For Now and Forever
produced/written by G. Matthew Smith

 

EPISODE #106 (Monday, 4/1/02)
Same Day
February, 1936 - Evening

AN ABANDONED FACTORY - OFFICE
RIVERSIDE

"Sammy, get in here!" the man called out as he kept his eyes locked on Dr. Fred Rutherford.

"Yeah, boss?" Sammy Benedict said as he came rushing through the door.

"I'm done with Dr. Rutherford," he smiled.  "We've come to an understanding.  Now, get him outta here."

"Yes, boss," Sammy nodded and quickly grabbed Fred's arm and pulled him towards the door.

"One month, Rutherford!" he called out.

As the door slammed behind Sammy and Fred, the man returned the gun to its home in the top drawer and then lit a cigarette before rising to walk around the room.  Only a few brief moments had passed when another knock came at the door.  Immediately realizing who his next visitor was, he smiled broadly.

"It's about time you got here!" he called out.

"Well, I would have been here sooner, but I got detained," Joyce Preston smiled slyly as she sauntered into the room.  "You really shouldn't be calling the house.  Someone might overhear and..."

"Just as long as you're here," he smiled and then walked over to her to take her into his arms so that he could kiss her passionately.  "Just as long as you're here."

THE CALLISON HOME - LIVING ROOM

Charles Callison and his wife Francis sat in silence on the sofa wrapped in each other's arms.  Their meeting with their attorney Douglas Davis had long ended and their son Reginald had left to take his fiancée Jillian Stokes home.  Now alone in the house that they'd once shared with their family, Charles and Francis enjoyed the quiet reassurance that came from simply being together.

"Darling," Charles spoke up softly as he cradled her in his arms.

"Yes, dear?"

"You don't know how much these last few days have meant to me."  He paused and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.  "Having you here, in our home, it's almost felt like old times."

"Yes, it has, hasn't it?" she nodded with a smile.

"I know...that things aren't exactly like they were before."  He paused and took a deep breath.  "You're only just staying here temporarily until things calm down a bit, but I...well..."

"Yes?"  She pulled away from him and looked at him curiously.

"Well, it almost seems like things have never changed."  Charles rose from his seat and walked across the room to pick up a framed photograph of their wedding that sat on the mantle.  "But things have changed, haven't they?"

"I don't know if we can ever truly go back," Francis muttered solemnly as she hung her head.  "But we...could go forward, couldn't we?"

"Darling, I know that your staying here has only been a temporary arrangement until things settle down a bit."  He returned the photograph to its appropriate spot amongst the collection of other pictures of the Callison family.  "But...well...would you consider moving back in...permanently?"

"I...I don't know," she replied softly with a shake of her head.  "It may still be too soon to..."

"But I thought you said that you wanted us to be together?  I thought that you said that you still wanted to be my wife?"  He eyed her with confusion as he felt his hopes start to crumble.  "Darling, I want you here in this house with me.  I want you by my side every day and every night.  I don't want...this to be a temporary arrangement."

"Charles, I...don't know," she muttered and hung her head before going to join him across the room.  Once she was by his side, she gently ran her fingertips along his forehead and then pressed her palms against his cheeks to feel the full expression of his face.  "Darling, I do still love you.  I will always love you, but...well...we can't change what's happened.  I am still committed to being your wife, but..."

"But what?"  He pulled away from her and shook his head in confusion.  "We love one another and we want to be married to one another.  We both want things to be just like they were before.  Why...why are you so hesitant to come home for good?  Wouldn't that be the best first step to putting our lives back together?"

"I...I..." she stammered and looked away in pain.  Finally, after a few moments, she took a deep breath and turned to face him again.  "I don't want to rush into anything blindly.  I have every belief that we can get back everything that we've lost---or more accurately, given up---but all of the damage that's happened to us didn't exactly happen over night.  It can't be fixed in an instant, either."

"I...don't understand what you're trying to say."

