Note: this is the ninth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
Jo announces that when she recovers she is going back to Duke. She maintains that it’s the only way she can keep Duke away from her children, and considering later events she’s not too far off here. Steve and Adrienne are both trying to talk her out of it, when the man himself arrives at the hospital. He and Steve nearly come to blows, and Duke cruelly pushes every button in Steve’s painful past. “Remember the last time you butted in? Things didn’t turn out so good for you, did they?”
Kayla, witnessing this, asks Steve what it means, and Steve finally tells her the story of the fire. He tells of listening every night to his father beating up his mother. How one night Duke passed out in a drunken stupor on the couch, and how the five year old Steve lit the curtains behind him on fire. How his father would have died, had it not been for Jo. She saved Duke’s life that night.
And she and Steve have been paying for it ever since.
Then Steve laughs, mocking himself, mocking this decisive moment in his life. “That’s when they gave me away, you know. You can’t keep a kid who tries to torch the old man.”
All of his life Steve has carried this moment around with him. He’s so shied away from facing it that he couldn’t even tell Kayla that Adrienne was his sister, because that fact touched on this one. Finally telling Kayla this story shows how much he’s grown to trust her. But this demon from his past is more than just a painful memory now, it’s back and it has a face and a will of its own. And twenty years later Steve sees the same solution he saw when he was five.
It is the arrival of Duke, and the immediacy of the threat he represents, that finally pushes Steve to wholeheartedly offer his help to his mother and sister. He says they can both stay with him, and he’ll take care of them.
But this makes no immediate difference, as Jo is adamant. When Duke arrives to take her home, Adrienne in desperation says she’s coming along too. Stalling for time, she says she needs to pick up her things from her apartment. She calls Steve. Steve is waiting at the apartment when Duke comes in, alone. Steve says Duke will not take Jo or anyone home with him. They begin to fight. Kayla arrives and throws herself into the fracas, and Duke almost casually backhands her across the face.
Steve, on the floor from one of Duke’s blows, gives the hurt Kayla one wild-eyed look, and pulls out a gun. “You just hit your last woman,” he says. He aims the gun at Duke and prepares to pull the trigger, but Kayla, sweet Kayla the fighter, steps between them and prevents it. She convinces him that “you have a choice, you don’t have to be like him.” And Steve backs down.
Jo comes in with Adrienne and sees this scene. And Jo says—finally—that she won’t go back.
Duke takes his leave peacefully. “No hard feelings,” he says. So simple.
After settling Jo into a women’s shelter, and giving the gun to Adrienne “for protection,” Steve and Kayla talk over this happy ending. Kayla hesitantly asks if he would really have killed Duke, and Steve says, “There’s not a doubt in my mind.” But he quietly acknowledges that maybe Kayla’s way is better.
Steve gently touches her face where Duke hit her. “I just want to keep you away from everything bad,” he says.
Kayla puts her arms around him. She is familiar with this attitude by now, and also familiar with the fact that it’s a reason he keeps pushing her away. “Just as long as you don’t keep me away from you,” she says. “Just don’t do that.”
Then we get a small respite, where Steve and Kayla go on a date and play pool. Go out, almost kill your father, then go on a lighthearted date. We get to see Steve’s awkward invitation and Kayla’s instant acceptance, which makes him smile. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you to play it cool with a man, maybe flirt a little bit?”
“I don’t always do what my mother tells me.” No kidding.
At the Cheatin’ Heart, Kayla tries to act like a pool shark and play for stakes: “A buck a ball.” Steve agrees but teasingly suggests they play for kisses instead.
I think my favorite part of these scenes is after Steve has won and tells her she owes him ten kisses. “Ten?” she says in disbelief. “Do you want to check my arithmetic?” he asks. Her expression changes, and she says, “No … no, I believe you.”
A few days later, Kim is cleared of the murder charge, and a delighted Kayla runs over to Steve’s to share the news. They agree a celebration is called for, and stop at a grocery store to get fixings for a lobster dinner. There they manage to have an innuendo-filled conversation about green beans (that unresolved sexual tension is reaching a fever pitch, I tell ya).
Back at the loft, Steve prepares the lobster while Kayla changes into a gorgeous dress. From the light of admiration in Steve’s eyes as he sees her come down the stairs, to the teasing over her reluctance to eat lobster, they are both humming with anticipation. Everything is a kind of foreplay. Kayla switches on the answering machine. “No more [timely] interruptions,” she says. Tonight’s the night.
Only it isn’t. Duke shows up at Adrienne’s apartment, demanding she tell him where Jo is. Adrienne won’t say, and we see Duke becoming more and more angry, until finally in frustrated rage he begins hitting her and pushing her around. Her blouse tears. We watch with sinking dread as he says, “I never really noticed … you’re a woman now.”
Jo, in the meantime, worried that Adrienne hasn’t returned to the shelter, begins calling around looking for Steve. For the first time we actually are rooting for Steve and Kayla to be interrupted.
Kayla does answer the phone finally (Timely Interruption #7, the last for some time), and Steve heads over to Adrienne’s just in time to hear the gunshot that kills Duke. He breaks open the door to see a shellshocked Adrienne sitting on the bed holding a gun. “Steve,” she says dazedly. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
He looks at Duke lying dead on the floor, and back at her. He says, “Just tell me what happened,” and Adrienne looks at him blankly. “I don’t know.”
