For Now and Forever
The Lake Apartment
"Mother, I wish you and Sara would hurry up!" Stephanie called out as she checked her makeup in the mirror. "Douglas will be here any second!" She caught Dane's reflection in the mirror and saw him watching her closely.
"Do you know everything you're going to do?" he asked as he walked up behind her.
"I know exactly what I'm going to do." She smiled and turned to face him. "I'm going to see to it that Jillian will have nothing to do with Reginald after tonight."
"Good." Dane smiled at her wickedly and pulled her close so that his mouth was pressed to her ear. "You listen to me good. If you do anything to ruin my chances of getting Jillian back, you'll regret ever being born."
Stephanie pushed him away and continued to focus on herself in the mirror. She knew she had made one mistake too many as far as Reginald was concerned. Trying to hide her nervousness, she realized she had to do everything in her power to separate Reginald and Jillian. If she failed, both she and Sara would live to regret it.
Jillian's suite at the Sunset Hotel
"Honestly, Jillian, I don't know why Father couldn't just wait here for you to finish getting dressed." Janet Stokes wandered around the living room picking up her sister's knickknacks, examining them, and carefully putting them back down.
"You know how he gets when it's time for us girls to primp!" Jillian's voice wafted from the bedroom where she was putting the finishing touches on her ensemble for the evening.
"Men!" Jillian's best friend Helen Van Dyne laughed as she thought about how utterly silly they could be. "Sometimes, I don't know what we women see in them!" She paused for a moment and lifted her finger to her chin in mock thought. "Oh, yeah, I know! There so much fun!" Helen suddenly erupted into a fit of giggles at her own comment. As she sprawled herself on the sofa, she made especially sure not to wrinkle her gown. She knew that there would be loads of eligible bachelors at the party and wanted to look her best.
"Mother and Father said they'd meet us up stairs," Janet called out as she checked her hair in the mirror one more time. "And heaven only knows where Judith and Mark are. You'd think she'd settle down now that she's expecting, but no! I'm surprised Mark hasn't turned her over his knee already!"
"C'mon, Jilly, we're gonna be late!" Helen called out as she got off the sofa and walked toward the bedroom door. "You don't want to miss your own party, do you?"
"Miss my engagement party?" came the voice from the bedroom. "I wouldn't miss this night for the world."
The Callison House
"I've got it!" Hannah called out as she headed for the door. She hurriedly flung it open and was surprised to find an elegantly dress older woman standing on the front porch. "M-Mrs. Albany!"
"Oh, don't just stand there with your mouth hanging open," Mary Albany said as she stood with her hands on her hips.
"B-but Mrs. Callison said that you were in Europe and wouldn't be making it to the party."
"Nonsense! Why on earth would I miss my eldest grandson's engagement party?" Mary breezed past the Callison housekeeper and stepped into the living room. "Now, get my daughter for me! I haven't seen Francis in forever!"
Hannah spun around and hurried up the stairs. She was quick to realize that with Mary Albany in town, this party would definitely be one to remember.
The Grand Sunset Room
"Wow," Grace exclaimed as she stepped off the elevator into the foyer of the large ballroom. "I don't think I've ever seen anything quite this spectacular before." She carefully looked around and noted all the gleaming crystal and fresh bouquets of flowers.
"Well, that's my family for you. We don't like to do anything half way." Trevor smiled at her as he took her hand and led her into the main ballroom.
As he pulled the delicate satin wrap from her shoulders, her eyes began to dart around the room. Everywhere she looked were tuxedo clad waiters rushing around attending to the guests' every need. She saw all the handsome gentlemen in their most formal attire and the elegant ladies in their most glamorous evening gowns. Grace glanced down for a moment and looked at her own simple emerald green dress. It had cost an entire week's pay from the bookstore; but she just had to have a special dress to wear. Now, in comparison to the other gowns, it didn't seem quite as spectacular as she'd thought when she first saw it hanging in the window at Lerner's. Catching the figure of a man moving through the crowd, Grace gasped. It was Dane.
"The party's just started, don't you think you've had enough to drink?" Judith Linford asked as she watched her husband Mark quickly down yet another scotch and soda.
"I think I'll know when I've had enough," he responded coolly as he leaned against the bar to steady himself. "When is Jillian supposed to get here anyway? I can't wait for this silly affair to be over. I can't believe you dragged me to some little hick town for some stupid party." Judith glared at him.
"This is my baby sister's party and I would hope that you'd have the decency not to ruin it." She clinched her teeth as she spoke and pulled the glass from his hand. "I think you've had enough!"
Mark rolled his eyes as he turned his back to her. "Whatever you say. After all, you seem to be the one in control of this marriage. I thought we were getting divorced."
"Other things happened." Judith rested a hand on her swollen stomach. "I can't change the fact that I'm carrying your child and I refuse to raise a bastard. Besides, you rather like being a part of my family. If I were you, I'd watch my mouth or you could wind up without anything."
"Yes, ma'am!" he sneered sarcastically.
"Now, I'm going to find Father and see if he knows when Jillian is supposed to arrive." She began to walk away, but turned to face her husband one last time. "Don't do anything to embarrass me while I'm gone."
