Episode 168

“Are you okay,” Seth questioned sliding his arm around Blake’s waist as they stood outside the church where Caitlin’s memorial was about to take place.
Blake nodded, “About as okay as I’m ever going to be considering what I’m going to have to do today.  I just can’t believe she’s gone.”
“I know sweetheart,” Seth curled his arm around Blake drawing him nearer to her.  Kissing the top of her head gently, he felt a slight breeze sweep up around them as Zack and Johanna arrived with Cody.
“Blake,” Zack spoke her name to capture her attention.  When she pulled away from Seth to look at him, he offered a sad smile.  “Thank you so much for being here today.”
“Given what this is for, there’s no place I’d rather be,” Blake confessed taking a step forward to embrace Zack as Seth and Johanna watched the exchange, “Caitlin was like a sister to me.”
“And you were that to her,” Zack whispered in her ear squeezing her closer, “She loved you, you know.”
“I know,” Blake nodded in confession taking a step back as she looked to him, “I loved her too.  I still miss her like crazy.”
“We all do Blake,” Zack replied a lump forming in the back of his throat at the thought of what they’d all come here to do.  He just wondered if he had the strength to keep it together in saying his final good-bye to his sister.  Taking a step back, he turned his head towards where Johanna stood seeing that Cody was getting a bit fussy in her arms.  “Here, let me take a try at it.”
“He’s a bit restless this morning,” Johanna admitted handing her son over to her husband, “I don’t know what it is, but he’s just not happy at all.”
“It’s because he’s mourning for his aunt as well,” Zack replied readily taking his son into his arms, “but it’s going to be okay.  Aunt Caitlin would be so very proud of him being here.”
“She’s be very proud of you too Zack,” Johanna touched his arm supportively as Blake stood back at bit letting the family have some time together.
Turning to Seth, Blake reached for his arm, “Let’s go inside.”
“Alright,” Seth nodded in agreement following her into the church as they prepared to pay their respects to an incredible woman.


Brant opened the door for Avery, helping her out of the passenger side of his car.  While he’d agreed to come here with her today, he was having his doubts on how everyone would feel to see him at Caitlin’s memorial given their history.  Somehow he felt truly out of place and as he helped Avery to her feet, his apprehension was clear about the situation.
“Thank you for doing this,” Avery offered knowing how hard this must be for him, “I realize that you and Caitlin weren’t friends, but I felt I owed her this.  She was so good to Russ and I and…”
“And you cared about her,” Brant nodded in complete understanding, “She and Russ were good friends.”
“Very good friends,” Avery added thinking about how important Caitlin was in her husband’s life.  “She also helped me in a great many ways and I can’t believe she’s gone.”
“It’s truly shocking to see what that bombing did to tear up everyone’s lives around here.  Never in a million years did I imagine that something like this would happen,” Brant noted bringing his arm in around Avery.
“Neither did I, but today, well today isn’t about that.  It’s about paying tribute to a woman who gave so much to the world around her,” Avery added wondering if she could make it through this memorial without being haunted by the thoughts of the man that she’d loved and lost.  Taking in a slow breath, Avery stepped forward hoping that she wouldn’t be haunted by what might’ve been now that she’d lost what mattered most in her heart.


