He released a deep sigh as both hands now rubbed his face. Rising from the sofa, he reached for the remote control and promptly clicked the television off. As he moved to straighten up the apartment he shared with his mother, the reason for his melancholy disposition once again caught his eye. He dropped the newspapers he'd been holding down onto the easy chair and reached for the large manila envelope that contained his dilemma.
The white envelope felt heavy in his strong hands. He had half a mind to just throw it away and forget he had ever received it, but he couldn't. Instead, he flopped back down onto the sofa and pulled out the envelope's contents: his letter of acceptance to UCLA. He grimaced as the blue and gold colors stared back at him. Just a quick glance at the university's mascot, Joe Bruin's cheerful grin caused Tommy's chest to tighten. He tossed the admissions packet back down onto the coffee table and once again pressed his hands to his face.
Silently, he berated himself. He should be proud of his accomplishment and to be honest, he was. UCLA was a top university—everyone said so—and to have been accepted was not something to sneeze at, but…
It was hundreds of miles away. In California. Far away from his friends and his family. And Gina.
He should never have completed the application, he told himself. Sure, there were other colleges, perfectly good colleges on the East Coast, but none offered the program that Tommy craved to study. So, on a whim and after much badgering from his dear old cousin, Elizabeth, he had applied. Just for kicks, she had said. He had never thought he'd get in, especially after having taken a year and a half off without any explanation as to what he had done in those eighteen months. He had applied as a joke to his cousin. To show her that contrary to her belief, she did not know everything. And, lo and behold, what should happen?
He got accepted and with a full scholarship to boot. Damn. How could he turn down that kind of opportunity? His mother and grandmother would have a fit if they knew he'd passed it up, but there was Gina. He couldn't leave her. He loved her too much and the thought of being a part from her for longer than a day, not to mention months on end, was too painful for him to consider.
Tommy's eyes fluttered open in surprise. Startled, he sat up straight and said the first thing that came to mind. "How did you get in here?"
Gina grinned at him as she shut the door behind her. "I have a key, remember?" she said, holding up the shiny object. She narrowed her eyes at him and teasingly said, "Why so jumpy? Are you two-timing me? Okay, girlie, come out, come out wherever you are!"
Tension left Tommy as he watched Gina search the apartment. Chuckling softly, he called out, "Quick, Lynn! She's on to us."
Gina spun around and pointed accusingly at him. "Lynn!" she exclaimed, storming towards him. "I knew it! She's had a thing for you for the longest time!"
Tommy blushed as he shook his head in denial. Playfully, he swatted away her pointing finger before he pulled her into his arms. "No, she doesn't. She doesn't even think of me in that way."
"Uh huh, yeah," Gina said, folding her arms across her chest. Her hazel eyes darkened as she looked into his sparkling emerald eyes. "You're giving yourself away. I can see it all in your eyes. You know she thinks you're adorable."
Tommy frowned in reply. "Me? Adorable? Oh, Gina, come on. Adorable?"
"Yes, you! Those green eyes, that body and your charming personality…you have them falling at your feet and you know it."
"Well, maybe a few," he said, grinning from ear to ear as she swatted his arm. Before she could say more, he lowered his head to hers and silenced her retort.
His lips and tongue were effective in pushing their playful discussion to the back of their minds. Gina's hands slid down his broad back to rest on his firm, tight behind. A few squeezes to his backside caused a low growl to emit from Tommy's throat. His tongue became more adventurous in reply and Gina's knees nearly gave way. Standing on tiptoe, she pressed herself closer against him. Her entire body shivered wherever it connected with his, and when the kiss ended, both silently wondered why they had yet to consummate their love.
"Whoa," Gina breathed, resting her forehead against Tommy's hard cotton-covered chest.
Feeling her tremble against him, Tommy wrapped his arms around her. The thought returned to him again. He couldn't leave her. He wouldn't.
"So," she murmured after taking a deep breath. She stepped out of his arms and held onto his hands as she led him to the sofa. "Why did you look so glum before?"
"Um, no reason," he mumbled, looking past her at the envelope. He reached for it, but she was too quick for him.
"UCLA?" she said, reading the letterhead. "It's awfully heavy. What's this?"
"Nothing," he mumbled again. "Give it to me." He tried, unsuccessfully, to take the envelope from her.
"Relax!" she said, swatting his hands away. "Why are you being so weird?"
