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Episode 50

"Spread Some Christmas Cheer"
*At Gary's party, Nina introduced Annie to her new man Max Darber. Nina was appalled when the introduction ended up in Annie smacking him across the face. Turns out, this man was the guy from Annie's prostitution days.
*Nina was horrified at the notion that Todd could be gay. Her suspicions were confirmed at the party when Creg broadcasted the video of Todd and Luke making out.
*Annie was upset when Keith told her that he planned on leaving town.
Nina stares at the crooked star that tops the massive Christmas tree in her living room, “I swear it doesn’t look right.” She mutters as she hurries to the stepladder to make more adjustments. She swears it is the nineteenth time she’s tried to make the star look right.
The sound of the opening door diverts her attention. She quickly jumps down from the stepstool and heads to the kitchen to see who has arrived. A rush of joy goes through her veins at the sight of Max. Ever since meeting Max a couple weeks ago, she has been high on life. She can’t find a single flaw in the man before her and that has never happened. Usually, she’s naming off the flaws within two seconds of meeting somebody but with Max everything is different. Everything feels right.
“Darling, the Christmas tree looks beautiful.” Beams Max as he gives Nina a kiss on her hair. “I love it.”
“Really?! I was thinking that the star was crooked. Oh well, damn that.” She immediately puts her hand on her mouth. “Oh I’m sorry I said that. I really need to break this swearing habit of mine!”
“It’s OK, Nina. God’s not going to get you for that!”
Nina absorbs his words and shakes her head, “See, I never thought I would be attracted to somebody who’s into the whole God thing but I’m really loving it. Anyway, I’m sorry that I have such sinners for children. Do you really think that this lunch idea is going to work out well? Todd is gay after all. Should I even let him in my house?” Nina stops in mid sentence as tears begin to well up. “Max, you have to talk some sense into him!! You just have to! I’m never going to be able to accept him unless he goes straight! Never!”
Max begins to rub Nina’s shoulders, “Darling, Todd just hasn’t found God yet and we will help him realize the error of his sexual preference. Baby, this lunch will be an intervention of sorts but please let me do most of the talking. You are too emotional right now. That video of him committing sin is still fresh in your mind.”
Nina quickly flashes back to Creg displaying Luke and Todd’s make-out session for everyone at the party to see. The horrifying feelings of all nightmares coming true to her rushes back to her and it feels like she is still standing there, watching in pure devastation.
“I’m surprised Todd agreed to meet us here for lunch. Being he has so much deep seeded guilt about his sexuality that he’s projected upon you as anger, it’s quite a step for him. Maybe having him accept God into his heart won’t be that hard, dearie.” Max says in a very gentle tone. “I am also hoping for the best for Annie, your daughter.”
Nina’s face hardens. “I wouldn’t waste my breath on her. She’s the modern day Jezebel if I ever met her. However, I do see a glimmer of hope for my Todd. Focus on saving him.”
Suddenly the sound of the doorbell fills the room. Nina gives Max a hopeful glance before slowly walking up to the front door. After taking in very deep breaths, she swings it open.
Todd and Luke stand before her, Todd is holding a bowl of cookies. “Hi Mother. I hope you don’t mind but I brought Luke along. We made some Christmas cookies and thought we’d share some.” He begins to walk in past Nina. I’m going to see how honest my mother is being to her word of learning to accept me for me. I’m most likely putting too much faith in her but I might as well try.
Nina tries to suppress the disgust of Todd showing up with his boyfriend with an overly wide smile. She slowly closes the door as she motions the two of them in, “Yes, well those cookies look yummy. Put them on the counter. Oh Luke, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How have you been since your father’s death? It must be killing you inside.” I know it’s been killing me inside that Luke is gay. He is so sexy. I can’t believe that sexiness is being wasted on the sinful practice of homosexuality!
Luke swallows hard and digests an answer for Nina’s question: “I’ve been trying to take it one day at a time. The way my father died was horrible and unnecessary and it’s going to take ages to get the images of what happened out of my mind.”
