Episode #575

- Brent and Molly were both encouraged about the state of their troubled marriage after a positive phone call.
- Word spread that Brent spent Thanksgiving at Claire’s apartment.
- Travis sent Elly an e-mail, confessing that he knew Danielle was her mother long before Elly found out. He hoped that she would appreciate his honesty.
- Lauren and Philip ended their relationship after she admitted to him that she still has feelings for Josh.


Strains of many different Christmas songs weave in and out of Claire Fisher’s ears as she walks through the mall, passing all the stores full of holiday activity. She confidently holds the bags in her hands and pushes through the throngs of shoppers, relieved to have polished off the last of her shopping.

The man in front of her, who is pushing a stroller, stops suddenly. Claire puts on the brakes just in time to avoid ramming into him, and when she dodges to the right to get around the jam, she finds herself face-to-face with her former mother-in-law.

“Hi there,” Paula Fisher says, hurrying forward to give Claire a hug. The women step to the side and work through way toward a railing to avoid the dense foot traffic.

“How are you?” Claire asks as she sets down her bags. “How’s Jason holding up?”

“He says he’s doing okay. Focusing on work and taking care of Sophie.” Paula’s skepticism is apparent. “I suppose all we can do is be there for him, however he says he needs us...”

“I called him, to see if he needed anything, but he had me off the phone in under three minutes.  I was thinking of dropping by the house, but it seems...”

Paula nods with understanding. “You’ll see him at Christmas, then. You are going to come, aren’t you?”

The invitation comes as a relief to Claire. She understood that she had a standing invitation for Thanksgiving, but she felt it would be best not to intrude upon the family, since the holiday came so soon after Courtney’s shocking death. But the reassurance that she is still welcome to join the Fishers--the only family she has really ever known--is the greatest gift that they could give her.

“I’d like to,” Claire says. “Thank you.”

“You should call Molly, also. It would be good for the two of you to talk.”

An alarm goes off somewhere inside Claire. “What do you mean?” She already has a fairly good idea.

“About Thanksgiving,” Paula says, stepping delicately over the words as if they were eggshells. “She was a little concerned when she heard that Brent spent the day at your apartment. I’m sure you can understand...”

“Brent came over to show me something. He didn’t have plans for dinner, and I had food ready. That’s all.”

“I don’t doubt that, but you can see why Molly would be worried, can’t you?”

Claire cannot believe what she is hearing. “Is that what Molly thinks is going on?”


As Brent Taylor approaches the front door of what is, technically, his home, he almost believes that this is a normal year and a normal Christmas. The Christmas tree stands in the big front window, beaming its light out into the darkening Northwest sky. The wreath on the front door is even larger and more adorned with pine cones and ribbons and trinkets than last year’s; every year, Molly makes it a little more elaborate and a little bigger. Brent likes to joke that, one year, she is just going to remove the front door and stick a wreath in its place.

When he has to ring the doorbell, though, he is shaken right back to reality.

Molly answers swiftly, and a smile spreads across her face at the sight of him. “Hi. The boys are upstairs picking out what clothes they want to bring.”

“You’re letting them do that?”

“We’ll let them pick, then we’ll go up and make sure it’s not all sweatshirts and no pants or something. I see it as a negotiation.”

“I like that,” he says, his gaze sweeping over the mantle, where six stockings hang: one each for him, Molly, Caleb, Christian, Danielle, and Rex, the dog.

“How are you? How’s work?” he asks, eager for conversation--any conversation--with her.

“It’s actually pretty calm at the moment. I feel like I’m finally settling in a bit. Not second-guessing everything I do.”

“You shouldn’t second-guess yourself to begin with. Camille left you in that position for a reason.”

She smiles weakly. “How about you?”

He shrugs. “Fine. Josh heads down to San Diego tomorrow. Maybe I can get his damn house cleaned up while he’s gone.”

The mention of his temporary home settles over them like a dusty blanket. He decides to test the waters: “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I went to stay there.”

“I know.” Molly’s nod is quick and emphatic--a good sign, he reasons. “I never meant for it to be so long. This year has been...” She trails off, but he thinks he can see the rest of the thought in her eyes.

“Well, what do you think?” he says. “Is it time for me to come home yet?”


Hands on his hips, Travis Fisher pushes a heavy breath out into the world. It emerges as a chalky white cloud, alive and visible in the chilly winter air. He sits down on a felled tree as he tries to catch his breath.

“We’ve gotta do that more,” Landon Esco says as he approaches Travis. The darker-haired teen is breathing just as hard, still feeling the exertion from their impromptu penalty kick showdown.

“Yeah.” Travis takes a gulp from the bottle of water he brought with him, wincing as the cold invades his chest. “I still can’t believe our senior season is over. That’s weird.”

