Justus stared open-mouthed at the fuming woman. Behind him, Keesha wore a similar expression. “Diane…” He tried to respond but was quickly cut off.
“Did you think you could do something so outlandish and not have me react this way?”
Keesha took that moment to make herself scarce. The conversation she had planned to have with Justus could wait until another time. It seemed that Diane had a pressing matter of her own to discuss with him. “Hmm, I think that I will be going. Diane, it was nice to see you again.”
Diane looked at Keesha in surprise. She had been so intent on confronting Justus that she had not paid attention to anyone or anything other than him. “Keesha, I am sorry. Did I interrupt something?”
“Nothing that can't wait.” Keesha couldn't contain her curiosity. “Are you here because of the ELQ meeting?”
It was obvious that Diane had no idea what ELQ was. She stared blankly at Keesha, confused by the younger woman's inquiry.
“ELQ is the Quartermaine family business. Isn't that what you are getting on Justus about? Turning down family stocks that are rightfully his?” Now it was Keesha's turn to be confused.
“No,” Diane answered slowly. The anger which had fueled her visit to Justus' place was dispelled by the significance of Keesha's words.
“Are you okay?” Diane searched Justus' face for the truth. Though he had not said it in so many words, she knew that he genuinely loved his Quartermaine family. Diane could only imagine the deep emotions that had driven Justus to deny that part of himself.
“I will be.”
The quietly uttered words rang with conviction. Diane opened her arms to Justus, who accepted the embrace gratefully. As she wrapped her arms around his solid frame, Diane made a note to herself to examine later just why that particular action felt so natural.
From the doorway Keesha gazed upon them. Justus and Diane were focused solely upon each other, and had forgotten she was there. It made her sad for an instant, because she remembered just what that was like.
The snap of a crisp twenty-dollar bill caught Mike Corbin's attention and caused him to turn around. A gorgeous young woman stood before the bar of Luke's Place with a weary expression on her face. “Can I get a drink?”
Mike glanced over at the clock on the far wall. It was a miniature version of B.B. King's guitar Lucille, and just one of Luke Spencer's many tributes to the musical genius. “Well,” he hedged, “we don't start serving alcohol for another twenty minutes. Maybe during that time you can tell me just what has a beautiful woman like yourself so badly in need of a drink.”
“Twenty minutes is not enough time.” Sabrina crumpled the money within her fist. “Thanks for nothing.” She spun around and headed for the door. Mike admired the sway of her hips for a few feet before halting her progress.
“Did I say we started serving drinks in twenty minutes?” He watched the woman turn slowly back toward him. “What I meant to say was ‘You're in luck'. Mike stuck out his hand. “Mike Corbin.”
The bartender accepted the brief salute before turning to the vast array of bottles arranged on the counter behind him. Effortlessly he mixed up the drink she ordered. Had he bothered to look up from his task, Mike would have seen the admiration on Sabrina's face. As a medical researcher whose very livelihood depended on accuracy, she appreciated the precision with which the bartender created her drink.
“Here you go.” Mike slid the drink across the bar and palmed the twenty-dollar bill in one continuous motion.
Carefully, Sabrina lifted the glass. It was second nature that prompted her to hold it to the light and admire its rich, deep color. She took a small sip, swirled the drink around inside her mouth and then swallowed slowly.
Her smile triggered the release of the breath Mike held. The way that the woman had tasted the drink he prepared told him a lot about her. She was obviously a cut above his regular patrons.
“Mike,” Sabrina murmured, “I do believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Diane pulled back from Justus' embrace. She turned around to apologize to Keesha for barging in, but the younger woman was gone.
“I'm sorry I interrupted,” Diane said. “It looks like I drove your cousin away.”
“I am not sorry. For a lot of reasons.” Justus took Diane's hand and led her to the kitchen table. He pulled up a chair beside her and took her hand once more. “Now, tell me what brought you storming over here.”
“I would rather hear about what happened with your family.” Diane watched Justus' features go blank. She squeezed his hand in a silent plea. “Justus, you have done so much for me since I came to Port Charles. Let me do something for you.” Diane could see him begin to waver. “I am really a good listener.”
Justus ran his free hand over his head. “Edward Quartermaine surprised me by handing over my shares of the family business,” he began simply. “I say he surprised me because I really didn't expect him to ever make my position in the family official.” He stood abruptly. “The moment that a child is proven to be a Quartermaine, he or she is given a certain amount of ELQ stock. They aren't always voting shares, but they are still ELQ stock nonetheless.”
A wry smile crossed Justus' face. “I used the words ‘proven to be a Quartermaine' because my grandfather has a tendency to discover bastard children. My father was not his only indiscretion.” He chuckled, but the sound contained no humor. “Did I mention that my father's paternity was exposed during Edward's murder trial?”
Diane tried to conceal her reaction to Justus' story. She found it all amazing, though. Just below the surface of his life swirled all sorts of intrigue.
