As Tommy left his grandmother's home and headed up the stairs above the garage to the two-bedroom apartment he shared with his mother, he was deep in thought. Audrey's words of wisdom had touched a core part of him, and he felt ashamed of his actions. Deeply ashamed.
The years he and his mother had spent in captivity had created a special bond between them which was built on undying love and infinite trust. Neither of them had ever tested it or caused the other to question that bond until now. In an effort to protect her, Tommy had unintentionally deceived her. The realization of how his mother perceived his actions overwhelmed him and with shaky breaths, he unlocked their front door and went inside.
Surprisingly startled by her presence, Tommy stood still just in front of the door as he watched her move about in their kitchenette. She appeared to be oblivious to him as she cleared her dishes and wiped the table. She paid close attention to each detail, going about the household tasks methodically and without missing a beat.
After endless seconds passed and the silence became deafening, Tommy spoke as he closed the distance between them. "Good morning, Mama. Do you need any help?"
"Nah, I'm fine," she said, distractedly pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Sensing his uneasiness, she offered him a brief smile in an effort to reassure him as she said, "How was your breakfast with Audrey and Elizabeth? My run took longer than I'd intended and I decided to go for something here instead."
"Breakfast was fine. Lizabeth left to spend time with Lucky and it was just Grandmother and me. She made pancakes," he replied, turning one of the dinette chairs around so that he could straddle it as he watched her.
"Ah, your favorite," she said with a nod. "I do believe that Audrey is determined to spoil you."
"I don't think there's any chance of that happening," he answered. "I can't see you letting that happen."
"I would if I felt it were in your best interest," she replied, quietly, her eyes steady on his. "Tommy, my job as your mother is a very important one. I love you and only want what's best for you. I also want you to grow up and be the best that you can be, and sometimes, that means you can't always have what you want."
"Mama, I'm trying to understand you, but I don't know what you're talking about. Are we still discussing Grandmother or are we talking about Gina, now? I'm confused."
"We're talking about everything," she said, taking a seat on the opposite side of the table.
"Everything? Well, that must mean we're talking about Gina because she means everything to me, Mama-"
"No, Mama, wait. Please, let me finish." He waited for her to nod her acceptance and then he continued. "First, I want to apologize for keeping our relationship a secret. We didn't choose to keep it a secret to hurt you. We did what we did because we really weren't ready for your reaction. And, also a part of me was afraid you wouldn't accept it."
"And, why were you afraid of that?" Simone asked. "What made either of you think I wouldn't be happy for you?"
"You mean you are happy for us?" he asked, quickly grabbing on to the hope that she would be.
"No, baby. I'm sorry, but I'm not. I'm not happy that you feel that you have to lie to me. And, I'm not happy that you're moving so fast."
"I'm not moving fast," he denied as he shook his head. "And, I'm sorry about the lying, but Mama, *this* is why we didn't say anything to you in the first place."
The sound of the doorbell prevented Simone from responding with her thoughts on Tommy's words. Resting her back against the chair, she sighed as he rose from his seated position and went to the door. From his posture and the low muffled tone of his voice, she knew that Gina had arrived. Taking a deep breath, she waited for them to come to her.
Tommy smiled at Gina as she stood in the doorway. Her flaxen hair shone brightly in the sunny morning. The smile she greeted him with made him want to kiss her or maybe pull her into a warm embrace, but with the thought of Simone watching them, he refrained from demonstrating any outward display of affection. Instead, he reached for her hand as she came inside, and after giving her a light squeeze, he quickly released it. A quick look into Gina's hazel eyes told him that she understood.
"Good morning, Simone," Gina said as she joined Simone in the dining area.
"Good morning, Gina," she replied, giving her friend a brief smile as she rose from her chair. "Let's sit in the living room. These chairs are hell on your back."
Gina nodded and took a seat on the nearby loveseat. She wasn't surprised when Tommy joined her. Simone sat alone on the sofa, watching them behind unreadable brown eyes.
"So," Gina began in an effort break the silence between them. "Are you still angry with us?"
"No. Not anymore. My run this morning and a talk with John last night helped me to sort out my feelings. So, no, angry is not the word to describe how I feel."
