Episode #722

- While celebrating Christmas at her parents' house, Philip proposed to Molly.
- Claire went to the Fishers' on Christmas to drop off a present, but as she watched the celebration through the window, she felt like an outsider and left. She went to 322, where a man offered to buy her a drink--and introduced himself as Jimmy.
- Diane told Ryan that Keith had offered to cut her in on the illicit dealings at the bookstore and that she had declined his offer. In private, however, she took a call from Keith, who wanted to confirm that their deal was still on. 


When Molly Taylor enters her parents' living room, she finds the Christmas tree in a depressing state: stripped bare of ornaments and lights, its needles littering the red tree skirt beneath it. Her mother stands over an open box, carefully arranging ornaments for another year of safekeeping. 

"This is always the worst part of Christmas," Molly comments as she removes her coat. 

Paula looks up from her task. "If this is the worst part, then we have a lot to be thankful for."

Leaving the ornament box on the couch, she crosses the room and gives her daughter a hug. 

Molly hands her a paper grocery bag. "I wanted to bring back those Tupperwares you sent me home with the other night before they got mixed up with ours. They're all washed."

"Thank you. Now let me look at that beautiful ring again," Paula says, taking Molly's hand. "Philip has wonderful taste."

Molly gazes yet again at the sparkling, antique cut diamond, flanked by a series of side stones. "He really does." She sighs. "I feel a little silly having another one of these…"

"Why? Honey, you're getting married. It's a cause for celebration."

"But it isn't my first time," Molly says with a shrug. 

"Oh, don't minimize it like that. This is supposed to be a happy time for you."

"It is!"

Paula returns to boxing up the ornaments. "A Christmas proposal is so romantic."

Molly laughs. "Are you sure you aren't the one who got engaged?"

"It's exciting, that's all. This family could use some happy news, after the year we've had." 

"True. I'm hoping the twins will take the news all right."

"They love Philip, don't they?"

"They love Philip as 'a guy who's around sometimes and comes over for dinner,'" Molly says. "Him being their stepfather could be an entirely different story."

"I have faith that you'll be smart about it. They know that Philip isn't trying to replace their father."

"And that's someone else I have to tell," Molly says glumly as she collapses onto the couch.

"I don't think Brent will be too surprised."

"Maybe not… but it's still probably going to be a blow." Thoughts surge through Molly's mind as she watches her mother carefully arranging the fragile ornaments. "Or maybe it won't be. It's a little arrogant of me to assume that Brent's going to be upset by the news."

"I'm sure it's going to be a little difficult for you, just like it is for you," Paula says. "You were married. You have children together. You both thought…"

"…that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together."

Paula nods solemnly. 

"I really thought that was it," Molly says. "Brent and I were… so in love. Sometimes I still can't understand how it didn't work out."

Paula's lips form a thin, stern line. "Brent went through something very traumatic--and his judgment ever since has been a little…"

"All he wanted to do was protect his family."

"And he put you all in danger in the process," Paula says. "Never mind the way he helped Claire keep that secret for months and months…"

Molly shakes her head. "I don't want to turn this into a round of taking shots at Brent. He's a good father."

"I know he is. And he'll process this news just fine, I promise."

"I hope so," Molly says, staring again at the dazzling diamond on her finger. 


Diane Bishop is perched at the breakfast nook, her laptop open in front of her as she peruses LinkedIn for a lead--any lead--on a job in the publishing industry. She can't believe that she is back in this place, jobless and desperate, after all this time. Her job at the bookstore might not have been glamorous, but at least it gave her some stability.

Well, it offered a facade of stability. She had to get out when she did.

She takes another sip of her French-pressed coffee and clicks through a few more pages. Nothing. Somehow, she exhausted just about every contact she had during the last round of her job search, and the thought of starting all over again makes her want to slam the laptop closed and hurl it across the room.

Perhaps the only thing that keeps her from doing so is the ring of the doorbell. All too grateful for a respite from this job hunt, she sets her coffee down and answers the door.

She studies her unexpected visitor with surprise and a bit of alarm. "What are you doing here?"

"Brought your stuff," Keith Huff says, holding up a cheap canvas duffel bag.  His usually scruffy facial hair has grown out into a full beard over the holiday, giving him an even wilder appearance than usual. 

Diane doesn't know whether to be more annoyed by his unannounced drop-in or his brazen idiocy. She grabs him by the sleeve of his old brown coat. "Get in here."

"I thought we had a plan," she says.

Keith shrugs one shoulder. "Thought I'd make things easy for you. Nice place you got here."