"I'm trying to say that I just need time."  She slowly began to wring her hands as she tried to choose her words carefully.  She knew exactly how she felt, but was afraid that she might vocalize them in such a way that could derail her plans before they'd even had a chance to begin.  "Being together with you and having this family whole again are the two most important things in my life.  They are so important to me that I just don't want to jump blindly into anything.  I want to take things slowly.  I just don't want our eagerness to recapture what we've lost to result in more problems than it would solve.  I just need time."

"I...think I understand," he nodded and then rubbed his chin as he considered what she'd said before looking deeply into her eyes.  "Darling, I am committed to waiting for however long it takes.  If you need to take things slowly, then we'll take things slowly.  You and your well being are the most important things in my life."  He paused and reached out to take her into his arms.  "And it'll be easier because I'm certain, without a shadow of a doubt, that you will come to terms with everything that's happened and you'll come home to me.  We will be a family again."

"Oh, darling, you have to know that that's my fondest wish," she sighed and then kissed him tenderly.  "You and me and our children---just the way it was always meant to be."  Then, she pulled away from him and hung her head before speaking again.  "I...think that I need to go back to the penthouse for a few days."

"Are...you sure?"  He looked at her with concern.  "Don't you think that that place will be swarming with reporters?"

"Well, with mother standing watch, I don't really think that I have anything to worry about," Francis laughed.  "She'll definitely put them in their places."

"Okay," he nodded.  "You take as much time as you need to sort things out---however long it takes.  There's no time limit on my love for you.  I'll wait until the end of time if I have to."

"Darling, the next time I set foot into this house, I want it to be because I've got all my things with me," she smiled sweetly.  "I want it to be because I'm coming home for good and we're going to have a fresh start."

With a soft smile, Francis kissed her fingertips and then tenderly pressed them against Charles' lips before turning to walk out of the room.  Moments later, as he heard the soft click of the front door closing, he realized that she was gone.  However, he wasn't sad.  He knew that the next time he saw her walk through the door, it would be forever.

As he slowly began to pace around the living room, Francis' voice began to echo inside of his head.  "We're going to have a fresh start."  A fresh start?  He furrowed his brow slightly as the gears inside of his head began to turn.  A fresh start.  He smiled broadly as an idea popped into his head and he walked back to the mantle to pick up a photograph of his late father.

Reginald Roderick Callison had built the family home just before Landon's birth.  He'd intended for the home to be passed down from generation to generation---the Callison family home.  In fact, it had been the only house that Charles had ever lived in.  Now, however, as the idea of a real fresh start began to churn inside his mind, he began to think about how fulfilling his father's wish could also signify the fresh start that both he and Francis deeply desired.

AN ABANDONED FACTORY - OFFICE
RIVERSIDE

After their lips parted, Joyce smiled slyly and then paused to light a cigarette.

"So, how are things going on your end?" he asked as he returned to his seat behind the desk.  "Making any headway in your plans to get your rightful share of your husband's estate?"

"Well, there have been a few interesting developments," Joyce nodded as she sat down on the edge of the desk and crossed her arms across her chest.  "My husband's mistress and their bastard child showed up on our front doorstep."

"Oh, I'm sure you were shocked."

"More than I thought I would be," she nodded.  "That girl is a Negro!  This completely changes everything."

"And what are you going to do about it?"  He looked up at her and listened intently.

"What can I do now?" she muttered with a shake of her head.  "I can't go back and change anything.  Just getting rid of her would cause too much suspicion.  Besides, I can still use her.  I can get her to use that baby of hers to play on Sara's sympathies."

"Well, well, well," he grinned broadly.  "Joyce, darling, you're just as devious as ever."

"I try."  She rose from her perch on the desk and slowly began to walk around the room.  "Once I can get what's rightfully mine, we can leave this pitiful town and run far, far away.  We can put the past behind us and finally have a new life together."

"Yes, we can," he nodded with a smile.  "All three of us."

