Now, I liked the way "The Showdown" went as much as the next person. But this is my take on the way the Julie/Kirsten conversation in the kitchen (which was brilliant) could have gone.

"Wow. This…I mean, no offense, Kirsten, but I don't know what to say." Julie Cooper-Nichol's green eyes fastened on her blonde friend (step-daughter?), who smiled sardonically before tossing the rest of her vodka-and-orange juice down her throat. God. Her eyes were so sad. This was Kirsten Cohen, the woman she'd envied all her life, the woman who was born to it and never gave her beauty and wealth and love a second glance. This was Kirsten Nichol, the woman she'd always had a sinking feeling that Jimmy would've preferred to marry.

"It's okay," said Kirsten painfully, twisting her diamond ring around her finger as she so often did. Julie took the opportunity to admire the ring.

"It's beautiful. He really bought you that on what he earned at the public defender's office?"

"Yeah." The response was wistful. "It was two and a half years after we were married, but that didn't matter." She laughed. "To tell you the truth, I kind of liked the plastic one."

"I had a plastic engagement ring once," Julie declared with a laugh. Kirsten's blue eyes—so dead lately—sparkled slightly as she turned to Julie.


"Yeah. My first boyfriend, Chris, back in tenth grade bought me one when we were at the mall one day. It was cute, too," she added with another, slightly rueful laugh. "Not as pretty as the one Jimmy bought, but I have to say—no offense meant or anything—nicer than the one Cal bought me."

"I never really liked Dad's taste in jewels," agreed Kirsten. "Julie? What did you do with it…your first engagement ring?" Julie gave her a slightly sad smile.

"I still have it. I probably should've given it back, I guess; I mean, I dumped him and he needed the money. But…I liked it. And I guess I never thought that our separation would really be permanent, you know? I thought he'd somehow make all the money back and be my perfect husband again." The phrase, "perfect husband" suddenly caused Kirsten's small smile to vanish.

"I just don't know…how we let it slip away. Sandy and me…this isn't a marriage," she said flatly. "And I don't know if it can ever be a marriage again."

"You can't break up," said Julie firmly. "You're Sandy-and-Kirsten. If you two don't love each other enough to make it, marriage as an institution is doomed."

"We do…still love each other," was Kirsten's uncertain response. "At least…I still love him. So much. And he tells me he loves me, and you know, I want to believe him. So much…I just…I don't even know." Julie looked at her hands and began to fiddle with her own ring.

"Wow. I guess, well, I mean, you two always seemed to have the perfect marriage. You were always so lucky." Kirsten smiled a bittersweet smile.

"Julie, remember when Jimmy lost all that money and you said that I was lucky to have a job? And then you corrected yourself and said that I'm 'a very hard worker'?" She nodded. "Well, we weren't just lucky. We worked on our marriage, and we haven't in so long, and it's falling apart." Suddenly Kirsten looked up, straight into her stepmother's eyes, and Julie could see tears pooling in the brilliantly blue eyes of the woman she'd always wanted to be.

"It doesn't have to fall apart," said Julie softly, tentatively putting her arms around Kirsten. She'd gotten so thin recently! Kirsten had always been thinner than Julie, but now Julie swore she could feel every bone in the other woman's body, and relaxed her grip, terrified of breaking her.

"I…I don't know how to keep it from breaking," came Kirsten's voice in a choky response, as she pulled Julie tighter to herself. "I do love him, and I don't want to lose him, but…I think…I already have."

"No," whispered Julie softly against her stepdaughter's cheek, which was becoming suspiciously wet. "Kirsten…he loves you, more than anything; I know he does. You just have to go to him." Kirsten broke away abruptly.

"I can't." Her eyes were tear-stained, and there was mascara running down her nose with the tears.

"Yes, you can. You have to…unless he doesn't mean more to you than your pride, than your vodka." Julie held the bottle in her hand, feeling its weight—or lack thereof. At her words, Kirsten's eyes filled with fresh tears.

"He won't want me anymore. I've killed it. Julie, he doesn't love me! Not really…he just pretends. And I still love him. All I'm going to do…is make him face that fact, make…me…face that fact. And then we'll be over, for real, and I won't be able to deal with it. And, oh, Julie, I'm going to hurt him. I'm going to hurt him as I never have before, ever…I can't do that to him. I just can't tell him…that even though we never did anything…Carter took his place." Disbelief and sadness filled Julie's face as she leaned over and gently kissed the tearstained cheek, tasting the salty tears on Kirsten's face.

"You've been married twenty years. You owe it to that marriage…to Sandy…to yourself…to at least try. Believe me, you don't want to throw it away." There was a tone of regret to Julie's voice that caused Kirsten to look at her, really look at her for confirmation.

"Jimmy?" she asked softly.

"I miss him every day," said Julie in a detached monotone. "I regret losing him every day. Don't make that mistake. He still wants you in his life; he still wants to make you happy; he still loves you more than anything. Don't throw it away. Please, honey, try. For my failed marriage, if not for yourself." She silently put her arms around Kirsten again, and then turned and walked away.

"Sandy," said Julie softly as she saw him, looking defeated and dejected as he drank ice water by the pool.

