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- Danielle tried to resist the urge to drink. She jumped at the opportunity to do an errand for Molly in order to escape the temptation.
- After a romantic dinner, Brent and Claire returned to his house and finally consummated their relationship.
- Alex received a check from the movie studio, indicating that the film based on his novel had begun production. He tried to call Trevor to talk about it, but Trevor’s father informed him that Trevor was on a dinner date.

Brent Taylor’s bare chest heaves with forceful breaths as he lies on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. The living room is dark, save for the light of a single floor lamp in the corner. Claire Fisher is nestled between him and the back of the couch, with one leg splayed over his — well, over the prosthetic limb that he was, for so long, nervous to let her see. Is that why he waited years to do this? Because of that? Claire has been so gentle, so understanding, that he wonders why he ever thought her reaction might be anything else. 

He lifts his head just enough to look at her.

“That was… really great,” he says.

“I think we can top ‘really great.’”

He reaches down and pushes her dark brown hair out of her face. “Oh, do you?”

“It’s at least worth a try.”

“Are you sure you aren’t too tired?"

  Brent Taylor

“No. I think I got a second wind. Maybe you will, too." She slithers up his body and brings her mouth to his. 


With each block that she drives down, Danielle Taylor feels her head clear a little more. It is as if the half-empty bottle of wine in her closet were a spirit with powers, and it somehow poisoned her bedroom, and the further away from it she gets, the less able its supernatural abilities are to reach her, grab her, pull her in. 

All I needed was some fresh air, she tells herself as she pulls into her brother’s driveway, beside Brent’s SUV. 

She makes her way up the path to the front door and rings the bell. She waits, but there is no sound of footsteps from inside the house. Straining to look through the small panel of glass in the door, she can see a hint of light spilling out from the living room.

“Brent, it’s Danielle!” she calls out before trying the bell again.

The sounds of frenzied shuffling appear out of nowhere. She thinks she might even hear voices, though the door and walls mute it all too much for her to be certain. Moments later, the door flies open, and there is Brent, barefoot, wearing rumpled khakis and an untucked shirt buttoned three-quarters of the way up.

She surveys him. “Is this a bad time?”

“Nah. No. What’s—” He looks over his shoulder. “What’s up?"

Molly said she was going to text you. Caleb left a library book here, and he needs it for his Social Studies paper."

“Oh. Here, uh…” Again he glances around. 

“Brent, is everything okay?” She lowers her voice. “Do you have someone here?"

He hesitates, and his look is one of concern more than caddish amusement. “Yeah. It’s…"

“Oh, god. Sorry to burst in on you like this."

“It’s fine. You didn’t…” He waves her inside. “Wait here. What’s the book?"

She pulls out her phone to read the title, but as she is opening the note, there is a pained exclamation from the living room:


Brent’s eyes go wide. Danielle looks at him in shock. She didn’t expect the voice to be one that she recognizes.

“You have Claire over?”


Alex Marshall wishes he were one of those writers who is fueled by emotion — that, when joy or anger or fear or anything else rose up, so strongly that it threatened to overtake his being, he would have no option but to exorcise it by writing and writing until the feeling is vanquished. Unfortunately, that is not how his brain operates. The intense feelings are always too strong, and he has to wait until they dissipate so that he can focus again, conjuring up only the notion of the intensity so that he can channel it into his work.

That is why, by the time the doorbell rings, the document on his laptop screen has only a few more words than it did when he sat down earlier.

Grateful for the purposeful distraction, however fleeting it might be, he answers the door — and is surprised to find Trevor Brooks standing there.

“I got your text,” Trevor says, holding up his phone as though physical evidence is required.

“And you drove here instead of texting me back?"

“I had one from my dad, too. He said you called the house. I thought…” Trevor sticks the phone back into the pocket of his jeans. “I was driving by on my way home, so I thought I’d check in."

“Well, thanks.” Alex steps aside to let him in and then closes the door.

“Is everything okay?"

“Everything’s fine. Yeah.” 

Alex gives Trevor a quick look up-and-down. He wears dark, fitted jeans and a charcoal gray sweater; his quilted navy jacket is one that Alex has always admired. He looks so polished, so effortlessly put-together, and Alex is all too aware of the loose fit of his sweatpants and the way they don’t really match his lighter-gray t-shirt. 

  Alex Marshall

“Then what was the text about? You need to talk?” Trevor asks.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you nervous or whatever. It’s just… This is stupid."

“What is?"

“I got a check today. From the studio. It means they started production."

