For Now and Forever
The Grand Sunset Room
Patterson stood in the doorway leading to the balcony as he watched a broken and weary Stephanie Lake sitting on the ground crying her eyes out. He'd never really cared much for her. All of her schemes to separate Reginald and Jillian had just made him despise her even more. Now, however, in her pitiful state, he couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Maybe he'd been wrong about her. Maybe she had just been misled. Maybe she did have a heart.
"Darn! Where in the world did Patterson go?" Lorraine mumbled to herself as she walked through the crowd. She hoped she hadn't been too harsh on him earlier. She couldn't help it if she still had a few unresolved feelings for Trevor. She really did hope for a future with Patterson; but the pain of Trevor's betrayal was still too fresh. Lorraine knew that Patterson would be what was best for her. But, where did he disappear to?
She raised her index finger up to her lip as she thought. "Oh, well," she mutter again, "I'll find him eventually." She let out a heavy sigh and took a sip of her drink.
I'll just hang out in here until Momma and Nana move, Maggie thought as she approached the doors to the empty lounge. Then I can go and find Patterson. Carefully, she pulled open the door and stuck her head in to make sure the coast was clear. Her hand flew up to her mouth to catch her gasp as her eyes grew wide. Maggie couldn't believe what she was seeing. The supposedly empty lounge wasn't empty at all. Right before her stood her father and Annabelle Lake and it looked like they were kissing!
"Charles, are you sure you're alright?" Annabelle asked as she lifted her head off of his shoulder.
"I-I'm not sure." He swallowed and stretched his neck. Carefully he looked down at his hand and squinted in an attempt to focus his eyes. "I guess I had...I had...more to drink...than I thought." His words came out in a mutter and he found his thoughts beginning to blur.
"I'm sure that's all it is." She smiled. The drug had taken affect much more quickly than she'd anticipated. She cautiously slid closer to him. With a gentle touch to his cheek, she turned his head to face her. "Don't let what Nelson said about your family upset you. The Callisons are the greatest family in town. And you, Charles, are the greatest man."
"I...I," he stammered. "I'm not so sure about that."
Annabelle was suddenly startled when she caught sight of a figure standing barely noticeable in the doorway. Another quick glance showed her that their observer was Charles' daughter Maggie. Annabelle smiled again and realized that she could most definitely use this to her advantage. She slowly leaned in to him so that her lips brushed lightly against his cheek. "Charles..." she murmured.
He turned to face her more fully and her lips brushed against his. He let out a deep sigh that was suddenly smothered by the intense kiss that followed. Charles did not pull away.
"Jillian," Reginald spoke up as he grabbed her arm. "I love you. That's the one thing in life I'm most sure of. Please don't tell me it's over. Please don't tell me you don't love me any more."
She lowered her head and sighed deeply. "H-how can I say that? How can I tell you I don't love you when that's the furthest thing from the truth?" Jillian fell into his arms and rested her head on his strong chest. "Reginald, I love you more than I've ever loved anyone in my entire life. I could never stop loving you. No matter what's happened or what might happen, I'll love you until the day I die."
"You make me so happy." He kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair. "Jillian, please tell me you still want to marry me. Please tell me you still want to be my wife."
"Oh, Reginald, yes! Yes, I still want to marry you!"
"Do you really mean it?"
"Reginald, I love you," Jillian said as she held him tightly. "I-I know things have been difficult for us because of Dane and Stephanie, but I know the love we have for one another can get us through anything. I am still determined to be your wife."
"I wouldn't hold my breath on that, Jillian dear," Nelson spoke up as he approached them.
"W-what do you mean, Father?"
"All this happy revelry will be for nothing." Nelson stood in front of them with his arms folded securely across his chest. "I have no intention of letting this wedding take place!"
"Oh, Charles," Annabelle moaned softly before pulling away from him. She grinned with satisfaction that he was not resisting her advances. She cautiously glanced out of the corner of her eyes to make sure Maggie was still standing in the shadows.
"I-I'm not f-feeling well." Charles wobbled a little and grabbed on to Annabelle to steady himself. "I really m-must have had...must have had m-more to drink...than I thought."
"Darling, maybe you need to lie down?"
"I-I think y-you might be...right."
"Well, I have an idea. Let me get you a room here in the hotel and you can lie down and rest." She took hold of his arm to give him balance as she slowly led him to the doors of the lounge. She glanced ahead and noticed that Maggie had moved from her previous position in the doorway.
"Y-yes...I-I do n-need to lie...down." He stumbled as he walked, but Annabelle held on to him firmly.
Once they were in the hallway outside of the lounge, Annabelle cautiously looked around to see Maggie. She was pleased to find the teenager still watching their every move from the shadows. That child should really work on being sneaky, Annabelle thought to herself with a laugh. She's really not that good. She needs much more practice.
"Just follow me," she spoke audibly enough for Maggie to hear. "I'll take care of everything."
"J-just...just make s-sure...just make sure F-Francis k-knows where I-I am." His speech grew even more slurred. "I-I...I don't w-want her...to worry."
"Oh, everything will be fine." Annabelle smiled widely. "I'll make sure your wife knows exactly where you are." As she led Charles away, she made sure that his daughter followed close behind.
Grace looked up into Dane's eyes and sighed as she thought about how handsome he was. As he twirled her around the dance floor, she silently waited for him to suddenly realize that she was the perfect girl for him. The dream that she'd had had come true, so far, the rest of it had to happen, too.
"Grace," Dane finally muttered.
"You are a very attractive young woman." His lips gently grazed her ear and she could feel his breath on her neck.
