Lucky's jaw clenched involuntarily as he watched his mother make her way towards him and Nikolas. His brother's eyes widened as he watched her progression with wondrous surprise. And, Laura beamed as she closed the distance which separated her from her two sons.
"Laura," Nikolas said softly as she reached them. Without a second thought, he opened his arms and enveloped her in a warm embrace which told her how deeply seeing her on his birthday for the first time in his life affected him. He was overcome with happiness.
"Happy birthday, Nikolas," Laura whispered in reply, returning her son's hug with as much gusto as he bestowed upon her.
Lucky gazed at the reunion with mixed emotions. He was happy to see his brother, even though he'd never actually come out and called him that, happy. He'd seen him happy before...on his wedding day and earlier tonight at the party...but watching him with their mother... The reality of what the Cassadine/Spencer feud had done to him, and what Dawn had so painstakingly tried to tell him during their heartfelt talk on the terrace at Jacks, suddenly became clear to him. Nikolas loved their mother, and denying them the relationship they so obviously craved had been wrong. Horribly wrong.
The other emotion was not a pretty one. He was angry. Infuriated. He still felt the pain and the confusion of knowing that his father raped his mother and that she married him anyway. Seeing her again brought back everything. The rage and hopelessness he felt when he helped Lizzie in the park on that gawdawful night. The insane feeling of betrayal and disbelief when Luke had tried to explain everything to him. Watching her, knowing that she was not the woman he thought he knew...the mother he loved, gave him a feeling of such sadness and despair that the only thing he could do was walk away.
"Lucky, wait!" Laura said, as she and Nikolas ended their embrace. When he stopped and kept his back to her, she moved closer to him to face him. "Honey? Where are you going? I want a hug from you, too."
"No, Mom," Lucky said, his eyes void and empty as he shook his head. "Enjoy your time with Nikolas. Meet your new daughter-in-law. I'm leaving."
"But, Lucky?" Laura persisted, confused by him and still reeling from the emptiness of her home. Why wasn't he there? And, why the cold shoulder? "Don't go!"
She reached out to touch him and he flinched from her touch. With another shake of his head, he left. Laura turned to face Nikolas with hurt and inquiring eyes. She went back to stand before him. "What was that about? Nikolas, do you know what's going on?"
"I...I..." Nikolas faltered. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know how to tell her what he'd done. He didn't know if he was ready to face her walking out of his life again only seconds after seeing her for so long. Instead of voicing a reason, he shrugged. An overwhelming sense of relief consumed him when the clouds in Laura's blue eyes faded a little and she held out her hand to him.
"My, my, my."
Carrie turned slowly at the sound of the low flirtatious voice. A hint of a blush caused her to smile as she eyed her admirer. He looked...good, she thought. The black tuxedo was amazing on him and the shine of his bald head didn't blind her as it had in the past. And, he was boasting a smile that could sink a thousand ships or at the very least melt a hundred hearts. She cocked her head to her side and folded her arms across her ample chest, as she said, "Good evening, Marcus. I didn't think you'd make it."
"And, miss the opportunity to see you in your designs? I wouldn't miss it for the world, Mrs. Jensen," he said with a winning smile.
"I've told you before. My name is Carrie."
"Very well...Carrie," he replied. His brown eyes were warm as they traveled over her from head to toe. She was a fine figure of a woman, and she looked pretty damn good in that dress, too. Looking at her in all her finery, he found it hard to believe that she was the mother of two beautiful daughters and one of whom was his own age, too!
"Are you done?" Carrie asked when Taggert's eyes finally drifted back to hers.
"No. Not at all," he answered with a teasing smile. "Would you care to dance?"
"I'd love to, but I was in middle of something," she said, taking a moment to quickly glance towards the terrace she knew Dawn and Dara were using for their private confrontation. She wanted to go and join them before heads started to roll. She didn't plan to interfere, but she knew and hoped that her presence would be a calming one for both of her girls.
"They're okay out there alone," Marcus replied, instinctively knowing where her attention had been drawn. As he came into the ballroom, he had seen Dara and Dawn and judging by their body language, he knew something big was about to go down between them. He was almost nosy enough to eavesdrop and had even been on his way to stand near the doors to see what he could hear when he saw Carrie. The sight of her in the evening gown stopped him in his tracks and made him re-evaluate his priorities. And, suddenly, she was at the top of the list.
"You saw them?" Carrie asked.
"I saw them go out there. It appeared to *me* that they were about to have a heart-to-heart," he said, choosing his words carefully. "Now, I'm not one to butt into private family matters, but I don't think they need their Mama to stand watch over them right now."
He raised his hands in defense and with sincerity in his eyes and voice said, "I didn't mean to offend you, Carrie. I apologize if I did. Maybe I shouldn't said anything, but... Well, I'm not exactly known for keeping my opinions to myself."
If anyone else had told Carrie how to handle her daughters, she would have breathed fire and spat nails, but there was something about Marcus' approach... He said a few things that hit home, she thought. She gave him a slight nod in acceptance of his apology. Releasing a slow breath, she said, "I'll dance *one* dance with you. Just one."
