Chapter 18

'My God Carly, that's terrible! And the police still haven't gotten any leads?' Dr Harrow exclaimed.

'None. But my friend Detective Hernandez promised to let me know when they do.'

'I'm really sorry about this. Of course you can take all the time you need, and anything Gloria and I can do...'

'You're doing enough already and I really appreciate it. Where are the kids?'

'Gloria said she was going to take them to get ice-cream after picking them up from school, they should be back any minute.' He turned at the sound of a door being opened, then back at Carly, his eyes now twinkling. 'Perfect timing. Children...' he called out. 'You have a visitor.'

'Is Carly back already?' came Gloria Harrow's voice, followed by the sound of running feet. The twins came into view, shrieking in delight when they saw her on Dr Harrow's computer screen. Smiling, he got up from the chair to make room for them. Gloria Harrow, who had followed them, grinned. 'Hello dear.'

'Hi Gloria.'

'How's the conference?'

'Well actually...' Carly began.

'I'll explain everything honey,' Dr Harrow interrupted, taking his wife's arm. 'We'll leave you three to chat.' Waving, Gloria and her husband left the room.

'Mummy!'

'Hello, my loves.' Carly smiled at the twins' happy faces , wishing with all her heart she could clasp them in her arms. They looked well- rosy cheeks, their large green eyes bright.

'Look Shadow, it's Mummy!'

Carly saw a glimpse of their black Portuguese water dog's bright brown eyes and nose peering at her from the edge of the screen and laughed. 'Hi, old thing. Have you been helping look after these two for me?'

Shadow's reply was a deep bark.

'We miss you so much, Mummy.' Evangeline said, one hand pressed against the screen, while Ethan pushed Shadow down.

'And I miss you too little darling, both of you.'

'When are you coming home?' Ethan demanded, his expression as wistful as his sister's.

'Yeah, please come home Mummy... please, please.' Evangeline pleaded, her lower lip suddenly quivering.

Both children looked so vulnerable that Carly felt like weeping, silently cursing the shooter. Sighing, she went on, 'Listen… no one is more important to me than you two, no one. But right now, there's some… something I have to take care of and then I'll be home before you know it. It won't be long, I promise. And need you both to hang in there, okay?'

The twins nodded reluctantly.

'Now,' Carly smiled, 'tell me what you've been up to while I've been away.'

Their faces lighting up again, Ethan and Evangeline launched into an eager narration about their activities at school, which was a balm to Carly's current weary state. While it was 5 p.m. in sunny Dededo, it was a few minutes past 1 in the morning in Salem. She had sat with Nicholas until an ICU night nurse had urged her to go home, assuring her he would be taken care of. Talking now to her beloved youngest children, all Carly simply wanted was take a plane back to them and relative peace. She hated being in Salem, hated the haunting thoughts and feelings of guilt that ran through her mind the whole time she sat with Nicholas and forcing the picture of Melanie's pleading face away.

After a blissful hour she said goodbye, blowing them kisses before signing off and wiping the tears off her cheeks. Closing her laptop and putting it aside, Carly got out of bed and made her way to the kitchen. Marcus found her just as she was pouring some hot chocolate in a mug. 'Hey.'

'Hey you. Cocoa?'

'Sure.' Marcus looked Carly over as he sat down at the kitchen table. She looked pale, probably due to her lack of proper sleep since their arrival. 'You okay there?' he asked as she placed his mug in front of him.

Carly shrugged, a nonchalant gesture that didn't fool him for a second- her beautiful green eyes said it all. 'Nicky's going to come out of this, Carly.'

'And I have faith about that. But yes, it's about Nicky.'

Marcus placed his hand on hers. 'Tell me.'

'Didn't get a lot of sleep last night, did you Shawn Douglas?' Bo asked as his son let out a huge yawn.

'He didn't go to sleep. I heard hours and hours of whispering.'

'I'm sorry, I didn't realise we disturbed you.'

'Shawn Douglas isn't used to such late hours, Nicky.' Carly didn't bother hiding the disapproval in her voice as she watched the boy pick at his uneaten food.

'So, you don't like your eggs, Nicky?' Bo asked after the brief awkward silence.

