Episode 25: "Too Late, Too Soon"
Part One

Fi-Lo Office Supply Corporate Office, Blount Building, Downtown

"Mr. McKeon, you seem to be following well in your father's footsteps," Murray Birron observed as he looked up from the portfolio on his desk. "You know, when I went to college with him, I already saw the potential for greatness he possessed. I see that he generously passed his talents on to you."

"Thank you, Mr. Birron," Bryce graciously thanked Birron for his praise. "I take a lot of pride in my work and I only put forth nothing less the best of my efforts."

"Yes, indeed, I see that. We're banking heavily on the St. Marquis building doing well. But you know these historical societies, they rant and rave about the preservation of the classic looks for buildings and yet they refuse to front the bill to maintain them. I think that this integration of the designs should please everyone involved."

"That's exactly what I intended when I drafted them, sir," Bryce conceded to Birron's comments.

"Now, I'd like for you to get started on this project right away," Birron informed him. "We had already planned to break ground two weeks ago. Since you've got a general idea of what the building should look like, perhaps the construction will finish on schedule." Bryce nodded his head to acknowledge comprehension. Birron added, "Now, first thing Monday morning, we'll need to draft a contract. Lana Whitmire takes care of new contracts, so I will make sure that she gets in touch with you in time."

Bryce smiled with satisfaction and reached out to shake Birron's hand. "I look forward to getting together with Miss Whitmire, sir. Thank you very much for your time and I will see you Monday morning."

"Welcome aboard, Mr. McKeon! We're delighted to have you," Birron firmly shook Bryce's hand and showed him out of the office. Once safely in the elevator, Bryce gave a loud, gleeful whoop and congratulated himself.

Part Two

Blake Manor

"Don't worry about those boxes, Nina. Virginia, please have the movers put those boxes upstairs in the first empty bedroom on the left." Kendra directed her head housekeeper toward Nina's belongings.

"Kendra, I can't thank you enough for letting me stay with you. I swear, I will be out of here as soon as I find a job." Nina promised, setting her suitcase down beside a pile of boxes. She gave Kendra a hug.

Kendra hugged her back. "Hey, you stay as long as you like. I want to make sure you're well on your feet before I set you free." She grinned at Nina. "What do you think of these flowers? And this vase?" Kendra pointed to an exquisite crystal vase holding a beautiful bouquet of daffodils and daisies. "Jake sent them to me today. I thought that was really sweet."

"Why is Jake Herrington sending you flowers all of the sudden?" Nina inquired, smelling the daisies. "Shouldn't you be sending him flowers?"

"You're right, I ought to send him a dozen roses every day for the rest of his life! Goodness, I still don't think I've thanked him enough for saving my life. Anyway, he didn't say why he sent the flowers. Maybe to thank me for all the hospital visits, and for driving home from the hospital. But does it matter? Can't a guy do something nice sometimes?" Kendra nonchalantly pulled a daisy from the vase and plucked a couple petals from it.

"Uh, no," Nina replied, surprised by Kendra's abundance of ignorance and lack of suspicion. "When guys send flowers, it usually means they want something...you!"

"Maybe, but I don't know. Jake has always been so nice and good-natured. He does generous things for everyone. I wouldn't mind having someone like him around more often. He's such a breath of fresh air and I don't think there's an insensitive bone in his body. He's not that bad looking, either. I mean, he used to play baseball and you can tell he's still taken care of himself ever since. He carries pretty good conversation, he makes me laugh, he cheers me up."

"Ken, you're talking like he's a little more than friends with you," Nina folded her arms in front of her. "How did this happen?" She raised a suspicious eyebrow.

"I don't know, Nina," Kendra shrugged her shoulders. She looked happily at the flowers and went on. "It's like we made this connection in the back of that ambulance. I felt something. I guess it was comprehension, but I'm not sure. It seemed like there was some tangible reason behind Jake coming to my rescue. Maybe Fate had something to do with it, I don't know. What I do know is that he touched my heart by doing the most selfless thing anyone has ever done for me.