"Oh, Dane, you have no idea how much I care for you." She held on to him tighter and allowed the strength of his arms to encircle her.
Dane grinned as he thought about the young woman in his arms. She sure does have a thing for me, he thought to himself. She's so pretty and innocent. She's hanging on my every word. Grace Davis would definitely make a nice distraction for me.
"D-Dane," she spoke up. "I-I think I've had a crush on your since the moment I met you. I'd always hoped you would see me as more than Douglas' little sister."
"Oh, don't you worry. I see you as much more than that." He grinned slyly. "But I had no idea you felt like you do. I-I'm very flattered and a little surprised."
"C-can I kiss you again?" She blushed slightly and lifted her head so that their eyes met again.
"I don't see why not." He was enjoying her attention and found this little flirtatious game they were playing quite satisfying. He leaned in to her and their lips met again .
"Dane!" came a voice that broke into their moment. "What in the world is going on here?"
Dane and Grace turned simultaneously to see Sara standing in front of them. Dane cringed under her angry gaze. He'd been caught red-handed. How would he ever be able to talk his way out of this?
"I honestly don't think you can tell me who I can and cannot marry!" Jillian stated firmly as she glared at her father. "I love Reginald and there's not a thing you can do about that. I intend on marrying him!"
"Jillian Marie Stokes, I forbid you to have anything to do with this cretin!" Nelson's voice boomed over the din of the crowd. "You will not marry this man! I forbid it!"
"You're forbidding me?" Jillian placed her hand on her chest in shock. "I'll have you know I'm a grown woman and can make such decisions for myself! I am not a little girl that you can simply order around!"
"Are you threatening to defy me?"
"Jillian..." Reginald muttered nervously. He didn't like the idea of being the cause of problems between her and her family.
She threw up a hand to silence Reginald. "This is between me and my father," she said as she moved closer to Nelson. "I am threatening to follow my heart, Father. My heart is leading me to Reginald. There is nothing you can do about that!"
"I'm warning you, young lady, if you persist in this foolish idea, I will cut you off!" He glared at his daughter. "I cannot allow a man like Reginald Callison to embarrass me or the Stokes name!"
"Now, wait a second, Mr. Stokes," Reginald broke into the conversation. "I take great offense at your implications concerning my family."
"I don't care what offense you take!" Nelson fired back.
"Reginald!" Jillian chastised before again turning to face down her father. She inhaled deeply and tried to swallow back the tears of anger that tried to well up in her eyes. "If that's the way you want it, so be it! I may no longer be considered a Stokes, but I will most definitely be a Callison. In my opinion I've chosen the better of the two!"
Reginald stood stunned with Jillian's proclamation while Nelson seethed with anger over his daughter's betrayal. Silently, Reginald feared what Jillian's father had in store for her next.
"Um, oh, hi, Sara," Dane stammered as he quickly moved away from Grace. "Where have you been? I was looking for you."
"I bet you were." Sara glared at him and then turned to look at a guilty Grace. "I think you need to stay away from my boyfriend," she warned. "I certainly hope you don't think you actually mean anything to him! I can guarantee that you mean nothing! You see, Dane here has this little habit of leading naive girls on. He thrives on the attention. Most girls like Jillian are smart enough to see through him or, like me, smart enough to keep him in line."
"Now wait a second!" Dane didn't like the notion that Sara "kept him in line" as she'd put it. "No one controls me! Not you, not anyone!"
"Whatever you say, Dane," Sara smiled icily. "Anyway," she turned back to Grace, "if you know what's good for you, you need to stay as far away from Dane as you possibly can. I can guarantee you don't want to cross me!"
"I-I'm sorry," Grace muttered as her face flushed with embarrassment. "I-I had no idea." Trying to hold back her tears, she quickly walked away and left Dane and Sara alone.
"Sara, honey, I can explain!" Dane said nervously. "Grace and I were just dancing..."
"And kissing," she interrupted. "I'm not blind! I can see what was going on."
"Nothing was going on!"
"Just like nothing was going on between you and Jillian?" Sara folded her arms across her chest and watched him closely. "So, how many others have there been? How many, Dane! How many other foolish girls like Jillian and Grace have you tried to lure into your bed behind my back?"
"Sara, that's not the way it is!"
"Oh, isn't it?" She walked toward him and reached out to run her hand over his shoulder. "Dane, you need to be more committed to this relationship. You need to focus on me more than any of these other girls."
"We've already discussed this!" He felt himself begin to grow angry. Why were they having this same argument again? "I told you that I refuse to be completely committed to someone until I get married. Until I decide that I'm ready for all that a marriage involves, I will be tied down to no one!" He pushed her hand away and angrily walked off.
Sara fumed as she stood alone on the dance floor. She thought about the information she had concerning Dane's entrance exam and smiled slightly.
Patterson watched Stephanie closely as she cried. He began to feel horrible for everything that had happened to her. True, she'd done some awful things in her attempt to separate Reginald and Jillian, but to have everyone turn on her like they had.
"Oh, why did I listen to Momma?" Stephanie said as she sobbed. Her back was to Patterson, so she didn't see him standing in the doorway. "Why didn't I just forget about Reginald like I'd tried to do? Why did I let her convince me that I had a chance? Everyone hates me." She buried her head in her hands and cried.
"N-not everyone hates you." Patterson spoke up as he stepped onto the balcony.
She snapped her head up and quickly dried her tears as she tried to pull herself together. "What do you want?" she questioned coldly. "Did you come out here to gloat, too? I know what you and all of your friends think about me! I know you wanted Reginald with Jillian all along! I bet you're pretty happy now that everyone seems to hate me."
