THE MONROE HOME - DINING ROOM
what is it?" Stephanie asked curiously. "What's so important
that you went to all this trouble?"
"Stephanie, believe me, this
was no trouble," Patterson smiled and then rose from his seat so that he
could pace nervously around the room. "What I want to say is
that...well...ever since you disappeared, I've had to do a lot of thinking about
"What things?" She
turned in her chair so that she could look at him as he paced.
"Life. Love. The
meaning of it all." He stopped in front of the china cabinet long
enough to pick up a picture of him and Todd and their parents that had been
taken when Todd was only a baby. After letting out a wistful sigh, he set
the picture back down and then turned around to face Stephanie. "No
matter what I did, I couldn't get over that gnawing feeling deep inside my gut
that I was never going to see you again. I couldn't get over my fear that
your father had taken you someplace far, far away and you were never coming
"But I did come back,
Paddy!" she reminded. "I came back because of you. You're
the one who found me when no one else could---when no one else even believed
that I needed finding. If you hadn't shown up when you had, lord only
knows where I might have ended up. You risked your life for me!"
"And you saved my life,"
he pointed out. "If you hadn't...."
"P-please, Paddy, can we
not...talk about that," she muttered softly as she looked away from him and
down at her empty plate. "I...don't want to think about that. I
don't want to...."
he said softly and quickly went to her side so that he could kneel down beside
her and take her hands into his. "God, these last few months have
been horrible for you. First you had to deal with Clark and then your
mother died and then...." He stopped mid-sentence as he caught
himself. There was no needed in rehashing every horrible event that she'd
been forced to endure. She'd been through enough and there was no need in
dredging up such hurtful memories. Noticing her discomfort, he immediate
switched gears. "You know, if someone had told me this time last year
that I'd be here with you, loving you like I do, I would have thought that they
were crazy. I couldn't stand to be in the same room with you, then!"
"And I thought you were only
some pompous, moralistic jerk who had nothing better to do than deride me for my
faults." She hung her head and thought about how wrong they'd both
"So, he told you?" Stephanie waited
until Patterson's nods confirmed the truth. "Well, to say I'm
surprised would be an understatement. I really didn't believe he'd be so
forthcoming about our affair."
"It was his guilt that forced him to tell
me. He felt guilty for betraying Jillian and their love and he had to tell
"I didn't realize that you were his official
'confessor', Patterson." She paced around the room nervously. If
his guilt had forced him to confess to Patterson, did it also force him to
confess to Jillian? "Who else did he spill his guts to?"
"Not Jillian, if that's what you're
asking! He knows what that kind of a betrayal would do to her. The
last thing Reginald wants to see is Jillian hurt. He loves her too much
for that." She breathed a sigh of relief. Jillian didn't
know the truth.
"He might love her, but he needs me!"
"What he needs is to be left
alone!" Patterson reached out and grabbed Stephanie's arm and held it
tightly. "Why are you so hell bent on destroying any kind of
happiness they might have?"
"Why are you so insistent on sticking your
nose where it doesn't belong?" She snatched her arm away and shot him
a disdainful look. "Why do you feel the need to come into my
home and interfere in my life?"
"Because you're trying to destroy the lives
of two people I care about very much! Reginald and his family have been
very good to me and my brother since the accident. The last thing I want
is to see them hurt."
"You know, Patterson, maybe if you had a
woman of your own, you wouldn't be so obsessed with everyone else's love
lives!" Stephanie's verbal slap forced him to take a step
backwards. "Why don't you go home and play 'daddy' to that little
brother of yours and lock yourself away from the rest of the world because
you're too scared of it! Leave those of us who are still intent on living
life alone!" Patterson was speechless. Did he really hide from
the rest of the world after the plane crash? True, he spent most of his
time either at school or with Todd, but did that really make his as pathetic as she'd
made him sound? Without saying a word in rebuttal, Patterson stormed out
leaving Stephanie to smile at one small victory.
Patterson nodded his head slightly.
Although he hadn't wanted to fully admit it at the time, she'd been right.
He had wrapped himself up in the lives of everyone else around him, including
Todd. He'd been so devastated by the loss of his parents that he hadn't
wanted to get close to anyone new. What if the same fate that had befallen
his parents befell anyone else he might have cared about? It was a highly
illogical feeling, he clearly realized---then as well as now---but it had always
been stuck in the back of his head whether he'd wanted to admit it or not.
And then Stephanie vanished, abducted by her own father.
If he hadn't gotten to know her so well, maybe he
would have suspected that she'd simply run away just like everyone else
had. Maybe he wouldn't have been so persistent in his search for
her. Maybe she would have vanished, never to be seen again.
"Paddy, do you remember when everything
changed?" Stephanie asked, dragging him from his thoughts. "Do
you remember the night at the engagement party when you became my source of hope
and inspiration? Because of you, my whole life changed."
"Yeah, I remember thinking that I'd lost my
mind for feeling sorry for you," he laughed. "There you
were---Stephanie Lake, nastiest girl in town---getting exactly what you deserved
for what you tried to pull on Reginald and Jillian and I, of all people, was
feeling sorry for you!"
"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
"I didn't deserve anyone feeling sorry for
me," she sighed. "I brought all of that on myself. I can't
believe that I let Momma convince me that Reginald loved me."
