2312 Spring Lake Rd."So, how was your day today, Randy?" Janet Stokes asked before taking a sip of her lemonade.  "Anything exciting happen?"

"Nothing much," Randy Lamont muttered in between bites of casserole.  "Just spent some time with some friends and stuff."

"Stuff?" Burt Lamont repeated curiously, looking up from his dinner plate.  "What kind of stuff?"

"You know -- stuff."  Randy fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat.  He felt like he was under interrogation by his older brother and his brother's fiancée.  "I met Eliza at The Well and we had a malt and later I rode a horse down to the lake.  Nothing really exciting."

Janet Stokes"Well, I'm glad that you made it home in time so that we could sit down to dinner together," Janet smiled warmly.  Ever since Burt had told Randy about their plans to get married, the tension between her and Randy had been so thick you could have cut it with a knife.  Janet hoped that by spending more time with Randy she could subtly ease the awkwardness and change his mind about his opposition to their planned marriage.  "We really should get together and do things like this more often."

"Whatever you say," Randy muttered again, not even making an attempt to look directly at her.

"I agree with Janet," Burt nodded and reached across the table to take her hand.  "You know, after we're married, I'd like to make dinner together a regular event -- all three of us sitting down together as a family."

"We're not a family."

"I'm sorry, Randy?  What did you say?"  Burt looked across the table at his brother, not fully hearing what he'd quietly said.

Randy Lamont"You want me to put on this big show of how we're just one big happy family like some Norman Rockwell painting and that's just not how it is," Randy explain point-blank.  "It's never going to be like that."

"Of course it's not going to be like that," Burt laughed.  "Real life is never like that.  But if we try, we can have the best life and the best family we possibly can.  Janet and I are going to get married and then, one day, you're going to get married and then we'll both eventually have families of our own.  But we're not going to have two separate families -- we're all going to be one family, Randy."

Randy sat in silence, his eyes focused only on his plate full of half-eaten food.

"Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" Burt asked and leaned across the table slightly to make sure his question was directed squarely at his brother.  "Just because Janet and I are getting married doesn't mean the end of this family.  As far as I'm concerned, it's only the beginning."

"Whatever you say," Randy murmured and then quickly scooted his chair back from the table.  "Look, maybe this little dinner wasn't such a great idea."  And with that, he rose from his seat and swiftly walked out the kitchen door and onto the back step.

"Burt, go after him!" Janet spoke up suddenly.  "You've got to make him understand!"

"No, Janet, he's got to accept everything in his own time," Burt sighed with a shake of his head.  "This has all been just too much for him to take in and deal with so quickly -- Ma died and then we found out that we didn't have the same father and then I sprung our engagement on him.  The boy's had his entire world turned upside down.  We can't expect him to just adapt and accept everything at the drop of a hat."

"But he's got to understand.  He's got to realize that I'm not trying to take you away from him.  I'm not trying to come between the Lamont family.  I just want to be a part of it."

Burt Lamont"I think deep down he knows that."  Burt gave Janet's hand a gentle squeeze of reassurance.  "He just doesn't want to accept it.  But with some time I think he'll really grow to like the idea."

"Time?" she eyed him desperately.  "How much time?"

"Well, maybe in a few months...."

"A few months?"  Janet shot up out of her chair and nervously began pacing around the room.  "Oh, Burt, the way he's acting now, Randy's never going to accept me as part of your life and he's never going to accept the idea of us getting married!"  She stopped in front of the sink and stared out the window at Randy who was sitting alone on the swing in the backyard.  "Maybe we should just go ahead and get married anyway.  Once he sees how things are really going to be, maybe then he'll understand."

"No, we can't do that."


"As long as Randy has these reservations -- as long as Randy is still so opposed to this marriage, we can't even think about setting a date for the wedding let alone actually get married.  I can't even consider it until I know that he's behind us one-hundred percent."

Burt's words echoing inside her head, Janet wrapped her arms around herself and kept her eyes locked on Randy, outside in the yard.  She had to find some way to change that young man's mind.  She just had to!


Chicago, IL"I hope you two have been getting acquainted," Dane smiled warmly as he left his father's side and rejoined his mother and wife.  "There's nothing I want more than to have my two favorite ladies become the best of friends."

"Well, Dane, dear, let's not rush things."  Olivia patted her son gently on the shoulder.  "But Sara and I have been getting to know one another."  She turned her attention towards her new daughter-in-law.  "You know, dear, my son really shocked us when he sprung the news of this marriage on us.  You see, we didn't even know that he'd been seeing anyone seriously."  She paused for a moment.  "Well, not since that lovely Stokes girl, at least.  Dane, you said that she got married?  Oh, how horrible that must have been for you!"

