Episode #574

- At Jason’s wedding, Sarah urged Alex to give Graham a chance, but Alex had no interest in a relationship with his biological father.
- Jason, Don, and Helen all struggled to move forward in the wake of Courtney’s death.
- Seth agreed to return to Portland with his parents as he recovers from his coma and finally revealed to them that he had been in a relationship with a man. The Ashbys, glad to have him alive after his attack, were supportive.


The block looks more or less as it does every Christmas season. Strands of lights adorn the gutters and borders of each house. A few reindeer and Santa Clauses pop up here and there. The blue house across the street, as usual, has its entire front lawn overtaken by “Santa’s Workshop,” a weather-beaten shed whose paint grows duller with each year.

There is only one thing different about the block this Christmas--one house that shows no evidence at all of the impending holiday. As Alex Marshall stands at the Chases’ front door, he wonders if he should offer to put out their Christmas lights.

“Hi, Alex,” Don says when he answers the door. He looks ten years older than when Alex saw him last, and that was only a few days ago.

“Hey.” Alex steps into the house. “How are you guys?”

Don offers a mere shrug, not even bothering with a polite lie. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m fine.” This house, which Alex has long considered to be something of a home base, now feels eerie and uncomfortable. He cannot pinpoint what it is, exactly, but the specter of Courtney’s death is everywhere. He has no idea what to say. “How has Sophie been?”

“She misses her mother,” Don says as he sinks into the living room couch. “And Jason, too. I’m glad he let her stay with us for a few days. How is he?”

Alex could almost laugh at the absurdity of it all—they are about two steps away from a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, doing nothing but asking each other how various people are doing, over and over and over.

“He’s getting by,” Alex says. “He’s back in the office this week, which might help.”


There is something so empty, so despondent about Don--the man who has been the closest thing to a father that Alex has ever known--and Alex only wishes that he had some clue what to do to make it better.

“I bet Sophie was happy to spend time with you guys, though,” he says.

Don forces a smile. “Yes.”

“Alex? Is that you?” Helen calls from somewhere else in the house. Alex hears the faint creaking of the staircase, and a moment later, Helen, in sweatpants and a dusty t-shirt, appears with Sophie in her arms.

“You’ll have to excuse the way I look. I was organizing some things in the attic while Sophie took her nap.” Helen stares down at the groggy infant in her arms. “Are you all ready to go with Uncle Alex?”

Sophie blinks a few times but still appears to be half-asleep.

“Is there anything I can do for you guys?” Alex asks. They look so tired and sad and, well, old. For the first time, he can see both Don and Helen morphing into the elderly versions of themselves.

Don and Helen exchange a look, but it is so vague and faint that Alex does not know how any information could possibly be relayed. He wishes there were something, anything, that he could do for them, but he is well aware that he cannot do the one thing that would fix them: make their daughter still be alive.

He decides to change the subject. “Uh, where are her things?”

“Everything’s by the stairs, all packed up,” Helen says. She leads the way, still carrying Sophie.

“Come on, Soph. We’re gonna go see your daddy now.” Alex holds out his arms for the baby, but Helen holds onto her, gazing into her face like it might contain some long-hidden answer.

“We’ll see you very soon, honey,” Helen finally says, as she slowly hands Sophie over to Alex. He wishes he didn’t feel like he were stealing the most precious thing in the world from them.


It takes every ounce of willpower within Jason Fisher not to close the door to the office and lock himself away in here. Maybe, then, no one would bother him, no one would awkwardly ask how he is doing, no one would try to give him advice that is never going to help or change anything. But he also knows that locking himself away all the time would be considered “not normal,” and he doesn’t want to deal with that label. So the door stays open.

He has his head buried in a pile of bills when there is a knock on that open door.

“Hey, man,” Seth Ashby says softly.


Seth stands awkwardly in the doorway. “Jason, I’m... I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks.” Grateful that Seth doesn’t try to do any more than offer condolences, Jason quickly moves along. “You’re doing better, I take it?”

“Much better, yeah. They just let me out today.”

Jason picks up a handful of the bills that have haunted him for the past several hours. “Feel like working? Because I don’t have a damn clue what I’m doing here.”

