For Now and Forever
THE GRAND SUNSET ROOM
"I just don't think this Callison boy is going to be good for Jillian at all," Nelson said as he stroked his chin. "After everything you've told me that Lake woman said, I don't know how we can allow this marriage to take place."
"Oh, Nelson, how could I have been so wrong about Reginald?" Leticia sighed as she shook her head. "I was so sure you were wrong about him. I..." Her train of thought was interrupted by the sudden silence of the orchestra and a growing commotion on the dance floor. "Honey, what the devil is going on?"
"I don't know," he muttered, "but I can guarantee I'm going to find out!"
"This is going to work splendidly." Annabelle smiled to herself as she held the bottle she'd received from Dr. Rutherford up to the light. She looked at her reflection in the ladies room mirror. Not bad at all for a woman my age, she thought to herself. She applied another coat of lipstick and did a slight touch up on her hair. With a satisfied wink to herself, she turned and exited the ladies room.
The noise coming from the main ball room startled her as she stood frozen in the hallway. She walked briskly back to the main room to see what was happening. Once inside, she received the shock of her life.
"Are you out of your mind?" Dane asked as he lay on the floor clutching his jaw. He looked down at his hand and was quick to see the blood that had come from a large gash in his lip. "Have you gone crazy?"
"You better believe it!" Reginald stood up straight and took a deep breath before looking out onto the crowd of partiers that had encircled them. "May I have your attention, please?" he called out.
"I think you've already managed that!" Sara cried as she carefully tried to wipe the blood from Dane's mouth. "What is this all about?"
"That's what I'm about to tell you." Reginald locked eyes with Jillian as she pushed her way through the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you forgive this little interruption of the evening's festivities, but tonight I have become aware of some very disturbing information...that could very well have made this entire party useless." He smiled at Jillian. He was going to be honest. He was going to set everything right. "But, fortunately, things didn't turn out that way. Now, I'm going to tell you exactly what's been going on here tonight!"
"Tonight, Jillian and I have had the supreme misfortune of having our relationship come under attack by Dane Manchester and Stephanie Lake!" Reginald shot a hateful look at Stephanie.
"Reginald, don't," Jillian muttered.
"I'm tired of these games. It's time for the entire truth to come out!" He turned to Dane and looked at him coldly. "This man...Dane Manchester...has been hell bent on coming between me and Jillian. He thinks that just because he and Jillian were once together...because Jillian was once foolish enough to believe his lies and fall prey to his charms...that he has the right to torment her unjustly. He has been obsessed with destroying the love she and I share. He has schemed with Stephanie to cause misunderstand and conflict between us. These two are the lowest excuses for human beings I've ever encountered."
"Why? Why do have to do this to me?" Stephanie wailed as she grabbed his arm in an effort to halt the truth.
"Why? Stephanie, I really did care about you once. I felt sorry for you because of what happened between us. I don't feel sorry for you anymore!" He turned again to address the crowd. "Yes, it's true! I was unfaithful to Jillian with Stephanie. I was afraid to accept the love that Jillian so readily offered me. When I realized that, yes, I did truly love Jillian, I immediately told Stephanie the truth and ended things with her. However, she couldn't accept that! She fought tooth and nail to use our past against me. She held it over my head like a guillotine! She went to Jillian and told her everything hoping that Jillian would abandon me so she could have me all to herself. That didn't work! Our love was too strong and Jillian forgave me for my mistakes. Likewise, Dane tried to use his past with Jillian to confuse her about her love for me. Again, that didn't work!"
"You have no idea what you're talking about," Dane sneered.
"Don't I?" Reginald continued with his verbal attack. "When none of Dane's attempts worked to dissuade Jillian away from me, he and Stephanie decided to use this party to their advantage! Stephanie conned Douglas into bringing her and Dane wormed an invitation out of Annabelle so they could act out their vicious plans!"
"Stephanie?" Douglas looked at her with shock.
"They tried to get Jillian to believe a lie! They tried to convince Jillian that Stephanie and I were still involved." He glanced over to Jillian and smiled warmly. "It almost worked, but again, our love was too strong. Jillian knows I wouldn't have anything to do with such an evil girl as Stephanie just as I know that she would never again lower herself to fall prey to Dane's lies and charms."
Jillian looked away uncomfortably.
"I am here to tell you all of this so that you know not to trust these two people....ever! They are users and liars and cheats! They will use you in a heartbeat if it will advance their malicious plans!"
"Dane?" Sara looked at him as he still lay in her arms. "H-have you been using me all this time?"
"No." he muttered in response. His eyes darted from Reginald to Stephanie to Jillian. Slowly he began to rise to his feet. "No! You have this all wrong, Reginald. I don't know where you've gotten your information, but these are all slanderous assumptions on your part. There is not one hint of truth to any of it!"
"Are you trying to say that I'm wrong?" Reginald looked at him in disbelief. "Are you trying to deny that you aren't in love with Jillian and have been trying to destroy our relationship?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying!" Dane stood straight up and turned to the crowd. "It is true that Jillian and I were once involved. It is true that I hurt her terribly. I betrayed her and she couldn't forgive me for that. It is not true that I've been plotting to destroy her happiness with you! All I have been trying to do is make amends to her for the pain that I've caused. I want to reconcile so that there are no hard feelings. I want to begin a new relationship with her...as friends!"
Jillian shook her head at Dane's audacity.
