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- Jason and Natalie shared with his family that they are expecting a child.
- Claire and Brent’s burgeoning romance hit a snag when she lied to him during the serial killer investigation, but after Philip was revealed as the killer, they agreed to start fresh. 
- As she grieved Ryan and became more depressed, Danielle continued drinking in private.


“Cable bill… junk mail from the bank… Oriental Trading catalog,” Alex Marshall says as he sets the pieces of mail on the kitchen island one by one. He pauses and holds up the catalog. “Why are we getting this? Is it 1988?"

“And how the hell have they not been forced to change that name yet?” Jason Fisher says with a laugh from across the island, where he is perched on a stool. 

“Good question.” Alex slaps the catalog down on the island but stops when he reaches the next envelope. 

Jason watches him carefully for a long moment. “What’s that?"

Alex looks up with surprise, as if he has only just realized that he isn’t alone. “It’s from the movie studio.” 

“Oh.” Jason sits up straighter and waits for some kind of cue about how to react. 

Hooking a finger under the envelope’s flap, Alex slowly tears the paper open. He withdraws the letter and unfolds it. 

“Wow,” he says quietly. “It’s a check."

“That’s a good thing… isn’t it?"

“Yeah. It means they started production. It’s…” He looks over the check in disbelief. “I guess it’s really happening."

“I know it must be tough for you not to be a part of that—"

“It is. But it could be worse, right? At least I get paid.” Alex pushes a smile over his mouth like a sculptor trying to work with some incredibly stubborn clay. “It really isn’t that big of a deal."

  Alex Marshall

Jason selects his next words carefully: “If you do want to talk about it…"

“I don’t. It’s fine.” Alex sticks the letter and the check back into the torn envelope. “What time is your dinner reservation?"

“Six-thirty. I should go up and shower soon. Are you sure you don’t want to come?"

“You and Natalie can have a night out with the kids without me. Seriously."

“Okay. Just know that we’d love to have you."

Alex responds with a more relaxed, natural smile. “I know. Thanks.” He glances around to be sure that Sophie isn’t lurking nearby. “Have you thought any more about what you guys are going to do when the baby comes?"

Jason hesitates, bringing his folded hands toward his mouth. “I have. Yeah."


“I’m going to ask Natalie — and Bree — to move in here. You’re of course welcome to stay."

“Thanks.” Alex nods, processing this information even though he was already expecting it. “I actually think this might be the perfect time for me to make a change, too."


“Yeah. I love living with you, and being with Sophie, but things are changing, and… it might be time for me to get my own place again. Especially now that Sophie’s in school — although we could work something out—"

“You know you are way more than live-in childcare for me. Even though that’s been insanely helpful.” Jason rises from the stool and rounds the island. “Having you here has… you saved my life, Alex. I was in a really bad place after Courtney died. I couldn’t have handled Sophie on my own, even though I didn’t want to admit that. And you uprooted your life and moved in and saved me, and you did it in a way that never made me feel like I was failing."

“You weren’t failing."

Jason accepts that with a tight-lipped shrug before continuing. “My point is, you’ve been more than just a roommate who helps out with my daughter. You’ve been like a second father to Sophie, and you’ve been the type of friend I never could’ve imagined having. Or deserving. Thank you."

Before Alex can respond, Jason pulls him into a hug. 

“You’re welcome to stay here for as long as you want,” Jason adds. “Natalie won’t mind, either — or if she does, she’ll have to work that out on her own. You’re family, too."

“Thanks, Jason.” Alex lifts his arms to return the embrace. “No matter where I live, you’ll always be my best friend."


Claire Fisher waits patiently as the server fills her crystal wine glass with rich, burgundy liquid. He then does the same to her dining companion's glass, and after they thank him, the server sets the bottle atop the pristine white tablecloth and departs. 

"Cheers," Brent Taylor says as he lifts his glass. Claire does the same and then takes a sip of the complex, flavorful wine. They sit at a round table in the middle of the Windmills dining room, with a glittering chandelier hanging overhead and a small votive candle burning between them. 

She places her glass down. "Sorry this had to be so early. But I know myself -- if I go home after a shift like that, I'll be too tired to dress up and go back out. Much better to power through." 

"I get it. No worries. I'm just glad we found the time to do this."

Claire feels joy radiating from within her and is unable to keep it from brightening her face -- not that she would want to do so, anyway. "Me, too."

"How's Tempest doing?" Brent asks. "Jimenez said she was shaken but seemed all right. And Jason says he's making her take a little time off."

“Physically, she’s fine. I would really like her to see a therapist, but she’s doing what she always does with things like this."

“Stonewalling you?"

“Yeah. It’s like she hears me, takes in what I’m saying, but is incapable of actually engaging in a discussion about it. So she changes the subject or runs off to do something else. It’s been like this since she moved in with me."

