"I'm not sure when I'll be able to repay you," Ellen said, taking the
small plastic bag of groceries away from Dawn. She set the bag on the counter next
to another small bag of groceries and then turned around to face the younger woman.
"The toiletries and the clothes were more than I could expect from anyone."
"Ellen, don't," Dawn said, patting Ellen's arm. "You don't have to repay me. Consider it as small token of my gratitude. You were there for me when Dara called about my mother. Besides, that's what friends are for, right?"
"Friends," Ellen repeated softly. "Yeah, I think you're right about that. Will you and Lucky be staying here for a while?"
"Nah," Dawn replied, shaking her head, too. She began to move out of Matt's kitchen with Ellen following her. She paused in the dining area. Her eyes sought Lucky's, who stood patiently by the door, and she felt warmed by his presence. She looked by at Ellen as she said, "We're going back to my apartment first. I want to pick up a few things before going back to the hospital. Um, I'm not sure what the arrangement is between you and Matt, and I'm not trying to pry...but if you find yourself needing a place to stay, I have plenty of room."
"Thanks," Ellen said, touched by Dawn's offer. "I'll keep that in mind."
Dawn gave Ellen a gentle, understanding smile. "Well, we're off now. I'll talk to you later."
"I'll come by and visit your mother in the morning. Who knows maybe there's something I can do for her."
"From your lips to God's ears," Dawn murmured.
"Are you ready?" Lucky asked, moving away from the door to stand beside her. He placed his hand at the small of her back, giving her the comfort that he instinctively knew she needed.
"Yeah," Dawn said, leaning against him.
"Bye Ellen. I hope all goes well," Lucky said, offering Ellen a half smile.
She smiled back at him reply. "Thanks."
"You're welcome to stay here, too, you know."
Dawn held her breath as she watched Lucky think over her offer. She wasn't quite sure where the words had come from, but she knew that she wasn't ready to see him go. In addition to her initial physical attraction, she had found herself warming to the man as well. He was caring, tender and strong. She was blindly drawn to him and desperately wanted him to say yes.
"I don't quite know what to say," Lucky began after clearing his throat. He swallowed hard and added, "Are you sure there's enough room?"
Dawn looked around at her two-bedroom condo. The furnishings were sparse, but homey. The sofa pulled out into a bed, making up for the fact that the second bedroom was her office. She didn't see how there couldn't be enough room. She nodded in the affirmative. "There's plenty of room. The sofa lets out into a bed or there's the couch that's in the office. I'd have to move some things around in there, but I wouldn't mind."
"You don't have to go to that kind of trouble for me. I could stay at the hotel downtown. I have enough cash on me-"
"No," she said, unable to stop herself from interrupting. "I'd rather you stayed here. Please. You don't want to stay at some dive. My home is clean, warm and free. I wish you'd reconsider."
"I don't want to put you out," he began but quickly stopped when he saw a dark frown crease her brow. "Okay, since you're sure that's okay. I'll stay, but don't bother moving your stuff around in the office. I can sleep out here on the sofa. It looks perfect." And to prove his point, he went to the dark green sofa and sat down. He leaned back against the plush fabric and released a low moan at its softness. "It feels great, too."
Dawn ignored the tingle that coursed through her at his innocent moan. She went to her hall closet and pulled out the extra pillows, sheets and comforter. She brought them back to him. "These are for you." Lucky took them and set them down on the sofa beside him. He looked up at her, his blue eyes twinkling merrily. Suddenly, Dawn lost her train of thought. "Um..."
"Yes?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I...uh..." She paused to take a deep breath.
"Are you okay?" he asked, rising to stand. He placed his arm around her shoulder and guided her to the sofa. Once she sat down, he joined her. "Don't worry about the sheets and stuff. I can do that myself. I think you should sit here for a little while and I'll make us dinner."