"Do you want to know who's really responsible for causing trouble between you two?" Dane's eyes burned with anger. "Do you? I'll tell you who's been behind the entire thing! I'll tell you who tried to use what they knew about my past with Jillian to their own wicked advantage." He pause to scan the crowd and sneered when his eyes found their desired target. "I'll tell you who! It was her!" He stretched out his and to point at his intended target. "It was Stephanie Lake! She's the one who's truly behind everything. She's been behind this entire thing!"
Stephanie's eyes grew wide in fear. He really was going to blame everything on her!
"I cannot believe you!" Judith sneered as she looked at her husband who was propped precariously against the balcony railing. "You've gotten so drunk you can barely stand! How dare you embarrass me in front of my family! You look like a fool."
"If I look like a fool, it's because you made me look like one." Mark glared at her through glassy eyes.
"Me? I haven't got the vaguest idea how I've made you look like a fool." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "If I recall correctly, I'm the one who brought you into this family. Because of me, you've made all your wonderful business contacts! If it weren't for me, you'd have nothing and you'd be nothing!"
"And to think I loved you once!"
"You wouldn't know love if it slapped you in the face!" She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. "I'm the foolish one for believing all of your lies. I must have been really stupid to have fallen in love with you. Thank god I wised up!"
"My lies?" He grabbed her by the arm and jerked her closer. "I don't think I need to remind you of that little affair of yours that you worked to keep so hidden!"
Judith's hand flew up to her mouth in shock. "H-how? How did you know?"
"Because I'm not a fool, Judith! I know a lot more about you than you think I do!" He smirked as his voice grew cold. "And for all I know, that baby isn't even mine. You're right, my marriage to you has brought me a lot of success. I think we'll stay married."
"Why on earth would I want to stay married to you?"
"Because you'll have me to pin that baby on." He laughed. "I don't think your high and mighty society friends would look too fondly on you or your bastard child if we were to get divorced. I'd have to make sure everyone knew about what kind of tramp you really are."
"Oh, Judith," he smirked. "You know I would."
"No! He's lying!" Stephanie cried out. "Dane was in on the whole thing! I-I tried to move on, but he kept telling me I had to help him keep you apart so he could win back Jillian's heart!"
"Don't listen to her, Reginald!" Dane spoke up. "You know what kind of lying, deceitful wretch she really is. You know all about what kind of schemes she's pulled. Why should you believe her?"
"Yes, why should I believe you, Stephanie?" Reginald looked her in the eyes, his face stern and severe.
"Because it's the truth!" She began to cry again. "Yes, it's true I tried to come between you and Jillian. I only did it because I thought you still loved me! I thought she was just clouding your mind. I knew if I got you to see that, you'd realize you still loved me!"
"I never loved you!" Reginald spat.
"I-I know that now." Stephanie lowered her head and swallowed back her tears. "I-I wanted out of Dane's schemes, but he wouldn't let me. I told him I would be part of a plan that would hurt Sara, but he told me I'd regret backing out on him!"
"But to betray your own cousin, Stephanie?" Reginald questioned.
"No! I didn't do it to betray Sara!" Stephanie's eyes locked with a disbelieving Sara's. "I realized that I had to get Dane away from her before he hurt her! I knew how he was...how he is! I couldn't let him break her heart. I knew I could save her from him if I could get him back with Jillian. You have to believe me! I'm guilty of everything you've claimed, but Dane is just as guilty!"
"She's lying!" Dane glared at her with a wicked fire in his eyes.
"You have to believe me!" Stephanie grabbed onto Reginald's arm, but found no hint of understanding. She turned slowly to the cousin she had tried so hard to protect. "Sara?"
"I-I don't know what to think." Sara muttered and quickly looked away.
"Douglas!" Stephanie blurted out as she saw the man she'd hoped would be her future. "Y-you believe me don't you?"
Douglas met her pleas with a slow shaking of his head before he turned and silently walked back into the crowd.
"No! No!" Stephanie wailed as she ran from the room.
"Dane, honey, are you all right?" Sara asked as the crowd started to dissipate.
"I-I'm fine." He looked at her cautiously. He didn't know what thoughts were racing through her mind. He hoped she didn't believe everything Reginald had said. "I'm a little shaken up and bruised, but that's all. You are the one I'm worried about. I-I can't believe that Reginald would cause such a scene like that!"
"Quit dancing around the subject." She spoke pointedly without mincing words. "He said some very disturbing things about you...Stephanie, too. I-I need to know. Is any of what he said true?"
"No! None of it! You heard me. Everything was Stephanie's fault. She's the one who wanted Reginald and Stephanie apart! She's the one who tried to cause trouble."
Sara watched his actions and had a difficult time believing him. She'd known for some time about his womanizing past. She'd hoped that her love could change that part of him, but she had to accept the truth. Dane had been seeing other women and not just flirtatiously. "Tell me the truth about you and Jillian," she finally spoke.
Dane took a deep breath and swallowed hard as he slowly rubbed his aching jaw. "The truth is...Jillian and I were seeing one another when you and I met. I cheated on her with you. She found out and ended things on the spot. I-I felt badly for the way everything happened. She didn't deserve the pain I brought her." He paused for a moment to see how Sara was reacting to his explanation.
"So, Jillian left you and you were stuck with me." Sara's words were matter-of-fact. She stood with her hands on her hips and inspected him closely. Could she possibly believe a word that came out of his mouth?
"No! That's not how it was! You know how I feel about you!"
"Yes, I do know how you feel about me." Sara's attitude began to soften, but she quickly caught herself. "What I don't know is how you feel about Jillian."