"John? Who's John?" Tommy asked, frowning as he waited for his mother's answer.
"He's a man I spoke to last night. He overheard our conversation and after you left, he came over. We chatted for a while. He seemed...nice," she replied with a shrug.
"What else is there to know about him?" Tommy asked again, his green eyes radiating the fierce protectiveness he felt for his mother.
Simone laughed softly in response to Tommy's demeanor. "Hon, I don't know what else there is to know. What do you want to know? He's no one, really. Just someone I talked to, and besides, we're not all gathered here to discuss John. We have more important things to talk about."
"Like Gina and me," he admitted softly.
"Exactly. Although I'm not angry any more, I still have misgivings about this relationship."
"If it's the age difference," Tommy said, "it's not a big deal to either of us."
"Well, it's a big deal to me. Do you realize that your relationship is illegal? That there are laws against it?" Simone asked.
"Simone, I assure you. There is nothing illegal or immoral about us. You haven't asked, but I'll tell you anyway. Tommy and I are not sleeping together. What we feel for each other goes beyond physical attraction," Gina replied and was quickly reassured by Tommy's hand as it grasped hers.
"Good. I'm glad you're not having sex. I think that would only cloud the issue even more. I-"
"What do you mean? 'Cloud the issue?'" Gina asked. "We're not an issue, Simone. We're Tommy and Gina, and how we feel for each other is not a problem, at least, not to us."
"Yeah, Mama. If sex is the thing that concerns you, then don't worry. That's not even something either of us is ready for. We're taking our relationship slowly-"
"I don't see this as taking it slowly. I see this as moving too fast. Entirely too fast," Simone said, rising from the sofa. As she began to pace in front of the couple, she continued with her thoughts. "I love you...*both* of you very much, but I can't help but feel that your being together is wrong."
"Wrong? How?" Tommy asked, stiffening as he sat up straighter.
"Why?" Gina added, holding on tightly to Tommy's hand as her eyes followed Simone's every move.
"Because of what we've been through," Simone answered.
"How does that make us wrong? It doesn't make any sense, Mama."
"It makes perfect sense, baby. You and Gina found yourselves in the worse place imaginable, held against your will and forced to spend time together. It's only natural that once rescued, you would remain inside that cocoon, refusing or afraid to connect with the rest of the world. I only want the best for you and I'm afraid...no, I know...I *know* that clinging to each other, instead of letting go will only hurt both of you in the long run. We're not being held against our will anymore. It's time to let go."
"Is that what you truly believe?" Gina asked quietly. "That we're both afraid of the world around us and that we're together because of that fear? So basically, you think I'm grasping onto Tommy because I'm afraid of...of...meeting another man?"
"Yes, Gina, that is what I believe. You're holding onto Tommy because he's safe and-"
"Well, you're right about that, and only that!" Gina said, abruptly rising to stand. "Tommy is safe. Being with him makes me feel safe and secure and happy and loved. But more importantly, he makes me feel alive, Simone. *Alive*!!! Which is something I didn't think I'd ever feel. And, please, don't think our getting together was as easy as what you've described. I fought it. He fought it. We've had a zillion misunderstandings, arguments and just plain stubbornness get in the way because we were too afraid to face what we were feeling for each other, and now that we have faced it, I'm not ready or willing to give it up."
"Neither am I!" Tommy said, moving to stand beside Gina as together they faced his mother. "What Gina said is true. We didn't plan for this to happen. In fact, I don't think either of us really wanted it. While we were all together in that awful place, I never looked twice at Gina. I always saw her as your friend, or that bossy girl who was always telling me what to do. It wasn't until we were out of there that I began to notice her, and believe me, it didn't happen as suddenly as you seem to think. It was gradual and slow. It happened so slowly that I didn't know how deeply I cared about her until...well, until I did! Mama, I can understand what you're saying, but for Gina and I, that's not how it is."