“I’d guess that has something to do with her background."

“I know.” Claire sighs. “After all this time, I don’t know much more than the basics about where she comes from or what happened to make her run away. I would love for her to be in therapy — just to process it all — but she isn’t interested. And she’s legally an adult. What can I do? Tell her to move out?"

“You wouldn’t do that,” Brent says.

“Of course not. But I wish there were more I could do for her."

“You gave her a home — a real home — and the security to go out and do good things for herself. That’s big."

“I suppose so.” Claire’s fingers toy with the stem of her wine glass. “As long as she’s all right, I guess that’s what’s most important. And she is. Even though part of me never wants to let her out of my sight — especially after what just happened."

“So that instinct doesn’t go away even when they’re grown-up, huh?"

“I wish I could tell you otherwise, but no.” She feels a little laugh slipping out at the absurdity of it all. “The older they get, the less able you are to protect them, no matter how hard you try."

“Great. I’ll look forward to that.” With an exaggerated roll of his eyes, Brent picks up his glass and takes a slug of wine.


“The pedal is stuck, no matter what I do..."

Danielle Taylor sits cross-legged on her bed, with her acoustic guitar in her lap and an open notebook beside her. She strums softly as she sings the last line on the page, hoping that it will lead organically into whatever the next one is supposed to be. But every time she sings that line, all that follows is a blank. She tries once more, playing the melody as she sings:

“The pedal is stuck, no matter what I do..."

Again, though, the next line or turn in the song doesn’t even begin to suggest itself. She knows from vast experience that, when this happens, it usually means there’s something wrong with the composition on a more fundamental level. And, as if it has been waiting for this opportunity, the faint itching that has been brewing beneath her skin — the one that is always there, really, no matter how slight it might be in a particular moment — explodes into a sensation of crawling and tingling that Danielle cannot ignore. 

  Danielle Taylor

She has been trying her best lately. While she was at her family’s home in San Diego over the holidays, she surprised herself with her self-control; then again, it is the same control she exercised for years on end, pushing down the urge to have a drink as soon as it dared pop up. She didn’t feel that she had enough control of her surroundings to risk it, not while she was staying in a room that isn’t really hers and couldn’t run out for errands without having to explain where she was going. She slipped only once, late on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to sleep, when she found two separate bottles of white wine open in the refrigerator and reasoned that no one would notice if the cheaper one were missing. And they didn’t, but that didn’t stop the paranoia from haunting her all throughout Christmas Day. 

Since returning to King’s Bay, though, her resolve has diminished. Her body seems to know, even without her brain’s assistance, that there is a half-finished bottle of pinot noir hidden at the back of her closet. Maybe a little of it would lower her inhibitions and allow her to dig further into this song...

As if possessed by a supernatural force, she crosses the room and finds the bottle in the closet. The requisite sting of shame washes over her, but she has become an expert in disregarding it; before she went into treatment, that was how she spent most of her waking hours, after all. And she wouldn’t be harming anyone. She is at home, she doesn’t have to drive anywhere, Molly said that she would take care of dinner—

A sudden knock on the door rattles her. Danielle stuffs the bottle  inside the closet and hurriedly yanks the sliding door closed.

“Come in,” she says as she stands up straight. 

The door creaks as Molly Taylor opens it and enters the room. “So, Caleb left the library book he needs for his Social Studies paper at Brent’s."

Danielle lets out an extended groan, hoping to channel some of her nervous energy into it. “And he just remembered?"

“Of course. Did you think he would’ve sat down and thought about it before now? Anyway, the rough draft is due tomorrow, so I’m going to run to Brent’s and get the book."

“Are you sure? I don’t mind—"

“It’s fine. Would you just keep an eye on the chicken in the oven? It needs to come out in about 15 minutes.” Molly shakes her head as she sets her cell phone down on the credenza. “I don’t know why I decided to roast a chicken on a weeknight…"

“Hey. Why don’t I go get the book?"

“Aren’t you working?"

“It’s okay. Really.” Danielle feels her resolve strengthen. It’s as if the universe just decided to save her from herself. She looks at the guitar and notebook, sitting atop the damask comforter. “I’m having some major writer’s block. Some fresh air and a drive might do wonders."

“As long as you don’t mind."

“Not at all! You relax and keep an eye on that chicken. Deal?"

Molly nods appreciatively. “Thank you."

“Happy to help.” Danielle completes the statement silently: More than you even realize. She puts an arm around Molly’s shoulders. “Come on. I’ll even bop Caleb on the head for you if you want."

“Now that, I think I’ll reserve for myself,” Molly says as they head for the stairs.


After Jason manages to get Sophie out the door for dinner, Alex collapses onto the sofa in the family room. Although he told them that he wanted to catch up on some writing this evening, he is far too distracted by the check that arrived earlier — and not in a particularly good way. Once he gives himself permission to spend a little time processing his feelings about the entire situation, he picks up his cell phone and dials a number. But the call goes straight to voicemail, so after the briefest of hesitations, he places another call.

