Chapter 6

Four. Three. Two. One. The clock struck midnight and the New Year began. Loved ones reached for one another and welcomed the New Year in with kisses. Some kissed passionately while for others, a simple peck on the cheek sufficed. The kiss Dawn shared with Nikolas nearly drove AJ insane. It was a lover's kiss filled with ardor and a promise of more to come. After watching them remain glued to one another's side most of the evening, AJ had had enough. Angrily, he stormed out into the snow-covered night.

Being that the party had only just begun and no one else was leaving, the wait for the valet to bring him his car was the shortest one in history. Within minutes, AJ sat behind the wheel of his jet black 500SL and roared off into the night.

Years ago, when despair would hit him this hard, his first thought would have been of alcohol. He would have run to it in record speed and swallow his dreams and disappointments with a taste of bourbon or a shot of whiskey. But not anymore. He had a son to think of. And, although Dawn was determined to push herself away from him and fight what they both knew was there, he thought of her, too.

The snow-slick roads made swooshing sounds as the Mercedes drove on and AJ thought back to the first time...

**Mesmerizing points of view
Hypnotic conversations
Contemplative swinging moods
Drew me to you
It never mattered when or where
Who you'd been with
The color of your hair
Baby, I always cared**

Ned and Dara's engagement party was in full swing by the time AJ arrived. The entire drive over, he'd had half a mind to turn around and go spend quality time with his beautiful baby boy, but something kept nagging at him. A tiny, but forceful, voice said for him to go to the party and go he had.

Standing by the entrance, away from the crowd of well-wishers, gave him the opportunity to assess the situation. His mother and her latest indescretion, Detective Marcus Taggert, were engaged in deep conversation by the wet bar, which was fine by AJ because he had no intention of going near it or them. Justus and Simone seemed happy as they danced the night away in each other's arms. Simone's teenage son, Tommy sat as far away from the dance floor as he could get as he watched them with hooded eyes. The kid's gotta get over, AJ absently thought to himself as his eyes left Tommy and continued to wander. The sound of his sister's voice called to him and he glanced her way as she tried to politely tell Lucas Jones that she was too old for him. Lucas brushed her worries aside as he reassured her that two years wasn't a problem for him and shouldn't be one for her. AJ chuckled softly as he listened to her exasperated reply.

"Something funny happened?" came the husky feminine voice beside him. "And, I missed it?"

His laughter came to an abrupt halt as he turned to face the owner of the voice which had, unwittingly struck a chord within him. A smile twinkled in his hazel eyes and danced around his lips as he looked at her. A white halter dress accentuated her toasted almond colored skin. The dress clung to her hourglass figure in all the right places and he couldn't help but succumb to his eyes' desire to take it all in. From toe to head, she was an intoxicating vision and he wondered how he could have missed her. A small chuckle told him that his perusal embarrassed her and with apologetic eyes, he said, "I take it you're not into these things either?"

"Not really," she said with a shake of her head, causing her dark brown curls to brush against her shoulders. Her full lips smiled as she added, "I usually avoid these types of parties like the plague, but I just couldn't miss this one."

"Oh, yeah?" he asked, turning his back to the crowd as he focused all of his attention on her. "And why is that, if I may ask?"

"My sister's Dara. She's the bride-to-be."

"Oh, really? I never knew Dara had a sister and a lovely one at that," he said with a smile.

She laughed softly at his compliment and said, "Why, thank you."

"You're welcome," he said with a grin. "We're about to become family and I don't even know your name. My name is AJ, by the way. I'm Ned's cousin."

"Nice to meet you, AJ. My name is Dawn," she said with a bright smile. She extended her hand to his and he took it. In the brief second they touched, AJ was struck with a revelation. He wanted to know her better and he would.

**But you couldn't see
Inside of me
You didn't notice my intentions
Nothing but dreams
Is all that I carry
Is all that I carry with me**
AJ guided the Mercedes along the waterfront. The lights of the city sparkled in the water and gave him peace as he remembered more...

**Cynical attitudes
The center of attention
I wonder if you understood
You could've changed my life
Focusing my energy
Setting expectations
Trying to convince myself
She loves me**

Fresh air, AJ thought, as he stormed out of the conference room. Fresh air would clear his head and give him a better perspective on how to deal with the close-minded, pompous idiots he left stewing in the room behind him.

