The drive from Port Charles to Attica was typical. Dillon had made the drive so many times that he barely noticed the scenery any more. He just appreciated the time alone as his quiet time. Time to think on the future and time to congratulate himself for the past. Everything was shaping up according to plan. The Cassadines were sidetracked by Dominik’s disappearance and Dara’s mysterious illness. And the others on his list—the Hardys, the Quartermaines and the Corinthos clans—would all meet their fate in time. He chuckled softly to himself in glee. The past ten years of setting up the dominoes would be worth it when they all began to fall. His chuckle faded to a broad smile. It would definitely be a glorious sight to behold.
The five hours on the road passed quickly. He guided his sleek black 500 SL down the long, lonely road that led to Attica Correctional Facility. Mentally, he prepared himself for the intense inspection he would endure. The degrading ritual was a necessity that he understood even if he didn’t like it. Besides, it was only a passing moment in his life. Almost as soon as it was over, he was led to the private room where he waited to fulfill his monthly visit to his friend.
Through the glass partition and on the other side of the room, the door opened and his friend appeared. Prison life had aged him and he shuffled when he walked. His dark brown hair had been replaced by gray. Lines wrinkled his brow and his eyes were murky with humiliation and resignation. Dillon frowned as he noted how prison life had changed Robert Jensen. Rising from his seat, he placed his hand against the three-inch thick glass pane that separated them. Smiling gently, he said, "Hello, Robert."
"Hi, Dillon," the older man said as he placed his hand against the pane for a brief moment. His brown eyes came to life and he smiled. Taking a deep breath, he sat and shook his head. "I told you that I don't expect you to keep visiting me."
"I told you that I'd never stop," Dillon informed him as he sat down, too. "Someone should visit you, especially since your daughters-"
"Now, now." Robert silenced Dillon with a wave of his hand. "They have their reasons, I'm sure. I don't want to dwell on them. They have their lives and I have mine."
"But without you, they wouldn't have life," Dillon argued. "And what kind of life is this? One behind bars? Either of them could have seen to your release. Dara was a judge and Dawn married a bank. I would have done the deed myself ages ago and soon as I have control of my trust fund, I will!"
"Dillon no!" Robert exclaimed in a fierce whisper. He looked over his shoulder towards the guard who manned the door before leaning toward the partition. His dark gaze held Dillon's with a penetrating stare. "Don't you dare waste your fortune on me."
"Juan would have-"
Robert shook his head, as he interjected, "Juan wouldn't have done a damn thing for me. I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to help him. I made my bed and now I have to lie in it. You must forget the past and look towards the future. Now, tell me about the young lady you mentioned in your letters. How is that working out?"
Dillon flushed as he thought of Elizabeth. For a moment, his mind flashed back to the first time he saw her. New Year's Eve in New York… He was still a kid then, but his heart pounded like a man's. She was so beautiful and animated as she dined with Juan and her aunt. She hadn't noticed him, of course, but he had never forgotten her. As he matured, he often dated petite brunettes with perky personalities. But no matter how many women came in and out of his life, none of them compared to Elizabeth Webber. Soon, he realized that substitutes would no longer suffice. He needed the real woman in his life.
"Everything is fine," he said with a smile. "We're taking it slowly and I think it's best. She's been hurt and I don't want to rush her."
Robert nodded. "This sounds serious."
"I have strong feelings for her," he admitted. "I've cared for her for quite sometime. Now, I think she's realizing that she feels the same."
"That's good," Robert said with a smile. "I didn't want to imagine you out there alone. So, what else are you doing?"
Dillon shrugged. "Not much. A little of this…a little of that. Nothing much to make mention of."
Robert shook his head and frowned. "You're too young to be so idle. Don't let your life pass you by without making a good name for yourself."
Dillon's mouth curved into a secret smile. "I won't. Believe me, Robert, I won't."
Deep in thought, he almost missed his wife's soft whisper. Turning to regard her behind dark, thoughtful eyes, he said, "Yes, Caroline? What is it?"
