Chapter 31

Tommy watched as Dawn and Nikolas reunited. He was happy for them. Even when he was with them separately, he sensed the intensity of the feelings they had for each other. Now, he was able to witness it all firsthand.

The look on their faces when they first saw each other, the tender way Nikolas held her in his arms, and the kiss they shared gave evidence of what Tommy wouldn't allow himself to wish for. Someone to love, hold and kiss was not a possibility for him. He smiled quietly to himself and walked away. He wasn't surprised when no one stopped him.

Walking outside into the night air, he took a deep breath. He filled his lungs to capacity and slowly released the air. He couldn't get over how wonderful breathing fresh air could be. He looked at the people walking past him. He knew that none of them appreciated what they had. The freedom and the pleasure of something so simple as breathing in fresh air.

Tommy drifted along the streets of Port Charles, slowing making his way back to the Hardy home. He thought of his grandmother and hoped she wasn’t waiting up for him. He told her he'd be back soon and he hated breaking his word. Honesty was an important quality to have, his mother had taught him. Living the way they had for the last few years, honesty was one of the few things they could call their own.

"Mama," he whispered under his breath. Damn, he silently cursed. He forgot about the meeting with those guys to get the guns. He was almost there, but everything slipped his mind when he discovered Dawn on the curb.

He stood still on the sidewalk. Should he go back, he wondered. Would they still be there? But, what about Grandmother, he thought. He'd already been out much later than he had anticipated. She would be worried, and he didn't want that. Those boys would be there tomorrow, he decided. If they're not, there would be others. Ammunition shouldn't be too hard to find.

With his mind made up, Tommy continued on his way.

Lizzie quietly shut her grandmother's bedroom door. Their talk had left Audrey drained and she retired earlier than usual. She had leaned on Lizzie as she went up the stairs and she had even asked Lizzie to sit with her for awhile in her bedroom. Lizzie was glad that she was there for her grandmother. For the first time, she felt that they were really there for each other.

The warm shower did little to ease Lizzie's mind as she replayed her grandmother's words in her mind. If what Justus had said was true, Tommy and Simone had had a dreadful existence for the last few years. She now felt a twinge of guilt as she remembered how she had treated him at lunch, not to mention the things she said to Lucky.

She now understood his odd behavior. His quietness. The way he protected his food as if it would be taken from him. From his experience, his food would be taken. He had a lived in a world that was strictly regulated. Returning to this one would take some getting use to.

She tried to lay down, but soon realized that sleep wasn't forthcoming. She rose and moved to the open window. Maybe gazing at the stars Grandpa Steve loved so would ease her mind.

She pushed the curtains aside and raised the window even more. The sound of creaking brought her attention to the backyard swing where Tommy sat. He looked so alone down there by himself. She decided that maybe now was the time for them to get acquainted.

The slamming of the screen door startled Tommy. He smiled when he thought his visitor may be his grandmother. The smile froze on his lips when he saw Lizzie walking toward him.

The change in his facial expression didn't go unnoticed by Lizzie. She guessed she deserved that. She hadn't been exactly friendly since they'd met. She was determined to change that.

"Mind if I sit?" she asked quietly, nervously pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

"Sure," Tommy answered. He slid over, making room for her on the wooden swing.

"It's a beautiful night," she said, looking up at the stars.

"Yeah," he answered quietly. He wondered what this was all about. Lizzie didn't seem very friendly when they had lunch earlier today. What could have changed since then?

"Gram's asleep," Lizzie began. She wanted to really talk to him, but she didn't realize how hard it would be. She decided that maybe if they started with a common interest, they could move from there.

"I thought so. Downstairs was dark and so was her room. It does seem kind of early, though," he said. Part of him wanted to run from his cousin and her feeble attempt at conversation, but the curious side wanted to see where all this was leading.

"It is early for her. She was upset. Justus came by." Lizzie paused when she felt Tommy stiffen beside her. She decided that maybe it would be better if she just got it all out and over with. She quietly continued, "He told Gram about what happened to you. And your mother."

Tommy exhaled the breath he had been holding and said, "He had no right to do that."

"He thought he did. His cousin is missing. He thought that you might be able to help them find her and bring her back," she replied.

