Episode #593

- Claire and Brent traveled to New Hampshire with plans to confront Loretta at her masked ball.
- Philip found it increasingly difficult to deny his attraction to Molly, who accompanied him back east for his mother’s ball.
- Loretta’s henchman notified her that Claire and Brent were in the area. Loretta planned to use the turn of events to her advantage.


Her free hand tries the faucet once... twice... three times. Nothing. No water. Again.

“This damned thing,” she says wearily. She glances at the infant propped up on her other arm to be sure that the minor curse word has not adversely affected him. He goes on smiling unaware.

“It’s broken again,” she says as her husband charges into the room like a train with its brakes cut.

He sets down his suitcase. “Call the handyman. The number is on the refrigerator.”

“Do we have the money for a handyman?” she asks, more than a hint of accusation sharpening the already jagged edges of her voice.

“It’s a necessity, so we’ll account for it.” That’s him. The same as he always gets with matters like this. Blissfully, blithely ignorant of reality and its complications and issues. It sometimes seems to her as if he is wearing a mask, concealing his true feelings--he is far too intense not to care at all--but then she wonders if she even knows him at all.

He ties his shoes and picks up the suitcase. She watches, as if watching might keep him here, keep him from going off into the world and leaving her to deal with the baby and the house and the things that threaten to overwhelm her every second of every day.

“Is this really necessary?” she asks. She already knows the answer.

“If we want to pay for things like a handyman, yes. If we want running water, for that matter.” Once more, he puts down the suitcase; he moves to embrace her, closing the babbling infant between them. “If we want to move to a nicer house, the kind of place that we deserve, then yes. These trips are necessary.”

She rests her head upon his shoulder. She wants to smack him for daring to leave her. She wants to clutch onto him and keep him from going.

“I love you,” he says, finally drawing back. He lifts the suitcase again and kisses the baby’s forehead. “And you, too. I’ll see you both next week.”

She manages a faint “I love you, too,” and then he is gone. Gone like he always is, it seems.

She tries the faucet again. This time, it produces several promising drips of water, but they amount to nothing. Just like the life she planned for herself. Promise that evaporated into dust.

No. She will not think like that. She will not be that woman, like her mother, like her mother’s mother. She switches the baby to her other arm and retrieves the handyman’s number from the refrigerator. In a matter of minutes, an appointment is set, and hope springs anew.

She catches her reflection in the kitchen window. She is a young woman, but marriage and motherhood and domestic concerns have aged her. She will not grow old like this. She will not allow life to wear away at her. The face reflected back at her in the window--that is not her true self.

“Everything is going to get better,” she says to the baby, her voice soft now. “Everything is going to be wonderful, my little Philip.”


When Molly Taylor descends the staircase into the foyer of the Ragan home, she finds the space transformed. Furniture has been whisked away, screens have been placed, and a bar has been erected in the dining room. She hardly recognizes it as the house in which she has been staying for the past few days.

The first of Loretta’s guests have begun to swirl about the house, procuring drinks and mingling. Molly marvels at the women’s ornate gowns, layers upon layers of structured glamour. The masks on members of both genders are impressive, striking, as if every single person spent the past year finding a mask that no one else could possibly have. She feels suddenly conscious of her simple black mask with an electric blue feather to compliment the trim of her dress.

“This is magnificent,” Molly says when she sees Loretta nearing her.

Loretta dips her head in a show of appreciation, though there is, as usual, something cool and distant about it. “Thank you.”

“I never would’ve imagined someone’s home could be turned into a party space like this. It’s so impressive. If I were to have the resources someday...”

“Allow me to share something with you,” Loretta says as she swipes a flute of champagne from a passing, tuxedo-clad waiter. “Money can’t buy you class. Elegance is learned. All the resources in the world won’t do you a spot of good if you don’t educate yourself about how to apply them.”

Molly attempts not to take the lesson--lecture, even--as condescending and offers a smile in return. “Well, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot tonight. I hope your party is a great success.”

“I hope so, too.” And with that, Loretta swoops away to greet some of her guests. Molly admires one of the floral arrangements, stunning with its blood-red hues, and tries to suppress the feeling in her gut that, for whatever reason, Loretta Ragan would prefer not to have her in attendance.


Outside, the driveway resembles a Hollywood movie premiere more than a private residence. Hired valets move cars with remarkable efficiency, conducting guests to the front door, where a guard works the guest list. Further down the drive, a taxi pulls to a stop. After the driver collects his fare, the two passengers exit the vehicle.

