This was the moment he dreaded most.
AJ unlocked the front door and ushered his small son inside. As he helped Michael remove his mittens and coat, AJ pondered the best way to break the news to him. He mentally scolded himself for not having a game plan ready and waiting before the moment arrived, but tried as he might, nothing would come to him. There was no easy way to break a heart. There never had been. There never will be.
"Daddy, I made a picture," Michael rattled off, oblivious to his father's turmoil.
"You drew a picture," AJ absently corrected him, smiling as Michael repeated the sentence with the correct verb.
"I drew a picture. Wanna see?" In his excitement, Michael dug into his little, bright purple and green backpack and produced his masterpiece. "See!" He thrust the colorful paper at his father.
AJ smiled again as he took the slightly wrinkled paper. The picture Michael had drawn was truly a masterpiece, considering the age of the artist. The figures were more defined than most youngsters' typical stick people. And the three smiling faces, which stared back at him… Well, they almost broke his heart.
"Look, Daddy," Michael beamed, positioning himself so that he sat on AJ's lap. "See, there's you." He pointed to the smiling, dark-haired man in blue pants and a yellow T-shirt. "Me," he continued. His little index finger rested on a small boy with bright red hair. "And, Dawnie," he finished with a proud smile. The image of her was almost perfect. The chocolate, brown skin, the black, shoulder-length hair, and the wide smile were a mirror image of her usual sparkling personality.
Amazing, AJ thought with pride, hugging Michael to him.
"When's Dawnie coming home?" chirped the enthusiastic artist, interrupting his father's reverie. "I wanna show her the picture."
AJ released a deep sigh. Telling Michael that Dawn had moved wouldn't be easy, but the time had come. He placed the drawing onto the coffee table, mentally adding a frame for it to his shopping list. Gathering Michael into his arms, he rested his back against the sofa.
"Michael," he began with a brightness to his voice that he didn't really feel, "Dawn has found a new home."
Michael's expression remained blank as his three-year-old mind tried to process the new information. AJ sensed his son's confusion and he quickly continued.
"Dawn won't be staying with us anymore. She found her own place. She has her own home." AJ said each sentence slowly and carefully. He watched Michael's eyes and knew that his explanation was understood. His heart constricted tightly in his chest as the wetness seeped into Michael's eyes.
"She went away?" Michael asked, his voice hoarse as he choked on the words.
"Yes," AJ told him. He kissed the top of Michael's head and wrapped his arms around the trembling child. "I know you're sad that she won't be here anymore. I am, too, but this doesn't mean that she's gone from our lives. She's still our friend, and we're still her friend. Nothing will ever change that."
"But, I didn't want her to go," Michael sniffled against his father's chest. "I want her to stay forever and ever."
"I know, Mikey." AJ rested his chin on his son's head. "I know," he murmured again.
AJ held and rocked Michael as the tears streamed down his plump, rosy cheeks. His heart ached for his son as he knew it would. He wished he could do something to lessen the pain and make the tears stop, but he knew that there was nothing he could do. Michael loved Dawn and he would miss having her around. He would miss their nighttime ritual of storytelling and puppet shows and their morning ritual of tickling each other mercilessly. The agony and torment he saw in Dawn's eyes as she said good-bye told him that she would miss their time together, too. AJ sighed again. Good-byes were never easy, and he hoped that wherever Dawn was and whatever she was doing, she realized that she was missed and that she was loved.
***I WOULD SWALLOW MY PRIDE,
I WOULD CHOKE ON THE RHINES,
BUT THE LACK THEREOF
WOULD LEAVE ME EMPTY INSIDE.***
***I WOULD SWALLOW MY DOUBT,
TURN IT INSIDE OUT,
FIND NOTHING BUT FAITH
She was empty inside.
***I WANT TO PUT MY TENDER
HEART IN A BLENDER,
WATCH IT SPIN AROUND
TO A BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION.***
What heart? She didn't have a heart. Not anymore.
She was empty. Her trembling hand touched her flat and empty abdomen. There was nothing there. Not anymore. Dawn choked back the sob, which desperately wanted to be released. Blindly she reached for her portable CD player. She pushed play, increased the volume and waited as Eve 6 began to belt out her misery all over again.
***I BURN BURN
LIKE A WICKER CABINET,
AND OH SO FRAIL.***
She was on fire. Her body ached. No position was comfortable. The folding chair was too hard and the pillows weren't soft enough. But it was just punishment, she told herself. The precious life she had been given had been taken away and it was all her fault. She was owed the pain and suffering. It was the least she could offer to the innocent who was taken away. And, it was all her fault.
***THE TICK TOCK
OF THE CLOCK IS PAINFUL,
SO SANE AND LOGICAL.
I WANT TO TEAR IT
OFF THE WALL.***
Tommy had told her that he was coming right back. He wouldn't be gone for long. He had promised her, and she had promised him that she would remain still. And, wait for him. But the tick tock reminded her that he was gone. He probably wasn't coming back. He was an innocent. He would be better off if he left her to her suffering, she told herself. She rested her back against the wall as the lyrics continued to consume her.
***I HEAR WORDS
AND CLIPS AND PHRASES.
I THINK SICK
LIKE GINGER ALE.
