Note: this is the twelfth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
Steve is going to ask Kayla to marry him. He’s got the ring, the flowers, and a new suit. He’s getting ready to go to her apartment when he gets a call from Harper Deveraux, who wants to see him right away. Kayla is disappointed at the delay, and Steve reassures her: “Nothing on this earth could keep me from having this night with you.”
Why tempt the soap gods, Steve?
All the while Steve and Kayla were enjoying their brief period of bliss, the wheels of fate were turning. Jo had a ring that matched the necklace and bracelet she gave to Steve and Adrienne. Jo sees this ring in Jack’s hand when he’s daydreaming about proposing to Kayla. He tells her the ring belonged to his mother.
Jo overhears Harper encourage Jack to give the ring to Kayla right away—not as a proposal, just as a promise. An engagement ring can come later. (He brushes aside the idea of a “two bit street hustler” being any kind of obstacle.) To prevent Kayla from seeing the ring and recognizing it, Jo takes it. She’s trying to figure out what to do with it when Steve, on his way out after meeting the senator, sees her.
When he finds out it’s Jack’s ring, Steve puts the pieces together. Billy is Jack Deveraux. The brother he hasn’t seen since he was a baby is here in Salem. He wants to be happy he’s found his brother at last. He wants to tell Jack, do something, but Jo talks him out of it.
After this, a shaken Steve finally makes his way to Kayla’s. The fact that Billy is also in love with Kayla is very much on his mind. Can he really prosper at his brother’s expense? Steve knocks on her door and when she opens it he walks in immediately, taking her hand and pulling her along. The first thing he does is put his arms around her—practically clinging—and say that he needs her, he never realized how much.
Kayla is confused, but responds to his obvious distress, telling him she’ll never leave him. “I love you, you know that.”
This pierces Steve’s turmoil. “I know,” he says, and laughs in relief. What has he been thinking? She loves me, she loves me. Nothing else matters.
He starts stumbling toward a proposal, trying to tell her how he feels. He’s all churned up from what he’s just found out, and can barely string two words together. Just as he’s about to ask the crucial question, the phone rings. It’s Anjelica Deveraux. Jack has collapsed. He’s in the hospital, maybe dying, and he’s asking for Kayla.
From this moment, Steve is a changed man. He pushes her to go to Jack, quickly, quickly. He drives Kayla to the hospital, encourages her to stay with Jack as long as he needs her, and beats a hasty retreat.
He goes to see Jo and tell her how Jack is doing. Steve has had a little time to absorb all that’s happened, and he talks about the day in the orphanage when Billy was adopted and Steve was left behind. In a lifetime filled with loss and pain, it’s always been clear that Steve feels most keenly the loss of his baby brother. All these years, Billy has haunted him, holding a special, not to say sacred, place in his heart.
Later he sneaks in to Jack’s hospital room and watches him as he sleeps. But it’s not Jack he sees. Jack’s person and personality hardly matter. It’s the mythical haze of Billy that Steve sees, a Billy that has been returned to him, who he has been given a second chance to protect. Steve projects the love he’s always had for his brother—all the bottled-up love he’s stored over a lifetime—onto Jack.
So he’s got a plan. Simple. Step aside, leave a clear field, give Jack a reason to live.
When Jo realizes what he is planning, she tries to dissuade him. She lucidly points out everything wrong with his plan: that Kayla loves him, not Jack. That Steve deserves happiness, too. That pushing Kayla away doesn’t mean she’s going to turn to Jack. That it’s doing Jack no favors to pair him off with someone who doesn’t love him.
But Steve just listens with a stubborn look on his face. In fact, he never agonizes over his choice. It might—and does—cause him agony, but he never questions it. He is sure that this is right, and he just puts his head down and runs.
The next time we see Steve and Kayla, some time has passed. Kayla catches him outside Jack’s hospital room and asks him why he’s been avoiding her. Steve says he’s just giving her space to be with Jack. He is jokey and distant. I think Steve wants to push Kayla to Jack without actually having to break up with her himself. He wants to just flip a switch and be over on the other side.
But Steve more than anyone should know that Kayla cannot be put off that easily. Later she shows up at his apartment, and demands he tell her why things have changed between them.
