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- Matt was rescued and brought to the hospital, where he was determined to be all right. Brent confided in Danielle that there were signs Matt’s disappearance had to do with a drug deal gone awry.
- Tim encountered Spencer on the side of the road with a flat tire. Recognizing the young man as Claire’s half-brother, he offered his help. Despite Spencer’s gruff response, Tim changed the tire for him.
- Molly told Jason that she had an idea about Alex’s personal life…


Danielle Taylor finishes fluffing the pillows. “There you go,” she says, but Matt Gray is already lowering himself onto the edge of the bed.

“You don’t have to do this,” he says as he struggles to swing his legs up onto the bed.

She holds his legs and helps him swivel his body so that he can recline. “I actually do, because you’re sure as heck not able to do it yourself.”

“I’m fine,” he says, nevertheless cringing as he positions his body against the pillows.

“Mm-hmm. That’s what you didn’t want Tori to have to deal with? You being fine?”

Matt takes a moment to relax into the bed. “Well, thanks, then. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.” She crosses the room to retrieve the TV remote. “In the morning, I’ll take a cab down to the pier to get your truck and bring it back here.”

“I might be good to go by then,” Matt says.

  Matt Gray

“Maybe. Even though you’re moving like you have arthritis in your entire body right now.”

“And like someone’s hitting me with a sack of doorknobs every time I turn a little too fast.” He forces a pained grin. “I can’t believe how sore I am. Whoever did this really beat the crap out of me.”

“No kidding.” She stops to take in the sight of him, stretched out on the bed in his jeans and sweatshirt. Discomfort aside, he is fine. Totally fine. Twelve hours ago, she feared the worst, and now here he is, needing nothing more than rest to be back to normal. She hopes that’s all, anyway.

She hands him the remote and says, “Do you need anything right now? I’m going to go forage for dinner. Which might turn into ordering pizza.”

“Actually--” He cringes as he tries to sit up. “--I could really go for a shower. I feel gross.”

“Are you sure you can stand in the shower?”

“I’ll try.” He thinks about it some more and adds, “There’s that ledge I can sit on if I need to.”

“Then the shower it is.”

She helps him swing his legs off the bed and get back onto his feet. She sticks close by his side as he hobbles the ten or so feet to the bathroom. He makes it without requiring any assistance, though his movements are shockingly stiff.

“I can’t believe you have no broken bones or anything,” she says as Matt leans against the bathroom counter.

“No kidding. I kept falling, and I couldn’t catch myself because my hands were taped together, so it was like… bam!” He claps his hands together loudly for effect.

Danielle turns on the shower and feels the water, waiting for it to heat up. “You’re sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah.” He tries to lift his arms to remove his sweatshirt, but all he does is prove how poor his flexibility is at the moment.

“Here,” Danielle says, reaching out to pull on the sweatshirt’s sleeves. Matt manages to hold his arms high enough that she is able to wiggle him out of the sweatshirt. It pulls his gray t-shirt up his torso a little, exposing the bare flesh of his stomach. Danielle tries not to stare.

“Thanks,” Matt says as the sweatshirt lands on the floor in a heap. But it is apparent that the t-shirt is going to be an even bigger challenge, so Danielle grasps it by the bottom.

“Keep your arms up as much as you can,” she says as she pulls the t-shirt up. She has it completely off his torso and up his arms when Matt tries to help out by worming the rest of the way out of the shirt, but all he succeeds in doing is losing his balance. Danielle instinctively reaches out to steady him--

--and suddenly she finds herself pressed against Matt’s naked chest, heat radiating off his body as steam from the shower fills the bathroom. Trying to be polite and keep her eyes off his exposed body, she looks up--just in time to meet his gaze.

Thaw Coffee & Tea

After a late evening at work, Tim Fisher stops by the coffee shop where his son works, hoping to catch Travis before his shift ends. When he enters, he doesn’t see Travis behind the counter--but he does see another familiar face huddled over a laptop and a textbook at a small table by the wall.

