~*~…love tastes bitter when it's gone…~*~
A restless night brought forth a restless morning. As pink rays of light filtered through the curtains, Nikolas gave up on sleep. He'd tossed and turned the entire night. No position felt comfortable. The mattress grew lumps. The pillow refused to be fluffed. Without his wife and children under his roof, nothing was right. So, he left the bed and attended to his morning chores.
Upon his return from tending to Sheba, he entered the house to hear the phone ringing.
"Good morning, Papa!"
Air lodged in his throat. Heartache pressed hard against his chest. "Good morning, Sunshine."
"Hold on," Noelle said.
"G'morning, Papa! How's Sheba?"
Nikolas smiled. His youngest's interest in animals refused to be abated. "She's fine. How are you? Did you sleep well?"
"It was okay," Adrik said. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too." The confession fell easily from his lips. After all, it was the truth.
"Mommy's here. Hold on."
Merde. Nikolas pinched the bridge of his nose. Please, God, let this go well.
"Hello?" His wife's voice, husky from sleep or maybe lack of, came on the line. "Who is this?"
"Me," he bit out more harshly than he intended. Shame washed over him at her sharp intake of air. He released a low breath. "I'm sorry. How did you sleep?"
He swore he heard her frown. "The same as usual, not too well. You?"
"I've had better nights," he replied. More lingered on his tongue, but he knew better. They weren't ready for what plagued his mind. Besides, her reasons for leaving were valid. Even if the thought of admitting such in the cold light of day ripped his heart in a million pieces. "What are you doing today?"
There was a slight pause. "Breakfast with Dominik. Jordan left a message. Something about a meeting. I have to call him and see what's going on." She added in a strained whisper, "What about you? A busy day at work?"
"I don't think so. I'll probably stay home today," he said. "I'm not in the best of moods."
"Oh. Um…Noelle wants to talk to you. Have a good one, Nikolas. Hold on. Here's your daughter."
"Sorry about that, Papa. Adrik just gave her the phone," Noelle explained.
Nikolas rubbed the heel of his palm against his forehead. Mother and daughter were so much alike it was damn near frightening. Getting either of them to admit it required a man far more patient than him. "There's no need to apologize. I wanted to speak with her."
He sighed. "Yes. Sunshine, you will not disrespect your mother. Do you understand me?"
Stubborn silence followed his question. "Noelle!"
"Yes, Papa. I understand. I'll be sweet as pie."
"No," he said. "You'll remember you love her and she loves you. Nothing more. Nothing less."
No sooner than that call ended another one came in. "Yes," he said.
"Is this the Cassadine residence? My boss gave me the number, but I'm not sure."
"Who is this?" Suspicion flared inside Nikolas.
"I'm sorry. I'm Paul. I'm one of your messengers. Ms. Spaulding sent me over with a package, but the security guy won't let me in. He says he needs permission from you first."
"Very well." Nikolas hung up and quickly dialed Sergei.
A few moments later, Paul arrived on his doorstep. "I need your signature, sir."
Nikolas nodded and signed on the dotted line. Paul handed over the thick padded envelope. The messenger left and he tore into the package. A half ream of paper fell into his hand. He turned it over and read the cover page, Skyrocket to Stardom: The True Story of the DJSL Road to Fame by Traci Abbott Carlton.
Another lump formed in his throat. Merde.
With the script in hand, he went into the den, sat on the floor and began to read.
~*~…all the good slips away…~*~
"Don't you dare sit there and negate all the good your father has done! The good hasn't slipped away just because he and I are having problems."
Dominik looked away from his mother's outrage. Thank God they dined at Wyndemere's south terrace. If they had eaten breakfast in Port Charles, he would have never lived the humiliation down. He couldn't remember a time when she'd been truly angry with him. Maybe disappointed a few times, but never enraged. Not like now.
"Dominik, listen to me." She grabbed his chin and forced their gazes to lock. "Do not waste a moment being angry with him. You have with him what I never had with my father. Nikolas deserves better from you."
He took her hand. "And you deserve better from him."
Her eyes brightened with unshed tears. "Baby, there are things you don't know and things I can never tell you. But one thing is certain, he loves you. From the moment we learned about you, he loved you. He only wants the best for you, your sister and your little brother. We're trying to see what that is."
Merde! Why was his mother so obstinate? All he wanted was for her to know she wasn't alone. He was on her side. None of that had anything to do with the great, hypocritical Nikolas Cassadine.
"You have dark circles under your eyes."
She fumbled for her sunglasses and slipped them up her nose. She stuck her tongue out. "There. Is that better?"
"You're beautiful, smart and funny," he said. "Papa isn't the only man out there."
"Since you opened the door to this line of questioning…how's your love life? Ciarda's new look is interesting. I prefer the curls, but she's beautiful with or without. She and Alanna are beauties. Smart, too, just like their parents."
Dominik's gut clenched. His mother knew just where to get him. He knew her questions weren't meant to hurt him, but they reminded him how easily he damaged two great friendships. Now, Ciarda was miles away and Alanna couldn't look at him without mistrust clouding her eyes. He shifted, but the discomfort didn't lessen. He rubbed his stomach.
Dawn reached out and touched his forehead. "What's wrong? You don't feel warm."
"I'm fine. Just a little indigestion."
She smiled. "It's called gas."
"Mother!" He aimed for outrage but failed miserably.
They burst into a fit of laughter.
"Would you like something for it?" she asked as the laughter faded. "I have Ro-Laids™ in my purse somewhere."
"No, thanks. I'm fine." He stood and took her hand as she rose. "I hope I didn't ruin your breakfast."
"No way. I love spending time with my babies."
He bent forward for her kiss on his cheek. He hugged her. "I really want you to be happy. Promise me you won't settle. You'll go for happiness no matter what it takes."
She frowned. "That was my speech for you. Okay. I'll promise if you'll promise."
He extended his pinkie finger on his right hand. She latched hers around his. "Deal."