For Now and Forever
EPISODE #76 (Monday
THE STOKES MANSION - LIVING ROOM
As the delicate flurries of snow slowly fell to the ground, she stood at the French doors that overlooked the terrace and gazed out at the lake that was partially crusted over with ice. She tried to find the resulting metaphor for her own life, but found the thoughts difficult to bear. Everything that she'd ever wanted, all of her plans and dreams, had come crashing down around her. She hadn't realized how much it had all mattered to her until it was all gone.
"Judith?" Mark Linford muttered softly as he walked up behind her and placed his strong hands on her shoulders. "You're still thinking about the baby, aren't you?"
"Yes," Judith Linford muttered weakly. "It's the only thing I can think about. How...how could it have turned out like this? How could my baby be gone?"
He took a deep breath as he watched her closely. No matter what differences they had, his heart still went out to her for her loss. Granted, the child hadn't been his, but he'd never truly wanted anything bad to happen to it. Maybe it had all been for the best. Maybe now that his wife had no ties to Burt Lamont, their lives could return to something that resembled normal. Well, as normal as it could be for them. Without that child, Judith had no way to hold on to Burt and no reason to divorce him. Now, he had no reason to feel that his security and his social standing were at risk. That fact should have made Mark overjoyed. However, for some reason, the price that was paid seemed far too great.
THE CALLISON HOME - CHARLES' BEDROOM
"I just hope that Reginald and Trevor don't try to start trouble," Charles Callison muttered and he looked at himself in the mirror and attempted to tie his bowtie. "I know they've really tried to accept Burt into the family, but I realize how hard it must be for both of them. Their entire lives we've thought that we were the last of the Callisons...the ones who were left to carry on our family's name."
"Charles, you can't help it that you didn't know about Burt being your brother's son," Annabelle Lake spoke up as she stepped behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Burt didn't even know until his mother died."
"I know," he sighed as he hung his head, "but...I just feel like I owe him so much. His entire life, he's been denied the benefits and advantages that go along with our name. What my parents did to him and his mother just wasn't right."
"But the job of making amends shouldn't fall completely on your shoulders!"
"Then whose? Father's gone, now, Annabelle. I'm the only one who can make up for all of the horrible sins of the past." He eyed his reflection closely. When did he get to be so old? Where had all the time gone?
"Well, darling, I think this party is a wonderful step in the right direction." She glided away from him and reached for her mink coat that was draped gracefully over the side chair. It had been a Christmas present from him and she'd squealed with delight when she'd opened the box from Lerner's Department Store on Christmas Eve. "I think tonight's coming out party for Burt as a Callison will show him how much this family truly accepts him."
"As long as there aren't any problems with Reginald and Trevor," he mumbled to himself with apprehension. Seeing her awkwardness in pulling on her coat, he turned away from the mirror and walked over to help her. "I'm sure this has all got to be difficult for Burton, too. He's discovered a family that he didn't know that he had. He really didn't seem overly thrilled with the idea of this party."
"That's one of the reasons that I suggested also making it a birthday party for Stephanie," she explained with a slight tilt of her head. "She is going to be 19 in a few days. I'm sure that if Burt thinks he's not the complete center of attention, it will ease his burden somewhat."
"I...I guess you're right," Charles muttered, still not completely convinced about the intelligence in mixing Stephanie's birthday with the family celebration. However, considering what he had planned, the presence of Annabelle's daughter would be timed perfectly. He did, though, have other worries where Stephanie was concerned. "But, I'm not sure how Reginald and Jillian are going to react to her being there. I haven't...told them about this being a joint celebration."
"Oh, Charles, they'll be fine!" she exclaimed as she gently stroked his cheek. "You worry so much. Just relax and enjoy this wonderful evening." She stopped to glance down at her expensive diamond watch, a New Year's present from Charles, and quickly realized how late it was getting. "Darling, we need to hurry! We're late as it is. Fashionably late, of course, but it wouldn't look good to have us come strolling in at some ungodly time."
"Yes, you're right," he muttered as he suddenly became filled with nervousness and apprehension. "We do need to get going."
As Charles followed Annabelle out of the room and down the stairs, he couldn't shake the ominous feeling that had taken hold of him. Why was he overcome with a sudden sense of dread? What could possibly go wrong?
