THE PRESIDENTIAL ARMS BALLROOM - CHICAGO, IL

Chicago, IL"It's been so good to take this time to get to know you better, Mrs. Preston," Nigel Manchester smiled.  "My wife has always been such a fan of your late husband's work and I have to add that talking with you has been a wonderful joy."

"Oh, Mr. Manchester," Joyce Preston giggled, "you are quite the charmer, aren't you?  I can definitely see who that son of yours takes after."

"Well, that remains to be seen," he replied dryly.  "But, please, there's no need to be so formal.  Considering that your daughter is married to my son, we're practically family.  You have to call me 'Nigel'."

"Well, then, Nigel," she cooed and then turned to her daughter Sara Manchester and nodded, signifying that perhaps the evening wasn't going to turn out to be quite as awkward and disastrous as she'd suspected.

"And, as much as I hate to do this, I'm going to have to ask you to excuse me."  Nigel reached down and took Joyce's hand.  "I'd like to have a few moments alone with Sara to discuss a few things with her about Dane."

Joyce Preston"Oh, of course.  I understand."

"Mother...."  Sara turned and shot Joyce a panicked look.

"Now, Sara, there's nothing to worry about.  I'm nearly positive that Nigel here isn't going to bite."  Joyce let out a small, throaty laugh as she oozed charm from every pore.

"Sara?  If you'll join me?"  Nigel held out his hand for her, but she hesitated for a moment before taking it and allowing him to lead her off for their own private discussion.

Once they were a good distance away from Joyce -- and other prying ears -- Nigel's demeanor changed drastically.  Suddenly, he took on a very "strictly business"-type air.

"W-what did you want to talk about, Nigel?" Sara asked awkwardly, following her mother's lead.

"That's 'Mr. Manchester,' girl," he corrected.  "Always 'Mr. Manchester' to you.  I'm surprised that your wonderful mother hasn't taught you any manners.  But, then, I suppose it's hard to teach anything to the kids of today."

A sense of dread and foreboding flooded over Sara.  No, this wasn't going to exactly be a warm and cozy family chat.

"I'm...sorry," she muttered, unable to look at him.  After several long, tense moments, she took a deep breath and finally posed the question that had been running through her mind.  "So...exactly what did you want to talk to me about in private?"

"I just want to get to know the girl who roped my son into a marriage that he has no business being in," Nigel stated matter-of-factly.  "I'm sure you can imagine how shocked his mother and I were when he phoned us with the news that the two of you were getting married.  After all, he'd always assured us that he had no intention of getting tied down until he was much older -- which, incidentally, is as it should have been."

"I didn't rope Dane into anything...."  Well, actually, she had, but her father-in-law didn't need to know quite everything about the circumstances leading up to the wedding.

Nigel Manchester"Well, you must have done something to change Dane's mind so drastically.  Whatever faults that son of mine might have, there is one thing I've always had to give him credit for -- he knows his own mind and he's got quite a strong will.  Practically the only good quality he's inherited from me.  He wouldn't have just up and married some girl without something bringing on such a sudden change of heart."

"Your son loves me," she pointed out.  "And I love him.  Love can make people have changes of heart and...."

"Ah, the ignorance of youth," Nigel sighed with a shake of his head.  "Now, girl, I'm sure you're far too young to understand and appreciate this, but there are many different reasons much stronger than love to get married.  After all, Dane is from a good family.  He's exceptionally bright and, if I do say so myself, quite handsome.  He has a healthy trust fund -- well, he did at the time, at least...."

"W-what are you trying to say?"

"Oh, don't act so coy and innocent and naive with me, girl."  He grabbed Sara's arm, forcing her to look directly at him.  "Granted, I haven't been my son's age in quite some time, but I'm not so old that I don't know about girls like you."

"Girls like...."

"When I was Dane's age, I had girls chasing after me right and left.  Of course, back then I was just starting out in my law studies and I wasn't nearly as in the same financial situation that Dane was, but I had potential.  All those girls saw that and saw where I was going and they found that very appealing.  But I couldn't be bothered.  True, they provided a pleasant diversion, but none of them were anything that I could allow myself get too preoccupied with.  None of them had the requirements to be a proper wife.  None of them until I met Dane's mother.  She was everything that  a man in my situation could want in a wife -- beautiful, cultured, good breeding, from a fine family...."

"I don't...know what you're trying to say."

"You just won't give up, will you?"  Nigel's eyes narrowed as he looked at Sara closely.  "It's so obvious what your intentions were when you conned my son into marriage.  I don't know why you won't be honest about it.  It would save us all a lot of trouble."

