A light snowfall fell from the sky but it did nothing to deter the crowd of New Yorkers and tourists who had accumulated on the City's streets and sidewalks. The Apple still hung high and the short hand of the clock was still quite a ways from twelve, yet the streets were filled with romance, laughter and anticipation.
Simone, whose hold on John's upper arm was firm and sure, viewed the scene with apprehension. Half of her was still focused on Elizabeth and feeling guilty for leaving her alone, while the other half of her was focused on calming her nerves. She had nothing to fear from the crowds, she told herself. No one was interested in her. Everyone's main goal was to have a good time. A thirty-something single mom from Port Charles was the furthest thing from anyone's mind.
The pep talk did much to calm her, and as John pushed their way through the packed sidewalks, Simone was fine. Until a passerby accidentally bumped into her and her apprehension returned in full force. Subconsciously, one hand slid into her small purse, seeking and finding Tommy's 'present' as her other hand tightened on John's arm.
"Simone?" John questioned upon her strong grip. He closed his hand over hers and slowed their pace. His gray eyes were unwavering as he asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Hmm?" she asked, a little embarrassed. Hesitantly, she looked into his piercing eyes.
"You're shivering," he said, gently caressing her hand. "Is it the cold or something else?"
"I am? I hadn't noticed," she laughed softly at herself. "I… Well, it's the crowd. They're making me nervous, I guess. And, then there's Elizabeth. I wish she were with us."
"So do I," he admitted, "but I'm just being selfish."
"Selfish?" she repeated. "In what way?"
"By wanting her with us, of course," he commented with a smile. "Seeing this all from an artist's eye—and a young one at that—would be akin to seeing it for the first time. It would be…breathtaking," he released the word, breathlessly, "but hardly fair. The news of the gallery has overwhelmed her, I'm afraid. Of course, she needs to rest…to digest the news…but if you want, we can go back for her…"
"No," Simone vigorously shook her head. "You're right. She had a big day and of course, she's pooped. I wanted to share this with her, but there will be other New Year's Eves and New York isn't going anywhere." She smiled at him as she pushed her worries to the side for the time being. "Let's enjoy this and tomorrow, I'll tell her everything."
John nodded as he gave her a gentle smile. "We only solved half the problem. You still find the crowds a nuisance, correct? The hustling and bustling unsettles you."
"Yeah," she shrugged, "but I'll just have to deal with it…just as long as you don’t mind my death grip on your arm." She grinned at him shyly.
"Your death grip has been immensely pleasurable," he said, flirtatiously. "Your touch couldn't be anything but." A rosy hue flooded her café au lait cheeks and he smiled in response. "But the thought of you having to 'deal' with anything doesn't sit well with me. I have an alternative for this crowded street if you're interested."
"Well…um, sure," she said slowly. "What's the alternative?"
"A penthouse apartment overlooking Times Square."
Simone's eyes shone with confusion. "I didn't know that you lived here."
He shook his head. "I don’t. The apartment belongs to a friend of mine who's away at the moment. I have a spare key for whenever I'm in town. I would have suggested the apartment instead of the hotel for our stay, but I didn't want either you or Elizabeth to feel uncomfortable."
"Thanks," she said, pleased with his thoughtfulness. "We appreciate that."
He nodded and offered her tender smile. "So, would you like to enjoy Times Square without being a part of it?"
"I guess so," she said. "But I don’t want to stay too long. I'm a little concerned about Elizabeth and I'd prefer she not bring in the New Year alone, even if she is asleep."
"Of course," he said, his voice perfectly conveyed his total agreement. As their pace quickened and he guided them towards their new destination, a triumphant gleam brightened his gray eyes. The night had progressed beautifully and it would only get better from there.
"See what happens when you settle down?" Sonny asked. The whirring of the helicopters blades soon faded as the machine landed on top of the landing pad.
"Great." As she opened her eyes, Gina slowly released the breath she had been holding. However, she didn't release her hold on Tommy's hand. "Land, I never knew how much I appreciated it."
"That's not exactly where we are," Tommy told her, his voice soft and a little distant. His concern for his family had increased with every minute in the aircraft and the only thing he wanted was to find them. As time progressed, nothing else mattered.
"What do you mean?" she asked, oblivious to his inner turmoil as her grip on his hand tightened.
"I set us down on the roof of my building-"
"Roof? Gina repeated. She swallowed hard, and choked out her next question. "How far up are we?"