Claire Fisher takes a moment to rearrange her dress. She notices immediately that it is much simpler than the elaborate gowns most of the women seem to be wearing, and if she were here for social purposes, she might be embarrassed. But tonight is about anything but leisure. It is about reclaiming her life, and the lives of the Fishers and everyone who has been hurt by Nick Moriani and Loretta Ragan, whoever she is.

Brent Taylor, clad in a rented tuxedo with traditional black bowtie, draws a deep breath. “Ready to do this?” he asks.

“I guess so.”

“Is it sitting okay?”

She nods, knowing that he is referring to the wire taped underneath her dress.

“I should’ve figured there’d be someone out front with a guest list,” Brent says quietly as they approach the entry to the house.

Claire takes in the scene--the valets, the grand estate, the lights and movement of the party that she can see through the open door and the windows. “Who even has parties like this?”

“People with a lot of money who have nothing better to do.”

They settle into the short line of people waiting to be admitted at the front door. From inside, Claire can hear the sounds of live music being played upon string instruments. Though the music is soft and lilting, her heart rate only escalates as they advance in the line.

“This isn’t going to work,” she whispers to Brent through gritted teeth.

“I’ll make it work.”

The young woman working the door, a diminutive twenty-something with orange spray-tanned skin and a large bouffant of hair piled atop her head, notices them in passing and then, as if by reflex, swings back to examine them more closely. Claire smiles pleasantly, dimly, trying not to let her pounding heart or her goosebumps or her quivering stomach show through.

Suddenly, the woman at the door touches her earpiece. “They’re not coming?” she says into the headset microphone that curls around in front of her face. “Okay, thanks. I don’t even know who Clifford and Barbara Madison are. All right. Got it.”

She returns to checking guests in, and a moment later, it is Claire and Brent’s turn. If Claire is this nervous now, she has no idea how she is going to confront Loretta. Maybe this wasn’t a very good idea at all.

“Excuse me,” Brent says to the poof-haired woman. “I heard you say that Mr. and Mrs. Madison wouldn’t be attending?”

“Yeah. Guess not.”

“That’s strange, because we are Mr. and Mrs. Madison.” He turns to Claire. “Barbara, I didn’t miss something, did I?”

Claire fakes a laugh. “Not that I’m aware of.”

“That’s weird,” the woman says as she marks them off the list. “Well, have yourselves a nice time. Welcome to Mrs. Ragan’s masked ball.”

And just like that, ready or not, they step into the house and a party that will, Claire is certain, change their lives one way or another.


 “Philip Ragan.”

He stands at the bar, about to ask for a drink, but when Philip hears the familiar voice, he turns immediately to greet its owner.

“Elizabeth,” he says, wasting no time in kissing her upon the cheek. “How are you? It’s terrific to see you.”

“You aren’t looking so bad yourself.” She scans him up and down. Same old Elizabeth: what he would in good moments call straightforward and, in lesser ones, simply refer to as pushy. “Your mother tells me you haven’t been married off yet.”

“Not yet.” He offers a noncommittal grin. “How about yourself? Are you still working with your father?”

Her pupils swivel to the top of her head. “I suppose. It’s growing a bit stale. Who really wants to be managing real estate?” She leans an elbow on the bar, squaring herself up against Philip. “I still think about that summer, you know.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“It doesn’t mean it can’t be recreated in the present day.” Her eyes lock onto his, intense and purposeful. Philip allows himself to take in the sight of her: tall, even moreso in her designer heels; long, blonde hair pulled up to reveal her lean neck and smooth shoulders; a navy dress that manages to be both sophisticated and sexy. And yet...

“Care for a drink?” he asks, revolving back toward the bar.

“I’ll have whatever you’re having.” She sidles up next to him, making sure to press her elbow against his. Philip tries not to pay it too much attention as he requests two vodka-tonics from the bartender.

He hands Elizabeth her drink and says, “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go track down that mother of mine.”

“I’ll find you later.” She makes firm eye contact, takes a sip of her drink, and then slinks away.

Philip turns and looks for an opening in the crowd in which he can get lost. He makes it only a few steps, however, before his younger brother is in his face.

“What was that all about?” Spencer asks, his lips held tight and slightly twisted in his characteristic sneer. “Elizabeth Palmer has been trying to lock you down forever. Like, since I was shitting in diapers. What’s the problem?”

Philip grimaces. “Thank you for that lovely, sophisticated reference. And there is no problem.”

“It’s Molly, huh? You have it so bad for her.” Spencer shakes his head. “You got her all the way out here, alone, and what? You’re just going to have a friendly little weekend and then bring her home?”

