Episode 23: "Proportion Of Courage"
Part One

Retro Vinyl Record Store, Palm Terrace Plaza

"Olie, I'm putting on another album," Lana shouted from behind the front register of Retro Vinyl. She flipped the off switch to the Oliver's newly restored vinyl record player and turned on the compact disc stereo system. In the bed of the compact disk receiver, she placed her favorite Dashboard Confessional CD and closed the lid. The stereo system's auto-play cranked up the whining croons of Chris Carrabba, which echoed from every speaker in the store.

Oliver poked his head over a rack of albums and frowned disapprovingly at Lana's selection. "Oh no, not this whiny, sentimental lover's lament shit. Not in my store." When Lana ignored his protests, he marched over to the counter and immediately shut off the stereo. "Play that stuff in your car. Why else would he name his band after the dashboard?" Oliver perused the stack of CDs Lana had chosen in succession to the Dashboard Confessional CD. "Ohh, now if you want to play complaint rock, I recommend this one." He pulled Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill jewel case from the stack. "Lyrics are facetious but they wreak of PMS. Chicks dig stuff to which they truly relate."

Lana rolled her eyes. "Why do men always think women are angry because of their menstrual cycle? Won't you guys ever stop to think that YOU might be the root of this wrath?"

"The problem's always the guy," Oliver mocked. "We're always to blame. As for you, it's always Jake. What has he done this time?" One look at Lana's crestfallen face answered him right away. "Hey, now, it isn't that bad..."

"But it is," Lana complained helplessly. "He's never used that tone of voice with me. It's the first time he's ever second-guessed our friendship. He thinks that I'm being selfish and disloyal."

"You never told him about the blood donation," Oliver assumed correctly as Lana nodded in reply. "Why didn't you listen to me?"

"Because, Oliver, it would burst that bubble of bliss he's been floating in ever since his accident." Lana slipped Simon & Garfunkel's greatest hits CD into the stereo and pressed the random selection button. "He was so hurt by my not visiting him in the hospital. He thinks that Kendra was there when he needed me most."

"And you allowed him to think that. He needed you, Lana, and he admitted it. Sounds like unrequited love that he's hasn't yet realized. I don't need to watch Days Of Our Lives, I'll get my daily dose of soap operas just watching what goes on between you and Jake." He pulled himself onto the front counter and crossed his arms in front of him. "Why do you keep denying yourself the chance to be with him? I know that you've been in love with him since the night you first met. Why haven't you told him how you feel?"

Briefly, Lana recalled the exact reason why. She remembered the scorching pain of rejection from the first guy she ever loved. The burns from that memory left her mind scarred forever. "Because I knew I wouldn't be able to handle hearing Jake say no."

Oliver rolled his eyes. "You see, now it's your fault that he's ended up falling in love with Kendra," Oliver accused her. "Deep down inside Jake, his feelings for you lie dormant. They're waiting for you to come forth and awaken them, just by saying those words. The irony of your fear of rejection is that you've been rejecting yourself all along, allowing Jake's feelings to stay buried inside him." He reached out to Lana, beckoning for her to give him her hand. Reluctantly, Lana complied and he pulled her closer to him.

"I'm going to tell you this one time." He warned sternly. "You're going to end up lonely and miserable if you don't stop tormenting yourself. You need to come to terms with how you feel. If you really love Jake, you'll come clean with him. If you don't love him, you need to move on and give yourself a chance to find love. It's out there waiting for you, maybe closer to you than you think. Don't let your hopeless pining get in the way of your chance at love."

Lana smiled, proud of her younger cousin's wisdom. "Spoken like a true romantic. If I didn't know any better, I would say you've got the experience to back up your advice." Her smile faded and her eyes grew darker. "But it's too late for Jake and me. Whatever connection we had was severed last night in our fight. You're right about one thing. I need to move on with my life. I'll distance myself away from Jake, starting with avoiding the Pub."

Oliver's eyes perked with alarm. "Aww, Lana, come on. Not the Pub. All of our friends hang out there, what else are you going to do on Friday nights?"

Lana thought for a moment. "Not just you. We! We'll start tonight. What do you say? You and me, at my place, catching up on movie rentals." Her eyes shined with enthusiasm. "Please, Oliver? It'll make things easier if you were there."

Oliver scowled and wished he had never doled out any advice. He grumbled, "Yeah, whatever."

Part Two

Grayson Realties Office, Blount Building, Downtown

Nina wrung her hands nervously, her palms swollen and sweaty.

What if Penelope decided to press charges anyway? What if Penelope moved to stain my professional history to prevent me from being hired by any employer of prominance? Is Kendra's friendship worth giving up the best job I've ever had?

Nina shook her head. No, this petty madness had to stop. She had to grow up some time and now was just as good a time as any. She was ready to take responsibility for herself and finally she carried out the most adult action she could committ.

She sought help from Kendra. If there were anything Nina had learned from her experience of near destitution, it was that she could still be independent even when she asked for aid. The most difficult task was gathering the courage to admit she needed help.

Now, she had the matter of her job to resolve. While this job was the best she ever had, she knew that staying in her position of blackmail for a while longer could jeopardize any real effort to recover from the mistakes she had already made. She had her best friend to thank for the greatest gift she could ever receive, forgiveness. With such a surprisingly selfless gesture, Kendra had even offered to help. Nina knew that coming clean with Penelope Grayson was the key to her salvation, the decision to right her wrongs, and her time to make a last stand.

She stepped into Penelope's office and waited patiently for Penelope to look up from her computer.