"Not too high. Just fifty floors."
"Oh, God," she groaned.
"You'll be fine," Tommy told her. He gently pulled his hand from hers. He removed first her headset and then his. But the time he was done, Sonny had jumped out of the chopper and stood, waiting for them, on the roof. Tommy quickly joined him. With his eyes on Gina, he held out his hands to her. "Come on. Just look at me and in a minute, we'll be inside."
Gina bit her lip. Her fear of heights was a new one. She had no idea that she would be so terrified. She stared into Tommy's emerald eyes and reminded herself to stay focused. Her hands clung to his and to her relief, he was proven correct. Within minutes, they were inside an elevator car, heading straight for ground level.
"How far are we from the hotel?" Tommy asked. "It's only a few minutes from here, right?"
"Right," Sonny answered, mildly surprised. "How did you know that?"
"I saw the map," he replied. "So, since we're so close, we should be there in no time." He stole a glance at his watch and he felt relief at what it told him. "We should be able to get them and have them back at home in time to bring the New Year in."
"Maybe," Sonny said, quietly. The doors of the elevator opened and the three quickly stepped out. The doorman waved at Sonny and quickly ushered them inside the waiting black Mercedes.
Once he and Gina were settled in the back and Sonny in the front passenger seat, Tommy asked, "What did you mean by maybe? At the most, we're five miles away from there. We should get there like that." He snapped his fingers for emphasis.
"We would if we were in a city like Port Charles, but Manhattan on a night like this is nothing like PC," Sonny advised.
"So, what are you saying?" Gina asked, leaning towards the front seat. "How long should it take?"
"If we're lucky, half an hour," Sonny said. "If we're not, expect anywhere from that to ninety minutes."
"What?!" Tommy exclaimed. "Do you realize what he could do to them in that period of time?"
"I know what we're dealing with here—"
"Why didn't you land us closer?" Tommy continued, as if Sonny hadn't spoken. "If you knew it would take that long…"
"I got us as close as I could," Sonny explained. He shifted so that his eyes met Tommy's fiery gaze straight on. "We're gonna get there—"
"Pull over!" Tommy demanded, still not wanting to listen to Sonny. "You heard me," he told the driver. "Pull over! I can get there faster if I took the street-"
"No." Gina grabbed Tommy's hand. Tension surrounded him and fear consumed him. She had to reach him. She spoke to him firmly, but with love and compassion. "Sweetheart, look at that crowd out there. Look at those sidewalks. It would take you even longer by foot. Listen to me. This might take a little longer than we hoped, but we'll get to Simone and to Lizzie. We've come this far and we'll go all the way."
"She's right," Sonny said softly. Instinct told him that they needed their moment and so he turned back around to face the front, giving them privacy.
As the driver moved at a snail's pace, Tommy's body refused to relax. His jaw remained clenched and he didn't respond to either of them.
Gina refused to allow his rigid demeanor to sway her. She forced her fingers between his so that their hands were entwined. Her other hand closed over their joined hands, squeezing gently. "We
will get there in time. We've come too far to lose her now. We won't lose her."
Gina waited for him to respond to her…nod, grimace or simply squeeze her hand. Seconds passed and still he didn’t move. Releasing a faint sigh, she chose not to press him. She moved her gaze from him to stare sightlessly out of the tinted windows at the slow moving traffic. Her hand remained in his as she silently hoped that he would come back from the dark place inside of himself, but it was already too late. Tommy was already there. Remembering…
Tommy felt his heart began to race as he neared the familiar passageway that led to where he and his mother had lived for the last few years. Soon. In a few minutes, his promise to her would be realized. They would be together again. He would get her out of this hell and finally give her the medical help she so desperately needed.
As they neared the opening of their designated section, Jason slowed down and signaled for Tommy to do the same. With their backs against the wall, they inched themselves the remainder of the way. When they reached the opening, Jason stopped and placed a finger to his lips as a silent order for Tommy to remain quiet. Tommy understood and didn’t say a word.
Jason eased himself away from the stone wall and peeped around the corner. He saw movement and after a second, he recognized the shape as that of a man. He quickly and quietly pressed himself back against the wall and mouthed the word “guard” to Tommy, who nodded.
Jason checked his gun. He pulled the silencer from his vest and quickly snapped it into place. He opened the viewfinder and listened as it clicked into position. He then disengaged the safety. He turned to Tommy and mouthed, “Stay.”
