Part 14

Sonny ran a hand over his face. The talk with Jason brought more memories to the forefront of his mind. Life would have been so different if he had taken Dara's hand and they ran off the second she told him about the pregnancy. But no. He had to--

The front door opened and Hope's appearance in the doorway brought an abrupt end to his thoughts of the past. He crossed the room to her, somehow ignoring the need to pull her into his arms. She seemed so nervous and edgy around him. He supposed his reputation was the cause of her reaction. He prayed that was the only reason.

"Good morning, Hope. Come in."

Her fingers toyed nervously with the hem of the sweater she wore. Sonny tried hard not to stare. Having her there in real-life was like a dream. One that he didn't want to miss a moment of.

"How did you sleep?" he asked, closing the door as he watched her head for the sofa. "Was the penthouse okay?"

"It was fine," she said softly. "She said it would be okay if I just came over. There wasn't anything at the other place for breakfast."

Sonny's brow knitted into frown. "Where is Dara? Did she leave?"

"No," his daughter replied with a shake of her head. "She's on the phone. She said she'll come when she's done."

"Okay." A few moments alone with his firstborn. Sonny couldn't have been happier although he battled his emotions not to show it. "What would you like for breakfast?"

"I dunno."

"What?" he asked, coaxing her with a smile. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

A pained expression crossed her face. She averted her gaze and mumbled. "Not where I come from."

His smile faltered. God, what had his baby girl been through? He wanted to know everything. If someone had hurt her, he wanted to know. But one look at her face, the rigid way she held herself, he knew he couldn't ask. At least not yet.

He beckoned to her with his hand. "Let's go to the kitchen. We can change that. I make a mean omelet and my pancakes melt in your mouth."

"That's what she said."

Sonny's hand hung in mid-air as he pushed the swinging doors to the kitchen open. More memories threatened to intrude. He pushed them away and gulped air. Holding the door open for Hope to enter first, he said, "Well, Dara's telling the truth."

For that, Hope rewarded him with a faint smile. Sonny's heart nearly stopped in response. She had his mother's smile and Dara's, too. His baby girl.

"You're not exactly modest, are you?" she asked.

Sonny nearly missed the quiet statement. He was too caught up in the firsts. The first smile that was all his would be replayed in his mind for many times to come.

"I do okay," he said, reaching for an apron. He tied it around his waist and then handed one to her. "I've learned that when you have skills you should own up to them. Don't be afraid of your talent."

Hope nodded. She mimicked his movements by folding the apron over so that it didn't cover her top. Sonny stopped her before she finished tying it on.

"You should put it on all the way," he suggested. "Let me."

He pulled the apron over her head and moved around her to tie it in the back. For a second, he thought she'd deny him the moment. But she didn't. Hope stood still and waited while he tied the apron strings. Another first.

"I'm a good cook," he continued after the moment passed. "That's probably my best talent. Dara's best talent, in my opinion, is her singing. Have you heard her sing?"

Hope shook her head. "She hummed a little this morning."

Sonny smiled. "Her humming isn't so bad either. What about you?"

"I sing a little," she slowly confided. He handed her a bowl and she sent it on the kitchen table. "I don't know about cooking. I can make toast."

"That's a start. I only cook from scratch. Do you know what that means?"

"No instructions?"

"You got it," he said. "When you know what you're doing, you don't need them. This only applies to cooking, though. Sometimes, instructions are useful."

"I know. Like when you're hooking up a computer or something, right?"

He nodded. "Yeah and other things." He turned the griddle on and then grabbed flour from the pantry. "Could you get a couple of eggs and the carton of milk from the fridge?"

She did as he asked and set everything on the table. Sonny mixed the ingredients and Hope stirred them together.

"That guy said that we can stay at his penthouse. Are we?"

"Jason said that?" Sonny said, mostly to himself. "I don't know. I'd rather you did, but Dara and I will have to talk about it. Would you like to?"

Hope shrugged. "I dunno. It's nice. There's not much food."

"I can get someone to stock it. No problem. Just let me know what you like and it'll be there."

"What about your wife?" she asked softly. "Is she coming back?"

Sonny's throat constricted. The question was so mournfully asked, almost like she blamed herself for Carly's absence. He wanted to comfort her. Unable to resist, he placed his hand on her shoulder. She flinched, but didn't jerk his hand away. Dammit. He had to know what happened to her before.

