Chapter 11

Carly unpacked her suitcase under the scrutiny of her mother who leaned against the doorway. Staying with Bobbie would be a challenge, but Carly thought she could handle it. At least for awhile.

"You don't have very many things," Bobbie commented. "I thought you were moving back."

Carly bit her tongue on the retort she wanted to shoot off. Instead, she inhaled a deep breath and slowly exhaled. When she was sure she could respond without sarcasm, she said, "I am moving back, but the airlines aren't thrilled when a person fills up the luggage compartment with everything she owns."

"You don't have to get smart, Caroline," Bobbie said.

"That was a lot tamer than it could have been," Carly said, closing her empty suitcase and carrying it to the closet. "Everything is being shipped. I thought for sure we discussed this before I came. Getting lax on the Gingko supplements?"

"Cute." Bobbie left her perch to smooth the quilt at the foot at the bed.

Carly used the lapse in conversation to get a good look at her mother. She'd aged. There more lines around her eyes and mouth. Probably a mixture of laugh and worry. Bobbie was still as trim as ever, but the trademark billow of red curls no longer framed her face. Oh, you could tell she was an auburn-haired beauty, but streaks of gray added new dimensions to her features. Bobbie Spencer was approaching her golden years with grace, beauty and charm. Carly smiled and surrendered to the overwhelming urge to hug her mother.

Bobbie returned the embrace with gusto. "I'm happy you're back. I hope you are, too."

"I am," Carly said after the hug ended and the two women sat on the bed. "Leaving Southern California wasn't hard."

"Did your friends throw a big goodbye party for you?"

"Actually, I just hung out with Sandy. We went to Venice Beach --" The glimpse of a man's profile flashed before Carly's eyes. She inhaled sharply and glanced at Bobbie, who was staring at her with concern radiating from her. "You won't believe what I saw the day I left."

"What?" Bobbie asked. "Did you witness a robbery? If you did, you have to inform the police-"

"No, Mama. No robbery. I saw someone... It's hard to believe, but I know it was him." She paused and then added, "I saw Jason."

Bobbie frowned. She shook her head. "I know you miss him, but his plane exploded. There's no way he could have survived. Maybe the man just looks like him."

"It was him. I know it," Carly said firmly. "Jason is alive."


Michael swooped Grace into his arms while George couldn't stop staring. Michael wanted to kick his best friend but was afraid he'd drop Grace in the process. He cleared his throat to break the silence and the glare of the man who could be his uncle.

"Do you have a sofa or something I could lay her on?"

The mechanic tore his gaze from George and gave Michael and Grace a hard look. "What's wrong with her? I don't want any trouble here. The cops come down hard about drugs. I run a clean shop."

"She's just in shock," Michael explained. "She'll be okay."

"Shock, huh?" The man grunted. He waited another second before he jutted his head and strode toward a rear office. Michael and George followed. The door squeaked open and he pointed at a bed. "Put her down over there. "

When he disappeared inside the bathroom, George sputtered, "It's him! That's Dad!"

"I think it could be him," Michael said, sitting on the sofa beside Grace. He brushed long strands of jet-black hair from her face. In all the years he'd known her, he never seen her faint. At that moment, he was more worried about her state of health than whether or not that man was Jason Morgan-Quartermaine. "Has she ever fainted before?"

"No," George said, his voice distant.

Michael glanced at him and saw that George was too busy looking around the room to be concerned about his twin.

"I think he lives here," George said. "Look at all the stuff he has in here. A mini-kitchen over there, a TV, VCR, stereo. I bet that door over there is a closet."

"Don't do it, man," Michael warned as George headed to the closed door. "Be cool. The water's stopped running in the bathroom. I think he's coming back."

Michael's hearing was right on track. The man returned. Although his hands were clean, they were badly scarred as if he'd been severely burned. He carried a towel and a glass of water. He handed both to Michael, folded his arms, and waited.

Michael wet the towel and pressed the damp cloth against Grace's forehead. He murmured gently to her and soon, her eyes opened. Helping her to sit, he held the glass to her lips and instructed her to take it slowly. After she drank half the glass, Michael set the tumbler on the end table to his right. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Grace said, red colored her cheeks and she frowned. "I never faint."

"Your boyfriend says it was from shock," the man who resembled Jason said. "Are you sure that's all it is?"

Grace gave him a faint smile. "I'm positive."

"I guess I'll have to take you at your word." He looked at each member of the trio before he said, "What do you want?"

"We're looking for someone," George said. "We told you that."

"And I told you I don't know anybody."

"You're at least forty," Grace said. "You'd have to know somebody."

Distant humor twinkled in his blue eyes before it was dashed away and cold indifference replaced it. "I know a few people."

Grace reached inside her purse and pulled out a manila envelope. She removed an eight by ten color photo and handed it to him. "Do you know this person?"

He accepted the photo. His mouth tightened as he perused the image and handed it back to Grace. "She's beautiful, but I don't know any black women. Who is she?"

"She's our mother," George answered. His voice was tight and Michael could feel his sudden anger although a few feet separated them. "Are you sure you don't know her?"