'I don't care for scrambled eggs in restaurants, Aunt Vivian say they never use real butter.'

Bo shrugged as he sipped his coffee. 'Well, if Vivian says it's so then it must be so.' He said with amusement, mouthing 'what' when she gave him an incredulous glare.

The child was criticising a well prepared meal he didn't even have the courtesy to take so much as a mouthful of and Bo found it funny. Was he kidding? And while it was good for Shawn D to have a new playmate, she simply couldn't see what drew him to Vivian's adopted son, who was good mannered but spoke with a formal grown up air , yet appeared to like Shawn D-the polar opposite of him- very much.

'If it's alright with you, I should be getting home.'

'Of course, I'll be happy to drop you off at Vivian's on my way to the hospital.' Feeling a great sense of relief, she picked up her purse.

'We're staying with Cousin Lawrence, you know.'

His polite but reproachful tone stung. 'Yes, I know. Well, if you're finished we should get going. Shawn Douglas, finish your eggs, even if they are cooked in butter.' It was uncalled for but she wasn't going to have Nicky's pretentious tastes rub off on her beloved stepson to be.

Much later, after dropping him off at the Alamain mansion, the inevitable conversation about Nicky came up.

'I'm kinda amazed she was able to bring up such a nice kid like Nicky.'

'You like him?'

'Yeah, I like him a lot. More importantly, Shawn Douglas likes him. I take it you two didn't hit it off very well.'

'I don't know why, for some reason that little boy makes me uneasy, uncomfortable. I think the feeling's mutual too.'

'Listen… nothing that a baseball game and a couple of hotdogs won't help.' Bo soothed. 'Besides, Shawn Douglas does like him.'

True but she still couldn't help but feel Nicky Alamain wasn't the right choice or the best influence for such a down to earth, lively boy like Shawn D. 'Look do me a favour, any plans you make with the two of them in the future, just don't include me right now, okay?'

'From the moment Dr Goddard confessed in that video tape he left me, that my son was alive, all I could think of was finding him and erasing the missing years. I felt once I saw him, we would click right there and then. I felt connected to him the whole time I carried him. I mourned him for years when I thought I lost him. Yet he was right under my nose the whole time… until the day Lawrence told me what Vivian had done. Until he told me, I didn't see it, and felt no connection towards my own son. But before Lawrence even found out the truth, he and Nicholas hit it off, and more than well, the same way I felt for Shawn D the moment I saw him and that was even before I met Bo at the pier. And the irony is, once I found out the truth; I centred everything on him- I even persuaded Bo to let us move to a house because I wanted to Nicky to feel comfortable in an environment he was familiar with, instead of making him accept the way we lived. I made excuses for him, everything to make him happy instead of attempting to erase Vivian's influence on him. I've long accepted I mishandled things all because I wanted to get back the lost years. I love my son because he's my son, a part of me. But from the very beginning, he was always Lawrence's son than mine, accepting him far easier than he accepted me.'

'Carly, you and Shawn Douglas connected right away because he was such a great kid, it would be hard for anyone not to hit it off with that boy. So you didn't feel the same way with your own son when you first met him, that doesn't make you a bad person. You did all you could to make it up to him when you found the truth, didn't you? Don't this to yourself.'

'I can't help it Marcus. Why didn't I feel something but Lawrence was able to?'

'Probably because it was like looking at a mirror to Lawrence; they had the same privileged upbringing and both raised by the same lying bitch. He saw a kindred spirit at the time, not his son. So don't feel this way.'

Carly stared at him then nodded.

'What brought this on all of a sudden?'

'Watching Nicky the whole time I sat with him, I suddenly went back how it all started with him. And then I thought about Melanie too, a child I never imagine I would have after I was forced to accept I would never conceive again. Loving and missing her all those years, wondering what she would be like when I finally meet her. I saw a bit of me in her, even during our rocky start. I tried so hard but she was more Daniel's, and Maggie's.'

'Her attitude before and after she found out the truth is not on you,' Marcus said sternly. 'She was bent on blaming you for how her life turned out instead of Lawrence or Trent Robbins because she chose to. It was a lot easier for her to accept Daniel because she knew him first. But that didn't give her or Daniel the right to heap all that on you, given what you had to go through with that animal.'

