Episode #631

- Molly confided in Philip that she signed the divorce papers to end her marriage to Brent. Philip told her that he was putting together a surprise to take her mind off her troubles.
- Landon and Tori bonded after he drove her home from some parties that she should not have been at in the first place.
- Tim witnessed Helen meeting with attorney Eric Westin. When Paula learned this news, she angrily confronted Helen, who claimed to be merely researching her options.


Paula Fisher remembers a time when her house was always this full of loved ones. She remembers what it was like having all of her children under the same roof, never allowing a moment to be too quiet or too peaceful. Even after the others grew up and moved out, Jason lived with her and Bill through college and for a bit afterward, because of his training. When he moved out, Claire moved in with Travis, and later, when Tim returned to King’s Bay, he came to live with his parents again. But now Travis spends his time at the dorm, and Samantha mostly lives with her mother. Given Tim’s work schedule, it is often just Paula and Bill in the house, and she is acutely aware of how empty it feels.

So it is a treat for her to have so many family members under her roof at once, especially on a non-holiday. She just wishes it were for a more pleasant purpose.

“Do you really think Helen would act on this?” Bill asks his wife, while the living room full of people listens.

“Maybe it’s just something she needed to do to cope with her grief,” Sarah says. She sits on the sofa, with Graham Colville beside her. “And now that she got the meeting with the lawyer out of her system, she’ll realize how extreme a custody suit would be.”

Paula, who has been pacing over the plush carpeting, pauses by the mantle. “I don’t know. I spoke to her. She seems… determined. Almost beyond reason.”

“She did lose her daughter,” Ryan offers from the entrance to the dining room, where he leans against the wall.

“I know that,” Paula says. “But that’s no reason to target Jason as some kind of unfit parent. He’s struggling. Anyone in that position would be. Don and Helen are struggling, too.”

“The real point is that we have to protect Jason,” Bill says, stepping in to aid his wife. “We have to convince him to accept our help.”

Tim, who is perched on the arm of the chair where his father sits, adds, “I hate to look at it this way, but maybe Helen is doing us a favor by going to this extreme. It might be serious enough for Jason to finally hear us out.”

Nods and murmurs fill the room. Before anyone else can speak, though, the sound of the front door opening rocks them all into an awkward silence. Moments later, Alex Marshall leads Jason into the room.

“This doesn’t look like a dinner,” Jason says, casting confused glances at Alex.

Paula comes forward to embrace her son. “Hi, honey. We just wanted to speak with you.”

Jason robotically returns the hug but quickly draws back as he takes in the scene. “What is this, some kind of ambush?”

“Sorry,” Alex says. “We just wanted to get you here--”

“Are you guys trying to have some, like, intervention?” Jason asks, his voice escalating in both volume and concern.

“No,” Bill says. “This is a family meeting.”

“About what?”

“About Sophie, and you, and the Chases,” Paula says.

“No way.” Jason shakes his head vehemently. “I don’t know what you guys are trying to do, but I don’t want any part of it.” He spins around and makes a beeline for the front door.


The weather has seemed warmer lately, as spring creeps in and subtly spreads its influence so that it will eventually be able to overthrow winter’s tyranny. Tonight, however, Molly Taylor is reminded of how early in that process it still is, at least here in the Pacific Northwest. Even though she heeded Philip Ragan’s advice to bring a coat, the evening chill is determined to make its point.

It might help if she could see, of course.

“What are you going to do to me?” she asks Philip as he leads her, blindfolded, through the park. He was nice enough to tell her that they were headed to this park, but he has no idea what the purpose might be.

“I asked you to trust me,” he says, “and I’m going to reiterate that. I promise it won’t be too awful.”

“Gee, that’s reassuring. Are you secretly plotting to kill me?”

“Yes, Molly. I tell all my victims exactly where I’m taking them hours in advance, so that they can alert their families and the authorities.”

Something about the way he phrases it makes her giggle. He speaks in such a proper way that, whether he recognizes it or not, his little jokes benefit enormously simply from the vocabulary.

"Well, I called my mother back after that voicemail she left me, and I left her a message telling her that I had plans with you," Molly says, "so you're already linked to the crime."

Philip’s grip upon her arm guides her, and soon the pebbles beneath her feet that indicate a walking path give way to something softer: grass.