“Then we should all pray about it.” Max suddenly interjects. “Praying, after all, is the key to finding the answers of how to cope.”
Luke quickly flashes Todd a confused expression, as does Todd to him.
“You two look confused.” Speaks up Nina. “Do you not want to pray to God?”
Todd can’t find a way to answer. He is perplexed, Wow, Luke and I have officially entered the twilight zone.
Annie and Nicole walk side by side, each wearing contemplative expressions. They both carry Abercombie bags as well.
“I still can’t believe that your mother is dating this Max idiot. If she only knew what he did to you all those years ago. You really need to warn your mother about him.” Nicole says with strong conviction in her tone.
Annie stops mid-walk and gives her best friend a frustrated look, “Do you think she’d believe me?! I mean nothing in her eyes, I don’t care how many times you’ve tried to convince me otherwise. My mother thinks I’m a complete abomination. Besides, telling her the story of how I know Max would make her hate me even more.”
Nicole shakes her head and sighs. “See, I knew you cared more about how your mother feels than you let on, Annie. It really has to tear you to pieces knowing that your mother does what she does.”
Annie lets out a chuckle, “I gave up on her a long time ago. I try not to let it get me down. Besides, I probably will get a break from her hatred since Todd has been flung out of the closet for the whole damn world to see. Fuck, Nicole, how could you have dated someone so evil and conniving as Creg? What the hell was he gaining by showing that video of Luke and Todd? I just don’t get him at all. Honestly, I’d beat the shit out of him if it didn’t mean I’d lose my fashion designing job at Jackson Industries.”
“I’ve said it time and time again, dating Creg is the biggest regret of my life and I have an inkling it will always be my biggest. Anyway, about Todd, how is he? Has he completely shut himself off from the world like he was doing?”
Annie motions Nicole to sit next to her on a bench in front of The Hangout, “Actually I think I talked some sense into him. I talked to him earlier and well, get this, my mother insisted he come over for lunch today so she can spend some quality time with him. That has disaster written all over it. I swear Todd is a masochist because he agreed to it. She’s going to do nothing but degrade him for being gay and tell him that he’s going to burn in hell.”
Nicole appears as though she is ready to cry, “That is horrible. Absolutely horrible! How could a mother think that of their own son? Just awful...”
“Awful is my mother’s name. I wish Luke and Todd the best. I hope they marry in Canada or wherever it’s legal and live happily ever after. I must admit that it’s strange to see my ex dating my brother now. That situation borders on dysfunctional but whatever. Luke and I are more suitable as friends anyway.”
“Yeah, I agree but you and Luke are so passed that so it shouldn’t be hard seeing them two together.”
Annie nods her head in agreement as she rises up from the bench and grabs her bag. She begins to search through her purse for a cigarette and begins to walk ahead of her friend. Her attention is quickly diverted to the neighboring street as her eyes widen in horror. "No! Get off the road!"
Nicole has no time to think as she watches Annie dart onto the road and scoop up a  little boy who is seconds from being hit by an oncoming car. The car slams on it's brakes and Nicole is horrified when she can't tell if either Annie or the child has gotten hit.
Cassie takes a sip of the cranberry grape juice in her hands. She studies Keith while putting the lid back on the bottle it is in, "I'm truly sorry things had to turn out this way."
Keith rises from the couch in surprise. "I'm sorry they did too, Cassie. We have both done horrible things and it got us nowhere. Look, I should have been honest with you about my feelings for Annie from the beginning."
Cassie begins to pace. This morning she never would have guessed that she would have ended up at Keith's door but a fresh layer of guilt awoke with her and she couldn't help but go see him to apologize.
"You don't know how much it means to me to hear you apologize, Cassie. We both owed this to each other. Those couple days in the hospital got me to thinking. Jarrod deserved to know the truth that I wasn't his real dad. I think I may have eventually told him myself but who knows when."

