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- After Philip overheard her talking about it, Claire confided the truth in him: that Spencer is really her son, and that he and Travis were switched as infants. Philip agreed to keep the secret--for the time being.
- Tim donated blood to save Spencer’s life, unaware that the boy is his biological son.
- While working at the arena, Tempest met a female hockey player named Annie.
- Jason was furious after he learned that Natalie, entrusted with planning the arena fundraiser, had nonchalantly gone far over-budget and kept it from him.


This facility is even worse than the one Loretta Ragan was in when Philip last visited her. The scuffed linoleum, the worn signs, the lights that manage to be both too bright and oddly dim at the same time--it is as if the entire building has given up on ever being more than generic and depressing.

Now Philip sits across from his mother, a window pane between them and old black phone receivers pressed to their heads. It has been a long time since he visited her, and he was almost feeling guilty about that until the moment he sat down with her. It is difficult even to look at her these days, knowing all the lies she told and all the horrible things she was doing in secret. But it is one of those lies that has brought him here today.

“The doctors are sure he’s going to be all right?” Loretta asks through the phone.

“Yes. They seem very confident. And his recovery has been very smooth.”

“Thank God.” She hangs her head for a moment. Philip is surprised by just how irritating he has found her dramatics while he relayed the story of Spencer’s auto accident and emergency medical care. He knows, on a logical level, that Loretta does still love Spencer, that she raised him as a son and of course would be horrified by what he went through--but he is finding it difficult to reconcile that with his burning anger about the lifelong lies she has told.

“But he’s insisted on moving back into the fraternity house,” Philip says, “and I don’t want him living there. Not after this.”

“Then rent him an apartment.”

“He refuses to move out. I asked him to stay with me through the holidays, at least, but he insisted on going back to campus as soon as he could.”

“Maybe I can talk some sense into him.”

  Philip Ragan

“No.” The admonition comes out even more harshly than Philip imagined it.

Loretta lowers the receiver and glares at him through the glass for a lengthy moment. Her hair has dulled from the red he remembers to its more natural brown color, and her face is devoid of makeup, but her eyes have retained that same calculating gleam that Philip recalls so well.

“If you’re so intent on being hateful toward me, why did you bother coming here?” she finally asks.

“Because of Spencer.”

“Then do you want my help or not?”

“What I want is the truth,” Philip says. He sees the surprise register on her face--only a flicker, only for an instant--but it is there. Her eyes widen, and her body draws back. He presses on: “Claire told me. What I want to know is if it’s true. Did you set all of this up just to torture Claire, or is Spencer really her son?”

Vision Publishing

As Claire Fisher winds her way through the office, she takes note of the many touches of holiday cheer placed throughout the cubicles. She spots a miniature Christmas tree, a plastic menorah, several poinsettias, and even a few strands of illuminated Christmas lights. It is a festive, welcoming environment, and that takes her back to years and years ago, when she was a frequent visitor to this place. She would often drop in to see Tim at work, back when they were married. It’s strange to think that so much time has passed and that life has taken them in such different directions.

It’s even stranger to think that she has to have a conversation like this with him.

She finds him in his office, as he told her he would be. It is an upgrade from the days when he sat in a cubicle, and it makes her warm to see him doing so well, especially in light of his own setbacks and the grim forecast for the publishing industry.

“Hey,” she says as she enters the office. Tim is already shuffling some papers to move them out of the way.

“Hey.” He rises and greets her with a hug. It is friendly and familiar, nothing more, but it sends an instant sting of guilt through Claire’s body. She never should have kept this secret from Tim for so long. She just didn’t know how to tell him, and she didn’t want to rock the boat--which is sort of like saying that the Titanic encountered a little difficulty, given the magnitude of rocking this particular boat is about to receive.

“Have a seat,” he says, moving back to his own. “What’s going on? You sounded very… serious on the phone.” He eyes her carefully for a moment. “And you look it, too. Is something the matter?”

Claire closes the office door and takes one more moment to steel herself. She can’t believe that she is doing it here, but it seems like the only place they can have some privacy. She doesn’t want to tell him in a public place, and trying to find time and space alone at his parents’ house would be impossible, and Tempest is always in and out of Claire’s place…

She realizes that she is stalling and, with a deep breath, faces him.

“Yes,” she says. “There’s something I really need to talk to you about.”

Edge of Winter Arena

“Great job!”

Jason Fisher sees his own excitement reflected in young Bree Halston as she skates across the ice toward him. Jason stands by the door, cutting little curves in the ice with him own skates, until Bree arrives, red-cheeked and panting.

“That was an awesome program,” he says as he gives Bree a high five.