“Hi there,” Tim says as he cautiously approaches the young man.

Spencer Ragan looks up with irritation, but he softens ever so slightly when he realizes who it is. “Oh. Hi.”

“Just saw you over here and thought I would say hello.” Tim wonders if it was a bad idea to make the effort, given how prickly Spencer was during their last encounter.

Spencer chews on the end of his pen for a moment and then surprises Tim by saying, “Listen… Thanks for your help changing my tire the other night. I feel like AAA never would’ve shown up.”

“You’re welcome,” Tim says, a little surprised. He gestures to the textbook. “What are you studying?”

“Comm. I have a paper due the day after tomorrow.”

“Ah. Is that your major?”


“I don’t know what you’re interested in doing after graduation,” Tim says, “but I work at a publishing company, and if you’re ever interested in an internship--”

“Um, yeah. That would actually be awesome. I need to do one for my major, actually.” Spencer actually sounds enthusiastic and not annoyed or skeptical.

Tim pulls out his wallet. “Why don’t I give you my card? You can e-mail me your résumé, and we’ll go from there.”

“Thanks,” Spencer says, reaching for the card. He hesitates and looks up at Tim’s face before actually taking it.


The familiar voice comes from behind Tim. He turns to see Travis, in his navy blue work apron, staring slack-jawed at him and Spencer.


“Did I miss bedtime?” Jason Fisher asks as he sets his keys on the kitchen counter and unzips his windbreaker. He can hear the faint sounds of the television from the next room.

“By about 20 minutes,” Alex Marshall says. “Sorry. I didn’t want to keep her up too long.”

Jason brushes off the unnecessary apology. “Totally. Thank you for putting her down. Ryan and I really needed to catch up on some paperwork that came through this afternoon.”

“Happy to help out.” Alex reaches across the island to remove the lid from a pot. “I made that turkey-basil chili. Figured you might be hungry.”

His eyes widening at the sight of the chili, Jason grabs a bowl and spoon. “This looks awesome. Thank you.”

“Clearly I had some writing to avoid today.”

Jason serves himself a big bowl of the chili and breathes in the appetizing, comforting smell. “Look at you,” he jokes. “What a good little housewife.”

Alex fakes a curtsy. “I try.”

  Alex Marshall

“Speaking of…”

“Is this about to take a really weird turn?”

“Yes.” Jason eats a spoonful of the chili, savoring it for a few moments, before continuing, “How would you feel about being fixed up?”

Alex’s hesitance is apparent. “Uhhh…”

Molly thought you and her assistant might hit it off. Cameron. You haven’t met him, have you?”

“I don’t think so. But seriously, is this one of those ‘Hey, I know two guys who happen to be gay, so obviously they would make a great couple even if they have nothing in common’ type of things?”

“No!” Jason says quickly, setting his bowl down on the counter. “He does love reading, though. Actual books.”

Twilight?” Alex asks, cringing.

“Gross. Molly was telling me that the two of them were both reading that A Visit From the Goon Squad book at the same time so they could talk about it every morning at work.”

Alex shrugs. “Okay, so he’s not an idiot.”

“He’s a good-looking guy, too!”

“Says who?”

“Me. And clearly there is no better judge.” He wags his spoon at Alex. “I don’t think it would be the worst idea in the world. And you said yourself that you’re not having the best luck with dating websites and that app on your phone and whatever else.”

Alex lets out a giant sigh. “Seriously. It’s a wasteland out there.”

“Then that’s a yes?”

“It’s a ‘Give him my number or tell him to add me on Facebook or something,’” Alex says. “No promises beyond that.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jason says, smiling as he dives back into the chili.


Danielle has no idea how long they stay like that. The bathroom is so warm as it fills with steam, and she can feel Matt’s heart beating through his chest and against hers. Their faces seem drawn together; she waits for him to break the eye contact and pull away, but he doesn’t.