Joyce paused and turned to eye him carefully.  She wasn't necessarily thrilled about that part of their plan, but realized that she had to take what she could get.  She could always take care of that loose end later.

"You know," she grinned slyly as she walked over to him and took a seat on his lap, "it's almost like old times.  You and me...together.  She never did deserve you, you know."

"I have to agree with you, there," he replied as his eyes clouded over.  "But lets not talk about that.  Let's not dwell on the past anymore.  That part of our lives is over."

"I just couldn't believe it when I ran into you in Chicago.  I have to admit that you were the last person in the world that I expected to see."

"Well, all things considered," he nodded, "that's understandable."  He paused again and looked up at her before kissing her passionately in the bend of her neck.  "So, what are you doing to help me achieve my goals?"

"What am I doing?"  She pulled away and looked at him curiously.  "I think I've already done more than enough!  I am the one who led you to Albanyville.  If it weren't for me then..."

"Yes, but I already had leads," he reminded.  "You just helped to fill in the blanks.  I had the clue and you pointed me in the right direction."

"And now everything is coming together."  Joyce grinned and rose from his lap to again walk around the room.

"You've helped me and now I'm helping you."  He leaned back in his seat as he watched her slow pacing.  "Together, we can have everything that we've ever wanted."

"Yes," she muttered and again approached him to kiss him passionately on the lips.  "Together."  After pulling away from him, she glanced down at her watch and noted the time.  She had to get home before she was missed.  Both Dane and Sara knew that she really didn't have any friends in Albanyville and she realized that they might become curious about her prolonged absence.  "I really need to get back.  I have...some things I need to go over with Sara."

"I bet you do," he replied.  "Just remember, it won't be long until we'll be together permanently."

"Permanently," she nodded with a grin and then quickly left the room.

Now alone, he reached into the top drawer of the desk and pushed his revolver aside so that he could grab the framed photograph that he kept there.  After pulling it out, he stared at it wistfully for a few moments as a tender, yet determined smile crossed his lips.

"It won't be long now, sweetheart," he muttered to the picture.  "We're finally going to be together and now there isn't anyone who can stand in our way."

THE GARDENS RESTAURANT

"Darling, I'm sorry I took so long," Dr. Fred Rutherford said as he returned to join Leticia Stokes at their table.  "It took more time than I thought it would."

"That's okay," Leticia smiled warmly.  "Sometimes these things just can't be helped.  So, how's your patient?"

"Patient?"  He looked at her curiously, unsure of what she was talking about.  Suddenly, he remembered the excuse that he'd previously given for his absence.  "Oh, yes!  He's doing fine.  A little cantankerous, but he'll be all right."

"That's good to hear."  She paused and took a sip of her wine.  "Do you know how much I admire you and men like you?"

"Admire me?"

"Yes.  You're a doctor.  You save people's lives."  Leticia paused and looked down at her plate, feeling genuinely humbled in his presence.  "I'm...only some silly socialite who has nothing better to do with her time than play games of bridge and attend charity fund raisers."

"Well, you just stop talking like that this instant!" Fred ordered as he took her hand into his.  "Has Nelson belittled you and your opinions so often that he's made you doubt your own worth?  Leticia, darling, you are one of the most wonderful women that I've ever met in my entire life.  You're beautiful and you're intelligent and..."

"And all of that pales in comparison to the work that you do."

"So, are you saying that you want to go to medical school and become a doctor?"  He cocked an eyebrow as he posed the question.

"Of course not, silly!" she laughed.  "I'm not...cut out for medicine.  I'm just saying that nothing that I've done even stands up to the work that you do."

"That's where you're wrong."  Fred grinned warmly and leaned across the table to look at her intently.  "You're a mother.  From what I've seen of your daughters, you've done a wonderful job raising them.  They are all fine young women.  In my opinion, the job of being a mother is the most important job that a woman can have.  You're a success in ways that I could never imagine."