"Bobbie said that she'd help me with Michael," Carly told him as she stepped down into his office. She sat down on the edge of his desk and picked up the autographed baseball that he kept on display there. Twirling the ball in her hands, she said, "I think she means it."
He gave her faint smile. "I am glad for that and happy for you." He patted her knee gently and then looked down at the work on his desk. He had reports on top of reports waiting for him, but he was unable to concentrate on any of them. Sadness had crept over him and prevented him from decisive thought.
Carly put the ball back down on the table before placing her hand on top of Vincent's. She squeezed his hand. "Is something wrong? I thought your reaction would be bigger than that."
"I'm a little out of sorts today," he admitted. "Nothing to worry yourself over. And even if I don't show it, I am very excited for both you and Michael. No boy should be without his mother. I'm sure with Barbara's help, you will be fine."
"What's wrong?" she asked him when he stood up abruptly and stood facing the window with his back to her. "Are the unions giving you problems? I can help you with that. I can do more than decorate a house, you know."
"I am quite aware of your skills," Vincent said with smile, "but there are some things that even you cannot help me with. I need to go out for a while. When I return, let's spend the day simply enjoying ourselves." He moved to look at her again. "Does this idea please you?"
A confused frown darkened her brow. She didn't voice her confusion, but shrugged instead. "Sure, Vincent. That sounds okay. I'll be here when you get back."
He went to her and placed a chaste kiss upon her cheek. "Thank you, Caroline. I won't be gone long."
Vincent left her in his office, and after grabbing his coat, he went outside to his waiting driver. He informed the older, stocky man where he wanted to go and then climbed into the backseat. As soon as the additional bodyguard claimed the front passenger seat, the driver started the ignition and took off.
They rode in silence to Saint Mary's Catholic church. The black limo was parked in the back and alone, Vincent left the vehicle to go into the cemetery. His men knew better than to follow him inside and since there was only one entrance and exit, they were certain of his safety. Besides, no one was foolish or vindictive enough to try anything on hallowed ground.
Vincent made the sign of the cross as he opened the black wrought-iron gate. He had only visited this place once, but he knew the path from memory. A man never forgot where his mother was buried. Even if he didn't remember her, he would remember that.
Anticipation made his heart pump wildly in his chest. Carefully, he moved through the rows. He passed many tombstones with decorative wreaths and fragrant flowers. With a frown, he scolded himself for his forgetfulness. He should have not come empty handed. Next time, he wouldn't.
He found the grave and was immediately overcome with emotion. His vision became blurred with unshed tears and his throat constricted. Kneeling down, he made the sign of the cross again and prayed, "Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Lord Jesus Christ, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell, and the deep abyss. Oh blessed Virgin, pray to God for us always, that He may pardon us and give us grace, so to live here below that He may reward us with paradise at our death."
When he was done, he traced the letters on the tombstone with trembling fingers.
Lily Rivera Corinthos
"Your death will be avenged, Mama," Vincent vowed as he rose. "We are only at the beginning now, but as Brenda Barrett paid for her misdeeds, so will Sonny Corinthos. In time, that final house of deceit will fall and he will wish he had been in that car so many years ago instead of you. I will see to that."
The many children at the casa spent most of their time frolicking on the sand and playing in the warm ocean waters. All of them except one. Ciarda rarely joined the others at play. If her twin wasn't with her, the little girl spent her time alone. Her laugh was rarely heard and her smile seldom seen. Gina and Simone tried in many ways to draw the little girl out, but nothing worked. Unable to witness another day of the child's sadness, Keesha decided that she had to put her training to use and help Ciarda open up.
"Hi, sweetie," she said, joining Ciarda on the shaded steps of the terrace. "Whatcha doing?"
Ciarda shrugged her small bronze shoulders and kept her eyes downcast. "Looking at the pictures in my book."
"Wouldn't you rather go and play with the others in the water?" Keesha asked.
Ciarda shook her head.
Keesha glanced down at the book. The title read "Tales from Mother Goose." She held out her hand and asked, "May I?"
Ciarda handed the book to Keesha and sat down on the empty space beside her. Her expressive eyes were solemn as she took turns looking at the older woman and at the book.
