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- Still grieving Ryan's death, Danielle remained on-edge but tried to insist to everyone that she was fine.
- Despondent over the murders' connection to his arena, Jason pushed Natalie away. Tim later got Jason to admit that he had been foolish to pick a fight with her.
- Reeling from her argument with Jason and his seeming rejection, Natalie got drunk and invited Spencer over to hook up -- still unaware of his connection to Jason. 

"Mom! I like this one the best!"

Natalie Bishop turns around and is surprised that she has to push two racks aside to find the source of the call. But once she does, her daughter comes into view. She is holding a beautiful white skating dress, adorned with some of the most elegant, intricate beading that Natalie has ever seen on any skating costume that is not being broadcast on national television.

"It's great," Natalie says as she comes closer. "You're sure this is the one you want?"

Bree bobs her head patronizingly, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. "Yeah."

Natalie finds herself wondering why such a gorgeous dress would be on the rack in a store like this. What store is this, anyway? She looks around but sees only racks and racks of dresses. For some reason, though, the strangeness doesn't bother her that much -- not when there is something more important to find out. 

She can see the price tag hanging from the dress's sleeve. Her fingers reach for it, but somehow, they are unable to grasp it. She tries again, and it slips away. It is almost as if it is falling through her fingers.

"What the hell?" she says, and she reaches for the tag once more, less patiently. This time, a distant bell sounds, stopping her mid-movement.

Her head snaps to the right, the left, and then behind her. But there is no indication where the bell came from.

  Natalie Bishop

Then it sounds again, more clearly.

Natalie snaps awake. 

Her head swims as her own bedroom floats into focus around her. The watery edges of reality begin to solidify. The bell -- it's her doorbell. 

"What in the..." she mutters, glancing to the bedside clock to confirm that it is as early as it feels. Surprisingly, it isn't. It is almost 9:30 a.m. She can still feel the weight of last night's red wine pressing on her skull, like a set of annoyingly persistent fingers determined to poke at her brain. Who could be--

She remembers a millisecond before flipping to the other side. He's still here. 

Spencer sleeps soundly, his face digging into the pillow in the intense way that Natalie can remember sleeping back before she became a mother. His dark hair is messy, pushed cartoonishly up on one side. Even with the covers pulled over him, she can see his strong bicep and firm chest, with a dusting of dark hair over it. Memories of last night's passionate sex hit her mind and her body all at once. 

She is about to ignore the doorbell when she remembers that Bree is on that Girl Scout trip. What if something happened? She reaches to the nightstand for her phone, but her hand comes back empty; it must still be out in the living room, she realizes. 

Careful not to wake Spencer -- though that might not even be possible, she reasons, considering how hard he is sleeping -- she draws herself from the bed, locates her pink silk robe on the floor, and slides into it as she slips out of the room. She eases the bedroom door closed behind her and hurries toward the front door. Her head thumps with every step that she takes. 

Her breath catches when she looks through the peephole. 


"Shit. Shit," she says in a low hiss as her addled brain scrambles to manage the situation with all the desperation of a cat cornered by a pack of coyotes. 

After a deep breath, she opens the door. 

"Good morning," Jason says sheepishly. He cradles a reusable grocery bag in the crook of his arm. She can see him, feel him, looking her up and down in surprise. 

"Hi," she says. It sounds more like a croak than her usual voice. 

"Did I wake you up? Crap. I tried texting and calling, but you weren't answering -- I figured you were still mad, so I might as well come over--"

"I had a few glasses of wine last night. And I didn't have the easiest time falling asleep. Sue me."

"No, I..." He hovers in front of her for an awkward moment. "Can I come in?"

"Jason, what's going on?" she asks, injecting at least fifty percent more annoyance -- if not outright anger -- into the words than she would under cleaner circumstances.

"I feel terrible about how things went down yesterday. I was an ass. I'm sorry. I wanted to talk, and--" He holds out the bag. "I brought stuff to make you breakfast."

Something inside her melts at how cute he looks, how sweet this is. And she didn't even have to pummel an apology out of him. 

A flood of guilt swiftly follows. She catches her neck craning reflexively toward the bedroom door, making sure that it is still closed. Something inside her warns that if Jason gets through this doorway, he will somehow be able to sense the presence of another man.

"Natalie," he says, his brow furrowing. "What's going on?"


Brent Taylor is shocked by the fact that he barely has to stoop down at all to hug his sons when they climb out of the car. 

"Da-aaad," Caleb whines as he reluctantly accepts Brent's embrace right there in the driveway in broad daylight. 

"What's the bag for?" Brent says, noticing the duffel bag slung over Christian's shoulder. "You have plenty of stuff here."

Danielle Taylor leans against the car, her arms folded. "He says he's sick of the clothes he keeps here. He has some new things he wants to wear this week."