Sara Manchester"My intention was and always has been to marry Dane -- the man I love with all of my heart -- and spend the rest of my life with him."  

"What foolishly romantic ideals."  His face scrunched up in disgust.  "If you expect me to believe that, you're a fool.  I can tell you're a bright one -- that much is obvious -- far too bright to get caught up in such childish notions.  No, you saw money and security and social status when you met my son.  You saw a way to get into this family and get your hands on everything that I've worked my entire life to gain."

"Mr. Manchester, I mean no disrespect, but you couldn't be more wrong!"  Sara threw her shoulders back defiantly.  How dare he make such assumptions and insinuations about her when he knew absolutely nothing about her?

"No, girl, I don't think so."  Nigel's tone grew colder as he all but stared a hole right through her.  "Yes, I know about girls like you.  Girls like you are good for frivolous diversions -- something to occupy a man's time or, even, something kept on the side and in the shadows.  No, girls like you aren't proper marriage potential."

"How dare...."

"I've got my eye on you, girl," Nigel continued, not even giving Sara a chance to respond.  "I know what you're up to and I will not allow it.  You might have pulled the wool over my son's eyes, but you won't do it to me.  In time, he's going to see exactly what type of girl you really are and then he's going to rid himself of you.  You just watch."

And with that, Nigel abruptly turned and walked away, leaving Sara to quietly fume.  How dare Dane's father make such assumptions about her?  He didn't know her.  He didn't know anything about her relationship with Dane.  Even so, it was obvious to her what kind of influence Dane's father had on him.  Sure, everything was fine between Dane and Sara at the moment, but she was quickly beginning to fear what might happen if Dane started listening to everything his father was saying -- if he hadn't been listening already.


THE MONROE HOME - KITCHEN

43 Landings Ct."So, how's that dinner coming?" Mrs. Oliver asked as she poked her head into the kitchen.  "I've got two boys out here who are practically starving to death."

"It's almost ready," Stephanie Monroe replied coolly without even turning around from the stove.  "Just a few more minutes."

"I think that's what you said ten minutes ago."

"I said it's almost ready," Stephanie repeated, her jaw tightening.  "But if you keep sticking your head in here and interrupting me, I'm never going to get it done."

"I just wanted to see if you needed any help."

"I don't need your help."  Stephanie gripped the edge of the counter firmly in an attempt to relieve the tension that the housekeeper's intrusions were causing.  "I thought I made that very clear to you earlier."

"You've got to keep stirring!" Mrs. Oliver blurted out, racing over to the stove and snatching the spoon out of Stephanie's hands.  "If you don't keep stirring, it's going to stick and burn and then dinner's going to be ruined!"

Stephanie took several steps back and exhaled slowly.  As she ground her teeth, she glared at Mrs. Oliver.

"I'm not going to burn it!"

Mrs. Oliver"Do you see this?" Mrs. Oliver asked, lifting a small spoonful up in front of Stephanie's eyes.  "Do you see this faint, brown crust I scraped off the edge?  It was already starting to burn!"  She turned back around, returned the spoon to the pot, and began to stir again, pausing only long enough to glance up at the clock on the wall.  "Yes, just a few more minutes and it's going to be perfect.  See, I told you that you needed my help.  Why, what would've happened if I hadn't been here?"

"I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"I most certainly am!  If I hadn't been here, you would have systematically ruined dinner.  Stephanie, dear, you need me."

"What I need is some air," she grumbled angrily and turned to storm out of the kitchen.

"But you've got to help finish dinner!  It's almost ready!"

"Looks to me like you've already taken care of everything," Stephanie snapped as she threw the door open.  "Finish it yourself!"

"Stephanie, honey, what's wrong?"  Patterson Monroe jumped up off the sofa and hurried over to his wife.  Her tone and expression immediately let him know that she was not happy.  "What happened?"

"That...that...woman!  That's what's wrong!"

Her bottom lip began to quiver as he took her into his loving arms to comfort her.

"She has to criticize and correct every single thing I do!  Nothing is good enough for her!"

"Sweetheart, you can't let yourself get worked up like this," he said softly, rubbing her back gently as he held her in his arms.  "Mrs. Oliver is only trying to help."

"Help?  Help?"  She pulled away from him and blinked repeatedly, not quite sure she could believe the words she was hearing.  "She's trying to take over!  She's trying to take control of my home -- our home!"

"Steph, she's been the only consistent woman in this house since my parents died.  She's been the one in charge of the day to day running of this house.  Surely you can understand that, with you here, the roles are going to change and it's going to be a big adjustment for her -- for all of us, actually."