"You're...too kind," she blushed and lowered her head.  "I am very proud of my girls---even Judith."  With a smile, Leticia paused and again looked up at him.  "So, what about that dance you promised me?"

"It would be my pleasure," he nodded and then rose from his seat to take her hand into his and lead her from her chair and onto the dance floor.

As they glided around the floor to the music, Fred pulled her tightly into his arms and kissed her tenderly on the cheek.  Although she smiled warmly because of the kiss and rested her head against his shoulder, he could quickly tell that something was on her mind.  Something troubling had invaded her thoughts.

"What's wrong?" Fred asked as he pulled away from her slightly and gazed down into her eyes.  "I hope that kiss wasn't...out of line."

"Oh, no.  Not at all," Leticia smiled weakly.  "In fact, I rather enjoyed it."

"Then..."

"I'm...sorry," she blushed and then let out a weary sigh.  "It's just that...well...this is the first time that I've been out dancing in a man's arms since...well..."

"Nelson?" he nodded instinctively.  "He's who's on your mind, isn't he?"

"Yes," she sighed.  "I'm...sorry.  You've done nothing but be sweet and wonderful and I...can't get him out of my head."

"That's understandable," he replied softly.  "After all, he is your husband."  A fact that Fred was less than thrilled with.

"But it's not what you think."  Leticia lifted her hand to carefully stroke his cheek.  "Just being here with you---in your arms---makes me think about exactly what kind of disaster my life with Nelson has become.  It makes me realize exactly how much I've missed out on."

"Leticia, darling, you deserve so much better than Nelson Stokes.  You deserve a man who can love you and respect you and treat you like the divine woman that you are."

"T-thank you for believing that."  She smiled at him again and then slowly began to walk back to the table with Fred close behind.  "But I...I'm not sure that I deserve all of that.  I'm...not sure that I deserve better than Nelson.  After all, he does have his good points in spite of..."  She stopped mid-sentence and bit her lip.  Here she was going on and on about her estranged husband when she was out with another man.  She suddenly felt very, very foolish.  "I'm...sorry.  I shouldn't be going on about him like this.  It's not fair to you and..."

"No, darling, you're not being fair to yourself," Fred said sternly.  "You do deserve better than him!  Why can't you see that?"

"I...I..." Leticia stammered as she awkwardly looked away.  "I've completely ruined your wonderful evening.  I'm sorry."  She paused and took a deep breath.  "Maybe you should just...take me home."

"All right," he nodded, unable to hide his disappointment.  "If that's what you really want."

"I...think it would be for the best."

"As you wish, my fair lady," Fred smiled as he carefully led her out of the restaurant.  However, his smiles hid his own disappointment and frustration.  

He'd been certain that he was making significant progress in his wooing of Leticia Stokes.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the draw of her past with Nelson---no matter their current situation---was much stronger than he'd previously thought.  It was now perfectly clear that Leticia would be a much harder target than he'd originally thought.

THE WISHING WELL SODA SHOPPE

Maggie Callison pulled off her scarf as she walked through the door of the soda shop and sighed wearily.  The last thing that she'd wanted to do was meet for sundaes with Eliza Campbell and Stanley Fitzpatrick.  However, when Eliza called, she was so insistent that Maggie just couldn't say "no"---even though she'd desperately wanted to.

As she walked across the room and to a table, she immediately spotted Randy Lamont who was sitting alone and sipping on a malt.  Eliza hadn't mentioned that Randy was going to be joining them.  Of course, Maggie realized that her best friend was prone to more than a few surprises.

"Hi, Randy, funny seeing you here---again," Maggie laughed as she walked up to his table.  "I thought that you said that you were going home."

"I...um...was," he muttered as he rested his chin in his hand.  "I went home for dinner, but...I just didn't feel like sitting at home so I came back here.  I'm just killing time, basically."

"So, you mean you're not here to meet Eliza?"  Maggie eyed him curiously.

"No, why would I..."  Randy furrowed his brow as he tried to understand what she was saying.  "Oh, no.  You don't mean that you're meeting her here, do you?"

