Episode #602

Written by Andy Eckles
for the 2010 Webseries Writer Swap

- Sarah accepted Graham’s marriage proposal and moved into his house.
- When Sarah refused to buy her an expensive new purse, Tori stole $100 that Graham had left for Sarah to use for household expenses.
- Sarah and Graham clashed over how to deal with Tori, who called Matt and got him involved in the commotion.


Don’t be afraid to be the leading lady of your own life.  This is the first thing Sarah Fisher sees when she walks into Books & More at King’s Bay Mall.  The mantra seems simple enough but at the same time sounds so ridiculous to her, especially when Diane Bishop says it aloud when they pause at the poster that welcomes them to a book signing.
“Don’t be afraid to be the leading lady of your own life,” Diane says with a chuckle and then a shake of her head.  “Can you believe this stuff?  Anyone with a computer and a flashy hook can write a self-help book these days.  Of course I’m the leading lady of my own life.  Who else?  Aren’t you?”
Sarah hangs back tentatively while staring at the poster.  “I guess so.”   But even she doesn’t buy her answer.  “I mean, define leading lady.”  She hurries to catch up with her, weaving through a sea of customers waiting to have their books autographed.
“Are you the most important thing in your life?” Diane asks but doesn’t look at her because she’s too busy searching for the latest copy of Psychology Today
“My daughter is the most important thing in my life,” Sarah says with confidence.  “I mean, isn’t that what mothers do when they give birth to a child?  Sacrifice their own happiness for their child’s?”
“Of course.  But you have the right to be happy too.  Sacrifice doesn’t come without limits.  And I thought we were talking about Graham.”
“We were,” Sarah says, frazzled for some reason.  “I mean, in the restaurant you told me I was overreacting.” 
Bracelets jangling on her wrist, Diane plucks the magazine from its nesting place.  “That’s because you are,” she says plainly while flashing her an incredulous look.  “You and Graham are getting married.  If you don’t let him have some say in how you raise Tori you’re going to have one bitter man on your hands.” 
“I never said he wasn’t going to have a say in how we raise Tori.  But she admitted to taking the money.  I told her if she did that would be the end of it.   I think in this instance Graham was wrong.”
“And you were right.”
Diane flashes her a knowing grin.  “You sound like a leading lady to me.”
Sarah sighs and follows her to a store rack where the self-help author’s book is displayed.  She watches Diane pick it up and read the back jacket.   “I didn’t mean it like that.  It’s not all or nothing with me.  I just…”
“Let’s get serious for a minute, Sarah,” Diane says, glancing back and forth between her and the book jacket.  “This isn’t just about an argument about Tori, is it?  You’re wondering if marrying Graham is the right thing to do.  Get a load of this: ‘Dr. Monica King has helped millions with her philosophy on how to remain the focus of your own life.  Her book, You Have a Dream, has sold over two million copies and was featured on a recent episode of Oprah.’ Big deal.  You know, people think being featured on Oprah is some miraculous achievement.  Well, not that author guy who she trashed on her show.  Look where he is today.”
Frustrated, Sarah grabs the book from her in an effort to get her to focus.  “I never said that I wasn’t sure about marrying Graham.  Where are you getting this stuff?  When’s your book coming out?”
“Hello?  We just spent an hour at lunch talking about Graham and most of it was you making excuses.  That’s right, I think this argument about Tori is just an excuse.  You are having second thoughts, so just admit it.”  She grabs the book back from her. 
Commotion erupts from the front of the store, and they both crane their necks to see Dr. King standing behind a podium.  Her hair is short and she’s wearing enormous false eyelashes, shoulder pads, and extra long fake nails. 
“Instead of reading a passage from my book, I’d like to ask for a volunteer from the audience to participate in an exercise,” she says to the audience.  “Don’t be nervous.  I promise it won’t hurt a bit.  And I promise this is not the kind of hypnosis you saw at the comedy club last weekend.  I just need someone who’s struggling with a personal problem.”
Several eager spectators spike their hands into the air and Diane suddenly gets an idea.  She grabs Sarah’s arm and raises it into the air while tugging her to the front of the store. 
“Here!” she yells.  “Here’s your volunteer.  She’s got more problems than even you can deal with, I guarantee it.” 
Dr. Monica King smiles graciously and gestures for Sarah to come forth.  “Very well.  The pretty blonde is first up.”
“I don’t think--” Sarah begins, flashing Diane major danger signals while at the same time trying to back out of the commitment.  “My friend was only kidding.  I’m probably the most adjusted person here.  I don’t have any personal problems.”
“Nice rock,” Dr. King says with a slight smile while eying Sarah’s engagement ring.  “Does a man go along with that?”
Sarah looks down at her finger and can’t control her face from falling.  She knows that it’s obvious to everyone--including the shrink--that she’s full of it. 
“Come,” Dr. King says while patting the stool beside her.  “Sit.” 
Reluctantly, Sarah slides onto the stool and looks out at the throng of onlookers.  She can’t control her insecurities as all eyes are on her.  She remembers an after-prom party in high school where classmates were hypnotized into doing ridiculous things like mimicking an elephant swagger and making out with an imaginary rock star.  Humiliation quickly sets in and she feels her face redden at the prospect of something similar happening to her. 
“What is your name?” Dr. King asks while placing a hand with too many rings on her shoulder. 
“Sarah.”  She swallows hard after the response. 
“Sarah, go ahead and close your eyes and let your body relax.”
After flashing Diane one final death glare, Sarah closes her eyes and tries to do as the eccentric shrink instructs her to.
Dr. King circles her on the platform, her ringed hand never leaving her shoulder.  “I want you to think about the wind blowing in from the ocean. A light rain, falling down... waking your dreams..."
Sarah resists the urge to open her eyes.  She feels like a lunatic.  Her mind flashes images of the wide open wilderness, Graham, Matt, Tori, and the words don’t be afraid to be the leading lady of your own life.