"He's right, Simone. I've always thought of Tommy as a little brother. He was so quiet and kept to himself most of the time that I didn't even really get to know the *real* him until after we were rescued. And, I have to tell you that even then, my feelings for him didn't progress until I realized how wonderful, caring and gentle he was. We have a connection, Simone, but it's not based on being captives...although that's part of it...our connection is based on how we feel when we're together. The immediate joy we feel when we look into each other's eyes or when our fingers touch. It's real, Simone, and it's something I never dreamt would happen. Are we supposed to turn our backs on it? On each other?"
Tommy looked at the two women he loved and said, "I can't, Mama. I can't turn my back on her. Please, don't ask me to."
Simone felt the sting of tears burn her eyes as she looked at her son and her closest friend. Seeing them together and hearing their impassioned pleas made her doubt her worries, and left her wondering why she even had them in the first place. She wanted them to be happy, she truly did, and the last thing she wanted to do was hurt either of them. The fear that she'd done just that gripped her with alarming intensity and without warning, the tears began to flow freely down her cheeks.
Tommy, unable to see his mother in tears, released Gina's hand and went to her. Carefully, he pulled his mother into his arms and as he patted her back, said, "Don't cry, Mama. Please, don't. If you really think that Gina and I are going to fast, we'll slow down, okay? Just please, don't be upset."
"Yeah, Simone," Gina said, joining them, her arms around both mother and son. "We can slow it down. Neither of us wants to hurt you. Please, understand that."
"I do," Simone reassured them, wiping her eyes as she slightly pulled away from their embrace. "I understand everything perfectly now. I love you both and I want you to be happy. And, I don't want you to separate."
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Thank you, Mama."
"You're welcome, baby," she said, cupping his cheek. Her other hand held onto Gina's and she led them to the loveseat. She sat on the coffee table, facing them, and holding on to each of their hands as they held on to each other. "But, I still think some ground rules should be made."
"Such as?" Gina asked.
"Well, considering he's a minor and you're a legal adult, your relationship is illegal. I can't condone it unless I know that you two will agree to take things slowly. I know that you've both been through a lot and it makes you more mature than most, but as a mother, I can't give you the okay to...to...well, sex."
"We're not even at that level yet, Simone," Gina reassured her after briefly glancing at Tommy.
"Yeah, Mama," Tommy agreed. "We have plenty of time for that. You don't have to worry about us doing any of that."
"Okay," she nodded. "Good. That sets my mind at ease to a degree. Now, although I'm not fighting you on your relationship, I do hope that you two will go slowly, just in case my initial fears have some sort of basis. The world is a beautiful place. Please, don't forget to explore it."
"We won't," they assured her, holding tightly to each other's hands. "We won't."
Carrie slammed her car door shut and walked briskly to her boutique. She grabbed a newspaper from the stand and flipped a quarter into the vendor's cup, smiling a greeting as she continued on her way.
Her key slipped into the lock and with her hip, she pushed the door open. The entire time, her hands furiously turned the pages of the newspaper as she searched for the society page. A broad grin spread across her face as she soon found what she was searching for. Dropping her purse on the counter and shrugging out of her coat, her full attention was directed to the color photo of the smiling faces of her daughter and her husband.
She sighed as she looked at them and reveled at how the love and happiness they'd found with one another exploded from the still photograph. Her eyes quickly scanned the article, silently promising herself to read it later when her attention was diverted as her eyes encountered another photo. She lightly ran a finger across her lower lip as she looked at the photo of herself and Stefan. Her mouth still tingled from his passionate kisses, and as she took a deep breath at the memory, she found that she could still taste him. "Stefan," she murmured as a secret smile played across her lips.
The sound of the bell on the door which signaled a person's exit or entrance caused her to push thoughts of Stefan to the back of her mind. Anticipating her young assistant, Lisa, as the newcomer, a warm, welcoming smile was on her face and in her eyes as she looked towards the door. The smile soon vanished as Robert entered and closed the door behind him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, not bothering to mask her irritation.
"You're my wife. I wanted to see you, so I'm here," he replied.
"Robert, please. My being your wife hasn't mattered to you in the months since I left you," Carrie said, folding her arms across her chest as she eyed him with distrust. "What's the real reason behind your sudden appearance?"
