Chapter 34

The Difference (Part 1)

~*~…The difference between what you need…And what you wanna be…~*~

Over the past couple of weeks, Carlotta and Stefan tried unsuccessfully to play matchmaker and counselor. Dawn needed a break from their loving concern. She began taking walks. At first, she never ventured from Stone Island, but today, she desperately needed a change in scenery. The park between PCU and GH seemed a spectacular choice.

The trio of armed Russian guards crowded her like looming, silent oaks. After twenty years, Dawn had grown accustomed to their presence. Quite a few times, she forgot they were there. But lately instead of welcoming the sense of protection she felt with them, she resented the reminders they represented. Every quiet step that coincided with hers painfully brought to mind who was no longer beside her. In his absence, Nikolas towered higher and wider than Mount Everest.

Unbidden memories of the early days of their courtship came to mind. She remembered walking in the park with him and then suddenly being snatched from his embrace. He fought so hard for her but it wasn't enough. The men took her and locked her away. Fear took root in her heart. In her youth, she was either too stubborn or too foolish to acknowledge it.

God, that fear… Dawn blinked once as chill bumps crept over arms. She dropped to a bench and wrapped her arms around herself. Ivan approached her first. In Russian, she responded to his concern and maintained she didn't want to leave, yet. Walking here today had been no coincidence. She was determined to face the memory and consider its significance regardless the discomfort.

Footsteps crunched a few yards away. The guards closed in, hands already on their weapons. Dawn looked past them and recognized the friendly face of a resident fan who once promised to marry her if Nikolas didn't treat her right. She laughed at the irony of his approach now.

"He's okay," she said to Arman who blocked the man's path. "Hi. I haven't seen you in awhile."

"I saw you at Jacks," he responded with the same exuberance she remembered from their youth and first encounter. "You didn't even stop at our table. Not once."

She chuckled at his playful scolding. "Will you forgive me?"

"As long as you keep making beautiful music, I won't have a choice." He glanced at the guards who continued to hover. "You'd think they'd recognize me by now, but maybe all your fans look alike."

"They have a protective instinct that I don't argue with."

"Well, the bald one looks ready to shoot. It was good seeing you again." He reached out and briefly touched her shoulder. "Take care of yourself. You've meant a lot to so many of us."

Tears threatened to sting her eyes. She blinked them back. "Thank you. You do the same."

He continued through the park. Dawn found herself watching his departure and thinking about their lives. From correspondence, she knew he'd married and had a family. He attended every DJLS concert that he could. Jordan, Lorenzo and Sly also knew him, but she was obviously his favorite band member. Nikolas only warmed to his dedication after he mailed her wedding pictures. She supposed Nikolas never forgot his marriage proposal either.

"You can withdraw your guns. I have no weapons."

She started at that voice. Damn. How the hell did he find her?

She stood and once again advised her guards that she was under no threat.

"Alan-Michael."

"Dawn," he said, brushing past the Russians. "Was that a fan encounter?"

"More like a friendly acknowledgment."

"You're not at all what I expected," he said quietly.

"Sorry to disappoint you--"

"Not exactly disappoint," he cut in. "When I first saw you just now, I intended to walk away. If you didn't give a damn about saving your marriage, why should I?" She flinched, but he continued without missing a beat. "Then, I watched how you and that man interacted. No outward displays of affection, but I knew you shared some kind of history. Then, I realized he was probably a fan. I was at your anniversary party so I've seen how you interact within your close circle."

"If you have a point…"

"I'm getting there." He sat on the bench and patted the space beside him. After she grudgingly joined him, he said, "You are the fierce warrior that I've read about, but like most warriors, you've grown weary of the battle."

She laughed at him. "You gathered all of that while watching me talk to a man you don't even know. Wow, Alan-Michael, I do believe you've missed your calling."

"I read people, Dawn." He shrugged. "I wouldn't have the business sense I have if I didn't. I approached you with anger before and I was wrong. I made assumptions. Again, another error."

"So, now you want to be friends."

He shook his head and gave her a wan smile. "I doubt if we ever could. It's a pity, though, because we might have been good ones. "

"Anything's possible, but you're right."

He laughed. "Finally, we agree on something." He shifted to face her. "I love Gilly and I'm determined to preserve our marriage. You asked me before about staying with someone who doesn't want me. That's a hard call to make yet it makes all the difference in the world. I can see her drifting away, but I also know that she's fighting that pull. I wanted to like Nikolas, but for obvious reasons, I can't. I don't want to lose my wife."

A painful lump lodged in her throat. Swallowing it made her voice hoarse and scratchy. "I wish you the best of luck."

"This is absolutely none of my business, but I'll say it anyway. You're drifting, too." He lightly pressed his fingers to the back of her hand. "Be careful where you end up."

He left before she found the words to respond. As so often the case, lyrics immediately came to mind.

For all that you know…This could be…The difference between what you need…And what you wanna be…

 

"Dear God," she whispered under her breath. Everything's been a struggle, and he was right. I am tired. I want to be strong and stoic and nonchalant. But none of that helps. I don't want to miss or need Nikolas, but I do. Is that the difference? Deciding between need and want? What's more important? Pride, love or weakness?

Over the past twenty years, she and Nikolas fought others and themselves to be together. Could either of them really walk away after all they'd been through? Was she brave enough to seek the answer?

[Song credit: "The Difference" by Matchbox Twenty]

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