Note: this is the tenth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
Even when he’s pushing her away, Steve is constantly teetering on the edge of giving in to Kayla. We can see why she keeps holding out hope. We can see why Jo and Adrienne resort to tricks and stratagems to get them together. It seems that the least little push will send him over the edge.
Jo and Adrienne prepay for a romantic dinner at Blondie’s and trick Steve and Kayla into arriving there at the same time. Steve uses the cover of not disappointing his mother and sister as an excuse to give in to temptation and spend some time with Kayla. They share a dance (which unfortunately the show cuts away from), and then a nice meal. When Kayla compliments the food, Steve says, “At least they didn’t serve you lobster.” Their eyes meet, and suddenly they are both thinking of that evening from so long ago, how happy they were … and what they planned to do that night.
At this moment a cheap hooker across the room begins making a scene. The maître d’ tries to escort her out, but she recognizes Steve and loudly proclaims she’s there to meet him. Steve is mortified to be singled out like this, in front of Kayla, and it’s enough to tip him back the other way.
How frustrating for Kayla, to have the evening turn out this way! They stand arguing out in the rain outside Steve’s apartment. When Steve asks her why she can’t walk away from him, she tries something new. She says, softly: “Because I love you.”
This stops him for a moment, but he says only, “Kayla, please, get the hell out of here.”
But Kayla’s declaration was more than a declaration, it was a challenge, and she tries to force him to acknowledge it. “I said I love you!” she says, louder.
He brings up what he knows is a sore subject: the first time he saw her, from inside the closet in Cleveland, when he watched her undress. “There’s nothing romantic about that. That’s something my old man would have done.” Kayla turns away, and Steve goes on, pressing home his point, “You don’t know what I’m capable of. Even I don’t know.”
This is why he keeps teetering back and forth. Here is a man who has so locked away his inner self that he truly doesn’t know who he is. Is he a good, decent man with a thin veneer of hostility and rage, as Kayla believes? Or is he a “sweet guy rough around the edges” as Duke was when Jo first met him, doomed to show Duke’s true colors in the end?
After Kayla has gone home, Steve has second thoughts. He flashes back to himself as a child telling Duke he would never be like him. Maybe Kayla is right about him. Maybe he can meet her challenge after all. He teeters, he teeters … he rushes over to the loft in the rain and bangs on her door.
The door slides open. But, it’s not Kayla, ready to hear his declaration of love and fall into his arms. It’s a stranger, a handsome stranger in a bathrobe, politely yet pointedly inquiring as to what purpose this man has come knocking on Kayla’s door in the middle of the night. Smoothly handsome, civil, self-contained. Everything Steve is not.
And just like that, Steve is back on the other side. But this is more than a momentary stumbling block. This goes straight to the unexploded bomb at the heart of their relationship: Steve’s belief that, no matter what she says, Kayla deserves better. He once promised her that someday she would meet someone else, someone better … “and then you’ll think of me, and you’ll thank me”—for breaking up with her. That future he promised her now has a definite shape. I think that Steve has signed, sealed, and delivered Kayla to Jack before Jack even opens his mouth.
But it’s one thing, in theory, to want Kayla to move on with someone else, it’s quite another to watch it happen (he thinks) before his very eyes. At Shenanigans the next day, Steve is sitting with Adrienne when Jack and Kayla come in for lunch. Steve immediately loses the thread of his conversation with Adrienne, and his eyes keep straying to the table where Kayla sits with Jack. And when Adrienne leaves, he can’t, he just can’t leave them alone. He marches over to their table, his face stretched into a false parody of an indulgent, knowing grin, and asks if he can join them. He calls them “you two kids” and quizzes them about how they met (at a fancy resort in Hawaii), and, in a cringeworthy exchange, asks Jack about Kayla’s bikini line.
It is truly pitiful how transparent Steve’s jealousy is, through his pose of the affable matchmaker. When, later that day, he learns that Jack is a senator’s son, and Kayla says she didn’t know either, Steve can’t stop himself from saying, “I guess he had plenty of other things to impress you with.”
