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- Jason was astonished that Natalie successfully planned and executed the arena’s gala fundraiser, but then Katherine Fitch’s trio of former friends (Tenille, Marj, and Dar) made a comment about how much some of the decor actually cost.
- Spencer was brought to the hospital after a car accident and suffered major blood loss. Claire called Tim, knowing that he would be a match for Spencer’s blood type, and Tim rushed to the hospital to donate.
- Philip overheard Claire admitting that Spencer is her biological son. She pleaded with him to keep the secret for the time being.
- Alex slept with his ex, Trevor, on the night Trevor returned to King’s Bay--and then was shocked to be introduced to Trevor’s new fiancé, Liam.
- Graham Colville suffered an aneurysm and died just after Sarah gave birth to their son. Alex, estranged from his father at the time of his death, blamed Sarah for driving Graham to the edge.


With the gala swirling all around, Alex Marshall stares at Trevor Brooks as if he might be crazy--which he might be, given what he just asked.

“Can we talk?” Alex repeats. “Now? Are you kidding?”

Trevor’s expression is tight, strained. “No. Just come outside for a minute, or… I’d just like to say a few things.”

Alex feels a charge surge through his body, a feeling that he loathes knowing where it’s coming from. He knows how illogical it is to presume that Trevor is sneaking him outside for some on-the-sly action, and if Trevor tried that, Alex would probably deck him, but there is something about the sight of this man, dressed in a tuxedo and his hair parted and his face absolutely dazzling even when he’s so stern, that turns Alex’s senses to dust.

Even after all these years.

“What about Liam?” he asks, glancing around.

“He’s with my parents. I said I’d be right back.”

Alex hesitates only a hair before saying, “Two minutes. That’s all.”

“That’s all I need.” And Trevor leads the way outside.

Meanwhile, Jason Fisher feels like a cartoon character. He half-expects a bell to ring as steam blows out of his ears--that’s how furious he is.

“Thank you, ladies,” he says to Marj, Dar, and Tenille before sweeping off to find Natalie Bishop. She is hovering near her table, where the waiters are setting down the main courses. Eschewing all subtlety, Jason grabs her by the bare arm and pulls her several feet away from the table.

“Whoa. Watch it,” she snaps, shaking free.

“Remember how you told me you came in under budget?” he says. “Did you just forget how much those ice tables cost, or--”

“It’s fine.” The words spill out so easily that Jason has to pause and marvel. Is she truly that good a liar, or does she simply have such a loose relationship with the truth that she doesn’t bother to consider it when speaking?

“How is it fine? You blew thousands of dollars on those things.”

  Natalie Bishop

“I think ‘blew’ is a little harsh. They look fantastic.” She plants her hands on the hips of her shimmering silver dress. “Anyway, we’re going to more than recoup the costs from tonight’s profits--look at this turnout--”

Profits?” Jason prepares, once again, for that steam to come rocketing out of his head. “This is for charity!”

She shrugs. “You have to spend money to make money.”

“No, you don’t have to spend underprivileged kids’ scholarship money in order to make underprivileged kids’ scholarship money. That’s insane. You’re insane.”

“I checked. The costs will be covered--”

“People’s donations should be going to the cause, not some cute novelties you thought would ‘make the room pop’ or whatever. I should’ve known this was a bad idea.”


“I don’t want to hear it.”

This time, she is the one who grabs his arm--but he brushes her off before she can get a firm grip, and he leaves her standing there alone.


The xenon headlamps of the Mercedes slice through the darkness as Philip Ragan pilots the car through the downtown area. Per usual, the narrow streets and frequent stoplights make it impossible to pick up much momentum, but right now, Philip and his two passengers do not care much. After a night of panic and rushing and waiting, a leisurely drive back to the hotel seems quite all right.

“Thanks for the ride,” Tim Fisher says from the backseat. “Not sure I should have been driving after giving that much blood.”

“Of course.” Philip’s eyes remain focused on the road, but it is work even to participate in the scant conversation inside the car. After the bombshell that Claire revealed to him--that he had to drag out of her, really--his brain wants to do little more than run through it, over and over, searching fruitlessly for ways to prove it not true.

But it is true. Spencer is Claire and Tim’s child. Given what Philip has learned about his father and mother in the past few years, it seems all too fitting.

“I’m just glad Spencer’s going to be okay,” Molly Fisher says as she stares out the passenger-side window. “The doctor sounded pretty confident.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Tim,” Philip manages to say, but he can’t even glance at Tim in the rearview mirror. It’s too bizarre. That man in his backseat--Molly’s brother--is Spencer’s father?

“Happy I could help.”

“We’ll go back to see him first thing in the morning,” Molly says. She reaches over and rubs Philip’s arm in a way that is supposed to be comforting, but right now, the touch makes him uneasy. This is not his information to share, but he feels as if they can see it scrawled all over his person.

