(NB: This chapter is edited for NC-17 content. If you wish to read the unedited chapter, please click here.)
It's the wrong game with the wrong chips
Though your lips are tempting they're the wrong lips
They're not his lips but they're such tempting lips
That if some night you're free
It's alright, it's alright with me
The nausea boiled in John's stomach and he thought he might throw up. He had taken a step inside Marlena's bedroom before he had realized that Marlena was not asleep, and she was not alone. The sight that had greeted him had been almost incomprehensible to him. He loved Marlena more than it was fair or should be possible to love someone. And he had thought he had known her better than anyone could. But in that darkened room, she was making love to another man, and in that one moment, John felt everything he cared about slip away from him.
He stood stunned for several moments, half hidden from Marlena and Q's view by the wall, as his bewildered mind tried to comprehend what was happening. He was staring at them, his mind spinning, his world disintegrating around him but he barely saw them. It was as though he was looking through a strangers eyes at two people he barely knew. He saw them move in a slow sensual rhythm, their hands linked as they stared at each other. Neither of them seemed aware that he were there. It were almost as if he were as invisible, as *nothing* as he felt.
Marlena raised their paired hands, smiling at the way Eugene's engulfed hers. Using them as resistance, she altered her movements slightly. Q gazed at her radiant face, her damp bangs plastered to her skin, her lips red and crushed by all the passionate kisses.
"My God you are so beautiful," he murmered in awe. "I want to give you everything I possibly can. I want to make *every* experience you have more incredible than you've ever imagined."
"Mmmm....well, you're already doing a pretty good job," Marlena's eyes sparkled.
"Even though this time it's just us?" He was still uncertain that he had done the right thing. "You know I want this to be wondrous for you. If you want I can..."
"Sshhh..." Marlena smiled as she squeezed his hands. "You're just amazing and I feel so lucky to be here with you. Yes it was wonderful before, but now it's even better. Now it's honest, it's just you and I and how we feel about each other. And that's very special. And *very* sexy."
The small muscle in John's cheek twitched madly as he watched Marlena lean over to kiss Q. Q's hands loosened from Marlena's and buried themselves in her tousled hair as he kissed her deeply, their movements becoming intense and more passionate. John turned away and pressed his fingers to his mouth, trying to quell the bile that burnt his throat. In his worst nightmares he could have never imagined that she could do this, turn her back on everything they had meant to each other. And like this.
He grimaced as in the blackness of his mind the image of Eugene's hands on Marlena tortured him without pity. Eugene, who had once been his friend and had professed to want to help him. Who knew the truth about the baby that Kristen was carrying. And who was obviously taking advantage of Marlena's kind and trusting nature.
Part of John was tempted to march into the room and demand to know what the hell they thought they were doing with his children only feet away. But another, more rational facet knew that he had no right to do that to Marlena. After all he had put her through with Kristen, he had no right to demand a say in her life, to expect that she stay true to him. He had no rights at all, and he had only himself to blame. She had told him that their relationship was over. So, now, at last he came to a final and painful realization that she had really meant it.
The noises from the room behind him were rising, and each moan scorched his heart, feeling as though it might physically wound him. Even seeing her with Roman when he had thought she might be pregnant with his child, even that hadn't hurt as much as the need and desire in Marlena's voice as she called a name that was not his.
John thought he might scream, to drown out the distressing sounds, but with a clenched fist and a supreme effort at self-will, he instead turned and quietly closed the door. The moment the mechanism clicked into its slot, the room became, once again, deceptively silent.
With tears burning at his eyes he lurched down the stairs, fumbling for the keys in his pocket. As he pulled them out at the base of the staircase, a tiny gold strawberry tumbled from his pocket to the ground and rolled, unseen, into the corner.
Neither Marlena not Eugene heard, or saw anything of the unexpected visitor to the penthouse. Neither of them saw the door open into the darkened room. Neither of them saw John's horrified eyes as he became an unwilling voyeur to a scene that none of them had ever anticipated. And neither of them had heard the quiet click of the door as it closed, too intent on each other to know that the terrible sequence of misunderstandings was now perpetuating itself with alarming consequences.
As their lovemaking became more frenetic, Marlena wasn't terribly surprised to find herself on her back again. Q slowed his pace, moving in long, measured strokes while he mesmerized her with his eyes. Marlena returned his gaze, staring deep into the hazel eyes that reflected hers. Loosening one of her hands that had again been caught up in his, Marlena ran her fingernails lightly over the muscles in his back. Gene murmered his approval as she lifted her thighs, her feet finding their way between his knees. His free hand swept downwards and searched out the underside of her thigh, urging her to bring her legs up even further. She reached up and began to kiss his neck again, the kisses turning into nibbles and then bites as, little by little, she began to lose her self-control.
Pulling himself away from her, Q's mouth searched hers out, trying to drink her in, to be totally captivated by what she was doing to his body. They were both gasping for breath as Marlena finally pulled away, pressing herself to him and whispering her pleasure into his ear, over and over.
John left the building at almost a sprint. It was only moments before he was safely in his jeep, slamming the door behind him as though it would ward off the terrible visions that were pursuing him like tormenting ghouls. He began to shake as he slumped down behind the thick steering wheel, the reality of what had happened hammering at his consciousness. He was almost tempted to pinch himself. If he had dreamed about Marlena before, why couldn't this just be a dreadful nightmare?
But he knew it wasn't. Because the pain and despair were too real and too overwhelming for this to possibly be a illusion created by his own insecurities.
John clutched at the wheel before him with his hands, trying to stop the shaking that wracked his body and the devastation that bled his soul.
It was over.
As he moved, Eugene could feel Marlena's breaths moisten his ear as she continued to whisper her words of passion and lust, driving him further in his quest to bring her pleasure. His movements hastened as her excitement grew, each of them driven by the hunger of the other.
John still shook as he stared out into the darkness, one hand clutching desperately at the hair at the base of his neck. He had been stunned into inaction and he could not for the life of him, move from the spot in front of Marlena's building, even though the despair was threatening to choke him.
His eyes fixed unseeingly on the street lamp in front of him, almost blinding him, but he could not feel that pain. All that was within him now was a numbing sorrow, a feeling that he had let his life slip through his open fingers to float off into the uncaring chasm of the future.
Lost. And still losing.
He shook his head, blinking tears from his tired eyes. He couldn't believe she would do that. That she would turn to Eugene Bradford. John had sensed that she had been attracted to him, but to go to bed with him so soon after she had ended *their* relationship?
He couldn't understand it. That wasn't Marlena. She had waited for him for four years after Roman had left her and John knew she had barely looked at another man during that whole time. And now she was in Eugene's bed only a few months after she had exiled John from her life. It didn't make sense. Or at least John didn't want it to make sense.
His mind turned to Eugene. Or 'Q' as he called himself. He ran quickly over the events since Q's arrival. He had made no secret of what he thought of John and his feelings for Marlena had always been obvious, at least to everyone except Marlena herself. How could he not have wanted to claim Marlena for his own, given that he had the power and the knowledge to win her in an unfair fight. And maybe that had been his intention all along.
John thumped the steering wheel in frustration. He had known the threat that Eugene presented but he had done *nothing*. Eugene had tried to encourage him to win Marlena back, he knew, but now he realized that the other man had always made the inside running. He had known what he wanted and he had obviously known how to get it. And now he had Marlena and John's family, and John had nothing but memories and regrets.
Marlena sighed as she stretched lazily, running one hand down the other arm which was extended over her head.
"Mmmmm," a small smile crossed her lips. "You really know how to show a girl a good time don't you?" "Only if the girl is worth it," Q brushed her damp hair from her forehead and kissed it lovingly.
Marlena responded by rolling on her side and molding herself against him. She trailed her fingers lightly down his arm in thought.
"You know, Trista told me several times that you were a devastating lover," she unsuccessfully tried to cover a throaty chuckle. "I never believed her."
She felt him stiffen and looked up at his face, surprised by the troubled look.
"I'm sorry," she offered quietly, immediately regretting her words. "I'm sorry that I said that."
"Trista?" Eugene repeated in a small voice. Marlena felt her heart jump inexplicably.
"Trista. You know," she smiled waveringly, unsure of where the problem lay, "my cousin, your wife." She paused, her eyes downcast, "I'm sorry."
Q swallowed heavily.
"Why are you sorry?" he asked, not understanding.
"I know how hard Trista's death was on you." Marlena looked up expecting to see the remnants of grief in Eugene's eyes. Instead all she saw was more confusion.
"Gene?" she asked, taking his hand in hers. "What's wrong?"
The tinny sound of the telephone squealing roused Kristen out of her dream. She cursed as the baby began to kick again, wakened it seemed, by her movements.
"Cut it out you brat," she hissed as she rolled over, her eyes bleary with clinging sleep. She wasn't sleeping well these days, the last thing she needed was to be woken this early in the morning.
She peered at the clock and made out that it was close to five in the morning. Angrily, she snatched up the portable and fell back into her pillows.
"What!?" she snapped crabbily as the baby continued it's soccer match inside her belly.
"What the hell do you think you're doing calling at this time of the morning?" Kristen muttered irritably.
"I have news Krissie. About John." Peter's tone piqued Kristen's interest.
"And that would be....?"
"Apparently he went driving tonight. In the middle of the night." Peter's cryptic response did nothing to improve Kristen's mood, but she played along.
"And where did he drive to Peter?" she asked as pleasantly as she could.
"Well it would seem that he ended up at Marlena's." Peter told her.
"He did *what*?" Kristen was suddenly panicked. What if Marlena had confronted him with what she had seen and he had told her the truth.
"It's okay Krissy," Peter attempted to soothe her fears. "He didn't stay for long. Apparently he went into the building and came out about ten or fifteen minutes later. And he wasn't exactly happy when he did."
"Is that right?" Kristen raised her eyebrows. Unfortunately she had no way of knowing what went on in Marlena's penthouse apartment. But the man Peter had trailing John obviously had seen enough to hint that whatever had gone on, it had upset John.
"How exactly unhappy was he?"
"Exactly *very* unhappy." Kristen could hear the smile in Peter's voice. She knew he wanted John to suffer for what he had done to her and their family. "My informant tells me that whatever upset John has to be pretty major. I'd say Kristen, that you may yet have won the battle."
"Or even the war." Kristen murmered. She was thoughtful for a moment and then the baby decided that it was time to get in some goal practice with her diaphragm. "Thanks Peter, I'd better go now, Ill call you later on okay?"
Kristen wound up the conversation quickly and then pressed the power button on the portable. A smile brightened her face as she considered this latest twist. Now all she had to do was make it work for her.
Turning on the bedroom light, she yawned as she crossed the room. She may as well get up and have a shower now. This baby seemed to consider it's God-given task to keep her awake twenty-four hours a day and she couldn't see this morning being any different.
The two darkened figures stood half hidden by the bushes as they looked up. The sun would be rising soon. The light came on in an upstairs room, and the figure of a woman passed the curtained window. One of the figures started towards the house. The second man put his hand on the shoulder of the first, stilling him.
"Not yet." He censured the first. "You must be patient if you want this to succeed." The shoulder relaxed under his touch. "Good, good. Now we have work to do."
Without a sound the pair left the garden to the awakening birds.
"Marlena," Gene whispered painfully, "I don't remember Trista."
"You don't remember?" Marlena was confused for a moment until she remembered his arrival in Salem at the end of the summer. She brushed the hair out of her face and pressed her lips together for a moment. "Gene, how much do you remember about your time in Salem?"
Q looked at her, a slightly ashamed expression flitting across his face.
"Not much actually." He admitted. "Oh I remember places and odd people since I have met them again, but to be quite honest I can't remember a whole lot about my life here." He sighed and rolled onto his back, studying the ceiling to avoid Marlena's inquisitive eyes. "It was a long time ago for me Marlena. And often memories are just subsumed by the Continuum, supposedly in the need for stability. I guess it happened and a learnt my lessons, I just didn't need to remember *how* I learnt my lessons."
"But you remembered me," Marlena propped her head on her elbow.
"Yes," Q smiled, "I certainly did, though if you remember, I didn't actually remember you when I arrived in town."
"And I thought you were crazy," Marlena had the grace to blush as she laughed. "But I don't understand why you remembered me so fast but you barely remember anything else." She paused. "What about Calliope?"
"Not what, who." Marlena told him softly. "Calliope Jones. Your third wife."
"My *third* wife?" Eugene repeated, more than a little surprised.
"Actually, your fourth if you count our marriage," Marlena laughed as she ran her hand over his chest. "But then I guess we can't really count that because I was still married to Roman."
"Hmmm," Q began to play his fingers through her hair. "I remember *that*. And I remember Roman. I remember Roman because he had what I wanted."
"What was that?" Marlena whispered, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer.
Q took a deep breath and then turned away again. "I couldn't forget you Marlena, no matter how hard I tried. It was centuries later and I could still see your face in my dreams. I'd think I'd almost forgotten and then something would remind me. And it could be the tiniest of things, a word, a voice...." he smiled ruefully. "I suppose that I really didn't want to forget. Otherwise I would have gotten as far as I could from humans altogether."
"Oh Gene." Marlena sighed, not knowing what to say to his revelations.
"Hey," Gene moved onto his side so that he was facing her, "no regrets here. Don't you worry your pretty little head about it."
"No." Q put his finger to her lips, silencing any protestations of guilt that she might be about to come forth with. "Whatever happened, it happened. No point in getting worked up over it. There was never anything either of us could have done." He drew his finger over her chin and down her throat and then placed a delicate kiss on her lips, eliciting a slight shiver from Marlena. "Being your friend was enough for me."
He drew the blanket over their cooling bodies as Marlena snuggled closer.
"You've been a wonderful friend," she murmered. "I don't know if I could ever thank you for all you've done for me."
"You don't have to thank me," Gene told her. Then he looked down with a smile. "On second thoughts, you *can* thank me if you like. How about a kiss?"
John felt the tears dripping down his cheeks before he even knew he was crying. He had been trying so hard to keep it in, but it was too overwhelming. All he could think was that he had lost Marlena forever, and it was all his fault.
It had only been several months ago that he had made love to Marlena, in the same bed she was now sharing with Eugene. It had been him that she had smiled at with that intimate twinkle in her eyes, him that she had laughed with...his lips that she had kissed. And it had been his name that she had called so passionately when they had made love.
The scene in the penthouse came flooding back to him, even as he tried to shut it out of his mind. It seemed, infuriatingly that although he had hardly been seeing it at the time, his mind had seemed to meticulously store away ever detail. He could see her tousled hair, the way her body moved slowly and sensuously and he could hear her voice. He could hear the passion as she cried out and he couldn't help but compare it to her reaction to his lovemaking.
She had always been vocal in her enjoyment of their bedtime activities, but for the life of him, John couldn't recall her sounding like she had with Q. Like he really was giving her the most incredible experience of her life, and she was loving every moment of it. John, mired deep in his suffering, wondered how he could ever compete with that
As he sat, stranded in front of Marlena's building, his mind worked in circles, wondering where he had gone wrong, what it was he had done that had finally compelled Marlena to give up on him. His sobs felt as though they were choking him as his thoughts became more convoluted and distorted, his mind making the defensive leap from guilt to blame with almost no effort.
He looked up at Marlena's building as he wiped away his tears and wondered exactly why it was that she had chosen to sleep with Eugene Bradford, given the fact that John had felt he had been making headway with her last time they had met. He couldn't understand why she would give off those signals, to encourage him if she had felt there was no chance. Unless....
He shook his head. Marlena wouldn't do that. Surely.
But still his mind disfigured the truth, trying to find reasons where there were none and it was not long before the grief that John was feeling metamorphosed into the anger of the wronged. And as the anger took over in defense, John slowly lost all sense of proportion, the hurt causing him to lash out at the one person who he should have known would never intentionally cause him any pain.
In his enraged despair, John began to wonder if this wasn't some sort of revenge on Marlena's behalf. Retribution, or payback for all the pain he had cause her with Kristen. Wouldn't it just be so easy for her to invite Eugene into her bed, knowing how much it would kill John to find out that he had been replaced so easily and so fast. She could have even been stringing him along, all this time, pretending to be swayed by his gifts and his protestations of love, giving him hope and then snatching it away when he was so close that he could feel her in his arms.
The conversation that he had overheard up in the penthouse came back to haunt him at that moment. It was wonderful before, but now it's even better. This was obviously not the first time they had made love. How long had it been going on? How long had they been making a fool of him?
John thumped the heels of his palms on the steering wheel once again, this time in anger, wondering how he could have been so stupid as to not see what was going on in front of his very eyes. With thin lips, he snatched up the keys from where they lay sprawled on the passengers seat and started up the jeep.
"Mmmmm, you are so incredible," Marlena sighed as she laid in Q's arms. "I don't think I remember ever feeling so totally glorious."
"I'm glad," Q kissed her forehead through the damp blonde hair. "You know I'd do anything for you."
"What did I ever do to deserve you?" Marlena asked with a little amusement.
"Beats me." Q chuckled.
Marlena pulled the blanket to her as she half sat up, propped up by pillows.
"Well, whatever it is, I'm glad." Marlena smiled to herself as she watched her fingers move over Eugene's shoulder and chest. "There is obviously much more to you than meets the eye Mr. Bradford, and I'm not talking about this totally unreal talent you have." Her eyes softened her smile. "You're a good man Gene. Don't ever forget that." She lay back down on the bed next to him as he looked at her thoughtfully.
"What I still don't understand," Q said as he rolled onto his back, "is why you suddenly decided this was a good idea. Let's be honest sweetheart, you never looked at me twice before. What makes now so different?" He turned his head to the side to look at her. "Was it merely circumstance? Was it just that I was here at the right time?"
"No!" Marlena exclaimed immediately. "No, it's not like that."
As she paused to collect her thoughts, Q softly ran his finger down her cheek.
"I'm not accusing you of anything Marlena, and I'm certainly not complaining," he smiled slightly, "it's just that I am aware that you don't *love* me, at least not in the way you love John." He felt her jump slightly at the mention of the name and his anger at John flared again momentarily.
Marlena took a deep breath and contemplated her fingernails.
"I do love you Gene," she said huskily, "but I guess you are right. It is different to the way I loved John. But then," she sighed, "all my love for John seems to have done is to cause myself and everyone else pain. There comes a time when you have to realize that the only thing to do is to let go and move on. As trite as it sounds."
"Are you sure that what you're doing is moving on?" Q asked uneasily. "Have you really thought it through?"
"I don't see what there is to think through," Marlena said almost airily. "And if you're suggesting this is some sort of revenge, you couldn't be further from the truth." She tucked her arm under the pillow as she tried to explain her feelings to her new lover.
"It's not that I don't love John anymore Gene, I know that you wouldn't believe me if I said otherwise. I've just had my life on hold for him for such a long time now that I suppose I couldn't see anything else in my future. But I think that maybe you made me realize over the last few months that I don't have to deny myself a happy future." She brushed her hair out of her eyes as she continued as dispassionately as possible. "I always thought the strength of our love would get John and I through anything. But it turns out that love isn't as strong as I thought it was. And I can't waste the rest of my life pining away after a man when I am obviously not his first priority. I'm worth more that that."
Q looked at her, his hazel eyes compassionate. He could see the turmoil behind the facade she built, even if she was denying it to herself.
"Then isn't this too soon?" He shook his head, trying to find the right words. "I don't know what happened tonight with John and I'm not going to pry, but I'm just afraid that you aren't thinking about the consequences here and that you're going to get hurt."
"Or you are." Marlena added softly.
"The thought had crossed my mind," Q admitted.
Marlena looked down for a moment, her expression thoughtful.
"Eugene, neither of us can predict what is going to happen here. There is a chance that one or both of us will be hurt, but if you're willing to take that chance, then so am I." Her earnest look dissolved into a smile, and she ran her finger down his arm. "I do care about you a lot Gene. I couldn't do this if I didn't. The circumstances certainly have something to do with it, but you're not just someone I chose to sleep with to forget my troubles. You're a wonderful person, you make me laugh, you're there for me when I cry and you're wonderful with the children." Her smile grew. "And I think you're very sexy."
"Regular little mutual admiration society we have happening here," Q said ironically.
"It's the truth." Marlena's shoulders formed a delicate shrug. "I want to get on with my life. I've made mistakes and now I realize that I can't go back and change them. And I can't turn back time and make John into the man he once was. So now it's me and if you really want me and you're willing to give this a try, it's you too. I think we both know that I can't commit to a long-term relationship right away, but we can see where it goes from here. Of course," she added with a cheeky smile, "it's a fait accompli really, because we're here and it's done. No going back now."
Q wanted nothing more than to tell her that he wasn't just willing to give this a try, but that he loved her hopelessly and he would go to the ends of the universe and back if she wanted him to, but he couldn't. Instead he gently cupped her cheek in his palm and kissed her.
"Anything you want," he whispered with a broad smile, tracing the outline of her lips with his index finger.
"Anything?" Marlena whispered back, suddenly finding herself tingling again under his gaze.
"Then make love to me again," she demanded before she caught his lips up with hers.
John thrust his key angrily into the lock of the loft door and pounded his fist on the metal in frustration as it refused to open. Finally, with a deep breath, he calmed himself enough to unlock and slide open the heavy door.
Pulling it closed behind him, John dropped his keys on the bench and went to the window. Neither the cobalt blue of the early dawn sky, nor the sweet notes from the birds could soothe his pain. He felt as if he were raw, his emotions red and blistered but unable to be shielded from the pain.
He walked wearily to the couch and fell into the softness it offered him. He had no idea what to do next. With no warning, he had been robbed of his reason for getting up in the morning and he was lost. What Stefano had always tried to do, they had finally done to themselves.