And then she does. She isn’t sure what comes over her, but it is like a bucket of water tossed over her head. This is--it’s Matt, and he is recovering from a near-death experience, and she is here to take care of him, not… not do that.

“I, uh, I should go figure out the food situation,” she says, taking a big step back from him.

“Okay. Yeah. Uh… thanks for your help.”

Their eyes catch again. Danielle diverts hers, only to have them land on Matt’s strong chest, sweaty and covered in light brown hair.

“I’ll, um…” She catches sight of the faint marks and the more pronounced bruises on his arm, the ones that Brent told her about. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing more obviously than is necessary.

He shrugs. “Probably from the IVs. No clue.”

He says it casually enough, but it sends Danielle’s mind spinning--at least, in a very different direction from the one in which it was spinning moments ago. Matt? Using heroin? Getting caught in a bad drug deal? It doesn’t add up.

“I, um, you have a good shower,” she stammers as she makes a hasty exit from the bathroom. She doesn’t let herself glance back. As she moves out of the bedroom, she hears the bathroom door close over the noise of the running shower.

She gives the refrigerator’s contents a cursory scan before turning her attention to her smartphone to search for a pizza delivery place. But her mind keeps flashing back to what happened--almost happened, maybe--in the bathroom, the image of Matt’s half-naked body right in front of her. She determines that the time spent waiting for the pizza might drive her nuts, so instead she goes digging in the kitchen, finds a box of pasta and some chicken, and decides that keeping busy is a much better idea.


“Hey, kiddo,” Tim says. “I was on my way home from work and thought I would stop in to see you.”

Travis nods toward Spencer without actually looking at him. “Then why are you talking to him?”

“Because I saw Spencer and thought I would say hi.” Tim recognizes his son’s tone and decides that the best course of action is to try and steer this elsewhere. “How’s work going?”

“Work was fine until I caught you being pals with this psycho,” Travis says, his eyes catching on the card in Spencer’s hand.

“Travis, calm down,” Tim says, unsure where this is coming from. “You guys are family, and--”

Travis recoils at the word. “So? He’s not your family. And I sure as hell don’t want anything to do with him.”

Spencer flashes an obnoxious smirk at Travis. “Gee, thanks, nephew.”

  Travis Fisher

Shaking his head in annoyance, Travis turns away. “I’ve gotta get back to work.”

Tim starts to follow him. “Travis--”

“Thanks again, Mr. Fisher,” Spencer says from his seat. “I’ll e-mail you really soon.”

Tim just nods at him, feeling like a jerk on both ends. He made Spencer an offer that he can’t rescind, but he also apparently hurt his son in the process. He hurries to the counter, where Travis is cleaning out a machine.

“What was that all about?” Tim asks.

“He’s a psycho,” Travis says, keeping his focus on his work.

“Why? What does that mean?”

“He, like, picked a fight with me in the dining hall so that I would get in trouble. He hooked up with Elly’s roommate and was a total asshole to her. He’s always an asshole, basically. I just try to avoid him on campus. And now you’re, like, friends with him?”

“I ran into him when he had a flat tire and helped him out,” Tim says. “Then I saw him here and went over to say hi. We were chatting about his major.”

Travis gives him the silent treatment for a long moment. The counter between them feels like an enormous gulf that Tim cannot possibly cross. He hasn’t received a freeze like this from his son in a long time, but it is all too recognizable.

“Travis, this is nothing to be so upset about,” Tim says.

Finally, he gets eye contact from his son--but it is in the form of a contemptuous look, followed by Travis roughly setting down a metal cup and the cloth he was using. “I have to go do something in the back,” he says before vanishing through the swinging door.

Tim leaves the shop without even ordering a drink. He offers Spencer a wave as he exits, wondering if there could be real validity to Travis’s vehement dislike of the other young man--and why it matters so much.


Is Travis overreacting?
Should Danielle have acted on her impulse?
Could Alex and Cameron have an actual connection?
Talk about all this and more in the Footprints Forum!

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

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