"Have you ever really noticed Jake before, Nina? I mean, really paid attention to him? He has these amazing eyes that are always wide with excitement and attention. They're blue, I think, but they pale in comparison to that huge smile he always wears. I think overlooked these details before because certainly if I didn't, I would have paid more attention. He does pay a lot of attention to me, Nina...why are you looking at me like that?"

"You love Jake, and it's just hilarious that you don't even realize it." Nina laughed at her best friend.

"What? Not Jake, Nina. I've fallen for Bryce." Kendra tried to correct her.

Nina laughed and shook her head. "You're not in love with Bryce. You lusted after him, sure. But the way you talk about Jake is different from the way you talked about Bryce. You're not scheming to land him, you're praising him. You're listing these personality characteristics and sounding like you appreciate them."

Kendra turned to Nina, staring at her in amazement. Sure, Jake was a wonderful guy. He was one of the nicest guys she had met in a long time. But as she recalled their conversation, and how incredibly selfless his explanation was about his heroics, she couldn't help but blush. The giddiness she felt each time she thought of Jake's courageous deed accompanied the self consciousness she felt whenever Jake was around her. His angelic nature, both in his appearance and personality, warmed her heart immensely.

"You're right, Nina. You are so right. I keep denying to myself that I'm doing more than holding Jake in the highest regard. I think that I truly have some feelings for him. Oh my gosh, I really think I have feelings for Jake..." The epiphany had finally fallen upon her and she knew truthfully what her heart was beginning to feel. It was a feeling that she had never encountered before and best of all, it felt natural and good.

Part Three

Bayview Condominiums, St. Marquis

"Simon! This is a pleasant surprise. Come inside!" She leaned forward to kiss him, but Simon turned his face so her lips landed on his cheek. "Wow! Let me try that again!"

But Simon put to a finger to her lips to stop her. "I think it's about time we had a chat."

Mae looked surprised. "You? Me? Us? Chat? That isn't our style," She joked. "A little less conversation, baby. A little more action..." Playfully, she batted her eyelashes at him, ran her hand down his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist.

Simon shook his head and pulled away from her. "Mae, I'm serious. We need to discuss what's going on here." He walked by her and stood to look out the sliding glass doors that led out to a balcony. "You wanted this talk before, remember? Well, I'm ready to talk."

Mae's large blue eyes whimpered at his rebuff. "I don't think I've ever seen you this serious, Simon. What's wrong?" She joined his side and put a hand on his shoulder.

Simon only shook her hand off. "Yes, I'm serious now. Believe me, I'm even surprising myself right now. But there are some issues we need to settle, in particular what's going on with our relationship."

"Our relationship?" Mae repeated hopefully, raising an eyebrow at Simon.

"Mae, a couple of weeks ago, when we first slept together, I thought that our little arrangement made sense. I needed some company, you needed some company, we found company with each other. But now, that need no longer exists and the reasons behind us being together like this have expired."

Mae's eyes narrowed with confusion. "Wait, I don't understand. What brought on this sudden cold shoulder?"

Simon rolled his eyes but didn't meet her expectant gaze. "Mae, I want to know why you continue to put yourself out for me, when I've never given you any indication that we have a future together. Can you honestly tell me that you've gone through this whole ordeal and only stuck with me because of the sex? Or is there something more?"

Mae stood quietly for a moment, shocked by Simon's demanding questions. "Simon, we've spent a lot of time together during the past few weeks. Much of that time passed through the most intimate of circumstances. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said I didn't think just once that there could be more there for us."

Simon threw his hands up in the air. "I knew it. I just knew it. I knew that you'd grow some sort of attachment. For what reason, I don't know. Apparently women like you enjoy being treated like shit after you were used."

"Hey, it's not like I wasn't using you too," Mae replied indignantly. Upon realizing awful admission she made, she quickly added, "Of course I grew attached, Simon. There's no doubt about the spark we have between us. Why should we deny it sparking something really wonderful for us?"

"Wonderful? You think we as a couple would be wonderful? I'm sorry, Mae, but I don't see things the way you do behind your rose-colored glasses. I thought that we had an understanding, that it was all for purely a physical need. But that was all! I don't think of you that way, Mae. I just don't. I don't see us being together as a couple."