* * * * *

The sun is barely peeking over the mountains when Sarah awakens in her own bed.  Her eyes feel heavy and she struggles to break the crusty matter that seals them shut.  A quick glance at the alarm clock glowing on the bedside table tells her it is barely six am.  For an instant, she isn’t sure that she’s even in her own bed.  Where is she?  When is she?  Her senses detect the distinctive scent of an old heater running.  Her surroundings don’t add up to her.  To further confuse things, she also hears the unmistakable sound of an infant crying. 
This is enough to send her quickly to an upright position, grabbing for her robe on the hook that juts out from the side of her mahogany wardrobe.  Strangely enough, her robe isn’t there, and neither is the hook.  Confused, she glances around the room, flips on the light and is faced with a scene that practically knocks her off her feet.  Her room isn’t her room, it’s the apartment she previously lived in.  The apartment she shared with Matt.  A glance toward the window tells her it is snowing outside.
The infant continues crying in the next room.  Suddenly, she hears water cut off in the bathroom and before she can react, Matt Gray emerges from the steam, glistening wet and wrapped in a towel. 
“Sorry.  I’ll check on Billy--you go back to bed,” he says, scurrying down the hall.  He’s in the next room but still calling back to her.  “I thought I could sneak in a quick shower before he got up!  I guess I was wrong!”
Confused and still sleepy, Sarah rubs her eyes hoping when she reopens them things will start to make sense.  What was she doing back in her old apartment?  And why was Matt there?  And Billy….?
But when she does open them, Matt is standing before her holding an infant boy against his bare chest.  She takes a tentative step back, eyes locked on to the baby with blond hair and vibrant blue eyes.  Her eyes. 
“I’m sorry you had to stay up all night with him,” Matt’s saying.  “That’s why I wanted to let you sleep.  But if you’re up…”  He moves toward her and motions for her to take the baby from him.  “I should get ready for work.” 
“Uh…yeah…okay,” she says, taking the baby into her arms.  She only now realizes this is the baby she lost three years ago.  This is the baby, William, who was taken from her as a result of those terrible people.  Because of Nick Moriani and Loretta Ragan. 
“You okay?” Matt asks.
She looks up from Billy.  “The explosion at Fisherman’s Pier?  At Ryan and Claire’s wedding?  I was in the hospital.”   She studies the baby--her baby.  “I thought that…”
“That was nine months ago,” Matt tells her while pulling on a pair of slacks and a fresh t-shirt.  “Are you still having nightmares about that?  Maybe we should take you to see someone.  I’ll get the number for Dr. Arcaro from Tim.  I think he’s coming to the restaurant for lunch today.”
A shrink?  Yes, she definitely needs a shrink, but not for nightmares.  What in the hell is going on?  Her question is answered when Tori flounces into the room waiving a piece of paper at her.  
“Mom, I need this permission slip signed,” she says, making googly eyes at Billy and wiggling his toes.  “My class is going on a field trip on Friday. We’re going to see those ice sculptures that artist made.  It costs fifteen dollars.  Here, I’ll hold Scooter.”
Sarah does a double take when she hears the nickname come out of her daughter’s mouth.  She remembers it was the name Tori wanted to call her baby brother before…before everything fell apart.  All at once everything makes sense to her.  She’s in some kind of subconscious reality, probably a result of whatever witchy new age therapy Dr. King inflicted on her.  She’s living her life from three years ago, and somehow she never lost the baby in the explosion.  With no miscarriage to complicate their marriage, she’s also still married to Matt.  She can’t help but wonder what else has changed, or hasn’t
After handing the baby to Tori, she finds a pen and scribbles her name hastily on the permission slip. 
“Thanks!” Tori yells, kissing Billy and handing him back to her.  “See you after school!  Bye Dad!”
“I should get to work too,” Sarah says when Tori leaves and Matt emerges from the bathroom with his hair neatly combed.  “I’ll take Billy to…um…”
“How late did you stay up?” Matt asks with a frown.  “I think you’re still asleep, Sarah.  You quit working to stay home with Billy.”
“I what?”
“You closed your practice so you could stay home with the baby.  Are you sure you’re feeling okay?  You look a little run down.”
Gave up her practice?  This was getting to be too much.   Her career had always been one of the most important things in her life.  Did having a baby really change all of that? 
“Right,” she says.  “I guess I’m a little groggy still.  Have a good day at work.”
Matt laughs and finishes tying his necktie.  “Yeah, right.  That’s a good one.  I can’t tell if you’re just trying to be positive or if you’re really that naïve.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know I can’t stand that restaurant, Sarah.”  His tone is filled with patronization.  “I only took it because the paycheck was good.  And with only one of us working, we need the money.  Pediatricians, diapers, field trips.  It doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” 
She can sense the resentment in his voice. It’s familiar and it’s biting.  It’s one thing that hasn’t changed since she jumped from the proverbial ledge of reality. The only difference was that this time the bickering wasn’t because she lost the baby.  It’s because of how things changed when she didn’t. 

