Chapter 22


~*~…cloud up my reasoning…~*~

Nikolas left the backstage in a fog of confusion. This place and this event brought back too many memories. The person he once was thought he understood everything. He and Dawn loved each other and together, nothing was impossible. Twenty years later only proved how wrong they were. He loved her and without a doubt still wanted her, but was it enough to save their marriage? With all the hits and the misses, uncertainty plagued him.

His family waited for him on the second floor. He glanced toward their glass tower. From this distance, he couldn't see anyone, but he was certain that Stefan and Carrie were there by now. They volunteered to bring Noelle and Adrik. Dominik was old enough to arrive on his own.

Nikolas stopped. Just thinking of his children brought him up short. The problems between him and Dawn were taking their toll on not just them, but their offspring, too. What was the best solution? For any of them?

A light tap on his shoulder pulled him from his reverie. He blinked and then turned to face whoever wanted his attention. His eyes widened as they locked on the warm, brown gaze that met his.

"I didn't think I'd see you again."

Gilly nodded. "Me either."

He took a quick breath. This was awkward. He'd missed her at the office. Seeing her now only reminded him of that. She looked amazing. Her hair was different. Shorter. And the dark red dress she wore accentuated her rich brown skin tone and breathtaking womanly curves. He forced himself to look away.

"Where's Alan-Michael?"

"He's here. We have a table on this floor. I would invite you to join us…"

"I couldn't accept," he said.

"I didn't think so."

~*~…she takes, what she gets…~*~

"I'm excited, Grandpapá."

Stefan smiled down at his young grandson as he handed the boy a glass of juice and a napkin. Adrik took the items and clutched them in his hands.

"I've never been to one of Mama's concerts before."

"I know."

"Do you think Mama and Papa will be happy now?" the boy asked as he stared into his juice. His voice was small and quiet.

Stefan drew closer. He placed his hand on his grandson's shoulders. "What do you mean?"

"They argue," Adrik confided. "Dom says it's not my fault and Noelle does, too. But my pets get loose. Mama doesn't like that and Papa always tells me to be responsible. I don't mean not to be."

The child's confession confirmed what Stefan suspected. He pulled the boy onto his lap and gently held him. "Listen to your brother and sister. Whatever ails your parents is not your fault. They love you. They would do anything for you."

"Do they love each other?" His words were muffled against Stefan's shirt.

Stefan didn't want to lie so he said what he felt to be true. "They'll always love each other. Don't worry, Adrik."

"Worry?" Carrie asked as she joined them. She glanced from Adrik to Stefan. "What's wrong?"

"I was telling Adrik that although adults argue, the disagreement does not mean they no longer love each other."

Her gaze remained locked on Stefan. "Oh."

"Oh." He nodded once, a single gesture of forgiveness.

~*~…she don’t, but she will…~*~

Cold, heartless silence echoed at the table. Despite the crowds and the background music, a cocoon of unearthly quiet enveloped Keesha and Morgan. She ordered an apple martini but the beverage settled like lead in her stomach. After the first sip, she didn't touch it again. Morgan regarded her with his stoic mask firmly in place.

"What's wrong with it?"


She stared past him at the people who seemed happy and excited. Once upon a time, she enjoyed those emotions. But not since Morgan's arrival. Nervous excitement, yes. But definitely not happy. She hadn't been truly happy in a very long time. Sitting here brought back memories. Memories of the happiness that came after the first time DJLS played at Jacks.

"You're lying," he answered.

"Leave me alone," she said through clenched teeth.

Just hearing his voice! God, why did he have to sound so much like Jason? Wasn't it bad enough that he wore his face and had his scent? Did he have to share his voice, too?

He leaned across the table. Startled by the movement, she looked at him. That was a mistake. He was too close. Close enough that she saw the beads of perspiration dotting his upper lip. In a reflex action, he licked his lip. She inhaled a sharp breath

"I can't do that," he said.

"You find it easy enough to do it Ben and Marisa." Her hard stare defied him to deny it.

A flash of color heightened his cheeks. He flinched and abruptly sat back. His jaw became set and he didn't respond.

This reaction wasn't what she'd hoped for. And accusing him like this wasn't what she intended. She planned to have a civilized discussion. Of course, she couldn't make him treat Ben and Marisa the same as JE, but maybe bringing it to his attention would…

"They're not mine," he said.

"It shouldn't matter."

His eyes narrowed. "You're lying to yourself if you say it doesn't."

"It doesn't." She could hardly believe the words coming from his mouth. What kind of monster had he transformed into? Was race, or as he put it 'blood' more important than love and affection?

"Ben and Marisa came to us--me as babies. They needed care and we gave it to them and more. Grace and George were a little older and loving them came just as easily. I don't love JE more because I gave birth to him."

"You should."

She shook her head. "You don't get it. I don't understand you at all. I see you with JE. The humanity, patience and compassion you show him…are incredible. If you can do that with him, why not with Ben? Don't you understand that when he looks at you he sees his father? More so than JE. To JE, his father was nothing more than a picture in a photo album or a person on videotape. You were real, but there were no memories. The twins, Ben and Marisa have memories of their father. They miss him."

"I'm not him."

And that made the conflicting reactions to him that much more confusing. He wasn't Jason. Same as before.

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