Chapter 20

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"Yes, I know. Those were the terms," Keesha said into the telephone, her patience nearly gone. "You'll see him soon. Good-bye."

AJ went to her as soon as she hung up. His hands closed over her shoulders, gently massaging her tense muscles. "You should have let me talk to him. What did he say?"

Keesha turned to face AJ. "What do you think?" she asked, her mouth a tight, grim line. "He wants to come over tonight to see JE."

"I hope you told him that was out of the question!"

"Of course, I did. I put him off for tonight, but I know he won't be patient for long," she answered.

Keesha took AJ's hand and they moved quietly to the den. The kids had formed a protective circle around their little brother, but he hadn't noticed. JE was too busy basking in his siblings' attention. The moment would have been beautiful if it weren't for the tragic undertones.

She swallowed hard and looked up at AJ. "I can't put it off anymore."

"I'll talk to him with you," he offered.

"Okay."

They entered the den and all faces turned to them. JE was the only person smiling. He left his space between George and Michael and ran to his mother and uncle.

"Mama! I'm on the fifth level! Can you believe it? Come play with us."

Keesha took her son's hand. "Maybe we'll play later. Your uncle and I have some news to tell you."

"Mama, no!" George said, standing. "You don't have to--"

"Baby, we have no choice," Keesha said. "I made a promise."

"Break it," George said quickly.

"Mama would never do that," Marisa said softly. Ben and Grace agreed.

"But find out what he wants first," George pleaded. "It's like sending a lamb to slaughter. Mama, please."

"George, that's enough," AJ scolded. "Your mother knows what she's doing."

"No good will come of it," George said, storming from the room. "None at all!"

Heavy silence descended over the room upon George's incensed exit. JE looked to his mother for answers. "Mommy, what was George talking about. Why is he so mad? Did I do something wrong?"

She cupped his face and pressed a kissed onto his cheek. "No, sweetie. You didn't do anything wrong. George is upset."

"Why?"

"That's not an easy question to answer," Keesha explained. She looked at the others in the room and said, "Would you mind leaving us alone for a little while?"

"Maybe it would be easier if we were all here," Michael suggested. "We're all family, right?"

Salty tears stung the backs of her eyes. She nodded. "Yes, Michael, we are."

"Want me to get George?" Ben asked.

"I haven't gone anywhere," George said from the doorway. He entered the room and closed the door behind him. "We're all here."

JE moved between Keesha and AJ and took their hands. They headed for the sofa and sat. Michael, Grace, Ben, Marisa and George crowded around them.

"Marisa, could you hand me the photo album? The gray one, please."

Marisa took the album from the shelf and gave it to Keesha.

Keesha flipped through the pages of photos until she came to one that was taken on the last Christmas Jason shared with them. In the photo, Jason and George were helping Ben construct his brand-new train set. Jason was facing the camera and had a warm smile on his face. Keesha's heart did a mini-somersault as she looked at the image. She sighed. Morgan was nothing like the loving, kind man in the photo. That man was gone forever.

"Do you know who that man is?" Keesha said JE.

"Yes, that's my daddy," JE answered. "They were building Ben's train set. The one he won't let me play with." He gave his older brother a dirty look as he added that part.

"You can when you're older," Ben reminded him.

"You're always saying that. I'm older now."

"Boys, please," AJ interjected. "Your mother has more to say."

"What else, Mommy?" JE asked. "Am I getting a train set like the one he gave Ben?"

"No, sweetheart." Keesha took in a deep breath. Her hands trembled. Grace reached out and took her hand. The gesture gave Keesha courage. "Do you remember what I said about your daddy?"

JE nodded. "He's in Heaven with Grandpa Edward and Grandma Lila and Aunt Eve. I remember."

"I made a mistake," Keesha said.

JE's mouth dropped open. "You mean he didn't go to Heaven? He's in He--"

George coughed loudly and AJ quickly spoke up. "No, he's not there."

"Then where is he?"

"He's alive," Keesha answered her son. "He's alive and he's in Port Charles. You can see him if you want to."

JE pulled his hand away from hers and gave her a confused look. "Why did you tell me he was dead if he wasn't?"

"Because we thought he was," AJ answered for Keesha. "We thought he had been killed, but we found out we were wrong."

"Where has he been?" JE asked. "Has he been scared without us? Did he miss us?"

AJ looked to Keesha for how to best answer this one. She hesitated. How did she answer this one?

"He didn't know about us," George said. "He lost his memory of all of us and didn't know. But don't worry, little brother. I don't think he was scared."

"Is he coming back here to stay with us?" JE asked.

"Would you want him to?" Keesha asked.

JE's bottom lip trembled and looked down at the floor. AJ gently rubbed the boy's shoulders. "It's okay to answer."