* * * * *

Diane calls a little after nine and tells her to meet her at her office.  Other than finding out why her state of hypnosis brought her to this time in her life under these circumstances, she doesn’t have anything else to do, so she agrees.  After dropping Billy with her mother, she proceeds to Vision Publishing, where Diane is pacing and Brian Hamilton is watching with mild alarm.
“Thank God,” Diane says when Sarah enters.  “Have you had any luck finding that miscreant brother of yours?”
Sarah simply stares at her blankly for a few moments as a rushing feeling of déjà vu washes over her.  Everything about the scenario, from her outfit to the stacks of white paper on Diane’s desk and the Blackberry poised in her hand, is strikingly familiar. 
“Ryan?” she asks by assumption. 
“Yes, Ryan.  You said you would try to find him for me.”
Sarah glances down at the DayPlanner that is clutched in her hand and tugs at the sheet of white paper that is sandwiched between the pages.  “Right.  He’s rented a cabin in the Pass.”  She says this even before she looks at the piece of paper.  She’s been through this before. 
“He doesn’t have any mo--” Diane begins to yell.
“He used a credit card.  He must have wanted to get out of King’s Bay.” 
“Smart,” Brian pipes in.  “He might as well do it before he gets chased out by a torch-bearing mob.  Though I’m not sure how that hasn’t happened yet.”
“I’m going up there,” Diane says and grabs her purse.  “Brian, run the notes meeting at 4:00.”
“You can’t go up there alone,” Brian says.  “The weather reports are not good.”
“I’ll go,” Sarah finds herself saying.  She now wonders if her subconscious has taken her to this time in her life--to this day--because it’s when everything changed.  When she met Graham.  Maybe there’s a reason for this. 

Diane appraises her uncertainly. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I could use an adventure. And I have an SUV. So I guess I’m invaluable.”

Diane gives her a shrug and leads her out to the parking garage.  Once inside Sarah’s SUV, they settle in for a long drive to the mountains.  On the way, Sarah calls Matt’s phone and leaves a voicemail to fill him in on where she is. 

“Hey, I’m heading to the mountains to help Diane with something.  Be back by tonight. I think there are some leftover turkey burgers in the fridge for dinner.”

After leaving the message, Sarah wonders how differently things will play out when they arrive.  Maybe she won’t even meet Graham.  Maybe she won’t wander into the woods while Diane is talking to Ryan, get clobbered over the head by a tree branch, and wake up in Graham’s cabin.  Is that what her subconscious is trying to tell her?  That if she’d never lost her baby things would have been so drastically different that she wouldn’t have met Graham?  Surely this time she’d be smart enough to avoid wandering off alone in the blinding snow.  So it would follow suit that the meeting would never occur.  

“What’s that?” she asks when Diane swoops into a giant Hermes bag and removes a carton of yogurt and plastic spoon.   “God, I’m starving.”

“Activia by Dannon,” Diane replies, holding up the container and pointing happily to it.  “Including Activia in your daily diet can help regulate your digestive system by helping reduce long intestinal transit time--and you'll enjoy its eight delicious flavors. Because Activia is made by Dannon, you can be assured that it's a delicious way to do something good for your body.”

“Have any more?” Sarah asks while keeping a steady eye on the road.

“Nope.”  Diane hungrily spoons the yogurt into her mouth while reclining her seat.

“Okay,” she says, “so would you please tell me what the hell kind of business you could possibly be doing with Ryan?”  Sarah, of course, already knows the answer, but she can’t let Diane know that.

“It’s no big deal.”

“Yet you didn’t mention it to me until now.”