"Are you reading the rhymes, too?" Keesha asked, as she flipped through the pages of the book. The illustrations were nicely done and reminded Keesha of the books she had as child and the ones in the library at the Ward House. As she felt Ciarda's eyes watching her closely, she sensed that there was a strong possibility that whatever bothered the child could be found in the book. She'd have to make sure to pay close attention and not miss any of the little girl's reactions.
"I was reading 'Jack and Jill' earlier," Ciarda answered. "Then I stopped to look at the pictures."
"Oh, yeah?" Keesha murmured. She placed the book on her lap and sat so that Ciarda had a good view of it. She started at the beginning and slowly turned the pages. "Which pictures did you look at?"
"All of them," Ciarda said.
"Do you have a favorite? Maybe the picture of Old Mother Hubbard or Little Red Riding Hood or Georgie Porgie?"
Ciarda shrugged again. "They're all okay. Little Red Riding Hood is pretty and so are the girls that Georgie kissed."
Keesha went to the page with a picture of Little Red Riding Hood. The illustration showed a girl with blonde, curls, bright blue eyes and peaches and cream complexion. The same was found with the Georgie Porgie poem. She quickly went through the book and found that most of the illustrations were the same. All of the children had fair skin and none of them looked anything like Ciarda. Frowning, she wondered if those images bothered the child more deeply than the little one could voice. She closed the book. "Why do you think they're pretty?"
"I don't know. My teacher said so and the pictures look like my Mommy so they must be pretty."
"Is being pretty important?" Keesha asked.
"People like you when you're pretty," Ciarda answered. "Alanna is pretty."
Keesha looked down into Ciarda's watery hazel eyes and her heart lurched. The poor baby didn't realize that she was just as pretty as her sister. Someone had taught her that darker skin wasn't beautiful and the little one believed them. Who would hurt a child like that? She wondered and why? She put the book behind them and patted her lap. "Come here."
Ciarda climbed into Keesha's lap. Tears began to spill down her cheeks and she buried her head against Keesha's chest. Keesha wrapped her arms around the sobbing child and rested her chin against the youngster's dark curls.
"You're pretty, too," Keesha began.
"No, I'm not," the little girl mumbled. "I'm not and nobody likes me or wants to play with me."
"I don't agree with you," Keesha said gently as she stroked the child's back. "I think you're just as pretty as Alanna, your mother and any other little girl out there. I also happen to know that a lot of people like you, too. The other kids want to play with you, but they're afraid that you don't like them."
"You're being nice, Auntie Keesha," Ciarda said with sadness. "They don't like me be-because…"
"Why?" Keesha prompted. The little girl didn't answer and Keesha added, "Do you think it's because your skin is darker than Alanna's and your mother's?"
Ciarda didn't respond at first and then, she slowly nodded. "My teacher never hugged and talked to the kids who look like me. Teacher only likes the kids who look like Alanny."
"Well, it sounds to me like your teacher has some problems," Keesha commented, trying her best to keep her growing anger in check. "Actually, your teacher is wrong to behave like that. You are just as special as Alanna no matter what color your skin is. Don't you think your Grandma Simone is special?"
"Yes," she mumbled.
"And what about Mrs. Cassadine, your Auntie Dawn and me?" Keesha asked. "Baby, there is nothing wrong with you and there is no reason why anyone wouldn't want to hug or play with you. I have to keep from grabbing you and hugging you every time I see you, but sometimes, I can't resist!"
Keesha kissed Ciarda's cheeks and tickled the little girl's sides until her tears dried and she erupted with laughter. Their moment was soon interrupted by the appearance of George who had heard their giggles from the beach. He stood with his hands on his hips as he looked down at his mother and the sweet little girl. "What's going on here? Why weren't the rest of us invited to this party?"
Ciarda giggled. "You can join us, Georgie."
He gave her a teasing frown and shook his head. "I don't think I can fit on Mama's lap anymore and my Dad would get me if I tried." He extended his hand to Ciarda. "Maybe you'd like to join us on the beach. We're having a sand castle contest and I need a partner. Will you help me?"
