The brilliant noonday sun was just sufficient enough to ward away the cold breezes that had been blowing earlier. Emily Quartermaine was tempted to remove her light jacket, but she knew that the flush she felt was the result of a few moments of intense exertion.
“That is just wonderful, my dear.” The frail voice of Emily’s grandmother called out encouragement to the young woman. “I do thank you so for doing this.”
Emily leaned on the shovel and gazed proudly at the row of upturned earth she had just made. As soon as she caught her breath for a bit she would create two more just like it to hold the new rose bushes that her grandmother wanted to transplant. “I don’t mind.” She smiled at Lila. “I like spending time with you, Grandmother.”
“Neither one of you should be out here. It’s too cool.”
Both Quartermaine women jumped. “Jason!” Emily dropped the shovel and threw herself into her older brother’s arms. Jason steadied her and patiently endured her enthusiastic embrace. “Hello, Grandmother,” he said over Emily’s shoulder.
“Hello, my dear. What a wonderful surprise! Are you home to stay?” Lila asked.
“Yes, I am.” Jason bussed his grandmother on the cheek. “Your face is cold, Grandmother. Why don’t you go inside and get warm. I’ll finish this and then come in and see you.”
Jason had no sooner uttered the words than Reginald, the Quartermaine butler, appeared. He had been hovering protectively nearby and was glad that Jason was able to convince Lila to come in out of the cool weather.
“Very well,” Lila conceded. “I will have Cook fix up some of those crunchy cheese sticks you like so much.”
As soon as Lila left, Jason picked up Emily’s discarded shovel. He waited for her to mark out the beginning of a new row and then began methodically digging. “I saw the old man leave,” Jason said.
“Yes. Grandfather’s gone to the office. Dad is on call at the hospital and Mom is away at a conference til Thursday.”
Jason effortlessly began a new row. “What about AJ?”
Emily heard the strain in Jason’s voice. “AJ isn’t here. Neither are Carly or Michael. They are out of town for a few weeks. Michael’s therapist thought it might be a good thing for him.”
“When did this happen?”
“The day you called me.”
“Yes?” The speaker sounded amused. He allowed the silence to stretch on and made no effort to carry the weight of the conversation.
“I was- May I speak with Sabrina DeLane, please?”
Alexis’ brow furrowed as she strained to identify the almost familiar male voice on the other end of the line. The rich baritone and precise diction tugged at some long buried memory in her mind.
“Here she is, Natasha.”
Alexis nearly dropped the telephone. Victor Cassadine was the owner of the voice that prompted such familiarity. “Th-thank you.”
The mortified attorney lightly pounded the receiver against her forehead. It had been years since she’d actually spoken to her father’s brother and yet all she could manage was a mangled ‘thank you’? Apparently nothing had changed in all the time that had passed. She was still as tongue-tied and awkward as ever around the man.
“What do you want, Alexis?”
“I didn’t know your father was there,” Alexis hissed.
There was a pause. “I didn’t know, either,” Sabrina replied carefully, “until I got here. So… what do you want, Alexis?”
Alexis gladly dropped the subject of Victor Cassadine. He and his daughter had a complex relationship that was both pride and pain for Sabrina. Just which particular emotion she felt about her father changed with the situation. “I called,” Alexis quickly explained, “to find out how much longer you are going to stay there in Europe.”
“Did Andresj’ ask you to make this call?”
Sabrina worded her response cautiously. “He has had some difficulty getting his calls through to me now that Stefan feels there should be more distance between Andresj’ and me. Apparently, my father agrees.”
“I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.” Alexis winced. Under the best of circumstances Sabrina and her father possessed a messy and complex relationship. Sabrina’s intense attachment to Andresj’ was a direct result of her mixed feelings for her father Victor. “I can see that this is a bad time,” Alexis told her cousin. “Just forget that I called. We’ll talk again some other time.”
In less than two hours, Jason had not only dug the new garden rows that his grandmother wanted, but he’d transported and planted the rosebushes she’d earmarked. And he had not broken a sweat doing so.
“I am so glad you’re home.” Emily abandoned her examination of Jason’s handiwork. “Everybody missed you. Even Grandfather, I think.” She took a seat on the stone bench where Jason’s leather jacket lay. “Does anyone else know that you are back in Port Charles yet?”
Jason gathered up Lila’s gardening tools and placed them in a neat pile beside the newly turned rows of earth. “Only Justus.”
For a few silent moments Emily considered her older brother’s words. “Does that mean that it isn’t safe for you here?”
“There’s always a chance,” Jason offered, that somebody might come looking for me. That goes with the business.” He took a seat on the bench beside Emily. “But I didn’t tell the others that I was back because I wanted a chance to see for myself how things were here.”
“Things with Michael? Or things with Carly?”
Emily knew that she had guessed correctly, based upon Jason’s lack of response. The car accident that had taken Jason’s memories had also taken away his ability to lie. When confronted with subjects he didn’t want to discuss, Jason retreated into stony silence.
“Yeah,” Jason finally said, acknowledging both questions.
“Are you guys going to be a family again?”