"They'll get mad at me," he whispered, looking at AJ with wide blue eyes.

"No, we won't, kiddo," Ben said. "Just answer Mama's question."

"The truth?" JE questioned.

"Always," Grace said.

JE shook his head. "No, I don't mind meeting him, but I don't want him here. I want Uncle AJ to stay with us. He's more my daddy than that man is."

The boy suddenly wrapped his thin arms around AJ's neck and hugged tight. When their hug ended, AJ said, "I guess it's okay to tell them the rest."

"What rest?" Michael asked.

"Your father asked me to marry him and I accepted."

The family meeting that began with trepidation and unease ended with congratulations and happy cheers. Keesha's outlook was fully revitalized. Despite Morgan's return, her family would be just fine.

~*~

"This is crap," Sly said, tossing the script about their band's rise to fame onto pool table in Jordan and Emily's game room. "The first draft was on the right mark, but needed work. We didn't tell that idiot to come up with this nonsense. Robin Scorpio discovered us standing on a street corner? Gimme a break!"

"I remember telling them to keep Robin's involvement in this film to a minimum," Jordan said, adding his copy to the pool table. "The less that little wench plays into our story the better."

Lorenzo nodded. "This isn't right and I don't like it."

"I don't like it either," Dawn admitted, taking her and Lorenzo's copies and added them to the pile.

"We need a new writer," Sly said. "That's all there is to it."

"Agreed," the others mumbled.

"I would suggest that we scrap the movie altogether," Dawn said, "but Nikky just bought this studio for me. I'm afraid he'd take it the wrong way if we didn't do something with it, you know."

Smirking, Sly shook his head. "The things that man won't do for his woman."

"Shut up."

Lorenzo chuckled and Sly outright laughed. Jordan grabbed a book from the counter and handed it to Dawn. As he sat beside her, he said, "Emily has been crazy for this author for years. Maybe we could get her to pen the script for us."

Dawn turned the hardcover over in her hands. The smiling face of an older blonde stared back her. Dawn had read a few of her books and agreed with Emily's taste. "Do you think Traci Abbott-Carlton would want to do it?"

"Why wouldn't she?" Jordan asked. "She and Emily are acquaintances. I'll ask her to put the word to her. You guys game?"

Lorenzo shrugged. "Why not? Lynn is crazy about her, too."

"Another chick fan," Sly said. "So far, this Traci chick isn't looking too good in my book. How are the smut scenes?"

As Sly took the book from Dawn, she kicked him.

"Ouch!"

"Be glad I didn't aim higher. 'Chick fan.' You need to quit. Jordan, please ask Emily to do it. I've met Traci a few times back when I was the spokesperson for Jabot about ten years ago. She was nice and I liked her."

"Do you really think she can be trusted?" Lorenzo asked. "Most of our life together has been butchered in the media. This is our chance to tell the story right. I'm all for her giving it a go, but if anyone else gives us something like this last script… I'm out."

"Me, too," Sly agreed with his cousin. "I want our story told, but not by some crackpot."

"None of us do," Dawn said. "I think she can be trusted."

"Cool," Jordan said. "I'll ask Emily to call her for us."

~*~

"Mr. Cassadine your appointment is here."

"Thank you. Send her in." Nikolas rose from behind his desk and waited.

When Gilly Grant-Spaulding entered his office, his first thought was how calm and assured she seemed. Her brown eyes mirrored her intelligence and her state of dress in a designer pantsuit was a class act. She was also a very attractive woman. Nikolas frowned slightly at that thought. What did her beauty have to do with anything?

"Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Cassadine," she said, extending her hand.

"Telephone conversations don't quite compare." Nikolas smiled and pointed to a guest chair. "Please, have a seat. Would you like anything? Coffee, tea?"

"No, thank you."

Nikolas nodded. He came around the desk and sat on the other vacant guest chair, facing her. "I want to thank you for coming here. I trust the flight from Springfield was pleasant."

"Your jet is quite comfortable," Gilly assured him. "Thank you for allowing me to use it. My husband's would have been sufficient."

"Did he accompany you?" Nikolas asked.

"Alan-Michael is in the middle of negotiations. He couldn't get away at this time." She shifted on the chair and crossed one leg over the other. "Your offer is very generous, but I'm not sure I'm the right person for it. My background is in the television industry, not in films."

"I'm well aware of that," he said. "I've done my research and my offer to you is not in error. Mrs. Spaulding--"

"Please, call me Gilly."

Nikolas nodded. "And me, Nikolas. Gilly, you are exactly what Sheba Studios needs."

"Why?" she asked. "Because I'm black? Nikolas, your acquisition of World Rep has reached legendary proportions and is to be applauded, but hiring me simply because I'm black is almost as bad as what the entertainment industry has been guilty of for years."