She became quiet and still as she stared at him. "Do you want me to play with you?"
"Yes!" he exclaimed. He grabbed her hands and pulled her from Keesha's lap. "Come on! If we win, we get huge banana splits!"
"I love banana splits!" Ciarda squealed. "Okay."
George held her hand as he led her towards the beach. As they reached the sand, she turned around and waved, "Bye, Auntie Keesha!"
Keesha waved back, "Bye, sweetie!"
The soft sigh of a sniffle startled Keesha and looked over her shoulder to find that Gina was there. She stood up and pulled her friend into a comforting embrace.
"I had no idea," Gina answered. "I should have realized. The signs were all there."
"Don't blame yourself," Keesha softly advised as their hug ended. The two women sat down at the table and looked across the beach at the children working furiously in pairs to build the best and biggest sand castle. "There was no way you could have known what that teacher was doing. It's not your fault."
"I'm here mother!" Gina said, pounding her fist angrily. "I should have seen something especially when she started comparing herself to Alanna and me. Tommy and I never even considered…this. You'd think by now people would get a clue! It's 2009 for goodness' sakes! You know I have half a mind to go back to Port Charles and knock some sense into that racist bigot!"
"Whoa!" Keesha said as she closed her hand over Gina's fist. "I haven't seen this side of you in ages. I do agree that the teacher needs to be handled, but I'm not quite sure if that's the right way."
"What a hypocrite," Gina grumbled. "I distinctly remember when in lieu of turning the other cheek, you opened a can of whoop-ass on Carly."
Keesha released a surprise laugh. "What does that have to do with anything? Besides, I was a lot younger. I wouldn't do that to her now."
"I don't know," Gina shrugged. "I just want to hurt that teacher as deeply as Ciarda's been hurt. I just hope that she moves past this and doesn't hold it inside of her. Do you have any suggestions for how Tommy and I should handle this? We wouldn't want to give her more attention than we give Alanna, but maybe now that we know what's wrong, we should. What do you think?"
"Hmm… That's a toughie, but I think that Alanna is old enough to understand that Ciarda may need some extra attention right now. I've seen her trying to draw her sister out, too. She doesn't know what's wrong, but I think she senses Ciarda's sadness." Keesha pointed towards the beach. "She seems to be enjoying herself now. Continue to be the wonderful mother that I know you are and that may be enough. And for goodness sakes', get her out of that SOB's class!"
The private jet sailed quickly across the cloudless sky. The occupants, tired from their intrigue-filled night, slept peacefully until one of them stirred. Dawn awoke at the sound of Dominik's soft cry. Extricating herself from Nikolas' arms, she bent down beside her son and gently stroked his brow. "Dominik, you're safe now. You're with your Mama and Papa. Ssh…go back to sleep."
He murmured an unintelligible response and smiled. Rolling onto his side, he continued to sleep. Dawn kissed his forehead before joining Nikolas. His eyelids fluttered opened as she slid in beside him. He frowned, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she told him. "Dominik just needed a little maternal reassurance. He's fine now."
Nikolas sat up and looked at his sleeping son. "Are you sure? What happened? Did he have a nightmare?"
"Maybe it was a nightmare," Dawn replied. "He didn't wake up. He just mumbled a little and then he rolled over. Really, Nikolas, he's gonna be okay."
Nikolas' closed his eyes tightly shut and fell back. He reached for Dawn and when she moved inside the circle of his arms, he squeezed her to him. He shuddered as he held her.
"You'd better not be blaming yourself, Nikky," she said, responding to his thinly disguised agitation. "You are not the reason for Sarah's sickness."
"You said yourself that I'm not so easy to get over," he said as he opened his eyes to look at her. "I should have realized something was amiss in her response to me. She was so eager…too eager. I shouldn't have put our children at risk, and to think how she shot at you and Noelle. Oh my God. She could have killed you and I wouldn't have known it was her."
"Nikky, don't," she murmured. She held him close as he began to quietly cry. "Please, stop blaming yourself. You can't because it isn't your fault! Sarah and whoever helping her is to blame. Not you or any of us."