He'd almost made it to the end of the hall when he heard her voice call out to him. "AJ, wait!"

The sound of Dawn's voice cooled his anger, but it didn't lesson his frustration, and he was sure that's what she saw when he turned to face her. A frustrated man. But, she didn't know the half of it or that she was the cause of most it. "I'm here," he replied with a long sigh.

Dressed in a smart, gray business suit, she looked every part the corporate raider, but that wasn't who she was, AJ thought as he waited for her to reach him. She was a dear friend who had taken time from her classes at Harvard to help him with a dream. He'd hate to think that he'd wasted her valuable time which would have better spent on her pursuit of her own dreams to become a doctor.

"You can't just walk out like that!" she scolded, her eyes blazing. "We *had* them! We just have to go back in there and inform them that they're ours and that's it. We can do this, AJ."

AJ rubbed a hand across his face and shook his head to clear out the cobwebs. Placing his hands in his pockets, he asked, "Did something extraordinary happen after I left?"

"No, but-"

AJ shook his head to silence to rest of her reply. "It's useless, Dawn. They're not hearing us. They don't see the benefits-"

"You have to *make* them see it!" She interrupted him passionately. "Your idea for a gym/counseling center for recovering addicts is excellent. I think it would work. You think it would work. We just have to convince them of the same."

"And, do you think we can do that?" AJ asked, wanting her honest opinion.

"Yeah. I know we can," she said, nodding her head. A strand removed itself from her neatly done French Roll and without thinking, AJ pushed it back. His hand drifted down to cup her face as their eyes locked. When his thumb began to brush against her cheek, she lowered her eyes and moved away.

AJ mentally scolded himself for being too forward. The last thing he wanted to do was push her away. The words were on the tip of his tongue as she said, "We'd better get back."

AJ followed her as she led them back down the hallway to the conference room. He'd seen it this time. Usually, the look in her eyes would be a fleeting one and he was left with doubt, but this time he was certain. She'd felt the heat between them as he stroked her cheek. That heat shone brightly in her eyes before she lowered them and backed away from his touch. It, whatever *it* was, wasn't one-sided, he thought. Not any more.

**A little look here
A little smile there
Moments and memories that we've shared
Roses and things
Silly it seems
Is all that I carry
Dreams that I carry
Dreams that I carry with me**
The drive from the waterfront to the Quartermaine mansion was a short one and soon AJ found himself pulling into the garage. As he walked briskly up the brick walkway, he couldn't push the thoughts of Dawn away.

She'd helped him so much in turning his dream of having a chain of Strength -N- Recovery gyms into reality. Whenever he asked her why she was so dedicated in assisting him, she'd laughingly say that she wanted to secure a position for her when her studies were over, but he knew that wasn't the true reason. She was at the top of her class. She wouldn't need to come to him to secure a position as a physician. She wouldn't have to go to anyone as they would all pursue her.

He ran a hand through his hair as he continued to ponder their situation. He wouldn't delude himself and think their first meeting at Dara and Ned's party meant anything more to her than a necessary introdution, but the subsequent meetings... The ones where it was just the two of them and when they would spend hours just talking. Those were the meetings which meant something. Those were the ones which created the special bond they both acknowledged and those were the ones that made him fall hopelessly in love with her and possibly her with him.

But that damned kiss! Not the one they shared, but the one she shared with Nikolas at the stroke of twelve. It made him wonder. What's going on inside of that head and heart of yours, Dawn Jensen, he asked himself. Should he persist or should he just let things be? Was the thought of being the man in her life just a hopeless dream he carried or was there a chance of it becoming reality?

As he trudged up the stairs and planted a good-night kiss on Michael's head, the questions consumed him. And, long after he had showered and lay in his lonely bed, he still thought of her, wondering.

**We had no chance
Never made plans
So many things slipped through our hands
Don't wanna look back
Too late to look back
I gotta get her off my mind
I got no more pleas
It's over for me
A dream's all I carry**

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Dreams That I Carry" by Jon Secada can be found on his self-titled CD.]

Chapter 7