Trevor reacts as if he has received personally devastating news, recoiling as his breath catches. “Oh. Wow."

“It isn’t a big deal, in the grand scheme of things,” Alex says. “But it’s a reminder that Liam is in charge of a movie that’s being made about my book — my life — and it’s all because I was an idiot."

“You weren’t. That was my fault, Alex."

Alex swipes a hand through the air to knock down that notion. “I’m the one who chose to keep it from Liam. Anyway, we’ve been over this a zillion times — and, in the end, I get paid for something without having to do any work. I should be grateful."

“You’re allowed to be upset about it."

Alex shrugs. “Do you want a drink or anything?"

“No, I’m driving."

“Oh, okay.” They stand awkwardly before one another for a moment in the middle of the foyer. “How was your dinner?"

“It was good.” What appears to be a smirk lights up Trevor’s face. “Yeah. Good."

“Good.” Alex suddenly feels completely naked, like a fool exposed, and with his exterior defenses down, he can’t hold his thoughts inside. “Sorry I bothered you. I know this is trivial. I just got fixated on it, and— truthfully, you were the first person I wanted to talk to about it. Maybe that’s selfish and silly, but you’re the only one who understands how complicated the Liam situation is, and—"

“Alex, it’s fine.” Trevor smiles reassuringly. “I get it."

“It isn’t fine. I’ve been an idiot.” The tide that has been rising inside Alex surges up now, and he can feel himself being pulled under. “I’ve wasted so much time. I’ve punished myself, and I’ve punished you, and none of it is going to undo what we did or make Liam change his mind."

Trevor reaches for his hand. “I’m here now."

Alex pulls away. “But you aren’t. I mean, you are, but I spent all that time pushing you away, and now— Now you’re seeing someone, and it’s too late."


After Danielle leaves to go pick up Caleb’s book, Molly Taylor goes into her bedroom and changes out of the pencil skirt and silk blouse she wore to work today. Feeling much more relaxed once she is in yoga pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, she heads for the stairs to check on the twins doing their homework and on the chicken roasting in the oven. As she steps onto the top stair, however, she realizes that she is missing something. 

Reversing course, she finds the door to Danielle’s room open. Sure enough, Molly’s phone is where she absentmindedly set it down earlier, right on the credenza. She grabs it and turns to leave the room — but before she can, she notices the black leather boot lying on the floor.

It must have fallen out of the closet, she figures, noting how the sliding, mirrored door is open just a crack. She crosses the room to replace the boot, and when she is stooped down, about to set it next to its partner on the shoe rack, she spots something much more disturbing than clutter.

Seconds pass as she tries to process whether the sight is real. But there is no mistaking it: that is a bottle of wine with a cork sticking out of its top. 

Even though she knows it is far too soon for Danielle to be back, she looks behind herself before she picks up the bottle. Pinot noir. About half the liquid inside is gone, and the cork has the slightest split in it. Jimmy Trask’s words of warning come floating back to her:

“She didn’t seem like herself — at least, not like the Dani I’ve gotten to know since I came here. She was friendly — too friendly — and then she got mad, real fast. Reminded me of the Dani I used to know, way back when. When she was drinking."

Molly’s stomach clenches. It can’t be true. Danielle has always been so strong in her sobriety, such a rock. 

But the proof is irrefutable. She wouldn’t be hiding half-empty bottles of wine in her closet if she were maintaining her sobriety.

Nervously, Molly sets the bottle back where she found it, careful to emulate its placement as best she can; luckily, the sight has burnt itself into her mind. She closes the closet but then swiftly opens it again. She takes out the boot, places it back on the floor, and slides the closet door back to its former position. 

Then, with her heart racing and her head churning to keep up, she exits the room, consumed with worries over how best to handle this.


Brent sets his jaw. The house buzzes around him; the gush of hot air from the vents and the sweeping of branches outside the window sound cacophonous.

“Yes,” he says. “And that’s between the two of us. I didn’t know anyone would be stopping by."

“Hi,” Claire says as she comes around the wall from the living room. She has found her way back into her sleeveless black dress, but by the way it is gapping near the top, Brent can tell that she either wasn’t able to or simply didn’t zip it up all the way in back. Her hair is tousled, and Brent knows that he must look even more ridiculous. His disheveled shirt and pants might as well have been a clown suit or a nude body stocking, for as good a cover as they provided.

“I was trying to get my things, and I bumped my foot into the coffee table. Sorry.” Claire winces at both the lingering pain and the embarrassing situation. “Danielle, I know this must be a shock."

