Episode #576

- Alex surprised Graham by showing up on his biological father’s doorstep, willing to get to know the man who abandoned him as a child.
- Elly forgave Travis after he confessed to having known that Danielle was her mother.
- Paula stunned Claire by warning her to keep a distance from Brent. Claire resented the implication that she was the problem in Brent and Molly’s crumbling marriage.


“Merry Christmas!” Alex Marshall says as he shuffles inside the Fishers’ house, making room for Don and Helen Chase to enter behind him. Greetings and hugs are exchanged, coats are removed, and bottles of wine and plates of dessert are handed to the hosts.

“We’re so glad you decided to come,” Paula Fisher says to Helen and Don, as Bill takes all three of their coats to the closet just off the entryway.

Jason Fisher appears behind his parents, his infant daughter squirming in his arms. “There’s someone here who would love to see her grandparents.” Helen very eagerly takes Sophie into her arms, as she and Jason exchange Christmas greetings.

“I’m happy you convinced them to come,” Jason says to Alex as they move off to the side. “I hated the thought of them spending the day at home, missing Court...”

“It’s good for them,” Alex agrees, watching out of the corner of his eye as the Chases catch up with Jason’s parents. “How are you? How was this morning?”

Jason inhales loudly, filling his mouth with air so that his cheeks puff out. His eyebrows hike up closer to his hairline, a look that tells Alex all he needs to know.

When Jason lets his mouth deflate, he says, “My dad came and picked Sophie and me up pretty early, so we came over here to open presents. It was nice. It’s just...”

Alex offers a sympathetic nod. He knows how much he misses Courtney, how strange it seems to be spending the first Christmas in a decade without her. He cannot fathom how painful it must be for Jason.

“What’s up with you?” Jason asks abruptly, clearly eager to change the subject. “How was your last little sit-down with Seth?”

“Good. I mean, weird, but it’s for the best that we had the chance to talk. Kind of put things behind us before we get on with our lives.”

“Yeah. I swear, you can do better than him.” Jason throws him an encouraging grin. “I’ll miss having him around the office. Or, you know, someone who can get stuff done.”

“Are you going to start interviewing new people soon?”

“I need to. I’m a little, uh, wary, after the whole Sabrina... thing.”

“I don’t blame you.” Alex sees the glassiness washing over his friend’s eyes and hurries to say, “I went to see Graham.”

His announcement has the intended effect: it jerks Jason out of his wandering thoughts. “You what?”

“I went to see him. We talked. It was... decent. Honestly, he’s not a bad guy.”

“I thought you wanted nothing to do with him, didn’t wanna waste your energy...”

All Alex can do is shrug. He didn’t anticipate the surge of adrenaline and impulse that sent him over to his father’s home the other day. “With everything that’s happened lately... I started thinking, I might never have the chance to get to know him if I didn’t do it now.”

“Because he ditched you and your mom and spent all those years pretending you didn’t exist.”

The force of Jason’s reaction surprises Alex. The only thing he can say is, “I know. I’m not saying we have to be best friends. He’ll never be, like, my dad. But I might as well get to know him as adults and see if I want anything more, you know?”

“As long as you know what you’re getting into,” Jason says, his voice heavy and shaded with uncertainty.

The front door opens, and Sarah enters, tailed by Graham and Tori. “Merry Christmas!” she says to the house at large, as Bill and Paula hurry over to welcome their daughter and granddaughter.

Graham spots Alex immediately and moves over to shake his hand. “Merry Christmas,” the older man says. Alex notices the quizzical looks from Don and Helen, who stand across the room; he thought it would be best not to tell them about his recent efforts with Graham until he knew where it might be headed.

“Merry Christmas,” Alex says as his hand meets his father’s firm grip.


The year that he moved to King’s Bay for work, Brent Taylor was not able to fly home to San Diego for Christmas. Then a deputy, he had to work on Christmas Eve and early the day after Christmas, so he offered to pick up the extra shift and work on the holiday itself, too. He remembers sitting in a patrol car, staring out at the bleak sky and the quiet streets, wondering what he had gotten himself into and if the holidays would always feel so lonely and uninspiring.