“That’s actually what I came to talk to you about.” Hands stuffed in his pockets, Seth takes a few uneasy steps into the office. Jason has always regarded him as a fairly sturdy guy, an athlete, tall and broad-shouldered. But the way Seth is walking now, as if he doesn’t entirely trust his legs, makes him appear anything but.

“I’ve decided I’m going to go back to Portland with my parents,” Seth says. “I need people around to help me out for a while. This whole coma thing is a real pain in the ass, you know?”

“I had a feeling you might decide not to stay here,” Jason says. “Can’t really blame you.”

“I could help you find someone to take over for me, if you want. Sorry for the short notice.”

“No offense, but it’s one of the less shocking things to happen to me lately.” He intends it to come off like a joke, but it just sounds sad and bitter. “When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow,” Seth says, and at that exact moment, Alex enters the office with Sophie in his arms.

“You’re out of the hospital,” Alex says. “That’s great.”

Jason rises to take Sophie from his friend. “Come here, kiddo. How was Grandma and Grandpa’s?” Sophie grabs for his nose and babbles in his face.

Seth looks from Alex to Jason and then back again. “Do you have a minute? Maybe we can go downstairs and talk.”

Alex nods. To Jason, Seth says, “I’ll be back in a few to grab my stuff.”

Jason watches the two of them leave the office. He is glad to see that Seth is recovering and that at least one of Shannon’s victims will emerge from this ordeal all right--but something deep inside him cannot help but whisper, “Why couldn’t it have been him instead of Courtney?”

He tries to block the thought and focus on his daughter.


Sarah Fisher sets the black halter dress back on the bed and picks up her other option, a cap-sleeved satin dress with a bold black-and-white print. She holds it up in front of her, studying the dress in the mirror and hoping that the answer will become clear.

“What do you think?” she asks Graham Colville as he enters the bedroom.

“I think you’ll look wonderful in anything,” he says with a knowing smile.

Sarah scrunches her brow skeptically. “Maybe I’ll wear a trash bag tonight, just to test that out. I’m sure your business associates would love that.”

Graham comes up behind her and slides his arms around her waist. “I suspect you might be able to pull that off.”

She relaxes into his hold for a moment and stares at the two dresses lying on the bed. Soon enough, her frustration boils back to the surface.

“Maybe I need to wear a color,” she says. “Is the black too boring?”

He simply holds up his hands to excuse himself from the one-party debate.

“I can’t believe this complex is actually ready to open,” she says as Graham dips into the bathroom. “It’s going to be very weird seeing the pier with something that isn’t my dad’s restaurant on it.”

“I imagine it will be strange for you,” Graham says from inside the bathroom, where she can see him rifling through the vanity drawers. “Have you seen my contact solution? My eyes are not handling the cold too well.”

“Top drawer on the left.” She is surprised by the ease with which she answers and the level of familiarity with Graham’s house that it implies. She has been spending much of her time here when she does not have Tori; it is generally assumed that she will spend the nights here when her daughter is with Matt. In many ways, Graham’s house is more of a home to her than the apartment she has been living in since she and Matt split.

She picks up the simpler black dress again and has almost convinced herself that it is the better option when Graham emerges, blinking his eyes rapidly.

“You know,” he says, “now that this development is completed, my time in King’s Bay might be limited.”

She should not be shocked by the proclamation, but the reality of it catches her off-guard. “I thought part of the reason you came here was to get to know your son.  You’re just going to skip town because a job is done?”

“I didn’t say that. I’m just not sure where business will take me next.” He pauses, preparing for what she already knows it the true point of all this. “Perhaps it would be a good time to discuss... our future.”

“Yeah. You’re probably right.” She turns her attention back to the mirror, and suddenly the black dress seems absolutely fine. Can’t go wrong with black, right? She feels Graham watching her and suspects that she is not doing a very good job of concealing her discomfort with the subject at hand.

He takes the cue and checks his watch. “When are you supposed to meet Tori?”

“I have to leave in ten minutes or so,” she says. “The black dress is really okay?”

“It’s wonderful.” He flashes her that charming smile, and it calms her nerves ever so slightly.


Downstairs, in Edge of Winter’s ground-floor café, Seth and Alex sit on opposite sides of a small table.

