Another deep sigh.
A faint smile teased the corners of Stefan mouth as he contemplated his wife's present disposition. After her visit with Dara and little Miss Jolie, Carrie had joined him in his suite of offices at General Hospital. Her quiet nature had caused him no alarm as he was more than familiar with her many moods, and being a devoted husband, he loved each and every one. He had anticipated some form of reflection on her part after visiting with her young granddaughter. A new birth never failed to remind one of the passage of time, or in blunt terminology, his or her age. Resting his vibrant emerald eyes on Carrie, he knew that he would happily spend the latter part of the day reassuring her that her age was not a factor as no woman could be as striking as she at any age.
He rose from his leather chair and moved from behind his desk to stand beside her as she gazed out of the large picture window. His hand reached for hers and he deftly laced their fingers together. "Carlotta, what fortunate creature has so captured your attention?" he asked, as she did not stir when he joined her.
"Hmm?" she asked, turning her sightless gaze from the window to the handsome face of her husband. "Did you say something?"
"You wound me," he began, playfully. "I was under the impression that your ears were tuned to my every word. I see now that I was mistaken."
She laughed softly. Turning to face him, she released her hand from his and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Oh, my darling, please forgive me for being lax," she said, teasing him. When she continued speaking, her voice was softer and more serious. "I was thinking about…things."
"What sort of things?" he asked, resting his large hands at the small of her back as he pulled her closer to his tall frame.
"It's silly," she said with a dismissive shake of her head.
"I doubt that it is. Tell me what's caused your melancholy. I assumed your visitation with Dara and our new little one was pleasurable. Was my assumption in error?"
"No, it was wonderful. Dara is becoming a wonderful mother and Ned is great, too."
"And, Jolie?" he prompted as she grew quiet.
She looked down at the crisp white shirt he wore and vaguely remembered when he mostly favored a more somber attire. Their coming together had brought about significant changes in both of them and in her opinion, all were for the better. And, now she was thinking of making another change. She was becoming too old for such thoughts. Much too old.
"Carlotta? Is there something the matter with Jolie?" he asked more insistently.
"No," she responded, lifting her eyes to his at the gravity of his voice. She smiled to lessen his concerns for their grandchild. "She's perfect. She's simply amazing…holding her in my arms… Well, it awakened something in me and I… Oh, never mind. Forget I said anything. Are you ready to leave?"
"In a moment," he answered. "What did holding Jolie make you feel? Carlotta, if there's something causing you distress, please, tell me."
"Stefan, I…" She took a deep breath and held his gaze. "I…well, a baby can make you feel so many things. While holding her…well, I wondered how it would feel to hold your child…*our* child in my arms. To feel the evidence of our commitment to each other growing inside of me…" She paused as Stefan grew still at her explanation. She mistook his silence as displeasure and she quickly continued. "See, I told you it was silly. I'm older now and probably too old to have a baby, and you… Well, you probably don't want to raise another child. Forget I said anythi-"
"Carlotta!" he fiercely whispered, his voice hoarse. "A child? You wish to have *my* child?"
"Yes, I do," she answered softly, feeling energized by the wistful quality of his voice.
He pulled her to him in a tight embrace. Overcome with emotion and at a loss for words, he held her to him. Her arms closed around him and her hands rested on his broad back. Trembling against her, he tightened his hold on her.
Laughing softly, she asked, "Does this mean you would like to have another child?"
"Yes," he answered against her hair. "Oh, my love, yes. I would love for us to have a child together." He slowly lessened his hold on her. With gentle hands, he cupped her face. "But are *you* sure that you wish this? A child is an overwhelming responsibility and there are so many things to consider. Your health…your career…Dara and Dawn…"
"I want to have a child with you. I always have, but I never allowed myself to consider it until I held Jolie in my arms. The urge became even stronger and I haven't been able to get the thought from my mind. My career will still be here and I'm certain that my two girls would love to have another person to boss around. And, for my health…well, I know I'm older than the average mother, but I'm not *that* old, am I?"
"No, sweetheart," he laughed softly, "you're not old at all. I can't express to you how elated I am with the idea of having a child with you. I believe, that in order to be on the safe side, we should consult with a specialist, and provided that no harm will come to you, I would love for us to become parents."
"Keep it together," he softly advised himself. He couldn't charge into the school's parking lot in a fit of rage. For all he knew, his belief that Lucas was behind Dawn's drugging could be completely false. Sure, Dawn was one hundred per cent fine and lucid before she ate the pastrami sandwich that was meant for him. Maybe it was purely a coincidence that after eating *his* pastrami sandwich, Dawn took a PCP trip which caused her to have a miscarriage. And, maybe it was only another strange coincidence that the very next day, rumors about his *so-called* drug use ran rampant all over school. And better still, maybe it was yet another coincidence that of everyone talking…gossiping…about him, Lucas was the only one who didn't.