Marlena and Eugene made love again, this time slowly and tenderly, taking the time to explore each other, to laugh, to kiss and to love. Finally when it was over, and they lay contented and sated in each other's arms, Marlena realized that the sun was rising. Q suggested that maybe they should try and get some sleep, knowing that neither of them would be able to help it very shortly.
"Oh Gene," Marlena couldn't help but yawn, "what about the children?"
"Let me take care of that," Q noiselessly brushed his thumb past his middle finger. "There now," he smiled, "they won't wake up until we do."
"Mmmmm... what a wonderful thought." Marlena leaned over Q to set her alarm clock. She knew she couldn't sleep all day, as much as she wanted to. She settled down into Q's arms and he pulled the comforter over them.
It was within moments that Q felt Marlena relax against him, her breaths becoming shallow and regular. Wrapping his arm around her, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.
John rocked his head back and looked at the ceiling, the breaths searing his lungs as the tears stung his tired, bloodshot eyes. As he lowered his head again to wipe his face, the fireplace caught his eye. Pushing himself up from the couch, John staggered to the mantlepiece and picked up a framed picture of Marlena.
His despair as he stared at it was suddenly overcome with a flash of rage as he remembered what he had seen and heard. He didn't even know what he was doing as he threw the picture at the wall, the glass shattering and littering the floor with brilliant shards.
Not caring for the moment what happened, John snatched the picture out of the smashed wooden frame. Tears falling from his eyes so fast that they blinded him, his fingers closed around the picture, his knuckles whitening as the image crumpled under the unrelenting pressure.
Unable to control his pain, the anger protecting him momentarily from the wretchedness that he would soon feel , John tore at the picture. Marlena's beautiful face ripped apart as the paper split under his hands.
It was a moment before he realized what he had done as he looked down at his achievement in shock. Shaking uncontrollably, John sank to the floor, his sobbing frantic, as he desperately tried to put the pieces of the tattered picture back together.
But it was beyond repair.
Marlena groaned as the brassy ring of the phone interrupted a beautiful dream. With effort she pried one eye open, but her field of view was blocked. A slow smile slid onto her face as she felt the warm arms that still enclosed her in a slumberous embrace. She lifted her head and peered over the man that lay next to her.
The time on the clock was enough to shake her complete consciousness as she registered the fact that it was after nine-thirty in the morning . With a sigh, she reached over to the other bed stand and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" she greeted the caller softly, hoping not to wake Eugene.
"Marlena dear, I didn't know if you'd be there or not. It's Caroline," the older woman explained breezily. "I just wanted to let you know that Shawn and I are on our way around to pick up the children."
"The children?" Marlena asked with some measure of confusion as she ran her palm up over her forehead, brushing her hair out of the way.
"The camping trip." Marlena could almost hear the smile in Caroline's voice. "Remember, we arranged it weeks ago."
"Oh Caroline!" Marlena's eyes widened in shock. "Oh gosh, I had totally forgotten."
Next to her, Q stirred. Marlena took the opportunity to slide out of his arms and to the edge of the bed. She swung her legs out over the side of the bed and she pulled the sheet to her as she sat up.
"It's alright dear," Caroline was saying. "I know that your mind was on other things. I took the liberty of packing the children's bags last night. Before Eugene got home." Marlena noted the frostiness in Caroline's voice as she said Eugene's name.
"That's very sweet of you." Marlena tried to quell the twinge of anxiety she felt as she realized that the family may be less than happy with the recent turn of events.
"We'll be around shortly." Caroline said cheerily. "We'll see you then."
"I-, Caroli-" Marlena's protestations came too late as the ominous click sounded on the other end of the line. "Oh no!" Marlena stared at the phone in shock for a moment.
"What's up?" A soft touch on her bare back and the voice from behind made her jump slightly. She turned round to see Eugene's concerned face.
"Oh Gene." She dropped the phone on the bed as her brow creased. "That was Caroline, she's on her way around to pick up the kids for their camping trip. She'll be here any minute." Marlena's eyes were wide with horror as she contemplated what she would have to do to ready the children for their trip with their grandparents. "Oh *man*. What am I going to do?"
"What you are *not* going to do is panic." Q told her as he sat up, pulling the sheet with him. "It's alright, we'll have them ready, and I'm sure the Bradys can wait a few minutes while the kids wash their faces."
"Mmmm... The voice of reason." Marlena smiled as she relaxed slightly. "Have I ever told you how wonderful you are?"
"Not in the last hour or so," Q grinned mischievously.
"Mmmm, well....." Marlena slid across the bed towards him and ran her finger across his lower lip. Then she leaned towards him until her lips were inches from his. "Hold that thought," she whispered with a teasing smile before she turned and slid off the bed.
Q watched her lasciviously as she pulled a maroon silk robe from the chair and wrapped it around her slender frame
"That's fine, as long as I get to hold more than the thought later," he raised his eyebrows.
"Play your cards right Mr. Q and you never know." Marlena winked before she saw the clock on the bedstand. "Ohhh, I think we'd better get those children moving."
Carrie was woken by her own sneeze. She opened two bleary eyes to a riotous jumble of colour in front of her face. As she focused, she realized that they were flowers, and that behind them, there was Austin, a smile on his face.
"Hey baby," he said softly. "Morning." He leaned over and kissed her. Carrie regarded him with surprise before another sneeze took her by surprise. Austin laid the flowers on the bedstand and handed Carrie a soft tissue.
Carrie blew her nose, never taking her eyes off Austin as he sat on the edge of the bed. She sat up in the bed, hugging her knees to her in a gesture of defense.
"Wha-, what's this for Austin?" she asked cautiously. After the mood swings from the last few days, she wasn't sure exactly what he would come out with this time.
"I wanted to apologize Carrie," Austin took a deep breath as he saw Carrie chewing her lip. "I know I haven't exactly been supportive the last few days." He looked down at his hands, unable to confront the hurt he knew lurked in Carrie's eyes. "It all came as a bit of a shock and I know I haven't handled it very well." He forced himself to look at his wife again. "I know I hurt you and I am really sorry Carrie. I don't know what's been wrong with me lately."
"It's okay Austin." Carrie smiled tentatively. It really wasn't alright but she couldn't bear Austin when he was moody and it was far easier to let the tension go and make up with him. She held her hand out in a gesture of forgiveness and Austin took it with a smile. There were no words as they hugged, both thankful that an awkward and potentially divisive moment of their lives had passed without too much incident. Or so they thought.
Austin sat back on the bed and smiled at his young wife until she made the error of continuing the conversation.
"I just didn't understand why you were so upset when it was you that was talking about having a family to begin with." It was as though a mask had fallen across Austin's face as his smile fell. Carrie stiffened in reaction to the sudden change in Austin's demeanour.
Obviously this was not yet over.
The sound of the doorbell rang through the penthouse as Marlena finished tying Belle's shoelaces. She shot a nervous look at Q who was carrying a giggling Brady around on his shoulders.
"It's alright," Q answered her unspoken plea. "You go down and we'll finish up here. I'm sure we'll only be a couple of minutes."
"Go Mommy!" Belle commanded "Gwanma's waitin'."
Belle's dictatorial tone elicited a laugh from Marlena.
"Is that right?" She asked with a grin as she stood.
"Dat's wight." Belle nodded as she jumped off the bed and put her hands on her hips in an imitation of her mother. "You go. We be wight dere."
"Okay, okay." Marlena laughed again and then brushed the bangs from her daughter's forehead. She dropped a kiss there and then turned to Q, a question on her lips.
"Just *go*," Q told her as the doorbell sounded again, a grin unsuccessfully smothered before she turned away. Marlena threw him a look that told him he'd keep and then made her way out of the room and down to the front door.
She stood in front of the door for several moments, trying to prepare herself for the inevitable barrage of questions. She just wasn't sure at all that she could cope with that right now. The mere thought of John was enough to make her feel queasy, talking about him was totally off her agenda. But right now, she really had no choice other than to try and tough it through and avoid any questions that Caroline might feel like asking.
She took a deep breath and pasted a smile on her face as she was more than accustomed to doing lately, and unlocked the door. In her flustered state, she didn't even notice that the alarm was no longer set.
"Hello dear," Caroline greeted her ex-daughter-in-law with a kiss and then looked past her, expecting to see the children.
"Hi Caroline," Marlena squeezed the older woman's hand. "They'll be down in just a minute."
It was a moment before Caroline really took note of Marlena's appearance. In contrast to her normal neatness, she looked almost dishevelled, not like Marlena at all. It looked as though she had quickly pulled a comb through her tousled hair and her face was red, her lips bruised looking. A robe was loosely wrapped around her curves but it didn't rise high enough to hide the tell-tale red marks that had risen on the usually unblemished skin of her neck. She seemed a little disoriented, but Caroline surmised, that would be only to be expected given the circumstances.
The red-headed woman smiled to herself. It seemed as if Marlena's visit to John's last night had gone better than expected. However, before she could inquire as to John's whereabouts, Belle and Brady came barreling down the stairs.
"Gwanma!" Belle hurled herself into her grandmother's arms just as Shawn appeared in the doorway.
"Well, what do we have here?" he asked with a grin. Brady, who had, with Belle's blossoming independence, lately become the shier of the two children, climbed into Shawn's arms for a hug. "You two ready to go campin'?" The little boy nodded his head with a wide grin.
"Well how about I take the two of you kiddies downstairs then?" Shawn suggested, also having observed Marlena's appearance and knowing his wife well enough to realize that she wouldn't be happy unless she managed to get some sort of information out of Marlena.
"Yeah!" Belle nodded her head and immediately headed for her bag which was a little heavy for her to carry. Instead she dragged it across the floor back to the door and stomped her foot on the ground. "Wight! Wet's go."
"Uh-uh," Marlena couldn't help but laugh as she watched her feisty little daughter. "Do you have a kiss for your Momma before you go?"
Brady was the first to scramble down from his grandfather's arms, Belle in hot pursuit. Their mother crouched down and pulled them into her arms.
"Mmmmm," she sighed, "I'm going to miss you two."
"We'll miss you too Mommy," Brady told her in an almost whisper, his eyes holding a seriousness that reminded her painfully of his father.
Tears inexplicably filled Marlena's eyes as she hugged them tightly. It was a moment before she could let go of them.
"You both just have a wonderful time. You probably won't even think of me." She kissed the children in turn and then turned them around. "I'll be here waiting for you when you come home."
"Okay then kiddies," Shawn picked up Belle's bag and Brady's bag that was still against the wall where Q had placed them earlier, and slung them over his shoulder. "Time to go!" The children followed him from the apartment, turning as they waited for the elevator to wave at their mother. Marlena blew them a kiss and then they were gone.
Sami put the plate of toast in front of Will who had his eyes glued to Barney. The offensive purple dinosaur was dancing on the television screen four feet away and as much as Sami hated him, he was a welcome diversion for her son at the moment.
Setting her cup on the table, she sat gingerly on the couch and held her head in her hands for a moment. It had been an awful night. Will had fallen victim to an ear infection and the antibiotics had not yet kicked in. As a consequence he had ended up being so miserable that he had wanted to spend the night in bed with his mother.
It was a luxury that Samantha allowed from time to time. Being a single mother, it was a comfort to her as well. There was nothing more consoling or wonderful than curling up in a warm bed with your child and Sami felt that as long as she didn't let it happen too often, there was no harm in it.
But last night had been a terrible night. Will had woken up it seemed every half hour, crying with the pain and his sobs just tore through his mother. Sami would hold him and whisper soothing words of comfort until he fell asleep again. Then it seemed, the moment she had drifted off to sleep, Will would wake again.
She lifted her head as Will laughed at the TV and picked up the coffee in her chilled hands. She held it under her nose, breathing in the delicious aroma of the steaming brew needing something, anything, to wake her up and fortify her for the day ahead. Will seemed happy enough now, but later could be anyone's guess.
She sat back against the lumpy seat and sighed softly as she closed her eyes. No-one had ever told her that parenting only got harder as the children got older. Or at least if they had, she knew she hadn't listened. Sometimes she just longed for that freedom from responsibility again, the carefree days that she should be having now instead of just existing with her son in a shabby apartment like this. She should have the world in front of her. She should have finished school and gone to college. She was intelligent and attractive and she should have plenty of opportunities. Instead she was stuck in a nowhere place, throwing her life away in pursuit of a man that didn't even want to know her.
Baby Bop's obnoxious whine forced Sami to open her eyes in time to see Will smile again at the television screen and she immediately berated herself for wishing her son away, even momentarily. There was nothing and no-one in this world that she loved more and it was up to her to make a great life for both of them. She just wasn't going to do it sitting around this dump.
Her train of thought was interrupted by a sharp rap on the front door of the apartment. She frowned as she looked at her watch and got up from her seat. Flicking a quick glance at her son as she went, she walked to the door. Instinct told her to leave the safety chain on as she unlocked and opened the door.
Her eyes narrowed as she took in her visitor through the small opening.
"Oh it's you," she said unwelcomingly. "What do you want?"
"Austin?" Carrie demanded, her anger and frustration at the situation getting the better of her. "Austin you can't apologize for something and continue acting the same as you were before. I can't deal with you like this on top of everything else. We're supposed to turn to each other and support each other. Not shut each other out." She was almost surprised to see Austin's expression fade into one of contrition. It was a moment before he sighed and turned away.
"I'm sorry Carrie," he said quietly. "I guess when I mentioned it all that time ago, I hadn't really thought about it. I hadn't thought it through properly. A child is such a huge responsibility and I'm not sure that we...that *I'm* ready for it."
Carrie watched her husband's hunched profile for several moments, chewing on her lower lip as she did so. Austin wouldn't look at her. Instead, he was fidgeting with his hands, an indeterminate mien about him.
"Why Austin? Why aren't you ready?" she pressed knowing that this was the most important issue in their relationship to date and they had to resolve it, for the sake of their child and their marriage. "We're married and we bring in a good income between us. We have plenty of love for a child, I just don't see where the problem lies."
"It's not about money Carrie," Austin disputed her comment. "A child needs more than money. It needs time and we both have jobs that demand a lot of our time. Where does that leave a baby? I barely have enough time to share with you. I certainly don't spend enough time with Will as it is. I just don't see where another child is going to fit into that equation." He pushed himself off the bed, his ire evidently increasing with the pressure he felt himself under.
"So you're saying that you'd rather be spending time with Will than with our child? I don't understand why it has to be a competition. You don't have to section your time and your love off into parcels Austin." Austin's words had hit a sore spot, the spot that Sami had repeatedly rubbed to rawness.
"No Carrie, that's not it at all." Austin's voice rose in frustration. "I want to give my children as much as I can. And I know that it doesn't have to be separately. But with the way things are right now, I can't see a way of giving my children what they deserve from me."
Carrie pursed her lips again in an unconscious imitation of her mother Anna.
"Well you'd better think of a way Austin, because I'm pregnant and whether you like it or not, this baby is a reality and it's not going away." She took a deep breath and, as much as she hated it, she uttered the final ultimatum. "So if you want out of this, I think you'd better tell me now."
Marlena laughed and shook her head as she thought about her authoritative little daughter.
"I don't know Caroline, it's like I turned around for a moment and when I turned back she was all grown up. She's just become *so* assertive!" She smiled again as she wiped the stray tears from her cheeks. "They're something aren't they?"
"They sure are." Caroline nodded her head in agreement with Marlena. She couldn't have loved the two tykes more if they had been her biological grandchildren. She watched Marlena sigh and turn away to the living room. "So, how are you dear?"
"Oh," Marlena turned back with a bland, encompassing smile, "I'm fine." She brushed her tangled hair off her face in a gesture of nervousness, not realizing that it exposed an even broader expanse of her bruised neck.
"You look a little tired," Caroline probed indirectly, for Marlena did have circles under her eyes, a clear indication of her lack of sleep.
"Mmmm?" Marlena murmered distractedly. She was itching for Caroline to go. She knew she couldn't deal with the questions that were bound to spill out any minute. And the moment that Eugene walked down the stairs it was likely that Caroline would realize what was going on. Marlena could well imagine her having an apoplectic fit at the very idea. "I had a late night," she answered vaguely. She tried for a smile which Caroline, thinking she knew what was going on, took for embarrassment. She probably wasn't far from the truth, but for an entirely different reason.
Caroline looked thoughtful for a moment and then reached for Marlena's hand.
"Marlena dear, why don't we keep the children for a little longer than we arranged. We could bring them back, say, at the end of the week. That would give you a chance to catch up..." she paused and smiled knowingly, "..on some sleep."
Marlena totally missed the intimation, immersed as she was, in her own thoughts. It would, she realized quickly, waylay some awkward questions for the children about their daddy and what was happening, while she and Eugene tried to work out exactly what *was* happening with this new relationship they suddenly found themselves in. She would miss the children but it really sounded like a great idea right now.
"How does that sound?" Caroline prompted an answer from the silent and thoughtful Marlena.
"It sounds awfully good." Marlena let out a small laugh. "Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Of course not dear," she looked up at the penthouse landing, almost expecting to see John standing there with a cheeky smile on his face and she was terribly tempted to ask Marlena where he was. But, she decided, she had done enough interfering already. Now was time to leave John and Marlena to enjoy their solitude.
"Alright then," she said instead. "We should be back from the camping trip by Tuesday. We'll keep the children at the pub until Friday. If you want them back before then just give us a call okay?"
"Oh Caroline," Marlena smiled gratefully, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Gosh, a whole week. Whatever will I do with myself?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll be kept well occupied." Q's laconic drawl drifted down the stairs. He followed closely and to Caroline's consternation stopped at the front door, slightly behind Marlena. "Good morning Mrs. Brady," he grinned conspiratorially, his smile widening as the older woman's lips thinned. He laid his hand gently on Marlena's shoulder and leaned over. "Coffee?"
Marlena let out an nervous breath and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to control the rush of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. Collecting herself, she whipped her head around and glared at Gene furiously.
"I think I'll take that as a no." Q said, a little taken aback at the vehemence in Marlena's eyes. But still, unable to resist it, he threw a quick wink at Caroline before he beat his hasty retreat to the kitchen.
Marlena watched him go, almost too afraid to turn back to Caroline. She couldn't bear to see the censure in the other woman's eyes, and yet without explaining herself, without going through a lifetime of reasons, without tearing herself apart inside, she knew that there was no way she could make Caroline understand why this had happened. She barely understood it herself.
Caroline in turn watched Marlena's back, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. This was wrong. It was all wrong. Where was John? It should be *John* asking Marlena if she wanted coffee. Not.... She stifled a moan. Marlena couldn't have. Surely she hadn't... It was all *wrong*.
Marlena slowly turned back to her visitor. She felt sick but she couldn't avoid this. Her eyes were wide and her fists clenched as she faced the woman she regarded as one of her closest friends. Her nails dug half-moons in her palms as she saw the turmoil and condemnation in Caroline's eyes. No amount of explaining would solve this predicament.
Caroline didn't ask for explanations. She had no idea what to say herself in light of this...... she couldn't even find a word to describe this. Eugene had looked almost as dishevelled as Marlena and it had quickly become obvious to Caroline that it hadn't been John in Marlena's bed last night.
She could barely look at Marlena. She was ashamed of the way she was feeling, but she couldn't help it. She just couldn't understand why Marlena would do this, when there was so much at stake. She felt sick for the pair of them. Marlena had been so happy when she had left this apartment less than a day ago. What on earth could have happened that would have caused her to turn to Eugene? Caroline couldn't even imagine. She didn't want to imagine. She just couldn't believe this was happening, all this time and all those sacrifices, all the battles John and Marlena had fought and won to be together....all for *this*?
The embarrassment that both women felt precluded any intimate questions or answers. Instead they stood and looked at each other awkwardly for several moments. Eventually Caroline couldn't stand it any more and she muttered the excuse that Shawn and the children would be wondering where she was. She attempted a strained smile, her face almost as pale as Marlena's own before she turned and left the apartment, pulling the door hurriedly closed behind her before Marlena could protest.
Marlena turned away with an exasperated sigh and pulled her hands through her tangled hair in frustration. This had been the last thing she had needed. How could Eugene have been so incredibly *thoughtless*?
Pursing her lips, she looked at the kitchen door. There was no movement. Angrily, she marched across the living room and into the kitchen, the door banging against the wall as she pushed it open.
"Oh Marlena," Gene turned around as though oblivious to her mood, "Pancakes or waffles?"
"*What?*" Marlena returned rapidly, her train of though making her oblivious to anything else.
"Breakfast," Gene replied uneasily, "I wanted to know if-"
"Oh *forget* the breakfast," Marlena snapped. "I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing out there."
Sami let out a sigh as she stared at the young man who stood in front of her chained door.
"So what do you want?" she demanded once again, her hand balling into a fist that rested against her hip. "I want you to give me another chance Sami," Grant begged, his expression almost pitiful. "I know I blew it before."
"You bet you did," Sami replied defensively.
"Look I'm really sorry Sami," Grant's brown eyes reminded Sami something of a puppy, "I just don't know why I was behaving like that. I just really like you and," he looked down at his feet, "I guess I got a little possessive."
"A *little*?" Sami exclaimed with disbelief. "I'm sorry, but I don't think threatening to deck that guy at the movies for *looking* at me is a *little* possessive. I think that's *weird*."
"You're right, I know." Grant nodded his head. "I'm sorry, I really am."
"I just don't get the whole thing." Sami shook her head, her eyes wide. "I mean you hardly *know* me, how on earth can you feel possessive of me?" Will's laugh from the area of the TV caused her to turn her head for a moment, and when she turned back, Grant had taken another step towards the door. Sami backed away slightly, feeling nervous. "I just don't know where all this came from, I mean I was never even yours to begin with, so why on earth get so uptight about it?"
Sami's bravado covered her fear well, but inside she was becoming increasingly worried, not only for her, but for her son. It had seemed that during the short amount of time that she was dating him that although he liked Will, he resented the amount of time she had chosen to give to her child. And having already seen what a quick temper this guy had, and knowing he had been involved with Austin's ring of boxing friends only made it worse.
