This is the fourteenth in a series. The series starts here: Steve Stalks Kayla
All the time Kayla was with Jack, Steve wore on a chain around his neck the ring he never gave her. He was constantly taking it out and handling it like worry beads, pouring all his pent-up longing for Kayla into it. It became a symbol of his loss, his regret, and all that he couldn’t let go of.
One morning, still in the safehouse, Kayla finds the ring. She asks Steve about it, obviously hoping—but afraid to hope—that it is an engagement ring. He tells the whole story, simply and openly (is this really Steven Earl Johnson?): “I was going to ask you to marry me, and I bought that ring just in case you said yes.” They playact a little proposal scene, and he slips Jack’s ring off her finger and puts his own in its place. This is wonderful, but bittersweet: it’s what should have been.
The scenes between Steve and Kayla at the safehouse are a joyful oasis, a break and an escape. They talk, they share meals, they make love, again and again. But as Steve says, “Sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with Jack.” Kayla wants to make a clean break, but Steve has not reconciled himself to the idea that Jack will have to be hurt. He still hopes to find a way to finesse the situation so everybody wins.
In the meantime, Jack continues to search for Kayla, and finally he tracks her down. When he walks into the safehouse, the scene is suggestive, to say the least. Steve and Kayla are together on a big double bed, and Steve is not only shirtless but has his pants unfastened.
They all look at each other. Jack picks up the phone “to arrest this gentleman for kidnapping.” I think Jack knows that isn’t true. But he chooses not to acknowledge it. He wants Kayla back, and his pride won’t let him take her back if he admits the truth. His denial is twofold: first, that nothing is happening, and, second, if anything is happening, it’s all Steve’s fault.
Kayla prevents him from calling the police by telling him Steve saved her life. Jack doesn’t believe it; this is just a story Steve made up so he could be a hero. Steve casually puts his shirt back on and fastens his pants. (Steve’s body language through all of this displays no guilt whatsoever.) Kayla puts her hands behind her back so Steve can take his ring off her finger. Before she leaves with Jack, Kayla thanks Steve and extends her hand to him—her left hand, with Jack’s ring back on it. Steve takes her hand and touches the ring. “Everything is going to be all right,” he says.
Kayla says she won’t go back to the house where she was being poisoned, so she and Jack go to her parents’ house instead. In the car, Kayla tries to offer some explanation for the scene he just witnessed, but Jack cuts her off.
Steve packs up their things at the safehouse. He is holding Kayla’s nightgown (actually, he’s smelling it) when Marcus comes in. Steve talks about how hard it is for him to contemplate being selfish and breaking up his brother’s marriage. But when Marcus asks him what he’s going to do, Steve doesn’t hesitate. He says with conviction, “I’m going to get her back.”
Steve truly is in agony over taking Kayla from Billy, the brother he loves so much. But then there’s “Jack,” the rival he almost hates. There is a near complete disconnect between the two in his mind. Soon after Christmas, Jack, Kayla, and Steve are at the police station regarding Kayla’s poisoning. Jack’s denial slips for a moment and he comes close to accusing Steve of sleeping with Kayla at the safehouse (which is, of course, true). Steve has no problem denying it with no apparent consciousness of guilt, and then going on the offensive: “I don’t like what you’re insinuating. Why don’t you keep your mouth shut about it?”
But when Jack isn’t around, he’s “Billy” again, the little baby who needs protection. Jack is running for the Salem assembly, with the election in a few weeks. A messy scandal in his personal life would almost certainly kill his chances of being elected. If Kayla stays with Jack until the election, if Jack wins, it will give him something else to hold onto, something to reconcile him to losing Kayla.
This is Steve’s scheme. It might seem (somewhat) plausible on the surface, but things quickly begin to unravel. When Kayla told Steve at the safehouse that she and Jack never slept together, she said, “He wanted to, but he didn’t push it.” I think this was part of the reason Steve felt so sanguine about sending Kayla back to Jack. They hadn’t slept together for months, what’s a few more weeks?
Well, Jack has decided to push it. Having “won” Kayla back, he wants to seal the deal—and, I think, prove he’s a better man than Steve–by getting her into bed. He sends her flowers, he buys her negligees. He moves them from her parents’ house (one of her flimsy excuses is that she would “feel funny” sleeping with him there) back to the loft, where they can be alone. On New Year’s Eve, as they prepare to go to a party at the Deveraux mansion, he tells her tonight will be their special night. He promises her he’ll go slow and be gentle, as if he is soothing a frightened virgin.
Contrast this to the woman we see with Steve, so frank and open in her desire for him. Jack doesn’t really understand Kayla at all. His image of her as a sexually timid “good girl” is an illusion—one that allows him to deny the reality of his wife’s feelings.
Kayla and Jack go to the New Year’s Eve party. Steve is concerned about her safety (because whoever was poisoning her is still at large), so he peeks into the window to check up on her. Kayla sees him and sneaks out to spend some time with him. Outside the house where her husband and his family are hosting a party, at midnight on New Year’s Eve when there is maximum chance she will be missed, Kayla and Steve climb up in a hay wagon and make out like teenagers.