"One will be enough," came his mysterious reply. Gallantly taking her hand, he led her to the dance floor.
"You said you had something to say, so say it! I have a party to get back to," Dawn said as she glared at her older sister. They'd been standing in silence for several minutes and the longer the silence remained, the more agitated Dawn became. She didn't want to have this conversation with Dara and she was hoping that her attitude would make her sister change her mind. Little did she know that her hopes were in vain.
"You know, I've about had it with your attitude, little girl!" Dara said with a glare of her own. "And, that chip on your shoulder doesn't work for me either!"
"Well, that's just too *damn* bad!" Dawn shot back.
"Watch your langua-"
"You're not my mother, Dara. You don't tell me how to talk," Dawn replied. She knew her response was on the childish side, but seeing Dara again reminded her of their father and the relationship they had which was diametrically opposed to how he'd always doted on her older sister.
"And, I'm not trying to be," Dara said, releasing a long sigh. "Listen, I didn't ask you to come out here with me to fight. I just wanted to talk to you, not upset you."
"About what? What was so important that you had to drag me away from Nikolas at his birthday party? Couldn't it have waited?"
"No, it couldn't! Things have been strained between us long enough and I'm tired of it! I-"
"So, what do you think dragging me away from Nikolas would accomplish? Sure, things are strained between us, but haven't they always been?"
"What do you mean? We've always had a great relationship. This stuff with Daddy is what put this distance between us...right?" Dara asked.
"Which stuff with Daddy? Hasn't there always been stuff with Daddy?" Dawn sighed. She turned her back to Dara and moved to the railing. Wrapping her arms around herself, she looked down to the grounds below. She could barely make out the guests who were moving about, leaving and arriving, as her mind was in another place and another time.
"Sweetie, I didn't know," Dara said, her voice apologetic and filled with concern. She wanted to wrap her arms around Dawn, but something held her back. Instead, she clasped her hands in front of her as she moved to stand beside her near the railing.
"Has there been?"
Dawn slowly nodded her head. "I feel so stupid and so much like a baby for saying this, but he always...*always*...loved you. You were his Sweet Potato, but not me. I was nothing...just someone who could never do anything right."
"That's not true. Daddy loves you, too! He just has a hard time showing it-"
"Why, Dara?" Dawn asked, turning to face her with eyes bright from unshed tears. "Why?"
"I...I...don't know," Dara replied, honestly perplexed. She tentatively placed a hand on Dawn's shoulder and within seconds, their arms were wrapped each other, hugging each other tightly. "I wish I knew. I wish I had paid attention to how bad it was. I didn't realize how much it hurt you."
"It did. It hurt alot," Dawn whispered against her sister's shoulder. "I couldn't understand why no matter what I did, it was always wrong and no matter what you did, it was always right. I thought that maybe it was because I was little, you know? And that maybe when I was a big girl, he'd start to like me, too...but I became a big girl, and he didn't start to like me. I think he liked me even less, then."
Dara furiously blinked back the tears as she listened to her sister's lifetime of sadness. She felt so useless and like an accomplice in a way. She'd heard her father's complaints about Dawn's so-called behavior and she had believed him. She was ashamed of herself for not wanting to learn the full story and just taking her father's words at face value. But, she knew the reason why she never pursued the truth. She enjoyed being the apple of her father's eye, his Sweet Potato. A shuddering sigh escaped her when she finally understood how Dawn must have felt.
"I should have known. I should have realized what was going on," Dara said, stroking Dawn's hair as she comforted her.
"Well, it's not like I was a total angel, you know?" Dawn said with a small laugh. "I gave up and started being a brat..."
"That's not what Mama told me. She said that you started taking up for yourself. She said that you found a way to get through it. Did you really?"
"I did," Dawn nodded. "Music. I used to listen to your tapes you sent me from those gigs and shows you did in college. I would pretend to be you and I'd sing along. I used to pretend to be you a lot, Dara."
"Oh, Dawn," Dara said, wiping at the tears which streamed down her cheeks at her sister's admission. "You don't have to pretend to be anyone. You're a great person. Don't let Daddy make you think differently!"
"I'll try not to," Dawn said, sniffling back a few tears of her own. "I'm sorry for being such a bitch to you. I was angry and jealous, and when I heard Daddy on the phone... Well, it reminded me that he'd always loved you best and it brought back everything that he'd ever said about me. I was wrong to blame you."
"Yeah, you were," Dara said with a smile, "but I'll forgive you...*this* time. Are we okay now? I miss my baby sister."
"We're okay now. But, Dara, I'm not a baby any more. I'm a woman now," Dawn reminded her as arm in arm they went back inside.
"I've noticed. Look at this dress. It's all open and everything-"
Dawn cut Dara's lecture off with a nudge and a laugh. And when Dara began to laugh, too, they knew that everything really would be okay between them.
"Hey, you!" Gina said, stopping Tommy as he began to move in the opposite direction.
At the sound of Gina's voice, Tommy turned and greeted her with a smile. "I was looking for you. You've been gone for a while."
"Yeah, I got lost," Gina said, laughing softly.