Mindy looked to Hunt as they approached the church before them.  Clearing her throat, she spoke up uneasily, “I’m sure this wasn’t what you had in mind when you asked me out again, huh?”
“It’s okay,” Hunt replied lost in his own darkened thoughts, “I think I needed some time to put things into perspective and there’s nothing like a situation like this to do just that.”
“Yeah, well this whole thing kind of creeps me out,” Mindy confessed ceasing movement, “I mean Caitlin was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.  When she started working at the paper we became instant friends and now with her and Russ gone…”
“Mindy, it’s okay,” Hunt reached out to embrace her noticing the tears that filled her eyes.  Immediately he squeezed her in closer to him, “I’m so sorry…”
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Mindy confessed in a tiny sob, “With Caitlin and Russ gone it’s like life is all wrong.  Things aren’t at all like they should be and when I think about what we’ve all lost…”
“It’s never easy to lose someone you love,” Hunt offered in an attempt to help her, “I know when my parents died, I thought there was no way that I could pull through this.  I fought like hell to hold it all in, but there was no avoiding the grief.”
“Your parents are dead,” she questioned tearfully, tilting her head up to meet his sad eyes.  “Both of them?”
He nodded, “I was with them when they’d died.  We were coming home from my little league game and this drunk driver was behind the wheel of this rig and…” he paused choked up on emotion, “they said my parents never had a chance.  The mere fact that I survived is a miracle they say, but sometimes I wonder about that.  I mean what was so damn special about me that I was the one who had a chance to survive when they didn’t…”
“Oh Hunt, I’m so sorry,” Mindy replied wrapping her arms around him tighter than before, “I had no idea.”
“That’s because I never clue anyone into that.  When anyone asks I always tell them that my parents are the Lockharts.  They adopted me a few months after the accident and they were incredible.  They are incredible and they’ve been the only family I’ve known since I was seven.  I guess in that sense I was very fortunate.”
“I’m so sorry that I brought it up--that I made you take me here considering…” Mindy began apologetically.
“Mindy, it’s okay,” he revealed touching her cheek tenderly, “the truth to the matter is that I can relate to what it is you’re feeling right now.  If nothing else I learned in losing my parents so young that time is precious and you need to find a way to make the most of things because if you don’t, well one day you’re going to find you’re all out of options and time…”
“Hunt, I…” she started to speak, but as his thumb skimmed gingerly against her cheekbone, she felt his gaze shift.  His breath cascaded like a blanket of warmth over her features and in that split-second of sadness, she found herself wrapped up in the one thing that she’d thought about since they’d first met when his lips skimmed gently in over hers.
Mindy tilted her head up, accepting the kiss with readiness as the gentle ease behind it put her mind at ease, causing her heart to flip-flop in that moment he held her.  Tasting the sweetness of his lips mixed with the saltiness of her tears had sent her stomach into a tizzy, tying her up in knots and exciting her at the same time until they parted once again.  Her dark eyes reached up into his with so many questioned, but instead of giving her the answers she craved, Hunt just wiped at her tears gingerly before motioning to the church just beyond where they stood.
“I suppose we should get in there, huh?” he offered with a soft, comforting smile.
“You’re probably right,” she nodded feeling him reach for her hand as she found herself falling harder for Hunt Lockhart than she’d ever dreamt possible.


Ken adjusted his tie while sitting in the front seat of his car.  He’d been parked just outside the church for over half an hour, but somehow he couldn’t find the strength to take that bold step forward into the place where he’d say his final good-byes to the woman he loved.  Somehow none of this felt right.  He hadn’t been able to shake that, but in this place he’d found himself in a state of turmoil afraid for what would come knowing that it would never be how he’d wanted it to be.
This morning when Ken had awakened, he’d found himself alone in Carly’s hotel room with a note saying she’d call him later, yet that note hadn’t prepared him for the guilt that would be riding him all morning long.  How could he have slipped into bed with her like that?  How could he have so blatantly ignored the promise he’d made to love Caitlin and only Caitlin for the rest of his days?  Sitting in the church parking lot, he dropped his head down on the steering wheel trying to justify his actions, but in that instant of hurting, he found no relief to the ache inside of him.
“This is about Caitlin,” he reminded himself knowing that he couldn’t put this off forever.  Looking in his rearview mirror once again he spotted her parents near the door of the church preparing for what lay ahead of them.  While Ken had seen them a few times since Caitlin’s death, this wasn’t like that last encounter he’d had with them.  Today things were different.  Life was different and he had no idea how he was going to be able to stand up in front of the church pouring out his heart when in reality his heart and been ripped from him the moment she’d been taken from the world.
“You can do this.  You have to for Caitlin,” he tried to convince himself, but it was no use.  He knew now that he wasn’t the man he’d been when he’d had his life with her.  That wasn’t ever going to come back to him and he’d accepted that.  Yet, now as he prepared to put his happiness and the life he’d dreamt about behind him, he wondered if he’d be able to fake it for one more day.  Could he get up there and say all the things that had haunted him?  Could he be man enough to live up to his promise?  He had doubts, fears and guilt over how he’d fallen to pieces without her.
“Oh Caitlin,” Ken spoke in a hoarse whisper, bringing his hand over the journal of hers that Zack had given him.  He’d found it in his car this morning when he’d left Carly’s hotel room and yet as he clenched onto it, he wished like hell he’d been able to have another piece of her.  He’d give anything to turn back the hands of time and make this pain disappear, but he knew better.  He knew that miracles of such proportion didn’t happen and today wouldn’t change any of the reality he’d had thrust upon him.  It was a moot point.
Hearing a knocking on his window, Ken nearly leapt from where he sat.  Turning towards the source of the sound he noticed Annie outside his car with a worried expression on her face.  Reluctantly he opened the door stepping out into the parking lot.  He looked over to the church noticing that Caitlin’s parents had already gone inside.
“Ken, I’ve been worried sick about you,” Annie threw her arms around him in a motherly gesture, “I would’ve thought that I’d seen you at the mansion, but…”
“I’ve been busy for the last few days,” he answered with a heavy sigh, “I’m sorry, but…”
“Ken, I understand how hurt you must be, but you can’t lock everyone out.  I’m here for you,” Annie added squeezing his hand gently, “We’re all here for you.”
“I know,” Ken nodded accordingly seeing Joseph at Annie’s side.
“I’m so sorry Ken,” Joseph offered with a handshake as Ken did his best to hide the demons tearing him apart inside.
“Thank you,” Ken mouthed going through the motions knowing that if he truly intended to make it through this day that was exactly what he had to do.  He had no other alternative.