"But, I'm not hungry," she said, finding her voice after he moved away from her and disappeared into the kitchen. "Really, Lucky. You don't have to. I have to go back to the hospital anyway-"
"Not, yet," he said, returning with an apron tied around his waist. "You're planning to go back tonight. Give yourself this time to rest. And, yes, you are eating dinner."
"Nope," he said, raising his hand to silence her protests. "If I can accept your hospitality, you can listen to my words of wisdom."
"Words of wisdom?" she repeated, giggling softly as he folded his arms across his chest and gave her a stern look.
"Yes, ma'am!" he said. "So, do we have a deal?"
Her giggles faded into a smile. "Yes, we have a deal. But, please, no chili, okay?"
Lucky returned her smile with a hearty laugh. "No chili."
Matt stared at the key in his hand before he slipped inside the lock. He knew that once he unlocked the door and went inside, his world would change again. He wasn't sure if he wasn't ready for it. Ellen had come back into his life just as suddenly as she had left it. Now, she waited for him inside his home. The moment he had dreamt about for thirteen months, three weeks and two days had arrived and to top it all off, he was a little afraid to face it.
"Oh, be a man, Harmon!" he berated himself. "You wanted her to come back and she's here. Face her and be done with it."
He pushed the key inside the lock and wrenched the door open in one swift movement.
As he wheeled himself inside his apartment, he felt the change immediately. He had done a few things to make the place more than a place to sleep and eat. He had tried to make it a home, but now... Well, it felt different to him. In just one afternoon, Ellen's presence had given his four walls everything it had been missing. He hesitated at acknowledging the difference she had made just by being there, but he couldn't deny it. Ellen filled up the emptiness-in his home and in his heart.
Wheeling further into the apartment, he called out to her, "Ellen, I'm ho-here." He rolled past his dining room table and tossed his keys there. He continued on until he was in the kitchen. A pan of vegetarian lasagna sat warming in the oven. He opened the refrigerator door and saw that a tossed salad had been made. He was impressed.
"Hi, Matt," Ellen said, her voice husky as she came up behind him. "I hope you don't mind, but I made dinner. I wasn't sure if you'd be hungry when you came back so it's here if you want it."
"It looks great," he said, speaking in a neutral tone. "It smells great, too. Thanks."
"Sure," she said. "If you want, I could fix your plate...or something."
"No, that's fine," he said. "I can do that myself. Will I be eating alone?"
"No!" she said, moving around him to grab napkins and silverware. "I waited for you."
As she moved past him and away from him to set the table, Matt found his eyes drawn to her. She had lost a considerable amount of weight. Her cheekbones were more pronounced and she was thinner. Oh, she still had curves, but they were not as luscious as they had been before. The T-shirt and sweatpants that she wore were baggy on her, but he would never forget the beauty that the clothes hid. Gone were her dreadlocks. Her reddish brown hair framed her face in soft, spiral curls. His fingers twitched, reminding him of the times he ran his fingers through her hair...again and again. He turned away, fearful of what other body parts that may betray him.
"I made brownies, too," Ellen announced as she entered the kitchen again. "I'm a little rusty, but I think everything is edible."
"Well, it all smells delicious," he said, not sure if he was ready to ask her what she meant.
The next few minutes were quiet as the pair worked in silence, preparing the dining room table for their dinner. Matt took care of the salad and wine while Ellen brought in the lasagna. Once their plates were covered with their meal, the silence was interrupted with the sounds of their forks tapping against their plates and the wine flowing into their glasses. Soon, the meal was over and the time for talking had arrived. Matt leaned back, laced his fingers together and waited. Ellen understood the hint.
"I didn't just leave, Matt," she began softly.
"I'm aware of that. You've said that over and over," he reminded her.
"I know. I just..." She drew a long breath and began again. "Everything is so crazy and none of it really makes any sense. I don't know where to begin because I'm not sure if it will even help matters. And, furthermore, I'm not even sure if I know what the beginning is anyway!"