Which made her only option to stay calm, try not to rile the man, and get rid of him as quickly as possible. Which could be easier said than done.
"What do you mean?" Gene knew pretty much what Marlena was talking about, but his mouth had suddenly gone dry and his heart doubled in rate in the face of her anger.
"I mean *you* coming downstairs and making....making *things* so obvious in front of Caroline." Marlena replied, crossing her arms in front of her. "Why did you do that Gene?"
Gene stared at Marlena for a moment, feeling slightly hurt at what she seemed to be implying.
"I'm sorry Marlena," he said quietly, "I didn't realize you wanted this, *us* to be a secret. I didn't realize that I was being quite so *obvious* as you put it." Marlena caught a flash of the hurt in his eyes before he turned away from her and immediately felt terrible. He was right, she had never said that she wanted this new relationship to be a secret. She hadn't even thought about it until Caroline had called.
Maybe he should have known not to play it up, but then he was Gene and he was Q and he was just so naive when it came to the intricacies of human relationships. She wondered with a half smile how someone could be so insightful and such a wonderful friend and lover, and yet be so completely clueless so much of the time.
Q looked at his hands, splayed on the counter, as though he were seeing them for the first time. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to Marlena.
"I'm wondering if you're not having second thoughts about this relationship," he said, staring at the terracotta tiles that lined the floor, unable to look into her eyes. "I know that it was all kind of sudden last night and that you're probably thinking this is all a mistake now." He looked up, his eyes a deep brown, emphasizing his misery that he tried unsuccessfully to hide. "I'd understand, I really would." He turned back to the coffee pot again, waiting for her answer, to hear the words he'd been dreading since this whole affair began.
The words didn't come though. Instead he felt Marlena's hands slip around his body and up to his shoulders. He felt her hair against the back of his neck as she laid her cheek against the deep blue cotton of his robe.
"I don't think it's a mistake," she whispered throatily.
"You don't?" Q's heart was hammering sharply against his ribs as he felt her warm body press against his. Then he felt her head rocking against his shoulder.
"No I don't." Lifting her head, she dropped such a feather light kiss on the nape of his neck that it made him shiver.
When he didn't say anything, Marlena loosened her arms and trailed one hand around his waist as she moved in front of him. The hand that rested on his waist then slid slowly up the front of his robe as she looked at him seductively. There were no words as her fingertips followed the folds, exposing a vee of fair skin.
As her fingers made their way upwards, Marlena suddenly let out a surprised laugh.
"Oh my!" She smiled at Q as she ran her fingers gently over the red marks that had risen in the last few hours. "Oh dear. Somehow, I don't think that either of us needed to do or say anything for Caroline to put two and two together."
Gene couldn't help his grin as he pushed the hair back from Marlena's neck, exposing identical red bruises on the creamy skin.
"Pretty damning evidence I'd say," he chuckled.
"Mmmmm," Marlena murmered as she stared up at him, transfixed by the way his eyes danced in the morning sun that had suddenly rounded the next door building and was pouring through the window.
Q felt his heart rate increase again as she stared up at him, almost luminous in the glorious light. Her hair, as messed up as it was, still glistened like a waterfall of golden silk, inviting him to run his fingers through the fragrant softness. And then, her eyes were almost green this morning, flecked with a shade of burnt amber that gave them an intensity that seemed to indicate that she could glean every thought that passed through his head.
As beautiful as she looked all made up and perfectly manicured and coiffured to head out to work or to dinner, like this she was even more so. Incredibly and utterly desirable and Q knew that whatever she asked of him, he would not be able to refuse. He was caught in the spell she wove, enchanted by her smile, her eyes, her voice, her very soul. She had his heart to do with as she please. He was lost and he couldn't care less.
Lifting his hand, he brushed the slightly too long bangs from her bewitching eyes and drew his fingers across the soft skin of her cheek, following the contours of her face down to her chin.
"Kiss me," Marlena mouthed to him, longing to feel his soft lips on hers. Her wish was definitely his command and he leaned till his lips captured hers in a sweet, soulful kiss that was full of promise.
Austin turned back to Carrie, shock registering in his eyes.
"I never said that Carrie. I never said I was going to walk away." He came back to the bed and sat down, taking Carrie's hands in his. "I'm committed to this marriage honey. I know we can work out these problems. And I know I shouldn't feel like this about our baby and I don't want to feel like this. I just do, I can't help it."
"I'm scared too Austin." Carrie told him, tears lacing her lashes. "This is as much a surprise for me as it is for you. We were careful but sometimes that isn't enough. But we are responsible for bringing this child into the world. It's not this baby's fault. This child is innocent and it deserves all the love and hope and dreams that we can give it."
She took a breath and looked up at her husband, her heart suddenly filled with overwhelming love for this small life that she carried within her. It seemed so incredible that what was now only a small bulge would soon be a living breathing human being. The proof of their love.
"He's ours Austin. Our baby, a part of you and me. There's nothing more incredible, or miraculous than that. He deserves the best of us."
Austin looked at her face, stained with the tears that punctuated her heartfelt supplication, and felt his own heart twinge with guilt. He didn't know why, but he found himself unable to share Carrie's love for this unborn child. But if it would make her happy, he would do his best to be happy too.
He wiped the tears away from her face and then pulled her into his arms.
"You're right honey," he whispered as convincingly as he could. "We'll give this baby the best life we possibly can."
Yet, it seemed, that was not enough to convince the young mother to be, who silently began to shed more tears.
Marlena, her arms around Gene's neck, backed toward the kitchen door, pulling him with her.
"Mmmm," she whimpered as she backed up against the wood of the door jamb, Gene's mouth tugging at her earlobe. One hand sought out the door and pushed it open, as Gene's mouth found hers and urged her into a sweetly passionate kiss. They continued into the living room, Marlena's arms around her lover's neck, guiding him blindly to the couch that was somewhere behind them.
Finally they fell onto the soft cushions and continued to reacquaint themselves with each other for several more moments. Until Q opened his eyes that was and found himself almost face to face with a framed picture of Marlena, Belle and John.
He sighed and rolled onto his side, closing his eyes. The last person he had wanted to be reminded of was John Black. But then again, maybe it was better that he was.
"What's wrong Gene?" Marlena asked, a hint of worry in her otherwise honeyed voice.
When he didn't answer for a moment, she narrowed his eyes. "Gene, what is it?" Her tone had become demanding, rather than anxious and Q knew that she was onto him.
"I'm sorry Marlena," he opened his eyes. "I just can't stop wondering and worrying about what happened between you and John last night. I know you don't want to talk about it -"
"You're right, I don't." Marlena's interruption was unusually bright, almost forcedly so. "So lets not. Let's not spoil a great morning, or," she smiled mischievously, her finger tracing the vee of his robe as she spoke, "a really *spectacular* morning. There's really no need."
Q sighed and removed Marlena's infuriatingly distracting hand from his torso.
"I think there is a need. I think we need to straighten this out," he told her solemnly. As desperately as he wanted this and wanted her, he still was unsure of Marlena's motivations. He had to be sure that this was what she really wanted and needed.
She had taken him by surprise last night and he had had no chance to talk this out with her. One of the problems with inhabiting a mortal body was that one was victim to the same lack of control as all other mortals when it came to desire. However, he wasn't about to make the same mistake this morning. Or so he thought.
"Straighten *what* out ?" Marlena pulled away from him slightly and half sat up, a little confused and more than a little frustrated. She didn't want to be having this conversation. She just wanted to forget about John and never have to think about him again, as unrealistic as that was. She certainly didn't want to be forced into having a conversation about him right *now* of all times. "You want me and I want you. I would have thought that was a fairly simple equation."
"You and I both know that it's not that simple." Q was beginning to get a little annoyed with her obvious avoidance of the subject. It was, he remembered, an old tactic of hers. If something was too painful to discuss - avoid and ignore it. It seemed that, over the years, this particular trait had remained stubbornly ingrained. "John has been and *is* involved in this equation and you may not want to talk about what happened, but I need to know Marlena."
"Why?" Marlena shook her head with the question, not understanding why this was seemingly so important to him. She swung her legs over the edge of the couch. As she sat upright. "Why is this such a big deal? I don't understand Gene." Q pressed his lips together. She couldn't possibly know how important this was, how much he was willing to give up for her.
He also pulled himself into a sitting position on the sofa and took her hand in his. A measure of his nervousness melted away when she didn't pull her hands from his. It seemed as if she was, at least, willing to listen to him.
"I'm afraid you're making a mistake Marlena." He looked into her hazel eyes, fringed with lush dark lashes and felt his heart ache with the love he felt for her and the futility of fighting it. He would do anything for her, risk anything. Anything and everything. He just had to make sure that it was right. "I know you've told me that you want this and I do believe you. But I do need to know that we're doing this for the right reasons. And unless I know what happened last night, I can't know that for sure."
The first rays of the morning sun glanced through the living room windows, creeping across the carpet, drenching everything it spilled across, a sundew gold. Marlena looked into Q's eyes as the sun reached them and saw the love there for her. She was touched by it and a little awed. And she knew he was right. She owed him an explanation. At least, as much of one as she could muster.
It was like holding burning hot coals in her bare hands to call up those images again, the memories of the encounter searing scars in her already wounded heart. She was not sure that she would ever heal from them. But still, she had to try, and this was the first step.
Gently, she slipped her hands from Eugene's and standing, she found herself drawn to the window. The spring sun warmed her as she began to speak.
"I didn't call John before I left. I wanted to surprise him. Unfortunately it turns out that I was the one that was surprised." She bit on her lower lip, willing her eyes to stay dry as she continued. "He was with Kristen. And he made it perfectly clear that Kristen and their baby are his priority now." She paused, her words sinking in, their finality almost frightening to her. As long as she could ignore it and not think about it then she could avoid that finality. But that was fast becoming impossible.
"But did you tell him how you feel, why you were there?" Q pressed, taking advantage of her silence to voice the questions that nagged at him. Somehow this didn't entirely tally with his conversation with John earlier in the day.
"What was the point?" Marlena asked, defeat heavy in her tone. " He wants to make a family with Kristen and the baby. Obviously the family he could make with Belle and I wasn't good enough any more."
"He *said* that? You're sure you weren't mistaken?" Q asked disbelievingly. Yet the pain in Marlena's eyes was more than enough to convince him that she hadn't been mistaken at all.
"He said he *loved* her Gene. After everything that she's done. I just don't understand. I thought that we were meant to be together. I thought he wasn't going to break my heart again." She shook her head, the tears in her eyes glistening in the golden light. "Turns out I fell for the same old lines all over again."
She clenched her jaw and flicked at the tears that had spilt through her lashes onto her cheek. "You can't know how much it hurt to hear him say that. After all his protestations, he just couldn't wait. He gave up on me just like that. And she was there, ready and waiting for him."
"He doesn't deserve you." Q could barely contain his anger, his love and devotion to Marlena blinding him to the fact that none of this made a whole lot of sense. He couldn't believe that John could do that, turn his back on this angel, especially knowing the truth as he now did. But Marlena's words and her face and most of all, her heart told him that John Black had done just that. And not only that, but deliberately told her that he loved Kristen, that he wanted to form a family with Kristen and the baby, it seemed in order to hurt Marlena and drive her away. Whatever his motives, Q could not forgive John that. They were not the actions of a man worthy of such an incredible woman.
"I know he doesn't Gene." Marlena's voice brought him out of his contemplation. She walked back to the couch where he still sat and seated herself next to him so that she was looking into his eyes, hoping that he could see the sincerity in hers. "That's why I know this is right. Why I have to move on. I deserve someone who will love me for me. Someone who won't turn around and leave me at the drop of a hat." She took his hand and wove her fingers between his. She didn't break eye contact with him at all as her voice became low and throaty. "I need someone who *knows* what he wants."
Q felt his whole body responding to her. Just the way she looked at him, the way she spoke was enough to send his adrenaline sky-high. "So, do you believe me now?" she raised her eyebrows and slipped him a smile full of promises. He simply nodded in return and squeezed her hand. "Good. I'm glad that's sorted out then."
"So am I," Q lifted her hand to his lips and kissed each of her fingers in turn. "Now why don't you get your gorgeous self back upstairs, and I'll bring up some breakfast in a few minutes."
A smile lit up Marlena's face.
"Pancakes *and* waffles please." She looked at him provocatively from below her lashes and wet her lips. "And then perhaps we can think about dessert."
"No, you don't understand Sami," the young man stood in her doorway, making her more than grateful that she had put the safety chain on, but at the same time fearfully wondering if that would be enough to keep him out if he decided he really wanted to get in. "I *love* you. I've loved you from the day I met you. You're a special woman Sami, and I want to make you happy."
Sami felt herself begin to shake and she put her hand against the wall to steady herself. This guy was obviously crazy and she becoming more and more concerned for her own and Will's safety with every moment that he was at her door.
"I think you should go now," she said with as much control as she could call forth.
"I don't want to go Sami." He held out his hand to her, his eyes pleading. "C'mon Sami, let me in. Let's talk about this."
"No!" The refusal, laced with fear and anger was out of Sami's mouth before she even knew it. *Please* Grant, you're freaking me out. Please just go." Will, infected by the apprehension emanating from his mother began to whimper in the background.
"No Sami. I can't do that. You have to let me in." Sami swallowed as she heard the anger infiltrate Grant's voice and then her heart began to race as she saw him begin to push on the door.
The safety chain remained solid but she was unsure how long it would remain that way as the pressure on the other side of the door increased.
"Get out!" She yelled, a mixture of protective fear and rage suffusing her voice. She was less worried about herself than Will. She would not let anyone hurt her son. The man on the other side of the door paid no attention as he began to batter at the door with his shoulder.
Tears of fright formed in Sami's eyes as she heard Will begin to cry behind her. She had to protect her son and she'd do it any way she could. Without thinking, she ran for the door and began to kick at Grant's legs through the opening, screaming at him to get out and leave her alone all the while.
She was fortunate that she was wearing her boots this morning, for one well aimed kick managed to catch Grant just below the knee, causing him to curse wildly and back away from the door in pain. Sami slammed the door closed behind him and with trembling hands, she turned the key in the lock. Tears streaming down her face, she ran to Will, sweeping him into her arms and smothering his face with relieved kisses.
However, her relief quickly dissipated as she heard the first splintering kicks to her door.
Marlena was scanning the front page of the Chronicle when Gene placed the breakfast trays on the covers of the bad. Smelling the fresh, warm scent of pancakes and the divine aroma of freshly brewed coffee, she grinned and dropped the paper into her lap.
"Mmmmm...", she took a deep breath at the same time as she removed her glasses. "Gosh Gene, that looks *incredible*!"
The tray in front of her had a large plate piled high with pancakes with maple syrup standing by. The pancakes themselves were surrounded by piles of fresh summer fruit and berries. There were two glasses of champagne on the tray and another tray on the dresser held a bottle of champagne and a plunger of black coffee.
"One of my...." Q slipped into the bed next to where she sat with her legs bunched up in front of her and ran one hand down a shapely thigh, "my many, many talents,"
"Oh you don't need to tell me about your multitude of talents," Marlena raised her eyebrows as she shook her head and smiled sexily. "I think I'm doing a pretty good job of discovering them for myself."
She leaned towards Q, her eyes beckoning for him to skip the food and head right for the main event. But he was having nothing of it. He laughed as he put up his hand to ward her advances off.
"No Marlena. You've got to eat if you want to keep this up. Breakfast first and *then* dessert."
Marlena rolled her eyes exaggeratedly and then winked at him.
"You'll keep." In truth she was actually starving and couldn't wait to get started on breakfast. In one movement, she flicked the newspaper from her lap onto the floor and pulled the tray towards her.
Sami held Will tightly to her, tears trickling down both of their cheeks. Another dull thud signaled a blow to the door, but they seemed to be slowing. Sami took the opportunity of the lull to call out to the man on the other side.
"You'd better get lost before I call the police." She tried to sound as brave as she could as her little boy clung to her in terror.
She flinched as Grant dealt another angry blow to the door.
"I'm calling them now." She grabbed at the portable phone and almost swore when she discovered that the battery had run down. The only other phone was in the bedroom, but she was so terrified that it had almost immobilized her. And besides that, she would have to walk past the door to get there.
But then, as suddenly as they had started, the impacts on the door stopped and there was silence. After a moment, Sami suddenly found that now that the adrenaline rush was over she no longer had any strength left in her body and she sank to the floor, sobbing into Will's hair.
If Marlena had taken the time to look at the front page of the paper, she might have seen that the identikit picture on the inside front page looked vaguely familiar, and she might have had an inkling that her daughter's suitor was not all he seemed. But Marlena had not talked to Sami since she had run out of the penthouse two days ago and she could not have known that her fears about Sami's dalliance had been realized in an all too frightening way.
But instead, for the first time in far too long, Marlena was putting herself and her needs first. She was engaged in her own life, and she and Eugene were doing their best to shut everyone and everything else out. Indeed, reality was not something either of them wanted to contemplate at this moment.
Kristen rubbed her stomach as she knocked on the loft door. She looked around the landing with a slightly bored expression as she waited for John to answer the door. It was time to press the small advantage she had gained.
But there was no answer from the loft inside, and no sound even, of movement. Kristen frowned as she wondered where John was. She didn't want to risk letting herself into the loft in case he was in there and just not answering the door. Instead, she decided to take the elevator to the basement.
When she reached it, it became clear that John was not there as his parking space was empty. Pulling out her cell phone, she hit the pre-programmed auto-dial. Her brother, answering the other end informed her that John had apparently left the building again early that morning in a considerable hurry. He had not been seen since.
Kristen tapped the cell phone with a perfectly manicured nail as she considered her options. John might have told her that things hadn't changed. But it was obvious to her that they had. He had let his true feelings for her slip last night, unknowingly in front of Marlena. And then he had gone to Marlena's and it seemed that the insane dream of a future that Marlena once had of being with John, was finally over. It didn't matter to Kristen what had happened or who had ended it What mattered was that John was now free to be hers again.
But for now she had to work out how to ensure that he indeed came back to her. "When in doubt little one," she murmered to her rounded stomach, "we go shopping."
Marlena sat back against the pillows and groaned.
"I think I ate too much," she giggled as she pushed the tray away from her. "Oh, take it away."
"I *told* you that you were overdoing it." Q amusedly clicked his finger and the tray vanished into thin air.
"That must be really handy," Marlena mused, an air of slight intoxication about her. "Gee, I wish I could do that. Just think of what or *who* I could make just *disappear*"
"I shudder to imagine." Q drawled, entertained by Marlena's reaction to the champagne. It was becoming clear to him now why she didn't drink much. Mind you, the effect wasn't entirely lost on him either.
"Whaddare ya trying to say?" Marlena demanded, a slight flush suffusing her face.
"Nothing my darling." Q smiled and leaned toward her. "You have maple syrup on your chin."
"I do?" Marlena's eyes widened in surprise. "Well, how did that get there?"
"Hold still." Q raised a finger and drew it gently across her chin, wiping away the offending sticky mess. He was looking for a tissue to wipe it on when Marlena took him by surprise, removing the syrup with her mouth. She played her tongue and teeth around his finger for a moment, teasing him as she looked up at him with sparkling hazel eyes that promised so much more.
But Q wanted her too much this morning to play games and he rapidly replaced his finger with his lips, pulling her into a crushing kiss.
"Mmmm...." Marlena slid across the bed until she was pressed tightly against him as he began to assault her jaw and neck with kisses, moving down to the hollow of her throat and down again until he reached her robe.
He looked up at her as he reached for the sash. Her eyes were wide open and focused on him as she covered his hand with hers and pulled on the silken cord. He smiled at her. It was obvious that neither of them was in any mood to waste any time.
It had been close to half an hour without any noise from outside the apartment and Sami cautiously sat Will down on the couch. He clung to her but she whispered to him that it would be okay and she wiped the little boy's face before laying a kiss on his forehead.
"Everything's okay now sweetie. Momma's just going to check the door okay?"
The little boy nodded solemnly and watched his mother carefully as she made her way to the front door.
Sami looked through the peephole in the front door, mentally berating herself for not doing that to begin with. Maybe the whole incident could have been avoided if she had been just a little more careful. There was no sign of anyone outside the apartment which was a good start. With her heart in her mouth, Sami unlocked the door and opened it a crack, the chain still firmly on. The corridor was empty.
She exhaled a sigh of profound relief and opened the door further to look at the damage. For all the noise he had made, Grant hadn't actually caused that much of a mess. There were a couple of small holes at the base of the door and some of the paint was chipped, but there was nothing much to really indicate how terrifying this whole ordeal had been for she and Will.
She closed and locked the door behind her again and went back to the sofa. Will scrambled into her arms as she looked speculatively at the phone. There seemed no point in calling the police now. He was gone and she didn't think he'd be coming back. At least, she hoped that this would be the last she would see of him. She didn't know if she could cope with any more of that. Next time, she promised herself, she really would call the police. Or maybe there would be someone else that could take care of it.
She sat back on the couch and stroked Will's hair as he cuddled up to her, his eyes once again glued to the television screen which now played Scooby Doo.
"It'll be alright baby boy," she cooed softly. "Momma's going to make everything alright."
"When's the little one due?"
Kristen handed over her credit card to the shop assistant and smiled sweetly.
"Three more months."
"Oh, a summer baby, how lovely." The young woman smiled as she swiped the card through the machine and punched in the required transaction. "Is this your first?"
"Mmmm-hmmm." Kristen examined her nails distractedly, wondering why it was that everyone always felt like every detail of her pregnancy should be for public consumption.
"Do you know what it is yet?"
"No, my partner and I want it to be a surprise." Kristen signed the docket that the woman pushed towards her with a flourish.