"'t quite that bad, Mother."  He looked away, uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.  "But Sara is a wonderful young woman and the most devoted wife a man could hope to have.  I'm sure you'll see that."

"Oh, I'm sure we will, dear."  Olivia reached over and touched Sara lightly on the cheek.  "You are a very pretty young girl.  I can see how someone like my son would be interested in you.  So, did you and your father have a good talk?" She turned her focus back to her son.

"We talked, yes," Dane nodded.  "I'm not sure how good it was, though."

"Dane, don't tell me that you upset him again?"  Olivia shook her head in disappointment.  "Why must you always do that?"

"Mother, please.  Not here.  Not now."

Sara Manchester"Dane, should I leave you and your mother alone to talk?" Sara spoke up.  In truth, being around her in-laws had made her quite uneasy.  She felt like they'd been sizing her up from the moment they'd met.  In fact, she was certain that it had to be close to what livestock had to undergo before being sold at auction.  Sara desperately wanted to slip away to escape the prying, inquisitive eyes of Olivia Manchester.

"Perhaps that would be a good idea," Olivia nodded and then casually looked around.  "Where did your mother go, dear?"  When she finally spotted Joyce, her tone grew much colder -- Joyce was standing off to the side and chatting with Dane's father.  "Oh, there she is.  It looks like she's found my husband.  Sara, dear, go join them and keep her company while I discuss a few things with my son."

"Y-yes, ma'am," Sara nodded, grateful for the chance to escape, but still not quite certain whether involving herself in a conversation with her mother and Dane's father would be any easier.  She went over and gave Dane a quick peck on the cheek and then quietly excused herself.

Once Sara was at a safe distance, Olivia and Dane continued with their talk.

"I'm sure you know that this marriage has been very upsetting for your father."  Olivia took her son by the arm and slowly led him through the crowd, nodding politely in recognition of various campaign contributors along the way.  "I mean, the way it happened so suddenly.  It took us all by surprise."

"Mother, I'm well aware of that," Dane confessed.  "After all, how could I not be considering that he cut me out of the family and out of the will as soon as he found out."

"Perhaps he reacted a little harshly," she conceded.  "But he only did it for your benefit.  He just wanted you to understand that, by taking a wife, you were becoming your own man and you had to stand on your own two feet without any help from us.  I'm sure you realize that we can't continue to coddle you for your entire life."

"I know that, Mother."

"And, besides, we had to be certain that girl's intentions were honorable.  We had to see whether she had any interest in you outside of whatever money she might get her hands on through your eventual inheritance."  Olivia paused and let out a thin laugh.  "But, I suppose that's neither here nor there now that you two have inherited her step-father's estate.  That could actually turn out to be a good thing."

"What do you mean?" he asked curiously.

Olivia Manchester"Well, money does tend to make a person a little more socially acceptable and I'm sure your father's advisors can work with her background and current situation to make her appealing to voters."

"Why would Sara have to be appealing to voters?"

"Your father might be the one running for public office, but a vote for your father is like a vote for our entire family -- each and every single one of us.  We all have to maintain the proper image in the public's eye.  Now, that means you can't do anything that might put a black mark on your father's name."

"Mother, you know that I'd never...."

"Intentionally, no," she sighed.  "But you have to admit that you can be...well...rather rambunctious.  I'm just trying to give you a bit of advice."  She stopped and looked at her son curiously.  "So, Dane, dear, what were you and your father talking about?"

"Nothing really," he muttered.  "Just about Sara and the marriage and some political stuff."

"He looked a little upset.  I just wondered...."

"Like you said, my marriage to Sara was sort of upsetting for him."

"Why must you always do your best to get under your father's skin?"  Olivia shook her head in disappointment.  "You know that he's only wanted the best for you -- the best schools, the best social and professional opportunities.  If you could have only gotten into Harvard then none of this would have happened."

"Mother, you know that I didn't have the grades to get accepted to Harvard."  His jaw tightened.  This was a conversation that they'd had hundreds of times in the past and he really didn't feel up to revisiting it.  "Besides, Albanyville University is very respected school."

"I'm sure it is," she conceded again, "but it doesn't have the name recognition or prestige of Harvard.  Your brother went to Harvard."

Dane Manchester"Yes, I know."

"And he never manages to upset your father like you do.  Of course, he's had his moments just like any boy growing into manhood, but he's never gone out of his way to do things like you seem to do."