“I didn’t think it merited mentioning.”

Sarah chances a sideways glance at her friend. She recognizes this version of Diane all too well.  She apparently hasn’t changed in the alternate reality she’s been dropped into.

“Why did I volunteer to help you find him again?” she asks.  “Matt said that I…er…I thought I quit the practice.” 

“Yes, but helping me find one little ol’ person doesn’t turn you back into a career woman,” Diane says.  She flips down the visor and reapplies a fresh coat of jammy red lipstick in preparation for their arrival at the cabin. 

Sarah sighs and shifts in her seat.  “I can’t believe that I quit in the first place.  What was I thinking?”

“That’s what having a baby does to a woman.  Changes her priorities.” 

“But why can’t I do both?  Because I had a baby I’m expected to sit home watching The Young at Heart every day?  I need more than that.”

“Matt seemed to think it was a good idea,” Diane tells her with a shrug.  “Until that partnership with Bill went sour and he started working at that pretentious Asian-Fusion place.  Have you talked to him about it?”

“I don’t think so,” Sarah says, then glances down at the map.  “I think the driveway is coming up on the left.” 

Diane glances at her friend and then adjusts the lapels on her jacket.  “It sounds to me like you’re resentful of having a baby.  I mean, you weren’t too thrilled about getting pregnant in the first place.”

“I’m not resentful!” Sarah exclaims with her mouth agape.  “I mean, how can your resent an innocent baby?”

“You can resent anything and anyone.  Look, I think you should talk to Matt if you’re feeling this way.”

Sarah rolls her eyes and slowly approaches the long driveway that leads to the cabin.  The turn is a welcome sight.  Even with chains on the tires, the ground beneath the Jeep’s wheels becomes less trustworthy with every mile they travel.

“I have a feeling I can’t talk to Matt about anything,” she admits.  “We seem to be bickering a lot lately.  I guess having Billy didn’t change everything.” 

“Children are never the answer, my dear friend.  Don’t miss the turn.”

When they reach a cul-de-sac of cabins at the end of a long snow-packed road, Sarah refers to her map and the information she’d printed off.  “It says he rented Cabin Number Three,” she says and hops out of the car, but Diane is already on foot leading the way. 

She approaches the third cabin from the left and, assuming it’s Cabin Three, raises her hand to knock.

“Diane, don’t,” Sarah yells while approaching swiftly.  If things play out the way they originally did, they were about to walk in on a very embarrassing situation involving an elderly couple and little to no clothing.  “That’s not Cabin Three.” 

“How can you tell?” Diane asks and stands back to survey the front of the structure.

“I just can,” Sarah says and leads her across the way to the actual Cabin Number Three.

“Good thing.  How are we supposed to know the numbers start on this end?” Diane questions as she knocks on the door of Ryan’s cabin.

“What do you want?” comes Ryan’s voice from inside.

Sarah has the sense that she is walking into something very complicated, so she backs away from the door.  “I’ll let you go in and talk to him about whatever business the two of you have.  I don’t want to get involved.”

“Thanks,” Diane says as the door opens and Ryan appears.

After she goes inside, Sarah turns and stares out at the white wilderness.

* * * * *

Two years ago, Sarah wandered out into the trees that bordered the cabins, found herself inexplicably lost, and got clobbered with ice falling from a branch.  She woke up in a strange cabin with a friendly, somewhat older man tending to her by the fire.  That man turned out to be Graham Colville.  Graham Colville showed up in Kings Bay.  Graham Colville asked her to marry him.  The chain of events seemed to be fate.

While she and Matt are obviously not on even ground, they are better off than before, after she had her miscarriage.  How might meeting Graham all over again change things?  Would she still find herself drawn to him, to his warm smile and gentle demeanor?  Maybe in her new reality she isn’t meant to run into him.  If she doesn’t wander out into the woods and get lost, then she probably won’t.  Fate tempts her.  Dare she travel the same course that she originally did?  Or should she steer clear of that familiar trapping and let her subconscious guide her to whatever it is trying to show her? 

She decides without much hesitation on the latter.  A small convenience store nestled on the opposite side of the road from the cul-de-sac calls out to her and she goes to it for shelter and maybe some of that yogurt Diane was inhaling.  She doesn’t know why she can’t remember the store from two years ago.  Maybe she’d been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed it.  At any rate, she trudges across the road and approaches the door. 

The store is a quaint mom-and-pop operation that smells like cinnamon and baked cookies.  An elderly man sits behind the counter smoking a cigarette and listening to the police reports coming through an old, crackling scanner.  There’s a couple of aisles displaying the usual convenience foods: coffee, beef stew, Spam, white bread, mayonnaise, and packages of those waxy chocolate donuts that for some reason taste so good when you’re away from home.  She bypasses the aisles and goes to the refrigerated area, which offers half gallons of milk, orange juice, and an amazing assortment of ice cream novelties.  No yogurt, however.

