Episode 11: "The Weight Of Choices"
Part One

Blake Manor, Hyde Park

"Bryce!" Kendra smiled radiantly when her butler led Bryce into the atrium of her front hall. "Welcome to Blake Manor!"

"Thanks for inviting me. This is absolutely an amazing place you have here, really," Bryce was awestruck by the extravagant decor of the Blake mansion. The atrium itself was three-quarters of the size of his whole apartment. Slate gray marble tiles covered the floor, glass panels in the ceiling revealed the darkening twilight sky, and alabaster plastered walls surrounded the semi-circular room with expensive oil paintings. At its base, the main staircase fanned wide, slimming as it ascended to the second floor. The banister was smooth, stained mahogany with bars chiseled in an intricate spiral and a handrail carved with design of a vine carved around it. But the most beautiful detail was the marble fountain in the center of the atrium, its focal point being the statue of a dolphin with water spewing from its blowhole.

"It's a bit simplistic, but I'm sure the interior decorator will be getting to work on it soon...after the guesthouse is built, of course." Kendra flipped her blond hair over one shoulder. "Thanks for coming."

"You're welcome, it's my pleasure. I usually don't schedule consultations after office hours, but it was nice of you to invite me to dinner as well." Bryce smiled, appreciating Kendra's generosity.

"Of course! Anyway, before it gets any darker, why don't I show you work site?" Kendra suggested, careful to sound as business-like as possible. After making the mistake of trying to use Simon to get closer to Bryce, Kendra rebounded with a new plan. With the excuse of wanting to build a guesthouse on the manor, Kendra lured Bryce to her home...away from distractions like Lana Whitmire.

Kendra led Bryce outside to an area fifty yards from the mansion. "This is where I'd like for the guesthouse to be built. I'd like something like a miniature villa, only one story, with a Spanish theme but different from the mansion. Does that bring to mind any ideas?"

Bryce's pensive expression thrilled Kendra, who couldn't take her eyes off of him. She watched his olive green eyes slowly rise and lower on the empty area. "I did a summer abroad program in Barcelona. Truly magnificent architecture and a great choice I must add. I think I can come up with a couple of designs that may interest you. You'll have to give me measurements of how large you want the house to be and I'll need to bring a surveyor out here. I'll get to work on obtaining a construction permit while I design the blueprints. It could take a couple of weeks until the designs will be ready though."

"That's fine," Kendra nodded enthusiastically. "I can wait for as long as you need. Anyway, dinner should be served by now. Shall we go inside?"

They walked up the terra cotta path to the mansion and through the doors to the atrium of the front hall. Past the atrium was the dining hall where a brick fireplace lit up the room with a roaring reddish fire and a table that seated twelve was set for just two.

Bryce held out a chair for Kendra, who beamed approvingly at his gentlemanly manners. Bryce sat across from Kendra. As if on cue, servants brought out dinner rolls and poured red wine in their crystal wineglasses. Bryce watched in wide-eyed amazement as a lush garden salad heaped with crisp romaine lettuce, sliced cherry tomatoes, grated carrot, and baby spinach was set before him while a servant presented him with a platter of twelve different bottles of salad dressing. Nervously, Bryce chose the bottle of ranch dressing which the servant placed on the table with the fat-free Italian bottle.

Kendra paid no attention to the servants as she unfolded her linen napkin and placed it neatly across her lap. She picked up her wine glass but before taking a sip, she fixed her icy blue eyes on Bryce and cooed "So, Bryce, do tell me about yourself...."

Part Two

In Field Fly Sports Pub

"Oliver, is Simon here yet?" Mae asked in earnest, taking a seat on a bar stool across from Oliver. "Do I have time to check my hair and make-up?"

"Do you think he even care how your hair and make-up look?" Oliver asked pointedly, wiping the condensation from his beer mug.

Mae looked at him crossly. "Of course, he does. Besides, I care just as much." She pulled loose strands of her choppy red hair away from her eyes. "A woman always has to look her best."

"Thank goodness I'm not so vain," Oliver murmured, grabbing a handful of peanuts from a bowl and popping them  into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully before swallowing and saying "Here's a question, why are you so interested in what Simon cares about, anyway?"

"Well, if you must know," She lowered her voice and leaned across the table toward him. Oliver frowned, looked around him, and shrugged before leaning in as well. "Simon and I, well, have been seeing a lot of each other lately."

"He sees you as often as I do," Oliver replied matter-of-factly. "So what?"

Mae's doe eyes shined with mischief. "When I say seeing a lot of each other, I mean, SEEING a lot of each other. Do you catch my drift?" She bit her bottom lip and waited for his reaction.