"Of course not!" He breathed heavily as he watched her glide across the ballroom. As soon as she was out of sight, he turned and grabbed the bartender's attention. "I'll have another one just like this one. Well...actually, make it a double."
"Grace, what is it? Is something wrong?" Trevor asked as he gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, no, it was nothing." She sighed in disappointment when she realized that it hadn't been Dane that she'd seen. "I just thought that I saw someone." Grace turned to look at Trevor again and was pleasantly surprised to find him holding a single rose.
"Something for you."
Grace was quick to see the mangled centerpiece on the table behind him and smirked as she took the flower from him. "I didn't know the Callisons made a habit of vandalizing floral arrangements." She motioned to the butchered bouquet and laughed.
"Well..." he grinned sheepishly and lowered his head in embarrassment. "I saw them and thought they were so beautiful. They reminded me of you. Then I couldn't get the darn thing out." He laughed warmly but then paused for a moment as their eyes met. "Grace, I love you. I know you don't want to hear that, but I do. I can't help how I feel."
"Trevor, you have to put those thoughts out of your head!" Her look grew stern and she stepped away from him. "You told me we were just coming as friends. I-I can't love you. I don't want to hurt you, but I can't be in love with you." She lifted the him of her long skirt and quickly walked away. Trevor stood solemnly as he watched her move into the crowd, still holding the rose in his hand.
Lorraine carefully watched Trevor and Grace from across the room. She felt her heart beat faster as she thought about how Trevor had hurt her.
"Honey, are you all right?" Patterson asked as he walked up to her and handed her a glass of wine. Following the direction of her gaze, he quickly noticed Trevor and Grace together. "Lorraine, is that the other woman Trevor left you for?"
"Y-yes." She muttered before turning away from the site of the man she loved. "Grace Davis is the one Trevor loves...not me."
Patterson gently took her in his arms and stroked her soft hair. "If seeing Trevor is too much for you, we can leave. We don't have to stay here. I'm sure Reginald and Jillian will understand."
"No!" Lorraine stepped back and took a deep breathe. She looked at Trevor again and saw his dejected face as Grace walked away from him. "I will not let Trevor Callison affect where I go and whom I see. We will have the time of our lives tonight despite him! I'm going to show him that he might have hurt me, but he did not destroy me!"
"Janet ! Helen!" Judith called out as she glided across the room. "Where in the world is Jillian? I thought she would have arrived by now."
"Oh, you know how it is. She just wants to make sure she looks her best." Helen giggled and casually scanned the room for all the eligible bachelors. "It's her party and she wants to make a grand entrance."
"Well, I just want to get this night over with!" Judith folded her arms across her chest and scowled. She hadn't wanted to make the trip to Albanyville in the first place. She only came because her father had insisted.
"Judith, why can't you be happy for Jillian?" Janet questioned. "She's finally found the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. This marriage isn't going to turn out like yours."
Judith bristled at her sister's comments. "You have no idea what you're talking about! My marriage is just fine, thank you very much! Now, while we wait for the little primadonna to grace us with her presence, I'm going to go find my husband." She quickly stormed away leaving Janet and Helen alone to look at each other and regret ever involving Judith in their conversation.
"Now, that's the spirit I love about you!" Patterson exclaimed as Lorraine slowly began to relax.
"Trevor is simply out of my life and I have to move on." She took a sip of her wine and nodded in agreement with herself. "I really don't know how I could have ever competed with Miss Perfect over there anyway!"
"Well, I don't know about Grace being perfect." He smiled at Lorraine. "But I do know about you."
"W-what do you mean?"
"What I mean is that you're perfect." He gently stroked her cheek. "Well, at least, perfect for me." He leaned in to Lorraine and kissed her. It was tentative at first, but soon grew in to one of deep passion. Patterson was sure that this would be the night that would cement their futures forever.
"Francis, dear, this party is wonderful!" Mary exclaimed as she surveyed the room. "You've really outdone yourself."
"Actually, Mother, a lot of this is Jillian's doing." Francis smiled and waved at a hospital board member she spotted across the room. "She had very specific ideas about how she wanted this evening to go. Now, I just wish you'd wired us and told us you were coming. I don't have the guest room ready and..."
"Oh, nonsense! I've already had my driver drop my things off here at the hotel. I'm just a couple of floors down in one of the penthouses." She turned to see her grandson beginning to look rather nervous. "Reginald, when is Jillian supposed to get here? I would think that she'd want to attend her own party!"
"Um...well, Nana, Jillian sort of likes to make an entrance." Reginald's eyes again darted toward the foyer by the elevators. Sure, Jillian liked to make an entrance, but she was already nearly an hour late.
"I bet she's having second thoughts." Maggie's sarcasm was met with a stern glare from Francis and a furrowing of the brow from Reginald. "What girl in her right mind would want a stupid lug like you?"
"Very funny, Maggie...." Reginald's voice trailed off as he began to wonder exactly was taking his fiancée so long.
