Note: This is the sixth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
Longing, lust, and love aside, do these two have any business being together? On the surface, they’re opposites: sweet girl, tough guy.
If you dig deeper, however, you find … they’re still opposites: sweet guy, tough girl.
We start with Steve saving Kayla’s life. Roman ropes Steve into a plot to catch Orpheus, and the plan goes horribly awry. Orpheus ends up kidnapping Kayla and holding her in exchange for a copy of Steve’s tattoo. While he’s got her on his yacht, he takes the time to inform her that “I don’t know what you see in the guy, anyway” (Even Orpheus agrees!). Then, after getting the tattoo—he thinks—he casually commands his henchman to kill Steve.
We can see Kayla’s panic and desolation when she hears about Steve’s “death.” And when Steve comes in to rescue her soon afterward (almost looking apologetic—sorry, baby, your white knight’s a little rough around the edges), he must have looked like a gift, a reprieve, a miracle. She hurls herself into his arms.
Back at Shane’s, where everyone has sought shelter for the night, Kayla thanks Steve for saving her life, and kisses his cheek. I love the way Steve rears back a little at first, then closes his eye and turns slightly toward her once she can’t see his face. He cups his hand around hers but doesn’t quite grasp it. He’s always, always holding back.
Soon after, Steve and Roman head back to Stockholm—Roman has figured out approximately where he hid the bonds—and Hope and Kayla tag along. Every chance he gets, Steve loudly insists that he works alone, he doesn’t share information with Roman, that he doesn’t trust anyone. But in between these loud proclamations, he helps Roman, protects and cares for Kayla, and generally behaves like someone worthy of trust.
It’s not what he says, it’s what he does.
Being in Stockholm, where Steve lived when he was in the Merchant Marines, gives us a chance to learn about a time in his life when Steve was happy. Kayla and Steve run into a woman, Helga, who runs a boardinghouse where Steve lived. Helga happily reminisces about the fun-loving guy she remembers, and Kayla is delighted to catch this glimpse of another Steve, the man she has suspected exists somewhere. Steve tries vainly to nip her hopefulness in the bud. He says that the guy Helga knew is dead and gone. “This is what that guy turned into,” he says, meaning the bitter, cynical loner.
Kayla says, “I don’t believe that’s my only choice.” And the battle lines are drawn.
Roman and Steve pose as security workers in order to gain access to the sewers of Stockholm, where Roman has now remembered he hid the bonds. In the ensuing search, Steve and Kayla are caught in a storm drain, which begins rapidly filling with water. Facing death, Steve shouts that there’s something he wants to tell her … and then the water begins to drain. Walking through the streets after their narrow escape, Steve sweetly cuddles and encourages the wet, freezing Kayla until they get to shelter, Helga’s boardinghouse.
Once inside, Kayla strips out of her wet clothing, as Steve holds a blanket around her. Still reeling from their brush with death, Steve’s concern for her and desire for her combine with her near nakedness to lower the barriers between them. He leans in, she looks up, they inch closer, closer …
Timely Interruption #2: Helga this time.
Then Steve goes to find Roman and Hope, and Kayla changes into a little white dress that Helga provides. She fusses with her hair and the shoulders of the dress, pushing them down to expose more skin. The nervous seductress. When Steve comes in, he does a funny double-take on seeing her lovely shoulders and back exposed, but his outing has given him a chance to reassert his defenses. Kayla practically begs him to say something about the dress, pay her a compliment, something, but he won’t do it. And when she asks him (though she must have known it would be lost cause) to tell her what his confession-in-the-face-of-imminent-death was going to be, he puts her off with a joke. Too bad, Kayla. You can always hope for another near-death experience.
Again and again Steve proves that in times of crisis, he’s a man to be counted on. Even a minor crisis, like when Kayla is upset about lying to Bo, brings out the best in Steve. He cooks her dinner, jokes her out of her mood, and tenderly caresses her cheek. But when Kayla responds in kind by offering a toast “to us” and, even more alarmingly, “to a new phase in our relationship” he backs off—first making a joke, and when she presses the point, by mocking her cruelly for thinking they have a chance for any kind of relationship at all.
It’s the same instinct of protectiveness that makes him draw her to him when she is sad or in need, and push her away when she’s not. He has many reasons for pushing her away, but among them is an honest desire to protect her from himself. Kayla’s frustration at this constant dance boils over here. She says, “You treat me like some china doll who’ll shatter if you just touch me!” (Though Kayla is angry, Mary Beth Evans gives “just touch me” a little sexual zing.) “I am not fragile,” she says, “and I don’t appreciate you appointing yourself guardian of my life.”
Back at the hotel, Roman is putting together a plan to trade Marlena for the bonds. As the ensuing drama unfolds, Steve and Kayla call a truce of sorts. By the time everything is over—Marlena is safe, Shane is shot but recovering—Kayla seems to have found her footing.
I think she’s setting out to prove she’s not fragile—and that includes being more direct in pursuing Steve, and being less shy about sex. The morning after Marlena’s return, Kayla stops by Steve’s room to ask him to breakfast, and he answers the door wearing nothing but a towel. He playfully suggests she’d like him to take it off.
Kayla says, “It’s your room. Do whatever you want,” and she’s amused, and challenging, and amazed at her own daring, all at the same time. Steve drops his hands to the towel, but before he can take it off (would he?) the phone rings. “Saved by the bell, baby,” he says.
Later that day they’re waiting in Kayla’s hotel room to hear about Orpheus (who they find out has escaped), and talking to pass the time. He tells her that she’s brought “an innocent boy” up to her room, “and next thing I know, you’re putting a move on me. I have a reputation to think of, you know.”