'True. But she's still my daughter and Nicky's still my son. And I wonder if there can ever be actual forgiveness between us eventually and if we can finally be a family. I watched my son in a coma and I felt like I was with a stranger. I saw Melanie and I just walked away from her.'

'I'm not asking you not to ever forgive Melanie. But you can't help how you feel, and she has to realise that. If you really want them back in your life, it would gradually become easier to reach out to them. You've already begun with Nicky, by coming back here to be with him. It's going to be okay.'

Carly smiled faintly and nodded.

Afterwards, Marcus led her back to her room. Before going in, she held him in a tight hug and it took Marcus sheer will not to lean down to kiss her on the lips, now more aware of the soft body against his. Instead, he kissed the top of her head, stroked her hair and urged her to get some much needed sleep. Now was not the time.

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Brady Black found Melanie at the nurses' station. 'How's Nicky?' he asked after they exchanged hugs.

'Still the same and his fiancée's with him right now. She flew in this morning, I met her at the airport.'

'Huh. She's not one of those snooty aristocratic socialites, is she?'

'Emma's great.' Melanie chided. 'Not everyone in Nicky's life is Vivian Alamain. And I'm sort of hoping she would be a buffer with me and Mum.' That is, if she doesn't judge me too harshly when she hears the whole story, she thought.

'Carly's back? When did she get here?'

'Not long ago. And she hasn't forgiven me, Brady.'

'Are you serious?

Melanie swallowed as fresh pain over her mother's coldness crept in. 'Dad warned me but I didn't believe him… or didn't want to believe him I guess. She wouldn't even talk to me when we ran into each other.'

'That's not right, it's been five years, damn it. She can't do that to you.' Brady said angrily, gripping her shoulder.

'Well, no real daughter would do what I did but here I am, the vindictive little brat my uncle called me.'

Like Maggie Horton, Brady knew the real Melanie and saw her as a kindred spirit and it pained him to see her looking miserable. He gripped her shoulder consolingly. 'She'll come round.'

'It's all good to say that.' Melanie snapped. 'Daniel, then Bo. It's not exactly making me feel better if you really want to know. I screwed up and I'm finally facing the consequences… all those times I rejected her and judged her…'

'You had every right to be angry with her for giving you up.'

'Damn it, stop making excuses for me- you and I both know that's not what really happened!' Melanie snapped, an angry tear rolling down her cheek.

'Yeah, I know that now but at the time you had a lot to deal with, getting shot and suddenly finding out the truth. But you did have a relationship with her eventually.'

'And I just kept finding reasons to be mad at her and staying mad at her.'

'Third party interference and misunderstandings.' Brady reminded her. 'And you're not the first person to let your anger stretch that far. We've been over this, Mel. You've got to learn to finally forgive yourself.'

But Melanie shook her head. 'Would you call what happened at Maggie's a misunderstanding?'

'Mel…'

'I looked her in the eye and told her right there Maggie was all the mother I needed. I lied to Frankie and you, I knew exactly what I was doing at the time; I wanted to hurt her and I did. I did, Brady. I basically disowned my own mother and that's probably the real reason why she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Why the hell would she?' More tears rolled down her cheeks and her voice shook as she went on, 'At least Nicky has a better shot- all Emma has to do is tell Mum why he came here, they'll make up and he'll meet the twins and I'll…I'll just end up being a bad memory with… with no place in her life.' She sobbed as Brady drew her into his arms.

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Carly opened the guest room door in time to hear Adrienne say, 'Carly's asleep. And I honestly don't think it's right for you to bother her right now.'

'I just want to talk to her, that's all.' Carly grimaced at the sound of the familiar voice.

'What, you came here to be an advocate for Bo?' Marcus asked, his voice cold.

'He doesn't know I'm here. Please, I really need to see her.'

Carly closed the door behind her. She might as well get it over with. Bracing herself, she made her way to the living room.

'Marcus, Adrienne- it's okay.' She said coolly, eyes on her unwanted visitor who said softly, 'Hello Carly.'

Carly inclined her head.

Without a word, Adrienne and Marcus left the room, Marcus squeezing Carly's shoulder as he passed her.