“No.” Jason’s response to the hesitant query was swift and emphatic. “No, we aren’t.” There were a lot of unresolved issues in his life; but on that particular matter he was clear. “I won’t do that to Michael again.”
Emily studied her adored older brother. There was something different about Jason. Outwardly he looked just as he always did – leather jacket, form-fitting white t-shirt and faded blue jeans. But his eyes had changed during his time abroad. Emily looked into Jason’s eyes and saw an abundance of pain and guilt. “What happened to Michael wasn’t your fault, Jase.”
“Yes, it was. And I need to take responsibility for it.” Jason held up his hand. “No. I mean it, Emily.” He forestalled her emotional protests. “It is time I admitted the truth.”
“I will call again as soon as the arrangements have been finalized.”
Alexis hung up the phone and shook her head. Dealing with other members of the Cassadine family was never an easy thing. Dealing with the more rural cousins was even more difficult. But Stefan had asked her to handle the situation and she was.
Andresj’ had requested that their cousin Evgenia be brought to America for a brief visit. Stefan consented to the request and placed the matter into Alexis’ hands for completion. She should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.
The ideal solution would have been to dump everything into her cousin Sabrina’s lap. Once given the details, Alexis was certain that Sabrina would have gladly taken on the task at hand. It was common knowledge among the family that she would do nearly anything for Stefan’s younger son. But Sabrina was currently engaged in a battle of wills with both her father and Stefan. Neither man would allow her to become involved in the matter, no matter how much Sabrina might wish to.
“Oh, well…” Alexis consulted her PDA. She dialed an unfamiliar number.
“This is Alexis Davis. I need the services of one of your female employees.”
The Russian-born head of Cassadine Security Worldwide took Alexis’ statement in stride. He was accustomed to dealing with Stefan Cassadine. He did not believe Alexis could be more demanding than her older brother. “More details, please.”
Alexis could hear the rustle of paper in the background. “She should speak Greek and English fluently.”
“Will this be a security assignment?” the Russian asked.
“No. This is strictly an escort assignment. A young cousin requires a proper chaperone for a flight from Greece to Port Charles, New York.” Alexis thought a moment. “I take that back. Whoever you select should be prepared to stay with Evgenia the two weeks she is in America.”
The head of security tapped a few keys on his computer keyboard. “I have someone in mind. I’ll have her there by tomorrow afternoon.”
“That’s perfect,” Alexis replied. “Thank you.”
The park was quiet; as it had been every other day they’d visited it. Jason surveyed his surroundings methodically. Each guard was in place. Nothing seemed out of order. The mothers and children who also visited the park daily were all in their familiar places.
Michael’s peal of laughter rang out as Leticia caught him at the bottom of the little plastic slide. Jason eased up on his vigilance just long enough to enjoy the moment.
He saw the flashes of light split seconds before he heard the accompanying pops of gunfire. Instinctively he took a single step toward three-year-old Michael. Leticia, Michael’s full-time nanny, already lay atop the child, shielding him with her body.
Jason pivoted just in time to see the guard nearest him go down. Pete was one of Sonny’s best men. He was alert, deliberate in his actions and fearless. Pete’s loss meant that Jason had one less guaranteed resource to depend upon while they were under attack.
Gunshots continued to ring out. Jason followed the sound and quickly located the shooter. A wiry brunette stood near the sandbox, firing with abandon. A frilly pink baby carriage sat by her side.
Without hesitation, Jason fatally wounded the woman. A single shot struck her in the chest and exploded her heart. Dispassionately Jason watched the stain spread across the shooter’s chest like a mushroom cloud of blood.
Another guard, Francis, limped over to the woman’s body and placed his foot none too gently atop the wrist holding the gun. He took no chances that she might still possess enough life to get off another round of shots. “She’s dead!” he called out to Jason. A single look at the gaping hole in her chest had told him that. The shooter’s lack of a pulse merely confirmed what Francis already knew.
Jason’s thoughts immediately flew to Michael. He rushed over to Leticia and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on,” he urged the young nanny. “It’s over, but we better go.”
Leticia did not respond. Jason felt chilled. He gently pulled her inert body from atop Michael and froze. Both Leticia and Michael were covered with blood. “Francis!” Jason’s yell was hoarse with shock.
Francis ran over. He took a single glance at the situation and scooped Leticia up into his arms. The guard tried to ignore the young woman’s wide, unseeing eyes. He had seen it often enough in his line of work to know that Leticia was beyond help. But she was like family, so he would not give her up without at least trying to fight for her life.
The other guard’s action snapped Jason out of his frozen stance. With trembling hands he reached out to Michael. The little boy was curled up on his right side, his upper torso bathed in blood. As cruel as it seemed, Jason hoped desperately that the blood that covered young Michael was Leticia’s alone.
The gaping wound that became evident as he rolled the little boy onto his back swiftly put an end to Jason’s hopes.
“What happened was my fault,” Jason murmured to himself as he awaited Emily’s signal to climb the back stairs to Lila’s bedroom on the second floor of the Quartermaine mansion. “I can’t blame anyone else anymore.”
*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*