THE STOKES MANSION - LIVING ROOM
"J-Judith," Mark muttered awkwardly as he reached out for her. "I...I don't know what to say about all of this."
"I just can't...." Her voice trailed off as tears began to well up in her eyes.
She hated feeling so emotional and vulnerable, but since the loss of her baby, she hadn't been able to feel anything else. True, she'd found the entire act of carrying the child rather unpleasant, to say the least, and she'd longed for it to be over and done with, but not like this. Overcome with emotion, she fell into his waiting arms and buried her face into his chest as she sobbed. The irony of the entire moment was not lost on either of them.
"M-Mark," she spoke up as she tried to swallow back her tears, "why...why are you being so good to me through all of this? This isn't...wasn't...your child, after all. Why do you even care?"
"Oh, Judith," he sighed as he gently stroked her hair, "just because this wasn't my child doesn't mean that I can't grieve for the loss of it. This was a baby, after all."
"It was Burt's baby!"
"I know, Judith!" He clinched his teeth tightly. The true paternity of her baby had never been far from his mind. However, he'd worked so hard to convince himself and everyone else that the child was his that he'd grown to think of it as his own. Why did she always have to remind him of the truth? Why did she have to constantly rub her past with Burt in his face? Taking a deep breath, he carefully lifted her chin so that he could look deeply into his eyes. "Maybe now you can forget all of this foolishness as far as Burt Lamont is concerned."
"So! That's what all of this gooey sympathy has been!" Judith snapped in anger as she quickly pulled herself out of his embrace. "All of this comfort and devotion as just been a ploy on your part to ensure your status as my husband so you can continue to sponge off of my family's social standing!"
"That is not what this is about!"
"Oh, isn't it?" She quickly walked away from him and back to the french doors overlooking the terrace. "Just leave me alone."
"You know, Judith," Mark said as he carefully rubbed his chin, "what I don't understand is why you can't remember anything that happened the night that you fell. How exactly did you do that swan dive down the stairs?"
"I...I don't know," she sighed as she hung her head. "That entire night is nothing but a blur to me. I wish I did know what happened. I wish I could remember.".
As she stood and gazed out upon the frozen lake, she began to search the darkest corners of her mind. There just had to be some sort of memory there that could explain why she'd taken the tragic fall that had cost her the life of her unborn child. What had happened that night? The last thing she could remember before waking up in the hospital was standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up at the second floor landing. Suddenly overcome by a sense of dread and fear, she leaned forward against the glass of the doors and felt its wintry coldness against her forehead. She was determined to remember what had happened if it was the last thing she ever did.
THE GRAND SUNSET ROOM - MAIN BALLROOM
"So, are you enjoying yourself?" Burt Lamont asked with a smile as he glided across the dance floor with Janet Stokes wrapped in his arms.
"Oh, of course, I am!" she exclaimed with a laugh. "I just can't believe that Mr. Callison went to such expense just to announce your becoming part of the family." She paused for a moment and looked at him with concern. "The question is, how are you doing with all of this? I know you're not used to events like this."
"Well, it is a little odd," he commented as he carefully looked around at all of the grand decorations and elaborate evening attire worn by the guests. "I mean, being a Callison is still quite new for me. I've never even been to an event like this. Oh, sure, the Derby always has some grand parties, but I never made it on any of the guest lists. I pretty much worked the bar to make some extra money. I've never been on this side of things before."
"Oh, don't worry about it," she laughed warmly as she snuggled into his arms and enjoyed the comfort they brought, "you'll quickly find out that events like this aren't all they're made out to be. I've been to more than my fair share of overdone parties."
"There you two are!" Jillian Stokes exclaimed as she quickly approached them with her fiancé Reginald Callison on her arm. "We've been looking all over for you! I should have known that I'd find you out here dancing."
"Jillian, this is so exciting!" Janet smiled as she and Burt followed them off of the dance floor. "Neither one of us would have ever guessed that we would both fall in love with Callison men!"
"Yes, it's quite a shock to all of us," Reginald muttered under his breath as he glared at Burt.
"Reginald, I know this has been very difficult for you," Burt sighed as he reached out for his newfound cousin. "Image how it's been for me. I grew up my entire life thinking that the man that raised me was my father only to find out that it had all been a lie...a lie forced upon me and my mother by your family!"
