I hope you haven't waited too long for this chapter. But here it is. I hope you'd find it as entertaining as the previous ones. Enjoy. :)

Per usual, replies from previous comments can be found at the bottom of the page.

Disclaimer: I don't own Candy Candy manga and all the characters in it, but the talented Kyoko Mizuki does. This fic is a product of my own twisted imagination and inspired by Mizuki's masterpiece. If any of the plots, specific scenes, or dialogues appears to be similar to that from another fic or story, it is purely unintentional and coincidental. 'Great minds think alike', after all.

The characterization in the fic is based on the Manga and not the Anime.

Acknowledgement: As always, my heartfelt gratitude goes to my diligent beta readers, who have given invaluable feedback and suggestions. Thank you. :)

And last but not least, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read my stories and write a review. Again, thank you for your patience. My sincere appreciation goes to you. :)


Ninety Days

By forever

Day 55: Unexpected Outcome

After more than an hour of driving, Candy, Albert, and Dr. Martin had finally arrived at the Stephens' House. They were there to attend a party. Earlier, Albert had picked Dr. Martin and Candy up at the clinic, and from there they had gone straight to the venue.

Just several days ago, Dr. Martin had invited both Albert and Candy to accompany him to a gathering that was organized by his cousin, Dr. Jarred Stephens. Candy had to persuade Albert at first, but eventually her housemate had agreed to come. She had been ecstatic, to say the least. It had been a while since she had attended any type of social gathering. In reality, she did not particularly care about that kind of activity, but this time it would be different – Albert would be there with her.

As they made their way toward the entrance, Candy let her eyes scan the surroundings. Dr. Martin hadn't shared much about Dr. Stephens other than the fact that his cousin had spent most of his lifetime in the eastern part of the county. But from what she could observe right now, she could conclude with ease that Dr. Jarred Stephens was obviously a very wealthy man.

The event was being held in a sprawling estate located in an affluent neighborhood neatly tucked within a cluster of rolling green hills that somehow reminded her of Pony Hill. Without letting her currently joyful spirit dampen by nostalgia, she continued admiring the magnificent view around her before fixing her focus on the building in front of her. While her eyes taking in the details, she couldn't stop herself from making a comparison. Even though the Stephens' mansion possessed an impressive architectural style, it was still pale compared to the Andrews' grand estate in Chicago.

Upon seeing the two persons standing by the threshold, Candy, Albert, and Dr. Martin stopped their steps simultaneously. In front of them were a medium stature, middle-aged man with sparse blond hair covering his nearly bald head accompanied by his lady companion, a slender dark haired older woman. They must be Dr. Stephens and his wife and were there to greet them just as any good host and hostess would.

Before any one of them could say anything, Dr. Stephens had come forward and embraced Dr. Martin, slightly startling him. All the while, Candy and Albert remained in their spots and observed the exchange between the two men in silence.

"I'm glad you have decided to come, cousin," Dr. Stephens commented, retracting his arms from around Dr. Martin, and took a step back.

Dr. Martin laughed and replied, "I wouldn't miss this for the world. It's been a while since you're in the Chicago area, Jarred." Gesturing with his head while showing an appreciative look, he then added, "Nice place you have chosen here." His smile faded slightly as deep creases came to view across his forehead. "Are you by any chance planning to reside in the area permanently?"

Dr. Stephens broke into laughter. "You know me so well, Donald," he let out in between laughing. "As a matter of fact, yes we are. It looks like that we're going to see each other more often now."

"I see…" Dr. Martin replied with lack of enthusiasm before shifting his focus at Mrs. Stephens. "How are you, Lesley?" Dr. Martin's patented kind smile was back in place on his face, his lips partially hidden by the white mustache.

Mrs. Stephens' lips curled up in a genuine smile as she said, "It has been a while, Donald. Nora will be pleasantly surprised to see you here, and so will Uncle Joe and Clive." Her voice was tinged with a hint of excitement.

"Are they all here?" Dr. Martin promptly asked wearing an astounded look, and before anyone could answer his question, he continued, "Yes, it has been a long while since we last had a get together like this. Thank you for inviting me."