"Well, your mother did a number on a lot of
people. Knowing what we do now about what she did to Reginald's parents
and how she'd pushed you in his direction, it makes a lot of things that you've
done a lot easier to understand."
"Easier to understand, but not excusable.
I...had no business..."
"Let's not dwell on all of that,
anymore," he smiled and then rose to his feet so that he could begin pacing
again. "That's all in the past. You set out to change the way
you do things and I think you've finally succeeded."
"Only because of you, Paddy," she
grinned. "If you hadn't taken a chance on me, I think that I'd
probably still be going about things the same way. If you hadn't decided
that I was worth it...."
"Oh, and you are worth it, Steph," he
beamed proudly. "You're worth more than you'll ever know."
"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
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" She flung
her arms around him and kissed him deeply.
"You took a chance and believed in me,"
she smiled as she looked up at him. "And, in the process, you became
my knight in shining armor---the prince of my fairytales that my...daddy always
told me about." She hung her head as a troubled thought crossed her
mind. "Now...if only everyone else could believe in me like you
"Actually, I think that's starting to
happen," he commented slyly.
"W-what? What do you mean?"
"I saw Reginald today," Patterson
explained. "He told me about your little visit with Jillian right
before their wedding."
"Oh, Paddy, I didn't do it to cause
trouble! Honestly, I...."
"I know you didn't," he nodded.
"And, more importantly, both Reginald and Jillian know you didn't."
"Yep," he laughed. "In fact,
I think that they finally might be willing to accept that you're not quite as
bad as they thought you were. Granted, they're both still a little
skeptical, but who can blame them?"
"I certainly can't. Not after
everything that's happened."
"Anyway, they've set a new wedding
date," he continued as a knowing smile covered his face. "And
Reginald asked me to make sure that you were invited to the wedding."
"W-what?" she gasped in shock and
disbelief. "Me? Are you serious? They actually invited me
to their wedding?"
Paddy!" she exclaimed and then flew into his arms so that she could kiss
him in excitement. "I...never would have believed that this could
happen, but...but you...."
"Stephanie, even they can see that you're a
different person, now," he smiled softly as he held her in his arms.
"I just feel lucky that I'm the one who saw it first." He paused
and pulled away from her slightly so that he could look down into her
eyes. "Stephanie, I love you. Call me crazy, call me naive,
call me foolish. Call me whatever you want to, but I love you. I
love your joy and your excitement and your spirit..."
"And I love you, Paddy," she smiled up
at him. "You've been my strength and you've supported me through more
than anyone should ever have to. The entire time that...I was away, the
only thing that kept me from losing hope was you."
"You know, like I said, while you were gone
I had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking." He took her by the hand
and led her back to her chair so that she could sit down. "The
thought that I might never see you again scared me to death."
"But you saved me! I'm here!"
"Yes, you are," he smiled.
"But, please, there's something I have to say before I loose my
nerve. Please let me finish."
"O-okay," she stammered, both anxious
and frightened about what it might be.
"The thought of never seeing you again and
never being able to tell you how I really felt about you made me feel just like
I felt when I'd found out my parents had died," he confessed.
"After I'd heard about their plane crash, I prayed for just one more chance
to be able to tell them how much I loved them and how much they meant to
me. I felt guilty that I hadn't taken every opportunity to tell them
"Paddy, they knew."
"I...know," he muttered, a tone of sadness
and remorse briefly entering into his voice, "but...well...when I had to
face the possibility that I might never see you again, either, and that I'd
never have the chance to tell you how I really feel, I made a vow to myself that
I wouldn't let another moment or opportunity pass to tell the people I love how
much they mean to me. Life is too short for that."
Stephanie bowed her head as she thought about her
parents and the horrible things that they'd done. However, despite how
much they'd hurt people, despite how much they'd hurt her, she still loved them.
"I...know that this is going to sound rather
sudden," Patterson continued as he moved to her side and again knelt down
beside her, "but, like I said, life is too short. If something else
were to happen and I...."
"Oh, Paddy, don't think like that!"
"If I never had the chance to do this, then
I'd never be able to forgive myself." He reached into his pocket,
pulled out a tiny velvet box, and held it out in the palm of his hand for
her. "This is something I want to give to you."
Stephanie eyed the box nervously and then looked
at Patterson. What was it? What could it be?
"Go on," he laughed. "Open
As she fought to keep her hands from shaking, she
took the box out of his hand and carefully lifted the lid, revealing a beautiful
diamond ring that sparkled under the light of the candles. "Oh,
Paddy!" she exclaimed. "It's...beautiful!"
"It was my mother's," he explained
calmly. "My father gave it to her."
"And you...want to give it to me?" Her eyes grew wide with surprise. "But...Paddy, it
looks like...an engagement ring."
"It is," he grinned. "It's
my mother's engagement ring and, now, I want you to have it."
Stephanie's breath caught in her throat as a
sense of nervousness overcame her. Surely, he wasn't going to....
"Like I said, I know this is a little
unexpected," he began softly as he took the ring from out of her hand and held it out
in front of her, "but I can't deny how I feel and I can't let this moment
pass." He took her hand into his. "Stephanie Lake, will
you marry me?"