"I'm not weird," he grumbled.
"I didn't say you were, but your behavior certainly is." She resisted the temptation to look inside and handed the envelope back to him. "There and I didn't even take a peek."
"Thanks," he said. Frowning, he tossed the envelope onto the floor. He felt the tightening in his chest again and he pressed his hand against his heart. He took a deep a breath and then looked at her. He wasn't surprised to see that she had been watching him. "It's an admissions packet. I was accepted into UCLA's Forensic Science program."
"That's…great," she said, trying to hide her disappointment. Her feelings were hurt that he hadn't confided in her and she tried to put it all aside. She couldn't, so she asked, "Why didn't you tell me you had applied?"
"I don't know," he said, quietly. "I guess I thought I'd never get in. I applied so late and I didn't think I'd stand a chance."
"So, you're leaving in the fall?" she asked, slightly moving away from him. "Simone must be so proud-"
"No one knows," he said, cutting her off. "Besides, I'm not going."
"Tommy, come on," Gina said, pushing strands of fine, blond hair from her face. "You have to-"
"No," he replied, shaking his head, "I don't."
"Give me a reason why you don't."
"Because I'm not leaving you," he said, gently taking her hand. "I only applied to get Lizabeth off my back. I never thought I'd get in. I don't want to leave you. I love you, Gina, and California is just too far away."
"It's not that far away," she murmured. "I love you, too, but I don't want you to pass this up for me. I'm not worth it-"
"Don't, Gina," he said, fiercely. "Don't ever say that. You're worth everything to me and more. Besides, UCLA wants me for their Winter Quarter. I was accepted into PCU for the Fall Semester. I've wasted enough time…looking for my dad and coming up empty… It's time for me to go to school, get my degree and move on…with you."
"We can still be together," she said, cupping his face. "It would be long distance, but…"
"I don't want long distance," he said, his voice suddenly hoarse. He shifted so that he faced her and his eyes held hers. "I don't want us to ever separate, Gina." He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to say the words which had been heavily weighing on his mind…to tell her how committed he was to her and how committed he wanted to be. The timing seemed a little off, but he couldn't think of a better moment to ask her to share her life with him…as his wife. "Gina, I know that I don't have much to offer you right now. And, I know that this might seem a little off…me asking you this like this, but I… Gina, I love you and I would like for you to be my wife. Will you?"
The love in his emerald eyes shone brightly in his eyes as he stared at her. During the past three years, their relationship had been close with minor and sometimes major disagreements along the way, but Gina had never doubted his love. And, she hoped that with her response to him that he wouldn't doubt hers for him.
She gently rubbed her pale hand along the back of his larger hand. She took a deep breath and then she answered him. "No, Tommy. I won't marry you. Not right now. Someday, yes, but now isn't the right time." He opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped him by placing her hand against his soft, full lips. "No, I'm right about this. I…um…I promised Keesha that I'd help her with some stuff. I'll talk to you later. Bye."
Gina brushed her lips against his for a quick kiss and then she left. Tommy watched the door close behind her in quiet confusion.
"No, Gracie! It goes like this!" With that said, seven-year-old George Lee Morgan-Quartermaine snatched the videocassette from his sister and proceeded to shove it inside the tape rewinder.
Gracie folded her arms and opened her mouth in protest. "I'm telling Mommy!"
Unknown to the two siblings, their disagreement was not a private one. Jason watched silently from the doorway. Love and humor twinkled in his dark blue eyes as he watched his two children. A small chuckle escaped as George called his sister a tattletale and Jason quickly disguised it as a cough as the children advanced upon him.
"Daddy! Daddy!" the twins cried. The video was long forgotten as they ran into their father's waiting arms.
"Whoa!" Jason said, as he squatted down to receive their hugs and kisses. After the warm, affectionate greeting was over, Jason stood and took one small hand each. He led the twins back inside the den. His voice was warm, but firm as he said, "You know how your mother and I feel about fighting-"
"We weren't really fighting, Daddy," Georgie quickly interrupted.
"Not really, Daddy," Gracie readily agreed. "We just disagreed."
"Oh, really," Jason said. He released their hands and picked up the forgotten videotape. "I was pretty sure that I heard some serious name-calling. Does the word 'tattletale' mean anything to either of you?"
"Oh," Georgie said, lowering his head. "I said it," he mumbled.