“My daddy would never let me do any of this stuff,” Brittany smiled holding onto her pillow tightly.

“Well, I had fun,” Jade smiled sitting up straight.

“We got to do girl talk,” Brittany started with a light squeak, “I can’t do that with my daddy.”

“Well, why not?” Jade questioned standing up and Brittany stood up right after her.

“Because he’s not a girl silly,” Brittany laughed dropping her pillow on the couch.

“Silly me, I should have known that,” Jade simply shrugged with a smile seeing Brittany run into the kitchen.

“I’m going to get some cereal,” Brittany smiled skipping to the kitchen as Jade looked out the window seeing the sun peak above the morning clouds.

The ruffled behind her making her turn to see Gabe walking through the front door.

“Daddy!” yelled Brittany running over to him and jumping into his arms as he hugged her tightly.

“Hey baby, how were you last night? I hope you were good for Jade,” he winked before putting her back down.

“Of course I was good daddy,” she laughed as he kissed her cheek lightly.

“What are you up to right now?” Gabe questioned looking at his daughters excited face.

“I was getting some cereal,” she shrugged seeing him nod.

“Well, you get your cereal while I have a talk with Jade, okay?” Gabe questioned seeing her nod.

“Okay daddy,” she nodded skipping into the kitchen and Gabe walked over towards Jade.

“How were things at the hospital?” Jade wondered seeing Gabe sigh and drop to the couch.

“I don’t know, but Guy is really worried. When he is worried, it just makes me more worried about everything else that is going on and him,” Gabe sighed feeling Jade’s hand pat his shoulder lightly.

“I know exactly how you feel,” Jade half shrugged, “I feel the same way towards Grady.”

“Well, I think your situation is worth worrying about,” he pointed out making her shrug.

“All you can do is wish for the best,” she sighed looking down as he shrugged.

“So, what were you and my daughter up to all night?” he wondered as she laughed lightly thinking of all the events that happened while he was away. 


Guy’s breath was taken away every time he looked at his mother and the way she was. What kind of cold hearted soul would do this to her? She didn’t deserve this, how could he go on if she wasn’t there for him?

“Mom, please wake up,” Guy begged as a tear slid down his face and he ran his thumb around the top of her hand. “I can’t believe this happened to you, I mean after everything you have been through. I still have to tell you everything.”

The thought of possibly never being able to see his mother again got to him, like nothing else ever had. She was one of his main priorities in life…how come he never saw that before?

“Mom, if you wake up,” he started kissing her hand lightly, “I promise I will never keep anything from you again. No matter what.”

Sure it was a lot of words spoken right there, but he meant every word of it. Whoever did this to her had to have no heart; they couldn’t even understand the pain the family would go through.

“I don’t know how you made it mom, but you did,” Guy sniffed before thinking about those fifteen stories and how horrifying it must have been for her. “You made it this far, you can’t stop now.”

Not that his encouragement was going to work, but it made him feel better to try and actually let her know that he was going to be by her side and be there for her throughout this thing.

“I hope everything is going to be okay,” he hushed himself resting his hand on hers thinking of all the possibilities of living without his mother…he just couldn’t take it.


