Part Eighteen

Worry for Jason prompted Keesha to do something she swore she never would. She paged him. Sitting in a parked car near the dividing line between Corinthos and Sorel territory, she waited for his response. Her fingers tapped nervously on top of the dashboard. She hated the concern that made her heart race and palms sweat. Whatever made her think she could share her body with him without sharing a part of her soul, too?

Her cell phone came to life with a shrill ring. Keesha grabbed it and answered, "Ward."

There was a slight pause and then, "Keesha? This is--"

"I know," she said, releasing a sigh of relief that he was indeed okay.

"What's wrong?"

Keesha's chest constricted. How could he ask her that considering how he started her day?! Of course, something was wrong. He'd changed things on her and now, she couldn't even think straight. She had half a mind to hang up on him, but just hearing his voice... Well, his voice did things to her. Like make her feel safe and believe that everything would be okay.

"Where are you?" he asked, his voice hard and agitated. "I'll come get you."

"No!" She said the word more sharply than she intended. She drew in a deep breath and added, "Don't. There's no need."

"I think there is," he said quietly. "Tell me where you are and I'll get you."

"And where will we go?" she asked.

Another pause. "It's a surprise."

"I'd rather you didn't come. I'll meet you."

He gave her the address and Keesha agreed to meet him there. It was a stupid move and she knew it. But hey, that seemed to be the story of her life of late. What could one last time hurt?

# # #

"It's late," Laura said, glancing at her watch and then back at Carly. "I didn't expect you to come back today."

Carly shrugged. "I wasn't ready to go home."

"You'll have to eventually," Laura replied gently. "Why don't you come in and shut the door?"

"Why not," Carly said. She closed the door and trudged over to the comfortable sofa that took up the center of her partner's office. The session with Gail had drained her. So much came out at once. Tears and words. Words and tears. Carly never realized she had so much stuff bottled up inside her.

Laura joined her on the sofa. "You were right before. We're not pals, and we don't need to be to run a business. But there is more to life than work."

Carly arched an eyebrow. "Another lecture?"

"No," Laura said, shaking her head. "Just some unsolicited advice. Give yourself time to deal with the changes. Deception will be here. Believe me, burying yourself in work won't solve anything. I've tried it before and all it did was make things worse. With that adorable little boy depending on you, the last thing you want is for things to get worse. Take some time off."

"I don't need to," Carly said. Laura frowned and Carly quickly continued. "No, I hear what you're saying, but I don't need time to deal with the changes. I just need to get off my ass and stop feeling sorry for myself."

Laura's mouth dropped open. "Excuse me?"

Carly laughed softly. "That doesn't sound like me, does it? I've spent most of the day thinking about myself and the choices I've made. Most of them weren't good choices. I hurt people who cared about me. Kinda like striking first and asking questions later. I don't need time to deal with changes. It's just time that I've made a few."

Laura nodded. "I've been in that place, too. Is there anything I can do?"

"Nope," Carly said. "I dug my holes. It's up to me to fill them in again."

"There's something I'd like to talk to you about."

"Go for it."

Laura stood and went to her desk. She returned with a folder and gave it to Carly. "We need a Face. My vote goes to her."

Carly didn't have to look in the folder to know who Laura's decision was. "You want Sonny's daughter."

"She's a natural," Laura said. "She has a fresh face and her street-wise vulnerability comes through. The Face of Deception should be a mixture of both, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess." Carly handed the folder back without looking at it. "She's underage. You'll need parental consent."

"Not me. Us. If we hire her on, you need to be okay with it. Are you?"

"I don't know," Carly admitted. "I want to be, and if she comes on board, I will. But you're jumping the gun, Laura. Sonny...and Dara will have to agree. I can't guarantee that they will."

"I know you can't," Laura said. "If you want, I'll talk to them."

"No, you won't," Carly said, rising to her feet. "I'll do the talking, and I promise not to screw it up."

# # #

Marcus made it just in time for the last Tae Bo class of the day. The workouts were always good. They worked not only his body but his spirit, too. And if there was any time he was in need of both, it was now.

He claimed a spot in the back and waited for the class to start. The large room started filling up and Marcus was glad about that. The instructor was always more lively when the class was full. The harder the workout, the better for him.

Movement from his left caught his attention. A familiar face stared back at him. "I know this wasn't a coincidence."

Alex shrugged. "You're a detective. What do your observation skills tell you?"

Marcus rolled his eyes. "Don't go there, man. I told you I'd call you."

"I know what you said, but my conscience was bothering me," Alex replied. "You're my friend. Dara's my friend, too. I was looking forward to your wedding."

"Do you think I wasn't?" Marcus shot back.

"I don't know what to think," Alex admitted. "Never in a million years did I think you'd let Corinthos win."

"What?!"

"You heard me," Alex said after taking a swig of water from his bottle. "I know what it is to hate the man, but to let that hatred be the catalyst to letting him win..."

"Win what?" Marcus asked. "Dara? Dara doesn't want him."

"Maybe not now," Alex said. "I heard that Carly is staying with Bobbie now. If Dara and Sonny bond over their child, who knows what could happen?"

"I warned you, Alex. Don't go there."

"I'm going there," Alex said. "Somebody has to. She's worth swallowing your pride for, Marcus."

"She gave me the ring back. I didn't ask for it!"

"What did you expect her to do?" his friend asked. "Hope is her kid. She knows how you feel about her child's father. Parents make sacrifices for their kids. Are you willing to be the sacrifice that makes Corinthos' life easier?"

"No!"

"Good," Alex said. "Then release the hate and embrace Dara and her child. I never got the chance to make things right with Lily, and I'll regret that for the rest of my life. I don't want to see you living life with regrets when you don't have to. Listen to me."