"Yep," she nodded.  "Eliza and Stanley, in fact."  She made a face and eyed him curiously.  "You don't sound all that excited with the prospect of seeing her.  I would think that you'd be tickled to see your girlfriend."

"Eliza is not my girlfriend!" he responded flatly.  "She's just...well..."  In fact, he wasn't exactly sure about what he should call her.

"Well, you two are dating aren't you?"

"Yes," he sighed.  "If that's what you want to call it, but...well...I think that rumors concerning our romance have been greatly exaggerated."

"I see."

"I mean, I'm not in love with her or anything like that, but...well..."  Randy furrowed his brow as he tried to think about how to express the nature of his relationship with Eliza.

"Well what?"  Maggie eyed him curiously.  She'd never been able to fully understand what was going on between him and Eliza.  Sure, they'd been dating quite regularly since the Fall Dance, but she'd always gotten the impression that he wasn't as active in the relationship as Eliza seemed to claim.

"I'm going out with Eliza because...well..."  He paused and bit his lip as he looked at Maggie.  "Let's just say that I'm really interested in someone else, but...well...I don't think she's really interested in me."

"What?" Maggie gasped.  "If you're interested in someone else, why in the world are you going out with Eliza?  I don't...think that's exactly fair."

"Well, I..."  Randy blushed slightly from embarrassment.  "There's really nothing else to do and...well...she really doesn't know how to take a subtle hint and I...well...really don't want to hurt her feelings by being too...well...you know?"

"I...think I understand," she nodded and then narrowed her eyes so that she could inspect him closely.  "So, who's this other girl that you're interested in?"

"Other girl?"  Randy's eyes grew wide when he realized that he'd been cornered.  "I...um...well...it's just...um...some girl at school."

"O-oh," Maggie muttered and then hung her head.  "I see.  Just some girl at school."

"Um...yeah," he sighed.

Just then, Eliza Campbell and Stanley Fitzpatrick walked in and she immediately caught sight of Maggie and Randy sitting together and deeply involved in conversation.  Eliza's face promptly turned a deep crimson as she felt her blood begin to boil.

"Would you look at that!" she snapped to Stanley as she grabbed him tightly by the arm and pulled him out of sight so that they could spy on Maggie and Randy in secret.  "Look at them all cuddled up together in that booth!"

"Well, I'll be," Stanley muttered as he kept his eyes locked on them.  "But, I thought that Randy was your boyfriend."

"He is!"  Eliza's jaw tightened as she felt her face flush with anger.  "And she's supposed to be my best friend.  Apparently, I was wrong about that!"

"Ah, Eliza, don't get all bent out of shape.  Maybe it's not what it looks like.  Maybe you're just seeing things wrong."

"Gee, you're seeing the exact thing that I'm seeing," she reminded bluntly. "Why don't you tell me what you see!"

"I...um...well..."  He furrowed his brow and glanced from Eliza to the other couple and back again.  "Ah, gee.  I'll never get Mags interested in going out with me again now!"

"W-what?" she gasped in shock.  "What are you talking about?"

"Look!" Stanley exclaimed as he motioned in the direction of Maggie and Randy.  "How am I supposed to compete with him?  Look at him!  There's no way she'd chose me over him."

"You don't have any competition!" Eliza reminded firmly.  "Randy's my boyfriend.  Remember?"

Stanley furrowed his brow and glanced towards the other couple and then back to Eliza.  For someone who was supposed to be Eliza's boyfriend, he sure looked quite cozy with Maggie.

"Are you sure?" he questioned suspiciously.

"Yes!" she insisted flatly.  "And I refuse to let that fair weathered so called 'best friend' of mine worm her way between us!"  Eliza paused and pursed her lips as she thought.

"W-what are you going to do?"

"I have an idea!" she exclaimed slyly.  "And you're going to help me."

"I am?"

