For Now and Forever
EPISODE #82 (Monday,
THE PAGE TURNER BOOKSTORE
"I had a hunch that you'd be working here today, so I just stopped in to see you," Dane Manchester smiled as he leaned against the counter.
"I...I'm flattered." Grace Davis' breath caught in her throat as she felt her heart skip not one beat, but two.
"In fact, there's a question that I wanted to ask you." He paused and looked her dead in the eyes. "Actually, I was going to ask you at the party, but I didn't get a chance."
"I was just wondering if...." He looked away as if he were a tad embarrassed by what he was about to ask. Of course, he wasn't, but it was a nice routine. "Well, I was wondering if you still had that little crush on me like you did last year."
As he kept his eyes locked on her, Grace felt her knees grow weak. Did she still have a crush on Dane after all that time? Were the feelings that she'd once felt not quite as in the distant past as she'd once thought? Now that she found herself cornered by his blatant question, she wasn't sure what to answer.
THE LAKE APARTMENT - LIVING ROOM
"Here, have some hot cocoa," Patterson Monroe said softly as he walked into the room and handed Stephanie Lake the steaming cup.
She took it from him and then took a long sip before curling herself up into a ball on the sofa.
"I...I just can't believe it," she muttered shakily. "She's...gone."
"I know, Steph. I know." He sat down next to her and gently wrapped his arm around her and began to stroke her hair. "I can't believe it, myself."
"This is...all m-my fault." She lowered her head as she tried to choke back her tears. "If I hadn't told what she did to Mr. Callison, none of this would ever have happened. I'd still have...my mother."
"Honey, you can't think like that." He carefully held her head against his shoulder as she sobbed softly. "None of this is your fault."
"Yes, it is! If I'd...if I'd just kept my big trap shut, my mother would still be alive! If it hadn't been for me, than none of this would have happened!"
Seeing her emotional state, Patterson bit his lip and began to grow slightly uncomfortable. If anyone should bear the brunt of the blame, it should be him. After all, he was the one who'd pressured her into telling the truth about what she'd learned concerning her mother's drugging of Charles Callison.
"I...I killed my own mother as surely as if I were the one who'd stabbed her! In fact, I did stab her...right in the back!"
"Stephanie, it's going to be okay. I promise you that everything's going to be okay." He held her tightly in his arms and slowly rocked her back and forth in hopes of somehow easing her sense of grief and burden. "I know what you're going through. I know this is tragic and I know this is rough, but it's going to pass with time. I know that doesn't mean much now, but..."
"Don't patronize me! You don't know anything about..." No sooner than the words were half-way out of her mouth, she immediately realized what she'd said and quickly bit her lip. "O-oh, Patterson, I'm so sorry! I...I forgot."
"It's okay," he sighed. "I don't...talk about it much so it's kind of easy to forget. But...I do know what you're going through. It really hasn't been that long ago that I lost my own parents in that plane crash. I know exactly what you're feeling. I suffered through enormous amounts of guilt for quite a while."
"Guilt?" She looked up and eyed him curiously. "Why did you feel guilty? They died in an accident. They weren't savagely murdered like...like..."
"True, the circumstances are different, but...I just couldn't get over the idea that if I'd only been on that plane with them, I might have been able to do something to save them. If only I'd been there."
"Oh, Paddy, if you'd been on that plane, you would have died with them." Stephanie looked deeply into his eyes and tried to imagine her life without him. That thought nearly sent her into a panic. She'd grown to rely on him so much that she didn't know what she'd do if she didn't have him in her life. "And...and what would...Todd do without you?"
"I know you're right. It took me a long time to come to terms with that, but I know in my heart that I was kept off of that plane for a reason." He pulled her into his arms again and rested his cheek on her head. "Gee, who would ever have thought that we, of all people, would have so much in common."
"What?" She looked up at him curiously.
"We're both orphans." He let out a weary sigh. "When it comes down to it, in many ways we're both exactly alike."
"W-we're nothing alike!" Stephanie shouted as she pushed her way out of his arms and bolted from the couch. "You are a kind a decent human being and I'm...I'm..."
"Honey, don't do this to yourself."