“Thank you all for coming here today,” Timothy Vaughn began in his best attempt at keeping his words from getting the best of him, “I know that Caitlin would have been happy to know that so many of you have come here today to honor her memory.  My daughter was so very full of life and spirit and what mattered the most to her was her friends and family.  She always said that the most important thing to her were those people in her life who’d touched a special part of her and today as I look out at all of you, I can see now just how special Caitlin was to each and every one of you.  My daughter had a lot to give to this world--far more than she was able to, but today I hope that all of you will take her memory with you and find a way to keep giving as Caitlin would’ve wanted you to.”
Tim paused for a moment feeling himself caught up in the emotion that consumed him as he bit back his tears.  Finally he found the strength to speak up again, “You know one time when I was much younger and a whole less wiser, I remember when Caitlin was learning how to ride her bike.  She was so determined to learn that we practiced night and day.  She fought like mad to find a way to break free of the training wheels, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get at it.  She never gave up though and I remember one morning in particular when she went out on her bike and had a nasty spill.  There I was running down the street hoping like crazy that she hadn’t really hurt herself, but when I got there, she just looked up at me and smiled.  Despite the cuts and bruises and the stitches she needed later, she just said to me, ‘Daddy aren’t you proud of me?  I can ride my bike,’ and it was in that day that I truly understood my daughter’s spirit.  Caitlin never gave up--she never stopped fighting for what she believed in and as a father I feel very blessed that my daughter found some happiness in her life,” Tim’s eyes were directed to Ken, “She loved you son.  You gave our daughter something that she’d wanted her whole life and I’m proud to say that I know in my heart there was no better man for her.  You gave her happiness, love and I know in my heart that you did all you could to make Caitlin’s last days on this earth beautiful and full of love.  I thank you for that.”
Timothy then went on to say a few more things about the special people in Caitlin’s life before he offered Ken an opportunity to talk.  In that moment he felt himself go numb.  He’d sat there watching Caitlin’s parents, Zack and Blake talk about Caitlin and all the while he’d thought about how he’d lost so much in her death.  He’d thought about the dreams he’d had and how they’d never come to be.  Caitlin still surrounded him, still haunted him and as he forced himself to go up to the front of the room, he wondered if he’d truly be able to do this.
Finally as Ken reached the podium, he eyed the people before them all there to honor and pay their respects to Caitlin.  In that moment he felt the hardest blow of all and immediately he was choked up on emotion.
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Ken confessed holding onto the podium for dear life, “I wish that I could say that I have the right words to say, but I don’t.  I wish that I could tell you that I’m all those things Timothy just said I was, but I’m not.  The sad truth is that when Caitlin needed me the most I wasn’t there for her.  I promised her time and time again that I would protect her--that I would keep her safe and I didn’t.”
Ken looked to Caitlin’s parents, his heart breaking further with each word he spoke, “Julia, Timothy, I wish I could stand here and tell you I was the kind of man that Caitlin needed in her life, but I was far from it.  I’d made her so many promises--shared so many of her dreams with her, but when it came to the moment when I should’ve protected her the most, I failed her.  I let you down and most of all I let her down.  I don’t deserve to be here today and I never deserved Caitlin in the first place,” Ken blurted out tears burning in his eyes, “All I can say is that I wish that it would’ve been me that died that day.  Caitlin should still be alive right now and if I had been man enough to be there when push came to shove, she still would be.  All I did was let her down and for that I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry…” Ken finished stepping away from the podium and making his way out of the church in a haste amidst a great many gasps.
“I’ll be right back,” Brant explained to Avery quickly rising from his seat.  Blake stood up to do the same before Brant passed by her, touching her shoulder gently. “Stay here.  I’ll take care of this.”
Blake nodded in agreement not quite sure what to say, but knowing that after what she’d witnessed that Ken was never going to be okay again.  She could feel the guilt he’d been carrying and today when she’d watched him fall apart before Caitlin’s friends and family, she knew that the hard part in all of this was just beginning.