"Oh, yeah? Well, I'm glad you found your way back okay," he replied, taking her hand.
"You didn't even notice I was gone. I saw you and Lark out there on the dance floor. If Sly hadn't shown up, you'd still be out there dancing the night away with her."
"That's not true," he said, shaking his head as he began to lead her to the terrace. "I was just dancing with her until you came back."
"Yeah, sure," she said, teasing him.
"No, it's true. You're the only person I really wanted to dance with," he said, charming her with his smile and warming her from the chill of the night air with his arms when he pulled her against him.
Gina looked up into Tommy's green eyes with a happy smile. Her arms wrapped around him and she pulled him closer to her. Her smiled disappeared when he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her. Her lips parted under his and allowed his tongue entry. Their tongues met again and again, making them unaware of their surroundings. The only thing that mattered to them at that moment was each other.
"I can't believe this!"
Gina and Tommy broke apart at the sound of Simone's cry. They looked at her with guilty eyes and neither quite knew what to say. The silence made Gina feel uneasy and subconsciously she reached for Tommy's hand. Feeling his strength, she began to speak, "Simone, we didn't know you were there-"
"That's obvious," Simone said, her voice filled with hurt and disappointment. "So, this is what it boils down to? My son and my closest friend sneaking around behind my back?"
"No, Mama! It's not like that," Tommy replied, shaking his head. He didn't like the pain he saw in her brown eyes and he wanted to make it go away. He and Gina had decided to keep their relationship a secret until they were ready to talk to Simone about it. They didn't want her to get the wrong impression about their feelings for each other when everything was still so new to both of them. Now, he realized that maybe they should have just been more open with her.
"Well, that's what it looks like!" Simone said, folding her arms across her chest. "Gina, we talked about this. You told me that you and Tommy weren't-"
"We're not!" Gina said, quickly interrupting her. She was afraid that Simone thought she and Tommy were lovers and that was *not* something she wanted Tommy to know she and Simone had discussed.
"You said that you wouldn't take advantage of him! He's only sixteen-years-old! Don't you think he's too young for you?"
"I.. I don't care how old he is-"
"What I meant is that Tommy's age doesn't matter to me. Four years are hardly a big deal, especially after everything's that happened. We've been through so much together that it doesn't even matter to us anymore," Gina said, hoping that Simone understood just how deeply she cared for her son.
"It matters to me. And, if it didn't matter to you, why did you hide it? I know why you did...because you both know that *this* is wrong!"
"No, Mama! It's not wrong! I care about Gina and she feels the same about me. You taught me that caring about a person, giving someone access to your heart is the most important thing a person could do, so how can Gina and I be wrong?" Tommy asked, confused.
"I know what I taught you, sweetheart, but I also know that the age difference is too big...at least right now."
"So, what are you saying, Simone?" Gina asked softly. She felt Tommy squeeze her hand and she gently squeezed back. They had a very strong feeling that they wouldn't like what Simone's answer would be.
Simone sighed as she watched them..her son, who wasn't the little boy he used to be, and her best friend, who'd been through hell with her, and she wanted to yell and scream at them. Tell them that they needed to wait and give themselves time to meet other people and not cling to each other because of the past. But, another part of her knew that she couldn't say those words. They cared about each other deeply and she couldn't deny it. The difference in age and her opinion wouldn't change that. Looking at them made her realize that she'd lost a little bit of each of them and it saddened her. She sadly and slowly shook her head and said, "I don't know. We'll talk about it tomorrow when I've had time to think."
"No, Tommy. Tomorrow," Simone said, her voice firm and leaving no room for argument. She turned her back on them and moved to stand further out on the terrace away from the happy voices and the loud music. She needed to be alone with her thoughts to figure out what happened next.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard them walk away. Wrapping her arms around herself, she closed her eyes to the night.
Simone's reverie was broken at the sound of the masculine voice with a very faint accent. Turning to face a pair of warm gray eyes, she asked, "Yes?"
"I'm sorry for intruding, but I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with your son and his friend. Are you okay? Would you like a refreshment...or anything?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine," Simone replied. She gave the gentleman a brief smile and turned her back to him again, hoping he would get the point. He didn't.
"I apologize again for being so forward, but you don't look fine. Are you certain you would like to be alone?" he asked again.
"You're right. You are rather forward." Simone moved to face him and was taken aback by how handsome he was. She offered him another faint smile and said, "I appreciate your offer, but...um...I don't even know your name, so I certainly couldn't impose on you with my problems."
"My name is Giovanni Montega, but you can call me John. And believe me, listening to you would not be an imposition. I realize that we do not know each other, but I feel that maybe, just maybe I can be of some help...if only just to listen."
Juan held his breath as he waited for Simone to either accept or reject his offer. When she nodded in acceptance, he released the air he had been holding and held out his hand to a group of chairs, silently suggesting they should sit. They did and he listened quietly as she began to speak, all the while, he silently rejoiced in his good fortune. Getting close to Simone again proved less difficult than he could have ever imagined. Maybe one day he would find a special way to thank that bastard child of hers for affording him this priceless opportunity. Then again, maybe he would not.