Chapter 71

"Let me know if it starts to hurt."

Simone swallowed back the soft chuckle that had lodged in her throat as she slowly nodded at her son's thoughtful words. She was touched by his statement, but since he felt the need to give her the same warning every morning before they started their exercises, she had grown weary of it.

"Mama?" Tommy prompted before he handed her the ten-pound free weights. "Let me know-"

"Okay! I will, hon," Simone replied, holding out her glove-protected hands. Her fingers flexed in anticipation as she said, "Let's get started."

Tommy handed her the weights and picked up his own twenty-pounders. In unison, they began their bicep curls. They made quite a pair, both dressed in black sweatpants and matching t-shirts, as they increased their muscle mass.

Simone absently wiped at the trickle of perspiration which trailed down her cheek. She could "feel the burn" and she loved it. She was proud of herself and the progress she'd made. Since leaving the hospital and moving into the apartment which Audrey had constructed over the Hardy garage for her and Tommy, Simone had begun to make the steps to reclaim her life. She'd renewed friendships and made new ones. In the process, she had improved her social problems as well as her physical ones. In weeks, she'd gone from just barely being able to lift a single pound to being able to lift ten. As she glanced at her fit form in the mirror and took stock of her lean, firm arms and the determination she saw reflected in her eyes, she knew that it would only be a matter of a few short weeks before she reached her son's level.

Green eyes met brown eyes in the mirror as Tommy smiled at his mother. She was kicking butt as Dawn would say, he decided as he watched her lean forward and began her tricep exercises. Every other day, they worked their upper body and even though her tee-shirt covered her shoulders and back, he knew the strength she held there. He was proud of her progress and of their team effort. Her physical therapist had had a few misgivings about allowing Simone to train with him, but after some coaxing from him and Gina and some demanding from Simone, Lee had acquiesced and given Tommy the tips he needed to get started. The feeling of accomplishment he felt whenever he looked at his own increased muscle mass as well as Simone's, matched the feelings he had about his job with Jason. He was doing something worthwhile and he could see the results of his efforts.

"Are you coming back here before you go to the Island?" Simone asked, pausing to take a sip of water.

"I wasn't planning on it, but if you want me to, I will," Tommy offered as he took a break to wipe his small hand towel across his neck.

"Don't make the extra trip. I can get a ride with Carrie."

"Isn't she going out there kinda early? Are you sure you want to be there that long?" he asked, reaching for his bottle of water.

"I don't mind. Besides, I doubt if we'll be there that long. Dawn has planned a small surprise for Nikolas and we're not sure how long it will take to get it all ready," she said, as she waited for Tommy to finish with his water. Her next exercise worked her shoulders and he was always adamant about spotting her.

Tommy screwed the top back on his bottle and moved to stand behind his mother. He kept his hands just below her arms in case she would need his help. She rarely did, but he felt better if he was prepared. Just in case.

"So, you're helping Dawn with her surprise for Nikolas?" Tommy asked, trying to keep the curiosity from his voice.

Simone released a small laugh as she said, "Yeah, I am and so is Carrie, but that's all I'm saying about it, nosy rosy."

"Aw, Ma! C'mon. One little hint. I won't tell Nikolas."

"Nope. Nothing doing. You'll find out with everyone else. It's nothing major anyway. She has an even better surprise for him. I'm just helping with the smaller one," Simone said, her arms suspended in air as she changed the direction of her movements.

Tommy watched her closely and when she began to move again, he said, "So, there's a small one and a big one... Hm..."

"You can speculate all you want, but I'm not saying a word. I've been sworn to secrecy. You'll find out tonight."


"I can't believe you're here this early!"

"If you can't believe it, why are you here? Never mind. Don't answer that. Answer this one instead. Who let you in?" AJ asked, gruffly. He eyed Eve as she moved around his office, picking up his jacket and hanging it up. She then, to his horror, opened the drapes and allowed the morning sun to come in and mock him with its happiness and brightness. "Aw, Eve!" he complained, with a frown as he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare.