The little girl beams as she says, “Yeah,” in between heavy breaths. She did two run-throughs of her program, and the second one was even better than the first, since she nailed the landing to the double Salchow and held the layback spin for an impressive ten revolutions.

Bree sucks down some water from her pink water bottle, and Jason gives her a moment to catch her breath.

“Are we done?” she asks.

“Almost.” He half-shrugs, a miniature apology, before he says, “Three laps, and then you’re done.”

“Oh my gosh.” Bree downs some more water and then gets to it. Jason watches her powerful strokes down the ice and only has to call out once for her to keep her arms up. He is watching her round out her first lap when a voice beside him takes him by surprise.

“That was a great program.”

Jason hesitates in turning, a little annoyed to be dealing with Bree’s mother again.

“I thought I might not see you again,” he says, throwing her only a glance before he returns his attention to the ice.

“Thought I should give you a little space. Some time to… process.”

Jason screws up his face. “Hmm… Nope, still annoyed that you budgeted the actual donations from the fundraiser into the budget for said fundraiser’s décor.”

“I don’t know how many times I can apologize for that,” Natalie says.

Jason lets out a loud sigh, but a response doesn’t come as readily as he expects it to. He turns his head to look at her. She is more dressed-down than usual, with her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and a simple black coat paired with dark jeans.

“I don’t either,” Jason says.

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“Great. Thanks.” He knows it is a little petulant, but he can’t help it. He also doesn’t really see why it is necessary to forgive her for something so stupid. And suddenly, he can’t hold the rest of it in: “Here’s the thing. I trusted you with something very important--something that was being held in my wife’s memory and was supposed to help kids who don’t have the resources pursue their dreams. The way you disregarded all of that for the sake of some pretty-looking--”

“Okay. I’ve got it.” She waves him off. “Thanks for your work with Bree. She’s looking great.” She turns and walks away, leaving Jason with a pounding sense of annoyance in his gut.

“Hey!” he calls after her, but she doesn’t even look back.

He is jarred out of his irritation when a spray of snow flies up and hits him in the legs. It is Bree, finished with her laps.

“All done!” she proclaims, grabbing her water bottle. “What was my mom saying?”

“Nothing important,” Jason mutters as he shakes his head. “At all.”


The sounds of the freestyle session coming to a close, coupled with the hockey players streaming in for the open stick-and-puck session, reverberate off the walls of the arena, creating a cavern of shouts, claps, and smacks. Trying to ignore the dense blanket of noise, Tempest Banks pulls rolling mop bucket behind her toward Locker Room #3.

The next bit all happens in a confusing flash. She turns the doorknob and hears a yelp. The door keeps opening, even though Tempest freezes, and the next thing she knows, there is a curtain of curly black hair whipping around mere feet away from her.

“Sorry, I thought this room was empty,” Tempest says, half-covering her face.

“It was supposed to be. I--” The surprise occupant grabs something--which turns out to be a jersey--to cover herself, but not before Tempest catches sight of a smooth expanse of skin, so porcelain white that it looks like it couldn’t possibly catch a tan and broken up only by a black sports bra.

And then she realizes that she knows this person. Or at least has met her before.

“Hey. It’s you,” the other girl, Annie, says as she pulls on the jersey.

Tempest relaxes a little bit--just a little bit-as she stands in the open doorway with the mop bucket. “Oh. Yeah. Hey. I, uh, sorry about that.”

“No, it’s my fault. The room was supposed to be empty. But I’m not changing in #2 with all the guys, and you try getting ready in the girls’ bathroom when all those little figure skaters are running around.”

  Tempest Banks

“I get that. I, uh…” Tempest feels like her feet are stuck in cement. And so is her brain. “I should go clean #4, then. Have a good game, or--”

“It’s not really a game,” Annie says with a laugh.

“Practice. Or whatever. And Merry Christmas.”

Annie stares at her for a moment, a tiny smile playing at her mouth. “Thanks,” she finally says. “You, too. I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah. Definitely.” With an awkward wave, Tempest backs out of the room, managing not to trip over the mop bucket or fall into it or anything else. And as flustered and stupid as she feels, she cannot keep a small grin off her own face, either.


The wait for some kind of answer from Loretta, or at least an indication one way or the other, is excruciating for Philip. All he needs her to say is that she invented this wild story to drive Claire mad and that Travis Fisher is really Claire and Tim’s biological child. Except Claire ran a DNA test, and the results confirmed it all. For Loretta to have manipulated that from in here would be nothing short of magic.

She purses her lips before finally responding. “Spencer is my son,” she says. “I adopted him as an infant and raised him his entire life.”

“That isn’t an answer, Mother.”

