Tommy Hardy easily navigated his way through the cozily appointed house. It had been several years since he'd last visited his grandmother, but the memory of those times remained with him.
“Something smells pretty good,” he enthused.
“I wanted your first morning here to be special.” Audrey Hardy beamed at her grandson. “I have cooked just about all of your favorites.”
“Just about all?” Tommy looked at the overladen breakfast table. “If you missed anything, I sure can't figure out what it could be.” The young man crossed the kitchen and placed a kiss on his grandmother's cheek. “Good morning, Grandma.”
Audrey Hardy fought back a rush of emotion. It had been so long since she had been addressed that way. She had despaired of hearing Tommy's teasing address again. As a little boy, his father Tom, Sr., tried to teach him to call Audrey ‘Grandmother'. But five year old Tommy declared the title ‘too stuffy' and afterward addressed Audrey as ‘Grandma'.
The two sat down to breakfast. Audrey was pleasantly surprised when her grandson reached across the table for her hand and bowed his head. “Thank you, Lord, for this food,” Tommy prayed. “Bless the hands that prepared it. Amen.”
“I never say ‘grace' without thinking of Grandpa Steve,” Tommy remarked casually. “I miss him.”
Audrey watched Tommy cheerfully fill his plate. She saw none of the unchanneled anger that Simone had described to Audrey over the phone the previous night. Tommy's mother had chronicled a frightening account of angry outbursts and violent tirades that Audrey just could not reconcile with the polite, affectionate young man seated across the breakfast table from her.
“I miss Steve, too,” Audrey nodded. She tried to shake off her sudden loneliness at the mention of her deceased husband. “But, oh, it is so good to have a Hardy man at the breakfast table again!”
Ned Ashton watched his secretary return to her desk in the outer office. As soon as the door closed behind her, he directed his attention once more to the nondescript folder hidden beneath his desk calendar. The older woman had never been anything but loyal in her six years at ELQ. But Ned had learned early on from his grandfather's example that there were times that secrecy was a healthy quality to possess.
He took a sip of freshly brewed coffee and mulled over the details listed within the file whose papers were spread out before him. There was nothing particularly surprising in the details. But there was a sentence among the fine print that concerned Ned because he did not know exactly what to make of it.
“Connie,” Ned reached out and pressed the intercom, “bring me last year's shareholder profile.” His fingers flew across adding machine keys as he calculated from memory the same figures he'd requested from his secretary. ‘ It doesn't add up ,' he muttered to himself. Ned cleared the digital display and began to calculate again. He felt his frustration grow as the total was exactly the same as before.
The intercom buzzed. “I have sent the report to your desktop, Mr. Ashton.”
“Thanks, Connie.” Ned swung around to the laptop and pulled up ELQ's latest accounting of all its shares and the subsequent shareholders. He was driven to determine just how much damage his cousin Justus could do to the family company with the stocks Edward was determined to give him.
Presently, there were three levels of ELQ stockholders with voting shares within the Quartermaine family. Edward and Lila alone occupied the top tier. Ned, his mother Tracy, Alan and Monica occupied the second. All the other Quartermaine family members fell into the third and bottom tier.
All that would change if Edward had his way. The amount of stock Justus was to receive would create a fourth level of shares that fell just below the one Ned occupied. And given Justus' closeness with most of the other Quartermaine cousins, Ned recognized a potential threat in the making to his own position as head of ELQ.
It was no secret that the old man had a particular fondness for Justus. Ned suspected that it was based more on guilt about Justus' father than any real affection. Still, Ned knew that nothing would please his grandfather more than a power struggle between Ned and Justus for the leadership of the Quartermaine family empire.
Ned sat back heavily in his chair. He had no intention of allowing such a thing to happen. He picked up his private line and began dialing.
“Hello? We need to meet. Today.”
The last of the many breakfast dishes was washed and dried. Tommy Hardy followed his grandmother to the living room and eyed her speculatively. “Well, what now?”
“What do you mean?”
Tommy shrugged. “I heard you on the phone for a couple of hours last night,” he explained. “I figure you were talking to my mom.”
“Yes, I was,” Audrey admitted. The older woman hesitated, uncertain of just how she should continue. “Simone was very happy to know that you would be spending some time here with me.”
“But she is also a bit concerned. Simone says that you have been seeing a therapist back in Seattle to help you with some personal issues. She really doesn't want you to lose all the progress you have already made.”