"Do you have any idea how sick I am of hearing this same story over and over?" Reginald quickly pulled away from Burt before he could touch him. "You expect me to believe some outlandish tale about how my grandfather was this evil man who was so possessive of his son that he'd deny his own grandchild?" He clinched his teeth tightly as he tried to contain his anger. "You forget that I knew my grandfather! I was raised with him always around. He would not do the things that you claim that he did!"
"Reginald, not now," Jillian pleaded softly. "Can't we just enjoy this evening with our families?"
"No, he does have point," Burt conceded with a nod of his head. "Of course he can't see what really happened because he, too, was raised with a lie. But you've seen the proof! You know as well as I do that I am Landon's son!"
Janet's eyes grew wide with shock and trepidation and she quickly looked to Jillian for support. Why did they have to go into all of this again?
"B-Burt," she muttered awkwardly as she grabbed onto his arm, "maybe we should just...go get some punch."
"I think I'd like that very much," he said with a sneer as her took her by the hand and quickly stormed away.
"Honey, why do you have to be like this!" Jillian questioned sternly once they were out of earshot. "Ever since we found out that he was Janet's mysterious boyfriend, you two have gotten along great. Why does him being your cousin have to change everything?"
"I refuse to believe this garbage he insists on spewing about my grandfather!"
"Look, he's right! You've seen the proof. I know it all sounds difficult to believe, but your father believes it! He's seen the same proof you have and he's convinced. Why can't you..."
"My father also believes every foul line that comes out of Annabelle Lake's mouth, too!" he snapped angrily. "Are you expecting me to welcome her into our lives with open arms, too?"
"This is not the same thing!"
"Do you know what that woman had the gall to do?" He eyed her closely and paused to give her a change to shake her head in response. "Well, I found out that she convinced my father to turn this night into a birthday party for Stephanie, too! Not only am I going to have to deal with them publicly ruining my grandfather's name, now we're going to have to put up with Steph all night!"
"Oh, god," Jillian groaned as she buried her face in her hands. The longer the night went on, the more she realized exactly how long the night would truly be.
THE STOKES MANSION - LIVING ROOM
"J-Judith?" Mark spoke hesitantly as he reached out for her.
"Just leave me alone," Judith muttered weakly as she lifted her hand to wipe away the tears that were trickling down her face.
"Are you sure you don't want to come to this party with me?"
"I...really don't feel up to a party." She sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I...I think that I'm just going to stay here...curled up with a book and a martini."
"Fine," he snapped. "Just set here alone all night like you've done every night since...the accident. Shut yourself off from everyone and everything. See if I care!"
"Mark!" She turned to face him with pleading eyes. True, she detested him and their loveless marriage, but he'd been such a shoulder of support for her throughout the difficult time after the loss of her child. "P-please don't be like this."
He stopped for a moment and simply stared at her. The strong independent woman that he'd loathed and sparred with had turned into a weak, pathetic shell of herself. In spite of himself, he found himself missing their constant conflicts and shouting matches. Now, he felt such pity for her and that feeling made him greatly uncomfortable.
"I-I'm going to the party," he said with a firm, yet uncomfortable tone. "I'll be home later."
"Why are you so insistent on going to a party for Burt?" Judith asked curiously. "It can't be because you want to help celebrate his newfound family. You hate Burt Lamont!"
"I'm not going because of Burt," he growled. "I'm going because of your mother and Jillian and Janet. I'm going because the rest of your family is going to be there. In fact, I plan on having as little to do with Burt as I can."
"Ah, I see," she smirked. "You're going to keep yourself in my family's good graces. How typical."
He continued to look at her and fought to hide the slight smile that wanted to spread across his lips. Maybe his wife did still have her spirit. However, he gave no response to her accusations and turned on his heel and strode towards the front door.
As he reached the foyer, he stopped and reached for the telephone that sat on the credenza. After quickly dialing a number, he waited patiently for an answer. Finally, he smiled because of the lush voice he found on the other end.
"I see you haven't left for the party, yet," he said softly as he glanced back into the living room to see if Judith was watching him. He heaved a sigh of relief when she noticed that she wasn't. "Well, of course I can't wait to see you. Now, remember that we have to be very careful. We can't let Jillian or her family have any clue.... Yes, I thought you'd understand. I'll see you there, Helen."