"Donald – you know that you're always welcome in our house," Dr. Stephens chimed in with a clear voice. "You don't need an invitation to visit us."

There was a brief pause afterward as Dr. Martin seemed to contemplate a comeback.

But instead of throwing a quip, Dr. Martin switched the topic entirely, saying, "And by the way, please let me introduce you to two of my friends who are here with me today."

Dr. Martin lifted his hand a little, giving Candy a quick glance. "This beautiful young lady is Candy. She's an excellent nurse and has been helping me very diligently at the clinic."

Candy felt her cheeks grow warm at Dr. Martin's praises as an abashed smile played across her lips. Then when she unwittingly threw a sideways glance, she found Albert's gentle eyes observing her quietly. Her heartbeat suddenly accelerated, and she quickly whipped her head back toward the front, evading his gaze, and looked right at Mrs. Stephens smiling face.

"Candy? What a lovely name," Mrs. Stephens remarked while her deep chocolate eyes regarded her warmly. "And that's very nice of you to help Dr. Martin, sweetie."

Candy's lips curved up in a gracious smile instantly. "Thank you, ma'am. My real name is actually Candace, but most people call me Candy," she explained. Then, clasping her hands, she sent Dr. Martin a grateful look before fixing her focus back on Mrs. Stephens. "I really do like working with Dr. Martin. I have always looked up to him, and he certainly has taught me a lot," she told Mrs. Stephens sincerely.

A not so subtle snort suddenly escaped out of Dr. Stephens' mouth, prompting all eyes to focus on him. "Of course, he has," Dr. Stephens affirmed in a tone that was borderline sarcastic. "He is an excellent and capable physician who is more than qualified to mentor a team of medical doctors-"

"You flatter me, Jarred," Dr. Martin abruptly interposed. "Candy has seen enough to know how good I am, so it's not necessary for you to prove my credentials to her."

Dr. Stephen opened his mouth, seemingly about to make a counter remark, but without giving him a chance to accomplish that, Dr. Martin began speaking again while patting Albert's back once, "Oh, and this fine young man right here is Albert."

Albert appeared to have been caught by surprise at the sudden introduction, but he recovered quickly, smiling courteously. "It's a pleasure to meet you Dr. Stephens, Mrs. Stephens," Albert told them as he made a small nod, which was immediately returned by Mrs. Stephens' friendly smile.

But Dr. Stephens seemed to be preoccupied with something else entirely and failed to return Albert's greeting. Instead he brought his focus to Dr. Martin and said, "Donald-"

"Jarred darling," Mrs. Stephens addressed her husband as her hand curled over his upper arm, forcing him to halt whatever it was that he was about to speak and direct his attention at his wife. "Perhaps, we should head on our way to the banquet hall - the reception is about to commence," Mrs. Stephens suggested. Despite the sweet smile displayed on Mrs. Stephens face, her voice was firm and held no room for objection.

Dr. Stephens heaved a long sigh of resignation and answered, "I suppose you are right, my dear." Turning to face his guest, he smiled and said, "Once again, thank you for coming everyone. We probably should move to where dinner would be served – I don't want to let the other guests waiting too long for us."

"That's a splendid idea, Jarred," Dr. Martin answered and then added in a half-jesting tone, "I'm starving now. I hope you supply us with plenty of nourishments tonight."

After releasing a brief chuckle, Dr. Stephens assured in a confident tone, "Don't you worry about that, Donald. For tonight's event, Lesley had specifically ordered the chef to prepare an abundant buffet spread. I guarantee that you would appreciate their effort greatly and your picky stomach would be more than satisfied."

Dr. Martin burst out in laughter. "That was a good one, cousin – definitely a good one. Shall we test your claim now then?"

There was an almost imperceptible smirk on Dr. Stephens' face when he replied, "You shall." His hand lowered to gesture for them to proceed. "Please."

As soon as Dr. Stephens had finished saying that, Dr. Martin strolled past him, leaving Albert and Candy to exchange unsure looks. Despite the perpetual smiles on their faces, Candy could sense the tension underneath the casual banters between the two cousins. In a way, now she understood what had motivated Dr. Martin to invite both Albert and her to accompany him.