"A coincidence, my ass," Tommy grumbled, applying pressure to the accelerator as the light became green. "When I see the little punk, maybe it will be a *coincidence* when I beat the crap out of him."
The rest of the drive through the neighborhood was filled with thoughts of how to best handle the situation. Should Tommy beat the confession out of Lucas, or should he make him confess and then beat the crap out of him? The possibilities were endless.
The parking lot was nearly deserted as he pulled in. Skillfully, he guided his prized possession into an empty parking space, which was allotted to Seniors only. After turning off the engine, he forced himself to take a deep breath. Already, he could see the stares and could almost hear the whispers as his classmates openly gawked at him. The deep breath soothed him a little bit and confident that he could handle whatever came his way, Tommy left his car and headed toward the old brick building.
He quickened his step at the sound of Emily's call. Jogging toward where she stood near a bench, he quickly reached her. "Hey, Em."
"Hi," she said, slowly. She watched him carefully, trying to define the turbulent emotions she could see in his green eyes. She sensed that he had turned inward, thereby, masking his intentions from her. She placed a firm hand on his upper forearm. "What's going on?"
"You tell me," he said, looking beyond her as he searched the small crowd behind her. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he sensed that Lucas was nearby.
"What are you doing here?"
"I told you I was coming. There are rumors flying around about me and I want to see what's up."
"You're lying," she said, responding to the shakiness of his voice. He was incensed and his temper was being held in check by a very thin cord. Feeling the tension in his arm and remembering his body language, she knew that he was very close to his breaking point. "This is about Lucas, isn't it?"
Tommy shrugged. He glanced down at her and quickly glanced away again. Her brown eyes demanded that he be honest with her, and in order to do that, he would have to betray Dawn. He would never do that.
"Tommy? It is, isn't it? You think he started those rumors about you. Why?"
"Em, not right now, okay? Have you seen him since you've been out here? I need to talk to him."
"You don't want to talk to him," she stated quietly.
"Sure, I do."
"Em, cut it out. I know what you're trying to do and just leave it alone, okay?" His words were harsh, but his tone was soft. He chanced it and glanced down at her again. Her eyes were narrowed and she looked as if a major tongue-lashing was forming in her mind. Impulsively, he gave her a quick hug. Ignoring the blatant stares, they hugged each other, and against her hair, he whispered. "Em, there's something that's going on. I can't go into detail, but you've got to stay out of it, okay? Promise me, you will."
"I can't promise you that," she told him, breaking free of his embrace. "If it has something to do with Lucas, then it has something to do with me. Your feud with Lucas started because of me, and I intend to end it!"
"No!" he said, loudly. He gripped her upper arms and stared hard at her. "Do not go anywhere near him! Please, Em. He's dangerous-"
"Lucas?" she laughed, incredulously. "Dangerous? I don't think so. I can handle him."
"Em, please, don't-" The rest of his plea was drowned out by the loud sound of his pounding heart. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lucas slink out of the gym's side door. After demanding Emily to stay there, Tommy took off after Lucas.
The distance was quickly closed, as propelled by his anger-born adrenaline, Tommy quickly reached his foe. He fought the urge to tackle the younger male to the ground and instead he used his voice to express his strong emotion. "Lucas."
Lucas paused as he neared the football field. His bike was just a few yards away and he knew that there was no possibility that he'd make it there in time. He briefly wondered how Tommy could recover so quickly from the large dosage of narcotics he had slipped into his food. Maybe Tommy really was as perfect as everyone thought, Lucas thought derisively. With his jaw clenched, he slowly turned around to face his former childhood playmate.
"What?" he asked. There was a slight tremor in his voice as he faced the star athlete who stood still, clenching and unclenching his fist as his eyes blazed with unbridled anger. Lucas was instantly ashamed of the tremor and in an effort to conceal it, he added, "You've come to the wrong place if you're looking for a fix. I live a 'drug-free existence,'" he replied.
"It was you," Tommy said. His footsteps were slow and measured as he moved closer to Lucas. He could feel the eyes of curious onlookers bore into his back, but he continued to ignore them. This was between him and Lucas. The others could make of it what they will.
"Man, you're still tripping," Lucas cackled, backing away as he taunted Tommy. He glanced around at the other students, wondering if any of them would offer him a helping hand if one would become necessary. Off to the side, he noticed Ray, the security guard, and released a small sigh of relief. If Ray was to become involved, Tommy's suspected drug use would probably be held against him. He laughed to himself, bring it on, big man. "Rumor has it that you're good at that."
"Oh, does it?" Tommy asked, quietly. He ceased his advance on Lucas and folded his arms across his strong chest as he looked at him.
"Yeah." Lucas stole another glance at the crowd and at Ray. Tommy's sudden change worried him. What was he up to?