Holding the lens to his goggle-covered eye, Jason rounded the corner. The red dot centered on the guard’s chest only seconds before the bullet exploded into his body. The guard grabbed his chest and then crumbled to the ground.
Jason backed up a step to motion for Tommy to follow him. Jason began to search the rooms as Tommy headed for the one he had shared with his mother.
Tommy was surprised to find the door unlock. With his gun drawn, just in case, he went in. His eyes filled with pain when he saw the empty room. His mother wasn’t there. The space was vacant. The makeshift pallet still on the floor, but there was no sign of Simone.
Tommy backed out of the room and ran back into the passageway.
“Jason! She’s not here! She’s not here!!” he yelled, his voice breaking as the pent-up anger and frustration overcame him.
Jason! She’s not here! She’s not here!!
Tommy stood in the passageway, visibly shaken. The disappointment and the pain he felt tore through his body. He had left Simone in the belief that he would come back and take her with him. Now, he stood alone without any idea of where she could be or what to do.
“She wasn’t in there,” Tommy said as Jason and Keesha moved to stand in front of him. He didn’t try to keep the despair from his voice as he said the words, which caused his heart to break.
"No!" Tommy's whisper was barely audible. His fingers tightened around Gina's and his vision blurred with sudden salty tears.
Instantly, Gina's eyes were on him. The terrified look in his eyes caused her heart to lodge in her throat and made her ache to wrap her arms around him. She didn't move to draw him against her, but her fingertips went straight to his wet cheeks, tenderly wiping away his tears.
"She wasn't in there, Gina," he hoarsely whispered. "The room was empty and she was gone."
"It won't be like that this time," she promised him. Unable to stop herself, she drew him into her arms. His head was heavy as it rested on her shoulder, but Gina didn't notice. Her face pressed close to his and her hands lovingly stroked his back.
Tommy drew strength from Gina's loving attention, but the fear refused to leave him. Softly, he whispered against her ear, "It can't be. I can't go through that again. Gina, I can't lose her."
"You won't," she vowed.
The view from the penthouse apartment was spectacular, Simone thought. Her brown eyes glittered with stars and a million lights as she stared down onto the street below. She had believed that the perspective from the high-rise would be a memorable one, but nothing like what she saw before her now. The full moon glowed brilliantly in the midnight blue sky which also served to provide the ultimate background for the huge Apple. The effect was romantic and filled Simone with such longing. Her wistful sigh was soft in the quiet apartment, but it was loud enough to call John's attention.
Rising from his crouched position in front of the blazing fireplace, John took the few necessary steps to reach her in a slow, easy stride. As he neared her, he stood still for a moment, simply watching her. She was exquisite. The regal way she carried herself…even in the most awful of circumstances, and now the childlike innocence which shown on her face as she gazed upon the night. He moved closer to her. His hands rested gently on her shoulders. His voice was soft, yet deep as he said, "Breathtaking, isn't it?"
"Very," she agreed.
Simone's eyes remained glued on the skyline, but now her mind was elsewhere. His touch on her shoulders caused her spine to tingle, and she wasn't sure if she liked the sensation. She knew that she wanted to enjoy it, but still her uncertainty remained. And it infuriated her.
Silently, she began to berate herself. Would she live her life enslaved by her past? Or would she finally let it go? She couldn't fear a man's touch for the rest of her life, she told herself. The intimacy Carrie and Stefan shared was something she wanted to experience, too. She knew from her reaction to men and from what little Gina had told her that her sexual past was questionable, but wasn't it just that? The past? Couldn’t she move on? Could now be the right time?
Yes! Now, could be the right time, she thought. She could make it the right time. Maybe not with intercourse, but surely with a small show of affection.
Convinced, that she was right, Simone turned to face John. Her hands rested lightly on his gray silk shirt. The muscles underneath the material were hard and firm and her fingers spread to feel as much of his strength as possible. For a moment, Simone's resolve weakened. John's hands at her waist as he brought her closer to her frightened her. Her tenacious spirit pushed her fears aside, and in defiance, she offered him an inquisitive smile.
The request had been made, John thought, and he intended to answer. The delight in his victory darkened his gray eyes. And, then slowly he lowered his head to hers. Their lips touched and the kiss brought them to the threshold of success for one…and remembrance for the other…
Go to Chapter 119.