"I'm sure she'll be here in no time," Charles spoke up. "Jillian wouldn't miss this party for anything." He glanced at his wife and noticed the scowl that had begun to form on her face. "Francis, what's wrong?"
"I can't believe she's got the nerve to show her face her." Francis' teeth clinched at the sight of Lorraine standing across the room. "After what's she's done to Trevor!"
"I don't know how you can blame her breakup with Trevor on her. You don't know what happened between them."
"I know that Trevor thought the world of her! Surely he didn't leave her. Somehow, this is her fault and I'm sure that Patterson Monroe had something to do with it!"
"Mother!" came the voice from behind her. Francis stopped cold and turned to see Trevor's angry face.
"Where is that daughter of yours?" Nelson Stokes asked as he tapped his foot impatiently. "She drags us all the way her for this engagement party and doesn't even have the decency to show up!"
"Nelson, you know how she is," Leticia reminded. "She's probably gotten herself tied up fixing her hair or something. She is very particular about things like that. Besides, I think this city is rather quaint. It's much cleaner than New York and the people are quite friendly."
"Hello, Daddy!" Judith flew into her father's arms with a big smile on her face.
"Where has Mark wandered off to?" Nelson looked through the crowd for his son-in-law. "I wanted to talk to him about becoming my exclusive legal counsel."
"What?" Judith tried to hide her surprise. She had serious misgivings about allowing Mark anywhere near her father's important legal matters. "Daddy, I don't think that such a great idea."
"And why not? He is a member of this family and a brilliant attorney. I know he's not extremely well versed in financial law, but he's an excellent attorney, nonetheless."
Judith rolled her eyes and turned away in hopes of catching sight of her husband. Why her father couldn't see him for the man that he really was was beyond her. But, then again, she'd been duped by him, too. Now, her eyes were open. It was imperative that Mark Linford beat a hasty retreat out of her family. Having Mark's baby had not been in her plan. She looked for him again and quickly felt her temperature begin to rise. He was propped by the orchestra stand, busily chatting up the female singer. She knew she had to get rid of him before he destroyed her family. But how?
"Trevor! I was just...um..." Francis stammered.
"You were just making assumptions!" Trevor looked at her angrily while Grace stood by as an unwilling observer. "I'll have you know that Lorraine is completely blameless in this entire mess! Everything that went wrong between us went wrong because of me. I will not have you bad mouthing her!"
Francis looked down at the floor, ashamed of her judgmental attitude. "I-I'm sorry. I just know how you feel about her...how you felt."
Trevor took a deep breath and tried to move the conversation in a more pleasant direction. "Everyone, this is Grace Davis. She's Douglas' sister and she's given me the great honor of being my date for the night."
Grace smiled nervously at Trevor's family. She was familiar with most of them in passing, but felt more than a little uncomfortable being referred to as Trevor's "date". "Um...hello."
"I've heard Douglas mention you a great deal," Reginald smiled as he extended his hand to her. "You're every bit as beautiful as he said."
"So, Grace, what did my brother have to do to con you into going out with him?" Maggie's words elicited a chuckle from Reginald and a stern visual reprimand from her mother.
"Maggie!" Francis grabbed her daughter's arm to silence her.
"It's okay," Trevor laughed. "Actually, I...."
"Mr. Callison!" Jasper St. John interrupted as he briskly walked over the them. "Miss Stokes..."
"I know, Jasper, I know." Reginald shook his head and sighed as he tried to find yet another reason to explain Jillian's absence. "I don't know what's taking her so long. I know she likes to make an entrance, but...."
"No, Mr. Callison! That's not what I'm talking about. She's here!"
All eyes turned to follow Jasper's outstretched hand toward the foyer as the orchestra began to swell. Jillian had arrived.
"I hope I'm not late," Jillian said as she hurried to join her fiancé and his family. "I-I got tied up with something."
"Honey, we were beginning to worry about you." Reginald handed her a glass of champagne and watched as she sipped it slowly.
"Mother Callison, Father Callison, Trevor, Maggie, I'm so sorry to be late."
"That's alright, Jillian." Francis gently patted her on the shoulder. "We were just worried that something had happened to you. I know how you like to make an entrance, but this was a little severe."
"Oh, I know. I just forgot something and had to run out for a bit." Jillian found her explanation met with curious glances from her future in-laws.
"Well, that doesn't matter now that you're here." Reginald turned his ear toward the orchestra and smiled as he easily recognized the tune. "Jillian, would you care to dance? They are playing our song."
"Yes, they are!" Her face lit up as she took his hand. "I'd love to dance with you, Reginald." Soon, other couples began to join them on the dance floor including Trevor and Grace.
"And I think I'm gonna go say 'hi' to Patterson," Maggie spoke up as she began to walk away. Francis turned to glare at her daughter.
"I don't think that's wise considering what he and Lorraine have done to Trevor."
"Momma! You heard Trevor. Patterson had nothing to do with it. Whatever happened was all Trevor's fault." Maggie stuck out her lower lip and frowned at her mother's stubbornness. "And I'm gonna go talk to him whether you like it or not!" Francis gasped at Maggie's boldness as her daughter stormed away.