“Ken, wait up,” Brant chased after his brother watching as Ken made his way over to his car, “Ken, slow down.”
“I can’t,” Ken shook his head refusing to look back at Brant, “I need to go.”
“No, Ken, you can’t leave like this.  Ken, please stop,” Brant called after him once again watching as Ken refrained from moving.  Once he’d bridged the gap between them, Brant sped up to move in along side of him, “Ken, you can’t just leave now.”
“Yes, I can,” Ken argued tears glistening in his eyes, “Brant, I don’t belong here.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Brant insisted, “Ken I know you loved Caitlin.  I know that she was the world to you and I also know that she wouldn’t want you to be doing this.”
“I failed her Brant.  I promised her the world and in loving me, she had it taken from her,” Ken replied painfully, “I told her that I would protect her--that I would keep her safe, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t and now she’s dead…”
“That wasn’t your fault.  It was a horrible, tragic twist of fate that you had no control of.  You weren’t the one who planted that bomb Ken.  You couldn’t know.  None of us could’ve known,” Brant reached out to him, “Ken, but if you leave right now...  If you walk away like this, well I know you.  You’re going to regret this for the rest of your life because this is where you belong.  This is where Caitlin would want you to be.”
Ken stared at him blankly before he finally spoke up, his words hollow and empty matching the expression on his face, “I already regret it Brant because I tried to be something that I wasn’t.  I lied to Caitlin and I lied to myself.  I never deserved her.  I wasn’t at all what she thought I was and now, well now I have to do the last honorable thing.  I need to give her and her family peace by staying away.  I can’t remind them of how she lost it all by loving me…”
“Ken, this had nothing to do with the love between you,” Brant insisted hating to see his brother so upset.
“It had everything to do with what we had.  Hell, look at it from my perspective Brant.  Wendy left and now with Caitlin,” Ken shook his head somberly, “They loved me and as a result it brought them nothing but pain and suffering.  I refuse to do that any longer.  I know now that I’m just like him…I’ve brought this on by trying to be something I’m not…”
“Him?  Ken, what are you talking about?” Brant tilted his head confused by his brother’s comment.
“I always thought that you were the one who had to be kept under watch.  I always feared that you’d be just like Nicholas, but after taking a long, hard look in the mirror, I see that the reason I wanted to see it so badly in you was because I knew that it was deep inside of me.  I know now what I am and it sickens me, but I can’t change it.  There’s no point in trying anymore,” Ken finished leaving in a haste as Brant stood speechless watching his brother’s retreat.
“No, Ken wait,” Brant finally snapped out of his daze, but it was too late.  Ken was gone and with the screeching of the tires before him, Brant realized that the Ashford curse had succeeded to take Ken under as well.  Ken was overcome by the guilt and pain of losing Caitlin and now…well, he hated to think of what came next for he feared what it could mean to his brother’s future.


Blake wiped away a tear from her face after leaving the doors of the church. She just couldn’t believe that Caitlin was really gone, no going back in time. There was no way to be, nothing to do. All she had was the man next to her as he pulled her close to him comforting her as another tear ran down her face. She felt a hand on her arm making the both of them turn around.

“Blake, Seth,” Zack nodded with a slight smile looking down and folding his hands out in front of him.

“Zack,” Blake started with a sigh, “You must be feeling really bad right now.”

“Yeah, well, I’m holding up,” Zack slightly laughed holding back the sadness that he should be letting go, but just holding it back with everything to worry about. He wouldn’t let everyone know how he felt, which was pure sadness.

“I’m sorry man,” Seth sighed holding out his hand to shake Zack’s lightly before it fell back to his side.

“Listen, I just wanted to say that I appreciate you two being here today,” Zack declared running his hand along the back of his neck. “I know Caitlin would have appreciated it.”

“She was my best friend Zack, of course I would have been here for her no matter what,” Blake pointed out seeing him nod.

“There is another thing…we’re leaving Coral Valley,” Zack sighed seeing Seth shrug.

“Why?” Seth questioned unsure of why he chose to do that.

“Too many sad memories that I just have to let go,” Zack started leaning forward and hugging Blake. “I just wanted to say good bye and good luck with everything you two do…I wish you both the best of luck.”

Seth smiled shaking his hand once more as he nodded, “Same goes to you. I wish the best for you, JO, and that little baby.”

“Will do, thanks,” he nodded before waving goodbye for the last time in Coral Valley.