"I don't know what Carly's plans are, but it's not something you or Dara have to worry about. Everything will work out. I promise."

By the time Sonny slid the last Spanish omelet onto a plate, Dara breezed into the kitchen. She smiled and made a huge fuss over the breakfast, but Sonny still noticed the lines of strain around the corners of her eyes. Her mysterious phone call must have been hell.

"Is it too late to help?" she asked him as Hope took the pitcher of orange juice to the table.

"Breakfast is under control," he said. She turned to go to the table. He caught her wrist. Their eyes locked. "What's wrong?"

"What makes you think that?" she asked, looking pointedly at his hand around her wrist.

He got the message and released her. Still speaking quietly so as not to alert Hope, he said, "I can tell when something's wrong, Dara. I always could. Who called you?"

"Although it's absolutely none of your business, Justus called. He wants me to come in to the office. Mac will be there."

He frowned. "The Mayor and the DA? Lois told him about us...I mean me and Hope. That's what they want to talk to you about. Are they firing you?"

"Justus said no, but I don't believe him."

"You want some help?" he offered.

Her brown eyes widened in surprise. "No, Sonny. I can handle it."

"They can't fire you over this," he argued. "Let me call Alexis. She can represent you--"

"I said no," she stated firmly and just as quietly. "I can take care of this myself." She headed for the table. Hope had become quiet, watching them but pretending not to. Before Dara moved too far, she said over her shoulder, "But thanks for the offer."

"You're welcome," he said and joined them. As he looked across at Hope, he thought, another first. Breakfast.

# # #

Marcus entered the Outback as the breakfast crowd was leaving. He felt some relief at that. He wasn't in the mood for idle conversation. All he wanted was some strong black coffee and a conversation.

"Would you like anything else?" Felicia asked from behind the counter.

He shook his head. "No thanks."

"Okay," she said, "I'll be with you in a minute."

"I'll be here."

He drank more coffee. The caffeine heightened his senses. He became aware of everything, including the pain in his heart. Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand, he pushed the coffee away with his other hand. It was too early in the morning to feel so low.

"Marcus?"

He stiffened. The last thing he wanted to was to see Alex. Not after the way he'd stormed out of the office the day before. They were close friends and Marcus valued the friendship. But he wasn't ready to apologize or talk about Dara. With her ring burning a hole in his pocket, it was much too early for that.

"Alex."

The Commissioner claimed the vacant barstool to his right. He ordered coffee and a croissant to go. Marcus thanked God for that. At least, Alex wasn't planning to stay around.

"What's up?"

"Just drinking coffee," Marcus said.

"Come on, man, talk to me," Alex said. "You look like shit. I called your place last night and left messages. I was worried."

"I'm not about to bite a bullet. Don't worry. I'm cool."

"You don't sound cool," Alex countered. "Are you ready to talk about your job?"

Marcus looked Alex in the face. "There's nothing to talk about. You have the badge and the gun. I don't want it anymore."

Alex's mouth dropped open. "I don't believe you. Blue runs in your veins, man. You're a cop."

"I'm an ex-cop."

"So, what? You planning on turning vigilante now and get Corinthos on your own?" Alex asked. "Don't--"

"I wasn't planning to," Marcus bit out. "He's the father of Dara's child. I can't touch him now. No matter how much I want to. I need a new focus and I think I've found it."

Alex opened his mouth to say more, but Marcus quickly added, "Leave it alone, Alex. I'm serious. I don't need the lectures or the words of wisdom right now. I got your number. I'll call you."

"Fine." Alex stood. "If that's the way you want it, but I'm warning you. Don't do anything stupid. I love you like a brother, man, and I don't want to lose you."

The Police Commissioner stormed away before Marcus could respond. He watched Alex leave and missed Felicia's return.

"Things okay?" she asked.

He jumped, startled by her sudden appearance. "Yeah, things are fine. Is there a place where we can talk?"

"Sure. Let's go to my office."

She led the way and Marcus followed. "Have a seat," she said, pointing to a cozy looking sofa in the corner. He sat and she joined him. "You have my full attention."

"That's almost scary," he said, trying for humor.

She didn't smile. Instead, she patted his arm. "You're going through something. I can see it on your face and hear it in your voice. What can I do to help? Want me to call Mac?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "He can't help me, but maybe you can."

She leaned forward. "Is Dara having last minute jitters? Do you want me to talk to her?"

