Chapter 5

~ The Knowledge ~

What you don't know can hurt you bad

The Wyndemere attic was free of cobwebs, dust and litter. The immaculate space reminded Carrie of a museum, every artifact in its proper place. The only things missing were mini-spotlights and placards. The cleaning staff took their work very seriously. Carrie wondered if Mrs. Landsbury, the previous Mrs. Landsbury's daughter-in-law, supervised with a velvet whip. She laughed softly at the thought.

"What's so funny, Grandma?"

Carrie smiled at Noelle. It was the teenager's idea to rummage the upper levels of the mansion. She came with a radio and an empty box. Carrie supposed this little trip was an acquisition expedition, too.

"Just thinking that most attics aren't this clean," Carrie answered. She beckoned for Noelle to join her in the middle of the room. "Where do you want to start? And how much do you plan on carting away?"

Noelle laughed. "Aw, Grandma. Just a little of this and a little of that. It's for a school project. Get something from the old days, interview a family member about it, and detail how it impacted on that person's life."

Carrie let the 'old days' crack roll off her back and focused on the other part of her granddaughter's statement. "You chose to interview me? Why not your Grandpapá? The Cassadine's history is fairly extensive."

The teenager wrapped her arm around Carrie's waist. "Your history is pretty extensive, too. Besides, Dom based his report on Grandpapá. Now, it's your turn."

Noelle's heartfelt declaration touched Carrie. She pulled the girl into an embrace and said, "Thank you, baby."

"Where do you want to start?" Carrie asked after the hug ended.

"I don't know. Let's dig until we hit something good."

They laughed and went to work. Carrie showed Noelle where which trunks and chests belonged to her. Noelle claimed a chest while Carrie went to a trunk. The two chatted while they worked.

"I spoke with your mama last night," Carrie said. "She misses everyone."

"I know. She called us after she talked to you. Uncle is there now."

"Oh, really?" This was news to Carrie. Lorenzo hadn't said a thing to her about going to Genoa City. "How long is he planning to stay?"

"For a couple of days. That's all he can stay away from Lynn. He ordered me to spend the night with her," Noelle said with a laugh. "He doesn't want her to be alone."

"Ordered?" Carrie chuckled. "That sounds like him."

"I'm glad that Uncle is with Mama. She wanted Papa to go with her, but he's so busy," Noelle commented. She pulled out a purple paisley mini-dress and held it up. Her face broke into a wide grin. "I know my Grandma didn't wear this!"

Carrie grabbed the dress from the laughing girl. "I did so wear it. Now, hush!" Smiling, she held up the garment and admired it. "This was sewn on your great-grandmother's machine right in the Big Apple. I wore it on a date with Robert."

Usually, the mention of him caused Noelle to rattle off a bunch of questions. Her curiosity about Dawn's father was understandable since Carrie knew Dawn never mentioned the man. Carrie hoped that one day the rift between daughter and father would one day heal, but in the mean time, she appreciated Stefan's eagerness to fill Robert's role in Dawn's life.

"What's this?" Noelle pulled out a jewelry box. She tried to pull open the lid. "It's locked."

A cold chill went through Carrie. Her breath caught in her throat. When she spoke, her voice was choked. "Give it to me."

Noelle obeyed. Her aquamarine eyes grew large with concern. "What is it, Grandma? Are you okay?"

Carrie shook her head in reply. With trembling hands, she clutched the box. "Could you bring me a glass of water?"

The teenager stood. Her hand rested on Carrie's shoulder. "Should I get Grandpapá?"

"No, baby. Just some water. Thanks."

After Noelle left, Carrie willed the shaking to stop. A blast from the past wasn't cause for the dramatics, she told herself. It was just a box.

With a painful secret inside. The secret of Stefan's birth, the brutal rape of his conception.

~*~

"How is she?"

Stefan joined Dara and Alex in the solarium. Alex's hand rested comfortably on his wife's knee. Stefan noticed how the other man's fingers flexed in an effort to ease Dara's anxiety. As Stefan chose the seat beside Dara, he lightly touched her shoulder and smiled. Twenty years had closed the chasm between them. Carlotta's oldest daughter no longer regarded him with distrust. They weren't as close as he and Dawn, but the relationship they shared held no barriers.

"Your mother is resting," he announced. "She will join us later."