“It’s the only answer that matters.”

“What I don’t understand,” Philip says, “is why you would dredge any of this up, if Spencer is such a son to you--”

“He is my son!”

“Then why are you doing this? Claire told me the entire story. Why did you want her to find out?”

Loretta turns her head to the left, her eyes settling somewhere in the distance. Philip recognizes that defiant, bemused look, the same one she offers when an employee or even a friend offers an answer that is not pleasing to her.

“That woman killed your father,” she says. Hatred and rage flash hot in her eyes. “She murdered him in cold blood and called it sacrifice. Do you know what was sacrificed? Us! Our lives! She deserves to pay for that for the rest of her miserable life!”

She is screaming, so loudly that other people are staring at them. Philip bows his head, unsure how he might even begin to explain this outburst but also knowing that, in a place like this, it isn’t even necessary.

“So you want Claire to suffer,” he says. His heart is pounding harder than he remembers it ever doing. “And you want Spencer to hate her. What happens when he finds out the truth? What if he hates you, too?”

“I saved him. I saved him from being raised by her and by those people. That’s all he needs to know.”

Her gaze is cold with fury, so much so that it sends a chill through Philip’s body. He doesn’t know how this is the same woman who raised him. How can that be possible?

“He’s lucky that you’re in here,” he says, and with that, he hangs up the receiver and walks out with even looking back at the stranger on the other side of the glass.


“You’re making me nervous,” Tim says with a laugh that Claire thinks is supposed to lighten the mood but only serves to highlight that nervousness.

“I’m sorry.” She gets herself into the chair across from him. “Tim, I just need you to listen, and--”

She sees his face screwing up even further with concern, the lines in his brow becoming more pronounced, his whole body shifting forward as if moving closer to her might help in some way. But in that same instant, she hears the disruption from behind--a quick knock and then the slight creak of the door opening…

“Mom. I didn’t know you were gonna be here,” Travis says as he swoops into the office, giving Claire a hug as she sits in her chair.

“I didn’t know you were going to be here.” Understatement of the year, she thinks as she forces a smile.

“You have those tickets?” Travis asks Tim, who is already looking in a desk drawer.

Tim produces two large, colorful pieces of cardstock and hands them over. “Seahawks,” he explains to Claire. “I managed to swing these for him and Landon for this weekend.”

“Oh, how fun,” Claire says. Her whole body is tingling with a strange sort of panic.

“Okay, thanks, Dad,” Travis says. “I left my flashers on outside, but thanks! See you later, Mom.” Just like that, he blows out of the office, leaving the door open behind him.

“Sorry about that,” Tim says. He stands and closes the door.

“The game will be fun for them,” she comments lamely as she desperately tries to find her nerve again.

  Claire Fisher

“Yeah.” Tim returns to his chair. “God, it’s so good to see him… happy. You know? It’s hard to think about the bad years now. I guess it wasn’t so bad, but I was worried about him. He was so impulsive and angry…”

“Believe me, I remember the angry. All too well.”

And there it goes. Like a candle’s flame snuffed out, her resolve vanishes. She does remember those bad years, all too well. Travis’s anger toward her was palpable and painful. She worried about his future. And now he does seem happy--adjusted, settled, maturing.

She doesn’t know how she is supposed to threaten all that. She doesn’t want to be the one to send him into a tailspin.

“What’d you want to talk about?” Tim asks.

Her brain goes into a frantic scramble. She can’t say it now. Her throat is dry, her hands are tingling…

“It’s Spencer,” she says.

“What about him? Is he doing okay, or--”

“He’s doing fine, recovery-wise. I spoke to Philip the other day, though, and Spencer insisted on moving out of his place and back into the frat house. After what happened--”

“I don’t really know if this is our business,” Tim says, leaning back. He lets his gaze drift to the ceiling. “I know he’s your brother, but…”

Guilt flares in her stomach. She feels like she is going to be ill.

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says hurriedly. “I just don’t know what to do.” At least that part is the truth.

Tim takes a deep breath. “If I happen to see him, maybe I can say something oblique about taking care of himself. I mean, I donated blood to him--that has to buy me a little bit of attention, right?”

Claire appreciates the attempt at levity, and she joins him in a little bout of laughter. But it isn’t long before she makes an excuse and slips out of the office, too overwhelmed even to fake small talk about the holidays. She knows that she is not going to feel better until she makes this right--but how much more trouble will making it right cause?


How should Claire go about revealing the truth?
Is Philip going to take the situation into his own hands?
Should Jason let Natalie off the hook?
Talk about all this and more in the Footprints Forum now!

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Sun., Dec. 23, 2012

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