Chapter 54

Long after Vincent and his men had left St. Mary's cemetery, the two men who had been tailing them finally left their car to see what had so captured the young crime boss' attention. Only two rows separated the silent partners as they moved through the tombstones, monuments and plaques, reading each one and hoping to soon find a clue. As they reached the halfway point, Sonny glanced over at his stepson and asked, "Any plans on telling me what's wrong?"

"I didn't realize my problems were so clearly marked on my face," Tommy replied.

"Only to those of us who know you," Sonny commented.

"Gina's call, when she told me what had been bothering Ciarda, I could have kicked myself," the younger man admitted. "I should have seen the signs. It's not like we live in a perfect society. People still have antiquated, hateful opinions motivating them. My daughter shouldn't have been brainwashed into believing she's inferior!"

"I agree," Sonny said, pausing for a moment to look Tommy. "I think about that for Shana. On the island, she's safe from the bigots of the world, but there will come a time when she'll want to leave and face what's out there. I'm not looking forward to that day. So, how are you planning to deal with this?"

Tommy looked up from a tombstone to stare intently into Sonny's dark eyes. "You know how I want to deal with it. Gina wants me to wait for her, but I swear, Sonny, I'm not sure if I can."

"I hear ya, my son," Sonny murmured. "If you decide that you can't wait for her, let me know. I'd be more than happy to offer my assistance. My granddaughters are sweet, gentle and loving little girls. I don't appreciate anyone tampering with that. Have you found anything over there? Most of these people have been dead since the 1950s."

Tommy nodded. "Pretty much the same is true for this side. I've seen a few who've passed away in the later part of the 1900s. Do you know any men in the organization who may have been buried here?"

"None that I can recall off the top of my head. When I walked away, I left it behind me," Sonny replied. "You know, out of sight, out of mind. I'm done over here."

"Well, look at the ones I checked out. I probably missed something."

"Sure." Sonny moved behind Tommy to the beginning of the row. His lips moved slightly as he murmured the names of the deceased softly to himself. His thoughts were on Tommy's words and one word in particular kept coming back to him. It wouldn't leave him alone and he wondered what, if anything, possessed the younger man to use it. "Do you think Ciarda's teacher is in on this other chaotic mess?"

"I don't know, Sonny," Tommy answered. "Why do you ask?"

"You said Ciarda was brainwashed. Why use a word like that unless...?"

"It was the first word to pop into my head," he said as his movements came to an abrupt halt. He whipped around to look at his stepfather. "Do you think she was brainwashed? I don't see how or why someone would go to that much trouble to hurt her, do you?"

Sonny shook his head. "Nah, I don't see it either. I was just wondering about your word choice. I'm sure she wasn't brainwashed."

"You may be sure, but now, I'm worried," Tommy murmured. "Gee, thanks a lot, Sonny!"

He shrugged. "That's what grandfathers are for, you know. Don't be too worried—"

"Why not?" Tommy asked as he turned to start at the end of the row to meet up with Sonny in the middle. "We know for a fact that none of this has been a coincidence, and I doubt if this has been the work of a lone soldier. She had help. Who's to say her help doesn't have a grudge against me or even you?"

"Who'd have a grudge against you?" Sonny asked. "I know I've made my share of enemies, but you haven't."

"Anyone who believes that he is without enemies is a fool," Tommy commented. "I've had at least one."

At Tommy's solemn statement, Sonny's mind took him back to 1998. New Year's Eve in New York City. Simone's well-being had been put in a precarious position. Juan, one of the sick bastards who'd held she and Tommy hostage, had gotten a new face and a new name. Giovanni "John" Montega had insinuated himself into Simone's life, determined to feed his demented obsession with her. By the time, Sonny reached them, Simone had stuck a blade into the sicko's belly but that wasn't enough for John. He continued to taunt her. Sonny had no choice but to kill the man and later, Tommy had to rid the earth of any reminders of that evil man.

Was there anyone else who could hate as thoroughly and as completely as that heartless fiend? Sonny couldn't say without a doubt that there wasn't and that bothered him. It bothered him a great deal.