Brent shakes his head. "Oh no. It's happening."

"What?" Christian asks, genuinely confused.

"You guys are turning into teenagers. And then it's all over," Brent says. "Go on inside. I got bagels."

The twins sprint up the driveway and inside the house.

"I feel like I miss ten days with them and I miss these huge changes. It's never enough time," he says, looking after them. Then regret lands hard on him. "Sorry. I didn't mean--"

"They're your kids, Brent. It's okay. My situation is different."

He thinks about saying that it isn't a "situation," but her life -- but somehow that seems crueler. 

"It's not okay," he says instead. "How are you?"

"I'm fine." It falls out of her mouth like it's been waiting there for the opportunity to jump. 

"You didn't have to bring them today. I could've come to get them."

"I need to keep busy."

"Okay. Yeah." 

He isn't accustomed to seeing her this way. She is normally so bright, so positive, but now there is something ashen about her -- not just her appearance, but her spirit itself. She wears a shapeless gray sweatshirt and seems to be ready to disappear inside it. 

"You're really missing him, huh?" he says. He doesn't care if it sounds stupid or obvious -- he just wants to get her talking instead of turning inward. This is one of those occasions where he is thankful for his police experience dealing with suspects. 

"I really am. I just keep -- I never even got to know what it was like to be married to him. He became my husband, and then he was gone. It's almost like it didn't happen at all."

"But it did happen."

She nods like she might not actually believe him. "We got our marriage license that day. Isn't that crazy? And we were talking about where we were going to go on a honeymoon -- Ryan really wanted to go to Iceland, for some reason -- talking like we would have all the time in the world…"

"You had no way of knowing," he says. "Do you want to hang out with us for a while?" 

"Nah. I have some errands to do, and I have a lesson later today."

"Okay." It's painful to see her like this, but he can tell that she is summoning every bit of strength she has to get through this. "I'm going to find whoever did this, and I'm going to make them pay. You hear me?"

"Yeah," she says, and when he opens his arms to her, she falls right into them.


Natalie could swear that the apartment is closing in around her, and soon enough, the bedroom will be smashed up right against her, and there will be no avoiding the truth. She has to move quickly.

"Look," she says, "there's something I should tell you."

He cocks his head. "What?"

"You didn't wake me up."


"I was in the bathroom," she says, covering her face. It isn't even an act -- she can't believe this is what it's come to. "I sort of had a-- a mishap."

  Jason Fisher

"What kind of mishap? Are you okay?" he asks, concern sharpening his voice into a fine point.

"Yeah. It's not…" She feels her cheeks flush. Here goes nothing. "I sort of clogged the toilet. I just called the super."

"Oh." In an instant, Jason both seems to relax and to be suppressing laughter. "You didn't have to tell me that."

"Well, I don't exactly feel sexy right now." She folds her arms over the front of her robe. "It's really sweet of you to bring this stuff over. But I don't want you to be cooking or us to be eating with--" She waves her hand in the direction of the bathroom. "With that, or with some sweaty, fat guy coming out to ask me a thousand questions."

"Yeah. Okay. But this means we can talk, right?"

"Yes. Definitely. I know you're dealing with a lot right now. It's okay." She glances back toward the bedroom again, trying to will Spencer to stay asleep until she can get Jason the hell out of here. 

"I can't believe I just told you that," she says.

"I appreciate the honesty." He switches the grocery bag to his other arm. "That's the foundation of any good relationship, isn't it?"

Natalie barely manages to keep herself from choking.

"Can we eat at your house?" she says, desperate to change the subject. "Maybe I'll meet you there in an hour?"

"That works. Cool. Yeah. I'll see you in an hour."

"Great. I promise not to mention my toilet again," she says.

"It's fine! It's great. I love toilets!"

"Shut up," she says with a smile. "Get out of here, and I'll be over soon."

"Okay. Bye," he says, and she has the door closed before he is even finished speaking. She falls back against it and breathes an enormous sigh of relief. She can hardly believe that she went with such a humiliating lie, but she learned long ago that the best way to disarm someone is to make yourself vulnerable. And what really matters is that Jason wants to patch things up -- and that he will never know another guy was here.

She is still coming down from her panic, her body flooded with residual adrenaline as if she just escaped from a wolf, when the bedroom door opens up. Spencer stands there in a pair of tight black boxer briefs.

"What's going on out here?" he asks groggily.


Danielle pushes her cart through the store. She knows its layout very well, well enough to move around efficiently and only pause now and then to glance at the shopping list she tapped out on her phone and make sure that she hasn't missed some item that is out of the norm for their household. 