Not long after that, Dr. Stephens and his wife began to advance forward before Albert and Candy eventually joined them, pacing across the long corridor that connected the foyer to the main hall. Shortly, they arrived at their destination as they stepped inside a spacious room that was bustling with flurries of activities. The Stephens then immediately excused themselves to attend to their other guests. Upon the Stephens' departure, Dr. Martin eagerly pushed Albert and Candy to move toward one of the buffet stations.

As Albert, Dr. Martin, and her were standing in a queue to get their food, Candy let her eyes sweep the view before her. The place was packed with guests mingling about in groups scattered all around the room while sampling the delectable servings of food right off the two long buffet tables that were set up on the two opposite sides of the room. In contrast with the formal event she had attended in the past at the Lakewood Mansion, the one tonight was less formal, and all the attendees seemed relaxed and comfortable in their Sunday attire, foregoing extravagant gowns and luxurious suits. That was a good thing since none of them had worn anything spectacular – Albert had come straight from his work place still donning his work attire, a blue shirt and black trousers, which looked rather nice actually. She herself was in the dress she had on since the morning, and the same could be said about Dr. Martin.

Tonight certainly had turned quite interesting. She hadn't expected that attending the party would give her a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of who Dr. Martin really was. Even though she had worked for the old doctor for nearly a year, she barely knew him beyond what she could already perceive from him. All this time, the doctor had kept mum about himself, and she hadn't bothered asking any questions. She was not the kind of person who liked to intrude on other people's private affair after all. Nonetheless, she couldn't deny that she was a bit curious at times with regard to Dr. Martin's background. For some reason, she had suspected that her old mentor was not just a random, unknown doctor, who out of the blue had decided to open a clinic providing care for low-income families. And her hunch had been proven to have some weights tonight, especially after meeting Dr. Martin's very own cousin, Dr. Stephens. And she had a feeling that soon she might learn even more about her mysterious mentor as she and Albert listened to him talking while tasting the delicious food from their plates.

According to Dr. Martin, his cousin was a prominent individual in the medical arena, one of the distinguished faculty members in the prestigious John Hopkins University, and at the same time he held the coveted title of senior director at the university hospital. Upon Albert's gentle probing and under her astonished gaze, Dr. Martin eventually admitted that he came from the same rank as Dr. Stephens and had even sat in the top leadership position. However, after a while, he had grown weary, feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied despite his numerous achievements, before he ultimately resigned from his post and moved to Chicago. The doctor confessed that this was the time when he had acquired his alcohol addiction.

Candy could deduce from Dr. Martin's morose look that this wasn't a subject he wanted to delve further and surmised that there were more to the story than what they had been told, but she decided not to question him anymore. So she and Albert were caught off guard when the doctor suddenly chuckled and resumed his story, telling them it was during the dark period in his life that he had begun to see how much light he could truly bring to the world around him.

The doctor must have noticed her and Albert's puzzled expressions after hearing his cryptic phrase as he gave them a pensive smile and continued, his voice mellow, "From the bleakest time in my life emerged the most valuable lesson I have ever gained over a lifetime. Happiness couldn't be measured with material possessions or fame and prestige, but it is all about how much one could do to bring joy in someone else's life." Dr. Martin paused momentarily as a wide smile gradually developed on his face. "And that was the beginning of Happy Clinic."

When Candy heard that, she could only look at Dr. Martin in rapt admiration as the appreciation she had for her mentor multiplied. He could've earned top dollars working in a well-known, big hospitals all over the country as opposed to the mere scraps and pennies he made treating under privileged patients right out of his dilapidated shack. Yet he had remained where he was, devoting his life to serving the community.

"I have always great respect for people like you, Dr. Martin," Albert told Dr. Martin in earnest, his blue gaze gleaming with reverence.

Then, all of the sudden, a loud, distinct voice could be heard coming from the speakers, bringing the once buzzing place to near absolute silence as people ceased their conversations abruptly to direct their attention toward the raised platform in the front of the room. A smiling Dr. Stephens and his wife stood there to formally address all the guests, thanking them for their attendance. Dr. Stephens then shared briefly about his family and the reason why they had moved to Chicago. Finally, as he made his closing remarks, he announced that in a few minutes the dancing would begin. As soon as the Dr. Stephens finished talking, the noises returned as thunderous clapping mixed with sporadic excited shrieks and laughter echoed from across the room.