“Okay, we’re here,” Philip announces after a long moment of deliberation.

“Can I take off the blindfold?”

“No.” He lets that hang between them for a few seconds before adding, “I’m going to do it for you.”

His fingers brush the sides of her face as he reaches for the folded bandana wrapped around her head.

The outdoor light is dimmer than Molly anticipated, which makes sense, given that it is evening. But her vision does not waste an instant adjusting to the sight before her.

“A hot air balloon?” she says aloud, hardly believing it. “Philip…”

“I wanted to do something fun. And different. Have you ever been in one?”

“No! This is fantastic.” She cannot quite picture herself floating above the world as casually as she always imagined a hot air balloon ride would be, but she is excited to find out what it is like.

With the green-and-blue balloon resting on the grass several yards away from them, Philip stops and grasps her shoulders. He turns her to face him. “I wanted to gain a different perspective on things,” he says. “I think it will do you a world of good.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says with a smile.

They close the remaining gap between themselves and the balloon. The pilot, a burly man with a graying mustache who wears a knit cap, meets them halfway. He introduces himself as Earl, and Philip introduces himself and Molly. A small ground crew lingers by the balloon, which is tethered to a white pickup truck.

“Well, I’ll try and keep as quiet as I can,” Earl says. “Sure you guys want this to be as romantic as possible.”

The comment takes Molly out of the pure escapism of the moment. She actually has not thought about Brent since Philip picked her up at the office half an hour ago, and that is saying a great deal.

“We’re actually…” she begins weakly.

“We’re only friends,” Philip says, picking up the slack with hardly any perceptible delay at all. “Just trying to have a night away from our real lives.”

“Then you’re in for a treat,” Earl says, turning back toward the balloon. “Come with me.”

They follow him through the grass. Molly’s eyes watch the horizon as they walk. It seems darker than it did even a minute ago.

“Thank you,” she whispers to Philip, clutching his arm.


As Landon Esco enters the café, he feels as if a black cloud is attempting to swallow him whole. He had to escape from campus, where the chances of running into someone he knows are exponentially higher than out in the real world. And since he knows that Travis Fisher is not working this evening, because he was in their dorm room half an hour ago, this is as good a place as any.

He orders a mocha at the bar and spaces out while he waits for it. Once it is ready, he grabs the drink and takes a seat at one of the glossy white tables arranged throughout the modern-looking space. He pulls his laptop from his backpack and begins fiddling around on Google--not that any of the information that he discovers is much consolation.

“Landon,” comes a voice from somewhere ahead of him.

He peels his eyes off the screen and sees Tori Gray standing halfway between him and the counter. One of her friends--one named Fee, he is pretty sure--stands with her. Both girls are dressed in tight-fitting hoodie sweatshirts with skinny jeans; Tori wears boots with hers, while Fee, or whatever her name is, wears a pair of Converse sneakers.

“Hey,” he musters enough energy to say--partly because he is so bummed out and partly because she looks really cute. How is it that every time he sees her, she looks a little older, a little more mature?

She’s Travis’s cousin, he reminds himself. And she’s in high school. And you have more important crap to worry about.

“You look like you’re having a great day,” Tori says.

“Really? I’m not.”

“That was a joke. Or a… nevermind.”

“Oh.” He regards the computer screen for a few more seconds but doesn’t see any of the words on it. “I just got back this big test for my Biological Anthro class, and I got a D… and if I get less than a C in the class, I have to retake it before I can apply to the Anthro deparment, and…”

He looks up to see Tori scrunching up her eyes. “What the hell is Anthro?”

“Like… the study of humanity, I guess. I want to do cultural stuff, which is more about how people--” He catches himself about to go off on a tangent and stops. “Nevermind. Point is, my parents are gonna kill me if I can’t apply to the major for a whole ‘nother year.”

“Maybe you can pick another major,” she says.

Landon shrugs. He would have to start all over with prerequisites, anyway. He picks up his mocha and holds it between his hands, letting the heat spread to his palms.

“Tori, come on!” Fee, or whatever her name is, calls out from the counter.

Tori surprises him by waving a hand at her friend. “Hang on! Get your drink.” Then she presses her palms down on his table and leans closer. “Do you think you can maybe talk to the teacher, or professor or whatever, about extra credit? Like do an extra paper or something?”

