Ciarda ran until she couldn't run anymore. Exhausted, she fell to her knees in front of the fountain in the park. Shifting so that she hugged her knees to her chest, she closed her eyes and let the tears fall.
She couldn't really fault her parents for their inability to understand. They never had to ward off the cold from being in a sibling's shadow. In the Cates family, Gina was the only female and the youngest. She was doted on without even trying. And Tommy was the only child from her grandparents' marriage. Her Grandmother Simone married Grandpa Sonny when Tommy was an adult, and he was more like a father figure to Shana than an older brother. No, no one knew what she was going through. No one understood.
Leaves rustled behind her and footsteps made the ground shake. Quickly, she wiped her face and pasted a stiff smile on her face.
She turned. "Hi, Ben. What's up?"
"I was about to ask you that." He lowered himself to the ground and sat facing her. "What are you doing out here all by yourself?"
"Just hanging out."
"Want some company?" he asked.
"It looks like it doesn't matter," she told him, indicating that he had already sat. "I guess I don't mind."
He plucked a blade of grass and rolled it between his fingers. "Have you been crying?"
She tensed. That was question she hadn't expected and certainly didn't want to answer.
"I probably shouldn't ask," he admitted, "but your eyes are red and you were sniffling when I walked up. Is everything okay?"
"It's fine," she clipped.
Ben shook his head. Long dark strands brushed his jaw and he pushed the hair away in an absent gesture. "I thought we decided that we're friends and you can talk to me about stuff."
"I don't want to talk about anything. That's all everyone wants to do. My Mom's a shrink and yours is, too. Can't we let them do their jobs and just stay out of it?"
He shrugged. "Sure, if that's what you want, but I don't like to see my friends hurting."
"I'm not hurting."
"Liar," he said quietly. "Look, I won't press you."
"Thanks," she said with sarcasm.
Red colored his cheeks and he snorted. Guilt overtook Ciarda. He was only trying to help, and they were friends. He didn't deserve to be treated like crap. "I'm sorry. I had a fight with my Mom. I needed to get away."
Ben nodded in understanding. "What was the fight about? Trying to get the car keys?"
Ciarda shook her head. Suddenly, tears sprang to her eyes and fell down her cheeks before she could stop them. "I want to move away, Ben. She and Daddy won't let me."
He didn't seem embarrassed by her emotional display. Instead, he scooted closer to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. His long fingers gently caressed her while his voice conveyed his compassion. "Why would you want to move away? Where would you go?"
"Th-There's a boarding school in Connecticut. They have great classes."
"PC High has some pretty good classes, too. I know I graduated a few months ago, but I doubt if the curriculum has changed that much. Are you sure that's the reason you wanna move all the way to Connecticut?"
"You make it sound far. It's only a few miles away."
"Yeah, right." He placed his other hand on her shoulder and rested his forehead against hers. "Come on, lady. Out with it."
"Okay, I want to go becau-"
"Hey." Dominik greeted them with a scowl. Through narrowed eyes, he gave Ben a hard look. "What's going on?"
Dominik's less than friendly greeting didn't go unnoticed by Ben nor how the color drained from Ciarda's face. Her eyes pleaded with him not to say anything. He knew how she felt about Dom, so there was no way he would betray her. Slowly, he lowered his hands from her shoulders and acknowledged his friend. "Not much. You?"
Dominik shrugged. Unreadable emotions flickered across his face until he seemed to regain control and smiled. "Just a stroll in the park." He moved from behind Ciarda to squat in front of her. "Hey there, Squirt."
"Hi," she said, her voice hoarse and shaky.
With his forefinger, he briefly caressed her cheek. "Were you crying? Did Ben say something to upset you?"
"What?!" Ben cried. "Man, get a grip."
"I'm talking to Ciarda." Dominik rose to his full height and extended his hand. "I can take you home."
Ciarda shook her head. "I don't need a ride. I'm fine. Thanks."
"Are you sure?"
"She said she doesn't want a ride," Ben said, irritated. He remembered how cozy Dom and Alanna were at the anniversary party. What was Dom thinking about, making a move on Ciarda like that? "Besides, she's here with me. When she's ready to go, I'll take her."
Dom faced Ben and gave him an assessing look. "I didn't know you were dating."
Ciarda opened her mouth to speak, but Ben spoke up first. "What we're doing is none of your business."