"She's your mother? Are you sure about that?"

Grace's mouth dropped open and Michael left her side to put distance between an enraged George and the indifferent man. "We're positive. She's their mom and my aunt. Are you sure you've never seen her?"

"I told you before. I don't know any black women except for the few who've gotten their cars fixed here. That woman has never come in here for repairs. Is she missing?"

"No, her husband is," George said.

"Why did you show me her picture?" He questioned. "It doesn't matter. I wouldn't know her husband either."

"Why not?" George questioned. "Because you think he's black?"

The man nodded. "Yeah. Isn't he?"

Grace pulled another photo from the envelope. She handed it to him. "That's her husband. Do you recognize him?"

His face paled and then turned beet red. "It almost looks like me." He shoved the photo at her. "But it's not."

"How can you be so sure?" Michael asked.

"Because I would know if I was married to a-" He stopped speaking abruptly. He took in a deep breath and added, "I'd know if I was married. I'm not."

"Our father went down in an airplane about ten years ago. His body was never recovered," Grace said, carefully sliding the photos inside the envelope. "How did you burn your hands?"

"In an accident," he clipped.

"Our father was shot once," Grace said. "He has a scar on his chest, do you?"

"I'm not your father!"

"Don't yell at her," Michael said quietly but with enough force that the man backed off and visibly relaxed. "My mother was in the airplane with their dad. We've been looking for him for ten years. We just want to know if you're him. If not, we'll leave and never bother you again."

The man answered Michael with silence.

"Do you have a scar or not?" George demanded to know. "If you don't, we'll leave you alone."

"And if I do? What then? You'll force me to go back to your mother and live happily ever after? I don't think so."

"We wouldn't force you to do anything," George said through gritted teeth. "Our mother deserves better than a racist asshole. We'd put closure to this and move on. But if you do have a scar and you do turn out to be Jason, maybe you'd like to know you have a son who has your eyes and his mother's smile."

"A s-son? How old?"

"He's ten," Michael said. "So, do you have the scar or not?"

"Yeah, I have the scar, but the name's wrong. My name isn't Jason. It's Morgan. Morgan James. Looks like your search isn't over."

"No," George said. "More like it just ended."


AJ helped Keesha tuck Jason-Everett into bed. The boy had fallen asleep on the ride home from the ice cream parlor and AJ had deftly removed him from the backseat and carried him upstairs. They undressed him and he never stirred. AJ took that as a good sign.

Keesha kissed her son's brow and AJ took her hand. They left the boy's door ajar as they moved down the hall to the staircase. Music played from inside Ben's room, but since his door was closed, they didn't disturb him. "Does he always play it that loud?" AJ asked as they descended the staircase.

"Only when he's upset about something," Keesha said. "It's not so loud that Jason-Everett will wake up. That boy falls into a coma when he drifts off."

AJ released a suggestive chuckle. "That's good to know."

"AJ!" She elbowed his arm and shook her head. They reached the hallway. The kitchen and the den were only a few steps away. "Would like some coffee?"

"Are you trying to get rid of me so easily?"

Keesha shook her head. "No. Come on. Let's go into the den. Marissa bought a bunch of new DVDs. We can raid her stash."

He allowed Keesha to lead him to the sofa. While he enjoyed the view of Keesha's rounded backside as she rifled through her daughter's stack of DVDs, he said, "Will she have a ride home? I felt weird about leaving her at the ice cream place like that."

"She has friends who will bring her home," Keesha said. "If not, she'll call and I or Ben can pick her up."

"How efficient," he commented, as Keesha slid a DVD into the player. She stood, moved around the room, turning off lights and joined him on the sofa. AJ didn't miss a beat. He slipped his arm around her and accepted his reward when she snuggled against him. "This is progress."

The opening title of a recent blockbuster love story appeared on the screen. Keesha's hand rested on his thigh and squeezed. All the blood rushed to one place inside AJ's feverish body. He wondered if Keesha knew what she was doing to him.

"It's more than just progress," she said, tilting her head to look at him.

His gaze dropped to her full, sensual lips. The urge to kiss her nearly overrode his senses, but he fought for control. And somehow, he won. "How's that?" he asked.

"Today was an eye opener for me, AJ," she said softly. "I've been hanging on to a dream, and it's one that I'm not sure could measure up to reality. Jason is gone, and although I'll love him forever, I can't tie myself to his memory anymore. I don't want you to think you're his replacement because you're not. I love you, but I had been telling myself I wasn't in love with you. I didn't know I had been such a good liar until today."

"What are you saying?" His life hinged on her answer. He was almost afraid to hear it, but he had to know. He'd pressed the issue and now it was time for him to face the outcome. A prayer formed in his heart that she'd say the words he'd been waiting to hear.

"I'm saying that I want to marry you because I love you. What do you have to say to that?"

He felt hot and cold all over yet deliriously happy. "I say it's about time!"

His mouth covered hers in a kiss that quickly made them forget all about the movie and focus only on each other.

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