Even though it is freezing outside and the idea of eating ice cream seems ludicrous, she goes for a chocolate swirl Drumstick.  On her way to the front counter, she passes by a rack of outdated paperback books and casually peruses them.  She may need something to do while Diane is talking to Ryan.  She picks up a selection by a romance novelists and skims over the back cover. 

Distracted, she backs into a display of Milk Chocolate Ice Cubes and several boxes fall to the floor.  Exasperated, she bends down to pick them up.  A man she notices out of the corner of her eye arrives to assist, and before she knows it, she’s rising from her crouched position and knocking heads with him. 

“Owww,” she mutters with a cringe while rubbing the back of her head and using the display to stabilize herself. 

“That smarted, didn’t it?” the man asks, rubbing his own aching head.  “I’m so sorry about that.  Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” she sighs, checking her hand to make sure she isn’t bleeding.  “You?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” he says with a smile and a gentle laugh.  

Something prompts Sarah to whip her head around and find the source of her collision.  It is an older man, his dark brown hair decorated with the beginnings of silver.  A white button-down shirt peeks out from beneath his black sweater, all covered by an unzipped army green parka.  “Oh my God.  It’s…you…”

Graham smiles and, in a charming display of wit, gives himself a once-over.  “Yeah…it’s me.”   He looks up and extends his hand.  “Graham Colville.  I usually don’t go around bumping heads with strangers but you looked like you needed help.” 

She smiles at his gentle nature.  “Sarah,” she says and allows him to shake her hand. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.  Even under these circumstances.” 

The odds that she would run into him twice--under different circumstances--do not escape Sarah.  She purposely didn’t go out into the woods, get lost, and get clobbered over the head by falling ice.  Yet fate--or something disguised as fate--brought them together anyway. 

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Graham asks, his smile never faltering. 

“I’m fine.  Just a little dizzy I guess.”   She slowly makes her way to the check-out counter with her Drumstick and her book.  “Thank you.” 

He smiles sympathetically.  “As long as you’re all right.”

Hastily, Sarah pays for her purchases and leaves the store.  Under the awning outside where a dog is lapping up water from a bowl, she is joined by Graham.  

“Where are you staying?” he asks, noticing her skepticism. 

“I’m actually from Kings Bay.  I’m here with a friend.  We…came to find someone.  We’re not staying.  I don’t think so, anyway.  They’re just over at those cabins across the road.  It didn’t seem so far a minute ago.” 

“The snow has an ability to make the world look different when it’s covered like this,” Graham says with a twinkle in his eye. 

Sarah smiles politely and starts across the road.  Graham follows her and she assumes it’s to ensure she makes it to the cabins without further incident.  She can’t believe how klutzy she is in any reality. 

“Where are you from?” she asks, of course already knowing precisely what he will say.  It seems appropriate to ask, however.  “Do you come up here often?”

“I’m from Phoenix,” he says.  “I’ve always been drawn to the mountains though.  It’s like a retreat--time away from the sun, my business, the hassles of day-to-day life.” 

“Sounds nice.”   They come to the other side of the road and Sarah sees the cabin come into view. 

“I hope you don’t think this is too forward,” Graham begins, cocking his head toward her as they walk, “but maybe there’s a reason you and I bumped heads as it were.” 

“Because I don’t watch where I’m walking?” she says even though she knows what he is getting at.  She seems to be on a course that mirrors reality.  No matter what, it seems their fates are determined. 

“So that we could meet.”  His gaze rests hopefully upon her. 

“Graham, I’m a married woman.  I really appreciate your concern, but I have a husband and a daughter.  And a baby,” she adds after a moment of forgetfulness. 

“Of course you do.”  He tries to mask his embarrassment with a laugh.  “I should have known that.”

“It’s okay.”   They reach the front door of the cabin and Sarah turns to face him.  “It was very nice meeting you.”  How is it that even in this alternate reality he’s still the same handsome, distinguished man with the voice that could melt snow?  The same appealing qualities that he has always possessed stare her in the face.  She had the baby--never lost it--and stayed married to Matt, but here she is standing with Graham anyway.  

“Well, I’ll let you get to your friends,” he says.  “Have a safe trip home.”

“Enjoy the rest of your time up here,” Sarah says. With a polite smile, Graham backs away and heads off into the woods.   

As Sarah watches him go, she wonders what was supposed to happen.  Dr. King and her crazy brand of psychotherapy obviously want her to know that come hell or high water, she would have met Graham Colville.  But that is probably it, she decides.  It probably wasn’t meant to be.  If she hadn’t lost her baby, she would still be with Matt.  Graham wouldn’t even be an issue.