Of course, that changed. He became more comfortable in King’s Bay, got to know people, and earned the freedom to take off a few days to fly home for holidays. Then he met Sarah and had a family in King’s Bay, too. Christmas became something special again. It became even more special when he and Molly welcomed the twins; seeing Christmas through his sons’ eyes and sharing in their pure joy seemed to bring Brent full-circle.

Now, it seems, the circle has started to overlap itself. He finds himself sitting alone in a car, on Christmas day, contemplating his next move and the state of his life. 

Christmas morning was awkward and strained. He went over to the house early, determined to be there when Caleb and Christian woke up so that they could have the full Christmas that they deserve. He and Molly did their best, and he is fairly certain that the boys were so happy with their Nintendo Wii that they didn’t detect anything unpleasant, but to Brent, the chill was unmistakable. He and Molly moved around like robots, addressing each other only in the most functional of ways, stealing glances during quiet moments but never at the same time. Never connecting. Never being in the same place, truly, at the same time.

He turns his cell phone over in his hand. He wonders if it is too late to call her, to try and make this right for Christmas.

But Molly is right. “If you’re still buried in this investigation, then nothing is different,” she said the last time they spoke--really spoke. As much as he wants to be able to give it up, there is something inside him that needs to know why these horrible things have happened, why he lost his leg and Sarah lost her baby and someone ran his car off the road with the twins in it. If they are going to get back to their real lives, he needs to be sure that none of those things will be able to happen ever again.

He puts the phone back in his pocket and takes the keys from the ignition. He drove all the way here, but until this moment, he didn’t know if he would go inside. Didn’t know if he should. Now, he knows it is his only choice.

He steps out of the car and heads upstairs to Claire’s apartment.


Bing Crosby’s voice floats on the air, covering the proceedings in reassuring warmth. As Sarah talks with Tim and Cassandra, Graham moves over to speak with her father.

“Thank you for having me,” he says to Bill. “It’s an honor to be included in your family’s celebration.”

Bill receives the thanks with a certain amount of surprise. “You’re welcome. We’ve always had a bit of an open-door policy for the holidays--the more, the merrier, that sort of thing. Any friend of our kids’ is a friend of ours.”

“It’s wonderful.” Graham gestures at the living room full of family and friends. “I understand how important family is to you and Paula.”

“It is. Very.” Bill’s voice shifts, reflecting his curiosity at Graham’s statement. 

“That’s why I wanted to speak with you. There is something that I... well, I wouldn’t even think of moving forward with it before discussing it with you.”

“Why don’t we go into the kitchen?” Bill suggests. Graham follows him, hoping that he is doing the right thing.

* * * * *

While Graham and Bill move to the kitchen, the gathering continues without a hitch--until the doorbell rings. The Fishers look around, surprised that any of their guests would do anything other than walk right into the house.

Sarah turns around to open the door, revealing Ryan and Danielle in their heavy winter coats. The Northwest cold stings Sarah’s cheeks even from this brief exposure.

“Come on in,” she tells them, stepping to the side. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Ryan says, almost sheepishly. “We brought a pecan pie for dessert.”

Sarah takes the cake from him as Paula comes over to greet the new arrivals. “Merry Christmas!”

“Thanks for having us,” Danielle says as Molly slides over to hug her sister-in-law.

“We’re thrilled you could be here.” Paula helps them with their coats, so thankful to have all five of her children under one roof this Christmas.


An hour later, the dining room table is hidden beneath serving dishes of prime rib, mashed potatoes, cooked green beans, dinner rolls, and more. Jason passes the gravy to Travis and then looks past him to address his niece.

“All ready for that driving test?” he asks Samantha.

“I think so,” the teenager says, pushing a corkscrew strand of brown hair away from her face. “The backing-around-a-corner makes me nervous. I only get it about fifty percent of the time.”

“She’s ready,” Diane chimes in from across the table. “Unless the DMV wants to do me a favor by pretending I don’t have a kid old enough to drive...”

“It doesn’t matter. Forty is the new thirty, anyway,” Tori says.

Diane glares at her. “Don’t even say the F-word!”

“How was Sophie for Christmas morning?” Samantha asks Jason. “Does she know who Santa is yet?”

