Chapter 7: Off-kilter
Clayton to returned to Springfield with renewed vigor. The sabbatical, although cut short, gave him what he needed: rest coupled with study. His research of the days during the Reconstruction period inspired him more than ever to continue his book about that time. Felicia told him he would come back ready to write. Of course she was right. She usually was.
He hadn't told anyone about his plans to return early. Leaving without speaking to Mel had been wrong. Their meetings reached a high level tension that made him uncomfortable. She was always his little girl. He was the one she called out for whenever she had nightmares. His name was on her lips every time she celebrated an academic victory. He never imagined a chasm of discontent would ever form between them.
The Boudreaux home greeted him with warmth and silence. No one knew he was coming, but sadness still struck him upon encountering an empty house. He closed and locked the door behind him before trudging up the staircase. His luggage thumped on the steps, reminding him of the drumbeat of an old jazz tune. In the old days, he would grab his horn and play freestyle. Just letting the music take him where it wanted. But that life was behind him. He was a Dean now. The carefree life that once claimed him was a thing of the past.
He reached the master bedroom he and Felicia shared. A flicker of light shone through the crack between the door and the carpet. Clayton blinked. Maybe he wasn't as alone as he thought.
Eagerness rippled through him. He wanted to be suave, smooth and casual. His hand had another idea as it wrenched the door open. He couldn't fault his body part. He'd missed his wife.
"Have mercy," he murmured as he crossed the threshold.
His gaze took in the scene. Candlelight cast a warm glow. A light airy scent filled the air. And there lay his wife in the center of the bed. Clayton's breath caught his throat. He'd never get over how beautiful Felicia was and how much he loved their life together.
She raised a finger and beckoned to him. "Come here. Let me give you a proper welcome."
His luggage dropped to the floor with a loud thud. Clayton shrugged off his coat as he rushed to the bed. His blood boiled with desire and excitement as he took in the up close view of his luscious wife.
The black silk and lace negligee curved to her body like a second skin. The temptation she offered was too much for him to resist. He made love to her like a man possessed. Hungrily and passionately.
When they later lay satiated within each other's arms, he took in a deep breath. It felt good to be home.
"This is perfect," he said, stroking her back and enjoying the feel of her cool cheek against his chest. "How did you know I was coming back today?"
"I spoke with the front desk when I couldn't get you on your cell. They told me that you checked out." She smoothed her hand across his abs. "Clayton, there's something you should know, but you have to promise me you won't lose your mind."
He chuckled. "When do I ever lose my mind? I'm the most rational man you know."
"You used to be," she said under her breath.
"What is it?"
Felicia rested her chin on his chest. Their eyes locked. "Mel is moving in with Rick."
The feeling of peace that had come over him pulled a disappearing act. He remembered her request that he remain calm. His mouth slanted into a tight smile. "She won't if I have anything to say about it."
"How could you let this happen?"
Philip calmly ignored his father's irate tone. He turned the page of the evening edition of the paper and glibly responded, "Good evening to you too, Father. Yes, I'm fine. So are Lizzie, James and Zack. Yes, as you requested, we held dinner for you and we're glad that you're home because everyone is starving."
Alan gave Philip a cool look. "You are not amusing."
Philip snapped the newspaper closed and stood. "I wasn't trying to be."
"Where are you going?" Alan asked as Philip headed for the double doors.
"To let my children know that their grandfather is here and that dinner will be served." Philip met his father's stare. He was glad that his father wanted to play an active role in his children's lives, but Philip didn't appreciate making them wait indefinitely to eat. If Alan hadn't arrived when he did, they would have eaten without him.
Alan raised his hand. A tightening around his mouth was the only indication of his guilt. "One moment, Philip."
Philip spoke through lips that barely moved. "Make it quick."
"The Cassadines are partners with the Lewises."
"Not all of the Cassadines," Philip stated. "Only Nikolas."
"Only?" Alan repeated, his eyes narrowing. "He's the heir to the entire fortune."
"Where do you get your information?" Philip asked, his humor returning in light of his father's error. "Nikolas is no longer the heir. He gave it up in exchange for an undisclosed sum. Stefan holds the key to the Cassadine's vaults."
"You knew this?" Alan asked. "How?"
Philip smiled. "I have my sources." Upon Alan's stare, Philip continued. "I had dinner at their home. Nikolas won't be easy."
"Easy? What do you mean by that?"
"Come on, Alan. I've seen you play the game too long to be tricked now. Tread carefully. The kid has eyes like a hawk."
Alan smirked. "You sound disappointed. I hear his wife is beautiful."
Philip refused to be baited and headed out of the room. Over his shoulder he said, "And smart, too. You can't go wrong with a combination like that."
Marah reached for a white t-shirt and carefully folded it. From the corner of her eye, she saw her mother grab a pair of socks and roll them up. "You don't have to help me."
"I know," Reva said, "but I miss doing this for you."
"Shayne is still here," Marah said, referring to her younger brother.
"It's not the same. His clothes are boring." Mother and daughter laughed. As the laughter faded, Reva added, "Besides, I get the feeling that there's more to your visit than laundry."
Marah reached for her jeans, hesitating for a moment. Her mother's assessment was dead on, yet Marah couldn't ignore the strange tingling in her stomach. She was nervous. She'd never felt this way with her mom before, but they've never talked about anything like this before either. What would her mother say? Would she see a side of her that was better left hidden?
"Marah," Reva said, "you know you can talk to me about anything."
She met her mother's caring, curious blue eyes. "Remy's dad doesn't want Mel with Rick because he's white."
There, she said it. At least part of it. Marah held her breath, waiting for her mom's response.
"I know," Reva replied. "Felicia and I have discussed it. You and Remy have talked about Clayton's reaction, too?"
Marah nodded. "Remy hasn't said too much. Just what I told you. I told him that I don't think his dad is being fair. What difference does it make what color Rick is? He and Mel are happy. Shouldn't that be the most important thing?"
"It should be," her mother answered slowly, "but for some people, their color will make a difference. I think Clayton wants to protect Mel."
"So you agree with him?"
Reva shook her head. "Not exactly. He loves his daughter. No one can fault him for that. I think he should give Mel and Rick a chance to find out on their own what life has to offer them."
Marah grabbed a pair of shorts from the decreasing pile of laundry. As she folded the garment, she considered her mother's words.
Marah wondered if she should be bold and take a chance with Remy because the way she was beginning to feel whenever she was with himůsomething was bound to happen soon.