"W-what do you mean?"
"What I mean is...what feelings do you have for Jillian right now?" Sara kept her eyes locked on his. "Are you still in love with her?"
Dane inhaled deeply and quickly looked away.
"See! This all proves that I was right about that boy!" Nelson fumed as he paced back in forth. "I can't believe he had the gall to air this scandal in public! Thank god we're here in this town and not back in Manhattan! The society pages would have a field day with this!"
"Calm down, dear." Leticia reached out her hand to catch her husband as he walked by. "I-I'm forced to agree with you. This is not the kind of man I always dreamed of for Jillian. She can do so much better. However, I can't say that I agree with your original assessment of that Manchester boy. After everything we've learned about him, I don't think he's fit for out daughter, either."
"You can't possibly believe everything that Reginald said! Why, with what we know about him, how can we believe a word that comes out of his mouth?"
"Well, I do like him better than that Don boy Jillian dated." Leticia tapped her finger against her lip. "Oh, I just don't want my baby to be hurt. How could we have let her get mixed up in a situation like this?"
"We should never have let her leave home for college." Nelson shot his comment straight at his wife. He'd never wanted to allow Jillian to attend school away from New York, but Leticia insisted they allow her to go to Albanyville University. "If we'd just kept her home, none of this would have happened."
"But, Nelson, it has happened! What on earth can we do now?"
"I'll tell you what we can do!" His scrunched his eyes in determination. "We can do everything in our power to make sure that Jillian does not marry Reginald. I can guarantee you that this wedding will not happen!"
"No, Sara, I'm not in love with Jillian." Dane carefully placed his hands on her shoulders and gazed into her eyes. "You are the only woman I truly love."
"Oh, Dane, do you mean it?" Her face flooded with joy and she threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Dane, I was so worried. I was so afraid that I was going to lose you. I love you so much."
"I know, Sara, I know." He stroked her dark hair as she began to sob softly on his shoulder. "I had only hoped that I could make amends to Jillian for the pain I caused her. I truly hoped we could be friends."
"That is so noble of you." She pulled away and smiled sweetly at him. "I-I was a fool for ever having doubted you. I just don't understand how Reginald could have gotten those horrible ideas about you."
"I was wondering the same thing," Dane grinned slyly, "but I do have a suspicion."
"Charles, you and I need to talk!" Nelson bellowed as he approached him.
"I agree." Charles replied and nodded.
"Then I take it you also agree on this situation our children have gotten themselves into?" Nelson looked at him closely.
"I find it very unfortunate, but I'm sure that Reginald and Jillian can put Dane and Stephanie's machinations behind them. They love each other enough that they can make it through this."
"I don't think so!" Nelson was shocked that Charles had even the slightest idea that this wedding was a good idea. "I have no intention of allowing my daughter to marry that vile son of yours!"
"Now wait a second..." Charles cautioned. "I'll have you know that Reginald is one of the most respected young men in this town!"
"I don't know how this town can respect a man who cheats and lies!"
"If I'm not mistaken, you're own daughter wasn't exactly forthcoming about her past with Dane Manchester!" Charles glared. "Why, she's as much responsible for bringing Dane into this mess as Reginald is for Stephanie."
"Surely you can't believe what Reginald said about Dane!" Nelson's eyes grew wide with shock. "After all the lies Reginald's had told to cover up his tawdry past with this Lake girl, how can you believe he's telling the truth about Dane?"
"How in the world can you believe Dane? You heard him admit how he hurt Jillian by cheating on her!"
"The boy made a mistake. Yes, he hurt Jillian, but he had the decency to let her move on. I'm sure that he was just trying to make amends to her!" Nelson stood firm in his opinion. "Besides, I can't believe that a boy with the background that Dane has can be capable of such horrible things. Why, his family is one of the most respected in Chicago!"
"You've got some nerve...."
"I refuse to allow my daughter to marry your son! It will not happen. Dane Manchester is socially a much better match for her!"
Charles quietly fumed as he thought about how to defend his son's honor.
"Oh, Mamma, see! I told you everything had gone wrong!" Stephanie fell into Annabelle's arms as her mother patted her gently on the back. "A-and Dane! He's as much to blame as I am for all this, but he told everyone it was all me!"
"Yes, dear, I know." She let out a heavy sigh and comforted her daughter. "I was there. I saw the entire, horrendous scene that Reginald caused. You should have known not to get mix up with Dane. I've said all along he was no good for Sara. This just proves it."
"I-I was only trying to get Dane away from her." Still with tears in her eyes, Stephanie looked up at her mother. "I-I knew Reginald would never leave Jillian for me, but I had to get Dane back with Jillian before he hurt Sara."
Annabelle grabbed a handkerchief and gently blotted her daughter's eyes. "Well, I guess you've ruined any chance you might have had at Reginald."
"And now, I'm sure I don't even have Douglas." Stephanie's lower lip began to quiver as she felt the tears coming back on. "You should have seen the way he looked at me, Mamma! I thought we could have had something, but I've ruined that, too!"
"Oh, there, there," Annabelle again took her daughter in her arms. Silently, Annabelle prayed that Stephanie's antics hadn't ruined her chances with Charles as well.
"If you think Dane is innocent in all of this, then you're a fool, Nelson!" Charles began to fume. "That rat is as mixed up in all of this as Stephanie is!"
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think the Callisons are the type of family I want my daughter involved with!"