“She’s married.” It has become something of a mantra in Philip’s head, even though he believes less and less in the phrase’s power with every passing day.

“So married she traveled all the way across the country to hang out with you. I’m just saying. Either do something about it or stop turning down girls like Elizabeth.”

Philip turns away from his brother, having no desire to continue this conversation, and as he does, he catches a glimpse of Elizabeth. She really does look stunning. But...

As much as Philip hates to admit it, Spencer might be right.


Brent holds a flute of champagne in his hand, but when he occasionally lifts it to his mouth, none of the liquid actually passes his lips. Over the rim of the delicate glass, he eyeballs Claire, who keeps shifting her weight from one foot to the other and back again.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks.

“Yes.” She considers her answer for a moment. “I have to be.”

“Claire, if you don’t think--”

“I can do it.” Her facial features harden, tighten. “This woman has done too much to us. To me, to you, to the people we care about. It has to end.”

Brent dips his head in agreement. “All you need to do is get her to incriminate herself a little bit. Bring up Nick as quickly as you can. We just need enough to prove to the authorities that this is legitimately worth pursuing.”

Claire has not stopped scanning the crowd since the moment they walked in, and now her sights settle on one particular spot. “There she is,” she says.

He turns to have a look. Even with the elaborate, ghoulishly white mask resting over her face, the figure is unmistakably that of Loretta Ragan. She wears a vivid red gown with a heavily constructed tail and a tall, exaggerated collar that fans out behind her. Her hair, a different sort of red that looks more fiery and orange against the dress, is pulled up from her neck and twisted tightly against the back of her head.

They observe her silently for a long time, maybe a full minute, just taking in her movements, her presence, the very fact that this is the person for whom they have been searching for so long.

“I’m going in,” Claire says without any build-up.

“Are you sure?”


“Signal if you need me.” He subtly pats the bulge under his tuxedo jacket at his waistline. “I’ll be right here.”

Claire draws a deep breath and then, suddenly much more composed, strides over to where Loretta is taking to an older couple. She stands behind her target, waiting for the conversation to reach its natural end. As soon as the couple moves off into the crowd, Claire speaks.


The woman’s body language indicates no surprise, no alarm, as she turns around. “I was wondering when you’d make your way over,” she says, the mask still concealing her face.

“We need to talk,” Claire says, intent on not showing any hint of weakness or intimidation.

“Yes, of course. How convenient that you were able to make it past the entrance. That was awfully fortuitous, wasn’t it?” A throaty little laugh barely escapes the woman’s mouth.

She knew they were coming. Somehow, she knew. She had the woman at the door mention that other couple so that Brent and Claire would be able to get into the party without any trouble. Of course.

“Let’s talk, then, shall we?” Loretta says. “I’ve been expecting you for a long while.”


When he sweeps up behind Molly, in the instant before she becomes aware of his presence, Philip is able to enjoy one unadulterated, blissful moment of simply being. Being near her, with her, without any of the distractions or complications that threaten to overwhelm their every interaction.

And when she turns to face him, it is back to the regular routine of polite smiles and friendly, supportive chit-chat.

“Are you having a good time?” he asks.

“That’s an understatement.” Her vision rushes over the house and its special-event attire, as if fearful that it might vanish at any second. “This is wonderful, Philip. Thank you for bringing me.”

“Thank you for coming.”

“I just met the most fascinating couple,” she continues. “The wife is a sculptor. They were telling me about a trip they took to Malaysia.”

“Russell and Gwen Archer,” he says. “They’re terrific, yes.”

Molly emits a heavy sigh, but it is not a sound of exhaustion--rather, it is both content and eager, satisfied but desirous of more.

“As much as I miss my boys,” she says, “I could get used to this.”

Spencer’s words poke at Philip’s brain: Either do something about it or stop turning down girls like Elizabeth.

“It could always be like this,” he says.

Molly laughs the kind of laugh one uses in the face of unbelievable silliness. “Not exactly.”

“I’m serious, Molly.” He forces her eyes to meet his and refuses to break the hold. “It could be, if you would just let it.”

“Philip, I don’t--”

He doesn’t allow her to finish. There is no point. No words either of them speaks could possibly express what he means more effectively than the kiss he plants on her lips. When Molly relaxes into him, her mouth joining with his, Philip feels something that he has not felt in a long time.

Both of them are too engaged in the kiss to notice the man in the rented tuxedo and plain black mask watching them intently.


What will be the fallout of Philip and Molly’s kiss?
Will Claire get Loretta to admit her evil deeds?
What about the flashback to Loretta’s long-ago past?
Join us in the Footprints Forum to discuss this episode!

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