~ Results ~
Ciarda's family helped her move into her new home. The dorm room would be shared with another sixteen-year-old, who was in class at the moment. Alanna handed her sister a small photo of the two of them.
"Thanks, Lanni," Ciarda said, holding the picture to her chest.
"You're welcome." Alanna looked around the room. "This space is kinda tight. I hope everything works out the way you want it to."
Ciarda smiled and placed the photo on nightstand. "I think it will."
"Your mother is speaking with the telephone company," Tommy said. "You'll have a phone tonight."
He gave her a faint smile and then suddenly pulled her into his arms. His large hands stroked her back. He held her tight. "Your mother and I are trying our best to do the right thing, Ciarda. We hope this is it. If it isn't, please just call us."
He leaned back and tilted her chin up. "Don't be afraid to admit to a mistake. I'm not saying this is one, but… Anytime you need us, we'll be here for you. Promise me you won't forget that."
He kissed her forehead and released her. A moment later, Gina's call ended and she said, "Someone won't be able to come out for another couple of hours."
Ciarda nodded half-heartedly. "Okay. Well, you guys don't have to wait around. I can wait by myself."
"Oh, no you won't," Gina said, wrapping her arms around both of her daughters' waists. "I'm not ready to leave you on your own, yet. Let's do some more exploring. I want to be familiar with this place because this is where you're gonna be."
"And while we're out, we can go shopping," Tommy said. "I know you'll all like that."
The melancholy mood of the family lifted as the twins laughed.
"Yes, Daddy," Alanna said, "we'll love that."
"We'll love it a lot," Ciarda agreed.
Laughter and shouts filled the den of the Ward House. AJ paused for a moment to watch George, Ben, Dominik, and JE compete in cyberspace. Down the hallway, he could hear Marissa making popcorn. As he closed the door to the den and headed for the living room, he couldn't help but think about how fiercely the family had rallied together. It made him feel good to know that he was a part of that.
"Why is it taking so long?" Keesha asked after he joined her on the sofa. She took his hand and held it in her lap. "Monica said we'd have the results before the day was over."
AJ glanced at his watch. It was afternoon, but nowhere near nightfall. "Just give it some time, Keesha. Mom will call soon."
"This is crazy," she said almost to herself. "Judging from what the kids told us about Morgan and from what we've seen ourselves, I don't understand why he's doing this. Do you? Does any of this make sense to you? JE can't possibly fit into his life. Not with his ignorant point of view."
AJ closed his arms around her shoulders and hugged her close. "His actions aren't logical. Morgan definitely has a narrow-mind. Being a father to a bi-racial son doesn't seem to fit in with him."
"There was a time when I wanted nothing more than for Jason to come back," she said quietly. "I'm not saying this to hurt you, but you know it's true. But now, AJ, I am praying so hard that Morgan isn't Jason. I don't want him to be the man I married or my children's father. I want him gone. Is it hateful for me to feel this way? For the first time in years, I've been happy and now, it looks like that's about to change. Is it so wrong for us to be happy together?"
He smiled. He had a strong sense of rightness. "You're the least hateful person I know, and no, it isn't wrong for us to be happy. Keesha, we will be. That man, whoever he is, isn't strong enough to destroy this family…our family."
She shifted in his arms. Her hand cupped his face so softly and tenderly. "I'm so glad you said that. I do love you, AJ. You've been my rock for so many years, and I've appreciated it. I think I may have taken you for granted, and I am sorry about that."
His confidence slipped. He looked away from her bright brown eyes to catch his breath. When he felt strong enough to ask the question, he looked at her again. "Is that why you agreed to marry me? Because of gratitude?"
"I knew I said it wrong." She sighed and shook her head. "I am grateful for what you've done for me and the kids, but I would never marry you or anyone else out of gratitude. AJ, I agreed to marry you because I stopped being afraid. There have been so many times when I felt myself falling for you again, but I put the brakes on. It scared me and I questioned myself, my values. What kind of woman falls in love with two brothers twice? I used to wonder about that, but I can't wonder about it anymore. We came together because we were supposed to."
"Besides," he said, his confidence returning, "I saw you first."
She laughed and nodded. "That you did. I love you, AJ Quartermaine. Don't ever doubt that and as soon as possible, I will marry you."
