Alan Quartermaine, Jr., hung up the phone and leaned back heavily in his chair. He had just lined up with Riser Industries a seven million dollar pharmaceutical deal for ELQ – the family business. And yet, details of his recent financial coup were the furthest things from A.J.’s mind.
Today, as was the case every day since Michael’s ‘accident’, all that occupied A.J.’s thoughts was his family. Michael and Carly, to be more specific.
A.J. knew in his heart that Carly in no way considered herself a part of his family. She had made that painfully obvious in every devious act she had ever committed against him. The only reason Carly tolerated his presence now, A.J. admitted to himself, was because she no longer held the upper hand where it counted. The courts had finally seen fit to grant A.J. access to his son’s life in the miraculous form of sole custody.
With the exception of his grandmother Lila and his sister Emily, not a member of the Quartermaine family understood or supported Alan Jr.’s decision to allow Carly to remain an active part of their son’s upbringing. His parents saw A.J.’s leniency as a futile attempt to endear himself to Carly. His cousin Ned just saw A.J.’s act of kindness as yet another example of what he felt was his younger cousin’s general weakness of character.
“Shari!” A.J. called for his secretary through the open door. “Cancel the rest of my day,” he instructed her when she peered curiously through the opening.
“You heard me. I’m going home.”
The flustered secretary quickly consulted her calendar and confirmed her suspicions. “But you have a three o’clock meeting with Denwood International!”
“Call them,” A.J. replied patiently, “and tell them we need to postpone because of the celebration over the Riser deal. I guarantee that they will be falling all over themselves to reschedule.”
A.J. gave his secretary a reassuring nod. “Now… I am going home to be with my son. I don’t expect to speak with you again until tomorrow.”
Leslie Lu Spencer sat on the couch and fidgeted impatiently. Her dark eyes were fixed on the front door with great anticipation. Occasionally the little girl’s gaze swung to the clock on the mantle over the fireplace.
A quiet tap on the door sent Leslie Lu flying to open it. Just before she did, she remembered her mother’s warning and peeped carefully through the lacy yellow curtain at the person waiting patiently outside the Spencer front door.
“Brother!” Leslie Lu fumbled with the lock before throwing the door open and rushing into her older brother’s embrace.
Nikolas Cassadine crouched down and gladly accepted her enthusiastic greeting. Leslie Lu never failed to greet him with anything less than total and complete joy at his presence. It had been that way with her since the beginning. “I am glad you are coming to my school,” the little girl said. Her dark hair bounced with each nod of her head.
Leslie Lu took Nikolas by the hand and led him into the house. “Everybody is supposed to bring their family. But not everybody has the same kind of family,” she continued hastily. “John lives with his grandma and grandpa, and Xara has two daddies.”
Leslie Lu’s conversation made Nikolas smile. This was the longest and most animated discussion he had ever had with his little sister – and it felt good.
“Are we going to ride in your car?”
“Would you like to?” Nikolas suspected that the car Leslie Lu referred to was the long black stretch limousine that he normally traveled in because of Stefan’s insistence upon Nikolas always having two bodyguards in attendance.
“Not this time, Lulu.” Laura finally interrupted their conversation. She came from the kitchen wiping her hands upon a soft dishcloth. “I have a couple of errands to run, so Brother can meet us at the school.” She looked at her eldest son. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Nikolas has to come with us!” Leslie Lu interrupted whatever response her brother might have made. “We always go to Family Day together!”
Laura conceded with a smile that did not reach her eyes. “All right, all right,” she told her daughter. “You win! Brother will ride to Family Day with us.”
He had successfully negotiated the first three steps when A.J. heard the calculatingly paternal voice of his grandfather call out his name.
“A.J., my boy! Just the person I have been trying to get a moment alone with!”
A.J. froze, shut his eyes and gathered his resolve before turning. For him, dealing with his grandfather was like walking into a gale force wind. If he did not square his shoulders and press ahead toward his own destination, the old man would easily maneuver A.J. to whatever devious goal he had in mind. And no matter how A.J. shielded himself against Edward’s cutting remarks, or how his grandfather wrapped his disappointment in gentle sounding words, Alan and Monica’s firstborn son always somehow felt emotionally battered and bruised in the end.
