Chapter 4

~ Lonely ~

'Cause everybody needs a friend to be there…when they're lonely

Brad entered the bar with his father's advice as his guide. Muffled conversation greeted him. There weren't too many people hanging out. The work day had just ended and the evening hadn't officially begun. This was the time Brad liked the best. Capturing some of Lesley Lu's attention wouldn't be difficult. And with the new approach of playing it cool, maybe he'd capture more than just her attention.

"What's up, Ward?"

Brad nodded in greeting to Claude, the bartender. The guy had been there for longer than Brad could remember. It was rumored he stood behind the counter back when Lu's father ran the place. Brad shuddered. He couldn't imagine being in one place that long.

"Not much." Brad headed for the jukebox. "What's up with you?"

"Same ole, kid," Claude said, wiping off the bar. "Things never change."

Brad chuckled. "Not with an attitude like that."

Claude grunted, grabbed his towel, and went into the back. Brad's chuckle grew into a laugh. Claude was gruff, but underneath it all, he was a nice old man.

"What's so funny?" Lesley Lu entered from the swinging doors that led to her office in the back. Her chestnut tresses were pulled back into a ponytail. The silky mane bounced as her footsteps drew closer.

Brad imagined setting her hair free and allowing the locks to trail over his hands. His laughter died and his heart began to race. He drummed his fingertips against the jukebox in time.

"What?" Lesley Lu asked, making her way behind the bar. "You guys laughing about me?"

A glimmer of hurt crossed her face. The telltale emotion surprised Brad and gave him hope. Maybe she cared more about him than she let on.

He left the music machine and moved to a stool. "No, we were just talking. Claude is cool."

Her features softened into a smile. "He's the best. I couldn't run the place without him." She opened the cash drawer and started counting the money. "You're here early. Dom hasn't even shown up, yet."

"I didn't know he was coming," Brad replied, doing an amazing job of keeping his disappointment in check. "We have a paper due in Econ. He said he was midway through it the last time we talked."

"He finished it," she said. "He should be here any minute."

"Great," he mumbled. His hopes of getting 'friendlier' with Lesley Lu vanished as her nephew soon joined them.

*^*

"I thought you guys are friends."

Dominik glanced at his aunt. His mind didn't fully register her statement. His thoughts were where they usually were…in a girls' boarding school. "Excuse me?"

"You and Brad," she clarified. "He left and he barely said goodbye."

Dominik shrugged. Brad was weird like that. Besides, he had more important things to ponder over than Brad Ward. His life was in turmoil. University was a chore and he knew without a doubt, he was failing Econ. He and Ben barely spoke. Alanna wouldn't give him the time of day. And worst of all, Ciarda was spending time with her roommate's brother! And his Aunt Lesley Lu thought he and Brad had problems? No way. His friendship with Brad was the only thing that still made sense.

"Do you mind if I play?" He pointed to the baby grand piano that claimed center stage.

"I'd love it, but watch the time. The dinner crowd will arrive soon." She went back to checking the liquor supply and making sure that every table was perfect. Dominik watched her for a moment. His aunt was one in a million. Never fussed. Always in a pretty good mood. When he needed a break, she was a good person to turn to.

He moved to the piano, sat and began to play. His fingers warmed up with a classical piece his mother taught him years before. 'Fur Elise' was her favorite composition and his, too. As his fingers glided over the ebony and ivory keys, his eyes closed. He remembered watching his mother play. The serene expression on her face and then the sudden wide smile as she switched to a Little Richard tune and winked at him. He remembered how his father would laugh and join her on the piano stool. Papa wasn't the most musical person in the world, but sometimes, he'd sing the words. The tune was never quite right. Yet, his mother never complained and soon, the entire family would sing at the top of their lungs.

