"I'm still waiting."
The look on AJ's face was unreadable to Tommy's inquiring eyes. Was he hurt? Angry? Jealous? What was going on with him, Tommy wondered. He glanced at Dawn to see what her reaction was, but her expression was just as unreadable as AJ's. The silence after AJ's softly spoken words was deafening and oppressive. Needing to change the atmosphere to something he could understand, Tommy opened his mouth to speak.
Dawn sensed the confusion Tommy felt. She would probably be feeling the same way if she allowed herself to feel. But, she couldn't...wouldn't. Not yet. It was still too raw, too real. She had to face one thing at a time, and right now, she needed to show Tommy and herself that there were still a few things she could handle on her own. She placed a hand on his forearm to stop him from speaking. She gave him a brief, firm squeeze as she said, "Tommy, would you leave us alone?"
"Okay," he slowly nodded as he stood. Was she asking him to leave, he wondered. He wasn’t ready to leave her alone, but if she preferred to be with AJ instead of him… "I'll see you later...?"
"Oh! No," she shook her head. "I didn't want you to leave. I mean, not unless you have to..."
Tommy gave her a faint, endearing smile. "I'll wait in the living room."
"Thanks," she said softly as she watched him leave. She held her breath as he and AJ exchanged measured glances before Tommy left the room and left them alone.
Dawn ran her fingers through her dark brown hair. It was a subconscious habit, one she did whenever she was nervous or upset or just trying her best to keep it all together, which was the case at that moment. She took a deep breath and summoned the courage to make eye contact with AJ. She wasn’t surprised to see that his hazel eyes were studying her, but what did surprise her was the expression she saw there. Despite his earlier statements, he now appeared uncertain, wary, and was that also remorse she saw lingering in the corner of his eyes? Why, she wondered. He hadn’t done anything to feel ashamed of. She was the one who found herself seriously attracted to someone else and not mature enough to admit her changing feelings and maybe as a result paid a heart-breaking price for her transgressions. Not AJ. He’d been as sweet and caring as always. He had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
"Dawn?" AJ reached behind himself and closed the door. He came fully into the room and moved to stand before her. He could sense that she was upset. In fact, he knew she was upset. He couldn't remember ever seeing her cry, except during the tickling tirades he and Michael enjoyed torturing her with, and one thing was certain when he walked through the door was that she *was* crying. His staying with Keesha obviously upset her more than he had anticipated, and she had sought comfort in Tommy's arms. Could that be it, he wondered, or was there more to it.
"I'm leaving," Dawn said in the quiet room.
"I can see that your things are packed," he said, glancing at the suitcase on the bed. "Were you going to tell me, or was I supposed to figure it out when I came home and you weren't here?"
"I was going to leave you a note. I…I was kinda in a hurry to get to the apartment and get settled in-"
"Don't," he said, shaking his head, as her stammering did him in. "Don't do that. You're upset, and I'd like to know why."
"I'm not upset," she denied with a vigorous shake of her head. "I just wanted to get out of your hair and stop mooching off of you."
"You weren't in my hair," AJ sighed. "Dawn, if this is about last night-"
She stiffened. "What about last night?" she asked, her eyes worried and agitated as she glanced at the door. Had Tommy betrayed her? He couldn't have. She felt the sting of tears of humiliation and sadness burn her eyes and she quickly blinked them back as she waited for AJ to answer her question.
"I was talking about staying the night at Keesha's, but I'm getting the feeling that you thought I was talking about something else." He had seen the panic-stricken look in her eyes as she glanced at the door. Something happened between her and Tommy. He could feel it. That was why she was upset and in his arms. Her reaction had nothing to do with AJ, but it did have something to do with her…and Tommy. "What happened between you and Tommy last night, Dawn?"
"Nothing," she shrugged. Her voice was quiet and strained. She wiped blindly at the tears, which had returned and now threatened to fall down her cheeks. Softly, she began to speak again. "It's not what you're thinking. Last night…" She paused as the words escaped her. She glanced at him and saw the anxiety in his eyes and in the way he held himself. Suddenly, his arms opened to her, and she willingly went to him. She closed her eyes as she rested her head on his shoulder and allowed him to envelop her within his arms. She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to continue on. "…something happened to me, and Tommy helped me."
"What do you mean by that?" he asked as he gently stroked her back. He could feel her self-confidence wavering and he was puzzled by it. What could have happened to her in the space of one night that would cause her to doubt herself? "Dawn. Talk to me," he whispered.