"I don't hate you, Stephanie," he said softly as he walked over to her. "I-in fact, I think I might have misjudged you."
"What?" She looked up at him in disbelief. She and Patterson had never seen eye to eye on anything. They'd had more than their fair share of run-ins over the years. "What are you up to? I bet you're trying to find some other way to humiliate me!"
"No, that's the furthest thing from my mind." He knelt down beside her on the ground and pulled out a handkerchief and gently began to wipe her eyes. He couldn't help but laugh when he realized he wasn't doing a very good job. "Here," he smiled as he handed the handkerchief to her. "You can probably do it better than I can."
Stephanie wiped the last of her tears away and sighed. She folded her legs under herself and tried to smooth out the long skirt of her gown as she remained seated on the ground. "So, what do you want?"
"Um, well, actually, I was looking for Lorraine. I came out here and saw you..." His voice trailed off as he examined her closely. He shook his head slightly in disbelief. Was that really a look of genuine innocence that he saw on her face? "Well, let's just say that I think I've misjudged you. I don't think you're really the heartless girl I once thought you were."
"Really?" She looked at him with cautious disbelief. He had to be up to something.
"Granted, I think you tend to be a little misguided." He laughed as he watched her nod her head impishly in agreement. "But deep down, I think all you really want is someone to love you for you."
"Oh, my, yes! That's all I want! I thought I could have that with Reginald, but that didn't work. Then I really thought I could have that with Douglas, but I ruined that because of Dane!"
"Steph, you've got to stop trying so many schemes and tricks." He reached out and touched her lightly on the shoulder. "Stop trying to force things. You've got to try to be a better, more honest person. If you can do that, you can let the sweet girl you've got locked up inside come out. That's when you're gonna find the love you crave."
Stephanie looked at him closely. Could he be telling her the truth? Could she really find true love if she just stopping scheming to find it?
"Oh, Trevor," Grace sobbed as she fell into his arms. "I-I'm such a stupid fool."
"So, I take it things didn't go well with Dane?" He tried to hide the disappointment caused by his discovery of Grace's secret crush.
"Oh, you know?"
"I saw the two of you on the dance floor." Trevor pulled away from her and looked her in the eyes. "I-I can't believe that you are so naive to want to have anything to do with him after the stunt he pulled here tonight. You heard Reginald tell everyone what he did to break up him and Jillian!"
"No!" she snapped back. "He didn't do anything! It was all that vile Stephanie Lake's fault! She was behind everything."
Trevor shook his head in disbelief. How could she still defend Dane when he obviously had brought her to tears. "Now, why don't you tell me everything." He wrapped his arms around her to comfort her. "I know, now, that this crush you've had is Dane."
"Y-yes." Grace sniffled as she tried to blink away her tears. "Oh, Trevor, I was such a fool. H-he couldn't want me. Well, actually, he could, but not for the reason I want! Dane Manchester is a cad. I realize now that he only uses girls to get what he wants. How Sara Summers can stay involved with him, I'll never know."
"And knowing all of this, you still defend his lack of a role in what happened tonight between Reginald and Jillian?"
She paused for a moment and thought. Of course, if Dane was awful enough to charm women into doing what he wanted, why wouldn't he be horrible enough to try to cause problems for Reginald and Jillian...especially if he really wanted her back. "Oh, Trevor, you're right!" She lay her head on his shoulder. "I don't know what I ever saw in him."
"I do." He held her tightly and stroked her pale blonde hair. "It's that devilish twinkle in his eye and his charming grin. It's his smooth way of telling young, naive girls everything they want to hear until they think he's the most wonderful thing on the planet. Don't feel bad, Grace. You're not the first person he's fooled. Remember, he fooled Jillian, too, and I think she's one of the smartest girls I know."
"I-I guess you're right."
"Grace," Trevor spoke softly as he lifted her chin up so that their eyes met. He sighed as he thought about how beautiful she was. "I-I promise that I'll never use you like that. I'll never hurt you."
Oh, his eyes! Grace thought as she found herself lost in Trevor's eyes. Despite the feelings she'd had for Dane, she'd never been able to pull herself away from Trevor's eyes. She was shocked when his lips found hers and he began to kiss her. She was more shocked to find that she didn't have the strength to push him away...nor did she want to.
"Oh, that's what I want!" Stephanie exclaimed as she clasped her hands together. "I want real love. I want someone who'll love me for me! I-I really am a sweet girl, but...but..."
"No 'buts'!" Patterson pressed his finger against her lips to silence her. "You can't go running around with one hair brained scheme after another. You can't just go plowing over someone who gets in the way of something you want!"
"But Daddy always said that if you wanted the fairytale, if you wanted the happy ending, you had to help it along!" She hung her head as she thought of her father's advice. She'd believed him when he told her that she had to fight for what she wanted. Unfortunately, all her work had gotten her so far was utter embarrassment and disgrace. She shook her head and sighed.
"What's that advice gotten you?"
"Reginald hates me," she admitted. "Douglas doesn't want anything to do with me...heaven only knows what Sara thinks of me. She's my best friend in the whole world and I'm sure she thinks I deliberately tried to stab her in the back. I didn't! Really! Honest! I just wanted to get Dane away from her."
"I'm sure you're intentions regarding Sara were noble," he reached out and lifted her head to face him. "Well, as noble as you could make them." They both laughed. "But you've got to change the way you do things, Steph. I think you've seen that scheming doesn't work."