Tommy tried to keep the irritation from showing on his handsome face. “Grandma, the doctor has taught me how to handle the stuff that is going on in my life when she's not around. Doctor Locke says that being able to handle stuff on my own is a part of getting better.”
Audrey froze for a moment. Just as quickly, though, she dismissed the irrational thought that popped into her mind. The world was too large a place to assume that the female doctor named ‘Locke' that her grandson was seeing could possibly be the same Doctor Rachel Locke who had caused so much confusion at General Hospital. “Your doctor is named Locke?” Audrey asked. “How did your mother find her?”
“She didn't. I did,” Tommy said. “Mom picked a couple of others before I saw Doctor Locke's commercial on the television. But none of them understood me. Doctor Locke understood from the beginning how I felt about-”
“About what?” Audrey's question was very casually uttered, but there was no disguising the immense curiosity that colored the words. “I would really like to know what is bothering you so.”
Tommy did not want to hurt his grandmother's feelings. But maybe it would be better to get things out into the open between them, especially since Tommy would be staying in Port Charles for awhile.
“Doctor Locke understands why I hate the coward you call a son.”
The door to the boardroom swung open and the two invited guests entered. Ned Ashton waved them to their seats before addressing them. “Since this is not an official ELQ board meeting, we will just dispense with all the formalities.”
“Not an official meeting,” Doctor Alan Quartermaine mused as his gaze circled the room. At the center of the boardroom was a twenty-foot long table crafted from pale oak. Subdued paintings hung along the wall with a casualness that belied their exorbitant values. “Well, that certainly explains Father's absence.” He glanced over at his wife Doctor Monica Quartermaine. “Should we guess, then, what this meeting could be about?”
Ned bristled. “Grandfather put me in charge of ELQ because he knew that I would always protect the family's interests. Well, this latest move he made with Justus isn't in the family's best interest.” He held up a hand. “And this is not about jealousy or wounded pride.” Ned flipped a switch on a nearby wall panel and an illuminated board burst into light.
“Here is a representation of all the ELQ shareholders and their shares. And these,” he pointed out, “are the voting shareholders. If you look at the breakdown I've charted out here, you will see my concern.”
“Ned, this situation isn't any different than what has existed since Father handed over the first share of ELQ stocks to your mother Tracy.”
“I beg to differ,” Ned replied. “There is a big difference.” He pointed to each of the names on the board. “Not one of these names ever really presented a threat to ELQ because no one in this family has been able to maintain any real alliances long enough to seriously challenge the status quo.”
“But,” Ned answered Monica's question, “Justus could pull it off. AJ and Jason would both give him their support in a battle against Grandfather.”
Monica shook her head vehemently. “Jason would never turn against you, Ned. You are one of the few people among us that he considers family.”
“That doesn't really mean a whole lot in this case, Monica, because Jason considers Justus to be just as much his family as I am.” Ned grudgingly added, “And after all the support Justus gave Jason after the accident, he may be even more so.”
Doctor Alan Quartermaine frowned. “Just what is it you want from us, Ned?”
“A little cooperation when the time comes.”
“Thomas Hardy, Jr.!”
“ Don't . Don't call me that. Ever !”
Audrey was silenced by the absolute fury in her young grandson's voice. Tommy's eyes were cold and flat and his smooth, handsome face was contorted with anger. Audrey understood suddenly what Simone meant when she kept gently insisting that despite outward appearances Tommy was filled with unresolved issues. “Oh, sweetheart, I-”
Tommy interrupted tersely. “He doesn't get to walk away from me and my mom and still expect me to answer to his name.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of Audrey's sofa and stomped toward the front door. “I am going for a walk,” Tommy announced, “because I don't want to talk about him anymore.”
Audrey did not try to stop her grandson from leaving. She was stunned by the level of hate for his father that she'd glimpsed in Tommy's eyes.
She suddenly felt impossibly old. Audrey groped blindly for the sofa and collapsed wearily onto it. Guilt, sorrow and anger all fought for control of her at that moment and she was overwhelmed.
Audrey's gaze was drawn to the book shelf where a kaleidoscope of pictures sat. Loving pictures of Steve and Tom were plentiful among them. Smiling images of father and son.
How had Tom allowed such damage to his own son? How, Audrey corrected, had Tom committed it?
Simone's concern for Tommy was justified. He was a young man in desperate need of help. And despite his satisfaction with the therapist he was seeing in Seattle, Audrey had her doubts. When Tommy came back from his walk, she intended to insist that he undergo counseling with one of the doctors at General Hospital – preferably Doctor Kevin Collins.
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*