Chapter 17

~ The Next Day ~

Keesha finished recounting the details of the previous night's dinner fiasco. Justus and Alexis stared back at her, their eyes bright with shock. She understood exactly how they felt. Belief that the awful man--Morgan James--was her beloved Jason was slow in coming. She didn't want to believe.

"I don't know what to say, Lil Bit," Justus began. "All this time he was alive?"

"I don't know," Keesha said. "Michael, George and Grace have been looking for him. I let it go, but they couldn't stop. AJ is arranging for a DNA test for proof."

"That's a good plan." Alexis moved to the edge of her chair and leaned forward. "I have a feeling that you didn't stop by just to tell us this. What else is there?"

"He wants to see Jason-Everett," Keesha said quietly. "I'm afraid of what that means. And if he's really Jason… Does that mean I'm still married to him?"

"Do you want him to be?" Justus asked.

Keesha thought about the plans she and AJ had made. How happy they'd been until just last night. She wanted a life with AJ. He wasn't second best. He was the man she needed and loved. Not this cold, distant stranger.

"No, I don't."

Justus glanced quickly at Alexis. Keesha witnessed surprise register clearly again on both of their faces. The attorneys recovered and faced her with composed expressions again. She wondered if everyone would be as shocked by her admission as they were. She hoped that AJ already knew he had nothing to worry about.

"Well," Alexis said, "if he turns out to be Jason, then you are still married to him."

"But why?" Keesha said. "He's been missing for ten years!"

"Keesha," Justus said, reaching out to take her hand, "you never declared him as legally dead. Remember, we asked you about it several times, but you said you weren't ready."

"Damn!" She stood abruptly and strode to their fireplace. The toe of her shoe nudged the bricks at the bottom. "I was holding on to a dream. How could I have been so stupid?"

"You weren't stupid to still be in love with your husband," Alexis said. "You and Jason shared a lot of good years together. Letting go of that had to be hard. There's no timetable on grief."

Keesha was quiet for a moment. Alexis was right. Mourning Jason became a way of life for her after awhile. She didn't mean for that to happen. It just did. And now that the dismal gray of her life was clearing up… Why now?!

"AJ asked me to marry him," she said, slowly turning to face her cousin and his wife. "I accepted. We were gonna tell the children last night."

"Lil Bit…." Justus shook his head and then his trademark smile crept over his face. "Your timing sucks."

She released a faint chuckle. "Yes, it does."

"Tell us what you want us to do," Alexis said, her expression serious.

Keesha's expression became solemn. She went back to her seat and sat. "I want a divorce and sole custody of my son."

"What?" Justus said. "I can understand the divorce, but sole custody? That doesn't sound like you."

"You haven't met the new Jason. He's not the man you remember, and if he is the father of my little boy, I don't want him anywhere near him."

~*~

AJ hated the shell-shocked look on Monica's face. He didn't like surprising her like that. It wasn't fair. But there was no easy way. Her face was a ghostly pale as she just stared at Morgan. The man just glared at her, no expression on his face whatsoever. AJ's dislike for Jason Morgan returned tenfold. He crossed his mother's office to help the seventy-plus year old doctor to her chair.

"Mom, I'm sorry," AJ apologized. "I couldn’t think of an easier way to do this."

"H-How long have you known he was alive?" she stammered, never taking her eyes from the silent man in the doorway.

"That's just it," AJ replied. "We don't know for sure that he's Jason. He may just look like him."

Monica shook her head. "No one could resemble Jason that closely. Oh, my God. All these years…"

"Mom, please," AJ said. "Before you get too excited, hear me out. We need to schedule a DNA test. We have to be sure."

"Your father… Alan will be so surprised--"

"How long is this gonna take?" Morgan complained. "Let's get this test thing over with so I can be on my way."

Monica frowned. Her eyes cut to AJ for understanding.

AJ nodded. "That's why we have to be sure. He wants to see Jason-Everett. We need to be sure about who he is before he does."

"I understand," she said. Her professional mask fell into place. "I can have the test done within the hour. We can have the results by this afternoon."

"We need the boy," Morgan said.

"Excuse me?" Monica asked. "The boy?"

"The one they're claiming is mine," Morgan answered. "I want him tested, too."

"Keesha didn't agree to having him tested," AJ said, glaring at the other man.

"I don't care what she agreed to. If I'm getting tested, so is the kid. Otherwise, all bets are off and I'm going back over to her house to see the boy anyway."

"You can't do that!" AJ stormed across the room. He grabbed Morgan by the collar and slammed him into the wall. "I won't let you!"

"AJ!" Monica moved quickly for a woman her age. She closed her arms around AJ's bunched biceps and pulled until AJ released Morgan. "Let him go! We can call Keesha. I'm sure she'll approve."

"Call her," Morgan ordered, seemingly unruffled by AJ's attack.

"Don't call her," AJ said. "I'll go ask her--"

"You act like the girl is helpless," Morgan snapped. "She's able-bodied. It's not like she's something precious."

"She is to me," AJ retorted. He turned his back on the other man. "Mom, please. It won't take long. Just get started with him. I'll call you."

He slammed from her office before Morgan said something else. AJ doubted if he'd be 'big' enough to ignore another of his mindless taunts. The man was unbelievable! Truly unbelievable.