“To make a long story short, ELQ stock is currently assigned to all of Edward's children and grandchildren . . . The difference between me and all of them is that I had to earn mine.”
“Your grandfather said that to you?”
Justus grimaced. His innate honesty would not allow him to answer untruthfully. “No, but the result is the same.” His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “I never thought that fact would matter to me like it did.”
He coughed to clear a throat suddenly thick with emotion. “When Edward handed me those stock certificates, something inside me snapped. Maybe it was the way he announced it to the room, like he was announcing the Christmas bonus for a valued employee. Or maybe it was the expressions of my family, who sat waiting for me to fall down on my knees in gratitude . . . I don't know . . . All of a sudden I just heard myself turn Edward's gift down.”
“Did he give you less stock than his other grandchildren?” Diane asked.
“No. The endowment was for five million dollars of ELQ stock, just like Ned or AJ or Emily.”
Diane was shocked that her voice did not come out as a faint squeak. “And you turned it down?” She did not know what was more astonishing – that Justus spoke so casually about such a sum of money or that he refused to accept what was already his.
“Yes,” he confirmed, “I turned it down.”
Mike Corbin smiled at Sabrina. He had stood by watching silently as she enjoyed the drink that he had mixed. It was a rare occasion when anyone coming into the bar actually took the time to experience the drinks he mixed. Sure, most people enjoyed them, and a few unfortunate souls used them to quench uncontrollable thirsts. But Mike could count on one hand the number of times when a ‘Sabrina' had patronized the joint. Her style, her grace, her confidence – the woman was connected to some heavy players. He was willing to bet money on it.
“Better?” he teased.
“It is a start.”
“In that case, are you ready now to tell me your troubles?”
The offer was probably sincere. But there was no way Sabrina would discuss her family with a bartender working at Luke Spencer's establishment. “Let's just say that I am worried someone close to me will lose something very precious if he is not careful.”
“Some guy taking you for granted?”
Sabrina raised an elegant eyebrow. “Do I look like the type of woman who would allow a man to take me for granted?”
The bartender had to laugh. He leaned over the bar and examined Sabrina from the top of her expertly coiffed head all the way down to the tips of her leather-booted feet. There was definitely no way such a woman would allow a thing like that to happen.
“ This ,” Sabrina explained in reference to her presence at the bar, “is about father-son stuff.”
Mike froze in the act of wiping the countertop. “Father-son stuff…” He turned his back on Sabrina and absently began to adjust the bottles of liquor. “Father-son stuff is tricky.”
Through the carefully neutral tone Sabrina heard the echoes of the bartender's pain. Before she could comment on her observation, Mike turned back around.
“Tell your guy not to be stupid,” he advised her. “If he has a kid that loves him and wants to be a part of his life, then he had better hold on to him.”
“Are you sorry that you turned your grandfather's gift down?”
“I haven't decided yet.” Justus slid to the edge of his chair. “But enough of that, okay? I want to talk about whatever it was that got you over here in such a hurry.”
Diane decided to let the subject drop. She reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out a crumpled and worn slip of paper. “ This is why I am here.”
Justus awaited further elaboration, but Diane merely continued to hold the balled-up slip of paper in the air before him. “Am I supposed to recognize that?”
Pointedly Diane grasped the paper with two hands and stretched it to its fullest length. She pushed it forward until it was nearly touching Justus' face. “Do you recognize it now?” she asked tartly.
“Yes. It is an ATM receipt. What do I win?”
Diane couldn't believe that Justus dared to make light of the situation. Her anger, which had subsided, was once again making itself known. “It isn't funny! Why would you do this?”
“What does that bank slip have to do with me?” Justus began to understand that Diane was upset with him. He could not fathom just why, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the small scrap of paper she held was the key.
“You really don't know?”
“No,” Justus replied, “I don't.”
Diane slumped back against the chair. She felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under her. Curious, Justus took the worn little slip from her unresisting fingers and examined it closely. “Someone put all that money in my account,” she explained.
“And you thought it was me?”
Now Diane was embarrassed. She had misread the entire situation, and there was no way to explain what she thought without making it worse. “Yes.” She took a deep breath and plunged headlong into her explanation. “When we talked about me staying in Port Charles the other day, you said that you would do something that would leave no doubt in my mind that you wanted me to stay. When I saw the money, I just assumed . . .”
“You just assumed that was what I meant.”
“I feel so stupid.”
“Don't. I can see how you would have arrived at that conclusion. After all, all I have shown you is my family's wealth and affluence. You had no way of knowing that none of that was really mine.” Justus watched Diane's face redden. “You know what, though? I am glad you realize that you are that important to me.”
“This isn't what I had in mind, but maybe it is better this way.” As Diane watched, Justus unexpectedly rose and walked into the next room. He returned almost instantly. “Stefan Cassadine's gift to you was very generous. I won't try to match that.” Justus dropped to one knee. “I will just offer a gift of my own.”
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*