Avery stayed near the back of the church waiting for Brant’s return, but after neither he nor Ken returned for the end of the service she found herself worried about what was happening outside.  Fearing the worst, she collected her purse ready to leave, but found herself stopped by Johanna.
“Avery, I was hoping I could have a word with you,” Johanna began uneasily.
“What about,” Avery questioned thinking about the time when she and Johanna had been rivals for Russell’s attention in the years gone by.  Thinking about all the hate they’d had between them, Avery felt some of the old lingering bitterness rush forward, but she stifled it knowing that this was neither the time nor place.
“I wanted to talk to you about Russ,” Johanna watched the expression on Avery’s face before she spoke up again, “It’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Right now I’m not sure what I’m thinking Jo,” Avery replied honestly, feeling overcome by so many emotions, “Today has been very hard on all of us.”
“Yes it has,” Johanna nodded in agreement before casting a glance in the direction of Zack and Cody, “but that’s all the more reason why I wanted to talk to you.  I’m leaving Coral Valley.  Zack and I are going back to Seattle.”
“You are?” Avery questioned with a strange look.
“You seem surprised,” Johanna noted.
“I am a little bit, but at the same time,” Avery couldn’t help but offer a polite smile, “I’m glad that things worked out for the both of you.  You look very happy.”
“I am,” Johanna admitted with a genuine smile, “I love Zack and he’s given me so many wonderful things in my life.  He’s my own miracle and I feel very blessed in having had a second chance at a new beginning with him.”
“I’m sure,” Avery nodded thinking about her own situation.
“Listen, that’s not why I pulled you aside,” Johanna began desperately, “I just wanted to clear the air between us.  I’m not going to pretend that you and I ever really liked one another and I know in the past that we had our shares of ups and downs, but I just wanted you to know that…with Russ and I…well, Avery as much as I’d wished that something was there, it never was.  He was an incredible man and I cared very deeply about him.  The time that we shared together was very special to me and… ”
“Johanna if this is the part where you want to rub it in my face about your relationship with my husband, then I think it would be best if we pass on that one,” Avery explained simply, “I don’t want to hear about that…actually I’d rather not even think about it.”
“No, Avery, that’s not what I’m trying to say at all.  What I’m telling you is that no matter how hard I tried to gain Russell’s attention, there was always one woman on his mind and that woman was you,” Johanna informed her point blank, “Russ and I…we never…I mean it never got to that point between us.  Not for lack of trying on my end, but still…he loves you…only you and I know now that you two were meant to be together.  I spent so many years hating you--wishing that you and Russ would be apart, but Avery, I never wanted this for the two of you.  I never thought that he’d be gone and…”
“Neither did I,” Avery confessed stung by her own emotions, “I never thought that I’d see the day when Russ was gone from my life and he wouldn’t be here to share our daughter’s birth with me.  We had so many plans and dreams together.”
“Dreams that you were cheated out of.  Avery it’s so unfair what happened to Russ and I’m so sorry.  You have no idea how much it hurts me to know that he too was a victim of this tragedy,” Johanna admitted with tears behind her eyes.
“Yes, yes I do,” Avery softened a bit, finally letting go of the past, “As much as you and I never saw eye to eye, I know that Russ respected you and he cared about you.  You were special to him.”
“But not as special as you are and always will be,” Johanna offered with a sad smile, “You were his everything Avery.”
Avery just nodded unable to say much more as she wiped at her tears.
“Look, I know this is really bad timing, but with Zack and I leaving, well I couldn’t help but notice you were here with Brant today,” Johanna began after a moment’s hesitation.
Avery nodded, “I didn’t want to come here alone.”

