Episode 19: "A Cry For Help"
Part One

Stacia's Place, El Patio Apartments

"Anyway, I think the extended stay at the hospital will really speed up Jake's recovery," Lana remarked to Stacia optimistically as she buttered a flour tortilla. Four days had passed since Jake's accident and since he was finally scheduled for discharge, Stacia and Lana decided to throw a homecoming party for him. After choosing third floor Stacia's apartment for its close proximity to the ground, Lana and Stacia were preparing for the intimate gathering that night. While Stacia prepared bowls of various kinds of chips, Lana cooked Jake's favorite dish, chicken and cheese quesadillas. "Hey, have you and Adam talked about the night you met his parents?" She placed a quesadilla on the hot skillet.

Stacia shook her head quickly. "No, we've hardly seen each other, except for when we were at the hospital. But even then, we were too concerned with Jake's condition to discuss our own problems." Lana took note of the disquieted expression in Stacia's eyes. "Is it a bad sign, that Adam and I haven't had a decent conversation since that night?"

"You two have been through so much together. You'll get through this little disagreement." Lana used a spatula to flatten the quesadilla. Melted provolone cheese oozed from the open sides of the tortilla and sizzled on the skillet's Teflon surface.

Stacia sniffled before wrinkling her nose at the smell of burned butter. "I think I'll light some vanilla scented candles. I don't want the place to smell like grilled cheese sandwiches." She pulled some cream colored candles out of one of the cupboards in the kitchen.

Lana frowned. "The smell isn't that bad. Besides, Jake loves my quesadillas. It wouldn't be a party without them. Look, I'll just turn on the overhead vent. That should mitigate the smell."

Stacia's voice called out from the living room, where she was lighting matches for the candles. "It's not a little disagreement, Lana. This is a major issue that Adam and I should agree on together. But he wants children. And I don't."

Lana felt sorry for her closest female friend. She also felt sharp pains in her head. She hadn't felt completely well since she had given the two pints of blood for Jake's transfusion. She massaged the temples of her forehead. Stacia returned from the living room and noticed the anguished look on Lana's face. "Lana, are you all right?"

Lana nodded quickly. "Yeah, sure. Stacia, what I meant was that your relationship with Adam can withstand any obstacle. Don't lose faith in a bond you know is stronger than steel. That's when you'll know it's over, when you lose the conviction behind your love." Lana winced slightly when she felt a sharp pain in her head. She saw that Stacia was gazing at her with concern and she added "It's just a small headache."

Stacia left the room briefly but soon returned with a small medical prescription bottle. "Here, take one of these. It should help with the headache. You can rest and then be refreshed to play co-host in a few hours."

Lana looked uncertainly at the bottle before shrugging her shoulders and accepting the bottle. "It won't be much of a party without me," She smiled weakly as Stacia handed her a glass of water. "Bottom's up."

Part Two

Nina's Apartment, Grayson Commons

"Nina, come on! Jake's waiting for us and since he's the guest of honor, he cannot be late to his own party," Kendra waited impatiently in Nina's living room. Nina scurried out of her bedroom, still pulling her curly red hair into a ponytail. "Nina, where's your couch?"

Nina's eyes darted around nervously. She had forgotten that Kendra had helped her choose a new couch, a pretty beige sofa that was returned to the store of origin due to her payment failures. "Umm...the back of the sofa was ripped by the delivery guys so I'm having it repaired." Nina fibbed, feeling guilty about adding yet another lie to the dozens she had already told Kendra.

Kendra accepted Nina's explanation. As she turned toward the front door, her cell phone began to ring. "Excuse me, Nina, I really need to take this." She took the phone out of her purse and headed for the kitchen. Nina bit her lip, knowing well that Kendra's phone call pertained to the business calamity Nina herself had brewed at Blake Industries. While Nina had averted financial destitution, she feared Kendra's wrath worse than the jail time she faces for embezzling from Grayson Realties.

"Sorry, business has been hectic for the last week or so." Kendra apologized when she returned to the living room. She caught sight of the tears streaming down Nina's face. "Sweetie, what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

"I can't handle this anymore," Nina sank to her knees on the filthy, soda-stained carpet. "I-I've done something terrible. I don't know how to say this...Please forgive me, Ken. You have to forgive me!" Her reddened eyes looked up at Kendra desperately.

Kendra stooped to Nina's side and peered into her best friend's face with concern. "Forgive you? Nina, what are you talking about?"