* * * * *

Dinner with the family the following evening is a totally bizarre experience to Sarah.  Standing in the kitchen with her mother and Molly while Tori feeds Billy a jar of strained peaches at the table seems like the perfect opportunity for someone to marvel at her infant son.  But no one does because this is how things played out in this reality.  Billy’s existence is not a shock to anyone but her.  Not even the fact that she and Matt are still married is a topic of interest.  Instead, they gather in the kitchen after dinner as usual to do the dishes.  The conversation drifts from the mundane to the surprising.  A few times, Sarah has to stop herself from shrieking with surprise as she realizes how differently things have turned out. 

“Brent seems to be doing so much better,” Paula is saying to Molly while she carefully buffs dry an antique serving platter.  “Is his leg still bothering him?” 

“Barely,” Molly replies and takes a sip of coffee.  “The last surgery got all of the shrapnel from the explosion.”

“So Brent’s leg is okay?” Sarah asks with surprise. 

Molly nods.  “I think they were just being overly pessimistic when they said he could have lost it.  The surgeries, the physical therapy, the doctors visits.  He’s been through a lot but it’s brought us closer together.” 

“What about the investigation?” Sarah asks and dabs a wet cloth over Billy’s mouth. 

“What investigation?”  Blank stares come from her mother and sister as they both stop what they’re doing and regard her with confusion. 

“Um, about the explosion?” Sarah asks, suddenly feeling as if she’s missed another crucial beat.   “I’m just surprised that you and Brent are doing okay after all of that.” 

“Brent and I are fine,” Molly snaps and regards her sister with disdain.  “Honestly, Sarah, you need to stop looking for problems where there aren’t any.”

Sarah recoils from the penetrating stares they give her.  Even her mother looks on with her trademark glare of disapproval.  When did she become the bad guy in the situation?  All she’s doing is trying to figure out what’s going on and why her mind’s taken her to this place at this time. 

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean--”

“Yours isn’t the only marriage that’s flourishing, you know,” Molly says, then pauses, and Sarah thinks she’s about to cry or about to say something else.  “And speaking of Matt, where is he?  This isn’t the first family dinner he’s missed.  Maybe things aren’t as peachy at home as you’d like us to believe.” 

Sarah glances at Tori and sees that she’s listening.  The conversation makes her uncomfortable so she sweeps Billy into her arms and attempts to leave.  Just as she’s nearing the doorway, Matt arrives.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says with a hint of exasperation in his voice.  He kisses Billy and forces a smile when Tori approaches.   “The restaurant was crazy.” 

“Sorry,” Sarah says. 

“I saved you a plate,” Paula says and reaches into the oven for a tin-foil covered dish.  “Do you want some salad with it?”

“Thanks, Paula. I’m not hungry,” Matt says and throws her another attempt at a smile.

“I see,” Paula says from behind pursed lips.  “Well, it’s here if you want it.  Molly, let’s get a head count on dessert.” She leads her into the family room where the others are gathered.    

After they’ve gone, Sarah looks at her husband while bouncing Billy in her arms.  “Are you sure you’re not hungry?  Mom made your favorite au gratin potatoes.”

“Look, I said I’m not hungry, okay?”  He doesn’t mean to snap but it can’t be helped.  As soon as the hostile words leave his mouth, Tori is darting out of the room.   “Sweetheart, wait…”

With a sigh, Sarah shifts Billy to her other arm and busies herself with gathering forks for dessert.  “You could have called.  I had to sit and suffer through these accusing stares from Molly all night.  You showing up two hours late only fans the flames.” 

“I said I was sorry.  The restaurant was busy.  What do you want me to do?  Walk out when the restaurant needs me just because your family’s having another dinner together?”

“Why are you being so snippy?” 

“Because you know how hard it is for me to be around your dad since everything went down with his new restaurant,” he snaps.   “I still don’t feel like he’ll even look me in the eye.” 

What went down?  Sarah can’t help but wonder how this version of reality played out when it came to Harbor Boulevard.  Whatever it was, it seems to have fueled some kind of resentment in Matt that is boiling over into their marriage. 

“Let’s not get into it right now,” she says.  “Not in front of the family.”

“Fine with me,” Matt sighs, brushing past her and heading out of the kitchen.  As he does, Molly and Paula are just walking in.  They notice the tension and both look at Sarah with the usual amount of curiosity and probably a little more judgment than usual.  

Sighing, Sarah looks at Billy and bounces him around in her arms when he begins to get fussy.  Yes, no matter what might have changed by her carrying him to full term, it seems to not have made a difference in her marriage.  Things would have gone south either way. 

* * * * *

Jangling keys break the silence.  When they enter the apartment, they all go in their separate directions: Tori to her bedroom, Matt to the desk in the living room, and Sarah to the baby’s room where she places a sleeping Billy in the crib.   She stands and stares down at him for a few lingering moments before turning and going down the hall to the living room. 