"Oh, you're right! You're really right!" She threw her arms around him and hugged him. "I can be better! I know I can. I-I can show everyone what kind of girl I really am!" She pulled away when a horrible thought struck her. "O-oh, I don't know if I can do it by myself. I-I need someone to help me. I need someone to tell me when I'm messing up. I know I can't count on Momma for that." Her head dropped in sadness again. "A-and I don't have any real friends." Suddenly, she looked up and right at Patterson. "Paddy, will you be my friend? You can help me be a better person! You know how to do it. You've got this honesty and honor thing down pat!"
"I-I don't know." He quickly grew nervous and slowly moved away. Could he really take on a responsibility as tough as helping Stephanie Lake reform her outlook on life? He looked into her pleading eyes and realized that he couldn't tell her "no". He couldn't leave her all alone and hopeless. "Yes, Stephanie," he nodded in defeat. "Yes, I'll help you. But, it's not going to be easy to change old habits. I'm going to be watching you every step of the way."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" She flung her arms around him and kissed him deeply.
Patterson was shocked by her display of affection and gratitude. He tried to push her away, but realized that there was no deterring her. Soon, he was surprised to discover himself kissing her back. If he'd only known Lorraine had just stepped onto the balcony and had witnessed the entire embrace.
"Oh, god!" Lorraine muttered to herself as she silently stepped back into the ballroom. She placed her hand on her chest and felt her heart racing faster. Her breathing was heavy as she quickly hurried away from the doorway to the balcony. Lorraine felt the tears begin to form in her eyes as she thought about the scene she'd just witnessed...Patterson kissing Stephanie Lake. Stephanie! Of all people!
"First, Trevor, now, Patterson," she sobbed and buried her head in her hands. "I can't trust anyone!" She approached the bar and flagged down the bartender. "I-I'll have another drink."
He looked at her curiously and motioned to the still full glass that was in her hand. With determination, she swiftly downed the entire drink. "Satisfied?" she asked sarcastically.
The bartender nodded with a grin and poured her another cocktail.
With the fresh drink in her hand, Lorraine leaned against the bar and carefully rubbed her head. "I-I drank that one too quickly," she muttered to herself. "I-I'm starting to feel a little light headed..."
"S-Stephanie..." Patterson muttered tentatively as he carefully pushed her away. "What are you doing?"
"Oh! I-I'm sorry." Stephanie's face flushed with embarrassment as her hand flew up to her mouth and she realized what she'd done. "I-I guess I just got so excited. This is the first time I've really felt good about something all night."
"But did you have to kiss me?"
"Well?" She fluttered her eyes sheepishly. "It's the only thing I know! What else are you supposed to do with a guy except kiss him?
"How about shaking hands?" He crossed his arms in front of him and looked at her closely.
"I-I guess that's okay." Stephanie stuck out her hand and Patterson grasped it firmly. "Oh, thank you, Patterson! Thank you for deciding to be my friend! I know I can do better! I know it!"
"Well, I'll be watching you," he cautioned. "You slip up and I'll be there to call you on it. I want you on the straight and narrow!"
"Oh, I will be!"
"Now, I've got to go find Lorraine." Patterson slowly stood up and brushed off his pants. "Remember, Steph, I'm watching you."
"Yes, sir!" She laughed as she raised her hand to her forehead in a mock salute. "I know I can do better! I'm really gonna try."
He looked at her with a smile before walking back into the ballroom.
"I do know I can change," she muttered to herself. "right after I get even with Dane for trying to destroy my life."
"Oh, hello, Douglas," Lorraine said as she moved over next to him as he leaned against the bar. She was quick to notice his glassy eyes and realized he'd had quite a lot to drink. "So, I take it your not handling this evening too well?"
"Lorraine, I can't believe I was stupid enough to believe Stephanie." He took another drink and shook his head at his own foolishness. "Why couldn't I see through her?"
"I think a lot of people were fooled by her. I knew she could be a little sneaky, but I never realized she could be this devious!" She looked at him closely. "Surely you're not still going to go out with her after everything you know?"
"I'm not that stupid." he said with an uncomfortable laugh. "Stephanie and I are finished. She played me for a fool and I can't forgive that. I'm sure she'll try, though."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that." Lorraine lowered her head and sighed. "I think Miss Lake has decided to move on to other conquests."
"W-what do you mean?"
"I think she's now set her sights on Patterson." Uncomfortable with that idea, Lorraine took another sip of her drink. She squinted her eyes as she tried to focus them. Gee, that drink hit me hard, she thought to herself. "I wouldn't have thought he'd be foolish enough to believe anything she said, but now I'm not too sure. He's way too trusting."
"What makes you say that?" Douglas looked at her closely. He'd always thought she was pretty. He never understood how Trevor could just cast her aside. He had no idea about Trevor's feelings for Grace.
"I-I don't want to talk about it." She shook her head as she tried to focus her thoughts.
"Well, I don't see Patterson anywhere around," he spoke tentatively. "Would you mind if I kept you company for a while? I don't really feel like standing here all alone feeling sorry for myself because of Stephanie."
"I-I'd like that," Lorraine smiled at him. "I'd like that very much."
"Nelson, dear, what's going on with Jillian?" Leticia asked as she rushed to catch up with him. "Did you manage to talk her out of marrying Reginald?"
"That girl refuses to listen to reason! Despite everything we know about him, she's still intent on marrying him!" His temper flared as his teeth clinched in anger. "Our daughter can be quite foolhardy sometimes!"
"Oh, I can't believe this!" She wrung her hands with worry as she thought about Jillian getting hurt. "We've got to do something to talk her out of this. I just know nothing good with come of this. This is a huge mistake."
"Leticia, I have done something!" He looked square in her eyes. "I gave her an ultimatum. I told her that if she was determined to marry this man without our blessing, then I'd cut her off."