“Here we are,” he says as he pulls into the porte-cochere of the hotel.

The valet opens Molly’s door first. As Tim lets himself out of the backseat, Molly pauses and looks directly at Philip.

“Are you all right?” she asks. “I know tonight has been crazy.”

“I’m fine,” he says, punctuating the comment with a forced smile. “Everything is going to be fine.”


On the terrace outside the Royal Ballroom, the autumn night hits Alex with all the comfort of a semi truck blowing a red light. He hadn’t realized how warm it was inside until he came out here. He folds his arms against the cold and faces Trevor, who is fidgeting from one foot to the other.

“I was watching you from across the room,” Trevor says, “and--” The word catches on something, and he pauses before something else tumbles out: “I just hate this.”

“It didn’t have to be like this.”

“I know. And it’s my fault. That’s all I want to say. I’m sorry. Having Lauren back in town, and thinking about Courtney so much tonight--I know it sounds like a cliché, but time is so damn precious. I don’t like how things are between us. I don’t want them to be this way.”

Alex swallows the snarky remark he would like to fling at Trevor and instead allows Trevor’s last words to hang in the chilly air.

“I love Liam,” Trevor says, forced to pick up the conversation when Alex doesn’t. “But I love you, too. I mean, I loved you so much, and I--I always will, in a way. I’m sorry I screwed up the possibility of us being friends when I got back.”

  Alex Marshall

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out about Liam? Or that I wouldn’t care?” Alex says, unable to suppress the entirety of the fire burning in his stomach. “Or did you just not care, as long as you got what you wanted from me?”

“That wasn’t what I wanted from you!”

“Then I’m really not clear on why it happened. I’ve already made a fool of myself, so I might as well say it: I liked that it happened. I was happy it happened. So then when I found out about Liam--”

“I liked it, too, Alex. Don’t act like you don’t know that.” Trevor squares his shoulders toward Alex. “I didn’t plan for it to happen. I didn’t know I was going to run into you that first night I was back. Liam was coming in the next day, and I figured you’d meet him and it’d be a little awkward, but I didn’t think I’d see you before he got here…” His hands crumple into fists, and his facial features try to emulate them. Then, out of nowhere, a single word bursts out of him: “Dammit!”

Alex doesn’t know what he is supposed to say or how he is supposed to react. Through the glass panels of the French doors, he sees the main course being served in the ballroom.

“My point is, I’m sorry,” Trevor finally says. “Sorrier than you could know, for hurting you and for putting you in this position. And I’m so grateful to you for not saying anything to Liam.”

Alex nods stiffly. He knows it isn’t his place to tell Liam any of this, but he doesn’t want Trevor to think he is doing him a favor, either.

“I guess what it really comes down to…” Trevor trails off, focused on knotting his fingers together--an uncharacteristic kind of gesture for him, such obvious hesitance. “I really regret the way things ended between us. Even though going to Europe was good for my career, I feel like things got hard and I ran away. And I hate that we can never get that time back.”

He looks at Alex for a long moment, long enough to ensure eye contact--there he is, that more familiar, in-control Trevor--and some beam of understanding passes between them, as if traveling through an invisible wire. Then Trevor turns and, without another word, goes back inside.

Alex inhales deeply and then lets it out, watching a white cloud of breath roll off into the night. I hate it, too, he thinks, but the sparkling sky offers no solutions.


While the waitstaff transfers plates with machinelike efficiency, Paula and Bill Fisher weave their way through the room. They find Don and Helen Chase at a table with a number of familiar faces from the arena, most notably Sandy James.

“We wanted to come over and say hi,” Paula says softly as they settle beside the table. The Fishers and Chases used to be close friends, and after Sophie’s birth and Courtney’s death, they were even closer--family, truly. But after Helen’s grief drove her to dangerous acts to win custody of Sophie, that bond all but evaporated. Even since Jason made peace with Helen last Christmas, Paula and Bill have hardly seen their old friends. From the sounds of it, the Chases’ visits with Sophie have been going well, as has Helen’s grief counseling, but the friendship has yet to be mended.

“It’s good to see you,” Helen says, a little strained, as she turns in her seat. “Jason did a wonderful job with everything.”

“It looks great. Everything is so nice. Such a fantastic tribute to Courtney,” Don adds.

“Yes, it’s lovely,” Paula says. “I’m sure Jason would be happy to hear that you’re enjoying it.”

An awkward hush settles over the foursome. Paula squeezes Bill’s hand and then proceeds.

“We’d love to have you over for dinner sometime soon,” she says. “It’s been too long.”

Don and Helen exchange a look, their surprise evident.

“It would really be nice,” Bill adds.

Don nods. “We’d like that.”

“Look who’s back,” Molly announces as she and Tim approach. They say hi to the Chases as Paula scans them up and down in that motherly way she has.