"If it hadn't been for me, she'd still be alive!" She turned her back to him, unable to deal with the enormous guilt over what she'd done. "If it weren't for me, none of this would have happened!"
As Patterson sat in silence, his heart broke for her. He remembered the pain of loosing his parents all too well and he physically hurt for her to have to go through the same thing. How could he get her to see that revealing the truth about her mother's actions hadn't caused her death? How could he convince her that she wasn't responsible?
THE CALLISON HOME - LIVING ROOM
"Honestly, I just don't know what's wrong with that boy!" Charles Callison fumed as he stormed out of the office and into the living room. "You'd think that if you were under investigation for murder, you'd at least have something to say in your defense!"
"You mean Reginald still isn't saying anything about what happened that night?" Francis turned from her seated position on the sofa to look up at her estranged husband with an intense feeling of concern and worry.
"I swear, he's almost acting like he's guilty!" He quickly lit a cigarette and began to pace around the room. "I just don't know what's gotten into him."
"Oh, this is all my fault," she muttered as she covered her mouth and shook her head, still slightly in shock over everything that had happened. "This is all my fault!"
"Francis, how is this your fault?" He paused and looked at her curiously. "You've done nothing wrong in all of this."
"Well, I..." She looked away and bit her lip as she tried to fight back her tears. "I mean, if I hadn't gotten him so riled up over Annabelle and what she did to you at the engagement party, he would never had set out to find her and..."
"Darling, you can't blame yourself for this." Charles sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms. "You had no idea that any of this was going to happen. If anyone's to blame for anything, it's me. I'm the old fool that believed her lies and brought her into our lives. I'm the one who worked double time to force her onto everyone."
"Charles, you can't think like that." She looked up at him and gently stroked his cheek. "You had no idea just how low that woman would sink in her pursuit of you. None of us did!"
"I feel like an old fool," he sighed, more than a little embarrassed by his gullibility.
Pausing for a moment, he took in the joy and comfort he felt in having Francis' in his arms again. It had been so long since they'd been this close...this open to one another. Oh, how he'd missed her terribly. No matter what had happened in his relationship with Annabelle, he knew that she would never have been able to replace Francis inside his heart.
"Darling?" he muttered hesitantly.
"I know, now, that if it hadn't been for that blasted drug that Annabelle forced on me I would never have betrayed you." He glanced down at his free hand that rested in his lap and fought to keep it from shaking with nervousness. "I always loved you and I never stopped. I only...pushed you away because I'd hurt you. I felt so horrible for having betrayed you and..."
"Oh, I know, Charles." She turned to face him and looked deeply into his eyes--the same eyes she looked so deeply into for nearly 24 years.
"Well, I...I just wanted to know..." He paused as he tried to find the courage and the words. "I wanted to know if you could ever forgive me for everything that I've done. Francis, could you forgive me and be in love with me again as my wife?"
She eyed him intently as she hung on every word. Could she find the strength to move past all of the hurtful things that had been said and done? Could she find it inside herself to put the past behind them and move on into the future together?
THE PAGE TURNER BOOKSTORE
"So, Grace, do you still have that crush on me?" Dane asked with a sly smile as he eyed her closely.
"I...I..." she stammered awkwardly as she immediately looked away from him. "I think I do have a new book of historical fiction that came in just last week. It's the newest book from Callison Publications...one of their recent discoveries and..."
"You're avoiding my question, Grace." He reached across the counter and grabbed her hand, forcing her to turn in his direction. "Why is that?"
"I...I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, I really think you do." His voice softened and took on a low, throaty tone. "I think you're avoiding giving me a straight answer because you do still have that crush on me!"
"Oh, don't be silly, Dane," she laughed weakly. "That was last spring! So much has happened since then and I..."
"Grace, you don't just forget your first crush." He looked at her and grinned as he still held onto her hand. "A first crush is a very strong and powerful thing. In fact, I don't think those feelings ever completely go away."
She eyed him carefully and felt her breathing start to grow shallow. He knew a lot more about what he was talking about than she cared to let on. She'd thought that she'd long gotten over Dane and his suave charms. However, she suddenly found them staring her in the face and they were most definitely affecting her more than she thought was still possible.