Despite the contortions that Steve is twisting himself into to give his blessing to Kayla and Jack, it is clear that Kayla still loves Steve. There is a slight change in her manner, a dialing down of the eager availability she has consistently shown, that’s all. A few days later, Steve shows up at the Emergency Center to take Adrienne out to dinner, and instead ends up encouraging her to go on a date with Justin (they don’t know he’s a Kiriakis). Steve plays the role of the protective, loving brother, talking about checking out this Justin fellow and giving her a flower to wear in her hair. The tearful, happy Adrienne hugs Steve as Kayla looks on silently, her expression one of bittersweet envy.
After Adrienne leaves, Steve asks Kayla if she’d like to go out to dinner with him, but before Kayla can answer Jack swoops in and says breezily that the limo is double parked and they need to hurry.
How I wanted Kayla to tell Jack to stuff it and go with Steve instead! It’s clearly what she’d rather do. But in addition to not wanting to be rude, I think Kayla is reluctantly coming to a decision. If Steve is constantly teetering on the brink of giving in to his feelings for her, he’s also constantly vulnerable to falling back the other way. So easily discouraged that any little obstacle sends him scuttling away and breaking her heart all over again. Can she keep putting herself through that, over and over? Kim once told her that if Steve couldn’t overcome his fears—and it’s looking like he can’t—she would have to find the strength to walk away.
Maybe she can’t renounce him fully, maybe she’s as incapable of that as Steve is, but she can sure stop making it so easy for him.
But just as Steve’s flashes of jealousy show us how much he still cares, Kayla’s feelings make her unable to resist any opportunity to challenge Steve to change his mind. After seeing Bo and Hope sail off together, Kayla and Steve talk about dreams and whether they can come true. She tells him if he wants his dreams to come true, they can. When his reaction is to say lazily that he guesses he never wanted anything bad enough, she says furiously, “I don’t need you anymore,” and walks away in disgust.
Later that day, Jack convinces her to take the job as his night nurse (he is ill with Hodgkin’s disease). Her first assignment? To go on a picnic in the park. On this date, we can see she’s trying. They flirt, they look at stars, they share jokes. And Kayla seems to have a nice time. She seems to appreciate being fussed over and (gently) wooed. (It must have been a nice change of pace.) We can almost see her thinking, if I were in love with Jack, how much simpler it would be.
And who should come upon them but Steve. He’s on a date of sorts himself, with his friend Joanie and her son. Steve’s comment on seeing Jack and Kayla is to yet again ostentatiously give them his blessing. “You two look like the cover of a magazine.”
This is more accurate than he realizes, because it reflects the true nature of Jack and Kayla’s relationship, all surface shine, no depth. But Steve is dazzled by that surface, and by the contrast to himself and his perception of what he can offer. Steve is ready for Jack and Kayla to ride off into the sunset together. He has given her her happy ending.
We can see how well happily ever after is working out for Kayla when Chris finds her falling asleep over her coffee at Shenanigans. She explains that she’s been working two jobs (at the Emergency Center and as Jack’s nurse) because she hopes that exhausting herself each day will make her fall asleep as soon as she hits the pillow. Chris asks how well it’s working, and she says it isn’t. “I just lie awake and think about Steve.” And then, softly, like she’s saying something sacred, “I just feel it’s our destiny to be together. That’s just the way I feel.” To see Kayla attempt to admit defeat, to see all her fighting energy just running around in circles, strikes me as inescapably sad, almost tragic.
Jack’s stepmother Anjelica is working on a project to renovate the riverfront. When Jack, along with Steve, discovers that some low income families (including Steve’s friend Joanie) will be displaced because of it, Jack comes up with a plan to build some new housing nearby. After seeing how the displaced families look to Steve for leadership, Jack proposes they work together on the project.
The first thing Jack does when he comes in to Steve’s apartment is casually pick up the polaroid of Kayla that is Steve’s greatest treasure. Steve snatches it out of his hand. Then he rudely declines to help, telling Jack he doesn’t trust him.
When Kayla hears that Steve has turned Jack down, she goes to see him too. She lists Jack’s credentials for a project like this, ardently making the case that he can be trusted. Steve listens to her detailed knowledge of Jack’s history, then finally bursts out with, “I guess you learn a lot about a guy when you’re spending every night by his bedside.” This is what Steve has been torturing himself with, imagining them together night after night.