“Is everything all right?” she asks. “Is Spencer--”

“He’s fine,” Molly says. “Thanks to Tim. They were able to do the transfusion. He’s resting for the night.”

“And how are you feeling?” Paula asks Tim.

“Good. Totally fine. Eating some food won’t hurt.”

“Then let’s get you some.” Bill clasps an arm around his eldest son. To Don and Helen, he says, “We’ll touch base with you later. Looking forward to dinner.”

“Us, too,” Helen says.

Paula and Molly follow the men. “It’s so nice to have all my children in the same room,” she comments as they walk, hooking arms with her daughter.


Alex chews his way through dinner without tasting much. When the waiter clears his plate, Diane makes a comment about how Alex left so much food untouched, but Alex simply waves it off. The truth is that his stomach is not very interested in food right now--not with the way it is wobbling up and down, back and forth, anticipating something that Alex knows he needs to do.

When dinner finally concludes, he excuses himself and crosses to where the Fisher family is seated. He sees Sarah tense up at the sight of him.

“Hey,” he says, hoping to come off as non-aggressive as possible. “Sarah, could we… would you be willing to talk for a minute?”

“I’m sure it can wait,” Jason says firmly.

Sarah stares Alex down, her eyes intent as if they might be running some kind of special private-eye scan on him.

“It’s fine,” she tells Jason as she rises.

“Thanks. I promise this will only take a minute,” Alex says, both to her and the rest of the family, as they move to a quieter corner of the ballroom. The walk is tense, with not a word spoken between them.

“I owe you an apology,” he says before she even turns toward him. Given how awful their last few encounters have been, he knows that he needs to get to it quickly.

Sarah waits for him to go on. Alex digs frantically through his mind for the correct words but cannot help noting how familiar this scenario is--Sarah is who Alex was earlier, and Alex is in Trevor’s shoes now.

“I haven’t been fair to you,” he says. “I’ve been angry, and I guess… I’ve blamed you because I didn’t know what else to do. Or I didn’t want to blame myself.”

Her response is far more compassionate, in its word choice if not exactly in tone, than he expected: “Blame yourself for what?”

“For not taking advantage of the time I had. I spent all those months cutting my father out of my life--”

“You had a valid reason for being mad at him.”

“Yeah.” The word is easy to say, but he finds it hard to agree with her on an emotional level. Yes, Graham’s lie about Sally keeping him away from Alex was a bad one. He knows that it’s a legitimate thing to have been angry with his father for. But it has also seemed insignificant since Graham passed away.

“You’re right,” he continues, “but I guess I thought I’d have time to forgive him. When I was ready… whatever that means. And then before I was ready, he was gone.”

She takes a deep breath. “Yeah.”

“Anyway, I’ll let you get back to your dinner, but I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for having blamed you and Matt for anything. After what my father did to him--to both of you…”

“And to you,” she says quickly.

“Yes. I guess I didn’t want to blame myself for wasting all that time--”

“Alex. No one is to blame. If you’re going to let me off the hook, I’m going to insist that you let yourself off the hook, too.”

He forces a weak smile. “Thanks. And I hope you’ll feel comfortable with me seeing Billy from time to time--“

“Anytime. You’re his brother.”

“Okay. Cool. I really am sorry. I’ll let you get back to your table.” He starts to shuffle off, but Sarah stops him with a question:

“Why now?”

He only has to think about it for a split-second. “Because someone made me realize what I was doing, lashing out at you that way, and I didn’t want another night to go by without setting things right. Have a good night, Sarah.”

“You, too,” she says, and Alex moves through the maze of tables back to his own, shocked at how receptive Sarah was to his apology--and what cues he should be taking from her.


When the door to the ballroom closes behind her, Diane Bishop can hear her heels clacking loudly against the marble floors of the wide hotel hallway. She takes a right turn and sees the sign for the women’s restroom--but when she pulls open the door, she nearly collides with a woman coming out. They narrowly avoid a collision, but when Diane sees who it is, she suspects that crashing into a stranger would have been more pleasant than this.

“Oh,” she says as she takes a step back from her sister.

Oh yourself,” Natalie says, pushing past her.

Diane speaks quickly: “I heard you made a big fat mess of this fundraiser. Never would have predicted that.”

Natalie swings around and plants her hands on her hips. “Did you see it in there? I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘big fat mess.’”

“You budgeted the donations into the planning?” Diane lets a laugh escape--quite freely--from her throat. “That’s ridiculous. I really wish I’d been around to warn Jason about turning this thing over to you.”

“Yeah, but you were probably too busy making a disaster of your own life.”

The dig stings more than Diane would like. Normally, brushing off an insult from her younger sister takes no effort at all, but she hates to admit that there is a strong element of truth in what Natalie says.