"And you think I'm thrilled with the prospect of my son marrying into a family as uptight, arrogant, and self-righteous as yours?" Charles' fists clinched in anger at the condescension towards his family. "How such a sweet and lovely girl as Jillian could have been produced by someone like you is beyond me!"
"Why, how dare you!" Nelson prepared to draw back his fist. "Apparently, you have no idea who you're speaking to!"
"Charles, Nelson, that will be enough!"
Both men turned slowly to find themselves on the receiving end of stern looks from their respective wives.
"Mr. Stokes, I think every thing that needs to be said has been said," Francis spoke up as she took her husbands arm. "I have to agree with my husband that our son is a most responsible and upstanding member of this community. We love your daughter as if she were our own. However, I cannot stand idly by while you insult my family! If you cannot conduct yourself in a manner appropriate for this situation, then maybe you should excuse yourself."
"Nelson!" Leticia chastised. "This is neither the time nor the place. Both you and Mr. Callison are extremely upset over a difficult situation. With tensions running the way they are, I really don't think now is the time to discuss this."
Silently, Francis and Leticia nodded civilly toward one another and led their husbands in opposite directions.
"How could you!" Jillian glared at Reginald. "How could you just tell the entire world about me and Dane? You've aired every bit of our dirty laundry in front of the entire city! I'll never be able to hold my head up with dignity again!"
"But, Jillian, now there are no more secrets!" He reached out for her, but found himself disappointed when she quickly moved away. "With everything out in the open, Dane and Stephanie have nothing they can hold over our heads."
"I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life!"
"Jillian, there's no reason for you to be embarrassed. You haven't done anything wrong! This is all because of Dane and Steph." He gently took her hand into his and pulled her closer. "There's nothing that either one of them can do now to destroy what we have. I told you, if we're going to make it, we have to have total honesty."
"I agree, but do we have to share that honesty with everyone we know?" She fixed her icy gaze on him. "I-I'll never be able to show my face in this town again!"
"Honey, you're over reacting! Everyone knows we've done nothing wrong. If anyone is held up to public scrutiny, it will be me not you! I just wanted everything out in the open."
"Well, you've gotten everything out in the open!" she snapped. "But was clearing the air worth the price of my dignity?" She quickly turned away from him.
"Jillian..." Reginald pleaded.
"I-I don't think this is such a good idea." The words caught in her throat. "After everything that's happened tonight, I'm not sure that this marriage is going to happen."
"Now, honey, you just stay right here and calm down." Francis looked at Charles closely as he sat down at the bar. "I know that this night hasn't exactly turned out like we planned, but you can't let yourself get worked up over what that buffoon Nelson said."
"I know," he muttered. "But I refuse to let him talk about my family like that!"
"Just calm down." Francis sighed and glanced around the room. "Stay here and pull yourself together. I need to go find that errant daughter of ours."
"Yes. We haven't seen her since earlier and it's getting late." She looked as her watch. "It's time for that young lady to go home." Francis slowly walked away from Charles and began her search for her daughter. She was very disturbed to find Maggie locked in conversation with a couple of older, college boys. "Maggie! I think it's time you went home."
"Mother!" Maggie replied through clinched teeth. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of a conversation?"
"Exactly my point." Francis carefully directed her daughter away from the young men. "It's almost eleven and it's time for you to get home. It's entirely too late for you to be out."
"But, Momma! You're treating me like a child!" Maggie stomped her foot and stuck out her lower lip.
"You are a child."
"I am not! I'm not going home! I'm staying!"
"I think your mother's right, Maggie." Mary spoke up as she approached her granddaughter from behind. "Now, my driver is downstairs and he is more than able to take you home. Just let me call the lobby...."
"No! I'm not going!"
"Maggie..." Mary gave her a look of warning and then turned to Francis.
"Maggie, considering everything that's happened here tonight, this is no place for you." Francis took an authoritative stance. "You're going home and that's final!"
Maggie's shoulders slumped as she pouted. She just had to think of a way to stay at this party. She just knew something else was going to happen and she didn't want to miss a thing!
"Surely you can't mean that!" Reginald grabbed Jillian by the shoulders and pulled her to him. "You can't say that our marriage is a bad idea! I love you. I love you more than anything else in the world."
"But, with everything that's happened, I don't know." Jillian sighed as she shook her head. "Maybe Father is right."
"No!" He held her tightly and stoked her hair. "I wasn't planning on announcing everything to the world, but Dane and Stephanie made me so angry. How could they stand there and act so innocent after everything that they've done? How could they make me out to be the villain? I had to set the record straight. I had to let everyone know exactly what kind of people they are."
"Oh, Reginald, I just don't know!"
"I love you, Jillian," he said softly. "Please don't say you don't want to be my wife. Please forgive me for what I've done. I don't think I could bear it if I lost you."
"I don't know," she muttered. "I don't know if I can forgive you for this. I'm sorry, but I just don't know."
"Oh, Douglas, there you are!" Stephanie cried out as she threw herself into his arms. "Oh, I need you so much."
Douglas stood motionless as she wrapped her arms around him. He looked down at her coldly and quickly pushed her away. "I don't have anything to say to you."
"Surely you don't believe all of those awful things Dane said!" Her hand flew up to her chest as she gasped. "They were all lies!"
"Are you trying to tell me you weren't out to get Reginald behind my back?" He threw back another drink and turned to the bartender to request another. "I can't believe how easily you played me for a fool."
"Oh, Douglas, no! That's not the way it was at all!" She clung to him and tried to convince him of her innocence. "I care about you so very much. Y-you're the first man to really treat me like I'm somebody."
