weeks with her daughter.

Don’t start thinking of her that way, she warns herself. It will only make this harder.

“Tom and I were talking,” Melanie says, “and we think that maybe you were right. Having Elly know the truth is a relief.”

Danielle’s head shifts up and down agreeably. “I’m glad.” It is all she can manage to say, given the weight of the thoughts filling her mind: Does that mean they want Elly to know the whole truth?

“It’s like this enormous burden has been lifted. We think it’ll be really good for all three of us,” Melanie says.

“Good. Elly seems to be adjusting all right.” Each syllable feels like a marathon to Danielle.

“And we have you to thank for it.” Melanie hugs her again, and when they part, it is clear that Melanie has said what she wanted to say.

Danielle wishes that she could push the issue--So you don’t want to tell her? Why not?­--but realizes how ridiculous that would be.

“Cab’s here!” Elly calls out.

They return to the living room, where Danielle says her final goodbyes to Melanie and Tom. When she gets to Elly, she allows herself to linger on their hug.

“You’re growing up into an incredible young woman,” Danielle says quietly. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks for everything,” Elly says, squeezing her tighter.

The driver helps her transport her suitcase to the cab. She gets into the backseat and buckles her seatbelt, watching the family through the window as they watch her leave.

They look so perfect: father, mother, daughter, happily reunited. The portrait is complete, Danielle realizes--there is no spot for another person, no room for her.

When the cab pulls away from the house, she is grateful to be taken away from that painful scene.


“I’ve been working,” Sarah says, unable to mask her annoyance at Matt.

“I know. And that work happens to keep you from having to sleep in the same bed as me. Convenient, huh?”

She runs the water and rinses the dishes extra-hard.

“Tori’s not stupid,” Matt says. “She’s going to figure out what you’re doing, if she hasn’t already. She needs you here.”

“I am here for her! I don’t see any harm in working and being a mother.”

“Neither do I! That’s not the issue.”

Sarah expects him to get up from the table and join her at the sink. It’s what Matt would do. He would come closer, speak in that voice that miraculously helps her see straight and calm down, place a strong hand on her to let her know that he is there.

Except he does none of those things now.

“You’re never here,” he says, “and we’re not making any progress. We’re spinning in circles.”

She stares down at a dish as she dries it. “So this is all my fault?”

“I didn’t say that! You’re being--” He catches himself. “There are things that both of us can do. On your end, that means trying to be here more. Making yourself be here.”

“I’m here right now.”

“Yeah, you’re physically here. But you’re always moving around, avoiding me, and--”

“It’s the only choice I’ve got,” she says.

Matt softens. “It’s not.”

“It’s either this--” She inhales deeply, not wanting to say the words; this is what she has been trying to stay away from. “--or I move out.”

Matt looks as if he has been smacked over the head with a baseball bat. “Those are not your only two choices.”

“That’s what it feels like.”

She can see him struggling for some solution, and she feels horrible. She knows that this is not rational… but she also knows that these emotions are so strong that there is nothing she can do to overpower them, and so she is doing her best to keep them in check and maintain some sense of normalcy for her daughter.

“How long is this going to last?” he asks, utterly lost.

Sarah’s heart breaks all over again as she answers him: “I wish I knew.”

They fall back into the silent choreography of recent months: she finishes washing the dishes, he goes to shower. Afterward, Sarah will attempt to sleep while Matt drives Tori to school. She knows that he hates it, and she does, too, but she cannot think of any other way to continue functioning. If this is what they have to do to survive, then this is what they have to do.


What will it take for Sarah and Matt to heal?
Should Danielle distance herself from Elly?
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