"Oh that's nice." The woman handed her a copy with her card and looked down at the baby equipment that was piled up beside the counter. "Now, would you like that delivered Ms Blake?"
Kristen smiled again. Perfect, just perfect.
"Yeah, that would be great." She pulled her gloves back on. "Could you have it delivered to twenty-five River St.? And if you could have someone call me on my cell phone before they deliver it, I can be sure that either I or my fiancée is there to take the delivery."
"Sure, that's fine." The assistant took down Kristen's cellular number and then watched her walk out of the shop. She stood for a moment, staring at the pram and crib as she wondered why, if Ms Blake was engaged to be married, she wasn't wearing a ring.
It was early evening when Marlena's stomach told her that it was time to eat again. She rolled over in Gene's arms and shook him gently.
"Mmmm?" He murmered sleepily as he pried open one eye.
"I'm hungry," she whispered with a grin.
"You're always hungry," he replied before yawning.
"Hey! Now be *nice*!" Marlena poked him in the ribs with a sly smile.
"Ow! You mean that's a requirement? You never told me that," Q teased her.
"I would have thought it was self evident," Marlena pushed him onto his back and ran her index finger across his lips. "You be nice to me and I'll think about being nice to you."
"Oh, well worked out deal Dr. Evans." Q grinned as Marlena maneuvered herself on top of him.
"Do I hear a complaint Bradford?" she asked softly, her lips hovering above his.
"From me?" Q raised his eyebrows in mock innocence. "Never."
"Glad to hear it." Marlena's eyes raked his face, the humour suddenly gone and replaced with wanton desire.
Gene felt his mouth go dry with the way she looked at him. He couldn't help but respond to her in kind and as her mouth searched his out, his hands slid down her back to her rear as she moved against him. The kiss deepened as Marlena's hands wove through the dark hair at Gene's temples but, as soon as it has started, the moment was spoiled as Marlena's stomach grumbled loudly.
"Oh man!" Marlena began to giggle.
"Well, you *did* warn me." Q began to laugh with her as he reached up to brush the hair out of her eyes. "How about we order in?"
"Mmmmm," Marlena moved back onto her side of the bed. "Chinese?"
"Consider it done." He picked his robe up off the floor and pulled it around his body. "Is the number downstairs?"
"Mmmm-hmmm," Marlena nodded and pulled the sheet around her. "I'll see you down there in a few minutes okay?"
"Okay," Q leaned over and kissed her. "See you soon."
Marlena watched him leave the room and then made her way to her set of drawers.
The young man slammed the phone down in frustration. He had flown for hours, to another country, but still he could get no information. He felt like he was like trying to dig his way through a brick wall with only a spoon and a map for equipment. Still, he couldn't give up now. He had the information. He just had to find out what it *meant*.
He picked up his address book and contemplated it. If he couldn't get any joy on the phone, maybe a *personal* touch might make the difference. He picked up the key to the room and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans. Looking around at the threadbare room, he frowned and picked up the A to Z guide. There was nothing to lose.
He closed the door behind him and ran down the two flights of steps into the dingy lobby. He exited the building onto a well lit street and looked around him. There was plenty of traffic around, as there always was in this city, even during the night, and it was only seconds before a large black taxi pulled up in response to his signal.
He climbed into the cab and recited to the cabbie the address he wanted. If no-one else would give him the help he needed, maybe this was his best hope.
"Wow!" It was all Eugene could say as he watched Marlena glide elegantly down the stairs in a rose coloured silk negligee and robe. She looked incredible and suddenly his appetite for food deserted him. "You like it?" Marlena asked almost shyly as she reached the bottom of the steps.
She wanted this to be a wonderful night for him. It wasn't that it didn't hurt any more when she thought of John. It *hurt* so much that she thought she might stop breathing. She ached so that she thought that she might curl up and die. So she just didn't think of John at all. It was better out of her mind. In the past where it belonged. She was in the present now. And being in the present, she couldn't remember being made to feel this special and this loved in a long, long time. As such, there was nothing she wanted more than to make Gene feel special in return. He deserved as much of herself as she could give. And she wanted to give him all she was able to.
"I love it." He could only gaze at her, looking like a perfect angel. "And you." He couldn't help himself. He hadn't wanted to put her in a position where she would feel uncomfortable, but the words came unbidden from his mouth. Faced with her, like this, he could only speak what was in his heart.
It didn't make it any easier for either of them though and he turned from her, saving her the embarrassment of an awkward silence.
"The food should be here soon," he said as he opened the bottle of white wine. "I thought we might watch a movie on the TV"
"That sounds nice," Marlena came up behind him. "I wonder how far we'll get through it."
"I'm sorry?" Eugene turned around, more than a little flustered by her proximity to him. It was almost as if her skin glowed in the soft candlelight and the subtle scent of the perfume she wore infiltrated his senses so that he could no longer think what it was that he had to do next.
"I said that sounds nice," Marlena gently took the bottle out of his hands and set it on the table. "But I just don't know if I'll be able to make it through two hours of a movie," she slid her hands up over his robe, "without getting.." he hands slid around the back of his neck, "..a little..." reaching up, she deposited a soft kiss on his lips, "...distracted."
"Oh Marlena, if you don't stop that now- " Gene's words were cut off as Marlena kissed him again, more forcefully this time. It was a moment before he found the will to pry her away from him. "You're insatiable!" he laughed.
"Is that such a bad thing?" Marlena asked, a twinkle in her eyes.
"Actually....no." He shook his head and bent to kiss her again.
The doorbell cut through the mood like a hot knife and with a frustrated laugh Q bent his head so that it rested against hers. He pressed his finger to her lips with a slight smile.
"Hold that thought," he whispered before he went to the door.
They ate the chinese takeout as they watched the film that Gene had selected, amid laughs and squeals, as Cary Grant proceeded to get involved in the havoc of Arsenic and Old Lace. However, Marlena had been entirely right when she had predicted that the duration of the film would extend slightly past their attention span. They weren't even halfway through the film before Marlena found herself paying more attention to what Eugene's caresses were doing to her body than what was happening to Mortimer Brewster on the screen.
The film ran on and the candles burnt down to smoking stubs as the room was filled with soft moans and desire-filled sighs. Rose coloured silk spilt into a pool on the ground. Love made and love renounced.
The screen darkened and light faded into night.
The next few days passed in much the same way for Marlena and Eugene. Marlena had previously cleared her schedule for the early part of the week and they spent their time talking, laughing and making love. They had hidden themselves away from a world that sought to censure them, to pass judgment on the decisions they made and instead had just enjoyed each other's company, through the laughter and the occasional tears.
And yet, on the Tuesday afternoon, they had gone for a walk in the park, taking advantage of the warm spring sun that filled their hearts with light contentment. They had brought ice-creams which they had eaten lying on the sun warmed grass, laughing at each other as they wiped ice-cream and chocolate from their mouths. And then they had walked back to the penthouse, hand in hand, oblivious to the world around them, refusing to acknowledge, even still, the reality that ever threatened to encroach.
It was Wednesday morning that Marlena found herself back in her office, ready to tackle a new day of treatment and traumas. The morning was filled with paperwork and assessments, just the kind of day to dull the senses. But that all ended at eleven when an acute patient of Laura's was admitted, threatening suicide.
Laura was in San Francisco for a week, attending a conference, but her patient, Elenora Briant was deeply depressed and in need of immediate care. Marlena, being the best qualified on the psychiatric staff to treat this particular case, spent an hour talking to and calming the distressed woman.
Elenora Briant was a middle aged woman, not particularly well educated, who worked in an office and had worked in the same office for the last fifteen years. It had turned out that Elenora's husband had left her several weeks beforehand. He had left her a note, cleared out their apartment of all valuable goods and taken their five year old daughter with him. She had been left with nothing and she had no idea where he had gone. She just knew that she couldn't go on living without her daughter and she had no way of finding the child or the means to get her back. And she had given up.
Marlena had eventually sedated the patient and left the room after giving instructions to the nurses and attending doctors that Elenora wasn't to be left alone for a moment. She was fearful that somehow the woman would find a way to take her own life and she wasn't about to let that happen if it was within her power. Betrayal was devastating, but it could be surmounted. She was living proof of that and she had to convince Elenora that she too, could get through this.
When she made it to the outer corridor, Marlena began to shake. This woman's problems had raised too many old demons for her. Memories that she couldn't banish, not just of John, but of countless episodes in her life when she had lost the people she loved most. People that had been snatched from her by the cruel and unthinking actions of other. Her sister. Her husband. Her children... She couldn't bear for that to happen again. If she lost again, could she be reduced to what Elenora Briant had become? At what point would it be that she could lose all hope? And all will for life?
With a pale face, she made her way back to her office, where she found Eugene waiting for her.
"Marlena, are you alright?" He was immediately on his feet, concerned for her as he saw how wan she looked.
"I'm fine." She smiled blankly and walked past him to where the blinds covered the window, shutting out the dreariness of the dull grey day, one of the last vestiges of a winter that had come to haunt her with it's broken dreams and promises. "What are you doing here?" Her tone was leaden, devoid of interest.
"I came to take you to lunch," Q stepped towards her unyielding back. "We arranged it this morning."
"Oh," Marlena crossed her arms in front of her chest and rubbed her arms to ward off the impending chill. "I'm sorry Gene. I'm just snowed under. I really don't have the time."
"You don't look too busy," Q noted from in front of her desk, now clear of paper.
Marlena turned around and smiled, a smile that graced her lips but didn't shine in her eyes.
"I am. I have a full afternoon and I have to write up a case of Laura's. I'm sorry, can I take a rain-check on that lunch?"
"Marlena." Gene moved until he was just in front of her. "Something is wrong and I want to know what it is."
"What could possibly be wrong?" Marlena swallowed, suddenly blinking back the tears. She turned on her heel and pressed her fingertips to her eyes, willing the pain that gnawed at her to go away.
"Marlena..." Eugene felt a twinge in his heart as she turned from him, trying to keep her problems and her pain inside. "Sweetheart, please let me help you."
He tenderly reached a hand out and laid it on her arm but found that she shrugged it away with alacrity.
"Don't," was all she said.
Sami set the pile of booklets and papers down on the table in front of her. The other hand set down a can of coke and a can of Pringles. She pulled the chair out from the table and sat wearily in the seat. She stared at the pile of papers for several moments before pulling the tab on the can of coke and taking a large swig.
She had spent most of the morning at Salem University, in meetings with various student advisors and course organizers, trying to arrange a part time schedule of courses that she could take to advance her education. It would be difficult with a small child, but Sami was determined and she knew that she could do this. She wasn't yet sure *what* she was heading for as far as a career went, but that was what she was here to find out.
Sniffing, she put down the drink and opened the can of chips. She pulled several out and stuffed them in her mouth as she looked around the empty cafeteria. It was almost exam time and although there were several people playing cards in the corner, other than that, the place was pretty much deserted.
Sami spied a newspaper several tables away and quickly retrieved it for herself. She took several more chips as she began the lead story. She frowned, wondering who the mystery man was. They had fished him out of the river yesterday. There had so far been no identification of the body, and the police had so far made no indication as to whether they were treating the death as suspicious.
Sami blew out the breath she had been holding and twisted a strand of hair around her finger as she contemplated the story. What on earth would make someone so desperate as to throw themselves into the river?
"Marlena, don't do this to me." Q said, inflections of anger badly hidden in his voice. "Don't do this to yourself. You told me we have to be honest with each other. Don't shut me out..." There was no answer from Marlena but Gene saw her shoulders begin to shake. He reached out again and found that this time, she didn't pull away from his touch.
With infinite tenderness, he stepped up behind her and slowly slid his arms around her. She leaned back into his embrace with a soundless sigh.
"Shhh...," he whispered. "It'll be okay." He felt the shudder of her body as again her tears escaped their inadequate confines. "Shhh..." his lips murmered into her golden hair. "Let it go."
Marlena twisted round in his arms and buried her face in his chest as she let the emotional burden wash out of her.
Eugene waited patiently until the quiet sobs had ceased and then drew away from her. She looked beautiful, even with red-rimmed eyes.
"Do you want to talk about it over lunch?" he asked her quietly. Marlena nodded mutely. "Okay." He smiled tentatively and brushed the damp tendrils of hair from her face. "Let's go then."
Marlena followed him to the door and waited as he took her coat from behind the door and helped her into it. Then, shutting the door to her office behind them, Eugene put his arm around Marlena's shoulders and led her down the hall.
Over a lunch of pasta at a local Italian cafe, Marlena told him of the patient and her problems, and how they had suddenly hit home.
"I try so hard to be strong Gene," she shook her head sadly, "but sometimes it's just too hard."
"No-one expects that of you, you know." Q smiled softly as he took her hand in his. "No-one expects you to be super-woman. No-one but you."
"But I *have* to be strong. For my children, for my patients. For myself Gene. I can't fall apart every time something goes wrong or I'd be a permanent cot-case."
"I'm not suggesting that Marlena," Q answered reasonably. "I'm just saying that there's no dishonor in showing your vulnerability every now and then. What you have been through would send most normal people insane." That elicited a laugh. "You are an exceptionally strong woman Marlena. But even strong people get hurt and upset sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that. And there's nothing wrong with showing it to the people who care about you either."
"But I don't want to burden the people I love with my problems," Marlena argued.
"It's not a *burden*," Q reached out his finger and caressed Marlena's cheek. "We...those people *love* you, and however well you hide it, they can tell you're in pain. They want to help. Helping you *eases* their burden. It doesn't add to it."
Marlena tried to smile as the tears came again to her eyes. He made it all sound so easy.
"Thanks," she mouthed to him, her voice lost somewhere in the morass of emotions that churned within her. He smiled, his own eyes glittering with tears as he delicately wiped hers from her cheeks with his fingers.
"I'd do anything for you," was his simple reply.
"Oh my goodness." Maggie Horton sat with her husband Mickey on the opposite side of the cafe. "Oh my."
"What about John?" Mickey hissed as he shook his head in bewilderment.
"Well, *I* don't know." Maggie couldn't peel her eyes away from the beautiful blonde and her unanticipated lunching companion. "I have *no* idea."
"I thought he'd split up with Kristen." Mickey brooded, his eyes fixed in the same place as his wife's. Both the diners were oblivious to the scrutiny.
"Well that was what I *heard*." Maggie shook her head. "I don't understand it Mickey." She turned back to her equally bemused husband. "What's going on?"
Carrie ran for the shelter of the mall before the clouds let go of their harboured deluge. It was her lunch-break and she had needed to get out of the stifling atmosphere of Titan and breathe some fresh air. Matters with Austin had come to an impasse and she wasn't sure of how to even talk to him any more. All she knew was that she was miserable and she wasn't sure how much longer she could go on like this.
She wandered down the footpath and past the familiar shops, barely seeing anything as she walked, unable to focus on anything but the feeling that her marriage was falling apart before her eyes. She stopped and sat down on a seat, kneading her fingers into her aching temples as she bowed her head. The headache seemed to be permanent these days, as did the exhaustion and nausea that plagued her. It made it difficult to get through even the most normal of days but yet even if she had wanted to, she couldn't cry off sick. No-one but Austin, Jenn and Sami knew. It all came back to Austin.
Carrie sighed heavily and rested her chin in her hands as she looked around her. No-one spared her a second glance as they hurried onwards in their unknown quests. Her lonely gaze swept past the shops that lined the side of the mall and alighted on the baby shop at the end of the row. She stared at it longingly for several minutes before standing, her mood suddenly defiant. It's time he started accepting it she thought as she started for the shop, and maybe this is just the way.
In the shop, she was momentarily overwhelmed by the array of baby equipment and clothing, but a smile transformed her face as she began to walk around, running her hands over the warm honeyed wood of the new cribs. She laid her other hand lovingly over her stomach as she began to leaf through the racks of infant clothing with an unconscious smile.
Eventually, she settled on half a dozen outfits for the baby and she took them up to the counter. She had just handed over her credit card when she was surprised by a tap on the shoulder.
"Carrie?" She turned around to find herself face to face with her mother-in-law.
"Oh Kate. Hi." She laughed a little nervously.
"Hi there," Kate returned the greeting with a smile that spoke of no worries, especially now Victor was making such tremendous strides in his rehabilitation. "I just popped in to get some new clothes for Phillip, he does grow out of them so fast."
"How is the little cutie?" Carrie asked, hoping to distract Kate from enquiring why she was here, buying baby clothes. It didn't work as Kate looked down at the tiny outfits that the assistant was now packing in tissue.
"He's wonderful," Kate's answer was distracted as she fingered the white cotton and lace of the small nightdress in front of her. "These are rather extravagant for a gift aren't they?" She looked at Carrie quizzically. "I assume they're for Kristen?"
Carrie looked almost like a startled doe, caught in looming and deadly headlights. She had always been the most pathetic of liars, she couldn't lie if her life depended on it.
"Ummm.....no." Carrie looked down at the pastel yellow jumpsuit.
"Then who...?" Kate faded out, suddenly looking at her daughter-in-law, as if with new eyes. "Carrie?" Her eyes strayed to Carrie's still deceptively flat stomach. "Carrie...you're not..."
Carrie looked up at Kate, her eyes shining. Whether it was with misery or happiness, Kate couldn't tell.
"Yes Kate, I am."
Marlena looked up in surprise as she heard the knock on the door. Her next patient wasn't due for another twenty minutes.
"Come in," she invited the unknown caller. The door opened slowly, and a shock of red hair popped around the opening, followed by Maggie's pretty face. "Hi there Maggie," Marlena's face lit up with a genuine smile for one of her best friends. "Come on in."
"I'm not interrupting you am I?" Maggie asked, indicating the paper that flooded Marlena's desk.
"Oh no, I'm glad of the distraction," Marlena brushed her long blonde hair out of her eyes and slipped off her glasses.
"Oh good," Maggie came hesitantly into the office, hoping that her edginess wasn't too apparent.
"How are you Maggie?" Marlena pushed her chair away from the desk and stood, taking the opportunity to stretch as she did so.
"Oh, I'm doing just fine." Maggie forced a smile.
"Mmm, good. Do you want a drink?" Marlena walked over to her refreshments bar, removing the barrier of the desk between she and Maggie.
"Oh just a water thanks." Maggie watched Marlena as she poured the drinks. "How are *you* Marlena?"
"I'm fine," Marlena answered cursorily as she turned and handed Maggie a glass of icy water. She had picked up on Maggie's tenseness the moment she had entered the room but it seemed that the other woman was not going to address the issue directly. Maybe it was a symptom of the fact that their friendship seemed to have drifted into the background during the last few years. Their paths had crossed less and less as Marlena's focus had shifted and become blurred and they had lost those precious moments that made a friendship special. That was something Marlena regretted immensely and still hoped she could rectify.
"Maggie, what's wrong?" She inclined her head as she asked. "I can tell that something's bothering you, you seem awfully preoccupied." Maggie let out a breath that she hadn't even been aware that she had been holding.
"I'm sorry Marlena." She flashed an unsure smile before sinking into one of the awaiting chairs in front of Marlena's desk. Marlena seated herself in the other, her face expectant. Maggie took another breath and then stared at her hands, unsure of how to word her question.
"Mickey and I had lunch today, Marlena." Maggie looked up at her friend, her face concerned. "In the little Italian place close to the mall."
"Oh." Marlena nodded her head with a rueful smile. "Suddenly it all becomes clear."
"Please don't think that I'm here to be nosy or to judge you, or anything like that at all," Maggie said quickly, stumbling over her words slightly as she did so. "I'm just,...well, you know how I worry."
"That I do," Marlena reached out and took Maggie's hand in her own. "I'm fine Maggie, really I am."
"You didn't look fine at lunch today," Maggie pointed out incisively. "You looked upset."
"Oh that." Marlena laughed lightly in an attempt to allay Maggie's fears. As dearly as she loved the redhead, and as good as Maggie's intentions were, she really didn't need to go into all this again right now "That was just a patient drama."
"Are you sure that's all it was?" Maggie asked, knowing Marlena well enough to see behind her facade of denial.
"I'm sure," Marlena lied, drawing her hand back and balling it into a fist.
"Then what's going on between you and Gene Bradford?"
The question caught Marlena off-guard. She hadn't been aware that the relationship between she and Eugene had been that obvious. But thinking back she realized that it must have been written all over them. Their faces, their body language must have just screamed that they were more than just good friends now. She pressed her lips together and looked thoughtful as she looked up at Maggie.
"I guess what's going on is whatever it looked like was going on." Her reply was slightly evasive. "We've nothing to hide Maggie."
"But *why*?" Maggie shook her head, puzzled. "Like I said honey, I'm not here to judge you, but I don't understand. I thought John had split up with Kristen. I thought...."
"Didn't we all." The bitterness seeped through Marlena's voice. "He had us all fooled didn't he?"
"What do you mean?" Maggie asked, concerned at Marlena's sudden change in mood.
"I mean, I would really rather not talk about John any more." Marlena closed her eyes and rubbed the point at the center of her forehead that seemed to be the focus of her developing headache. She stood abruptly and walked to her filing cabinet where she opened one of the drawers with no other purpose than to keep her hands occupied. "Everyone keeps asking me about him and really, he's not my concern any more. So I'd rather we just dropped the subject, okay?"
"Okay," Maggie spoke softly, nodding her head as she did. She really wanted to know what was going on, what had happened, but Marlena was obviously in no state to talk about it. Still, she had to know something. "But Marlena, you and *Eugene*?"
She was surprised to see a smile on Marlena's face as she closed the cabinet drawer and turned back.
"He's wonderful Maggie." Her eyes became soft. "He's just the most adorable man. He's good and he's kind and he makes me laugh so. He's thoughtful and he's wonderful with the children." She couldn't find enough adjectives to explain how she felt about Gene. She couldn't explain to Maggie how he had saved her sanity and made her laugh again, made her *feel* when she had been beyond all feeling. "And he *does* love me."