"Aw, AJ!" Eve mocked. She plopped down in a guest chair and placed her feet on his desk. After she was comfortable, she began to answer his questions. "I'm here because I knew you'd be, and you know exactly who let me in! Benny, the security guard. He loves me and he was more than happy to unlock the door and let me up. Now, answer *me* this. What are you still doing here? Shouldn't you be at home? Asleep in bed?"

"I'm working. What does it look like I'm doing?" he said, running a hand across his tired, hazel eyes. He picked up a stack of papers and for emphasis, began to peruse them. When his vision became blurry, he dropped the documents and closed his eyes.

"It looks like you're trying to lose yourself in work," Eve said softly. "You're hurting yourself with this newfound obsession with ELQ. Why don't you go home to that beautiful new apartment you let me help you decorate, huh?"

AJ released a long sigh and opened his eyes. "You sound like a broken record. The next time you visit me, could you sing a new tune?"

"You'd be lucky if there was a next time," she dryly replied, hoping for a reaction from him, preferably amusement, but she'd take anything as long as it wasn't more irritation.

Eve got what she hoped for. AJ smirked and agreed, "Yeah, I guess I would be. Why do you put up with me? I've been a basketcase since we first met. Why do you keep coming back for more?"

"Because I happen to like basketcases," she said, grinning at him. Her grin masked the doubts and the questions she kept deep within herself which asked her the exact same questions. What was the attraction? Why couldn't she stay away from a man who was still hopelessly in love with a woman who had chosen his own brother over him? She'd told herself that it was just friendship on countless occasions, but after pulling a twelve hour shift and heading straight for ELQ instead of her bed, she knew she was lying to herself. What she was beginning to feel for him went way beyond friendship and if she had half a brain, she'd stay away. But, she didn't have a half a brain and so, staying away was no longer an option.

"Umphf!" AJ grunted as he stretched. Stifling a yawn, he forced himself to look at his constant, nagging companion. She was great, he decided. Beautiful, witty, smart and extremely patient. Why did she continue to waste her time with him, he wondered. He most certainly didn't deserve it, yet, here she was...bright and bushy-tailed even after an all-nighter at GH. Truly amazing, Eve, that's exactly what you are he told himself. Amazing and much too good for him. But, he wouldn't push her away. He'd made a few half-assed attempts over the past few weeks, but now, he didn't want her to go away. "What did that mean?" asked his pain-in-rear subconscious. He merely shrugged in response.

"What are you doing over there?" Eve asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Thinking that you should go home and get some rest," he replied, rising to stand. He moved to his Mr. Coffee and fumbled with it until Eve came to his rescue.

"I'll go home as soon as you tell me what time you're picking me up tonight," Eve said, carefully measuring the coffee before she poured it into the filter.

"I'm not so sure about that party, Eve..."

"What's to be sure about? Come on! It'll be fun. Don't make me go by myself," she said with a pout.

"You wouldn't have to go alone. You know a zillion of guys who'd love to go with you. Besides, I barely know those kids," he grumbled.

"You sound like an old fart!" she said, turning away from the coffeemaker to punch him in his arm. "Besides! you do so know those kids. They sent you an invitation, too. They want you there."

"They sent me one out of common courtesy-"

"Oh, puh-leeze! I happen to know both of them, and if there's one thing I know about either of them, is that neither will do anything out of common courtesy *especially* when it comes to their personal birthdays and wedding celebrations. They want you there because they like you."

"No, because they like you and figured you'd drag me to it," he grumbled again, refusing to be abated.

"Well, whatever the reason, what time are you picking me up?"

"You're not letting this go, are you?"

"Not on your life. What time?" she asked again, confident that he'd give in to her persistence. He did and after much hemming and hawwing, gave her a time which was agreeable to both of them.

Chapter 72

Home Page