"Anything else you care to tell me?"
"Like what?" Lucas asked, frowning.
"Like why you did it," Tommy suggested.
"I didn't do anything," Lucas denied. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, you did, and you know exactly what I'm talking about." Tommy's strong voice was so deathly quiet that the students who had milled around him and Lucas had to strain to hear him.
"Nah, man," Lucas said, shaking his head. Playing to the curiosity of the crown, loudly Lucas added, "I had nothing to do with your little trip and fall from grace, but I see that like a typical abuser, you're choosing to blame somebody else for your habit. Well, fine, Tommy. Blame me. It's all my fault you're nothing but a junkie. A PCP pumping junkie, and yeah, it's all my fault."
"Thanks. That's all I wanted to hear," Tommy softly replied before he lunged at Lucas.
"TOMMY! Stop it!" Emily cried as she forced herself through the crowd. Having arrived soon after Tommy took off after Lucas, Nikolas had been quickly enlightened by Emily that Tommy was primed for an altercation with Lucas. Worried that she might get caught in the middle, Nikolas was fast on her heels.
Emily had to elbow a few ribs and step on a few toes before she could push her way through the crowd. The scene startled her and the shouts and the cheers of the crowd faded in the distance as she watched Tommy unleash his wrath on Lucas.
Her stunned silence only lasted for a moment and in the next second, she moved to go towards her ex-boyfriend. A hand on her arm stopped her progression and she glanced over her shoulder to see Nikolas behind her. "I'll take care of it," he told her.
Nikolas grabbed Tommy from behind as he raised his fist to punch Lucas in the stomach with another left hook. Tommy struggled in his grasp and quickly broke free. Still enraged, with a clenched fist, he turned to face the person who had pulled him away from the SOB.
Nikolas took a step back from the ire he saw in Tommy's eyes. Becoming angry, he yelled, "What the hell is wrong with you? You're twice his size! Why don't you give him a break?!"
"Why don't you mind your own business?" Tommy yelled back. He looked at the crowd and yelled at them. "What?! What are you all standing around here for? The show is over! Get out of here!"
As the crowd began to leave, Lucas slowly moved to stand on his feet. Holding his side, he wanted to run as fast as he could, but he found that he was rooted to the ground. He couldn't move.
"You can't just go around beating up people!" Nikolas said, gesturing toward Lucas.
"I told you before. This is none of your business. Stay out of it," Tommy said. His voice was hard as he looked at the young man who had impregnated and left Dawn. The pompous bastard had a lot of nerve, giving him a lecture when he could use one of his own.
"Stay out of it?! How can I? You're obviously doing this because of your *former* relationship with Emily! Since this concerns Emily, there's no way I'm staying out of it! When are you gonna get it? She's not your responsibility? I take care of her now!"
"Responsibility? That's just great, coming from you," Tommy replied, his voice heavy with sarcasm and disgust. "You don't know the first thing about being responsible or taking care of someone. All you care about is taking what you can get."
"Tommy, that's not fair and it's not true. I know you're friends with Dawn, but that doesn't give you the right to say these things to him. He was only trying to help."
"Well, you'd better watch how he 'helps', Em, and you'd better be sure to take care of yourself because he sure as hell won't." Tommy groaned inwardly as he feared that he might have said too much. He knew that he had better leave now to avoid really saying how he felt. He glanced over his shoulder at Lucas. "That was only the beginning, but I swear if you ever come after me or anyone else like that again, you're going down. That's a promise."
Tommy brushed past Nikolas and didn't even glance at Emily as he left the football field. He took several deep breaths as he prayed that no one would question him. He'd come entirely too close to betraying Dawn's confidence and now, as he quickened his steps, the only thing he wanted to do was go back to her and make sure that she was okay.
"What did you mean by all of that?" Nikolas asked, moving quickly to catch up to Tommy. An overwhelming sense of dread coursed through him and his heart began to race as he waited for Tommy to answer him.
"Nothing, man. I didn't mean anything. Just make sure you take care of my *former* girlfriend. That's all," Tommy said. Refusing to turn around, he increased his pace.
Nikolas placed a hand on Tommy's shoulder, applying pressure until Tommy turned around. "I'm asking again. What did you mean by that? This has something to do with Dawn, doesn't it? All of that stuff about taking responsibility for someone…you were referring to her, weren't you? What's going on?"
Tommy swallowed hard. He wouldn't betray her. He promised her and he would not say a word. He glanced behind Nikolas and saw Emily staring at him. He swallowed again.
Nikolas refused to be thwarted by Tommy's silence. In fact, it encouraged him to think and then, the answer came to him. He lowered his hand from Tommy's shoulder as he quietly said, "Responsibility…Dawn… She's pregnant, isn't she?"