Albert bent closer toward Candy's side, commenting, "I didn't know that there would be dancing."

Candy's head swiftly turned toward him as she observed his face. She couldn't tell whether he was being serious or not.

"Well, this is my cue to leave," Dr. Martin suddenly declared, causing Candy to steer her focus away from Albert. "I will defer the dancing activity to the younger generation. My weak back can't sustain all the movements. Besides, it's about time I make my rounds to reintroduce myself to the family. I'll see you two in a bit." With a quick smile, he stepped away from them and soon disappeared in the crowd.

Without Dr. Martin there, Candy became more conscious of Albert's presence, and she just then became aware that it was just the two of them now. Taking a glance at him, she recognized the contemplative look on his face right away. "Don't tell me that you've never attended a party before," she told him in a slight mocking tone.

He didn't say anything in response and only stared at her briefly before turning his head in another direction.

It was difficult to use plain words to describe the expression that had flickered across his face just now. There was a touch of melancholy in there, and that utterly baffled her. Her original intention had been to tease him a bit, but seeing his rather solemn reaction, she didn't know whether she should continue or initiate a different topic.

After a few moments, he finally broke his speechlessness and said, "Let's just say that my circumstances required me to avoid any type of public gathering, except those that were held inside the school campus."

Frankly, she had no idea what he was talking about. "What circumstances?" she asked curiously. However, right at that time, the band began playing the first piece quite loudly, drowning her voice completely.

She exchanged befuddled glances with him before she found herself being fascinated by the commotion generated by the couples from all around them rushing to reach the dance floor in the middle of the room. After a few moments, once the crowd had dispersed, she could see couples gliding gracefully across the dance floor in sync with the beat from the music. Just then she recalled that the music had intruded her earlier as she had been about to ask him something. But before she could reiterate her question, someone approached them.

The male stranger took a step closer to her, bowing slightly. "Pardon me, miss. Would you like to dance?"

She surely hadn't expected that type of question from a stranger and could only stare at him with a slightly parted mouth before glancing at Albert, whose eyes seemed to be fixed at the man. Albert must have sensed that she was looking at him since he then turned his face toward her.

"I'm sorry – have I interrupted anything?" the man's inquiry caused Albert and her to abruptly tear their gazing from each other and refocused their attentions back on the man. "I apologize if I have," the man told them in a remorseful tone.

There was a brief silence before she heard Albert saying, "No, you have not interrupted anything."

Right after he had said that, she swiftly whipped her head toward him, her brows furrowed. What he had just told the stranger was not the complete truth at all.

"Well, that is good to know," the man said with relief in his tone. Then, clearing his throat, he drew his focus to her and asked, "Would you like to dance?"

"Are you asking me?" she asked dumbly, pointing a finger at herself.

While the dark haired man just stared at her, looking rather amused, a few chuckles broke away from Albert's throat. "Candy – I don't think he was referring to me, " Albert stated in a playful tone. Then after smiling politely at the stranger, he brought his focus back to her and added in a clear voice, "You should go."

"Albert – are you sure?" she found herself asking him in an instant. "I mean I don't want to-"

Albert placed his hand lightly over her shoulder and told her in a gentle assuring voice, his lips arching slightly into a faint half smile, "Don't worry about me. Go ahead. I'll be fine here."

Candy determined that Albert was clearly not interested in spending time with her right now and had even encouraged her to dance with someone else. Reluctantly, while nursing her disappointment, she agreed to dance with the young man, who upon further inspection looked rather handsome with his light brown eyes and deep chestnut hair, and she let him escort her to the dance floor.