“Even so, because of Russ, I feel as if I should warn you to be careful,” Johanna started her words shifting with the moment, “Brant’s not what you think he is Avery.”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” Avery frowned stiffening at Johanna’s insinuation.
“Look,” Johanna hesitated again, “I know this isn’t the right time, but there’s something I think you should know.  When I came to town in the first place, well I came here because I offered Russ a job working for me…”
“Yes, I’m well aware of that,” Avery nodded, “but what does that have to do with Brant?”
“Brant paid me to offer him that position,” Johanna divulged shamefully, “He arranged for me to fly out here and offer that position to Russ so that Russ would leave Coral Valley and you behind forever.”
“What,” Avery’s jaw dropped in shock before she shook her head in refusal to accept Johanna’s words, “That’s ridiculous.”
“It’s true Avery.  He paid me a lot of money to get in between you and Russ, but it didn’t work.  It didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen.  I saw the bond between you and Russ was too strong to break and I found my own happiness,” Johanna looked to Zack again, “the only reason I’m telling you this today is because I should’ve been honest with Russ about it in the first place.  I owed him more than I gave him and I can’t take that back.  I can’t make my stupid decision go away, but what I can do is stop you from making an even bigger mistake in trusting that arrogant jerk.  Brant Ashford is trouble and the farther you can stay away from him the better.  You had to trust me on that one.”
“Given what I know about you Johanna, I find it hard to trust anything that comes out of your mouth,” Avery snapped back defensively refusing to think the worst about a man who’d come to her aid time and time again.
“Fine, then believe what you want Avery, but don’t say that you weren’t warned because this isn’t on my shoulders anymore,” Johanna remarked sourly, “And for your daughter, well I might consider what I just said to you if you ever want her to have a real chance at happiness.  Brant Ashford is trouble and if you get sucked in by him, well then you’re only setting yourself up for disaster.”
Johanna finished her warning before turning away and heading back to Zack leaving Avery to think about what she said.  There was no way that Brant could’ve been up to something so shameless--so sneaky.  He couldn’t have sunk so low, could he?  Avery tried to dismiss the thought, but judging by the expression on Johanna’s face she had her doubts.  Feeling the heat inside the church getting to her, Avery turned to leave, but she found herself met by Brant mid-movement.   
“There you are,” Brant let out a breath of relief touching her arm.
“Where’s Ken?” Avery questioned attempting to forget what Johanna had told her.
“He’s gone,” Brant sighed heavily, “I tried to stop him, but he left and…never mind.  Avery, can we just get out of here?  I think I need to try to look for him or at least try to figure a few things out.”
“Yeah me too,” she nodded in response letting him guide her out of the church as she wondered if there was any truth behind Johanna’s words.  Brant couldn’t have done such a nefarious thing to keep her and Russ apart, or could he?


“I suppose you two stayed up all night, huh?” Gabe questioned pulling Brittany into his lap and tickling her lightly.

“What would give you that idea daddy?” Brittany laughed as Gabe smiled.

“The simple fact that Jade isn’t telling me anything, so a father has to expect the worse,” Gabe winked before hugging her in his arms.

“Daddy, why do that? We were fine, in fact we went to bed five times earlier than I usually do,” Brittany nodded with a slight wink towards Jade.

“Five times, huh?” Gabe questioned with a grin. “Is that right, Jade?”

“Of course it is dad, I mean…why would your little girl lie to you? Why would I lie?” Jade wondered with a simple smile.

“Something tells me this isn’t right, but I will believe you because I am suppose to,” Gabe declared before hearing the doorbell ring and getting up to get it.

“It worked,” Brittany whispered with a slight smile, “Now if I could only get him to believe me on the other nights.”

“I think you might have to work on that, parents are smart,” Jade assured her before seeing her nod.

“What the…” Gabe gasped pulling a paper out of the envelope and sitting down on the couch.

“What? What is it?” Jade questioned slightly confused and worried.

“It’s a note for sole custody, Noelle wants to take Brittany away from me forever,” Gabe gasped before running his hands roughly through his short hair in aggravation. 


Blake stood at the front of the church thinking about the day that had unfolded right before her very eyes.  Ken was clearly taking things harder than anyone had realized and when Brant hadn’t been able to stop him, Blake’s worries had leapt into overload.  Now as she began to light a candle in Caitlin’s memory, she felt her hands shaking with fear.
“Hey,” Seth stepped in closer to her, “Blake, let me do that.”
She nodded allowing him to light the candle as her own eyes clouded with tears, “I just can’t believe this is happening.  First with Caitlin and now Ken…”
“He’s in a lot of pain right now,” Seth agreed hating to see Blake’s family in such a state of turmoil, “but we’ll be there to help him.  I’ll do all that I can…”
“I know you will,” Blake tilted her head to look up at Seth before smiling tenderly, “It’s part of why I love you.”
“This is going to get better.  It has to,” Seth continued reaching for another candle, “In fact, let’s light another one and say a prayer for things to come.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Blake nodded in agreement helping him light an additional candle as she said a prayer that somehow her family would be untouched by anymore misery than they’d already had.  However, little did she know fate had other plans for each and every one of them.


“I just don’t understand why he isn’t picking up his phone,” Brant frowned after slipping his cell phone back into his pocket, “I mean this isn’t like him to just not answer.”
“He’s hurting Brant, you can’t just expect him to act like he would normally,” Avery reminded him taking a seat on the couch in the middle of her living room.  She looked around the house seeing so many reminders of her life with Russell there.  It was heartbreaking to think that their dream had come to an end.  Looking to Brant, she watched as he tried to call Ken again and in that moment Johanna’s words swirled in her mind.