Cassie nods slowly, "It wasn't my right to go and blab the truth to Jarrod. It wasn't my damn situation! Keith, what in the hell is wrong with me??!"
Keith walks closer to her and puts a caring hand on her shoulder, "You were consumed with revenge. You weren't thinking clearly. You wanted payback for me hurting you."
Suddenly the door goes flying open and Jarrod, wearing a black suit, walks in quickly. He freezes in place when he realizes that Cassie is there, "What trouble are you going to cause now?!"

Cassie looks him straight in the eyes, wearing a serious expression, "Don't worry, Jarrod. I decided to change my ways. I've been thinking alot of my spiteful behavior the past couple days and I realized I need to change once and for all. I actually came her to give your father an apology, believe it or not."

"Well I'm choosing not to believe it. You are still obsessed with revenge. I don't believe for a second that you are going to change that on the drop of a dime. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to my room to change out of this suit. I don't feel like seeing or talking to anyone. That memorial service took everything out of me." Jarrod says this and heads straight to his bedroom--moving as quickly as possible.
After Jarrod slams his bedroom door, Keith moves his gaze back to Cassie. "Speaking of that memorial service, I am still thankful I was lying in a hospital bed instead of attending that horrible so-called party. What Gary chose to do--it was, it was just unforgivable. Who makes the choice to commit suicide in front of all their friends and family?! I can't even process the horror that the rest of the Jacksons are going through right now."
Cassie gets a thoughtful look and sighs deeply before responding, "Gary obviously wanted to go out with a bang and he definitely accomplished that, I must say. However, I think I'm going to be haunted with images of him shooting himself for the rest of my life. It was awful to watch--to put it lightly. Now that I think of it, that shooting may have led me here to you."