"With the attitude you're giving me, I'm beginning to wonder that myself," he muttered. Robert moved fully into the store, looking around as he did so. He was surprised by how appealing her designs were. He knew that she was capable of creating a dress here and maybe something for one of the girls there, but he had never realized how talented she was. However, with the realization came a refusal to admit as much to her. With an indifference he didn't really feel, he said, "Interesting."
"If you've come all the way from Manhattan just to tell me that my store is 'interesting'-"
"That's not why I came here!" he said, raising his voice. "Dammit, Carrie! Why can't we just have a civil conversation without you being a bitch?!"
"How dare you come here and call me names? Who do you think you are?" Carrie asked, her eyes ablaze with fury and indignation.
"I'm your husband, but judging by your behavior last night, I'm sure you've forgotten that you have one!"
"What the hell are you talking about? And, while we're at it, your title is now *soon-to-be-ex*! You stopped being my husband a long time ago."
"Well, maybe if you responded to me the way you responded to Dawn's in-law last night, things would have been different between us!"
"How I respond to any man is none of your business!" Carrie fired back at him. "So, you're down to spying on me now, huh? Figures! Listen, I don't give a good damn about how things turned out between us, but for the record, I will tell you this. Maybe, just maybe *if* you were half the man Stefan Cassadine is, my response to you would have been different, and that's a mighty big *if*! Now, my patience is running thin and I have a few things to do before my store is open for business, so if your visit had a purpose, state it, or else leave!"
"Oh, there's a purpose to my visit all right," he said, slamming down the morning's paper on counter. His finger pointed to the photo of Nikolas and Dawn as he stated, "There! That's my purpose. Dawn has a party celebrating her marriage and I'm not invited. You can ban me from your life, but I refuse to be banned from either of my children!"
Carrie looked at him in stunned disbelief, but only for a second. Then, her ire resurfaced in full force. "You're crazy! There's no other explanation for the load of crap that just came out of your mouth. You weren't invited to Dawn's party because she did not want you there! And, if anyone banned you from her life, it would be you, not me! You made the decision to be an ass to her instead of a father, so don't try to turn it around on me. If she doesn't want you in her life, the only person you can blame is you! You, Robert! No one else, but you."
"She and I have always had a strained relationship, but there is no way she wouldn't want me there. This is your doing, Carrie! You and maybe that Stefan Cassadine you threw yourself all over last night!" he replied.
"It's always someone else, isn't Robert?" Carrie asked, her voice deadly quiet. "You can't ever just look in the mirror and face reality, can you?"
"Oh, I've faced reality, and I've looked in the mirror. I know I'm not perfect. I've made a few mistakes, but they weren't such that Dawn would not want me to be a part of her new life and with a baby on the way, too... My little girl would want me there if it weren't for you and those damn wanting-to-freeze-the-world Cassadines putting ideas into her head!"
"Unbelievable," she said, shaking her head. "You're simply amazing. Or maybe you're just amazingly simple. So, your slapping Dawn would have nothing to do with her not wanting you in her and the baby's life, is that how you saw it when you looked in the mirror?"
"It only happened once-"
"Once was enough!" Carrie cried.
The bell sounded again and further words were held at bay as Lisa entered the store. Her eyes moved between the two people and she knew that she had interrupted a major discussion. "Is everything okay?" she asked, looking at Carrie. "I could hear your voices from the newsstand."
"Everything is fine," Carrie reassured her. "He was just leaving."
Robert eyes flashed, but he didn't disagree with Carrie. His voice was little above a whisper when he said, "This conversation isn't over. I'll be back." And, then he stormed off, brushing past Lisa with barely a glance as he moved through the door.
"Are you okay?" Lisa asked again, taking in Carrie's shallow breathing and the tense way she held herself.
"I'm fine. Let's get to work. I have a feeling that we have a busy day ahead of us."
Dawn glanced at her watch. The time she and Laura had scheduled to meet was at hand, and she found that she didn't want to leave the limo. As she look towards the Spencer home, she saw the flutter of curtains and knew that her arrival was no longer a secret, and with a resigned sigh, she knew that there would be no turning back.
