Note: this is the eighth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
There’s a mysterious woman following Steve. Being the alley cat that he is, Steve senses it, but it’s not until just after Christmas that he’s able to catch her at it. She admits nothing, but just seeing her face throws Steve off-balance. Kayla aptly describes his expression as looking like he’s seen a ghost. “Maybe I have,” he says. But he won’t elaborate.
Soon after, the woman, Adrienne, gets a job volunteering at the Emergency Center. Steve tells Kayla she shouldn’t trust her, but again won’t say why. Adrienne in her turn is eager to get to know Steve. She delicately interrogates Kayla about what he’s like. The show teases us by slowly revealing information about Adrienne’s connection to Steve’s past. We see her looking at a picture of Steve as a child and talking to someone on the phone about telling him “who I am.” The camera tracks over Adrienne holding a newspaper clipping that reads, “Boy, Five, Tries to Kill Father in Fire.”
After Kayla springs Steve from jail for trying to steal the evidence against Kim, she invites him back to her place for dinner. They abandon dinner preparations in favor of kissing, making their way to sit in front of that fateful fireplace. Kayla actually manages to get a few buttons undone before they are Timely Interrupted (#5) by Adrienne, who claims her apartment was broken into and asks to stay with Kayla for the night. An irritated Steve leaves (“Next time, we move faster,” he says as a parting shot.)
A few days later he shows up in good spirits, pretending to be conducting a survey. Kayla pulls him in. “Come in here, you nut.” Steve smiles, sighs, and gives Kayla an up-and-down once over. Suddenly the air is rife with sexual tension. She asks what brings him there—or does she have to read his mind? “Read my mind,” he says. She does. They begin kissing, until once again Adrienne comes in at just the right moment (#6).
“What the hell is she still doing here?” Steve asks. It is disconcerting how quickly he shifts from being sweet and funny to bristling suspicious hostility. He is right that Adrienne has an ulterior motive, but she is so timid and eager to please that it’s uncomfortable to watch how he treats her. “You already have a stray tomcat hanging around, you don’t need a wounded bird too.” But Kayla won’t be dissuaded.
Adrienne is apologetic and says she’ll leave them alone for the evening, but first she wants to cook them dinner. In her clumsy eagerness, she sets one of her sleeves on fire and has to be taken to the hospital. Steve is disturbed and unsettled and has a flashback to a fire from his childhood. Just as we suspected, he is the boy in the newspaper clipping.
We next see Steve and Kayla at the Emergency Center, talking in low tones about how they can possibly find time to be alone together long enough to have sex, or even get to second base. Practical Kayla suggests his place, which Steve doesn’t think is good enough for Kayla. But sexual frustration wins. He is fixing up his apartment in preparation, when Joanie—a single mother Steve has helped in the past—comes by asking for a loan. He doesn’t have the money, having just spent everything on bedding and champagne, so he and Joanie go to the Cheatin’ Heart so he can play pool to get her some cash. He calls Kayla to say he’ll be late, but she sees him at the bar and assumes she’s being jerked around (this is unlike Kayla, but perhaps New Year’s Eve is still fresh in her mind).
Unable to get Kayla to speak to him, Steve decides to break into Adrienne’s apartment to see if he can find out what her story is. Kayla comes upon him rifling through Adrienne’s things and demands to know what he’s doing there, and also lambastes him about their failed date. Steve remains stubbornly silent on both counts. We can sympathize with his reluctance to talk about Adrienne, but his refusal to explain why he was playing pool is infuriatingly typical. He hasn’t learned anything from New Year’s Eve: he can neither apologize nor defend himself. Kayla says, “I am sick of being the only one who says anything in this relationship—you say something for once!” But he won’t. As always, he is touchy and sensitive, almost ashamed, of being caught helping someone. Also, if Kayla doesn’t believe in him, it might as well not be true—he might as well have really stood her up.
A few days later Kayla finds out the truth from Joanie, and she and Adrienne camp out on Steve’s doorstep to wait for him. They take turns swigging from Adrienne’s flask, and by the time Steve arrives Kayla is hopelessly drunk.
Drunk Kayla’s assessment of the situation is, nonetheless, accurate. She says, “You stood me up because you wanted to help a friend, and while I really think that’s great … well, why didn’t you tell me, darn it?” And she tells him with drunken solemnity, “I know that you don’t want people to know that you’re a nice guy”—and then, giggling happily, “the cat’s out of the bag!”
The scenes that follow of Steve trying to put Kayla to bed as she unapologetically angles to seduce him are a joy to watch. He helps her take off her coat, gloves, and shoes (inspiring the classic “Piggies are cold, piggies are cold”), and she matter-of-factly strips off her shirt and skirt. “I think you can handle the rest,” he says, trying to make a run for it. “Steve, this one’s stuck,” she sing-songs, indicating one of her buttons. I love how he’s trying so hard to do the right thing and “save it for when you’re fully conscious,” but she keeps pulling him back in. He is utterly unable to resist her.
Kayla falls asleep just as she finally wears him down (not sure that would really happen). Steve goes to tiptoe out, but Kayla calls him back. He gets into bed with her, still fully dressed, and she cuddles up to him. “I like a man who sleeps with his boots on,” she says. He gives her a look: amused, aroused, tender, rueful.
The next day, at the Emergency Center, Steve finally learns Adrienne’s secret. While groping for a pen he accidentally knocks over her purse. The photo of his young self and the newspaper clipping spill out onto the floor. He angrily confronts Adrienne about it, and demands she tell him the truth. We can see she wants to tell him, but not like this—she wants it be happy news. So she needles him into admitting she reminds him of his mother. Then she finally tells him: “I’m your sister.”