"My mistake." he muttered. "You've shown me your true colors and I can't believe how naive I've been. Now get away from me! I can't stand the site of you!"
"There you are, Miss Callison!" Jasper St. John called out as he waved at her to get her attention. "There's a phone call from the lobby for you."
"A phone call?" Maggie questioned as she walked over to the house phone at the end of the bar.
"Yes, it's Mrs. Albany's driver." He handed her the receiver. "He said to tell you he's waiting on you downstairs."
"Thank you," she muttered as she pressed the receiver against her ear. She glared at Jasper when she realized he wasn't going away. "I'd like to take this call in private!"
"O-oh, of course," he mumbled. He rolled his eyes and briskly moved away.
"This is Maggie Callison," she spoke sweetly into the phone. "Oh, no, sir, there's been a change of plans. Uh huh. Well, you see, it turns out that I don't need your services at all. No, I'm not going home." She grumbled and sighed. Why was her grandmother's driver being so difficult? "Well, Mrs. Albany is my grandmother and she wants me to stay a little longer! Yes, that's right. Yes, these are her orders." She slowly relaxed as a smile replaced her frown. "Thank you, so much. My grandmother appreciates your loyal service."
Maggie hung up the phone with a grin. She quickly scanned the room for a glimpse of her mother and grandmother and was pleased to find them no where in site. "I'll show them who's not a child," she muttered to herself as she slipped away unnoticed
"Douglas, please, you have to understand!" Stephanie grabbed his arm to hold his attention. "Everything I did tonight, I did for Sara!"
"Sara? What in the world does she have to do with all of this?"
"You've seen what kind of man Dane is! I-I had to get him away from her. I had to keep him from hurting her!" Her eyes were full of sadness and pleas for understanding. "I had to get Jillian to take him back so he'd leave Sara alone!"
"You had to get Jillian to take Dane back so you could have Reginald all to yourself!" he corrected with a sneer. "That's what this has all been about! Save your feeble attempts at noble sacrifice. You did this all for yourself! Sara be damned!"
"You even used me to get invited to this party so you could cause trouble!" He took another swig of his drink. "You used my feelings for you so that you could destroy Reginald and Jillian. How could I have been so blind? I thought you were a sweet and beautiful girl, but now I realize that you are horrible and ugly!"
"No! That's not how it was at all!" Stephanie began to cry again. "Douglas, I really do care about you. I-I had given up on my feelings for Reginald. I'd hoped that we could have a future together!"
"I fell for your lies once; I refuse to do it again!"
"D-Douglas, how much have you had to drink?" Stephanie quickly surveyed the bar and noted the collection of empty glasses that sat there.
"You know, I really don't think that's any of your concern." He finished his drink and quickly got another one. "In fact, nothing about me is any of your concern. Why don't you go find some other helpless sap so you can set out to destroy his life, too!" He snatched his drink off the bar and pushed her away.
"Douglas, please! Please give me another chance!" she wailed. "Please let me prove to you how much I care about you!"
He eyed her coldly. Without another word, he quickly stormed away leaving her completely alone.
"Oh, Charles, you look so upset." Annabelle approached him slowly and noted the lines of worry on his face. "This party hasn't exactly turned out like you'd planned, has it?"
"I can't believe that man had the nerve to criticize my family!" He slammed his fist against the bar. "Why, I should..."
"What man? What are you talking about?" She gently laid her hand on his arm and looked at him with concern.
"Nelson Stokes! How dare he say that the Callison aren't good enough for their daughter!"
"Well, he clearly doesn't have any idea what he's talking about!" She shook her head in disbelief. "You know how highly this city holds you and your family. You're probably the first family of Albanyville...well, after the Albanys, but then there are any of them left anymore except for Francis and her mother. The Callisons have done wonderful things for everyone. Callison Publications employs many people and you are always the first to contribute to worthwhile charities. Why, The Daily Post is probably the most respected newspaper in the region!"
"I know, I know." Charles sighed as he lowered his head. "But all Nelson sees is a small town family filled with scandal. Reginald's actions here tonight didn't help things any."
"Why do you even care what Mr. Stokes thinks? Let him worry about life in his world! Albanyville is your world. His arrogant opinions can't take that away from you."
"You're right! I can't let the rantings of some narrow-minded snob negate everything I've worked for. The Callisons are a fine family! His arrogant assumptions can't erase that!"
She smiled at him seductively. "See, Charles? See what I can do for you? I can lift you up when you're feeling down. I can make you feel better about yourself. You need me, Charles." She leaned in to kiss him, but he swiftly dodged her advances.
"No, Annabelle! I love Francis. She's my wife. I will not allow you to worm your way into my life!" He crossed his arms and took a step backward.
She looked at him and sighed. How much longer would he stay true to a wife who had long outlived her usefulness to him? "Okay, Charles," she cooed softly. "But at least let me get you a drink. It will help calm your nerves."
He thought for a minute and nodded. What harm could a drink do?
Annabelle turned to motion to the bartender. With her back to Charles, she reached into her purse and pulled out the bottle she'd received from Dr. Rutherford. Now, with drink in one hand and mysterious bottle in the other, she grinned slyly to herself.
"So, have things settled down now between you and Jillian?" Trevor asked as he stood next to Reginald. "I can't believe Dane and Stephanie had the gall to pull the stunts they did. I can't believe you stood up and revealed every underhanded thing that they've done! There's no way anyone could ever trust either one of them again!"