Those were good times. The previous separation was forgotten and they were a family again. Growing up, he and Noelle often discussed their parents and how perfect they were together. Noelle didn't fully remember the time when their family wasn't whole. Dominik doubted if he would ever forget and wouldn't dare mention it to Adrik. As the eldest, Dominik held his role in high esteem. He was Noelle and Adrik's protector and role model. The former was fine, but it was the latter…

His parents, especially his Papa, wanted so much from him. His father expected him to follow in his footsteps. To lead the Cassadines…every single one of them. Dominik was the heir to a throne that meant nothing to him. Of course, he loved the title and the privileges of royalty, but he didn't want to be another Nikolas Cassadine. He just wanted to be himself. He just wanted to play his music and to somehow understand the triangles he'd wound up in with him, Ciarda and Ben and the other with Ciarda, him, and Alanna.

Usually, he played 'Fur Elise' only once. This time, his fingers couldn't stop. The chords drew him in and wrapped around him, refusing to release him. His body swayed in time with the music. He ceased his search for answers and closed his mind to questions. His surrender to the rhythm was complete.

*^*

Robin arrived early for her dinner date at what used to be Luke's. She glanced around as she moved further into the popular nightspot. The décor was warm, friendly and with the lights dimmed, the hint of seduction lingered. Luke and Laura's little girl had done well for herself, Robin decided. But where was the help? A hostess or a host or somebody to take her order?

She opened her mouth to speak but the sound of music halted her speech. Her gaze drifted to the stage. There in the middle was a young man, playing his heart out. His back was to her, but despite that, Robin sensed his passion from across the room. She forgot about her thirst and moved to the stage. Years ago, she'd seen legendary performances take place there. Mary Mae, Miguel, and Eddie Maine held concerts her memories treasured. But this unknown…he was giving a performance that overwhelmed her senses.

Just as she reached the stage, a voice from behind called out.

"I'm sorry, but we're not open for dinner, yet."

The music came to an abrupt halt. The young man stood and quickly turned around. As his dark brown eyes connected with Robin, a tremor coursed through her. Nikolas? It was like she had traveled back in time and the Nikolas Cassadine she helped to recover his speech stood in front of her again. Young, handsome and virile.

His gaze broke from hers as he looked behind her. He stepped down from the stage. "I'm sorry, Aunt. I lost track of time." He glanced at Robin, nodded briefly and strode from the restaurant.

Robin enjoyed the view of his retreating backside far more than she should have. Then, remembering her surroundings, she pasted a polite smile to her face. "My apologies. I hope I didn't scare him away. His music was astounding. You rarely find someone as young as he with a talent like that."

The younger woman smiled. "Thank you. Don't worry. You didn't run him off. Come, have a seat at the bar. Would you like a drink?"

"Sex on the beach would be wonderful," Robin stated. Saying the words brought a tingle to her midsection. "He called you 'aunt'," she said, moving to the bar. She sat on a stool and waited for her drink.

"He's my nephew."

Robin frowned. "Oh, really? You're rather young to have a nephew as…mature…as he."

"My brother started his family early."

"Forgive my curiosity," Robin said with a faint smile. "I lived here years ago. Your face is familiar, but I can't seem to place it…and your nephew, he could be the mirror image of Nikolas Cassadine twenty years ago."

"I'm the owner of this place, Lesley Lu Spencer," she said. "Dominik is Nikolas' son. You know my brother?"

Ah-ha! Nikolas' son? How perfect was that?

Keeping her delight under a tight rein, Robin nodded. "Yes, once upon a time, your brother and I were good friends. Very good friends."

*^*

"This research is amazing," Gilly said. "We never received feedback this detailed in Springfield."

Nikolas returned her smile. "You should have contacted Tommy."

"I admit his name and his company's reputation is well-known." She stood, placed the report on the table and stretched.

Nikolas noted how her curves molded against the silken confines of her blouse. Unease settled over him. He looked away. His gaze connected with the wedding band on his left hand. Twinges of guilt hit him. He shoved his hand inside his pocket and went to the bar. He poured ice cold water into a glass and drank it all in one swallow.

"Alan-Michael had a few reservations about using him," Gilly admitted, seemingly unaware of Nikolas' struggle. "So, we went with John Black in Salem. His firm is good, too, but not quite as thorough as Tommy's."