~*~

The seatbelt sign overhead blinked off. Alanna glanced at her sister who stared silently out of the window. The pale blue sky was clear. Alanna supposed that was because of the clouds had found a way into her heart. She hated the reason for this family trip to Connecticut. Losing Ciarda to a boarding school wasn't something she wanted to face.

"What did you hear about this place?" Alanna asked.

Ciarda shrugged. "Just stuff. I read about it on the Internet. It has a bunch of cool classes that I want to take."

"Like what?"

"I dunno," Ciarda mumbled. "Their creative arts department is pretty cool."

"The one at PCH isn't so bad either," Alanna countered. "Mrs. Bracken writes the best plays."

"Teacher at the academy is a playwright," Ciarda said, a little defiantly. "Her work has been performed on Broadway."

"Then what's she doing teaching?"

Ciarda rolled her eyes and shifted on the seat. Digging into her bag, she pulled out a magazine and opened it. Alanna was fully aware of her sister's tactic. They'd used that same trick on each other for years, but it was just as useless then as it was now. Alanna wouldn't be deterred. She had questions, so many of them, and only Ciarda could provide the answers.

"Did you tell everyone you were leaving?"

Ciarda's jaw tightened. She nodded and flipped a page.

"What did they say? I know they're gonna miss you." Alanna waited for a response. Nothing. So, she continued. "We'll all miss you. Don't you care about that?"

"I'm trying to read."

Alanna pulled the magazine from Ciarda's hand and shoved it back inside the bag. "Tell me the truth!" Her voice was sharp, but not loud. She didn't want their parents, who sat in the rear of the jet to hear them. "Why are you really leaving? Is it because of Dom? Is it because he danced with me at his parents' party?"

Ciarda's hazel eyes shone brightly as she glared at her sister. "I've told you before. My decisions aren't based on you. This is something I need to do. I just need to get away."

"From me," Alanna said quietly. Ciarda opened her mouth, but Alanna waved her sister's words away. "I know, I know. The world doesn't revolve around me. No matter what you think, I'm gonna miss you. I don't want you to go, but if it's what you want… I hope you find whatever you're looking for."

Ciarda glanced out the window and back at her sister. "I think I will." She took her sister's hand. "Going to this school really doesn't have anything to do with you. Really."

"Okay." Alanna's mouth curved to a half smile. "If you say so."

~*~

Dominik entered the lecture hall just as his Economics professor moved behind the podium. That was a close call. The old guy had eyes like a hawk and graded on attendance. If he received less than excellent, his father would pitch a fit. Dominik groaned. He should have just gone to Julliard instead.

"You missed the hand out."

Dominik glanced up from his notebook to see that Ben sat beside him. He accepted the papers from Ben and said, "Thanks."

"No prob." Ben nodded toward the front row. "Your TA is late, so you're still good punctuality-wise."

Dominik nodded. He shoved the papers into a folder and sighed. He knew he should apologize for being such a jackass to Ben the other day, but he was still a little pissed. Why was Ciarda crying on Ben's shoulder…instead of his?

"I suppose they're almost there by now," Ben whispered.

"Who?"

"Ciarda and her family. You know they're checking out that boarding school today, right?"

Dominik stiffened. "Of course, I know."

Ben nodded. "When she stopped by last night, I didn't know what to say, you know. She's so determined to go. I guess you couldn't convince her to stay either, huh?"

Dominik scribbled something on his notepad. The pen moved briskly as he tried to hide the pain that he felt at not having spoken to her before she left. He didn't want Ben to know that Ciarda hadn't stopped by to see him. He didn't want anyone to know how much that hurt.

"I suppose not," Ben said, answering his own question. "Things got crazy at my house after that. I should have hung out there, but Mama made me come to class. She said there was nothing I could do so I might as well go."

Good. A change in topic. Dominik glanced at Ben. His friend's face was long. He looked tired and sad. Dominik forgot about his pain and concentrated on Ben's. "What happened?"

"My Dad may not be dead," Ben said, his voice hoarse.

"That's a good thing, right?" Dominik said, thinking of how he didn't want to imagine life without either of his parents. It was unfathomable.

"I don't know," Ben replied. "He's not the way I remembered him. He's so cold and different. And the way he looked at Mama… He's just not the same."

"I'm sorry," Dominik said. "Is there anything I can do?"

The other boy shook his head. "Nah. Unless you wanna help me guard the house after class. George is scared he may try to take Jason-Everett. George is with JE now, but he has a meeting with your dad in a couple of hours. I told George I'd take over for him."

"Is this guy really that bad?" Dom asked. "You think he'd take little JE? Come on. Your dad was so cool. I remember asking him if I could ride his bike. He said it would be okay if my parents said yeah. No need to tell you how that turned out."

Ben nodded. "I know. Michael and George remember everything. They used to tell me stuff about the way it used to be because I started to forget…" He inhaled a sharp breath. "Listen, I can't stay for class. I gotta go home. Can I borrow your notes later?"

"Sure," Dominik said. "I'll stop by your place when this is over."

"Okay. Catch you later."

Dominik watched Ben pack up his stuff and leave. He sighed. Life was rough all over.

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