MY STOMACH TURNS
AND I EXHALE.***
She clutched her stomach as a fresh wave of pain hit her. Squeezing her eyes shut, her mouth opened in a silent sob of pain. "Yes," she whispered, hoarsely. "I deserve this."
Nikolas ascended the staircase, allowing the loud music to lead the way. The stairs creaked faintly under his weight and he willed himself not to condemn the decrepit state of the building. Why would she want to live there, he silently asked himself as the sound of the music increased with each step he took. With neighbors who were so crass that they failed to consider that maybe the entire planet was not interested in Eve 6's top ten single.
Upon reaching the second floor, his eyes scanned the doors, looking for apartment number twenty-three. Getting the address from Tommy had proven to be a difficult and frustrating task. He was thankful that Emily's calming presence prevented either of them from coming to blows as each man remained firm in his stance.
The thought that Dawn was having his baby had made Nikolas relentless in his demand for answers. Tommy's loyalty to her had made him equally so in his determination to refrain from answering him. Perhaps tired of their machismo tactics, Emily had stepped in and with a hand on Tommy's arm, softly asked him to just give Nikolas Dawn's address. Any other time, Emily's hand on another man's arm (especially her ex-boyfriend), no matter how innocent the touch, would have sent Nikolas' possessive streak into overdrive, but not so in this instance. With his thoughts on the possibility of fatherhood, Nikolas overlooked the touch and kept himself in check as he waited for Tommy's reply.
Now, as he stood in front of the apartment twenty-three and realized that the deafening music was coming from inside the apartment, the calm veneer began to fade away and the icy cold fear from the night before returned. He shivered as a sense of foreboding overtook him. Again.
"DAWN!!" he bellowed as his fists pounded on the door.
*** SO CAL IS WHERE
MY MIND STATES,
BUT IT'S NOT MY
STATE OF MIND.
I'M NOT AS
UGLY SAD AS YOU.***
The music blared. And, she didn't open the door. The atmosphere had an eerie quality to it as he waited a millisecond before he pounded again.
"DAWN!! I know you're in there. Open the door!"
*** OR AM I ORIGAMI?
FOLDED UP AND
JUST PRETEND. ***
He knew she heard him. Half the building heard him if the stares from her neighbors as they cracked their doors to stare at him were any indication. "Dammit, Dawn! OPEN the DOOR!"
THE MOTIVES IN YOUR HEAD.***
Something about that particular line…
Nikolas took a deep breath and centered himself. Concentrating on his practiced Tai Chi techniques, he mentally prepared himself. Then he broke down the door.
"Yeah?" Tommy softly responded to Emily. They sat in his car in front of the Quartermaine mansion. After Nikolas had left, he offered her a ride home. She had accepted and for the duration of the drive, had remained silent. He knew that her silence would only last for so long. She would want answers. He would not comply. They would become silent again.
"I-I know I shouldn't ask, but…" Emily bit her lower lip in her hesitation. Blinking rapidly, she tried again. "Is she? Pregnant, I mean?"
"Em, you know I can't answer that."
"Then she is." Emily voiced her beliefs aloud. "If she wasn't, you would just say so, but you didn't. She's having Nikolas' baby."
No, she's not. Not anymore. Tommy drew a harsh breath and squeezed his eyes shut. His hands closed over the steering wheel in anguish. Too many people were in pain and it was all because of one person. The air slowly seeped from him as the feelings of futility washed over him. Hitting Lucas had only been a momentary release. At the time, it felt good to strike out at the little creep who harassed his friend and caused Dawn to miscarry, but now, he felt like crap. His knuckles were bruised, but that didn't compare to how banged up his heart felt. He'd betrayed Dawn. His slip of the tongue had brought questions to Nikolas' mind and now, Dawn had to answer them alone. Tommy should have gone to her apartment with him.
Emily swallowed hard as she resisted the temptation to cry. Would she lose Nikolas again? They'd only just found each other. Of course, he would want to do the right thing by his child and his child's mother, but was she a horrible person for wanting to remain in his life? She didn't want to lose him again. She'd done that. Been there. She knew that she could survive without him, but after being with him-in the way she had dreamt of for years-she didn't want to be without him again.
Tommy opened his eyes. He stared straight ahead. "Em, I-you…we… We can't talk about any of this to anyone. Whatever is happening between Dawn and Cassadine is their business. Okay?"
"I wouldn't say anything to anyone," she reassured him, her voice as quiet as the day was still. "Would you answer a question for me?"
"Depends. What's your question?" He tore his eyes away from the distant gatehouse. If he squinted, he could just make out Ned as he lifted a baby seat from the back of his stark, white Lexus. Dara and Ned were having a baby, he reminded himself. He had forgotten all about Dara's pregnancy. How will Dawn handle the birth of her niece or nephew? Oh, God, he silently groaned. Tears blinded him for a second and blinking them away, he turned his head to face Emily.
Emily saw the shiny gleam in his emerald eyes. She had her answer without him ever saying a word. He was just as much in love with Dawn as she was with Nikolas. She pulled him to her. His arms tightened around her. Silence surrounded them as they drew comfort from each other.
(Song credit: "Inside Out" by Eve 6)