“He’s out like a light,” she says and plops down onto the sofa as she sweeps her hair off her neck and lets out a cleansing breath.  When Matt doesn’t respond, she sighs and starts flipping through the channels on the television.  It’s late and all that is on are infomercials.  “I’m sorry we argued at my parents’ house.  I shouldn’t have snapped at you for being late.  What are you working on?”

“The schedule for the restaurant,” he tells her without looking up from the computer. 

Sarah can tell by his tone that he’s annoyed.  “Maybe you should take a couple of days off.  It seems like you’ve been working a lot lately.”

“Seems like?” he asks with an incredulous frown.  “Wow, you’re perceptive.”

She isn’t up for another argument so she lets the remark go.  “Maybe you should look for something else.  If you’re not happy there…”

“Somewhere else that’s going to pay as well?” he asks and rises from the desk.  “Not likely.  Forget it.  I’ll just deal with it.  Maybe I can hire another shift manager.  That will at least take some of the pressure off.”

“But if you hate it there so much I don’t get why you just don’t look for something else.” 

“It’s just not that easy, Sarah.  No one’s going to pay this well.”

“Why does it have to be all up to you anyway?” she asks.  “I can go back to work.  I’ve been thinking about it anyway.” 

“And what about Billy?” Matt asks.  “Childcare costs as much as you’d make in a week so what’s the point?  It’s not like you’ve ever punched a time clock, and waiting for a case to come up isn’t exactly the most reliable form of supporting a family.”   

She’s taken all she can of his snarky comments so the gloves come off, as much as she wants to keep the peace.  “Whose idea was it to have another baby?” she demands, then immediately wishes that she hadn’t.  It’s too late to take it back so she forges ahead with her thought pattern.  “If you hadn’t been so adamant then I would still be working, contributing to the household.  So if you’re unhappy with how things are going, don’t forget what brought it on.”

Neither of them notices when Tori appears from the hall and listens to their argument, head low and bottom lip protruding into a pout. 

“Please don’t act like I twisted your arm and made you have another baby,” Matt says angrily.  “If you didn’t want to have another baby you should have made it more clear.” 

“I did!” she exclaims, compulsively changing the stations even as they argue.   “I said it wasn’t the right time.  I tried to tell you how I felt.  All you could do was make me feel guilty every time I put it off.” 

“Brilliant.  So this is my fault?” 

“Look at us,” Sarah orders him.  “You’re in a job you can’t stand, overworked and unappreciated, I’m at home every day bored off my ass, and we’re always snapping at each other.  Have things worked out the way you wanted them to?  Have they?”

“Is it so wrong for me to want a little understanding?” Matt exclaims.  “Instead of you jumping on me when I’m late or not in the mood to deal with your family, how about you try and support me once and a while?”

“I do support you!” 

“No, Molly supports Brent.  He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Nice Guy since the explosion, and for valid reasons.  He nearly lost his leg but you don’t see her complaining about him and wishing their life had turned out differently, do you?”

“That is completely different than what’s going on here so I don’t even know how to respond to that,” Sarah says with a frown.  “And how dare you compare me to Molly, anyway.”

“I’m not comparing you to--”

“Stop it!” cries a voice from the hall. 

When they both turn, Tori is standing there amidst a flood of tears.  She’s trembling and her eyes are darting wildly between them.

“Tori, honey--” Sarah begins and gets off the sofa.

“Sweetheart, we’re sorry,” Matt adds.  “We didn’t mean to-“

“All you guys do is fight!” she cries.  “It makes me sad.  And it makes Scooter sad, too, so you’d better stop!”  

“We’re just talking, sweetie,” Sarah says and approaches her tentatively.  “We didn’t mean to be so loud.” 

“You’re not talking, you’re fighting!” Tori fires back.  “Just like you always do!”

Feeling guilty for causing the outburst, Sarah kneels down and takes her daughter’s hands in hers.  “It’s not fun, is it?” she asks.  “When people you love are always fighting.”

She shakes her head and looks at Matt over her shoulder.   “I don’t even want to live here sometimes.  It’s not like it used to be.  Everything’s different.” 

Struggling for the words that will make it all right, Sarah takes a moment to regroup.  “Things are a little rough right now, you’re right,” she says, taking care so as not to patronize the young girl.  She’s smart and she picks up on things.  No sense in making it worse by treating her like she was stupid.  “And it’s not fair that you and Billy have to get caught in the middle.” 

“So stop,” she says and backs away.  “Just stop!”

And just like that, she is bolting down the hall to her room and slamming the door closed.  After she’s gone, Sarah turns to Matt and drops her hands in resignation.

“Great,” Matt murmurs under his breath.  

“I’m going outside for some air,” Sarah says, grabbing her coat and heading for the door.  The entire way down to the first floor, she’s cursing herself for allowing whatever was going on between her and Matt to affect their children.