All the resentment and hostility he has shown to Adrienne falls away. He approaches her, murmuring, it’s okay, let me help you, let me take care of you. He gently takes the gun from her and slips his arm around her shoulders. At first she shies away, then she turns to him and collapses into him, her knight in shining armor, at last. And that’s how Kayla finds them.
If Adrienne originally represented the mother-as-rejector who Steve furiously rejected in his turn, she now represents the mother-as-victim who Steve has painfully failed to protect a second time. His immediate willingness to take the fall for Duke’s murder is the only atonement he knows to make. And he must make it. After trying unsuccessfully to kill Duke on two separate occasions, after being thwarted by Jo the first time and Kayla the second, Steve gets his thunder stolen here by Adrienne. Taking the fall is a way to protect Adrienne and atone for what he failed to do.
Steve refuses to plead self-defense or justifiable homicide. He just says repeatedly that he’s guilty. Of course Kayla wants to help. She wants to help Adrienne recover, she wants to help Steve keep out of jail. She wants to help Adrienne regain her memory so she can testify on Steve’s behalf. Of course this is the last thing Steve wants. And when it becomes apparent that Adrienne was raped (she has no memory of it), Steve blames Kayla for preventing him from killing Duke when he had the chance. “Stay out of this, Kayla,” he tells her. “This is my family.”
He does his best to avoid Kayla (not easy because he keeps tripping over her every five minutes), until Kayla finally comes to see him at his apartment. “Do you really want it to be over between us?” she demands.
“It’s already over,” he says flatly. He says he’s going to jail anyway. He says it’s her fault he didn’t kill Duke that day, before Duke had the chance to rape Adrienne. Working himself up, Steve begins to crack. “The only reason you were able to talk me out of it is because I loved you!” He stops, he hears what he just said. He laughs derisively, trying to break the moment.
But Kayla hears the truth of it and reacts as if she’s just heard a romantic, passionate declaration of love. In a way she has. (With Steve, you have to take what you can get, through the cracks.) Tears come to her eyes. “So you do love me.”
He tries to retract it, and when that doesn’t work, he falls back on his old standby “We’re too different.” He won’t engage with her anymore, and sends her on her way (though he has to physically hold himself back from reaching out to her when she walks by).
Why does Steve blame Kayla for the rape? First of all the murder of Duke throws the differences between them in sharp relief. Kayla comes from a world where murder is always wrong; he comes from a world where sometimes murder is right. Also, more crucially, what he said is the truth: the only reason Kayla was able to stop him from killing Duke was because he loved her. If he hadn’t loved Kayla, he would have killed Duke. If Duke had died, Adrienne wouldn’t have been raped. So in some obscure way he feels that Adrienne was raped because he loves Kayla. And he doesn’t intend to let his needs, his desires stand in the way of protecting the ones he needs to protect, ever again.
Adrienne’s memory begins to come back, and it becomes a race to Steve’s sentencing date as to whether she’ll recover her memory in time. She does, naturally at the last possible moment, bursting into the courtroom just as Steve is sentenced to ten years in prison. She testifies and clears him.
After the judge’s announcement that all charges have been dropped, it is Adrienne, not Kayla, who throws herself in celebration into his arms.
Only later does Kayla find Steve on the pier and tell him how happy she is that he’s been cleared, and try to get him to share in it. He jokes that he was looking forward to having free room and board, “no bills, no worries,” and Kayla cries, “Stop it. Do you know what would have happened to me if you’d gone to prison?” He can’t help responding to the emotion in her voice, and he grabs the sides of her face and swoops her in for a kiss.
But it’s short-lived. He breaks it off. “I’ve told you this over and over: either I’m not saying it clear enough, or you just don’t want to hear it,”—or you keep sending mixed messages!—“I am not the dude for you, baby.”
A few days after the sentencing, Adrienne tells Steve that she used to dream about having her big brother to protect her, and that her dream has come true. Steve protests, and she points out the obvious fact that he tried to take the fall for the murder she committed. “It was the most wonderful thing that anyone’s done for me my whole life,” she says. She asks him why he was willing to do it.
And Steve says, uncomfortably, but he says it, “You’re my sister, and I love you.”
To see Adrienne’s face light up is a beautiful sight. Tears stand in her eyes. “I love you, too,” she says. She hugs him, laughing. What a moment for this fatherless, love-starved girl! And for Steve also, who knows something about being starved for love. It’s wonderful to have someone love him so wholeheartedly, who he can love in return. It’s not Kayla, but it’s something.
Back at the Emergency Center, Jo is waiting with Kayla when Steve and Adrienne come in. They begin talking about Duke, and when Jo tries to explain her reasoning for staying with Duke all those years, Steve’s contempt is clear. Defensively Jo explains that Duke wasn’t always the violent alcoholic he became later. He was always rough around the edges, but deep down, at first anyway, he was sweet and caring. “He was a lot like you in that way,” she tells Steve pointedly.
Can I just say I wanted to throttle Jo when she came out with this? Steve’s expression shows how deeply she has pierced him. His worst nightmare is turning into his father. And if his mother—who he is holding at arms length, but whose opinion he still values and respects—thinks he’s starting out like Duke, maybe he’ll turn out like him in the end.
Kayla deserves better.