As Reginald and Jillian glided around the dance floor, Stephanie's eyes followed them closely. Her temperature began to rise as she thought that it should be her on his arm and not that prissy witch. As she watched them, Douglas watched her and noted the visible tension that the site of the happy couple brought.
"Reginald and Jillian are so perfect together," Douglas finally spoke. "I hope that I can find a love as strong as that someday."
"Well, you just better hope that you're not gullible enough to fall for some snotty society brat! That Jillian Stokes makes me sick. She thinks she has everything! She thinks she's better than everyone else. Well, she's not! She's just like the rest of us. I don't know where she gets off with her high and mighty act!"
Douglas pulled away from Stephanie, shocked by her blatant display of animosity. Quietly, he began to wonder where the attack was coming from. He'd never know Stephanie to have such a vicious side. He'd always seen her as such a sweet girl, but he found this new aspect of her personality quite unsettling.
"Stephanie, where is this dislike of Jillian coming from?" he questioned as he gently grabbed her arm to draw her attention from the dance floor. "I've never known you to act this way."
"I...um...well," she stammered when she realized she'd let her true feelings get the better of her. "It's just that girls like that were always the ones who looked down on me when I first came to Albanyville. No matter how popular I became, there were always a few of them who refused to let me forget that I didn't have a father and that I didn't come from some nice upper-class home. No matter what success I had in school, there was always someone who tried to bring me down. I always hated them for that. Jillian reminds me of those horrible girls."
Douglas looked at her with tender eyes and took her in his arms. He thought of his own youth and the difficulties he'd experienced because of his family and knew exactly where she was coming from. Stephanie rested her head on his shoulder and began to enjoy the comfort that his embrace brought. It wasn't long, however, before her eyes again focused on the object of her affection and she realized that she had to put her plans into motion before it was too late.
"Oh, Reginald, that was wonderful," Jillian sighed as she held on to his arm while he led her from the dance floor. "I think I must be the luckiest girl in the world to have found you."
"And I the luckiest man." He gently lifted her chin so that their eyes met and he kissed her tenderly.
"Jillian!" came the booming voice from behind him.
She quickly whirled around to see her parents watching them.
"Now, when are you going to introduce your family to the man that's going to make you his wife?" Nelson asked as he looked at her sternly.
Jillian's eyes darted from her father to Reginald and back again. This was the moment she'd been nervous about for months. She took a deep breath and prayed everyone got along.
"Mr. Stokes, I'm so glad to finally meet you." Reginald extended his hand to his future father-in-law. Nelson responded by grasping his hand firmly as he closely examined Reginald. "Jillian has told me so much about you and her mother."
"That's odd," Nelson grumbled. "She's barely mentioned a word to me about you."
Reginald swallowed hard when he realized Nelson Stokes would be a harder sell than he'd previously thought. "Where are your sisters, dear?" he asked as he turned to Jillian.
"We're right here, silly," Judith spoke up as she strolled over to him and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Why, Jillian, he's every bit as handsome as you said!" She looked around and threw Mark a stern glance before speaking again. "And this is my husband Mark Linford."
"So nice to meet you." Reginald attempted to offer him his hand, but was met with a cool indifference by Mark. He swallowed hard again and felt his palms begin to get clammy.
"Honey, this is my mother...and this is my other sister Janet." Jillian did her best to keep the conversation light, but the tension in the air was palpable. Matters didn't seem to improve once Charles and Francis joined to group with their own introductions.
"It's so good to finally meet all of you." Leticia smiled as she, too, inspected her daughter's future family. "We were beginning to think that Jillian just made all of you up."
Jillian shot her mother a stern glance. Things were not going as well as she'd hoped.
"I'm so glad we've gotten this chance to meet, too." Francis smiled genuinely. "We have so much to discuss concerning the plans for the wedding."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Leticia interrupted. "We've already got the church booked in Manhattan. It's going to be a lovely affair."
"Oh, yes, of course!" Leticia's excitement began to grow. "It's only fitting that a lady of Jillian's status be married in one of the largest churches in the city. There are so many prominent social figures that will want to attend. There's the governor, the mayor, and Vice-President Garner. You know he's a very close personal friend of the family."
Jillian watched as Francis' face fell. This was not going well...not well at all!
"Hi, Patterson," Maggie grinned as she played with the lace on her pale blue dress.
"Well, hi, squirt," he laughed in response as he gave her a big hug.
"I am not a squirt!" Maggie made a face and then frowned. Silently she began to wonder if anyone would ever see her as more than a child. "I'm gonna be a sophomore when school starts."
"Yes, I know. Gee, you've grown up so quickly. You're almost a woman, now."
Maggie made another face. "Not 'almost', Patterson! I am a woman!" She made another face, but quickly found herself watching his cerulean eyes. She sighed to herself when she thought about how handsome he was. He wasn't that much older than her, but the years seemed like decades. One day, though, she knew she' be old enough to....
"Hi, Maggie," Lorraine broke in as she moved over next to Patterson. "Your mother and Jillian must be very proud. This party is a glorious success."
