As part of her deal with Dr. Romulus, Faye gets two nights off a week from her duties as Audrey's nanny. On these evenings, Ryan hires a local teenager to babysit, claiming he's far too busy to care for the child himself.
One such Friday night, Ryan arrives home late from the hospital, after experiencing a particularly stressful day at work. He is looking forward to spending a nice, quiet evening locked up in his study with an interesting book in his hands. As he walks through the front door, however, he is immediately greeted by the piercing screams of an angry two-year-old.
"Faye!" he calls, not realizing she's isn't home. He starts to look around for her, but as Audrey's cries get more and more desperate he feels himself instinctively head for the nursery. He opens the door and peers in, hesitantly approaching her crib.
Audrey pulls herself up and holds her arms out, begging him to be picked up. Ryan frowns but reluctantly lifts the child out of her crib.
He places her on his hip, as he's seen Faye do so many times before, and begins awkwardly patting her back, trying his best to calm her largely subdued cries.
"There, there," he soothes. "No need to fuss. I've got you now."
She yawns and lets out a small hiccup, her tears all but dry by now. Ryan watches her closely, and for the first time he notices how much she looks like him.
"Everything but the eyes," he murmurs, gazing at her hauntingly familiar face. She inherited her mother's purple eyes, he thinks sadly.
Then, Ryan gently lays the drowsy toddler on his shoulder, softly rocking her back to sleep. She smells a bit like lavender, he notices, and her tiny hands feel so smooth against his rough skin. Audrey yawns again, and as her breathing becomes slow and steady, Ryan realizes he doesn't want to let go. He never wants to let go.
The next morning Faye wakes up, dresses herself, and walks into the nursery, expecting to encounter a cranky toddler and a day full of chores. She does not, however, expect to see this.
"Good morning, Ms. McKinley!" Ryan greets her, sounding uncharacteristically cheerful.
Faye stops dead in her tracks. "Dr. Romulus? What... How... Why are you here?" she blurts out.
Ryan grins. "Audrey woke up early this morning, and I heard her crying. I hope you don't mind my interference."
"Mind?" she sounds shocked. "No, not at all. I apologize for not hearing her myself. I promise, I wont let it happen again..."
"Not a problem, Ms. McKinley. Toddlers will be toddlers, after all."
"I can take over now, if you want to get on with your day," she offers.
"Not necessary," Ryan replies. "I've been thinking, Ms. McKinley, that I want to spend more time with my daughter. Would you mind if I tagged along with the two of you today?"
Faye quirks an eyebrow. "Are you sure?" she asks nervously. "I mean, I don't really have much planned, except for maybe a visit to the park this afternoon, but..."
"The park! What a wonderful idea! We should pack a lunch and have ourselves a picnic," he suggests.
Faye watches him in amazement, wondering what brought about this sudden change of heart. She decides not to ask, however, enjoying his new exuberance.
At the park, Faye lays down the blanket and sets out the picnic basket, still totally baffled by Dr. Romulus' behavior. While Audrey plays with her teddy bear a short distance away, Ryan and Faye munch on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"So, Ms. McKinley," Ryan begins as he sits down. "Have you lived in Appaloosa Plains your whole life?"
"Yes, sir," Faye replies shyly. "I grew up here."
"I see. And why have you stayed? Familial obligations? A close-knit group of friends? A boy, perhaps?"
Faye blushes. "My family, I suppose. I honestly couldn't imagine living anywhere else."
"I must admit, it's a beautiful town."
"Yes," Faye agrees. "But someday, I'd at least like to see other parts of the world. France, in particular, seems wonderful."
Ryan's face lights up. "France? I spent many of my formative years studying medicine in a small village in the French countryside."
"Really? I hear the scenery is just stunning!"
"It is, and the people are quite welcoming as well. I met my wife there," Ryan adds, his voice turning hard.
Faye frowns. "Genevieve?"
He nods, and the conversation grows quiet.
"You really loved her," Faye observes after a minute.
"I did," Ryan says, his face emotionless.
"How did she die?" Faye asks quietly.
He looks up, meeting Faye's innocent gaze. "Cancer," he says at last.
Faye gasps. "Cancer?" she whispers. "But I thought... Didn't they eradicate it years ago?"
Ryan shakes his head. "No, eradicate is too strong a word. Many centuries ago, doctors found a way to vaccinate against it, to stop the disease from ever being able to metastasize. However, in exceedingly rare cases the vaccination proves ineffective for certain individuals. There have only been three cases reported within the last five years, and my wife, Genevieve, is one of them."
Faye watches him with worried eyes. "I'm so sorry."
"I don't need your sympathy," he snarls. "I don't need anyone's sympathy."
Faye feels her temper flare. "Perhaps not, but what about your daughter?!" she retorts. "Audrey needs her father, now more than ever, and if you can't snap out of your grief long enough to realize that, then you're going to regret it."
Faye gets up and dusts herself off. "I want to help," she adds softly. "I hope you know that."
Faye promised Audrey that she'd let her have a go on the bouncy ride at the playground, and even though Audrey doesn't actually know how to talk yet Faye lives up to her word. Audrey squeals with delight as the toy scooter bounces up and down.
"She's quite a happy child, isn't she?" Ryan asks as he watches her laugh and play.
"Yes," Faye replies, smiling. "She's very bright, too. She's already master that little peg box in her bedroom."
Ryan stands there silently for a minute, his gaze turning from Audrey to Faye. "Do you want children, Ms. McKinley?"
"Someday," she answers after a second. "When I find the right person to have them with."
"They will be very lucky children indeed, to have a mother like you."
Faye looks up, startled by the unexpected compliment. "Thank you," she says, blushing.
Ryan meets her gaze head on, sending shivers through her body. "You're welcome, Ms. McKinley."
"Please," she smiles. "Call me Faye."