"Oh, Nelson! You didn't?" She looked at him pleadingly. Of course, they didn't approve of Jillian's planned marriage, but Leticia was afraid that such drastic measures would only make matters worse.
"I most certainly did!"
"W-what did she say?"
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to calm himself. "She still refuses to listen. She doesn't care if this man costs her her entire family! She plans on marrying Reginald Callison with or without our approval!"
"Nelson, please tell me you didn't do anything rash?" She grabbed on to his arm and waited nervously for his response.
"Not rash at all," he muttered. "I've done something completely necessary to prevent her foolish mistake from tainting our family." He took another long breath. "I've disowned our daughter."
"Oh, those two make me sick!" Judith sneered as she watched Reginald and Jillian closely. "I can believe that little twit is still so nauseatingly in love with him after everything she's found out."
"Well, stubbornness does run in your family, dear," Mark muttered pointedly before taking a sip of scotch.
"Why must you be so hateful?" Janet questioned her sister. "Isn't is obvious that Jillian has found true love? True love is strong enough to withstand anything!"
"I can not believe what I'm hearing!" Judith raised her hands to cover her ears. "How can you be so naive to believe something like that? This is the real world, Janet, not some fairytale!"
"Is your heart so cold that you don't believe in love?" Janet glared at Judith. "Just look at them! Reginald and Jillian have a love that can overcome anything!"
"What in the world do you, of all people, know about love anyway?" Judith jabbed her impeccably manicured finger into Janet's chest. "The closest you've ever come to love is The Romance of Helen Trent!"
"Now, now, Sweetheart, let's not get snitty!" Mark grinned with amusement at the conflict between the sisters.
"I bet I know more about it than you do!" Janet fired back before shooting a stern look in Mark's direction.
Judith gasped as he hand rose to her chest in offense. "Well, I've heard enough of this pathetic rambling! Mark, I'm leaving!"
Mark rolled his eyes over his wife's uncalled for dramatics. As Judith stormed away, Mark turned to Janet. "And I guess that's my cue to follow along." He nodded to her politely before trailing off behind Judith.
"Oh, she makes me so mad!" Janet muttered under her breath before returning to watch the happy couple.
"Oh, Nelson, you can't say that!" Leticia pleaded with him as she held on to his arm. "We can't disown Jillian! She's our daughter, for heaven's sakes!"
"Enough!" he shouted. "It's already done! If that girl is intent on disobeying me, then she's no daughter of mine! I refuse to allow her to embarrass this family!"
"That's my decision and that's final!" He turned his back to Leticia as he watched Jillian and Reginald together across the room. "As soon as we return to New York, I'm having Mark draw up all the papers to completely cut Jillian off financially. No more fancy hotel suite, no more fancy clothes, no more tuition for college, and no more inheritance! If she's so determined to marry this man, let him support her royal tastes!"
Oh, Nelson, you're wrong! Leticia thought to herself slyly. I can't let you do this to our daughter! But how? She rubbed her chin as she thought and slowly began to grin. I know! I'll just use my own trust fund! I can be the one to take care of our daughter, even if you won't!
"Oh, I can't believe this!" Maggie muttered to herself as she carefully followed Annabelle and her father. She cleverly kept a safe enough distance to make sure they didn't realize she was behind them. Maggie grew increasingly nervous as she worked to stay hidden from them as well as from Francis and Mary.
Maggie watched as Annabelle led Charles onto the elevator. After the doors closed behind them, Maggie rushed into the foyer and closely watched to see what floor it stopped on. I can't lose them! I've got to know where they're going, she thought to herself. Surely my father isn't doing anything foolish! It has to all be innocent. After the elevator stopped on the ninth floor, Maggie hurriedly pressed the button to get the car to return. "Oh, come on!" she muttered as she pressed the button again.
When the doors finally opened, Maggie hurried inside and quickly pressed the button for the ninth floor. She rocked back and forth on her heels as she waited anxiously for the car to reach its destination. With a soft ding, the doors opened and she carefully peered out into the hallway. At the very end, she could see Annabelle leading Charles into a room.
Maggie quickly rushed down the hallway just as the door clicked shut. Room 923, she thought as she stood and looked at the door. She reached out for the knob and touched it gently as if she were afraid it would bite. "Oh, now that I'm here, what I'm I gonna do?" she questioned herself as her breathing quickened.
The Sunset Hotel - Room 923
"Ah, perfect," Annabelle smiled to herself as she gently closed the door behind her and Charles. She watched as he stumbled awkwardly towards the bed and collapsed in a crumpled heap. "Charles, dear, you just lie down and rest. I'll pour you a glass of water. I'm sure you'll feel better."
"Um...oh...o-okay," he mumbled as he lay on the bed.
Now, if that little brat will just do what she'd supposed to do, this will all work out even better than I originally planned, she thought to herself as she slowly walked over to the bed with the glass. "Here, Charles, drink this."
Annabelle watched him as he shakily took a sip of water before setting the glass on the night stand. She approached the bed with a confident stride and sat down next to him. "Oh, Charles, you are so handsome." She gently ran her fingers through his hair.
"I-I don't...I don't f-feel t-too well," he mumbled as he lay back on the bed.
"You'll feel just fine in the morning." She lay down beside him and carefully rubbed his chest. Slowly, she rested her head against his shoulder before moving to press her lips against his.
"W-what a-are...what are you...doing?" he asked as he pushed her away. "I-I can't. I l-love...I love...Francis. I c-can't...do...do...this."
"Charles, no one will ever have to know." She smiled slyly. "Please let me take you back to that young man you were before your brother died. Let me show you how I can take you back to the person you were before the weight of the world was thrust upon your shoulders. I can do that, Charles."