"Mother doesn't think you should be here," Maggie blurted out. "She says you're responsible for hurting Trevor."
"B-but, I'm not the one to blame!" Lorraine began to feel her temper rise. "I gave Trevor everything I had, but it wasn't enough! He threw everything all away!"
Patterson cautiously put his hands on her shoulders to calm her down.
"Trevor made sure he informed Mother of the truth. He told her everything was his fault. He said you were completely blameless." Maggie watched Patterson comfort Lorraine and felt herself grow jealous. She thought about how wonderful it must feel to have him comfort her like that.
"Yep. Don't worry. Momma's bark is much worse than her bite." Maggie smiled at both of them before looking around to see where the rest of her family was. "Well, I guess I better get back. It was nice seeing both of you."
Lorraine watched Maggie move back through the crowd. Her mind whirled with a million thoughts as she began to wonder why it seemed that Maggie had deliberately tried to upset her.
"This wedding is not going to take place in Manhattan!" Francis asserted as she rested her hands on her hips. "The Callisons are probably the most known family in Albanyville and this town expects a Callison wedding to take place here!"
"I can understand your concerns, Francis," Leticia stated calmly, "but this is a Stokes wedding as well. Albanyville is a nice little town and all, but can you expect a girl of Jillian's breeding to want to marry here? New York has so much more to offer. Weddings are, after all, primarily for the bride."
"If it's a money thing, we are more than willing to pay the bill for an Albanyville wedding!"
"Francis, dear, money is not the problem."
Jillian folded her arms across her chest and looked pleadingly at Reginald. She had been afraid something like this would happen.
"And we've got Michaud our designer already at work on the dress," Judith broke in. "He's the one who designed all the gowns for my wedding."
"Such that they were," Mark muttered under his breath. Judith threw him an angry look in response.
"Charles, I'm sure you and your wife can see our point of view." Nelson put his arm around Leticia and they both looked intently at Charles and Francis. "This is going to be a Manhattan wedding! There's no use discussing it further."
"Now, wait a minute!" Jillian had heard enough. She was through being discussed as if she weren't even in the room. "This is my wedding....not yours! I want to get married in Albanyville. I want to get married at Good Hope."
"Oh, that's nonsense!" Nelson's voice rose as he stubbornly began to argue the point.
"It's my wedding! I've made so many friends since I've been here. I will be married in Albanyville!"
"Friends?" Leticia let out a thin laugh. "You mean like that awful young man you went out with last year? The one that sent you running home in tears? Dan...um...Dean...um...Don something or other."
Jillian froze in her tracks. Surely her mother wasn't going to blurt out what she knew about her relationship with Dane!
"Mother, I'm am not going to stand here and let you tell me where I'm going to have my wedding!" Jillian interrupted. "It's my wedding and I'll have it as I please. The way you all insist on behaving here is embarrassing! How dare you act so arrogant towards Reginald's family."
"Jillian, that will be quite enough." Nelson's eyes burned with anger at his daughter's reprimand. "I would think that your mother and I raised you better than to speak to us this way. Is that what life in Albanyville has taught you? How to be rude and disrespectful?"
"What has life in Manhattan taught you? How to be snotty and superior?" Jillian turned to run away, but Reginald grabbed her arm and held her back.
"Honey, it's alright. We can decide on all the details of our wedding later." He carefully stroked her shoulders and she fell into his arms for support. "I'm sure we can work something out that's satisfactory for both of our families."
"Jillian, dear, we didn't mean to upset you so." Leticia twisted her long strand of pearls nervously and watched her daughter begin to sob softly in Reginald's arms. "I-It's just we've waited for this moment for so long. We only want the best for you. I-I'm sorry. We'll have the wedding any way you like it. If you want it here in Albanyville, so be it! I'm sure Francis and I can work together on the details."
"I would like that," Francis said softly as she held on to Charles.
"I-I need to be alone." Jillian again began to turn away, but stopped to look at Reginald. "I love you with all my heart. I need to get some air."
"I understand. You go pull yourself together and I'll see you in a bit." As he watched her slowly walk away, he began to worry about what kind of family he was really marrying into.
"There you are!" Stephanie said as she approached Dane while he leaned against the bar. "Where's Sara?"
"She's off 'fixing her face' as she put it." He took another swig of his scotch and soda. "So, when's this big plan of yours gonna get started? I'm ready to get this show on the road."
"Patience, Dane, patience." She slowly strummed her fingers along the edge of the bar as she caught her reflection in a mirror. She tilted her head slightly to allow the light to play off her features. She could look so innocent when she had to. "By the time this night is over, you will have Jillian and I will have Reginald. We can't rush this. It's all in the timing."
"Is this anything like your last big plan? Remember, the one where you spilled the beans about you and Reggie?" Dane's eyes narrowed as he looked at her doubtfully. "That one didn't work so well, did it? All it got you was a sound slap across the face."
Stephanie flinched uncomfortably at the mention of the embarrassment she'd suffered at Jillian's hand. True, she hadn't completely thought out that plan, but this time was different. Tonight, she had every word, every move, and every moment choreographed. This plan would work.
"So, did you come up with this idea all on your own?"