"No, look, you're gonna hear about this. Dara and I aren't getting married. The wedding is off, and I'm not with the force."

Her nose crinkled as she frowned. "Those are serious life changes. Why, Marcus?"

"It's complicated and I can't go into it."

"How can I help?" she asked. "What do you need me to do?"

"Give me a job," he suggested. "Do you still need a partner for your investigation firm?"

"Yeah. Are you sure you want to?"

He shrugged. The ring rested heavily in his pocket. He ignored it and said, "I'm sure."

# # #

The squad buzzed with gossip and rumors. There were times when Keesha's ear would have been bent as she listened to the latest happenings. Some of her cop buddies tried to draw her in, but she declined. She couldn't focus on someone else's unfortunate circumstances when she knew that soon she would be fodder for the rumor mill, too.

"Earth to Ward," Frank, her new partner joked, "come in Ward."

"I'm here," she said, accepting the mug of coffee he offered her. She added sugar and cream, not really paying attention to her movements.

"You're looking kinda down. Wanna talk about it?"

"Nope." Keesha shook her head. There was no way in hell she'd try to explain Jason Morgan to her new partner. She didn't quite understand what happened between them. It was supposed to be basic, simple. His offer to give up 'the life' changed everything.

Man, why did he have to say those three words?

"Did you read that report?" Frank asked. "I glanced through it."

"It's detailed," she said. The truth was, she hadn't been able to focus on it. She kept hearing Jason's voice in her ear and feeling the heat of his body covering hers. She shuddered and stood abruptly. "Wanna go for a ride?"

"Sure!" Her partner stood and grabbed his jacket. "Where to?"

"I have a snitch over on Oak."

"In whose court?" he asked, following her out of the squad room.

"Sorel's. If something is about to go down, he'll know or at least know something about it."

"Sounds good."

# # #

The words of Sonny, Bobbie and Laura played in Carly's head like a broken record. They bothered her so much that she couldn't think straight. Finally, she gave up and let Griffin know that she was leaving for the day. If Laura needed her, she'd have to wait until the morning. Carly was taking the day off.

She didn't have a specific destination in mind. Michael was with Bobbie and Carly knew that her mother had planned a full day for her grandson. She told her driver to just drive. When she was ready to stop, she'd let him know. He did as he was told. They drove from uptown to downtown. When they neared the hospital, Carly asked him to pull into General Hospital's parking lot.

Two guards joined her as she entered the hospital. She hated having them around, especially considering where she decided to go. But she knew that dismissing the guards could prove fatal. Her son needed her to stick around. She wouldn't jeopardize her life for a moment of privacy.

Carly found the office easily. Gail Baldwin hadn't moved since Carly's days as a nurse's aid from so long ago. Carly instructed the two hulking men to stand outside and went in.

Gail's secretary looked up with a smile, but the woman's smile faltered as she recognized Carly.

"How may I help you?" The young blonde asked.

Carly glanced at the woman's nameplate. The sign on her desk read 'Gina Cates-Hardy.' Carly said, "Is Dr. Baldwin available?"

"I'm not sure," Gina said. "Please have a seat. I'll let her know that someone is waiting to see her."

Gina disappeared inside the inner office. The door closed behind her and all Carly could hear was silence. Her nerves rattled as she waited. Maybe coming here was a mistake.

The door opened. "Miss," Gina said, "Dr. Baldwin can see you now."

"Thanks," Carly mumbled, moving hurriedly into the office. The door closed behind her and she looked up to find Dr. Baldwin looking at her with warm, professional concern. "Do you remember me?"

The psychologist nodded. "Yes, I recall seeing you in the halls. Please, have a seat."

Carly moved to the center of the office. She glanced at the leather sofa along the wall and the guest chairs in front of the doctor's desk. "Which one do I use?"

"Whichever is comfortable."

Carly chose the chair. The sofa just seemed too much. She wasn't mentally ill. She just needed a little help to sort things out.

"Now, how may I help you, and what should I call you?" Dr. Baldwin asked. "Carly or Caroline?"

"I prefer Carly," she answered. "I just need to talk. Can we do that? Just talk?"

"Sure." Dr. Baldwin grabbed a notepad and pen. She leaned back in her chair, her warm gaze trained on Carly. "What are we talking about?"

"Me," Carly said, her voice tear-strained, "and why I'm never good enough."

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