"He sure did!" Gracie chimed in. "He called me a tattletale, but he shouldn't have."
"You're right," Jason agreed. "He shouldn't have-"
"But she wouldn't let me do it, Daddy!" Georgie said with a pout. "She was doing it wrong and she wouldn't listen to me-"
"But, I knew what I was doing! You shouldn't have snatched it from my hand!" Gracie countered.
"Hey, now!" Jason said, frowning at both of them. "Benjamin is napping and Keesha is putting Marisa down for a nap now. Neither of you have to yell, so don't."
"Yes, Daddy," they both murmured. "We're sorry."
"Good," Jason said. He squatted down before them again. He looked each child in the eye as he took one hand each. "You both know that snatching things from each other and name-calling is wrong. And since the video was at the cause of this, neither of you will be allowed to watch or use the VCR for a week. Understood?"
"Yes, Daddy," they murmured again.
"Good," Jason said again. "Now, go upstairs and write down why you disagreed. I have to go out for a little while, so give it to your mother. Later, the four of us will discuss what you wrote. Now, give me a kiss and then get to work."
The twins returned the smile their father had lovingly given them. Each kissed and hugged Jason before running from the room to start work on their punishment. Once he was alone, Jason rose and moved to close the door behind them. He went back to the scene of his children's disagreement and picked up the videotape. A faint smile crossed his face as he read the title: "The Little Mermaid." After three years, the video was still the children's favorite.
Still holding the video in his hand, he lowered himself to the floor. He placed the video inside the rewinder and as the small device whirred, he reached for the videotape's cover. Prince Erik and Ariel stared back at him. Looking into their huge cartoon eyes, everything seemed so simple and so easy. Things like death and retribution were non-existent. The conflict within him to avenge his close friend's death almost seemed like a joke and his decision to do so nearly seemed selfish. But the sad thing was, he wasn't laughing and his decision was the only solution that set his heart and mind at ease.
Reynaldo hadn't asked to be Jason's replacement when he left the organization. Jason had asked Reynaldo. Sure, Reynaldo didn't have to accept, but the fact remained that if Jason had never asked him…he might still be alive.
Sadness overtook Jason and he flung the cover across the room. He buried his face in his hands as tears of guilt flowed down his cheeks. Overcome with emotion, he was oblivious to the sound of the door opening behind him.
"Jason?" Keesha said softly as she entered the room. She didn't wait for a response as she crossed the room and sat beside him on the floor. Her arms encircled him, as he remained quiet. "Baby?"
"Yeah?" he replied, hoarsely. He sniffed and wiped away his remaining tears before he looked at her. He reached for one of her hands and laced his fingers with her. "Did Marisa fall asleep okay?"
"Yeah, she's out," Keesha replied. "So, what's wrong? It's Reynaldo, right? Baby, I can't tell you how sorry I am about what happened-"
"I know," he said, cutting her off. "It's just so senseless, Keesha."
"Yeah, violence always is," she said quietly. She brushed her lips against his cheek. "Wanna talk about it…go for a walk…or maybe go upstairs…?"
"There's really not much to talk about, is there?" he asked. "He was here and now, he's gone." Jason pulled away from her and rose to stand.
Keesha rose from the floor, too. "Jason, I-I know you're hurting. I wasn't trying to make light of it."
"I know, sweetheart," he said softly. He gently cupped her face. He lowered his face to hers, covering her full lips with his mouth. He kissed her gently at first and then insistently. Her lips parted under his, willingly give him what he demanded. He roughly pulled her against him and her arms closed around him. He drew her love and strength deep inside him. When the kiss ended, he pulled away from her. The back of his hand lightly caressed her cheek as he said, "I have to go out for a while, but wait up for me, okay?"
Keesha slowly nodded. "Okay. Are you sure you don't want to talk?"
"I'm sure," he said, dropping his hand from her face. "I just need to go out for a while to clear my head. I told the kids that we'd go over their punishment, but if I'm not back…"
"I'll tell them that we'll look over it in the morning."
"Thank you, sweetheart," he said. He gently brushed his lips against her cheeks, and then he left.
[Author's Note: As far as I know, my alma mater doesn't have a Foresnic Sciences Program, but I'm giving it one anyway! lol! Also, I couldn't help but give a shout out to Tommy's number one Guardian Angel! Thanks, Lynn!! -D. :-)]
Go to Chapter 3.