As Candy and her companion moved farther away, she completely missed seeing Albert's smile dissolve into a thin line, his eyes downcast.

xxxxxxxxxxxxccccccccxxxxxxxx xxxxx

Candy was by no means an expert at dancing; her partner on the other hand seemed to be exactly that. It didn't take long before he noticed her awkward movement. After apologizing for being inconsiderate to which she disagreed right away, he slowed down their pace, patiently guiding her to move across the floor. After a few moments had elapsed, her mood seemed to have improved as she pondered less and less about Albert, focusing her attention to follow her partner's lead instead. Luckily, she was quite familiar with the waltz movement. The current dance steps somehow resembled that, yet the rhythm and steps were different. The non-classical style music was also not something that she was accustomed to.

"Foxtrot," the man suddenly uttered, dispelling the silence between them.

"Huh? Foxtrot?" she repeated in a doubtful tone.

He gave her an understanding smile and clarified, "The dance is called Foxtrot. I can tell from earlier that you thought this was waltz, but it's not. They're very similar though."

Her mouth curved up into a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry. I only know waltz," she said in an apologetic tone.

A deep chuckle escaped his throat as he responded, "That's okay. It's good that you know waltz at least. As you can see, you're catching up fast, miss…" His words lingered as he looked at her expectantly with his dark brows raised.

Comprehending his intention, she smiled warmly and told him, "Candy – please call me Candy."

"Nice to meet you, Candy," he replied with a grin. "I'm Darren."

Her dance partner turned out to be no other than Darren Stephens, Dr. Stephens' grandson. She almost didn't believe him when he mentioned that this was his first time in Chicago. Without thinking twice, she told him that she would be happy to show him around the city, and he gladly accepted her offer at once. But then, while they continued with their dancing, something embarrassing occurred - she suddenly felt the urgent need to use the toilet. Thankfully, Darren didn't laugh at her and had even offered to escort her to the guests' lavatory area, which was located on the basement floor of the large house. She would've easily lost her way if he hadn't guided her to the place.

When Candy returned to the main hall about fifteen minutes later, she couldn't restrain herself from checking on Albert. However he was no longer in the place she had seen him last. Then, as she threw a glance to the right absently, she spotted his familiar tall figure hovering by the refreshment table on the other side of the room. The corners of her lips rose instantly, but before the smile fully materialized, her jaw dropped in bewilderment. He was not alone.

While she was still reeling, standing stagnant on her feet, she saw him talking while exchanging smiles with a beautiful blond woman before they moved toward the dance floor, and once there, began dancing. At that instant, she felt a dull pain throbbing in her chest. Unable to withstand looking at him with another woman, she abruptly whirled around to find Darren approaching her.

Darren had left her for a few minutes earlier to talk with some people and had invited her to come along, but she had politely declined. The truth was she somehow had felt awful for neglecting Albert and had wanted to go back to him. But now she found out she had no reason to be worried as what she had just seen showed that he was more than capable to entertain himself in her absence. If he could do that, why couldn't she?

Fixing her gaze on Darren, she flashed him the widest smile she could muster.

"Would you like to continue our dance?" Darren asked and quickly added in a teasing tone, "We didn't quite complete the one from earlier."

Facing him, she let out an embarrassed chuckle. "I'm sorry for the sudden interruption."

Soon, she was back on the dance floor swaying to the music with her new friend. However, unlike the first round, this time, no matter how much effort she had put in, she struggled to concentrate as questions kept swirling continuously inside her mind. Why wouldn't Albert dance with her? What was the reason he had urged her to dance with Darren? A rather dreadful thought suddenly flew to her mind. Had he done that so he could be free to dance with other women? Without her consent, her gaze strayed toward a familiar blond couple not too far away. Then, out of her expectation, Albert suddenly spun his head in her direction. Her heart jumped as she stared right into a pair of piercing blue eyes.

"If you're bored, we can stop now, Candy." Darren's voice startled her, causing her head to jerk abruptly back toward him.

She felt guilty realizing that Darren must have been aware of her inattentiveness just now. After a few seconds, she finally told him, "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just a little exhausted. We have come directly from work."

His brown eyes widened slightly. "Did you? Well, in that case, maybe we should take a break now," he suggested.

She quickly attempted to convince him, "No – I'm fine. Really."

Darren gave her a doubtful look, but he kept quiet after seeing her reassuring smile. Then they just continued their dance in silence. This time, she put an extra effort to draw her focus solely on the dance and to not let her eyes or mind wander.