Oliver raised an eyebrow and sat back on his stool. "So you guys have been SEEING each other. And how long has this been going on?"

"Oh, for the last couple of weeks now. Since just before Bryce moved here. I have to admit, this usually isn't like me. But he makes me feel so uninhibited, so beautiful, so desired. I usually don't get that kind of attention."

"Are you sure that's the kind of attention you need? Don't get me wrong, Simon's my friend, but he doesn't exactly treat the fairer sex with dignity and respect, know what I mean?"

"He's been gentle with me, really. Sure, we don't talk like we used to, but who needs to speak when you can just feel the heat, the thrill, the passion? I feel this moving along, really, and I'm falling for him. He feels it with me too, I know it. I think I can make him forget about Kendra Blake, especially since she has her eye on Bryce."

"Well, don't even think about counting chickens, Bryce doesn't give Kendra the time of day. Simon knows this and he's going to hold out for her until, well, who knows when. Gosh, Mae, you of all people should understand Simon's mindset. Don't let him shove you aside when and if Kendra ever has second thoughts about him."

"I do understand, Simon. I understand him better than I've understood anyone I've ever met. Don't you see? We're seeing each other for a reason. He needs me, and I need him. We can be together now, it makes so much sense."

"What makes sense is that you've let your feelings get in the way with your logic. Please listen to me, Mae. Simon's just using you. He has only had eyes for Kendra." Simon took a final gulp from his beer mug and left to buy a refill. Mae's lips quivered, her heart fearing a conceivable truth in Oliver's parting words.

Part Three

Grier Household, Barnett Pond

"The roast beef is absolutely delicious, Mrs. Grier. What exactly did you put in the gravy?" Stacia had found dinner with Adam's parents to be surprisingly stress-free. Adam's parents welcomed Stacia warmly and Stacia felt more comfortable with them than she ever expected. Adam had warned her of his parents' more conservative approach to dating, but so far their questions touched more upon the subjects of careers, college, her parents, and history of her and Adam's romance.

"Dear, just call me Amelia. Mrs. Grier is too formal. Besides, you're practically family!" Amelia smiled warmly. "Which is why I can't share my recipe with you." They all laughed. "No, I'm kidding. I add Lipton's onion soup mix. That's the key. Genius, that Lipton was. Good soup and good tea."

Stacia smiled. She was quite amused by how Amelia always seemed to speak her thoughts without thinking them through beforehand. "Well, I'll be sure to remember that."

Adam gave her a strange look. "You don't even cook! You can't even remember the cheese when you fix a box of macaroni and cheese!" He grinned and tickled her side.

"Just look at you, so sweet to each other," Amelia sighed. "My baby's all grown up. It all happened so quickly. Just think, pretty soon, you'll have your own little babies running around our house. I'll baby-sit, of course. Since I've retired, I haven't had much else to do here. I've been dreaming of grandchildren for so long. You don't have to get started at once, but if you do, I must say that a big family would be real nice. You're so healthy...you'll be a fine mom." She sighed dreamily.

Stacia could feel the blood drain from her face when Amelia mentioned children. She and Adam had never really discussed children before, for Stacia avoid the topic the best she could. For a long time she had felt that children would not fit into her life's plans. During her senior year of college, she unexpectedly found herself pregnant with her ex-boyfriend's child. Being in the race for valedictorian, Stacia felt that carrying the baby to term would harm her grades and she made the decision to end her pregnancy. She had carried the weight of her choice ever since, a secret even her closest friends did not know, and she had yet to forgive herself for her actions.

Knowing Adam's parents' beliefs, she knew that her past would not sit well with them. Even Adam, who had always expressed a desire to have kids, didn't know that Stacia had already made up her mind to forsake having children. She knew he agreed with his parents on the subject and was looking forward to starting a family with her, and Stacia was too afraid that the truth would turn him away from her. But she couldn't allow his parents to believe in a future that she didn't want to come to past.

"Uhhh," Stacia stammered, fumbling with the linen napkin in her lap, "I don't know how else to say this," She looked at Adam, then his father Abraham, and finally Amelia. "I don't want to have any children."

Her words were followed by excruciating silence as Adam and his parents looked at Stacia with mixed expressions. Instead of relief, Stacia only felt the discomfort of palpable disapproval. Amelia tried to stifle a cry with her hands, accidentally dropping her fork which fell with a ringing clang against her china. Abraham cleared his throat. Adam looked away from Stacia and pursed his lips. Realizing the mistake of speaking out, Stacia murmured "Excuse me," throwing her napkin on the table, fleeing from the room and out the front door.

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