Nina sniffled. "I'm nearly broke, Ken. I'm thousands of dollars in debt. My couch was repossessed."

Kendra looked taken aback. "I'm sorry, wow. Well, it's only a couch, Nina. I don't understand-"

Nina continued and poured out her mistakes. "To pay off the bills and rent, I wired money from Grayson's petty cash account to my own. But Penelope caught me, and used my embezzlement as grounds for blackmailing me."

"Heinous bitch," Kendra swore.

"That's not the worst part. She blackmailed me into convincing Roberts, Dumell, Bronson, and Peters to sell their shares of Blake stock to her."

Kendra shot Nina a sharp look. "You WHAT? That's why they sold their shares? Because you-"

"Called in a couple of favors, so to speak. Yes, it was me. Kendra, I am SO, SO sorry. I was so desperate to make ends meet on my own. I know it was incredibly selfish of me. Believe me, this was my last resort. But I couldn't call home. I refuse to go back to the fascist regime known as my biological parents and while I'm so ashamed of what I had done, please know that I did not want to hurt you." Tears spilled uncontrollably from her turquoise colored eyes, her cheeks flushed deep scarlet, and her lips trembled with a mix of fear and regret. "You don't have to forgive me, Kendra. I wouldn't forgive myself."

Kendra, left speechless by both her best friend's confession and betrayal, couldn't help but pity Nina's misfortune. Because of her upbringing, she couldn't fathom facing a nearly destitute situation. Considering Nina's haphazard attempt at all forms of independence, Kendra realized she would have resorted to the same underhanded tasks. Her compassion won over her anger. "Nina, of course I'll forgive you." She gently stroked Nina's hair. "I just wish that you would have asked me for help in the first time."

Nina looked upwards at the ceiling. "You cannot imagine how embarrassed I would have felt. I still feel that way. But hindsight is twenty-twenty." She tried to smile through her tears. "Thank you, Kendra."

Part Three

Palm Terrace Plaza

"There's nothing wrong with me loving you, now. Giving yourself to me can never be wrong if the love is true." The funky beat of the famous Marvin Gaye song Let's Get It On belted out over the loudspeakers and could be heard around the entire Retro Vinyl Record Store. Oliver crooned into his broomstick microphone and slid suavely across the floor. The regular closing time clean-up allowed for Oliver to live-out his own fantasies of performing in front of imaginary sell-out audience while keeping his inner most dreams a secret. He indulged in his most recent musical interests, which at the moment were every lyrically pertinent composition by Marvin Gaye.

Oliver prided himself on his knowledge and appreciation of music. While others his age were taking to the college textbooks, he found himself reading album sleeves, cassette tape inserts, and back issues of Rolling Stone magazine. Always true to himself, Oliver knew that he would just barely squeak on by financially as a clerk for Retro Vinyl. With his highest hopes of being owner of the surprisingly popular record store, Oliver truly felt that he had never been happier in his life.

Oliver had Lana to thank for encouraging him to chase his dreams. While his parents disapproved of his refusal to pursue higher education or a career in the armed forces, Lana was there to tell him "Hey, do what makes you happy. If all else fails, at least you're doing something you enjoy." Lana was the balancing factor of reality in his life, keeping his dreams in check and his feet on the ground.

So Oliver found himself working seven-day, eight hour shifts at Retro Vinyl. Drowning in old but original recordings by artists ranging from Pink Floyd to the Jackson Five, he found the smell of vinyl records therapeutic. He gave his best advice on purchases to his customers and had already taken the reins in regards to hunting down the best of musical history all over the globe. And while he found himself to be practical in matters of the heart, Oliver found himself professing everyday wisdom eloquently through a strategically placed lyrical reference.

Oliver finished sweeping the floor and whistled as he strode to the cash register to ensure the day's receipts were accounted for and deposited in the store's secure safe. He turned off the lights, grabbed his keys, and locked the doors to the store. The Palm Terrace Plaza's janitorial staff was nearly finished with the daily closing time maintenance and were dimming lights one level at a time. Oliver walked down the Plaza's center staircase, humming the melody to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". He strode out of the Plaza and turned the corner toward the parking lot. As he neared one dark colored Honda Civic parked near a street light, he noticed a young woman was pinned against its driver's side door by a towering man. He stopped to focus in on the assailant, but as he squinted toward the scene he heard the woman release a bloodcurdling scream.

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