Episode #490

- Tim rushed to tell Paula about Ryan’s book deal with Vision. They realized that Sarah had already known about Ryan’s contract with Diane.
- Bill and Matt planned to open a new restaurant.
- Thinking of Travis’s pleas, Tim told Claire that he did not see a future for them together.


The first signs of spring have come to King’s Bay. A crystal blue has given the sky some relief from the winter downpour and storm clouds, and although a chill remains in the air, it lacks the sharp edge that it bears during the deep of winter.

In the front yard of his grandparents’ home, Travis Fisher takes full advantage of this promising shift in the weather as he tosses a football back and forth with his friend, Landon. He fakes a few times before finally throwing the ball. Landon leaps over the hedges separating the Fishers’ yard from the one next door, his body sideways in the air, and snags the ball just before it hits the ground. He rolls over the lawn, nearly colliding with the For Sale sign, before standing in victory.

“What do you think of that, loser?” Landon taunts as he prepares for his own throw.

A pair of vehicles pulls up to the curb. Travis recognizes one, a Volvo, as belonging to the real-estate agent who has been showing the house next door to prospective buyers. The second vehicle, a massive SUV, is unfamiliar.

He motions for Landon to get off the neighboring lawn, but the realtor, a severe middle-aged woman with a face pulled terrifyingly tight by plastic surgery, is already out of her car.

“Young man, unless you have somehow become the owner of this property without my knowledge, I’d appreciate it if you refrained from damaging the lawn,” she says.

Landon scrambles over the hedges and back to the Fishers’ side of the grass. The doors of the SUV open, and an older couple, probably around the same age as Travis’s grandparents, exits the vehicle.

The realtor turns on the charm immediately. “As you can see, it’s a lively neighborhood. Wonderful for large families.”

Travis observes the couple with a mixture of wonder and terror. The man is tanned so deeply that his skin could best be described as “burnt orange,” and he wears an open-collared shirt with a gaudy gold chain hanging in a nest of chest hair. The woman’s long, curly hair is held back by a headband, and her full, flowing garments make Travis think of the 1960s.

As the other doors to the SUV open, Bill comes outside. “Travis, did you take the sports section of today’s paper?” he asks.

Travis shrugs. “I looked at it, like, three hours ago, in the kitchen.”

The prospective homeowners wave enthusiastically to Bill, who comes over.

“Bruce Phoenix,” the man says, extending his hand for a shake, “and this is my life partner, Astrid.”

Bill introduces himself. “And this is my grandson, Travis, and his friend, Landon.”

“It’s enchanting to meet you,” Astrid says, wiggling her fingers in a floaty wave. “Maybe we’ll all be neighbors sometime soon.”

“We can only hope,” the real estate agent says.

“Do you have children?” Bill asks.

“There they are,” Bruce says, indicating the SUV. A Filipino woman in her late 20s, with long, dark hair to the middle of her back, and a younger, heavyset, black man are trying to extract something sizable from the back of the vehicle. “That’s Brenda and Reg.”

“We wanted our family to be of the world,” Astrid says breathily.

“My wife and I have four children,” Bill says. “All grown, though they’re always in and out of the house. You know how it is.”

“We have four, too! Our other daughter, Wilhelmina, is off studying at Stanford,” Bruce says.

“Four adopted children. That’s very admirable,” Bill says.

“Oh, no, only three of them are adopted,” Astrid says. “We were bound to have one of our own, what with how we can’t keep our hands off each other.” She flashes Bruce a sly grin. Travis and Landon exchange a look of horror.

Now Travis can tell that the item Brenda and Reg were removing from the SUV is a wheelchair. They help someone from the backseat into the chair. A man in his early 20s, unmistakably the child of Bruce and Astrid, settles into the wheelchair and waves at all of them.

“That’s Leonard,” Astrid says as the three younger Phoenixes come over to join them.


The coffee shop feels like an inappropriate place to hold such a meeting--too impersonal and far too public--but Paula Fisher reasons that she has little choice. When Ryan returned her call about getting together to talk, he was adamant about meeting somewhere neutral. For her part, Paula did not feel right inviting him to the family home, not now. So the coffee shop it is.

She has already been waiting at a small table for upwards of ten minutes when Ryan arrives. To her relief, he looks more composed than he did when she saw him at Thanksgiving. After that encounter, and especially after Molly’s story about Danielle having found Ryan passed out drunk on a park bench, she has feared seeing him again. However, he looks like the same old Ryan, the son with whom she grew quite close before it all fell apart.

“Paula,” he says stiffly, coming directly to the table.

She reaches for her purse. “Ryan. Hi. Would you like a coffee?”

“No. Thanks.” He takes a seat across from her.

“Thank you for meeting me,” Paula says. “I wish it didn’t have to be someplace so… public.”