"Obviously, you misunderstand my reasons," he stated quietly. "I would hire you because of your qualifications. You have an excellent history and your employees, past and present, all speak highly of you. I think you and my wife would work well together, but that isn't because you are both black. My wife happens to work well with many people and not so well with others. None of that is based on skin color."

Gilly arched an eyebrow. "Well, you have certainly put me in my place."

Nikolas felt heat rise up his neck. "That wasn't my intention. I appreciate your honesty. The entertainment industry's intentional oversight is deplorable. I know that Sheba Studios cannot right their wrongs, but I think our company can show that the negligence hasn't been cost-effective."

"So the bottom line with you is the dollar sign?"

He released a short chuckle. "Not exactly. I know that the studio will make money, but the reward for me would be on a personal level. Would you like to speak with my wife or have you made your decision?"

Gilly shook her head. "I don't need to talk to her. I have decided. I'll sign on with Sheba Studios. Personal rewards have always been a strong motivation for me."

"Welcome, Gilly," Nikolas said. "I assure you, you won't regret your decision."

~*~

Monica offered the use of the Quartermaine mansion as the meeting place. Keesha couldn't have been more grateful. The last thing she wanted was Morgan James invading her home again. Her mind quickly flashed back to the day she and Jason moved into the newly rebuilt Ward House. She tried to dash the thought away, but couldn't. Those had been happy times. Deep in her heart, she knew she shouldn't forget. But on the other hand, she couldn't become confused. Morgan was not that Jason.

"There are sandwiches and other snacks available," Monica said. "If you need anything else, let me or Reginald know."

Keesha smiled. "Thank you, Monica. I can't say it enough."

"There's no need to say it at all." Monica took Keesha's hand. "I have always thought of you as a daughter. Consider this my motherly duty."

Monica's words didn't surprise Keesha. For years, they'd shared a companionable relationship. Keesha considered the older woman a dear friend.

"The house is quiet. Is Alan still away?"

"Yes," Monica said. "I haven't told him about Jason…er Morgan. I think that will go better when Alan is here. Where are my grandson and the rest of my grandchildren?"

"AJ and JE are down by the stables," Keesha answered. "I need to talk to Morgan alone first. He's not interested in the other children, so they're not here."

It pained Keesha to say that. They hadn't voiced any disappointment at Morgan's slight. They were too sensitive to her feelings to say anything about it in front of her, but she knew it had to hurt.

"He's a real piece of work, isn't he?" Monica said, her voice hard. "If you'd rather not speak with him alone, I'm more than happy to be with you."

"No, that's okay. I'll be fine."

The doorbell sounded. Seconds later, Reginald entered with Morgan fast on his heels. The bewildered look on the butler's face almost made Keesha laugh. Reginald prided himself on knowing everything. When it was obvious he didn't, he didn't quite know how to respond.

"Morgan James is here," Reginald announced. He lingered in the doorway.

"Let's give them some privacy," Monica gently reprimanded as she steered Reginald from the room. The door closed behind them with a click.

"Where is he?" Morgan asked without preamble.

"He's here," Keesha said, "but before I take you to him, we have to get some things straight first."

"What?"

Keesha refused to react to his cold voice and hard glare. She folded her arms across her chest and stared at him without flinching. "He knows that you are his father and that your name used to be Jason. We explained to him that you suffered memory loss, which prevented you from coming back. He doesn't understand why his brothers and sisters aren't here. I refused to lie for you."

"I'll tell him. They're not mine--"

"That," she interrupted, pointing at his chest, "is what we have to talk about. You will not tarnish my son's mind with your narrow-minded point of view. AJ and I will be with you the entire time and if you cross the line once, the visit is over." Without waiting for his response, Keesha turned on her heel and headed for the terrace. "They're at the stables. It's this way."

~*~

Ciarda and her roommate, Buffy Foster, returned to their room and dumped their books on the floor. Buffy plopped onto her bed and grinned up at Ciarda. "Talk about luck. Your first day of class and they all get canceled. I'm gonna like having you as my roommate."

Ciarda shrugged. She pulled off her sweater and draped it over her chair. "I can't take credit for that. It's just a coincidence."

"We'll see about that."

The telephone rang. Buffy rolled onto her stomach and reached for the receiver. Pushing back her unruly mane of long blonde hair, she put the phone to her ear. "Hello? Buffy and Ciarda's Den of Decadence! Buffy speaking."

Ciarda glanced at her roommate. The girl's green eyes were filled with laughter and Ciarda released a short giggle of her own. In the just the short time she and Buffy had known each other, Ciarda felt close to the other girl. She thought they could be good friends. Well, she hoped. The other girls on the floor seemed nice, too. Except for a few twinges here and there, she hardly felt home sick at all.

