Chapter 8

~ Trust a Try ~

…gonna make it through but you must give trust a try

"Did you see the flyer on the bulletin board by the cafeteria?" Buffy asked as she breezed into the study room.

Ciarda usually studied in their room, but she and Buffy planned a study session with friends. Ciarda's classes ended before the others so she reserved the room for them. She closed her biology book and looked at her roommate. Seth, dressed in his practice rugby uniform, lurked in the doorway. Ciarda smiled. "Hi, Seth. What flyer?"

"The one about the school paper!" Buffy tossed her backpack onto the sofa beside Ciarda and shrugged off her sweater. "They're looking for writers. You have to submit. I plan to and so does Latrice. Wouldn't it be killer if we all did it together?"

"Yeah, it sounds like it could be fun." Ciarda replaced the book on her lap with her laptop. As she began to search her files for something to submit, a shadow fell over her. The scent of fresh cut grass and pure Seth ??? assailed her senses. Goosebumps spread over her arms. Her skin prickled. She swallowed hard and tried to ignore him.

"You have a lot to choose from." Seth squatted beside her. "You didn't tell me that your talents extended to writing. What else are you keeping from me?"

Ciarda felt the heat of a blush creep up her neck. "I'm not keeping anything from you."

He lowered his hand to her shoulder and gave her a light squeeze. "Sure you are. All girls do. It's to keep guys like me in line." He stood and headed for the door. "I have practice. Good luck with the paper." He made eye contact with Ciarda. "There's a party after the game this Friday night. Wanna come?"

Her heart nearly exploded. Was Seth asking her out? She looked to Buffy for confirmation. Her friend responded with a vigorous nod and a dramatic wink.

She wasn't sure what to say. Ciarda wasn't too fond of rugby, but she thought Seth was cute. He seemed interested in her likes and dislikes and whenever he visited Buffy, he always made sure to include Ciarda in the conversation. It was weird. For the first time in a long time, she enjoyed a guy's company without comparing him to Dominik. Or to Ben.

"Yeah, I wanna."

Seth grinned. "Cool! Wear something comfortable. I'll call you later. Bye, Buff. Later, Ciarda."

After he left, Buffy plopped onto the sofa beside Ciarda. "Well, he finally did it."

"Did what?"

"Ask you out, silly!" Buffy tugged on Ciarda's hair for emphasis. "You'll have to give me all the details, but not too many. He is my brother, you know. There are some things siblings shouldn't know about each other."

Buffy giggled and Ciarda joined in. So far, boarding school was turning out better than Ciarda expected and it looked like things were about to get even better.

~*~

Keesha stuffed her balled fist into her mouth to keep from screaming. Morgan James had found a way to work most of her nerves and she was now down to her last two. He wanted to know where everything in the house was and if he didn't like it, he was determined to move it. She didn't give him the fight, she instinctively knew he wanted. She simply agreed. To everything. And now, she was ready to kill him.

She stormed from the den, leaving him as he proceeded to rearrange the furniture. Her footsteps carried into her into the kitchen where she found Ben, Marissa and AJ. The three appeared to be as thick as thieves and she wondered what they were up to.

"What's he doing?" Marissa asked.

"Proving himself to be the new and improved Martha Stewart."

Her kids gave her puzzled looks. AJ grunted.

"Who's Martha Stewart?" Ben asked.

"She was the woman who could do everything," Keesha explained.

"Until the SEC busted her," AJ added. He moved behind Keesha and began to massage her shoulders. "You're tight. You gotta relax, Keesha. I'll take care of him--"

"You promised you wouldn't," Keesha interjected to remind him. "I'll be okay."

"No, Uncle AJ is right," Marissa said. "You need a break. I'll go stand in for you."

"Me, too," Ben said. "Together, we can break him down."

"Kids." Keesha's voice held a warning.

Ben held up his hands in mock surrender. "Mom, we'll be good. We'll kill him with kindness."

"Of course, we won't literally kill him." Marissa followed Ben to the swinging door.

"Speak for yourself," Ben advised as he stepped into the hallway.

Marissa's response was muffled as the door swung closed upon their exit.

"You raised great kids." AJ's arms snaked around her waist from behind. He pulled her close. "The imbecile will never know what hit him."

"According to the DNA, that imbecile is your brother and my... JE's father." She shook her head. "I find it so hard to believe. He's nothing like Jason. Not one little iota. Even when he was Jason Morgan, there was still a tiny piece of him that reminded me of Jason Quartermaine."

"The Jason we knew is gone, Keesha."

He moved away. Keesha turned to face him. AJ's blue eyes were dark. She sensed a storm brewing inside him. Great. Not him, too.