After selecting a roll of aluminum foil and a box of kitchen trash bags, she pushes her cart around the corner and parks it out of the way so that she can review her list. She has the nagging feeling that there is something else they need from this section of the store. Truth be told, her head still feels foggy from her conversation with Brent… or maybe from well before then. No matter how hard she tries to distract herself, it is never more than a few minutes before thoughts of Ryan enter her mind. 

The trip they discussed taking has been possessing her lately. She keeps thinking that, if everything were normal -- if everything were right -- they might have eloped by now, and they could be off in Iceland or Sweden or whatever place Ryan would have decided he had to go, and they would be happy knowing they had the rest of their lives ahead of them.

She forces herself to look at the list on her phone. It says that she has everything from these aisles that she needs. But there was something else, she could swear… probably something she forgot to write down because she was so distracted. As she racks her brain, she looks up numbly -- and that is when she realizes where she is.

At the wine aisle.

It has become a reflex over the years simply to bypass this aisle. She normally pushes her cart calmly from the housewares section to the aisle where they stock the bottled water and energy drinks. It has been a long time since she even considered this aisle an option. But today, something about it calls to her.

She feels that familiar itch deep inside. She has become so good at suppressing it without scratching, at willing it to fade back under the surface, that its ferocity almost knocks her off her feet.

  Danielle Taylor

No one would know.

One bottle. She could buy one bottle, bring it up to her room, and drink herself to sleep. That's it. 

The itch intensifies.

"Danielle," comes a voice from behind her. 

She turns with a start. The voice might as well have said, "I know what you're thinking, you mess!" But it didn't. And as Paula Fisher approaches her, pushing her own cart, she has a perfectly sedate expression on her face.

"Hi, Paula," Danielle says, forcing a lump down her throat. 

"Doing your shopping for the week?"

"Yeah. The, uh, the boys are at Brent's, so things will be a little calmer."

"Oh, that's good. I told Molly that if you need a bit of a break, I'm happy to help out with the twins--"

"That's really nice of you," Danielle says, doing everything she can to resist the gravitational pull of the shelves and shelves of wine stacked just behind her, "but being busy is helping, I think."

"Okay. I understand that. But don't hesitate to call if you need anything." Paula's eyelids close for a split-second, long enough to transition the conversation. "Ryan would be glad that we all have one another."

"He would. Yeah." Danielle feels the itch escalating, desperate to make itself known.

"I just miss him so much," Paula says, and there is something akin to relief in her tone, as if she has been waiting days on end to say this to someone. "He would come see me for lunch after his Monday meetings sometimes. I keep hoping that will happen -- even though I know it can't."

"I miss him, too. I can hardly stop thinking about him." Danielle kicks herself mentally for the admission of weakness; she fears that Paula might somehow make the leap from that statement to Danielle's positioning near the wine. "I really need to go check out. I have to give a lesson soon."

She sees the disappointment in Paula's face and hastens to add, "We should get together, though. Maybe we can do one of those Monday lunches?"

"I'd like that."

"Okay. I'll call you. See you soon, Paula."

"Bye, Danielle."

White-knuckling the shopping cart, Danielle speeds for the checkout. She doesn't dare look back at Paula -- or at the wine. Relief and shame compete for dominance of her being as she tries to push away thoughts of what she was all-too-seriously considering. 


The sight of Spencer ignites a fresh spark of regret within Natalie. He looks terrific -- his body tight and leanly muscled -- but he isn't Jason. She tries to channel the anger and rejection that she felt last night, tries to understand why she gave in the way she did, but after Jason's sweet visit and apology, she finds it nearly impossible.

"It was the super," she says, quickly inverting the lie she told Jason so that she can repurpose it. "I forgot he was coming by to fix the, uh, the toilet in my daughter's room."

"Oh. Did you tell him to come back later?"

"I tried. He's old and grouchy. He said he'll be back in 15 minutes."

"Oh. Shit." He shakes his head to loosen up the cobwebs lingering from his sleep. "You need me to clear out?"

"I think so, yeah. I don't need him gossiping to everyone that I had some younger guy here."

Spencer cracks a cocky grin. "Yeah. No problem. I was kinda hoping for another round, but…"

As if to punctuate his point, he sticks his hand under the waistband of the boxer briefs.

"I am not having him come back and catch us like that!" she says, doing her best to make it sound like a quip. 

"It's cool. I'll get my stuff and go." He starts back into the bedroom but then turns back. "I had fun, though. We should do this again."

"Yeah. It was fun," she chokes out. Revulsion slithers through her entire body. She just needs to get him out of here. Get him out of here, and the rest is cake. She doesn't have to see him again. He'll never know that she wasn't as broken-up with the guy she was seeing as she made it seem.

And Jason will never know.


Can Natalie keep her secret from Jason?
Will Spencer figure out who Natalie is?
Can Danielle resist the lure of drinking?
Join us in the Footprints Forum to discuss it all!

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Monday, June 22, 2015

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