"I know that, Paddy," she pouted, her heightened emotion starting to ease.  "But it's my home now.  I'm the woman of the house.  She's just the housekeeper."

"She just wants to help if you'll let her."  He looked down into her eyes and carefully brushed away the beginnings of a tear with his thumb.

Todd Monroe"Don't wanna eat Fanny's cookin' anyway," Todd Monroe spoke up in a grumble from across the room.  "Fanny can't cook like Ollie."

"Todd, that'll be enough," Patterson cautioned sternly.  "Stephanie's a little upset at the moment and you being rude isn't going to help matters any."

"Don't like Fanny," Todd grumbled again under his breath.

"See!  Do you see what I'm up against?" She asked, her voice beginning to rise.  "Mrs. Oliver hates me!  Todd hates me!  Everyone in my own home hates me!"

"Honey, I think you're forgetting the most important person in this house -- me.  I don't hate you.  I love you.  I'm always going to love you."

"Oh, brother," Todd grumbled again.

"Todd!" Patterson snapped, his patience wearing thin.  "Look, why don't you go upstairs and play with your toy cars for a while until dinner's finished so that Stephanie and I can have some time to talk."

"Too hungry to play."

"Todd!"

"Okay.  Okay."

Patterson MonroeAs Todd stomped up the stairs, Patterson inhaled deeply.  Why did something simple like a family dinner always seem to bring out so much tension?  Finally, with the young boy out of sight, Patterson walked over to his desk and picked up an envelope and handed it to Stephanie.

"This came in the mail today.  I think it might lift your spirits a bit."

"What is it?"  She took it from him and eyed it curiously for a moment before opening it.  As she slid out the enclosed card and read it carefully, her eyes widened with surprise and excitement.  "An invitation?  An engraved invitation?"

"Yes," Patterson laughed.  "It's for the Ladies Auxiliary's Fourth of July Ball fundraiser for the new children's ward.  We've been invited."

"But...why?  Why us?"

"Honey, my father was chief of staff at the hospital for a long, long time.  He's still very respected by everyone there and there's a medical scholarship in his name."  He took her hand and led her over to the sofa so that they could take a seat.  "After he died, everyone at the hospital pretty much adopted me and Todd.  I always get invited to these things.  A lot of times I don't go unless I have to, but now...."

Stephanie Lake Monroe"Now?"

"Now's different.  I don't have to go, but I want to go."  He looked into her eyes and smiled slyly.  "After all, this is the first formal invitation to an event that we've received since we've gotten married.  This is going to be our official debut as a married couple in Albanyville society."

"Society."  Stephanie's mouth hung open, both stunned and excited.  "Me -- us -- part of Albanyville society?"  As the idea sunk into her head, it was amazing how quickly her spirits rose, the tension and emotion of her encounter with Mrs. Oliver slipping away.

"Well, as much a part of it as a medical student and his new wife can be," he laughed.  "A new wife who, I should add, is also an up-and-coming radio actress."  He stopped, grabbed her hand tightly, and looked her directly in the eyes.  "Now, this is what I want you to do.  This is going to be a formal affair and I want you to go to Lerner's and buy yourself and brand new gown.  My wife is going to be the most beautiful woman at that ball and I want you to make every other woman there green with envy."

"A...new evening gown?" Stephanie gasped with excitement.  "Oh, Paddy!  Oh, I love you!"  She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

Patterson couldn't help but chuckle because of how quickly and drastically her mood had changed -- just like he'd known it would.  Yes, he loved her dearly and only wanted what would make her happy.  This ball was going to be the highlight of the social season and he wanted the night to be perfect for her in every way.


THE STOKES MANSION - FOYER

76 Mapleton WayJanet Stokes shut and locked the door behind her after stepping into the house.  It was an automatic action that she wasn't even thinking about.  After all, her thoughts were completely consumed with the dinner she'd had earlier with her fiancé Burt Lamont and Burt's younger brother Randy and Randy's opposition to her and Burt's plans to marry.

She loved Burt with all of her heart and couldn't comprehend why Randy was so opposed to their planned marriage.  She and Randy had always gotten along.  In fact, Janet had been certain that she and Randy had become friends.  But since the death of their mother, Penelope, the revelation that Burt and Randy didn't share the same father, and the announcement of Burt and Janet's engagement, Randy's entire attitude had changed.  He fought the idea of marriage at every turn and every attempt that she'd made to get him to see her and Burt's point of view had turned into a contest and a battle of their wills.