"Actually, no. Most of this was my mother's idea."
"Why am I not surprised. You and your mother sure are a piece of work." Dane took another drink. "Kind of like Lizzie Borden and daughter. Where is the merry widow anyway?"
Stephanie shot him a angry look. "She's busy taking care of her own matters," she said through clinched teeth. "And I'll thank you not to talk about her like that! You have no idea what kind of woman she truly is. You don't know everything that's she's gone through in her life for me!"
"Yeah, okay." Dane's voice drifted off as he turned in time to see a still visibly upset Jillian walk out onto the balcony. He smiled slyly to himself. "Well, Steph, I think it's time you put your plan into gear. I just saw the perfect opportunity to start mine."
Jillian looked out into the night sky as she rested her elbows on the balcony's railing. The soft June breeze blew through her flaxen hair. As she thought about her family and the horrible scene that they'd caused, she reached for a tissue to wipe her tears, but was even more upset when she found none. Suddenly, and handkerchief was offered to her from behind.
"Looks like you need this," Dane said softly. "You okay?"
"What do you want?" she questioned sternly as she snatched the handkerchief away. She quickly dried her eyes and regained her composure. "How did you get in here, anyway? Did you crash my engagement party to torture me? This was by invitation only!"
"And I got an invitation." He smiled at her and took back his handkerchief. "I'm with Sara. Annabelle got her an invitation."
"I'll make sure I double check the guest list for the wedding." Jillian's voice was now cool as ice as she turned her back to Dane. "I suppose you wouldn't have the decency to leave."
"And miss the party of the year? Never!" He let out a hearty laugh. He watched the moonlight reflect off her hair and slowly extended her hand to touch it. Jillian flinched and quickly pulled away.
"Dane, don't!" She folded her arms across her chest defensively. "You need to leave!"
"And miss all this?" He spun her around and stroked her cheek. He looked into her crystal blue eyes and pulled her to him. As he pressed his lips against hers, she fought to push him away, but his grip was too strong. Suddenly, she yanked an arm free and slapped him across the face. A stunned Dane held his jaw and slowly turned away. Through the large French doors, he looked to see if Stephanie had begun to set her plan into motion.
Mark Linford stood at the bar and quickly downed another drink. As he wiped his mouth, he motioned for the bartended to make another.
"Don't you think you've had enough?" Mary Albany spoke up as she stood behind him. "You've had a little too much to drink as it is."
"I really don't think it's any of your business." Mark turned to sneer at her and then quickly returned his focus to the scotch in his hand. "I don't know why they had drag me to this pitiful little town."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I don't see why I really had to come just because my sister-in-law got herself engaged to some hot shot local boy." He gritted his teeth and swirled his drink so that the ice made tinkling noises in the glass. "My wife insisted on dragging me here. What's so special about this city, anyway? It's just a bunch of nice buildings stuck in the middle of a bunch of trees. This place is horribly low class."
"Let me tell you a thing or two..."
"I mean, it's alright and all." He took another drink. "Well, if you're some local farmer or something. I don't understand how these pitiful people can act like this place is the center of the universe! Albanyville can't even compare to New York. Now that's the center of the universe."
Mary took a deep breath as her blood began to boil. It was about time she set this arrogant drunk straight.
"Ah, Dr. Rutherford," Annabelle grinned as she approached the man standing in the foyer. "It's about time you got here."
"Why the formalities?" He reached out and stroked her face. She flinched a little and slowly stepped back, but didn't let the smile fade from her lips. "If I recall correctly, it was 'oh, Fred' last week." He grinned at her slyly.
Annabelle quickly grew uncomfortable and looked away. "Let's just cut to the chase," she finally spoke. "Did you manage to bring me what I asked for?"
"I've got it right here." He pulled the tiny bottle from his pocket and held it out for Annabelle to see. "This should be more than enough to do the trick. You never did tell me why you wanted it."
"And I don't intend to." She snatched the bottle from his hand and examined it closely. "The less you know, the better."
"Just remember, if you get caught, you didn't get that from me!"
"Oh, don't worry." She allowed a smile to again cross her lips. "I'm very good a keeping a secret." Without another word, she turned a walked away. Still smiling, she thought about how her plans would seal the fate of Charles and Francis.
"You better realize who I am!" Mary's eyes burned as she grabbed Mark by the ear and spun him around. "My name is Mary Albany and my husband's family founded this 'little town', as you so naively called it! I'll have you know that this city is one of the best places in this country to live! There is a sense of community here that you will not find anywhere else...not in Chicago, not in Los Angeles, and not in your precious New York!"
Mark's face began to flush with embarrassment over his comments. He swallowed hard as he tried to think of a way to recant his comments, but realized he'd become trapped in his own words.
"And, furthermore, my grandson is that 'hot shot local boy' you apparently have such disdain for! Now, if you're any indication of the type of family Reginald's planning on marrying into, I don't think this wedding is such a good idea. My family is too upstanding to be associated with the likes of you!"
"Now, wait a minute, lady!" Mark began to raise his voice as a couple of nearby guests glanced their way.