"Julie," he said in greeting, raising his glass.

"Are you drinking water?" she asked suspiciously.

"Yeah. Amazing what your wife's problems with vodka will do to depression-drinking." His voice was so sad—almost bitter. Sandy Cohen didn't do "bitter" very well. Looking up, he caught Julie's eyes. "I'm afraid we might be breaking up. She just…keeps pushing me away. I love her—so much, it's driving me crazy to even be thinking these thoughts—but if she doesn't want me in her life, I don't want to force myself on her."

"She does want you in her life," said Julie, taking a seat next to Sandy, reaching out and rubbing his leg gently. "She just doesn't know how to talk about it. And she's drinking to numb the pain, which isn't helping. I never noticed how much she drank, but I guess she has as long as I've known her."

"Me, too," said Sandy sadly. "She's always been a borderline alcoholic. Kirsten…she just tries too hard, you know? She wants so much to be everything to everyone, to be perfect, that she needs a vice. Something to do when she's bored or depressed. She goes through phases; I think she's had every addiction known to man at one point or another. She was addicted to food at one point—that didn't last long, because she went up a size or two, and perfect women always have perfect figures. Then she was addicted to undereating, and she smoked at one point—legal things and then more illegal things, and there was a brief sex addiction, too. I didn't mind that one so much. But it always came back to the booze, because it was easy, because she's never thought that it was bad for her."

"Yeah," sighed Julie. "Kind of makes me want a scotch on the rocks myself." Sandy gave her an if-looks-could-kill look that stopped her.

"Believe me, you don't want to go there." They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"If you don't want to lose her," Julie started, "I think you need to go to her. Apologize for the fugitive ex-girlfriend, Becky or whatever her name was. Tell her you worship the ground under her feet. She needs that right now."

"She won't listen to me. I've been trying. She won't listen to me."

"Well, fucking try harder," said Julie harshly. "You love her; I know you do, and she loves you. Don't lose her. I mean, if you lose her…I think she'll be lost for good. From all of us. And don't give me that innocent look. If you lose her, you'll be lost to the world, too. It doesn't make you weak to need her," she said, softening. "But you do, and denying it is so—fucking—stupid. Go. Now. She's in the kitchen, drinking spiked orange juice. Tell her how much she means to you, because I still don't know if she has the strength to tell you…that she loves you so much. She's afraid she's going to lose you."

"I think that this is all very interesting, coming from a woman whose marriage is falling apart, who isn't at home following her own advice."

"Yeah, well, I've already lost the marriage I cared about. I just hope Cal waits till the end of the month to dump me." As she walked to her car, Sandy admired the woman who'd just left his house. He'd never really liked Julie Cooper; to him, she'd always epitomized everything he hated about Newport Beach. But just as Newport was growing on him, so was Julie. Or maybe she'd just grown up a lot since the end of her marriage to Jimmy. Either way, he was beginning to find even the dresses she wore more entertaining than obnoxious, he observed as he observed her dress. Once she'd safely left, Sandy picked up his water glass and started towards the house.

He found Kirsten exactly where Julie had said she was, in the kitchen, staring at Julie's unfinished orange juice. Just as her perfectly-manicured fingers reached for the glass, she felt his hands around her waist.

"We need to talk." Here it was. He'd finally given up pretending. For the first time, she was glad that she'd stopped depending on him to "make her feel less alone." Maybe it would make losing him slightly easier. She turned around in his arms and saw that face, those eyes…Nope. This was going to kill her.

"Don't say it," she said softly. Don't tell me 'cause it hurts.

"I love you, Kirsten. I love you more than anything and I don't care what's going on, I'm not losing you." What?

"It's not that easy, Sandy," she heard her voice say. "You hurt me with the whole Rebecca thing. Our marriage…had been strained since the boys left, and then you went to her. I don't even know how many times I told you that you were making a choice, that you picked her over me, that…you left me alone on Valentine's Day. The one day of the year that you're supposed to devote to the one you love, you spent with her. You can't just say you're sorry and expect it all to go away." But please don't stop trying. I love you, Sandy; I can't lose you. I want it to go back to how it used to be; I just don't know how.

"I know," he said heavily. "Believe me, if I could go back in time…there's so much that I would fix. I know that it's mostly my fault. But, Kirsten, it's your fault, too. You stopped speaking to me over the summer. Whether I deserved it or not, that was all you. You stopped coming to me the way a wife comes to her husband. Again, I might have deserved it, but still. If you don't want to be with me anymore, hey, that's your choice." He paused, considering the weighted silence. "But you'll break my heart." Finally, Sandy chanced a look at her. She was crying.

"Mine, too."

"So…can we try? Please? For our hearts' sake?"

"You hurt me, Sandy. Don't forget that. But…but it would hurt worse to lose you." Slowly, tentatively, she reached her arms around his neck and pulled him close. His breath on her neck. His heart thumping against hers. His arms wrapping themselves more tightly around her body. Kirsten shut her eyes. They couldn't undo what was done. But…they always said, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. They couldn't lose their marriage. As she felt his body against hers, she knew that it was still worth it. It would always be worth it, as long as he loved her, as long as she loved him, as long as they were willing to try.