"I hope you don't mind me asking. I've been meaning to ask you earlier," Darren suddenly said, breaking through the silence between them. "The person you were with earlier – is he your boyfriend?"

It wasn't a weird question, and she should have seen it coming. However, to actually answer it was not something she had been prepared to do at all. Forcing a smile on her lips, she shook her head weakly and replied, "No, he is not."

"I see…" His chocolate eyes sought hers in a scrutinizing gaze, evoking an uneasy feeling within her, and she swiftly lowered her eyes to avoid directly looking at him.

Another moment of quietness fell upon them as they moved along with the music. But she just didn't seem to have enough strength to continue anymore. Tipping her head up to face him, she cleared her throat briefly to attract his attention, before saying, "Darren – would you mind if we take a break now?" An awkward chuckle was emitted from her throat as she added, "You were right – I guess I do need to rest a bit."

She had intended to stay on the dance floor at least until the current musical piece finished playing, yet she acknowledged that now was just not a good time for her to be on the dance floor, let alone to be enjoying a dance, while she was inundated with a mixture of emotions. The party that she had thought would be filled with gaiety had brought her nothing but misery. She had imagined a time full of laughter with Albert, but at the moment, laughing was the last thing she wanted to do.

To Be Continued

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I would love to know what you think. So, please don't hesitate to send me your feedback. -forever-


Author's Remark:

Isn't this such a short and sweet chapter? ;) I know you're probably going to say that the chapter is too short, but don't worry I'll post the next one very soon. Promise. :) Is Candy going to have a chance to dance with Albert at all? Or is she going to turn to Darren now? What is going on with Albert? Stay tuned for the next chapter. -forever-

And just in case you're interested and you don't mind spoilers, l've posted teasers in my wordpress blog.

References/Notes:

The part about Dr. Martin and his family is completely out of my own imagination. I have decided to explore, delving a bit deeper into the life of Dr. Martin. The manga doesn't give too much details about him, yet I always think that he is not just an unknown doctor with mediocre skills. That along with his personality makes him an interesting character for the story, especially since he is the only one who has the opportunity to interact closely with Candy and Albert.

Foxtrot is quite popular during the mid 1910s and is a type of ballroom dancing. The movement has some similarities to waltz but the count instead of 3/4 is 4/4.

In the manga, Candy has danced twice. The first time is during the party in Lakewood, and the other one is when she was in London while attending St. Paul's Academy. Based on what I can gather from the manga, I assume that she has danced to classical (waltz) music at both times.

Replies to comments:

rowelorena - thank you. I'm glad you liked the chapter. Hopefully, you'd find this new one as enjoyable.

Guest M - thanks for the kind words. Yes, the ninety-day period is almost over - it's about a little bit over a month left now, and you see that their somehow moving in the right direction - or not. ;)

janja8 - thanks for following this story. I hope I can keep feeding you with chapters until you're completely satisfied. ;)

keilanot2 - but, he did kiss her, even though it wasn't on the lips. Thank you for reading, sweet ;)

EnakaT - thank you for the kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to read the chapter. Good luck with your drawing.

albertcraze - I'm glad you liked the story. You can follow the story, then you'll be able to get notification.

Ms Puddleglum - thank you for the kind words. I'm glad you liked the chapter. Yeah I thought that 'sandwich' scene is quite a poignant one. Albert truly shows his devotion to her there, but Candy doesn't seem to get it right yet at that time. As far the confession, hmmm... we shall see. ;)

a happy reader - I'm always happy to read your comments and to see how you've truly enjoyed the story. I just hope that I don't disappoint you with the new chapter. I just added a bit more drama for them to sort through. ;)

GG - Please don't feel guilty - I'm glad you found my story to be quite enjoyable. I actually feel guilty for taking so long to update. I agree with what you said with regard to how the original story progresses and how it ends. And I will try my best to give it a satisfying ending. In the mean time, I hope I can continue to peak your interest with the chapters. Once again, thank you for the kind and encouraging words. :)

Lezti Bella - But Candy didn't seem to realize that the picnic was kind of a 'date' huh? Albert just has to work harder to woo her. ;)