Chapter 1: No Such Thing as Happily Ever After
Every morning the Cates household hummed with the same routine. Despite being an overworked physician with an endless supply of patients, Dr. Keesha Ward-Cates made sure to prepare breakfast for her two kids and detective husband every weekday morning. Some thought her old-fashioned, but she didn't care. As much as she loved her career, her family was her top priority.
Upstairs, doors slammed and music blared. Keesha turned on the flat screen that resided on the kitchen counter to drown out any teenage angst. So focused on her task of frying bacon and flipping hotcakes, she jumped when a pair of strong hands circled her waist and a warm mouth claimed an earlobe.
"Morning," Stone said. "You should have woken me."
"You came in pretty late. I thought you'd sleep in today."
"I would have if you'd join me." He slowly assaulted her neck with licks and kisses until Keesha elbowed him. "Ow."
He chuckled as he set the table and grabbed juice from the fridge. Keesha took pleasure in watching him. After wearing his hair short for over a decade, he'd recently began to avoid the salon and now his dark locks teased the top of his broad shoulders. Dark jeans molded his rear like they were tailor-made. The button-down white shirt only enhanced his olive-skin tone. She could only imagine the effects he had on everyone who came in contact with him. If only she didn't have to go in today…
"You told me once that it's impolite to stare." He gave her a half smile as he reached for her.
Just as the fun was about to begin, their eldest dropped into the room, Michael tossed his backpack by the back door with a loud thud. He grunted at the sight of them touching and rolled his eyes. To his credit, he kept any disparaging comments to himself. Merrie Mae followed with a more refined entrance. She set her Vera Bradley messenger bag on a stool and sat at the table. Michael released a loud sigh and joined her.
Keesha and Stone shared a private moment at their children's theatrics before they all ingested their feast. Merrie Mae lamented the woes of seventh grade while Michael remained mum on any tenth grade angst. Until he made a surprising request.
"Dad, can I borrow the car tonight?"
Stone's gaze cut to Keesha for a split second. "Um…no."
"You don't have a license."
"I have a permit. What if someone in the car has a license?"
"Seriously, Michael? I'm a cop." Stone looked at his son as if he'd grown a second head.
"Where do you want to go? Your mom or I can take you."
"Oh, God," the teen groaned and covered his face with his hand.
"You shouldn't say that," Merrie Mae warned.
Michael only stared at her until she looked at their father and shrugged. Stone patted her cheek.
"Babe," Keesha said, talking to Stone, "we have the dinner tonight. Remember?"
"See," Michael said.
"Oh, yeah," Stone replied as he rejoined the conversation. "Okay, we can drop you off on our way to Jagger's and pick you up after."
"That's such a geek move," their son muttered.
Keesha bit back a smile and hoped for a neutral tone. "It's the best we can do. You have a few months to go before you get a license."
"Will you stop treating me like a kid then?" he asked in a low mumble.
Keesha debated whether or not a response was warranted. Before she could decide, Stone jumped right in.
"When you stop acting like one," he said. "So, you can't drive tonight. It's not the end of the world. Besides, are you sure you're allowed to go—"
"Oh, Dad," Michael groaned. "It's the party at Jake's. It's not a big deal."
"Will AJ be there?"
Michael shrugged. "I guess so. He's usually around. It's a cookout. If he's not there, Jason will be. Is that okay?"
Stone looked at Keesha who nodded. Jake was fairly straitlaced. Nothing at all like his dad used to be in his younger years. Since Carly and AJ split, AJ took his role as single parent very seriously. If AJ wasn't at the party tonight, Keesha would be very surprised. She made a mental note to ask Jason about it later.
"The bus will be here soon," Merrie Mae piped in. "We'd better hurry up."
Stone gave her a playful frown. "You don't want a ride in the cruiser today?"
"Aw, Dad." She laughed as she declined his offer. "You don't have a cruiser."
"I have flashing lights."
The kids cleared the table, grabbed their bags and left. Keesha headed back upstairs with Stone fast on her heels. She wasn't the least surprised when he cornered her against the wall.
"Alone at last." His brown eyes lit up in that special way, so tender and awestruck. As if it was the first time they'd ever looked at each other. A slow smile parted his lips. "Your son is testing me."
"This morning he's my son. Last week when he aced the Algebra test, he was your son." She locked her arms around his waist. "Is that it?"
He nodded. "Pretty much."
Then the teasing stopped. His mouth claimed hers in a deep, thorough kiss. The kind of kiss that was saved for their stolen moments. The kind of kiss that she'd remember throughout the day as she often thought about him and hoped that he was safe. Slowly, they parted.
"I can go in late," he suggested in a husky murmur.
She shook her head. "I can't. The appointment book is full, and I'm not sure if Dawn will make it in today."