“Can’t it wait, Grandfather? I came home just to spend some time with Michael.”
Edward Quartermaine considered his grandson shrewdly. “And Carly as well?”
“I don’t want to discuss Carly with you.”
“Humph!” Edward dismissed that topic with a wave. “Well, we certainly agree that that young woman is not a topic worthy of our discussion.” He saw A.J.’s expression and quickly continued. “Come and sit down with me for a moment.” Edward led the way to the study. “There is something far more important I want to talk about.”
Reluctantly A.J. followed his grandfather. The old man definitely had some type of agenda. It was easy to recognize the signs.
“My boy, don’t you think it is about time you took charge of that little boy’s future?” Edward demanded as soon as he closed the door.
“My only concern is for Michael’s immediate future and that he get better.”
“What do you think,” Edward drawled, “is going to happen when he does?” He felt no compunction about using his grandson’s fears against him. “Do you think Carly will be quite so willing to just let you continue to call the shots regarding her son’s life?”
His grandfather’s words were an unpleasant echo of the ones that A.J. heard constantly in his head. In the quiet hours of the night, his brain pounded with the rhythm of their refrain. “It doesn’t matter what Carly wants,” A.J. reminded the old man. “The courts have granted me sole custody.”
“Oh, A.J., grow up!”
“This conversation is over.” A.J. stalked angrily from the study. He was angrier with himself than his grandfather. He’d had an inkling of just what Edward wanted to discuss. He should have simply walked away.
‘When will I learn?’
A.J. bounded up the stairs two at a time. Some time spent with Michael would go a long way toward quieting the doubts Edward had managed to resurrect in A.J.’s mind.
Perhaps his younger sister would join them, A.J. thought as he strode down the deserted hallway. They could have a picnic just outside on the patio.
He could just hear Emily’s quiet murmur through the partially opened door. “I can’t wait to see you,” the young woman insisted softly. “I am glad you are coming home, Jason.”
Unnoticed by his younger sister, A.J. stumbled back away from her door.
“Thank you for allowing me to come.”
“Don’t be silly. You are Lulu’s brother and she wanted you here.”
All in all, it had been a pretty good day. Nikolas sat with his mother on the hard wooden bench outside Lulu’s school and watched the little girl dart about the playground with the other children. “Nonetheless,” Nikolas responded almost formally, “I am thankful.”
An awkward silence fell between them and Nikolas hesitated to break the quiet. Since Laura’s initial overture to become closer to him there had been a hint of distance between mother and son that Nikolas was at a loss to explain or understand. Had his mother changed her mind? Had he tried too hard? Pushed too fast?
“I am sorry that I never got a chance to enjoy a day like this with Lucky as well.” Nikolas’ eyes were fixed on his little sister, but he easily sensed the way that his mother stiffened at his words. “Would you prefer that we not discuss Lucky?”
Laura’s smile was weak. “I am sorry, sweetheart, really. It’s just so hard sometimes.” Nikolas watched as she visibly pulled herself together. “But I don’t want to think about that…
“Today has been very nice. I am glad that you were able to come.” Laura patted Nikolas’ hand.
“Family Day is through?”
“Well, no,” Laura hedged. “But the rest of the afternoon is usually just for us girls.”
Nikolas was relieved to hear that his mother was not seeking to escape his presence. “Oh, I see,” he smiled shyly. “This is another of the Family Day traditions that Leslie Lu mentioned.”
He bussed Laura on the cheek and rose from the bench. “In that case, please kiss Leslie Lu for me. Tell her that I had a wonderful time.”
Laura watched Nikolas depart. She turned her gaze back toward the playground, but her thoughts remained far away.
“Mommy?” Leslie Lu’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Why did Brother leave? Didn’t he want to go with us to bring flowers for Lucky?”
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*