"Just tell me what happened," Matt said, gently. He was concerned by her agitated state. His doubts began to disappear as he reached out to her and took her hand. "Just talk to me, Ellen."
Her hand fit perfectly in his. Just as it always had. Her fingers closed over his strong hand. He gently squeezed her hand, silently encouraging her.
"My memories aren't as clear as they should be, but this is the best that I can do. I remember working my shift at GH. I stayed a little later than I was scheduled to because I had a few charts I wanted to review. A few minutes into my review, I received a page. It was urgent and from my mother. I left everything and headed straight to her apartment-"
"And, how was Alice? Did she have a relapse?" Matt questioned.
"That's just it. I don't know. I believe the page was a ruse to get me out of the hospital and out on the open road."
"Why do you say that? It doesn't make any sense."
"Matt," she said quietly. "it makes perfect sense. After getting inside my car, the next thing I remember is waking up in a mental ward."
"Ellen!" Matt cried in disbelief. He tried to release her hand, but she held on tight.
"It's true!" she responded. "I promised I wouldn't lie to you and I'm not lying now! I woke up strapped down to a bed. I tried to tell the nurses and doctors that I was Dr. Ellen Burgess, but none of them would believe me. They kept calling me Barbara. Barbara Green. And, the more I protested, the less they listened. Instead, they pumped me up with drugs and kept me sedated. After a while, I almost believed that I was Barbara Green."
"Barbara Green?" he repeated. "Who is she? What is she to you? Do you suppose that you look like her? A case of mistaken identity?"
Ellen shrugged. "I'm not sure. I almost believe that Barbara Green doesn't exist. That she was created to replace me...to keep me locked away...to keep me away from you and my family."
"But why, Ellen?" he asked. "You have to admit that this story seems farfetched. How can something so incredible be true? Being committed to an asylum? Come on, Ellen. You have to agree that's it a little out there."
"I know, Matt. I told you that. None of it makes sense, but it did happen!"
"But why? And you're here now," he said. "If someone locked you up, how come it was so easy for you to get out?"
"Who said it was easy?" she asked, quietly. "I didn't just walk out of there, Matt. I wasn't released. I escaped. I tricked my way out and for weeks, I hid in the woods, terrified that I'd be caught. I slept in the bushes and in old abandoned farmhouses. I lived off of rain water, nuts and berries. My journey back to Port Charles wasn't an easy one."
Stunned, Matt could only look at her for a moment. Then, quietly he asked, "Why didn't you just call me or your mother or anyone?"
"I was too afraid to. When I realized that I really was Ellen Burgess, M.D., I understood that someone went to great lengths to turn me into Barbara Green. I couldn't be sure if you or Mama would get my call, and if you did, would someone find out and look for me again? I couldn't risk being caught. I decided to take my chances and come back to you on my own."
"And, here you are," he said softly, his eyes burning brightly with admiration as he looked at her.
"And, here I am," she responded. "Do you believe me? Will you help me? Before I live comfortably as Ellen again, I have to find out why I was taken away in the first place. Could you help me investigate this?"
"Ellen," he said, closing his other hand over hers, "I almost feel like a fool for saying this, but yes, I do believe you. Yes, I will help you. I will do whatever it takes to get the people who did this to you."
"Thank you," she said, her eyes wet with unshed tears. "I was so afraid that you wouldn't believe me... Oh, Matt, thank you so much."
Ellen's voice cracked and soon the tears spilled down her cheeks. Matt didn't hesitate to move closer to her. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him. She rested her head in the crook of his neck and shoulder, shaking with her sobs. His large warm hands stroked her back and hair, holding her close to him. They remained that way until the tears subsided and both were tired.
Later, Matt convinced her to sleep in his bed while he rested on the sofa. For hours, sleep eluded him. His mind worked to create an outline for their investigation. After a while, he became too tired to concentrate, and as he fell asleep, he thought of a name and the call he would make first thing in the morning.