The heat of passion faded from his dark eyes as concern marked his features. "Is today the day?"
"I don't know." Keesha frowned as she thought of her friend and practice partner. "She's been quiet most of the week. She left early yesterday."
"Maybe we should cancel the dinner tonight. Jagger will understand," Stone said. "She'll need us. She'll need you."
"Don't cancel. You can go and I'll be flexible just in case."
In the garage, Stone dove in for another kiss. Keesha ended their routine with a hug. This morning, she squeezed him extra tight. Experience taught her that life could change in an instant. She did not and could not imagine a life without him.
"I love you," he said, returning her embrace with equal fervor.
"I love you, too."
The private practice had been an excellent idea. Three days a week, Jason and his partners saw patients who could afford Port Charles' best physicians. Mondays and Fridays were reserved for the patrons of the Charles Street Foundation. Whatever health facility that had previously serviced the area had long moved away. The trek to their location on Dunson and Ninth required a couple of bus transfers, but once the patients arrived, the staff made sure to treat them as if they were royalty. Jason did not know how many lives had been saved in the five years of their existence, but he would never regret the day the three of them sat down and decided to make a change. It had been the best day of his life. For many reasons.
A mid-morning break in the office traffic gave him the opportunity he needed. He pulled his iPhone from his front pocket and headed to his office. As he passed an exam room, the soothing sounds of Keesha's voice drifted into the hallway. He resisted the urge to duck his head in. She hadn't noticed his attention and he wanted to keep it that way. Besides, she'd be curious enough in the weeks to come. No reason to put her on edge now. Their friendship was tight. Clueing her in on his reawakening feelings for her as his marriage went to hell would only cause friction in the workplace. None of them needed that right now.
He closed his office door and slid onto his leather chair. He had already saved the number for Ward and Jensen, Attorneys at Law in his contact list. Since Justus was family, Jason opted to consult with his cousin's partner. When she answered instead of her assistant, he was a little surprised.
"Dara?" he said. "This is Jason."
"Oh, hi. I…um… I don't know anything."
He swallowed hard. With the influx of patients, he had almost forgotten. Calling her about his personal issues seemed so callous. "Okay. Thanks—"
"You weren't calling about Dawn, were you?" Dara cut in.
"No, we're worried about her of course, but Keesha and I understand she needs this time right now." He sighed. "I wasn't thinking. Tell her we're thinking about her. I'll call her later."
"Why did you call me?"
"It's not important."
"Jason, please," Dara said. "What is it? This is my office number. What's going on?"
He hesitated for a fraction of a second. "I need an attorney."
"Gina and I are splitting up."
The rooftop of General Hospital was always Dawn's go-to place. Even though her GH on-call days were a thing of the past, she could not seem to break away. In one form or another, it kept bringing her back. She kept finding her way on the roof in desperate need of sorting her thoughts and soothing her peace of mind.
Seagulls cawing overhead mingled with the creaking of a door. Footsteps crunched along the gravelly surface. A familiar cologne that reminded her of the sea enveloped her senses. Seconds later, Nikolas was sitting beside her on the huge air conditioning unit. His dark denim covered thigh sat a respectable distance from hers, but he wasted no time in taking her hand.
"You've been here for quite some time."
"It's what I do," she said. "It's where I go."
"I don't know where else to go," she told him, surprised that her voice was void of tears. "The beeping is so overpowering. I can't… It's just… Have you seen CiCi?"
"Joe is sitting with her."
Dawn smiled. "He's an indulgent uncle and a wonderful brother-in-law. Frank…" She lost her breath and the words just stopped. Nikolas squeezed her hand. Warm, comforting, encouraging. He offered nothing but solace. She held on to that so tightly.
"Frank found me here. I'd lost my first patient. A six-year-old boy. I couldn't save him. There was nothing…" Tears threatened, but she blinked them away. "We kissed for the first time. It led to an argument."
"Really?" Nikolas said with a smile. "Who would have thought? Arguing? You and Frank? It's unthinkable."
She nudged him with her elbow. "Hush you."
"What?" He looked down at her for the first time.
Their gazes locked. Humor was a thin shield over the understanding that resided in his brown eyes. It was that understanding that did her in. She crumbled. Without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close.
"I have no idea what you're going through," he said, "but you don't have to make a decision today. Regardless what anyone says. If it has become a financial strain, I can cover the expenses."
"No, it's not that," she said, struggling to regain her composure. "It's been a year, Nikolas. A year of hoping and waiting and wishing and knowing that he is not coming out of it. I'm a doctor and I know. Frank would not want this. He'd be so angry at me for putting CiCi through this."
"But there was brain activity—"
"At first," she said, "but not anymore. He's not there anymore. He hasn't been there for a long time."
Words failed her. His friend's quiet strength gave her the courage to let go. She closed her eyes and finally let the tears fall.