"What do you want, Parkherst? Are you here to update me on your progress of retrieving Blake Stock for me?" Penelope asked snidely, her lips twisting with devious satisfaction.

"Actually, I am here to tell you that you can take your blackmailing bitchiness and go to hell." Nina kept her voice calm and even, shielding herself from any sign of fear.

Penelope's composure never wavered and she raised an eyebrow. "So you've decided to forget embezzling money and start stealing a conscience instead? My, this is an interesting turn of events."

Nina clenched her fists behind her back to relieve the rising tension in her body. "Yes, that is correct. This is wrong. I'm not going to talk to any more of Blake Industries' investors."

Penelope laughed at Nina's brave declarations. "You're just pulling my leg. You're in too deep to stop helping me now. Besides, you still owe me a few thousand dollars, not to mention damages you caused the company with your embezzlement."

Nina's eyes glowed with defiance. "There really isn't much you can do to keep me from resigning. I've made my decision. I want out."

Penelope studied Nina's face through narrow eyes and finally realized Nina meant what she said. "You're making a huge mistake, Parkherst. I was even thinking of giving you a pay raise, to help you off your destitution. This is how you repay me? For forgiving you, for allowing you to redeem yourself, for offering you the opportunity to advance despite your criminal actions against my company? You're doing this to so you won't hurt the town's more spoiled, selfish brat?"

"Kendra's my best friend. She's been there for me even when my own flesh and blood wouldn't lift a finger to help me. And she's even willing to forgive my betrayal." She handed Penelope a plain white business-sized envelope. "In there is a printout of the petty cash account balance. All the money has been replaced. There's no reason for you to hold any power over me any more."

Penelope stared stonily at Nina's defiance. "Well, I still have one power vested in me. Nina Parkherst, you're fired."

Nina's nervous face relaxed. The corners of her mouth drew back and she started to giggle. Her giggles gained momentum until finally her entire body laughed uncontrollably. Penelope didn't put up much of a fight, and now Nina was about to get away from the financial woes that plagued her. Suddenly, being fired didn't seem so bad.

"What's so funny, Parkherst? You just lost your job," Penelope hissed at her, her gray eyes narrowing with skepticism.

Nina wiped tears that had appeared in her eyes. "I know, I've been fired. But that's really all you can do," She finally managed to gasp out. "I'm free! I'm free!" Still cackling with laughter, she turned on her heel to flounce out of the executive suite. But just before she left the doorway, she turned around and proclaimed proudly "This is the best thing that's ever happened to me!"

Part Three

In Field Fly Sports Pub

"Misery loves company. Mind if I join you?"

Kendra looked up to see Jake's handsome face gazing hopefully down at her. She blushed, suddenly feeling self conscious as Jake studied her intently. "Have a seat, Jake." She pulled the bar stool beside her back from the table. "I'm not miserable. Why would you say such a thing?"

Jake shrugged. "You certainly didn't look your happiest. Anything I can do to turn your frown upside down?"

Kendra couldn't help but smile. "You're always helping me out, Jake. Why is it that you always seem to be there when I need someone?"

"Well, I-uh-" Jake tried to find the right words to say. He didn't want to blurt out his feelings too quickly and scare her.

Kendra didn't wait for him to reply. "What happened with you and Lana? Talk about miserable, I heard things weren't going well between you too."

Jake pursed his lips. "I really don't want to talk about Lana, Kendra. We've been drifting apart for a while now. But hey, things change and we all just have to make the necessary adjustments." He put on his best smile in hopes of escaping the subject of Lana.

"You two seemed so close, I would have thought she was your girlfriend," Kendra remarked casually, watching Jake's sea blue eyes for a reaction.

Jake was surprised by Kendra's observation. "Girlfriend? Oh no, we've just known each other for a while. I don't have a girlfriend," He quickly added.

"Right, because then you wouldn't have time to save damsels in distress like me," Kendra responded sarcastically.

"Well, I would save time for you," Jake promised shyly, gazing deep into Kendra's eyes. Kendra stared back, taken with his willingness to oblige her.

"I don't understand," Kendra looked away, overpowered by Jake's. "We hardly know each other, and yet you've already done more for me than anyone I've known personally for years." Suddenly overwhelmed with the curiosity she met the day of Jake's accident, Kendra could no longer restrain the questions. "Why did you do it, Jake? Why did you put yourself in harm's way for me?"

Kendra's question stung Jake's heart. He wondered why Kendra would ever need to know the answer to that question, unless she had already discovered Jake's feelings. She plays with you until she's taken everything she wants from you, then moves on to a different field. Lana's words echoed in his mind. Perhaps Lana was wrong, or else the answer to Kendra's question was irrelevant.

"I reacted," Jake replied matter-of-factly. "I saw that you were in danger and I didn't want you to be harmed, so I did the first thing that came to mind."

His response seemed to register well with Kendra. "I guess you have the mind of a hero," She supposed. "But you came so close to dying, Jake. Did that thought ever come to mind?"

"Well, that's something you have yet to learn about me. At that moment, I wasn't thinking about myself. Call it a force of habit, that I'm usually thinking of others before myself." He shrugged his shoulders though inwardly hoping his selfless explanations would further impress Kendra.

Instead, Kendra felt nothing more than guilt. All along, her underhanded schemes had netted a loss in the romance department, and she knew that she had only been thinking about herself. Taking Bryce for herself was all that mattered, for she thought they were equal in beauty, determination, and success. Bryce's instant desire by the young women of Palm Terrace possibly fueled her own infatuation, but the knowledge of his own attraction to Lana Whitmire validated that Simon's claims were dead on. She wanted something that she couldn't have.

But not something that she should've had.

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