"No." He pushed her away again. "I-I love..." His voice was smothered by Annabelle's persistent kisses.
She was pleased to find his resolve and his resistance weakening. Soon, he was returning her kisses with equal passion and clumsily fumbling for the zipper of her gown.
The Grand Sunset Room
"Where in the world has my husband disappeared to?" Francis asked as she nervously tapped her foot on the floor. "Surely he can't have vanished off the face of the earth!"
"You know how he is, dear." Mary patted her on the back reassuringly. "He's probably locked away talking business somewhere. You know how obsessed he is the that company of his."
"But this is supposed to be a party of celebration for Reginald and Jillian and our family." Francis began to pace back and forth. "This isn't some business dinner where he's trying to work the room for business contacts!"
"Well, maybe he's trying to talk some sense into Nelson and Leticia." Of course, Mary was grasping at straws at this point. She, herself, had no clue as to where her son-in-law might have gone.
"That, I can guarantee is impossible! I don't think he even wants to be in the same room as Nelson Stokes!" Francis quickly looked around again. "Besides, the royal couple is over there! I bet they've got themselves perched up on their imaginary pedestals so they can look down on everyone else here!"
"Now, Francis," Mary grabbed her daughter's hand and held it tightly. "There's no reason to get yourself bent out of shape."
"Momma!" Maggie blurted out as she rushed up to them. "Oh, Momma, something awful's happening!"
"Young lady, what in the world are you still doing here?" Francis frowned at her daughter's presence.
"I thought I sent you home with my driver." Mary grabbed Maggie's arm and spoke to her sternly. "How dare you disobey your mother like this!"
"B-but I know where Father is!"
"Maggie, that's all well and good, but I'm sure you realize that this will most certainly result in a severe punishment!" Mary maintained her grasp on her arm.
"Mother, not now!" Francis interrupted. "Maggie, you said you knew where your father is? Where? How?"
"Oh, I'm sorry I disobeyed you and didn't go home." Maggie stared at the ground. "B-but something horrible is going on with Daddy!"
"What in the world are you talking about?" Mary questioned.
"Yes, Maggie, what is going on here? What horrible thing is happening?" Francis looked intently at her daughter as she waited for an answer. "Tell me, Maggie! Where is your father?"
"Dane, we should get married!" Sara announced as she clung to his arm. "Oh, I just know I can make you happier than any of those other girls. We're perfect for one another! I love you and you love me. You'll forget all about Jillian and Grace."
"I told you over and over, already, I am not getting married!" Dane glared at her as he yanked his arm away. "I don't want to get married. I'm not ready to get married. We keep having this same conversation and I keep giving you the same answer...no! I'm not ready for that kind of commitment!"
"But, Dane, if you love me and you tell me I'm the only one you want to stay with..." Her voice trailed off as she thought about the information she had concerning Dane's cheating. "Oh, please, Dane, you'll see I'm right." Sara just knew that if she could get him to marry her, he'd have to be committed. His feelings about marriage were just too honorable for him to take it lightly. She truly didn't want to have to force him to marry her. She wanted him to marry her because he wanted to. However, Sara began to realize it might be the only way.
"I love you, Sara. How much more of me do you want?"
"I want a wedding ring on my finger that you've put there!" Sara's eyes narrowed as she stood in front of him with her hands on her hips.
"Dane Manchester, either you marry me or I'll...or I'll..." Could she do it? Could she force him to marry her?
"Or you'll what?" Dane watched her closely. He knew Sara well enough to know that she could be quite forceful when pressed.
"Or I'll go to the dean of Albanyville University and tell him how you cheated on your entrance exam!" She exhaled slowly as her ultimatum still lingered in the air. She was almost as shocked as he was. She couldn't believe she'd actually thrown all of her cards onto the table.
"Sara, what are you talking about?" Dane grabbed her arm and jerked her close to him. "H-how? How did you know about that?"
"I found the test, Dane." Her voice began to take on a tone of cool confidence. She knew she had him exactly where she wanted him. "I'm not stupid! I knew exactly who Agnes was! I do feel kinda bad for tricking her into telling me the whole story, but I had to know what you'd been up to." She looked him dead in the eye. "Now, either you marry me or I'll go straight to the dean and tell him everything!"
"Sara, you can't do that!" His voice started to quiver with the realization of what such a revelation might cause. "I-if the dean finds out I cheated, I'll be expelled from school! Why, my parents would be furious. They'd disown me! I-I could never get into another good school with a record of cheating! My whole life would be ruined!"
"Then, I guess you better start shopping for a ring." Sara glared at him as he slowly loosened his grasp. "I'll do it, Dane! I'll tell the dean everything if you don't marry me."
Dane's hands shook as he ran them through his hair. He didn't want to marry Sara, but how could he get out of it without throwing away his entire future?
"I just don't understand," Douglas muttered as he let his fingers lightly glide over Lorraine's cheek. "I don't understand how two perfectly intelligent men like Trevor and Patterson can just dismiss a woman as beautiful and as lovely as you."
"Oh, I-I don't know that I'm all that beautiful or lovely." Lorraine blushed slightly. As she looked at him, she squinted her eyes slightly as she tried to focus on his face. Oh, what's wrong with me? she thought as she lightly rubbed her forehead. I know I haven't had too much to drink. Why is it affecting me so severely. "A-and I really can't speak for Trevor or Patterson. They're both wonderful men. I guess I'm just not enough." She hung her head as that realization hit her.
"They're fools! Utter fools!" Douglas took another drink before setting his glass down. He reached out for her and pulled her closer. "You need a man who can appreciate you for the dynamic woman that you are. You need a man who can love you because you are too special to be treated like this."