"Sonny, you'd better take a look at this," Tommy called out, interrupting Sonny's thoughts. "I don't know how we missed this, but here's your first wife's grave. These footprints are new and they don't match mine. You haven't been here yet so they must be Santiago's. I don't think is a coincidence. Do you?"

Sonny felt the blood drain from his face and he shook his head. He moved briskly to join Tommy, careful to avoid the footprints that marked Lily's grave. Squatting down, he pressed his fingertips against the cool slab. Quietly, he whispered, "What does all this mean?"


"Look, Bobbie," AJ said in an even tone that didn't gel with the anger that was building inside of him. Clutching the receiver to his ear, he paced the floor in his home office. "I'm not forcing Michael into anything. I told you that I'd talk to him-"

"Well, let me talk to him," Bobbie interrupted.

"As I was saying," he clipped, "I talked to him and he said no. He doesn't want to have anything to do with her."

"And that's it?" Bobbie asked, her voice brittle with anger and sarcasm. "You'd let him make a decision as important as this? She's his mother for goodness' sakes! He should know her."

"Believe me, he knows all about her."

"All the bad things, no doubt," she retorted.

"Other than giving birth to Michael, what good things have she done?" AJ countered. "Please, let's stop this before it gets ugly. I don't want to fight with you."

"I'm not enjoying this either, AJ," Bobbie said quietly. "Just like you, I want what's best for Michael. It's not good for him to harbor such negative feelings about his mother."

"I said I didn't want to fight with you, but you're being a hypocrite," he replied honestly. "You weren't so generous with Tony when it came to Lucas and Lucas actually wanted to see his father. In this case, Michael doesn't want to have anything to do with Carly. I'm not forcing my son to do something he's not ready for."

"I don't have to justify my decisions for Lucas about Tony with you," she bit out.

"I'm not asking you to," AJ told her, "and I'm not about to force Michael to do anything he doesn't want to."

Bobbie's deep sigh stretched across the telephone wire. "So, you didn't mean a word of what you said to me before. You have no intentions of mending the rift between Carly and her son."

"Hold it," AJ growled. "I meant what I said, but I'm not sacrificing my relationship with my child to fulfill Carly's latent maternal urgings. I love Michael and I've never lied to him. I'm not about to start now. Not for you, Carly or anyone."

"No one is asking you to lie!"

"Oh no?!" he exclaimed, incredulous. "Well, other than lying, how do you think I'd get him to see her? I won't ask him to do it for me. And I know he won't go on his own. I'd have to trick him. That would be the only way, and I'm not doing it."

"Are you sure that's the only way?" she asked, her tone sounding unconvinced.

"I know my son," AJ said, "and you know him, too. Bobbie, he trusts us. Even though he can't stand Carly, he considers you his grandmother and loves you just as much as he loves Monica and Eve's mom. I'm begging you. Please, don't do anything to betray his faith in his family."

"AJ, I can't... Carly says that she wants to be a mother to him and I believe her. I told her that I'd help her," Bobbie explained. "Our relationship isn't that strong and this is important step for both of us. I can't turn my back on her. I think she's sincere and she's finally grounded."

"Yeah, with a gangster," AJ muttered. "I understand even if I'm not convinced that she's ready. I'm not promising you anything, but I will talk to Michael again and see if his stance has changed. But like I said before, Bobbie, I'm not forcing him."

"I wouldn't want you to," Bobbie answered. "Keep me posted on what happens. Thanks."

"No problem," he said. "Good luck with her. I'll talk to you later."


The reunion had been everything Nikolas had imagined and more. Their family had embraced them in a powerful hold. The love was damn near overwhelming and lack of sleep hadn't helped either. But he was too agitated to rest. After leaving Dominik and Noelle with Carrie, he strode off alone to walk along the shore. A dusty shade of pink colored the sky, surrounding the sun as it began to set. Some seagulls called back and forth as they flew overhead and a salty mist clung to his exposed arms and legs. None of it registered with Nikolas. His mind was too consumed with the recent past and the immediate future. And despair continued to possess him.