"No! You wait a minute, buster! I'm watching you. I'm watching you closely. You make any trouble for Reginald or Jillian or anyone in my family and you'll have to deal with me." She stood her ground with her hands firmly on her hips. "And I guarantee I'm someone you don't want to deal with! I've been around and I've seen a lot in my life. I can spot a snake when I see one and you're definitely a snake. Why don't you just slither back to your precious New York and spread your venom there?"
"Trust me, lady, I intend to get back to New York as soon as I can."
"And another thing..." Mary narrowed her eyes and glared at Mark as she yanked his drank out of his hand. "Lay off the sauce. You've reached your limit." With those words, She stormed away leaving Mark to seethe with anger at his public humiliation at Mary Albany's hands.
"I don't know where that daughter of ours gets that stubborn streak of hers," Nelson muttered as he stood in the corner watching the party revelers.
"Oh, really?" Leticia let out a small laugh and then smiled at her husband. "I think it runs in the family. You're not exactly a pushover yourself. And then there's Judith..."
"We're not talking about me or Judith." He turned to face Leticia. "I don't like the fact that the first time we meet this Callison boy is after Jillian's gotten engaged to him. We don't know anything about these people. I'm not sure this is the proper family for my daughter to be associated with."
"Nelson, dear, they seem like a nice enough family. Charles owns a very well known publishing house and the family is very prominent in the community."
"Yes, this community." He rolled his eyes as he made the comment. "It's not exactly the epicenter of high society. I want better than this for my daughter. She's way too good for Reginald Callison." He looked across the room at his future son-in-law as Reginald chatted with a few of his friends. "I'll be watching him very closely."
"Patterson, Lorraine, I'm so glad you both could make it," Reginald smiled as he shook Patterson's hand.
"Yeah, I bet," Lorraine muttered under her breath.
Reginald heard her comment and quickly turned to her. "Look, I can't deny that I was a little surprised by what happened between you and Trevor, but none of that is any of my business. My brother is a grown man and can handle his own affairs. Besides, he's made it perfectly clear that whatever went wrong between you two was entirely his fault." He paused as he gently touched her shoulder. "None of us hold any ill feelings toward you. I still consider you a friend. I hope you feel likewise."
"Oh, I do! I still care about all of you so very much. It's just that, well, Maggie said that your mother held me responsible."
"Ignore my little sister. She has a habit of opening her mouth when it's the least appropriate. Besides, Trevor set Mother straight on who was at fault. She knows it wasn't you."
Lorraine let out a huge sigh of relief and fell into Patterson's arms.
"See, I told you everything would be okay." Patterson hugged her tightly and kissed her on the forehead.
"Now, if you'll both excuse me, I need to find my lovely fiancée." Reginald turned and scanned the crowd for Jillian. "There's the matter of a certain dance I'd like to take care of."
"Oh, Nelson, you know I'd have liked for Jillian to marry a more prominent member of society," Leticia said as she moved closer to him. "I always thought that Rockefeller boy was such a nice match for her. But this is the man she's fallen in love with. Who are we to deny her happiness?"
"Leticia, she's just a child!" he turned to face her angrily. "She doesn't know what she wants! I just pray that this is only a whim for her that she'll soon get over. She needs to find a nice young man like Mark. He's very visible in the community and very active in our family. How involved with the Stokeses do you think this Callison boy will be?"
"Honey, leave this alone! Let Jillian live her own life!"
"I care about all of our girls and I only want what's best for them. I'm afraid that Reginald Callison is not what's best for Jillian." He looked into his wife's pleading eyes and his attitude began to soften. "But, I'll let it go...for now. However, I'm keeping my eye on Reginald. If he does anything to hurt my daughter, I will not rest until he's out of her life for good."
"Excuse me," Reginald said as he tapped the orchestra leader on the shoulder. "Could you play this song as one of your next selections?" He handed over a slip of paper and the man smiled and nodded.
"Well, hello, Reginald, " Stephanie spoke up as she walked over to him. "You and Jillian have really outdone yourselves. This party is quite a success."
"What do you want?" He looked at her coldly and silently wished for her disappearance. "I thought I warned you to stay away from me. I still can't believe you managed to con Douglas into bringing you."
"I didn't con Douglas into anything!" She felt herself grow angry at his accusations. "I'll have you know that I care about Douglas very much. He's a wonderful man. He just simply asked me to be his date. Of course I said 'yes'."
"Yes, he is a wonderful man, but don't think I'm going to believe that you didn't have ulterior motives." He turned away from her and casually began to search for Jillian in the crowd.
"What's wrong? Have you misplaced your fiancé again?" Stephanie allowed a little grin to spread across her face. "I hope she hasn't gotten cold feet and run off with some other dashing fellow."
Reginald shot her a hateful look and continued his search. "Jillian hasn't run off with anyone. She's completely committed to me...despite your schemes."
"If you say so." She smirked.
As he again looked through the crowd, he began to wonder exactly where Jillian could be. Privately, he began to hope that the earlier scene between their families hadn't changed her mind.
"C'mon, Jillian, you know you're making a mistake with Reggie," Dane said as he moved closer to her.