“Not really. She mostly seemed excited to rip open a bunch of wrapping paper.”

As that end of the table turns its focus to Sophie, who sits in a high-chair banging a spoon on her plastic tray, Tim leans over to Jason. “I can give you a ride home later, to give Dad a break,” he says to his younger brother.

Jason’s hand pauses, stalling a forkful of food midway between his plate and his mouth. “I actually...” He eats the food and then says quietly, “I bought some flowers. I was thinking I might go... see Court.”

“Good.” Tim’s response is incredibly quick; he is trying very hard not to make a big deal of it. “That’ll probably be good for you.”

“Yeah.” Jason digs his fork into a mound of mashed potatoes and takes a bite.

“If you want company, I’m happy to go with you,” Tim says. “If not, I can give you a ride and just wait.”

“Thanks.” Eager to veer away from the subject, Jason turns his attention to Sophie, who is banging around in her chair, playing it up for her audience. He can feel Tim still watching him, and he does his best to block it out. This doesn’t have to be some big event; he isn’t even sure if he is ready to go to Courtney’s grave yet. He hopes Tim won’t push him about it later.


“It’s stupid,” Brent says between bites of pepperoni pizza. “She wants to keep our family safe by doing nothing. Great. That’s worked so well up ‘til now.”

He sits on the bluish-gray microfiber couch in Claire’s living room, his plate on the coffee table in front of him. Claire swoops in from the small kitchen with another beer for Brent and another glass of red wine for herself.

She takes another slice of pizza from the delivery box. “I can’t believe I’ve had so much of this.”

“It’s Christmas. Treat yourself,” he says, uncapping the beer. “Seriously, thanks for having me over.”

Claire lifts the wine glass to her lips and speaks over its rim. “Try not to tell anyone you were here. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble again.” Disbelief and contempt mingle freely in her words.

“That’s such bullshit. Paula had no right to talk to you like that.”

“She’s trying to protect her daughter. I understand that.” Claire drinks her wine, in thought. “I just wish she didn’t have to accuse me of being the problem.”

The longer the situation marinates in Brent’s mind, the more furious it makes him. What right does his mother-in-law have to tell Claire to keep her distance from him--to flat-out tell Claire that she is the reason for Brent and Molly’s problems?

“You aren’t the problem.” He lets the cold, metallic stream of beer flow down his throat. “Molly and I--we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on this in, well, ever. It has nothing to do with you.”

Claire takes a single bite of her pizza and then leans against the back of the couch. “How did this get so out of control? Weren’t we doing this for all of them?”

“Yeah, but they won’t get that until...” He doesn’t even know anymore. Maybe the Fishers will never fully understand why it is so important for them to figure out who was helping Nick Moriani, who bankrolled and coordinated his schemes and the efforts of the mysterious Mr. Clayton. Maybe the whole point of what Brent and Claire have been doing is to keep their loved ones from ever having to understand it in full.

“Doesn’t matter,” he says, his body loose as he hits the back of the couch, as well. “We’re going to figure this out, and then...” He takes a gulp of beer rather than ponder the end of that statement.

“Well, Merry Christmas.” Claire lifts her glass toward him. “Sorry it isn’t a feast like Thanksgiving was, but all the cooking seemed...”

“Unnecessary. This is great. Merry Christmas. To true friends.” They clink beverages, and Brent sits up slightly to drink. When he leans back, he feels something hard beneath his shoulder. The warm rush of the beer continues its ascent to his head, softening and blending everything the same way a blanket of snow does a city’s streets.

He realizes that the thing pressing against him is Claire’s own shoulder.

Neither of them moves for a long moment. The contact feels good against his alcohol-numbed body. And yet--

“I should get going,” he says, scrambling off the couch in one uncoordinated movement.

“Are you sure? Are you okay to drive?”

“I’ll call a cab. My car can stay in your lot until the morning, right?”

“Yeah.” Claire hunches forward over her knees, looking up at him. Is she confused? Or did she notice it, too?

Maybe he only noticed something, something that wasn’t even there, because of the beer.