"Oh, yeah, she's here. Who should I say is calling?" Buffy sat up, covered the phone with her hand and said, "Yo, Hardy. Some guy named Ben is calling. Are you in or are you out?"

Ciarda smiled without realizing it. "Ben? Yeah, I'm in."

Buffy stood and crossed the room. She didn't hand the phone over, though. Instead, she peered at the pictures on Ciarda's wall. "Which one is he? He sounds cute."

"This is him." Ciarda pointed to a photo that had been taken of her and Ben at a picnic that summer. His brown hair wasn't in his eyes for once and he had a wide grin on his face.

"He is cute," Buffy declared. "Boyfriend?"

Ciarda rolled her eyes and took the phone. As she crawled onto her bed, she said, "Hi, Ben."

"Hey," he said. "I got your message. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she told him. "I called to check up on you. My Mom said that your dad isn't really dead… Um, is that true?"

"Sorta." Ben sighed and Ciarda could imagine him brushing his hair from his forehead. "He's alive, but he's not like any of us remember. He goes by the name of Morgan now."

"You sound stressed. Are you up for talking about it?"

"Are you sure you wanna hear all the gory details?" he asked. "Maybe we should talk about your school and stuff. And of course, your roommate's good taste."

"You heard her?" Ciarda covered her face with her hand even though there was no way Ben could see her blush.

"Yeah, I heard. She sounds okay. Is she cool? You two getting along?"

"Everything is fine," she assured him. "Enough about me. Let me be your shoulder. I wanna hear all the gory details."

Ben released a long sigh and finally said, "Morgan is here and hell-bent on seeing JE."

"Just JE?" she asked. "What about the rest of you?"

"He doesn't give a rat's ass about us. We're not exactly blood of his blood, you know."

Ciarda heard the despair in Ben's voice. Her heart went out to him. "I'm sorry, Ben."

"Yeah. Me, too."

~*~

"Go ahead," Michael said after being summoned to Tommy's office. "Tell me I screwed up."

Tommy regarded his young employee and friend with understanding. "That's not why I wanted to speak with you. Sit down, Michael." As the young man followed his instructions, Tommy stood and moved to the coffee machine. He poured mugs of the steaming brew for him and Michael. After adding the appropriate amounts of sugar and cream, he handed a mug to Michael.

"Thanks." Michael took a sip and then asked, "Why did you want to speak with me?"

Tommy shrugged. "Just to talk. See how you are."

"I'm stupid," Michael grumbled. "We went off half-cocked without thinking anything through. Now, everything is messed up. Did you know that Aunt Keesha may have to get a divorce in order to marry my dad?"

"Keesha mentioned it to Gina," Tommy replied, perching on the edge of his desk. "You're being too hard on yourself. You, Grace and George were trying to do the right thing. It's not your fault things didn't turn out the way you planned."

"I bet you've never done something without thinking."

Tommy gave him a half smile. "You'd be surprised. Did you know that I've been arrested for assault?"

"What?" Michael sputtered. "No way!"

"Yeah way." Tommy released a short laugh. "The charges were dropped, but I was still arrested. It was long time ago. A friend of mine had been threatened and I went off half-cocked and ready to kick ass."

"Did you?"

"Yeah." Tommy shrugged. "People make mistakes and learn from them. I wouldn't say that finding Jason was a mistake. It's not your fault that he doesn't remember who he used to be. No one is to blame for that. Things happen that we have no control over. Trust me, Michael. You have to stop blaming yourself and look back at the experience to see what you've learned."

Michael drank more coffee before answering. "I haven't learned as much as I'd like to. I still don't know about my mom."

"Morgan doesn't remember?"

"Either that or he refuses to," the younger man said. "It's hard to tell with him. I asked him and showed him a picture. He got all weird and acted like his head was about to explode. He was probably faking."

"I'd like to talk to him," Tommy said.

Michael vehemently shook his head. "That's not a good idea, Tommy. He's not… Well, he wouldn't…"

Tommy held up his hand to silence his young employee. "It's okay. I know."

"And you still wanna talk to him?" Michael stood and refilled his mug. "He's meeting with JE today. My little cousin's eyes are blue, but his skin tone isn't peaches and cream. I dread to think of what Morgan's reaction to JE will be."

"We'll hope for the best, and in the meantime, we'll see about finding out what happened to Eve."

"You don't have to," Michael quickly said. "I've been doing it on my own. I don't expect you to… What I'm trying to say is I have it covered."

Tommy nodded. "I know you do, but everyone can use a helping hand sometime. That's something else I've learned, but that's another story that won't ever be told." (see Chapter 33B of Life After Dark for details.)

"Okay, teacher," Michael said. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."


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