“As soon as I leave here,” Seth says. “I’ll go back to the hotel, meet my parents, and then we’re going to drive back to Portland.”

“Wow.” Alex cradles his tea between his palms; the warmth seeps into his hands. “I’m really glad you’re doing so well. You look... good.”

Seth cracks an awkward grin. “Thanks. I feel pretty crappy, but I guess being awake is a pretty big deal at this point.”

“Yeah. I’d say so.”

The tension of things unspoken, perhaps even unrealized, stretches between them, holding them in an uneasy balance like a rubber band ready to snap at any second.

“I told them,” Seth says out of nowhere. “My parents. About you and me.”

“Oh, wow. That’s big.” Alex wasn’t sure if Seth would ever get around to doing such a thing. “Congratulations. How’d they take it?”

“Pretty well, honestly. I guess after your son almost dies and goes into a coma, the fact that he likes dudes might not seem like the end of the world.”

“Thank God for comas, then,” Alex says with a laugh. “I’m really glad. It must be a huge relief to have that off your chest, especially since you’re going back home with them.”

“I don’t know why I couldn’t do it sooner...” Seth stares off at the ceiling, and Alex detects a wistfulness about him, a wondering about what could have been.

Alex remembers when he felt the same thing. All those years after Seth suddenly moved out of their dorm room, leaving Alex with no way to contact him and no sense of how to process what happened between them, Alex never stopped wondering what would have happened if they had been able to be together again.

“You had to get to this point,” he says. “Everyone has a different path there. Mine was a much bigger mess than yours, I bet. Don’t feel bad.”

Seth gazes down into his half-drunk latté. “I’m really sorry. I wish I’d been able to give you--”

“Don’t,” Alex interrupts. “You don’t have to apologize for anything. This... was a learning experience for both of us. Part of growing up and all that.”

“You think we’ll ever get to the point where ‘growing up’ won’t mean making a huge mess of our whole lives?”

Alex shakes his head. “Who knows?”

Seth sips his drink and then pushes his chair back. “I should head back upstairs. I have to pack up my desk and get back to my parents.”

“Yeah, I should get going, too.” Alex rises from his seat. “Take care, okay? I really am glad you’re healthy.”

“Thanks.” They hover on their separate sides of the table for a moment, and then Seth darts forward and hugs Alex. “Good luck, Alex. I’m gonna miss you.”

“Yeah. You, too. Have a safe trip back,” Alex says, and with that, Seth gives him a little wave and disappears from the café. Alex stands over the table, attempting to process the fact that it is really, truly over. All those years of wondering, and he has finally come to the end of this particular road. He cannot believe how much lighter he feels, having finally lifted the weight of the past from his body and mind.

Suddenly, inspired and wild, he reaches for his cell phone.


A resplendent Christmas tree, dressed with velvet bows, sparkling lights, and oversized orbs, rises up from the mall’s center court and towers over the bustling shoppers who weave around it. Sarah gazes up the tree’s length, idly entertaining thoughts about what a pain it must have been to decorate, when she feels a body settle beside her.

“Hey, sweetie,” she says to her daughter. She takes note of the variety of shopping bags in Tori’s hands. “I hope you actually bought presents for some other people and not just yourself.”

“We made some good progress,” Matt Gray says as he comes up behind Tori. He holds several bags himself--a surprising sight, since she has never known Matt to be much of a shopper.

“Are you all ready to go?” Sarah asks.

Tori nods. “Just have to grab my stuff from Dad’s car.” Then something across the way diverts her attention. “Hang on.”

“Tori, we have to--”

“Fee is over there! I just wanna say hi.” She drops her bags at their feet and dashes off.

Sarah and Matt stand awkwardly together. Sarah cannot recall the last time that they were alone, just the two of them.

She finally breaks the silence. “When are you flying out to Pennsylvania?”

“Not until the 23rd. Working almost nonstop ‘til then. How are you?”

“Good. I’m good.” She tells herself to relax. “Graham’s new development is having its grand opening tonight. It’s going to be weird to be on Pier 22 and not have Dad’s restaurant be there.”

“That’s crazy. I drove by the other day, and it really threw me.”