"What makes you think you were my first crush?" she said with a casual laugh as if in an attempt to avoid lending any weight to his comments. "Actually, I think that was Henry Swackhammer in the third grade."
"You don't fool me, Grace," he murmured as he refused to look away from her. "I could tell by that kiss at the engagement party how you really felt."
"Dane, that was last summer!"
"And...and..." She began to feel herself growing increasingly nervous. "And I'm seeing Trevor! I do have a boyfriend, you know. I don't think it's the least bit appropriate for you to be asking about whatever feelings I might have for you."
"Ah," he smiled. "So you do have feelings for me!"
Grace felt her face turn beat red as she blushed. She'd thrown herself right into that one without even looking! "You know what I mean!"
"It must be rather awkward," Dane chuckled. "You dating your sister-in-law's ex-boyfriend and all. That must make for some rather interesting family dinners."
"Trevor and Lorraine were over a long time ago," she said flatly. "That has nothing to do with our relationship."
"Well, if you say so." He flashed her another sly grin.
"Look, I-I really need to...get back to work," she stammered as she grew more and more nervous. "I have a lot of books to sort."
"I understand." His eyes burned a hole into her and his hand remained on top of hers. "But...let me just leave you with something to think about."
"W-what do you mean?" Grace turned to look at him curiously.
In an instant, Dane leaned further across the counter and pressed his lips against hers. Her eyes grew wide from shock, but she couldn't force herself to pull away. After a few moments that seemed like an eternity, he stepped back, once again flashed her his charming grin, and quickly hurried out of the store leaving her extremely torn and confused about long forgotten feelings that had once again started to bubble to the surface.
THE LAKE APARTMENT - LIVING ROOM
"Stephanie, you are not the one to blame in any of this." Patterson rose from his position on the sofa and walked over to her and again took her into his arms. "If anyone's to blame, it's your mother. She's the one who did all of those horrible things. If it weren't for that..."
"I can't believe that you're blaming my mother for her own death!" Stephanie snapped as she spun around to face him. "How could you?"
"I'm just saying that whatever trouble your mother found, she brought it on herself." He looked at her earnestly in hopes that she would understand what he was trying to say. "That's all. Of course, she's not responsible for her own death, but she is responsible for what she did before hand."
"I...I know you're right," she sighed. "I'm sorry I took your head off."
"Under the circumstances, it's completely understandable."
"It's just that...well..." She turned her head away and bit her lip. "On top of everything else...as if what happened to Momma wasn't enough...now I have to figure out what I'm going to do about school."
"School?" Patterson stepped back a little and furrowed his brow as he tried to figure out what she was trying to say. "I'm sure you're professors are going to understand that you need to take some time off because of this. They aren't so uptight and professional that they can't comprehend how difficult this is for you."
"Oh, no. It's not that." Stephanie paused and inhaled deeply. "It's just that, well, I've been working in the admissions office just to pay for school. Momma was working to take care of all of my other expenses---rent, food, that kind of stuff."
"O-oh, I think I understand."
"There's no way I can support myself and go to school just by work study!" She bit her lip and looked away, hoping to hide the desperation that she was feeling. "I...I'm not like you. My parents didn't have a ton of money to leave to me when...they died."
"My parents didn't have a ton of money," he laughed awkwardly. "True, my father made very good money as a doctor, but we didn't live extravagantly. My parents were very frugal. What they didn't absolutely need, they put back and saved. That's the money that they left to me in trust. That's the only reason I can pay to live and go to school and take care of Todd. If it weren't for that, I don't know what I'd do."
"Well, I'm not as lucky as you are," she sighed. "I...I guess I'm just gonna have to drop out of school and find a real job."
"Oh, Stephanie, don't do that." Patterson's eyes filled with concern and worry. "We can think of something."
"There's just not enough hours in the day for me to work to support myself, make money for school, and go to school! Besides, I showed you my grades from last semester. I almost feel like I'm wasting my money on school as it is."
"Well..." He rested his chin in his hand a nodded as he racked his brain trying to come up with a solution. "You could move into my house. There is that spare bedroom. At least that would take care of the place to live problem."
"Me? Move in with you?" Stephanie gasped. "Have you lost your mind? I...I couldn't! Paddy, there's no way we could live together!"