The time has come. He aims for the most plausible reason that someone like him would break up with someone like her. He says their relationship was exciting while it lasted, but he doesn’t want to be tied down. “The fact is, Kayla, I was using you, and now it’s over.”
During this speech, Kayla keeps her eyes locked on him. None of what he is saying makes sense. “I don’t believe you,” she says. She slaps him. “You’re lying.” She slaps him again. And again. She’s crying now. “I don’t believe you,” she says.
Steve responds to her pain, holding her face in his hands. “Please, I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
She can read his love for her in his eyes. “Go ahead,” she says. “Tell me you don’t want me, that you don’t need me. Go ahead.”
Steve can’t. Just as she always has, she gets through to him. Shaking with pent-up emotion, he caves, and kisses her, and they fall on the bed together.
In the early morning, Steve, awake, holds the sleeping Kayla. She sleeps peacefully curled up against him, a slight smile on her lips. We can see from the way he clings to her that he has not, in fact, changed his mind. He is saying goodbye, in a way that he won’t be able to when she’s awake.
Kayla awakens in utter bliss, all doubts banished. She talks about their future, her confidence in him restored. Then Kayla has to listen, lying naked on sheets still warm from their night together, as he breaks up with her again, upping the ante of cruelty a notch. The expression of dawning horror in her eyes is hideously painful to watch.
Kayla goes to see her mother, and for the first time we see Kayla’s faith absolutely shaken. She says, “What if everyone else was right, and I was wrong, and Steve never really did love me?”
But Steve has a problem. He’s never been able to fully conceal his love for her. This is proven a few days later, at the hospital, when he and Kayla are stuck in an elevator together. Just as she can’t help telling him she loves him, he can’t help responding: he relents, moves to take her in his arms—just as the elevator doors slide open.
He knows that moments like these will keep Kayla hanging on. He knows words aren’t enough. Kayla has always ignored half of what he says anyway, looking instead at his actions to read how he feels about her and what kind of person he is.
So he sets out with ruthless efficiency to show her, not just tell her, that they are broken up for good this time. He plants a kiss on a pretty waitress so Kayla can see. Later he asks Kayla to give him her necklace back, implying he wants to give it to someone else.
But the capper is when Steve gets a chance to go undercover for the ISA, to penetrate the organization responsible for the attempt to kill Senator Deveraux. Steve would gain their trust by lying on the stand to clear Ed Daniels. Steve exploits this opportunity to make Kayla—and everyone else—think the worst of him.
Steve commits perjury, and Ed Daniels is cleared. Afterwards Steve commits perjury a second time, when he finally makes Kayla believe he means what he says.
Kayla is desperate for there to be some reason for all this, some explanation that will turn her world back right side up. She challenges him to look her in the eye and tell her that everything they shared was a lie. He says he can’t. This makes her light up for a moment, but he’s just softening her up. “I did feel something for you, but it was never like what you felt for me,” he says. He tells her that she “wooed” him, and she was so pretty and sexy, and fun to cuddle up to at night, that he couldn’t say no. With a slight smile, Steve delivers the killing blow. “You gotta admit, baby, you did kinda push yourself on me.” There’s enough truth mixed up with the lies to make the whole thing credible.
But even all this may not have been enough were it not backed up by the fact that he just lied to free Ed Daniels (presumably for money). Steve has hit on the one lever that will make Kayla give up: convincing her that he isn’t a good person after all. Perhaps he even means this as a spark of kindness to offset the pain he knows he is causing—if she thinks he wasn’t worth loving anyway, it might lessen her regret.
But Steve is breaking more than her heart. Kayla’s strength and determination stemmed partly from her confidence in her ability to read people, to look beneath the surface. Her faith in Steve is closely wedded to her faith in herself. If she was wrong about Steve, what else might she be wrong about?
For the first time, we see her repeatedly seeking advice, from Mike Horton, from Kim, from Caroline, from Adrienne, from Jo, from Roman. As never before, this is a Kayla who is vulnerable to the pressure of other people’s opinions.