And this is where their scheme really runs aground, on the rocks of one unalterable fact: they can’t keep their hands off each other. Time after time, despite good intentions, they take stupid chances, meet in public places, steal kisses when Jack is right upstairs or in the next room. They carry on right under Jack’s nose. They lose their heads and act like fools.
A reporter, sensing a story, begins following Kayla, snapping photos of them together.
Kayla feels all the falsity of her position, playing the devoted wife of one man when all she wants is to be with another. She goes along with the scheme largely for Steve’s sake, because she understands that Steve can’t build his happiness on Billy’s destruction. There’s already so much animosity between Steve and his brother because of her, and Steve already feels so torn. I think Kayla wants to be the calm one who rises above the whole notion of “sides.”
But she’s running out of excuses not to sleep with Jack. Steve might feel like he’s in the middle, but she’s really in the middle. A few days after the new year, Jack’s next move to seduce his wife is to arrange for a special compartment on his father’s campaign train (Harper is running for president), calling it “Kayla and Jack’s Honeymoon Express.” Kayla runs to Steve to tell him this has to stop. But Steve isn’t ready to give up on their plan to wait until after the election.
When Kayla challenges him about it, the disconnect between Jack and Billy collapses for a moment. His reaction becomes pure jealousy. “If any man ever touches you I’ll kill him.” At that moment, Jack isn’t Billy—he’s just another guy. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Jo. She has seen Kayla sneaking into Steve’s apartment.
It is somehow perfectly fitting that it is Jo who catches them, because she became such a supporter of Steve’s plan to push Kayla to Jack. I always feel it serves Jo right to see Steve turn his back on being the sacrificial lamb she kept praising him for being.
Jo scolds them for running around on Jack. Steve and Kayla look a little shamefaced but defend themselves. Kayla says she might be legally married to Jack, but “it doesn’t change the way I feel.” She says she can’t keep pretending all the time. When Jo hears that Kayla and Jack are not sleeping together, she seems to understand it’s a lost cause. She even helps Kayla continue to put him off, by getting her boss, Dr. Curtis, to provide Kayla with a medical excuse not to go on the campaign trip with Jack.
On the day of the election, Jack is having a rally on the pier. Kayla is there, by Jack’s side. Steve is there, drumming up support in the riverfront district. (“No one wants you to win this election more than I do,” he tells Jack.) The reporter who took the pictures of Steve and Kayla is there. He gives Jack a file with all the pictures inside. When the news comes that Jack has won the election, a jubilant Steve and Kayla sneak away to celebrate on their own for a few minutes. With the victory celebration unfolding behind him, Jack opens the file.
Jack doesn’t believe it. Not Kayla. He corners the reporter and accuses him of trying to blackmail him with old pictures of Kayla with her ex-boyfriend. The reporter points out the picture of Kayla on New Year’s Eve, asking Jack to remember what she wore that night. Wasn’t it a new dress?
New Year’s Eve. The night Jack wanted to be a “special night” for him and Kayla, when he tried to soothe her reluctance, and told her “I’ll be gentle.”
When Kayla returns to the victory party and comes to stand next to him, it’s as though Jack is seeing her for the first time. The good girl isn’t so good. He watches as Steve and Kayla exchange a private smile. When Kayla tells him she needs to pick up her car, and she’ll meet him at Blondie’s later for the victory party, he follows her. He watches her with Steve on the pier, watches them laughing and kissing and teasing each other.
And here is where Steve’s desire not to hurt Jack has backfired in the worst possible way. The irony is that if Steve had cared less, they probably would have hurt Jack less and certainly would have humiliated him less. With the best intentions to do it “the right way,” they ended up not only betraying him but rubbing his face in it.
Back at the loft, Jack conceals his rage under a cover of exuberance and triumph. He sweeps Kayla up in his arms and kisses her. When she doesn’t respond, he kisses her again, more aggressively. He’s no longer coaxing the reluctant virgin.
When she yanks herself away from him, he shows her the pictures. Kayla is dismayed but tries to calm things down so she can explain. But he’s not listening to her. “A simple question,” he says. “Did you sleep with Johnson after we were married?”
Kayla hesitates, and tries to say it’s not that simple, and he snaps, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
He asks her if she knows what a scandal like this will do to his father’s campaign, or to his own next campaign. Eager to defend herself on this point—if nothing else, they were thinking about his career—Kayla says, “That’s why we waited,” meaning waited to tell him.
Jack snatches up the pictures. “Do you call this waiting?” He flips through the pictures, one by one, until he gets to the one from New Year’s Eve. “Did you wait on New Year’s Eve? I waited on New Year’s Eve … I waited all night.” He throws the pictures down. “I was the only one who waited.”
He says she’s been telling him for months that she just wasn’t ready. “Tell me, are you ever going to be ready?” He sees the answer in her face. No.
“I’m ready,” he says, and he pushes her down on the couch.