Diane doesn't like the way he is assessing her home. He was never supposed to come here; that's why she made arrangements for the hand-off to take place at the store. Her instinct is to demand to know how he found out where she lives--but, of course, that information is on record from her employment at his store. Dammit.

"Let me see," she says instead.

Keith heaves the bag on the khaki-and-white striped armchair, nearly knocking over a lamp in the process.

"Watch it," she warns. Keith pays her no mind and unzips the bag. The stacks of cash inside are immediately visible, and the sight gives Diane a rush. Security--at least for a little while.

"I'm going to count it." She moves toward the bag.

Keith steps back, holding his palms up. "Do whatever the hell you want. Just make sure you keep your mouth shut once I leave. A deal's a deal."

Diane flips through the cash. It looks real--not that she's any expert. "No one is ever going to know about your little real estate scam. You have my word."

"Not sure how much a blackmailer's word is worth."

"First of all, this is exactly how much it's worth," she says, gesturing at the bag of cash. "Secondly, this is not blackmail. It's my severance from a job I was forced to quit for my own safety."

Keith rolls his eyes. "Just don't say nothing to anyone," he says. "Not even Jimmy."

Diane looks up, incredulous. "You didn't tell Jimmy about this?"

"No." There is something suddenly shifty about his manner. "He wouldn't've liked the idea of paying you off."

The truth is immediately clear to Diane, but she thinks better of voicing the accusation aloud: Jimmy doesn't know what's really going on at that store. He believes they're just processing slightly questionable real estate money. And Keith is screwing him over.

"Fine, whatever. This looks good. Thanks for bringing it so quickly." Now I can get on with my life, she thinks.

Before Keith can respond, though, the doorbell rings again. Diane freezes and motions for Keith to be quiet. They stay that way for several seconds, as Diane hopes whomever it is will go away.

"Diane! Are you in there?" comes the voice. "I saw your car downstairs! It's Sarah!"


The sun is hidden behind layers of clouds, but its light still manages to creep past the vinyl vertical blinds. As Claire Fisher's eyes crack open, it takes her several seconds to reorient herself and remember where she is.

Her limbs are caught in a tangle of tan-colored sheets, and the man beside her is still sound asleep. As she waits for her mind to clear, she watches Jimmy sleep. He is indeed handsome--though his hair is too long and his five o'clock shadow seems to be a perpetual presence--and his body, only partly concealed by the sheets, is far more impressive than Claire could have predicted when he hit on her at the bar on Christmas Day. 

She glances around the room. The decor, if one can even call it that, is sparse. Aside from the bed, which is a mattress mounted upon a plain steel bed frame, there is simply an oak dresser with a TV atop it and a closet that Claire suspects would begin hemorrhaging clothing and God knows what else if its mirrored doors were slid open. She hasn't slept in a place like this since college, of that much she is sure.

She reaches for her purse, on the floor beside the bed, and pulls out her phone. It is late, after 9 a.m., but she doesn't have to work at the hospital today, and Tempest had the early shift at the arena. And neither Travis nor Spencer needs anything from her, as they have made abundantly clear. In short, there is absolutely nothing for which Claire has to be awake or present today.

She hears Jimmy stirring beside her, first with a groan and then the ruffling of sheets. Claire rolls onto her side and waits for him to open his eyes.

"Hey there," he croaks.

"Good morning."

"Thought you might creep out early like you did last time."

"I don't have to be anywhere today."

"So you're all mine?" He flashes a mischievous grin and then hooks a leg over hers. 

There is something intoxicating about it, about his playfulness, about having someone want her so openly. 

"I am."


He begins trailing light kisses down her neck and over her chest. She reminds herself not to flinch or react too self-consciously. It has been a long time since she was with anyone with whom she was so unfamiliar. 

"What time is it, anyway?" Jimmy asks, popping his head up to look at the alarm clock. He spots the glowing red numbers. "I have to check in at work at some point. We just had our manager quit, so it's been a little crazier than usual."

He has mentioned his work--and the fact that he owns a business, some store downtown--several times, but Claire has not pried for details. Truthfully, she doesn't want to know all about that, not yet. Letting real life creep into this is the last thing she wants right now. 

"Do whatever you have to do," she says casually. 

"I guess I can spare a few more minutes." He shoots her that grin again, and Claire returns what she hopes is a similarly carefree one. She is not going to worry about anything. Not today.