Landon holds out a hand for the bottle. As usual, Travis hands it to his ill-prepared buddy. “Seriously. You think you’re gonna play next year?”

“Depends on where I go to school.” Or if I get in anywhere, Travis’s mind adds nervously.

“Shut up. You’ll be fine.”

Travis doesn’t bother protesting. He would like to believe that Landon is right. His cell phone erupts with a Muse song, indicating a call. He quickly pulls it out of his pocket to answer but pauses when he sees the name on the screen: Elly.

“Want me to answer for you?” Landon taunts him.

Travis shoos him away and anxiously lifts the phone to his ear. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Elly sounds... normal. As much as he tries to figure out every emotion and intention behind this call from the single syllable, he cannot tell much. He has been waiting to hear from her since he sent that e-mail confessing that he knew Danielle was her mother long before Elly herself found out, but now that the moment is upon him, he wishes he could put it off a little longer.

“I got your e-mail,” she says, a simple enough statement that implies a thousand more words.

“Yeah.” The toe of Travis’s shoe kicks a small rock several feet away. “I wanted to tell you, I just--”

“I know.” He wonders how that is possible, since he doesn’t have any idea how he was going to finish that sentence. “I’m not going to lie. My first thought was that I should be really, really mad at you.”

There is something open-ended about it that leaves him hopeful. But...

“But it’s, I don’t know, not worth it,” she says. “Like you said, you didn’t know a hundred percent for sure, and it wasn’t your secret to tell.”

He realizes that he is even more out of breath than he was when he and Landon finished their game, and he hurries to get his breathing back on course. “I was hoping you’d see it that way.”

“I just don’t need to be mad at anyone else,” Elly says. “It’s a waste of energy.” A small laugh comes through the phone line. “Maybe you’re lucky you told me right before Christmas.”

He shares the laughter, practically forcing himself to join in and hoping that it will relieve the rest of the tension in his being. “Maybe I am. And I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, I really am. I didn’t know what to do, and then you found out so randomly, and--”

“Travis. I get it.”

He is silent for a few seconds, breathing hard as he sucks cold air into his lungs. An idea that has been germinating in his brain for weeks pushes through the surface before he can suppress it: “What about Danielle?”

“What about her?”

“Have you talked to her?”

“No.” The answer is clipped, final, the very opposite of the way she has been speaking to him.

“Maybe it would be good for you,” he says. “Just to get it off your chest completely. She had her reasons for keeping it secret. Maybe if you just forgave her and tried...”

He trails off, sensing the silence that does, in fact, come as soon as he stops speaking. He can feel Elly’s hesitance through the line, and he hopes that his suggestion didn’t cross any lines.


Employees migrate to the elevators with bags and arms full of office Christmas gifts. The minimal holiday decorations--a strand of garland here, a Santa cutout there--add a relaxed note to the office air, and as Lauren Brooks packs up her things for her holiday time off, she notes how seldom she feels this calm while inside the walls of Willis Advertising.

“Need any help?” Josh Taylor asks from behind her.

Lauren finishes cramming a tin of cookies into an overstuffed shopping bag. “I think I’ve got it. But thanks.”

Josh is already wearing his coat but does not have any of his belongings in hand, she observes.

“You headed out soon?” he asks.

“In just a second.”

“Here, I’ll walk out with you.” He slips off and then reappears with a messenger bag over his shoulder and a shopping bag of his own, bearing gifts from coworkers and bosses.

“When do you leave for San Diego?” she asks as they wait for the elevator.

“Tomorrow. I’m flying at, like, noon. I hope the idiots can stay out of the airports for a few hours so I don’t wind up getting arrested for murder.”

That... sounds exactly like what Josh Taylor would think about Christmas, Lauren reasons. “Do you have big plans while you’re home?”

“Nah.” He pauses as the elevator arrives. As they step inside, he says, “Spending time with my dad, hanging out with some college buddies. Nothing big. I’m trying to get Brent to go with me, but he wants to be here for the twins.”

“That does make sense.”

“Yeah, I know. Just sucks that he’s going to wind up being miserable because he’ll fight with Molly, and he’ll spend most of the day alone, anyway. What about you? Is Trevor coming home?”

“I wish. But he couldn’t fit it into his work schedule, or so he says. I think he’s maybe avoiding King’s Bay again.”

“You have stuff lined up with that boyfriend of yours? Is he gonna be around?”

Lauren watches the numbers atop the elevator doors light up in descending order. She knew the point would come when she had to tell Josh about this, and even though she is not sure why it makes her so nervous, it does. It takes her at least three floors’ worth of descent before she can spit it out.

“Philip and I actually broke up,” she says.

He turns to her with surprise. “Really? When the hell did that happen?”