"Well that couldn't be more obvious," Maggie couldn't help the giggle that bubbled from her lips. "He always did Marlena." Marlena's smile carried a hint of embarrassment but there was something else about it that was indefinable.
"He did didn't he?"
Maggie's expression became serious as she contemplated her friend again. Marlena had had her heart broken far too many times. Eugene Bradford was a good man, if a little strange. But Maggie had her reservations, in part stemming from the fact that she didn't know what was happening regarding John. She believed John and Marlena were soulmates, that they belonged together, but whether destiny believed the same was another matter.
"The question is, do *you* love *him*?" Marlena considered her for several moments as she mulled over the question in her head. Maggie was eventually answered by the smile that lit Marlena's eyes. "Yes Maggie. I do."
Kristen checked her wristwatch as she rode the elevator to John's loft. After the delivery people had called, she had made a quick phone-call to the loft, but John's machine had picked up as it had done on all the other occasions that he had called. The elevator door cranked open to reveal the familiar landing with the forbidding steel door.
Kristen knocked at the door sharply and waited for footsteps. When there were none, she took out her shiny silver key and cautiously unlocked the door. With a racing heart, she slid the door open a fraction and looked into the darkened loft.
"John?" She called his name softly and waited. There was no answer and she opened the door wide enough to accommodate her bulging belly.
The loft smelt slightly stale, a good indication that no-one had been there in several days. Kristen frowned and walked over to one of the windows. She pulled the cord which opened the blind, letting in a shaft of light that illuminated the dust floating in silent suspension. The light soon faded behind another steely cloud, plunging the room back into semi-darkness and Kristen set about opening all the blinds and several of the windows to disperse the mustiness.
The baby began to kick again and Kristen pulled off her jacket with a groan. She lowered herself with ungainly awkwardness to the sofa and looked around the now lighter room. The mantelpiece caught her eye and she tried to work out what was different. *Something* had changed. It was when she saw the pieces of the mangled picture in the grate of the fireplace that she realized. All the pictures of Marlena had *gone*.
With a vicious grin, she pushed herself from the sofa and crouched in front of the fire, pulling the shiny pieces of photograph from the blackened surrounds.
"Oh Marlena," a maniacal giggle burst forth as she looked at the torn and wrinkled portrait in her hands. "What *have* you done?"
Intrigued, she began to look around the loft. There were no pictures of Marlena *anywhere*, but there were no other signs of destruction, save the one in the fireplace. Kristen climbed the steps deep in thought. Whatever had happened, this could only be good for her. The nasty smile crept to her lips again. John's bedroom looked as though he had just been there. Rumpled sheets, an open drawer. Nothing seemed to be missing.
Except for John himself.
Marlena dropped her briefcase on the chair and rubbed her eyes exhaustedly. It always seemed that work was so much more tiring after a few days off. She looked around the empty living room with a wry smile. She was missing Belle and Brady awfully, but at the same time she was quite glad of a few minutes peace and quiet. After a day like she'd had, she needed it.
She kicked off her shoes and unbuttoned her jacket and then walked over to the flowers that graced the table. It was an arrangement of spring flowers, daffodils, tulips and irises all vying for attention, smaller fresias perfuming the air with a sweet, powdery scent. She smoothed the velvet petal of one red tulip with her fingers as a faraway look veiled her eyes.
She turned away and ran a weary hand over her forhead, trying to subdue the empty feeling that seemed to creep apon her from nowhere.
"Gene?" she called, wondering where he was. She got her answer a moment later as he appeared at the top of the landing.
"Marlena. I didn't hear you come in." He took the steps two at a time as he came down to where she stood. "You're late."
"Our lunch put me back a little." Marlena smiled tiredly as she rubbed absently at her stiff neck with one hand. "It was quite a day."
"You look exhausted." Q gently helped her off with her jacket and laid it on the back of the chair. "I feel it." Marlena let out a sigh and looked up at Q, her eyes showing the comfort she took in his presence. "Thanks again for lunch. It helped a lot."
"Well I'm glad to hear it." Q dropped a kiss on her forehead. "You know I'm always here to talk to."
"Mmmm, I know. And I'm forever grateful." Marlena took as step towards Eugene and wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him closer to her. "Would you hold me for a moment?"
Q didn't say anything, but hugged her close, enjoying the feeling of her as she cuddled against him. Marlena in turn closed her eyes and felt her tension subside slightly in his safe and loving embrace. She brought her hand up and ran it over his chest, covered by the cotton of the long sleeved tee that he wore. She smiled as her fingers slid up to the short zipper at his throat. Playfully, she tugged it down.
"Let's skip dinner," she suggested quietly.
"Ohhh." Q shook his head with a small grin. "Uh-uh. I have plans for you."
"Oh no, Gene." Marlena shook her head. "I'm too tired."
"It's all right," Q deftly undid the top button of her cream silk blouse, "they don't require too much exertion...", he bent his head to kiss her sweetly. "Unless of course you get a second wind."
"Mmmm. Kiss me like that again and it'll be more like gale force," Marlena teased him.
"Can I hold you to that?" Gene took Marlena's hand in his.
"You sir, can hold me to anything you like." Marlena returned provacatively.
"Oh sweetheart," he shook his head, "don't tempt me."
"Why? Do you want to take away all my fun?" she smiled at him flirtatiously, enjoying this banter as she felt all of the worries of the day start to seep away. In this penthouse, with him, she was safe. Nothing could touch her and that was just the way she wanted it.
She felt a flush creep into her pale cheeks as Eugene deliberately lifted her hand and turned it over.
"I never want to take anything away from you." He gently kissed the palm of her hand, leaving her feeling as if her knees had turned to jelly. "Come on." He took a step towards the stairs and tugged at her hand gently. Marlena folded her fingers around his broad hand and followed him.
He took her to her darkened bedroom an pressed his fingers to her lips as she tried to question him. Instead, he opened the bathroom door. Inside, the large bath was full and topped with seemingly endless bubbles. A glass of wine sat on the edge of the bath, and candles were liberal in their abundance around the room.
"Oh my," Marlena felt Eugene's hands slide around her neck and begin to undo the remaining buttons on her blouse. "Gene?" She bent her head backwards so that she could see him. "There's only one glass of wine."
"Mmmm-hmmm." He slid the soft matte silk from her shoulders to reveal a lacy slip. "That's because I'm not joining you."
Marlena turned, disappointment evident in her glittering eyes.
"No, I'm not." Q shook his head, determined to resist her unique *persuasiveness*. "I have things to do downstairs, and you have to relax." One thumb brushed the contour of her cheekbone, banishing the churlishness that had entered her eyes. "I'll leave some clothes on the bed for you. Come downstairs when you're ready."
"Clothes?" Marlena was surprised. She had expected him to want her to come down in another number like she had the previous few nights.
"Now, no questions alright?" He stepped back, not trusting himself to touch her any further, not the way she looked, with her hair glowing in the soft, natural light.
"You're not even going to give me a hint?" Marlena followed his step with two of her own, bringing her face to face with him again. "Not even a *little* hint?" She smiled cheekily as her hand slid around his waist and downwards.
"No hints at *all*." Eugene removed her hand deliberately and backed towards the bedroom. "Just get dressed and come downstairs in about half an hour."
He stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door before she could protest any further. Marlena grinned in the bathroom and then turned back to the waiting bath. She wondered for a moment how he always seemed to know just what she needed. She dismissed the thought quickly as she divested herself of what was left of her clothing and stepped into the warm, lavender scented water.
Sami unlocked the door and dumped the bags of shopping inside the apartment. She yawned as she closed the door and locked it firmly behind her before checking the messages on the answerphone. One was from her grandmother. Having returned from the camping trip the previous day, Shawn and Caroline had offered to take Will for a couple of days, so that Sami could sort out her courses and start looking for a daycare centre for her son. Caroline was just calling to let her know everything was fine and that there was no need for her to worry.
She cleared the messages and went into the kitchen where she put the kettle on for a cup of tea. It was a moment later when she looked around the kitchen, her nerves suddenly on edge for some reason she couldn't explain. Something was wrong. Something *felt* wrong, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
"Hello?" Her voice was muffled by the oppressive silence of the apartment. Part of her knew she was over-reacting but another part wasn't so sure, given what had happened the other day.
Her heart raced as she opened the top drawer and took out a sharp knife. She wasn't going to take any chances. Thankful for her rubber-soled reeboks, she snuck quietly into the living room and then down the hall. She yanked open the door to the bathroom, but it was empty. As were the wardrobe in Will's bedroom and hers. She checked in every place she could think of until she had exhausted all possibilities.
Feeling slightly foolish, she sat down on the edge of the bed and contemplated her dilapidated bedroom. It was several moments before she realized that the top drawer of her dresser was open. The lingerie drawer. Sami's eyes filled with frightened tears as she tried to remember if she had shut that drawer before she left the apartment in the morning.
The phone interrupted her train of thought and she snatched it up.
"Hello?" There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line. "Hello?" Sami repeated, tears starting to trickle through her thick lashes and spill down her ashen cheeks. "Who is this?" she demanded. She heard an indefinable noise on the other end of the line. "Tell me who this is now or I'm putting the phone down."
She swallowed as the noise became more audible.
It was someone breathing.
Bo looked at Hope, his eyes miserable.
"How do I do this?" he asked her, hoping for some sort of divine intervention that would answer him in a blinding flash. "How do I tell her Hope?"
"I really don't know." Hope squeezed Bo's hand sympathetically. It had only been a month since she'd been back on the force, and already they were faced with this. Losing someone they knew and loved. And they didn't even know yet how it had happened. Just that he had a bullet wound to his head and that they had pulled him out of the river. "She's going to be devastated."
"That's putting it mildly." Bo shook his head and thumped his palm on the edge of the desk that he was perching on. "God, this is *so* unfair. Those poor children."
"It'll be hard, but they'll get through it. They're awfully strong people." Hope pushed herself off the chair and went to him. "Do you want me to go with you?"
"Yeah," Bo pulled her to him and enfolded her in his arms. "I think that would really help. She's going to need all the support that she can get."
A knock on the door startled the couple and Hope pulled away from Bo and straightened her uniform.
"Come in," Bo waited for the uniformed officer to enter and then was silent as the man handed him a manlia folder.
"The forensic lab sent this up sir."
Bo dismissed the officer and dropped the folder on the table. He flicked his eyes over the report, reading out loud.
"Bullet wound to the head, entry left temple. Great. So tell me something I *don't* know." Hope was ahead of him as she scanned further down the page.
"Look!" There was almost a smile on her face. "There." Bo quickly skimmed the section at which Hope was jabbing her finger. A look of relief crossed his face.
"I knew it," he said quietly. "I *knew* it."
Marlena made her way to the steps feeling much better than when she had come up them. The bath hadn't wakened her any, but it had relieved the painful stiffness in her neck and shoulders and she felt much more relaxed for it.
She was wearing cream-coloured sweats and she had pulled her hair into a rough french braid, although wisps of hair were already escaping. A touch of mascara and a slick of gloss on her lips completed the picture. She still couldn't work out why on earth Eugene wanted her to wear sweats, but that if that was what he wanted, she wasn't about to argue. She certainly couldn't deny that they were comfortable.
She reached the top of the stairs and caught her breath as she saw the living room below. Soft music drifted up from the stereo in the corner, mingling with the scent of the flowers and the soft, mellow glow of the candles. The table was set with crystal and silverware which glinted with golden flame as the candles flickered.
Marlena descended the stairs as Eugene came out of the kitched carrying two plates.
"Ahhh," he smiled at her. "Perfect timing."
"Cute outfit." Marlena tugged playfully at his apron as he set the plates on the table.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's not nice to tease the chef?" Eugene pulled a chair out from the table with an amused look on his face.
"Chef?" Marlena looked at the meal in front of her. "You *cooked* this Gene?" The lamb noisettes looked restaurant perfect, right down to the fragrant mushroom and white wine sauce.
"Took me all afternoon." Gene gave a simple nod as he pushed in Marlena's chair as she sat down. His manner was completely unassuming as he unfolded the serviette and lay it in her lap. "Just don't go into the kitchen. I'm not that tidy a cook." He gave a slightly embarrassed laugh as he sat down opposite Marlena.
"I can't believe you did all this," Marlena shook her head. "You're telling me you did all this without the aid of the magic snap of your fingers?"
"All without." Q wouldn't meet her eyes as he pulled the apron over his head and hung it on the back of his chair. "Although I have to admit to taking a little magic license with the flowers. I just can't seem to get that right." He took a deep breath as though preparing himself and then looked up at her. "I just wanted ..." He reached out tentatively and covered Marlena's fingers with his own. "I wanted you to know how much you mean to me. And somehow it seemed that a snap of the fingers just wasn't going to cover it."
"Oh," Marlena felt her eyes fill with unexpected tears. "Oh Gene, that is so sweet. I..." she wiped away a drop from her cheek with a soulful smile. "I'm not sure... I don't know what to say." She really was lost for words. It seemed like everything he said and did right now touched her, and made her feel special again. But deep inside, even where she couldn't admit it to herself, nothing could touch the emptiness that she felt. The sadness and the regret. The desolation that came with betrayal and the loss of true and ideal love. And with that, the growing discomfort of knowing that she couldn't truly return the love and honesty that was being given her.
But, as she often did, Marlena tucked all those feelings away into a little corner of her heart and did her best to disregard them.
"You don't have to say anything." Gene squeezed her fingers with a wink, missing the undercurrents that flowed through Marlena's reaction. "Just enjoy your dinner, and the evening."
"Alright then," Marlena returned his smile, banishing her unease to an ignored niche as she watched Eugene fill the wine glasses with a luminous, golden chardonnay.
"Mmm," she took a sip, savouring the crisp, fresh taste of the wine. "That's lovely."
"Only the best." Eugene held up his glass and Marlena followed suit. "To...-"
"To us." Marlena's throaty voice overrode his own thoughts and Gene couldn't help but agree with her.
"All right." Their eyes locked as their glasses clinked together. "To us." Neither of them broke the gaze as they each took a sip of the wine, the electricity between them magnified by the candlelight.
At last, Marlena picked up her knife and fork and started her dinner as Q asked her how her afternoon had gone.
"Well," she finished her mouthful and pushed some more onto her fork. "It seems as if the truth is out."
"The truth about what?" Q frowned. "What do you mean."
"Don't look so worried honey." Marlena reached out to smooth the creases from his brow. "Maggie stopped by this afternoon to tell me she'd seen us at lunch."
"She saw us?" Q raised his eyebrows as he remembered the lunchtime conversation. "I didn't see her."
"Neither did I." She shook her head. "But then I guess we probably weren't paying too much attention."
"Probably not." Q impulsively caught Marlena's hand in his and kissed her fingers. "So what did Maggie have to say about it?"
"Well," Marlena looked upwards for a moment and then grinned. "She wanted to know what was going on."
"And what did you tell her?"
"The truth." Her words were in hushed tones, but there was no mistaking the intentions.
"What, that I'm madly and passionately in love with you?" Q's tone was kidding as he felt a sudden need to lighten the moment, but deep inside he was anything but joking.
"Oh, she already knew that," Marlena teased him back. "What I told her was how I feel about *you*." She moved her hand in Eugene's so that her fingers were threaded between his.
"And that is?" Gene's heart was seriously thumping in his chest now. He was in so deep that he had lost all sense of perspective. Just one intense look from her and all witticisms just vanished.
"Why don't you let me show you?" Marlena pushed out her chair with a sultry look and made to stand up.
"No!" Eugene pulled his hand away like it had been burnt. "We haven't even had dessert yet." Marlena drew her hand back with a slightly hurt expression.
"I'm sorry Gene, I just thought..."
"Oh honey," Eugene was immediately contrite, realizing that he had unintentionally hurt her. "*I'm* the one that's sorry. I didn't mean to be so abrupt. It's just that," he picked up her glass of wine and held it out to her, "I've planned this evening, and if I let you seduce me now..."
The best laid plans..." Marlena murmered, as she took the glass from his hand and put it down on the table, her eyes dark and inviting.
"Just humour me sweetheart, *Please*." He was almost pleading with her know because he wasn't sure that once she made her mind up, he could resist her.
"Hmmmm," Marlena raised one eyebrow as she ran her finger around the fine rim of the crystal glass. "You're only postponing the inevitable you know."
"I'm counting on it." Gene's eyes sparkled as he awaited her answer.
It was several long moments that Marlena lifted her glass to her lips and took a sip as she eyed Q speculatively.
"This better be good Bradford."
Sami lay on the couch in the darkened room. Her eyes were blank as she gazed at the television screen, not seeing the drama unfolding in the episode that was playing. The garish light of ER twisted and flickered across her body, the reflections bouncing eerily off the carving knife that lay on the floor below her. She clutched the portable in her hand and tenseness emanated from every muscle. The television was muted and the room completely silent.
Outside, the wind shrieked through large cracks in the outer cladding of the building. Corrugated iron several floors below lifted and clattered against the rubbish skip at the base of the dilapidated building. Sami shivered in the frigid room. Somewhere, a short distance off, a dog howled dolefully.
And then it was quiet again. For several frightening moments it seemed as if the world had just stopped. The wind, the dog, everything was just deathly silent. And then it came again. A loud thump from somewhere beyond the wall. From the corridor outside her apartment. It was followed by an odd grating sound and then it disappeared into the harsh whistle of the wind which was buffeting the windows again.
The curtains flipped sluggishly as the breeze infiltrated through the cracks in the window panes and the young woman pulled her jersey closer around herself. Another large thump knocked her already frayed nerves and she found herself automatically dialling a number on the phone as her frightened eyes darted to the small chest of drawers she had maneuvered in front of the chained and bolted door. She waited while the phone rang, one and nervously twisting a tendril of hair between unsettled fingers.
She pressed her whitened lips together as the answerphone switched on, John's voice resonating down the line, instructing her to leave a message. Sami ignored him and clenched her jaw as she quickly dialled her mother's number. The phone at the penthouse didn't even ring, just slipped straight onto the answerphone. Marlena's sonorous voice asking her to leave a message was met with a stony silence and Sami punched the button on the phone angrily as she wondered to herself why she had even bothered.
Another clang of iron and a synchronous bang from somewhere overhead was enough to make Sami curse under her breath and dial a third number. She wasn't about to suffer through this alone.
Neither Marlena nor Q noticed the small red light that blinked unobtrusively on the answerphone. Eugene had switched the phone over earlier, reasoning that if anybody urgently wanted to get hold of Marlena, there was still her cell phone and her pager.
Instead, they were eating dessert. Poires-Belles-Angevine, Eugene had informed Marlena, were Angevine Pears. They had been poached in a red wine, and they were, Marlena thought, exceedingly delicious. Q had watched her eat her portion, his chin in his hand, a smitten expression on his face. When Marlena finished, she looked up to find that he hadn't even touched his share.
"Gene?" she waved a hand in front of his face with an amused smile.
"Mmm-hmmm?" Q raised his eyebrows in answer to her question.
"Aren't you going to eat your dessert?" Marlena asked as she deliberately played with the stem of her wine glass. "You know it *is* rather tasty."
"I'm sure it is." Eugene nodded, unable to take his eyes off her.
"Well then," Marlena pushed her chair out from the table with a wicked glint in her eye, "why don't you let me show you."
She slipped around the table and drew the bowl across the polished surface until it was in front of him. Then she pushed him against the back of the chair and, wrapping one warm hand around his neck, she slipped onto his lap. Turning around, she took the spoon and cut off a peice of pear and scooping up some of the sweet syrup, she lifted it to his mouth. Gene took the offered morsel, trying to concentrate on the food, and not the feeling of her next to him, her hand gently massaging the muscles in the back of his neck.
"Good?" she murmered sweetly as he swallowed.
"Very." He reached up and caught her chin with his hand, gently guiding her down to where his lips caught hers in a soft kiss. "How about some more?" he whispered as she pulled away.
"Are you teasing me?" Marlena asked, her heart beating swiftly.
"Always." Q let her go and helped her scoop another spoonful from the bowl. She guided the spoon to his mouth again, where he took another mouthful.
Marlena put the spoon down and brushed the hair from his temples.
"So. Why don't you tell me what this surprise is?"
"If I did that it wouldn't be a surprise would it?" Q replied reasonably, as his hands slipped around her waist, almost of their own accord.
"What say I don't want it to be a surprise?" Marlena smiled hopefully.
"And what say I do?" He laughed quietly at her crestfallen expression.
"Oh come on Gene." Marlena crossed her arms in front of her. "Give the girl a clue."
"Uh-uh," he tapped her on the nose. "I'm not that easy."
"Oh you're not are you?" An impudent grin slipped onto Marlena's face, warning of things to come. "Well I might just have to see about that."
She started at his lips, teasing him as she almost kissed him, but not quite. Then she worked her way across his jaw, and down the side of his neck, biting him gently as she went. She felt his breathing become erratic as she made her way around the base of his throat and up the other side until she reached his ear.
"Now you wanna tell me?" she whispered into his ear softly, her cheek resting against his.
"You're very difficult to refuse my darling, but no." Q shook his head and gently lifted her off him. Marlena stood up, a surprised expression on her face.
"That wasn't what you were supposed to say," she laughed as she shook her head.
"I gathered that." Q returned her laughter as he stood and took her hand, leading her to the couch. "Sit down will you?"
"Ookay...." Marlena raised her eyebrows again and sat down.
Q brought more wine over with their glasses and then sat down on the couch next to her. Marlena curled her legs up under her and snuggled up next to him as heslid his arms around her shoulders. He picked up the remote and switched on the television and then started the video that was on the VCR.
"Oh Gene," a nostalgic smile dawned, "how did you know this was one of my favourites?"
"Probably a lucky guess." Eugene buried his nose in her soft, scented hair with a secret smile as they settled down to watch Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant fall in love in An Affair To Remember.