"We'd just be like roommates."
"But...but...no!" She shook her head vigorously and waved her hands at the preposterousness of the idea. "We can't live together! We're not married! W-weren't not even dating!"
Patterson's face immediately fell. True, they weren't "officially" dating, but...well, he had been finding himself growing more and more fond of her. Actually, he was beginning to feel much more than fondness for her.
"Oh, don't look at me like that!"
"W-well," he stammered, "I'm just a little shocked, that's all. I never suspected you, of all people, to suddenly turn so provincial."
"This is the new me that you've fought so hard to bring out," she reminded with a slight smile. "Us living together just wouldn't be right. What would everyone think?"
"I...I guess you're right," he sighed. "It wouldn't look too appropriate. Well, don't worry. I'll help you figure out something." He took her into his arms again and held her tightly in an attempt to reassure her. He just had to figure out some way to help her through everything.
THE CALLISON HOME - LIVING ROOM
"Could you forgive me?" Charles asked as he stared at Francis with pleading eyes.
"I...I don't know," she muttered softly and quickly looked away.
"We all know, now, that nothing that happened that night at the engagement party was my fault. It was all Annabelle!" He held her hand tightly in his own as his heart began to race. "If...it hadn't been for her, none of this would ever have happened."
"I...I know that, Charles," she sighed. "I know that if she'd never drugged you, you would never have strayed, but you did! I can't push that out of my head so easily."
"But, darling, I love you so much." He reached out and gently took her chin into his hand and turned her face so that she couldn't avoid looking at him. "I never stopped loving you. No matter what was going on between me and Annabelle, in my heart I always wished that it was you."
"You don't...know how wonderful that makes me feel." Francis felt her eyes begin to mist over with tears as she tried to choke back her emotions. "But...but I can't erase the pain and the hurt with the snap of my fingers. I know you love me. I always knew, but...but..."
"It's not what happened the night she drugged you that I'm having trouble with," she confessed softly. "I understand what her true roll in all of that was. I know you weren't responsible. What I'm having trouble dealing with and moving past is everything that happened afterward."
"I...I don't understand..."
"Oh, Charles, too many hurtful things have been said and done. I know that you continued to be involved with Annabelle because she saw your guilt and remorse and twisted it to her own advantage. I know how devious and crafty she could be, but I can't get over how you kept deliberately hurting me over and over and over again. That's something you did because you chose to and..."
"But, Francis, I only did those things out of love. I just...wanted to force you to move on with your life so that you wouldn't be drug down with me."
"You deliberately hurt me to spare me?" She looked at him curiously. "I...I find that a little difficult to accept. No matter what you say your reasons were, I still feel that pain. The heartbreak that you caused me is still fresh in my mind."
"Darling, I love you! Can't you see that? Can't you find it inside your heart to forgive me for all of the horrible things that I've done?"
He looked at her earnestly and saw the obvious confusion on her face that betrayed her conflicting emotions. Taking a quick, deep breath he pulled her close and kissed her deeply and passionately. It had been so long since their lips had met that the resulting rush was nearly overwhelming and intoxicating, much more powerful than any drug that Annabelle Lake might have slipped him.
In spite of her previous protests and apprehensions, she didn't resist him. Oh, how long she'd dreamed of being held tightly in his arms again with the tender touch of his lips against hers. In that moment, it was if time had stood still and the past year had never happened.
However, her mind soon cleared and her doubts began to resurface. Francis quickly pushed him away and turned to hide the tears that were filling her eyes.
"O-oh, Charles," she sobbed, "I...I can't do t-this. I just...can't!" Overcome with emotion and anxiety, she bolted from the sofa and ran out the door.
Now alone in the room, Charles let out a heavy sigh. He knew that he'd hurt her terribly and he knew that it would take time to overcome the months of damage that their marriage had suffered. However, their kiss had only convinced him that his wife still loved and wanted him as much as he'd always loved and wanted her. As he took a deep breath, the cloud of darkness that had covered their lives slowly began to lift to let through a tiny ray of hope and, for the first time in what seemed like forever, Charles smiled.
TO BE CONTINUED
Fred tries to cover all of his bases.
For Now and Forever
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