Danielle glances between the two of them. “Yeah. I’d say so."

“Brent and I have been seeing each other,” Claire says carefully. “It’s been gradual. We’ve been friends for a long time, and something… shifted. It’s all very new. We don’t know where it’s going to go or what’s going to happen."

Brent feels as though he should jump in, but Claire is handling this well — much more delicately than he was about to — and, judging by Danielle’s reaction, it is working. He doesn’t want to screw that up. He has interrogated enough witnesses to know how to read a situation like this.

“I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn’t want anyone to find out until we’re ready to tell them — if there’s even anything to tell,” Claire continues. “Especially the kids. They’ve been through a lot, and to throw a new relationship at them—"

“No. Of course. I get it.” Danielle nods, the movement becoming more vigorous and assured as it goes, as if her agreement is a flower blooming, its petals unfolding and stretching right before them. “This is between you guys, until you decide it’s anyone else’s business."

“Thank you,” Brent says. “Listen, what’s the name of that book? I’ll go find it upstairs."

“I’m going to go pull myself together,” Claire says. “Thanks, Danielle.” She slips past them into the short hallway that leads to the downstairs bathroom.

Danielle lifts her phone again and reads the title. As he goes up the stairs, surprised at how tired he suddenly feels — he always feels it in his legs first these days — he finally breathes a sigh of relief. This could have been a lot worse. 


“Whoa,” Trevor says. “What are you talking about?"

Alex feels so foolish that he can’t bring himself to make eye contact. Instead he focuses on the walnut slats of the hardwood floor. “You were on a date, weren’t you?"

Trevor stammers over his answer. “I mean— yeah, but—"

“You don’t have to explain anything. I’m the one who kept pushing you away."

As much as he wants to tell Trevor to leave, he can’t bring himself to do it. Trevor reaches out again and, this time, gets a hold of Alex’s hand.

  Trevor Brooks

“It was a first date,” he says. “With a guy I met on Grindr. He suggested we get dinner. I wasn’t doing anything tonight, so I went."

“Oh.” Alex lets this information sink in; it is both a complete relief and not one at all. “How was it?"

Trevor smirks. “It was fine. Sort of boring."

Alex is finally able to look up. “Sorry I snapped."

After shrugging it off, Trevor asks, “What are you saying?"

“That I blew it. I’ve been punishing you for not telling me about Liam, and me for not telling him the truth, and it hasn’t helped a damn bit. And now it could be too late."

“Too late for what?"

Alex knows exactly what he wants to say, but somehow, the words aren’t there. Or maybe he doesn’t have to say them. The intensity of their eye contact feels otherworldly. It takes him back to a moment years ago, when they sat on the rocky side of a hill together, trees shading them and the river flowing down below. Alex knew in that instant that he had found something powerful, something that would change him forever, but he never could have predicted the twists and turns that would follow.

“If I hadn’t had to indulge my— my fascination with Seth,” Alex chokes out, “we would’ve been okay."

“Maybe. Maybe if you knew a decade ago what you know now. Maybe if I hadn’t lied to everyone about my past. Maybe if I hadn’t left town after we broke up. Maybe, maybe. Alex, what do you want now?"

Tentatively, Alex rises up onto the toes of his socked feet, as he has done so many times in the past — he never feels short except when they are together — and presses his lips to Trevor’s. The taste is just as he remembers: a hint of honey, because of that lip balm he has always used — a scent that Alex has always found intoxicating over the years, no matter where in the world he encounters it.

They hold like that for a long moment, lips touching but no more, savoring the act of reconnection. 

When Alex pulls back, it is to say, “It’s what I’ve always wanted. Even when I thought it wouldn’t work, or shouldn’t — it’s what I’ve wanted."

“Me, too. I wish you had just—” Trevor shakes his head. “Forget it.” 

He kisses Alex again, harder, more urgently. 

“Jason and Natalie took the kids out to dinner,” Alex says when he comes up for air. “We should go upstairs."

“We’ll get there.” Trevor smashes his mouth against Alex’s again, and his strong hands urge Alex backward, lowering him onto the stairs. His hand reaches for Alex’s sweatpants, and the mere seconds it takes for his fingers to move inside feel like a torturous eternity to Alex. As their limbs tangle and their bodies become one, the rest of the world ceases to exist.


Will Alex and Trevor finally be together now?
Can Brent and Claire trust Danielle to keep their secret?
What should Molly do about Danielle’s drinking?
Discuss it all in the Footprints Forum now!

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Saturday, March 05, 2016

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