"I am," Marcus said quietly. He nodded and ran a hand over his face. "I am listening. What should I do?"

"Talk to her again and keep talking until things are right again."

# # #

Fighting the urge to pace was hard, but Dara managed to stand still. Sonny pointed to a chair for her to sit. Her knees wobbled as she left her stance near the fireplace and lowered herself onto the chair.

"Want something to drink?"

"This talk would be better sober, don't you think?"

He nodded. "We're six years overdue. Why did we wait so long?"

"I didn't see the point," she said, her voice unnaturally hoarse. She cleared her throat and continued, "There was no point. We're not the kids we used to be. Idealistic, na´ve kids who thought that we could take on the world and win."

"You told me Sorel wouldn't let me go," Sonny said. "I should have listened."

"My father sent me away," she said. "I had no access to the phone or mail. I made friends with the other teenage mothers there. I didn't know what happened to you until after..."

"I know. Lois told me. I drove her crazy asking about you. At first, she wouldn’t tell me anything, but finally she broke down and said you were at Columbia. I went there as soon as I found out."

"When I came back, Lois told me about your stepfather."

Sonny stared at her. "You thought I did it."

"Yeah."

His cheeks reddened and he inhaled sharply. "You thought that of me?"

"What was I supposed to think?" Dara asked. "I waited for you. I called you and you never called me back. The next day, my dad came home from work and confronted me. You'd never imagined the things he said to me," she cried, choking on a sob. "He said I was an embarrassment and he couldn't have his colleagues looking at him as if he was the father of another statistic. Then, he sent me away."

"I didn't know!" Sonny went to her and knelt beside her chair. His hand stroked the length of her back. "I should have been there, but I messed up. When I found Adela unconscious like that, I stopped thinking."

"What happened, Michael?" she said. She didn't realize she'd slipped with his name. "Where were you?"

"I was stuck in a haze," he answered. "I thought he killed her this time. I truly didn't believe my mother was gonna wake up."

"You should have called me. I would have been there for you."

He brushed the wetness from her cheek. "I should have. I wish I would have, but I didn't think. There wasn't anything you could do and I didn't want to worry you. Stress can do things to a pregnant woman."

"Being there for you wouldn't have compared with the stress of being locked up in that home."

"I loved you, Dara. I would have done anything for you."

"I still don't understand why any of this happened. My father finding out came out of left field. One day, he came home from work and he just knew! I was careful at the clinic. I know it wasn't them."

"It wasn't." He sighed. "It was Scully."

"What?!" She pulled away from him and stumbled to her feet. "You knew he told my father? All this time you knew?"

"No!" He stood. His hands grasped her upper arms. "I just figured it out. I didn't hurt Deke, but it was tied to me. If I walked away, I would have been walking into a jail cell."

"Scully killed your stepfather to tie you to him?"

Sonny slowly nodded. "He didn't want to lose me."

"What about me? What about our baby? He didn't give a damn about us, did he? And he told my dad. Damn. I told you Scully didn't like me. It never hurt so much to be right.

"I thought you didn't love me. I thought you changed your mind about going away, and then you showed up at Columbia. Everything stopped making sense." She reached up and cupped his face. "How can you live this life? Hasn't it caused enough pain?"

His eyes narrowed, searching. "Are you asking me to walk away from it?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I guess so. I just want you to be around. Our daughter needs you."

He swallowed hard. "What about you? Do you need me to?"

She pulled her hands from his face and carefully removed his hands from her arms. "I used to. For a long time, I did but would have never admitted it. But now, I need my daughter to be happy, safe and whole."

"You have other needs, Dara."

His voice was dangerously low. The sensual tone didn't go unnoticed by Dara. She remembered it well. A small part of her still responded to it, but the reaction wasn't large enough to make a difference. "Marcus fulfills those needs."

"I won't let him hurt Hope because of me."

"Neither will I," Dara said. "I love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. He makes me happy. I'm sure that Carly does the same for you. I've seen you together around town. She makes you smile. For a long time, you didn't smile at all. I know because Lois told me."

"You didn't either," he said. "She told me."

Dara's mouth curved into a faint smile. "Lois talks too much."

Sonny laughed. "Yeah, she does." He rubbed his hands together and shrugged. "We've got that out of the way. We have to decide about Hope's living arrangements."

"She should stay with me for now," Dara said. "I won't shut you out, but I don't think it's fair to force her to stay with you when your world scares her. Is it impossible for you to walk away?"

"Nothing's impossible, but even walking away won't make it safe. I've left before and came back. My competition doesn't trust that anymore."

"So no matter what you do, your life will always be at risk. Do you realize how stupid that is?"

Sonny shook his head. "Sorel is my biggest threat. Once he's out of the way--"

"Stop," she said, holding up her hand. "I'm an officer of the court, and you've already told me too much. I don't want to know about this."

"They already think you do."

"Who?"

"That phone call this morning from Justus," he said. "When word gets out that we have a daughter, your life as you know it is over. I'm sorry for that because I'm to blame. Everything you've worked so hard to achieve will be put on display. It won't be salvageable, Dara."

"I know my career as ADA is over," she said. "I can accept that because having Hope is worth everything in the world to me."

"I can help..."

Dara shook her head. "I don't want your money. Child support would be fine, but other than that, I'm not without resources." She hesitated and said, "I'm glad we talked this out."

"Me, too."

He encircled her within his arms. Closing her eyes, Dara leaned against him and returned the embrace. When it was over, she looked at him and smiled. "I wish you well, Sonny. I'm gonna check on Hope and Mike. I'll see if I can get her to talk to you."

"Thanks."

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