When she steps out into the frigid night air, she looks up at the sky and sees the full moon hanging above.  If this was what Dr. King wanted her to see, then mission accomplished.  Any notion she had that she and Matt would still be together if she hadn’t had the miscarriage is now shattered.  Things have a way of deteriorating anyway.  She is certain this is going to be the part where she wakes up from the hypnosis.  This was what she needed to learn.

But as she glances back from the sky, her eyes travel to a truck parked at the end of the sidewalk.  The door is opening and a man is getting out, ambling up the snowy walkway toward her.  It takes a few moments to realize who it is, but when she does, she’s practically knocked off her feet. 

“Graham,” she says with surprise. 

The familiar twinkle and kind smile surfaces as he stops before her.  “Hello, Sarah.” 

“What are you…?” she begins, mind racing.  “How did you find me?” 

“You left this at the convenience store up in the mountains.”  He produces a credit card with her name emblazoned on the front.  “I went back after you left and told the clerk I’d track you down.  Wasn’t easy, but I remembered you’d said you were from Kings Bay.” 

“You didn’t have to come all the way here.”  She takes the card from him and feels a smile building.  Inside, excitement brews.  “It’s so out of the way.” 

“I enjoyed the drive,” he says, hands in his pockets as she takes in a breath of the cold winter air.  “And I know you said you’re married, but I couldn’t resist seeing you again.  Is that bad?”

Finally the smile emerges and she finds herself shaking her head.  “No, it’s not bad.” 

This seems to please Graham because he relaxes a little and takes a step closer.  “You’re very charismatic,” he tells her.  “I noticed that right away.”

“No one’s ever called me that before” she says.

“You are.  You have a strong presence.  Definitely leading lady material.  Then again you’ve got to be the leading lady of your own life, I suppose.” 

She regards him carefully, cocks her head to the side and smiles.  “What did you say?” 

He shakes his head and takes a step back.  “Nothing.  Anyway, it was lovely seeing you again.” 

“You too.” 

“Goodnight, Sarah.” 

She watches as he makes his way back to the truck.  “Goodnight.”   The headlights on the truck cut through the darkness.  She grows into a daze, everything else but the light fading into the background.

* * * * *

The next thing Sarah sees is a light in a tunnel.  She tries to focus, allowing her eyes to adjust to their surroundings.  Her body feels heavy, her arms and legs weigh a thousand pounds.  Silence is all around her.  When she finally awakens, she finds herself seated on the stool in the bookstore.  Spectators are staring at her and Dr. King is poised, arms folded, to her right.  Soon she realizes she’s come out of the hypnosis. 

“Welcome back, Sarah,” Dr. King says, ringed hand slipping from her shoulder.  

Sarah blinks away the foggy sensation in her head.  She looks around and sees Diane nearby, hanging on her every move while seemingly attempting to stifle a laugh. 

“How long was I under?” she asks. 

“About ninety seconds,” replies the eccentric Doctor.  “I want you to relax and concentrate on what your mind told you.  Hang on to the revelations.  You’ve been guided through your purest, most true feelings.  I hope wherever your mind took you helped.”

Sarah gets up off the stool and smiles.  “It did.” 

A few staccato hand claps emanate from the audience as Sarah steps down off the platform and joins Diane who’s standing holding Dr. King’s book.  They walk wordlessly to the front of the store as Dr. King continues addressing the audience. 

“Thank you,” Dr. King says.  “I’ve had a wonderful time in Kings Bay.  Next week I’ll be giving private sessions in St. Laurent for anyone vacationing at the Highwind.”

Once they are out of earshot, Diane takes Sarah’s arm and leads her off to the side.  “Okay, let’s get serious.  You were just pretending, weren’t you?  Your subconscious didn’t tell you anything but that you shouldn’t have had that piece of chocolate decadence cake at lunch, did it?”

Sarah shakes her head emphatically.  “No, actually, it worked.  Dr. King was right.  Once I stepped outside my head I saw things much more clearly.  Matt, Tori, Graham, everything.” 

Diane folds her arms and looks at her skeptically.  “So what did your subconscious tell you?”

“Graham,” she replies.  “I’m going to go through with it.  I’m going to marry him.  It’s just the way it was meant to happen.”

“You sure?  What about the money and the fight?”

Sarah shrugs.  “It doesn’t matter.  This is the path that was intended for me.  Meeting Graham, falling in love with him, marrying him.  It’s the way it was supposed to happen.  For all of us.  Just wait.  You’ll see.” 

Still skeptical, Diane watches as she leaves the store.  With a sigh, she glances down at the book in her hand.  You Have a Dream.  She turns to the poster inside the door.  Don’t be afraid to be the leading lady of your own life.  A laugh escapes her throat.  “Yeah right,” she murmurs.  Shaking her head with uncertainty, she places the book back on the shelf and follows Sarah into the mall.


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