The room was silent, so silent that the very breath she exhaled seemed magnified tenfold. A silken black mask covered her eyes and allowed no light inside. Others might have been intimidated by the lack of sensory information, but she was not. Face-down on the table she rested, unclad except for a white towel draped across her hips.
Into the quiet another came. Silently he began to massage her exposed skin. It was slightly cool to the touch, but supple; kept that way by willing young men and the best treatment money could buy. He placed his hands around her neck, squeezing slightly to gain her attention. Kneading slowly and meticulously, he began working his way down her torso. He applied extra pressure to a spot just below her left shoulder blade, causing her to utter a muffled grunt of pain.
"So you received my little package. You're welcome," she remarked aloud as though he had voiced a comment.
Almost immediately, pressure was applied to an identical spot under her right shoulder blade. This time she was prepared and did not voice her discomfort, but instead commented, "Why did I help you? My reasons are my own, darling. Don't worry, I know exactly where you and I stand."
After a momentary pause, his large, rough hands continued their silent journey down her back, manipulating and soothing the bare flesh. Gently, almost lovingly, he applied oil warmed by his hands onto her lower back. Slow, circular motions massaged the oil into the still cool flesh. Lower and lower he traveled, until he reached the towel-covered flesh.
She tensed in anticipation of his next move. After several seconds, she realized he was no longer in the room. He'd departed as quietly as he had entered. "Damn you!" Helena cursed.
The familiar handwriting jumped out at her from the envelope's surface, and she felt a moment's confusion. This couldn't be possible, unless everything she had been told was a lie. With trembling fingers she tore open the large, brown envelope and removed the bundle of letters it held. For several long moments Diane simply held the stack of missives, smoothing their edges nervously. Finally she straightened her shoulders and began to read the one on top.
My dearest friend,
I wish that I could be with you when you receive these letters. Each one was written with a mental image of your beautiful face smiling at me. I have missed you so these past years. And I only have myself to blame for the time and distance between us. I thought that I could run from all the pain I was feeling, escape from all the memories that just seemed to batter me. In the process I almost sacrificed a friendship that meant the world to me. I say 'almost' because I am filled with the hope that you will forgive me . . .
"Oh, man! That smile means trouble," Sonny Corinthos quipped. The elegant mobster walked out of the club's back room, dimpled smile in place. "Who or what is it this time?"
"I'll give you three guesses, and they all contain the name Cassadine. Man, I tell you, I could spend my days just messing with Stefan's mind." Luke paused in the act of pouring himself a drink. "Oh, that's right. I already do."
"What's going on? Is he putting the moves on Laura?"
"No. Vlad's too subtle for that. But I want to send him a message and let him know that I am still watching out for Laura and Lulu. And you and I both know that the best way to get a man's attention is-"
"To mess with his family. So, let's see . . . Stefan would probably be happy if you whacked Helena. And Alexis can take care of herself. You don't want to push Laura toward Stefan, so that eliminates Nikolas. All that leaves is his other kid."
"The man wins himself a drink." Luke poured scotch into a glass and slid it across the bar to Sonny.
"How are you going to use the kid? What's his name, anyway?" Sonny asked.
"All I remember is Andresj'. There's another mouthful of names after that one, but who cares? Calling him 'boy' irritates him just fine."
Sonny laughed. "Luke, you are a piece of work. I almost feel sorry for the kid."
"Yeah, well, I've got nothing against the kid. But if finding out the truth about Cassadine sends him running while he can, so be it. And I've got a nice little Cassadine family secret that's guaranteed to shake things up."
"You've been digging around again?" Sonny asked.
"No, my man. Let's just say an old birdie told me."
Letter after letter, Diane read until there was barely enough light in the room to see.
. . . and met a wonderful man. He is caring and intelligent and so patient. I think I could easily fall in love with him - if I believed in love anymore . But I will never give anyone that kind of power to hurt me again. I can see you shaking your head at me. I know how you feel when I say things like that, but it is how I feel. It is how I have felt since the day my . . .
. . . Piotr has been a godsend. No matter how many times I have tried to drive him away, he is always there for me. I know that I only have to ask for something and he will see to it that it is provided. I would never tell him so, but I feel secure knowing that he is there. It is nice to have someone look after me the way he does. Especially now . . .
. . . so amazing that what I first thought of as a curse has turned out to be the most wonderful thing to happen to me. The thought of anyone depending on me the way I depended on them terrified me. But now I am full of hope for this child who has made me welcome each new day.
. . . the newest addition to my family is just beautiful. He is named Andresj' and he was born three weeks ago today. Piotr was at my side when I needed him, as always, and did not complain when I nearly crushed his hand from the labor pains. While in the middle of a contraction I am afraid I also said something very unflattering about his family tree, but he understood and simply chose to ignore my comment . . .
There were sixteen letters in all; some dated just weeks apart, others separated by months. Reading the first fourteen was such a comfort. Knowing that her best friend had finally found happiness brought Diane great joy. The last two letters, however, held ominous overtones that frightened her even after all the time that had passed.
Passages from the two letters replayed in Diane's mind like lyrics from a scratched recording.
. . . I have begun to be frightened - for myself and Andresj'. And Piotr as well. Yesterday, I told him that I felt as though we were being watched. I wanted him to scoff or tease me for having too vivid an imagination. But he did nothing to dismiss my fears. Instead . . . today Piotr suggested that he take all the letters I have written to you so far and make sure that they are in a safe place. If something should happen to either of us, he thinks it is important that you get them. I am afraid . . . Who will care for Andresj' if Piotr and I are gone? There is someone, but it is impossible. I cannot send my child into the very danger I am trying to protect him from . . .
Dearest friend, It saddens me that you are reading this. It means that I am gone from you and all those I have come to hold dear. Diane, if I am truly gone, and Piotr is gone, then I pray with all my soul that Andresj' still lives. Promise me that you will look for him, wherever and for however long it might take. Make him yours and raise him with all the love you once showed me . . . I am not so afraid anymore. Just knowing that you will be Andresj's guardian angel has given me some peace of mind . . . You will always be my best friend.
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*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*