“It’s probably better this way.”

His voice sounds almost robotic, like he is trying to remain devoid of emotion.

“Where are you staying now?” she asks. “I heard about the loft. I’m sorry.”

“Are you?”

She tries not to let his aggressiveness throw her off-course. “Of course I am. Have you found a new place to live?”

“Look, let’s cut to the chase,” Ryan says. “I know what this is about.”

Of course he does, Paula reasons. He had to know this discussion was coming from one of the Fishers.

“Please don’t do it,” Paula says. “I am asking you, as your mother, not to write that book.”


After five minutes of conversation, Travis feels safe making the judgment that these potential new neighbors are completely insane. He suspects that Bill feels the same way, based upon the way in which his eyes keep bulging and then relaxing, as if he is trying to control his reactions very carefully.

“Circus life just wasn’t for us,” Astrid says, waving her hand all around. “That was when I decided my talents would be better put to use working with food.”

“Are you a chef?” Bill asks.

“We own a catering business,” Bruce says. “The vegan community needed that niche filled badly.”

Bill begins to respond, but the arrival of a car in the Fishers’ driveway gives them all pause. “That’s my oldest son, Tim,” he says.

Tim gets out of the car and joins them. Travis meets him halfway to give him the scoop.

“New neighbors, maybe,” he says quietly. “Totally whacked-out.”

Tim thanks him under his breath for the warning and joins the group. He introduces himself, and immediately, Bruce and Astrid’s daughter starts fluttering her eyelids.

“I’m Brenda,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Tim says, clearly caught off-guard.

“Bruce and Astrid were just telling me that they run a vegan catering business,” Bill says. “I own a restaurant, actually. Or I did. My restaurant was destroyed in an explosion last year, so I’m in the process of opening a new one with my son-in-law.”

“Do you have plans for the menu of this new place?” Bruce asks.

“Some,” Bill says. “We’re still in the development stage. The old restaurant was family-oriented, but we’re looking at something a little more mature for the new one.”

“We should talk about alternatives to mainstream ingredients,” Bruce says. “It’s not too late to make a difference. Do you want it on your conscience that all those customers are ingesting deadly processed items with every bite of your food that they take?”

Travis tries to track that conversation, but he is too distracted by the awkward interaction between his father and Brenda.

“So, um, what do you do?” Tim asks politely.

“I’m a dancer,” she says. “Exotic.”

“Oh. That’s… interesting.”

“I studied ballet and jazz for years, but this is really the best way I’ve found of expressing myself. My parents have been very supportive.”

Travis looks to Landon, hoping he’s catching all this.

“Does your dad, like, come watch your shows?” Travis asks.

“Sometimes,” Brenda says with a shrug, clearly not finding anything weird about that. Then she turns back to Tim. “You know, I could give you a private demonstration, if you’re interested.”

Travis can’t help himself and has to turn away to snicker. That’s when he catches a snippet of Bill’s conversation with Bruce and Astrid:

“It’s really irresponsible, pouring what amounts to industrial waste into people’s bodies just to make a quick buck,” Bruce says.

“I put a lot of care into the food I make,” Bill responds. “Equating it to industrial waste just because it isn’t vegan seems unfair, don’t you think?”

Bruce and Astrid shrug and then shake their heads in unison.

“All right, everyone, we’d better go inside and look at the actual house!” the realtor says loudly, grabbing everyone’s attention. The Phoenixes slowly remove themselves--especially Brenda, whose hand has found its way onto Tim’s chest already--and follow her inside.

“These people are going to be horrible neighbors,” Tim says.

“I don’t know, Dad, you looked like you were enjoying that,” Travis teases.

“Your dad is right,” Bill says. “If those people move in, home is never going to be the same again.”


Ryan leaves Paula to linger for a good, long moment. She sips from the cup of coffee that she didn’t even want but felt obligated to purchase, because his stare is too intense for her to go unoccupied.

“Why shouldn’t I write it?” he asks, although it sounds less like a question and more like a puzzle that she is supposed to solve.

“It’s going to dredge up a lot of painful things that are only now beginning to fade,” she says. “Not just for me and Bill and Tim and Claire. Take Sarah. She’s been through hell since what happened at the restaurant. She doesn’t need this book out there.”

Ryan draws back, and for the first time, Paula sees something other than bared fangs and sharpened claws from him. The mention of his sister seems to have affected him.

“If I had known what shooting Nick would lead to…” he says, too overwhelmed to finish the thought.

“Then let it go, Ryan. Put it to rest.”

He shakes his head insistently. “No. This is my opportunity to tell my side of the story. Everyone wants to believe I’m some kind of monster.”

“No one thinks that.”

“Really? Is that why you were so quick to invite me over to your house to talk? Oh, wait.”