“Brooks residence,” the voice on the other end answers.

“Hey, it’s Alex. Is Trevor home? I just tried his cell, but it’s turned off."

Patrick Brooks chuckles. “He’s even worse with the phone than his mother was.” There is an uncertain pause over the line. “I’m afraid he isn’t home, though. Truth be told, I was hoping he was with you."

“Really? Why?"

“He said he had dinner plans. You know Roz and I always hoped you two would make it."

“Well, thanks.” Alex tucks a throw pillow underneath his arm and leans against it. “But no, he isn’t with me."

“Should I let him know you called?"

“It isn’t urgent. I’ll text him. He’ll see it when he turns his phone back on.” Now it is Alex’s turn to hesitate; he doesn’t want to overstep his bounds, but he will also feel like a jerk if he doesn’t proceed with the question that is on the tip of his tongue. “How are you doing?"

“I’m okay. Getting by. Thanks for asking.” Patrick lets out a heavy exhale, which sounds fuzzy through the phone. “Trying to believe that every day will be better than the last."

“Good. I’m sure it isn’t easy. If there’s ever anything I can do…"

“Thanks, Alex. Appreciate it."

“Have a good night."

“You, too."

Alex ends the call. Trevor is the one person with whom he can discuss this entire mess — the one who understands the complexity of the situation with Liam — but maybe it was silly of Alex to try and turn to him right now. And if he has dinner plans that aren’t work-related—

“Stop,” he tells himself with annoyance. He shoves his phone into his pocket and propels himself off the couch in search of his laptop, figuring that he might as well channel this energy into some writing.


“Sure you aren’t too tired?” Brent asks as he flips on the lights in the entryway of his house. 

“Nope.” Claire unbuttons her coat. “Although that could be the wine talking."

“Then God bless the wine,” he says as he takes the coat and hangs it in the nearby closet. “Speaking of — I have a bottle of red open. Do you want a glass?"

She scrunches her face up. “Maybe a little. If you’re having some."

Brent laughs. “Somebody’s tipsy."

She keeps her face screwed up, though her mouth pushes outward into a grin. “What gave me away?"

“Just that you’re being adorable — in a different way than usual, I mean."

  Claire Fisher

“Good save.” She feels as if her entire body is grinning now; it has been a long time since a man, let alone one she respects and adores as much as Brent, paid her a compliment like that.

“Why don’t you get comfortable, and I’ll get the wine?” he says. 

As he exits to the kitchen, Claire makes her way toward the couch. She turns off the bright overhead lights and instead switches on the floor lamp in the corner. Its light bathes the room in a soft, soothing glow. She has just settled onto the couch when Brent returns with two glasses of wine.

“One for you,” he says as he hands her the glass, “and one for me.” He seats himself beside her — not right next to her, but close enough that the gap between them seems to be buzzing with energy and potential. 

“Cheers,” Brent says for the second time this evening, and when they clink glasses, the sound reverberates through the empty house, assuring them that they are alone and will not be disturbed. 

Claire sips her wine as she contemplates the next words that are going to come out of her mouth. She has to steel her nerves before boldly continuing. “You know, the last time we had wine here, we got interrupted…"

Brent turns to her with a knowing gleam in his eye. “But what else were we doing besides having wine?"

“Hmm… I’ll try to remember…"

“I think I’ve got it.” He leans in and gently touches his lips to hers. Claire feels the humming electricity from earlier crackle through her as the kiss deepens and grows. By the time she blindly reaches out and places her glass on the coffee table, she has long forgotten about the wine. 

Their mouths remain fused together as she hears Brent similarly discard his glass. His hands settle on her waist and then move up her sides. Claire sucks in a breath as they settle on her breasts.

Brent pulls back only millimeters from her face. “Is that okay?"

“Mm-hmm.” She wastes no time in resuming their kiss. Now she allows her hands to roam, too. She feels the firmness of his back, traces her fingers over the softness of his sides, and then lets one hand trail down his thigh until it comes to his knee. He flinches — involuntarily, she presumes — but Claire is the one to pull back from the kiss.

“Let me,” she says. “I want to see. I want to see all of you."

“Are you sure?"

She could say a million things: Yes, I’ve thought about it a lot, or I’m a nurse. A prosthetic leg isn’t going to freak me out. Instead, however, she maintains eye contact and nods, hoping that he will believe that she wants this and trust her. 

“Okay,” he says, and when he kisses her again, it is even more intense, and he doesn’t move her hand away from his knee...


Are you pleased to see Claire and Brent get more serious?
Will Danielle be able to resist drinking that wine?
Is Alex discovering something about his feelings for Trevor?
Talk about it all in the Footprints Forum now!

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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

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