She decides to own it and spits, “I guess you did learn from the best. And now the student has surpassed the master.” Then she barges into the bathroom, leaving Natalie and her stupid silver dress to huff and puff in her wake.


“I’m so glad to hear that,” Jason says to Alex as they lean against the bar. The band that has taken the place of the pianist has kicked into a cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” forcing them to speak louder.

“I’m sorry I put you in the middle of it,” Alex says.

“Don’t be.” Jason lifts his glass to his mouth but pauses. “Well, do be, but don’t beat yourself up for it. And don’t do it again.”

A middle-aged couple approaches the bar, and the two men move out of the way.

“I’m just… I know my father did a lot of terrible things. But it’s weird to think I’ll never, ever have the chance to make amends with him, you know?” Alex says.

  Jason Fisher

“Yeah.” Jason’s mind flashes briefly to an alternate world in which he and Courtney were at odds when Shannon killed her--something not entirely implausible, given their rift after Shannon had Sophie kidnapped. His brain flashes a silent prayer of thanks that, at the least, they left things in a loving way.

“Guys,” Lauren Brooks says as she bounds up to them.

Loosened by numerous drinks and a sense of relief that the event has gone well, in spite of Natalie’s creative accounting, Jason slides an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “What’s up?”

“There’s something I want to tell you,” she says, sipping on her clear, fizzy drink.

Alex turns his head forty-five degrees, an exaggerated gesture that Jason recognizes well. “Should we be worried?” he says.

“No!” she says through a laugh. “We wanted to tell you before, but it’s been so crazy and we’ve been catching up with everyone…”

Jason knows what she is going to say before she comes out with it.

Josh and I are expecting,” she says. “I’m pregnant.”

“That’s incredible! Congratulations!” Jason exclaims, wrapping her into a hug.

“Congratulations,” Alex says, waiting his turn before hugging her. “Lauren, I’m so happy for you. When are you due?”

“May 22. I’m surprised you didn’t call me out on it, you jerk,” she says with a smirk as she rubs her belly, which Jason now notices is protruding a bit.

“So I guess finding a job in L.A. is going to wait a bit longer?” Jason asks.

“Yeah. Josh is making really good money, so…” Lauren looks off toward the band, to nothing specific. “I know it’s a blessing to be able to have this time off work, but it makes me feel a little lazy, you know?”

“It’s not lazy! You’re having a baby,” Alex says. “Calm down.”

“I’m trying.” Her smirk grows as she stares them down. “Guys. I’m having a kid. Think about that.”

Jason shakes his head in disbelief. “It never stops being weird. I’m someone’s dad. Think about that.”

Both Lauren and Alex laugh a little.

“Yeah, that’s scary,” Lauren says. She glances off again, but this time with purpose. Jason follows her gaze toward the portrait of Courtney near the front of the room. “Joking aside, Court would be so proud of how Sophie is growing up. You’re doing an amazing job. I can’t wait to stop by tomorrow and see her.”

“I’m lucky to have a lot of help,” Jason says, patting Alex on the arm.

A strange but peaceful hush falls over the three friends. Jason is very aware that they are all looking toward Courtney’s portrait.

“I miss her so much,” Lauren says wistfully. “Do you know who I had to tell about the baby first? My brother. Not the same.”

“We all miss her,” Alex says, and he throws an arm across each of their shoulders to pull them into a semi-circle.

Jason cannot take his eyes off the portrait. “We always will. Sometimes I look at Soph and I can just see Courtney in there, you know? But it doesn’t always hurt to realize that anymore. Sometimes it actually feels good--like even if she can’t physically be here, she’s still here.”

His friends nod along. He knows that they really do understand.

“And I’m starting to see that life goes on,” he says. The words almost make him feel guilty, but they are also so liberating, and he knows that Courtney would want this for him--for him to live a full life, for him to give Sophie the same. He looks to Lauren. “And new lives begin, too.”

She smiles and rests her head against Alex’s shoulder.

“I guess all we can really do is be grateful for what we have,” Jason says. “For the people who love us and who walk beside us even when things get really tough.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Alex says, raising his glass beside Jason’s shoulder.

They all take swigs from their glasses, and then Jason forces himself to tear his gaze from the portrait of Courtney and focus on his best friends. “I love you guys,” he says, and then his eyes sweep over the room, at all the love and the people enjoying each other’s company and all the possibility for tomorrow. And finally--finally, after this long, painful journey--he knows in his heart that there will be a tomorrow and that it will be as magical as any yesterday he can remember.


We hope you enjoyed our 15th anniversary celebration!
Will Alex and Trevor be able to be friends now?
Will Natalie be able to make up for what she did?
Will Philip keep the secret of Spencer’s parentage?
Talk about all this and more in the Footprints Forum!

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Friday, Nov. 23, 2012

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