By morning the fog had subsided and a thin ray of sunlight poked through the curtains of the motel, stirring Diane from her sleep. It was only then that she remembered Kevin and was seized by a renewed surge of guilt, different than before; it was simultaneously made more bearable and worse as she looked to Sam, still asleep beside her, and felt – despite external discomforts – almost entirely at peace. It took all her energy not to curl against him and go back to bed, but the thought of what had to be done nagged at her, and so she reached out and shook him gently. After a moment his eyes fluttered open and he looked up at her, his lips twisted into a crooked grin.
"G'morning," he mumbled. She leaned in and kissed him but retreated quickly, still following his movements as he pulled himself to a seated position and stretched against the headboard, yawning.
"Sam," she murmured slowly. "We have, uh, Frasier's lecture in a few hours, and I think… I should probably talk to Kevin."
"Aw," he smirked, flopping back onto his side and pulling her into his arms. "Do we have to?" This suggestion struck her as impossibly tempting – she could think of nothing she would prefer to spending the day in the dirty motel bed – but even as he spoke these words he seemed to know that they were not a true possibility. With some hesitation he released her and rolled out of the bed, collecting his clothes from the floor and beginning to dress. She grudgingly followed his lead, and when – after a few moments – they were ready to depart, they stood at the door together and surveyed the room.
"I don't believe," she said, smirking, "that we paid for rooms at the Marriot and stayed here." The motel – the first one they had been able to find – was cheap and dirty, the kind of place she had never stayed and previously could only imagine from the not-altogether-welcome anecdotes that Carla sometimes used to share about her sex life. Sam wrapped an arm around her waist and turned to her.
"Sweetheart, I've been staying at the Marriot since Monday night, and believe me, this was a lot better."
They took a cab back to the hotel and during the ride Diane tried to plan out her course of action with Kevin. "I will have to be very careful with him," she thought aloud to Sam. "I imagine he will be utterly shattered by this, a broken shell of a man – you remember what that's like, of course."
"Right," he grinned indulgently.
"I just don't want him to do anything… drastic. Perhaps we should talk to Frasier first, he might have some insight on how I can broach the subject."
"That's a good idea," Sam agreed.
But when they arrived in the fourth floor hallway, it was not Frasier who opened the door. "Kevin!" she exclaimed, taken aback. He was still wearing his clothes from the day before and was looking at her warily, as if he was seeing her with entirely new eyes. "I… I didn't expect –"
"To find me here?" he finished snidely, pushing the door open entirely so she could see inside. Norm was seated at the table, and Frasier had just risen and was also approaching the door. They too had not changed clothes, and Frasier's tie was loose around his neck.
"I… What are you –"
"Male bonding," Frasier explained, shrugging.
"They've been telling me about you," Kevin said, looking shifty and uncomfortable as he met her eyes. "Stories…"
"What kinds of stories?"
"I just told him what I thought probably happened," Frasier said.
"And what was that?"
"He said," Kevin began, and then turned to Frasier. "How did you put it? He said that you're a… a soul-munching seductress who gains her vitality by devouring the hearts of men, and that you make Lady Chatterley look like the portrait of fidelity… And that you are inexplicably obsessed with that man," here he nodded in Sam's direction, "despite the fact that you have nothing in common and your entire relationship together seems to be a contest of who can make the other more miserable." At this the guardedness in his expression dissipated into concern, and he took her hands. "Diane," he said, "I think you need serious psychiatric help."
She jolted away from his touch, staring at Frasier incredulously. The description was so outlandish that part of her was almost amused, but she felt a pang of hurt and guilt as well and wondered fleetingly if this was really how Frasier viewed her.
"Oh, come on," he shrugged, upon seeing her shocked expression. "So I had a drink… or five… What else am I supposed to do for kicks? We've been up all night playing poker, drinking scotch…"
"You played poker with three people?" Sam asked.
"Okay, so it was Go Fish. But there was still many a manly wager placed…"
"Wait!" Kevin interjected, suddenly worried. "You said we weren't playing for keeps!"
"Shut up, Kevin."
"Sorry, Doctor Crane."
"I told you," Frasier said, his tone exasperated. "You don't have to keep apologizing to me, and you don't have to call me Doctor Crane."
"Sorry, uh, Frasier," Kevin mumbled sheepishly. "It won't happen again."
"Frasier," Diane continued heatedly. "What did you tell him would happen?"
"Uh," Norm interrupted, raising his hand as if he were posing a question in class. "If it's any consolation, Diane, I said he probably killed you and dumped your body in the Bay and went on the run."
At this Sam gave a snort of amusement and she turned to him reproachfully, feeling as if she were a city under siege. He met her eyes with an apologetic shrug and she refocused her gaze on Frasier. "What did you tell him would happen?" she repeated.
"Well," he smirked darkly. "Why don't you tell us what did happen, and we'll see if I'm right."
