~ Secrets and Lies ~
The crisp early morning held promise. Birds chirped happily and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Tommy inhaled a deep breath as he stepped onto the back porch. The screened door creaked open behind him. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that he wouldn’t jog alone on that early morning. He smiled at Ciarda. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Daddy," she said quietly. "Mind if I jog with you?"
"Of course not." He took her hand. "Come on. We can start off with walking and build up to heart pumping stuff later."
They were half way down the block when Tommy realized that Ciarda was unusually quiet. He looked at her and noticed that her complexion was pale and her eyes were red. Something was up and it didn't look good. He wasn't sure if he should just ask or give her time to say whatever was on her mind. As they came to the halfway mark of another block, his concern grew and he opened his mouth to speak just as she said,
"Daddy, Port Charles High isn't what it's cracked up to be."
Remembering her problems in elementary school, his senses went on alert. Anger threatened to boil the blood in his veins. "What's happening at school? Is someone bothering you?"
"No, it's nothing like that," she said. "It's the courses. They're not really geared towards what I want to do, you know."
"Your mother and I reviewed the curriculum. It seemed appropriate."
She shrugged. "Well, it's okay, but there's a school that has everything I need without all the useless extras."
"And you want to transfer?" he asked.
"I'd like to. It's still early enough in the school year that I wouldn't have missed too much. I know I could catch up. I checked on the Internet and they are still taking new students. If we hurry, I can still get in. Can I do it, Daddy?"
Tommy stopped walking and Ciarda did the same. Her huge hazel eyes pleaded with him to say yes. He could rarely tell her 'no' when she or her sister or their mother looked at him like that. Releasing a low breath and sighed. "Your mother and I will have to discuss it before a decision can be made. Which school is it? Is it the Academy on Hickory or Rappaport High on Mulberry?"
"Actually, it's neither. It's a boarding school in Connecticut. I think I'm warmed up enough. Let's jog now, okay?"
"No, wait a second." He grabbed her arm before she could move away. "Why a boarding school? Aren't you happy here? Please, don't give me some song and dance routine about curriculum. I can see through that, sweetheart. Tell Daddy what's wrong. The truth, please."
Her bottom trembled and her voice quavered. "What makes you think something's wrong? I just want to go to a good school."
"Ciarda," Tommy said firmly. "The truth."
"Okay, Daddy. The truth is I don't want to be in Alanna's shadow anymore."
"You're not in her shadow," he told her. "What would make you think that?"
"Because I am!" she cried. Tears trembled on her eyelids. "People do it all the time and I'm sick of it! I'll never be as popular, as pretty or as friendly as she is. I want to go somewhere no one knows that I have a twin sister who's perfect and will judge me for who I am!"
She burst into a fit of tears and Tommy immediately reached for her. Rubbing her back in sweeping strokes that often soothed her as a small child, he stood with her within the circle of his arms completely at a loss of words. Ten years ago, he thought her feelings of inferiority had been resolved. His heart broke knowing that he and Gina had been wrong. If anything, those feelings had gotten worse and he had no idea how to help her. These feelings of helplessness angered him and broke his heart.
"So, how's University life?" Nikolas asked his oldest son as they exercised their horses, Sheba II and Isis, along the wooded path. "Have you encountered anything amiss that you'd like to discuss?"
Dominik shook his head and adjusted the bit in Isis' mouth. "Everything's great, Papa. I can't complain."
Nikolas nodded. "Well, that's good to know. Your mother will be relieved."
"Mama isn't worried," Dominik said quietly. "You are."
"I'm not worried," Nikolas denied. "I'm concerned, of course. University is a unique experience. I was hoping that we could talk about it-"
"What's there to talk about?" his son asked. "I go to class and I do my work. It's not a big deal."
Nikolas tugged on the reins until Sheba II halted. Dominik grudgingly did the same. "What's going on, Dom? Are you upset about the car? You won't be assigned a driver unless you prove that you require one?"
"It's not that," he mumbled. "I was driving to fast. I admit it and I won't do it again."
"Well?" Nikolas prompted. "What's the problem? Before you seemed to enjoy our morning rides. This morning, I'm getting the impression that you'd rather be otherwise engaged. Am I in error?"
"I have a few things on my mind this morning," Dominik explained. "That's all."