Alex gave Dara's knee another pat before he settled back against his chair. "I'm surprised you're not up there with her."

"She probably made him come back down," Dara said.

Stefan's mouth twitched with amusement. "You know your mother well."

The younger Mrs. Landsbury entered with a tray of coffee. She served each person and left. Stefan wasn't in the mood for coffee this afternoon. His thoughts were on the floor above. Carlotta was quiet when he went to her. Her brown eyes stared at him with such dismay. He wanted to stay with her, but she wouldn't hear of it. Noelle also asked to sit with Carlotta. Their granddaughter's offer was politely declined.

"Stefan?" Dara's soft voice broke him from his reverie.

He blinked once. "Yes?"

"We were reminding you of our trip to Greece," Alex said.

"Are you sure that Mama is okay?" Dara questioned. She moved to stand. "I'll call Simone and ask her to come over."

Stefan shook his head. "No, Dara. Your mother has made her wishes known. She is not in need of a physician. Nor does she want visitors. She wishes to be alone to rest. We will honor that."

He reached for the coffee pot and poured the hot liquid into a china cup, filling it halfway. His movements were mechanical as he returned to the conversation. "The servants are awaiting your arrival. If you require assistance with the research, Andreka Mylo will be at your disposal. She is the official historian for the Cassadines."

"Thank you," Alex said. "The invitation for you to join us is still open."

Stefan lifted his shoulders in a noncommittal response. Having written poetry in his youth, the possibility of writing a fictionalized account of a Greco-Russian empire intrigued him. Perhaps, he would join them. But not before he uncovered the cause for Carlotta's distress.

~*~

Simone soothed the crying ten-month-old baby with coos and a gentle massage on his back. Soon, the child relaxed and she was able to examine him.

"He's teething," she said, handing the child back to his worried mother. "Here's a prescription. Massage the ointment on his gums. It will lessen the pain and he'll be laughing again as usual. If the medicine doesn't work, give me a call."

"Thank you, Dr. Corinthos." Balancing the baby in one arm, the mother took the prescription. She smiled as she left Simone's office.

Simone returned to her desk and began to add notes to the child's file. When she heard the mother say, "Excuse me," Simone looked toward the door. The ready smile that usually came to her lips whenever someone darkened her office doorway vanished. She pushed away from her chair and rushed to the door. Ire rippled violently in her veins.

"You always had a way with children."

"You have a lot of nerve coming here!" She clenched her hands at her sides to tame the urge to strike Tom Hardy hard across the face. "You should never have contacted Tommy!"

"He's my son!" Tom snarled back at her.

"When it's convenient for you to remember," she hurled at him.

"Dr. Corinthos, should I call security?" Simone's assistant hovered worriedly just behind Tom. Her anxious dark eyes darted from one angry figure to the other.

"Simone, please," Tom said as the tense moment lengthened. "We need to talk."

Silently, Simone counted to ten. The exercise calmed her, but not by much. She looked at her assistant. "No, Cassidy. I don't need security." She gave Tom a pointed look. "Not yet."

Standing aside, she allowed Tom to enter her office. Then, she closed the door. As he sat, she moved to the window. Her arms wrapped around her and she stared down at him. "You have five minutes. What?"

Tom shook his head. "The attitude doesn't become you. Is this what marriage to a thug has done to you?"

"Don't go there, Tom."

A red flush stained his cheeks. "Our son hates me."

"I can't believe you're surprised," she said. "When we were first abducted, every day he'd reassure me that we would be okay because his Daddy would find us. Every day, he'd say this until finally he realized you weren't coming. The day he stopped talking about you my heart broke because I knew his innocence was gone. And nothing would bring it back.

"So, don't sit there acting like you're the hurt party in this. You made your choice."

"How can you say that?" Tom asked, rising to his feet. "When did I get to choose?!"

"Where were the police reports listing Tommy and me as missing, Tom?" She said, her anger returning in full force. "Where were you when we came back? You never called! You didn't even send a postcard. Audrey made excuses for you, but it still hurt. Not because I cared about you. But because of our son! He needed you and you chose not to be there. And this forced return only brings it all back for him. Not just your absence, but everything else!"

Tears sprang to her eyes. She blinked them away. "A lot of years have passed. Too many. It's too late, Tom. Leave now. If you ever cared anything about him, please just leave him alone."

"I can't."

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