Her finger pressed the intercom, alerting her bodyguard and her driver that she was ready to exit the vehicle. As she waited for one of them to open the door for her, she took a deep calming breath and reminded herself that she would hold true to the promise she made herself. She would get through this. Nikolas wanted a relationship with Laura, and despite her misgivings about the woman, Dawn would not stand in the way of what Nikolas wanted. Instead, she'd be there for him just in case what he desired never came to be.
She and Arman moved from the limo to the front porch with slow, deliberate steps. Absently, she noticed how he secured their surroundings with his eyes, making sure that there was no danger around to threaten her. She knew that Stefan and Nikolas had reprimanded him for his lax watch of her the night before, but in order to keep her nerves under control, she wouldn't allow her thoughts to go any further than that. Having lunch with the woman who'd broken her husband's heart time and time again was bad enough without adding thoughts of Helena Cassadine into the mix, Dawn decided. She didn't want to think about Helena and so, she didn't.
The front door opened and Dawn greeted Laura with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. Laura offered a brief smile in return and with a slight frown, she didn't object when the tall, quiet man followed Dawn inside.
"His name is Arman," Dawn told her. "He's my bodyguard."
"Oh, really," Laura slowly nodded. "I didn't know you had one. Will he be joining us or...?"
"He's not having lunch with us," Dawn answered.
"Excuse me, madam. Where is your back entrance?" Arman asked, a faint Russian accent causing his tone to sound brusque.
Laura glanced at Dawn who offered her a slight shrug and a nod. Knowing that if a Russian bodyguard was assigned to her daughter-in-law, something was definitely amiss, Laura chose not to argue and instead led Arman through the dining area to her kitchen. She unlocked the back door for him and was not surprised when he exited. With his stiff back facing her, she knew that she had been dismissed. Turning on her heel, she left him and went back to join Dawn.
"Would you mind telling me why you have a bodyguard?" Laura asked as soon as she moved through the swinging door which separated the kitchen from the dining room.
"Nikolas and Stefan felt it was necessary so I have one," Dawn said quietly, not ready to tell Laura any more than that because she didn't feel that it was any of Laura's concerns.
"Oh, I see," Laura said. She could sense that there was more, but that Dawn wouldn't tell her. Determined to not let the younger woman's vague response sway her, Laura said, "May I take your coat and purse?"
"No, that's okay," Dawn said, shaking her head. "If you don't mind, I'd rather leave them here," she said, indicating where she had placed them beside her on the arm of the sofa.
"No, it's fine," Laura reassured her. "I hope you have a hearty appetite. I'm baking lasagna. It should be ready in a few minutes."
"That sounds good. It smells good, too," Dawn answered.
"Thank you," Laura said with a smile, surprised by the compliment. "I'm not the best cook in the world, but my lasagna is a family fave. Lucky loves it. I've seen him eat at least five platefuls in one sitting."
"And, he says I'm the greedy one," Dawn said, a faint smile gracing her face as she remembered their many discussions on her greed versus his selfishness.
"He can be fairly greedy, too," Laura replied, smiling with relief that they'd found something they could agree about.
"I thought as much," Dawn said. She felt the corners of her mouth turn upwards in an attempt to smile but the attempt was half-hearted at best. Soon, Dawn gave up and her face became blank as she looked at Laura.
"You seem to know Lucky very well," Laura said, forcing herself to not be put off by Dawn's distance. "Are you two close?"
"We're better friends now that he's... Well, we're in the band together and the four of us, Lucky, Jordan, Sly and myself, are pretty tight."
"Now, that's he's what?" Laura asked. "You were saying something, but you stopped."
"I stopped because what I was about to say really isn't any of my business," Dawn replied, mentally kicking herself for her slip of the tongue.
"Well, since it was about Lucky it *is* my business. Do you know where he's been living?"
"Yes, I do, but if you want to know, you'll have to ask him," Dawn told her.
"Dawn, you're going to be a mother soon, and although I admire your loyalty to my son, you must realize that what you're telling me is unacceptable. He's my child and-"
"And, what?" Dawn asked, rising to stand as she vaguely realized that her resolve had reached its breaking point. "And, that as his mother you should know where he is, is that it?"