He pulled away from her. Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, he responded in a hoarse whisper, "I don't understand how you can forgive me so easily."
"I don't know how you're accepting so much responsibility for that nut's actions," she countered. Irritation flared inside her and she roughly pulled his hands from his eyes. Anguish and disgust made his eyes dull. She cupped his face with both hands. "Cut it out, Nikky. Just stop it. Tell me what to do to make you realize that you didn't do anything wrong."
He swallowed hard. "You don't know what I've done."
"Well, tell me."
Nikolas shook his head. "I can't."
Dawn refused to let him off so easily. She shifted against him until they were face to face. "Why not?"
He tried to turn his head, but the gentle pressure of his hands wouldn't allow him. He drew in a long, deep breath and choked, "Because you'd stop loving me."
"Dammit!" she muttered in an angry whisper. "Have more faith in me than that. Nothing will ever change how I feel about you. You used to trust me. I wish you'd trust me again."
"I do trust you, but sometimes… Dawn, I'll be so glad when this is all behind us."
Dawn's heart ached. Nikolas' despair was so great that he couldn't even share it with her. She sensed it during the drive to Hudson Falls and even after Dominik was safely with them again, his misery continued to grow. She didn't understand and it worried her. What was the cause of his suffering and why couldn't he tell her? Her thumb brushed against his jawline. She bent forward to kiss him and he turned his head so that she kissed his cheek instead of his mouth. The rebuff didn't go unnoticed and she dropped her hands from his face. Rolling onto her back, she whispered, "You don't have to go back to Port Charles. You can stay with us."
"I have to go back," he said. "We have to help Dara and I'm the only person who can get close enough to find out what was done to her."
"Yes, you are," Dawn said quietly. "Thank you."
Nikolas moved onto his elbow to look down at her. His other hand rested on her flat abdomen. His eyes pleaded with her. "Don't be angry with me."
"I'm not," she denied.
"I don't believe you," he accused. "I'll talk later. I'm not ready right now. Please, understand."
"I'm trying to, but it's hard when you turn your head when I try to kiss you. Maybe if I could understand that, I'd be able to get a grip on the rest," she explained.
Nikolas sighed. "I'm too wound up to make love, sweetheart-"
"I was trying to kiss you," Dawn interjected, careful not to raise her voice and disturb their sleeping son. "I wasn't trying to seduce you. Dominik is right there!"
"Dawn, please! Let's not argue and don't be angry with me," he whispered hoarsely.
"You're making a lot of demands on me right now," she said with a pout. "No kissing, no arguing and no anger. You won't tell me what's going on and you want me to understand. Argh! I'm so frustrated that I could scream."
"Maybe you should go back to sleep," he suggested.
"You've got to be kidding. Haven't you heard anything I just said? Nikky?"
Nikolas rolled onto his back and amid her protests, pulled her on top of him. His hands laced together at the small of her back and refused to budge. In time, she stopped struggling and lay against him. "Don't think that I don't want you, Mrs. Cassadine, because I do. Just be patient with me. Please? I'm begging you, Dawn. Please just don't give up on me, okay?"
"You don't have to beg," she whispered. "I'm not giving up on you and anytime you want to confide me…I'll be here. I wouldn't judge you, Nikky. I love you too much to do that."
"I know," he admitted slowly. "I love you, too. Now, get some rest, okay? I doubt that once we touch down on Sonny's island we'll have time for a nap. Everyone will want answers and Noelle will be so excited that she won't sit still. So, rest now, sweetheart."
"Okay," she agreed as her eyelids began to droop. As she drifted off to sleep, she became even more determined to break through her husband's walls and trust her completely again.
[Author's Note: Vincent Santiago is the son of Lily Rivera and Miguel. On the show, they named him Juan, but since there was a "Juan" in the first two stories, I decided to go with "Vincent" so that it wouldn't be too confusing. Besides, doesn't Vincent look just like his daddy, Miguel??? *g* Check out the DBTD photo gallery to see the similarities. Lol]
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