His smile, as he says this, and her smile, as she says, “I know,” show how much they are both buzzing in the high of each other’s company. There’s a constant band of energy that has grown up between them, and sometimes it sizzles in sexual attraction, or erupts in anger, or, as here, bubbles up into playfulness. Kayla might be shy about it, and Steve might try to deny it, but neither of them can stop it.
After everyone else heads back to Salem, Steve and Kayla stay behind for a few days. And for those few days, Steve allows himself to entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, this could work. She’s so certain, and so persuasive. One night they go out for a nice dinner at Helga’s, and Kayla tells him he’s a good man. He says, “Well, if you see it, baby, you’re the only one who’s ever believed it.” He doesn’t believe, but he’s starting to think, maybe, he could live with her belief.
Then in comes Warner, an old lowlife associate of Steve’s, with some emeralds and a smuggling proposal. He kills the mood, first, and, after Kayla retreats to the kitchen, he tempts Steve with the promise of $20,000 that would “buy your ladyfriend a lot of nice dinners.” Steve takes the emeralds.
Back at the hotel, Steve and Kayla fight about their ruined date. And we see again Kayla’s new straighforwardness. She tells him that a relationship between them could work: “It can happen, Steve. I can make it happen.”
When he says hoarsely, “How?” I see a man who is recognizing that the armor meant to protect him is holding him prisoner. He’s surrounded by walls, and thorns, and he can’t see a way out.
Kayla says, “Like this,” stepping toward him, and such is the intent look on her face that I thought she was going to kiss him. (Maybe she was.) What she does, though, is put her arms around him and say, “You don’t have to be alone.” And Steve is nearly undone.
But, he remembers the emeralds. He turns away.
The next morning, despite all this—Steve’s secret, Kayla’s disappointment—the fun and excitement of being together leaps up yet again, as Kayla wakes up to the turning of the doorknob of their room. Frightened, she runs to wake Steve. It’s only the maid, but Steve can’t resist teasing Kayla by pretending that they’re a couple sharing a bed. He pulls her into bed with him and tucks her under the covers. Then Kayla can’t resist taking a peek under the covers—possibly she meant to tease him too, but when he yanks the covers back down the “caught” expression on her face is insanely adorable.
Later they play a game: they take turns asking questions, and the other has to tell the truth. The air is bristling with everything that’s unsaid between them. Steve loses his nerve, and opens with: “What’s your favorite food?”
Kayla counters with, “What’s your favorite fantasy?”
Steve dodges the question (no fair!), and then pauses. His turn. We can see him working up his courage. Then he says, “What do you see in me?”
And when Kayla tells him,”I see a man I would trust with my life”—it does what that faith has always done: it makes him want to live up to it, to be the man she believes exists. The trust creates the trustworthiness. After sewing the emeralds into the lining of his jacket, he decides to leave it behind.
This is it. He’s taken a step. He even tells her things will be different, once they get back to Salem.
Kayla, unbeknownst to Steve, grabs the jacket on her way out.
On the flight back to Salem, Steve sleeps most of the way. When he wakes up, he is shocked to see Kayla wearing the jacket with the emeralds in it. Before he can take it from her, he is led away by some customs officials and strip searched. When they find nothing they decide to nab Kayla, who has just enough time to find the emeralds and hide them before she too is searched.
Kayla is furious and back in Salem refuses to give back the emeralds or even admit that she found any. Warner shows up demanding the emeralds and threatening reprisals, and when Steve can’t provide them, he finally stabs Steve on the pier. Kayla comes upon him afterward, and proud, stubborn, angry Steve refuses to let on he’s been hurt, and feeds every negative opinion she has about him in an effort to get rid of her.
Eventually, Kayla finds out the truth and bandages him up. Then they have it out. Steve works like hell to undo any progress they’ve made. Sleazy guy is back, cynical guy is back. He says he’ll live his way, he’ll die his way. He says bitterly that he doesn’t need some “uptight chick with rose-colored glasses” telling him “things could be different.” Steve’s behavior here is an overcorrection: he’s reacting against the impulse that led him to leave the emeralds behind. He wanted to live up to her image of him, but it backfired and now he feels like a fool and a sap.
But he’s also blaming Kayla, for picking up the jacket, of course, but also for raising his hopes. He’s telling her, it’s not my fault I let you down, it’s your fault for having any faith in me to begin with. And he kicks her out.
But she comes back, with the emeralds. And she isn’t angry anymore, but hurt. She’s recognizing that she’s gone too far down the road with this man, she feels too much, to back off now. “It doesn’t matter what I want,” she says, almost crying, “I just can’t stay away from you. So you tell me what I’m supposed to do, Steve.”
And this is what gets him: not her strength or her determination, not this time. It’s her vulnerability, her confusion, her pain. That’s what tips him over the edge; it’s what makes him finally, finally kiss her.
But it’s not a decision, it’s a reaction. It is falling into it, not deciding to do it. He’s letting her believe in him rather than believing in himself.
After the kiss, Kayla asks what they’re going to do now. Steve thinks she’s talking about the emeralds, talking about their relationship, talking about him being a better man. But she corrects him: she means the immediate future—now, tonight. She wants to sleep with him.
It’s funny seeing how shocked Mr. Sleazeball is at this. At first he deflects the question with a joke. (The joke he makes: “One night with me, you’ll never want another man as long as you live” is somewhat eerie to hear now, given what Kayla said about sleeping with a shroud over her for 16 years.)
But when Kayla persists, he makes it clear that wanting each other isn’t enough—not now, not yet, anyway. He says, “I can’t figure out why you would want a one-eyed bum like me. And until I find out, I can’t let this go any further.”
This is the point he can’t get past. He’s drifting, or being yanked, into this relationship, but a kernel of disbelief remains. This little kernel is an unexploded bomb at the heart of their relationship.
But for now, love is winning.