"I-I needed to hear that, Douglas," she sighed as she rested her head on his chest. She swallowed hard as her head began to swim even more. Thoughts of Trevor with Grace and Patterson with Stephanie kept colliding in her head and she felt herself growing dizzy. She began to cling to Douglas in an effort to steady herself.
"You are so many things that Stephanie Lake is not." He gently stroked her hair as he held her tightly. "Stephanie is a vain and wicked girl. I realize now that she lies as easily as she breathes. Lorraine, you're nothing like that. You're honest and noble..."
"I-I'm not having very noble thoughts right now." She looked up into his eyes and sighed deeply.
"Actually," he muttered, "neither am I." In one swift moment, their lips met in a kiss that quickly left them both nearly breathless.
"Sara, I've told you about my father!" Dane slowly began to pace back and forth in front of her as he tried to think of some way to change her mind. "You know how he feels about me settling down too early. I-if I get married now, he'll cut me off! I'll be completely on my own!"
"Well?" Her eyes followed him as he walked. She knew he was trying to think of some trick to convince her to keep quiet. "What's so bad about that? You're a man, Dane. Do you have to stay tied to your parents for the rest of your life?"
"Don't you understand? No money, no school! He's paying for everything! If he cuts me off, I'll have to drop out of school!" He shook his head nervously as he thought. "No, I can't get married! I can't quit school! I'm going to be a very prominent lawyer one day!"
"Dane, you can get a job! You can work your way through college." Sara reached out for his arm and smiled widely at her own suggestion. "Lots of people do it! Not everyone who graduates college has well off parents who pay for everything. How do you think they do it?"
"This is all really easy for you," he snapped back. "You're the big brain with the scholarship! You don't have to worry about where the money's coming from!"
"Look, I can even get a job, too, and help out." Sara tapped her bottom lip with her finger as she thought of how she could make this situation work. "If you're working and I'm working, I'm sure we can both pay your tuition."
"No! I will not have a wife of mine out trudging at some silly job!" he snapped back.
"So, does that mean we're getting married?"
"No!" Dane held his head in his hands as he thought. This night was definitely not turning out the way he had planned. "You've got to be crazy if you'll think I'm giving up my parents' support for you!"
"What's more important, Dane?" Sara eyed him sternly. "You're family's support and money with no college that will touch you and your record of cheating, or marriage to me and a hard earned degree from a very respected school? Granted there'll be some work involved, but with me you'll at least get your degree. Without me, you'll get nothing but expelled!"
Dane ran his hands through his hair again. He was quickly feeling trapped and he couldn't think of any way out. What in the world was he going to do?
Lorraine rubbed her neck as she tried to clear away the fog that had quickly begun to cloud her mind. She swallowed hard and looked up at Douglas. "Stephanie never deserved a man as wonderful and as caring as you," she said as she smiled at him. "I-I don't know what you ever saw in her."
"I thought I saw a sweet and sincere young lady. Gee, I really misjudged that one, didn't I?" He allowed himself a slight laugh.
"Douglas, you deserve to find a wonderful woman who can really make you happy. You've given up so much in your life to take care of Grace. She's grown now." She began to think of Trevor and realized that Douglas didn't realize exactly how grown his sister was. "When are you going to start taking care of yourself? When are you going to find that special woman to settle down with?"
"Honestly?" He grew forlorn as he hung his head and sighed. "I-I'm not sure I'm actually worth finding a woman to truly love."
"You can't be serious?" Lorraine was quite shocked by his pessimistic attitude. "Douglas, you are a wonderful man! Any woman would be very lucky to have you to love...very lucky indeed!"
"T-thank you." He gazed into her eyes as he felt his heart begin to swell. "I-I needed to hear that. After everything that's happened tonight with Stephanie, I was beginning to doubt that." He grabbed Lorraine tightly and pulled her closer to him. "Thank you for reminding me. I needed to hear that so much right now. I-in fact, right now, I need you."
Lorraine found herself feeling secure in Douglas' arms. She grabbed onto him tightly as she felt her knees wobble slightly. Silently, she remembered the sight of Patterson kissing Stephanie and her thoughts began to cloud over again.
"Are you all right?" Reginald questioned as he held Jillian in his arms. "I-I can't believe your father would do something like that? How can that man disown his own daughter?"
"Oh, I knew there'd be problems," she sighed as she rested her head on his shoulder. "Father is so over protective of all of us girls...me especially. I really don't even think it's you. I'm sure he'd have a problem with any man I wanted to marry. After all the problems he's had with Judith and Janet, can you blame him for wanting to keep a closer eye on me?"
"Well, from what I've seen of Judith, I can understand." He let out a slight laugh. "But Janet? She seems so quiet and demure. What kind of problems could she possibly have caused?"
"If you only knew." Jillian shook her head as she remembered a dark period in her family's history. "I-I really don't want to go into it. I just want you to know how much I love you."
"Enough to give up your entire family?"
"To hell with them!" she spoke firmly. "If they can't accept my marriage, then I don't want anything to do with them!"
"But, Jillian, they're your family! Your father has completely disowned you. He's cut you off entirely! Is that okay with you?" Reginald was having a very difficult time understanding how a parent could deny their own child. That was something he was sure his parents would never do.
"Emotionally, I'm sure it's going to be the hardest thing in the world." She lowered her head as the complete realization began to hit her. "Financially, I'm stubborn enough to make it. I-I'll have to move out of the hotel. I don't know where I'll live. I could stay at the sorority house, but without Father to pay my tuition, I'll have to drop out of school. I-I can see if Lorraine will let me move in with her." Jillian was realizing exactly how resourceful she could be. She pulled away from Reginald's embrace and scratched her head as she thought. "Of course, I'll have to get a job to support myself. That might be the difficult part."