"Well, I'm afraid that in my haste to be truthful, I've lost Jillian." Reginald's head hung low as he thought about a life without the woman he loved.
"What? Surely you're wrong!"
"I'm afraid not." Reginald sighed and shook his head. "She's very angry with me for spilling our personal lives out for everyone to see and inspect. You can't imagine how hurt and embarrassed she is. S-she's having second thoughts about our marriage."
"I can't believe that! No!" Trevor sternly grabbed his brother by the shoulders. "Look, you and Jillian love each other too much to let this come between you! A love like yours only comes along once in a lifetime. If you truly love her as much as you say you do, you've got to fight for her. You've got to make her see how right you are for each other!"
"I do love her, but you know how stubborn she can be!" Reginald rubbed his forehead with the heal of his hand. "She doesn't let go of things easily."
"Reginald, true love is a rare thing." Trevor's thoughts drifted toward Grace. "It's something you can't let slip through your fingers. You've got to fight for Jillian. You've got to make her see that not marrying you would be the biggest mistake she could ever make!"
"You're right!" Reginald agreed forcefully as he slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. "I've got to convince her that we belong together. I've got to make her understand!"
Trevor watched his brother as Reginald hurried away to find Jillian. Silently, Trevor realized that he need to take his own advice. He needed to force Grace to see the truth, as well.
Annabelle swiftly uncapped the bottle and began to pour its contents into Charles' drink. Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her.
"Excuse me," Lorraine muttered as she bumped into Annabelle.
"Um...oh...that's quite alright." She quickly recapped the bottle as she hid her actions from sight and turned around. "Quite a lot of interesting events going on tonight, aren't there?"
"That's probably an understatement." Lorraine's attitude toward Annabelle was chilly. "Charles, are you doing alright?" Her eyes darted back and forth between Charles and Annabelle.
"I'm doing better since I've been talking to Annabelle, here." He reached out and patted her on the shoulder. "She's made me understand exactly how foolishly I've reacted to certain slanderous comments against my family."
"Ah, I see." Lorraine's voice was tinged with sarcasm as she faced the bartended and requested a drink. She took a sip and sat it down before addressing Charles again. "Well, I'm sure everything will work out for the best. Reginald and Jillian are so perfect for one another."
"I hope so." Charles muttered in reply.
"Well, I need to find my date," Lorraine said as she picked up her glass. "Seems Patterson has disappeared somewhere. He's probably off trying to soothe Dane's wounded ego. Honestly, I've never understood how those two could be such good friends."
"And I wonder where Francis has gone," Charles spoke up as Lorraine walked away. "She went to find Maggie and send her home, but I haven't seen her since. She must be off gabbing with her mother." He took a few steps away from the bar to make a quick survey of the ball room for a glimpse of his wife.
Seeing her chance, Annabelle swiftly pulled out the bottle again and reached for Charles' drink. Turning her back to hide her actions, she looked at the bottle and smiled. She'd only managed to pour in a little of it's contents before Lorraine had interrupted. As she picked up Charles' drink, her eyes grew wide with shock...there was a smudge of lipstick on the glass. She quickly realized what had happened. Lorraine had taken the wrong drink!
"Annabelle?" Charles' voice came from behind her. "What's going on? Can I have my drink?"
"Oh...why...yes, of course." She slipped the bottle back into her purse and quickly wiped the lipstick off the rim of the glass. "Here you go, Charles." She handed him the drink and smiled. "You know, it's a little too loud in here. Why don't we go into the lounge? I'm sure the quietness will greatly improve your mood. Besides, it will give us a chance to talk."
"What are you up to?" he questioned as he watched her closely.
"Nothing!" she laughed nervously and clutched her purse tightly. "It's just so loud in here."
"Well, I guess there's no harm. Just don't try anything funny." He slowly left her side and walked toward the lounge.
"Me?" she chuckled. As she quickly followed him, she prayed that she would get another chance to gain possession of his drink. Suddenly, a thought struck her. Exactly how much of the contents of the bottle had she managed to get into Lorraine's drink and what would happen when Lorraine downed the tainted cocktail?
"Oh, my!" Grace gasped to herself as she looked up. Her eyes grew wide as she saw Dane standing in front of her. Despite his now swollen lip, she thought about how handsome he looked as he leaned against the wall . "Um, hello, Dane," she spoke nervously.
"Oh, hi," he smiled as his eyes sparkled. "It's Grace, isn't it?"
"Yes!" She was thrilled that he remembered her. "How are you? I mean, considering everything that's happened."
"I'm actually doing pretty good." He flashed her his trademark grin. "I still can't believe that Reginald made a scene like that. He had no reason!"
"So, you're saying that nothing he said was true? You weren't trying to cause trouble between him and his fiancée?"
"Of course not!" He turned to face her more fully. "I'm just an innocent bystander in this whole mess. It's Stephanie Lake who's responsible for all this chaos, not me!"
Grace let out a sigh of relief. She had just known that Dane couldn't be mixed up in such horrible schemes. "Well, I knew you couldn't be involved. You're just too nice a guy to be capable of such things."
Dane smiled at her and laughed. He'd never had anyone refer to him as a "nice guy" before. He kind of liked the ring of it. "Well, I'm glad I at least have one supporter." Suddenly, the tempo of the orchestra changed and the sounds of a romantic melody began to fill the air. "Grace, would you like to dance?"
She felt her heart beat faster in her chest. Oh, my god! He asked me to dance! It's just like in my dream. she thought as she felt her face flush. "I-I'd like that very much."