Carrie sighed in frustration as Austin turned his back on her again. It had started when Kate had come into his office that afternoon, wanting to know what he hadn't told her she was to become a grandmother again. He in turn had gone to Carrie and demanded to know why she had told his mother without consulting him. Carrie had become rightfully indignant and more than a little angry at his continuing refusal to acknowledge and come to terms with their child's existance.
The argument had continued in the car on the way home and through dinner. Just when it seemed that they had come to some sort of resolution, something small would spark them off all over again and they would end up shouting at each other.
Carrie stared at Austin's back and with a small shock, realized that she barely knew him any more. For all that time they had been friends and then lovers, she still didn't really know the man inside Austin Reed. She didn't know what he was thinking or feeling and she couldn't predict at all any more what he was going to do from one moment to the next. It was like living with a stranger and it scared her. Especially now that every time they had an argument, Austin's answer seemed to be to retreat into a shell with a can of beer in his hand.
She could hardly believe that this was the same man she fell in love with. A man whose greatest joy was music and laughter. A man who promised to always love her and protect her. The same man that was now making her miserable.
She jumped as the phone rang. Austin, his back still to her, picked up the receiver. He muttered several mm-hmmm's and okay's and then told the person on the other end that he would be right over. He put down the phone and turned back to Carrie.
"That was your sister," he said in a carefully neutral tone. "She's trying to tell me that someone's been in her apartment and that she's hearing strange noises." He gave a a martyred sigh. "I told her I'd go over and check it out and make sure everything is okay."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Carrie asked, instinctively concerned for her little sister. Sami's neighbourhood wasn't the best and Carrie had always been uneasy about the security in that building.
"No." Austin shook his head. "It's probably just Sami playing her stupid little games."
He brushed past Carrie, picking up his jacket before opening the door.
"I won't be long." He didn't even wait for Carrie to nod her head before he was gone from the apartment, the door slammed shut behind him. Carrie stared at the door for several moments, disbelieveingly and then sighed with a shrug of her shoulders and turned back to her living room.
John jammed his chilled hands in his pockets and caught a glimpse of himself as he walked past the opulant withdow of Saks. He scowled at his reflection, unshaven and haggard looking, who would want to mug such a pathetic looking bum he asked himself. It seemed that everyone in New York wanted to warn him to look out for trouble. Really he didn't even care. He was just going where his feet were taking him, and at this moment it was up Fifth Avenue and past the Rockerfeller centre.
He didn't really care much about anything right now. It had been four nights since he had thrown a few clothes in a bag and climbed into his car. He had driven it out of the building, and traveled with blood-shot eyes until he had almost fallen asleep at the wheel. He had just pointed his car and gone, and he had ended up in New York. City of dreams and destitution. And now he was here he was going to do what he pleased. He had nothing to lose anymore. He'd lost it all four nights ago.
He shook his head and continued walking. He didn't want to think about that. About *her*. She was driving him to distraction. To destruction. Everywhere he looked, he thought he caught glimpses of her. A tantalizingly long leg, blonde hair, laughing hazel eyes. Occasionally he would have fantasies that she would arrive out of nowhere, just magically knowing where he was thanks to the bond he had always believed was indestructable. And she would come running up to him, telling him it had all been a horrible mistake, begging her to forgive him.
But of course, he was just kidding himself. They weren't fantasies, they were *delusions* and the sooner he accepted that fact and that she was in love with someone else now, the better off he would be.
Except that he couldn't accept it. He'd never be able to accept it. Because he finally and irrevocably realized now, she was his reason for being. She woke him in the morning, and soothed him to sleep at night. She was the air that he breathed, and without her in his life he could feel himself slowly suffocating.
And it was only when he had seen her in the arms of another man that he really realized what all this meant. And how it seemed that without even knowing it, he had blown his one chance of ever being with her, of building a future with her. Of building a future at all.
So, his one question was, where did that leave him now?
Sami glanced through the peephole before unchaining the safety catch and opening the door to Austin.
"Hi Austin," she greeted him diffidently. "Thanks for coming over."
"Sure." Austin didn't look at her, but his eyes flicked around the apartment. "Where's Will?"
"At Granma and Grandpa's." Sami closed the door behind him. "They're looking after him while I sort some stuff out. I'm going to start doing some courses at the university." She tried to sound enthustastic but she could almost feel the hostility emanating from her brother-in-law and her voice quavered.
Austin ignored her and walked into the lounge.
"So what's going on Sami? Why were you so upset on the phone?" Sami suddenly felt her heart start to thump again. He was never going to believe her. Why had she ever thought he was going to believe her? Grant was his friend. She was just....well, after all the stunts she had pulled over the last few years, why would he choose to believe her?
Suddenly dejected, she walked past him twisting a battered tissue in her hands.
"It seems a little silly now," she said in a small voice.
"What seems silly?" Austin's tone became a little softer as he detected Sami's apprehension. "Something upset you Sami. You said there were noises?"
"Well..." Sami flicked her blonde hair behind her shoulder and stared down at the ragged tissue. Taking a deep breath she launched into an explanation of her recent run-in with Grant and his burst of temper. Leaving out the open drawer in her bedroom, she related the odd phonecall and the noises she had heard outside the apartment.
"I don't know what's going on Austin," she finished hurriedly, her words tumbling out before she had hardly thought about them. "He scared me I guess and I'm a little jumpy. I just wanted some reassuarance."
"So you phoned me?" Austin asked coldly.
"I..." Sami looked up at him, her glacial blue eyes ringed with dark sapphire and offering guilt and uncertainty. "I didn't know who else to call."
"You've got a whole *family* to pick from Sami," Austin glared at her. "Why didn't you call your Mom?"
"I tried," Sami said in a small voice, her eyes flooding with tears. The last thing she wanted right now was to be treated like a pariah by Austin. "She wasn't home."
Austin sighed heavily and walked back to the door.
"Stay there," he demanded. "I'll have a look around."
John looked down the street. Even at this time of the night, New York was bustling. There were people everywhere and John could hardly walk a few steps without being battered by people walking like automatons in the opposite dirction. He wasn't really looking where he was going, he merely watched his feet as they followed, one after the other, as if by automatic pilot they were taking him somewhere. Where, he didn't know.
He crossed the pavement and walked blindly onto the road, somewhat surprised when a blare of horns greeted his sudden movement. He miraculously dodged several lanes of traffic to make it to the other side of the road, shaking his head as he did so. His heart fluttered wildly as he realized what he had just done and he wondered for a moment whether he had a death wish.
He walked to the building that was in front of him and leant against the cool concrete, trying to calm himself. This was getting beyond a joke. He had to pull himself together before he really did kill himself. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath wondering what he was doing here. He had known the moment he had gotten in the car he had been running away. And he knew that running away was wrong, but he couldn't stop himself.
He couldn't face her. Not yet. He couldn't walk into the same room as her and not fall apart. He couldn't see her smiling and happy with *him* and not want to retreat into a hole in the ground and have the world stop existing round him.
In a way, what hurt the most was that he knew that this was how Marlena must have been feeling the whole time that he had been with Kristen. She had told him that night that she had never stopped loving him, but he had never stopped to think what that truly meant. Until it hit him between the eyes. Her words came back to him, filtering through his mind, tearing at his heart.
Maybe if you hadn't been so wrapped up in *Kristen* for the past three years you might have seen that every time you talked to me you hurt me...... She had been so hurt and angry but he had never truly understood, until this moment, what he had done to her. How deeply his betrayal of their love had hurt her. His fear and his denial had only blinded him to the one honest truth in his life. I tried to tell you so many times how I felt, but you always seemed to brush it off, to tell me what a good *friend* I was when all I wanted was for you to take me in your arms and never let me go.
And then those words that he thought might chase him through the wind forever. You know I love you. But love isn't enough any more John. There's too much water under that bridge. I have to build myself a new life. And I'm sorry, but you're not going to be in it.
*You're not going to be in it.*
The people walking by the unkempt looking man darted sideways glances at him as he turned to the wall, the tears trickling down his cheeks.
"Marlena," he whispered, his voice scratchy with despair. "Marlena. Oh God, I need you."
Nicky Ferrante moves behind the sofa. Terry watches him in his frustration. "Isn't it strange?" he asks her. "We used to read each other's thoughts. It's not the same is it?"
"Not quite," Terry replies in a small voice, her hand nervously rubbing her throat as she silently begs him not to ask any more questions.
He notes that she isn't wearing a wedding ring. He had assumed.... Leaning on the piano, he tells he thought everything was fine until he saw her last night. "And then I knew there must be *something* between us. Even if it's only an ocean." He's booked a ticket....for tonight.
And then he hands her a present, wrapped in tissue. She pulls it open to discover Grandmother Janou's lace shawl.
"Oh, that's why my letters came back." She wraps it around her shoulders as Nicky reminds her how grandmother wanted her to have it. Terry nods, tears in her eyes. He picks up his hat and coat and bids her goodbye. And then he is leaving. Sailing away from her forever.
But at the door he turns to look at her one last time. And he tells her he painted her like that, with the shawl. He tells her he didn't want to sell it, he didn't think he could part with it. But Courbet told him a young woman came into the gallery and saw in it what he had hoped Terry would see in it. So he told Courbet to give it to her. Because she didn't have any money, and not only that she was in a.... she was....
Marlena pressed the back of the fingers to her mouth as the tears began to spill from her eyes. Nicky walked to the door and opened it. Not moving her eyes from the screen, Marlena reached for a tissue and brushed the tears from her cheeks in a futile gesture as she began to sob. The look on Nicky's face was enough to melt her as he realized what it was that had kept him from the woman he loved all these months. This film could always do it to her, reduce her to a quivering mush. Every time she watched it she'd end up sobbing, it was just so sad and so romantic. This time it seemed more poignant than ever as Terry told him that everything was going to be alright.
The screen faded into cheerless winter trees in Central Park and the music swelled. Marlena sighed and reached out for a second tissue to wipe her reddened cheeks. Gene looked at her uneasily.
"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
"Mmmm?" Marlena looked up at him, realizing what a mess she probably looked. The concerned look on his face made her smile. "Oh darling, I'm fine." She pulled another tissue from the box and wadded it up with the first two. "I guess this is why they call it a tearjerker."
"As long as you're sure." He remained unconvinced.
"Of course I'm sure." Marlena smiled even more broadly and snuggled into the crook of his arm. "Romantic movies always have this effect on me."
"You mean you enjoy crying?" Q seemed somewhat perturbed.
"Well, it's...." Marlena looked upwards, trying to find a way to explain something as irrational as enjoying a good cry over an old movie. "It's just an emotional release. It's an escape, to see characters struggle with their own problems and then resolve them in the space of two hours. It offers you hope that love *can* conquer the obstacles in it's path."
"But I still don't understand," Q scratched his head unconsciously. "What pleasure do you get out of watching people who are unhappy?"
"It's not their unhappiness that you enjoy Gene. It's the hope that they will overcome their problems. And being a movie they usually *do* overcome those problems." Marlena ran one finger under her eye and frowned at the streak of mascara that came away with it. "It's that ideal that in one moment, they will realize that their love for each other is stronger than anything else that is trying to pull them apart and it's the fantasy of happy ever after."
"And that makes you cry?" Q asked as he handed her another tissue.
"Yes." She shrugged. "I don't really know why. It's just sad and happy and sweet all at the same time."
"Right." Q nodded his head slowly trying to supress the small smile that twitched at the corner of his lips.
"Oh *you*," Marlena flicked at him with her hand as she laughed. "Stop making fun of me."
"Me?" he asked innocently as he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him.
"Yes, it would be you I'm talking about," she whispered.
"I'm sure you must be thinking of someone else." He leant his head one one side and swept his thumb softly beneath each eye to remove the remaining traces of stubborn mascara.
Marlena felt her body react to his touch and the way he looked at her and she tried not to let it show.
"I must look terrible," she said, looking at him from under her still dark and lavish lashes.
"You?" Eugene replied, surprise straying into his voice. "Not so as I'd noticed. I was just wondering how you always manage to look so incredibly adorable actually."
"Oh Mr. Bradford," Marlena smiled, her eyes sparkling. "*You're* incredibly smooth."
"There you go again," Q ran his fingers through Marlena's hair as he swept it back off her face, "getting me confused with someone else."
"Uh-uh," Marlena mouthed as she shook her head, enchanted by the way his eyes had taken on an almost golden hue. She moved even closer to him, her fingers exploring his lips as she stared at him. Finally, when she could stand it no longer, she kissed him. Tentative at first, the kiss soon grew when she felt him responding.
Eventually Eugene pulled away and took her hand in his.
"Get up will you?" he asked mysteriously.
"Mmmm?" Marlena watched him stand up, a little disconcerted. She certainly couldn't call him predictable.
"Stand up." He tugged on her hand until she was standing next to him.
"There's more?" Marlena asked eagerly, her eyes lighting up.
"If you're up for it," Q nodded, happy to see her so animated after how dispirited she had seemed earlier in the day. He hated to see her unhappy, more than anything in the universe, he just wanted to see that smile that lit up her whole face.
"Of course I'm up for it," she said with surprising enthusiasm. "What is it?"
"I'm not *telling* you what it is," Eugene laughed. "It's supposed to be a surprise...So, just close your eyes okay?"
Marlena looked at him speculatively, but he just smiled enigmatically, increasing the mystery. She waited for several moments, but it seemed he was intent on outwaiting her and she decided that there was nothing to do but give in. She closed her eyes and felt his hands on her shoulders.
Carrie sat on the couch in the silent apartment and smoothed her tee-shirt over the slight bump of her stomach.
"Hey there," she whispered. After a moment she sighed and laid both of her hands across her abdomen as if it could give her some unspoken connection to the child that was growing inside her. "I don't know what's going to happen little one, but you can depend on one thing," she bit her lip, "your Momma will always love you."
She was startled from her abstraction by a sharp knock at the front door. She pulled a sweat-shirt around her shoulders and went to the door.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Carrie, it's Mike Horton," came the coice from the other side of the division.
Carrie quickly unlocked the door and admitted Mike. She was shocked at what she saw. He looked like he hadn't shaved today and his eyes were rimmed with red.
"Mike, what's wrong?" she asked with immediate concern.
"Um..." Mike looked around the room distractedly. "I was wondering if you'd... um," He looked back at Carrie almost as if he couldn't remember what he had just said. "Have you seen Jenn Carrie?"
"No." Carrie shook her head suddenly worried for Mike. He looked like he was just about to fall over. "Mike, do you want to come and sit down?"
"Wha-?" Mike looked at her again, comprehension dawning. "Oh. Thanks, yes."
Carrie led him to the couch and he almost collapsed into the seat, burying his face in his hands. Carrie perched herself on the edge of the sofa next to him.
"Mike, what's wrong? What's happened?" she asked as gently as she could. It was becoming more and more obvious that something had happened that had really distressed Mike and he probably needed to talk about it.
Mike took a couple of deep breaths and picked up the fringe of the throw that covered the couch between his fingers.
"I...I.." he began falteringly. Carrie waited silently for him to continue. When he didn't, she tried a different approach.
"Mike, were you looking for Jenn to tell her something?"
Mike nodded his head miserably.
"I got a call last night Carrie. From Robin's parents." He picked at the fringing. "Apparently there was some sort of attack in Israel. A suicide bomber."
"Oh my god." Carrie's heart felt like it had stopped.
"They didn't know," he continued, tears rolling down his cheeks, "until this afternoon. They called me." He looked up at Carrie, his expression heartbreaking. "She's dead Carrie."
"Oh Mike," Carrie felt tears gather on her lashes as she felt Mike's anguish. "I'm so sorry."
"That's not all," his voice was oddly calm. "Jeremy. They can't find him. They think maybe he..." His voice trailed off as he covered his face with his hands again.
Carrie pressed her hand over her mouth as she tried to understand what Mike was saying. His son might be dead, killed mindlessly by a single terrorist act. A needless death of a mother and a child in some stupid attempt to make a statement. She had nothing to say. How could simple words be of any comfort when faced by a tradgedy like this?
She brushed at the tears which marked her cheeks and lay her hand gently on Mike's arm. The light touch made him look up and the compassion he saw in Carrie's eyes was too much for him. He dissolved into tears as Carrie put her arms around him.
Sami nodded meekly and did what Austin asked. She waited as he went into the corridoor and looked around for several minutes. But it wasn't long before he was back, a look of sufference on his face. Almost ignoring her, he checked out the inside of the apartment. When he came back to her, he looked less than amused.
"Everything checks out fine Sami," he said, his eyes flicking to the knife that still lay on the floor. "You might want to put *that* away before you hurt someone."
"I...." Sami looked at the open door nervously, "are you sure there's no-one out there?"
"Yes I'm sure Sami." Austin replied with some forbearance. "Look, I'm sure that what's happened is nothing more than a misunderstanding. And *you're* getting paranoid."
"I am *not* paranoid." Sami retorted angrily, suddenly on the defensive.
"Look Sami, Grant's a good guy." Austin shook his head. "I just can't believe that he would get violent like that."
"Well believe it." Sami spat at him. She stormed to the door and yanked it open so that Austin could see the outside of it. "See?" She pointed at the dent in the base of the door. "That didn't get there by *itself* Austin."
"So?" Austin shrugged his shoulders. "It's not exactly destroyed Sami. So, he might have kicked the door. You probably pissed him off. It's not like you have no experience at *that* after all."
Sami's lips went white as she pursed them and glared at Austin.
"I *didn't* ask you over here so you could insult me Austin," she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I know what happened. *You* believe whatever you want to. Makes no difference to me. Thanks for coming but you're right, everything is fine. So I'll see you later."
"Fine." Austin sighed. "Whatever."
There were no more words as Sami followed him to the door which she slammed behind him. "Thanks for *nothing*." She muttered darkly as she locked and chained the door before pushing the chest of drawers in front of it again.
Marlena recognized the slightly giddy feeling as Eugene's hands steadied her. Then she could feel a cool breeze on her face and hear the faint, faraway noise of traffic.
"Gene?" she asked, reaching up to touch his reassuring hand. He squeezed hers gently as he told her to open her eyes.
When she did she could barely believe them. She was greeted by a panorama of twinkling lights from the magnificence of the neighbouring skyscrapers to the small apartment blocks and even the cars below. Out beyond the lights there was a stretch of dark, flat water and then past that, the sprinkling of lights seemed to stretch on forever. At the edge of the silent mantle of ebony water she could see the famous statue that stood proudly like a guardian at the head of New York City.
"Oh my," she breathed as she walked to the railing and looked out over the city. It seemed almost magical to her. It wasn't like she hadn't been here before, but the beauty of it literally took her breath away. She turned to look at the building behind her. The limestone and granite structure soared up into a breathtaking spire two hundred and thirty feet above her. Above, the stars gathered in their ethereal congregation, seemingly watching over the earth below.
She looked around the observatory and turned to Eugene, her cheeks roseate with the cool evening air.
"Gene, we're the only ones here."
"Yes ma'am." Q leaned back against the stone wall and watched her look around in wonder. "It's after midnight. The building is closed up for the night."
"But I thought..." Marlena looked at her watch for a moment. "Oh, of course. We're in a different time zone now. So...." she pulled her sleeve down over her watch again. "We have it all to ourselves?" A thoughtful expression crossed her face, followed by a seductive smile.
"It would seem that way," Q couldn't take his eyes off her as she walked towards him.
"You're quite something you know that?" she asked as she reached him.
"I just want to make you happy. I want you to be happy," he replied as she slipped her arms around his neck and pushed him up against the wall.
"You'll make me happy if you kiss me," she stared up into his eyes, her own brilliant, as though they reflected the light of every star that glistened above them.
"How do I say no to an invitation like that?" he murmered as he bent his head and found her lips with his own. The cool air of the early spring night was soon forgotten as they became caught up in a passionate kiss.
John's eye was caught by a glimpse of gold in front of him and he looked up. He heart felt like it had stopped beating as he looked up. She was there, in front of him, walking towards him and offering him absolution. He reached out to her, but as their fingers met, she faded into nothingness.
He shook his head and closed his eyes for a moment as he steadied himself against the wall. What the hell was happening to him. He felt as though he was losing his mind along with everything else. And yet, when he opened his eyes, somehow things were different.
The street was strangely empty and the sounds muted. It was odd but everything seemed clearer than it had before. Edges were sharp, features defined. He couldn't explain it, but somehow it was as though he could feel her presence. As much as it seemed insane, he felt as though he had a reason again.
He pushed himself off the wall and shook his head in disgust as he looked in the window. This wasn't what he was about, all this despair and self-pity. He didn't know what he was going to do, he just knew that he had to do it.
Trying to remember his way back to the hotel, he set off again.
A slight noise diverted Q's attention from Marlena and he pulled her close, motioning for her to be quiet. Realizing what he was referring to, she plastered herself to the wall next to him while they waited for the guard to go away.
Behind the plate glass, the stocky guard pulled out a packet of cigarettes and selected one. He slipped the thin cylinder between his lips and flicked at the brass lighter that he had pulled from his pocket. A thin, unsteady flame licked upwards from the flint and engulfed the end of the cigarette. He extinguished the flame and puffed for a moment, the burnt tangerine glow hungrily devouring the end of the cigarette before he slipped the lighter back into the pocket of his uniform. He surveyed the landing in front of him for a moment, seeing the same granite and the same lights he saw every night but not really seeing them at all. Then he turned his back.
Marlena buried her face in Q's chest and succumbed to the giggles she'd been harboring. Her laughter was infectious and Q found himself shaking along with her.
"I feel like I'm back in high school," Marlena wiped the tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes, "under the bleachers." She began to tremble with subsumed giggles again as she thought about their near capture. "I was so sure he was going to see us."