Caroline Brady stared at Carly, distressed by the cold eyes and even colder expression. 'I'm very sorry about Nicky. I can only imagine how you must be feeling.'

'Thank you. But I'm rightly guessing that's not why you're really here. How did you know I was even in town?'

Caroline flushed. 'Ciara told me she saw you at The Java with Marcus and Adrienne the other day.'

Of course she did, Carly thought cynically.

'On the way here I went over what I wanted to say to you,' Caroline went on, staring down her hands. 'Now, I don't even know where to begin.' She looked up again. 'I'm not exactly proud of our last encounter which makes it even more difficult.'

'Do you expect me to make it easy for you by saying all's forgiven, don't worry about it?'

'I don't expect such a thing, Carly. I've carried my crime and how I treated you on these shoulders all these years.'

'Please don't insult me further, Caroline.' Carly coldly replied. 'I'm nothing to you, you made that perfectly clear the whole time I was here. My brother had some choice words for you, Kayla and that daughter- in- law of yours before he finally cut you out of his life. You don't regret how you and your family treated me, you're sorry he found out about it and I'm pretty sure what happened to me didn't give you a change of heart.'

'I'm upset about losing Frankie, I admit that. But you have to believe me, I really regret what happened, especially for what happened at Parker's christening and afterwards. It was a misguided act for Stephanie's sake and I honestly didn't mean to turn Daniel and Melanie against you, my argument with Kayla that day wasn't supposed to be overheard. And I was getting over a stroke, I was weak and upset… and found it easier to blame you for hiding Chloe's affair with Phillip than blaming myself for switching the tests.'

'How dare you.' Carly stepped forward, shaking with anger. 'If I'd known it was Phillip, do you think I would've keep that quiet? You're justifying yourself all over again.'

'I'm not…'

'Please leave, I have nothing else to say to you. I came here for my son, not to rehash something I'd rather forget.'

'I want you to forgive me.' Caroline said desperately. 'I want you to forgive Hope. I want you to forgive Melanie and above all I want you to forgive my son.'

'I'm not discussing them with you.'

'Carly, please hear me out! You're Melanie's mother, you can't just write her off after all you went through to keep her alive.'

'Like you care what I went through with Lawrence!' Carly shouted. 'You and the rest of Salem were ready to believe that I willingly gave up my child. You didn't lift a finger to help me bond with her, you told her nothing about me except I was here to disrupt Bo and Hope's lives. And you weren't sorry when Melanie cut me out of her life because of something you did, so you have no right to talk to me about her.'

'Then I have the right to talk about my son, who you're bent on punishing by keeping his children from him!' Caroline snapped back, then stopped, appalled.

'What?'

Adrienne and Marcus, who had heard everything, came back into the room. Marcus immediately went to Carly, glaring at Caroline who had turned ashen.

'You just don't know when to quit, do you?' Adrienne whispered, shaking her head.

Carly trembled under Marcus's comforting arm. 'My children, how dare you…'

'Carly, I'm sorry,' Caroline began. 'I didn't mean to…'

'What, accuse me of using children as a weapon? Using children as a means to an end? What exactly did you mean, Caroline?'

Caroline ducked her head, ashamed by her thoughtless outburst. In pleading her son's case, she'd only made things worse. 'I paid the price of keeping Bo's paternity a secret for many years, Carly.' she said at last in a low voice. 'No matter what happened years ago, they are Bradys and I'm begging you not to stretch your bitterness too far. Bo has the right to know them. I need to know them.'

'So much for a change of heart, which thankfully I didn't believe you had.' Moving away from Marcus' touch, she stepped forward to face Caroline up close. 'You don't have the right to know them. You don't have the right to know their names, you don't have the right to know their favourite colour, you don't have the right to know their favourite story- nothing about them. Because if they didn't exist, you won't be standing here right now.'

'That's not true….' Caroline began to cry.

'You have no right to know them.' Carly whispered, angry tears now in her eyes. 'You have no conscience… and you disgust me.' She turned away.

'Please leave,' Adrienne said quietly. 'You've done enough.'

Caroline walked to the door and through tears watched as Marcus and Adrienne console their friend before leaving the apartment.