Dane gently took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. Grace had been waiting for this moment for months. Now, she was going to be in his arms and dancing to the delicate strains of the orchestra. Would the rest of her dream come true, too? Would Dane tell her he loved her?
"I am so glad that Maggie went home," Francis sighed as she turned toward Mary. "With everything that's happened here tonight, this is no place for her."
"Well, I have to agree with you," Mary nodded. "I know that granddaughter of mine thinks she knows everything, but Maggie is still very impressionable. She reminds me a lot of you at that age."
"You've got to be joking! I was never like that!"
Mary chuckled slightly. "Dear, you were exactly like that!"
"I just can't believe this party has turned into such a complete disaster. Jillian and I worked so hard on everything." Francis' shoulders slumped in disappointment.
"Don't worry, I'm sure everything is going to be alright. Whatever trouble Dane Manchester and Stephanie Lake were trying to cause has been exposed. Everything can get back to normal, now."
They continued to chat as they walked back towards the bar.
"Now, where did Charles go?" Francis paused as she rested her hands on her hips. She quickly looked around the room in hopes of seeing her husband. "I left him right here. He was so angry after that run-in with Jillian's father."
"I'm sure he's calmed down. He's probably just mingling with the rest of the guests," Mary reassured. "trying to get everyone back into the festive spirit of the night."
"I hope so." Francis nervously rubbed her neck. She didn't see Annabelle around, either. Privately, she hoped that they weren't together.
"You are wonderful dancer!" Grace exclaimed as she glided around the dance floor wrapped in his strong arms.
"I do many things wonderfully," he teased as he pulled her closer.
As Grace rested her head on his shoulder, she glanced around the room to catch sight of Sara. She couldn't find her in the crowd and began to grow disappointed that that part of her dream wasn't happening the way it should. Grace lifted her head slowly and looked deeply into Dane's eyes. "You are quite a charmer, Dane. You've very handsome, too."
"Oh, you're just saying that!" Dane felt his broken spirit soar again under Grace's flattery. She was being so good for his ego. "And you're a very attractive young woman, as well." He lightly traced the outline of her cheek with his finger.
"D-Dane, I have to confess something." She lowered her eyes slightly. "I've sort of had a crush on you." She felt her pulse begin to race. She couldn't believe she'd been bold enough to reveal her secret. "From the moment I first met you in Douglas' office, every time I see you my heart skips a beat."
"Gee, you keep on and you'll make me blush." A smile started to spread across his face. Ah, Dane, he thought to himself, no matter what Jillian thinks, you've still got an affect on the ladies.
"Dane, I..." her voice trailed off as she began to feel caught up in the moment. Suddenly, she leaned in to him and pressed her lips against his. In one swift movement, she kissed him deeply. It was a moment she'd waited for forever.
Dane was surprised and taken aback by her actions, but he did not pull away. Also caught up in the impetuousness of it all, he returned her kiss with equal intensity. Neither Grace nor Dane saw Trevor standing at the edge of the dance floor quietly wondering exactly what was going on.
Stephanie stood solemnly in a corner and watched the guests slowly start to return to celebrating Reginald and Jillian's engagement. She clutched her hands to her chest as she wrapped herself in her loneliness. Her eyes landed on the happy couple and she watched them as they talked. She lowered her head and nervously wiped away a tear as it formed in the corner of her eye. Reginald did love Jillian. She realized that now. Stephanie also realized that she'd only talked herself into believing that she could be the one he really loved.
She looked up again and saw Douglas still standing by the bar. Their eyes met and she gave him a pleading look. He sneered in response and turned his back to her. She really was all alone. All her years of popularity in high school couldn't help her now. She was in an adult world and those childish games wouldn't work. She bit her lip as it quivered and she turned to walk away, but collided with Helen Van Dyne.
"O-oh, I'm sorry," Stephanie muttered as she looked up startled.
"Well, if it isn't the princess troublemaker!" Helen eyed her coldly. "Don't you think you've caused enough trouble for one night?"
"Leave me alone," Stephanie muttered in response.
"Why don't you just leave? Everything you'd tried to do to hurt Reginald and Jillian has failed!" Helen grabbed Stephanie's arm firmly. "Just get out of here! No one wants you here!"
"I-I can't go home." Stephanie began to sob. "I-I came with Douglas and he won't even talk to me. I don't have a way home!"
"You're feet look like they work." Helen giggled maliciously. "And don't even think about trying to pledge Theta Omega Chi in the fall. We don't want you. In fact, no one wants you!"
Stephanie fought to hide her pain and yanked her arm away. With Helen's cold eyes still on her, Stephanie ran from the room.
"Um, hello, Trevor," Patterson muttered tentatively as he approached him. "Um, have you seen Lorraine? She went to get a drink and I seemed to have lost track of her."
"Huh? What?" Trevor turned to face him having only heard a fraction of what he'd said. "Oh, Patterson. It's you. I, um, haven't seen her."
"Well, you seem lost in your own world." Patterson smirked. "What's going..." He looked in the direction of Trevor's gaze and saw Grace with Dane. He held back a chuckle when he realized what was going on. "So, I see your great love seems to be a little preoccupied with Dane."
"I, uh, really hadn't noticed."
"If you say so," Patterson laughed. "I guess you better keep an eye on her. Looks to me like she feels about as strongly about him as you do about her."
Trevor quickly turned and shot him an angry look.
"You better be careful or you could loose her to Dane. I guess that would make all the pain you've caused Lorraine for nothing." Patterson laughed to himself at the irony and quietly walked away leaving Trevor to wonder what exactly was going on.