"Me too," Q grinned as he inched away from the doors, pulling Marlena with him. "So tell me Dr Evans, what did you do under those bleachers then?"
"Wouldn't *you* just love to know?" Marlena slipped her arms around his neck again, her eyes tantalizing him with their playfulness.
"How about a demo?" he raised his eyebrows, returning her teasing as his hands slid smoothly down her back and over her rear.
"Mmm, alright then." To his surprise, Marlena acquiesced with a beguiling smile. "Come with me."
She took his hand and pulled him around the corner until they were almost hidden from view. This time, she leaned against the wall and pulled on Gene's sweatshirt until he was pressed up against her.
"Kiss me," she whispered.
"Where?" Q smirked.
"Here." Marlena laid her index finger on her lips as she looked up from beneath her heavy bangs.
Q felt his heart pounding almost uncontrollably as he bent and brushed his lips softly across hers.
"There you mean?" he asked, as he drew back slightly. Marlena nodded her head, her eyes wide and her reddened lips slightly parted. She watched him as he leaned forward again, and gently met her soft, warm lips with his. He felt her arms tighten around his neck and her tongue as it slid gently between his lips, colliding with his own. His hands slid down her arms to her shoulders and then up so that they framed her face.
"Oh boy," Marlena shook her head with the ghost of a smile as she caught her breath. "You're quite something you know?" Reaching behind her, she tugged at the ribbon that tied her hair in place. It came undone easily and she moved Gene's hands so that he could tease out the braid. He ran his fingers through her silken hair until it was lose and tumbling over her shoulders.
Staring at her with unconcealed desire, he ran his fingers across her face, as though memorizing every curve and every feature.
"Kiss me again," she murmured quietly.
"Where?" he repeated his question. Marlena looked at him for a moment and then tilted her head back. She ran her finger delicately down her throat.
Her head came to rest against the wall as Eugene's mouth came down on her throat, teasing her with light feathery kisses which trailed up to her jaw and back down again. Gene felt her back arch slightly as his tongue dipped into the hollow of her throat, making her moan. He continued to kiss her, tasting her warm, scented skin as he made his way up to her ear. One hand ran down her back and pulled her closer to him as he ran his tongue lightly over Marlena's earlobe, teasing her as he nibbled at it lightly.
He felt her suppressed shudder and let her relax back against the wall.
"Are you alright?" he asked gently, not sure where this was going. He wanted her so badly he could taste it, but they weren't exactly in a convenient location.
Marlena caught her breath and then smiled naughtily as she nodded slowly. Silently, but with actions loaded with intention, she drew her hands back from around his neck and raised them to the buttons at the neck of her sweat top. Deliberately and sensually, she moistened her lower lip as she slid the top button out of its hole.
"*Marlena*," Q whispered in shock as he watched her undo another button. "Here?"
An amused expression chased across Marlena's face and she leaned forward until her mouth was only an inch or so from his ear.
"Why not?" Her breath was warm and moist and Eugene found he had to steady himself against the cool granite.
"Well..." he searched around for reasons, desperately wanting to give in to her but finding himself unable to.
He wondered for a moment if she'd ever stop surprising him but then immediately surmised that it was highly unlikely. He found that his smile reflected hers as he contemplated the scenario he suddenly found himself in. This wasn't at all what he had intended, but then, he never had been successfully able to argue with her.
"It's cold up here you know."
"I don't think we'd be cold for very long," Marlena batted her dark lashes as she undid a third button.
"Well..." Gene cast around for another reason as he felt her hand slide up his stomach and over his chest. "Uh....what...um, what about the guards?"
"What about them?" Marlena's voice was velvety and seductive as she pulled on the zipper and it slid down its metal track.
"Um..." he faltered as he felt a second hand slide under the tops he wore. "Oh!"
"Enough talk." Marlena slid her hand around to the small of her back and pulled him abruptly against her. The other hand skimmed over his shoulder, her fingers burying themselves in the short, dark hair at the nape of his neck.
Q felt his lips on hers as she kissed him hungrily and he moved forward, pushing her up against the wall. His hands wove through her hair as his tongue fought with hers, their lips demanding in lust and passion. He closed his eyes and stepped backwards, his breathing heavy as he tried to steady his senses. Marlena did the same as she tilted her head backward against the wall, trying to control the deep panting breaths that came from her.
With one hand still in her hair, Q felt her movement and opened his eyes. His fingers loosened their grip on her soft tresses and slid down the side of her face and over her neck until they reached the open buttons of her sweat top. Marlena lifted her head and gazed at him. She wouldn't normally even think of doing this, but for some reason, her normal reserve had disappeared and she felt daring and suddenly aching to take a risk. Whatever had happened today, whatever sadness and loneliness she had felt, tonight had swept it away again and she just wanted to have this adorable and sexy man make love to her right now.
"I want you," her voice was thick with desire. "Here and now."
Q thought to argue, but another sizzling glance from her luminous hazels quieted his rebuttals in his throat and he murmured a soft assent. Her hand slid steadily up, over his chest, brushing his sensitive nipples with her fingers. Gene bit on his lip as she drew her fingernail lightly over his skin, down to the waistband of his jeans and his muscles tensed as she skillfully unbuttoned him. However, before she could slip the stiff denim from his hips, he grasped her hand and pushing it up over her head, he pressed her back against the wall. Marlena gasped as a vivid image of John suddenly flashed into her mind, startling her with its pervasiveness.
"Marlena?" Q asked, aware of her sudden discomfiture. Marlena swallowed, her eyes suddenly glistening with tears. "Marlena, what...did I do something wrong?" There was apprehension in his voice and that only added to the sudden ache in her heart. She shook her head, her lips pressed together as she struggled with her suddenly chaotic emotions. Eugene didn't quite believe her, and he certainly didn't understand what could have produced such a rapid turnaround in her mood....unless it was John Black.
Feeling a hot pricking in his eyes, he gently released her arm and moved back a fraction.
"I'm sorry for whatever it was," he offered quietly before he turned away to hide the hurt he was feeling.
Marlena watched him walk to the railing and gaze out over the sparkling web of lights, cursing herself for being so unable to control her reactions. The last person she wanted or needed to think about at a time like this was John. That was behind her and she couldn't keep torturing herself like this or she would end up hurting Eugene too and she couldn't bear that.
Quietly, she walked up to where he was leaning on the railing and stood beside him, her eyes searching him for a clue to what he was thinking.
"Gene," she tentatively reached out her hand and touched his cheek. She flinched when he pulled away slightly, as though she could feel the pain and uncertainty that ran through him. "Gene, please don't blame yourself. It was my fault....I just....something took me by surprise." She was relieved when he turned to look at her. She gave him a wavering smile. "It was just something.... triggered a memory and I hadn't expected that to happen." She looked over the city to where the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges spanned the black expanse of the East River. "I guess I should have known better."
Q's eyes were still filled with hesitation when she turned back. He understood what she was saying. Something had made her think of John. That was only natural, he reasoned, it was bound to happen. So why did it bother him so much?
"Gene?" Marlena reached out falteringly and closed her hand around his. She relaxed slightly when she felt the slight return of pressure as he fastened his fingers around hers. Q reached out for her other hand, covering his insecurity with a fleeting smile.
"I told you before," he said, his heart privately aching, "I just want to make you happy."
"And you *do* make me very happy." Marlena smiled as she blinked the tears from her eyes.
"Not half as happy as you make me." Q murmured as he pulled her too him, enveloping her between his arms. He felt her relieved sigh as she slipped her arms around his waist and melted against him, but nothing could banish the inexplicable feeling that second by second, she was slowly slipping away from him.
Carrie handed Mike the mug of hot chocolate and sat down with her own. She watched as he blew absently at the surface of the creamy liquid, watching as the vapor rose from the froth. His eyes were slightly glazed and red from the boundless tears he had shed. She picked up the portable that lay by her feet and hit redial, waiting as the tones sounded through the speaker.
This time Jennifer answered the phone. With relief, Carrie handed the phone to Mike and then slipped out of the room to give him some privacy. When she came back, he was finished and sipping his drink.
"How much did you tell her?" She eased herself onto the sofa next to Mike.
"Enough." Mike nodded his head slowly, the nightmarish images that crowded his mind starting to ease away into blackness. "She's coming over to pick me up soon."
"I'm glad," Carrie laid her hand gently on his arm. "You shouldn't be alone tonight."
Mike stared at the blue mug for several more moments and then turned to the young woman that sat next to him.
"Carrie," he forced himself to look at her, "I want to thank you for listening. I..." He looked down to where her hand was still resting on his bare forearm. "It means a lot to me." Carrie smiled sweetly.
"You don't need to thank me. We're friends and you've been through a traumatic time, of course I'd do anything I could to help." She shook her head with a tinge of regret. "I just wish I could have done more."
"You're not the only one." Mike sighed and rubbed at his face wearily.
"Mike, you can't blame yourself." Carrie shook her head vehemently. "That's not fair to *anyone*. You couldn't do anything. It was Robin's choice to be there, and to have Jeremy there. The only difference you could have made was to be there too." Mike frowned as he looked at her again.
"It could have been me instead of them Carrie."
"No," Carrie, shook her head again, her eyes soft with compassion, "it would have been you as *well* as them. Mike, nothing you could have done would have stopped that man killing himself. The only difference would have been he would have taken one more victim with him."
Mike looked down at the wooden floor, his lips pursed, but his train of thought was interrupted by the rasp of metal upon metal as a key turned in the door lock. Both he and Carrie looked up to see the door open, revealing Austin.
"Hi honey," Carrie attempted a smile as Austin glared at the two of them in the sofa. "How'd it go with Sami?" Austin raised his eyebrows as he noted her attempt to deflect his attention from her visitor.
"She was *fine*." He grimaced noticeably. "Just being Sami." He turned his attention to the other man. "Isn't it a little late to be visiting my wife Mike?"
"Mike was looking for Jenn," Carrie explained rapidly, embarrassed at Austin's behaviour.
"And looking for Jenn involves drinking coffee here after ten at night does it?" Austin slammed his keys down on the bookcase.
"*Austin*!" Carrie's exclamation was laced with anger.
"It's alright Carrie," Mike pushed himself up from the sofa. He didn't want to antagonize the situation any more than it obviously already was but he wasn't about to explain himself to Austin Reed. "I was about to go anyway."
"But Jenn's supposed to be picking you up isn't she?" Carrie protested, feeling vexed and ashamed of her husband's conduct.
"It's really okay." Mike deliberately turned his back on Austin, Carrie's anger infecting him as he began to understand her situation. "I'll meet Jenn outside the building. It's really no trouble." He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head, willing her to agree with him.
Thankfully, Carrie understood that he was trying to save further dissension and bit back any further argument.
"Okay." She followed him to the door and opened it for him. "Give Jenn my love will you and you look after yourself." She hugged him, ignoring Austin's obvious antipathy. "You know where I am if you need to talk." Mike squeezed her hand in return and nodded.
"I do. And thanks again." She watched him until the elevator door closed, swallowing him up into nothingness and then she turned to face her husband.
Marlena looked behind her as Eugene took her hand. Just a few seconds before they had been at the top of that beautiful building and now they were several blocks away, viewing the majesty of it as it soared upwards into the stars. She smiled as she turned back to her companion and tucked her arm through his steadying herself.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to that."
"Give it a couple of centuries and you might surprise yourself," Q grinned mischievously.
"Yeah, *right*." Marlena rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. "So, where are we headed now Mr. Q?"
"I thought we might take a walk in the park." Q motioned to Central Park which was just metres away.
"Gene, *this* time of the night?" Marlena looked at him as if he had suddenly gone insane. "That's tantamount to *suicide* in this city."
"Hey, I'm not just a pretty face you know." Q winked at her. "Taking care of a few thugs isn't exactly beyond my capacity."
Marlena frowned as she pushed the loose hair out of her eyes. Q could see her misgivings and he turned to face her.
"I promise, it'll be safe." He reached out and rebuttoned her sweat top with infinite care. "You must know that I would never do *anything* that would put you in any danger."
"Of course I know that..." Marlena fiddled with his zipper again. "I just get... nervous I suppose," she shrugged her shoulders.
"Trust me," Eugene lifted her hand and kissed the back of it softly. "It's a beautiful night, a beautiful place and I'm not about to let anything happen to you. Well, at least nothing that you don't *want* to happen."
"Well, how can I say no to that?" Marlena laughed, feeling oddly reassured by his jesting.
"Well, you're not *supposed* to say no," Q squeezed her hand, "that's the whole point."
"Okay then, I give in. You've convinced me." Marlena insinuated her arm around his waist as she looked toward the park. If she could trust anyone not to put her in danger, and to look after her, it was Eugene. She smiled up at her partner, her eyes sparkling. "Lead on Mac-Q."
Kristen pushed irritably at the door and entered the Brady pub. It appeared to have been an unusually busy evening and there were still quite a few patrons seated in booths near the curtained windows. Caroline was wiping glasses behind the antique bar when Kristen caught her eye and Kristen knew that the smile she produced was about as genuine as the one she had plastered on her own face.
"Hi there Caroline," she dropped her purse on the counter and hefted her ungainly body onto a bar stool.
"Kristen." Caroline acknowledged the younger woman, hoping that her face didn't betray the complete contempt that washed through her. "What can I get for you?"
"Hmmm...," Kristen thought for a moment, "how about a glass of orange juice?" She threw her long fair hair back over her shoulders and rested her elbows on the counter as she watched Caroline throw down her cloth.
"Coming right up."
Caroline busied herself pouring the juice while Kristen cast her eyes around the cosy pub, wondering how to frame the questions that floated around in her head. Her attention was brought back to the bar as Caroline placed the frosty glass in front of her and then wiped her hands on the towel that was tucked in the waistband of her apron.
"So how are you Kristen?" she asked softly. After all that this woman had done to separate and cause pain for John and Marlena, Caroline really had no compassion left in her but for the child that Kristen carried. John's child. And for that child she would do her best to be civil for as long as she had to.
"Oh, I guess I'm doing okay." Kristen took a sip of her orange juice, savoring the bitterness of it against her tongue as she placed the glass back on her coaster. Deliberately she bit her lip and glanced up at Caroline in an effort to elicit some shred of pity that the older woman might retain. "I suppose it's just kind of hard, thinking about having this baby on my own." She let out a heavy sigh and played her finger dolefully around the rim of the glass.
"That's only natural," Caroline offered with all the sympathy she could muster,. "I am sorry for everything that has happened Kristen." However nothing could disguise the underlying tone in her voice that left Kristen in no doubt that her sympathy lay completely in John and Marlena's court and that she held Kristen responsible for everything that had happened to them.
Fine Caroline. If that's how you want to play it.....
"Oh, don't get me wrong." Kristen's expression melted into one of contrition. "I do know that I brought this on myself I did some really terrible things for very bad reasons and I'm not exactly proud of that." She frowned and stirred the orange juice with the straw. "There is absolutely no excuse for the way I behaved and I know that I'm probably paying for that now..." she sighed again, slightly more softly this time and looked back up at the woman in front of her. She was gratified that Caroline's expression seemed to have softened slightly, but she noted that her arms were still crossed in front of her defensively. "I just don't think that John's child should have to suffer for my indiscretions Caroline." A flush of triumph suffused her as she Caroline softened perceptibly. That's it, that's her weak point Kristen. Now play to it. She let her expression fall noticeably. "He hasn't called to see how the baby is for days."
"I'm sure that John will not let what's happened between the two of you affect the child you share." Caroline slipped out from behind the bar and walked around to where Kristen sat. She leaned against the next stool, and regarded the blonde in front of her. "John is a wonderful father. You must know that. He would do anything for any of his children."
"I do know that Caroline," she managed a wavering smile but inside she was incensed that the conversation should turn to John's *other* family once again. She could care less about the children that John already had. What was important was the baby that would bind him to her. Forever.
John stood under the streetlight and stared at the green expanse in front of him. Walking in Central Park after dark was probably about the most foolish thing a person could do in New York, but something drew him towards the park. He couldn't explain it but it was as though his feet had a mind of their own and they kept coming back to the edge of the sparsely wooded area.
He rubbed his hand over his unshaven chin, irritating more than soothing the itch of the skin there. Turning back to the street, he watched a couple of cabs drive past at a leisurely pace. It was getting late and the streets around him were now all but silent. He knew his hotel was only several blocks away but sleeping was hardly an option at the moment. The last thing he needed to do was to stare at the ceiling for seven hours obsessing over Marlena. He had done enough of that already.
John turned with a sigh and looked at the footpath through the grass again. He had no idea what he was looking for, or indeed if there was anything to find. He just knew that it was driving him crazy and somehow the possible consequences didn't seem any worse than what he had already been through.
Frowning, and jamming his hands in the pockets of his black denim jeans, he set off.
Marlena reached up and wrapped her fingers around Gene's hand, which hung over her shoulder. Her apprehensiveness had dissipated the longer they had been in the park until, instead of nervously watching the shadows, she was openly enjoying the beauty of the grounds around her.
Every surface was glazed with a soft silvery light, dark shadows filtering across the moon-bleached grass. In front of them lay a stretch of dark water, the moon reflected in a white glimmering disc on the surface of the smooth lake.
Marlena took a deep breath as the sounds of the traffic faded away, leaving the quiet contemplative hush of the breeze that whispered through the trees surrounding them. She tugged on Eugene's hand with a private smile and led him down to the water's edge where she leaned on the iron railing. She felt his uncertainty as he took his hand from her shoulder and stood behind her, quietly contemplating the glinting reflections of moonlight sliding across the water. Silently, she reached behind her and found his hand. Drawing it around her waist, she leaned back against him and laid her other hand atop his as he slid it around her until he was encircling her with his arms.
Q felt her relax against him and he closed his eyes momentarily, breathing in the sweet scent of her, mingling with the soft spring night. When he opened his eyes again, she turned her head and looked at him.
"This is perfect," she whispered.
"I'm glad you like it." He smiled at her, the feeling of her so close finally banishing his uneasiness. Pulling her even closer, he nuzzled at her ear, enchanted by the way she shivered at his touch. "Mmmm..." his breath tickled at her sensitive skin, "you smell wonderful."
Marlena closed her eyes and held his arms as she felt herself respond to him. Her breathing quickened and her head dropped back as she felt his lips trace and invisibly fiery line down the side of her neck. She groaned as she felt his teeth graze her earlobe, and move across her cheek as he twisted her in his arms.
With no warning, he pulled away slightly. Marlena opened her eyes and disappointedly looked up at him.
"It's okay," he winked at her. 'I just thought you might like to maybe sit down somewhere. It might be a little more comfortable than this railing." He motioned with a grin to the bench a few meters away.
"Oh," Marlena let out a giggle. "Sure, why not."
She followed him to the bench and sat down next to him, slipping her hands into his.
"Thank you again for such a magical night," she whispered softly, her face glowing with a faintly pink flush. "I'm not quite sure what I did to deserve all this spoiling, but whatever it was, I just want you to know I have had the most wonderful time." Q rolled his eyes slightly and smiled.
"I think I've told you before that just being you is more than enough to deserve special treatment." He let go of one of her hands and reached up with a small smile to brush away the tears which had spilled onto her cheeks. "That's supposed to make you smile, not produce these tears you seem so fond of."
Marlena didn't answer him, just brushed her fingers slowly over his lips and lifted her eyes to his, telling him her reply without words. Then she cupped his cheek with the palm of hand, her thumb trailing over his lightly tanned skin and captured his lips with hers, drawing him into a gentle, loving kiss.
Kristen smiled at Caroline, knowing she couldn't let John's almost-mother see her ambivalence towards John's children.
"I know how much he loves Belle and Brady and how wonderful he is with them, but I also know how much he loved their mothers." Or at least he thinks he does. For now. She twisted the diamond solitaire that she was wearing on her right hand. "I'm just afraid that John's anger toward me will spill over into ambivalence toward our baby." She bit on her top lip, inducing a tear in the corner of her eye. "And I want more than anything in the world for him to have the security that comes from being loved unconditionally by both of his parents. Maybe if I'd had that sort of security I'd crave it less now." She looked up at Caroline, playing her final card. "Oh, I shouldn't be sitting here, feeling sorry for myself and dumping all this on you. I'm sure you have far better things to do with your time."
"You needed someone to talk to." Caroline patted her arm, her expression suddenly and inexplicably igniting a spark of guilt in Kristen. "I do understand your fears Kristen, but as far as John not calling you, he's out of town at the moment and I'm sure that he just hasn't had a chance."
"He is?" Kristen quelched whatever weakness she had momentarily felt and feigned innocence. "I ha no idea he was going away. He certainly never said anything to me. Do you have any idea when he'll be back?"
"It was unexpected," Caroline offered by way of explanation as she had about as much idea as Kristen. John had left a garbled message on their answerphone but he had been scant on actual information. "And no, I'm not sure when he'll be back." She flashed a smile and then stood again, having spent about as much time as she could handle with Kristen. "I shouldn't imagine it would be for a few days though."
"I guess that makes me feel a little better then." Kristen's lips twitched with a smile.
"Good," Caroline was suddenly unsettled again as she looked at the bar. Somehow in counseling Kristen, she felt as though she was betraying John and Marlena. "I think I'd better get back to work now Kristen."
"Alright then," Kristen nodded her head and picked up her purse from the counter and slipped off her own stool. "I think I'll just head over to one of the booths and finish this drink."
They said their stilted good-byes, a fragile alliance dissolving in seconds and Kristen made her way to one of the more secluded booths. Watching Caroline put of the corner of her eye, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed.
"Peter, it's me. I need your help."
John felt as though he might be losing his mind when he saw the couple on the park bench in the distance. They were silhouetted in the moonlight, but something about the way she moved sent shivers through him. His heart began to hammer in his chest and he broke into a cold sweat as he watched her move her hand to her partners face and then lean in and kiss him.