Kayla doesn’t deny it. (You can’t blame her for wanting to get a little of her own back.) She suggests that maybe Steve doesn’t want to do the project because he’s jealous, and when Steve denies it, she says, “Prove it. Work with Jack.”
Well, it works. Steve finds them at Shenanigans and says he’ll do it, and once again we see Steve’s broad painted-on grin at the prospect of spending lots of time seeing Jack and Kayla together.
By the night of the gala celebrating Mike Horton’s cancer research, the three of them seem to have reached a working peace. Jack and Steve have established a nice rapport—almost brotherly, in fact. At the gala, an attempt is made to lure Mike Horton to his lab before it is blown to smithereens. However, through a series of mishaps, it is Steve and Kayla who end up caught in the blast.
They survive, but they are buried under heaps of rubble, and no one knows they are there. Kayla has injured her leg and goes into shock. Steve takes care of her as best he can, but with no water or medical supplies her condition worsens. She loses consciousness, and a desperate Steve pleads with her not to die. “I would die for you,” he cries. “I love you, Kayla, I love you.”
Kayla does wake up, but she is feverish and weak. Steve finds some rubbing alcohol in the rubble and, soaking a cloth with it, uses it to stroke her face and neck.
“Am I dreaming?” Kayla says suddenly.
“Shh, shh,” Steve murmurs. “You might be having a nightmare, I don’t know.”
But Kayla doesn’t seem to have heard him. She whispers, “I thought I heard you say you love me … did you say you loved me, Steve? Did you say that?” She is delirious. “I must have been dreaming … I don’t want to ever wake up.” It breaks my heart to see Kayla this way, just a woman in love who wants to be loved back, a gambler who risked everything and might now be paying the price. She must have fantasized about Steve telling her he loves her many, many times.
When her fever breaks and the immediate crisis is past, but their oxygen is running out and there are no signs of rescue, Kayla tells Steve, “I want you to know, in case we don’t make it through this, how much I care about you, how much I love you.” And she asks him, if he loves her, to please, please, tell her now.
After two days of holding her and caring for her, acutely aware that he almost lost her, physically weak and facing death, Steve is in no shape to hold his feelings at bay. “Sweetness, sweetness,” he whispers, running trembling fingers over her face, her neck … and Timely Interruption #8 comes in the form of their rescue, at last.
The next day Steve comes in to the hospital for a checkup and Kayla finds him. Steve has not visited her since they were rescued, and his manner quickly makes it apparent that he thinks everything should just go back to how it was before they were trapped.
But Kayla did hear him, he said it. “You told me something very important about how you feel about me,” she says. “Now that it’s the light of day, can you say it again?” She knows this is the true test.
Steve says first, she imagined it. Then he says he knew she was injured and in pain and he just wanted to make her feel better.
Kayla says, “Do you hate me that much?”
Steve’s blank look of shock is almost comical. Hate is so far from what he feels. “I don’t hate you at all,” he says.
And Kayla calls him on the way he keeps teetering back and forth, keeps raising her hopes and then dashing them. She says, her voice rising, “You told me that you loved me. You said it, and you meant it.” And when he continues to stonewall her, her frustration boils over. She launches herself at him, hitting him and shouting, “Stop it! Just stop it!”
Steve grabs her flailing arms. “You stop it!”
At this moment Jack interrupts. “What the hell is going on here?” he demands.
Steve is still holding Kayla’s arms. Even upset and angry, trying his best to shut her out, once he’s got hold of her he can’t let go. Even when Kayla turns to face Jack so Steve’s arm encircles her body, he doesn’t release her. Kayla, too, doesn’t step away from him. Their expressions show their anger and frustration, but their body language is close, almost intimate.
As Jack continues to scold him, Steve finally lets go and Kayla steps away. Her eyes find his and hold them, and she says intensely in a low voice, “It didn’t have to be this way, Steve.”
What will it take to show him she’s right? Kayla can get him to crack temporarily, when his desire overwhelms his reason, but it doesn’t change his certainty that they don’t belong together. A rival doesn’t spur him on but only discourages him further. A near-death experience brings them closer during the crisis, but when it’s over they’re back where they started.
Kayla couldn’t do it, Jack couldn’t do it, nearly dying couldn’t do it. Is there anything that could make him change his mind?
Go on to part 11: Summer on the Run