"I'm trying!" she fiercely whispered, "but it's hard to say it. I can't say it." She sniffled and wiped her eyes as she pulled away from him. She went to the bed and began to straighten the things she'd placed in her suitcase. As she pulled the zipper close, she said, "I'm sorry, but I can't tell you-"
"Dawn, you *have* to tell me! I can't let you leave like this. To God knows where!" he said, taking the suitcase from her. "Tell me what happened. Did someone hurt you? You have to know that you're safe here. I can protect you-"
"It's not what you think! It wasn't an assault, not the way you think." She took a deep breath as she considered the best way to tell him what little she wanted him to know. "AJ, someone drugged me…somehow. It was a hallucinogen. PCP. Tommy was with me when it happened. He took care of me while I was tripping and he took me to the ER."
"Well, why didn't you just tell me that? If someone drugged you, it's not your fault. I know how much being drug free means to you. You didn't have to hide that from me."
"You're right. I was just embarrassed, I guess," she mumbled. She took her suitcase from AJ and took a step away from him.
"Well, do you know who did it? We have to find this person. You don't have to leave-"
"I don't know who did it or why, and quite frankly, at this moment, I don't even care. It won't change anything. Knowing who did it won't undo what's been done. And, as for me leaving, time's up," she shrugged, "and it's time to move on. Thanks for letting me stay here and for being so great."
"This sounds like good-bye," he said, holding her eyes steady as he held his breath.
"It is," she admitted. "Our time came and went. You know it as much as I do. It's not there. At least not the way it should be. You still have feelings for Keesha, and maybe if I was bothered by that a little bit… Well, it's not that you're not wonderful. It's just that it doesn't feel right…"
"Does it feel right with Tommy?" he asked. He smiled faintly and took the suitcase from her as they moved to the door. "I've seen you two together...the lingering glances and the secretive smiles," he said with a light, teasing smile. "None of it registered until I walked in a few minutes ago. You're different with him, and nothing like you were with me."
"I don't know…well, it's too soon to even talk about. I know he cares about me, and I care about him. But, it can't go any further than that. Not right now. And, AJ?"
"Yeah?" he asked, his hand on the doorknob just as he was about to open it.
"Would you…please, don't tell anyone. Promise me that you won't."
"I promise, but you know that you should need anything or want to talk, I'm here for you," he gently responded.
AJ's hand rested at the small of Dawn's back as he guided her down the hallway. Tommy rose from the sofa as soon as they came into the room. The concern in Tommy's eyes as he looked at Dawn didn't go unnoticed by AJ, but he chose not to comment on it. Instead, he handed Dawn's suitcase to Tommy. "Take care of her," he instructed his young friend.
"I intend to," Tommy told him. He looked at Dawn and said, "Are you ready?"
"Yeah," she nodded. She gave AJ a watery smile. "Thank you again for everything, and please give Mikey a hug and a kiss for me and tell him that I love him."
"I will, but you don't have to be a stranger even though you're moving on."
"For a while, I have to be. It's best for all of us if I am," she said quietly. She smiled at Tommy as he helped her with her coat and slowly guided her to the door.
"But your new place. Where are you going? At least give me a number where I can reach you…in case you need anything."
"I won't need anything. Bye AJ."
The door closed behind Dawn and Tommy, and stunned, AJ collapsed onto the first available chair. She was gone. Just like that. Gone. He had worried about telling her that they weren't working, and now, he saw that he had worried needlessly. She had known it, too, and now she was gone.
But still… He couldn't shake the feeling that her leaving was caused by something more than their failed relationship. There was just something in the way Tommy looked at her…with hopeless devotion and admiration. It was the admiration, which called to AJ. He knew that most of the staff admired Dawn and her willingness to share her story with the staff and with her clients, but the new look in Tommy's eyes went beyond that. Yeah, he decided, there was more to it. He sighed as he rose from the chair. She didn't want to tell him the whole story. He could respect that, but he hoped that she realized that if she needed him, he would be there.
And, then there's Michael. His son adored 'Dawnie.' He would be so disappointed that she wouldn't be here when he came home from preschool. AJ would find a way to help him through his first broken heart, but then again, Dawn might change her mind. Maybe she'll come around and visit them. He was certain that the stranger comment wasn't definite. Well, he hoped it wasn't.