“How’s working at Windmills?”

He makes the kind of patented Matt face that she remembers all too well: very subtle, his mouth held in a barely broken line, the slightest flare of the eyes. It’s understated and hardly noticeable and yet suggests more words than most people could manage with the most outsized of monologues. “It’s interesting,” he says. “Not the kind of place I ever thought I’d be working, I’ll tell you.”

She lets out a little laugh. “Yeah. I still have trouble picturing you someplace that stuffy.”

“What? You don’t think I can do sophisticated?”

“That’s not what I meant,” she says, but she can tell that he took the joking remark in the way it was intended. As the teasing fades into the air, Sarah is stricken by the urge to turn more serious. “I think I owe you an apology.”

He tenses up. “What for?”

“For telling my dad I didn’t want him hiring you at his new restaurant. It was immature, and--I’m sorry. If you ever decide you want to work there, or he offers or anything, you should do whatever you want.”

“Thanks.” The reply is quiet, thoughtful. “Guess we both did some rash stuff.”

Sarah is not sure how to follow that up, and it lingers over them. She turns to watch Tori with her friend and then calls out, “Hey, Tori, come on! We have to go get dressed for tonight!”

Tori throws her mother a look but reluctantly begins to say goodbye to the other girl.

“Have a good time tonight,” Matt tells Sarah, and when Tori runs back over to them, he throws his arms over her shoulders. “Let’s go grab that stuff from the car.”

“Where are you parked?” Sarah asks. “I’ll get my car and bring it around.”

“Third floor, right in front of the escalators. We got a great spot.”

“I’ll come meet you.” She pulls her keys from her purse. “Merry Christmas, Matt.”

He glances up from helping Tori gather her bags. “Merry Christmas.”

She watches them fade back into the horde of holiday shoppers, trying to figure out how the man with whom she thought she’d spend every Christmas for the rest of her life is now just another face in the crowd.


The door opens almost as soon as he rings the bell.

“Hi,” Graham says. “I was very surprised that you called.”

“So was I,” Alex says, shifting his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other and back again. “I--I don’t know. I thought maybe we could talk.”

“Of course. Come in.”

The house is certainly impressive. It is not flashy, but there is an undeniable elegance about it, with the staircase curving into the foyer and the tall, open ceilings.

“Can I get you anything? Tea?” Graham asks.

“No, thanks.” Alex is still jittery from the coffee he had this morning and the tea he just had while talking with Seth.

Graham leads him into the living room, a neatly ordered room centered around a glass coffee table. Two rich brown loveseats and a pair of upholstered chairs in a lighter brown surround the table. Graham seats himself on one of the loveseats, and Alex takes a place on the one opposite him.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Graham says, “what made you decide to come see me?”

“I’m not sure,” Alex admits. He slaps his palms down on his knees, waiting for whatever words he thought he wanted to say to emerge. Saying goodbye to Seth stirred up something in him--a realization about facing the past and sweeping it out of the way, rather than covering it up with flimsy sheets that keep being blown away by the slightest wind.

“Well, I am glad you’re here. I have to say, I’ve read both your books, and you’re a very talented writer. You should be very proud.”

“Thanks. It still blows my mind that I’ve been paid to do this. It was something I did for so long as a hobby.”

“From what I’ve read, you’re very deserving.”

“Thank you.” Alex has no idea how this is supposed to go; even this morning, any thought of Graham would have been accompanied by an internal warning not to think about it, not to show the man any softness whatsoever. But now he wonders if he has been doing himself a disservice all along by trying to shut this man--his father--out.

“Can you just tell me about your life?” he asks. “Have you been married? Do you have... other kids?”

“I haven’t ever been married, actually. And no, I don’t have other children.”

“Where else have you lived? Where were you born?”

Alex attempts to relax, to sit back and listen to Graham’s answers and soak up the information. He doesn’t know exactly what he hopes to garner from this interaction, but if it helps him feel as free as seeing Seth walk out of his life did, then he suspects it will be very much worthwhile.


Will Alex regret letting Graham into his life?
Can Sarah and Matt remain apart?
How will Jason cope with having to find a new staff?
Discuss this episode in the Footprints Forum!

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