Mae's full pink lips trembled as she tried to keep from unloading all the emotion she'd built up during her time with Simon. "I don't understand, Simon. We've spent so much time together and certainly you wouldn't have taken the time to be with me if deep down inside, you didn't feel anything. I mean, you could have been out there looking for someone else during that whole time..."

Simon knew Mae had pointed out a detail he had overlooked. He never bothered chasing the other women in Palm Terrace, but he got exactly what he wanted from Mae, who was more than willing to surrender herself to him. But the thought of any emotional commitment to someone who was as clingy and frivolous as Mae disgusted him even more than the idea of depriving himself of cheap, easy sex. "I don't want a relationship, Mae. I'm not looking for a girlfriend, I'm not ready to settle down." He stood firm with his original decision.

Mae took hold of Simon by the arms and turned him toward her. "You mean to say that there was never a time where felt even the slightest feeling of affection for me?" Her wide peacock-blue eyes searched Simon's stony stare for a hint of hope that would keep her heart from teetering on the brink.

Simon closed his eyes, swallowed the huge lump in his throat, and shook his head. He opened his eyes and looked back her with the most unwavering determination. "I don't want a relationship, Mae." He repeated in a dull tone. "That's how I feel."

Mae blinked her eyes furiously, struggling to hold back her tears. "If that's how you feel, then I think you should leave. There really isn't any point in beating the subject to death..." Her voice trailed off. She hiccupped, she sniffled, and her lips trembled once more.

Simon looked down at the floor. "Mae, I'm sorry to have to do this, but we shouldn't go on-"

"JUST GO!" Mae raised her voice sharply and turned away from him to face the sliding glass doors. "Leave, go away, Simon."

Simon saw no reason to upset Mae more by defying her demands so he quietly departed from her apartment. After the door shut behind him, Mae turned away from the balcony doors and hurried to the front door. She squinted into the peephole in the door and saw Simon still standing outside the door. He hung his head sadly before finally walking toward the elevator. Mae turned around, leaned against the door, and finally released the dammed tears.

Part Four

Palm Terrace Plaza

Oliver knew the men were following him. He didn't see their faces clearly since they followed at a far enough distance. But he knew they were the same men he had spied outside the window of Retro Vinyl for the past three days. He felt their ferocious glares at his back and his uneasiness increased as he drew closer to his car. Already late for his meeting with Lana, Oliver's stress only escalated as he approached the lone car in the dimly lit employee parking lot of Palm Terrace Plaza.

He'd quicken his pace, they'd follow his speed. He took an alternate route, the long way to the parking lot, and still they proceeded behind him. The lurching feeling in his stomach would not go away whenever he glanced over his shoulder to find them glaring and following. He finally reached his car and quickly he dug into his pockets for his keys.

"Excuse me, sir. Excuse me." He heard a deep voice behind him. Shit, he realized, the keys are in my bag. He quickly opened the drawstring canvas bag and felt through the CDs and clothes. When his fingers recognized the cold metal, he withdrew the keys triumphantly.

"Hey, hello? Hey, you!" Oliver ignored the man's voice and fumbled for his car key. The sweat from his hands made the metal more slippery than usual.

"Yo, kid! Yeah, you, I'm talking to you," A man in a black ski mask showed off his butterfly knife while beside him stood three taller men, each wearing a different mask of their own. "Remember me, kid?" The man wearing a black hood shoved Oliver against his car. The other two laughed when Oliver staggered easily from the shove.

"Remember that stench of rotten eggs and cheese you have floating from you? Sure, who can forget?" Oliver defiantly insulted him.

"It's me, Johnny, and we met right here a couple of nights ago. In the very place you're standing, that's where you took from me what was rightfully mine."

"What, you owned that woman's purse?" Oliver guessed, his eyes darting around in hopes of the appearance of other witnesses.