“A few days ago. It was just... it’s a weird time, with Courtney, and...” She doesn’t know how to articulate it, exactly, but she knows that she and Philip were right to end things. Her lack of post-breakup mourning has shown her just how right they were.

“Sorry,” he says as the elevator settles to a stop.

“Thanks.” The doors open, but neither of them moves. “You don’t have to pretend like you think it’s a bad thing, though. I know you think he’s a jerk.”

“I think he’s a jackass,” Josh says, moving out of the elevator. Lauren follows, and then they are standing outside the elevator, in a seemingly empty parking garage.

She looks up into his blue eyes. When their relationship fell apart, when she had to face coming to work and seeing him every day and pretending that it didn’t bother her, she never expected that they would be having light conversations in the elevator like this. Time has a way of smoothing everything out, apparently.

“Merry Christmas,” he says abruptly. “I’m over there.” He points to a spot behind him.

“I’ve got to go this way.” She indicates the opposite direction. “Merry Christmas to you, too. Travel safely.”


With that, they go their separate ways. As Lauren walks to her car, she wonders if Josh is reflecting upon what could have been, too.


One of the shoppers bustling by slams into Claire’s shoulder, jarring her forward. She catches her balance, at least physically; she is still reeling from Paula’s interpretation of Claire’s Thanksgiving dinner with Brent.

“Molly doesn’t know what to think,” Paula says. “She and Brent have been... to be frank, they’ve been on the rocks for months now. It’s been a long time since he went to stay with his brother.”

“That was an issue between Brent and Molly.”

“Yes. But you can see why it would concern Molly that her husband spent the holiday with another woman.”

“As a friend!” Claire says, unable to believe any of this. “Because Molly kicked him out of their house.”

“I know.” Paula’s face softens, and for a moment, Claire can see that some part of Paula understands that Molly’s insecurities have blown something innocent out of proportion. “All I’m saying is, it might be best if you made it clear to Molly that there was nothing to that Thanksgiving dinner. And then give them some space.”

That sparks something inside Claire. “With all due respect, Brent can be friends with whoever he likes. If Molly has a problem with it, she can discuss it with him--”

“I know that. All I’m asking is that you give them space.” The older woman’s expression transforms, from that of a friend politely giving advice to a mother defending her child. “You have to admit that you’ve been... monopolizing him. He’s been distracted by this investigation when he should be working on his marriage.”

“If he’s distracted, it’s because he’s chosen to be. Because this investigation is important to him.” Claire picks up her bags. “I’m sorry, Paula, but Brent and Molly’s problems have nothing to do with me. I don’t appreciate you insinuating otherwise.”


“Merry Christmas,” she says hurriedly, not even glancing back as she merges into the crowd and toward the mall’s exit.


Brent’s breath stalls in his chest as he awaits some kind of response from his wife.

At first the movement is subtle, a barely perceptible up-and-down shift of her head. Then it grows into something more recognizable, a full-out nod. “I think so,” Molly says. “I think... it might be time for us to try that.”

“Are you sure?” He bounds forward and embraces her before she can even answer. He has missed this, holding her close, the way the world always feels a little safer and a little more orderly when he has her this near to him.

“I never wanted you gone,” she says. “I just didn’t want the boys to be in danger.”

He inhales the scent of her, the scent that he has missed on so many nights and in so many small moments. He has never figured out exactly why she always carries the faint hint of lemons on her--probably some beauty product she uses--but there is something so fresh and so stirring about it.

“They won’t be in danger,” he tells her. “I promise.”

“I’m glad you’re through with that. I was so worried--”

His whole body stiffens, and he reflexively pushes himself back from her. “I’m not done with it. I’m just going to--”

“Brent.” She severs the remaining hints of contact between them. “If you’re still buried in this investigation, then nothing is different. We can’t...”

“Mol.” He can’t have this grabbed away again. He can’t. “We found a connection between Loretta and Nick Moriani. A picture of them together.” He sees the surprise in her face and hopes that she will finally accept the seriousness of this. “This woman is after our family. I don’t know why, but she is. We’re so close. And as soon as it’s resolved--”

“Then you can come home.” She folds her arms over her chest, forming a barrier between them. “I don’t know. If you can’t put this aside, for me, for the boys, then--”

“I’m doing this for you and the boys!” And just like that, it is the exact same argument they have been trapped in for a year.

Molly turns away from him. He waits for her to look back, to soften, but it never happens.

“You should go upstairs and see how they’re doing with the packing,” she says. “I have to go check on some laundry.” She slips out of the entryway, leaving Brent to stand amongst the tree and the lights and the stockings, all relics of family holidays that he might never be able to recapture.


Is this the end for Brent and Molly?
Was Paula wrong to warn Claire off Brent?
What is next for Lauren and Josh?
Join us in the Footprints Forum to talk about it all!

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