"I am doing nothing of the sort!" She stood up straight in preparation to defend her love for Reginald. "The only mistake I made was getting involved with you in the first place."
"Look, you told me yourself that you left Manhattan to escape all the rules of high society." He reached out for her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "What do you think you'll be doing by marrying him? You're gonna be subjecting yourself to an entirely new set of rules!"
"Yes, I am, but they'll be rules that I've chosen for myself! Not the rules imposed on me by my family or anyone else."
"So, is that what this is all about? Showing your family that you can make your own decisions without their interference?" He again stole a quick glance through the French doors and was pleased to see Stephanie talking to Reginald. "Jillian, don't make a mistake by using Reginald to show your independence to your family. He's not right for you."
Jillian again leaned against the railing and looked out on the city. As she watched the lights twinkle in the distance, she thought about Manhattan and the life she'd had there. Soon, her thoughts returned to Reginald and the deep, true love she felt. She wasn't using him to escape her family. She wasn't using him at all.
"You know you're having second thoughts," Dane continued. "How else do you explain being over an hour late to your own party? You were scared to come. Now, this entire life of rules is become real for you and you know you're making a mistake."
"That's not how it is!" She spoke up as she spun around to face him. "I was late because I had to run and pick up a gift for Reginald, the man I love! That's why I was late, not because I'm having second thoughts!"
"Jillian, this entire wedding is a mistake."
"The only mistake I made was getting involved with the likes of you!" She tried to walk away from him, but he grabbed her and held her back.
"You're gonna see what kind of trap you're really setting for yourself. And I've got a feeling that you're gonna see it sooner than you think." He stole another quick glance into the ballroom and carefully watched Stephanie and Reginald.
"I confess, I do have an ulterior motive," Stephanie said as Reginald turned to face her. "Not in my being here, but for talking to you."
"I thought so." He looked at her coldly. She was beginning to wear on his nerves.
"There's something I want to say to you." She began to grow nervous, but fought to hide it. If Dane held up his part of the deal, it was about to be the moment that they'd been waiting for. "But not here. There's too much noise. Can we go somewhere else and talk?"
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Please?" She lowered her head slightly and gazed up through her long lashes. It was her best innocent look and she'd been practicing it all night. "We can just go into the lounge and talk. There's no one in there because it's not being used for the party. Just give me a chance to apologize in private. I-I don't want the entire town witnessing me groveling for forgiveness."
"You're actually going to grovel?" He allowed himself a slight grin at the thought of her lowering herself to such a level. "Well...it's against my better judgment, but I guess I can allow you that. Only if this means that everything else ends right there. No more hanging around and no more confrontations with Jillian."
"I promise!" She smiled as she crossed her fingers behind her back. "This will all end tonight."
He nodded his head in defeat and slowly followed her as she lead him into the lounge. The intermingled sounds of music and guests were silences as the doors of the lounge closed behind them. Because of its emptiness, only a few lights were on and it give the room and soft and dreamy look that accented its art deco design. She stopped and turned to face him.
"Oh, Reginald," she sighed as she fell into his arms. "I can't believe I let you get away from me. I-I really did love you, you know?"
"I know," he sighed as he held her in his arms. "But you and I were never meant to work out. You know hurting you was the last thing I ever wanted."
Stephanie rested her head on his shoulder and began to act as if she were crying.
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," he responded as he believed her act. "I wish I could make it up to you so you could move on. Douglas is a good man for you. He's who you should focus your energy on, not me. I love Jillian and that's not going to change."
"There is one thing you could do to make it up to me." She looked up at him and wiped her eyes as she smiled. "One thing that could make all the difference."
"Now I wonder where your loving fiancé is going with Stephanie?" Dane asked with a smirk as he led Jillian in from the balcony.
Jillian stopped cold in her tracks and watched Reginald follow Stephanie out of the room. "I'm sure it's nothing." she lied as she felt herself grow anxious. "Um, look, Dane I really need to go find my family. I'm sure they're wondering where I am. I kind of left them a little upset."
"You're not going to follow Reggie and Steph and find out what's going on?"
"Why should I?" she asked as she looked at him closely. "I trust him implicitly. He's not going to do anything to jeopardize what we have."
"If you say so." Dane let out a laugh as his eyes darted around the room. He smiled when he saw Sara standing at the bar chatting with Annabelle. "Well, it's been good talking to you civilly for a change, but I need to get back to Sara. I'm sure she's wondering where I disappeared to as well."
As Dane slowly walked away, Jillian again turned to face the direction that Reginald and Stephanie had gone. Once Dane was long gone, she began a brisk walk toward the lounge. She hesitated for a moment as she reached the doors and reached out to touch the handle. Her insides began to churn and she took a deep breath to calm herself. In one swift movement, she flung the doors open and gasped at what she saw...Reginald and Stephanie locked in a deep and passionate kiss.
"Oh, my god!" she muttered as Reginald turned to face her. His guilty look told her everything she needed to know.
TO BE CONTINUED
Patterson and Lorraine have a run in with
Trevor and Grace.
For Now and Forever
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