"Smart ass, how nice. No, dipshit, that was my time, my opportunity to do my job. You know what happens when I don't do my job? I get the hell beaten out of me. I have you to thank for helping me achieve that ass kicking when I reported empty-handed to my boss." He slapped Oliver across the face but when Oliver stepped forward in reaction, he held up his knife defensively. "I don't stop you from doing your job, selling those ratty old records. So why are you interfering with my job? I think it's time someone taught you some decent manners. But first, I'd like you to meet a couple of my friends." He introduced the black hooded man as Skids, the orange ski-masked man as Paulo, and the panty-hose masked man as Gene. "Boys, let's give him a great first impression, shall we?"

The three men lunged forward at Oliver, who landed a punch on Gene, the first one to reach Oliver. The other two took hold of Oliver, who initially held his ground by ducking punches and avoiding kicks. Gene, taken by surprise by Oliver's quick right hook, stealthily approached Oliver from behind and grabbed his arms.

Johnny stood back, leaning against Oliver's car and dangerously running a finger over the edge of his butterfly knife. Skids and Paulo took turns landing blows in Oliver's stomach as Gene held Oliver's arms behind his back. Skids punched Oliver across his jaw while Paulo socked him hard in the stomach. Oliver struggled against his captor's grip and shot a venomous look in Johnny's direction.

"Guys, let him go," Johnny motioned toward Oliver. "Bring it on, you good-for-nothing piece of shit. Let's see who the real hero is going to be."

Oliver glared before charging forward at Johnny. Johnny grunted and Oliver cried out in tortured pain.

"Holy shit," Skids swore when Johnny pulled a bloody hand away from Oliver's body.

Oliver looked up at them, horrified at the sight of his own blood and the knife protruding from his stomach. Suddenly feeling the energy draining from his body, he slumped to the pavement and rolled on his back.

Johnny showed no reprieve from his actions and spat on Oliver's bloody wound. "That's what happens when you dally in other people's business." He stooped down to pull his knife from Oliver's abdomen. "C'mon, guys," He motioned toward Skids, Paulo, and Gene and walked away. His three companions only stared at Oliver's dying body and shook their heads in utter disbelief. There was a terrified scream behind them. They whipped around to see a female Palm Terrace Plaza employee staring at them and wailing in distress. Quickly, they took off running into the darkness.

Oliver stared up at the midnight blue sky, using every ounce of his strength to imprint the last of his memories. But all he could see was his cousin Lana, whose eyes reminded him of that very sky. He regretted that he would not be able to say goodbye to his favorite person in the world. His vision flickered as a solitary shooting star streaked across the sky. He smiled and with his last thought, he wished for Lana all the happiness he ever possessed.

Part Five

Lana's Place, El Patio Apartments

Jake stood outside Lana's apartment, staring at the doorbell. For the first time, Jake felt nervous about coming face-to-face with his best friend. Usually, he could just open the door and bounce into her living room. But that night, he felt the slightest edge of fear. He was afraid that she would turn him away.

But he wondered how he could turn away from her so quickly when she has always been there for him and when it was she who really stood by his side during his darkest hour. He wondered why he could so quickly forget how much her friendship truly meant and how he could take her for granted. He didn't have to wonder about how much of a jerk he had been toward her since the accident. So she might be interested in Bryce McKeon, he thought. I should be happy for her. He started to assume that Lana was happy that he found Kendra but soon remembered that Lana didn't have the most positive opinion of her. Nonetheless, Jake knew that he could not go on without setting things right between him and Lana.

Jake quickly pressed the doorbell button and plugged the eyehole of the door with his finger, just as he always did. He heard the sound of locks turning and the door opened. "Oliver, what took you so-" Lana stopped mid-sentence when she saw that it was Jake standing before her. "What are you doing here?"

"May I come inside?" Jake asked politely, staring at her evenly. Lana stared back at him with her dark blue eyes and only nodded in reply. Jake stepped in and shut the door behind. "I thought that I'd come with a peace offering."

Lana plopped down on the sofa, picked up the remote control, and turned on the television. "A peace offering? What sort of peace offering?" She stared absently at the TV screen.

Jake stood beside the couch and looked down on her. "My most humble apologies, for being the biggest creep and the lousiest friend anyone could ever have."