But Diane could not think of anything to say. She had imagined the scenario so differently, and did not know how to explain herself to this new, reproving Kevin, who seemed to have come under Frasier's strange tutelage. The five of them stood in silence for a long moment before Sam finally spoke.
"We were mourning the loss of the dinosaurs," he said simply, fixing Kevin with a meaningful stare. "I'm sorry," he added, and reached into his pocket, extracting the joint he had rolled the day before. "Uh, I know it's not much… But here."
Kevin looked completely baffled as he took the joint, his gaze never leaving Sam's face. "Um," he said. "Thank you…?" And then he turned back to Diane. "Seriously, I know a little retreat in the country… It might do you a world of good."
"There's nothing wrong with me!" she exclaimed. "Sam, tell them there's nothing wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong with her," he chorused obediently, and for a moment she began to feel that this was, without a doubt, the stupidest situation she had ever endured - but then he wrapped an arm protectively around her waist and pulled her closer. "Give her a break, you guys," he said. "We've uh, had a rough go of it, you know. We were really torn up about those dinosaurs. It's my fault too."
Frasier was watching this display with an expression of morbid amusement across his face, but Kevin still looked taken aback. "Diane," he said hesitantly. "Are you sure?"
"Yes!" she cried, with conviction. "Sam doesn't make me miserable. I was… I was making myself miserable."
"Yeah," Sam echoed, grinning mischievously. "And I just happened to be there, you know, like an innocent bystander, so everyone blamed me."
"Sam!" she reproached, rolling her eyes.
"No, but really," he said, pulling her still closer and biting his lip, as if unsure whether or not he should continue. "I'm… I'm sorry, to both of you. We've never, uh, handled this very well… But the truth is, I've been in love with this woman for twenty years, and I never want to see her unhappy again. I'm not, uh… perfect… But I'm not going to make her miserable."
"Oh Sam," she murmured, beaming at him, and Frasier rolled his eyes indulgently. She felt suddenly compelled to continue talking – although she had no idea what about. "And what is love?" she extrapolated blindly. "It asks you not your name, your age… It doesn't contort itself to fit within the confines of society, it asks only what lies inside your heart… What desperate, tortured, yearning passions burn with white-hot intensity inside –"
"Um, Diane," Sam interrupted. "Is this really the right time?"
"Oh," she mumbled, blushing. "I guess not."
"Well," Frasier conceded. "Maybe I've been a little unfair. No, never mind, I haven't been. But you know already, of course, that I have long since forgiven you, Diane."
Perhaps taking Frasier's lead, Kevin too stepped forward. "I… I think I can forgive you too… In time," he said slowly.
"Thank you, Kevin," she whispered, meeting his eyes. "I'm so sorry if I hurt you. I never wanted to."
"Yeah," he shrugged, and added as an afterthought, "Maybe it's for the best. You really are a nutcase! Those stories they told me!"
"Frasier!" she exclaimed, some of the irritation returning to her voice. "What on earth did you tell him?"
"Norm's stories were the best," Kevin said.
"Oh," he mumbled. "Actually, I didn't really have any Diane stories. Those were about my mother-in-law."
"Wow!" Kevin cried. "She's really crazy!"
"Well…" Frasier peered at his watch and then looked back up at them. "I have a lecture to give in a matter of hours, so I think I'll change. I'd recommend you all do the same."
For the first time since waking, Diane remembered the lecture – the reason she had come to San Francisco in the first place. "Right!" she said, a little surprised by the realization. "Frasier, how are you going to give that lecture? You've been up all night, drinking…"
He waved a dismissive hand. "Nothing I haven't done before!" he grinned. "Anyway, I was practicing my speech between sharing horror stories about you."
"It was riveting," Norm smirked. "Even better than Cliff's Florida stories." They paused for a moment, until Frasier posed a hesitant question.
"Uh, how is everyone getting there?" he asked. "To Berkeley?"
This thought had occurred to Diane too, since it seemed apparent that her original plans were no longer quite so accommodating.
"Let's all take your car," Norm said, grinning a little ironically.
"All of us?" Frasier asked. Diane looked at Kevin, whose eyebrows were arched skeptically, and stiffened with discomfort. But then he nodded slowly, ignoring her completely to beam at Norm and Frasier.
"Yeah," he agreed. "My pals!"
"Right," Norm snorted, but there was a trace of affection in his voice as he clapped Kevin on the back. "You don't have a lot of friends in L.A., do you?"
As Diane watched them trail from the room she knew suddenly that the sensation of discomfort and guilt would never quite go away; and that her mistakes could not be retracted, and the past would always lay ominously in her wake, unrealized. But then she grew aware of Sam's hand still clasped around her waist, and these thoughts seemed to vanish, however momentarily. The past could not be restored, and her old life was gone, but she felt that, perhaps, a new life was beginning to ascend from the ashes - and she resolved to cultivate it to the best of her abilities. However much was lost, the future still stretched before her – its possibilities boundless – and for the first time in years, she was excited to see what it held in store.