Keith looks confused, "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean it made me realize that there were more pressing issues going on than my petty pursuits of revenge. It was so surreal. It's as though I stepped outside of myself and managed to look at everything I had done from an objective view. I didn't like what I saw."
Keith slowly nods, "I guess that makes sense."
"Yeah, it does to me now that I realized it. Keith, it's just, I am so damn lonely! This loneliness overtakes me sometimes and leads me to do horrible things. Horrible things that I've been really regretting these past couple days!" Tears begin to well up in her eyes, "I really do love you and I always did. Even through trying to use Shayla's diary as something against you. Even through all my vicious words of anger toward you..."
As Cassie's tears evolve into full swept crying Keith can't help but go over to her and hold her, "Cassie, I'm so sorry. I knew you loved me and that is what ate away at me the most."
Cassie pulls him tighter, feeling as though she never wants to let him go. Everything she said to him was the truth, especially the part about her loving him. As she pulls Keith closer to her, she is overcome with the urge to kiss him. She wants to kiss the man she loves so much. She brings her her eyes to look into his, and he slowly moves his to look into her own. Quickly, Keith breaks the grip and walks away from her.
Keith sighs heavy, "Maybe you should leave now Cassie. Besides, it's Christmas Eve, go and be with your family. You shouldn't torture yourself here any longer with thoughts of me and what we can never have again. It will kill you on the inside."
Behind her tearful face, Cassie nods. "Maybe you're right..." She slowly walks toward the door and opens it to leave. "Merry Christmas..." With that, she closes the door behind her and leaves.
Keith stares at the closed door, heavy in thought. Merry Christmas to you too Cassie. I think you'll be getting the best Christmas gift you can this year. I'm leaving Sunrise Bay. I can't stay here. It's time for me to move on and leave the messes I made behind.
"Dear God, we ask for your presence in this home. We ask that you bring strength to all the heartache and pain that Luke is going through with the sudden death of his father. God, heal his pain and bring Luke to a place of acceptance so he can move on with his life..." Max says in a pleading tone as he folds his hands and closes his eyes. Various foods are spread in the middle of the table that he, Todd, Luke, and Nina sit at.
Max's prayer continues: "God, also touch on both of these men with what should be right in their life. Help them out of the tangles of sin and this...this disease that has overtaken their bodies."
Todd's eyes immediately go open as a surge of pain rushes through his veins: I knew it! I should have known better than to have come to this lunch. This get- together was nothing but an intervention so my Mom can convince me I'm burning in hell! Todd rises from the table and blatantly interrupts the prayer, "Sorry, but Luke and I have to leave right now."
Nina darts upward, "Don't interrupt a prayer like that! Did I raise you to do such rude things??!"
Todd swallows hard and decides to maintain a calm composure: "Mother, please, I know you don't agree with my lifestyle or whatever you want to call it but will you please start looking at your own misgivings? You constantly focus on what you think I do wrong and what Annie does instead of focusing on things you need to change about yourself." Todd breathes in air to give him fuel to finish what he is dying to say. With this, he brings his attention to Max: "I thank you for trying to do what you thought was right but I'd rather be left alone on this whole God issue. Don't get me wrong, I believe in God and everything but I'm sick of feeling as though what I'm doing is a sin. I didn't choose to be this way, plain and simple. I really wish people would try to understand it before condemning it. Anyway, that's all I have to say. I really have to go." After saying his final word, a surge of pride rushes through Todd's system. He said exactly what he wanted to say without raising his voice.
Nina gets that familiar desperation in her tone of voice as she hurries toward Luke and Todd as they go to the front door, "Don't just walk out that door, Todd! Please! Let us cure you of this! Please!"
Todd turns to his mother with a hardened look, "Cure me of what? Cure me of something I have absolutely no control over? Cure me of something that I don't find as a sickness to begin with? Mom, open your eyes for once in your damn life! Examine all sides of something before you harp on it and call it evil. Like I said, Luke and I are leaving and I have absolutely nothing else to say to you."
Luke waves a silent goodbye, he has become completely mute from the shock of how this lunch turned out. Factoring that with the confusing weight of his father's death on his mind and he wonders why he thought he would be in the state of mind to attend a dinner with Todd's mother in the first place.
Max and Nina just watch as the door closes in their face. Max pulls a crying Nina closer to him while stroking her hair, "Don't cry, dearie. They'll come around eventually. I promise it."
Nicole rushes over to the road where Annie sprinted to save the little boy. Overcome with relief, she sees Annie as she raises from the ground comforting the crying child.
"Connor! Oh my gosh, are you OK?" Lacey Ulrich darts toward them with a frantic expression.
Recognition sets on Annie's face as she remembers Lacey from the restaurant and how she tried to hook her up with Todd. "Don't worry, Connor is OK. Well, he's OK since I had to save him from a speeding car! Damnit, you should have kept a better eye on him!"

"I know! I know! Annie, I am eternally grateful that you saved him. I turned my head one minute to look for my keys and he runs off toward the road! Honey, why would you do something like that! You could have been killed!" Lacey pulls Connor against her and hugs him tighter than she ever has before.
Annie notices Lacey's puffy eyes and wonders if they are like that because of the horror of almost losing her son or if Lacey has already been crying. Before she knows it, her thoughts become voiced: "Lacey, are you alright? You look as though you've been crying."

Nicole cuts in, "Annie, that's understandable being that her son almost got hit by a car."
Lacey quickly nods her head in agreement, "Yeah, that is exactly why. I was sent into a state of complete panic when I noticed Connor about to be hit." Lacey's eyes immediately dart to the ground, just like someone does when they know they are lying.
Annie shakes her head as a breeze picks up, sending her fiery red hair in every direction. "No no, come on. You can tell me. Something else is bothering you. Look, I know I barely know you. Well I guess that would be an understatement being that we've only had one encounter."

Lacey slowly nods, "Yeah, you tried hooking me up with your brother at the restuarant." A small grin forms, "We can see that that won't be working out. The movie that was played at the party...well you know."