The knocks on the door prevented him from further contemplation. He rose from the chair and went to the door. He frowned as he and Nikolas made eye contact through the glass pane. What the hell does he want, AJ thought as he wrenched open the door.
"What do you want?" AJ asked, eyeing Nikolas suspiciously.
"I'm here for Dawn," Nikolas told him. "Apparently, you don't allow her to retrieve messages. I came by here to make sure she's okay."
"She doesn't need you for that. You're not a part of her life anymore, remember?" AJ asked, rudely.
"I'll *always* be a part of Dawn's life," Nikolas said. "Look. I didn't come here for this. I came to get her and take her to the hospital. We have a niece who can't wait to meet her aunt."
"Well, she's not here."
"Do you know when she'll be back?" Nikolas asked, glancing at his watch. He wanted to pick Emily up from high school. As it stands now, he had just enough time to take Dawn to GH and then make it to PCH in time to be outside waiting as Emily left her last exam. "Well?" he asked again as AJ looked at him in silence.
"She's not coming back. She left."
"Where did she go?" Nikolas said, becoming irritated, as AJ's answers weren't as informative as Nikolas would have liked for them to be.
"She didn't say-"
"And, why not?!" he asked, angrily. "Tell me right now what you did-"
"I didn't do anything! Her stay here wasn't permanent. She always planned to have her own place, and now, she found it. Don't come to me with this crap, man. Whether you or anyone else on that isolated island wants to admit it, Dawn is a grown woman who's fully capable of making her own decisions. Geez, when I think of what *you* and the rest of you must have put her through to make her leave…I'm just glad she knew she could come to me!"
The retort that was on the tip of Nikolas' tongue was silenced as he remembered what drove Dawn away from Wyndemere in the first place. Okay, maybe AJ did have a point. *One* point! That's it, but it still didn't explain why *he* didn't know where she was. Nikolas glanced at his watch again. He really wanted to go back to the hospital again before he went to the high school for Emily. He would make a quick stop to tell Carrie about Dawn's new living arrangements and maybe he'd get to meet little Miss Jolie up close and personal. He smiled at the thought. A grunt from AJ reminded him that he wasn't alone and he said, "Fine. If you talk to her, tell her to call Carrie. Can you at least do that?"
"At the very least," AJ replied sarcastically, as he held the door open for his uninvited guest.
Emily couldn't concentrate. Her ability to balance equations left her as she considered Allison's words. Her first inclination was not to believe a word Allison said whenever it came to Tommy. It was common knowledge that Allison hated Tommy with a passion. She had even tried to convince Emily not to date him, and when they had become an "official" couple, Emily thought Allison's head would start spinning from the way she was questioning Emily's sanity for limiting herself with the likes of Thomas Hardy, Jr. Emily had looked at her in wonder. So much antagonism meant that there was more to Allison's feelings for Tommy than dislike, perhaps there was interest.
Curious about whether or not her speculation was on the mark or not, Emily had considered asking her boyfriend about it, but quickly changed her mind when she saw the look of disgust on his face when she merely uttered Allison Phillips' name. Thinking she'd best find the answers elsewhere, she instead had asked his best buddy, Sly Eckertt. He had laughed about it at first and once he had sobered, he began to tell her the tale of Allison's woe.
Allison and Tommy's aversion for one another began in the fourth grade. A simple science fair competition turned into an all out war for the nine-year-old classmates. The particulars were no longer a part of Sly's memories, but one thing Sly distinctly remembered was that the parents had to be called in. Both kids were suspended for a week, and both vowed never to forgive the other. And, apparently, they were determined to keep that promise.
Now, as Emily glanced over her shoulder and saw Allison smirking back at her, Emily couldn't help but wonder if Allison had something to do with the rumors about Tommy. The thought of it caused Emily's soulful brown eyes to flare with anger and the threat of retaliation if her speculation was proved correct. Somehow, Allison understood the look and quickly her head began to shake in denial. She had nothing to do with Tommy's predicament. This time, she was only the bearer of the news and nothing more. Emily's eyes narrowed as she decided to believe Allison's silent explanation. If not, Allison, who? And, why?
Emily glanced at her watch. Class would be over soon, and if she didn't want to screw up her average, she'd best try to balance a few of the equations. But, as soon as class was over, she would call her ex-boyfriend and alert him to the scandal which was forming around him.