Chapter 12

 

AJ handed Michael a glass of apple juice and said, "Drink up. My mother says you're tired because of the loss of blood. The juice should help."

"Thanks." Michael took a healthy gulp. As he leaned back against the sofa, he studied AJ.

AJ shifted uncomfortably under the teenager's watchful gaze. "What?" he asked with a frown. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm sorry. It's just that you're so young…"

AJ laughed softly. "Well, I guess to you I would seem old."

"You're not even thirty, yet," Michael said before taking another drink.

"Um, no. Not yet." AJ found the conversation weird, but he was intrigued all the same. There was something peculiarly familiar about this kid. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but maybe if they talked a little bit more he'd figure it out.

Red colored Michael's cheek. "I'm not making much sense. It's just that… Never mind. It's nothing." He glanced down at his watch and looked at the door. "I don't know what's taking my cousins so long."

"They're your cousins?" AJ asked. "I noticed a resemblance, but I wasn't sure."

"Our fathers are brothers, or were brothers. My dad died."

"I'm sorry to hear that." He and Alan had never been close so he completely understood the loss of a father. He doubted if anything would repair the rift between them. It was too wide and continued to grow no matter what was done to stop it.

"Yeah, it happened before I was born. I never knew him. His brother," Michael said, staring at AJ, "my uncle and his wife took me in and raised me with their children."

"Your uncle and aunt sound like pretty remarkable people," AJ commented.

"They are." Michael emptied the glass. "May I have more, please?"

"Sure." AJ went to the fridge and quickly refilled Michael's glass. As he moved to hand it to the teenager, he said, "I'm curious. How do your cousins know Keesha? From what I could see, they were both giving her hell."

Michael shrugged. "They just know her from around. She's a beautiful woman. Are you dating?"

"We were," AJ said, his voice cracking a little, "but now, we're just friends."

Michael's stare broke as he looked into the glass. "That's too bad. It seems like you want more. Maybe it could happen."

AJ shook his head. "I don't know. I won't pretend that I haven't thought about it, but I'm not sure if we're in the right place right now for each other. And then I messed up."

Michael gave him a knowing smile. "Another woman?"

AJ couldn’t believe he was divulging so much of his life to this stranger, but it didn't feel strange. Not as weird as it had before. "In a way. Keesha and I weren't together at the time, but it was still wrong. It shouldn't have happened."

"I'm sure Keesha wouldn't hold it against you."

AJ looked away. "She doesn't, but there are extenuating circumstances. The other woman is pregnant and I'm not sure who the child's father is. It's complicated. I can't ask Keesha to come back into my life when so many questions about my life are unanswered."

"No, but you can try to work through them. Keesha would be good for you."

"And how do you know that?"

Michael smiled. "Gut instinct."

-/-

"One minute is all I'm asking for," Sarah said to Nikolas' uncle. This was the first time she'd ever stood up to him. She knew he didn't care for her and was dead set against her relationship with his nephew. Her family had misgivings, too, but she ignored them. What she felt for Nikolas was unlike anything she ever experienced. She'd never been in love before.

Stefan's stern expression hardened. Refusal seemed to be on the tip of his tongue. Then, Bobbie spoke, "He's awake so there's no harm in having a visit. Just don't stay too long."

"Barbara believes that having a visitor will not jeopardize Nikolas' recovery," Stefan began. "I will indulge your request this time, Miss Webber. The door must remain open at all times." He turned on his heel and moved to the window that opened into Nikolas' room.

So much for privacy. Sarah nodded her acceptance and went inside. Her gaze took in everything at once. The machines, the bandage around Nikolas' neck, and his ashen face. One thought came to mind. If she hadn't been late, none of this would have happened.

He smiled as she came close. "Sarah."

"Hi, Nikolas." She brushed her fingertips along his jaw line. Then, she bent forward to kiss his cheek. "I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault," Nikolas whispered hoarsely. "They were shooting at Jason Morgan."

"Yeah, but you wouldn't have been outside waiting for me if I had been on time. Tommy told me," she added. "He said you were outside with Dawn."

He broke eye contact. "We were. She was almost a victim, too."

"But you saved her life," Sarah commented. She pulled a chair close to his bed and sat. Her hand rested close to his on the bed, but not close enough to touch. "This isn't the best time to ask, but what's going on between you? Should I be worried? Is she trying to take you away from me?"

Nikolas shifted. His hand moved away from hers. "No, she isn't. We're friends. I'm teaching her how to fence."

"As long as that's all there is to it." Sarah paused. There was more she wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come. Maybe Lizzie was right. Maybe she was a wuss.

"I don't know if that's all there is," Nikolas said after a few moments of silence.

Sarah's heart constricted. She wanted honesty. Didn't they say be careful what you wished for? "Would you rather be with her?"

"Sarah, I don't want to hurt you."

"I just want the truth. What do you want?"

"I don't know."

-/-

After leaving Nikolas, Dawn changed back into her clothes and agreed to meet Dara and Mac outside in the parking lot. Since their parents' death, her sister had taken over Dawn's life. She loved having Dara around to lean on, but there were times when she needed space to think. Tonight was one of those times.

The visit with Nikolas was confusing. Just hours before, she was ready to fight for him. To claim him as her own. Sarah be damned! But now, seeing him laying there so fragile and pale… It wasn't like she didn't care. He was a good friend with a good soul and he was gorgeous. But there was no strong spark. It had been there. She'd felt it. What happened to it? Where did it go? Was she so shallow a person that one powerfully intense incident could erase it all?

"Dawn?"

That voice, deep, rich and full, struck a vibrant chord inside her. Her spine tingled. A shudder went through her. Slowly, she raised her head to meet the penetrating gaze of cobalt blue eyes.

"Hi," she said in a broken whisper.

The smile touched his eyes before spreading to his full lips. "I'm Phineas Bogg. We weren't introduced before." He held out his hand.

Dawn took it. Oh, God. His touch was soft and caressing. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest. "Dawn Jensen. Nice to meet you."

He squeezed her hand and then reluctantly released it. "The pleasure is all mine. How is your boyfriend?"

"He's not my boyfriend. The doctors say he'll be fine."

Phineas nodded. "That's good. How are you?"

She looked down at the floor. His eyes were mesmerizing, intoxicating. And more intense than anything she'd ever felt, including her fencing lessons with Nikolas Cassadine. Oh, Lord, she thought, was she falling for this guy? This stranger? She had to get out of there before she did or said something stupid.

"I'm fine," she mumbled as she sidestepped him. "Thanks for asking."

"Are you in a hurry?" he asked, falling into step with her. "I know it's late and you don't know me from Adam, but… I'd like to know you. If that's okay with you."

"My sister and her boyfriend are waiting for me," Dawn said as they neared the exit.

Phineas' steps faltered. "Oh, I see. Have a good night—"

"No, wait." This was crazy, made no sense and possibly dangerous. But she was gonna do it anyway. "I'll tell them to go on without me. I can get a ride home from someone else. We can talk."

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