Lana only kept her eyes on the television. She changed the channel and settled on the weather channel. Jake waited for her to respond and when a few minutes passed, he walked over to the television and turned it off. He stood in front of the television and turned toward Lana. Lana sat scowling back at him. Jake sighed. "Lana, please, let's not do this. I don't want us to fight like this. Not when we both have good reasons to be happy for each other."

"You might have good reason to be happy for me, but I sure as hell don't have a reason to be happy for you." Lana responded coldly.

"Lana," Jake's eyes pleaded toward her desperately. He approached the sofa and sat down on the floor by her knees. He looked up into her eyes. "Lana, you're my best friend. I was an idiot the other night for saying that you weren't a great friend, but it was because I didn't know you were the one who gave me a chance to live."

A surprised look crossed Lana's face. "How did you find out?"

Jake was taken aback by Lana's question. "Find out? Lana, why didn't YOU tell me? You let me think that Kendra was the only one who really cared about my recovery. Look, Adam told me the whole story. I'm touched that you wanted to let me spend time with Kendra, even though I know you don't think highly of her. And really, that meant a lot to me."

"Yes, I know that your spending time with Kendra meant a lot to you," Lana softly replied, turning away when tears stung her eyes.

Jake took her hands in his. "No, it meant a lot that you thought about my happiness. You're always doing something for me and I guess I take that for granted too often. Now I see Bryce doing things for you and I was a little afraid that you wouldn't be there for me with him around."

"Jealousy rears its ugly head," Lana agreed. "But that doesn't make everything better, Jake. If anything, this little situation indicates our friendship hasn't been the same lately. Who knows if it ever will..."

"Please don't say that, Lana," Jake pleaded. "I don't want to think about that. But what I do want is to apologize for how I've selfish I've been. And I want things to go back to the way they were. I've missed you for the last couple of days. I haven't had anyone to argue with," He laughed.

Lana only nodded her head. But inside, she knew that she and Jake could not go back to the way things were. Now that Kendra is slowly becoming more involved in Jake's life, she knew that she couldn't bear to watch him shower Kendra with the attention (or even affection) that she had desired from him for so long. Lana could feel her chances for Jake's heart inching away from her fingertips and while Oliver's advice echoed in the back of her mind, the hope in her heart slipped deeper into obscurity.

Jake took Lana's nod as an acceptance of his apology. "Thanks, Lana. I knew you'd understand. But really, I'm sorry. It was weird not being able to talk to you at a moment's notice. It felt like something was missing. I didn't realize how-" Jake was interrupted by the doorbell.

"That should be Oliver, but he knows he can just come in," Lana stood from the couch and hurried to answer the door.

Instead of Oliver, two policemen stood outside her apartment. "Miss Lana Whitmire?" The taller of the two officers addressed her.

"Yes, I'm Lana Whitmire. Is something wrong, officer?" Lana responded hesitantly. Jake appeared behind Lana and looked questioningly at the policemen.

The two officers look at each other, then the shorter officer spoke. "We're very sorry to be the ones to tell you this. But your cousin, Oliver Banks, was attacked shortly at Palm Terrace Plaza tonight."

"Attacked?" Lana repeated in disbelief. "Who attacked him? Is he okay? Is he at Perkins Memorial right now?"

Again, the two officers exchanged uncomfortable looks. The taller officer replied, "We are truly sorry. We're currently investigating the scene of the attack. As for Oliver, ma'am, I cannot tell you how much I regret being the one to tell you this."

"What? What is it?" Lana grew impatient with the officer's delays.

"He didn't make it to the hospital in time, Miss Whitmire."

"He didn't make it? WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE DIDN'T MAKE IT?! NO, NO, this can't be happening. THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING. OLIVER!" Lana shook her head, refusing to believe the bad tidings. She took a step back and bumped against Jake. She turned to him, tears streaming down her swelling dark eyes. "Jake, this isn't happening. Oliver's going to be okay. This can't be happening!"

"Lana, please, calm down," Jake tried to sooth her with his gentle pleas. He put his arms around her and pulled her close to him.  Lana struggled against his hold on her, furiously shaking her head from side to side and sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly her locked knees gave way to dizziness and she slumped to the floor, crying and murmuring "No, no, no..."

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>> To Be Continued In Season Two...
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