“Maybe.” The idea strikes a spark of hope within Landon, though it fades within milliseconds. “I don’t think she really does that…”

“Can’t hurt to ask, you know?” She appears to be suffering from severe strain, but it is not until she speaks again that Landon understands why. “I know everyone always makes jokes about how you’re dumb and stuff, but you’re obviously not, if you’re talking all this Anthro stuff--and you’re always making Travis and Elly laugh, too.”

The sheer niceness of it catches him totally off-guard. “Wow. Thanks, Tori.”

“Don’t get too used to it.” Her mouth pops into a grin. “I’ve gotta go. Send that professor an e-mail or something.”

“Yeah, I will. Thanks. Have, uh, have a good night.”

“You, too,” she says before rejoining Fee at the bar. Within a minute or two, they have departed from the shop, offering only the most casual of waves in Landon’s direction.

He opens his e-mail and begins to type a request to meet with the professor, but the whole time, a few thoughts keep running through his head, like mantras that he hopes will stick just by sheer repetition: She’s Travis’s cousin. She’s in high school. She’s Travis’s cousin. She’s in high school. She’s Travis’s cousin. She’s in high school.


“Jason, wait!” Paula cries out. Both Tim and Bill, as if fused to her voice and her brain by invisible wires, bound forward to try and stop Jason from leaving.

“I’m not doing this,” Jason insists as his brother and father lay their hands on him. Alex blocks his path to the door.

“Just hear us out,” Tim says. “We’re trying to help. Right, Mom?”

“We need to--well, for lack of a better word, strategize,” Paula says.

“Strategize?” Jason repeats it like it is a dirty word. “What the hell is going on? Is this because of Helen and Eric Westin?”

“Yes.” The mere mention of Helen’s secret meeting rouses a new intensity in Paula, like an electric shock to her system. “We’re not going to let her do anything to you or to Sophie. That’s why we’re all here--to protect you.”

Jason doesn’t fight back and stops trying to push toward the door.

“Where is Sophie?” Sarah asks from across the room.

“With the Chases, actually,” Jason says. “Don picked her up from the rink before I left. So everything is fine.”

Paula feels a fury surging inside of her, something so powerful that she doesn’t know how to suppress it. “Keep telling yourself that, Jason. Keep yourself in denial while Helen and Don plot to take your daughter away from you!”

The whole room falls quiet.

“That’s what is going to happen if we don’t address this head-on,” she continues, crushed by the devastated look on her son’s face but convinced that this is the only way to make him listen. “They are going to manipulate this situation to make you look like a much worse parent than you are. We have to stop fooling around.”

For several seconds, no one knows what to say. Paula almost feels as if she went too far--almost. But this has to happen.

“The first thing is the arena,” she says. “Helen specifically mentioned that you bring Sophie to the office every day. And as capable as you are of running that business, it’s going to burn you out eventually. It would happen to anyone. You need to hire a support staff.”

Jason shakes his head so automatically that it seems like a programmed response. “I don’t want some stranger in there. Last time I did that--”

“Hire me back.”

The voice belongs to Ryan.

“I’ll come back to work at the arena,” he says. “I’ll take over the job Seth was doing, the one I had before. That will take a lot off your plate.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Jason assents with a dip of the head.

“Good,” Paula says. That solves two problems, she thinks. “Now there’s the matter of caring for Sophie at home--not that you aren’t capable of doing that. You’ve done an excellent job with her. But it’s exhausting enough raising a child when you have someone to share the work with.”

“I don’t know how you’re doing it by yourself,” Sarah says from the sofa. Paula is grateful for the reinforcement. As they discussed, the only way Jason is going to listen is if this comes across not as criticism of him, but a preemptive strike against the Chases.

“You should come stay with us for a while,” Paula says.

“No,” Jason says firmly. “I am not moving back in with my parents. And I’m not taking Sophie out of the only place she knows as her home. I won’t do that to her.”

“Then I’ll come stay with you,” she persists.

“Mom! No.”

“Jason, listen to your mother,” Bill says. “You need to project the image of someone who’s willing to accept help.”

Jason blanches, looking like he has no intention of responding.