Stephanie choked back tears as she stumbled out onto the balcony. She looked out on the city and began to wonder where everything had gone wrong. The warm June breeze fluttered across her shoulders and she felt a brief moment of relief from her pain, but that relief was fleeting.
"Oh, how could it all have turned out like this?" she asked to herself. "I was so sure Reginald loved me. What kind of fool was I? Of course he didn't love me. Why would anyone love me?" She rested her head in her hands as she leaned on the railing She carefully peered over the edge and so the ground many stories below. "I should never have listened to Momma. I should never have listened to Dane. I-I could have had a future with Douglas, but now he hates me! Dane used me, Reginald hates me...everyone hates me!" She began to cry harder as she sunk to the ground and leaned her head against the railing. She slowly rocked herself back and forth while she thought about the emptiness she felt inside. "No one loves me! No one except Momma, but she told me wrong. She told me I could have Reginald. She made me believe I could be happy. She was wrong! Now, I don't think I can ever be happy."
Stephanie sat curled up on the ground. Because of her tears, she didn't realize she was being watched. Unknown to her, Patterson was standing in the doorway. He'd come in search of Lorraine, but had found a broken Stephanie instead. He suddenly grew very confused. Considering all of her despicable actions, why was he now beginning to feel so sorry for her?
"So, Annabelle, how did a woman like you get to be a woman like you?" Charles let out a small chuckle and eyed her closely. Her eyes, however, closely watched the drink in his hand. She had to stifle the groan that tried to form in her throat as she watched him take another drink.
"Well, my husband wasn't exactly the best choice for a mate that I could have made," she replied honestly. "But, I was young and naive. I actually believed in happily ever after." She nervously fingered the bottle she secretly held in her hand.
"And you don't now?" He watched her as she shook her head in response. "So...um...what happened?"
"Stephen was a dreamer who was always looking for an easy way to get rich. He was never one to hold an honest job." Annabelle grew sad as she thought about her wasted life with her late husband. "That left me to work to support him and Stephanie. Things were hard enough until he started getting involved in more and more illegal activities...the mob. There was a period where I wasn't sure we'd make it through that time alive."
Charles reached out to hold her hand in a show of support and understanding. She flinched when he grabbed the hand that held the bottle. "I-I never knew. So, what happened to Stephen? How did he die?"
"You know," she spoke up as she tried to change the subject. "I really don't want to talk about me. What about you? Tell me about when you were younger...before you had to become head of the Callison family."
"Not much to tell, actually." He took another drink and, to Annabelle's relief, sat his glass down on the table behind them. "I was the youngest of two boys. I wasn't the one who was supposed to take over my father's role as head of the family. My brother Landon was supposed to do that."
"Um, so why didn't he?" Annabelle kept his attention focused while she swiftly poured the remainder of the bottles contents into his drink unnoticed. She smiled as she picked up the glass and returned it to his hand.
"He died," Charles spoke matter-of-factly. "Horseback riding accident. He was only 18. Without him to follow in my father's footsteps, that job was left to me. I suddenly become an only child and sole heir to the Callison name."
"Oh, Charles, I'm so sorry." She saw the emotional pain that his memories were causing him and wrapped her arms around him to give him support. "All the plans you'd made for you life must have changed instantly."
"They did." He swallowed hard as he remembered how hard he'd worked to live up to Landon's memory. Much to Annabelle's glee, he took a drink of his tainted cocktail.
Maggie maneuvered cautiously across the back of the room as she tried not to be seen. She knew that if her parents discovered that she hadn't gone home as they'd requested, she'd be in serious trouble. She stopped for a moment to again take in everything that was going on. From where she was standing she could see Dane dancing with Grace, Reginald talking to Jillian, and the Stokes family all huddled together. Now, where did Patterson go? she thought to herself.
She turned a corner and nearly felt her heart stop. There was her mother and grandmother standing right in her path. Maggie let out a slight gasp and realized that she had to stay out of site or she'd be grounded for a week. That meant no radio! She paused as she thought about a week without Today's Children and realized that she wouldn't be able to make it that long without listening to her favorite show. Cautiously, she changed directions.
The lounge! She smiled as the idea suddenly came to her. There's no one in the lounge; I'll hide there until it calms down. Unnoticed, she carefully walked toward the lounge doors.
"Oh, Charles, that must have been so difficult for you." Annabelle watched him carefully as she waited for him to feel the effects of his drink.
"I-It was. Not only was Landon my big brother, he was my idol. I wanted to be just like him." Charles thought about his dead brother and, to Annabelle's shock, downed the remainder of his drink in one gulp.
They sat in silence for a few moments. Nervously, Annabelle moved closer to him. "Charles?" she finally spoke.
"U-um, yes?" He squinted his eyes as he tried to focus on her face. He swallowed and rubbed the back of his neck. He was suddenly feeling very lightheaded and wasn't sure why. He didn't think he'd had that much to drink, but now everything seemed to be in a fog.
"Are you alright?" She placed her hand on his leg and leaned in to him. The drug was working much faster than she'd anticipated. Dr. Rutherford had been correct in his recommendation. "You seem a little out of sorts."
"Suddenly, I'm just not feeling so well." As Charles tried to shake off the funny feeling that had overtaken him, he did nothing to fight Annabelle's narrowing proximity. Neither one saw Maggie slowly push open the door and cautiously look in.
TO BE CONTINUED
Maggie can't keep a secret.
For Now and Forever
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