John swallowed heavily as he shook his head. It couldn't be. He was in New York and Marlena was hundreds of miles away in Salem. There was no way she could be here. No coincidence could be that unkind.
Of course that didn't leave many options. Either the couple didn't exist at all, and he was just creating them from his overwrought imagination, or he was simply imagining that the couple looked like Marlena and Eugene. Either way, John realized, he had to be losing his mind.
He closed his eyes and shook his head, but when he opened them again, they were still there, making out in the moonlight. With effort, he turned away, determined to ignore his hysterical imaginings and just walk back to the hotel. But, after two steps, he turned his head. They were no longer kissing, but their body language was as intimate as any two lovers and he knew he had to find out for sure.
Q and Marlena were oblivious to their observer as they found themselves drawing apart breathlessly. Marlena bowed her head, her forehead resting against Eugene's chin as he wrapped his arms tightly around her. She felt safe and so loved that again it brought her close to tears. However much Eugene tried to convince her, part of her was sure she didn't deserve this much love and attention showered on her.
Her train of vague thoughts was interrupted as Eugene cleared his throat. She looked up at him and he smiled waveringly. Her glance became questioning as he searched for the words that would express what he needed to say to her.
"Um..." he looked down to where her hand had comfortingly closed around his and then up to where her eyes twinkled, encouraging him to say what he had to say. "Marlena," he swallowed nervously. "I really don't want to put any pressure on you, or cause you any discomfort. I..." he faltered, his heart beating so loudly in his ears that it almost drowned out his words. A light squeeze from her fingers reassured him. "It's just that there's something I really need to tell you and I can't put it off any longer."
John neared the bench, his heart in his mouth. He blinked the tears from his eyes as they told him what his heart had refused to believe. It was them. He knew the way she moved too well. Every curve of her face seemed to be etched into his memory and that wouldn't let him fool himself any longer. As fantastic as it seemed, she was here in New York. And of all places, she was right here, at the water's edge, the same place he had been drawn to. But instead of being alone as she had so many times before, she was now in the arms of another man.
He skirted the tall shrub in front of him until he caught Eugene's words, sending hot knives of jealousy through him. Then, with no warning John saw Marlena lift her head and look around. Before her eyes reached him, he dodged back behind the bush that he had skirted to get to the bench. Feeling fearfully cold all of a sudden, he held his breath and waited for her to call out his name.
Marlena was distracted from Gene's words by what she thought was a movement behind the bench as the moon slipped stealthily behind a cloud. Her mouth went dry as she saw the shadowy figure dart behind the tree. It wasn't that she was afraid, but rather that the feelings seemed so close and so familiar. But the shrub was silent now, the moonlight bright again and illuminating the vacant landscape. It seemed as if it had been her imagination after all.
She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the image of John that suddenly flooded her mind. It seemed to be happening more and more frequently now and it left her feeling both upset and guilty. And the thought that now she was imagining seeing him when it was patently impossible was worrying.
"Marlena?" Gene drew her attention back and she did her best to shake off the discomfort that she felt with a slight smile.
"Sorry 'Gene. I just thought I saw something." Her smile became brighter. "Guess it was just my nerves winning out again." Eugene brushed her hair from her face with a slightly shaking hand.
"I think I have some idea how that feels."
Marlena was immediately flushed with guilt as she realized that she was again thinking about John when Eugene was thinking only of her. She was hardly being fair. She had to stop doing this to herself and to him before she destroyed this relationship too. Pushing all thoughts of John to the back of her mind, she squeezed Gene's hand again.
Gene took a deep breath and looked down again, avoiding her eyes for a moment.
"I....," he frowned and looked up at her again. "This is hard for me to say Marlena. I'm not sure that you want to hear it and I've never been here before, but..." he pressed his lips together and then took a deep breath as he looked out over the lake. "I can't help how I feel Marlena." His eyes glimmered as he looked back at her. " I know that you have made no commitment, that's the condition we take this one day at a time and see what happens. And truly," he stroked his thumbs across hers as he held her hands, "that's enough for me. I'm not asking you for anything more. I just have to tell you the truth." He looked even more nervous as he faced her. "I love you. And I'd do anything for you."
He waited for Marlena's reaction, suddenly mentally kicking himself for being so stupid as to actually tell her how he felt. This was all she needed at the moment. He was almost dreading her response, but he realized after a moment, with some relief, that although she looked a little surprised, she didn't seem upset.
After a moment, she blinked her eyes and smiled.
"I...I don't know quite what to say Gene."
"You don't have to say anything." Q said quickly. "Really, I'm not looking for any sort of response. I just simply felt that I owed to you and maybe to myself to be honest. Of course, if it upsets you or makes you uncomfortable, I'd understand that."
Marlena saw the insecurity flit across his face again and felt her heart melt. Moving closer to him, she laced her fingers between his and smoothed the hair above his brow.
"I'm not uncomfortable," she replied softly. "I'm very touched. You're a wonderful man. You're sweet and you're very giving. I couldn't be upset. Just happy and..." she smiled almost shyly, "it makes me realize something."
"What's that?" Q felt his heart hammering in his chest and was sure she must be able to hear it. If she could, she didn't show it as her eyes filled and she smiled again.
"I love you too."
John backed behind the shrub again and looked up at the sky, trying to ignore the turmoil that was threatening to tear his chest apart. He couldn't believe what he had just heard. This whole situation was becoming more unreal by the minute and he could have almost convinced himself that he was dreaming, if only the pain didn't feel so agonizingly palpable.
His eyes were burning as he looked back at the couple on the park bench. He felt the pain stab achingly at him again as he saw Eugene smile and caress Marlena's face. The smile she returned threatened to choke him. He knew that look only too well, and like the simple words she had uttered earlier, it sent lancing pains through him. That look and those words should be for him, they had been for years until he had screwed it up. Until he had driven her away through his ignorance and sheer stupidity.
Marlena threaded her fingers through Eugene's hair and leaned forward. John watched her deposit a sweet and gentle kiss on the other man's lips and he moaned noiselessly. Surely this couldn't be happening to him. It was all too bizarre. How could he have lost her to Eugene Bradford of all people?
He closed his eyes again, a swallow forcing it's way down his parched throat. He turned away, the silence from the bench too much for him and slipped behind the bush again, an unnoticed shadow to the other participants in the tableau.
Peter placed the portable phone on the table and looked at it in disbelief. Without Stefano around to keep her in check, Kristen was becoming more and more unhinged as time went on. It wasn't just the fact that she was so insistent on chasing John around when he so obviously didn't want her, but it was also the way she was going about it.
Peter knew some of what Kristen was going through. It had taken him a long time to come to terms with the fact that however much he wanted Jennifer, she didn't want anything to do with him now. But it seemed that the more distanced he became from Stefano's memory, the more he seemed to be able to accept that fact. He didn't like it, but unless he wanted to forcibly take Jenn and Abby and spirit them away somewhere no-one could find them, what more could he do? And what good had that done Stefano after all his repeated attempts? He was dead and the good Dr. Evans was still in love with John Black.
But Kristen seemed to be using a different line of reasoning. To her the only aim was to keep John within her grasp, no matter what it cost her, or anyone else. She had lost any shred of dignity she had ever had and she seemed to be sinking deeper into a delusion that mired her in opprobrium.
Even worse than this was the haphazard way she came up with her plans to win John back. They had ceased to even make any sense to Peter any more. Of course he wasn't under the illusion that John had any feelings left for Kristen other than disgust. But, she was his sister, and as such he was duty-bound to help her in her hopeless quest. And hopeless it was.
It seemed more than obvious to him that John would never love anyone the way he loved Marlena, and even though they weren't together at the moment and having evident problems, noting would ever make him turn back to Kristen.
But, like a dutiful brother, Peter had done as Kristen had requested and kept a man on John until he had disappeared several days ago. And, since John had not yet returned from his trip, Kristen had now decided that she would take fate into her own hands and move a large proportion of her belongings back into John's loft. What good that would do Peter had no idea. But that was what she wanted, and that was what she would get.
Peter sighed and rubbed his forehead as he picked up the phone again. It was going to be a long night.
In the sky above them, a sliver of smoky cloud slipped cunningly across the pale moon, obliterating its voyeuristic gaze over the earth below. John stared into the growing blackness in front of him and shook his head. He should have known. He had tried to convince himself that Eugene Bradford had meant nothing to Marlena, that she had taken comfort in his arms as a form of revenge, of payback for all the times he had hurt her by being with Kristen. It had been in some ways easier to believe that. Then it was still all about the two of them, and Eugene was incidental.
But it had been wishful thinking. It had been skewed thinking. He knew Marlena well enough to know that she didn't engage in games. Revenge wasn't her style. He could have expected that sort of thing from Kristen, but never Marlena. He felt slightly ashamed for even thinking it.
And not only that, but as she had pointed out, she had spent four long years alone. She was a beautiful, sexy woman and she could have had any man she desired. But she had wanted him, she had loved him and he had been with Kristen. He had made her wait too long and now she wanted Eugene Bradford. And it wasn't just because she was lonely or because she wanted to hurt John like he had hurt her. It had, John realized, very little to do with him at all.
He ran his fingers through his hair as his heart ached inside him. She had spent so many years loving him and he had spent those same years stupidly denying his feelings for her, and finally she hadn't been able to, or maybe she hadn't wanted to, wait any longer. And of course, Eugene had been there, taking care of her, drying the tears that she had shed over John, being her friend. Loving her.
John shook his head again. Of course. He had always loved her, and he had been her best friend. He had been there to cherish her and offer her the love that John had been unable to give her. He wasn't taking advantage of her, he was just offering her what she needed. And he was making her happy. That was all any of them had ultimately ever wanted, for her to be happy. And they had all ended up hurting her, in one way or another.
John looked out over the darkened park with slumped shoulders and thought of his family. Of Belle and Brady and the new child he and Marlena were expecting, the child she didn't even know about. A solitary tear escaped his reddened eye.
Marlena sighed with pleasure as she slid her arms around Q's neck. She shifted until she was practically sitting in his lap and then she smiled with a hint of wickedness.
"So, do you have any ideas on what we can do now then?" she purred in his ear.
"I...ah.." Q was still speechless from her revelation several minutes before. He had set out only to tell her how he felt, he had never expected to hear the same words in return. He had harbored a secret fantasy that she might return his feelings, that maybe 'wanting him' had somehow transmuted into something more. But hearing it from her own lips had stunned him. This put them on a whole new footing and he was unsure how to approach her right now.
Marlena noted his faltering stammer and subsequent quiet and she giggled softly.
"What, have you gone all shy on me all of a sudden?" Her smile widened as she saw the blush creep indelibly up his cheeks. "Oh my, you have!" She ran her index finger idly over his cheek and across his lower lip. "Mmmm....have I ever told you how much I love your lips?" She leaned even closer until she could feel the warmth of each apprehensive breath. "They're so sweet and sexy." Gene felt his whole body tingle as her own warm, moist lips brushed across his, barely making contact. "They're just like you," he could feel the vibration against his cheek as she spoke, the closeness of her making him feel almost dizzy. "Soft and sweet and oh so sexy." He felt one hand slide down his back and squeeze his behind as she pressed herself up against him. Her voice dropped and became husky as she spoke again. "So why don't we start here?"
She grazed her lips across his again, wordlessly asking him to make the next move. He did as his hands slid up her arms and into her loose blonde hair. His hands framed her face as his lips found hers, engaging her in a kiss that started with consummate gentleness. His lips teased hers with their hesitant and soft caresses. Slowly the kisses became harder, his tongue slipping into her mouth, sharing in her sweet warmth. Marlena's arms tightened around his neck and he felt her shallow and unsteady breaths through the clothing that separated them. The exploration of his lips and tongue became more insistent as Marlena began to squirm against him. His hands slid down her sides and spanned her hips as she wriggled sideways so that she was actually sitting on his lap, her legs curled up on the bench. One hand slid downward, over the outside of the cream sweatpants and she moaned against his mouth as his fingers danced back up the inside of her thigh.
She was gasping for breath as she pulled away, her mind unable to focus on anything but on the way Eugene's hand felt as it slid under her sweat top. Her body felt like it was on fire and she wished they were anywhere private right now. Anywhere but in Central Park.
"Oh *man*." She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the shroud of lust. She leant her forehead against Gene's again as she tried to catch her breath. "Oh my." She lifted her head and looked at Q, realizing that he was just as affected as her. She traced her fingers across his forehead and down over his temple until she was cupping his cheek in her hand.
Q looked at her with a lustful smile which fanned her desire even higher. She returned his gaze with eyes that were almost chocolate in colour and then she leaned close again so that he could feel the hot breaths that seared across his cheek to his ear.
"Why don't we go and find somewhere a little more comfortable?" she whispered breathily before capturing his earlobe between her teeth and nibbling softly on it.
Gene groaned and regretfully put a little space between them.
"If you don't stop that soon, I won't be able to go *anywhere*." She looked at him with wide eyes.
"Oh," a throaty giggle bubbled from her lips. "Oh dear." She grinned at him. "Alright then...let's get out of here."
She slid off him and stood up, straightening her rumpled clothing. She took Gene's hand as he stood up too and then stood still as he tucked her tousled hair behind her ears.
"Oh this is really starting to bug me," she said frustratedly as she pulled her fingers through the disheveled blonde locks, "one day I'm going to have it all cut off."
"Oh don't do that," Eugene brushed the bangs out of her eyes, "that would be tragic." He took her chin gently between her fingers and looked into her eyes. "You're perfect as you are."
John turned around again, just in time to see Marlena take Q's hand as he kissed her again. They were standing up and John shrank back into the shrub, his heart in his mouth. Part of him wanted to go out there and confront them, but what purpose would it serve? It was really none of his business what they did, and as much as he wanted to go to Marlena and ask her forgiveness, he didn't think it would be particularly forthcoming. He watched Eugene brush a wisp of hair from Marlena's cheek and heard Marlena's lilting laugh drift across the still evening air.
He watched them walk away, feeling hollow inside. There wasn't even pain anymore. Just a dull empty ache. With sad eyes he stood, staring at the receding figures, and then he turned and began to walk in the opposite direction.
The man sat in a chair and stared out of the window in frustration. Outside the afternoon sun was creating a golden halo through the autumn leaves on the trees, a prelude to the onset of fall, a rapid affair in this city. The nurse approached the patient with apprehension. He had a reputation as one with no use for incompetence and it was well known among the staff of the private clinic that it was best not to upset him.
When he had first been transferred he had been pleasant enough, but as time had gone on and he had begun to heal, but he had been frustrated by the slow pace of the progress and the refusal of the doctors to release him. Finally he had retreated into a shell, withdrawing from the people around him. He had one visitor, an American man who visited him every few months, but even he couldn't elicit a smile from the mystery patient.
The nurse gently touched the man on the shoulder.
"Mr. Minelli, it's time for your physical therapy." She waited nervously for the response. The man didn't look at her, but simply nodded with a silent sigh. Yet another day in paradise.
"So, where to now?" Q asked Marlena as he caught her hand up in his.
"Where do you suggest?" Marlena raised her eyebrows playfully. "After all you've spent the whole evening surprising me. Why stop now?"
"Well, I'm not the only one that's been full of surprises this evening," Q wove his fingers between hers.
"What are you trying to say?" Marlena rounded on him with a sexy grin.
"I wasn't trying to infer anything at *all*," he returned with a deceptively bland smile as he pulled on her hand bringing her up against him for a fervent kiss.
"Oh sure," her hand crept down the front of his sweat top.
"Marlena." There was a warning tone in Eugene's voice. He was having a hard enough time keeping his hands off her as it was.
"What?" she was all innocence as her fingers continued their downward descent.
"That," he removed her hand, "is really not a good idea right now."
"Why?" her eyes were dancing as she teased him. "You're a big boy now, I would have thought you could handle a little more of me than that."
Gene narrowed his eyes and shook his head with a sly smile.
"Oh, I believe me, handling you is a full time job. But the question is Dr. Evans, how much can *you* handle?"
"Why, are you offering?" Marlena raised her eyebrows temptingly as she backed away from him. "Cos if you are, you're going to have to catch me first." Her last words floated back to him as she began to run over the pale silver grass. Q shook his head with a grin and followed her.
John heard the blues music emitting from the bar he passed. It was a downstairs club and it didn't appear very big from the outside, but it was obviously popular. His footsteps slowed as he turned to glance at the bar again. The music could be heard above the hubbub of voices and somehow the combination suited his mood . The last thing he wanted to be right now was alone in his hotel room so, to his own surprise, he found himself descending the steps into the dimly lit venue.
On a small stage on one side of the smoky room a man sat picking a guitar and singing. He was accompanied by a man plucking a well-worn double bass and an older man whose fingers skimmed agilely over the keyboard of an ancient looking piano. John made his way to the bar and ordered a double scotch rocks. He slid the bartender a fifty dollar bill and downed the drink in a single mouthful. The bartender filled the glass again and John picked it up as he turned on his stool to watch the patrons of the bar.
Being a tall man, Eugene caught up to her quickly and brought her tumbling to the ground with a soft tackle. He fell on top of her, pinning her to the ground.
"Oh!" she gasped, the wind knocked out of her. She lay back with a grin as she looked up into Q's eyes. "Well, I guess you caught me then."
"So what do you want me to do with you now that I have you?" Q raised his eyebrows tantalizingly.
"Well I would think that you should have sufficient imagination to work that out for yourself," Marlena shifted so that she was free of his hands, and then with a laugh she flipped over and began to crawl away.
"Oh no you don't!" Q caught her ankle as she tried to get up and dragged her back to the ground. Marlena let out a shriek and then a loud laugh as he began to tickle her.
"No!...Oh...oh!" Tears were forming at the corner of her eyes.
"Give in?" Q teasingly offered her a reprieve.
"Never!" Marlena began to kick at him with squeals of laughter as his hands ducked and wove around her, finding her most ticklish spots with infuriating accuracy.
"Never is an awfully long time," he laughed as she squirmed to get away. "How about we call a truce?" He pulled his hands away and held them up. "You stop running away and I'll stop tickling you. Sound fair?"
"Fair?" Marlena panted, trying to catch her breath. "That might sound fair to you, but how about we play by *my* rules?"
With no warning she pulled Eugene's arm from under him and flipped him over onto his back. With a grin, she swung her leg over him and positioned herself so that she was sitting astride his hips, her hands on his chest to steady herself.
"There now. I think I like this arrangement much better."
"Not too bad from this angle either," Gene lay his hands over hers. "So now you've got me. Any idea what you want to do with me?"
"Oh, my head is full of ideas," Marlena winked at him, "but none of them are fit for verbalizing."
"Ooh, I think I like the sound of that," he slowly pulled her hands upwards over his chest, pulling her down towards him. "How about a private demonstration?"
Marlena didn't say anything, but leaned over him so that her hair brushed his face. Gene slid his hands up her arms and down her sides as he watched her eyes. Even in the dark they were almost golden in colour, echoing the hue of her hair. He slid his hands around her waist and under her sweat top, eliciting a shiver from her as he skimmed them up over the bare skin of her back. Her lips parted slightly as she leaned down and brushed them across his. Her hands were in Gene's hair as he hungrily returned her kiss, pulling her closer to him as his hands searched for her bra strap. She felt his light nibbles on her lower lip as he deftly unhooked her bra and slid one of is hands around to her front. Breathing in sharply, she felt his fingers caressing her and she tilted her head back as his lips slid down the soft skin of her throat. A moan slipped easily from her lips as he dipped his tongue into the hollow of her throat at the same time as he brushed his fingers across her already hard nipple.
It came as a surprise to her when he rolled her over onto her back again. She was in no mood to argue with him though and she pulled him down for another hungry kiss, her tongue eagerly searching out his, her hands colliding with her knees at his buttocks.
She could have cursed Q when he pulled away from her, withdrawing his hand from under her sweat top.
"Gene!" Her eyes were glazed as she let her head drop back to the ground.
"Not here," he murmured quietly. She looked at the lightly wooded area around them and regretfully nodded her head.
"You have to know I don't give up that easily."
"I'd be terribly offended if you did." Q struggled uncomfortably to his knees and pulled Marlena into a sitting position. "Do you want to go back to Salem now?"
Marlena finished fastening her bra with a small smile and looked at him speculatively.
"Not particularly. Do you have any better options?"
"I think I may be able to come up with something that may pass as adequate." He smiled and took her hand as he got to his feet. She followed. "Let's see what you think of this idea."
The blonde slid onto the seat next to him and smiled seductively. Her hair was cut into a short bob and she was wearing an extremely clingy black dress. Her green eyes glittered as she appraised the man next to her. She ordered a martini from the barman and sat playing with the olive as she shot glances at the dark, unshaven man next to her. He glanced in her direction for a moment, but then returned his attention to the glass that had been refilled in front of him.
She narrowed her eyes and then leaned back against the bar behind her, exposing her amply enhanced cleavage.
"Hi there," her voice was deliberately husky. He simply nodded his head. "Are you from around here?" she persisted, trying to extract a response. Once she had his attention, she was sure she could get what she wanted. "I don't think I remember seeing you before. I'm sure I would remember a face like yours."
John took a mouthful of his drink and with misgivings, he turned round to the woman sitting beside him.
"No, I'm not."
"Hi," she smiled sexily as she held out her hand, "I'm Amy."
"John Black," he nodded his head and shook her hand cursorily before he picked up his scotch again.
"Well it's nice to meet you John Black," she refused to be put off. "So what brings you to these parts?"
The muscles in John's face tightened. He wasn't even vaguely interested in this woman next to him. He wasn't interested in anyone except Marlena. Suddenly he didn't even know why he was here.
"Look, I'm sorry but I think you have the wrong guy." He downed his drink and stood up. "I think I had better go."
Her reply of "Asshole!" floated after him as he walked out of the bar.
copyright © 1999-2003 by rjy