“My lease is almost up,” Alex chimes in. “What if I stayed in your guest room for a while? You’d be doing me a huge favor.”

The offer comes as a complete--and completely welcome--surprise to Paula. Her breath catches in her chest as she waits for Jason to render a verdict.

“Just for as long as it takes me to look for a new place,” Alex adds. “I’d like to buy something, so I need time to look…”

“I guess that would be okay,” Jason says with a sigh.

“Thanks.” The smile that passes between them says everything else that is necessary: that Alex is doing Jason a favor, too; that Jason knows it and is very grateful, even if he cannot say it aloud.

“All right, this is an excellent start,” Paula says. “We’ve just taken away most of their ammunition.”

“You really think this is all going to help?” Jason asks.

“Absolutely. The point is to close any of the loopholes that the Chases might be able to use to paint you as an unfit parent.” She flashes briefly to the sleeping pills, which she is fairly certain he already disposed of; if not, they can work on that once Alex is in the house. “We just want you to know that we’re here for you, honey, and we aren’t going to let anything happen.”

“Thanks… I think,” Jason says as his eyes sweep warily over the room full of people.


The wind whips past Molly, blowing her hair across her face.

“I didn’t think about how much windier it would be up here,” she says.

“It’s a windy night,” Earl offers from the corner of the wicker basket. Despite his vow to keep to himself, he has been quite happy to interject whenever and however possible.

Molly’s hands withdraw into the sleeves of her coat like frightened turtles into their shells. “It really is beautiful,” she says, looking out over the town that she knows so well. She thought this would be similar to watching out the window of an airplane during landing, and though some of the perspective is comparable, the experience is entirely different. They are floating rather than charging forward, so she has time to take things in; she can actually see what is what.

“I think I can see my parents’ house, way over there.” She points into the distance. The sky has grown dim, illuminating itself with a weak pink glow that threatens to slip away at any second.

“I think you might be correct,” Philip says. Another gust of wind blows past them, and this time, it knocks the basket off-balance a bit. All three of them take a moment to reorient themselves.

“Sorry about that,” Earl says. “Windier up here than any of us expected.”

“How high are we, exactly?” Molly asks.

“Right around two thousand feet.”

She peers over the edge of the basket. “I never realized downtown sloped toward the water like that.”

“What did I tell you?” Philip says. “A different perspective.”

“It is. Thank you.”

His green eyes seem to sparkle even more in the half-dark.

“You sure you two aren’t more than friends?” Earl asks, though it is more a heavy-handed suggestion than a question. “You sure look like you got--”

“We’re sure,” Philip says, sounding more irritated by Earl’s butting-in than Molly has ever heard him sound--well, over anything besides his photography, anyway. She offers him a quick smile as a thanks and to show him how amused she is by Earl’s utter inability to shut up.

When the next burst of wind surges at them, Molly has a brief moment of terror that the whole basket is going to be upended, flipping them out to tumble back down to the earth. It stabilizes in a second or two, but a shot of fear bulldozes its way through her body, making her arms and legs go weak.

“Should probably bring this thing in for a landing,” Earl says. “Wind is getting to be a problem.”

As he begins talking into his radio to communicate with the ground crew, Molly tries to enjoy the sights. Philip was right. Somehow, observing her world from this vantage point makes everything seem a little more manageable.

Then comes the worst blast of wind yet. This one subsides, too, but rather than vanishing altogether, it simply levels off to an invisible current that seems to be pushing the balloon.

“Hold on,” Earl tells them. “Might be a bit of a bumpy landing.”

But the wind continues its forceful directing, and within a few seconds, Earl does something that makes Molly incredibly nervous.

“Oh, crap,” he mutters.

“What is it?” Philip asks--rather, demands.

“I don’t wanna alarm you folks, but there’s some power lines up ahead. I’m trying to steer us away from ‘em, but if we ram into ‘em--”

Molly glances up at the propane-fueled burners powering the balloon’s flight. She doesn’t even want to think about what would happen if they came into contact with power lines--but she has a pretty good idea.


Are Molly and Philip headed for disaster?
Will the Fishers’ efforts be enough to stop Helen?
Could Tori and Landon ever be a good match?
Discuss all this and more in the Footprints Forum!

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