He poured more water into the glass. Her comments piqued his interest. As he made the ice cubes clink inside the glass, he asked, "What reservations did your husband have?"

Gilly shrugged. "Nothing important."

Nikolas frowned. Now, he really wanted an answer. "They were important enough for him to choose someone else."

"You and Tommy are best friends," she replied. "I don't want to say anything that would put a strain on our…business…relationship."

A faint smile curved his lips. "Nothing you say could do that. Gilly, you can trust me. I know how to separate my business life from my personal one. Tell me."

"Okay," she said, embarrassment bringing a dark color to her cheeks. "Tommy's abduction concerned Alan-Michael. The media surrounding it wasn't all good and he didn't want any of it to fall negatively on him or our company. See, I tried to warn you."

"Your husband shouldn't make assumptions," Nikolas stated.

The heat of Gilly's gaze warmed him. Her eyes remained steadily fixed on him. "That's not the only assumption he's made."

Caution rang like an alarm inside Nikolas' head. He shouldn't venture forth into unknown territory. But curiosity got the better of him. "What else has Alan-Michael said?"

"He's concerned about our friendship—yours and mine. I told him he has nothing to worry about," her eyes belied the uncertainty of her words.

Nikolas' throat constricted. More lay under the surface. He felt it, and so did she. But dare it be explored?

He brought the glass to his lips and took another large gulp. "You spoke wisely," he replied, his voice strangled. Inside a voice scolded, he should have gone to Wisconsin with his wife.

*^*

Dawn and Traci spent most of the day discussing Dawn's eighteenth birthday. The painful memories of being abducted brought back countless emotions. Fear, anger, confusion. When Dawn asked for a break, Traci squeezed her hand, apologized and said that the interview would be continued when Dawn felt like it.

She doubted if she ever would.

Dawn had never divulged so much to anyone about that awful time. She trusted Traci and knew the other woman would only use what was absolutely necessary. But both felt some things needed to be understood in order for Traci to write the best and most accurate history of the band.

A walk in the gardens helped Dawn to gain control over her emotions. Earlier, tears threatened to escape. She held them back until she was alone. Now, she played a harsh game of control. Refusing to give in, she didn't want to unleash the well inside her. For if she allowed herself to cry, she wasn't sure if she'd have the strength to stop.

That room, the drugs those women gave her… The terror when Dominik stopped moving inside her… Being without Nikolas… Being forced to face what she felt for Lucky because back then Lorenzo hadn't evolved, yet.

Oh, God, she groaned. Her Nikky, how she needed him right now. But he wasn't there. He was with Gilly. Because the other woman needed him. Did he forget that Dawn needed him, too? Especially now. Now, when the terror of facing the truth made her take the coward's way and do nothing?

"Hey."

The quiet voice startled her. What was he doing there? How did he know?

"Greedy," Lorenzo said, his voice warm and teasing, "I know you heard me."

She slowly turned to face him. Tears stung the backs of her eyes. His appearance shouldn't have been a surprise. He was always there when she needed (Nikolas) someone.

"Hi, Selfish. What are you doing here?" Folding her arms around her, she moved across the fresh-cut grass to give her brother-in-law a hug. His arms closed around her tightly. As she returned the embrace, her resolve weakened. The tears she held at bay for so long flowed freely down her cheeks. Embarrassed, she broke the hug and turned away. "Look how happy I am to see you. Sniffling like a baby."

Lorenzo moved to face her. His fingers cupped her chin and raised her head until their gazes locked. "I know happiness when I see it. What's wrong? Is Traci delving too deeply into the past?"

"Not exactly. Just feeling lonesome for a friendly face, I guess."

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "You don't have to look any further. I'm here."

Dawn's arm closed around his waist. She leaned against him and they headed back to the Abbott-Carlton estate. As she questioned him about Lynn and their growing family, she realized something. Although Nikolas was her soul-mate, Lorenzo was and always had been her best friend. Between the two of them, she'd have to reveal her secret. She prayed for the strength to get the words out for when that time came.

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