"And where is Grant tonight?" Dane asked pointedly.  "After all, Sara and I made it here to show our support for Father.  I would have suspected that the wonderful Grant Manchester would have been here, as well."

"Well, Grant's a very busy man," she explained.  "He'd planned on being here, but got called away on business at the last minute.  Your father understands."

"I'm sure he does," Dane muttered.  "He always understands about Grant."

"Oh, look!  I see the governor's wife."  Olivia lifted her arm and waved.  "Do excuse me.  I need to go speak with her."  Before leaving, she paused and looked at him with concern.  "Please try to be on your best behavior.  The press are everywhere tonight."

As Olivia walked away, Dane let out a long sigh.  Nothing had changed between him and his parents.  They were exactly like they'd always been.  Deep down, he realized that they were exactly like they always would be.  Perhaps staying far away from them in the future was the best thing for everyone involved.


576 Tinsdale Dr."What a wonderful dinner," Ruby Thomas smiled as she pushed herself away from the table and began collecting dishes.  "You've really picked up your mother's knack for cooking."

"I only really just follow her recipes," Dr. Calvin Jackson laughed while he helped her with clearing the table.  "The way Mama cooks, it's not that hard to make dinner if you just do it her way."  He followed her over to the sink, but then put his hand on her shoulder to draw her attention.  "Actually, I'm glad that you could get away from Dr. and Mrs. Rutherford long enough to spend an evening together.  You've seemed rather...distant for the last few days."

"Really?"  She tried to make her tone sound as casual as possible.  The truth of the matter was that she had kept her distance from him somewhat, but she really didn't want him to know that.  "I'm sorry.  I've just been...well...things have been kinda hectic around the house."

"I understand."  Calvin took a plate out of her hand and carefully set it on the counter.  Although he really couldn't put his finger on what it was, he was certain that something was bothering her and he wanted to have her full attention.  "But even during dinner tonight, you seemed to have your mind on other things."

"I think you're just over analyzing things," she laughed uncomfortably.  "I was simply basking in the glow of a quiet evening together."

Dr. Calvin Jackson"Now, Ruby, I think I know you well enough by now to be able to tell when something's on your mind."  He gently took her chin into his hands and lifted her face so that he could look into her eyes.  "Is something troubling you?  I hope Naomi hasn't gone and done something to upset you again."

"Naomi?"  She shook her head.  "Well, your sister is how she is, but, no, she hasn't done anything to me."  Ruby bit her lip nervously and quickly looked away.  "But, I'm sure that she'd understand how much time taking care of a houseful of people requires.  After all, she spends so much time working for the Manchesters.  Honestly, I'm really surprised that she has any time at all for that baby of hers."

"Well, whatever faults Naomi has, I do have to give her credit for the way she takes care of Aubrey."  Calvin began running water into the dishpan and grabbed some soap to float in it so that they could start the dishes.  "I'm just relieved that the Manchesters don't have a problem with Naomi living there with the baby.  Some folk just wouldn't be too keen on having a servant's child that age in the house."

Ruby put several plates into the water and began diligently scrubbing them.  "The Manchesters seem to be good folk."

"I really don't know them that well.  I can only go by what I've heard from other people.  Douglas seems to have a great deal of respect for Mrs. Manchester.  I've never heard him say much about her husband, though."

Ruby Thomas"Yes, they seem like good people."  Ruby's mind began to drift back to the scene she'd inadvertently witnessed between Naomi and the Manchesters -- a scene that had been replaying inside her head ever since that day she walked in on a very curious discussion between them.

"Are you sure there's not something bothering you?"  He eyed her closely.  "If Naomi's done something to you again, I want to know about it.  She might be my sister, but I'm not blind to how she can be."

"No, she hasn't really done anything to me."  Ruby dried her hands on a dishtowel, turning her back to Calvin, and slowly moved away.  "It's just that she...."

"She has done something, hasn't she?"  Calvin came up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder.  "What is it now?  What has that fool sister of mine done that's gotten you so out of sorts?"

Ruby hesitated and bit her lip nervously.  Yes, Naomi was up to something, but nothing to do with Ruby, herself.  There was something odd going on between Naomi and the Manchesters.  Ruby was certain of it.  However, all she really had were suspicions based only on a half-heard conversation that she'd had no business overhearing.  Was it her place to tell Calvin a bunch of speculations and suspicions based, essentially, on nothing?  Would telling him about her concerns -- which, truthfully, could be completely unfounded -- cause more trouble between her and Naomi that she wasn't really eager to deal with?  And, after all, was it really her business?



Ruby's suspicions intensify.


produced/written by G. Matthew Smith

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