Molly waits, her coat still on and her purse in her lap, in one of the narrow, stiff chairs against the wall of her ex-husband's office. Periodically, she checks her phone to read a new e-mail from work or tap out a quick response to Danielle about Caleb and Christian's schedules today. After perhaps twenty minutes, the door finally opens, and Brent Taylor enters.

"Hey," he says, clearly caught off-guard by her presence. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming by?"

"I need to talk to you about something, but I didn't want to bother you. Do you have time?"

Brent walks around the other side of his desk and sets two file folders down on top of it. "Yeah. Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine." Molly shifts nervously in the chair. "It isn't a problem. More of a… 'for your information' thing, I guess." 

His eyes narrow. "Okay…"

"Something kind of happened on Christmas Day."

"Okay, Mol, I know you said nothing was wrong, but you're kind of freaking me out here."

She looks him in the eyes for the first time since he entered the office. Everything about him is so familiar, still oddly so comfortable, even though their marriage has been over for several years. She really did think she was going to spend the rest of her life with this man, and telling him her news feels like a violation of the vows they took, even though they are divorced. She swallows hard and then spits it out: 

"Philip and I are engaged."

She hoped that, after all that buildup, he might simply be relieved that nothing terrible has happened. But the shock on his face is evident. His body seems to buckle at the waist, and he steadies himself on the desk. 

"Oh. Wow." He lowers himself into his desk chair. "Congratulations."

"Thank you." She half-swallows the words, feeling awful for putting him in a position of having to congratulate her for moving on. "I wanted to tell you before I tell the boys--I wanted you to hear it from me."


The only thing left for them to do is fall into an awkward spell of silence. Molly wants to say more, perhaps apologize until it is all okay, but she knows that is not really possible--and it would be presumptuous of her to think that Brent needs or wants her reassurance.

"I'm sorry to bother you," she says as she stands. "I just thought you should know."

"No, I appreciate it." He stares at her for a few seconds that feel painfully interminable. "I'm happy for you, Molly."

"Thank you." She hikes her purse up on her shoulder. "I should get going. I'll talk to you soon--and I'll let you know when I tell the twins."


With one final look back at him, Molly lets herself out of the office. When she hears the door click into place behind her, she feels as if she is shutting a door on an era of her life, too. Unsure how to feel about that, she hurries quickly down the hallway and out of the building.


It takes Diane perhaps two or three seconds to process the fact that Sarah is on the other side of the door and to concoct a plan of action, but as tense as those seconds are, they might as well be hours. 

"Just play it cool," she tells Keith. "It's my friend."

She shoves the duffel bag under the couch and then makes her way over to the door. She opens it and tells Sarah, "Sorry. Come on in."

Sarah enters the condo and leans it to give her friend a hug. Only as they are separating does Sarah spot Keith. Diane can't tell if she recognizes the man, so she decides to get ahead of it.

"Sarah, this is Keith, one of the owners of the bookstore," she says. "Keith, this is my friend, Sarah. Keith was just on his way out."

Diane can see Keith eyeing Sarah up and down, in his predictably lecherous way. 

She places a hand on Keith's back to guide him toward the door. "It was good to see you, Keith. Best of luck with everything."

"Uh, yeah. Same," he says as Diane opens the door. In another instant, he is outside, and she is closing the door on him.

Sarah furrows her brow. "What was that all about?"

Diane's heart pounds. "Get this: they're begging me to come back. The store is already a total disaster area. Neither of those imbeciles has any idea what's going on."

"You aren't considering it, are you? Ryan said they even made you an offer to cut you in on… whatever they have going on."

Diane shakes her head vigorously, probably too much so. "Absolutely not. Now tell me what's going on with you."

"I was running errands around here and came by on an impulse. I could use a talk. I didn't tell you everything that happened on Christmas."

"Oh yeah? Does this have to do with you and Matt?"

Sarah bows her head in something that looks very comparable to defeat. "Yeah."

"Well, get your ass on that couch, and I'll make you a cup of coffee." Diane moves into the small but finely appointed kitchen. "What happened?"

The answer doesn't come quickly--in fact, it doesn't come at all. Instead Sarah says, "Are you sure everything is okay? It seems really weird that Keith would drop by your place after you quit. He didn't threaten you, did he?"

Diane casts a glance at the bottom of the couch. She can see only a hint of the duffel bag; there is little or no chance that Sarah will notice it.

"Nope," she says as she sets about making Sarah's coffee. "I have everything under control. I promise."


Has Diane gotten in over her head?
Is it wise for Claire to get involved with Jimmy?
How will Brent react in the wake of Molly's news?
Discuss all this and more in the Footprints Forum now!

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