"Yep," she nodded.  "And in return, I'm going to make sure that Maggie winds up going steady with you.  All you have to do is keep her away from Randy."

"Ah, gee whiz!  Thanks, Eliza!" Stanley exclaimed with excitement.

"Oh, trust me," she grinned.  "It's my pleasure."

THE SUNSET HOTEL - MARY'S PENTHOUSE - LIVING ROOM

"Hello?" Francis Callison called out as she pushed open the front door and stepped into the apartment.  "Mother?  Maggie?"  She sat down her heavy bags and furrowed her brow as she waited for an answer.  "Dorothea?"  As she let out a weary sigh, Francis immediately realized that she was alone.

Leaving her bags in the foyer, she walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa.  For the past few nights, she'd been staying at the home of her estranged husband, but now she had decided to return to the penthouse suite that she shared with her mother and daughter so that she could sort out her feelings.

Although she and Charles had proclaimed their undying love for one another and he'd asked her to make her return to the family home a permanent one, Francis still wasn't completely sure that that would be the best thing.  True, she loved her husband dearly and was committed towards them working through the mistakes of the past, but she wasn't entirely convinced that picking up and moving back in so soon after their reunion was the best thing for her at that time.  Of course, the few nights that she had spent in the family home with Charles---with him sleeping in the guest room, naturally---had proven to be the most enjoyable and contented nights that she'd had in months.  However, it was just too soon.  They'd gone through too much together---and because of each other---to just expect things to return to normal over night.

As she slumped back onto the sofa, Francis' head swirled with conflicting thoughts and opinions.  She longed for her family to be whole again.  She longed for those blissful days of contentment that she'd had before Annabelle Lake began to work her wicked influence in their lives.  However, although her heart was leading her home, her head was telling her to move slowly.  She'd just been too hurt by actions of the past to just dive right back in---no matter how much she desperately wanted to.

Quickly growing tired of the loudness of her own thoughts, Francis rose from the sofa and walked across the room to turn on the radio.  Perhaps a good evening drama series or maybe a musical program would take her mind off of her husband and the troubles in their lives.  Unfortunately, that was not to be.

"And in other Albanyville news," the announcer's voice came from the radio, "The district attorney today announced his plans to officially charge Francis Callison in the murder of Annabelle Lake.  Callison---longtime Albanyville resident and prominent citizen---was arrested just days ago as part of the police's investigation of the first murder in Albanyville in 30 years.  Although the police refuse to release details about their investigation, the district attorney reveals that he believes that their case is a strong one and a conviction is certain.  Callison is the wife of..."

"Oh, I...can't listen to...this," Francis said shakily as she quickly switched off the radio.  Unfortunately, the announcer's words began to echo inside her head.

"A conviction is certain..."

Overcome with emotion about the dire crisis with which she was faced, Francis tried to fight back her tears, but the stress had become too great and she crumpled to the floor and sobbed.  She'd spent too many long hours trying to be strong---strong for her husband and strong for her children---but now the dam had broken.  She was going to be tried and convicted for a crime she didn't commit.  How could she even consider reuniting her family only to be pulled away from them again?

The ringing of the doorbell drug Francis out of her troubled thoughts and she struggled to compose herself before going to see who her unexpected visitor was.  As she rose to her feet, she took several long breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves and pulled out a handkerchief so that she could blot her eyes.

"I'm...coming," she called out as she took another deep breath and headed towards the door.

"I was hoping that I'd find you here," Fred smiled as she opened the door.  "May I...come in?"

"Oh, yes, of course," she replied with her own weak smile.  "Come...on in."  She led him into the living room and motioned for him to have a seat on the sofa before taking her own seat next to him.  "I wasn't...expecting to see you tonight."

"I'm really sorry for just stopping by like this unannounced," he explained.  "I just haven't had a chance to talk to you for a couple of days---the hospital keeps me busy, you know---and I wanted to see how you were holding up.  I just took a chance that you'd be here and not...well, at the house."