As Janet crossed the foyer and headed towards the living room, she thought about how she could possibly convince Randy to support their plans to marry.  There had to be a way.  She loved Burt and Burt loved her.  Despite those facts, Janet was worried that time for a happy future was running out.  There was the looming specter of her older sister, Judith, and the tragic events of that night, months and months ago, during when Janet had gone temporarily out of her mind and pushed a pregnant Judith down the stairs resulting in the loss of Judith's baby -- Burt's baby.  Thankfully, Judith couldn't clearly remember the events of that night nor Janet's role in her fall.  But Judith's memory was gradually returning in bits and flashes.  Janet knew that it was only a matter of time before Judith remembered everything.

"Janet, I thought I heard someone come in," Judith said, martini in hand, as she turned to face her sister.  "Did you have a nice night out?"

"It was fine," Janet muttered, pulled awkwardly out of her own troubled thoughts.  "Burt, Randy, and I had dinner."  She paused, looked around the room, and listened for any other movement in the house.  However, the only thing she heard was the soft music coming from the radio in the corner that Judith had turned on earlier.  "Is anyone else still up?"

Judith Stokes Linford"No.  Mother went to bed quite a while ago and Fred...."  Judith's voice trailed off, clear disgust and disdain in her voice at the mention of their step-father.  "Well, the good doctor went upstairs a while ago, too."

"Then I...think I'll go to bed."

Judith eyed her sister carefully.  There was something odd about her -- something serious on her mind.  Immediately all of her thoughts concerning Fred left her head.  Judith had something new to latch onto.

"Janet, dear, are you all right?  Did something...happen tonight at dinner?"

"No, not really," she muttered in reply.  "It's just been a long night and I think I'm getting a headache, so...."

"Something's definitely bothering you.  I can tell."  Judith smiled sweetly and did her best to make her curiosity appear like genuine concern and interest.  "Darling, I'm your sister.  If there's something on your mind, you know that you can talk to me."

Janet paused and looked at her sister with great suspicion.  No, Judith wasn't the concerned older sister that she was trying to portray herself as.  Janet knew her all too well.  Judith  was fishing for information.

"I said that I'm just tired."

"You and Burt aren't having problems, are you?"  Judith fought to resist the urge to smile in glee at that notion.  "Oh, Janet, did you two have a fight?"

"Burt and I are not having problems and we did not have a fight!" Janet snapped angrily.  "This is none of your business!"

"Burt realizes that I've been telling the truth about the night I fell, isn't he?  He realizes that you know more about that night than you've been telling, doesn't he?"

"This has nothing to do with Burt!  It's Randy.  Randy's what's got me upset!" Janet blurted out.

"Randy?"  Judith blinked her eyes repeatedly, not quite prepared with the answer she'd gotten.  "My goodness, what does that little boy have to do with anything?"

"Randy's not a little boy, Judith.  He's a grown man with a mind of his own and he just...."

"Yes?"

Janet Stokes"It's...nothing."

"No, you were about to say something.  Go on."  Judith walked closer to Janet as she hung on every anticipated word.  "What kind of trouble is Randy causing?  What's he done to upset you so much.  I thought you and Burt's brother got along.  Randy doesn't suspect something about your part in the loss of his brother's child, does he?"

"I had no part in that, Judith!  I've already told you that!  This has nothing to do with that!"  Janet sighed and raked her hands through her hair in frustration.  "If Randy would just see that Burt and I love one another and want to make a life with one another.  If he'd just stop standing in the way of us getting marr...."  Janet froze before she could say too much.

"W-what?"  Judith let out an audible gasp.  "Standing in the way of....  Married?  You and Burt are planning to get married?  Janet, you can't!  You can't marry Burt!"

"That's it, Judith.  I'm not discussing this with you.  This is none of your business."  Janet quickly spun on her heel and all but ran for the living room door.  "Nothing about me and Burt is your business!"

"You can't marry Burt!  You won't marry Burt!" Judith called out as she chased after her.  "Once he realizes that you've been lying to him about what happened the night I fell and have been keeping the truth from us, he'll never marry you!  Do you hear me?  Everything that you think you have with Burt is a sham -- a lie!"

Janet raced for the stairs.  She had to get away from Judith.  She couldn't listen to her spell out every single fear that Janet had been dwelling on for months.  Once she'd reached the top of the stairs, she gripped the banister in her hands and tried to catch her breath.  She couldn't let Judith be right.  She just couldn't.



 


NEXT TIME

Janet makes a breakthrough.




 


produced/written by G. Matthew Smith

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