"I know exactly what you are talking about, you don't have to step around the subject. Yeah, Todd is gay it turns out. The whole damn world knows that now because of that bastard Creg Jackson." When Annie says this, she quickly puts her hand over her mouth. "Sorry, I'm not used to little kids being around."
"It's OK! You can use any word you want around him being that you just saved his life."
Annie lets out a chuckle and then returns to her earlier search of a cigarette, her hands are shaking from the adrenaline rush. She succeeds at findng her pack of smokes but is less successful in finding a lighter.
Lacey notices what Annie is searching for, "Sorry I'd have a lighter you could borrow if I didn't finally kick that bad habit like a year ago. I don't know how I found the strength to finally get over them things, my life is stressful enough. Sometimes cigarettes were the only cure for it."

"You're telling me! These damn cancer sticks or whatever you want to call them help me through my days sometimes. Now, you danced past that earlier question of mine, what else is bothering you? Call it woman's intuition or whatever but I can sense you were worked up before your kid almost got hit."
Lacey swallows hard and tries to hold the fresh set of tears from coming. "I...I guess that lying to you isn't going to help things. Look, maybe we should just part ways here. Thanks again for saving Connor..."

Annie looks frustrated, "No! Don't give me that bull. Tell me what's wrong."
Nicole turns her back to Annie, as embarassment sets in. Can she just see that the girl doesn't want to talk about it? Of course not, Nicole. This is Annie after all! 
Lacey also wonders why Annie is being so insistent, "If you really want to know so bad. If it will really help your day..." She gives into the urge to cry. "I don't have enough money to pay for my kid's Christmas gifts! I had to pay our electric bill so it wouldn't be shut off and I didn't get the Christmas bonus I was hoping for. I had to pay the remainder of my check on groceries. So are you happy now? I just admitted to it. Look, I'm leaving now. Don't worry about me." She leads Connor towards her vehicle.
Annie runs up to her, "No, don't leave like that. Look, I'm sorry if I sounded rude by asking you all those questions. I don't know what it is but I just feel some sorta, as creepy and psycho as this may sound, some sorta connecton to you." Annie pauses to look through her purse for her wallet.
Lacey knows exactly what she is doing and quickly jumps into refusal: "Put that wallet away. I don't want your charity money. Just let Connor and I be. Maybe I'll figure something out."

Annie hands her 5 one hundred dollar bills, "I insist! Take it. No kid should go without a Christmas. It's not right. You can use it for his gifts and to get yourself something nice. I'm not going to let you leave without it. Call me stubborn but I refuse to!"

Nicole watches as the scene plays out in complet shock. She has never witnessed Annie do something so nice. The whole duration of her friendship with her she has lost count of all the selfish things Annie has done. To watch Annie hand over such an impressive amount of cash to a person who is practically a complete stranger is just awe inspiring.

"Take the money! It's getting pretty cold out here and I wouldn't want to stand in this weather any longer than I have to. You'd sure feel guilty if you were the reason your son's rescuer got very sick, now wouldn't you?"

Lacey lets out a quick laugh, "Yeah, I would feel pretty guilty." Lacey's hand slowly reaches for the money. Why is she doing this? Why is she being so nice?

Annie rolls her eyes at Lacey's slow pace and proceeds to quickly stuff it in the purse that is over Lacey's shoulder. "Done! Enjoy your Christmas, you little cutie!" She reaches and rubs Connor's hair. He looks up at her and smiles wide, revealing his pronounced dimples.

Lacey looks at Annie as tears flow down her cheeks, "How can I ever repay you for this??"

"You can call me and tell me about all the good stuff you bought with it. That is if you still have my card."

"Yes, it's in my wallet." says Lacey as she wipes the tears from her face.

"Good. Now you two have a wonderful day. Bye!" Annie smiles wide as she waves goodbye to Lacey and little Connor.

Nicole waves too as her and Annie walk toward their own car, carrying the bags from their earlier shopping spree. Nicole looks to her friend, "That was the sweetest thing I have seen anyone do in my entire life, Annie. I can't believe you just did that. That was awesome."

Annie rolls her eyes as she opens the door to the back seat, "Oh, just get in the damn car. I'm not in the mood for mushy stuff."

Nicole giggles, "Now there is the Annie I know!"