"You're right. You should know where he is," Dawn agreed. "Well, you saw him at the party, right? Why didn't you ask him then?"
"I tried, but he left, so now, I'm asking you," Laura replied, trying not to react to her daughter-in-law's accusatory tone. "Dawn, I realize that for whatever reason, we've gotten off to a bad start-"
"'For whatever reason'?" Dawn repeated. "The reason has a name. Nikolas."
"What about Nikolas? Are you referring to my questions about how you met? I'm his mother, of course, I would want to know," Laura shrugged. "I apologize if my questions offended you. Now, would you please tell me where Lucky is?!"
"How do you do it?" Dawn asked, stunned. "How do you just shrug Nikolas off so easily?"
"I haven't shrugged him off. I simply want you to answer my question," Laura reasoned.
"Yeah, your question about Lucky. And, yes, you have shrugged Nikolas off. I'm amazed at how you do it. It's like you're not even aware that you did. Do you realize that we're spoken more about Lucky than Nikolas? You know, Nikolas, the one I'm married to, is your son, too, right?"
"I don't need you to remind me that Nikolas is my child!" Laura said, her voice rising as she rose from the easy chair. "And, no, I don't shrug him off. Obviously, you know about my leaving him on the island. Well, if you must know, I was left without a choice! I wanted to go back, but lives were at stake! I couldn't take that risk. Not after what happened to my mother."
"Nikolas told me about your mother and I'm sorry," Dawn said softly as she picked up her coat and purse. "I didn't come here to fight with you. I think it would be best if I left now."
"I disagree. I think it would be better if we got everything all out in the open, so if you have something else to say, you should just say it."
Dawn dropped her coat and purse, and they softly landed on the sofa. Folding her arms across her chest, she moved so that she and Laura stood only inches a part. Her brown eyes never wavered from Laura's blue eyes, as she faced her mother-in-law and said, "Yeah, I have something else to say. I want to know what kind of woman does the things you've done? How do you look yourself in the mirror knowing that you've hurt Nikolas time and time again? Your own flesh and blood? Your beautiful, incredible son?"
"I've never intentionally hurt Nikolas! Things beyond my control have separated me from him. I love my son and I won't stand for you insinuating that I don't!" Laura clipped.
"I never said that you didn't love him, nor have I insinuated it. If you want to know the honest truth, I don't believe you love him enough."
"Love him enough?! I love Nikolas with all of my heart! He's my firstborn son. He means the world to me," Laura said.
"You must not have much of a heart, then. Or if you do, it's not a very big one."
"Listen, Dawn, I-"
"No, Laura, you listen! You," Dawn cried, pointing her finger at Laura, "allowed him to think you were dead! All of your children knew that you were alive except for him! How do you think that made him feel?! Do you even care?"
"Of course, I care! Nikolas and I worked through that. He understands why I had to fake my death."
"Yeah, because your husband told you to do it, and so you did. From what I understand you do whatever he tells you to do, including turning your back on your child."
"That's not fair! You're young and it's easy to stand back and make accusations without having the full facts-"
"I have the full facts!" Dawn fired back. "I held him in my arms as he cried himself to sleep after telling me how you left him and keep leaving him! I've wiped the tears from his eyes as he asked me if he wasn't good enough to be loved! Those are the only full facts I need, Laura. Nikolas' tears! I don't need any other facts than that!"
"I never wanted to hurt him-"
"But, you did! Time and time again, you've hurt him, always making him last choice," Dawn said, absently wiping the tears which had gathered in her eyes with the back of her hand. "And, what's worse is that I have no doubt in my mind that you will hurt him again, but this time, Laura, this time, I'll be here for him. And when I finish wiping the tears from his eyes and rocking him to sleep, I'll come looking for you, and you'll have me to answer to."
Laura stood in a stunned silence as Dawn picked up her purse and coat and headed for the door. The sound of the timer, alerting her that the lasagna was ready, barely registered as she slowly sat back down. She hated to admit it to herself, but a part of her acknowledged that Dawn was right. And, then the tears came.