She released a weary sigh. "Look, he's bad enough. Don't you start, too."

A sudden smile came to his face. "I'm not starting. I promised I wouldn't be a pain in the ass. I want to help. I know a way I can."

He took her hands and pulled her close again. Leaning forward, he rained kisses on her brow, nose and cheek. By the time his lips covered hers, Keesha was more than ready.

Mmm...he tasted so good.

AJ nuzzled her neck. His hands caressed the small of her back. "Let me move in with you and the kids."

His sensual lovemaking wasn't enough to block out her common sense. Keesha pulled back. "What? Are you crazy? The judge would have a fit if my fiancé moved in! He'd hand delivery JE to The Imbecile."

"So, you expect me to just walk away and leave you alone with him?!" AJ questioned in rush.

"I'm not alone! The kids are here--"

"Not all the time. What if he tries to secure his husbandly rights?" he asked. "You know if he did, he wouldn't make it through the night." He pounded his fist for emphasis.

"Okay, you're taking it too far." Keesha sat at the kitchen table and grabbed a cookie from a plate. "You and I both know I'm not his type. Too much melanin. A roll in the hay with me would damage his precious jewels."

The tips of AJ's ears turned bright red. His eyes flashed. "You're turning it into a joke! It's not funny. He's a bigot, Keesha. You don't know what he's capable of."

She broke off a piece of the cookie and calmly said, "I remember when you weren't sure about dating me because of my skin color."

"I was young and stupid and wrong. I made amends for that," he said, joining her at the table. "He's older and mean. I don't want him to hurt you."

"He'd never lay a hand on me."

AJ shook his head. "You're too trusting."

The door swung open. Morgan stood in the doorway. Keesha couldn't tell by his face if he'd overheard them. Not that she cared. Determined to play the kindness card for all she was worth, she lifted the plate and extended it toward him. "Cookie?"

He didn't respond to her question. Instead, he said, "Those kids are underfoot."

Keesha felt AJ stiffen. She patted his knee. "What are they doing?" she asked.

"They're helping me." A muscle flickered at Morgan's jaw. "I don't need help."

A pat on the thigh wasn't enough to keep AJ quiet. He stood and said, "Take it anyway."

Morgan's eyes narrowed. He looked from Keesha to AJ and back to Keesha. "The judge didn't figure him into this."

The door swung violently behind Morgan.

"What is that supposed to mean?" AJ asked, his chest heaving.

"It's a threat," Keesha said, more calmly than she felt. "He'll tell the judge if you're around too much."

~*~

George stood between the two twin beds, looking down at his sleeping brother. JE's slumber was peaceful and a smile was on his lips. George remembered when AJ brought Keesha and JE home from the hospital. His mother tossed and turned all night. He and Grace spent a lot of time with her, trying to ease her grief as they came to terms with their own. Their Uncle AJ and other family friends were always nearby and looked out for the children until Keesha was able to. George remembered feeling sad about his dad's 'death' for a very long time. Then, he took a long look at the newest addition to the family. Even in infancy, Jason-Everett's resemblance to Jason was uncanny. Bright, sparkling blue eyes lit up with happiness. And the baby's ready smile promised future mischief. George loved all his siblings, but JE held a special in his heart. The little boy reminded George of the man who was the best father he and Grace had ever known or would ever remember.

Adrik mumbled in his sleep. His arm fell from the covers. George broke free of his reverie to tuck the boy in better. When he was done, he kissed JE's brow and turned to leave. A shadow darkened the doorway. The smell of lilacs drifted to him. But he would have known Noelle without smelling her perfume. She was always around. In his thoughts, when he knew better. And in his presence, when his guard was down. He took in a quick breath and hoped her efforts of making good on her crush would be quelled considering her father was only a few doors down the hall.

He moved to leave the room. She stood aside as he closed the door. "Weren't you spending the night with your aunt?" he asked.

"I was," she said, more subdued than he had ever seen her. "Uncle came back sooner than expected so I'm back home."

"Nikolas didn't tell me."

"Papa didn't know," she said quietly. "He was surprised when we came home."

"We?"

"Mama and me." She moved toward the staircase.

George followed her. "Are you okay?"

"I wish Dominik was here," she said as they reached the first floor. "He'd know what was going on."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, confused by her demeanor. Noelle was always vibrant and bubbly. Low key didn't seem to be in her vocabulary. Until tonight. He lightly touched her arm. "What's wrong?"

They stood at the French doors that led to the back verandah. Moonlight streamed through the windows. Lantern light illuminated the gazebo where two figures stood. George guessed that the couple were Dawn and Nikolas. They weren't locked in embrace as he had often seen them. Despite the closed doors and the inability to hear their conversation, he sensed tension in the air. He placed his hand on Noelle's shoulder.