“Brant Ashford is trouble and if you get sucked in by him, well then you’re only setting yourself up for disaster.”

“Damn it,” Brant cursed hanging up the phone again.  He started to pace around the living room restlessly, “I should’ve tried to stop him.  I should’ve gotten his keys from him or at the very least…”
“Maybe he needed time to think.  Ken just lost the love of his life and he’s hurting right now.  What he needs is to find a way to try to resolve this within himself,” Avery offered up thinking about her own situation, “Guilt is tearing him up inside and if you had any doubts about that, today he showed us all that he blames himself for what happened to Caitlin.”
“But it wasn’t his fault.  It was that person who planted that bomb who is to blame.  That sick monster took away his dream and now he’s letting it destroy his life,” Brant cursed kicking at the floor while clenching his hands at his side, “It never should’ve been like this.  This never should’ve happened.”
“No it shouldn’t, but in the same sense we can’t go back,” Avery noted with a slight frown, “We make our mistakes and we can’t change them, can we?”
Brant stopped what he was doing, turning to eye her intently.  He noted the strange expression on her face before taking a step forward, “Why do I get the feeling that we’re not talking about Ken anymore?”
“Because we aren’t,” Avery confessed with a heavy sigh, “I wasn’t going to say anything because I know how worried you are about Ken, but I’ve been thinking…”
“Avery, I’m sorry if I haven’t been here for you like I promised but with my brother…” Brant offered apologetically, “I know that you have the trial coming up and we need to work on our alibis and…”
“I’m not talking about that,” she argued rising to her feet again, “Brant, I had a talk with Johanna at the church.”
“And?” he questioned in confusion.
“She told me everything Brant.  She told me how you paid her to come to town and break Russ and I apart,” Avery blurted out point blank.  She watched his face drain of all color as she threw the words out at him, “She told me that you hired her to break Russ and I up…”
“Avery I can…” Brant took a step towards her watching her mirror the movement in taking a step back.
“Oh God, it’s true isn’t it,” she gasped in horror, “You really did hire Johanna to break Russ and I up, didn’t you?”
“Avery, I swear that if you give me five minutes, then you’ll understand why I…” Brant pleaded with her, reaching out for her once again.
“Don’t…just don’t…” Avery shook her head at him, “Don’t try to cover for it.  Tell me the truth.  For once in your life forget about cover stories and be honest with me Brant.  Say it to my face although I can see it in your eyes.  You really did do it, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Brant revealed shamefully, “Yes I brought Johanna back to town to have her break you and Russ up.  Are you happy now?”
“You sick son of a bitch,” Avery marched forward to slap him right square across the face, “I hate you.”
“Avery, I didn’t do it because of what you’re thinking.  At the time I was just trying to help you and…” Brant attempted to get close to her once again.
“Save it!” she shouted at him, reaching for her finger and wrenching the wedding ring he’d given her off of it.  She flung it at his face, her eyes wild with anger and emotion.  “Just get out!  Go and don’t come back!  I don’t want you or your help in my life ever again!”
“Avery wait,” Brant pleaded only to be met by her angry stomp down the hallway to her bedroom.  As she slammed the door to her room, Brant looked to the wedding ring in his hand realizing that the honeymoon was far from ever happening between them.


Ken sat in the front seat of his car feeling the scene at the church replay in his mind over and over again.  Today was nothing like he’d expected it to have been and now that he was lost in the moment--remembering how he’d done everything wrong, he knew that there was no other choice.  He’d sunk to an all time low today and this couldn’t be fixed.  He couldn’t take back what had happened.  He couldn’t make this pain go away and that was the hardest part.
“She’s gone, but you’re not,” he could still hear people telling him over and over again, but that didn’t matter.  None of it did.  Now as he sat alone in the front seat of his car across from the bar, he felt his guilt and pain eating him alive.  He was drowning in the sorrow and there was only one way to erase this ache inside of him.  Opening the car door, he stepped out into the evening knowing that there was only one thing to do.  He’d have to find a way to forget and this was just the place to do it, he vowed making his way into the bar ready to put all his hopes and dreams of a life with Caitlin behind him forever.


...to be continued...