“You’re welcome to stay on the couch,” she says. “You don’t have to--”

He pulls out his cell phone. “It’s better this way. Thanks for everything, Claire. Merry Christmas.”

Within seconds, he has his coat on and is out the door. He finds a cab company in his contacts list and dials before he hits the stairwell. Better to get out of here. Better to go back to Josh’s and be alone and get some perspective on what’s going on.


Following dessert, the crowd begins to thin out. Danielle is finishing a slice of pecan pie, savoring the contrast between the warm pie and the chill of vanilla ice cream, when she spots Travis lingering near the living room couch alone. She hasn’t wanted to distract the boy from his holiday with his family, nor does she want to make him uncomfortable, but now that he is alone...

“Want to finish this?” she says, offering the plate to Ryan, who sits beside her.

“I don’t think I need any more food.”

“Give it a shot.” She forces the plate into his hands. “I’ll be right back.”

Ryan eyes her with confusion but does not protest. Danielle rises from the table and goes to the couch, where Travis is half-watching the television that has his cousins transfixed.

“Merry Christmas, Travis,” she says.

He half-turns, apparently already having been aware of her presence. “Thanks. You, too.”

Danielle’s fingers engage in a miniature wrestling match while she attempts to conjure the right words. “Have you been talking to her? Is she all right?”

“Yeah. She’s fine. We talk, like, every day.” His voice is quiet and aimless, the words dribbling out in fits and starts. “She’s not gonna be mad at you forever.”

“As much as I’d like to believe that, I wouldn’t blame her.”

“She just has to get used to it.”

Danielle would like nothing more than to know with certainty that, one day, Elly will forgive her and accept her into her life again. But there is no way of knowing that.

“Take care of her,” she says. “Be good to her. She needs you.”

“I’m trying.” The way he widens his eyes makes Danielle wonder what has been going on between them--but she also knows that, as long as Elly is safe and happy, it is none of her business.

“Want me to tell her anything?” he says.

The offer takes Danielle by surprise. Visions of passing along poetic pearls of wisdom, or declarations so powerful that Elly cannot resist them, float through her head. Just as quickly as they appear, though, they turn to dust, carried off by the winds of reality.

“Just tell her that I love her.”


The winter cold chases Graham, Sarah, and Tori inside the house. Graham hastens to shut the door, but the chill lingers around the entryway. All three move closer to the staircase before removing their coats.

“That was a nice Christmas dinner,” Sarah says as she hangs her coat in the closet. “No screaming, no one getting punched in the face...”

“I’d venture that everyone is a little more mindful this year of how lucky they are to be together,” Graham says.

Sarah takes Tori’s coat. “Jason seems okay. Not great, but...”

“I imagine it’ll be a long process for him.”

Overwhelmed by the enormity of her brother’s situation, Sarah closes the closet door.

“I’m gonna go set up my iPod,” Tori says, already on the staircase.

“Knock yourself out,” Sarah says, and her daughter rockets up the stairs.

Graham watches in amusement. “I’d say you did an excellent job picking out that gift for her.”

“Don’t give me too much credit. She’s been mentioning an iPod Touch every ten seconds since July. Subtle, that kid is not.”

“Speaking of Christmas presents,” Graham says, fully aware of the clunky transition, “I believe there’s one more for you underneath the tree.”

Sarah shakes her head. “There was nothing left there this morning.”

“There might be now.”

She takes the hint and enters the living room. Graham hurries to turn on the tree lights and admires the full, glittering decoration in the corner of the room. If not for Sarah, he knows for certain that he wouldn’t have bothered to put up a tree in his home. It has been years since he saw the need for one. With Sarah and Tori spending so much time here, however, it only seemed right to make an effort in the name of celebration.

Sarah spots the small package, wrapped in silver paper with a full red bow on top, and bends down to pick it up. Graham’s stomach turns over on itself as he watches her.

“Why didn’t you bring this out this morning?” she asks as her fingers toy with the bow.

“I thought it would be fun to save a surprise for after dinner. Go on. Open it.”

As Sarah undoes the bow, Graham entertains vague musings on how the gift-wrapper at the store managed to create something so intricate and beautiful. He wouldn’t even know where to begin. But his thoughts are forcefully redirected as Sarah removes the bow and begins to loosen the wrapping paper.