He claims not to believe her. “I never had a sister,” he says. I think he just doesn’t want to face it. She tries to convince him of her identity, telling him she was born after he left, and telling him details about his family. But he remains hostile and unfriendly.
A few days later, Adrienne finds him again and tries another tack. She pleads with him to come home with her and help their mother, who has stayed with her abusive husband, their father, all these years. To convince him of her identity, she tells a story from his childhood: when he was four he nursed a wounded bird back to health, and cried when it flew away.
Steve hears this story in silence. Then he says, “Okay, you’re my sister.” But he still wants nothing to do with her, or with their mother.
Steve’s determined rejection of Adrienne and his family stems back to the fire in which he tried to kill his father, when his mother gave him away. This is a key moment, perhaps the key moment, in Steve’s life. He’s rejecting Adrienne as his mother rejected him then.
But it’s more than that. His attempt to protect his mother by killing his father is consistent with the Steve we know today; as Kayla puts it, “If he likes you, there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you.” He is still that boy who would do anything for those he loves, up to and including murder. But he’s still also the boy who was abandoned for it. And he learned his lesson. Don’t trust anyone.
And he doesn’t. As close as he’s gotten to Kayla over the past few months, he remains absolutely closed mouthed about Adrienne, everything about her from the beginning—his suspicion that someone is following him, his reasons for disliking her, her identity as his sister, and, above all, the memories she engenders of his mother. As Bo tells Kayla when she quizzes him about who Adrienne might be: “He doesn’t know how to be open and honest.”
But such is the strength of Kayla’s love for Steve that she can see past her frustration at being shut out. “He is not incapable” of opening up, she tells Bo. “He’s just afraid.” That night she seeks Steve out, and when he tells her to leave him alone, she says, “I think you’ve been alone enough.” And when Steve breaks down weeping on her shoulder, she holds him and offers hope for the future: “Love doesn’t always have to hurt.”
Kayla is comforting here the five year old Steve, the boy who loved his mother.
He still does. He breaks into Adrienne’s apartment again, and stands looking at Jo’s picture. Adrienne comes in and sees him, and tempts him with a stack of snapshots. She describes the photos as Steve looks intently at each one, until she uses that loaded word “family.” Then all of Steve’s anger resurfaces.
Adrienne, angry too now, tells how she built up a fantasy of her hero big brother, who would come to the rescue as he tried to do when he was five. “All these years I’ve been thinking I had a big brother somewhere. If I could find him he could help us.”
Steve furiously rejects this image of himself. “I don’t owe you people anything,” he says.
Kayla comes in as Adrienne says that she’s giving up and going home, and Steve tells her good riddance. Kayla demands once again to know what’s going on, and when Steve won’t say, she storms out. Steve shoots Adrienne a look—thanks for coming here and screwing up my life!—and follows Kayla out.
When Steve catches up with Kayla at the Emergency Center, he asks her please not to ask what this is all about. Kayla’s take: “So you’re telling me that you are keeping secrets from me, and you plan to keep doing that.” Steve: “That’s about it.” Even though Steve is probably wrong, or at least misguided, to ask Kayla not to push for answers, it’s a very sweet gesture on her part to agree. Kayla can see how much pain he’s in, and she doesn’t want to add to it. It’s touching to watch determined Kayla, pushy Kayla, never-give-up Kayla, backing off. We can see it goes against her instincts. But it’s more important this time that he know she’s with him for the long haul.
The next day, however, brings Kayla the truth. She’s dressing up to go to the Salem centennial, and she sees the resemblance between the necklace Steve gave her, which he tells her belonged to his mother, and the bracelet Adrienne wears. Kayla has the reaction Steve didn’t have: how wonderful for you that you have a sister! But Steve doesn’t see it that way.
On their date, Steve hints at his loneliness and misery growing up in the orphanage, and Kayla tells him how much she wants to understand. And he smiles and says, “You just can’t. I don’t think you ever will.” And he sounds almost happy about it. This is part of his desire to live in a bubble, a fantasyland, with Kayla. He’s in a tux again, as he was on New Year’s Eve, and his comment, “it’s my fantasy” still applies. We can see how desperately he wants the past to stay buried and to live happily in denial.
But just as Adrienne is about to leave town, she gets a visitor: Jo, her mother, beaten nearly to death. A frantic Adrienne drags Steve to the hospital, and he goes to see the woman he hasn’t laid eyes on since he was five years old.
Steve stares at her from the doorway, asleep in her hospital bed, her face turned away. We watch with him as she turns her head and sees him, her black eye an ironic echo of the patch over his. He’s shaking, trying not to fall apart, his hand covering his patch because against all reason he cares what she thinks of him; he doesn’t want her to see the damaged thug he’s become. She says, “Come a little closer … Stevie? Son?” and he is propelled forward toward her, but when she reaches out he wheels around and leaves the room.
After she’s recovered, he goes to see her once again. He comes right to the point. He wants to know why she gave him up.
Jo also quickly gets to the heart of the matter. She says, “You think I gave you up because I didn’t love you?” He confirms it, and she says, “You can’t tell me I didn’t love my kids. No one can tell me I didn’t love my kids.” She says it defiantly, defensively, but also sincerely. And Steve can hear the ring of truth in her voice. Again it drives him from the room. It’s not a cure-all. The child grew up thinking his mother abandoned him—she did abandon him—and that can’t be undone. Loving him doesn’t excuse her. But it does make a difference.
After this revelation Steve goes to see Kayla at the loft. She has just learned of Kim’s conviction for murder, so she’s upset, too, when Steve shows up practically bleeding from every pore. The past he’s been running from his entire life has caught up with him at last. All his attempts to keep Kayla isolated from the rest of his life have come to naught. But here he is. “I just need you right now,” he says. And Kayla even in the midst of everything is happy about that.