Stefan appeared at his side without warning. Nikolas inhaled sharply and greeted his father with a tight smile. "I came out here to be alone."

"I know," Stefan admitted.

"Yet, here you are."

"Yes," Stefan said. "You're not well."

"Father," Nikolas stated quietly, "I don't wish to talk. You should go back and spend some time with Carrie. I'm sure she's missed you."

"I will. I'm sure the same could be said for Dawn," he began.

"She's with Dara," he replied.

"And when her visit with Dara is over?" Stefan persisted. "I cannot deny that there's something amiss between you. Carlotta has noticed it, too. Too much has happened for your marriage to fail now."

"Who says it's failed?" Nikolas asked. He stopped moving to look at his father. "I wish you would hear me when I tell you that my relationship with Dawn is none of your concern!"

"Do you love her?" Stefan asked, refusing to be put off.

"You know I do!" Nikolas replied fiercely. He whipped around to continue down his aimless path. Stefan ran to catch up to him.

"Then why push her away?"

"I have not," Nikolas said. "Did she tell you I did?"

"You know her better than that," Stefan bit out. "She would not utter a word such as that to me or to her mother. Anyone who knows you both as we do could see there is a strain-"

"Do you think this interrogation is helping?" Nikolas asked sarcastically. "I can assure you that it isn't."

"So you admit that something is wrong."

Nikolas stopped again. He gave his father a long, hard stare. "I see that no matter what I say, you're determined to... Father, there are certain things that cannot be shared. Please, just leave me alone."

"I will do as you ask," Stefan said, "I understand that I cannot be privy to everything, but your wife... I think you should talk to her. You wouldn't want to lose her again."


"Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes," Dara greeted her younger sibling with a smile. "Come sit down so I can get a better look at you."

Dawn ran her fingers through her shorn, dark locks, trying to shape the hair into a becoming style. The sight of her sister, so tired and drawn, tore at her heartstrings. She wanted to cry, but knew that tears weren't acceptable. Dara needed her strength, not her sympathy. She had to summon the courage that had kept her afloat for the past half year and use it to hold her emotions in check. Taking a deep breath, she sat on the bed and drew her sister's frail, slender hand into her lap. She stroked it gently and said, "Is this close enough? I wouldn't want to scare you."

"Hush," Dara instructed. "Our parents gave off strong genes in the looks department and you picked most of them up."

Dawn lightly caressed Dara's cheek. "You got your fair share, too. You're as pretty as you are bossy. How are you?"

"Of the grown folks who've been parading in and out of here, you're the first person to ask me that," Dara commented. "I'm hanging in here. I'm too stubborn to give up, but there are times when I wonder why I don't."

"Don't say that," Dawn said quickly. "Don't ever say that. We love and need you too much to lose you. The smartest doctors on the planet are two doors down, working on a cure for you. You can't make their sleepless nights be in vain."

"I won't," Dara told her. "I'm not giving up. Now, tell me. How are you?"

"I'm fine," she answered quietly. Her fingers still stroked her sister's hand. "I can't really complain."

"You're lying," Dara said. "Mama said that you and Nikolas had patched things up, but he looks about as miserable as you. Oh, you both put on one helluva show, but my senses have heightened. I know there's something still wrong. What is it? Is it Lucky? Dammit, I mean Lorenzo? You have to make a choice, hon."

"I made my choice years ago," Dawn said, bristling slightly at Dara's accusation. "Nikolas is the only man for me. Whatever you sensed has nothing to do with Lorenzo."

"But you won't tell me?"

Dawn shook her head. "No. I can't. Nikky...things have been difficult for him and for me. This is our readjustment period. We'll be okay. Don't worry about us. Concentrate on getting better."

"I will," Dara promise, "but I don't like seeing my family hurting. I know how much your family means to you. Don't ever stop fighting. I don't intend to."

Tears lodged in Dawn's throat. She bit her lip to keep from crying. Gently, she placed her head on Dara's chest and embraced her. "Oh, Dara, I don't intend to either."

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Darkest Before the Dawn (and all original characters) © 1998-2001 niklovr
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