THE GRAND SUNSET ROOM - MAIN BALLROOM
"Well, I see everyone's here," Charles smiled as he walked up to Reginald and Jillian as they stood next to Trevor and Grace. "I hope you forgive my tardiness. I was...detained."
"Yes, I'm sure you were," Trevor Callison remarked coldly as he shot Annabelle a hateful look. "Father, is all of this really necessary? Do we really have to announce our family's dirty laundry to the public?"
"We have to do the right thing." Charles' jaw tightened. Surely, they weren't going to have the same argument that they'd been having for months. "Publicly accepting Burt into our family is the right thing."
"Would you mind explaining how making this family thing a birthday party for Stephanie figures into this 'right thing' idea of yours?" Reginald glared at Annabelle. He know that Stephanie's roll in the evening was the result of her handiwork. Was there anything she wouldn't do to push her and her daughter's way into their family?
"I do not have to justify any decision of mine with you!" Charles shouted angrily as a sense of embarrassment over not having told them of Stephanie's inclusion washed over him. Would they never get past his relationship with Annabelle? Why couldn't they accept his attempts to supply their family with some sense of normalcy?
"Typical answer," Trevor muttered.
Charles looked at each of his sons individually. Reginald had always been the strong minded one while Trevor was the more introspective and artistic one. They both reminded him of the two different sides of himself. Therefore, he could clearly see where their opposition and resentment were coming from. Like him, they were devoutly loyal to their family and their family name. They were also devoutly loyal to their mother. Charles, himself, had been just as loyal until.... Well, he tried not to think about that anymore. There was no sense in dwelling on the mistakes of the past. He just had to accept the things that he'd done and work to move forward, just like it was time to move forward with his family's obligations to Burt.
"Just don't go out of your way to ruin this night," Charles warned sternly.
Finally, after a long moment where he kept his eyes locked on them to emphasize his point, he turned to the crowd of guests that had been invited to share in the welcoming of Burt Lamont into the family.
"May I have everyone's attention, please!" He spoke up as he tried to put aside his concerns for his sons and focus on the true reasons behind the evening. He took a glass of Champaign and a knife from a nearby waiter and tapped his glass lightly to silence the chatter in the room. As the orchestra stopped, he motioned for Burt to join him.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure that you all know why we're gathered here tonight," he began as Burt stood at his side. "Two months ago, our family received a great shock when we learned that our ranks had grown by one. If that new member had been a newborn infant, we would have rejoiced beyond reason. Why, then, should we rejoice with any less exuberance with the discovery of a long lost infant, now grown into adulthood? For that reason, I am proud to finally present to you, our friends and family, Burt Lamont, the son of my late brother Landon. I hope you'll all give him as warm a welcome into our family as we have."
The thunderous applause that rose from the crowd was nearly deafening and caused Burt to lower his head with a mixture of emotion, gratefulness, and embarrassment over the big to do. As he nodded his "thank you"s to the crowd, Charles carefully shot a cautionary look to his sons who reluctantly joined in the ovation.
"Now, if the conductor would strike up the orchestra," Charles continued, "I hope you'll join Burt and Janet on the dance floor. Let's make this a grand evening that we'll never forget!"
As Burt walked over and took Janet's arm to lead her into a dance, Annabelle quickly joined Charles at his side.
"Oh, Charles, that was beautiful," she cooed as she grabbed his arm and cozied up next to him.
"I'm so glad you thought so," he smiled slyly. "In fact, I have one more thing to say to make this evening complete."
"What would that be?" she asked with a note of curiosity. "Should I have the orchestra stop so that you can...."
"No, Annabelle, darling, what I have to say is just for you." His expression took on a serious tone as he looked deeply into her eyes. "Darling, I know that our relationship has been far from conventional. You also know that, no matter happens, Francis will still hold a dear place in my heart."
She winced slightly at the mention of his wife's name.
"However, you've grown to become very special to me. In spite of everything that's happened, you've become someone I rely on a great deal; and, for that, I love you...."
"Oh, Charles!" she sighed.
"That's why I want to ask you this...." He paused for a moment and reached deep into his pocket to pull out a tiny box which she eyed in excited disbelief. Flipping the lid open, he spoke again. "Annabelle Lake, after the divorce is final, will you marry me?"
TO BE CONTINUED
Annabelle gives Charles an answer and clashes with Francis.
For Now and Forever
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