"Parents have disagreements."

"Mine don't," she said. "Not like this. Mama… and then, Papa…"

Tears fell from her aquamarine colored eyes in wild abandon. George closed his arm around her shoulder and guided her away from the doors. They sat on the steps of the staircase. Noelle rested her head trustingly on his shoulder. George's heart lurch. Sixteen-years-old and she had no idea what she was doing to him. Never in a million years would he take advantage. He willed himself to regard her the way he did his sisters and his cousin Anya. Like family.

"They'll be okay, Noelle," he said, gently rubbing her arm. "Your parents are the perfect example of marriage, family and love. Don't cry and don't be scared."

She sniffled. A few moments later, she raised her head and looked at him. "Maybe you're right. I've been talking to my grandma about her and Mama's father. They divorced. Maybe I've been scared that the same will happen with Mama and Papa."

George nodded. Apparently, Noelle didn't remember or didn't know that her parents had divorced, too. He decided he wouldn’t be the one to tell her.

He wiped away her tears and brushed the wispy golden brown curls from her cheek. "You should wash your face."

"I will." She stood and he rose, too. She moved up the staircase and then suddenly paused. "Papa didn't tell me that you were coming over tonight."

He shrugged. "It was a last minute decision. Mama wants him to stay here a little longer than expected. I stopped by to see if he was okay with it. He is."

"That's good." She gave him a faint smile. "I'm glad you were here."

"Just standing in for Dominik."

Her smile faded. Her eyes locked with his. "You're not a stand-in for my brother. You could never be. Not with me. Good night, George."

~*~

"If you had told me you were coming, I would have met you at the airport."

Dawn stared at Nikolas, realizing that she was seeing a part of him she never thought she would. A liar.

She shook her head. "This has nothing to do with that."

"Then what is it?" he asked. His eyes didn't quite reach hers. "What is it that you are asking of me?"

"How far has it gone?" she asked. "How low have you sunk?"

His olive-toned cheeks colored. Even with the dim lighting from the lantern posts, she noticed the blush. Oh, God. She had only been guessing.

Dawn dropped her lashes quickly to hide the hurt.

"What?" He reached out to touch her. She flinched. He backed off. "What do you think I've done? I've been busy with work--"

"Give me a little credit, Nikolas," she said, quietly. "A woman can feel things. She senses changes. The truth is wrapped around you like a halo. A distorted, cracked halo."

"You're talking in riddles--"

A hot tear rolled down her cheek. "You're the only man I've ever been with. How did you think I wouldn't know?"

He exhaled a low breath. He moved to stand just inches his from her. His head tilted until their eyes met. Dawn wanted to look away, but she couldn't. It was so stupid. She felt stupid. She still loved him.

"I don't know what you think I've done," he said quietly, "but I've never meant to hurt you."

"You have." She choked on a sob. "You're driving the dagger in deeper with every second that passes and you don't tell me the truth."

He reached out as if he wanted to touch her, but he didn't. "The truth would hurt you, and I don't want that."

"You slept with her," Dawn said in a dull, pain-filled voice. "You made love to Gilly."

"No, I haven't."

She cursed him and the night. "The truth, huh?"

"It is the truth!" he said. He glanced toward the house and then back at her. "The kids are inside. Let's do this later."

"Do what?" Dawn asked. "You'd make me sleep with this tonight? You're not man enough to get out in the open? Do you really think that telling me you don't love me anymore over a cup of coffee and the morning paper will make it any better? Do you?"

He grabbed her shoulders. She tried to pull free, but he wouldn't let her. "I love you."

"You can't love me and fuck Gilly Spaulding," she said coldly. "It doesn't work that way."

"I didn't fuck her as you so crudely put it, but I wanted to." He quickly released her and stepped back. "There! What you wanted…the truth."

Too shaken to cry, Dawn wrenched the gold chain from her neck. She flung the Cassadine medallion at him. The heirloom hit his stomach and landed at his feet.

"So much for true love, eternal devotion and happily ever after," she choked.

"No," he said, his voice raw with emotion, "so much for trust. Nothing happened with her because I know you trust me. Excuse me, trusted me. You began your interrogation the moment you stepped from the limousine."

"No," she said, "that's not true. It happened the moment after. When you didn't hug me and kiss me and showed me that you missed me. If you had, my trust wouldn't have wavered. But you didn't and I knew."

"You don't know everything--"

"I know enough, Nikolas." Dawn moved toward the house. "You didn't fuck her, but you wanted to. You wanted to."

She turned on her heel and fled into the house. As the sobs tore through her.

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