She takes out the white gift box, opens it, and gasps.


“Take it out,” he says. His hands surprise him by shaking.

Sarah pulls out the small black box and flips it open. “Oh my God...”

Graham lowers himself to one knee. “Sarah... would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He takes her free hand and hopes that she will not notice how nervous he is.

“Graham. This is... it’s beautiful.” She studies the ring in wonder but doesn’t remove it from the box.

“I’m glad you like it.” He stares up at her hopefully, attempting to read her expression.

“I just... I don’t know.” She yanks her eyes off the ring to look at him. “It’s all so sudden.”

“I know.”

The ringing of a phone interrupts them. Sarah fumbles with her purse; Graham holds out his hand to take the ring box as she locates her cell phone and answers.

“Hey,” she says into the phone. She listens, her face transforming with worry. “Okay. Yeah. I’m coming.”

“That was Tim,” she explains. “I need to-- Is it okay if I run out for a little while? Are you okay with Tori here?”

“Do whatever you need to do.”

She squeezes his hand. “Let’s talk about this when I get back.”

Graham nods, and Sarah hurries out of the room. She shouts a quick explanation up to Tori, grabs her coat from the closet, and is out of the house in a flash. Graham hoists himself back to his feet, his hand closed around the ring box. What seemed a brilliant idea hours ago now seems like the most foolish of mistakes.


The air is still. There is no wind, no rain, nothing. Just the cold bite of a dark winter night, the black sky unblemished by clouds. Jason walks over the cemetery’s grass, speckled with fallen leaves and branches.

He finds her headstone without too much trouble. His parents and Courtney’s gave him explicit instructions on how to locate it, and though he tried not to hear it, they burned themselves into his brain. It is as if this were inevitable--as if he were meant to come here.

Which he was, he realizes as he looks over the granite grave marker. He should have been here for the burial. He should have visited every day since then. But it has taken him this long to work up the strength to come.

The marker stands out from the grass, its engraved words hitting Jason like a punch to the stomach:

Courtney Anne Chase Fisher. Beloved Daughter, Wife, Mother, and Friend. You Will Be Missed.

It feels like someone just told him that she died all over again.

He turns the bouquet of flowers over in his hands. The florist convinced him to bring forget-me-nots, these blue flowers with flat petals. Now he wonders if he should have brought roses, or something more passionate, or--

It’s all so stupid. No flowers are going to bring her back. She isn’t here. She doesn’t know that he is here.

“Dammit!” He smashes the flowers against the ground, again and again and again. Blue petals fall like shrapnel all over the grass. “Dammit!”

When he is done and the bouquet has been shaken bare, he sinks to his knees. The petals surround him like crime scene evidence, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt what a fool he is. His chest burns with shame at having lost control like that. Tears sting the backsides of his eyes, and when he exhales in an attempt to push through the knot in his chest, the tears come spilling out. He doesn’t sob, doesn’t even have to cry; they simply run down his face.

Moisture from the grass soaks through the knees of his slacks. He just lets them sink further into the ground.

He is still sitting there--two, five, who knows how many minutes later--when he hears footsteps approaching from behind. He scrambles to his feet and tries to compose himself.

“It’s just us,” his brother’s voice says.

He turns, his palms and knees covered in dirt and grass, and sees Tim, Molly, and Sarah standing only feet away from him.

“How did you guys...”

“We thought you might want some company,” Molly says, and she comes forward to loop her arm around his. Sarah takes his other arm, and Tim rests a hand on Jason’s shoulder.

“I’m an idiot,” he says as another tear falls.

“You are not,” Sarah says.

He lifts his chin to indicate the flowers strewn all over the grass, and a little laugh emerges from somewhere deep inside him. “Do you know how much those cost?”

They laugh with him, and then he rests his head against Sarah’s. The four of them stand under the clear night sky, stars glowing above them and winter’s frigid fingers curling around them, a family united.


Will Jason be able to face his grief head-on now?
How will Sarah respond to Graham’s proposal?
What is going on between Brent and Claire?
Discuss this episode in the Footprints Forum!

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