AJ smiled and held her close. He hadn't realized how much he needed to hear that from her until she said it. Now that she had, he knew nothing would tear them apart.
Michael's fist hovered at the door, poised to knock. Abruptly, he dropped his hand to his side and inhaled a sharp breath. Grace's hand closed around his upper arm and squeezed until he looked down at her. "He's not the man I remember, Gracie. Talking to him is gonna be hard."
"You won't be alone," she reminded him. "Believe me, he's not the man any of us remember. I see the face of my daddy, but the eyes are so cold. It's probably best not to think of him as your Uncle Jason. His name is Morgan, and from what I overhead between Grandma Monica and your dad, he's worse than he was the first time he lost his memory."
Michael took Grace's hand and led her a few steps away from Morgan's hotel room. He leaned back against the wall and stared into her loving brown eyes. "So, you think he's really Jason. Just different."
Grace nodded. "I trust your investigative skills. You found him. This DNA test is something that Mama needs. She doesn't want to believe. I don't blame her for it. I understand it. JE is at stake, and there's no way that Morgan can be a healthy influence in his life." She paused and sighed. "This has become crazy."
"I shouldn't talk to him then," he suddenly decided. He squeezed her hand and pushed away from the wall. "Let's go. We should be at the Ward House with the others—"
"No, Michael." She refused to budge. "You have to talk to him. You have to know about your mom. Sweetheart, you don't have to be afraid of what he says. You won't be alone. I'll be right by your side."
Grace's argument was convincing yet still he hedged. "Maybe now isn't the best time. The results to the test are supposed to come in soon. I should wait—"
"No, do it now."
His lips curved to a faint, teasing smile. "You're becoming more like Aunty every day."
Grace gave him a full, wide smile. "Thank you."
His Gracie was right. It was now or never. He took another deep breath and headed back to Morgan's door. He knocked and waited.
"Who is it?" Morgan barked from the other side.
"Michael and Grace," he answered.
The door opened a few seconds later. Morgan held the door open. The usual scowl covered his face. "The doctor said they were gonna call with the results."
"We're not here with the results," Michael said. "I wanted to talk."
"There's nothing to talk about until I know if that boy is mine."
"My brother has a name," Grace said, her voice crisp and clear, "and it's not 'the boy' or 'that boy.' His name is Jason-Everett. If that's too difficult for you, call him JE."
Morgan's face reddened at the reprimand. He didn't verbally acknowledge Grace's comment. Turning his back, he went to the mini-fridge and grabbed a bottle of club soda. "We don't have anything else to talk about."
"Yes, we do," Michael said. "I want to know what happened to Eve."
"Eve?" Morgan repeated after taking a swig of soda. "Who's that?"
"She's my mother. Well, actually she's my stepmother—"
"What did she look like?" Morgan interrupted.
Michael shook his head in disgust. "You mean what color is she? What difference does it make?"
"It makes a big difference if you expect me to know her."
"You stupid asshole," Michael muttered. He placed his hand around Grace's elbow. "I told you this would be pointless. Let's go."
"No, wait," Grace argued. "We're not leaving until we know." She glanced past Michael to Morgan. "Eve is white. The last time we saw her, she had short brown hair. She has brown eyes and she's about 5'6."
"She sounds attractive."
"She was a beautiful woman," Michael said. "Do you know what happened to her? Do you know anyone that fits her description?"
"Show him the picture," Grace suggested.
Michael pulled out his wallet and flipped to an old family portrait of him, AJ and Eve. He handed the photo to Morgan. "Does she look familiar?"
As Morgan studied the image, all color seemed to drain from his face. He rubbed his temple with the back of his hand and winced. "I don't know," he mumbled, shoving the picture toward Michael. He took in a deep breath and lowered onto the bed.
"What's wrong with you?" Grace asked. "You look sick."
"There's nothing wrong with your powers of observation."
"Don't bite her head off for being concerned," Michael warned. "Should we call a doctor?"
"Just leave me alone," Morgan bit out. "Get out of here."
Michael and Grace left the hostile man alone and headed across town to the Ward House where they discovered that Monica had just called with the results. The DNA proved to be conclusive. Morgan James was without a doubt Jason Morgan-Quartermaine and without question Jason-Everett's father.