“Ryan, please.” She leans closer and lowers her voice; she is very much aware of all the people around them and imagines that they can all hear every word she is saying. “Don’t write this book. It isn’t going to be good for anyone.”

“So if I somehow get out of my contract with Diane,” he says, “you’d be willing to take me back into the family?”

She doesn’t know how to answer that. The question is so direct, and her feelings are so skewed…

“I’d be doing this for you--all of you,” he says. “It certainly wouldn’t be for myself.”

His dark eyes bore into her. She can see her son inside this bitter shell of a man. She wonders, if they were to wipe the board clean and start fresh today, could things go back to the way they were?

“I can’t promise anything,” she finally says. “So much has happened, and that decision is not solely mine to make. But this would go a long way toward earning back our trust.”

Seconds pass with no response or reaction--and then Ryan pushes back from the table, a virtual explosion. He is on his feet and, judging from his volume and tone, has no regard for the fact that they are in a public place.

“Then I have nothing to lose, right, Mother?” he says. “If I’m going to alone anyway, I might as well have a fat paycheck to keep me warm.”

He storms out of the coffee shop, leaving Paula to bear the stares of alarmed patrons who could not help but witness the scene that just took place. She does not want to remain here, watched by all of them, but she cannot yet face going home and telling the rest of the family about Ryan’s plans, either.


Bill and Tim linger in the front yard with Travis and Landon, too invested in the Phoenixes’ decision about the house to go inside. The boys begin throwing the football around again, and shortly, Reg emerges from the house next door.

“How’s it going in there?” Tim asks, doing a bad job of sounding casual.

Reg shrugs. “Seems good. The room that’d be mine looks good, so I’m cool.” He motions for Landon to toss him the ball, so they let him in on it.

“You guys in high school?” Reg asks.

“Yeah. Liberty,” Travis says, catching a throw from Landon. “What about you?”

“Graduated two years ago. I started going to community college, but that wasn’t my thing. I’m gonna be a musician.”

At least you’re not trying to be a football player, Travis thinks, observing Reg’s awkward stance as he catches and then throws the ball.

“What kind of music?” Landon asks.

“Hip-hop, son. I’m working on some tracks right now. I’m gonna do it all--rap, produce, everything.”

Yeah, in the thriving hip-hop mecca of King’s Bay, Travis remarks mentally.

“You guys smoke?” Reg asks.

“Cigarettes?” Travis shakes his head.

“No, no. Weed, man. I got some good shit in the car.”

Travis is hyperaware of the fact that his father and grandfather are standing ten feet away. Bill and Tim, having easily overheard all of this, seem poised to respond, except they have no idea how.

“Uh, no, we’re cool, thanks,” Travis says.

“My son is fifteen. It’s not okay to be offering him marijuana,” Tim finally says to Reg.

“Sorry. My folks are cool with it. They even join in sometimes. Hey, if you guys wanna--”

“We’ll pass,” Tim says, throwing Bill a look of complete disbelief.

This idiot might make himself useful after all, Travis thinks, as long as he’ll give us pot without making us listen to his stupid music.

Suddenly, the front door of the neighboring house flies open, and Astrid whips outside as if she’s just suffered the greatest injustice ever to strike humankind.

“What’s wrong?” Reg asks.

“She lied!” Astrid says, pointing at the realtor, who chases her.

“I didn’t lie,” the real-estate agent insists.

“You told me there were six toilets in this house. That’s simply not true!”

“There are five,” the agent says. “That’s a large number of toilets.”

Astrid shakes her head. “Not enough. What will we do whenever Wilhelmina is home from school, or whenever we have guests over? Everyone needs his or her own toilet. That is non-negotiable.”

Bruce comes out of the house, pushing Leonard’s wheelchair, and Brenda follows.

“Everyone in the car!” Astrid commands, and they file in accordingly.

“Later,” Reg says to Travis and Landon.

Brenda makes sure to pass by the hedges on her way to the car, even though it isn’t on the way at all. She holds out a card, which Tim reluctantly takes. “Give me a call sometime,” she says, “about that private demonstration.”

With that, the Phoenixes load into their car and peel away from the curb.

“Thank goodness,” Bill says, finally breathing a sigh of relief.

“I really thought they were going to take it,” the realtor says before getting into her car and driving off.

“I’m not the only one who feels like we just dodged a major bullet, am I?” Tim asks, looking to the others.

“I dunno, Dad,” Travis teases. “Sounds like you could’ve had some fun with that one chick.”

Travis, his father, and his grandfather burst out laughing, more than happy to have the neighborhood remain the way it is.


Should the Phoenixes return to the neighborhood?
Did Paula handle Ryan appropriately?
Will Ryan’s book make it to publication?
Come talk about this episode in the Footprints Forum!

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