"Yes, I just came back here tonight, in fact."  Although she was speaking to Fred, her eyes remained focused on the radio across the room as the announcer's voice continued to echo inside her head.  "This has all been so...difficult and...well...I-I..."

"Darling, are you okay?" he asked with much concern as he gently took her into his arms.  "You look as if you're about to cry."

"Oh, I..." she muttered softly as she tried to choke back her tears.  "I just turned on the radio and heard...I heard a reporter talking about...me."

"Don't you listen to a thing that those people are trying to say!"

"He...said that...that the district attorney believes that a conviction is...certain."  Francis paused and inhaled deeply as she tried to calm the queasy feeling that had taken hold of her stomach.  A conviction!  She was going to be tried and convicted of a murder she did not commit!

"Of course the district attorney said that," Fred tried to reason logically.  "He's got to appear as publicly positive about his case as he can---even if it has more holes in it than Swiss cheese."  He pulled her closer to him and reached down to give her hand a reassuring squeeze.  "No one in their right mind could possibly think that you murdered Annabelle."

"Do you really think so?"  She looked up at him with eyes filled with uncertainty.

"Oh course I do!"

"I...I'm not so sure," she sighed and then quickly looked away.  "I mean...how can I be convinced that a jury won't believe that I'm innocent when my own son doesn't?"

"W-what?"  His jaw dropped from shock.  "Francis, what the devil are you talking about?"

"Reginald," she confessed.  "Reginald thinks that I actually killed Annabelle."

"That son of yours is a fool!  Why, he should be hung from the rafters for even thinking such a thing!"  He pulled her even tighter and gently kissed her cheek.  "Don't you let a word that comes out of his mouth upset you.  I know that you didn't kill Annabelle.  You couldn't have killed Annabelle!  It's just not...you!"

"Thank you, Fred," Francis smiled warmly as she found comfort in his arms.  "I...I needed to hear that.  I know that...my family supports me, but I guess I just...needed to hear that from someone who didn't have to say it."

"Darling, I had to say it because it's true."  He looked at her intently and nodded as he spoke as if to reinforce his statement.  "I believe in you 100% and I completely support you."  He paused and took a deep breath.  "I know that this has all been unbelievably difficult for you---beyond words, actually---but I...well..."

"Yes?"

"It's made me realize exactly how much you mean to me."

"I know what you mean," she nodded in agreement.  "Difficult times such as this force a person to realize how much the people closest to them truly mean.  You are a dear, dear friend, Fred."

"A friend?"  His face fell slightly in disappointment.  "I...I'd hoped that we'd become more than just friends, Francis."

"Oh, you know what I mean," she blushed slightly.  As she fought the urge to laugh at her embarrassment, a warm smile crossed her lips and she sighed softly before looking at him again.  "Thank you, Fred."

"For what?"

"For cheering me up just when I needed it.  Thank you for being so supportive of me."  She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Dear, I will always be supportive of you," he said softly as he began to slowly stroke her hair, "and I will always stand by you.  In fact, I...I..."

"Yes?"

"Francis, darling, I love you," Fred seemed to blurt out.  "I love you with all of my heart.  I love you more than I ever thought possible.  You are the most amazing woman than I've ever met in my entire life."

"Oh, Fred, I...I don't know what to say."  Francis slowly pulled away from him, more than a little taken off guard by his proclamation.

"Don't say anything just yet."  His voice quickly took on a more serious tone as he removed his arm from her shoulder and reached into his pocket.  "I...I wasn't planning on doing this right now, but...well...you've always had such an effect on me that...well..."

"W-what are you doing?" she asked curiously.  "What are you trying to say?"

"What I'm trying to say is," he paused as he pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it out in front of Francis so that she could see, "Francis, darling, would you make me the happiest man in the world?  Would you marry me?"

TO BE CONTINUED

TOMORROW

Judith grows suspicious.

For Now and Forever
produced/written by G. Matthew Smith

©2001- 2011 Classic Soap Productions