"Why's that?" Reginald laughed with amusement over how she was quickly trying to think ahead and land on her feet.
"You tell me how many jobs list "inexperienced socialite" in their job descriptions!"
They both laughed at the thought as the veil of tension slowly began to lift. They realized that with their love, they could overcome anything...Stephanie, Dane, and her family.
"Well, living with Lorraine is out of the question." He carefully brushed away a strand of hair from her forehead. "You'll stay with me and my family. There's plenty of room in that house for all of us. Besides, your part of our family now."
"Um...excuse me," came the voice from behind them.
"Mother!" Jillian gasped as she turned to see Leticia. "Mother, please don't cause a scene. I've been through one too many tonight."
"No, Jillian, that's not what I'm here for." She solemnly glanced down at the floor. "I-I want to tell you that I disagree with what your father is doing. It's not right! You are my daughter and you always will be. I love you with all my heart."
"Oh, Mother, I love you, too!" Jillian rushed into her arms and hugged her tightly. "B-but what about Father?"
"Jillian, dear, I'm about to do something that your father must never know about." Leticia reached into her purse and pulled out a small envelope. "I-I brought this for you to help with the plans for the wedding, but I realize that you need it now for things that are more important. I-I know it's not enough, but I promise you that I'll get more too you as soon as I get back to Manhattan."
Jillian's eyes grew wide as she opened the envelope and saw a small bundle of money. "Mother? How? Why?"
"Because I have not disowned you! I refuse to cut my baby out of my life!" She lifted up her hand to wipe a tear from her daughter's cheek. "I will use my own inheritance that my parents left me in their wills. I've set it aside for years now in case of an emergency. I can't think of a reason more important than this. You can never tell your father."
"Oh, don't worry, Mother. I'll never tell him anything!" Jillian embraced Leticia again as her tears began to flow more freely.
"I-I have to get back to Nelson. He's getting ready to leave. I have to get back before I'm missed." She turned to go, but hesitated as she looked at Reginald. "You take good care of my daughter. I have a strong feeling that you might love her just as much as I do, but I'm warning you. You ever hurt her, and I can guarantee that I'll be far worse than you've ever seen my husband be." Silently, Leticia walked away leaving Jillian with a newfound sense of hope.
"Oh, Douglas, I need you, too, right now." Lorraine said as she tried to wipe the images of Patterson and Stephanie out of her mind. She reached out for the bar as she felt herself moving off balance. "So much has happened. First Trevor and...someone else, and then Patterson and Stephanie. I-I'm afraid that I'm not good enough for anyone."
"Don't you ever say that!" Douglas grabbed her arm firmly. "You are more than enough for any man! Any man you give your heart to better be damn glad to have you! He needs to thank his lucky stars for you!" He reached out for his drink and clumsily knocked it over.
"Douglas, how many of those have you had?" she questioned curiously.
"I...um...actually, I lost count." He tried to swallow his embarrassment. "I was just so angry and upset over my foolishness regarding Stephanie. I probably look like a drunken fool."
Lorraine tried to bring her eyes into focus again. When the haze began to slightly lift, she could clearly see Douglas' rugged features and masculine good looks that surrounded his deeply soulful eyes. "No, Douglas. You look wonderful to me. Oh, how I need you right now. I need to feel wanted."
"Lorraine, I need you too." He pulled her into his arms again and gently kissed her cheek. "W-why don't we go somewhere so we can need each other in private."
She silently nodded her agreement and he took her hand and slowly led her from the ball room.
The Sunset Hotel - 9th Floor
Francis stepped cautiously off of the elevator and carefully scanned the numbers on the hotel room doors. She took a deep breath and slowly began a long walk down the hallway. "This can't be happening," she muttered to herself as she nervously wrung her hands. "Maggie just has to be wrong. She has to be!"
When Francis approached room 923, she stopped and stood very still. She could hear the faint sounds of chattering and laughter coming from the room. She slowly inched closer and closed her eyes as she tried to give herself the strength to move on.
Facing the door, she could see that it was slightly ajar. As she took a deep breath, she reached out for the knob.
The Sunset Hotel - Room 1102
"Oh, Douglas," Lorraine sighed as she kissed him fervently. "I need you right now. I need you so much." She twisted her head slightly as she again tried to shake herself out of her haze.
"I want you, Lorraine, I want you so badly." Douglas' lips landed on her neck as he felt her heart beating faster and her breath begin to quicken.
With one swift movement, they tumbled onto the bed and began a reckless night of passion.
The Sunset Hotel - Room 923
With one swift movement, Francis pushed the door open and let out a horrified gasp. In shock, she fell against the door frame. Charles and Annabelle were in bed together! She clutched her chest as her breathing became quick and shallow.
"F-Francis?" Charles muttered as he sat up, still dazed and unsure of his surroundings. "W-what in the...? Oh, my lord, no!"
"Oh, Charles, dear, it looks like we've been caught." Annabelle's face all but glowed.
"N-no, Francis, t-this...this isn't... what it looks l-like." He tried to shake the fog out of his head and struggled to climb out of bed.
"Oh, my lord," Francis muttered as she slowly backed out of the room. "How could you do this to me? How, Charles, how?"
"B-but..." Charles words trailed of as he slumped back onto the bed.
Annabelle let out a triumphant laugh as Francis bolted from the room.
TO BE CONTINUED
IN TWO WEEKS
Francis deals with the aftermath of Charles
For Now and Forever
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