And as it happens, there is something everyone is pressuring her to do. Steve tells her, the very first night in the hospital, that maybe she should “tell Jack what he wants to hear.” Anjelica tells her the same thing. Jack himself, who professes to love Kayla so devotedly, doesn’t trouble to conceal his satisfaction every time Steve hurts her, and seems to think nothing of playing on her guilt by telling her she could give him the strength to get well.
Wavering, distrusting her own judgment, Kayla begins to consider it. She asks Mike, Jack’s doctor, if it would help Jack if she let him have hope. Let him believe, not that she loves him now, but that she could love him someday.
She is contemplating no more than that. It is Jack, clueless Jack, who forces the issue by asking her to marry him. She asks for time to think about it.
In the stark terms that have been laid out—this is soap logic at its best—if Kayla says yes she can save his life, if she says no she can sentence him to death. No half measures. Even given all this, however, Kayla may still have found a way to safely navigate this minefield, were it not for Steve.
There’s a treacherous part of her that keeps whispering, “Steve still loves me, this is all a big mistake” (she’s right, of course). This part of her thinks that maybe, just maybe, this will bring Steve to his senses. He could never really let her marry someone else. So she runs to tell Steve about the proposal. Faced with this ultimate success of his plan, however, he maintains a poker face and says this is a good deal for her, that Jack will be able to give her everything she always wanted. He plays his part perfectly, that of the ex-boyfriend wishing his ex-girlfriend well with her new love.
This is the final push that makes her accept. She is thinking, you say you don’t care if I marry Jack? Well, I’ll show you.
Steve finds out she’s accepted when he runs into Kayla on the pier and sees her engagement ring. He congratulates her by passing her the fortune from his Chinese takeout: “You will find your true love.” (Kayla’s reaction, when she reads it, is to toss it aside with a look of pure contempt.) Steve dearly wants to believe that Kayla is no longer suffering. He’s not so deluded that he thinks Kayla doesn’t love him anymore, but he does think she loves Jack enough to marry him. I think Steve feels that, after the way he’s treated her, he deserves for her to find true love with Jack. Steve can’t quite grasp the idea that Kayla loves him so passionately and wholeheartedly that there’s no room for anyone else.
Kayla drags her feet about setting a date, and again it’s something Steve does that jolts her into action. As part of his undercover work, Steve pretends to expose to the world that Shane is having an affair, to disgrace him with the ISA. Kayla is incensed at this further example of Steve’s selfishness and greed, and Steve plays it to the hilt, crowing over the cash he got for betraying Shane. “You disgust me,” Kayla tells him coldly, and goes back to the hospital and tells Jack she wants to marry him right away.
Unlike many a soap heroine before her, Kayla has no illusions that she loves or desires Jack. She was miserable before she accepted his proposal, and she is miserable after it. She’s resigned, even fatalistic. If she’s going to be miserable anyway, she might as well save someone’s life at the same time.
Jack seems willing to accept her on any terms, and she takes him at his word. Where she is deceiving him is exactly what she told Mike Horton at the outset: she is allowing Jack to hope. She doesn’t think about what will happen if he gets well, and he finds out his hope was misplaced.
The wedding day dawns on the bride fantasizing about Steve coming to stop the wedding. But she doesn’t move to stop the wedding herself. Marry Jack, don’t marry Jack, it hardly seems to matter. Her father comes to her before the ceremony, and talks to her gently, sanely, giving her one last chance to back out. Kayla cries on his shoulder, but she doesn’t change her mind. She’s as ready for this marriage as a broken heart, a massive guilt trip, dash of spite, and an unquenchable desire for another man can make her. She walks down the aisle on her father’s arm and goes to stand by Jack.
Then, finally, here at the last minute, Steve has second thoughts. Can he really let this happen? Just as the ceremony starts, Steve arrives looking desperate. He moves to begin walking down the aisle.
It is Jo who prevents him. Jo, who has gone over to the dark side and become the enabler of Steve’s worst instincts. She has the same fantasy about Billy, the same festering guilt about abandoning him, and the same instinct for self-sacrifice. Jo reminds him of the reason he set this plan in motion. And so Steve watches as Kayla marries his little brother.
The plan worked.
Now they must all reap what he sowed.