Dominik's face turned crimson. He didn't say anything else to Ben. He told Ciarda he'd see her later and stormed from the park in a huff.
"What's wrong with him?" Ciarda asked.
"Jealous is what I think," Ben answered.
Ciarda rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right."
Ben decided not to convince her. He'd rather talk about her than Dominik anyway. "So, we've decided that you'll stay here and not move away, right?"
She shook her head. "Wrong. I have to go. It's the only way."
"Not true. There's always another way." Ben smiled. "I'll help you find it."
Tommy stood in the doorway of his office and waited as his secretary, Tya Palmer, noted his instructions. Lynn and Emily would remain at the office for the rest of the day, but their cases were separate. If something came up, he wanted to make sure Tya knew what was an emergency and what wasn't.
"Hi, Tommy." His mother breezed off the elevator and headed straight for him. "I stopped by to chat with you. Were you on your way out?"
"I was," he said, "but if it's business, let's go into the office."
Simone gave him a half smile, took his hand and said, "Let's go into the office anyway."
"Okay." His mother preceded him and he spoke to Tya. "As of this moment, I am no longer in the office. Unless Gina or my daughters are looking for me."
Tommy closed the door and crossed the room to sit beside his mother on the sofa. "What's going on?"
She paused for just a moment before she answered him. "Tom called me. He wants to see you."
Sudden started a low boil in the pit of Tommy's stomach. "So?"
"He's your father --"
"He stopped being my father when he didn't look for us," Tommy said with restrained emotion. "Why did he call you? He wants to see me. He should have called me."
Simone looked down at her clenched hands. "I think he was afraid you'd react this way."
"And he wanted you to smooth things over for him."
"Probably." She spread her hands flat in her lap and looked at Tommy. "Whatever you decide, I'll back you. You don't have to see him if you don't want to."
"Believe me, I know that." He stood. Folding his arms across his chest, he moved to the windows. The view of Port Charles was spectacular, but did little to soothe the chaos within him. "Why did he have to do this now? Twenty years have passed since we left that that awful place. If he wanted to see me, it should have been then. Not now."
Simone joined him and wrapped her arm around his waist. "Maybe he felt guilty for everything you went through and it's taken him twenty years to deal with it."
"So you think I should see him."
She shook her head. "No, I think you should do whatever is right for you. Think about it and then decide."
He closed his arms around her. He hugged her with the force of everything they'd been through together. "I love you, Mama. I'll do what you said. I'll think about it."
She pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I love you, too. I know you'll do the right thing."
"It's not too late to change your mind," Stefan reminded Carrie as they waited for Robert to be brought into the prison's visiting chamber. "He is not worthy of you. You owe him nothing. Not even your presence."
Her hand tightened around Stefan's. She smiled. "You always know what to say to make me feel special."
"That's because you are and I appreciate you, as well as, love you."
The large door on the other side of the glass partition opened with an echoing swoosh. Carrie stiffened. Stefan patted her hand, silently reassuring her that she wasn't alone. She would face her ex-husband, the father of her two daughters, and Stefan would be beside her the entire time. Her shoulders relaxed and she didn't react when Robert gave her the once over and released a low whistle. He purposely ignored Stefan.
"The rich life is treating you well," Robert said.
"You begged me to visit you. If that's all you can say to me, I'm leaving."
"Don't be so hasty! How are you? How are the girls?"
"We're all fine," Carrie said. "What do you want?"
"No pleasantries for you, huh?" he grunted. "I asked you here to make amends."
"Because it's time," he said. All the animosity left him and he slumped in his seat, like a hot balloon depleted of air. "I've never made excuses for what I did when it comes to the stuff that's got me in jail. I wasn't the best father or husband. I'm sorry."
Carrie stared at him. "What do you want from me?"
Robert drew in a deep breath. "Nothing, Carrie. That's all I wanted to say. That's it. I can see you're happy with him." He pointed at Stefan without looking at him. "Now, I'm happy for you. I didn't always feel this way and that's wrong. Resentment made me old before my time. I may never get out of here, and I don't want to spend whatever time I have left hating. Tell my girls I love them and tell Dawn I'm sorry, too."
Robert stood. His brown eyes glistened with unshed tears and his hands shook slightly. "This is goodbye, Carrie. You don't have to worry about me contacting you again." He gave Stefan a long, hard look. "Continue to take care of her. You're doing a much better job than I ever did."
Then, he left.