Tommy sighed. He was angry and he fought hard to control it. Justus had no business telling his grandmother anything. It was his story to tell, and he would have told it. Eventually.

"Gram told me. I'm so sorry, Tommy," she said with compassion. She felt awful for her cousin and she hoped he believed the sincerity of her words.

Tommy looked down into Lizzie's eyes where he knew he would find mockery and disgust. He was surprised and relieved when he saw understanding and empathy instead. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

Lizzie knew he was hurting. She saw it his eyes when he looked at her, and she could see it by the tense way he held himself. Tentatively, she placed her hand over his clenched fist which rested on his knee. She gently said, "You can tell me about it. I can listen if you need to talk."

Tommy's body tensed when he felt her small hand touch his. He wanted to fling her hand off his and storm off in the dark of night, running away from it all, but her soft words prevented him from moving. He turned his hand over and was relieved when she left her hand in his.

Opening his eyes, he looked down at their hands. He took a deep breath and looked at her. She seemed to really want to listen and he was surprised to discover that he wanted to tell her.

"I don't remember much about the day I was taken or really anything before then. Mostly, bits and pieces. We were here and then…we weren't," Tommy sighed as he collected his thoughts.

Lizzie sat very still, her hand in his. She knew he needed the small gesture as he told his story. Quietly, she waited for him to continue.

"We were taken to underground tunnels, where we were forced to do their bidding. Mostly, we worked like dogs, digging for precious stones. The guards treated us like dogs, too. Kicking and hitting to get their way. The only order was from the guards and they were evil. The things they would do to my mothe-"

Tommy's voice broke as he remembered how he would cling to his mother when the guards would come to their small hole in hell. They would forcibly separate them, usually promising bodily harm to him if Simone didn’t comply. She did as they knew she would. When she returned, her eyes were always cold and listless. It would take several days for her to return to normal. He shuddered as he remembered how helpless he felt during those times. As she grew ill, the incidents happened less and less. Before he left, they didn't happen at all.

Lizzie gently squeezed his hand. She held the memories of her brutal attack at bay as she offered him comfort. She could push it aside for now, she willed herself. Tommy needed her to listen. She needed to listen. For him and maybe for herself, as well.

The slight pressure of her hand prompted him to continue.

"I don't know how many of us were there. They kept us mostly isolated. There were no other kids where we were. I think my mother made an arrangement with the guards, but she's never really said," he said. He paused briefly and quietly continued, "It was really awful, Lizzie. We lived in horrible conditions. Everyone used the same toilets and washing area. Rags for clothes. Slop for food. They wanted us to be ignorant, but Mama would sneak and teach the others. Some had been there so long that they had forgotten things…like how to read. Mama made sure I didn’t forget and eventually, I helped her. We were always afraid we would be caught, but we never were."

Tommy stopped as he remembered how his mother stressed to him the importance of helping others. She always reminded him that they weren't so bad that they couldn’t offer a hand to someone who were a little worse than they were. She always added "if that were possible" after that little speech, and she would laugh. He missed her laughter. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of how he missed her and hoped she hadn't been punished for his running away.

"How did you escape?" she asked.

"It took some time to plan it just right. We studied the routine of the guards. They tried to switch their routines, but we discovered a pattern. Whenever a newcomer was brought in, everything would slow down and become quiet. They always demanded that we be quiet. There were times when they were more strict than others. Those were the times when the newcomers where brought in. People who had been ripped from their homes without a second thought. Anyway, one newcomer wasn’t as easygoing as they would have liked. He caused quite a commotion. I'm sure he was heard all over the place. In their hurry to contain him, the guards on our wing left. By this time, Mama's medical background gave her a few privileges, like being forced to attend to the newcomers. She had been gone a while, but for some reason the guard had forgotten to lock our door. Mama and I had decided that I would seize the opportunity when it presented itself and so I did. I left, and here I am," he finished quietly.

"Were you able to tell her good-bye?" Lizzie asked.

"No. We knew it would probably be that way."

Lizzie continued to hold her cousin's hand as she realized that she and he had something in common. They had both gone through hell and by sheer force of will and determination they made it through to the other side. She felt him gently squeeze her hand, and she gently squeezed back .

Chapter 32