Dominik looked down at the reins in his hand. "It's just some personal stuff. I don't want to bother you with it."
"Does it have anything to do with Alanna Hardy?" Nikolas and Dawn noticed how long the couple danced last night and how close they seemed. Alanna was a beautiful, intelligent young woman and neither of them would mind if Dominik became involved with her.
"Somewhat," Dominik said, "but there are other things."
"What things?" Nikolas persisted. "You can tell me anything. I'm your father. You should know that you can trust me."
"I do trust you," Dominik said, "but I'd rather not go into it, right now. Is that okay with you?"
Nikolas released an exasperated sigh. His son was stubborn and pushing Dominik would only serve to drive him away. He nodded once. "As you wish. If you'd rather not continue the ride…"
"Thanks, Papa," Dominik quickly said. "I have something I need to do in town and I should leave now. I'll be home in time for dinner. Bye!"
Nikolas watched his son ride away from with more enthusiasm than he'd like. When Dom was a little boy, he was always nearby and eager to talk with him. Now, that he was on the brink of manhood, Nikolas was fortunate to have a scant five minutes of his son's time. It saddened him and made him long for the relationship they once shared.
The flight for wasn't schedule for three hours so that gave Carly some time to check out the boardwalk at Venice beach. She'd lost sight of the man who bore a startling resemblance to Jason last night, but in the light of a new day, she refused to be deterred.
An old photo of Jason and Michael was thrust under the nose of every man, woman and child she encountered. Most tried to brush her off. She stood firm with them as best she could, but the people of Venice Beach, California weren't soft. If they didn't want to answer, they didn't.
She returned the bar where she caught a glimpse of him and showed the bartender the photo. The man gave the photo a long, hard look before he handed it back to her.
"Well?" she asked, when he didn't respond. "Have you seen him? Do you know him?"
He turned his back to her. Rattling a number of bottles and glasses, he said, "I can't say for sure."
"Look at it again," she pressed on. "I have a few more minutes before I have to go."
"What's this fella to ya anyway?" he asked, turning around and wiping off the counter. "He owe you some money or something?"
"No, he's just a friend."
"It seems to me that friends don't have to go searching for each other. They usually pal around and stuff." He stopped wiping to look at her.
Carly stiffened and her irritation grew. "I don't owe you an explanation. Why don't you just give me a straight answer? Have you seen him or not?"
He returned her stare and didn't blink once. "No, I can't say I have."
"I don't believe you," she argued. "I think you're lying."
He shrugged and didn't say another word.
Carly couldn't waste another moment talking to him. She had to get to LAX before her flight took off. And from the cagey look in his eyes, she knew he wouldn't say anything more. Sliding the photo back into her purse, she spun on her heel and slammed out of the bar.
"What are we gonna do if we really find him out here?" George asked, looking at his twin sister and his best friend. "If Uncle AJ wasn't kidding around about the marriage proposal, finding Dad could be the worst thing we could do right now."
"This is fine time to have misgivings now," Michael said, sullenly, "we're flying over Chicago."
"I've been thinking about it since we took off and it doesn't sit well with me. Sorry I didn't say anything before," George retorted.
"Okay, separate corners, please," Grace said. "Both of you have valid points."
"So what do you propose we do?" her fiancé asked. "I don't want to hurt Dad or Aunt Keesha, but we've come too far to turn back now. My Mom could still be alive, too. I can't give up looking for her. I just can't."
"I know," she murmured, closing her hand over his. "This is a sticky situation. George, I don't think there is a right answer. We've been searching for years and Mama put her heart and soul into looking for Daddy. I think we owe it to her to find out if this man is him or not."
"Yeah," George said, running his hand over his face. "But this is the last time. If this guy doesn't turn out to be Dad, we should stop looking. Mama's moving on and maybe it's time we did the same." He looked at both of them. "Agreed?"
Michael's jaw tightened and he directed his gaze to the passing clouds. Grace watched him for a moment before answering her brother with a nod.
"Mike?" George prompted. "Man, there has to come a time when we face the facts. We can't keep searching for what's not there. It's for the best."
"Maybe so," Michael said quietly, "but it's not the easiest thing to do. I know you're right. After LA, it's over. I won't look anymore. "